Friday, October 12, 2018

Wondering Pilgrim, pt. 2


Not long after leaving the United Pentecostal Church, I plunged into the deep waters of Calvinism. How different it was from all I’d ever known and practiced!

My brain loved it.

I devoured John Calvin. His “Institutes of the Christian Religion” informed nearly every aspect of my worldview. Even now I can see the Institutes and his 22 volumes on the Bible as I glance across my study.

I was awash in Reformed books and sermons: Spurgeon, Sproul, Packer, Piper, Van Til, Bahnsen, MacArthur, Horton, White, Berkhoff, Luther, Reymond, Frame, and Augustine.

I wholeheartedly subscribed to “sola scriptura” and the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 was my Bible.

A Reformed…Baptist?

I know. The “pope of Geneva’s” wrath would’ve—ahem—burned hot against me. Even so, I was thoroughly committed to Calvinistic soteriology and hermeneutics.

This commitment lasted a little over 15 years.

What happened?

I think what happened is I began to sense that though my mind and intellect were satiated by Reformed systematics, with time’s passing my emotional and spiritual self was languishing. (Obviously, I’m speaking only of myself. This is certainly not the experience of the vast majority of Calvinists.)

Something—or was it Someone—was stirring inside me.

For some reason I decided to revisit a man I came to know my freshman year of Bible College. This was out of character for me because this man was clearly not a Calvinist. Nevertheless I walked away from my book shelf with CS Lewis—a long neglected favorite of mine. Though many of my Calvinist friends labeled Lewis a heretic…once again he was feeding my soul.

I mused: Hunkered here in this Reformed echo chamber, what other authors have I ignored?

The genie was out of the bottle.

The more I began to appreciate non-Reformed voices the more questions assaulted my fortress of certitude. None of this was planned—not by me anyway.

After months of reflecting and rethinking, it seemed to me that while Calvinism was philosophically robust and systematically sustainable, I could no longer square it with scriptures. Yes, there were verses that sounded awfully Calvinistic, but there were others that didn’t sound that way at all. These “leftover verses” (to use Christian Smith’s terminology) were being “shoehorned” to fit into my system.

I had become more sola systema than sola scriptura. That is, I was reading every word of every verse through a Calvinistic lens. But things once “clear” were now a bit blurry. After 15 years…I needed a new prescription.

I wasn’t a Calvinist anymore. So what was I?

I didn’t know. But I was hoping to find out…

_____________________________________


Wondering Pilgrim, pt. 1


Friday, October 5, 2018

Wondering Pilgrim, pt. 1


My earliest memories are of Bible stories—not just learning them. Living them.

My budding five-year-old imagination was the 1976 edition of The Living Bible.

You see, I was raised in the United Pentecostal Church. In those days TV was absolutely verboten. So, true confession? My biblical, albeit cartoonish, fantasies were probably more a privation of entertainment than an abundance of piety.

Even so, I became serious about my faith at an early age and I sincerely gave my life to Jesus.

I knew it was to Jesus that I gave my life because we were “Jesus Only” folks. So, who else was there? That’s right. The church of my youth denied the Holy Trinity.

There were other troubling things. If you didn’t speak in tongues (at least once!) you couldn’t be saved. If you weren’t baptized the right way you couldn’t be saved. If you weren’t living a holy enough life you couldn’t…well…you get the idea.

And then there were the dress codes!

They called them “holiness standards.” Basically, my hair couldn’t be too long or my pants too short. (Nothing says, “I’m a Christian” like sweatpants on a hell-hot summer day.)

Of course, this was nothing compared to the girls. UPC girls couldn’t cut their hair, wear pants, makeup, or jewelry. The only thing longer than their hair was their jean skirts—and their faces. I don’t suppose I knew any UPC girl or woman who actually liked how they appeared without months—most of them years—of “convincing” that they were holy and they wore it well.

As a sincere teen I had questions. None of them asked, of course. But unasked questions rarely go away.

In my very early 20’s the church-whispering began: “Steve is in danger of leaving the truth. That’s what happens when you go to Bible College.”

Leaving the truth.

I’d heard that a million times. It was indelibly impressed upon my mind. Fear is how we were kept in line. And guilt! Boatloads of guilt.

The truth is I was leaving…

But I wasn’t leaving truth. Nor was I walking away empty-handed.

What did I take with me?

--Devotion to God
--Respect for the Bible
--Hunger for truth
--Commitment to the local church
--Desire to serve

I knew the journey would be long and I didn’t pack light!

Clearly, despite all the errors of belief and practice, I’d been given much to be thankful for. And though I couldn’t stay, I understood how incredibly blessed I was for having been there.

As I left the denomination of my upbringing, I did so with excitement, hope, trepidation, and a little sadness. That’s the way leaving home usually goes.

I’d been travelling only a few years when I wandered upon 3 volumes of Charles Hodge. And thus began a great adventure upon Calvin’s rugged peaks…

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What The Devil Happened?


It was through Pride that the devil became the devil . . .
~CS Lewis

Have you ever wondered about the mystery of evil? I’m talking about its origins and so on. I was asked about this not long ago, specifically: How did the devil become the devil or from where did the devil derive evil?

*To begin, the Bible really doesn't say. (The devil is already "the devil" when he appears in scripture!) But the short—and speculative—answer, I think, goes like this...

God made angels (some, it is believed, who became demons) and humans with what we commonly call "free will."

That is, angels, demons, and humans are moral beings with the capacity to know right from wrong and the ability to make genuine choices. In fact, we make unforced moral decisions all the time.

For example, in the Genesis story, when the serpent "tricked" Eve into eating the forbidden fruit he may have fooled her but he certainly didn't force her to eat. The desire for the forbidden fruit came from within her. The desire was all hers. (The same is true for Adam. Eve did not coerce him to eat. He wanted to eat more than he wanted to abstain.)

We can apply this same principle to Satan. Like the first humans he was not created evil but evil desire arose from within him—probably borne of inherent pride. No external agent made him devilish.

But the question then is: Could God have made Satan (and us!) without the ability to sin or make wrong choices?  

Well...yes and no.

He could make beings without free will but such beings would be altogether different from angels and humans.

It seems to me that God makes a world where love is possible. And love must be chosen. There is no such thing as forced love. There is no such thing as programmed love (a robot or a computer cannot possibly love).

So beings who can love must be beings who can love not.

Apparently, God chose to make a world where love is possible, knowing that a troubled world is better than a loveless one or none at all.

God is love. His world reflects this even in evil beings. Yet in the end…Love wins.

____________________________

*For a possible allusion to the devil becoming "the devil" due to his prideful inclinations see Isaiah 14:12-15.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Space Invaders


Over a hearty bowl of oatmeal I heard Mike Pence’s intrepid proclamation of a new day: The age of SPACE FORCE.

Now I have no idea if SPACE FORCE is more “Star Wars” or “Space Balls,” but Pence’s soaring rhetoric is quite revealing.

(For a more down to earth treatment of SPACE FORCE, see Neil deGrasse Tyson here.)

Some Pence highlights:

As President Trump has said, “It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space; we must have American dominance in space.”

 . . . Today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and challenge American supremacy in space as never before. . . .

Our nation’s armed forces have always been the vanguard of advancing American leadership here on Earth and beyond. And the Space Force is the next and the natural evolution of American military strength.1

Which words stand out?

American dominance.

American supremacy.

American military strength.

Folks, this is the way of Empire. The American Empire is no different in kind from any other empire in history. A difference in quality? Maybe. But a difference in essence? Certainly not.

In short, the American Empire is ravenous for militaristic dominance and supremacy over the whole world (literally).

What could possibly be more antichrist?

Even so, Pence piously closed with what he called “those ancient words” from Psalm 139:8-10,

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.2

Sadly, Pence’s sermon speech reminds me of other ancient words.

You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God . . . I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12-14).

The Luciferian spirit lives.

But so does the Spirit of Christ! And I have good news for you, dear reader: The Kingdom of God, ruled by the Prince of Peace, triumphs now and always.

The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever. ~Rev. 11:14

In a time of donkeys, elephants, and space cowboys…follow the Lamb.

_________________________



Saturday, July 21, 2018

7 Beautiful Things


Proverbs 6:16-19 reads,

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

The seven detestable things may be delineated:
            Pride/arrogance
            Dishonesty
            Violence
            Evil imagination
            Eagerness to do wrong
            Slander
            Troublemaking

The ugly 7!

All human hearts have the capacity for such ugliness, but it’s often helpful to consider the flip side of things.

Mercy Aiken helps us do just that. She writes,
               
These six things the Lord loves, yes seven are exceedingly delightful to Him:
A humble countenance (the attitude that makes us esteem others as higher than ourselves), An honest tongue that does not distort the truth,
Hands that defend the innocent and helpless, A heart that is captured by a holy imagination to envision righteousness in all creation,
Feet that are guided by moral courage; that are swift to run towards justice and mercy, A faithful witness to Jesus Christ, And one who repairs the breach among brethren.

The seven delightful things may be enumerated:
            Humility
            Honesty
            Justice
            Godly imagination
            Righteousness—doing right things
            Showing ourselves and others a Jesus-looking God
            Peacemaking

The beautiful 7!

We needn’t think of these seven beautiful things abstractly, for God ultimately reveals them to us, not in principles, but in Person. That is, we see the seven beautiful things in one beautiful Christ.

Take a few moments. Imagine Jesus, in the gospels, displaying the beautiful seven in His teachings and actions…

Isn’t He beautiful?

Is it any wonder the Father audibly exults, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”?

Now envision this: Jesus displaying the beautiful seven—not in the gospels—but in us.

In us.

This is where Christ lives.

As His Spirit makes Himself at home in us, as we invite Him further and further in, the effect of His being here—the fruit of His acknowledged presence, if you will—increases our aptitude for the beautiful seven.

So once more, would you consider it?

The beautiful seven in one community…

Isn’t she beautiful?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Donkey, The Elephant, & The Lamb


I’ve been thinking about the language, the currency if you will, of politics. It has to do, almost exclusively, with the marketing of three interrelated commodities: fear, anger, and hate.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It is the engine that drives every single election cycle.

The typical political discourse goes something like this:

If we don’t get the politician we want, they’re gonna take away our ___________ (fill in the “right” of your choosing). We’re in danger of losing everything we’ve fought so hard for. For the love of God I hate those traitors!

Wherever one is on the political spectrum…that’s pretty much how it goes.

Fear.

Anger.

Hate.

But Jesus shows us a different Way.

Recently I heard Brian Zahnd say something to the effect: “Don’t follow the donkey. Don’t follow the elephant. Follow the Lamb.”

It seems to me that one simply cannot follow the donkey or the elephant and follow the Lamb because these are two entirely different ways.

Now, you may be thinking, “Wait minute. Aren’t these three different ways?”

Not really.

You see, the donkey and the elephant are dissimilar but only superficially. Both worship the Empire. Both crave power. Both traffic in fear, anger, and hate.

Jesus’ Way is radically different.

The politics of Jesus runs on faith, hope, and love.

Yes, fear is a great motivator; but Love is greater still.

God is love…

And Love will save the world.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
~1Cor. 13:13

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Jesus & Jordan Peterson


A long-time friend recently suggested that I listen to the sensational Jordan Peterson. While I’d heard all the Peterson hullaballoo I was quite unfamiliar with him. So I happily obliged.

First came a rather contentious interview; then a friendly debate; and finally a longish lecture.

I know what you’re thinking. “Wow! 2 ½ hours of YouTube? Steve’s like a Peterson expert now.

Well, I’m flattered. I really am. But no…

However, in the indomitable spirit of amateur bloggers everywhere, I’d like to share my impressions upon being introduced to him.

It seems to me that he espouses what I would call Christ-less conservativism.

In the interview he speaks from a quasi naturalistic view of human life and flourishing—what is natural/biological/instinctual is what is right. (“Right” in this instance should be understood in an amoral or pragmatic sense.)

This view is reiterated in the debate. Peterson contends,

Reality is that which selects . . . what’s selected by that reality is what’s correct . . . the central claim of pragmatism.

Correlatively he talks in terms of competition, dominance, power, and hierarchy. Not surprisingly, he espouses a rugged individualism, if you will.

From the lecture:

The individual is the center of the cosmos . . . that image of God . . . that brings order out of chaos through the power of truthful speech. That’s the core idea of Western civilization. And it’s the greatest idea that humanity has ever produced.

And while he often uses a language of faith (Bible stories, Jesus, and “God”), he does so in a very ambiguous way. That is, he uses the terms, but not the meanings associated with historic Christian verbiage.

For example, in the debate he was pressed as to whether he believes in God and the divinity of Christ.

He replied,

The sovereignty of the individual is the divinity of the individual. . . . “God” is what you use to make sense of your life, by definition.

Yeah…I don’t know what that means.

But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord.”

Furthermore, he utilizes “us vs. them” fiery rhetoric. In Peterson’s mind “the Left” is pure evil.

Even so, does evil reside only on one side? I’m reminded of Solzhenitsyn,

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.

I’m thinking Jesus wants to liberate peoples’ hearts Left and Right.

Thus, the follower of Jesus must reject Christ-less conservatism and Christ-less progressivism alike. No Christ-less ism will do. So...eat the meat and spit out the bones. 

The Jesus Way: it’s not the way of Jordan Peterson and it’s not the way of those Peterson so stridently opposes.

Jesus shows us an entirely different Way—the way of self-sacrificial, enemy-love. “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

Dare we take it?