Archive | May, 2010

Urgent Message from Michael Patton

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The DNA of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries (RMM) started in 2001 on a Saturday morning with a group of singles. It was there I taught my first intro to theology course. It quickly became evident how important this type of ministry was. From there we began offering the courses to the entire church. When enrollment for the courses breached 200 with students from churches all over town joining us, we knew that God was doing something special. One course soon turned into six. We sought to focus all our intention on theological development of lay people. Not only this, but we wanted to do something that we did not see being done. We did not simply want to give people the right answers, but to lead through a process of thinking for themselves, grounding their beliefs in their own convictions.  Continue Reading →

Was Christ Ever Depressed? or “Why Didn’t Christ Know the Time of His Coming?”

One of the most terrifying things about going through depression is the idea that it will never end. Our minds are terrificly mysterious. Our minds play tricks on us. Whatever disposition we find ourselves in we believe it is permanent. When I experienced my time of depression last month, ignorance was not a friend. I did not know what was going on. I did not know why my mind was broken. This added to and, probably, prolonged the depression. Was it something I did? Was it something chemical in my brain? Did I need anti-depressants? Was there a lifestyle choice that built up over time and was taxing me? I did not know. Had I known it would have been much easier. If I had omniscience, I could have looked ahead into the future and known with certainty that it would subside in a few weeks. If I knew everything, I could correct the problem by taking the most definite measures to overcome it. But such is the plight of man. We don’t know everything. We don’t know the future. We have to live in such way where we attempt to make the most appropriate decisions as they seem to us at the time. We have to learn to trust the Lord, placing the future in his hands.

The Bible tells us that Christ can sympathize with us in all our weaknesses and that he has been tempted like us in everything (Heb 4:15). Many times I don’t really believe this. Think about it. There are some things that Christ was not tempted to do. For example, Christ was never tempted to tell a lie to cover up another lie! As well, there are certain weaknesses that I have which Christ does not seem to have had. For example, as I said above, I don’t know the future. Because of this, decision making is very difficult. It makes depression much more depressing. If I knew the future, this life would be much, much easier. Exhaustive knowledge of all things would be even better. So many problems and so much weakness would be done away with. Who should I marry? How many kids should I have? What vocation should I pursue? Why am I down? Should I send this email or not? How exactly should I respond in this or that difficult circumstance? If I could draw upon omniscience, all of these questions—all of these weaknesses—would be a snap. I would always know exactly what to do.

What were Christ’s limitations? Did he have any? Was he ever depressed, not knowing what the future holds? What did Christ know and when did he know it? What could Christ do and how could he do it?

Most Christians see Christ first through his deity. Sure we believe that Christ is both God and man, but when it comes to our default understanding of him as we read the Scriptures, we normally see only his deity. If he knew something which ordinarily could not be known, we attribute it to his deity. If he did something that could not normally be done, we credit his divine nature.

However, when it comes to some of the more troublesome passages, we often find our theology insufficient to cover the details. When Christ was in the Garden and asked that the “cup” of suffering pass from him (Lk 22:42), we are confused. When he asks the Father, “Why have you forsaken me” from the cross (Mk 15:34), we don’t know how to take it. And when he says that he does not know the day or the hour of his coming (Matt 24:36), we are baffled. In fact, so confused was some early scribe concerning Christ’s confession of ignorance, he omitted the phrase “nor the son” from the manuscript. The question is: How could Christ, who is God, not be omniscient (know everything, including the future)? Why didn’t Christ know the time of his coming?

There are a few options:

1. Christ really did know; we just don’t know why he said this.

2. Christ did not know for some unknown reason reason, but he knew everything else.

3. Christ did not know because, being a man, he was no longer omniscient.

4. Christ did not know since he did not access his omniscience due to the rules of the incarnation.

My contention is that number four is correct.

Let me be brief and clear with my thesis:

Although Christ was fully God, he never independently accessed any of his divine powers or knowledge. All of his miraculous actions and understanding were the result of his submission to God and came by way of the power of the Holy Spirit. Further, if Christ had at any time accessed his own power or omniscience independently, he would not be qualified as the second Adam and could not represent us in redemption.

This means that there were many things that Christ did not know. It was not simply that Christ chose on a one-by-one basis what not to know, but that he, like every human, had limitations of knowledge. He had to grow and learn just like all people. When he knew things that are beyond the abilities of normal humanity, like when he knew the background of the woman at the well (Jn 4:17-18), he knew them by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, just like the prophets. When he did things that are beyond the abilities of normal humanity, like walking on water, he did so by the power of the Spirit.

In summary, I believe that while Christ exercised divine prerogatives (forgiving sins, claiming to be God, receiving worship, etc.), he did not ever exercise his own divine attributes independently of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. His knowledge and miracles do not alone substantiate his deity, as parallels to all Christ’s miracles and knowledge can be found in the prophets. But his miracles substantiate his deity because they substantiate his testimony. Continue Reading →

Heresies: Gnosticism – A Divided World

“I can’t wait to get out of this body and off this earth to live with Jesus forever.”

“The things on earth are all evil. Material possessions, earthly relationships, and concerns about your health are all worthless compared to what we will experience in heaven.”

“Death is freedom for the soul.”

“Christ was a divine being in a human shell.”

“The real you is not physical, it’s spiritual. We all must find the divine spark within us.”

“In heaven, there will be no more time.”

“In heaven we will be able to do anything we want. If you want to fly, you can fly. If you want to transport instantly from one place to another, you can. Heaven is a place where the rules of logic and science do not apply.”

I have heard all of these statements before. In fact, I have heard all of these statements from Christians. In many cases I have heard them from the Evangelical pulpits. They have even made it into our hymns. They have become an assumed part of the way we think. The problem is that they come from an ancient Hellenistic (Greek) philosophical system that is decidedly non-Christian in almost every respect. It is often referred to as Gnosticism. While the characteristics of Gnosticism are complex and varied, it is founded on a dualistic worldview that drives many of its conclusions. It is upon this characteristic that I want to spend our time.

“Early philosophical system which sees the universe in terms of two antithetical forces which are continually at odds. These two forces are responsible for the origin of the world. Often the dualist worldview produced a metaphysical separation between the spiritual and physical, with the spiritual being good and physical being evil. Christianity has rejected all forms of a dualism yet its assumptions often find their way into the church.” (Source)

The key here is that Gnostics believe that the physical world and all it contains is evil, or at least of far inferior quality. Whether it is the rocks, trees, human inventions, the human brain, or physical bodies, these are all of secondary value to the spiritual. The spiritual is that which transcends the physical. The spiritual is that which is most like God. Therefore, the spiritual is that to which we must attain. Continue Reading →

Ministry Madness and Shaky Structures: A Warning in 1 Corinthians 3:10-17

I was recently reading through 1 Corinthians and had to park on this passage.  I think the tendency when reading this passage is to impose an individualized meaning on it.  If fact, I read it that way for years.  I better watch how exactly I build for the Lord, since my work will be tested for the authentic and authorized service.  However, I believe Paul’s indictment here has much broader implications, which is for the church.

The problem at the Corinthian church is that their focus was on self-focused and man derived formulas on how to conduct the church.  He addresses them as a group beginning in 3:1 as those who are carnal and not spiritual.  What was the problem? Divisions were caused because members of the Corinthian congregation were following the teachings of particular people and taking sides (3:1-4).  I think the tendency might be to just relegate this to a matter of folks causing divisions.  But there was something more going on.  The divisions were based in on what men espoused that were not necessarily rooted in foundation of Christ but may have been man-made assertions about what was important.  When Paul indicates to them that they could not receive meat (vs. 2), it was not an indictment of their inability to receive some more advanced doctrine but rather to accept and build on the truth rooted in the gospel.  As one commentator puts it, Continue Reading →

The Great Trinity Debate, Part 6: Rob Bowman’s Closing Statement

I would like to thank David Burke for taking so much time from his busy life to participate in this debate. His efforts have given all of us an opportunity to learn a great deal from the contrasting arguments for our two theological positions.

Trinitarianism versus Unitarianism: Defining the Issues

The doctrine of the Trinity is biblical if and only if all of the following propositions are biblical teachings:

  1. One eternal uncreated being, the LORD God, alone created all things.
  2. The Father is the LORD God.
  3. The Son, who became the man Jesus Christ, is the LORD God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is the LORD God.
  5. The Father and the Son stand in personal relation with each other.
  6. The Father and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.
  7. The Son and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.

The only theological position that affirms all seven of the above propositions is the Trinity. However, each of these propositions finds affirmation in at least one or more non-Trinitarian doctrines. Continue Reading →

The Great Trinity Debate, Part 6: Dave Burke’s Closing Statement

Biblical Christology: Which Way does the Evidence Point?
In previous weeks I have shown that my arguments are strongly supported by standard authorities and a broad range of recent Trinitarian scholarship. This week I will be summarising the key elements of the Biblical Unitarian position, identifying key weaknesses in the Trinitarian position, and weighing the evidence against three primary criteria: reason, Scripture and history.

Continue Reading →

LOST: The Greatest Hoax in American Television History

I am not sure who to blame. Is it the writers or ABC? I am sure that I carry some of the blame as well since I was a participant. Either way, that was six years of my life that is gone into the abyss of purgatory. I am trying to keep an open mind here, but I have to say that I feel not unlike I did at the end of the Matrix.

I was duped. If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you were too. Duped in what way? Duped into believing that the writers knew what they were doing. Duped into thinking that they were less confused than we were. I said at one time to my sister, “This is either going to be the greatest series ever created, or the absolute worst.”

No, its not about whether or not LOST had anti-Christian themes. Don’t go there with your conspiracy theories. I don’t care if it had symbols of New Age, Universalism, Hinduism, Catholicism, or even Evangelical Christianity. To be truthful, I don’t really any longer think that the writers were that smart. No, the truth is far more sinister.

You see, lost was built upon an arc. An arc is a thematic venture which leads to a certain conclusion and climax. It’s an “arc” that ties everything together. Some TV shows play it safe and have arcs built into each episode and conclude the episode with a resolution. That way the episode stands alone and you can judge the success of the show on a one by one basis. Others take risks and have the entire season as the arc. This is more risky since viewers cannot pick up in the middle of the show and know what is going on. The entire season is dependent on the individual episodes. The success of this type of show hinges on how the arc resolves itself in the season finale. Could be good. Could be bad. The series 24 is a good example here. LOST however was different. They attempted to do what very few shows have ever done. They made the arc run the entire six seasons. Not only would you be lost if you watched only one episode, you would be lost if you watched only one season out of order! Continue Reading →

Dealing with Doubt: Part 4 – Intellectual Doubt

“Ninety-nine percent truth and one percent error amounts to one-hundred percent error.” This is what I was taught when I was nineteen-years-old. And I believed it. It sounded good. It sounded full of conviction and assurance and that is what I liked to hear. For many years I lived under the assumption of this powerful statement, believing that everyone who was in the slightest bit of error was completely deceived by the evil one. Oh, and one important note, my understanding and interpretation was the standard against which all others were judged.

I understand differently now, but I learned the hard way. Of course, I still recognize that this can be true when it comes to certain issues that are of cardinal value, but my studies have made me much less ridged than I was before. I guess the primary thing that did this to me was the realization that the “standard”, my own doctrine, was flawed and in need of change. The first time I realized this, I went through a period of intellectual doubt. Most specifically, I doubted my own ability to be correct.

In the last contribution to this series, I talked about doubt that is brought about for emotional/experiential reasons. Now I want to focus on doubt that is brought about for intellectual reasons.

The mind is a very powerful thing. As one writer put it (I think Jonathan Edwards), “The heart will not accept what the mind rejects.” Of course this does not happen overnight for most. It comes with questions, concerns, and small doubts here and there. As children we have the tendency to believe what we are told. Whether it be Santa Clause, storks and babies, the tooth fairy, or God, children are very trusting. It is not until we become adults that we go through a time of critical analysis, but even then, our tendency is to root for the “home team.” In other words, we want mom and dad to be right, therefore, we attempt to see things through the lenses we were given. When something challenges our childhood assumptions, our emotions fight to keep us at the bays with which we are familiar. However, our emotions only have so much vitality and traditions become nuanced and redirected slowly. Sooner or later, adjustments begin to be made and we find ourselves in an intellectual crisis of faith. This is natural and this is good. However, many Christians are completely unprepared for this crisis and it eventually does great damage, even to the point of sinking their ship. Continue Reading →