Archive | April, 2013

Why is God Hidden?

Mr. Patton,

I have been a believer for quite some time – since I was eight. It’s a miracle, however, that I believe at all. I grew up in a Oneness Pentecostal home that was very legalistic and rigid. Since then I have changed a great deal in regard to my beliefs. I very much believe in the Trinity, justification by faith, etc. So you could say I’m pretty much orthodox now. But with all that said, I have been having a bit of trouble with my faith. I’m kind of having a hard time believing in God or praying to him because I just don’t see the point in it anymore because I feel like he doesn’t answer. In fact I feel as if it pointless because he isn’t here – right here, spatially – to speak with me. I dunno I just feel like with all that I have happening in my life a face to face relationship – a person to person conversation – is what I need from him. And I can’t have that. I mean it is as if God is a distant uncle to whom I send letters (prayers), and he sends a postcard. Is it enough to just say that God has spoken through his word so he doesn’t need to speak now? I don’t feel like it. Why couldn’t Jesus have just stayed here, albeit in a ubiquitous form? That way I could talk to him. I know he is the Father’s representative to man and for man so why not stay here where he can be physically accessible?

__________________________________

My friend,

Thanks so much for writing and for your honesty. It might comfort you to know that your thoughts are not uncommon. In theological circles, the problem you speak of is called the “hiddenness of God.”  Why is God so hidden? It is hard to know exactly why, but the fact of his hiddenness is something the Bible speaks to very clearly. In Acts 1 the angels say, “Why do you stare into heaven? . . . He will come back just as you have seen him go.” In other words, you will not “see” him again until he comes back. Christ told his disciples in the upper room before his death that it is “better for you if I go because I will send the Comforter.” I often think “it is NOT better for you to go because I cannot see or hear the Holy Spirit.”

I believe that naked belief (i.e., without empirical experience) is what God calls on us to have right now. We do have to “limp” through this life without having seen God or Jesus, yet believe in him. I don’t have any perfectly sound theological reason why God is not more empirically evident in our lives (though I will give some thoughts below). My more charismatic friends would disagree, as you probably know. However, I have called and called to God to show himself to me. In my darkest times (and against my better theological judgement), I have groped for a sign of his presence, love, even his very existence! Angels, Jesus, a sound, or some type of miracle would be sufficient. I remember two years ago when I was going through my depression. I stayed up all night crying, sitting in my car in the garage yelling at God, asking him to just do something – anything! The silence at that time was deafening. It was painful. It hurt my feelings at a very deep level that the all-powerful God would not perform the simplest of tasks. I thought, “God, if you are so great and love me so much why are you so silent? Why now? Why when I am this depressed? Just do something!” Continue Reading →

Arguing with God

Jacob-wrestles-Angel

Most people hate arguments. I do. Though she may think otherwise, I especially hate arguments with Kristie, my wife. “I got into an argument today . . .” is usually not the first line of a happy story. But I am going to urge you to argue with God. No, I don’t mean an antagonistic venture where the emotions are fierce and the tension is high. What I mean is that I want you to present your case to God about things. Actually, it is God who wants you to make this case. An argument here means that you are coming to God, expressing your desire, and explaining why you think he should respond according to your desires.

I often encourage people to argue with God. I don’t think many of us do it enough. Of course, when we think “argument,” we think of uncomfortable conversations that usually don’t go anywhere, because we are too emotionally invested to see things clearly. We think in terms of those encounters that create tension and drive wedges between the people involved. This is not the type of argument I am talking about here, though some of these elements are definitely present.

Whatever arguments bring about, at least they cause people to think more deeply about the subject about which they are arguing. We should not ever get into arguments casually. Right now, my wife is arguing that I should get her a new car. This is not a fun argument for me. I finally got her Expedition paid off; I was so excited to not have to worry about making payments on it anymore. When she approached me with talk of a new car, I wanted to hear reasoning that went beyond, “Your sister just got a new car and it is so pretty,” or “I am just sick of my old car.” Since this post is not about whether or not to get my wife a new car, let’s just say her reasoning was not too bad, especially when she tossed in the coup de grace, “You just got a new car.” The point is that arguments get us more fully engaged in the subject beyond the casual mindlessness of blindly groping for what we want.

I think God wants us to argue with him in this way. He is not looking for rebellious “know-it-alls” who think they know more than him. He is not looking for someone to correct his thinking on any subject. He is looking for people who are so engaged in prayer and conversation with him that they can actually make a good sustainable argument for their requests. Continue Reading →

All Conversions are Not Equal (Part I)

There was a funny scene in an otherwise forgettable movie (and that’s not so much a criticism as a confession that I actually can’t remember what it was) in which a couple of average white Americans pretending to be renowned Japanese scientists – complete with Japanese name tags –  introduced themselves to someone who asked them the obvious question: “Aren’t you guys supposed to be Japanese?” Their immediate response was, “We converted.”

The idea of people “converting” is seen by most today as either comical in this sense (remember also the Seinfeld episode where a comedian converted to Judaism just so he could do Jew-related material?) or it is seen as distasteful.  References to conversion, unless by genuinely religious followers, are either lighthearted in nature or negative and coming from a secular or left-leaning point of view. Critics suggest that attempts to “convert” people are somehow oppressive, and cynics maintain suspicion about people’s professed conversions. Today a prison inmate who has a religious conversion is as likely be scoffed at as he is applauded for his professed change of heart.

And whether you play the scoffer or the encourager may have a lot to do with where you stand. People tend to believe and appreciate conversions TO their way of thinking, while looking distastefully down their noses at conversions AWAY from their way of thinking. If you want to be a media darling today, then convert away from your conservative religious upbringing for some professed reason having to do with how your thinking ‘evolved’. But don’t go the other direction. When the late Oxford philosopher Antony Flew, after spending his illustrious scholarly career as a leading voice for academic atheism, changed his mind and decided that God most likely exists, the response from his former camp, according to Roy Varghese in the preface to Flew’s final book, “verged on hysteria. … Inane insults and juvenile caricatures were common in the freethinking blogosphere.”

Christians have always seen conversion as more than just a change of mind, more than the acceptance of a few key beliefs and a switching of allegiances, more even than the moral alteration that causes someone to behave differently. It involves all of this but more still. Because Christians believe that God is involved (to summarize the theology of conversion in the barest of terms), there is a decidedly supernatural element.  Nevertheless conversion for Christians certainly includes a profession of belief that is specified such that it affirms some things to the exclusion of others. In the case of Flew, his was not a Christian conversion but a conversion in the looser sense of the term as people often use it; he changed positions on a very key issue that has far-reaching implications.

If we zero in on this important and obvious component of what conversion means, something will likely become obvious to us the more we think about it – namely that changing one’s mind, or professing x to be true (and, whether overtly or by logical implication, not x to be untrue), is a regular experience of life hardly unique one specific group of people. In fact it is completely non-controversial. Doesn’t everyone believe and profess certain things to be true? Hasn’t everyone at different times in life rejected beliefs or accepted beliefs, changed his or her thinking from belief that x is true to the belief that x is not true?
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The Apologist/Scholar or Scholar/Apologist Model

I love apologetics. It often hurts my head and goes “beyond my pay grade” as far as brain power (especially when I get into all the science stuff—I just don’t know who to trust, and sometimes it’s no one), but I find myself excited about apologetics in general. That said, apologetics is a very personal issue for me. Normally, it is not the case of a “seeker” or a “skeptic” asking me a question, prompting me to run to the apologetics section of my library at Credo House to research the answer. Rather, it is me asking the questions. It is me defending the faith to myself.

As a result, I find that I am much more critical than others who are involved in apologetics.  I greatly appreciate what Christian apologists do; nevertheless, there are times when I discover some aspect of their apologetic perspective that bothers me. I can’t always put my finger on the specific thing that troubles me.  More to the point, when I do identify the problem, I am too much of a “fan-boy” to confront someone “on my own team” and criticize their game plan. The issue boils down to a matter of honesty.  I don’t find very many apologists who are transparent in their approach.  I don’t find very many apologists who will readily admit that their viewpoint may have weaknesses.  Many are averse to playing the game fairly.  I find too many apologists are simply there to defend their prejudices, ignoring honest and, sometimes, well-founded questions. In essence, they are long on “apology,” but short on scholarship.

Notwithstanding my reservations about apologetics and apologists, I am fully aware that this is not always the case.  Last weekend, I spend a lot of time with Dr. Gary Habermas. If you don’t know who he is, shame on you! Gary Habermas is one of the greatest apologists I have ever met. We spent two nights (just him and me) in his hotel room talking theology. Initially, we had some fun with the “Calvinist/Arminian” thing for a while.  (He said he was neither.  .  .Rather, he was comfortable just being a Baptist.)  Then, we dove into the subject of apologetics.  Having read several of Habermas’ works, I already had deep respect for him.   But the one-on-one encounter for two consecutive nights was truly a gift in getting to better understand the underpinnings of his perspective on apologetics.  For example, we played a game where I was the atheist/agnostic and he was the one trying to win me to the faith. For two hours we role played; I did surprisingly well, if I do say so myself.  I surprised even myself by what a “good” agnostic I made. But Habermas proved that he was a much better Christian apologist. With tenderness and incredible wisdom (not just knowledge), he navigated me to the point where I felt I no longer had a legitimate excuse for “being” an agnostic.   What a valuable experience this was!  I sincerely wish we could have recorded it. The experience most certainly increased my faith, since I was entirely free to unload on him all the doubts that stir in my brain sometimes, when no one was looking. However, what I appreciated most was Dr. Habermas’ honesty. I could tell that he had been there, so to speak. He was a Christian-turned-skeptic for ten years before his faith was restored. The depth of his responses to my skeptical objections revealed that he was truly a scholar/apologist. How encouraging! Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Roman Catholicism – Part 10 – The Apocrypha

Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, JJ Seid and Sam Storms as they continue their series on Roman Catholicism by discussing The Apocrypha and what qualifies a book as “Biblical”.

Theology Unplugged: Video Edition is available for the first time to Credo House Members. Grow in your faith, learn theology, and have a good time all the while. Try Membership risk free! If you don’t love it as much as us you can cancel at any time

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The question that never gets answered: What is wrong with people?

The most recent surprise attack of civilian violence has prompted the same group of questions that the last one did (and the one before that, and the one before that, and so on). What is wrong with people? How could someone do this? What kind of a person would do such a thing? What is going through people’s minds?  We asked these questions when a grade school was riddled with bullets not too long ago, and then we re-asked them when improvised bombs blew body parts off of marathoners on Patriot’s Day.

It may be that these questions are not fully answerable, at least not to a level that would satisfy us completely. People certainly offer possible answers, ranging from mental conditions to upbringing to past abuse to psychological disorders to violent video games. But those always leave the issue wanting. One or more may account partially for this or that specific element in a person’s frame of mind, but the deeper existential weight of the questions is still felt upon the collective psyche of the rest of us.

I see a missing link in the already suspect chains of reasoning that generally attend these kinds of discussions today. It’s like a puzzle in which one enormous piece is absent, without which there isn’t enough of a remaining visual clue as to how the picture is supposed to be filled out. What is missing in this case is the element of belief. When considering an act of head-scratching and heart-rending depravity, we can’t neglect the question, “What were/are the beliefs of this person?” regardless of how uncomfortable people today may be with moving the conversation in that direction.

The attempt to psychologize everything tends to result in an emphasis on the causes of a person’s action. But people act not just as a result of causes (mental illness, depression, drugs, etc.); they act for reasons. And those reasons do not fail to reveal important things about the person’s view of the world, including his or her beliefs, no matter how splintered or convoluted, about God, about human beings, about life’s mission, about the nature of happiness, about his or her own place in the universe.

The contemporary world is marred by the terrible habit of neglecting the importance of beliefs. Because we exist on the rushed and distracted surface of life’s waters, we have neglected and forgotten about the depths below. We are more pragmatic and short-term in our approach to life’s problems than those who came before us. And it hasn’t served us well in times of crisis.

Beliefs matter immensely. Nearly every morally controversial act on the part of a given individual or group is rooted in the peculiar beliefs of that person or group.   When we read or hear about terrorist slaughters in one part of the world, human trafficking in another, and genocide in yet another, our inner moral gage registers the immediate disdain for such evil proceedings. But how much slower are we to also recognize the woefully faulty beliefs of those at the forefront of the events? No doubt the two are causally linked.
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Writing from My Brokenness

I do suspect that soon, I will get back to writing more material focused on stabilizing hope. I have those days and I have those thoughts. Deep inside me there is great strength, and it does not come from my mind or will. However, for now, I must continue to write from my brokenness; if for nothing else, I do it to preserve these dark times, in writing, for me and my children. If one day I cannot express my love for them, and care for them in whatever pain they may face, I want them to see my pain. But I want them to see it with a faith anchor that will never give.

I have spoken – so many times – of my family’s grief and loss. I sit here in my father’s house which, just seven years ago, was filled with life, plans, hopes, and dreams. Now the house is dark and painful, overrun with memories from a time taken for granted. But the pain is not something I simply have to bear; it increases and mutates every day. My sister’s death, and my mother’s paralysis and torn mind, I have spoken of many times. But God has placed in my back two knives of which I cannot speak. These have pierced deeper and darker than the other two. My silence is one of honor and hope. Honor because I must protect. Hope because I dream of healing.

I was in Frisco yesterday. I attended Stonebriar Community Church. As I walked through the halls of the church, the sights, smells, and faces reminded me of a time when I was full of life. I knew so much then. I was so strong. I was a pastor to many and a shepherd with a staff. I came to the aid of those who were broken. I guided and directed their recovery. I placed balm on their hearts’ wounds. My strength was their strength. My hopes became their hopes. They would not drown while they were in my care.

I moved to Oklahoma to help those in my family who were suffering from my sister’s death. I crossed the Red River with great sadness and urgency. Kristie, Lindsey, and my dad needed me. My mother needed me. It was time for me to let go of the hands of so many I loved to grasp the hands of a drowning few. I made it two years before the weight, tied so securely around their ankles, snaked its way around mine as well. I began to sink with them. As they gasped for breath, so did I. As they lost sight of the future, so did I. As they hung on to life, so did I. I broke with them. Now we spend our time resuscitating each other.

Yet I say with as much certainty as I can muster, I believe in Christ. Today, I am more convicted of the truthfulness of what he did for me than at any other time in my life. I cling closer to him than I ever have. And my clinging is not for some pragmatic gain. I have little hope of relief in this present life. I suppose this is good (or so I am told by that big book I read all the time).

That Jesus fellow. . . . Boy, he works in ways I don’t get. He makes me tired. He is so confusing. But I have nowhere else to go. He is the only one that has the answers. He is the only one who laid himself bare on that cross for me. He loves me. Me. Some other old guy named Paul says that Jesus loved me and gave himself up for me. Me! For me! That’s crazy stuff.

Someone asked me a few days ago if I was mad at God. My wife asked me again tonight, “Why aren’t you mad at him?” I suppose I am. In fact, I yelled at him pretty good while sitting in the darkest room of this house earlier. But I am not really mad at him for the individual circumstances of my life. I am not mad at him about my sister or my mother. And I am not mad at him about the two other untouchables. So why am I mad? Maybe this is really weird, but I am mad that he has not come back yet. I am tired of him taking so long. I am tired of this world (including myself) failing to give the belief, glory, and honor that is due him. “Why are you taking so long! I am tired of the unbelief.” Ever since the fathers fell asleep, things have remained pretty much the same. No change. No sign of your coming. No, “It’s getting close!” or, “Just wait one more year.” Christ, you left two thousand years go. Two thousand years! What are you waiting on? Why not come with times of refreshing? We are groaning down here. We are struggling with our belief. We need to see you. Do you take office visits?

Well, it’s late and I should not be writing.

Does Prosperity Teaching Deny the Gospel?

(Lisa Robinson)

As a follow up to my last post On Shai Linne and Judging False Teachers, I’ve been reflecting on the underlying problem with the teachers represented in the song.  It leads me to this question:  does prosperity teaching deny the gospel? Put another way, do the teachers mentioned in Shai Linne’s preach another gospel? Clearly, there is an issue with teaching that is being promoted and it does run contradictory to main themes in Scripture. But what is the underlying problem of the teachers mentioned and what they promote? I found this comment here from the last blog post helpful.

Some watch bloggers and heresy hunters in their zeal to nail falsehood have become all too casual and blasé in labeling someone a “false teacher” and furthermore, they make swift assumptions about their motives such as “so and so is teaching these things to fleece people of their money”.

The reality seems to evade them that it is POSSIBLE to be “an honest heretic” or “an unconscious deceiver” in the sense that the person truly believes in their mind and conscience that what they teach is true biblical interpretation and they want to share it with their followers with a genuine desire to help them…If you are deceived yourself you’ll be naturally deceiving others.

I think he is right. There is a difference between intentional deception vs passing on erroneous teaching because of faulty presuppositions. Having listened to most folks on this list for years, I can attest to the fact that not everyone on that list is a straight-out charlatan. Now some would say that the theological core of the teachers represented is corrupt – denial of God’s character, denial of the atonement, denial of the hypostatic union of Christ. Well, the reality is that the teachers represented do not represent a monolith theology. The reality is that some do not deny the work and person of Jesus Christ and that salvation is based on him.

The issue however, is where Christian hope is placed. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he is addressing this very issue.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9)

What was the problem? The judiazers (probably professed believers themselves) were telling the newly converted Gentile Christians that in order to be accepted to God, faith in Christ alone was not enough. Now they did not deny the work and person of Christ per se. In other words, if you were to ask these false gospel-ers who Jesus was and what he did, the conversation would go something like this; Continue Reading →