Archive | July, 2013

When Churches Produce Heretics instead of Disciples

astrologyTim, we need your assistance up front.” I heard this from one of our Baristas (professional coffee worker) recently. He continued, “There’s a guy in the Credo House asking a bunch of questions we’ve never heard before….we’re out of our league.” Michael Patton and I work hard to theologically train our coffee employees, but we also tell them to come get us if they feel like help is needed.

As I walked to the front, I was greeted by a guy with a slightly wild look on his face. We ordered Luther Lattes and sat down for a chat. I asked for his story and thoroughly loved the conversation which followed.

Jake, the name I’ll use for the rest of the post, had been your typical church going Christian. He worked a normal job and played by all the “Christian” rules. Something bizarre happened to him about six months ago. He got really into reading the Bible. As he continued with his story he said he was getting ready to wrap up his third complete reading of the Bible in the last six months. I stopped him in mid-sentence, asking him again to clarify, “You have actually read every word of the Bible three times in the last six months?

He assured me that, yes, he was consumed with the Bible and had been reading it whenever he wasn’t working or spending time with his family. Although I knew there was some reason the Baristas asked me to talk with Jake, I first encouraged him that it was totally amazing he was spending so much time learning from the Bible. Almost every pastor I know of would kill to have a guy like this in their churches. Someone who is devoting more time to God’s Word than Netflix, Google Play, Amazon Prime and/or Hulu Plus. So often church leaders bang their heads against the wall pleading for their people to step out of the stupor of apathy. It was exciting to talk with someone who is, for the first time, discovering such powerful truths.

Then came the “Aha” moment for why I was asked to talk with Jake at the Credo House.
As Jake read the Bible he processed some of the content in unusual ways. First, he believed any ideas he came up with from the Bible must be correct because the Spirit must have communicated the ideas directly to him. If anyone thinks his interpretation is wrong…Jake thinks they must be wrong. Second, he had closely correlated the Bible with Astrology. Note, I said Astrology and not Astronomy.

He continued to go on for quite some time, without any further interruption from me. He told me that he had started to ask his pastor many questions without much of a helpful response. Maybe the pastor was being helpful, but from Jake’s perspective the pastor had no clue. His pastor then decided to pass Jake, and his many questions, on to his predecessor who had recently retired from the local church but was still attending their church. “What happened then?” I asked. The referred pastor also couldn’t help him, saying he wasn’t that much of a Bible scholar, but perhaps the young man should talk to the professor at the local seminary who was just retiring at the age of 80, and would likely be able to help Jake. “What happened then?” I asked. Jake said he was really disappointed, and even felt bad for the professor, because Jake felt like he knew more in 6 months than the professor acquired in Biblical knowledge during his 80 years.

Jake then looked at me straight in the eyes and said something that almost broke my heart, “I know I’m not a crazy person…what’s wrong with me or those around me?

We then started to walk through his story. I knew this guy really wanted to be orthodox. He really loved God. He really loved God’s Word. I knew my task was one of discipleship. We quickly dove into ideas of: Bible interpretation (Hermeneutics); How we know things (Epistemology); How to test our interpretations with Spirit-Indwelt Saints who have gone before us (Regula Fide); and many more issues.

Jake was surprisingly receptive for some theological/biblical direction. For six months, while his passion for God’s Word had exploded, Jake had been pushed to the periphery. When church members saw Jake coming down the sidewalk, they crossed to the other side. Instead of receiving encouragement and grace from God’s people, piles of dry wood were being stacked for the up-and-coming heretic. Jake was on the fast track to being kicked out of his church and remembered as that crazy guy. It struck me so vividly how the church can produce heretics instead of disciples.

Nevertheless, I thought Jake and I had made a lot of progress. After a lot of “calm” back and forth exchanges, he eventually saw the need for some excellent commentaries to help guide and direct his reading of Scripture. I was able to teach him about essentials and non-essentials of the faith. There are certain things like the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union of Jesus, and the Resurrection that are essentials. These are issues all of us should be willing to die for. There are also non-essential issues that may be important, but probably aren’t worth giving up one’s life. Unfortunately, many people who have not been discipled may think that every issue is equally essential.

Things were going great in our conversation, but I still didn’t know how to approach the Astrology issue in a way that would, hopefully, point him in a good direction. Then I remembered reading about a great friendship between some world-changing Christians.
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How to Sin More Boldly

At a staff meeting, Chuck Swindoll once gave us a tip about interviewing for pastoral positions (as many of us were thought to be candidates for other jobs). He said, “When you preach your first sermon during the interview process, don’t give them the best one you’ve got. In other words [and hear his deep preaching voice come in here], don’t put your best foot forward. Otherwise, when you come back or start your job you won’t have anything but your normal self to give them, and you have already prepared them for something different.” (Yes, that was a paraphrase, but it went something like that.)

Unfortunately, we are always (spiritually speaking) trying to put our best foot forward, both to ourselves and others. We are consumed by what we think others think of us and, in turn, what we think of ourselves. Unknown to us, our lives turn into theatrical performances of lies, manipulation, and deception. And the worst part about it is that we hardly even know it. It becomes second nature.

Of course, we don’t really want to throw up on people at every turn. And, more importantly, people don’t really want us to. But that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about learning to be who we really are and being fine with it.

I would like to say that I learned this in some Bible study, class at seminary, or revelation from an angel. However, such is not the case. I began to learn and practice this (and, please note, I am still just beginning to acknowledge the mass amounts of self-deception I have rooted deep in my soul) in my days at the bars, picking up on girls (yes, you heard that right). I had a good friend who could get just about any girl in town (or so we thought). I was so impressed with him. He could not even count the number of girls he had slept with (and at that point in my life, that is where I wanted to be). He began to teach me the tricks of the trade and, for better or worse, one of his “tricks” was brutal honesty. I cringe at trying to give example of what I mean. (I think there is a difference in being wisely transparent and irresponsibly crass!) But this guy showed me that I did not have to put my best foot forward. In fact, I could lead with my weaknesses. Of course, this had an interesting dynamic at 1 a.m. in the bars. The slurring of truth from a guilt-ridden, wayward Christian may not be the best example, but it is my life. Since then, I have always tried to lead with neither my best foot, nor my worst foot (which is just as bad in the opposite direction), but my real foot. Continue Reading →

Introducing the BibleMap App…a Must Have for Everyday Bible Study

Selecting Jeremiah 48
Yesterday morning I was studying through Jeremiah 48. I have read this chapter several times but was surprised this time how many locations mentioned in that chapter are still so foreign to my ears. Places like: Nebo, Kiriathaim, Heshbon, Madmen, Heronaim, Luhith, Dibon, Aroer, Beth-Diblathaim, Beth-Gamul, Bozrah, Sibmah and several more names you don’t say every day!

Most Bible readers quickly pass over the thousands of locations. Those places are just too far out of reach. Well, not anymore.

All you need to do is pull out your iPhone/iPad/iPod…open the BibleMap App…and you now have Google Maps for the Bible! Every chapter of the Bible has been connected with Google Maps.

One of the amazing things about Christianity is that God did everything in public. The Bible is full of real cities, real geographic features, real people groups, real locations inside of cities. We can analyze the accuracy of all these locations to see how accurate the Word of God is today. The BibleMap App proclaims confidently the historic reality of the events of the Bible.

The most simple, detailed and easily accessible exhaustive Bible Atlas in the world for just 99 cents.

Get it today by clicking here.

Here are a bunch of screen shots so you know what you’re getting:

Seeing the ResultsClick the Verse and See it on the Mapshot4shot6shot6ashot7

p.s. Yes, the Android version is being developed by a 3rd party very skilled developer. It should function just as nicely as the iOS version. We hope to have it in the Google Play store and hopefully in the Amazon store this Fall.

If procreation is part of marriage, are infertile couples unmarried? And if human beings walk on two legs, are amputees not human beings?

Simple logical errors sometimes pass by undetected, and in a few cases a persistent fallacy becomes so frequent in the wider public conversation that we don’t even think to analyze and question it. One such mistake that I’ve noticed involves definitions of things and a kind of mistaking of the exception for the rule. Before you stop reading because this just seems like uninteresting academic nitpicking, let me assure you that this rational error is relevant in some of today’s most heated topics of debate. It makes a difference whether we recognize it or not.

To explain:  definitions of things are basic to all of our understanding and communication. In any debate on any subject, terms have to be defined. Additionally, things have natures, which is part of why we define them as we do. In other words, there are things that are generally true about, for example, a tree. It is part of the nature of a tree to have roots, to have branches, to grow upward, to have foliage, to use the sun and water for growth, etc. I wouldn’t say those things about a dolphin, since it has a very different nature. Some people may deny that things have natures, since they may not like the implication of design (teleology) that this idea implies. But such objectors are a minority and I will not deal with them at present.

Nothing I’m saying here is novel. We could go back through the centuries all the way to the Greeks and let Aristotle explain this, but I want to be brief and succinct so I’m trying to give you the Cliff’s Notes (Clint’s Notes, to be exact). Christian thinkers have certainly always understood this, and all the more since they recognize that the natures to which things conform are definitely by design. Think, then, about how definitions of things involve their natures, and ask yourself: Are there ever exceptions? And of course you will recognize that there are. Rarely does a definition of something in this world apply to every member of the class or category being described. When you think of birds, for example, you think of flight, since it is generally in the nature of birds to fly. BUT there are a few exceptions.  There are a few species of flightless birds. And even if there were no species of flightless birds, there will always be the individual cases of birds that cannot fly because of developmental deformities in their wings or having been wounded.

Human Nature

This brings us to one of the examples in the title of this post. One thing we usually talk about as having a nature is a human being (as in the term “human nature”). When discussing the definition of human beings, we do our best to consider what is part of the nature of humanity – physically, mentally, and otherwise. Our definition of what it means to be human is, like others, general. It is not meant to say that every single human being will always have all of the traits we ascribe to human beings. It is meant to say, rather, that, all things functioning properly and in accord with what is the nature of a human being, the definition will apply.
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Why Jesus is Greater than the Holy Spirit

I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is how I would formulate this doctrine:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Since there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos.

Confused? Good. Anytime you have an “aha!” moment with regard to the Trinity, it is a good sign you have just entered into the world of heresy.

While I don’t believe there is an ontological hierarchy (gradation of essence, or all that stuff I said above), I do believe there can be a hierarchy in person. In other words, one member of the Trinity can take on a different rank than another. I think we can all agree that at the incarnation, this hierarchy presented itself as Father, then Son, then Spirit. After all, even Christ said that the Father was greater than he was (John 14:28). This is sometimes called a “functional hierarchy.” This should not be too difficult to process, as we can see many analogies to this in our own world. For example, President Obama is greater than I am in one respect. He is the President of the United States. Therefore, his position and authority are greater than mine. But he is not greater in essence. Similarly, parents are greater than children in rank. But they are not greater in their being. And (cover your eyes, egalitarians) I believe the Bible presents the husband as having greater authority than his wife. However, he is not greater in his ontos or humanity. Continue Reading →

You Think You’re Special, and You Think You’re Right. How Arrogant Can You Possibly Be?

There are some beliefs that, if I held them, I could easily and justifiably be called arrogant. For example, if I held to the belief that I am inherently superior and more significant as a human being than all others, it would be safe to charge me with arrogance. But what about other more common beliefs people hold and profess? What exactly qualifies a belief as arrogant, and thus a person as arrogant for choosing to hold to it?

In a previous blog post I initially posed this question and began to hash it out, mostly in light of the current trend in our culture of identifying many traditional religious beliefs as arrogant. I first pointed out the important distinction between arrogance as a character trait and arrogance as it might apply to beliefs. The former is generally regarded as odious and undesirable by all parties, but the second is the more interesting and often confusing issue. Continue Reading →

Christianity, the World’s Most Falsifiable Religion

This belief has been a source of contention with many people, even Christians, in the past. But the more I research, the more I find it to be the case that Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible. The central claims of the Bible demand historic inquiry, as they are based on public events that can be historically verified. In contrast, the central claims of all other religions cannot be historically tested and, therefore, are beyond falsifiability or inquiry. They just have to be believed with blind faith.

Think about it: The believer in the Islamic faith has to trust in a private encounter Muhammad had, and this encounter is unable to be tested historically. We have no way to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith (and when we do, they are found wanting). Buddhism and Hinduism are not historic faiths, meaning they don’t have central claims of events in time and space which believers are called upon to investigate. You either adopt their philosophy or you don’t. There is no objective way to test them. Run through every religion that you know of and you will find this to be the case: Either it does not give historic details to the central event, the event does not carry any worldview-changing significance, or there are no historic events which form the foundation of the faith.

This is what it looks like:

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