Posts Tagged ‘God’
I really don’t understand this.
A fellow pastor posted on his Facebook page this blog post from a self-identified progressive Christian blogger and ordained Presbyterian minister. My fellow pastor lauded the post as providing great food for thought.
The point of the post, if you don’t want to read it, is that Jesus never said he was God in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so worshiping Jesus as God should not be a requirement for calling ourselves Christians. The writer informs us that he calls himself a Christian because Jesus is the best teacher he knows about “this god thing.” The title of the blog post does not beat around the bush: Jesus Is Not My God.
As I say, I don’t understand this.
I’m not terribly familiar with the doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church (USA), but I assume somewhere in there it talks about Jesus being God. I feel fairly confident about this because this has been a more or less settled question for 1,700 years. What I read of John Calvin and what I’ve read about John Knox suggests to me that they took the whole Jesus is God thing pretty seriously, too.
The blog writer says he is not trying to say orthodox Christians are wrong (I’m allowed to use orthodox in this case, right Via Media?). He just wants to be free to call himself a Christian even though he openly denies that Jesus is God.
Of course, it is a free country. If he wants to call himself a rhubarb pie, he can do so. But the rest of us are still allowed to tell him he is wrong.
Right? Could we still do that if he were a United Methodist?
God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:6-8, NIV)
The larger context of this passage is that God’s response to good and evil ignores the distinction between Jew and Gentile, but we should not let the distinction that Paul feels he has to make a case for obscure from our vision the claims about God that Paul feels no need to defend because everyone agrees, namely that God punishes those who do evil and rewards those who persist in doing good.
This is so fundamental to biblical religion that we render the Bible incomprehensible if we suppress this fundamental claim about God.
The old Methodist teaching took this for granted. And it equally took for granted that we are no able to do the persistent good that Paul writes about. We might do good here or there, but we cannot form a life grounded in persistent goodness out of our own resources. And we cannot erase the crippling stain of sin by our own good deeds. We cannot, in other words, deserve the reward.
This old Methodist message has many detractors in United Methodism, but what I have find even more perplexing is the resistance to the fundamental biblical claim about God rewards those who do good and punishes those who do evil.
This week, I listened to a presentation that included as one of its main points the argument that the Western tradition has gone terribly wrong because it is too focused on fixing problems. The concern is that this puts an emphasis on seeing people as broken or fallen in need of saving rather than as whole and healthy in need of — well, not much really except encouragement.
As I listened, I recalled the opening pages of GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.
The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
In my presentation and in much of contemporary theology — so far as I can tell — the fact that human beings are radically out of alignment with God simply does not register. Awareness of this fact — which Chesterton memorably calls the only part of Christian theology that can be empirically proven — is described as a kind of morbid negativity about humanity.
I have a hard time reflecting over the arc of Scripture — Torah, the prophets, the writings, the gospels, the epistles, and revelation — and finding much foothold for the notion that we — when left to ourselves — are well-grounded and responsive to God’s will for our lives.
I have a hard time looking at the world — especially beyond the little bubble of security that we all try to hard to wrap around ourselves — and seeing that people are generally happy, joyful, peaceful, just, merciful, and righteous.
I have a hard time looking in my own heart and seeing the image of Christ stamped there without any blemish or blot.
I’ve been accused of being a gloomy Gus many times in my life, so I’m aware that there may be people with a much more positive theology running around. But I don’t see the world looking much like the Garden of Eden or the New Jerusalem.
The world looks like a place that needs God to me, not just for some encouragement on the way but for rescue, healing, and salvation. God, of course, is at work already. All good comes from God. But the work is not done. The world is broken in need of healing. It is fallen in need of lifting up. It is captive in need of liberation.
This is how it looks to me. If I am wrong, God help me to see rightly.
From an interesting Seedbed post on the wrath of God:
For several years I taught at a historically United Methodist conference center where thousands gather every summer. Despite the majority of participants being active in local churches for decades, I was saddened by how many did not know basic teachings from Scripture or basic teachings out of the Wesleyan corpus. In one of the Bible studies I taught involving a large number of people, I asked participants to complete the following sentence: “Do you desire to flee the coming _____________?” Silence followed. No one knew the answer. No one even knew the question was ever asked in Methodism. When I began to explain the origins and the biblical reasoning for the question, many sat in stunned silence.
Chad Holtz offers us another frame through which to interpret the current troubles in the United Methodist Church:
As a United Methodist these days it is easy to get swept up in the storm and focus only on the waves, seeing nothing but chaos which leads to despair. I wonder, though, what would happen if we looked at our present afflictions as God’s mercy, grace, and love?
[T]oo often Christians do not realize how subtly we are dissuaded from the theocentric perspective that should characterize faith. We live in an age of super-subjectivism, in which how we are experiencing things determines their reality. Subjectivism is evident in such slogans as “If it feels good do it.” Not so evident is the way subjectivism distorts our society’s approach to religious phenomena.
Postmodern interpretation of scriptural accounts center on the perceptions of the disciples rather than on what Jesus was teaching about His kingdom, or on the experience of the children of Israel rather than on what YHWH was showing them about covenant purposes and faithfulness. Last Sunday, I heard a sermon that focused primarily on dimensions of life that bend women over, but hardly mentioned anything about the Jesus who healed a deformed woman (Luke 13:10-17)
Because the twenty-first century mind is characteristically inward-turned, this subjectivism has invaded our theology, as can be seen in much contemporary Christian ethics, as well as Christian music. Several years ago a large dramatic Easter pageant shocked me when the words from Handel’s Messiah, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,” were changed to “when we shall see his glory.” That shift might not seem so drastic, but think of the dichotomous difference of perspective it indicates. Now the emphasis is on how we, subjectively, are (or are not) seeing God’s glory, rather than on the objective fact of YHWH’s revelation.
– Marva J. Dawn, Joy in Our Weakness
Do you love God?
That is the first great commandment, yes?
Do you love God?
Please note, this question is not “Do you think highly of God?” or “Do you admire God?” or “Do you like it when God does good stuff for you?” or even “Do you sing a good praise song and lift your hands in worship?”
Do you love God?
Of course, if you do not know God, the answer must be “no.” We cannot love the idea of God or the rumor of God. We must know God to love him.
Too many Christians spend their spiritual might trying love a God they neither know nor experience. They try. They say all the right words. They do all the right things. But they, as John Wesley put it once, have no more love of God than a stone.
And as a stone our hearts will remain until our eyes of faith are opened to the great truth that we tell during Holy Week. Jesus Christ loved you, loved me, so much that he died to free us from sin and death. He knelt in the garden that night — when he could have run — because he loved us. He bore the lash because he loves us. He took the nails because he loves us. He died humiliated, tortured, and mocked because he loves us.
Do you know how much God loves you?
Do you know?
Do you know?
Here is a question: If you could know for certain the will of God, would you do it?
There is a famous scenario sketched by Anselm of Canterbury. He asks the reader to imagine standing in the presence of God. Someone tells you to look at something off to your left or right. God tells you in that moment not to look. Would you obey God, even if obedience meant the death of someone you loved? (Anselm ups the stakes to the destruction of all creation.)
This seems to me to be a fundamental question. If we knew what God’s will was, if we had certainty about it, would we obey it?
Traditional Protestant theology says we would not, at least not until we have had a new birth. It says our will is corrupted and incapable of obeying God. A sign of that corruption is that we do not even desire to obey God.
It seems to me at times as if contemporary theology takes as a given that we should not obey God if God does not meet our standards of righteousness and love and justice.
Of course, this whole conversation is skewed by the fact that we have revelation, but not often consistent interpretation of that revelation. So, we live in a situation in which knowing for certain that we understand God’s will is rare. Or, at least, it is rare not to encounter plausible or at least rational alternative interpretations.
But the practical difficulties do not eliminate the question. Indeed, they may make it more urgent, since only a sincere desire to know and do the will of God properly motivates our encounter with revelation.
If we knew the will of God, would we do it? No matter the cost?
“Some of the Mystic writers do not choose to speak plainly; some of them know not how. But, blessed be God, we do; and we know, there is nothing deeper, there is nothing better, in heaven or earth, than love! There cannot be, unless there were something higher than the God of love! So that we see distinctly what we have to aim at. We see the prize, and the way to it! Here is the height, here is the depth, of Christian experience! ‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.'”
–From a letter to Betsy Ritchie, 1775