A while ago I had a discussion about the resurrection of the body with a bunch of serious Christians, and the question arose whether the body which is raised is “the same body” or “entirely different body” from that which died. What struck me was the widespread presumption that, for it to be the same, the body had to have exactly the same molecules. Since most Christians in the room thought this was impossible, the conclusion was that the resurrection body would be completely different from our current bodies. I think this is a non sequitur, and not a useful way of thinking about the resurrection. (more…)
1 John may win the prize for the most quotable single letter in the New Testament. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:6); “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:9); “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:1); “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (2:20); “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (2:23); “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2); “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1); “We love, because he first loved us” (4:19); “everyone born of God overcomes the world” (5:4), are just a few of the often-quoted verses. You could almost read the letter as the “greatest hits” of pastoral maxims developed over a lifetime.
And among these quotable quotes is the simple phrase, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18). I have quoted this myself many times, and often heard it quoted. But it occurred to me recently to ask, for the first time, whose love? Love of what, or whom? And for that matter, fear of what, or whom? (more…)
There has been a lot of discussion over the past week of Rick Perry’s claim that President Trump is God’s “chosen one” to be president. Obscure points of Christian theology have spilled over into mainstream media, and political commentators have felt obliged to weigh in on doctrines of predestination and election. The two most common talking positions seem to be shaping up as “God has nothing to do with politics” and “Of course God chose our president; get over it.” But the analysis has focused primarily on politics, and I think reflecting on the theology may be more helpful. In particular, what the Bible says about God’s involvement in selecting leadership may be useful for adding the nuance lacking in the public discussion, and may serve as a useful reminder of what Advent is about. (more…)
Moses gets a bit of flack sometimes for writing, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). Indeed, some people even make that into an argument that Moses could not have written this verse, although the argument presumes a surprisingly narrow realm of psychological possibility. I’ve often thought that if God tells you to write something, the humble thing to do is to write it.
Humility is not often praised in American churches, not often held up as a model to emulate. And this is despite the explicit blessing of our Lord Jesus: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Most sermons I have heard on this text take great pains to assure the audience that “meek” doesn’t mean “doormat.” That is an accurate observation, but when the caveat dominates the message more than the positive meaning of the text, perhaps it is indicative of a vitamin deficiency in the churches with whom I have worshiped. Humility is a virtue that we need more of. (more…)
I have often heard Christians say that we ought to be content in Christ, and not ask for anything outside of Christ. I think they are on to something important, but I worry that they might be misunderstood. Yes, Paul “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12), and the letter to the Hebrews commands, “be content with what you have,” linking that to God’s presence: “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5). But if this is the case, why do some people hear “you should be content in Christ” as a disappointment? (more…)
I was just asked how I respond when my religious beliefs conflict with what I believe on the basis of other sources of information. I think this is a common experience (certainly common for me), and that many people wrestle with it in different ways. My short answer is that I do what I do whenever any two beliefs of mine conflict. But that answer itself presumes certain views regarding the nature of religious beliefs and knowledge, and there are perhaps some slight differences worth exploring. Here are a few thoughts about how I approach the issue, and ways I think are dead ends. (more…)
Sometimes it is useful to look back to a time before the heated debates of the present were kindled, and see how cooler heads then discussed those issues. One of the heated public arguments of our time is the place of gender and gender expression in our society, and the degree to which those are God-given, naturally determined, socially constructed, or individually chosen. This past week the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) published a “Nashville Statement” outlining what they regard as necessary Christian teaching on homosexuality and transgenderism. Reactions to the statement were covered in all the major and most of the minor media outlets. And this is only the latest flurry in a discussion which already goes back several years.
I recently read Margaret Widdemer’s 1915 novel Why Not?, written long before the current cultural uproar regarding transgender identity and gender expression. It includes, solely for entertainment value, a subplot surrounding a woman who wants to be a man, and how that turns out. In doing so, it raises possibilities that our modern gender pugilists do not consider, or even wish to foreclose. Let us examine those, looking for an alternative to a renewed culture war.
In Mark 7, Jesus got into a religious argument with some Pharisees and lawyers. They accused his closest followers of loose living, not being respectable and doing what they’re supposed to as good, observant Jews. Jesus accused them of nullifying God’s word to support their notion of respectability. That’s a heavy charge. The issue here is how they were reasoning about corban. We need to see what corban is, then we need to see how the Pharisees got to their position on the matter, and finally we shall see how easy it is to imitate them. (more…)
Now that I have written five thousand words about why I think the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is a true and biblical description of the One God, someone might wish to ask me, “What difference does it make?” Sure, traditional Christian orthodoxy (held today by evangelical and conservative Protestants of all denominations, traditional Roman Catholics, and most Eastern and Oriental Orthodox) believes in the Trinity, while Oneness Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, liberals (both Protestant and Roman Catholic), and Muslims do not. But is that just an interesting and incidental detail, along the lines of different traditions of church decoration? Or is it relevant to how Christians live out their faith in practice? Does this Trinitarian theology matter?
I think it does matter, and it matters a lot. Now, I will readily grant up front that it does not seem to matter to many Christians, who live out their lives with scarcely a thought regarding Trinitarian vs. Unitarian doctrine. But I think it does matter, and ought to matter a great deal to Christian life and faith. (more…)
Now is a good time to pray for America. I have never seen American democracy as weak as it is now. In order for this country to survive, its leaders and its people need to defend its core democratic institutions, and yet I see many leaders and public figures, both Republicans and Democrats, ignoring or even demanding challenges to those institutions, in ways that they think will serve their partisan goals. Partisanship itself can become a threat to the country when it escalates into factionalism. In order to understand this, we might consider a slice of history, that of the longest-lived empire the West has ever known.
Many people have compared the United States to the Roman Empire, but perhaps a more apt, and more sobering, comparison would be with the later Eastern Roman Empire, better known to westerners as the Byzantine Empire. The Roman Empire in the West was quickly overrun by barbarian invasions from the north, and we are simply not in that much danger from Canadians (nor from Mexicans, since that border is well-defended). The Eastern Roman Empire survived the Germanic barbarian invasions just fine. Like the United States, it had much greater military and population resources than its western partner. But it fell in stages, losing large areas of land in the seventh, the eleventh, and the fourteenth centuries, so that it spent the last century of its existence as little more than a city-state. And each of these territorial losses was preceded by factionalism and civil war. If Americans would like to avoid the fate of the Byzantines, we must not let our partisan loyalties escalate into factionalism. (more…)