Even When Enemies are Muslim, “Muslims” are not the Enemy!

A friend asked me a bit ago whether my day job (trying to understand the Middle East, including Islam and Muslims) wasn’t counterproductive for me as a Bible-believing Christian, or whether it was an attempt to “know the enemy.”  In truth, it is neither.  Of course, I believe that Christians should explore all fields of knowledge to understand the world in the light of God’s revelation.  But I also do not think of Muslims as “the enemy.”  Since this latter point is apparently highly contentious at the present among conservative Christians, I thought it might be useful for me to explain my reasoning. (more…)

Worshiping the Unseen

My last post suggested that part of the difficulty in adjudicating the debate whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God is that we mean so many different things when we say “worship.”  But there is another problem: how do we know what someone worships?  In grammatical terms, “worship” is a transitive verb; it takes a direct object.  But how do we know what the actual direct object is of any particular act of worship?  The first answer would seem to be that someone is worshiping whom or what they claim to be worshiping.  And in cases of frank idolatry, that is undoubtedly sufficient.  When an ancient Greek claimed to be worshiping Aphrodite, or a modern Vaishnava Hindu worships Vishnu, there is no reason to doubt them.  The greater difficulty is determining the object of worship when people of different religions claim to be worshiping simply “God,” or even “the God.”  This question takes us to the center of some tricky problems about meaning and language, especially the meaning of language describing non-physical realities. (more…)

Is Prayer a Conversation?

Christians struggle how to understand prayer.  Many people think of prayer as a token to the great vending machine in the sky, which is clearly wrong.  Some people think of prayer as a particularly holy work for those who can muster enough faith for it.  People present God with lists of requests, sometimes demands, or try to bargain with God, while others insist that prayer for physical things is (not only ineffective but also) merely selfish, so they upholster their prayers in pious verbiage to protect it from encountering anything hard (or real).  Some people say prayer is a conversation between a Christian and God, but the obvious objection is that unlike in human conversations, (most) Christians don’t hear audible responses to their prayers.  Some Christians create a model of “holy” conversation by pointing to God’s revelation (Scripture and creation) for God’s part of the dialogue, while others just think prayer is too one-sided to be a conversation at all.  Is prayer a conversation? (more…)

The Gospel for Our GLBT Friends

A theological discussion group associated with my local church recently discussed how Christians ought to react to friends who “come out” to them as GLBT.  The discussion used as a prompt a one-page “position statement” on the subject which was pre-circulated.  I thought I’d follow up my previous post on various interesting viewpoints on sexuality by re-posting here (with permission) the one-page prompt from the discussion group.  (The author chooses to remain anonymous.)  Your comments and discussion of these points is very welcome!


Basic Ecclesiology 2: Jesus

If, as I argued before, the Greek word ekklesia just means a gathering, then what makes an ekklesia into the Christian Church?

Being an adult convert, I never actually went to Sunday School, but I am told that there is often a single answer that works for every question.  I enjoy a little joke which plays on this observation: A new Sunday School teacher comes and tries to start his relationship with the class to a good start, and so asks a simple question: “What’s gray, runs in trees, eats nuts, and has a large bushy tail?”  No student raises a hand, but one girl in front has a big frown on her face.  The new teacher asks her, “What’s wrong?” and receives the reply, “I know the answer’s Jesus, but it sounds like a squirrel!”

It is not a squirrel which makes a gathering into the Church (except perhaps sometimes); the Sunday School answer is correct.  It is obvious, and true: Jesus Christ is what makes a gathering into the Christian Church. (more…)

Basic Ecclesiology: Unity and Plurality

As I have argued that ecclesiology matters, we might then ask what we ought to believe about the Church.  So I thought I might lay out a few basic ecclesiological ideas in a series of short(er) posts.  Of course, our ideas about the Church tend first to be informed by our experience of actual churches, and what we like or dislike about them, and only secondarily (or tertiarily) consult the Bible or any reputable theological source.  But God’s revelation is always there to challenge us, just as Apollos was challenged by Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:26, to think better about the subject.

The first point is that there are multiple churches, and yet there is one Church.  The Church is simultaneously singular and plural. (more…)

Once Saved, Always Calvinist?

One doctrinal formula which Calvinists bandy about and non-Calvinists like to mock is “once saved, always saved.”  Like almost all doctrinal formulas, this one is shorthand for a longer assertion.  It’s easy to expand it to “once a person has been saved, that person cannot lose his or her salvation.”  But that formulation still presumes that we know what we’re talking about when we say someone “is saved.”  Although this language is often used, especially among American evangelicals since the 19th C, I don’t think “saved” can meaningfully be used as an adjective as it always is, or even as an absolute verb (i.e. a verb without additional specification of the predicate).  Now, some folks who know their Bibles really well will immediately point out that the apostles used the word “saved” in various contexts without adding additional specification (Eph 2:5 and 8 come to mind).  But we must always ask, in every context, “What is the subject of the sentence saved from?”

Since the notion of “once saved, always saved” has come up recently in a few places, I thought I would re-post here an (edited) email I wrote back in 2010 in answer to a question from a friend.  First, his question:

What does it mean to be “saved”? Is it a once-and-for-all thing, or a lifelong process, or what? A fellow who grows up a believer and manifests all the signs of a Christian and then in, say, his late teens turns away from the faith: is he saved?