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…)
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 fivethousandwords 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…)
As regular readers here well know, I care a lot about Christian ecumenism (or, I would prefer to label it, “catholicity”). I also care a good deal more than most about doctrine. These two are often thought to be in conflict, but I don’t think they need to be. In preparation for a discussion I will lead with some of the people of my church, I drew up a list of assertions explaining my position about why “catholicity” is obligatory, and possible without sacrificing doctrine. Any of these can be expanded, and I would welcome feedback on anything that seems to lack clarity, charity, or verity. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) (more…)
Judgmentalism is unattractive in modern, liberal, western culture. After the accusation that all Christians are hypocritical, the notion that Christians are judgmental (and its frequent companion, closed-minded) is one of the reasons I have most frequently heard for why non-Christians have no interest in Christianity. Some of the cleverer non-Christians, and many of the more liberal Christians, have even learned to cite Jesus himself, who said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). So judging is always wrong, right?
The issue of Christians exercising judgment is not so simple. While the criticism that (most) Christians are too judgmental has merit, I think it is rather that Christians sin by judging in the wrong direction. Jesus also said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). Not only does Jesus command not to judge, he also commands Christians to exercise judgment correctly. Hateful judgmentalism makes obvious a lack of love, but what judgment’s “cultured despisers” often fail to realize is that refusal to condemn sin can itself be a failure to love fully. But what does it mean to judge “correctly”?(more…)
Recent events at Wheaton College have once again raised the question whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This is a question which I have faced with some regularity, given that I have a small amount of theological training and that I study the mixed society (including Muslims and Christians) of the medieval Middle East. With due regard to Biblical authority and the many learned people who have weighed in on the question, I find the issue to be rather more ambiguous than anyone likes to admit, and dependent upon certain non-obvious answers to tricky questions regarding the nature of worship and the relationship between sense and referent when speaking about spiritual beings, including God. In other words, contrary to what everyone would like to be the case, the answer is not obvious either way. (more…)
Earlier this month a collection of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis published a manifesto of sorts “toward a partnership between Jews and Christians,” as the document’s subtitle states, on the website of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation. In doing so they were, they say, “accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters.”
Now I’m all in favor increased mutual understanding, and indeed of partnership toward shared goals, such as peace. But I found the document disheartening, and in one place misleading. I thought I would discuss it here, and through it, how Christians might best serve their Jewish neighbors in Christ-like love. (more…)
This is something of a rant. I have some pet peeves, among which is when people misinterpret the Bible to fit their pet concepts and models. Even if the larger point they are making is good, good ends do not justify bad means. I’m reading a book on prayer right now which I think illustrates this perfectly. I’m not quite halfway through it, and I generally have a high bar for what constitutes good writing on the subject of prayer (and a low tolerance for Christian cliches and platitudes). On the whole, I think the book is very good, and it has already helped me with certain issues in my prayer life. But some of what the book says about Jesus is just flat wrong, even if it’s with good intentions. And much of how the author draws from the Bible is deeply wrong-headed, even if I think the author has understood some important things about prayer. (Because of this mixed review, I will not name the author or the book in this post.) So I’m not condemning the book or the author, but I thought I would vent my frustration by using a few examples from the book to show how bad exegesis is a problem, even for a good end. (more…)
The US Supreme Court has announced it will finally decide the question of gay marriage for the whole country. This promises to be a landmark case as significant, and as controversial, as the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. Both liberals and conservatives reportedly cheered the decision, and are readying their best arguments. Some might call me a cynic, but I’d be a whole lot happier if I thought any of the arguments on either side might be anything other than fallacious preaching to the choir, and each of the justices already knows where they sing. (If the justices on the Supreme Court are supposed to be non-partisan, why do they almost always divide the same way along the same partisan issues?) Here I present a couple common arguments on both sides, and why they don’t work. (more…)
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!