Category Archives: Theologia

Reclaiming the Resurrection

I am certainly not the first person to remark that evangelicals often struggle to know what to do with Easter. Oh, we’re all for the resurrection. We insist that it happened, and write all sorts of books defending its historicity. However, once the proofs have been trotted out and the usual alternative theories debunked, we often struggle for the application, the ‘so what’ of the empty tomb. At best, we say something like “and this really proves that Jesus was God, so you should believe it.”

Belief is certainly a good response to Christ’s resurrection, and I’m all for apologetics, but this approach deeply impoverishes us if it is the whole story. We often talk about the significance of the cross, plumbing the depths of Good Friday. Unfortunately the resurrection often ends up as an addendum in our theology. This is tragic, especially since the Scriptures actually have a lot to say about Jesus’ resurrection. It is a central event, as pivotal as the crucifixion, in the story of God’s work in Jesus. Of course we ought not pit the two against each other, but Easter provides an opportunity for us to reflect on all the things the resurrection of Jesus Christ means.

To that end, I thought I’d post some ways (by no means all of them) the resurrection is viewed as significant in Scripture. I’m breaking with my usual form and offering proof texts in parenthesis without specific comments for the sake of space. I hope their connection to the given idea will be evident. If not, I’m happy to expand any of them in the comments. In addition, I’ve tried to give the list some progression. The first few applications are the ones I hear most often, the later ones are less emphasized, at least in my experience. Continue reading

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Learning to Dance

When I was an awkward teenager I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out ways to get girls to like me – hardly a surprise, I know. Unfortunately, I was a wannabe-punk rocker and part time Dungeon Master living in rural Nebraska, so my basic lack of appeal to the opposite sex was hardly surprising. Rather than connecting the dots and trading in my Hot Topic spikes and polyhedral dice, however, I ended up acquiring a bunch of “skills” that I was sure would do the trick. I learned to play guitar, memorized poetry, and got good at card tricks. I also, in a particularly ill-conceived move, decided to learn how to dance.

Now by dancing I don’t mean that I figured out how to slow dance at prom. I mean ballroom dancing, big band swing and tango. I started by watching videos on the then-infant internet; when it became apparent this wasn’t working, I took lessons at a ballroom in a nearby town where the classes were made up half by people in their 60s and half by others as socially clueless as me.

While I eventually got decent at dancing, at least enough that in college it was a skill I used to help woo my now-wife, as a gangly 17-year-old I was something of a trainwreck. Being the sort of person for whom “learning” meant “reading a book,” I endeavored to master the right moves. With great focus, I nailed the footwork and how to lead a partner. I thought I had it down. But when the music started, while I executed the moves with technical precision, the magic wasn’t there. Instead of grooving to the beat, I looked a lot like a skinny teen stiffly executing a series of memorized movements. I knew the steps, but I hadn’t begun to learn how to dance.

While stories of my high school ineptitude are good for a laugh, I want to propose that learning to dance is a lot like embracing the Christian faith. Continue reading

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What Is (and Isn’t) Legalism

Note: It’s been six months; I’m now a Master of Divinity, a title decidedly more underwhelming in fact than in pretense. Since I now possess some of that mythical resource called “free time”, and since my one-year-old daughter hasn’t proven the most stimulating conversation partner, I’ve decided to take up blogging once more. However, I continue to have my guilt-free policy; I feel no more compelled to post than you are to read. Enjoy (or don’t).

I often hear Christians accusing others of being legalistic. It seems to be the go-to slur of evangelicalism, much like “socialist” is for Republicans or “Yankee” for my friends from the South. Now, I have no love for real legalism. However, the word is often thrown around with little care or precision. This is problematic both because it can be used as an unfair pejorative and because it leaves us without a stronger label to apply to those who really are legalistic. With this in mind, let’s ask how we might legitimately apply the label and then look at a few examples of what it isn’t. Continue reading

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He Loves Me Not… (Review: Love Wins)

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has generated a great deal of controversy in many Christian circles. While I have no desire to jump on the bandwagon of reviews just because everyone else is (I think some of the people freaking out are owed part of Bell’s royalties for the hand they had in making the book as popular as it is), the book is up for discussion in a class I’m taking this summer, and since I wrote up some thoughts on it anyway, I thought I’d put it into a blog post. For your perusal are three things I appreciated about the book followed by three areas of concern; I’ll let the length of the respective sections speak for themselves. Continue reading

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When Judgment Day Didn’t Come…

I’ve been as snarky as anyone these last few weeks since I heard that, according to some Christian radio guy, the rapture was supposed to happen today,  starting some hours ago in New Zealand (awfully convenient how the omnipresent Lord of the universe is bound by time zones). However, I do think it might be fitting to offer a few semi-serious comments on the whole affair, since it seems to have everyone talking and is a great excuse for people to ridicule the religion I’m a part of. Here, in no particular order, are some things worth chewing on: Continue reading

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Sermon: When God Speaks and the World Falls Apart

Since I know we’ve got some new readers here, a word of explanation. When I preach different places (in this case, the last sermon of my seminary homiletics class career) I’ll typically post them here. I wrote this one over the last few weeks and delivered it today. Continue reading

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Parsing Calvinism: Give me a T

While I realize my writing here has tended toward a more existential bent of late, I’ve decided to dive back into discussing some doctrinal issues here as well. A good friend of mine has recently decided to work through the five points of Calvinism on his blog and give some reflections on how he understands them. While I have neither the time nor ability to mimic the insightfully literate approach he’s taking here, I figured I’d throw in my two cents.

I often run into shocked expressions and the occasional brandishing of a holy symbol to ward off the demons when people find out that I would describe myself theologically as a Calvinist (or at least Calvin-ish). This is often the result of either misunderstanding or a past encounter with a Krazy Kalvinist ™. I’m hoping to work through the first issue a bit. As to the second, well, the sad truth is I’d be a rich man if I really owned the intellectual property to Christian nutjobs. I pray I’m not one of them, despite the voices in my head and occasional psychotic episode. I should also state up front that while I do willingly wear labels like Reformed, Calvinistic and Presbyterian, they’re not the banners I want to die under. I love Jesus and the gospel. I think the above labels summarize true assessments of some things His Word teaches us. I do my best not to confuse the two categories. I’d appreciate it if you returned the favor.

One of the strange accidents of history is that we’ve been left with an acrostic by which Calvinism is typically explained. This is unfortunate not just because the letters spell TULIP (which makes me feel like a pansy – although that’s actually a type of violet), but also because acrostics tend to have an inverse pithiness-to-clarity ratio. Still, that history is the one I find myself in, so I’m going to try working out the way I understand each of the five points, both in their original intention and their modern application. I don’t have time or space to give an in-depth biblical defense of the five points at the moment, although I’m not unwilling to. I simply think the way a lot of people I know understand them is a bit skewed, and would like to offer my corrective thoughts. As always, if you don’t think I’m a very good theologian, its because I’m not one. I’m a guy with a blog and 2/3 of a seminary degree. I’m not putting on a pointy white hat and speaking infallible truth from on high; I’m just offering my thoughts.

But without further ado: on to the first point. Continue reading

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The Universe is a Human Interest Story

One of the basic cultural assumptions which Christianity necessarily challenges is the assumption that the most-true perspective on the universe is an impersonal one. Atoms and accidents, collisions and coincidences, are the fundamental stuff of reality, while intentions, inventions, meanings and relationships are just happy (or more precisely in such a universe, completely neutral) byproducts.

So, for example, when we talk about the fall of Nazi Germany, we might say that Hitler “got what he deserved,” but we in no way think this is really what the story is about. Rather, what’s really true about such a historical event is troop dispositions, economic pressures, and political strategies, mixed together with a healthy dose of chance. Any meaning we choose to find in those events is an arbitrary insertion by an unnatural interloper.

However, in the Christian worldview, what we regard as “impersonal forces” are not the real story, but rather the letters and punctuation marks with which its told. The universe is deeply personal, not in some confused pantheistic way, but because it has all been made by the Person of God. Thus science, history, and every other pursuit of the mind are not acts of discovery, but rather of communication – with someone on the other end of the line.

One might point, for example, to the Old Testament prophets and the Hitlers of their day. To them, the most-true thing about the story is that people got what they deserved, or that they didn’t and it was because a Person decided to be merciful to them. The facts and figures are evidence of this perspective, but they are only useful and intelligible as components of the story.

Now, since this is a foreign way of thinking for many of us, both Christian and non-Christian, it is often assumed that this approach to the world leads to some sort of mysticism, in which anything goes and we might arrange the facts however we like. This concern, however, has far more to say about our limited imaginations that the way things actually work. It is only misguided to find meaning in the world if there’s none there to begin with. I don’t look for messages in alphabet soup, but to therefor decry those who look for them in Dostoyevsky is to assume what I’m setting out to prove.

The fact is that it is the personal nature of the universe that should drive us toward doing scholarship rigorously and carefully. It gives us hope that things will indeed make sense, because we as rational creatures are dealing with the work of a rational Creator (I do sometimes wonder how the materialist isn’t just peering closely at his aforementioned alphabet soup and furiously jotting things down on his notepad, but that’s another discussion). What’s more, it doesn’t just mean knowledge can be rightly understood, but it must. By their nature, ethical norms cannot exist outside of relationship. I cannot misinterpret meaninglessness, but I am doing something wrong when I misrepresent what my wife asks me to do. I am morally obliged by the act of communication to try to understand what the other person is trying to say, whether it’s a friend speaking English or God speaking math.

Granted, misunderstandings are easy. I’m no proponent for blaming poverty on faithlessness or hurricanes on Ellen Degeneres (if you don’t know, don’t ask). We must be careful in the way we read the story of the world – God’s character demands it. But this care is necessary precisely because it is a personal story we’re talking about. I don’t see why I ought to interpret facts correctly if they’re just the most recent observations of a truly random process. If we suddenly decide it’s appropriate to find meaning in today’s lottery numbers, I’m sure to make them mean something I like, just you try to stop me.

To get back to the point: our problem is that we have confused the genre of creation. The universe is not some dry statistical analysis; it is a human interest story. It should be appreciated, admired, interpreted. Biology should be told like some Mesopotamian epic. Physics should make us shake our heads at the twisting plots and chuckle at the ironies. Sociology might be a tragedy or a comedy, but it’s certainly at least one of the two. We as Christians ought to approach the world in terms of drama; only then can we approach it with God as its Lord.

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Ted Haggard’s Return, or Why I Love Denominations

I was perusing the news today and saw that Ted Haggard (the megachurch pastor who was busted a few years ago for buying meth from, and then sleeping with, a male prostitute) was back in the pulpit. A lot of Christians are up in arms over details of the story, such as his rather unclear comment that he “over-repented” when he promised not to become a pastor again, or the fact that he now proudly cusses from the pulpit (Incidentally, that debate seems to be between people who think that “cursing your neighbor” really means “uttering forbidden phonetic constructions” and those who think saying “shit” is a proof of having spiritual maturity rather than, well, a tongue and vocal chords. But that’s another discussion.)

What I can’t help thinking as I peruse this story is how grateful I am to be a part of a denomination that actually functions as such. When they hear about polity debates or bureaucratic frustrations, many of my independently-minded friends scoff at having a larger structure which local churches have to submit to. I feel that frustration too from time to time. However, the way the Ted Haggard situation seems to be playing out is a great example of why I can’t ultimately side with those critics.

When they function as they should, denominations serve the important role of overseeing pastors and protection congregations from those who aren’t qualified for ministry. Now, before anyone bristles, I want to clarify here: I’m not in the business of deciding Ted Haggard’s salvation. He has repented of his sin, and I don’t get to sit on the judgment seat and say whether or not that was legitimate. However, when he went to some fellow pastors, they asked him to enact his repentance through a set of promises. One of those promises was to seek employment outside of vocational ministry and not return to the pulpit, I think that was a prudent judgment. Even if it wasn’t, it was one which Haggard himself said he would submit to. Those sorts of commitments can’t be taken lightly, and a denomination is a vehicle through which they can be enforced.

What’s more, a denomination can serve as a means through which restoration can happen. While I admit I’m suspicious of the timing and attitude which characterize Ted’s return to ministry, I don’t think it’s impossible that someone who failed, even in big ways, could be restored to being a pastor. The problem is that neither I nor Mr. Haggard have the collective wisdom to make such a call. If a group of wise, ordained men – ideally the same men who had asked him to resign – had carefully assessed the spiritual condition of Mr. Haggard and then given him permission to move forward, while there still couldn’t be a guarantee of true repentance, it would at least have helped ensure that this was a wise course. Instead, it is simply Haggard’s personal decision and charisma which has allowed him to step back into that role.

Let me put it another way: denominations can be frustratingly cumbersome and prohibitive, but the conservativeness of such a structure is exactly what the gravity of being a pastor requires. It’s a lot like making people only drive on the street: I might be able to get where I’m going faster if I could cut across sidewalks and lawns, but the trade-off would be the good chance that I’d step out my door and end up under the tires of someone’s pickup truck. The damage that could be done by an unqualified minister is far too great for expedience to overrule it.

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Helping Those Who Help Themselves…?

Ah, that famous mistaken quotation, that much-maligned phrase of my youth. If there was nothing else I learned from Sunday school, it was that “God helps those who help themselves” was assuredly not in the Bible. I have since discovered that its origins lie with Ben Franklin, a fact which gives my sardonic side an impish smile. If the extrabiblical nature of this phrase is news to you, well, spend a few minutes thinking about it before reading this post. Go ponder the fact that we do, in fact, live in an economy of grace where not everyone get’s what we deserve and favor is not simply doled out according to merit.

Alright, you’ve come back? Excellent. Now that you understand that the phrase isn’t Scripture, I want to spend a little time pointing out that it’s also not all wrong. Continue reading

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