God’s Love, prt. 2

love is eternal

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[Start at the beginning of this series]

Jesus invited us to understand God’s love by thinking of our love for our own children. He did this mainly in two places. One is the parable of the prodigal son. The other is when he said, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13). In this passage, Jesus is saying that God’s love as a heavenly Father far exceeds our love as the parents of our children. This means God must love in a far different way than how the church often teaches it. The church tends to teach God’s love as a contingency.

God loves you if…
God loves you, but because of his justice he will still…
God loves you infinitely, but that doesn’t mean he won’t…
God loves you, but you better…

Vast parts of the church simply will not face the fact of contingency. It amounts to teaching love without actually teaching love at all. If we assume that Jesus modeled love on the cross, and if we assume that Paul wrote accurately about love in 1st Cor. 13, then God cannot love in any of the ways above and still have it be the love Jesus modeled and the love Paul wrote about. It is because the church teaches love as a contingency that so many basically good and loving Christians could have prioritized politics over love in last week’s Chick-Fil-A event, saying, “This isn’t about love, it’s about politics.” Only when we have learned about a world where some things are about love and others aren’t (e.g., God’s behavior toward us and love for us before our deaths versus after our deaths) could we even think this distinction makes sense.  

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God’s Love, prt. 1

love_father_baby

Image courtesy of Jennuine Captures, licensed under Creative Commons

Today I am beginning a four-part series explaining my theology, which is based on God’s unconditional and never-ending love for us. This is theology, so it uses a lot of scripture passages, and I realize there are many passages I do not use that create questions of interpretation. This is always the case in any theology. My intention with using scriptures is merely to show that my theology has deep Biblical roots. Then I will use other analogies, comparisons, illustrations, and arguments to show that it is compelling, common-sense, and — further — the only theology that will not leave us practicing love in a confused and half-hearted way.

I believe God is love.Scripture is clear on this point, and Jesus was clearer on this point than almost anything else he said. That is where I begin. It is not that the rest of scripture is irrelevant to me, it’s just that — if God is indeed a God of love — the rest of the Bible must be interpreted in the light of God’s love. Of course one may ask, “Why do you choose the parts of scripture that mention God’s love over all the other parts? What about the God’s wrath, anger, and vengeance?” My reply to that question is worked out in the rest of this post. This is my theology of love.

My theology of love is very much centered in what we can already know about love as parents. If you were to say to your children, “Repent, for your mother/father is near,” what would this mean? Would your love be dependent on their repentance? Would you love them any less if they did NOT repent? Of course not. Your love is the constant in this equation. You ask them to repent so they can know, experience, and live in this love connection with you. I believe that spiritual repentance is the same — God asks us to repent so we can know, experience, and live in this love connection between God and us. As I sat next to my daughter in the hospital last summer after her attempted suicide, the greatest source of pain in all of it was the chaos and pain she had been living in, despite how deeply loved she was. Her lack of understanding of this love had nearly catastrophic consequences in her life, and ours too.

Taking the Gospel to "The Found"

For all the talk that goes on in Christian churches today about reaching “the lost,” I would love to see a little more emphasis on reaching “the found.”  When people who identify as Christian but are mired from month to month and year to year in pornography, gambling, addictions, and bad marriages (at nearly identical rates to those who do not claim to be Christians), something is profoundly wrong.

There are several directions we can go with this.  1.) We can say that the reason Christians are nearly identical to non-Christians in terms of how we actually live is because what we believe is not actually capable of bringing transformation; 2) We can say that we’re missing a critical piece of the whole thing — something upon which the promise of transformation itself rests and without which there can simply be no significant transformation; 3) We can say that the problem is that we just aren’t trying hard enough.  (As some popular writers are in fact saying.  See my post “Not Crazy about Crazy Love“.)

I think the answer is #1 and #2.  I think the reason Christians en-masse are not experiencing significant life transformation is because we missing a critical piece of what Christianity actually is. 

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O is for Orthodoxy

I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.

Don’t be afraid!  The word Orthodoxy probably scares a lot of people.  Orthodoxy is simply the state of holding right beliefs.

Sound in opinion or doctrine, especially in religious doctrine; hence, holding the Christian faith; believing the doctrines taught in the Scriptures; — opposed to heretical and heterodox; as, an orthodox Christian. [1913 Webster]

The older I get, and the further I go on my spiritual journey, the more this notion bothers me.  It is so obvious that it barely deserves mention, but I must mention this because billions of people are now living as if this is not true: there is no one, proven, universally acknowledged/understood/accepted way to live, believe, or understand holy scripture.

My leader and spiritual guide, Jesus, came to a people who thought they had all their theology down and showed them that their certainty was actually making it harder for them to see him for who he was and to hear him clearly.  The Christian religion sprung up, presumed to codify and clarify everything Jesus taught, declare that the Jews didn’t get it, and crown itself as the new group to which God had truly revealed himself.  Same ditch.  Other side of the road.  Proof?  The lives, behaviors, and practices of most people today who call themselves Christians.

This very certainty — this very sense that we get it, that we are the possessors of the correct understanding of God — surely must be as dangerous to us today as it was to the Jews 2000 years ago, or to anyone who presumes to have it all figured out.  This is the reason I do not engage people in theological debate on this blog.  It is not because I do not have my opinions on things and not because I do not know how to “defend” them.  It is because I reject the very assumptions upon which most of these debates are based — the ideas that a) the faith journey is primarily about rightness and wrongness of belief; b) someone else’s perspective on a Biblical issue can in some way “prove” that my perspective is incorrect (which is possible, of course, only if I accept and understand that person’s interpretation and assumptions upon which it is based); c) someone else gets to decide whether or not I “get it” and whether I’m really with God, based on their assumptions.  I don’t care to argue the details.  I’d love to argue the assumptions, but very few people are interested in doing anything with assumptions other than assuming them, taking them for granted, and then building elaborate systems of belief on them, precarious as they may be.  We can argue about details all day, but when we start dealing with the assumptions on which they are based, that’s where things start getting scary.

The state of theological debate in the Christian community reminds me of two lovers who stand yelling at one another, “I love you, dammit!”  “No, dammit, it is I who loves YOU.”  “No, I love you, dammit!”  “Ridiculous!  It is you who are loved by me, dammit!,” with each of them making lists of why their love should be self-evident to the other person and how they are therefore entitled to resent the other for not acknowledging/noticing their love more profoundly.  It is truly a ridiculous exercise and sure to lead to nothing but increasing hostility as each so loudly declares their “love” for the other.  Of course at some point one of the lovers says, “We should be arguing in love,” to which the other wholeheartedly agrees.  The furious debate commences now, only without use of the word “dammit,” as if it is merely the word and not the entire conversation that is without love.

What have you accepted as orthodox?  Who made that decision for you?

Where is God?

View Kyra’s O post

Jack Black Evangelism

I think the emerging church should disappear and then emerge again – as something entirely different.  I think it should do that every five years, in that emerging church spirit of always wanting something new and hip.  I think it should emerge with great fanfare, set to music, preferably with people dancing and looking deeply spiritual and yet somehow extremely sexual at the same time.  And of course it should do all of this in the name of authenticity and keeping it real.

And naturally each new emerging should be recorded and broadcast to “non-emergent” churches everywhere to help the rest of us emerge.  There should be instructions for exactly how to emerge — words to say, words to avoid, directions on taking over other “less successful” churches in the area to start “satellite” churches, marketing, the whole spiel.  Asking price should be no less than $80.00 per packet.

This would be good.  After all, the biggest problem in the church, surely, is that we are not hip enough, right?  My senior year of high school each of us seniors got to leave a parting quote, or life plan, for the underclassmen, and those words were bound in a book and distributed.  Mine says something about “joining a band and teaching this world what Jesus rock and roll is all about.”  Great.  Jack Black evangelism.  “Come to Jesus, man, and see how he will rock you and totally melt your face off.”

I never did join that band and show the world what Jesus rock and roll is all about.  (They still don’t get it, and I’m not sure why they should.)  The truth is, I grew up.  I quit thinking that what God really needs is someone to make the message cooler.  This is not to disparage artists who are trying to do quality art and who cannot authentically do that without mentioning God. I’m referring to that mindset I used to have, that what we really need to do is get more people to think this whole God-thing is cool.

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