Thanks goes to Eric Carpenter.
On Writing, John Calvin, and ID Theft
You may have noticed I haven’t posted much this week. Why not? A lot has been going on.
First, I had one of my credit card accounts stolen this week. Thankfully, the credit card company caught it before it got too out of hand. The thief made almost $5000 worth of purchases online, but I think that since the company caught it so quickly, nothing was actually shipped out.
But as a result, I spent a good chunk of the week making sure all my other accounts were secure, signing up for LifeLock, and taking a few other steps to protect myself from this in the future. I am one of those “I never thought it could happen to me” people. But then it did.
And I am still recovering from it and holding my breath to see what else they got ahold of… I do recommend LifeLock if you don’t already have ID theft protection. They seem to be the best.
Second, I realized my book on the violence of God is getting out of control. WAY out of control. I am nearly at 100,000 words and only about half way through the book. What I have written on the flood is nearly 20,000 words all by itself. I’m drowning in the flood. That’s bad.
Also, I am getting somewhat bored with the topic, and if I am getting bored, I am pretty sure you might be getting bored with it too. I think what I might do is cut out the 20,000 words I have written on the flood, and summarize it down into 1000 words or so. What do you think of this idea? Of course, I have only posted about 5000 words so far of the 20,000 I have written, so maybe I should post the next 15,000 over the next two weeks or so, and then let you decide whether it is worth keeping….
10 Christian Clichés To Avoid Like the Plague
There are numerous Christian clichés get people nodding their heads in agreement and saying “Amen!” in sermons, but when you stop to think about them, they are not only meaningless, but also border on heresy. OK, maybe heresy is too strong a word, but at the bare minimum, these Christian clichés are dangerous.
On the surface, many of these Christian clichés appear to be true (some are even quotes from Scripture), but they are almost always used in a damaging and controlling context and teach people some very bad theology.
So don’t say the following Christian clichés
- Where God guides, God provides. The worst Christian clichés are the ones that rhyme. Like this one. But more than that, the message of this Christian cliché is awful. When people say this, what do they mean by “provide”? Does this refer to money and finances? That is the context in which I have always heard this statement said. So, if this Christian cliché is true, then the only things we should follow God in are the areas where we have money and finances to do it? And even if you do receive lots of money, or lots of people, are you sure this is God’s green light to move forward? It seems from Scripture that God is most often at work in small ways, foolish ways, insignificant ways, and with people who are nobody, and who have no money, no power, and no prestige.
- If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it. Hey, it rhymes, so it must be true! Gag me. Maybe God didn’t bring you to it at all, but you brought yourself to it. Or maybe He did bring you to it, but He is not going to bring you through it, because He wants you to sit in it for a while and learn something. And even if He is going to bring you through it, maybe it will take decades.
- The greatest distance in the universe is the eighteen inches between your head and your heart. This Christian cliché is quite popular, but thankfully it doesn’t rhyme. What people mean when they say it is that following God about more than just what you know; it is about what you do. I suppose this is true at one level, but the fact of the matter is that what we do is most often based on what we think. This is why Paul encourages his readers to “renew their mind” in Romans 12:1-2. The renewal of one’s mind leads to the renewal of actions and behavior.
- You can’t outgive God! Again, this Christian cliché is almost always said in the context of some call for monetary donations to a building project, a ministry opportunity, or some other fundraising campaign. And while it is true that God is more generous than we can ever imagine, it is not true (as is often taught) that if we give lots of money, God will give us even more money. Don’t give beyond your means to a church or ministry based on this faulty understanding of finances. We can give generously and joyfully, to ministries and people that are serving in the Kingdom of God, but don’t expect that by giving, God will give you greater financial wealth. He probably won’t.
- We are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. This is based on a misunderstanding of James 2:14-26. Related to this is the statement that “Even demons believe.” I’m not going to say much about this, because I have written on these Christian clichés elsewhere. Click the links to read more.
- When God closes a door, He opens a window. What does this even mean? And even if He does open a window, what am I supposed to do? If I wanted to walk through a door to a certain opportunity, and God “opens a window,” does that mean I just get to sit there and look out the window? Am I supposed to crawl out the window? I just don’t get this Christian cliché.
- Man meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. So, God is in the business of getting evil people to do evil things? I know that Joseph said something like this in Genesis 50:20, but pretty much just like every other verse quoted out of context, we should not understand Joseph to be saying that evil things that happen are good. God never calls evil “good,” and neither should we. Evil is evil. What Joseph meant is similar to what Paul says in Romans 8, that although evil things happen, God can bring good from them, and still accomplish His goal and purposes in our lives despite the evil.
- Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together. Yes, another Scripture that is quoted a lot. This one comes from Hebrews 10:25. I wrote on this misquoted verse previously as well, and won’t say anything more about it here, except to say that this Christian cliché is often used as a club to beat Christians over the head who are following Jesus by loving and serving others, but who may not “attend church” on Sunday morning in a building with stained glass and a steeple. I don’t think that is what the author of Hebrews had in mind…
- A Bible that’s falling apart usually belong to someone who isn’t. In my experience, those who have Bibles that are falling apart should just go buy a new one. I have also seen Bibles that were falling apart because they were severely abused by their owners… you know, thrown into duffle bags with the gym clothes and poorly-sealed tupperware container of leftovers. A Bible doesn’t fare well in those situations. But even when Bibles are falling apart because their owner truly does read and study it all the time, many of them are some of the proudest, self-righteous, judgmental Christians I know. Being a Bible expert does not guarantee Christlike behavior.
- God said it. I believe it. That settles it. In other words, “I just believe the Bible.” Riiiiight. Me too. So when we disagree, who is correct? This Christian cliché is another idea I have written about elsewhere (see this post, for example), but my concern is that when most people say “The Bible says” what they really mean is, “My understanding of the Bible says…” Any Bible student who has read more than two books on any subject in Scripture will be aware that different people read various passages in Scripture in different ways. Settling theological or ethical debates is not a matter of just quoting Scripture. We need to actually understand what the Scripture says in its various contexts, and then bridge the gap between those contexts and our own. In this process, there are thousands of possible ways to go astray, and so in many areas of theology and Christians ethics, what we believe must be held with a degree of humility.
A Guide for Reading and Understanding Paul
Whenever I teach classes on theology or Bible study methods, I always remind my students that there are 5 rules to understanding Scripture:
This list could easily be expanded to 10 rules or more.
When studying the Bible, it is impossible to spend too much time learning the context, not just the context of the verses within the paragraph and book of the Bible, but also the historical and cultural contexts of the passage within history, the grammatical context of the meaning of the words and the way words are used, and even the theological and traditional contexts of how the passage has been read, understood, and interpreted throughout the centuries.
So I am always looking for books and resources which will help me understand the context of Scripture. Kregel Academic recently sent me a book by John D. Harvey entitled, Interpreting the Pauline Letters. It is an introduction to some of the contextual issues and interpretive principles that are necessary for reading, understanding, and teaching the letters of Paul in the New Testament.
Overall I found the book helpful, though it primarily touched on academic interests of the Pauline letters, and not the contextual studies which might help people today understand the significance of Paul’s letters for our own lives.
For example, the chapter on “The Historical Background of Paul’s Letters” would have been a great chapter to provide details about the historical events, cultural issues, and sociological concerns of Paul’s day which led to him writing what he did in his letters. These issues would have helped the average Christian connect with Paul and his message on a personal level. But the chapter included very little of these details, and instead focused on issues of whether or not the books were really written by Paul, and if so, which order he wrote them in. You see? Those are questions that academics concern themselves with, but which have little interest or bearing in the lives of the average person.
Then I Will Know Fully, As I Am Fully Known
In my recent series on trying to understand the violent passages of Scripture in the Old Testament in light of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, I have the nagging sense in the back of my brain that all our theories and ideas on this subject (and in many other areas of theology as well) are about on par with a dog trying to figure out what humans are doing when they sit around talking, playing a card game, or just watching TV.
A dog can understand bits and pieces, I suppose, but they have very little idea about speech, electricity, rules of games, logical thought, or many of the other things that make us human.
I suppose that in some ways, all our speculative theology is little more than comic relief for God. You know… when we have a hard day, it is enjoyable to sit down a read a funny book or watch a humorous sitcom. I wonder if, when God has a hard century of running the universe, He gathers the angels together and says, “Let’s see what crazy idea Jeremy Myers wrote about on his blog today! Ha ha ha! That’s rich! Hilarous! So funny!”
God is not mocking, of course. But I imagine He sometimes laughs at our feeble attempts to understand Him and His ways.
But I don’t think it was supposed to be this way. I think that as a result of the fall, we lost much of our ability to understand and interact with Him, this world, and one another. I think that as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, and as a natural consequences of living spiritually separated from God for so long, we have lost much of our capacity to know God.
But when Jesus Christ returns, Paul says that we will know Him, just as we are fully known (1 Cor 13:12). I wonder what that will be like? We will be given back some “senses” that we didn’t know even existed?
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