The Information to Transformation Shift

I really enjoy consuming information. Missy is always asking me how I know about all kinds of random things. Usually I don’t know how or why I know about it, I just do. On the flip side I have a hard remembering conversations. Missy will ask me what someone said about something. She wants to hear what they said. She wants to know how a conversation went and what happened. All I remember was if they agreed, if they were happy about it or upset about it. I just remember the gist of it. She wants to experience the conversation. That is something I need to work on.

One thing I have learned in my hunger for information is that gathering up and remembering information for the sake of storing it all up in my brain is pretty useless. It is only worthwhile if it leads to transformation. You have probably heard this point dozens of times in the last few years because this point is a cultural reaction to the modern mindset (which I grew up with). People want change. People want experience. People don’t want information for information’s sake because people have finally learned that having all the right information and all the right views doesn’t always make someone a better person, a better Christian or automatically draw someone closer to God. There are plenty of no good people who know their Bible backwards and forwards…it never made the journey from the head to their heart.

It is a challenge to learn what someone with a different worldview values. A large number of ministers and elders are from the modern perspective. It is important our “modern” elders and ministers understand that people want information to take us somewhere and if we don’t assist them in that in our preaching and teaching they won’t be interested. But if we learn to assist people in taking information (scripture) and making application that leads to transformation people will be hungry for it. The good news is that is what God has wanted us to do all along!


The Problem With Culturally Defined Truth

A few things that were once considered culturally acceptable by various groups:

  • Slavery
  • The Crusades
  • Killing infants by exposure (leaving them to die)
  • Murdering Jews
  • Segregation

The list could go a lot further than that but the point is, at some point in time there were large groups of people found these things socially and morally acceptable. If you are going to take moral relativism to its ultimate end you would have to contend that all these things, even though they are detestable behaviors to us, were perfectly morally acceptable to them because what is true for us may not have been true for them. At the end of the day subjective truth fails. It is possible to be fully convinced of something and be wrong. That is easier to see in others from past decades and centuries than it is to see in ourselves.

We have our own list of things today that are viewed as socially acceptable, “our truth”, that hopefully one day people will look back on and see as barbaric practices. Abortion is #1 on that list. Can you imagine some kid 200 years from now asking his dad if Americans really did kill 45 million of their own babies (dwarfing the 11-17 million killed in the holocaust). Not just murderous, hate-filled people…but every day folks just like you and I giving permission for their babies to be killed before they were born. But if moral relativism prevails we just continue to delude ourselves into thinking bad is good and good is bad.

Culturally defined, subjective truth, just doesn’t work out in the real world. I understand why people find it so appealing but the reality is in the end it will fail to do a better job than the objective truth it set out to replace.

What Was the Colossian Heresy and What Can We Learn from it?

In comments on the last post Philip mentioned Milton Jones’ interpretation of the Colossian heresy as something comparable to post-modernism. I have a great level of respect for Milton Jones. I haven’t read his book (that Philip linked to in his comment) but I did think this would be an interesting point to respond to in a post rather than a comment. In January I started writing curriculum on the prison letters of Paul. I really believe it is important to understand the occasion of an epistle if we are going to spend time teaching it and discussing it. So I really wrestled with the Colossian heresy for a while. After sitting at the feet of everyone from N.T. Wright to Benny Three Sticks and Peter O’Brian via their excellent commentaries, here was my take on the Colossian heresy from my Prison Letters of Paul small group curriculum,

“The Jews believed angels were involved in giving the law (Gal 3:19 for instance). It seems false teachers had come in and said that it was necessary to please these angels, principalities and powers if God was to hear their prayers (see 2:16-23). In order to please them they were taught to follow strict dietary (2:21)and holiness guidelines as well as the observance of special days (2:16). Paul is teaching them that such teachings are false and that Christ is still supreme with full authority over everything in creation that they don’t need to lean on such hollow and deceptive teachings (1:15ff, 2:8).”

I can’t say with certainty that I have it all right but that is the best I can come up with thanks to borrowing from a few scholars I highly respect and trying to put these pieces together in my own mind. It seems more appropriate to me to read their Jewish worldview into the text rather than to read a 21st century worldview into it. It makes more sense that Paul would be referencing things from their culture and not ours. Application can certainly still be made and the parallels connected appropriately to teach us something today about our own world. But as for interpreting what the actual heresy was we have to be careful to read the text from the right direction and not interpret it in light of the first “hollow and deceptive” teaching that we can think of in the world we live in.

If this interpretation of the heresy is correct, how do we make application in our world today? First, we have to listen to what Paul did say about the truth concerning Christ because Paul believed that if we have the truth we won’t be led astray by false teachings (Col 2:8-15). Postmodernism in and of itself is not a false teaching, as some have claimed. It is a worldview. It can lead to false teaching but it can also lead to some very profound insights regarding our faith. We cannot let our worldview “kidnap” (Col 2:8) us by leading us away from Christ and to something claimed superior or more sufficient than Christ. If we allow any worldview to do that we are in grave danger. That can happen with postmodernism but it can happen with any worldview, even modernism. You can get so caught up in figuring everything else, from the modern perspective, that you fail to see a need for Christ in your life. That is Paul’s point in the next verses (Col 2:9-10). The Gospel doesn’t need anything more to make it sufficient to bring us life and godliness because Christ is head over all things. In Col 2:11-15 Paul lays out all that Christ has done for us. When we read through that great list we should realize that our worldview must draw us closer to God and not further away from Him.

PS – If you don’t read Philip’s blog you should have a look. He is a great friend and a very insightful guy.

Putting God in the Box of Logic

I think we have all figured out by now that you cannot put God in a box. Have you ever thought about the fact that out of the 13 or so billion people who have ever lived over thousands and thousands of years of human history less than 1 billion of them were influenced by modern, rationalistic and scientific thinking? Have you ever noticed that the exegesis of biblical writers like Matthew would make an “F” in an undergraduate or graduate level theology class because he totally strips from context the passages he cites as prophesy concerning Jesus. How can he do that? He is inspired but he also lacked the influence of hypothesis testing, critical theological structures, and scientific reasoning and logic that keep us from making the same connections Matthew made. Who is doing theology better? Matthew or us?

Not many people in the world think as linearly as we do in 21st century America. We fine tune our interpretations of scripture and even categorize ourselves into thousands of different denominations based on minute and miniscule theological differences that have all been conceptualized and filtered through several hundred years of rationalistic thinking that was very foreign to the mind of early Christians or even a large percentage of the population of the world alive today.

I wonder how many times we try to back God into a corner to fit our presuppositions, conceptions, and ill-fated logic and even though we know as Solomon said in his dedication of the temple that not even the highest heavens contain him…if deep down inside we think that he is limited by our logic and ability to rationalize him into our own image.

Neutic, Herman (500 B.C. – 2007 A.D.)

Herman Neutic was born amidst the Greek philosophers and Jewish rabbis in the centuries prior to the birth of Christ. While publicly very quiet and reserved, much was written about him in the two millennia since his birth. He has been surrounded by much controversy in the last two hundred years that ultimately resulted in his demise by post-modern asphyxiation. He is survived by four children: Historical-grammatical, Lexical-syntactical, Historical-cultural, and his youngest son New who are all apparently suffering the same ailment that led to their father’s death. Herman Neutic, dead at age 2507.
What impact have you seen on biblical interpretation due to the increasing influence of post-modernism? It seems to me that there are some really negative things and some really positive things coming from it. On the positive side, people are becoming more and more spiritually minded and more interested in the God behind the scriptures. On the negative side, people are becoming more and more open to anything that even hints at spirituality and less sure that there is a good interpretation of any given text. What do you think? Are we starting to see the death of biblical hermeneutics or a transition to something that could actually assist biblical interpretation for the better?

Salvation: Journey or Discrete Steps?

There has been a real emphasis lately on spirituality being a journey/process rather than the modernist approach that looks at it as discrete steps. The modern approach broke down scripture very logically. The result in Restoration Movement churches was the five-step plan of salvation:

  1. Hear
  2. Believe
  3. Repent
  4. Confess
  5. Baptism

While these things are scriptural, many have rejected such a discrete and choppy view of our faith. Instead, they prefer to see our life as a journey and salvation being more of a process of transformation that does not take place at one moment in time but develops over a lifetime in what has popularly been called “transformation.” Just as a butterfly does not instantly go from cocoon to butterfly, this group would say that our lives also don’t transform in an instant. Rather, it happens over the course of our entire lives.

This also has its shortcomings because often scripturally mandated practices are discounted because, after all, transformation does not take place in an instant but is lived out over a life time so the value of those things that are discrete (meaning happening at one instant in time as opposed to non-discrete/continuous actions) are often not valued as highly. And I can understand why. The modern approach has turned much of scripture into a system of check boxes that people today don’t want any part of. The challenge is taking those things in scripture that we have made discrete moments and living them out over a lifetime. That turns what scripture calls us to into the journey that results in salvation by the grace of God. How is this done? Let’s look at the five steps and examine how even those can be turned from discrete instances/moments in time into a lifestyle that is moving us toward spiritual transformation.

1. Hear

  • Discrete/Modern approach – you hear the Gospel and you accept it or reject it
  • Non-discrete – Hearing does not entail the very first time you hear about Jesus. In your first encounter with the Gospel you don’t hear all you need to hear. Hearing takes place over a life time. While our initial encounter with Christ comes by hearing that can bear fruit in our lives welling up to eternal life, the second, third, a one hundredth time we hear about Christ during our Christian walk are no less important. The word “remember” occurs 233 times in the Bible. It is important that we hear the core beliefs of our faith over and over again. The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 is a prime example of the importance of repeatedly being reminded of who God is and what he desires.

2. Believe

  • Discrete/Modern- Believing has been minimalized into an instant, “the hour I first believed.” This approach looks at belief as a “yes” or “no.” Either you do or you don’t. Those who do move on to step 3 and those who don’t cannot progress to step 3.
  • Non-discrete – Belief is not at its fullest at your first realization of the lordship of Christ but grows and matures over time. While the initial belief is important and foundational it is no less important than the subsequent growth of our faith and knowledge of God. ” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24

3. Repent

  • Discrete/Modern – Once you understand who Jesus is and what he has done for you there is a turning as you turn away from Satan and to God. That readies you to confess your new found faith in Christ
  • Non-discrete – Again, this is not a one time act but something that is practiced over a lifetime as we struggle against sin. If we only see it as something we do prior to baptism we have missed the picture. It is more than words saying, “I repent of my sin” but then not changing our behavior. It is a state of the heart that comes through sorrow over past wrongs with the desire to live more fully for Christ than ever before. In Revelation 2-3 God continually tells Christians that they are in need of repentance.

4. Confess

  • Discrete/Modern – Before someone is baptized they need to confess Jesus as Lord. That might be the only time someone would ever publicly do so.
  • Non-discrete – Confession is not confined to people just prior to baptism but is practiced throughout our lifetimes (1 Tim 6:12, Heb 3:1, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9, & 2 Cor 9:13 – Christians are told to confess). In fact, like repentance, confession is asked of Christians nearly as many times as non-Christians in scripture. It is not a one time event but is practiced repeatedly through our words and deeds.

5. Baptism

  • Discrete/Modern – Baptism is a one time act where one submits to God and receives the Holy Spirit.
  • Non-discrete – While there is only “one baptism” (Eph 4:5). The principles involved in baptism are to be lived out on a daily basis. Romans 6 says that baptism symbolizes death to self and resurrection with Christ to new life. Is that to only happen once on one particular day? Can’t we even live out our baptism on a daily basis as we seek to put away the old man of sin and walk in newness of life? That is a daily battle.

We have typically seen these five things as something for non-Christians to do but scripture is just as adamant that these are to be practiced by Christians as well (baptism is the only exception as only its deeper meaning is lived out over our lifetimes and not the practice itself).

Our salvation is not captured in one time, isolated events that we can point back to and know we are saved. There have been many who were baptized who won’t be in heaven. Salvation does take place over a life time but that does not make those events any less important. Modernism is pretty much DOA (dead on arrival). I contend that there is a balance to be found. We need to remember that there are fundamental truths in scripture that should not be rejected or denied. There has been a rejection of the check-box mentality that we can reduce everything down so simple as to put God in a box and devoid our religion of its heart and soul and rightly so. That neglects grace and is highly irresponsible. Yet I think we can find a middle ground that is healthier than modernism and post-modernism. We need to combine a knowledge of scripture with a heart and soul that seeks God on a daily basis and lives out our salvation through daily devotion to God.