Having an Open Mind – The Pursuit of Intellectual Honesty

Three quotes for you regarding intellectual honesty and theology. The first is from Randy Harris and the last two were quoted in Jim’s sermon on Sunday from C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton:

“If I am going to have a conversation with a serious intellectual atheist, for instance, I will ask, “Tell me what it will take to change your view.” If the atheist’s answer is, “Nothing could change my view,” I must next ask, “Why are we having this conversation?” However, it is perfectly fair to turn this around and have the atheist ask me the same question. If I can specify what it would take to change my view, questions arise, “Do I have a humble enough stance toward the truth?” and, “Am I playing a game or involved in a real search for truth?” – Randy Harris God Work – Confessions of a Standup Theologian, 16

“Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” – G.K. Chesterton

“An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful.  But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical reason is idiocy.  If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.” – C.S. Lewis in Credenda Agenda Vol:4, No.5 p.16

I am curious to hear your feedback on comparing and contrasting these.

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Pitfalls in Bible Study #2 – Goldilocks Theology

The more ideas you have about scripture the harder it can become to really listen to scripture. The failure to listen usually happens when you are out to make a point. So you grab a concordance or a site like biblegateway and start plugging words in the search box hoping to find a verse that confirms what you already knew. So you read past maybe even a couple dozen perfectly good verses until you get to the one that is just right.

I think of this as Goldilocks theology…this verse is too soft. This verse is too hard. This verse is just right! We don’t take time ask why the other verses didn’t suit our liking or to wonder if they might actually have something to offer that might better round out our theology than just our hand picked set of proof texts. We don’t wonder if the real problem might be our taste in the firmness of these textual mattresses rather than the texts that are problematic. The truth is, understood correctly there ideally are no problematic verses in the sense that they are all true. The are only problematic from our perspective in that they might be difficult to understand or challenge what we thought.

When we are looking harder for confirmation than transformation we can run into problems.We should want to be informed by as many related texts as possible to get the fullest possible view of what God is trying to tell us.

Confirmation is important. It is important to know what you believe and why. It is important to realize there are scriptures that advance a particular doctrine or set of beliefs. The problem is when we bypass the verses that seem to disprove our thinking in favor of cherry picked verses that at least on the surface agree with our side of the debate. When we do that we become the standard because our selection criteria is no longer what does the Bible say about it, rather, which verses agree with me?

So the next time you settle on a text and think it is too hard or too soft to suit you, why not rest there a while and see if there is something to be learned from those verses that make you least comfortable.

How Much is There Left to Say?

With thousands of Christian blogs, thousands of sermons, classes, and lectures being presented every single week, small group studies, personal studies…is there anything left to say? Blogging ideas used to jump into my head all of the time and it seems like lately they are fewer and further in between. I am sure that has something to do with trying to balance having a 15 month old, a marriage, a job/ministry, and just life in general that I haven’t had enough “left over focus” to put into the blog. I am sure that old pace will return and in some ways maybe you never even noticed it, but I have.

While I know there are still many more things to say, hundreds more blog posts to write, and profound insights being shared, more in the comments of the blog than the actual posts, of course. Today I just feel like resting in the simple yet not so ordinary words of the Gospel that most of us have already heard thousands of times that its almost like you eventually get this John 3:16 callous on your heart. But maybe there is a reason some things get repeated so often. Maybe they are some of the most valuable truths the world has ever heard and they are worth repeating. Actually, there is no maybe about it. The core of the gospel is the best thing the world has ever heard.

So in the race to find something new to write about I will instead mention something old and maybe we can hear it again not with new ears with new perspective but with old ears and old perspective, timeless perspective that reaches back before how old a scripture or a song was could even be considered. Here are a few I personally need to be reminded of”

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him
will not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” – 1 Cor 13:4-8

While it has already been said before, what simple truth do you need to be reminded of today?

Books of the Bible and Application to 20 Somethings

In teaching 20s & 30s on a regular basis I am finding the need to be relevant more and more important. It is not that relevance didn’t used to be important. It just seems theology disconnected from real life application tends to fall on deaf ears a lot quicker in young adults than in my experience in teaching older adults. Can anyone relate?

While all the books of the Bible have relevance and application there are several that stand out to me that seem to resonate very quickly with where many in their early adult years find themselves. Here are a few. What would you add?

  • Gospel of Mark – action packed, to the point, and it doesn’t get any better than studying about Jesus when it comes to spiritual and identity formation. Today’s young adults are people of action and Mark tends to resonate well with them.
  • Joshua – Trusting God’s lead & promise going into uncertain circumstances.
  • Ephesians – I love them emphasis on where God has brought us from and where he is taking us to. This is spiritual formation and transformation at its best. So many of our young adults have not grown up as Christians, just like many in the first century, and can relate well with letters like Ephesians.
  • Psalms – Are young adults aren’t afraid to express their emotions, much like David in the psalms. The full range of emotions and the since that the psalms are very real is appealing and attractive to young people.
  • James – oh, so practical. Straight to the point with no beating around the bushes. So why not add Proverbs too.
  • Proverbs – See James.

There are so many one could add to the list (again, all are relevant in their own way). What would you add and why?

The Crucifixion of Christ

We don’t like to leave Christ on the cross for very long. Our theology often gets in a rush to the resurrection. But the resurrection lacks its own possibility if you exclude the crucifixion of Christ. Anyone who has watched the movie The Passion of the Christ was moved by the brutality of what Jesus experienced on our behalf. The Romans weren’t out to make any crucified criminal look good or keep their dignity intact. On Sunday we get 10 minutes to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I wonder what it would be like to reflect on the crucifixion for a full six hours? Several times I have prayed for a full hour but never for six. Imagine yourself at the foot of the cross, looking up at the dying Lord for a full six hours. Imagine the pain you would see, the blood that would flow, the words that were said, and the testimony from those standing nearby. Five minutes would seem like an eternity much less six long and brutal hours. The breathing becomes quicker, the pain more intense, the words more and more loving. And the seconds, minutes, and hours pass by slowly. To see him dead and lifeless hanging there would be heart wrenching. Could you keep your eyes on a bruised, battered and bloody Christ for six full hours? Could you keep your eyes off him?

There are several things that stand out to me when I spend time reflecting on the crucified Lord:

  1. He is concerned for others. He makes preparations for his mother. He forgives sins. He is concerned for the other crucified men around him.
  2. He experiences the full extent of the pain and agony. D.A. Carson points out the two times Jesus was offered wine in his crucifixion. The first is found in Mark 15:23, “wine mixed with myrrh”. Jesus refused this wine as it was intended to dull the pain. But the second offering of wine Jesus took (Mark 15:36). This wine was to ease Jesus’ thirst and would result in prolonging his life and as a result his agony on the cross (Gospel According to John, 620). Jesus really “bore it all” on the cross.
  3. Jesus is in full control. This isn’t an accident. It wasn’t a slip up. He was in control during his arrest and was in control of his crucifixion. Jesus gave up his spirit (John 19:30). It was his decision, his choice, and his obedience to the Father.
  4. There is glory in the unglorious. The cross was designed to degrade and shame those on it. It was a public spectacle designed to kill as much as to deter others from similar offenses. But through the unglorious experience of the cross Jesus received glory from God (John 17:4-5). What is more Jesus was bringing shame on sin and death itself.
  5. Last and most important is the obvious – love. John 3:16 says God loved the world so much that he gave Jesus. This is true in his birth. It is also true in the crucifixion. God gave Jesus fully. He didn’t let the world borrow Jesus and take him back again at a convenient and comfortable time. God fully gave him in order to fully gain us. John 14:1 tells us that through his foot washing Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love. That phrase might be better translated that he loved them to the end. The cross really did show them and us the full extent of his love. The creator laid down his life for the creation so that we could lay our lives down to take them up again just as he did.

From the Harding group The Firemen:

Theory on Generational Differences in Memory

Have you ever noticed that people who are 50+ tend to remember all kinds of details from their childhood that many of us in our 20s & 30s couldn’t remember if our life depended on it? What makes this even more amazing is how much further removed they are from the events than those 20 years younger than themselves and yet names, places, and events seem to be much more easily recalled from those distant years by older generations. Have you experienced this too or am I just weird and have a very poor memory of my past?

Here is my theory on this. In the 1940s the technological bubble was just beginning to inflate. People who are in their 60’s today remember their first tv, which may have been one of the first in their neighborhood. They didn’t have the internet, zillions of magazines, video games, ipods, iphons, etc. They only encountered a limited amount of information and stimuli on a daily basis. Today I can check my email from the phone in my pocket and constantly get bombarded with information. Facebook provides a million details about people I never wanted to know. I can read from hundreds of excellent Christian blogs. The amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis is enormously larger than it was 40 years ago.

Our minds can only retain so much information. The information overload we face today and what we value as important information to retain may mean a difficulty in remembering all the obscure things that older generations remember. It would make sense that you are more likely to retain a higher percentage of the information you receive if you limit the amount of information you perceive. For example, if they had 100 important pieces of information given to them in the 1950s and we have 1000. Who is likely to have a better memory of each of those pieces of information?

Do you think that is plausible or have I thought way too hard about something that is absolutely pointless?

ACU Summit 2007-2009 Available for Free on itunes

Thanks to Philip for making me aware that you can listen to the ACU lectures for free on itunes. Here is the itunes link. Sermons available from the following speakers:

  • Leroy Garrett
  • David Fleer
  • Randy Harris
  • James Thompson
  • Chris Seidman
  • Brian McLaren
  • Eric Wilson
  • Robert Oglesby
  • Thomas Olbricht
  • Lynn McMillon
  • Rick Atchley
  • George Pendergrass
  • Greg Kendall-ball
  • Jeff Walling
  • Houston Heflin
  • Douglas Foster
  • Bobby Valentine
  • Rubel Shelly
  • And many, many more

When you get into itunes click around on the tabs for the audio/video from the different years (Thanks Philip!)

Ten Reflections on the Importance of Scripture

I really do love the Bible. It has meant so much to me in both the peaks and the valleys of life. It is like a long standing relationship that just gets better and better with age. I have had the times when the Bible fell open to just the right text at just the right time and felt God was telling me something. When my grandmother was dying of cancer and in her last days I sat in Bible class that Wednesday night with tears in my eyes. I opened my Bible straight to 2 Cor 1 about the God of all comfort. There has never been a moment in my life where the words felt more like in some small way God had me and countless other people in mind when he inspired the opening words to the second letter to the Corinthians. I have had times when I wrestled and wrestled with a text and couldn’t get much out of it that seemed applicable at all but somehow I knew I was better for the experience of trying to hear what those ancient words had to say to my modern ears.

The Bible has served as a mentor to me. There are the times the Bible has humbled me into recognizing I was wrong or needed corrected. Then there are the times scripture has jumped up right in front of me, come to life, and was responded to with “Aha!” The pieces finally clicked together. They had been there all the time but maybe a new insight, a new piece of information or life experience made an old, much read verse, come to life in a new way. I am sure you know what I am talking about. You have almost certainly been there yourself.

A few reflection on scripture:

  1. The Bible stands there and says what it says and I have to deal with it. If I get my priorities out of whack I can try to manipulate what it says to suit my ears but cherry picking Greek glosses and lexicons or by coming up with some obscure interpretation. But if I am humble enough to let God’s Word change me rather than me change it I will experience something powerful in its study. It is like getting a letter from a friend about a problem. You can’t argue back with a letter. You have to take it all in first and read what is there, even re-read it.
  2. Because the text is living, breathing, and sharp (Heb 4:12, 2 Tim 3:16) and because my life isn’t static, the Bible often encounters me at different times in life in different ways that it ever has before. I certainly read the Gospel of John differently now than when I was 13. Knowing the themes, the signs, the theology, purpose, and where John is taking the reader the text has become so much richer for me than it used to be and things now seem obvious that were buried for the 13 year old version of myself. I love the richness that brings to the text as the words on the page are the same but the conversation changes as our maturity and readiness to hear what it is saying changes.
  3. We are looking back on what many looked forward to and so we take much for granted. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that the Gospel that has been revealed to us was concealed even from the angels much less those who went before the church and ministry of Christ. So there is much to be appreciated about being the recipients of the complete message of God/Christ through the Gospels and letters of the New Testament but also through the Old Testament (more on that another time). This gives us a privileged perspective of faith resulting in great responsibility. For instance, when Mary and Martha are upset with Jesus for not getting to Bethany to heal Lazarus any faster we know he is going to raise him from the dead. They don’t. That doesn’t mean we don’t have any faith struggles because our picture of God can be more informed than those who just had this piece or that. But it is still a blessing nevertheless!
  4. God knew I was thickheaded enough to give me the Gospel in four formats. I love the differences in perspective of each of the Gospels. God was so wise to preserve that for us! Mark is action packed. Matthew is so detailed in how this story fits the rest of the story. Luke is compassionate. John is intimate…an inner circle view of much of the goings on and explanations of Jesus’ ministry with the sole intention of producing faith in the reader.
  5. Scripture is rich in the variety of genres and approaches it takes to speak to me the words of God – poetry, geneology, narrative, letter, and everything in between.
  6. There is always someone to relate to. Whether I did something good or bad there is always someone to relate to. The Bible isn’t interested in painting the good guys as the good guys. The Bible is interested in pointing imperfect people toward a perfect God. The result is I realize I am in the same boat as everyone from those who barely got it all the way up to the “heroes of the faith.”
  7. Scripture brings me hope no matter how imperfect I find myself to be. Man after God’s own heart and murderer, shepherd of God’s people and murderer, stepped on the waves and denied him three times. Yet all were received back into God’s grace in the end. That gives me hope.
  8. Scripture is effective in leading me toward life and righteousness. Philippians 4:8 says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I can’t think of anything to think about that fits those criteria better than scripture itself. Jesus said his words are spirit and life (John 6:63).
  9. As Donny D says often, you will never do what the Bible says and wake up with regrets wondering why on earth you did something so foolish. It doesn’t get much more practical than that.
  10. The One whose hands knit me in my mother’s womb also produced the words contained in scripture. His words really are life.

What has scripture meant to you whether you have studied it all your life or even just a short amount of time?

Gospel of John 12:20-33 – Greeks Want to See Jesus

The triumphal entry concludes with jealousy from the Pharisees and the statement, “Look how the whole world has gone after him.” (12:19). The very next verse shows how true that statement was. Some Greeks approach Philip and ask to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew ask Jesus if this would be okay and, in typical Jesus fashion, he answers their question without appearing to answer their question. They ask if it is okay for them to come and see him and he talks about seeds falling to the ground and dying, love and hating your life, and what it means to be a disciple. A bit more than the yes or no Philip and Andrew were probably expecting.

So how is Jesus’ response to this request a response to this request? All through Jesus’ ministry in John he has talked about his ultimate glorification in the cross. That is not how we would typically think of glorification but Jesus knew what was going to happen and where it was leading. The Greeks wanted to see Jesus because of all they had heard of him but Jesus knew that miracles and teaching were not even going to compare to the events that were about to unfold. The passion week would be the ultimate fulfillment of the Pharisees’ statement in 12:19, that the whole world was going after him. Ultimately Jesus answer to their request comes in John 12:32, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” – The Greeks came to see Jesus and even though he wouldn’t go and spend time with them now, he knew that being put on the cross and again raised from the death in his resurrection would be more than the Greeks who were now there to see him could even know to ask for or experience.

So what was Jesus’ answer to their request? It was, in a round about way, “Not yet…there is something bigger and better to come that will fulfill their request and draw them into something much bigger, grander, and with bigger implications than anything they might expect.

One last note of interest in this passage is that when Jesus usually speaks cryptically like this no one gets it…not the disciples and certainly not the crowds. But they do! They know he is speaking about his death through crucifixion because they ask him how the Son of Man can both be “lifted up” and live forever (12:34).

It is strange for Jesus to turn someone away but Jesus knew there were better things in store and that ultimately if they continued to seek him out they would eventually have eternal life but first Jesus must endure the cross and walk out of the tomb alive. It also seems strange to us that the most faith building thing God can do at times is to answer us with “Not yet…wait and see.” We often experience that as a “No” but it takes faith to carry us through to the “wait and see” part. If we are willing to wait our faith can be taken to the next level. Impatience is often lethal to the maturation of our faith.

The Benefits of Taking a Break from Bible Class Teaching

It is very important for Bible class teachers, even ministers on staff, to have a break from time to time. At least one quarter a year for paid ministers and two quarters a year for those not on staff need to be spent learning from others. For the first time in several years I am not teaching on Sunday morning and it is very refreshing. I am getting my cup filled and wake up with quite a different perspective on Sunday’s this quarter. There are benefits to both the teacher and the class when teachers are also educated by others. This time away from teaching on Sunday has allowed me to reflect on a few things I would like to share here.

Benefits to the Bible class of a teacher rotation:

  1. Multiple perspectives – It is important that people get a variety of perspectives from mature teachers.
  2. Teaching styles – When a class is blessed to have a teacher rotation they are more likely to get a wider variety of teaching styles and approaches. One teacher my be a great lecturer but struggle with discussion while another might fear having to lecture but be skilled at getting the class talking. It is important for the class to experience a variety of teachers
  3. Learning styles – Different teachers have different styles and often those styles can incorporate a variety of learning styles. This is far more likely to happen when a class has multiple teachers.
  4. Connecting with the WHOLE class – Different teachers connect with different class members. When you have multiple teachers it is far more likely that people in the class will connect with at least one of them and get more from the class.
  5. Range of topics – With a variety of teachers you are likely to get a wider range of expertise. When you only learn from one teacher all the time it is likely they get on the same soap boxes and pet issues from time to time. This is minimized with multiple teachers.
  6. Benefiting from the overflow – When one teacher teaches the same class for years at a time it is likely they will feel drained and as if they have little more to offer from time to time. By default they continue to teach because that is what is expected of them. Multiple teachers allow the teachers to teach from the overflow and not from the position of being drained and burned out.
  7. Teaching experience – Allowing others to teach gives other class members experience teaching which often results in them growing in their faith and knowledge. If we have control issues and think we are the only one’s capable of teaching we are missing out on equipping others and make the class dependent on ourselves for its spiritual sustenance. That is not healthy.

Benefits to the Bible class teacher of a teacher rotation:

  1. Benefiting from the overflow – Teachers need to have energy and the only way to have that is to be fresh and ready to teach. Teaching continuously for years on end often results in burn out and that often results in lackluster teaching. Teachers need to be taught. They also need education and a break from the Sunday or Wednesday Bible class teaching scene.
  2. Retooling 1 – When a teacher sees another person teach from time to time they can see how the class responds both positively and negatively to teaching methods. They learn what to do and not to do based on being a participant in someone else’s class.
  3. Retooling 2 – Being taught also results in the teacher getting their cup filled so they can teach from the overflow.
  4. Learning from someone else’s perspective – We need to learn that other people have a good perspective on things and that we are not the sole source of wisdom in a congregation. That often takes taking a step back and allowing someone else to take the lead.
  5. Getting refocused – If you are used to teaching every week it is really quite refreshing to be able to go to Bible class with Bible in hand, ready to learn. The pressure is off and that is healthy.
  6. Creating a sustainable Bible class or ministry – If we want something to fall apart it is imperative that it completely rely on one person to be successful. If we want something to be sustainable it is imperative that we allow other people to take ownership in the process. A Bible class should never depend on one person to exist. If we aren’t growing sustainable ministries and classes then we are spinning our wheels.

Hopefully a few of these have been helpful to you if you are a Bible class teacher, elder, minister, etc. Last, it is important to realize if there are control issues when it comes to who is teaching and how often. It is unhealthy for anyone to think it all depends on them or that no one else is able to teach or get the job down as well as they can. It is far more important for a ministry or Bible class to be sustainable than for it to rely on the control issues of someone who thinks it should all depend on them.