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Is Belief in God Meritorious?

The Gospel message in the Bible assumes the existence of God. So, is belief in God, in and of itself, meritorious?

candle-tipBelief in God is basic to Christianity. The Bible never sets out to prove the existence of God — it assumes God’s existence. Yes, the apostle Paul in the book of Romans say that God’s existence can be seen from created things — but in a day and age when people talk and write (quite seriously) about self-organization in the universe, and the development of life from natural processes, this observation seems a bit less obvious than it did at the time it was written. The Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ has a lot of backstory to it. The Old Testament story of Israel is an assumption for the New Testament. The story of Jesus is understood against the backdrop of the previous story of Israel. And, what we have in the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s relationship with God. This growing and changing portrait of God lies behind all that Jesus says about his “heavenly Father.”

So, if belief in God is considered a disputed point, can the Gospel still be heard?

Or, looking at it another way: if faith in Christ is the basis of human salvation from sin and divine judgement (as generally regarded by Christians), and faith in Christ presupposes belief in God, then is belief in God itself meritorious?

Some people already believe that the issue of faith versus unbelief is the existence of God. They seem to think belief in the existence of God, per se, is the essence of Christianity — and that it somehow helps to make one a “good person.” I don’t know how many people really think like that — but it appears that some do. Yet, for Christians, the issue of faith is trust in Christ. We see Christ as being our way to understanding God.

Is belief in [a] God meritorious? I think the answer is No. My reasons follow. (more…)

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Reflections on the Song of Solomon

“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13, NRSV).

Bible-2

It seems strange to some people that words like these are found in the Bible. It goes against what we think we know of the Bible.

These words are from a book of the Bible few people know about. This little book of the Hebrew Bible is variously called ” Song of Solomon” or “Song of Songs.” It is a long poem about erotic love. Really, it seems to be a collection of poems that have been brought together into one. A church group would not want to do a verse-by-verse study of this book because of the frankly erotic imagery in the book.

It’s about sex. It has at least an R rating. (more…)

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The Secondary Role of Theology

desire-found-meIn the Introduction to his book Desire Found Me, André Rabe makes the following comment:

God and our concepts of God are not identical. God seldom, if ever, reveals concepts about himself. He simply reveals himself. Such encounters deeply transform our concepts.

Just so. Our concepts of God are conclusions people have reached from the way in which God has revealed God’s self. God does not send a theology text to the human race. God encounters people in the midst of their lives. On the basis of these experiences, conclusions are drawn. Philosophy — that is to say, our general knowledge of logic and of the world and the way it works — is drawn in to fill out the picture. But, the encounter is first.

Christians believe that the ultimate revelation of God is the Person of Jesus Christ — often called by theologians “the self-revelation of God.” But, Christ’s coming into the world was for the purpose of human redemption — for more than for human information. (more…)

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From Around the Internet 3/27/15

internet-mapSome random quotes from around the Internet:

An urban church rejects the idea of charity and finds renewal: ““If we believe that God’s spirit is flowing down on all people, old and young, women and men — and on the poor… why don’t we treat people like that’s true?”Here: Death and resurrection of an urban church.

Greg Boyd: “Some scholars today argue that the stories recorded in the Gospels are actually intentional fabrication. In essence, they argue that Mark took Paul’s theology and robed the story of Jesus in a fictitious historical narrative. The other Gospels followed suit. The argument is clever and removes the difficulty of explaining how a legend of a God-man could arise so quickly among first-century Jews. But there are 7 major problems with this contention….” Here: Are the Gospels Historical Fiction?

Kimberly Winston quotes Lawrence Wright, one of the producers of a new documentary on Scientology: “When people see for themselves the testimony of people who have been through the Scientology experience, they’ll have a better idea of what they might be in for if they decide to join the church….” Here: HBO’s ‘Going Clear’ Questions the Future of Scientology, (more…)

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The Cross: the Means of Reconciliation – Colossians 1:21-23

IFOn March 3 I wrote about the theme of reconciliation in Colossians 1:21-23. Yeah, but I left something out.

I said that the passage seemed (to this person who has spent a large part of his life looking for such things) to fall into a nice, neat sermon outline:

  1. The need for reconciliation: “And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds….”
  2. The purpose of reconciliation: “…as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him….”
  3. The condition of reconciliation: “…provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard….”
  4. The scope of reconciliation: “…which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”

Nice little (old-fashioned) sermon outline, huh? Yes, but it’s missing something. At the time, I was very consciously leaving out point #5: The means of reconciliation. (more…)

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The Head of the Church – Colossians 1:18-20

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophia_656x800By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. Christ is the supreme authority in the church. Christ is the source of our life and the basis of the connection between believers in the Church.

καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων, ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι καὶ δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, εἰρηνοποιήσας διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ, [δι᾿ αὐτοῦ] εἴτε τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἴτε τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (NRSV) (more…)

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Creation’s True Unity is in Christ – Colossians 1:16,17

faith-in-scienceSome people see Christian faith as something wholly internal and spiritual. It is an inward experience of meaning and hope.

Certainly it is that — or it should be.

But, that is not all it is. It is also a perspective that embraces all of life.  Christianity is a belief about what life is all about. It is not just about what is within us — it is about what is all around us. It is a faith in the God who is the Creator of all that is. The God to whom we pray is not just our God. Our God is the God of all people — and all things.

Notice the following verses: Colossians 1:16,17: (more…)

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The God Who Cannot Be Manipulated – Psalm 115:2-8

Hebrew_bible_4I believe Psalm 115 was written in the light of the memories of the nation’s defeat and exile. It may be that this was a Psalm that was part of the worship of the Second Temple, after Israel was restored as a nation. Of course, I have no way of knowing this. But, it appears to me from the language and sentiments of this Psalm, that this arises from a nation that has known defeat.

Israel was brought low. They knew themselves to be God’s people, but they now know that their status of being the “favored of God” was no guarantee against failure and defeat and suffering. Their connection with God did not save them from misfortune. They broke the covenant and they were brought low. (more…)

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The Self-Revelation of the Creator God – Colossians 1:16,17

Bible-messageSome people see Christian faith as something wholly internal and spiritual. To them it is an inward experience of meaning and hope.

Certainly it is that — or it should be.

But, that is not all it is. It is also a perspective that embraces all of life.  Christianity is a belief about what life is all about. It is not just about what is within us — it is about what is all around us. It is a faith in the God who is the Creator of all that is. The God to whom we pray is not just our God. Our God is the God of all people — and all things.

Notice the following verses: Colossians 1:16,17: (more…)

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The Gospel’s Freedom – Colossians 1:13, 14

The apostle’s prayer in verses 9-12 is followed by a statement about the Gospel’s effect on his readers’ lives.

They have been:

  • rescued from the power of darkness and
  • transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son.

ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν·

[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (NRSV).

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley comments:

Power detains reluctant captives, a kingdom cherishes willing subjects.

In those words, he captures what I believe is the basic contrast contained in this passage: a tyranny vs. a kingdom; Oppression vs. loving service. The Gospel of Jesus Christ (in this view) does not initiate a new faith-based tyranny — it is, in fact the basis for freedom from all human tyrannies — be they political or personal. As Jesus says in John 8:36: “… if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” God is the great AntiTyrant. Because God loves and respects and values each human being, service to God is the only kind of service that need not be tyranny and oppression. (And, if it has become this for you, something has gone wrong — very likely you are in an oppressive and cult-like fellowship. You need to find the freedom and hope of faith.) (more…)

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John Wesley: The Witness of the Spirit

‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.’ — Romans 8:16.

But what is the witness of the Spirit?

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

“The original word μαρτυρία may be rendered either (as it is in several places) the witness, or less ambiguously, the testimony, or the record: So it is rendered in our translation (1 John 5:11), ‘This is the record,’ the testimony, the sum of what God testifies in all the inspired writings, ‘that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.’ The testimony now under consideration is given by the Spirit of God to and with our spirit: He is the Person testifying. What he testifies to us is, ‘that we are the children of God.’ The immediate result of this testimony is, ‘the fruit of the Spirit;’ namely, ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness:’ and without these, the testimony itself cannot continue. For it is inevitably destroyed, not only by the commission of any outward sin, or the omission of known duty, but by giving way to any inward sin; in a word, by whatever grieves the Holy Spirit of God. (more…)

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The Prophecy Comes Home – Amos 2:1-5

Amos0615Amos continues his prophecies against the nations (which I discussed last week) in this chapter.

Review: You don’t see what the prophet is doing here until you see that Amos 1-2 is a unit. And, it is carefully structured. Verse 2 pictures the LORD (YHWH) roaring like a lion. Then a series or oracles of judgement follow. Each is for a different nation. They are introduced with this repeated formula:

עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי
“For three transgressions of _____________,
וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ
and for four, I will not turn back….”

There is a certain rhetorical power in this repeated formula. But, this whole poetic prophecy is going somewhere. It’s building. It is going to end in an extended prophecy of judgement at the end (in our chapter 2). And, the weight of this prophecy of judgement is going to fall on Israel. (more…)

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Remembrance Inspires Praise – Psalm 135:13-21

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsThis is essentially a Psalm of praise. We are called into praise from the very opening “Hallelujah” (praise Yah). So, it is a song of worship and it calls us into an attitude of worship. As Adam Clarke says: “It is an exhortation addressed to the priests and Levites, and to all Israel, to publish the praises of the Lord.”

The opening verses are an exhortation to worship.

Verses 3-5, and 6, 7 extol God’s greatness.

Verses 8-12 remind the people of Israel of God’s saving acts in their history: their deliverance from Egypt and the defeat of legendary kings. Then, they are called again to praise.

Remembrance has a significance for our faith. it is good to recount for ourselves the answered prayers we have experienced — and the unexpected blessing of God on our lives. The Bible is a book of remembrance: recounting the deeds of the Lord God in times past, as a way of illuminating our lives in the present. We know God through what God has done. For Christians, it is the story of Jesus — before any other — that calls forth our praise.

And, so it is that in this psalm, the remembrance of God’s deliverance in the past, calls forth praise. (more…)

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The Power of the Redeemer God – Psalm 135:8-12

Psalm 135 begins with praise to God. God is described in His role as Creator — who has power over everything. But, now, in verses 8-12, attention turns to the particular grace shown to the nation of Israel. The great God of Creation has shown particular favor on the nation of Israel.

hebrew-scrollThis is part of the essential message of the Bible: God has made God’s very self known to us through a particular people — through particular events in history — and especially through Jesus Christ. Theologians sometimes refer to the scandal of particularity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ — that a particular person at a particular place and time has become the hope and salvation for all people. (more…)

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What God Do You Worship? – Psalm 135:5

psalmsAs so often in the Psalms, the words of Psalm 135:5 are a call to worship.

כִּי אֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי־גָדוֹל יְהוָה וַאֲדֹנֵינוּ מִכָּל־אֱלֹהִים
“For I know that the Lord is great; our Lord is above all gods.”

In this verse both the personal name of God (יְהוָה) Yahweh and the term “Lord” (אָדוֹן) adon appear. In the original language the words lie side by side: as if to emphasize that it is Yahweh and none other who is Lord above all other powers.

As I understand it, the word “worship” comes from the old English term worth-ship. Worship recognizes the worthiness and power of the God we know through Jesus Christ.

Worship acknowledges that I am not at the center of the universe: God is. Worship works against narcissistic self-absorption. It says I have a Creator. It says there is One who is greater than I am. It calls me into relationship with the One who is greater than I am. It calls me into the Presence of the One who is greater than all people — and all the powers of this world. (more…)

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