Reasonable Religion

Several authors have done a wonderful job of defending the rationality of the Christian faith (Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, Francis Schaffer, and C.S. Lewis [even though I’m not really a fan of the last] all come to mind). They have thoroughly defended the historicity of scriptural texts and the rational foundations of theistic belief in general and of Christian belief specifically. However, there is a huge difference between warranted, rational Christianity (i.e. Christian belief that is philosophically and historical defensible) and reasonable Christianity (i.e. Christianity that fits into our ‘normal’ conception of life).

I cannot count how many times someone has told me to ‘be reasonable’ about my faith. By ‘reasonable’ they meant ‘I know that you feel like God is telling you something, but you shouldn’t do it’. People told me this in college when I sold my computer to pay for a missions trip. They told me this when I changed majors, when I decided not to pursue a pastoral position, even though I had a degree in Christian Leadership. They told me this when I quit a job at Walmart to substitute teach, and when I was convinced that God was pushing me towards a 17 year old girl (I decided that I wouldn’t actually pursue a relationship until after she turned 18, but she shot me down regardless… I’ll have to write that story sometime). Each of these decisions has led me into some difficult times, but in each of them following God and allowing him to guide my life has led to significant spiritual growth and has helped me to better understand God. It is easy for us to doubt, to convince ourselves that our reasonable decisions are a better guide to life than God’s will. However, I’ve also made some reasonable decisions, even when God was telling me not to (that’s what led me to Walmart in the first place), and they have never turned out well.

While our faith is absolutely rational and defensible, it is rarely reasonable from a human perspective. If you are ever convinced that God’s will is always going to be the reasonable thing try reading Genesis, or Exodus, Ezekiel, Hoshea, personally, I think my favorite example of the unreasonableness of the Christian faith is the crucifixion. Throughout scripture God asks those who are willing to follow him to do entirely unreasonable things. To sacrifice their own happiness and well-being for his glory. To sacrifice themselves for the good of others, and to trust God in impossible situations. Remember when God told Abraham to get up and leave everything he’d ever known? No idea where he was going, or what he was going to do, just leave. Or when God commanded him to kill his only son, the son of the covenant he’d made with God? Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling is an excellent discussion of this.

Ultimately, the greatest argument for a reasonable religion is the pursuit of comfort. The American dream tells us to pursue our own comfort, our own ends, to take care of ourselves first, and that true strength comes from taking what we want. However, scripture tells us something completely different. Scripture tells us to put God first, and then others. To pursue God’s glory rather than our comfort. To leave off our own ends and pursue the ends of the kingdom. Lastly, scripture tells us that God doesn’t value the strength to take what we want, but the weakness to put others first, even when this means allowing them to take advantage of us.

The reasonable, Americanized church often rejects these concepts. It tells us to be hard and forceful, to defend our rights rather than live up to our responsibilities. It tells us to ignore God and do the culturally acceptable thing. To focus on this world instead of the next. All to often we develop the wrong priorities and the church encourages us in this development. So, one of the most fundamentally difficult aspects of Christian living in America is to avoid the trap of easy, reasonable religion that surrounds us, and instead to pursue ‘the upward calling’ of the faith.

Advertisements

Isaiah 6:6-7: An Example of God’s Temporal Authority

Someday I think I might actually write a paper around this issue. At the moment, however, it’s just a thought… a thought that I want to consider and hold on to. C.S. Lewis argued that God stands outside of time, that he is beyond time and thus that he is capable of experiencing all times simultaneously. It’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around, but this idea has a lot of implications. For one, it explains how God could have knowledge of the future. I was going to say that it explains how God could be all-knowing, but it really doesn’t. I’m not actually sure that is explainable. However, if God experiences all times simultaneously, then to him the future is the same as the present and the past. This also explains the concept that for God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day. God is not bound by time in the way that we understand it.

That being said, Isaiah 6 is the record of Isaiah’s vision calling him to speak for God to the people of Judah and Israel. In this vision, Isaiah is brought before the throne of heaven and he realizes his utter impurity (a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips), and that because of this he is not only unworthy to stand in the presence of God, but also unworthy to speak for God. In Isaiah 6:6-7 one of the Seraphim that worship in God’s presence takes a coal (Gary Smith argues that this is best understood as one of the coals from under the throne of heaven from Ezekiel 10) and presses it to Isaiah’s lips. The Seraph then announces that this action has ‘removed’ Isaiah’s guilt and that his sin ‘has been atoned for’.

This, of course, begs the question of who atoned for Isaiah’s guilt. Obviously this happened long before the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ, and so from a purely human perspective God seems to simply be casting away Isaiah’s sin and guilt into some void of nothingness. This then leads to the question of why he can’t do the same for all believers. If God can simply cast sin aside without sacrifice, then why did Christ die? Why does Hebrews tell us that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins? The most direct answer is that God cannot simply cast sin aside, a concept that the use of the word ‘te-kuppar’, which carries with it the meaning of forgiveness or atonement, reinforces. Isaiah’s sin was not simply cast aside, it was ‘we-sar’ (taken away from him) and ‘te-kuppar’ (atoned for).

The most obvious solution to this conundrum is, it seems to me, to remember that (as Lewis posited) God is the lord over time, not simply space. While the death of Christ would not happen for several hundred years from Isaiah’s perspective, it was happening and had already happened from God’s perspective. The atonement of Christ had already been completed when God cleansed Isaiah of his sin, and this helps our understanding of how he could simply take the sins of Isaiah and cleanse them. Of course, this then raises anew the question of who Christ preached to when he traversed the spiritual cosmos and entered hell (1 Peter 3:18-20). Traditionally this has been seen as Christ bringing the believing Jews from ages past out of prison and into atonement. However, if God has temporal authority and can apply the atonement of Christ backwards through time (at least from a human perspective) then why wouldn’t he have done this for other believing Jews? Was Isaiah a special case or is there perhaps another answer to the question of who Christ preached to in hell? These are questions to which I do not yet have an answer. Maybe someday I’ll figure it out.

New People

I managed to get all of my grading done today, amazingly considering that I took a four hour break to have a very enjoyable, very interesting, very deep spiritual conversation with two young ladies in the coffee shop that I normally work at. These weren’t strangers (though I did meet someone new tonight), but a couple of people that I met at the bbq I went to on the 4th. Honestly, I’m really not sure how I got all of my grading finished with the great conversations I had. Nonetheless I managed to get it all finished, and I finally got my good computer back, which is nothing short of amazing!

There is nothing quite like a good, deep conversation to get you going, and I had two long ones today (both with women amazingly enough…). I’m honestly not sure that I can explain everything that we talked about, it was all pretty heavy theology and philosophy, but both conversations moved from one topic to another pretty seamlessly. I do remember that a small section of the conversation covered the theology surrounding the ‘once saved always saved’ doctrine (which I reject, I’ll write about that someday), and we talked about natural sin and personal sin and why we all thoroughly suck in ever possible way, which is why we need grace in the first place. It was kind of an awesome conversation.

I also met a new friend (hopefully) today. We’ll call her Sarah… though that isn’t her name. Although… something tells me that I have actually met someone named Sarah recently… mmm… so we’ll call her not-Sarah. Anyway not-Sarah also provided a very enjoyable and very natural conversation. We talked about a lot of topics ranging from C.S. Lewis (who she loves and I hate… well… dislike) to salvation to childhood, to stupid dating decisions, to classical education for children, to jobs and college. Needless to say we talked for a while (hour and a half, maybe two hours). So, in between all of that talking, I managed to get 12 papers graded, discussion boards graded, evil disgruntled students responded to, and a bunch of back rubrics done. I feel like I had a fairly productive day. I also got not-Sarah’s number.

Here’s the thing… I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing here. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to not-Sarah, and I would very much like to talk to her again. However, I’m not convinced that I need to be anything other than single at the moment, and while I’m actually very satisfied being single at the moment, I’m worried that I might fall into old habits. For now, I’m going to let it be a good conversation that hopefully leads to another good conversation, and leave it at that.

I also got a couple of very nice comments today, and while I decided a little while back that I’m not going to post any comments on the blog, I wanted to thank the sender for the encouragement. You know who you are, and I appreciate the kind words… and yes, I am being tongue in cheek… mostly… I do have to admit that I am occasionally thoroughly annoyed at how quickly this blog seems to be gaining followers after I worked so hard to build a following on my professional blog.