The Importance of Foundations

If you’ve ever spent any time in construction you’ll have some idea how important a good foundation is. It’s the first thing you lay down because everything else relies on the foundation. If your foundation is week, then your building is weak. If you don’t have a foundation, then your building falls down pretty quickly.

This is true in building, and it’s also true in life. Christ tells the story of the wise man who builds his house on the rock, and obviously the rock is him. This is an important foundation for any Christian to understand. However, another important foundation is philosophy and theology.

Many people don’t actually understand what they believe. They have no clear concept of their outlook on the world, their understanding of God, or why they actually believe any of the things they believe. Even those who have some concept often don’t really have a complete or consistent understanding of their view of the world. This is something of a problem.

I’ll be honest, I’m exhausted right now, and I just had a pretty awesome date with not-Sarah (that’s right, she called me back), so I don’t really have a lot to say about the issue right now. However, think about this: why? Why do you believe what you believe? Why does God exist? Why is scripture trustworthy? Why is the world a good, bad, beautiful, or ugly place? Why does it even matter? These are the most important questions that you can ask: why, why, why, why, why?

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.

Wait, what do you mean by ‘the Church’?

I talk a lot about ‘the Church’, and this concept isn’t really always clear. Often by ‘the Church’ what we mean is ‘my church’, or ‘my denomination’, or even just ‘the people I agree with’. Sometimes we use the term ‘church’ to mean the entire body of Christianity, but this raises the question: what makes one a Christian? We could argue that to be Christian is simply a matter of personal identity (i.e. if I think I am a Christian then I am, regardless of my beliefs), and certainly there are many variations of orthodox Christianity (try comparing Baptist, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christian practices sometime). There are differences in theological belief, differences in practice, differences in focus, and differences in understanding. There are liberal Christians who don’t believe that Christ is necessary for salvation, and there are conservative Christians that believe that if you don’t wear a tie to church on Sundays you are going to hell. So, how can we talk about ‘the Church’ in any meaningful way?

Scripture, however, does speak of ‘the Church’ as a universal. Well, technically it talks about the body of Christ as a universal, and declares that ‘the Church’ is the body of Christ. However, this brings us back to the question, what do we mean by that? If the body of Christ and the church universal are the same thing, then what does that mean in practice? The clarification offers no actual clarity because it raises all of the same questions. The clarification tells us that we have some scriptural support for speaking of ‘the Church’, but doesn’t actually give any clarification as to what ‘the Church’ is.

We clearly can’t argue that ‘the Church’ includes everyone who calls themselves a Christian, because there are plenty of ‘Christians’ who aren’t actually Christian. I call myself a Red Sox fan, but I don’t think I’ve watched a baseball game in three years. If I do see the Sox playing I’ll root for them, but clearly I’m not a fan. Similarly, there are plenty of people who identify themselves as Christians, but don’t actually engage in any form of Christian practice on a regular basis. Christianity is a religious faith, not a birthright. If I move to China and live there for the next 30 years, I will still be an American citizen by law. However, being born into a Christian family doesn’t make me a Christian, that is a choice that I have to make for myself, just like being a Red Sox fan.

So, can we simply say that ‘the Church’ is made up of everyone who is truly saved? Perhaps. Technically I would argue that this is true, but this then raises the question of what it means to be ‘saved’. Am I saved simply because I was moved at a Church service, went to the front of the church, and repeated some words? I think the majority of theologians would reject this. Salvation is not simply the repetition of words, it is a commitment, a surrender of will and an acceptance of the authority of Christ.

So, bearing this in mind, can we say that ‘the Church’ is made up of those who are truly seeking to follow after Christ? This, I think, is getting closer to the mark. Christians are those who are seeking Christlikeness. Those who have surrendered their lives not to a particular denomination or theological worldview, but to the true and living God and seek to live in communion with him every day. Try reading 1st John sometime and you will find this born out within its chapters. 1st John chapters 1-3 are filled with continuous present verbs (i.e. if you keep doing…whatever or if you make a practice of …this). When I speak of ‘the Church’ I speak of those who are making a true and honest effort to live their lives in communion with God and to portray a similarity to Christ in their attitudes and actions. They don’t even have to be good at it, I think its clear from this blog that I’m not, but that is the goal of their lives.

The body of Christ is made up of his followers, and his followers come in every shape and size. Some are well-to-do church members in good standing, some are tattooed, some are drug addicts struggling to be better, some are lawyers, politicians, missionaries, doctors, beggars, pastors, teachers, and thieves. The key is that they are all trying to live like Christ, even if they fail. Hell, even if they don’t know how, they are trying. Consider Christ’s story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector if you think that some of the above are more ‘worthy’ of being called Christians than others.

Christianity, for all it’s many varieties, holds a body of unchanging core beliefs. The fundamental beliefs (where the term Fundamentalist actually comes from) include the virgin birth, the dual-nature of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the second coming of Christ, and the authority (not inerrancy) of the Scriptures. If you call yourself a Christian and fundamentally disagree with one of these then you might have some thinking to do, or God might just be working in you. He knows that I’ve believed plenty of heresies over the years, but he always brings me back to the truth eventually.

I would add the doctrine of the triune nature of God (i.e. that the father, son, and holy spirit are three persons in one being), the doctrines of personal and natural sin, a belief in Satan and the demonic, a belief that Christ is the only means of salvation, and an understanding of prayer as important (essentially fundamental) doctrines and practices. However, there are relatively few churches that would disagree with any of these, and there are plenty of believers who may not be a part of a local church who do believe in these.

Of course, this brings us to the question of whether a person should be a member of a local church, but I’m going to leave that one for another post.

Jesus Said What?

Sometimes I want to choke people to death. This isn’t actually as big of a problem as it used to be. I lived for a very long time (we’re talking decades here) on the constant verge of homicide. I got so used to simply wanting to kill someone that I didn’t even realize how angry I’d been until I wasn’t angry anymore. Releasing that kind of anger is kind of like putting down the Empire State Building. Still, there are times when I just want to throttle some poor bastard. It’s not random anymore though. I don’t walk down the street and suddenly want to grab someone and beat them to death. Now it’s specific things that set me off. Plagiarism tends to be one of them, but another is when people take scripture completely out of context.

Honestly, I’m not going to say that this is a Christian response. Not even remotely, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting to leap across the table and tear a man’s arms off when he tells me that Jesus said that we shouldn’t judge anyone after I’ve just confronted him for cheating on his wife. However, something that possibly makes me even madder than people taking scripture out of context is people accusing others of taking scripture out of context when they haven’t.

I have a friend… we’ll call him John. John has a bad habit of accusing people of taking scripture out of context whenever he disagrees with them. For instance, the arguments that Christians should be charitable to the needy are met with a derisive, ‘that’s out of context’. My response to this… ‘No, no, Jesus actually said that we should take care of the poor, and he even said that we should give to our enemies, I can show you.’ See, I’m growing.

My friend isn’t the only one who does this. All too often, instead of actually looking at the text and seeking to understand what it says and why someone might interpret it the way they do, we simply react to any position that doesn’t match our personal worldview with the claim that it must be out of context. People do take scripture out of context… a lot… for instance, Paul’s famous “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in Philippians 4:13 does not mean that I can be president someday. Paul says this in the context of adapting to, and being joyful in, various circumstances. For instance, because Christ strengthens me I can be joyful even when I’m unemployed. Because Christ strengthens me I can respond in love even when someone makes me angry.

There are thousands of cases of this, and to some degree we all take things out of context. Ideally, our hermeneutic (i.e. interpretation of scripture) should 1) be good (duh…) and 2) determine our theology, and our theology should determine how we live. All too often our lifestyle determines our theology, and our theology determines our hermeneutic. We are, all of us, blithering idiots on the verge of complete mental collapse, and it is only grace that keeps us marginally sane and capable of rational thought (… ok, that’s probably a little bit too far. Still, we all have our idiotic moments).

However, the fact that people do take scripture out of context doesn’t mean that everyone who disagrees with me is taking scripture out of context. Amazingly enough, I have found that I am not the final arbiter of proper hermeneutic and theology (almost put them in the wrong order there). I might have my beliefs, but my beliefs don’t determine what scripture says, and I need to keep this very, very close to the top of my bubbling cesspool of a brain or I go completely wonky and decide that I should be the emperor of all mankind. Needless to say, that would be a bad thing.

How many times do we wish, ‘If only everyone were more like me’. Because apparently I’m… what? The second coming of Christ? The goal of mankind, Christians especially, shouldn’t be to be more like me, or more like you. The goal is to be more like Christ. My goal should be to be more like Christ, and allowing the scriptures to shape my theology (instead of allowing my theology to shape the scriptures) is a major part of that process.

Scripture is a living, breathing thing, and (while it is not the only way that God communicates with his people) God speaks to us consistently through scripture. The meaning of various passages seems to change as I mature in my faith, and suddenly I see things that weren’t there before. This is normal. It’s called the devotional hermeneutic and it’s one of the ways that God speaks to you. Note that I said speaks to you there, not speaks to the Church, or provides us with elements of doctrine. What you get out of the devotional hermeneutic doesn’t apply to anyone else. It is God speaking to you (… oh, and if it contradicts what scripture says, then it probably isn’t God. For instance, if you read ‘I tell you that if you lust, you have committed adultery’ and think that God is telling you to go commit adultery, you’re wrong).

We all need to be less concerned about what we think a verse or passage means, and about proving everyone else wrong. We should be much more concerned with letting God use the scriptures to shape us in the way that he desires. Yes, there are people out there who get it wrong. Guess what, if God wants them out of the way, it isn’t exactly hard for him to make that happen. After all, he’s God. He doesn’t need you or me to protect him.

Well… that turned into a little bit of a rant there didn’t it. I hope you get something out of this. If not, well… I would say ‘sorry’, but honestly I don’t really think I am. I said at the beginning that this was going to be my journal, which means that you’re probably going to have to deal with rants every now and then.