Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bridging the Gap

Darryl, Ben, and Matt have asked some very good questions that all seem to revolve around one issue: the nasty problem of interpreting the Bible as God's Word. I say, "nasty" because it is not only a difficult issue, but it also creates difficulties between us.

To answer the question, let me say at the outset that this problem is not unique to the free church tradition (although you'd think that churches taking a more magisterial approach would not have to deal with such problems--hardly, members of the RCC or the Anglican communion have members who do not share the interpretation of their leaders).

At the risk of over simplification, I think the solution is recognizing that interpretation of the Bible belongs to the community of faith (both now and then, both clergy and laity). John writes that his church should "test the spirits" to see if interpretations are true. Peter writes that no Scripture/prophecy can be interpreted by one person. In other words, if the Spirit is responsible for leading us to understand the Scriptures, and since no single person (or group) controls the Spirit, then the only way we can understand the Scriptures is to interpret them together (Ben's suggestion is relevant here).

So, what happens if we disagree? Are some interpretations more important than others?

What I think would help our discussions is to categorize which doctrines are primary, secondary, tertiary, and quadriary. I know that sounds risky to some; it makes it appear that we think some Scriptures are more important than others. That's not what I'm saying. Rather, since all doctrine is of human invention, then we are merely recognizing some of our interpretations are more important than others.

Here's how I would break it down: primary doctrines are of eternal significance, secondary doctrines are of temporal significance, tertiary doctrines are of cultural significance, quadriary doctrines are of personal significance.

Honestly, most scholarly work is done on the second and third levels. Most lay people don't think beyond the first (I think that's what Matt is getting at) and the fourth levels. Therefore, a discussion that acknowledges a rubric like this I think would help us get beyond the ivory tower work of scholars and clergy, and the isolationist/obscurantist views of the laity.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I'd like to take a different direction for this blog for a while.

Honestly, I run out of ideas to talk about. I struggle over whether to post something simply because it passes through the gray matter between my ears. There's a lot of chatter going on and I'm not sure I have the time or the energy to keep up with it.

I think I'm turning into an old man.

So, since I love questions (more than answers), I'd like to open up this blog to anyone who'd like to post a question for us to consider.

Ask and you shall receive (at least one man's opinion, as well as those who weigh in with their responses).

Monday, October 10, 2011

I Need God

I know it's too simple to write about it. But, I can't help but say it, "I need God." Don't we all?

We need Him to see life.
We need Him to feel death.
We need Him to know love.
We need Him to spoil hate.
We need Him to sleep.
We need Him to stay awake.
We need Him to eat.
We need Him to share.
We need Him to hurt.
We need Him to care.
We need Him to give.
We need Him to take.
We need a merciful God who relentlessly gives grace to those of us who know we don't deserve one little crumb that falls from His table of sacrifice.

Oh how I need God.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Steve Jobs, The American Messiah

I've been fascinated by the veneration of Jobs since his recent death. But, even before he died, I began to notice how he was worshiped as divine.

It goes back to an incident at the Apple Store in Hawaii. My family and I were on vacation when some of us dropped into the Apple Store to check out the brand new invention: the iPhone. Dozens of people were huddled around the display table, trying to get their hands on the new device. We were waiting our turn, watching over the shoulders of customers playing with the iPhone and marveling over the miraculous (something as simple as shifting the position of the phone, from vertical to horizontal, to make the screen move from "portrait" to "landscape" mode was astonishing--remember?). Then, in the exuberance of collective gasps and "oh my, look at this," a young man shouted (to no one in particular), "Steve Jobs is a god!", at which point the enthusiastic crowd offered audible affirmations of approval.

Postmortem, Steve Jobs has been enshrined as an American god--much like the Caesars of old. The veneration of the technology genius continues to rise ever higher every day. And, as they recount his accomplishments, his story begins to sound more and more messianic: a fatherless boy born to a young single woman, he grows up believing he's meant to change the world. He bucks the establishment and takes on the imperial domination of the computer world (and therefore, our world): Caesar IBM and its Herodian servant, Microsoft. His loyal disciples follow his every move, longing for the times he takes the stage and performs the miraculous (remember when he pulled the first-generation Nano out of his pocket and the crowd roared with approval?). He wasn't formally educated but still spoke wisdom to this generation, challenging "dogma" and established religion. He garnered the devotion of the masses because he brought heaven to earth (no, he didn't heal anyone. But, to the American consumer, having entertainment at your fingertips--at a reasonable cost, with very little know-how required to operate the latest, greatest device--now, that is heaven on earth). He defied death--even in the face of a terrible disease (pancreatic cancer is a death sentence)--by refusing to fear it, but lived his dream and modeled for everyone what it takes to do the same: listen to the inner voice (his version of the Holy Spirit?) within all of us.

Now, of course, he didn't rise from the dead. But, at least he achieved immortality--especially if you believe what the pundits say. Steve Jobs single-handledly changed the world (well, not counting all the geniuses he hired to do the work). He made our life better (without Pixar, where would the movies be today?). He will always be with us (I have my iPod playing right now). He has devoted followers who will carry on his kingdom work regardless of what anyone says (dare to question the infallibility of Jobs and see what happens). At least he's done something tangible, something you can hold in your hands, something you can experience with your eyes (that's better than most Messiahs, especially the Jewish one who live two-thousand years ago).

So, let the accolades ring through the ages. There's never been anyone like him. He is one-of-a-kind. He is the perfect version of the American dream, from orphan boy to corporate wunderkind. We must worship him, for this is the kind of Messiah we want, we need--one who makes our lives better and only requires a little money in return.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

It's Here!

Yesterday I received complimentary copies of my new book, Spirituality According to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ (IVP). So, it should be available soon via,, et al. I want to say here how much the senior academic editor for IVP, Dr. Dan Reid, helped me with this project. It was such a rewarding experience working with him and IVP. And, to be quite honest, I hope the book does well for their sake more than mine. Publishing is a far riskier business these days. Publishers like IVP have hundreds of proposals from brilliant authors to consider, not only to make a living but just as importantly to encourage the Body of Christ for Christ's kingdom.

So, if you pick up a copy, pray that God will bless publishers like IVP. And, please join me in praying that God will encourage all of us to imitate Christ like Paul did.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Personified Kingdom

When Jesus tried to get his disciples to see the kingdom of God in terms that they could understand, he finally put a child in front of them and said: "This is it." I sense a little frustration in Jesus' approach. He'd tried to teach them, over and over again, that God doesn't do power like the world does. Talked a lot about becoming least, last, and lost. Told parables to change their minds about the reign of God. Even dressed like a slave once to get them to see how they were supposed to "rule" the world--by giving up rights and serving each other. To put a child before them, the most undesirable station in life, was the same as requiring downward mobility to realize the kingdom. To us, to become a child again, sounds romantic. To them, it sounded like going backwards, even a death wish (especially since most persons died as children; only one out of five made it to 30). To Jesus, a child was an ideal disciple for his kingdom.

We still don't get the message. Many of us think the way God's kingdom comes to earth is by wielding power: power politics, power action groups, power personalities, etc. But, Christ has shown us the only way to do power in his kingdom is to give it away, be vulnerable, love enemies.

I wonder what kind of person he would put before us--perhaps in frustration--to get us to see the kingdom personified? A homeless man begging for money at the intersection? A Muslim woman who is jeered whenever she wears her burqa in public?

I think he would put a boy with Downs Syndrome in front of us and say, "This is it." To him, I think, the childlike innocence of a Downs Syndrome boy would picture beautifully the same lesson--the ideal disciple for his kingdom. Indeed, I wish I had the loving heart of a boy or girl with Downs Syndrome.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Aspergers Soteriology

My wife and I are fans of the sitcom "Big Bang Theory." Our favorite character is "Sheldon," a science genius who was obviously patterned after someone who has Aspergers disease. Since my wife is a Speech Pathologist who provides therapy for children and adults with Aspergers, I enjoy the benefit of her expertise as we watch the show. She'll often say, "That's exactly what an aspie [the nickname those with the disease call themselves] would say," or "I have a patient who does the same thing as Sheldon." Then, she'll give me a private tutorial about the behavior and thought-processes of those who have Aspergers. For example, many aspies cannot make sense of metaphor. Most have a hard time putting together a narrative in order to tell a story. Many have what we would call a rather ego-centric worldview--if it doesn't pertain to them, then what difference does it make? They also have a high sense of infallibility. And on and on.

All of this got me to thinking: can someone with Aspergers "be saved"?

Now, before I explain what I mean by asking such a provocative question, let me say I'm convinced that there must be many Christians who have Aspergers disease.

What I'm getting at is this: if a person can't make sense of metaphor, if narratives are confusing to them, if a person believes they are infallible [read: they are NOT sinners]--all of which most evangelicals would think are constitutive of the gospel--then how can they come to a "saving knowledge" of Jesus Christ? Or, another way of putting the question, is our typical doctrine of salvation too narrowly defined? Have we established a soteriology that accounts only for people like us, i.e., people who think like us?

Of course, most evangelicals already have an inclusive soteriology, e.g., children, mentally handicapped, perhaps even pagans who have never heard the gospel. Yet, what we typically mean by "hearing the gospel" is based on our understanding of the gospel. So, what if someone can't "understand" the gospel like we do, does it mean they don't believe?