We are All Theologians

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Dear Friend,

I was excited and intrigued the other day when you sent me a text message that stated you were feeling God’s call to be a theologian. I think this is exciting and wonderful and a glorious thing and would love to talk to you more about it in detail. But first I have some preliminary things I want to say.

First, please be aware that we are all theologians. From the most strident atheist to the most devout moralist to the most humble evangelist, all of us humans participate in the study and analysis of God, His attributes, and His relationship with the universe.

The atheist does this through denial. He examines the evidence to the best of his ability, analyzes God, the premises established regarding God’s character, and how God is to relate to the universe (particularly on an individual level), and he denies the existence of a supreme being. For him, something else is more valuable in this universe than any proposed god, particularly a Christian one. For some that is the universe itself. For some it is science. For others it is hedonism. But whatever it is that they decide to attribute supreme value to, then that thing becomes the object of their study and analysis and the defining framework for their lives. In other words, it becomes their god.

The moralist is only slightly different. Like the atheist, moralists have examined the evidence and done some analysis as well but they have concluded that there is a supreme being; however, they may or may not agree that this god is the Christian god. The moralist’s approach this supreme being, though, through the lens of works, not denial. They believe that it is the accumulation of good deeds that gains the favor of the supreme being, so they spend the majority of their lives performing good works in an attempt to outweigh all the bad that they have also done. Moralists, it must be pointed out, can be avid students (or followers) of other religions or they can be non-religious altogether. It doesn’t really matter, because their god is not the supreme being that they acknowledge. It is themselves and the good works that they can accomplish. And they spend their lives organizing their lives around this central ideal.

The last category of theologian, I would argue, is the Christian. This is the most difficult position to maintain, not because there is no evidence to support their position but because they are called to do everything in their lives in such a way as to make Christ appear more valuable than anything else.  Christians are called to live their lives defiantly. To organize their lives around the central principle of “whether through my life or through my death, I will endeavor to display Christ as not only supremely valuable to me but to also make His value and His perfections publicly seen and experienced so clearly through ALL that I do, that He is recognized as supremely valuable over all.” (Php. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 10:31) Such a calling is both convicting and conforming at the same time. For as we seek through our lives to make others see and experience the supreme value, worth, and desirability of God, we find ourselves constantly being challenged to release the selfish ambitions of moralism and the intellectual conceit of atheism so that we may, in humility, put on the mind of Christ and conform more and more to His image (Php. 2:3-8).

We Christians are theologians of a different stripe. We are not called to love ourselves. We are called to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Because we are self-centered people we do love ourselves, as is pointed out in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this is not a command to love yourself. It is a command to love your neighbor. It works off of the assumption that you do and you will love yourself and that this selfish, self-centered action can teach you how you ought to act towards others. Indeed, Jesus paraphrased this command in the famous Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt. 7:12)

“Christians,” He seems to be saying, “as you study and analyze the attributes and character of God, as you make Him the center of your life (and not yourself) love God so passionately that your love for Him overflows into your love for others…Remember, you are God’s representative on this earth and He makes His appeal to the lost through you.” (2 Cor. 5:20)

Therefore, my dear friend, I would ask you to please consider what you mean when you say, “God is calling me to be a theologian.” If you imagine a theologian to be a deep thinker about God or a seminarian or even a pastor/priest of some kind, that’s all well and good, but please do not fall into the trap of being so intellectually or morally invested in Christianity that you fail to actually apply or live out the truth of the Gospel among the lost. Good theologians are not only good students or good citizens. They are people of defiant faith. The ones who stand up against the tide of a post-truth culture and create a fixed reference point for all those seeking land in a fluid-truth society.

Good theologians are not ashamed. They are full of courage so that Christ is always honored in their body, whether by life or by death (Php. 1:20). They hear the edict, know the consequences of honoring God, and say, “I am trusting in God, and regardless of whether I die or not, I will only worship and serve Him.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Such faith can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments as well as in modern examples, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who faced down the Nazi regime and its horrible atrocities with a steely will and the Word of God.

Make no mistake, my friend, if God is calling you to be a theologian, He is calling you to action. He is calling you to take the Word and show the world how it is not only an efficacious and viable option for life but how it is the supreme framework for living. The absolute truth among many choices. Be aware that such living comes prepackaged with danger and suffering as well as with rewards and the eternal echo of “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

God may be calling you to learn more. He may be calling to live better. But please, be the theologian who also “plays the man,” (2 Sa. 10:12) facing down the evil within this world, and making the value and the glory of God shine brightly within the encroaching darkness, whether it be by your life or your death.

Go with God,

Mark

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The End of Fear

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Fear ends where redemption begins. Once you are no longer your own but belong to God, rest and security can finally belong to you. Fear is only reserved for those who are still in charge of themselves and their future. And why shouldn’t it be? No man can see the future nor control all the variables to accomplish his will 100% of the time. Uncertainty, doubt, and fear will certainly surround the shadowed sight of man, for, despite one’s cleverness, they will always, inevitably fail.

But once your life no longer belongs to you, once it has been redeemed by God, fear is no longer necessary. Continue reading

Letting You Hunger

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The idea of God letting His children hunger seems anathema to most people. How could a loving, good God allow those whom He loves to go without food? Such an act seems cruel, neglectful, and abusive. But this is not where the verse ends.

Lately, I have had several clients come to my Christian counseling practice with one over-arching question: “How could God have let ______ happen?” Honestly, it’s not an easy question to answer. But not because the client has begun to question several characteristics of God, including His goodness, His love, or His sovereignty. Such characteristics are immutable truths about God and as such, they do not change or cease to exist due to one’s lack of understanding. Rather, the question is difficult because the client seems to almost always be implying, “How could God have let this happen to me?” This takes the question out of the general will of God and into the specific will of for that person. And aside from having a direct word from the Lord regarding His will for that life, I have no answer that can suffice.

What I can say, however, is this:

  1. He allows us to hunger — When we think of hunger we often think of it in wrong ways. Our concept of hunger is often a mild rumbling of our stomach. A reminder that we need something to keep us alive, energetic, and healthy. But in this verse “hunger” actually means “famished” or “voracious.” It is the type of hunger that pushes us to our limits. The type that forces us to think of nothing else except satisfaction through food. This type of hunger is a desperate hunger, an “I’ll do anything to stay alive” type of hunger. It is the hunger that strains our will, focuses our mind, and engages our spirit to the degree that all we can think about is how to meet our need.  To some, it would seem unloving to impose such a hunger upon the one whom you love. But can we, who ground our children from privileges to discipline them regarding earthly things, truly cast aspersions upon God when He similarly disciplines us over spiritual things? We should not be perplexed that spiritual discipline is more visceral and more painful than earthly discipline. For experience shows us that whether we require discipline for a physical, social, moral, relational, or spiritual area in life, the removal of something valuable in our lives always produces a pain that is equal to, but never greater than, the area of life to be improved. For example, the pain associated with exercise is equal to the physical area of life, but it is not equal to or greater than the level of pain one experiences in the relational area of life when a girlfriend breaks up with you or a loved one passes away. Each pain produces its own type of challenges and its own type of “hunger” to transition a person from unhealthy to healthy functioning. Since spiritual transformation is the highest order of these areas of life, it often requires the highest level of focus (or pain) to produce change. Such growth may be self-imposed but when it is not or is refused to be, God intervenes and creates a hunger so singular in focus only He can satisfy it.
  2. He allows us to hunger in order to humble us — According to the Strong’s Concordance, the word translated as “humble” in this verse of my Bible can also be translated as “to depress (either figuratively or literally).” In other words, there are times when God presses us down into the mire of life on purpose. Sometimes, as we say in the South, we need that smile smacked off of our face. Not because God does not want us to be happy. But because He does not want our happiness to be in the wrong things. Therefore, He creates circumstances that strip away the things we have relied on for security and sustenance and replaces them with need and hunger. For God knows that when we experience these basic urges, our hearts will abandon temporary pleasures and will recalibrate with an eternal focus. In short, humility subordinates itself to God. It does not use personal wisdom to provide its need for love or belonging. Rather, it seeks sufficiency in God’s wisdom and yields itself to God’s guidance as well as His provision. Humility does not believe that life ought to be emptied of pain. Rather, it realizes that if Christ (who was perfect) suffered in taking on our sin, we (who are imperfect) will suffer in taking on His righteousness and being done with sin (1 Pet. 4:1). Finally, humility knows it still has more to learn and actively seeks to do so. Humility points its eyes downward so that its heart may always be pointed upward. Only through hunger that creates humility can one begin to see the insufficiency of temporary desires and the sovereign goodness of eternal ones.
  3. He allows us to hunger in order to feed us unknown food — When manna first fell from Heaven, the Israelites were so confused by what it was they could derive no name for it more clever than the question on everybody’s lips: Manna (which literally means, “What is it?”) God’s wisdom in this act of providence showed the Israelites that the sustenance of God extended beyond anything within the realm of normal human experience. He could have created oases in the desert with fruit trees bulging with produce. Or He could have spontaneously created a plethora of vegetables for them to gather each day. But such miracles could have been written off as “coincidence” or “good fortune” and would not have helped His people.  But when God created an edible, sustaining food out of the morning dew that could satisfy the needs of approximately 2.5 million people every day, He proved that His hand and His work are superior to anything that nature, luck, or man could provide. The lesson for us, therefore, is that when the man-made bread(s) of your life finally expires, and the desert looms before you, when death seems certain and doubt clouds your mind, God will provide for you an unknown food. As with the Israelites, it may take the form of something familiar but it will be unusual as well. It may look bread (a job), but taste like honey (a purpose). It may feel like flakes or wafers (uncertainty) but have enough consistency to be baked or boiled (predictable and trustworthy). In short, God will give you the one food you have forgotten since the day Man chose to eat the one food that was forbidden. He will give you … Himself. And the more you consume, the more you will know

    The Lord is the everlasting God,
        the Creator of the ends of the earth.
    He does not faint or grow weary;
        his understanding is unsearchable.
    29 He gives power to the faint,
        and to him who has no might he increases strength.
    30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
        and young men shall fall exhausted;
    31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
        they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
    they shall run and not be weary;
        they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

  4. He allows us to hunger in order to teach us how to live — The purpose of letting His children hunger, per this verse, is so that we may know “that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Dt. 8:3) One would assume that such an insight would seem self-evident. But consider the implications of this truth. If God created all that we see and all that we know through the power of His spoken word, then there is nothing that we rely on for life that did not originate within the mouth of God. Not our job. Not our bank account. Not our family. Not our joy nor our purpose nor our hope. He is the one who creates. He is the one who blesses. He is the one who takes away. And He is the one who redeems. To live outside of this knowledge or in denial of it is foolishness, for there is no other position that Man should possess other than one of dependence and worship. Yet, so many believe that they are responsible for their success. That it was their hard work or their ingenuity or their charm that won their success, their accolades, or their spouse. But when such things have been stripped away completely, when one experiences humility and has received the blessing of an unknown food, one begins to die to reliance on the sufficiency of self and to replace it with the life of dependence and joy that God intended him to live. Thus, we are admonished to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Pr. 3:5), to “cast your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22), or to embrace the truth that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Php. 1:21). There is only one way to live and that is by relying on all that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

There is, therefore, a process that God takes ourselves through in order to refine us and to recalibrate our hearts to His original purposes:

Be hungry.

Be humble

Be fed.

Be dependent.

When Fools Pray

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The other day we examined this verse from the view of apologetics. In that article, we learned how Christ provided a model for us to follow when unbelievers confront us about our faith. We learned how to not answer a fool according to his folly and how to answer a fool according to his folly without falling into the trap of becoming like the fool and validating the fool’s “wisdom. While I hope this article was helpful to many, this only examined the verse from an anthropocentric point of view (i.e., man-to-man).

But what can this verse teach us about prayer? How does this verse relate to the man-to-God interaction? At first, one might think that this verse has nothing to do with prayer. After all, it never overtly mentions prayer or praying, nor is there anything within the original language that would suggest it addresses prayer either. However, I believe that it can provide an insight into that central aspect of one’s relationship with God, especially when tragedy strikes.

Let’s be honest: When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Stephen Paddock shot up a Las Vegas concert, or when personal tragedy unexpectedly slammed into your own life, how many of us either thought (or heard from others), “Where is God? And what is He doing?” How many people said things like, “Why would a good God allow such terrible things to occur?”

Such questions are not unusual to ask in the wake of disaster or tragedy, but such questions explain why the above verses are needed to understand prayer. For when we approach God in prayer, He is the wise person and we are the fools. (1 Cor. 1:25)

I know this sounds harsh but it’s the truth.

If you don’t believe me, look at Psalm 14:1-3, which begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who do good.” At first, one could read this, wipe the sweat from his brow, and say, “Whew! Glad that’s not me. I’m not an atheist.”

But then it goes on to compare this type of fool with mankind in general, saying: “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Ps. 14:2-3)

The conclusion of God is the same about all of us. Atheist or not, we are all fools, for none of us seek after God. None of us do good. Not even one.

Thus, when we approach God in prayer, there must be an expectation that our imperious, insincere, and individualistic nature will express more foolishness through our questions of and accusations against God than we could ever intend or imagine.

The question, for example, of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people” is fraught with foolishness. 1) It establishes a scenario that accuses God of bad, one might even say “indefensible,” behavior 2) It implies that God’s goodness is invalidated because He permitted something tragic to occur 3) It assumes that a good god would only permit good things to occur to his subjects and 4) It asserts that there is such a thing as “good people.”

But when we go to God in prayer with such questions, the answer that we receive will most likely come in two forms.

First, God expresses His goodness and His wisdom by not answering us according to our folly. If He were to engage our foolish question directly, He would be silently agreeing with all of the aforementioned premises and would be trapped within the boundaries that the question defines. But since the logical conclusion of the question comes to either “God is good but arbitrary and absent” or “God is not good,” He cannot answer us according to our folly.  Instead, He must challenge our foolishness by redefining our thinking. Therefore, God’s answer to such a prayer would most likely begin with a question of His own. This was a favorite tactic of Jesus’ and it often helped expose the foolish heart of His accusers as well as their feelings and motivations for asking the question in the first place.

Such is the nature of all of God’s questions. Even a simple one, such as “O you of little faith, Why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31) forces the hearer to examine himself and the hand that holds the hammer. In answering God’s questions we begin to see the chasm of holiness and wisdom that separates God and us. In this way, He maintains His character without being drawn into an argument whose boundaries and definitions have been set by a fool.

Second, once we begin to see where He’s going with this, God will answer us according to our folly, so that we do not look wise in our eyes. God’s desire is to bring us to repentance. To give us eternal life and salvation in Jesus Christ. It is not just to shame us or to make us look stupid. Therefore, He will take the argument we have set up and show us why the argument we have set up is false.

For example, in the above question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” there are several foolish things within the question itself that can help disprove it.

1) It assumes an objective moral law, which all people can agree upon, as the basis for its definition of good and bad, but if this is true there must be an objective moral lawgiver who made us humans capable of understanding this standard and applying it to our lives. Such a lawgiver (being objective and moral) would be incapable of being bad 2) Within the context of this objective moral law, the questioner’s belief that it is unjust if good people do not receive only good things and if bad people do not receive only bad things is exposed 3) But if the premise behind #2 is true, yet bad things happen to everyone, then wouldn’t the conclusion be that none of us are good? 4) Consequently, if none of us humans are good, then do we not deserve to have bad things happen to us? 5) And if #4 is true, then have we not asked the wrong question to begin with? Should not the question be “why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?” 6) Finally, if God is the One permitting good things to happen to bad people, then do not all the pleasures and joys and blessings one has enjoyed in life only validate God’s goodness? 7) And does not this expression of His goodness in these small things beg the question, “How far does God’s goodness extend to us bad people?”

In such an examination of the foolishness within the question we posited, we begin to discover that God’s goodness extends much farther and much further than any of us can imagine.

Indeed, it is for this reason, I believe, that the apostle Paul once wrote “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4, NKJV).

For God’s goodness goes beyond the supply of material blessings and it extends past the boundaries of providing us with relationships that satisfy our need for love and belonging. God’s goodness not only intervenes throughout our life history to prevent suffering, His goodness also steps into human history to become bad in our place so that we might become good and finally receive the rewards of a good person (namely, salvation and eternal life with Him, see 2 Cor. 5:21).

We must be humble, therefore, when we approach God in prayer. Otherwise we run the risk of asking unintelligible, angry, or unanswerable questions. In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis once spoke on this very thing when he said:

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.

This is why, I believe, Jesus taught us to pray in such a way that reduces foolishness and orients us wholly on God. Maybe you know it. It goes like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matt. 6:9-13)

Follow this model and you will find a heart emptied of foolishness. One that is not accusing or offended at God, but one that is pursuing Him in wisdom and worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, both now and for all eternity. Amen.

To Answer Fools

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These verses at first glance appear to be a contradiction in command. How, exactly, are you supposed to not answer a fool according to his folly and answer a fool according to his folly at the same time? For God to instruct us to such action seems like a cruel joke at best and an impossibility at worst.

So, when a Christian encounters someone using a solid biblical doctrine, such as God is love, to justify a well-known unbiblical behavior, such as drunkenness, homosexuality, or adultery, how is the Christian to respond? We run the risk of either becoming like the fool or validating his foolishness and making him appear wise in his own eyes. Either way, we lose.

Fortunately, Christ provided us with an example of how to follow these verses and avoid falling into either trap. Continue reading

The Glory of God and Kings

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At first glance, this verse seems a little odd. God conceals and man searches things out? It sounds like a cosmic Easter Egg hunt where man is continually searching for the colorfully decorated, yet hidden truths of God, while the Father watches on in amused pleasure.

But this is not the purpose of this verse at all. It is not purporting a deistic “hide and seek” relationship with God. Rather, it is reminding us of how the relationship ought to be, how far we have strayed from that design, and is calling us back to living in proper subjection to the Father.

The arrangement of God concealing and man searching puts things in its proper order. The concealing of things establishes a thirst and a curiosity and a hope that would have never existed in man. For if one sees, he will not have need of hope, and if one understands, he will have no joy in discovery. It is no secret that the value of an object or of a truth is always equal to the rarity of, the desire for, and the accessibility to that thing. For instance, gold is valued because it is rare, highly desired, and not accessible to all. But if gold was commonplace, if it was not rare, it would lose its value for it would be easily accessible and lightly desired. Similarly, if gold remained rare, but no one viewed it as desirable or useful, then the value of gold would diminish tremendously. But when an object is both rare and highly desired, the only way to establish it as having supreme value above all other similar objects is to conceal it. Thus, God and His Truth and all the mystery that surrounds them are established as that which is to be concealed in order to set Himself apart from all other gods, worldviews, and glories as supremely valuable.

Such an arrangement brings God glory. He does not want to remain inaccessible to man forever. To do so would diminish His value and His glory. Rather, He wants to be found. But if He did not conceal Himself or His Truth, the person who received Him would not properly respond to this gift. But when He is concealed and a person discovers the kingdom of God like a treasure buried in a field, then in his joy he will go and sell all of His possessions so that he can buy that field and retain that priceless treasure forever. It is this response, the one of insurmountable joy coupled with the inestimable denial of all you once held as valuable, that gives God glory. In this way, we see that the concealment is not only to elevate the worth of God in our eyes but is also to elevate our joy and appreciation for what has now become our own.

Similarly, “the glory of kings is to search things out.” Kings, in Old Testament days, were God’s representatives to the nation of Israel, just as we Christians are Christ’s ambassadors to this world. If those who represent God will not seek out the concealed things of God, then they will be unable to share the value of God to others. But if they pursue God and His eternally unfolding mysteries, they not only benefit but also the people under their charge. Although the joy these people will express for having received the gift of God and His salvation will first glorify God, the kings’ glory comes in the giving to his people of that which is rare, desired, and was once inaccessible to many.

However, the glory of God in concealment is not for our benefit only. As the scripture tells us, such concealing is also for God. “It is the glory of God to conceal things.” As the supreme God and the supremely valuable One in all the universe, He alone holds the authority to reveal or to conceal. Both actions bring glory to God.

In revelation, God chooses to bridge the gap between Himself and man and provides man access to the character, will, words, emotions, and person of God. Such vulnerability allows a man to see God for who He truly is, instead of making “educated guesses” from the workings of a depraved mind. Plus, this vulnerability permits him to have the opportunity to reconnect with God in the pure and holy way God originally designed and desired for man to relate Him. For this reason, we are told, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7) So, in revelation, God gets the glory by being sought and found.

Whereas revelation includes mysteries that can be understood, concealing does not. In concealing, God chooses to hide parts of Himself to maintain and emphasize His separateness from man. The mysteries unique to concealing are those things that are unique to God alone. They include, but are not limited to, God’s majesty and dignity, glory and splendor, His sovereignty, wisdom, and unfathomable knowledge of creation. (Job 38 – 42). His grace. His love. His predestined plan from the foundations of the earth. Such are the things that force a man to his knees and compel him to proclaim, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 41:4-5)

If God were to reveal all things to man, man would mistakenly assume that he was relating with an equal. Such a belief would only repeat the fault of original sin whereby man presumed to be like God and set himself in opposition to God through the assumption of the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, God conceals some things from man to protect us from both His wrath and the folly of our depraved minds. He conceals things so that we may always live in a proper relationship to Him, knowing that He is infinitely holy and sovereign and good and wise, and we are not.

To challenge the concealed things of God does not glorify God nor does it engender praise. Such behavior only rebels against Him and demands an answer where none is permitted to man. Thus we are reminded “who has known the mind of the LORD, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34). But when God conceals these things from man, He surrenders nothing of His uniqueness. All things remain from Him and through Him and to Him (Rom. 11:36), calling man out of his ostentatious existence and back into the original design where man is subjected under God, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). And where the heart of man may continuously proclaim “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Php. 4:20).

Thus we can say with Solomon: It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Neuroscience and Jesus


This is my dog, Hobbes. And he barks.

A lot.

A car goes by. My dog barks. A neighbor walks past our house. My dog barks. The mailman drives past. My dog (cliché that he is) barks. And heaven help the little Girl Scout who rings the doorbell. The only threat she poses is to my wallet, and I am convinced that if dogs could understand the joy of chocolate, Hobbes would stand on his hind legs, put on a pair of reading glasses, and write her a check himself for a truckload of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties.

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