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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Quick Thoughts: The Death of Billy Graham

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When I was a child, there were three giant figures within Christianity: Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and Billy Graham. And regardless of what occurred in the world, I always felt that these three (though separated by thousands of miles) continually worked together through prayer and faith to secure the mainsail of Christianity. One dedicated her life to the poor. One led nations and people in the way of Christ. And one preached the Gospel so unwaveringly that millions accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

Each one, I knew, prayed continually for the souls of mankind and worked in their own way to ensure God’s kingdom expanded, not their own.

But time, as it always does, eventually collected Mother Teresa as well as Pope John Paul II. Only Billy Graham remained in these last decades as the One who prayerfully stood in the gap interceding for both the lost and the saved. For me, there was always security in that knowledge, for I knew that “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” And I was confident that when he prayed, miracles formed like thunderclouds on the horizon.

That is why it saddened me so much when I heard of Billy Graham’s death on Wednesday.

He was a man I admired. He was a man I listened to and read. But, if I’m completely honest, he was a man I relied upon.

Who will lead us now, I prayed that morning during my devotional.

Then I remembered: Isaiah’s answer was “Here am I. SEND ME!” Ananias’ answer was “Yes, LORD,” when told to go that murderous man, Saul. And Christ made it very clear that no one who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is worthy to be His disciple.

In other words, it is not up to another. It is up to all of us. We Christians have not lost our leader. Our leader is Jesus Christ. We have only lost a great man of God. A compass who continually showed us the way to God.

Now, it is our turn. We are a people who have been commanded to “Go”. And it is time to put our hands and feet to the task. To pick up the loose cords and secure the mainsail again. To rise up as one in Christ by devoting ourselves in prayer for revival and awakening in your country and by faithfully following the Spirit’s leading to accomplish the task assigned to you.

It is up to us now to ensure that the generation behind us does not forget who God is or turn to false idols. It is up to us to preach the Gospel both from the pulpit and through our lives. Good behavior cannot be simply enough. It must be clear. There is only one way to heal your brokenness and that is through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, I would like to challenge you to pray this year for revival within your country. Billy Graham will no longer be doing it for you. The mantle must be picked up by us.

Daffy Duck and Doing Good

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Heb. 13:16, ESV

Doing good. Sharing. These are things we learned to do in kindergarten. They are what most people would consider “basic moral principles for living.” And they are encouraged across multiple cultures as well as religions. So why is something so universally accepted deemed a sacrifice? Wouldn’t a lifetime of practicing these characteristics make them not sacrificial but habitual? An act of desire, not duty?

Apparently not.

I think what the apostle Paul is getting at is that we human beings are by nature selfish. Like Daffy Duck in the above cartoon, we cling to our stuff, proclaiming, “MINE! MINE! MINE….I’m a happy miser” instead of sharing what we have and doing good. It takes self-discipline, empathy, and compassion to deny ourselves all that is ours and willingly give it to others. Whether that thing is something material or whether it is something immaterial (like a talent or ability), we struggle to selflessly release what we have and share it with others.

Why? Because on some level we always want a form of reimbursement. Some want money.  Others want fame and a life of ease. While still others desire recognition, a returned favor later in life, or even the little warm fuzzy feeling that comes with helping another person in need.

But this venal currency is useless in the kingdom of God.

Echoing Christ’s statement to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the author of Hebrews strikes at the heart of normal human behavior and calls us to exchange reimbursement for pleasing God.

Such end goals make our actions sacrificial.

For as long as we strive to balance what we have given with what we will receive, we remain in a continual state of self-centeredness with a morality that asks, “what’s in it for me?” But when pleasing God is our goal, God receives and transforms our self in His image. No longer do we pursue some form of self-glorification. Instead, we lay aside the self so that the beauty and perfections of Christ shine through our good works and ignite the people of this dark world to lay aside their selves to do the same. (Matt.5 :15-16)

This is the ultimate good: when we share what we have in Christ with another person. It is not only about obeying a certain list of do’s and don’ts or following a moral code of loving your fellow man. It is more than that. It is about proclaiming through our actions and our choices who Christ is and what He has done for us. It is about giving Him the glory at the expense of ourselves. It is about exchanging the “MINE! MINE! MINE!” for a life that proclaims “HIS! HIS! HIS!”