A Puritan Response to William P. Young’s New Book

Many of you may be familiar with the new movie titled The Shack, which is based upon William Paul Young’s novel of the same name. Depending on what circles you run in, you may have heard this described as a great Christian film, or alternatively as a terrible piece of heresy. The extreme popularity of Young’s novel (20 million copies and counting) has caused many Christian leaders to address the theology contained therein, and they have found several topics of concern. However, those who defend the novel typically fall back on the fact that it is, after all, a piece of fiction and not a theological textbook. Some have even argued that Young’s true beliefs are rather ambiguous.

Well, with the release of the film now upon us, Mr. Young has done us all a favor and released a non-fiction book (though given its contents, some may still wish to classify it as fiction). This one is called Lies We Believe About God, and it has rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. Within its pages, the author gives us a series of statements that are often made by people in the Church and tells us why he believes each one of them is wrong. Tim Challies has already written an excellent article looking at several of the more troublesome claims made in the book, but for my purposes I wanted to examine just one of the statements that Young says is a lie: “God is in control.”

Now, if you hold to anything like orthodox Christianity, the fact that this is described as a “lie” ought to set off alarm bells in your head. However, you might be thinking, “We need to actually hear his explanation before we make a judgment one way or the other.” I fully agree with you, which is why I got my hands on a copy of the book and read the chapter in question. Continue reading

Which Gender is God?

Image by Wikipedia user Pschemp

I remember one day when I was growing up, I was riding in the family minivan. My mom pointed to a bumper sticker on the car in front of us that said something along the lines of, “God is coming back, and boy is she mad.”

That may have been one of the first times in my life that I ever really considered the question, “Which gender is God?” By “God”, I mean specifically the Christian God described in the Bible, not any god in general. In the vast array of religions that have come and gone throughout world history, we have seen plenty of gods – some male, some female, and some gender neutral. But what gender is the God of the Bible? Does the God of the Bible have a gender?

There are really four possible answers to these questions…yes, four and not three. First, God might be male. Second, God might be female. Third, God might not have a gender at all. And fourth (wait for it!), God might be both male and female. Continue reading

Two Ways to Think about the Lord’s Supper

“The Last Supper” by Vicente Juan Masip, circa 1562

Friends, I would like to consider today the deeper meanings of that meal we call the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, for I feel that in many places, its importance has been rather downplayed. Over the course of my life, I have attended multiple churches, each of which did the Lord’s Supper in a slightly different way. The Baptists I grew up with held it four times a year and with a purely symbolic interpretation. Later on, I was among other Baptists who felt it was important enough to do twice a month. The Anglicans, of course, did it all the time and used real wine. I was fine with the alcohol, for if it was good enough for our Lord, it was good enough for me. The communal cup did give me the heebie jeebies, but I got over it.

My academic study brought me into contact with a broad array of interpretations of this thing that we call either an ordinance or a sacrament. This caused me to truly contemplate the nature of what was occurring when I participated in the Lord’s Supper, and it became to me much more sacred and monumental. Over the past year, while in the process of observing the Lord’s Supper, I have had two different thoughts about how we can view it, neither of which is particularly original. However, I think you are less likely to hear these mentioned on a Sunday morning, depending on what church you attend. I would like to suggest that we can view the Lord’s Supper in terms of two words: communion and covenant. Continue reading

Christ is All in All

Mosaic of Jesus Christ at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, photographed by Edal Lefterov

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles below.

As I noted in the previous essay, there are two major sources of discord between Christians. The first, doctrinal issues, we have already addressed and noted that in the case of a person who forsakes the gospel, there may be little we can do but to stand firm upon the Word of God, in all humility and with hearts full of love and compassion. The second major source of discord is what I will call political/personality issues, and here there may be more we can do. Yet, that does not imply that there is anything easy about it, for here we find not the nice black and white of some doctrinal debates, but the infinite grays of human emotion.

By “political” issues, I do not mean debates about secular politics, but rather the politics that exist within the Church. Essentially, this is all about who has the power, who is in charge, or who gets their own way. Personality issues are closely linked, and can usually be boiled down to phrases like, “I don’t like so and so because…”, “It really annoys me when they…”, “I just hate it when they do…”, “Why can they not see how selfish, ridiculous, etc…”, or “They really get on my nerves!”

Now, I have never conducted a scientific study on this topic, but from my own personal experience and the numerous anecdotes I have heard from others, I would have to say that it is political/personality issues and not doctrinal issues that cause more discord within the Church. In fact, many of the apparent doctrinal issues begin as political/personality issues or have such things at their heart. Therefore, it will not do to focus on doctrine alone. We must get down to the root of our malaise: the ugliness of our hearts. Continue reading

A New (Old) Commandment

Depiction of Christ washing Peter's feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

Depiction of Christ washing Peter’s feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

This is the ninth in a series of article on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I sincerely hope by this point that the biblical imperative regarding reconciliation has been well established and that it has been made clear just how vital of an issue this is: the most vital, really, for within the concept of reconciliation all the things that pertain to salvation are encompassed along with our purpose on this earth. We have also taken a look at the underlying heart attitudes that can make or break reconciliation. The conversation has for the most part centered on relationships between two individuals, or between the individual and God. By focusing on big concepts rather than specific circumstances, it is possible that I have even made it this far without seriously offending you. Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

It is necessary that we move beyond this limited scope and begin to examine reconciliation on a corporate level. Here it is worth noting that every Christian has relationships with two kinds of people: those who are Christians and those who are not. Reconciliation is needed in both areas, but I am going to begin by examining reconciliation among Christians themselves, for if we cannot get our own house in order, we have little hope outside the walls, so to speak. Continue reading

True Love

Flickr photo by Sam Caplat

Flickr photo by Sam Caplat

This is the eighth in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

Here’s a situation we have all found ourselves in at some point: an acquaintance says or does something with which you disagree. I don’t mean they say that Starbucks coffee is great and you think it’s overpriced, over-roasted sludge. I mean something important – something that gets your moral compass spinning. You like this person, or at the very least, you want them to like you. Instinctively, you know that telling them that you disagree will cause tension in the relationship. So do you inform them of your disagreement, do you say nothing and hope the subject will go away, or do you agree with them in order to make them happy?

Variations on this situation are playing out every day. The most popular response is probably to avoid responding to a person who disagrees with you. If they don’t force you to come out and make a decisive statement, why cause an unnecessary fight? If the issue isn’t that big of a deal, why make a mountain out of a mole hill? Continue reading

The Origins of the Protestant Reformation

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder portraying the pope selling indulgences, circa 1521

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder portraying the pope selling indulgences, circa 1521

Can you recall the first time you learned about the Protestant Reformation? In all likelihood, you were told a story somewhat like this. On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the door of a church that stated his complaints with Roman Catholicism. This began the splitting of Western Christianity into two primary groups: Catholics and Protestants. Regardless of where you grew up and what form of religion your family practiced, the issue was almost certainly presented in this manner.

Most people today will never progress beyond that extremely limited and largely misleading version of events, nor will they come to realize the vast ways in which their own lives have been affected by the Reformation. Nearly 500 years later, if we are to truly understand what happened on that October day, we must go back in time and consider the events leading up to that period. Continue reading

My Reaction to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

President-Elect Donald Trump meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016. White House Photo by Pete Souza.

President-Elect Donald Trump meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016. White House Photo by Pete Souza.

 

Dear Friends: The following contains some genuine political opinions, and while it is not meant to be an attack on anyone or anything, if you have simply had enough of political discussion (here I commiserate with you), consider yourself warned. The second half of the article is more important than the first.

On November 8, 2016, I swore that I would pay as little attention to the election returns as possible, that I would watch none of the television coverage, and that I would go to bed early and sleep through it. I accomplished all of those things but the third one. At approximately 2:00 a.m. EST, I awoke and my mind immediately went to that all-important question: “Who is my president going to be?” I looked at my phone, for I knew I would never go back to sleep otherwise, and saw the following two notifications.

12:14 a.m. Dayton Daily News – “Early election results send Dow futures, global stocks plunging”

1:50 a.m. New York Times – “Donald Trump has won Pennsylvania, all but assuring that he will be the next president of the United States” Continue reading

Impossible Questions

"Job Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind" by William Blake, circa 1803-05

“Job Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind” by William Blake, circa 1803-05

This is the seventh in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

There are three questions in Scripture that, despite their apparent simplicity, strike at the very heart of who we are and reveal our position before the Creator. As each one is placed before us, we are forced to address the pride in our hearts and reconsider our notions of justice, for there are some questions that demand action simply by being asked. Most surprising of all is how these three seem, upon careful consideration, to actually be the same question. Continue reading

The First Step

The "Huntsman's Leap" chasm in Wales, as photographed by Colin Park.

The “Huntsman’s Leap” chasm in Wales, as photographed by Colin Park.

This is the sixth in a series of articles on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

The study of international relations is often focused around intractable conflicts, and while there are any number of disagreements that could stake a claim to being the longest lasting or most deeply entrenched, the one that seems to take the cake in the minds of Americans is the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians. As feuds go, this one is actually a latecomer on the historical scene. Yes, there are some who link it back to the tension between the two sons of Abraham – Isaac and Ishmael – but from a political standpoint it started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Jewish immigrants began moving to the region of Palestine.

Despite the best intentions of a long line of political figures, things have been going downhill ever since that point. Animosities have grown to where they are now an intrinsic part of national and ethnic identity. Numerous wars have been fought, and even the periods of so-called peace have been quite violent. Attempts at a negotiated settlement have yielded little but failure. As I write, the dispute is at its worst level in some time, with the politicians refusing to even meet and talk about peace unless changes are made.

In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, the acclaimed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman compared the two peoples to a husband and wife who are unable to get pregnant. A fertility specialist finally concludes that the reason for their failure begins with the fact that neither of them actually wants to have a child. The meaning is that Israel and Palestine don’t really want a peace deal, because any such agreement would require them to make concessions that they are unwilling to risk, even forcing them to admit to wrongdoing. Protracted conflict is preferable to a deal that forces them to sacrifice pride and place themselves on the same level of moral “rightness” as their enemy. (It could also be argued that having a foreign enemy to oppose can be helpful to political leaders, but I digress…) Continue reading