The Evangelical God Is Too Small

Dear Mr. Lough:

Again I thank you for sharing, in a deeply personal way, some aspects of your life and ministry that I had not seriously considered before. Here’s what I took away from your last two letters. (Read them here and here.)

The course of your pilgrimage and the scope of the changes in the way you understand truth, faith, and Christian discipleship have taken an emotional and psychological toll. And while you readily acknowledge that you are less certain about a lot of things than you used to be, you are clearly okay with that. Continue reading

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Hard To Do Better Than WWJD (On The Road to Easter, #5)

Dear Mr. Lough:

Thank you for the careful thought you are putting into your answers when you respond to my questions. As I look back on our email exchange so far, it is easy to see how you are shaping your replies into a progression of thought that is building your case in a logical, systematic fashion. I appreciate that very much.

Here is a summary of what I’ve heard you say up to now. Correct me if I have misconstrued your meaning or if I misunderstand your intent. 1. Change is sometimes necessary but seldom easy. 2. A change in thought or behavior is predicated upon a change in underlying presuppositions. 3. There is a subjective dimension to change, so that we never change until we feel the need to change—emotionally or intuitively. 4. In one important aspect of faith, you have not changed. You still believe in the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, his unique relation to God, the truth and power of his teaching and his life, and his death on the cross. Continue reading

I Believe in God Because I Believe in Jesus (On the Road to Easter, #3)

Dear Mr. Lough, thank you for your last note which included the piece you had written on the periodic need for change in our lives. I agree with you that change can be both necessary and difficult at the same time. I think that its difficulty makes it easier, in many cases, to avoid change altogether. That is a helpful insight. Now, here’s my next question. Would it be possible, this early in our conversation, for you to provide me with a list of themes or issues or topics on which your thinking has most substantially changed over the past ten years? I’m not asking for a comprehensive summation; just some examples. Then, perhaps, you could explain how you came to make a change in each of those areas. In any event, I am enjoying this exchange a great deal. Thank you for consenting to do this. I look forward to hearing from you. Cordially, Kathryn

Continue reading

Advent and the Church’s Mission

If the story of Jesus teaches us anything it is that God is on a mission. The gospel record of Jesus’ coming is simply a continuation of the Old Testament story of God at work, through his chosen instruments—Abraham and the nation that arose out of his descendants—to bring adventskranzredemption to the world and to set right the creation which has been damaged and corrupted by human sin.

After his baptism and temptation, which took place in the southern part of the Jewish homeland, the area known as Judea, Jesus chose to begin his formal and public ministry in the north, where he had grown up, in the region known as Galilee.

Here is the way Mark describes it in chapter one of his Gospel.

Now… Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:14)

It’s interesting that Mark, who records very little of the teaching of Jesus, preferring to concentrate on his actions—his miracles and works of power—nevertheless begins his account of Jesus’ ministry, after briefly mentioning the baptism and temptation, with a reference to something Jesus said. Continue reading

Some Thoughts About the Bible: Authority

I grew up with great respect for the Bible. Even more than that, really. I regarded the Bible with reverence. My grandmother would not allow anything to be laid on top of the Bible, and although I didn’t go that far, I understood her sentiment. After all, the Bible was a sacred book. Even though humans had produced the written the text of the Bible, it was somehow a record of what God had said. It was the Word of God.

As a Bible college student and then as a minister for many years thereafter, I championed the cause of “Biblical inerrancy.” If God is perfect, I reasoned, and if the Bible was the Word of God, then the Bible must bear the character of the God whose word it was. In its relation to God, the Bible was the literary equivalent of Jesus. As Jesus was the Word of God in human flesh (cf. John 1), the Bible was the Word of God in written form. I could no more consider the possibility of an error in the text of the Bible than I could imagine Jesus, during his earthly life, snatching a woman’s purse to get money to buy beer. Continue reading

Leaders and Loss

Most people, including religious leaders, follow a course most suitable to their natural interests and inclinations. That is the path of least resistance where the surroundings are familiar and comfortable. A skilled leader can even make the pursuit of comfort, familiarity, and security sound noble while the path of suffering and sacrifice seems unreasonable, irresponsible, or possibly evil.

During his lifetime, Jesus was never popular with religious leaders. He was too honest, too self-sacrificing. He didn’t play the angles for his own benefit. And he loved being with people who could not enhance his social standing.

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Instead of wringing our hands over the waning influence of religion in our culture, we should be looking for leaders like that. Show me a leader who cares more for the kingdom than for his or her personal interests and agenda, and I’ll show you fertile soil for religious renewal.

In the twilight of my life, I look for leaders whose principles have cost them something. I look for teachers and guides who have sacrificed comfort and security in the service of conscience and conviction. Not every leader suffers loss as a consequence of faithfulness. Only the great ones.

 

My Changing View of God

I am grateful for my upbringing in evangelical Christianity, but there is a major weakness in that tradition. The evangelical emphasis on systematic theology leads to an unwarranted, if mainly sub-conscious, assumption. I grew up believing that I could comprehend God.

When we approach the idea of God as a subject to be studied much like any other academic discipline, and when we look to the Bible as a comprehensive theological textbook made up mainly of propositional assertions that define and describe God, we can come to the conclusion that we actually understand who God really is and how and why God acts in particular ways. But we really cannot. Continue reading