Developing Theological Beliefs

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, or Methodist Quadrilateral, bases its teaching on four sources as the basis of theological and doctrinal development: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience, where the latter three help us understand scripture.

Regarding Tradition, Reason, and Experience, Wesley believed Tradition was the weakest evidence since traditions change over time, and he believed Experience was the strongest evidence.

I think this quadrilateral is quite useful; however, unlike Wesley, I believe Reason is much more important than Experience, since our experiences are subjective and interpreted (and reinterpreted) to fit current beliefs.

As we use Tradition, Reason, and Experience to understand Scripture, we develop our theological beliefs, and these beliefs are modified and adjusted over time as we mature, acquire more information, and experience new things.

So with this in mind, here are some random thoughts I have on theological beliefs:

  • If you can find no one else who shares your beliefs, your beliefs are probably stupid. 😉
  • If you find that all of your beliefs perfectly match the beliefs of a large group, you are a sheep, which is also stupid. 😉
  • As you learn, pick the brains of the best and expose yourself to conflicting views.
  • Be willing to embrace new and discard old when necessary.
  • Enjoy the process and remember that your 3 lb. brain will never find all of the answers.
  • Share your beliefs with others but don’t try to force them on others.

Please Stop Saying “God Told Me”

When Christians say “God told me…,” “God spoke to me yesterday about…,” or other variations of this, they very seldom expect others to think they literally heard God’s voice. What they typically mean is they think certain thoughts or ideas they have are probably divine in origin.

These thoughts or ideas could have been triggered by reading the Bible, a conversation with a friend, a song on the radio, a piece of art, or a million other events or circumstances. Most probably, they resulted from a combination of many factors.

While I do believe God directs our paths through circumstances he either wills or permits (Providence), it’s dangerous to assign the thoughts and ideas that come into our heads the status of personal revelations from God. We simply have no way to know or verify this.

Although those who use “God told me” language often do so with no malice or evil intent, the fact remains that this language has been used down through history to justify all sort of abuses and to have the last word on nearly every issue known to man.

Therefore, for the sake of honest transparency, clearer communication, and less confusion, I propose Christians stop saying “God told me…” and “God spoke to me yesterday about…,” and instead start saying “A thought just came to me” or “I have an idea.” Or if you feel that it would be wrong not to give God credit for your new thought or idea, you could say, “I think God is teaching me…” or “I think God is reshaping my views about…”

Note 1: There are Christians who believe many of their thoughts and ideas are directly planted in their heads by God and are therefore infallible. Be very careful around people like this!

Note 2: If you’re thinking about commenting to remind me Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:27), please read that passage in context: Jesus was using a shepherd/sheep metaphor. Jesus was not literally a shepherd and the people he was talking to were not literally sheep. He was simply saying, “Because you don’t recognize me as the Messiah who is speaking for Yahweh, you are not my ‘sheep’ and will not be saved from God’s coming judgment.”

For related posts, check these out:
What Does God Want Me To Do?
Does God Whisper?
Playing the God Card

Christians & Jews should be worried!

Newt Gingrich wants to test every Muslim in the US and deport those who believe in Shariah. Shariah is the law Muslims believe has divine origins.

Christians and Jews should be very concerned!

What would happen if politicians proposed testing Christians and Jews to see if they believed Old Testament laws were from God?

Old Testament laws called for the stoning of rebellious children, the stoning of homosexuals, the stoning of adulterers, the stoning of witches, the stoning of those who insulted God’s name, the stoning of girls who lost their virginity before marriage, and the stoning of those who tried to convert you to a different religion. The Bible says these laws, which were in effect for over a thousand years, were given by God.

I realize liberal and Progressive Christians do not believe these Old Testament laws were actually from God, but most Evangelical Christians and practicing Jews believe these laws were from God and are therefore good laws (even though many are glad they are no longer in effect today).

So what would happen if the government started rounding up Christians and Jews and asking them if they believed these Old Testament laws were from God?

If a Christian or Jew said, “Yes, I believe those were good laws because they were given by God and practiced by God’s chosen people for over a thousand years; however, I’m glad none of those laws exist in the US today,” would the government punish this person for believing those laws came from God? Or would the government let them off since they are not in favor of those laws?

Who knows?

Would the government deport Muslims who said, “Yes, I believe Shariah law was given by God and has been practiced with his blessing for hundreds of years; however, I’m glad it doesn’t exist in the US today”?

Who knows?

The idea that people could be punished for their religious beliefs rather than their criminal behavior is a frightening prospect!

Some Things Are Hard To Admit

One thing I’ve learned about myself is I sometimes have a hard time adjusting to new realities and accepting the truth.

For example, because I grew up in a small town and attended church twice a week, I just assumed most Americans were like me. It wasn’t until I was old enough to vote and able to see how the nation voted in Presidential elections, that I realized only half of the nation measured leaders by whether or not they said they were Christian, opposed abortion, and opposed homosexuality.

Well, this made it easy for me to choose the half that was like me–the Christian Republicans. But over time, I began to realize that although Republican politicians said they were like me, when they got elected, they never seemed to keep their campaign promises.

Now it’s 2016, and I’m just now admitting that it isn’t just the Republican politicians who are unlike me, the majority of the Republican party is unlike me.

The Republican party has been changing. The man they have chosen to represent them, and lead this country, makes me sick to my stomach. Therefore, I can no longer in good conscience associate with this party.

And, truth be told, I suspect a large part of the reason I want nothing to do with the Republican party is I’ve also been changing. I’m not the “Christian” I used to be. I no longer hate Democrats. I no longer hate homosexuals. I no longer hate women who have abortions. And I have a much greater respect for Jesus of Nazareth.

And if the truth were really to be told, I’d have to admit the reason I want nothing to do with the Republicans and the man they’ve chosen is because he reminds me a bit of the ugly person I used to be. And that’s hard to admit.

Hallmark Card Christianity

One of my least favorite phrases that I often hear Christians say is “God’s timing is always perfect.” I dislike this phrase, not because I disagree with it, but because I disagree with how it is misused. On his blog, McGahey’s McMusings, James McGahey addresses this:

“[The truism–God’s timing is always perfect–] is often pastorally insensitive. Indeed, many who speak in glowing terms of God’s perfect timing do so on the assumption that trials and apparently unanswered prayers are just the necessary prelude to God’s plan to ‘bless’ his people in this life. Au contraire. God is not—despite an execrable gospel tract that had wide circulation in my youth—in the business of giving people a ‘happy and meaningful life.’ He is not a ‘great genie in the sky’ whose business it is to bestow ‘blessings’ on his people in his good time, after ‘teaching them a lesson’ in patience or whatnot. Yes, sometimes God does answer prayers, and in retrospect we realize the sanguinity of the timing involved. Yet at other times he doesn’t answer those prayers and, as Paul well knew, sometimes he answers with a resounding ‘No!’ God’s power, after all, is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), and so it is in our weaknesses that we should boast (2 Cor 12:10). God never promises his people that he will ‘bless’ them in ways we Westerners consider to be blessings. Christians suffer, and their death rate differs not one whit from that experienced by non-Christians. The children of Christians sometimes die, often in horrible ways. Christians lose their homes and possessions to fire. They lose their jobs, even jobs to which they have devoted their life’s resources and energies in a godly way. And there is no guarantee that God will turn these terrible circumstances around for their benefit in this life. In such instances, therefore, for a Christian to console another suffering believer with platitudinous ‘comfort’ that God’s timing is perfect is both counterintuitive and heartless. Yes, God allows such things to happen with the ultimate aim of conforming us to Christ. But he is a daring (and foolish) theologian who rushes in to discern God’s purposes for his people by reading the tea leaves of their experiences. The ‘secret things,’ as Martin Luther knew, belonged to the Lord and to him alone.

God is sovereign. In that fundamental theological axiom I take the greatest comfort in the knowledge that I, as a called and justified sinner, have already, in the counsels and plan of my Father in heaven, been glorified, as it were, before the time. Even so, I think it is high time that we Christians rethink our somewhat naive use of the truism that ‘God’s timing is always perfect.’ After all, can’t we do better than resort to Hallmark Card Christianity?”

Larry Hurtado

Larry Hurtado is one of the most respected NT scholars when it comes to early Christianity; however, since professional scholars are expected primarily to do original work and to publish books and journal articles primarily directed to other scholars, many Christians may be unfamiliar with his work.

If you’re not familiar with his work, I recommend you watch this YouTube video:

For more information, you should also read through this Q&A blog post of his:

Judge not! Right?

A lot of people seem to have no idea what the New Testament writers had to say about judging, so here’s a little cheat sheet.

How, what, and who to judge:

(1) Christians were to judge with proper judgment (John 7:24).
(2) Christians were to judge all things to determine whether or not they were from God (1 Cor. 2:15-16).
(3) Christians were to judge whether or not fellow Christians were living godly lives (1 Cor. 5:3, 12b).
(4) Christians were to judge matters between fellow Christians (1 Cor. 6:5).
(5) Christians were to judge prophesies (1 Cor. 14:29).
(6) Christians were to judge whether or not those who preached to them were preaching a different Jesus, a different Spirit, or a different gospel (2 Cor. 11:1-4).
(7) Christians were to judge the works of darkness (Eph. 5:10-11).
(8) Christians were to judge false prophets and false apostles (2 Pet. 2; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 2:2).
(9) Christians were to judge themselves (1 Cor. 11:31).

How and who not to judge:

(1) Christians were not to judge hypocritically (Mat. 7:1-5).
(2) Christians were not to judge fellow Christians concerning disputable matters (Rom. 14).
(3) Christians were not to judge other Christians in an uncharitable way by assuming their motives were evil (Jam. 4:11-12).
(4) Christians were not to judge non-Christians according to whether or not they lived godly lives (1 Cor. 5:12a).

God’s Not Dead & Science

One thing that surprised me about the movie God’s Not Dead (2014) was its support for the Big Bang theory and even a consideration for some form of theistic evolution. And something that surprised me even more was that few Evangelicals seemed to have a problem with the movie because of this.

This tells me the views of American Evangelicals are evolving (excuse the pun).

In the first debate of the movie with his atheist professor, Josh Wheaton (the Christian student) said this:

“For 2,500 years most scientists agreed with Aristotle on the idea of a steady-state universe—that the universe has always existed with no beginning and no end. But the Bible disagreed. In the 1920s, Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaitre, a theist,….said that the entire universe, jumping into existence in a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, out of nothingness in an unimaginably intense flash of light, is how he would expect the universe to respond if God were to actually utter the command in Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light.” In other words, the origin of the universe unfolded exactly how one would expect after reading Genesis, and for 2,500 years the Bible had it right, and science had it wrong.”

And in the second debate, after arguing against Darwinian Evolution because it doesn’t account for the origins of life, Josh Wheaton opens the door for some form of progressive biological creation:

“In other words, Creation happened because God said it should happen. And even what looks to our eyes to be a blind, unguided process could really be divinely controlled from start to finish.”

Like most Christian films, God’s Not Dead suffered from bad writing, one-dimensional characters, a bit of an unrealistic plot, and some questionable theology; however, it was better than many Christian movies and I was encouraged to see it make concessions where scientific evidence warranted them.

Although science is limited in what it can achieve because scientists are limited, science should not be feared or viewed as an enemy of faith. Just as the church eventually accepted Galileo’s findings, I’m encouraged that Evangelicals are moving (albeit slowly) where the evidence leads.

Note: Not surprisingly, Christian fundamentalists were not pleased with the concessions made by the Christian character in this film. Answers In Genesis, reviewed the movie from a Young-Earth perspective here: God’s Not Dead Movie Review

Spiritual Gifts Re-examined

The Bible describes two types of spiritual gifts: miraculous and non-miraculous.

I believe miraculous spiritual gifts were given in the first century to confirm the authority of the apostles and to quickly advance the gospel. And I believe these gifts were not distributed beyond early Christendom (perhaps even earlier). This view is known as Cessationism.

I’ve seen no credible evidence for modern day apostles, prophets, healers, speakers and interpreters of tongues, etc.

On the other hand, I believe all people of all times have received non-miraculous spiritual gifts. These are gifts that come about naturally as a result of God’s work in our lives. For example, God has given some people the gift of teaching. These people have the personality, talents, and passion to excel in this area. This God-given gift can be used for good or evil, but in the new Testament, Paul said these gifts were to be used by Christians to build up the body of Christ.

Many Christian leaders will say that spiritual gifts are only given to Christians and most will say these gifts appear after conversion; however, I see no reason biblically to believe this is the case. God loves all people and is involved in the lives of all people, whether they recognize it or not.

Also, many Christian leaders will create lists of spiritual gifts from various New Testament passages and then label everything that doesn’t align with the items on this list as “natural talents,” which they differentiate from spiritual gifts; however, I believe this creates a false dichotomy which can cause believers who are, for example, mechanically gifted to feel discouraged and to fail to recognize the fact that this gift also came from God and can be used to help others.

In conclusion, I see no reason to believe only Christians receive spiritual gifts or to differentiate spiritual gifts from God-given innate talents.


Note: Although there are many charismatic Christians who claim to have miraculous spiritual gifts, there is no documented evidence to support these claims. On the contrary, “healers” such as Benny Hinn have been exposed as frauds, and the studies I’ve seen of tongues confirm it is nothing more than free vocalization, something that is easy for anyone to learn.

Conditional Covenants

I. The Abrahamic Covenant

Appears to be unconditional, but when you get to Genesis 22 you see that it was actually conditioned upon Abraham’s obedience:

Because you have done this [emphasis added]….I will surely bless you….I will make your descendants numerous….Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies….Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed….because you have obeyed me [emphasis added].”

II. The Israelite Covenant

“Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments [emphasis added]; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today [emphasis added], to do them.” (Deuteronomy 7:9-11)

III. The Davidic Covenant

Did David understand this covenant to be unconditional?

“Be strong….Show yourself a man….Observe what the Lord your God requires….Keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses…so that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel [emphasis added].'” (1 Kings 2:2-4)

Did Solomon understand this covenant to be unconditional?

If you [emphasis added] walk before me as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, I will [emphasis added] establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to rule over Israel.’ But if you [emphasis added] turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you…then I will [emphasis added] uproot Israel from my land…and I will reject this temple.”

IV. The New Covenant

Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment [emphasis added]. (John 5:28-29)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works [emphasis added], which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them [emphasis added]. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We cannot save ourselves, but our salvation appears to be linked to us obediently doing the good works that God prepared for us to do.

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds [emphasis added]: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good [emphasis added], to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:5-11)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad [emphasis added]. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done [emphasis added]. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done [emphasis added]….And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12–15)

From Genesis to Revelation we see that the primary covenants hinge on human obedience and disobedience. No one can stand before God and say, “Please don’t judge me according to whether or not I did the good deeds that God prepared for me to do; instead, judge me according to the fact that I have faith in Jesus.”


Because demons have faith in Jesus Christ, but faith without works is dead!

Was not Abraham our father justified by works [emphasis added] when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone [emphasis added]. (James 2:21-24)

There are a lot of people who think they are God’s children because they said a prayer that earned them admittance to heaven. They say, “I don’t have to DO anything because I have faith, so I’ve been covered by the blood of Christ.” If my understanding of the above scriptures is correct, there are a lot of people who are going to be in for a bad surprise.

Note: Some Protestant denominations influenced by Calvin and Luther teach that obedience is good, but not essential. This is why it is important to be like the Bereans and study scripture for ourselves.

OT satan vs NT Satan

Over the years I’ve written a few posts on Satan (here, here, and here) and Lucifer (here), but my views are changing as I study the work of Dr. Michael Heiser and other Bible scholars.

Dr. Heiser is an Old Testament scholar, author, and Semitic languages expert, and his work addresses the fact that satan in the OT is far different from Satan in the NT.

He writes, “In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word satan is not a proper personal name. This is because it is nearly always paired with the definite article in Hebrew (the word ‘the’). Like English, Hebrew does not permit the definite article to be paired with a proper personal name (I don’t call myself, ‘the Mike’). The common noun satan paired with the definite article means ‘the adversary’—not ‘Satan’ as in the proper name of the Devil. This is why some English Bibles have ‘the Adversary’ in passages like Job 1:6 and not ‘Satan.’”

Dr. Heiser points out the noun satan occurs 27 times in the Hebrew Bible and only lacks the article 10 times. Of those 10 times, seven refer to humans and three refer to the Angel of Yahweh.

He concludes, “there are ZERO verses in the OT that have a personal name “satan,” and ZERO references to Satan as a cosmic evil entity as in the NT.”

Old Testament scholar John Goldingay agrees, “The word for adversary/accuser is satan…The word is not a name but a common noun; it has the article the. The earliest otherwise-known occurrences of Satan as a proper name come in Jewish writings from the second century [B.C.]…” (italics his)

The book of Job is the oldest document in the Hebrew Bible and in this book we see that “the satan” is an officer of Yahweh’s divine council. He “accuses” anyone he catches not obeying Yahweh. He’s not an evil being opposed to Yahweh; he’s simply doing the job he’s been given. The story of Job should be viewed as a friendly bet and not as a contest between good and evil.

Thom Stark, who has written quite extensively on second-temple apocalyptic Judaism and Christian origins, writes, “a dualistic cosmology between ‘good and evil’ wasn’t a feature of Israel’s theology until the post-exilic period, particularly with the rise of apocalypticism in the second century BCE. The idea that Satan was an enemy of God who rebelled against God didn’t come about until this period….The serpent in the garden did not come to be seen as ‘the devil’ until the intertestamental period. In ancient mythology, the serpent was a regular fixture in stories about the pursuit of immortality. Just as the serpent in Genesis is responsible for Adam and Eve’s loss of the tree which gave them eternal life, so too in the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is a serpent that steals from Gilgamesh the plant that gives immortality. The serpent was the perfect symbol for this, because a snakebite was lethal.”

Note: For more on this topic, here’s a good blog post by Jacob Wright:

Strange Old Testament Theology

Old Testament Theology can really mess with you. I’ve been reading Michael Heiser’s work on Divine Council in which he examines all of the verses that talk about the heavenly beings that act as God’s council. It appears the “Angel of Yahweh” (referred to in many passages as “the satan”) was a member of this council. This understanding certainly makes more sense of many Old Testament texts but at the same time it clashes with orthodox Christian beliefs.

The story in 1 Kings 22 (and 2 Chronicles 18) is a good example of this:

Yahweh decides King Ahab must die for his wickedness.
He asks his heavenly council how they will go about getting Ahab to go into the war that will lead to his death.
The heavenly beings deliberated but couldn’t come to an agreement.
Then one of the heavenly beings stepped forward and said, “I’ll do it.”
So Yahweh asked him how he planned to do it.
This member of the heavenly council said he would go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets.
Yahweh said this was a good plan that would definitely work and he told him to go and do it.
So the prophets all spoke the lie that Yahweh wanted them to speak which caused Ahab to suspect they were simply telling him what he wanted to hear.
Then Ahab sent for the prophet Micaiah to see what he would say.
Micaiah said he would only speak what Yahweh told him to say. He then proceeded to tell the same lie that the other prophets told: Ahab should go to war because Yahweh would give him the victory.
When Ahab demanded he speak only the truth, Micaiah changed his story and said Ahab would actually be killed in battle and Israel would be routed.
Ahab didn’t believe Micaiah. He put him in prison and then he went off to fight and was killed.

As they say in Colorado, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

Note: This story is similar to the story in 1 Samuel 16 in which Yahweh sent an evil spirit to torment King Saul.

Do Christians suffer more than non-Christians?

Many Christian teachers will tell you that the life of a Christian is (or at least should be) a life of suffering. But is this really true?

My guess is that, on the whole, Christians actually suffer less than non-Christians because their morals often prevent them from engaging in many harmful activities that many non-Christians engage in. For example, Christians often avoid the suffering associated with drug and alcohol addictions. They often avoid the suffering associated with divorce as the result of infidelity. They often avoid the suffering associated with incarceration. Etc.

Also, Christians often meet weekly with Christian “brothers” and “sisters” and are probably less likely to suffer from loneliness.

And when it comes to suffering that is caused by illnesses or natural disasters, Christians suffer proportionally at the same rate as non-Christians.

And most people, regardless of their beliefs, respect those who live according to the teachings of Christ. In other words, followers of Christ tend to make very good neighbors.

What about persecution?

Jesus predicted persecution for his followers, but he also knew the Romans were going to destroy Jerusalem and kill her inhabitants while some of his disciples were still living.

Several New Testament authors repeated Jesus’ message, but there is no indication they believed persecution and suffering should be viewed as a timeless and universal part of following God.

Obviously, Christians suffer greater persecution than non-Christians in countries like Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan, but this isn’t true in North or South America, central or southern Africa, Russia, or much of Europe.

In conclusion, I’m not convinced that at this point in history Christians universally suffer more than non-Christians, and I suspect the opposite is actually true.

Good & Bad Religion

I do believe God’s plan was to end Judaism through Jesus Christ, but I do not believe all religion is bad. Religion is simply “how” we worship God.

Holding signs that say God hates a certain group of people is bad religion. Loving all people, and especially those who are marginalized, is good religion.

“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

Just like ice cream, some religion is good and some religion is bad. Avoid bad religion and practice good religion.

Rape Meme

I’ve been seeing this meme on Facebook lately, and it’s got me thinking about expectations. While no moral person would blame a drunk girl for being raped, I suspect many would question her judgment and, if the meme is correct, her expectations.

When a 3-yr-old climbs into a gorilla’s habitat because he expects his act of climbing over the wall to simply be a fun adventure, we don’t question his judgment or expectations, because he’s only 3.

However, when a 23-year old girl visits a university to attend a frat party, gets drunk and then stumbles alone outside in the dark, I hope this doesn’t reflect her normal judgments or expectations. And I suspect the meme is wrong and that it was the influence of alcohol on her brain that accounts for her actions and not a horribly naïve expectation.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where every year on most campuses drunk girls get raped. Girls, there are a lot of animals out there. Please exercise good judgment.

Are you my mission?

In an earlier post, I pointed out something many people are not aware of—that Jesus’ earthly mission was to the Jews. His mission was to share the gospel with fellow Jews and warn them to repent for the kingdom of God was soon coming (Mark 1:15, Luke 13:3, 5). The coming of God’s kingdom would mean judgment on all Jews: the wicked would be destroyed and the righteous would be saved. (Matthew 21:33-45, 13:37-43, Luke 12:31-48, Mark 16:16)

Remember when Peter said to Jesus, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)

Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28)

Also keep in mind what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And when she bowed before him and persisted to ask for help, he said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:24, 26)

In Matthew 10, Jesus told his disciples they would carry on his mission: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

He also prophesied future persecution for his disciples as they carried out his command (Matthew 10:16-23a), but he told them to endure to the end in order that they would be saved from the coming judgment. (Matthew 10:22; 24:13)

And he told them his second coming would occur before they made it to all the towns of Israel: “For I assure you: You will not have covered the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:23b)

I assure you: There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

Now some will object and point to the phrase “all nations” in Matthew 28:19, but it must be remembered that 1st century Jews were scattered in all nations (diaspora). And most scholars estimate the majority of Jews lived outside of Palestine.

So it appears Jesus and his disciples understood a limited commission. For example, James wrote his letter “to the 12 tribes who are dispersed abroad.” And when Jesus’ prophesies about the persecution that would accompany the disciples’ mission to the Jews began to come true, the Jews who were forced to leave Jerusalem still only went to Jews:

“So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.” (Acts 11:19)

Also the phrase “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20) indicates Jesus was not thinking of a Gentile audience. Gentiles were never taught to keep the law, while Jesus stressed law keeping (Matthew 5:17-19).

All of this is not to deny a second limited mission to the Gentiles. Paul clearly believed he was to go to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles, which he did; however, it appears his mission to the Gentiles was primarily to cause Jews to become jealous and repent:

“I say then, [Jews] did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.” (Romans 11:11)

Although Peter knew from his vision and subsequent visit to Cornelius that God did plan to save some Gentiles, it was clear that Peter and the other 11 disciples understood they were to focus on sharing the gospel with Jews (Gal 2:7-9) since Jesus planned to return very soon—while some of them were still living and before they were able to visit all of the cities in which Jews lived.

Does this mean we should not tell others of God’s great love? Of course not! It simply means the mission to the Jews warning of coming judgment was fulfilled in 70 AD. In other words, their mission is not our mission.

The Parable of the Lost Son

[Jesus] also said: “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one would give him any. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants and asked what these things meant. ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32)

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Why Doesn’t God do more?

Perhaps one of the most difficult, and often-asked, questions Christians ask is “Why doesn’t God intervene more often to prevent bad things from happening?” (A related question that often goes unasked is “Does God ever intervene?”)

These are perfectly reasonable questions that deserve more than silence, Christian clichés, or responses that imply you may not be a Christian for asking such questions.

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Was Jesus Anti-law?

Many view Jesus as an enlightened and civilized (read westernized) Jew who lived among primitive, barbaric, superstitious Jews two thousand years ago. Some imagine that unlike most Jews, he thought much of the Old Testament was archaic, silly, or borderline evil. And he is often pitted against the “angry, wrathful God of the Old Testament.” It’s common to hear believers say, “Jesus would not have supported the death penalty.” “Jesus would not have supported the stoning of homosexuals.” “Jesus would not have supported slavery.”

But was Jesus actually opposed to the Torah?

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Progressive Christian Blogs

I don’t read Progressive Christian blogs that much anymore because I always leave feeling annoyed. They blog about their progressive views and toss in a sprinkling of Bible proof texts, but they completely ignore all the Bible verses that disagree with their views. For example, these blogs often celebrate homosexuality and they do so by using verses that talk about God’s love and how God wants nothing more than for us to love. When commenters point out what the Bible says about homosexuality, the blog owners accuse them of hatefulness, bigotry, and, ironically, of using proof texts and taking things out of context.

I have much more respect for people who flat out say they disagree with portions of the Bible than for people who perform exegetical gymnastics to get the Bible to say what they want it to say. And I have even less respect for people who pretend to be unaware of Bible verses that contradict their view and who bully commenters who cite these Bible verses.

Sometimes I think the progressives get it right, but when that happens, I see it more as luck than anything else because progressives seldom employ the type of scholarship that leads to truth, relying instead on humor, sarcasm, satire, and appeals to modern cultural norms.

Convenient Christianity

Convenient Christianity, which is taught throughout much of the United States today, goes like this:

Believe that you were born sinful and that Jesus’ death enables you to have all of your sins forgiven so that you can go to heaven when you die. If you believe this and accept Jesus (ask him to come into your heart), you will be saved. Once you’re saved, you should live a good life but it’s not essential since once you’re saved, you’re always saved. (If you decide not to live a good life, you’re referred to as a “carnal Christian” or “backslidden.”)

What’s wrong with this? A lot!

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Do we get mansions in heaven?

Many people believe that when we die we go to heaven to live in mansions that Jesus prepared for us. This narrative comes from the beginning of John 14. But is this really what Jesus was saying? I don’t think so, and I think Steve Gregg’s paraphrase below provides a much better understanding:

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Christian Confusion ; )

Conversation between two Christian college seniors:

Andrew: Do you mind checking out my résumé. I want to start sending them out tomorrow.

Brittany: (After scanning résumé) It kind of looks like you’re bragging. You know pride goes before a downfall.

Andrew: So, I’m not bragging. I’m just highlighting my strengths, trying to make a good first impression.

Brittany: But don’t you realize how wrong that is? There’s no good in you…or me. We’re just sinners saved by grace. And why are you so concerned about making a good impression? Are you trying to please God or man?

Andrew: I see what you’re saying, but don’t I need to try to get a job?

Brittany: No. The world says to “try”; God says to rest in him. He’s got it!

Andrew: So you’re saying I shouldn’t even send out résumés?

Brittany: No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying God has a job already lined up for you. He’s sovereign! Nothing you do will change God’s sovereign plan.

Andrew: (Slightly exasperated) So you’re saying I should send out résumés?

Brittany: When did I say that? You should pray. Seek God’s face and rest in his perfect will.

Andrew: Ok, I think I’ll send out the résumés and then pray.

Brittany: Uhh, NO! You need to pray before you do anything! How do you know God even wants you to send out résumés?

Andrew: Ooh, good point. So often I just obey my flesh and do what I want to do. So what about you? Have you been seeking God’s will?

Brittany: Me? I’m a theology major!