Sunday, June 18, 2006

God the Father Almighty

Parents frequently teach their children a prayer that begins, "God is great. God is good."

Those words are simple enough for children, but they are also profound. They capture two important aspects of the character of God. He is great -- that is, he is almighty, omniscient, and omnipresent. He is also good -- great in mercy and kindness, a Father and friend to those who are His.

Healthy Christianity maintains thoughts of God's greatness and goodness in a careful balance. Unfortunately, that balance is frequently not maintained, and that lack of balance has at times seriously harmed those who grew up under it. If God is seen as great, but not good, he may be seen as harsh, distant, irrelevant, and an object of unhealthy fear (I say unhealthy, because there is a healthy kind of fear of God).

If God is seen as good, but not great, He is seen as a sort of kindly old man -- good hearted, but not terribly helpful or relevant to life.

Fortunately, the true God is both great and good. God is described in the Bible as a Father, a Friend, and as one who knows how to give good gifts to His children. He is merciful and full of grace. Believers can call upon Him with familial love and approach Him boldly because of what Christ has done in our behalf.

He is also the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

Isaiah Chapter 40, which is addressed to hurting people who have fallen under God's judgment, is one of the most eloquent in all of the Bible describing God's goodness and greatness. Following is a quick laundry list of what we learn about God in this chapter. Read it for yourself, and you may find great joy in meditating on these thoughts about God:
  • He speaks through Isaiah words of comfort and tenderness to a people who have gone through a period of judgment because of sin (vv. 1, 2).
  • His glory will be revealed to all mankind (v. 5).
  • His Word stands forever (v. 8).
  • His presence is a reason to proclaim good tidings (v. 9)
  • He is the Sovereign Lord who comes with power (v. 10)
  • He gathers his flock in His arms and carries them close to His heart (v. 11)
  • He has measured the waters and the Heavens with His hand (v. 12).
  • His mind is beyond our understanding or counsel (vv. 13, 14).
  • Nations are like a drop in the bucket and islands are like fine dust compared to Him (vv. 15-17).
  • He is beyond comparison and cannot be worshipped by means of any physical image (v. 18-20).
  • His throne is the earth and people are as small as grasshoppers next to Him (v. 22-24).
  • He has no equal and has created all things. He is Holy (v. 25-26).
  • He is the everlasting God who never gets tired (vv. 28).
  • He gives strength to weary and weak people (v. 29).
  • To those who hope in Him, He gives renewed strength to soar on wings of eagles, run and not grow weary, and walk and not be faint.

Those who do not know such a God should fear one of such power. Those who know Him should find comfort and confidence in God's goodness and greatness.

This is the fourth in my series of posts on the Apostle's Creed. The others can be found here, here, and here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Higher View of Jesus

He calls it a rant and invites readers to ignore it, but the Evangelical Outpost pens a post that would benefit every believer.

The flimsy disagreements of several commenters at that site perhaps reveal the sad state of American evangelicalism.

I Admit It: I Am the AntiChrist

For all of those strange people concerned about this date being 6/6/06, I can alleviate your concerns. I am guilty. I am the anti-Christ. Here's the proof: if you are trying to find me in a company phone directory, and enter into the phone keypad the first three letters of the name "Monroe," you will have entered 6-6-6.

This could hurt my status as a religion blogger.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

What about the Emergent Church

Bill Hobbs has an interesting post in which he provides a lengthy excerpt from an article on the "emergent church movement." Although I have been aware of that movement for some time, I have not delved deeply into it due to my sense of ambivalence about it. The excerpt that Mr. Hobbs provides emphasizes both the positives and negatives that contribute to my indifference regarding the significance or value of this movement.

Positively, the movement is being described as one that is Christocentric, focused on worship, and that is seeking to energetically involve disciples in service to their communities. These emphases correct deficiencies that have tended to characterize both the "traditional" churches of the mid and late 20th century and the "contemporary" churches that have tried to supplant them. Such churches have all too frequently turned out to be self-centered in worship and other emphases and overly programmatic in their orientations.

On the other hand, the movement is described as "fueled by postmodern philosophical perspectives," engaged in narrative theology and indifferent to doctrine, and "more at home with blogs than books."

Given postmodernism's indifference regarding truth, it will be interesting to see how attempts to join it with Christian belief play out. Early returns are not encouraging, as all too frequently those who claim to be informing their faith are instead inundating it with those philosophical suppositions. Indifference to doctrine has been a problem, not a characteristic, of modern evangelical Christianity. Indifference to doctrine does not mean that there are no doctrines, and narrative theology is always refracted through the doctrinal lenses of the reader. Everyone believes in doctrines -- Christian or otherwise. The question is not whether we have doctrines, but it is whether we are aware of them and thoughtful about them.

Finally, the reliance of the emergent church on new media is not necessarily a positive. One of the strengths of the movement has been its rediscovery of early Christian forms. Every major movement of the church in American history has suffered from its parochialism and lack of connectedness to Christian traditions. Forsaking deeper reading than what is provided through blogs risks the development of the emergent church becoming atrophied by that narrowness.

In which case, the emergent church will not be a movement: it will be just a fad.

I Believe (Part II)

The Apostle's Creed begins, ""I believe in God, the Father Almighty,the Creator of heaven and earth,and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord...." In this post, I want to focus on the word "believe." Faith is a very important concept for Christians (the most frequent name for Christians in the Bible is "believers"), but it is a very misunderstood one.

In the original language of the New Testament, the words "believe" and "faith" come from the same root word, with "believe" being the verb form of the root and "faith" the noun form. I once heard a preacher on television make much ado about the fact that he was going to do more than just "believe" something: he was going to "faith it." However, there was really no point to that kind of statement, since biblically belief and faith are the same thing. As I am sure this gentleman had not studied Greek, perhaps he should be forgiven this little display of ignorance.


The word "faith" is also used frequently in popular culture -- sometimes with religious overtones -- in ways that differ markedly from the biblical conception of faith. Probably the most common popular use of the word makes faith to mean something along the lines of positive thinking or stubborn optimism. While those may be good things, they are not Christian faith. In addition, they have less foundation than biblical faith. I am reminded of a Celine Dion song from a few years ago: "Don't give up on your faith. Love comes to those who believe it." That sounds wonderful. Where does that confidence come from. With her voice rising in a joy not justified by the hollow words, she concludes, "That's the way it is."

That was good for Walter Cronkite talking about what had already made news, but its not much of a foundation for faith. Fortunately, Christian faith rests on much more.

When defining faith, the most common verse that Christians turn to is Hebrews 11:1 -- "Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." That passage goes on to describe Old Testament figures who manifested faith. For example, Noah built an ark based on God's command even though he had never seen anything that warranted such an effort. Abram left his home and set out for a new country he had never seen, because ultimately he looked for a land "whose builder and founder is God."

With those introductory thoughts in mind, here are a few statements concerning the nature of Christian faith:
  • Faith is not merely intellectual assent. In that sense, the modern way of using the word "believe" is not always helpful. Faith involves the intellect, the emotions, and the will. It is not merely a matter of deciding that certain things are true, but it is about trusting in those things for our eternal salvation.
  • Faith is both a human responsibility (Acts 16:31) and a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).
  • Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive concepts. Christian belief is not based on philosophical rationalism, as Christians ultimately rest their faith in God's self-revelation found generally in creation and conscience and specifically in the words of the Bible and in the living Word, Jesus Christ. However, reason and revelation are not in opposition. Christian belief is both internally coherent and externally consistent. Talk about faith as though it is a leap into darkness involves theological constructs that are not consistent with Christianity.
  • Faith in the Bible always has an object: faith in God, God's promises, Christ, the finished work of Christ, and so forth. Thus, faith is not merely positive thinking. It involves trust in who God is or what he does and provides.
  • Because faith always has God or His work as its object, faith is not found by looking inward, but by looking up. To have faith is not to find a great internal resource -- it is to find that we have a great God in whom we can confidently rest.
  • The Bible teaches that salvation comes by faith alone. As such, the Christian message to outsiders is not to reform their lives: it is to be reconciled to God by repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ.
  • While salvation is by faith alone, the faith that saves is never alone. When I was younger and didn't know better, I used to say that human works have nothing to do with salvation. It is true that we are in no way justified by our deeds; however, saving faith inevitably produces a changed heart and life (see Ephesians 2:10).
  • Faith is not merely the response that initiates a person into the family of God; it characterizes the life of the believer throughout.

As this has become a long post, I think I should stop. I have benefited from writing it, and I hope someone gains something from reading it.