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What We Believe

May 24, 2013 4 comments

I recently rewrote the “what we believe” statement for my church. I tried to summarize Biblical doctrine in a manner that honors the way Scripture communicates doctrine. The following is the first draft.

Creation and Sin:
We believe God created the earth, the universe, and all that is. Humanity is the pinnacle of God’s Creation, made in the very likeness of their Creator. God made the world, saw that it was good, and put humanity in charge of keeping it good. With this charge to care for creation came power, the power to obey God and take care of the world He Created and the power to disobey God and destroy His creation. The first humans chose to disobey God and it really messed up Creation, themselves, and their relationship with God. We call choosing to disobey God “sin.”

Everything Is Beautiful and Broken:
We are living in a world created good that the sin of people has messed up. This is why the world is such on odd place, full of both incredible beauty and destruction simultaneously. Good creation gone bad is why all people can be both beautiful and ugly, loving and hateful, amazing and disgusting. The world is incredibly, but it needs to be set right again. People are amazing, but we are also broken and we interact with God, eachother, and the world in both amazing and broken ways.

Setting the World Right:
When humanity screwed up Creation, themselves, and their relationship with God, God didn’t abandon Creation or people. Rather, God set to work to fix things. He sent a flood to wash away evil and re-create the world, but sin came back. He saw humanity isolating itself from the world and becoming arrogant so he spread them over the globe to populate and care for the entirety of the earth. In all God’s efforts to make the world good again, He uses people.

Blessing the World With A Blessed People:
God called a man name Abraham to set the world right. God set apart Abraham and his descendants (Israel) to live devoted to God, obeying His voice, and receive His blessing. The purpose of this specially blessed people was to bless everyone in a world. The descendants of Abraham were to eventually become a nation devoted to God, a bright light in a dark world designed to show all people what life is supposed to look like, bringing all people into God’s blessing.

These beautiful and broken people, set apart to set the world right, were at times a part of the solution, but were often a part of the problem. Israel disobeyed God in all sorts of ways: oppressing the poor, doing injustice to the innocent, worshipping other gods, murder, adultery, prostitution, and even child sacrifice. The special people who were given God’s blessing, laws, and presence to bring all peoples into relationship with God were just as sinful and guilty as everyone else, compounding on the ruin of Creation.

God in the Flesh:
God stubbornly refuses to abandon His Creation. God sent His son Jesus to earth, who consisted of the same substance of God Himself, to save the world. Jesus was born of a woman and born of God. He lived a life without sin, in complete love of others, and in intimate relationship with God, perfectly representing His image to the world as humanity was created to do. Having brought healing, teachings of life, and hope to humanity, they put Jesus to death on a cross. Jesus, as God, took on all the violent sin humanity could throw at Him and died with that sin on Him.

The sin that brings death killed Jesus, but Jesus was resurrected from the dead. The sin which died with Jesus stayed dead. All our sin against God, the sin that keeps us from right relationship with Him and others, died with Jesus for our forgiveness. With sin dead and God alive, we have been set free from sin and all its effects and thus have been set right to be in the presence of God. Jesus freed us to live in unhindered intimacy with God and each other again.

The Church Is God in The Flesh:
Soon after Jesus, was resurrected, He ascended into heaven. Being just like His Father, Jesus did not ascend to abandon Creation, but ascended to be more for the world than he was when He was here. Jesus sent His Spirit on those who believe, now the spirit of Jesus resides with all believers across the earth. Jesus, God Himself, is still tangibly here in a visible flesh. His body is what His spirit resides in: the community of believers, the church.

Future Hope:
Those who trust in Jesus have been given redeemed hearts, but our bodies and the world in which we live is still physically affected by sin. Our bodies still die, our psyche is still marred, we still are given to the selfish pursuit of being our own god, and Creation is still screwed up, but this is not the end. Our redemption has just begun. Our heart, our spirit, the core of who we are, has been fully redeemed by God and there will come a day when Jesus Messiah comes back to give us the same resurrection he had, a wholly redeemed physicality.

When this day comes, the kingdom God has been setting up in the midst of those who put their trust in Him will come in full. The Kingdom of God will reign over all the earth. When Jesus reigns all wounds will be healed, all tears will be wiped away, and all wrongs will be set right. Our innocence and intimacy restored, we will once again walk side by side with God. The world created good will be good again.

The Future Kingdom In The Present:
The people of God, the church, are charged with bringing the future kingdom now. Because the spirit of Jesus reigns in the church, the kingdom of God is present in the the church. We are to live free from the sin which bars relational intimacy. Healed of our wounds, we are free to be Jesus to the rest of the world, setting wrongs right, freeing those still held captive to sin, and inviting others into a life of love. Equipped and empowered by God’s spirit, we have the honor of showing the world the beautiful love of our Creator God.

Thoughts? What am I missing? What should I throw out?

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Heretical Thoughts On Doctrine

February 5, 2011 5 comments

So, with some guys on Wednesday nights we’re going through the book Doctrine by Mark Driscoll. I’m actually just listening to the podcast, but Marky Mark does a good job of cogently and very concisely explaining many important concepts in systematic theology. I don’t want to criticize his book. The group of guys I meet with are great and I really enjoy our time together. I love the Scriptures. It’s just that the older I get, the less of a point systematic theology seems to have.

I think that systematic theology has a good heart behind it. I myself have read and talked for hundreds of hours on concepts that come out of that way of looking at the Bible. I am even tempted to use that tool of interpretation as the primary way I draw out the meaning of Scripture. It is a really easy, simple, and pragmatic way to do theology. All you have to do is search the Bible to figure out what it says about different concepts and then define those concepts using all the Scriptures that talk about them. The Bible then becomes a book of true concepts and it is our job as interpreters to discover what the true truth is. It’s quite clean, straightforward, and allows a lot of debate. A part of me loves all these things, but when I have the humility to be honest, I believe it has some big flaws

For all of its focus on the text, it separates us from the text. By grabbing a verse over here, a passage over there, and combining all these different things throughout the Bible that are said about a particular concept in order to define that concept, we end up with a definition that is actually quite distant from what each text on its own was saying. I’ll use the trinity as an example. Let’s say we gather some words from Genesis, the words of Jesus, the gospels, and some words of Paul together that are about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We take these separate individual verses and use them to develop and explicate a systematically defined concept of a 3 in 1 God. But the central messages of these passages and the verses within the passages probably is not to define the Trinitarian nature of our divine being. We can easily miss the point of Scriptures by choosing to make up our own point. If YHWH had thought it was really important that we have a clean and crystal clear definition of how He was actually three persons, He probably would have made sure one was contained in the Scriptures.

Systematic theology is a great tool for division and exclusion. It is concept driven theology that is often a point of division in churches. I’m all for having a lot of different churches and different ways of expressing faithful worship to Jesus, but unity amongst those churches despite differing ideas about specifics is ideal. But churches and denominations often split with some ferocity toward the other because one group believes one thing is true about a particular systematic concept and another group believes something else is true about a particular systematic concept. Both are right and justified because they can prove systematically how Scripture evidences what they believe. When the doctrine of the trinity was being discussed amongst the scholars, they decided that God was three distinct persons that made up the one. One group, the modalists, believed that God was just one person who functioned as if He was three distinct persons but was actually one. They were excluded and written off as wrong. I’m not convinced by Modalist arguments, but does it really have a dramatic effect on the redemption of their lives? It doesn’t seem that useful for doing teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training that all lead to righteousness. The fact that God is three in one does not have much of an effect on my life. That concept doesn’t change me, convict me, transform me, or encourage me. So, because God is three persons we know He is relational… the rest of Scripture has already made that reality unmissable. Does reading 40 pages on the Biblical idea that God reveals Himself generally through His creation and specially through direct interaction with people help me become more righteous? I believe it’s true, but is it really all that important to our pursuit of Jesus to discover what a truly systematically biblical concept of God’s revelation is? If it is vital to know the truth about these doctrinal ideas, then why didn’t God write the seminal work on systematic theology instead of this crazy book by crazy authors with crazy stories?

We can lose the story doing systematic theology. When the goal of interpreting Scripture is the discovery of the correct concepts, we miss something. In the first year of my Jesus following, I really just wanted to read Paul and proverbs because both of them seemed to have straightforward ideas laid out in a simple, logical, conceptual format. When I read stories, I read them to try to find the intellectual concept behind the story, because obviously the point of the story was gleaning a logical truth about God-reality from them. But, while I think the stories are meant to convey something true, they weren’t meant to be simplified to being a proof text for a theological idea. They convey truth in a different way and their manner of conveying truth is important to actually understanding that truth. When we lose the stories by making them into evidences of true concepts, we lose the truth. The way we do systematic theology rarely treats the story of God’s word with honor and reverence. That’s really the core of why it bothers me.

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