Tag Archives: Revelation

My revelation from the past week

I was encouraged by Michiko’s bold, vulnerable, faithful writing. So I asked her to appear as a “guest writer” on my blog this week. Here is her revelation:

It’s easy to look at the world right now and think that maybe there is no God.

On a personal level, as I’ve watched my son descend into addiction, I’ve at times wondered what God was doing.  Where was Jesus – when was he going to wake up and talk to him and bring him out of the hell he, and I were in?

Now that he’s going to NA regularly, I’ve started going with him.

Yesterday I was witness to the kind of love that I only see at Circle.  One young woman freely admitted her brokenness.  She was in full relapse, of food disorder, substance abuse disorder, and starting on the self-harm scale.  She also said she was apathetic.  She didn’t care.

One by one, the group acted as one.  It was one huge encouragement through many voices — One saying “You’ve done great to be here.” Another saying, “Push through; you’ll be OK.” Another saying, “We love you and are here for you.”

Continue reading My revelation from the past week

Theorists in casual Friday dress wreck evangelism

christian theory for theoristsSome of my cohort were intrigued when I was aroused from my inattention last week during our final  intensive. My professor (who I like very much) was, for some reason, veering into theology. I considered it practicing outside her expertise so I had to say, “I just don’t believe that.” She had already told us that when we consider God we need to start with a theory, “Everything starts with a theory.” That was supposedly from the Bible and not from Enlightenment rationalism. She went on to write a subject on the board, draw a line under it and have us fill in the subtopics, like we were the first scientists labeling the world. Only she was working on the concept “sin is sin,” working on the theory that anything not righteous is sin and blaming her kind of thinking on the Bible writers.

Theorists are theorists

I did not really dispute her conclusions too much, although I was afraid she would soon need to put mass murderers in the same category as fibbers because that is what her theory demanded. What I objected to was ignorantly applying a theory to the Bible and calling it revelation. She pinched the evangelist in me and I said “Ouch” (rather too loudly and strongly, perhaps incoherently, as I recall it now). Several friends rushed over to inspect the theological boo boo on my scraped soul. When the Christian experts, liberal or fundamentalist (like my teacher), keep passing out Christianity in a 17th century wrapper, it is very hard to make an actual, Bible-following, Jesus loving, Spirit-filled convert these days.

Modern Evangelicalism has been seduced into secular rationalism and still doesn’t seem to know it.  Evangelicals surrendered the soul to intellect and began to try to play their religious game on a rationalist field. Their time and energy was spent proving that God fits right in to materialist philosophies, and documenting the factuality of the Bible as applied to every possible discipline, as if the Bible were actually considering all the myriad specialties invented by scientific rationalism. Now they are church planting as the “neo-Reformed,” delivering the “word” while softening the fundamentalist packaging with work shirts and nice production values.

Jesus is better than rationalism

For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom not of this rationalistic world (my expansion of John 18:36). The “soul life” or “psyche” Jesus does not want us to lose feeds on the Spirit, and on revelation it does not produce. Freud and other scientists intellectually colonized the territory by proposing that dreams are neurobiological phenomena. But the Bible writers know better. They are not talking theory; they are talking about the experience of God that Jesus brings into human dialogue. We live in a kingdom suffused with the Spirit of God. We swim in a sea of revelation. It is a bit like being a receiver in an atmosphere full of radio waves.

I think people were sick of Christians fighting about their words and theories a long time ago. I know I am. Thus I confronted my teacher with my unbelief and protested the imposition of the teaching as if it were straight from God. When I was in the maelstrom of rationalism in seminary, I wrote one paper that has always stuck with me. What could Paul be talking about when he says,

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

It surely can’t be charting out a simplistic theory of reality on a white board!

In the name of evangelism, Christians theorists have fed back the spirit of the world dressed up like the Bible. It did not make believers understand the words taught by the Spirit. The faith landscape is littered with the lives of former believers who ultimately couldn’t buy the arguments. The whole church is arguing itself to death on the battlefield of 18th century thinking as we speak! I still want to do something else by responding to the great revelation I have received.

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What about hell?: Volf and the Lamb on the Throne

During “Rabbi Time” last Monday, some people wanted to ask one of the unbeliever’s favorite questions. It often goes like this:

“What about hell? Do you think my grandma is going to hell even though she was a good person?”

We started talking about hell. I think some other people were afraid that they had wandered into a church like the one that had abused them! Were we now going to start having coercive diatribes about fire and brimstone all the time?

The dialogue made me realize that “hell” is probably a much more relevant topic than I imagine. The idea of hell messes with a lot of people’s idea of God. I think a lot of people  want a “loving” God made in their own image, who loves them as they are because he basically is them — no repercussions for my sin = love. (Of course, I don’t know what everyone wants any more than they do, but that mentality seems prevalent).

Miroslav Volf on judgment

exclusion and embraceBecause of the discomfort I felt in the meeting, I feel like offering some wisdom from my recent most-favorite book, Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf.  In that book he thinks about the apparent dichotomy between the God who loves us enough to die for us and the God who will judge us on the last day. I can’t do justice to his argument in this small space, but I thought I’d give you a good taste.

He is thinking about Revelation 19:11-16, among other parts of that mysterious book.

 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

 Now for a long quote from Volf (my emphases in bold):

 The Anabaptist tradition, consistently the most pacifist tradition in the history of the Christian church, has traditionally had no hesitation about speaking of God’s wrath and judgment, and with good reasons. There is no trace of this nonindignant God in the biblical texts, be it Old Testament or New Testament, be it Jesus of Nazareth or John of Patmos. The evildoers who “eat up my people as they eat bread,” says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put “in great terror” (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better. why not reasoning together? Why not just display “suffering love?” Because the evildoers “are corrupt” and “they do abominable deeds” v.1); they have “gone astray,” they are “perverse” (v. 3). God will judge not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.

 If we accept the stubborn irredeemability of some people, do we not end up with an irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of Christian faith? Here the “crucified Messiah” with arms outstretched embracing the “vilest sinner,” there the Rider on the white horse with a sharp sword coming from his mouth to strike down the hopelessly wicked? The patient love of God over against the fury of God’s wrath? Why this polarity? Not because the God of the cross is different from the God of the second coming. After all, the cross is not forgiveness pure and simple, but God’s setting aright the world of injustice and deception. The polarity is there because some human beings refuse to be “set aright.” Those who take divine suffering (the cross) as a display of divine weakness that condones the violator – draw upon themselves divine anger (the sword) that makes an end to their violence. The violence of the Rider on the white horse, I suggest, the symbolic portrayal of the final exclusion of everything that refuses to be redeemed by God’s suffering love. For the sake of the peace of God’s good creation, we can and must affirm this divine anger and this divine violence, while at the same time holding on to the hope that in the end, even the flag bearer will desert the army that desires to make war against the Lamb.

 Should not a loving God be patient and keep luring the perpetrator into goodness? That is exactly what God does: God suffers the evildoers through history as God has suffered them on the cross. But how patient should God be? The day of reckoning must come, not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury. “How long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood?” cry out the souls under the altar to the Sovereign Lord (Rev. 6:10). We are uncomfortable with the response which calls on the souls “to rest a little longer until the number should be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed!” (v.11) But the response underlines that God’s patience is costly, not simply for God, but for the innocent. Wanting for the evildoers to reform means letting suffering continue….

 Does not the Apocalypse paint a different picture of the end, the one more congruent with its violent imagery of the Rider’s conquest? Is not the last vision dominated by “the throne” (Rev. 22:1) from which earlier “flashes of lightning” and “peals of thunder” were coming (4:5)? Is not the nameless “one seated on the throne” (4:9, 5:1) a perfect projection of the ultimate and incontestable warrior-potentate? If this were so, the Apocalypse would simply mirror the violence of the imperial Rome it had set out to subvert. The most surprising thing about this book is that at the center of the throne, we find the sacrificed Lamb (cf. 5:6, 7:17, 22:1). At the very heart of “the One who sits on the throne” is the cross. The world to come is ruled by the one who on the cross took violence upon himself in order to conquer the enmity and embrace the enemy. The Lamb’s rule is legitimized not by the “sword” but by the “wounds”; the goal of its rule is not to subject but to make people “reign for ever and ever” (22:5). With the Lamb at the center of the throne, the distance between the “throne” and the “subjects” has collapsed in the embrace of the triune God.

I think you can probably think of a hundred practical ways to apply clear, Christian thinking like that. Let me suggest one. Within the church (particularly Circle of Hope, where we encourage such things) there are people who are resistant to truth, love, morality and service. Our patience with them leads to repentance. We must keep the Lamb on our throne. Our persistent embrace is the flash of lightning upon which we rely. The lure of our relational truth-being and truth-telling is crucial to any change the God-opponents might experience. We might long for “apocalypse now” when it comes to the persistent unbelievers and sin-dealers, but we are constrained to leave that to God’s timing. Let’s meet the end in God’s embrace, embracing.

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