How To Be Awesome, 3.2

Read on to discover how Anonymous Married Dude thinks men should pursue (some interesting stuff here for you fellas who’ve been turned down already!) and how ladies should respond.

How did you decide to ask girls out? Did you just see her and do that cartoon aaa-OOO-gah thing and go, “I need to ask her out like whoa”? Or was there more to it than that?

I didn’t have an MO. It depended on the situation. In one case, before coming to Sojourn, I liked a girl in my CG. I thought things could get weird in that situation, so I asked my CG leaders about it before pursuing the girl. In two other cases during my time at seminary, I became interested in and attracted to girls, and then after being around them in social situations a few times, I told them that I would like to get to know them better. That meant asking them out for a one-on-one event.

What’s the lamest response you’ve ever gotten from a girl you asked out? Best?

I haven’t got any “lame” responses from girls. I’ve had some painful and uncomfortable situations, but I know it’s tough for girls to reject a guy, so I don’t fault them for those painful times. Sometimes things in life just hurt.

What was your typical first-date strategy?

I’ve only dated two girls, and one of them is now my wife. Like I said above, I didn’t have an MO, I was just winging it.

What should a guy’s strategy be on the first date?

Talk! Don’t hog the time to sell yourself, but don’t be a bump on the log. Ask questions and be honest.

Awesomest DTR?

My awesomest DTR was with the woman who is now my wife. After we had hung out several times alone, I told her I wanted us to date exclusively with the intention of figuring out if we wanted to marry each other. Then I asked her if I could hold her hand. [Laura's note: awwwww!]

What do you think you did well when it comes to starting the relationship you’re in right now? What do you wish you’d done differently?

I was intentional and honest from the beginning about where I hoped the relationship would go. I hope it’s not arrogant or naive to say that I don’t wish I had done something differently at the beginning.

Advice to guys for getting over it when a girl turns him down or dumps him?

If a girl turns you down, either move on graciously or continue to pursue in a non-creepy way. In most cases, if a girl turns you down, she’s not going to start liking you at some point in the future, so move on. If you insist on continuing to try to win her over, don’t be a creep. Don’t tell her it’s God’s will for her to be with you, because your conviction is really just a feeling. Don’t ask her out every week. Take advantage of opportunities in group social settings to get to know her and talk to her about things other than your interest in her (she won’t forget that you told her you liked her).

Other general advice for dudes? [Laura's note: brace yourselves, because this is AWESOME.]

Realize that the dating arena is just as tough for girls as it is for you.

Don’t play games with girls.

With few exceptions, the lag time between your awareness of your own interest in or attraction to a girl, and the time you tell her about that interest should be as short as possible.

Take advantage of your singleness. The “gift of singleness” isn’t a curse that God imposes on you for life. It’s God’s good gift just like the gift of marriage. God’s good gifts have great blessings and they will also test you to make you more like Jesus. If you are single the question is, “Do I desire Jesus more than I desire a wife?” And as a married man, the question is still, “Do I desire Jesus more than I desire my wife?”

Advice for the ladies on how not to be unkind or otherwise awful when saying no thanks? Other general advice for ladies?

Be direct and to the point. “I’m not interested,” or “No, thanks,” will suffice. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m confused, maybe things could work out, if…” You don’t owe that detail to the guy. If you’re interested say, “Yes,” and if you aren’t or don’t know, say, “No, thanks.” I know that might seem abrupt and terse, but like I said above, some things just hurt. There’s no way around hurting a guy when you’re not interested. If you say things you think aren’t “hurtful,” you are giving him false hope, which hurts him.

Ladies, as Christian sisters, you owe a guy kindness and truth. You don’t owe him an explanation of your feelings, or the reasons why you’re not interested or attracted to him.

How To Be Awesome, 3.1

In this week’s installment, Anonymous Married Dude reflects on how he went from single to married and gives some amazingly good advice to unmarried Dudes everywhere. Read on and enjoy.

So, tell me about yourself, vaguely.

I was raised in a Christian home, but I was not born again until my adult years. I came to seminary single, and did not marry until after graduation. I was single until my 30s.

Current relationship status?

Married.

Dude, what’s UP with the Christian dating scene? Seriously. Diagnose.

I can’t speak much to our particular church’s dating scene, because my wife didn’t attend there until we became engaged. I can speak a little about the seminary dating scene, and yes, it’s a little weird. It seems to be one of two extremes. On one extreme is the hyper manly dude who vomits professions of undying love and concrete plans on a girl at the first meeting. He thinks it’s godly and manly to gush forth the plan of God for both their lives – of course, God neglected to tell the girl the plan. If the girl isn’t interested, then he thinks God calls him to be annoying until the girl gives in (this can happen, but it isn’t the norm).

The other extreme is the guy who thinks he has to be best friends with a girl before he can even ask her for coffee, as though, if it’s “God’s will” for them to be together, then that means he doesn’t have to stick his neck out.

What did you learn growing up about this nightmare that is Christian dating? Any particular influences? How have your views changed over time?

I learned that guys have to be honest, open, and intentional pursuers of woman. Pursuing a woman in this way makes good things happen during dating and it leads to the ability to look back on dating with no regrets.

The main ways my views have changed are in the area of “the gift of singleness.” It is not a special curse. It is not a gift in the sense that God gives you special powers to not want sex or not want to be married. It is a gift in the sense that every area and season of your life is a good thing that God can use for his glory. All good gifts are from God.

How many girls do you think you’ve asked out in your life? Estimate.

Four.

Do you think guys can be something besides the stereotypical alpha male, and still be successful?

Guys don’t have to be a stereotypical alpha male, but they do have to man up. They have to risk something in pursuing a woman. Risking and pursuing means something different for every couple. But at some level, be it public embarrassment or merely private “rejection,” a guy needs to risk rejection and pursue a woman. I think ladies are gracious in this area. Most of them appreciate how hard it can be for guys to make a move. A guy may just stumble into a marriage without pursuing the lady, but I think in hindsight, both of them will regret the absence of risk and pursuit.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in the dating arena?

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome in dating was putting too much of my heart into a hoped for relationship before the lady was interested. In other words, I dreamed up big plans before a girl even liked me. I made big plans before I told them of my interest, and even after they turned me down, I kept hoping for something that was never to be.

What was your biggest advantage in this area?

The dating arena is now in my rear-view mirror, but by God’s grace, I can look back and say that I didn’t play games with the ladies I pursued as a Christian, and I was honest with them about my intentions.

Tune in on Monday when Anonymous Married Dude tells us about the DTR he had with his wife and gives a bunch more stellar advice to men and women alike.

Downton Abbey: Season Three Predictions, Wild Dreams, and Sundry Other Prognostications

Well, folks, what do we think about next season? I thought it would be fun to do a few polls, so please share this around on your favorite social media things (if you haven’t given it up for Lent!), so we can have plenty of opinions! :)

Let’s start at the beginning:

What about the general contents of the season?

What else? Other predictions in the comments, please!

How To Be Awesome, 2.2

In today’s installment, Anonymous Engaged Dude talks basketball, football, the DTR, and strategy.

When you were still single, how did you decide to ask a girl out? Did you just see her and do that cartoon aaa-OOO-gah thing and go, “I need to ask her out like whoa”? Or is there more to it than that?

It really was different, person to person. Usually, I pursued girls that I had gotten to know over time. A few times though, my careful game plans were scrapped in favor of an audible: BLITZ!

What’s the lamest response you’ve ever gotten from a girl you asked out?

“I’m not over a previous relationship.” If basketball has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with a rebound. Just take it to the basket!

Typical first-date strategy?

Food + outing with lots of conversation. Keep it fun, playful, and not too romantic.

Awesomest DTR? (Yes, I am aware that “awesomest” is not a word.)

The awesomest, of course, would be the one that led me to now. We met on a blind date, so we were doing the whole get to know you thing. But around date/hang-out three or four, things really started to click. We really liked each other! But, we had thought we should take twice as long to define things. I met her at a coffee shop and said something to the effect of, “I know we said we would take longer to define this, but we’re pretty much already dating.” So we just made it official.

What do you think you did well when it comes to starting the relationship you’re in right now? What do you wish you’d done differently? Tell a little of the story, if you like.

I asked my fiancée this question, as I felt her response would be the most accurate. In terms of what I did well, she appreciated my directness and sincerity. She felt safe with me and knew that I wasn’t just playing games. Regarding what should have been done differently, in the moment, things felt like they were moving a bit too fast — she doesn’t mind that now, though. However, we definitely took physical affection too fast. I held her hand before we had clearly defined things and we kissed way too soon. If I could do things over, I wouldn’t have kissed her until after engagement.

I’m thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness, not to mention her grace and forgiveness.

Advice for dudes when a girl turns him down or breaks up with him? Besides journaling and destroying a pint of rocky road while watching Fatal Attraction, obvi. Other general advice for dudes?

Seek out your bros.

God made us for community, and one of the reasons break-ups hurt is because of that separation from community. I advise both not taking things too seriously and seriously seeking the Lord. Remind yourself of who you are. You’re going to need brothers to preach the Gospel to you. Seek them out! But in terms of being turned down for a date or second date, just brush it off and move on!

Advice for the ladies on how not to be a b-word when saying no thanks? Other general advice for ladies?

The easiest way not to be a b-word is… not to be a b-word. Seriously. Just be respectful and honest. You don’t need to over-share or give a long detailed argument as to why you shouldn’t go out.

However, I would encourage sisters to give a brother a chance. Is he really so unpleasant that you wouldn’t eat a free meal with him? If so, don’t go out with him! If not, give it a shot. A mentor of mine once gave his rubric for dating: 1) Does he love Jesus? 2) Do you think he’s hot [Laura's note: or at least not not-hot]? If yes to both, go for it.

Biggest mistake you think people make in this area?

I think guys and girls are looking for more perfection in a potential mate than they would care to admit. You’re not going to find a perfect person, so stop trying.

Any final thoughts?

You’re going to marry a sinner/saint/sufferer. Don’t be afraid of hard conversations or difficult situations. Men: there are too many awesome godly women out there who are waiting to be pursued by a noble man. What are you waiting for? Women: he’s a sinner, and the only perfect leader is Christ. Give him a chance, but don’t forget, you’re under the authority of Christ, not a boyfriend.

How To Be Awesome 2.1

In these two installments, we’ll hear from Anonymous Engaged Dude who is psyched to be just weeks away from his wedding to a fantastic godly woman. Anonymous Engaged Dude has some great words of encouragement for ladies and gents alike. Read on:

So, tell me about yourself. VAGUELY.

I am a twentysomething dude who loves Jesus. Is that sufficient?

Current relationship status?

ENGAGED!!! Believe me, this is totes crazy.

So, Engaged Dude, what is UP with the Christian dating scene?

Wow. Where to begin? Ultimately, the problem is that I don’t think we’re applying the Gospel to this area. In singles, this can result in panic or fear (“Why am I not married?”). In marrieds, this can result in insensitive advice (“Just trust in the Lord”), or dismissing singles as being a lower class of Christian. Single people can live in the confidence that in Christ they are fully complete, fully fulfilled. The desires they have for marriage are good, designed by God! But unless they find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, they won’t be able to find lasting blessing in a spouse.

This failure to apply the Gospel has resulted in several things. I think it results in men failing to love their sisters by pursuing them nobly and maturely. I think it results in an exaltation of “beauty” and “charm” over the fear of the Lord. I think it results in both legalism and license.

What did you learn growing up about this nightmare that is Christian dating? Any particular influences? How have your views changed over time?

I Kissed Dating Goodbye was a HUGE influence on me. A lasting effect of that was that I when I eventually gave dating a side-hug hello, I tended to make first/second dates a little too weirdly spiritual, a little too stressful. I feel like over time, my view on dating simplified. This isn’t to say that I devalued it, but that I rather revalued it for what it was.

How many girls do you think you’ve asked out in your life? Estimate, maybe not counting elementary school.

Somewhere around a dozen? That’s not counting college formals, though.

Speaking of smooth, do you think guys can be non-alpha-males and still be successful?

Each person’s personality is different. I think it’s crucial to be yourself, and for a lot of reasons at that. I think all women want to be praised and prized, but ultimately, you have to have substance to back the swagga. Guys should be charming, fun, and witty, but it needs to be genuine.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in the dating arena?

Without a doubt, the biggest obstacle was my own ego and self-centeredness. I definitely struggled with worrying too much while being too early on in relationships. I over-invested a lot of worry and such. If I could go back and do it again, I would be less concerned about whether or not “things were going to work” and would just let them happen.

What’s your biggest advantage in this area?

Dogged determination? Yeah, I think the only thing that truly gave me a boost in finding my soon-to-be wife was that I knew that as a man, it was my job to pursue a wife, not just gripe and moan about it.

Come back tomorrow for part two, when Anonymous Engaged Dude will deploy even more sage counsel and rapier-like wit in his exploration of these dark and poorly-charted waters.

How to Be Awesome Interview 1.2

Read and learn as Anonymous Dude lets us in on the mysteries of a guy’s dating decision-making process, and throws down some advice for his bros.

How do you decide to ask a girl out? Do you just see her and do that cartoon Aaa-OOO-gah thing and go, “I need to ask her out like whoa”? Or is there more to it than that? Many girls think it’s “like whoa” and that’s it.

That’s probably 90% of it at first. I asked my girlfriend out two days after meeting her. We had only had a couple conversations, but I heard great things about her from friends I trusted, and she is ridiculously good looking, so I was thinking, “I need to ask this girl out before someone else does!”

The problem is, most guys want to know everything about a girl before asking her out. So they will facebook stalk her (which I think can be a good thing in a very limited way), hang around her in social situations, and basically do everything but ask her on a date.

What’s the lamest response you’ve ever gotten from a girl you asked out? Best?

“No.” That was lame.

Best? Probably from my girlfriend (yeah, I know, cheesy, sorry). I almost apologetically said, “This might be out of the blue, but can I take you out?” She smiled and said that would be great. That’s been the best so far.

Typical first-date strategy?

Ask her lots of general get-to-know-you-but-not-creep-you-out questions. Pay for everything. Tell bad jokes (i.e. cheesy, not offensive). Open doors. Chew with my mouth closed. Shower that day.

Toughest DTR? Awesomest DTR? (Yes, I am aware that “awesomest” is not a word.)

Toughest? Over the phone. That was dumb. Awesomest? Again, with my girlfriend. I told her after a few dates, “So, I just want to be clear, and I’m guessing you aren’t hanging out with other dudes like this, because I’m not hanging out with other girls like this?” She said, “Well, not on the same days.” Fortunately she was joking.

What do you think you did well when it comes to starting the relationship you’re in right now? What do you wish you’d done differently?

I was clear, very direct, and to the point, but not too weird and creepy. I think. I brought up early on what I wanted the relationship to look like. Basically, that it was for the purpose of moving toward making a decision about marriage. I also around that time clarified what was going to happen, and more importantly, not happen, physically in our relationship. That helped her a ton, because she didn’t have to wonder where things were going and what that would look like.

Although I’m happy with how things have gone and the pace it is going now, I wish I had slowed that down a bit early on. Not necessarily those conversations, but just overall time spent in the first month. We spent a lot of time together, which was great, but I think it might have been more wise to stretch that out a bit over time.

Advice for getting over it when a girl turns you down or dumps your sorry behind? Besides journaling and destroying a pint of rocky road while watching Fatal Attraction, obvi. Other general advice for dudes?

Beer. Go drink some good beer with some good friends that will speak truth to you in love.

Ask those dudes, honestly, if there is any major character or life issues you should work on, perhaps relating to why you got shot down. I’ve done this with some dudes that know me well and has been helpful in opening up honest conversation. That, and just talk with the Lord about it. Are you ticked off, confused, scared, whatever? Tell him about it. Ask him to change you and help you grow.

Then, good grief, man up and get over it. I get it. Your feelings are hurt. Your heart hurts. Ok. How would your WWII veteran grandpa handle this? Yeah, you’re right, he wouldn’t be pouting like a baby. Neither should you.

Advice for the ladies on how not to be a b-word when saying no thanks? Other general advice for ladies?

Affirm him for asking. Say you are flattered. Clearly state you would just like to be friends. Thank him. Shut up.

Biggest mistake you think people make in this area?

Dating in general? Not to over-spiritualize it, but they don’t focus on the gospel. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. It is a gospel image, just like we are images of God. Dating should take its shape from that as well. The gospel frees us to be selfless, not selfish. When a dude really believes the gospel, he will sacrifice for others. He will put the risk on himself and not the girl. He can handle rejection. He will ask himself, “How can I serve this person,” not, “How can they serve me?” I could go on and on. But I really think taking the gospel out of the center of dating just wrecks everything.

That was so awesome I want everyone to read it again.

Dating in general? Not to over-spiritualize it, but they don’t focus on the gospel. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. It is a gospel image, just like we are images of God. Dating should take its shape from that as well. The gospel frees us to be selfless, not selfish. When a dude really believes the gospel, he will sacrifice for others. He will put the risk on himself and not the girl. He can handle rejection. He will ask himself, “How can I serve this person,” not, “How can they serve me?” I could go on and on. But I really think taking the gospel out of the center of dating just wrecks everything.

Any final thoughts?

Dudes: get a real job, get in community, start serving in your church, and start asking godly women out. Stop making excuses and just start asking them out. If you do that in a clear, respectful way, you will gain a reputation of a legit dude. Trust me.

Ladies: give a guy a shot, at least once, if he asks you out. You don’t have to marry him. Don’t settle for passive, confusing guys. Tell them to grow up. Don’t read Jane Austen for your dream man. Read Cormac McCarthy and wake up about real life. Then read about Jesus and look for a dude that wants to be like him.

How To Be Awesome Interview 1.1

Today, our intrepid Anonymous Dude guides us through his murky past and shakes his head in dismay about the State of Things. Read and enjoy!

So, tell me about yourself. VAGUELY.

I am a man. A real man.

Current relationship status?

Going steady with a wonderful, godly woman.

Dude, what is UP with the Christian dating scene? Seriously. Diagnose.

Whenever you append “Christian” to anything, it’s guaranteed to make that thing a weird disaster. Christian music, Christian fiction, Christian movies. Same thing with Christian dating.

But, seriously, the problem is the men. You could have a ton of godly women, but if there are nothing but knucklehead guys, then all you have are a bunch of godly women with horror stories. Too many Christian men are passive, scared, confused, risk-averse, selfish, self-focused, etc. We are all like that, but too many men are not killing those sins.

What did you learn growing up about this nightmare that is Christian dating? Any particular influences? How have your views changed over time?

I was terrified of girls through middle school and high school and into early college years. Never went on a date. I danced with a girl at a middle school dance. Horrible.

I grew up in the church but received little to no instruction about dating other than: don’t have sex, don’t think about sex, and good heavens don’t talk about sex. Other than that, I knew I should marry a Christian, because it would ruin my life if I didn’t. But, how to do that? No clue.

In college I relied on women for emotional connection instead of the dudes in my life. So, in a sense, I emotionally dated them. This led to a bunch of friendships that are mostly non-existent now, and some ending poorly.

I started dating after college and swung on the pendulum from essentially having no direction or clear intentions, to at times being super rigid and calculated in pursuing women. Yikes. I’ve been at both ends and neither worked well.

Biggest influences have been numerous books, particularly a book edited by Alex Chediak (five views on dating, or something like that). [Laura's note: the book our anonymous friend is referring to, the Google tells me, is actually called 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life and it's available here.] And a series of articles by Scott Croft on biblical dating.

How many girls do you think you’ve asked out in your life? Estimate, maybe not counting elementary school. Unless you were like the smoothest third grader ever.

Around 17. In third grade I was too busy playing video games. Unfortunately the same was true in college.

Speaking of smooth, how do you feel about this “alpha”/pickup artist stuff? I assume you’re favorable since you’re so alpha, but do you think guys can be non-alphas and still be successful?

Sure. My go-to pickup line was, “Hey, I’ve had fun hanging out, can I take you on a date?” Women don’t want BS pickup lines. They want direct, clear intentions. Simple. If a woman doesn’t want that, well, she needs to grow up and get a clue, and you don’t want to date her anyway.

I think a more reserved dude could go that route without freaking out too much about it. Just keep it simple.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in this dumb dating arena? It would be super-cool if it was an ACTUAL obstacle (climbing wall, one of those rope things where you have to swing from one to the next, etc.), but, like psychological or emotional, whichever one of those makes you feel more manly.

Selfishness. Primarily in the sense of thinking of myself before others, particularly women. So, I would avoid all potential risk on my end, for example.

What’s your biggest advantage in this area? You don’t have to be humble, it’s fine.

Besides my good looks and big muscles? Awkwardness. I’m cool with it and embrace it. Life is going to be weird and awkward and strange, get used to it. At least with dating. Facing it head on by embracing it and acknowledging it can actually be a very freeing thing in the context of dating.

Come back tomorrow for part two of this series, in which Anonymous Dude puts on his superhero cape and gives advice to both ladies and gents.

Some Thoughts and Questions on the Lord’s Supper, Ordination, and the Sacraments of the Church

A few days ago, I posted the following thought on Facebook: “You know what I miss about Sojourn when I’m away? Communion every week. I’d love to know why churches only do it once a month or even quarterly (!!!) — there has to be SOME rationale, right? Thoughts? Did I just sleep through that part of my church history classes?”

Twenty-five comments later (I only wish my blog posts could get so much traction!), the thing that stuck out the most to me wasn’t the reason for the infrequency of communion in some churches. It was a totally different — yet not completely unrelated — theological point. A friend from college mentioned Methodist circuit riders, who were often lay ministers and who, therefore, weren’t allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper, leading to the practice of monthly or quarterly communion. Another friend mentioned that his church couldn’t share the Meal on the rare occasions that their ordained teaching elder is out of town.

My immediate question was why? Why does a meal ordained by Jesus himself also need an ordained pastor/elder to make it legitimate? And then that question made me chuckle a bit as I reflected on the fact that, though some churches who partake only quarterly began doing so at least in part to avoid a Romanist ritualism, almost nothing, in my mind, is more Roman than requiring the presence of an ordained minister to “perform” the sacraments.

Now, for heaven’s sake don’t hear me accusing my dear Methodist or Presbyterian brethren of quasi-Popery! It just got me wondering. My own church doesn’t allow, for example, community groups to celebrate the Lord’s supper in their small weeknight gatherings. Many, many faithful, gospel-teaching churches would, I’m sure, have similar proscriptions. My question is: why? Do we have any indication that, in the apostolic church, someone “official” was required to be present at Christian gatherings to administer the sacraments? Isn’t the very name — the authority and command — of Jesus what makes them valid in the first place?

These questions aren’t merely rhetorical; I would genuinely love to hear the thoughts of those who are committed to these sorts of positions. Why should a group of covenanted believers be prevented from baptizing a new convert or celebrating the Lord’s supper as part of a celebratory meal without the presence of an ordained minister? Why does ordination matter, anyway? What purpose does it serve, and what justification does it have historically?

Greatest Hits: Discernment

(Originally Posted August 1, 2008)

Since I won’t be writing much while I’m on Spring break this week, I’ll be posting some of my previous articles, slightly edited in this case.  I’ll be back at it on Monday, March 29th.

In the church, there seems to be an idea that “discernment” means “praying and waiting for God’s specific, personal direction on every decision in my life.”  But is that the view of Scripture? Yeahno. Such an understanding of discernment leads to several errors:

1. A separation between Christians who “know God’s will,” i.e. the super-Christians that God speaks to, and the “ordinary” Christians who seem not to hear from God about stuff like the color of their wallpaper.

2. Using “discernment” to excuse unwise behavior and even sin. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “Well, I’ve prayed about it for months and the Lord has told me it was OK,” even if “it” was buying a $300,000 house when you’re $60,000 in debt, or living with your fiance, or not disciplining your kids. Those are not areas about which we ought even to pray. The best advice I can give people who encounter this “God told me” business from people is to remember that it’s not a trump card. We have a responsibility to one another in the body of Christ, and letting someone off the hook just because they played the “God told me” card is hardly showing love to our brothers.

3. Total paralysis in decision-making, stemming from not using your brain and instead waiting for some sign or feeling to show you that God has given you direction. I strongly believe that for the Christian, the ordinary way of making decisions goes like this: Learn, study, and love God’s word. Use the mind that God is sanctifying to make wise decisions. Rinse and repeat. But too many people seem to think that’s just not “spiritual” enough. A Christian’s life IS spiritual — it’s life IN the Spirit! And it can look very ordinary, but an ordinary life lived faithfully still results in “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s not to say that I don’t think God sometimes uses other methods to reveal his will to us — I certainly do believe that he does! But the ordinary way seems to be knowing God’s word and living wisely in accordance with that. 

Does God Change His Mind?

An email from my favorite theologically minded friend started this post. Recently, Craig Blomberg, a well-known New Testament scholar whose work on the historical accuracy and reliability of the Gospels has been of great help to many a student, pastor, and layman, wrote an article explaining why he is a “Calminian” — a jokey riff on the “Why I Am/ Am Not a Calvinist” books of recent years. Blomberg is basically trying to put himself clearly outside the Reformed mindset once and for all. I’ve read a few expressions of disappointment, and an article agreeing with his position, which is basically what I’m going to attempt to respond to today.

First of all, let me point out that Craig Blomberg is way smarter than I am. I don’t pretend that I can tangle with him intellectually. But despite that, I still think he’s wrong. Second, let me point out that Craig Blomber is also a brother in Christ, despite what I think are his mistakes on this front. I’m not denigrating his faith or his commitment to the body of Christ, nor am I trying to write off his contribution to the Christian community. One of his books sits on my shelf, and it’s staying there! But anyway, here goes.

At one point in his article, Blomberg refers to the story of Joseph’s brothers coming to him in Egypt for help during the great famine. Joseph’s famous line, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good,” Blomberg insists, is not a declaration of God’s sovereignty, but a mere statement of fact. He says: “Two separate agents, two separate wills, at cross purposes with each other, neither described as logically or chronologically prior to the other. Neither is said to cause the other; they occur simultaneously.” What’s really happening, he says, is that both wills operate at the same time, without one being over the other.

Well, hold up. I get what he’s saying. Joseph says to his brothers, “You sold me into slavery out of a wicked intention, but God’s power trumped your evil desires.” In fact, God’s purposes to preserve his people included the brothers’ evil plans and actions. God is so powerful that he can even use human evil — the condition of our fallen nature! — to accomplish his purposes. That’s comprehensive sovereignty. This is a copout. Blomberg’s a great guy, and his work on the historical reliability of the Gospels is priceless, but he just does NOT want to be in the “God is totally sovereign” camp AT ALL. (Plus, calling himself a “Calminian” is cute, but the fact is that there isn’t a responsible Arminian on the planet who wouldn’t totally acknowledge God’s sovereignty in human history. So he’s really a Cal-Open Theist-ian. Which isn’t quite as cute.)

Moving on to broader arguments about God’s sovereignty, I often encounter people who point to the word “relent” in the Scriptures and say, “See? That means that God goes back on his word! If he really is completely sovereign over everything, how can he appear to be influenced by the prayers of his people?” I used to use this argument myself! Well, yes, “relent” means that he will not do what he said he would do, out of a gracious desire to preserve and defend his people. But a couple things:

1) This DOES NOT MEAN that God changes his mind or that he’s fickle or doesn’t know what he’s ultimately going to do. The problem with the argument here is that, while they’re trying to just draw a line around the Reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty, they END UP basing their whole view on the idea that God actually changes his mind. Listen up: this is where guys like Greg Boyd and Clark Pinnock got started, and where they end up is saying that God takes risks, that he doesn’t even KNOW the outcome of certain events, and that in some cases WE have more sovereignty over circumstances than the creator of the universe. That’s a pretty stupid place to end up and still call yourself a Christian. It’s just like how the Mormons use the methods of 19th century German liberal philosophers to convince people that the Book of Mormon is ok — the argument might convince people, but you’re cutting off the branch you’re sitting on!

2) Check out this article. There’s some uncool argumentation happening here, and this isn’t the only place I’ve heard this line of reasoning, not by a long shot. You ever hear of “weasel words”? They’re little words or phrases that a speaker or writer slips in, sometimes without even knowing it himself, that unfairly denigrate the other position — it’s like straw man + ad hominem all at once. The one that popped out to me was “real relationship.” Yates and others imply that, unless God limits his own foreknowledge or sovereignty in some way, it’s impossible for him to enter into “real relationship” with his creation. This is nonsense. We don’t get to make up the rules for how God interacts with us based on our experiences with each other. The scriptures are full of the truths of God bringing the dead back to life both literally and figuratively. But does that one-sided interaction, that ultimate demonstration of total sovereignty, mean that God has some kind of counterfeit relationship with those he raises to life? Did Jesus have a more or less “real relationship” with Lazarus when he raised him, single-handed, from death?

3) There’s also some plain old ridiculousness that gets shoveled around. To quote Yates, who is taking up a common anti-sovereignty argument: “The statements that Yahweh will harden the Pharaoh’s heart at the beginning of this process (cf. Exod 4:21; 7:3) are an expression that Yahweh’s purposes will ultimately prevail in this struggle but not that he dictates or determines the Pharaoh’s responses.” Uh… what? What part of “I will harden his heart” is the tough part to interpret? “I will” meaning it’s gonna happen, “harden his heart” meaning that’s what he’s gonna do. Yup. You have to do some pretty sexy contortionism to get around the plain meaning of that sucker.

4) The kicker is the “only a really sovereign God could accomplish his purposes in a universe where he has limited his sovereignty,” also known as the “it’s true because it ain’t” argument. A God who can accomplish his purposes in such a give-and-take, unresolved universe that anti-sovereignty folks try to set up, is truly sovereign? Huh? So only a God who is truly sovereign and omniscient could operate in a universe where somethings are outside his sovereignty and beyond his omniscience? Yeah, that makes sense. What’s the purpose of prayer if the God we’re praying to has chosen this event to be one of the hands-off parts of world history? How are we to know the difference? Or does he wait until we pray and then decide to re-institute the sovereignty he’s chosen to put on hold?

Unlike Blomberg and lots of other people who use these kinds of arguments, I’m happy to live knowing that my choices are BOTH really choices that I really make with my time-bound will and mind AND are mysteriously part of God’s plan. It’s called paradox, and we have to embrace it, largely because our finite brains can’t fathom the depths of God’s will. Let’s not try to eliminate paradox by making God more like us. That’s a pretty dumb Bible study method. Dig?

Questions and Answers, Part 9

Hey Laura,

Here’s another theological question for you: theosis, deification, all that stuff. What’s going on there? I see great Truth in the Salvation by Faith alone and of course there is plenty of Scripture to back it up. I recognize my incapability to do good (without selfish motivation) and take joy in the Gift of Grace.

But there’s always been a lingering vision or motivation in my brain of “working my way towards Christ” for lack of a better phrase. I think perhaps I have a romantic idea of it. And I think it might come from bottomless cups of tea and hours of readings of Dostoevsky and the like. But I think it’s hard for me to dismiss the thought. And I think the idea of “I believe, I am saved, the end,” is repulsive.

I believe that we are required to do good works BECAUSE we are saved; that that should be our motivation. But frankly, sometimes that doesn’t seem like enough. Your favorite verse comes in handy here (work out your salvation because it is God who works in you). But then there are those verses in… Is it Timothy? Or James? “Faith without works is dead” and many more in that book. What do these mean?

And I suppose I see such a connection between our life now and Kingdom life. Although I don’t know what I’m talking about really. And although I believe in resurrection into new life… I do believe there is a connection between now and eternity. This seems to be further support for some idea of becoming more and more like Christ. Surely we have some part in this? Yes, God gives us Grace and works in us to be more and more confirmed. Yes, he will complete the good work he began. Yes, we do have responsibility though. How does our Protestant idea of this clash with this idea of “theosis”? The answer seems simple but then…. I’m not totally sure I know what it is.

Your Friend,

X

OK, first. Let’s not get the idea (so often perpetuated among modern evangelicals) that Belief = Assent to a bunch of statements. As in, yes, I believe that Jesus died for my sins and that makes me a Christian. that is LAME. There are plenty of folks who believe that that’s what “belief” means but it’s completely not the biblical picture of faith. Faith/Belief/Trust is all wrapped up in that word. As in confidence in, reliance upon. So “by grace, through faith” doesn’t mean “by grace, through agreeing with propositions” but rather “by grace (God’s undeserved favor) through trusting, relying, leaning on Jesus Christ.” And Ephesians 2:8-9 says that faith in itself is a gift — in other words, the ability to trust in, rely on Jesus is made possible by God’s grace — that we never would have relied on Jesus for our salvation apart from the Holy Spirit working in us… we would have kept on relying on ourselves.

You are right that there IS a tension in the Scriptures about God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. And I would venture a guess that most of the folks we know who call themselves “reformed” at Sojourn and elsewhere are really what we call “compatibilist,” which means that God somehow works out that WE have a responsibility, in the midst of HIS plan, to do OUR part, enabled by HIM. That our choices are real and meaningful. That we have to work out our salvation.

Another thing too… we believe that the Scriptures even when they seem in tension, actually describe different aspects of the same reality. So James is talking about faith without works is dead. Right. Totally agree. He’s talking about “faith” and FAITH. “faith” is that lame-o belief business, just assenting to propositions about Jesus. FAITH is robust, relying on God — evidence of a changed heart. There’s an old saying I learned as a teenager — “We are saved through faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone” — in other words, true faith, faith that saves, is never just assent. It’s trust in a God who changes lives. So James is talking about the outward workings of an inward reality. Just like Paul talks about the inward and spiritual realities, and ALSO describes the outward “evidences” of true saving faith.

Paul also talks in 2 Corinthians (and other places) about how we are being saved. It’s consistent throughout the NT to discuss salvation in three ways: (1) as an accomplished fact (Romans 8:24, for instance) — “you were saved,” (2) as an ongoing process — “you are being saved,” and (3) as a future reality to be hoped for and anticipated (Romans 5:10, which also contains some of #1)– “you will be saved.” It makes a lot of sense of how a Christian’s spiritual life ought to look: Confidence in Christ and his finished work that purchased us, sanctification and the necessity of discernment and work and prayer and community, and a balance of humility and hope as we await the final salvation that sums everything up in Christ.

Part of the issue is how much we have a tendency to lean toward #1 in the reformed/protestant type circles! We think of salvation as an accomplished fact, something that happened in the past, and forget that the Bible talks about how salvation is not just an event, but a process. Now, I do think salvation happens. Paul talks to the Ephesians so much about what they were BEFORE they were saved and makes such a sharp contrast between you were like this but now you are like this in Christ, that it leads me to believe strongly that there is a time when a person is a pagan headed for hell and then God does a work and their nature is changed. But they are also being conformed to the image of Christ. It’s a process, just as much as growing up and maturing in our natural lives.

And yeah, man!! The kingdom!! It’s so rad. WE, us, the church — we are the sort of pro-tempore kings of God’s kingdom, the provincial rulers given charge over it while Jesus tarries. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God when he came in flesh, and our JOB as those who are becoming like him while we wait for him to return is to push the front lines of the kingdom forward! This is WHY we do mercy! It’s why we “do” Church, for crying out loud. Evangelism is part of this! Environmental stewardship! Counseling! Raising kids! It’s all kingdom work!!! That’s why there is NO unimportant person in the Church or in the World. We build and create and love and civilize and settle and obey the cultural mandate (be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it) because all that stuff has found its ideal and its goal in Jesus! We’re not just building a human kingdom like the Israelites were! Jesus is the True Israel of God and we are in Christ, so we push forward. So we see places where the Kingdom of God is NOT reigning, and we ought to grieve! We ought to see a Christian married couple with a crappy marriage and want to bring God’s Kingdom rule to bear on their lives. We ought to see pollution and mistreatment of animals and say, huh-uh, that ain’t the way it’s going to be in the coming Kingdom! Let’s work to make this not happen. I mean, what is the POINT of fighting against abortion — I mean, all those babies go to heaven, right? — unless we are WORKING to make THIS world look more and more like the world to come! The world to come won’t have death, or suffering, or misery, or exploitation, or loneliness, or any of that crap. So we work and fight and strive to make our LIVES kingdom LIVES and our world like the Kingdom that is to come. THAT is a compelling vision of our future! We work now, hampered and thwarted by sin and the flesh and the devil and the world, but we look forward to the day when our work (which will be a continuation of our work now) will be perfected — not held back by our own selfishness, not thwarted by sin, not made futile, not fruitless or weak!! SO. RAD.

Naw, what are you talking about? I’m not excited about that. Not at all.

;)

L

Questions and Answers, Part 8

Hey Laura,

I guess the confusion for me still lies in whether those plans that “will definitely be carried out” necessarily involve details like marriage. You said, “If God’s purpose is to sum up all things in Christ, like the Scriptures say, then whether or not I get married isn’t all that important.” Yeah, and so it’s pretty easy to say, “Well, God doesn’t care either way, therefore whether or not I end up as a wife and mother is totally due to things like how attractive I am, how mature these boys are, the decisions I make in relationships, etc., etc.” Of course, this is a very anxiety-inducing way to think of it! It kind of makes things all my fault if they don’t go “right,” rather than being according to Gods Will. So, naturally, I don’t like that idea and it doesn’t sit right with me when I consider God’s goodness and love for us.

Your Friend,

X

Hey Girl,

It’s a tough balance, for sure, because in one sense, it doesn’t matter if you get married or not in the grand scheme, because God’s purposes will be accomplished either way. But God is ultimately in control, not just of the overarching themes of history and your life and mine (although you’re right, that is extremely helpful for perspective to keep in mind), but of the details of our lives as well. Look at Psalm 139, for example. God knit you together. He sees your going out and your coming in. He knows your thoughts. He “hems you in” from all around (a pretty amazing thought!). He wrote down all your days before you ever existed. That says to me that he is intimately involved (although mysteriously for sure) with the daily stuff of our lives.

The problem with, “God doesn’t care either way. He’s powerful enough to work with whichever way I go” is that it quickly becomes two things: one of which you’ve noted, which is Oh Crap, it’s all up to me. But the other is, well, then, I can do whatever I want because God can work with whatever I give him. That’s true in a way, but we’re still accountable to him for our decisions. I’m not saying you’re going that direction, but historically, that’s where Christians have gone — either to over-emphasizing our own responsibility in living a holy life or under-emphasizing our accountability to God to live rightly.

So… it’s a tension, and something I get pulled back and forth on in a big way. Yes, God can work in spite of my deficiencies, but yes, I also have a responsibility to participate in my sanctification and move toward holiness, because God is at work within me. I think it’s helpful to frame it like that. God’s work is at both ends, making my work possible. Philippians 2:12-13 is basically my favorite verse because of this: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you, to will and work according to his good pleasure.” God is at work, so I can work (and live and pray and do my daily stuff) both with confidence in and awe of God, who works everything according to the pleasure of his will.

With the “marriage” issue, the balance (or tension, I guess) is in saying, OK, God cares. He is at work. I have a responsibility to grow in godliness, to strive for those qualities that make up righteous woman, and to seek him — remembering that I can work because he is already working to sanctify me. Those godly characteristics won’t make God bring me a husband (which I’ve actually heard — “God won’t bring you a husband until you’ve taken care of X issue in your life” which is incredibly lame). The truth is, if he does bring me a husband, then those qualities will help me become a wise and godly helpmate. If he doesn’t right now or for a while or ever (although that’s pretty statistically unlikely), those qualities will help me be content and joyful in whatever circumstance I end up in.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually achieved that kind of balance, and I may never. But there it is…

;)

L

Questions and Answers, Part 7

Hey Laura,

Now here’s a big question: how does God’s sovereignty really play into this whole deal? The fact is, we all know it, a lot of people are increasingly immature and delaying marriage, for example, because of their fear of commitment and… I don’t know, inordinate affection for X-Box or something. But God doesn’t force them to obey him, push them into marriage, right? Now I do believe that God works all things together for good. But I see this in the way of sanctification, which of course, is our ultimate goal in life. But in the details? What’s your take?
Your Friend
X


Hey Girl,

Here’s where I start with the whole “free will” thing. I said a little bit of it the other night, I think. My fundamental premise is that we are perfectly free to act as our nature allows (for instance, I can walk and run and crawl and skip and do cartwheels… but I can’t fly). Which means that

1. unbelievers, who have a sinful nature unchanged by the Holy Spirit, are perfectly free to behave according to their nature, which is marred by sin. That’s what depravity means — every element of human nature is touched by sin — NOT that humans are as sinful as they could be. I believe that God in his mercy and love for his creation and for his people restrains human sinfulness.

2. believers, whose sinful nature is being mortified and replaced with the nature of Christ as we are conformed to his image by the Holy Spirit, are free to act according to our renewing nature. This is why Paul talks about the war within himself — on the one hand, we desire to follow Christ, but on the other hand, our sinful nature is still fighting against us.

I also think there are two ways to look at God’s sovereignty that are true simultaneously. From our perspective, since we cannot know the future, and because God actually operates within time in our lives, every choice we make has true, infinite possibilities until we make it. When I choose to turn left instead of right at the stop sign, or to take Job A rather than Job B, or to marry Joe and not Fred, those are real choices that limit and change my future choices. But from God’s perspective, since he exists outside of time and knows all events in the scope of time because he created them, we also say that he is sovereign over those things. They don’t happen apart from his purposes being fulfilled.

I think you’re right to look at things from a “sanctification” perspective — just don’t forget the universal perspective too, that God’s purpose is to redeem for himself a people, i.e. the Church, not just individuals, and to redeem and transform creation — all through Christ. So in some sense, Jesus is the goal of all creation. That helps me put the whole “marriage” thing in perspective. If God’s purpose is to sum up all things in Christ, like the Scriptures say, then whether or not I get married isn’t all that important (which, uh… don’t see me as one of those people who pretends not to care. Cuz I do). I believe God already knows each hour of my life, but not in a weird micromanagement way that turns me into a robot. Like I said, when we’re talking about human life within the constraints of time and space, God’s sovereignty and our (real, meaningful) choices look very different.

I DON’T think we’re meant to spend our whole lives looking for “signs” of what we’re supposed to do, or that we’re supposed to pray about what color to paint the bathroom or where to eat dinner or stuff like that. I believe that God uses what he gave us — our experiences, our education, our brains, our consciences — guided by the Holy Spirit, to put our lives in line with his plan. I think that’s one reason the Scriptures talk so much about wisdom and ALSO emphasize the inevitability of God’s plan.

That’s why I don’t like to talk about “the man God made for me” or whatever. I think that, in that time-bound human perspective of God’s sovereignty, there are dozens if not hundreds of men I could marry and be happy with and have a godly marriage and raise a godly family with. I can think of several off the top of my head — not guys I would necessarily marry right now but men I know are godly Christians with a biblical understanding of marriage, guys who love God’s church, who could lead me, who’d be good dads, etc. I don’t think it’s some mystical thing that we have to feel all googly about or panic about or spend four hours a day praying about. God uses means to accomplish his will — means like the preaching of the Gospel, and our brains and hearts. Means like first dates, wedding ceremonies, and uteruses. Things don’t usually spring fully-formed from God’s mind — he graciously brings us into his plan for all creation by giving us responsibilities and using our choices to accomplish the summing up of all things in Christ. Which I think is pretty awesome.

L

Questions and Answers, Part 6

Hey Laura,

Thanks. Just wanting to make sure I’m knowledgeable rather than just uncomfortable. Thanks again for your input on all of this stuff. What do you think about Saint’s Days and Feast Days — and the church calendar in general? I’ve read up on some of those things too and I’m just wondering.


Your Friend,


X


P.S. I’m sorry, but I just love those Icons. They’re so gosh-darn beautiful!

Hey Girl,

You are right. They are SO beautiful — I think much more dramatic and evocative than a lot of Western sacred art, although that may just be since I wasn’t exposed to Eastern art as much. I would feel comfortable personally with icons of “saints” and men and women of old in a church building. I think it’d be hard to argue that it’s a sin to do so. Maybe unwise in certain settings (if there are a lot of former Orthodox folks who have conscience issues, etc.), but not a sin. It’s the depictions of God that I think just blatantly violate the “no graven images” thing and that I think we should avoid using devotionally.

I think feast/saint’s days are rad. They started off in the church as commemorations of the martyrdom days of martyrs, which is SO cool, and which I think we should still do (like lots of other things — the church calendar, for example). And I agree that the “saints” interceded for God’s people while they were on Earth.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but the Orthodox view of the “communion of saints” is that the living and dead believers exist together — that the dead aren’t dead in the way we think of them as, and so they intercede for us before God just like they would have done on Earth. They deny that the living church and the “dead” church are separated. This makes the idea of the intercession of the saints make total sense. I deny that there is no separation between living and dead — again, this is an example of over-realized eschatology. The perfect unity we will have in the age to come is not here yet! We look forward to it, but we are not now experiencing it. Making any sense?

L

Questions and Answers, Part 5

Hey Girl,

Hmm… interesting… clearly you think “venerating” is the same as “worshipping.” Is it possible to show special honor without worshipping? Where would you personally draw the line?

Your Friend,

X

Hey Girl,

Here’s my opinion about the “veneration of Mary” shown by Catholics and others: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. A lot of people who worship Mary say they don’t, but in their actions, they are giving her far more praise and honor and glory than are due to a person, even someone like Mary who is unique in all of history.

This is from an online Catholic encyclopedia:

This attitude [toward the "worship" of Mary -- and they actually use the word "worship"] becomes still more explicit in Tertullian and St. Cyprian, and the stress laid upon the “satisfactory” character of the sufferings of the martyrs, emphasizing the view that by their death they could obtain graces and blessings for others, naturally and immediately led to their direct invocation. A further reinforcement, of the same idea, was derived from the cult of the angels, which, while pre-Christian in its origin, was heartily embraced by the faithful of the sub-Apostolic age. It seems to have been only as a sequel of some such development that men turned to implore the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.

The (Catholics) have suggested that Mary’s obedience undoes Eve’s disobedience — that she is a “substitute” for Eve in the same way that Christ substitutes for mankind in Adam. This is typical of Marian devotion — ascribing to her the same salvation-related characteristics that the Scriptures ascribe to Jesus. Sinlessness is another one — that Mary was born without sin, that HER mother (traditionally called “Anna”) was a virgin when she was conceived. She’s also frequently called “Co-redemptrix” and “co-mediatrix” with Christ. Eep. You can call that “just veneration” if you want, but saying that Mary is fully co-operative in REDEMPTION?? That’s worship, and it’s also blasphemy.

Here’s a link to a set of actual prayers to Mary (the Virgin of Fatima) written in the 1980s. (Most RCs don’t take it this far, but it’s there, and more common in Latin America.)

As far as where the line is? Here’s Martin Luther’s opinion, which I can get on board with in general:

She is the highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ … She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still, honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.

If our honor of her puts her on the same level as that of Christ, that’s a major issue. If we’re giving her salvific powers, that’s a blasphemy issue. No one can save but God. The Scriptures say that Christ is out intercessor before God, and that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in prayer. It says nothing about Mary. That’s significant to me. She was a woman to be honored as one who obeyed God, whose very body was host of the Redeemer of the World — HUGE deal. I want to imitate her, to set her as an example of joyful obedience in hardship and suffering, and even to recognize her as uniquely and spectacularly blessed! Our Lord loved her as his mother. So far, so good. But the minute we start saying she was perfect, she works together with Jesus to save us, she has the power to answer prayers or to influence God’s will… that’s when we’ve taken it WAY too far.

L

Questions and Answers, Part 4

Hey Laura,


How long did the veneration of Mary and of icons and all that stuff go on before people really started to protest it? Was it first protested by Luther or was there disagreement before that? I Googled some of the basics of the ecumenical councils and found…

3. Council of Ephesus (431), of more than 200 bishops, presided over by St. Cyril of Alexandria representing Pope Celestine l, defined the true personal unity of Christ, declared Mary the Mother of God (theotokos) against Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, and renewed the condemnation of Pelagius.

7. Second Council of Nicaea (787) was convoked by Emperor Constantine VI and his mother Irene, under Pope Adrian I, and was presided over by the legates of Pope Adrian; it regulated the veneration of holy images. Between 300 and 367 bishops assisted.

I guess it’s still hard for me to understand why these people, after meeting and discussing over long periods of time (some of the same people who, while fallible, were able to recognize the heresy of Arius, etc.) were able to come to these decisions but we determine it not valid later? What’s up with that?

X

Hey girl, great questions.

Number 3, the council of Ephesus, I would agree with those things. I don’t have a problem calling Mary the Theotokos (which means “God-bearer” in Greek), because Jesus was and is God. Nestorius was a heretic who under-emphasized the divinity of Jesus — so the God-bearer thing was really a Christology issue, not whether or not Mary was divine-like or worthy of veneration. Christians have ALWAYS viewed Mary as worthy of honor.

I think we (meaning evangelicals) have reacted too far against the misuse of Mary’s life and example, and how Catholics especially have twisted it in a really sick way. So much so that we’ll talk in over-the-top language about Elisha’s miracles, David’s passion for God, Esther’s boldness and intelligence, but we won’t talk about Mary’s humility, joy, courage, and honor. We won’t even say what the Scriptures say about her, which is that she was highly favored by God, blessed among all women.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we don’t “decide” independently whether people were right. We make like the Bereans and search the Scriptures to see if the things they taught were in line with Scripture. Clearly it’s out of line with Scripture to worship icons or images, or to pray to the dead, or to worship Mary, so we have to reject that teaching because Scripture says not to make a graven image of God, not to try to communicate with or conjure up the dead, and to give worship to no one but God.

There was a TON of disagreement about the veneration of Mary, indulgences, purgatory, praying for the dead, images/icons, the Lord’s Supper all the way through Christian history. The problem was that the Roman church in the west and the Orthodox church in the east were in bed with the government which was often only nominally Christian, and so they could forcibly put down any dissent — and they frequently did. Look up groups like the Lollards, and dudes like John Wycliffe and John Huss.

One of the major reasons Mary-worship popped up so soon (in the 4th and 5th centuries, spreading from there) is that it connected pagan goddess-worship to Christianity (incidentally, it’s also a reason Catholicism caught on like billy-o in Latin America). When the Roman Empire was “made Christian” in the 4th Century, we’re not talking about a mass conversion of hearts and lives. You still have all these thousands upon thousands of pagans who no longer have just Artemis or any number of other pagan goddesses to worship but also this “new” religion. So folks come up with the idea (unfortunately not corrected by some irresponsible church leaders) that, see, this “Mary” person is the Queen of Heaven like our goddesses! We can “venerate” her like we worshiped Artemis!

Now, it’s obvious to me from reading church history that the worship of Mary became increasingly required over the years — so whereas there seem to be pockets of Mary-worship surrounded by a lot of harmless if slightly overzealous Mary-honor beginning in the 4th and 5th centuries, over the years the institutional church began to demand it more and more, until it was considered heretical and punishable by death not to offer prayers to Mary and think of her as the chief intercessor for us in heaven. Which is jacked up, just in case you’re curious.

Just because something is a long-standing tradition or really “ancient” doesn’t make it right. One of the oldest “churches” in the world is the heretical Coptic “church” which sided with Arius over Jesus’ nature. They believe that Jesus is less than God, that he was a created being that God elevated to divine status — basically what the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe only 1800 years before.

As far as the decisions being reached, you could probably find out about the votes on various subjects — I don’t know how good the records were that were kept of specifics. But some of the decisions provoked or were provoked by (in the case of the Icons thing) actual wars! So we’re definitely not seeing total agreement amongst the folks at these councils.

Lunch break’s almost over. Later.

L

Questions and Answers, Part 3

Hey Laura,

What do you think of the Eucharist? I’ve always had a hard time seeing it only as a symbol but maybe that’s just because I’m such a sensualist!

Your Friend,
X

Hey Girl,

I totally do not think you’re being a sensualist when you find yourself dissatisfied with a purely “symbolic” or “memorialist” view of the Lord’s Supper. Not at all. I think that those two views are reactionary and flat, and don’t accurately or robustly represent either the Scriptural presentation of communion or the practices of the church (which I find helpful here).

First, what do we call it? I don’t think it matters. Eucharist just comes from the Greek word “eucharisto” meaning “to give thanks.” The Lord’s Supper is what a lot of evangelicals call it. The term communion just has to do with the fellowship and unity we share as we take the bread and wine.

Second, do we call it a sacrament or an ordinance? I think we can call it both or either. Typically evangelicals shy away from the word “sacrament” because of its association with the Catholic view of communion, but I don’t think that’s necessary. There IS something sacred about the body of Christ fellowshipping together over this meal. But it’s also an “ordinance” because Christ ordained, or commanded, it. That’s why we have only two sacraments/ordinances (baptism and communion) vs. Roman Catholics and Orthodox who have seven (confirmation, marriage, ordination, confession/penance, last rites/extreme unction) — because we believe that Christ instituted only those two as commands for all believers.

Third, views of the Lord’s Supper:
(ALL Christians believe that we take communion in memory of Christ’s death, and that he commanded us to do so. The arguments arise from Jesus’ so-called “words of institution” — “This is my body, broken for you… this is my blood, shed for you” — and what they actually mean in our communal lives as the church, and also from the effect of communion on the body of Christ.)

1. Catholic – the mass (celebration of the Lord’s Supper) re-offers the sacrifice of Christ, who is bodily present in the elements. It is a continuous re-sacrifice of Christ. Transubstantiation means that the wine becomes the blood of Christ, in its very substance, once it’s consecrated by a priest, and the bread becomes the body of Christ. Only the outward form remains but in every spiritual and actual way, Jesus is bodily present in the elements. This has been discussed and debated and refined and nuanced for hundreds of years. They really, really, really mean that the bread = flesh and the wine = blood. Period. They even claim to know how it all happens. For Catholics, participation in the Sacraments actually saves people. The sacraments are the means God uses to confer his saving grace.

2. Orthodox – the Divine Liturgy has the Eucharist at its center. Their view is very similar to the Catholic view in that they believe that the “real presence” of Christ is in the elements in a bodily, actual way, but they just haven’t flogged it out to such a ridiculously complex extent as the Catholics. Same problems exist, though — re-sacrifice, transubstantiation, saving element of sacraments, etc.

3. Anglican/Episcopalian – there is a “real presence” of Christ in the elements, but it’s whatever Christ says it is. This is a typically vague Anglican position… ;) And there’s a range of opinions on it. I’d say most faithful Anglicans avoid the Catholic view but don’t go as far as the Protestants do in reducing it to mere symbolism. The elements are a means of grace.

4. Lutheran – Christ is present in a “sacramental union” with the elements. The typical way Lutherans talk about Christ’s presence in the elements is that he is “in, with, and under” the elements. Luther utterly rejected the idea of the mass as a re-sacrifice of Christ, rightly arguing that it undermines the once-for-allness of Jesus’ death on our behalf, and adds human works to salvation. God uses the sacraments to confer grace to us in the community of faith. (On a side note, I am strongly attracted to this view in many ways.)

5. Methodist – Christ’s presence is real but a great holy mystery experienced by faith. The sacraments are an experience of Grace for the believer.

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Up to this point, the actual elements have to be guarded with some care and disposed of properly (or never, in the case of the Catholics and Orthodox, but instead stored and venerated or worshiped), because they contain the actual presence of the Lord. Beyond this point, that’s not the case.

6. Calvinist/Reformed – The presence of Christ in communion is not “actual” but “spiritual.” The body and blood of Christ, spiritually present in the elements, feed our souls, not our bodies, by faith — but real nourishment and a real experience of the incarnate Christ occurs to those who have true faith and thus the Holy Spirit. Believers feast with Christ in heaven during the Lord’s Supper, as though they were carried by the Spirit to his immediate presence there. Thus communion is an image of the unity and joy to be found at the marriage feast of the Lamb. When we participate in communion, the community of faith becomes the Body of Christ in a truer way. (This probably describes my view best, although I like to borrow from the Methodists and Lutherans too.)

7. Zwingli/many modern evangelicals — Mere memorialist view, often called the “no presence” view. Christ is not present in any meaningful way in communion, and we participate in it because Christ commanded us to do so in order to remember his death.

I think we really miss out on a sense of connectedness and symbolism and mystery when we forget that Jesus Last Supper was the Passover — that the bread he blessed and broke was the “bread of affliction,” symbolizing the Israelite’s hasty deliverance from their bondage in Egypt, and that the wine he lifted up was the “cup of salvation/redemption,” which should have been blessed with the words, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you” but instead Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you.”

I also think we have a pretty dim view of symbolism, representation, and memory — those things are faith-building, deep, and real. Christ is present with us when we gather, and he has graciously given us these elements of bread and wine to stir our minds and hearts, lest we forget his sacrifice on our behalf. It’s not “merely” a picture, it’s a drama or a “story time” for our childish, stubborn hearts to hold on to in our moments of doubt and difficulty. It symbolizes the unity of the Body of Christ. It depicts Christ’s death. It gives us a foretaste of the glory to come. It lets us feast with and on Christ for our spiritual nourishment. It’s a beautiful, amazing, mysterious gift from God.

We must reject the idea that communion is a sacrifice in any sense — which means we also must reject transubstantiation, because the two go hand in hand — because it directly contradicts Scripture. But I think any view that doesn’t contradict scripture, speak of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, or over-emphasize OUR works rather than remembering and giving thanks for God’s grace is fine for believers to hold.

Geez… it’s like a book.

;)

L

Questions and Answers, Part 2

Laura,


Can you tell me a little bit more about the ecumenical councils?  When exactly were those formed?  I guess I’m not fully clear why they’re invalid or why they wouldn’t be binding on the Church before all the schisms and splits (I assume those councils were before any split, correct?)


Your Friend,
X
Hey Girl,

What the Orthodox Church (and Catholic Church for that matter) tends to portray is this single monolithic set of seven councils, that all True Christians (i.e. Orthodox) have always recognized as authoritative, since the dawn of Christianity. That’s not how they really went.

The councils were a lot like denominational conventions are today — pastors got together to discuss issues that were arising in their churches, to talk about how to deal with the problems brought on by persecution, etc. We have this idea that they were some grand royal-type arrangement. We’re talking about ordinary pastors who were doing their best to be faithful to their congregations and the Scriptures, meeting to deal with problems and doctrinal concerns and heresies and to encourage and promote the unity of the church. They were patterned after the Jerusalem Council which is mentioned in Acts 15, when the apostles met to discuss the management of the churches and the issue of circumcision — and when Paul rebuked Peter for giving in to the Judaizers.

The “First Ecumenical Council,” as it’s called, was the council of Nicaea in 325. Constantine asked for it to be called (probably at the urging of his pastor) to settle some disagreements about the nature of Christ and the trinity, because a pastor named Arius had been teaching his church that Jesus was a created being who was not fully divine. Since that’s not what the Scriptures teach, the council asked him to repent, and he refused. The important thing to remember is that the council didn’t decide that Arius was wrong and his opponent Athanasius was right — they recognized that Arius’s teachings were out of line with what Christians have always believed, and so they called him to repent, and when he refused, they removed him from his position as pastor of his church in Alexandria and excommunicated him. We get the Nicene Creed from this council, which is just a clear statement of the beliefs Christians have always held.

The next council was the council of Chalcedon, which addressed similar issues with the humanity of Jesus. Again, they weren’t deciding that Jesus was human; they were recognizing what the Scriptures teach.

There is general agreement among Eastern Orthodox on most of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. But some Orthodox recognize certain ones that other Orthodox don’t — so it’s kinda 6 + one or the other, or 6 + 2. Also, some councils were considered ecumenical (universal) at the time but were later rejected — usually because a so-called ecumenical council would promote heresy and then would be hard-core corrected a few years later.

There were schisms between the Assyrian church and Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox and Orthodox in the midst of the councils. The “Great Schism” didn’t happen until the 11th century, but there had been major trouble brewing for about 400 years between the East (Orthodox) and the West (Roman Catholic). The Great Schism was kinda the last, “Oh yeah? Well I excommunicate you TOO! Take THAT!”

For me as a Protestant, there are two major areas of disagreement with the Orthodox (and Catholic) view of the Councils.

1. The creeds. Catholics and Orthodox see creeds (which came out of the councils) as authoritative because the council wrote them. I see the creeds as helpful, but not authoritative, summaries of what the Scriptures teach and thus what Christians have always believed. The Councils didn’t “come up with” this statement of belief, they just wrote it down in a clear way to prevent heretics from feeling like they could teach something contrary to the Scriptures. Creeds are like mini-systematic theology texts. I don’t take a Systematic textbook and call it perfectly authoritative, but I sure do find it helpful in organizing what the Bible says on a particular issue. That’s all creeds are — condensing down the essentials of the faith into a few easy-to-learn paragraphs. There’s pretty good consensus that the organization and content of creeds came from “baptismal formulas” — sort of like interviews: what do you believe about God the Father? What do you believe about Christ? What do you believe about the Holy Spirit and the church and the resurrection, etc.? — to test the beliefs of a candidate for baptism.

2. The nature of the councils. Catholics and Orthodox look at the councils and say, “Those people got together to DECIDE Christian doctrine. Without them, we wouldn’t KNOW what true Christian doctrine was!” Baloney. The Scriptures contain everything we need for life and godliness, and these godly pastors and overseers knew that. That’s why they used the Scriptures to repudiate heresy and keep the church as a whole pure. That’s why they used the methods of the Bible to exclude people who didn’t teach in accordance with the doctrines all Christians have always believed.

Part of the reason we struggle to get our minds around these councils, I think, is that we see titles like “bishop” and think Oh, that sounds very official and serious! — but that word translated as “bishop” by some Eastern Orthodox and Catholics is the word “presbuteros,” which is the word we translate as “elder.” So we are literally talking about pastors or elders, plus regional and national leaders, getting together to address problems and promote unity, not a bunch of Cardinal-types meeting to decide whether or not we should believe that Jesus is fully man and fully God. They simply affirmed what the Scriptures already taught.

There’s such a temptation to desire that someone in an authoritative position would just tell us what the Scriptures mean. But two things about that. First, pastors are just as fallible as we are — they’re not our “high priests” who intercede for us, Jesus is, nor are they our perfect guide to God’s word. The Holy Spirit is. Second, whenever the Scriptures are taught or prophecy or words of knowledge are spoken, Paul (for example) tells us to test what is right in what they’re saying. He doesn’t say, “If I come and preach to you, you better just accept what I way because I’m an apostle!” He instead commends the Bereans, for example, because when he came to them, they earnestly searched the Scriptures to see if what he said was true. We’re never supposed to just go along with what a Christian leader says without being certain that they are in line with what we know to be true in God’s word.

Look, nobody would have the nerve to say, “Last year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis is perfectly authoritative on the same level as Scripture for all Christians everywhere, and anyone who rejects its decisions is anathema.” But for some reason we’re tempted to think that a gathering of fallible humans can make perfect and perfectly authoritative declarations just because the gathering took place 1700 years ago. It’s a crazily false view of history. We are no more or less jacked-up than they were. They had their hidden sins, their blind spots, their mistaken theologies — for instance, the oldest creed we have is the Apostles Creed (from around the 2nd Century) and I disagree with one of the lines when it says that Jesus “descended into hell.” I don’t think the Scripture indicates that Jesus went to Hell! The worship of Mary began as early as the 4th century. Does that make it right? No way!

We get this notion in our heads that these “great men of old” had it together in a way that we don’t, but that just doesn’t reflect the picture of humanity that we get in the Scriptures. Luther hated Jews. Calvin allowed the state to execute heretics. Augustine thought sex was evil and abstinence was the only holy path for “serious” Christians. The first Baptists turned into political revolutionaries. Everyone, even those halo-sporting council guys, gets things wrong. Maybe God allows that to keep us humble. Maybe he allows it so we’ll long for Christ’s return and the perfect unity of God’s church. I don’t know. But it’s the reality.

L

Questions and Answers

One of my dear friends has been asking some amazing questions lately about church history, the canon of the Scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, God’s sovereignty… you know, little insignificant details like that. Some of our email discussions have been really helpful to me, since I am so prone to forget the great truths of our precious faith, so I asked her if I could re-word some of the questions and answers for brevity and clarity’s sake and post them on my blog. Since I’ve gotten her gracious permission, I’ll start posting her emails to me and my responses to her beginning this week.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

Short Answer: No, There Is No Such Thing as a Coincidence

1. God is the only god:

“The Lord he is God; there is none else besides him.” “He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else” (Deut. 4:35, 39). “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me” (Deut. 32:39). “Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth” (2 Kings 19:15).

2. God created all things:

“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6), “For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (33:9).

3. Because God created all things out of nothing, he rules over them:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1).

4. God’s rule is accomplished by what’s called “antecedent (or prior) decree” — he said x would happen, and x happens:

“Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (Isa. 14:24) “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 26:10).

5. No purpose of God’s can be turned aside (this is the “negative” way to state #4):

“For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (Isa. 14:27). “He makes the devices of the people of none effect” (Ps. 33:10). “He does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35).

6. God is omnipresent (present everywhere at the same time):

“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Ps. 139:7-10).

7. God’s power extends to every aspect of earthly existence:

Natural phenomena: “He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills” (Ps. 147:8).

Governments and leaders, even evil ones: “This is what the Lord says — the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty” (Is. 45:11-13).

Even evil falls under his control: “What, shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).

8. God’s purposes are mysterious and often hidden from our understanding:

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Rom. 11:33)

9. God uses means (human actions, cause and effect, the laws of physics, human prayers, human emotions) to accomplish his purposes:

“For Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:13-14) “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13).