Category Archives: Theology

The Stiff Collar of Religion

What does your religion look like?

A suit and tie? A skirt that covers your knees?

That was the appropriate attire to wear to a Baptist service as outlined in the book How To Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook. It’s pretty true. Most Baptist churches I’ve visited make the jeans-and-polo-shirt guy the odd man out.

(Why the author made Baptist its own religion is understandable to me even though she’s wrong. But that’s another topic.)

The point is, the radical right wing conservative churches of the Bible belt (Independent Baptists) can be described by their outsides.

My dad prefers to wear a suit to church. He is a dignified man and likes to dress up for appropriate occasions. My mother always looks beautiful. She dresses up to go to church and her skirts always cover her knees. (They’re Presbyterian.)

My brother wears a t-shirt and jeans. (He’s non-denominational.)

My sister wears a dress. (Baptist.)

My skirts never cover my knees. (Not telling.)

None of that matters. I love that the church I attend has a member with dreadlocks and multiple men and women with multiple facial piercings.

The church catholic shouldn’t be describable. Ideally, that book would have had a chapter called “Christian,” wherein the author struggled to group or describe these people at all.

Because what should set us apart is that we all get along, despite being so different.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Does that sound like arguing over what to wear to church?

Mary, of John 12, disregarded every social expectation with her worship of Jesus. Displaying her hair like that was the sluttiest thing she could have done. And Jesus commends her for it.

The easier way is to follow a specific set of regulations. The easier way is to say long skirts are ok, short skirts are not. The easier way is to say put on a tie to go to church.

But there is a better way.

As Milton says toward the end of Areopagitica, “How many other things might be tolerated in peace and left to conscience, had we but charity.”

That should be the church’s main descriptor. We are unified because we are clothed in love.

A Woman Like Jesus

Many women I know are afraid of the mall. Of going out at night. Of living alone. Of walking in crowds. Of walking in deserted areas. They feel men’s eyes leering at them from every sector and fear that every stranger wants to rape them.

This mindset has been drilled into them: you must dress modestly to keep men from lusting and you are very vulnerable without a husband to lead you. So they have been taught.

During one Bible class discussion of helping the homeless, the girls were excused from helping if their safety was at risk.

Fear. Excuses.

This particular fear–this particular excuse–is not only supported but encouraged by many Christian leaders. Christian women, especially young Christian women, are shuffled away from dangerous service.

But Jesus calls every kind of person to his service. He did not give caveats. He did not give gender-specific commands. He says, “Follow me.”

Not, “Help the helpless unless you fear for your safety.”

Not, “Reach the lost unless you’re a scared woman.”

Following Jesus is the ultimate identity. Every other identity is encircled in it: Christian friend, Christian parent, Christian man. Christian woman.

And the Christian life is not one to be lived in fear. We are to be like Jesus, reaching into the darkest, dirtiest corners of humanity, where safety will undoubtedly be at risk, to spread the good news.

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

In this world we are like Jesus. This statement does not divide into one section for godly men and one section for godly women. Every believer must use his hands and feet for the sake of the gospel. We are told not to fear. We are told to be like Jesus.

Meditation

The over-spoken, under-defined, under-employed virtue.

It is manipulated to speak of infatuation, of lust, of satisfaction, of preference.

It is limited so that fulfilling its requirements is out of anyone’s control. A matter of machinated actions.

An impossible task.

A word that can be used for my mother-in-law and my spouse, my best friend and my cat. A word that describes Chinese food, green, soft leather, gardenias, and Beethoven.

Grace. Mercy. Compassion. Longsuffering. Charity.

The beginning of hope, because God chose to define himself this way. The end of hope and the beginning of sight, with a marriage feast in celebration.

It lives. It grows. It dies. It can be given, but not taken. It is won, lost, accepted, rejected. It is both elastic and fragile, quiet and jubilant.

All of it, pagan and Christian, is of God.

For if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

He is the source of all that is good. In him, an impossible task becomes a way of life. Without him, I could not love gardenias or my best friend. His love created and redeemed, sustains and teaches.

For God is love.

Foundation of Forgiveness

God is eternal in everything.

His love and his wrath. His meekness and his power. His generosity and his jealousy. His forgiveness and his condemnation.

Which demonstrates how little we understand to think that wrath is the opposite of love, or that exercising power is not meek, or that generosity means holding nothing close.

We have one story from Jesus’ growing-up years. As a perfect human, Jesus was assuredly perfectly submissive to his parents. And that meant the meek and lowly Jesus responded with a little bit of sarcasm when they questioned his activities.

Not a traditional idea of meekness.

Jesus is powerful and meek. He didn’t set aside his power in order to be meek. He doesn’t set aside his wrath when he demonstrates love. When he’s jealous he is also being generous. All these dwelling together in the Trinity are not paradoxical. We have to reshape our perception to fit the originator of all things.

All this eternality and immutability have a glorious significance for believers; namely, that God’s moods don’t swing like those of a pregnant lady on a hot August day.

If you are a child of God, you are accepted in the Beloved before the foundation of the world. His forgiveness of you has no beginning and no end.

Cast your cares upon him; he has already overcome the world.

The Paulipotence of Evil

Satan is a created being, finite in power and knowledge.

He can’t be both in Svay Pak, Cambodia where little girls are being sold into prostitution and in Mississippi where a boy violently acted out his belief in white supremacy.

If basic human morality says child prostitution and racism are evil, but Satan can’t directly incite every act of evil, why do these things keep happening?

What is basic human morality? Common grace. It is every human’s understanding of God. Although sin has infected every part of the world, God does not allow every part to be consumed.

Prostituting prepubescent little girls is completely evil. Deciding to beat and murder a man for his skin color is completely evil. The bad guys in these stories enjoy evil for evil’s sake. They don’t even understand the rules that the rest of us live by. They are given over to their evil.

But there is enough grace in the world that missionaries have moved to Cambodia to rescue girls from their slavery. The Mississippi boy is in jail, at least unable to do further harm.

Every sin will not be punished as soon as it happens. Some people will die with their depravity still secret. But Jesus is working now and, like leaven in bread, his goodness is swelling through the world.

Satan is not omnipresent. Sin is.

But so is the Savior. All power is his.

The Calvinist Pays For the Coffee

Words are endowed with meaning for the purpose of communication. The greater your vocabularly, the greater the degree of precision you get in your communication.

So why do some of the most important communicators truncate that?

I first ran into this problem in my Junior English class at my Christian highschool. We were going over the works of the Puritans, so for some background my teacher explained Calvinism in its five most famous points. Then he disparaged the term “Calvinist” and claimed instead “Biblicist.”

Well, that really clears matters up. I think the pope would claim that too.

Preachers of the evangelist species often fall into this trap. At a service in August 2010, an evangelist mocked anyone wanting to claim the Sovereign Grace denomination because it is Reformed.

Evangelists, teachers, preachers. Communication is their vocation. And they want to reject words?

I’m talking about labels. Christian. Evangelical. Presbyterian. Baptist. Reformed. Calvinist. Kuyperian.

We don’t all need to claim the same labels. We don’t need to agree to be unified. As Milton says toward the end of Areopagitica, “How many other things might be tolerated in peace and left to conscience, had we but charity.” We need love to be unified.

As the church continues to be sanctified, we’ll use these labels to have conversations. To communicate. Because when we claim different ones, we’ll lean across the table toward each other as the conversation gets more intense and we’ll quote our favorite theologians at each other and both sides will try to claim Spurgeon.

And then we’ll argue over who gets to pay for the other’s coffee and hug before leaving.

Recycled Dirt

Evolution.

It’s really a clever theory. Evolutionists are not stupid. I’ve heard too many preachers snorting about the ridiculous idea that we’re apes. As if that were offensive.

We’re dirt.

Recycled dirt, no less.

Scientifically, I could argue for Intelligent Design and last a few minutes, using concepts like irreducible complexity as popularized by Michael Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box. Philosophically, we can go around in circles for hours and be nothing but dizzy.

But, as Marvin Olasky put it in an article discussing the reverberations of Darwinism, “The theological objections to macroevolution are literally crucial because they tell us whether the Cross was necessary.” How could one man cause the whole world to fall?

How could one man redeem it back?

The origins story of Adam and Eve must be literal in order for Jesus to have literal saving power in his death and resurrection. Paul’s argument in Romans five is dependent on a literal interpretation of Genesis one.

And that’s where you have to start.