Archive for category Theology

What do I Know Anyhow?

In the shower just now to think. (I do that a lot.) And after a moment I said out loud to myself, quite surprised at what I had realized,  “Why should I believe anything I’m thinking? My heart is a spiritual cesspool right now.” And immediately after that I said with equal surprise, “Why should I believe that then?” And this led to the point of this post. Alien righteousness.

This is Tim Hoelzel’s favorite topic. I think he got it from the Westminster Standards. The righteousness offered us in the gospel is one from outside ourselves, Read the rest of this entry »

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Diogenes’ Tavern

Jeremy Taylor tells a story of Diogenes, the famous street philosopher who is said to have slept in a tub in the streets of Athens. Late one night Diogenes saw a man stepping out of the dark doorway of a notorious tavern. The young man recognized the famous philosopher and as their eyes met he stepped nervously back into the shadow of the doorway hoping not to be recognized himself. Diogenes called out to him saying, ‘Quanta magis intraveris, tanto magis eris in caupona.’ The more you step back, the farther into the whorehouse you go.

Isn’t it better to do good by admitting our evil than to continue as we are by denying there’s a problem? Who would rather keep a good reputation than gain a good heart? The wisdom of Diogenes is that he who denies his sin still retains what he counts to be his shame.

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Does the church need a multicultural epistemology?

I’ve been thinking about the question of epistemology quite a bit since beginning my minor in critical theory, or women’s studies. What to do with the poststructuralist critique? My thinking has been that reading scripture for God’s people is something quite different from reading other texts. With other texts we are cut off from the “true” meaning of the words in a significant way. As Paul says, “Who knows the mind of a man but the spirit of that man that is within him?” Words are not a sufficient tool to communicate one mind to another. On the contrary an incomplete and imperfect communication is the very best that can be accomplished. But Paul goes on to say of God’s people, “But we have the Spirit of God.” In other words the Holy Spirit, who wrote scripture by imparting it to men to be written, is within us as our teacher. We can have the mind of God, Paul seems to say, because His Spirit is within us. In another place Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.”

This distinction between the rationalist who reads a text by the power of his own mind, and the Christian who has the mind of Christ in his reading of scripture has been the main theme of my epistemological thinking for a couple years.

I had a new thought yesterday. I noted that Donald Hall, in his book “Queer Theories” seems to suggest that the body of knowledge he calls queer theory would be essentially unchanged if it ceased to be a primarily white upper-middle class phenomenon and a plurality of voices were included from other cultures and classes. The choir may grow larger but he seemed to suggest that the tune would be unchanged. I pointed this out to my classmates as a major epistemological failure. The church, I was thinking, was composed of people representing all the world’s cultures. Her doctrines are framed by members from all eras, nations, cultures, classes, etc. I had the sense that the church had wisdom epistemologically that was lacking in the “queer theory” of Mr. Hall. I, as a white upper-middle class American member of the church understand that I have a theology that must be changed through an encounter with my fellow members whose cultural, national, gendered and class background are different from mine, and who are able to see things I miss. Hall seemed to acknowledge the need for “diversity,” but missed its epistemological significance. I pointed this out to the class and folks agreed.

After the fact, I realized that my understanding of “having the mind of Christ” left no room for other church members from varying backgrounds to teach or sharpen me or my white American church. What do third-world theologians, for example, have to offer me if I already have the mind of Christ?

Is it possible that it is not I, but we the Church universal, who have the mind of Christ? That we need to sharpen and lovingly share our wisdom with each other in order to participate fully in the blessing of receiving the mind of Christ? Is it possible that my personal theology or that of my church is not the mind of Christ, but that in the collective scriptural learning or those who are and have been truly members of Christ’s Church we have the mind of Chrsit?

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.

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Nature or Nurture

So, as Christians we believe in a doctrine of original sin. We believe that by nature we are sinful and desperately in need of grace to free us from our own nature. I see this in my own life. I was born with a nature entirely inclined to do evil, to sin. We also believe homosexuality is sinful. Why then do we doubt that there are people born gay or lesbian? We are born sinful. Being gay is sinful. What am I missing. Seems reasonable enough that one way someone might be born sinful is gay. On the other hand, it seems other people aren’t but can begin to have homoerotic desire later in life. Why couldn’t this work both ways?

This seems to be the way people explain their own experiences. Some feel they’ve been gay their whole lives as if it were something they were born with, while others feel it was a choice. Why should we be threatened by either alternative? Both seem very much in keeping with the Biblical account of our nature and our choices. Why have many Christians so heavily invested themselves in a view of homosexuality that insists it can only be a choice?

Just a thought.

“A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick;”
~Prospero in The Tempest

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Earl Paulk, Mona Brewer & Tabernacle of the Holy Spirit

earlpaulk.jpgI am Jack’s raging bile duct.

I love God.

I love people.

So does He.

This is why I get utterly furious when I learn about pastoral sex scandals and folks using God as a tool to take advantage of the unsuspecting.

So, as the world now knows, Earl Paulk, the so-called “Archbishop,” the great founder of the “Tabernacle of the Holy Spirit,” is the unholy father of his nephew by his own brother’s wife. Also, it seems he manipulated another woman into sleeping with him many times over the course of more than a decade by convincing her it was her only path to salvation. What does he make of the warning of scripture that those who become teachers face a stricter judgment? What of the words of our Lord who warned/promised that what is whispered in secret will soon be proclaimed from the housetops? Has he no fear? Read the rest of this entry »

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Smiles’ sermon at Trinity Reformed Chapel, Pistol River Oregon

This is a sermon prached by my good friend Smiles Welch last Sunday when he did pulpit supply for a small church in Oregon. (Click ‘Read the rest of this entry’ below to listen or download the sermon.) He preached on Psalm 42.

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Read the rest of this entry »

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Law & Gospel in the Proverbs

I’ve been thinking about Mary & Martha lately. The lesson is basically a very practical example of how the gospel is lived. It is about how grace is applied practically in being and becoming who God wants us to be. It seems to me to parallel the passage about John laying his head on Jesus’ chest, the instruction to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all ‘these things’ will be added to you, and the teaching about Jesus being the Vine in which we must abide.

We do a great deal of wondering about what God’s will is. Books are written in droves on the topic. What these passages teach me is that I do not become who God wants me to be by thinking about who He wants me to be and then trying to be that way.

Often as I worship, as I am enjoying God the most, or put another way, when I am abiding most richly in the Vine, I find that I am changed. The strange thing is that I am usually surprised by what I am changed to. God makes me into someone quite different than what I expected.

What this proves to me is that I never could have gotten there by thinking about who God wanted me to be and trying to be that way. I never would have thought of what God intended. I think the difference between trying to figure out who God wants us to be and then to be that way on the one hand and simply worshiping and seeing who we become on the other hand is the difference between leaning on our own understanding or else turning away from evil by fearing the Lord. Put another way it is the difference between law and grace, work and faith.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

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Sermon: Why should we worship Jesus?

So here’s my latest. I was set the question, ‘Why should we worship Jesus?’

I think I learned more from preparing this sermon than I’ve learned from preparing any other of my sermons. I learned not just about my material, most of it I’ve already been learning, but I learned a lot about me and how I must lead and preach. It was the most worshipful and enjoyable time I’ve had preparing a sermon.

Here it is.


Or, you can download it here.

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Anselm redux, Prayer to St. Benedict

attention to earthly things bends my soul away from the knowledge of things above;
earthly love extinguishes in me delight in heavenly things.
The habit of vice has wiped away in me the knowledge of true good.

This is from Anselm again, from his Prayer to St. Nicholas. OK, it’s funny to think of a guy praying to Santa Claus, but Nicholas was actually a third century bishop in the city of Myra. Anyhow, it’s interesting how in these lines Anselm predates the postmodern observation that our beliefs and what we take to be our knowledge often does not correspond to what is objective or to absolute truth, but is rather an imprint left on us by our experiences and our desires. His knowledge of true good he says is wiped away when he habitually sins and delight in and attention to earthly things bends him from true knowledge. The truth is that when we want to continue in sin it blinds us to an understanding of truth and when we do the evil it blinds us to understanding as well. Through a prophet God speaks saying, ‘I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord.” What is the meaning of that proverb that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ and ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge?’ Finally, Isaiah tells the people of Israel ‘We hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight…For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities…

Isn’t it true that in those places where we know we are committing sin if we willfully persist it blinds us to understanding truth.


Anselm’s prayer to St. Peter

I’m reading through The Prayers & Meditations of St. Anselm still, I decided not to skip the prayers to the saints after all. They’re honestly fairly idolatrous, but there are still some amazing portions so I’ll read through. This morning I read a prayer to Peter. In part it read:

The runaway returns
and asks forgiveness for his errors and disobedience,
He shows to the good and healing shepherd
the gashes of wounds, and the bites of wolves,
which he ran into when he strayed,
and the neglected sore places
that he has had for a long time.
He begs him to have mercy while there is still life in him,
and he prays more by showing his need
to the merciful shepherd
than by any beseeching.

It ocurred to me how great a mercy it is that God continually rescues us from sin. Imagine a man who goes for a hike in the woods and is attacked by a mountain lion. He is injured, bleeding and unable to escape to safety. Imagine his gratitude if he were rescued from death.

When we sin and God does not abandon us fully to our sin but grants us the sweet gift of repentance, how much more grateful ought we to be. Is it not true that our enemy roams about like a lion, roaring in search of an opportunity to destroy us? Read the rest of this entry »

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