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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

Author

Heather G

Opposite Sex Friendship — a few thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the way that Christians, particularly singles in their late teens, 20s, 30s, think about opposite sex friendships and been wanting to write a blog post on the topic for some time.   The other night a male friend of mine (let’s call him Andrew) was telling me he was going to go hang out with a female friend of mine.   The guy is happily single, not looking for a girlfriend or wife at this point, and not interested at least not at this point in dating the woman in question.   The gal (let’s call her Samantha) is someone who has very openly talked about her desires to be married at this stage in life and her disappointment that she is still single.

guy girlAndrew and Samantha understand that Andrew’s visit with her is only for the purpose of friendship; that Andrew is not interested in Samantha as a romantic partner.  (In fact, they became friends when Samantha was “safely” dating someone else, but that relationship didn’t work out.)  But Andrew mentioned to me, “I do have to be really careful here, there is a real danger that she could develop feelings because she is looking for someone.”

Therein lies an issue.   Somewhere along the line, singles in the church have developed this idea that it is their responsibility to worry about whether or not their friends might develop feelings for them.   Often a guy won’t hang out with a girl if she wants to date him and he doesn’t, or worse yet, he won’t hang out with her (or her with him) if he’s not hoping she’d be interested in dating.  And what I have seen goes like this:

A guy thinks it is dangerous for a girl to like him if he isn’t feeling the same way.   So when he walks into a room full of new people, and a girl he doesn’t instantly feel physically attracted to comes up to talk to him, he’ll have a few standoffish small talk words in her direction and then quickly move on to talk to the gals he finds attractive, making long and sustained connection with them.

WHAT ABOUT OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO WALK AS SISTERS AND BROTHERS?

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with investing energy towards finding a spouse, and that would include spending time talking to people of the opposite sex one finds intriguing.   But the problem with this as a general way of being is that the body of Christ is more than this — whether one finds someone attractive or not the fact is that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ. 

This doesn’t get enough airtime from pulpits, and Christians don’t tend to approach other Christians on that level — they don’t tend to think about the spiritual relationship they already share with someone as being the most important aspect of any interaction they have, and then things like “mate possibility” as secondarily important.   But this is to the detriment of the body of Christ.

In “the world” — outside of the church — people who are in groups form “in-crowds” and “out-crowds.”   Many times this has a lot to do with social desirability, and mating desirability.  People cluster around charismatic, attractive, powerful, or affluent people.   Being in the “in-crowd” increases one’s odds of getting a highly attractive date.   And so on.    When Christian guys (or girls) only invest time, attention, and energy into friendships with girls (or guys) that are romantically or socially desirable, this cluster or “clique” dynamic appears in the church.    But the church isn’t supposed to reflect the value system of what flesh and blood tends to value.

The church is supposed to reflect a higher value system — that is, the worth of every individual to God, and the familial relationship that we all share in Christ of being true sisters and brothers to one another.

This familial relationship transcends even blood relationships — which is a fact that often doesn’t get taught or preached except in whacked-out cult groups that want to dissolve family bonds and reestablish the only important bonds as that of the cult group.  But while the cult groups are wrong in devaluing the importance of flesh-and-blood family as an important realm of relationship for folks, they are not wrong in recognizing that the Bible doesn’t speak of believers being “sisters and brothers” as some sort of unrealistic platitude, or just some feel-good short-hand for “members of the same Sunday morning club.”

WHAT DO WE REALLY WANT TO EXPERIENCE?

Our sister and brotherhood in Christ is true, and it is every bit as “real” as the blood connection we share with our families of origin.   In this case, Jesus’s flesh being ripped apart and his blood actually flowing down to touch the Earth is the “real” blood connection that binds the family of God together.   We are all made of dust of the Earth, and as His blood dripped down to the dust we are all made of, it bound everyone who would believe in Christ into one bloodline — Christ’s bloodline.   Of course, not having his actual blood cells in our veins, it had to be made more apparent so thus we are also “adopted” into God’s family.

But these aren’t just pleasant platitudes, for eternity we will be the Lord’s family and brother/sister to one another.  Other generations and those in persecuted nations had a deeper grip on this, as so many of our brothers and sisters throughout history have mixed their blood together as they died for the Lord together in bloody shows of martyrdom.  And in those moments, no one cared whether they had the same sense of cool clothing style, or whether they liked the same authors, or whether they found each other’s hairstyle or body shape attractive.   We are one in Him in a way that goes radically beyond all that, and this becomes apparent when the same mice in a prison are nibbling on your toes together, or when our blood runs down into the dust as one together at the executioner’s sword.

In some sense, this is what we all want — not to be persecuted, but to experience this communion with one another.  At least those who truly have believed in Christ, somewhere in our souls beats this desire to see the body of Christ look like more than a nice, safe, “oh I know that person, I see them at church on Sunday” sort of relationship with one another.   Whose hearts are not moved by reading Acts about the believers selling their homes to be with one another, having all things in common, eating and praying together from house to house?  We want to share in the communion of saints in late night conversations, bearing our hearts, feeling the presence of God together and being rocked in the fear of the awe of the Lord; we want to make huge sacrifices for each other, to feel a little counter-cultural and radical and knowing that in a very real way we have each others’ backs and we would die for one another.

This doesn’t happen if our friendships are based merely on who we think we might want to have sex with one day and whose DNA seems pleasing to make children with.   If none of these lofty ideas cause one to consider being friends, real friends, with those they aren’t wanting to date, then consider this: often the person you aren’t attracted to might have friends that you would be attracted to.   Sometimes in our human weaknesses lofty ideas don’t cut it but practical down to earth ones make more sense.

Where am I going with all this?  No, it’s not good to lead someone on, to take up all their time and keep them off the dating scene because you, their opposite sex friend, want to hang out everyday and yet you’re not interested in dating them, but they have no idea.   Yes, that’s unkind and irresponsible friendship.

But while irresponsible friendship across gender lines does certainly exist, we need to get around this thing that says we wouldn’t want to be friends with someone we’re not attracted to because, gosh, they might develop FEELINGS for us and then we’re in the middle of a relationship we don’t want to be in.    I’ll ask the same question I asked above:  Where did singles get the idea that it’s a terrible thing if your opposite friend falls for you and you’re not into them?   Where did we get the idea that we need to hold each other at a distance, and run away at the first sign that someone we’re not attracted to is attracted to us?

MATURITY in FRIENDSHIP

adventure-1807524_640I want to call us up to a more mature view of friendship if I may.   A few years back I had this guy friend (we’ll call him Randall) who I developed a serious crush on.   Randall and I were fairly deep, heart to heart friends.   We had a sense of commitment to one another, that we were there for each other to walk each other through some pretty intense stuff we were both dealing with.

Eventually I told him I was seriously becoming attracted to him, and I think Randall’s attitude towards me was a gift of divine proportions.   He said, “Heather, I just don’t feel the same way towards you — though I certainly appreciate this, this, and this about you.  (Awesome when guys build their sisters up in the Lord.)   So I don’t know what you’re going to do about how you’re feeling towards me but I’m going to leave that between you and the Lord to sort out.   In the meantime, I am still 100% committed to being your brother and your friend.”

Randall gave me a gift of steadfast friendship commitment by realizing that my feelings weren’t his responsibility and they weren’t his to deal with….so while he wasn’t unmerciful like, “Don’t even talk to me about this…” he didn’t run away screaming either.   And I in turn took a bit of time away from him to get my heart somewhat clear (you don’t have to have “no feelings” to be clear enough to still be friends), and able to be around him again in a way that we could still reflect Christ to one another.

For a long time I have wished I could tell all the singles I watch running away from each other:  Guys, you don’t need to worry if someone you find unattractive finds you attractive.   You don’t need to hold them at arms length as long as you don’t deceive that person about how you are feeling and don’t take advantage of their feelings.   And gals, the same thing goes on our end – we don’t need to run away from a guy who “likes us” if we’ve been able to be honest and tell him we don’t feel the same way, and IF he is willing to respect our boundaries and not refuse to take our, “No, I just don’t see a dating relationship in our future” seriously.  The only guy I ever had to cut out of my life on this level was one who doggedly refused to take “no” for an answer, insisting God had “told him” I was his wife and that I was in rebellion to God for not listening.   I told him that no means no, and if he couldn’t respect that we couldn’t have a friendship.  But most of the guys that I have ever had a thing for, or who have ever had a thing towards me, still have an open door of friendship in my life to one degree or another.

But of course folks who have been “friend zoned” sometimes find themselves mutually falling for one another despite the fact that one or both of them originally felt that only friendship was in their future.   It’s OK to revisit a friendship conversation respectfully,  in something that might sound like this:  “Josh, I am not wanting to make you uncomfortable as I really value our friendship, I know we talked about this a year ago but I wanted to know if you still feel we are better off not pursuing a romantic relationship — but if you ever did want to date each other, I’m still open to that. But if not, I’m still going to be your friend and sister and I can’t wait to bless you and whoever you marry if it’s not me.”  And it’s also important to not keep hanging on to a friendship if you’re only secretly stalking someone waiting for them to change their mind, especially if you are getting in the way of them dating other people.   A really good test of whether or not a friendship is honest is whether or not you can introduce your friend to someone else they might want to date.   If you can do so, you might end up lifelong friends with someone you really value, married to someone else you really value — a win-win recipe for lifelong friendship that will have deep rewards for both you and the Kingdom.

This is maturity.  And it brings maturity to the body of Christ when singles — and married people who are friends with singles (another topic for another day) can still experience the richness of brother/sister communion in Christ.

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(For further reading check out Forbidden Friendships by Joshua Jones,

or Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions by Dan Brennan.)

(As a footnote I especially want to recognize Dan Brennan’s writings about how in the ancient middle east, a brother was often the most significant and close relationship of a woman’s life, a concept we don’t generally consider when reading Paul instructing Timothy to treat young women as his sisters.  Sisters and brothers were not mere distant acquaintances.  Instead our relationships with the opposite sex in the church tend to be more like the way we relate to the cashier at the grocery store — pleasant, casual, and without any shred of intimacy.  The difference is extreme and fear-based.   But that’s for another blog post.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Evolution Works

The Book of Works

I have been asked many times to explain how so called “macro-evolution” works. There are of course many excellent books and articles online and off that cover this, but I thought it might be a good idea to have a blog post that explains it quickly and simply that I can refer to when asked. The following is adapted from a book manuscript (which might get published some day).

To see how macroevolution (the origin of new species) works, we can use a hypothetical animal, maybe one in the cat family. Let’s call it a lipard. And let’s say that there is a population of these large cat-like carnivores living on a large plain with plenty of prey animals. The lipards have gotten better and better at hunting thanks to several improvements (microevolution) in  vision, muscle strength, digestion of meat, and other traits. And all of these positive changes eventually…

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NT Gender Bias and our Mythological Justifications

One of the things I endeavor to do on this blog at times is to dismantle bad apologetics for my own cause.  Today is one of those posts.   When it comes to my understanding and leaning on gender roles, I fall somewhere between soft complementarianism and out-and-out full on egalitarianism.   And let’s face it, most of us approach scripture on the topic of gender LOOKING for our particular ideal about gender to be justified.   If we want to see women have equality and opportunity in the church and other spheres, we are constantly hoping someone will give us a Biblical interpretation that allows us to justify those viewpoints.   I also know folks that have a romanticized view of complementarian or even far right patriarchical gender roles; and they also look to scripture in ways to find reinforcement for those viewpoints.

(And to be fair, there are also those noble people, few though they may be, who approach scripture ready to lay aside every preference and bias they can identify and just do whatever they believe the most honest and plain interpretation is that they can identify; the problem is, this may not be quite as safe or noble of a course of action as these folks may initially think it to be.  But that’s a topic for another blog post.)

But as I said before, I’m on team egalitarian, for the most part (except when I play for team soft complementarian, which is rare but sometimes happens.)   Which means I also need to stick to my usual disposition to point out where my own team (in this case, either one) seems to be getting it wrong.

So with no further ado, here are my two pet peeve, “Do I have to read about this really bad attempt to deal with the female clobber verses in Scripture again?” apologetic arguments.

 

#1 —  JUNIA

Screenshot 2018-01-31 at 2.56.56 AM

Oh yes, I did, I went there.   Junia is the darling poster girl of the internet and books on Christian gender equality.   Yet we might really need to stop holding Junia up as the ultimate “proof” that in the first century church, women were equal with men, or at least stop pretending that Junia is even any type of settled argument for the cause.

Here’s the verse in question: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Romans 16:7 KJV

First, it is highly likely, but not by any means settled that Junia was actually a female.  The later one goes in history, the louder the voices become that declare her to be a woman; and there are reasons to think this probably is the case.   But it’s not SETTLED, not by a longshot.
But more importantly (as if anything can be more important than that) the claim that Junia was an apostle is overblown.   The best that we can safely assert is that he or she was “well-known” or even “well-respected” by the apostles….AKA, known “among” them….but some translations have worded this ambiguously enough to make it seem like Junia actually IS an apostle, which, while possible, isn’t really likely from the actual wording.
The final analysis?  There’s nothing certain about Junia (or Junias.)   It’s highly likely Junia was a woman, but not completely definite, and it’s highly probably that he or she was highly honored among the apostles, but not an apostle his or herself.
Again, it all could be just as everyone says it, but there’s no way to be certain.  And that’s the problem: taking something that could be looked at as “hey, that’s an interesting possibility” and magically transforming it to a proven certainty that we use to assert Biblical egalitarianism is just downright dishonest.

#2 — Our Completely Made-up, Damage-Control Narrative about Corinth.

ancient-corinth-archaiaMy other pet peeve is that the women of Corinth have become legendary, mythological even, and not in a good way.   Somewhere along the line people started hypothesizing about the “situation that existed in Corinth” among women as a rationale for Paul saying in Chapter 14 that women needed to be silent – and these theories got repeated so often that most of the evangelical church seems to now accepts these ideas as substantiated fact – when they are anything but that.

When I talked about this on my Facebook wall, comments came in from all over the spectrum of this speculative narrative, while not a single commentator seemed to be able to acknowledge that there wasn’t any historical evidence that this narrative was in fact, true, or historically based in any explicit way anywhere, and moreover these narratives remain at best inherently illogical and yet at worst still extremely derogatory to the female gender.   It seems that the evangelical church’s attempt to create explanations for why Paul instructed what he did about women being silent in Corinth has resulted in a sort of corporate-level inability to remember that these explanations were “created” rather than attested in some historical source.   There isn’t just one narrative, either, but the main ones I am talking about and view as mostly Christian urban legend are as follows:

a) Women in Corinth were unlearned, aggressive, “out-of-order” women who needed to be silenced from asking all sorts of unlearned questions. 

b) Corinth had a female diety and temple prostitutes and because of this, the women in Corinth had to be silent because if they spoke, it might lead people falling back into goddess worship or somehow associate Christian meetings with idolatry.

c) The first century Corinthian church meetings were based on the format of the synagogue, and as such women sat divided from men on an opposite side of the room, and thus asking questions had the women yelling across an aisle at the men which was very unseemly and disorderly and needed to be stopped.

At any rate, there is always this attempt to make it sound as if there was a particular “issue” in Corinth that necessitated the silencing of women on a level that would not be viewed as normative to the body of Christ as a whole, and certainly not today, but was an isolated issue for Corinth in view of the particular crisis being created there.

Here are some of the very real problems with this:

— Many of the first believers in any city in the Roman Empire were slaves.   Even among those who weren’t, there would be little to no reason to assume average men in the church had any higher level of education than women, so the “unlearned women” argument falls flat.   Moreover, if the issue is discussing the Hebrew Scriptures, gentile men could be expected to be just as ignorant as gentile women about matters of Hebrew scripture.

— There is no basis, either in the Biblical text of 1 Corinthians, or in any other testimony of history, to think that women in Corinth had any “aggressive demeanor” that needed aggressive remedy.   Paul does not say that the women of Corinth were unruly, aggressive, or in any way out of order other than implying that their mere voice qualified as such.   Paul in fact writes simply that women speaking in church, irrespective of any other explanation, is “shameful” or “disgraceful” assumeably merely because it is a woman who is speaking.   (See 1 Cor 14:35)

7005113_orig— Meetings in Corinth, based on chapters 11 through 14, were entirely different from synagogue meetings.  For one, they were home meetings, structured around a shared meal (see 1 Cor 11.)   It is hard to imagine that an “aisle” was present in a home going through the dinner table.  The meetings also allowed women to speak if the woman was “praying” or “prophesying” so, for some reason this was not an issue to the orderliness of the meeting despite whatever setup was present — but a woman “speaking [on a topic]” or “asking questions” was suddenly going to create a problem of order in the room?

— Many other cities were much more known for their temples and female deities than Corinth.  (See this excellent write-up on temple prostitution in Ephesus and Corinth here.) Ephesus is one; yet Paul does not include instructions for women to be silent in Ephesus.   Moreover, many cities in the Roman empire had temples to male deities, and where temple prostitution did exist (however rarely), prostitutes sometimes were male as well.   Yet there is never a “situation” conjectured about a city that Paul needed to silence the men in order to protect from the appearance of pagan worship practices.

All of this is a side issue to the main reason I’m writing this blog post anyway.   That is, that, if women are to be silenced for any of the many varied reasons above – whether it be because they are considered “unlearned” or because there was female prostitution in their city or because there was an aisle that separated them from the men or they were considered in some other way “out of order”— if the answer is to silence an entire gender for one of these supposed justifications, we really haven’t gotten around the basic gender inequality we’re trying to rationalize Paul out of to begin with.

You can’t justify Paul’s instructions with any of these explanations and still come out of it considering yourself to have upheld women as equal to men.  Instead, you’ve simply participated in some more complex version of sidelining women, a more smooth and supposedly palatable version of gender disempowerment and disgrace, so why not just skip the gymnastics and simply agreeing with Paul on face value that women are a disgrace when they speak in church to begin with?  After all, not one of these explanations keeps us from getting back to that same basic level of inequality by the time we’re really done defending one of them.

1147px-Pompeii_family_feast_painting_NaplesReal egalitarianism just can’t support any reasoning Paul might have had here to tell women to go “ask their husbands at home.”  And it can’t justify his solution to whatever Corinth’s “problem” was — if indeed Corinth even had a problem specifically about women to begin with — other than to say that Paul might be excused as a product not of whatever issues one might find in Corinthian culture, but as a product of his own patriarchical Jewish culture or even his culture as a Roman citizen.   After all, Paul does fall back on what the “law” also says, appealing to the basic code of some culture of his (whether he is talking about Jewish law or maybe even Roman law, no one seems to definitively know.)   One can scour the entire corpus of the Jewish Bible and never find a law that forbids women from speaking, but rabbinical law written down a few centuries later is full of that mindset.   So what gives, what exactly was Paul falling back on anyway?

Maybe it’s not Paul at all.   Adding this to equalize the “unproven but possible” theories on this matter, there is a lot of discussion to be had about Paul’s silencing verses in 1 Corinthians 14 and whether or not they belong where they are positioned in the text (thus slightly changing the overall meaning) or whether they are original to the text at all.   (Start your research here.) This would help make sense out of how Paul could give instructions for women praying and prophesying (which, after all, is a form of speaking) in 1 Corinthians 11 and then suddenly be commanding total silence three chapters later.

Perhaps.

My final conclusion?   Surprise! — I don’t know!  I lean this way or that, expressing my sentiments almost as a statistician in terms of probabilities and possibilities, and heck, potentialities.  But I’d rather admit I don’t know than make up an explanation with little to no actual historical basis or something that just sinks women in a backhanded way anyway.   It’s ok not to be certain of everything or have an answer to everything.  It’s enough for me to know that both the Old and the New Testaments have examples (Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, the women at the tomb)  that women can minister in the Spirit and minister to men.   My egalitarianism hangs out there.   And of course, in Christ there is no male nor female.

But as long as I’m rooting any of my justifications on Biblical text, I must grapple one way or another with the honest fact that in both 1 Corinthians and 2nd Timothy, women are placed subserviently to men — and for me this also means that I’m not completely certain of egalitarianism in all ways at all times.   If anything seems reasonable to me, it is that there is a rich symbolism in the dance of male and female motifs and figures in scripture and if nothing else, there are spiritual counterparts (such as the subservience of the Bride of Christ to her Head, Jesus) that need some sort of enacting at times.  Thus my sometimes “soft complementarianism”.

But a nice, neat, dismissable, “wrapping it all up with an easy explanation” I can not give you or myself.  I don’t need others to manufacture weird explanations justification to give me that either.  Let’s be honest scholars friends.

–Heather, All Things Are Yours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Danger of Israel Utopianism

As a Jew, I love Israel.   There’s no way around that.  In fourth grade I remember being assigned to write a report on any country in the world, and it was a complete no-brainer as to which country my report would be about.   With great pride I decorated the blue-and-white report cover with the Israeli flag.   Although seemingly irrelevant, I sprinkled some family recipes for things like matzo ball soup into the report, although now I see that the ethnic pride in recipes and that nationalistic pride in my peoples’ country really are not that far apart.

Years later, I’d get to take my first trip to Israel, and tour dozens of ancient Biblical archaeological sites.   And where our Israeli tour guide could not take our group, but instead handed us off to a Palestinian tour guide, we also got to tour the ancient sites of the West Bank.    As I came to realize how many places in my peoples’ history and my Bible were not under Jewish ownership but instead Palestinian, I started to realize that this did not sit well with my fantasies of what the “Jewish homeland” should be.    My inner child wanted a complete restoration of what once was – I was living a fantasy of having walked back through the pages of the Bible, into the land of my Fathers and Mothers and into the “Kingdom of Israel” — with King David or Solomon, take your pick, ruling from Jerusalem, the Shekinah glory of God sitting on the Temple Mount in the Jewish temple, and every ancient parcel of land firmly a land for me, for us, the Jews.

It would be so neat and tidy if it were like this.   Dare I admit that while I wouldn’t have let myself think such a thought with conscious intentionality — I started having a secret wish that the whole thing would blow up, and that Israel would have an excuse to destroy the Dome of the Rock, and that some war would break out allowing armies to wipe away the Palestinians by the millions, allowing there to finally be peace in the region because, well, there’d only be Israel and no more Palestine to wrangle with.

Of course, the Palestinians have their own fantasy that works a lot like this, but in reverse.   In their daydream, they rise up and push Israel into the sea.   Thus there is peace in the region because there’d be no more Israel.   It’s funny how dreams for peace tend to take on a tone of ethnic cleansing and ethnic Utopianism.

Of course all of this comes from a dream of what once was – the dream of returning to a time when one ethnic group had a golden era in the land.   I want to have my peoples’ golden era back.   I want to walk into the pages of my ancient storybook and have that world again.   The Palestinians are an uncomfortable inconvenience.

But this is my fourth grade Utopian dreamer self musing.   My adult self can dream of peace that doesn’t put my collective ethnic self quite as much in the center of it all.   My people don’t need to have a land that has the exact same borders they had 3000 years ago.   I can dream of Isaac and Ishmael dwelling together again as one family, or at least learning how to have their respective tents side by side, even as much as Martin Luther King, Jr. could have a dream of black and white kids holding hands in America.

 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people,Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”  – Isaiah 19, ESV

The first time I ever read Isaiah 19, tears went streaming unbidden down my face as I realized that God didn’t just love Israel and He didn’t just love Jews.   He didn’t even always have Jews first – so much for all that I thought being the “chosen people” was about.   It was not an affront to see this – it was a relief.   It meant I could have new fantasies – fantasies where loving Palestinians, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis – was somehow in the center of God’s plan, not peripheral to it.   It meant I could care about what it meant to be a Palestinian, and what it meant to be Arab, and what it meant to be living as the unwanted party in the middle of the Jewish hopes for a restored homeland.

My adult fantasy might have about as much realism as my fourth grade Utopian fantasy.   The Palestinians, Arabs, and the Jews might never get along, but at least this dream of finding a way to share the land doesn’t inflame tensions in the region and make things worse.    My fourth grade ethnic pride admittedly got really excited to know that Trump proclaimed Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel; some part of me hoped as many of my evangelical friends proclaimed that, “God was working something out here despite how insane Trump is to do this.”   It’s a dark fantasy – the fantasy that diplomacy is unneeded, that Jerusalem is the Jews’ merely by history and divine right, despite any developments or changes that may have occurred over the past 2000 years, and despite the history of any other people that could now also have a stake in the matter.

We can brush away those “other people” with a mere return to what once was, we wish inwardly. By reading history from 3 and 4 thousand years ago in a sacred book, we can brush those people away by pointing to prophesies about the Jews’ return from Babylonian exile and rework them so they are talking about today.   We can brush away the Palestinians because there’s no room for them in our narrative, they aren’t in our Utopian dreams, they don’t get us excited about the Bible coming to life in front of us the way a conquering, abiding, reigning Jewish presence in the Holy land does.   They don’t fit in our ideas of God’s covenant with Abraham, so we can brush these people away theologically. And if we brush them away enough in our fantasies and musings, we can brush them away in the types of political solutions we applaud and get excited about.   To the point where our dark fantasy selves will even applaud at brutal, blood-filled military efforts to brush them away should any sort of provocation or incident give us room to happily justify it.

What then is eschatology?   Eschatology becomes the working out of our Utopian desires to walk into the Biblical world from the past in some promise of the past becoming the future – but even better.   In clinging to eschatology, we give ourselves permission to rejoice in other people being marginalized, removed, or destroyed for our personal fantasy of what the future should hold.   It’s a glorious future, no doubt, one in which we imagine God and His Messiah receiving all sorts of glory for elevating people who come from the storybook fantasy and return it to that storybook ideal – while destroying all the people who weren’t written into the story we want to see enacted.

Or we can dream different dreams, and hold to different goals.   If we want to walk into the pages of Scripture, we can dream of God once again showing up differently than religious expectations cast Him, as He always does when He shows up.  We can dream of Arab muslims adoring Isa (their word for Jesus), of Jews being excited over Yeshua (Jesus again) and of the Christian Arabs who are already there (or need to be more) being reawakened – and supernatural love flowing among all of them – and all of us, whoever we are – in new, non-politically defined ways.   We can even revisit our eschatology and see if there might be room in it for the past 2000 years of Palestinian history and life in the region to be included as a God-thing.   Maybe.

All this to say – if your fantasy is for a perfect Israeli gestalt end to all this, I get it.  I really do.  I just know how dangerous it is for me to live in that mindset, and how impossible it is to be able to love this other tribe of Abraham and value them while my fantasies for a perfect Jewish world would be held out as some idyllic dream on God’s heart – and I hope to warn you too.

 

For further reading:

http://krisvallotton.com/my-8-eschatological-core-values/

 

 

 

My Problem with Christian Dating

Beckie Lindsey.com

christian-dating1

My Problem with Christian Dating

By: Emily Susanne. Originally published on fearfullywonderfullyme.com

Okay, normally I try not to rant on here, but I’ve recently read something that made me lose it.

It was midnight, and I was looking online for devotions for dating couples. And then somehow I stumbled upon some forum post from a Christian girl saying she refused to do devotionals with a boyfriend because she wanted to guard her heart.

Yup. She said even praying together was too intimate–more than sex!

I’m not trying to judge this person, as we all have different convictions. And she did have some good points about making sure people are solid in their faith personally before entering a relationship.

The real problem I’m having is that I see this type of thinking in a lot of Christian relationships.

Guard your heart. Protect yourself. No intimacy of any kind.

No vulnerability.

Why…

View original post 545 more words

Gideon and the Scientific Method

Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said,  behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.  Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.”  And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.  – Judges 6:36-40


Young Earth Creationists often criticize the theory of evolution saying basically that the scientific method requires that science must be observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable, and since no one can go back and watch all of Earth’s creatures evolving all over again, evolution cannot be scientifically valid.

But the story of Gideon asks some questions about the nature of Divine Revelation in return.    Gideon existed long before the “scientific method” was formalized into any known texts of the Near East or western civilization, but his logic as he approached God for confirmation of divine revelation showed that he had at least a rudimentary appreciation for some of the logical elements used by scientists today – namely, the concept of a “control” – an area of the experiment in which no variable is being tested, and nothing is expected to change in the course of the experiment.

Gideon’s “control” the first time he conducted his experiment, was the ground around the fleece – he asks for the fleece to be wet, thus the “control” – the ground the fleece is in contact with, needed to be dry.   He then repeats the experiment, but this time asks for the ground to be wet, and the fleece serves as the control – it ought to remain dry.

While there are flaws in his experiment from a modern standpoint, the attempt at using an experimental portion in contrast to a control portion in this experiment, is an extremely scientific way for Gideon to attempt to verify what he believes God has spoken to him.

Thus, the question:   Does the theory of evolution provide for predictions to be made, and experiments to be made, that would be true if the theory is true?  If there is no way to go back and test the evolution of all life on earth directly, by having it happen all over again while an observer observes, can we set up OTHER experiments and make other predictions that are congruent with things we would expect to find if evolution is true?   Almost the entire scientific community on the planet would say yes, and thousands and thousands of experiments and predictions have been confirmed since the theory was first imagined.

But it doesn’t end there.   Just as we can’t go back and watch evolution unfold across the millenia, we can’t go back and watch to see if God really created everything in 6 days about 6000 years ago, either.   Gideon’s “scientific testing of God’s word” sets up the idea that Divine Revelation is not immune from being tested; that God Himself is willing to participate in appropriately designed experiments that confirm whether or not He is being heard and understood correctly.

Therefore I would submit several ideas:

1 – the same predictions and experiments across the global scientific community that test the hypothesis of evolutionary theory and all its attached ideas, are simultaneously testing our understanding of how to read, understand, and believe the Divine Revelation in Genesis 1.   New “fleeces” do not need to be invented; humanity has been putting them out everyday.

2 – It is not only the theory of evolution that is worth testing; a literal historical reading of Genesis is also worth testing.   Gideon tested to make sure he both had and understood Divine Revelation correctly – so should we.   If, no matter how many experiments and predictions scientists made, nothing seemed to line up with that predicted by evolutionary theory, then a serious crisis would exist for evolution but not for young earth creationism.   But since it is the other way, it is young earth creationism that must be the misunderstanding or misapprehending of Divine Revelation, not the other way around.

3 – It is not appropriate to test evolution using supernatural tests, as evolution is not a supernatural theory.   Thus, “make the ground wet while the fleece is dry” is not an appropriate test for evolution.  Make the ground wet while the fleece is dry, and make the fleece wet while the ground is dry” was not a test Gideon was making to test natural law, but to test to see if something supernatural would happen in the natural realm to confirm his understanding of God’s word, a word promising supernatural assistance that would change the natural realm.   


4 – Testing God is authorized in scripture.   (Malachi 3:10) It is often confused however with Jesus saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”   There is a difference between testing, confirming what has been spoken, and testing the spirits of a word, and “putting God to the test.”  Putting God to the test has to do with sinning and pitting a promise of God against a sin.  Thus, Jesus throwing himself down from the temple (committing suicide, a sin) being pitted against his word to uphold Jesus from dashing his foot against a stone, would be an attempt to tempt God to affirm sin.   This was what Jesus was against.

In short, it is laughable for Young Earth Creationists to insist evolution cannot be valid because…science…..while insisting their reading of Genesis is valid because….divine revelation…..especially when divine revelation itself, in the example of Gideon, says that even Divine Revelation can be tested.   The important thing is having the right test for the job.   When scores of tests everyday are already done on evolutionary theory as a natural theory and it stands strong using natural means, the scientific evidence points to evolution.   

For a more in-depth discussion of Gideon’s fleece and science, check out this cool article I found:
http://knowledge.e.southern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=jbffl

Reframing the Debates about Hell

Hippie Heretic’s blog post on reframing the raging hell debates is so amazing and such out of the box thinking on the topic, that I have posted it to discussion threads over, and over, and over.     So many times, in fact,  that I think a reblog is in order.  So here I post it to keep it in my archives forever, and ever.  Or was that only temporarily?  And am I posting this to help you or punish you?  Read the blog to get my jest. 🙂

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hippieheretic/2016/02/25-views-on-hell-2-questions-to-reframe.html

Evangelism and Genuinely Liking People

Forget apologetics.   Forget signs and wonders.   If you really want to excel at evangelism, there is one golden key worth more than all the others – LIKE the people you are reaching out to with Jesus.   Since we often get really messed up with doublespeak when we talk about what it means to “love”, I’d like to submit that the real issue is whether or not we LIKE “them.”   In general*, we can’t bring people to Jesus that we don’t like.

What is evangelism, first of all?

A student of Greek will quickly explain that evangelism involves sharing good news, being an ambassador, etc etc.   And that’s all good and true.  Evangelism is part of our kingdom role of being priests and kings.   Malachi talks about one of the jobs of a priest:

“True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7“For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 2:6-7)

Sharing the knowledge of God both with believers and nonbelievers is incredibly important and is our honored role in the Kingdom.   I’ve heard people often quote, St. Francis in saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.”  But the reality is that words will always be necessary.   We are to help people UNDERSTAND things about God, and share knowledge.

BUT –  if our view of evangelism is just about TELLING people something, shoving a sign or a track or a well-rehearsed message at someone, I don’t think we’re going to get very far with real humans with that approach.   At least, I never saw much come of my own efforts at evangelism when I approached people with that mindset.  Evangelicalism for a long time has I think based much of its lifeless attempts at sharing the good news with people on a misapplication of one verse:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”Isaiah 55:11

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 11.44.25 AMThis verse is often used to justify completely violating or at completely impersonal attempts at sharing Christ with people.   Under this mindset, all that matters is making people hear words.   It doesn’t matter if the message comes to them in any real understandable form, or if it has any personal connection to them… simply shouting at them is good enough, for God will make any words we shove at them “not return void.”   Though an explanation of why that’s a bad way to read that verse is well beyond the scope of this blog post, that’s not what this verse meant when it was written, and I don’t think its what it means for us today.

LEARNING A DIFFERENT WAY

My relationship with being an emissary of the gospel really started to change a few decades back when I stopped trying to be a “good witness”  (which is evangelicalism-speak for “hiding all your sins and faults from nonbelievers in order to supposedly attract them with the perfection of your life now that you are a believer in Jesus”) and instead let a non-Christian friend see me “for real,” as I shared with him the depths of the depression I was in, as well as my intense struggles with God at that time.   When he suddenly up and decided that Christ was real and he wanted in on the Kingdom when I was contemplating how best to hurt myself, I started realizing that my first “convert” was teaching me something about how Christ makes Himself known to people – and it wasn’t by me being fake and seemingly having it all together in front of non-believers.

I also started learning that it wasn’t about shoving impersonal sentences at people that supposedly were “the Word of God that won’t return void” to them.   Some wise person shared with me that every person in existence is already in a relationship with God, and that He has been dancing with them their entire lives, carefully cultivating a conversation with them.   I started to understand that my job as an evangelist was not to plod on into that conversation like a bull in a China shop, but to respect it – and to learn to peer into how God has already been engaging with that person, and that person with God – and to enter appropriately into THAT conversation.   children-1426769_640Just as the Holy Spirit is one who “comes alongside and helps” I started to see my job as a colaborer with Christ by the Holy Spirit, agreeing with the Holy Spirit in coming alongside a person being drawn to Christ, rather than coming at them.  Good evangelism is midwifery, and while some babies are born on their own, much of the time someone helps the baby along.

But how does one come “alongside” the process, already in progress, of the Father drawing someone to His Son Jesus?  This is where I would say that there is no replacement for GENUINELY LIKING the people one is trying to reach.

Liking People is the Opposite of Alienating Them

It’s almost too obvious to write about, but people don’t generally want to hear what someone has to say when they sense hostility coming at them from the speaker.  Instead, most humans put up walls, and get defensive.   This is why standing on a street corner holding a sign and shouting, “The end is near!  Repent or burn!” is probably one of the worst images that our society has of Christians…and of evangelism.   It would take an extraordinarily humble person to want to subject themselves to learning from someone who approaches them full of condemnation and hostility.

wall-1436752_640But an even more subtle form of hostility that Christians present to nonbelievers comes from an “us/them” perspective.  If we walk into a relationship with an us/them mindset means it we carry a type of “alienation” to the relationship with nonbelievers before we’ve even started.  It puts a wall up between oneself and one’s target or uh, “victim” because us/them is a form of alienation already in play.  Most of us have experienced this: when you have an “us/them” perspective in your approach to someone, they will feel like a project to you – and the person will eventually sense they are a project in the evangelist’s eyes as well.    If you manage to convince the person that being a project is ideal, and a spiritual thing, then you might be able to bring them to the point of becoming your disciple where the project mentality can continue even past the point of their conversion.   But generally people feel a bit creeped out at being someone’s project.

Incarnation

Ideally, evangelism should be “incarnational.”    Incarnational has at times been a Christian buzzword, but it’s a good one.   It means that neither of these two above things are in play – there is no hostility, and there is no us/them mentality.   “Incarnational” describes what God did when He put on human flesh and became one of us.   It sparkles; there is a closeness about it, a warmth where the one who is incarnated is identifiable and now as one of those he or she has now become.  They are tangible and relatable as “one of us” now to the culture they have stepped into.  In fact, we don’t just share a message, we become the message, as the apostle Paul wrote:

“It is clear that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…”  2 Cor 3:3

In order to BE the letter, we need to be able to be known, to be seen.   This is true even with all our messiness; the point is that as we relate to God and He relates to us, our history with Him marks us and writes something into our souls.   And this is available for those we walk with to read.  This is Christ incarnated into us, even as we are incarnated into someone else’s world.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 12.03.50 PMBut uniquely, all the gifts and beauty of the realm from which the incarnated one has come are brought into the realm of the society and reality in which she or he is now involved…and those gifts are offered for the taking in a very personal, connected way.   Someone who is incarnated brings their pre-incarnated identity into their incarnation.   But incarnation is a position “in the middle” of where they are coming from and what they are stepping into; for the person who has been incarnated takes on the identity of the people he or she steps into to become, as well as the flavor, the struggles, the atmosphere and rhythm and likeness of them as well.

INCARNATION SETS US UP FOR CONNECTED SYMPATHY

As all of humanity was made in God’s image, it was because He wrote, as it were, a prophecy in human flesh of Himself which was waiting for fulfillment: we were made in His image, so that at the right time, He could come to us in our own image.    And thus He did.  And there were many reasons for this, many specific benefits and necessities, one of which was so He would know what is like to be us….so that He could fully relate to who we are and what we go through.

The writer of Hebrews captures this in Hebrews 4:15 –
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.”

And this is INTENSELY important.   It brings us back to my opening point about LIKING those we want to reach.   For too many years the type of Christianity I was in treated Christians as “real” people while nonbelievers weren’t worth really knowing or being friends with.   They were simply objects to be captured.   But as I kept trying to keep in step with the Spirit and how He was moving in someone’s heart and life, I found those people becoming real to me in a way that makes me now ashamed to admit how I treated people as evangelistic objects.   When we like someone, we get to see them as a real person, valuable and truly worth being connected to, and having real friendship with.   And we find ways to sympathize with what they are going through.   If we can’t sympathize with the things keeping someone from seeing Christ clearly, we’re not going to reach them very easily.   Examples:

ATHEISTS

flat-earth-1054350_640
There was a time when “the four corners of the Earth” was taken literally by the church (in fact, some people still take it literally.)

I love to reach agnostics and atheists.  Why?   Because I genuinely ENJOY atheists and agnostics.   I tend to think of atheists as one of God’s gifts to the church.   When the church tries to make theology that is inhumane, or nonsensical, sometimes it takes a bunch of atheists to bring us to our senses.   This doesn’t mean that every criticism or critique a nonbeliever makes will turn out to be valid.   But I love the fact that these guys challenge us when we get too lost in the clouds with stuff that just doesn’t make sense.

I also can relate really well to these folks because I know what it is like to be unable to believe in something, even when I wanted to.  My own testimony involved coming from a place of unbelief, struggling really hard to find out if there was “anything out there” and having a really hard time taking a leap of faith to find out.   Some Christians would never believe how many atheists and agnostics have told me they really WISH they could believe in something – or that if “Someone” were there, they really wish they could know that.  And especially for those folks, I get it.

And when I hear people bash atheists as if they are somehow deliberately in rebellion against God, that there is something ugly and hateful about someone honest enough about their doubts as to say, “I don’t know if God is real” or, “I’m pretty sure he isn’t there”, it really upsets me.   I would rush to most atheists defense in a moment, because many of them are intensely truth-hungry people that I just want to help them find how to truly find Him, and the army of rancorous Christians shouting at them about how horrid they supposedly are sure doesn’t help.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 11.15.48 AMYou’re not going to win an atheist or agnostic to Christ by telling them that God doesn’t care about how they try to be a moral person; they were never being moral for the sake of God anyway.   You’re not going to draw them in by telling them by telling them that without God they have no basis for ethics or morality, because they know you’re wrong.  Quoting at them from a completely different context out of the book of psalms the verse, “The fool says in his heart there is no God,” just affirms to them that you hate them, that you call them a fool, and you’re quoting at them from a book they can’t relate to anyway. Again, all you’re doing is putting up that wall of alienation and hostility for them that Christ died to take down.   And that is the opposite of the incarnation.  And besides, Jesus gave dire warnings about calling someone a fool.

We can win atheists and agnostics to Christ by putting ourselves in their shoes, being honest with ourselves about our own doubts and difficulties at times walking in faith.   We empathize with them by being a real friend and letting them see our real struggles – and victories – with Christ.   We sympathize with them by walking with them through their questions about God, being honest about not having all the answers for them, while appreciating these people for who they are and what they bring into our lives, and how God is using them before they even know Him.    We show Him to them by just being who you are in a real way, talking about Him and His truth in authentic contextual ways that are real to our lives, and giving them all the room in the world to do the same – knowing that a real God is lighting the way forward for you and them together to figure it out.

MUSLIMS
quran-1719546_640One of the surest ways NOT to draw Muslims to Christ is to have all sorts of ideas about them.   I continually run across evangelicals that think they’ve got the “Muslim thing” figured out because they’ve learned about a half dozen ugly statements from the Koran about hating infidels or something.  They also tend to approach those verses in the Koran the way Christians approach their own Bibles – not realizing that Muslims may have their own reasons for approaching those texts differently (just as Christians have their own reasons for approaching Deuteronomy differently than nonbelievers often assume they do.)   But none of that really is the point anyway – you can’t learn a culture just by studying some of its documents ; you learn a culture by hanging out with people.

You can read the Koran from cover to cover 1000 times and still understand next to nothing about muslims, because to some degree, it doesn’t matter what a holy book says – it matters how the people who believe in it interpret it and live it out (or don’t live it out.)  There are many, many cultural things that affect how any particular Muslim will view themselves as a Muslim, and view the teachings of the Koran.  There are various nationalities, various sects in those nationalities, various levels of commitment, various understandings of how to interpret the Koran, and there is folk Islam with its own sets of beliefs.   There are militant Muslims, there are devout yet peaceful Muslims, there are disinterested Muslims and disaffected Muslims.   And just as there are many different cultures of Christians (nominal Catholics, Bible banging Baptists, serious Catholics, liberal Baptists) there are many many different categories, movements, and personalities of Muslims.

But no matter what, one can’t LIKE a Muslim without hanging out with him or her and really getting to know them.  As long as Christians regard Muslims as “the enemy” rather than approaching them as their next best friend, one will never have the privilege of getting to be part of their Islamic friends’ exploration of their own prophet, Isa (Jesus).

kid-1077793_640But this requires learning to LIKE Muslims.   I have found that practicing Muslims are inspiring in their adoration and love for God.  Their reverence and awe for Him are beautiful, the way they seek to involve Allah (and even Christian Arabs call God, Allah) in everyday life puts many Christians to shame.   One thing that seems to be fairly universal however is the importance placed on hospitality; if you can let yourself be invited in, the value of hospitality in this culture in many cases completely transcends any anti-Christian sentiment you might fear your Muslim friend might hold towards you.   Muslims tend to value their guests very highly, and its a great way to get to know them and learn all the things there are to like about them.

And as far as sympathizing goes; I know what it is like to have a works’ mindset in approaching God, and I think many Christians have at some point in their relationship with God a similar experience from which to relate to Muslim religious experience.   Instead of judging devout Muslims for approaching God with a works mindset, I find myself being reminded of how I’ve struggled with the same thing, both before and after knowing Christ.   And many Muslims are not necessarily even approaching God that way either – it’s important to get to know what is actually going on in the lives of one’s friends.

On the flip side, I’ve met young Muslims so in rebellion against the teaching of their parents that they were taking steps with their lives that the God who cares for them would not want them to take.   Sometimes sharing my own sins and stupid decisions and how “Allah knows best” (Allah is just the Arabic word for God) is the best way I know how to help a Muslim-culture friend care about knowing God – and Jesus – when everything about God seems irrelevant to them.

WHOEVER IT IS, LIKE THEM

The main point is, we will be most effective with the people we like enough to truly relate to them, and probably be completely ineffective with people who we are only sharing Christ with as some sort of a duty, or some sort of niche on our Christian-y belts.   I’m also not writing this to give folks an excuse to shrug off reaching out to people they don’t LIKE or don’t GET.     But instead, I’m writing this as an encouragement and a challenge to the church to stop making ourselves “feel good” by how we can look down on those “foolish, God-hating Atheists”, or those “evil satanic Muslims.”

Joshua and Caleb set themselves apart from the other men who “spied out the land” of Canaan because they liked the land they saw, and they thought it was a good land that God was ready to give them.   The other spies looked at the land as being too full of strongholds for their trouble.   Likewise, do we approach people like they are cherished and beloved by God, and that the things keeping them from Christ are not that big of a deal?  Do we find them delightful and enjoyable and know they are a hair’s breadth away from the Kingdom, and that God is near them?  Or do we put up walls of fear and hostility that just don’t need to be there, which alienate us from them and them from us, ultimately cutting us off from our inheritance and the blessing of walking in Kingdom relationship with them?

We’re called like Jesus to love and serve people, and one of the biggest differences from serving someone from a place of superiority verses authentic incarnationality comes down to one thing: Do we authentically like them?  If not, I do think it’s worth asking God to show us how.

 

* Footnote from first paragraph:   I say, “in general” because, heck, God can do anything and when God is really moving in someone’s life, they may not need much human involvement at all – whether you or I hate them or like them may be completely immaterial.   But in most cases, we’re talking about the actual action of evangelism here, where we are the tour guides taking someone by the hand and showing them all the sights along the way and leading up to an encounter with the cross and the resurrected Christ.)

 

 

What Does it Mean to be “In the Image of God?”

When the topic of evolution and the Bible is brought up, one of the many concerns people have is how that fits with humans being “in the image of God.”   But before we can go there, we have to address the underlying question:  What does it mean to be “in the image of God” anyway?

For years and years and in different movements and corners of the body of Christ, I have heard this question asked and answered in many different ways.   Let’s look at some of the ideas I have heard, and then I’ll share what I believe Genesis implies about the topic.

Theory A:  God is three parts, and so are we
In the charismatic church, many leaders and teachers put emphasis on teaching about the Tripartite (three-fold) nature of humans.    This comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where people are refered to as being “Spirit, Soul, and Body” – as well as other scriptures alluding to this metaphysical anatomy.    I also believe humans are tripartite, and I did a whole investigation of the topic here.

So, in many areas of the charismatic church, I have heard it taught that humans being composed of three parts is what it means for us to be “made in the image of God.”

While this three-ness is indeed a similarity between humanity and God, I don’t think it actually is a good identification of what Genesis is implying when it first mentions humans are made in God’s image.   There’s nothing in the immediate context of the passage to suggest three-in-one is the main point of being made in God’s image, nor is there anything about being three-in-one in any other verse about being in the likeness of God in the rest of the Bible.   So to make this the main point of “being made in the image of God” is maybe as a conjecture and musing based on disconnected scriptural ideas, but I’m not sure it’s really the best case in the context of the passages where the actual ideas of “the likeness of God” are presented.   If there were nothing else to go on, I’d say its workable and there’s nothing specifically wrong with it – other than that it tends to overshadow the obvious and immediate meanings which I’ll get to later.

But the other problem with it as the dominant theory on Imago Dei (the image of God) being specifically about being in “three parts” is that this setup is not exclusive to humans.   Animals are also repeatedly referred to in the Bible as being “souls” (although English translations tend to obscure this badly; do a study on the Hebrew word nephesh for more clarity) and obviously they have bodies, and less often (sparsely, but it is there) they are referred to as having spirits.   So if animals are three-part beings too, it might bode well for discussing the implications and validity of evolution in theological circles, but it still doesn’t help arrive at what this unique, “being in the image of God” thing is that is supposed to be a specifically human thing.

Leaving my charismatic brethren, we’ll go to a theory I hear often from mainline and non-charismatic evangelical Christians:

 

Theory B: God is a moral agent, and So Are We

I don’t know what the hangup is …or love affair…that the church has with God and morality, as if the be-all of God and man is morality, but here it shows up again in this theory.   (I’ve written before of how I think it’s an unfortunately bad apologetic to try to “prove” God with the “morality exists, therefore a moral God must exist” line – see here, but this seems another symptom of the same obsession.)  While the entire gospel is about how we fail so desperately in terms of moral righteousness and that grace is the answer to it all, we still hang on to thinking morality is the highest aspect of humanity.  Our obsession with morality is right up there with why we as the church often seem to think the Ten Commandments needs to be displayed on secular government property, but I digress.   From here we tend to go to arguments and discussions about whether or not animals can display true empathy, or morality, with some presenting arguments that actually seem to be “yes” to some degree or another, while others hold out saying those animals don’t quite meet the human standard (obviously, as they are not human.)  But this is probably all very unnecessary.

Surely God is really into fairness and justice, truth, law-giving, and most specifically keeping His own oaths, but you’d be hard pressed to define Him as specifically “moral” by any usual definition of the word (that might be a topic for another day.)  But if you want to use the word “moral” to describe God, you’d have to note that the God of the Old Testament assumes all rights to transcend human morality and stand somewhat over and above it.   At any rate, we’ll save all those moral questions and debates about God for another day but….

Let’s just note that in Genesis, the promise of “knowing good from evil” is not something that Adam and Eve were endowed with as part of being “made in God’s image.”  Instead, the ability to become moral agents was something that another being, other than God, first offered Adam and Eve AFTER they were designed and created.   (Until then, humanity’s only morality was to do as God says and not do as God forbids, rather than figuring out good and evil for themselves.)

Why then, “being able to make moral decisions” would therefore be considered as what it means to be made in the image of God is beyond me, as the very concept seems uncannily like a repetition of the very lie that satan offered to Eve, “You shall be like God, knowing good from evil.”  While perhaps this is a type of “being like God” – it does not seem to have been the specific likeness of Himself that God was aiming for during the creation of humans in Genesis, but rather a similarity to God perhaps that came later as an add-on via the forbidden fruit, after the fact.  At any rate, to view humans as “moral like God”  seems almost like a Deist perspective to me, or perhaps a hangover from the enlightenment period’s humanist view of humankind.

 

Theory C: God has arms and legs and stuff, so, so do we
I’m not sure this theory is worth covering but since I’ve heard and read people arguing for it, it doesn’t hurt I guess to mention it.   Most folks read the Bible and when it speaks of God having hands or nostrils or whatever normally “human” body parts may be ascribed to Him, they see this as anthropomorphism.  But that wouldn’t be everyone’s viewpoint.   Instead, some folks see physical attributes of humans being a reflection of some sort of metaphysical anatomy that God has.  Ok, sure, why not?   I can’t say for sure what “shape” God’s spiritual form takes.  But still, I don’t think this is what Genesis is aiming at when it talks about male and female being made in God’s image. Why not?

(Because in my opinion,)

Genesis actually makes it fairly clear what it means to be “made in God’s image” right in the context of the first mention of the notion.

So here’s theory D:
Being made in God’s image means taking dominion over the Earth.

Ok, I can see why this theory isn’t particularly attractive.   After all, the word “dominion” generally isn’t a very nice sounding word unless you’re playing a first person shooter video game or something.  And that’s just it: the dominion mandate in Genesis has to be one of the most abused concepts in all of Christianity.   Sinful humanity, and particularly religiously sinful humanity, has a way of really messing up anytime it has rights to power.

But that’s what’s there in Genesis:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28 RSV

God is the ruler of the universe, the head honcho, the one who is greater than all of creation, and he makes humans – to be His representatives on the Earth.   They are the top of the food chain…errr…wait, that’s not what I meant – but they are the leaders of all the animal kingdom and all the created realm, as an echo (or image) of God’s leadership.

Adam is made both high priest and high king in Eden, along with his bride Eve.   Together they are going to rule the galaxy (or small patch of Earth…whatever people knew about at that point in time.)  In short, Adam and Eve are proxies – God’s government on Earth.  (At least pictured so before the “fall.”)

And there are extensions of this.   Jonathan David and Melissa Helser come to mind as they have an entire ministry geared towards releasing the creativity of musicians and artists and basically everyone who will listen – and one of their main points of teaching is that God is Creative, and so humans walking in true creativity is our inheritance as the image-bearers of the Father.   I see this as an extension of the dominion theme – because one of the reasons that God is the one who has dominion is that He created everything one way or another – and so humans being creative therefore the more beautiful form of “taking dominion” in the Earth than that previously mentioned first-person shooter game would conjure up.  Of course, stewardship, kindness, meekness (for these inherit the Earth), these are all Biblical themes about what the responsibility of having “dominion” actually looks like…and of course as the Helsers would remind us, beauty and creativity.

When I told my friends on FB I was writing on this topic, several stepped up to bring forth this very theory, and to also introduce me to the writing of Mike Heiser.   Here follows my friend Eric Weiss’s quote introducing me to Mike (thank you Eric and Mike):

Dr. Michael S. Heiser, Hebrew and ANE scholar for Logos Bible Software, says that the phrase means to be given authority to act as God’s representative. I.e., being made in God’s image meant that mankind was in charge of God’s earth and God’s creation:
“This last example directs us to what the Hebrew preposition translated in means in Genesis 1:26. Humankind was created as God’s image. If we think of imaging as a verb or function, that translation makes sense. We are created to image God, to be his imagers. It is what we are by definition. The image is not an ability we have, but a status. We are God’s representatives on earth. To be human is to image God.
“This is why Genesis 1:26–27 is followed by what theologians call the “dominion mandate” in verse 28. The verse informs us that God intends us to be him on this planet. We are to create more imagers (“be fruitful and multiply … fill”) in order to oversee the earth by stewarding its resources and harnessing them for the benefit of all human imagers (“subdue … rule over”).”

So why the heck does any of this matter?

Because there is theory E, which I’ll call the “theory of all the theories.”

Theory E:
Jesus is the ultimate “image of God”.

For just as Adam (and Eve) were the image of God which became corrupted, Jesus (and those who ultimately rule with Him as His bride) is the image of God, uncorrupted – in a NEW CREATION.   Just as Jesus said to the Pharisees that Abraham was not their father as they were claiming, because they didn’t ACT like Abraham would have acted, so also we have failed to really be God’s proxies and look and act like Him in this creation.   But there is a new Adam (and Eve) and a new creation, and this one is not corrupted.   This one will see a New Heaven and New Earth ruled over in all the beauty that God ever intended.   And Jesus, as human and new Adam, laid down His life as the ultimate act of selflessness, dominion taking turned on its head in the truest way.

And this, this is ultimately what it means to be in the Image of God.

 

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