Friday, December 31, 2010

Does Systematic Theology Only Complicate Things?

You're probably expecting me to make an end-of-the-year list like "Craziest Christians of 2010." But instead I want to ask you all something that's been on my mind lately:

Do you think systematic theology sometimes over-complicates things?

The reason why I ask is because while I'm not a trained theologian, I love to study theology. I love gaining new insights about Scripture. After a while, though, I get confused about what I should believe about sin, the cross, the resurrection, etc. Is substitutionary atonement the right way to interpret the cross, or is it Christus Victor? (After re-reading all four gospels, I now lean towards the latter.) Is sin something you do, or a state of being? And if you're as over-analytical as I am, you can really drive yourself crazy with all of these questions!

I think that's why I take a more narrative approach to the Bible. A good story can change your whole perception on life. You end up thinking about things you never thought about before. And if a regular story written by man with no divine inspiration can change your perception, how much more can the divinely inspired biblical narrative change us!

So yeah, that's what I've been thinking lately. Not sure if any of that made sense or not.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Carol - Jack Chick Style!

If you're like me, it's just not Christmas without A Christmas Carol. It's the ultimate story of repentance and redemption without being too preachy. That is, until Jack Chick gets ahold of it. Here is Chick's rendition of Charles Dickens' classic story.

Uh, wait, where does it say any of this in the original Dickens novella?

A few panels ago Scrooge said he didn't care about God. Why is he suddenly concerned about Judgement Day?

Was that supposed to be a joke?

Is it just me, or does Scrooge look like Tiny Tim (the singer)?

Wait, is Chick trying to reconcile Dickens' view of judgement with the Bible? In fundamentalist circles, ain't that considered . . . blasphemy?

That's it? No Ghost of Christmas Past? Or Present? Or Future? Just a simple prayer and every thing's okay? Dickens is tossing in his grave!

And I thought the Jim Carrey Christmas Carol was crappy!

Merry Christmas, anyway.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Putting Away Childish Things" by Marcus Borg

(DISCLAIMER I HAVE TO MAKE: HarperOne sent me a copy of this book for free to review for my blog. But they ain't payin' me!)

Many of you recognize Marcus Borg as a well established--and sometimes controversial--biblical scholar. Putting Away Childish Things is his first novel . . . and it shows! The story is underdeveloped, the characters aren't all that interesting, and the pacing is just way too slow to keep anyone interested.

The novel follows an established religion professor named Kate who teaches at a liberal arts college. Things are going great until one day she receives an offer to be a visiting professor at a seminary. There are just a few problems. First, the dean at this seminary is Kate's former lover (for a devout Episcopalian, Kate sure has been around the block a few times!). And second, the parents of her students is afraid that she's either too Christian or too liberal (in one scene, she shocks a Christian radio station during an interview by saying that the virgin birth might not have been factual).

The majority of the story is Kate wringing her hands and saying, "What shall I do?" while her friends (including the obligatory gay best friend who always knows what to say) keep telling her, "It's gonna be alright." Did I mention that this book is over 300 pages? That's right, 300 pages of navel gazing! After a while, I stopped caring whether or not Kate accepted the position.

And speaking of characters, Borg doesn't give us enough reason to care for these people. Why should I give a crap about a bunch of hoity-toity snobs who are always eating at high dollar restaurants (I've yet to meet a teacher who can afford high dollar restaurants every night!) and looking down on evangelicals. The only character I liked was Amy, one of Kate's students. She is having questions about her faith, and hopes that Kate's class can help her sort things out. The conversations between Kate and her students are the only interesting scenes in the novel, but they only pop up every 50 pages.

I haven't read any of Borg's other books yet, but I hope his nonfiction is better than his fiction!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The God of the Living

Sometimes I have to crack open the Old Testament to remind myself that God can be downright scary.

If you ask a person what God does, you’d probably hear responses like this: God loves; God forgives; God helps; God blesses. And he does! He does all of those things. But he also does something else: God harms. Christianity is ultimately a message of love, but at the root there is still a command that we shouldn’t forget, but often do: Fear God.

Often, the problem with my own walk is I forget that God is not just the God of the dead. He is the God of the living. What I mean is sometimes I walk around carelessly believing that God judges the dead, but not the living—that we are free to do whatever we want, and then we’ll die and be accountable. That’s not how it works. The life we live is constantly in the presence of spiritual consequences, both good and bad.

We should love openly. We should love because that’s what God calls us to do. But more importantly than anything, we should love because we fear God. For God so loved the world that he died for our sins—but because God loved the world, he also caused a flood, and brought plague—and because he loves he’s not afraid to do it all over again.

That doesn’t mean that God is responsible for all things bad—that Hati, New Orleans or anywhere else that has been seriously harmed by natural disaster was done at the wrath of God’s fury. If God plagued cities based on the nature of their behavior, then we would all be doomed one hundred times over.

Fearing God means being aware that your actions have consequences; it means that while God forgives all sin, he also disciplines to make sure we are growing. Accepting God means accepting what he can do in your life to make sure you grow instead of diminish.

If we fear God, it means we walk around with a coat of armor; that we protect ourselves from having ever to face him for what we’ve did. It means quivering at the thought that God knows everything that goes through your mind—all those little sins that no one knows about. It means knowing that while God probably won’t strike you down for not helping an old lady cross the street—he could.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of love—so easy that it’s easy to forget that we must also fear.

Friday, December 10, 2010

That's What Christmas is All About, Charlie Brown

I originally wrote this on my personal blog last year

I'm man enough to admit that I still get a little choked up at the end of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It's just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.

Like many of us, Charlie Brown doesn't understand what Christmas is about, since he sees so much commercialism surround the holiday. He tries to get in the spirit by directed the annual Christmas play, but no one will listen. Then he decides what they need is a Christmas tree. Unfortunately the only real tree Charlie Brown and Linus can find at the lot is a pathetic little stick with a few pine needles on it. But that doesn't stop Charlie Brown, because he finally found something real. But then when he brings the little tree back to his friends, they all laugh at him. Once again Charlie Brown is confused about what Christmas is all about.

And then Linus speaks:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'" That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

That's when everything changes.

Advent is a time to remember that Christmas didn't begin with a department store sale; it began with God coming down to earth as a baby, born in a stable, sleeping in a feeding trough. This year I hope to break from the consumerist holiday mindset, and really prepare my heart for the coming of Christ. And I hope you will join me.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Casting Crowns - "While You Were Sleeping"

While not the worst Christmas song in the world (that honor goes to "The Christmas Shoes"), "While You Were Sleeping" by Casting Crowns has to be one of the oddest Christmas songs ever. It starts in Bethleham and ends with Judgment Day.

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you're lying in the dark
There shines an everasting light
for the King has left his throne
and is sleeping in a manger tonight

Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
and stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave his only Son
The Way, The Truth, the Life had come
but there was no room for Him in the world he came to save

Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we're sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we're lying in the dark
There's a shout heard 'cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night

America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping

While I understand what the song is getting at, it does seem odd for a Christmas song to have an anti-abortion message. You won't hear that in "Away in a Manger!"

What do you think?

(Also, can't we save both the trees and the babies? Why does it always have to be one or the other?)