Uneasy about death? You should be and its ok

Recently, a friend from church was sharing about her episode with anaphylaxis shock. She was home alone with her infant when suddenly and without warning, her body started reacting to what, is unknown. She couldn’t make it to the phone to call her husband or mother-in-law and barely made it to the computer to type a message out. She was going in and out of consciousness and wondered if this was it, was she going to die. But instead of the cheery easiness with which we Christians tend to treat death, there was an easiness about it. Almost a fear, more like dread.

Now this is a strong believer and someone who has had to trust God through some rough stuff. I know there is nothing she would want more than to be in the sweet arms of Jesus. She is not alone. I recall when my son and I were robbed at gunpoint and flashes of losing my life were before me and conjured up that same kind of dread. Or times when experiencing turbulence in airplanes and the mind flashing to a scenario of the plane crashing.

We talked about how these reactions seem contradictory to almost giddy like treatment of death as being a transition from one stage to the other, as if it’s something we should look forward to. I mean, Paul did say, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” I would speculate that a good number of Christians experience this kind of apprehension and guilt for thinking it.  Are we weak and unfaithful Christians for being apprehensive about death?

No because there is something else to consider: death is a wretched result of the Fall. Death does to us what God did not intend for our bodies to do, be ripped apart. Death reminds us, or should remind us, what tragedy occurred through one man’s disobedience that plunged God’s creation into cosmic devastation. Continue reading

The unintended prosperity gospel: why tangibility matters

god-touching-manIf you’ve followed me for any period of time, you know that I abhor the prosperity gospel. As I wrote about here in Should We Call the Prosperity Gospel Something Else?, the prosperity gospel has a deceptive nature in that it is not really about getting rich. Because of that, prosperity teaching flies under the radar because many who gravitate towards it would denounce that Christianity is about lining the pockets. What gets missed, is that wealth is just a by-product of the real foundation: material blessings are a sign of God’s favor. So we really can’t restrict the prosperity gospel to money but to any material blessing that we place our hope in. It’s peddler’s would have you believe that getting blessed by God in ways that make you look like you are winning (by the world’s standards) is a true mark of God’s favor. This is the very nature of the prosperity gospel, that favorable conditions are a sign that God approves of us.

And it’s not just about despising a doctrine for doctrine’s sake. But this distorted teaching actually impacts people’s lives. Either people can be lured into a false sense that God is on their side because they are “winning” in life. Or conversely, feel like God is opposed to them when suffering and loss occur and believe they are less loved by God, failed in some way to earn his favor, or basically just have insufficient faith. It’s easy to ridicule those who embraced such distortions and spurn the teachers of this dastardly teaching. After all, the Christian hope, trust and confidence is the work and person of Jesus Christ. Period.

But if we’re honest, there is something about receiving tangible results to life’s negative circumstances: the rescue from wayward happenings, the reversal of loss with a gain of something hoped for, the improvement of life’s condition with a better home, car, job or status symbol. Receiving material rewards, while not the basis of favor from God, can make us feel like God is on our side, that he is looking out for us. Continue reading

Man-handling Man-centered Theology

people cut outsI often hear this distinction being made typically by conservative Christians, God-centered vs. man-centered. Whenever I see it articulated, I get the sense that it is often communicated to distinguish between Christian faith and practice that is shaped based on the desires of man vs. what God wants and has communicated to us.

Now I do affirm God-centered theology. I strenuously insist that God’s self-revelation though the Incarnate and written word must inform our theology. When deciphering the character and nature of God, his actions and requirements, his ultimate revelation through the Son, and redemptive history it behooves us to approach his Word with the greatest humility. Surely that will mean confronting some aspects that are uncomfortable. But it helps to remember that He is God; we are not.

So I sympathize with the decrying of man-centered theology if that means theology that is shaped by man to accommodate man’s creation of God and the Christian faith in his or her own image. However, I think we can go too far and cut man out of the picture all together. God-centered does not mean man nothingness. Continue reading

De-Humanizing Christianity

robots-almost-human-bionic-man-670Normally, when I put together a post, I have a clear idea of what I’m addressing and attempt to articulate a cogent thesis. I’m not so sure I’ll do that with this topic but wanted to put pen to paper about some rather unsettling thoughts that have been gurgling around in my head lately.

When you de- something its essentially removal of that element. So when I say de-humanizing, it means the removal of the human element similar to de-icing getting rid of ice from a surface. Of course, I’m not saying removing humans from Christianity because that would not make any sense. But its something along the same lines, removing the elements that make us human but more importantly, how our humanity contributes to our Christianity and co-mingles with it.

Throughout its history, Christianity has had this penchant of reaction to phenomenon that threatens it (or at least perceived that way). When it goes one way, away from orthodox belief or practice, it isn’t long before the pendulum swings the other way to preserve, fight for and uphold correct Christian beliefs.

This has been especially true in reaction to anything deemed liberal. For conservative Christians who affirm the historic doctrines of Christianity and particularly, the authority, infallibility of Scripture as the inerrant word of God, the muddying or even dismissal of doctrine in favor of what is deemed a man-centered theology naturally brings out opposition. We want God to be honored on his terms, not ours. Continue reading

Interpretations that pull us apart

split_personalityIs our humanity made up of three parts meaning trichotomy (body, soul and spirit) or two parts, meaning dichotomy (body and soul/spirit). From a theological and philosophical perspective, dichotomy makes the most sense. Trichotomy splits are humanity in ways that reek of Gnosticism and challenge the process of regeneration/sanctification. If our immaterial components are comprised of soul and spirit, which part is linked to our personhood (including will, intellect and emotions) and how does regeneration affect that in ways that aren’t ontologically schizophrenic?

Those defending trichotomy quickly cite certain proof-texts, like 1 Thess. 5:23 as proof that we are made up of three parts. A friend passed on this article recently and highlighted this quote that I thought really addressed why this is not good proof;

The trichotomist must admit, along with the dichotomist and in agreement with Berkouwer, that there is a certain ‘imprecision’ at times in the Bible’s use of the relevant terminology. One has only to consider the several New Testament quotations of Deuteronomy 6:5, for example, to see this. Where Luke 10:27 reads that we should love God with all our heart (kardia) and soul (psychē) and strength (ischys) and mind (dianoia), Matthew 22:37 reads that we should love God with all our heart and soul and mind, omitting strength, while Mark reports in 12:30 that we should love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (reversing the order of the last two Lukan words), and in 12:33 that we should love God with all our heart and understanding (syneseōs) and strength, using another word for ‘mind’ and omitting ‘soul’ altogether. In all, five different words are employed without even mentioning the body. Surely, no one would insist, on the basis of these series of words connected by ‘and,’ that each of these words refers to an immaterial, ontologically distinct entity, and that therefore Luke was a quintchotomist, Matthew was a quadchotomist, and Mark was a sexchotomist. With Berkouwer we must all admit that these parallel admonitions are simply saying that we are to love God with our entire or total being.

So much for using the actual words to prove the case. And to say that our total being is split in two, is ontologically and theologically challenged. Thanks Elizabeth for passing this on.

You can read the entire article here. Wayne Grudem also provides good food for thought on the subject in his Sytematic Theology (pp 472-482).