Tag: introductions

Wrestle with God

church

I believe it is time we Christians relearned how to wrestle with God. Too often we paint God as dictating terms to us but the Bible shows us a God that wants to talk things over. These passages of scripture show how reason and understanding form the foundation of spiritual discernment and love.

Blind faith not needed

We often act as if blind faith in God were necessary for a righteous life but in Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob is commended for physically wrestling with God. As a result, he is told: “No longer will your name be Jacob, but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Solomon was praised and rewarded for desiring wisdom and discernment (sound reasoning).

1 Thessalonians 5:21 says to test all things (especially prophecy). 1 Corinthians 13:2 talks of having the gift of prophecy an the ability to prophecy, and fathom all mysteries and all knowledge (but without love, that’s still nothing).

Clearly, God’s intention is for us to apply reason (another word for discernment) and to ask questions. Especially hard questions. Even if those inquiries cast doubts on dearly held beliefs.

Wisdom is found in the words of the discerning person, but the one who lacks wisdom will be disciplined.

Proverbs 10:13 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Have a  full-on morality debate with God

In Genesis 18:16-32 Abraham has a full-on moral debate with God on the subject of God’s morality in judging Sodom. Abraham, a mere mortal, did not just say “thy will be done” but he actually questioned that will and debated it with God.

Not only that but he got God to agree to withhold judgement if just one righteous an could be found in the city.

God stuck to that agreement too and did not bring judgement until after He evacuated the righteous man in question.

Similarly, Moses talked God out of smiting the entire nation of Israel over the whole golden calf affair.

Both men were prepared to wrestle with God over these matters and lives were saved as a result.

God is happy to debate with us

In the first chapter of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:18) God says “let us reason together”. According to my language tool, this is SG3198 to test and prove. Rendered variously as “argue”, “reprove”, “dispute”, “rebuke”, and “render decisions”. Later in Isaiah 43:26 it says this:

Remind me of what happened! Let’s debate!
You, prove to me that you are right!

Test God rigorously

In Malachi 3:10 God says “test me in this”. The prophet Malachi is literally telling us that the Almighty not only wants but fully expects you to investigate if He is being truthful.

This teaches us an important and key concept. Take your favourite ideas, doctrines, and prophecies and see if they can stand up under less favourable conditions. In fact, give them the least favourable possible conditions and let them fail. What is true and good will not fail but that which is flawed, untrue, or false will fall apart in front of you.

Christians should question God on injustice

Lord, you have always been fair
whenever I have complained to you.
However, I would like to speak with you about the disposition of justice.
Why are wicked people successful?
Why do all dishonest people have such easy lives?

Jeremiah 12:1 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Strong reasoning skills needed

Passively accepting whatever teaching is delivered to you is a recipe for being misled. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 directs us to apply reasoning and logic to light a fire under doctrine to see if it can hold up. Instead of defending our doctrines we should try to see if we can demolish them. God-given doctrine will hold up under such scrutiny.

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said.

1 Corinthians 14:29 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Love and understanding go together

1 Corinthians 13:2 says that the ability to fathom all mysteries and all knowledge without love is meaningless.

Philippians 1:9-11 (NET) has Paul praying that love will abound with understanding :

And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Discernment and understanding require practice

There is a reason why a degree from a good university is valued by employers. It shows that the owner of the degree has put in the practice required to understand something. Doctrine is no different.

But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 5:14 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Seek wisdom like silver

My child, if you receive my words,
and store up my commands within you,
by making your ear attentive to wisdom,
and by turning your heart to understanding,
indeed, if you call out for discernment—
raise your voice for understanding—
if you seek it like silver,
and search for it like hidden treasure,
then you will understand how to fear the Lord,
and you will discover knowledge about God.
For the Lord gives wisdom,
and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.
He stores up effective counsel for the upright,
and is like a shield for those who live with integrity,
to guard the paths of the righteous
and to protect the way of his pious ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity—every good way.

Proverbs 2:1-8 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the study and interpretation of scripture. Most of us just call it Bible Study.

  • It could be fair to call this website a hermeneutical website.
  • On the whole, you will find the word written with a prefix such as “Biblical hermeneutics”.
  • Most Christian debates surrounding theology stem from different hermeneutical approaches.

While reading up on hermeneutics, I learned that Jewish and Christian biblical hermeneutics overlap but have very different interpretive traditions. Which goes some way to explaining why Jewish and Christian readings of scripture vary so much.

My use of the word hermeneutics.

I am not one for big words when shorter ones will do. However, with the Axioms Of Faith, I will be dealing with hermeneutics. I might, if I am feeling verbose, use the word. If I do, you should now know what I mean.

 

A vision of the Church of tomorrow

I would like to set out seven principles that I think it would be healthy for all Christians to adopt using language that is free from the colouring of doctrinal debates.

Before I get to those principles I would like to paint a picture for you.

Imagine a body of believers that operates, despite differences of tradition, in perfect unity. A bride ready for the bridegroom, if you will. Revelation 19:7 made real. Imagine glory going only to the Father. Imagine a time when the pretences of perfection give way to humility. Imagine the Christian body with room for everyone.

You are now starting to consider the Church of tomorrow. Keep doing that.

Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua

Sometime before I hit upon the idea of using axioms as stepping stones to build a systematic and self-consistent framework for evaluating doctrine, I wrote an essay. This essay carried the title, “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua“. In it, I dreamed of a better tomorrow.

I had found that the “normal” language of doctrine and creed often colour our thinking. Rather than help us explore our faith, I suspected (and still do) our words do more to obstruct discussion. Which is why my introduction said this:

I have long dreamed of a return to the foundations Christianity as expressed in the book of Acts and demonstrated in the letters of the new testament in general. However, tradition and history have tarnished the name of Christianity and we have imbued much of its language with meaning unique to our own doctrines and traditions. Therefore, I have attempted to write down this vision of the Church of tomorrow with little of the language of the past so that our current understanding does not colour or distort what I feel The Father is trying to show us. I have looked to our roots, as best I understand them, to provide for this. So if this seems familiar, that is probably because it is.

I could have probably done with a few more commas. Feel free to imagine them.

When I write about the path of The Way of Yeshua, what I am doing is both imagining a better Church (the Church of tomorrow) and attempting to express what unites us without any distracting language. I will almost certainly fail. If in failing, I spark a discussion that leads to the Church of tomorrow, I will have been a success.

Making the vision known

The essay opened by quoting Habakkuk 2:2-3. While I got as far as the writing down the vision, I failed at the making it known part. This post, and the ones I hope will follow it, aim to correct this failing.

These principles might be summed up as: we do not know everything and we should not pretend that we do.

7 Principles for the Church of tomorrow

In my essay “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua“, I set out seven guiding principles. If you have ever wondered where I am coming from when I write, these principles are it. In many ways, they are the foundations of the axiomatic (using axioms) approach I have started to apply.

These are not just fine ideas but express the very core of how I read the Bible. These are the principles that guide my study.

  1. Agnosis – Man is ignorant and all that we think we know is faulty due to our own limitations.
  2. Incompleteness – We realise that our transformation is incomplete.
  3. Retirement – We must be ready, as we mature, to put away less mature doctrines and ideas.
  4. Knowing only Yeshua
  5. Scriptural mystery – While the scriptures are God-breathed, we lack the spiritual wisdom to fully understand them.
  6. Faith – We trust The Father to guide us and place our faith in Him.
  7. Love – Above all else, in all things, we act from love.

Over the next few months, I will try to unpack these principles. I hope that you will explore them with me.

What are your hopes for the Church of tomorrow?

Eschatology

end of the world

Today’s topic is eschatology, and specifically what on earth the word means.

Theology is a funny old thing with a lot of big words that seem designed to make understand God an impossible task for the average human being. So while I am putting off writing anything remotely related to my book, I thought I would start a new category a glossary of words.

Eschatology is that part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. Or, in more common language “end times”. (Here’s how you pronounce eschatology).

The end of the world as we know it.

Scripture talks about aeons (or ages): The present age, the age to come, and so forth. Scripture also talks about aiṓnios which while basically being part of the same word family as aeon gets rendered as eternal quite a lot.

As a result, eschatology can also be a study of the end of things as we know them right now. This is particularly true when dealing with “the end of the age”.

Along with eschatology comes words like apocalypticism. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic, for example.

If we talk about eschatology we may be about to discuss matters such as:

  • The end of the world
  • The Second Coming of Jesus
  • Heaven and Hell
  • The Rapture
  • The Tribulation
  • Millennialism
  • Death and the afterlife
  • The resurrection of the dead
  • The Last Judgment
  • The New Heaven and New Earth in the world to come

How I plan to use the word “eschatology”.

I don’t.

Not that eschatology is not a fine word that says a great deal but I just do not feel familiar enough with the word to use it convincingly. Besides, the word means so much that I feel it might be better using more precise language.

If I do us use the word, however, at least you will know what it means.

Axiom zero: All scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

For the purpose of this blog, we shall take as a given one single axiom. An axiom zero, if you will.

All scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

This axiom is based on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”

Everything else that I write here is based on the assumption that this is a self-evident truth.

By taking it as a given that scripture can be used to understand scripture and form doctrine we bypass a lot of logical and doctrinal gymnastics attempting to get ourselves to the same point. Or, in other words, you have to trust something and I am happy to trust scripture.

The Axioms of Faith

An enquiry into doctrine using both reasoning and scripture.

In an attempt to develop a clear and systematic understanding of scripture (internally and externally consistent) I have, over the years, found myself questioning and examining foundational principles of doctrine. With each re-evaluation, I have had to revisit many assumptions and found that while some doctrines were strengthened by this process others were fatally undermined.

This state of constant flux was no way to study.

I have found it useful to start from the very beginning, with few if any assumptions and build upwards from there. While I state that I am starting with only a single assumption (that scripture can be used for establishing doctrine, 2 Timothy 3:16-17) I have no doubt that I bring to this study my own theological and cultural assumptions (as anyone would).

What is an axiom and why would I want one?

An axiom is a statement that is so evident or well-established, that it is accepted without controversy or question.

Well-founded doctrinal axioms are, therefore, useful tools for examining our faith and exposing our own flawed thinking and unreasoned assumptions. In this, establishing axioms – that is, points of agreement which are beyond question – we lay a foundation for a reasoned examination of scripture.

I am not interested in being right. I am interested in what is true.

When a doctrine is in conflict with a doctrinal axiom we must carefully consider if our axioms are flawed or if our doctrine is flawed. While it is technically possible to make great efforts to explain away the conflict with special cases and complex additional doctrines, what we are at risk of doing is simply saying that we are determined to be right regardless of what is true.

To avoid such proud attempts, the axioms presented here (in this blog) will be built carefully, one upon another. So that each branch grows from a good root. If you disagree with the case I make for a given axiom then you should reject it and all axioms that rest upon it.