Categotry Archives: theological questions


Is Salvation a Done Deal?


Categories: theological questions

A quick caveat to start this post: it’s about theology. If you prefer not to go there, you can skip this post and wait for the next.

This post was inspired by my blogger friend Linda, who recently posted about the differences in theology between the Orthodox and Protestant views of atonement (or as she puts it, the eastern and western views). I began to leave this as a comment on her blog, but realized it was sort of a tangent on a different point she was making, which was that today’s evangelical view tends to overemphasize our alienation from God, rather than His plan of reconciliation (which overall I agree with). I also thought the tangent itself might warrant its own discussion–so I decided to create a post about it here.


A Flexible, Anchored Framework (excerpt)

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Categories: theological questions

Excerpt from my post earlier today on Communitas Collective

It seems like the past few months have been “earthquake season” for this planet. First there was the horrific devastation from Haiti’s quake in January; about six weeks later, Chile suffered a quake nearly 1000 times as intense as Haiti’s. And just yesterday, Mexico registered a 7.2 quake that was felt in California.

If you’ve never been in an earthquake, it’s hard to describe the sense of helplessness and of time standing still. It really does shake you, in more ways than one. Growing up in California, I’ve felt quakes as strong as 6.2; I don’t ever care to feel one stronger.


The Significance of the Son of God


Categories: food for thought, theological questions, Things I Should Probably Not Be Telling You

As a disclaimer/hat-tip, the thoughts I’m about to process began from some things I’m reading in Brian McClaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. In one of the early chapters, he reflects on some of the issues and controversies raised by Jesus being referred to as the “Son of God”–including some of the concerns it raises in our culture about the presumed “male-“ness of God, or reinforcing the male-dominant theme many have taken from the Scripture–all of which could be debated and discussed into the ground as to what it actually means.


On Heaven and Hell, and Possibly Asking the Wrong Questions


Categories: Meanderings (look it up), theological questions

On Sunday I listened to my friend Eugene talk to a gathering of believers about the question: “What happens when we die?” He talked about how he believes in a heaven and a hell, but admitted that there really isn’t very much detailed in Scripture about either. Nor does God seem to be big on giving us a lot of details in the Bible about what death looks like or feels like. It’s kind of like, you have to be there–to experience it–to know what it is. (Of course, once we cross that threshold, most of us don’t come back.)

Interestingly, when Jesus was about to die, He was pretty vague with His disciples about what to expect on the other side, as well. They wanted specifics, details, and He basically said, “Trust Me.” Here’s a snippet of the conversation in John 14:

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.”

As Eugene was talking about all this, I was thinking about the whole thing about heaven and hell, and how some Christians even question the existence of hell because they can’t get their mind around a God of love allowing eternal punishment; and I thought about the different ones who claim they’ve seen heaven and/or hell, and wrote books about them. I understand why the debate goes on. I look at my own background, and I realize I have a whole heaven/hell framework in my mind, almost like a detailed model of the solar system, that has been informed by the evangelical mindset: heaven is here, hell is down there, heaven will one day come to earth and hell will be somewhere else…and where we spend eternity is based on whether we said the prayer and were issued a pass. (That’s a bit sarcastic, but you get the point.) But so much of this model, honestly, I realize is loosely based on a few Scriptures. The Bible isn’t explicit that this is the way it is; we have just connected the dots in a way that makes sense to our minds.

I’m not saying I no longer believe it this way, because I pretty much do (except I had my tongue in my cheek when I was talking about the hall pass thing). I’m just saying I understand why people rationalize it the other way, because there really isn’t much conclusive detail in Scripture either way. We each just take the tack that makes the most sense to us, but more of it is speculation than anyone wants to admit.

And pondering all this (when I probably should have been listening to Eugene), I realized something: maybe all this speculation about heaven and hell, and what each is like, and how we wind up in one place or the other–maybe we’re missing the point about it. If the Bible is so vague about it, why do we spend so much time on it? Maybe we’re not asking the right questions here. And maybe Jesus’ words ought to give us a clue:

“In my Fathers’ house are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you…that where I am, there you may be also…I AM THE WAY…”

We focus so much attention on a place we go after we die, when Jesus seems more concerned with Who we are with. Maybe we’d do better with this discussion if we focused on what Jesus seemed to think was important. When people tried to pin Him down on the details of the afterlife, He just kept pointing back to Himself and the Father.

Looking at the Scriptures this way, I can see that maybe the early church actually followed this cue. Paul talked about death this way: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Again–more about being with God than “going to heaven”. Heaven and hell were discussed, but remain a bit veiled in the New Testament; in fact, Paul claimed to have seen heaven in a spiritual experience, but said he heard “inexpressible things” it wasn’t permissible for him to speak of! (Didn’t he know he was supposed to write a book about it?–sorry, tongue in my cheek again.)

I guess what I’m saying is…maybe the important thing about death is whether or not we are with Jesus. Maybe that’s what makes it heaven, and that’s what makes the alternative hell. Jesus said He goes to prepare a place for us–so obviously there is a “place”–but the whole point of the place Jesus is preparing is that so we might be where He is. We focus on the place, while God has always been about the relationship–gathering the family to Himself. We have created these detailed doctrines (both liberal and conservative) based on connecting the dots, when maybe God wanted us to keep it simple.

So if any of my evangelical friends reading this are concerned that I’m losing my salvation…or if my liberal friends are celebrating that I’m finally “coming around”…let me just say that both of you are still missing the point. 🙂 The whole reason those reactions would come up is because we have been asking the wrong questions in the first place. I see enough in Scripture about heaven and hell to recognize that it’s foolish to discount either of them; but I also am far more aware of how much the Scriptures do not say about them. I just know that I want to follow Jesus where He leads, and when I one day pass into the afterlife, I want to be with Him. Because whatever it looks like, or wherever it is…the alternative would be hell.

One other thing before I go–and this is a point Eugene also made–Jesus lived and taught on earth as though heaven were already accessible. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I think one huge reason why the afterlife is not deeply addressed in the Bible is that the Bible is not for the afterlife. It is about how we live here on earth. We would do well not to be lost in speculation about a realm our human minds could never understand, and instead begin experiencing heaven here on earth. We do not have to wait until we die to be with Jesus.


Re-thinking the Foundations of Faith (part 2)


Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, theological questions

In my previous post I began looking at the huge amount of importance we believers tend to put on our theological views–our beliefs about God–to the point that we treat them as foundational to our faith. And I said that I was re-thinking this concept, that I was pondering a faith that was deeper than “correct” belief, based more on relationship than on specific beliefs or a theological creed.

I’m not saying theology isn’t important; rather, it’s a matter of prioritizing. I’m just saying our theology is maybe not as critical to our faith as we’ve made it out to be, and perhaps other things are more important. Consider the following points:


Re-thinking the Foundations of Faith (part 1)


Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, theological questions

I have a feeling that this post title is going to rattle the religious.

Good. 🙂

What I’m about to say, I’ve been pondering for awhile. This past nearly two years interacting in the blogosphere has been the first time in ages that I’ve had contact with people who think differently than I do, on a lot of different issues. I come from a culture that pretty much insists that you hang with those who believe the way you do, because anyone outside that framework can potentially corrupt you. It’s a fear thing, really.


So Enough About Me and What I Think (For the Moment)…


Categories: fun, theological questions

…I’d be interested in knowing where you are at on your journey. So this is the interactive part of the blog experience…

In the comments, feel free to answer any or all of the following questions:

  1. Are you a Christ-follower, agnostic, atheist, pagan, or something else? How would you identify yourself? Alright, don’t be a wise guy: if you’re “something else”, say WHAT you are. Don’t leave us guessing. 🙂
  2. If you consider yourself a Christ-follower, what does “church” look like for you? Are you in an institutional setting, living room, meeting at a coffee shop, or somewhere in between?
  3. Do you feel like God speaks to you, or that you hear Him? How does He talk to you?
  4. Tying in with the previous question…other than the Bible, give some other avenue through which God speaks to you, or through which you seem to hear spiritual truth. (Examples: movies, other books, music, the wind in the trees…whatev.)
No judgment here–just curiosity. Where are you at?

Bring it on.


Book Review: "A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church" by Warren Cole Smith

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Categories: books, current issues, theological questions, TheOOZE

I have to say, I had a pretty complex reaction to this book. I selected to review the book because its title and description suggested to me that it was an unflinching look at some of the issues of the modern church. (And for the most part, it was.)

I thought the book would give an honest assessment of the lasting fruit of the evangelical movement, and tackle issues like greed and corruption. (And for the most part, it did.)

I did NOT expect it to be a book largely centered around and promoting Calvinistic theology. And that killed it for me.

If I had wanted to read a book about Calvinistic doctrine, I would have picked a book whose title suggested it. While making some very valid points about the state of evangelicalism, its detachment from the broader history of the church, its failure to retain a large percentage of its converts over the long term, and its product/brand industrialism…the author’s main point seemed to be theological in nature, using the symptoms described above as evidence of faulty theology. Warren Cole Smith, a journalist, never specifically says he subscribes to Reformed theology; however, his multitude of favorable references to Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Reformed doctrine (not to mention his negative references to Charles Finney and Arminianism) make his bias clear.

The problem I have with this is that the book was billed as a journalistic expose, not an argument of a theological viewpoint. And for this, I fault the author with the same bait-and-switch tactics he would no doubt accuse evangelicalism of. I simply do not like being taken in under false pretense.

I mentioned that Smith is a journalist. And to the extent that he functions as one, I think he actually does a good job of it. When he is presenting facts and sorting through the data, the information he presents is very helpful. While I didn’t concur that all the data points to a problem (he seems to believe the church’s use of modern technology is a negative, for example), there can be no doubt that the evangelical church has some major problems, and he presents that case pretty well. I found myself heartily agreeing with him on several of these points, and he filled in a lot of historical gaps for me along the way.

It is when he began drawing conclusions about the data that his true agenda came to the forefront, and his journalism began to fall short. Some of his conclusions were over-drawn, in fact. For example, he repeatedly stated that evangelicalism’s separation from the church of history flirted with denying the Incarnation of Christ–without ever really explaining clearly how the two were connected. Also, he gave two quotes (with no context) from revivalist Charles Finney to claim that Finney rejected the core doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s sinfulness–when in my view, the quotes did no such thing. I am neutral about Finney, myself, because I don’t know enough about his doctrine to say either way. But any journalist, especially Christian, should know better than to label someone a heretic without providing more substantive proof of such a claim.

But even more provocative than this is the fact that Cole’s overall conclusions about what should be done to rescue evangelicalism were more about theology than they were about methodology. What is surprising to me is that I would have thought someone having a “lover’s quarrel” with evangelicalism would lean to the liberal side of things; in fact, Cole does the opposite. To me, there was a clear “this-is-the-right-way-to-believe” vibe in what he wrote that left little latitude for other interpretations; and again, he did not properly tie the data to his claims.

It isn’t that I have a particular issue with or grudge against Calvinists or Reformed theology; I tend to take theology with a grain of salt, anyway, including my own. My beef was that I came away feeling utterly preached to and lectured, rather than simply informed. I thought journalists were supposed to be neutral.

BOTTOM LINE: Can’t recommend it, at least, not as a fair assessment of the issues tackled in the book. The strong Reformed bias overshadows the good information that can be gleaned. (At least, it did for me.) This is not the kind of book that convinces people to change their thinking–it will likely only rally those who already agree with it. Which means Calvinists would probably love it. 🙂 Thumbs down for me.

This review is posted as part of TheOOZE Viral Bloggers network.


God Is In the Darkness (part 5: If I Descend into Sheol)


Categories: food for thought, Meanderings (look it up), theological questions

Where can I go from Your spirit? And where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. –Psalm 139:7-8, NASB

A lot of my ponderings about God in the darkness have come from this verse. And as I finish up my ramblings about this before moving on to something else…it might be wise of me to remind you of the disclaimer I made in Part 1, i.e., that these are reflections, questions and ponderings, not a statement of doctrine or belief. Take it for what it is… 🙂


Book Review: "Strange Fire, Holy Fire" by Michael J. Klassen

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Categories: books, theological questions

In his book Strange Fire, Holy Fire, author Michael Klassen takes an honest and unflinching look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the charismatic movement that has been so much a part of his own background. Drawing from his own experience and the experiences of others for examples, he attempts to “separate the wheat from the chaff” by holding the various beliefs and practices up to the light of Scripture through Biblical scholarship.

In the interest of disclosure, Mike Klassen is a friend of mine. We played on the same worship team at ORU together, and after being out of touch for over 20 years, we re-established contact last fall. So I read an autographed copy of this book, complete with a personal note from Mike inside the cover–which admittedly might make my copy a little more attractive than yours. 🙂 All joking aside, and despite the risk of bias, I purposed to read this book with the same scrutiny as I would any other, with the determination that I would be honest with myself and with my readers about any negatives as well as positives. In fact, I found myself a little reluctant to begin reading–because what if the book sucked and I had to say so on the blog? 🙂

Having said that…I read the book, and if I have to be completely honest….

…I loved this book. (Whew! It didn’t suck!)

Having a long history within the charismatic movement myself, I obviously related to much of what he shares in the book. But even if you don’t share that background, if you read the book, you’ll come away with a better understanding of charismatic belief and practice, how it came about, and where it fits in the greater context of church history. In a conversational manner, Mike goes into some the history of the Pentecostal and charismatic streams (they are not quite the same), and the differences in belief and practice. Also, chapter by chapter, he holds up various elements of the more common beliefs and practices, examines them honestly in the light of Scripture, and reveals where they stand up and where they fall short. He exposes various abuses of the movement and reveals where the original meanings and context of certain Scriptures have been misconstrued at times to draw the wrong conclusions. He discusses the long-term fruit, both good and bad, and validates those elements of the charismatic experience that have stood the test of Scripture and borne good fruit. It’s essentially an insider’s audit of the entire movement, with a healthy amount of scholarship brought in for balance and context.

If there is any criticism I would have, it would be that on one or two occasions I felt that the theological conclusions Mike drew sent the pendulum swinging just a bit too far the other direction, rather than bringing it back to the middle. While successfully deconstructing some commonly held (but incorrect) beliefs and practices, his “re-construction” in the other direction once or twice seemed to me to be equally unsupportable by Scripture. (I won’t give specifics so if you read the book you can draw your own conclusions.) Sometimes when the Scripture doesn’t support one view fully, neither does it fully support the opposite view; in such cases I’m learning to be okay with the mystery of not really knowing how it works. 🙂 So that’s probably why I’d be a bit sensitive to this kind of thing. So much of the problem with our modern theology is that we insist on solid or pat answers, and when those answers are tested and fall short…we would sometimes do better not to replace them with new pat answers.

See…I can be objective. 🙂

Mike says of his own book that he wrote it “for people like me”–people who have experienced wounding in their connection with the charismatic movement, and who need to discern what was bad, and why–as well as what was good about their experience. The book carries a theme of healing throughout, expressing a desire to see people move past their pain and carry with them the great blessings he believes are ultimately part of this move of God. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that not throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a huge thing for me–so I’m sure you can understand why this approach appeals to me. 🙂 That’s what I see Strange Fire, Holy Fire as doing–helping to separate baby from bathwater in this movement, so we can keep what is good and do away with what is bad.

BOTTOM LINE REVIEW: Highly Recommended.
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