More Than Meets the Ear

“Music exists when rhythmic, melodic or harmonic order is deliberately created, and consciously listened to, and it is only language-using, self-conscious creatures … who are capable of organizing sounds in this way, either when uttering them or when perceiving them. We can hear music in the song of the nightingale, but it is music that no nightingale has heard.” Philosopher Roger Scruton

~~~

Did you know that…

The Kingdom of God is about re-creation?

God can turn our mistakes into passing notes?

Improvisation is the exploration of an occasion?

Jazz is the interplay of order and non-order, of tradition and innovation?

Music reshapes our lives?

Music teaches us delayed gratification?

Hope lives in the midst of delay?

Music has a lot to teach us?

Music can increase empathy?

You can’t demonize those you just made music with?

As a musician for most of my life, I learned about and embraced many of these aspects and applications of music. From the videos below I learned that the Kingdom of God employs music to instruct our souls. Here are three short videos, the first two by Jeremy Begbie. The last video demonstrates the reality of the last question above.

These videos are from a musical point of view. But high culture (good literature, good drama, good art, etc.) can also provide us with many of the same benefits.

Jeremy Begbie is a theologian and professionally trained pianist. Here he demonstrates how music can help unlock the truths of the Christian gospel. Begbie is the Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School.

First, the intersection of theology and music:

Next, Unexpected Intersections:

Last, well, you had better watch…

 

Wake up, you sleeper!

 

“So, you should be imitators of God, like dear children. Conduct yourselves in love, just as the Messiah Jesus loved us and gave himself for us, as a sweet-smelling offering and sacrifice to God…

So, don’t get involved in the works of darkness., which all come to nothing. Instead, expose them! The things they do in secret, you see, are shameful even to talk about. But everything becomes visible when it’s exposed to light, since everything is visible in light. That’s why it says:

Wake up, you sleeper!

Rise up from the dead!

The Messiah will shine on you!

 

-from the Apostle Paul’s circular letter to Laodicea, called The Letter to the Ephesians

 

Curious Dabbling Required When “Bombarded with Hints”

“The one thing for which we are all being disciplined is to know that God is real.  As soon as God becomes real, other people become shadows.  Nothing that other saints can do or say can ever perturb the one who is built on God.”  Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

~~~

In the scheme of things, it was just another day. I had gone to work.  After eight hours I got in my car and sailed away.  Traveling the four-lane, bored and looking for love in all the wrong radio frequencies, I came across a Chicago radio program.

The station emanating the program is the largest Christian radio station around.  How did I know?  I attended the school of which campus the station is located.  Back in the day I attended the school that housed the station that broadcasts the Bible 24/7.

The afternoon host was pumped.  She excitedly promoted her next guest:  “He’s a well-schooled PhD theologian – Oxford, I’ll have you know – who had just written a fine book.”  I gathered that we earthlings were supposed to take note of this highfalutin academic.

The question compendium, as described by the host, addressed the thousand and one questions people had asked the theologian during his ministry.  The talk show host who, unbelievably, had not fallen off her chair from complete exhaustion after highlighting the guest’s CV wanted to delve into some of the “begging-to-be-answered” queries with callers.

David, the first caller:  “Hi.” “Hi David, what is your question?” “Well, when God seems silent what do we make of it?” “That is a great question and one that I’m sure most of our listeners have.” I turned the volume up in case divine wisdom would be transmitted to earth via the FM station that broadcasts the Bible 24/7 and is located on the campus of the school that I attended.

After clearing his throat, the PhD’s response went something like… “I have experienced this…my wife and I wanted kids and there was silence in response to our joint prayer requests…we waited… we finally had a child… (then, a 3 point alliterated teaching summation per the school’s standard) … God is not punishing us when He is silent.”   Phew! I wiped my brow.  I turned off the radio and drove the rest of the way home puzzled and in silence…

You see, I was somewhat put off by the PhD’s answer.  It seemed to be a rather thin hidebound response to what the host was calling a deep and universal question. I supposed that, in fairness to the PhD, on-the-clock radio programs are not the best format for the broadest of answers. And I knew that, in fairness to the caller, the Bible school campus which housed the station is a strict Sola Scriptura guardian of the text of the faith once delivered, outside reference points being held suspect until canonized by afternoon radio hosts and guest theologians.

As I thought about the radio conversation, the question that I wanted to ask the caller was “How do you know when God is speaking to you?”  (Would it be when things are going just fine and without a hitch and God’s presumed ‘passivity’ is deemed as a silent knowing affirmation?) I wondered what the caller would say. And, is God truly silent?  I didn’t think so.  That has not been my experience. As a student of the Bible and curious dabbler that I am, I wondered how I could call in one day to 24/7 Bible radio and tell the world what I have witnessed? Thump. Thump. Thump….

I have spent most of my life dealing with Classical Dispensational nuts-and-bolts Theology, a theology which seeks to order the past, present and future and supplies the canned responses of its proponents.  Later, thankfully, I realized that there also exists a Quantum Theology, a way of knowing, a new way of looking at things – there is more than meets the eye or ear, for that matter.  There, I said it.

To be continued…

But first, a note to encourage curious dabbling:

God Saw That It Was Good and So Do I

This past week I read an engaging book by scientist Francis S. Collins:  The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.  As someone who works in the engineering field and as a believer in God the book’s discussion of science and faith being compatible piqued my interest.

 Before reading this book I did have the innate understanding that science and faith were compatible and that each discipline reinforced the other with their respective insights and revelations but prior to reading this book I hadn’t seen much credible literature discussing this premise.  Currently there appears to be plenty of antipathy between the church and science. So as one might imagine I was excited to purchase the book and evaluate a scientist’s take on the connection. I was not disappointed.

Francis S. Collins, as the back cover bio reads, headed the Human Genome Project and is one of the world’s leading scientists. “He works at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life.  Yet he is also a man of unshakable faith in God and Scripture.

Dr. Collins believes that faith in God and faith in science can coexist within a person and be harmonious. In The Language of God he makes his case for God and Science.”

 Of special interest to me is the fact that Collins (as I do) accepts theistic evolution.  In Chapter Ten he writes: 

 “This view is entirely compatible with everything that science teaches us about the natural world.  It is also entirely compatible with the great monotheistic religions of the world.  The theistic evolution perspective cannot, of course, prove that God is real, as no logical argument can fully achieve that. Belief in God will always require a leap in faith.”

 The book lays out for the reader in very accessible terms how Collins who was not raised in a Christian home came to his belief in God as a budding scientist in his twenties.  The book goes on to discuss why Collins fully accepts theistic evolution as opposed to literal Creationism and Intelligent Design.  Based on his own research Collins says the evidence is overwhelming in favor of natural evolution as God’s creative methodology.  I would agree. 

 He then further encourages the church to endorse scientific research as a resource for understanding God’s creation, therefore offering a better understanding of God.  In concert with his plea I believe every church leader should purchase this book and read its message.  There is, sadly, too much bad information being preached and taught by the Christian Evangelical church regarding creation.  This bad information makes the church look rather foolish.  Remember Galileo’s row with the church? Being raised an Evangelical I was taught that the earth was created about 6-8000 years ago and that the seven days described in Genesis Chapter One were literal days:  Poof, we just showed up on the scene.

 As an adult, though, I became skeptical of the Creationist theology but I clung to it because I had heard of no other plausible evidence to the contrary.  Evolution was routinely discounted in the Evangelical church.  In fact everything I had heard in church told me that evolution was the atheist’s version of the Christian creation. Evolution was also described as a slippery slope which would carry people away from God toward unbelief.  And worse, the church seemed opposed to science and science was something I truly enjoyed being involved with.  I would later look into Intelligent Design (ID) and had wondered if ID might be the catch-all for my belief in God’s creative act. But I was to learn that ID was flawed theory that did not take into account the nature of God.

 My change in thinking occurred a few years ago when I came across the writings of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga from the University of Notre Dame.  Spending two and a half hours on a train five days a week over the course of several years I had been able to read and research many different science and philosophy topics. And I did this precisely because I wanted to know more about God, the nature of His being and the world around me.  This excited me no end.  I don’t read romance novels.  I find my excitement by romancing the truth.

  Through reading Plantinga’s papers, though sometimes written in difficult philosophical terms, the door of my understanding was opened wide and I accepted theistic evolution as a valid creation methodology.  I would encourage anyone to read Plantinga’s papers.

 The basics of theistic evolution are clearly delineated in Francis Collins’ book and on the Biologos website.  Biologos is the name given to theistic evolution by scientist Collins.  Here are the Biologos premises/beliefs from that website:

 We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years. God continues to providentially sustain the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God.

  • We believe that all people have sinned against God and are in need of salvation.
  • We believe in the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man. We believe in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which we are saved and reconciled to God.
  • We believe that God continues to be directly involved in human history in acts of salvation, personal transformation, and answers to prayer.
  • We believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. By the Holy Spirit it is the “living and active” means though which God speaks to the church today, bearing witness to God’s Son, Jesus, as the divine Logos, or Word of God.
  • We believe that God also reveals himself in and through the natural world he created, which displays his glory, eternal power, and divine nature. Properly interpreted, scripture and nature are complementary and faithful witnesses to their common Author.
  • We believe that the methods of science are an important and reliable means to investigate and describe the world God has made. In this, we stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom Christian faith and science are mutually hospitable.
  • We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution and common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.
  • We believe that God created humans in biological continuity with all life on earth, but also as spiritual beings. God established a unique relationship with humanity by endowing us with his image and calling us to an elevated position within the created order.
  • We believe that conversations among Christians about controversial issues of science and faith can and must be conducted with humility, grace, honesty, and compassion as a visible sign of the Spirit’s presence in Christ’s body, the Church.
  • We reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.
  • We reject ideologies such as Darwinism and Evolutionism that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God.
  • We reject ideologies such as Materialism and Scientism that claim science is the sole source of knowledge and truth, that science has debunked God and religion, or that the physical world constitutes the whole of reality.

 As a follower of Christ and as someone who seeks to bring people to faith in Him I see it as imperative that Evangelical church leaders (John Paul II accepted theistic evolution) come to grips with science (natural science, quantum physics, genetics, etc.) and to avail themselves of all empirical data and evidences coming out of science research.  As I see it the church and science are completely compatible.  Therefore, the church must not seek to restrain the hand of God, an evolved-incarnated hand that was once nailed to a tree, a resurrected hand that now reaches out to all of us.

 For more information about theism and theistic evolution:

 http://biologos.org/

Philosopher Sticks up for God

Alvin Plantinga

*****

Recommended Books about science and faith:

The Language of Faith:  Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins, Intervarsity Press, 2011

The Wonder of the Universe:  Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World by Karl W. Giberson, Intervarsity Press, 2012

What’s the Unitarian?

It is little wonder that the well-known ‘angry’ atheist Richard Dawkins wrote the anti-thesim book The God Delusion.  It is easily understandable especially after one reads the interview (excerpted and linked below) between a Unitarian Minister Marilyn Sewell and another anti-theist atheist the former Christopher Hitchens (Hitch).

 As evident from the interview, Marilyn Sewell, a minister, is utterly delusional in her understanding of God and Christianity.  And it is blatantly obvious that Hitch has a better understanding of Christianity than this Unitarian minister.

 Apparently from her bio Sewell has studied theology but I contend it is not Biblical theology.  Her questions and remarks as interviewer reveal her embrace of syncretism – a diversity of false beliefs and humanism blended with the truth of Christianity. Unitarian could be another term for syncretism.

 From her eponymous blog we are told that liberal believer and retired minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland Marilyn Sewell is a former teacher and psychotherapist.  She has authored numerous books. Over a period of 17 years Sewell helped grow Portland’s downtown Unitarian congregation into one of the largest in the United States. At this point I must say that the fact that this woman and the Unitarian Church are misleading many is of serious concern to me. I must contend for the truth of Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 It troubles my spirit greatly when people like this liberal Unitarian minister use the name of Jesus Christ to preach “another gospel” and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her message is a mish-mash of new age religion, liberal theology, social justice and cheap grace.  The ultimate message becomes half lie half truth:  “It’s not what you believe but how you live.” Ergo an embrace of diverse beliefs and social justice activism are at the forefront of Unitarian creeds.  As you’ll read, for Sewell just like the Episcopalian minister ghost in C.S. Lewis’, “The Great Divorce” all is metaphor, and therefore, cannot be taken seriously

 The deity of Christ, His death on the cross, His atonement for sins, judgement, heaven and hell, all are dismissed as being metaphorical, as not relevant to present human need and too exclusive a message to preach and teach.   Clearly this is syncretistic thinking and delusional with regard to the truth.  And because of its soft, socially acceptable version of theology the tentacles of Unitarian tenets are quickly creeping into evangelical churches across the nation.

 As a follower of Christ I am posting this information expressly to note the deception hidden in Sewell’s misguided words.  I have no problem talking about this interview in no uncertain terms. From the public record it can be noted that Sewell is a social activist and polemicist as was Hitch. They are/were each able to dish out pious platitudes at will and certainly, as their backgrounds would support, are/were able to hold their own in conversations regarding issues of faith and God.  So here goes.

 The interview took place prior to Christopher Hitchen’s January 5th, 2010 appearance as part of the Literary Arts’ Portland art and lecture series at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.  Hitch was political columnist for Vanity Fair, Slate, and other magazines, and known for his frequent contributions on the political TV circuit.  Hitchens’ pointed attacks against all religion has earned him regular debates across the country, often with the very fundamentalist believers his book, “God is Not Great”, attacks. Sewell, the interviewer, though, knows nothing about the fundamentals of Christianity. It would seem that Hitch is in a joust with Jello.

 Here are excerpts from that interview,  linked here

 Marilyn Sewell: In the book you write that, at age nine, you experienced the ignorance of your scripture teacher Mrs. Watts and, then later at 12, your headmaster tried to justify religion as a comfort when facing death. It seems you were an intuitive atheist. But did you ever try religion again?

Christopher Hitchens: I belong to what is a significant minority of human beings: Those who are-as Pascal puts it in his Pensées, his great apology for Christianity-“so made that they cannot believe.” As many as 10 percent of is just never can bring themselves to take religion seriously. And since people often defend religion as natural to humans (which I wouldn’t say it wasn’t, by the way), the corollary holds too: there must be respect for those who simply can’t bring themselves to find meaning in phrases like “the Holy Spirit.”

Well, could it be that some people are “so made” for faith. and you are so made for the intellectual life?

I don’t have whatever it takes to say things like “the grace of God.” All that’s white noise to me, not because I’m an intellectual. For many people, it’s gibberish. Likewise, the idea that the Koran was dictated by an archaic illiterate is a fantasy. As so far the most highly evolved of the primates, we do seem in the majority to have a tendency to worship, and to look for patterns that lead to supernatural conclusions. Whereas, I think that there is no supernatural dimension whatever. The natural world is quite wonderful enough. The more we know about it, the much more wonderful it is than any supernatural proposition.

The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God-as you might as a matter of fact-as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish-fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning-at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.

Well, probably not, because I agree with almost everything that you say. But I still consider myself a Christian and a person of faith.

Do you mind if I ask you a question? Faith in what? Faith in the resurrection?

The way I believe in the resurrection is I believe that one can go from a death in this life, in the sense of being dead to the world and dead to other people, and can be resurrected to new life. When I preach about Easter and the resurrection, it’s in a metaphorical sense.

I hate to say it-we’ve hardly been introduced-but maybe you are simply living on the inheritance of a monstrous fraud that was preached to millions of people as the literal truth-as you put it, “the ground of being.”

Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change. I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian. You do: You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually.

Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.

If you would like for me to talk a little bit about what I believe . . .

Well I would actually.

I don’t know whether or not God exists in the first place, let me just say that. I certainly don’t think that God is an old man in the sky, I don’t believe that God intervenes to give me goodies if I ask for them.

You don’t believe he’s an interventionist of any kind?

I’m kind of an agnostic on that one. God is a mystery to me. I choose to believe because-and this is a very practical thing for me-I seem to live with more integrity when I find myself accountable to something larger than myself. That thing larger than myself, I call God, but it’s a metaphor. That God is an emptiness out of which everything comes. Perhaps I would say ” reality” or “what is” because we’re trying to describe the infinite with language of the finite. My faith is that I put all that I am and all that I have on the line for that which I do not know.

Fine. But I think that’s a slight waste of what could honestly be in your case a very valuable time. I don’t want you to go away with the impression that I’m just a vulgar materialist. I do know that humans are also so made even though we are an evolved species whose closest cousins are chimpanzees. I know it’s not enough for us to eat and so forth. We know how to think. We know how to laugh. We know we’re going to die, which gives us a lot to think about, and we have a need for, what I would call, “the transcendent” or “the numinous” or even “the ecstatic” that comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape. I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t respond to things of that sort. But I think the cultural task is to separate those impulses and those needs and desires from the supernatural and, above all, from the superstitious.

Could you talk about these two words that you just used, “transcendent” and “numinous”? Those are two words are favorites of mine.

Well, this would probably be very embarrassing, if you knew me. I can’t compose or play music; I’m not that fortunate. But I can write and I can talk and sometimes when I’m doing either of these things I realize that I’ve written a sentence or uttered a thought that I didn’t absolutely know I had in me… until I saw it on the page or heard myself say it. It was a sense that it wasn’t all done by hand.

A gift?

But, to me, that’s the nearest I’m going to get to being an artist, which is the occupation I’d most like to have and the one, at last, I’m the most denied. But I, think everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there’s more to life than just matter. But I think it’s very important to keep that under control and not to hand it over to be exploited by priests and shamans and rabbis and other riffraff.

You know, I think that that might be a religious impulse that you’re talking about there.

Well, it’s absolutely not. It’s a human one. It’s part of the melancholy that we have in which we know that happiness is fleeting, and we know that life is brief, but we know that, nonetheless, life can be savored and that happiness, even of the ecstatic kind, is available to us. But we know that our life is essentially tragic as well. I’m absolutely not for handing over that very important department of our psyche to those who say, “Well, ah. Why didn’t you say so before? God has a plan for you in mind.” I have no time to waste on this planet being told what to do by those who think that God has given them instructions.

You write, “Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and the soul.” You use the word “soul” there as metaphor. What is a soul for you?

It’s what you might call “the x-factor”-I don’t have a satisfactory term for it-it’s what I mean by the element of us that isn’t entirely materialistic: the numinous, the transcendent, the innocence of children (even though we know from Freud that childhood isn’t as innocent as all that), the existence of love (which is, likewise, unquantifiable but that anyone would be a fool who said it wasn’t a powerful force), and so forth. I don’t think the soul is immortal, or at least not immortal in individuals, but it may be immortal as an aspect of the human personality because when I talk about what literature nourishes, it would be silly of me or reductionist to say that it nourishes the brain.

I wouldn’t argue with you about the immortality of the soul. Were I back in a church again, I would love to have you in my church because you’re so eloquent and I believe that some of your impulses-and, excuse me for saying so-are religious in the way I am religious. You may call it something else, but we agree in a lot of our thinking.

I’m touched that you say, as some people have also said to me, that I’ve missed my vocation. But I actually don’t think that I have. I would not be able to be this way if I was wearing robes or claiming authority that was other than human. that’s a distinction that matters to me very much.

You have your role and it’s a valuable one, so thank you for what you give to us.

Well, thank you for asking. It’s very good of you to be my hostess.

[end of interview]

 Note above that after Sewell’s reference to theologian Paul Tillich’s take on God as “an invincible tyrant” and after mentioning Freud’s dismissive take on faith (also well-known to Hitch), she wants to hear from Hitch about Tillich’s concept of God.  Listen closely to Hitch’s response:

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning-at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.

 Wow!  The money line: “If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.”

 Even Hitch knows that this woman is way off the mark in her ‘theology’.  In this case Hitch doesn’t drop famous names from history like Sewell.  Hitch cuts to the quick with the truth of the Gospel as he knows it.  He quotes from Scripture:  “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (I Cor. 15:19). 

 Hitch has known Christianity from standing outside looking in while.  He does not like Christianity’s authority and the abuse of that authority (as I do not).

 Sewell, on the other hand, knows the hodge-podge Unitarian philosophy from inside out.  She knows all of its labyrinthine pathways leading to the utopian fields of humanism, new age philosophy and God is love-ism. The irony:  Unitarian ‘theology’ clearly advocates the contention of atheists that religion is about wish-fulfillment and fear of the unknown.

Here is Marilyn’s take on the conversation from her blog:

“The man is brilliant, but not wise; clever, but not deep; and a fundamentalist, in regard to religion, rejecting any form of liberal Christianity as bogus religion, not to be respected

Hitchens clearly has never studied theology, (This is rich.  See my comments above) and most of the comments he made concerning the Bible, Jesus, salvation, etc., were shockingly naïve (Hitch’s knowledge of Christianity trumped yours, Marilyn).  Where he has something to offer, of course, is his critique of religion and society, and all of the horrors and nonsense done in the name of religion, which I have no argument with.  It’s not exactly news that the Inquisition was a bad thing.  And that Catholic priests shouldn’t abuse altar boys.  And (his particular nemesis) jihadists shouldn’t blow up innocent civilians. 

Hitchens is the ultimate intellectual “bad boy.”  He performs.  He “debates.”  He entertains. All of which he does very well.   But this should not be confused with thoughtful discourse. “(I agree with this last paragraph of Marilyn’s)

 I would certainly argue from the details of the interview that Hitch knows Christianity well enough to be convicted by its message – but he rejects it outright.  Sewell, on the other hand, doesn’t know the truths of Christianity and appears to only embrace the parts of the Gospel that fit with the Unitarian belief in humanism – a theology of a coddling, benevolent and indulgent God who accepts you no matter what.

 Gospel truth convicts people of their sin and their separation from God whereas the tepid mollycoddling theology of Unitarianism destroys lives with its abandonment of truth and its good intentions. And as we all have heard, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or, hell is full of good wishes and desires.  In the end Truth matters.

Are you seeking the truth?

 To find the truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ read the four gospel accounts that record the life and death of Jesus Christ:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  These historical eye-witness accounts are not metaphors as liberal theologians (Sewell, Elaine Pagels and others) would have us accept.

 Follow the Truth wherever it leads you and it will eventually lead you to Jesus Christ.  He is The Way, The Truth and the Life. I have been on the road of truth with Jesus for many years now.  I know Him and he knows me. 

 Truth and Love go hand-in-hand or not at all.

“I Am Thirsty”

“I am thirsty.” These words spoken just before Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross reveal the need for life’s most basic requirement:  life-sustaining water for the body and the soul.

 The crucifixion’s slow and agonizing death with its depletion of bodily fluids would cause a human body to dehydrate to the point of suffocation.  The blood pouring from the Lord’s hands and feet and from His lash wounds would deprive His body of its normal blood flow, blood flow which carried necessary oxygen to all of the body’s organs. Water was desperately needed. Instead, Jesus was mockingly offered a sponge soaked with wine which had turned. After tasting it he rejected the old wine and its numbing effects.

 “I am thirsty” indicates the Lord’s need for water but more importantly these words also reveal that the Living Water, God the Holy Spirit, was also leaving the Lord at this point in time.  Because Jesus bore the sins of the world He could not have fellowship with His Father and the Holy Spirit until His work of atonement was complete.  Until then The Trinitarian Well of eternal fellowship was cut off from the Son of God.  In place of this Well, Jesus chose to drink from the bitter cup of God’s will.

 King David prophesied about the relational and physical torment that the Messiah was to suffer on the cross.  From Psalm 22:

 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from saving me,
   so far from my cries of anguish?
 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
   by night, but I find no rest….

I am poured out like water,
   and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
   it has melted within me.
 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
   and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
   you lay me in the dust of death.

 In this act of substitutionary atonement the Lord’s body bore all the sin of all men for all time.  On the cross Jesus rapidly became depleted from loss of fluid and, as Psalm 22 tells us, from the loss of Living Water –  Jesus was forsaken by the Father and the Spirit.  “Because he poured out Himself to death” Jesus became as a barren desert, a desolate place with no water.  He was made sin for us. 

John’s Gospel account offers the Creator’s context for the words “I am thirsty.”

 In the gospel narrative the apostle John relates the true story of Jesus meeting a woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well. 

 The well and the field surrounding it were gifts from Jacob to Joseph.  And you will remember Joseph. He is the one who received good gifts from his father (the coat) and bad treatment from his brothers. I have no doubt that the well was, well, well-known to many who traveled though the area.  I’m sure it was on the map of those seeking to quench their thirst, thirst brought about by the day’s relentless heat.  John’s account tells us that as Jesus was traveling from one place to another he became tired and thirsty. He stopped outside the town of Sychar at the well to rest.

 As Jesus sat down near the edge of the well he told his disciples to go and get some food in the nearby town. It is midday. The sun is directly overhead and the heat is stifling. Jesus had no means of retrieving the water from the well. You can imagine someone being thirstier when they know that water is just out of reach.

 As Jesus sits resting a woman from the town of Sychar approaches the well carrying her clay jar (I am assuming some things here.).  The woman comes to the well in the middle of the day because, I believe, no one else will be there during the hottest part of the day. She has her reasons for not wanting to be around the other women of the town:  she sleeps around.

 Jesus, thirsty, asks the woman for a drink:  “Will you give me a drink?”

 The woman was at a loss as to what to think:

 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

From the gospel account:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

  Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (emphasis mine)

  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

  He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

  “I have no husband,” she replied.

   Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

  “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

(Note:  The woman, like most of us, wanted to deflect the accounting of her sinful life.  Becoming polemical the woman quickly changed the subject and pressed Jesus about a heated religious and geopolitical issue of the day.)

Jesus, having already gotten the woman’s attention by recounting intimate details of her life, responded to her question about true and valid worship as the Source, the well-spring of Truth.

    “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

  Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Water flows through John’s gospel.  John the Baptist baptized “with water so that He (Jesus) might be revealed by Israel.  In the above passage we learn about Jesus chatting with a woman as he sits next to a well. There He talks about the everlasting living water which wells up inside you if you accept it.  In a previous passage John recorded Jesus’s first sign:  turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.  In the passage after the Jacob’s well story John tells us about a lame man who had been trying for thirty years to enter the healing pool in Bethesda.  The water of the pool would bubble up with curative power whenever the Spirit stirred it. But the man had his excuses for not being well. In a later passage John recounts Jesus walking on the water to meet the disciples in the middle of a lake.

Then one time …

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (emphasis mine)

Are you thirsty? Are you trying to quench your deepest thirst with the things of this world, things that quickly run ‘dry’ from everyday use?  Do more clothes, more electronic gadgets, more Facebook friends, more entertainments, more tattoos, more tipping points, more of anything this world has to offer satisfy your deepest thirst?

The woman at the well had her life of men.  She had her connections.  She also had her water bucket.  She brought this bucket to the well everyday to get the water she needed to survive.  The woman could argue religion and politics with the best of them but she was thirsting for something more.  She may have wondered “is that all there is?”  Is that all that life has to offer someone like me, a woman of Samaria marginalized by my own community and holding on to an unsure belief in an object of worship others are telling me to believe in.

Unknowingly, it was of the True Well of Life that she made her request:  “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus responded:  If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

We know that drinking water is necessary for life.  We listen closely to health programs that tell us to drink several glasses of water a day to sustain our bodies, to help them function properly and to replenish the oxygen our systems need. As you would imagine the quality of water that you drink is critical.  Undoubtedly, water that contains filth would do more harm than good.  Is the well water you are drinking clean and pure, refreshing and restorative?  Or, is it filthy with parasites making you weak and sick?

The water that Jesus offers to you and me is greater and purer than the most abundant compound found on earth:  H2O.  It is the Living Water of the Holy Spirit.  This water teems with Abundant Life, the very oxygen of heaven. Once received its Spirit-life effervescence bubbles up within a person.  It then overflows your spirit and converges with the rivers of Living Water that have never stopped flowing throughout all of eternity except for that dark hour when the Gift of God Himself was poured out as a drink offering and He cried, “I am thirsty.”

*****

Shechem’s Archaeology

What’s “Biblical” About It?

Whenever I see the word “Biblical” in front of a title or a statement I pause as anyone should who cares about what the Bible really does or does not say. 

Recently this word caught my eye:  a local Evangelical church, a church of great size, advertised a Biblical Masculinity and Femininity Conference.  I thought this rather odd since the Bible does not tell men how to behave as men or women how to behave as women.  I thought that stereotyping had gone out with analogical thinking (if a, then b follows).

 Regarding male and female behavior I’ve come to the conclusion that masculinity and femininity are social contrivances or social regulators which help us navigate our relationships.  Again, the Bible does not tell men how to behave like a man or a woman how to behave like a woman.  The Bible does tell us in very simple general statements how we as men and women are to relate to the opposite sex and to each other.  The Bible also provides us with examples of what men find attractive in a woman (e.g., the Shulammite woman of The Song of Solomon & the industrious woman in Proverbs 31) and what women find attractive in men (the Ruth/Boaz story). Masculine or feminine qualities, if there are such things, are worked out between each man and woman in the give and take of relationship. They certainly are not the rubber stamping of contrived gender roles promoted by such Conferences.

 Without a whole lot of fanfare the Bible commands men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands. Beyond this the Bible only gives us some storied examples of men and women in action. Masculinity and femininity if Biblically revealed at all is the plain and simple romantic dance of the male and female psyches within the narrative of relationship.  As mentioned above we can see this dance in the lives of the Bible’s men and women.  Another example:  the love story of Jacob and Rachel.

 So, the impetus of this post is to hopefully negate the misinformation doled out by those who feel the need to conform everyone to certain gender defined roles and who also seek to make others abide by the same gender templates, templates created extra-Biblically and more decidedly culturally derived. Hopefully, I can set the record straight.  You decide.

 Raised in a Baptist/Evangelical church I understand that the word “Biblical” connotes a God-given standard that you are expected to honor, to follow and to conform to. Over the years, though, I have had to disentangle my understanding of what the Bible really says from the “Biblical” fishing nets tossed out by commercial fishers-of-men who believe they have captured what the Bible says and then can sell it back to you in the market place of ideas as truth.

 Let’s look at one of their “marketable Biblical items”.  A common passage of Scripture used to define Biblical Womanhood is Proverbs 31

In this passage the writer Lemuel or Anonymous describes the attributes he likes in a woman.  Proverbs 31 is the writer’s description of what he thinks is noble character for a woman.  Now, if women want to aspire to these same traits they may find similar recognition. The word “Biblical”, though, as in “Proverbs 31 is an example of Biblical Womanhood” often implies a kind of warrant of a personal guarantee of outcome (if a, then b follows). If you do these same things then you are Biblically feminine.  But is that true?

 The industrious “woman” in Proverbs 31 works to fulfill the needs of her family as do men.  But, as you know, men and women do different things to maintain the household and will often overlap in the household duties required.  Does the example of this woman’s qualities and behavior mean Biblical femininity? If you as a woman do not do all the things listed in Proverbs 31 are you less feminine? Or, if a man did the same things is he being feminine? Or worse, are you being less Biblical if you are not matching up to these same traits?  I hope you can see where this type of “Biblical womanhood” typecasting leads.

 In the Song of Solomon, a lyric poem in dialogue form, King Solomon describes marked physical attributes of the woman he loves. Is what he describing Biblical femininity? Or, is what he describing what he likes about the woman he loves, the Shulammite?

 Now most Christian scholars, most trusted Christian scholars, would tell you that the biblical canon is closed – there is no further written revelation from God. Yet, we are told that there is Biblical Masculinity and Biblical Femininity – a continuum of a more codified and concise version of the Bible which informs us as to how a twenty-first century man or woman behaves. To me, though, this extra-biblical and apocryphal “decoded” addition of Scripture’s text sounds a lot more like a Pharisee’s laundry list of dos and don’ts than the Bible’s simple and direct statements:  “Husband love your wives. Wives see to it that you respect your husbands.”

 The church conference I am talking about was directed at the youth – junior and senior high school kids.  I have no doubt that the parents are concerned about what the LGBT community is doing to affect gender “norms” in the local public schools.  To be sure the LGBT community is misguided and has no concern whatsoever about what God says.  I, like these parents, am concerned about the LGBT lies and the nonsense being promulgated in our schools as normative. At the same time I do not want the church to overreact to the same degree by narrowly defining gender into masculine and feminine stereotypes, supplying false “Biblical” alternatives to the LGBT community’s errors.

 Gender confusion has become an issue recently because of the LGB community.  It is the members of the LGB community who want to take control of masculinity and femininity in order to receivec acceptance and codification of their behavior. They seek to use homosexuality as a subsitute for what God had created as good – a male and female relationship.  The LGB community depises the Christian community for wanting to maintain what God created.  Homosexuality, the centerpiece of the LGB community then is the ego’s defiance of God and stands in direct contrast to what God created and said was good – a male and female relationship. Hence, gender confusion, anger and pride exists wherever the LGB community is. For most people, though, gender confusion does not exist apart from the false narratives promoted by the LGB community.

Gender dysphoria, though,  does exist in some individuals and should be met with differently than the individual simple searching for culturally accepted masculinity or femininity.

 For most people gender confusion is not an issue.  The searching for where you fit in comes and goes naturally during youth.  The rub usually comes from culture.  Scripture has nothing to say about it even though people create sermons and seminars about it.  During this adapting process  we as parents need to know what the LGBT community is saying about gender and then discount any of their false notions about gender along with false “Biblical” ones. The individual will eventually define him or herself by their sexed body and will respond according to what those around them are telling them about their gender.

The parents who are very concerned about the LGBT community’s activism should be careful to not define masculine and feminine as having “Biblical” attributes and as exsiting apart from relationship with the opposite gender.  Masculine and feminine are culturally defined romantic notions of male and female attributes within relationship. The Bible has only a few things to say specifically about man’s behavior or a woman’s behavior and it is in the context of relationships.

In the beginning God saw that it was not good for man to be alone so God created woman and human relationship.  Within that relationship God let men and women work out their masculine and feminine qualities. God did not prescribe what masculinity and femininity meant before or after the fall.  God only mentioned pragmatic matters:  what men and women will do as a result of their fall and what relationships they should absolutely stay away from.

As a result of Adam and Eve’s fall God said that men would work hard to make a living from the earth and that women will labor hard to give birth to a child.  And later, in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, God provided some practical laws or boundaries regarding men and women and their physical relationships.  These Levitical issues in particular dealt with the exchange of bodily fluids (do not commit incest or homosexuality or bestiality, avoid sex during a woman’s menstrual flow, etc.).  In the New Testament the Apostle Paul, in a strongly worded letter to the members of the church in Corinth, told them to “Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…”  What defiles (and confuses) your personhood and the context for working out “masculinity” or “femininity”  are sinful relationships which quench the Spirit.

Now can one boy be more masculine than another?  No.  (Now, you may think that a boy who hangs around with his mother is more feminine than a boy who hangs around with his father.  In reality, each boy is sharing things they enjoy in common with the respective parent. Should it be demanded of the boy to act more like his father? Culture might demand it but Scripture doesn’t. The answer is No.) I would have little doubt that shaming a child into submitting to a gender stereotype is part of the personality pathology of homosexuality. 

Parent’s desirous of fitting their kids into society’s norms and into their own idealization of gender will restrict a child to a certain prescribed behavior and manner of presentation.  This need to conform their child to a certain delineation of a gender role may lead to post traumatic stress disorder in the child. (See this recent article:  Gender nonconformity linked to child abuse:  Uncomfortable adults often compel strict role presentation)

 A boy is more masculine than a girl,  of course. Just as in the garden of Eden before Eve came along, masculine and feminine were meaningless terms (The conference gods will strike me down, now.) They were meaningless until Eve stood in contrast to Eve as a separate gender.    Masculinity and femininity basically are the features in the opposite sex that we are attracted to.  This sounds rather unspiritual, too down to earth, but is what God had intended  – the simple elemental attraction of opposites.

 Within a male and female relationship you are drawn to the other gender.  You are attracted to gender-derived differences, to those features that are reciprocal (the roller-skate-and-key principle, if you will).  I realize that this may sound more like fuzzy math, more like the probability nature of quantum physics and not at all like rock-solid classical Newtonian physics that people more readily grasp but solid marriages prove the point.  An example would be my parents.

My parents have been married for over 60 years.  To my knowledge there has never been any talk between my mother and father about who was masculine and who was feminine.  They simply followed Christ and let gender find its way within in the context of their relationship to each other and to Christ.  They attended no seminars about “Biblical Masculinity or Biblical Femininity.”

Now regarding binary gender, the analogy may apply:  men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  As two distinct sexes we relate to each other differently, the differences being derived from basic biology (physical sexed body and hormonal) and cultural adaptations. Beyond this, there are no such things as the True Masculine or the True Feminine

 In fact, when we elevate certain aspects or attributes of men or women that we perceive to be quality masculine or feminine specimens to the position of the “True Masculine” or the True Feminine” we make idols of man-made aspirations (and, perhaps,  of Freudian psychology).  The church, as shown by the conference ad, wants to package masculinity and femininity and resell certain accepted features of it as “Biblical”.  They will even supersize the issue with book sales, heated sermons and biopic posts giving us what they see as the jot and tittle of masculine and feminine as viewed through their myopic lense of socially acceptable Biblical “truth.”

Concerning this topic, the book Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf was of special interest to me, especially the chapter titled Gender Identity. The primary focus of the chapter as I read it was to rightly describe the basis of gender identity and to show how the ideas about masculinity and femininity, described in “essence” forms, are often used to exclusion rather than embrace of the other.

 In this chapter Miroslav Volf says regarding his argument about gender identity:  “I have claimed that (1) the content of gender identity is rooted in the sexed body and negotiated in the social exchange between men and women within a given cultural context, and that (2) the portrayals of God in no way provide models of what it means to be male or female. I suggested, instead, that the relations between the Trinitarian persons serve as a model for how the content of “masculinity” and “femininity” ought to be negotiated in the social process.” (emphasis mine)

 He further states neutrally:

 “The content of gender identity is left unspecified; anything seems to go.”

 Also:

 “Biblical “woman” and “manhood” – if there are such things at all, given the diversity of male and female characters and roles that we encounter in the Bible – are not divinely sanctioned models but culturally situated examples.” (emphasis mine)

 And:

 “If neither models of God nor the explicit statements of the Bible about femininity and masculinity are normative for the content of gender identities, what is?  Does anything really go?  My proposal is that we locate the normativity in the formal features of identity and the character of relations of divine person. Instead of setting up ideals of femininity and masculinity, we should root each in the sexed body and let the social construction of gender play itself out guided by the vision of the identity of and relations between divine persons. What is normative is not some ‘essence” of femininity and masculinity, but the procedures, modeled on the life of the triune God, through which women and men in specific cultural settings should negotiate.” (emphasis mine)

 Further thoughts from the chapter:

  •  Father figure imagery has become sacrosanct in Christian circles.
  •  Psychology attempts to use the father figure imagery to decipher…
  •  Freud: we create god as a need for a father figure or oedipal complex
  •  Man’s projection of a father figure into the heavens due to an oedipal complex

If you as a man or you as a woman want to be all that you can be (to borrow an advertising phrase from the Army) then be in relationship with Christ.  Period. Don’t fashion your life around the drivel described as “Biblical” masculinity and femininity.  Put on Christ and walk in the Spirit instead. (I realize that many people want self-help books, tweets and conferences to tell them what to think.  Forget these things. Put on Christ and get walking.)

Now, you can always parse or stretch Scripture to make it mean what you want to say regarding masculine and feminine attributes.  Instead,  it would be better to not focus on these things, on whether you or someone else is more or less masculine or feminine. The Evil One will always stir up comparisons.  Just look at the media and you can, hopefully, see that the Evil One’s world view is one of comparing yourself to celebs, to physical attributes, to images of macho men and sexy babes,  to myriads of false idols. Walk in the Spirit and you will not fill up the flesh with a pretense of the masculine or feminine.

 And by far the best antidote to the cloying gender confusion issue that the LGB community brings with it is the solid mutually beneficial relationship of a man and a woman.  The spectrums of masculine and feminine can be fully explored within a committed relationship. In such a relationship there should be no threat to your perceived masculinity or femininity.  These things just co-exist.  And as such, the two will become one with no thought or time given to someone’s canonized version of “Biblical Masculinity or Femininity.”