Theological rants
of a liberal Christian

Book Excerpt: Revelation: The Way It Happened

Thursday, March 26, 2015 in Book Excerpt | 0 comments

Book Excerpt: Revelation: The Way It Happened

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. –Revelation chapter 6

Cataclysmic events accompany this seal, mimicking the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel. The sun and moon darken, and stars fall from the sky. Isaiah 34:4—All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. See also Mark 13:24–27 and the other synoptic Gospels. Picture your “snow globe” universe shaken until the stars fall like figs, and then the empty dome overhead gets rolled up and put away.

This imagery probably evolved from an ancient hymn to the storm god, Baal, describing his advance into combat:

The heavens roll up like a scroll,

And all their hosts languish

As a vine leaf withers

As the fig droops.

Such images may sound bizarre to us today, but they had grown into common symbolism long before Revelation appeared. They denote the final wrapping up of a nation, such as Babylon (as told by Isaiah) and Egypt (by Ezekiel). In this case, the imagery signifies the end of the Jewish state, which would not be restored again for 1,900 years!

–Revelation: The Way It Happened, 2010, pp. 21, by Lee Harmon

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Matthew 7:21, Who Enters the Kingdom?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 7:21, Who Enters the Kingdom?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

//Sometimes the contradictions in scripture are subtle and other times they are direct. But sometimes they simply highlight the silliness of reading every word as if it were law. Take for example these words from Peter (quoted in Acts 2:21) which contradict what Jesus says in Matthew:

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Which is it? Does any person who calls on the name of the Lord automatically get saved, or do they have to the do the will of the Father?

I think we know the answer. Peter (in Luke) simply assumes that when a person calls on the Lord, he or she is ready to do the will of God, and the point is that God will not forsake a seeking person.

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2 Corinthians 11:32-33, Paul Escapes in a Basket

Monday, March 23, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

2 Corinthians 11:32-33, Paul Escapes in a Basket

In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.

//Luke, when writing about this event in Acts 9:23-25, tells us that the Jews took counsel to kill Paul, and the disciples lowered him in a basket to escape. But Paul’s own letter indicates that he was fleeing the governor under King Aretas, not the Jews.

King? Who is King Aretas?

He was king of the Nabataeans, a southern neighbor of Judea. Aretas wasn’t a Jew; in fact, he fought against the Jews in 4 BCE. His daughter married Herod the Tetrarch. Aretas carried political clout, but did he control Damascus as Paul indicates? That’s unlikely.

So how do we make sense of the different reports? Did Paul escape from Jews, from Nabataeans, from a small Nabataean community in Damascus, or is there some other explanation?

Historians haven’t put this puzzle together yet.

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Luke 23:34, Forgiveness of Sins

Saturday, March 21, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Luke 23:34, Forgiveness of Sins

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

//One of the big arguments in the early centuries of the Church was this matter of whether God would forgive. Marcion, for example, felt that the Old Testament God of hatred should be stricken from the Bible. He wanted to pare the Bible down to a few books which portrayed a loving God.

Tertullian violently opposed Marcion and blasted the notions of an all-loving and forgiving God. There is no such God, he insisted, who never grows angry, never inflicts punishment, prepared no fired in hell, does not cause men to gnash their teeth in outer darkness.

But Origen wondered whether even Satan would one day be forgiven. Origen cited Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:28 that God brought everything into being with love, and in the end all would be restored to love. By implication, God would eventually win even the Devil back to His love.

Demetrius of Alexandria grew so disgusted with Origen’s idea that God would forgive His enemies that he threw Origen out of the Egyptian church.

Everlasting fiery torment seemed to win the day, which brings us to today’s verse. Some copyists of the New Testament began to delete the line from Luke, lest we begin to think our God was a forgiving God.

The debate continues even today.

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Book Excerpt: The River of Life

Thursday, March 19, 2015 in Book Excerpt | 0 comments

Book Excerpt: The River of Life

I find that many liberal Christian authors avoid the topic of prayer, not knowing quite how to handle it or explain it, so let me tell you what works for me. I pray not to the creator/Father, nor to God’s incarnational version, the human/Son, but to the third part of the Trinity … that elusive, mysterious Spirit. In the Bible, the Spirit is the carrier of our prayers to God, interceding for us even when we know not how to pray. I find it easiest if I do not try to personify the Spirit. With this focus, I feel silly praying selfish petitions—a universal Spirit somehow transcends my selfish ambitions—so my prayer naturally steers toward renewing my purpose to contribute to the Kingdom of God. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are a perfect utterance, so we’ll talk more about this simple prayer shortly.

I close my eyes in shallow meditation until I feel the Spirit breathing in and around me, like Wind. I breathe God in and out, for breath is merely Wind inside me. Breathing in hope, breathing out love, adding my breath to the Wind, I share in the chorus of the Spirit. Then I open my eyes to see the leaves rustling, the grass bending, the living creation responding.

Your own connection to the Divine will surely differ.

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John 14:12, Greater Works than Jesus?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

John 14:12, Greater Works than Jesus?

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

//Those who follow after Jesus will do greater works than Jesus? Is that really what this verse means? Doesn’t that sound a bit sacrilegious, or at least a bit presumptuous? Let me quote a couple more verses:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. –Luke 6:40

So apparently while we are not greater than Jesus, we are to be perfectly trained, so that we are like Jesus. But what does it mean to be like Jesus? Read the next verse carefully:

till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; –Ephesians 4:13

As perfectly trained disciples, our goal is to attain the stature of Christ in all his fullness.

Now, I don’t think this has anything to do with superseding the place Jesus held. Rather, it is about accomplishing the works Jesus did and taught. This way of Jesus is not about blindly believing, worshipping, and accepting grace. It’s about works, continuing the work Jesus did, to accomplish even greater things than he.

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Book review: The Allure of Gentleness

Thursday, March 12, 2015 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: The Allure of Gentleness

by Dallas Willard

★★★★★

This is one of those books that I can only half-agree with, yet earns five stars for its approach and message. More conservative readers will appreciate the book most. Willard considers the work of apologetics as extremely important. “Being mistaken about life, the things of God, and the human soul is a deadly serious matter.” About such things he and I will disagree, yet I still enjoyed the book immensely.

It is, like other effective apologetics books, a “feel-good defense” rather than a rigorous argument. For example, Willard begins many discussions with the assumption of God’s omnipotence. He states that a creator creates for good, therefore the world is good. See the underlying assumption of omnipotence within the argument? But this deduction then lays the foundation for the question of all questions: Why is there evil? Willard spends ample time trying to explain that the suffering we experience is necessary, but the whole thing would become a pointless exercise if we could only divorce ourselves from the assumption of God’s omnipotence.

Willard discusses the role of reason, but recognizes the ineffectiveness of logical proofs. Christian apologetics, he insists, is not an attempt to prove we’re right. Defending the faith is about how you live. Amen, brother Willard! However, I think he errs in asserting that Christianity is the only religion based on love.

Nevertheless, Willard does provide a reasonable argument for the existence of an intelligent creator when he argues that order comes from minds. From there, he suggests that Christian faith makes sense. An important part of the book is devoted to the matter of communication between God and humanity, both on a large scale and as a quiet voice to the individual. Willard realizes its hard to believe in God if you don’t recognize his voice. “God speaks constantly to people, but most of them don’t know what’s happening.” To this end, I found his explanation of how God speaks both simple and eloquent: “The fundamental way God speaks to us is by causing thoughts in our mind that we come to learn have a characteristic quality, content, and spirit about them.”

For the believer trying to solidify their faith, or the unbeliever wondering what the heck is going on in the heads of believers, this is a great book. Gentle apologetics at its best!

Harper One, © 2015, 191 pages

ISBN:978-0-06-211408-2

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Matthew 2:15, Called Out of Egypt

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 2:15, Called Out of Egypt

And [Jesus, Mary and Joseph were] there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

//Jesus was apparently from Nazareth, but prophecy foretold that Israel’s savior would be born in Bethlehem. So our two New Testament birth stories contrive a way to put Jesus’s birth there. In Luke’s version of the virgin birth, Joseph travels to Bethlehem for a census, and there the child is born, after which the family returns to Nazareth. But in Matthew’s version, Joseph appears to live initially in Bethlehem, and they are uprooted by the threat of King Herod’s infanticide. They flee to Egypt, live there a while, and then decide to relocate in Nazareth.

Why this detour to Egypt in Matthew’s honorific story? He is referencing Hosea 11:1:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

Hosea dreams of the day Israel will be restored, and hundreds of years later Matthew sees Jesus as the savior who would restore Israel. As God led his “child” Israel out of Egypt in the great exodus, so Jesus becomes the next child of God.

By telling this story of Jesus being called out of Egypt, Matthew is honoring Jesus and pointing to him as the fulfillment of Hosea’s dreams. Did it really happen? That’s hardly important.

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Matthew 22:10, The Bad and the Good

Saturday, March 7, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 22:10, The Bad and the Good

So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

//One day, said Jesus in parable, a king prepared a wedding feast for his son and sent out his servants to call those who were invited. But the invited guests weren’t in the mood. They had better things to do, it seems.

So the king was angry. Rather than waste his time with these rich and pretentious busy people, he sent his servants into the streets to call commoners, both good people and bad people; everyone was extended an invitation, and the wedding hall was filled.

But when the king came in to the banquet, he found there a man who wasn’t wearing a wedding garment. It was customary for the host–especially a king–to provide outer garments at the door for the guests to wear. Why was this man refusing to wear his garment?

Who did he think he was, refusing to be classed with the rest of the guests? Did he think himself better than the commoners? Was he one of the “good” refusing to dress like the “bad”, lest he be thought no better than they?

The king was incensed, and threw him out into the darkness. Apparently, the Kingdom has no place for snooty people.

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Mark 2:14, Who Followed Whom?

Thursday, March 5, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Mark 2:14, Who Followed Whom?

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.

//Levi, elsewhere called Matthew, held a contemptible office. He was a tax collector, sitting in the tax office. He was working for the Roman government, taking money from honest working men and giving it to the Empire. His own personal income came from whatever excess he decided to charge, and many in his profession grew rich because of their less than scrupulous ways.

That was how tax collectors were commonly perceived. They were the traitors, among the worst of sinners. Jesus happened upon this man in his hated profession and called him. “Follow me,” he invited. So where did they go?

And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.

To the house of Levi. To the house of sin. Levi didn’t follow Jesus; Jesus followed Levi home. And there, he invited many more tax collectors and sinners to follow him. There, he probably received more invitations to more traitors’ homes.

Jesus’s call to “follow him” isn’t into the beautiful homes of the beautiful people. It’s into the nest of the spiritually needy, those we may never think to call a friend … until we get to know them.

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