Limiting Theology

ChristianTheology

“Each theologian and each student of theology lives at a specific period of time rather than in some timeless vacuum, and theology must be done within that situation.”

Early in my academic study of theology, I was confronted by this statement in Millard Erickson’s text, Christian Theology. It was a statement that would prove to be quite useful. At the time, however, I thought it was unnecessarily limiting. I was attending a holiness movement, charismatic, deliverance church and Erickson’s comment seemed initially rather institutional.

Be that as it may, I eventually came to understand what Erickson was referring to as my theological and ministerial understanding grew. There is a reality that each group of people, no matter to which you or I are a part of, tend to organize around a topic they feel is important, timely, and which resolves contemporary struggles. Of course each time period in history faces different challenges. When one is doing theology or studying the Bible, one tends to be interested in those personal things that one discovers in the biblical text or certain concepts that challenge their understanding. These latter concepts are indeed important, but the reality is that it is not as likely that others will face the same questions.

The most useful or productive approach then is to identify a concern in which a larger group of people are interested. This provides an entrance into the discussion, works to promote change or more complete understanding, participates in your current church body, and it moves the church forward. When theology is not done within these sorts of rails, it ends up derailing and becoming isolated and irrelevant.

Yes! God is interested in and working out those personal, important theological issues of our own, but it doesn’t mean that God intends them for everyone else around you or me. This isn’t limiting. This is what it means to belong to a vine and to be a fruitful branch. This is what it means to belong to a body and to gather around where that body needs the most immediate help (1 Cor 12:26).

When we take this approach, it can lead us to anticipating what the body will need in the near future. We then end up becoming effective and strategic about filling those needs and contributing to the body’s vitality.

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A Short Summary of St. Patrick

StPatrick1I knew very little about St. Patrick, so I decided to spend a little time getting acquainted in order to share a helpful summary for those like me.

Patrick was certainly instrumental in the development of Christianity in Ireland once he arrived in 432 AD, but it is a bit of a misnomer to credit him with the introduction of Christianity to Ireland. We have evidence as early as 314 AD from Eusebius (Sulpicius Severus) that the apostles went as far as the British Isles. There are others such as John Chrysostom (Ev., Dem., iii. 5; vi. 635; and viii. 111), Tertullian, and Origen that have stated that there were Christians in Britain. Pope Cellestine sent Palladius to evangelize Ireland in 431 AD. At any rate, three hundred years before Augustine arrived in 597 AD, Christianity was fully organized in Ireland.

Patrick’s loyalty and love of Holy Scripture was infectious. He was a humble leader who took better liking to being a Bishop in Ireland rather than Bishop of Ireland. Patrick attributed any success he had in his ministry to the grace of God (Hitchcock, F.R. Montgomery, St. Patrick and His Gallic Friends, London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge). Patrick resembled Apostle Paul in the manner of his dedication, loyalty, and labor of love for the gospel message. All of these qualities makes it easy to understand how he could become so esteemed and honored.

These lyrics from a hymn he wrote demonstrate his central focus on Christ.

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

Similar to Paul, Patrick faced hardships in his position, threats, even captures. Yet, he remained faithful and full of zeal for the long road that is often required of those treading the missionary fields. Patrick may not have first introduced Christianity in Ireland, but was most certainly instrumental in the acceptance of the gospel in Ireland, and exemplified such faithfulness that allowed the gospel message to take root.

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Prayer Breakfast: April 11

Mens Prayer Breakfast

The Harvest is Ripe Christian Center, April 11, 2015, 9 .m., 11000 Excelsior Blvd, Hopkins.

I will be speaking about The Unity of Believers during a prayer breakfast at The Harvest is Ripe Christian Center, April 11. There will be several other excellent speakers. The event will be a blessing for your belly and your spirit, if you can attend.

Speakers:
Pastor Charles Dahl – River of Life Church of God
Bishop J.R. Riley – Christ in You Ministries
Pastor Jack Moore, Jr. – Christian Restoration Ministries
Pastor Wilbur Hankerson – Alpha and Omega Ministries
Minister Ramon Mitchum – Koinonia Ministries
Paul A. Nierengarten, Th.M. – Becoming the Faithful

Visit the Harvest is Ripe Facebook page or call 651-347-5166 for more information and for reservations.

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The Value of the Writings of the Early Church / Apostolic Fathers

I was doing research involving Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians and enjoyed a forward written by, I believe, Scott Hahn in Herron’s Clement and the Early Church of Rome.
Appreciating the value of extra biblical writings surrounding the period of the early church yields dividends that pay us back for years to come.

“The witness of those texts [that have survived from the generations immediately following the generation of the Apostles] is rare and precious. They open a window on a world we wish to know, a world otherwise inaccessible. Tradition considers these witnesses collectively as the Apostolic Fathers, the first echo of the Apostles. For centuries, Christians took utmost care to preserve these writings, copying them out laboriously by hand and even risking their lives in order to hide them from persecutors. In the case of Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, some local churches even preserved the book for veneration and proclamation, as part of the New Testament (vii).”

Understanding the social and cultural climate of the early church benefits our study of the New Testament and sheds light on interpreting the Old. It is not only the Roman Catholics that can recognize such benefits. These words can only follow one who has been in the presence of the Spirit of Christ and mentored by His disciples:

“Learn how to subordinate yourselves, laying aside the arrogant and proud stubbornness of your tongue. For it is better for you to be found small but included in the flock of Christ than to have a preeminent reputation and yet be excluded from his hope (1 Clem. 57:2).”

God bless, readers. Remember to, “Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet 2:17).

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All Souls Are Mine: And What About Pets?

Bear(This is an older article I wrote that I thought worth sharing in light of the recent discussion at Christianity today concerning whether pets go to heaven.)

For anyone who has lost a pet, the emotional experience of the loss is known to catch you by surprise. After time spent falling in love, suddenly a meaningful part of life has ended. It is amazing to me how much a part of my family’s life our collie/lab/chow mix, Bear, truly was. I really wasn’t expecting it. After all, we knew he at best would possibly make it to 18 years. And that’s a stretch for a 50+ lbs doggy! But I’ve gained some insight for those interested. At least it has brought me peace knowing how God sees the situation and how he cares for his creation.

When the Lord required first fruits of the works of his people, it wasn’t just from man alone. Animals were involved in this from the beginning. As the herd and cattle increased, the first born would be dedicated to the services of the Lord. Since the command came to both dedicate man and beast, I am taking it that this was not meant that the first born should be put to death, but rather that they should be consecrated. Numbers 18:15

Both man and beast have redemptive value. They are worth rescuing and being pursued by the Creator who gave them life, which is an incredible honor. Job 12:7-10

Every living thing is said to have a soul. The soul of man, and the soul of beast have been given life by the giver of all good things. Genesis 3:21 

When sin entered the lives of God’s creation, he used the skins of animals to cover the shame. He clothed Adam and Eve after the fall in some way. The animals were not meant to be used for just anything. They had a purpose. The animals, whatever these were that produced clothing for Adam and Eve, had a dynamic purpose based on need. Genesis 2:19

In this situation was it only an episode that resulted in naming conventions for animals or was Adam somehow relating with or observing the animals in a way that understood their purpose in order to brand them with an identity. It seems like the latter is true. Psalms 36:6

Man and beast are both preserved in this psalm. It means, literally, thou wilt save. Wherever life is continued and renewed, it is done so by the agency of God. All life is upheld by the sovereignty of its Creator. Romans 8:19

Animals were made subject to us and unfortunately subject to the condition we have left the earth in. They are bound to our fate. They look forward to the day when the new creation comes. The desire God to reveal who is sons and daughters are. They long for a conclusion of this horrible matter, in whatever way they currently understand it. (Probably no better than we do!) Therefore, they must have some part to play in the afterlife when the sons of God will be redeemed. If all souls belong to God, the souls have animals are part of his beautiful grandeur. Proverbs 12:10

Finally, in this proverb it is said that God is concerned for the animals and he is seriously interested in their care. They are not some life that passes without purpose or further use. God has a purpose for them. Of course it is different than our own purpose or of the purpose of mankind. But nonetheless,

God does not create anything without wonder.

These words and findings have helped me to see the life of a beloved pet in a new light. Some pastors have told me that we will be surprised when we enter into the new kingdom. We will see pets we love, people we love. And they will greet us in the kingdom that is to come. There at least seems to be Scriptural precedence for what they are talking about.

In this new kingdom there will be no more decay. And the darkness that separates us for a time, will no longer be an influence. Praise God for being a Creator like no other. I praise him for being a lover like no other. To whom can I compare his love? Its greatness is unfathomable, and applies to all.

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The Name of Jesus and Identity

As a believer with a Charismatic background, I am used to hearing prayers, baptism, and healing done “in the name of Jesus.” I’ve linked the expression with the idea of invoking the identity and person of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Though Jesus is with God the Father interceding for us at the moment, the Spirit has been sent to carry on the work of the ministry of reconciliation that has been tasked to his church. When we do anything in the name of Jesus, the Spirit that was at work in the life of Jesus goes to work in the lives of believers.

In the name of Jesus we:

  • Are baptized (Act 3:28)
  • Preach (Act 4:18)
  • Heal (Act 3:6)
  • Cast out demons (Act 16:18)

There is a wrong way to use this expression: via unbelief. To use the name of Jesus without a relationship or fellowship with him invites a bad situation to the potential degree of demon possession, as the sons of Sceva example teaches us (Act 19:13-17)! When we claim this expression, we seem to be taking on proxy for Jesus. We stand in his stead for whatever it is that we are doing. We are acting in his role; carrying out one of his functions.

In Greco-Roman antiquity, it was common to associate deities with several other names and identities. This is called polyonymy. In a recent article by N. Clayton Croy*, he has shown that early Christians avoided associating the name of Jesus with any other god other than YHWH. Though Jesus was associated with different functions such as the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, he was never associated with other gods. Jesus was never Neptune, etc.

Even the titles used to describe his functions were taken from Judaism (the Old Testament) and not created outside of Jesus’ “discrete history and tradition” (p. 43). There was no single title that could capture the theological significance of Jesus. Many were then used to capture the rich meaning behind the appearance of Jesus. But the use of any name other than Jesus Christ was eschewed by the early church.

This article by Croy is helpful. I believe it further demonstrates that “the name of Jesus” is associated with his very identity. Croy rightly observed that it is not something the early church ever took lightly, nor should we. In like manner, when we are using the name of Jesus properly it truly is a name more powerful than any other. At his name, every knee bows (Phil 2:10)! With his name sickness, disease, possession, curses, and our sins all become powerless!

* “A God by Any Other Name: Polyonymy in Greco-Roman Antiquity and Early Christianity”, BBR, 24.1, 27-43.

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Ancient Near Eastern Environmental Wisdom

An excellent article came out in the recent issue of BBR (24.3) by Sandra Richter from Wheaton College titled, “Environmental Law: Wisdom from the Ancients.” Sandra presents several counterpoints to the argument that Judaism and Christianity do not have environmental concerns at their core like polytheism and animism do. This is a misnomer because at many points Judeo-Christian values have indeed been guilty of a lack of attention for a proper balance of nature’s resources, but this critique can be said of all religions; especially, ancient Mesopotamian practices that led to the depletion of their resources. Sandra shows that the Old Testament is a rich resource for proper environmental care. It is not until the New Testament, however, that a  lack of the same focus occurs. Perhaps, this is due to the NT focus on the presentation of the new Adam and seeing all else as distractions to that important message. Here are some highlights:

  • Humanity was created to care for creation (Gen 1:26, 2:15) until they rebel and create disorder (Gen 3:6; 17-18, 9:2-4).
  • The land of Israel was considered holy and sacred space (Deut 1:8; 4:40), and YHWH could evict Israel without the proper care of His land (Deut 28:15-68, 29:28).
  • YHWH commanded reserves for the poor out of Israel’s farming so that the poor would have an opportunity to sustain themselves (Deut 24:29; Lev 19:9-10, 23:22).
  • Sustainable farming practices let the land rest from the cycle of sowing and harvesting (Exod 23:10-12).
  • In war, Israel was not to destroy the environment (Deut 20:19, 2 Kgs 3:19).
  • YHWH cares for and commands proper care of his other creatures shown in the flood narrative and elsewhere (Gen 9:10, Deut 5:14-15, Psa 104:10-11).

Among Sandra’s recommendations on how to take action for biblically sound praxis is our buying power. What we choose to buy changes the face of the industry (328). Our involvement in purposeful care of the environment demonstrates our love of the creation God has given to His people’s care.

This helpful article is well worth a read, if you have access to the journal.

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NIV Application Commentary on Kindle Sale

NIV Application Commentary: New Testament (NIVAC) (20 vols.)

NIVAC

The NIV Application Commentary series is a helpful bible commentary. Right now you can buy the collection on Kindle (here) for less than $5 per volume. Take advantage! I’m not sure how long the sale will last. I just discovered it today.

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For the City

For the City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel by Darin Patrick and Matt Carter

For the City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel by Darin Patrick and Matt Carter

This book is written well. The styles of both authors blend together smoothly. In the Foreword, the aim of their writing is plain. They know that the church is about God and sometimes leadership worries more about what the congregation thinks. They challenge anyone seeking to live, share, or promote the gospel to keep in mind that “no one is keeping score” (12). It is “not about getting it perfectly right.” This resonates with my own understanding and experience in my research as a student and minister. Perfection has never been the aim, but rather faith seeking understanding. The authors reiterate this later in the book as well.

In the Preface, the authors share what they believe church is all about. What ultimately makes a great church? One in which “Jesus Christ is found in word and deed” (13).

The first part of this book is a drawing and engaging read. I couldn’t put it down. Patrick and Carter share their experiences starting out life and early ministry. Though the stories are concise, they do not leave out the experiences we all have with those less-than-great choices we’ve made. Both authors share in a way that is heartfelt and humorous.

Carter shares the differences between models of doing Church that are IN the city, AGAINST the city, OF the city, or FOR the city. In the latter perspective, the church’s focus is seeking shalom for the city in which they live; utilizing all resources, gifts, time, and money. Patrick shares how bringing church to those who felt more spiritual than religious garnered criticism from all sides but yet brought the gospel in an effective way to those who desired the truth.

The next section has the meat of both their experience and model for ministry. An important discussion is centered on contextualization. This is maintaining a balance of sharing a culturally relevant gospel, but staying clear of a gospel of relativism or sectarianism. It is one that communicates the gospel in a way the local culture can understand without watering it down to appease or seclude the church by extremely conservative views. I loved the comment that the internal problem with all of us is “the heart’s worship of anything other than God” (79).

Something else very helpful was their discussion of community. “The perfect model that meets our longing for relationship…is found by looking vertically” (86). They share that God created us for relationship. Foremost, a relationship with him, and secondly, and also important, a relationship with others. The example they use is that after Adam was created, God gave him a helper equal with him. It was not good for Adam to be alone. He was incomplete. They advised not to “go it alone” or separate from the culture (99): two important take aways from this very good chapter.

No missional or church-planting book would be complete without a chapter dedicated to equipping leaders to go out and minister, and outlining the different ways they have experienced meeting the needs of the community. This was good information and practical advise. But the section that followed was empowering. The idea is of suffering.

How would we have responded to some of the horrific ways in which early Christians suffered? Some were strewn up on poles and burned as torches for Emperor Nero’s pleasure. They were made examples of for those who would dare to go against the emperor. But yet another part of suffering is the hurtful experiences and twists in the lives of those coming in the church doors. Jesus is our model for suffering well and if we will follow him it means denying self (143). The authors included examples of godly suffering and how the church lovingly and sacrificially responded.

True to form, both authors again allow the reader to peer into their hearts when they share failures and expose sin they were struggling with. Great leaders have discovered this: being real and open leads to followers who are real and open. As difficult as this is to do, sharing such stories motivates others to overcome areas in their own lives and trust that their leaders are actually human. They mess up like the rest of us! Who would have thought? There is credibility that comes out of sharing one’s struggles because those who listen can resonate and feel more comfortable exposing their own.

The book concludes with some remarks about Jonah. He too was called into a difficult place and a ministry he otherwise would have thought was never going to succeed. But he ultimately went where God called him, however imperfectly, and was more successful than he thought possible because there was a move of God. It wasn’t about Jonah.

I recommend this book. It is not only for church planters or leaders. It is written well, thoughtful, and helpful on many levels. I will leave you with one quote from the end:

“A church for its city is willing to dream big and take scary risks because the God who began a good work in and through the church is the God who will use the church to bless cities, nations, and the entire world” (177).

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For the Love of Family

Trena Bolden Fields

For Love: Memoirs by Trena Bolden Fields

This is an encouraging piece of writing that reveals intimate stories that express love and life lessons learned. All the stories are enjoyable and resonate with some aspect from our own up-bringing. One particular story moved me, called “For Love.” In it Trena Bolden Fields tells of when she hurt her ankle while receiving what we used to call a “buck” ride on our bicycles. At the doctor, she had to receive treatment by alcohol being poured on her wound. Her mom told her to grab her hand and squeeze when it hurts. At the end of the story, Trena said that she “squeezed her hand so hard that [she] could see [her mom] wincing in pain” (14).

It made me think about real friendship; those who share the pain of life with us and make such lasting impressions. As a Christian, this reminds me of when God sent his son who suffered in the same way as we do. He took on the life of a servant in order that he might be a friend to many. He took the nails at the cross in order that mankind may be redeemed. Our suffering is cut short because he took the pain. Many of the author’s stories demonstrate this kind of love and intimacy such as going through life together.

When we go through life truly loving others it will cost us a little pain in order to take away some of theirs. Trena’s story of her mother taking some of the pain with her daughter is exemplary. We need more stories like her’s to encourage us that love never fails when it endures. I thank Mrs. Bolden Fields for taking the time to share her stories. It’s a short piece that is well worthy of a read.

Trena has a website with her work and her life coaching here.

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