“It’s not just that Jesus is God. God is Jesus.”

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Forgive me for borrowing this from someone else who shared this in the recent past on social media, though it’s nothing new, but something we may not think much about. Yes, we take it from the witness of Scripture that indeed, Jesus while fully human is fully God. Just as mysterious as the thought of the Trinity itself, though in our modernistic mindset we somehow think we can explain everything, plumb the depths even of God. Though the world now understands that while we’re blessed with an emphasis on reason and modernity, that simply is not the case. But many Christians have yet to receive or understand that.

But to the point of this post: God is Jesus. While Jesus as portrayed in the gospels might not seem entirely right in our times, that too could be a misreading of some of the stories he told, completely fitting in that day, and not really putting God into the same light as some of the characters which have been misinterpreted as corresponding directly to God. What we clearly do see in Jesus is quite a contrast to even the best of what we find in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, while not at all denigrating the seriousness of the faith of those preceding him. Remember, Jesus said that John the Baptizer was greater than all who had preceded him, but that everyone in the kingdom of heaven were somehow greater than John. That must have to do with the superiority, or in the words of Hebrews “better” covenant, kingdom and King now present.

If you want to understand who God is, then you have to look at Jesus. Study Jesus, especially in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and don’t stop studying him there. And then go on to what follows and consider Jesus in all of that. And begin to grapple with and understand all the rest of Scripture in that light, so that you see where God’s people surely fell short in their understanding of God. Yes, God gets God’s hand dirty by not only taking us seriously where we’re at, but working with us there; full, utter grace. But God won’t stop there until we see God for who God really is. And that can only be seen through Jesus’s life, acts, teachings, death, resurrection and ascension with the promise of his return. We see God as God truly is only in the face of Jesus Christ.

the gift and necessity of reason

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

As I heard recently on a podcast, the emphasis on reason that remains with us from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment which followed is a blessing from which we have many gifts we take for granted today, such as modern medicine, which for all our complaints, is light years ahead of what was in the past, mortality being just one indicator of that.

We do have to be careful that we don’t make, as it were, an idol out of reason. As modernists found out, we won’t arrive to any final answer through reason, and they’ve made peace with that. But as the podcast I referred to pointed out, evangelical fundamentalists think that through reason they can prove the validity of the faith or more precisely for them, the Bible. While reason is a gift God has given us to use as we pore through Scripture, it can’t do what only God can do.

On the other hand, I think reason is often all but lost due to many things which effectually cancel it out. Like theology not worthy of the name. Misreadings of the Bible, for example in Genesis. Apocalyptic misapplications of passages like in Revelation, which end up casting out most all reason, being held captive to conspiratorial thinking or whatnot.

Reason is a gift from God, to be used not only in our reading of Scripture, but in all of life. Sure, there are many things we won’t be able to understand, but so many things that we will be able to reason through. We should try to apply logic in terms of comparison and contrast, and ask many questions.

Yes, as a friend reminded me, overthinking can be a problem, and I suppose I’m rather a prime candidate for that. But actually I often think due to laziness, or whatever else, I can be prone to underthinking, which might be good on an odd occasion or in a certain way as part of life. Not “ignorance is bliss,” but going on by faith, even when we don’t understand.

But as Paul reminds us in the above passage: There is so much both in the faith and in the world that we can and should think about. The terms from the Greek in the Philippians passage above seem to refer more to human culture than anything religious. And that actually is a blessing given to us. Maybe even akin sometimes to “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

the primacy of experience

O taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

I was pleasantly surprised over a podcast I listened to of an interview of Richard Rohr by Pete Enns and Jared Byas. Although in another world, I can see where some of what he is talking about rings true to me, and the general picture he painted seems to be where I’ve been heading.

Rohr likened Christian formation to riding on a tricycle. And as I remember it, he definitely would make the front wheel experience, and the two back wheels scripture and tradition. According to Rohr, the Protestants have made scripture their primary authority and the Roman Catholic Church has made tradition its primary authority. And each have become idols. What I say further will likely be a mixture of my own thoughts along with Rohr’s.

In the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” based on writings of John Wesley, there’s scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In the Anglican version, there’s scripture, tradition and reason. Of course, reason is important, but ‘I’m imagining no doubt that Rohr would include that in one’s experience. We naturally reason through things as we experience life. Experience is not subsumed into reason as many of us have been taught. But reason is subsumed in experience.

That doesn’t mean that experience is infallible. Remember, the tricycle won’t be able to move at all without both of the other wheels, scripture and tradition. Scripture matters and what the church has thought and taught matter. But experience is the wheel at the front, meaning that to understand all of this, we have to live through it. And not only that, but experience will at times correct misinterpretations and misapplication of scripture and what might be unhelpful or mistaken in tradition, all the while holding on to all three as vitally important for the whole as Christ followers.

Instead, we have teaching or an understanding which leaves people with the idea that they have to hold on to certain truths from the Bible just as the church has supposedly always taught them, and that experience somehow comes out of that. It may somewhat be a case of and/both, and no analogy is perfect. But the point here is that God is present in Jesus by the Spirit through other Christ-followers, and frankly through life itself to help us onward and upward, together. Experience more than matters. By it we both find the truth of God, not mere head knowledge, and see it played out, active in our lives. A grounding reality in and through Jesus.

what is “the W/word of God”?

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 33:6

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1, 14

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17

An evangelical pastor and scholar wrote to me that the Bible itself never claims to be the word of God. The church fathers of the early centuries made no such claim, calling it Holy Writ or Scripture. The canon in those days wasn’t complete and solidified as it is today. I am guessing, and from what I think I’ve picked up, the Bible was called the Word of God in the flow coming out of the Protestant Reformation, of course referring to the 66 books of the Protestant canon. 

All that aside, I believe the word, or if you prefer Word, though my own preference is to preserve the capitalization in reference to Christ, refers to God speaking to bring into existence and make things happen, to God’s Word Christ, and to the good news- the gospel message about Christ. So we might say that the word of God as found in Scripture is God’s spoken word, Christ and the gospel, and all related to each other. λόγος (logos) and ῥῆμα (rhēma) are the two primary Greek words translated “word” in our Bible translations. They are certainly related, and perhaps could to some extent be interchangeable. But λόγος refers to something established, existent, whereas we might say ῥῆμα is more of the act of something becoming established. It is good to note that distinction in various passages. And this post is not about trying to deal with that, which I’m not qualified to do anyhow, though we do have so many good helps in books, commentaries and online nowadays to at least give us a clue and some good direction on this.

Based on this, I go to Scripture to “hear” and receive God’s word to me. And I realize at the same time that the word is Christ, and whatever word that comes to us from God comes through Christ. And that the gospel, the good news in Christ is central in all of this. After all, the gospel is really the entire point of Scripture. All else is beside that point, because the gospel in Christ ultimately judges as well as shapes everything.

Scripture is not strictly speaking the W/word of God. But through it, God’s word comes to us. And I want to add here, that all of Scripture is important for this, every bit of it. I would add the Apocrypha to the mix, also called the Deuterocanonical books (see NRSV Bibles which include that, for the most complete inclusion of all accepted by Christian traditions). Inerrancy is unnecessary. All of Scripture is inspired by God for its express purpose, the gospel penetrating and changing our own lives, as well as ultimately everything else. So I’m ideally more than less in Scripture all the time. That is where God’s word breaks through to me more than anywhere else. But we do well to try to hear God’s word through our experience, through what others say, etc. Of course with discernment, and comparing with Scripture. But even Scripture itself is critiqued, and from no one less than Christ himself. But that’s another subject, well above my “pay grade.” 

And as I heard recently, and it seems to me to have merit: Scripture, tradition, reason and you can add to that with some caveats- experience can all be in the mix, and actually are so in different orders. We need the Spirit of God to help us sort that out, and central in that is to understand fulfillment to be not in Scripture itself, but in Christ.

All of this is not to relegate the Bible to some secondary status. It is actually central in helping us to hear God’s word, to “see” Christ, to hear and accept the good news of Christ. And I can guarantee you that I definitely need God’s word every single day. After all, just as Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Something we depend on not just every day, but every moment. And we need it. It definitely makes the needed difference for us. 

In and through Jesus.

the Lord over all, including Scripture, tradition, reason and experience

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

According to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is simply gathered from John Wesley’s writings, something he did not explicitly teach himself, we have Scripture, tradition, reason and experience in the mix, to go by. The experience part has been critiqued surely with some truth in that criticism. We can easily be misled by our experience. But actually our reception of any of it is far from foolproof. Hardly a case has to be made to realize that.

Yes, all four have their place I think, and you can show that right from Scripture. But what we need undergirding that is what’s pointed out to us in the above passage from Proverbs. We need God’s hand over and on us, God’s guiding hand. And we need to have the attitude of trust, dependence and submission to the Lord, no less.

Yes, we need to remain in Scripture. Tradition has it’s place, too. How has God guided the church? What has the church gotten right, and what has the church been mistaken in? And perhaps the key point on tradition is that we’re in this together. And God appeals to our reason right in Scripture. The fact that Scripture is a revelation from God given to us in words says a lot in itself. Certainly that revelation has all kinds of ways of communicating: prose, telling of story, poetry, apocalyptic. But the picture given to us is in words. That certainly involves reason.

This is especially difficult when we’re working through issues in which not all of God’s people agree. We need to hold on to humility, and realize we might have somehow gotten something important wrong. But the bottom line is that we need to hold on to trust in God. And look to the Lord to lead us, yes as individuals, but above all, together, as his sheep. We need to look for that as we remain in Scripture, in the light of Jesus’s teaching and what followed. In and through him.

holding on to faith in the midst of a pandemic

Christians are not afraid of death, even though it remains an “enemy,” the last enemy that will be done away with. We realize it’s both inevitable, and that through Jesus’s resurrection, it is not the end. Through faith and baptism (Romans 6) we participate in that resurrection so that in and through Christ death is not the end for us.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic, for some reason the book of Job comes to my mind. Everyone has an opinion, and often the opinions are at variance with each other, indeed in opposition. Everyone has their say along with Job, who questions God and finds no easy answers. Job’s faith is tattered, maybe one might say shaken, yet is not in ruins. It remains, as he continues to answer those who have all the right answers from their ivory tower position. We know that God steps in and points Job to his creation, things well beyond Job, and somehow in that, Job is able to find peace in realizing that he simply doesn’t know, and in accepting that.

For me, I am questioning the faith of others who seem to deny science, and want to carry on as if everything is normal, and much of that with the view I suppose of trusting in God. Of course nowadays there are all kinds of political stuff thrown in, so that your views and how you think are often mostly partisan, determined by your political party and its platform or general view, or what it holds to. Not really dependent on faith, and I would say a well thought out faith.

Science is in the crosshairs and crossfire of all of this, being the bogeyman for too many. There is no way we can understand what to do about a virus by opening up our Bibles and praying. Yes, we need to do that always, every day. But to understand natural phenomena, we have to study it on its own terms. I won’t understand a whole lot about a flower except by learning from those who have studied it, how it takes hold from being a seed in the soil, how it grows, how it thrives and passes on not only its beauty, but provision to nature. So it is with the virus: We have to listen and take seriously science, or pay the consequences.

To think about science would require another post and much more. Modern science is simply the discipline of observation, hypothesis, testing, verification, and on and on. It is not closed, so that it doesn’t purport to have final answers. And indeed it can’t speak in matters in which faith speaks, like why the flower exists beyond the scientific reasons given.

All of that to say this: In the way of Jesus, we hold on to faith in God, but an intelligent or thoughtful faith. Refusing to give in to fear, but not acting foolhardy, either. Not jumping off the cliff like Satan suggested the Lord should do, who promptly quoted him Scripture in context, that we’re not to put the Lord our God to the test.

This can test us, how we see others expressing their faith, not unlike Job’s struggle, I suppose. In the end we have to do our best, but wait on God. Only with God’s help and through his word will we eventually come to more and more of the perspective we need. In and through Jesus.

“the redemption of reason”

The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?

Jeremiah 8:9

In a challenging, but interesting article, Dallas Willard speaks of a crisis of reason not only in the universities, but right in our Christian schools. Aptly called, “The Redemption of Reason,” because Willard is making the point that sin through bad philosophy has shipwrecked reason, so that it is now essentially meaningless. And what has gone down with it is any idea of moral knowledge. All lost because it has been separated from its source and ground, or place, from God who is spirit, and why creation exists in the first place (my words in part here; I would highly recommend a slow read of that article).

The Bible is essentially reasonable, even when we can’t track with all that is happening entirely. Taken as a whole, then considered in its parts, we can say without a doubt that there is plenty of sense in the story, whether or not it jives with all of our sensibilities. The problem nowadays is that our outlook has been shaped from centuries of what amounts to essentially bad philosophy in different forms, which end up denying truth because they’re untethered from the one source of truth, God. And so we go gallivanting, who knows where.

Religion is looked down on as something like old school. Of course the one revelation is fulfilled in Christ and the good news in him as unfolded from the pages of Scripture. Reason is very much apart of our faith, essentially Christ’s resurrection in history at the center of that, along with the reality of God mediated to us in Christ by the Spirit.

Where does that leave us? In a crisis even in our Christian circles, because we’ve by and large retreated from reason because of how it is understandably failing in the secular universities. We have done so by placing our study and appropriation of Scripture in a separate category probably without knowing it, because we have to make do in the real world. And Scripture seems different, anyhow. Well it is, and it isn’t. It’s from God, but it’s right down to earth where we live in our humanity. And that certainly includes reason.

Again what’s needed is nothing less than the redemption of reason, according to Willard. And Christians must lead the way, or show the way, because reason itself loses all significance apart from God, and won’t stand on its own, completely dependent on the meaning assigned to it. It’s not like we have to figure out the problem; it’s in the air, just assumed, grounded somehow in whatever human endeavor, good things like science, which essentially can’t be the basis of meaning since God is not in their equation.

So we shouldn’t flee from reason, or be apologetic about it. Instead we need to demonstrate through faith the reasonableness of it all, while at the same time holding on to mystery as part of the story, what’s up, and what God is doing in our lives and in the world. And see the gospel in Jesus as essential in all of this, leading us to God and the new life in him.

the danger of relying on feelings

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:24

The Hebrew word translated “heart” here refers to both thinking and feelings, to the entire inner person. We’re told here to guard it above all else. This seems to me to suggest a discipline that refuses to let up. I notice two extremes in my life which I would like to avoid. One is when all seems well and from that I can go off on this or that, getting carried away in ways which aren’t well enough controlled. The other extreme is probably more what I’ve been accustomed to: being dead or overcome with negative feelings, then choosing to ignore them and rely on rational thought with the danger of running roughshod over anything and everything. The self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit can help us navigate and find good throughout all the fluctuations of our inner life.

To much of the world, “if it feels good, do it.” You do whatever comes naturally, whatever that is. That really doesn’t work well unfortunately, because we’re amiss or at least easily led astray even by what in itself is alright and good. This passage suggests that we’re to discipline ourselves in watching over our thoughts and emotions. What we do comes from what we are inside. God’s Spirit helps us both in our thoughts and feelings. It’s not at all like they’re unimportant. And we’re involved in the process. We aren’t just carried around as automatons, but we are completely involved in this walk of life. And part of that is to guard ourselves inwardly so that outwardly we might live lives pleasing to God for the good of others. In and through Jesus.

scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.