think biblically

In the firestorm of today’s news, some of which is exceedingly sad, and perhaps all the more in the political climate of today, and any day, for that matter, we need to aspire to learning to think biblically.

Just to look at the Bible alone, as if we could do so, as it were, in a vaccum, which is impossible, but again, just to consider the Bible alone is challenging. I resort to what has been called a redemptive hermeneutic (hermeneutic essentially means interpretation), so that the Bible is a story which points to an ultimate conclusion, which is a fitting end to the beginning, but takes seriously everything in between. So that, while there’s harmony in the sense that the story follows a certain path, we find unexpected twists and turns along the way, even in the First Testament alone, but especially so in the Second, Final Testament, when Jesus fulfills all of scripture in ways which were not anticipated by those who lived during that time, or prior. But the seeds of which one can arguably clearly enough find in the First Testament.

From there, we have to consider present day thinking, where that came from, how it is entrenched in society, and in our own thinking. If we’re beginning to get the first goal of arriving to good Biblical thinking, true to that text and its fulfillment in Jesus, then we are ready to consider how we really think in everyday life, what our thinking actually is, which likely will be a reflection of the thinking of the world in which we live. And we have to critique that in the light of biblical thinking.

Where I live, the United States, our language and thinking is derived from the Modernist Enlightenment. Even how we think biblically is in large part impacted by that, so that we actually end up imposing the understanding of the age upon the text of scripture. Rather, we need to remain in the text of scripture, so that we can more and more think truly biblically, and be able to critique our present day thought.

Does that mean we expect the world to conform to biblical thinking? Certainly not. But we in Jesus are not to be conformed to this world, but rather, transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we might come to understand what is the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). That is not something we’ll arrive to overnight, indeed it involves a lifelong process together with other believers.

I believe this is critical, mainly because I think we think in ways that are not so much informed and thus formed by the Bible, but more by society, with especially profound, and too often, I think, egregious/tragic results, especially seen in the political realm. Like everything else in life, this is surely a mixed bag. We do get some things more or less right even on this track, but are amiss in other things, I’m afraid. A big problem from our inheritance of the Modernist Enlightenment on which the United States was largely built, is the emphasis and insistence on individual rights. So that the rights of the individual, however that is manifested politically takes priority over everything else. While “rights” and the individual surely arguably have their place, we have to ask ourselves if that has the same place in scripture that it has in our world. And if not, then what informs it, or what context in scripture might we say it exists, its place.

This is not a proposal to imagine that biblical thinking can be imposed on the world, but to seek to be true to it ourselves, so that we can better live in it, through learning to think and therefore live according to what scripture teaches, and its fulfillment in Jesus, rather than what any political party of this world insists on. The new way of thinking and living in the grace and kingdom that is ours in Jesus.

informed and formed by what?

We live in a time of mass information, at all of our fingertips, 24/7. There’s no question that we can find a lot of help in answering questions and solving problems. And we can learn quite a bit, as well. One remarkable source, for whatever just criticism it receives, is Wikipedia, which I think on balance is quite good. And of course there’s all the many news sources.

But as followers of Jesus, of God’s church, we need to steep ourselves and be steeped in something more, something better than all of this. Not that these things don’t have their place, as long as we separate the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad. What we need is a commitment to discipline ourselves in the basics of the Christian faith which we confess. We need to be regularly in God’s word, in scripture. A good goal is to read through the Bible every year, and there are programs and even Bibles to help us do that. I like the idea, adopted by Thomas Cranmer (who at least oversaw and edited, as well as wrote, from scripture and tradition, the Book of Common Prayer) of reading through the Old Testament once, and the New Testament twice a year.

I like to listen to scripture being read, as well as read it myself, the latter which I am mostly doing now. Add to that, we need to read good books from the church, which have respect for the tradition, that is what God has given the church over the centuries, and are intent in breaking new ground within that tradition, which is committed to scripture as God’s word written. We need to keep working at this little by little, one thing at a time, gathering knowledge and the corresponding wisdom which comes with that, over the years. And finding God’s Spirit to help us in down to earth ways where we live, and “where the rubber meets the road,” to meet the challenges and pitfalls of life, as well as simply living in the full will of God in Jesus.

There is no question that we live in a world which can be quite toxic in what we imbibe, not only in the physical environment, but to the point here, in what we are thinking theologically and philosophically, and from that just what “the good life is,” and how we should live. Of course for us in Jesus, this is all about death and resurrection in and through him. We live in Jesus both for him, and for others. We are on mission here from God in and through Jesus.

And so while we will be exposed to much that is not helpful, or is even downright toxic, some of that probably necessary if we’re to face the real world, we need to be those who by God’s grace are passionate to be instilled in the faith of the gospel in and through Jesus. A faith that is large in scope, as big as all of creation and all of life here. So that we can live out and speak of God’s will in Jesus in our own daily lives, within our families and into our everyday world and beyond, being changed more and more into the image of Jesus together, in and for the world.

aspiring to what?

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach…

In recent months the pastoral epistles are becoming alive to me in a way which they once were, but was lost in the lostness of many of my middle years, when I lost hope of fulfilling what I believed (and still do) was my call from God. When we view the passage in its context we see the qualifications set in terms of both giftedness and character.

I’m not sure and maybe doubtful at this late stage in my life that I’ll be able to step into something of this (though I already have in a way, through the years), but I find the desire to do better and to do well character wise a good challenge and even encouragement for whatever time I have left in this life.

Aspiring to good character in and through Jesus is not to think one can arrive to sinless perfection in this life. Nor is it to engage in some sort of ego trip in which I come to think I am better than others. It is instead to pursue a course in which character takes priority over everything else including one’s giftedness. On the latter point that means I am willing to forgo what I would like to do for the sake of growing more and more into the image of our Lord. That character transformation is always first priority.

But that doesn’t mean that what we do is therefore left out in terms of what gift we have from God.  It does mean that we do so humbly in our place, whatever place that ends up being. Intent on following Jesus so that who we are takes precedent over what we do, of course impacting the latter.

For me personally, I can’t separate everything, but I can desire to do the best I can with whatever I’m given. In the life in God through Christ by the Spirit in communion with all of God’s people in mission to the world.

Sharon Garlough Brown on paying attention to the Spirit of God, and the change that comes

“The spiritual life is all about paying attention,” said Katherine. “The Spirit of God is always speaking to us, but we need to slow down, stop, and give more than lip service to what God is saying. We need to get off autopilot and take time to look and listen with the eyes and ears of the heart.”

Katherine paused, letting the room fill again with pregnant silence.

“Now I’ll caution you right from the beginning,” she said slowly. “Walking the path toward freedom and deep transformation takes courage. It’s not easy. It’s not linear. It can seem messy and chaotic at times, and you’re likely to lose your sense of equilibrium as old things die and new things are born. You may feel disoriented as idols you once trusted and relied upon are revealed and removed. But don’t be afraid of the mess. The Holy Spirit is a faithful guide, gently shepherding and empowering us as we travel more deeply into the heart of God.”

Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey, 51.

I made what is italicized by the author bold, since my current blog format automatically italicizes all quotes.

knowing better is not enough: the character deficit

Influenced by the Enlightenment, society or at least those on the liberal end of it pretty much chalk down knowledge as the key to everything. That simply more education is needed. Ironically I would think they are beginning to realize the fallacy of that way of thinking.

I am not one who is enamored by either the conservative or liberal approach on this matter, at least not in the sense which I understand it. I do believe knowledge is important and helpful, along with education. And that knowledge is not incompatible with faith. I want to know what is going on in the world, what people are thinking, and learn from that in a variety of ways.

At the same time, knowledge by itself is not enough and can even be deceptive. For example we can think that we are better than others just because we “know” something. But if we don’t act accordingly, we could actually be worse off than if we hadn’t known better at all.

What gets me sometimes is how I’ll know what I should do, or what my attitude should be, but I don’t follow through because of what I know or perceive. For example I can believe someone is doing me wrong, and know how I should respond in love to that wrong, the different avenues I may take in love, not the least of which might be to simply forgive and let it go. Funny enough, one of the key things to do is to keep on thinking, yes, on the knowledge end, and out from that to ask questions. Nine times out of ten we would discover that there was no ill will at all. But even where they may well be that, we know what God in and through Christ has called us to be and do. Yes, we need wisdom along with what we think we know, a whole life response to this in God’s love in Christ.

Knowing itself in any kind of moral sense is deprecated or looked down on in scripture as deficient unless it is marked by love. As good as knowledge might be it is always incomplete in this life. Even in regard to the faith, we know in part. What we need to pursue is love, we might say we need to pursue Christ and that part and parcel of that pursuit is transformation or change in becoming like him. Not excusing ourselves when we fail, but confessing and finding those times to be stepping stones to character growth and transformation.  Yes, we ought to be changing.

To simply know better is not enough. As James tells us, we must act on it. This must be a serious commitment and endeavor on our part, a major priority of our life.

To do so we must depend on God through Christ. By the Spirit we can work through what we do understand, incomplete as it is, and become better people. That is part of what is at the heart of being God’s people in this world, as those seeking to follow Jesus.

the best education

Education as we know it here probably has its roots in the western stream somewhere. Learning, as in the sciences seems to have primacy of place, but place is given to the arts, as well. Education is practically considered the key to the good life for most everyone. It’s supposed that knowledge is the key to a better society. If people just know enough, everything will be better. And especially so, if they know in a way which meets life where it’s lived, both as an individual and within society. That last point is getting warmer toward the truth, I think.

One of the major problems of public and dare we say, private education (though some of that may be able to do better) is that the learning is not necessarily tailored well to the individual. We all are at different places and stages for one reason or another in our development and growth. And we all have different bents and aptitudes. Education has done well to help students within the system. The problem might be the system itself, which does not flex enough to do well by every student, I’m thinking.

Of course we talk about the education of hard knocks. Simply meaning learning the ropes “the hard way.” Breaking the rules and paying for it, facing the consequences. We’ve all been there and done that to some extent.

In none of this do we really graduate. Life goes on, and with it a continual learning, all the more in today’s fast changing world. And this is true in what I consider the best education.

The best education in the world is one of becoming and being a disciple or follower of Jesus. Jesus brings into the world a new way of being human within a new order, the kingdom of God. This new order is not only spiritual, but material and transforms all of life. Nothing at all is excluded.

To learn from Jesus is to be committed to God through him, through his death and resurrection. It is a dynamic lived within the community of the church by the Spirit of God in and through Jesus. It is a twenty-four hour, seven day a week proposition. Scripture is an important part of it, read individually and within community in the church. This kind of education does not necessarily negate other kinds. For us in Jesus it transcends everything else, but it includes all that “is true, …noble, …right, …pure, …lovely, …admirable …excellent or praiseworthy.” There is much within “common grace” we can learn and benefit from. But even those areas, –every one of them– is transformed by the kingdom of God in Jesus, active and at work in our lives, both in our outlook and activity.

Yes, everyday, today is included. What does the Lord want to teach me/us today? What is he teaching us lately? And how are our lives changing in conformity to God’s will in recent times through this? Just some of the questions we can ask as we continue to work this out together in Jesus and for the world.

Scot McKnight on how kingdom transformation begins

“Jesus said:

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”

If Jesus thinks that confessing him is how one enters the kingdom, then it is no wonder that Jesus stands up in the synagogue in Nazareth, reads from Isaiah, and then announces that Isaiah’s kingdom predictions were about him. It is also no wonder that some in that synagogue wanted to end his life right then.  So it is: Jesus says the kingdom begins by turning to him.

When pastors and theologians speak of the “personal” or “relational” nature of the Christian faith, they’ve got it right. Jesus’ kingdom can neither be ratcheted tightly into a cold-edged system of logical propositions, nor can it be downshifted into a set of social virtues. Kingdom transformation begins by recognizing that the kingdom is about a personal connection to Jesus, it begins by turning to Jesus….

Because the Jesus Creed calls for the whole person—heart, soul, mind, and strength—entering the kingdom is just the first step. A whole person won’t be transformed overnight—the transformation continues by making a lifestyle out of following Jesus.

Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, 129,130.

The Jesus Creed:

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no commandment greater than these.”

(see pages 3-13)