Can You Love God and Hate Theology?

Debates over theology cause needless distractions and actually keep us from God

Can You Love God and Hate Theology?My theology is an enigma to most people. It’s an enigma to me, too, but I’m okay with that because I don’t much care about theology, at least not how most folks pursue it today.

People often want to engage me in theological discussions, but I’m only good for about ten seconds. Though I can talk about God, faith, and the Bible all day, don’t turn the conversation into an intangible abstraction. God is real, the Bible is alive, and faith is active. So let’s not bog down our discussions in theoretical constructs.

The reason people try to figure out my theological stance is understandable; it’s human nature to want to categorize people. They want to place me in a theological box. Once I’m in a box I’m easier to comprehend, and then they can choose to accept me or shun me. But I don’t fit into their neat packages, the ones that carry convenient labels.

As they ask probing questions, I can see their heads about explode because my answers transcend the various theological perspectives they seek to insert me into. They can’t figure me out or how to catalog my beliefs. Do I align with their views? Or am I one of those other people? You see, I don’t fit nicely into any theological camp; I bounce around a lot.

Consider some of their common questions and my impertinent but seriously sincere answers:

Q: What’s your view on baptism?
A: We should probably do it.

Q: Are you pre-trib or post-trib?
A: It doesn’t matter. What happens will happen.

Q: How do you understand the creation account in the Bible?
A: God made us. The details aren’t relevant to the fact that I’m here.

Q: Do we have free will or are we predestined?
A: Yes.

Q: Are you Reformed, Arminian, Calvinist, Baptist…?
A: Isn’t Jesus the point?

Q: Well, are you Mainline, Evangelical, or Charismatic?
A: I’m a little bit of each.

Q: What’s the best translation of the Bible?
A: The one that we actually read.

Q: What are the essential elements of your faith, the non-negotiables?
A: Just one: follow Jesus.

Q: But what about _______ ?
A: It doesn’t matter.

I don’t study theologians. I study God, which is the most basic definition of theology anyway. But I don’t study God to stuff my brain with facts and theories. I seek God so that I can better know him, more fully follow him, and live in community with him. Perhaps that’s my theology.

[This is from the January issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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Read the New Testament in 2017

Learn more about Jesus and his church as you read through the New Testament this year

The New Testament of the Bible is a great part of the Bible to read. It starts with a focus on the life of Jesus and moves on to cover his followers after he dies, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven. Whether you are familiar with the Bible or just starting out, the New Testament unveils most of the essentials, and it provides the foundation for Christianity as it informs how we should live as Jesus’s disciples.

By reading only one chapter a day, Monday through Friday, we can read the entire New Testament in one year. For the average reader this only takes three to four minutes each day.

Can you commit to that?

Download our 2017 New Testament reading plan to follow along with us. And then look for posts each Wednesday about that day’s reading.

Join us as we read through the New Testament in 2017. You’ll be glad you did.

(If you prefer, we also have an Old Testament reading plan and monthly guides as well. All this and much more is found at ABibleADay.com)

The Bible Reminds Us of Our Heritage

Reading the Bible helps inform us of who we are

The Bible Reminds Us of Our HeritageI love reading the Bible. While the entire Bible is useful to teach us about God and inform our faith journey (2 Timothy 3:16), I particularly enjoy the stories about the people, our spiritual ancestors.

I like reading about Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Job, Joseph and his brothers, Moses, Joshua, those crazy judges and faithful prophets, Ruth and Boaz, David, Solomon, Hosea, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah in the Old Testament. The New Testament tells about Jesus, the star of the Bible. I also like my namesake, Peter, along with Luke (especially Luke), Paul, Timothy, John, and Mary. I enjoy lessor known characters, too – those obscure people who only show up in a verse or two, like Rhoda, Lydia, John Mark, Philemon, Onesimus, Jabez, and so on. And let’s not forget about the angels. They’re in the Bible, too. All of these characters point us to Father God and reveal who he is.

Reading about these folks fills me with awe over their faith and dismay over their failures. I shake my head in bewilderment over their bone-headed mistakes and fist pump enthusiasm over their triumphs. I work to avoid their errors and strive to emulate their successes.

These people give me a spiritual heritage, my anchor. Collectively they have formed me into who I am today as a person and as a follower of Jesus. These biblical ancestors have become my ancestors, perhaps even more so than those in my biological family tree.

Spiritually they are my inheritance. I don’t have an affinity with a certain branch of Jesus’s church, connect with a denomination, or adhere to a particular theological bent. My affinity resides in these amazing, flawed folks of the Bible, their faith, and the God they worship and serve.

As such, the Bible reminds me of my heritage, of who I am.

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Choose With Care Whose Advice You Heed

King Rehoboam made the costly mistake of listening to his friend’s advice

Choose With Care Whose Advice You HeedRehoboam succeeds his father, Solomon, as king. He inherits a sweet situation of a nation experiencing peace, enjoying power, and basking in wealth. It is his merely to maintain.

His detractor, Jeroboam, goes before him and asks for a reprieve for the people from the past burden of work and taxes. Rehoboam wisely says, check back with me in three days. Then he asks his advisors, the same elders who served his father, what to do. They tell him to back off a bit, be nice, and earn the people’s loyalty.

But Rehoboam didn’t like that recommendation, so he goes to his friends instead. They give him the opposite advice. He follows it, and most of the nation rebels against him to follow Jeroboam.

Rehoboam ends up with only one tribe willing to follow him, Judah. He listens to the wrong advice and loses big time.

This reminds me of kids. It’s common for small children to ask one parent a question, but not liking the answer, they check with the other parent for a more favorable response. When they’re caught the results are never good.

We do this as adults, too. Have you ever read a verse in the Bible that makes you cringe? I have. But instead of looking for ways to follow it, I look for a different verse that will let me draw a more favorable conclusion. I hold onto the second one and dismiss the first. I shouldn’t need to wonder what God thinks about that, because as a parent I already know.

God gives us the Bible for a reason. We need to follow it. All of it.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Chronicles 10-12, and today’s post is on 2 Chronicles 10:3-15.]

How to Hear From God

Supernatural conversations with the divine can happen – for those ready to listen

How to Hear From GodFor much of my life I believed what well-meaning people taught me. They said I could talk to God through prayer, and he would talk to me through the Bible. Though both methods provided one-way communication, when paired they effected dialogue – sort of.

They were right but they didn’t mention actual supernatural communication, the kind that happens in the Bible. While I believed this degree of interaction with the Almighty is possible and still happens today, I assumed it only materialized with select people and occurred in limited instances.

A friend who talks with God daily asked if I, too, wanted to hear directly from God on a regular basis.

I think it was a rhetorical question, but I said “yes” just to be sure. This is the advice he gave me to get started:

  • Block out an hour of time with no interruptions.
  • Ask God to speak to you and be ready to listen.
  • Jot a question on a piece a paper, and then verbally ask God that question.
  • Write down everything that comes to mind.

After thirty minutes I had three pages of notes and clear direction to deal with my question, but I wasn’t sure if those were God’s words or my thoughts.

I tried again a week later. This time I suspected some of what I wrote came directly from God. After more practice I was able to distinguish my thoughts from God’s words, which he places in my mind. Though I occasionally hear a few words aloud, mostly God plants his words in my mind.

Over time we began having conversations. We’ve been doing this for the past ten years. When I ask a question or share a thought, I generally hear from him right away – assuming I’m really ready to listen.

This is my experience, while others who talk to God have other experiences, but the point is having regular, genuine communication with God. It is possible, and it does happen today – even with ordinary followers of Jesus, like me.

Yes, God does speak to me through the Bible, but that’s not the only way.

Paul wrote to the Ephesian church that “the sword of the Spirit is the word of God,” Ephesians 6:17. Christians who have a limited view of Holy Spirit power in our world today think Paul means the written Word of God (even though the New Testament didn’t exist when Paul wrote those words). I think a better understanding is that the sword of the Spirit is the spoken word of God, courtesy of his Holy Spirit.

If you want to hear more from God, just ask – and then listen, really listen.

How does God speak to you? What can you do to hear more?

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The Bible Provides a Greater Authority for Faith and Spirituality

It’s critical to build our spiritual house on a strong foundation if it is to last

The Bible Provides a Greater Authority for Faith and SpiritualityWe live in a day where people make up their own religion. It seems silly to state our present spiritual climate in those terms, but that’s what people do, even those who say they are Christians.

For some this means looking at all religions using a personal pro and con analysis. They embrace the parts they like, adapt a few others, and reject the rest. Their religious practice emerges as a smattering of Christian thought, Jewish practice, Hindu ideals, Muslim devotion, and Buddhist discipline. Their resulting practice may be self-satisfying, but its basis is simultaneously built on everything and nothing.

Others don’t directly consider world religions; they just do what feels right. They make a personal inventory of good behaviors and bad behaviors, with everyone’s list being different. From this emerges a loose set of spiritual practices that makes them feel good and never confronts them. Often they end up doing peculiar things in the name of their religion, which in reality is an excuse to behave however they want.

Next is the group that reads religious literature, including the Bible, with a highlighter in one hand and scissors in the other. The result is a cut and paste religion, a spiritual collage of feel-good sentiment that merely reinforces their preconceived notions of whatever they want.

While each of these approaches is affirmed in today’s attitude of mystical permissiveness, they are based on nothing solid, nothing lasting, nothing of substance.

For truly meaningful spiritual significance that transcends ourselves, we must seek a reliable source that surpasses our own thoughts, preferences, and preconceived ideals. We need a greater authority.

For me that greater authority rests in the Bible, which reflects the Godhead who inspired it. I read and study the Bible, not to articulate a systematic theology but to pursue the God behind its words. To me the Bible isn’t a rulebook or even a manual; it’s a narrative resource that points me to God. I will daily strive to understand the Bible more fully, while knowing I will never achieve this lifelong goal.

The Bible is the basis for my faith, a greater authority that transcends my limited intellect and keeps me from making up my own religion and deluding myself in the process.

What is the basis for your spiritual foundation? How does the Bible fit in?

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s June newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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The Bible Uses a Third Person Omniscient Point of View

Knowing the writing style of the Bible will help us avoid confusion when we read it

The Bible Uses a Third Person Omniscient Point of ViewSince my days as a teenager, I’ve spent time most every day to read and study the Bible. I’m also a writer who writes every day. I like to share what I’ve learned about both subjects. Here goes:

I don’t want to trigger unwelcome flashbacks to junior high and high school, but here’s a brief reminder about point of view in writing: When we tell stories of what we did, we use first person (as in “I drove…”). When we tell stories about others, we use third person (as in “she drove…”).

And there are two variations of third person perspective: limited (restricted to what only one character can see or know) and omniscient (knowing everything, like God).

In days of old, writers used third-person omniscient. Nowadays, third-person limited is all the rage, with the industry turning up its snobbish nose at third person omniscient writing.

The books I read in third person are always third person limited. In this I’m restricted to one person’s perspective per scene, just like a movie camera.

Reading, “he thought the idea was silly, but she was thinking the opposite,” is jarring because we hop from one person’s head to another in the same sentence. This is verboten in today’s writing style, third person limited.

Yet the Bible does this all the time.

For example, how was Jonah aware that the seas calmed down after the sailors tossed him into the water (Jonah 1:15)? Or when Philip left the Ethiopian eunuch, how did he know the eunuch went on his way (Acts 8:39)? With today’s writing style, they can’t. We see things from Jonah and Philip‘s point of view and, according to the rules of third person limited writing, we can’t be privy to what happens when they aren’t present.

Yet most of the Bible uses the third person omniscient point of view, not third person limited. Therefore, consistent with this writing style, we can know these things. And given that God is omniscient and inspired the words of the Bible, it’s completely logical that the Bible would align with his omniscient point of view.

It took me way too long to figure this out.

Over the years I’ve heard people criticize the Bible’s accuracy because of these passages about Jonah and Philip, as well as scores of others. They assumed the Bible should obey the rules of today’s in vogue writing style of third person limited. Yet third person omniscient is the style of older literature, including the Bible.

God is omniscient, so it follows that his book would be omniscient, too.

Does knowing that the Bible uses third person omniscient point of view affect how you read it? What parts of the Bible use first person point of view? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How to Learn about the Bible

Don’t study books about the Bible, study the Bible.

How to Learn about the BibleIn college I was excited to take a class on C.S. Lewis. My enthusiasm, however, didn’t last long. I wrongly assumed we would study the writings of Lewis. Instead we focused on what scholars said about what he wrote. Yes, we did read one of C.S. Lewis’s books in the class, but the rest of the syllabus had us merely examining books about him. My interaction with Lewis was filtered through intermediaries.

This approach disappointed me. It left me frustrated. With so much we could have learned, we were diverted to secondary sources.

Many people wrongly take this same approach with the Bible.

Instead of reading the Bible, they read books about the Bible. Instead of studying the Word of God, they study what scholars say about it. What if the experts are wrong? What if our authoritarian sources lead us astray? After all, theologians stand in stark opposition to one another on what the Bible means, so we have a very real chance of picking up the wrong book to teach us about the Bible.

If we want to know what the Bible says we need to simply read it and not scour some secondary source.

I extend this same errant thinking to Sunday morning where trained clergy teach us about the Bible, spending the majority of their lecture sharing what they think the Bible says (and what other people think the Bible says). Why not just read the Bible together to learn what is in it?

In the past, when the laity was illiterate and didn’t have access to the scriptures in their language, it made practical sense for the clergy to teach what the Bible said. Never mind that throughout history trained ministers have consistently led their people astray. If you disagree with this assessment, then why are there 42,000 Protestant denominations in the world today? Why did we need the Reformation? We needed it to correct wrong teaching. Surely there is much disagreement among our learned leaders over what the Bible says.

Today we are literate. We have access to the Bible in multiple versions, both in print and online. And if we follow Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us as we study the Bible. We don’t need a human guide to tell us about God; we have God and his Word to tell us about God.

Yet I write about God and the Bible. Do I consider myself an exception? Certainly not.

My goal in writing about the Bible is to encourage others to delve into it themselves, to read it, study it, and seek Holy Spirit guidance as to what the Bible means. (My website ABibleADay.com focuses on this.) I seldom cite secondary sources. I don’t hold myself up to be an expert. I share my journey and encourage others to do the same.

Paul affirmed the Jews in Berea as having noble character, for they studied the Bible daily to make sure that what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11). We must do the same.

In lieu of listening to a sermon, how can we better use that time to learn about God? Who do you rely on to teach you about the Bible, man or God? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Are You of More Noble Character?

Examine the Scriptures every day to see if what people say is true

Are You of More Noble Character?The book of Acts tells about the early church, with the latter two thirds of it focused on Paul’s travels and interactions with the various city branches of Jesus’s church. One brief stop is in the city of Berea. Luke writes this about them: “The Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica.”

Note that he doesn’t say they have a noble character, merely that they are more noble than the folks in a nearby city. Depending on the level of the Thessalonian’s character, this comparison could mean little (if the Thessalonians have no character) or much (if the Thessalonians have great character).

Regardless the church in Berea is affirmed for their more noble character. There are three reasons why:

1) They Eagerly Listen to Paul: They seriously consider what he says. They have an open mind but aren’t gullible.

2) They Verify What He Says: They check to make sure that what Paul says about the scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) is true. They confirm he’s not misquoting the Bible or taking things out of context.

3) They Believe What Paul Says: After listening and verifying, they act. They believe in Jesus and set an example for others.

For these reasons their character is assessed as being more noble.

Today many people aspire to be noble like the Bereans, yet they fail to measure up. When they listen it is to find fault; they seek to argue over the meaning of words. When they read the Bible it isn’t to find agreement with others but to seek reasons to disagree. They look for any way to reinforce their theology and reject the interpretations of others. This is a huge reason why we have 43,000 Protestant denominations today: people choose to make distinctions and divide the church of Jesus.

If only they would be more noble like the people of Berea: they listen, verify, and believe.

What else can we learn from the church in Berea? How can our Bible reading be used to advance unity in Jesus? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 17-19, and today’s post is on Acts 17:10-12.]

Warn One Another in Love

Sunday’s post talked about the need for theological diversity in our churches. While we need to embrace those who hold different understandings of Jesus, we perhaps need to adopt a separate view of the behaviors of people who live contrary to God’s word. Or maybe not.

Warn One Another in LovePaul touches on this in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica. He tells them to stay away from those who do not follow his instructions. He specifically refers to this particular letter. However, by extension, we could assume he means all the commands in the Bible. But this might be dangerous, for we read the Bible through the lens of our experiences and not with the comprehension of the original audience or their situation. It’s too easy to see what we want to see when we read the Bible and miss what God actually wants to communicate.

Even more worrisome is to imply that these verses offer a principal that we are to avoid those who don’t follow the words of their church leaders or spiritual guides. But this becomes even more problematic. People are fallible, and many religious leaders have led their flocks astray by demanding compliance to some misguided belief. Don’t drink their Kool-Aid.

We need to proceed with the utmost care before we criticize the actions of fellow believers. After all, we could be the ones in error.

If we do feel we must move in this direction, we should advance with great caution and follow Paul’s teaching in this matter: We are to not view these folks as an enemy but as a brother who needs a gentle warning.

I say it again, if other Christians don’t behave like we think they should, they are not the enemy. If we say anything, we need to warn them in love and not with self-righteous indignation.

Have you ever received one of these “warnings?” Is it better to keep quiet about the disturbing behavior of others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[2 Thessalonians 3:14-15]