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Christian Living

How Important Is It to Have the Right Theology?

God Doesn’t Want Us to Study Him; He Wants Us to Know Him

When people first learn that I have a PhD and where I did my postgrad work, they assume I’m into theology. Imagine their disappointment to find out I don’t care about the concept or want to pursue a right theology, that I can’t engage in a meaningful discussion about the topic—at least not as they perceive it.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. I like that. But as nuances of finding a right theology layer on top of this basic understanding, the subject gets murky.

The result is too many long, multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend. Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

Relationship Is Key

For many people, their spouse is their most important relationship.

Imagine if I went to my wife and said, “I’m going to devote the rest of my life to studying you.

“I’ll watch you and make notes. I’ll catalog who you are and categorize what you do. Next, I’ll read books to help me better understand you. I’ll also talk with others to gain their insights about who you are. Then I’ll tell others what I’ve learned.”

How would she react? Not well. My singular commitment to focus on her would not win me her appreciation. Instead it would stir up her ire. She would rightfully complain, “Why can’t we hang out instead? I just want you to spend time with me.”

So it is with God. He doesn’t want us to study him. He wants a relationship (Hosea 6:6). Theology keeps God at a distance when what he really wants is for us to know him.

Knowledge Puffs Up

As people pursue theology, they amass a great deal of information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity.

In doing so they gather much knowledge but risk pushing God further away. This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Pursuing theology isn’t necessarily bad, but it can distract us from what is most important: being in a relationship with Jesus. Click To Tweet

Education Distracts

The pursuit of higher learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Jesus routinely criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees—who we could equate to ancient theologians. Instead he embraced a simple message when he said “follow me” (John 10:27).

Pursing a Right Theology

Though pursuing a right theology and even having a Bible study aren’t necessarily bad, they can distract us from what’s most important: to follow Jesus and be in relationship with him.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Jesus Is Our Rabbi

We Must Exercise Care with the Labels We Use for Our Spiritual Leaders

Rabbi is a title I expected to find scattered throughout the Old Testament. It seems like a very Old Testament word. It’s not. It’s a New Testament word. Rabbi only appears in the Gospels and then just three of them: Matthew, Mark, and John.

Most of these sixteen occurrences are a title of respect used to address Jesus.

John notes that Rabbi means teacher (John 1:38). But that’s about all we can learn about this word from the biblical text.

In one of the passages that mentions Rabbi (twice), Jesus teaches the people. He talks about hypocrisy, specifically the inappropriate actions of the Pharisees and religious teachers.

As Jesus talks about their errors, he condemns them for loving the way people fawn over them with greetings of respect and addressing them as Rabbi.

Then he tells them plainly, “You shouldn’t be called Rabbi. You are all brothers and have one teacher” (Matthew 23:1-8). From this we learn to use care in addressing our spiritual teachers, especially when they expect us to demonstrate respect.

How about just using their name instead and not feed into their pride?

A third verse that uses the word Rabbi, doesn’t address Jesus but John the Baptist (John 3:26). The other thirteen times Rabbi appears in the Bible are to address Jesus. The Bible records Peter, Judas, Nathaniel, Nicodemus, a blind man, two of John’s disciples, and Jesus’s disciples addressing him as Rabbi.

Jesus is worthy of our respect and we can call him Rabbi. He alone is our true Rabbi. Click To Tweet

Jesus Is Our Worthy Rabbi

Even though Jesus criticizes the religious elite for wanting people to address them as Rabbi and telling them not to allow it, Jesus doesn’t correct anyone who calls him Rabbi. He accepts the respect they give him—or in Judas’s case, the respect he pretends to give—and responds to their question or request.

Jesus, of course, is worthy of our respect if we call him Rabbi or teacher. He alone is our Rabbi. We can also use other labels such as Savior, Redeemer, and Healer. We can even call him friend, because that’s how he views us (John 15:15).

Jesus is our Rabbi—and our friend.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Who is a Pharisee Christian?

Doctor Luke records a curious line when writing about the early church. He says “…some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees…”

That means some Christians were also Pharisees, a Pharisee Christian. How strange. Isn’t that a contradiction?

Pharisees and the Sadducees

Judaism at the time was comprised of two main groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They had vastly different theologies about the same God and for that reason they didn’t get along too well, but they did manage to coexist within the same religious and societal context.

Most all of the original followers of Jesus (that is, early Christians) were Jewish. That implies some of them would have backgrounds as Pharisees and others, backgrounds as Sadducees. They maintained much of their culture as they grew in their new faith.

Christianity

While some of their practices needed to be re-examined, they could sustain other aspects. Clearly, some retained their identity as Pharisees.

For them, becoming a Christian occurred within the context of Judaism. It was not so much a conversion, but a transformation. In fact, there’s the implication that, for a time, some considered the early Christian movement, also called “The Way,” as another sect of Judaism.

What if the idea of a Pharisee Christian continued, comingling Jewish tradition with Jesus faith? For some it has and the results are Messianic congregations (Messianic Judaism). It’s certainly something to contemplate, connecting—or perhaps reconnecting—Judaism with Christianity.

[Acts 15:5, Acts 24:14 and Acts 28:22]

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Pharisees and Sadducees Represent Division

Disunity Today Hurts the Cause of Jesus

In our consideration of words that appear only in the New Testament, we come across Pharisees and Sadducees. Two related words are Zealot and Nazarene, along with Essene.

Pharisees

Appearing ninety-nine times in the New Testament, the Pharisees receive the most attention. They were a righteous group of Jews, noted for their meticulous following of the Law of Moses. But they added to the 613 laws recorded in the opening books of the Bible.

Attempting to clarify what the rules meant and didn’t mean, they added their own understanding to guide them into best practice. This resulted in more than 20,000 additional rules for them to follow, which aren’t in the Bible.

But in their scrupulous attention to detail, they missed the point behind the law. That’s why Jesus often called them hypocrites and reserved his most critical words for them.

Sadducees

Another segment of Judaism during Jesus’s life were the Sadducees. The New Testament mentions them fifteen times. But, instead of adding to the Bible, they dismissed much of it. As a result, they didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead, among other things.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were the two major groups of Judaism that Jesus talked about. However, there are three more considerations.

Zealot

The label of Zealot occurs four times in the New Testament. It always refers to Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’s disciples. This identifier distinguishes him from Simon Peter. The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the Zealots, but history does.

Though they existed in Jesus’s time, they escape his mention. They opposed the Romans politically and advocated its overthrow. And Jesus had one of its members as a disciple.

Essenes

Though not found in the Bible, we learn about the Essenes through history. As another sect of Judaism, though not as numerous as the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essenes lived a communal lifestyle, noted for poverty, piety, and celibacy (of its priests).

Notably, we can thank the Essenes for the Dead Sea scrolls.

Nazarene

Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his parents moved to Nazareth shortly thereafter and raised in there. Three times the gospel writers refer to Jesus as a Nazarene. And once Paul’s detractors called him the ringleader of the Nazarene sect (Acts 24:5).

This implies that for a time some people viewed Jesus’s followers as a part of Judaism, though that didn’t last long.

Unity Versus Disunity

None of these five labels, especially Pharisees and Sadducees, appear in the Old Testament. This suggests the Old Testament Jews had a degree of unity not found in the New Testament and that division didn’t occur until after the Old Testament narrative wrapped up.

We have a long way to go to realize the unity Jesus prayed for and achieve the witness he wanted. Click To Tweet

Today we see the same scenario. We’ve divided the body of Christ into different streams of Christianity—and among the Protestant branch—into 43,000 denominations. That’s a lot of division and disunity.

But Jesus prayed for unity, that we would be one. And that as one, our witness would be stronger (John 17:21). We have a long way to go to realize the unity Jesus prayed for and achieve the witness he wanted.

What can we do to promote unity within Christianity?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Are You a Pharisee or Sadducee?

Pharisees and Sadducees Both Commit Theological Errors We Need to Avoid

In Jesus’s lifetime, there were two major sects in Judaism: Pharisees and Sadducees. Both sects appear in the Bible, with Pharisee mentioned ninety-nine times and Sadducee occurring fifteen, all in the New Testament and mostly in the Gospels.

Though Jesus extended love and acceptance to all people, especially those on the outside, he dished out criticism for religious insiders: the Pharisees and Sadducees. As religious people, Jesus pointed out their shortcomings and how their theology was off track.

Pharisees

The Pharisees were highly righteous people, focusing on proper behavior with a long list of things they could do and a longer list of things they couldn’t do. They started with the Law of Moses, but over the centuries they greatly expanded it by adding thousands and thousands of man-made rules.

As a result, they were highly legalistic. Unfortunately these rules alienated themselves from God, rather than draw them to him.

Sadducees

Instead of adding things to what the Scriptures taught, the Sadducees removed things. They reduced their theology. For their faith foundation the Sadducees focused solely on the Torah, the first five books of today’s Bible.

The Bible says the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead. A religion without an afterlife is an empty one. They also didn’t believe in angels or spirits.

Most of the high priest and priests were Sadducees but not all. There were also Pharisees within the priestly ranks.

Modern-Day Pharisees and Sadducees

Many religious Christians today are modern-day Pharisees, where others are modern-day Sadducees.

Modern-day Pharisees live a legalistic life governed by rules for what to do and not do, mostly what not to do. You may have heard some of these rules: don’t drink, smoke, or dance. Don’t play cards, go to the movies, or listen to non-religious music. And don’t use makeup, have piercings, or get tattoos.

Guard against falling into the error of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Click To Tweet

They also often follow rules about what they must wear and what they do or don’t do with their hair, particularly for women.

Modern-day Sadducees, on the other hand, have reduced their theology so much that faith is largely removed and religious practices are ritual and mostly void of spiritual significance.

They involve themselves with social causes at the expense of spiritual growth. They focus on their present physical life with little thought to a future spiritual afterlife.

I know modern-day Pharisees and modern-day Sadducees.

Though I hope you aren’t one of them, you may lean toward one or the other. At the risk of causing insult, let me share that I’ve observed many modern-day Pharisees in the evangelical/fundamentalist church—and to a lesser extent in Pentecostal/charismatic churches.

Conversely I’ve seen modern-day Sadducees in the mainline/liberal church, as well as Catholic.

Regardless, everyone should guard against falling into the error of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Don’t be a modern-day Pharisee or Sadducee. Be a disciple of Jesus.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Don’t Be a Pharisee

These Characteristics of Pharisee Thinking

Jesus loves everyone. He accepts those on the fringe, the people who society dismiss. Jesus embraces people who do wrong and who live immoral lives. Yet there was one group he criticized, and he did so often: the Pharisees. Don’t be a Pharisee.

Aren’t we glad we’re not Pharisees? We want God’s love, acceptance, and embrace; we don’t want his criticism. Isn’t it great we’re not Pharisees?

Yet what is a Pharisee? A Pharisee was a religious leader. Today, anyone who is a minister, elder, deacon, Sunday school teacher, or board member is a church leader. That means many of us are in danger of being a Pharisee, too.

Pharisees sought to maintain the status quo. They protected tradition; they desired to keep their jobs and enjoy the life those jobs provided. Pharisees resisted change. Does this sound like anyone you know? Does this describe you?

These Pharisees opposed the very work of God, the deity they thought they served. They, and their ancestors for centuries, longed for the coming savior. Yet when the Messiah stood before them, they didn’t even recognize him.

When God arrived, they rejected him. They missed the exact thing they desired. Don’t be like them. Don’t be a Pharisee.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Accidental or Intentional Christianity?

A guy who ponders deep theological thoughts recently shared two concepts with me: intentional Protestantism and accidental Protestantism. Both relate to the Reformation of the Christian church, some five hundred years ago. What about accidental Christianity or intentional Christianity?

Back then, a group of people saw problems in the church and broke from it, forming something new; they became Protestant by intention.

The other group desired to foment change from within the church, but when that didn’t happen, they became Protestant by accident. (Later the Catholic Church did indeed make most of these needed changes, but it took a few more years.)

What if there was no intentional effort to break away? What if the other group had been successful at reforming the church from within? Then, today Christianity would look much different and we would be more unified, just as Jesus wanted.

Now, take this concept back two thousand years. For a time, the early followers of Jesus existed within the Jewish church of the day.

They were emerging as a sect of Judaism, potentially a third element, along with the Pharisees and Sadducees (two groups who didn’t agree on much but found a way to mostly coexist anyway).

Some of Jesus’ first followers wanted to remain within the Jewish culture but became accidental Christians, while others were intentional Christians.

What if Christianity didn’t form that way? What if Jesus’ followers found a way to coexist within Judaism? The thought intrigues me. I already feel an affinity for our Jewish forebears, and this would connect us even more.

We all do serve the same God, so would it really matter? Of course, this is all hypothetical, but I think God would be okay with it.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

How Far Do We Go To Protect Tradition?

Whether or not we realize it, all aspects of our lives include traditions: unexamined habits and mindless rituals. But perhaps traditions most often exist in our approach to God and our worship of him. While some traditions had a positive origin, others were misguided from the start.

With little thought we pass our traditions from one person to the next, one generation to another.

Churches often protect their traditions with adamant, unyielding passion— sometimes at the expense of obeying God and doing what the Bible says. This is not a new problem. Jesus addressed this two thousand years ago.

The religious leaders of the day (the Pharisees) were quick to point out that Jesus’ followers (disciples) broke from tradition. They didn’t bring this up to provide correction but to pronounce condemnation. They thought they could discredit Jesus and embarrass him in front of the people.

Their plan didn’t work. Jesus foiled them. He declared that what the Bible said took precedence over their traditions. Jesus put his detractors and their ideas of what was important in their place.

What are some traditions or rituals that you have jettisoned? What are some traditions that might warrant reconsideration?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 14-16, and today’s post is on Matthew 15:1-6.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Are You a Pharisee?

When we think of the word pharisee, we envision a narrow-minded, hypocritical, self-righteous person. To call someone a pharisee is an insult. So, when we read pharisee in the Bible, we automatically think ill of that person.

However, a Pharisee was someone devoted to following a strict moral code aligned with Moses’ instructions, which he received from God. They were devoted to following the Almighty and did so with zealous dedication. They were the most religiously minded people in the Bible, the spiritually elite.

In some ways—the right ways—we should be more like a Pharisee: following God’s moral code and zealous for him. Click To Tweet

Paul was a Pharisee before he made a U-turn to follow Jesus. Yet afterwards he persisted in that label and the practices that accompanied it. To him, being a Pharisee was an honorable designation, not a slur of derision.

Yes, Jesus was highly critical of Pharisees, but not because of their zeal for God, rather because they got carried away, making it into something it was never intended to be. Their intentions were noble; their execution was lacking.

In some ways—the right ways—we should be more like a Pharisee: following God’s moral code and zealous for him.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Error of the Sadducees

In The Error of the Sadducees and Pharisees, it was noted that the Sadducees’s error was taking away from the Bible, dismissing or ignoring certain sections.

Paul notes that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, angels, and spirits, even though all are addressed in the Old Testament.

In order to challenge or trick Jesus, the Sadducees smugly present him with a hypothetical situation. Jesus pointedly tells them they are in error because they do not know the Bible. He then corrects their errant thinking, amazing the crowd and silencing his critics.

Few followers of Jesus would admit to ignoring parts of the Bible or dismissing sections as irrelevant, but it is actually a common occurrence.

When we read the Bible, it is naturally all too easy to focus on the parts we like and understand, while quickly skimming or even skipping the confusing and confounding passages. As a result, our understanding of God is diminished in the process.

It is the error of the Sadducees.

[Acts 23:8, Mark 12:18-27, also in Luke 20:27-40 and Matthew 22:23-33]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.