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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, which meant that I had very few Mormon friends and many if not most of the people I went to school with were some kind of evangelical Christian. I often secretly envied them.

Even so the words and phrases they used to talk about their faith often really bugged me. It was so alien, and so off-putting.

Turns out those words and phrases were almost always actually from the Bible.

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This is hard to explain and causes me a lot of anxiety, so I ask my readers to be charitable and patient with me.

Once I realized that I had become a Christian, I started reading the Bible seriously. In addition to reading reading, I also bought an audiobook of Johnny Cash reading the New Testament (it’s just amazing and I recommend it most highly) and started listening through it when I went running. I had read the New Testament a number of times before, but always filtered heavily through the lens of Mormonism. This time, I did my best to approach it without so many preconceived notions. I don’t know if that’s ever really possible, but I gave it (and continue to give it) my best shot.

I still remember exactly where I was when I heard Romans 9. It hit hard and then wormed its way into my mind. I spent the next six months, at least, just struggling and grappling with predestination. I read Augustine’s Confessions. The idea of unconditional election was really disturbing to me, and went against everything I had grown up believing (Mormonism has strong Wesleyan roots and has an Arminian-esque belief in “free agency” that is absolutely central to Mormon belief), but I could not shake the idea that it was Biblical.

So early last fall, when I was perusing Jack’s blogroll one day instead of working, I found myself on Parchment and Pen, reading some of their posts on Calvinism. I was intrigued. This was really interesting stuff, and seemed so much more filled with grace than the Calvinist stereotype. Somewhere I saw that they have a podcast, and one of their podcast series was called “An Invitation to Calvinism.” So I downloaded it and listened.

It was great stuff. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms seemed warm, earnest, knowledgeable, and authoritative. What they said made sense, and really fit with the mighty wrestlings I had been having with parts of the Bible like Romans 9. It felt like my mind was opening up to a newer and deeper faith in Jesus Christ.

I started following their blog, and then before too long I was reading the Gospel Coalition and Challies.com (which I first heard about from Tim’s blog but wasn’t really interested back then because ew, Calvinism). From there I found Reformedish and the Heidelblog. I bought the Reformation Study Bible. I read Pilgrim’s Progress. I was praying a lot more, and reading the Bible all the more eagerly. This was all so heady.

I became interested in the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. I bought a Trinity Hymnal and a Psalter.

And lo and behold, I found myself reading Calvin’s Institutes, and just loving it.

And then I heard about Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Google it if you want, but I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It’s a charismatic/Reformed network of churches that is in the middle of a child sex abuse scandal right now that will make you want to vomit. And the sexual abuse is all tied up in an abusively authoritarian system of church governance that is of obviously Calvinist provenance. Church discipline that is out of control and far worse than the worst stories I have ever heard about Mormon excommunications. “Covenants” held coercively over the heads of members. It’s all just so obviously poisonous.

And then (thanks, Wartburg Watch) I also started reading similar things about Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and the Acts 29 Network. Not the sexual abuse, but the same kinds of authoritarian spiritual and ecclesiastical abuses. And it’s all just different flavors of the same kind of poison.

So why does that matter? It matters because then I read about how much the people at the Gospel Coalition just have fawned over Sovereign Grace Ministries and it’s founder, C.J. Mahaney. And I read about how they all basically have closed ranks around him. And it matters because Derek Rishmawy posts at the Gospel Coalition. and so does Kevin DeYoung (I’m in the middle of a book about the Heidelberg Catechism by him, and I like it a lot, except every time I pick it up I throw up in my mouth a little bit because the back cover has an endorsement by C.J. Mahaney).

It matters because Michael Patton and Sam Storms are members of an Acts 29 church. And that breaks my heart because these guys seem like just, incredibly good and smart guys who love Jesus and love to teach God’s truth. My wife and I are about 3/4 through their Discipleship Program and we’ve loved it–it’s brought us so much closer to Jesus Christ and to each other. But at the same time, it’s not like I know Michael Patton personally. How am I supposed to trust him, knowing that he’s in bed with Acts 29?

I talked to one of the partners at my firm the other day, he’s an elder in a PCA congregation nearby. I’ve visited his church, and it seems just lovely. But in our conversation he told me how much he looks up to Marc Driscoll and “those Acts 29 guys.” What am I supposed to do with that?

How do I know how far the poison goes? How do I tell the sheep from the wolves? How do I protect my family from abusive churches?

Look, I’m not naive. I was raised Mormon. I went on a mission. I was endowed. I know for a fact that a religion can seem just wonderful and happy and Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit filled but really be rotten to the core. And I don’t think I’m being crazy or alarmist here: Jesus made this stuff absolutely clear. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” The Bible warns us again and again to beware of false prophets and false teachers. And I have four kids and a beautiful wife I have to look out for. So yeah. I’m wary.

What am I supposed to do with all of this? How am I not supposed to feel betrayed and distrustful? And how am I supposed to navigate this as a new Christian?

What am I supposed to do?

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Sometime in mid-2012, I turned to Jesus.

There wasn’t a day when I had a big spiritual experience, or made a conscious decision. So maybe some people will say I’m not really converted or not really born again. Maybe they’re right; I get nervous about it sometimes. But I do know that on January 1 of 2012 I still identified as a pagan, but on December 31 of 2012, I was a committed little-o orthodox Christian.

I hadn’t been much of a pagan in awhile, to tell you the truth. I was not particularly pious by then. I had pretty much totally stopped making offerings or praying or singing hymns to the gods at all. My paganism had sputtered out into just thinking pagany thoughts every now and then and reading pagan blogs. I was more into the Civil War, Southern literature and country music than I was into the theoi. And I tried to hold it all together into some sort of broad paganism that could include all of that stuff, but it didn’t ever really seem to fit right (Stonewall Jackson was a Presbyterian who talked about Providence all the time, Flannery O’Connor was deeply Catholic and it intensely informed all of her work, and Jesus is all over country music), and it was increasingly evident that the paganism was slipping away.

I also started getting more interested in pagany things that leaned a bit back Christianward. Tarot. Arthurian stuff. In fact, that was one of the first tipping points, really. I read Keith Baines’s rendition of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur in the spring of 2012, grail quest and all, and it moved things in my heart. I was back to thinking about Druidry and Vedanta a bit (again, trying to hold it all together). I read Gareth Knight and underlined all the references to Jesus and the Trinity (there are a lot). I started looking into the Gnostic gospels. I picked up some books about esoteric Christianity. And within a really short amount of time, I was earnestly reading the Gospel of John and then the rest of the actual Bible.

At the same time, my kids were getting older and getting literate. My oldest (then six) was starting to get interested in the Bible and Bible stories. We always had tried to be multireligious (my paganism, my beautiful and sexy wife’s Christianity), but it was plain that the kids liked Jesus best.

Flashing back for a minute–the day I knew I was going to marry Katyjane was the day I came back from Chattacon with my buddy James and we went straight to a Young Single Adult broadcast at church. I looked around for a place to sit, and I sat down by my friend Daniel. But then, a few rows up, I saw Katyjane, sitting by herself. So I hopped back up and went up to sit next to her. And when I sat down, it felt so insanely right. I was in trouble. I knew I wanted to sit next to her in church for the rest of my life.

So going to church with Katyjane, and now with my kids, was important to me. Even if I was a pagan. But we hadn’t been going to church regularly since we moved to Chicago, and I kind of wanted to start again. Especially since my kids were showing interest (and pWning me with the Bible, which is a story I’ll tell in another post). So my mind was inclined in that direction.

As I said above, I was also listening to a lot of country music (I still am), and that also meant basically relentless exposure to Jesus. I could not help but think about Jesus Christ because the music I listened to mentioned him over and over again and it moved me. It was troubling, uncomfortable, and kind of exciting.

But again, there was no moment of clarity. No road to Damascus (unless the whole year was my road to Damascus). I mentally made peace with some sort of Green, liberal, vaguely Hinduish pagany kind of Christianity, but that was clearly just a threshold to walk through, since I spent basically zero time grappling with that. Instead I was just on a straight trajectory to orthodoxy. I picked C.S. Lewis back up and read Miracles, and was blown away by how much I had just glossed over things like the Incarnation when I was first grappling with Christianity as a post-Mormon.

That’s important: I left Mormonism mostly because I had an increasing sense that Mormonism and Biblical Christianity were not the same thing. But I really struggled with Christianity in the years after that because my notion of what Christianity is was really limited to the teachings of Jesus and the Atonement. I think I had an acceptable handle on those, but I understood them in such a radically different context that I just could not make the direct transition, and I didn’t realize the pieces I was missing. even when I read about them I just kind of glossed over them as secondary. No wonder I struggled.

But this time, coming to Christianity with fresh eyes after a couple of years of pagan detoxification, it was all just totally new, and totally amazing. I just found myself hungering for the Bible and for Jesus and the more I consumed, the hungrier I got. I still feel that way. Reading the Bible just makes me want to read the Bible more.

So Jesus just sort of gradually sucked me in.

By the end of the year, we had moved to Baltimore (that was unrelated, but not irrelavent), I was reading the Bible and praying every day for the first time in years, I was devouring N.T. Wright’s New Testament for Everyone, and I believed in Jesus Christ, my prophet, priest and king and my only savior. And then I spent 2013 continuing to grow. We were baptized. We joined a church. I kept reading the Bible. I prayed more. I put my trust in Jesus. I even read Augustine!

I have to eat a lot of crow to write this, and of of the reasons I have held off on spelling it all out is fear of being called out for wishy-washiness. “Oh, Kullervo’s found a different religion again. Must be a day that ends in -y.” I don’t have an answer for that either, other than to swear that this time it’s different. But of course I can say that all day. I can say that through all my pagan years, I always had a sneaking suspicion that I would eventually come back to Christianity, that like C.S. Lewis I had to learn to be a good pagan before I could learn to be a Christian, but I realize that’s easy to say and hard to believe. Maybe it doesn’t matter because it’s ultimately between me and Jesus anyway.

But I wanted to finally write it all out, mostly so that I can refer back to it in some other posts I want to write and not have to give a lot of background every time.

So there you have it. There’s a lot of different ways to look at that I guess. Country music and the Bible turned me to Jesus. A good Christian woman turned my heart to God. The Holy Grail and the blood of the Lamb called me straight from heaven itself. I finally dropped the pretense of exploring spirituality unbounded and settled down like I was always going to do anyway. However you want to look at it, that’s how it happened.

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Let’s say you have a friend who has recently converted to Christianity after a long period of spiritual turmoil. He grew up in a heterodox church (think Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Christ Scientist, etc.) that read the Bible but was largely untethered from the orthodox body of Christ, so while he grew up reading the Bible, it was from a theological perspective that is now of only limited use.

He’s intelligent and curious, and a fairly voracious reader, so he has done some solid homework and now knows a lot about Christianity, but doesn’t really feel like he knows Christianity from the inside, as a believer. So he is now looking for books to read that will not only help him to become truly grounded in the fundamentals of all areas of discipleship but that will also point him toward a long-lasting and deep faith in Jesus Christ.

For the record, he reads the Bible daily, he has already read most of C.S. Lewis’s widely-known works, so far he is generally inclined toward a Reformed theology, and he is a little antsy about charismatic worship. But again, he was raised outside of orthodox Christianity, so he is aware that he may not know what he doesn’t know.

So what books would you point him towards?

(PS, he’s me.)

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Fall of Adam

I’ve been thinking about original sin a lot over the past few years. Right now my beautiful and sexy wife and I are working through Credo House‘s Discipleship Program, and in Session 2: Mankind, Michael Patton and Tim Kimberley (going back to Augustine and Calvin, of course) break mankind’s sin problem down into three categories:

Particular Sin: This is the easiest one to buy into and, as a Mormon, it’s the only one I grew up believing in. Weirdly, for orthodox Protestants, it’s actually the least important. Our particular sins are the specific sins we commit during our lifetimes. No big stretch at all to imagine that God will hold us accountable for them; even Pelagius agrees. It seems fair.

Inherited Sin: By inherited sin I mean a sinful nature, and this is more than just being born into an environment where people sin and we learn by example (Pelagius again), but an inherent sinful nature that we are born with. Not just nurture, but actual nature: an inherent propensity to sin that we can’t overcome on our own. This I did not grow up believing in (as Mormons are pretty Pelagian), but I have grown convinced of it since coming back to Christianity. I even wrote what I consider to be one of my better blog posts about it back in 2012. I really hope that you will go back and read it, but to briefly summarize in case you don’t, I believe that the idea that we are subject to inherited sin is actually a far more just doctrine than the Mormon/Pelagian idea that we are guilty for our own sins only, because it acknowledges the reality that we really do lack the power to obey God’s law:

You didn’t choose original sin; you inherited it. You didn’t choose darkness, you were born into it. And that is why the atonement makes original sin also a just doctrine. Injustice would be if God expected you to overcome your broken nature through self-discipline, which is impossible precisely because of your broken nature. Instead, God came into the world to free you from your broken nature: you didn’t break yourself, and you are not responsible for fixing yourself.

So far, so good. Original Sin: I’m on board. But then we get to the idea of imputed sin, and that’s a sticky wicket.

Imputed Sin: The doctrine of imputed sin holds that we are not only guilty of our own particular sins and guilty of having a broken and sinful nature, but that we are actually each individually and personally guilty of Adam’s sin. That absolutely flies in the face of our contemporary cultural ideas about individual responsibility, justice and fairness. Why should we be guilty for someone else’s particular sin? How is that fair? And I don’t know if I’m one hundred percent sold on it, but I am starting to lean towards it based on Romans 5 (and a drift towards believing in Biblical infallibility). The idea that one person can be held responsible for another person’s particular sin sounds ridiculous at first, but then, hang on, because it turns out that’s precisely how the Atonement works. If imputation of sin is not possible, then Jesus can’t die for our sins. And that sure sounds like what Paul is saying in Romans 5, if you read him carefullly and allow him to communicate to you with the precision that he intended (I think that Mormons are able to gloss over Paul by treating his wrigint in the sort of broad narrative sense that you can treat most of the rest of the Bible, but that doesn’t do Paul justice because unlike, say, the Evangelists, Paul was writing precisely and theologically, so we need to do our best to read him that way).

So I’m grappling with the doctrine of imputed sin, and I am coming around to the idea that it may in fact be a Biblically sound doctrine, even though it’s hard to swallow. The fact that it sticks in my craw a bit shouldn’t be a good reason to just discard it–if I do that then really I’m just giving authority to some other influence (my culture, my upbringing, popular culture, my political values) that I have less reason to trust than the Bible. And Jesus’s disciples were constantly telling him that his sayings were hard to accept–having to deal with “hard sayings” is a part of Christianity and means exercising faith when things might not make sense (and I think we need to avoid the kind of easy and arrogant read of Jesus that tames him to our modern cultural values and then assumes that the disciples just thought his sayings were hard because they were primitive and backward and didn’t want to forgive people or love one another like we are totally cool with doing).

So then that brings us to evolution.

I’m not really sure about how the Biblical account of creation and scientific models of the origin of life are reconciled. I don’t really think that my salvation depends on it one way or another, and I am comforted in openness by the fact that we know that some of the church fathers, including Ambrose of Milan and no less than Augustine, didn’t believe in a literal reading of Genesis. But if Paul actually described imputed sin in Romans 5, how does that work if there was no historical Adam?

I think that it’s a bigger issue than just creation vs. evolution, because if (1) there was no real Adam, (2) you can’t have imputed sin without a real Adam and (3) Paul preached imputed sin in Romans 5, then I think we have a problem. Because that means Paul preached something impossible in the middle of the logical argument of the book of the New Testament that constitutes pretty much the theological bedrock foundation of the Protestant Reformation. If Romans goes, a whole lot goes with it.

The issue is in my head right now because it has come up on Tim’s blog (in the comments to the post that I vote “Sounds Most Like A Death Metal Band”). I admit that I haven’t done all of my homework on what people are saying about a historical Adam in light of scientific theories of the origin of humanity and its theological ramifications, so I’m sort of asking the internet to fill me in. So, internet, tell me: can you have imputed sin and no historical Adam?

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I wrote a guest post on Tim’s blog, LDS & Evangelical Conversations. Go read it!

http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/for-this-purpose/

So while I don’t subscribe to the Mormon Plan of Salvation anymore (I don’t even use those terms), I do believe that God set the events of creation in motion with a specific end in sight. And while I don’t know how meticulous of a Providence I believe in, I am definitely not an Open Theist.

In any case, I’d like to talk about what “Heavenly Father’s plan” for mankind really is. So, with that in mind, my question is, what is the purpose of life, and how does your answer square with the Bible?

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I realize that I am at the risk of turining my whole blog into just a House of Vines mirror site, but this is really, really good.

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I like being a lawyer, but lots of times I wish I was a preacher instead. Not a theologian or a religious academic, but a preacher. I’d run off to the mountains and preach Jesus Christ crucified and the Word of God with fire and forgiveness.

Don’t you know it.

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Jacob Reproaching Laban

My mind was totally blown a few weeks ago when I read the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah in the amazing Jesus Storybook Bible.

Growing up Mormon, I’m used to thinking of this story as Jacob and Rachel’s love story, about how if you are patient God will give you the blessings He promised (i.e., Rachel), and about how through Jacob and Rachel, Joseph was born, who saved his family through famine and whose descendants became the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, with such an enormous role to play in the latter days.

But in the Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s the story of Leah, “The Girl No One Wanted”:

‘No one loves me,’ Leah said. ‘I’m too ugly.’

But God didn’t think she was ugly. And when he saw that Leah was not loved and that no one wanted her, God chose her–to love her specially, to give her a very important job. One day, God was going to rescue the whole world–through Leah’s family.

Now when Leah knew that God loved her, in her heart, suddenly it didn’t matter anymore whether her husband loved her the best, or if she was the prettiest. Someone had chosen her, someone did love her–with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

So when Leah had a baby boy she called him Judah, which means, ‘This time I will praise the Lord!’ And that’s just what she did.

And you’ll never guess what job God gave Leah. You see, when God looked at Leah, he saw a princess. And sure enough, that’s exactly what she became. One of Leah’s children’s children’s children would be a prince–the Prince of Heaven–God’s Son.

This Prince would love God’s people. They wouldn’t need to be beautiful for him to love them. He would love them with all of his heat. And they would be beautiful because he loved them.

Like Leah.

How did I miss that? How did that fail to register all these years? God’s covenant with Abraham isn’t about “restoring the gospel in the latter days.” God’s covenant with Abraham is about Jesus Christ redeeming a fallen world. And the royal lineage, the lineage of David and finally the lineage of the Messiah, the promised lineage that would not only one day reconcile Israel to its God but would reconcile the entire world to its Creator, that lineage was the lineage of Judah. Leah’s son. God fulfilled his promises to Abraham and to the world through Leah.

“Your descendants will be AWESOME” may seem like a booby prize to modern Americans, but that’s because we have a relatively unique set of cultural assumptions about value, self-actualization and individuality. Keep in mind that this promise, this “consolation prize” that God gave to Leah was functionally the same as God’s original convenant with Abraham. To be the father of many nations, to be the father (or mother) of the lineage that would include the King of Israel–and one day the King of all Creation–was everything.

Like I said, my mind was blown.

(The Jesus Storybook Bible is really good and my kids actually fight over who gets to read it; I recommend it most highly.)

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mustard seed

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

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