Rachel has done a phenomenal job interviewing people of differing faiths and beliefs in an attempt to show Christians of whatever persuasion the "human element" of those different from themselves. Lately it seems that to be a "Christian" one must be critical of other people's faiths and beliefs while vigorously "fighting or contending" for one's own faith and beliefs. However, an emergent Christian should be one who patiently listens to others unlike him/herself; who does not feel threaten in being with other people of differing persuasions; who can enjoy others "as they are" without wishing to "change" that person into their own image but into God's image.
This is the basis of God's love. It is patient, kind, non-judgemental, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking nor easily angered. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres with others, but does not allow one to be "used by others for their own selfish purposes;" it does not "enable others who are toxic in their relationships;" it does not "condone wrongs, hurts, unkindness, or intolerance;" nor does love in its desire to protect, trust, hope and persevere with others allow itself to be willfully naive, ignorant, blind, or indifferent to those it comes into relationship with. It walks a delicate balance between wisdom and sound judgment requiring prayer, acts of mercy, forgiveness, a desire to speak truth to one-another (but not one's biases or prejudices). It requires a supportive fellowship actively involved in each life seeking to make Jesus' call to love one another a consistent habit of life. A habit that is unnatural and does not come easily (if at all) to the flesh (our past sinful nature now redeemed). But in Christ can love become a reality (or characteristic, trait, intention, a mindfulness or attitude) that only the Holy Spirit can groom everyday to be lived out and tested.
What Love Is and Isn't
God's love is a divine act requiring the work of Christ's atonement in a person's life which is in the process of "being made new everyday" through the Holy Spirit. Consequently, and quite unnaturally it seems, Christianity is not a faith that is condemnatory or judgmental. But one that is less protective and territorial of itself. Less good at eviscerating another person's faith and beliefs. Of bringing harm and destruction into people's lives. This is not a mark of God's holiness. A holy person is one who seeks to love, to forgive, to serve others. Holiness is self-sacrificial service. It is kind. It is thoughtful. It shuns the deeds of the flesh. The criticisms of the heart. Fears, tyranny and oppression of others.
However, by bearing this persuasion in our attitudes and willfulness does not mean that we do not speak truth to one another. If anything this web blog is a testament to that.... As Christians we seek to know and understand God. To do that we must listen to the world around us - to science in its many disciplines; and to other religious perceptions (or conceptions) of God that might orientate us away from our own cultural preferences and biases. But most importantly, overall, we seek God through His Word, the Bible. And in seeking God through Scripture we must learn to discern the Bible - not on the basis of protecting our traditions and dogmas - but on the basis of using good, solid hermeneutics that "opens the Bible" up in new ways to be explored - not in new ways of shutting down conversation or exploring a theology that could teach us of God, of ourselves, of God's plans and purposes for this world. And through this process must come the discipline of learning to listen. To study. To examine life with others who hold differing opinions from our own; differing sets of knowledge and experience that we might learn from; and to cultivate good wisdom and judgment within Christian doctrine and practice. Do you want to be a good theologian? Learn to listen. Want to preach? First allow God to preach to you. Want to minister? Earn it from others. In every way learn humility, patience, kindness, and love. These attitudes and acts serve best those who would serve God. And without which there can be no effective service.
The Apostle Paul Made Mistakes Too
Curiously, the very apostle Paul (known as Saul in Acts) who wrote of "God's love" in 1 Corinthians 13, was a self-righteous, bigoted, harmful, zealot committed to persecuting, oppressing, perhaps even murdering (Stephen?) anyone teaching that Jesus was the risen Jewish Messiah. And it was this very Jesus whom he persecuted that came into his life on the road to Damascus. Making him to understand that God's Torah became incarnate in Jesus' life and ministry as God's Incarnate Word and Resurrected Messiah. Then, and then only, was the apostle Paul willing to cast away his religious zealotry, his passionate judgments and condemnations made against Jewish Christians seeking obedience to Jesus' lordship.
Paul was a man of Torah. A well-versed student of the Hebraic Law. He was a Pharisee's Pharisee.A Scribe's Scribe. Who mostly likely was unreceptive to Jesus' teachings in the Temple and throughout the land of Israel during Jesus' time of ministry. And if so, had built up quite a few convictions about this newer Jewish faith. Convictions that were wrong-headed and mis-leading. That couldn't hear what Jesus was saying about this Torah that he thought he knew so well. So when Paul came to God, he came as one finding for the first time the true faith of his father Abraham. And like John the Baptist, the last of the OT prophets (besides Jesus!), who announced the Messiah's coming, and was used of God to baptise the Anointed One of God, so too would Paul, as a Jewish man of letters-and-learning, find repentance come to his blinded heart. Repentance to turn from his former training and dogmas to receive Holy Spirit illumination understanding for the first time God's truth in Jesus.
The scales fell off Paul's eyes and he knew then that Jesus was the Messiah King, the Holy One of Israel, who had come to bring God's kingdom to earth, through His people Israel through a new institution called the church. One not requiring tribal affiliations but a faith commitment. God smote Paul's blinded heart with a perception so clear that he would trade in his dead, Messiah-less religion for a "stateless religion." One committed to a Person and not a Cause. To godliness and not self-righteousness. Or to a dead tradition. To real truth and not a truth of intolerance to others created by his own cultural preferences and traditions, fears and dreads. And that he was to use the humbler trade tools of Messiah Jesus until He come again. That of faith, hope and love.
To be a Christ follower is hard. It is not easy. The cost is high and requires much. Each of Jesus' disciples (turned apostles by God's calling to build His church) discovered that cost as they learned to be fishers of men in Christ's absence. Servants of God who once were served by the God of heaven. Followers of the Way when no other way could bring such stirring conviction. By their examples we know that polishing up our doctrines is not enough unless those doctrines breath life and love into the heart and word of God. Without those elements a Jesus follower cannot minister. Cannot witness. Cannot serve. They have become like Paul in his former religious life. Full of wind with no blessing by God. Sowing seed with no root. Casting pearls among the swines of intolerance and zealotry. Setting a table that cannot feed those who are starving and needing food and wine.
Simply said, Christians need to relax in God's truth and trust that we can lead others to God's truth, but not through unloving dogmas. It is God's doctrine we are charged to teach, and not ours to unteach through poor judgment and darkened wisdom. That it is God's Spirit who fights evil, and not our own spirit to bring evil. It is God's problem to communicate His will-and-word, not ours to mis-communicate and confuse. It is God's responsibility to make His revelation plain, not ours to darken with hollow words. For the key to learning, and teaching, and ministering is love. And by this love God urges us to use our spiritual gifts. If to serve, then serve. If to teach, then teach. If to witness, then preach Jesus. But to do all in a way that will glorify God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And to do it through l-o-v-e.... For these things we pray, Our heavenly Father. Amen.
April 14, 2012
1 Corinthians 13
1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
You guys asked some really tough questions of Scott Sabin for “Ask an environmentalist,” but Scott rose to the occasion with some wise, winsome, and informative responses. Scott is the Executive Director of Plant With Purpose (formerly Floresta), a Christian nonprofit organization that reverses deforestation and poverty by transforming the lives of the rural poor in six countries. He is the author of the recent book, Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God&rsq... read more
- May 04, 2012
Nuns have certainly been in the news lately, and today we are privileged to welcome one to the blog, answering your questions! Sister Helena Burns is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of Roman Catholic Sisters founded to communicate God's Word through the media. She is finishing her M.A. in Media Literacy Education, has a B.A. in theology and philosophy from St. John's University, NYC, studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One, Hollywood, and holds a Cer... read more
- Apr 24, 2012
As expected, our friend Jonathan Martin responded to your questions for “Ask a Pentecostal” with incredible wisdom, grace, and insight. This is definitely one of the best installments of our interview series yet! Jonathan is third-generation Pentecostal preacher and the founder of Renovatus: A Church for People Under Renovation in Charlotte, North Carolina and Fort Mill, South Carolina. Jonathan sees himself as a bridge figure between seemingly conflicting Christian trad... read more
- Apr 10, 2012
Last week, over 100 questions rolled in for the latest installment of our interview series, “Ask a Pacifist...” These were tough questions, but our friend Tripp York responded with wit, wisdom, and grace. Tripp teaches in the Religious Studies Department at Virginia Wesleyan University and is the author of The Devil Wears Nada: Satan Exposed!, an entertaining book about whether proving the existence of Satan might, in turn, prove the existence of God. Tripp is als... read more
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Our friend Ellen Cooper-Davis really outdid herself in her response to your questions about Unitarian Universalism for our interview series. You asked some great questions, and Ellen provides some great, thoughtful answers. If, like me, you don’t know much about Unitarian Universalism, I guarantee you will learn something new. Ellen is the minister of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. She writes a blog for the Houston Chronicle on liberal religion cal... read more
- Jan 19, 2012
Today I’m thrilled to share Khurram Dara’s response to your questions about his Islamic faith as part of our ongoing interview series. Khurram is an American Muslim from Buffalo, New York, and the author of The Crescent Directive: An Essay on Improving the Image of Islam in America. Khurram graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, and is currently studying law at Columbia University in New York. If you frequent CNN’s Belief Blog, you may recognize him for his re... read more
- Jan 10, 2012
In a wonderful addition to our ongoing interview series, Frederica Mathewes-Green has responded to your questions about Orthodox Christianity with all the grace and wisdom that has made her such a respected figure in the religious community. Frederica began her faith journey as a Roman Catholic, dabbled in Hinduism, then converted to Anglicanism, before finding her home in the Orthodox Church. She is the author of nine books, including the critically-acclaimed and beautifully-written Faci... read more
- Oct 13, 2011
So far, our interview series has included an atheist, a Catholic, an Orthodox Jew, a humanitarian, a Mormon, a Mennonite, a theistic evolutionist, a Calvinist, and a gay Christian. On Thursday I’ll introduce Frederica Mathewes-Green as our Orthodox Christian! But today we’re talking with a Quaker. Robert Fischer is a master’s student at Duke Divinity School and a member at Durham Friends Meeting. He’s on the board of Quaker House of Fayetteville, a group th... read more
- Oct 04, 2011
In our interview series so far, we’ve featured an atheist, a Catholic, an Orthodox Jew, a humanitarian, a Mormon, a Mennonite, an evolutionary creationist, and a Calvinist. When I asked who you wanted to hear from next, many of you requested an interview with a gay Christian. I’m so glad you did! Last week I introduced you to Justin Lee, the director of The Gay Christian Network (GCN), a nonprofit organization serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians a... read more
- Sep 19, 2011
It is perhaps serendipitous that yesterday’s post spoke of the “accidental fences” we build between one another as people of faith, because today’s interview highlights something that can spark emotional divides within the Christian community: the theology of Calvinism. Justin Taylor is a popular blogger and leader in the modern Reformed movement. The vice president of book publishing and an associate publisher at Crossway, he has edited and contributed to several ... read more
- Sep 08, 2011
Today I’m thrilled to share biologist Dennis Venema’s responses to your questions for “Ask an Evolutionary Creationist.” Dennis has a PhD in genetics/developmental biology from the University of British Columbia. He teaches at Trinity Western University, and his research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling. Dennis is part of the BioLogos Foundation, an organization committed to promoting a perspective on the origins of life that is both theolog... read more
- Sep 06, 2011
The interview series has been such a success, I’m planning to extend it through the fall! Thanks so much for bringing these interviews to life with your thoughtful and respectful questions. I don’t know about you, but I’ve really learned a lot. Today Kurt Willems responds to our questions about Mennonites and Anabaptism. Kurt is writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Semina... read more
- Aug 16, 2011
I’m back from Bolivia! I’ll be sharing a little more about my trip in the weeks to come, but today I need a break. Thankfully, Jana Riess did a fantastic job responding to your questions about Mormonism as part of our summer interview series. Jana is the author or co-author of nine books, including What Would Buffy Do? and the forthcoming memoir Flunking Sainthood. She has a Ph.D. in American religious history from Columbia University and an M.Div. from Princeton Theol... read more
- Aug 08, 2011
On Sunday morning I’ll board a plane in Chattanooga, Tennessee at 9 a.m., and after stops in Atlanta and Miami, I’ll end up in La Paz, Bolivia at 9 p.m. (Is it any wonder James reminds Christians to preface their travel plans with “…if the Lord wills it”? That’s a lot of planes to catch!) I’m going to Bolivia with World Vision and a team of bloggers whose directive it is to be your eyes and ear on the ground as we get an inside look at Worl... read more
- Jul 27, 2011
Last week we had over 100 questions come in after I introduced my friend Ahava as this week’s guest and invited you to ask her your most pressing questions about Orthodox Judaism. Ahava has been a fantastic source of information and friendship as I’ve trudged through my year of biblical womanhood; I’m so happy for the opportunity share her with you! *** Thanks so much for joining us today, Ahava. I mentioned in my introduction that your explanation for how the Jewish communit... read more
- Jul 19, 2011
I must say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the popularity of our summer interview series! We had over 200 questions roll in after I introduced Devin Rose as this week’s guest and invited you to ask him your most pressing questions about Catholicism. I hope you will be as impressed with Devin’s response to these “top 10” as I was. He did a remarkably thorough and thoughtful job of explaining his positions, and I’m so grateful for the time he spent... read more
- Jul 12, 2011
Ask an Atheist…(Response)
We had over 200 questions and comments roll in after I introduced Hemant Mehta, aka “the friendly atheist,” and invited you to ask him your pressing questions. It was tough picking the best ones—(we relied heavily on the “like” feature and questions that appeared to overlap with one another)—but I think these represent a good start to a healthy dialog. Hemant is the author of I Sold My Soul on eBay. His blog, FriendlyAtheist.com, was the winner of the 2... read more
- Jul 05, 2011