Tomorrow I’ll be participating in the one day of blog silence in honor of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. There will be a simple post noting the day, and nothing else. No comments on that post will be approved. Regular posting will resume Tuesday, May 1.
This week I have a series in the works reflecting, perhaps narcissisticly, on my sense of vocation to Brazilian missions. I hope someone else will find use in what I have to say about my experiences thus far.
In case you haven’t noticed, I took down the Chip In widget for $5000 for the Brazil mission trip this year. We still have hope, but are looking more to congregations that will likely send checks rather than contribute online. In place of the mission support widget, you’ll find a blue Chip In display for the $67 I need to renew my expired passport. We’re hoping to take care of the smaller concerns online, and the major issues (like supplies and airfare) with congregations.
The title of this post was actually the name of a course I took at Harding University. What is “Great Themes of the Bible?” Systematic Theology. I have no idea why they didn’t just call it “Introduction to Systematic Theology,” because that’s what it was. Perhaps it has something to do with the “Bible-Only” tradition of the a cappella Church of Christ, or maybe someone just liked the sound of “Great Themes.” Oddly enough, I find myself writing my own “Great Themes of the Bible” course now for the Brazilian church in Newark, NJ.
Over a week ago one of the leading men in the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark asked me to consider teaching the adult Sunday School class for a quarter. Since we don’t have prepared material from a publisher, the teacher has to make his own lesson plan and outlines. The biggest struggle for me in deciding whether to teach or not were the questions of time and topic. Writing 10 to 12 lessons will take quite a bit of time. I’m estimating I’ll need to dedicate at least 1 hour a day for a month to study and writing to get the job done. The other problem was that of a topic, but my wife has suggested something “very doctrinal.”
Prior to my spiritual collapse, almost everything I preached or taught would have been considered “very doctrinal.” In the aftermath of the ministerial breakdown I became very hesitant to speak openly on matters of theology. Maybe it’s time for that to change.
The outline I’ve written so far is intended to lay out the overall narrative of Scripture with the doctrinal points tied in. The first lesson in the rough draft starts out traditionally enough, with “General Revelation,” but then proceeds through “The Covenants” to “The History of Israel” and on to “The Life and Vocation of Jesus.” The next to last lesson, of a current total of 10, is labeled “New Creation.” The funny thing is the last lesson, which is not only a summary of the entire course, but an attempt to pick up important topics not previously covered.
One of the topics not covered until the very last lesson is the Trinity. I know, this seems very odd…it certainly seemed strange to me when I had the basic outline before me for the first time. I just couldn’t figure out where to work it in naturally. You see, God makes Himself known through actions in events that are recorded in Scripture. There is no one summary in Scripture of the nature of God. Traditional systematic theology deals with this near the very beginning of any study, usually right after “Special Revelation.” I just can’t make it fit.
Then I remembered something. It wasn’t until decades, even centuries after the time of the apostles that people began arguing about the nature of God, specifically with regards to the Trinity and the human/divine nature of Jesus. While I believe that the orthodox positions regarding these topics are essentially correct, I also believe that they only came up as fighting points in a very different culture from that in which the Scriptures were written. Thus, any systematic theology that attempts to follow, more or less, what the Bible sets as primary will find the arguments of the early church fathers being relegated to the end of the study.
So, I’ll be teaching systematic theology for the adult Sunday School with the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark, NJ come June, Lord willing. It will be interesting to see how my position in general will be received, and whether I’ll be successful in distinguishing the vision I find in Scripture from that which has been taught routinely in churches of Christ. There are similarities and overlaps, but also very important differences.
This past Friday evening I led a small group home Bible study for the Brazilian church. Actually, I’ve been teaching for this gathering for a few weeks now. Anyway, the topic this week was Jonah. Specifically, I was trying to show how Jonah attempted to flee from God but ended up being used by Him anyway for the salvation of a Gentile city.
It wasn’t until after the meeting and I was home that the obvious dawned on me: Jonah’s story is the tale of Israel. God called Israel into being to be light to the nations, a testimony to God’s existence, power and mercy. Israel refused to fulfill this calling, indulging gross sin and idolatry, and then when Israel was oppressed by foreign enemies only harbored hatred for the other nations.
What is now blindingly obvious to me was not so until Friday evening. Just as Jonah refused to do God’s will, Israel also failed to fulfill its calling. Jonah’s run from God parallels Israel’s flight from God’s will. The days and nights in the whale’s belly compare nicely to the darkness of Israel’s Babylonian captivity, and the resentment and unwillingness to extend the love of God to those who had oppressed Israel finds its equal in Jonah’s desire to see Nineveh destroyed.
What I said to the small group, and which I still think is correct, is that we must not be like Jonah. This man was called by God to share God’s message of repentance and grace with people different from himself, people he was supposed to consider enemies, and he refused. Still, God got his way. The point is this: Isn’t it easier and far better to learn what God’s character is truly like, and try to learn to love what He loves and see as He sees, celebrating in the repentance of the ungodly rather than rooting for their annihilation?
“But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’” (Jonah 4:1-4 NRSV).
Recently my company, AT&T Mobility, put restrictions on our computers. As I am no longer able to use the Internet at work, even during breaks and lunches, the quality and quantity of my posting has had to diminish. I do have a few ideas in mind to share and hope soon to be able to catch up on reading the blogs in my blogroll.
All the best to everyone.
The Stone-Campbell movement came into being with men who believed that the Protestant Reformation needed to be pushed forward, but many heirs to this movement have come to believe that those men actually accomplished the full restoration of New Testament Christianity. It is as though they think that God himself handed down the divine plan, or else that the early Stone-Campbell reformers or their immediate followers somehow discovered the correct pattern in all its glory. These ideas, especially the former, are more akin to Latter Day Saint thinking than anything else.
When I use the term “Latter Day Saints,” I am not talking only about that major group based out of Utah with missionaries spread out all over creation, but about the entire movement, called by some a “Restoration Movement,” that ranges from the Independence, Missouri based Community of Christ to fundamentalist Mormons scattered throughout the western United States, Canada and Mexico. There are virtually countless sects that base their beliefs to some extent on revelations received through Joseph Smith, Jr. This man claimed, in the early 1800s, to have been divinely entrusted with metal plates in a sort of book format that contained a record of the ancient peoples of the Americas.
The story told in what came to be published as “The Book of Mormon” narrates the rise and fall of two civilizations. One of these starts with a family leaving Jerusalem before its fall into captivity, and the other is a civilization founded by people the Lord removed from the tower of Babel without “confounding their language.” It’s an intriguing tale, although quite anachronistic in many details. Besides recounting wars, it also tells of the religious experiences of those people. Their faith and practices bear striking resemblances to those of western New York state in the 1800s, as do the religious issues they debated.
Joseph Smith Jr. not only said he was visited by angels, but in later versions of his story he said he say the Father and the Son, as well as continuing to be a prophet until his death. All this to back up his argument that all Christendom had fallen into apostasy, and only a true act of God could set us on the right path again.
Logically, if true Christianity had died out completely, it would need to be restored. Since Joseph Smith also said that the Bible had been watered down with many important truths removed, there could therefore be no way to restore the true New Testament Christianity without new revelation. Of course, I disagree with the premise that the Bible was so corrupted. Manuscript evidence has demonstrated that although there are variations between some early texts, these are usually on matters of punctuation or spelling, and those changes involving entire sentences actually don’t make much of an impact doctrinally.
Although I believe there is a case to be made for seeking to live out the Christian faith as presented in apostolic teaching, I do not believe that Christianity died out or that the Bible has been so corrupted as to necessitate a completely new start. For movements it can be as it is for people…every new day is a chance to try again.
Google is a wonderful thing. I just found an article I wrote and posted on eLibertarian five years ago. Here it is. At the time I was serving as a missionary in Brazil, and was thoroughly revolted by the political situation in the country. Though I feel the same way, I don’t live there any more, so that’s probably why I don’t post on this sort of topic much. Also, I’ve come to doubt how much any political process or system can due to cure the systemic ills we find in society, derived as they are from human sin.