Category Archives: Theology

Musings on God and His ways in the world, and how we humans interact with Him/them.

No Greys

I am someone who believes firmly in “the gray area” when it comes to most of the sticky issues that come up in life. Due to our human limitations (and compounded by the twisting of our sin nature), we rarely see an issue clearly enough to slam down a black & white judgment. Even if the question is clear (like “adultery is wrong”), somehow humans can get things so twisted that seeing the end from the beginning in a particular case is no easy task. Motives are nearly impossible to judge; assigning “blame” is usually a vain pursuit. Sometimes the moral course of action is hard to define.
I rest in the confidence that God sees all things clearly.

We humans are not so privileged.

But I think I’ve found a situation in which the “gray area” attitude might not apply.

Why are we so afraid to live within biblical definitions? We read the Word, see the definitions of sin and grace, and then go out to build our own fences.

Hypothetical examples:

Condemning people who smoke or drink because you think it’s unwise, even if you don’t think it’s “wrong” per se. There’s a legit argument to make about not trashing your body…and drunkenness is explicitly put off-limits by the Bible… but many people want to draw another fence around that to say that people are safer if they never drink or smoke at all.

A youth worker hides what he watches on TV or listens to (music) from the teens in his youth group.  (He listens to the music / watches the TV program with a clear conscience.)  It’s even good music. But hiding is easier than confronting other people’s opinions which have placed categories of music or TV “off-limits” to “wise” or “mature” Christians.

Or this hypothetical conversation:
“Sin comes from your heart, not from what goes into you through your eyes, ears, or mouth.”
“Dad, can I watch this war movie?”
“Maybe. What’s it rated?”
“R for violence and language.”
“Oh, no — you know we don’t let you watch movies with profanity in them. We don’t want you listening to that kind of stuff.”

In each case, the authority has created a “gray area” where an action is neither sinful nor righteous. But it’s somehow *tainted* and therefore morally unsuitable or unwise.

Everyone knows enough about legalism to recoil from actively pursuing it, so rarely do I hear people try to argue that a particular kind of music or using profanity or watching violence on TV (etc) is actually wrong.  But they make it clear that they’re uncomfortable with it… and want their kids to stay away from it.

Drawing our own lines of safety/righteousness seems to reassure us that we can take a controlling grip on this life and our loved ones…. but it’s a false sense of security. Worse, I think it confuses kids / young Christians. If something *isn’t* sin, how is it still “dirty”?

I’m not saying families shouldn’t set standards for behavior, music, or movies for their kids. Not saying that at all.

But I’m confused about the differences between legitimate fences (the teen equivalent of protecting a 1 year old from touching a hot stove until he’s old enough to obey) and creating a false “gray area” of “not sin-but not OK either.”
The latter action is very dangerous. I’d call it deadly.

The Tyranny of the Absolute

Further musings on legalism, liberty, and the difference between the two

I am frustrated by people who paint me into a corner by forcing me to defend from Scripture my “right” to do something … instead of working within the boundaries of liberty set up by Scripture.

They ask the wrong question.

I’m frustrated because there’s just no winning that argument when they get to set it up.

I’ve been down this road many times now, from both directions. I understand the holiness/pietist arguments because I used to believe them. But it didn’t take long in college for the Scripture itself to start breaking those arguments apart.  Things aren’t as tidy as they seem. And if you accept that sin is “contamination” instead of the characteristic of a sinner, you’re gonna end up in all kinds of weird places

…. like BJU allowing students to listen to soundtracks from PG movies but not PG 13 …  I guess PG13 movies breach the “sin line” too often, and we all know that listening to music associated with a film that’s “bad” must be bad too …. *rolls eyes*

But the “absolutist” comes along…

Absolutist: That’s a horrible song! Why are you listening to that?!  The Bible says to avoid evil, and that’s evil! So stop!
Me: Um, well … First of all, I’m not convinced the song is “evil” . . .
Abs: Ack! How can you not label this song evil?! They’re singing about sex! And it’s clearly premarital … and we know that’s wrong! Young minds are going to be affected by this!
Me: But singing about sex isn’t wrong! In fact, sex isn’t wrong unless  … oh never mind…..

You see? You end up looking like a fool. Or an “antinomian” who “sins that grace may abound.”  Or (at the least) “unwise” … because the absolutist can always pull out the “unwise” argument:

Me: But I can show you from Scripture that my conscience is clear regarding this issue. A Blink 182 song isn’t sin for me. I listen in faith …

Abs: *scowls dramatically* But is it WISE?!!

Me: *sighs*

The question is all wrong. But it’s all wrong at the worldview level! And I can’t battle the worldview on my own.

Bill Davis talked a lot in my epistemology class this summer about how worldviews are changed:  the most effective shaper of underlying core beliefs is the Holy Spirit … but if we focus on human tools … our worldviews are shaped by the people we love and respect the most. That’s why it does matter to me that I have a real relationship with the students I teach. From an educator’s perspective, I’m not even going to get in the front door of their hearts if there’s not a relationship of love there first.

But that doesn’t help me much with disgruntled legalists.


The Loving Touch

I was musing this morning on the Italian church in Venice, pastored by missionary Frank King. (We hope to worship with them this spring if the Italy trip works out for our 11/12th graders.)  The believers’ love for one another was so evident. Part of it was cultural — all Italians greet one another by kissing on the cheek. But the supernatural “unity” of the Spirit was beautiful in that place.

When we moved to Anderson 3 years ago, I jumped everytime a guy touched me on the arm. Heh. Ten years of “touch not!” had done its work to mold me into a “hands-off” relationship with people. I’m sure my reflexes amused men like Mike Settle and Don Hall, who literally embraced me in my role as mentor and teacher of their children. With much practice, I’ve gotten much better at receiving brotherly love.

I know men who refuse to hug any woman not related to them. This is especially true of ministers in the circles I grew up in. It comes from a well-intentioned desire to remain “blameless” from any possible charge of infidelity or temptation toward adultery.

But like the former alcoholic who cannot taste a drop lest he fall back into drunkenness, the “sin” still rules. The alcohol controls where that man goes, what he eats, who he can spend time with. He’s not living in victory over sin; he’s a paroled prisoner. Perhaps a refusal to extend the most basic of human communication–friendly affection–out of a fear of being tempted is an equal bondage.

And I’ve decided that’s a pretty sad way to live.

Hugs to you all.  Don’t flinch next time I greet you.

Worldview and Imago Dei

[written during my 3rd year of Covenant College MEd summer coursework; class was Epistemology with Bill Davis; worth reposting]


You’ll find me doing several of these, I’m certain . . . I chrew through information verbally (although I learn best visually – go figure) so these daily review sessions are how I cope with all the data of my day. Here are some thoughts from my classes today:  I’ll try to put “fun stuff” in orange …. the yellow stuff is discussion. Feel free to ignore it . . . 

First of all — our class is one huge comedy club, I swear. But in a good way. . . .    We had very profitable discussions today mixed with much laughter. And I don’t think I’ll need the dart gun in class this week– unless we decide to shoot Dr Davis for the sheer love of causing trouble. He’s too clear of a thinker to provoke any frustration in me. Brilliant guy.  OCD about being orderly, which is good for a guy who spends his life organizingideas.  Oh, and I decided he looks like Kenneth Branaugh, but with much darker hair.

Anyway, two major lines of thinking from today:

1. A person’s worldview is the filter which sorts the raw data of our lives –what we observe or what happens to us — into a story which we call experience. This worldview is often defined as “presuppositions”–statements about how the world works. But Davis pointed out that a worldview includes two more foundational aspects:  cognitive vocabulary and affections.

You have to learn terms for foundational concepts like “sin” “evil” “happiness” “worth” “justice” etc before you can organize what the world throws at you. Whether your idea of “sin” matches the biblical one is a totally different matter. And this vocabulary is still developing all through the middle school years — which is why many kids aren’t ready to think about worldview presuppositions until at least middle-teens. (Although my 8th grade classes have, to this point, been populated by several 13/14 year olds who were already thinking pretty deeply about the world and their place in it.)

More importantly, people value what they love. Want to know a kid’s worldview . . .  What does he/she talk about all the time?

And people listen to the people they love. A student’s worldview is developed by what s/he sees modeled in adults around he/r–adults s/he cares about, especially. A teacher who talks about living all of life to the glory of God but who lives a disjointed life full of frustration, unable to connect life’s experiences to the great Metanarrative of  Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation– that teacher is screaming “The Christian Worldview Does’t Work!”

ick.  my reactions  to life and in the classroom reveal my own inconsistencies

2. On the topic of the image of God:   Davis had a slightly different view of the imago Dei. I’m going to try to represent it here, but if you hate what I say, realize that I might be messing it up…

We tend to define God’s image as a human’s capability of reasoning, making moral decisions, and maybe being creative. That’s a leftover from Aristotle and the medieval theologians. Problem is, what happens when a human ceases to function like that? Does an advanced Alzheimer’s pateint lose his status as image-bearer when he can no longer express rationality, decision-making, or creativity?  Um . . . no

So Davis proposed a “covenant model” of the imago Dei:   Moses’ language in the Pentateuch often borrows heavily from the Near Eastern suzerainty treaties of the ancient world. In these treaties, a sovereign would make a covenant with his people. Part of that covenant included appointing a representative who would carry out the work of the king in that region. The word for that representative is the same word that Moses uses for “image” in Genesis 1.

So …. what if the image of God in us is actually more a task than a set of characteristics?   The task: fulfilling the creation mandate — exercising dominion over this planet and culture as the representative of God.  In that case, the image lies in humanity as a collective — both male & female — and not so much in individual people. BUT theequipment for that task — the fact that humans are rational, creative, moral, spiritual, communicative, etc etc — is distributed to individuals so they can carry out this mission.

Hmmm. It’s an interesting concept. Some implications:

  • If our task is given to humanity as a collective, we must rely on one another’s gifts.  Individualism breaks down pretty fast when you realize there’s no way you can do this alone. That’s a vital lesson in the classroom too –and I’ve watched kids balk when I assign them a group project and give the whole group the same grade. GASP! Welcome to life, folks . . . sometimes the group has to sink or swim. And if God gifted you with a particular ability, you can’t sit back and say, “Hey, I don’t think that guy’s doing enough work over there!” Are you going to do that when you grow up and your pastor asks you to take on a ministry?don’t shoot me … just think about it 
  • The Fall did not delete God’s image in man: the responsibility to fulfill the dominion TASK.  But the Fall didbreak our equipment (creativity, morality, rationality, stewardship, etc …)
  • Unbelievers as well as believers are held accountable for this task — it’s not like people don’t become image-bearers until they receive the Holy Spirit.  And all humans are equipped for the task — broken, perhaps, but still equipped — and common grace allows unbelievers to contribute in positive ways to dominion activity. Again, it’s twisted, but it’s definitely there. Even public educators. 

OK. That’s enough for now. I still have a pile of reading to do for this course, so I’m gonna sign off for now.  And there’s talk of some entertainment tonight with the 4 guys across the hall — maybe a poker game or something. We’re hoping to plan a soccer game for tomorrow, but the Edge kiddos have descended upon us in great hordes. AAAARRRGGGHHH!  You can’t walk anywhere without running into a pack of adolescents clogging up the campus arteries!!!!  And I bet they swallowed the soccer fields too…  LOL

Love is inherently dangerous

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell” (C. S. Lewis,The Four Loves, chap. 6).

–Thanks, Dan