More about Questions

I continue to subscribe to the blog at Red Letter Living.  The post there today provides an interesting followup to my previous topic of “Questions”.

The quote below is from the blog post at http://redletterliving.net/2013/09/19/faith-doubt-and-the-idol-of-certainty-an-interview-with-greg-boyd/

On top of this, those who embrace “certainty-seeking faith” tend to become narrow-minded, for honestly trying to see things from other peoples’ point of view might lead them to question their faith and thereby jeopardize their “salvation.“ In fact, this model can easily lead people to develop learning phobias, for if you dare to read broadly and learn to see things from other people’s point of view, you might uncover facts that could shake your certainty and thus displease God. I’m convinced this explains why Christians, especially conservative Christians, have a well-deserved reputation in the broader culture for being narrow-minded. – Greg Boyd

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Questions

We are inquisitive beings by nature.  “Why?” is one of the first words we learn.  Throughout our lives we ask questions in order to gain understanding of the world around us and how we relate to it.  This need for understanding extends into our spiritual lives as well.  But I find that many Christians are reluctant to ask questions about the most important aspects of their faith.  I guess that I am more of a “questioner” than most.  That is why I began this whole project of researching the history of Christianity, with a focus on the origins of the doctrines and practices that Christians adhere to today.

A number of years ago I was invited to share my own faith journey with a group of adults.  I am an engineer, both by training and by nature,  and I talked about my personal struggles to reconcile faith with intellectual honesty.  I remember closing with the thought that “God isn’t afraid of your questions.”  God is the embodiment of ultimate truth, and He is undaunted when those He created seek that truth.  In fact, that is our obligation.

We all have questions.  Some of us seek answers to those questions so that our relationship with God can grow stronger and more focused.  But I think that there are many believers that are afraid to even allow their questions to become fully formed in their own minds.  They don’t even want God to know that they may have questions or doubts.  They fear some kind of divine punishment for their lack of faith.   Another possible reason for allowing important spiritual questions to go unanswered is intellectual and spiritual laziness.   Either issue is a cop-out that weakens both our spiritual lives and our personal integrity.

I submit that there is, in fact, risk in asking questions about Christian faith and practice … but the risk isn’t with God.  The risk is that we might find answers that cause us to change our thinking and beliefs.  As I have studied the church of our fathers, I find that much of modern Christian tradition and doctrine was developed long after the time of Jesus and the apostles.   The result of my questioning and study has been that I have changed my thinking about some things that I had previously just accepted as given.  And that is a good thing.

Remember:

  • Asking questions about God is not the same thing as questioning God.
  • God isn’t afraid of your questions.
  • “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God …”  James 1:5

Paths End

It has been a long time since I have posted here.  It has also been a long time since I posted anything new on the related blog at http://pathsofchristianity.com.  There are at least two reasons for this.  One is that I have been busy with other interests and have had less time to do the research that provides the basis for my posts.  The other is that there just doesn’t seem to be much interest in my chosen topics.  Readership has been minimal, comments have dwindled, and it’s been difficult to stay motivated.

I am not alone in this situation.  I just discovered that the author of another blog that I follow, Red Letter Living, is in a similar situation.  He posted a week ago that he would cease posting on a regular basis.  He said “The futility of convincing some to look at Jesus’ words in a different light has simply become too exhausting for me. Convincing people to concentrate on “being” a Christian as opposed to just believing certain things is more than I can handle right now.”  I will miss this author’s thought-provoking posts.

I will try to post some new thoughts here in the coming days.  However, I will be taking down the Paths of Christianity blog.  That website has more capabilities, but the annual fee is up for renewal and it no longer seems to be worth the expense.

My studies have taught me a great deal about the history of Christianity.  I now realize that much of modern Christian doctrine and practice was developed gradually by church leaders in the centuries following the time when Jesus was on this earth.  In fact, very little of our “churchianity” today originated with the teachings of Christ.  However, I also realize that few of my readers are inclined to examine the teachings of their particular church organizations in light of their origins.

Nevertheless, I will continue in my studies and I will post my findings and my own thoughts here from time to time.  Anyone that is interested in what I had to say at Paths of Christianity should check it out soon.  I will take it down in a couple of weeks.

Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16

Red Letter Living

Many of us have “Red Letter Edition” Bibles.  These editions have all the words of Jesus printed in red.  The idea is that, even though all of scripture is important, we need to pay particular attention to what Jesus had to say.

I think that it is more important than ever for us to reemphasize the words of Jesus in our Christian lives.  He gave us pretty clear teaching on how we should live our lives — more about who we should be and what we should do than what we must believe.  Most of the heavy doctrinal burdens and issues that we bear today did not originate with the Savior.  They were added later by various church leaders.

I found two interesting blogs that focus on this perspective:

http://www.redletterchristians.org/

http://redletterliving.net/

I plan to read through the gospels again, using my red letter edition Bible this time.  I will also look at some of the accounts of Jesus’ sayings that were not accepted into our Bibles (the New Testament apocrypha) to see what they have to add.  And finally, I plan to augment my reading with the Aramaic New Testament (see https://churchofourfathers.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/the-peshitta-aramaic-new-testament/).  Since it is almost certain that Jesus spoke to his Jewish followers in Aramaic (not the Greek from which our English translations have been derived), this should provide an improved rendering of the words that Jesus actually said.

I have been reminded that we call ourselves Christians, not “Paulians” or “Peterians” or “Augustinians”.  The teachings of Christ himself must certainly receive our primary attention.

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I also touch on some of these topics in my other blog at http://pathsofchristianity.com/.

Thanks Be To God

Thanksgiving Day in the United States is not normally thought of as a religious holiday.  It isn’t on any official church calendars, and it is not associated with any specific scriptural events.  Nevertheless, the spiritual connection is clear. To whom do we direct our thanks?  The recipient is Almighty God, of course.

There have been quite a few special days of prayer and thanksgiving that have been declared by various political leaders in the history of our nation.  As every school child knows, the first one was celebrated in New England by the settlers of the Plymouth Colony.  There followed other officially declared days of thanksgiving, sometimes in the summer months instead of autumn.  The first national Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed on Thursday, November 28, 1782 by the United States Continental Congress.

Later, on October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation that began as follows:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’ Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”

Other presidents also declared special days of thanks occasionally after that.  Then in 1863, in the midst of civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November in appreciation of “the gracious gifts of the Most High God.”  Each president subsequent to Lincoln annually declared the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day, up until 1939.  That year there were five Thursdays in November, and President Roosevelt declared the fourth (not the last) one to be Thanksgiving.  Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy’s), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving back a week to expand the shopping season.  Since then it was only a matter of time until football, eating and shopping managed to push most of the Thanks out of Thanksgiving.  In fact, people these days often refer to the holiday only as Turkey Day.

I hope that this year all of us can be more mindful of the original intentions for our national day of thanksgiving.  Thanks be to God.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.

[See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving_(United_States)].

Paul

I have been particularly interested in the first generations of the Church, those immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The most prominent individual during this period is undoubtedly Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as the apostle Paul.

Paul is a very interesting figure.  It has been said that Jesus founded Christianity, but Paul founded the Church.  He poured his life into his missionary journeys, starting churches, and writing letters to Christians across the known world.  Many of his letters are now included in our Bibles.  We literally have accepted them as gospel.

But consider a quote from Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers:

“We know that Saul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus, became the apostle Paul through a completely mystical experience and seemed to care nothing for the earthly teachings of Jesus, only his “adoption” as the Son of God through the resurrection. Not only did he alter the nature of the gospel from a story to an argument, but his letters and those written by others in his name are the earliest Christian documents we have, written long before the gospels.”

If it weren’t for the fact that the other apostles eventually accepted Paul as a true apostle with corresponding authority, it would be easy to question whether his writings even belong in our Bibles.  I have noticed that Paul hardly ever refers to Jesus’ life on earth or his teachings.  In fact, not only had he never met Jesus, it seems that he had little contact with the eleven disciples who had actually walked with Jesus.  And he apparently did not have benefit of the four gospels yet either.  So he preaches about Jesus as Son of God and Savior, but includes very little of the teaching that Jesus gave the world directly.

In my own Bible reading I need to go back through the gospels, and then through the writings of Peter and John.  I want to make sure that I understand the teachings of Jesus and how they have been incorporated into Christian faith and practice, aside from the extraordinary influence of Paul.

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This post can also be found on my other blog at http://pathsofchristianity.com/paul/

 

 

 

 

A Different Kind of Christian

John Blake of CNN recently posted an article about President Obama’s faith.  See http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/21/to-some-obama-is-the-wrong-kind-of-christian/.

I found the post to be balanced, well-written, and thought-provoking.    Evidently, many other people found the article to be “provoking” as well, as Mr. Blake notes in his follow-up post at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/24/look-at-obamas-faith-draws-criticism-praise/.

These posts stand on their own, and I don’t intend to comment on them here.  However, I do want to comment on a quote there from Diana Butler Bass:  “The kind of faith that Obama articulates is not the sort of Christianity that’s understood by the media or by a large swath of Christians in the U.S. … He’s a different kind of Christian, and the media and the public awareness needs to reawaken to that fact.”

Notice that phrase — “a different kind of Christian”.  It seems that for many believers the phrase is an oxymoron.  For them, there is only kind of Christian and it’s their kind.  It seems important these days for people to be able to identify and defend their Christianity along rigid preset lines.  Is President Obama really a Christian?  Is Mitt Romney?  How about Joe Biden or Paul Ryan?  Each one of these men is a man of faith who professes to be a Christian, but their doctrinal beliefs and spiritual practices are quite different from one another.  In fact, I don’t know that any of them would claim to be “born again”, thus seriously jeopardizing their faith identity in the minds of many.

On further reflection, I actually like the descriptor of “a different kind of Christian”.  It allow us to acknowledge that the Christian community of believers is broad and inclusive, while we also acknowledge that the details of faith and practice can vary among us.  Maybe it will also encourage us to be very careful about judging another person’s relationship with God just because it doesn’t seem to align with our own traditions and understandings.

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This post is somewhat outside of this blog’s History of Christianity theme.  In fact, much of what I am reading and thinking about these days is outside of that theme.  That is why I have launched a new and separate blog:  http://PathsOfChristianity.com.  I am still getting that site polished up, but I encourage you to check it out.