Category Archives: Theology

The Church: The Bride of Christ (pt. 1)

Before we start developing the image, though, there is a little straightening up to do. There are songs, poems, and hymns, as well as liturgies, that speak as if individuals are the Bride of Christ. That kind of talk began somewhere around the 14th century among Christian mystics. Union with Christ was romanticized. Individuals, both women and men, pictured themselves as brides of Christ.

In the Catholic church, a ritual emerged in which women who had taken orders – nuns – were ritually married to Christ. The catechism says, “Virgins who … are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite are betrothed mystically to Christ…”

There is much here I do not understand and do not intend to criticize. There is something beautiful in the picture of a person being mystically betrothed to Christ but it is not a biblical picture. It was not developed in the Bible but in the medieval Church. The biblical picture is not of an individual, not even a nun, being the bride of Christ. Rather, it is the Church that is Christ’s betrothed and will become, on some glorious future day, his bride.

With that, let’s turn to the Bible. Doctrines don’t come out of nowhere. St. Paul and St. John did not conjure up the image of the Bride of Christ out of thin air. They were men who knew the Old Testament, memorized large parts of it, and thought about its message a lot. As they thought about those biblical passages, the Holy Spirit gave them the image of the Church as a bride—the Messiah’s bride, the bride of Christ.
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People and Their Rituals: Why Do They Do That?

Life is full of rituals, from high church liturgies to baseball players’ on-deck circle routines. Humans are ritual-making creatures. Rituals connect us to the past and remind us of what is important in the present. How some rituals came into … Continue reading

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Spiritual Gifts and the Church

When it comes to the use of spiritual gifts, we often think in terms of serving the church. We talk about serving the church by teaching Sunday School or becoming a trustee, which promotes the idea that God gives us gifts so we can serve the church.

Well, yes; that’s true. But we mustn’t miss the more important reason God gave us gifts: to serve the Lord Jesus. The gifts are not, first of all, so that individuals can serve the church but so that the church can serve the savior. The purpose of the gifts, as we will see in the coming weeks, is to make possible through us the actions of the Son by the Spirit to fulfill the intentions of the Father.

When people think solely in terms of serving the church, they often feel their part is small and not especially important. Or they think that their part goes unnoticed and start feeling they are being taken for granted. Either way, that kind of thing is hard to avoid when we think that what we are doing is all for the church.

It is better (and more in line with Scripture) not to think we are doing something for the church but that we are the church doing something for the Lord. We are not functioning for the body, as if we were not a part of it. We are the body. Continue reading

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Reader’s Question: What About Unbelieving Friends and Family?

Helen D. asked the question in the title in response to a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago (A Biblical Look into the Future). It is a familiar question. I initially responded in the comment section but we … Continue reading

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A (Biblical) Look into the Future

When the biblical writers looked into the future, they saw “a new heaven and a new earth.” Many of us, schooled in a Platonized version of Christianity, find this confusing. We are comfortable with the heaven part but don’t know what to do with a new earth. It is hard to see any need for it.

We’ve been taught that we are destined for a heaven that is, in Spenser’s line, “unmoving, uncorrupt, and spotless bright.” What living in such a place might entail is quite beyond anything our imaginations can conjure up. Frankly, it sounds rather boring. Still, if heaven is open to us, why will we need earth?

Besides, doesn’t the Bible teach that earth will be destroyed by fire? St. Peter wrote, “…the earth and everything in it will be laid bare,” and “everything will be destroyed.” If everything will be destroyed and we will head off to heaven, what is the point of having a new earth?

But we need to go carefully here. When St. Peter writes that everything will be “destroyed,” he is using the same word he used a few sentences earlier when he wrote that the ancient world was “deluged and destroyed.” Though he says it was “destroyed,” he clearly did not mean the Great Flood had ended the planet, only that it ended human wickedness (for a time).

Likewise, the promised final “destruction” will not annihilate creation – the planet will not be obliterated. Rather, it will remove from it all evil and everything that opposes the Creator. The future will include an earth that is purified of every evil and made right.
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What It Means to Be Alive

The phrase “full of life” occasionally appears in print or is spoken in conversation. This or that person or, sometimes, this or that city, is said to be “full of life.” The phrase is found in many languages. German communicates it in a single word: Lebensfülle.

What does it mean for someone to be full of life? The philosopher Dallas Willard defined life as “the power to act and respond in specific kinds of relations.” He gives the example of a cabbage, which is alive and acts and responds to soil, water, and sun. A dead cabbage, though it exists, cannot act or respond.

A cat is capable of acting and responding in a greater number of relationships than a cabbage. For example, a cabbage cannot respond to a ball of string but a cat can. Neither cat nor cabbage, in my experience, responds to a word of advice. Cat lovers may disagree.

Is it possible for something or someone to be alive to one thing but not to another? Yes. The cabbage is alive to soil, sun, and rain but quite dead to a ball of string. The cat is alive to a ball of string but quite dead to Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare, for his part, was alive to cats, though he clearly didn’t like them.

In biblical literature, only God is alive in all kinds of relationships: he is “the living God.” People are alive in some kinds of relationships but not in others.
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The Holy Spirit: Getting the Facts, Missing the Point

This is Pentecost Sunday, the day the church celebrates the reality-transforming, church-birthing, human-metamorphosing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The God who so loved that he gave his Son also so loved that he gave his Spirit … and nothing has been the same since.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. It has been said that a person without the Spirit can never be more than a second-class Christian, but St. Paul went further than that. He said that without the Spirit, a person cannot be a Christian at all: “…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).

Without the Spirit, there would be no church. A religious group can have a nave, altar, sacristy, pulpit, and steeple, but they’ll only have a church if they have the Spirit.

The Greek phrase ἐν πνεύματι (in or by the Spirit) appears 152 times in the New Testament. We are led by the Spirit, we rejoice by the Spirit, we worship the Father by the Spirit, are indwelt by the Spirit, are gifted by the Spirit, are marked as God’s people by the Spirit, love each other by the Spirit – I could go on.

With the Holy Spirit, we are connected to God’s own life. With the Spirit, we are connected to each other. With the Spirit we can confess Jesus Christ and actually know him. With the Spirit, we can live the Christian life now and expect glory in the future.

But what is the Holy Spirit—so ominously called by earlier versions the “Holy Ghost”? Continue reading

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The logical – and theological – problem with Red Letter Christians

ABC published this article by Joel Looper on May 5th. It is thought-provoking and I wanted to share it with you. https://www.abc.net.au/religion/joel-looper-the-logical-and-theological-problem-with-red-letter/12215602 Joel Looper (PhD from University of Aberdeen) is the author of the forthcoming book, A Protestantism without Reformation: … Continue reading

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Good News for Today

The humorist and actor Robert Benchely once wrote, “There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.”

Benchely then drew the droll conclusion that “Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know.”

Benchley’s characterization of the world is funny because he, by dividing people in such a way, has unwittingly placed himself in the first of the two classes, among those one cares very little to know. But, of course, there was nothing unwitting about it, which is what makes his remark so witty.

With his self-deprecating humor, Benchely was taking on a serious subject: the human proclivity to exclude people who differ from us. If we can classify someone, put them into a box and label them, it becomes easier to discount them. They are, after all, just liberals … or conservatives … or whites … or blacks … or Mexicans … or …

In recent years, some politicians have used this human inclination to “otherize” people to their advantage. It has become part and parcel of the political playbook. It is, however, nothing new. Continue reading

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Everyone Is a Storyteller: What’s Your Story?

Every grasping, hoarding, angry person is telling themselves a story. So is every generous, sacrificial, compassionate person – but they are different stories.

The middle school Spanish teacher is a storyteller. So is the foundry worker and the clerk at the gas station. The theologian is a storyteller, as is the banker, the automaker, and the spy. Even the middle school Spanish student is a storyteller.

The stories we tell frame our understanding of the world and explain our experiences. Much of our thinking is done in stories. History is an exercise in storytelling. So is philosophy. So is science.

This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. If you find a ten-dollar bill lying in the driveway, your brain automatically generates a story, or more than one. The bill slipped out of your pocket when you got out of the car to get the mail. Alternately, it fell out of the mailman’s pocket when he got out of his jeep to bring a package to the door. The story you tell yourself helps you know what to do with the ten dollars.

This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. Continue reading

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