All posts by Tony

My Heart to You

Once again, I need to apologise for the large gap between this post and my last one. As my regular readers will be aware, I do what I see Father doing, and until now He’s not given me anything to go on the blog. But here I am again with something new 🙂

Many of my readers will be familiar with the uprushing swell of worship in their heart as they respond to the love of Jesus. It’s unmistakable, and it’s really the natural response when our gratitude, love and thanksgiving overflow.

Over the years, many songs have instantly triggered this response in me. For example, my two favourite worship songs, When I Look into Your Holiness and Great is the Lord did this the first time I ever hear them. The beautiful song With Eyes For Only You did the same.

I was fortunate to have been sent a new batch of digitised tapes by a good friend who gave me them for my sister-site, VintageWorshipTapes.com. As I mention on the site, most of the tapes had at least one unforgettable worship gem on them, and this one was no exception. The song My Heart to You (In Sweet Abandon) was that song on one of these new tapes, and the first time I heard it, I was smitten 😀 What a gorgeous song, and what a response to the love of Christ. I share it here for your blessing:

 

My Lord, I love You, I praise You
My Lord, I worship at Your footstool
My Lord, I bow down before You
In sweet abandon
Total surrender
I give my heart to You

It is of course my prayer that this song blesses you and ministers to you on a deep level, and all the more so as you find it becomes an earworm and just keeps giving and releasing blessing into your life.

Enjoy!

Grace and Peace to you

Unconventional

Within Evangelicalism, there often seems to be a ‘rubber-stamp’ approach to the ‘accepted way’ to ‘become a Christian’ (whatever that means). For many, and especially for pushy evangelists, not only is there only one way to Heaven (Jesus) but there is also only one way to ‘become saved’ by Jesus, and that’s to pray the ‘sinner’s prayer’, or a similar method that is deemed acceptable to the one preaching – never mind what God thinks. And of course it has to be prayed out loud, so that the predator evangelist can hear you and make sure you’re jumping through all – all! – the correct hoops. In fact, to these people, it’s not even acceptable for you to be ‘born-in’, that is, being a Christian from birth because of the church your parents go to, because we are told that ‘God has no grandchildren’ and ‘each of us has to make their own decision for Christ'[1]. In the past, I have mentioned that I know people who are in the Kingdom, and yet never came in by human-approved methods or pathways; instead, God did it. There was no decision, no evangelism, no ‘action’ on the part of the new believer; this is likely part of what evangelists don’t like, because God did it without their help and all their formulae were irrelevant 😀 There is no ‘decision for Christ’ involved, and, well, we can’t have that, now can we? 😉

In reality, of course, every believer’s journey is different, and there is no such thing as a  ‘conventional’ ‘conversion'[2]. Here, then, I present an excellent piece by Kenn Burroughs (and used with his permission) where he describes how he ‘unconventionally’ became a Christian with no human intervention; no ‘credit’ to himself or to anyone else. It’s really illuminating; have a read:


I became a Christian thru an unusual way at 2 in the morning on December 7th 1974 in an empty Navy 4 bed barracks room.[3]

Going to church didn’t have anything to do with it.

I didn’t own a bible so that wasn’t involved in this dynamic life changing experience either.

I didn’t know I was supposed to “repent of my sins”, nor was I aware that I “needed a Savior”.

No one “witnessed” to me, whatever that meant; which, when I found out, I referred to it as “christian mugging.”

The current move of the Holy Spirit is “deconstruction”, but because I wasn’t brought up in any real life meaning religious environment, I was into deconstructing from the get go.

I NEVER believed in fiery torture for eternity.

I wasn’t any kind of womanizer so didn’t have sex until I got married, but never understood the “purity culture” mentality.

I always loved the example Jesus showed when it came to treating women instead of Paul’s thing about submission which I thought was beyond unreasonable.

I have NEVER talked about salvation to anyone, so I am not making it up when I say that my faith has been questioned at least once a week for over the 47 years I’ve loved Jesus.

And don’t get me started with denominations, because I don’t understand the reason, the importance, the silliness and even as harsh as it comes across, the stupidity of them. I just don’t get it and in almost half a century it still boggles my mind.

I am not much of a fan of Sunday services because I will never believe that an audience is supposed to sit in rapt attention to one guy spouting out stuff he got by preparing a sermon. I can’t believe the God I believe in works that way.

I have always believed the Holy Spirit was a “she” if pronouns are permissible.

I also believe Jesus loves us, likes us, comforts us, respects us, encourages us, cares for us, and accepts us EXACTLY the way we are regardless of anything.

I’m not much of a supporter of so called “christian” music as I personally got more from God thru “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige, “Smash Into You” by Beyonce and “1,000 Cranes” by jazz band Hiroshima, which I listen to at least once a week than anything played on christian radio.

So if you are a religious Trump Republican conservative red white and blue pro life church going every time the door opens bible memorizing women should be silent men only as pastors Amazing Grace singer come up front for an altar call repeat after me ask Jesus in your heart to be saved homophobic full of Islamaphobia going to hell if Jesus isn’t Lord believer, [then] I must be the shittiest example of christianity – but that’s okay.

Honestly, because I am loved and accepted by MY God whether you do or not.

– Kenn Burroughs


I think that’s simply excellent, don’t you?


The header picture is of a Blohm & Voss Bv-141, a highly unconventional German reconnaisance aircraft of the World War II era. You can read more about this fascinating aircraft in its Wikipedia article here.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Please allow me to apologise for all the ‘air quotes’ (there I go again!) in that passage. It’s because I am using terminology used by those who do pushy evangelism. I don’t use those phrases (nor do I believe in the concepts) myself.
2 Aaaand he’s done it again… 😉
3 The December 7th date is interesting. Kenn mentions his being in the Navy, and Dec 7th 1941 was the date the US Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor, bringing Japan and the USA into the Second World War – Ed

Do You Know Where You Would Go?

The favourite catch phrase of the street evangelist is the phrase, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?”, often followed up by its partner, “Are you secure in your eternal fate?”

And actually, this ‘evangelist’s mantra’ is hollow. And the reason is this: the evangelists themselves don’t really believe it.

According to most of the people who spout this tripe, you cannot actually be sure of your eternal destination because you might make a right pig’s ear of it in the moment before you die.

Once saved, always saved‘ is the only way you can ‘know’ where you will go; every other belief apart from ‘once saved, always saved’ is an insecure salvation because you can lose it at the drop of a single ‘sin’. These people aren’t as ‘assured’ as they like to think.

And so, the correct answer to the question, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?” (in addition to ‘mind your own business’, of course!) is this:

Yes. Do you?

The Unforgivable Sin – Reblog

The idea of the ‘Unforgivable Sin’ is so widespread in Christendom, and so misused by ‘nasty’ Christians, that I felt it important that I reblog this piece from nearly five years ago, which has brought release and blessing to many.

Here you go:


It always amazes me how people who say they believe in the Love of God have this idea that there’s one ‘Special Sin’ that God just can’t find it in Himself to forgive.

Like if someone insults your mother, y’know, that sort of thing.

It just doesn’t make any sense, and the passages in Mark 3:28-30 and Matthew 12:31-32 must mean something different from what people usually think, because Jesus did not deal in harshness; He dealt in love, compassion and gentleness.

But, we are told, there is such a ‘sin’, and it’s called the ‘Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’.

All you need to do is to Google ‘Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ and you will come up with a huge swath of hits, not only of people waving this idea around condemnatorially, but equally of people worried (sometimes literally) to death that they are destined to burn forever in Hell because of a few careless words.

We must remember that the ‘angry God’ model of the Scripture always defaults to the harsh, threatening interpretation, whereas the Jesus model takes us to the better, more gentle and loving interpretation. However, today’s Pharisees, just like those of old, love to find condemning Scriptures that they can use to bash people’s heads in, and because of this they will always default to the harsher interpretation.

Naturally, they seem to revel in the idea that there’s an ‘unpardonable sin’, which seems to be tailor-made for them to wield against the latest set of hapless believers to whom they have taken a dislike: maybe those who believe in Grace; maybe the inclusionists; maybe those who don’t believe that the Bible is infallible and inerrant; certainly anyone who does not agree with them on all small points. (Which is just about everybody, when you think about it!).

The idea is that they gleefully swing this horrific weapon and leave bleeding and despairing people in their wake, feeling that they have passed forever beyond all hope of forgiveness. In truth, there are fewer Scriptures that have brought more misery than this one. Think about it. As a Pharisee, using this most beloved of all your Scriptures, you can verbally condemn someone to believing that oh they’ve really gone and done it now; they will never, ever be forgiven. What better weapon could a Pharisee want?

But this is not the way of Jesus. Of course God forgives all sin.  But because this verse is wielded as such a powerful weapon, joyfully weaponized by those who are almost the Enemy’s servants in order to bring all that untold misery and despair to people, it needs to be addressed.

So, what did Jesus mean when He mentioned the ‘unpardonable sin’?

Well, here’s a beautifully simple exegesis of the Matthew passage by my friend Nathan Jennings, where he puts it really clearly. This explanation of the text closely dovetails with my own opinion on the matter. Over to Nathan:

“BLASPHEMY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Thoughts on Matthew 12:31-32

“Often, I am asked what to do with these verses in light of what we know of the grace and mercy of God through Christ. There are probably a few good ways to look at this. First we have to remember that Jesus, being the full revelation and character of God, forgave his enemies on the cross and throughout his time pre-resurrection. Also if you look at the verses leading up to this we see the Pharisees denying Jesus having the spirit of God as being the means of his healing people and said that it was the spirit of the devil. Immediately following the next set of verses, which begin with a “therefore” indicating the message about to be given is a response/result of the previous text, it states:

Therefore, I tell you that people will be forgiven for every sin and insult to God. But insulting the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Human One will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven, not in this age or in the age that is coming”
Matthew 12:31-32

Immediately we can see and deduce that insulting /blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unbelief in the work of the Spirit due to the passage in the text right before this.

Also the word ‘forgiveness’ is better translated as ‘freedom’ or “freedom from something” so, to me, what is basically being said here is:

“Therefore, I tell you that people will be freed from the power of every sin and insult to God. But unbelief in the power and work of the Holy Spirit and the freedom it offers you will result in enslavement, because you’re not believing the truth. And whoever speaks a word against Jesus can still see freedom because the spirit can still be seen. But whoever doesn’t believe in the work of the spirit won’t experience the freedom of their true identity, in this age or the next.
Matthew 12:31-32″

I think that’s brilliant. And, if you feel that you have blasphemed the Spirit, be reassured: youre not. Because the ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ means essentially a refusal to recognise that it’s the Spirit at work, if you are conscious of the Spirit’s work then you can’t be ‘blaspheming’ Her.

And, in any case, all sin was dealt with at the Cross, once and for all, forever. All sin, including this one. Don’t concentrate on sin, concentrate on Jesus. Christians today are far too preoccupied with sin; they need to leave it in the grave where it belongs!

Morsels

Some people will judge you for changing. Others will celebrate you for growing. Choose your circle carefully.
– Anon

Let your work and your thinking be driven by a sense of amazement at how brilliant things actually are, not by the need to be vindicated.
– Me

As I like to say, when I’m not exactly sure what I want to say, “I’m going to give the wrong answer first.”
– Josh

Me [to someone vocally judging another person]: ‘Quit bloody judging people and go look in a mirror!’
Judgmental person: ‘Ooooh! You just cussed! That’s a sin in the eyes of the LORD, that is; just you wait ’til I tell Him…’
Me: <thinking> Distraction successful. Job done (how piss-easy was that?) </thinking>
– Me

We shouldn’t conclude that someone doesn’t care about a problem just because they don’t agree with our ideas about how to resolve it.
– Diana

When Jesus said ‘Do not worry’, He was talking about daily needs like food and clothing. If He’d been at all concerned that we were not worrying enough about our ‘eternal destiny’, He would have preached a whole lot more on hellfire and damnation, rather than about us simply not worrying about where our next meal was going to come from.
– Me

You will not heal by going back to what broke you.
– Anon

Yesterday morning, I was so bored with the currently-playing dream that I actually smiled when my alarm went off.
– Me

Unforgiveness is like drinking a poison and expecting someone else to die from it.
– Anon

What a pathetic god they believe in. Unable to get his way, he flings his image bearers into a fire forever rather than spend any of his infinite love or power trying to restore them. What a dick.
– Dave

If you have a problem with me, call me. If you don’t have my number, you don’t know me well enough to have a problem with me.
– Derrick Day

I didn’t want to bring people to my old church precisely because I didn’t want them to hear about the loving God I personally know, in such terrible terms [as one who would send people to burn forever in hell]. I see that now. I wasn’t sure back then why I was so reluctant, but this is why.
– Me

If you make someone’s suffering a bit more bearable today, and their burden a little less heavy, you will have manifested more of God than most religions and ideologies ever get around to doing in their entire life-cycle.
– Jeff Turner

[On people not wanting to be called Christians any more because of the bad behaviour of right-wing Evangelical nasties]:
I won’t let the pirates and interlopers steal my own birthright: the right to carry the Name of the One Who loves me. Come what may, and given all the negative connotations that the name carries, it’s still my birthright. Tarnished and sullied by the unclean it may be, but it still means the world to me.
– Me

These things just never look quite the way you pictured them when praying for them, because if they were exactly what you wanted, they wouldn’t be what you needed.
– Jeff Turner

No Christian should ever cause anyone to doubt that God loves them.
– Keith Giles

Judgmentalism is the root of all sin, imo.
– Me

Faith is not something we do to persuade God; faith is what happens to us when we realize how persuaded God is about us.
– Francois Du Toit

Enjoy what you know; look forward with anticipation to knowing more than you know now; and, most important, enjoy the journey of discovery! 🙂
– Me

 

Life’s Big Questions – Reblog

One of my favourite pieces, over the last few years, is one from 2017 called ‘Life’s Big Questions‘. I thought that, given these times of fear and uncertainty, it would be a good idea to reblog it for my readers’ edification. So, here we are:


Why doesn’t God answer Life’s Big Questions?

So often, especially when we are distressed, we cry out to God, ‘Why is this happening?’ So often we ask the big questions: why does suffering happen; why is there pain if God is so good; why did my wife die so young?

And the silence is deafening. You listen for the Voice to explain things, like He does so often, and yet on these questions, when it seems so really important, He doesn’t say anything. You can almost feel Him looking at you with His huge compassion…

And I think that the reason is that the answer is so deep, so embedded in God’s purposes, so much unable to be put into words, that there’s no way He’d do it justice with a short answer. Such an answer wouldn’t, in fact, answer the question, because the answer is too immense. In some ways it’s almost as if the answer is ‘Wait and see!’ (although there’s a little more to it than that, as we shall see).

Because, only now, after my entire adult lifetime of following Him and learning to hear His voice; learning to hear His heartbeat; learning to feel the gentle breeze of His Spirit’s guidance; living through the very worst thing that could happen to me (Job 3:25); do I begin to get the slightest inkling of understanding, what it’s all about; the answer to ‘Why?’; the reason for the silence that denies me the quick, easy answer.

And I still can’t tell you ‘why’.

But I am beginning to discern the slightest shadow of an inkling of an answer – but I can’t put it into words. This kind of answer is only discerned, not learned, and even then only by actually living through the answer itself. I can’t teach this. But I do trust Him. And that in itself is part of the answer; learning to trust Him and hearing the answers are both part of the same plan.

The answer does not, cannot, come straight away, nor in one minute or ten. It doesn’t come in a week or even a year. No, these answers take a lifetime for us to even begin to understand, to do more than simply scratch the surface. When, eventually, we have trusted God so much, so often, and for so long, that trust does indeed form part of the answers. And each experience we have with God, the joy, the suffering, the standing with others in need, the worship; each of these events generates for us another tiny sliver of understanding; another tiny piece of the big picture of both our elusive answer and God’s purpose.

In a very real sense, God is honouring us by not simply fobbing us off with a short, trite answer to our questions, because there simply isn’t such an answer that would carry any meaning. Therefore, we have to be patient and learn through life itself; this is the only way in which the answers would carry any meaning, because we would have learned them through actual experience and lived the answers for ourselves.

Big questions deserve big answers, and these take a lifetime to hear and to learn. So when you ask the Big Questions, just imagine Jesus holding out His hand to you, silently saying. “Walk with me. I’ll show you as we go”. And He will.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” – Rom 8:28

I have touched on the idea of seeing God’s plans worked out in their fulness in a previous post – Leaning and Laughing – about two years ago. The key passage in that post, which dovetails nicely with today’s ideas, is this:

Revelation 15:3 has this picture of Heaven where the people are singing:

“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are your ways, O King of the Saints”.

Although in some ways (because Heaven is not bound by time), this song is being sung right now; as far as we perceive it, it is being sung in the future when all the outworkings of God’s plans for our earthly lives will have come to their conclusion.

And those saints (that is, believers) have a Heavenly perspective. They can look at the whole sweep of time and history in its entirety, and when they see that, they sing that song. And notice how they *still* say that God’s ways are just – they are full of justice – and true – they are full of truth. Those people can see that actually despite what they thought during their earthly lives, God was actually in charge all along and was working His purpose out. Through good things and bad; through happiness and also through suffering. They can see the whole story; they have read the ending and it is a happy one, and they praise God for being the ultra-clever dude who has worked it all out for them.

I think that complements todays post nicely.


[Edit] – This post was also published on the Unfundamentalist Christians blog on the Patheos website. Click here to see it on that site.

Your Name’s Above All Names – Reblog

A couple of years ago, I shared one of the most simple and yet profound songs I know, one of those songs that instantly transports me into the Throne Room of God, so to speak.

Because the truths expressed in that song, and in the article that I wrote on it, are so important and uplifting, I thought that now was a good time to share it once again. So, without further ado, let’s continue:


Your Name’s Above All Names

There are a few songs that, without fail, transport me straight into the Throne Room of God. My spirit is lifted and my heart sings, my hands raise up and I am filled with gratitude for all that God has done for me. Usually there’s tears as well, so full is my heart with love for my King.

Two such songs that I have shared on here are When I Look into Your Holiness‘ and Great is the Lord, and another is ‘My God and King (With Eyes for Only You).

And there are likely a few more that would have this effect on me, should I listen to them. I have so many worship songs in my repertoire that I don’t remember all of them, and one of Jesus’s favourite tricks is to drop songs on me at random and completely out of the Blue that remind me of things He’s done in my life. This song that I present to you today, ‘Your Name’s Above All Names’, is one of those songs, and He dropped it on me a couple of weeks ago. For some reason, this song melts my heart and causes the spirit of worship to bubble up from deep inside. I’ll make some more comments later, but first, here’s the song:

Your Name’s above all names
Your power is above all powers
And Your glory, Your glory fills this place

Your Name’s above all names
Your power is above all powers
And Your glory, Your glory fills this place

And that’s it. Nice and simple, but for some reason utterly, utterly profound. And it’s gorgeous.

It may be that this song’s effect on me has a lot to do with the idea of Jesus[1] having the ‘Name that is above all names’ (Phil 2:9). In a similar way to how the knowledge that Jesus defeated death removes all fear from life, so too the knowledge that He is the highest authority in the Universe (and that’s what it means when people say things about His Name being above all other names) removes all the fear that things will not work out right in the end, both in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. And this song reminds me of that belief.

I have written on the idea of the Heavenly Perspective before (here and here) and this concept of Him being the ‘highest authority’ goes along with that idea. I have many friends who believe that God is not in control of things on this Earth. I have many friends who believe the opposite, that He is indeed in complete control of every minute detail. I understand about theodicy;  the Big Question about why God, if He is all-powerful and all-loving, does not prevent evil. I’m aware of the phenomenal amount of good things that happen, unheralded and unannounced, on a daily basis, between ordinary people in all walks of life, and just from nature in general too. Sunsets, nice food, cool air, single malt whisky, mountains.

I am also aware that  life’s Big Questions deserve Big Answers, and that these answers are usually discerned over a lifetime of walking with God and hearing Him explain things to us. Like all of the really Big God Questions, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes. God is in control, but not necessarily in the ways that we think He should be. The way we frame our questions almost predicates a particular kind of answer, and that answer is not available in any form which would make sense. Instead, the answers to the Big Questions are based more upon a form of trust: trust in the goodness of God and trust in Jesus (Jn 14:1 (NLT) ) and that that trust is something that is learned as we go along. Every time you see God work something amazing in your life; every time you are thankful for something (whether you think He’s been directly responsible for it or not), you lay another little brick in your building of trust.

Over time, it’s not so much that Life’s Big Questions are answered, more that the questions themselves morph and change into a mode that incorporates the known goodness of God that you have seen and felt and experienced in your life. Increasingly, then, the concept of the Name of Jesus being above all other names and being Lord over your circumstances and those of others, becomes a fluid, trusting reality that incorporates your experience, your worship, your life and your very existence into the life of God. And that Life of God is also present within you too, by His Spirit. All in all, then, it’s a win-win for the believer as we learn to live in this mode of awareness of God’s Presence and yet the freedom to influence events in our own lives ourselves too. You can come to no lasting harm, because underneath are the everlasting arms (Dt 33:27), He will never let go of you (Jn 10:28-29), and nothing can separate you from His Love (Rom 8:38-39).

Maybe that sounds like a huge stretch from the idea of Jesus being the Name above all names. But it’s not, not when you think about it anyway. Because if that Name of Jesus is indeed above everything else, and if indeed He’s ‘exalted to the right hand of the Father’ (Acts 2:33), then His Presence in your life simply has to be the greatest thing you can imagine. No wonder St. Paul waxed so lyrical and enthused so thoroughly and comprehensively, in his letters, about the Love of Christ, and the Grace of God that that Love revealed to us. Salvation is more than just a ‘ticket to heaven’. Amazing though Heaven is going to be, the concept of it all being relevant only after we die is cheapening and reducing the Gospel to just effectively life-insurance. As a great preacher friend of mine once said, your salvation is “…not ‘pie in the sky when we die’. It’s meat on a plate while you wait!” It’s here and now – and yes, of course it’s after death as well.

Maybe, then, that’s why the song has the effect on me that it has. Maybe it’s because it brings home to me how huge, how wide-ranging, how magnificent, how permanent[2] and how complete is the salvation that Jesus has provided for us. As we are ‘in Christ’, everything that is His is ours too (1Jn 4:17). Grasping that marvellous truth is nothing short of life-changing, and indeed we will spend the rest of our earthly lives increasing in our appreciation of just what Jesus has done for us.

Plus, as I said earlier, the song is just gorgeous. From a worship point of view, it doesn’t actually need any theological discussion!

Is it any wonder, then, that this song causes the spirit of worship to rise up within me?

Indeed His name is above all names, and the ramifications of that are huge. Thank You Jesus! Can I encourage you to listen to the song, maybe join in the singing if you like and while you do so, use the song to meditate on the amazing truth of the Name of Jesus being the Name that is above every other name, circumstance, happening, idea and situation, no matter how huge and/or important that thing might be. This is your birthright, it is for you, and it’s for today. Grab it and run with it!


The song is from the Harvestime tape Celebrate’, recorded at Christ for the Nations Institute, Dallas, Texas in 1987. There are mp3 files of all the songs from that album, including this one, on my website VintageWorshipTapes.com.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Of course, Jesus is simply the Anglicised version of the original name that we also call ‘Joshua’, meaning simply ‘God is my Saviour’ or ‘God saves’ (Mt 1:21).  The name can also be rendered as things as exotic-sounding as ‘Yahuwah’, ‘Yeshua’ (to which, of course, the only correct response  is ‘Bless you!’) or even ‘Yehoshua’ or ‘Yehushua’ for goodness’ sake. I’m sure some people use these names to make themselves sound more ‘spiritual’, like those people who miss out the ‘o’ in the middle of ‘God’ (so, ‘G_d’). Who cares how it’s spelled when the main thing is the Person that the Name is referring to? It’s really pretentious, if you ask me. Would you believe there are even churches where they insist that people not use the word ‘Jesus’. Call me critical if you like but how bloody silly is that….
2 Permanent, in that I firmly believe in ‘once saved, always saved’ because ‘once in Christ, always in Christ’. If you died ‘in Christ’ (Rom 6:8, 2Tim 2:11), then you cannot be ‘un-died’ back ‘into the flesh’ again.  Death is a one-way deal. There are those people (mainly legalists, of course) who believe that you can lose your salvation by things you can do. If you are ‘saved’ from drowning by a lifeboat, then that lifeboat sinks, then you have not been ‘saved’. The ‘once saved, NOT always saved’ brigade believe that Jesus is merely a lifeboat, and that we can sink it. Baloney. He’s the Rock, and He doesn’t sink. In any case, as we have seen, salvation is not just about a ‘ticket to Heaven’; it’s far more wide-reaching than that. Praise God, this is good stuff!

Experts. Huh. What Do They Know?

Reflections on the Theologian, the Layperson and Theological Expertise

Theology: the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity.[1]

Theologian: a person versed in theology, especially Christian theology; divine.[2]

Layperson:
1)
a person who is not a member of the clergy; one of the laity;
2)
a person who is not a member of a given profession, as law or medicine.[3]

 

Two or three years ago, I had a bit of a run-in with a ‘proper theologian’, a man who had been trained at the prestigious American theological college, Fuller Theological Seminary (and who actually has that written as a subtitle on his Facebook profile!).

I made the mistake of placing a Grace-based comment/reply to an article on his personal blog, where, of course, all his sympathisers, sycophants and toadies also dwelt. I received a sharp and painful broadside from him in reply, and my mental picture was one of this guy surrounded by lots of stern, frowning, joyless grey men all with their arms folded, nodding in silent agreement with him. In essence, he told me that he knew exactly what the truth actually is, and insinuated that how dare I (a mere layperson) presume to teach something different. There was no flexibility, no love, no joy, no compassion and no gentleness in his reply, just more of a ‘get stuffed!’ kind of feel to it – a rigid, dogmatic reply leaving no room for discussion which clearly wouldn’t have been welcome anyway. I know a couple who attend the church where this chap is the assistant minister, and they too have had similar problems with him. The lady of the couple was even invited out ‘for a coffee’ by this bloke so that he could set her straight on her doctrinal differences. She refused to go, and good for her, too.

So, this leads us to the question: should ‘proper’ theologians, and especially the arrogant ones like this chap, be considered to be somehow ‘superior’ in their knowledge of the things of God? Should we modify, ignore or push down our own insights because these people tell us we are somehow wrong? Should we have respect for them bordering on total submission and an acknowledgement that in fact yes, they are right, and who am I to argue? Like the ancient Israelites did under Moses and, later, under their religious leaders like the Scribes and Pharisees?

Well, you’ve probably guessed by now that my answer would be an emphatic ‘No!’ 😀

“There are many amongst us who believe within themselves that they can never become good theologians, that they could do better in almost any other realm. Yet they cannot imagine that their existence could be anything other than theological existence. Even if they had to give up theology as their vocational work, they would never cease to ask the theological question. It would pursue them into every realm. They would be bound to it, actually, if not vocationally. They could not be sure that they could fulfill its demands, but they would be sure that they were in its bondage. They who believe those things in their hearts belong to the assembly of God. They are grasped by the Divine Spirit. They have received the gift of knowledge. They are theologians.”

-Paul Tillich, ‘Shaking the Foundations, The Theologian’

Training and expertise in a subject, especially in one like theology, does not preclude other, ‘untrained’, people from also having expertise in the subject. You can indeed have experts in a subject who have not studied it; however a lifetime of experience in the field can give the equivalent of an education in the subject – just by experience rather than study. This is why learned societies like the Royal Society of Biology – of which I was a Member (and a Chartered Biologist)  up until my retirement in April – allow the membership of people who have years of experience in lieu of study.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that nearly two years’ experience of coping with Covid-19 lockdowns, talking-head discussions and social media misinformation can in any way substitute for a proper medical, biological or epidemiological education for the average man in the street. Experience, remember, is also moulded by opinions in the process of gaining that experience, and many of those opinions will be incorrect. The University of YouTube is not definitive on matters technical. The only people who say education/qualifications have no value are the people who themselves have none. All that is achieved by people who say they’ve graduated from the ‘University of Life’, or whose alma mater is the ‘School of Hard Knocks’, is simply to advertise their lack of a University education; in my opinion it’s simply best not to say anything 😉 There’s nothing wrong with a lack of a University education, just so long as you don’t then pretend to be an expert in something you haven’t a clue about. That, in the case of medical issues, can be dangerous, indeed even lethal.

On a Covid-related thread, I once saw some oik saying, “Experts. Huh. What do they know?”

Almost a self-defeating question!

Of course, I firmly believe that having expertise is important, and having experts to put that expertise into practice is also important. If I needed some work doing with something like plumbing or gas engineering, I wouldn’t have a clue, so I’d call in the experts who do know what to do. Otherwise I’d flood my house or blow it up. A conked boiler needs an expert to come and fix it!

If someone’s up flying with me in an aeroplane, they’d be well-advised to leave the flying to me – the trained expert!

If you’re going into surgery, would you prefer the services of a trained and experienced surgeon, or the guy off YouTube?

I think I have made my point 🙂

So, what do experts know? Well, a damn sight more than most people, that’s what they know.  That’s why they’re the experts, and that’s why we should listen to their advice.

It almost goes without saying, doesn’t it?

But when it comes to theology, I personally think it’s somewhat different. You see, in terms of theology, none of us really knows anything with 100% certainty, especially not anything provable, and especially when one person’s experience of God is different from someone else’s.

Even what I consider to be my own, personally absolute assurance of God’s existence, and His total love for me that I have experienced, could still be some sort of mental illusion or something. In theology, we are all still learners, and always will be.

So theology, possibly uniquely, does not require training in the sense of the teachers tell you about God and about how to experience Him, and what it feels like when you do. Even a trained theologian has to find that out for themselves.[4]

Yes, it’s vitally important to remember that it is also good to listen to trained theologians because they can open up for you aspects of faith that you’d never even dreamed existed, and it’s always good to ask an expert on such things – provided that expert approaches the subject in a constructive way, and not in a total put-down way like that Assistant Minister bloke did in my introduction to this essay.

But, at the end of the day,  the theologians’ input should be just one of the many facets of the issue at hand that you consider, and in the final analysis you must still form your own opinions, whether or not the theologians (amateur and professional!) agree with you about them. The Holy Spirit within you is a far better, and more authoritative, teacher than all the world’s theologians put together 🙂

So, your experience of God is therefore your own, and is equally valid – in fact individually, specifically and personally valid for you – no matter what anyone else says. You have the same right to comment on the things of God as does anyone else, professed theologian or not, because theologians do not have a monopoly on God, or on humanity’s knowledge of Him. One lady, in a thread I was commenting on, asked me what theological qualifications I have, like degrees in Divinity and that sort of thing. While I reluctantly told her that, yes, I do have qualifications in theology, I wasn’t any more specific than that, and I also said that anyway here in the UK we don’t tend to stand as much on that sort of thing as they do in the USA. The validity of what I write does not depend on my qualifications, but on the fruit that it bears in people’s lives, including my own.

And it’s the same for you too; even simply sharing words of comfort with someone who is upset about something counts as theology, because you are, simply by being there, bringing the Presence, comfort and healing of God into that situation without even trying. And that doesn’t need any quaifications at all. And that’s theology in and of itself. That makes you a theologian in my book! 🙂

Therefore, I trust that you can now see that theological knowledge is not the exclusive property of those who are theologically trained. While such trained people have a valid contribution to make, so does the layperson/ So everyone can indeed be a theologian[5], even if only because of the simple fact that God deals with each of us in a unique way; we each have the same Spirit of Christ dwelling within us. Each of us has our own personal experience and knowledge of God – which is, after all, theology: Knowledge of God.

And no-one can take that away from you, nor can they deny it or rubbish it in any way. It’s yours; cherish it <3

Grace and Peace

 

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Definition from dictionary.com
2 Definition from dictionary.com
3 Definition from dictionary.com
4 I’m not knocking theological training; I even have some of it myself. It is useful in looking at aspects of the Divine that maybe others hadn’t considered. It is also useful in many facets of the study of the Divine, for example, in looking at the historical and social context of Scripture passages, so that we can glean insights as to what others from the deeps of time have thought about God. It’s good to have a special, trained insight into deeper meanings and be able to mine hidden treasures from the Scriptures. Things like that and more.
5 …although I accept that not everyone wants to be one!

The Ha-ha

It’s been a good few months now since I last shared any thoughts on my blog, which I explained at around the same time. My good friend Phil Hendry also has a blog, and oddly enough, he too has had somewhat of a hiatus in his blog posts – but today he shared his first post for some time; a piece called ‘Whitewashed Tombs’.

I liked the post so much that I thought I’d share it here, for your enjoyment and upbuilding. I particularly loved the analogy of the ‘ha-ha’, hence me naming my post with that title. So Phil and I are posting our first items in months, but it’s me who’s the pirate 😉

Over to Phil:


Whitewashed Tombs

The Church of England has begun a ‘conversation’ around the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion. The main focus at this stage is on a course, and associated supporting resources, known collectively as ‘Living in Love and Faith’. I did the course myself a few months ago, and found it interesting and thought-provoking. At the moment I am helping to facilitate another course for our deanery (a deanery is a local group of churches). It is proving, again, interesting – perhaps more so than last time, because it’s a much more diverse group.

Something has been ‘bubbling away’ in the back of my mind for a while, but really came to the boil after the most recent session, regarding how members of the church see themselves.

We seem, naturally, to identify with the characters in the gospel stories whom Jesus, rescues, ransoms, heals, restores, forgives. Understandably so, I think, given that many people in churches feel as though they have been rescued, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. But something odd, if not to say disturbing, seems to happen then, in a lot of cases – something which I think we’re usually completely blind to.

If we aren’t really careful, we can find ourselves becoming ‘defenders of the faith’ or ‘gatekeepers’ – people who see themselves as preserving the purity of the faith, defending what is ‘right’ against what is ‘wrong’ and making sure that the message doesn’t get ‘watered down’ or compromised. In so doing, we draw ‘lines in the sand’ – we divide people into those who are good and ‘in’ versus those who are ‘out’ and who must change, or show willingness to change, before we will countenance the idea of letting them ‘in’.

Without realising it, we are in danger of becoming just like the people whom Jesus railed against in (for instance) Matthew 23:13:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

How dare we judge? Did Jesus not say, in Matthew 7:1-2 for instance :

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“

Having thought about that, I had a quick read through many of Jesus’ interactions with those excluded by the religious of the day – the sinners, tax collectors, lepers, cripples, blind, etc., – all those seen, at the time, as ‘unclean’ and therefore excluded from temple and synagogue. Jesus doesn’t go in for any of that, at all. He excludes no-one, on any grounds (except, possibly, those who seek to exclude others). He makes himself ‘ritually unclean’ by touching lepers; He heals the sick, forgives sinners, makes the blind see and the lame walk… All things which would ‘pollute’ Him in the eyes of religious. He doesn’t demand repentance (change) before He heals them or forgives them – or even, usually, afterwards – though repentance frequently follows as a sign of gratitude at being accepted and treated as truly human.

It strikes me that, every time the Law of Moses gets in the way of Jesus loving someone, He sets it aside, ignores it, or changes it. With Jesus love trumps (the letter of the) law, every single time. If we are to follow him, and be truly Christlike, we must, surely expect to do the same?

We may believe that ‘the Bible clearly says’ that homosexuality is sinful (there is actually a good deal of scholarly debate about that – clear is one thing it does not appear to be!), and use that as an excuse to exclude those particular ‘sinners’ – but ask yourself – is that truly what Jesus would do? Or would He find a way, instead, to set that aside, so as to allow Him to love them instead of excluding them?

And it isn’t just LGBTQ+ people either. We have also turned against our own, bullying and excluding those who dare to believe different things from us. How is that Christlike? Jesus told us to:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Matthew 12:30-31)

He also said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.“ (Matthew 5:43-45)

What excuse do we have, therefore to abuse those who disagree with us on matters of faith, let alone those we see as ‘sinners’?

And to those who excuse themselves by saying:

‘I’m concerned for their immortal souls – I’m just saying it to warn them’,

or:

‘I’m saying it in love because I’m concerned for them’,

I would say that you are deceiving yourself. It isn’t your job. You are not a judge, and you’re fooling yourself if you think you won’t be perceived as sitting in judgment. You are told to love them… Which absolutely doesn’t include telling them they’re wrong, even if you ‘know’ they are. Have some humility: ultimately, you might actually prove to be the one who is wrong – even when, as far as you’re concerned, ‘the Bible clearly says’.

We must be so careful in our dealings with those whom we perceive to be ‘outside’ God’s grace – in whatever way that is, be it because of their gender, sexuality, theology, ethnicity, or whatever. Paul said, in his letter to the Galatians:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

If we believe that, we must treat everyone the same – in the way we ourselves would like to be treated.

We went and stayed at Lee Abbey in Devon during the summer; and I found that it has what I think was once a ‘Ha-ha’.

What on Earth, you may ask, is a ‘Ha-ha’?

Rather than being, as you might imagine, a somewhat cynical, entirely feeble, attempt at humour, a ha-ha is a wall. It’s a rather special sort of wall. From one side (which we’ll call the ‘inside’ for now), it and the field beyond look just like one open field. It appears as if the animals grazing in the field are free to wander wherever they like, even right up to those on the inside of the ha-ha.

However, all is not as it seems. From the ‘outside’, if you do try to wander towards the ‘inside’, you encounter a ditch, and inside the ditch is one face of a wall (entirely invisible from the ‘inside’), preventing those ‘outside’ from coming ‘inside’… (And preventing them pooing on the areas where people walk.)

I expect you can see now where I’m going with this.

From the inside, church appears to be or, rather, wishes to present the appearance of being, ‘open’ and accessible to anyone. But…

BUT…

If you are on the outside, or if you leave and try to come back in – then you’re likely to meet a ‘Ha-ha’ – a fence which those on the inside insist is nonexistent, but which seems all too real, and insurmountable, to you on the outside.

It is very easy for us, quite unknowingly and unintentionally, to erect barriers to people we perceive as being ‘outside’. Someone I know is fond of saying that God loves all of us just as we are, but that he loves us too much not to want to change us. It’s sincere and very well-meant. But to someone hearing that, it can be hugely threatening. I have had people say similar things around me and to me. I’m not bothered by it now, because I know now how gentle and loving God is (far more so than almost any Christian I know!) . But, ‘back in the day’, words like those made it feel as though God wanted to ‘take over’ and change ‘me’ into someone else – it felt as though I was going to lose ‘myself’, my identity, and be subsumed into some nebulous, alien, ‘otherness’, and that I’d no longer be me, and no longer know myself – that I might even become one of those terribly sincere, self-assured, Christians who actually made me feel profoundly, inexplicably, uncomfortable. That actually held me back, for decades, from truly ‘opening myself up’ to God and God’s people.

These sort of ‘barriers’ are essentially invisible to those ‘inside’ – ‘we welcome anyone and everyone’ we say. But to those outside, it doesn’t look like that. There is a feeling that if you don’t/won’t/can’t ‘conform’ with what are seen as the ‘expectations’, you won’t be welcomed – or that, if you do come, sooner or later, you’ll have to either conform in order to become ‘someone different’, or find yourself ‘outside’ – whether it be for reasons of gender identity, sexuality, doctrine, theology, colour, etc.

So have a care that you aren’t, inadvertently, whilst believing that you are simply doing what’s right, acting as one of those whom Jesus referred to as ‘whitewashed tombs’.

 


Header picture shows the ha-ha at Longleat, near Warminster, Wiltshire. This shows the view from ‘inside’ the ha-ha. The ha-ha itself is the grassy line across the picture just below half-way down, although it isn’t this obvious for its entire length.

Here is the link to Phil’s original article