Category Archives: Others’ stuff

Universalizing Faith

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post in this series, The Stages of Spiritual Growth. To be honest, I have been thinking very hard about this subject and trying to come up with something meaningful.

You see, the thing is that I personally have no experience of this Stage of Spiritual Growth, if indeed it exists, and thus I would be writing from what is essentially a position of ignorance. But there are three things. First of all, just so long as my readers understand that I am writing this piece from that standpoint, and that I don’t really know much about this subject, then I’m not deceiving anyone – and I will write down my thoughts on it as I see them at the moment. Secondly, I am making the assumption that Stage 6 exists even though I personally believe that in some ways it’s just a natural progression to increased maturity in Stage 5. But then, as I said, I really don’t know. I must be honest and say that I have read Fowler’s chapter on this Stage and I can’t make head nor tail of it. Nothing has ‘clicked’ with me at all; it is all completely outside my experience. And finally, I can always draw on others’ perspectives and examples, which I do later in this piece.

So let’s begin our exploration of this Stage by looking at the summaries for Stage 6 (Fowler) and Stage IV (Peck) in that familiar tabular form (you can click on it to enlarge it):

Note that Peck combines Fowler’s Stages 5 and 6 into his single Stage IV. I think this is fair enough as this differentiation of Stage 6 is somewhat of a grey area, as I have already described, and in any case this whole thing about the ‘Stages of Spiritual Growth’ is very much a generalisation. Most people, being on a spiritual journey, are not necessarily ‘in’ a Stage at all; it is mainly useful as a tool to see how the structure of people’s faith changes as they too change personally. Or not; not everyone matures in this way – some stay where thay are and are perfectly happy, while others sometimes ‘jump’ straight into one ‘Stage’ or another without having any previous background in matters of faith. This is especially common with people who jump straight in at Stage 5, without going through Stages 3 and/or 4 first. I know quite a few people like this, in fact.

Let’s look at Fowler’s formal definition of Stage 6:

“Stage 6 is exceedingly rare. The persons best described by it have generated faith compositions in which their felt sense of an ultimate environment is inclusive of all being. They have become incarnators and actualizers of the spirit of an inclusive and fulfilled human community. They are “contagious” in the sense that they create zones of liberation from the social, political, economic and ideological shackles we place and endure on human futurity. Living with felt participation in a power that unifies and transforms the world, Universalizers are often experienced as subversive of the structures (including religious structures) by which we sustain our individual and corporate survival, security and significance. Many persons in this stage die at the hands of those whom they hope to change. Universalizers are often more honored and revered after death than during their lives. The rare persons who may be described by this stage have a special grace that makes them seem more lucid, more simple, and yet somehow more fully human than the rest of us. Their community is universal in extent. Particularities are cherished because they are vessels of the universal, and thereby valuable apart from any utilitarian considerations. Life is both loved and held to loosely. Such persons are ready for fellowship with persons at any of the other stages and from any other faith tradition.”

Where Fowler refers to part of Stage 5 as, ‘…without being stuck in a spiritual box’, I think that part of that is an increased understanding of the perceptions of those who have a differing point of view on the spiritual life. Which, when you think about it, is virtually everyone, since I don’t really think that anyone believes exactly the same things as anyone else; we all believe slightly differently. Even for people as close as Fiona and I were, we still believed slightly different things. In fact, one of Fiona’s things that she didn’t agree with me on was this very subject – the Stages of Spiritual Growth 🙂 Anyway, I feel that this illustrates my earlier point that Stage 6 is perhaps more of a natural progression, a deepening if you like, of attitudes and modes of belief and thinking from Stage 5. In this example, then, someone in Stage 5, realising that their views have changed, become more fluid, or if they have undergone a major deconstruction of their previous belief systems, then they might also realise that they don’t have everything right, and in fact are unlikely ever to do so. This makes it far more likely that they will have sympathy with those of other viewpoints – or even different faiths – simply because they realise that they didn’t have it all correct when previously they were so certain that they did, so what’s to say the other guy is wrong and we’re right? Of course this takes a bit of clear thinking and a lot of humility – as we shall see – but the Spirit does ‘soften’ people to the point where they can make this transition.

It’s especially important to remember that God moves us each through the Stages, if indeed He does so move us – as we have already seen, not everyone necessarily moves through Stages’ like we are describing here – all in His own good time. When and if God is ready to move us further into maturity, He will see that the right circumstances come into being at the right time and so on. In fact, the moving on is a gradual process anyway; as we spend each day walking in the Spirit, we will naturally mature. The transformation of the believer ‘…from one degree of glory to another’ (2Cor 3:18) strongly suggests that it was St. Paul’s experience that transformation occurs in degrees, gradually, one piece at a time. And we can expect this. So there’s no need to be all hung up about ‘progressing’; all we need to do is to rest in Jesus and He will perform the good work in us (Phil 1:6).

Having rambled on for a while from the perspective of my own, nonexistent, experience of anything beyond Stage 5, let’s also do the healthy thing and listen to others’ takes on the subject.

 

Here’s Margaret Placentra Johnston:

Apparently people in this stage are able to overcome the action/inaction paradox of Stage 5 and are able to sacrifice their own well-being to that of their cause. NOT in the sense of a soldier going off to war. This is very different! Fowler uses the word “subversive” to refer to these people because their contributions are so radically different from the views of the rest of society. Such people commit their total being to their identification with persons and circumstances where the futurity of being is being crushed, blocked or exploited. (They risk their own safety in order to help the helpless in unexpected ways.) ” [1]

 

Bill Huxley:

Stage VI – The Saint (Universalizing)

This Stage is the most difficult to understand. It is also very rare. It involves two major transitions:

1. “Decentralization from self, in which the self is removed from the centre of the locus of the individual’s life. It is a move beyond the usual human obsessions with survival, security and significance, coupled with a continued widening of the circle of “those who count”.

2. A shift to the complete acceptance of the ultimate authority of God in all aspects of life.

Fowler found only 1.6% of the population that operated at this Stage. Of those over 61 years of age, examples might be Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King.” [2]

 

Plus, most contemporary individuals who have received this type of anointing [Stage 6 – Ed] would likely shun becoming part of a research project. Very strong guess on my part – but based on pretty firm evidence that humility is such a strong part of Stage 6 that these people have so divested themselves of “ego” and taken on the mind of Christ – or whatever tradition they belong to – so that their “stage” would be part of a hidden mystery” [3]

 

“It is a rare person who reaches this stage of faith.

James Fowler describes people at this stage as having “a special grace that makes them seem more lucid, more simple, and yet somehow more fully human than the rest of us.”

People at this stage can become important religious teachers because they have the ability to relate to anyone at any stage and from any faith. They are able to relate without condescension but at the same time are able to challenge the assumptions that those of other stages might have.

People at this stage cherish life but also do not hold on to life too tightly. They put their faith in action, challenging the status quo and working to create justice in the world”. [4]

 

At all the previous stages, the person is more of a student of his faith. At this stage, the person tends to be seen as an exemplar of his faith. Regardless of the particular faith tradition that might be represented, this stage is characterized by a certainty of one’s own beliefs, a generous openness to the journey others are on, a sincere compassion for one’s fellow man, kindness, and the ability to be genuinely present, that is, to make the people they are with feel a sense of significance and sacredness just by keeping company with them.

Regarding this last quality, I think of the stories I have heard from people who were in Pope St. John Paul the Great’s presence who said that even if there were 100,000 people around them, for the moment they were with him, they felt like they were the only person in the world who mattered. Obviously, achieving this stage of faith is very rare but it is observable. If you think of the handful of people who you might consider to be truly holy, who are known for both their strength of faith and their genuine openness of heart, you will have a good sense of what I mean.” [5]


I think it’s fair to say that I would be completely remiss if I failed to point out two obvious people from the Bible whom you could categorise as Stage 6 people, if I can presume to describe God Incarnate in this way – one of these people, Who is of course Jesus Christ. If you read through Fowler’s definition above, most if not all of it applies to Jesus. He brought change and liberation wherever He went; He kicked out against the established religious and also, sort of, the political system – although this was not quite so overt. He was martyred for the trouble He caused. And so on. In every way, Jesus sets the example we can aspire to, as He always does, and He’s also the One Who does the inspiration and the changing. And His teaching continues to be the strongest individual influence on modern-day morality and legislation, far more than that of any other person in history.

Although I would also point out St. Paul as my second example, you could also pick out other Biblical writers, particularly those who wrote the New Testament (NT). Because of the lives they lived in the service of their King, their writings and influence have been immortalised – no matter how controversially – in the pages of the NT. But I like to single out Paul because not only was he the most prolific of the NT writers, but his history is also pretty well-known from an historical point of view. Paul was very much someone who fits Fowler’s definition of a Stage 6 person too, although obviously not to as great an extent as Jesus. Paul in particular used his many talents, but especially his intelligence; his skills and training in debate and logic; and his extensive knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures that we now call the Old Testament (OT) in the service of Jesus. While Jesus’s declared focus was on the Kingdom of God, Paul’s focus was in Jesus Himself as the manifest Kingdom of God. In so doing, he advanced not only the Kingdom but also the knowledge of Jesus, which amounts to the same thing. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him” – 2Cor 2:14

I think it also extremely important that this Stage must not be used as any kind of measuring yardstick for real people; more than any other, this Stage the is one where, unless we know something about it, any comment or criticism can only be made from a position of ignorance. And in any case, we shouldn’t be judging others anyway. Despite this, the Pharisees of Jesus’s day nevertheless criticised Him and eventually killed Him, partly because people at a ‘lower’ level* of the Stages of Faith cannot possibly conceive of someone who is ‘further along’ than they are; they assume they are heretics – or at least a threat to their power base – and they kill them, either literally or figuratively. We have no right to diss that which we know nothing about.

Another point worth considering is that to attempt to ‘define’ this Stage is effectively to limit it. We all have our own sets of limits and boundaries within which we categorise our ideas, concepts and perceptions. While Fowler refers to a certain outwardly visible form of ‘holiness’, ‘selflessness’ and ‘saintliness’ (my words, not his), I am absolutely certain that there are many unknown people walking among us this very day whom we, if we could take off the lid and peer inside their spirituality, would find are excellent examples of Stage 6 people. Maybe these people are not as rare as Fowler tended to think! You see, to me, it seems that one of the defining characteristics of such people – if indeed ‘definition’ is possible – is that they don’t tend to advertise what they are doing ‘for God’ or ‘for’ His Kingdom. They just get on with it quietly. I know of at least one person like that; in fact I’d think that you do too. It doesn’t need to be a publicly visible or apparent faith, or a visible life of sacrifice, nor does the person have to be a thorn in the flesh of the religious elite. They can just get on with being Jesus to everyone they meet, in a completely self-giving and self-sacrificial way. And, in those cases, I do sometimes wonder if we can even consider Stage 6 people to even be part of a Stage of any kind. They are so far beyond – in a good way – the criticism and judgement of others as to make such criticism or judgement irrelevant. At the same time, such criticism or judgement is still hurtful to them, because they would never want to think that they are ‘letting Jesus down’ in any way. Of course, here I am talking about Christian people in this Stage, but there will of course be Stage 6 people within any faith tradition. Like in Christianity, they will be rare, but they will indeed exist. This is what is called being ‘humble’, or ‘humility’.

In fact, my literary hero, C. S. Lewis, once described a ‘humble’ person like this. And I have no problem with equating this sort of ‘humility’ with Stage 6:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” [5]

I think that’s pretty good, don’t you?

And I find it pretty hard to believe that anyone who has spent his or her life humbly walking with Jesus and listening to His Voice will not be drawn at least some way into this Stage.

They won’t be able to help it.

Anyway, hopefully this article has shed some light on this apparently most elusive of the Stages of Spiritual Growth. It’s been interesting to try to write a piece on something I know little about; hopefully I have done the subject justice!

In my next (and it will probably be my final) piece in this series, we will be looking at how these Stages apply in everyday life, and how we can use our knowledge of them to best effect.


*Although, as I have already said, to describe one Stage as being ‘higher’ or ‘beyond’ another is a misperception of what the Stages are all about. For more on this, take a look at what I wrote towards the end of this article.


  1. Margaret Placentra Johnston, link on her website to her PDF summary of Fowler’s Stages.
  2. Bill Huxley, “Fowler’s Stages of Faith
  3. Comment on a blog post on the Stages of Faith
  4. Handout on ‘Stages of Faith’ from this website
  5. Dr. Gregory Popcak, Patheos article entitled What Stage is Your Faith?, which is also a decent article on the Stages as a whole.
  6. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Header picture shows a part of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, a picture showing some of the most distant galaxies ever observed. This is what the distant reaches of the Universe look like from our position within it.

00

The Hoax of Hell

Here’s a great little piece by the brilliant Lee O’Hare, on the concept of Hell.


If the traditional church teaching about hell is true and the vast majority of the human race really are going to spend all of eternity being tormented by fire, then why did not Paul, who wrote 1/3 of the New Testament, who was THE apostle to the Gentiles who told the Ephesians elders that he did not hold back declaring the “whole counsel of God” — why did he not one single time EVER mention hell or eternal conscious torment of those who fail to accept Christ in their lifetime?

And why is there not a single mention of hell or eternal punishment in any of the 19 sermons and sermon fragments in the Book of Acts which gives us an actual first hand eye-witness account of what the original apostles of Jesus actually said while they were proclaiming the good news of the Gospel in Jerusalem, Samaria Judea and throughout the rest of the known world that time? If it really is true that God is actually planning to perpetually roast billions of people in a torture chamber called hell don’t you think it would have been at least reasonable for at least one mention of that fact in the preaching of the original Apostles in proclaiming the gospel to the world?

If the destiny of the great majority of humanity is to spend eternity in an everlasting torture chamber unless they accept Christ and pray the “sinner’s prayer” before they die don’t you think it would have been fair of God to have actually made that so absolutely clear that there could be no doubt about it? Shouldn’t that have been the very obviously primary focus of the early church’s preaching as recorded in the book of Acts and of the Apostle Paul’s writing in all of his letters to the churches and the church leaders?

And don’t you think that somewhere in the Old Testament there would have been at least one mention of the impending punishment of the majority of the human race in the everlasting torment and flames of hell if that were in fact the destiny of all those who fail to accept Christ in this life? Do you think that maybe God just simply forgot to tell Adam and Eve what the actual consequences would be of eating that forbidden fruit if eternal torment in hell really was their destiny?

Is it possible that the omission of any mention of Hell or eternal torment might be evidence of the fact that it never was true and that the religious powers have perpetrated an incredible hoax and deception upon the masses of people in order to control and manipulate them through the fear of something that has its roots, not in true apostolic Christianity, but rather in Egyptian and Greek pagan mythology that was transferred into the church during its dark days of mixture and pollution with the secular and pagan Roman Empire which eventually became the Church of Rome that plunged the world into centuries of “The Dark Ages”?


Superb. For more on what I believe about Hell, along with links to others’ ideas, please visit ‘my Hell Resource Page

11

American Pastors Rethink Homosexuality

Previously, I have posted a video about American Christian parents who had rethought their stance on homosexuality and LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning and others) sexualities. And today I am posting a video by American pastors who also have learned God’s heart for LGBTQ+ people.

Why am I posting things by Americans, when I am British? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the persecution of LGBTQ+ people in the United States appears to have become somewhat ‘legalised’ – not that many Christians would care whether it’s legal or not anyway – since Mr. Trump’s Presidency has declared what appear, to the outsider, to be several pogroms against minorities. Anyone who is ‘different’ is made to suffer, it seems. I’d have no chance with my Asperger’s Syndrome! 😉

Secondly, it is usual in British Evangelical churches to parrot/mirror, in a somewhat dilute and more tacit way, the things that American churches take the lead on. And so, the ‘yeast’ of some American churches’ anti-LGBTQ+ attitude comes over here stealthily and infiltrates itself almost unnoticed into out attitudes, particularly among those who are unable/unwilling to think for themselves.

But this can have its advantages too. If some American pastors/church leaders and parents are taking the lead on changing their attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people, and changing the way they respond to the peer pressure of condemnatory naysayers, then this will begin to happen over here too.

Maybe one day you will be able to say ‘I saw it here first!’ (here on my blog!)

Anyway, here’s the video. It’s only 3 1/2 minutes long and is well worth watching:

I reckon in twenty years’ time, LGBTQ+ people will be accepted into churches, relationships and ministries in the same way as are heterosexual people. There will of course be bastions of self-righteous people who are still anti-LGBTQ+, but most people will ignore them just like they ignore ranting Christians already. Change takes time in religious circles, and religious people can be some of the most intractable and intolerant people on the planet. That’s not going to change. But as the Spirit works on people’s hearts, those who have ears to hear, people like me, will gradually come around to His way of thinking and include all of God’s children in their perception of God’s family.

And, make no mistake: I still believe very strongly that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (and other) folks are key to God’s plans in this time. I believe there will be amazing miracles, healings, reconciliations and social changes brought about by Christian LGBTQ+ people. Like other persecuted minorities, these people have a special place in God’s Heart, and it will become apparent soon enough.

I personally am looking forward to seeing that coming to fruition.

Grace and Peace to you.

20

Say It Like It Is!

I’m a Yorkshireman. Call it a stereotype if you like, but it’s true for me: we Yorkshire folk like to say it how it is. We don’t pull our punches. We call a spade a spade, not a ‘long-handled digging implement’.

And so, I have named this little piece ‘Say it like it Is’, partly at the suggestion of one of my readers (in the comments for this post) and partly to continue in my Yorkshire heritage 😉 These quotations are from people saying it exactly how they see it – as are all my ‘quotations – style’ posts – and there’s a lot of truth here without all the dogma.

Read and enjoy!


“Jesus is how God has defined himself. Contrary to what many say, this is not a limiting, but a liberating definition, as it locates God within the human experience, not without it.

“Every emotional up and down, experience of bliss or its opposite, becomes a sacred space God inhabits and can be experienced by those whose recognition that Jesus is Lord opens them up to this reality”

– Jeff Turner

 

“If we are looking for a ‘creation narrative’, the best place to start is John chapter 1 and Colossians chapter 1, not Genesis chapter 1!

“Why? Because those [passages] came after the full revelation of God in Christ. Jesus said no one had seen the Father or knew the Father except the Son. So that means neither Adam and Eve or Moses had seen or knew the Father fully and accurately”

– Martin Fell

 

“You could say it’s part of human nature to want to be secure in our answers, where actually little such security exists outside the Relationship with God, where our security is in Him and our questions and answers will not disrupt that security in any way”

– Me

 

“Adam (אָדָם) is humankind imagining a monster god and being afraid.

“Jesus is God saying to humankind, don’t be afraid.”

– Brian Zahnd

 

“…Jesus did not speak in terms of theology—God, sin, heaven, hell, the end times—so we should not be looking for clues to detailed theology in the gospels; Jesus spoke in broader terms of love, positive behavior, relationships, and the expanding kingdom of God on earth”.

– Tim Chastain

 

“Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is Himself the way”

– Atle Peersen Bakken

 

“I find it completely risible that people who do believe in Hell threaten with Hell those who do not believe in Hell. Some threat, eh?”

– Me

 

“We get to dwell with God NOW and for eternity. That’s salvation! It’s more than religion, more than behavior; more than belief. It’s a new reality.”

– Christy Wood

 

“You do not create faith. Faith is created in you. Faith does not create. Faith trusts That which creates, and receives that which has been created.

“Stop trying to control the world, and simply trust. You will lose what needs to be lost, and gain what needs to be gained. Take the other route, though, and you will lose all that needs to be gained and gain all the needs to be lost, all while pursuing what cannot be gained in the first place.”

“Stop. Rest. Trust”.

– Jeff Turner


Finally, here’s a bunch of Yorkshire lads performing the ‘Yorkshire Haka’, a tribute to the All Blacks’ Hakas that they perform before rugby matches, but with a uniquely Yorkshire flavour. It incorporates four stereotypical Yorkshire phrases: ‘Eeh bah gum!’, ‘Where’s me whippet?’; ‘ ‘Ow much?’ and ‘Ah’ll sithee!’. *

As you have already seen, I have featured these sterling blokes in my header picture.

Say it like it is!


*Translations:

‘Eeh bah gum!’ is a mild expletive meaning ‘omg!’ or something similar

‘Where’s me whippet?’ is a reference to the idea that the stereotypical Yorkshireman always has a whippet dog

‘  ‘Ow much?’ – It costs how much?!! Yorkshire people are legendarily thrifty with their money and object to paying more for something than they have to, although actually they are equal to the Scots in generosity. Yorkshire and Scottish folk are (despite their reputations of being tight-fisted) the most hospitable people ever.

‘Ah’ll sithee!’ – I’ll be seeing you – like ‘cheerio’ or ‘goodbye’. As used by the late legendary Yorkshire cricketer Fred Trueman in his 1970s TV series ‘Indoor League‘.

00

Chasing Eden – the New Reality

Here is a magnificently inspiring piece from one of my favourite bloggers, Christy Wood. Read this, soak in it, and let it produce its good fruit in your life!


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Something isn’t right. We know it in the very core of our being. We see it every day in the news, in our relationships, and in the creation around us. We are surrounded by death.

Beauty and brokenness. Hope and disappointment. The contradictions surround us.

Life is a struggle. Relationships hurt. We sense the wrongness.

death-2998446_1920 (1)There is an emptiness within us that we cannot fill…not with money or possessions, not with job promotions or titles, not with exercise or food, not with sex, alcohol, or our drug of choice. We dim the ache by staying busy and avoiding silence. We appease the longing with social media and various forms of entertainment. We try.

Our longing isn’t just spiritual or metaphorical. We can tangibly and physically feel the ache for something that we can’t exactly explain.

It seems like religion should make a difference, believing and doing the right things, but even that falls short of satisfying our emptiness. This is shameful to admit…because people say that God is the answer. We hear Christianese phrases like “there is a god-shaped hole in our hearts” and we wonder what’s wrong with us. If this is true, then why isn’t religion filling our hole?

Once upon a time, there was a garden…Eden.

In that garden, for however briefly it lasted, God walked with the people He had created in His own image. They knew what His footsteps sounded like. The people lived in perfect intimacy with God and with each other…with nothing between them and without any shame. But they lost it, and humanity has been chasing Eden ever since.

Do you believe that? Or is Eden just a pretty myth?

We do ourselves a disservice by dismissing Eden. That garden explains everything to me.

I was created to live in Eden…created for an intimate relationship with my Father God and with the people around me. Created to live in a perfect world where everything works according to it’s design. In the depths of my broken soul, that is what I long for…that is why I am never satisfied. I was made for more. You were too.

agriculture-1807581_1920

We are magnificent creations trapped in broken bodies in a corrupted creation. Everything and everyone has been affected by sin and death. Destruction is a part of life.

No amount of religious activity, or busyness, or social media, or money, or status, or anything else will ever satisfy our ache for Eden. We will live with that ache until we die. But there is hope!

Too often salvation gets presented as a list of behaviors.

  • We do bad things (sin).
  • Those bad things need punishment.
  • Jesus died on the cross to save us.
  • Pray this prayer.
  • Now go do good things to show that you really love Jesus.

Wow! That’s not even close.

ireland-1971997_1920 (1)

Salvation is about restoration.

Yes, sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. But before they behaved badly, they were already doubting God and listening to lies. Their perfect relationship with Him was already breaking. It wasn’t a surprise to God…He knew this was going to happen and He made them anyway. Why? I haven’t a clue!! God is way too intense and crazy for me to figure out. 😀

Salvation isn’t about our behavior. It’s about God’s unending grace, love, and forgiveness.

Jesus came and showed us WHO God IS…face to face. Shocking the religious people, amazing the crowds, and touching the broken, Jesus reached into our hearts and began to restore. He started by restoring our concept of God. God is not who our doubts and fears tell us He is…He is only better, bigger, and more good.

Jesus then grabbed sin and death around the neck and annihilated them. He effortlessly destroyed them once and for all. Jesus set us free.

But even better than seeing God face to face and having Him be nothing like we feared He was, and even better than being set free from the power of sin and death, Jesus put Eden into our hearts.

The Holy Spirit, that mysterious third member of the Trinity, comes to dwell within everyone who chooses to put their faith in Jesus. God within His creation. The possibility of oneness with our Maker. And the restoration continues. The Holy Spirit never leaves us…no matter what it feels like. He empowers us, teaches us, and begins to remake us into the amazing creation we were intended to be. We get to dwell with God NOW and for eternity. That’s salvation!

It’s more than religion, more than behavior; more than belief. It’s a new reality.

What does experiencing Eden in our hearts look like? I don’t know. I think it’s different for everyone. God is not limited to one cookie cutter experience. There isn’t a right Sunday School answer. This isn’t about religion. 🙂

For me, it means embracing the discontent and reminding myself that this is my pull towards eternity. It means recognizing that there is more to life than the physical things around me. It means accepting the reality of a mysterious Spirit and learning to know Him. It means giving value to the people I run into every day.

In these truths my heart can find hope, peace, and satisfaction. ❤ What does Eden mean to you?

Name

 

 

 


Here is the link to the original article

10

Deceived by God’s Word?

I think it’s fair to say that many Christians today believe that the Bible is a set-in-stone, non-negotiable document that is open only to the narrowest of interpretations and even then only by people who are ‘qualified’ to do so. Although, in practice, this is not actually the case – there are likely almost as many interpretations of Bible passages as there are individual Christians – still there are those who insist on their own interpretation being the only correct one.

Personally, I believe that if there is only ‘one correct doctrine’ (about anything) then God would have made it a lot clearer in the Bible than He did. By its very nature – many voices speaking of their own experiences of God – it can never present a unified voice on any matter, really.

Jesus had the same problem in His discussions with the ‘religious elite’ of His day. Even in a society where ‘robust’ (i.e. argumentative) theological discussion was actively encouraged, indeed taught, He came up against entrenched opinion and interpretation. Which, I suppose, is fair enough, given that most people like to have answers to Life’s Big Questions, where actually those Questions take a whole lifetime to glean even a sliver of understanding of their answers. You could say it’s part of human nature to want to be secure in our answers, where actually little such security exists outside the Relationship with God, where our security is in Him and our questions and answers will not disrupt that security in any way.

Anyhow, here’s a great piece by Russell Croft, expressing a lot of this sort of thing:


“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” — Colossians 2:8

There is a lot of fear in various Christian circles today that people are being deceived by false gospels that are not grounded in God’s word. It is a very heartfelt sentiment, one that is genuinely concerned for the fate of fellow believers and non-believers alike.

From this perspective, the answer is to stand on the word of God, to hold it sacredly, to believe that it is the ultimate God-breathed truth, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We should not waver from the truth revealed within its pages and should always consider the whole counsel of scripture whenever preaching or debating the gospel. God’s word is God’s word, from beginning to end, the literal, infallible revelation of God to man. Anyone who abandons any part of the holy, inspired scriptures has been deceived and has believed a false gospel that threatens to lead others astray. One cannot argue with any part of the scriptures or consider alternative understandings of what they literally say without falling into heresy.

Revolution of Belief

Perhaps this is why the leaders of ancient Israel wanted to keep Jesus quiet. He would often take the scriptural understanding of the day and turn it on its head. In a culture that promoted robust discussion and even allowed for disagreement on scriptural interpretation, Jesus still ruffled too many feathers and rocked too many theological boats.

Jesus abandoned many of the well held positions among the religious people of his day. Instead of paying back the scriptural eye for an eye, Jesus told his listeners to love their enemies and forgive their debts. He admonished people for their methods of tithing, praying, and worship. He walked among the outcasts, the lepers, the prostitutes and sinners, telling them they were entering the kingdom of heaven before the others who had excluded them. He taught that God accepted and loved everyone, not just the upright Jew, but the unclean Gentile and the evil Samaritan. His was a message of Grace that had no room for religious striving or elitism under the law. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

So what was Jesus doing? A disregarded sacrificial system of spiritual duty lies wasted on the road to Calvary. His mercy is freely given to those who sacrifice him to their god of control, ending the old covenant based on human responses to God and ushering in a new covenant, where Jesus took on our responsibility and showcased God’s mercy, fulfilling both the human and divine sides of the ledger once and for all. Salvation or spiritual wholeness in this new covenant is based solely on what Jesus did, not on any attempt on our part to enter the kingdom of heaven.

A Conflict of Covenants

Here’s the problem: a literal, unmoving interpretation of scripture combines and confuses the old and new covenants, presenting a belief system that allows Jesus to do the initial work of salvation, but that must be continued by our ability or desire to maintain wholeness–or holiness–through repentance, prayer, tithing, worship, and belief. The old covenant is elevated to a position of equal importance to the new covenant, and appears to still supersede it in many ways. Scriptures declaring God’s goodness, love, and forgiveness of all humanity are accepted, yet overridden by passages portraying him as full of wrath for those who don’t accept his love.

But what if there was a way to hold the entirety of scripture in tension? To find the ways in which Jesus and the new covenant don’t necessarily abolish the old covenant, but fulfill it for us so that it is no longer a requirement? What if there was a way of rest, of faith and of trust in God to bless us, not because of what we do or believe, but because of what Jesus believed about us and did on our behalf? What if we really did have the fullness of Christ dwelling in us because of the reconciling work of the cross, which we just need to trust in, in order to see? A holiness that wasn’t dependent on ritual or repentance, but an already given, unbreakable union with Christ, which once recognized, leads to all kinds of love and selfless action that the old covenant could only hope to inspire.

Relying on Christ

Of course, we can still hold on to human traditions masquerading as old covenant practices. We can try to pull God down to earth or open heaven for some new blessing or spiritual breakthrough rather than relying on Christ, thus denying the fullness that has already been given through God’s grace. We can still hold to beliefs that we are only OK once we’ve said the magic words and dedicated our lives to denying certain aspects of human life. We don’t even need to call ourselves “Christian” to do so.

Or we can rest in the new covenant and allow Christ in us to provide the outworking of our faith. A faith that is really his faith, since it is Christ in us that provides the gift of faith in the first place. A faith in love. A faith that knows, even in the midst of doubt or suffering, that we are OK, because we have a God who loves all his children and a high priest in Jesus interceding for us, even if we are unable or unwilling to pray for ourselves. A faith that places the old covenant in its right place, as something that was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross and as something we need not fulfill ourselves today in order to remain within God’s blessing.


An excellent piece, I reckon. I hope it blessed you and maybe gave you some food for thought 🙂


Here is the link to the original article

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On Repentance

In many of my blog posts, I mention the idea that ‘repentance’ is not what many churches have taught over the years.

It actually means changing your mind.

Most of the time it is described by Christians as a ‘turning around; a U-turn if you like, and usually in terms of repentance from sin, or a turning away from sin, as seen by the person demanding the repentance. And, for some, it can indeed be that, but it’s not always that. I’m going to pass you over once again to the brilliant Mike Douglas, of the blog ‘Getting Back to My Future‘. Here, Mike describes what he feels repentance really is:


Repent, in our dictionaries, is defined as a verb meaning ‘to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin; to feel remorse, regret, be sorry, rue, reproach oneself, be ashamed, feel contrite; view or think of (an action or omission) with deep regret or remorse’.

While this is accurate, it is not how the Bible talks of repentance. The Bible has a different definition for repentance. The New Testament was originally written in Greek and the word typically translated as ‘repent’ is the Greek word “metanoia”.

It consists of two parts, first ‘meta’ which means ‘to change’. We get our word metamorphosis from this word. Like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.

The second part, ‘noia’ means to think or to know. Think ‘knowledge’.

Combined, it means ‘to change how we think or what we know’. I think that is interesting! It’s not about not sinning or even being sorry when we do wrong. It’s about thinking differently.

But think differently about what? 

It means “to change your mind; reconsider; or, to think differently.” Granted, if a person changes his mind (repents) toward certain behaviours in his life, he may become very sorrowful and may even stop committing those sins, but this would be a result of repenting, not repentance itself. So it’s not about thinking differently about wrongdoing in our lives.

Many understand the term repentance to mean “turning from sin.” This is not the biblical definition of repentance. Many of us were taught that repenting means to stop doing something. But, if that was true we’d all have to stop sinning before we could ask Jesus to save us. Since we can’t stop sinning, none of us would ever be saved.

When God tells an unsaved man to repent, He means for that man to change his mind about how to reach God. The person must change his mind from any idea of saving himself through religion or good works, and trust Jesus’s death as payment for everything he has done wrong. That’s it!

Repent means to change your mind. ABOUT JESUS. 

If you already know you need of a savior, you don’t need to repent to be saved, you just need to ask Jesus to save you. After we’re saved then Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and help us change our behavior, but that happens AFTER, not before, and even then, we never get it completely right. That’s why we are saved by grace, not by being or doing good.

To repent is to change your mind regarding Jesus. In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), he concludes with a call for the people to repent. Repent from what? Peter is calling the people who rejected Jesus to change their minds about Him, to recognize that He is who He said He was. Peter is calling the people to change their minds from rejection of Christ as the Messiah to faith in Him.

Repentance and Faith 

Repentance and faith can be understood as “two sides of the same coin.” It is impossible to place your faith [think trust] in Jesus Christ as your Savior without first changing your mind about who He is and what He has done. Whether it is repentance from willful rejection or repentance from disinterest, it is a change of mind. Biblical repentance is changing your mind from rejection of Christ to believing in Christ.

It is important that we understand repentance is not something we do to earn salvation. The Bible tells us that repentance is something God gives—it is only possible because of His grace.

No one can repent unless God grants repentance. All of salvation, including repentance and faith, is a result of God drawing us, opening our eyes, and changing our hearts. Put another way, He reveals Jesus to us for who He is and then invites us to change our thinking about Him.

How cool is that!


I think that’s brilliant, and he sums it up really well.

Sadly, the idea of ‘repentance’ has been misused and twisted in order to pull people into legalism – making oneself right with God by things we do or don’t do. As with so many of the simple things of faith, it’s been made more complex than it needs to be. For example, I’ve seen repentance described as the more complex idea of ‘a change of mind, leading to a change of heart, leading to a change in actions’. So in that idea they’ve taken the real, simple meaning of ‘changing your mind’, and made it far more complex, and just wrong as well. All we need to do in order to repent is to change our minds. Change our minds from the idea of getting ‘right with God’ through our own strength, thoughts, actions and deeds (which is pointless anyway (Rom 3:20, Gal 2:16, Gal 3:11 ) and instead relying entirely on Jesus and what He has already done for us.

This means that if you change your mind – repent – about your attitudes to finding your own way to God, and trusting instead in the finished work of Christ, then you will be saved. Saved from a life of drudgery and endless tail-chasing, into the life of the glorious freedom of the Children of God (Rom 8:21).

Be free!


Here is the link to the original piece

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Is Your Bible an Idol?

Here’s a great piece about idolising the Bible above God. It’s from the ‘Unfundamentalists’ blog, and is written by Darrell Lackey:

“The Bible is not God, nor do symbols on a page contain God. God is not hiding in the ink or paper molecules/atoms of the Bible. God existed before the Bible. Every time we read or quote a passage of Scripture in an authoritative way, it doesn’t mean God is speaking either to us or through us. It simply means we are reading symbols on a page that represent meanings, which we then interpret. Whether or not we truly understand the meaning or purpose of those symbols is something else entirely. It’s possible I am idolizing my understanding of those symbols, rather than worshipping (or even interpreting correctly) what they may be pointing toward.

“A person could memorize the entire Bible. They could quote a Scripture verse for every problem, argument, or issue at hand. One could study the Bible deeply every day, for a lifetime. One could do all this and never know the God of whom it speaks. One could do this and be a mean, angry, and selfish person. One could do this and never lift a finger for another human being. One could do this and be nothing more than a judgment machine, handing out judgments, opinions, and confident assertions about the world and everyone else.

“How do I know this? Because I’ve experienced it. I know some of these people. I stopped being impressed by people who’ve memorized a lot of Scripture a long time ago. Why? Because I knew too many of them who were awful people.

“Bible knowledge will never substitute for a relationship with the subject of that book. Imagine a woman named Susan. Suppose I have a book about her life. I could read all day long about Susan and memorize much of the information. I might even fall in love with the Susan I read about.

“However, it may be the words, the description, the sense I get from the book in my own mind that I’m actually in love with. Not Susan. I’ve fooled myself. I’m actually in love with my knowledge of Susan—my mental picture of her. I might think to myself, other people know things about her too, but not as much as I do. I love how much I know about her (see the problem there?).

“However, unless I actually met Susan and spent time with her and got to know her personally, outside that book, I DO NOT REALLY KNOW SUSAN.

“An anticipated response: “But if the Bible is the primary way to know Jesus, if he reveals himself, his thinking, his desires, what he wants from us, in that book, isn’t that what is really happening—we are in fact meeting and knowing him through this book?”

“First, note how this type of response situates the person contextually in a time (modern) and place (America/the West) where the Bible as we know it is common and readily accessible—as if our time and location (a short blip on the radar screen of history) was the pinnacle of wisdom on the subject. The response forgets the first Christians (or the Hebrews before), who did not have what we think of as the complete Bible today. In fact, such would not exist until several centuries after Christ. And guess what, they still knew Jesus, they still knew God. Jesus did not need for a complete Bible to be present before he communicated with his people.

“The first Christians had the Hebrew Scriptures and the Apostle’s letters in circulation, but this was not a literate culture—most could not read. They came to know Jesus through the spoken words and lives of others, not primarily from a book or Bible as we know it.

“As Australian systematic theologian Geoff Thompson has noted:

‘…the fundamentals of Christian faith were already in place in creeds, liturgies and summary statements of faith before the extent of the Christian Scriptures was settled. It was not the Bible which produced Christian belief. Rather, the Bible emerged in the process of clarifying the details of Christian faith. In other words, it was because you believed certain things about Jesus and God that led you to believe certain things about the Bible.’

“Even in its complete form, regardless of how we think the Bible is inspired or authoritative, it is still not God. The reader, the interpreter is not God. Our thoughts, views, and opinions about what we think the text means, are not God. Our vocal or quoted expressions of the text, are not God. Our typing out a verse of Scripture is not God. Our theological frameworks are not God.

“Second, such a response completely eschews the ancient mysticism of the Church and the idea that experience, intuition, reason, communal teaching, acting, and the liturgical inhabiting of the faith were also ways in which God as Trinity “spoke” and communicated with the Church, apart from the Bible or written forms.

“And just a side note to all this: Fundamentalist Christians (and some evangelicals), when the Church is discussing same-sex attraction, marriage, abortion, the death penalty, gender roles, or any other complicated issue where there is respectful disagreement on both sides, if you think merely quoting a Scripture verse somehow settles the matter, then you are incredibly shallow and, frankly, ignorant. If you really think the people in those discussions weren’t aware of those verses, then I feel sorry for you. It means you are a child who has wandered into an adult conversation.

“Too many fundamentalists (and many evangelicals) make of the Bible, and their understanding of it, an idol. They worship a book and their knowledge of it. Their “relationship” is with a book, rather than with the one of whom it speaks. Christian: Don’t make of your Bible an idol—don’t be an idol worshipper.”

Here’s the link to the original article

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Sound Bites

I have run out of ideas for titles for my ‘quotations’ style posts. This time, I will call it ‘Sound Bites’. Next time, I have no idea 😉

Anyway:

“It occurred to me a little while ago that those who are relegating people to hell might want to pause and consider that they are not God” – ‘Sharon’

“Western Christianity has largely stripped Jesus of his teachings and made him merely a figure to worship instead of a teacher to follow. We’ve made his significance mainly as a human sacrifice to appease a distant God that we should accept to go to heaven, instead of a revealer of God’s true nature and what our role is in manifesting this God to the world for the reconciliation of all things” – Jacob M. Wright

“The correct answer to those who do not believe in ‘once saved, always saved’ is this: ‘What about once in Christ, always in Christ?’, because that’s what it amounts to. You can’t drift in-and-out of Christ. Because that nature which was crucified in Christ is dead and buried. It’s a one-way transaction; the only thing raised to life is the New Creation. The ‘flesh’ was not privy to the Resurrection deal. Don’t let anyone rob you of your assurance” – Me

“A gospel that claims to redeem humanity, but that leaves our understanding of God in the clutches of sacrifice-centered, pagan thought, is no Gospel at all. The Good News is not that we are saved from a wrathful, sin-counting, angry God, but that there is no such God from which we need saving” – Jeff Turner

“The “debt” that Jesus paid was NOT to God, but to the Law. The Law demands blood, retribution and death, even sometimes of the innocent. Jesus paid and then cancelled the claim of the Law over us” – Ken Nicholls

“…if you think merely quoting a Scripture verse somehow settles the matter, then you are incredibly shallow and, frankly, ignorant. If you really think the people in those discussions weren’t aware of those verses, then I feel sorry for you. It means you are a child who has wandered into an adult conversation.” – Darrell Lackey

“Q1: If it turns out that Jesus saves far more people than your theology anticipated, will you be mad or glad about it?
Q2: If Jesus saves people who do not fall into the religious category of Christian, will you be mad or glad about it?
Q3: Does it make you mad that I ask these questions because you are certain that such things could never happen?” – Brian Zahnd

“I think trying to get to know God by reading the Bible is like trying to get to know a celebrity by reading only the tabloids. There’s no guarantee the information you’re getting is accurate or complete” – ‘Trilemma’

“The original purpose of the law was to give structure to a people for the best way to live. It was like a finger pointing to the moon. However, the law itself had become the point. The finger became the point, and they forgot about the moon” – Jacob Turnquist

“How are we expected to trust God for our salvation if we believe in a moment’s notice he’s going to snatch it away from us!” – ‘Grandma Ja’

“The Piper Tomahawk has the glide angle of a well-tossed anvil” – Anon [and I disagree; she glides like a dream]

“When you hear faith and belief as a requirement for grace, you are hearing a false gospel.” – Nathan Jennings

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“APOSTLE PAUL EXPOSED!”

Those who visit Christian and other faith forums will know that there are many – probably well-intentioned; let’s give them the benefit of the doubt – people who unctuously ‘correct’ those whom they deem to be ‘spreading a false gospel’. I won’t express my opinion of these people, which gives you a clue as to what it is 😉

Anyhow, in this brilliant piece, Jacob M. Wright lampoons these sermonisers with his idea of what their response might be to one of St. Paul’s sermons.


“APOSTLE PAUL EXPOSED!” A Fundamentalist response to Paul’s preaching to the Athenians in Acts 17:

In Acts 17, Paul is invited before the leading philosophical thinkers of the day to present the gospel to them. Keep in mind they are all idol worshipping pagans. Paul starts off with telling them that they worship God without even knowing it! Paul tells them God is not removed or distant from them, and in fact that they “live, move, and have their being in him” which is something he borrowed from their writings about Zeus. Paul tells them that all of humanity is one blood with one origin: God. And that God is at work in history to cause all to feel after him and find him. Paul quotes one of their pagan authors who said of Zeus “we are indeed his offspring”, and uses it to affirm that God is their Father. Paul tells them that God gives them life, breath, and everything, and satisfies their needs. Paul tells them that God is therefore not some inanimate object like their idols and therefore they should change their way of thinking to embrace the one universal Creator! Paul ends it with saying that God will bring the world to justice through a man that God raised from the dead.

Here is a fundamentalist response to Paul’s supposed “preaching of the gospel”:

“Paul there is so much heresy in this ear-tickling message you told the Athenians I don’t even know where to start. Why don’t you just stick with the simple gospel truth instead of this new agey existential stuff? Telling idol worshipping pagans that they are so close to God that they in fact live, move, and have their being in God? Paul, God is holy. He can’t look upon sin or be around it. You said ‘God is not far from you’ when in fact those idolaters could not be farther from God! Those pagans don’t live, move, and have their being in God, they are completely separated from him!

Also, quoting their own pagan author and saying they are God’s offspring? The fact that you agree with and are quoting a pagan author is evidence enough to me of how you have strayed from the pure truth of God’s Word. Preach the Word Paul, you don’t need to quote pagan authors to try to reach people for Christ. You’re mixing truth with error and coming up with a deadly mix. In fact there is barely any truth here at all! It’s 95% error! Paul repent! Quit watering down the gospel! The Word is clear, they aren’t God’s offspring, they are children of the devil. No one is a child of God until they are born again! You can’t just go and tell a bunch of pagans that they are children of God!

Last but not least, when you declared to them that they worshipped God without even knowing it, this was the last straw. You’re preaching a false gospel. Just because they have an altar to ‘the unknown God’ does not mean the altar is to God and that you can somehow tie this into some mystical idea that it points to God who is their origin, in whom they live, move, and have being, and of whom they are offspring. Your whole sermon did not even mention the name Jesus! How do you expect anyone to get saved! You are beyond anything resembling Gospel truth. Sure, you briefly mentioned that God will bring the world to justice, but didn’t specify that this justice was eternal conscious torment in hell for every unbeliever! There was nothing about wrath, hell, or torment.

Next time, Paul, tell them that the wrath of God burns against them because of their sin, that his justice demands being appeased by the shedding of innocent blood as well as eternal torment. Tell them that yes God loves them, but they need to accept the legal transaction of the atonement before God can forgive. Otherwise they cannot even approach Gods presence! Ask them if they’ve ever told a lie before, or if they’ve ever cursed, lusted, etc. Use the righteous Law of God to show them that they stand condemned to hell before a holy God. We have some gospel tracts for you to use that help with this. Make sure you ask them where their soul would go if they died tonight. Preach the true gospel, Paul.”


I think that’s excellent, don’t you?

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