Thursday, August 02, 2007

Theology: Defense For or From the Bible?

I am reading a book right now entitled "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne. In it he had a very interesting quote that has both stirred and convicted me. Here it is:

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."

--Soren Kierkegaard--

What do you think?

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Well, I finally did it! After about 4-5 years of enjoying it's sound, I finally gave in to the mandolin bug! I just bought a mandolin within the last few weeks and am excited about learning to play it. So far I have taken it a couple of different places with a little group that my wife's father has put together. Last weekend we played at an old fashioned wagon train and a birthday party. I have been looking alot on-line at YouTube, etc. to find free lessons and tips on playing. I ran across this site called "Music Moose" which offers free on-line video lessons for learning different folk instruments. I have been very impressed with the video lessons so far, and so I wanted to let everyone know about the site. You will find a "Music Moose" link on the side of the blog that will take you there. If you ever wanted to learn to play one of these instruments, but have put off trying because of time or money, this just might be for you. I love the fact that I can rewind any part of a lesson, and also that I can watch them at 1 o'clock in the morning(not many instructors keep those hours!). Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Christian Nation" = Oil & Water

I have noticed several blogging conversations lately taking place discussing whether or not the United States is a Christian nation. I, myself, have been thinking alot on this subject and would like to take some time to talk about it here.

Sometimes I believe we ask the wrong questions. For instance, who would ask what color the number 4 is, or what is the nationality of the letter H? To me, this question belongs in the same category.

Is the United States a "Christian nation"? Can any country be a "Christian nation"? I don't think so. Someone might ask, "What about Israel? Were they not God's chosen nation?" Yes, at one time. But, I don't believe that the continuity of this line of reasoning is valid. Let's retrace a bit of history...

After the fall, and years of adverse effects thereafter, God made a covenant with a man named Abraham. God promised him that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you". God's intention for Abraham was to bless him and, through him, to bless everyone else. This was the beginning of a distinction known as "God's chosen people".

God chose to bless and redeem the world through a vehicle known as the nation of Israel. God Himself would guide her and she would show His love and blessing to the world. Israel was never to be an end in herself. She was a means to an end; that is the redemption of the whole world. However, the problem manifested itself when Israel began to take pride in her election. Rather than using her blessing to bless others, she began to aspire to be like, and even superior to, every other nation on earth. Rather than allowing God to manifest His Lordship through Israel, the nation chose to be led by human kingship. Israel's pride and political aspirations continued for years.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus didn't fit into the Israelite mold that had been developed by His ancestors. He did not concern Himself with the interests of the Herodians, the Zealots, the Pharisees or the Saduccees. Instead, Jesus came to embody Israel's hitherto unfulfilled mission; the redemption of the world. Jesus spoke parables, such as that of the vineyard, indicating God's intention to replace the political entity Israel had become with one new humanity, consisting of people from every nation, summed up in Himself. He told the religious leaders

"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."
Matthew 21:43-44 NIV

The importance of this quote cannot be overstated. I believe that Jesus was here prophesying the cessation of national Israel as God's chosen people.

God, Himself, fulfilled Israel's comission in the person of Jesus. Then, he gave that same comission to His now elected people; the Church. The things that Jesus "began to do and to teach" were now entrusted to believers "from every tribe and language and people and nation".

Paul went on to say that, in the person of Jesus, God tore down the wall that once divided Jew from Gentile. God's election was not to be based on ethnic, cultural, or nationalistic boundaries. God's chosen people no longer consisted of those who were born into the right family, but instead of those who have been born-again from above.

So what does all of this have to do with the question of whether or not the United States is (or even should strive to be) a Christian nation? Everything. If God's people are no longer defined by national borders but instead by those who are "in Christ", how can we go on believing that God favors the United States any more than Iraq, or even Israel over Palestine?

I believe that America as a "Christian nation" really just ends up being a distraction. Rather than seeking to bless, serve, and redeem the people for whom Jesus died and rose again, we try to legislate unbelievers into the Kingdom of God. Thinking that God has comissioned the United States as His vehicle of blessing and redemption we wrongly expect the government to uphold Christian ethics, enforce morality, and oh yeah, take care of the orphans, the widows, and the poor. We fight to keep God on our money, the Ten Commandments in our courthouses (which still baffles me), and prayer in our schools, all the while failing to realize that these are things that only give us a form of godliness without delivering the power we long to experience. Maybe we should stop trying to coerce Christian character out of unbelievers and instead start exhibiting some ourselves (me included!). Would this actually result in our acting like the children of God that we were really recreated to be? Would that in turn result in the fulfillment of the Great Comission, therein fulfilling God's promise to bless the entire world? What do you think?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Privelege of Being Me

Over a week ago I saw a church sign that has stirred my thinking ever since (no it wasn't "What's missing in ch__ch?"!). It simply said "Be yourself; everyone else is taken." What simple but profound words.

Be yourself.


It seems like those words role easy off the tongue, but have a hard time making headway into the lives of believers in Jesus. It seems that we have settled for a version of Christianity that prefers to clone it's members rather than take the time to guide them into a discovery of their unique identity in Christ. Ironically, cloning is rampant within the Church. Many "leaders" (even with good intentions mind you) expound a "Christian" way of life that includes practices and ideas that they hold firmly as the truth, all the while conforming people to their own image instead of helping God's people to uncover the image of God already present within them. Creeds, spiritual disciplines, and systematic theologies are used as a "short-cut" to true spirituality. All the while the image of God is inside of us...

waiting to be uncovered.

A lady that I work with has introduced me to a phrase that I have grown fond of. "Christ in us, as us". What a loaded statement. What a dangerous idea. What a profound insight. Christ manifesting Himself through me in an entirely unique way. Jesus shining His light through my personality as one of many facets of Himself. This is the antithesis of group-think. This is the death of creedal servitude. This is life indeed.

Jesus living through me as me...


In the name of truth we have missed the heart of what Who truth really is. Truth cannot be summed up in 4 spiritual laws, 10 creedal statements or even 10,000 systematic theologies. It He is not so tame. Truth can only be known through relationship.

What if we let go of all of our attempts at conforming to someone elses revelation? What if we were actually able to celebrate the expression of God through someone else without feeling either insecure or defensive? What if I was actually able to enjoy being me?

I thoroughly enjoyed a good breakfast with three dear brothers in the Lord this morning. As I was reflecting back this evening on our time together I realized that whereas in the past I had felt confronted by others' experiences of Christ that differed from my own, today I went away strenghtened by koinonia with fellow members of the Body whose part to play in it differed from my own. Their stories neither threatened me nor confronted me, but rather edified me and helped foster in me a desire to be more of who I truly already am.

Instead of trying to play everyone elses part maybe I should just stick with the part I was meant to play. Maybe I just have to GET TO be me!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Discipleship: Quality Precedes Quantity

In the institutional model of church, bigger usually means better. Leaders are always looking for programs, formats, buildings or anything else that can be used to reach more people. It's a very noble goal. The problem happens though when quantity, rather than quality, becomes the measuring stick of success. In the eyes of many, more money, bigger buildings, and most importantly, more people are the earmarks of a "successful" church. But how many of those people actually translate into true disciples of Jesus?

I don't know if we have ever really heard the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

Notice that Jesus says nothing about converts. He says nothing about getting people to repeat the "Sinner's Prayer". Rather, He says that the job of the Church is to make disciples. Now here is the interesting part; how many disciples did Jesus make Himself? (hum the Jeopardy theme with me) That's it! Only 12! Now if anyone understood the importance of disciple-making, surely Jesus did. But, by modern church standards, Jesus would have been considered a pretty big ministry failure! So, even though Jesus ministered to crowds of people at various times throughout His ministry, we only find Jesus completely replicating Himself in 12 other people.

What does this tell me? Well, it seems like Jesus cared about quality above and beyond (but not to the exclusion of) quantity. Obviously, Jesus wanted a world filled with disciples as He stated in Matthew 28:19-20. But, He realized something that the Church at-large has yet to grasp; quantity does not necessarily lead to quality, but quality will eventually lead to quantity!

If every present-day believer knew that they only had 3.5 years to make an impact on the unbelieving world, what would they do? Well, from best I can tell, they would probably go all over the world, renting stadiums and coliseums, to proclaim the Gospel message to as many people as possible. Noble as it sounds, this is not what Jesus did. Having a total of 3.5 years of "public ministry", Jesus chose to invest most of His time in a few social outcasts who would later be known as "those who have turned the world upside-down".

What did Jesus understand that we don't? Maybe that the impact of one true disciple is greater than the influence of a thousand converts.

So how can we best promote effective discipleship? I think that one decision we can make is to completely invest our lives in a few people rather than investing sparingly in many. (Multiplication Ministry and Maturity makes for some interesting reading on this subject.)

Are our efforts driven by effectiveness, or by a paradigm that makes us feel more important about "our ministry"? What do you think?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Believing The Best About God

A discussion I had with some friends last night, including Steve at Theological Musings, and Christy at Until My Last Breath led to this post. Steve or Christy, please feel free to chime in with any additional thoughts or clarifications that you would like to add to this post. And of course, I would like to hear everyone else's input as well:)

Do we love God?

Love is...

"always eager to believe the best" 1 Corthinans 13:7 (Moffatt)

Are we eager to believe the best about God?

It seems to me that this is usually not the case. When natural disasters happen, when evil seems to prevail, when children suffer, most believers tend to think that it's all part of God's sovereign will. When pressed further on how one can reconcile the idea of an all-loving God with suffering and evil, most Christians fall back on the idea that "God is in control", and therefore this all must just be a part of His will for us. But is this true?

Most believers seem to derive their understanding of the character of God more from Job than from the One who's purpose it was to reveal the Father to us; namely Jesus. While Job declares "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21), Jesus says that it is "The thief" who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy;" but that "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

Jesus seems to paint a very different picture of God for us than we have come to know. Many Christians see God in the same light as do eastern religions; as a yin-yang of sorts--both blessing and cursing those whom He loves (even if it is as some say "for our good"). It is as if we have embraced a Christian form of Karma, which limits God to acting like us--operating only by the laws of tit-for-tat and reciprocity. What of grace? What of mercy?

While, admittedly the Old Testament gives us examples of the judgement of God being poured out on sinful people, and of hard-to-understand passages such as the story of Job, Jesus reveals to us a loving Father who "did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

So what do we do with these seemingly contradictory depictions of God? Well, in my mind, no matter what we believe we understand about God from the Old Testament, Jesus' ministry, life, death, resurrection, and ascension is the "trump card" for our previous understandings (or misunderstandings) of God. The writer to the Hebrews says as much:

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son... The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being" Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

Jesus, Himself, said the same:

"Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." John 14:9 (NIV)

To me this means that any biblical passage that seems to contradict what we see in the ministry of Jesus is either being misinterpreted, misunderstood, or possibly has been completely... replaced.

At this point, many people want to run to the idea of God's immutability, or the idea that "God never changes". But just listen to how Jesus deals with the very words of God:

"you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all" Matthew 5:33-34 (NIV)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" Matthew 5:38-39 (NIV)

Who said the original statements? God! Yet, Jesus totally replaces something that God had previously said with a "new and improved"--if not totally contradictory--teaching! Wow! In other words, something radically changed when Jesus stepped on to the earth.

During the Christmas season one of the things I was thinking about was the annoucement of the Savior's birth to the shepherds. I love this part of the Gospel story:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:14 (NKJV)

I love that! "Goodwill toward men!" With the coming of Jesus, God was expressing his goodwill toward all of humanity! No matter what we see under the Old Covenant, God is forever making a statement that His intentions are only good for all mankind!

So what of passages that tell of God's wrath and judgement? They must be interpreted using a new hermeneutic...Jesus!

Instead of running to ambiguous passages to try and discern God's character and will for us, now we simply need to look to Jesus. When faced with circumstances that seem to tell us anything but that God's intentions toward us are good, we must once again focus on the perfect representation of the Father...Jesus!

So when we are confronted with the decision to either believe that God is somehow causing us harm (even if it is said to be "for our good") or that God is only ever going to be merciful and good to us, what will we believe? Will we look to the ministry of Jesus, or will we look to ambiguous passages that we feel help us "make sense" of our current circumstances? Will we believe that God is the source of our problems--somehow both our persecutor and deliverer--or will we "believe the best" of Him? Will we choose to love God as He has "first loved us" and therefore, believe the best of Him too? What do you think?

Friday, January 12, 2007

What Are You Going To Do About It?

"What are you going to do about it?"
This question was posed to me by RC in the comments section of the last post. Great question RC! It is relatively easy to pose the right questions, but it requires more of us to actually answer them. I appreciate someone being willing to look beyond good sounding ideas to practical implementations of the same.

There are two different ways to take this question. Within this one question I actually see two:
1. What are you going to do to help the Church make the shift from an obsession with orthodoxy to an out-working of orthopraxy?

2. What are you going to do personally to bridge your own gap between your beliefs and actions?
I hope that at least one of these represents RC's question to me.

First, I would like to answer question number one. For myself, I would like to think that my interaction with other people (believers and non-believers) would be characterized by love rather than by cliquishness brought about by doctrinal exclusivity. I am making the decision to "love without a hook". That is, I want to love others unconditionally just as my Father has loved me.

In the Church, love is said to be unconditional, but alot of the time I do not find this to be the case. Many times "love" is only given when one chooses to tow the party-line, or submit to whomever is in charge.

Evangelism is one area that I believe could benefit from more unconditional love. I am reminded of an example from my own life; I used to go "witness" on the streets of my local town at least once a week. While I would be "sharing the Gospel" with people, I would often say "the reason that I'm sharing this with you is because I love you." The truth, however, was that I was out there "sharing the Gospel" with them because I thought that I had to in order to keep God happy with me. I would preach, call for a decision, and then walk away. My evangelism was not motivated by love; rather, it proceeded from a guilty conscience.

I believe that as the Body of Christ, we need to grasp the fact that God loves us unconditionally prior to trying to "share" the Gospel with others. Most of what I see within the Church is a bunch of people doing good deeds (evangelism, teaching Sunday School, cleaning the church building, etc.) to try to keep God "off of their backs." As long as we are not receiving God's unconditional love, there is no way that we can give it to others. Our good works end up proceeding from a heart that is trying to please God instead of a heart that rests in a constant state of experiencing God's pleasure. This is not a peripheral problem, but rather a fundamental one. We either believe that Jesus' sacrifice placed us into a right relationship with God, or we don't. If we are constantly trying to measure up, trying to earn God's favor or love, then it seems to me that we are not trusting in what Jesus did and therefore refuse to believe that "it is finished".

If we help people only to ease our conscience, then once we feel that we have "done our part", we will drop the ball and go back to life as usual. This reveals that our good works really were more about us than about the person in need. But, if we really love people as a result of God's having first loved us, then we are willing to stick with that person as long as it takes. One question I have to ask myself is: "If I knew that this person would never respond to the call of Christ for his/her life, would I still be willing to show them the same amount of love and service?" If my answer is no, then I am really manipulating them instead of showing them love. Love is not about getting people to jump into my boat, rather it is about meeting that person's needs without regard to their response.

In response to question number two, I would like to say that while I am not doing everything I can to bridge that gap, I believe that I am on my way. My wife and I have been discussing what we can do to live this out. We are currently making active plans to impact the lives of hurting people in real ways. I wish I could go into more detail, but I don't feel that I am at liberty to do so at this time, and in reality, it isn't about "tooting my horn" for Jesus anyway. On a practical level, I believe that, as ded said, each of us has to wrestle with this question personally and hear from God for ourselves. The same mission exists for us all, but our specific directions for carrying it out can only come from the mouth of the Father. What do you all you think?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Are We Missing The Point?

Lately I've been wondering if we, as believers in Jesus, are really missing the point. I've been seeing alot of coverage of Oprah Winfrey's funding of a $40 million dollar school for South African girls who have been sexually abused, neglected, orphaned, etc. Also, I've seen coverage of Hollywood star Angelina Jolie adopting orphans from impoverished countries and trying to educate people on the great need of orphans in third-world nations. These are two people who would definitely be considered "outside of the fold" in Christian circles, yet here are two persons who are giving of themselves to help others in need. Meanwhile, many in the Body of Christ are too busy debating theology, sharpening apologetic skills and preaching to people to actually be Jesus to hurting people.

Sometimes I wonder just how important having all of our "doctrinal duckies" in a row really is. While much of the thrust of the contemporary church is on understanding, mentally assenting to and defending the right doctrinal positions, the thrust of Jesus' ministry (both then and now) seems to be more focused on helping and healing hurting people. In speaking of this, James said

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 (NIV)
Pure religion...not characterized by having it all together doctrinally speaking, but rather determined by our actions toward our local and worldwide neighbors. At times, we have interpreted the phrase "and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" to mean "don't cuss, don't drink, don't chew and don't run with those who do". But, could it be that not allowing ourselves to be polluted by the world rather means refusing to play the worlds game of "loving those who love you", and instead choosing to give to those who can't give back and choosing to love those who would even be considered our enemies? Have we really bought into the pollution of the world while seemingly refusing to give into it?

Tonight, while thousands of children have been orphaned because of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, while many more are suffering from malnutrition and disease, and while thousands of people don't know where their next meal is going to come from, we American Christians are preoccupied trying to prove pre-trib, mid-trib or post-trib; Calvinism or Arminianism; etc. Are we missing the point?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Tag...I'm It!

Well, something just happened to me for the first time in a long time....I got tagged! Steve at Theological Musings tagged me to answer 5 questions. (You know I have a bad memory of playing tag. I broke my ankle playing this silly game once. Well, I guess there's no real threat of breaking anything just typing, huh?) So here goes...

0) What’s your name and website URL? (optional, of course)

Easy enough. Raborn Johnson. So far, painless.:)

1) What’s the most fun work you’ve ever done, and why? (two sentences max)

Well, I enjoy the job I currently have a whole lot. I work at a Christian bookstore which allows me to talk about God and theology alot without repercussions. I get to help people find things that, hopefully, will help draw them closer to the Father.

2) A. Name one thing you did in the past that you no longer do but wish you did? (one sentence max)
B. Name one thing you’ve always wanted to do but keep putting it off? (one sentence max)

A. Play basketball a couple of times a week. I loved playing basketball and benefited alot from the excercise. Basketball is greeeaaat!
B. Read more. I have shelves of books that I have never read, but some that call out my name..."Raborn, read me Raborn"

3) A. What two things would you most like to learn or be better at, and why? (two sentences max)
B. If you could take a class/workshop/apprentice from anyone in the world living or dead, who would it be and what would you hope to learn? (two more sentences, max)

A. I would love to learn Greek. I would love to get better at playing the piano and the bass...and of course I would love to get better at basketball.
B. Hard to say; I have a whole lot of interests (no chance at two sentences). I would love to shoot some hoops with Raymond Felton, throw some football with Steve Smith, ride to outer space with NASA, talk to NT Wright,...I think I would rather just hang out with these guys instead of taking a workshop or class. I think learning comes more from time spent together than from formal classroom type settings.

4) A. What three words might your best friends or family use to describe you?
B. Now list two more words you wish described you…

A. Silly, funny, sportsnut
B. slow to speak, punctual, taking initiative...okay, it's more than 2!:)

5) What are your top three passions? (can be current or past, work, hobbies, or causes– three sentences max)

Okay. The obvious answers here for me would be 1. God 2. My wife 3. Theology
But...I would like to skip over those obvious answers and give you the next three.
1. Sports 2. Music 3. Video Games--Yes Video Games!:)

6) Write–and answer–one more question that YOU would ask someone (with answer in three sentences max)

My question is usually "Why?". My second favorite question would have to be "How's it working for you?"

[Bonus: What is one question you wish people would ask themselves?]

Why do I do what I do, believe what I believe.....basically "Why?". And, "How's it working for me?"

Well, that is the easiest post I've ever written! Good to be blogging again...thanks Steve!:)

Now let's tag someone who's answers I really wife! Her answers never cease to amaze me!!!