How To Understand God

Theology is the study of God. Unfortunately, theology has mostly become “speculation about God based on our goofy thoughts.”

Theology, as it has been codified, is partially helpful, partially a complete waste, and increasingly destructive.

Bad definitions of theology focus on our own thinking. Good definitions talk about a “science” or “study of God.” This is good, as long as the textbook is Scripture.

Science in our day, although widely celebrated, is not done often in the public sector. Bill Nye is who most think of when we think science. That is too bad.

Much of science today is tied in with politics and philosophical axes to grind.

Much good science is being done today, you just won’t ever hear about it. Most publicly consumed science is sensationalist philosophy in a lab coat. One might say the talking-head in a lab coat is the modern day wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I would like to give you some quotes from an actual real scientist. Richard Feynman was one of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. He was a formative thinker in the development of the computer among other sciency things.

If theology is a science, let’s do it the way a scientist would do science. Observe:

“Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgments can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, and from show.”

“Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question – to doubt – to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.”

“Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

I like his approach. Feynman is not a Christian, that I know of. He thinks that religion is what people do to avoid dealing with doubt.  He said, “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.”

Religion, according to Feynman, is what you go to in order to resolve mysteries, thus it eliminates curiosity, wonder, and science.

Although I’d probably disagree with that notion, I see why he views things that way.

One of the things Feynman warns against is pseudoscience and the proliferation of popular science dressed up to impress and push an agenda. He died in 1988 and would be in shock as to where science has gotten today.

Anyway, back to our point, theology at its best is a science. Feynman says science only works when we doubt experts and long-held assumptions.

Theology should be the same. yet we see the same thing happening in theology as we do in most areas of science: authority figures answering all questions, immediate repercussions if you question long-held beliefs, group think, more philosophy than faithfulness to truth, etc.

This underlying doubt of experts should drive you to examine your doctrine. Are you believing what the Bible says, or what a bunch of dead guys thought up?

The Reformers have Five Solas. We’ve examined several of these solas and come to the conclusion that they don’t make much sense unless you buy into their underlying philosophy.

If you doubt theology and doubt experts, questioning their conclusions will be as natural as breathing.

If, however, you trust authority and think they are smarter than you, then you won’t question and you’ll go on believing people’s opinions until you die.

Faith comes by hearing God’s Word. Notice faith doesn’t come by hearing people’s opinions about God’s Word.

Think. Examine. Question. Doubt. Test the spirits. The Scientific Method was actually invented by the Apostle Paul hundreds of years before it was codified in science books:

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

“Prove” means to test. Test stuff. Start by testing what all the theological authorities have been spouting for hundreds of years. Hold to what passes the test. Know the Scripture. Rely on the Holy Spirit. Do the work. The unexamined faith is not worth believing.


What is Theology? And Why You Should be Skeptical of it

Theology is a word that needs to be examined. Here are some brief definitions of the word:

Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially: the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.”

“Saint” Augustine said theology is  “Rational discussion respecting the deity.”

A. H. Strong, theologian and creator of Strong’s Concordance, said that theology is “the Science of God and of the relations between God and the universe.”

Charles Ryrie, author of the Ryrie Study Bible, says theology is “thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way.”

Millard Erickson, a  Baptist theologian says theology is “the study or science of God.”

Theology is the study of God. The question comes in: what are we studying since we can’t see God?

This is where I’d have some problems with a couple of these definitions above, primarily Augustine’s.

Theology to Augustine is rational discussion about God. Another word for “rational discussion” would be “philosophy.” Some might even start talking about “Blowing Smoke,” or other such things.

Theology derails once we start basing it on our thoughts about God. I’m definitely not saying that theology is irrational. What I am saying is that our thoughts are not the basis for an understanding of God.

Revelation is our foundation for theology. We know things about God to the extent that God has told us things about Himself.

Augustine has a ton of philosophy in his theology, which makes sense based on his definition of theology.

I think Augustine had more philosophy than revelation in his conclusions.

To be frank: I do not care what your rational thoughts about God are. Nor do I care about Augustine’s rational thoughts.

What I care about is knowing God’s Word.

Theology then is bound to lead you into philosophy and speculation, things the Bible warns us not to get into (where “vain deceit” means “speculation”).

In my opinion, the Bible itself has warnings about theology (if theology means our “thinking about God”).

If one comes to theology with an underlying skepticism, one will be able to make more sense out of it, and will be able to avoid theological pitfalls that have been falling the church into pits for years.

Theology should give you the willies. It should make you physically feel weird. If you read Augustine and come away feeling just fine, you either didn’t actually understand him, or you don’t understand the Bible.

“Theology” is not a word in the Bible.

Pro Tip: When talking about biblical things, watch out for the constant use of a word that is not used in the Bible. Examine those words. I bet there’s a lot of excess baggage hanging on them.

The Overstated Doctrine of Sola Gratia

After critiquing Sola Scriptura and a little bit of Sola Fide last week, one of my faithful readers asked if I would talk about Sola Gratia.

I am always up for critiquing Reformed Theology, so sure! Let’s do it.

Sola Gratia, yet another Sola of the Reformation, also sounds wonderful. But any time you hear an absolute statement, think on it for a bit. Sola Gratia is an absolute statement. Let’s look at some definitions.

The Reformers maintained that the sinner is saved by the grace of God, His unmerited favor, alone. This doctrine means that nothing the sinner does commends him to the grace of God, and that the sinner does not cooperate with God in order to merit his salvation.

This is what Sola Gratia means, quoting Reformed Theology types themselves. These are not my words. Here’s another definition just to let you know I’m not making anything up.

Sola gratia is a Latin phrase that means “grace alone.” Sola gratia means that salvation from sin and death is provided by God’s unmerited favor alone, and we can do nothing to earn it.

As I’ve said before, Reformed Theology is a response to Catholic Theology. As much as Catholic Theology was wrong, combating it with an equally wrong theology does little good. Often, when combating a doctrine, we drive ourselves into the opposite ridiculous corner.

The Reformers wanted to eliminate penance, indulgences, and various other churchy things Catholics said to do to get forgiveness of sins. The Reformers moved as far away from this as possible (in theory anyway). Instead of correcting Catholic error, they eliminated works of any kind from the discussion by saying that salvation has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Certainly this will keep you from the dangers of works!

But it’s overstated, as most reactionary stances are.

Every time Sola Gratia is brought up, Ephesians 2 is brought up, with emphasis on verses 8-9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”

A simple reading lets you know salvation is not by grace alone because he just said, “for by grace are you saved through faith.” Grace and faith are both there. Which, of course, they admit: that’s why they also have Sola Fide.

And again, this is where I wonder if words mean anything to people anymore. If it’s by faith alone, how is it also by grace alone?

Calvinists even understand this tension and some eliminate faith from the equation (I saw RC Sproul recently say Reformed Theology is founded on the idea that regeneration comes before faith, which is contrary to many verses). If Reformed Theology folks were honest, they would believe in Sola Electio, by election alone. They think salvation is entirely up to God, you have no say, you’re either one of the lucky ones whom He picked, or you’re not. This doctrine is officially called “Monergism.”

Irresistible Grace is what Sola Gratia means. I think Irresistible Grace is a human invention, thus I think Sola Gratia is also a human invention. If you are not a Calvinist, you do not hold Sola Gratia. Sola Gratia is Calvinism.

Sola Gratia says we can’t earn salvation. I agree. Sola Gratia goes on to say we have no part in our salvation, because if we did, then we would have earned it. I disagree.

This is a false conclusion. Me exercising Faith is not a work that earns/merits salvation. It’s fulfilling a condition that God placed on us that we are equipped to respond to or deny.

“God gives grace to the humble” is said a couple of times in the Bible. God does not arbitrarily give some people grace and not others. He tells us who He gives grace to: the humble.

If God says we can humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, then we can. If He says He gives grace to people who do that, then He does.

We should then act accordingly.

Beware any theology that eliminates human responsibility. It is of the devil.

In our desires to celebrate Grace, which indeed deserves our celebration, let’s not deny Scripture to push it out of reasonableness.

Preferred Pronoun Confusion and God

One of the central tenets of Christianity is our aloofness to the idiocy of the world. We’re not to be conformed to the world. We’re to come out from among them and be separate. We’re to be on guard for the deceptions and lies of human philosophy.

If a person does this and has no “dog in the fight,” it’s fascinating to behold what sin makes people do. The irony of sin is inherent to itself–you desire to do what kills you–and the fruit of sin is equally ironic.

Here are two separate news items from our current sin-filled culture.

There is a new law in California about making people use transgender people’s preferred pronouns.

Among the unlawful actions are “willfully and repeatedly” failing to use a transgender person’s “preferred name or pronouns” after he or she is “clearly informed of the preferred name or pronouns.”

The law states that if provisions are violated, the violator could be punished by a fine “not to exceed one thousand dollars” or “by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed one year,” or both.

Near the same time that this comes out, we also have this news item:

The Church of England should stop using male pronouns when referring to God in order to counter the erroneous belief that the Almighty has a gender, the first female bishop to sit in the House of Lords has said.

Speaking before the event, the bishop raised the issue of God’s gender, saying: “We’re told that God created human beings in God’s likeness… If I am made in the image of God, then God is not to be seen as male. God is God.”

Instead of using either “He” or “She” to describe God, Bishop Treweek said she  prefers simply to use the word “God”.

Am I the only one who sees the irony?

Clearly the Bible, which Christians believe was authored by God, addresses God with male pronouns. Male pronouns, like “He” and “Him,” are God’s preferred pronouns. That’s how He wants to be addressed. He is our Father in heaven.

I thought we were supposed to use people’s preferred pronouns and that willfully not doing so was wrong? What gives?

I am so confused.

Yet I’m not.

Our world is insane.

If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, you will notice the insane everywhere. It becomes rather entertaining.

There is nothing new under the sun. The world has always had crazy people because sin makes people crazy.

We’re told that being rational is a result of having a materialistic, scientific view of the world.

The Bible tells us being wise/rational comes from the fear of God and listening to His Word, which is truth.

Stick with God’s Word, it abides forever. Humanity’s words are far sillier and far more temporal. Act accordingly.

7 Thoughts on the Numerous Recent Moral Failings of Public Figures

When Bill Clinton was elected president, I was cleaning floors in the Northwestern College cafeteria. My roommate’s girlfriend came in and told me, with tears in her eyes, that Clinton won.

“Oh,” I said, and went back mopping.

The Clinton years were a fascinating time to be a Christian. I will admit I got caught up in the hysteria. Monica Lewinski, rape allegations, “at least Nixon resigned” t-shirts, etc.

The moral outrage amongst Christians was astounding. Clinton was the devil incarnate.

Oh how far we’ve come, dear church.

“a new PRRI/Brookings poll says. In 2011, 30 percent of white evangelicals said that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” Now, 72 percent say so — a far bigger swing than other religious groups the poll studied.

Evangelicals no longer think moral failings are that big of a deal in our politicians. The “other side” apparently has no monopoly on moral failing, so our morals have adjusted accordingly.

The recent election is one possible reason white evangelicals don’t think moral failings are that big of a deal.

Hillary Clinton potentially has played into it, as well. Many Republicans find her unacceptable, and it may be that some dislike her so much that they have stretched their conceptions of who it’s OK to vote for.

Hillary Clinton carries with her all the baggage of her husband. Christians, as I recall, absolutely hated Bill Clinton. His wife is lumped in with him. We’ll vote for any louse as long as it’s not a Clinton louse.

Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Christians think they vote for the lesser of two evils. If we have to vote for someone who degrades women, so be it, at least he’s not for abortion. Although I understand the desire to protect the unborn, tying our boat to the dock of immoral, immature leadership seems tenuous.
  2. Voting typically makes Christians look stupid. Vote if you think it matters, but perhaps consider keeping it private, along with all your political views. A vote is putting a stamp of approval on a person. When the Church is seen doing that, the Church gets lumped in with the politician. This has never worked out well for the Church.
  3. Our government in America is by the people. We get what we deserve. Politicians are not going to morally reform America. They are not going to get rid of abortion. They will, in fact, continue to flush our morals down the toilet, because that’s what human nature wants to have happen. America needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If America came alive to the Gospel, politics would follow. It doesn’t work the other way. Never has; never will.
  4. Moral lapses in our leaders should be expected occasionally. Leaders are people. People are sinners. But that’s why the Bible says the people we follow should be tested and proved to have character. People make mistakes and grace should be shown to both sides of the political spectrum. Currently, however, we appear to be in a time where the majority of leaders are failing regularly. I’m not sure this is a new thing, or if it’s a result of invasive, incessant media coverage. I don’t know, but none of this makes it right.
  5. The typical way to deal with the moral failings of a person on “our side” is to bring up moral failings of a person on the “other side.” We’re in a battle now of ignoring moral failures while also comparing and contrasting them indefinitely. Moral failings are moral failings. Apologies don’t cut it in leadership. If a leader fails they’re supposed to step down. The fact that our leaders fail and don’t step down, but instead point out how other leaders do it too so leave me alone, is not a good sign.
  6. Men are disgusting. If there’s no other point to take out of the recent headlines, it’s that men are out of control animals. Good grief, men. Get a grip. It’s time to personally fight against pornography, sexual perversion in all forms, and dealing with dignity toward women. Women should also wear more clothing. But still, even if women walked around buck naked, grow up men! Get control.
  7. We are more loyal to our party than we are to our God. We’d, apparently, degrade moral standards for the sake of staying loyal to our guys. When we are in a spot like this, it’s time for an examination: Do we have our trust in God who established morals, or rulers who wield temporal power? The obvious answer here is troubling.

However, this is just a poll and polls are easily manipulated. Polls also show what the majority wants, and a majority of human nature is always going to side with sin.

Actual believers in Jesus Christ are not selling out godliness for the sake of political power. Followers of Jesus Christ are not entangling themselves with the affairs of this life. Jesus paid next to no attention to politics. What He did say is that we seek first the Kingdom of God, He’ll take care of the rest of what we need. He tells His people to let the heathen fight for power; the meek will inherit the earth in the end.

I do wish the Church were more interested in the better country to come than we are in this tottering republic. America has been good to me. I mean no disrespect. But this is not my home. I will not let go of godliness for a bowl of pottage, even if the bowl has the Stars and Stripes on it.

Do I Need Church to Know the Bible?

Everyone has beliefs that are swayed by others. The desire to conform is strong within us.

That being said, wouldn’t it be better to isolate ourselves with our Bibles? If we’re not around people, we won’t ever conform to people! Genius solution!

It would seem that way. The Bible is able to fully equip a person for every good work. We have the Holy Spirit within us who teaches and reminds us of God’s Word. We are each of us priests, not needing the intercession of another human.

All that being said, Ephesians 4 says God spiritually gifted people in the church so that we would be perfected, grown up into the perfect man Christ Jesus, and not tossed about with every wind of doctrine.

Ephesians 4 sure makes it sound like not going to church will keep you in a state of spiritual immaturity.

So, how can both be true?

In my pastoral experience, I know many people who decided they didn’t need church. They spent time alone thinking. And without exception, each of them got weirder and weirder theologically.

Once you actively decide to reject the Church (not the institution per se, but the spiritual body of Christ that edifies itself in love), you are going against something God has given for your benefit. You are resisting His gracious gifts toward you.

You will end up weird.

You will.

You’ll be tossed about by every wind of doctrine. We’re all influenced by stuff around us. We’re all susceptible to be blown in the wind. That’s why it’s vital to find a church with people who have the Spirit and then spend time with those people. They’ll help keep you going the right way.

At the same time, you should spend plenty of time with yourself, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible. How will you be able to identify spiritual people if you don’t know who the Spirit is or what He says?

We’ve been given many things to help our minds be transformed. Church is one of those things. It’s an important thing, so important Paul says if you’re not in it, you’ll be immature.

You must be in fellowship with Spirit-filled believers. Allowing them to come along side you, help you, warn you, comfort you. Your faith will flourish in a good church.

But showing up to church is not the entirety. You have to do your part in the Body to benefit from being in the Body, not just warming a chair in a different building on Sunday mornings.

The Church has a role and you have a role. Your maturity level is not entirely dependent upon your church! You are the main player in your own maturation. Use the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s Body, the Church.

You’ve been given much. To whom much is given, much is required. Act accordingly.

Definitions of Sola Scriptura Undermine Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura, the idea that the Bible is our sole source for spiritual truth, is a fine idea, not actually applied by anyone ever.

We should uphold Sola Scriptura as our aim, yet honestly admit that much of our doctrine is based on other stuff.

In fact, many who hold to Sola Scriptura have never reada the whola thinga. How, pray tell, do you claim to base all your doctrine on a book you’ve never read, let alone endeavored to understand?

“My doctrine is based on the Bible,” say all manner of people who disagree with each other on basic doctrines.

How can this be true? Is the Bible this open for interpretation? Is it that confusing? Or are people using other things to decide what they believe?

Peter does say the scriptures contain many things hard to be understood. Above that, people twist them all out of proportion. (You can read Peter’s take on that here.)

The Bible does need to be interpreted, but the authors had one intent in mind and it would serve us well to discover that.

But that’s hard. So we fall back on other authorities while still maintaining the veneer that we hold Sola Scriptura.

Check out these definitions of Sola Scriptura that come right out and say Sola Scriptura isn’t actually a thing other than in word.

By Sola Scriptura Protestants mean that Scripture alone is the primary and absolute source for all doctrine and practice (faith and morals).

There is one word in there that shoots this whole definition to pieces. Did you catch it? The word is “primary.” Primary implies secondary. Primary means there are other sources. It just does. Words mean things. Something cannot be primary and absolute at the same time. They cancel each other out. So, this is either an incredibly accurate definition of Sola Scriptura based on practice, or it’s bad writing.

Get a load of this definition I saw. This one cracked me up

For the Reformers, “Scripture alone” did not mean “Scripture all by itself.” Rather, Scripture was “alone” as the only unquestionable religious authority, not the only religious authority.

Oh, that’s too much, you guys are killing me. Sola doesn’t mean Sola. Again this is either a really honest definition recognizing reality, or it’s bad writing. I think it’s actually being honest. They know Sola Scriptura is just words without meaning, because they just denied the meaning with their words.

Again, Sola Scriptura is a nice idea, but no one does it. There are some who at least admit as much.

We don’t like Sola Scriptura because it puts the Bible in the hands of the reader, which is out of our control, and who knows what they will come up with.

If you let people find out what the Bible says, they’ll probably disagree with you and cause problems. So it’s best to leave the door open for other authorities so you can smash those who veer out of the way. Welcome to Church History.

Sola Scriptura: it’s a nice idea that no one does. Feel free to be the first.