I Am Pro-Candle

“I object to a God who can be understood.” [blogger 1]

“We don’t hold to inerrancy because we believe that it answers the wrong question in reference to the Scriptures….not because we believe the Bible is filled with errors.” [blogger 2]


The little vein on the right side of my temple throbs when I read statements like this. Am I a dinosaur? Am I missing something? Don’t get me wrong. I am all for:

Creativity • Authenticity • Change • Community • Candles • Missional[ity]–had to keep a noun there–and all the other accouterments of the Emerging Church.

I am a fan, I am a supporter, I am an advocate of the PRACTICES that the emerging church is bringing into the body of Christ. I want them in my church, as long as they will serve our mission to each particular demographic.

For the record, I am “pro-candle.” We even have a bunch of them at our church! Lit even!candles.jpg

In fact, we have our own emerging church within our church: it’s called The Well, and it’s great. It’s part of a larger ministry called The Refuge, and full of awesome friends: Todd, Deborah, David, Peter, Lauren, Mitchell, Marshall, Scott, Lindsey, Nate… and lots of others.


If you aren’t up to speed on the emerging church:

  • Here is a synopsis of the movement from Wikipedia:
    • The “emerging church conversation” is a controversial[1], 21st century Christian movement whose participants seek to engage postmodern people, especially the unchurched… [more]
  • Here is a critique (with which I agree) of the movement by D.A. Carson.

Like I said, I’m all for the practices of the emerging church, as long as they help accomplish the Great Commission. But what makes my temple throb and my eye twitch is some (not all) of its theology. Yes, I know that the the emergent movement is not supposed to be a theological movement. It’s a “CONVERSATION” or a “DIALOGUE.” It’s about JESUS, not theology.

But I don’t buy that dichotomy. The letters J-E-S-U-S are placeholders for a concept. What is the concept that comes to your mind when you hear the word spelled J-E-S-U-S? Ummm, let’s see. A person. Yes. A man. Yes. A man who lived in Nazareth and environs some 2,000 years ago. Yes. Yes. A man who was born of a virgin, and died a substitutionary, sacrificial death. A man who was also truly God, as is the Father and the Spirit… And truly human as you and I, sin excepted. Now you’re getting doctrinal on me.

Yes. I must. Because what comes to my mind when I think about Jesus is NOT what comes to a Mormon’s mind. Or a Muslim’s mind. Or a materialist’s mind. So even though we might all SAY we love JESUS, our meanings are radically different to the point of absurdity. And even though we might say that we are doing the works of Jesus, our delineation of those works is radically different from the next guy’s.

jesus2.jpg Same with God: when I say “GOD,” what comes to your mind is probably very different from what comes to the mind of an animist in the middle of the rain forest.

Therefore we need to clarify what we mean by G-O-D. This clarification process is called theology.

So, to blogger #1 who writes that you “object to a God who can be understood,” I lovingly say:

  1. I enjoy reading your blog, and I enjoy interacting with you. You are a talented writer, and I’m sure a devoted follower of Jesus.
  2. I agree with your concern that some Christians think they have God all figured out. Or that we have all the answers. You are right: a finite mind cannot understand an infinite God (assuming you believe God is infinite). But…
  3. “Just because we cannot understand God comprehensively does not mean we cannot understand him correctly.” As I blogged to you, God delights when we understand him. This understanding is called Theology. How can you object to that in which God delights?
    • “But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:24, NKJV.

And to Blogger #2 who writes that emerging churches don’t believe in inerrancy “because we believe that it answers the wrong question in reference to the Scriptures….not because we believe the Bible is filled with errors” I lovingly say:

  1. I appreciate your attempt to reframe the discussion of the nature of Scriptures. I have no doubt that it is on some level helpful.
  2. But, I have a question: Where are the errors in Scripture? That is my question, because I want to know what parts to trust and what parts not to trust. And because many, many people today assert that there ARE errors in Scripture–do you have an answer for them?
    • Example: many people, convinced by the daVinci code, believe that the Bible is in error when it affirms the divinity of Jesus. Who’s right? How do you know?
  3. I know you deny that emerging church leaders think the Bible is full of errors. I am glad about that. But are there any errors? I’d really like to know, so I can avoid those parts.
  4. So, one more question: Who left it to the “emerging church” theologians to decide that certain questions are “the wrong questions”? Aren’t all questions right questions? I figured that the emerging church would be the first to embrace any line of questioning. And since some of them lead us down a path to the wonderful doctrine of innerancy, why must you invalidate a whole line of questioning?
  • “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;” Psalms 19:7, NKJV.

Does a guy like me get to be part of the “emerging conversation?”

[This t-shirt some other church came up with makes me laugh:]



25 thoughts on “I Am Pro-Candle

  1. Heavy-eeee! From the “know-it-alls too big for their britches” to the “child-like faith” ones, may I be “simple” with His wisdom!! Today was too-much-information for me. Thanks for having the courage and fortitude to taking on this topic, Dr. G!

  2. I appreciate the perspective…

    …and I don’t think you are promoting a “god-in-a-box” pet that can be carried around in our pockets…

    however, I don’t think you fully understand what you are critiqing.

    Jesus constantly redirected the questions people asked Him, precisely because these questions were the “wrong” questions. Both wrong in the sense that there were hidden agendas, (Matthew 22) and in the sense that there were false assumptions (albeit honestly held). (John 9)

    You do battle with straw men when you quote “I object to a God who is understood;” the knowledge of God that we are exhorted to seek is quite simply personal knowledge. It is this that was meant by that statement: not that God is unknowable, but that God is incomprehensible (and the semantical error was corrected). God is not a formula to be solved, and to speak of Him in such terms is to admit that one doesn’t know Him.

    It is this that causes people to make statements denying the importance of the innerancy of Scripture or the doctrinal definitions of God. I do not deny the innerancy of Scripture, but I would be the first to point out that much that passes for “apologetics” misses the point. God doesn’t want us to believe in Him (or His Bible) the way we believe a textbook with information about Guatemalan geography. He wants us to believe in Him the way a climber believes in her carabiner, or the way a professional musician believes in his voice, or (better yet) the way lovers believe in each other, or the way a small child believes in His Father…

    So too, God is really unconcerned that we grow in that kind of understanding and knowledge of Him. Even the demons can recite “God is immutable, omnipresent, and incorporeal.” God could care less. God wants us to run to Him, He wants us to know Him the way my children know me.

    It is this that “emergent” folks are trying to get at.

    To put it another way, if you asked what my wife was like and I responded with, “well, she has two arms and two legs.” You would think I was a little slow and ask for more detail, when I responded again with, “oh, she is covered with skin, and has hair growing out the top of her head.” You would think I had either misunderstood the question, or simply had never met my own wife. It is this type of understanding that was objected to…

  3. Steve,
    Thanks for commenting. I’m honored. There’s an old saying, “I agree with you in what you affirm, and disagree in what you deny.”

    That’s how I feel about so much (not all) of the emerging church movement.

    What it affirms: the mystery of God, the imperfection of our knowledge of him, our limitations in interpreting Scripture, etc. With these things I’m in hearty agreement.

    What it denies (at least in language/semantics, and often in hyperbole): the knowability of God, some of the historic, orthodox positions on Christology (deity + humanity), salvation by faith in Christ, particularism, the value of proclamational evangelism, etc. With these emerging church positions, I am either completely missing the point being made (quite possible), or in total disagreement.

    For example, you say that God doesn’t want us to believe in him like we would believe info in a textbook on Guatemalan geography… but rather the way a climber would believe in a carabiner.

    You affirm something, and I agree with that: that we are to believe in God the way a climber believes in a carabiner: a big Amen from me, and thanks for the excellent and powerful illustration which I will definitely use!

    But also deny something, and with that I disagree: you say, “God doesn’t want” which denies something. What? “us to believe in him like info in a textbook…”

    Yes he does. That kind of belief (A = mental assent) is foundational to the other kind (B = trust or confidence). In the language of theology, A is passive faith, or the object of faith, while B is active faith or the act of faith. BOTH are essential. You do not need to make the case for active faith by undercutting the case for passive faith. You can’t trust a God you don’t know (know factually, doctrinally, theologically–even if you don’t know the theological terms–there must be a truth base).

    God wants us to believe in him BOTH ways. The superior, deeper, ultimate way is B… but you can’t get there without A. Just as a climber can’t properly attach a caribiner without proper instruction (a role of the discipling community). I’m not about to trust a caribiner any time soon, because I don’t know how the heck to use one, much less how to spell it. Give me a little briefing, and I’m good to go.

    I will grant that a number of Christians spend all their time in A, and rarely get to B, but that doesn’t invalidate A. In fact, it calls for even more teaching, if you ask me, to get us off our buts.

    So, I agree with you in what you affirm, but not in what you deny.

    And this is the case for me so frequently in the emergent conversation. Instead of “not this but that” I’d prefer “both-and”.

    I am also saddened by some of the unintentional misrepresentation that goes on. Perhaps (thought I’m not sure) I see some of that in your second sentence, which is a kind affirmation of my position (thank you): “I don’t think you are promoting a “god-in-a-box” pet that can be carried around in our pockets…”

    While I appreciate the affirmation, and I’m quite hopeful that I’m not, and I’m glad you see it that way, I’m a bit saddened by the implication of it. I’ve never met anyone who does promote such a god. So does that mean that non- or pre- or un-emerged Jesus-followers promote such a limited God? That’s the natural (and I’m sure unintentional) implication of your kindly-intentioned remark, and that grieves me, because I have never heard any reputable church or leader or Christian expound such a God. Never. Even among disreputable Christians. Though oftentimes many Christians may approach God that way, they do so without the knowledge and support of their churches—though my experience may be limited on this point, and I may have been exceptionally blessed by the company God has given me.

    As to innerrancy, etc., perhaps it is true that “much that passes for apologetics does indeed miss the point”, but somehow books like The Case for Christ, and its successors have hit some kind of point with countless readers… so somebody’s asking those questions. Why not be thankful for that? Christ is preached. I rejoice.

    I have no doubt that you likewise rejoice.

    I enjoy the dialogue. I strengthens me. Please keep it coming.

  4. Oh dear, I hope I’m attributingly this dimly remembered quote to the right person. Helmut Thielike called theology “a praise song of ideas.”

    We “see through a glass darkly,” but if I focus my mirror on God and you do the same and we reflect Him together, we’ll see more clearly and reflect His love to our world.


  5. Just a couple of points…

    First, you seem to place me in the “postmodern/emergent” camp. This may color the way you read my comments. Now I firmly admit that my inherent dislike of title and label is a postmodern trait, yet, still I wouldn’t self-identify as a postmodern/emergent Christian. Know that I hope to be well within the bounds of orthodoxy as defined by the community of faithful for the past 2,000 years in cultures as diverse as 8th century Xi’an, 1st century Antioch, 21st century Nairobi, and 19th century Buffalo, and in denominations ranging from Roman Catholicism, to Assemblies of God, to the Southern Baptist, to the Methodist, to the Vineyard, to the Orthodox. I too am in disagreement with tendencies to deny all knowledge as inherently impossible. My lenses for understanding Jesus are very rarely directly influenced by postmodern sources, but more often by certain USC philosophy professors… (just to clue you in to where I am coming from)

    Dallas Willard is about as far from the postmodern frame of mind as you can get (just read some of his academic papers), and it is upon reflecting on some of his words that I see much of popular western theology as “taming” God. He is the one who talks of “gospels of sin management” whereby God is turned into an assurance of “pie-in-the-sky” and actually denied access to our present reality. This is not to say that this is intentionally done. I don’t believe anyone sets out with a goal of crafting an understanding of God that denies who He is. But the results are indisputable: most American Christians are truly commited to the gospel they have heard, yet most American Christians have little of salvation in their lives. The problem lies in the gospel we preach, which focuses on doctrinal statements to be memorized instead of a God who wants to invade our lives. (This is the gospel that Jesus preached – Mark 1:14-15)

    So my second point is that many of us Christians do in fact create a system of seeing, living, being, doing, and understanding that has as its effect the banishment of God from the interaction with us that He so desperately wants. We can “carry Him around” as it were in our “pockets.” We can pull Him out and talk to people about how important He is, because “someday we will die,” and then it will somehow (we don’t quite understand this part) be important that we carried Him with us all those years. But there is absolutely no point at which God is given access to us, and so as a natural consequence, we also have denied ourselves any access to God…

    And this brings my third point, ‘category A’ knowledge v. ‘category B’ knowledge; I agree that category A is implied and inherent within category B. The ‘point’ is category B knowledge (which we agree on), so the only real question that seems to be separating us on this issue is, “Should we emphasize category A knowledge as an aid to category B knowledge?”

    Category A is inherent in category B; this, however, is not the same thing as saying that category A must preceed category B, or even that category A must be present for category B to be fully present. I take heart from the stories of scripture… God has never really been concerned with correcting our factual inconsistencies, but rather with being with us, it is His ultimate desire. (Revelation 21:1-4)

    “when I say “GOD,” what comes to your mind is probably very different from what comes to the mind of an animist in the middle of the rain forest.” I don’t think God really cares to ‘correct’ the animist, but rather to meet with her… The story of Naaman (2 Kings 5) is a perfect example of this…

    …Naaman asks God to ignore His idolatry, and God says, “don’t worry about it Naaman.” All God is concerned with is that Naaman has experienced God loving power and now his heart is turned toward Him, everything else will be taken care of.

    I will go to my grave emphasizing a surrendered heart, and effectively ignoring the ‘details.’ If I seek to know my wife as a person, to understand her cares and passions, to ease her fears and doubts, to encourage her in purity and compassion, I cannot help but notice along the way that she has two arms and two legs, skin and hair. Perhaps, were I blind, I would never know the color of her hair, this would not prohibit my knowing her.

    And so, the animist, when she meets God, and she turns toward Him, instead of away, will be learning about His cares and passions, His ways and purposes, and in the process will not be able to miss the details. And even if, like the blind husband, she remains ignorant of certain details, she will have what matters, and “all other things will be added” to her. If faith like a child is required for salvation, how is it possible that the intellect of a mensa member be also required?

    The way God always works is to enter into the world of the blind man, to work within the confusion, and to reveal Himself in the simple ways of the human heart. The transcendent revealed in the immanent. The Lord of Glory, lying in a feeding trough. It is exactly God’s way to reveal Himself (category B knowledge), in the lives of those who’s understanding of Him (category A knowledge) is completely wrong. (Mark 8:33) Dallas Willard said something to the effect of, “if you think God only blesses those with a proper understanding of Him and His ways, then you have absolutely no knowledge of what God has done in your life.”

    Finally, Jesus directed us to “take, eat;” not to take and understand. (Matthew 26:26) Precisely because in eating we are gaining what is central, and in gaining what is central, we will quite naturally also gain whatever else is needful. I am sure you are aware of people in your midst who, in spite of the tremendous (over)abundance of category A knowledge that we have are missing God from their lives. We are addressing exactly that here in Buffalo. People know the statement, “God is good.” They just don’t buy it because they have never actually “taken” and “eaten.” They have spent too much time trying to ‘take and understand,’ because that is what they were exhorted to do…

    For these reasons, I will spend all of my eneregy helping people to “eat,” and let the “understanding” come of its own accord.

    Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.
    Francis Bacon

    Thank you, brother, for helping me to become an “exact man!”

  6. Well, I had a monster comment all written out and then accidentally erased it (probably for the benefit of all who would have had to read it!!), but here is the short version…

    1) I really am not a “postmodern/emergent” Christian. I have had some thought provoking illuminations as a result of McLaren’s writings, but I don’t buy a lot of what the emergent church is selling (or rather, what they are throwing out). My goal is to be at the center, not at the fringe, of what the historical, global church has lived for. I have been much more deeply influenced by Willard who, if you read his academic works, is quite the opposite of a postmodern thinker.

    2) While I don’t think it is a declared goal, I do believe that many well-meaning people do indeed place God inside of a box. Whenever we turn God into simply a means to removing our guilty consciences, that is exactly what we are doing. God doesn’t want to remove our guilt, He wants to participate in our lives, and share His with us. Many of us have been taught (and taught others) to believe in God in such a way that our belief actually prevents God from having access to our lives; this was my own spirituality for much of my life. In fact, I don’t think it is non-believers who promote this (as you asked) but I do think that non-beleivers often perceive this to be what WE are promoting… and that deeply saddens me. This is what I mean by a “pet” god…

    3) The main point… It seems that we both agree that category A knowledge is of a piece with category B knowlege. The point in question is method.

    I don’t believe category A is required to have category B. The animist can have a confused picture of God, and still meet Him. (In fact, if we believe that God only meets with those who already have Him figured out, then we really don’t understand what He has done for us!) In meeting God, the confusion will become clear. However, the opposite is not true. In becoming precise, we will not necessarily meet God. No matter how many times we go over our ledger, and no matter how accurate we are in our accounting, we will never earn anything if we don’t go to work!

    No matter how much detail I give you about my friend Sam, you will never get to know him until you actually engage in a relationship with him… and once you enter into that relationship (even if you had no details at all about him at first) you would know all sorts of details about him.

    It is exactly how we see God revealing Himself throughout the lives of the Biblical characters. Naaman recieves God’s blessing, in spite of his request that God overlook his willful idolatry, the disciples spend years with Jesus before they have even a rudimentary understanding of the “details.” Peter even more so, gets it (category B) when he makes the good confession, and yet has no idea what is going on (category A) when he rebukes Jesus thirty seconds later. Jesus doesn’t use this opportunity to teach about substitutionary atonement, but rather calls His disciples to give up their lives, and to take His life instead.

    “You can’t trust a God you don’t know (know factually, doctrinally, theologically–even if you don’t know the theological terms–there must be a truth base).” …and yet isn’t this exactly what we see recorded in the Bible? People learning to trust God without any (and more often with a perverted) doctinal understanding of who He is? The doctrine is birthed in the experience, (and can even be seen as a shorthand for the combined experiences of the faithful) not the other way around…

    We had a saying in our church, that many truths are “caught, not taught.” This alludes to God’s “incarnational” method of transmitting the divine life (salvation) to us.

    So ultimately I disagree with the idea that, “that kind of belief (A = mental assent) is foundational to the other kind (B = trust or confidence).” I believe it is certainly implied and inherent, but also incidental. I believe this to be so based on my understanding of human nature, and even more so because of the methods I see God (and especially God in human form) employing to reveal Himself to human beings…

    This doesn’t mean that I have no value for teaching, or even knowledge. It is just that I see much of our focus being on the trivial. We should definitely be teaching people how to “use the carabiner,” but I think we have neglected this in favor of teaching people “how a carabiner is manufactured, what materials are used, etc.” Convincing people that carabiners are trustworthy could take a couple of hours of lecture, or thirty seconds of demonstration. The goal should always be people who will “use” the carabiner! The danger of elongated instruction is people who think they are experienced climbers who have never stepped outside the classroom…

    To take this out of the metaphorical…
    …I see people with an overabundance of factual knowledge of God, who are unable to trust Him with the simplest things. I am sure you are aware of the percentage of self-identifying Christians who tithe. We are willing to argue that the Bible is historically accurate, but we aren’t willing to do what it says. We don’t need any more of category A.

  7. PS…

    “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man”

    Sir Francis Bacon

    Thank you, brother, for helping me to be exact!

  8. Thanks for comin’ back at me, Steve. If that’s the short version, then you weren’t kidding about monster! As always very thought provoking stuff.

    Let me quote you, and then comment:

    YOUR STATEMENT: “The animist can have a confused picture of God, and still meet Him. (In fact, if we believe that God only meets with those who already have Him figured out, then we really don’t understand what He has done for us!) In meeting God, the confusion will become clear.”

    MY COMMENT: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”” Romans 10:14, 15, NKJV.

    An animist can meet with God in a limited way thru natural revelation (Rom 1)… but you can’t believe without first hearing. Paul said it first, not me.

    The more we interact, the less twitchy my eye gets. Thanks!

  9. You bring out the English major in me. Paul didn’t “say” it; he asked it. A rhetorical question, granted. While it may be possible for the animist to come to know God, we’re clearly not to sit around waiting for that to happen.

  10. Yikes! An English teacher reading my blog! Poor, poor soul. I apologize in advance for any grammatical pain I may cause.

    Paul’s rhetorical questions were indeed statements. He was making a point. And his point, as I read it, did not allow that “it may be possible for the animist to come to know God” without the message/truth/doctrine of the gospel. He is explicitly denying this possibility. The gospel MUST be communicated to our animist friend or that friend can’t be saved: no hearing, no believing. No believing, no calling. No calling, no salvation.

    Even the feet–the ugliest part of many California sandal-wearers–is beautiful if those feet “preach [herald/prolaim] the gospel of peace.”

    Grammer are done me goodly.

  11. I think I haven’t been as clear as I should have been about this…

    …I definately believe that we must “love God with all of our mind.” This is not peripheral…

    I don’t think we can have a completely “blind” faith. I am not arguing for an understanding of God that obliterates doctrine, I am arguing against teaching people doctrine in the hopes that this will transmogrify (I love Calvin and Hobbes!) into a vibrant life of obedience to, and abundance from, God. Doctrine is important, but it must be seen for what it is, a description of the Church’s experiences with God.

    This really is about which method brings about the desired outcome. We both desire to see people come to trust God. When I say that an animist can meet with God in spite of their confusion, I am in no way implying that they will be able to remain in their confusion! What I am saying is, that if we argue with the animist, trying to convince them that our doctrines are correct, and theirs are not; we have become like the instructor in the classroom trying to convince the initiates that a carabiner really can hold that much weight. If instead we would place all of our weight upon the carabiner, demostrating its “trustworthiness,” and then invite others to “taste and see;” we will see the desired outcome realized.

    If we will live our lives as if we really did trust God (offering to help those who harm us, treating all of our resources as God’s, recognizing the divine image in every human, etc.), instead of arguing that He is trustworthy, and then invite others to try trusting God as well, and see if He “holds their weight;” then we will find that the “animists” are convinced that God is trustworthy. (Not because our arguments have swayed them, but rather because they have trusted God and found Him faithful.) Such a person will face boiling oil, roaring lions, scimitars, electric shocks, imprisonment, and worse; and will do it with joy.

    Ultimately (in spite of all of my words) the real reason I believe that we must teach others “incarnationally” is not because I think it rational, defensible, or even effective; but because it is the way I see Jesus teaching…

    Paul may have said we must proclaim the Gospel in order for people to come to relate with God, but I think he had something other than classroom instruction in mind (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). The entire second chapter of this letter can be seen as showing how category A knowledge follows category B, and not vice versa.

    PS if you wanna stir up a hornets nest… lets define this “preach the gospel of peace”

  12. Well, Paul wrote earlier in the same letter: “…since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen. being understood by what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)

    One more verse, John 7:17: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

    I suspect we could take great pains to define the irreducible minimum that a person must know in order to believe–only to discover that by God’s grace someone has come to faith knowing less.

    In John 9, the man Jesus healed declares firmly, “One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see.” (v. 25) When Jesus catches up with him later, He adds some content to the man’s faith–that Jesus is the Son of Man.

  13. Hi Janet,
    Paul’s statement about creation displaying the power nature of God is called “natural revelation.” Nature teaches us some things about God. In chapter one, just enough to feel guilty and to know that we need a Savior. That Savior is supplied by God who is also loving. Chapter 10 requires that we hear of him and believe.
    The prerequisite of John 7:17 is that we actually have Jesus’ teaching.
    The blind man Jesus healed had the same doctrinal base as every other Jew: the abundant prophecies and typology of Christ, which all came to fruition in him.
    So Peter declared, there is salvation in no other name [person/identity] than Jesus and that we “must” be saved–it’s not optional.

  14. Bill, Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my last post. I think I sort of veered off topic, and you stayed on. What I wanted to show with the blind man Jesus healed is that though I take his “One thing I do know. . . .” as a definitive, unassailable confession of faith, Jesus wants him to know more.

    I laugh at the t-shirt, too–and at the “perfect pastor and his flawless family.”

  15. Interesting conversation. May I chime in?

    Too bad there are not two different words in English for “to know.” There are in Spanish: “Ser” = head knowledge. “Conoser” = personal acquaintance.

    As to the irreducible minimum for salvation, a Biblical character that comes to mind is the tax collector in the temple: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Seven words! Jesus said that man went home justified. What did he know of the Gospel? God’s holiness. His own unworthiness and sinfulness. And evidently (by inplication) God’s grace. And although, yes, he would have to have been justified by Christ’s atonement, how much of that did he understand at the time?

    The application is a bit tricky, though. Christ’s sacrifice had not yet been made. So the Old Testament system must still have come into play in some way. But Acts 17:30 says, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.”

    I’m not attempting to drive home a viewpoint, here, but would be interested in your comments. The issue is too important to foul up. I want to get it right.

  16. Hi Ted,
    Excellent comment. The tax collector you mention knew God’s grace more “than by implication.” He knew it explicitly: “Lord, be merciful…” He pleaded for mercy, not “fairness” or justice. You ask, how much of Christ’s atonement would he have understood? QUITE A LOT. He was a Jew, and the whole system of worship focused like a laser beam on JESUS CHRIST and HIM CRUCIFIED. Didn’t Jesus rebuke the disciples on the Road to Emmaus for not getting it yet?

    “Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Luke 24:25-27, NKJV.

    The data, the doctrine, the teaching, the facts, the “irreducible minimum” was there. It was endemic within Judaism. They knew all about atonement. Today, we tend to minimize their knowledge. Jews were VERY SOPHISTICATED THEOLOGICALLY, even the average, blue-collar Jew. And Jesus held high expectations of what they could and did understand. Who are we to make them a bunch of primitive dolts?

    I argue that the tax collector knew all that Jesus spoke about in Luke 24:25-27. And that was the basis of his appeal for mercy. And that is the gospel.

  17. So what does that do for those who truly are primitive dolts? I hope they have a special place in limbo, if not purgatory… (tongue in cheek)

    My basic test involves my Granny. She made it to about 5th or 6th grade, reads the Bible constantly, but can’t understand anything she reads. She believes whatever she is told by anyone who will smile at her while they are talking. If you spent a couple of hours with her asking her really pointed questions about what she believes, you would find that she is completely incapable of distinguishing between the doctrines of any of the orthodox denominations and any of the heresies. No matter how much time you spent with her, you couldn’t explain to her (in a way that she could comprehend) the difference in the Christology of, say, the Greek Orthodox, the Southern Baptist, the Latter Day Saints, the Jehovah’s Witness, and the Branch Davidians…

    …don’t get me wrong, she would agree with whatever you told her, and simultaneously agree with her next-door-neighbor, the JW.

    The one thing she knows for sure…

    …she will cry at the drop of the hat when she talks about her love for Jesus.

    So the basics of the granny test bring me to the conclusion that, if “faith like a child” is required, certainly the intellect of a child won’t be a prohibition, for entrance into God’s Kingdom.

    I just cannot bring myself to believe that knowledge (category A) is required to know (category B) God.

    None of this, to me, means that (category A) knowledge is unimportant, only that it is not central, I have a deep love of knowledge, and border on covetousness when it comes to books. I just can’t in good conscience raise the bar higher (lower?!!!!??!!!!!) for people than Jesus seemed to. Even in His interactions with gentiles (to adress the point above) Jesus never seems to place an emphasis on understanding, but rather on placing our trust/confidence/faith in God to whatever degree we already do have understanding…

  18. Wow, I guess I’m a little late.

    Bill, I would love to hear how Paul’s getting “saved” fits into your “correct intellectual doctrine” theology. It would be my understanding that, although Paul had a tremendous amount of doctrine, his understanding of that doctrine was completely wrong until the person of Christ confronted him. Jesus didn’t show up with a laundry list of doctrines, but arrived in power, as he still does to many non-western believers (Many Muslims tell of stories where Jesus reveals himself in visions or dreams & they follow him as a result). Too, we must read into all of Paul’s theology the fact that he knew God as “Abba,” like the revolutionary Rabbi Jesus; therefore, intimacy with God is implied in all of Paul’s theology, & this from an encounter with Yeshua, not sound doctrine. No doubt his discipleship process with the early church helped his doctrine to become more correct; however, his starting point (as with the other apostles?) was meeting & obeying/believing Jesus. I would argue that his sound system of belief (including Romans 10) came as a result of his religious experience: B resulted in A. (John 8) “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What or who is the truth?

    Modern Westerners are unique in history as a culture whose spiritual life is only one aspect of their existence, whereas most cultures previous to us (including Jesus’ & Paul’s) were highly spiritual. Unlike our culture, most people group’s existence & daily life revolved around the spiritual (I believe India’s culture resembles 1st century Palestine better than ours). Post-Enlightenment Westerners are unique in that they separate their spiritual life from their daily life; science clarifies more than God does. For example, what caused the resent great tsunami? Ask a Westerner…an underground earthquake. Ask someone in India…the god’s were angry. We are a culture of facts & intellect; we are children of the Enlightenment, while God being the cause of all things shaped Paul’s worldview. (Ephesians 5:6) “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” We would say, “you came into contact with germs, or a freak hurricane hit your ill placed house, sorry.” Our answers are intellectual & factual; this thinking invades our viewpoint of theology too. For example, faith becomes something that must be intellectually understood, not just an aspect of our relationship with Christ where we rest upon him without the all answers.

    Westerners have the ability to separate our intellectual ideas from our practice of those ideas. For example, 83% of Americans are Christian, but 8 out of 10 people wouldn’t be considered Christ-like. Here’s a little experiment you could try at church: Find out what percentage of your congregation knows the Great Commandment (the know rightly—A); than find out what percentage of you congregation knows the names of their neighbors (B); than find out what percentage of your congregation has intentionally shared the love of Christ (anything remotely Christian actually—even a tract!(B’)) & you’ll see what I mean. The church should know what to do, but we don’t actually practice what we confess to believe, So, what would be your measuring stick for success? Would you be satisfied if 80% of your church knew what to do if only 10% practiced that belief? We, as a culture, think knowing the right answers is akin to Christ-likeness, but Paul’s theology was a clarification of the experiential, which he lived (see 1 Cor. 11:1). Most Christians know the right answers; nonetheless, their actions reveal their beliefs. Most Christians could do well at Christian Trivial Pursuit. Likewise, Paul would have done great at Pharisee Jeopardy, but man, created in God’s image is not all intellect; he is soul, mind, & heart. Out of those three, which is highest on the modern’s scale?

    Jesus was not an Enlightenment man, a Protestant, or Westerner. Too. God’s greatest gift to mankind was not Luther or the Reformation, but a very spiritual Jewish sect whose Rabbi was Jesus. Therefore, to have a correct hermeneutic we must own up to our modern/post-modern intellectual bias where orthodoxy apart from orthopraxy is considered adequate, which is, I think from Paul’s (the early church) poured out example of a Christ filled-life, sacrilege. If your argument is that doctrine (via the intellect) is the best way to communicate the gospel to our intellectually informational itching culture than I would in some ways agree, the mind must be dealt with. If you are saying that the New Testament communicates doctrine (A) as the primary way of knowing God (BA or AB) through Jesus, than I disagree with you. Is this a both/and issue?

    Do you have correct doctrine?

  19. Guys, guys…
    Shorten the comments! This isn’t my full time job! 🙂
    Sean: nobody I know considers “orthodoxy apart from orthopraxy” “adequate” so you’re fighting a straw man.
    Paul had massive amounts of doctrine before he met Jesus. The Jesus encounter gave him the center he had always looked for (and should have known, if the conversation on the Road to Emmaus means anything). His rapid spiritual growth was based on a lifetime of studies (he was highly EDUCATED Pharisee)… and when he met Jesus, it all came together as it was meant to.
    And it was this EDUCATED man who turned the world upside down as a missionary.
    Quit being against doctrine! The word of God is profitable for DOCTRINE! Is doctrine everything? No. Is it something? Absolutely. It’s wonderful and it’s life changing, and it grieves me and makes me sad and very troubled that I have to defend it.

  20. It’s occured to me lately that we center our devotional expectation and (hopefully) practice [“Read your Bible, pray every day if you want to grow”] in something that was not available to most Christians for about 2/3 of Christendom. Good old St. Gutenberg! Where would we be without him? (Come to think of it, I’m not dependent on “type” at the moment!)

    My mental picture of the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether the traveling preachers were telling the truth involves hefty black study Bibles pored over at home. Somehow, I don’t think that’s the way it really was.

  21. Paul didn’t turn the world upside down, the early church did. Acts 4:13 “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” No doubt you should reference their Jewish upbringing as being “schooled;” however, the fact remains that the Pharisees did not consider it enough. Too, Paul’s doctrine was an apologetic for his relationship with Christ: Eph. 3:2-3 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation…” Where does Paul say his relationship with Jesus came as a result of hearing correct doctrine? Stephen’s speech is used by us all as “correct,” but Paul didn’t get it through this.

    Who’s against doctrine? I am not against it. If you were to post, “doctrine is nothing & religious experience is everything” I would disagree with you demonstrating Biblically how doctrine is important. Eph. 4 “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” I have argued against many Pentecostals, Vineyard people even. Doctrine is important; yet the person of Christ is central. You’ll say, “how do I know the Christ I worship?” We agree doctrine is important.

    What I think is being argued is that Modern Evangelicals have emphasized right thinking (“Do you know the answers to these questions) over right belief (belief demonstrated through actions—see Bonhoeffer “Only those who obey believe…”) Too, Modern Evangelicals think knowing about Jesus is the same as knowing Jesus, which is unbiblical; Eph. 4:21 21 “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him.” Not about him, but from him. I think we are arguing for a more biblical approach to growing people in Christ. Follow me vs. know this.

    Today a co-worker was asking me about smoking weed. I told him it’s not O.K. & that God wants us to be in a sober state of mind. This guys smokes weed all day long, cusses like a sailor, smokes cigs like a chimney, etc (nothing that would disqualify him from God). He grew up Catholic. Later he says, “I’m a Christian; I mean, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God; isn’t that all you have to do?” So, is he a Christian? Sounds like he knows right doctrine.

    This isn’t your full-time job?
    I’m glad I get to engage you, but for free this time!

  22. Sean,
    Then you’re arguing with the wrong guy, and no-modern evangelicals do not think that knowing Jesus is the same as knowing about him. I don’t. I’ve never said that. So Why are we having this argument?
    Still, My hunch is that you don’t really appreciate doctrine as such (remember Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos from our class)–or else you wouldn’t be laying it on here like this. Your friend who smokes weed proves my point. His life is messed up BECAUSE his theology is messed up… what does he know about the concept of Jesus being LORD? What does that mean to him?
    I do not separate theology and lifestyle.
    It’s guys in postmodern movement who want lifestyle without theology. That’s my heartburn.
    I think you owe me about 4 blended mocha’s by now. It’s not free.

  23. I appreciate your time & insights. Yes, lifestyle & theology are two peas in a pod, no getting around it, for anybody. It’s fun getting to dialogue with you.
    Since I entered the post late: 2 mocha’s. One for each response.
    Blessings. & Stop gambling.

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