Theblogogy - The Blog of Theology and Questions

The Blog of Theology and Questions

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Pop Tarts and Ravioli

A friend shared this image on Facebook:

Pop Tarts Are Ravioli - change my mind
Pop Tarts Are Ravioli - change my mind based on Stephen Crowder's "Change My Mind" Campus Sign

Here's what stuck out to me: Every common debate element showed up. There were personal insults, discussion of definitions, appeals to intent, pointing to personal experiences, appeals to authority, and discredits of said authorities...

...about whether Pop Tarts are Ravioli.

I realize that I'm both late to this discussion and that this is all in good fun, but if this is how we debate something as simple as the proper terms for food, I find it not surprising that we struggle to handle discussions around much more difficult subjects like how to protect students, how to care for the environment, how best to help struggling people, as well as religious debates and whatnot.

[ Aside: I'm obviously not talking about simple matters like how to pronounce .gif or the Oxford Comma, as those are givens. <grin> ]

I've got several videos I'm very excited to make, but my computer keeps dying. So we both have to wait. Sorry.

More to come when I'm finally back into production mode!


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Bible Secrets

I got to thinking about my "Adventure Bible" I used all through childhood, college, and early married life.

I was at Alpha last night, and as we were discussing the Bible, one of the guys in the group asked about the "secret books" that are "hidden away in a vault". I've seen enough of History Channel shows to understand where he got this idea.

But there simply isn't anything like this.

You can go read the Book of Enoch right now. And if you don't have a Catholic Bible, get a copy of the Apocrypha (I have two, but I have yet to read them <cough>). Also of note: The canonization of Scripture. And then I urge you to look into the scholarship behind all this.

What does my kids study Bible have to do with all this?

This simple children's book is loaded with reference material to ensure there are no "Bible Secrets" hidden from you or your kids. On just one page (Mark 15:31-16:8) there are five major elements:
  1. Greek/Hebrew translation
  2. Old Testament cross-reference
  3. Ancient manuscript comparison note
  4. Alternate translation note
  5. Alerts to text likely added after-the-fact

So, I encourage you to pick up your Bible are start using those footnotes. And if you have a question, I'd love to hear it!

Let's learn more, together.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cults versus Christianity

I recently watched several documentaries about cults (such as Going Clear and Holy Hell). I've also spent many Saturdays happily talking to cult missionaries about what they believe and why. And let me tell you: If you see all religion like this, I can see why you're scared.

Because cult stuff is nuts, right? People laying hands on one another imbuing power or mystical experiences. These charismatic and crazy leaders who ultimately use their power to abuse people. Kool-aid. Suppressives. Service. Secrets. And so on. This focus on rites and rituals can lead to dangerous and damaging outcomes.

And here's the deal: Any religion -- including Christianity -- can become cultish. I have a friend who grew up in a pretty strict sect that threatened excommunication to anyone who left their “religion” for another brand (denomination) of Christianity. That may not quite be a cult, but that's certainly tending that way.

What makes faith in Christ different?

I'm certainly not an expert -- and I welcome your input on this -- but let me suggest the following to consider:
  1. Historicity - Jesus Christ is a robust and revolutionary historical figure. Compared to Mohammed or Buddha, we know a lot about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (despite what the Jesus Seminar or Dan Brown suggest). Now, we're not typically very good students of history -- I blame the boring classes -- but when you dig in, the content on Christ is pretty remarkable.
  2. Challenge - A complaint I recently heard was that it's almost impossible to critique Christianity because there are so many different versions of it; Christians disagree about everything (not just the color of the carpeting or how long a girl's skirt should be). And that's a fair complaint. But I love what this means: We encourage questions. If something doesn't seem right, dig into it. Wrestle with it. Try to break it., does everyone in Christianity do this? Of course not! ...but that's something else to challenge, right? We're certainly not perfect, but Christians challenge one another to be more Christ-like, even as we disagree on what that means.
    [Side note: What Christians ultimately believe is pretty consistent throughout history, so the critique that you can't know what Christianity teaches is also inaccurate.]
  3. Rebuke - When people leave a cult, the horrors come with them and a few brave individuals speak up (and are often branded as evil by the group they left). Please note: bad things happen in Christian churches, too. But here's the difference: The bad stuff is in opposition to the teachings, not part of it. Predatory Catholic priests go against what Christianity stands for. Followers of Christ should be the first to condemn such evil. Sacrificing a virgin, on the other hand, is the film icon of what it means to be a cult. The deeper you get into a cult, the more horrors you find baked in.
  4. Secrets - Many cults exhibit a form of Gnosticism, or a reliance on secret knowledge that members slowly gain or earn. The major monotheistic religions -- including Christianity -- don't do this. Instead, you are encouraged to study. You can find the questions and the answers people have had throughout history. You can read current and old versions of the Bible. You can explore the many heresies and doctrines. Thus, the historicity is regularly challenged, leaving room for us to rebuke things not in line with Christ, which leaves no secrets.

There is more to explore when it comes to religion (and Christianity) compared to cults. We can certainly dig into this even further. But, for now, I want you to remember that Christianity is different from a cult in historicity, challenge, rebuke, and secrets.

I'd be thrilled to hear your thoughts and what you've learned about cults and religion.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pagan Propitiation

The Gospel is often presented as: We're sinners. God is angry about that. Jesus took our punishment. Now, by believing He died for us and rose again, we can connect with God and go to heaven.

The theological term for Jesus' sacrifice like this is "propitiation" ... or "appeasing an angry god." The related idea is "penal substitution," the concept that Jesus took our punishment.

N.T. Wright argues that this idea is far more pagan than Jewish. Instead, he convincing contends that Jesus, being Israel's Messiah, must be viewed from within the Jewish context. In this light, His crucifixion isn't about absorbing God's wrath, but rather about proving purification for His people. Israel's animal sacrifices weren't about punishing the animals in place of people, but rather providing blood for purification. Jesus' sacrifice, His blood, then, provides us with purification rather than cosmic punishment.

This transforms the Good News of Christianity from "Jesus took the divine bullet for you" to a message more like: Christ has defeated the evil powers that held us captive and enables us to return to our proper position as people, namely "a kingdom of priests" who exist to bring healing to a broken world and through that praise to God.

Wright's book is a fascinating read even if you've never been bothered by the idea that God's justice requires Him to punish someone for sin. For me, what's more, N.T. Wright brilliantly addresses every single "issue" brought up in Mr. Deity episode 2.

So go check out Mr. Deity and then pick up The Day the Revolution Began.

Granted, I've only barely summarized what I see in Wright's technical argument which spans seventeen hours in the audio book version. Needless to say, there's a lot more to learn.

So let's learn more, together.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Theodicy

I've been thinking about self-driving cars and the legal/ethical issues they pose. Imagine with me that the first car was perfectly self-driving. It never had an accident. Then along came a guy like Henry Ford who wanted everyone to have the joy of driving their own car themselves. Suddenly, with humans in the mix, accidents happen everywhere.

Is Henry Ford ethically/legally responsible for those deaths? He let people drive.

What about the person who originally created the perfect car? Without any cars, no one would have gotten hurt by them.

While lawmakers currently wrestle with these questions now that corporations and computer programmers could be blamed for accidents that lead to the deaths of children, I can't help but think of this as a theodicy: an exploration of how God relates to the problem of evil.

Assuming the Bible is right, when God first created us, we were complete, without any brokenness. Then along comes Satan who convinces Adam and Eve that we really should be the ones directing our lives. And immediately problems begin for us and the whole world.

These problems are everywhere today. Do we blame Satan? God?

I can't wait for safe, self-driving cars. I know I don't drive well when I'm tired or angry or distracted. And I can't help but notice that this ties in really well with the call of Christianity to surrender our lives to Christ who loves us and asks us to let Him "take the driver's seat." (I've never really liked that phrase, but it's making a bit more sense now...).

There is tons of scholarship on all sides of the problem of evil. I'm sure we'll talk about it more. For now, I urge you to dig into this deeper.

I'd love to hear what you think and have been thinking about.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Nature of Hell

What is hell like? If you’re seen the Keanu Reeves Constantine, it’s a fiery place filled with animated skeletons. Playing through Monkey Island, you discover it has mushrooms. But more important than the physical attributes of hell, let’s talk about purpose.

Why does hell exist? It’s the place created for Satan and his fallen angels when they were kicked out of heaven after rebelling against God (based on this odd little passage in Isaiah, which we can discuss more if you want). It’s important to note that God did not create hell with the goal of sending people there.

Hell, then, is a place of torment but not because God is constantly turning the torture screws. Instead, it’s a place of horror because it is separated from God’s grace. I really like how C.S. Lewis depicts hell in The Great Divorce: A place full of selfish, mean people who keep moving further away from one another. It’s lonely and horrible because the people there are lonely and horrible. And if I think about myself, there are times that that is exactly where I’d choose to be.

Is hell eternal? That makes the most sense to me. Any eternal being that does not want to hang out with God has to be somewhere that is not with God… and that place would be hell.

So hell exists. It’s where people go who don’t want to be with God. It’s horrible because it is devoid of love and grace.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

"House of Cards" Abraham

House of Cards has long toyed with religious themes. And as I've written elsewhere, "Modern culture is woefully ignorant of the Bible and Christian thought. Please stop making us even more ill-informed." This continues to today. There is a scene at the end of Season 3, Episode 4 which was simply so ... bad? misleading? almost something? filled with potential? ... whatever it was, I felt it important to rant about it for a bit.

The video above is long. Sorry, I ramble when I get excited.

The episode continues to return to the theme of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac and God giving His Son to die. Frank, battling some inner demons, asks a religious leader about justice. "What is it?"

The guy replies that there are two kinds: The justice man follows/creates by interpreting the 10 Commandments and the two central commands that we love God, love others.

Frank isn't convinced we need that much interpretation considering "Thou shalt not kill" is pretty straightforward. The religious guy isn't convinced. "There's lots of killing in the Bible," he counters. "Ultimately, it's either us who do the killing or someone else will." ...which sounds like the beginning of a good followup to the how should we respond to threats? question we considered a while back. There's an even deeper problem. The command that we should not kill is better said, "Do not murder." Why? Because killing is not the same as murder. Murder is the rectangle to the "kill" square. Murder is the malicious/premeditated killing of someone. This is different than, say, accidentally hitting someone with your car. Even the Bible provides a clear distinction between these two causes of human death. This is why, way back in the Old Testament, God commanded that there be cities of refuge (if you don't know what those are, click the link and read the 10, or so, verses; it won't take long).

They don't mention any of this in the show even though it fits perfectly with why Frank is asking about justice. Thematically, technically, philosophically, and ethically, this discussion would have been just what Frank needed to hear. But, no. The guy simply mentions that even Kind David was a warrior (not to mention murderer and adulterer).

"You can't love the people you kill," Frank says.

The religious guy counters that you can. And you need to even love those who are trying to kill you, just as Jesus asked God to forgive the Romans as they crucified Him.

"Why didn't He fight?" Frank asks.

Rather than answering the question -- you know, with passages from the Bible -- this religious character says, "I ask myself that same question."


Frank then says that he understands the vengeful God of the Old Testament who rules through fear. But Him..." and here he turns to look at a crucifix.

And this I like. Here we get to see the utterly bewildering aspect of Jesus, the radical display of God's love, and how incomprehensible it can be. There's a bit more to the scene, but it ends with Frank alone with the statue of Jesus. "You're selling love? Well," Frank scowls, "I don't buy it." Which is perfect. Exactly. It's very difficult for people to understand this crazy thing called love. But what I don't like is that we never get to see how there isn't a violent God of the Old Testament and this buddy-Jesus of the New. I get how people get that impression, but it's simply not the case.

Anyway, after spitting on the crucifix -- like people did to Jesus during the crucifixion -- the ceramic Jesus falls off the cross and smashes on the ground, echoing -- I guess -- the Dagon statue. This ends with Frank picking up a piece of the broken figure and saying to the audience, "I have God's ear now."


This scene isn't shocking -- especially considering the graveside scene at the start of the season -- because there have been far better scenes before it ...such as the crucifix burning sequence in Amadeus.

Why go through all this? Well, because the scene is such a great opportunity to interact with religious ideas in a culturally relevant way. There's also some very good stuff in here, along with really terrible oversights.

Anyway, let's learn more together. Any input?