Friday, October 29, 2004

i love coffee but does coffee love me?

i have grown to love coffee. i stayed away from coffee for years. i still can't believe that i made it through my entire time at uva without drinking a full cup of coffee (i had a sip of dunkin donuts coffee but that doesn't count).

here is something to ponder... i started thinking about this after reading about the role of fasting and abstinence in one of my readings by Augustine.

coffee makes me more thirsty because it dries me out
my thirst leads to my body desiring to eat because my body thinks that is hungry when it is really thirsty
this increases my overall level of desire
desires never lead to anything good if they are left unchecked
the sin nature leans toward leaving desires unchecked
therefore, coffee leads to sin

does coffee love me?

i am not proposing a law. i am just thinking out loud about how a mature follower of Christ should consider the small daily decisions that could possibly lead to holiness as opposed the inferior alternative.

does that mean i should change my focus to loving water...?

i love water and water loves me???

is anyone reading this but me...? if so, call me on my new cell phone at 609-672-6300 or post something here or write me an email at

Thursday, October 28, 2004

role of images

4-5 years ago, i read a convincing chapter about idols in J.I. Packer's book Knowing God. Packer took the second commandment and formed an argument against forming any image of God, both physical or mental. the argument made complete sense to me and i adopted that perspective since that time. the part that resonated the most with me was how easily we can create a mental image of God that fits our desires or our self-justifications. for example, i have heard the description "the God i worship is a God of love, he would never judge anyone's sin" and that is the only example i needed to prove that forming a mental image is wrong.

however, i just read Three Treatises On The Divine Images by John of Damascus. John was a Christian monk who lived in the 8th century in Muslim lands and he defended the use of icons in the church for Christian worship. there was a massive dispute regarding icons that threatened to further split the church at that time.

John's main point was the icons could and should be used in Christian worship. he weaved three themes to make his case. the first theme was that we could venerate icons without worshipping the icon itself. in other words, we could honor the subject of the icon without making the icon out to be a god. his next theme was that we can create an icon of Christ because Christ, in the incarnation, was the image of the invisible God. in short, because Christ was visible, then we can make an icon of Him while the invisible God should not be made into an icon. he drew attention to the fact that the OT law was written before God became man in order to guard against making an image for the invisible (i.e. the golden calf). lastly, John stated that the images and places in the OT were a shadow of the future. icons are valid if they serve the same role in pointing us to the future or, again, to the object of veneration. for example, the hand-crafted cherubim in the tabernacle were an image of something in heaven but the purpose of the cherubim there was to point to the future. he used other examples of entities that foreshadowed coming realities.

these points challenged my view of icons in the church. his point regarding the OT law guarding people against making images of the invisible God resonates with me as does his point of Jesus being the visible incarnation of the invisible God. he also tripped me up with his examples of heavenly entities being rendered (as commanded by God) as icons in the tabernacle and temple as pointers to the future. however, his points do not answer the problems of an individual's interpretation of the target of his veneration. in other words, my view of Christ, though he was visible at the time, influences my rendering of Christ. this is evidenced in all of the different pictures of Jesus throughout church history. i remember my Sunday school room featuring a tanned southern-California Jesus picture. this plays out in a variety of ways.

overall, i still do not trust a person's potential (or most likely) self-centered approach to an icon creation (whether conscious or unconscious). on the other hand, i do not agree with the complete removal of icons. like all other matters of worship and spiritual disciplines, i believe that a Christian must apply a godly maturity to the handling of these undefined issues. an icon can exist in a way to venerate a saint or Christ, but each person should hold fast to God in prayer for how they interact with this image. running away from a potential problem is not the right answer, especially when there is a potential blessing in the same exact target of affection.

i have witnessed the removal of all icons in the 'modern' church. the main purpose for this removal was to create a safe environment for seekers and/or post-Christians who were burned by church experiences in the past. the worship of the images did not seem to play a role in the removal.

what are the purposes of these icons and images? do they break the 2nd commandment in that we should not make an image of anything in heaven?

i have lived on both sides from reading J.I. Packer's chapter on idols and John of Damascus' three treatises on the divine images. i encourage you to read them on as well and enter into the dialog of the 8th century iconoclasts (icon smashers) and iconophiles (icon lovers).
as you can, i have...

Friday, October 22, 2004

1950 years...

i just finished my first stretch of seminary studies and i have arrived at my 'reading week'. the first couple of months have been more than i could have imagined. the Lord has challenged my little view of Him and His actions throughout all of human history. the daily interactions with God's Word, notions of philosophy, interpretative tools, the characters of church history and aspects of inquiring after God have served as a means to disturb my faith and to challenge me to come before God and ask for discernment and understanding, especially in light of His gospel for this generation in light of the past generations.

however, i feel robbed.

that is the only way to express my feelings and thoughts right now.

i am going to express my thoughts as a stream of consciousness now so get ready. i feel like my faith has been limited (unintentionally or perhaps intentionally) by my focus only being on my 20th/21st century faith and the Bible alone. i have always been the first person to state that a small group should only study the Bible and that a study of a non-Biblical book is selling out. i have also rejected the role of tradition, experience and the church (combination of the prior two in some ways) in teaching me about God and His ways.

i feel robbed because i have started to interact with some of the great followers of Christ from over the years. i have been blessed to have the opportunity to read St. Augustine's writings and thoughts from early church fathers. i have also seen how many serious followers of Christ over the years have had ideas revealed to them that do not fit into my neat God picture.

however, why is that i have not encountered these people or ideas until now?
why did it take me coming to seminary to 'stumble' upon these great works and ideas?

part of it is because i didn't have time to read these works when i was out in the work world. i honestly have to say that i also pre-judged these works as boring and irrelavent.

those are the easy excuses / explanations.

how about this one? my protestant upbringing seems to have set up barriers to the 1950 years or so of church writings that followed the events of the book of Acts until now. my faith has always been Genesis - Acts (some Revelation but that is another story) and 1976 (year of birth) until now.

i have been blown away by how much St. Augustine's struggles are similar to mine. he lived in a completely different world but his writings in Confessions could be in a blog similar to this one. Augustine pursued God through Jesus Christ. Augustine struggled with sin. Augustine struggled with his family. Augustine lived and breathed God's Word. Augustine could have been a close friend if i lived in the 5th century. however, something was broken in my Christian learning that kept me from "meeting" Augustine.

i don't know exactly what those barriers were (or are) but i sense that part of my calling is to help others realize that these types of barriers exist AND that a rich set of encounters with God can be experienced through reading (with the Holy Spirit's discernment) these works. i still believe that the Bible is the #1 choice of study but not at the expense of disregarding all other works of people who are also striving to live a life worthy of the gospel.

in other words, we all need to open our eyes to the lives of the saints beyond Hebrews 11 and the end of Acts. who directly or indirectly shut door on the great cloud of witnesses? far be it that i should be someone who helps keep that door shut...

Saturday, October 16, 2004

creation and reality

i just finished a book for my philosophy course titled creation and reality by a german scholar named Michael Welker. the book included many themes that i have been wrestling with for the past 4-5 years. ironically (or not so), i am assigned to teach this tuesday on this material. i needed a place to record some raw post-reflections from the reading so i decided to use this place. feel free to read or run away as you see fit...

the overall question of the philosophy course Paradigms and Progress is what is "good" theology and if the notion of "good" theology exists, then do theologians (all of us are theologians whether we say so or not) have the ablility to rank theologies.

michael welker presents a theology of creation and reality in his book that is titled the same. this theology is necessitated by the fact that there is a collapse in the prevalent view of theism, mostly in western europe, some in north america. he attributes this collapse to over-simplified, reductionist, and vague views on important theological issues. he uses the term 'false abstraction' to describe these views. overall, his goal is to expose how most people do not challenge these false abstractions and the result is a dulling of biblical traditions' concepts and sets of concepts. the dulling is a result of over-simplifying complex issues by limiting the input into the debate on one hand while on the other hand the dulling also is a result of including multiple accomodations to prevailing habits of thought and specific conceptions of rationality. welker describes the latter use of biblical theology as a cipher. the outcome of this dulling is that biblical knowledge loses its orienting power in our non-oriented world. in light of this challenge, welker takes on issues of (1) the creation of heaven and earth, (2) angels and God's presence in creation, (3) creation, the image of God and the mandate of dominion, and (4) creation and sin.

before i jump into (3) and (4), i want to point out some themes that i have considerd in the past 4-5 years that re-surfaced in these readings. one theme is my observation that most people do not think. that sounds arrogant but i am not referring to people's ability to think or, better expressed, their thinking "ceiling". everyone has different ceilings of thought and it doesn't make anyone better or worse for appearing or potentially even being more 'brilliant' than others. remember, i was the one who didn't make the 'gifted class' in elementary school and i still mock that whole idea. with that said, i move on to a person's willingness to think. our increasingly internet-driven, attention-deficit world shapes us into people who are forced to filter all information and make decisions on the value of that information immediately. search engine results, stock tickers, espn bottom lines, physical mailings (credit card applications!), electronic mail inboxes, are all examples. the list goes on and on. each of us owns a specific information assessment profile that is shaped by our interests, experiences, and critical thought processes. we quickly jettison any information or entry point into information that we judge (immediately) to be of little to no value. welker indirectly keys in on this reality by stating that people have rejected over-simplified, vague, and reductionist views of very important theological issues. in other words, people are immediately deleting these views from their mental (over-burdened) inboxes...

the role of "good" theology is to provide valuable (as perceived by the receiver) insights and views of very important theological issues that are Biblically-based, inter-disciplinary in nature. and allow for tensions among competing beliefs (pluralistic) so that these renewed solutions provide an orienting influence in our non-oriented world.

let's jump into (3). welker tackles the issue of the relationship, in creation, between the image of God and the mandate of dominion. he applies the critique to numerous prevailing views. he raises the observation of how humans have always viewed themselves as the central figure in creation. two results of this human-centered view are the ecological crisis and the systematic underpriviledging of women (at points, oppression). Christians have been tagged with being anti-environment and anti-women due to the use of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. on the other hand, Christians have pointed out the pro-environment and female equality aspects of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. welker rejects the over-simplified reasons given by both and moves toward a renewed critical view of the creation texts that accounts for the complexity of the relationship between humans created in the image of God, the mandate to have dominion, and the relation of man and woman.

he questions the over-simplified explanations given by people who use Gen 1 and Gen 2 to explain these issues. most people, use Gen 1 and/or Gen 2 to attack or defend their views. Gen 1 includes the reference for humans to trample under and subjugate the earth but it also includes the equality of man and woman. Gen 2 includes the reference for humans to till and keep the earth but it also includes the hierarchy of man ruling over woman. there is not an option to pick and choose based on historical lines because there is not a clear timeline to these events. in other words, we cannot 'correct' Gen 1's view of subjugating the earth with Gen 2's reference to care for the earth. we are left with choosing one or the other.

there are three ways to view the image of God as described in Gen 1.
does the image of God refer to the relation of created humankind as male and female?
does the image of God refer to the so-called mandate of domination?
does the image of God refer to the connection of both aspects, the connection of the relation of man and woman with the mandate of dominion?

these are classic questions... questions that will be dealt with in future entries. i am going to stop now because this is turning into a book summary instead of any original thinking...

Friday, October 15, 2004

archaeology and the Bible

today i ran into the anticipated description of archaeology and the Bible. the example given was joshua 6 and the battle of Jericho. the archaeology findings show that there were no inhabitants at the Jericho location directly after 1550 BCE. the findings did show that people lived there years before and that people settled there far later as well. estimates, using the Bible, locate the Jericho narrative to have occurred around 1200 BCE.

many questions come from this. my response 2-3 years ago would be to quickly research and point out other evidence that shows that Jericho truly was inhabited during the 1200 BCE time mark. other parts of me would want to deconstruct the dating methods and/or the choice of locations. my initial response was to question the location selected for study. how do archaeologists truly know where to dig for a specific city?

i'm sure there are good answers to these questions.

i have some more questions however. my questions are how should i respond to these findings. should i ignore them and go into a retreat of commitment? should i take them at face value and then try to reconstruct my faith in terms of Bible that has stories that didn't really happen?

furthermore, how should i care for the people under my leadership when i serve in the church? should i ignore this information and only talk about when somebody reads these ideas in a book or on the internet and then challenges the Bible to my face?

these questions remind me of a struggle i went through 5-6 years ago. i met with mormon missionaries for months (elder fluckiger will remember). one of my arguments (the key word being 'argument') against the mormon faith was the archaeological evidence against the existence of the Nephites and Lamanites in America during the time of the wars cited in the Book of Mormon. i started asking tough questions about the text and its relationship to archaeology. i started to see, however, that i couldn't answer these questions myself for my Christian faith and the Bible. i decided to stop engaging these questions due to my inability to continue pressing the Mormons with questions while not being able to answer them myself.

where does that leave me now?

i will continue to search. i definitely see the potential slippery slide with this. if Jericho was not inhabited and Joshua 6 is only recorded for the Jewish people as a story for their national identity, then did the kings of Israel exist, namely, King David? how do i keep this from slipping all the way to Jesus himself and the death/resurrection/ascension?

i see a wide spectrum. one side is a view that the Biblical narratives are a set of stories pulled together by a specific redactor who wanted to make theological points following theological themes. the other side is a extreme literal position that takes every description of the Bible to be historical fact that also includes specific references that apply in a type/antitype relationship all the way to the Christ's return (and beyond).

i will continue to search and pray regarding these things...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

a simple penny

i don't have the energy to write anything real today about my recent mental wrestlings with the formation of Christianity in the early church or the role of creation/fall in mortal and natural evil or the theme of how the gospel is wonderfully flexible in order to speak to all people groups and cultures throughout all of time...

i will stick with a story about a simple penny. i was walking to panera bread today and i realized that i didn't have any change. i knew that a toasted cinnamon crunch bagel with plain creme cheese would cost me $2.01. one of my #1 pet peeves (i wonder who came up with that term) is receiving 99 cents of change from a financial transaction.

i thought "everyone tosses pennies to the ground, there has to be one somewhere on the way". within 15 walking steps, i located 3 pennies on the ground. the bagel still cost $2.01 but i didn't have to worry about getting 99 cents in my pocket (4 cents of which would probably have inadvertently been sent to the ground for someone else to find later).

is life sometimes that easy? what is right in front of us that we do not try find? what annoying experiences can we avoid by looking for a simple penny...?

Friday, October 08, 2004

"find" option for life...

my view of the world is dominated by my interactions with computers. i no longer have the ability to scan and find what i need to locate.

here are some examples:

1. finding a book on a bookshelf.
2. finding the right brand of toothpaste in a super market
3. finding a specific word on a page of a book
4. finding a word in a dictionary (english or greek)
5. finding a friend in a crowd

wouldn't it be great if i could have a Find option for these things in the real world. i have grown so accustomed to using the Find or Search option with any/all technological devices that i find myself needing it for real life as well.

what does that reveal?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

the dark cloud

i used to refer to the constant pressure of school as the "dark cloud". i have found myself under the dark cloud again even though the subjects of my study are incredible. i finished a paper last night at 2 AM and turned around for an 8 AM class. my body wanted to shut down but i continue to press on.

i could write about the distinction between moral evil and natural evil. i could write about the challenges of considering the existence of death in animals before humans were "on the scene" but i need to give more thought to the assumptions behind this ideas. one thing is certain, i am learning in all kinds of subject areas right now...

- Biblical interpretation using Greek
- Old Testament survey course
- Church History survey course
- Philosophy - is there a notion of progress in theology? what is "good" theology?
- Theology - intro course titled "Inquiring After God" using readings from early church writers as well as contemporary reflections
- Speech...

much to learn... but not tonight...