My 100th Blog Post, and a Big Announcement

After a long break from blogging because of seminary, I’ve finally gotten to my 100th post for Endangered Minds. Coincidentally, it will be my last post ever for this blog. Don’t worry, I’m not getting out of the blogging game, I’m just changing the playing field a bit.

This coming Monday, I’m launching a completely new blog, with a new look, a new name, and a new domain. I’m excited because I think this new blog will be able to fit more with how I love to write and how I process thoughts about life, theology, culture, and stories. I’ll still write about the same things I wrote about here, but it will just be with a new flavor.

Although things are changing, I really did love my time with Endangered Minds and wish it well. Thank you so much for reading it.

For those of you who may be worried that any articles you liked will be lost forever in the dark space of the interwebs, have no fear. I am transferring every single blog post from Endangered Minds to my new blog, even the comments.

All I ask of you is, if you’ve followed this blog through email subscription or through WordPress, type in your email address at the bottom and follow my new blog. As soon as my new blog is ready, you’ll get an email of the first blog post delivered straight to your inbox. Don’t worry, I won’t spam you! And after that first blog, you are free to unsubscribe from the email list.

In addition, I’ll be creating a Facebook Page for the blog that you can follow also. If you like what you see, feel free to share it with your friends.

This is going to be a new adventure. I’m both terrified and excited at the same time. Let’s see what happens next.

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Theology vs. Experience: Which Should a Christian Focus on?

Worshipper

Is he supplicating or contemplating?

There’s a trend running around the American church that devalues theology’s place in an individual’s life. It holds that a relationship with God will produce all the truth needed. Theology may be for some people, (dusty academics hidden behind mountains of rotting books and pious pastors who have no people skills) but not for them. It says theology only engages the mind but not the heart. Because God is a relational God, He wants us to experience Him—He wants us to drown in His love like it’s a big love-ocean. They say you simply can’t get that kind of passion if you treat Christianity like the SAT’s.

While there may be some legitimate concerns underlying these sentiments, there is a subtle danger here.

They are right that what matters more is heart-transformation, not information infusion. What they don’t realize is that a Christianity entirely based on experience and feelings alone will lead people astray.

It’s a false dichotomy to think the mind and heart are exclusive. God created us to engage Him with our whole being. Focusing on one side can make the other suffer.

Here are a few warnings about focusing solely on spiritual experiences:

1. Spiritual Experiences are not unique to Christianity.

Buddhists fall into trances as they commune with the spirits. Through prayer, Mormons receive the “burning in the bosom,” a gut sensation that’s supposed to confirm the veracity of the Book of Mormon. Hindus and New Age experience tranquility through their yoga and meditation. The pagan Greeks experienced an “ecstasy” that would take over their body and mind, causing them to speak in tongues.

Those spiritual experiences are real, and they are real because the spirits behind them are real—and they’re definitely not of Christ. There is an enemy at work and they would love to distract people with real experiences that confirm lies. This is why John warns, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

He wouldn’t say that unless believers were already falling for it.

2. Experience is very individualistic.

Many times when experience is emphasized, it’s just individualism and consumerism wrapped up in spirituality. It’s all about experiencing God in your own personal way.

The customer is always right.

The problem is everyone experiences things in different ways. If one person experiences God as a mother figure, another hears God’s audible voice in the wind telling them words to write down in a journal, and another sees Jesus in bodily form at the local Denny’s every other Tuesday, how are we to decide whether or not these are accurate representations of God? Based on experience alone, there is no way. They have felt the emotions and cried the tears, so it must be true.

Following such logic, the aim of church then becomes about feeling God, not about gathering to know and praise Him. Inevitably such a perspective transforms from being about God into being about self.

3. Elevating experience can bring about a low view of Scripture.

A failure to anchor experience to the truth of the Word is why we have whole denominations throwing snakes at each other during church. They take one verse out of context and it’s reinforced by the intensity of their experience. Holding a rattlesnake may be one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you can feel, but that doesn’t mean your heart and God’s are hugging.

This goes beyond bizarre religious practices. If how I feel matters more than what is written, then it will affect how I live—how I view things like sin. A dating couple can justify sleeping together and co-habitating because they think they love each other. A person who was abused can justify their hate because they were hurt by an evil man. A husband can justify leaving his wife because he believes another woman is his soulmate.

When how you feel matters more than what is written, anything goes. This is why Jesus called us to “die to ourselves;” there’s something more important than how you feel. If you’re a Christian, it can’t be about you anymore.

A BETTER WAY TO GO

Theology is literally “the study of God.” If you want to have a vibrant relationship with God you must study Him—you must grow in theology—because what you believe about God will influence how you experience Him.

It really doesn’t matter if someone says they don’t “do” theology. Everyone is a theologian. The question is whether or not they are a good one.

A good theologian is not someone who has all the answers. A good theologian seeks to know God as He wants to be known, as revealed through His Word. A good theologian has a heartfelt faith and an intelligent one.

Filter everything through Scripture. God must be worshipped “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It’s our duty to draw deeper into that truth, and allow it to transform our hearts.

Is Putting God in a Box a Bad Thing?

Sort of. It depends.

Usually when someone uses the phrase “putting God in a box,” it is used in a negative manner. As in, “Don’t put God in a box. You can’t figure out God.”

For the most part I don’t disagree with such a statement. Can I fully figure out how the Trinity works? Or the virgin birth? Or what it means to have no beginning and no end, but self-sufficiently exist?

No. I can never fully comprehend and wrap my mind around such mysteries because I am finite, mortal, and human. Those things about God are things I have never experienced and never could experience because of my nature. And that’s ok. If I could fully understand and comprehend everything about God, He would not be God, would He?

I can barely figure other humans out, let alone God. This is why David says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).

WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH

But here’s the problem with the phrase, “putting God in a box.” It is not normally used to describe the profound nature of an all-powerful, everlasting, triune being, but is instead used to discredit any sort of categorization or description of God.

So if I were to say, “God’s character demands that He judge those who sin,” the other person would respond, “Don’t put God in a box, Kyle. God is so much bigger than your understanding. You can’t reduce God to mere descriptions with words.”

I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of the things that person said, but I would disagree with how it was said. Yes God is bigger than anyone’s understanding, but is using words to describe God, reducing Him to something less? How else am I supposed to communicate about God—interpretive dance?

No. Words are good. Words are powerful. This is why God chose to use words to reveal Himself to us through His Word. We can confidently say, “God is _____” because God has chosen to describe Himself in such a way. Yet at the same time I do somewhat agree, all of our words cannot do full justice to the majesty of God. This is because it is human words being received by human brains.

FIND THE RIGHT BOX

But here’s the funny thing. I think in some ways, putting God in a box is a good thing because boxes have boundaries. Things are either inside the box or they are not. The Bible doesn’t just tell us who and what God is but it also tells us who and what He is not.

  • “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (James 1:12).
  • “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
  • “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

God is wholly against sin and that is a definite box He is inside.

And so I think the issue ultimately comes down to what kind of a box you are putting God in. Let’s be honest, even the “don’t put God in a box” people are putting Him in one—it’s the box of their mind, which is a far smaller box than the Bible. Some put Him in the philosophy box. Some put Him in the consumer Christian box. Some put Him in the social gospel box. Some put Him in their own personal box of their making—custom découpage and all.

Instead, let us allow Scripture to be the box. Not because God can be fully explained or described through words, but because the Bible is how He has chosen to reveal Himself. And we must trust that His Word is more than sufficient to give us a deep relationship with Him.

Theologian, Spy and Martyr – Bonhoeffer Died Today

Sixty-seven years ago, April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed in a Nazi concentration camp for his defense of the Jews during World War II and for his faith. Bonhoeffer was an incredible man of conviction and passion for Christ, shown in his biography Bonhoeffer, written by Eric Metaxas. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Grace changes you from the inside out. Neither law nor cheap grace can do that.”

“If one couldn’t communicate the most profound ideas about God and the Bible to children, something was amiss. There was more to life than academia.”

“It’s much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.”

“He [Bonhoeffer] differentiated between Christianity as a religion like all the others—which attempt but fail to make an ethical way for man to climb to heaven of his own accord—and following Christ, who demands everything, including our very lives.”

“Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”

“A good leader serves others and leads others to maturity. He puts them above himself, as a good parent does a child, wishing to lead that child to someday be a good parent. Another word for this is discipleship.”

“Christ must be brought into every square inch of the world and the culture, but one’s faith must be shining and bright and pure and robust.”

“Theological work and real pastoral fellowship can only grow in a life which is governed by gathering round the Word morning and evening and by fixed times of prayer.”

“Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic . . . Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it . . . Trust to the Word.”

“Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.”

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

The First Real Day of Spring

A wonderful look at Good Friday by N.D. Wilson. Excerpt from his book, Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl (Which by the way is one of the most artful books about theology I have ever read. Easily rivals C.S. Lewis, and I don’t say that lightly):

There is water in the world that once flew out of the mouths of guards and flecked the face of the Word Himself. There is iron that once tore at His back and iron that once coursed in His blood before it fell to the stones, left for the small animals to feed on in the night. Animals were born and spent a lifetime before being slaughtered, having their hides tanned and cut into strips, interwoven with stone and glass and lashing the skin off the One Poet’s back, baring ribs full of calcium. There are proteins still, somewhere in this world, that were used in His beard before soldiers clutched, not knowing how close their fingers came to the Infinite, and tore hard.

But there is nothing now made from His flesh decomposed. That seed sprouted long ago, the firstborn, sprung from the womb of death on the first real day of Spring.

Photo Credit: “Spring” by morning_rumtea on Flickr under CC by 3.0

A Theology of Glory

From The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, by Michael Horton:

While the theology of the cross proclaims God’s descent to sinners in the flesh, by grace alone in Christ alone, theologies of glory represent human attempts to ascend away from the flesh to union with God through mysticism, merit, and philosophical speculation. Ascending upward in proud pursuit of the beatific vision, away from a supposedly lower realm of bodies, history, and particulars, we miss in our self-righteousness and vaunted mission the saving descent of the majestic God in lowliness, bodily suffering, and the most concrete particular imaginable, namely, a Jewish baby lying in a manger who later was to hang on a cross. God does not invite us to discover His in His glory but to meet Him where He has promised to be gracious.