the ‘science’ of intelligent design

I must thrive on controversy or something. I’ve got posts on speaking in ‘tongues‘, sexual ethics and now –if those weren’t enough– I’m posting on the evolution/creation debate… Sigh… Where to begin!!??

Where I’ve come from
Since I like honesty, I’ll start with a very short (and therefore un-detailed) review of how I’ve thought in the past, and where I’m at now…
Continue reading “the ‘science’ of intelligent design”

three paths

Being followers of Jesus means, of course, that we follow Him on His way, His path…

So what does the ‘way’ or ‘path’ of Jesus look like?

I want to describe three ‘paths’ that Jesus faced, which I also think life presents us with. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we will always have exactly 3 choices for every decision, but I think all of the choices we encounter in life can be boiled down into three ‘directions’, three ‘ways’, three ‘paths’…

Continue reading “three paths”

trusting the bible?

The other night, I went to a lecture by John Shelby Spong, an Anglican Bishop and popular author.

The title of Spong’s lecture was this: ‘The Bible is not the solution – it’s the problem.’

Wow.

In one point I agreed with, he criticised those that pick their most favourite verses here and there from the Bible; but then he did precisely that in his lecture – except the verses he picked here and there were his least favourite…

I would like to suggest what I see as a spectrum concerning views of the Bible. At one end, you have Spong’s view on scripture, and at the other end you have various teachers of what I like to call ‘biblianity’. It may not be a perfect analogy, because I think the issue is more complex and multi-faceted than a simple spectrum can show, but it may be helpful.

What I’m talking about here, has to do with what I think are false choices being presented everywhere you look. The obvious example being the false choice between worshiping the Bible (hailing it as pure, un-defiled and able to do your laundry) on one hand, and on the other hand treating it as a ‘sinful’ thing, perhaps useful for gleaning a few nice sentiments or putting under a short leg of a table.

I don’t want to use the phrase, ‘middle ground’, as that conjures up images of compromise, but there is certainly a third option other than those two.

Directly or indirectly, we’re talking about the Bible’s trustworthiness. Can we trust the Bible? Spong would not hesitate to say, ‘Not at all.’ Most Christians would say, ‘Yes.’ Now, I agree with the latter, but I want to comment on what this ‘trusting the Bible’ might look like…

The problem is the vagueness of the question – ‘Can we trust the Bible?’ A better question is, ‘What can we trust the Bible for?’ To forgive my sins? As a flotation device? I certainly trust the Bible, but what do we mean by this?

-I don’t trust the Bible to cook my food.
-I do trust the Bible to tell how to eat responsibly.
-I don’t trust the Bible to teach me how to play guitar.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that music is a gift from God.
-I don’t trust the Bible to explain dark matter in the universe.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that the heavens declare His glory.
-I don’t trust the Bible to explain micro-evolution and macro-evolution.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that God is the creator of all things.
-I don’t trust the Bible to make my website look cool.
-I do trust the Bible to say when to turn off the computer and sit face-to-face with others.
-I don’t trust the Bible to fix my car.
-I do trust the Bible to tell us walking might often be a better option for many reasons.
-I don’t trust the Bible to contain secret codes that the Bible itself says nothing at all about.
-I do trust the Bible to tell us about life.
-I don’t trust the Bible to be a spooky magic trick kind of book.
-I do trust the Bible to be a down-to-earth real kind of book.
-I don’t trust the Bible to provide convenient proof-texts to randomly affix to life.
-I do trust the Bible to provide wisdom and orientation to all of life.

The Bible that Spong hates is the same Bible of biblianity. It is a Bible that was handed down on a cloud, leather-bound and ready for quoting-battles. Ready to be chopped up into bits and stuck ‘on billboards and backs of cars’ (from the lyrics of Derek Webb). Ready to be defended by ‘deep-sea-fishing’ (term from Hank Hannegraaf) code-finding methods. Ready to be worshipped.

I don’t love that Bible of biblianity. I love the actual Bible. I can trust it. Not to answer any silly question I wish to ask of it, but to answer the most important questions.

science, faith and the process of Q&A

Science has produced some very interesting theories about reality…

I ask that those partial to the field of science hear me out before crucifying me, but I think there is a reality that we must all put up with, whether we are holders of Ph D’s in physics or at the level of simple observation – namely the reality that science (like essentially every other field) is limited by our level of observation.

For example, as is commonly known, we know of many ancient suggestions about reality that have long-since been proven to be… well… silly. The sky has been thought to be a solid ‘dome’, with the stars being seen to be holes in the dome. The earth was, of course, thought to be flat, or perhaps a square-ish thing held up by four elephants. Advanced scientific opinion suggested that the earth was the centre of the universe, with the sun and other planets revolving around it.

More perspective had led us to better suggestions of reality. This is, after all, a foundational principle of the scientific method. I’m very much a fan of science, myself, so I hardly mean to devalue the great field of science, but simply want to demonstrate the (for lack of a better term) ‘fallibility’ of science.

Telescopes and Microscopes

As our telescopes and microscopes have gotten stronger, we’ve been able to have precisely what we’ve needed to arrive at progressively better theories of reality. But it’s an interesting consideration that, for example, as our microscopes have taken us further and further into the detail of our universe, to the atomic level and beyond, more and more questions have arisen! I think it would be fair to say that perhaps some old questions have been cleared up, and new questions have arisen about such things as the nature of matter itself (see, for example, theories such as that of ‘quantum physics’)!

Also, as our telescopes have grown stronger and taken us further and further away from our seemingly small solar system, you could say that the same result has occurred; some questions answered – other ones emerge (dark matter, black holes, habitable planetary probability, etc.). Considering how off we’ve been in the past, I often wonder how off we are now, and what embarrassing dogmatic theories we may hold now that may be either confirmed, challenged or de-bunked by later observation.

Almost There, Just Begun or a Bit of Both?

I’m a bit of a skeptic at heart, you could say. I just want to know why. The way I sometimes hear people talk about different theories of reality often makes me suspicious. Theories (including both evolutionary ones and ‘intelligent design’ ones) are often defended with statements like, “…well, no theory can really be proven, but science has all but proven this one.” Is this really the case?

Now, I’m not suggesting that scientific observation doesn’t get us any closer to ‘proving’ anything, but I have a question about how close we really and truly are to proving such theories as the origin of the universe or life itself.

The “we’ve-basically-solved-it” way of speaking reflects this diagram, in which ‘science’ has thoroughly dealt with the major, large questions of reality, leaving us with only a few minor, small questions left…

In this model, theories (again both evolutionary or ‘intelligent design’ ones) are said to basically have it all explained, save (perhaps) a few minor details. I want to suggest that our pursuit of better theories of reality may not work like that at all. Again, I am not denying that scientific advancements are indeed advancements, I suggest a truer model may well be the reverse of the one shown above. I don’t think we’ve leaped the big hurdles or explained the big questions at all.

In the same way as history gets foggier the further back you look, with science, the further you look (whether through a telescope of a microscope) into things, the harder the questions get. Actually, the fogginess of history spills into science as well. The things we are perhaps the most scientifically unsure of are the things that happened at the ‘beginning’ of it all; whether that be along the lines of string theory, big-bang theory, intelligent design theory or whatever. The more foundational the question, the harder the answer. This model would look like this…

This model is able to appreciate the genuine advancements of science, while at the same time not presuming that the only questions left are ‘small’ ones.

Science has taken us a long way, and no doubt will take us many great and needed places. But as it continues to take us places, let us both appreciate the work it has done and at the same time be aware of how truly difficult the big questions are.

on ‘spiritual gifts’

I recently went to a Benny Hinn ‘Holy Spirit Miracle Crusade’. (Yes, me.) I could, of course, share many thoughts about that, but I simply wanted to mention a flyer I received while waiting in the crowd/throng/line/queue/mob to get in… It was an advert for a local church. It had these words/phrases on it: ‘signs & wonders’, ‘healing’, ‘anointed’, ‘miracles’, ‘fire’, ‘deliverance’… and my personal favourite… ‘the gifts.’

Now, that’s a bit of an extreme example, perhaps, compared with other views of ‘spirituality’, but I think it may reflect what happens when popular ideas/assumptions about ‘spirituality’ are taken to their eventual end point. Before addressing a few of the Scriptures which are relevant to the topic of ‘spiritual gifts‘, I want to point out a key difference between the ways of thinking in our world and the world of the New Testament.

You see, we live after a period in history known as the ‘Enlightenment‘, from which much of the world has inherited (among other things) a view of the world in which the ‘natural’ is sharply contrasted against the ‘super-natural’.

In this view, things like grass growing, rain falling/evaporating, babies being born, working, eating, sleeping – in other words normal life – are quite simply natural. In the case of ‘supernatural’ things, these consist of things such as ‘miracles’, ‘divine intervention’, ‘providence’, etc. As the definition of ‘supernatural’ suggests, the world is bound by ‘natural laws’, so therefore a ‘supernatural’ agent/force/event has to break those ‘natural laws’. This shows up in all kinds of ways, which I won’t go into here to keep this short.

In contrast to todays popular post-Enlightenment view of the world, the 1st century Jewish view of the world (though there are, of course, differences about this and that) was not divided this way. The Jewish God was Lord over all the earth and heaven. Nothing happened or was done apart from His permission, providence and power.

This God was a God who was not detached or distant from creation (like the deist version of ‘god’), but rather, is passionately interested and personally present in it (however, not to the degree that creation itself is itself god’, as in pantheistic worldviews). This God was not simply present when ‘big’ or ‘miraculous’ things ‘happened’, but was always present in His world; and in the case of ‘miracles’ or ‘big’ things, they were times at which God was present powerfully (and with purpose, I suggest; not simply pulling ‘god-stunts’).

This, I think, is how miracles are to be understood. Some, in their adverse reaction to what happens in some more ‘lively’ church contexts have suggested that ‘miracles ceased’ once the Bible was finished and/or when the last Apostle died. There is no warrant for such a view. No, not even 1 Cor. 13:10…

At any rate, we should be aware of how various views of the world affect our reading of Scripture (by the way, there is not one person who doesn’t have any views/experiences/traditions/etc. that affect his/her reading of the Scriptures…) not least when we approach the topic of so-called ‘spiritual gifts’.

One tendency in Christian circles is to start with an assumption that something is true, and then read that assumption into various Scriptural passages. We may, as a result, feel as though we have much more biblical support for a position than we actually do have. In my view, there are only 3 passages that could even possibly be about ‘gifts’, according to the popular understanding: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

Sadly, the ‘gifts’ in these passages are often ‘lumped’ together in order to arrive at ‘Paul’s doctrine of gifts’ or something… as if he was at all interested in ‘building’ a systematic outline of ‘things’ God may or may not choose to ‘give’ you, and thought it best to provide this outline in 3 separate letters and in obscure fashion. Even more sadly, many a weekend-conference has been developed to ‘help’ people ‘discover’ what ‘gifts’ they have and which ones they don’t. (I need to say here that my thoughts here are following on from that of Mark Strom.)

These 3 passages have their own contexts, and ought not be ‘lumped’ together sloppily. The Romans 12 passage instructs on how each ‘gift’ is to be handled, which is (in context) to be in service of others! The 1 Corinthians 12 passage is (again, in context) seeking to undercut pride in the Corinthian community (the implications of Paul putting ‘miracles’ and ‘helps’ in the same ‘list’ is simply brilliant!), and again, the things listed here are not for the individual, but for the growth and edification of the community. The Ephesians 4 passage (within the context of unity, growth and maturity), is describing, not individual ‘gifts’, but roles within the body of Christ (again, these roles are for the service of others – to produce unity, growth and maturity).

Not only is each and every ‘gift’ featured in all these passages (have a look for yourself!) intended for service of others (not so you can have a nice, comfortable, individual private prayer experience or whatever…), I also have yet to see anything in Scripture that demands the common sharp distinction between ‘natural abilities’ (which you ‘get at birth’) and ‘spiritual gifts’ (which you ‘get at conversion’). To show how I see things, let me use the ‘mind’ as an example.

You don’t get a mind at conversion. What happens is this: the mind God gave you (and everyone!) at birth gets renewed by the Spirit of Christ. The mind that was formerly hostile to Christ now bows in allegiance. (Baptism may be a good metaphor, in that the mind (in a sense) ‘dies’ and ‘rises anew’.)

This, I suggest, is precisely what happens with our so-called ‘natural abilities’ (which, in a sense, are not ‘natural’ at all!). Everything about us (bodies, minds, abilities, etc.) is God-given. The spiritual person sees themselves this way. Our whole, interconnected selves are spiritually tempered renewed and reborn by the Spirit of Christ – not so we can ‘enjoy our gift’ or be ‘spiritually fulfilled’, but to form us (heart, soul, mind and strength) into the likeness of Christ.

of the spirit

Thoughts and words about the Holy Spirit can go in many different directions. One can try to present their view by way of many different paths, and from many different angles – and I believe many of these paths/angles would be biblical…

To try and promote unity and clarity, I’d like to address a few ideas about spirit/spirituality/the holy spirit/etc., that I think need sharpening… Along the way, I hope the ‘personality’ of the Spirit will become more obvious…

Dualism must die…
Greek philosophers of old, looked at the world and decided that reality was split in two – the ‘unseen’, ‘spiritual’ realm; and the ‘seen’, ‘physical’ realm. The ‘unseen’ realm was perfect, pure and un-changing. The ‘seen’ realm was corrupt, faulty and change-able. The relationship between the spirit and matter, then was – no surprise – a strained one.

The Jewish perspective saw reality differently. God was in ‘heaven’; Humans were on ‘earth’; yet God could still ‘dwell with’ His people and His creation. It wasn’t just that spirit could mix with physical, but more that the two ‘realms’ were always mixing. It wasn’t so much a question of if they mixed, but more how they mixed. In other words, the real question was which spirit was mixing in a given physical place/person?

In the Greek view, you assume a huge gap between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’. So, you have to do all kinds of things (the right prayers, sacrifices, rituals) to make it ‘just right’ – right enough for the spirit to mix with the physical. That’s a general picture, but it gives you the idea.

In the Jewish view, the two realms relate easily. In the Scriptures, there are many ‘spirits’ mentioned – some on the ‘good’ side (i.e. a ‘spirit of wisdom’, etc.), some on the ‘evil’ side (i.e. a ‘spirit of jealousy’, etc.). The entire world is ‘bubbling’ with spiritual potential.

The word ‘supernatural’ isn’t very helpful at times…
You may not have thought of it this way before, but our understanding of the word ‘supernatural’ is, of course, only as good as our understanding of the word ‘natural.’ It seems odd – to me, at least – to say that God is the one who establishes the ‘laws of nature’ and then breaks them from time to time (and that is precisely how the ‘supernatural’ is defined).

We need to see the world differently, I think. The Scriptures don’t give us a ‘laws of nature’ which God must violate in order to do something ‘supernatural’. Instead, they give us a picture of a God who – as the powerful creator of all things – acts within His creation. It’s not a question of when He is acting, but rather when He is not acting.

In this light, we need not call miracles ‘supernatural’, so to speak. Rather than see them as ‘supernatural’ events that ‘happen‘, I think we should see them as powerful actions of the God who is Lord of Heaven and Earth. Remember, the Scriptures insist that God is always active within His good creation (yes, even after the tragic ‘fall’ in Genesis 3), and sometimes… just sometimes… He is active in miraculous and powerful ways that surprise and shock us.

Me, Myself and… Everyone else
Literally everything in our Western, affluent culture suggests that life is all about you getting what you want/’need’. It’s ALL about the individual. I observe and sense much of the same trends in our all-too-individualistic perspective on spirituality. Much is said about ‘me’ having a great experience; ‘my’ spiritual gift; ‘my’ church; ‘my’ testimony; ‘my’ prayer life; etc. I love this quote:

“Despite what you might think from some excitement in the previous generation about new spiritual experiences, God doesn’t give people the Holy Spirit in order to let them enjoy the spiritual equivalent of a day at Disneyland.” – Tom Wright, ‘Simply Christian’

It’s true. It’s not about you. More specifically, it is about others. In the Scriptures and in my own (dare I use the word) experience, the Spirit moves powerfully in community; not in isolation from others. One of my favourite examples of this is when the Apostles got together to discuss ‘what to do about those gosh darn Gentiles’ in Acts 15 (it’s often called ‘the Jerusalem Council’). They get together; talk things over seriously; share perspectives – and emerge with a unified decision, saying ‘It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…’

When was the last time you heard any pastor/preacher/speaker talk like that? I wish we would hear much more of it. If the Apostles (who wrote the majority of the New Testament) were helped in their spiritual discernment processes by getting together and discussing things, then surely we will be!

But the point, of course, is not comparing us to the Apostles, but realising that the same Holy Spirit that guided them is the same Holy Spirit that will guide us – and I am suggesting that He (the Holy Spirit) can do so better in community than He can do in isolation. Am I limiting Him to meetings? Of course not! God is certainly personal and is able to do reveal Himself to us individually. But I insist that we all need to surround ourselves with other people to help us discern and decide; people who (with the Apostle Paul) can say, ‘…and I, too, think I have the Holy Spirit…’

Towards a better spiritual ethic…
I think unity and clarity will come when we are able to focus on the main and plain things of the Spirit. We must remember that the Holy Spirit is God. He is not an ‘it’. He is not an impersonal ‘force’. He is not a drug on which to get ‘high’ on. He is the Spirit of Jesus. He is the Spirit of God. His first and foremost task is to remake (and continue remaking) us into the likeness (character) of Jesus. All of us. Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength.

Call me crazy, un-biblical, un-spiritual or a stick in the mud, but I think this kind of spirituality has very little to do with what happens during a church service or in a prayer closet, and has almost everything to do with what happens outside those places. It may ruffle your Christian feathers, but I think God is more excited with lives of mercy and justice than moments of celebration…

Let’s see all of our lives, all of our priorities, all of our choices, all of our time, all of our money, all of our relationships, all of our possessions, all of our everything – as spiritual. May we see the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, self-control…) in all these areas and more.

tongues: another look

Yes, this article is about the phenomenon known as ‘speaking in tongues’. The subject of ‘tongues’ is perhaps the most clouded of any biblical topic today. In hope to honour God, the Scripture and Christian spirituality, I offer my current understanding of this issue.

‘Tongues’ in the book of Acts – The Gospel in ALL languages
The first[1] chronological occurrence of ‘tongues’[2] in Scripture is at Pentecost in Acts 2.

Luke describes it as amazing and perplexing. “So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘Whatever could this mean?’ ” (2:12) The Apostles, who likely could only speak in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek ‘tongues’ (languages), were speaking ‘the wonderful works of God’ (2:11) in the language of MANY different language groups present at Pentecost – Parthians, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, (the list goes on in 2:9-11.)

They weren’t speaking gibberish, and they weren’t speaking unknown or ‘heavenly’ languages. The Spirit was miraculously giving them the ability (2:4) to speak ‘the wonderful works of God’ in many different, human, every-day languages.[3]

I’m not sure if we understand how important the Hebrew language was to Jewish people (and still is!).[4] The idea of nation (as in, God’s holy nation of Israel) was inseperable from the tongue (language) of that nation. The attitude of most Jews was that the other nations/tongues weren’t God’s chosen nations/tongues! What was going on at Pentecost was very significant! God was working outside the box! In short, the Gospel was going to go to the filthy, pagan, stinking, non-Hebrew-speaking Gentiles – at least the ones who had faith in Christ.

This was a big deal. Later, in the book of Acts, Peter receives a vision that (among other things) makes it clear that Gentiles were no longer to be shunned. “…You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nations. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (10:28 – and surrounding verses!)

Later on, after Paul is converted to the ‘Way’ of Christ, Luke records a specific occurrence of Gentiles who received the Spirit upon hearing ‘the word’ (the Gospel). The Jewish people couldn’t believe it. “…those of the circumcision who believed (Jewish believers in Christ) were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues (other languages) and magnify God.” Acts 10:45-46

That’s right. Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit that ‘those of the circumcision’ thought was only for them! Gentiles magnifying God in their filthy non-Hebrew language!

Again, these converts weren’t speaking gibberish or unknown languages. The Apostles (possibly themselves knowing these ‘other Gentile languages’ – or at least enough of them to discern what was being said…) knew that God was being glorified.[5] Their ‘astonishment’ wasn’t because of the speaking itself (as if it was something weird), but was rather because of their surprise that ‘the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also’ (which was VERY weird for a pious Jew!).

I won’t take the time to show all the verses in Acts about the ‘door of faith’ being opened to the Gentiles – there are too many of them! This new movement of God is actually one of the primary themes of the entire Book of Acts. Just read the book of Acts and look for this theme. It’s obvious. (and I try not to use that word too often…)

‘Tongues’ in 1 Corinthians – ‘It’s not about you. It’s about the body.’
If we are to read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians well, we need to understand why he wrote to them in the first place. We get some key clues from within the letter itself. The Corinthians were good examples of the Roman mindset and lifestyle. In the letter, we clearly see that the Corinthians were prideful about many things. For example, when Paul reminds them in 1:5 that their ‘knowledge’ and ‘utterance’ were enrichments ‘in Him’, we can safely assume that they needed to be reminded of that. You get the idea that they had forgotten this – or needed to be informed of it.

Paul doesn’t waste any time in getting into rebuking the Corinthians for many things. We see that the Corinthians were quite proud of their ‘wisdom’, which Paul humbles them on. Paul points to his own ‘foolish’ preaching when he was with them and suggests that true ‘wisdom’ is found within this ‘foolishness’ (chapters 1 & 2). I would love to go on, but this article is about ‘tongues’; so on to chapter 12 we must go.

The first mention of ‘tongues’ in chapter 12 is verse 10, which is within a series of activities that Paul is mentioning. “…to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues…” Two things feature here for me: 1) the word ‘kinds’ means that there are not just one type of ‘tongue’ but rather several/many ‘kinds’ – which would make sense if we see ‘tongues’ as languages. 2) ‘Tongues’ is here (and elsewhere) paired with the ‘interpretation’ of them – which again makes sense if they are foreign/Gentile/human languages.

After this, Paul takes about 15 verses to discuss the need for unity in the ‘body’[6] and then the chapter ends with another series of roles/activities, and that not everyone has these roles/activities. The series seems divided into at least two: the ‘appointed’, numbered ones (“…first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…”) and those ‘after’ that (“…miracles, then gifts of healings, helps administrations, varieties of tongues.”). It seems interesting to note that the non-normative activities (miracles and healings) are grouped with the seemingly more normative ones (helps, administrations and the varieties of tongues).[7]

Then comes Chapter 13. It begins with a literary pattern that is not mentioned often. Paul moves through various activities, giving a ‘big’ example followed by a ‘lofty’ example.

-Though I speak with the tongues of men…

…and of angels

-though I have the gift of prophecy…

…and understand all mysteries and all knowledge

-though I have all faith…

…so that I could remove mountains

-though I bestow all my goods…

…and give my body to be burned

I don’t know anyone who claims to understand all mysteries and all knowledge; or to have removed mountains; or to have the ‘gift’ of giving their body to be burned, but strangely, I often hear people describe their ‘gift of tongues’ as a ‘heavenly’ or ‘angelic’ language based on this passage. I’m not sure that’s what Paul’s point is… The point, of course, is the supremacy of Love.

The only other place ‘tongues’ is mentioned in chapter 13 is when it is said that they will ‘cease’. The next 2 verses seem to suggest that this will happen ‘when that which is perfect (complete) has come’. I’ve heard this passage used to support the view that ‘tongues, miracles, healings – and probably anything else non-normative – ‘ceased’ after the Bible was written, or after the Apostles died. That seems forced to me, to say the least. Verse 12 seems to suggest that the ‘perfect’ that will come is either Jesus Himself or the New Heaven/Earth (or both?). So I say with no hesitation, whatever ‘tongues’ are, they most certainly have not ‘ceased’.

We have finally reached chapter 14 – THE ‘tongues’ chapter.[8] As we move through the chapter, keep in mind that the main goal for Paul is for the church to grow and be edified. Everyone agrees that people in this church were speaking in ‘tongues’ and some (many? all?) didn’t understand what was being said.

This chapter is where the conversation about tongues takes many different directions. Words like ‘spirit’, ‘mysteries’, ‘mind’, ‘understanding’, and ‘sign’ are taken in wildly different ways. Indeed, it is a daunting task to try and sort through them all.

I offer the following statements from what I see in chapter 14 (with verses noted):

  • The ‘tongues’ here are (as everywhere else) human languages/dialects. (14:10-11)
  • Paul strongly suggests (demands?) that ‘tongues’ be interpreted for edification. (14:5, 13, 26-28)
  • The speaker him/herself should try to interpret the ‘tongues’. (14:5, 9, 13, 15?, 19?)
  • Speaking/praying ‘in(by) the Spirit’ is simply to speak/pray truthful, godly, spirit-directed statements/prayers. ALL speaking/praying ‘in(by) they Spirit is good for YOU (and God certainly understands you!), but Paul reminds the Corinthians that when ‘in church (gathering)’, they must seek to ensure that the speaking/praying is not only ‘in(by) the Spirit’, but also is understandable for others to be edified. (14:2, 4, 5, 9, 11, 13-17, 19)[9]
  • The Lord speaks to/through people of all languages (Isaiah 28:11 – quoted in 14:21), which is a ‘sign’ to unbelievers of God’s character, but ‘in the church’, if everyone spoke with ‘tongues’ those unbelievers would have quite a different impression! (14:23)

Other things to consider: 1) Corinth was a multi-lingual city, having two sea-ports and being a large center for trading from all over the known world. Speaking and interpreting other languages would have been more than a little helpful! 2) The Greek language was the most widely spoken/written/known language. You were on safe ground using it. If you used another language, you risked not being understood. 3) The Greeks/Romans called the ‘uncivilized’ people on the edges of their Empire ‘barbarians’. They didn’t speak Greek.

I offer these further statements with these 3 points in mind:

  • A ‘tongue’-speaker may indeed mean ‘someone who isn’t (at least for the moment) speaking Greek’ (14:5, 13)
  • Paul would have known many languages of the Greek/Roman world. (14:6, 10, 14, 18)
  • If Paul prayed in a language other than Greek (which he probably knew best – other than Hebrew, perhaps), his prayer was indeed ‘in(by) the Spirit’, but praying in Greek was better for others – and even his own understanding of his prayer. (14:6, 11, 14-15)
  • The frequency of the idea of ‘edification’ in chapter 14, and its ending suggest that the main point is for order, learning and instruction. Which probably means that there was dis-order, confusion and arguments present – and pride. (14:1, 12, 20, 31, 33, 37-40)

Today – Miracles, Experiences and Love
Let me be blunt. To suggest that God ‘doesn’t do miracles’ today is not only dependent on shabby Bible interpretation, but is to deny the God of all power His power. Also, let me assert that my ‘non-miraculous’ reading of ‘tongues’ (excepting the Acts 2 occurrence) in NO way needs to be seen as ‘de-miracle-izing’ God.

God is holding the entire universe together, and without his power, not a single blade of grass would grow. The distinction between the so-called ‘natural’ and ‘super-natural’ is a post-Enlightenment distinction, not a Biblical one. God caused and called nature itself into being – including the surprising and miraculous things that seem to defy nature. The Bible gives us no ‘laws of nature’ for which God must ‘break’ to do a miracle. He is God, and that… is the end of that.

Also, let me say that I fully believe God can and does give people TODAY miraculous language-speaking-abilities in similar fashion to the Acts 2 occurrence. But again, these are not private, heavenly languages, but languages of humans. Humans whom God wants to hear the Gospel of Christ. He is God. He is able to do anything consistent with His own nature.

I do not, however, believe everything I hear, nor everything I read, nor everything I see on T.V. Experience alone, while not to be ridiculed or devalued, is not the final say. Though God can and does heal physically, people at healing meetings full of adrenaline who can honestly ‘feel’ healed, all-too-often end up not being.

Sadly, people can ‘feel’, ‘see’ and ‘hear’ things that aren’t real. I don’t believe in the monster under the bed, but I nearly convinced myself as a kid that he was there. To put it another way, if you think you have to be baptised by immersion to be saved, you’re probably going to be baptised by immersion. If you think you have to ‘speak in tongues’ to be saved or a ‘full-on’ believer, you’re certainly more likely to give it a try.

It has to do with our expectations. Well-meaning and genuine believers in Jesus[10] who see and hear others in their faith community speaking in ecstatic ‘gibberish’ (I know of no better word to describe what is often seen/heard) are certainly more likely to do it themselves. In some church settings, the teaching is that this is an essential for true conversion – commonly with back-room ‘training’ sessions where people are ‘taught’ how.[11]

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, much of the modern practise of ‘speaking in tongues’ seems to me to contradict the primary nature, character and personality of the Holy Spirit. ‘Just let it flow’, ‘say whatever comes to mind’, and ‘start with a random syllable and get it going’ don’t fit at all with the pattern of experiences in Scripture.

When the Apostles (and I suggest us as well!) were filled with the Spirit, they spoke the Gospel with boldness. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit as ‘gentleness, patience, self-control’, etc. Ultimately, the primary role/function of the Holy Spirit (who, by the way, is the Spirit of Jesus!), is to direct us to Jesus. To glorify Him, to re-make us into His image. To renew our hearts and minds according to the character of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

The Spirit leads us not into our prayer closets (though we depend on Him mightily in prayer), but rather out into the world in loving and humble service of others. This is the kind of Spirituality that the world desperately needs.

As Christians, let us seek to major on the majors. To whisper where the Scripture whisper – and SHOUT where the Scripture shout! This is where we have true, un-shakable unity. In Christ and His death and resurrection. Let us share THIS love with the world.

———————–

Endnotes

[1] Paul likely wrote the Corinthian Letters before Luke wrote the book of Acts, but I’m referring to the sequence of actual events, not the records/writings of them.

[2] Actually, ‘tongues’ (as different human languages) is first mentioned in the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11, when God ‘confounded’ their ‘tongues’ (languages) – causing humanity to spread. It has been well said that Pentecost is the ‘un-doing’ of Babel. The Gospel (and God!) is not partial to any one language.

[3] Which resulted in the representatives from the various places being able to take the Gospel of Christ back to where they lived! In other words, the ‘tongues’ in Acts 2 was for a reason.

[4] Indeed, just the idea of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) was offensive to say the least for many Jews. For them, speaking Greek and reading Greek would inevitably lead to living a Greek lifestyle.

[5] The text doesn’t separate ‘speaking with tongues’ and ‘magnifying God’ as though they were two things. The speaking itself is magnifying God.

[6] Actually, the verses before this (12:4-11) also speak of this unity. Read them and look for the words ‘same Spirit’. This is the main point of chapter 12.

[7] Again, the word ‘varieties’ demands that this is not referring to a single language (heavenly, etc.)

[8] Actually, the chapter downplays the importance of ‘tongues’, and raises the importance of prophecy – so that the body may be edified. Read chapter 14 and look for the word ‘edify’, ‘edifies’ or ‘edified’. See the main point?

[9] For example, a Parthian person praying ‘by the Spirit’ in the Parthian tongue (in the midst of the church/gathering), would be ‘giving thanks well’, but others that didn’t know the Parthian tongue would not be able to understand it, be edified by it, or know whether or not to say ‘Amen’ to it. (14:15-17)

[10] Others have demonised moder-day ‘tongue’-speakers (or claim they are doing so because of demons). I see absolutely NO reason or grounds to do this. My desire is to have unity in the essentials and seek clarity on the non-essentials.

[11] On that note, I find it incredible the amount of detail given in many instructions for speaking in this manner. 99% of it doesn’t even bother trying to tie it in with Scripture, and are rather built purely on the recent (less than 150 years) tradition of experience.

of kings and kingdoms

The first followers of Jesus said many various things about Jesus.
(this is not a huge statement)

Particularly, they called Jesus ‘the King’ and ‘Lord’.
(these, however, were most certainly huge statements then…)

I’m not going to focus on the Jewish side of things – what it might have meant for them to call Jesus ‘King’ or ‘Lord’ – but want to focus on the Greek/Roman side of things…

The Romans hailed Caesar as Lord and King, and allegiance to him was demanded at basically every turn. Prison, torture or death – or maybe all three! – if you didn’t…

The followers of Jesus withheld their allegiance from Caesar.

I wonder how bold they were about this…

Perhaps we’ll never know. Did they keep their noses down and only admit it when pressed to it? Did they rub the Romans’ noses in it? I don’t know…

But what I am convinced of is this:

Their message and Kingdom of Jesus was offensive to the world of Caesar.

The Kingdom of Jesus is up-side down compared to the world of Caesar.

Check this out…

In Acts 17, we see that Paul and Silas preached the message about Jesus to Jews (and Gentile listeners – called ‘devout Greeks’ or ‘God-fearers’) in Thessolonica – which was a Roman city. The message was (and still is, by the way!) that Jesus was ‘the Christ’ (meaning God’s annointed – you guessed it – King.). They convinced LOTS of people (a ‘great multitude’ of the devout Greeks, and ‘not a few’ of the leading women).

The Jews were livid. They gathered what the text calls ‘evil men’ (I’m guessing like ‘hit men’ or something?) from the marketplace, and searched for Paul and Silas to have them… well… you know… probably killed or something. Apparently, they didn’t find them, so they grabbed who they were staying with…

They “…dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city (meaning the ‘Greek’ people in charge of Thessolonica), crying out, ‘These (Paul and co.) who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these (Jason, ‘some brethren’, and Paul and co.) are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another King – Jesus.’ ” (Acts 17:6-7 NKJV – my emphasis and distracting notes added)

Paul and Silas didn’t stay to try and sort things out…

The message and Kingdom of Jesus denies allegiance to all other would-be Kings, Lords, Caesars, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Dictators and more.

More than that (as if that’s not enough!) it also turns the world ‘upside down’.

-Does your faith turn YOUR world ‘upside down’?

-Are you acting contrary to the decrees of ‘Caesar’?

-Are you saying (with your time, money, etc.) that there is ‘another King – Jesus’?

May the Kingdom people be about the King’s business.
May we feel the tension of living in a world that gives allegiance to various other Kings.
May we encourage and strengthen each other to stick it to the false Kings around us…
…in the name of the real King – Jesus.

feelings on theology

Everyone is a theologian.

Theology is simply the ‘logic’ (thought, ideas, study) of ‘theos’ (god), and everyone does this. Even atheists, who claim to be quite certain that the idea of god is silly, spend much time, energy and thought trying to demonstrate this – and therefore, I suggest, they engage in theology.

Anyway, some people put theology on a spectrum with something else – like theology on one end and emotions on the other (as if the ‘goal’ was to stay in the safe ‘middle-ground’ between the two). This is making less and less sense to me. Are not emotions present in all that we do; and – is not even simple reflection about god at least some form of theology?

Emotions matter. Ideas about god matter. We don’t need 50% of each – we need 100% of both.

Having said that, let me be quite clear: I am convinced that emotions (though we need them 100%) cannot be trusted. Sure, feelings are god-given and must not be rejected or disregarded, but were never meant to be relied upon. They are more a ‘thermometer’ to life than a road-map…

Now, the ‘road-map’ of theology can also be trusted too much. We can delude ourselves into thinking we have got it all sorted and sussed. If the apostle Paul can say that ‘we know in part’ (1 Cor. 13) then I think that goes for all of us. But there are certain things (assurance of salvation in Christ alone, the will[desire] of God, etc.) that we can know.

Just as God has given some people more sensitive emotions and feelings, he has given others more critical and thinking minds – and neither is more ‘spiritual’! Both must continually strive to use these things for God’s glory – because it all matters!

We get this messed up all the time. Some christian communities value feelings/emotions so much that critical thought and discernment goes out the window, while others value theology/’truth’ so much that any sign of life or vibrancy is absent.

We must work hard to not be emotion-less or emotional-istic. And we must work hard at theology – because it matters. How we feel and what we think can cause us to do and believe some very interesting (and possibly tragic) things (i.e. – belief that national Israel has to go back into ‘the land’ and restore the ‘temple’ before Christ can return can result in indifference to the atrocious militant actions of the nation of Israel against Palestine that seem to clearly go aganst God’s will[desire]).

Don’t mock people whose emotions are more vibrant than yours. And – don’t think for a moment that theology gets in the way of ‘real’ worship. Instead, love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul, mind and strength… together.

covenental confusion

A friend and I was checking out the various ministry booths at a Christian music festival this past weekend. We encountered two ministries that were very similar. Both of them were what you could call ‘pro-Israel’ ministries. Now, I don’t think we should be ‘anti’ Israel, but I do think their understanding of the covenant(s) is reflective of the ‘covenental confusion’ right through Christianity.

If you are not familiar with the topic, the ‘pro-Israel’ position emphasises all things Jewish. They do so with good intent and with the appearance of good reasons. After all, Jesus (and most of the early church) was indeed Jewish.

The ‘pro-Israel’ people will usually teach (or encourage) the observance of various Jewish festivals and rituals (Passover, Sabbath, Days of Unleavened Bread, and much more). They will often point to the various examples of the Jewish-ness of the early church (Synagogue attendance, etc.) and various verses of the New Testament to demonstrate that the early Jewish simply carried on in their Jewish-ness, and to support their suggestions that Christians today need to do these Jewish things as well.

This discussion is vast, (and I’m generalising to keep it short) but I’ll try to explain my understanding of it as simply as I can.

Part of the difficulty is that the Bible wasn’t written in the same style as, for example, a theological encyclopedia. Since the New Testament is not a Covenant Theology handbook, we often see the details of Covenant as we read in-between-the-lines of what the writers are communicating (having said that, you don’t have to read between the lines much in the epistle to the Hebrews!). Another thing to remember: we can see from Acts 15 and Galatians 2 that the Apostles didn’t always see eye to eye about everything. Paul disagrees with Barnabas and Peter at various times.

Having said that (and trying to keep this short), let’s look at the issue further.

Everyone agrees that Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, but the question is this: How is the New different from the Old? What changes to the lifestyle/belief of believers did it make?

OK. Here’s how I see it.

God is a covenental and promise-making God. He doesn’t break His covenants or His promises. As for any and all of the promises of God, Paul is emphatically clear (and I make a point not to be this dogmatic very often) that they are ‘Yes’ in Jesus. In other words, God keeps all His promises, and He keeps them in His way – namely, the Jesus kind of way.

As for the covenant(s), the way I like to say it is this: the ‘Old’ covenant was ‘baptised’ and became the ‘New’ Covenant. Baptism is, of course, a symbol of death and resurrection – of dying and rising. There are too many points of detail, but basically, all of the various aspects of the Old Covenant (the Land, the Temple, the Sacrifice, the Passover, the Sabbath, the Law, etc.) were ‘baptised’ and raised anew. All of their meaning and significance was now found in not a place, time or event, but a Person – namely, Jesus.

The implications of this were huge. Gentiles could ‘come to Jerusalem’ by simply ‘coming to faith in Christ.’ Their circumcision was not of the flesh, but of the heart, and so on…

The Old system was tired, worn and fruitless. God was bringing judgement on Israel. This judgement, however, was going to be like no other. But thankfully, with God, judgement always is one side of the 2-edged sword… the other being blessing. Judgement for fruitless and nationalistic Israel, and Blessing for believing/spiritual Israel.