Not Blending In Seamlessly

Seamless1

Long story short – I’ve been invited to participate in a Lifeway Bible study at a Methodist Church. So I did a little homework and realized that there’s some subtle and blatant promotion of Calvinism from the very start. Combined with a nod to both Biblical Inerrancy and Gender Complementarianism – it doesn’t allow for anything that isn’t a conservative Southern Baptist or a Reformed Calvinist to be right in anything. Before we continue, let’s have a moment of silence for the centuries of Christians who perished because John Calvin wasn’t born millennia ago as Paul 2.0 to explain the Doctrines of Grace that would have saved their eternal souls from torment but don’t cry over them because they weren’t the elect and they deserve their punishment. Now let’s begin at the beginning:

“Either the Word of God is true or it isn’t. There isn’t a middle ground. There’s no grey areas. Either it is authentic or it is an imitation … What do you think?”

I believe in the middle ground that’s full of grey areas. More accurately, I believe that the Bible is the collective wisdom of ancient cultures written by 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years describing many thousands of years where events tended to get less clear and more sensational with each re-telling. I believe the Bible was written by a culture that valued metaphor and meaning over literal facts and specific dates. Where stories were meant to convey ideas but not necessarily factual events. I don’t think of the Bible as either true or not true, or as either authentic or an imitation; but more along the lines of both, like an epic piece of poetry meant to convey a truth while not literally being true in every aspect. Some of that comes as a result of learning more about the cultures from which it was written and making peace with the fact that my culture isn’t theirs.I guess for the duration of this Bible study, that makes me a heretic who has turned from the true path and must be gently instructed so that I can return to the truth.

Unsurprisingly, the first verse used in the entire study is the ESV translation of Hebrews 4:12. Here I noticed that the phrase word of God doesn’t have a capital W like the phrase did when originally introduced. It makes me wonder if the Word of God is not the same thing as the word of God. The good news is that the whole thought is thrown away by the need to keep moving forward. I think the idea is to use it to bolster the idea that the Word of God is true because – For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.(Heb 4:12) Which is short for: “The Bible says so.”

Surprisingly, a quote from Tozer follows it: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The next question is “What comes to mind when you think about God? … Is he trustworthy? Since the Garden of Eden, this is a question the Devil tries to answer for us and he still does so to this day …” What follows is a rather selective interpretation of the Original Sin starting with Adam, Eve, and the serpent. Mostly Eve and the serpent. Just don’t pay attention to the fact that Eve doesn’t get called Eve until later on in this story. It’s just easier to read this passage as if God named Adam Adam and Eve Eve when they were created from the very beginning and that’s how He introduced them to each other. Here’s the quick version:

So the serpent asks: “Did God really say?” … With the insinuation that if God really loved us, he would want us to be knowledgeable. He immediately put God’s character to the test. So at this point, Eve made a choice, she chose to believe the enemy over God. She chose to believe that something about the character of God was not fully trustworthy. Sin happens. Humans hide. God asks, “Where are you?” He’s not asking about their location. He’s asking about the condition of their hearts. “What is it that you think of Me?” Take a moment to look at the similarities of the two questions: “Did God really say?” and “Where are you?” The root of the two questions are the same: “What is it that you believe to be true about God and as result, what is your posture toward Him?” She points out that what we happen to believe about God will affect how we read the Bible. We might ask ourselves: “What kind of God would murder almost everyone in a flood?” We might read this as confirmation of our suspicion that God is a brutal murderer. When we learn that these weren’t good people … The heart of the question I believe is really based on understanding who He is and who we are. If we really really understand the holiness of God and the fundamental truth that we don’t deserve to be in His presence then we see life through new eyes …

She really does seem to like to throw away thoughts. For one, she threw away any thought to Adam’s participation in the story about Eve and the Serpent to focus on Eve’s motivation to sin which isn’t really in the Bible the way she says it is. She threw away any thought any possible other beliefs about God. Like the idea that God is loving. If God floods the whole world, killing every living and breathing human, plant, and animal except those who are on the boat, it looks a tad unloving. One common teaching is that kids under the age of accountability are innocent and all of them will be raptured. That didn’t happen in the flood. What do you do with facts that don’t square with the perceived qualities and characteristics of God? And she threw away the thought after “these weren’t good people”. That’s frustrating to get to a point that has some promise of an interesting conversation just to throw it away.

Where were we? Oh, right, the R.C. Sproul quote: “In two decades of teaching theology, I have had had countless students ask me why God doesn’t save everybody. Only once did a student come to me and say, ‘There is something I just can’t figure out. Why did God redeem me?‘” She continues to quote from the same source material, neglecting to put the rest of the quote up and since I don’t feel like subjecting myself to it repeatedly to type it out fully, I’ll leave it up to you. I’ll give you a hint: It sounds like blatant Calvinism. Sproul is an ardent Calvinist, one of the leaders of Reformed Christianity, specializing in Classical apologetics, Systematic Theology, and Biblical Inerrancy. In other words, he’s quite a partisan Christian that belongs to the party of Christianity that is pretty much the opposite of the party the church that is doing this Bible study belongs to. It’s the equivalent of the Democrats cheating off of the Republicans because they haven’t bothered to do their own homework. It shouldn’t be surprising to see core elements of Calvinism slipping into the thoughts she’s already presented: “For reasons having nothing to do with me, God chose me” “When you understand God’s holiness and that these really weren’t good people (they deserve to be wiped out in a flood because they’re evil and they’re not among the elect.)” “We don’t deserve to be in is presence (because we’re totally depraved sinners.)” It’s not what just what she does say, it’s the inevitable conclusion that’s the result of what she begins to say and doesn’t finish. Calvinism is sneaky like that. You have to know what it sounds like to hear it, and sometimes it can be missed by Arminian churches that are less than diligent about teaching the specifics about what they believe and why it’s important.

So what is it that comes into your mind when you think about God? ... She goes onto say that we have to remember that we’re sinners and God is holy. I sort of zoned out here. But she comes back with an Andrew Murray quote: “The more abundant the experience of grace the more intense the consciousness of being a sinner.” Murray belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church which was also influenced by Calvinism. Remember how she said that what we believe about the Bible affects how we read it, understand it, and apply it? Calvinism (and Arminianism for that matter) is a pre-packaged sets of beliefs that affects how one reads the Bible. The difference is that in a very subtle way, the material leans on that Calvinist influence to interpret Scripture. Which wouldn’t be a problem for the Reformed crowd or Southern Baptists; but we are a Methodist Church. We belong to the other party but aren’t getting any reinforcement to bolster our position, rather, we’re being weakened by allowed the other side to preach the message unquestioned and unchallenged when we use their resources: We’ve already “agreed” that this a women’s Bible study because there’s pink all over the place. It’s not for men. We’re doing this study as women teaching women, which is what the Bible says is God’s ideal. We’re stepping away from what we believe to be true: women can teach men to agree with something we believe is not true: women cannot teach men. The subject is the entire Bible. It should be for men and women. We’ve already agreed to suspend our own beliefs about Arminianism and doubts about Biblical Inerrancy in order to agree that we’re Biblical Inerrantists and Calvinists for the duration of the study. I hope that Baptists would return the favor and agree to be Methodists for the  duration if they did one of our studies, they have nothing to fear – they’re among the elect and can never really not be saved. Like the sign says: “God’s love is unconditional as long as you are obeying Christ.

“From the garden to the flood to Babel, we can see this constant need of humans to raise themselves up … over, over, and over again we’re going to see this complete lack of humility in God’s people.” Right, it’s not as if we’re preconditioned to believe that out of nothing we did, we’re God’s elect. It’s not out of God’s grace, but His holy and sovereign justice that no matter what we do, we’re going to go to Heaven because His grace is irresistible and He gives supernatural persistence as saints to never fall away. That will really humble us when we think about all those other poor Christians who claim to follow God but don’t believe in the doctrines of Grace. Like those poor Methodists and other Arminians who just don’t believe in God the right way. Same goes for those non-Christians all over the world. When we’re in Heaven and they’re not, we promise to think about how humble we are that God chose us and not them. That’s definitely a recipe for humility.

“God’s still asking where our hearts are …” I’ve noticed that she sometimes points to marriage metaphors, “He’s given us this ring …” “He’s our bridegroom” “He’s given us this eternal proposal” That tells us somehow of how she see’s God, the thing is – in the context of the first few chapters – creation, fall, flood, and the Tower of Babel, there’s just not the time or place for that. Or better yet, it’s not God’s role at that particular point and time. That’s one of the flaws of the ideas that we have roles. In real life, roles change. There’s no permanency involved in them. God didn’t step into the role of the bridegroom until the New Testament. To do that, he had to stop being the role of the faithful husband who initiates a divorce. (Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:8) Like us, His roles change throughout Scripture. Look at the ‘roles’ God plays in the creation, the fall, the flood, and the tower. He’s not always “the creator” in the midst of being “the destroyer”, He’s not always the same here on out with the rest of the story: “the husband”, “the Egyptian curse-sender”, “God-of-the-Angel-Armies”, “the wilderness scout”, etc.Let’s not get our New Testament terminology confused with our Old Testament picture of our multi-faceted God.

Were this a men’s Bible study, questions like “What do you think about God?” “What do you think about the Bible?” “What do you feel that God is speaking to you through the Bible?” wouldn’t be at the top of the list. But it’s not a men’s Bible study, so questions that relate everything back to the person doing the study rather than on God himself is the norm here. Methodist churches owe it to their members to question everything they hear from Lifeway Bible studies, to point where where Calvinism and Arminianism clash and why that’s important. If they don’t, they might as well paint over “Methodist” on the church sign with “Baptist” and start firing all the women pastors who teach men. If we aren’t going to challenge to their theology, we might as well swallow it, hook, line, and sinker.

Lot’s Lot in Life (Part 3 of 3)

Dear people, worldliness, worldliness is a curse from God’s heaven; worldliness. And the Bible teaches us, of anything else it could possibly teach us, we are to separate ourselves from the world, all of its blandishments, all of its allurements, all of its cheap evanescence, vanishing, temporary, transient rewards, we are to separate ourselves from it. We are to be a people of God, a sanctified family of the Lord. And I can tell you this on the basis of the Word of God Himself: if you will separate yourself from the world, and will give yourself to God, God will repay you a thousand fold just as He did Abraham. Abraham loved the Lord, served the Lord, blessed the name of the Lord. He’s our patriarchal father. Lot lost everything in the lost world. Lord grant to us a faith and a commitment that we’ll believe if I give myself and all that I am to the service of Christ, He will reward me a thousand fold, both in this world and in the world to come.

And here we come to the point: worldliness is bad. Or is it? Lot is mentioned in the New Testament – … Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard … Yet he still had to do something about living in the physical world, food and drink, shelter and clothing, to a degree we all have to be worldly so long as we’re living, breathing, people. Abraham certainly wasn’t being very spiritual the times that he ordered his wife to lie about her identity as his wife because he was afraid of what the king would do to him or any number of other occasions. After all, in the middle of Lot’s story, Abraham had Ishmael by Hagar (this was a legitimate way for a barren woman to have a child – by her servant that is considered her property – think of it like an ancient form of surrogacy.) Where was his great faith then? Or was his worldly side telling him that it was better to make God’s promise happen than to wait for God to make his promise happen? The point isn’t so much about who was righteous and who was not, who was worldly and who was not – but about two different types of people. This story wouldn’t have been the same if it were a tale of two Abrahams or were it a tale of two Lots. It’s their differences that tell us about who God is. This story could have easily gone the other way – Lot could have chosen Canaan. God still would have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham would have been spared. They all would have made the same choices just under different circumstances. Perhaps the point isn’t about worldliness, but how the choices we make all impact how we live out our lives and it does not always mean that one bad choice dooms our existence with bad consequences until the end of time. We should strive to make good choices but what we decide ultimately has little impact on the big picture. He is not so powerless as to be unable to work with the times we make wrong decisions to turn them around to benefit many. 

Now we’re going to sing us a song of appeal. And while we sing it, somebody you to give your heart and life in trust to the Lord Jesus, welcome. A family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church, welcome. A somebody you to give your life in answer to God’s call, welcome. A fellow pilgrim with us who serve Jesus with all of the strength of our hearts and lives, welcome. As the Spirit shall press the appeal upon your heart, while we sing this song, answer with your life. Do it now. Angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.

This part wasn’t really the conclusion of the message – it was the section before. I wonder what hymn would they have sung after a sermon like that … Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art are my guesses. What else would one sing after such a fine example of misinterpreting scripture? Perhaps I’ll end with a cautionary note – one ought not to preach a sermon delivered twenty-five years out of date and from another denomination or with me in the room because I pick up on little details that give me an insight as to the thoughts and interpretation of others that don’t represent how I think or interpret Scripture and I have to wonder which of us is right (though I admit that it’s possible that neither one of us are right.) Obviously, I’ve sat through one too many sermons about Lot.

Lot’s Lot in Life (Part 2 of 3)

Lot lived outside of the city. Five kings allied themselves against four kings – one of them being the King of Sodom. The four kings lost. The five kings carried off the spoils of war including everything Lot owned and his entire household except the one man that manages to escape and tell Abraham what happened. Abraham raises up 318 men from his household, servants, shepherds, and their family members to help him rescue Lot. Scripture doesn’t tell us how they part company, but it does mention that the King of Sodom went to see Abraham about how to divide the spoils of war.

(After reading Abraham ask that the righteous be spared from Sodom’s destruction.) I want you to look at that for a moment. Lot’s children married Sodomites. And wouldn’t you think that in his own family, he would have had at least ten to come to the Lord? But what did we say? In Sodom Lot built no altar; in Sodom Lot had no witness; in Sodom Lot never made one convert. No one would listen to him; no one seemed to care, even his sons-in-law. They just laughed and mocked at this righteous man, lost his witness in Sodom …(our speaker omitted the anecdote in this section) Well, that was Lot. His daughters married Sodomites. And God said, “If you’ve just got ten converts in twenty years, your sons-in-law and your daughters-in-law in your family, just ten, I’ll spare the city for the sake of ten.” And Lot in twenty years had never won a soul to the Lord Jesus, not in twenty years.

Yet another fine example of telling us what the Bible does not say and interpreting as if it were more important that the whole of the passage. Generally, women were expected to convert to the gods of the head of their household, meaning their father until they are married and then their husband until they remarry or die, whichever comes first (unless for whatever reason you steal your father’s household gods, but that’s not in this particular story). It’s just that the Bible is very unclear as to the number of daughter’s Lot had, but that doesn’t stop this preacher from drawing the conclusion that he feels best fits his particular interpretation regardless of what the Bible actually says. Let’s think about this logically: where else could Lot’s daughters have found future husbands? Abraham’s only heir was Ishmael and he was very much underage. The rest of his household consisted of shepherds, servants, and certainly not freemen. It’s not as if Lot’s daughters were free to wander the countryside or go through the city without being escorted. They had very different marriage proposal and engagement process than we do – and it’s a very bad idea to imagine that they’re the same as ours when they’re not. I haven’t yet found the verse that God says: “If you’ve just got ten converts in twenty years, your sons-in-law and your daughters-in-law in your family, just ten, I’ll spare the city for the sake of ten.” Maybe I’m using the wrong translation or version.

All right, another thing, we’re looking at the dividends of the worldly life … Lot is taken bodily, physically, coercively by those angels and is forced out of the city. And he lingers, that’s explicable, isn’t it? Understandable, isn’t it? Everything he had was in Sodom. His children are there, his grandchildren are there, his home is there, his house is there, his family is there, his property is there, his heart is there, everything he has is in Sodom. And when those angels force him out, “Flee for your life,” he lingers and lingers and lingers … You know what that’s a picture of? That’s a picture of the day of our death, when everything that we have is in this world. I can understand why a worldly man or a worldly woman would look upon death as a horrible visitation. They don’t have anything in heaven, there’s no riches toward God, there’s no mansion beyond those pearly gates. There’s not anything but loss and darkness. Everything they have is in this world. Just like Lot, everything he possessed was in Sodom. And when the angels had to force him out Lot lingered and lingered. Everything he had was in Sodom.

Here’s an example of reading ideas into Scripture that’s not expressly stated. We might never know what Lot’s motivations for his actions or reasoning for his thoughts were. We can imagine what we might do in his shoes, but that gives us a poor frame of reference to go on as we are not him, have not lived his life, and do not understand why he does what he does because we’re modern Americans and he was not. Oddly, any modern preacher would make a big point about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. I guess that’s gets a whole sermon in it’s own right. But I wanted to point out that we have a tendency to think in terms of “what type of sin” God mentions more than once the full measure of sin … or the amount. So in terms of judgement, it’s not what kind of sin that counts against us, but the totality of sin of sin that has occurred.

We must close. One other thing: in Genesis 19, verses 35-38 is one of the most sordid stories of incest to be found in the Word of God. The reason for the telling of the story is because of the horrible progeny of Lot. The elder daughter, as you know, when the angels took Lot out of Sodom his wife looked back and was destroyed and the two girls were saved with him. And the elder daughter got her father drunk, and lay with him, as the Bible would say, and out of that incestuous relationship with his own daughter Moab was born. Then when the elder daughter saw that she had succeeded in thus seducing her father and becoming pregnant by her own father, why, she persuaded [the] younger daughter to get her father drunk just like that. And the younger daughter lay with her father all night long. And she became pregnant and became the mother of Ammon. And the Bible says that that is where the Moabites and the Ammonites came from. And they were destined to become the worst enemies of God, the Moabites and the Ammonites.

Oddly enough, certain traditions hold Lot’s daughters innocent. They way they teach this section is that by the time Lot and his daughters reached the cave, they had seen nothing but death and destruction. They remembered the story of Noah saving his family and starting over. They assumed that they were the only people living and that it was necessary to begin having children right away to repopulate the planet. That’s not what most people teach, I know, but it’s a valid point of view. Anyway the Bible has quite a bit to say about the Moabites and Ammonites: for one, they were off-limits – Then the Lord said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.” and No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. I know, harsh. But there is at least one Ammonite and one Moabite in Jesus’ family tree – Ruth the wife of Boaz and Naamah the wife of Solomon.

Lot’s Lot in Life (Part 1 of 3)

On Sunday, a guest speaker delivered the sermon. Something about the content sounded as if it belonged to another denomination. Turns out – the speaker basically preached this sermon by W.A. Criswell, he just changed the title and omitted the anecdotes. Criswell is remembered as the patriarch of the “Conservative Resurgence” within the SBC.

Now the difference in those two men is the difference between day and night, between the east and the west. Abraham’s life was one of complete trust in God. He lived a life of faith … Lot was a diametrical opposite. He was a man of the world … But, he was willing to compromise his spiritual life for worldly advancement and worldly gain … but you will have one thousand Lots. They’re everywhere: a man of the world.

Sometimes preachers have a tendency to talk about people in the Bible as if one is good and another is bad. We like heroes and villains. But we don’t know what to do with a story that is about two different types of people that are neither heroes nor villains. That’s our loss – we could use more stories like that, stories that help us to understand that who we are (hero or villain) isn’t so much going to decide what happens to us but our choices (good or bad) will. We start in Genesis 13:

So we are going to look at Lot and the choice that he made … with strife between the herdsmen of Lot and the herdsmen of Abraham. And … unselfish Abraham says to his nephew, “You choose in any direction that you please, and I will take what is left.” … Lot chooses, the beautiful, well-watered plain and the cities of the valley. The world would say Lot is a shrewd businessman. He knows a bargain when he sees it, and he takes advantage of it. Lot did not say to Abraham, “God has blessed me through you. You choose. You choose, Abraham, and I’ll take what is left.” Nor did Lot say to his Uncle Abraham, “We will share it alike. We will divide the land between us.” What he did say was, “I will take all of the fertile, well-watered plain. I’ll take the cities of the valley, and you can have the desert wilderness and the rocky mountains.” And Abraham was kind and generous to his nephew and said, “You take the well-watered plain and you take the cities of the valley; and I’ll take the rocky mountains and the desert wilderness.”

This is a great example of preaching style causing a misunderstanding. The choice is between Canaan and the plain of Jordan toward Zoar. Canaan would be described a land of ‘milk and honey’. The Israelites would have to drive out (destroy) anyone and everyone in their path to take possessions of houses they did not build and vineyards they did not plant. If this was a desert wilderness and rocky mountain land, the various people that lived there would not have been as numerous – in fact, the land would have been much emptier. So Lot was, in fact, not choosing between a well-watered plain and desert wilderness with a little rocky mountains here and there unless in the span of a few hundred years God really did a miracle and redecorated the whole place. He was choosing between two well-watered plains – the big discernible differences were the sort of people already living in the area. The various peoples living in Canaan were so terrifying – they are described as tall and strong – these are the stock of Goliath, giants. The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” Perhaps Lot had some dealings in the plain of the Jordan and knew something of the quality of it’s people. Perhaps he felt it was more prudent to live near the cities where he could turn to for help. Where it was easier to get food and other supplies. Where there would be people to do business with. Where it was safer. Where there were no giants. (Of course – one must be careful, saying the phrase “pitched his tents” incorrectly can be disastrous.)

So we have the division of the two: Abraham is up there on the mountains, … “And Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom; and dwelt in the cities of the plain.” And … he prospered in Sodom. When you went into the city you would have met him first out of all the citizens of that flourishing metropolis. No man ever got on so well as did Lot in Sodom. He was the mayor of the city. He sat in the gate. He was “Judge Lot.“ Mrs. Lot was a fashionable leader in the social circles of Sodom. And the Mrs. Lots, his children, married well. They married Sodomites, and they prospered in the metropolis.

So we’ve already covered that the sermon described Canaan as rocky mountain and desert wilderness when it was just as well-watered as the Plain of Jordan toward Zoar (seriously – look up a map and count how many rivers you can find – there are ten of them as well as the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee – wherever there is water, there is life. Even surrounding the Nile River of Egypt are it’s farmlands and biggest cities). Time for the second big departure from Scripture: Lot became the mayor of Sodom. First, these events are out of sequence – Lot didn’t move into the city of Sodom until after he had been attacked and everything had been carried off by the victors. Secondly; what would be the point of Lot being the mayor of a city that has it’s own king? Also, the jury is still out on whether Lot had two daughters or four. This preacher assumes that he had four daughters and he married off two of them to local men on to lose them all when … (spoiler alert) … Sodom is destroyed.

We are now going to look at the dividends of his worldly choice, what happens when the man builds his life in the world possessed by the ambitions and answering to the calls of the world. Well, … he is captured in battle. Sodom is taken. And in that fall of the city of Sodom, in the war, Lot is captured. His whole family and everything that he owns is taken away. That means, in that day, he was taken into slavery, and all of his family. He would have been sold as a slave, and all of his family would have been in servitude had it not been that he was delivered by the hand of his Uncle Abraham. … Now, when that happens, when Lot is delivered by Abraham from slavery, what does he do? Does he refuse to turn to Sodom and say to Abraham, “I’m going to share God’s life with you.”? No! The first thing this shrewd businessman, Lot, does is he turns his heart and his life with his family and goes back into Sodom. The world had a hold of his heart and had a hold of his life, and he couldn’t disassociate himself from it.