Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: The Shack:

Preliminary Matters

I usually stay far away from the Contemporary Christian Fiction category. Like the Contemporary Christian Music genre, I find it to be, in general, of an inferior quality and shallow in content and significant thought. There are, of course, exceptions in the CCM genre that I have discovered and love to listen to, but I cannot, when considered as genre, stomach the shallow and cheesy lyrics, inferior music, and extremely irritating DJs on their radio stations. But even though I have looked for and discovered exceptions in the CCM genre, I have not even bothered in the CCF category. I read and greatly enjoy C.S. Lewis, but everything I have looked at coming out today is like eating unsalted grits off the floor in comparison to a top sirloin steak at a 5 star restaurant. You can listen to a song, roll your eyes, and forget about it, but to invest the time to read books that will most likely be a complete waste of time is somehow less appealing.

My whole point in saying this is that The Shack is not the type of book I normally would pick up and read. But I kept hearing about it and the emotions connected to people’s evaluations were so strong that I felt that I had to read it to know what they were all talking about. Some people felt it was the greatest book that they had ever read. Others thought that it was heresy. I twice had people approach me after I preached at other churches and ask me if a certain statement in the book was heresy or not. This was very intriguing to me and since I had people who kept asking me if I knew anything about it or what I thought about it, I figured that it would be fun to read it and write up a review over my Christmas break. Making the prospect more fun was talking to my sister who had read in the book and had already formed very strong opinions from what she had read (negative opinions) but agreed to read it with me and both put up evaluations on our perspective blogs. I look forward to her review whenever she finishes up.

There are two types of book reviews and evaluations that I cannot stand. The first is the book review that worships a book and its author without any view at all to its faults and shortcomings. This reviewer will get angry at the slightest criticism of the book’s content or author. The other reviewer that frustrates me is the hypercritical type that refuses to interact with or engage the book or the author. This reviewer is either threatened by the slightest difference in another’s viewpoint or just enjoys ripping people apart without any recognition of the contribution of the book or reception of the potential benefit he might receive in reading it. What I have seen of people’s reviews on the recent controversial bestseller The Shack have been almost exclusively in one of the previous categories. They either love the book and are offended at the slightest criticism of it, or they hate the book, tear it apart, and begin organizing a book burning service.

There is a third type of book review however, which may be full as bad as the previous two. It’s the book review that refuses to give a real evaluation. The reviewer will say some good things and some bad things, seemingly out of obligation to both categories. He’ll conclude by saying that the book is worth reading but that there are either some things to be cautious about or some minor yet important shortcomings that one should be aware of. Before I even began reading the book, I had already decided to write such a review. I was going to point out the good things and bad things, say that the book has value but be careful for certain things. But as I think about it, how is this really interacting or any kind of an attempt at an honest review if I decide ahead of time what basically I’m going to say. A good review will point out positive and negative aspects but not out of obligation but from an honest attempt at dialogue. I do have good and bad things to say, but I am trying to give an honest reaction to the book and its contents and not just say what I should say out of an obligation to form.

This review will be an attempt to avoid all of these extremes. The Shack has invoked a lot of strong feelings both ways but it does deserve, methinks, a place in the theological conversation. It is well written and the dude writing it knows theology well. Whether Young’s theology is the correct theology or not is another matter completely.

A quick warning. If you have not read the book and plan to, I may give some things away. I don’t really think that’ll ruin the book for you as it’s not really a mystery novel or anything, but if you would rather read it first then wait on reading this. I will not even try to be sensitive to not ‘ruining the book.’

Okay, enough talking about reviewing the book… review it already!

Book Summary: If you have already read the book you can kind of skim this…


The book begins with a guy who receives a letter in the mail that proposes meeting him at The Shack if he wants to talk, signing it Papa (his wife’s favorite name for God). This invokes an angry response from ‘Mack’ and we begin to go into his past story to see why. He went on a camping trip with his kids (his wife couldn’t go for some reason – work maybe) in the wilderness of Oregon. While he is saving one of his kids from drowning in a canoeing accident, a serial killer kidnaps his 6-year-old daughter and after an extended chase and investigation, they find evidence of her murder in a little shack deep in the woods. They never find the killer and they never find the body but her bloody dress the police find in the shack leaves little doubt that she was dead. This horrific event causes what he calls ‘The Great Sadness’ to descend upon him from which he cannot seem to recover. He blames himself, is angry with God (though he masks it, sort of), and has a hard time communicating effectively with his wife and kids. On a weekend at home alone he receives this note supposedly from ‘Papa’ and there we are, all caught up.

Against, perhaps, his better judgment, he decides to go. If it’s the killer, he’s bringing a gun, if it’s God then he can voice his complaints and have at it. So he drives up to the shack at there he meets God and the real story begins.

But God is not what he expects! Instead of an ‘old white guy with a beard like Gandalf’s’, he finds a big black woman with ‘a questionable sense of humor’. For most the rest of the book he gets to know God. The father is the first person (the big black woman). The Son is a laid back Jewish Carpenter. The Holy Spirit is a small Asian woman who is really hard to see clearly. Ultimately, he gets to see how much God loves everyone and the love that is within the Trinity. What they want from him is not religion or to follow any set of rules or any set of obligations but a relationship. God (the father) listens to Her ipod, not CCM or hymns, but various secular music by musicians past present and future, all of whom She (don’t panic over the pronouns please, at least not yet) loves particularly. She doesn’t get angry with Mack or point out how or why or if he’s wrong but basically just ‘hangs out’ with him without an agenda helping him get to know Her better. Mack hangs out with each of the persons of the trinity, gets to know them and Him (at the same time). They are all God, all one, what one knows they all know, where one is they all are, yet they have different personalities and roles. God doesn’t force anything on Mack because real love ‘doesn’t force itself’ but rather He brings Mack to the place where he can know Him better and ‘heal the wound’ in their relationship. After a while (I don’t have time or space to summarize everything), he goes into a cave for judgment. But the judgment is not God judging him but he gets the chance to judge God. After judging God to be wrong for not preventing his daughter’s death he is forced to judge the world and between his children. He is told to choose two of his children to spend eternity in the ‘new heavens and earth’ and three to spend an eternity in hell. Not able to do this, he begs to be able to suffer in their place. This is the right answer because it was God’s answer, He judged them all worthy of love and sent Jesus to die in their place. Mack begins to realize that he is unworthy of being judge. He learns that it is not institutions or the legalistic following of rules that God wants but love and relationship. Mack enters into a sort of loving and intimate relationship with God, which grows throughout the book. At the end of his time with God in the shack, he is given the choice of going home and back into the world and spending eternity with God like he has been experiencing. Although difficult, he does the ‘right’ thing and goes back into the world for the sake of others (though still remaining in intimate relationship with God). The story end by his getting into a car wreck on the way back, almost dying, slowly recovering and he begins to patch up his earthly relationships and grow in his relationship with God.

Reviewing Various Aspects of the Book

View of God


One of the aspects most difficult for some to get over is viewing God as a big black woman. Criticizing the book on this grounds is not justified, methinks. Young is not saying that God is a woman but clearly affirms that God is neither male nor female, which is completely a correct and orthodox point (the Father actually appears as a man late in the book when Mack needs more of a ‘Father figure’). Nor does he anywhere call God, mother or depart from the idea of God as father. God appears as a ‘big black woman’ for two primary reasons: 1) Because Mack’s bad relationship with his father made it too difficult for him to be able to view God as a male and 2) Because Mack’s preconceived view of God was a old white man with a Gandalf beard. God manifests himself in a way that breaks his stereotypical view of God (rather than reinforcing it). Although some may have a problem with this, I do not. I think it is not only appropriate but also helpful. God is not male (or female). Both male and female are created in God’s image and in some aspect both genders represent something of who He is, the male no more or less than the female. Unfortunately there is one place where it sounds as if the female is closer to representing who God is and the male. Women (typically according to Young) find fulfillment in relationship and men in accomplishment. These both have their problems, the woman because she seeks it in men instead of God. This was stupid, wrong, and really hurt the former point he was trying to make. Men and women are different and reflect God differently. Its not a matter of one being a better or worse representation of who God is. Both were created differently for a purpose and both mess up differently. Oh well. This wasn’t a major point in the book; just a side issue that really ticks me off, so I’ll forgive it. See how wonderfully kind, gracious, and forgiving I am?

Trinity

Another very interesting aspect of the book was its representation of the Trinity and, though less prominent still present, the complications surrounding the incarnation: Jesus’ human and divine natures. Young assumes certain issues about the Trinity (economic trinity not hierarchical, mutual submission between the members of the godhead etc…), but on the whole does a very good job. It’s not perfect, of course no explanation or picture of the trinity will be, but he does a very good job representing the threeness of God and the oneness of God (more emphasis on the former, however, rather than the latter). As for the submission aspect, he has an agenda here, which I do not think I agree with, all, of course, based upon his understanding of relationship. I’m not going to go into length about any nitpicky stuff regarding his portrayal of the Trinity. Overall I think he did a very good job with it and the imperfections are more related to the genre (Fiction) than to any heresy or unorthodox theology.

The Father


As far as his view of the Father, I think he did a good job overall once again. The issue he is most trying to correct, methinks, is the view that the Father is the unloving, harsh, and ‘mean’ person of the Trinity. He rightly shows that the Father loves His children and that sending Jesus to the cross was a difficult (can I use that word?) thing for him as well. It was very helpful to see him portray what God loving people looked like. ‘Papa’ takes a very special interest in all of ‘Her’ children. She wants a relationship with them and desires good for them. It’s very easy to think of God’s love as a cold love thought of only in distant theological demonstrations, the decision to elect, the sending of Jesus, and the provision of forgiveness and eternal life. These are all good and indispensable. But thinking of God as loving in the way humans are expected to love, laughing with us, rejoicing with us, crying with us, taking interest in us, caring for our smallest concerns, knowing us intimately, helps to bring home what God’s love means in our daily life in ways that we can more readily understand. This was very helpful for me and corrective to some of my ‘cold theology.’

Jesus

His view of Jesus was both good and bad. Young does a good job, I think, of capturing the human and divine natures of Jesus without division, separation, etc…. He has good and solid explanations of Jesus’ miracles; they are done through the power of the Holy Spirit as a human being, not by his own power. Jesus is very Jewish and very human, which is good, but very cool, laid back, and relaxed, which is far far far too simplistic. The visions of Jesus post-resurrection are so far removed from Mack’s vision of Jesus that He is scarcely recognizable. Jesus’ glorification is not present. Paul and John’s experiences left them blind or almost dead. Mack’s Jesus is a ‘hey what’s up man, how ya doin, lets go walk on some water for fun, happy-go-lucky-drug-free-hippy kind-of-guy.’ The only thing about this Jesus that corresponds to the Jesus of the NT is that he’s Jewish! I can’t imagine that this Jesus would have ever called the Pharisees vipers or cleansed the temple with a whip. We shouldn’t be out of balance by thinking of Jesus as a harsh whip bearing man who insults everybody, but Young’s Jesus is grossly out of balance. I do not think that Young’s vision of Jesus has nearly as much correspondence to the Jesus presented in the New Testament as a picture of what Young thinks the ideal man would look like. The guy he comes up with is a very good man, but not Jesus.

The Holy Spirit


Young’s Holy Spirit is, put simply, weird. I’m not sure where most of this comes from. It is mostly neither good nor bad, affirmed or denied by Scripture. The Bible tells us very little about the Holy Spirit. But there is one very important aspect of the Holy Spirit that he misses. Sarayu (his name for the Holy Spirit in the book) does not draw attention and focus to Jesus at all, which is, methinks, the Holy Spirit’s primary role in the NT. I never saw this in The Shack and I was looking. Maybe I missed it?

Freewill

Young is obviously more Arminian (in the popular sense of the word) in his theology than I am. That’s okay; I can deal with that. I do not believe or act as if I am the sole judge of truth. I may be wrong, he may be wrong, we both may be wrong. I won’t attack these kinds of theological differences. All wrong theology has problems and will result in an improper view of God and improper praxis, so it is important, but I'm not going to get on a Calvinistic soap box and go after his 'Arminianism'. But I will take issue with some larger problems here. He uses freewill to solve all of the major problems in theodicy and it just doesn’t work. He ignores completely the problem of hell (he mentions hell but never explains or incorporates it). Ultimately God allows people to do sin even though it hurts them and God because he loves them and love does not force anyone to do anything. I’m sorry but this is very insufficient. I’m not saying that free will cannot help answer some of these questions but its much more complicated than that, whatever your theology. My parents made me go to school, did not allow me to eat small plastic objects, made me eat my vegetables, did not allow me to stay up all night, made me go to bed, and refused to allow me to do certain harmful activities because they loved me. Answer me this question, does God send people to hell forever because he loves them or are there other motivating factors? I want to make it clear that I am not questioning his theology, I'll do that elsewhere, just pointing out the deficiency of his answers. God’s love cannot be used to explain every action and aspect of God. God does get angry. God is just. God hates sin. I have found people, and I can be this way at times, who focus too much on God’s justice, hatred of sin, anger, and jealousy without a proper understanding of his grace, mercy, patience, and love. These are not to be understood as being in contradiction, or even in tension, but they must all be understood and realized. I don’t think Young does as good a job with theodicy as his fans think he does. Ultimately he falls far short, just like the rest of us do. That’s okay, but the book doesn’t leave us with the impression that this question hasn’t been answered. It acts like it has answered this question perfectly and completely. Maybe I’m inferring something here, but either way, he doesn’t even nick the surface of theodicy. His answers are insufficient. I can't imagine a godhating atheist being convinced by them.

Universalism/Salvation


There have been some people who have accused Young of universalism. This is unfair. He does not affirm universalism or the idea that all ways lead to God. Quite the opposite is, in fact, true. God calls people out of all religion, including Christianity (more on that later) into relationship with him. To paraphrase Young’s Jesus: ‘Not all roads lead to me but I will go on all roads to find you.” Young is not a universalist (as far as I can tell) he just doesn’t deal with the issue of unsaved people. That’s okay, he can’t deal with everything, but he can’t pretend that he has solved the theodicy problem without dealing with it. As for what he would say about unsaved people, I would guess that he would very much like what C. S. Lewis wrote: “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.” I think I agree with that. Are they locked from the outside too? Hmmmm….

Religion/Relationship


Well Surls, if you are reading this, here we go again. Back to the ‘Christianity is not a religion it’s a relationship cliché’! Young takes this statement and runs with it. Good grief! This is where I think he has his primary problem and why he is out of balance on so many other areas. This is also where he is most valuable and helpful in so many ways.

It is helpful because he does such an incredible and awesome job of showing what this means and what it looks (or maybe will/should look) like. Most of us would agree in theory that God has a sense of humor but never think of Him laughing with us. Most of us would agree that God knows and cares about us intimately but don’t imagine that He would take interest in our music, writing, or even personality. WOW! Young does such a good job with that! It was so good and helpful and corrective to think of God that way. But I think I can peg his main problem from which all of his other problems rise. The idea of God wanting a relationship and not religion is the very center of his theology. Almost everything in the book is based on that statement. There is suffering in the world because God wants a relationship. The corrective to every wrong view of God is to understand that God wants a relationship not religion. But he misses some very important aspects of Christianity because of his unbalanced focus and, perhaps, wrong definition of what a relationship is. Young’s God wants relationship and a relationship does not have any obligations or agendas. But God does have an agenda: He is in the process of conforming us into the image of His son, is He not? And God does have obligations: reject the world and its system, turn from your sin and all your other hopes for salvation and embrace Jesus as your hope of salvation. God and Jesus also give commands in the Bible, NT included. God does love people and want a relationship with them, no problems there, but seeing Christianity as merely a relationship will create more problems than it fixes. I’m not saying that it is wrong to use this phrase but care should be taken when we use it. We have to be sure we know that people know what we mean when we say it. If it communicates: “God is not looking for people to follow a set of rules and legalisms but for people to follow Jesus and turn from their sin,” then its good, If, however, it communicates: “God is not looking for people to follow a list of rules, to live a certain way, to believe anything in particular, or to give up anything, just people who are good people who love whatever their idea of God is,” then it is indeed a very very scary and dangerous statement. Unfortunately, I think most people hear the latter concept, not the former. People who have grown up in legalistic churches and backgrounds, or have just grown up in orthodox Christianity will understand it the first way, but the less educated and those growing up in a postchristian culture will not. Unfortunately, whether he intends it or not (and I would guess he doesn’t), I think Young will be read by many as advocating the latter option.

Man Before God


I was originally intending that this would be a long section but I’m getting tired so it’ll be short. Young presents a confrontation between God and man and it seems more than relevant to compare this confrontation with other God-human confrontations found in the Bible and compare them. At first glance, they seem nothing alike. We read about Paul’s confrontation with Jesus on the road to Damascus, John’s vision of Christ in Revelation, Isaiah’s vision of God and His throne, Moses’ dealings with God on Sinai and in the Wilderness, and Ezekiel’s vision of the throne, and there seems very very little to find that corresponds. But the most relevant comparison would not be any of these but God’s meeting with Job. Both are presented with horrific tragedy, both feel that God is unfair, and both meet God face to face. I’ll just make two points of comparison here and then move on to the conclusion.
The more obvious point is the way God is presented and the response this produces in Job. God is awesome, awful, and fearful and Job shuts up. When Job sees God face to face he is not able to voice his complaints. He has nothing to say but ‘I repent’ and ‘I’m putting my hand over my mouth’. God asks Job ‘who are you puny man’, he doesn’t plant a garden with him or cook him dinner. In this there is a very great and important difference. When man is confronted with the Almighty God he shuts up. Mack didn’t.

The less obvious point is where Young is good. In neither Job nor The Shack does God really explain Himself. In The Shack, Mack learns a lot about God but does not learn why Missy had to die. Mack’s answer is not found in God explaining Himself but itn seeing and knowing God. This is exactly the answer that Job receives. God does not explain Himself in Job. Throughout the whole book Job asks myriads of questions. How many does God answer? None. Not a single cotton picking one. God does not need nor is He obligated to answer man’s questions. But God did answer Job in Himself. When Job saw God he saw something of who he was before God and could do or say nothing. He affirms that he spoke without knowledge, things that he didn’t understand. That, ultimately is what Mack’s answer is: ‘These are things you can’t understand, instead of being angry, know me better and trust me.’

Towards Something of a Conclusion


Well this is really long and it’s really late (or early, depending upon your perspective) so this needs to be wrapped up. I am very glad to have read The Shack. It helped me think more deeply about what it means that God loves me and wants to be in relationship with me. It helped give me a better idea of what God is (perhaps) like in relationship with Himself. Most importantly it made me think about God and yearn to know Him better. For that I am grateful and appreciative.

I am also grateful for an enjoyable read. If more books in the Christian Fiction genre were this thought provoking and well written I would, perhaps, hang out there more often. Let’s hope this starts a trend of more theologically aware and mentally stimulating writing in a mostly barren desert of shallow theology and literary swill.

But I cannot recommend this book to everyone. I wish I could. I can and will recommend it to some people who are educated and/or discerning enough to be able to glean value without swallowing the whole thing, but I couldn’t stand up in the pulpit and tell people to read it.

Some people will be irked at me for this review. They’ll tell me that I have to remember the genre, it’s fictional, it’s an allegory. You can’t read it like a theological treatise. True. But I can’t help but ask what effect this will have on people’s view of God. Will it help them better understand their trials and sufferings? Will it help them better understand God? Will it help them better understand who He is, what He’s like and what He demands (and that is the right word, demands)? Overall I think for the average pew-sitter it will move them further away from understanding the God of the Bible. This is unfortunate because there are some very good things in this book that could really help people think about God in ways that they haven’t before but should. It could really help people understand what it means that God loves them and wants a relationship with them. It might even be able to help them understand things like the Trinity better. But at what cost? For the mature and stable Christian, this is a good read if read wisely. For the pastor or theologian it is, perhaps, an essential read given the popularity and influence this book will likely command. But there are far too many people out there who do not seem to be able to think critically when it comes to their faith and spirituality. These people are not only the people who are most likely to be harmed by reading it, but probably the most likely to like it. The people who are able to derive the most benefit from it, more academic-unemotional-serious-logical types will probably not like it or read it, and they probably should. But if you want to find something suitable for everyone to read, give them Job. It does a better job (hehehe). You may, somewhat fairly, object that it is harder for most people to follow. Write a good paraphrase then! Do a Bible Study, write a book, preach a sermon… I don’t know, do something! You figure it out.

I would very much like to hear your feedback on the Shack and my review. Let’s dialogue. I would really like to hear Nate and Austin’s opinion, especially in light of Austin’s previous blog about the term ‘religion’. This book does, regardless of whatever else it does, make you think and makes for great theological dialogue.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Responding to James Holden's Questions

This post's purpose is respond to James' questions left as a reply to my previous blog entry. I did read The Shack while I was in Alaska and will have a review of it up very soon, maybe even tonight.

I said that I wasn't looking to give answers in my last blog but receive answers. That was true. That does not mean that I didn't have answers to my own questions, but only that I am not satisfied with them. Bob Dylan wasn't really the point, which you all probably realized, nor did he really spark my questions as much as my own personal experiences did. Thanks James for your reply and you rightly discerned the influence my own experiences had upon my questions. The main reason I wanted to start blogging was for dialogue so I am grateful for the questions you asked. I hope I can allay your fears a bit. I am not placing my experiences on the level of the Scriptures. Experiences are too flighty and too easily misinterpreted to be the basis of truth. I agree with you that Scripture is true and reliable (and probably agree that there is absolute truth which is found in the Bible, you'd have to define 'absolute truth' for me though. I've always found it to be a very ambiguous term for such an absolute statement!).

But even if experience is an unreliable source of truth, it is an essential source for questions and questions are an essential tool of any serious thinker. And though the Bible is true, reliable, and revelation from God, it does not answer all of our questions. And many of the questions that it does answer are not answered clearly. This is not to find fault with the Bible, but with us humans who distort and misunderstand things all of the time. Even if we say, as I would, that Scripture is sufficient, that is not to say that we should cease to ask questions. If you do, you will ultimately rely upon your own understanding and presuppositions as your source of truth, not the Bible, because you will have no real way to analyze what you read or whatever curve ball life throws at you.

So let's get to James' questions,



So without regarding my experiences or the questions my experience asks I will attempt answers at your questions, on the basis of my theology alone - as best as I can.

1) According to the Bible, what saves a person?

Important question though I don't like the wording. I would answer simply that God saves someone. That's not what you are looking for. You want me to say believing in Jesus, or turning from sin or something along those lines, but really these do not save you. God saves you. Now on what basis does God save you? Isn't it on the basis of his own will? He saves you because he wants to? But here we run into some issues because I believe, based upon my debatable interpretation of Scripture, that God desires the salvation of all. We could go the Piper route and talk about God's differing wills, but, to be quite honest, that sounds ridiculous to me. Ultimately we cannot, methinks, really understand this from God's perspective. So what does God require of us if we wish to be 'saved' (I don't like that word...)? Repentance. Turning from your sin, the world system, and any other hope of salvation and follow Christ. This includes believing that Jesus died and rose from the dead, but believing these facts are not what save you, only prerequisites to really trusting in Jesus to save you.

2) According to the Bible, what keeps a person saved?

The Holy Spirit does. I do not believe that someone is saved forever because they believe in Jesus, no matter what happens afterward. Rather, the Holy Spirit preserves the elect (whatever that means).

3. What does it mean to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise?

I'll change the translation a bit to "sealed by the promised Holy Spirit". What does this mean? I'm not sure I can answer this fully, but I'll begin an answer anyway. The seal indicates ownership and, as 1:14 indicates, something of a preview or guarantee of our future inheritance. The real question is who receives this seal? The answer is obvious (I think): the elect. But who are the elect? From our perspective, I don't think that we can answer this.

4. What does Romans have to say about a person's life after he is saved?

Since I don't believe that Romans 7 refers to believers, I'll have to just say that they sound pretty darn near perfect.

5. Was Judas (a man who outwardly must have displayed some measure of faith) a true believer? I assume he gave up a lot to follow Jesus for three years.

Obviously not. But did he really display as much faith as we think? We are told little, but John knew that he stole from the money purse. He may not have seemed that good of a guy. We don't really know, we are told very very little.

6. What about the Pope or mother Theresa?

I think it is very possible that either are/were saved but I don't know. Even if I disagree with their theology, I recognize that it is not correct theology that saves a person (see James 2) but God saves a person. I can't answer this question from a human perspective either because I don't know their hearts. I'm more optimistic about Mother Theresa than I am about the average Baptist.

7. Why is it written, "They went out from us because they were not of us (1 John 2:19)?"


Because those false teachers that left the faith were never truly believers. But here's a better and more relevant question that I cannot answer, maybe you can: Did they know that they were not truly believers? Does anyone?

8. What did Paul mean when he rebuked the Galatians in chapter 3 for thinking that they needed to do something to keep their salvation?

That they were wrong to pervert the gospel by thinking that they had to follow the OTL in order to be saved.

---

I wasn't advocating works salvation in my last blog. Nor was I questioning the Scriptures. I hope it didn't sound that way. I was merely asking questions that were prompted by, yes, my experiences that do not seem to be clearly answered by Scripture. Here's my question in a nutshell James: Can someone ever really know that they are indeed a true believer? If the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, as you reminded us, how do we know that we aren't deceiving ourselves into thinking that our faith is genuine? If there are those who display, outwardly, evidence that their faith is sincere, yet they fall away, how do we test it? Works, it seems, is an inadequate test.

So for any of you who may have misinterpreted my last post's underlying question here it is more concretely: Can we ever be really assured of our salvation? Does the phrase 'assurance of salvation' even make sense?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Those of you who know the reference in the title can laugh at the title. Those who don't can laugh at me.

The point of the following blog is not to give you answers to any questions. I want your help with questions that haunt and confuse me. Bob Dylan is kind of just a foil.

The latest issue of CT has a couple interesting articles in it that would make good blog posts, especially for Nate (about giving, Africa, AIDS, small gospel, and humility). But one short little blurb has me curious and interested and thinking about important things. This blurb is about Bob Dylan. If you don't like him or his music don't turn me off yet. I'm not going to go on about why I like him or his music. Even if you can't stand the man, I think that the following may be interesting, thought provoking, and informative.

Some really fast background for the ignorant...

Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman or Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham) is well known for his many reinventions of himself and his music. He began as a folk/blues guitar/harmonica player in the clubs of NY and released his first album in 1962. He reinvented himself as a folk-rock singer, and then made enemies of his former fans as he shifted to electric guitar (he even had angry fans try and attack him on stage and one grab an axe to destroy his sound system). He then kind of shifted back to folk rock, then released a country album, and then shifted to pop-rock. Then, in 1979, came the period most important to what I want to talk about. He became a born-again Christian, and a passionate one at that. He used to try and convert his team, his producers and his fans. He released three Evangelical albums, prayed with his band and crew before every concert, and began to talk about Jesus as Lord. Over the years, his faith became more quiet. His next couple albums had Christian and secular songs until there was no more sign of Christianity in his albums. He had one song in one album that some thought was a "reaffirmation of his faith" but there was nothing explicit or obvious. His musical style shifted back to his original folk/blues. As for his religious beliefs many have speculated that he has returned to Judaism, where he started. He has shown up a couple of Jewish services at Synagogues over the years but does not regularly attend anywhere. Others think he is no longer religious at all. In reality, it seems, no one really knows except for Bob Dylan. His religious journey began as a Jew, then to atheism, then to evangelical Christian, and now what?
In 1997 he said this:
"Here's the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else. Songs like "Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain" or "I Saw the Light"—that's my religion. I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs."

Bob Dylan was always vague in interviews. Now he really doesn't give any. This quote is about the best we have to go on for the last 20 years. What Dylan really believes and subscribes to does not seem to be the same Christianity than I subscribe to, but whether he has any faith or trust in Jesus Christ left? Who knows for sure?

Okay so the CT article and how it got me thinking...
So the CT article was just a little blurb in reaction to a new documentary on Dylan's 'Jesus Years'. It criticizes the documentary for treating Dylan's 'Jesus Years' as a mere "phase in his artistic development." The article holds out hope that Dylan's faith may still be there, subtle and below the surface.

Just reading and thinking about Dylan and his conversion, whether real or not, has brought several important questions about the Christian Life.

1) If Dylan is not a Christian, is he 'no longer a Christian', never a Christian, an apostate beyond hope of redemption, or someone who never really understood the gospel and may still yet receive Christ? Isn't it strange how some people who seem very passionate about their faith, whose faith we would never doubt, lose that passion and their faith? If they were never saved where did that passion come from? How do we know any passion we or anyone else ever has is real? Do these people know that they are not saved or do they think that they are? If he is no longer saved, then how do we define a Christian? Or the elect? Are the elect merely those who persevere? Or is there something noticeably different about them from the outset that distinguishes from those who will not endure? If Dylan's conversion was insincere, do any of you have reasons that Dylan embraced Christianity insincerely? He lost most of his fan base for ten years. He did not gain money. He became more obscure for the decade. Was he merely a confused individual who needed a crutch and found it temporarily in 'Jesus'?

2) If he is still a Christian, how far afield can someone go and remain a believer? Can they lose all outward evidence and still remain a believer as they go through deep struggle and difficulty internally? Can one abandon his faith and remain 'Saved'? Can someone just be a Christian privately? Is it possible that he just quit being public about his faith? Can a real Christian leave everyone in the dark about his faith?

Obviously we cannot definitively or definitely answer questions regarding Bob Dylan's sincerity or present condition. I hope, but very strongly doubt, that his faith in Christ remains. If nothing else thinking about this really scares me. I have known others whose faith seemed obvious before it disappeared when the slightest test approached like snow melts before the sun. How can I know whether my or another's faith is real, fake, or temporary? Are the 'goats' among us aware that they are goats? I don;t think they (hopefully not we) are. Is it possible that someday my or your passion will fade and we will just be Christians internally, with no outward sign or word?

Tell me what you think about these thoughts and questions. Tell me what you think about Bob Dylan. Tell me if this blog post was a waste of time.

Again, I'm looking for help. I'm not seeking to give you answers.

Sources: Wikipedia, Christianity Today (Dec 2008)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Since I'm too busy too actually blog right now...

Since I'm too busy too actually blog right now I thought I'd share some of my intentions for blogging over Christmas break. I think some of them are exciting but for anyone who may read this with any degree of interest I would like your feedback- what sounds exciting to you?

1: Nate, Austin and I are going to translate Ruth and James in order to brush up on our Greek and Hebrew. It seems as if my ThM thesis is going to be based upon the book of James and I just finished a 25 page (after cutting off a few pages) paper on James' theology. So James has been occupying a great deal of my thinking and time. I would like to post some of my thoughts on the book, especially some aspects that are more controversial and difficult. Would this be interesting to read or boring?

2: My sister and I are going to read 'The Shack' over Christmas break. This book has been influential and controversial already. If I come out and say I love the book I know that there will be some people in my circles who will strongly disagree with me. If I come out and dislike the book I know there will be others in other circles who will stop talking to me altogether (just a little hyperbole going on here). This is good! I like stirring up controversy! I am guaranteed success! I would like to post my thoughts and reactions to the book here. Would you be interested in hearing what I think about the book?

3: I plan on finishing up the second (and possibly but unlikely the third) chapter of my Apology of Hell Novel thing. Many of you expressed some interest in this - should I continue writing this or let it die?

Let me know what sounds most interesting to you out of these three options. I plan on doing them all but it's not very likely that I will. Your feedback will influence my decision if you choose to give it.

Now back to writing papers!!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Responses, Explanations, and Apologies



Preliminary Stuff (you don't really have to read this)
I really like the dialogue that Nate, Austin, and I have going on our blogs. It's very helpful to be able to interact with others' ideas and receive feedback for your own. I also appreciate the feedback I received from others. Thanks Brenda for your comments. They were helpful. Thanks for those of you who emailed me reactions to my novel attempt at a novel. According to my facebook blog network, I have twenty something readers. If there are really over twenty people reading this thing, shame on most of you! The purpose of this blog is conversation. I want to learn from our interactions. If you read my blog without giving me feedback you're cheating!!! But I'll forgive you, for now.

A quick and unnecessary apology
My 'Hell-pful Answers' to my 'Hellish Questions' were completely unhelpful. I know this. These are some questions that I am intending on considering in the near future. I just began by trying to raise some questions to get us thinking. My one sentence 'answers' were not intended to settle the question or explain the issue.

Brenda and Keith,
I have tried to subscribe to your blogs but for some reason I get an error message every time I try. I don't know why that is. Any ideas?
All right enough of that....

Engaging with my Blogging Buddies, you have to read this...
Nate's blog has two new posts since my last interaction with it. His first is a reflection upon the Mystery of God. The book of Job, which he mentions, has rocked my view of God. The essence of God's reply to Job is 'who are you puny little man to question me?' God is so much greater, so much wiser, so beyond our understanding that any attempt to fully comprehend Him is doomed to failure. The universe is not only beautiful and glorious, but complex and so huge that we will probably never know how big it really is. How many stars are there? The puniness of man is indeed a humbling thought. Yet God wants us puny humans to know Him. Eternally growing in our knowledge of God will indeed be a highlight of the eternal state.

Puniness brings me to Nate's second post. Most all of us will be very small players on this world's stage. I may sometimes dream of greatness, but in all likelihood, the vast majority of people on this planet will never even know I existed. The willingness to be a small player in God's plan requires a lot of humility. But humility is the most important attitude for us as we approach God. The proud may be applauded and praised by this world, but God delights to use puny and insignificant people. The willingness to submit to this is vital if we truly want to be used by God.

Austin's blog asked for more definitions! May he be thirsty in battle!!! What does spiritual mean? C'mon SURLSY!!! You're killing me man! It means whatever you want it to mean! Haven't you been paying attention? We're postmoderns now! Tell me what it means to you and I'll tell you what it means to me. This interchange is not for the purpose of debate. Whatever works for you is fine, just respect my truth please.
Okay just joking - kind of. If you are talking to an average joe, I think you'll find that they mean different things by 'spiritual' than the Bible means or we seminarians mean. I haven't seen the negative connotation that Heather and Drew are talking about (see comments under Surls' post). I think that spiritual usually relates to one's 'inner self'. Someone who is spiritual is someone who is in touch with himself, nature, God, or whatever. Someone who is spiritual is someone who believes in things besides what you can see. I think it has very little relation to objective truth. It's not truth that you can see but truth that you feel. It's not truth that you persuade others to, you just experience it for yourself. Its not something that can be proved, only felt and experienced.
I do not think we should use the word 'spiritual' without making sure that others know what we mean. I think that the concept is very confusing and murky to most people.
Scriptural definition? Too difficult for me to do quickly. How's this? Spirit is immaterial substance. God is nonphysical. Spiritual is that related to the nonphysical or to the Holy Spirit. But we must not divorce the spiritual and the physical worlds. What we do in the body physically is related to our 'spiritual lives'. This is crappy but I think its the general idea. What do you think Surlsy?

The picture by the way is postmodern art. Tell me what it means to you....

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hell-pful Answers

Do you like the pun in my title? I think its pretty corny. I don't really like it, but Nate and Austin will. They are the epitomes of corniness. Dorks!

I would like to be like Dr. Willsey and ask answerless questions, but I promised answers, or attempts at answers, and so I must deliver.

1) Is Hellfire literal or a metaphor?

I tend to think that hellfire is a metaphor. But the metaphor does mean something and I think that it must include the idea of physical torment. What does this torment include? Why can't it be much like the physical torment we experience on earth, just without the grace of God? Jesus wipes away all of our tears and there will be no more pain or death etc.... Hell retains these results of the curse but without any evidence of God's spurned grace. Of course this is speculation but is it reasonable speculation? Can we inform our understanding of hell with our understanding of heaven and vice-versa? I think ultimately we don't really know. I do believe that hell will be a place much worse than this earth. God's grace here sends rain on the just and the unjust. Hell will have no remaining evidence of God's love or grace.

2) If those entering hell are judged by their works (seen clearly in Rev. 20 and elsewhere) can we assume that there are different levels of hell?

I think there are clearly different levels of hell. Judgment by one's works has no meaning if all receive the same punishment. Language like 'it will be worse for you than tyre and sidon' also imply this. How extreme are the differences? My guess is that the differences are extreme, but I have little data to draw from. What will all the factors be? Thankfully God will work all of that out. He understands justice much better than I. I am confident, however, that when he judges, I and all who witness his justice will not dispute that it was, indeed, justice.

3) Is God being hypocritical to tell us to love our enemies when he tortures His? Why or why not?

I don't think so. Why or why not? I have something to say here... but later. Be patient.


4) Is there any room in Scripture for Annihilationism (notice I am not asking you if you believe in Annihilationsism....)?

I don't really think that there is room for annihilationism, but I do think that the arguments for annihilationism are not completely unfounded. I can see why someone could take the forever and ever as not referring to eternal suffering in hell but eternal damnation, the banishment from God's presence.

5) As I tried to remind yall about earlier, we are not looking forward to eternity in heaven but upon a new earth. That being remembered, how similar to the earth is Hell actually? We may not be able to say anything here really- just speculate.

Again more later.

6) For those with a very 'nice' view of God, here's a question for you, does God love those in Hell? If so, tell me what that even means. For those who say that God only loves the elect (or for some, perhaps, the Elect), does God only love some of His enemies whereas we are to love all of our enemies? Or are we only to love our e/Elect enemies?

I have a real problem with God loving people in hell. It sounds good to say that God loves everyone for all eternity but I do not think it is taught thus in Scripture. I'm not getting into the limited atonement debate here.

7) (new 11/23/08) What about babies who have not yet received the gospel?... harder than you think....

This is another topic that I intend on addressing later. I do not see an exegetical basis for the age of accountability and the automatic ushering of children into heaven. I wish I could teach it but I can't. Since nothing in Scripture forces me to accept that children that die early go to hell, I am willing to leave this a mystery that I trust God will deal with justly and in accordance with his nature.


8) Or does Scripture really not give us very many answers about Hell and we really just have to say we don't know. In other words, my questions are pointless and I'm wasting your precious time.

I don't think I'm wasting your time. What do you think?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hellish Questions


Just because I am posting a new blog does not mean you, dear readers - whoever you may be, do not have an obligation or invitation (the latter is nicer I guess) to comment on the story I posted directly prior. I really want interaction, suggestions, critiques, reactions, complements, and insults. So suffice to say, if you haven't read it or commented please do if you have the time. Thanks Brenda for your reaction. I am awaiting the thoughts you are chewing on.

But let's move from creative writing to dull writing (or fiction to nonfiction if you prefer those terms). What all do we really know about hell and the eternal state of the wicked? I'm going to pull an Austin Surls here and just ask some questions instead of offering answers. But I'm going to be Austin Surls on steroids because I have more than one question to ask. Unlike Surls however, I'm going to give some of my own thoughts after I ask these questions, just not today. I do want to learn from yall (forgive my 4 years in Virginia). Let us begin a dialogue then my friends. Here are some questions (JUST QUESTIONS don't burn me for heresy... yet!) for us to discuss:

1) Is Hellfire literal or a metaphor?

1a) If the latter, does hell involve physical punishment? Or just separation from God?

2) If those entering hell are judged by their works (seen clearly in Rev. 20 and elsewhere) can we assume that there are different levels of hell?

2b) If we do assume that there are different levels of hell, how extreme are the differences between the worst person in hell and the 'best' person in hell? Or do these questions even make sense?

2c) If we are assuming different levels of hell, what are the factors that determine how bad your hell is? Works would seem obvious... Does how much 'light' you had on this earth factor in? Does much suffering experienced on the old earth lighten your suffering in hell at all? Or does the person who lived a life of luxury and the person who starved to death receive the same level of punishment?

3) Is God being hypocritical to tell us to love our enemies when he tortures His? Why or why not?

4) Is there any room in Scripture for Annihilationism (notice I am not asking you if you believe in Annihilationsism....)?

5) As I tried to remind yall about earlier, we are not looking forward to eternity in heaven but upon a new earth. That being remembered, how similar to the earth is Hell actually? We may not be able to say anything here really- just speculate.

6) For those with a very 'nice' view of God, here's a question for you, does God love those in Hell? If so, tell me what that even means. For those who say that God only loves the elect (or for some, perhaps, the Elect), does God only love some of His enemies whereas we are to love all of our enemies? Or are we only to love our e/Elect enemies?

7) (new 11/23/08) What about babies who have not yet received the gospel?... harder than you think....

8) Or does Scripture really not give us very many answers about Hell and we really just have to say we don't know. In other words, my questions are pointless and I'm wasting your precious time.

You may assume many things about me because of the questions I am asking. Don't. I'm just asking questions about a difficult issue. Unfortunately I think it is too often treated as a clearly defined cut and dry issue.

(If 8 questions are too many for you to handle just tackle 1 or 2)

The lake of fire, methinks, is murkier than we think....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Apology of Hell, Chapter 1

What follows is the beginning of my attempts at an apology of hell in the format of a story. I need feedback, positive and/or negative. If it is good, if you like it, tell me. I need to know if I have anything going here. I also want to be able to improve it, so I also need constructive criticism. Honesty is virtuous.... I don't think I'm an overly sensitive/fragile person, though I am a little nervous posting this!

Also feel free to interact with the ideas behind the story. Obviously this is not meant to be a mere bedtime story.

Nate and Crista,
I think I showed this to you before. The beginning is much changed but the bulk of the middle and end is the same. I value your opinions and would like to hear them again, even if already expressed, whenever you have the time.

Everyone else,
I will take your advice and critiques seriously. Your suggestions will probably lead to edits and changes. Think of this as a rough draft. More will come as I write it.



Remembering...

Dying is a blur. I remember the fading but little else. But as to the details of living, my memory is much stronger in death than ever it was in life. Every forgotten, murky, and trivial strand is now remembered as vitally important, clear and distinct, and finally irreversible. In the last days of my life I had difficulty remembering much I had forgotten. Now I am trying hard to forget everything but I am unable to forget even the smallest detail of my existence.

What follows is my past, present and future. There is nothing coming to change my existence. My past created my present and determined my future. My story is not intended to frighten you, though it may. I describe my life now to reflect upon that which I cannot change. I wanted to argue my case. You can judge whether I have one.

The fruit of the eyes

Awake again, I found myself in a small room, empty and devoid of furniture, color, doors, or windows. I was naked, but was neither hot nor cold, I could not even tell if there was a temperature in the room, but I was both sweating and shivering. I was afraid of the emptiness and of being alone but was terrified when I saw a creature appear in front of me. It, like me, was naked. It seemed human but had no organs from which one could distinguish its sex. Its face was without a hint of an expression. Throughout all of our talks it never smiled and it never frowned. It spoke to me in a voice unlike anything that I had heard. It was clear and distinct and I do not think one could have ever misunderstood any word it spoke, but to describe it further is impossible. This expressionless, sexless, and descriptionless being studied me briefly without speaking and then introduced itself.

“I am Immer-Messe. I am here to explain and enlighten. Do you know where you are or why you are here?”

He asked, but I think he knew I was ignorant of either answer. When I had managed a weak ‘no’ he went on.

“You are here to reap what you produced in life. Here you will eat what you have fed to others and wear what you have given to others. Whatever god you have chosen to worship for will repay you for your service, if it is able.”

“You will now reap the fruit of your adultery,” it continued after a pause for a reply that I did not have ready.

It was wrong. I argued his claim, “I never cheated on my wife. There has been some mistake.”

“You dispute that you are a cheater?”

“Yes I do.” I replied confidently and indignantly.

“You never desired other women?” He asked peering deeply into my eyes, “Never undressed a woman in your mind? Never looked at images of women other than your wife? What you do with your mind, even if never acted upon, still bears fruit here.”

This creature was infuriating and intrusive but I was compelled to answer and found myself unable to lie,. “Uh…” the words were stuck in my mouth, “I might of done so on occasionally. No more than anyone else. But that didn’t harm anyone. My wife didn’t mind much. She never really lacked my love. I was good to her. I was faithful to her. How can you accuse me of adultery by charging me with a victimless crime?”

“Victimless? We will allow you to judge whether it is victimless. You will see and you will judge. Here now, is the harvest of your adultery!”

He and the room slowly faded. I found myself in an old bedroom. I was standing in front of the mirror but the image looking back at me was not my own, but that of my first wife. Judging from her face this was a late in our marriage which had begun to strain. As I (?) looked in the mirror I felt fat and bloated. I began to feel ugly and unwanted. Tears began to flow steadily down my face leaving my eyes red and blotchy and I felt even more ugly. I then turned around and sat down at the computer in our bedroom. On the screen was a picture of a twenty-two year old model with the perfect body. As I looked at her I compared her assets with those of the image in the mirror. The comparison again made me feel ugly and worthless. I felt ashamed of my body and of myself. Who could ever love anyone so unattractive? On the desk was a wedding picture. My hand (or my ex-wife’s hand) took it and smashed it against the wall. My shame turned to hatred, my hatred turned to back to tears. I made another trip to the mirror but the image was too disgusting to endure. I walked into the bathroom and found the scale. 138. Somehow I knew this meant I had gained another pound. The feelings of frustration and despair were overwhelming. I went to the toilet and knelt down in front of it. I began to make myself throw up….

Slowly, although I cannot tell how or when, the scene faded. I was no longer in my wife’s body, but the emotions I had been suffering remained. I was back in the same small room. It had changed however since I had left it. On one side of the room was a great table, with no end of my favorite meals. The wall opposite the table was one giant mirror. Against the third wall was a toilet and nothing else. On the last wall was a computer. At the desk sat my ex-wife, and on the screen was the ideal male body in a double bicep pose.

As time progressed, I felt more and more hungry and I helped myself to the fried chicken. The chicken tasted exactly as I remembered it but as I ate, I could feel my body expand and the feelings I had while I had been in my ex-wife’s body returned. The desire to be attractive to my ex overwhelmed me as the hunger had earlier. I turned from the chicken to the mirror to the man on the screen. I felt disgusting. I shouldn’t have eaten the chicken. I crawled to the toilet as if by habit. Throwing up was miserable. As I threw up I felt my body begin to shrink back to its original size, but I couldn’t get the taste of my own vomit out of my mouth and I felt disgusting. I looked at my ex again, hoping that she would take notice of me. She didn’t. She continued to stare at the man on the screen. I looked back at my reflection. I was still disgusting. Now the feelings of despair and hopelessness returned. I collapsed in the middle of the room and was overwhelmed by tears of sadness, anger, and frustration. They were interrupted by an intense hunger and desire to eat….

I cannot remember how many times this cycle repeated itself nor can I remember how or when it finally ended. Whether the shift was gradual or sudden, I cannot say. All I know is that eventually one scene faded or ended and another scene began.

I was in the center of the same small room. Instead of a mirror for one wall, the walls, ceiling, and floor reflected my own image. The image that I saw was much improved from the last scene. I was young (twenty-one or two) and in perfect shape (better than I’d ever been in my life). In the previous scene, the only attention I got from my wife was a glance of disgust. Now I was surrounded by women and I was the obvious center of attention. For the first time of my stay in hell, I felt good.

The women, however, never approached me or talked to me. At first I could not catch what they were saying, but I began to catch comments occasionally. They were making lewd and vulgar comments about my body. When I realized what they saying, I was embarrassed but slightly pleased at the attention and rather proud that my body could attract such attention. I waited, hoping that finally one of them would come and talk to me, but my patience bore no fruit. At last, rather frustrated and overcome by loneliness, I began to call out to them, hoping, longing to have an actual conversation, but none of them responded. As my loneliness grew stronger, so did my frustration. I began screaming and shouting. I finally realized that not only did they care nothing about me, but that as far as they were concerned I didn’t exist. My body was just an image for their pleasure. The real me; my character, my thoughts, feelings and well-being, meant nothing to them. I was a picture, nothing more.

Slowly, I became aware of a disturbing sensation. My body was changing. As I watched in the ever-present mirrors, I began to age. My face, which had been perfectly smooth, began to wrinkle. My muscle tone lost its definition. My waistline began to expand. For the first time, I noticed that there were other men in the room. I don’t know if they were there before or not, but there they were. They were as young and fit as I had been earlier. The women became bored with me and the crowd around me dwindled as they spread out to the other men. I was filled with despair and as my body continued to deteriorate, so did my self-worth. I tried everything I could think of to catch the attention of the women in the room but nothing worked. I was powerless. No one paid me the least bit of attention. I was worthless. All I wanted was someone to talk to, someone to complement me, someone to care about me. But of course, they didn’t, I was nothing. To them, not only did I not now exist, but I never had.

Again the scene faded, and I found the room as it had been at first, empty and without door or detail. In front me appeared that same strange creature with whom I had previously conversed.

“You have just begun to taste the feast you have made for yourself,” he looked at me directly in the eyes but I could not return his gaze and looked away. “Now you know the after taste of lust. You have yet to complete your punishment, and you never will, but it is sufficient for now. For now it is finished. Was your punishment unjust? Are the accusations false? There must be no questions of justice.”

I tried to answer it but I could not. I wanted to protest and argue that I did not intend to hurt anyone, but the words would not come out. I wanted to lie and deny that I had ever been guilty of his accusations, but I could not. I knew that penalty had been fair and no words could leave my lips.

“Do you accept the justice of your punishment?”

My head had already drooped in shame and I could not look at the creature. After a brief pause I could do naught but nod and hang my head in shame.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Responding to my Reading with my Reactions to my blogging brothers

Some of you may read my blog and not realize the reason I started this thing to begin with. This started as an idea between Nate Duriga, Austin Surls, and myself as a way of dialoguing and sharing ideas about Theology and the Bible. Everyone else is MORE than welcome to join in on the dialogue. Austin invited several of his old Masters buddies to join in and there is always room for more. As this blogging community grows this will become more difficult, but for now I am going to react to each of their blogs once a week (on Sunday) and post my thoughts on their thoughts here. So without further chit chat, here are my responses to their latest blogs.

Nate's last few blogs
have focused much on the persecution of Christians around the world and the effect our political decisions have upon world hunger. These reminders are good for us and much appreciated. Life is so easy for us here and apathy comes very naturally. If our friends and family were being killed or were starving to death (not to mention if WE were) it would matter much more to us. We would probably more readily make sacrifices for their well-being. But this is very bad theology. These are our brothers and sisters! This family called the church is more important than the physical family into which we were born. Those relationships are temporary. The relationship we have with each other through Jesus Christ is everlasting. We have do not have more obligation to our American brothers than we do to our African brothers. Ignorance and apathy are normal and easy but unacceptable.

Austin Surls' blog asks the question: "How should we use the word "religion"" This is a very good question and it kind of bothers me as well. (btw the following is basically the same as I posted under the comment section of his post, you dont have to read both!)My pastor uses the phrase all the time: "Christianity is not a religion, its a relationship." But is that really true? And what is religion? And what do people HEAR when you say religion? The second question is probably the most important and the most difficult. I think Christianity is actually a religion. James says "...pure and undefiled religion before God is this..." Paul on Mars Hill doesn't try and argue that Christianity is in a different category than their false gods but answers their unanswered questions and that the true God is completely different 'god' and with different expectations than they would have believed. But I think that the difficulty is understanding what people in your coffee shop think of when they think of religion. I think people think of religion as not having any correspondence to truth or reality. Its just an feel good thing. It doesn't demand or require anything of you. So if saying that Christianity is a religion communicates something different than what Christianity really is, should we use the term? Hmmm... But is Christianity only a relationship? And what do people hear when you say that? Unfortunately I think that we will run into the same issues. What does it mean to say you have a relationship with God (for your hearers)? I don't think this communicates what you want it to mean either. Does worldview do better? I'm not sure it's perfect because it doesn't communicate the obligations that a relationship with God requires. Ultimately I'm not sure I'm helping you a lot. Can you say that you have a relationship with God that changes the way you view the world? Or is that too long... and still incomplete? I'll just say that I don't think that defining Christianity as a relationship with God is any better (and maybe worse) than calling it a religion.

As more blogs join our blogging community I'll respond to their thoughts as well. I enjoy this dialogue! Thanks Nate for your response. I wish I knew how to exactly draw lines on applying these issues without spiraling into legalism. So hard!

Richey

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Deluge in Drizzleland

Instead of the promised blog here's another poem I wrote this morning (2am 11/12/08). For those of you who don't live in Washington, we've had some uncharacteristically hard rain lately...

Deluge in Drizzleland
Matthew Richey

From the dry indoors I see,
A deluge in drizzleland.
Huge drops at high speeds drenching and drowning,
Their prey: a poor persecuted parking lot
Accustomed only to the familiar dripping of dawdling drip-drops.

From the dry indoors I love,
Watching puddles form pools
Sipping coffee so safely sheltered
Knowing my God won’t drown us again

From the dry indoors I dread,
Seeing my car much too far away
Knowing that soon I must venture into a battle I cannot win
We drizzleland dwellers do not don umbrellas

From the dry indoors I know
God is good. He,
Sends rain on the godly and ungodly, the righteous and unrighteous,
And provides, for the despairing and the drowning, dry land.

From the dry indoors,
I am happy and content, safe, sound, and secure.
Because the rainmaker is the sunsender
I am not afraid.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Moth

I have a blog coming soon. Here's a poem I wrote a year and a half ago that is basically a true story. I mean something by it but I can't quite describe what that is to you. I guess I'll be a good postmodern and let you figure out what it means to you. I would like honest positive/negative feedback. It's very hard to judge your own stuff.

I do, btw, have stuff from my novel/apology of hell written but I can't get the first part right. It's very frustrating.



The Moth

Matthew Richey

I spied a moth resting upon the wall
I decided to kill her- no reason at all.
Into the water, innocent, I caused her to fall
Watching her struggle; her odds were small.

But it seemed so sad; senselessly to murder her!
What right I to decide she should swim?
That just because of some random whim,
She should die, but I the killer- the guilty- live

So I pulled her out from the water
Saved her life- I could not watch her die.
To call me her savior indeed would be a lie,
Because I never did see if she could still fly



















Moth picture found here

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Towards a more complete pro-life position

Something of a disclaimer...
This is not going to be a political blog. I think I spend too much time thinking and talking about politics already. Politics are important but as I have to continually remind myself (especially as the candidates I voted for are all about to lose): my faith is not in politics.
But our faith should effect our politics and, unfortunately, our political positions often effect our religious views. The dominant evangelical political issue has been, for as long as I can remember, the abortion issue. Many Christians have been accused, probably fairly, of being 'one issue' voters. Because we are prolife we are automatic republican voters, or so it seems. For better and for worse those of my generation are bucking these stereotypes and are becoming concerned with a much larger breadth of issues. We aren't forsaking our pro-life stance but are bucking principles for pragmatics as we realize the long term futility of this battle.
I'm not going to talk about the candidates. I'm not going to talk about the election. I'm not even going to talk about all of these issues that younger evangelicals care about. I'm only going to talk about the prolife position. Should we continue to be prolife? What does it mean to be prolife? How should our faith affect our politics in this area?

Ok another disclaimer and then to talk about what I am here to talk about...
I just have to say I really really hate the fact that evangelicalism and republicanism have become so closely identified. I do not see the two parties as being in a titanic struggle between good and evil (as my parents do). They are two worldly unchristian organizations who have different opinions and philosophies about running the country. Neither has a Christian worldview (hereafter: CWV), they both are worldly and, in some sense evil.

That being said, just because neither party espouses or follows a CWV, does not mean that there is really no difference between the two, that we should just stay home, or that neither is more conducive to a CWV. I voted already and the candidates I voted for were overwhelmingly from the same party. But I will not identify myself with a political party I see as an unchristian organization pursuing a worldly agenda.

Okay, hopefully that will be the most I ever have to say about politics on this blog ever!

Finally the point...

The abortion issue

Being prolife, of course includes the abortion issue. How could it not? When our country kills millions of defenseless children, we, as Christians, should be ashamed of ourselves if we do and say nothing. I am afraid that younger evangelicals may be becoming numb and apathetic to this issue. I can understand why. This has been legal in the U.S. for over thirty years, I am twenty-four. It's normal. We don't have the shock of realizing that babies are legally murdered in this country everyday. It's just something that happens. Every day. All the time. There has also been increased sympathy for the women who seek abortions. Most of them are poor and without a man to help care for and raise the child. Many of them are teens. A few of them are victims of rape or incest. To tell these women they must go through with their pregnancy seems cruel, especially when abortion is so readily available and normal.

Evil should never become normal to us. God did not create the world to be this way. Sin, death, and the curse were not a part of God's original creation. They are foreigners and alien invaders who will someday be vanquished and gone forever. The world as it is now is messed up. We look to the day when normality will be restored with a new earth. We have no concept of what normal is. The new earth will never fade away. Some day in eternity future, our time on this earth will be nothing more than a blip on a screen. We live in the abnormal phase. Let's never accept evil, which will hold influence for only a very short time, as normal or acceptable. Let us never become callused, used to it or lose our horror of it.

But there are other prolife issues...

War

War is sometimes a necessary evil. But if there is one thing wrong with American evangelical politics, I think it is our quick acceptance of war as an acceptable way of dealing with our enemies. I was shocked at how strong and enthusiastic Christian support for the Iraq war was in 2003. I don't want to argue about the WMDs, Saddam Hussein, or terrorist connections (though I imagine some of you will want to argue with me). We went to war without any real provocation, without any real proof of threat, and without thoroughly pursuing other options first. The results? About twice as many Americans have died as died in 9/11 and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. I can't imagine any plausible scenario in which this turns out to save human lives. Whether we are directly responsible for their deaths or not, our decision to go to war had a horrific human toll.
*** btw... I feel I just have to make clear my own position here. I was against the Iraq war in 2003 and still think it was a mistake. But once we took away the country's structural support, the nation was flooded with terrorists, and was left without a functioning government, I felt we were obligated to stay and clean it up. Pulling out of a mess we created doesn't seem right to me.***

If we truly value life, war should not be something we are quick to support as a solution. In a fallen world, war is often a necessary evil. But let us not forget that war is evil and that we should support peace whenever and however we can. Human life is precious. Let's be slow to shed it. As Christians, we should be vocal in our opposition to unnecessary, unjust and hasty wars.

A very difficult and complicated aspect to war is so called 'nation building'. The specter of Mogadishu Somalia looms large. Even though I was little when it happened, I still remember the images of dead U.S. soldiers being dragged through the streets. But even more sickening to me is the time we did absolutely nothing in Rwanda and 1,000,000 people died (one million for those who have difficulty with numbers). We should stop the slaughter of millions of civilians whenever possible. American lives are not more important or more precious than African lives. I'm afraid too many American Christians think that they are, although they would never say so in so many words. There is nothing Christian about being American. America is a wicked secular nation (and always has been- we have never been a Christian nation, study your history). We have more in common with our Christian brothers and sisters in Africa than we do have in common as fellow Americans. You being my fellow American means nothing to me. You being my brother or sister in Christ means everything, no matter where you are from.

Movies and Entertainment

Here is something that I have not applied perfectly in my life. I am afraid that we, as American Christians, too easily accept violence as entertainment. A kid in my youth group once protested when we were talking about evaluating movies we watch, "there's nothing wrong with violence." OH YES THERE IS! Violence is evil. Violence is part of a sinful world, but should not be a characteristic of a Christian. We should never 'enjoy' violence. When we watch a movie and get joy out of watching violence and bloodshed, when we play computer games and enjoy killing digital representations of human beings we are taking pleasure in evil. Just like pornography when we are not actually committing adultery physically, we are doing so with our mind.

This is not to say that watching violent movies is always wrong. In fact some movies which increase our horror of violence are probably good for us to watch (Hotel Rwanda for example). But we ought to evaluate ourselves as we watch them. Are we deriving pleasure out of evil. Do we love it when the protagonist takes out revenge on his enemies? Do we become giddy as we get a 'triple kill' when we play Halo? Just asking questions....

Towards something of a conclusion...


Hopefully I still have some friends. Not everything I said is politically correct in American evangelical circles. I want to admit straight up that I am still something of a hypocrite on the last point. But if we are going to emphasize life's preciousness and sanctity, as we should, and claim the prolife label, let's be wholly prolife. Let's defend the defenseless, oppose war except as a last resort, and live lives that reflect the belief that life is sacred. Being anti abortion is important because abortion is evil and destructive of human life. But let's strive for consistency regardless of what the positions are of worldly unchristian organizations; regardless of what they believe or tell us to believe. Do not let your faith become the republican or democratic party's whore. Think 'Christianly' not politically.

Peace out ;-)

Monday, October 27, 2008

There Goes the Sun- poetry written as the sun appeared

The following is a poem I wrote about a year ago at the end of a dark season of doubt, just as I began to emerge out of it. I still have something coming on hell in the next couple days.

There Goes the Sun
Matthew Richey


As darkness slowly drives out the dying day,
My mind is slowly poisoned by the miserable musings of my mouth,
Damn my life! Damn my misery! Why does God hate this lump of clay?
I look for signs, any sign, that God cares for my soul. I see no such sign.
Prepared beforehand for glory? Or for destruction? He doesn’t say.
Oh God have mercy on my poor soul! Have pity for I am weak and helpless.
I want to please you but am unable. It’s not my fault, you refuse to help me when I pray.
Blame me all you want. We both know I sin and fall because you refuse to interfere.
I am wandering and I am lost but you could help, but you will not show me the way.

What is my answer?

Where is my reply?

I hear no one.

I see nothing

I cannot continue in despair.
I cannot understand this God who made me for He is unknowable.
Kill thy son. I will obey. I will not ask why.
I will follow His precepts. I will obey His commandments.
Reject thy will. Sell all you have. Follow
All I have will go to the poor. I will turn from my greed.
Love thy neighbor. I will love.
I will put the needs of others before my own.
Love thy God. If you love me you will obey me.
I will love by my obedience.
Forsake thy ignorance. Embrace my truth.
Instruct me and I will learn.

Suddenly the sun rises and the darkness recedes.
I do not know where she came from or where she was hiding but she has returned.
I do not understand why she had to go down or how she rose again.
But though his death killed me, his rising has raised me.
His rising has given me meaning through mystery.
His death proves his love
His rising his power
I begin to understand.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Apologizing for hell or an apology of hell?

So far this blog has been devoted to the eternal state. We will now continue this subject but from the other side. I am not by any means done with the positive angle. I am sure I will return to it often in the coming weeks.

This post will not serve as my 'apology for hell' but more as an introduction to my thoughts and feelings about hell and why I believe what I believe about it. This foundation will help (hopefully) as we look more deeply into the subject and I introduce the novel I've been toying with writing. Your comments and interaction would be appreciated as I write. (Many of you have made comments on facebook or in person about my blogs but are not subscribers! Shame on you! Subscribe and interact! I need more feedback!!)

The short blurb about my least favorite verses has some bearing here. Of all of the Bible's difficult teachings the one I dislike the most, the one I am most embarrassed to mention, most terrified to preach about, most eager to renounce, and (perhaps) least understand, is the doctrine of the eternal, conscious, torture of the unsaved in the place we know of as hell.

Many preachers have been accused of being hellfire and damnation preachers. These guys make preaching about hell a central theme of their message. When they preach the gospel they do not focus upon the beauty of a renewed fellowship with God or even (sometimes) the death and resurrection of Christ. Instead they tell of the terrors of a lake of literal fire. Imagine, they urge you, to imagine a place of complete darkness. They ask you if you have ever been burnt, ever felt what being burned with fire feels like. Now imagine that all over your whole body, but not for an instant, forever and ever and ever. This is what is coming to you if you do not say these magic words and receive Jesus into your heart (whatever the heck that means). Take out a policy from Jesus' Premium Fire Insurance and you'll never get burned. Escape hell with the repetition of these simple words. Its so easy to escape and the consequences so frightening that it makes no sense not to repeat the simplistic phrases he gives you to repeat. When you're done, he tells you that your coverage is good forever and you don't have to worry about it anymore. You can go through life now and never have to think about it again.

Although this may be something of an exaggerated depiction of a certain stripe of preachers, the picture is not really very extreme. Not only have I heard these guys many times (not only in fundamentalist baptist circles btw) but an inordinate amount of peoples' testimonies that I hear will point to a fear of hell being the motivating factor in their 'praying the sinners prayer' and 'receiving Jesus into their heart'. I'll lay off my hatred of these phrases for now.

The problems with this approach are too many to list, but I'll attempt it anyway. 1) This approach is the raping of the gospel by abandoning the central focus. 2) It takes the focus off of sin and places it upon punishment, consequently causing the hearer to focus upon God's wrath and anger instead of his mercy and grace. 3)This approach motivates people by a fear of punishment without the requirement of a real commitment to following Jesus Christ. 4) This approach results in a huge population of insincere and uncommitted Christians (or supposed Christians) who have little or no understanding of the gospel and little or no intention of living out the implications of a gospel to which they've never been exposed. 5) This approach misses the real point of hell and makes it a place of primarily physical torment. 6) This approach simplifies the Bible's teaching on hell and does not think deeply about some of the more complex issues.

I'm not this guy. I don't often (if ever) mention hell when I present the gospel. I heavily emphasize sin and the need for grace, but I make no attempt to scare people to Jesus or sell them fire insurance. I avoid the issue in conversation, witnessing, and teaching whenever possible. I am ashamed of hell. My discussion of hell tends to be an attempt to apologize for hell. I too am out of balance. If God made hell, then it is just. If Scripture teaches us about hell, then I ought to teach it. If hell is real, I ought not to pretend it doesn't exist. Subsequent blogs will be an attempt to quit apologizing for hell with an apology (defense) of hell.

This issue is important to me for some very personal reasons. I have struggled with accepting and understanding this doctrine. I have had a very close friend abandon Christ, in large part, because of what Scripture teaches on the subject. I have close friends and relatives who are, according to my understanding of the doctrine, bound for eternity in this place. I pray that my writing will be beneficial and corrective not only to whoever reads, but to my own life and ministry.

Interspersed throughout my discussions on this topic will be more on the New Jerusalem and the blessings of an eternity with the Savior. This subject is too dark to embark upon without an occasional sunbreak.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My least favorite verses in the Bible

We all have our favorite verses of Scripture for our own reasons. But is there a verse you don't particularly like? Is there a verse that gives your theology trouble? Does it, perhaps, convict you of something that you are content to continue in? I have several verses I don't particularly like. Some I don't know what to do with. Some I don't want to apply. Some I don't want to be true. Some I am secretly, perhaps, embarrassed of. So let's take off our masks and share our least favorite verses. Some of mine follow:

I Timothy 6:8 "but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content."
Try applying that in our society! Even better, try preaching it!

I Corinthians 11:10 "That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels." a) I'm embarrassed of it. b) It's confusing (because of the angels???) c) I don't know how to apply it (or encourage others to apply it) and d) I really don't ever want to have to preach it.

Matthew 22:30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." This is my least favorite. I don't like the implications of this. If I ever finally find a wife, marry her, live the rest of my 'this earthly' existence with her, endure the trials and difficulties to a marriage that are brought on by living in a sinful world, upon finally entering a sinfree world, I find that marriage is no more. It messes with my theology on so many levels. It gives my postribulational leanings trouble. It ties my understanding of life in the new earth as something of a restoration of what humans were meant to be in knots. It takes something that I look forward to and see as right and beautiful and makes in temporary. And what is really irritating is that this verse is kind of by itself. Without it, all of these problems would go away. And dagnab it all, it reads fairly clearly. I can't effectively explain it away (yet- I'll think of something).

What verses do you dislike the most?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Picture of New Jerusalem

A quick word about format. I will publish a blog once a week on either Monday or Tuesday, for sure. Throughout the week I may publish short observations about culture, Scripture etc... but they will not be that extensive. For the time being, I will keep my weekly blogs related to the topic of the eternal state until I feel the need to change topics.

A while ago I wrote this short poetic essay about the New Jerusalem. I have shown it to some of you but I would like to share it again. I have reworked parts of it and hopefully it's a bit better. I would like your feedback.


Last night I dreamed I was walking towards a city that I saw in the distance, vast, beautiful, and glorious to behold. I could not avert my eyes for they were mesmerized by the complexities of the messages communicated in her construction. The king of this city must have been a great king indeed. ‘Great’ is a common enough word in our vocabulary and I believed that I understood the word before, but now I do not think I did. I would have described Seattle or New York or Los Angeles as great cities prior to this experience, but no more. In ancient history Rome would have been described as great, Nineveh, Babylon, perhaps in the days of Solomon, Jerusalem too would have matched this description. I have never seen these in their days of glory but I cannot imagine that they can compare. When I saw this city, I was impressed by her greatness but my awe and admiration was more for the greatness of the king who must have built her. She was so vast, the materials with which she was composed were so exquisite, her walls were so strong and impenetrable, her gates were so wide and inviting that only the mightiest and most powerful king could have orchestrated her construction or afforded her material.
The light of the city was so overpowering that my eyes burned as I stared at her, but still I could not look away. I do not say that there were lights, for I could but distinguish a single light, equally bright throughout the city. Day and night would have no meaning for the brilliance of this light overpowered the rays of the sun. I could not tell what time it was, for it was equally bright after the sun set as it was when she was at her full height. The city is intensely viewable from a great distance and all who see her from outside her walls have no need of the heavenly lights for she provides all of the light that they need.
As I drew nearer to the city, I began to distinguish colors within the glow she produced. The colors I have known previous are but shades of grey in comparison. Reds, blues, and greens sparkle from her, in shades innumerable and with peerless brilliance. Her shape is as the highest of mountains. From the top of this city-mountain spiraled a river, clear and clean, providing refreshment and life to all of her inhabitants. In the middle of the river was a tree that defied my very definition of tree, shaming any that I had seen previously. Her roots were in the midst of the river and upon her branches grew various fruits that do not correlate to any that I have ever seen in beauty and substance. The leaves of the tree were green. This is an inadequate description, but I cannot better it. They were green as green was meant to be. All plant life I had seen previously and thought green would look brown and withered next to the least leaf on the tree or blade of grass surrounding her. The water of the river was pure and gave life, both to the tree and the inhabitants of the city. The fruit of the tree sustained life and her leaves would have healed the dying and diseased, if there could be such in so great a city.
And then my dream shifted and the city was no longer a city but a woman. She was adorned as a bride and was awaiting her bridegroom. She was so beautiful that I could not stop looking at her but she was so pure that she forbade any semblance of lust. Her eyes were bright like those of a young girl but shown with wisdom, one knew she had seen and experienced much. She was ageless. She possessed all of the stunning beauty of youth and the subtle beauty of an older woman. She wore a dress of the purest white. The dress had no adornment because the fabric of the dress was so radiant that diamonds would have dimmed its glow and lace would have been an annoying distraction. Looking at the dress, I knew that the wearer was without blemish or impurity. White is often said to symbolize innocence. But for the white adorning this dress, this is too shallow and simplistic. The white did remind one of the pure innocence of a young virgin, but also of the whiteness of the aged and the wise. This woman had all of the purity of a young virgin, but without the ignorance often associated therewith. She had all of the wisdom and understanding of an elderly scholar but without the deterioration and fading associated with age.
But this woman did not marvel at her own stunning beauty or the brilliance of her dress. All of her thoughts were upon her bridegroom. She had kept herself pure only and completely for him. She had adorned herself as a statement of love for her future husband’s pleasure, with no thought to receive attention or admiration herself.
As I waited for her husband to appear, the dream shifted again. The woman became a great multitude of people. Like the woman, they were dressed in pure white. They too were ageless, with all of the vitality of youth and the wisdom and knowledge of age. Upon their faces were written love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. They looked incapable of sadness, anger, or cruelty. When I saw them I knew what human beings were meant to be. They were all perfect in physique and their faces were without defect, but yet they all looked quite different from one another. Each was the perfect specimen of a human being by himself, but together each was more beautiful than he was alone. They all had one single focus: singing and praising and celebrating their master. Although every one of them was awesome to look at, none had a thought as to her own glory or greatness but was intent upon making known the greatness of her master. They were not only willing but joyous slaves of the same Lord and master and it was their duty and their desire to serve Him and make known His goodness and greatness.
My dream then shifted for the last time. I saw Him. I saw the king of the city, the bridegroom of the bride, and the master of the slaves. I experienced a fear and a terror that so far surpassed all fear and terror that I had ever felt that I have difficulty identifying it as such. As terrifying as He was to look at, I was so awed that I could not look away. He was the embodiment of love and compassion and of justice and wrath, without any contradiction. I fell to my face in death but He caught me and my fear was transformed to peace. I knew that in His arms, there was nothing that could harm or hurt me. He touched my face and I knew that my sorrows were over. In his face, I saw my Savior, my Friend, my Master, my King, and my God. When He had helped me up, I fell back to my face, not in weakness but in worship. I wanted nothing else, nothing seemed more proper, more fulfilling to the purpose of my existence, than to declare His awesome might and power, to rejoice in and enjoy forever His goodness, justice and love.


About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul

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