Aug 7 2010

God Loves You And Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life

In 1952, Bill Bright wrote The Four Spiritual Laws, an evangelistic tract that became the calling card of Campus Crusade for Christ. While this was three years before I was born, I probably didn’t encounter it until my late teens.

When I started college in 1973, I got to know people from the main Christian groups on the UND campus: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and of course, Campus Crusade. I was pretty clueless about denominational differences, and saw nothing odd about being Lutheran. I was pretty accepted by the InterVarsity folks, but I couldn’t understand why the Campus Crusade kids kept wanting to go through the Laws and pray “the prayer” with me. My telling them I was a Christian wasn’t enough; I had to jump through their CC-shaped hoop in order to be accepted by them.

This trite, cookie-cutter approach to evangelism became something of a joke to me, and I recall beginning conversations with kids on campus with the first of the Four Spiritual Laws, “Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” Perhaps twenty years later, it would occur to me that God has a rather ironic sense of humor, as my primary message had become that God indeed loves us and has wonderful plans for our lives. As God says to Israel in Jeremiah 29:11,

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

While I can’t recall why I understood this as a young child, I did understand that God loved me and, yes, had a plan for my life. Perhaps it was from the many Bible stories I learned in church and Sunday school about people like David, Samuel and Moses, chosen as children to serve God. Whatever the reason, I not only knew that God loved me, but also knew that I was destined for great things.

The world around me, of course, did everything possible to destroy this sense that I was loved and special. The message that the world gives is that we have to perform to certain standards to receive any love or respect, and that we will never, ever really be good enough. As with shame, this sense of needing to do more and try harder keeps us controllable by the powers that be.

As I left college and entered the corporate nightmare, this became all too clear. No one out there loves you unconditionally, and their plans for you are not necessarily for your own benefit. The message that God loves us and has wonderful plans for us is crucial; I believe this is one reason why Joel Osteen pastors what I understand is the largest church in the country. People don’t hear this in the world (or in many churches), and they are literally dying for it.

Jesus’ message to children was, “You’re special, and you’re loved.” Jesus’ message to Zacchaeus was, “You’re special and you have a purpose; can I hang out with you?” To the sick and the sinners, he said, “I know you, and you’re worth a miracle. There’s a better life waiting for you.” To the least, he said, “Come up higher. I love you and have a wonderful plan for you.”

I relished this message as a young child. I cling to it today. God loves me, this I know, and He has a wonderful plan for my life. And guess what? He’s got a doozey of a plan for you, too.

Questions:

  1. What was your reaction the first time you heard, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? What is your reaction today?
  2. If you had one message to share with the world, what would it be?


Nov 18 2009

Exploring the Twain

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”  – Rudyard Kipling, Barrack-room Ballads

Years ago, I got to know a Greek Orthodox Priest (who was, in fact, from Greece) who tried to explain to me the difference between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches; to me, both the RCC and the EO were quite similar.  However, to him, the RCC was closer to evangelicalism than it was to Eastern Orthodoxy.  I didn’t quite understand it then.  Now, 30 years later, I find myself considering the issue once again.  This time, however, I am beginning to understand.  Besides reading some Orthodox theology, I’ve also been trying to catch up on 1500 years of Western theology by reading summaries of the major theologians, and I’ve been listening to a great series from The Teaching Company called Philosophy and Religion in the West by Phillip Cary.

Western theology: Fundamentally Flawed?

As I learn more about the history of Western theology, I am finding I have more and more problems with the theological and philosophical direction taken by the Western theologians (as I have dealt with a bit in my Webber series and elsewhere).  In fact, I am finding that it is fundamentally flawed, and that it is very, very difficult to filter out potentially errant presuppositions, as I am so saturated in them I don’t even recognize them.  Such is the problem of worldviews.  My theory, then, is that by understanding the differences between East and West, I may be more able to find a more pure theology.  Even writing this, however, I am aware that this is a purely Western approach to the problem; but, I have to accept that I am rooted in the West, even while I look to the East.

Understanding the Schism: A little history

Even trying to understand the Great Schism, as the split between the Eastern and Western church is known, is difficult.  I have decided that the best way to approach it is by favoring the Eastern interpretation, while not ignoring the Western; reading Western points of view merely tends to reinforce the problem.  However, both sides do point to a number of political, cultural, philosophical and theological issues that contributed to the Schism.  Constantine perhaps set the stage for the split by establishing a 2nd capital city in Constantinople. This, I think, made it easier for the Eastern Church to eventually ignore Rome.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire, of course, is  a major factor.  Many people are perhaps unaware that in the East, the Roman (Byzantine) Empire lasted for about 1,000 years, which contributed to more stability in the Eastern church.  The Roman Bishop (Pope), with Europe in chaos, turned to the Franks (Charlemagne) for support (which led to other problems). Besides these political differences, there was a language barrier, with the East speaking Greek and the West speaking Latin, and both churches insisting the other should convert.

Eventually, as we know, the Pope took on a quasi-political role in Europe.  While this did have a stabilizing effect on the region, it didn’t do the church any favors.  Soon the Pope was considered to be the highest source of spiritual authority in the West; the Eastern church, however, maintained a flatter church structure with a plurality of leadership among the patriarchs.  Today the Ecumenical Patriarch is still considered “first among equals” in the Eastern church.

The issues between East and West grew over several hundred years.  Possibly the biggest factor in the increasing schism was the role Charlemagne played in the late 8th and early 9th Centuries.  At this time what is known as the “Filioque Clause” was being added to the Nicene Creed in various places in the Western church.  The clause changes the nature of the Holy Spirit’s role in the Trinity, adding that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father “and the Son.”  While debated even in the West (Pope Leo III disagreed with the addition), it was Charlemagne who adopted it and subsequently accused the Eastern Church of heresy for failure to use it. Charlemagne had no authority in the East, and I suspect he thought that he could use the Church to extend his political clout.

The final straw came in 1054 with the Roman church “excommunicating” the entire Eastern church.  The Eastern church to my knowledge never officially broke ties with the West (although they finally realized that the Roman Church had, by their own actions, left Orthodoxy). Relations, however, got even worse when the Romans sacked Constantinople on the Fourth Crusade in 1204.  As one could expect, things have never been the same.

Theological Aspects of the Schism

While these issues are important in understanding the Schism, I’d like to focus on the philosophical and theological differences.  Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, an evangelical-turned-Orthodox theologian, writes this concerning the theological split:

In the early Church there had been unity in the faith, but a diversity of theological schools. From the start Greeks and Latins had each approached the Christian Mystery in their own way. At the risk of some oversimplification, it can be said that the Latin approach was more practical, the Greek more speculative; Latin thought was influenced by juridical ideas, by the concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks understood theology in the context of worship and in the light of the Holy Liturgy. When thinking about the Trinity, Latins started with the unity of the Godhead, Greeks with the threeness of the persons; when reflecting on the Crucifixion, Latins thought primarily of Christ the Victim, Greeks of Christ the Victor; Latins talked more of redemption, Greeks of deification; and so on. Like the schools of Antioch and Alexandria within the east, these two distinctive approaches were not in themselves contradictory; each served to supplement the other, and each had its place in the fullness of Catholic tradition. But now that the two sides were becoming strangers to one another – with no political and little cultural unity, with no common language – there was a danger that each side would follow its own approach in isolation and push it to extremes, forgetting the value in the other point of view.

Ware, I think, does a pretty even-handed job in his analysis, and also points out in this chapter that while the contributing causes to the Schism were many, it was really the theological differences that divided the church, and which still divide it today.  The 2 primary issues that he sees are Papal authority, and the Filioque Clause. However, the issues he mentions above show a more fundamental difference which, I think, resulted in more than just a church schism; what developed seems to be more of a philosophical or worldview schism, which I will discuss in my next post.


Mar 2 2009

America’s Christian heritage

While I’m not a big supporter of the “America’s a Christian nation” thing, I do believe that the United States was indeed heavily influenced by Christian principles, and that historically, the so-called “separation of church and state” was never meant to exclude religion – even Christianity – from public life.  James Robertson has re-posted from J.Grant Swank From MichNews.com an interesting collection of quotes from many of our founding fathers that deserve to be read.  (You can go to the site to read Swank’s editorial comments, which I will not post here):

President George Washington wrote a prayer addressed to “O most glorious God, in Jesus Christ” and ended it with this: “Let me live according to those holy rules which thou hast this day prescribed in Thy Holy Word. Direct me to the true object, Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Bless O Lord all the people of this land.”

President Thomas Jefferson: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis — a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

President James Madison: “Religion is the basis and foundation of government. We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

President Andrew Jackson: “I nightly offer up my prayers to the throne of grace for the health and safety of you all, and that we ought all to rely with confidence on the promise of our dear Redeemer, and give Him our hearts. This is all He requires and all that we can do, and if we sincerely do this, we are sure of salvation through His atonement.”

Patrick Henry: “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, property, and freedom of worship here.”

President Abraham Lincoln: “The ways of God are mysterious and profound beyond all comprehension. ‘Who by searching can find Him out?’ God only knows the issue of this business. He has destroyed nations from the map of history for their sins. Nevertheless, my hopes prevail generally above my fears for our Republic. The times are dark, the spirits of ruin are abroad in all their power, and the mercy of God alone can save us.”

President Grover Cleveland: “All must admit that the reception of the teachings of Christ results in the purist patriotism, in the most scrupulous fidelity to public trust, and in the best type of citizenship.”

President Woodrow Wilson: “America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of the Holy Scriptures.”

President Dwight Eisenhower: “Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Begin is the first — the most basic — expression of Americanism. Thus, the founding fathers of America saw it, and thus With God’s help, it will continue to be.”

Many of us, both liberal and conservative, seem to have forgotten our foundation and have forgotten what it really means to be a Christian.   Maybe President Obama should take a few moments to read these quotes, and perhaps he’ll remember how it was that he got where he is.