Category Archives: Revelation

THREE SURPRISING ACTIVITIES THAT MAKE ME FEEL CLOSER TO GOD

Creation of Adam

Intimacy with Christ is perhaps the single most worthwhile thing that a person can seek. And, as we are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength, there are different ways of drawing close as there are different degrees of proximity.

I generally subscribe to a ‘tripartite’ view of the composition of man – spirit, soul, and body. This would be analogous to the “heart, soul, and strength” referenced above. In Greek we find the words soma, psyche, and pneuma. The soma is the physical body, shared by all living things in our universe. The psyche is the soul or psychological self, comprised of cognitions, emotions, and memories. The pneuma is the spirit, the heart, or the inner-man – it is the spiritual core and the seat of the will.

In this post I will describe three surprising activities at the level of the soma that, for me, foster a subjective feeling of closeness and deeper appreciation of God.

1. RUNNING

I am not much of a runner. I can’t remember the last time the Nike running app on my smartphone was activated. Running had always seemed masochistic to me, and it wasn’t until my wife suggested a couch-to-5k plan as a potential shoulder-to-shoulder bonding activity that I reluctantly began to enjoy the activity.

Besides the eventual endorphin release, putting on my brightly colored running shoes and hitting the pavement brings to mind the many, many analogies found in scripture that compare the Christian life to running a race.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1)

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV)

I also can’t help but think of Olympic athlete Eric Liddell as depicted in the film ‘Chariots of Fire.’ “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

2. DRINKING WINE

I am also not much of a wine drinker. I have dabbled in and enjoyed the fine Pinot Noir that comes out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I have been to a few wine tastings. I have even read the book, ‘The Billionaire’s Vinegar.’ Still, nobody would confuse me for an oenophile. If I have any beverage of choice it is coffee, hands down. Also, lived in “Beer City, USA” for many years and was exposed to local, craft beers that would make Belgian monks proud. What’s more is that my current job precludes my consumption of any alcoholic beverages.

But still, drinking wine makes me feel closer to God.

Jesus was a fan of wine. Our Lord and Savior’s first recorded miracle involves transmuting water into wine (John 2). His opponents actually accused him of being a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). This was real wine, not “grape juice” as some have attempted to twist the biblical language to fit human traditions.

Growing up in a very “low church” setting, I did indeed drink store-bought grape juice in a tiny paper cup and eat a cracker for Communion (I can’t bring myself to refer to an ounce of grape juice and a cracker as the Lord’s Supper). I have even heard a former youth pastor joke about offering purple Gatorade and potato chips. Although I am not a proponent of “means of grace” sacramentalism, I have a strong sense that Evangelicalism’s Communion resembles very little the Last Supper that Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room. In contrast, I have a sense of reverence whenever I visit a Lutheran service and dip my bread into a goblet of wine, feeling the slight alcoholic sting of the “blood of Christ” on my tongue.

What interests me most are the words of Matthew 26:29: “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my father’s kingdom.” There is an actual promise from Jesus to his disciples that he will drink wine with them during his coming kingdom. Drinking a glass of wine makes me remember this promise and look forward to spending time with my God.

3. BIRD WATCHING

What? Did you say bird watching?!? Fifteen years ago I would have ranked bird watching one step above stamp collecting as the most boring and unmanly hobbies of all time. So what changed? First, I saw the Academy Award-nominated documentary ‘Winged Migration.’ Second, I visited the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. Third, I began to notice interesting birds such as wild turkeys, owls, and even a massive turkey vulture near the places I lived in North Carolina. Those events helped me appreciate the diversity of ‘little feathery animals that fly around’ significantly more.

More recently, the Campus Pastor at my work has repeatedly commented on the deep impact his mother’s advice had on him as he grew up: “Look at the birds…” She would reference Jesus in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father” and Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!”

To combat worry and fear, this boy’s mother would recall the Word and enjoin him to spend time in nature contemplating God’s design and goodness. These memories were so meaningful to this Pastor that if he were to plant a new church he would affix the name Sparrow Ridge to it, out of every possible name one could choose. I too am learning the art of quieting myself and appreciating God’s creation, allowing his General Revelation to speak to me and remind me of my father’s ways.

H IS FOR HERESY?

Heresy

“It seems to be a general feature of the history of Christian thought that a period of genuine creativity is immediately followed by a petrification and scholasticism, as the insights of a pioneering thinker or group of thinkers are embodied in formulae or confessions…” (McGrath 1986, 151).

“A major principle of the Reformation was reformata et semper reformanda – reformed and always reforming. How is continuing reform of evangelical faith and life possible if being evangelical requires firm adherence to a humanly devised cognitive structure of doctrinal content?” (Olson 2002, 39).

I have a deep respect and admiration for theoretical physics. I find that field fascinating. To me, systematic theology and theoretical physics represent the highest intellectual achievements of mankind – the first in regards to Special Revelation and the second in regards to General Revelation.

Christian theologians could learn a lot from theoretical physicists.

In physics, my perception is that scientists stand on the shoulders of giants and collaborate over decades through rigorous, meticulous research. Hypotheses become theories and theories become laws. New discoveries upend or expand previous understanding of the cosmos. Concepts such as falsifiability, replicating experiments, and using theoretical models to make accurate predictions are of one fabric with the scientific method.

However, when it comes to theology, we tend to find lone theologians creating their own systematic theologies, or we find many others accepting the party line of a particular ancient creed or confession. Some act as if the last word on theology was decided in the 1500s by a handful of white, European males. Certainly subsequent centuries of archeology, manuscript evidence, and language studies can shed no additional light on our beliefs (sarcasm).

It is in this spirit that I embark on reading three different books that espouse what I would have in earlier years considered heretical and false outright, based on their differing views from what I was taught at home and in church. Each of these books has had an impact or received high praise, even from those who do not agree. I endeavor to challenge myself and be exposed to contrary ideas with an open mind and without fear.

The books are:

1. ‘Most Moved Mover’ by Clark Pinnock

This book advocates open theism, which is contrary to what I am discovering to be my Classical Arminian leanings. I was raised, without knowing it, with an Arminian perspective (although not Classical Arminian). However, recalling conversations with my father, who was also the pastor of my church, I see that he actually embraced some openness without explicitly identifying it that way.

2. ‘Kingdom Come’ by Sam Storms

This book advocates amillennialism, which is contrary to my Mid-Trib / Pre-Wrath eschatological leanings. I had accepted the doctrine of the Rapture as a given for many years until I started studying the Bible for myself and found no support for it. I currently do not believe in any kind of “rapture” nor the doctrine of imminency.

3. ‘The Fire That Consumes’ by Edward Fudge

This book advocates annihilationism, which is contrary to my traditional views on eternal suffering in the final judgment. Technically, the author labels his view as ‘conditionalist.’ My interest in this topic was piqued when I realized that the Bible describes the lake of fire as eternal, and that Satan and his angels will suffer for eternity there, and that the unregenerate will also go there… but it did not clearly state that the unregenerate will also suffer for eternity there! Hmmm…

semper reformanda!

WHAT IS SPECIAL REVELATION?

moses-on-sinai

The lingering external / physical evidence of a Creator and internal / psychological evidence of a moral law and spiritual yearning within mankind are examples of General Revelation – passive evidence of the divine, available to all. Yet, such clues alone will never lead one to a full knowledge of the Christian God and associated doctrines of soteriology (salvation), especially in light of our fallen nature.

Following the concept of ‘dimensional beyondness,’ that God is not just quantitatively different than mankind but also qualitatively, we do not have the ability to directly observe God with our unaided senses. The Bible describes God as spirit, invisible, dwelling in a spiritual realm, and unable to be directly looked upon without the experience ending our lives.

How then can we possibly draw close enough to God to perceive his true nature? We can’t. “Humans cannot reach up to investigate God and would not understand even if they could.” (Erickson 1998). He has to reveal himself to us. Thankfully, God values relationships with his creation and has condescended to both interact with us and provide us with information, without which we would arguably be an ignorant species on the brink of extinction.

As stated before, revelation is better thought of as an unveiling or uncovering. Whereas General Revelation is passive, Special or Particular Revelation describes a unique moment in time and space where God reveals a part of himself: perhaps his power, or character, or wisdom, or moral requirements. The God who is above, other than, and pre-existent to our cosmos in some way enters into our finite world.

A simple example is found in Exodus 31, when Yahweh speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai. “When he had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Not only did God verbally speak to Moses, he also left behind a personal writing sample! Later, through the process of inscripturation, this event became recorded for posterity in the Law / Books of Moses / Pentateuch.

Both the specific historical events (God personally writing the Decalogue / Ten Commandments on stone tablets on Mount Sinai) and the written records (what we now call the book of Exodus describing God’s actions as well as what he wrote down) are instances of an unveiling that allows us to experience the divine presence or some divine truth – Special Revelation. The compiled and accurately transmitted written records, or ‘sacred writings,’ are what we call Scripture.

Thus, Christians do not worship Pascal’s “God of the philosophers,” a “generic God or the mere concept of God in some vague, philosophical mist … [we] worship God as he has been revealed in his particulars.” (Tennent 2007).

GENERAL REVELATION / NATURAL THEOLOGY

starstree

In a previous post I argued that revelation is more accurately described as apocalypse – an unveiling or uncovering of divine reality. However, that would best describe what theologians call Special Revelation. General Revelation and Natural Theology are not quite examples of tearing away a supernatural veil but rather the lingering fingerprints of divine handiwork in creation – both within the material universe and our individual selves.

Natural Theology refers to the beliefs that we can arrive at by observing aspects of General Revelation and using human reason (logic) to attach meaning to those observations. These evidences are theoretically available to all people everywhere.

General Revelation can be divided into two categories: internal and external:

Internal evidences of the existence of God and his attributes include logical deductions (e.g., there must be an uncaused cause) and innate beliefs. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has “set eternity” into human hearts. Various theologians speak of an ‘innate sense of the divine’ within us. C.S. Lewis famously argued in favor of an inherent moral conscience in his book ‘Mere Christianity.’ If somebody accidentally trips you, you will feel far less animosity than if that person tripped you on purpose, even though the end result is identical. There seems to be an untaught, intuitive sense of justice / injustice within us. Even depraved individuals with seared consciences (1 Timothy 4:2) understand when something is unfair to them – far beyond a sense of inconvenience or survival instinct.

External evidences include the witness of creation, which leads to the belief in the necessity of a Creator, as purported by Intelligent Design theory. Psalm 19:1 tells us that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.” Romans 1:19-20 says, “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

However, the effects of sin have so greatly tarnished humanity, including human reason and moral conscience, that we find General Revelation not being sufficient in leading somebody into a salvific relationship. As Romans 1:21 continues, “they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” General Revelation alone will never lead somebody to accurate conclusions about the incarnation of Jesus Christ nor the atonement. We desperately need God to pull back the veil and reveal himself to us in a special fashion, whether we realize it or not.

Acts 17:26-17, 30: “and he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us … Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent…”

WHAT IS REVELATION?

jacobsladder

The word ‘revelation’ found in New Testament passages such as Luke 2:32, Romans 2:5, Galatians 1:12, Ephesians 3:3, and Revelation 1:1 (to cite a few examples) is the Greek word apokálypsis. You do not have to be a Greek scholar to recognize the English word ‘apocalypse.’ However, in English we have come to associate apocalypse with the cataclysmic end of the world. In reality, apocalypse means uncovering or unveiling.

Read Paul’s words in Galatians 1:11-12 with a simple translation change, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through an apocalypse of Jesus Christ.”

When theologians talk about revelation they are primarily concerned with the following question: how can we know anything about God at all? If God is transcendent, or infinite, or outside of the created cosmos, how can finite, mortal creatures approach him or discover something of his nature?

John the Apostle was fond of pointing out that “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18a; also 1 John 4:12a) and “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; he has seen the Father” (John 6:46). So how can we discern a God that is “invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17) to us? The answer is that God has to pull back the veil, let us peek behind the curtain, and reveal a part of himself.

Humanity cannot reach a knowledge of God completely on their own. But what about general revelation and the associated natural theology, in which individuals discern attributes of God from what has been created? We must admit that God has given human beings the ability to sense and perceive as well as minds capable of understanding and reaching conclusions. Therefore, even our most “independent” observations and conclusions are only possible because God first allowed their possibility by the decisions he made when designing and creating us.