Let My People Think

Crown of Thorns

By late 4th century AD, the raw transformative power of the Gospel was already in deep decline. The way of Christ was being supplanted by the Constantinian institutional Christianity. Since the tangible power of God was not widely demonstrable, something else was bound the take its place. That “something else” was forensic, legally focused Christianity. In redefining the overarching meta-narrative of the New Covenant as being exclusively a legal matter, the practical power of the Gospel was theologically legitimized. Institutional Christianity became a purveyor of solutions which were purely speculative, experientially unverifiable, and requiring one to die before the veracity of their theories could be personally ascertained. In other world – that so-called gospel was not much use for the for the living. It was only useful for the dead.

Historically, here’s how things got to where they did. In 410 AD Rome was sacked by Visigoths. At that time, Rome was viewed as the mother city of Christianity, and it came as a huge shock to the Western world that their relatively newly adopted religion – Christianity – was powerless to stop that sacking by pagan barbarians. In response, in mid-420s AD Augustine penned his opus magnum “The City of God”. In that volume he made important doctrinal corrections, but committed probably just as many worldview errors as he sought to correct. In trying to salvage Christianity from its alleged failed responsibility to protect Rome, he simply relegated everything that can be expected of God to the realm he called “the city of God” which can be accessed only after death.
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Crown of Thorns

Last weekend, while in youth church, my pre-teen son stumped his instructors with a simple question about the crucifixion of Jesus: how does executing someone else for your sin justify you? His instructors tried to explain it by referring to animal sacrifices and their significance, to which he again replied: how does killing an animal remove the punishment due you? And also – as a young person, what did I ever do to deserve death in the first place? They said to him something about even a small sin being enough to deserve death. To which he objected that punishing a petty misstep and a major crime with the same extreme punishment of death seems to be the very opposite of justice. Eventually the instructors said that it’s something that he should ask his parents at home.

It’s quite remarkable that they way the atonement of Christ is commonly explained collapses under the weight of its internal contradictions, even under the most simple of questionings. Since many people in the Western Christian tradition believe that penal substitutionary atonement (or PSA for short) is the only way to understand what happened on the cross of Calvary, they have simply learned to suppress their own deep questions about it.

Often times, questioning the common *interpretation* of Christ’s atonement is frequently equated to questioning the *value* of the atonement itself. Such set of tactics which discourage people from exploring the deeper foundations of their faith are a hallmark of religious fundamentalism, with its dichotomous all-or-nothing thinking. That’s why I applaud my son’s instructors that they didn’t shut him down, leaving open the possibility for him to continue looking for answers outside of the paradigm which couldn’t give him the answers which he was looking for (did I mention that I quite like that church?).
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Loyalty pledgeOne of the foundational maxims of Judeo-Christian worldview is that “you shall have no other gods before me”. Anything or anyone which you consider as the source of your livelihood, economic and financial security, safety, security, etc. in a way which overshadows your faith in God and his ability to supply, support, and protect you is considered to be an idol. That’s a classic definition of idolatry. Your idols could be persons, organizational or national entities, or things like finances, possessions, firearms, etc.

Of course this doesn’t mean we can’t have relationships or possessions. What it does mean, though, is that we should frame our relationships and structure our economic lives so that those work in synergy with out faith in God, and with our personal principles proper for Christ-followers. Generally speaking, as long as we genuinely consider God and his kingdom to be the source of every blessing we have, and everything else merely a conduit, we are on the safe ground.

There’s a lot of talk about loyalty these days. I shall avoid political contexts, and instead I want to zoom in to this concept relative to Christianity.
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Governing Principle Marcus AureliusMontesquieu was a man who rewrote political philosophy of his day. His ideas form a foundation of our democratic republic here in the U.S., and form a backbone of the U.S. Constitution.

Here’s a great quote from one of his writings:

“It is not chance that rules the world. Ask the Romans, who had a continuous sequence of successes when they were guided by a certain plan, and an uninterrupted sequence of reverses when they followed another. There are general causes, moral and physical, which act in every monarchy, elevating it, maintaining it, or hurling it to the ground. All accidents are controlled by these causes. And if the chance of one battle—that is, a particular cause—has brought a state to ruin, some general cause made it necessary for that state to perish from a single battle. In a word, the main trend draws with it all particular accidents.”
– Montesquieu, “Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence”

Obvious political implications aside, it’s hard not to admire this man’s systemic thinking which was way ahead of his time. That’s the mind of an architect and an an engineer.

Great American mathematician Greg Nash called those types of things “the governing principles”. This is applicable to in any branch of human endeavor. Do yourself a favor and check him out for yourself in the movie “A Beautiful Mind”.
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The beginning chapters of the book of Revelation contain 7 letters to the 7 churches. The churches are represented by seven golden lampstands. More specifically, the letters are addressed to the “7 stars”, representing the “7 angels of the churches”. What do all those expressions mean?

First of all, the word “church” (Greek “ekklesia”) simply means “called out / convoked gathering or assembly”. As a matter of fact, this exact same word “ekklesia” is used several dozen times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, or LXX) to translate the Hebrew words denoting “convoked assembly”. All of these words simply referred to the people of Israel. In the New Covenant, this same word is used to refer to the body of Christ. So we have one word, and two different meanings which depend on the context.

Another interesting word is “synagogue”. In Greek literally means “to lead / bring together” and has a very similar meaning to the word “ekklesia”. In LXX, sometimes the cognates of these two words are used nearly interchangeably. For instance:

Leviticus 8:1,3
The Lord said to Moses … gather (ekklesiazo) the entire assembly (synagoge) at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

So, the point of it is that the word “church” is not meant to be understood in a purely Christian sense. In a similar vein, the word “synagogue” is not meant to be understood only in a Jewish sense. In fact, the word “synagogue” is used several times in LXX to denote Gentile gatherings.

Therefore, I will use the word “assembly” instead of “church” in this write-up from hereon out, as that would avoid anachronistically reading our modern meanings into the text that doesn’t necessarily support it.
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ChurchianityWhen you undergo deep inner transformation, you begin to awake to the reality of the Good News of Jesus Christ. You begin to sense and see unconditional love of the Father toward humankind, and you begin to flow in his divine power to bring about genuine transformative changes in people, places, and situations. You begin to feel like you’ve finally found the pearl of great price, and you can’t wait to share your findings with those around you.

And here comes the reality check. There might be an array of unexpected reactions coming from those who are supposed to have all the right answers. If that wasn’t your situation, and you had seasoned, mature, secure mentors around who saw you through the process – that is truly wonderful! That’s how its supposed to work. But not all of us were as fortunate.

It’s not at all uncommon to get the kind of advice from spiritual leaders which would actually arrest your transformation, or even roll it back. The worst of it may come when your new insights actually begin to really work for you. Many people are afraid to admit that these types of problems are endemic for a fairly sizable sliver of institutional Christianity for fear of appearing “divisive”. But in my opinion, this is the same as CDC not admitting known facts about serious epidemics for fear of appearing alarmist. This is nothing but “cover my own butt and let everyone else repeat my errors” kind of fearful mentality.

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Image of God (a poem)

Image of God A couple of weeks ago, as we were driving somewhere, my son asked me to turn on the song “Zombie” by Cranberries. As we listened to the song, I suddenly was overwhelmed with a sense of profound connection with the entire humanity. I felt connected to all the 7+ billion of people on this planet. I felt completely one with that huge, multifarious organism called “humankind”. That took me by complete surprise.

I don’t think that I have never experienced that sense of unity with humanity before. It was very meaningful to me. A day or two later, I wrote this poem.

The poem’s uneven and somewhat jagged construction and varying rhyming schemes are meant to be expressive of the sense of beauty and diversity which exists in this world. Some stanzas and even some lines overlap and dovetail with one another, and this is done on purpose. This is illustrative of how different persons and people groups dovetail with one another to form one symbiotic organism. The poem’s cadence builds its pace to a crescendo to highlight a sense of urgency before the final stanza.

Enjoy!

IMAGE OF GOD

Religion with its plastic smile
Numbs our mind, and rapes our soul,
And leaves a gaping, bleeding hole
Where our heart once used to be.

It builds big buildings. It produces
A stream of talks and printed pages.
It worships books with guilded edges
Which can’t legitimize its crimes.

It lets us keep our greed, our judgments,
To Western sins it dulls our mind
Shuts off compassion, leaves us blind
To human suffering next door,
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