Category Archives: Theology

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As Christians, we should have a modest view of technology within the context of ministry – not too lofty and not too lowly. In itself, technology does not have the power to change lives, but God can use technology (such as the printing press) to further His kingdom. We live in a unique age that requires a theology of technology, and we need to think before we embrace whatever is before us.

Rather than overdosing on technology, the Church should use it strategically. Some tools can save time, which in effect can produce more time to interact in person. Some tools can help us reach more people, which can start new relationships for the sake of glorifying God. But of course, these tools need to be used in moderation and within reason.

A unique feature of the digital age is that technology is available on a massive scale – not only who can own it, but where it can be used. Unlike the days of the printing press or even dial-up modems, new technologies are “omnipresent” in the sense that they travel with us in our pockets. Tragically, despite all of the contributions of the digital age, our gadgetry has led to the idolization of technology. Millions of people worship the newest device, while their other god(s) are quickly forgotten.

To avoid such idolatry, we must use technology for our purposes – and to prevent technology from using us. Like craftsmen, we need to master our tools, so that they can be used effectively for the kingdom. As with any tool, technology should be used in a way that helps rather than complicates. This requires thought and planning.

Here are a few ways that technology can be used in quick and easily manageable ways:

Evangelism/Outreach
• Spark conversation with a thoughtful quotation
• Respond to current events with a Christian worldview
• Share web links that are encouraging and gospel-influenced
• Introduce your church with a video
• Raise funds for social outreach efforts
• Praise God for what He is doing in your life
• Invite locals to a church event
• Advertise community events (e.g., a food drive)
• Tell the community about changed lives!

Discipleship
• Suggest Scripture passages to read
• Start an online discussion
• Invite members to an upcoming event
• Alert members to important prayer requests
• Encourage your congregation during the week
• Post videos about social justice issues
• Share what God is doing in your life
• Respond to others’ posts with Christian love and biblical truth

Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, but such ideas show that technology can be gospel-driven and glorifying to God. As a general rule, we should avoid technology that glorifies ourselves, and instead, strive to honor God. This is not always easy, but according to 1 Corinthians 10:31, this is what we are called to do in every area of life.

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What makes “Christian” art? This debate has gone on for many years, but at least in my circles, the discussion has not progressed very far. In some ways, this question can be misleading because there is not necessarily a single answer. There are at least 3 ways to define Christian art:

1. In terms of source: art made by a Christian individual or a group of Christians.
2. In terms of motive: art intended to minister to others or to glorify God in a general way.
3. In terms of message: art that communicates a message about the Christian God or is somehow influenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Considering the Oxford dictionary as an example, there are various alternatives when defining a word. A single definition is not more “correct” than another, so we would be better off describing what kind of Christian art we are talking about. As a result, the conversation can advance further when we avoid semantics and focus our discussion on a specific kind of Christian art.

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If you’ve ever been hurt in your life, you know that the memory doesn’t go away. Whether someone hit you, betrayed you, neglected you, or somehow otherwise injured you, the memory can remain for years. It may even replay in your mind when triggered by a sound or image. Even when forgiving the other person, you do not forget how much it hurt.

In a similar way, Jesus did not get “amnesia” when He ascended into heaven. Jesus still remembers the mockery, the pain, and the sacrifice that he received for me and you. His forgiveness is so much greater because of the fact that he forgives despite the memory of how much he hurt. After all this time, his forgiveness never ends.

1 John 2:1 tells us that Jesus, despite being hurt, is our advocate: “If anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” He is sitting at the right hand of the Father, pleading for us. Rather than forgetting what happened, he continually reminds the Father of his own righteousness and his sacrifice for us.

This truth can free us to forgive one another. Even when we remember, we can still pray for those who hurt us and ask God to bless them. This is what it means to forgive — not ignoring the past, but loving others in the present.

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In our current global milieu, we live in a “world of religions,” and increasingly, Christians are confronted with how to relate to these religions. Ida Glaser approaches these issues with clarity and authenticity in her book The Bible and Other Faiths: Christian Responsibility in a World of Religions. As a Jewish Christian who reaches out to Muslims, Glaser has firsthand experience in how crucial and delicate these matters can be. With an important contribution to Christian theology, Glaser helps Christians distinguish between primary and secondary questions, focusing believers on what we can genuinely know and cannot know from Scripture. In other words, The Bible and Other Faiths is an in-depth look at how the Bible speaks to our own personal interaction with people from other faiths.

In the first chapter, Glaser separates interfaith questions into two categories. On one hand, there are externally-focused questions that focus on judging other people: Are people from other religions saved? Is Jesus the only way to know God? Do other religions consist of any truth? These questions often dominate our religious dialogue, but Glaser argues that these questions may not be the “right questions.” (13) While this is somewhat controversial, especially for conservative Christians, Glaser says that these questions should be secondary to more pressing concerns.

According to Glaser, there is a second set of questions that “focuses on other people’s welfare and our own responsibility,” and it is upon these questions that she primarily focuses. (13) What is God doing among people of other religions? What does God require of us in response? How should we respond to other religions? And how to we apply the great commission and the great commandments to our interfaith context? Certainly these kinds of questions are related to the first kind, but this second set is more “urgent” in the sense that they affect our actual relationships with people.

Developing this further, the author outlines three major approaches to interfaith relations – or more specifically, how Jesus applies to other religions. These can be generally understood as exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. An exclusivist holds the belief that salvation comes through explicit faith in Christ alone; that God only offers special revelation through Israel, Christ and the Bible; and that Christ is Jesus of Nazareth. In light of its exclusive claims, exclusivism strongly emphasizes our personal need to spread the message of Christ. Without this message – and an affirmation of a particular doctrinal truth – a person will necessarily go to Hell.

An inclusivist allows for “anonymous Christians” from other religions because salvation is through Christ, but not necessarily explicitly. It is possible for a spiritual seeker to find Christ, even if they meet him through another religion or know him by another name. Special revelation can be found apart from Christ and Scripture, including the possibility of finding some truth in the sacred texts of other religions. The Christ who saves is visible in the person of Jesus, but is not limited to him. This perspective emphasizes the sovereignty of God and an individual’s response to the Holy Spirit more so than evangelism efforts.

A pluralist believes that salvation is available through all faiths, whether by denying the inconsistency of these religions or by diminishing the significance of such contradictions. Christ is “cosmic” in that He is merely one option among several. All religion, including Christianity, is humankind’s response to the transcendent. There may be mistakes within a particular religious system, but these are to be expected. For a pluralist, what truly matters is not doctrinal correctness, but a genuine response of faith to the transcendent God, whoever that God may be.

While Glaser does not express a particular view, she persuasively illustrates how each camp interprets and omits Bible passages in order to support their respective presuppositions. John 14:6, for example, can be read through the lens of an exclusivist, inclusivist, or a pluralist. An exclusivist would read this verse loudly and emphasize the word “the” in the English translation. An inclusivist would agree that Jesus is the only way, but would recognize the possibility that Jesus could be the only way, the only truth, and the only life in an indirect way. A pluralist, though uncomfortable with such a verse, would point out that this was true at that time and for those people, but does not necessarily apply to all cultures and contexts today.

While this may be troubling for some, Glaser shows the importance of interpreting biblical texts within their literary context. Her approach involves reading John 14:6 in light of John’s prologue in chapter one. As she does so – at least in my reading – she disqualifies the pluralist interpretation, weakens the insistence for an exclusivist interpretation, and validates the possibility of an inclusivist interpretation. Whichever position we may take, we find that this passage does not solve all of the issues that we might have hoped. At the same time, however, by reading a passage within its broader context, we are more likely to see how Scripture was intended to be read. Rather than taking a verse out of context for our religious (and sometimes vicious) purposes, it is essential that we read Scripture with caution and humility.

The book addresses many other important issues, but at its core, focuses on the Bible itself and what it has to say about other religions. Personally, I found this fascinating. If nothing else, The Bible and Other Faiths is worth reading for its helpful summary of Genesis.

Regarding the Old Testament, Glaser discusses the Pentateuch, historical books, wisdom literature, and considers their broader cultural context. While all of this was very intriguing, most significant may be her comments about the Tower of Babel and Abraham. She persuasively argues that Abraham may have originally known Yahweh as “El” from Canaanite religion, and that the Israelites gradually came to the awareness the their God was unlike the other gods that surrounded them. This of course, seems to suggest that people from other religions could gradually come to know God through God’s special intervention.

Concerning the New Testament, Glaser shows that other faiths were frequently present in the Gospels and Acts. The Parable of the Good Samaritan becomes much more poignant when you consider that the Samaritans were idolaters in the eyes of the Jews. Likewise, the fact that Cornelius’ prayers are heard by God should sober us as we consider seekers from other religions. While Glaser recognizes that modern religious systems such as Islam or Hinduism are not specifically addressed, she proves that the New Testament can provide more instruction than we might originally think – not so much in terms of philosophical argument, but in terms of loving others into the Kingdom of God.

In the final chapter, the author returns to her initial proposal that some questions are more important than others. In her view, in which she admits her own uncertainty, we cannot answer all of the questions with absolute certainty. The Bible was not intended to tell us everything that we want to know, but everything that we need to know – or what God wanted to make clear to us. Thus, as surprising as it may be, she does not state whether the Bible is exclusive, inclusive, or pluralist in its claims – for as she says, the Bible was not written with those categories in mind. For many, Glaser’s epistemic humility will be refreshing, while others may become frustrated.

As summarized in the final chapter, one of the main messages of the book is that our responsibility towards other religions is not always clear. However, we should continually search Scripture for guidance. Rather than making blanket statements about religions like Buddhism or Islam, the Bible provides us with insights of how to relate to specific individuals within different traditions. Scripture does not offer a single method, systematic approach to non-Christians, but reorients our own lives, so that we can minister more effectively to the people that we meet amongst the many world religions today. In other words, Scripture is more focused on people than systems.

It is important to recognize our ignorance when it comes to the Bible’s silence, and likewise, we must recognize our own inability to convert others to Christianity. It is better to focus on our own response – what the Bible does talk about – so that we can be faithful to God’s call and eventually lead others to the truth of the gospel. Even though we may not know all of the answers to all of our questions, it is still necessary to reach out to all people in all parts of the world, regardless who or where they may be.

For the most part, I agree with Glaser’s position, and I share many of her concerns. However, I wonder how far we can separate the two kinds of questions that she discusses at the beginning and end of her book. Granting that there is a difference between extrospective and introspective questions, a reader should question how different these questions really are. And since most of the book is founded upon this dichotomy, this is an important issue to raise. Glaser herself admits that the two are “related,” but they may be more related than her book seems to suggest. (13)

My primary concern is that she does not answer a fundamental question that many Christians currently struggle with – namely, is Jesus exclusive or inclusive? To illustrate this point, The Bible and Other Faiths teaches Christians how to interact with other faiths on a daily basis, but what happens when someone from another faith asks us an either-or question? Do we tell that person that we do not know, that Jesus is exclusive, or that Jesus is inclusive? Unfortunately, this book does help in that regard. While it helps us become more charitable, it does not help others by providing them with an objective answer to their most important question.

Even with this omission, however, Glaser offers a considerable amount of wisdom, and many Christians can benefit from reading this book. I found the book encouraging, instructive, and inspiring. Even though not all of my questions were resolved, a book like this that inspires further thought and investigation is definitely worth reading and re-reading. Most importantly, The Bible and Other Faiths focused my eyes on Scripture and challenged me to further search the text. Thanks to this book, I have been motivated to search my own heart and to change the way that I interact with people from other world religions.

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Regarding biblical study and the use of commentaries, Eugene H. Peterson uses a captivating illustration to demonstrate the reason why Christians should read commentaries. It is our way of entering into the vibrant conversation, of hearing many other voices and eventually expressing our own. I read this years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. Since he says it better than I could, I’ll simply share his own words:

“…biblical commentaries have for too long been overlooked as common reading for common Christians… Among those for whom Scripture is a passion, reading commentaries has always seemed to me analogous to the gathering of football fans in the local bar after the game, replaying in endless detail the game they have just watched, arguing (maybe even fighting) over obersvations and opinion, and lacing the discourse with gossip about the players. The level of knowledge evident in these boozy colloquies is impressive. These fans have watched the game for years; the players are household names to them; they know the fine print in the rulebook and pick up every nuance on the field. And they care care immensely about what happens in the game. Their seemingly endless commentary is evidence of how much they care. Like them, I relish in a commentary not bare information but conversation with knowledgeable and experienced friends, probing, observing, questioning, the biblical text…. there is so much to notice, so much to talk over.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book, 54)

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For those of us who write worship songs, it is easy to fall into the same patterns. By reading lyrics of other songs, especially well written hymns and songs from other cultures, we can be moved to think in new ways and to expand beyond our normal categories. For a sample, check out this hymn shared by Thabiti Anyabwile.

How Sweet and Awful Is the Place

How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin

Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.

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6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

- Isaiah 9:6

As the lyrics of the Hallelujah Chorus, we hear these words almost every Christmas. The music of Handel’s song easily gets stuck in our heads, but I wonder if the words do the same. These words are too incredible to pass by.

Hours could be spent on each of these ideas. But for today, think about the fact that “the government shall be upon His shoulders.” Jesus’ birth signified that God had a better plan. As much as the Israelites desired a king, every kingdom failed. But God promised to send a Savior who would rule with power and grace. Even the responsibility of government would rest upon Him.

So in a world where so many things are going wrong, we all need to be reminded of who is in control. Whether we are Republican or Democrat, our hope should not rest in a politician to solve our problems. In fact, as followers of Jesus Christ, we should be gracious to public officials because they will never get it completely right. As hard as they try, Christ is the only one who can effectively lead our world towards peace and reconciliation.

This Christmas, try to reach out to someone with the good news of the gospel. If you know a public official, tell them how much you appreciate them. And rather than complaining about our government, remember that we are looking for a better, more peaceful kingdom that is yet to come.

Prayer: Jesus, we believe that you are the hope that we need. Whatever our need, help us to trust in You for our peace. You alone are our Savior.

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2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

– Isaiah 53:2-3

As most of us can admit, it is easy to miss the true meaning of Christmas! If we are honest, all of us can think back to years that didn’t have as much significance as we hoped. Whether we didn’t receive that present on top of our list, whether we have mourned the loss of a love one, or whether the time just passed too quickly… we have all missed the point from time to time.

Of course, we are not the only ones to miss the Christ in Christmas. From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, people did not see anything attractive or popular about Him. Scripture tells us that in addition to being born in a filthy manger, Jesus did not draw a lot of attention in terms of his physical appearance.

Unlike the movies that we see on TV, Jesus wouldn’t have been cast for any movies. In fact, the Bible tells us in John 1:10-11 that Jesus was despised and rejected by those around Him. Rather than seeking out His face, they hid from Christ and did not see any value in Him. In today’s terms, He was far from being a movie star.

This can be convicting because all of us are guilty about forgetting about Jesus. Many of us pay more attention to the movie stars and the latest Hollywood gossip than we do to Jesus Christ. But it is never late to change.

Christ calls us to notice Him, to recognize who He truly is, and to bring others with us to the manger. If we all do that, this Christmas will not be another empty holiday.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for neglecting You. Like our friends and neighbors, we have lost sight of who you truly are. All of us have gone astray and looked to the idols of our greed, pride, and lust. Have mercy on us for not esteeming You as we should, and help us to to draw others to You, so that today, we will all recognize Your majesty as we should. Though born in a manger, You are the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

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20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

- Matthew 1:20-23

These are some of the most amazing verses in the Bible. In a few short sentences, we learn some amazing things about God’s love for the world:

* Through the power of Almighty God, a virgin will give birth to a son.
* This miraculous child will save his people from their sins.
* God will dwell with humanity through the birth of a child.

This is shocking because no other God has the power to cause a virgin birth. No other God has made the “first move” to save people from their sin. And no other God has loved humanity like our God.

In response to Jesus’ birth, we should be inspired to worship. We haven’t created our own salvation or found a way to stop sinning, so Christmas should remind us about how small we really are. All we can do is receive the amazing grace that God offers to us through Jesus Christ. God alone deserves the glory! None of our efforts can contribute anything more to what God has already done through Christ.

Prayer: Jesus, thank you for making us Your people and for saving us from our sins. We are amazed that You came to rescue us. Even your name reminds us of your forgiveness. We can never fully express our gratitude for what You have done for us, and we ask that You will continue to save us from the evil that surrounds us.

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2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you,
one whose origins are from the distant past.
3 The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
will return from exile to their own land.
4 And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
for he will be highly honored around the world.
5 And he will be the source of peace.

- Micah 5:2-5

Like many of us today, the Israelites felt overwhelmed and disappointed. Other nations had stolen their land and their possessions. They felt like God had let them down.

But the Bible tells us that God never abandons His people. He is always there, and He always comes through.

Jesus’ birth was the prime example of God’s protection. When the Israelites were bummed out, God sent His Son to save the world. Acting a shepherd, Jesus now guides His followers into truth and protects them from the enemy’s attacks.

So when life seems turbulent, never forget that God has provided us with a Good Shepherd. Jesus brings peace, not only to us, but to people around the entire world. With Christ guiding us, we are safe and secure.

Prayer: God, thank you for sending your Son to be our leader and protector. Whenever we face violence and disturbance in life, we know that You are strong enough to protect us. Forgive us for worrying about our troubles, and today, may Jesus Christ be our source of security and peace.