Love the Sinner But Hate the Sin?

Is the old saying, “love the sinner but hate the sin,” unbiblical? Is it justCross and Stained Glass an excuse for right-wing Evangelicals to hide behind while self-righteously judging the activity of others- be they believer or unbeliever? I have read several articles recently that argue this very thing, saying that, “love the sinner but hate the sin,” is at best unfeasible and at worst unchristian. However, is this truly the case? I would contend that it is not, and that we best not rush to throw this saying out the window.

In fact, I would argue that this pithy little saying- if handled rightly- is both eminently Christian and Biblical. It is not only a decent- albeit truncated- summation of how Christians are called to walk and be lights in the midst of a fallen world, but it is actually a pretty strong paraphrase of Jude 1:20-23. In this passage the half-brother of Jesus wrote:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”

The last sentence, “Have mercy on those… show mercy… hating even the garment stained by the flesh,” could be roughly translated, “love the sinner but hate the sin.” Jude is calling believers to love and mercy, both for fellow brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin and doubting, as well as for the lost. But, he calls them to love and mercy, not at the expense of coddling or excusing sin, but warning them that they should love those struggling or lost in sin, all the while, “hating the garment stained by the flesh,” which means they are to hate sin and anything to do with sin.

Christians are called to love sinners, to love the lost, but not the sin. Has this teaching been misused over the years? Sadly, yes. Many in the church have used this saying merely as a cliché covering, which has served as means to fight the culture war and rail against the lifestyles and morality of unbelievers, all the while maintaining that we love the sinner- just not their sin. However, we have not been called to fight a war against culture, we have been called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God, and to make disciples. So, if we are to reclaim this teaching of Jude, to snatch it out of the flames of the culture wars and apply it Biblically, we have address the question; what does it mean to love the sinner but hate the sin?

To love the sinner, means we are willing to pour our lives out so that they may see and know Christ, we are willing to go on seeking to love them even if they mean us harm. A good question to ask here is; are we…? Are we willing to pour our lives out for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or would we just prefer to fight? Are we willing to love those who disregard us, hate us, perhaps even want to harm us? If we realize that our answer here is no, then we need to repent and ask the Lord to empower us to lovingly bear witness to Him by loving those who do not love Him and, often, do not loves us.

When we say hate the sin, it means we will not approve of that which God disapproves, we will not call good what God has called evil- whether in our own lives or in the lives others. A good question to ask here is; do we…? In our efforts to be seen as “loving” or “understanding” do we approve of what God disapproves? In our desire to be comfortable do we call good what God has called evil? If we do, then we need to repent of standing in opposition to the Word of God and ask that the Holy Spirit convict us of what it means to walk worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The good news in all of this is that we serve a God Who is love. We serve a God Who, “so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In light of this glorious truth, how can we not love sinners for Whom Christ died and how can we not hate the sin from which Christ died to save us? In other words, to love the sinner but hate the sin, is to imitate Christ and walk in accordance with the gospel. “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:23).

The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us: Hail the Incarnate Deity!

Christmastime is upon us; the trees are decorated, the stockings are hung, the presents are crammed in closets just waiting to be wrapped, and the airwaves crackle with the music of the holidays. It is about this time each year that my mind is drawn to the the opening verses of John’s Gospel. When we celebrate Christmas we tend to turn our eyes back to that manger in Bethlehem word-became-fleshsome two thousand years ago- as well we should- however, in this passage John reminds us that Christmas, while culminating in that stable long ago, did not begin there. Instead it is rooted in eternity past.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. ” (John 1:1-5, 9-14, 16-18).

The first chapter of John may not be the most recited Christmas passage in the Bible, but I can think of no more appropriate verses, in all of Scripture, to turn to as we ready our hearts, minds, and homes to celebrate the birth of Christ! Here, within these eighteen verses, lies the very heart and soul of Christmas; the mystery of the incarnation. God became man, the Creator joined Himself with His creation, the One Who existed for all eternity was born, He Who spoke the universe into being uttered His first newborn cry. The mind absolutely boggles at the phrase, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us!”

As Charles Wesley once wrote, “Hail the incarnate deity…. Jesus! Our Immanuel!”

Merry Christmas to one and all!

-Soli Deo Gloria

 

Courage is Contagious: A Timeless Word from Billy Graham

As I was reading- or being momentarily overwhelmed by- the headlines earlier this week (ethnic and religious cleansing, the massacre of school children by armed militants, international strife, cyber terrorism, prejudice and racism, etc.), I found myself at a loss as to how to respond. What could possibly be done to stem this tide of evil in the world today? What could every day people, like you and me, do in the face such daunting circumstances?

In the midst of asking these questions, and a myriad of others like them, I was reminded of a quote I had read, a while back, by Billy Graham; “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” These words so struck me- both their relevance and potency- that I wanted to search out their context.

I found them located within an essay entitled, ‘A Time for Moral Courage,’ which was written by Reverend Graham in 1964 for ‘Reader’s Digest.’ Fifty years have passed since he wrote this piece, but these words are no less true today then they were when he first penned them in era of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. It is time for men and women of conviction to again embrace courage and take a stand for what is right and what is just.

I encourage you to read the excerpts below and, when you are finished, click on the link at the bottom to read the entire essay. Let’s allow his exhortation to make us uncomfortable, to challenge us, and to wake us up to the responsibilities of what it can mean to live for Christ in dark and sinful world!
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“The world today, it seems to me, suffers not only from a lack of convictions, but also from our timidity in expressing those convictions we do have…. In the face of all kinds of conditions screaming to be rectified, too many of us find ourselves afflicted with moral laryngitis….

How will we respond when the challenge comes? Will we speak up? Or, failing in moral courage, will we keep silent…?

Christianity grew because its adherents were not silent. They said, ‘We cannot but speak the things we have heard.’ Nor did they stop with expressing the great faith they had found. They stormed against the evils of their day….

I feel sorry for the man who has never known the bracing thrill of taking a stand and sticking to it fearlessly. Moral courage has rewards that timidity can never imagine. Like a shot of adrenalin, it floods the spirit with vitality….

Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened….

Commitment to great causes makes great men…. One of Christ’s great commands to His followers was, ‘Let our light so shine before men.’ We are hardly Christian if it is not obvious whose side we are on….

The world is changed by those like Martin Luther, who cried, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other.’ The power to speak out is ours for the taking. The same Simon Peter who cringed before the servant girl’s accusations that he was one of Christ’s disciples later became one of those who, the record says, ‘turned the world upside down.’ Our world needs turning upside down. Even a small minority can do it, but it takes faith, and courage.”

– Billy Graham (from, ‘A Time for Moral Courage,’ Readers Digest- July, 1964)

By Grace… Through Faith… For Good Works: A Brief Look at Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is theHawaii Image gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Being found in Christ, means that the believer does not depend on his own righteousness and obedience to ‘get right’ with God, instead, his righteousness and obedience flow from his having ‘been made right’ with God.

The ultimate assurance for the Christian is that his eternal soul is secure in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We cannot add to this, no matter how good we are, nor can we take away from it, no matter how much we mess up! We have been saved- set apart for God and sealed for all eternity- by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ.

Positional- or judicial- holiness in Christ always precedes, and fuels, growth in personal holiness! Our good works- not matter how sincere- can never bring about right standing before God, but right standing- by grace through faith in Jesus Christ- should always result in good works! We have been made right with God, and so we are called to live right before God, not to earn our standing, not to keep our standing, but because of our standing!

– Soli Deo Gloria

How is Forgiveness Possible?

Cross and Stained Glass

How is forgiveness in this fallen and dark world world possible? How can we forgive those, broken and sinful, people who have, not only wronged us, but who have wounded us deeply? How can we respond to hate with love, to violence with peace, and to injustice with long-suffering?

By remembering that we too are broken and sinful people who have wronged, not only those around us, but our very Creator. We have rebelled against Him, lashed out at Him, and denied Him. And yet, for all that, we- who are in Christ- have been forgiven, because of the Father’s great love for us, the Son’s great work on the Cross, and the Spirit’s great work within us!

“Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).

If you find yourself struggling to forgive, wanting to hold onto a wrong that has been done to you, then I encourage you to look to the Cross! Look to the One Who left the infinite glories of heaven, to be born a man; the One Who- although He was perfect- was wronged in ways we cannot possibly understand; the One Who laid down His very life on a Roman cross in order to let go of the wrongs we committed against Him!

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Corrie Ten Boom, once a prisoner in the Nazi Concentration camp tells a story of the kind of forgiveness that can only spring forth from the Cross of Jesus Christ and the deep seated awareness that we have been forgiven much (Luke 7:47).

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.”

“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’”

“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.”

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!”

“[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]”

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’”

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?”

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.”

“‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.”

“‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’”

“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?”

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’”

“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.”

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’”

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.”

“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’”

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”

(excerpted from “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom).

-Soli Deo Gloria

The Great Evangelical Divide: Part 2 of 2

Hawaii Overlook

“There is a great and- I would argue- illegitimate divide within the Evangelical Church today. A schism that if left unchecked will continue to eat away at our witness and stifle our worship…. The debate always seems to come up between learning about God and experience of God, between truth and unity, between head and heart and Word and Spirit, etc.” – From Part 1

Is there a way for these camps to come together? Can knowledge of God and experience of God, head and heart, Word and Spirit be joined in our worship of God? Can this false- but very painful- dichotomy that exists within the Evangelical Church be healed? I believe the answer is- and must be- a resounding, “yes!”

Jesus, when He was praying for His disciples said, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23). Likewise, years later, the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Christian church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Paul too, repeatedly affirmed the need for Gospel centered unity in the body of Christ, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:13-15). My friend, Jim Rudd, recently put it this way, “If you’re so spiritual that you can’t get along with other people, you might want to rethink you’re definition of ‘spiritual.'”

In the church today many of us are far too quick to accuse, judge, and even condemn fellow believers, their doctrines, and their practices in the name of truth, while others of us are far too quick to accept, embrace, and indulge unhealthy believers, teachers, and  their doctrines, in the name of unity. Neither of these two extremes are Biblical. The overwhelming consensus of Scripture calls for the church of God to grow up together in Christ Jesus, not by sacrificing either truth or unity, but by embracing them both in the bonds of Christian love (Ephesians 4:1-16). In other words, Christian unity will not be found in bludgeoning brothers and sisters who disagree with, or do not appreciate, our particular stream of theology. However, neither will Christlike unity be found in embracing each, and every, wave of aberrant doctrine that promotes itself as Christian, in order to maintain “fellowship.” As Warren Wiersbe so aptly put it, “truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” So, if Scripture commands us to walk in both truth and unity, how do we do it? How do we obey Scripture and hold these two mandates in tension. I would venture to say that this kind of Christian unity will only come by way of Gospel centered humility (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Only at the foot of the Cross can we possibly hope to embrace truth and love, because it is only through the Cross that we, ourselves, were embraced by the Author of truth and love! If there was anyone who ever understood this principle it was the Apostle Paul. When he wrote to the Roman church he set the stage for everything that would follow with these words, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Romans 1:15-17). For Paul, there was no other place to start but with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was going to encourage and exhort the Roman church and he was going to challenge and, possibly, offend them too, but he knew the only ground he had to stand on was the Gospel. His authority was not his own, his words were not his own, even his heart for them, was not his own. He had been saved from sin and death, he had been purchased at great price, and had been given a calling that depended, not on his own strength, but was wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit within Him. Likewise, to the church in Corinth he wrote, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Paul’s ministry and mission were founded not on argument, nor on emotional hype, but on the proclamation of the Cross of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And this emphasis is not Paul’s alone, throughout the New Testament, the writers continually hone in on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for the Christian life, both personally and corporately (Hebrews 1:1-3, 4:14-16, 12:1-2; James 1:21; I Peter 1:3-12, 3:18; I John 2:1-6, Revelation 5). At times they come with great fire and righteous anger, but even these moments, are tempered by a deep love for the church and a burning desire to see their brothers and sisters in Christ grow up into full maturity. It has been said before, but it bears repeating here, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” All the theological understanding and insight in the world, is nothing if not given over to love of God and people. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

In a famous scene from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was being questioned by the religious elite of the day. Now, they were not seeking to learn from Him, they were hoping to trap Him- to get Him to say something that they could use against Him. So one of them asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus answer was nothing new, this command had been given 1400 years earlier (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), but He wanted remind the religious leaders of His day- as well as all leaders, pastors, teachers, etc., yet to come- that love of God and love of people is the template for Christian discipleship and maturity.

Relationship with God, both today and for all eternity, is- or should be- the goal to which all sound Biblical theology points us. At the same time, relationship with God, should arouse a desire within the heart and mind for the pursuit of sound Biblical theology. If our theology is aberrant, or even shallow, then our relationship with Christ will suffer as we will not know how to rightly relate to Him. How many people sit in our churches, Sunday after Sunday, and think that they have to do something- achieve some ethereal level of obedience or submission- in order to really be acceptable to God? How many people sit there, week after week, thinking that there are two sets of Christians, those who are saved- as if by the skin of their teeth- and those how are really full of Christ- part of the inner circle? How many of our brothers and sisters need to hear the Gospel anew, need to hear again that they have been saved by the grace of God alone, through faith in the person and work of Christ alone, and are now filled with the Holy Spirit and equipped for every good work that God has placed before them?! On the other hand, if we allow our pursuit of theology, to supplant our personal intimacy with Christ, then we will soon grow cold, arrogant, and divisive. In the words of Timothy Keller, “We must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will eventually lead to nominal Christianity—that is, in name only—and eventually to nonbelief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine…. Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all” (‘Prayer‘).

Pursue truth, as Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Pursue unity, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). These are not options, they are commands. We are not called to settle for one or the other, we are commanded, and compelled, to pursue both! Anything less will lead us astray and will damage the witness and worship of the church! But taken together, pursued, in the love of God and love for one another, we will grow up into the likeness of Christ. I love the way Matt Smethurst put it in his article, ‘How to Criticize Other Christians without Being Mean‘: “May the Lord grant us the wisdom and grace to mingle clarity of conviction with untiring affection for sinning saints. Despite our differences, all Christians are fellow travelers, siblings, soldiers, sufferers, and heirs. May our witness reflect the deep unity we share. As we strive to be marked by gospel truth, let’s labor just as untiringly to be marked by gospel love.”

In the end, no author- no pastor or theologian- can put it better than the Word of God itself. In his letter the the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul urged the church to pursue in unity in Christ- the only way it can really be attained- in truth and in love. In closing, I want to encourage us to let the weight of this passage impact us and transform how we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16).

-Soli Deo Gloria

The Great Evangelical Divide: Part 1 of 2

The study of theology does not equal relationship with God any more than than the study of a person equals relationship with that person. I’m pretty sure some of you just cheered a rousing, “amen,” after that first sentence, while others of you just went on high alert, your hackles got all… hackled, and you have just entered into your best ninja fighting crouch. All I ask is that before you assume I am on one side or another, please allow me the opportunity to encourage and exhort (or, depending on how it goes, alienate and offend) both sides before you pass judgement.

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A picturesque divide on the Island of Hawaii.

There is a great and- I would argue- illegitimate divide within the Evangelical Church today. A schism that if left unchecked will continue to eat away at our witness and stifle our worship. In almost every church I have been a part of (not to mention Christian College, seminary, discipleship program, etc.) the debate always seems to come up between learning about God and experience of God, between truth and unity, between head and heart and Word and Spirit, etc. Rarely, if ever, does either side of this debate think they are proposing an either/or scenario, rather they believe they are seeking a good balance, or right ordering of priorities. However, in an effort to make their case, both sides often talk past one another, almost as if speaking different dialects of the same language, and so using words in a way that completely throws the other party for a loop. I am not sure if I can avoid this language barrier here, but here goes….

First off, let me lay all my cards on the table. I love theology! I am student, practitioner, and, at times, teacher of theology. If I am not talking about theology, I am probably reading about it, if I am not reading about it, I am probably thinking about it (or I’m watching a movie… I do like movies….). To be honest, I find it ironic- and somewhat humorous- when I hear Christians saying they do not like theology. I do not believe it is possible to be a Christian and truly dislike theology (generally when a believer says that they do not like theology what they mean is they do not like a certain aspect of, or perspective on, theology). Many believers think that somehow theology gets in the way of real relationship with God. But is that really the case? I do not think so. Theology is, according to Webster’s, “the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.” So, for a Christian to say, “I love God, but not theology,” would be akin to a husband saying, “I love my wife, but don’t want to know anything about her.”

I am turning forty this January and for the last couple months my wife has been asking me what I would like to do for this milestone birthday. A couple weeks ago the subject came up again, but this time she asked, “babe, would you like to go to San Diego Comic Con this Summer for your birthday present?” Words can hardly express what I felt in that moment… my inner nerd (Who am I kidding? My outer nerd!) was doing back flips. Not only did my wife know me, she was willing to celebrate this knowledge of me for my birthday! I love that my wife knows enough about me and loves me (perhaps in spite of that knowledge… remember all analogies break down) so much that she would even make such an offer!

Growth in theology is growth in knowledge about God. It is a necessary- and hopefully very exciting- part of our relationship with Him! Theology deeply affects how we see God the Father, how we understand the Person and work of Christ, and how we experience the work of the Holy Spirit. Depending on my theology I may have a right or wrong (better or worse, etc.) view of God’s love and justice, mercy and wrath, grace and law. But… but… it is not the end-all-be-all of our relationship with God! In the words of Greg Dutcher, “theology is not an end in itself. It is simply a window to the awe-inspiring universe of God’s truth, filled with glory, beauty, and grace” (‘Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology’). I love that! Theology is the window, or lens, through which we glimpse and begin to comprehend the glorious revelation of God in His Word, through the Person and Work of Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, A. W. Tozer, was no stranger to this struggle. In his classic book, ‘The Pursuit of God,’ he spoke to both sides of this argument when he wrote, “Sound Bible exposition is an imperative ‘must’ in the church of the living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God.”

That being said, I think part of the reason why so many Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit indwelt believers, have such an aversion to the study of theology is that they have seen it presented- more often then not- as the end of, and not a means to strengthen, our relationship with Christ. On this point, I must concede that all too often we theological types, we students of Calvin, Bavnick, Machen, and Sproul, can tend to get so caught up arguing over the trees of doctrinal peculiarity, we miss the forest of our shared relationship with God in Christ.

Conversely, we relational types (and yes, I put myself squarely in both camps…) can tend to be so focused on our shared experience of God, that we do not stop to realize that certain trees do not belong in this forest and that certain vines- if allowed to continue growing- may choke out the healthy trees. So, while one group cannot get past the Oak tree in the middle of the forest, they are so in awe of its size and beauty, the other group is in danger of getting a bad case of poison ivy, while dining on berries that will eventually make them sick. Sadly, both of these groups are wandering separately through a forest that they were created to enjoy together. Instead of being encouraged and enriched by one another, they stand at a distance staring suspiciously at each other and wondering if the other will ever really “get it.”

Is there a way for both of these camps to come together? Can knowledge of God and experience of God, head and heart, Word and Spirit be joined in our worship of God? Can this false- but very painful- dichotomy that exists within the Evangelical Church be healed? I believe the answer is- and must be- a resounding, “yes!”

We’ll pick up this “yes” next Monday. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

-Soli Deo Gloria