Tuesday Tea-ology is here, about the grace and compassion of God.
“In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1, NIV)
In grasping a proper concept of reality, the first piece is understanding that God exists. The Bible begins with an account of the creation of the world, but that creation account already presupposes the existence of God. In the beginning, He is already there, and He acts to bring the world into being.
God is, we may say, the necessary presupposition. He is the basis of all else, including our own self-consciousness and the fact that we inhabit a rational universe. To honestly doubt the existence of myself may be insanity, but to doubt the existence of God is nonsense—for that would be doubting the basis for sense at all. God is the presupposition of the ordered and rational world in which we do our thinking.
Contrary to the popular idea that religion is a subjective field of life, one that concerns psychology and morality but not reality, religion is an objective field that concerns reality on the most fundamental level. The Bible begins with being: the God who is, and the universe He creates.
One practical implication of this is that human culture is inescapably religious because a culture must ask—and answer—questions about the nature of reality. And a culture that embraces idols rather than the true and living God embraces wrong ideas about reality, and thus should expect chaos. But a culture (or sub-culture, or counter-culture) that embraces the true and living God has a consistent first foundation on which to build an ordered society—a society that makes accurate judgments about transcendent matters, questions of the true, the beautiful, and the good.
Religion is never purely private, because religion is foundational to understanding the world. And true religion begins with the one true God, who was in the beginning, who acts, who lives eternally, and who reigns over this His world.
I saw an article the other yesterday on a liberal news venue, pushing back against a conservative church’s attempt to influence their community. Several observations might be made, but one will suffice for the nonce.
One of the reasons this church’s influence is so objectionable to some is the church’s promotion of Christian sexual ethics, particularly their opposition to homosexuality. Christian sexual ethics are considered intolerant to secular society. But, interestingly, another objection cited in the article was that the pastor had officiated the marriage of a man who had a different area of sexual immorality in his past, of which he had repented.
That is to say, part of what some people find so offensive about this church is that it does not approve of sexual immorality (of the kind society presently approves), and another part is that the church believes in restoration for people who have engaged in sexual immorality (of the kind society does not [presently] approve).
I think this is an interesting observation, that can be seen in society at large, at least to some degree. Tolerance is aggressively (intolerantly?) promoted by de-stigmatizing of numerous immoral behaviors. Acceptance is the order of the day. But there are still numerous things that are not tolerated, not accepted; and for these things, forgiveness and restoration for the repentant can be in very short supply.
The Christian church calls sin what it is, but preaches that anyone can be forgiven their sins if they will repent and place their faith in Christ. It should not be surprising that the secular world, which finds the conviction of sin offensive, sometimes finds forgiveness offensive as well.
Union Theological Seminary is back in the news, with another display of the theological deterioration that liberalism brings.
I trace the progression something like this: the failure to hold to the truth about God as revealed in Scripture leads to an over-emphasis on the immanent, on the matters of this world; accordingly, the Divine transcendence collapses into immanence–aided by the feminist impulse, which takes umbrage at the masculine personalism of God in the Bible, and pushes either in the direction of goddess-worship or a loss of God’s personalism (or, paradoxically, both); the result is a slide from theism into panentheism, the conflation of Creator with creation. I’ve read that Paul Tillich, possibly the most renowned 20th-century American liberal theologian, came to the point where he couldn’t really pray, but only meditate in or upon nature; God had ceased to be personal in his conception.
What I’m saying is that when your gospel becomes too this-worldly, so does your picture of God.
I am not saying that Union has arrived at panentheism yet, only that they are perhaps on the road there. They have certainly arrived upon a place of absurdity; what else can you call a worship service involving confession to plants of mankind’s sin against creation?
To quote Union’s widely-circulated tweet:
Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.
What do you confess to the plants in your life?
It is not entirely clear whether they prayed to plants (i.e., regarded them as divine) or simply whether they prayed about their misdeeds towards plants or prayed with plants to God, so I give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t actually worship the plants. But they did confess to them, regarding them as “beings who sustain us.”
It is one thing to poetically address plants as a sort of metaphor, or to speak about how they reveal God, as in Psalm 19 or my own poor poem from yesterday. It is quite another to confess our sins to plants, as though they were personal beings and as though it were them, not their Creator, who we have offended by our wasteful destruction of the environment. It insinuates devotion to Gaia, rather than to God.
Faced with criticism over this debacle, Union has defended their decision by pointing out that they weren’t exactly committed to wholehearted devotion to the one true God anyway. As their statement is reported in the Washington Examiner article linked above, in their chapels:
“One day, you may come in to find a traditional Anglican communion, another day you may enter into a service of Buddhist meditation or Muslim prayer,” the spokesperson continued. “Another, you may find a Pentecostal praise service or a silent Quaker meeting. We create a home where people can worship side by side, in traditions similar to and very different to their own. Through this process, we learn from our neighbors and discern our own faith more deeply.”
That does fill in the picture, but its hardly comforting for anyone concerned about the students’ souls.
There is a God, a righteous and holy God, a jealous God–the God who says, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isa. 42:8, NIV).
You must know Him; that is the single most important thing in this life.
There’s no absolution from confessing your sins to a fern. It can’t forgive you. It’s not the tree of life. You have to bring your sins, instead, to Christ who bore them on the cross. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24, ESV).
But when you turn away from the cross, you can get so lost you find yourself talking to trees.
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:12, NIV). Union with Christ is the great gift of the gospel. Knowing Christ is the key to meaning, hope, and eternal life.
Reformation 21 has been gracious enough to publish another piece of mine, this one on the centrality of union with Christ. Head on over and take a look!