“I don’t worship that kind of God,” and other Genocidal Musings


“I don’t worship that kind of God.”

It’s a common statement thrown about nowadays for a variety of ethical reasons. Usually, it’s said by someone who is offended at an event in Scripture, or someone’s interpretation of it, and they simply can’t imagine the all-loving God they know condoning, or directly causing, harm to others in some truly visceral ways. It’s a great topic for reflection, study, and prayer. After all, we must openly confront that the Bible writes of God condoning genocide, eliminating entire cities, asking fathers to kill sons, and a flood that supposedly kills almost everyone just 7 chapters into the whole thing. It’s a difficult task that some Christians don’t wrestle with at all because either A. Ignorance is bliss, B. It’d be too difficult to reformulate their image of God from the one they learned in Sunday School or C. They don’t struggle with it because they don’t question whether God is good, or not.

I must admit that I fall into the 3rd category…but not as proudly as you might imagine. I don’t believe doubt is really that bad of a thing. Actually, I think it can really be a thing that sharpens, draws, and leads us towards a better understanding of who God is. The fact I never second guessed the ethical ramifications of a God who behaves as He reportedly does in the Bible has left me with a flat and narrow picture of who He is. The only reason I explore these questions now is only because others do. Without the other voices within evangelicalism questioning what kind of God we serve, I would never have thought to consider Him as deeply as I do, today.

But if I’m honest, I’ll still tell you that the goodness of God is not something I struggle with.

When I read about God ordering the genocide of the Canaanites, I’m really not that disturbed. This isn’t due to a callous, or surface, reading of the text, either.

My understanding is and has been this: “If God is, by His very nature, good, then everything He does is unquestionably good.” If you were to take the adjective “good” and replace it with whatever adjective you apply to Him, then what you’re left with is trying to discover what “good” is. In trying to understand what things like “good,” “just,” and “love” are, I hope to know Him more.

To claim to know those things (goodness, justice, and love) is a claim to know exactly who God is. Make no mistake: God has revealed Himself and continues to do so. But to those who say “I don’t want to worship that kind of God who…” I’m left with the impression that they worship someone who thinks and looks like them. I could be completely off, mind you. Telling the difference between someone who has fashioned a god in their image and those who have actually adopted the language of God isn’t exactly a speciality of mine.

What I hope for that, when Jesus returns, we’ll be able to recognize Him. I don’t want to be like the leaders who opposed Him because they had fashioned an image of God that didn’t line up with what they were seeing. I pray that for the Church, as well.


The Art of Theological Gatekeeping


“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” – Jesus (John 10)

In the world of sports, a gatekeeper is something of a 2nd-class competitor. He’s put years of work into his craft and achieved some level of success. His best years, though, are clearly behind him. Whether that’s due to advanced age of having maxed out his own potential he simply doesn’t have what it takes to be the best any longer. This doesn’t mean he isn’t useful. To the contrary, his new role makes him quite valuable as a measuring stick by which younger competitors can test their own skills; to see if they will surpass what the gatekeeper once achieved.

Within the world of Christianity, and Christian theology, it’s become fashionable to see oneself as a gatekeeper, or watchman. Rather than seeing themselves as 2nd-tier philosophers or theologians, they assume their positions as defenders and protectors of the faith. Their job: to guard the entrance, and exit, to the faith. In the context of theology, faith has a different word: Orthodoxy.

Independent minded folks feel that the pseudo-theological-gatekeeper role is a farce, and should be ignored at all levels. I sympathize with them. Some self-appointed guardians are so fearful and paranoid that they cause more pain to the people they’re supposed to protect than their enemies. They’ve turned their eyes in on the city believing there is more danger to be found within its walls then from the potential chaos outside of it. But this brings up another excellent point: There are actually enemies, from the outside, to be protected from.

So is the solution to dump the gatekeepers? I believe this leaves us with the very problem the so-called gatekeepers have encountered: a lack of accountability.

Sure, the watchmen will claim their accountability is nearly 2,000 years of established, orthodox writings and teachings in regards to the faith tradition. To which those who stand across from them will agree, and then proceed to present their scholarship which has been ignored by them but is equally as old and immense as their counterparts. The “Orthodox” team calls the others heretics and wolves, while the others label them pharisees and legalists.

I think the solution is to actually have gatekeepers…but in the sporting context. Men and women who act as measuring sticks, rather than reenforced steel walls, challenge us in ways that keep us accountable. In this sense, we’re training others up to recognize danger and how to deal with it. This doesn’t mean there will be 100% agreement, nor does this eliminate conflict. The discipleship process, however, doesn’t demand those things; rather, it calls us to follow Christ when we hear His voice.

And sometimes, He speaks through the gatekeepers.

Do the Ends Justify the Means for Steven Furtick?


There is this tendency, within me, to happily chime in with an “amen,” whenever I see or hear something I agree with. And why not? To be unified in heart and mind with another is a good and powerful thing. Is there any reason to keep our agreements to ourselves? Of course not. I will loudly, boldly, and joyfully stand with those who, with earnest, stand with God.

So must our “no’s,” be any softer? Less bold? Or not couched within the joy Christ?

For lack of a better word: No!

There have been countless instances when, in the name of Christian “unity,” people are encouraged to be silent in their disagreements. Most (that I know) are well meaning, of course. Some are afraid of a fracture within their respective churches. Others are concerned that, if you make a big fuss over nothing, you’ll distract from the good things God has done/is doing.

In response to the news that Steven Furtick manipulated hundreds of people into getting baptisms by strategically letting congregants walk up to get (re)baptized in order to “break the ice” for guests, they say things like, “I have personally grown in my relationship with God because of Steven Furtick.” They’ll defend his practices because it gets the results they’re searching for.

“It’s manipulative, disingenuous, and unethical to use groupthink tactics in order to promote baptism,” I say. “Stop tearing down a brother in Christ,” is the reply.

I refuse to believe that it is in the common interest of believers (see, unity) to promote, encourage, or be passive when presented with this sort of deception, within the Church. In what way is God blessed by such disingenuousness? It’s disgraceful!

Speaking on an ethical level, we must ask ourselves, “Do the ends justify the means?” You can attempt to let this slide as a minor issue because “no one got hurt.” The truth is, however, that people are hurt by this. There are people within that congregation (and others) who will question the validity of their baptism. Non-believers will level the charge of “cult” to the Church for the use of psychological tactics; and probably mock God, because of it. The person who has truly mocked God, however, is Steven Furtick, and men like him who routinely answer the question, “Do the ends justify the means?” with a simple, “yes.”

Different Reading Styles, Diverging Theologies


When one reads the Bible, within the context of Evangelicalism, we tend to have a “personal” view of scripture. It’s how verses like Jeremiah 29:11, which were addressed to a particular people in a particular time, can be so inspirational the modern reader. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. The Holy Spirit helps us take away things from the Bible regarding the character of God and the nature of His dealings with us today. But I would also submit that this isn’t a “critical” method of reading scripture, either.

There are two, primary, critical forms of reading scripture: Historical-Grammatical and Historical-Critical. Here’s a quick rundown on them:

Historical-Grammatical – Is a form of reading the Bible that puts a heavy emphasis on literary observation and understanding the writings as, generally, being historical in nature. The ultimate ambition of this style is to take the reading of scripture and make applications based on the “plain” reading of the text. While not explicitly encouraging a literal reading of every verse (after all, there are figures of speech and metaphors in most languages), this method seeks to eliminate any unnecessary, allegorical interpretations from the Bible as possible.

Historical-Critical – Seeks to reconstruct the culture and history surrounding the writings of the Bible and use that to come to a conclusion about the author’s intended meaning. The critical method also takes on information from other disciplines such as science and anthropology, and makes use of their observations and studies and applies it to the text. The interpretation, and subsequent application, can be made when the “direct” meaning of the the Bible can be established from the source material.

There are overlapping and opposing features to both methods of reading. As I’m sure you can imagine, there is a fair bit of mud flung between people who try to use each method exclusively. Those who prefer the critical method of study say that others are making interpretations without all the extra-Biblical facts and coming to interpretive conclusions that are simply untenable by the discoveries of science and other disciplines. Grammatical emphasizers will claim that the critical method undermines the Bible’s authority and inspiration by humanizing the writings at the expense of the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Most evangelicals don’t know they are reading the Bible in these particular ways when they pick it up on a Sunday morning. Our presuppositions tend to “fill in the blanks” when we’re reading verses we don’t understand. What’s good to know is how different everyone’s reading of scripture truly is and where many of our difference originate from. If you’re going to read the Bible; or, more specifically, Genesis, as though it were written as a historical document, you’re obviously going to understand the theological doctrine of “sin nature” differently from those who read Genesis as a narrative. Not only that, you’re going to read Jesus’ words, when he recalls events in the Old Testament.

Is it any wonder we end up with such differing understandings of who God is?

Of course, the whole of the Church will likely not agree on how to read the Bible until Christ returns. By that time, I’m not so sure the Bible will be necessary any more. Until that time, I would like people to acknowledge is what some of their presuppositions might be when reading the Bible, and examine them so that, one, we are reminded to submit our reading of Scripture to Christ and, two, when we do disagree with someone on a theological topic, we better understand where and why we’re so different.

Presuppositions and Biblical Reading


Presuppositions. Everyone has them with varying degrees of acceptance. You’re either proud of them, or do your best to work around them. Regardless, our experiences and studies inform us of what is right, and who is wrong.

Presuppositional Apologetics’ primary assumption is the Bible’s infallibility. It is the foundation from which all of their beliefs and arguments are built on. Their claim is that the Bible is superior to fallible, human standards of belief like reason, experience, and feelings. Because of this, they assume no common ground with non-believers. What would happen if you proved the Bible wasn’t fallible, by reason? You can’t. Therefore, presuppositional apologetics becomes the equivalent of a bomb shelter for Christian thought.

But what if I told you that presuppositional apologetics isn’t really about Biblical Infallibility? This all about HOW one reads the Bible, not whether they believe it’s perfect. This is about a historical-grammatical reading of scripture versus a historical-critical reading of it.

I can hear the groans of people who are reading this now, “Garrett, just explain why Genesis does, or doesn’t have to be literal!”

This isn’t as simple as one makes out to be, however. We’re talking about how we, as individuals, read scripture. Which, for the 95.7% of Christians in the world whose primary knowledge of God comes from the Bible, is a really, really big deal.

Join me on Friday and I’ll give a quick overview of some of the ways we all read the Bible and why they are so important to us!

Karl Barth’s letter to Ken Ham


Basel, 18 Feb. 1965

Dear Ken,

Has no one explained to you that one can as little compare the biblical creation story and a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner—that there can be as little question of harmony between as of contradiction?

The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel—naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus—naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis.

The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with what has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding.

Uncle Karl

Originally from: http://www.faith-theology.com/2006/01/creation-and-evolution-letter-from.html

Edited where appropriate, by me.

The Implication and Disposition of Love


(Get it? An application of love?)

There are two very important things in theology that help sharpen our understanding of who God is: implication and application.

The former is essentially asking the question: if this is true, what does it mean? What is the implication of saying that love is a divinely justified, affectionate loyalty that continually feels for, and meets the needs of, others? I covered it briefly at the very end of the last blog when I wrote, “love is wholly, other focused. Its justice component means that love doesn’t make you a pushover, or a ‘yes man.’ The affection of love includes our feelings, but its loyalty also eliminates its dependency on them.”

But implication extends beyond our behavior. We are also implying something about the person of God. For instance, 1 John 4:8 points out that, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

The first thing we can pull from this is that God is love. Is it appropriate to say that God is divinely just, affectionate, loyal, compassionate, and meets the needs of others? Is He like that with Himself, in a triune sense? How about with humanity?

I phrase in the form of a question for a very good reason: we can not allow our “definitions” to define God in a way that makes him subject to our understanding. I referred to this danger in “What is Love (Jesus, don’t Hurt me).” If theology is the study of God, then we are merely discovering what it is He has said of Himself.

Theology isn’t just an academic exercise, however. Application is as much apart of our discovery as reading the Bible. There are events in scripture which can give us a whole host of ideas for how to love others well. Feeding the poor (Isaiah 58:10, Proverbs 28:27, James 2:14-18, etc), caring for the sick (James 5:13-15, Matthew 25:44, Ezekiel 34:3-4, etc), and prayer (Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 1:9, Matthew 5:44) are not only examples of this, but are also expected from the believer, as 1 John 4:8 states.

Those examples, however, can also be shockingly twisted for our own ego. We can also hand out food to the poor because it makes us feel good; care for the sick in order to be relieved from the pressure we feel God is putting on us; or pray in order to get the things we desire, rather than seek God’s will. It is the disposition of an individual that allows love to come to the fore.

So where does this nature come from? Are some people just born that way? Hardly. I’ll leave you with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in chapter 3, verses 14-21. It’s my prayer for everyone who reads this. May we all be changed as radically because when we know love our disposition will change, as well.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

A Written Definition of Love


In saying that “self-love” is the opposite to “love” we have, in part, already defined the word; but not any more than saying it is an adjective, noun, and verb. Gathering the descriptions has allowed us to know what elements should be in place when a definition is given. Now that we’ve done most of the leg work, lets open up to Romans 12:9-13:

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

Below, I’ve divided the passage up in smaller parts. Doing so allows us to slow down and examine Paul’s words in a more “hands on” fashion. The summary for each broken down passage will be in bold. This is an interpretive step taken in order to help us write our a definition. I’ve added a bit of commentary to show why I’ve made the interpretation the way I have.


Love is divinely justified  

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”

When we hold on to what is good, we will hate what is evil. In a sense, there is a kind of indignation that rises when we see indifference and injustice. How we move forward in our justifications should be defined by love; of which we are inching ever closer to an actual definition.

Love is affection loyalty

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; preference to one another in honor;”

What we see here is the antithesis to the “love yourself to better love others” perspective. In seeking other’s interests above our own desires, we see a familial kind of love that is marked by an affectionate devotion. When people honor our needs before their own, the need to prefer ourselves diminishes.

Love cures apathy

“Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;”

In apathy, the appetite to serve others is minimal. We cannot take a day off in our devotion to one another. There is no room for us to “check out” mentally or spiritually. Doing so invites laziness and other self-serving habits.

Love is enduring

“rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,”

My pastor has a saying that goes along the lines of, “if you aren’t in a storm right now, you either just got out of one or are heading directly into it.” Tough times are a reality of the world we’ve helped build (see: screwed up), but when we serve the Lord we can rejoice in His accomplishments and promised return. We persevere because He did. We pray because Jesus did. To love is to do these things continuously.

Love meets needs

“contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality”

We can persevere because all of our needs will be met. God uses us, the Church, to provide where others lack. This isn’t a heavily coded message: love is definitely a verb.


To form the definition of the word, I’ll now take my bolded summaries to make a complete thought:

Love is a divinely justified, affectionate loyalty that continually feels for, and meets the needs of, others. 

All of the elements in this particular passage lead us to a definition that emphasizes justice, feeling, loyalty, and service to others. The big idea is that love is wholly, other focused. Its justice component means that love doesn’t make you a pushover, or a “yes man.” The affection of love includes our feelings, but its loyalty also eliminates its dependency on them.

Tomorrow, I’ll post about different ways to apply the definition that’s been developed. Both in a theological sense, and in a practical one.

The Opposite of Love is not Indifference


A seemingly mild-mannered British professor walked in on a conversation me and Holly were having on the definition of love. Using a process called Via negativa, we were trying to discern what the it’s exact opposite was in order to better understand.

Via negativa is a practice in theology that you may have seen implemented by C.S. Lewis in his answer to the problem of evil when he claims that evil only exists where good is not (basically, you discover what something is by surmising what it isn’t).

Having both decided that “hate” wasn’t it because it actually required an individual to love in the first place, the general consensus between Holly and I seemed to be that “apathy” was the true opposite of love. It is here that my professor, overhearing our agreement, asked what we were up to and offered an objection.

“Love is a cause [as opposed to an effect, or result],” he said assuredly, “which means its opposite must be one as well. I don’t see how apathy is anything more than a result of self-love.

I knew he was right the second he said it, yet I was slow to agree. Surely apathy was the cause of our sin! All we needed was a passion for Jesus to empower us for right living! At the very least, we needed to will ourselves and do what we knew was right simply because God said so. More self control and discipline was required.

Then it suddenly donned on me why I refused to faced the reality of my professor’s words: If self-love is the opposite of love, that would mean I didn’t love God.

I had submitted to His call to missions, studied theology, and even preached the gospel; yet didn’t really love God. I liked things about Him. That whole forgiveness thing is kind of nice. The reason for my obedience, up to that point, was due to feeling no other choice. I felt shackled and burdened by God; having never understand the transformation from slave to son as Paul outlined in Galatians 4:1-7

I’m relating all of this, before getting into the Biblical definition of love, for this reason: theology has many different starting points.

Most assume that theology is when you pick up a Bible, or some old text from Church history, and make observations about God. The truth is that objectivity doesn’t exist in the Bible. When we read it, we take our experiences with us. This is essential to understand for two reasons: 1. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the men who wrote scripture is the same Holy Spirit that inspires us, and 2. God is the true interpreter of scripture and, therefore, all experiences must go through Him, first.

This does not diminish the Bible’s place in theology. All theology should be held up to scripture. This is exactly what we’ll do next time when we examine the word “love,” in the Bible, in light of my assertion that “self-love” is the antithesis of “love.”

What is Love (Jesus, don’t Hurt me)


Name an album, in English, that doesn’t use the word “love.”

I’ll wait.

For as often as we use the word, getting a proper definition for “love” is something of a challenge. More times than not, the answer will be something to the effect of, “love is…just like…love,” or, “love is an overwhelming feeling of…feelings.” This can be a problem for Christians since so much of the Bible (arguably all of it) is dedicated to that very concept.

The Christian definition of love typically centers on three principles:

  •  1 Corinthians 13 (love is patient, kind, etc.): In this sense, love is an attribute. To be patient, kind, good, faithful, etc., is a part of assuming the character of Christ. As we become more like Christ, we become more loving (more on this in point 3).
  •  Luv is a verb (classic 90’s nostalgia reference, Luke 10:27): Are you d-d-down with the DC Talk? I can’t speak for everyone, but they aren’t alone in the sentiment that love is action oriented.
  • Jesus is love (plenty of bumper stickers and coffee cups to remind you, just in case you forgot, 1 John 4:8): Love as a proper noun might be jarring to non-Christians, but people have been chanting this for years. In combination with the aforementioned 1 Corinthians 13, we begin to apply all the adjectives to God and look for the evidence of that love in His work.

Love as an adjective, verb, and noun are all Biblically founded, and will help us in our application. Yet, if you pay close attention, all we’ve really done is describe what love is without ever really defining it. The problem with that is we’ve never truly escaped the circular logic of “Jesus is love.”

Yes, he is the essence, author, and example of love; but without an actual, working definition of the word all we’re left with is a hollow image of the Triune God; one that isn’t knowable, or relatable. In defining love, our thoughts about God can profoundly impact the dynamic of our relationship with Him.

Before we do this, however, let me say that I don’t wish to abandon the descriptions of love I mentioned before. Those sentiments are useful reminders of how God is both imminent and transcendent. He reveals Himself in ways that allow us to know love and who He is; yet this also sets God apart from anything else we’ve ever known.

What I do not care for is God becoming subject to our conclusions and definitions. If we know God is love, then it is He who truly defines it by nature of His…well…nature. If the definition doesn’t fit with what we know of His character as revealed in the Bible than it is our definition that needs changed.

With this understanding in place, we can try to navigate a way to a scriptural, Christ-centered definition of love that is both affective and applicable.

Next time, though.

We’ll continue the conversation in the next blog. I hope you’ll join me on this journey of discovery.