Archive for the ‘ Theology ’ Category

The Living Faith

I am often overwhelmed by the options in the universe. There are billions of ways to live a life and perceive the world–no wonder my generation remains so indecisive and unfocused. I miss the days in my childhood where the world seemed so simple and linear. That abruptly changed for me one pre-teen summer when I became aware of death as a reality that everyone must face. Knowing this fact made me consider what comes next after death (I suppose I preferred to think that souls are eternal). Contemplating the many possibilities of what could happen was making me more and more uncertain about anything else except that death was fact. I knew that whatever I would believe would happen after death would inevitably change the way I see everything that happens before death–causing everything I previously perceived about life and the afterlife come into question.

But I was a Christian and knew that I shouldn’t question God’s word, yet I did anyway. I laid awake for hours every night travailing over these questions. What I didn’t know then is that questions like those are essential to building a stronger faith. When I thought I was destroying my faith with these questions, I was really making it more alive. My favorite theology book, Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel L. Migliore, states in the first chapter that the Bible is not an easy answer book. If it were so, it would be a caged system where our creative souls would become stagnant and stale. But, oh, is the Bible full of imploring, terrible questions! On the cross Christ obtested “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” To his disciples he asked, “Who do you say I am?” In the Book of Psalm, David pleaded, “Why LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Migliore writes “When faith no longer frees people to ask hard questions, it becomes inhuman and dangerous.”

Thomas, one of Christ’s disciples, is nicknamed by many as “Doubting Thomas” because he wanted the hard evidence that Christ was risen. Christians have often rebuked this way of thinking and have scoffed at Thomas for centuries over his little faith however he was making clear that our Lord and Savior is indeed risen. My Christian faith may not look like anyone’s I know, making it difficult for me to find a spiritual community, but I can’t deny the questions I have. I can’t pretend these questions aren’t real or to have answers. Frankly, I doubt I’ll ever find answers for my endless questions, but Christ didn’t ask for that anyway. It’s not about our deeds, knowledge, or intelligence; it’s about our faith. Death is a reality for faith, too, so by relentlessly pursuing hard questions we keep our faith alive.
On Easter we celebrate new life, rejuvenation, and of course, Christ’s resurrection. Wouldn’t it be fitting this season to freshen stale faith with crisp and budding questions? Faith is risen when we implore and it grows as we become challenged.

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My Opinion on Christian Premarital Sex

A few years ago, I posted a question in an online discussion group that my friend and I created which was exclusive to our Christian undergraduate peers. The question was whether or not premarital sex as a Christian is really a sin and against the Christian lifestyle. Knowing what I had been taught all my life (that sex before marriage is wrong) I had asked for specific Scriptural references. Several friends/members of the group jumped into the discussion to all point out the value of purity, sexual morality, and the special union two people share when they enter into a sexual relationship. Yet no one cited Scripture. I was no dummy–I knew what Christians thought of the subject, but I had wanted to know where they had gotten that idea! In my own studies, I had found nothing that explicitly said where it was absolutely wrong and forbidden.

My inquiry was ignited by a friend, who after spending time in Korea she learned that the Christians there (young and old) do not  have an issue with sex before marriage if the adult couple are in a committed relationship. This gave her (and me) a whole new perspective. I had never considered the possibility that it is even OK in Christian principle. I had just never questioned what had been told of me my whole life. This made me want to think more deeply on the issue rather than dismissing it as heretical. What basis do they have to believe that it’s OK? What basis do I have to believe that it’s not?

Supporting Arguments for Premarital Sex

I asked a family member what she thought. I just don’t know what to think! I said. She very wisely stated an answer that didn’t give an opinion one way or another, but guided me by pointing out that a lot of the Bible, as we know, was written to a culture in a specific era. She pointed out that where we see a lot of verbiage on the subject is in Paul’s letters to the churches, who usually writes concerning a specific issue among church people, not necessarily meant to be taken literally for all readers*. It seems that the issue concerning premarital sex is not mentioned in the Bible directly so that it could be left interpreted and appropriately applied among cultures, time, and individuals.

Not Commandments But Good Advice

When doing a more in-depth study (hermeneutical?) of the Biblical culture, it’s easy to understand why sex before marriage would be a very bad idea. Women were often stoned or outcasted for adultery and promiscuity. A woman was not considered pure unless she were a virgin and was utterly unfit to be a bride if she were not. In fact, to prove the bride’s stature and worth, part of the traditional marriage ceremony was to consummate the marriage in a tent and then show the guests the blood on the sheets to affirm that she is in fact not an adulteress nor promiscuous. Yet this is in lieu of a patriarchal, male-dominating, female subordinating culture in an era that offered no contraceptives–and Paul is merely adding good advice by instating to both men and women to not give in to these desires before marriage.

It’s Meant to Be Interpretable

So does this translate directly into our 21st century Western/globalized world? To answer that question we need to find out what exactly is meant when the Scripture speaks of (or implies) sex, just as we have to for everything else. Does Paul say in 1 Corinthians that we shouldn’t eat meat if it is a weakness for others? Not exactly. The message here is actually that we don’t want to turn others away from the faith with offensive behavior. So then, what is really meant in Scripture regarding sex?

I’ve read the Scriptures which talk about sexual immorality many times but no where is it explicitly said that premarital sex is wrong or that we should only have one sexual partner in our entire lives. Even monogamy is a question with some parts of the Old Testament. Yes, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that it is better not to marry, but that marriage is better than burning with passion yet I am not convinced that not following Paul’s advice is a sin. He only says it is better. But again, we must look at the context. Is it better because of the culture they were living in at the time? Is it better for me? In fact, this passage seems to suggest that it is a choice made by the individual and perhaps it is a case-by-case decision. It can be better for some, not for all.

Define, define, define. That was drilled into my brain as a communication student in college in every single class. Everything I said, every term I used, needed to be defined or have an appositive. I learned to critique rhetoric by analyzing their terminology and definitions. Without a definition, even for a word that we may all know, it may not be received the same way it was meant. What does the Bible mean by “sexual immorality”, “purity”, “passion”, and “marriage”? Because these terms are not fully defined it leaves the reader with no option but to look at context and infer. Was this deliberate or just because the authors of these Scriptures assumed everyone would know what they meant? If it was the latter, then what about the translators who toil over every word to be sure that it is best translated into the most equivalent word that conveys the meaning closest to the original intent? Wouldn’t they have done a better job at making it more clear? It seems as though the authors left some of these things without explicit definitions with wisdom knowing that it’s better to leave it with more interpretability so that it could cross over to future believers of other worlds.

Culture Changes Meaning

Also, I just find it strange that the language that is used to describe women whenever the topic is about sex or marriage the Bible always refers to women as virgins yet when it talks about men, it uses the words “husband” or “man”. Could there be a double standard? Could it just so indicate the heavy cultural boundaries of that era, as I such described earlier? In this same chapter, Paul writes that if the man’s passions are too strong then he should just marry the virgin. Oh if only it were that easy these days! The modern world is so full of options and alternative lifestyles that women and men are in no rush to marry.

If I were living in the Biblical times, I would hope to get married so that I would have property and basically someone to take care of me, and basically so that I wouldn’t be outcasted or homeless. That of course isn’t the way things are these days (and we certainly don’t consider our independence a sin). There wasn’t any dating in the Bible (arranged marriages, usually) but if there were, they would be very short and public courtships, not as drawn-out and intimate as they are today. I read an article about a writer, a Mormon woman, who in had lived most of her adult life a virgin, yet at age 35 she was considered “un-datable”. She wrote, “I’m unwilling to believe that’s what God wants for anyone”, and I agree.

Culture, like time, is not static. It must change. Not everything is universal or timeless. Premarital sex, I think, is an example of standards and how things may vary. It may vary among time, culture, community, individual, or lifetime. My support for premarital sex is not to say that we should to do away with all and any standards regarding sex; simply, just in regards to the inference that Western Christians gleam from strict, antediluvian, patriarchal, and culturally relevant advice from an apostle.

Anyway, if I am completely wrong in my opinion of premarital sex, then this wouldn’t be the only thing I’ve gotten wrong in theology (after all, I only got a B in Intro to Theology!). Thankfully Christianity isn’t about being perfect but about grace.

*i.e. women instructed not to speak in church does not equal all women everywhere cannot utter a word in church, only that those who do not understand the teachings should not interrupt with stupid questions or disrupt with chatter. (Women in those days were not educated and were illiterate, so could not understand the teachings in the temples as well as the men who also probably spoke in a different vernacular that was probably used in the church).

Today in the lunchroom, a co-worker of mine that I’ve never talked to prior came in and we greeted each other. Quickly after some small-talk she asks “Are you a Taurus or Capricorn?” A bit surprised at her out-of-the-blue question, I responded that no, I am Aeries. Apparently she’s an astrologist in training and is always trying to guess people’s sign. Still wanting to practice, she offered to look up my natal chart–and I agreed.

I think most Christians (least the ones I am mostly familiar with) would have said no thanks to the natal chart reading. I was curious about what it might say–and why not? She’s having fun with it, I didn’t mind, and I was kind of making a friend (or as many Christians would put it “building relationships”). So, she read my natal chart to me. A lot of it was pretty accurate (I’d say there were a few things that were majorly off) but vague. I figure any person has those traits in them to some degree and so naturally nod their heads in agreement when a description of their Zodiac is read. Then there was actually a moment when it got kind of eerily accurate–like no one’s business.

Coincidence? Probably. Yet, I’m just now wondering (sort of thinking out loud) if perhaps there is true science in it (sorry astrologers for the insult). From the traditional Christian perspective, astrology and psychic readings are “not from God”, but as I’m just thinking out loud here….I wonder if the Bible really does condemn it. Weren’t the three wise men astronomers? I’m sure there was some astrology mixed in there–after all, they were from the Orient, where we know astrology has it’s roots. I know it’s a weak link–there is no indication that their practices were ungodly–or Godly.

When I was an undergraduate at the Christian university I attended, my professors and classmates would always discuss the importance of contextualism* for cross-cultural ministry. Everybody pretty much assumed this meant to cultures that were really different from our own and that for some reason it was OK to “tweak” the Bible to make sense on their terms but not OK to do that in the American culture (possibly because we were all egotistic and believed we had the correct Biblical practices already down). Now that the U.S. is where I live indefinitely, I’m seeing the need to contextualize in sub-cultures here just as much as elsewhere.

So, I’m willing to be flexible when it comes to getting my natal chart read. I’ll listen with respect and interest–heck, I’ll even take some of its advice! I mean, why not–it’s useful.

Still, I’m not easily convinced that astrology is really a tool to unlocking the human personality. It may be useful, but accuracy is important, too. Just like those 10 question personality tests, the description is too vague–could be anybody.

*In missiology, contextualism goes beyond the Wikipedia definition and is further described as a way to make Biblical concepts understandable and practiced in cross-cultures. For example, prayer in other cultures doesn’t have to be done the same way American churches pray–other cultures prefer communal prayer (everyone prays aloud at once) and the more extreme contextualization regarding prayer includes Muslims praying (and performing all the Islam prayer rituals) to “Issa” (Jesus) in spirit.

Biblical Equality for Men and Women

Around 1880, Katherine Bushnell, an M.D. and a Greek and Hebrew scholar received a call from God to preach abroad. But she refused over her concern that the Bible did not approve of women preaching. Her concern which conflicted with her call, compelled her to research–where she eventually found that the Christian women’s status in the church today was influenced or changed by the Jewish rabbinical teaching and Biblical translation. The Jewish oral law prohibited women to publicly prophesy. This sex bias influenced translators, which in turn, influenced contemporary Christian teaching. This story of Bushnell should push all Christians into the question of hermeneutics and Biblical interpretation.

Instigated by college class discussions, I have collected a number of questions on the subject. Thankfully I am not alone in this, and questioners before me have already found answers that aid me in my adjustment of theology and practices thereof. As Christians, we must be faithful to Scripture, God’s Word. Without the Scripture, we will more inevitably live under the curse (Gen. 3:14-19), yet with it we have truths of the Kingdom. God’s original created order was pure equality between men, women, and all the things of the earth, which was distorted after the Fall (Genesis chapter 3). Yet we need to be careful in our pursuit of the Kingdom. In our pursuit we need to be careful of pride; those who seek power are as spiritually in danger as those who are keeping others from having the power.


Below is a summary of Scriptures that show men and women’s equality in Creation, Redemption, Community, and Family, taken from the Christians for Biblical Equality’s statement of Biblical truths.

Creation

  •  Men and women have equal relationship and responsibility over the rearing of children and dominion over the created order (Gen. 1:26-27).
  • The rulership of Adam (men) over Eve (women) is a direct result from the Fall and is not a part of God’s original created order (Gen. 3:16).
Redemption
  •      Christ came to redeem women as well as men without racial, social, or gender distinctive (Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 8:14-17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 3:26-28).
Community

  • The Holy Spirit during the Pentecost came on men and women alike and does not distribute gifts with preference to gender (Acts 2:1-21; 1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 14:31).
  • Men and women are divinely gifted and empowered to minister to the whole Church, under Christ’s authority (Acts 1:14, 18:26, 21:9; Rom16:1-7, 12-13, 15; Phil. 3:2-3; col. 4:15; Mk. 15:40-41, 16:1-7; Lk. 8:1-3; Jn. 20:17-18; Old Testament: Judges 4:4-14, 5:7; 2 Chron. 34:22-28; Prov. 31:30-31; Micah 6:4).
  • Leadership is the empowerment of others for service, not the exercise of power over them (Matt. 20: 25-28; 23:8; Mk. 10:42-45; Jn. 13:13-17; Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 5:2-3).
Family
  •  Wives and husbands are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility (1 Cor. 7:3-5; Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; Gen. 21:12). The husband’s function as “head” means a self-giving love and service as likewise the wife is to her husband (Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7).
  •  Both mothers and fathers are to have leadership in nurturing, training, disciplining, and teaching of their children (Ex. 20:12; Lev. 19:3; Deut. 6:6-9, 21; 18-21, 27: 16; Prov. 1:8, 6:20; Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20; 2 Tim. 1:5; Luke 2:51).





Think Outside the Box of God

There are many notions out there about God. The versions range from defining God as the Holy Trinity to Brahman, to Allah, to Lord and Savior, to Being, to more than I could ever count. Also, God is generally seen as a supreme patriarchal figure. I have wanted to dismantle these limited interpretations of God at different times of my life, but alas I believe that these are all attributes of God. No, they do not define God but are mere features of God.
I hear often that God is our heavenly Father, one with the Spirit and Son (obviously I have a Protestant background) and I’d like to address that first. I often hear that he is near to us in the Spirit, he is our personal Savior, our loving Father. He is fully God and fully human. All such things I believe are true, but I also find with this perspective too much emphasis on the Fatherly aspect (too jolly), on the Savior (too personal), and on the male dominant verbage of God (too masculine). There is no room for God to be authoritative and angry, to be the Savior of the world, or to be feminine. I am tired of going to Bible studies and church where these aspects of God are forgotten and ignored.
Now, I absolutely hate the phrase “think outside the box” because it is exactly what it isn’t. It is like this oxymoron that we tend to define God in our culture and worldview. We are told by Evangelicals to put away the notions that God is distant, that he is angered and punishing us but to embrace the peaceful, loving-kindness of Jesus. So we think that our understanding of God has evolved through this enlightenment–yet what is it really when we do not consider even the veracity and currency of God’s characteristics in the Old Testament? The irony is that we can never fully know God at all—at least, some impart, not in this life. But does that make our quest to know God suddenly invalid? So it should be with open minds that we consider the truths of other definitions of God. These, such as the Brahman, mere being, or Allah are what I’d like to bring to the table.
Quite honestly, I do not know much about these gods, but I do accept that they have elements of God which are usually excluded in the Western concept of God. I liked the way that Karen Armstrong, author of The Case for God, described the power of Brahman in a recent National Public Radio interview: “The Brahman was not present in the wordy definitions of the divine. It was present in the stunning realization of the absolute powerlessness of language and speech to describe this.” With such a statement, I am attracted to the idea that God is beyond what our words describe, and beyond what our minds can imagine. Sometimes, words get in the way of things. I think what is greater than words is when we can realize that God is present in the awesome silences.
Likewise, the idea of just existence, or being, is a characteristic of God that is largely underestimated. Before there was time, God existed. Then he put the world into existence by his ideas. There is so much beyond us that exists, but little do we acknowledge it. Even the simple (or complicated?) fact that we exist must be a part of God. I think this should be taken into account a little more and the fact that there was a whole history of existence before us and will continue after us. Ecclesiastes is a great book to help self-focused and work-driven individuals see how brief life is, and that the meaning isn’t in ourselves or how busy we can be.
I have already brought up some Hindu and New Age ideas, as some people would label or accredit it, and now I’m bringing up a Muslim aspect of God: Allah. Actually, here I’d just say it’s another name of God, but hardly another aspect. As Juliet said in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” it does not matter what something is called, but what it is. There are a lot of parallels between the Judaism, Islam, and Christianity; the most shared concept is of Yahweh, Allah, or God. In this, I think we should remember that God isn’t Christian, but he can be anyone’s God. This, too, is an aspect largely overlooked, unfortunately. God is often associated with one religion or faith, but he is God of the world and universe!
I can see that for some readers, this may not be a topic of interest especially because it sounds like an attack on monotheism, or a branching out towards pluralism, but let it be clear that I am only suggesting there are more aspects of God that are not regularly taken into account. And I don’t think that we can fully know God—there will always be culture and our finite minds in the way. However, let us not stop to think of the many ways that God is good, the many ways he is present, and of his many qualities.