One of the Few Things That Can Make Me Angry

I am not an angry person. For the most part, I just deal with people and don’t worry about their nonsense, shenanigans, rudeness, or offenses. When I do think about these things, it’s usually analytically, thinking about the wider patterns in society of which they are a part, and about any theological issues involved. I already digress, though, so back to my point. I don’t generally get angry, and it usually takes some repeated problems to make it happen. Most issues don’t spark any fire any me.

There are a few things, of course, that do. Talking about abortion for more than 5 minutes. Bullies. A handful of politicians. But none of those are the subject of this post. Instead, this post is about what angers me if I think about it for too long: nonchalant money wasting.

What specifically do I mean? I work at a Papa John’s. I see almost every day people spend $20-40 on pizza and cookies. Likewise, I walk into stores and see $1000 TVs that people actually buy. On Black Friday, so many people practically turn into a raging mob trying to throw their money at companies for things that usually aren’t important. College kids buy Starbucks several times a week, or even daily. Well off couples plunk down hundreds of thousands for houses much larger, fancier, and prepared than they actually need. Half of our society, if not much more than that, revolves around buying and selling, and when your society is the size of ours, that guarantees most of the business being done isn’t essential to life and well-being.

So, so much of this money is just wasted. Hundreds of millions of dollars essentially go down the toilet, serving no purpose but to give us some momentary pleasure, distracting entertainment, or a few extra moments of convenience. I could multiply examples, and in fact a part of me is simply dying to do so just to illustrate the severity of the problem and get out some of the frustration that builds even as I think about this subject to write on it. But stop and think for yourself: how much money do you spend in your average week, even average day, that you could quite easily get by without spending? What about the expenses that you could get by without just by putting in a little extra effort?

I know I do this. I try to avoid it, but I do not always do so, and plenty of times if I step back and think too hard about it I get frustrated. But why? Why does this all so rile me? Why does all of this make me so angry?

The reason, which may be obvious to some of you, for my ire is the African child with a stomach bloated from malnutrition and starvation, the Afghan mother struggling to find some kind of health care for her baby, and the old redneck lady who can’t afford to keep electricity hooked up in her trailer. People like these and those in many other situations around the world are suffering in extreme poverty (or at least serious relative poverty for their society), and try as they might they can’t do anything about it. Most of them aren’t just a little bit poor, either. According to Compassion International:

Globally, 1.2 billion people (22 percent) live on less than $1.25 a day. Increasing the income poverty line to $2.50 a day raises the global income poverty rate to about 50 percent, or 2.7 billion people.

This means that for every one of us who can afford to spend $7 for lunch at Chick-fil-A almost whenever we want, there is someone else out there who would have to go without any other food for at least 2 or 3 days to afford that opportunity. 

In the face of such intense and rampant poverty and suffering, the waste I see every day becomes absolutely disgusting. The constant churning of spending more and more money on frivolous or disposable things by whim appears to be pure evil, the evil of a world system under the sway of the evil one. Fancy new gadgets, savory steak dinners, and luxurious vacations are shoved into our faces daily by advertisers desperate for our money, money which could be better spent for the sake of mercy on the poor. And we take the bait! We buy into the system and throw away our money together with our souls for the sake of temporary pleasures, ignoring the billions of people who could never afford our 40-inch TVs or 6-inch iPhones in a hundred years.

Naturally, I’m not saying that we can never spend any money beyond what we absolutely have to have. Moderation is always allowed. But we don’t usually try or think about moderating our spending in order to give. In the US, concern for extreme poverty is extremely low1, and giving is pathetic2. That is what makes me angry. The lack of care, and the lack of action proving care, is what frustrates me.

So let’s fix it. Give. Go. Help. Pray. Send. And waste less money on the stupidities of American consumerism when you can be giving it to those who need it to survive.

If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need — how can God’s love reside in him?

1 John 3:17

One of the Few Things That Can Make Me Angry

Notes on 1 John

My devotional reading has recently taken me through 1 John. I found some things in the book particularly edifying and decided the thoughts they inspired might be worth sharing. So here are my lightly edited notes straight from my journal. (After this, you should totally reread 1 John if you haven’t done it in a while, because it really is a great little book.)

1 John 1

  • Summary: John has seen and knows intimately the light that is Jesus Christ, and wishes to make Him further known to his audience, that they all together may walk as one in the light with Christ, cleansed of sin and united in joy.
  • Details
    • First off, John does not separate at all between the historical and the theological Jesus. As far as John is concerned, the Jesus he touched and heard and saw in the flesh was indeed even in the flesh the Word of life, the eternal life and Son of God, by whom man has fellowship with the Father.
    • Everything about eternal life for John is oriented around Christ. He is eternal life. He is the Word of life. Eternal life comes through faith in Him. Knowing Christ is the essence of eternal life. Jesus Himself is the way, the truth, and the life. Any conception of eternal life that is not ultimately part of our conception of Jesus is broken.
    • God is light, as is Jesus, and in Him is no darkness. Therefore if we walk in Him, in His light, our sin is exposed and burned up by His radiance. Yet this painful process leads some to hide from God’s light, and they deceive themselves if they say they walk with God. Only if one is in darkness can his sin be hidden, even from himself, and thus those who claim to lack sin are indeed in darkness, for the light exposes more and more sins. Yet only this exposure can cleanse sin, and in fact this paradox is precisely the paradox of justification by faith: our only hope to be made right with God in Christ is to own up to how badly we are wrong with God in ourselves.

1 John 2:1-27

  • Summary: The true believers, unlike the heretics, keep God’s commands and love each other, even in the midst of trouble, because they know the Father and have victory in Him. The ungodly world is passing away, and so we must cling to Christ rather than any of this age, in spite of all the false teachers set to lead us astray, who would sever us from Christ by denying Him.
  • Details
    • The true Church can be known by its fruit, to at least a degree. We follow God’s commands, rather than living unlike Christ.
    • In the midst of controversy, love is still essential, and perhaps more essential than usual, for the Church.
    • The world under the evil one is conquered and passing away. All of its structures and delights are fading, so we best not get caught in them, a trap the world-denying Gnostics could easily and ironically fall into.
    • The spirit of the antichrist is alive and well, energizing false teachers, but true believers remain faithful in spite of them. God teaches His Church the truth.

1 John 2:28-3:24

  • Summary: In Christ we are righteous children of God, though the true fullness of this is yet invisible as we wait for Him to be revealed, since our life is hidden in Him. Yet in present, we see the change brought about by this new life in righteous living and active love, for those who lack such things but instead sin and hate are of the Devil.
  • Details
    • Can Bobby Grow’s claim that there is no warrant for a spiritual test here be completely supported? I’m not sure about that. Nonetheless, I do get a generally corporate and “in Christ”-ian feel from this passage, so certainly the focus is shifted away from individual assurance to identifying the true Body of Christ against the false.
    • Christ’s life is a life of radically self-giving love, and of righteous living, for this is exactly what He did from birth to the Cross. That life is also the life into which we have been born again as His people.
    • Our true nature is mostly invisible, even to ourselves, in this time-between-the-times, for it is the nature of Christ, who is hidden from our sight until His return. Thus we still sin and see ourselves in sinful terms, despite our true nature as children of God. Yet we are children of God, who do not sin but rather love.
    • Love is only love when it is real and active. That is the kind of love Christ showed for us, which even animated His Passion.
    • I should make every effort to abide in Christ, which practically means in specific devotion, worship, and Church life, so that I may share in the revelation of His life when He returns. If I want the good resurrection, I must be found in Him. If I am to be found in Him, I must stay connected to Him by the means He has provided.
    • I should always have hope even in the midst of my deepest sinfulness, because what I truly am is God’s child, and something too wonderful to know yet, hidden in Christ. No matter what I see in myself now, the new reality is there and will be revealed.

1 John 4

  • Summary: We who believe in Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh are from God, just as Christ and therefore this doctrine are from God, and those who reject this are of the spirit of the antichrist. That spirit works not love, but deception. True love is bound up with God’s self-revelation of His love in giving His only Son for us, so to reject the identity of the Son is to reject love, and thus the God who is Himself love.
  • Details
    • The spirit of the antichrist has been in the world for at least these past 2000 years, always trying to deceive and draw people away from Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh. He still does this today, but he is restrained by the overcoming power of God, Father, Son, and Spirit.
    • Those who have been born again believe in Christ. Period. Those who do not listen to the truth of Christ are of the antichrist, or deceived by him.
    • Love is bound up with this doctrine, and remains our first and foremost imperative. The God who has revealed Himself as love in Christ’s flesh has given us new life out of love, and therefore our life now ought to be shaped and driven by His love.
    • “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God — God remains in him and he in God.” This is the great ecumenical truth. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” is the binding prayer behind all true Christianity.
    • Fear makes no sense in this context of love, trembling over judgment. If we are in Christ by faith, and we share in His love, by what means will we not be freed from condemnation by that love?

1 John 5

  • Summary: All of us who believe in Jesus as Christ are God’s children, and so most rightly love each other and obey God’s commandments, for by faith in Christ we are able to overcome the sinful world. We ought to believe this, because God has testified about His Son in His baptism and crucifixion, and by believing this we have life in Christ. If we have life in Christ, our prayers are powerful and unhindered, and will deliver those in sin. Yet Christ does protect us from sin as children of God, unlike the evil world under Satan’s power. Therefore let us be children of God, loving each other, believing in Christ, and keeping away from idols.
  • Details
    • Faith and love are inseparable in Christ, and thus all who truly believe in Christ also truly love Him, the Father, and everyone else who is in Christ. There is a natural communion of love and truth in God’s new household.
    • Obedience also naturally belongs in this overall category of faith and love. By faith, we obey God, in particular His command to love, and as these effects work themselves out we overcome the sinful and hostile world around us.
    • God Himself testifies that Jesus is the Son of God in whom we have eternal life. Therefore all are bound to believe it. Those who deny it lie.
    • Baptism and crucifixion were the most public acts of Jesus’ life. Of course they were God’s testimony. And yet it is a counterintuitive testimony, indeed, for in both Jesus was treated as a sinner. He became sin for us, and precisely doing this is an act of the Son of God.
    • Eternal life is simply life in Christ. This says nothing, to be honest, about whether it can be lost, for it is not clear from this passage whether one can leave Christ.
    • God answers our prayers which accord with the love, faith, and obedience which ought to characterize life in Christ. He may even rescue a dying soul by such prayers.
    • Christ protects us from sin, making a sharp divide between us, born of God and knitted together in faith and love, and the evil world, which includes idolaters who deny that Jesus is the Christ in the flesh.
Notes on 1 John

Just A Quick Update

So I haven’t been posting much as of late. I figured I’d just drop by and point out why. Ready?

*Drumroll*

It’s because I’m back in school. Yay! I’m working hard at the Baptist College of Florida, and between that, work, and church I don’t have tons of time for blogging. I certainly won’t be quitting here, but it will have to move back a couple notches in priority, which also means a couple notches in frequency. I’ll aim to at least post once a week, but we’ll see what actually happens.

In the mean time, try some blogs I like such as Reformedish or Think Theology. They’re pretty cool. Or if you don’t mind reading stuff that takes 20 tries to wrap your head around, you can try The Evangelical Calvinist.

Just A Quick Update

Apology: Who I Am, What I’m Doing, and What I Should Change

Who am I? I’m Caleb, a silly, nerdy 20-year-old with an obsessive interest in theology and a (relatively) new family. I’m a student, a learner. I’m young and inexperienced, but nonetheless feel the constant need to try to wrap my head around things real adults have worked on for thousands of years. I have no qualifications unless Google proficiency and fascination count. In what should emphatically be taken in the least pretentious way possible, I am the creature Karl Barth called a theologian: someone whose encounter with Jesus and His Scriptures forces him into endless wonder, concern, commitment, and faith. I’m socially awkward and fail at developing the conversations and relationships which should characterize a Christian lighting up the dark world around him. I’m as fallible, both intellectually and morally, as they come, and well aware of it.

What am I doing? On this little blog, I spill my thoughts. I take the major ideas and debates running around in my head as I study and put them into concrete, written form to share with the world. Why do I share with the world? Different reasons, I guess. On one hand, I’m looking for dialogue. I want to share what I think and hear what people have to say in response. I want to know if you think I’m on the right track, or if you have a correction, question, or suggestion. Has anything I’ve had to say given anyone edification, clarity, or a challenge? I would like to find out. On the other hand, I’m also filled with “OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS SO AMAZING AND EVERYONE NEEDS TO HEAR IT” zeal with some of the ideas I stumble across. I find what look like treasures to me in my studies, and then want to share them for the benefit of others. And sometimes I just find myself moved or touched and want to throw whatever helped me out there in case it can help someone else. Finally, in all honesty sometimes I just feel cheated that no one ever taught me something before, and I want to put it out there because I wish someone had put it out there for me all through my life.

So why am I babbling about all of this? Because I want to clarify myself. It has come to my attention at various times that I concern people about this or that, and that sometimes I confuse or flat out subvert some of my friends and family, by Christ and by nature. Yet I’m not a teacher, as if that weren’t obvious. But I want to make it clear that I don’t try to or intend to be. I might write like one sometimes, but that’s not conscious or intentional. It’s just the style I’ve wound up with. I don’t think I’ve got all the answers, or even most of them, and even many things I say that I say with a lot of confidence or certainty should really come with labels like experimentalprovisional, or I just thought of this yesterday and may change my mind by tomorrow. Some of my posts really ought to come with expiration dates. 

In fact, the only thing I hold as axiomatic, the only belief which I cannot and will not ever question, is my belief that I am utterly fallible. I always believe that I could be wrong, and probably am in more than a few places. Because I view myself as radically prone to error, I call every one of my beliefs into question at some point or another. This, of course, includes all of my Christian beliefs, and praise be to God that Jesus has held up with remarkable (divine!) strength in all of my questioning. But I know most of you share a great deal of my beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. So these are also your beliefs that I call into question. But I don’t do this because of anything I see weak or wrong in the beliefs themselves, but because of what I see weak in myself, who believes them. I’m constantly testing and refining, because I know I can be wrong on absolutely anything. This doesn’t mean I think I am, and in fact I still hold to most things I’ve believed and been taught since childhood, although many of them have received new twists or emphases.

This brings me to another point where I confuse people. I spend a lot of time defending people I disagree with. Off the top of my head Catholics make a good (and controversial in my experience) example. Some people also seem to think pro-gay believers are in this group, though I have not given any defenses on here for them at all. But I do defend my opponents, despite strongly disagreeing with them. And I do this for a reason. I believe as a Christian I am called to truth and love, which in debate means an emphasis on clarity and charity. I must always make sure to represent people I disagree with accurately, and weed out misconceptions, straw men, and bad arguments against them before I even start to debate with them. A commitment to clarity and charity means I am not allowed to simply throw popular talking points at my opponents; I have to take them seriously on their own terms, give them a fair hearing, and only then make any serious work towards dismantling their position, though of course the whole time I am allowed to and should be clear that I disagree with them, sometimes strongly. (And honestly, once the caricatures are out of the way I am highly critical of both Catholics and progressive pro-gay believers, and even many people I like who agree with me on most things!) Yet I can’t spend all of my time on the defense of my opponents, no matter how much junk really needs to be cleared up. I can easily give off the impression that I don’t think our differences matter, or that we’re all perfectly okay as we are. That’s certainly not the right message.

But this all brings me around to the first word of my title: apology. I haven’t always been clear who and what I am disagreeing or agreeing with. I have confused people, and often haven’t given enough attention to who my audience is, and whether any given post will truly edify you or simply baffle you. Sometimes I’ve jumped the gun and posted something controversial before giving it serious thought. And honestly there have been a couple times I’ve just tried to get a reaction out of people. For all of this and more I am truly sorry, and ask that I can be forgiven on the basis of Jesus Christ, our common Savior, and His Spirit whom we all share. I have a change of direction in mind for this blog, one which I hope will contribute to edification, and reduce unnecessary confusion or controversy. Pray that God will keep me, and my blog, useful for the work of His kingdom.

In Christ’s love,

Caleb

P.S. I honestly encourage any of you who ever have a question, concern, or problem with what I’ve written to mention it to me. I’ll try to be humble and understanding, though I admit I won’t always succeed. But I have thick skin and want to learn, so by comment, email, or Facebook feel free to let me know anything you need to say.

Apology: Who I Am, What I’m Doing, and What I Should Change

Why I Defend What I Don’t Believe

If you read my blog, and even more so if you know me in real life, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to be unusually defensive about doctrines I don’t agree with and people I think are wrong. My recent post on Catholicism makes a decent example.

Some might assume this is because I’m secretly leaning to my opponents’ ways or maybe I’m some kind of relativist who thinks everyone’s interpretations are equally valid. Neither of those ideas would be true. Instead, I simply am committed to clarity and charity.

To get what I mean, follow the link below to a blog post on Reformedish. He explains the same behavior in the author of a book I really want called Deviant Calvinism.

Why Argue For a Position You Don’t Hold? Clarifying Crisp’s Deviant Calvinism | Reformedish

Link

Why I’m Still An Evangelical Protestant

Before I get into the meat of this post, I’ll define my terms for any readers who don’t know exactly what Evangelical Protestant refers to. “Protestant” encompasses all churches descended from the Reformation, when Martin Luther and others concluded there was rampant intuitional and doctrinal corruption in the Catholic Church. They tried to reform it, but wound up breaking off into their own churches. Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and most other non-Catholic churches fall under this label. While there’s a lot of diversity among Protestants, we all agree that the Roman Catholic Church is not the one true church, and that their Pope, Magisterium, and Tradition do not have special/infallible teaching authority.

The other part of this label—”Evangelical”—is harder to give a simple definition for, but really applies to churches which, after the fundamentalist/liberal wars of the 20th century, carried on most of the fundamentalist theology with an emphasis on evangelism and Bible. Baptists and Pentecostals make up most of the Evangelical demographic, along with non-denominational churches, and smaller portions from the Lutheran, Reformed, and even Catholic traditions.

Most of you, my readers, are probably Evangelical Protestants, too (though I know I have a few filthy Papists reading!). If you’re Baptist, I guarantee you are one of us. If there’s any further confusion, what I’m going to say in a moment will clear it up more.

So why am I writing this? For two reasons. For one, in the wider world of Christendom, Evangelicalism gets a bad name. We’re viewed as immature, shallow, and ignorant. But while there are several valid critiques by people both inside and outside Evangelicalism, I think much of the disdain is also undeserved or at very least exaggerated. We have strengths which offset and I daresay outweigh our weaknesses, and they deserve a fair hearing. The second reason for this post is to reassure you all that I really am still an Evangelical at heart. I frequently criticize the Evangelical world, and I often also defend other traditions, but I want to clarify that I only do this because Evangelicals are my own flesh and blood. Evangelicalism is still my home, and as such I’m more aware of its flaws than those of any other group. Who do you criticize more than your own family? But as family, however critical I may be, I’ll defend my Evangelical brethren to the death.

So, without further ado, here are the things that I think Evangelical Protestantism gets right, the things which keep me from leaving home.

Biblicism
We Evangelicals have a unique respect for the authority of Scripture. Radical fundamentalists treat Scripture like the Pharisees with their actually unbiblical rules and regulations. Liberal Protestants treat the Bible as an inferior thing to their modern and postmodern values, eschatologies, and science. Catholics give their own so-called “Sacred Tradition”equal weight to Scripture and give their leaders the ability to set interpretations in stone. As far as I’ve seen, only Evangelicals consistently try to live under the Bible, taking it at its word as best as we understand. Even when we let other stuff mess up our understanding of Scripture, there’s always a willingness to simply follow what it says.
Relationship
However much the term “personal relationship with Jesus” is overused and abused, there remains a very legitimate concept that each of us must have intimate fellowship with the Father through the Son through the Spirit. We emphasize the personal: you do not inherit union with Jesus from your parents or culture but must embrace Him yourself. We pound hard on the relationship: Jesus is personally invested in us with a great love and seeks for us to reciprocate. Prayer, Scripture, and all Christian acts bring us to know our Savior.
Passion
Nothing says “passion” like a big gathering of Evangelicals, especially teenagers. Sure, some of its hormones and shenanigans, but there’s real stuff, too, because in Evangelicalism we teach people to own their faith and let it drive their lives. Challenges and energy define our events and movements. While passion alone can be misplaced or fizzle out, when used properly it is a valuable asset for Christianity, moving people to really carry forth the love of Christ in the Gospel in a visible and impactful way.
Cultural Engagement
I’m not a fan of full-blown efforts to be/become “relevant,” but if there’s one place Evangelicals stand out most obviously it is in attempts to contextualize the truth and use popular culture and media to spread the Gospel. Sure, it’s usually done awkwardly and sometimes even embarrassingly, but that’s precisely why we need to keep people in Evangelicalism: so that theologians, data experts, and other people with necessary skills can round out the group in such attempts.
Evangelism
Last, but far from least, Evangelicals practically have a monopoly of the namesake, evangelism. As far as I know, no other tradition comes close to matching Evangelicals on the priority of taking the Good News about Jesus to those who haven’t heard. The Southern Baptists practically rule the missionary world. We’re not the only ones who believe in Hell, but we probably take it the most seriously. Plus, while most of the other traditions are talking about the importance of social justice, meeting needs, and solving problems in society (usually over the importance of evangelism), we Evangelicals are often out incorporating those very things into our mission work, spreading the Gospel while improving the world. And this, I believe, is of the utmost importance. After all, what was is the martyrs who Catholics so revere died doing? To what cause did Peter, supposedly their first Pope, devote his life?

I could probably extend this list a bit, but I think what I’ve mentioned so far, especially the first and last points, is enough to make my point. Despite all my theological musings, perplexities, and wanderings, these qualities of Evangelical Protestantism have kept me here. I honestly believe this is the best tradition for these reasons, even if I offer plenty of criticism, too. I only complain because I want to see us become the best and most Christian we can really be. And again, it’s these first and last points that really hold me in. I cannot conceive of doing Christianity that it’s robustly and ministerially Biblical, and emphatically evangelistic (even if in my personal life I don’t always live these out). So I plan on sticking around. And unless God decides to seriously throw me off, I expect that’s just what I’ll do.

(P. S. The Frances Chan featured image is because I think he’s one of the best we Evangelical Protestants have to offer.)

Why I’m Still An Evangelical Protestant

I Don’t Believe in Hell

So, I don’t really believe in Hell. That’s right. I do not believe that Hell exists. And I sincerely doubt most of you do, either.

Now, before you scream “heretic” and start gathering a mob, I should clarify that, if you were to ask me if Hell exists, I would certainly say “yes.” If you asked me to define “Hell,” I would tell you that it’s a place of eternal suffering for those who reject Jesus.

So what on earth do I mean when I say that I don’t believe in Hell? In truth, it’s not my orthodoxy that is the issue but my lifestyle. Sure, I say that I believe there is a Hell for the unrepentant, but do I live out that belief? Do I tremble for the millions of souls to be lost? Forget love, am I even compelled by common human decency to do my part in bringing about their salvation.

All this shows my major lack: faith, not in Hell but in Christ. The only reason I even affirm Hell’s existence is that Jesus Himself seems to have taught it, and I’ve never seen a convincing interpretation otherwise. So if I really do believe in Jesus and trust what He reveals of God to be true, I ought to be consistently living a life that reflects His teaching. I should be seeing and treating people like they’re about to fall off a cliff and I have a chance to bring them to safety in the Savior.

I doubt very much that I am alone, indeed I am certain I am not. Many of you reading this probably feel what I’m saying. You know there’s a Hell, but you still act like there’s not. You see possible opportunities to tell about the Way and the Life, but make an excuse not to as if the only thing in danger were your dignity instead of a life.

Why do we do this? Why don’t we really believe in Hell? Plenty of reasons, I’m sure. Hell is so remote from our daily affairs; it’s easy to forget or ignore in the midst of everything else we can see, stuff with immediate, visible impact. Maybe on some level we don’t take Hell seriously because we subconsciously think God’s love really does mean no Hell. Maybe starting to preach during an important job interview actually would hurt not only your chances of a job but the chances of them taking your message seriously. But even a good excuse is really no excuse when lives are on the line.

So what’s the point of my rambling? Hell is hard, not just to swallow but to live in recognition of. This plagues me and probably you. What can we do? Pray for perspective, faith, and a bit of ridiculous boldness, I guess. Who knows who may be saved if we do?

I Don’t Believe in Hell