Posted tagged ‘born again’

God’s Love is Not Platonic

February 4, 2019


John the Apostle, a Hebrew from a remote province in the Roman Empire, lived a long life, unlike the other apostles who died premature deaths. John, a typical Hebrew, was elevated out of his provincial Jewish world by the God who created it. His writing, as much as any of the New Testament authors, has a strong philosophical theme, but that philosophical theme is no abstract intellectual construct.

John obviously became familiar with the greater Greco-Roman world by which the Palestinian province of his birth was governed and influenced. That familiarity is reflected in the Gospel that bears his name.

His gospel begins with the philosophical statement, “In the beginning was the Word”, the Logos.  (John 1:1)  The word, logos, had very strong philosophical meaning in the Greco-Roman world. John’s use of that word to open his account of the life and message of Jesus shows that John, the provincial Hebrew, familiarized himself with that world and its thought.

This is in keeping with the instruction from Jesus to his followers to go into all the world explaining the message he left with them. To go into the world, we have to become familiar with it and conversant with the thought that predominates in the world to which we go.

Though John used this loaded word, logos, he didn’t have the abstract notions of philosophy in mind. John’s use of that word pointed outside and transcended the Greco-Roman box.

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Born Again: the Paradigm Shift

March 31, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 26594615 Copyright: west

I listened recently to a talk given by Tim Keller who has a way of reducing “mysterious” ideas to plain English like few are able to do. In this talk, he tackled the Christian concept of being “born again”. People who walk in some Christian circles may take for granted what it means to be “born again” (or maybe not!), but anyone who grew up outside the evangelical influence may have very little idea what it means.

“Born again” is a buzz word to be sure. It is used ubiquitously to mean a certain “brand” of Christian, sometimes, or even a certain political persuasion, which is really a bastardization of the meaning of the phrase. The phrase has its roots in a particular passage of Scripture and is meant to convey the idea of a paradigm shift of sorts.

It is often assumed to mean a religious experience accompanied by emotions and religious fervor, but that really isn’t quite what the phrase originally meant, or even what it really means at its essence. Being born again might be accompanied by emotions and religious fervor, but not always. I think of CS Lewis, who I would consider a “born again Christian”, when I say that “being born again” isn’t always accompanied by high, religious emotions:

 “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalene, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, p. 266).

Indeed, CS Lewis is not alone in finding the doorway to Christianity being rather more of a cross than a resurrection. Of course, the cross always precedes the resurrection.

Aside from the idea that being born again is primarily an emotional experience, people often think of it as signing onto a set of morally rigid religious principles. The words from CS Lewis might tend to support that idea, but that would be wrong as well. In fact, it really couldn’t be any further from the truth.

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No One is Born a Christian

January 30, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 171920302 Copyright: GDArts17

I have written a an article titled, God has no Grandchildren. I just watched a talk by Mary Poplin in which she makes the bold statement, “You can not ne born a Christian. You can be born a Hindu. You can be born a Muslim, You can be born a Jew. You cannot be born a Christian.” (Mary Poplin: The Radical Conversion of a Secular Scholar) I realized immediately that these points are intertwined.

Without any adieu, you must be born again!

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
“‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.
“’You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.'” (John 3:1-13)

We have to be born into relationship with God. We don’t inherit a relationship with God. We must receive Him directly, on our own.

“[T]o all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

 

 

Spirit and Truth vs. Self-Made Religion

January 28, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 91001324 Copyright: carlosyudica

In a previous blog article, I talked about the shadow of things to come. Paul says that following rules and observing religious ritual is just a shadow of things to come. Later in the same chapter in Colossians, Paul explains in more detail what he is getting at. When we are focused only on the do’s and the don’ts and on observing religious rituals, we are focused on the wrong things.

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle,  Do not taste,  Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)

Paul isn’t advocating that followers of Christ abandon self-discipline and self-control and do whatever they like. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2) But, following Jesus doesn’t mean stepping up religious observances and following rules and regulations more closely. The focus on rules and rituals entirely misses the point.

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From Fiction to Faith

January 9, 2018

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I recently had a short exchange with an atheist friend over an article I wrote about science and faith. He is from the world of science, his father being a scientist, and he making a living on scientific principles. He found my article and analysis of atheism and science to be colored by my faith. And, of course it is, just as his view of religion and science is colored by his atheism.

He views God as a fiction. I view God as reality, transcending all the reality I think I know. We couldn’t be more opposed in our views of the world, though that doesn’t mean that we cannot be friends and learn from one another.

I suggested to him that both theism and atheism are rational conclusions, but the conclusions depend on the starting places. I remember from my philosophy class in college, and the study of Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard that theism and theism can both by logically “proven”. Syllogisms reaching both conclusions can hold up logically. The only difference is the starting premise.

To put it more simply: if you start with a premise that assumes God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the existence of God. If you start with a premise that assumes no God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the nonexistence of God.

How, then, does a rational person resolve the tension between these diametrically opposite conclusions? Logic cannot suggest an answer to this conundrum because logic can only operate on the basis of a premise, and the premise with which we start makes all the difference.

If we could determine which premise is correct, we would be well on our way, but it turns out that this is easier said than done. What then?

Science doesn’t help us either. Science is, by definition, the study of the natural world. God is, by definition, “Other” than the natural world.  Science can take us back to nanoseconds after the Big Bang, but we can peer no further into our past. We can’t see the very beginning, and we can’t see beyond it.

We can’t see through the lens of science and our senses beyond this natural world, and this leads many, like my friend, to conclude that nothing exists beyond the natural world. It’s a fair conclusion, to be frank.

But it’s a bit short sighted. Why we do assume that we and our physical senses are the measure of all reality?

How do we know if there is anything beyond the natural world? How do we know if there is a God?

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The Choices God Gives Us

April 28, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 7103912 Copyright: kohy81

“But to all[1] who did receive[2] Him, to those who believed[3] in His name, He gave the right[4] to become[5] children[6] of God— children born[7] not of blood, nor of the will[8] of the flesh[9], nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. 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… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”[10]

These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.

I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right to become children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage.  I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!

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The Rose and the Thistle

April 23, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 4468140 Copyright: Estea-Estea

“Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”[i]

This quotation by Frances Hodgson Burnett is pretty profound when you think about it. A person cannot feed love and feed hate at the same time. One displaces the other, like light displaces the darkness.

Except, we know from our own experience that we can love and hate at the same time. It’s just that we cannot love and hate the same thing at the same time. This is what the quotation is saying: a rose and a thistle cannot occupy the same space, though roses and thistles can certainly stand side-by-side. We can love one person and hate another.

Jesus puts a twist on these thoughts when he says that a person cannot serve two masters. When two priorities are vying for position in our hearts, they cannot both occupy the top position: “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  And Jesus provides us a ready example: “You cannot serve both God and money.”[1]

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