Monday, June 25, 2007

Reason and Revelation: Ethos (Part 2)

Jesus is the Starting Place
"Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed." (1 Peter 2:6)
In constructing a building, the most important stone is the corner stone. It is the first stone that is laid and it is the stone from which everything else is measured. All angles and measurements are made in reference to the corner stone. An angle and a measurement is "true" if it measures "true" from the corner stone. The same is true for Jesus. He is to be the corner stone in our lives. The one stone from which everything else in our life is measured from. The "rightness" and "trueness" of our lives is to be measured in relationship to our corner stone, Jesus Christ.

We must remember that, before there was ever a "canon" of the scriptures, there was the "canon" of Jesus. First, and before all else, our lives, values, and believes must be measured against the life of Jesus.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men." (John 1:1-4)
Jesus Himself is the Word of God and His life is the light of men. He is our corner stone, our beginning and our end. In all our pursuit of the scriptures, we must never neglect our pursuit of Him. Jesus rebuked the religious of His day saying, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life." (John 5:39-40) The canon of the scriptures is of little value in our lives if we have not the canon of His life. He is our starting point!
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone." (Ephesians 2:19-20)
Along with the corner stone of Jesus, our ethos must also include the foundation of the apostles and prophets. I believe that Paul was referring to the authoritative writings of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. The Old and New Testament authors reveal to us a single, consistent, message of God, His nature, and His plan for mankind. While we have published it as a collection of sixty six books, it really is one book, one revelation, of God's heart and mind to mankind. Peter encourages us to pay close attention to the written word.
"So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1:19-21)
The written word is the spoken word of God, recorded for our sakes. Peter refers to it as the word "made more sure." The Word of God is a solid foundation upon which we can build our lives. When our ethos is grounded in the person of Jesus and the Word of God, then our ethos will be sure and true. They are like the corner stone and foundation of a large building. If the corner stone and foundation are true, then the building is sound and will survive all that comes against it.

More to come... David Robison

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Reason and Revelation: Ethos (Part 1)

All learning takes place in the context of a person's "ethos". Ethos is a Greek word that can be translated: Starting Point, Disposition, Fundamental Values, or Character. It is the root word from which we get our English word, "ethics." Paul even used this word in his letter to the Corinthians when he reminded them that, "bad company corrupts good morals." (1 Corinthians 15:33) Our ethos encompasses all that we already know, as well as our sence of ehtics, our core values, and our perceptions of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. An ethos is a powerful thing. It grounds us and gives direction to our lives. It is like a steady bow in the hands or an archer. The riser, or handle, of the bow allows the archer to steady and aim the bow, while the arrow rest provides a solid foundation from which to shoot the arrow with great accuracy. Without a steady riser or a sure arrow rest, the arrow will fly unpredictably and almost never hit the target. So is the case with our ethos; it holds us steady and provides aim and sets the course of our life. Without a solid ethos, we are certain to "miss the mark" and to end up where we don't want to go. Consider the following results of trying to live without a solid ethos.

"Keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith." (1 Timothy 1:19) Without a solid ethos, we set ourselves adrift and run the risk of shipwreck and ruin in our lives. We may have noble ideals and aspirations, but we lack the foundation and direction to actually realize those ideals and aspirations.

"For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge." (Romans 10:2) Zeal is of little use unless it is guided and directed by the foundation of a solid ethos. Without the guidance of our ethos we could end up spending our lives on worthless endeavors. Zeal must be channeled and this channeling is provided by our ethos.

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14) Without the foundation of a solid ethos, we are gullible and suspectable to every new "teaching" and "doctrine" of men. We no longer stand on a sure footing of knowledge, ethics, and faith, rather we are tossed around by every new idea that comes our way.

Power and Benefit

Our ethos not only defines our starting point, but it empowers us and guides us in our growth, development, and enlightenment. Here are some of the benefits and purposes of a sound ethos.

"However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." (1 Corinthians 8:7-8) An incomplete, limited, or inaccurate ethos, especially in relationship to our knowledge of God, can cause us to live in bondage to the elemental principles of this world and hinder us from experiencing the true freedom that is found in Christ Jesus. Paul's more accurate knowledge of God afforded him greater freedom and liberty over those whose knowledge of God was more limited. Paul approached the world from an understanding that there was only one God and that idols were not gods at all. Because of this knowledge he could eat meat offered to idols without offending his ethos. However, not all believers had this same knowledge or approached life from the same ethos. For them, eating food sacrificed to idols was a sin, because it offended their conscience and their sense of right and wrong.

"And have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him -- a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all." (Colossians 3:10-11) We are renewed according to the knowledge of God that we possess. If we chose a godly ethos, then our lives will begin to be renewed according to that ethos. The more we allow God to shape and mold our fundamental beliefs and understandings, the more our ethos is brought into conformity with His will, purpose, and plan, the more we will be transformed into His likeness. Changing a person's ethos will change the person.

"You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:14-15) Knowledge cannot save us, but it can give us a context from which to receive the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, without a Biblical understanding of sin, righteousness, and forgiveness, it is hard to grasp and receive the revelation of Jesus' substitutionary death on the cross and the forgiveness of our sins. As many cultures are slipping into a "post-Christian" era, more and more people are growing up with little or no understanding of foundational Biblical truths. Often this requires first establishing a Biblical foundation, or ethos, from which a person can then grasp and receive the truth of the gospel.

"In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you." (1 Peter 4:4) When a person is born again, there is often a dramatic shift in their ethos. They adopt a new sense of right and wrong, they begin to see obedience as an expression of love for the One who saved them, and often they redirect their lives in new directions that are consistent with their new ethos. For unbelievers who don't share this new ethos, they're often unable to understand the new way of living adopted by the new believer. To them, there is nothing wrong with partying, carousing, and lawless living. They don't understand the new believers new found aversion to their former activities because they no longer share the same ethos. The converse is also true. Older believers can forget what it is like to live as an unbeliever; they see sinners and wonder why they don't want to stop sinning. The reason is, in part, because they don't share the same ethos as the believer. In their ethos, sinning is natural and not seen as sinful, as it would be in a believer's ethos.

"Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love." (2 Peter 1:5-7) Your ethos directly effects your behavior. Peter identifies a progression from knowledge to self-control. As we grow in knowledge of God and of His high calling on our lives, it causes us to exercise self-control in our speech and behavior. It causes us to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." (Ephesians 4:1) Why are some people hard working and others lazy? Often it has to do with the a person's ethos and the work ethic that they have adopted and developed in their lives. Why are some people law abiding and others law breaking? Sometimes it is due to a person's ethos and their sense of right and wrong.

A New Starting Point
"For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.' Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:19-21, 25)
Man, for all his pursuits of God, has failed to find God on his own. His wisdom, intellect, and knowledge has failed him in his attempts to know God. If we are to know God, then we need a new starting point, a new ethos. We need a new set of beliefs, a new view of right and wrong, and a new knowledge of truth - not just information. Paul challenges us, "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise." (1 Corintheans 3:18) If we are to know God, then we must allow God to remake and reform our ethos. We must realize that we cannot make this journey of knowing God on our own, we will need God's help to both renew our ethos and to give us revelation of Himself. Paul gives us this charge,
"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1-2)
We need more than education, we need our core ethos renewed. This is a process to which we must both choose and yield to. Nothing short of a renewal of our mind can transform us and bring us into the knowledge of God.

More to come... David Robison

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Reason and Revelation: A working model

I have noticed that, in some circles, there is considerable discussion and debate over the importance and role of reason and revelation. I know some whom are given almost exclusively to an academic knowledge of God. Their understanding of the kingdom is limited to the knowledge they are able to gain through systematic and thorough study of the scriptures. Others, however, operate in a realm of revelation with little concern to how their experience is tethered (if at all) to the scriptures. The see and experience things that are beyond my ability to understand or comprehend. In both groups of people there is often a genuine love for God, although their approach to knowing and relating to God differ greatly. I believe that both extremes are unhealthy and, in some cases, can cause the body of Christ to be come divided with each side devaluating the other.

I believe that one of the primary mistakes we make is in perceiving reason and revelation as being at two opposite ends of a spectrum of leaning and knowledge.

Instead, I would like to propose a different model; a different way of looking at reason and revelation.

In this model, reasoning is the process that moves us from what we know to what we are going to learn, and the catalyst for this process is revelation. Reasoning is what causes us to grow in knowledge and the spark of reasoning is revelation.

The process of growing in knowledge involves four things.
  1. Our starting point: What we already know, our basic assumptions and beliefs, and our preconceived ideas.
  2. Where we are going: The end result of our learning, what we want to know, what we expect to learn.
  3. Revelation: Information that comes from outside ourselves, for example, from teachers, books, and God.
  4. Reasoning: The process by which we synthesize knowledge and revelation to arrive at some new information. This includes the ways we reason and the filters through which we perceive knowledge and revelation.
My goal over the next few posts is to discuss each of these items in depth. Specifically, to see how they apply to our journey of growing in the knowledge of God. Paul prays for us that we would "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." (Colossians 1:10) There is perhaps no greater purpose of calling than to grow in the knowledge of God. My hope is that by looking at how we reason and learn it will help us to grow in our knowledge of God. Over the next few posts I hope to show that it is not "reason or revelation" but "reason and revelation". They are not two competing ideas or two opposing positions but rather two necessary ingredients needed to grow in the knowledge of God.

But before we begin, I have two caveats. First, I have called this model of learning a "working" model. I realize that there is nothing sacred about it. There is no passage of scripture that teaches or describes this model. I do believe, however, that there is incite that we can gain from this model and I preset it in hopes that it will be an aid in discussing the issues of reason and revelation. Much of what I will be sharing is still forming in my soul, so I concede that there may be other models and even opposing views that may also prove to be helpful in understanding the relationship between reason and revelation.

Lastly, my personal bent is more towards the academic than the experiential. My wife and I are almost opposites in this. For example, there have been times where my wife has been dramatically transformed by a sovereign touch from God. These transformations have been almost without any concern to understanding, reason, or mental considerations. God touched her and she was changed. As for myself, however, some of the most significant transformations in my life came when I came to such an understanding of the scriptures that I was unable to escape its truth. I received truth and that truth changed my life. My wife and I are both different, but being different does not mean that one of us is wrong. I hope that over the next few posts we can begin to see and appreciate how we are different and not see our differences as something that divides us but rather merely different facets of "the manifold wisdom of God." (Ephesians 3:10)

David Robison

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Should I forgive God?

Increasingly, I have been hearing teachings that we should not only forgive each other but we should also forgive God. Many of those teaching such doctrine have come to realize that there are many people who are angry with God and have blamed God for difficult situations in their lives. For many of these people, their anger and judgment towards God has bound them and hindered them from progressing in their relationship with God and into the things of God. They teach that by forgiving God we can be set free from the bondages caused by our anger and judgment towards God. However, the scriptures never teach, demonstrate, nor imply that we need to, or that we should, forgive God. So do we need to forgive God? Is forgiveness of God the correct remedy for our anger and judgments towards God? To properly answer these questions we first need to understand the nature of forgiveness.

When Jesus sought to teach the disciples about forgiveness, He told a parable about a man who owed a king a large sum of money.
"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made." (Matthew 18:23-25)
The sum owed was more than the man could ever expect to repay, yet he begged and pleaded with the king. "So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.'" (Matthew 18:26) The king was moved my the man's supplications and, rather than giving the man more time to replay his debt, he released him from the entire debt; he forgave him the debt. "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt." (Matthew 18:27)

In teaching on forgiveness, Jesus chose to define forgiveness in financial terms; the forgiveness of a debt owed. Even today, if a financial institution cancels a debt you own, they refer to it as the forgiveness of the debt. When we sin, we own God a debt. "For the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) Jesus paid our debt by His substitutionary death on the cross, thus making the way for us to be forgiven of our debt. "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Colossians 2:13-14)

Forgiveness is the canceling of a debt. If a debt is not owed, then there is nothing to forgive. When considering the question of forgiving God, we must recognize that there is nothing that God needs to be forgiven of; God has never sinned, therefor He does not need to be forgiven.
"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

"This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light , and in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)
So, if God does not need to be forgiven, then how are people who are trapped by their anger and judgments towards God supposed to get free? Their freedom is not to be found in them forgiving God, but rather in being forgiven by Him. God is not the one who needs to be forgiven, we are! We are the one who was angry unjustly towards God and who judged Him without a cause. We need to ask God to forgive us for judging Him and harboring anger towards Him. It is only by repenting and experiencing His forgiveness for us that we will be able to be free from our own anger and judgments towards Him. Freedom is found in His forgiveness towards us, not our forgiveness of Him.
"Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19)

David Robison

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You shall not covet: Dt 5:21

"You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Deuteronomy 5:21)
As individuals, we need to learn to be content with the portion that God has allotted to us. As a nation, we must not seek to pit one class against another, causing them to covet what the other has. In my country, we have started a new presidential election cycle. One of the Democratic presidential candidates. John Edwards, has talked repeatedly about "Two Americas".
"You've heard me talk about the Two Americas? One for those families who have everything they need, and then one for everybody else. Katrina showed us the Two Americas. Those images of men and women at the Superdome stranded without food, water or hope — simply because they didn't have a car or the cash to escape. Those images are something we'll never forget." (National Press Club Policy Address)
While the issues of poverty are real and should be discusses as part of our national discourse, I personally believe that many running for political office in my country are in effect trying to create class envy between the rich and the poor. For example, when candidates refer to "tax cuts for the rich" and "big oil" they are inciting covetedness in the hearts of the poor against those who are rich and powerful. It is wrong for a nation and a government to purposly try and divide its citizens along economic lines; to pit the poor against the rich. Governments should treat all its citizens equally and to govern them as a whole. When ever government tries to favor one segment of its citizens over another, it sows the seeds of division in its own people and weakens the nation.

David Robison

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