Archive for the ‘Theological Babble’ Category

Reflections on Summer Language @ PTS: Summer 2009

August 21, 2009

So I haven’t been blogging much since before I moved, but there has been lots going on.  This post might be boring to some but I have to start somewhere so bear with me.

In some ways, it still hasn’t quite sunk in that I am here at Princeton Seminary.  I am mostly settled in, have met quite a few great people, and am 3/4 of the way through my summer language course.  The reality of being a student again is strange and wonderful.  My internal clock still seems to be functioning on the 8-5 mentality though I have taken my fair share of afternoon naps.  While I am taking Biblical (or Koine) Greek, some are taking Hebrew.  There are advantages to be immersed in a language, but there are also disadvantages (as with everything in life).  About half way through, it was much harder to spend time studying after enduring 3 hours of class.  I found myself wanting to take a break from it which often lasted longer than I wanted it to (insert nap here).  I then spent the evenings studying and often woke up at 5 or 6am to finish those last few sentences or study vocab and grammatical structures (aka paradigms) for the daily quizzes.  While the other section of Greek still has one more test to go, my class took the last big exam this morning.  What a relief.  We have a handful of quizzes on a few odds and ends of grammar that are left to be covered and then a bunch of reading and a few translation quizzes, but it is great to have completed a large portion of the course.  I have done pretty well in the class scoring a B+ on the first two of the major exams, a B on the third and fourth exam, and have done well on most of the quizzes.  Yeah…there were a few doozies…but nothing to worry about.  I won’t know what I got on today’s test until Monday but I am VERY okay with that.

The language itself is frustrating.  For me the moments of encouragement came through points of theological significance that the prof pointed out as we read through various chapters of the Greek New Testament translating it as best we could.  Some were able to do this better than others and I must admit, I am one of the others.  While I have been able to do well on the tests, there is quite a bit that hasn’t “clicked” for me yet.  I can tell it is coming gradually so I have tried to give my brain space to process and keep the self-expectations present but yet no overwhelming.  I wanted to do well, but realized that doing well doesn’t necessarily mean doing things perfectly.  I think I am finally at a place where I am more comfortable making mistakes.  In the past, I my expectation of myself would have been to learn everything at the same pace it was presented and just “get it.”  And if I didn’t get it right away, there was a certain sense of failure that I felt even in the midst of success.  It’s hard to enjoy life that way.  The beauty of leaving room for failure and growth is that it makes much more room for people.  And I have met quite a few friends who will undoubtedly remain a part of my life well past seminary.

The cliche “The more I learn, the more I don’t understand.” has once again proved itself to be true.  Each new fact leads to countless questions some with answers and others that will remain mysteries.  When I was in college, I spoke with a good friend of mine from high school who informed me he had turned away from his faith in Christ.  He was taking Koine Greek at the time and declared to me that the New Testament didn’t really say what everyone claimed it did.  I was perplexed and deeply saddened by his decision and his words have been lodged in my head all these years.  I can understand, to a certain extent, why someone might question their faith while studying the Biblical languages as well as theology in general.  Those unanswered questions can become stumbling blocks.  I am thankful to be able to say that for me, they are stepping stones.  It seems to me when I embrace the mystery of God, it is as if a little bit of the fog lifts.  It is as if the mystery provides clarity somehow.

I will end with a thought from chapel a few weeks back.  When God send Moses to speak to the Pharaoh of Egypt on behalf of the Israelites, Moses asked God who he should say sent him when people asked the question.  As it is normally translated, God’s answer is “I am who I am.”  This probably wasn’t the concrete answer Moses was hoping for.  Another proposed interpretation of the Hebrew words that make up this phrase are “I will be who I will be.”  This is most interesting when it is preceded by “I will be with you.”  So God is telling Moses “I will be what I will be” and “I will be with you.”  Could it be that God will be who God will be through Moses?  Could it be that God will be who God will be through me?  Could it be that God will be who God will be through you?  I believe the answer is yes…and that is most humbling of all.

Oh, that God can be who God will be through me.



March 20, 2009

Lately the Holy Spirit has been convicting me about money.  Money and capitalism.  Money, capitalism, and materialism.  I read Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution a little while back and it really caused me to think about the part that I play in the systems this country and world run on.  The systems idea is from Brian McLaren’s book Everything Must Change.  Brian talks about the Security System, Prosperity System, and the Equity System.  He talks about how they are broken and even more than that, suicidal.  These books have led me to ask the following questions of myself:

  • How much money is stored up in my pantry in order to ensure I am provided for?
  • Even if I am faithful in tithing because it is a good starting point have I landed there with the belief that the other 90% is mine to spend as I wish? 
  • What am I doing with that 90%?
  • While I cognitively know that buying things will not fulfill my desires for peace, security, and fulfillment in what ways do I do that very thing?
  • What have I bought that has been produced by beautiful people all across the globe, mostly women and children, who are not compensated justly for their wages? 
  • Am I clothed at the expense of others being naked?
  • Am I content with enough or do I live under the capitalist manifesto of “more, more, more”?
  • This product is cheap for me but at whose cost?
  • Will I trust in deadbolts and car alarms or the Lord my God? (“Some trust in chariots and some in horses…”)
  • Do I allow God to define me or do I allow myself to be defined in terms of how industrious and efficient I am?
  • Why do we teach our children to not hit each other to resolve problems and then go to war because another country does something we don’t like?
  • Why do we arm the rest of the world so we can “protect” ourselves?
  • Is there hope that we can live another way?

The list could go on and on and on…

I am remorseful that I have contributed so much to the poverty and dehumanization of so many.  All for “the best deal.”  Yeah…if the best deal means I save $5 but thousands of people are enslaved to get it to me.  That doesn’t sound like the best deal to me.

Lord Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner.


February 26, 2009

Prayer has been an allusive discipline to me.  When I first became  a Christian, I used to journal my prayers which consisted of list upon list of people I was thankful for, people who I was asking God to bless, and things I wanted or thought I needed.  I don’t remember how long this lasted, but it was definitely not more than a year after the point in my life where I understood Jesus as the Son of God and the Redeemer of all creation.  At some point I think someone told me that prayer is more like a conversation with God.  This seemed to me to be a much easier way to think of prayer and I tried very hard to pray in this way.  But for some reason that has also been short-lived.  It’s hard to have a conversation with someone you can’t see in the flesh or hear audibly with your ear drums.  Somewhere along the way, someone recommended the book Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.  And I read it.  And it was good.  I liked how he talked about being in prayer to God at all times.  He seemed to have figured out how to “praywithout ceasing.”  I remember where he wrote about praying while he did the dishes at the monastery.  It is almost as if the very act of being was a prayer to God.  I have tried to walk in that but it did not last either though admittedly due in part to my lack of discipline. 

Over the past year I have been challenged in prayer.  At the beginning of this year long period, I was going through a book called Discipleship Essentials, by Greg Ogden, with a friend of mine and somewhere in there (I don’t have it in front of me) there is a part where it talks about prayer and focuses on Matthew 7.7-8 which reads,

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

But there was something that didn’t make sense to me.  Hand in hand with this passage, was the Parable of the Persistent Widow found in Luke 18.1-8. 

1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

 4“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”

 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

These two ideas seemed to contradict themselves.  Ask and you shall receive, but you have to ask a billion times to change God’s mind with your persistence.  Now I realize that part of what is going on in this parable is the fact that Jesus is saying something along the lines of,

“If this unjust, uncaring judge will grant the widow her request, how much more would God who is the very definition of love, justice, and peace grant your requests!”

But that doesn’t seem to add up either when you take into consideration the fact that we often pray for God to heal people of cancer and other sickness and it doesn’t happen.  This has more to do with “the problem of pain.”  It is things like this that cause me to wonder.  Does God answer our request but just not in the way we had hoped?  Maybe those individuals were more in need of a healing that could not be seen by human eyes.  But then that just seems like a cop out.  And to make things more complicated, we have this gem :

2You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  (James 4.2-3, emphasis added)

But there is another reason the “Knock…seek…ask…” verse did not sit well with me.  It seemed to me that, like the persistent widow above, asking for something over and over again was an indication of a lack of faith.  I wanted to just be able to ask for it once and have faith that God would grant my request.  To my dismay, the verb tense of the Greek words translated in Matthew 7.7 indicate a constant knocking, seeking, and asking.

I wasn’t sure why at the time, but this just didn’t sit well with me.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I could not reconcile this fact.  But lately I have realized something that I think will be revolutionary for my prayer life.  I think that I did not like the idea that prayer requires a constant knocking, asking, seeking because

each time I ask

        I am admiting over and over again

                             that the thing I desire or need

                                              is beyond me and out of my control.

Every time I ask for something, a small piece of the little ‘g’ god I allow myself to be dies.  Every time I ask for something I realize how much I need God.  There is a part of me that still doesn’t like that.  But now my little attempts to rebel against my Beloved have been shown for what they really are.  I am saddened by them, but thankful to have eyes to see it for what it is.

Perfect Love

February 24, 2009

Holiness is something that I have heard about since I became a Christian at age 13.  It seemed impossible to fully understand, but yet I learned early on it was something a Christian should strive for. 

Be holy as I am holy. (Lev 11.44, as quoted in 1 Peter 1.16).

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12.14)

Okay…so I am to “be holy.”  Anyone else wondered what exactly that means?  I know that I was brought up in my Christian faith to believe it was something akin to perfection in word and deed as a reflection of a heart towards God.  Sounds good right?  But while there might be some truth there I think it is slightly skewed and causes us to become self righteous individuals who attempt to earn God’s grace and acceptance (that we already have mind you). 

So what is it?

I went to dinner with some friends last night to celebrate my acceptance to Princeton.  I had a lovely dinner and the conversation was scattered across the board.  We talked about movies, books, reform theology, and hell.  And from the discussion of hell we somehow ended up touching on the holiness of God.  I got a little riled up (no surprise there) and spoke against the perfectionism that I had served for so long.  The definition of holiness came out as “one who is set apart” and I thought how can God be set apart?  As I write this I am thinking maybe it could be that God is set apart from all the little ‘g’ gods.  But then a friend of mine said something about love.  And a connection took place in my brain. 

Could it be that a call to holiness is a call to love as God loves?

Could it be that holiness is to love perfectly

What do you think?


February 16, 2009

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13.2-5)

Life has been a treasure trove of golden nuggets from God lately. I have been scribbling things down for the fast two weeks or so thinking, “This would be a great blog post!” That’s where my previous post came from and that’s where this one came from. While my previous post focused on the foot washing itself and proposed a modern day equivalent, I will now write about the prologue to the foot washing. We have a great picture here…Jesus is eating the evening Passover meal with his disciples. We learn that Judas has been prompted by the devil to betray Jesus, and then we read on through verses 3 and 4 to get the verse 5 where Jesus starts washing feet. But I think that is a case of putting the “emPHAsis on the wrong syLAble.” Language is funny in that sometimes phrases that are inserted to provide clarity can sometimes distract us from the focus of the sentence. I think this is what is happening here. Let’s take another look at these verses while temporarily setting aside a few parts.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power…


he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet.


What I take away from this is not that Jesus set aside his power and chose to wash his disciples feet. No, rather

Jesus <i><b>knew</b></i> full well his position as well as the power and authority that came with it

and it was <i><b>this</b></i> that moved him or caused him to serve.

Power led to service.

Authority led to humility.

Lordship led to love.

Oh, the tragedy that the world lives the antithesis of this.

Oh, the heartbreak that the church often does too.