Friends of ours bought a water slide for our kids for Christmas. Oh, what fun!

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sandpit

Maneesha and Dillon admiring dad's construction skills.

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Me and writing reviews

I find that I am not very good at writing book reviews so if you want to read a good review on The Shack read this one writen by my friend Chad Holtz. If you would like to know what I think of the book then read on…

Why I read such a “blasphemous” book:

My wife was given The Shack, writen by William P. Young, as a present and because of all the noise that has been made about it on some discernment blogs I decided to read it and see what all the hoo-ha is about. I strongly believe never to make up my mind, comment or speak my mind about something I have not investigated myself, so I decided to read it.

What is the book about?

Mackenzie Allen Phillips (Mack) is married to Nan and a father of three boys and two girls. During a camping trip with three of his children the youngest, Missy, is abducted and evidence found in an abandoned shack suggests that she is brutally murdered. After some years he gets invited back to the shack by a person named “Papa”, the name by which Mack’s wife calls God. At the shack God reveals himself in three persons to Mack. Papa, an African-American woman (The Father); Jesus, a Middle Eastern man (The Son) and an Eastern woman named Sarayu (The Holy Spirit). During his conversations with God and experiences Mack receives healing from his inner hurts to the point where he can forgive his father and the man who killed Missy.

So… What did I think about it?

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed reading the book. It is well written and engaging. It leaves one with that feeling that everything will be ok.

Young touches on a few controversial subjects and I think it is these that get him in trouble with the fundamentally minded folks.
The first subject is the sexuality (or rather the non-sexuality) of God. When God the Father reveals himself as a woman to Mack, Young challenges our premise that God the Father is male. Though Scripture refers to the Father in the male form I think there is a cultural (the patriarchal nature of the ancient cultures) reason for that. I think Scripture makes it clear that God neither male nor female.

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (NKJV)

John 4: 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (NKJV)

I think Young challenges this common idea in a very creative and respectful way. Later in the book, after Mack was able to forgive his father, God reveals himself as an older man to Mack explaining that Mack was open to relationship with God the Father thinking of Him as a male father figure.

 

The second subject is the fairylike, mystical nature of the Holy Spirit and given the name Sarayu in the book. Some people claim that the name Sarayu means goddess of the wind or something like that. I googled the name and this is what I came up with:

From Wikipedia:

The name is the feminine derivative of the Sanskrit root सर् sar “to flow”; as a masculine stem, saráyu- means “air, wind”, i.e. “that which is streaming”).

And from behindthename.com:

“Sarayu” is also a Sanskrit name of India which means “moving fast”, and also “air; wind”.

Then I searched the meaning of the word “pneuma” the Greek word used in the New Testament for the Spirit.

From Wikipedia:

Pneuma (πνεύμα) is an ancient Greek word for “breath,” given various technical meanings by medical writers and philosophers of antiquity, including:

Pneuma, “air in motion, breath, wind,” equivalent in the material monism of Anaximenes to aer (ἀήρ, “air”) as the element from which all else originated; the earliest extant occurrence of the term
Pneuma (ancient medicine), the circulating air that is necessary for the systemic functioning of vital organs, according to various medical writers of antiquity
The connate pneuma of Aristotle, the warm mobile “air” that in the sperm transmits the capacity for locomotion and certain sensations to the offspring
Pneuma (Stoic), the Stoic concept of the animating warm breath, in both the cosmos and the body

Pneuma also refers to:
The pneuma or “spirit” in Gnosticism
Pneuma, a concept of Christian pneumatology

Using the name Sarayu for the Holy Spirit is not that far off from the Greek word used in the New Testament, so I find no problem with that.

 

The third subject that strikes me is the nature of the relationship between the Trinity. On pages 121-124 Mack has a conversation with God:

(p121) “I mean,” Mack hurried on, “I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know, being obedient. I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit fits in exactly.”

(p122) “You know what I am talking about.” Mack was a little frustrated. “I am talking about who’s in charge. Don’t you have a chain of command?”
“Chain of command? That sounds ghastly!” Jesus said.
“At least binding,” Papa added as they both started laughing, and then Papa turned to Mack and sang, “Though chains be of gold, they are chains all the same.”

(p122 Sarayu speaking) “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem not ours.”

(p122 Jesus speaking) “It’s one reason why experiencing true relationship is so difficult for you,” Jesus added. “Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it.”

I agree with Young that there is equality in the Trinity, though from my understanding of Scripture there is some form of authority within the relationship of the Trinity and this comes from the following scriptures:

John 8:28 Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (NKJV)

Here Jesus says that He only does what the Father tells him which for me refers to some kind of authority that the Father has.

John 17:1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. (NKJV)

When Jesus says that the Father gives the authority it implicates that the Father has the authority to give to Jesus.

I however think that our understanding of authority is tainted by our fallen nature and we mostly misuse authority to lord over other people, getting them to do what we want. This is not in line with biblical authority which Jesus came to show us. He ruled with a towel (John 13) and through service gained authority. Biblical authority only comes through relationship and it is never forced onto someone, but rather a choice of submitting under authority like Jesus chose to submit to the authority of the Father.
Young also touches on the theme of Universal Restoration which has become a theme that I think a lot of these last few months. I am still gathering my thoughts on this subject and hope to write something about this new journey I find myself on very soon.

My conclusion

I think Young did an excellent job of telling a story of pain, forgiveness and healing. He presents God as approachable and ultimately good. As far as the theology that is presented through this tale, I do not agree with him on every point but he is no heretic

Mine must be higher...

Mine must be higher...

Doctrine – the explication and officially acceptable version of a religious teaching. The development of doctrines and dogmas has significantly affected the traditions, institutions, and practices of the religions of the world. Doctrines and dogmas also have influenced and been influenced by the ongoing development of secular history, science, and philosophy.

And from the American Heritage Dictionary:

Theology –

  1. The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions.
  2. A system or school of opinions concerning God and religious questions: Protestant theology; Jewish theology.
  3. A course of specialized religious study usually at a college or seminary.

 

(In this discussion I often group the concepts of doctrine and theology together and refer to both when the word “doctrine” is used except when noted otherwise.)

We humans are limited, God is unlimited; our knowledge limited while God is omniscient. We form theologies to try to understand an infinite Being and doctrines to try to explain how He relates to us and how we should relate to Him. Because we are limited in our knowledge these doctrines and theologies fall far short to describe this wonderful unlimited Being we know and recognise as God almighty. Yet we claim our doctrine or theology better and more perfect than the next person’s. We group ourselves with others with the same doctrine/theology and the more people we assemble around the same the more perfect we claim it to be. If someone dares to question some small part of our sacred doctrine we launch out in full attack and claim their doctrine to be at worst heretical or best erroneous. We are like children building towers with building blocks and the highest claims to be best. When another threatens to be higher we’ll throw a tantrum and try to knock theirs over.

We have an inherent need for God and try to reach out to Him and His perfection (Acts 17:27). With these doctrines and theologies we try to reach the perfection of God just like the people who built the tower of Babel.  We try to reach to the heavens.

Genesis 11:4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (NIV)

Now here is the catch. God stooped down from heaven, became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, walked among men, died on a cross and rose from the dead. All that is needed to reach out to God is belief in Christ Jesus and submitting under His Lordship. That is it. Nothing more than this.

In building our towers of doctrine higher we are missing the point. God is not to be found somewhere up there where the highest, most perfect tower can reach. He is to be found in the humility of surrender.

Doctrine and theology is useful because it help us understand (to a certain extent) what we belief. It is useful in figuring out how we should live out this submission to Christ and conduct ourselves while we do not know in full (1 Corinthians 13:12). But it is not essential for salvation.

My prayer is that God will knock us off of our towers of doctrine and that we will fall into His grace that is able to save and restore.

 

 

Sometimes I feel that I just don’t get it. Things just doesn’t make sense. Faith doesn’t make sense. God doesn’t make sense. Yesterday I saw some light. Well… I should rather say I was reminded of the comforting knowledge that I am not the only one feeling this way. On the blog CRN.Info Jerry answered a question from Neil. His answer struck me because it resonated with me on so many levels and explained how I feel in much better words than I could ever put together. With Jerry’s permission I repost his reply here.

_____________________________

Neil: “Would you expound on the relationship between “certainty” and “desperation.”?”

Jerry: Neil,

You know what it is? Last week I was at a camp with four kids from KCU. One has a 13 year old brother whose body is riddled with tumors.

I have a brother whose 30 year old brain is being crushed by a tumor. He is 30 years old and cannot control his piss any longer, eats paper, wanders aimlessly around the house. In short, he’s dying. 30.

I am about to take on a mortgage for my family, rejoice in God’s blessing, while others in the world are starving. Rejoice in all things, he says. And yet, I want this house so bad for my wife and sons and I shouldn’t feel badly that I have to have a place to live and that after 14 years of preaching I’m tired of living in a parsonage which provides nothing for my future or family.

I believe in Creation and the theological importance of such a belief. But what if Darwin was right? (I”m not interested in debating this so please spare me.) And why is what’s so obvious to me so hazy to others? (I’m not interested in debating so please don’t bother. Here I’m sharing those ‘certainties’ and ‘desperations.’)

What about all the lost? The Calvinist escapes this fear and angst by attributing all the lost to God’s just election. I cannot do that. Every person that dies without Christ tears me apart. What about hell? I don’t want to imagine it in any way.

What if David never really did exist?

What if I die some glad morning and I don’t have the requisite wings to fly away?

What if my sons grow older and end up hating God like my youngest brother does?

Why won’t my church grow even though I am preaching Sola Scriptura? Why does one man in the church continually harp on me about the length of the worship? Why have I been stuck preaching in small churches since the day I graduated while many of my peers have done far more?

Even on the mountain when Jesus ascended some doubted. The problem I have is that sometimes doubts have no answers.

Why have I had to struggle the way I have had to struggle with certain sins? No matter the prayers. No matter the faith. No matter the resistance. Struggle. Struggle. Struggle.

You know what it is? Grace. I cannot, no matter how much I believe and preach it, understand God’s grace. I am desperately clinging to that grace. Desperately.

PS. I don’t get dispensationalism either. Then again, I don’t get mathematics. I cannot reconcile Calvinism with Scripture and yet there are some who see nothing but ‘Calvinism.’ I don’t get ‘Left Behind’ and yet some see nothing but Left Behind. I play guitar and sing, but I don’t understand music. I am desperate.

But I’m learning that I am more desperate for Jesus than I am for answers.

I’m learning to live in the ambiguity of it all. Isn’t it strange that God could have give us straight answers–like the straight forward Laws of Leviticus–and yet he chose more often than not to give us ambiguity? Am I the only one who finds that strange, dissatisfying, and completely unfair?

I guess that’s what faith is about, huh?

jerry

Sorry for the long reply. Maybe this song is helpful to explain my position:

Well, sometimes my life
Just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small

So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin

You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

–Rich Mullins

I had this Sunday off from church, the first in quite a long time. I took the opportunity to go to the Walmer Methodist Church. It was a very pleasant experience. The sermon was out of Psalm 61 – how David handled difficult situations. It was very relevant in the current South African situation.

Psalm 61

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.

 1 Hear my cry, O God;
       listen to my prayer.

 2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
       I call as my heart grows faint;
       lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

 3 For you have been my refuge,
       a strong tower against the foe.

 4 I long to dwell in your tent forever
       and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
       Selah

 5 For you have heard my vows, O God;
       you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

 6 Increase the days of the king’s life,
       his years for many generations.

 7 May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
       appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

 8 Then will I ever sing praise to your name
       and fulfil my vows day after day.

Dillon the Engineer

Afterwards we went to the Port Elizabeth’s Model Railway Society which runs their trains every first Sunday of the month. From the moment we drove through the gate I felt like a child again. To say Dillon and me were mesmerised is an understatement. The amount of detail that is in these locomotives is just mind boggling. It was also one of the cheapest family outings imaginable – R3,50 per ride. Dillon gave every locomotive names as he saw fit – Thomas, Emily, James…
Maneesha was just as impressed and was a bundle of laughter all day long, waiving to all the people at the side of the track.

 

 

Today was one of those days that will stand out in my life.

It has already been said many times by many people that the Bible is a book of faith and not of science and I agree with that. If we are going to apply some scientific method to the Bible to prove it or pitch it against some scientific theory it is going to lose every time.

 

The Bible requires faith to believe it and it is not the same kind of faith needed to believe a scientific theory. The kind of faith needed to believe the Bible as spiritual truth is that kind of faith that resonates deep within you when you know something is true. That kind of faith that the Holy Spirit gives. The Bible speaks of a measure of faith given to us. Faith to believe in science is rational thought faith. Things making sense. A theory or idea corresponding with what is already known to be true or that is observed. If we try to use this kind of faith to prove the truth of the Bible we end up being the ridicule of the world and then we get defensive and start using the Bible as a weapon against people.

 

So can the Bible and science work together? I think it is a resounding “yes”. The Bible teaches us about God’s nature and His relationship to His creation. Science teaches us how God’s creation works. Both points towards God and should be observed and learned from.

 

An example of this is the creation account of Genesis. I understand from my theologically trained friends that this account is in the form of a Hebrew poem. So that should tell us that it should not be understood as a literal account. Not being literal does make it less true though. We should just know which truths can be learned from it and which not. Truths we can learn from it are:

 – God created

 – He created for a purpose

 – Humans are created in His image

 – God is relational

 – Many more…

Truths that cannot be learned from it are:

 – By what method God created

 – In what time frame God created

 – What systems God put in place to sustain and develop His creation

 – Probably a lot more that I can’t think about now

 

Bottom line – God is real, and He stands in relationship with His creation and He redeems fallen creation by the work of Jesus Christ. Can I prove it? No but I believe it without a doubt.