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The original title of this exercise was, Beliefs I Have Outgrown. What, like the Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy, the Fat Red Fake with the Great White Beard? Sure, we all grow out of early beliefs; in those specific cases, the lies our parents and others tell us out of some strange need to… …to what? I do not, for the life of me, understand why people urge their children to believe patently false stories, only to later have the children find them sadly, untrue…?

I guess I’m hung up on what, in the original title is the “Have Outgrown” terminology. Mostly, my changes of belief have come more as conscious results of active, spirited wars between concepts, the sort of contest I had last winter with Scot Wolf over whether my political views impinge on or grow out of my approach to the scriptures. That was a spirited and useful discussion of the sort which can lead to significant changes or at least to greater clarity about a viewpoint already held. Either way, there is nothing incidental or peripheral about the changes. To “have outgrown” something is a more passive and less conscious experience than that. When I was twelve, the jacket fit  but when, at thirteen, I tried to put it on, my shoulders and arms were busting out: outgrown.

Do I have beliefs which I grew too big for, almost without noticing? I suppose in a decade-later replay of the Santa/Bunny motif, some nominal Christians, once they get some serious “schooling,” learn the “we-know-better-now” enlightenment ‘truths’ which put the lie to virgin birth, walking on water and the resurrection of the flesh from death. I suppose if I too was as cowed now by the superior meta-narrative of “scientistic” naturalism as I once was, I might excuse the extinguishing of my faith as, “Beliefs I Have Outgrown.” Note the past time-frame, the passive voice. The outgrowing is the active agent in this, it all just happens to me; I barely notice. I can hardly be held responsible for something which is just a part of growing up, of growing older and therefore, naturally wiser, now can I?

I guess I just take more responsibility for my beliefs than that. So perhaps Beliefs I No-longer Believe really is a better title for me: I did this not believing!

I once believed but no-longer believe:

  1. in supernatural events
  2. in drawing moral examples from the scriptures
  3. Jesus died to save me and others who believe but no one else
  4. we go to live in heaven forever when we die
  5. the flesh itself is sinful

 Here we go!

1. I no-longer believe in supernatural events

The whole thing about “supernatural” is that to believe in it you must also accept there is a “natural” realm, usually a clock-watch world where things go along “naturally,” until God chooses to “break in” with a “supernatural” event. When I read the scriptures I find a creation brought into being by powerful law-words of God which thereafter functions within regular, Word-of-God faithfulness but which is constantly open to God’s every new law-word of power. Heaven is always open to the prayers of God’s people. Yet, the results of prayer are not supernatural; they happen as obedient responses of creation to its maker and his people; they do not have to break some natural law to be obedient to God.

Further, all such extraordinary events should be and are open to human examination within the limits of human understanding of creation at any given time. Hence, we, today, can still only guess at how the waters piled up in the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 13-15) but we know pretty well how Joshua took Israel across the Jordan at flood stage (Joshua 3) because the same conditions have occurred on the Jordan River several times since and the same thing has happened each time. God is sovereign over his creation all the time.

2. I no-longer believe in drawing moral examples from the scriptures

I used to believe you could teach morality by showing the exemplary actions of various bible characters. Not any more. Apart from Jesus, only Daniel and Boaz (in Ruth) are depicted without any mention of serious, even deadly failures of conviction and/or practice. I have become convinced of what Fee and Stuart write, that the biblical narratives tell the story of how God moved forward the story of redemption in spite of the usually equivocating people through whom God chose to work. God had to rescue the story from Abraham, Samuel and David as much as through them. God is truly the only hero of the biblical story.

3. I no-longer believe Jesus died to save me and others who believe but no one else

I am at best a three-point Calvinist, if that.

  1. Total depravity,
  2. Unconditional election,
  3. Limited atonement,
  4. Irresistibility of the Holy Spirit,
  5. Perseverance of the saints.

That is the once-famous Dutch Calvinist T U L I P or “Five Points of Calvinism.” The point I no-longer believe at all concerns what in short-hand was called “Limited atonement,” the idea that Jesus died only for the sins of those who will respond in faith to the call of God’s Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus died to redeem the entire creation and everyone in it. Does that mean some for whom Jesus died may reject his offer of love? Yes, that is the risk we all take when we love, even God. Did God know who would receive love and who would reject it? God certainly could have known but it is clear in various places in the scriptures that God can limit what God knows for God’s own purposes. In any case, after reading and re-reading the story, over and over, I have become convinced that Jesus, obeying his father, whose will is that none should perish, freely died for every soul as well as for the reconciliation of all things to God; for the restoration of all creation.  And who knows where that might lead!

4. I no-longer believe we go to live forever in heaven when we die

Once I saw the central role of creation itself in the story of God, I realized God was not about getting rid of the earth as though it was a booster rocket, designed to be jettisoned on the way to greater heavenly places. Therefore, even though I may spend time in heaven – is there time in heaven? – until the great day of Jesus’ descent to reclaim all creation, my home is this creation itself, for which I was created and to which I hope to return some day, in my newly empowered flesh, with my in-the-flesh lord and king. The whole point of God’s redemption is the restoration of creation. When you read the whole Bible as a single story, you can see it always was.

5. I no-longer believe the flesh itself is sinful

Is there any kid in our culture that does not get the message early that his or her flesh, with all its urges and desires, is not somehow out-of-sync with God and heaven and the angels? Anyone who gets much church gets some of that crap. The problem, of course, is that sex and the other fleshly pleasures are so good and valuable within a truly godly life that it seems to be our enemy’s special purpose to wreck any such godly pleasure before it can even begin. And since fleshly pleasure is so often abused it should not surprise anyone that when we are young and impressionable we get the wrong impression, right up front.

But what of Paul’s use of “the flesh” to stand in for sin, especially in Romans? I have found myself in several “spirited discussions” with good people on this issue. Look at Paul carefully and you may see what I see. It is dependence, reliance on the flesh and a short-sighted satisfaction of the urges of the flesh apart from God’s will and ways that gets us in trouble. (This is especially hard to see in an NIV translation where the Greek word for flesh is sometimes badly translated as “sinful nature!”) It is sinful to rely on the flesh because, on its own, human flesh is weak, not evil. The sin which brings on evil is, as it most often is elsewhere, spiritual; that is, we are often driven by ungodly spirits of self-reliance, as well as by other wrong-way spirits, to sin.

So what do I know? Not much. I imagine quite a bit and I hope for a lot. My faith is in Jesus, who came in the flesh and who will, I suspect, make use of all individual, random and intentional, corporate faithful acts of his people to bring us toward the powerful consummation of all things. And when we are fully redeemed we will be powerful, fleshly creatures, in service of the God who came in the flesh!

Next post? The convictions I live by