The Curse of the How To…

Web 2.0 with it’s user generated content has made just about every form of knowledge available. Everything is on the web. Everything! Rote memory belongs right next to dinosaurs in museums: why bother memorising anything when we have search engines? In depth learning is out on the trash heap too: why bother learning about fundamental principles when typing “How to” on a search engine yields the information needed right here and right now? Tragically, we treat the Bible in the same way.

Genesis 1 is no longer a creation narrative but a creation doctrine. Proverbs’ poetry is now a field pocket guide, it’s panoramic view is now a bullet list of daily survival tips. Daniel’s ever deepening experience with God, leading to a theophany has become a PowerPoint presentation of predictions. We are only interested in immediate gratification and thus, a book meant to point us to God is reduced to a religious search engine. Don’t open your mouth too wide in shock when you find that a lot of Bible thumpers know very little of it’s content.

1 Peter is not a “How to survive persecution” guide, it is a heartfelt letter encouraging the faithful to draw from Jesus’ resurrection, encouragement to live on purpose for God in the very fire of persecution. It is a letter pointing the believers not to religious escapism, or militance but to Christ infused humble perseverance. We are not to called to be cowering doormats but neither are we called to put on bandoleers and light the fires of revolution. We are called to spread the vivifying fire of the gospel to those around us, being careful to not lose sight of the Source.
2 Peter is not a white paper on heresy but an exhortation to hold to the Truth and Blessed Hope by calmly weighing the evidence of Scripture instead of mindlessly following heresies. God didn’t start the universe and leave it running while He went off to play a round of celestial golf, He is actively involved in leading us to a glorious existence. This glorious future is not a distant utopia that we dream of when life gets hard but a reality that we can begin enjoying here. Heaven is for those who have it in their hearts. Only those who walk daily with Christ can bear to live with Him in eternity. If Jesus bores you now, there is no future magic wand that will turn you to Him… You must choose Him, every day.
A “How to…” approach to the Bible can be helpful but it can never bring the same benefit as soaking in it and letting it reach every nook and cranny of your soul can. Jesus is more than a handyman, He is our resurrected Lord and He has availed all we need to live full lives and a whole lot more.
photo credit: perzonseo Woman using her iphone at home office via photopin (license)

Syringes in the Pews

“An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”
(C. S. Lewis. “The Screwtape Letters.”)

The only high you ever enjoy is your first one; you spend the rest of your life trying, in vain, to repeat it. That is addiction in brief. In contrast, an apple always tastes like an apple should, if it doesn’t, you throw it away. As if dependence and addiction weren’t bad enough, each hit leaves you worse off than before – physically, emotionally, mentally and financially. There is a type of drug often imbibed in our pews today: Continue reading

Ravenous (Part 2): What Will You Do?

The church’s ceiling reverberated with cheerful singing of saints converged to worship God. A baton blurred in the chorister’s vigorous hand, bidding the saints sing with more gusto. The piano keys undulated beneath the pianists skilled fingers as the last chorus of the happy hymn burst forth from throats filled with exultant praise. The joy they felt was genuine, palpable even. This was no chore. There was no drudgery. Everyone was happy. Everyone that is, except Continue reading

Heresy Isn’t All Bad

“The problem with the church today,” the man declared with the finality of absolute certainty, “is that we spend too much time discussing opinions. We need to follow what the Bible teaches and then we can agree on everything.” Filled with a growing sense of horror and feeling that familiar tightening of goosebumps, I took a moment to compose myself before giving my reply,

“The day we all agree on everything as a church is the day I leave because that is one of the warning signs of a cult. Even the Bible has four distinct Gospels.”

I am thankful for the presence of false teachers in the church because this presence is a sign that freedom still exists in our church. True love can only thrive when it breathes in an atmosphere of freedom. Truth can only be accepted by choice. Those who take it up on themselves to weed the church will do little but deface it as they form it in their own defective image.

I am also grateful for the presence of heresy in the church because the heated debates that it generates, forces all to think for themselves and carry out their own investigation. The ability, no, the impetus to think creatively and responsibly alter our environment is part of the image of God within us. We are never more Godly in character than when we seek understanding in order to affect our environment for the good of everybody in it. A system of religion that treats individual thought and understanding as inherently dangerous is antithetical to God’s purpose of making and remaking humanity in His image.

That is why I failed to maintain my attempt at nonchalance when a pastor addressing our youth group (at a church in Zimbabwe) told us to only accept teaching from South American and African theologians because the rest were apostate. After he nodded at my raised hand, I asked him if protecting an atmosphere of free thinking wouldn’t protect us from becoming a dangerous cult. His reply was affirmative but he added that discussion without conclusion isn’t progressive. I wondered to myself how meaningful discussion would be possible with his regional stereotypes while I noticed that since that discussion, he never looked at me without apprehensive suspicion marking his face.

Peter’s description of false teachers struck close to home because in my part of the world, cultural theology is ever in vogue. In most discussions, it becomes apparent that African traditional culture has worn a Christian garb and walked into the church. I don’t eschew all aspects of African traditional culture and find much to admire in it. However, African traditional culture has aspects that are antithetical to Christ’s mission. One of these, is the fatalistic, almost coercive subjugation to the will of authority.

The authorities are always right, especially when they are so wrong. This attitude latches onto Bible verses and twists them to suit it’s purposes. Resistance to change is bolstered with references to verses warning against causing the “weaker brethren” to stumble and of course, those instructing young people to respect their seniors. Parts of the Bible instructing parents not to provoke children and showing the progressive revelation of God’s will are stressed begrudgingly if at all.

Peter says false teachers can be identified by their slavery to sin evidenced by their proclivity to hedonistic behaviour. In my part of the world, cultural theology has shown its bankruptcy through unfettered sexual promiscuity in the clergy and laity alike, corruption at all levels of so called Christian societies and most disconcertingly, in a steadily growing apathy and hostility of young people to the church.

Extensive volumes could be written about the spiritual dysfunction created by the attempt to uncritically fuse incompatible aspects of African traditional culture and Christianity but the problem, and the solution lies in critically examining any teaching and asking,

1. How does this bring me closer to God?
2. How does this make me a better person?
3. How does this make me an objectively better person to live with?
4. How does this prepare me for the life to come?

photo credit: JeromeG111 Polygraph or Lie Detector via photopin (license)