Faith Does Not Compute

Here we take a short tour through the history of Western Christian theology. Our attention is focused on the business of fallen nature and human reason.

First, we have to understand that Hebrew Scriptures assume a wholly different anthropology from what is common in the West. On the one hand, both use figures of speech, but use them differently. In ancient Hebrew culture, human nature is divided up differently and associated with different parts of the body as mere symbolism. When it comes to understanding human behavior, it really didn’t matter whether the mind was literally rooted in the brain — there were too many other factors in human nature that affected how the brain worked. In other words, Hebrew culture downplayed the importance of intellect compared to the Western image of it.

Second, there was a radical difference in cosmology, too. While the particulars varied among the multiple Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) civilizations, of which Hebrew is one, there was a common thread of belief in a distinct and separate spirit realm that was invisible to the senses. We cannot overemphasize how radically different this is from the Western assumption that this universe is all there is. The Greeks had no trouble with the idea that deities and demons were invisible, but such beings were still confined to this universe. Greeks honestly believed that it was possible to find a physical entrance to both the homes of the gods and the abode of the dead.

So deeply does this stain Western thought that you can discern the influence in Western Christianity. Early in Church history we find the official church teaching that human reason is not fallen.

Let’s see how the ANE viewpoint is expressed in Jeremiah 17. Starting in verse 5 God is castigating Judah for departing from the Covenant (the Northern Kingdom was already long gone at this point). In particular, He refers to the “heart” as the center of one’s will, the seat of commitment or faith. There is a specific reference to the kidneys as the seat of human motives, and it’s often translated in English as “reins” or “mind.” His point comes right up front: cursed is the man who trusts in human capabilities alone. Blessed is the man who humbly trusts in God for moral truth. Without redemption, the heart of commitment is wicked. In that state, no one can subject their lesser faculties to the higher faculty that should be in the heart. There is no sense of conviction, so the heart is effectively just as fallen and broken as the rest of such a man.

This is echoed in Romans 3, particularly in verses 9-18. Paul indicates that a covenant identity never kept Jews from being just as wicked and sinful as the worst of heathens. Paul goes on to assert that without redemption, there is nothing good possible arising from human capabilities. It was always a matter of divine grace. Western Christians are completely mistaken in thinking Jesus introduced a new concept in John 3 when He spoke of spiritual birth. We can find references to that symbolism throughout ANE religious writings. Without “a spirit of the gods” within us, we are doomed. Nicodemas as so Hellenized that he had completely forgotten the mystical roots of Hebrew culture. For him, there was no separate realm of the Spirit; everything was confined to his universe. Redemption was merely to earthly Jewish identity.

Even when we find Western church teachings about spiritual birth, we find that the net effect it is merely a changed mind. Somehow being more spiritual means nothing more than a different cerebral track. It’s a conversion of mind only, in the sense that religious leaders are looking for symptoms of orthodoxy. We find them saying in effect that “Jesus in your heart” equals “right belief and practice.” And that right religion always seems to look like the one that the present leadership espouses. “If you don’t believe and act like me, you ain’t born-again.” For non-evangelical traditions, it’s more like, “We are the arbiters or what God says, so if you don’t agree with us, you haven’t heard from God.”

This is precisely the fatal flaw in Judaism, and it goes all the way back to Jeremiah’s prophecy. Judah was at that time facing Babylon’s rampaging conquest. The Judean leadership insisted that, since the Temple inside the walls was God’s House, they were safe. Would God allow heathens to dirty His carpet? Was not this Hebrew nation God’s Chosen? Jeremiah was telling them that it didn’t matter where the Temple stood. It also didn’t matter their proximity to it; the nation had moved too far away from God’s protection in their hearts. Their faith, their feudal loyalty, was in something other than Jehovah.

In Hebrew thinking, spiritual birth does not change what you are, but who you are. It opens the door for a personal communion with our Creator so that His power can mitigate the Fall. Thus, spiritual birth is not some magic that changes the ideas in your head; it changes your heart — it registers as a sense of identity and commitment. You aren’t buying into a different package of human identity, but leaving all of that behind for an identity rooted in the Spirit Realm. Christ said His kingdom is not of this world. There can be no earthly kingdom of Christ; there can be no Christian nation. In this world there can be only provisional associations of fellow believers, acting like family in an eastern feudal setting. We as Christians are brothers and sisters with no earthly father. We are away from Home working together in a foreign realm. We don’t colonize; we offer adoptions out of this world.

Meanwhile, the only people who actually understand this world are those who belong outside of it. The only people who hold a valid assessment of human nature are those who denounce and renounce it. Only when we are linked to the Spirit Realm do we find communion with the rest of Creation. We still face the same natural world, but now are friends with it, not alienated from it in some god-forsaken mythology of something must be defeated, tamed and enslaved to our will.

Reason cannot be reformed. It can be properly subjected to faith, but you won’t see that often in organized Christian religion. Instead, we see the whole matter of “faith” as better belief and action, and “spirituality” as mere education and training. Theology is data; faith is much more.

Set the Captives Free

The longer I look at it, the more I cannot imagine that my mission is pivotal in God’s work among humans.

Let me reiterate some things my regular readers already know. The gospel message is freedom. It’s the opposite of sectarianism. While a great many Christian denominations use terminology like that, what they mean is that there should be no sects other than their own. “Everyone should be free to do it our way. Who could want anything else?” The problem is that they keep religion a slave to reason. Thus, whatever “freedom” means, it has to pass through the filter of reason — and we all know that reason is the conscious cover story our minds offer for very unreasonable personal wishes.

It is utterly impossible for reason to fill in the blanks of ultimate moral purpose; reason must start from certain moral assumptions and those always rest on the individual’s personal collective mythology. Need we note again that said mythology is itself a moving target? It is simply not possible for any human to be objective. We are all born with an instinct to propagate our genes; most of us are born with a certain drive to propagate our personal mythology. But only a few of us are born with the talents to make either form of propagation happen on a wide scale (and those two talents are often found in the same person). These folks honestly believe: “My way is God’s way.” Thus is born a particular brand of religion that sweeps in larger numbers of people.

And people are taught to disregard some of their own personal mythology in order to participate in some grand vision of conquest. “Everyone should taste the privilege of living like I do.” We see this in secular politics; religion never escapes politics. Despite words to the contrary, nobody in the religious propagation business really wants to make room for significant variations in reasoning and explanation. This reluctance is wired into the culture itself. There is this a priori assumption that it can’t be worth the trouble unless the results bring in large numbers under one single Great Man’s leadership. A part of the Curse of the Fall is an endless supply of human demigods.

Instead of boring you with yet another recounting of my long journey through madness, I’ll cut to the chase and remind you that coming out the other end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was possible for me only by tossing aside the primacy of human reason and the instinct to lead. Do not follow me. Don’t trade your old demigod for some dream of making me into another one. My mission is to destroy that very thing. What I really want to do is set you free to find Christ on your own path. I’m fully confident that Christ in your heart can lead you where He wants you to go without my interference. I’m just along for the ride.

But this is no small task. It’s made all the larger for all the cultural mythology that demands we cling to a false definition of “holiness.” If there’s one idea that comes from Satan, it’s the truculent insistence that “truth” has to result in one concrete intellectual construction. It’s the big lie that this concrete physical universe, which we experience through our senses and grasp through our reason, is the sum total of all that is. It’s that endless quest for more data so we can nail down what can be, and thus what ought to be. Whatever is meant by “truth” must be some static, dead and cold “reality.” Even when we get people to admit that there could be other realms of existence, they still insist that whatever we can learn from any other realm must result in one single concrete answer here.

And all the while, this “here” is not concrete in any way. That “concrete objective reality” is the ultimate lie of the Devil. The world seems to have somehow agreed to that one underlying assumption, even in the face of vast unresolvable disputes about how we shall define that concrete reality. So we have endless wars because we all agree that there can only be one definition of concrete reality, but we cannot agree on what it is. That’s crazy.

But because everyone buys that fundamental lie, we end up finding ourselves under threat of force to buy one or another false mythology. So we all band together with others, buying into one or another great myth so we can stand together and fight back. Nobody seems to notice how the New Testament taught that we should just nod our heads and salute whatever flag someone runs up the pole because we don’t really care. The reason we don’t care is that we are conscious that this whole thing is one big lie. We play along with the game because we aren’t in a position to reach inside other people’s heads and turn on the light of revelation. Only God does that.

And His chosen instrument for that process is each of us living by our own provisional reality, consciously aware that no two of us have the same answer. But most of all, we are aware that no two us should have the same answer, simply because we cannot. God reveals Himself differently and individually to each of us. We would not dare tell God what He has to show anyone else. Nor would we dare to demand that the net result of revelation in some soul should come out with a concrete reality that looks the same as ours.

Yet by the very miracle of agreeing that we should not see things alike, we are able to unite in a bond of faith stronger than any shared identity mere men can dream up. We find fellowship and communion, ties of compassion and affection, and we worship the same Creator and Savior and Power to live in this Shadowland of lies and deceit. This world is the prison of souls.

So if there’s one thing I want you to remember me for, it’s that I helped you break out of the prison.

A Shift in Emphasis

This is a “get to know me” post.

I really thought I was coming home from Europe to become a church pastor. I had been ordained for a decade and had been quite well received by the chapel folks in the military. But as soon as I got back to the US, I ran into all kinds of trouble. So I distracted myself for awhile in secular education work, but then I really stirred up trouble, so I quit that work. Once I had time for contemplation and study, I found myself completely out of place in the mainstream of religion. The harder I tried to make things work, the more they broke. It finally hit me that I had long been an outsider, so I began reaching out to those who had been similarly disenfranchised from religion.

That’s how my online ministry started. The virtual nomadic hunter-gatherer life was far more fruitful in spiritual terms, while the domesticated fields were full of toxic rot. This engagement of the fringes manifested in all sorts of ways — switching to Linux and Unix, learning about obscure networking stuff, developing a writing style to captured like-minded readers. But in the process I began turning over a lot old rocks and ruins, and discovered that whatever “mainstream” meant, it was all very wrong. I moved farther afield and discovered that a lot of non-Christian folks were using stuff that reflected the more ancient biblical viewpoint. A lot of real weirdos and kooks starting hanging out with me (in virtual space).

Too be honest, I really believed we could still find some place to stand near the mainstream, if not inside of it. But after more and very consistent rejections, I gave up on that. It was pretty lonely for awhile, because nearly everyone who really liked what I was doing were people I’ll likely never meet face to face.

Those who were too conventional became scared off by my explorations. You should imagine that process brought even more radical changes in my outlook. Eventually, I began to discover where I really belonged. Oddly enough, this space became its own new “mainstream” in the sense that I was ready to starting working on a whole new society. In other words: While I was at one time reaching out to marginalized folks, there came a point when I moved out there on the margin and put down roots. So now I’m reaching back into the mainstream to pull out folks who need to escape. The field of focus remains folks who are marginalized, but it’s people who aren’t self-consciously so. They aren’t standing out on the margins intentionally. This change wasn’t a conscious decision process; I’m not self-absorbed enough to think I can create a new reality all by myself. This thing coalesced around me bit by bit. Now I look around and realize I’m not alone; I’m not some kook raging in the wilderness. There’s a village growing up around me.

And that village keeps looking at me for clues. Personally I wonder if they haven’t all made some huge mistake, because I’m not sure I can do them that much good. But this thing persists and I refuse to just run away. This is where I belong, so if you’re going to keep hanging around, let’s try to make the most of it. This is what’s behind the recent series on building a new Christian Culture. The interaction I get seems to call for this kind of effort and no one else seems to be working on the question.

Christian Culture

A covenant with God breeds a culture.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a Christian Culture, something that is uniquely representative of following Christ. Our problem here in America is that it’s more American than Christian.

The First Century churches did pursue a Christian Culture, a lifestyle based on the Covenant of Christ. Jesus warned that the existing Jewish culture of His day was wrong, having long departed from the Hebrew culture of ancient times. While His teaching didn’t exactly resurrect those ancient Hebrew ways, it did pull from them a significant cultural orientation, a way of looking at life which led to a unique expression of faith in His message and His redemption.

The apostolic leaders in Acts 15 made it plain that whatever this culture should be, it couldn’t be Talmudic-Jewish culture. It could be the more ancient Mosaic culture, but that was not appropriate for Gentiles. So they decided it could include a broader Noahic culture. There was no real conflict between Moses and Noah. These apostles essentially ordered the Jewish Christians to change the boundaries to include the rest of the world, pretty much on the same terms Israel would have included the Gentile nations as allies and fellow worshipers of Jehovah. By the same token, Gentile believers were required to make allowances for the stricter rules Jewish believers preferred.

Thus, the boundaries were made flexible, but they were still there. In the New Testament we see repeatedly a command to examine the written records of the two Law Covenants and understand how they can clarify what faith demands. Law demonstrates faith. Certainly not all the rituals of ancient times would fit into this new Christian culture. One major element was that Christ was the one and only sacrifice, so no more flames on the altar. Instead, the business of supporting the priestly ritual leadership and shared worship facilities, always a part of the Law in the past, became the focus of offerings. That’s because the fundamental issue of being God’s People, a living offering for His use, was still written into this lifestyle.

We know that it wasn’t long before the Judaizers corrupted the early churches, seducing Christians into making the same error as Israel — adopting legalism as the proper approach to religion. Thus, not long after the First Century closed, Christian religion began to lose the mystic fervor of faith and was reduced to empty formalism. By the 300s AD the churches were further seduced into surrendering to government control. And when the Germanic Tribes swept into Europe, the institutional church further compromised their doctrine to embrace the Germanic cultural viewpoint. Another few centuries and the formal church hierarchy was part of the government itself.

Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. He reigns in the hearts of people who do not cling to this world. The institutional church in the West was wholly a creature of the world around them.

From that time forward, organized Christian religion in the West has always been some reflection of the ambient political and cultural orientation. Today we have no valid Christian Culture, though that term is used for something that is just another flavor of the culture outside the church. There are no uniquely Christian values at work any more, just legalistic misrepresentations of New Testament teaching. American Christian culture is just a New Testament Talmud.

We have a unique opportunity here. America as it once was is dead; even now the whole thing is passing away. Granted, most people aren’t going to notice, but it’s not hard to see. Something else is rising to take its place. While it’s impossible that we should somehow hijack this thing, we can certainly take advantage of the turmoil to pull back and start fresh. No, we cannot recreate everything we know about those First Century churches, but we can learn from how they abstracted the model of culture from the Law Covenants, and carry out that mission again.

Let’s allow this fake American Christian Culture to die, and leave it in the ashes of history where it belongs.

Tell Them You Love Me

(This constitutes a fundamental teaching in our religion.)

My aspiration is your affection.

Mysticism presumes that what really matters is beyond words. We cannot possibly transmit truth, but we can fellowship in our shared truth via human communications. That requires a certain shared contextual language and culture. Our context militates against mysticism, but we agree to use the imagery of our culture against itself. We pretend to share in the culture only so we can tear it down, at least in the sense that we agree not to take it too seriously in its claims about itself. We use it with a knowing wink.

There is a mythology in our culture that human greatness matters. The concept in itself is abused. Even if we accept for a moment the pretense of objectivity as a goal of our cultural vehicle, “greatness” is defined as holding personal significance to a substantial number of other people. It’s contextual, of course. We could say that someone is a “great man” within the context of some discussion, knowing that his greatness won’t easily translate outside that particular realm. But the whole idea is to preempt any need to examine the fellow in any detail, just presume he’s approved and start paying attention to what he says and does.

It’s a form of certification, a license to hold attention. I don’t want one of those, so don’t ever tell someone I’m a great anything. Tell people you love me — or hate me, or don’t give a damn. All that other person needs to know is wrapped up in the context of your personal affection for me. There is nothing objective about this because I can do nothing at all for anyone from the grounds of objectivity. The whole point of my sense of who I am is to combat the myth of objectivity, so a part of that is combating the myth of human greatness. If you’re going to pay attention to me, it’s because something totally subjective calls your name.

Otherwise, it can’t bless you.

The great blessings of God come with the presumption that we enjoy them in a flawed context. Further, our greatest blessing is actually the company of flawed people. There aren’t any other kind of people, so we have to build a counterculture that presumes to love anyway. Notice that this is not despite flaws, but in part because of the flaws, for it is the mixture of flaw and goodness that gives us our identity.

So we make much of transparency about those flaws.

Now, we also need to take a moment to revisit the issue of privacy versus secrecy. Generally, a secret is something kept from your awareness that has at least the potential to affect you. A private matter has no effect on you. The same detail of information can move from private to secret depending on your involvement. There is plenty you’ll probably never know about me, if only because there’s no way I can put it into words. But the closer you get to me, the more access you have to my privacy because it starts to affect you.

You really do not need the burden of knowing and processing something that won’t affect you. Thus, my sense of privacy protects both of us. There are things I really don’t want to know about you, either. Some stuff becomes clutter that hinders a proper moral focus. It’s an art to distinguish, and we justly rely on the heart for the wisdom to decide something like that.

Of particular interest in all of this is when someone feels driven or pulled into religious leadership. That presumes a certain moral probity, a certain moral authority — a certification of sorts that justifies their claim to a hearing on the matters of religion and morality.

But the defining issue is not the leader’s personal moral perfection, but their transparency. You really do need to know enough about them to place their message in context. In our culture, though, this is a lie. In fact, it’s a really big lie. It’s hard to find someone in religious leadership who is even permitted to assume that kind of transparency. Their followers are typically dragging around this baggage of “speak no evil of the leader” who is universally proclaimed “a great man”.

My personal experience hanging out with religious leaders bears this out. You would think they were eager to confess their flaws in private because they would get into trouble for a wider transparency. So once I manage to wander inside their circle of leadership, they unload all sorts of things they simply cannot say from the pulpit. And the difference between the private person and the public face is often shocking. I found it the most revolting aspect of working in church leadership.

I’m driven so hard to fight this beast that I have often said and done things that shocked the flock. In the context, it was embarrassing only in that I might feel forced to buy into the mythology, if only for the moment. Once I got away from that atmosphere, my own convictions justified my divulgence. I’m reluctant to treat anyone like a pig who can’t use any pearls.

Whatever you do, don’t call me a “great man;” just tell people you love me.

Keep It in the Heart

The Ancient Near East in general, and the Hebrew people in particular, bore an ancient legacy of the heart-mind. While it’s obvious not everyone was heart-led, it is also obvious that Scripture took seriously the existence of the heart-mind as the core of human awareness in this world. Thus, we see frequent references to a “purity of heart” that translates roughly to a clarity of commitment.

So the entire Law of Moses presumes the heart as the highest faculty of human awareness. You could obey the Law without it and probably get by in a Covenant Nation, but you would never understand what the Law was for. It was designed to prepare the mind for proper obedience from the heart. It conditioned the mind to think along the lines of the moral fabric in Creation, God’s moral character. Thus, the mind was properly prepared to respond and implement from this frame of reference the demands of conviction.

Paul assumes this heart-led awareness in his writing. Not that he expected every Gentile to already have it, but that his writing makes little sense without first engaging that higher faculty. His writing presumes an awareness of the very personal nature of things. Not subjective as Western minds conceive of it, but that Creation was alive, and that all things in it were alive; every human experience bore a life of its own. He presumes you understand that spirituality was not cerebral, but a personal and living communion with God. Justice cannot be objectified, but is inherently a matter of personal communion with the Person of God. It’s organic and alive; that’s the nature of reality. Nothing is inert and passive in that worldview. The dominating assumption about reality is that all things are alive and in some sense sentient. That’s the logic on which the heart operates.

Thus, we follow Christ — not as a body of principle, but as a living Person who might as well be walking alongside us every moment of the day. He is the ultimate expression of what the Law meant to offer us. I wrote in my notes on Galatians:

Paul lays the theological foundation for declaring the Law of Moses dead. This is not about good deeds in general, but specifically about the Law of Moses and particularly as expressed in Pharisaical teachings. While we might find that the original Law of Moses symbolized a path to spiritual truth, the Law itself was not that truth. To further remove the Law by making it an empty ritualistic observance as practiced by the Pharisees was utterly pointless. That sort of religion was wholly an effort by man to please a false god of human imagination, a perverted image blasphemously labeled “Jehovah.”

The Law was a gateway, awakening the need for spiritual redemption. Observing Moses had nothing to do directly with saving souls from eternal damnation. It was a system by which deeper truth could be discovered, but the system required a nation to live it. Israel failed miserably, losing it for herself and for everyone who should have looked to them for answers. Pharisaism only deepened their loss. For that reason, God sent His Son to pay the price for our sins, to make a path to come before Him and receive His holiness as a grant of grace. Christ joined lawful and faithful living into a continuity with eternity. A new standard of holiness would arise from a completely new covenant. Every element of the Old Covenant was under review; the Talmud was rejected flatly as a perversion before that process began. Pharisaical Jews doing their best according to the Talmud stand doubly condemned. If God requires that they find their salvation by faith in Christ, how could returning to the Pharisaical Law bring any hope to Gentiles? For a Christian to cling to the Talmud was saying Jesus sponsored sin.

Today we hardly suffer the infestation of the Judaizers as in those days. Instead, most of the mainstream Christian religion is so deeply Judaized that we have to start from scratch all over again. And with the First Century Christians, we don’t organize to dismantle the old dead religion, but we simply move away and hope to attract a few who might notice that we aren’t under that bondage any longer. I don’t know if we should expect a fresh wave of “Judaizers” to infiltrate our work these days, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Keep it in the heart and keep it mystical.

Factions and Sects

After the initial opening in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul immediately jumps into condemning sectarian divisions in verse 10 and following.

It’s not hard to understand. The Corinthians detected intellectual variations in how the different apostles taught and preached. And why not? Paul was a bilingual PhD Pharisee, Apollos was an Alexandrian scholar, Peter was no kind of scholar at all, and Christ clung to Ancient Hebrew thinking. But in the cerebral approach of the Corinthians to matters of religion, different styles meant different doctrines.

When you get any mainstream Christian leader to read this same passage and he starts talking about how we need to end sectarianism. But what he really mean is that everyone should dissolve their clubs and join his. “Well, isn’t it obvious? Our way is the right one!” Should any of those actually make it to Heaven, I think they’ll be shocked at who else is there waiting for them.

This is the standard human-oriented tribalism. When you shift from your head to your heart in matters of faith, you automatically start looking for common threads that tie it all together. That’s how the heart-mind works. Feel free to choose any styling and flavor that meets your human needs and offers the best tools for living your faith. What really matters is the power of your faith visible to the eyes of the heart. Heart-led people will always recognize each other — or at least they could if they progress far enough away from the dominance of their intellects.

Too many folks reading Paul’s Corinthian Letters are too much Corinthians themselves.

Faith Will Not Forget You

Faith has not been forgotten while I devote so much time to recovering from surgery. And you can be sure faith has not forgotten me, because recovery would not be possible without it.

If you want some religion chatter you can go back to my post A Word for Men and check out the lively exchange of comments between Steven and I. He’s Eastern Orthodox, and if that sounds interesting, he offers a couple of links. It’s not for me, but that should hinder no one who feels drawn to it. Being familiar with the early history of how that branch of Christianity came into existence, the theological disputes from that period were enough to turn me away from it. I can’t summarize it here, but if you read explanations of their unique beliefs, you’ll see why I say it’s too cerebral for me. It reminds me of the difference between Western mysticism versus ANE, because Greek thought (wedded to Greek language) is where Western thought started.

But while this blog seems rather silent, I can assure you that my faith is working hard carrying me forward. Sometimes there isn’t a lot of energy left to ponder things I might say because I’m pondering what I need to do. It’s not so much the physical therapy stuff and trying to move the leg as much as it can take, but exercising faith during this silence while the City considers my claim along with all the other crap they have to do.

I still believe someone out there with a higher public profile will be drawn to our parish. I still believe mainstream Christian religion is headed for a major problem like never before, with some level of exodus from the membership. I’m still certain America as we know it is doomed under God’s wrath, and it will most certainly affect other countries. And I still believe it was God’s requirement of me to let the City of OKC have a chance to do what’s right. I am convinced I’ll still be out there riding and taking pictures for the glory of God, once this recovery has taken its course.

Faith is an adventure like nothing else.

Your Theology Is Your Problem

Let me say this with as much clarity as I can marshal: Theology is a human activity in response to divine calling. Theology is religion, a mere expression of faith. Theology is not wisely discerning objective truth about God, because there is no such thing as objective truth about God. Truth is God’s personal moral character, an element of His living Presence. Theology is just a tool, one that can be modified as needed and discarded when it wears out. Your theology is not eternal; it will remain here in this world when you go home to be with God in Heaven.

My theology is just a part of me. Your theology cannot be mine, nor vice versa. If we overlap, the common ground says more about us than it does about God. That we have a common ground says something about God and how He intends to work in us.

Human intellect cannot be made un-fallen. Intellect is redeemed only in surrendering to something eternal in you — your heart-mind. Theology can never be more than a human effort to organize and implement faith. You cannot trust your theology to answer all the questions; treat your theology as a mere tool, a provisional set of handles for grabbing hold of reality. Reality itself is fungible, so theology cannot possible be any less ephemeral.

People who take their theology too seriously are actually taking themselves too seriously. Idolizing your own intellect is called “sin.”

Icons and Idols

Iconoclasm is not a virtue; it can be a useful tool. There’s nothing wrong with good statuary to help you focus your mind on the task of faith. There’s a problem when your faith is trapped by the icon.

Our culture seems trapped in a closed loop aimed at high efficiency, to include a sort of speed-reader reflex that isn’t always appropriate. To be honest, my writing isn’t good enough to speed-read. The subjects and things I attempt to say require you become aware of things speed-reading won’t allow. I’m trying to open a door to a level of moral awareness that won’t even fit into words, but does result in some fairly concrete choices. As noted often, what we do is less of religion and more about religion. I’m pastoring in the sense that I hope to awaken your own moral convictions, not to prescribe mine for you.

My claim that Radix Fidem is so named in part because of a measure of radicalism does not place us inside the ownership of radicalism itself. The radicalism begins with rejecting the model of directed religious activity versus encouraging your creativity. While I was in the hospital last week the VA chaplain came to visit. He’s a Unitarian and asked if I had considered their brand. I told him it was all too cerebral, something he didn’t quite grasp because — well, his religious orientation is cerebral. His Western background assumes that what isn’t fully logical is largely sentiment and they are okay with that kind religion.

Some of you grasp the anti-Western thing. Some of you can just jump right past all of that because it never really held you in the first place. The notion of an entirely different realm of existence, to which we naturally belong as well as this one, finds poor traction in our world. But if you weren’t pickled in Western epistemology — and most Westerners really don’t know what it means to be “Western” — you can skip that part of my blather and proceed directly with faith. My only iconoclasm is aimed at making folks less dependent on things that hold you back from faith.

Faith is a living and growing things and religion struggles to keep up. Just when you get things working smoothly, faith makes an entirely new demand. I’m trying to teach that as the norm. That means cutting out the idolatry of things that you can grasp with your intellect.

I once noted that my “Calvinism” isn’t actually Calvinism. It’s missing almost the entire background from which Calvin built his theology. My contention is that Calvin couldn’t escape the conviction of God as sovereign, but had to satisfy all his intellectual dependencies to put that to use. I end up using Calvinist language at times, but reject most of what he taught. I still have his Institutes on my shelf, but they are collecting dust. They were useful only in helping me ask enough questions to break out of the trap that held him. I end up saying that you’ll probably need to organize your religion to account for God’s authority and that the business of “sovereign will” is merely a way of expressing something none of us will ever understand. But if you worry too much about Calvin as a theological enemy, then you can’t avoid thinking I’m in his camp. I can’t help you with that.

And I’m not really sure how far I can escape the poison of the West myself. There comes a point when you really need to quit obsessing over it and get to work. I hold up the ANE (Ancient Near East) as a target even when I can’t promise I’ll hit myself consistently. Maybe I do know a little more about it than you, but I’m hardly the sole expert.

What I can do is remind you not to make an icon of me, either. I don’t really want you to absorb my religion, but absorb the way my religion works as an expression of the ineffable God we all must come to know and serve. We associate as a virtual parish on the grounds that we all tolerate the guy who runs the blog. Nothing keeps you from building your own thing outside my blog; you won’t even catch a hint of resentment from me because I encourage that explicitly.

Note in passing to regular readers: I take the position that my bike crash was God’s own epilogue to “Our Crazy Ancient New Religion” series. Wherever that path was taking me at that moment is cut off and I’m not in the same place any more. The experience itself changed me, in part because I made choices as soon as I sat up in the grassy sand bank and realized my right leg couldn’t pull itself up in a natural position. I had a mission to show people how a man of faith could reach out in power and love from the midst of disaster. Just the act of doing that stuff jerks you into a different world. For me, that actually is the best way to show what the series was about.

However, I think my faculties are coming back online. I’m irritated by this restriction to my netbook; I really should have tried harder to get a good Linux laptop, but ran out of money and time when other things took center stage. I’ll take this as divine provision and keep plugging away at it for now.

God bless you all. You prayers and efforts to help me are, I trust, blessing you as much as they are me. Otherwise, it’s a waste of resources.