When you study theology and get down into its bowels, you discover a debate between “Theology from Above” versus “Theology from Below.” Theology From Below means exploring our spiritual intuitions/feelings about God, and using those insights to construct our theology. Theology From Above means listening for revelation from God, a voice outside ourselves telling us things we wouldn’t know otherwise.
The Trinity and Humanity community is mostly a Theology-from-Above kind of group. We draw a lot of inspiration from Karl Barth, who, when approached with Theology-from-Below, replied with his famous: “NEIN!!!!“
And I am really a Theology-from-Above kind of guy. If God is real, then revelation is absolutely necessary for us to have any knowledge of God. If I want to know about something other than myself, I have to look outside myself to learn about it. If I want to know my dog, I have to go hang out with my dog; it would be silly to try and get to know my dog by contemplating my inner feelings about dogness.
In one part of his fantastic “Big Picture” series of lectures, Baxter Kruger recounts Friedrich Schleiermacher’s attempts at Theology-from-Below, and Baxter says something like “Schleiermacher was looking into his heart, which was good in that it got him out of his head. But he was looking into the wrong heart!” Real theology looks into the heart of CHRIST, the one and only point of union and togetherness between God and humanity.
This makes oodles of sense to me. This is why Theology-from-Above is my true home. But here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately:
Where does the heart of the incarnate Christ reside?
It resides in my heart.
And in yours.
And in the heart of every human who has ever lived.
Where does our Theology-From-Above come from? How does it arrive? Do we see it by looking up? I would argue that we see it by looking down. Isn’t that the scandal of Christmas — that our From-Above God comes to us from below? From oh-so-human places like mangers? And from oh-so-human cities like Nazareth?
So here’s what I’m thinking…
Every human being has a [limited] ability to recognize Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. When we recognize these things, what’s really going on is that we are seeing creation move in harmony with the Great Dance of the Trinity. But the only reason we recognize the Dance is that we already know the Dance, or rather, Christ-in-Us knows the Dance. We know Goodness, Truth, and Beauty not because the human heart innately knows these things without revelation from God, but precisely because God has already made himself known in the One who now lives in us.
It is because of Christ that Beauty haunts every one of us.
It is because of Christ that my Theology-from-Above comes to me From-Below.
What this means is that my non-Christian neighbors have a lot more contact with God than they realize.
- Every time my Atheist friend feels strong devotion to the Truth…
- Every time my Buddhist friend enjoys the Goodness of compassion…
- Every time my Druid friend exults in the Beauty of nature…
… they are touching Theology that has come to us all from Above.
My efforts at engaging my non-Christian friends with the Gospel involves a lot of talking with them about Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. So it can look like Theology-from-Below. But it’s only because down there is where my Theology-from-Above lives.
In this Gospel Message entitled ” Understanding God’s ‘If, And’s, or Buts’ Relationally!” Part 1, Pastor Timothy Brassell of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims The GOOD NEWS of the LOYAL GOD Revealed in Jesus Christ!
Because God gives Himself and His own Relationship to us as His Gift to us in Jesus, then God Himself is His own Good News! God Himself is our Great Blessing and Reward! Practically speaking then, the best way for us to understand what God is saying to us, even in scripture, is to understand more about God Himself, and especially as Revealed in Jesus His Son! Jesus Revealed that God IS Father, Son and Spirit not a doctrine! To understand God’s Relationship is not academic, or ivory tower stuff only because in Christ God is Revealed to be THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life!
It is in that Gospel context that we begin to understand that:
- God does have some “If’s, and’s & but’s” BUT only in His Unconditional Love for us!
- We can only have a proper understanding of those words in the Light of God’s own Relationship, which has been shared with us in Jesus!
- As we understand Who God is, and who we are in Him, we have to reconsider and toss out our broken views of “If’s, and’s & but’s” and receive them for the Good News that they are!
In short, hear about the God of Loyal Love and of God’s love that makes a choice for no particular reason! Yay!
Lately I have read a great deal of commentary on the “ear Tickling” of Trinitarian/ Inclusion theology. Anecdotal as it may be, the observation of snipes at preaching that leaves a church-goer happy has brought me to this blog posting. I once heard a story of a man who was sitting in church to see his niece get baptized. During the main sermon the preacher was holding forth about the evils of this behavior and the pitfalls of the other behavior and condemning all who engaged in said behaviors. During the sermon this man’s father passed him a note that read, “How do you feel?” The man scribbled a response, “I came to get a drink of Living Water
and instead got a butt whipping!”
Some might suggest that when we hear a message at church we should expect to be convicted and corrected. Maybe some of us expect to be whipped verbally and spiritually for our past weeks transgressions. Perhaps there is a place for us to be corrected but I would suggest that the arena for such pastoral care is in private so that none are shamed. The Father, Son, and Spirit don’t do shame!
Jesus said that out of the believer’s heart would flow rivers of living waters. Well who is the Living Water? Of course Jesus is the Living Water. I believe messages at church should be the best place in the world to hear the good news of the Father’s relentless love for all of humanity. If we show up at church we should plant our feet and expect to hear the gospel. The word itself means good news.
My Grandfather had an old manually operated well pump on his farm in North Carolina and by the time I came along it was not used much because the technology of the day had replaced it with an automatic electric pump. The old pump did work and my Grandfather used it from time to time to water the dogs or flowers and such. In order to get the water to come out one had to first pour a bucket of water down the top of the pump. This was what Grandpa called priming the pump.
If we wanted to get water from that particular well we had to pour the contents of the old wooden bucket down the top of that pump to start the water flowing. When we drew all the water we needed the last thing we’d do is fill up the bucket and leave it for the next time the pump was to be used.
I submit that the preaching we hear in church should serve as a prime of the pump so-to-speak. Good news should be poured out into us so much so that we get “primed” for the Living Water to spill out all over our world.
Paul the Apostle warned of times when people would not yearn for sound doctrine but would have itching ears and would wander away to myths.
So let me suggest that preaching that beats us over the head about our every shortcoming is not sound doctrine and the god who is a disapproving judge is a myth.
The message of the Church is that you belong to the Father, Son, and Spirit. You always have, you always will, the Father loves you, and likes you. You are his beloved child. So let us not tickle each other’s ears with any other nonsense.
In 1 Corinthians 14:26, about the local Church assembly, it reads “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” – NIV
We at New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Maryland decided to take part in the life this verse speaks of as we listened, heard and responded to each other as questions were raised, or comments and testimonies were made! As usual, Pastor T tried to make sure everything said and done was understood in the Light of the Good News of the God Revealed in Jesus Christ! Check it out and be very forgiving of our “off the cuffness”! :)
Tipper Marshawn Kuhlman, born Friday, October 13, 2000, passed away peacefully on Friday, June 6, 2014. She was the eldest dog of the Kuhlman clan and the first pet for the Kuhlman children. She was procured by way of a newspaper classified that read, “Pure bread beagles – $60.” When her human dad picked her up way out in the farm country around Wilshire, Ohio, he was greeted by a large litter of barking hounds and puppies, all contained within a chicken wire fence and all apparently living in a small chicken-coop-like building. She was the smallest of the puppies, and probably the dirtiest, as the bathtub was left with a grimy ring after her first bath, the remnants of her country life. Once clean, the name “Tipper” was given to her because of the white tip at the end of her tail. Her middle name came later, in honor of a beautiful African-American contestant on Donald Trump’s TV show The Apprentice.
Her acute sense of smell gave her a unique appreciation of both food and other less obviously appealing substances. In fact, even when her eyesight and hearing began to diminish, her sense of smell still gave her great pleasure. One of her favorite pastimes was to stand facing into the wind, velvet-floppy ears blowing back from her face, taking in all the smells the wind could bring her. Even when food no longer brought the enjoyment it once did, she still took pleasure in the smells of outdoor air, innately understanding how choosing joy in any given moment makes life worth living.
Though misunderstood and barely tolerated at first by her human mom, she grew to be a lesson about what unconditional love can do to a hard heart. Her willingness to love became an opportunity for grace to break open a heart that at first valued new, clean carpet more than a puppy. Over the years that heart began to soften, and regret for past impatience, resentment, and other harshness began to come forth. Once Tipper was diagnosed with bladder cancer and again was pottying on the carpet (just as she had as a puppy, only more so), her human mother had a chance to “redo” the past; this time, though, her hardened heart had cracked open and compassion, patience, and love filled the places where resentment had once been. This time, the messes were larger, yet the love was larger still.
To most people, Tipper Marshawn Kuhlman was only a hound dog, but to her human mother, she was a spiritual teacher, a creation of the living Word used by the Father, Son, and Spirit to show how love and forgiveness play out in relationships. Tipper amiably allowed a human to learn compassion by enduring the hard work of grace. May we all be such willing instruments in God’s hands as we learn how to love with compassion in all our relationships.
~by Nan Kuhlman
Theologian Peter Enns is currently featuring a series of guest posts by fellow theologians describing their “aha” moments when it came to looking at Christianity or the Bible in a different way. It got me thinking about mine.
My first came at age 20 when the denomination I had attended all my life was rocked by a series of changes. I saw for the first time that it was not my observance of a Saturday Sabbath and sequence of annual Old Testament Holy Days that was important, but my relationship with Jesus, who loved me. This was critical and a great deal of relief and joy entered my life at that time – but I still believed that his acceptance of me was tied to my performance. The Sabbath and Holy Days may not have been important any more, but other things were – I needed to serve him.
My next was one I was not to fully realise until years later, but as I spent a year teaching English in Sri Lanka to Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim students, I discovered people not of darkness, but of gentleness and supreme joy despite often significant poverty. I felt not the slightest need or desire to change them – they were already lit from within. If anyone was changed that year, it was I. Many questions were sparked for me at that time, but having no idea what to do with them at the time, I buried them and got on with the business of marriage and children.
My next and most monumental of all was as I discovered Trinitarian Theology via Baxter Kruger, Steve McVey and others. These gentlemen were incredibly instrumental in helping open my eyes to the fact that while I had indeed internalized the reality that Jesus loved me, I believed that there were still strings and conditions attached. And I was still seeing the dark, angry, vengeful Father behind his back.
Only he wasn’t there.
He didn’t exist.
Who did exist was a Father who loved me in ways beyond my wildest dreams with no strings attached.
This rocked my world. I had an immediate recognition that these things were true. As a parent to young children myself, it finally all made sense. There was nothing my children could do that would make me turn my back on them for even a minute, let alone eternity. I did not feel right about inflicting pain on my child for making a mistake, even a willful one, for the purpose of teaching him a lesson. I would allow myself to be flattened by a bus or walk miles on burning shards of glass in a heartbeat for my child even if at the end of it all, she slapped me in the face and told me she had no mother.
It brought me to my knees when I saw for the first time that what I felt for my children – the very energy that drove me night and day – was like a candle in comparison to the forest fire of love the Father bore unconditionally for me and for every person ever born.
My Sri Lankan friends of other religions, I sincerely feel, included.
And so my beliefs have continued to grow and evolve – I receive new “aha” moments that give me goosebumps on a regular basis, but I don’t believe there will be any more of the earth-shaking variety. (Though who knows??!) I am secure in the unalterable love of Father, Son and Spirit – and though like all people I still have a few serious questions (mostly the “how can this tragedy be allowed to happen?” variety), at this point I sincerely believe that nothing good is impossible with God. There is no limit to his patience, understanding, and ability to heal and restore hurting, shattered souls that have done much wrong. We may never see the outcome of it this side of eternity, but on the other side, I believe we will.
It is said that in Heaven there will be no more tears or sadness. With the majority of humankind writhing in hell or willed out of existence, as much evangelical Christianity suggests, I do not see how this could be. The idea that we could grow to forget those we had loved but had not “made it” is a supreme sadness in itself. And so I hope, and I expect, to see us all there, restored.
None of this has come without pain and loss at each stage, mostly in the form of withdrawn friendships, and loss of community. I have shed some tears over it indeed – but, having been where they are and believed what they do, I understand, more than they know. That pain has eased. I have also gained wonderful friends and a community of people who are also sharing the beauty of what they are coming to see. It’s incredibly exciting and I feel far from alone.
It’s a journey I feel quite sure will last a lifetime. The best is yet to come!
~ by Jeannine Buntrock
Are you looking for REST? ~ Are you looking to experience the JOY of THE LORD?
In this Gospel Message, Pastor Richard Andrews of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, explores Luke 10:38 – 42 and proclaims the GOOD NEWS that This Gospel is for ALL OF US! One message customized for EACH OF US! Young~Old, Rich~Poor, Sick~Healthy. THAT is the beauty of who GOD is!
In this message hear how
~ When we sit at the feet of Jesus we experience HIS INTIMACY
~We can focus on BEING and not DOING!
~We can REST in HIS presence!
~ JESUS is the NECESSARY PART in the midst of our Chaos and Confusion!
~At Jesus’ Feet ALL IS WELL!
~ he invites us to come sit at his feet.“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST.” Matt11-28NIV ~ and in THAT REST we find who WE ARE!
*picture byG3 Fellowship. Franklinton, NC
Today is Juneteenth – the day that celebrates the announcement of emancipation to the slaves of Texas on June 19, 1865. I’ve always liked Juneteenth for what it meant in American history and also the analogy it provides for the gospel.
The slaves in Texas had legally been emancipated on January 1, 1863, when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all slaves in states in insurrection against the U.S. government. Since a great war was taking place at the time, however, those slaves did not hear about – and the U.S. government was unable to enforce – the Proclamation until Texas was militarily defeated and government forces arrived to occupy Galvestion in June 1865.
Therein lies the analogy for the gospel: humanity was emancipated from sin and death 2,000 years ago when the Son of the Father destroyed death by his resurrection and took humanity into the life of the Trinity through his ascension. But like the slaves of Texas, much of humanity has not yet heard or believed the good news of their liberation. Like the slaves of Texas, we are already free but we are not yet fully living in that freedom.
The Diocese that I’m a part of has a slogan: Walk in the Way, Widen the Walls, Wake up the World. I think that last phrase is a perfect description of the Church’s calling: as the Union army awakened the slaves of Texas to the freedom that already belonged to them, so we are called to wake up the world to the freedom that is already theirs in Christ.
~ Jonathan Stepp
In this 8th message of the Good News series entitled: “Being Jesus’ Body (A Church For Others!)“, Pastor Tim of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Maryland, Proclaims the Good News of the Other-centered God Revealed in Jesus. This message is subtitled “The ‘So What?’ of Jesus Christ’s Ascension!”, part 2
- ARE YOU INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT WHAT “GETTING INTO HEAVEN” MEANS?
- ARE YOU STILL FINDING IT DIFFICULT TO ACCEPT GOD’S GRACE (even though others say it is “easy”!)?
- ARE YOU INTERESTED IN HOW SCIENCE AND THEOLOGY ARE WORKING TOGETHER, RIGHT NOW, TO HELP US UNDERSTAND WHERE JESUS IS PRESENTLY?
- DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY YOU SHOULD CONTINUE ASKING FOR GOD’S FORGIVENESS EVEN AFTER BEING FORGIVEN FOR ALL YOUR SIN/S?
ALL THESE QUESTIONS ARE ADDRESSED IN THIS GOSPEL MESSAGE, as well as the issue of:
- Grasping with More Clarity the New Way in which the Holy Spirit is now present and with us for a victorious human life (while also giving clarity on what it means to “Receive the Holy Spirit”)!
Check it out!
*Picture by Ridgedale Baptist Church (Chattanooga, TN.)