What is Generational Theology?

As promised, today I’ll be going over a theology topic.  It’s not a particularly deep topic, nor is it inherently complicated, but it an important topic that I think doesn’t get addressed enough.

Merriam-Webster defines theology as

the study of religious faith, practice, and experience
especially : the study of God and of God’s relation to the world

Essentially, theology is how we view God, God’s nature, and how these views will affect the way we live our life.  While the term theology can technically refer to any religion, it usually is usually used when discussing Abrahamic religions, and when I use it will be in reference to Christianity unless I say otherwise.

In an ideal world, we (Christians), would come to our theological standpoints after extensively studying the Bible, church history/tradition, translation/canon issues, etc.  However, most Christians don’t have the time or interest to do so.  Most will be content to simply listen to sermons and/or go to Sunday school and/or do the occasional guided bible study.  This is perfectly fine.  Not everyone needs to be a theologian, and after all, it’s more important as a Christian how we live our lives than if we can complete a multiple choice test on what’s “proper theology”.  Because spoiler alert, with over 40,000 denominations worldwide, with an estimated two new ones forming every day, I can guarantee that everyone is a heretic to someone.  The danger, however, that can (and often does) stem from taking what we’re told about God at face value, is Generational Theology.

So, what is Generational Theology?  Simply put, Generational Theology is any theological belief that is relatively new but we assume has always been a Christian belief simply because it’s been believed for a couple of generations or more.  Basically, we forget that it wasn’t always an accepted belief.  Generational Theology is not an inherently “good” or “bad” thing, but it often has negative consequences.

The purpose of this post is not to tell you what to believe theologically, but rather to foster critical thinking so you will examine your beliefs and come to the conclusion of what you believe is true.  Having an informed opinion is important.  That being said, I feel I should give a clear example of Generational Theology, one that hopefully shouldn’t be too controversial.  So, here’s one: The Rapture.

That’s right, the Rapture is not a biblical concept and is quite new in Christianity, less than 200 years old in fact.  Historically, the book of Revelation has been viewed as allegorical or metaphorical, it actually wasn’t originally supposed to be in the Bible.  It is an example of the Apocalypse genre, a genre of literature that was quite popular but largely denounced among early Christianity.  When establishing the Biblical canon (which in and of itself is a complicated topic) the addition of Revelation to the canon was hugely controversial.  The majority of authorities were against it, but a vocal minority was able to just barely get it in.  Even if we were to assume the book of Revelation was to be taken literally, the term “Rapture” is never found in any form inside.  To this day the majority of Christians worldwide don’t believe in the Rapture, or the idea that believers will be taken up to Heaven at the end times and then Jesus will come back and commit torture and genocide on all unbelievers all whilst fighting the antichrist (Who by the way, was Nero Caesar.  The Antichrist has already lived and died).  The idea of the rapture originated with Puritans and was popularized by John Nelson Darby, a theologian who was frequently criticized for rejecting Christ’s nature and the message of the Gospel.  So, as much as you may think the Rapture has always been a Christian belief, it has not, and even today is not believed by the majority of Christians.

Hopefully, now you understand the importance of thinking critically.  There’s no need to become a full-blown theologian or even put in an enormous amount of effort if that doesn’t interest you, but I’ve found this mantra helpful:

If you can’t imagine Jesus doing, saying, or teaching it; it probably isn’t true.

After all, God gave us brains, we might as well use them.  Or, as the author of Proverbs more aptly put,

It is the Glory of God to conceal a matter, and the honor of Kings to discern it

Proverbs 25:2

That’s it for this post, have a good week and a Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

 

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Social Justice: Not Compatible with Christianity?

If you’ve been paying any attention to American Christianity lately, you’ve probably heard of the “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel“.  If you’ve taken the time to read it, chances are you’ve found at least part of it to be confused and/or concerning, and when you consider that thousands of prominent Evangelical (in this post Evangelical means any Christian group who affirms any form of Biblical-Inerrancy, which yes, still refers to a broad range of viewpoints, but at least narrows it down a little) it becomes especially alarming.  If you still haven’t read it and would like to, you can find it here.

While it is well-organized and not particularly dense, “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” is somewhat lengthy so I’m not going to over the entire thing today.  I will look at a few highlights and compare them with the Bible (which they claim to have based it on) and reality.  I’ll then briefly summarize why Social Justice is integral to the Gospel and the ministry of Jesus, the principles on which Christians supposedly follow.

  • (Stated Purpose): “We invite others who share our concerns and convictions to unite with us in reasserting our unwavering commitment to the teachings of God’s Word articulated in this statement.” So far nothing inherently wrong, but as we’ll see their purpose comes to clash with the content of their statement.
  • “We deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching” Well, it appears we’re running into problems right on the first page.  First, let’s take a moment with what each of these ideologies actually is.
    • Intersectionality: “An analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.” (Wikipedia)  It appears that intersectionality is not a set ideology, but rather a problem-solving method for discerning how aspects of society can oppress the marginalized in society.  Saying this contradicts scriptures is like saying using a calculator or psychology contradicts it, far too generalized too actually mean anything.  In addition, we can consistently find in both the New and Old Testaments teachings and commandments to lift up the marginalized in society, specifically forming a key part of Jesus’ ministry.
    • Radical feminism: “A perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.” (Wikipedia)  First of all, it’s important to note that no perspective within feminism believes or calls for women ruling over or being treated “more equal” than men.  If someone believes and/or acts upon that, they are no longer a feminist.  Throughout most of Church history, we have seen Christians striving to change society (and often succeeding) for better or worse.  And hopefully, now we all view men and women as equal and believe they should be treated as such.  Again, nothing un-Christian here, though you are welcome to disagree with this approach to feminism personally (I myself tend to lean more towards traditional Liberal feminism with a tinge of Black and Marxist feminism).
    • Critical race theory: “A theoretical framework in the social sciences that uses critical theory to examine society and culture as they relate to categorizations of race, law, and power.” (Wikipedia)  This denial just has some nasty racial subtext.  It’s essentially calling for freedom from accountability of Christianity’s racist past.  No, not all Christians supported slavery, and while they were also at the forefront of the abolition movement, just as many if not arguably more supported it.  The problem is Scripture can be twisted to mean almost anything you want, often leading to oppression/exclusion.  So denying a research method that seeks to examine racism in society betrays underlying beliefs of the documents’ creators.
  • “WE AFFIRM that God created every person equally in his own image. As divine image-bearers, all people have inestimable value and dignity before God and deserve honor, respect and protection.”  No complaints here, I actually like this one.
  • “We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness.”  There’s a difference between literal biblical and Christian righteousness.  One often calls for violence and oppression, the other will always call for peace.  Once again, the problem with following a “biblical” model of righteousness is that the Bible can be twisted into almost whatever you want, evidenced best in the slavery/abolition debate.  Both justified themselves with Scripture, but clearly only one was Christian.
  • “WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living.”  Unfortunately, the Abrahamic law does not cover all possible legal or moral issues, and some of it clearly very wrong (as Jesus himself taught).  There are many things that nearly all Christians (and people in general) consider wrong, but are not explicitly covered in the Bible.  Once again, this denial is an attempt to escape accountability, because “if it’s not explicitly there they should not be bound legally by it.”
  • “WE AFFIRM that all people are connected to Adam both naturally and federally.” Please define and justify the statement “connected to Adam…federally”.
  • “WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.”  Yes, the gospel books are themselves complete.  However, the Gospel itself is the Good News, which can be summed by both the Great Commandment (Love God, Love others) and the Great Commission (Go forth and spread the Good News).  I would think the Great Commandment includes Social Justice, and the Great Commission is not really directly related to, being in itself concerned with evangelism.
  • “Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ.”  While noticeably lacking in a few demographics, I have not contention with this statement.
  • “We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.” Technically true but laws and regulations can reduce sinful behavior, especially that which bring harm to others.
  • WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith.”  I really don’t see what this section is doing in a statement on Social Justice.  The only reason I could think of is the authors are basically saying “If you don’t agree with us, you’re not a real Christian”.  So to the other 40,000+ Christian denominations out there, many of whom view Social Justice as a positive force or for some even an integral part of Christianity, sorry.  I guess according to these guys your fake.
  • Most of the “Sexuality and Marriage” section Regardless of what you think about subjects such as gay marriage, we really need to stop saying sexual orientation is a choice (because it’s not).  In addition, their statements on gender expression are wrong, because “male” and “female” does not mean the same thing in every part of the world.  Western gender norms are quite different than those we would see in biblical times, as well.  And conversion therapy?  Just no.
  •  The entire “Complementarianism” section: Separate but equal is not equal.
  • “All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace.” Fair enough. It’s an old concept, but it checks out.  Move along.
  • “WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin” I hope so.
  • “We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions.” Here it is, literal, explicit, they’re saying it themselves, no subtext required denial of Christianity’s role in racism.  No, racism is not Christian, and no, not all Christians back then were racist but racism and slavery were most definitely convictions of not just evangelical Christianity but other groups as well for hundreds of years.  This is an explicit denial, not an apology or even an explanation!
  • “Historically, such things [Discussions of Racism] tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.” So the church discussing racism will ultimately lead to departure from the good news…not sure I follow.

 

Ok, so maybe I looked at more than a few points, but it was kinda’ hard not to.

Is an interest in Social Justice actually newfound in Christianity?  If you know your history (or have access to Google), it appears not: “The Gospel,” preached abolitionist Gilbert Haven in 1863, “is not confined to a repentance and faith that have no connection with social or civil duties. The Evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme.” (https://www.dallasnews.com)

A recurring theme in many Biblical teachings is caring for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and lifting them out these situations.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Mathew 25:40, NRSV)

A significant part of Jesus’ ministry involved social justice.  His teachings were radical and viewed as “heresy” by many of the leading religious leaders at the time.  I truly hope this document represents a minority belief in American Christianity, but it’s over 8,000 signers (at the time of this writing) suggest otherwise.  To reject social justice is to reject the Gospel itself.

 

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Not Gnostism

This post is going to be dedicated to resolving a misconception that’s come up several times in multiple groups and churches I’ve been a part of/attended.  It’s going to deal with Church History, an area that’s often not taught or mistaught because frankly, it’s not of interest or even relevant to most people.  And that’s perfectly fine, but it interests me and if you’re reading my blog it must interest you or you’re very bored and have nothing better to do.  Now, let’s look at the issue at hand.

Multiple times now, from multiple groups, individuals, and churches, I’ve heard people claims the Johannes letters (1, 2, 3 John in the New Testament) are in condemnation of Gnosticism “running rampant” in the early church.  A couple of times (though not nearly as often) I’ve heard this said about a few of the Pauline Epistles as well.  This bothers me because not only does it reflect a lack of accurate knowledge of Church History it also shows a misunderstanding of what Gnosticism is in and of itself.  Here’s why:

  1. Gnosticism did not even exist at the time this letters were written: That’s right, Gnosticism truly didn’t exist until the early third century one to two hundred years after these letters were written.  You could argue that the individuals/groups being criticized held “proto-gnosticist” beliefs, but that’s an entirely different thing and difficult if not impossible to prove.
  2. Gnosticism initially coexisted with other Christian beliefs: Gnostic Christians and other Christian groups did not conflict until the end of the 4th century, when the proto-orthodox church began to determine orthodox and heterodox.  The early Christian church did not have cohesive beliefs, and many of the more predominant at the time “orthodox” beliefs are not held by most (especially western) Christians today.
  3. Paul himself was a Proto-Gnosticist: Paul was (and to a few today is) held as the “father of gnosticism”.  Now, this really is entirely accurate (as I’ll explain in the next bullet) but he definitely held proto-gnosticist beliefs.  He advocated asceticism, was (at least for the time) radically feminist, and even went so far as to testify before an early Christian court that his Christian knowledge was superior to others because Jesus came to him in a vision (aka “secret knowledge”) and he was opposed to legalism and traditional Jewish customs/regulations.  All of these (and I’m sure there’s others) were hallmark beliefs of proto-Gnosticism, and the early Gnostic Christians held Paul’s letters in high regard.  Now, this is not to say Paul was a Gnostic (he would have probably been sharply opposed to later-on Gnosticism) but it is unlikely in his letters when he rebuked false teachers and doctrine (which is ironic considering some of that comes from forged letters) he was addressing proto-gnosticists.
  4. Gnosticism isn’t inherently Christian and doesn’t represent a single belief set: While the early development of Gnosticism is closely associated with Christianity, the two are by no means mutually exclusive.  In fact mainstream Gnosticism shares more in common with Judaism and also stems from dozens of other religions and philosophies.  In addition Gnosticism is not a single religion, it’s like calling Hinduism a religion, it’s extremely misleading.  Gnosticism represented a range of beliefs, some branches of which had no connection with Christianity at all.  Back when Gnosticism was even really a thing (though I am aware there are a few Gnostics today) they didn’t call themselves Gnostics, just as the early Christians didn’t initially call themselves “Christians”.

Hopefully I’ve shed light on this issue, even if it doesn’t really bother most people (which is fine), but it bothered me so I decided to write a short rant on it.  Yes, the Pauline and Johannine epistles did feature rebukes of teachings viewed as false or heretical by their authors (though depending on the issue not necessarily the early Church) but it would literally have been impossible for it to be a refutation of Gnosticism, and at least in Paul’s case it is unlikely he would have criticized the then extant emerging ideologies of proto-Gnosticism.  If anyone knows where this misconception originated from, please let me know, because I tried googling it and found very little, so you’d make my day if you did.  That’s it for this post, so have a good rest of your day.

 

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