Jesus and the Startling Stat

According to a survey by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries and referenced in the November 2016 issue of Christianity Today, 71% of professing Christians apparently do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. The survey statement responded to is: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” Respondents had three possible responses: 1) Agree, 2) Don’t Know, and, 3) Disagree. Seventy-one percent agreed. The article rightly refers to this as one of “our favorite heresies.” God is not a created being and therefore, Jesus as God with us, is God in the flesh (see Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14, Hebrews 1:3) and is not a created being but is instead, ever-existent.

This is a startling statistic; especially when the “un-deification” of Jesus is typically a common ploy of cults. To un-deify Jesus minimizes His entire ministry, including removing Him from the throne of Heaven and thereby from the throne of our own lives. Once this throne is vacated, anything can then move onto that throne. Such things as the cult itself can hop onto the throne as can materialism, greed, self-worship or something of even more depraved nature.

The main question, however, is why so many professing Christians are confused on the deity of Christ? Are church pulpits not teaching it? Or are pulpits filled with pastors that themselves teach against it? Is it rampant biblical illiteracy? It’s more than likely a combination of all of these elements; still, the statistic is sad and startling.

I’m sensitive to this because I ignorantly spent years as part of a cult (The Way International) that vehemently taught against Jesus’ deity. God worked through a lovely young woman to wake me up to my error in believing this heresy, and since then, I have strived to help people better grasp the truth that Jesus is God.

Now that the first day of Advent 2016 is here, my hope is that as we celebrate the birth Christ and eagerly await His return, and that we do so with a little deeper understanding who Jesus is.

Such a deeper understanding began for me with John 17:5.

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, NKJV).[1]

This Scripture is very different than what the cult taught. Compare John 17:5 to what I had read in years past from Wierwille, “I am saying that Jesus Christ is not God, but the Son of God. They are not co-eternal.”[2] Thus was the crossroads of faith confronting me over a decade ago as I realized I had been part of a cult founded by Wierwille. These two quotes placed together evoke a profound sense of tension for the person that truly wants to follow and honor God, is Jesus Christ God or not?

I will assume as a basic tenet that the inerrancy of Scripture is held by both the writer and reader of this post and state that misunderstandings rest with wrong learning or poor personal interpretation. For instance, as in my case, a logical but ignorant person could be easily fooled by the often repeated Scriptural phrase of Jesus being the Son of God. Many can indeed conclude that a son and a father are two separate entities; they may share similar characteristics due to genetic connections and familial socialization[3], but the similarities do not indicate they are the same person. Hence, it is easy to see how a person unfamiliar with all references toward Jesus could confuse Him as being completely separate from God. Such was my case.

However, in the spring of 2002, after exiting the cult, I was fervently praying one Saturday morning for God to help me understand the truth about Jesus. In that same hour I “stumbled” across John 17:5. This verse was transformational for me primarily due to one word: world. The word in the Greek is kosmos and can be defined as “orderly arrangement … the world”[4] or “world, universe, humankind.”[5] That one word nested within the context of the entire chapter indicates that, “the whole verse is about a past-tense experience Jesus actually had.”[6]

The verse is not referring to some mystical foreknowledge, because Jesus would not have been aware of such foreknowledge because that foreknowledge would have rested solely with God and therefore would not be directly accessible via Jesus’ own memory. What’s more, “Jesus’ statement that he enjoyed divine glory before the creation certainly presumes a personal preexistence; it also implies an essential relationship with God, not merely a functional one.”[7] The Expositor’s Bible comments thusly:

The glory which He prayed for now was a conscious, living glory; He did not wish to become extinct or to be absorbed in the Divine being; He meant to continue and did continue in actual, personal, living existence. This was the glory He prayed for, and this therefore must also have been the glory He had before the world was.[8]

Walvoord even states that in John 17:5 “Christ speaks of His memory of the glory of heaven prior to His incarnation as an evidence for His preexistence.”[9] Finally, all this indicates that “Jesus Christ is, at the inmost principle of his being, true God, from whom he came as the eternal, not temporal, Son.”[10]

And, of course, there is much more information validating the deity of Jesus Christ. But that will have to wait until Part 2.

[1] New King James Version Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1799.

[2] Victor Paul Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not God (New Knoxville, OH: American Christian Press, 1981), p. 5.

[3] Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 58-60.

[4] New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc, 1995), p. 51

[5] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), p. 428.

[6] Craig Kuhn, From Cult to Christ (Maitland, FL: Xulon, 2007), p. 58.

[7] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 152.

[8] W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Bible, Vol. V., (New York, NY: Wilbur B. Ketchcam, no date), p. 250.

[9] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 26.

[10] Samuel J. Mikolaski, “The Theology of the New Testament,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 1., ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), p. 464.

I’m Accepted and the Big Decision

I received notice last Thursday that I have been accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program in Corban University’s School of Ministry! My areas of study will be Christian Theology and Apologetics. I’m quite excited by this because it helps to move me just a little closer to my dream second career. Yes, even in my early (actually, mid-) fifties, I still have dreams. No, not of retirement on some remote beach or hidden cabin in Montana (even though each has its own appeal!), but to enter academia.

 

Where It Began

This all began about thirty minutes before my Master’s Degree commencement ceremony last April. Two of my professors asked me to consider very seriously submitting an application to the program for 2017. I noted their suggestion and figured that 2017 meant the beginning of the academic year in August, more than a year away. Well, as it happens, the doctorate academic year doesn’t begin in August, it begins in January; like the January that’s less than two months from now.

I didn’t know this until I received an email in late September from one of the professors, the Director of the School of Ministry, confirming the invitation to submit an application in time for the beginning of the year. Then a week later I received an official letter repeating the invitation once again.

Was God trying to tell me something?  I wasn’t sure even though I have a longing to

pile_of_books

Yep, theology books!

continue pursuing such study. As weird as it may sound, I consider study to be a form of worship; that’s why I put so much effort into to getting the best grades possible.  And in seeking opportunities to share (or teach) what I’m learning. I love it! God is fathomless and yet we still have the privilege and, frankly, the responsibility to seek after our infinite God.

 

Another thought pattern guiding this decision is how to best pass on what I’ve learned. How can I leave the best legacy possible or, colloquially speaking, how can I best pass the torch onto the next generation?

Interestingly, the answer is found in Numbers chapter 11. Granted, the children of Israel were not in good standing with God at this time, but God still had mercy on them and on Moses—he appointed to Moses a body of seventy leaders (elders) to assist with leading the people.

 

Old Testament Learning in 2016

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord [that He would feed them], and he gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tabernacle. Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders

—Numbers 11:24-25a

Hamilton has an interesting commentary on this, one I had not noticed before:

“It is as if Moses has more than enough ‘Spirit’ to share. His own portion of Spirit is not thereby reduced, any more than one candle loses any of its flame when it lights another candle.”[1]

This quote really stuck with me. First off, I’ve been told that if I want to become a pastor that it will be difficult because of my age. Now that smacks of age discrimination and besides, if God really calls me to it, it will happen. And I’ve had a few scoffers about my decision to pursue a Doctorate. Still, that’s where Janey and I feel God is leading us. Plus, God could use that vehicle for passing onto others what I’m learning. But I’m not yet passing the torch, or am I? Truth be told, I am not really ready to pass my torch to anyone yet. That phrase bothers me and seems more like capitulating to the idea that I have no more to contribute for advancing God’s Kingdom.

But, we learn something different from the Book of Numbers. God gives opportunities to share our torches. As the quote suggests, I can keep my torch lit but at the same time share it with others. Perhaps this is the vision of teaching and the idea of passing, or rather, sharing our torches before the time comes when we really do hand it onto others to run the races set before them.

So as I’m heading toward what the world calls the twilight of life, maybe I’m really heading to the limelight. No, not the limelight of stages, movie sets, or fame; but to the limelight of God’s call on my life. Maybe I’m not yet in the fast lane for God but more in the middle lane. Could it be that God will be using the Doctorate studies to shift my life into a fast lane?

As the old phrase goes, “Only time will tell.” But I intend to make the best of the time God is giving me, because I know better than anyone that God owes me nothing; yet, He still showers grace, mercy and opportunities on me and my family.

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 ed. (2005). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 324.

Vulnerable Furniture

We had Spring Cleaning yesterday. I know, we’re heading into winter, but we need to weed stuff out of the house in the last vestiges of good weather. One of the things carted off was an old cabinet thing of my Grandpa’s. It was ugly, beat up, and only marginally functional; but it was Grandpa’s.

All day Janey and I toiled over boxes of stuff (actually, junk), old pictures in broken frames and a bazillion Lego pieces. But looming off in the fringes of darkness was…the cabinet!

“Soooooo is this going to go to the Goodwill,” asked Janey.

“Uh…I gotta go finish off this other box.”

Beyond just the cabinet is that for some reason I’ve been feeling a bit odd, a bit, well, vulnerable. I don’t really know why. I’m happy with work. Janey and I are doing great. But I think it’s that we’re on the verge of making a big decision, one that will ripple significantly through our lives for the foreseeable future. It brings with it long-term commitment and dreams; dreams of a second career and more advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth.

The decision entails risk but so many good things never happen because the risk is feared and therefore avoided. Right now, depending on how things go, we’re planning on going for it, risk and all. We both firmly believe God is leading us into this direction. Still, butterflies are flittering around in the old stomach region and they always bring with them a fluttering sense of vulnerability.

 

And The Point…

But what’s this have to do with the beat up, old cabinet? Well, perhaps because the cabinet symbolizes in some weird psychological way a safer time in my life. A time when others made the big decisions and I just came along for the ride. If things worked out, great; if they didn’t, it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t have to fix it.

Oddly, though, the Apostle Paul never instructs us to hold onto the past. Instead, he said reach for the future and forget the past.

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

—Philippians 3:13-14

Janey even said something like that, but it was after I decided she could take it to Goodwill.

Horizon.jpg

Ever looming horizon. 

When she got home she said she was proud of me for letting go of the past to make more room for our future. And it’s interesting, while Paul says that there’s one thing that he does; that one thing actually has two components to it: he forgets the past while reaching forward. So I guess in a way, the old cabinet also symbolizes letting go of a material thing to instead reach forward to the goal God has set in front of us. Hopefully someone who loves to refinish old beat up stuff will pick it up. But meanwhile, Janey and I will continue pressing forward toward a new goal, a new horizon, a new journey.