Most of My Blogging Is At INFP Theologian Now

It’s been a while since I wrote here, but it hasn’t been a while since I wrote. Actually, I’m doing more than ever, and it’s better, more personal. But it’s elsewhere.

A year or so ago, I started a new blog called INFP Theologian, given that, on the Myers-Briggs type indicator, I’m an INFP and, as education goes, I’m studying theology. 

There are a few other writers there, whose content tends to be better than my own, which can only be a good thing because I like my own stuff well enough.

So visit INFP Theologian, or don’t.  

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Six MORE Things Spurgeon Didn’t Say

Recently, Christian George, a former Oklahoma Baptist University professor and the current head of the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary published a wonderful article detailing popular sayings that are incorrectly attributed to the Prince of Preachers.

But there are at least six more things that Spurgeon never uttered, and it is important that the truth comes out. So without further ado, here are six MORE things Charles Spurgeon never said:

1. “No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it obliterated God and puts self-interest upon the throne.”

These inspiring words are typically attributed Mr. Spurgeon himself, but in reality they were uttered by Oswald Chambers, a beloved chaplain and Bible teacher. Originally from a lecture delivered to an audience of British soldiers in the first World War, they were later immortalized when his lectures were compiled and released as the now famous devotional, My Utmost For His Highest. 

Fun Fact: Oswald Chambers was actually converted under the preaching of C.H. Spurgeon, so although the quote is not from Spurgeon, the spiritual lineage of Chambers traces back to the Prince of Preachers.

2. “It is all about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about Himself.”

Wow – what a quote! But if you’re at a wild college party and everyone starts dropping their all time favorite Spurgeon quotes you’d better not choose this one! That’s because this is actually a quote from John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota and the founder of the popular online ministry, Desiring God. You might get laughed out if the party if you accidentally attribute a quote from a popular evangelical preacher from the 20th century with the legendary Victorian Bible teacher! How embarrassing!

3. “There is a treasure map on the back of the declaration of independence.”

Contrary to popular belief, Charles Spurgeon never actually posited that there was a treasure map on the back of the declaration of independence. That was actor Nicholas Cage in the hit film, National Treasure.

4. “You’ll never amount to anything and you need to go somewhere that isn’t my house, Ryan.”

If you thought it was Charles Spurgeon who said that, you’d be wrong because that’s a quote from my parole officer. You should really put more care into verify your quotes before sharing them! As Charles Spurgeon always said, “it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

5. “Jesse Monday’s jokes are not funny, also he is blind and Star wars is dumb. To top it all off, his chili is fair at best.”

This one is not a real Spurgeon quote, but it’s close. Scholars agree that it is probably a paraphrase of a sermon outline he once put together, titled Three Glorious Truths From the Foot of The Cross. The text for the sermon is Hebrews 7:4-6, and therein he outlines three things in which believers can be confident:

1. Jesse Monday is not funny (Hb. 7:4).

2. Jesse Monday has extraordinarily poor vision (Hb. 7:5).

And 3. Jesse Monday’s chili, though certainly edible, is nothing to write home about (Hb. 7:6)

What is not clear, however, is where the snippet about Star wars originated. Popular during the Victorian Era, C.H.S. would not have been familiar with the 1977 science fiction epic.

6. “Voting for Donald Trump is the most moral choice we could make in this election.”

The above quote is actually from a recent op-ed by Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem, presumably written under the influence of large quantities of hard liquor. Sad!

Well there it is, folks! Those are six quotes you’ll never misattribute to C.H. Spurgeon again! Until next time, signing off.

5 and 1/2 Reasons Jesse Monday is a Little Snitch

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We all know Jesse Monday. The troglodyte who threw a chair at my head and then paid a hefty price for it. The one who blogged about parallelism in the Star Wars Universe but doesn’t even have a Ph.D in Canonical Criticism that would give scholarly credentials to his fan-musings (he’s no Matt Emerson). The one who recently wrote an article suggesting that Pokemon Go is literally (but probably also figuratively) the Devil.

We have a word for that sort of chap where I’m from. When I was a young lad, sitting on grandpa’s porch while he defended the family farm from human sized-coyotes and travelling-Democrats, my grammy would take me up on her lap and say, “Ay sonny, dontcha ever be a snitch, because the snitches get the stiches, ay.”

Never has anything stuck with me so profoundly. But the definition of “snitchery” is under attack today from the liberal media. Some even say that God hasn’t ordained snitchery as an acceptable avenue of discrimination. And we wonder why our society is falling apart. This is what happens when you take away prayer in schools.

Below are 5 and 1/2 reasons why Jesse Monday is a little snitch.

1. He does not praise the Lord. Not even once. In the approximately two months that I have lived with him, I have never seen him so much as drop what he is doing and heap lavish praise upon the Lord. How do he think that makes God feel? Certainly not happy! He should think twice next time about not praising the Lord.

2. He loaned out his DVD copy of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but not the Blu-Ray copy. OMG, Gollum much? When our mutual friend Terry wanted to borrow the critically-acclaimed seventh installment of the Star Wars saga to watch at home for his personal enjoyment, Jesse happily obliged – only to betray the trust of his so-called friend by loaning him the obligatory DVD copy that comes with the Blu-Ray. I guess he doesn’t want his friend to experience the film in full high-definition quality with optimal sound mastering and 10 hours of bonus features, including a feature commentary by J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.

3. He is a half-squid, half-human hybrid. Like WTHeck? When i was a kid my mom used too say, “In or out! You’re letting out all of our precious, delicious A/C, and momma is hungry. SO very hungry for that sweet, sweet A/C.” Right? Jesse needs to make a choice. Is he a man, or a squid. Our nation’s precious, precious A/C hangs in the balance.

4. Go Set A Watchman was a poorly-constructed mess, and an unworthy sequel to its predecessor, the much-beloved To Kill A MockingbirdThis isn’t directly related to Jesse Monday, per se. But in 1994, the year prior to his birth, Harper Lee was in much better health, To Kill A Mockingbird was a staple of every 9th grader’s English class experience, and Atticus Finch was still a shining beacon of progress and empathy, unspoilt by the strange, non-sequitur revelations about his unsubtle racism in Go Set A Watchman.

5. His Second-Least Favorite President is Abraham Lincoln. Second only to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I mean, I’m as ambivalent about big-government as the next white, middle-class, straight cis-gender guy, but really? He can’t find anything redeeming in FDR’s legacy? Or even in the legacy of the Great Emancipator? Come on. Honest Abe helped to free the slaves, and FDR did a lot to right the wrongs that our Founding Fathers inflicted on the Native American population. Would I have done some things differently? Sure. But that little snitch Jesse Monday just completely discredits their accomplishments because of his obsessive adherence to “Limited Government, as defined by the Constitution.” Give me a break.

5 1/2That time he was caught trying to eat the
and everyone at the church lock-in was amazed
whose prized copy of the King James Bible was ta
slobber everywhere, Deuteronomy could no longe
lifelong confusion regarding the Cushite wife of M
leprous hand, a startling condemnation of racism
Jesse Monday’s lifelong digestion problems.

There it is, folks. If that doesn’t convince you that Jesse Monday is a straight up snitch-face, nothing will. He is not to be trusted. Keep these things in mind the next time you’re tempted to believe ANYTHING that he says. Like when he says that he is a circus performer, but is clearly not.

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Till next time, this is Ryan Ellington, signing off.

 

Sex is Not a Commodity (or, Why Purity Culture’s Got Nothin’ to Do With Jesus)

Rembrandt_Christ_and_the_Woman_Taken_in_Adultery

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery by Rembrandt

So, abstinence. Because I couldn’t just come up with something less brutally awkward to write about this week.

Except that I could. I had quite a few ideas that would have been far more warmly received. But a number of conversations I’ve had over the last month have convinced me that the best thing I can do right now is write about this.

It’s not a secret that our culture has a toxic theology of sexual expression. America sucks at everything sex. From “purity culture” to “hook-up” culture, we have engineered a cultural ethos that produces sexual brokenness in everyone who grows up therein. There’s plenty to tackle, but here and now I want to do the best I can to prevent further fallout for those weaned in the throes of the Evangelical-“purity culture”.

Before I move on, I want to dispel any misconceptions that I may have just created. Much to the chagrin of my less old-fashioned friends, I really, genuinely believe that abstinence is the most loving, healthy, and anti-patriarchal lifestyle that a person can lead. A lot more goes into the Christian understanding of sexuality that simply, “God said it.”  Rather than producing yet another entry in a now long line of fiery “down-with-purity-culture” blog posts, I want to explore what abstinence is. 

The point of “abstinence” isn’t to not-have-sex. It’s to walk into marriage – and to walk through marriage – with a mutual desire for each-other and only each-other. That means that “abstinence” entails re-learning sexuality – seeing others potential friends rather than potential partners. And only once you’ve established a relationship that you’re ready to lock into until one of you dies does sexuality become a factor.

But at that point it’s time to get married, so you get married first anyway. At which point it takes on another dimension: Sex is fun, but it’s also a focal point at which you declare the deepest layers of your love. You’re not just saying, “I like doing this with you” (but you still are). You’re saying, “I only want this from you.”

“I only want this from you. Nobody else. There’s no other outlet from which I am looking for this.”

It doesn’t invalidate non-abstinent forms of sexual expression, and it doesn’t treat non-abstinent people like damaged goods (they aren’t). Likewise, it’s not a pass/fail game. Couples that are committed to abstinence might not always “make the mark”. Still not damaged goods.

So it’s not the same as True Love Waits/Purity Culture. “Purity” is not a live concept. “Virginity” is a meaningless concept. The endgame of abstinence is not to come out the other side as a pristine, unused product but to shape your relationship around the fullness of mutuality.

That means that if you’ve made sexual missteps in the past your worth isn’t diminished. Your sexuality is not a commodity, and neither are you. There’s no standard of “purity” to live up to, and there’s no such thing as a “virginity” to be lost. Yes, sexual sin is real – sexual expression exercised outside of the marital context in which you and your spouse declare, “I only want this from you,” is sinful, but not for the dehumanizing reasons put forth by the purity-culture machine.

Instead, the abstinence that I am talking about de-commodifies sex because it goes deeper than just, “I only want this from you.” In a redeemed relationship, sex is not the payoff toward which you work. Sex is not the finish line. Your partner is. Sex is enjoyable, but in a redeemed relationship it’s not itself the object on which your mutual enjoyment terminates, but is instead a conduit by which you enjoy each other.

That bears repeating. Sex is not a commodity that you enjoy together, it is a conduit by which you and your spouse enjoy each-other. So any competing outlet by which I might find sexual expression is cheap, because I can’t enjoy my spouse by having sex with someone else. I can’t enjoy my spouse by getting off to pornography, or fantasies about other people. It’s not a commodity that can be sought out from one outlet or another. It’s a conduit by which we enjoy and are enjoyed by one another.

How To Domesticate a God

INFP Theologian

GoldCalf The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin.

“Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel. And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became…

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Unworthy Ministers of a Liberating Gospel

INFP Theologian

ChristCleansing Christ cleansing a leper by Jean-Marie Melchior Doze, 1864.

Days come when I wake up in the morning and cannot talk myself into feeling worthy to lead any ministry in any capacity. Weeks of fighting hard against your own sinful habits and tendencies mean next to nothing to you in the hours and the days following a massive, messy collapse. Those are the moments in which you will want to give up – to throw your hands in the air and say, “I’ve always known I wasn’t cut out for this, and here is the proof.”

So you’ll probably do something incredibly unhealthy. If you’re like me, you’ll employ the fake-it-till-you-make-it method of dealing with your own unworthiness. Rather than allowing yourself to feel the weight of your sin and then allowing yourself to be healed by the grace of God, you will suppress both the pangs of crushing guilt…

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A Conversation About Biblicism

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The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by an Angel by Rembrandt, 1660

Not long ago, my friend David Abrams posted this on Facebook:
“Evangelicalism has four trademark identifiers, if we are to believe the writings of David Bebbington (which I do in this matter).

1) Conversionism. Conversion matters to evangelicals because God has a team (rule/reign/kingdom) and wants us to join it.
2) Crucicentrism. The cross (crucifix) is at the center of evangelical theology because the cross is the actualization of God’s victory over the powers of evil in the cosmos and in our own lives through Christ.
3) Biblicism. The Bible matters because it is the story of God and his people. (Indeed, one might write “Christian historicism” here.)
4) Activism. Evangelicals believe that God intends for work to be done now.”

David Abrams and I are both Evangelicals, and our agreement on the fundamentals of Biblical Christianity outmatch our peripheral differences on doctrinal nuances. I thought I’d start a conversation with him regarding Bebbington’s third Evangelical identifier, Biblicism.

I wrote back: “A good distinction to make: Biblicism is an evangelical distinguisher, bibliolatry is a fundamentalist aberration thereof. The two get conflated often by would-be critics of evangelicalism whose snark outruns their reading comprehension capabilities.”

He replied: “Lol.  I just get frustrated with how misunderstood the Bible appears to be. People are like, “I don’t like it, but the Bible says so…” Are you quite sure the Bible says so? Maybe you have misunderstood it. You know?”

“Yeah,” I agreed, and added, “Different side of the same coin: some people treat any sort of seriousness about biblical fidelity as though it were ‘idolatry’.”

Per other conversations that we have had, David and I agree that sustained interaction with the scriptures themselves is indispensible toward the task of theology. There are Christian communities who do not have access to the Bible, or only have access to parts of it, and in such cases God has  always provided other methods of coming to an accurate knowledge of Him. But for communities that do have the scriptures, they remain the authoritative rule of faith for us. N.T. Wright has written with remarkable clarity on the nature of ‘Biblical authority’ in his book, Scripture and the Authority of God, in which he posits that the ‘authority of scripture’ is not intrinsic, but rather finds its origin in God’s authority as He uses the writings of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles to rule over His Church. Wright’s view is my view, and I do not know whether David and I (and the former Bishop of Durham) are of one mind on the matter. But we are in agreement that the Bible is both our authority and the conduit through which the Holy Spirit teaches modern day disciples of Jesus. So, submitting to the authority of Jesus means submitting to the teachings of the scriptures.

David then said, “One of my favorite sets of verses, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, seems to me to limit the [areas of] usefulness of scripture. ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV.) So what then is the Bible useful for? Teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. To what end? Completing the [Christian] and equipping him/her for every good work. (This is by far the most valuable end possible in my view, and so by limited, I mean limited in scope, rather than limited in value.) [emphasis mine].”

An oft-ignored component of submitting to the authority of Jesus through  the scriptures is resisting the urge to drag them into territories into which they themselves never  attempt to foray.

He continued, “Notice then that there are a good deal of things that the Bible is *not* useful for. For instance, I have come to seriously doubt that the Bible is a useful source of scientific information, although it may indeed have provided much of the groundwork for the age of science. (I am not sure about this myself. I would need to investigate it.) Additionally, I wonder if there are some topics that are currently considered of doctrinal importance that are themselves not based in a proper reading of the Biblical narrative. This is not a problem for me. I don’t think it ought to be a problem at all. I wonder if the global church would not find more unity if these points were more openly affirmed.”

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, David and I are not on the same wavelength regarding more than a few doctrinal nuances. Where he finds greater affinity with George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis, I am largely at home with Thomas Oden and the Puritan devotional writers. Nevertheless, we would all do well to use our common commitment to the orthodoxy as a conduit to usher in a sturdier community – one with the capacity to include robust and variegated theologies that are both doctrinally orthodox and more-or-less irreconcilable. To an extent, we already have this within Evangelicalism, what with the constant co-mingling of Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, and Open Theists within our midst, to use the diversity with which we have approached the issue of God’s Omniscience as an example.

But we have plenty of room to grow, as the ferocity of certain in-house debates regarding a multitude of other topics has shown. And growing into our own diversity begins with fleeing from bibliolatry so that we can more faithfully cling to our native biblicism. Where ‘discernment’ is concerned, orthodoxy is enough. David and I need not butt heads regarding, say, the mode of Biblical inspiration (plenary verbal vs. dynamic), or the proper atonement model (Christus Victor vs. Penal Substitutionary – and more) when we are in agreement on those doctrinal contours about which all Christians, in all places, at all times have been in agreement.

So I concluded the conversation with an anecdote that I knew we could both relate to: “That explains why changing my tire went so poorly when I tried to use Leviticus as a manual.” I joked. He laughed and suggested we make plans to get coffee.

David runs a blog here, and it would be worth your time to check it out.

Paul and His Co-Authors

INFP Theologian

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_153 Rembrandt’s Timothy and his grandmother, 1648

While studying 1 Thessalonians for a college class, I was forced to deal with the critical issues regarding the authorship of the two letters to the churches in Thessalonica. The problem is fairly simple. The syntactical differences between the two works are substantial, as is the tone of the two letters, purportedly sent within a fairly short span of time from one another. The imminence of the Jesus’s return seems to be the focus of the first letter (so say those who question the authenticity of the second epistle) whereas the point of the latter appears to be to dissuade the Thessalonians of its imminence, even including a verse that may be an entreaty for the churches in Thessalonica to ignore the first epistle (2 Thess. 2:1-2).

The latter objection is a stretch. It was common for others to send pseudepigraphal letters in the…

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Paul of Tarsus vs. Jesus of Nazareth?

INFP Theologian

Bartolomeo_Montagna_-_Saint_Paul_-_Google_Art_Project Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1481

It’s been in vogue for the last 300 years to say that Paul crafted his own Jesus and used Him as a springboard for His own essentially Platonic philosophy. The argument goes that Paul, good Hellenistic Jew that he was, was influenced by Gnostic Redeemer myths. Rudolf Bultmann, who is a contender for the most-influential-theologian-of-the-20th-century title, was 50 shades of convinced. Today, however, this idea is losing ground as we struggle to actually locate specific examples of the elusive gnostic redeemer myths. But even as the academic community leaves behind the Gnostic-influence theory, the assumption that Paul distorted the original message of Jesus in order to turn Him into a cult god refuses to die. Scholars who hold this position draw a divide between “the Jesus of History” and the “Christ of faith.” The former was the poor and itinerant preacher/carpenter who left…

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God Gets His Hands Dirty

INFP Theologian

Martin,_John_-_The_Seventh_Plague_-_1823 The Seventh Plague: John Martin’s painting of the plague of hail and fire (1823)

“Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.'”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men, and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Still, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” (Exodus 7: 8-13)

A consistent, though rarely dealt with…

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