The Subnormal Christian Life

So: two kinds of Christian.

The normal – “normal” according to God’s definition, that is – walks in the Spirit, and through His transforming power enjoys a life of miraculous love, joy, peace, and all the rest.

The subnormal – the person who lives by his or her own strength (or as Paul would say it, “in the flesh”). These people might quote Scripture, urge us to holiness, look faithful. They might know some theology terms and Greek words and be highly-educated. They might even be in Christian service. But they cannot attain the normal Christian walk: some live in “traditional” carnality; others in frustration and defeat; or perhaps legalism; or following “principles of success” offered by the world; or devouring self-help manuals; that is, they stumble along in any life pattern that is natural, not supernatural.

So: the Christian life without the miraculous transformation by the Spirit is…what?

Is it driving a car that’s low on gas? No.

A car running on fumes? Nope, keep reading!

A car out of gas, then? Uh-uh, keep going!

It’s a car, better a thing, without gas. Also without motor, drivetrain, radiator, brakes, headlights, mirrors, dashboard, wheels; really devoid of anything that might get you where you need to go.

This sort of person, who doesn’t know the all-consuming permeation and transfiguration of the promised Holy Spirit, is just sitting in a cardboard box of his own choosing and going, “Vroom, Vroom!”

He doesn’t draw an inch closer to God; in fact, he drifts or even accelerates in the opposite direction.

"Lookit me! Vroom, vroom!"

“Lookit me go! Vroom, vroom!”

Gal 5:17 says – “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” – or really, any version of religious do-it-yourself-ism.

Let’s do the Christian life, in Christ’s way.

[The reader might also enjoy a short book of mine in pdf form – How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Several of my books, free and without obligation”.]

“The Subnormal Christian Life,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Heresy = Bible verses twisted just a couple of degrees off center

If someone desires to give the church a certain percentage of their net or gross income, I honor that as their right and privilege. As for me, I promote that all Christians should give generously and cheerfully.

But first, a full disclosure – I believe that tithing was an Old Covenant rite by which about 23% of goods, usually agricultural products, were given to God for the maintenance of the priests, for the poor. I see no comparable requirement for the church, which is supposed to “honor” its leaders (1 Tim 5:17) and make voluntary pledges to special projects (Paul’s Jerusalem Fund). [1]

I have no argument with tithers so long as they have no argument with me. And I’m not speaking here about legalistic tithing or carnal non-tithing.

But in the past few weeks I have found people preaching what must be held up and labeled perversions of the gospel and of the practice of tithing. I’m not even talking about the protection racketeers like Benny Hinn (more…)

Ancient scrap of Mark’s Gospel

This little piece of papyrus is an amazing find, and it looks like it’s now regarded as authentic. It is a scrap of the gospel of Mark, hand-copies in the 80s AD at the very latest. It comes from Egypt and was dated by its handwriting style, by Carbon-14, and by other texts found near it.

I have told my students about early manuscripts of the New Testament and usually I end with, “But they will find even older and more remarkable ones over the next few years, I’m sure of it. From the first century, even.”

Here we are.

It is just a tiny portion of Mark 5:15-18 (the account of the exorcism of Legion), and is about the size of two fingers. On the sixth line you can see part of the word for “demon-possessed” – (δαιμο = …daimo…)

daimo

The short text is letter for letter in agreement with the text of the critical New Testament – the Nestlé-Aland 28th edition – in use around the world today and is the basis for all new Bible versions. Even if you don’t read Greek, the letters are clear as can be.

See the full story and a video here – http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/mummy-mask-may-reveal-oldest-fragment-of-the-gospel-of-mark

mark-manuscript

Why didn’t I drop out of church?

Post after post announces that young people are leaving the church. I’ve read some good insights on the problems and the solutions.

It makes me ponder: Why didn’t I drop out?

Full disclosure: I first went to church because that’s what the family did; later I came to believe that it was part of my new life and necessary for my growth; then a place where I could minister – the church became my calling and from age 22 and onward I have been in part or full-time ministry. [1]

All to say that, my church didn’t have to try very hard to get my interest. And while in college, church attendance was mandatory anyway.

But why not put all that to one side, because beyond these points, there were “centripetal” forces that pulled me into the church. And I’m going to add in some insights from Facebook friends, who helped me work through this topic.

group1

I was challenged to have a first-hand faith. This factor is frequently mentioned these days (more…)

Why Do People Go to Heaven?

Notice that I didn’t say how they get there, I mean why they have traveled there and then returned to tell us all about it. For the past few decades, people have dived into writing up their experiences of heaven – and a few times, of hell – published bestselling books and hit movies.

For my part I am highly doubtful about books on “afterlife tourism”.

One prominent title features The Boy Who Came Back from
content (1) Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World
. It is marketed as “A true story”. Yet last week that bestseller was unceremoniously yanked off the shelves when Alex Malarkey, the “boy” of this title, publicly announced that the story of his journey was untrue. In fact, he had been trying to get a hearing for his confession for two years, but that was hard to do when books kept flying off the shelves – it has sold over a million copies and been made into a TV movie. [1] Thanks Alex, for owning up and bucking the authority of the grownups in your life.

What does the Bible say about these trips? (more…)

“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

[One of my few blog entries on politics, and how it relates to psychology, sociology, and modern apocalyptic eschatology. Here is a full pdf version: Paranoid Style Turns 50_Shogren]

Because of his ability to describe and predict American political behavior, Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” should be required reading for the citizen. And except for Sacred Scriptures and the US Constitution, I never say any text should be mandatory. “Paranoid Style” was a short, dynamite article in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s, and is still available on their website archive. [1] We will look at some of its insights for today, and in particular, its implications for the evangelical church.

His immediate interest was the conservative movement that backed Barry Goldwater for president in the 1964 election. As a confirmed liberal of the old style, that is, to the left of typical Democrats of today, Hofstadter argued that he was not simply being anti-conservative – and that he was! – but rather: “I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing.”

I offer the following script that forms the skeleton of the “paranoid style”:

Nothing is what it seems to be: there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public;

I and a small group of whistle-blowers are even now revealing this hidden reality;

the proofs are extraordinarily complex and interwoven, but the central truth is simple and can be explained in a few sentences;

we who are “in the know” are continually hampered or even checkmated due to powerful enemies and widespread public apathy and gullibility.

“Nothing is what it seems to be – there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public”

conspiracy-theory-top-secretExamples from recent decades would have to include Senator Joe McCarthy, who argued that the loss of Eastern Europe and China to the Reds could not reasonably have happened by accident, or by normal political (more…)

Published in: on December 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (9)  
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FREE BOOK FOR CHRISTMAS!

As a Christmas gift this year, I have bundled together some of my blog posts that have to deal with “How to Life the Christian Life: throw out the old rules and play by the New Covenant.” Over a hundred of you have downloaded it already – enjoy!

Simply click here: How to live the Christian Life_Shogren

I ask only that you consider signing up for my blog on the right-hand column. Either way, the gift is without obligation, and I will not use your email or name in any way.

Gary Shogren, Christmas 2014

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Life in the New Covenant, according to Romans

[The following thoughts are taken from my new commentary on Romans in the Comentario Bíblico Contemporáneo, to be published in 2015 by Ediciones Kairós. It is also available in pdf forms as a small book, How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Four of my books”.]

A “paradigm shift” is not simply coming up with new answers to the same old problems; rather, it involves reworking one’s assumptions and attempting to reframe the questions. For example, the apostle Paul grew up under one paradigm, that the people of God was constituted by the covenant God made with Abraham and the Law given to Moses. That meant that the Israelite was automatically one of God’s own, unless he or she came to reject God’s Law; and that non-Israelites c (more…)

How do God’s servants handle unforeseen questions?

I was as fresh in ministry as could be, still a bit amazed that grown-ups had actually voted me to be their full-time pastor. And it was my first Sunday, my first sermon, with us still fuzzy from memorizing all the names of all the members even as we unpacked our boxes: “Who is the man with the mustache? His job? His wife’s name? How many kids?”

As a pastor I was rolling right off the factory floor: I had just mailed my doctoral thesis back to Scotland and was waiting for the oral exam. So I was primed and filled with data about Pauline eschatology. I’m ready, folks, ask me anything!

The first question I fielded was not about Greek, theology, church history, anything that I had ever read about.

It was: “So Gary, tell me….Ford or Chevy?”

Pardon?

“Ford or Chevy?”

For you non-Americans, Ford trucks versus Chevrolet is one of our long-lived debates (think of “Apple or Microsoft?”). It runs deeper than politics. Google it if you don’t believe me.

I was opinion-free on the Ford/Chevy debate; I had no dog in that fight. And I didn’t want to spend my first Sunday afternoon of my ministry, alienating someone because I chose the wrong darn pickup.

However the thought occurred to me (Is that you, Spirit of God?) that I plickneeded to respond differently than I normally would. Not deceitfully, but along a different tack. So: I had once owned a Ford, a 1971 Maverick. A real dog, too; many of the miles I put on it were driving to the mechanic and back. But definitely a Ford.

The Spirit works quickly. Within a second or two after hearing the question, I snorted and said, “FORD!! Of course!” (In New England, one pronounces Ford and course deeply in the throat, and I said them with the proper intonation).

“Good answer,” my new friend nodded sagely. “Good answer.”

You see, the only really wrong answer I could have given was indifference: I don’t care. I don’t know. They’re both okay. Does it really matter? Why are we bothering about this while all the starving children, etc.? I don’t even remember if he thought Ford was better than Chevy. But he did think it mattered, and he was pleased that I understood that.

Jesus didn’t tell people their questions were frivolous. He answered them, but he then turned the discussion around to deeper things. John 4 is a fine example, with the Samaritan woman’s implied question: “So, Jesus – Samaritan Temple or Jerusalem?” “Jerusalem, of course,” said Jesus, because it was true to a point, and because it really mattered to her. But his interest in the question was limited. It was already too late in history to be debating such matters – the Father was really interested in people worshiping him in the Spirit and in truth, that is, each believer is a temple (John 4:21-24).

When people ask us questions, they might be looking for information, or an opinion. Or they might just be wanting to hear that they matter, both to us and to God. And we who follow the way of love will understand that and act accordingly.

Those Veiled Women of Corinth

[Note: I spent a number of years writing a commentary on 1 Corinthians for a Latin American audience (you can get it free in English HERE). 20 pages contain the full exegesis of the passage; in this blog I will mainly spell out my conclusions].

Part of Bible study is not just understanding what the author was teaching, but what problem the Scripture was intended to solve, and also to apply his teaching in a context today. In this case, we live in a culture that is far removed from first-century Corinth:

 …every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. (1 Cor 11:4-6)

My interpretation of this section is:

Paul taught all his churches that in a worship service both men and women are free to pray aloud and to speak prophetically to the congregation. Men should pray and prophesy with their heads bared; women, who arrive already wearing a veil – like a scarf or small shawl on their head, as dictated the local culture – should continue to wear it throughout the meeting. This rule was given for several reasons: it reflected the created order as described in Genesis; because it was “natural”; because to do otherwise would bring cultural shame. But later on, some Corinthian women wanted to shed the veil. Paul perceives that, while the veil in itself is not a fundamental issue of the faith, the motivations for rejecting the veil were questionable: to declare independence from men/husbands; to reject the relevance of cultural mores for a Christian; to act as if gender differences did not exist. For these reasons he reaffirms that women and men must maintain the status quo that he has established for Christian meetings.

Those women who wish to pray without a veil need to realize that they are obligated to glorify God in part by honoring “the men,” that is their brothers in Christ. Neither man nor woman in Christ is an individual unit; each must come to Christ through serving the other. Thus Paul also reminds the men: if you are tempted to lord it over women, remember that you came from a woman (11:8) and that you too have to answer to a head, that is Christ, and to make very sure that you are reflecting glory to another, not to yourself.

A "respectable" Roman woman with veil

A “respectable” Roman woman with veil

Clothing in some societies conveys strong signals about social position, self-consciousness, and gender. For example, not many generations ago, when a girl reached a certain age and started wearing her hear bound “up,” she was signaling that she was available for marriage. For boys, the purchase of their first pair of long pants was an anxiously-awaited step toward manhood. In Roman society, a respectable married woman or widow went out in public with her hair worn up and covered with a veil or shawl (more…)

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