How Salvation Becomes Muddled & Mysterious The More I Read The Bible

I’m betting you don’t know as much about “salvation” as you think you do. Salvation is broader, richer, deeper, and greater than what you imagine. Because you’ve experienced some of what it is, you may think you’ve experienced all of it. For some Christians, salvation is so common that they don’t pause and give it thought. Today, I’d like to challenge you to think about salvation according to some Bible passages that mess with a common understanding of salvation.

Personal “Salvation” Journey 

As a teenager, I became enamored with “salvation.” Perhaps due to being a third generation Christian, growing up in a Christian home, or experiencing God’s unique tug on my heart, what it means to be a Christian bewitched me. Almost 50 years later, I’m still enchanted by the nature of a person’s relationship with God.

For most of my life I thought of salvation as being rescued from sin and hell, while being given a home in heaven. At mid-life, the relational aspect of salvation became prominent. Eventually, I came to realize salvation as a reality to be entered into in Jesus Christ in which I participate more and more fully as union with the Trinity is experienced. Salvation is Jesus Christ and a human being’s union with the the Holy Trinity through Him.

Yet for many years, I thought I had salvation clearly figured out – election, calling, justification, sanctification, reconciliation, propitiation, glorification – all in a nice, neat, tidy theological system. I even wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject. Yet, my intellectual assertions and my visceral heart were often at odds. I would tie myself in knots reasoning one thing while experiencing another. This was extremely unsettling. My “secure foundations” started crumbling, clearing away my defective ideas. I began discovering a deeper, richer bedrock, theologically and fundamentally solid.

Of all things, the scriptures played a major role in the “idea” of salvation morphing into a fuller reality. The more I read scripture the more I couldn’t hold to my “certainty.” That sounds like a bad thing. It was not.

Along the way, I realized that I had forced onto scripture my own tightly-wound perspective of salvation. But, when I began reading scripture at “face value,” free from theological bias, I began discovering how fragmented my thinking really was. 

Scriptures 

These are some of the scriptures that began dismantling and simultaneously rebuilding my understanding of salvation: 

Matthew 19.16-26/Luke 18.18-30

“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”…If you would enter life, keep the commandments….If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me…Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven….Who then can be saved?…With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Luke 18.29-30: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.“)

Matthew 19.14 

Let the little children come unto me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 10.25 

What must I do to inherit eternal life? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself….Do this and you shall live.

Matthew 25.31-46 

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

 Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

 Matthew 5.20 
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Matthew 12.37

For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

John 5.28-29 

Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

John 6.53-58

Truly, truly I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

John 7.37-38 

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Romans 2.5-10

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

2 Corinthians 5.10 

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Philippians 2.12-13

…as you have always obeyed, so now…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

2 Thessalonians 1.5-8

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering…when the Lord Jesus is revealed…inflicting vengeance of those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Hebrews 5.9 

And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…

James 2.20-24

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness — and he was called a friend of God.” You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

1 Peter 4.17 

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?

To Each His Own? 

These passages can be spun in certain theological directions. Calvinists will interpret them one way, Arminians another. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, Baptists, Charismatics, Adventists, Methodists, Anglicans, non-denominationalists can give their distinct and sundry explanations. Ask 100 Christians what these verses mean and you’ll receive 100 different answers. It’s almost impossible to take these words at face value since theological loyalties run deep.

Yet these verses present a direct and authoritative challenge to whatever your theological leanings. If you believe the scriptures are the final word on matters of salvation, eternal life, the Kingdom of God, and the gospel, you must wrestle with the implications of such statements of truth. 

Conclusions:

I’m not trying to “prove” anything here. I’m simply seeking to broaden your understanding of salvation. I want to challenge you to explore salvation more deeply not confuse you and create doubt. 

  • Salvation is freely given. Yet, you must accept and live salvation (“put on”) to experience its fullness.
  • Salvation is more than a transaction – you believe, God forgives, you’re declared righteous. It is a call to LIFE in union with Jesus Christ as these verses often explain.
  • Salvation is a mystery. There is more here than you’ll ever know in this life. New discoveries of what it is to “be saved” need to be happening daily.

Will you take up the challenge to explore what it means to be saved? Meditate on these passages. Follow the evidence. Let the Triune God guide you into the glorious mystery of salvation. 

Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K

10 UnCommon Things For Which I’m Thankful

Don't Miss #10

Thankfulness is a powerful force in our spiritual lives. It can transform every relationship and hardship. Today we celebrate gratefulness. I hope you do that well. 

Here are 10 Uncommon things for which I’m grateful: 

  1. Classical music – the beauty of blending instruments, of moving melody lines, of the variety of musical expressions, of the lives of the composers, and of the feeding of the soul makes this music worth listening to. 
  2. Struggles – from the small irritations of my wife (you who know her may find that hard to believe) to regular, daily stuff that gets under my skin, these experiences challenge me to change. This includes the stuff I bring upon myself. I usually don’t like these struggles but I’m thankful for them anyway (well, after I process them a bit). 
  3. Amazon – the convenience of doing research online and ordering with a click of the mouse sure beats the time it takes to visit many stores to find that one item. I know I’m supporting big corporation America and ignoring the little local guy. But I try to balance it all out. (Please don’t judge me :-)) 
  4. Jesus Christ – revealed in His Church, creation, scriptures, and people continues to surprise me, inspire me, and humble me. 
  5. Church family – my little church of 35-40 people, all seeking God out of their motley lives, is part of the Church of 300 million. Thanks be to God! 
  6. Birds – my admiration of this group of endothermic vertebrates continues to rise. Their simple lives – God provides, they participate, their beauty, and their enviable high metabolic rate impress me. God’s creation is glorious. 
  7. Gentle breezes – the wind harmonizing in the trees reminds me of the work of the Holy Spirit. You can’t see the wind but you can see the results of it. I love it blowing on my face. I love hearing the rustling of the leaves. 
  8. Water – is cleansing, refreshing, essential, and beautiful in its place. It can be destructive. However, without it we would not be able to live. It is another simple thing that makes life happen. 
  9. Airbnb – this company is helping us enlarge our hospitality ministry. We make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people every year as we show the love of Jesus to every “stranger” who enters our home. It’s a great honor to serve others as did Abraham and Sarah, Jesus himself, and hundreds of saints throughout history. 
  10. YOU – as a reader of the UnCommon Journey and part of this little community, you are special to me. I pray for you daily and thank God for you. I know I write about some topics that you like and others that you don’t. You may agree or disagree or wrestle with what’s written. But, you hang in there with me. I am thankful for you. 

May you have a special Thanksgiving Day. 

Dr. K 

Exploring Sex, Seniors, and Spirituality

Growing Old Has Spiritual Advantages

Jack may be retired, but he isn’t dead. Watching his ever-beautiful wife’s shadowy figure behind the shower curtain heightens the still-employed passion within. He thoughtfully relives memorable nights when it was “all systems go.” Automatically, his ero-system starts to hum. The mingling of hunger and hope feeds the genitive engine while her soft touch energizes it. This is, until “what’s under the hood” breaks down with the finish line far away. 

“Damn it!,” Jack screams at himself, irritated by his “incompetence.” “What is my problem? I’ve got to do something about this. No way am I going to live for the rest of my life unable to perform. I’m a man, not a wimp!”

Are you less human if you are not sexually active, unable to engage in sexual relationships, or choose not to? Some anthropologists think so. Since we are sexual beings, they reason, we must engage in sexual activity or we are not truly human. This is what can happen when God and His ways are missing from the discussion. Secularism struggles mightily to know the true nature of humans and sexuality. 

3 Reasons Sexual Activity is Not Essential To Being Human (Christian perspective): 

  1. The Church Fathers are nearly unanimous in understanding that in paradise, before the fall, sexual intercourse was unknown. It is first mentioned after the fall. 
  2. In eternity, when we will be more human than ever, sexual activity is not necessary. We will experience a union with God, our spouses, and others that will transcend anything we could imagine on earth. There will be no marriage or physical union, yet real oneness will be experienced. 
  3. Jesus, John the Forerunner, Paul, Mary (according to Church tradition), many Bible characters and saints never engaged in sexual intercourse. Jesus was a perfect human being. A few others have come close. Most were celibate. 

This sounds totally foreign to us who live in a sex-dominated culture. We are inundated with messages that sexual activity is normal. It’s OK to engage in sex as early as you can and as long as you can. To limit its practice is to be narrow-minded, odd, and, worst of all, “goody-goody.” 

The multimillion dollar male enhancement industry is a global phenomenon made possible by internet e-commerce. Worldwide market data for the industry is unavailable, but 2008 sales were estimated in excess of $100 million U.S. (Male Enhancement Blog) 

Most moderns see less sexual activity and/or sexual desire as a problem. The solutions? See your doctor. Try this lubricant or pill. Set up an appointment with a therapist. You must stay sexually active as long as you’re alive.

Even as I wrote this post, I realized I’ve been deeply influenced by these messages and away from a Christian perspective. I keep using the term “sexual intercourse” when the term I need to be using is “marital intercourse.” According to God, the Church, and the Bible writers, proper sexual activity is always marital intercourse. 
 
3 Fundamental (& Traditional) Purposes of Marital Intercourse 
  1. Tame the passions – In 1 Cor. 7 Paul teaches us to escape lustful temptation through conjugal union in marriage. Since the man usually has the “hotter flame,” the wife is the one who cools him in the intimacy of marital intercourse. This is God’s design.   
  2. Create life – Procreation is passing on the image of God to another human being and is not just physical. Married couples can birth eternal human beings. To “be fruitful and increase” (Gen. 1.28; though there is debate as to the exact meaning), is foundational for most married couples.  
  3. Promote marital unity – Marital intercourse demonstrates and solidifies a strengthening bond of sacred companionship and friendship to enable humans to make it through this life  Described in Proverbs 5.15-23, beautiful intercourse nourishes a spirit of friendship and harmony in marriage. 

How do these fundamental purposes apply in various stages of life? 

  • In young couples (20-40), #1 is often the dominate purpose followed closely by #2,  then #3.
  • In middle-aged couples (40-60) – #1 and #3 may be the purposes that dominate.
  • In older couples (60+) – #3 purpose will dominate with #1 always in the picture.    

Christian Marriage

Marriage is a Christian reality not secular. In Ephesians 5.22-33, marriage is described as “a great ‘mystery.’” Mystery is the same word as “sacrament” leading the traditional church to understand marriage as a sacrament infused by and infusing God’s grace. This is no trivial matter. In the marital relationship, God is pictured and seen in his sacrificial love for humanity through Jesus Christ. Only the crucifixion provides a more powerful picture. 

Dr. Josiah Trenham, pastor, scholar, and author of Marriage and Virginity according to St. John Chrysostom, says that a “husband and wife living together [is] the 

tangible expression of the gospel. The husband represents the self-denying love of Christ pouring himself out for the salvation of his bride, the Church, his wife, and the woman functions as the humble church. This is the most profound tangible expression of the gospel. People should be able to look at Christian couples and say, ‘Wow! There is a God who loves humanity; and a humanity/church that loves God.'”

Ancient writers, old age, and sexuality 

Please indulge me. Let me pass on to you a “revelation” about these matters that was introduced to me a few years ago and continues to play out in my life.

The purpose in getting older is to help you live more deeply in union with Christ and to prepare you for eternity where you’ll live together with God forever.

Aging, even with all its challenges and “malfunctions,” is to be celebrated as a struggle to become like Christ. 

This reality emerges from a patristic understanding of the resurrected state and thus the nature of the body in the afterlife. A Patristic worldview on the nature of the resurrected state and transformation of the human body has practical implications for all Christians. Here I quote Dr. Trenham: 

Here [on earth, currently] many are seeking a “Viagra condition,” and doing all they can do, at great expense, to avoid the effects of the aging process…I have counseled an ailing and aging parishioner who is poignantly frustrated at the growing number of impediments he faces as he nears death. When I suggested to him that perhaps these very bodily impediments were actually gracious blessings bestowed by God to enable him to calm his bodily passions, detach himself from the world, and ready himself for a successful transition from this life to the next (and therefore should be embraced and plumbed wholeheartedly for all the grace inherent in them), his countenance was transformed and his whole perspective on what was happening to his body changed.

The Christian perspective on aging is reflected beautifully in Kontakion 9 of the Akathist Hymn for the Repose of the Departed

Bless swiftly passing time; every hour, every moment bringeth eternity nearer to us. A new sorrow; a new gray hair are heralds of the world to come, they are witnesses of earthly corruption, they proclaim that all passeth away, that the eternal Kingdom draweth nigh, where there are neither tears nor sighing but the joyful song: Alleluia! 

Preparation for the next life includes a lessening of the sexual passions and physical “performance.” This reality can be grudgingly tolerated, passively accepted, or positively embraced. What begins as a thoughtful choice becomes a transformational heart and mind attitude that morphs and develops over time. This is all preparatory for the next life where there is no marital intercourse even though we will experience a “oneness” only tantalizingly known in earthly marriage.

You can embrace getting older or keep worshiping youth. But, it’s wiser and healthier to understand that your physical limits are happening because God desires you to become less attached to the things of the earth and to make the transition to the next life. Your physical limitations are actually freeing you to become a fuller human being already experiencing the Kingdom of God. 

Dr. Trenham reminds us:

This is the natural process of infertility. So get ready. Dispossess yourself, set your life in order. Spend your last years really seeking the Lord. Positively give up the earthly pleasures of sexual union knowing that a greater pleasure of eternal union with our spouse and with Christ in heaven is coming.

 

Preparation Through Moderation and Regulation.

Moderation: Just as it is necessary to be moderate with food consumption, so with sexual activity. Enjoy your sexual meal times yet include sexual fasting days as well. Follow a personal rule of “no sex” days. Use these days to focus on prayer and communion with God. St. Paul encourages this in 1 Corinthians 7.5: “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 

Regulation: Regulate your sexual activities. Monitor how your body is functioning and allow it to guide you. You need to be in control of your “urges” not the other way around. Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD) writes about regulating human activities which is applied to marriage by Dr. Trenham: 

Christian marriage is to be characterized by a sexuality both reasonable and disciplined. One need not separate those whom God has joined together in order for self-discipline to exist. Marriage is “disciplined pleasure,” and as such is harmless. Chastity, which ought to exist in marriage, is the body’s holy robe. Clement’s pedagogical goal was not to eradicate the things which came naturally to men, but to regulate them for holiness. (Marriage and Virginity, p. 47)

I hope you’ll gain a fresh perspective on aging as a Christian from this post. Now you have a few more reasons to celebrate getting older (besides “Senior discounts”). 

How have you struggled with the aging process? How do the realities I highlight give you a different perspective? Please, share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K  

Why Christian Introverts Ought to be Honored Not Denounced

12 Benefits of Being a Christian Introvert

Is how we function as Christians determined by our personality? Perhaps. Adam McHugh, pastor and author of Introverts in the Church, observes: “The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness and extroversion. The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’ld like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.’” The purpose of this post is to let all introverts, Christians in particular, know that God is pleased with you. Introversion needs to be celebrated. 

Extrovert Evangelicalism

Though studies by psychologists and sociologists cite findings that introverts comprise 30 – 50% of the general population, the evangelical church is definitely biased towards the extrovert. The larger culture of extroversion, especially in America, has infiltrated the church. Charismatic, articulate, innovative, energetic, and expressive Christians and leaders are lauded as the best examples of being a Christian. A good Christian is an extrovert Christian. 

I have been made to feel “less-than” because I’m an introvert. I’m supposed to be someone else. In the pastorate, this was a tough assignment. I often felt like a square peg in a round hole. I played the extrovert part well. But as far as my personality went, I was living a double life. I know there are thousands of introverted Christians who feel the same way. Thriving in an extroverted evangelicalism is difficult. 

Pastor Eugene Peterson observes, “American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.” Extroverts reign. 

McHugh sees an even more troublesome issue.

Many evangelical [mega]churches, in their hope to create comfortable environments for seekers, have stripped their sanctuaries and worship services of any sense of mystery and the sacred. Their fast moving, high production events may entertain us and their avid employment of modern technology may dazzle us, but many times, they cannot help us hear the still, small voice of God. (Introverts in the Church, p 27)  

No church is exempt. There’s a little Baptist church on the country road we drive everyday. Currently its sign reads: “The Gospel begins with GO.” The thought is, “To accept Jesus Christ means lots of activity.” It’s a misleading message in light of Jesus’ gospel message to “come.” 

Evangelicalism has always had this problem. You’re expected to enthusiastically express your devotion to Jesus by your emotions, passionate singing, confident sharing, public demonstrations of worship with beaming faces, tears, or bodily movement and vocal expressions. “Really good” services are fast moving, dazzling, innovative, stimulating, and emotionally moving. At the center of most mega-churches and large Christian organizations is a larger-than-life, Charismatic person famous for something he or she does well.

Extroverts thrive in these settings. Introverts tolerate them or work hard to be accepted in them usually suffering silently. Often, they are made to feel less Christian because they are not as emotional or expressive. 

Introvert Christianity

There seem to be many introverts whose lives are recorded in scripture – Moses the stutterer, David the shepherd and king, Timothy the timid, virgin Mary the ponderer, Zacheus the shy, Mary the silent at Jesus’ feet, or even most of the apostles. 

Church history is filled with thousands of men and women, contemplative and solitary, who are held in high esteem for their piety and impact on society. They are usually the de facto and often the official leaders of the church due to their holiness, humility, and experiential knowledge of God. They are often courageous and happy martyrs. They sometimes fight heretics tooth and nail. Theirs is a robust faith forged in solitary struggle and tenacious humility.  

Introvert Stereotypes

An introvert is often equated with someone who does not like people. In reality, they simply relate to people differently than an extrovert. They are capable of deep friendships and genuine love for others. They may not be the life of the party yet they enjoy quality conversations with a few people. Introversion should not be equated with anti-social behavior.

Introversion is often seen as a weakness, flaw, or problem to be solved like alcoholism. Join this program, attend this seminar, read this book and you’ll get better. Introversion is not a disease that needs a cure. It is a personality trait that needs to be celebrated. 

Nor is introversion the same as shyness. According to introvert expert Susan Cain, shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.

This is a key reality. The introvert’s stimulus quota is met quite easily. They don’t need high amounts of enthusiasm, emotion, provocation, or inspiration to keep them going. They are usually self motivated or influenced by genuine offers of support. 

Lastly, introversion is not inherently narcissistic. The idea that introverts are essentially selfish and absorbed with themselves is false. Some may demonstrate an unhealthy degree of self-preoccupation without God in the picture. However, a healthy introversion always has an outward component to it. 

Amy Simpson’s description is fitting:

Introverts aren’t out of touch with the world around them; they’re so in touch, they can take only so much of it. Their brains are more active, so external stimuli can quickly overwhelm them. When this happens, they have to recharge on their own. They don’t need to be energized; they need space and quiet so they can draw on their internal energy. (click here for full article) 

 What Does An Introvert Look Like? 

Cain writes,

“Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame….may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions. (Quiet, p. 11)

McHugh denotes three major characteristics of introverts (Introverts in the Church, pp 35-43)

  • Energized by solitude – recharged from the inside out
  • Processes internally – integrate information and think silently
  • Preference for depth over breadth – in relationships, interests, self-discovery, 

I believe introversion in a Christian needs to be celebrated. An introvert has great potential for a deep and rich understanding and life-long experience of God. 

12 (Ideal) Spiritual Benefits of Being an Introvert 

  1. You joyously crave quiet solitude with the Holy Trinity like Mary at Jesus’ feet. 
  2. You care deeply about loving God with your whole heart, soul, and body and make intense effort to learn how. 
  3. You genuinely love and care for people out of a sincere heart no matter what is personally gained. 
  4. You listen well because the other person is more important than you. 
  5. You tend towards meekness since you do not like being the center of attention or talking about yourself constantly.  
  6. You are naturally attentive to what is around you; a sensitivity to others.  
  7. You passionately desire internal transformation since you know that all you do comes from the heart. 
  8. You honestly recognize your own faults and frailties stemming from regular and honest heart and mind examination. 
  9. You pray in solitude knowing that communion with God is the path to deepening union with Him. 
  10. You are “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1.19) seeking to understand before being understood. 
  11. You lead from the inside out with inner authenticity since who you are determines what you do. 
  12. You are a deep well of thoughtfulness and goodness having given so much of your life to the quiet pursuit of knowing God and His wisdom. 

Why might a Christian introvert live life more internally? Perhaps it’s because they intuitively know that they are never alone. The reality of the Holy Trinity dwelling within their heart and everywhere present transforms solitude into a simple, life-giving interaction. From that quiet participation in the life of the Trinity comes the substantial capability to sensibly participate in all of life. 

The final scene of Season one of the Detectorists, a British sitcom, shows the two main characters, Lance and Andy, at a small hole dug by Lance in the middle of a large field. His detector had spotted an object that turned out to be an old pull-ring. Disgusted by their bad luck again(!), they decide to head for the pub. The camera, however, continues underground showing the long-sought-after treasury of old jewelry, gold coins, and valuable artifacts left by King Sexred of the East Saxons; the very treasure they’ve been fervently hunting for years. If only they’d continued to dig deeper and not settled for a pitiful pull-ring.

A Christian introvert does not settle for superficial distractions. He or she persistently digs deeper. There is great reward in doing so. 

Are you an introvert? In light of this post, share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K

5 Surprising Reasons The Reformation Should Not Be Celebrated

Unintended Consequences of the Protestant Reformation

2017 marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. While many evangelicals celebrate this historical event, I see its underbelly….and it’s not pretty. Popular legend has Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses, entitled “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” to the Wittenberg Castle church on October 31, 1517. It was his intent to use this effort to encourage debate over questionable church practices and beliefs. But, it set off a firestorm that we know today as the Protestant Reformation. Significant, yes. But in many ways, damaging.

Whether reformation of the Roman Catholic Church was needed can be debated. However, I agree with Christian historian Jaroslav Pelikan who identified the reformation as a “tragic necessity.” In this post, I write about five unintended negative consequences brought about by the Protestant Reformation.

 1. The Reformation unintentionally helped produce a secular society and church.

Historian Brad Gregory writes, “In getting from the early sixteenth to the early twenty-first century,…’incompatible, deeply held, concretely expressed religious convictions paved the path to a secular society.” (The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, Brad S. Gregory, p.2) In this case, secular means “God removed from the world and everyday life.”

Secularism is effectively described by Fr. Stephen Freeman using the analogy of a two-storey building – God lives on the second story and humans live on the first. God looks down on humanity while humans seek to manage life and the world on their own with an occasional assist from God. He writes:

This (secularism) was part of a much larger culture forged in the crucible of the protestant reformation and the birth of the modern world in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today it is the dominant shape of the universe shared by most centuries of the modern western world [Christendom]. It is the universe in which modern believers live. It is also a universe increasingly hostile to religious belief.

The two-storey universe is as though the universe were a two-storey house. We live here on earth, the first floor where things are simply things and everything operates according to normal natural laws while God lives in heaven, upstairs, and is largely removed from the storey in which we live. To effect anything here, God must interrupt the laws of nature and perform a “miracle.” (Every Where Present, Stephen Freeman)

Prior to the protestant reformation the world was seen as a one-storey universe where God was everywhere present and filling all things. We know this as a sacramental worldview. Divine immanence was the dominant understanding of God’s relationship with humanity in both the Eastern and Western Church.

Since the Roman Catholic Church adhered to divine immanence, John Calvin reacted adversely emphasizing the transcendence of God. Calvin taught that God’s work in the natural world ceased once the scriptures were formed. God’s ordinary work in nature, people, and creatures was not needed once scriptures were completed.

Scholar Carlos Eire writes of Calvin in his book War Against the Idols:

Calvin’s denial of miracles in the material sphere is the capstone of his metaphysical (study of existence, reality) assumptions. Uneasy with any intermingling of the spiritual and the material, he takes the miraculous out of the ordinary and moves it into the realm of revelation. Only when God decides to break into this world to communicate with humans does he appoint specific instances where the natural material order is changed. Aside from such extraordinary events which God intends as proof of His revelation and not as ends in themselves, there is no intrusion of the Divine spiritual sphere into the material. This world operates on its own divinely appointed principles. Religion then, does not seek to change the way the material world operates but rather to understand it as it is, eternally subject to God’s will and as always incapable of transmitting any spiritual power in and of itself. To believe otherwise, says Calvin, is to transfer God’s glory to His creation and this is the trap of idolatry.

Calvin lived in a two-storey universe with God removed from this natural material world out of his fear of idolatry. However, it seems obvious that God and His glory are experienced everywhere in creation from a stunning sunrise to a delicate rose. All beauty is God manifesting Himself in it. Yet, when it is believed that God has no part in the natural world, it is a small step to believe He is removed from everything in the world. In this way, Calvin and many reformers planted the seed of secularism in the 16th century. It blossoms thoroughly today.

 2. The Reformation set denominationalism in motion.

Doctrinal disagreements brought about by the individual interpretation of scripture resulted in branches of Christianity never seen before the reformation. Soon these branches formed groups of people calling themselves church. Instead of one, holy, apostolic, and catholic church, there was now multiple churches each claiming to possess the truth.

Today, the number of “Christian” denominations and organizations range from 30,000 to 40,000. “Christian truth claims vary greatly across different individuals, congregations, churches, and traditions. In countless ways they conflict with one another.” (The Unintended Reformation, p.75) Yet, they all claim to be Christian. Though there have been heretical maverick groups from the beginning of the Church, which have been condemned by the Church, the reformers tacitly endorsed the practice of insurgency. This may have been necessary due to the abuses and errors of the Roman Catholic church. However, an unintended consequence of breaking away in protest, was the destruction of Church unity for which Christ prayed (John 17.20-23).

 3. The Reformation proliferated doctrinal disagreement.

Once the dogma of the Catholic church was rejected, there was a mad scramble to establish new theological structures. How was human life to be made more genuinely Christian if Catholicism, both Eastern and Western, was not the answer? “Reformation leaders thought the root problem [of specious Christianity] was doctrinal, and in seeking to fix it by turning to the Bible they unintentionally introduced multiple sorts of unwanted disagreement. This constituted a new set of problems…What was true Christianity and how was it known? Doctrinal controversy was literally endless, and religious-political conflicts between Catholics and magisterial Protestants…were destructive and inconclusive.” (The Unintended Reformation, p.21)

You might get the impression that as the reformation began, all reformers were on the same theological page. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They had a common enemy but lacked a common system to dismantle it. Doctrinal disagreements with Roman Catholicism is obvious. But the doctrinal battles between the reformers is often swept under the rug. It often looked like this:  Ulrich Zwingli, Swiss reformer, wrote, “I know for certain that God teaches me, because I have experienced it.” And Luther counters, “Beware of Zwingli and avoid his books as the hellish poison of Satan, for the man is completely perverted and has completely lost Christ.”

Dr. Gregory comments on the extent of these disputes, “Doctrinal disagreement…is the most fundamental and consequential fact about Western Christianity since 1520…” (The Unintended Reformation, p.45) From destructive religious wars to vehement arguments on the internet, Gregory’s evaluation holds true.

Thanks to the reformation, dissent about truth claims, allegedly originating in scripture, dominates the Christian landscape.

 4. The Reformation inspired radical individualism. 

“It is widely agreed among the vast majority of modern Christians that whatever its content, religious conviction is a highly personal, individual matter. Only each person can determine what is right and best for her or him.” (The Unintended Reformation, p.75) The Reformers trade one Pope for tens of thousand individual popes. The authority of the Church is rejected and each individual becomes an authority unto himself or herself. Each person is widely thought to be his or her own sovereign authority. This is “freedom of religion” in the minds of many Christians. You are free to believe…whatever.

When I discuss the “one, holy, apostolic and catholic church” with friends, the most common reaction is a strong statement of individuality. “I need to be in a church where I’m free to express myself.” “What about being free to believe what I want?” “I like/believe/want _______, so I want a church that has that.”

Gone are the days when the Church shapes us. We operate as free agents able to determine for ourselves what a Christian is and how to live like one. This is a result of breaking away from a spiritual authority outside ourselves, championed by the reformers.

 5. The Reformation fostered scriptural innovations.

For over 12 centuries, the Church practiced and articulated her understanding of God in relative unity. This ecclesiastical and doctrinal unity was severely damaged by the Reformation as the Bible began to be upheld as the sole authority. Practices that were within the guidance of scripture and part and parcel of Church life were rejected based on innovative scriptural interpretations. Church Tradition was rejected based on individual understandings of the Bible. Luther contorted faith in Christ to mean faith alone and tried to undermine large sections of canonical scripture to fit his new view. 1200 years of a sacramental understanding of scripture and Christian living were rejected because Calvin thought “the infinite could not be contained in the finite.” (Yet, the Virgin bears God, God takes on human flesh, and the Holy Spirit indwells humans.) According to Zwingli’s individual interpretation of scripture, baptism and the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) were merely symbolic not withstanding 1500 years of the Church’s understanding and practice.

“Sola scriptura” seems to make sense. An authority is needed. The scriptures are declared to be that authority. But, a major problem arises when the scriptures are considered the only authority. Let’s be honest; that’s not really possible. The scriptures must be interpreted. Therefore, in actuality, the interpreter is the authority. Individuals place reasoning, experience, Holy Spirit leading, or theological biases on the scriptures and reach certain conclusions. That is how innovations come about.

The question then becomes, who has the legitimate authority to interpret scripture? In reality, the reformers could never give a true answer to this question (without pointing to themselves). A void of authority was created such that everyone could interpret according to their own understanding. Innovations about the meaning of various scriptural teachings are another unintended consequence of the reformation.

Another: The Reformation unwittingly caused a shift in focus from salvation being a relational encounter with the Triune God towards union with Him to salvation being belief in a set of propositional concepts about God including a forensic or legal understanding of the atonement.

Salvation and the Christian life have become more about what you believe than who. Faith in the five “solas:” Scripture alone, Grace alone, Christ alone, Faith alone, God’s glory alone rivals faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Can a person reject the five solas and still have hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus? Those within the reformed tradition might be hard pressed to answer. 

Why does this matter? Because much of what modern Christians struggle with and much of what causes problems for evangelical-protestant churches (secularism, denominationalism, doctrinal conflict, individualism, scriptural understanding, and salvation) comes as a result of the protestant reformation. Perhaps the 500-year celebrations need to be tempered by clarity and a good dose of reality. 

You don’t have to agree with all of this. But, perhaps you can see the Reformation a little more clearly. 

Dr. K