There was a time in my life when I honestly had no idea what I believed about anything. I had leanings, opinions and thoughts on everything, but no firm stances. Firm stances worry me because nothing can send a life askew quite like having a firm stance on something only to find out that your firm stance is wrong or incomplete or misguided. My mid to late twenties were years of desperation and tormented truth-seeking. When I started to come out of my questions with a few answers I wrote an essay to try to verbalize what I believe about everything. I nervously re-read it today hoping my convictions hadn't changed. Strangely enough, they hadn't. I stil believe these things, and looking back over the last ten years I can say that these beliefs shaped most every move I made. Some of my friends here have been asking what I believe about certain theological issues lately...maybe this will help those of you hoping to see a few inches deeper into my soul. (Warning: There are a few big words...when you are writing what you believe about belief big words tend to slip in...)
"My Convictions: A personal epistemological treatise."
God is Sovereign. The Creator, Sustainer, and Consummator of the universe. He alone deserves praise, worship and homage. He truly is King of all that was, is and will be.
As King, God has always desired a people to be his followers, the people of God. In this regard, God is truly "political" in the literal since of the word, but his "polis" surpasses the kingdoms of this world, which amount to nothing compared to his Kingdom. In the Old Testament, God elected the nation of Israel to be his chosen people.
As the entire New Testament testifies, Jesus came to proclaim access to the Kingdom of God, fulfilling and completing the Law and the Prophets of the Jews. Jesus came, announcing the good news (gospel) that the Kingdom had broken into humanity in a new, fresh, and eschatologically significant way. Jesus himself was the Kingdom as he incarnated God among us. As the Messiah/Christ (literally, King) Jesus offered access into the Kingdom of God to all who would listen to his proclamation, turn from their sin and faithfully believe in his authority.
The reality of this new "Kingdom-among-us" radically transformed the lives of Jesus' closest friends and disciples. Since the death, burial and resurrection of Christ the reality and power of the Kingdom of God has been made available to all people who will continue to follow Christ as his early friends did.
God, by nature, is a missional being. He is a missionary God. Even within Himself, He is a sending God. (The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Spirit.) The people of God reflect his missional character by allowing themselves to be sent by Him, proclaiming life in the Kingdom and incarnating the love of God in their time and place. All disciples of Jesus follow Him as King and are sent by Him as his ambassadors to the world.
The people of God are called to live as resident aliens in a world that is not their own. Therefore, for every true follower of Christ, their world (their time, place and culture) is their mission field, not their ultimate home. They are residents of the Kingdom of God-both the Kingdom of the here-and-now and the Kingdom that is to come.
A true missional spirit of the people of God allows for outsiders to partake in the community and joy of authentic Kingdom living, making "evangelism" a natural and organic process that flows from any true missional community of God-followers. The numerical growth of Jesus-disciples in any given culture is always connected to the depth of love and community that the people of God share with each other.
God is an eternal community of one-ness. Though He is Three, He is also One. God exists in everlasting love within his own being-Father, Son and Spirit. God created mankind to live in community with Himself. He desires a people.
Men and women are created with an innate longing for community with God and with each other. However, the human race both originally and continually opts to sin against God. As human beings continue to prefer their own will to the will of God, true community with God and other people becomes impossible for fallen people. However, through Christ, God has returned the gift of community to the human race.
Through the faithfulness of Christ, community occurs within the context of the Kingdom of God as followers of Jesus trust the Holy Spirit and love one another in response to first being loved by God. The Holy Spirit intercedes by giving gifts to believers for the building up of the Body of Christ.
When the Kingdom of God is proclaimed and received in a given locality, the Holy Spirit forms the people of God into a church (literally, "called-out-ones"). The local church functions as the people of God and as the embassy of the Kingdom of God in a given culture.
The Church as the eschatological sign, foretaste and agent of the Kingdom:
The Church is not the Kingdom of God. The Church submits to the Kingdom as its sign, foretaste and agent. The Church is a particularly eschatological phenomenon. This means that the church belongs to the last days (the "eschaton"). These last days came with the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ and will be completed upon his second coming to earth. The church exists in the interim days between the beginning and the end of the eschaton. The church is a pilgrim people on a voyage toward the summation of this created realm and the ultimate and total reign of God as the true and only King.
The church is the sign of the Kingdom in that it is not the Kingdom, but it points people toward the rule of God. The church is the witness of the reality that the Kingdom of God is both already alive among us and will one day fully come. In this regard, the church exists to proclaim King Jesus and his Kingdom to the world.
The church is the foretaste of the Kingdom in that it contains the true people of God. Though the Kingdom has not come fully, it has come already. The rule and love of God may be felt and understood within the church in a real and dynamic way. Life in the church prepares us and fits us for life in the Kingdom.
The church is the agent of the Kingdom in that it does the work of the Kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit. God normally chooses his people to do his work. With this understanding, the church truly incarnates King Jesus and becomes his Body and his Family on earth. The people of God function as the hands, feet and voice of Christ to those who are both near and far from Him.
The Church as the counter-cultural community of Jesus in a specific culture:
The church exists as a community of Jesus followers. The community, however, is normally, if not always, counter-cultural to the dominant structures of the time and place where the church exists. The local church sees itself as the "polis" or city of God. Members of the church allow themselves to be led only by God (their true Lord), not by the epistemology, economy or politics of their culture.
More often than not, the politics of Jesus are different than the dominant worldview being lived out day to day by the people of any culture. As a general rule, when the church becomes too central or cozy with the powers that be, the church loses its marginality, its true power as the eschatological sign of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, the church should normally have a marginal place in society. It creates its own cultural norms that are often counter to the norms of an anthropocentric worldview. The church strives to live true to the teachings of Jesus and to model his faithfulness to the world. If Jesus was marginalized, persecuted and hated (and he was), those who follow him should expect the same treatment.
Contrary to popular sentiment, the church grows in a more substantial way when it retains its position at the margins of society. The church dies when it converts to culture.
However, the church cannot afford to ignore the culture in which it lives as resident aliens. Since the church is a missional community and mouthpiece for the Kingdom, it should familiarize itself with culture so that it may indigenize the gospel of Jesus in a way that allows sinners an opportunity to repent and accept life. The opposite fallacy of converting to culture is ignoring culture.
The Church as the organic family of God:
The church is the family of God. The members of the church are sons and daughters of their Father God, and brothers and sisters to one another. The leader of the church is the head of the family: King Jesus. Jesus leads every church through the supernatural gifting and presence of the Holy Spirit. No true church is built by people apart from the guidance of the Spirit.
The church operates more like an organism than a business or an institution. It contains structure, but it is structured through spiritual direction and giftedness, not according to the popular or cultural methods of the day. The church, the Body of Christ, grows organically, similar to the way a natural body grows physically.
Churches grow optimally when they multiply and "give birth" to new churches. This "multiplication" growth, sometimes called a church planting movement, allows the church to expand in all directions while giving each church the opportunity to remain small enough to be an intimate, holistic community of faith.
Whether people realize it or not, we all have a foundational need for meaning in life. Most people will eventually find themselves asking the three big questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?
God has put his thumbprint on our soul. There exists in each individual what Blaise Pascal called a "God-shaped vacuum". We, as individuals, have been searching to fill the hole in our heart with everything in the world only to find that nothing in the world can fill our emptiness. As Augustine said of his search for God, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."
Individuals are created in the image of God. We naturally seek for meaning as part of our created-ness. In essence, the basic needs of meaning surpass all other human needs as they stem from the root of a person's being. God has arranged what Peter Kreeft calls the "three prophets" within the human soul. These three foundational longings are the pathways that God uses to draw men and women to himself:
God is beautiful and His creation reflects His beauty. The beauty of the world testifies to God's character and person. Individuals are able to commune with God through their imaginative and creative potential. For this reason, we value the arts, expression, and creativity.
God is true and has made His truth known in the Scriptures and through the person of Jesus Christ. Reason and knowledge are from God and point the creation to the Creator. Individuals are able to commune with God through their intellectual and reasoning potential. For this reason, we value to know, live and proclaim Truth.
God is good and righteous. All good things are from God alone and point seekers of righteousness to Him. Individuals are able to commune with God through their conscience and innate attraction to goodness and virtue. For this reason, we value right and disciplined living.