Monday, December 03, 2007

THEOLOGY OF RELATIONSHIPS

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

Humanity was designed to live in relationship, giving the self for the sake of the other, and we are most human when we live out that design. Like God, humans are necessarily relational (Gen 1:26-27). Father, Son, and Spirit exist in an eternal love relationship, and God created humanity as the bearer of that relational image. He created us male and female and together we bear his image. We are incomplete without the other.

Love, the giving of the self for the sake of the other, is essential to human nature because love is essential to God's nature (1 John 4:7-21). The God who is love commands his sin-corrupted image bearers to live out their essential nature by loving one another. We are able to love one another because we are loved by God. In fact, if we claim to love God, yet do not love each other, God declares us liars. The language here is very strong: if we love God, we will love each other.

Our essential relational nature is made perfect in God's kingdom (Rev 7:9-12). In Revelation 7, John describes a vision of humans from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people gathered around God's throne in worship. A numberless multitude from every culture gathers in community around the throne of God. Humanity, righteous and perfect, is humanity in relationship.

The implications for ministry are profound and systemic. Rather than having fellowship as an add-on involving red punch and donuts, should not relationship be central to everything we do? Rather than having every week of the church calendar filled with programmed activities, should we make a way for people to spend relaxed times with friends and family? Rather than relying on lecture-style teaching and preaching and supplementing that with small groups, should we not supplement our small groups with teaching and preaching? Rather than forming only programmed, short-term small groups, should we not foster indigenous, long-term friendships?

This is not to say that potlucks, programs, preaching, and small groups are passé—by no means. Rather, let us go deeper. Let us work toward becoming the type of faith community that provides space and encouragement for people to live out their essential relational nature. Let us create a place where giving the self for the sake of the other is the obvious norm. This is the life for which we are designed, but in our faith communities it is often not the life we have. Creating a faith community that takes relationship seriously might require a difficult paradigm shift, but being a place where humans can be truly human is well worth the struggle.

Original version published March 2, 2005 on Laura's Writings.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

BEING CHURCH, PART TWO

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

What does it mean to be church? Last month, we looked at the first two answers given by the church fathers in the Nicene Creed. First, the church is one because of her One Head, Jesus Christ. Second, the church is holy because she is composed only of those who trust Jesus. She is holy because he is holy. This month we look at the final two answers: catholic and apostolic.

Catholic: When we say the church is catholic or universal, what do we mean? Before answering that question, let us clearly understand what it does not mean: it does not mean that every human is part of the church and therefore going to heaven. Holiness teaches us that, union with Christ is the qualification for membership in the body of Christ; only those in union with Christ are in the church. Catholicity teaches us that all those who trust Christ are in the church. Therefore, the church proclaims the gospel to all who will listen, in all places and cultures. Her mission covers the globe and penetrates her own community. Each local congregation proclaims this message alongside and in partnership with other local congregations, because all who trust Christ are members of the one church.

Apostolicity: Apostolicity can be thought of as alignment, making sure we are going in the same direction as God. By the Holy Spirit, the apostles translated into text their knowledge and experience of the message and mission of Jesus. This Text carries authority because these particular apostles were commissioned by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit. This Text is the definer of one, holy, and catholic, and is over history, culture, and experience. The church is apostolic in as much as she listens to, submits to, and proclaims the message and mission of Jesus.

Monday, October 15, 2007

BEING CHURCH, PART ONE

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

“I know it when I see it,” may be a fine initial answer to the question, “What is church?” Surely, there is more. In AD 325 and 381, in the midst of intense and important theological struggles, the early church fathers offered an answer in the Nicene Creed. Most every Christian tradition still holds this today: “I believe one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.” This month we will look at the first two concepts: one and holy.

One. A glance through the “church” page of the yellow pages may cause one to question church unity. Some attempt an external unity, for example, the World Council of Church, but is this what Jesus intends? In his huge systematic theology, Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth says that a unity based on external conformity or agreement is a false unity. True unity is only gained by a radical and intentional trust in the One Head, Jesus Christ. Unity is not gained by the removal of historical, cultural, or national differences or by forced doctrinal conformity; it is gained by relationship in and participation with the One Head. Each local gathering is responsible for confessing its disunity and for maintaining true unity.

Holy. When I look at myself with earthly eyes, I do not see a holy person. When I look at the church with earthly eyes, I do not see a holy church. Each of us alone and all of us together are filled (to a lesser or greater degree) with a mixture of worship and doubt. This is evident to earthly eyes. Yet, something else is evident to the eyes of trust. Hidden within the earthly/visible church (of which we, as a followers of Jesus Christ are necessarily members) is the holy, indestructible body of Christ. This is a matter of revelation and is seen and known only by trusting the Spirit.

Next month, we will look at the church as catholic (universal) and apostolic.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"I’M ONLY HUMAN"

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

“I’m only human.” We hear it far too often as an excuse for unrepentant and unconfessed sin. This excuse assumes sin is essential to human nature, but the Bible exposes that false assumption.

In Genesis 1:26-28, God creates humanity in his image, sharing his authority with them. In Genesis 1:31, God looks at everything he has made and declares it all “very good.” In Psalm 8:5-6, the psalmist declares that though the universe dwarfs humanity, humanity has glory, honor, and dominion from God.

To call oneself “only human” is to disrespect God as Creator and Redeemer, for to be human is not to be an “only.” Humanity is glorious and majestic because it carries the image of its glorious and majestic Creator.

Sin is a corruption of true humanity. It is humanity’s rebellious attempt to make itself like God (Gen 3:5). It is and was a willful choice (Gen 3:6-7; James 1:13-15). Jesus shows us true humanity, [1] for he is the only human to have lived his entire earthly life as truly human, trusting the Father and living by the Spirit. To be truly human is to be like Jesus. This is most certainly not an “only.”

The habits of sin are strong. On our own, it is impossible to replace them with habits of trust. But God has graciously given us everything we need to learn habits of trust. He has given us spiritual disciplines. Silence, study, service, corporate worship, and other disciplines provide opportunities to work alongside the Spirit as he retrains the habits of our souls. He has given us one another. The community of Jesus-followers provides feedback and support, as together we become more like Jesus. Finally, he has given us himself. The Spirit lives in our hearts, working with our hearts to make us more like Jesus.

We must stop making excuses and start making choices. We must choose to be the human persons God has created and redeemed us to be; we must choose to trust the Father, Son, and Spirit.

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[1] Jesus’ full humanity in no way diminishes nor detracts from his full divinity. The reverse is also true. Jesus’ full divinity in no way diminishes nor detracts from his full humanity.

NOTE: a previous version was posted on Laura's Writings

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Doing Theology Together

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul teaches his readers about knowledge (1 Cor. 13:8-13). Here, within time and space, knowledge is partial and dim. We see outlines and shadows, rather like sonar soundings. In contrast, when we stand in God’s presence and see him face-to-face, the former, shrouded knowledge will fall away and we will know as we have been known. Here in time and space, our theological ponderings are partial and tentative. We must acknowledge this tentativeness, hold our ponderings humbly, and remain open to community scrutiny.

Allow me to recommend a way of doing theology together: describe, analyze, sketch, decide, and communicate. The method begins with a situation needing community decision.

  • Step One: Describe the situation, including reasons and purposes.
  • Step Two: Analyze the situation using the Bible and practical wisdom.
  • Step Three: Sketch the biblical truth and practical wisdom that must be honored in the decision.
  • Step Four: Decide on a view or action that best honors the biblical truth and practical wisdom.
  • Step Five: Communicate the decision to the larger community for implementation and feedback.
Such communal theological conversation corrects errors, adds detail, and results in a richer theology.

Resource:
What Are They Saying About Theological Reflection?
by Robert L. Kinast

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Big Deal about Theology

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

When may hear the word “theology,” they instantly think of something lofty and academic, something about as interesting as watching the lawn grow on a Saturday night, or both. Unfortunately, as often presented, these assessments may well apply. This is unfortunate because theology that is true and good is neither lofty nor boring.

The fact is all Christians are theologians and we do theology every day. Theology is simply understanding God in a way that makes sense. We sing theology every Sunday morning. We speak theology when we explain the love of Jesus to a child. We practice theology when we make choices based on Christian values.

Therefore, the issue is not whether any particular Christian is a theologian. Every Christian is a theologian. The issue is whether any particular Christian is an accidental or intentional theologian.

Accidental theologians read the Bible, worship with the church, pray, and try to live in a way that pleases God. But they rarely spend time thinking about these things. They rarely consider how their understanding of God ought to shape these things. They understand God “by accident.”

Intentional theologians read the Bible, worship with the church, pray, and try to live in a way that pleases God. But they go further. They think deeply about these things. They think about life and the beliefs behind and beneath how they live. They intentionally correct their beliefs and make adjustments in how they live because they know that their understanding of God shapes their reading, worship, prayer, and lives. They understand God intentionally.

Be an intentional theologian: read, worship, pray, live, and think.

For more on this topic read

How to Think Theologically, by Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke.

Monday, June 11, 2007

What is Learning?

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.
What is learning and how do you know when it has happened? Is it remembering facts? Is it performing a skill? It is both and more. Think of learning as a triangle.


Romans 12:1-2 touches on each of the three aspects of learning. Read the passage before moving on to the next paragraph.

Learning is cognitive; it deals with content. Paul bases his instructions on the content of faith, especially on the meaning and significance of “mercy” as discussed in Romans 1-11.

Learning is affective; it deals with value and emotion. Paul appeals to his readers’ values and emotions; he does not merely command, but expects them to care.
Learning is volitive; it deals with response. Paul exhorts his readers to respond with action (“present your bodies”), attitude (“as a living sacrifice…”), and a new way of thinking (“renewal of your mind”).

Learning is like a triangle. If any one side is missing, you no longer have a triangle. Learning, by definition, is cognitive, affective, and volitive; it always includes content, values/emotions, and response. If any one aspect is missing, learning has not occurred.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why Small Group Bible Study?

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.
[1]That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. [2]And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. [3]And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. [4]And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. [5]Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, [6]but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. [7]Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. [8]Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. [9]He who has ears, let him hear."
Matthew 13:1-9

In the Parable of the Sower in Matthew’s gospel (13:1-9), the seed (the message of the Kingdom, 4:17; 13:19) is sown in four conditions of soil. The seed is good and brings life; the condition of the soil determines growth and fruit. Jesus’ interpretation (13:18-23) teaches us that the message must be understood (13:19, 23) with sufficient depth (13:20-21) and without distraction (13:22). Small group bible study is one place where God prepares soil and plants his seed.

Why “Bible”? Christian books and articles are helpful, but they are not God’s life-bearing message of the kingdom. The life-bearing message is the word of the Kingdom: Jesus, the crucified and risen One, is Lord of all. This is the message of the Bible, God’s very word. This is the message that bears life. This is the message that brings growth and fruit.

Why” Study”? Understanding is the minimum requirement. Without it, the message produces no life (13:19). With understanding, both life and fruit are possible (13:23). The youngest book in the Bible is nearly 2000 years old and a world away. Study help bridge the gaps of time and culture.

Why “Small Group”? Humanity is relational and is created by the relational, three-in-one God. We need each other. We need each other’s help to see things how they are. We need each other’s help to recognize and remove the filters that act as blind spots, hinder understanding, and hide distractions. When we wrestle together with God’s truth, we expose each other’s filters. This develops prepared and receptive souls where God’s truth can grow and bear fruit.

Additional Resources
Smaller Passionate Groups Outperform Large Generic Communities ht: Becoming Missional


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Monday, January 22, 2007

BEDROCK BELIEFS LESSON FOUR

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

SOTERIOLOGY, ECCLESIOLOGY, AND ESCHATOLOGY: SALVATION, CHURCH, AND END TIMES

Read chapters 5-6 in the Reader.

Read the passages for days 16-20:

Day 16: Isaiah 53:1-6
Day 17: Isaiah 53:7-12
Day 18: Colossians 1:18-23
Day 19: Romans 8:1-11
Day 20: 1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Bring three questions for discussion.

Monday, January 15, 2007

BEDROCK BELIEFS LESSON THREE

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

ANTHROPOLOGY AND HAMARTIOLOGY: HUMANITY AND SIN

Read chapter 4 in the Reader.

Read the passages for days 11-15:
Suggestion: try doing a lectio divina for at least one reading this week.
[Instructions are in the Reader, pg 3.]

Bring three questions for discussion.

Monday, January 08, 2007

BEDROCK BELIEFS LESSON TWO

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by Laura Springer, M.Div.

THEOLOGY PROPER, CHRISTOLOGY AND PNEUMATOLOGY
GOD—FATHER, SON, SPIRIT

Prepare for the second lesson.

Read chapter 3 in the Reader.

Read the passages for days 6-10:

Suggestion: try doing a lectio divina for at least one reading this week.
[Instructions are in the Reader, pg 3.]
Bring three questions for discussion.

You might like to get a head start on your devotional notebook:
  1. Write a short description of the doctrine.
  2. Define/Explain important terms.
  3. Choose meaningful passages to include.
  4. Write some questions to help readers think about the doctrine (hint: you might also use these for your three questions).
  5. Write a prayer/praise responding to the doctrine.