Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Language

Blacks, Whites, and Greys

It’s a funny thing to me how lessons seem to weave themselves into our lives at seemingly ‘random’ points in time (which, of course, shows me that they’re not random at all). Over the past eight weeks or so, as I’ve been preaching through James, I’ve been amazed at how clearly he contradicts our contemporary worldview and way of looking at life. In our culture there are no black and white issues, only greys. Members of PETA, who say it’s wrong to kill for food, probably still smack mosquitoes. What’s wrong in one situation may be okay in another. There are all kinds of greys.

James, however, continually teaches by setting up worldviews as opposed to each other. Either you’re steadfast or you waffle, either you are a doer or a hearer only, either you have a pure religion or a worthless religion, your source of speech is either a fresh spring or salt water, your wisdom is either from God or from Satan, and so on. You’re one or the other, black or white. There is no middle ground, no fence to sit on.

The funny part about all of this is how I’ve been growing in my understanding of the many issues where thoughtful, biblical, Jesus-loving Christians disagree about moral issues. Do you drink or not? Do you do home-school, public school, or Christian school? What kind of language is okay and what is not? What type of guidelines should we use when we dress? These things are anything but black and white, and real Christians really disagree.

So what do we do? Do we respond with insisting that there is a ‘black and white’ answer for every issue? Do we argue incessantly about it until people see it our way? Do we just stress privately because everyone else is wrong?

I think the answer of humility is found in a passage like Romans 14:

Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 

In other words, your brother or sister who sees things differently than you isn’t your servant, and you’re not his or her judge. They do have a master and a judge, but you’re not him. To judge them as if they need to give an account to you is to contend for supremacy with God. It’s pride.

Not judging is only the beginning, however. More than not judging, we must also be careful to be proactive in love:

Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 

To flaunt your freedom is the opposite reaction to judging and condemning, but it’s equally unloving. ‘If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.’

The admonition comes again: ‘Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.’ What Paul is saying here is that when we value our freedoms so much that we’re not willing to give them up for the sake of loving a brother or sister and ‘not grieving’ them, then we’ve valued our own freedom more than we’ve valued one of God’s children.

The humble, Christian response to the ‘greys’ is to lovingly refuse to judge, and then to lovingly resist the urge to flaunt our freedoms in front of others who don’t enjoy the same freedoms.

This calls for love and humility all around. On different issues I’ve found myself sometimes being the one tempted to judge, and sometimes being the one tempted to stumble. I can say from experience that neither side is easy. But Christian community is a beautiful thing when, by the power of the Spirit, Christians are walking in this kind of self-denying, self-sacrificing love, living out humility. It’s been a delight to see it in action at GFC, and I can only pray for more.

On the ‘Inadequacy’ of Language

I’ve often come across (and myself even flirted with) several forms of the notion that language is entirely ‘inadequate’ to describe God. In fact, I still in many ways find this to be true. No language can exhaustively declare the reality, the beauty, the holiness of our Triune God.

What is unfortunate, however, is how often people in our day will take their queues from neo-orthodoxy and give up on propositional language at all to describe God. God becomes one meant to be experienced rather than spoken of.

I have found some observations from Vern S. Poythress on this topic to be quite helpful, so I thought I’d post them for your pondreing as well.

On what basis are we to make judgments about adequacy and inadequacy … ? What could we mean by saying that human language is inadequate to talk about God … ? In what way is it “inadequate”? And what do we expect talk about God … to be like? Our expectations and definitions of “adequacy” … are themselves shot through with values, with preferences, desires, standards, and perhaps disappointments at goals that we set but are not reached. Where do these values come from? If God is Lord, we ought to conform our values to his standards. Hence there is something intrinsically rebellious about negatively evaluating biblical language [for its adequacy as “God talk”].[1]

He continues, pointing out the self-defeating nature of these notions of the uselessness of language to speak of God:

How does the objector obtain the necessary knowledge about God, truth, and cultures in order to make a judgment about the adequacy of language for expressing theology and truth, and for achieving cross-cultural communications? How does he do this when he himself is largely limited by the capabilities of his own language and culture?[2]

So, what can we say to all these things? Is language enough to speak of God sufficiently? Absolutely not. But at the end of the day, I think it’s safest to land where Augustine does, after spending a page of small print describing some of the glorious mysteries of God:

You are my God, my Life, my Holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you!

I may never be able to describe God completely, but may that never stop me from spending every last breath he gives me declaring his goodness and his glory!


[1] Vern S. Poythress, “Adequacy of Language and Accomodation,” in Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, ed. Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 353.

[2] Ibid., 354.

Going Deep

God is big… infinite, in fact. It only makes sense, then, that a finite being like me can’t understand everything about God. One thing the emergent *cough*neo-orthodoxy*cough* crew likes to point out is that we can’t put God in a box. Generally it’s phrased in a ‘witty’ sarcastic statement intended as a ‘humble’ rebuke of some ‘fundamentalist’ that goes something like this: ‘Well, I’m glad that some of you have God all figured out, but for those of us who think God is too big to fit into a little box (or sometimes ‘book’), we prefer to think that he is free to act as he sees fit.’  

Sure. But no one was denying that. In fact, we would argue that the Scriptures themselves teach that God is free to act as he sees fit (even in spite of what we might choose).

The idea of God being ‘really big’ should not effect the basic doctrines the way emergents often quote it. Infinity does not negate perspicuity. When deep sea diving, it can get dark. When snorkeling, there is plenty of light to see where we’re swimming. You could very well be in the same ocean either way, but in one place the water is murky and in another it’s clear.

The same is true of God. Just as he has claimed to have not revealed everything to us, neither do we claim to know everything. But the things that God has revealed, we can and must know! The fact that God is bigger, deeper, more profound, complex and wonderful than me should not discourage me from ever knowing anything about God, but rather, should inspire to look into the mystery of his revelation all the more.

But the complex does not complicate the simple. Some aspects of God are plain. He is holy and righteous and he hates sin. He will not compromise, change his mind, or give his glory to another. He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. He will accomplish his purpose in history, despite sinful man’s every effort to thwart God’s plan (as pictured in the cross). God will always be victorious (as pictured in the resurrection and ascension). He requires propitiation of his holy wrath, and he provided it for all his sheep in the person of Jesus Christ. He will one day raise all the dead from all time to face judgment: either unto eternal life or eternal punishment. This much is plain.

When Christ returns, I want to be able to say that I used the ‘talent’ he left us (his word) to get to know him and that I’ve spoken his truth to others, not that I buried it in the ground in order to ‘ask questions,’ because I was afraid to conclude anything about him because he’s too ‘big.’

Misunderstanding McLaren (or, Conversing About the Journey of a Man and the Interpretation of That Journey)

Justin Taylor did this better back in July. I recommend reading that post over mine.

That being said, I couldn’t help but notice some serious irony the past few days as I’ve been reading. As Taylor noted, it seems that whenever emergent-types are criticized, they respond with (a) “you hurt my feelings,” and / or (b) “you don’t understand us.”

Brian McLaren is no exception.

The article I read yesterday is a case in point. McLaren has been critiqued over and over again. His response: “You don’t understand us.”

Thus, his solution (at least in part) is the article cited above. In that article he “tells his faith story” so that he will let us all see “the real man,” in hopes that we will be able to contextualize his writing and understand what he is trying to communicate.

The irony of it all is simply this: It’s typically the argument of these pomo post-propositional guys that we should employ a reader-oriented hermeneutic (to Scripture and otherwise).

So… in reality, the message isn’t determined by McLaren as he writes, but by us as we read and interpret. Really, then, he’s misunderstood himself, I suppose, if I think he’s said something he doesn’t think he said. Boy, does that suck. Ah well. He’s fallible anyway (aren’t we all?), so who’s to say with certainty that he knew what he wanted to say in the first place?

I guess now he knows how the biblical authors would feel, were they alive to be subjected to the types of interpretations he and his cronies come up with.

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