Tag Archives: Bible Doctrine

I am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist

Found this funny video on my agent’s blog, and have now watched it many times, often all in a row. If you are inclined toward a lot of serious study of the Word of God, and/or you just like the sound of big, melodious words,  you might find it funny, too.  (Though I’m almost as fascinated by how fast the guy can say/sing all this, as by what he’s saying/singing.)  I’m dedicating it to my Pastor, John Farley, of Lighthouse Bible Church.  🙂  (A philologist, if you don’t know, is a type of linguist. The word literally means “love of words.” Today it’s used for those who study written texts, usually ancient ones.)  Enjoy!

He Who Confesses Me Before Men

yellow flowers small

Last post I talked about the Greek word for “confess,” homologeo, and said it was only found 8 times in all the NT. That was not correct.  Homologeo only turns up 7 times; the word in James 5:16, rendered “confess” is actually exomologeo, which means “to acknowledge.”

In all but one case, both words are clearly used for verbal declaration or proclamation to others (men or angels) and almost always in declaring belief in Christ. The only usage of the word that is not clear is 1 John 1:9. Take a look:

Mat 10:32  “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. [~JESUS as reported by Matthew}

Luk 12:8  “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; [~JESUS as reported by Luke, who was associated with Paul]

Rom 10:9  that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; [~PAUL]

Php 2:11  and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [~PAUL]

1Jn 1:9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [~JOHN]

1Jn 4:3  and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. [JOHN]

Rev 3:5  ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. [~JESUS as reported by John]

And finally, the word exomologeo, meaning to acknowledge and here translated “confess”:

Jas 5:16  Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. [~JAMES, written to dispersed Jewish Christians before Paul, the recipient and primary communicator of “mystery” or church age doctrine, was even saved]

So, leaving aside the latter verse, the word homologeo is used five times in the New Testament in the context of believing in Christ, and once for proclaiming or announcing overcomers’ names to the angels in heaven.

This aggregate of usage seems important to me in helping one come to a conclusion regarding what is meant in 1 Jn 1:9)because…

1. If John is addressing believers and unbelievers in chapter 1 of 1 John, and he is…

2. And if he is running through a series of contrasts between what makes a believer versus an unbeliever, which he is…

3. And all the other times in the New Testament (including John’s own uses of the word) homologeo is used in  its public confession/declaration connotation, with most of those relating to salvation…

It seems most compelling on the basis of the aggregate to put “confess our sins” in the same category as “confess Jesus as Lord.”  That is, it’s referring to salvation, not confession of post-salvation sins.

However, some have insisted that since Jesus and the Apostles grew up and lived under the Old Testament, we cannot come to a conclusion merely on the basis of what we find in the New Testament. Rather we must go back to the Old Testament Hebrew and look at the meaning and usage of  the Hebrew word for “confess” in the “many” instances in which it appears there. And in the OT, as we all know, it was used mostly for confessing sins, right?

I agree that we should take a look at those usages as well, so that is what I did. But that is not what I found…

What Does Confess Mean?

Proclaim to a group

In my last post I posed the question of what does the word for “confess” mean in 1 John 1:9 and mentioned the only meaning I’d long thought it had: “to speak the same thing, agree with, name, cite.”

But it turns out there are other meanings for homologeo as well, each of these taken from well-known Greek dictionaries and lexicons:

“to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts” [Vine]*

“to make an emphatic declaration, often public, and at times in response to pressure or an accusation – ‘to declare, to assert.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to express openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person – ‘to profess, to confess, confession.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to acknowledge a fact publicly, often in reference to previous bad behavior – ‘to admit, to confess.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to make a statement” or “bear witness” in a legal sense. [Kittel]***

“to make solemn statements of faith,” “to confess something in faith.” [Kittel]***

“to acknowledge something, ordinarily in public”  [BDAG]****

The first time Pastor Farley laid all that out I was pretty surprised. In fact, he claimed that all the other usages of the word “confess” in the New Testament were in the public declaration category.

Well, I found that hard to believe, so I did a word search of my own (I use e-sword which, if you don’t know about it, is free Bible study software you can download HERE.  You do have to pay for the NASV Bible if you want to download that, but most of the other materials are free.)

Anyway, I did a word search.  And, my goodness! Pastor John was right.  “Confess,” when connected with “sin” only shows up twice in the entire New Testament — once in 1 Jn 1:9 and once in James 5:16 where believers are told to “confess your sins to one another.”

“Confess” itself shows up only 8 times altogether; of those, two are the verses mentioned above, one is Rev 3:5 when Jesus will confess the names of overcomers before the Father and His angels and the other five all involve a version of confessing Jesus as Lord before men, in the sense of being saved. (I would now put 1 Jn 1:9 in this latter category, as well)

I was shocked! For an action that supposedly determined something as crucial as the restoration of fellowship of the Spirit, I’d have thought it would have shown up much more.

Following that, I did a phrase search of “filling of the Spirit” or “filled by the Spirit” or just “Holy Spirit”, and found no indication whatsoever that the person involved confessed their sins prior to being filled. Not at Pentecost, nor in all the incidents afterward when the Spirit empowered someone. If they were said to pray at all, it wasn’t to ask to be filled with the Spirit or to confess sins, it was usually that they would speak boldly and communicate the Gospel clearly.

That was as surprising to me as the results of searching for confess and moved me very far along the line of agreeing with Pastor Farley that the Bible really doesn’t tell “Church Age believers, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that confessing our sins results in the filling of the Holy Spirit.”

This is not to say that we don’t sin after salvation (hysterical laughter at the very idea) nor that it’s fine to just sin willfully and do nothing about it… But that’s for another day…

REFERENCES:

*VineExpository Dictionary of New Testament Words — W.E. Vine

**Louw & Nida –  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains   by Eugene A. Nida, Johannes P. Louw  Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon is a modern Greek lexicon using the concept of “semantic domains.” This lexicon differs from other lexicons in that it does not arrange words alphabetically and it does not give one listing of a word with all of that word’s meanings after it. Instead, it breaks words down by their various shades of meaning. It then groups all of those entries together and organizes them by topics and sub-topics.

***KittelTheological Dictionary of the New Testament by Gerhard Kittel : “One of the most widely-used and well-respected theological dictionaries ever created”

****BDAG –  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (BDAG)  by Walter Bauer, Frederick William Danker.  Described as an “invaluable reference work” (Classical Philology) and “a tool indispensable for the study of early Christian literature” (Religious Studies Review) in its previous edition, this new updated American edition of Walter Bauer’s Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments builds on its predecessor’s staggering deposit of extraordinary erudition relating to Greek literature from all periods. Including entries for many more words, the new edition also lists more than 25,000 additional references to classical, intertestamental, Early Christian, and modern literature

If We Confess Our Sins

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View of Thunderheads from my back yard

Pastor Farley took a very slow and deliberate approach to laying out his case that the Bible really doesn’t “tell Church Age Believers who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit that confessing their sins results in the filling of the Holy Spirit.”

I am not going to go as in-depth as he did, but should you wish to investigate his development of this subject, you can start here. (Often just the notes that accompany the video message give a lot of insight, though of course his actual verbal presentation will provide a great deal more)

In considering where to start, I have to admit that I John is perhaps not the best section to use, since it’s quirky and its meaning is not inherently obvious. It is, however, where the verse is that everyone bases this “confess your sins” doctrine on, and since I think there are at least a few things that can be gleaned from a surface examination I’m going to go ahead and begin there.

Right off, there’s the simple fact that no obvious connection is made between confession of sins and the filling of the Spirit in this book.

That is, 1 John 1:9 only says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

It doesn’t say, “…and then we will be filled with the Spirit.” In fact, it doesn’t say anything about “the filling of the Spirit” anywhere in the book.

Questions arise, then, as to

1. What exactly is meant by “confess our sins”?

2. Who is John addressing when he uses this phrase?

3. Why does he change pronouns from a generic and inclusive “we” in chapter 1 to the more specific “my little children” and “I” in Chapter 2?

4. Who was the letter generally addressed to, and for what purpose?

I’ll start with question #4, since that’s the easiest: The letter was addressed to the church at Ephesus, where the Apostle John had served as pastor for a time, and which was dealing with an influx of false teachers who were claiming to be Christians but were not. John states his purpose in chapter 5 vs 13:

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”

That is, he’s writing so the Christians can know that they are indeed saved and be able to distinguish those who are only pretending to be Christian in their attempt to peddle their false teaching.

This sheds some light on why John shifted from the generic “we” he opened his letter with to directly addressing the believers in his congregation with “My little children” in Chapter 2. He used the generic “we”  to address everyone in the congregation, not all of whom were “my little children.”

Instead of pointing these unbelievers out specifically in Chapter 1, John uses the generic/inclusive/authorial “we” for that portion, leaving it to the individual hearer to determine which category he or she belongs in. So in answer to question #2 (who is John addressing when he uses the word “confess”?)  it’s both believers and unbelievers.

In addition, 1 John 1:9 is part of a series of  If/then propositions, leaving it to the hearers to determine which camp they are in: saved or unsaved.

Thus we can consider the verses immediately preceding vs 9 in chapter 1 with an eye to whether they are referring to believers or unbelievers:

Vs 7 “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (clearly believers, since being in the light in John’s writings always refers to salvation — more on this later)

vs 8 if we say we have no sin, (ie, if we say we aren’t sinners/don’t sin) we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (not believers)

vs 9 if we confess our sins (admit that we’re sinners and believe in the Savior) He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (another way of saying cleanses us from all sin — ie, believers)

Thus the issue in 1 John 1:9 is salvation itself, not what do we do about post-salvation sinning.

And that brings me finally to Question #1 — What exactly is meant by “confess” in vs 9? Many of us have been taught that the Greek word here is homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing, to name, to cite…” from which the rebound notion of privately naming or citing your sins to God arose

But I’ve learned it has some other meanings as well, which I’ll address in my next post…

Prelude: Tilling the Soil

farmer-and-tractor-planting_w725_h485

As I’ve mentioned previously, last spring our church and a number of others have gone through an upheaval of sorts in re-examining and ultimately discarding a “doctrine” that had been a mainstay of doctrinal (and many other) ministries for years. That doctrine, of course, is the doctrine of Rebound, or the confession of sins as supposedly commanded in 1 Jn 1:9, as well as in a number of Old Testament passages.

Rebound, we were taught, was key to living the spiritual life, for it was the only way to regain the filling of the Holy Spirit once the latter had been lost as a result of personal sinning. If you were not filled with the Spirit, you would not be able to understand Bible teaching, and nothing you did would be done in the power of the Spirit but rather in the power of the flesh. Thus all such  fleshly and “Spiritless” deeds would be considered wood, hay and straw at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Even worse, none of your prayers would go “any higher than the ceiling,” since God would neither hear them nor answer them.

For those of my seven regular readers who are not familiar with this doctrine, you can see that it was crucial to everything we did. Challenging it was not something one would take on lightly.

For our congregation this wild and bumpy ride began back in March with Pastor Farley’s unexpected announcement at the beginning of a Sunday morning message: “I have a confession to make.”

That confession was that he “could not find in the Bible where it tells Church Age believers, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that confessing our sins results in the filling of the Holy Spirit.”

Nor could he “see how the Bible makes our confessing our sins in 1 John 1:9 the determining factor in our being filled with the Spirit  in Eph 5:18.”

If he couldn’t find it, how could he teach it?

As far as I was concerned, as soon as he began to suggest  that rebound might not be what we’d always been taught, something resonated in me. In a “Yes!  That makes total sense!” way. As he taught in more depth in ensuing lessons, the resonance solidified. I kept recalling a phrase from former teaching, that had been added to justify the concept:

“‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…’  and the cleansed vessel is then filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Except that last bit about the cleansed vessel isn’t part of 1 Jn1:9 or 10; it is just an … extrapolation? Unwarranted connection?   I don’t know. I just remember thinking for years that it was shaky and that I’d have a hard time justifying this interpretation to someone who didn’t agree.

In addition, over the last few years I’d been experiencing moments of dismay when I would realize, after a day spent alone working on the book, that I’d forgotten to rebound before I started and would any of the day be worth anything now?

At the same time, I was finding more and more that when I’d set about the formal “rebound” prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to bring to mind any sins for me to confess, nothing would happen. I wondered if there was something wrong with me; if I was doing it wrong.  Why weren’t all these sins coming to mind? Surely I’d committed some sin — if only mental attitude — in the previous eight hours! When I could think of nothing, I would just confess “arrogance” since that’s a pretty good catch-all when it comes to sinning…

The truth is, my besetting mental attitude sins are usually so intrusive that I have to deal with them before I can ever get to work on the book — not through an official rebound prayer, but in writing out my tumultuous thoughts in a journal or nonstop. Then, as I see what I’m thinking on the page, I realize how wrong and stupid those thoughts are, how NOT the mind of Christ they are, and am then reminded of exactly what the mind of Christ would be in this situation. Once I’ve done that I’m pretty much at peace and ready to work.   Which isn’t exactly “rebound” as I’ve known it.

Now, with this new teaching, I’ve come to understand that it is more in line with what the Bible actually teaches in the New Testament (eg, Ephesians 4 where we’re told to lay aside the old man and put on the new — exactly what I was doing in the exercise described above.)

I lay all this down as as a part of the journey I’ve been on with regard to this subject and how God had already begun to till the soil of my soul in preparation for the change. Of course, feelings and experiences can not be the standard by which we ultimately evaluate the truth of a doctrine or not. The standard has to be “What does the word of God say?” Is it true that the Bible really doesn’t support the doctrine of Rebound?”

I believe it is, and I shall try to explain why I’ve come to this conclusion in subsequent posts.

For those of you familiar with this doctrine and even those who are not, please feel free to question, object, read me the riot act, support/affirm (!), and/or bring up relevant scriptures that perhaps I’m ignoring. I might not be able to answer, rebut or explain my position to your satisfaction right now, but I would welcome the opportunity to see if my conclusions can stand up to the challenge — at least in my own mind, if not in others’.

My Introduction to Rebound

image courtesy of phanlop88/ www.freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of phanlop88/ www.freedigitalphotos.net

In my last post, Surprised by Jesus, I related the story of my conversion and early Christian life, when I was taught out of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Major Bible Themes. The man who led me to the Lord, taught both the beginners Bible Classes I attended and the College Student Sunday School class I also attended, was a postman back in the Dark Ages when people didn’t use trucks but walked their routes carrying large leather bags full of mail. While he did this he memorized verses, so you can imagine by the time I met him, he’d learned quite a few.

He’d also taught himself Greek, and had a number of serious Bible study resources in his library, including Strong’s Concordance, Vines New Testament Dictionary and many others. I had tremendous respect for him. After my husband and I had moved to Northern Arizona and searched for someone to replace him, we had even more respect for him.

We visited a number of churches and home Bible Studies,  finally settling somewhat reluctantly on a Southern Baptist Church in Show Low. I was also having troubles adjusting to my new life, which was quite isolated, and both of us were suffering from the effects of moving to a much higher elevation than we were accustomed to — one of those effects was being constantly tired and wanting to sleep.

So I was sinning quite a bit in the realms of fear, worry, self-pity, complaining, etc.

One Sunday a visiting pastor came to our church and taught a message on “yielding to the Spirit”.  If we’d just do that, said he, we wouldn’t sin any more (at least that is what I perceived him to have said). I wanted very much to stop sinning, and so listened carefully. In order to yield, he taught, we should write down all our sins on a piece of paper — as many of them as we can remember — and then burn the paper. Then we would be “yielded.”

This sounds so ridiculous to me now,  I suspect I missed something in his teaching, but nevertheless, I went home, wrote down my sins and burned the paper in the kitchen sink, really, really hoping this would work and I would no longer be grumpy, crabby, upset that my husband was sleeping all the time and whatever other assorted complaints I had, which I can no longer recall.

Alas. Before the day was out, I had again sinned, and was no more clear on what yielding meant than before the burning of the list.

I was reading the Bible every day, and memorizing versus, but there were still an awful lot of passages that weren’t making a lot of sense to me. It was frustrating.

Not long after that, my husband started teaching at one of the schools up there and was invited to a Bible study one of the other teachers hosted. Actually, the way it went down was, he came home late for dinner, told me to put the meatballs I’d made into the refrigerator, because we were going to a Bible study that we were already late for, and that was that.

It was our first introduction to Col Thieme. I was not impressed. He was too harsh, too authoritarian, too critical, too arrogant… We critiqued his delivery and at least some of the content of his message all the way home, and not in a good way.

But for some reason when the next week came round, my husband wanted to give it another try. So I agreed. Since Col Thieme had been mentored by L.S. Chafer, much of what he taught was familiar and stuff I agreed with, and the second time around I was more amenable to listening.

And then he taught Rebound. In the context of yielding.

Sin, he said, puts a believer out of the control of the Holy Spirit, out of fellowship with Him. Naming the sin privately to God puts the believer back under the Spirit’s control and restores fellowship. As per 1 John 1:9, “if we confess (name, cite) our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (unknown sins).”  And the cleansed vessel is then free to be filled with the Spirit. This is what is meant by “yielding.”

I was very excited to hear all this!  Finally yielding made sense. Chafer had taught of our need to confess our sins to be filled by the Spirit and so had my first teacher, as well as my first pastor. Even the Baptist church we were attending taught the need to confess sins, though they often threw in the need to confess them to others, or to feel bad about them while confessing. Thieme cut through both of the latter… and I liked that. He used the term “rebound” from the analogy of a basketball player missing a shot but then catching the ball again and getting back in the game. Trying again…

For years that’s what I believed, how I lived, what I taught my son and what I presented to the various youth groups and Sunday School classes I taught.

The only problem was, it wasn’t correct…

How I came to discover that will be tomorrow’s post.

Little Books

One thing I’ve always liked doing is making little books. I cut  sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper in half width-wise, to make pieces of 4 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches, fold them in half and either staple them down the side or down the middle and then glue a same sized or slightly larger piece of heavier cardstock around the outside. You can also hand sew the pages down the middle, including cover for a more “book like” effect. (You need an awl for that, though.)

This gives me little books into which I can transcribe notes from Bible class,  favorite verses, quotes I find in books that I like, things that inspire or remind me of where I need to keep my head. They are small, so they fit in my purse and I can take them everywhere.

Here’s a picture of some of them.

And here’s what the inside looks like (I like to use different colored inks to differentiate between entries):

You can see the above book has been well-used.  A couple of the entries on these pages are:

“If you were using the ten problem solving devices (“10 PSD”)* you’d never be in panic palace, you’d never fall apart, feel ‘stressed,’ uptight, never spend one second worrying about anything. You’d have the most fantastic tranquility in the world.

“God has provided perfect happiness through a place of rest, a place which does not depend upon any human factor in life. This is a complete dependence upon the One who is the source of joy and strength.”

and

If something is not important to you, you forget it. It flies right out of your mind. Another person’s sins belong in this category. Their failures, negative volition, sins, obtuseness, etc, are not your concern. If you are remembering them, you are making an issue of them and you’re out of line. No criticizing! Sins and failures are to be forgotten. Apply Bible Doctrine (“BD”) to yourself, not Charlie Brown!”

If you want to read the entries better, you can click on the picture for a slightly larger version.

*Those of you who were under Col Thieme’s ministry for any length of time no doubt recognized the voice there right away!  🙂 Yes, all three of these are notes I took from his messages. For those of you who were not Thieme’s students…

The “ten problem solving devices” are: rebound (1 Jn 1:9), the filling of the Holy Spirit, faith rest, grace orientation, doctrinal orientation, personal sense of destiny, impersonal, unconditional love for people, personal love for God, sharing the Happiness of God, and occupation with Jesus Christ.

“Bible Doctrine” simply refers to the teachings of the Word of God. I suppose he could have said “Apply the Word of God to yourself…” but I believe he was trying to differentiate between what you get from merely sitting down and reading the Word, as opposed to really studying it. So many (especially at the time he was teaching) seem to think that studying the Word means just reading it every day, when actual studying is much more rigorous than that. But that, too, is a post for another day!

Is Creativity “Spiritual”?

Last week when I read the Introduction in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, (the 12-week course on “discovering and recovering your creative self”  I blogged about last time) I quickly came upon one of the issues that has long befuddled me in reading these sorts of books.  Quoting Ms. Cameron:

“For a decade now, I have taught a spiritual workshop aimed at freeing people’s creativity. I have taught artists and non artists, painters and filmmakers and homemakers and lawyers — anyone interested in living more creatively through practicing an art; even more broadly, anyone interested in practicing the art of creative living. While using, teaching and sharing tools I have found, devised, divined and been handed, I have seen blocks dissolved and lives transformed by the simple process of engaging the Great Creator in discovering and recovering our creative powers.

‘The Creat Creator? That sounds like some Native American god. That sounds too Christian, too New Age, too…’ Stupid? Simple-minded? Threatening? … I know. Think of it as an exercise in open-mindedness…Allow yourself to experiment with the idea there might be a Great Creator and you might get some kind of use from it in freeing your own creativity.”

When I first read this some twelve years ago, it bothered me. Because while God can and does use people who are not saved to communicate His truth, He doesn’t do it the way she’s describing. People are born depraved. He can’t creatively empower someone who has never believed in His Son, because they aren’t spiritually alive. They are darkened in their understanding, living in bondage to sin… So while you might be able to apply Ms. Cameron’s thinking as expressed above to someone who is saved, who has a new nature which cannot sin, who has received God’s very own righteousness imputed to them at the point of belief in what His son did for them on the cross and because of that work, the ability thru confession of sin to be filled and empowered by His Spirit, you just can’t with people who have not been regenerated.

Her whole premise is a lie, unworkable, deceptive… even evil. Years ago,   I tried to set that aside and read on, but this particular concept kept tripping me up. And as I mentioned in my previous post, eventually I quit reading the book and abandoned the “course.”

I come back to it now with the realization that Satan knows doctrine. He’ll use it, distorted, of course, with people who are unregenerate. He’ll move them to make applications of true doctrines in situations where they don’t apply. I learned this from my study of Job, where Job’s three friends were bringing up correct doctrines about the law of volitional responsibility and divine discipline for believers who had gone astray from the Plan, they just didn’t apply to Job.

So, armed with this new knowledge — ie, that some of the things said in The Artist’s Way might actually be truth, just applied to the wrong situation or person — I am finding myself able to read it as I had not been able to before. And almost the first thing that hit me in reading this introduction was the realization that creativity is not a spiritual function per se, but a soulish one.  As I said above, the ability to be creative is part of the soul of all men, part of being created in image of God.

And it’s this creative part that she’s trying to describe and discuss. Which is admittedly difficult because it’s invisible. Nor is it a faculty we can control. The left brain, which is said to be verbal, linear and logical is the area where we do our conscious thinking. The right brain is not verbal, but more spatial, intuitive, spontaneous and holistic. It’s the part that combines disparate elements into something new. With left brain thinking we work through a problem step by step. With the right brain, the ideas come out of the blue. You have no idea how they were formulated, they just appear.

Because of this, people have over the ages attributed them to various elements outside themselves, from the Greek muses to God Himself, via the Holy Spirit. Many writers of the books on creativity and making art that I’ve read are part of Western culture and not surprisingly interpret the situation in accordance with the Christian traditions of our culture, that is, they attribute their creative flow or urge to God in them. People who don’t believe in Jesus Christ and are embracing all manner of other occultic, fallacious things — yoga, trances, shamanism, meditation, out-of-body experiences, conversations with their spirit guides — nevertheless claim that God is moving them to create. Because God is a creator they are creators. Creativity is really the norm in life, and most people have just shut it down. Creativity is our link to God Himself. (and never mind about Jesus Christ).

I might be tempted to say, well, they’re unbelievers, so of course they’re wrong about that. It’s not God that’s moving them, simply the creative function itself. And how else are they going to talk about it?

As I said earlier, it’s not something we can see or feel while it’s working, nor is it something we can control at will. Yes, some people claim they can, and maybe they can to a degree, but I tend to doubt that. If one is just going to write the same story again with different minor components or paint the same picture again with different colors, I don’t call that true creativity. That’s more like cabinet making. Once you’ve made a model it’s easy to churn out others or variations on the theme. But to do something different, to start out not knowing where you’re going, how the story will turn out, to write with the notion that it has to be something that keenly interests you, to reach down inside yourself and pull out the things that really matter to you, that are true or painful or significant… that’s different. I know I can’t do that. It just happens. Things emerge and I run with them. Many times it’s only after I’ve completed a draft that I have any clear idea what a story is really to be about.

I was reflecting today about playing tennis and how when you start out you have to be willing to play really, really badly. I hated it at the beginning because all I ever seemed to do was chase balls that I’d hit over the fence or down the long stretch of courts that had no barriers between them. I used to practice hitting balls against the backboard, and at first many of them went over the backboard, thunked off my racket, were missed altogether, hurt my arm I hit them so badly, etc.

You can’t really control your movement. Not in the fine tuning. You don’t stand there and consciously direct each nerve to fire, each muscle to move at such and such speed at such and such time. You can’t. It’s hard enough to remember not to bend your wrist and to turn yourself sideways to the ball and to follow through after you’ve hit it. And when you get into an actual game, most of that flies out the window because you just can’t keep it all in your head. You don’t improve at tennis by concentrating harder. You don’t improve because you will to improve.

The only way to improve is to practice — hitting at the backboard and on the court with a partner, and playing actual games. Usually it’s playing against people better than you that helps the most, which means you’re going to lose.   Probably a lot.

And all that is for something physical — actual movements that we can “control” in at least a broad sense. I haven’t read any books about playing  tennis as a spiritual discipline (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re out there; I know there’s one about golf), though I have read about “getting in the zone”. That’s where you become one with the game and your play suddenly elevates to another level. I’ve experienced it the zone, myself. My point here, though, is that we can talk about playing tennis in a way that doesn’t bring God into the picture, so why can’t we do that with creativity?

Granted, this business of the idea suddenly blooming in your head, full-petal in the midst of taking a shower, does make it seem like something not of yourself. When you sit down blank-headed and start writing and suddenly it’s like you’re recording something you’re observing or even participating in, when you see it all in one fell swoop, when it starts flowing without any effort on your part, and suddenly this new character appears, or your old ones refuse to do what you’d planned for them and start doing something completely unexpected — that all seems pretty magical and even “godlike.” I’m connected to “spiritual electricity,” is how Julia Cameron describes it.

But that’s not what “spiritual” actually means, at least so far as the word is used in the Bible. There “spiritual” is used in contrast to “fleshly”. In 1 Co 2:14 the naturally minded man — the psuchikos or soulish man — is contrasted with the pneumatikos or spiritually minded man — the latter filled with the Holy Spirit, his thinking having been transformed to align with the mind of Christ through the study of His word. 

True spirituality can certainly produce “brilliant” ideas, but I believe it does so within the context of the way man has been made. Everyone, spiritual and soulish, Christian and non-Christian, gets brilliant ideas out of the blue — marketing folk, engineers, cooks, artists. It’s not some special connection to God regardless of one’s status with respect to Jesus Christ and His commands for the spiritual life. It’s an aspect of how we’ve been made, one that is mysterious because it cannot be clearly explained, traced out, or controlled. But an aspect all of us have.

In researching the ancient Romans, I learned that they had gods for everything. A god for every river, every stream, even a god of the cupboards. You had to appease all of these gods or bad things would happen to you. We think that’s silly today. People don’t worship a god of the cupboard or appease the god of the stream anymore, because we’re so much more sophisticated. People don’t drown because the irate stream god pulled them in and drowned them. We understand that accidents happen. There are the risks associated with streams and rivers. So we build fences, put up warning signs, redesign bridges or boats, heed weather forecasts,  wear life jackets, and follow safety rules, thinking in some way we control our destiny. We understand the situation now.

But this faculty of creativity, this sudden filling of one’s mind with an entire symphony, with a scene, with an image compelling us to paint it… where did that come from? We don’t know. We can’t see it, we can’t trace it, we can’t break it down into components of cause and effect… and so… oddly, we — or at least many in the fields of creativity — ascribe it to a god, or a spirit, or some universal power, or spiritual electricity — even to the God of the Bible, if that happens to be their thing. 

I suppose that believing you are connected to the God of the Universe through your art will give you a confidence you’d not have otherwise, so perhaps that’s the draw. Confidence and relaxation are important elements in the free functioning of the creative faculty, so believing in a higher power would no doubt produce the desired results, even if the object of that faith was bogus.

What’s important to me here, though, is my understanding that the creative element of man’s soul works in a mysterious way, in a way that we can’t see, logic or control, and it works that way in all of us, believer and unbeliever. It is a gift we cannot control or summon at will. And while the simple fact of its arrival may feel strange, mysterious and outside ourselves, that doesn’t make it a spiritual function. Even with Christians, creativity in and of itself isn’t a spiritual function, any more than speaking is. Spirituality depends on the filling of the Holy Spirit. And the content of what is created or spoken, though it may feel as if it did not come from us, I believe is drawn from whatever amount of God’s word you’ve learned and metabolized.

Not to say the Holy Spirit can’t or doesn’t direct creative function. He certainly can and does. I couldn’t write if I didn’t believe that. But it’s just like with the Pastor. The Holy Spirit speaks through his message, but if the man never studies the word, the Spirit’s not going to have much to work with.

I could go on in this vein, but I’ll desist. The point of this post was to sort through my thoughts on this association with creativity and spirituality and I think I’ve done what I wanted to do there.  It’s been like having a lightbulb go on in my head to realize that it’s part of how we were all made, and I find the fact that God made half our brains to think in ways we can’t direct or understand to be amusing. And significant.

Judging Well

Criticism, as it was first instituted by Aristotle, was meant as a standard of judging well; the chiefest part of which is to observe those excellencies which delight a reasonable reader
 
   ~ John Dryden (finest quotes.com, quotes.daddy.com,)

I really like this quote. I think it meshes well with the command that we, as Christians, are to build each other up rather than tear each other down.  As Eph 4:29 instructs: 

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. “

[John Dryden (9 August 1631 – 1 May 1700) was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. (From Wikipedia article)]

Does God Speak to Us Personally?

In one of the comments on my recent post Is Self Discipline Overrated?, the author objected to my contention that as believers in the church age we can “hear” God’s voice in our heads. His position was that God does not speak to us personally and directly, but communicates solely through our recall of His word as we have learned it from our pastor.

This may be a matter of semantics in describing the same function, because I do think that the Holy Spirit uses the doctrine we have learned to guide us. But I also think that He can communicate with us specifically about matters unique to our day-to-day lives. This is not to say you can ignore the word of God and fly off based on voices in your head, (I’m not even sure I’d call it a voice; more like a timely thought.) but when you have been consistent with Bible class and are faced with a situation where there are two opposing doctrines that can be applied, you have to go to Him for guidance. Which one do I apply? And He brings the appropriate, already learned doctrines and scriptures to mind.

With me, after that has occurred, God often sends someone into my life who unknowingly repeats what God’s just told me. Or he’ll use my timely discovery of some old notes tucked amidst manuscript pages, or a Thieme book falling off the shelf while I’m searching for something else which just “happens” to open to the page I need, where I’d previously highlighted the appropriate passage. Then, to make sure I get the message, that night in Bible class He’ll often have the pastor repeat it.

Other times we may be faced with making a decision about details of life that we don’t have enough information to make. For example awhile back when Quigley was a wild and crazy puppy who couldn’t be left alone for long, I had to go to the DMV to renew my driver’s license. It’s illegal to leave your dog in the car in Arizona, so I’d have to leave him at home. We had him crate trained, but he wasn’t old enough to be left longer than an hour. I’d already stopped by the DMV the afternoon before where I’d learned that the average wait time was three hours and so had come home before I could do anything. I was advised to come in the morning when it might be a little faster, so that night and the next morning I tried to sort through all the options, wondering when the best time to go would be.

It was not good to try to leave Quigley during his active times in those days. What if he took too long to settle down and I missed my window at the DMV? And should I leave him in the crate or the back yard where he might bay as if he’s dying for the entire time I would be gone, dig his way out or chew through the fence? All my attempts to see into the future so as to make a decision met with failure and only produced increasing anxiety. Finally I gave it up, rebounded the anxiety and handed it over to God. “I have no idea when would be the best time to go for the shortest wait,” I told Him, “or whether I should leave Quigley in the yard or in the crate. You told us to cast all our burdens on You, so that’s what I’m doing. You’re just going to have to handle it.”

With that, I let it go. About half an hour later I got the very strong “instruction” (conviction?) to leave Quigley in the yard and “Go now.” So I did. I arrived at the DMV to find no line whatsoever  and was back home within about forty-five minutes. Quigley did not bay or dig or chew his way out of the yard, and all was well. It was a turning point for me in seeing how God could handle things.

In tonight’s class Pastor Bob just “happened” to start a new subject on the indwelling of God the Father, and why He would indwell us. The first reason he gave is that God “wants us to be totally confident and convinced that He’s the creator of our portfolio of invisible assets.” These assets include all that we will ever need to live the Christian life and fulfill His plan for us; they include phenomenal escrow blessings and a specific, unique plan for each one of us — our personal sense of destiny. Part of that plan is that we get to know, personally and intimately, the One who dwells inside us.

When the Bible talks about God abiding in us and dwelling in us, the word refers to being at rest in, making oneself at home in. It’s an intimate relaxed relationship and I believe such relationships require communication. Prayer is communication. We talk to God through prayer, and sometimes He answers, personally. It can be by means of a thought, or a doctrine or some external “coincidence.”

Obviously there is great room for people to think that God has told them something when He hasn’t, especially if they have a zeal for Him but not a lot of knowledge. If what they say He’s told them doesn’t line up with His word, then it’s probably not from Him. Even if it does line up with the word, it still might not be.

But that’s between them and God. My concern is what He says to me, and whether I can believe that it’s really God and not some wishful thinking of my own manufacture. It takes time to gain confidence in this. It’s certainly taken me a long time to trust that this might actually be taking place. Even now, if I think He’s told me to do something but am not absolutely sure it’s from Him, I ask Him to make it clear or shut me down if it’s not what He wants me to do.

And mostly, He hasn’t shut me down. But even if I do blow it in this regard, it’s not going to ruin His day. And usually not even mine. We’re not here to be perfect. Which is a good thing since we aren’t going to be till we reach heaven. I’m thinking more and more that far too much is made of our performance. Did we make the wrong choice? The right one? How much does it really matter?

It’s Christ’s work that matters, that’s won the victory, not ours. We’re perfectly righteous already and can’t be made one bit more so, so why the angst about whether we might do something wrong? If we do, God makes it clear, we rebound, we adjust our thinking and move on. It’s “He must increase, I must decrease.” It’s all about His plan to bring glory to Himself through us, and one of the most brilliant and amazing ways He does that is through His grace toward us. If we were always good, and successful and perfect, where would be the room for grace? It’s a given that we’re going to seek to obey His commands and do what He wishes because we love Him. But we can bring glory to Him even in failure, if we just use the system He’s provided, pick ourselves up, rebound, face forward and move on.