Archives For Theology

If I could give one piece of advice to spiritual seekers (or believers for that matter) who have nagging questions about Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity which keep them from embracing Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity, I could summarize it in two words: work hard. If there are troubles, doubts, or a lack of clarity keeping you from a deeper engagement or commitment to knowing and following God as revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ then I would encourage you to be industrious about finding the answers. If you attend a local church you might utilize her leaders or journey along with a small group of believers for help. Furthermore, you could read books from the best and brightest biblical scholarship over the decades if not the centuries. You could also see if the Church Historical has already encountered and answered your questions (I mean, we’re talking roughly 2,000 years here). Regardless how you pursue the answers to your questions, the point is to actually pursue them.

Far too often when I hear of someone’s journey for answers it seems less a journey and more an extremely abbreviated stroll…to their computer to google a question. Unfortunately for many, the “search” amounts to finding within the first page or two of results an answer which merely serves to reaffirm biases and preconceived notions1, and that’s it, they’re done. Back to binge-watching on Netflix. Or maybe the journey abruptly concluded because of a Facebook fake news post blasting long-held truths of orthodox Christianity that the reader assumes is legitimate simply because it’s on a webpage. Hear me, both illustrations are examples of those who aren’t looking for answers as much as wanting to retain excuses for unbelief. Real searching takes real work. Frankly, how hard we work at our search tends to indicate how genuine our search really is. In other words, working hard can be a litmus test for what constitutes a real question we’re hung up on versus something we just tell people we struggle with because we don’t want to come across spiritually shallow or lazy.

The 1992 Academy Award-nominated Lorenzo’s Oil tells the true story of a family with a child, Lorenzo Odone, who begins to show neurological problems, such as loss of hearing, tantrums, etc. The boy is diagnosed as having adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which is fatal within two years. Augusto, Lorenzo’s father, an economist who worked for the World Bank, couldn’t find a doctor to treat their son’s rare disease, so he took it upon himself to find a treatment to save his son’s life. In their quest, the Odones clash with doctors, scientists, and support groups, who are skeptical that anything could be done about ALD, much less by laypeople – remember, he’s an economist, not a doctor. But Augusto is undeterred. He sets up camp in medical libraries, reviewing animal experiments, enlists the aid of a professor, presses researchers, question top doctors all over the world, and even organized an international symposium about the disease. And yet, in spite of research dead-ends and the horror of watching his son’s health decline, Augusto persists until he finally discovers a therapy involving adding a certain kind of oil to their son’s diet. The movie ends with his son’s improvement and future brighter than when it began.2

Why all the work? Why all the blood, sweat, and tears to get the right answer? Well, for Odone family, getting the answer was literally a matter of life and death. But is our spiritual quest amidst questions and doubts any different? On the contrary, I would argue it’s even greater, for the stakes are infinite. The consequences being eternal life or eternal death (cf., Heb. 9:27). This is why each of us should do whatever it takes to reduce the doubts we have by working hard to get the correct answers, even if we don’t like the answers we find.

Don’t settle for living a life where your “doubts” are really excuses in disguise. Think deeply about the questions you have and work hard to find the answers. Run to the real “oil” of truth and be honest with what you find, even if you don’t like it. Doing so will aid you in your spiritual journey for the present and hopefully for the life to come.

Work hard.

When I began my college career at Baylor University I did so majoring in political science. Though a pre-med/pre-dental student, an academic advisor counseled me to pick a major that interested me. Politics did the trick. In high school I had been president of the junior element of a local political party and in my first semester, joined the college version of the same. There were many different aspects of politics that interested me, not least of which was making a difference for my country. My younger brother Jodey felt similarly. Though he went a step further. While sharing a high school class on government with him, he communicated to me that he believed God had put a dream in his heart to actually pursue politics. I was energized by political thinking. Jodey was compelled by it. Thus, it didn’t surprise me when, after a career spent serving a U.S. President, Chairman of the FDIC, and Chancellor of his alma mater, Texas Tech, he finally felt it was time to serve his fellow man by running for public office.

Praying for my brother on the morning of his swearing-in.

In returning this weekend from Jodey’s swearing-in as a U.S. Congressman, there have been quite a few photos, articles, and videos about the event. (Heck, I posted many myself on my Instagram account) It’s been fun seeing friends and family who made the trip on C-SPAN, CNN, and local news back in West Texas. One story that got me thinking was entitled “Two Oaths: Rep. Arrington Emphasized Power of Prayer and Politics” with the subtitle: Arrington turns to Family and Faith for Guidance. It was a piece about how my brother’s faith is integrated into his politics. Included in the article are a photo of me praying for Jodey at a dedication service amongst some trusted friends (inset pic) in addition to a video of me praying at his swearing-in viewing party.

No biggie, right? I mean the lead photo the station used was mine. My youngest brother sent it to the reporter after seeing the initial story online. But knowing those images were being seen by people who don’t know me or what I believe today about politics made me a tad uneasy.

Let me explain.

My first semester in college was also when I felt led by God to give my life to serve the local church as a pastor. It was late November of 1989. I literally stepped into my dorm closet and told the Lord that, if he so desired, I would serve him in vocational ministry. I have never looked back. From that point on, I have tried to live my life in a way that maximizes my redemptive potential as a pastor. My heart for the gospel, the church, and the mission of making disciples not only grew during my formative years in college (and subsequently seminary) but continues to grow.

Conversely, any fires for things political began to dim for me. I quit my association with the local political party on campus, and within a year or two, switched my political science major to religion. In my mind’s eye, as a future pastor, my life’s focus would be the Kingdom of God – specifically how it intersects the local church. Frankly, I think of my waning political desires during my college years as a grace. I believe it’s served me well today.

For almost 25 years I’ve shepherded souls who are all across the political spectrum: Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.1 To be candid, my own political ideas have changed over the years. I’m not nearly as ideologically monolithic as I was in my younger days. I think that too has served me well. I believe both Republicans and Democrats love their nation, want to do what is best, and have good ideas (and bad ones) about how to achieve their ends. When a political party is just a party and not a god, it’s amazing how little you care to demonize the other side. It’s probably one reason I don’t feel the need to post on social media every two seconds about how this or that political leader or party is the hero or zero. I think most of that practice is a waste of time for a pastor if not flat-out unwise. I mean, how do you minister to Democrats in your church when you’re so pro-Republican on Twitter? Or how do you serve Republican believers when what you’ve essentially become on Facebook is a mouthpiece for the DNC? Is your need to speak about those things so great that you risk losing sheep over it? Hardly. Remember it’s not your mantle but one given to you by the Lord above. Stop thinking of yourself as prophetic. It’s more likely problematic for your pastoral ministry, that is, if you want different kinds of people in your congregation.2 I know I do. If adherents of only one political party feel at home in my church then I’m doing something wrong as a pastor. I hope both Republicans and Democrats over time in my congregation will experience affirmation and rebuke from the teaching of God’s Word. I know I have.

This brings me to the Honorable Jodey C. Arrington. What do I do when I’m a pastor who also happens to have a brother running for Congress? I’m not saying there is one right way, but here is what I did.3 I told my brother from the start that, as a pastor, I wouldn’t publicly endorse him or anyone else. I think pastors who do that run the risk of sabotaging the ministries God gave them. I told Jodey I am not my own but bound to Christ and the people of CCCC. I am a voice for my congregation and couldn’t muddy the waters speaking on his behalf. Fortunately, Jodey understood and even agreed.4 So I stayed quiet online as far as campaigning went. Even when I felt his opponents were being disingenuous to him.5 However, I did say I would personally support him through prayer, counsel, and encouragement. Which is why, once Jodey won, I gladly joined him in D.C. to both privately and publicly pray for him.

Maybe this isn’t that big of a deal. I’ve heard many a person when listening to my reasonings for distancing myself from my brother’s campaign respond, “Oh Yancey, but it’s your brother. People would understand if you publicly supported his race.” While that might be true for some, it wouldn’t be true for me. So when you see images of me praying in Washington, D.C., for the new US Congressman of Texas District 19, please know I did so not as the proponent of one particular political party but as the family member one particular brother.

Pastoral ministry is too great a gift to exchange for the lesser porridge of politics.

Recently I had a stimulating conversation over lunch with a couple of pastors who were wrestling through some theological issues. One of the main threads of conversation was woven around how one deals with apparent contradictions or tensions in the Scripture. For example, how can we reconcile the doctrine of individual election with the idea that God desires all men to be saved? Well, we can talk about what the Bible means by “all men” or discuss the two wills of God, but those discussions still don’t remove us from the truth that many times learning about who God is and what God does leaves us at the foot of mystery. Personally, I completely okay with the tensions concerning what the Scriptures say about God and how he works. I don’t feel the need to smooth everything out. I don’t have to get all the answers. Frankly, the fact I can’t get them reminds me God is God and I’m not him. So if others regard me as inconsistent because the Bible seems to say contrasting things, I’m totally okay with it. I feel no need to explain how God makes those apparent contradictions work within his economy. Indeed, I couldn’t if I wanted to. Again, I’m totally okay with the mysteries of God in Scripture.

Afterward, one those pastors sent me a quote from the great 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, on Scripture’s tension intersecting his own theological beliefs (particularly how he dealt with the sovereignty of God in salvation versus texts, like 1 Tim. 2:3-4, which gives the appearance God wants all people to be saved). I thought it good to share with you:

My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”[ref]From Spurgeon’s sermon, “Salvation by Knowing the Truth” (http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1516.htm)[/ref]

Spurgeon is so good here. I’m with him. I could care less about consistency with my views if the Scripture is clear to say differently. Scripture is the authority, not my theological constructs, as helpful as they may be. You might say, because I believe the Bible over any particular system, there will be times where I’m committed to be consistently inconsistent. And so should you.