Beaches, Oceans and Maps

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I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, “I’ve no use for all that stuff.  But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt him; out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”

Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real.

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In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he is turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of colored paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only colored paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single isolated glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.

In the second place, if you want to go anywhere the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get [from England] to America.

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Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map.

–C. S. Lewis,
Mere Christianity

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Love is the foundation

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Love is the foundation of all obedience. Without it, morality degenerates into mere casuistry. Love is the foundation of all knowledge. Without it religion degenerates into a chattering about Moses and doctrines and theories; a thing that will neither kill nor make alive, that never gave life to a single soul or blessing to a single heart, and never put strength into any hand in the conflict and strife of daily life.

–Alexander MacLaren
(1826 – 1910)

Published in: on 08/23/2015 at 17:59  Leave a Comment  
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A love game

. . . It would be a mistake to give the impression that the Christian doctrine of God is a matter of clever intellectual word games or mind games. For Christians it’s always a love game: God’s love for the world calling out an answering love from us, enabling us to discover that God not only happens to love us (as though this was simply one aspect of his character) but the he is love itself.

–N. T. Wright

Published in: on 06/18/2011 at 15:38  Leave a Comment  
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Boasting in the Lord

“My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad.” (Psa. 34:2)

I used to make my boast in knowing the Scriptures. When someone asked where a Bible verse was found, I could usually tell him where to find it. With someone like me around, who needs a concordance? I prided myself on my knowledge of the Holy Book; it made me believe I had become quite spiritual. Now I realize that what really matters is not knowing the written Word, but knowing the living Word. Christ said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39). Knowing the book of the Lord is not the same thing as know the Lord of the book. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in how well I was doing in the Christian life. I set high standards, defended them ardently, and sought to practice them. It gave me satisfaction to think that I was a notch above many other Christians who didn’t hold to those standards, or even know about them. I even felt proud about my humility! How hard it was to realize that my critical and unloving attitudes were worse sins than the ones I looked down on others for. I was condemning splinters while carrying a log. My spirituality turned out to be a sham. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in how well I was doing in the area of spiritual disciplines. I applied myself diligently to Bible study, prayer, worship and other devotional exercises, feeling sure that I was scoring high with these benchmarks of spirituality. It was hard for me to comprehend that you don’t get points for doing these things. They were simply a means of seeking God. I had gloried in the wrong things. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in not having committed some of the scandalous sins that others had fallen into. It gave me a sense of moral superiority to think I had managed to avoid sliding into those ditches. I now see that in my heart there is the potential of committing any one of those sins. If I have not done so, it is not because of me; it is because of Him. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in being part of a movement that sought to function on the basis of New Testament Church principles. I felt that we were doing things right. It took me a long time to realize that our calling was not simply to do things right, but to manifest Christ, and in that area, we were a long way from being where we should be. Following a pattern can make you proud; following a Person will keep you humble.  NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in my sound doctrinal positions. I was confident I had chapter and verse for my theological views. How well I could debate the finer points of Biblical minutiae! My theological orthodoxy gave me a sense of superiority over those who were not similarly enlightened. However, Scripture states: “If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (I Cor. 8:2). I reluctantly had to learn that I fell into the category of those who know nothing. My “conceit of certainty” waned as I came to understand that at best “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). I was left with little reason to boast in my knowledge. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in having successfully avoided the many errors that abound on the evangelical landscape. As I saw others swept away by the latest unbalanced teaching, it was easy for me to be critical of them. How deplorable that others were so lacking in spiritual discernment! How few there were who were standing strong for the truth of God! However, my condescending attitude took a beating when I ran into Philippians 2:3: “but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” What made me think I could have the truth of Christ, while woefully lacking the mind of Christ? My boasting was vain. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in my track record in serving God. My years of sharing my faith, ministering the Word, and serving others gave me a sense of spiritual achievement. I felt that I was making valuable contributions to the work of God. I had yet to learn what Paul had learned: “I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10). Now I realize, that if a branch bears fruit, it’s all thanks to the vine. The Lord stated: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  That was an important lesson to learn. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in my performance in many different areas. I am beginning to understand that none of these things are cause for self congratulation; they are only cause for gratitude. The apostle Paul posed these convicting questions: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7 NKJV) I am learning there is only one reason to boast. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord…'” (Jer. 9:23,24)

“But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 6:14).

(The author of the forgoing is a missionary who is strongly tempted to boast in having written such an outstanding article.)


Losing sight of Christ

Some weave a veil of doctrine which screens the Saviour from their eyes. It is emblazoned with creeds, definitions and orthodox statements of truth. It is not Christ but doctrines about Christ, which inspires them; the death of Christ rather than the Christ who died; the resurrection rather than the risen One; the priesthood rather than the priest. The correctness of our notions about the Savior may even cause us to miss the Savior Himself.

–F. B. Meyer (1847 – 1929)

He alone is the Truth

. . . at every point in our theological inquiry we have to let our knowledge, our theology, our formulations, our statements, be called into question by the very Christ toward whom they point, for He alone is the Truth…

Out of sheer respect for the majesty of the Truth as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures, we have to do our utmost to speak correctly and exactly about it—that is the meaning of orthodoxy and the way of humility—but when we have done all this, we have still to confess that we are unfaithful servants, that all our efforts fall far short of the truth.

Far from seeking justification on the ground of our “orthodoxy,” we can only serve the Truth faithfully if we point away from ourselves and our statements to Christ Himself, and direct all eyes to Him alone. He who boasts of orthodoxy thus sins against Justification by Christ alone, for he justifies himself by appeal to his own beliefs or his own formulations of belief and thereby does despite to the Truth and Grace of Christ.

Once a Church begins
to boast of its “orthodoxy”
it begins to fall from Grace.

–Thomas F. Torrance

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