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Christianity: a journey from selfishness to selfless-ness

June 18th, 2014 No comments

In the Bible, when someone receives an act of healing, Jesus always affirms the faith of the individual.  When someone encounters Jesus, he or she reaches out in an act of faith, knowing that Jesus is capable of healing them.

Today, one’s “conversion experience” may look a little different.  True, the act of faith is certainly there.  We know that when someone comes to Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit’s drawing us, in conjunction with faith in Christ, as well as our own free will to receive God’s gift.  But there is another element at play.

I received Christ when I was seven years old. I heard stories about this Jesus guy, that he loved me and that he wanted to have a relationship with me.  As a person with a disability, Christianity had a particular appeal to me.  Like some characters in Scripture, I was one viewed as weak.  As someone with a disability, I certainly knew that I was different from others.  I couldn’t do some of the things other kids my age could do – I couldn’t ride a bike, I couldn’t do sports, and I certainly was no track  star.

Most of all, I was terrified of the idea of going to hell when I die.  After all, what seven-year-old kid wouldn’t find that terrifying?

Others come to Jesus for different reasons.  Perhaps they are drug addicts. Perhaps they come from dysfunctional homes.  Perhaps they have lost one or both parents and are forced to raise themselves.  Perhaps they are victims of violent crimes.  Perhaps they were born with physical or mental disabilities. Or perhaps they, like me, fear death.  Or perhaps they simply want to go to heaven.

Thinking over some of these things, I realized something that I at first found a bit disconcerting.

One’s Christian walk begins, at least in part, with some element of selfishness.

If you need more proof, consider the traditional Western model of evangelism.  We want to save souls (more properly, we acknowledge that God uses us as his means to save souls).  How do we appeal to our people?  By talking about Christianity in terms that sound appealing.  “If you accept God’s gift of salvation, you will live in heaven when you die and receive an eternal reward.”  Or, “Jesus loves you and wants to save you.  He wants to rescue you and bring restoration to you and your life.”

While all of these things are certainly true, notice where the focus is.  If someone comes to Christ, THEY get something out of it.

So it was with me. My weakness and my fear of death compelled me to choose Christ.  I came to Christ for selfish reasons.

But the remarkable thing is that, as one progresses through his or her Christian walk, things begin to change.  For the Christian, the Holy Spirit is constantly changing us into the likeness of Christ, gradually restoring the image of God in us that was marred by the Fall.  One eventually comes to realize that the Christian life is MUCH MORE than what is traditionally presented to us by modern evangelists.

As the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer, one becomes remade more and more into the likeness of Jesus.  That’s one of the remarkable things about Holiness theology – it’s not what we do ourselves, but what God does in us.

As I progressed through my teen years and into my twenties, I discovered that the idea of a “reward” for my faith – be it in heaven or on earth – did not matter quite as much as it did at the beginning of my faith journey.  The reason?  Through his regenerative work, the Spirit transforms us.  Where we might once have begun our Christian journey out of a selfless motive, the Holy Spirit has transformed the believer.  We have moved – or, more properly, the Spirit has moved us – from a spirit of selfishness to one of “selfless-ness”.  Once, we did Christian charity with the expectation of reward – now, we do Christian charity for the benefit of others, and often, at the expense of our own selves.  What a radical difference!



Categories: Theology Tags:

SBL 2013 Annual Meeting: a response to the responses

December 4th, 2013 No comments

I had the opportunity to present a paper at this year’s Annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Baltimore, MD.  Very unfortunately, I was unable to present my paper due to an illness which prevented me from flying.  Fortunately, however, a friend texted me comments from the audience made in response to the presentation.  I wanted to address those comments.  These are not direct quotations:

1. Linguistics and history do not mix. 

This is, indeed, a common view.  And I would agree with this statement, for the most part.  However, I would not say that the bulk of my argument was not based on linguistics.  It was, in a sense, a glorified word study.  I examined the root בהל, first unique to Daniel, then canon-wide.  I did make some arguments based on narrative flow, parallelism, contrast, etc., but I would not say that my argument was a linguistic one.

Rather, I examined the use of בהל in the context of narrative.  While we cannot say that history and linguistics go hand-in-hand with one another, I believe we can all agree that narratives are colored by history, whether that history is actual documented events or historical memory.  All narratives, I argue, are colored in some way or another by historical events and particular cultures.  Moreover, written narrative is necessarily composed of language in general, and in particular, word choice.  So, the writer’s choice to use בהל was intentional, and I believe deliberately lends color to the narrative.  So, while history and linguistics may not precisely fit together, history insofar as it frames narrative is pertinent to the discussion.

Moving from the Aramaic to the Hebrew with such limited scope does not allow for broader nuances.

I would like the responder to clarify what he or she means by “such a limited scope.”  The root בהל occurs 39x throughout the  Torah, Prophets, and Writings.  How many occurrences of a root does it take to constitute a “broader nuance?”  Moreover, I know there was a presenter before me who examined בהל in light of Ugaritic evidence.  I am interested in learning more about his topic and how it affects my own assertions.

I’m not sure if this nuance fits the semantic range of בהל.

I disagree.  My paper did not suggest an entirely new translation for the word; I simply argued that the translations attributed to בהל were not forceful enough (e..g, “terror” rather than “distress” or “alarm”).  Even if the paper did stretch the semantic range of the word, that’s what I was arguing for – I suggested an alternative translation, broadening (slightly) the semantic range.  Of course, everyone is entitled to disagree with my premise, so this statement is a perfectly understandably one. 🙂

Categories: Theology Tags:

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