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A glossary

One thing that messes up our reading of the Bible is that we think we know what certain words mean.  But many of our definitions need to be re-thought in the light of the gospel of God-With-Us.  Below are some of the definitions I’ve had to re-think. When I’m reading the Bible and I come across these words, I have to remind myself what they actually mean:

God – This word evokes in me images of some Christianized Zeus. But because I believe the gospel, I know that God is not a person. God is three persons together in perfect unity. Wherever the Bible speaks of God, it is speaking of the Trinity. Since the word “god” has so much mythical baggage, it’s been useful for me to just drop the word altogether. In the New Testament, it’s obvious that “God” almost always refers to the Father. In the few instances where “God” refers to the entire Trinity, I just translate it as “the Triune One.” It helps me keep my thinking straight.

Faith – My mind habitually thinks of faith as if it’s a work. As if the Pearly Gates are guarded by a brain scanner that checks to see if I have enough faith particles in there. So I have to strong-arm my thinking into new channels whenever I see this word, reminding myself that believing in something does not cause it to start existing; to believe is to perceive and embrace something that was already there. When I understand specific texts in this light, the texts make a LOT more sense. Faith does not trigger Jesus into giving me a gift; faith is simply the way the gift gets inside me and transforms my thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships.

Salvation – I tend to mystify this word way too much. My best remedy is to replace “save” with “heal” (They are the same word in the Greek). That usually gets my mind onto a better track, and that track is usually not preoccupied with getting into heaven after I die. It’s about having my broken pieces put back together, having my relationships healed, having my mind healed from the effect of poisonous lies. This healing is given to us by grace. That is reality, and it transforms those who are willing to re-orient their minds around it.

Justification – Another word my mind is always tempted to turn into some kind of voodoo. But there is nothing mystical about it. Justice is about right relationships, with Papa, with ourselves, and with the world around us. This “right relationship” to all things belongs to Jesus, and he has given it to us by grace. As I re-orient my mind around this reality (i.e., as I repent and believe), I actually begin to relate rightly to reality. I actually become more and more just, in anticipation of the day when Christ’s just-ness will dwell fully inside my skin.

Chosen – Brother Calvin, bless his heart, taught me to get really uptight about this word. The trick to calming down is to remember that Papa chooses people instrumentally, not exclusively. Ultimately, he chose his Son to be the executor of his plan of adoption. And within that choice is included his choosing of certain persons and communities to be the carriers of his blessing to everyone else. Remember Genesis 12: Abraham is blessed to be a blessing; he is chosen for the sake of those not chosen. With that firmly in mind, texts about ‘the chosen ones’ no longer make me panic.

Kingdom – The “kingdom of heaven” is Jesus’ preferred term for the thing he’s telling people about in his gospel. We tend to turn this into “heaven as the place we go after we die.” But Jesus is clearly talking about concrete realities in the here and now, not just what happens beyond death. Dallas Willard defines a kingdom as “the range of a king’s effective will.” When Papa’s will is done on earth as in heaven, his kingdom is functioning there. Simple.  And speaking of heaven…

Heaven. Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright have taught me the biblical concept of heaven as the earth’s control room, the driver’s seat of the cosmos, the space-time of humanity’s interaction with the Triune God. My science-fiction-soaked brain tends to envision heaven as a kind of parallel dimension, infinitely close to every place of earthly space-time, but invisible because we are slightly out-of-phase with it. A careful theological imagination like this can help us think outside old wineskins.

Judgment.  At its most basic level, to judge is simply to discern good from bad. As a child of God who now lives under the constant harassment of my own badness, I rejoice in being judged. It is a good thing for Jesus to name, condemn, and destroy the darkness that lives in me. It is painful, to be sure, to separate good from bad, true from false. Anyone who’s ever said “I’m an alcoholic” knows the terror of being discerned/judged truthfully. But the truth sets us free. Jesus saves us by judging us. An interesting Bible study: Look at all the NT references to ‘judgment’ and see if we are judged by grace or by works.

Punishment/Wrath.  The pagan mind is full of visions of vengeful deities, and those visions infest my mind as much as anyone else’s. So I filter all such language through the reality of fatherly discipline. As the writer of Hebrews says, punishment and wrath are gifts from a father to his beloved son. There is no need to avoid punishment and wrath language (after all, the Bible is chock-full of it). We just need to stop thinking of it in terms of Zeus and his lightning-bolt of doom.

Eternal Punishment.  During exile, some Jews adopted pieces of Zoroastrian philosophy (The Babylonians were called Farsi’s, and these Jews who copied them came to be called Pharisees). This philosophy placed strong emphasis on “endless torture” (aidios timoria) of the wicked. Over and against this view, Jesus spoke often of aionian kolasin, an “eon of discipline” (Notice the word “eon” in the Greek aionian), though it is usually translated “eternal punishment.” This eon will last as long as I refuse the discipline, forever if I choose, but my Papa will never give up on me. “Eternal punishment” is good news, not bad.

Coming. Jesus spoke constantly about “the coming of the Son of Man,” a reference to the prophecy in Daniel about a human being ‘coming on the clouds’ to sit at the right hand of the Ancient of Days. Notice that this is a movement from earth to heaven, rather than the other way around as we usually think about Christ’s “Coming.” Jesus’ coming/ascension to the throne means the destruction of his enemies, including the corrupt Temple system and every other power in history that has ever set itself against Him. The New Testament does clearly teach about a future Glorious Appearing of earth’s King and everything that happens as a result, but Jesus’ own teachings were focused primarily on a different topic. For more on this, I recommend N.T. Wright’s SURPRISED BY HOPE or Hank Hanegraaff’s APOCALYPSE CODE.


5 Responses

  1. Thankyou, this is so useful and inspiring. I particularly like salvation and chosen x

    • Thanks Elaine! In all the places where my paraphrase seems to depart from the biblical text, it’s bc I’m thinking differently about these words and trying to communicate the changed meaning that results. Go POTSC!

  2. You have succeeded beautifully here in redefining the words which have usually been distorted by the religion of “Christianity” – a construct of fearful minds bent on saving themselves from the wrath of God, rather than realizing His unconditional love for them. Your descriptions of Faith and Salvation particularly resonate with me.

    I do have to take exception, however, with your conclusion that “This eon will last as long as I refuse the discipline, FOREVER if I choose…,” for if you truly will be “saved” – HEALED – the discipline will have succeeded in doing its job. If “Papa will never give up on you,” to imagine that His efforts will FOREVER fail is rather unfaithful, don’t you think? And to imply that His success is dependent on your “acceptance” of His discipline is just another way to say that salvation is by works – as in, those who accept the discipline (the “better” ones) are saved, while those who refuse it (the “wicked”) are lost.

    It is this same line of reasoning which Wayne Jacobsen (collaborator and publisher of The Shack) used to explain why he does not support universalism:

    “Throughout The Shack Mack’s choices are in play, determining what he will let God do in his life through their encounter. He is no victim of God’s process. He is a willing participant at every juncture. And even though Papa says ‘He is reconciled to all men’ he also notes that, ‘not all men are reconciled to me.'”

    The problem with this thinking is that its necessary conclusion (some are lost forever) contradicts its presumption. If God IS “reconciled to all men” He would never even consider NOT “saving” anyone (healing them). To put it another way, if you have truly forgiven someone (reconciled yourself to them), you don’t then hunt them down and “kill” them, which is what traditional Christianity teaches that God will do with the lost.

    “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them but giving us the ministry of reconciliation.”

    In the traditional Christian view, contrary to this scripture, God IS counting our sins against us, and will punish us eternally for them. If your view also holds that His “punishments” will continue FOREVER then yours is no different. Just as Christ will reign UNTIL he has put all his enemies under his feet (destroyed deception, bigotry, hatred, and finally death), God’s discipline – corrections – will continue UNTIL they succeed. To even imagine that they will not is to make man’s will and power sovereign over God’s.

    You have taken on a beautiful mission to spread the unconditional, and unfailing, love of God through your writings. Please don’t limit God’s abilities and success by making man his own savior. “Salvation is of the Lord.”

    Peace to you.

    • Hello Jim! I apologize for taking so long to reply, {insert standard excuses here}. I very much hear what you’re saying. It seems unthinkable that God could be so powerless that he could fail to achieve his desire of being loved by someone. It is certainly my hope (and to some degree, my expectation) that all will eventually know and love Papa. But whatever Hell is, I still think it’s the gracious space and time God sovereignly gives us for being who we want to be, and I can’t imagine him ever taking that gift away. I’d love to continue this conversation!

      • Hi John. No problem my friend. I hope that my comments did not seem harsh or arrogant. As I said, your writings are a beautiful affirmation of the unconditional love of God and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them.

        In your response I see a very logical set of assumptions, but perhaps you don’t yet agree with what I see as their only logical conclusion. If it is “unthinkable that God could be so powerless that he could fail to achieve his desire to be loved by someone” then you have answered my challenge, supported your own expectation, and seemed to have reached what would be our mutual conclusion — that “all will eventually know and love Papa.” If we as created beings – made in the image of Papa, who seeks true loving relationship with every one of us – are given the “gracious space and time” to be who we truly want to be (loving individuals in relationship with Papa and our fellow man – again, His image that we are made in) it is only a matter of time before we find that. Using your perspective, the “gift” is simply allowing us the time to experience what DOES NOT fulfill us, which must eventually lead to what DOES – love and relationship.

        Take care, Jim

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