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Cultural Theology

Think for a second about Bible verses that have stuck with you in life. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", "The wages of sin is death", "For God so loved the world He gave his only Son", "God helps those who help themselves", "Everything happens for a reason", and so on. Often times we turn to Biblical words and sayings as a comfort food that nourish us and build up our faith and reliance on the church and on God. However, as my statements above show, we often don't realize how many of these words of comfort aren't actually biblical, nor are they words that we should be relying on. The last two quotes above aren't actually in the Bible, nor do they help us cope with difficulty through faithfulness. God doesn't promise us that if we help ourselves (whatever that means), then suddenly God will intervene and give us whatever nudge we need. And while many things do happen for reasons we can explain, there are events and problems that happen for reasons we could never comprehend or understand.

As more and more people have left churches, and fewer people in the church have diligently studied scripture and wrestled with their thoughts about God, the modern world has begun to adopt a cultural set of beliefs about God and about what it means to be a Christian. As a shortcut, we've accepted very un-biblical ideas about how we should behave, what we should believe, how we attain salvation, and how God works in the world. For instance, I grew up with a very specific vision of hell, filled with fire and brimstone, people burning in a permanent fire of which no one could ever return. Yet that entire description of hell came mostly from Dante's "Inferno", not from anywhere in the Bible. I was taught that as a child by well intentioned cultural Christians, who at best were misleading me, and at worst were trying to control my thoughts and what I came to believe about God.

Many people believe they understand the book of Revelation and how the end times will occur; filled with plagues, an anti-Christ, a global war in the Middle East, and other "signs" that we should be on the lookout for. Unfortunately (or fortunately for our sake), none of that is an accurate description or interpretation of the Bible. Most of those stories and predictions came from the "Left Behind" series, a massively popular fiction book series in the 190's and 2000's by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. I've found this book series in every church library I've ever visited, and I would guess that just as many people have read that entire series as have actually read through the entire Bible.

We have to be careful about our use of cultural Christian beliefs and ideas, because often times they are a form of idol worship and false belief. It is easier to accept a comfortable truth from people in our community, than the the uncomfortable Truth of the Gospel. I've seen and heard enough from pastors to know that we often will sugar coat, soften, or at worst, flat out misinform many of the messages of the Bible, because we don't want to offend, drive off, or even make slightly uncomfortable, the people in the pews.

But the Gospel is uncomfortable. The message of Jesus should often make us stir in our seats. The Bible shouldn't just confront us with evil in other people's hearts, but in our own hearts. Jesus was hated by far more people than he was loved by. He promised that his message would make people hate his followers. It would call people away from their cultural worship and into a completely different way of living. A way that calls us away from our desires and comforts, and into a place where we live a deeper, more purposeful life. A way that doesn't conform to our communities, our nation, or even the world at large. That message is a harsh one, which is why we often don't want to go deeper, don't want that transformation, and don't want to give up the shortcuts of cultural belief that we've so easily accepted.

But when was the last time your beliefs were cut sharply because of the Word of God? When was the last time you were offended by the Gospel? When was the last time someone challenged you to put God over nation, over community, over friends and even family? When was the last time you opened the Bible and saw your own sins laid bare within it, and a challenge to truly seek repentance for them? If you haven't, I challenge you dive deeper. I challenge you to open your Bible, gather as groups, wrestle deeply, and seek the hard lessons within. Don't be quick to grasp easy answers, because nothing about our beliefs and the work of God in the world is easy to understand. And don't worry, as the Bible says "God won't give you more than you can handle." Just kidding, it doesn't say that. It never has. Amen

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