Archive for October, 2018

“Change my desires so that I desire you alone”

October 15, 2018

For the past six months or so—thanks to my daughter’s influence and example—I have been journaling in my Bible. (They make Bibles for exactly this purpose, and this is the one that I use.) For me, who likes to write, this experience has been deeply fruitful. I’m currently journaling my way through the Proverbs. What follows is my reflection on Proverbs 15:15-17, mostly in the form of a prayer. (I am literally transcribing from my handwritten notes.)

See Psalm 37:4; Matthew 6:33. From Solomon’s perspective, there is a kind of cheerfulness of heart that is immune to external circumstances. These verses make a point very similar to Jesus and the rest of God’s Word: We find genuine happiness in God alone. I’ve experienced enough of this happiness to know it’s true. But I need more!

Lord, can I dare to ask you to give me more? I confess that too often my heart is NOT cheerful (v. 15). I confess that too often I find my treasure in so many other people, places, and things. I need you to melt my heart! Change my desires so that I desire you alone—and the things that belong to you. I’m not even asking you to “work with me,” synergistically, the way we Wesleyan-Arminians so often want you to work. I’m not asking that you would COOPERATE with my free will. I’m asking you—I’m pleading with you!—TAKE CONTROL! Give me grace that obliterates my stubborn, sinful heart. Override my free will. I won’t mind, I promise! Only give me a joy that finds complete satisfaction in you! O God, I want that so badly!

Teach me, God, that “a little with fear of the Lord” is greater than the greatest treasure. If you have to afflict me (I say this with fear and trembling) with a  “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), as you did with my brother Paul, please do so. Give me this severe mercy if that’s what I require to find my treasure in you!

In my pastoral prayer yesterday, I prayed for victims and survivors of this most recent, devastating hurricane, which has nearly wiped whole towns off the map (like Mexico Beach, FL). I said in my prayer that many of your children are enduring a “severe trial.” I chose those words with care: For some of your children—not all and likely not many, but for some—this “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12) will be their greatest blessing. Why? Because, like me, they have found their treasure in something or someone other than you. And now, possessing very little, this experience will lead them to repentance—sweet repentance!

Like comedian Stephen Colbert, who told an interviewer in 2015 that coming to grips with the death of his father and two of his brothers at age 10 was the equivalent of “learning to love the bomb,” some of these victims and survivors will, by God’s grace, be able to say, “I love the thing I most wish had not happened”—because, in losing their treasure in houses, possessions, and even family or friends, they will find their true treasure in you. (Needless to say, your children who died in the hurricane are experiencing your grace and love in a way that those who are left behind are unable to experience: They have found their treasure in a way that we, on this side of eternity, can only dream! “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Phil. 1:21).

Podcast Episode #31: “One-Conditional Love”

October 13, 2018

It’s become a truism within Christian circles to speak of God’s “unconditional love” for humanity. But is this the most accurate way to describe God’s love? In this episode, following the lead of the late United Methodist theologian Thomas Oden (who first popularized the phrase “unconditional love” within theology), I argue that God’s love is best described as “one-conditional,” not unconditional.

As I warn in this episode, the difference between the two couldn’t be more consequential.

This is the second of two podcasts on the authority of scripture. 

Podcast Text: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Friday, October 12, 2018, and this is episode number 31 in my ongoing series of podcasts. 

You’re listening right now to “Unconditional Love,” by the Altar Boys, from their 1986 album, Gut Level Music. The Altar Boys were a Christian punk band—yes, they had that sort of thing back in the glorious ’80s, when I was coming of age. This song was not one of their original compositions, however. It was written by two Christian musicians—the former “queen of disco,” Donna Summer, and producer-songwriter Michael Omartian. If you remember the eighties the way I do, you’ll recall that the song was a minor hit for Ms. Summer in 1983, and the music video featured the Jamaican boy band Musical Youth, who had just had a hit on MTV with their song “Pass the Dutchie.”

In a little while, I’ll switch gears and play the song “Crossfire” by Kansas from their 1982 album, Vinyl Confessions. This was the second album the band made after lead guitarist and songwriter Kerry Livgren—the writer of “Carry On, Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind”—was converted to Christianity, along with bass player Dave Hope. 

You’ll hear that song later. But I’m starting with the Altar Boys because we Christians today practically take for granted that God loves us with un-conditional love. We use that expression all the time: unconditional love. In fact, I still remember an argument I got into many years on my blog with a dear Christian friend who challenged me on the notion of God’s unconditional love. God’s love, he said, is not unconditional. And I thought his words were borderline heresy! 

Imagine my surprise, then, just a few years ago, when I read a theological memoir called A Change of Heart by a well-respected theologian—who also happens to be United Methodist—named Thomas Oden. (Oden died in 2016.) In this memoir, he sheepishly admits that he was responsible for either coining the phrase “unconditional love,” or at least popularizing and applying it for the first time to theology—and to God’s loving relationship with humanity. He said he borrowed the concept from the psychotherapeutic work of psychologist Carl Rogers. 

When Oden first began writing about God’s unconditional love, he was a progressive Christian theologian. But he changed. In the late-’60s he experienced a conversion of sorts; by his own admission, he embraced orthodox Christianity—not capital O orthodox; he remained a humble Methodist. But he was no longer enamored with innovation in Christian theology; when it came to theology he liked the old stuff. In fact, he told Christianity Today that he had a dream once in which he saw his tombstone. His epitaph read as follows: “He made no new contribution to theology.” Oden became, in his own words, an “orthodox, ecumenical evangelical.” Read the rest of this entry »