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This We Believe

• Greg Boyd

In a culture where the foundations of truth are unraveling, Greg offers a framework that equips us to focus on Jesus and walk with others who might see things differently than we do.

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What does it mean to have faith in a world that is unraveling, when truth seems to have no meaning? Greg seeks to address this question in two ways. First, he talks about what it means to believe in God. When we ask someone if they believe in God, we must recognize that there are different levels of meaning with this question. There is the social meaning, which pertains to the shared assumptions within a culture. However, beneath that social meaning is the mental conception a person has about God.

At the level of mental conception two people might mean very different things when they say “God.” One person might see God as loving and have affectionate emotions as a result. Another person might see God as angry or distant, which would result in a different set of emotions. Whatever our mental picture of God is, it can never completely capture the reality of God. This is a reference to the fact that the “map is not the territory.” Our picture of God is a map that interprets the reality of God, but the reality and the map are not the same. This calls for a degree of humility as we are always moving toward the reality and submitting our maps to God’s revelation.

We must keep this in mind when we talk to people about “God.” If someone says “I don’t believe in God” or, “I hate church,” it makes sense to find out what mental picture of God  or church they are rejecting.

The second point helps us process how religious beliefs work in our unraveling world. Traditionally, Christians have thought of their beliefs as a bounded set, where one belongs to a group if they believe a common list of shared doctrines. If you agree with this list you are in, but if you don’t you are out. In the bounded set way of thinking, all beliefs inside the boundary are equally important. This bounded set way of holding onto beliefs worked pretty well throughout most of church history because most Christians weren’t around people who could seriously challenge any of their beliefs.

But that is not the case today. We now live in a diverse, cosmopolitan world in which all of our beliefs are regularly challenged. The idea that you happen to belong to the group that happens to believe all the right doctrines seems absurd. Instead, we should think in terms of faith as centered set, with concentric circles. At the center is Jesus on the cross.  The cross defines the ultimate revelation of God’s love for us. Throughout the New Testament, the cross is held up as the final and fullest revelation of God’s character and will.

At the next ring out from the center is Scripture. We trust Jesus as Lord and because he embraced the Scriptures as having authority, so must we. Faith in Scripture is anchored in Jesus’ lordship. Therefore, if we discover contradictions or historical problems in the Bible, we can find comfort because avoiding contradictions or historical errors was apparently not part of God’s purpose for inspiring Scripture.

The third ring is what we call dogma, which is the set of beliefs that are reflected in the Church’s oldest creeds. These are the confessions that all Christians have always affirmed.

At the fourth level is doctrine, which refers to beliefs that various Christian groups have held, but which aren’t shared by the “one holy catholic church.” These are beliefs that various Christian groups have disagreed over, and the majority of them are related to different ways groups have interpreted dogma.

Finally, in the fourth ring outside the center we place opinion. These are beliefs that various individual Christians have held, but have never adopted as official belief of any major Christian group. Most opinions are about how to interpret particular passages or particular themes of Scripture.

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Topics: Defense of Christian Faith

Sermon Series: Unraveling Truth

Downloads & Resources

Audio File
Study guide
Group Study Guide
The MuseCast: March 7
Concentric Circles Handout

Focus Scripture:

  • I Corinthians 2:2

    I‘ve resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ crucified.

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4 thoughts on “This We Believe

  1. Matthew says:

    I know the following set of verses from 2 Peter chapter 2 is rather long, but if someone could read them and help me that would be wonderful. How on earth are we supposed to reconcile these words with the God of love revealed in the person of Jesus Christ? If Jesus is the living Word who ultimately interprets his written Word, and if that interpretation looks like Jesus, the Jesus we see in the Gospels, then how could Peter write such things?? I think my wife is about ready to give up on reading her Bible because of this stuff. I´m not far away from her sentiments.

    2 Peter chapter 2:

    But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

    For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell,[a] putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.

    Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord. But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.

    They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

    These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

    1. Jerry says:

      Matthew: Sure appears to fly in the face of hopeful Universalists.

      I liked this from Dan’s podcast Paul Anleitner on ‘Leaving Open Theism’ All of the energy and matter we have in the universe right now is the same amount of energy and matter that has been here since the Big Bang just going through cycles of death and renewal. The Nobel Prize for the Higgs Boson, four people share – three Jews, proved this. Prior to this, the materialist view appeared on the surface to have the upper hand.

      The only material in the universe is quarks. It takes three of them to make one proton or one neutron. Waves of protons, neutrons, and electrons make up atoms, out of the stardust emerging from black holes that make up all the stuff our Spirit sees only after the collapse of the wave function.

      For every quark, there are eight billion photons of intelligent energy which takes Paul to say Ephesians 6:12 for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

      Dan in his sermon Miracles and Microscopes convincingly presents the fact that despite how far we have come in our discoveries the world is more than what science can tell us and we, as humans, are more than what scientific data can show us. [Miracles are happening everywhere]

      Out of the collapsing entropy of all the galaxies, God created one rock and fine-tuned it so it could support life, everybody could live on it and stand in stark contrast to all the other floating rocks in the universe.

      I am a spiritual being who currently has a physical body. I occupy my body and its environs by my consciousness of it and by my capacity to will and to act with and through it. I occupy my body and its proximate space, but I am not localizable in it or around it. You cannot find me or any of my thoughts, feelings, or character traits in any part of my body. Even I cannot. If you wish to find me the last thing you should do is open my body to take a look, and examine it closely with a microscope or other physical instruments. – Dallas Willard Divine Conspiracy.

      Consider our physical cells, 97% start dust, as avatars [holographic references beams] that we, spiritual creatures, use to navigate, via Romans 12:2 the contrasting kingdoms of hell, self, and heaven in an ongoing restoration journey to one day reunite them.

      As Christians, our references, the beam of light that illuminates truth, come from the SPIRIT and the Word JESUS!

      We barely have a grip on this universe so what Heaven is like is entirely above our pay grade.

      So one opinion on Heaven is, to some degree, as good as any. From the surface, the Big Bang looks like the fall and the end of Revelation looks like the merge back. “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.” The Big Bang looks like hell that God is slowly luring toward restoration.

      “Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has NOT been sleeping”. Luke 16:19-31 appears Lazarus is resting however the rich man is sweating bullets. He is waiting for Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

      What gets tossed into the lake of fire [needs to be left at the gate]? Anything that is NOT the fruit of the Spirit that leads to destruction. So death, hell, and destruction [the burning away of the dross] for folks that aren’t yet ready to leave stuff, NOT fruit, at the gate.

      However, they can sure now get a drink if they need one.

      Why didn’t Jesus talk more directly in terms of science? This was an agrarian society, and they understood in terms of fruit.

      ‘If he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;”

      So what’s up with this following scripture? Looks like a reversal.

      Revelation 22 as echoed from Ezekiel 47 8-12
      He told me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

      The lake of fire is a loaded historical reference to the Dead Sea, the scene of Sodom and Gomorrah’s fire and brimstone destruction.

      Ezekiel 16:53-55 “‘However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them, so that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you have done in giving them comfort. And your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to what they were before; and you and your daughters will return to what you were before.

      Consider the reference to fishers in Ezekiel 47 might be a backdrop to Jesus’ “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19; Mark 1:17).

      Imagine symbolically fishers of people on the banks of what had been the lake of fire.

      Comparing our finest accomplishment, the Web Telescope to the precision of just one of God’s fine-tuning elements, the cosmological constant, the Creator is at least 10 trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion times more intelligent than us.

      So Isaiah 55:8-9 God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

      God via the authors is accommodating what different folks need to hear to get their attention to nudge them forward.

      We can’t trust our hearts, reason, or intuition based on intuitiveness and logic because our context is limited to what we know and experience, our perspective is limited to fears and desires and outcomes we can only guess.

      God can peer into eternity past and future and know every possible outcome.
      Scriptures are a slice of His thinking: principles on how the world works [timeless truths on (dos and don’ts) – cause-effect – attitudes-outcomes].

      As we renew our minds by peering into His WORD we will be able to test-approve [sort & discern] and our thoughts and ways will begin to mirror His.

      1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

      That might have been Paul’s answer to a dilemma he shared with you!

    2. Emily says:

      Hi Matthew, I’m copying below a response from Greg!
      —Emily from Communications

      Hi Matthew,

      I appreciate you and your wife honestly expressing how challenging you find 2 Peter 2.

      Before addressing Peter’s harshness, I think it’s important to begin by putting this in perspective.

      First, I encourage you to know the historical (and other) reasons why you believe Jesus is Lord. These reasons are not at all affected by whatever 2 Peter (or any other NT book) says. Even if someone concluded that 2 Peter should be thrown out of the canon, it shouldn’t ruffle our feathers much, because it doesn’t affect the center of our faith.

      Second, I have no reason to assume that everybody in the early church integrated the revelation of God in the crucified Christ into every area of their life at the same speed and to the same depth. Peter (if he is in fact the author of 2 Pet – many scholars think not) was always pretty thick-skulled, so maybe 2 Pet 2 represents “Peter’s” own hanging on the vengeance. Still, God “breathed” his word through “Peter,” communicating as much truth as possible while accommodating as much of Peter’s fallen mindset as possible, just as he does with other biblical authors.

      But third, while Peter’s tone is harsh, I’m not sure he is saying anything that contradicts what we learn about God in Christ. Yes, he ascribes violence directly to God, whereas I think it more accurate to say that God allowed other agents to carry out this violence. But biblical authors frequently say “the Lord did x” when they themselves know perfectly well that it was actually someone else who did x. (Jeremiah and Ezekiel do this all the time). Yet, X is nevertheless ascribed to the Lord as if this violent agent furthered God’s punitive will.

      Still, on the whole, “Peter” is simply describing the nature and destiny of a specific class of people who are apparently really evil and apparently quite influential. So, similar to the harsh way Jesus addressed the Pharisees, Peter is most concerned with warning his flock to steer clear of these corrupting people, and he feels he must use harsh language to make his point. Sometimes love has to play tough.

      Yes, I’m trying to put the best spin on 2 Pet 2 because it’s part of the inspired collection of works that is the church’s constitution. I think we owe it to the church tradition to put it in its best possible light. But even if you don’t accept my spin and instead conclude that Peter was being kind of a butthead, let this serve as yet another revelation of how God is always willing to stoop to our level and use imperfect people, just as they are.

      Hope this helps a bit,
      Keep thinking,

      1. Matthew says:

        Thanks so much Greg. It always amazes me that you make the tine to help with this stuff … even in the comment section. Thanks so much again.

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