Innies and Outies? Which are you?

Remember the thing about innies and outies? Sure you do. It's about whether your belly button protrudes outward, or is indented inward. I suspect every kid has compared with others.

Did you know there's another kind of innie and outie? Unlike belly buttons, this one is important. It's about how you read the Bible, whether you try to draw truth out of the text (outie) or read your own attitudes and beliefs into the text (innie).

Which are you? Outie is better, but innie is more common by far.


Sadly, research shows that Christians who read their Bibles are in a minority. Most do not. Here, however, I am writing to those few who read, but don't let the text speak to them or work on them. The innies of the world.

Here's the situation: We read the Bible and interpret what we read - and we all interpret, even the guys who insist "I just believe what the Bible says." But we very often don't read with an open and teachable mind, letting the Holy Spirit and the text speak to us. We don't seek truth no matter where it may lead.

Rather we come as readers who "understand" the text only as it fits into our preconceived ideas and wishes. Quality, honest reading requires that we be outies: we let the text speak to us, no matter what it says. If we hope to know God and his word, we cannot come as innies, putting our ideas into the text.

Examples? There are many. We can look at the two common ones that most of us take for granted, and are totally unaware of our bias. First, salvation. Then, the "rapture."

Salvation.

What does "saved" mean to you? If you are like a great many folks, being "saved" means "on your way to heaven." Overwhelmingly, the focus is on what happens after death. It's about some distant day, probably too far away to worry about now. This salvation has little to do with real life, lived here today.

Have you noticed that Jesus never taught much about that? Strange oversight, I think. One would think, considering the importance of it all, that God would have made abundantly certain that message was loud and clear.

But he didn't.

So, will Christians "go to heaven"? Is that what's salvation is about? Will other folks?

As I read scripture, it appears that at least some have and more will "go to heaven." Revelation 4 talks about people present with God in heaven, in the dwelling place of God. But is that the permanent destination for believers, or is it a temporary stop-off? Can we expect to spend forever sitting around, singing to Jesus and playing harps? When we think of heaven, are we even thinking of the same thing the writers of scripture had in mind?

For a number of reasons, I think heaven is not and never will be our "home." I think our permanent destination is a renewed, glorified earth, a global "Garden of Eden." But that requires more space than I have here.

The point is that Jesus taught little about anything resembling what we call "salvation." He taught mostly about the kingdom of God. His emphasis was that the kingdom is here, it is now, and we are in it. No white robes and harps some day in the sweet bye and bye. Biblical salvation is about here and now, not only some future time. There's work to be done in the name of Jesus. Now. And it's our place to do it.

This is important because our concept of salvation colors everything else we read in the New Testament, indeed, every aspect of our life. And the result of this belief is a distortion that all but guarantees we will miss God's intent.

Rapture.

And then there's the rapture. According to this teaching, that's the time when Christians are taken out of this world, up to heaven. Libraries of books have been written about this future event There has been much debate - some intense - about whether the rapture will take us out of this nasty world before, during or after the really hard times.

But what if...? What if we're not going anywhere? Or what if any "departure" in our future is for a visit, not a change of address? What if the verses used to support the rapture (and there aren't many of them) are in fact about Jesus coming to this world, not about us leaving it?

First, when reading scripture, it's hard to find anything supporting the idea that God takes his people out of dangerous or difficult situations. The pattern is that he promises to never leave them or forsake them, as they go through hard times. Christians over much of the world know too well what this means.

What if that's what's coming? Hard times, I mean. It's curious that when Americans talk about a coming tribulation when things will be worse than difficult for followers of Jesus, Christians in much of the rest of the world are puzzled. "You mean it gets harder yet?" They are beaten, imprisoned, killed, raped, robbed and more, for the name of Jesus. Now. And it gets worse? Is that possible?

So what's this rapture thing? And who is going to be taken up to avoid what? The fact that there are so many arguments about it indicates that scripture is not clear. But here's a thought:

In his excellent book, Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright addresses this question, this idea of our going "up" and meeting Jesus in the air, to be taken to wherever it is we go. Here's what he says about it:

The custom at the time Paul wrote to the Galatian church was for the people of a city to leave the city and head down the road in a great celebration to meet a coming important visitor, such as the governor or even the emperor. And when they met him, they would come together, celebrating his arrival and escorting him back into the city.

Never did they go out, meet the guy, and then turn and go back to wherever the VIP came from. He was coming to them, not vice versa.

How would that historical pattern fit with the second coming of Jesus? What if he's coming here, to live among us, not to take us out of the nasty old world. What if the world we so easily write off, is the same world he plans to restore and glorify? You know, the world God pronounced "very good." And he never seems to have changed his mind.

So, the point of this all is that it's important for us to understand the context of scripture, the historical background, and be open for the Word to speak to us, rather than conforming to our own opinions.

Be an outie. Life is way better that way.

6 Comments

thank you for this enlighting piece. it broadens my perspective and allows me seek the thruth off the bible. it is true that we translate the bible differently from each other as people and as flaxible as the bible can be, some people are able to translate the bible in support of their personal agenders. This piece of wrighting inspire me to seek the thruth and God because it is written that those who seek in the scriptures shall find. And God has like a vale covering Him and the more you seek him the more there is trust then more the relationship through christ is betterd, that is when God uncovers Himself and gives revelations to you. may the Lord bless you with more revelations in Jesus' name. Amen.

I am a member of an evangelical church, and yet have gone to a liberial seminary. I find both schools of thought to be enlightening in some ways and heretical in others. A faithful study of Scripture, where one really does let the Word of God renew one's mind, reveals that God's thoughts and His ways are, indeed, higher than ours; but this does not mean that His ways are not understandable. It's our ways that are confused.

I noticed that most of what you oppose in this article has to do with eschatology. You are right to say that the kingdom of Heaven not just about "pie in the sky when you die", but I don't know of anyone who is that simple-minded. Seriously, even children are capable of greater theological sophistication. Sitting on clouds with white robes and harps is the stuff of cartoons, although some elements of that characterization of Heaven are biblical (white robes and clouds are drawn from the book of Revelation). I do agree for the most part with your insight that "Heaven will never be our home". That idea strikes me as being more Platonic than Christian. Again, its too simple a criticism.

The kingdom of Heaven that Jesus preaches in the synoptic gospels, primarily, is opposed to the kingdom of this world. It is a reality for the here and now, as you say. But that is not all that it is. We demonstrate that we are children of our Father in Heaven by doing His work, having His Nature in us, having been transformed by the work of Christ. But the kingdom will not come in the fullness of its power by the work of the Church, nor by education or some human political agency, but by the power of God.

And this brings us to your criticism of the rapture. You ask who is going to be taken up to avoid what? The answer to that is those who believe in Christ will be taken up to avoid the pouring out of the wraith of God upon the world. While we are in this world, we will suffer persecution. I simply can't imagine anyone living something as radical as the Christian Life, following someone as radical as Jesus of Nazareth, and managing to escape persecution in this world. Even in America.

But persecution is the world's reaction to us, if we are, indeed, children of God. Wraith is God reaction to the world's rejection of His Son. There is a judgment coming, and its not aimed at believers in Christ. That is what the Rapture is all about. It's not about avoiding "really hard times", but rather, the judgment of God on the kingdoms of this world.

And there ARE precidents for this in the bible. Noah is the most obivious. You say that God pronounced this world "very good" and never seems to have changed His mind? What of Genesis 6:5-8, where God regrets making man because every inclination of their hearts was evil only? And yet God spared Noah and his family. Again, there is the Passover, where God spares his people from the wraith He pours out on the Egyptains. The rapture is the sparing of the church from the coming judgement on the world.

I do admit, however, that I am not certain whether this will happen quite the way the "Left Behind" series, for example, portrays it. But there do seem to be two images of the Lord's coming again that seem inconsistent with each other; one, where He comes as a "thief in the night" and another, where He returns with clouds and every eye will see Him. It is difficult for many, including myself, to imagine these are both the same event.

I hope that you are not put off by my criticisms. I enjoy discussing theology with people whose views are different than my own. Nevertheless, I have my own ground to stand on, which I defend vigorously until convicted by the Truth that it is time to move to another position.

Wow! A long paragraph. There's too much for me to respond to completely, so I will pick a point or two that I think pertinent.

The examples I gave are only that: examples. While there is much confusion about eschatology, the confusion is by no means limited to that. And, sadly, I do know people who believe what I have outlined. There are a great many, perhaps a majority in some parts of the church, for whom salvation is a future event with little practical bearing on life today.

You are correct that the kingdom, which is here among us as I write, is not here in its fulness. And you are correct that it will come by the power of God. But it is also true that God has called us as his agents and representatives in this world, continuing the work begun by Jesus. The power of God, in this case and many others, will most often be manifested through his people as they live in obedience to him.

Regarding the rapture and its purpose, I will not address the topic. The scripture supporting the idea is unclear and there are only a very few references. So where scripture is unclear, I will avoid a firm opinion.

hi.the power of god in his people is the manifistation of god.when you are saved that is when god comes in to you and sets up his kingdom. its about now. and please think about this statement. if god defeated death hell and the grave and he did as we all know. then why are we dyeing aspecially of dieases? thank you B.Bresee

I am thankful to have found this website, and have been blessed by this paper and the comments on it. It is surely wise to avoid firm opinions regarding matters on which Scripture is not definitive. But where Scripture is quite clear, "via exegesis, away with eisegesis" (please excuse the mixture of three languages).

Presumably the comment I thought I had left yesterday didn't go through. Just to say that I feel blessed to have found this website. It is indeed wise not to be dogmatic where Scripture is not definitive. But where Scripture is "loud and clear" much better to draw out than to thumbsuck in!!

Leave a comment












Loading tweets:

Follow us on Twitter!

home quodlibet journal theo blog sermons theology e-texts church history forum home