Monthly Archives: October 2013

Disingenuous Arguments in the Context of Divorce and Remarriage

Just read a sentence that said it was clear, according to Jesus, that divorce and remarriage are sin. Then it said that neither Republicans or Democrats were rushing to outlaw divorce.

There is a lot packed in here, so let’s look at this a little more (except for the outlawing of divorce aspect). Let’s say that one agrees that divorce, according to Jesus is a sin, then would that automatically make remarriage a sin? THAT is NOT clear. Let’s put it this way. If divorce is not God’s ideal it doesn’t automatically mean that there is no “Plan B.” Get it? How do you want to SAY this? Do we want to use the language of sin or do we want to use the more modern language of idealism? To say that both are sin would be to say that those who remarry are living in continuous sin. That would not be the same if we talked about ideals.

Second, it isn’t clear that both are sin as one may repent of the first (divorce), God forgives and then allows for “Plan B” (remarriage) in which case it would not be sin. But there is also, the issue of the clarity of divorce and remarriage that this author speaks of. They said “Divorce and remarriage are CLEARLY sin according to Jesus.” Anybody who has looked at the evangelical literature on the subject has to know that there are different schools of thought on this. For example, this book details these differences.

Some time ago I emailed Craig Keener and he told me that Heth (in the above book) had changed his position from “divorce but no remarriage” to “divorce and remarriage!” Regardless of whatever school of thought you fall into I would have to agree from an old Christianity Today article (can’t remember which issue) that the bottom line in all schools is that God intends for marriage to be permanent. So to make an argument of this sort, in which it is not clear, (I personally hold to divorce and remarriage under any number of circumstances) in order to advance another issue (in this case, same-sex marriage) seems somewhat disengenuious.

Salvation of the Whole and Justice for All

From Chapter Twelve of Greg Boyd’s book, “Benefit of the Doubt.”

“The Cross-Centered Kingdom
An Invitation without Clutter
In an earlier chapter I noted that the way to know what a person or people group really believes is not to ask them but to watch. Christians frequently say, “It’s all about Jesus,” but our actions betray us. Judging by the amount of time, energy, and emotion that many put into fighting a multitude of battles, ranging from the defense of the literalness and inerrancy of the Bible to the war against gay marriage or universal health care, one easily gets the impression that Christianity is about a lot of different, equally important, things.”

This is probably the one thing that irritates me the most in Greg’s writings but also in some discussions between online friends, myself and Greg on the Open Theism Discussion Boards that we participated in years ago. His ethics–especially as it gets closer to the street level. Isn’t it interesting that this is a dig at the “Christian Right” or their issues? But if we were to bring up things like how best to help the poor or issues like war, I may definitely not get the same “dig.”

Now, Greg might say something like this would apply to both the right and the left and that would be fair enough in terms of the point about it all being about Jesus. However, when Greg speaks in this manner (mentioning these specific examples) he essentially betrays His political leanings. But more than this, he shows his anabaptist hand when it comes to politics in general. As if THIS is how evangelicals SHOULD do politics. In other words, it is not so much his political leanings but rather when he says: “Judging by the amount of time, energy, and emotion that many put into fighting a multitude of battles…” For Greg, it is all about God’s love. That we are made for that love. We are to reflect that love back to God, thereby participating in the triune Godhead but we are also to reflect it towards each other. Thus, these battles will be on the back burner.

I want to parse this out a bit though and say that as important as that is (which nothing can be more important than loving God), it is not robust ENOUGH. Let’s look at three political positions and then work from there.

A. Christians going with a merging of the Church and state. In other words, you can go from the extreme Dominion Theology, Kingdom Now, Reconstruction type theology to the more conservative Religious Right (as well as the Left, though generally it is the Right) in which Christians will attempt to bring the Bible to bear on society. This will be every thing from trying to implement actual biblical laws into modern day society to weaker or blander versions such basing particular laws on “biblical principles” ie., the Religious Right/Left, ie., Pat Robertson, James Dobson to Jim Wallis types.
B. Christians will not become involved with politics in the same sense mentioned above. They will generally be removed from it for two main reasons–eschatology or pietistic reasons. For the first it’s kinda like saying, “What use is there in rearranging the furniture on the Titanic when it’s going down? Let’s concentrate on saving souls.” The latter is more what Greg would hold to. He would say that one should not be involved in politics because it is “power over” and not “power under” as “quintessentially expressed on the cross.” In other words, we don’t force or coerce people to obey our Christian ethics. It’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics and try to influence from without. It is only to say that we should not be forcing others to follow Christian ethics via making laws that would do so. Without getting into full fledged post on this point, I will say not only do I think this is confused but IT IS basically a position that is held to and practiced on the basis of scripture. That is, even though it is not like option A above it is still a position informed by scripture.
C. Lastly, there is the position that I hold to which doesn’t go with either A or B though it is still informed by scripture and has a long history within the Church. Catholics call it “subsidarity” and Reformers call it, “sphere sovereignty.” Though there are major differences between the two sides, the idea is that God has called the state or authorities (it’s not necessary to say which form of authority is derived from God) just as he has called other aspects of civil life into being, ie., schools, hospitals, families, churches, libraries, banks, etc, and given them authority.

Now, given that God has called these different spheres into being, this means that God has called them to be responsible. He has given them a responsibility to carry out their authority, doing that for which they are called for.

[As an aside, I realize that there are some objections to this of which I won’t respond to in this post ie., how is civil society called into being when it is that which humans make? Is a particular form of authority legitmate? If not, how is it called into being by God? What makes this particular form of authority legitimate over another form? Suffice to say, I’m simply noting that civil society is something that God ultimately brings about and, regardless, each sphere is still to be responsible for it’s own authority as opposed to another ie., a police authority is not a family. A family is not a police authority, etc.]

So, one may ask, “What does this have to do with what Greg is saying?” Let’s look at these in this order:

A. First, Greg looks at salvation in a pietistic fashion. He basically follows the ‘ol, “Let’s save souls and that is how we’ll change a nation” argument. Isn’t that basically what he is saying when social issues are secondary to the “pure gospel” which is loving God first? Gay marriage is second to loving God? Universal health care is less important than loving God? I submit that that there is a false dichotomy here. Salvation is definitely about loving God yes. But loving God is not intangible. It has to be worked out in the concrete. Frankly, there is no such thing as loving God outside the concrete. Salvation will also include this world. It will include saving this souls but also being concerned about someone’s health for example.
B. Second, (and of course this is related to the first), if salvation is about the “whole of human life” then it will be concerned about institutions such as marriage. If God has called these different spheres into existence, then God is concerned for justice done to them. And if that is the case, then justice will insure they have the room to carry out their responsibilities before God whom gives them these responsibilities in the first place. And in order to do that, each one of these spheres needs to be differentiated. A family is not a government. A government is not a library. A library is not a hospital. A hospital is not a church. A church is not a military and so forth.

So what we end up with here is where Greg will say, that we should do justice in the world (which he doesn’t connect to salvation, for the most part, though he gives hints to it in early writings ie., God at War) but is apparently oblivious of the connections to the bigger salvific picture.

Big point here: If I’m going to be concerned about justice not only will I see it in connection with salvation of the whole but I will see all spheres equally. In other words, I won’t simply be concerned about same sex marriage MORE THAN education. I will be concerned about justice for both. I won’t be concerned about abortion more than say, the poor or ensuring that we have regulations in place for which we can sustain life as a whole. I will be concerned about both. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, we may prioritize, say, life issues over same sex marriage, but we will still be concerned about justice for all based on the idea of a “principled pluralism” outlined above which is based on a theology that God creates, gives some authority over to his creatures and expects them to be responsible with that talent he has given them.

Certainty? Or Confidence. More Thoughts.

Here is something I found problematic and not a little insulting. Greg has this near the beginning of the book:

The Virtue of Gullibility?
“A final aspect of the irrationality of certainty-seeking faith is that it requires us to accept something as virtuous that is, in truth, not at all virtuous. The Bible uniformly treats faith as an all-important virtue, without which it is impossible to please God (Heb.11:6). But what is virtuous about a person’s ability to make themselves certain about their beliefs? What is it about the ability to be free of doubt that God deems so valuable?

Like most of you, I’ve known people who were able to easily accept whatever they’re told “on faith.” To be frank, these kinds of people tend to have very simple ways of understanding the world. There is, of course, nothing wrong with being simple or even gullible, if this is the way you were born. But why would God think it virtuous for people who are not created with simple minds to try to believe this way? Even more puzzling, why would God leverage everything from people’s salvation to their being healed from cancer on their ability to believe in this way?

Along the same lines, if God is so enamored with the ability to not doubt, why on earth did he bother to create critical minds that instinctively doubt truth claims and that are unable to believe anything until they’ve thoroughly examined the matter? While we should of course always be on guard against intellectual pride, and while we are to aspire to trust God like little children (Matt.18:3), why would God want his people to aspire to believing as uncritically as children? The all-too-common model of faith that makes a virtue out of certainty and an enemy out of doubt has the effect of making critical thinking a supreme liability.”

Let’s unpack this a bit.

Admittedly, some people do find “simple faith” virtuous. By that, I mean, they just accept God, Jesus, the Bible, genocidal accounts, creation narratives, etc, etc. without question and in doing so, they think that others who don’t accept it as easily as they do are sinning by questioning God. But let’s face it, most people are not astute professional theologians like Greg, whom admits, tends to spend long periods of time alone (I’m thinking this is mostly to study, contemplate, etc).

Don’t get me wrong, the Church in doing so, will tend to accept whatever comes down the theological pipe. However, that is why we do have professional theologians in our churches. I think he would have been wise to listen to Clark Pinnock here who was more charitable towards the laity. Think about it, we have MASSES of people who don’t have the funds or resources, the natural ability, the time, the wherewithal, to sink into working out these questions.

Also, what about people like Abraham or other Old Testament saints? God tells Abraham his offspring will be like the stars and then tells him to offer his son–whom they will come from–as a sacrifice. We not only have no evidence, but we have evidence to the contrary. Yet, he simply believes that God will bring it to pass. Really, blessed are those who do believe without seeing or need evidence. I do think Jesus does honour that kind of faith, ie., the Centurion who tells Jesus to just say the word and it will come to pass. Or “Doubting Thomas” who Jesus caters to with evidence. Let’s look at a few translations:

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” 28 Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” 28 Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What is more virtuous here? There does come a time in which all this questioning and doubting needs to stop and you “Just gotta believe.” I get it, though. Don’t make simple faith or gullibility or naiveté a virtue, I agree but don’t insult those who do believe this way nor make doubt a virtue either.

Certainty? Or Confidence.

I just finished reading Greg Boyd’s newest book, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty

There are pros and cons to the book and hopefully, I can unpack and parse out some more in a future blog after I’m done reading Lesslie Newbigin’s book, A Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship as I want to compare both. So in short itinerary fashion I will just point out both the positives and negatives I find in the book.

A. Instrumental in showing how doubt actually works in the life of faith and is not actually an enemy of faith. Greg does this via an autobiographical sketch of his marriage to his wife Shelly.
B. Shows problems of a particular approach to the scriptures–what Greg calls, “The house of cards” analogy. You build a structure out of cards. If you pull just one card out, the whole house falls. So for Greg, our faith should not depend on this approach to the Bible. I think some Catholics would take some issues with this with their belief that God encapsulated the Gospel message in writing and guaranteed it in such away that it would not lead us astray but bring us to saving faith. Which just so happens to be through the Church a historical reality. For Greg, the Bible confirms his faith in Jesus. Though, the problem with what Greg is saying, of which not only one person has pointed out, is that the place you learn about and have faith in Jesus is FROM the Bible! So there seems to be this sort of, “Which came first? The Chicken or the egg?” thingy going on. I think there is something to be said for both approaches and it starts off with the existence of God. That is, if there IS a God and that God sought out writing and language as a means to communicate with us (this all starts out on an existential basis, without the guarantee that we have an accurate Bible) then he could have guaranteed that message was accurate and now that we have the Bible, we are very much dependent on it to substantiate our faith in Christ. This is not to say that “pagan saints” of the Old Testament as Pinnock referred to them were not worshipping the true God. But God revealed himself clearly enough even back then, such that people were not to worship false gods and he did see fit, even then, to write some demands down as well. But the thing is that we DO have the Bible NOW and the work of the Holy Spirit has finished the canonization process, though questions of how many and which books belong in that canon is a question I won’t respond to now other than saying that whether you believe, as Protestants do, that we have everything we need in the 66 books of the Protestant Bible or the extra books which are found in the Catholic Bible, eitherway, we surround ourselves around those 66 books and so that book ( The Bible) is vitally important for our faith.

A. Greg’s “cruciformed hermeneutic.” Greg wants to say that the cross is the quintessential expression of God’s love for us. That that looks different from the ugly portraits of God in the Old Testament. He wants to say that we really don’t see this loving God in the genocide narratives. Though they may be exaggerated and use hyperbole, I don’t agree that those judgments, if they did indeed occurred were any less loving. There is continuity as well as discontinuity between the Testaments and judgment is one of the continuous motifs. No where else, do we see “innocence” being crushed than in Jesus on the cross. Is 53:10
B. I tend to note a pious thread in Greg’s work in part because, well he’s anabaptist and so even here it is no different. For Greg would want us to talk all about what really matters and that is Jesus. Social issues aren’t as important and are especially dangerous if talking about these things hinders someone’s faith. Greg doesn’t like the “package deal” Christianity. Let’s face it though. You can’t really speak about Christ without speaking about HOW to faithfully serve him. Sure, I get it. One doesn’t need to speak about gay marriage and accept traditional marriage POLITICALLY to be a Christian. Sure, I can accept that. And because Christians have bought into the “packaged deal” Christianity, many in the world want nothing to do with religion. But it isn’t all the Christians fault. Any time Christians say, “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” there are going to be some who bulk at that sort of confidence.

I want to end this with a couple of quotes from Greg’s book toward the very end of the book. Greg wants to feel confident about his existential experience with Jesus for he says:

“In these moments, I wonder to myself if I might be engaging in wishful thinking. It’s a perfectly reasonable suspicion. If the suspicion persists, I simply step back and reexamine the question I’ve explored so many times before: Why do I believe what I believe? Doubt isn’t a problem that needs to be overcome; it’s an invitation that needs to be explored. It is not the enemy of faith, but a friend. In any case, as I now bring this book to a close, I trust it is clear why my feelings of certainty or doubt are completely irrelevant to my faith walk, so long as I continue to remain confident enough that Jesus is the supreme revelation of God that I’m willing to commit to living my life as if this belief is true.”

And later on down:

“In fact, as people throughout the ages have discovered, I feel the closer I grow to Christ, the more fine-tuned my awareness of my sin becomes. I am acutely aware of how much of my moment-by-moment thinking and living is actually more reflective of a person who lives as though it were not true that Christ is Lord—what Paul calls living in “the flesh.” And this intensifying awareness consistently brings me back to my foundational trust in the character of God, revealed on Calvary. I am always brought back to my need to trust that God’s love is infinitely greater than my sin. So I offer up my sin, receive his forgiveness, and bask in his loving embrace. And as I behold the beauty of his magnanimous, relentless, unfathomable love and grace, flowing from Calvary, I am transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV). Though I don’t consistently manifest it, I know that I am, by the grace of God, a child of God. And as John so beautifully puts it, while I can’t imagine how I will appear when God has completed his gracious work in me, I know I shall “see him as he is,” for I “shall be like him” (1 John 3:1-3).

Correction: I don’t actually know this. I can’t be certain. But I’m confident enough to live as if it’s true, with the confident hope that it’s true, and with a profound longing for the glorious day when, I trust, it will be proved to be true.”

From my perspective, I really don’t know, how, in these post modern times, one can get away from the allergic response (bulking at) at this sort of confidence.