Category Archives: Religion

God in the Wasteland

I want to do this one more time. My buddy Dwayne Polk brought this to our attention today.

In pointing this out, he hashed tagged with, #evangelicalwasteland and #disgusted. These hashtags are my biggest problem because by using these hashtags there’s a strong sentiment against evangelicalism or the evangelical community. You know, “The evangelical subculture is pretty #%+? up.”

Now, in a conversation with a couple of my scholarly friends on facebook last week it was assumed that if those on the side that say that Christians and Muslims DON’T worship the same God would simply read Feser’s piece here it would be self-evident that indeed Christians and Muslims DO worship the same God (correct me if I misunderstood). But here’s the point that I wanted to make and that I want to make again. Apparently, according Francis Beckwith, there are a number of scholars in which it is NOT self-evident that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

So. If that is the case, then:

A. Wheaton is not being THAT paranoid about it’s concerned over statements made by Dr. Hawkins. They fall within the “no” camp that these other scholars that Beckwith talks about. This is simply something they believe. This is something Hawkins DOESN’T believe.
B. Why then, are there these ad hominem remarks? Are we to say that McKnight and Molher , Wheaton et al., are the purveyors of an evangelical wasteland or merit disgust? Christianity IS tribalistic. Especially in its Protestant and evangelical manifestations. I HIGHLY doubt that it is ever going to be the case that it won’t be. So why the ad hominem? Why can’t we just accept this tribalism for what it is? Why can’t we just accept that there are different camps and leave it at that?

Let me throw another issue out there. Baptism. Nobody makes a deal out of the fact that there are different schools of thought on it, that, well, we have not been reconciled on it and we have learned to live with differences while carrying on with the work of the Kingdom, not in spite of those differences but THROUGH those differences.
You do realize that there are people who believe that children and infants should be baptized right? You do realize that there are some who believe in “believers baptism” right? There are some who believe in in both. And then there are folk like myself who believe that non-believers can be baptized! Yes! There are those of us, who deep down believe that!
I’m not worried that someone doesn’t believe what I believe. I certainly don’t worry about what they believe. People evolve over time with regard to much of what they have come to believe. I simply, walk in that belief and carry out the work of the Kingdom through it. Maybe someone was baptized as an infant and will switch over to believers baptism as they get older because that is what they genuinely and sincerely have come to believe and they don’t think that their earlier baptism was in a sense, “enough.” Can God, through the revealing of the Holy Spirit not lead people down a particular pathway? And especially can God not work through what is now seen formally as an “error” to bring people to him/herself, ie., God using less than ideal theology ie., health and wealth gospels, modalism, theonomy, YEC, ECP (eternal conscious punishment) etc? Yes, God works through broken vessels-always has-to bring us to greater and greater light and even still we may move yet again.

So, I say, let the tribalism be. Recognize it for what it is. God will sort it all out in the end but quit the whining and bemoaning. Serve God by the lights you have received and don’t worry about the guy beside you.


Edward Feser on Christian, Muslims and the Reference of God

Here is an excellent post by Edward Feser that is both logical and without the ad hominem regarding the issue of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God as brought to our attention via Wheaton College’s Dr. Hawkins statements you can read here.

This should give us pause with regard to both Wheaton and the laity (“conservative Christians”, Mirsolav Volf’s term) concern over controversial statements. I would submit that even if Wheaton could not go along with what Feser says, then it would be within their ecclesiastical right to maintain it’s suspension and or possible firing.


Does Remarriage Equal Continuous Adultery? The Connection With Same-Sex Marriage

Unless you have been living under a rock this past week, some interesting developments have occurred in the US–the one I speak of here is namely the issue of same sex marriage. All states in the Union had bans against same sex marriage lifted.

While I was at the gym yesterday my buddy Dwayne Polk got ahold of me on facebook messenger and wanted to know my thoughts on this Piper article that he posted which you can see here.

Essentially, the argument is that Piper believes that once you divorce and remarry then you are committing adultery. But then he believes that God sanctifies those relationships. So this is the first argument to prove another argument for same sex marriage.

That is, the second argument is that if once you remarry you are in adultery you are in CONTINUAL adultery and God allows for that, then what is problematic with allowing for gay marriage.

At this point, Dwayne says that if that is the case (which he believes it is) then those who don’t allow for same sex marriage but allow for heterosexual remarriage are hypocrites.

Here’s the point I made to my Dwayne.

First off, my interests lie with religion and politics/culture and how they mix. I’m also interested in Christian ethics. Yes, I’m interested in theology and I’ve come to hold to much of the same theology that Dwayne holds to but I’m more interested in the religion/politics question. I’m also a universalist, and I hold to open theism. So you really can’t put me in a “conservative camp” on some score sheet saying, “He’s a conservative.” When it comes to politics I don’t hold to conservative values on some issues and may seem more to the left with others to my conservative friends. This has to do with my believing in the Reform teaching of sphere sovereignty. For me, Abraham Kuyper’s overall schema makes the most sense and is part of the reason why I think there is a lot of confusion in the evangelical community over religion and politics ie., same-sex marriage, etc (yes, that comes straight from Jim Skillen’s book, “A Scattered Voice.”)

I said that to say this. As you may very well know there is a diversity of voices in the evangelical community. My interest lies in how we can get along or co-exist with each other (though getting along is nice it’s not priority in my book. Two can co-exist and not go out of their way to be nice). Being as that is the case, there have been differences of opinion on divorce and remarriage. And if THAT is the case, then there are some who don’t hold to Piper’s view (which incidentally was raised by Greg Boyd on the Open theism boards years ago and by William Heth in the “Four Views” book on divorce and remarriage (which by the way, I’m told by one biblical scholar, Heth has had a change of mind and no longer holds to that view).

Thus, if one holds to the view that scripture allows for divorce AND remarriage, then Piper’s, Boyds and Heth’s view fail. But for the same sex marriage view that uses the argument that one is in continuous adultery it specifically fails (Boyd and Polk). And thus, those who say you CAN remarry are NOT acting hypocritically. They only way you could say that someone is being hypocritical is because from WITHIN the remarriage=adultery view the logic holds.

So, does remarriage=divorce and along with it the argument that we should allow for same-sex marriage? My response is no. And why is that? Because, as I said, in the evangelical community there is more than one view on divorce and remarriage and Piper’s and Boyd’s and Heth’s are only ONE out of the four mentioned in the book (and let’s remember, that if we were to take into consideration the Catholic and Orthodox positions which are in some respects radically different than evangelical views, then we would still have disagreement with Piper’s, Boyd’s and Heth’s).

But why do I disagree with the Piper/Boyd view and disagree with the charge of hypocrisy? Because, I follow Craig Keener on this who is no fly by nighter scholar and would disagree with the remarriage as adultery view which you can read and listen to here and here. For Keener, when Jesus said that when you divorce and marry another you commit adultery he was using hyperbole and thus remarriage doesn’t mean continual adultery. Let me know what you think.


Some Thoughts On Absolute Moral Principles

Ever since I can remember, probably as far back as when I was 10 years old I was interested in moral quandaries. When I made a commitment to Christ at the age of 13 years of age, even I though I had thought about graded absolutism, I didn’t really know what it was called nor did I have enough resources at my disposal to work through it ie., how to deal with objections to it. Even at that point, people were more into a Christian pious religion as opposed to thinking intellectually about faith.

Essentially, when I think of graded absolutes I think of a moral law that can be trumpeted over a higher moral law. So for example, in Matt 12:1-8 Jesus and his disciples are doing something unlawful on the sabbath and he appeals to a higher law such that that higher law overrides the lesser law. If such is the case then the question of moral absolutes is called into question. BTW, by absolute, I mean a law that transcends all times and cultures. Though many theologians take issue with the “objective” and “absolute” in the “objective moral absolutes” equation the fact that Jesus appeals to a “higher principle” or law is to say that there is something else to appeal to that IS absolute which is to say that the law that Jesus was over-riding was NOT absolute–“Loving God And man”–and that the caring for his fellow human beings was/is.

Still, there are other objections to moral absolutes. This was brought into perspective when Kevin Vanhoozer brought up objections to Walter Kaiser’s essay in, “Beyond the Bible” by talking about “principlizing.” In doing so, he spoke of David Clark’s book, “To Know and Love God: Method For Theology (Foundations of Evangelical Theology).”

Clark brings up other problems to the issue. For example, let’s say we have an absolute principle, that is, a principle which cannot be broken or should not be broken. It transcends all times and place. It is universal. The problem with looking for principles are:

1. Determining what the principle is in the first place.
2. The principles to be discovered are heavily influenced by the, “tacit plausibility structures of the interpreter’s culture.”
3. How do decide what dimension of a particular Scripture pas-sage counts as the transcultural principle and what does not?
4 Can every cultural element be extracted from scripture such that we have a transcultural eternal word that is left? If so, would this say that those principles are better than the Bible? Unless your head is buried in the sand and you’ve not known what has been going on in academic circles for the last seven to ten years then you wouldn’t be aware that if anything, postmodernism has taught us that this really can’t be done.
5. What are we left with when we attempt to remove all cultural elements? Can we “do” all theology through a model of principlizing?
6. Are the principles more important than the culturally mediated expressions of the Bible?

In the end, Clark isn’t so much against the idea of principlizing but against the idea of naive principlizing for he says, “Clearly, drawing out principles from the total teachings of Scripture is one of the important tasks of theology. But using this model only—seeing all theology as principlizing the Bible—is inadequate.” In doing so, one really doesn’t recognize that other communities ie., countries, races don’t have the see our principles in the same way as we do.

In the next post, what I want to do is discuss this last paragraph in the next post and try to clear up what I think could lead to some confusion which ultimately leads to saying there are no absolutes.


Red Letter Christians And The Rest Of Scripture

I have, for the most, part when doing theology (on the laymen’s level that I do it) have relied on two major sources, reading and talking to others. But there is also what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In other words, I use other authoritative sources to reach as much of a sound moral/ethical decision as I can. I am not a Red Letter Christian–giving Jesus’ words priority over the rest of scripture. That just sounds weird to me. Stan Guthrie wrote a critique about Red Letter Christians at Christianity Today here. Tony Campolo responded in the same online article–though I think Campolo can be easily refuted here. With just one word: Justice.

Let’s think about this for a second. Red Letter Christians ACTUALLY do give priority to Jesus and his words that you find in those older renditions of the Bible. The justification for this is rather simple. Let’s go through this.

Stephan Jarnick says this:

“Another thing some Christians say that needs to be challenged is “I read the WHOLE Bible” as if giving the Old Testament and the New Testament equal weighting somehow makes them better Christians. Jesus made it clear that the Old Testament is important when he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” but he also said several times “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” whenever he’s about to teach something that’s different from what’s found in the Old Testament. The law said “An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth” but Jesus said “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” I don’t want to accuse anyone of intentionally ignoring Jesus but it’s sometimes tempting to do an end run around him to find a sound bite in the Old Testament that will support our agenda. I often encounter this kind of thinking when talking to people about Jesus’ peace teachings. Reading the Old Testament to learn about how God interacted with people prior to Jesus coming on the scene is a good thing. Using it as an optional guide for how to live when we don’t like what Jesus has to say to us is…not Christian.”

Essentially, what Jarnick does is say that Jesus “peace teachings” is above the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (even though, pretty much, justice is not fully accomplished in this fashion: Do you think justice can be served by punching someone’s tooth out the same way that they punched yours out? For it to be a tooth for a tooth it would have to be done in the exact same manner and force and making sure you only knock one out and not others, etc. Not to mention, do you REALLY feel justice has been accomplished? Don’t you feel a just a little jaded? Really, the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was a VERY JUST law as it had to do with the concept of proportionality. Which meant that you didn’t go overboard with a DESERVING punishment. If this interpretation is correct, then the “eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth” is not really all that contradictory to Jesus words.

So when Campolo responds to Guthrie in the above CT article saying:

“While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture.”

He begs the question. How would not going overboard with punishment (thus being a just punishment) be contrary to Jesus’ peace teachings? If we WERE to ask, “WWJD?” could we not say that Jesus would say, “Hey, don’t go overboard with punishment!” So why would we give priority of Jesus’ words over this Old Testament law?

If I were to add the Ten Commandments into the equation, we might ask, how is say, “Not making idols” (graven images) NOT relevant to Jesus’ commands to love God with all our hearts first and foremost? It should be obvious that not only is there no contradiction but the Old Testament could give us a “filler” so-to-speak (explanatory power) to the words of Jesus.

But let’s go further. Campolo says:

“You got us RLCs right again when you suggested we were anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty primarily because we believe Jesus is anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty. The only mistake you made was to imply that thinking this way—or trying to influence our government according to these values—makes us the Religious Left:”

OK…this is where I have serious reservations with what Campolo is saying. The anti-war, pro-enviroment, deeply ending poverty are USUALLY the staple of the Left NOT the Right. I mean, after all, the right is more concerned with abortion and same sex marriage. So it really is not a far cry to say that Red Letter Christians fall to the left side of the spectrum. But, is not most in the evangelical community REALLY against war PER SE even though some on the Right may be more quicker to go to war than others on the Left?

However, let’s go back to that word I mentioned above–justice and it’s opposite, injustice. Is injustice not injustice no matter what? Let’s say, through some political educational policy, that we take taxes from citizens to pay for education because we as a society have seen fit to educate our children up to a certain age. However, let’s just say that someone wants to educate their kids according to their particular history or political science (as these last two are not neutral unbiased territory, who’s to say that the public educational system’s teaching on these subjects is the “correct” one?) or values or tradition. However, in order for them to do so, they must pay for it OVER AND ABOVE their taxes and in effect penalizing them financially for doing so as well as treating them like second class citizens. Is this not an injustice? And if it is an injustice, why would Jesus be any LESS concerned with this? Sure, we might prioritize “life issues” as more important than education but we would never say that it is not important and we especially would not say that treating others in society as second class citizens is not important.

So, what am I saying in bringing this up? I’m saying that all of these diverse issues are important as far as justice is concerned. Jesus would be concerned about war and whether we should participate in it. Jesus would be concerned about abortion. Jesus would be concerned about the enviroment. Jesus would be concerned about marriage. Jesus would be concerned about poverty and and homeless. And lastly, Jesus would be concerned about the ways in which we treat others as citizens. You do realize there is more than one way to treat people as second class citizens right? The human imagination for dehumanizing others seems to know no bounds!

So if it is the case (that Jesus is concerned about JUSTICE as a whole) then why the incessant need to differentiate between what Christ says in red and the rest of scripture? Should we not be concerned about reflecting idolatry (an Old Testament declaration of freedom) in our laws and policies? I don’t see how we should not be and thus I don’t see why we should prioritize one scripture over another.

In closing, I think this whole idea of being a Red Letter Christian is condescending. **I** follow the words of Jesus. While everyone else….what?


Do All Roads Lead To God? No. Kinda. Sorta.

Greg Boyd has an interesting piece here. Here are my thoughts.

A. Totally agree with Greg. Jesus is the only way to God.
B. I agree with his argument contra the idea of “The truth is there is no truth.” Or said otherwise as he puts forth. That’s a flat out contradiction not to mention arrogant because it claims to have a birds eye view of reality. It sits up on its tiny perch above everyone else and proclaims “the truth of the matter”–the truth about reality.
C. This has sort of argument has been put out for the general reader in the work of Watkins and Kreeft and others.
D. [Side note rant] What I have ALWAYS found interesting about the exclusive position that Greg is espousing here is that it is usually connected with some moral issue such that when you talk about Jesus in this fashion, you talk about a moral issue. For an example, most folk think that when you speak about Jesus you are already labelled a “fundie” or religious which entails being of a particular moral standing on an issue, ie., following Jesus=no sex before marriage (it always has to do with sex for some reason). Now we could take the moral issue away and simply be left with the theological issue. Thus folks would still be deeply offended (which is what Greg is proposing) which ultimately goes to show that whether you tack some moral issue on to Christianity or NOT, the exclusivity of saying, “Jesus is the only way to God” is going to be offensive to others. For them, that is tantamount to being arrogant and telling everyone else they are wrong which doesn’t fly in 21st century North America or much of the world for that matter. Regardless, for the most part, most Christian evangelicals give at least lip service to the “no sex before marriage ideal” such that even if they intentionally try to rid tacking on some moral issue the “world” will still judge you and your purity. Regardless X2. The Gospel does come with demands because the Gospel STORY comes with demands–some ethical imperative (though Christians have disagreed about those imperatives at times based on their traditions).
E. I take it that this question can’t be understood aside from other theological questions ie., those who died before the coming of Christ and those who have went to their graves having never heard a peep about the Gospel. As well as the eschatological idea of the eternal destiny of the lost and whether there is actually any hope for people post-mortem (of which I believe there is–and it’s not a very novel idea either). The idea here is whether Christ death is SUFFICIENT for even these (of which I believe it is: Think of a can of soup of which there is only so much of. That can can be watered downed to take care of the needs of the others. In other words it is sufficient. I think of the story of the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. Ultimately, is this story not also, among the many interpretations, about the the Saviour who has more than enough and is more than able to satisfy all of humanity’s need (the interpretations I’ve read are usually anthropocentric in nature but I think we should keep in mind first and foremost a Christological view)? He is our provider even of Himself for all others.
F. Some have drawn the distinction between “Christian” and “saved.” As I see it, I do think other religions have a salvific purpose to them. By that, I don’t mean that one becomes “Christian” or finds Christ in or through them. But that is not to say that there is not SOMETHING of salvific value in other religions. This understanding is based on the idea that the Holy Spirit is working through other religions to bring humanity to a knowledge of Himself. Just as the Spirit is at work in Creation, bringing humankind to SOME knowledge of the divine, so is the Spirit active through other religions. We can think of this in terms of those whom Clark Pinnock (a dear friend of mine) called, “Old Testament pagan saints” found in the Old Testament.

In conclusion, while Christians believe that Christ is the only way to the Father we should never say other religions are completely worthless. In saying otherwise, not only may Christians be able to learn more about their own faith, but bridges can be built with others of differing beliefs possibly bringing them to a fuller understanding of God in Christ.