Category Archives: Theology

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.


Distinctions, Distinctives, Differences, Differentiation And Inclusion

I want to expand on my last post a bit.

It may be argued by some that we should be accepting and inclusive of the marginalized as this is what Jesus would do. Here’s my issue with that but let me first tell you what I’m NOT saying.

First, I’m NOT saying that folk should go out of their way to abuse, oppress or hate on others. If the child on the playground is being picked on, then one should personally come to their defense if it is prudent to do so. In some situations it might be better to wait for the teacher or the “authority”– the person in charge to come to the rescue. This may be an instance of the “greater good” argument that is spoken of in open theistic circles. So some circumstances call for wise action before actually doing ANYTHING which is to say that great harm could come to those while they/you are waiting for assistance. In some instances, it may call for getting rid of all protocol or what you should do in order to be of assistance to those who are helpless or oppressed or marginalized. However, in situations which are political (governmental), shedding the rules is for the most part not the wisest thing to do and so, one must work from within the political system to achieve certain objectives and goals. It’s simply the nature of the game.

Having said that, let me tell you what I AM saying. I am saying that not everyone is called to the same thing. Many progressives flip between “Church” and “church” effortlessly and without much thought which ends up, in my mind, confusing matters. What I mean is this. Should the “CHURCH” (capital C ie., universal Church, Bride of Christ) help the poor, relieve the oppressed and seek out the marginalized? Yes. Should the “church” (small c) help the poor, relieve the oppressed and seek out the oppressed? Not necessarily. What I mean by this has everything to do with what I said yesterday about relationships coming together naturally and what I’m going to say now: GIFTING.

Let me give an example of this. When I was growing up, my church started a food bank and clothing center across the street from where our church building was located. What happened was some people felt God laying it upon their heart to start such a ministry. In so doing, they wanted to have the blessing and assistance of the church leaders and the church as a whole. Well, my pastor (who has since passed away) was one of the coolest guys around. He was open to all kinds of things and “sending forth” the “labourers.” And for many years that “ministry” thrived.

But here’s the thing. Not everyone “felt called” to this particular ministry. As a matter of fact, not one pastor on the team was involved in that particular food and clothing ministry other than blessing it and giving any needed assistance to it through church funding, etc. And why were they and many others in the church NOT involved? Because it WASN’T THEIR THING. They didn’t feel called to it. They felt called to other areas of ministry such as worship leading, youth, cleaning, visitation (of the elderly and the sick in retirement homes), preaching, etc. You know why you do something that others don’t do and why others do something you don’t? Because of gifting. Everyone has different personality traits which are conducive to one thing and not another.

Now, can we HONESTLY say that though the pastors weren’t PERSONALLY involved in that food bank and clothing ministry that they REALLY weren’t involved? Can we honestly say that because only a few folk from the church were involved that the church (as a whole/other parishoners) WEREN’T involved? No. There was indirect support.

Well, let’s bring this up a level. So often today, there is this flipping between usages of Church (capital C) and church (small c). So when we speak of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage there are some churches that are not as accepting as other more progressive type churches (speaking mostly of evangelical churches here). They have rules and policies and faith statements for how they deal with this issue. So what is the problem with churches not accepting or being as inclusive in the way you (a progressive) would want? There are plenty of Christians who are “cut out” for that. Like those in that food and clothing ministry. There are plenty of CHURCHES cut out for that. Not all churches NEED to be inclusive. Why? Because all churches, like all Christians are different. What sets this church apart from that church are particular emphases of belief and rules, etc. Some churches are more accepting and inclusive than others and they have their reasons for being so.

Now, you may ask how this gels with the picture in Revelation where all peoples and all nations are before the throne. You may ask, “How would can you shoot for that sort of inclusiveness when you speak of so much distinctions, distinctives, differentiation, differences and people who are supposed to “naturally” get along or naturally “find themselves.” Well, that is the problem. Because the question assumes “inclusiveness on steroids.” Most everyone sees that eschatological picture and assumes that we are all going to love each other in the great by and by. Well, as a evangelical universalist, ultimately we will. Some will get to the other side and are not totally purged of ill feelings towards others. God will make them heaven ready. But aside from that, won’t those distinctions and distinctives and differences remain? Why assume that the Church universal is going to be some huge melting pot in THAT sense? Why not assume that this is simply stating that all will be there and that we will worship God in our OWN UNIQUE WAYS? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we will not ultimately love each other “naturally” because we will eventually get to that point. But that should not entail that we will not prefer to worship and celebrate Christ in our own unique ways we feel most comfortable with.

So to make this clear this relates to the issue of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage how? Well, there are distinct churches that are more inclusive than others. Gay folk can find inclusion there. They more than likely won’t find inclusion in a more conservative congregation. God has inclusive churches and non-inclusive churches just as God has non-inclusive Christians and inclusive Christians who are more than willing to accept and affirm gay folk in ways that non-inclusive churches won’t. I say, let each serve God in the way they see fit as well as according to their strengths and giftings.


Assisted Suicide: The Ultimate Solution From An Ultimate Philosophy

We first heard about Brittany Maynard this past month when she first drew national attention to talk about having help to kill herself because of an incurable brain tumor. I’m SURE that was the precursor to the event in which her life will be taken with the help of a doctor and with her husband and family by her side. It seemed to me to be at the time a “gauging of the winds” to see what public sentiment is going to be like.

Interestingly, many modern issues like this have to do with “freedom from” some restraint or another. Some authority or another. We see it with sexuality and in this case we see it with regard to the ultimate act–the ending of one’s life. Surprisingly, many Christians have bought into the highly autonomous individualistic culture which is what (assisted) suicide is the ULTIMATE result of.

I know I will probably hear sentiments in which people will say I’m being heartless. I mean, speaking on some philosophical level about “highly autonomous individuals” seems pretty cold and callous compared to the pain of dying and losing love ones. But it is my hope to expand on why this is really not the case (that talking about highly autonomous individuals is not the really cold and callous) because assisted suicide is not only about the person who is facing it, but also about the wider community. It is not only about those of us who are faced with the question of dying “taking control” of our destinies, but also about our own messianic tendencies to alleviate others of pain and suffering. And if we are called to love God and our fellow human beings, then love will be expanded to include both the individual and the community.

On the one hand, I can sympathize with those who want to kill themselves–the idea being that we should not accept pain and suffering as good. But this means we should care for those who are suffering (what the Christian tradition has usually been about). On the other hand, we must never pretend that we can eliminate suffering completely from human existence or that it has no point or purpose in our lives. An “any and every means possible” to achieve a certain good end is not always justifiable. We human beings, ESPECIALLY in this area of medicine, need to remind ourselves that we are not saviors. Could it not also be the case that many Christians have bought into a radical individualism such that it has a veneer of Christianity to it but is anything but? In other words, it has the robe of Christ on it, but underneath is the devil? A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Part of the teaching of the incarnation is not only that Christ dwells along side of us and identifies with us in our pain and suffering but that WE do the same with others. That, in itself, should say something about our persistent need to eliminate pain and suffering as our highest priority or ultimate goal. In the incarnation we can see that there can be a purpose to our pain and suffering. In thinking that we should eliminate pain and suffering in this final act, we essentially are saying that pain and suffering and the negative destructive powers of the universe are ultimately victorious in our lives. And this is a different eschatological vision then that of the Bible.


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.


Trinity and Process: The Abridged Version

My bud Tom Belt offers the shorter version of Greg Boyd’s enormous dissertation here.

Some years ago I went to the local university library to check out his dissertation. It was in two volumes and there was much to read (and comprehend of which I didn’t do of either. 😀). Hopefully this shorter version will make it much more accessible to interested readers.


God As Author And Sustainer With Regard to Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide

My facebook friend Brent White has an excellent post on one of the biggest news stories of the week, the story of Brittnay Maynard. You can read his post here.

In the the first paragraph White says this:

Given the tone of this article, which was reprinted in USA Today and received much sympathetic approval on social media, I find myself strangely unmoved by this 29-year-old cancer patient’s decision to end her life later this month. Whatever else her decision may be, it is deeply unchristian. It denies the fact that God gives us each moment of life as a gift. It also denies that God could have any purpose for permitting someone to suffer—what Tim Keller rightly calls God’s “causal relationship with suffering.”

I want to add to his point about “God giving us each moment of our lives.” Most of the time words or something to that effect come off sounding cliche. We’ve heard it a million times, “God is the giver of life,” “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” And though that doesn’t sound too satisfying or comforting when watching a love one die–ESPECIALLY when watching someone close to us pass from this life into eternity–for it can be very insensitive when used that way, there is still a truth to this that we may have forgotten. That truth is this: That God is the AUTHOR AND SUSTAINER of life.

I want to explain the implications of this by quoting from Gilbert Meilaender’s book, Bioethics: A Primer For Christians

Christians have held that suicide is morally wrong because they have seen in it a contradiction of our nature as creatures, an unwillingness to receive life moment by moment from the hand of God without ever regarding it as simply “our” possession. We might think of ourselves as characters in a story of which God is the author. Dorothy L. Sayers ingeniously developed this analogy of artistic creation in The Mind of the Maker. Of the “work” produced by the artist Sayers writes:

For the satisfaction of its will to life it depends utterly upon the sustained and perpetually renewed will to creation of its maker. The work can live and grow on the sole condition of the maker’s untiring energy; to satisfy its will to die, he has only to stop working. In him it lives and moves and has its being, and it may say to him with literal truth, “Thou art my life, if thou withdraw, I die.” If the unselfconscious creature could be moved to worship, its thanks and praise would be due, not so much for any incidents of its structure, but primarily for its being and identity.

Characters in a story do, of course, have a real, if limited, freedom, and a good author will not simply compel them to do what is contrary to the nature he himself has given them. But at the same time characters do not determine the plot of their life’s story, and it is a contradiction of their very being if they attempt to bring the story to its conclusion. We are dependent beings, and to think otherwise to make independence our project, however sincerely is to live a lie, to fly in the face of reality.

This SHOULD have some impact or influence on us in guiding or steering us in end of life decisions.