Tag Archives: theology

Unity of Churches? What Does the Bible Say?

I think modern calls to unity and ecumenism are wrongheaded. Al Kresta talked about it in the podcast below calling Evangelicals “separated brethren” and I believe Steven Greydanus has said that evangelicals are “sheep outside of the fold” and/or a younger brother of RCC. Thus, we don’t experience the “fullness of the Gospel” because we are not under the umbrella of the RCC. These RCC can correct me if I’m wrong but it seems as if they hope for a formal unity where everyone, including the Orthodox are under the RCC. Evangelicals work with the same assumptions. George Yancey has written about it in, “One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches” and in other places. And progressives actually seem to have no problem coercing others into what they believe. They want everyone to follow their liberal agenda’s, ie., everyone SHOULD be welcoming and accepting of LGBT and SSM (not just between races and ethnicities but anyone who is different). This was something that really struck me as I read, Skillen’s “Recharging the American Experiment.” In there, Skillen’s said that the government should not coerce theological conscience. There are some churches that believe in SSM and some that do not. As we live in a pluralistic society, all should be allowed to exist in their differentiation. By implication, this could be the same for churches between themselves. Churches don’t tell others churches what they should believe with regard to a host of issues. So it should be the same with SSM. Churches are not united for a myriad of reasons—theological, moral, worship style, ethnic, etc. The problem with calls for unity, it seems, is that this is:

1.An ideological utopian vision influenced by modern Kumbaya culture.

2.It is not what Jesus had in mind in John 17.

Here is D.A. Carson on John 17. The John 17 unity prayer needs to be understood within the greater context of the Father’s protection for those who would be followers of the Messiah.

“The constant goal is that the disciples be one as Jesus and his Father are one. Like any analogy, this cannot legitimately be pressed without limit. The unity enjoyed by Jesus and his Father has numerous features that could not be duplicated in the unity among believers. For instance, Jesus and his Father are but two; the believers are many. Jesus and his Father stand together in their creative work (1:1–3); this cannot be predicted of the disciples. Jesus and his Father enjoyed the brilliance of pretemporal glory (17:5); but obviously that unity could not in the nature of the case be shared by temporal creatures. Many other such distinctions suggest themselves on the basis of the fourth Gospel alone. Yet clearly the analogy is important, and must not be robbed of all content by endlessly peeling the onion. Many of the relational ties between Jesus and his Father described by John’s Gospel are functional in nature. Moreover, as chapter 2 of this book demonstrated, if Jesus stands with his Father with respect to man in revelation and authority, he simultaneously stands with man with respect to his Father in dependence and obedience. Within this framework, the Father and the Son enjoy a perfect unity of love, of purpose, of holiness of truth. Now, Jesus prays, so protect these people you have given me that they may be one as we are one: one in love (a theme already stressed, 13:34f.; 15:13), one in purpose (obedience, fruit bearing, witness—all prevalent themes in these chapters), one in holiness (it is not for nothing that Jesus here addressed his Father as “Holy Father,” and will shortly ask him to sanctify the believers), one in truth (they, unlike the world, have come to recognize the fundamental truth that Jesus is the revelation of God). This theme of unity is an important one in Jesus’s prayer. It is picked up again and repeated (17:21, 22, 23), and so we shall return to it in the last chapter of this book—at which time its relevance to the modern church may be usefully explored. For the moment, it may be helpful to note that if the prayer is a request that Jesus’s disciples be protected in order that they may be one in love, purpose, holiness, and truth, it follows that the greatest dangers lie in those things that seek to destroy unity in love, in purpose, in holiness, and in truth. An adequate catalog of such evils, coupled with a careful assessment of their danger, would immediately double the length of this book. Such a catalog would include jealousy, hate, friction, arrogant isolation, selfishness, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, a wretched tongue; for these vices seek to destroy the unity of love. The catalog would go on to mention one-upmanship, an uncooperative spirit, brinkmanship and impatience (which threaten unity of purpose), all kinds of sin (which abhors holiness), and lies, dogmatic half-truths, unwillingness to admit error or sympathetically learn from one another, chronic unbelief (which conspires to obliterate unity in truth). From all such evils, good Lord, deliver us.”

If this is the case, as I believe it is, Sunday morning is not the most segregated hour in America. That is an ideological utopian vision of how one believes things ought to be. James Kalb and of late, Jared Taylor have spoke about some of the sociological aspects of human communities where they expound on the idea of “birds of a feather flock together” and “where we find ourselves naturally.” Let’s face it, it’s right there in front of our faces EVERYDAY. Diversity. Diversity is with us as a constant—as the way of the world. Why do we still have the black race? Why do we Asian peoples? Why do we still have Anglo-Saxon European peoples? Spanish and the sub varieties therein. As said above, people group together for various and myriad reasons. It is still basically the same in schools, in marriages, and in friendships. This is not to say that persons from one group will not venture into another group, but if it is done, it will be done organically without changing the distinctions of that particular group.


Yeah…Jesus Didn’t Condemn Having Wealth and Resources

I saw two pieces on Facebook about five days ago about the top 1% of the richest in the US. The first was by fiscal Marxist David Fitch a professor of theology at Northern Seminary 🙂. I kid, I kid…you can see that article here.

The other was by my Facebook friend, Dwayne Polk, whom for purposes of credentials worked for Greg Boyd and is a graduate of ORU (Oral Roberts University) in theology. Here is what he posted:

“If I were President, Id just make a public call to the 1% to help *personally* fund the things we cant get past Congress that are needed. I mean, go straight to them. And on television. Social media. All that. Call out names. And id appeal to them as Americans and Americans OF FAITH and talk about the Golden Rule…and Loving the Neighbor as Oneself. I would put overt pressure on them to help the American people in a failing governmental system.

But thats just me.”

Eric Reitan, a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University had this to say:

“And then realize that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk both have well over 100 billion in personal wealth. Making $100k a year without taxes and it would take you a *million years* to achieve that level of wealth. Or invert it: Elon Musk could spend $1 million a year on his own pleasure (meaning about $950,000 a year on mere luxuries) and it would take him a hundred thousand years to exhaust his wealth–and he’s unlikely to live more than 40 more years. While money does add to happiness in the sense of ensuring needs are met, lifting away anxiety, enabling one to pursue meaningful activities and develop talents, and providing resources for sustaining meaningful relationships, the amount needed for this falls well short of a million a year. Meaning if Bezos gave away to those in need 99.99% of his personal wealth, he’d be left with far more than the maximum wealth required for optimal human happiness (and might be more likely to be able to access the other necessary conditions for true happiness, such as the cultivation of benevolence).”

Now, let me start off saying this.

A. Christians should struggle with their wealth and riches INTERNALLY. However, most of what passes for critical self (or otherwise ie., Christian community as a whole) is negative. It sees it FIRST in terms of what is said in the quotes above or, to put those quotes another way, it sees wealth and riches and capitalism in general, in terms of exploitation, or class warfare or oppression.

B. I’m a believer in “free markets” as far as markets are free. What I mean by that is not that a society can’t have government regulation, (I am not wholly put off by the government regulating when it should. This is really not much different than what Roger Scruton talks about when he spoke at his website about the environment. That is, for an example, if a private company spills waste into a river and pollutes it, it should bear the brunt of the costs of what it has done. This is only proper from a conservative point of view because at a base instinctual level one should care about the community to which they are attached to. However, this doesn’t rule out government intervention if need be. You can read Roger Scruton’s post here) but rather the market itself is very much one sided in terms of corporate pressure in marketing of said product(s) ie., as Cavanaugh asks, “When is the market free? How can we judge when any particular transaction is free?” Freedom isn’t merely negative ie., freedom from coercion (as Milton Friedman would have us believe).

Here’s my main point though that I posted to Facebook of which I think really get’s to the some of the assumptions that guys like my Dwayne and Eric Reitan are working with.

From Facebook:

“I’m not a full fledged libertarian, though I do think libertarianism makes some valid points, especially as it concerns economic inequalities. I mean there is this sin called, “envy” and it rears its ugly head in more ways than one—not just between individuals but between those who say they are advocating for the poor by criticizing those who have resources (which, for me, is quite a relative measure ie., one can complain about Bezos EXTRA BILLIONS that could go to the poor, which I’ve seen done even this week on FB, but those same folks have extra that they don’t need either and when you consider all us middle to upper-middle folks whom have “more than we need” then I wonder why there is no complaints or voluntary giving of THEIR over-and-above resources of which no one can really say what that amount should be). Anyhoo, most of what passes for “critical self-analysis” is negative in nature, as if there is nothing positive to ownership of wealth and resources. It is ASSUMED, as pointed out in question 40 in the book, that there is a connection between those who have wealth and those who don’t when in reality the problem isn’t Bezos’ billions but personal and social/governmental complexities.”

And then I go on to quote from the book mentioned above:

“38. What about the inequalities that capitalism creates? Economic inequality has always existed wherever there have been economies. In pre-capitalist days, having wealth often (but not always) entailed exploiting others who then remained poor. This is one reason we see so many admonitions against wealth in the Bible. It is also why many early church leaders and theologians decry wealth. It is only recently that being wealthy has not been associated with unjust acquisition of wealth but instead with the indication that mutually beneficial trade is occurring. Under free market capitalism, wealth must be obtained by effectively and efficiently providing value to others in exchange for their money. Whenever inequality indicates that the few are exploiting others and leaving them worse off, we should stand against it. But under conditions where everyone is better off and some are “more better off,” we can appreciate, if not applaud, the gains through exchange. Christians are often concerned about the well-being of others, yet it is all too common that concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but a suppressed envy that arises because of perceived reasons behind the injustice. We must be mindful that we are not suppressing our envy when we advocate for the wellbeing of others. All too often the concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but the perceived reason behind the perceived injustice. For example, while the purchasing power of the average worker’s wages has improved dramatically for several decades, the top I% have seen even greater gains. Many have pointed out that this is the reason to institute redistributive schemes to rectify the perceived injustice of inequality, even though everyone has gained financially (see Question 40).”—Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers To Tough Questions

And of course, Jesus NEVER condemned those who were wealthy but those who were wealthy by ill-gotten means or by exploiting others.


Christianity is Not a White Western Religion

I read this article at “Red Letter Christians” with the title by the same name as this post. You can read that article here.  Is it me or does anyone else essentially read this:

A.  White Western religion = White Christianity bad.

B.  Black religion =good.

There really is no reason given as to why this assumption is there and I’m sure that is not the point of the article.  However, it is a main staple of Red Letter Christians throughout their writings.  Here are a few negatives about white religion that are sited in the article.

“But through my activity in church, I felt that people were trying to mold me into this Western white culture – even in the Black church.”

 “But there was still this tension between Western culture, biblical culture, and my culture as a person of African descent.”  “Western culture” should be interpreted as white culture.

“This made me see my reality in the Gospel much more so than the average evangelical. I listened to Focus on the Family and Charles Stanley, but I struggled to integrate their form of Christianity into my everyday life.  These guys are considered, conservative white male Christian religion.  Nothing is ever stated as to how much of what we see in black churches is really not authentically African either.  And what were some of the aspects that you could integrate?  Seems like absolutely nothing of value can come from such Christians?

“If you’re trying to understand Christianity in a Western context, you’ll be lost.”

“It’s so important for Christians to connect to the Hebrew roots of their faith, because otherwise out faith becomes disconnected, becomes Westernized and makes whiteness an idol.”

“But as more Greeks and Romans converted, and Christianity became the religion of the empire, it got watered down and separated from its Hebrew roots. Greeks and Romans were white.  Definitely not black.

“Either we will have a Christianity that is Western or we will have a Christianity based on the truth of the Bible”

“When you separate it from its roots, the whitewashed Western, and often American, version hurts everyone, including white people.”

Now for the positive statements of black religion.

“I also always loved to read and learn about Black history. I read Malcolm X and Dr. King…”

“At Penn State, I took an African American religious studies class where we read God of the Oppressed by James Cone. I reread it again that summer. I began to see the Bible in my reality.”  Apparently, black literature by certain black authors is cool.  In fact, so cool, that it was read over again.

“I’m the founder of Prophetic Whirlwind, an organization that provides Bible study materials and educates via social media, lectures, and workshops on the African roots of the Christian and Jewish faiths. This is a huge passion of mine.”  I guess that’s a positive thing?  That Christianity and Jewish faiths are rooted in African roots?  Well, when you compare it or contrast it next to white religion.

“Until 1869, Israel was connected to Egypt – connected to all of Africa. It was only when the Suez Canal was completed that Israel became separated from Africa. Even until the early 1900s, Israel was referred to as NE Africa.”

“The whole world opened up to me and revealed items that are important to Black Christians, and Christians in general. We have really separated Christianity from the Hebrew faith. But early believers continued to practice Passover and Sabbath. In Hebrew culture, salvation is about everyone – the entire community – not just the individual. This is the norm in African culture.”  This is important and it’s positive because, well, you don’t see this in white Christianity or White Western culture with it’s high individualism right?  Listen, there can be blind-spots in any culture. Why not talk about Asian societies with their culture of shame for example.  Simon Chan talks about this in his book, “Spiritual Theology.”

“It’s even more powerful to understand the cultural roots of our Biblical mothers and fathers. Mark was the Father of the Gospel in Africa. The Last Supper and Pentecost took place at his mother’s house, and she was an African Jewish woman from Cyrene. They were refugees. Do immigrants know this today? Do Black sisters and brothers know this today? This is incredibly empowering if we know these stories.”  Here we see an almost complete contrast to western religion.  This is one HELLUVA positive statement.  This is not all that bad, as making the Bible relevant to someone is a good thing.

“Then there was a large reverse exodus from Israel back to Egypt in Biblical times. The two landmasses were connected, they looked the same, and had similar climates. When Mark and his mother needed to leave Israel, they went to North Africa. It was a place a lot of Jews went. Thomas Oden is a researcher from Eastern University, and his research opened my eyes. Mark was born in Africa, and died in Africa. St. Augustine was African, his mother Monica was African, and when she died, she told St. Augustine to carry her bones back to Africa.”  So Africa is the jam man.  Interestingly, when you get down to it, the continent of Africa is not uniform either and so one might want to ask what group is she is referring to as being so closely biblical?  That is, which group represents Christianity the closest?

“This is significant as Biblical prophecy states that when these tribes begin to come back to the Torah, the Messiah will return. Many researchers, especially from the Jewish faith, travel around the world, like Indiana Jones traveling for the lost ark, looking for these tribes. And research shows that many of these tribes are in Africa.”  Hmmm…it may be significant for Onleilove to talk about what the researchers are saying about those tribes but she also used the word, “many” (“many of those tribes”) which is to say that some of those tribes weren’t of African descent?

Interestingly, there was a statement that is most revealing in this article.  Onleilove says:

The whole world opened up to me and revealed items that are important to Black Christians, and Christians in general. We have really separated Christianity from the Hebrew faith. But early believers continued to practice Passover and Sabbath. In Hebrew culture, salvation is about everyone – the entire community – not just the individual. This is the norm in African culture.

It’s important to understand that the Bible is a multi-cultural book. My work is about reconciling Jesus to his culture – his Hebrew culture. If you’re trying to understand Christianity in a Western context, you’ll be lost.

It’s so important for Christians to connect to the Hebrew roots of their faith, because otherwise out faith becomes disconnected, becomes Westernized and makes whiteness an idol.

If it is the case that black Christians and Christians in general need to return back to their Hebrew faith then why talk about all the positives of black religion as if it is not in need of redemption.  Here.  I’ll say it like this.  Richard Mouw one time spoke about the arts being in need of redemption.  He was referring to the pop cultural art (low brow), yes, but he was also referring to what is sometimes referred to as “high brow” art.  One gets the feeling, when reading Onleilove’s article contrasting white western Christianity and black religion that it is white religion that is in the real need of redemption.  Referring back to Simon Chan’s book, even black religion would be in need of redemption because as with all societies, there is a separation between “doctrine” from “the living God”–orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

 


Does God Love Satan?

My buddy Tom Belt has brought up this question once again that we discussed on the old Open Theism Discussion Boards. Really, I wince every time I see pictures or quotes or hear songs of this dual between Lucifer and Jesus where Lucifer is depicted as being “defeated” in some sense that leaves us saying, “Yeah! Go Jesus! Screw you Satan!” (remember Stryper’s “To Hell With The Devil?” Or Carmen’s “The Champion?”). Well, these are the sorts of questions that my Bible school did not ask nor equip me to answer. I am so thankful for guys like Tom Belt and my friend Dwayne Polk and my acquaintance Greg Boyd. They’ve asked these questions taking us to the logical end of such questions I think. And of course, that is what good theology does. There is certainly nothing wrong with coming up with different models and “concluding” which one you think fits the criteria better and makes the most “sense” (of course there are different ways to understand this ie., something may make logical sense but may be morally askew.

So does God love Satan? Well, yes, I believe God does love Satan and the reasons why, as we discussed are:

A. The theological injunction to love our enemies.
B. God is still sustaining Satan and God loves what he/she sustains. Which is also to say that there is something left TO love. It isn’t as if Satan is totally hopeless in an ontological sense where there is not a shed of anything good in him ie., not pure evil through and through.
C. Satan, as a creature of God, comes from God in a metaphysical sense, thus, as with all creation, will return back to God and that metaphysical aspect, I think, in large part, is what is meant by there being good in Satan.


Popular Religion, Victoria Osteen And Why It’s Not All That Bad

There has been a video of Victoria Osteen floating around on the internet this past week or so which has received quite a bit of flack from many evangelical Christians for it’s shoddy theology. You can see that video and a more favorable response here .

Years ago, I read Richard Mouw’s book, Consulting the Faithful: What Intellectuals Can Learn From Popular Religion .

It had a great impact on me, challenging me to be more charitable and less suspicious of popular religion by trying to see below the surface to understand “the hopes and fears” of the average lay person. I’ve been surprised via searching out and reading alternative views such as Brent White’s above at how much I/we as a community of Christians don’t see or deliberately ignore opposing views just so we can sulk and criticize and be bitter about the “state of the Church” in general.

But let’s face it folks. Folk religion, popular religion or whatever you want to call it is here to stay. Let’s face the fact this thing called “popular religion” could possibly be one way that God is using to bring folks into a deeper relationship with himself. Let’s face the fact that popular religion, because not everyone is an intellectual, is the way many folk relate to God (thinking of the mentality challenged here). Let’s face the fact that there may be some GOLD nugget(s) that we can glean from. It could be said that when Franky Schaeffer wrote, “Addicted to Mediocrity,” though this brought to the fore the critical “state of evangelicalism,” it did not help in terms of understanding the laity and many of the sentiments which drive their form of worship and by which they “live and move and have their being.”

Mind you, while I will probably not attend an Osteen service myself, as I’m past much of that sort of theology, (though I would never count out attending for other purposes ie., praise and worship where that, it seems, is most untouched by popular theology, at least one can praise God where the praise, though probably simple, can still be heart felt and not wrapped up in struggles of Billy Cosby sentiments), I really don’t blame others for doing so as this is where they meet God at. I’ll say it like this. Mouw uses the analogy of “puppy love.” That’s a good place to start for relationships but it can’t carry those relationships through the long haul and the topsy-turvy storms that relationships eventually bring. Our relationship with God begins some where on some level.

Now one might say, “Ahh…but those people have been going to that church for years and they are none the farther theologically.” The problem with such criticism is the way one is viewing personal piety and church attendance. How do you KNOW many of these folks are not theological giants? How do you know WHY they are attending such services? As I said, I could attend because I like the music aspect of the service though I’m barely able to sit through the preaching. I may attend because I have good friends whom I’ve developed deep relationships with. I may attend because I am accepted and that is all I needed at the time.

At the end of the day:

A. I don’t think any of us has “correct” theology (though this is not to say that we should neglect studying theology, after all, professors and teachers, are gifts to the body as well).
B. There are many different reasons for why people attend church and God meets us where we’re at. My church attendance isn’t all about having correct theology but an encounter with the Divine.

So. While **I** probably wouldn’t attend certain churches for shallow theology, (I definitely see that not all is negative–there is SOMETHING that can be redeemed), people attend for various reasons and I trust God, through the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.


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.

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.

Pros:
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.

Cons:
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.


So What Is It? Pride? Or Low Self-Esteem?

Reading an interesting book right now. Sin, Pride and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology–by Terry Cooper. It concern’s a question of the human condition. Is our problem pride or low self esteem/self loathing. Is the problem that people think too highly of themselves or is that a cover for low self esteem? If say, you are in counselling, sure you may be temporarily down on yourself. But once your life is back to normal, pride will take over again. However, according to some, pride is a symptom not the primary problem.

So which is it?

The “pride” and “self-acceptance” are overall general models. So “inherent sinfulness” would be the overall model covering those two sub-categories to some degree. Thus, for the author, the question of the complexity of these two sub-categories is what he is working out in his book. For example, what is the self acceptance model? Well, what is the difference between self-love and selfishness? Are these two the exact opposite of each other? Could the person who is selfish love himself not too much but actually too little? That is, could said person have a lack of care for themselves which leaves them empty and frustrated and so they “snatch from life the satisfactions which they block themselves from attaining?” One might appear to care too much for themselves but in actuality be, an unsuccessful attempt, covering up and compensating for a failure to care for one’s true self. Truth be told, I think of some of Jesus’ last words, “Forgive them father for they know not what they do” in this context. Were those who nailed him to the cross being prideful or was that covering some deep seated inadequacy or inadequacies? Or what about Martin Luther King who suggested that his enemies, “prideful” as they were, were also in need of being set free.

Interesting stuff. Gotta keep on reading.


The Church As A Garden: A Metaphor And Some Practical Advice

Roger Olson has a great blog concerning all of the different interpretations within evangelicalism here. The e-mailer he refers to in his blog sees this as problematic. Personally, I welcome this state of affairs.

Anyone who is aware of James K.A. Smith’s work would recognize that he wrote specifically about this state of affairs in his book, “The Fall of the Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic” where he speaks of truth not as being uniform but rather pluriform. This has been talked about for years now by folks like Robert Brow, here.

If it is the case that there ARE serious differences within Christianity in general, I would still agree with Goldingay who says that Christians have much more in common than they do differences. But this commonality also means something else. It seems that a lot of Christian, when they speak about “the church” (usually some sort of negative criticism) they speak about it monolithically. This happens mostly among evangelical Protestant types. And so, all, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox are bunched together to form a single whole and then the church is criticized for having a blind spot here or there or what have you.

When this happens, I see this as having a “thin” theology and not a “thick” one (to borrow from either Mirsolav Volf or McGrath, I can’t remember). By that I mean that there are distinctives between the different branches of Christianity plus distinctives WITHIN the branches themselves so as to result in different schools of thought, denominations, etc. That is, they are thick enough such that there are deep theological/philosophical roots to these differences, not differences that are not that important. This is why I would refer to the Body of Christ as a garden. There are roses, daisies, orchids, tulips, iris’ and so forth. This is God’s desire. So one flower or set of flowers in God’s garden can’t say to another flower or set of flowers, “We don’t need you” or “You don’t belong here.” That’s God’s business not yours or mine and He’ll sort out who belongs in the garden and who doesn’t.

That being the case, I get more than a little perturbed when someone from one tradition bemoans what is going on in another tradition because:

A. They are not a part of the particular tradition they are at odds with (which is probably why they are in another tradition altogether anyway). It’s really a family feud, not an outsider’s.
B. Each tradition should be allowed to exist without criticism. What I mean by that is
i) NOT that I can never look at another tradition and say, “I don’t agree with that.”
ii) What I mean is that I can look at that tradition and say, “I don’t agree with that but that is _____ tradition.” and fill in the blank with whatever particular tradition you may be referring to.

So there are a couple of things to say about the individual and (their relationship to) particular religious traditions.

A. I would say that it is not so much a case of, “Hey, why all the differences?” as much as it is a case of jumping into the deep end of a particular tradition. That is, in large part, find out why a particular tradition does what it does–teaches what it teaches. You just may find out that things can get pretty complex. Commit yourself to a particular tradition while being open to the idea that you don’t have the corner of truth on theology. That you may have something to learn and possibly change your position (no matter how strongly felt) on from/concerning another tradition. In other words, it is faith seeking understanding (which pretty much means growing in a pietistic faith not mere head knowledge). At the end of the day, you are responsible for your faith. You stand before God and are responsible for why you believe and practice what you do.
B. When you realize that there are “thick” differences between traditions, that is cause to be a little more understanding than offering some possible misdirected complaint about said tradition. Each one will be allowed to exist in the world without your shoving the so-called, “dirty laundry” before an unbelieving world. I put dirty laundry in quotes because many times what is perceived as “Christian Culture” and what doesn’t belong to “truth faith” is actually an outworking of a deep theological understanding of faith. It allows you to recognize the differences for what they are and that fellow Christians can live out the Gospel (as they perceive it), in different yet refreshing ways.


Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings Of The Biblical Creation Narratives

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Thought I would post this. Bouteneff’s book, though a little dry, is an excellent example of biblical scholarship on this question. As some readers may know, there has been controversy over whether Paul thought Adam was real. Here is what Bouteneff says:

BEGINNINGS: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN READINGS OF THE BIBLICAL CREATION NARRATIVES

At the Birth of Christian Reflection
Paul and the New Testament

The letters of St. Paul, together with the other letters traditionally associated with him, feature important material about creation. They portray God as the one who calls non-existing things into being and identify Christ as the chief agent of creation. Although these fundamental tenets are not explicitly grounded in the Hexaemeron narrative, what Paul and the other NT authors did with the paradise narrative, and in particular with the person of Adam, was groundbreaking and seminal, based as it was on an inchoate portraiture emerging from Second Temple Jewish texts. Although we cannot attribute to Paul a fully formed “theology of creation,” his importance for how Christians read Genesis is difficult to overestimate. It is because of Paul’s theology that we see Adam as the forefather of humanity, the progenitor of sin and a type for Christ.

The patristic and liturgical tradition focusing on Adam as the “old man” that has to be put off so that the “new man,” Christ, can be put on has its origins in Paul, even if his intentions in establishing this dichotomy rested primarily in his bid to establish a new relationship between Jew and Gentile.

Further down:


PAUL’S ADAM

Who is Adam for Paul, and what is his role in the existential situation of humanity? His answer—and that of the other Second Temple authors we have studied, with the glaring exception of Philo—would be essentially the same. For the scriptural and deuterocanonical authors, Adam both represented humankind and also figured as a character in a scriptural narrative and, through this story, as the first ancestor in a genealogy that led to Noah and beyond. Paul was not averse to the sporadic use of allegory, but he did not allegorize Adam. Yet he is finally uninterested in the question of who Adam is, caring only about what Adam is and the role he plays in counterpoint to Christ.

Indeed, there is a sense in which Paul’s use of Adam is simple and minimal. Putting Adam and Christ together in Romans 5 is merely a way of showing how the actions of one lone figure can have profound (though opposite) effects on many people. Romans 5:15-19 is all about showing how the effects of Adam and Christ are both broad and deep, the one leading to death and the other to grace and justification. However basic this may sound, one should not minimize the significance of the choice of Adam as exemplar in this context, since for Paul’s Jewish predecessors Adam was not the most obvious example of the protosinner whose transgression brings mortal consequences. Paul might just as well have chosen Cain, Aaron, or Abraham; instead he ratchets up the importance of Adam as the first human and the first sinner. Asserting Adam’s broad and earth-shattering significance for “the many,” Paul establishes Adam as “a type of the one who was to come” (5:14).

So Paul’s Adam is the first in a lineage of sin and, through sin, death. Linking Adam’s function with his primordial setting makes him, in effect, chiefly a symbol: he is a stand-in for (fallen) humanity in general and subsequently a type for Christ, an icon of the “old self that is to be put off in favor of the new. Yet given Adam’s genealogical significance, he is at least implicitly a person before he is a symbol. Adam is the first sinner, and he died; thus he stands as first in a universal lineage of sinners and mortals.^ it is all the more interesting in retrospect to notice that the paradise narrative does not present itself as an account of the universal fall of humanity. The story describes God’s creation of persons as works in progress, persons who overreached their proper place, thus failing to attain immortality and beginning a series of declines that led to the depravity of Genesis 6 and the flood. Making the first sinner and the first-made human being one and the same person has the effect of opening out the genealogy, the effects of sin, and therefore the scope of salvation, which now incorporates the Gentiles. The dividing line is no longer between Jew and Gentile but between the old dispensation (or old Adam) and the new dispensation in Christ.