Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wimpy Christianity: "We Have Christian Individuals, But Do We Have a Christian Church?"

Thomas Torrance asks very perceptively (as usual) whether or not we actually have a Christian church? He makes the point that we indeed have Christian individuals, but what does this mean when we inhabit an un-Christian church culture? The following Torrance quote comes from his lectureship at the University of Edinburgh, New College in Scotland where he lectured for many years. Understand that as he gave his lectures this takes us back some 40 to 50 years; but his concern then is of course, and more so, just as much of a concern today---especially in the American Evangelical church of which I am a part. Here is what Torrance asked his students:

[W]hat does this have to say to us today about what we call 'evangelical Christianity'? We have been concerned with evangelising men, women, and children as individual human beings, calling for repentance and personal decision for Christ as Lord and saviour, and rightly so. But have we been concerned with the evangelising of the mind of the society in which these people live? If not, how can a Christian church put down roots in an unevangelical society and remain genuinely Christian? I believe this is where evangelical Christianity today has failed terribly. By and large, as far as I can see, even the mind of the church, let alone the mind of society, is still secular in that it shares the mind of the secular society within which it exists. We have Christian people, but do we really have a Christian church? We have people who profess to believe in Christ as Lord and saviour, but do we have a church that is so imbued with the mind of Christ that its members individually and as a community think instinctively in a Christian way? Thomas F. Torrance, "Atonement," 444-45.

Torrance's concern is something that I have been burdened with for quite awhile now. I think the mission field (as one of my other teachers, Ron Frost has said) has actually come to us right in the church. There is such a dearth of sound Christian teaching with an emphasis on lively doctrine (which should produce worship) that I think it can truly be said that the American (Western) Evangelical church, by and large, is lost. That seems to be a hard teaching and critical diagnosis, but if we don't make prescient diagnoses then we are bound to live in the captivity of our society and cultures and not bound by captivity to Christ!

So the goal for pastors and Christian teachers is to teach and model Christ crucified in a way that produces a tsunami and sea change such that there is a communitarian repentance of thought. We not only need to be evangelists to the individual, but we need to evangelize thought patterns and the systemic structures of our society through prophetic and witness oriented evangelism that penetrates down into the depths. Here is something Torrance said to his students in this regard:

[T]here often came a point in my classes when I felt that the students wanted to throw the books at me, as the inner struggle between the gospel and the frame of mind they brought to it became intense. Let us make no mistake about it: divine revelation conflicts sharply with the structure of natural reason, with the secular patterns of thought  that have already become established in our minds through the twist of our ingrained mental alienation from God. We cannot become true theologians without the agonising experience of profound change in the mental structure of our innermost being. Thomas F. Torrance, "Atonement," 443.

The way forward requires courage, and a resolve to disentangle oneself from secular thinking; this resolve must be present first and foremost in the leadership and teaching office of the church. This is a painful process that requires sacrifice, work, and time; or as Jesus said, it requires 'that we take up our crosses daily and follow him'. This isn't an option, by the way, it is a mandate from the one we call Lord! It's time to step up to the mic for a sound check; are you present and accounted for, or are you just going to be another wimpy who continues to feast at the secular table of "having it your way?"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Great Hijacking: Christ the Abstraction and Not The Center

The Westminster Confession of Faith in its first article (chapter II) on a doctrine of God starts with God, simpliciter. There is a long history of this method for thinking of God in the Christian Tradition. Peter Lombard in his Sentences employed this methodology for ordering his thinking about God; indeed, John Calvin himself---in his late Medieval situation---orders his Institute in similar fashion. I have heard it argued from folk who follow this classic methodology that this really isn't a stretch at all; in fact, this (they argue) is the order that God himself has provided in his own disclosure in Scripture (starting in Genesis through Revelation). Here is the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF):

I. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (see full citation, here)

It is not until article III of this same chapter that the WCF speaks of God as triune. And this is my short critique of this methodology; even if it had started with God as triune---which would have been laudable---where a doctrine of God ought to start---for the Christian---is with Christ. This is not to go outside of Scripture's order, but to follow it in the way that it re-interprets everything through its fulfillment in Christ. John 1:1 is a primary example of this kind of re-interpretation (or as one of my favorites, Irenaeus of Lyons, has named it, recapitulation); the theologian, The Apostle John Writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

This, as many commentators have noted throughout the history of biblical interpretation, is a Christian re-reading and direct allusion to Genesis 1:1 ('In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'). And this helps illustrate what I am after relative to articulating a proper order to constructing a genuinely Christian theology. The WCF does not start with Christ. Indeed, it doesn't even start with God as Trinity; instead it appeals to classic Greek philosophical categories for its understanding of what God must be like. But this is not Christian; it does not honor the New Testament's mode of reinterpreting the Old Testament promises in light of their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. No, the WCF, and the whole classical theistic tradition (of which it is a part) can only, logically, think of Christ as an abstraction; as an addition to its concept of Godness; only to be spoken of later, like a dangling participle. So we end up, if we follow the WCF (and classical Christianity), with, at best, a theocentric ('god-centred') religion; but not a christocentric ('Christ-centred') belief structure, that is genuinely Christian. Donald Bloesch emphasizes the importance of following a Christ-centred methodology as the starting point for beginning our theological studies (even our Theology Proper/Doctrine of God):

[C]hristology constitutes the heart of theology, since it focuses on God's work of salvation in the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth and the bearing that this has on the history of humankind. To know the nature of God we must see his face in Jesus Christ. To know the plan of God for the world we must see this plan realized in the cross of Christ and fulfilled in his resurrection and second advent. Whereas philosophy ponders the nature of God in the abstract, theology reflects on the divine-human encounter in history as we find this in Jesus Christ. The way to knowledge of God is through knowledge of Christ, and the way to knowledge of Christ is by faith in his promises as revealed in the Bible. Donald G. Bloesch, "Jesus Christ: Lord & Savior," 16-7. 

This is quite radical! Being a Christian ought to be radical. So you have a choice; are you going to be a classical or radical Christian? The former means you will be entrenched in philosophical abstraction seeking a way to integrate Christianity into that mould; the latter means that you will start with Jesus Christ as God's Self-revelation, and it will be here that knowledge of God as triune will become the touchstone upon which a Christian theology can genuinely move forward as, Christian. 

I grow weary of the great hijacking of the Christian faith, and the implications this has for regular Christian folk who sit in the pew. To be sure, most Evangelicals in America aren't even getting theology or doctrine anymore; if they are though, it is steeped in the heritage that something like the WCF hath bequeathed upon us---viz. the god of the philosophers, not the God known to us in and through, Jesus Christ! What a tragedy  . . . 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Little William and Jesus: How is this Fair?

Sorry my posts haven't been the most upbeat lately, but the cross is where we have been living lately; and we aren't the only ones. And when I say 'cross', I mean experiencing forms of human suffering--in all of its shades and variations. On that theme let me reflect upon the question of fairness and God.

Little William and His Dad
I have walked through cancer, and lived to tell about it (at least up until today); by God's grace! But so many others don't enjoy the same experience as I have; especially those afflicted with Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor-sarcoma (the kind of cancer I had)---you don't normally live through this disease to tell the tale. Such is the case, so it appears at this point (all things are possible with God, and he could without a doubt intervene in the life of this little guy I am going to be referring to throughout the remainder of this post), for a little boy named William. William was diagnosed, as I recall, with DSRCT cancer just after I was (I was back in November 2009); he has been through crazy chemo therapies, surgeries, stem cell transplant, etc. Just recently it seemed that William was in clear, but as is so often the case; William's cancer has come back with a vengeance! Here is his mom's most recent post and reflection (entitled Terrible, terrible truth) on William's plight:

From Mommy, Loiss.

Hi all. I want to thank everyone for the love, prayers, supportive words, and loving thoughts.

As my mom mentioned in her post on Friday, we are inpatient at City of Hope.

I don't have any creative, frilly, beautiful words to describe or poeticly phase what it is that we are all going through. All I can say is that my baby is nearing the end, and that my heart hurts to the extreme.

Williams little body is so weak, frail and heart breaking. BUT his heart and spirit stay true to the warrior he is. The tumors are starving his body, they are causing him pain, and they have hijacked his organs, but William keeps on keepin' on. Even through the pain, the heartache, the fear, the reality I still see the strong, silly, fun loving, caring and kind nature of Sir. William

William's comfort is the number 1 concern for everything and everyone. He is getting a continuous IV cocktail of pain medication and Ativan to help calm and relax him.

Randell and I have bridged the conversation regarding death and heaven. The first conversation was the hardest and William stated that he was not yet ready to talk about it. The next day he opened up a little more and he asked questions about heaven, why people died, who would be waiting for him, how he would talk/communicate with us when he wanted to ask us something. He asked if God gave the angels special powers and if so, if God would allow him to use his special powers to keep firefighters and pilots save. He cried a lot, we all cried a lot. He is scared about dying, we are doing everything we can to ease his fears and give him peace.(see the original posting here, with pictures).
 William's mom, Loiss, describes the situation the only way it really can be when she writes "I don't have any creative, frilly, beautiful words to describe or poeticly phase [sic] what it is that we are all going through." How is this fair? That seems to be a totally honest and genuine question. How is it fair or right that little William, or any little child, should endure the amount of chronic suffering that he has and is? The only answer I can come up with is that it is not! When Jesus came he didn't come to mete out fairness; in fact he came to contradict fairness (our conception) with something greater; his love! Fairness has an immediate orientation, an immediate gratification; God's love in Christ by the Spirit has an eternal orientation. The LORD sees what we will look like, and what we will be doing in the corridor of consummate and beatific vision; he sees the way that we will be worshiping and ministering in his presence for all eternity as participants in his life through the ongoing mediation of Christ for us as our high priest. He sees our sorry and angst; our dark seasons of the soul; our wandering moments through the love of his Son, Jesus Christ. It is this vantage point that throws our 'perspectives' into relief; that is not to say that the existential pain and suffering have been vanquished in this in-between time (remember 'death is the last enemy' to be put under Jesus' feet). But it is to say that all things have been made new and given redemptive life in and through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

What I am writing about is the life of 'faith', not sight, that we have been called to engage God through in and through the faith of Christ for us. My point in this post will not necessarily serve as a comforting balm to Williams' parents, family, and friends, but it is the truth. There is nothing really left to do, but what Jesus did in his so called 'Passion'; all we can do is seek to bear the burden of William in and through the cry of Jesus, the cry that Jesus cried in the Garden; and the cry that He cries for William and his parents right now. It's not an empty cry, but it is the cry that Jesus cried at Lazarus' grave (even though he knew that he was just about to raise him from the dead); Jesus Wept! So even in the midst of the greater and more exceedingly powerful reality that we all know is the truth for William and all those who trust in Jesus for salvation; we still weep (but not without hope)! There is nothing fair about sin and suffering; but in the midst of it, Jesus continues to break into these circumstances with his redemptive embrace. William most likely is on the cusp of experiencing something that will last an eternity ... even though this is the truth, we still cry.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Reflection: On Suffering and the Cross

Life is really hard! We have been going through it lately; my cancer, unemployment, less than desirable employment ("but it's a job" kind of job), financial struggles, our daughter's recent accident and emergency brain surgery (and now really hard recovery; esp. mentally and emotionally for her, and us!). We all have trials and tribulations; in fact the New Testament is clear that this is our lot. Indeed it is the muck of this life that is 'working for us a far more exceeding eternal weight of glory'. And yet Jesus said, 'take heart, I have overcome this world!' So we try to take heart; not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit!

So what's the meaning of all of this? Jesus wondered this in Gethsemane; he cried out for another way, but there was none. As participants in Christ, constantly being given over to his death that his life might be manifested in our mortal bodies, having the sentence of death written upon us that we might not trust in ourselves but in the One who raises the dead, experiencing the tribulation of Christ that we might experience his comfort so that we can comfort others with the same comfort we have been comforted with ourselves; these are some of the reasons, the blessings, the purposes and points of suffering now. Indeed, this is it! We are participants with Christ all the way down; in his death, and now, AMEN!, resurrection life. But we live in the in the between time; praise the LORD that in his wisdom, he has met us right where we are, in our suffering and despair. Martin Luther understood this; he understood that the place, the person where we know and meet God is in the midst of the cross of Christ. This is God's grace, wisdom, and love demonstrated; he has become sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him. He has penetrated the depths of our wounded and dead selves so that we might penetrate the wonders of his life giving throne of Grace; next to the Father. Luther understood that we can quit striving to have relationship with God through what man perceives as glory; that is through the praise of others. Luther understood that it's not the fancy ideas of men that get us into the heavenlies, but, indeed, it is the putting to death of humanities' ideas, and bringing humanity into HIS ideas, his life wherein we know God. We don't have to perform, or orchestrate anything for this to happen; we're born into the muck of sin and disorder. This is the grace of God in Christ; this is the wisdom of God in Christ! He has come to us, become us, and through adoption made us what he is by nature, by grace. It is when things 'look' the most sideways that we, by faith, look beyond and see the One who is right side up for us in the midst of trial and the dark nights of the soul. Here is what Randall Zachman has written on Luther's theology of the cross:

In the context of theologia crucis, faith means believing with certainty that God’s Word is true even when the whole world, the heart of the believer, and even God himself contradict the truth that is revealed in the Word, particularly the Word of promise. Thus, when God begins to show mercy, God does so by first revealing wrath (in law); when God makes alive, God does so by slaying. The same contradictions apply especially to those who have already come to faith. God promises the forgiveness of sins, yet our conscience feels nothing but sin and wrath; God promises life, yet we see nothing but death. Faith, therefore, is the art of believing the Word while experiencing, seeing, and feeling the opposite. We believe that Christ is the Son of God, even though we see and abandoned man on the cross; we believe that God cares for the church, even though we see nothing but a church persecuted by the world and apparently abandoned by God; we believe in eternal life, even though we see and feel nothing but death.

However, the primary locus of the theology of the cross is the experience of trial or tribulation (Anfechtung), when the very heart and conscience of the believer sense that God’s promise of grace and forgiveness is a lie. The believer must regard the promise of forgiveness as true and certain even though the conscience testifies to the contrary.
But under the cross which we experience, eternal life lies hidden. . . . We, too, experience the cross, and death appears to us, if not in fact, yet in our conscience through Satan. Death and sin appear, but I announce life and faith, but in hope. Therefore, if you want to be saved, you must battle against your feelings. Hope means to expect life in the midst of death, and righteousness in the midst of sins.
This is the very meaning of being simultaneously righteous and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator): to believe that we are righteous coram Deo even though we feel like condemned sinners.
Within the context of the theology of the cross, the grace of sanctification and its attestation in the testimony of a good conscience would necessarily be subordinated to the grace of justification and the promise of the forgiveness of sins. This is because the testimony of the good conscience confirms one’s faith in the promise, whereas the theology of the cross emphasizes that testimony of the conscience that contradicts faith in the promise; that is, Anfechtung. Therefore, although Luther continually insisted upon the necessity of sanctification and of the testimony of the good conscience, within the framework of theologia crucis he could not help but consistently subordinate the grace of sanctification to that of justification.

Luther’s concentration on the theology of the cross also accounts for his refusal to involve the Reformation directly in the external reform of the church. The Word of God does not deal with external, temporal things, but rather with invisible, eternal things; and such invisible things are revealed under an external appearance that contradicts what is being revealed. The theology of glory, in contrast—such as Luther found in the papacy—emphasizes externals to the point of neglecting the invisible truths revealed by the Word: indeed, to the point of calling God’s Word a lie. Thus, those in the Reformation who would introduce concern for externals—such as Karlstadt with his rejection of idols and the papal mass—misunderstanding the whole nature of the Word of the cross, and divert the attention of believers from the invisible, eternal things of God’s promises to the visible, temporal things of human reason and senses. Yet it is precisely reason and the senses that must be mortified if we are to believe that the Word of the cross is true.

Luther’s theologia crucis also explains his suspicion of those, such as the Anabaptists, who emphasized the external holiness and moral behavior of the church. If the Word of the cross reveals the truth of God under a contrary appearance, then one would expect the true church not to look like the church at all, but rather to look like God-forsaken sinners. The “synagogue of Satan,” on the other hand, with its theology glory, would look like the true church of God and would demonstrate a superior holiness externally—as in the monks and friars—but inwardly it would be rejected by God. The theology of the cross would therefore lead one not to stress the conformity of the appearance of the church with its faith, but rather stress the ways in which the appearance of the church denies its claim to be the people of God. The church looks like a gathering of sinners rejected by God and the world, whereas it is in truth the beloved people of God. The church cannot be judged by its appearance, but only by whether it has the Word of Christ crucified. Hence the primary task of the church is to preach the Word of God, while letting externals take their course. [Randall C. Zachman, The Assurance of Faith, 9-10]

There is a lot in what Zachman highlights in regards to Luther's theology of the cross (try to absorb it all at some point). But what I want to stay focused on is knowing God; seeing God in Christ, even when everything looks just the opposite! Isn't this how most of life looks? Just the opposite of what religion and even forms of Christianity tell us it should look like. We shouldn't be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon us; for to us it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but to suffer for his sake. Unfortunately, it's when we are in the depths, that usually we are right where the LORD wants us; if only so that we will look at him, and ultimately look more like him as he transforms us from glory to glory. amen.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What is Federal Calvinism: And Some History

Here is Lyle Bierma on Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587), one of the first developers of Federal Theology (according to Bierma, the first, but this is disputable). Bierma here is describing how Olevianus understood the Covenant of Grace vis-a’-vis the Covenant of Works:

When did God make such a pledge? [Referring to the 'Covenant of Grace'] We will be looking at this question in some detail in Chapter IV, but it should be mentioned here that for Olevianus this covenant of grace or gospel of forgiveness and life was proclaimed to the Old Testament fathers from the beginning; to Adam after the fall (“The seed of the woman shall crush [Satan's] head”); to Abraham and his descendents (“In your seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed”); to the remnant of Israel in Jeremiah 31 (“I will put my laws in their minds . . . and will remember their sins no more”); and still to hearers of the Word today. To be sure, this oath or testament was not confirmed until the suffering and death of Christ. Christ was still the only way to Seligkeit, since it was only through His sacrifices that the blessing promised to Abraham could be applied to us and the forgiveness and renewal promised through Jeremiah made possible. Nevertheless, even before ratification it was still a covenant — a declaration of God’s will awaiting its final fulfillment.
In some contexts, however, Olevianus understands the covenant of grace in a broader sense than as God’s unilateral promise of reconciliation ratified in Jesus Christ. He employs some of the same terms as before — Bund, Gnadenbund, foedus, foedus gratiae, and foedus gratuitum — but this time to mean a bilateral commitment between God and believers. The covenant so understood is more than a promise of reconciliation; it is th realization of that promise — reconciliation itself — through a mutual coming to terms. Not only does God bind Himself to us in a pledge that He will be our Father; we also bind ourselves to Him in a pledge of acceptance of His paternal beneficence. Not only does God promise that He will blot out all memory of our sins; we in turn promise that we will walk uprightly before Him. The covenant in this sense includes both God’s promissio and our repromissio.

This semantical shift from a unilateral to a bilateral promise is most clearly seen in two passages in Olevanius’s writings where compares the covenant of grace to a human Bund. In Vester Grundt, as we have seen, he portrays the covenant strictly as a divine pledge. While we were yet sinners, God bound Himself to us with an oath and a promise that through His Son He would repair the broken relationship. It was expected, of course, that we accept the Son (whether promised or already sent) in faith, but Olevianus here does not treat this response as part of the covenant. The emphasis is on what God would do because of what we could not do.
 In a similar passage in the Expositio, however, Olevianus not only identifies the covenant with reconciliation itself but describes it as a mutual agreement (mutuus assensus) between the estranged parties. Here God binds Himself not to us “who were yet sinners” but to us “who repent and believe,” to us who in turn are bound to Him in faith and worship. This “covenant of grace or union between God and us” is not established at just one point in history; it is ratified personally with each believer. Christ the Bridegroom enters into “covenant or fellowship” with the Church His Bride by the ministry of the Word and sacraments and through the Holy Spirit seals the promises of reconciliation in the hearts of the faithful. But this is also a covenant into which we enter, a “covenant of faith.” As full partners in the arrangement we become not merely God’s children but His Bundgesnossen, His confoederati.

When he discusses the covenant of grace in this broader sense, i.e., as a bilateral commitment between God and us, Olevianus does not hesitate t use the term conditio [conditional]. We see already in the establishment of the covenant with Abraham that the covenant of grace has not one but two parts: not merely God’s promissio [promise] to be the God of Abraham and his seed, but that promise on the condition (qua conditione) of Abraham’s (and our) repromissio [repromising] to walk before Him and be perfect. Simply put, God’s covenantal blessings are contingent upon our faith and obedience. It is to those who repent, believe, and are baptized that He reconciles Himself and binds Himself in covenant. (Lyle D. Bierma, “German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus,” 64-68)
Ultimately the problem with Federal Calvinism, in its early days, was that it caused the 'potential saint' to look at themselves prior to being able to look to Christ. This reversed Calvin's emphasis of and his 'union with Christ' 'double-grace' theology/salvation.

This is something, Federal Calvinism, that Evangelical Calvinists would want to correct. Surely Federal or this kind of Covenant theology will continue to persevere (pun intended), but at the least we, as Evangelical Calvinists would like the world to know (those who care) that there is an alternative strand available within Calvinism that grounds all of the conditions and contingencies of salvation in Christ himself. So we look to Christ!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day: 'Worshipping the Creation Rather than the Creator'

The problem with ‘Earth Week’ (or day), as it is ‘framed’ today, is basic; it is shaped and informed by an naturalist understanding of the universe (and thus earth). It is based upon assumptions that believe that all reality is reducible to material; here is a succinct summary of this perspective, provided by James Sire:
1. Matter exists eternally and is all there is. God does not exist.
As in theism and deism, the prime proposition concerns the nature of basic existence. In the former two the nature of God is the key factor. In naturalism it is the nature of the cosmos which is primary, for now, with an eternal creator-God out of the picture, the cosmos itself becomes eternal—-always there though not necessarily in its present form, in fact, certainly not in its present form. Carl Sagan, astrophysicist and popularizer of science, has said it as clearly as possible: “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” (James W. Sire, “The Universe Next Door,” 54)

The consequence of living as if there is no God is to fill that void with [an]other god; that is, material “creation” itself becomes God, but not without us. In other words, man becomes the center of the universe, and the earth becomes his sustenance — ‘Mother Earth’. This way of thinking is not ‘new’, it is not progressive or ‘cutting-edge’; it is as old as the ‘Fall’ itself (see Gen. 3 and the ensuing story [the rest of the scriptures, esp. the OT]). In fact the LORD admonishes his people, contrary to the ‘natural way of thinking’, not to lift up ‘nature’ as if that is all there is; He says:
15“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. ~Deuteronomy 4:15-20
The negative of what Yahweh admonishes His people “not to do” (in the passage above) is the “natural orientation” of Fallen man. It is to worship the creation rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1); and this is what ‘Earth day (week, year)’ actually pivots upon.

Christians should not confuse stewardship of God’s creation with being ‘Green’. And really the only, and most basic reason for this, is what I have been trying to distinguish in my previous narrative; and that is, that ‘being Green’ is informed by an ‘worldview’ that is incompatible with the ‘Christian trinitarian’ perspective. The ‘Green’ approach “starts” out with the assumption that there is no God; the Christian, or what I like to call, ‘the Red’ approach, assumes just the opposite —- that there is a creator God, and He has revealed Himself to us in Christ.

In my view, it is irresponsible for Christians to take up the mantle of the ‘Green approach’, and assume that there is compatibility simply in the name of being ‘good stewards’. We need to be good ‘Stewards’ indeed, but in the name of Christ; and not simply by adopting the approach offered by the ‘unbelieving world’ (Christologically this is akin to the adoptionist heresy known as Ebionitism), and thus ‘Christianizing’ the pagan way of doing and thinking things.

**My next post will be on how to think about this stuff through the analogy of the incarnation (or Christologically); Colossians 1 is key for the Christian understanding at this juncture. If Christ is supreme over all creation, both as Creator and Redeemer, then as Christians it behooves us to think this issue out of that paradigm. Really this whole discussion orbits around that classic discussion between the relationship of nature and grace; the answer to that question must be centered in the life of Christ and how His hypostatic union (the relationship between his divine and human natures) should inform our approach to being stewards of this ‘creation’ or ‘recreation’ through Him. Instead of ‘Green’ I think Christians should call themselves ‘Red’, because without the shedding of God’s blood in Christ all we really have is ‘Black’ — which is what I think ‘Earth Day’ and its approach should really be called [not 'green']. Anyway, more to come.**

Friday, April 20, 2012

Background to the 'Reformed' Tradition

For many, especially within the ‘Reformed faith’, there is a genuine failure to recognize that what they believe to be pure Gospel, from ‘scripture alone’, is actually informed, potentially, anyway, from an intellectual context that might not be ‘pure Gospel’. I would claim to be a ‘Reformed Christian’ (even an ‘Evangelical Calvinist’), so I’m not knocking the Reformed tradition; rather I want to alert us to the fact that some catechisms, some Confessions might not be as ‘pure’ bible as many folks think they are. In other words, there is a conceptual background to these respective confessions that might serve the Gospel; but sometimes (and esp. within one dominant development in the ‘Reformed tradition’) some of the conceptual background might ‘dis-serve’ the Gospel. Denis Janz makes this point about the development of Reformed theology:
If there is one thing that can be called a genuine breakthrough in the last half-century of Reformation studies, it would be the ‘discovery’ that the Reformation had a background. The reformers, all of whom were theologians, and a good number of whom had formal academic training in the discipline, emerged out of a theological landscape that profoundly shaped their horizons. Some elements from this late medieval theological bequest they rejected; some they appropriated; and still others they sublated by taking something old and fashioning from it something new. In other words, their ideas did not spring to life ex nihilo, or descend from above, or emerge full-blown from an ‘objective’ study of the Bible alone. They worked in the intellectual context of late medieval theology, and consequently, without some grasp of this context , there can be no adequate understanding of their theology. By today, this realization has had an impact on every area of Reformation studies. (Denis J. Janz, David Bagchi and David Steinmetz, eds., “The Cambridge Companion To Reformation Theology,” 5)
The problem is, especially amongst the popular level, this “breakthrough” that Janz speaks to is unrealized. When folks conceive of God in terms of decrees, for example, they assume that this comes straight off the pages of scripture. There is little, or no recognition that in fact Reformed theology has an intellectual history (see Stephen Strehle’s: The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel); and that that history is not necessarily self-same with scripture (i.e. there are competing intellectual histories).

Until this general thesis is acknowledged, what we are calling Evangelical Calvinism will never get a fair hearing. Why? Because Federal Calvinism (Classic) will continue to assume that their reading of scripture is scripture; without any critical recourse to the fact that maybe their perspective actually has background.

This is one of the burdens of this blog; to inform folks of the “background” within the “Reformed tradition.”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

People Have Calvin Wrong . . .

So many people have this conception about John Calvin that is just wrong. People, in the main, simply assume that Calvin founded this ominous system of theology known as Calvinism; that he was the executioner of the man, Servetus, and that he ruled "his" Geneva with an iron-clad dictatorial reign of theological terror. This is just wrong!

Calvin is known as the theologian of the 'Spirit'. He is famous for his duplex gratia, 'double-grace' (justification/sanctification) theology. And this theology is given shape by his 'mystical union' or 'union with Christ' theology; such that all of the benefits of Christ are ours as we are united to Christ by the Spirit (the wonderful exchange). Calvin's theology is not dominated by impersonal decrees, and Stoically inspired fatalistic determinism; instead it is given life by his focus and emphasis upon relationship with the triune God in and through God the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

If you have only understood Calvin through the stereotypes, then give him a real chance!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Thoughts on Inerrancy and My Doctrine of Scripture

I was recently asked by Brian LePort to fill out a questionnaire on my view of Biblical Inerrancy. He posted my responses to his questions, here. But I thought I would repost what I wrote here at my blog as well. So that's what the following represents.

Do you use the word inerrancy to describe your understanding of Scripture? Why or why not? (If not, can you explain your doctrine of Scripture?)

I grew up ardently advocating for this terminology; it has only been over the last few years that I have taken a different approach to my doctrine of Scripture vis-á-vis an ontology of Scripture. While maintaining my identity as an Evangelical (Reformed) Christian, and some of the received history that this entails (including the intention that inerrancy sought to capture–e.g. the trustworthiness of Scripture); I would probably eschew emphasizing the language of inerrancy relative to my position (even though I remain sympathetic to it, and those who still feel the need to use it).

In a nutshell: I see Scripture within the realm of soteriology (salvation), and no longer (as the classically Reformed and Evangelical approach does) within the realm of epistemology (or a naked Philosophy). Meaning that I think a proper doctrine of Scripture must understand itself within its proper order of things. So we start with 1) Triune God, 2) The election of humanity in the Son (Covenant of Grace), 3) Creation, Incarnation (God’s Self-revelation), 4) The Apostolic Deposit of Christian Scripture (e.g. the New Testament re-interpretation of salvation history [i.e. Old Testament] in light of its fulfillment in Christ). This is something of a sketch of the order of Scripture’s placement from a theological vantage point (I don’t think the tradition that gave us inerrancy even considers such things). So I see Scripture in the realm of Christian salvation (sanctification), and as God’s triune speech act for us provided by the Son, who comes with the Holy Spirit’s witness (through Scripture). Here is how John Webster communicates what I am after:

First, the reader is to be envisaged as within the hermeneutical situation as we have been attempting to portray it, not as transcending it or making it merely an object of will. The reader is an actor within a larger web of event and activities, supreme among which is God’s act in which God speaks God’s Word through the text of the Bible to the people of God, as he instructs them and teaches them in the way they should go. As a participant in this historical process, the reader is spoken to in the text. This speaking, and the hearing which it promotes, occurs as part of the drama which encloses human life in its totality, including human acts of reading and understanding: the drama of sin and its overcoming. Reading the Bible is an event in this history. It is therefore moral and spiritual and not merely cognitive or representational activity. Readers read, of course: figure things out as best they can, construe the text and its genre, try to discern its intentions whether professed or implied, place it historically and culturally — all this is what happens when the Bible is read also. But as this happens, there also happens the history of salvation; each reading act is also bound up within the dynamic of idolatry, repentance and resolute turning from sin which takes place when God’s Word addresses humanity. And it is this dynamic which is definitive of the Christian reader of the Bible. [[John Webster, "Hermeneutics in Modern Theology: Some Doctrinal Reflections," Scottish Journal of Theology, 336]

So I see Scripture as God’s second Word (Jesus the first and last Word) for His people the Church. From this perspective inerrancy becomes a non-starter, since Scripture is no longer framed apologetically; but instead, Christically, and positive witness for the Church.

If you were to provide a brief definition of the doctrine of inerrancy what would it include?

Millard Erickson has provided the best indexing of innerancy[s]; he has: 1) Absolute Inerrancy, 2) Full Inerrancy, and 3) Limited Inerrancy (see Millard Erickson, “Introducing Christian Doctrine [abridged version],” 61). Realizing that there is nuance then when defining a given inerrancy; I would simply assert that inerrancy holds to the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture; meaning that Scripture is both Divine-human speech, or Divine revelation (or God's Words). And since God cannot lie, Scripture must be totally without any error; because if it has error then God has lied.

Can there be a doctrine of inerrancy divorced from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy? If so, what are the practical consequences? If not, why?

I think the Chicago Statement, given its recognition for literary and genre analysis of the text of Scripture has effectively allowed for the possibility of qualifying inerrancy to the point that you might end up with my current view ;-).

How does your doctrine of Scripture impact your hermeneutics? Can you use Genesis 1-11 as a case study/example?

I would simply say that I see Genesis 111 as the first instance of the LORD's first Word of grace; viz. we have God introduce himself as the personal God who created, and for the purpose of creation communing with him by and through the Son (Gen. 3:15). So, no, I dont  follow Henry Morris and the Institute of Creation Research  in defending a wooden literal reading of this section of Scripture. I see it literally, but as Gods  introduction of himself to his Covenant people such that His people might know what he intends for his creation; viz. that we commune with him through the Son. It is through this purpose for creation that all other idolatrous parodies (like those in the Ancient Near East) fall by the way side and are contradicted by creations  true purpose, in Christ.


I would recommend John Webster's little book: Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. His book articulates and informs my view on this like no other I have ever come across. 

I would be interested in knowing what you think about my response; and like to hear what your own view is on this issue. I am highly sympathetic to the impulse that charged the construction of inerrancy (i.e. to defend the reliability of Scripture as God's words to humanity), but I ultimately think there are better ways to frame Scripture rather than from the defensive and largely reactive posture that gave inerrancy rise. To be totally frank; when I read Scripture I still cannot but read it as if (because I believe this to be the case) it is indeed completely accurate relative to the standards of accuracy it originally intended to be accurate by ;-).

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Response to Scott Lenke, A Guy Who is Moving Away from Calvinism

I am going to pick on a guy who has moved away from Calvinism (by the way, moving away from classic Calvinism---the kind that has been reduced to the metaphysics of the 5 Point kind---is not
a bad thing, per se; unfortunately this fellow [who I am picking on] has apparently bought the limp wristed critique of Medieval and Reformed theology propounded by someone I 'can' appreciate at points, N.T. Wright). I take the following from a post that this fellow (Scott Lenke) has written as testimony of his exodus from Calvinism towards a more Arminian and what he probably believes to be, Biblicist perspective. He writes:

[...] Now, having said that [he just provided his Wrightian critique of 16th century Protestant theology], I don’t believe the questions and issues that arise in latter centuries is bad or cannot necessarily be addressed by Scripture. Of course they can. But I think that the normative questions of the C[alvinist] & A[rminian] debate are not inherently part of Romans or Galatians or Ephesians. And I am also more and more convinced that the normative debate around the C[alvinist] & A[rminian] paradigm is not going to carry the church forward into the 21st century. It [sic] am not sure it will strongly grip the church nor draw the world to Christ. It has served its purpose, just as a robust debate around other issues or foregone eras. I’m just not seeing it being greatly important to what God is actively looking to do today in planet earth. (see full post here) - Scott Lenke

A couple to a few things in response;

1) Does this seem like a legitimate retort to you (e.g. from Scott)? It seems to me that for one thing, this perspective, the one Lenke is forwarding, fails to appreciate that in fact Scripture itself only works if there is a pre-supposed informing theological paradigm. In other words, we don't have to reject the sitz im leben ('setting in life' like when the Bible was penned) in order to affirm what we must affirm; that indeed, the Apostle Paul, Peter, James et alia (let alone all of the authors of Scripture) presumed that God was a certain way. That is, that there is the Father, there is the Son, and there is the Holy Spirit; and somehow all of these Three are One! I would not want to suggest to Scott, or anyone else that the Scripture authors had the Trinitarian grammar we now have post-ecumenical councils of the church. But I would want to suggest that the theo-logic that gave rise to the grammar we operate with relative to who God is, who Christ is in the Incarnation, and who the Holy Spirit is in Pentecost (from Christ--I'm not endorsing the filioque, I don't!) was most certainly and necessarily present in the minds and hearts of the Apostles and Prophets of God's people the Church! If this is the case, and it is; then we must read even the original historical milieu and occasions that gave rise to Scripture from this kind of 'inner-logic' that holds all of Scripture together. Further, if this is still so, then there are implications about salvation that result from God being Triune and personal; from God incarnating in the Son, in Christ as the God-man; and from God providing union for himself and humanity in and through the adopting work brought about through Christ and in and through the creative "unioning" activity of the Holy Spirit. These are the things that folk like Calvin with his unio mystica, and Luther with his mystical marriage union with Christ theology were dealing with right dab in the middle of the period that Lenke along with Wright reject, seemingly, out of hand (or at least they want to marginalize it with statements like "I don’t believe the questions and issues that arise in latter centuries is bad or cannot necessarily be addressed by Scripture. Of course they can. . . .").

My initial reaction here represents such a substantial response I don't think I need to reflect any further; plus I need to go to bed ;-)! Even though I am leaving with a little levity here, I don't want anyone to mistake that for the seriousness with which I take issue with Lenke's & co. perspective. I think it is unnecessary; uninformed; not thought out with care; and most of all it is gutting the rich heritage of the Christian church that has been provided for through the work of the Holy Spirit and the heritage in Christ's deep and wide body!

Beyond all of the above; there is Evangelical Calvinism after all!

Our Evangelical Calvinism Book is Proofed and Ready For Publication

NEWS FLASH!: We are just finishing up working through the proofs for our book; it should be published and available in no time. I reckon no later than this May. Praise the LORD! There has been a lot of work put into this by Myk, myself, and all of our most excellent authors/contributors. It was originally conceived as a book project by Myk Habets, at which time he approached me and asked if I would like to work as a coeditor/author with him in this endeavor. I think Myk approached me about this way back some time in 2009, and then I was diagnosed with cancer; which put it on pause for a bit. But praise the Lord I am alive, and the book is pretty much done. So stay tuned. When I know the exact release date I will surely be posting that here. I will repost the title, blurb, and table of contents below.

 Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications, forthcoming.

Blurb: In this exciting volume new and emerging voices join senior Reformed scholars in presenting a coherent and impassioned articulation of Calvinism for today’s world. Evangelical Calvinism represents a mood within current Reformed theology. The various contributors are in different ways articulating that mood, of which their very diversity is a significant element. In attempting to outline features of an Evangelical Calvinism a number of the contributors compare and contrast this approach with that of the Federal Calvinism that is currently dominant in North American Reformed theology, challenging the assumption that Federal Calvinism is the only possible expression of orthodox Reformed theology. This book does not, however, represent the arrival of a “new-Calvinism” or even a “neo-Calvinism,” if by those terms are meant a novel reading of the Reformed faith. An Evangelical Calvinism highlights a Calvinistic tradition that has developed particularly within Scotland, but is not unique to the Scots. The editors have picked up the baton passed on by John Calvin, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and others, in order to offer the family of Reformed theologies a reinvigorated theological and spiritual ethos. This volume promises to set the agenda for Reformed-Calvinist discussion for some time to come.

Table of Contents:

Prologue: Union in Christ: A Declaration for the Church. Andrew Purves and Mark Achtemeier


1: Theologia Reformata et Semper Reformanda. Towards a Definition of Evangelical Calvinism. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

Part 1: Prolegomena – Historical Theology

2: The Phylogeny of Calvin’s Progeny: A Prolusion. Charles Partee

3: The Depth Dimension of Scripture: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Calvinism. Adam Nigh

4: Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature. Bobby Grow

5: The Christology of Vicarious Agency in the Scots Confession According to Karl Barth. Andrew Purves

Part 2: Systematic Theology

6: Pietas, Religio, and the God Who Is. Gannon Murphy

7: “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ:” Christologically Conditioned Election. Myk Habets

8: A Way Forward on the Question of the Transmission of Original Sin. Marcus Johnson

9: “The Highest Degree of Importance”: Union with Christ and Soteriology. Marcus Johnson

10: “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan:” J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry. Jason Goroncy

11: “Suffer the little children to come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Infant Salvation and the Destiny of the Severely Mentally Disabled. Myk Habets

Part 3: Applied Theology

12: Living as God’s Children: Calvin’s Institutes as Primer for Spiritual Formation. Julie Canlis

13: Idolaters at Providential Prayer: Calvin’s Praying Through the Divine Governance. John C McDowell

14: Worshiping like a Calvinist: Cruciform Existence. Scott Kirkland

Part 4

15: Theses on a Theme. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

Epilogue: Post Reformation Lament. Myk Habets



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Evangelical Calvinist Christ Conditioned Supralapsarian Election

Here is Thomas F. Torrance critiquing George Hill’s understanding of limited atonement (you can find a fuller explication of this in TFT’s “The Mediation of Christ [must read]):

Hill seemed to have no idea of the biblical teaching about the election of one for the many found both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and of the idea that the redemptive purpose of God for all nations of the earth was narrowed down to Israel, to a remnant, and then in the most intensive way to Jesus in the midst of Israel, and was fulfilled in and through him in a universal way for all mankind. Thus in respect of the people of Israel the universalising purpose of God will lead to the point when ‘all Israel shall be saved’. Instead, Hill limited the universal sufficiency and extent of Christ’s atoning redemption by a notion of specific ‘destination’, governed by God’s eternal degree, of only certain individuals for ultimate salvation. Regarded from the end result, therefore, the penal satisfaction offered by Christ in his sacrificial death was held to be actually and finally effectual only for particular people. Thus even for George Hill, this evangelical moderate who sought to restore, in some measure at least, the place of the love and mercy of God to its primary place in redemption, the atonement was essentially and rigidly limited in its nature and extent. The question had to asked, therefore, as indeed it was by Thomas Chalmers, what kind of God does this imply? That was the great question with which the General Assembly was faced in 1830, with McLeod Campbell’s revolt against the idea of God that lay behind the doctrine of predestination and limited atonement in what George Hill regularly referred to as ‘the Calvinistic System’ that prevailed in the Kirk.

– Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” 262-63

The one for the many is a key biblical motif, and it first finds its ‘rootage’ in the antecedent life of God. In other words, who we see mediated through the national life of Israel, and then fully enfleshed in the tabernacling of Jesus (Jn 1:14); is what has always already been a reality in God’s life for us in the Son for all eternity (or ‘supra-time’). This is the some of the stuff that goes into an Evangelical Calvinist understanding of a Christ conditioned election or Christic Supralapsarianism. Salvation is grounded in God’s life, and so who we see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is who has always been in the ontological coinhering relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

All of this dovetails nicely with Scott’s recent post on election.

*PS. This is a repost from way back in October 2009. This kind of 'Christ-conditioned' supralapsarianism is given masterful explication in Myk Habets' chapter on the same topic in our forthcoming book (due out, Lord willing, this May).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hunger Games and Christian Faddism

I haven't seen the movie or read the book, Hunger Games. What I understand of this particular series (i.e. Hunger Games) is that it involves something of a neo-Darwinian ethic of survival of the fittest; wherein certain tribes and/or people ultimately must fight to the death if they are going to survive as the dominant group, who indeed are the 'fittest'. So understand, everything that follows comes from what I know of this story via hearsay.

What is it about Christians, in particular, who try to Christianize everything? Isn't this what is happening with this most recent fad of a story? Isn't this what happened with Harry Potter mania, and maybe even the recent Twilight hysteria. Why do so many Christians get so passionate about promoting such things, and when it comes to reading deeper Christian theological works; or indeed, the Bible itself---this passion quickly fizzles and these same passionate souls and promoters are nowhere to be found?

I have heard it argued, by Christians, that reading fine literary works, or imaginative/creative stories expand the readers grammatical and literary horizons, such that this then impinges upon how the reader can interact and integrate theological and biblical themes (later). I don't disagree that reading 'good' literature, and classic stories (even if they don't traffic in overtly 'Christian' themes) have the capacity to expand the reader's imagination quotient. But this argument presupposes that said readers are actually engaging the wealth and heritage of theological thought and writing we have been bequeathed with by our forbears from centuries past into the present moment. In other words, I wonder how many of these folk who make such arguments (with passion) for following the most recent fantasy story fads (for example); in fact, intentionally are just as passionate about encountering the Living Word of God as they spend hours upon hours mediating upon Holy Writ?

So what is this all about; I mean, why do so many Christians follow these fads like Hunger Games represents? And that these same Christians spend little to no time contemplating the deep things of God, theologically and biblically? And why are these Christians so eager to cull (or attempt to) the 'Christian redemptive' themes from such features as 'The Hunger Games'; while at the same time so apathetic about cultivating intimacy with Christ through doing the toilsome work of biblical exegesis and theological contemplation?

We are a culture of amusement (as Neil Postman has argued in 'Amusing Ourselves to Death'); and entertainment rues the day, both for the Christian and non alike. It makes us feel good when we can 'redeem' what the culture is excited about; even though our redemption mechanisms are really only parodies of the culture we seek to redeem. In other words, we like to think that we can 'Christianize' the culture by integration and absorption; but this process isn't any different than Aaron's and Jeroboam's Golden Calves.

Friday, April 13, 2012

No Apologies: The Christian Faith

So called Christian Apologists of our day give way way too much credence to their supposed counter-parts; the new Atheists (and whoever else antagonizes)! I grew up in this kind of Fundamentalist sub-culture (ironically some of the most ardent apologists for the Christian faith today would not self-identify as Fundamentalists; like N. T. Wright; Richard Bauckham; Michael Licona; and a host of others not so well known); the kind of culture that lives out of fear, fear that the Christian antagonist might turn a leaf over and find the Jesus code or some such thing (something that in
their mind would overturn the veracity of the Christian faith in one fell swoop). Granted, much of our Christian ecumenical dogma comes from the musings of early Christian apologists; but I think it is too quick to suggest that there is an immediate parallel between those apologists and the apologists of our day. Most of the Patristic apologists fought Christian heresy, and sought to hash out a Christian grammar where there was none. Today, Christian apologists seek to establish a foundation for the rationality of the Christian faith by demonstrating through evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, that he was a real person, and that the Jesus the Apostles and the early Church proclaimed was not a fabrication.

But who is convincing who? I thought Christians were already Christians?! And I thought Pagans were already Pagans?! And that the Pagan is a Pagan because she loves herself, and thus fabricates myths and idols that reflect herself and thus something to worship (herself). If this is the problem, then what good does it do to spend hours and hours and hours and hours of study and debate; and thousands and thousands of dollars promoting such things? That said, I am not naively suggesting that there aren't any responses to the unbeliever; or that we shouldn't be able to help along Christians who have doubts themselves. I am not suggesting a retreat into a blind pietistic fundamentalism; I am suggesting that the conversation needs to be reset!

Christians need more self-confidence in and through the confidence that comes through constant and continual encounter with the living Word of God, Jesus Christ! We don't need to shore up our beach heads of doubt and fear by trying to meet the questions that the unbeliever has fabricated for the Christian to answer; we answer to Jesus, and we take our cue from him. We think from him. The categories of thought that we think Christianly through are determined as we press into him; not Richard Dawkins or Bart Erhman, for goodness sake!!!

What do the contemporary Christian Apologists think will happen if we simply ignore these so called new Atheists and Christian critics; will they win (whatever that means)? Isn't this the advice our parents gave us as kids when other kids with big mouths were trying to bully us; didn't they say to ignore them (since they are just seeking any kind of attention they can get)?

I think Christian Apologists, even if they have a confident intonation in their voices; promote a culture of fear and angst amongst Christians. Why? Because these Christian Apologists have given way too much credence to their so called counter-parts. And the average Christian sees this and thinks "wow, these antagonists must really have something important to say against Christianity!"

My prescription: We need way more Christian Theologians, and way less "Christian Apologists!" This is not a false dichotomy!

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

   “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
   the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
  26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” I Corinthians 1:18-25

There is no power in any thing other than proclaiming what the world (e.g. 'The New Atheists' and Biblical Critics, like Ehrman) considers weak and foolish; the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need abduction not deduction. I just think we don't like being called fools; that explains the whole Apologetic faith to me.

PS. I know most of the Christian Apologists intentions are good; but because they have failed to engage the Christian Faith as Theologians and theologically, they must seek other ways to close that gap between "their faith" and its factual reality---so they think. I had doubts, severe doubts quite some years ago; I turned to these kinds of Christian Apologists. In the end they gave me a God who I had to constantly defend, and a Scripture that I made true; I finally became too exhausted by this mode, and thankfully was introduced to 'Christian Trinitarian Theology' ... what a relief! If you are still struggling along with the Christian Apologists; won't you join me in the refreshing waters of Trinitarian Theology (my favorite instance of this is Evangelical Calvinism)?

Do I still hold to 'Inerrancy'?

I was asked, by Brian LePort, to answer these questions relative to my view on Inerrancy:

  • Do you use the word inerrancy to describe your understanding of Scripture? Why or why not? (If not, can you explain your doctrine of Scripture?)
  • If you were to provide a brief definition of the doctrine of inerrancy what would it include? 
  • Can there be a doctrine of inerrancy divorced from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy? If so, what are the practical consequences? If not, why?  
  • How does your doctrine of Scripture impact your hermeneutics? Can you use Genesis 1-11 as a case study/example?
My responses will be posted by Brian at his blog tomorrow around noon (pst). You might be interested in hearing what I have to say. Although if you go to the Evangelical Calvinist archive (my old blog on wordpress), and click on the 'doctrine of Scripture' category, and read all of those posts; you might have an advanced understanding on the way that I might have responded to Brian's questions. Although, further, my responses to Brian are more definitive than anything, heretofore, I have expressed on my current views in this regard.

I am only one of many folk Brian sent this questionnaire to; he has been sharing some other people's responses over the past few days. And I think there will probably be some more after mine is posted tomorrow. Check out his blog here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

John Webster, Biblical Interpretation: Some Reflection

Here is how John Webster sums up his discussion on the relation of ‘The Word’ (Jesus) to biblical interpretation (hermeneutics). Webster
has been arguing against the usual modes of hermeneutical consideration, as anthropology; and through a resourcement of Barth, he is presenting a ‘way’ that provides for a thick dogmatically oriented mode of hermeneutical theory.

To sum up: because God in Jesus Christ speaks, because Jesus is God’s living Word, then the ‘hermeneutical situation’falls under the rule: ‘We do not know God against his will or behind his back, as it were, but in accordance with the way in which he has elected to disclose himself and communicate his truth’.52 Once this is grasped, then doctrines begin to do the work so frequently undertaken by anthropology or theories of historical consciousness in determining the nature of the hermeneutical situation, thereby making possible the ‘formed reference’ which is the basic mode of theological depiction. [John Webster, "Hermeneutics in Modern Theology: Some Doctrinal Reflections," Scottish Journal of Theology, 328]

In other words, modern hermeneutical proposals that seek to propound a theory of biblical interpretation that aren’t first given shape by a direct encounter with the Word (Jesus), dogmatically; will always fail to encounter Jesus for who he actually is because the interpretive event is not dominated by him, but them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Classic Calvinist thinks I need to repent: God's Impersonal Glory V. His Personal, 'In Christ'

*Here is a short post I originally wrote when I was in the midst of battling my cancer. It was given impetus by interaction I had been having, at that point, with a guy who attends The Master's Seminary (John MacArthur's seminary in Southern California). He believed (and probably still does) that I was in sin because I was having an ongoing dialogue with the LORD about my cancer; I told this fellow that at points I was angry with the LORD, and didn't understand why he would let this happen to me. This fellow thought this was a sinful response; i.e. because I was voicing my
frustration and anger with the LORD, in personal discussion with Him (the LORD), as my LORD. This guy from Master's was sure that I was harboring a sinful attitude, and thus in need of repentance. Here's that post (it was supposed to be the beginning of a series of posts, but I never got to those).

As a result of an email I recently received, I am going to do a series of posts on God’s glory and suffering — this will be a slow series, and will depend on my state of mind in the near future (in other words I am processing all kinds of stuff right now). I think it is very important to have an understanding of God’s glory that is shaped by His life of love in Christ by the Spirit. Which means that glory is not a principle outside of love and personal relationship; but in fact it is its inverse. In other words, God’s glory cares about intimate and personal details (like the sparrows or us). I’m afraid that there is thinking out there that sees “God’s glory” as an impersonal force that has nothing to do with “us;” when in fact the Incarnation says just the opposite.

In other words, what’s at stake here is how we correlate something like: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God” with Jesus Christ’s revelation of God’s glory as He ministered His life to those around Him while on earth (or even in His mediation to Israel in salvation history). I think there are competing things going on between the “Westminster Shorter Catechism’s” understanding of “glory and glorify,” and who we see revealed in Jesus Christ in the Incarnation. This will be the jumping off point for the posts ahead . . .

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Be A Participant ...

Here is an honest question; I am not trying to patronizing about this, so please don't read me that way. But why do most Christians in America (I'll pick on American Christians since these are those I have experience with) never move beyond baby Christianity? Why are most Christians okay with simply being the "laity," and not driven to cultivate the saintly status as Christian which they have been granted as a result of union with Christ? I know that fundamentalist anti-intellectualism is still highly present even in its Evangelical form, and so this might help answer my questions as far as understanding a socio-cultural aspect of this problem. But maybe the answers to my questions are more simple; maybe it is simply because most American Christians are lazy. I know, I know (tell me about it!), life is extremely busy and we have many priorities that often are used as the excuse for not digging deeper with Jesus. But this seems to be a weak excuse! Didn't Jesus tell Martha that she should be like Mary and sit at his feet; isn't this the priority that Jesus would have for us? Didn't Jesus say to seek him first and his righteousness, and all these other "priorities" will be added unto us?

Anyway, I know this sounds like a rant; but it really comes from a heart of concern! I feel like so many Christians are ripping themselves off by settling  for baby pabulum and the milk of the Gospel (cf. Heb. 5); instead of growing mature and feasting on the meat of the Gospel. There really is no excuse for this. Unfortunately, as a result of the Fall, and continuing to live in this in-between time (between the first and second Advents of Christ); knowing God in Christ involves toil and work. As we are all Priests unto God in Christ (the 'Priesthood of All Believers'), we have the responsibility and stewardship of working at our walks with Jesus. We need to move beyond the basics, and get deep and situated in the depth dimension of the wonderful reality of what it means to truly be a Christian. Don't settle for cultural Christianity, or lazy Christianity; battle on, and press into the kingdom of the Son of His love; act as if you a participant in God's life in Christ by the Spirit! Why? Well, because you are ...


Χριστος ανεστη! Resurrection and Ascension, Where Would We Be Without Him?

We just finished watching The Passion of the Christ, a very hard movie to watch! But, tonight it was fitting to watch a movie that sketched the last hours and Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Praise the LORD he did not stay dead, but He is Risen, Χριστος ανεστη! The reality of this is overwhelming, and in light of the continued plight of human suffering and angst in the world it is the only news that makes sense of any and all of this. Thomas Torrance has written this as he comments on Scottish Theologian John Knox's understanding of the Resurrection, and then Justification:

[J]ustification is regarded as importing new humanity. The resurrection means that our redemption, our salvation by the death of Christ, is carried through death and hell into the new realm, into the Kingdom where there is no possibility of defeat, decay or destruction. As believers in the death of Christ we believe that we are forgiven, while we remain in the world of sin and decay. But the Resurrection of Christ assures us that the death of Jesus, that the atonement, is not involved in any passing world of decay. Our atonement is Christ and he has by his resurrection passed beyond the read of any defeat – hence the complete finality of atonement and salvation. This resurrection imports more than the victory over death and damnation, for it establishes the fact that just as in his Incarnation the Son of God was really made man as one of us, so we are united with him in his risen humanity and may therefore ever live before God as those whose humanity has been recreated and renewed. We died when Christ died, but we rose again when he rose again.... [Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, 20-1]
This truly is worth getting up to hear; isn't it? Jesus went through tormentuous depths to bring us, his beloved into his throne room, with the Father and by the communion of the Holy Spirit. He is seated there now, for real; it all to often seems like, at least to me, that when we talk about 'Theology' and things like this that we end up thinking about all of this in abstractions, even mythically; but NO! He is risen in concrete particular historical physical bodily reality; and in this resurrected glorified body he sits always living to make intercession for us. I know that today we remember his resurrection, but this would remain incomplete without his intercession; wherein his Priestly mode of mediation ensues for us at the right hand of the Father (cf. Heb. 7:25). Torrance writes this as he reflects on hyper significance of the ascension (his points are answering the question "What did the ascension do?"):

(1) It was the completion of the Incarnation event. He who descended also ascended. The very same body which had been born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, and died was buried, ascended into heaven, for the accomplishment of all things. Thus the saving work of Christ reaches up into eternity, into the ultimate mystery of God.

(2) The union of God and man in Christ was assumed into the immediate presence of God the Father on his throne – there Christ wears our human life, and it is in our name that he is there at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, standing in for us.

(3) In our name and for our comfort he ascended to take possession of his Kingdom, to inaugurate it and enlarge it. There he is given and receives all power in heaven and on earth – there the crucified Christ sits at the right hand of power and glory.

(4) The Heavenly Session of Christ speaks of the fact that he ever lives to make intercession for us as our Advocate and High Priest and only Mediator, and prays and intercedes for us. This is the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and plays a central role in Knox's doctrine of the Lord's Supper.

(5) In his ascension Christ opened the heavens into which we may appear in him before the throne of the Father's mercy. Christ's ascension is the ground of our comfort and assurance. It is the ascended Christ who sends us his Spirit, the Comforter. Thus the full meaning of the ascension is to be discerned in relation to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. It is in this light that the Church of Christ is to be understood, as 'the blessed society which we the members have with our Head and only Mediator Christ Jesus, whom we confess and avow to be the Messiah promised, the only Head of his Kirk, our just Lawgiver, our only High Priest, Advocate and Mediator. [Torrance, Scottish Theology, 21-2]

A lot to be thankful for this resurrection morning and day and life! Not only could death not hold Jesus down, but the heavens could not but receive him into the presence of the Father for us. This is our great hope, and joy and source of deep comfort; Jesus is in the heavenlies, having ripped them open through the veil of his flesh, his broken but now glorified body. We are not orphans, and this all because He is Risen, Χριστος ανεστη!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Problem of Sin, and Its Answer: Good Friday, Holy Saturday and ...

I don't know about you, but I grow weary of sin; I (we) face an ongoing battle every breath that we take. Whether it be perverse thoughts, dark deep secrets that plague the conscience, actions that result in destruction for you and all those related to you, systemic evil that permeates the very fabric of society (this is probably most insidious since we are conditioned by it in ways that give it a normalcy and thus societal and then personal acceptance); the Apostle can relate,

23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:23, 24

 We battle on. But how do we know what we battle; how do we gauge the target, how do we even know that there is a target to hit? How do we realize that evil isn't some just mysterious lurking principle 'out there' that ultimately is outside of me, and not something that actually implicates my very being to its deepest depths---even when I engage in the evil 'out there' occasionally or situationally? How do I know, even if I can index concrete and ongoing instantiations of evil 'out there, that the evil is indeed me? And that this all encompassing wickedness and deprivation consumes my inner self, which organically shapes my outer self---since really ourselves (body/soul) are integrated wholes. In other words, I am sin to the depths, and the reason there is sin, evil, wickedness 'out there'; it is mostly because it has a context 'in here', in me. But how can I say such things, how can I ground such assertions beyond some sort of psychological intuition? We know that we are blind when the impression of light intensifies our darkness; when Jesus acts the way he does, and did, we know we are indeed blind. We come to the realization that for all our good, for all our posturing toward ourselves; that the next to the last word is that we live in a state of No, or blindness to the fact that what we see the Apostle Paul giving voice to can only come when faced with the depth of our problem as we participate in the life of Christ. The One who took our No, our blindness, and indeed our sin unto himself 'by becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him' (II Cor. 5:21). As Calvin so perceptively knew, we only truly have knowledge of ourselves (and our abysmal state), when we first have knowledge of God through Christ, God the Redeemer.

It is this that John Webster masterfully elucidates as he engages Karl Barth's vision of a christologically conditioned knowledge of sin in its most depth dimension. Let me quote Webster, who is commenting on Barth's Church Dogmatics & Ethics, and the moral anthropology embedded therein:

[B]arth's Christological determination of sin is not so much an attempt to dislocate 'theological' from 'empirical' reality, as an argument born of a sense that human persons are characteristically self-deceived. Human life is a sphere in which fantasy operates, in which human persons are not able to see themselves as they truly are. The 'man of sin'

thinks he sits on a high throne, but in reality he sits only on a child's stool, cracking his little whip, pointing with frightful seriousness his little finger, while all the time nothing happens that really matters. He can only play the judge. He is only a dilettante, a blunderer, in his attempt to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, acting as though he really had the capacity to do it. He can only pretend to himself and others that he has the capacity and that there is any real significance in his judging. (CD IV/1, p. 446.)

This theme of concealment surfaces frequently in paragraph 60 (and elsewhere). Believing ourselves to see clearly, even allowing ourselves to suppose our sight to be sharper than that of our fellows, we are blind to the reality of our own selves. Barth acutely perceives that moral earnestness frequently rests upon clouded vision and lack of self-awareness and self-distrust. And so, once again, we return to the Christological basis for the treatment of human sin: 'Compared with Him we stand there in all our corruption ... The untruth in which we are men is disclosed ... We are forced to see and know ourselves in the loathsomeness in which we find ourselves exposed and known.'

Human sinfulness, then, entails an ability to disentangle ourselves from our acts in such a way that they are no longer really ours. As Barth puts it in a passage in Church Dogmatics IV/2, we allow ourselves to believe that:

The sinful act is regrettable but external, incidental and isolated failure and defect; a misfortune, comparable to one of the passing sicknesses in which a healthy organism remains healthy and to which it shows itself to be more than equal. On this view, the individual --- I myself --- cannot really be affected by the evil action. I do not have any direct part in its loathsome and offensive character. In the last resort it has taken place in my absence. I myself am elsewhere and aloof from it. And from this neutral place which is my real home, I can survey and evaluate the evil that has happened to me in its involvement with other less evil and perhaps even good motives and elements; in its not absolutely harmful but to some extent positive effects; in its relationship to my other much less doubtful and perhaps even praiseworthy achievements; and especially in my relationship to what I see other men do or not do (a comparison in which I may not come out too badly); in short, in a relativity in which I am not really affected at bottom. I may acknowledge and regret that I have sinned, but I do not need to confess that I am a sinner.  (CD IV/2, p. 394)

These clarifications of the forms of human self-deception (which are by no means intended to underrate the ambiguity of the moral situation) are an important background to Barth's treatment of original sin. His objection to some formulations of that doctrine is, at heart, that they are deficient in their account of positive evil. And his refusal of an independent locus peccati, his rejection of anything other than a Christologically determined account of sin, is directed by precisely the same concern. Far from averting attention from evil as fact, Christology is intended to furnish a means of clarifying our vision and dissolving our illusions about our own moral integrity. [John Webster, Barth's Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth's Thought, 69-70.]

The Apostle Paul concurs with this kind of assessment about the deleterious effects of sin upon a life that knows that it only knows its true state of affairs because of the One who finally has given the last word  to our No-being by his Yes to the Father for us---viz. a Yes that is given concrete form through his death, burial, and most importantly resurrection-ascension. The Apostle Paul, with his eyes wide open, as we noted earlier, gives a final sigh of relief when he writes:

 25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:25

The Apostle knew, that he knew sin, not ultimately because of the Law; but ultimately, because of Christ who penetrated deeper than the Law could on its own---viz. into the cavernous depths of the human soul which left to itself continues to look at evil and wickedness as if its 'out there', while all along failing to realize that they've never even seen sin and evil and wickedness in its most grotesque form; that's because they've never presumed that maybe, just maybe the most insidious form of evil, in the end, dwells where they can't peer, where they dare not, in themselves.