Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (4/28)

  • Jerry Bowry argues that the modern seminary system is broken and we are facing The Seminary Bubble. Although his criticisms focused primarily on mainline seminaries, I found this comment particularly interesting:

Historian and sociologist Rodney Stark finds that the historical pattern fits the current one. Decentralized church systems with a history of less formal schooling historically outperform top-heavy ones with heavy academic requirements.

Admittedly, Austen’s world is idealized, yet consider this: who would you prefer your daughter to bring home? 1) a young man whose sexual imagination has been formed by Jane Austen along with Homer, Virgil, The Song of Solomon, Dante, and Shakespeare or 2) a young man who has spent the last ten years of his life fantasizing about women whose images he has objectified and consumed through pornography?

In light of this reality, Warren is only capable of talking about such social relationships and the nature of social injustice as sin in terms of the abstract.  The concrete reality of unjust relationships does not become part of his discussion because his theological language is not apt to describing relationships in terms of power.  Warren’s silence on the issues of racial and economic justice is indicative of the silence of many European-American churches that choose to remain quiet while instances such as the hanging of nooses in public spaces continues to occur; thus, churches with predominantly minority members are left to shoulder the burden alone in confronting domestic terrorism.

The fact is, there never was a golden age of the church. The New Testament church was just as messed up as the 21st century church. And I take that as an encouragement rather than a rebuke from the past. The early church was full of greedy, bickering, sinful people who did not get along with each other, did not listen to their leaders and even split off from one another when disagreements became too heated. And sometimes their leaders said bad things about each other. Let’s not forget that all of Paul’s opponents were not non-believers, but followers of Jesus who happened to disagree with the apostle. Not unlike what we experience today.

The new universalism is not the old universalism. Fair enough. But those of us who reject even the new universalism aren’t gleeful about it. We might even wish it were otherwise. But we also recognize that even our wishes, hopes, and desires need discipline.


Flotsam and jetsam (3/25)

I’ve been on a mini blog sabbatical the last couple of days. It’s spring break around here. And, while I never actually take time off for spring break, I do use it to get caught up on all the projects that have been piling up around my office. It’s my version of spring cleaning. But, here are a couple of interesting posts from the last few days.

I have seen evidence of three characteristics that seem to pass as virtues today. In some parts of the Christian world, these are now embraced as Christian virtue: doubt, opaqueness, and an emphasis on asking rather than answering questions.

That is, people become Universalists because they need to, not because it’s true.   All who become Universalists do so because they fear the consequences of their loved one’s rejection of salvation.

No doubt, some Christians get worked up over the smallest controversies, making a forest fire out of a Yankee Candle. But there is an opposite danger–and that is to be so calm, so middle-of-the-road, so above-the-fray that you no longer feel the danger of false doctrine. You always sound analytical, never alarmed. Always crying for much-neglected conversation, never crying over a much-maligned cross. There is something worse than hurting feelings, and that is trampling upon human hearts.

The temptation to idolatry is multifaceted and ever-present, and therefore must be fought without respite.Harmonizing Keller, Wright, Beale, and Scripture leads us to three antidotes: (1) the identification of idols and their attractions; (2) the embrace of the gospel and its idol-destroying promises; and (3) the worship and imitation of the One True God rather than false gods.

It is sometimes stated that the life of the historical Jesus ends with his death, and there is a sense in which this is true. Historical study can only provide access to the human life of Jesus, and his human life, like all human lives, ended when he died. The resurrection per se is not an event like other events in human history, and for this reason cannot be studied with the tools of historical study, either to confirm it or deny it. This does not mean, however, that one cannot attempt to evaluate the historicity of some of the events mentioned in the stories that also include details connected with the rise of Christian belief in the resurrection.

  • Roger Olson has an excellent post on what he means by “the new fundamentalism,” the growing “via media” between traditional fundamentalism and post WWII evangelicalism.

What I see emerging, that in my opinion is not being recognized by most evangelical leaders, is a third way–a via media between movement fundamentalism and the postfundamentalist evangelicalism.  People from movement fundamentalism are emerging out of their isolation into this third way and calling it “conservative evangelicalism.”  People from postfundamentalist evangelicalism are adopting this third way and calling it “conservative evangelicalism.”

Before you criticize, be sure you understand the person and perspective with which you are taking issue. If you lack understanding you are essentially picking a fight with an opponent who does not exist. You’ll make a lot of noise, sell a few books, or attract people to your blog, but your criticism lacks wisdom and integrity.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/26)

Do you see it? We have an immense propensity to take the gospel and turn it into law. We love to take good and turn it into chains. Why do we do that?

If election were solely based on what God wanted and not anything in us that might differentiate the chosen from the un-chosen and thus account for why this one and not another, why didn’t God choose all? If he could have, why didn’t he?

While there is more we could expand on here, the question of the hour is this: If Satan is so evil and “anti-God” why did God put Satan in the Eden? While there is no way to know what would have happened had he not been present, it is evident from the narrative and the ensuing curse that Satan played a big part in the fall.

According to Leithart, water baptism has “virtually unbelievable powers” that makes someone a member of Christ instead of Adam, turns someone into a member of Christ’s body, and brings someone into acceptance with God.

Flotsam and jetsam (12/13)

  • Roger Olson argues that Arminianism and Calvinism are “incommensurable” systems that should not be viewed as occupying different places on the same spectrum:

On the crucial issues of the nature of God’s election to salvation, the extent of the atonement and whether grace is resistible or irresistible  (the three main ideas that divide Calvinism and Arminianism) the divide between any and every version of Calvinism and any and every version of Arminianism is deep and wide.  So much so that it is really not possible to put them on the same spectrum.

  • Cynthia Nielsen reflects on Foucault’s understanding of “biopower” and its significance for understanding (post)modern society and the (post)modern self.

With the transition from the ancient and medieval monarchical model of absolute power to the modern model of biopower, power is no longer centralized around the person of the king but is distributed in a net-like fashion operating, invading, and permeating the social body far more efficiently and effectively than the previous model.

Okay, maybe Calvinism doesn’t lead to universalism inexorably–as if every Calvinist must become a universalist.  However, many leading universalist theologians are/were Reformed and believed that their Calvinist concepts of God’s sovereignty eventually compelled them to embrace universalism.

Can Brian McLaren answer three simple questions? Apparently not.

In an interesting video interview, Scot McKnight tries to pin Brian McLaren down and get him to just say what he believes about several key issues. As McKnight points out, a frustrating theological ambiguity pervades most of McLaren’s writing: “Some of us detect a provocative ambiguity while others wonder if there is not deliberate refusal to clarify your views.” So, he tries to get McLaren to offer clear responses to the following three questions (the questions are a bit longer, but I pared them down to their main point):

  1. Why not just come out and tell people what you believe?
  2. Are you really orthodox?
  3. Are you a universalist?

McLaren’s answer to the first question was his best answer. He thinks people find the ambiguity frustrating because they are heresy hunters and just want to see if he agrees with their checklist of theological truths. This is unfortunately true much of the time. And, he points out that ambiguity and misdirection can be powerful literary devices, and can cause people to think more deeply about issues than a straightforward presentation would. Of course, this doesn’t explain why he can’t seem to be clear no matter what he’s writing, but it was a good point nonetheless.

His second answer was frustratingly evasive. He affirms the “faith” of the early church (e.g. their attitude of dependence, humility, worship), but rejects “the Greco-Roman narrative,” which he thinks repeatedly (though not necessarily) leads to oppression and violence. He sees himself as exploring ways of articulating Christianity in new cultural contexts by exploring alternative theological narratives in the tradition of Patrick, Francis of Assisi, the Anabaptists, the social Gospel movement, and the liberation/feminist theologians. But, he offers absolutely no  help in understanding the content of these other narratives and how they relate to the content of the Greco-Roman narrative. Presumably he wouldn’t continue to use Chalcedonian language to describe the incarnation. Fine. What language would he use? And how does the conceptual framework inherent in that language relate to the conceptual framework operating at Chalcedon? He still doesn’t say.

His answer to the third question was just annoying. He basically rejects the question. He affirms that there is an afterlife, but he argues that the question presumes an us/them and in/out mentality that he rejects. And, he contends that the Bible is far more concerned about God’s will being done on earth than on whether people go to hell. And, I’d actually agree with him on both of these points. But, none of that means that the question doesn’t make sense (which he claims). If we are alive now and if we will be alive in the future (whatever this future life looks like), then it is perfectly legitimate to ask about the nature of that existence. And, even though people going to Hell is not a dominant theme in the Bible, it is a theme. McLaren basically just uses some shifty language to dodge the question…again.

So, despite McKnight’s attempts to pin him down, McLaren continues to dodge important questions. I agree with him completely that people should not focus on these theological issues to the neglect of the important social problems that he mentions. But, this should not be an either/or. You can engage a broken world with mercy and compassion, while still speaking clearly about what you believe. At least I think I can. Apparently McLaren can’t.

Here’s the whole interview.


Flotsam and jetsam (6/27)

  • InternetMonk has weighed in on the the recent discussions regarding BioLogos and evolution. He argues that we should affirm the overall mission of BioLogos regardless of whether we should agree with their stance. And he takes Al Mohler, John MacArthur, and Phil Johnson to task for what he thinks is a reactionary and unnecessarily polemical response to BioLogos
  • Brian posted a couple of good quotes from Forsyth and Warfield on why academic study should be viewed as a spiritual practice.
  • Richard Beck has a post on George MacDonald’s view of justice, hell, and the atonement, and why MacDonald’s argument convinced him to be a universalist. I may post a more extended reflection on this one later if I get some time.
  • Apparently Kevin Costner’s oil cleanup idea wasn’t as much of a joke as it sounded at first.
  • And, the 2010 Lotus Award winners (science fiction) have been announced. I haven’t read any of these yet. Has anyone else?

Gregory of Nyssa on the Trinity

The current issue of the Review of Biblical Literature contains a very nice review of a new book from Brill on Gregory of Nyssa’s Ad Ablabium. Those of you from the Greek Fathers class will remember (maybe) that this is a key text for understanding Gregory’s trinitarian theology, and consequently it is a key text for understanding Nicene theology as a whole. The book itself, Trinity and Man: Gregory of Nyssa’s Ad Ablabium, might be a little out of your price range ($138 on Amazon), but the review is fairly thorough, dealing briefly with such issues as social trinitarianism and apophaticism, with a more extended discussion of whether Gregory was a universalist. If you’re interested in Gregory of Nyssa in general or this work in particular, the review is worth your time.