The Journey of a Postmodern Christian

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Quote of the Week 1:

The following quote is from Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf. I found it very appropriate as we reflect on the horrors of September 11.

“The memory of sin must be kept alive for a while, as long as it is needed for repentance and transformation to occur. But then it must be let die, so that the fractured relationship of the divine mother and her all too human child may be fully healed. The memory of offense, sustained beyond repentance, clouds both the memory of past love and the vision of future reconciliation. The loss of this memory—the memory of iniquities—brings back the child into the mother’s arms, already outstretched toward it because she would not lose the memory of their embrace”

God may we find your peace within your embrace.

The Journey Of Paul in Greece: Athens, Delphi, and Corinth

Well, many of you might have gathered from the title that I am in Greece traveling with the a group of Hardin-Simmons University Honors students around Greece. We will be here for 10 days and be traveling to all the places that Paul journeyed. We started our tour in Corinth standing in the same place that Paul stood where he was accused in Acts 18 by Gallio. That was pretty awesome experience to stand the same place as Paul. Despite my differences on how Paul sometimes comes across it was still exhilarating to be in the same spot as the man who brought Christianity to the European world. We then traveled to Athens to see the Acropolis and Mars Hill. Both are located on the top of the mountain looking over Athens. The Acropolis despite its damage is truly a remarkable sight. To think that both Plato and Aristotle and Paul both walked on the same ground that I did was truly breathtaking.

Today we left Athens and traveled to the Oracle at Delphi. Here we know is where Socrates got his famous words that he was the wisest man on earth because he knew that he knew nothing and that he is to know thy self. This is the philosophical view that would change the Western world. Socrates in many ways is the beginning of Western philosophy and culture. (Forgive me for those who love the early philosophers such as Pythagoras, Thales etc) The trip so far has been very enlightening and has help me understand how rich Greece’s history is. While I might be postmodern in almost all respects, it is still a wondrous experience to walk in the same places that Paul, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato walked. I truly thankful that I am able to be in this wonderful place. More to follow soon. Just wanted to write a quick response.  I am hoping to write more soon.

Scripture in Theology

Recently I have kind of been made fun of because of some of my comments on Scripture and how I approach their interpretation. So I am going to write this blog post to kind of define some of my views of Scripture and revelation so I don’t get the awkward “You don’t believe in Scripture” look anymore.
First, I believe that the Holy Scriptures are useful and are foundational for the Christian life. Without the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament documents the Christian religion has no footing. In saying this I want to also affirm that Scripture is a witness to God. Notice I say witness and not revelation. I take here a Barthian (Karl Barth) view of Scripture and divine revelation. Scripture is not the divine revelation within itself, but rather is a witness to the divine revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the full revelation of who God is. Scripture in turn points and reveals Christ to us. This in turn means that Scripture can contain errors in “factual” historical accounts. In saying that the Bible is not a fact book. It is not a book of propositions that we can probe to fit our specific theological doctrines. It is humans interacting with the divine revelation of God and interpreting it through their own understandings. Scripture is interpreted. Life is interpreted. This is the basics of hermeneutics. You can’t read the Bible without interpreting it. The early church knew this that is why they developed allegorical interpretation along with the host of other interpretations. Now I am not saying we go back to an allegorical reading of the Scriptures. If you read Augustine and some of his crazy understandings of Scripture you will understand what I mean. What I am trying to get at is that Scripture just like the rest of our life is an act of interpretation. In saying that we can have differentiating views of how the Scriptures speak to our lives. Even my oh so favorite theologian Calvin (That is sarcasm if you didn’t get that) had a strong view that the Holy Spirit led the interpretation of Scripture. Scripture is not meant to be fact book or a science book. It is a living breathing Book that reveals what the people of Israel and the early church thought about God.  That doesn’t mean that Scripture is the end all of all doctrinal ideas. Let me expand on that idea.

I uphold something usually referred to as progressive revelation. Basically this means that I think that God continues to open the eyes of humanity through there own studies and faculties to new understandings of who God is. In saying that it doesn’t mean that we can have just any interpretation. I strongly believe that if you claim to be apart of Christian faith then the Scriptures are the starting point from which theology must begin and in some ways end. I can’t for instance say that God is hateful God who just wants to damn everyone (I mean everyone even the elect, I am not making a jab at Calvinists  here I promise.) to Hell. That I would say goes against Scripture in 1 John saying that God is love. Yet I think it is perfectly acceptable to say that God suffers which in the early church would be considered heresy, not because the Bible said this outright, but rather because of much of the Greek worldview that Christianity was placed into said that God or the divine could not suffer.   God suffering is just one example of how one could interpret progressive revelation.

So there are just a few ideas about Scripture. Feel free to leave me a comment. I would love this to be a discussion.

Faith and Doubt: My Response

Last week I posted on how doubt for many Christians is a burden that they must eliminate or at the very least seek to overcome. I want to purpose in this post that faith and doubt cannot exist without each other. The two are paradoxically linked together. Paul Tillich in his book Dynamics of Faith shows how doubt is an integral part of faith, for without doubt faith sinks into blind belief. Without the presence of doubt there is never a sense that what has been taught or realized as “belief” is evaluated. I don’t want to say here that all faith actions and its dynamics have to be empirically proven or tested rather that we do not uncritically take in just blind belief. Paul Ricoeur discusses this movement when he describes the hermeneutic  arc. The process of moving through the critical stage into a new understanding or a second naïveté. This I believe is what the power and presence of doubt can do in the life of a Christian.

If doubt then is necessary for the Christian faith why are some many lay people terrified of their doubt? Why are so many pastors proclaiming from the pulpit that doubt should be eliminated? Why are those who express doubts in their Christian walk and life branded either as heretics, or  lacking in some spiritual discipline? The answer I fear has more to do with our modernist heritage than it does with real authentic Christian faith. Modernism defined knowledge and truth to be clearly defined. Descartes often said to be the founder of Modernity wanted a clear and distinct way of knowing which he found in “pure reason”, this is often referred to as Cartesian certainty.  This is the foundation of much of what we say faith is in this day and age.

What if we reinterpreted the biblical passages of strong doubt into positive aspects in the faith journey? Instead the degrading “Doubting Thomas” we saw this narrative as a way for which Thomas to continue in his faith journey. Doubt is apart of the Christian life and should be a integral step in the faith journey.Selfishly I am writing this post because I am kind of tired of being labeled a crazy heretic or liberal or whatever title you want to give me. I guess it is my hope that one day I can approach my fellow sister or brother in Christ and not be condemned for my theology or beliefs, but rather be welcomed and may the same be true of me.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Faith and Doubt

Sorry about posting late this week I have been incredibly busy and have not had much time to think about a topic so this will probably be a short post. I did however get to teach a Doctrine of God class this week which was very exciting. No sure how the students took it, but I really enjoyed it. It was during this time of preparing for the lecture and listening to the students talk about the subjects that I began to reflect on the what it means to have doubt within the Christian faith. From my upbringing doubt was always taught to be something you avoided at all costs. Faith meant that you believed with the absence of doubt. We read in the Bible about the faith stories of both Peter and Thomas and their respective encounters with doubt and with faith. Traditional interpretations usually consider these two individuals to have doubted Jesus in some fashion and then because of Jesus call or appearing their doubt is erased. My concern here is what does it mean when a Christian follower has doubts. Does this mean she or he is unfaithful? Does it mean that they just need to trust God more? What happens if we are doubting the very existence of God? How can you trust God more? I find these questions troubling especially from my own spiritual walk, because I have been branded a heretic, a radical, a liberal whatever for questioning and doubting certain beliefs.

So how should the Christian handle doubt? This is my question. I hope to follow-up with my own thoughts later.

Love Wins Review

I recently finished Love Wins by Rob Bell and wanted to give my account of the book. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was a fast read and typical of Bell’s style. I first want to say that nowhere did I see him step out of the realms of historical orthodoxy. He may stretch some of what “typical” evangelicals might say, but I would say he is well within the Christian faith. I read an interesting article by the president of Fuller Seminary you can read his blog here. He has one of the best understandings of orthodoxy that I have heard of in a long time. Finally on to Bell’s book.

I want to start out with some of the positive things I saw in his book and then move into some critiques that I had. First, the book is typical of Bell’s engaging style of both speaking and writing. While at time the repetition of phrases got to me I was impressed at how well Bell uses this style of writing. It may not have appealed to me specifically, reading too many academic theological texts might have influenced that, but I honestly respect his style. Throughout the book Bell throws in some clever and always helpful pastoral funnies like this, “I’ve heard pastors answer, “It will be unlike anything we can comprehend, like a church service that goes on forever,” causing some to think, “That sounds more like hell.” I actually started laughing out loud at this. Ultimately, I think Bell is making a very solid point when he discusses heaven and hell. Bell concludes that both are active in our world here and now. You can see here his influence by writers such as N.T. Wright in his famous and spectacular book Surprised by Hope and C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. I highly recommend reading these books. It completely changed how I viewed the afterlife and also how we approach Christian mission, but I digress. Bell’s argument follows the line that heaven is here on earth and we as Christians and people who may not claim Christianity are called by God to actively seek to bring heaven to earth. This does not mean that Bell doesn’t believe in a literal afterlife, he may or may not I couldn’t really get a feel from the book, but even to ask that question is to miss his point entirely. Bell states, “Our eschatology shapes our ethics. Eschatology is about last things. Ethics are about how you live. What you believe about the future shapes, informs, and determines how you live now.” I don’t think there is a truer statement in Bell’s entire book. Basically his discussion of bringing hope, life, and resurrection to the least of these is spot on. His discussions of hell was very interesting. I say that because I am not sure what to think yet, I am still mulling over his thought in my head. I was especially impressed with his chapter 7 of his book which really came to focus on the detriment of talking of a violent God. Bell states,

“Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer. This is crucial for our peace, because we shape our God, and then our God shapes us. Inquisitions, persecutions, trials, book burnings, blacklisting—when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent. We see this destructive shaping alive and well in the toxic, venomous nature of certain discussions and debates on the Internet. For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do”

This to me was deeply powerful. This to me is the heart of what can be a problem of ultra-conservative evangelical theology; it can promote a view of God that is violent, wrathful and unloving. This is not the biblical or theological witness of who God is. Christianity is not about violence it’s not about getting it right doctrinally or anything else, it is about love. The Christian life is not even about going to heaven; it is about bringing others into a loving relationship with God, with themselves and with others. This is the power of gospel and of the work of the cross and resurrection is redeeming the world and bringing all of creation into God. This I think is where Bell’s book contributes most effectively to the ongoing conversation.

Now onto some of my criticisms. I first want to say that while I am going to harp on Bell on a couple of things they are mostly from my own theological stance and more reflect my readings of Moltmann, liberation theology and my deeply Trinitarian understanding of all of Christian doctrine. With that lets jump in, Love is not just freedom. This phrase is used so much in the book it kind of became annoying. While love does give freedom it also restricts “freedom” as well. In marriage or even a close friendship there is not the freedom to go and do anything you want, because of the relationship you are defined to a certain aspect of principles and ideas for that relationship to exist. I think Bell would agree to this point, but it is not really described well in his book. I get hesitant around the word freedom, because it seems more to convey the liberal idea of absolute and autonomous freedom of the individual. In saying this I was concerned at how little Bell talked about the church being an influence in creating correct pictures of God. He was clear on how it could distort it, but I wanted perhaps a little more reconstruction on how the church could change our perceptions of a “violent God.” Bells discussion on hell was also kind of interesting, like I have said I have not completely made up my mind on it yet so I am not going to give an opinion, but I am leaning towards Tony Jones’s discussion of post structuralism, you can read his discussion here. I am not sure if Bell is a strong Trinitarian, but I find Moltmann’s discussion of Trinitarian panentheism and universalism much more compelling. Moltmann here uses the idea of perichoresis, the interpenetration of the three persons of the Trinity to create the basis for the Triune relationship. Thus then the very basis of relationship is the inter love between the three. John Zizioulas a Greek Orthodox theologian in his book Being and Communion describes the ontological necessity of humanity to be found in relationship to the Triune God and relationship towards others. Thus if we are to talk about love we have to talk about it as relationship. While I don’t want to go too far into a theological rabbit trail, I find this line of thought deeply compelling which is kind of in contrast to Bell’s and others discussion of individual freedom.

These are a few of my thoughts I am planning on writing some more on the subject of Trinity and Christian universalism.

Love Wins Preliminary Response

I want to give a preliminary response to Rob Bell’s discussion of his new book Love Wins. First, I have not read the book yet so my response is chiefly from his interview on livestream. You can check it out here. I am purchasing the book today (because my wife said I could :) ) and will be do another response to the book in full.

My thoughts concerning Bell’s new book are similar to the thoughts I posted on it in a Facebook dialogue when the controversy first came out. Ultimately, I think Bell is reaching out and asking some very good and provocative questions. As I guessed he does not give direct answers, but rather leaves them open for people to think about. He did firmly say that he is not a universalist which I am somewhat glad mainly so he can’t come under any criticism for leaving that open. Bell’s description of a God that forces people into heaven even if they do not want to be there,  is I think an accurate statement. If that is what universalism is then it is not a God of love. I was impressed at how he handled many of the questions that were posed to him and ultimately thought he gave some very powerful pastoral answers. In me saying that does not in any way diminish his responses, in some ways they may be better than high academic answers about theodicy, because they are actually grounded in real human suffering and pastoral care. For me Bell is not saying anything new or really that heretical. I count myself as pretty orthodox in many of my beliefs (friends always joke that I am the crazy orthodox one in our group) and I do find anything extremely heretical in Bell’s statement. He flatly denies being a universalist and his other comments are no different from what many others, people like N.T. Wright have said. I do want to highlight a couple of big points that I think we should take note of.

  1. How we talk about heaven and hell directly impacts how we talk about God.
  2. Orthodoxy is a wide not narrow. Even the church fathers who are the most notorious for labeling heretics understand that there can be difference of opinion.
  3. Christian descriptions of the Gospel or Good News are not chiefly about believing a set of propositions or certain dogmatic truths, these are important, but the Christian life is meant to be lived in communion with other people.

These are my first thoughts. More will come soon.

 

Grace and Peace

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