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Is Belief in God Meritorious?

The Gospel message in the Bible assumes the existence of God. So, is belief in God, in and of itself, meritorious?

candle-tipBelief in God is basic to Christianity. The Bible never sets out to prove the existence of God — it assumes God’s existence. Yes, the apostle Paul in the book of Romans say that God’s existence can be seen from created things — but in a day and age when people talk and write (quite seriously) about self-organization in the universe, and the development of life from natural processes, this observation seems a bit less obvious than it did at the time it was written. The Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ has a lot of backstory to it. The Old Testament story of Israel is an assumption for the New Testament. The story of Jesus is understood against the backdrop of the previous story of Israel. And, what we have in the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s relationship with God. This growing and changing portrait of God lies behind all that Jesus says about his “heavenly Father.”

So, if belief in God is considered a disputed point, can the Gospel still be heard?

Or, looking at it another way: if faith in Christ is the basis of human salvation from sin and divine judgement (as generally regarded by Christians), and faith in Christ presupposes belief in God, then is belief in God itself meritorious?

Some people already believe that the issue of faith versus unbelief is the existence of God. They seem to think belief in the existence of God, per se, is the essence of Christianity — and that it somehow helps to make one a “good person.” I don’t know how many people really think like that — but it appears that some do. Yet, f0r Christians, the issue of faith is trust in Christ. We see Christ as being our way to understanding God.

Is belief in [a] God meritorious? I think the answer is No. My reasons follow. (more…)

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Why I Haven’t Had Anything to Say Lately

internet-mapLast month a Facebook acquaintance, who posts on the web as the Not So Hostile Pentecostal, had some nice things to say about this blog and web site in a post entitled Top Ten Blogs that You (Probably) Haven’t Checked Out Yet. The words of appreciation were a great encouragement to me. But it also caused me to reflect again on how silent I have become on this blog.

Here is what he said:

Commonplace Holiness is the blog of Craig L. Adams. Adams was a longtime United Methodist minister and now is a lay minister and servant at his current church, Mars Hill Bible Church. Adams is regularly a guest speaker at different United Methodist Churches and his blog still reflects the richness of the Methodistic-Wesleyan tradition. Although Adams blogs on a number of topics, I have been most interested in his thoughts on Entire Sanctification and holiness. Adams’ understanding of entire sanctification is refreshing to anyone who has only been exposed to the prideful and legalistic side of Wesleyanism. In fact, Adams is anything but legalistic or prideful. It was both Adams’ demeanor and his theological insights during our Facebook conversations that were influential in my conversion to a Wesleyan approach to sanctification. Additionally, Adams also takes old Methodist/Holiness books by authors such as Thomas C. Upham and Daniel Steele, and that are no longer in print (and are now in public domain), and types them out into an electronic format so that they are available for free to anyone.  If you want to check out some great posts from a progressive Wesleyan and the people who have fed his soul, check out Commonplace Holiness here: http://craigladams.com/blog/

Lately I’ve mostly gone silent on this blog. It’s nice to know that those old posts have been helpful to him — and I suppose they may also have been to others. However, for a long time now I have been overcome by a sense that I just don’t have anything to say right now. I especially to do not have any strong desire to convince anyone of anything. And, that (I’m afraid) really does drive a lot of blogging — at least in the Christian world.

There are reasons that I feel I have nothing to say: some unresolved issues in my own mind. And, some of them are things I can identify and talk about a bit. So, here goes. (more…)

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A Discipline of Consecration and Listening

prayer4I made a small change to my morning prayers. It’s a response to some of the things I’ve been reading lately. There are two issues that came to mind — consecration and openness.

I noticed that Phoebe Palmer — in her letters — emphasized not only the need for a particular moment of consecration and faith in a believer’s life, but also the need to remain in that consecrated state. This got me to thinking that praying a prayer of consecration in the morning would be a good idea — a way of reminding myself whose I am, and whose goals I am seeking. Thomas C. Upham discussed the Christian’s prayer of consecration here: On the Act or Covenant of Religious Consecration — and he includes an impressive (and lengthy) prayer written by Philip Dodderidge (1729-17510). I was wondering how I could include a Prayer of Consecration in my morning devotions — which, due to circumstances, are sometimes rather rushed. I was looking for something simple, but something that would seriously address the issue. (more…)

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Ingenuity Comes from God

From my daily Bible reading:

IF“And you shall speak to all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill, that they make Aaron’s vestments to consecrate him for my priesthood.” — Exodus 28:3 NRSV.

Comments by Adam Clarke (17601832) in his Bible commentary:

“So we find that ingenuity in arts and sciences, even those of the ornamental kind, comes from God. It is not intimated here that these persons were filled with the spirit of wisdom for this purpose only; for the direction to Moses is, to select those whom he found to be expert artists, and those who were such, God shows by these words, had derived their knowledge from himself. (more…)

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Thomas Jay Oord Talks About His Forthcoming Book

I recently mentioned Thomas Jay Oord’s new book, coming out in December of this year: The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence.

Dr. Oord has produced a video discussing the themes of the book:

 

I agree with him that God’s love is not controlling. (See: God as the Great AntiTyrant.)

 

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Obedience and Faith

From my daily Bible reading:

IF“The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”” — Exodus 24:12 NRSV.

“Obedience and faith are tightly bound together. Here, the Israelites, having been freed from slavery by God’s gracious action, trust God as their God and pledge to live out that trust by obeying God’s commands. Obedience, like faith, is a response to what God has already done for us. It is the evidence of our love toward God (2 John 6). Obedience is living “by faith” (2 Cor 5:7), and “faith working through love”(Gal 5:6). There is no real faith without obedience, and no real obedience without faith. Disobedience springs from a lack of trust in God—a lack of faith. We disobey when we trust in things, in others, or in ourselves and act accordingly. Obedience, on the other hand, is visible faith—a testimony to God’s reign. Obedience is God’s will being done by us “on earth as it’s done in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10).”

— Comments from The Wesley Study Bible.

 

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God Speaks From the Burning Bush

From my daily Bible reading:

IF“Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”” — Exodus 3:3-5 NRSV. 

“Despite Moses’ earlier failures and exile in Midian, Moses encounters God on God’s mountain in the form of a fiery bush. God declares the intent to deliver Israel from Egypt and commissions Moses as ambassador. This encounter is powerful and dynamic as Moses meets the real presence of the God of Israel. Yet the narrative is relational and conversational. The action moves forward in response to Moses’ five objections about God’s commissioning him. God remains resolute in his calling of Moses, but the dialogue displays patience with Moses. The implication is clear: the God of Israel is profoundly relational. God desires vital relationships with God’s people. Part of God’s relational character is self-giving nature: God reveals elements of his character and nature in response to Moses’ inquiries. Moreover, this text offers reflection on the nature of a divine call. Moses is needed for the service of God. There will be profound loss in God’s plan without Moses, but God’s call here is not primarily coercive” (more…)

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God Heard Their Groaning

From my daily Bible reading:

IFAfter a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.” — Exodus 2:23-25 NRSV.

“God remembered his covenant. God’s covenant is God’s engagement; he had promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give their posterity a land flowing with milk and honey, &c. They are now under the most oppressive bondage, and this was the most proper time for God to show them his mercy and power in fulfilling his promise. This is all that is meant by God’s remembering his covenant, for it was now that he began to give it its effect.” (more…)

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Thomas Oord Solves the Problem of Evil

Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay Oord has a new book coming out in December of this year: The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. I’ve been reading a pre-publication version of the book and I can tell you that it is well written, engaging and well worth reading.

Dr. Oord is the best known theologian in the Church of the Nazarene — a conservative denomination in the Wesleyan tradition. He has written and edited several books including: The Nature of Love: A Theology, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement, Renovating Holiness, The Polkinghorne Reader: Science, Faith, and the Search for Meaning, Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science, and many others. He is a well known advocate of Open Theism — which he calls Open and Relational theology.

I have been appreciative of Dr. Oord’s work for some time — because of his interest in the issues at the interface of science and theology — and because of his commitment to the Wesleyan tradition. I’ve always been a bit reluctant to fully embrace Open Theism but that may just be my own intransigence. Certainly there are many advantages to this point of view — which Dr. Oord ably demonstrates in his new book. (more…)

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The Collapse of the Pannenberg Project?

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Recently I posted these remarks about the theological developments in the thought of F. LeRon Shults and Philip Clayton — two gifted theologians who were also students of Wolfhart Pannenberg:

This also seems to signal the total collapse of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s theological program. In light of the developments in the thought of his students, Philip Clayton and F. LeRon Shults, it now appears that it eventuates in either a flaccid Christian neo-liberalism (see: The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith) or outright atheism (Theology after the Birth of God: Atheist Conceptions in Cognition and Culture). What Pannenberg intended as a call for Christians to engage in the realms of science and learning has become either a strategic retreat or a complete reversal.

I got a little push-back on this (which I appreciate) and I thought it might be good to say a little more about what I mean by this. (more…)

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Mercy, Not Sacrifice

From my daily Bible reading:

IFBut when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”” — Matthew 9:12-13 NRSV.

They that be whole need not a physician. A common proverb, which none could either misunderstand or misapply. Of it the reader may make the following use:—1. Jesus Christ represents himself here as the sovereign Physician of souls. 2. That all stand in need of his healing power. 3. That men must acknowledge their spiritual maladies, and the need they have of his mercy, in order to be healed by him. 4. That it is the most inveterate and dangerous disease the soul can be afflicted with to imagine itself whole, when the sting of death, which is sin, has pierced it through in every part, infusing its poison every where. (more…)

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Ben Witherington on “Rapture Theology”

I have written on the topic of “Rapture Theology” — more properly called Dispensationalism — before. But, in case you doubt my perspective — or want further reinforcement of it — here are some videos from the Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seedbed that discuss this topic.

Dr. Ben Witherington III, a well known conservative New Testament scholar discusses the history of Dispensationalism and it’s interpretation of Scripture. I have included three videos by Dr. Witherington.

Where Did Rapture Theology Come From?

(more…)

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The Sermon on the Mount

From my daily Bible reading:

IF“Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching,  for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” —  Matthew 7:28-29 NRSV.

“Wesley preached extensively on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7), calling the teaching of Jesus found within it “the sum of all true religion” (Sermon 21: “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount,” §I.1). The church’s history of applying the sermon to the Christian life has fallen between two positions: first, as an ethic for the kingdom of God to be fulfilled in the future heaven; and second, as a description for the way things should be now in the present church age. This dual distinction has also led some to identify with Matthew’s more spiritualized teaching of the sermon (“happy are people who are hopeless,” 5:3) and others with Luke’s more sociopolitical expression (“Happy are you who are poor,” 6:20). For John Wesley, the Sermon on the Mount was to be a backdrop for the social ethic of the New Creation, and he used it to support the Christian’s involvement in building the Kingdom of God on earth as well as in heaven.” (more…)

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An Atheist Theologian

One of my (formerly) favorite writers on philosophical theology has become an atheist.

And, I’m not altogether sure how I feel about that.

411Rqlp-VNL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In the early part of June I was at a get together for a couple I know from the church we attend. There were a lot of people there and I got into conversation with some of them. In one of those conversations I recommended  (as I often have) the writings of F. LeRon Shults, who teaches theology in Norway and has written several books I have read and appreciated. (The ones I’ve read are: The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology, Faces of Forgiveness, Transforming Spirituality, Reforming the Doctrine of God.) I’ve got two more titles on my Kindle — which I was going to read — but now I’m not so sure. If I am remembering correctly, in Reforming the Doctrine of God Shults identified himself as being both “evangelical” and “reformed.” I’m okay with the “evangelical” part — especially since there is a rather broad tent for some of us who like that designation — and quite a bit less so with the “reformed” part. Nevertheless, I’ve never felt any hesitation recommending his writings.

The incident in June  struck me funny the next day — when I discovered that Shults had since written two (quite expensive) books advocating atheism. (They are: Theology after the Birth of God: Atheist Conceptions in Cognition and Culture and Iconoclastic Theology: Gilles Deleuze and the Secretion of Atheism.) It struck me funny because I figured either (1.) I’ll never be at a gathering of people I know from church where I recommend his books again (which is a bit sad), or, (2.) I’ll never again be at a gathering of people I know from church (that is to say: I may need new friends). (more…)

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Pouring Out the Soul Unto God

From my daily Bible reading:

IFAnd whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” — Matthew 6:5-6 NRSV.

“προσευχη, prayer, is compounded of προς with, and ευχη a vow, because to pray right, a man binds himself to God, as by a vow, to live to his glory, if he will grant him his grace, &c. ευχομαι signifies to pour out prayers or vows, from ευ well, and χέω, I pour out; probably alluding to the offerings or libations which were poured out before, or on the altar. A proper idea of prayer is, a pouring out of the soul unto God, as a free-will offering, solemnly and eternally dedicated to him, accompanied with the most earnest desire that it may know, love, and serve him alone. He that comes thus to God will ever be heard and blessed. Prayer is the language of dependence; he who prays not, is endeavoring to live independently of God: this was the first curse, and continues to be the great curse of mankind. In the beginning, Satan said, Eat this fruit; ye shall then be as God; i. e. ye shall be independent: the man hearkened to his voice, sin entered into the world, and notwithstanding the full manifestation of the deception, the ruinous system is still pursued; man will, if possible, live independently of God; hence he either prays not at all, or uses the language without the spirit of prayer. (more…)

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