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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, for 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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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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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?
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(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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A House of Prayer for All Nations

Picture 022

In Mark 11 we read that when Jesus entered Jerusalem — that final time — he “entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” It was a provocative thing to do. Mark tells us that this incident is one of the primary reasons the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. It was a strong protest against the way religious service was being conducted.

And, then come these remarkable words:

He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And, as I read this passage I say to myself: if that was the case then, how much more now! Our various places of worship — wherever they may be — are intended to be places of prayer for all people. They are meant to point to God. They are meant to bring people into connection with God. They are meant for all people. Is that what they are? (more…)

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Christ & Nonchristians

questioningQuestion: What do we do with the fact that there have been billions of people who died before Christ came to be among us on this earth? Or what about those who never learned about the saving power of Christ? How is it fair that these never had a chance for salvation? What guidance do the Scriptures give us on this issue, and what has the historic Church said about it?

For many years I have been fascinated by the Wesleyan theological tradition — which happens to be the theological tradition of the United Methodist Church and many other denominations. And in studying this, I discovered that the historic Methodist approach to this issue is a bit different from the ideas commonly heard in the evangelical world today.

Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu (1828-1911)

Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu (1828-1911)

As evidence I point to these paragraphs from Bishop Mallalieu’s article “Some Things That Methodism Stands For” published in 1903. He is discussing Methodist beliefs about the atonement. Bear in mind that Bishop Mallalieu’s whole thesis in this article (and the book from which it was drawn) is “back to the Bible and the Wesleys”. In the second paragraph he addresses these issues. (The bold type was added by me.)

Again, Methodism has always had a theory of the atonement. At least it has steadfastly believed that in the fall of Adam all his posterity has been disastrously affected; that moral depravity has touched every soul; that this depravity has been universal rather than total. Then it has held that the atonement is coextensive with the needs of man, and that the claims of Divine justice have been so fully satisfied that God can be just, the moral government of the universe vindicated, and at the same time all can be saved who comply with the easy terms of redemption’s plan. All prison doors are open, all chains and shackles unloosed, so that any soul may be delivered from the bondage of Satan, and come to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God.

Experimentally, Methodism, from the very first, has had a plain, practical, Scriptural faith. Starting on the assumption that salvation was possible for every redeemed soul, and that all souls are redeemed, it has held fast to the fundamental doctrine that repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are the divinely-ordained conditions upon which all complying therewith may be saved, who are intelligent enough to be morally responsible, and have heard the glad tidings of salvation. At the same time Methodism has insisted that all children who are not willing transgressors, and all irresponsible persons, are saved by the grace of God manifest in the atoning work of Christ; and, further, that all in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of him, through the Christ that died for them, though they have not heard of him. This view of the atonement has been held and defended by Methodist theologians from the very first. And it may be said with ever-increasing emphasis that it commends itself to all sensible and unprejudiced thinkers, for this, that it is rational and Scriptural, and at the same time honorable to God and gracious and merciful to man.

The basis for this view is here: (more…)

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The Goodness of God’s Creation

My current stroll through the Bible is slow enough that it allows me to notice and think about things. I’m reading about a chapter a day, and that gives me the chance to mull it over in my mind.

IFLike this:

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” — Genesis 1:31 NRSV

This verse appears at a significant place. It is a summing up statement, coming at the end of the sixth day it is also a statement about the whole world that God had created. The seventh day will be a day of rest.

So, it represents God’s evaluation of the world that has been created: “very good” (ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד).

How often I have lost this perspective of the essential goodness of the world. Part of this is my scientific background, by which I learned about the concept of entropy. Entropy is random disorder. The second law of thermodynamics asserts that natural processes favor the increase of random disorder. With the apostle Paul I have a strong sense that the world is in “bondage to decay.” (Romans 8:21 NRSV). I see the cruelty of life more often than I appreciate its beauty and wonder. I used to have trouble singing: (more…)

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Ryan Danker: What is Christian Perfection?

When I am away from the Internet, lots of good things still get posted, of course.

Like this:

Here is another video in the Seedbed 7 Minute Seminary series. This is a presentation by Dr. Ryan Danker, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity and Methodist Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Dr. Danker discusses the historical sources of John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection. This is maybe not the best first introduction to the idea.

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There is also a study guide for purchase: PDF Discussion Guide.

 

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The Secondary Role of Theology

desire-found-meIn the Introduction to his book Desire Found Me, André Rabe makes the following comment:

God and our concepts of God are not identical. God seldom, if ever, reveals concepts about himself. He simply reveals himself. Such encounters deeply transform our concepts.

Just so. Our concepts of God are conclusions people have reached from the way in which God has revealed God’s self. God does not send a theology text to the human race. God encounters people in the midst of their lives. On the basis of these experiences, conclusions are drawn. Philosophy — that is to say, our general knowledge of logic and of the world and the way it works — is drawn in to fill out the picture. But, the encounter is first.

Christians believe that the ultimate revelation of God is the Person of Jesus Christ — often called by theologians “the self-revelation of God.” But, Christ’s coming into the world was for the purpose of human redemption — for more than for human information. (more…)

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Theology as Provisional

Conservative-Evangelicals-Misunderstood-MillennialsTheology is always an interim report. It is always learning, always growing, always being revised in light of new information.

The only knowledge of the world that is available to us is probable knowledge. Everything in the world we live in is based on probability. We are forced to base our day to day decisions on what is probably true, what will probably happen, and so forth. I’m sitting in a chair. I suppose it might collapse. Any number of things might happen. A meteorite might come crashing through the window and kill me in the next few minutes. But, since neither of these things are the least bit probable, I need not worry about them — or even think about them.

I can’t wait for absolute certainty. I must act based on what I believe is likely to be true, what is likely to happen, and so forth. The Cartesian reconstruction (or Lockean reconstruction) of knowledge — arriving at certainty based on “sense experience” — is a mistaken quest. That kind of certainty is simply not available. (more…)

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Gifts of Theology to Science

Time_in_EternityThe other day I attempted to tweet a link to the following quote using the Kindle app, but the quote is (of course) too long. So, I am posting it here. This quote is from Robert John Russell’s book Time in Eternity: Pannenberg, Physics, and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction. It comes at the end of a chapter discussing Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity.

Nevertheless, Einstein’s work leaves unresolved the underlying philosophical problem of the unity of spacetime. In response my proposal is that theology can offer the needed insight to resolve this philosophical problem . My beginning point is Pannenberg’s claim that the divine eternity receives and unites distinct and separate timelike events in the world into the co-presence of eternity. I then extend this claim by suggesting that the divine omnipresence unites distinct and separate spacelike events in creation by God’s ubiquitous presence to them. Thus , while it is God’s eternity that gathers up and unites separate events in time while preserving their distinctions, it is, in my view, God’s omnipresence to and in the world that gives to the world, fragmented into individual spacelike solitary events, the underlying differentiated unity that Clarke sought unsuccessfully. And if this holds true, it is surely a promising discovery about the gifts theology has to offer as it engages creatively with the natural sciences. And it in turn is particularly indebted to the theological writings of Wolfhart Pannenberg.

Russell’s book is a detailed attempt to show how science can contribute to the theoretical models used in theology, and how theology can contribute to the theoretical models used in science.

And, he is building on the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg — who was a trailblazer in the area of science and theology.

I think this is an exciting line of thought: science can contribute to theology and theology to science in what Russell calls “creative mutual interaction.”

In the chapter that follows this, Russell defends a concept of “flowing time” as an alternative to the common “block universe” interpretation of Special Relativity. The book is tough going — not because of the writing (actually Russell writes with remarkable clarity, given the subject matter) — but because of the complexity and non-intuitive nature of the topics discussed. But, I think Christians with a background in contemporary physics — or some knowledge of it — will find this fascinating.

 

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T. A Noble: The Trinity and the Gospel

51fvsmreI-L._UY250_A quote from one of the many books I’ve been reading lately:

The great revival of trinitarian theology in the late twentieth century helped us to understand that the doctrine of the Trinity is not just one Christian doctrine among others. It is the comprehensive doctrine that gives unity to the whole Christian faith. Without it, the gospel itself collapses into incoherence. Whereas it was pretty much a dead letter in the eighteenth century, rejected by rationalists and Deists as an illogical conundrum, and held by many Christians merely as a badge of orthodoxy, it has become increasingly clear in our day that every area of Christian doctrine is illuminated and held together in unity by our confession of the Triune God.

 

One reason why it was regarded as unintelligible by rationalists and Deists, and as mere “ivory tower” theory by many believers, was that it had become separated from the story of the gospel.

— Noble, T.A. (2013-02-19). Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting (Didsbury Lecture Series) (p. 128). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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André Rabe on Mimetic Theology

I was extremely skeptical the moment I opened the package and saw the book.

desire-found-meFor some reason I signed up for Mike Morell‘s Speakeasy program. It’s one of those programs where bloggers can get free books in exchange for reviews. I don’t know what possessed me to sign up. I don’t need any free books — I have far too many already. And, I don’t review books on this blog — though I often mention books that I’m reading.

I guess my thought was that the Speakeasy books might occasionally be interesting — who knows. I didn’t lose anything by signing up, and I might occasionally be alerted to something offbeat and interesting. So, I started getting the Speakeasy emails — adding that to the growing clutter in my email inbox.

I responded to one of the offers one day. Quite a while later the book arrived. The book was Desire Found Me by André Rabe. It looked self-published to me from the moment I laid eyes on it. A note in the opening pages says that the cover art work was produced by the author’s wife Mary-Anne. My first thought: “Oh, no, I just got a book from some crackpot.” My second thought: “And I’ll have to write about it on my blog to stay in the Speakeasy program.” (“Oh well,” I thought, “small loss if I don’t.”) (more…)

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Steve Holmes: Why I Don’t Want to Win Many Arguments

Steve Holmes

Steve Holmes

Guest blog by Steve Holmes. Steve is a Baptist minister, who teaches theology in St Mary’s College in St Andrews, Scotland. He teaches in the areas of historical and systematic theology, and also on homiletics.The main areas of study are: evangelical Christianity, Baptist theology, and constructive theology. He is particularly interested in the doctrine of God, and how the Trinity relates to philosophical ideas of God in history (particularly the church fathers) and in recent theological reformulation. He is also interested in the doctrine of salvation, particularly the atonement.

Steve blogs at Shored Fragments where he explores “theology and culture from an Evangelical perspective.”

 


 

I have had a couple of conversations with (good, close, affirming, valued) friends recently in which I have been challenged to be less generous in argument: ‘truth matters, and we need to contend for it!’ – that sort of line. I confess that this makes me uncomfortable. (more…)

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