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It’s Good to Have Desires That Can’t Be Fulfilled

book cover: Awaiting GodI can’t really comment on this passage extensively, because I’m not absolutely sure I fully understand it myself:

Lovers and friends have two desires. One is to love so much that one enters the other to make a single being. The other is to love so much that with half the earthly globe between them, their union would not suffer any diminishment. Everything that we desire vainly here below is perfect and real in God. Those impossible desires are within us as a mark of our destination, and it is good for us when we don’t hope to accomplish them.

Love between God and God, which is itself God, is the link of a double virtue; this link that unites two beings to the point where they are indistinguishable and really are one soul, the link that extends itself across the distance and triumphs over an infinite separation. The unity of God where all plurality disappears, and Christ’s abandonment of belief in being found, yet without ceasing to perfectly love his Father — these are forms of divine virtue of the same love, which is God Himself.

God is so essentially love that unity, which in a sense is its actual definition, is a simple effect of love. And corresponding to the infinite virtue of unification of this love is the infinite separation over which it triumphs, which is all of creation, spread through the totality of space and time, made of brutally mechanical matter, interposed between Christ and his Father.

— Simone Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction” Awaiting God (pp. 37-38). Fresh Wind Press. Kindle Edition.

The oneness we desire in love is something we never fully experience in this life. But, it is a pointer. It points us to who we really are as beings created in the image of God. It points us to God — in whom alone are we will find the fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires. Thus, having unfulfilled desires is a good thing — and important aspect of being human.

 

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Supernatural Agent Detection (Part 2): What’s Credible?

In my previous post in this series, I talked about the theory of “anthropomorphic promiscuity” as a mechanism of supernatural agent detection among early human beings — or, you might say “hominins” if you’re a bit embarrassed about being one yourself. I said (and I am really only reacting out of my own experience about the credibility of this) that the theory seems quite credible and certainly accounts for much God-detection in our own day as well — though, I think this is mostly bad (or mistaken) God-detection.

theology-after-the-birth-of-godAs I mentioned previously, the theory can be found in atheist theologian F. LeRon Shults book Theology after the Birth of God: Atheist Conceptions in Cognition and Culture as well in several of the essays available at his web site: especially Bearing Gods in Mind and Culture, and Excavating Theogonies: Anthropomorphic Promiscuity and Sociographic Prudery in the Neolithic and Now.

Put simply, it is a “god of the gaps” view. There was an evolutionary advantage enjoyed by those early peoples who posited the existence of human-like supernatural beings to explain otherwise ambiguous aspects of human experience. So, natural selection favored those who believed in the gods.

This, by the way, is what he means by “the birth of God.” God is borne in human minds as a way of helping them to explain their life in the world — and affords them a significant survival advantage.

As a theory this works well for me in some ways — and doesn’t in others. Having said that I feel it does account for some supernatural agent detection, I wish to also indicate some ways (it seems to me) this doesn’t work. (more…)

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Supernatural Agent Detection (Part 1): At the Hymn Sing

A long time ago, while I listened to some spontaneous testimonies, I began to wonder where people get their ideas of God.

10398719_6382542789_7329_nWhen I started out in the ministry (many years ago) I served a small church in the Muskegon, Michigan area. I was young and skinny and had a major chip on my shoulder. I was convinced of the evil of all things (theologically) liberal. (You can get an idea what I looked like at the time from the picture on the left.) I was opposed to all things that smacked of clericalism, very introverted, very opinionated — thinking back on it its a wonder that the people at the Wolf Lake United Methodist Church put up with me to the extent that they did. (People that haven’t known me a long time might be surprised that I was ever like that — but I was.)

In those days the United Methodist, AME, and AME Zion Churches got together on Sunday evening once a month for a Hymn Sing. This was a lay-run event and it rotated among all the various churches involved. (It was always a big thrill for all of us at Wolf Lake UMC when it was our turn to host the Hymn Sing since it filled the sanctuary to capacity — and beyond.) (more…)

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Is The Evangelical Movement Crumbling?

Scot McKnight

On February 15, 2017 Scot McKnight posted some reflections under the title “The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?” As with a lot of things that are posted on the Internet I didn’t have time to comment on it at the time.

I’m one of those people that owes a debt of gratitude to evangelical Christianity. It was through evangelical Christians — primarily holiness and pentecostal and charismatic Christians — that I heard the Gospel of Christ and was nurtured in the faith. To be honest, I don’t really understand how Christianity can be anything other than “evangelical.” The word evangelical comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) which means “good news” and is generally translated “Gospel.” Christianity has good news to share about Christ. The desire to spread that message — with the notion that it is good news for everyone — is the evangelical impulse.

In that respect, I agree with this guy, “evangelical” is a good word: (more…)

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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?


(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.

[kad_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/BQ1KMocOCoo” ]

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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