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Christian Perfection as an Ecumenical Doctrine

holiness-sign-imageThe doctrine of Christian Perfection is often understood to be a Wesleyan or Methodist distinctive. It is something that is taught (or at least mentioned — albeit sometimes with embarrassment) in those Christian circles which have been influenced by the teachings of Wesley. It has sometimes been viewed as a Wesleyan oddity — even by those within the Wesleyan tradition itself.

But, I think we need to take a new look at that. Wesley didn’t understand himself to be teaching something new. He understood himself to be re-affirming something taught in the Scriptures and repeated in the teachings of the early Church Fathers. (more…)

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What is Prayer?

prayer&candleIdeally, all the Christian life is lived in an attitude of prayer. The apostle Paul says: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NRSV). Prayer is to be infused into all we do.

Nevertheless, it is helpful to get some basic, rudimentary idea of what prayer essentially is. So, the following reflections are aimed toward developing a basic definition of prayer. In order to discuss prayer, we need to know what we are talking about. I will lean heavily on the Biblical practices of prayer as I try to work toward a definition. (more…)

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Becoming Just — Dying to Sin

tranforming-spiritualityIn the book Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology theologian F. Leron Shults writes:

The justice (or law) of God is fulfilled by love, as both Jesus and Paul insist (Matt. 22:36-40; cf. Mark 12:28-34; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5;14; cf. James 2:8). Becoming just therefore involves becoming an agent who manifests love. Finite agents do not have the power to fulfill this law of love, and so becoming just ultimately depends on the grace of God, who calls us to share in divine love by following in the way of Christ in the power of the Spirit. Our moral desire is only conformed to Jesus’ way of relating to the Good as we “die to sin” and are “crucified” to the world, no longer relying on our own power to secure the objects of our desire but actively resting in the omnipotent consoling agency of absolute Love. There are no shortcuts to developing a virtuous disposition; it requires the painful process of introspection and working out one’s redemptive agency in community. This too occurs by the gracious agency of the Holy Spirit as Christ is formed in us (cf. Gal. 4:19).

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On the Virgin Birth

nativityThere is a Religion News Service article by Kimberly Winston which is circulating around the Internet with the provocative title Can you question the Virgin Birth and still be a Christian?” I put it in my Twitter feed so that I could comment on it later, if I had some time.

Responding to it gives me a chance to say a little more along the lines of what I was saying (or implying) in my comments on Luke 1:26-38.

(1.) This article’s title assumes something that is not true: that Christians cannot question received teachings. The writer (or the editor) is making the assumption that questioning is incompatible with Christianity. In fact, Christians have been questioning and exploring and refining their beliefs since the very beginning of the Christian movement. Christians (Protestants especially) are encouraged to check out what they hear from their spiritual leaders against the original sources of the faith in Scripture. And though there are a few lonely voices saying Christians should not read the scriptures — most are strongly encouraged to do so. There are contemporary translations, Bible study helps, Bible reading plans, etc. to help them to do so. The apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (ASV.) (more…)

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Rob Bell: The Cross

 

 

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Grace Can Do What Discipline Can’t

bible-cross“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  (Romans 8:3-4  NRSV.)

These are remarkable words. Lying behind them are the frustrations of the apostle Paul’s religious life. His religion had once been a religion of Law. He had sincerely sought to please God through his own righteous efforts. But, the whole effort had ended in frustration and failure. Thus, he writes: “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  (Romans 7:14-19 NRSV.)

The way of religious discipline had failed him. The way of strictness did not bring freedom & hope – it brought a life of contradiction. The way of religious attainments was not satisfying. (more…)

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Salvation Can Be Lost

A List of Scriptures that Teach or Imply that Christian Salvation can be Lost.

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WARNING: This is a very long list of Scripture passages, along with some comments from myself and a few historic Bible commentators. Don’t expect to read this straight through in one sitting. (The imagery of salvation being “lost” is also a bit problematic. The idea here is not “lost” in the sense of inadvertently misplaced, but “lost” in the sense of forfeited.) Obviously, these Scriptures are a beginning point for the discussion of these issues. My point is how pervasive this theme really is. Quotes are given from historic commentators with differing  perspectives — some Arminian, some more Calvinistic — again, the point is the pervasiveness of this theme.


 

The Bible warns us time and time again about the danger of falling away from the faith. The following list of Scriptures is by no means complete or exhaustive. Much of the the New Testament can be quoted against the “once-saved-always-saved” doctrine. (more…)

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Spirituality and the Spirit

I have previously written about spirituality in what might be called a generic sense: as a human capability. A simple way of understanding the spiritual side of human nature is to see it as the capacity for self-transcendence.

candle-tipI have explored this idea here:

As I say, it is possible to see all of this as “spirituality” in a generic sense. It’s a human capacity.

But, to go further in discussing this, I need to draw on ideas explicitly from Christian theology.  At this point, the Christian perspective gives us some help in understanding how human spiritual capabilities connect us with God and with the world around us. The helpful concept in this case is the idea of the Holy Spirit. Our human capacity — and yearning — to reach out beyond ourselves is answered by the reality of God’s Spirit reaching to us. This is only natural to expect. We have an desire to connect with a higher reality than ourselves. Our desire to breathe is answered by the air around us. Our desire for food and water are answered the reality of food and water. Our desire for a connection with God  — which would give a framework of meaning to our lives and our moral choices — is answered by the Holy Spirit of God. (more…)

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Christian Faith: Opinion or Life?

Conservative-Evangelicals-Misunderstood-MillennialsWhat if Christianity is not primarily about what you believe but about what you live?

What if its not about your opinions but your choices? What if the Final Judgement before God is about how you lived your life, not what religious opinions you espoused — or even what religious experiences you had? What if our actions are more important than our words? What if what God really wants are people of compassion and patience and peace (in fact, a community of people committed to those ideals)? What if the most important expression of our faith is not a Doctrinal Statement signed but a life well lived, under the Lordship of Christ? What if the real evidence of faith is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23)? What if God wants us to be making this world a better place — and we’ve spent our days hiding in our churches?

What if the real scandal of Christianity is the huge gap that lies between our Biblical and theological knowledge, and the actual lives that we lead from day to day? (more…)

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Christ & Non-Christians

worldview1Question: 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. (more…)

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Chesterton on Miracles

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

“But my belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America. Upon this point there is a simple logical fact that only requires to be stated and cleared up. Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost. If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism — the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence — it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, ‘Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,’ they answer, ‘But mediaevals were superstitious’; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say ‘a peasant saw a ghost,’ I am told, ‘But peasants are so credulous.’ If I ask, ‘Why credulous?’ the only answer is — that they see ghosts. Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland.”

— G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. Chapter IX.

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R.I.P. Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg is one of the first theologians that made any sense to me — and I never really encountered his theological writings until after I graduated from Seminary. I came into Seminary out of a background in the physical sciences. My undergraduate degree was in Chemistry. I attended Asbury Theological Seminary, and I am thankful for the education I received there — and for many of the professors that were teaching there at the time.

But, theology didn’t make sense to me. Instead of appealing to common criterion for proof and rationality it seemed forever attempting to avoid them. If that was the case, how could Christians claim anything that they said was in any sense “true” — or more true or right than anything anyone else said? Furthermore, it appeared to me that the Christian faith did not pay sufficient attention to inductive forms of reasoning. (more…)

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Derek Ouellette Comments on the Gungor Controversy

 

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You can comment to Derek at YouTube: Gungor: 3 Concerts Cancelled over Unorthodoxy? What! (re)News. You can see more of his videos here: Bible Floss.

MORE ON THIS CONTROVERSY:
From Dave Wainscott (mostly links): Gungorgate: banned for agreeing with C.S. Lewis (and having Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans help with their CD). And Stephen Mattson reminds us that some of the historic hymn writers were controversial in their day: The Problem With Christian Worship Wars. And, at the BioLogos web site: Faith after Literalism: An Interview with Michael Gungor.

 

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E. Stanley Jones: You are Not Inferior, You Are a Child of God

A brief video clip of the great E. Stanley Jones (1884–1973):

 

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Philip Yancey on Praying Like a Child

Prayer-yanceyFrom an excellent book on prayer:

Again, Jesus likened prayer to a child approaching the Father. A child who crawls into her father’s lap with a fantasy Christmas list may not get everything she desires. But the very fact that she crawled into his lap, making know her deepest desires, helps cement the bond of love the father cherishes above all else. We do far better to act like a trusting child, presenting foolish requests and letting the Father make judgements, than to fret in advance over appropriate petitions.

Fittingly, some of the most articulate prayers come from the mouths of children. God, help that man we saw at the red light find a place to sleep tonight… Please don’t let my cat suffer anymore…. Help Grandmommy to stop feeling sad all the time…. Teach me how to get along with my mean brother.

My neighbor Elizabeth, age four, was staying with her grandmother while her parents went to New York City on business. Kneeling by her bed that night, she prayed: ‘Help Mommy and Daddy to come home safely. And if they don’t want to come home — ‘ Her grandmother interrupted, ‘Honey, of course they want to come home.’ Elizabeth set her straight with a sharp reply, “I’m talking to God!’ With the wisdom of a child, she knew that in prayer it is perfectly appropriate to voice fear, anger (think of the imprecatory psalms), insecurity, doubt, or anything else we need to get out.

— Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make a Difference?  (Chapter 22).

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