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…)
From my daily Bible reading:
“But 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…)
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?
From my daily Bible reading:
“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…)
One of my (formerly) favorite writers on philosophical theology has become an atheist.
And, I’m not altogether sure how I feel about that.
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…)
From my daily Bible reading:
“And 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…)
From my daily Bible reading:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV.
“Love your enemies. This is the most sublime piece of morality ever given to man. Has it appeared unreasonable and absurd to some? It has. And why? Because it is natural to man to avenge himself, and plague those who plague him; and he will ever find abundant excuse for his conduct, in the repeated evils he receives from others; for men are naturally hostile to each other. Jesus Christ design’s to make men happy. Now he is necessarily miserable who hates another. Our Lord prohibits that only which, from its nature, is opposed to man’s happiness. This is therefore one of the most reasonable precepts in the universe. But who can obey it? None but he who has the mind of Christ. But I have it not. Seek it from God; it is that kingdom of heaven which Christ came to establish upon earth. See on chap. iii. 2. This one precept is a sufficient proof of the holiness of the Gospel, and of the truth of the Christian religion. Every false religion flatters man, and accommodates itself to his pride and his passions. None but God could have imposed a yoke so contrary to self-love; and nothing but the supreme eternal love can enable men to practice a precept so insupportable to corrupt nature. Sentiments like this are found among Asiatic writers, and in select cases were strongly applied; but as a general command this was never given by them, or any other people. It is not an absolute command in any of the books which they consider to be Divinely inspired.” (more…)
From my daily Bible Reading:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.” — Matthew 3:13-15 NRSV.
“John is immediately aware of Jesus’ identity and insists on his own inferiority (v. 14). He acknowledges the honor of Jesus and thereby maintains his own honor. Although this major event (i.e., Jesus’ baptism) does not “fulfill” Scripture, it is a fulfillment of “righteousness,” a term that can also be translated as “justice,” a major theme in Matthew (5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33). This is no routine baptism (v. 16); revelatory signs accompany it, including open heavens and the Spirit’s descent (implying God’s own approval of Jesus). It is not clear here that anyone other than Jesus witnesses the Spirit’s descent, but the announcement of the heavenly voice is in the third person, suggesting a wider audience (v. 17). Note that God acknowledges Jesus as “my Son” in preparation for the testing of Jesus as Son of God (4:1–11).” (more…)
From my daily Bible reading:
JESUS. The same as Joshua, יהושע Yehoshua, from ישע yasha, he saved, delivered, put in a state of safety. See on Exod. xiii. 9; Num. xiii. 16….
This shall be his great business in the world: the great errand on which he is come, viz. to make an atonement for, and to destroy, sin: deliverance from all the power, guilt, and pollution of sin, is the privilege of every believer in Christ Jesus. Less than this is not spoken of in the Gospel; and less than this would be unbecoming the Gospel. The perfection of the Gospel system is not that it makes allowances for sin, but that it makes an atonement for it: not that it tolerates sin, but that it destroys it.
— Comments by Adam Clarke (1762-1832).
From my daily Bible readings:
“Then Jacob called his sons, and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.”” — Genesis 49:1-2 (NRSV)
Jacob offers a fierce blessing to his sons. His words of reproach, counsel, and comfort cut and soothe with the clarity of truth and anticipate the future as cast from his sons’ characters. This is a powerful activity shared from parents to children, children to parents, and among friends as well! When said with loving and righteous intention, the blessing of truth-telling invokes the powers of forgiveness, empowerment, and transformation.
When words of blessing are intoned at the end of a worship service, truth is invoked — we are claimed as God’s own with all the responsibility and grace that entails.”
— Comments from The Wesley Study Bible.
This great man was now one hundred and forty-seven years of age; though his body, by the waste of time, was greatly enfeebled, yet with a mind in perfect vigor, and a hope full of immortality, he calls his numerous family together, all of them in their utmost state of prosperity, and gives them his last counsels, and his dying blessing. His declarations show that the secret of the Lord was with him, and that his candle shone bright upon his tabernacle. Having finished his work, with perfect possession of all his faculties, and being determined that while he was able to help himself none should be called in to assist, (which was one of the grand characteristics of his life,) he, with that dignity which became a great man and a man of God stretched himself upon his bed, and rather appears to have conquered death than to have suffered it. Who, seeing the end of this illustrious patriarch, can help exclaiming, There is none like the God of Jeshurun! Let Jacob’s God be my God! Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! Reader, God is still the same: and though he may not make thee as great as was Jacob, yet he is ready to make thee as good; and, whatever thy past life may have been, to crown thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies, that thy end also may be peace.
— Comments by Adam Clarke (1760-1832).
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…)
“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13, NRSV).
It seems strange to some people that words like these are found in the Bible. It goes against what we think we know of the Bible.
These words are from a book of the Bible few people know about. This little book of the Hebrew Bible is variously called ” Song of Solomon” or “Song of Songs.” It is a long poem about erotic love. Really, it seems to be a collection of poems that have been brought together into one. A church group would not want to do a verse-by-verse study of this book because of the frankly erotic imagery in the book.
It’s about sex. It has at least an R rating. (more…)
I added some bold type to the following quote:
…I have no authority from the Word of God ‘to judge those that are without.’ Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh;’ who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made.
“Perhaps there may be some well-meaning persons who carry this farther still; who aver, that whatever change is wrought in men, whether in their hearts or lives, yet if they have not clear views of those capital doctrines, the fall of man, justification by faith, and of the atonement made by the death of Christ, and of his righteousness transferred to them, they can have no benefit from his death. I dare in no wise affirm this. Indeed I do not believe it. I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, ‘no man shall see the Lord;’ but I dare not add, ‘or clear ideas.’
— John Wesley, Sermon #125: “On Living Without God”
Question: 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.
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…)
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.
“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…)