Is The Evangelical Movement Crumbling?
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…)
The Collapse of the Pannenberg Project?
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…)
John Wesley: “Those Who Are Without”
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”
John Wesley: Can Any Christian Revival Continue?
I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.
The Conservative Christian Dilemma on Same Gender Sex
While many progressives and liberals feign incredulity, the conservative Christian objection to same-gender sex is not difficult to understand.
It is rooted in the way Christians tend to approach moral issues generally speaking — by referring to the sources of the faith and then to the traditions that followed. Traditionally, same-gender sex has been considered a sin. Why is this? (1.) Because it has generally been assumed that Jesus was pointing us to a standard of marriage that is heterosexual, monogamous, and permanent for the lifetime of the partners. If Jesus hadn’t referred back to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:3-12, Christians might not have turned to that story for a standard of sexual behavior. But, he did and we do. The traditional marriage ceremony reflects this. “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation….” (Book of Common Prayer). It has been generally believed that marriage conforms to some purpose and plan in the mind of God. It therefore reflects the notion that there can be a meaning and structure to life to which we may aspire — something has been communicated to us about God’s plan and purpose for us. Christians see the notion of marriage as resonating with Scripture in other ways as well: “…and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.” (Book of Common Prayer). Sexual behaviors outside of this standard of marriage have always been seen by Christians as being either wrong or, at least, suspicious. (2.) There are several specific condemnations of same-gender sex in the Bible. These are found both in the Old and New Testaments. Several of them appear in passages where context doesn’t seem to be a factor — isolated laws or lists of vices. While these (like anything else) could be related to specific practices of the time in which the Bible was written, (a.) they don’t seem to be, and (b.) they fit very well with notion of marriage as a paradigm for sexual behavior. And, then (3.) the early Christian tradition has often outspokenly condemned same-gender sex. (Though, we all recognize that Christian tradition is diverse and it can be wrong — and in need to correction in the light of new information.)
So, the conservative case is simple and seems air-tight. Conclusions have been drawn from all this to further elucidate what marriage is all about: “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.” (Book of Common Prayer)
So, if that is the case, what’s the problem? (more…)
Wesley: Two Paths
From long experience and observation I am inclined to think, that whoever finds redemption in the blood of Jesus, whoever is justified, has then the choice of walking in the higher or the lower path. I believe the Holy Spirit at that time sets before him the ‘more excellent way,’ and incites him to walk therein; to choose the narrowest path in the narrow way; to aspire after the heights and depths of holiness, — after the entire image of God. But if he does not accept this offer, he insensibly declines into the lower order of Christians. He still goes on in what may be called a good way, serving God in his degree, and finds mercy in the close of life, through the blood of the covenant.
I would be far from quenching the smoking, flax, — from discouraging, those that serve God in a low degree. But I could not wish them to stop here: I would encourage them to come up higher. Without thundering hell and damnation in their ears, without condemning the way wherein they were, telling them it is the way that leads to destruction, I will endeavor to point out to them what is, in every respect, ‘a more excellent way.’
— John Wesley, Sermon 89 “The More Excellent Way.”
On the Virgin Birth
There 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…)
Albert Outler on Wesley’s Sermon ‘Christian Perfection’
Some comments from Albert Outler about John Wesley’s sermon on “Christian Perfection” — and the fears it arouses:
If, for Wesley, salvation was the total restoration of the deformed image of God in us, and if its fullness was the recovery of our negative power not to sin and our positive power to love God supremely, this denotes that furthest reach of grace and triumph in this life that Wesley chose to call ‘Christian Perfection.’
Just as justification and regeneration are thresholds for the Christian life in earnest (‘what God does for us’), so also sanctification is ‘what God does in us’, to mature and fulfill the human potential according to his primal design. Few Christians had ever denied some such prospect, in statu gloriae; few . . . ever envisioned it as a realistic possibility in this life. . . . Thus, Wesley’s encouragement to his people to ‘go on to perfection’ and to ‘expect to be made perfect in love in this life’ aroused lively fears that this would foster more of the self-righteous perfectionism already made objectionable by earlier pietists.
— Albert Outler (Ed). “An Introductory Comment” to Sermon 40: “Christian Perfection”. Works (Bic Ed) Vol 2, p. 97. (c) 1985.
John Wesley’s sermon on “Christian Perfection” (Sermon #40) was written in 1741.
Wesley says in his Journal:
I think it was the latter end of the year 1740, that I had a conversation with Dr. Gibson, then Bishop of London, at Whitehall. He asked me what I meant by perfection. I told him without any disguise or reserve. When I ceased speaking, he said: ‘Mr. Wesley, if this be all you mean, publish it to all the world.’ I answered, ‘My lord, I will’; and accordingly wrote and published the sermon on ‘Christian Perfection.’
You can read Wesley’s sermon here: “Christian Perfection” (Sermon #40).
Ben Witherington: Does Romans 7 Teach that Christians Will Continue Sinning?
Here is another great video from the Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seven Minute Seminary series. Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, addresses the often-disputed interpretation (and common misuse) of Romans 7. “Some point to Romans 7 as the proof-text for the saint-sinner paradox, suggesting that if even the apostle Paul struggled with his unrelenting flesh, Christians must face defeat in certain areas of their Christian life as well. On the contrary, Ben Witherington reveals that the ancient context illuminates the text in a way that eliminates Paul as the subject of this passage and paints a more optimistic picture of God’s sanctifying grace.”
Some Quotes from the Internet
Boze Herrington gives us a heart-rending account of his involvement in a prayer group (associated with the International House of Prayer) that evolved into a dangerous cult. The account centers around the death of the cult leader’s wife (Boze’s friend) Bethany. He writes: “But it is clear that when Bethany died, she was part of a community shrouded in fear and hatred, a community where those who spoke out were treated as though they didn’t exist. Their loves, desires, opinions, feelings, and whole personalities were invalidated, all in the name of God.” At The Atlantic here: The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult.
Jonathan Merritt on the public’s response to Christian leaders: “The point is that people don’t like mean people and judgmental people and power-hungry people, regardless of their religion. Most people dislike Christian jerks because they are jerks, not because they are Christian. (According to a 2013 Barna poll, about 51% of self-identified Christians are characterized by having the attitudes and actions that are “Pharisaical” as opposed to “Christlike.”)” Here: What the Pope’s popularity says about American culture. (more…)