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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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When God’s People Fail – Amos 3:9-15

Amos0615Notice how the ideas in Amos chapter 3 are organized:

  • The opening verses of chapter 3 identify the people against whom Amos is prophesying: “against the whole family that [God] brought up out of the land of Egypt.” (Discussed here.)
  • Verses 3-8 speak of Amos’s own role as a prophet. (Discussed here.)
  • Verses 9-15 speak of the destruction that will fall upon the nation.

The prophet calls the surrounding nations to witness against YHWH’s Chosen People.

Verse 9:

הַשְׁמִיעוּ עַל־אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאַשְׁדּוֹד וְעַל־אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְאִמְרוּ הֵאָסְפוּ עַל־הָרֵי שֹׁמְרוֹן וּרְאוּ מְהוּמֹת רַבּוֹת בְּתוֹכָהּ וַעֲשׁוּקִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ
“Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, ‘Assemble yourselves on Mount Samaria, and see what great tumults are within it, and what oppressions are in its midst.’”

The people of God are on display. Their behavior is being judged by the nations around them. The tumults (מְהוּמֹת) and oppressions (וַעֲשׁוּקִים) in its midst shock even the nations. The witnesses are to assemble on Mount Samaria — indicating, as usual, that the Northern Kingdom is the main focus of this prophecy (though, compare verse 13). Amos chooses two nations as his witnesses — he mentions Ashdod, a major city of the Philistines, and then Egypt. It is, of course, significant that the invited witnesses are also traditional enemies of the nation. Before them, Israel is put to shame — before these nations who are not the chosen of YHWH. Yet, the prophet implies, they have a better sense of right and wrong. They become the judges. (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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From Around the Internet 3/27/15

internet-mapSome random quotes from around the Internet:

An urban church rejects the idea of charity and finds renewal: ““If we believe that God’s spirit is flowing down on all people, old and young, women and men — and on the poor… why don’t we treat people like that’s true?”Here: Death and resurrection of an urban church.

Greg Boyd: “Some scholars today argue that the stories recorded in the Gospels are actually intentional fabrication. In essence, they argue that Mark took Paul’s theology and robed the story of Jesus in a fictitious historical narrative. The other Gospels followed suit. The argument is clever and removes the difficulty of explaining how a legend of a God-man could arise so quickly among first-century Jews. But there are 7 major problems with this contention….” Here: Are the Gospels Historical Fiction?

Kimberly Winston quotes Lawrence Wright, one of the producers of a new documentary on Scientology: “When people see for themselves the testimony of people who have been through the Scientology experience, they’ll have a better idea of what they might be in for if they decide to join the church….” Here: HBO’s ‘Going Clear’ Questions the Future of Scientology, (more…)

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We Need Prophets – Amos 3:3-8

Amos0615The opening verses of chapter 3 identify the people against whom Amos is prophesying: “the whole family that [God] brought up out of the land of Egypt.” They are the people that God has especially known. But, their special relationship with God implied a responsibility to live a life that reflected the character of the God who redeemed them.

Now, in verses 3-8, Amos talks about his own role as a prophet.

It begins with a series of cause and effect questions: when you see a certain effect, you can infer its cause? Or, as we might say: “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” They go like this:

  • Two people are walking together —> they must have made an appointment
  • A lion roars in the forest —> the lion must have caught something
  • A bird falls into a snare —> there must have been a trap
  • A snare springs up —> it must have taken something
  • A trumpet is blown in the city —> the people must be afraid

This is another one of Amos’ rhetorical devices, he is leading up to something — the last cause and effect is a little different: (more…)

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Reconciliation – Colossians 1:21-23

greek-nt-openIn this early part of the letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul has been emphasizing the greatness of Christ. The verses just before this speak of Christ as the Head of the Church.

Paul now personalizes the message: reminding his readers of the way Christ has changed their lives: reconciling them to God.

Καὶ ὑμᾶς ποτε ὄντας ἀπηλλοτριωμένους καὶ ἐχθροὺς τῇ διανοίᾳ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς πονηροῖς, νυνὶ δὲ ἀποκατήλλαξεν ἐν τῷ σώματι τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ διὰ τοῦ θανάτου παραστῆσαι ὑμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους καὶ ἀνεγκλήτους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ, εἴ γε ἐπιμένετε τῇ πίστει τεθεμελιωμένοι καὶ ἑδραῖοι καὶ μὴ μετακινούμενοι ἀπὸ τῆς ἐλπίδος τοῦ εὐαγγελίου οὗ ἠκούσατε, τοῦ κηρυχθέντος ἐν πάσῃ κτίσει τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν, οὗ ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ Παῦλος διάκονος.“And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.” (NRSV)

Jesus Christ is the reconciler. Paul writes in verse 20: “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” The ideas here remind us of 2 Corinthians 5:19: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself….” (more…)

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Expecting the Guidance of the Holy Spirit

I think that many times in the past I prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit — but without a clear expectation in my mind that I would have it in the course of the day.

But, I have learned to expect the Spirit’s guidance — if, indeed, I have prayed for it.

F. B. Meyer (1847–1929)

F. B. Meyer (1847–1929)

The great preacher F. B. Meyer expresses it well:

Expect the Holy Ghost to work in, with and for you. When a man is right with God, God will freely use him. There will rise up within him impulses and inspirations, strong strivings, strange resolves. These must be tested by Scripture and prayer, and if evidently of God they must be obeyed. But there is this perennial source of comfort: God’s commands are enablings. He will never give us a work to do without showing exactly how and when to do it, and He will give the precise strength and wisdom we need. Do not dread to enter this life because you fear that God will ask you to do something you cannot do. He will never do that. If He lays aught on your heart, He will do so uninvited; as you pray about it the impression will continue to grow, so that presently, as you look up to know what He wills you to say or do, the way will suddenly open, and you will probably have said the word or done the deed almost unconsciously. Rely on the Holy Ghost to go before you to make the crooked places straight and the rough places smooth. Do not bring the legal spirit of ‘must’ into God’s free service. ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.’ Let your life be as effortless as theirs, because your faith shall constantly hand over all difficulties and responsibilities to your ever-present Lord. There is no effort to the branch in putting forth the swelling clusters of grapes — the effort would be to keep them back.

— F. B. Meyer, quoted by Daniel Steele here: TESTINGS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. (more…)

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The Head of the Church – Colossians 1:18-20

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophia_656x800By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. Christ is the supreme authority in the church. Christ is the source of our life and the basis of the connection between believers in the Church.

καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων, ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι καὶ δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, εἰρηνοποιήσας διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ, [δι᾿ αὐτοῦ] εἴτε τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἴτε τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (NRSV) (more…)

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Eradication of the Sin Nature? Huh?

I am about to launch into a rather long post — and one that will not be of interest to everyone. Nevertheless, because of the nature of this site, and because of the issues I commonly address and raise here, I need to post a statement — about a problem often encountered in the literature of the holiness movement. It is common in these writings to encounter the language of eradication: the eradication of “sin” or of “inward sinfulness” or of “inbred sin” or of “the sin nature” or of “the carnal nature” — or similar language. What is to be made of these claims?

internet-wrldI have recently re-affirmed the purposes of this web site, saying: “I intend this as a site that is focused on the Wesleyan teachings about holy living.” I have often expressed my appreciation of the Holiness Movement and (to a lesser extent) the Pentecostal movement for the formative influence they had on shaping the earliest stages of my Christian journey.

I maintain here a growing collection of resources on the holiness movement here — and hope to have more soon. I also maintain two blogs that feature the writings of nneteenth century holiness writers Daniel Steele and Thomas C. Upham. . All of this, I am presenting “as is.” I am seeking make this material accessible, so that people can grapple with these writings on their own — without having them filtered through my own opinions and evaluations of them.

I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I realize that the message of Christian Perfection / Entire Sanctification (the main theme of the Holiness Movement) is almost completely unknown among contemporary United Methodists. Many United Methodist pastors heard of this theme for the first time in their life while attending Seminary. (And, some who did may not have been paying attention that particular day.)

It has been my intention, from the beginning of this site, to raise up this particular part of the Wesleyan tradition — I am not seeking to indoctrinate anyone in anything — I am raising an issue that (I believe) needs re-consideration and re-appropriation. My personal reasons for harping on the Christian Perfection theme of the Wesleyan tradition are given here: Sanctification as a Central Theme.

This naturally raises the question: do I agree with everything in the teachings of the 19th Century Holiness movement? And, the answer is: no, I don’t.
(more…)

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It Matters What God You Trust – Psalm 115:8, 9.

psalmsThere is a progression of thought in Psalm 115 that is easy to follow. The thoughts move forward in a series of steps. Here’s how it has gone thus far:

  • Step one: Glory belongs to God and not to the nation (v. 1). (See: No Glory to Us and Glory to God’s Name.)
  • Step two: Why should the nations say ‘Where is there God?’ (v.2).
  • Step three: What Israel’s God is Like (v. 3). (See: The God Who Can’t Be Manipulated.)
  • Step four: What the nations’ gods are like (vv. 4-8).
  • Step five: A call for Israel to renew its trust in Yahweh (vv. 9-11).

So, now the Psalm turns from reflections on whatever misfortune has come upon them, to an affirmation of renewed hope in their God. (more…)

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Wesley: Two Paths

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

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.”

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About This Site

John & Charles Wesley

John & Charles Wesley

I intend this as a site that is focused on the Wesleyan teachings about holy living. I know I pursue other topics, but I know what I am about, and I mean to emphasize the call to live a life wholly devoted to God. I believe that this the great animating theme of the Wesleyan tradition — and it is a theme I greatly appreciate.

To this end, I continue to scan and edit old holiness books, and maintain two sister blogs on Blogger: Steele’s Answers and The Hidden Life. I don’t personally agree with everything that is said on those pages — or maybe I should say, I don’t always agree with the way it is said. But, I believe those writers were intending to call us to the living of a life wholly devoted to God and to the genuine well-being of others — and I need to hear that challenge and that call — I’m sure I’m not the only one. (more…)

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Keeping Justice & Righteousness – Psalm 106:3

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsIt is characteristic of Hebrew poetry to rhyme (so to speak) thoughts rather than sounds. This is called “Hebrew Parallelism.” To oversimplify: it is the practice of repeating the thought of the first line in the second. Thus, the writer expresses the same thought in different words.

This is very common in the Psalms.

Thus, one line of a poem will often comment on another: expanding or clarifying the meaning.

אַשְׁרֵי שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁפָּט עֹשֵׂה צְדָקָה בְכָל־עֵת

“How blessed are those who keep justice,
Who practice righteousness at all times!”
(NASB)

Again, the Psalms are pointing us to the Way of Blessedness. Psalm 1 has tipped us off that this is the major theme of the whole book of Psalms. This is not conceived in the typically popular-religion terms of Salvation: where the whole point of faith is just meeting the terms of Eternal Life. This is about living in the realm of present blessing. This is about the life of faith.

(more…)

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No Glory to Us! – Psalm 115:1

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is it’s willingness to expose the weaknesses, errors, and sins of its major characters. One of the especially endearing features of the Old Testament is its openness about its heroes flaws   — and of the flaws and failures of the nation as a whole. This is a poor piece of propaganda for the nation — we see its sins and its errors and its flaws. It is not propaganda. It is not an apology for the nation at all. It is not a glorification of its heroes. We see them as deeply flawed. It is a glorification of God’s character and grace.

לֹא לָנוּ יְהוָה לֹא לָנוּ כִּי־לְשִׁמְךָ תֵּן כָּבוֹד עַל־חַסְדְּךָ עַל־אֲמִתֶּךָ
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (NRSV)

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke paraphrases the first part of this verse this way:

We take no merit to ourselves; as thine is the kingdom, and the power in that kingdom, so is thy glory.

In the Old Testament, even the official religion and ritual of the people comes under heavy criticism:

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation — I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:10-17 NRSV) (more…)

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The Anointed Preacher – Isaiah 61:1–4

Hebrew_bible_4We are told in the Gospel of Luke 4:16-19 that when Jesus had opportunity to speak to the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the scroll the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 and announced: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). These verses in Isaiah described Jesus’ mission in life.

These ancient words speak to us today of the vocation of the preacher — then and now. When we first come to these verses in the prophecy of Isaiah (or Third Isaiah or whatever his name was) we immediately wonder: who is the prophet talking about? Is this the writer’s mission or is he speaking of someone else? Questions like this might not arise if it weren’t for the fact that the prophecies of the book of Isaiah can be quite mysterious that way. Who is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53? Who is the “servant” of Isaiah 42:1? Who is the figure spoken of in Isaiah 11:2? Who is speaking in Isaiah 48:16? You see what I’m saying.

(more…)

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