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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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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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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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Why I Love the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Many years ago (and for reasons I don’t entirely fathom myself) I became dissatisfied with the fact that I had little or no comprehension of the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

The few times I dipped into the Summa Theologica I found it incomprehensible. I knew that Thomas was a great and accomplished thinker, but I found his writings impenetrable. So, I started wondering if there was a way I could gain some degree of mastery of his thought. I wasn’t looking to become an expert, I just wanted a basic understanding.

I happened upon a very good path — which I highly recommend to anyone else out there who wants a basic understanding of Thomas’ thought. Here’s what I did. I searched around on the Amazon site for books on Thomas Aquinas. I was a little nervous about secondary sources (that is, books about Thomas and his theology) — I didn’t want to end up with ones that were primarily an exposition of the commentator’s bias, and I didn’t know which ones those were. I wanted to know enough to be able to dip into the Summa Theologica and understand what I was reading. Somewhere I encountered the view that Thomas is often easier to understand than his interpreters. That was part of my concern about secondary sources. So, I looked around for resources that would help me engage the primary sources. I hit upon a reading plan that I would recommend to anyone who wants to do their own short course on Thomas Aquinas. I purchased the following three books: (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 — and a community of People — of compassion and patience and peace? What if the most important expression of our faith is not a Doctrinal Statement signed but a life will 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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Keep the Focus on Jesus!

Conservative-Evangelicals-Misunderstood-MillennialsWhen I was just starting out in Christian pastoral ministry (long ago) I was drawn to the writings of Paul for preaching material. It read more like theology to me — it seemed more about ideas and morality — and seemed a better fit for the needs of a three-point sermon outline. I could simply draw from Paul’s writings my point #1, point #2 and so forth. All my points were Biblical (from my point of view at the time) since they each had a verse or a phrase from one of Paul’s letters attached to them.

What I was missing was that all these assertions Paul makes, all the apparently abstract theology and moralizing, was, in truth, reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — working out its implications for first century believers. The Epistles must take us back to the Gospels — or else, we are just not getting it. The Gospel message we need to communicate is the story of Jesus. (more…)

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Some Quotes from the Internet

internet-wrldBoze 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…)

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Henri Nouwen on Theological Reflection

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

A Facebook friend posted a shorter version of this quote on his wall today:

Few ministers and priests think theologically. Most of them have been educated in a climate in which the behavioral sciences, such as psychology and sociology, so dominated the educational milieu that little true theology was being learned. Most Christian leaders today raise psychological and sociological questions even though they frame them in scriptural terms. Real theological thinking … is hard to find in the practice of ministry. Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologists, pseudo-social workers. They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living. But that has little to do with Christian leadership because the Christian leader thinks, speaks and acts in the name of Jesus, who came to free humanity from the power of death and open the way to eternal life. To be such a leader it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how the personal, communal, national and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection…

— Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (1993) pp. 65-66.

Obviously, Nouwen felt that this was true at the time he wrote it, but I wonder: how true is this today? (more…)

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