Theology for the Long Haul

Monday, February 28, 2011

What's going on with Rob Bell?

The following is a blog posted by Justin Taylor. I want to make it clear out of the gate that I'm not endorsing what it says and we have to use caution when it comes to speculating on a book that has not been released. However, I felt the promotional video put out enough of a vibe that Christians should be pricking up their ears, considering the deep level of influence that Bell has. So use your judgement when reading the blog and watching the video and I guess we'll see how it pans out when the book is released.

"John Piper once wisely wrote, 'Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches that sever the root of truth may flourish for a season, but they will wither eventually or turn into something besides a Christian church.'

It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.But it is better for those teaching false doctrine to put their cards on the table (a la Brian McLaren) rather than remaining studiously ambiguous in terminology.
So on that level, I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to lay his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism..."
Read the rest here...

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Here are some more links...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Don't You Think It's Time to Commit? Become a Follower of HMH!

I know deciding to follow a blog can be a tough decision ( push the button or not to push the button???), so I'm offering some incentive to help you cross the threshold. When HMH reaches 30 followers, I will randomly draw a name from the list of followers, and you may win your choice of either: a copy of Carson's newest book, "Collected Writings on Scripture," or the worship CD of your choice (for you non-scholarly types). Just follow the right column down to the "follow" button, push it, and use your Google account to add your smiling face to the others.

HMH has had a lot of success in its 9 months of existence. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back to the Real World - Pray for Sayed Musa: Afghan Christian Set to Be Hanged within Days? (Updated)

"An Afghan physiotherapist will be executed within three days for converting to Christianity. Said Musa, 45, has been held for eight months in a Kabul prison were he claims he has been tortured and sexually abused by inmates and guards. Mr Musa, who lost his left leg in a landmine explosion in the 1990s, has worked for the Red Cross for 15 years and helps to treat fellow amputees. He was arrested in May last year as he attempted to seek asylum at the German embassy following a crackdown on Christians within Afghanistan. He claims he was visited by a judge who told him he would be hanged within days unless he converted back to Islam. But he remains defiant and said he would be willing to die for his faith. He told the Sunday Times: ‘My body is theirs to do what they want with.’"

Pray for Sayed Musa: Afghan Christian Set to Be Hanged within Days? (Updated)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What Do Open Theism And 5 Point Calvinism Have In Common?

Both miss the point of divine revelation.
Why did God give us the Bible? Was it so that we could parse our way through His divine mind and recreate an image of Him that makes sense to us?

In my interactions with strict 5 pointers and open theists in the past, I have always left the conversation amazed at how much the other person thought they comprehended about God.

Though Scripture is certainly adequate to lead us into right living and doctrine, it doesn’t propose to explain everything there is to be known about God. I have come to see God as a Father and myself as a child. When God speaks to me, it is always in a way that limits Him(so that I can understand). Certainly God reveals himself to us (His Word, the Holy Spirit, etc.) but it is always partial…it has to be. Our problem is that we think we are more capable than we really are. We perceive ourselves as composing an “earth shaking” treatise on theology, while God sees a child’s crayon drawing of stick figures with no clothes. I’m not saying that God isn’t proud of our efforts. In fact, I’m sure he puts every one of our drawings on His fridge. The problem is that they always, at least in part, miss the point. Did God reveal His purpose in “election” so that I could concoct the doctrine of reprobation, or rather that I could be comforted by the surety of our relationship? Did God say that He “changed” his mind, so that I could develop a theology that limits His sovereignty (or redefines it), or so I would understand that there is a real-time dynamic aspect to my faith. In my opinion, neither view takes adequately into account the limitations of human reason, the mystery of certain doctrines in Scripture, and the beauty of God’s multi-angular interaction with humanity.

Neither answers the problem of evil.

In my interactions with open theist particularly, there is a sense that the problem of evil is better answered by asserting that God didn’t know that certain evils were going to happen. From the beginning, I have been confused by this point. Typically it goes something like this: “Shirley, a single mother of two, was struck and killed in a drunk driving accident." When the question gets asked: “Why didn’t God stop this from happening?” One can simply respond: “God didn’t know that was going to happen.” While this sounds good in the moment, it doesn’t answer the question for two reasons.

God could have intervened in the moment.
Why didn’t God intervene while it was happening? Surely He saw the drunk person getting into their car. Surely He saw the car approaching Shirley . Why, then, didn’t He stop this tragedy from coming to pass?

God could have raised Shirley from the dead.
We all know Scripture references where God reverses the effects of death (I Kings 17, Luke 8, John 11). Why didn’t He raise Shirley?

An open theist would have to answer this question just like the rest of us, so what then is the benefit of Open Theism for answering the questions of Theodicy? In my opinion…none. At some level we all need to live out the tension of human free-will and divine providence. I don’t think God gave us the equipment to take it any farther. What we know is that God lets people experience the consequences of their choices, and that He remains (a good) God in the midst of it. We know that we never need to fear, and that no power or love is greater than God’s. A right view of God is never tension free, and will always require faith and faithfulness. God is God and we are not. As a seminarian, I always need to be reminded of this one.

These are my thoughts…what are yours? Feel free to push back.

A Couple Thoughts on Open Theism

For me, ecumenical consensus is important because it informs us of how the majority of Christians have interpreted certain passages of Scripture over time. It would be exceedingly reductionistic to say that Scripture does not speak of God's knowledge of the future. Certainly there are even passages that speak of God's providence over future events. In the same way, I would need to acknowledge that there are passages that speak of God "changing His mind" and so on. You have to admit Dan that there are passages that do not fit into an Open Theistic paradigm.

Also, I think that ecumenical consensus shows us that humans have historically been able to have a dynamic relationship with God, while still maintaining a high view of His sovereignty. "Open Theism" is (in my opinion) a recent development in the church, that addresses contemporary societies need for autonomy, and affirmation of self. I attribute this to Whitney Houston (The Greatest Love of all - 1985 see below) and Mr. Rogers (not really). Our generation like no other begs God to affirm our identity, dreams, and ideas (Bono really captures this idea:" It's not if I believe in love, but does love believe in me?")
I don't think that God's desire is so much to affirm me, as to make me like Christ (Gal. 2:20). Isn’t this how the greater church has always interpreted it? Certainly one could argue that this understanding leads away from intimate (dynamic) relationship, but I would disagree...there is no greater intimacy than oneness. God doesn’t need me to be me, as much as he needs me to be Jesus (I recognize that there are aspects of this that we all would agree on).

Dan, In a previous post you mentioned that the churches historic view (perfection = unchangeability) is a Greek idea. Are you asserting that ancient Judaism was more Open Theistic? I mean, would a Rabbi (messianic or otherwise) believe that God doesn’t know the future? Could you substantiate this a little more?

Just some of my thoughts

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Continued Discussion on "Open Theism"

One of the stated purposes of this blog from the very beginning has been dialogue and debate. As you might guess from the content you read at High Mileage Hermeneutics, I am not an Open Theist. What I would like to promote in these postings is biblical, considerate, and informed dialogue. The first post (below) in this series has been written by Dan Smitley, a friend and peer of mine at Ashland Theological Seminary, from the standpoint of Open Theism. What follows is dialogue. As the conversation continues, feel free to join in the discussion. Your thoughts are welcome! All respectful comments will be posted.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dan Smitley: Response II

The reason that I am not more enthusiastic about the approach of Open Theism (as I understand it right now) is because I perceive it to be moving away from the ecumenical, consensual understanding of God’s nature articulated in major patristic, medieval, and reformation traditions.

My response – I think this is a completely fair and reasonable concern. We should certainly be leery of new thinking/movements that seem to be going in the opposite direction of tradition. We should vet them properly and I understand that is part of what has happened with Open Theism (when it is done constructively and not simply “THEY ARE HERETICS!!!”). And while I think it is very important that we question thinking that moves away from traditional understanding, it is not ecumenical or consensual understanding that establishes the best truth about God, it’s the Bible. I am sure we all would agree to this but I wanted to state it clearly for my next point.

See Jacob's response in the comments section...

Jacob Dodson: Response II to "Why I like Open Theism"

I appreciate your thoughtful responses to various issues that have entered our discussion and your kindness in discussing them, which is so needed in sharing about theology. Your clarifications are helpful (e.g., placing open theism within the Wesleyan-Arminian camp). Personally, I can relate more to Wesleyan language and categories (informed as it is by some of the Greek fathers and aspects of the Catholic heritage preserved in the Anglicanism of Wesley's day) than to Reformed ones, but I wanted to get a sense of where you locate your own position.

As you can probably tell, our approaches converge and diverge on a number of points. We agree on the inability of language to fully capture or describe the infinite mystery of God. We also agree on the importance of understanding God as loving, "all powerful," and "all knowing." Our positions may be diverging some in the areas of theological method and epistemology.

From my perspective, some language and theological concepts are more able to transcend the normal limits of human language because they flows out of the consensus and discernment of the broader Christian churches (e.g., classical language for the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, etc.). It would seem that other competing language (eg., Ebionite, Arian, Docetist, Monophisite, Nestorian, etc.) should not be seen as of equal validity and value to the language of ecumenical consensus (please note that I am not charging any Christians in the Open Theist camp of holding these view or falling into a similar category).

If some language (and broader linguistic frameworks) is invested with more confidence and authority by the churches than other language we must begin to factor this into our theological method. Continuity and discontinuity in relation to the broader Christian tradition must be considered alongside Scripture, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reason, etc. You may agree with nearly everything I have just written so let me get to the point. The reason that I am not more enthusiastic about the approach of Open Theism (as I understand it right now) is because I perceive it to be moving away from the ecumenical, consensual understanding of God’s nature articulated in major patristic, medieval, and reformation traditions. It appears to move beyond defining love in the traditional categories of divine initiative and human response to articulating a view of God’s ontology as changing.

It seems to me that in the divine mystery of God’s being, He is capable of authentic love with human beings without experiencing ontological change. Sure in the incarnation, the Son was united to a human nature, which can change (as all human natures can), but to suggest that God in His divine nature must be open to change in order to have authentic relationship (like some process theologians and supporters of panentheism suggest) is a departure from the ecumenical consensus. It was because of this point that I brought out the reality of analogy. Analogies are good and helpful, but in this case I was worried that Open Theism was drawing on the human view of love and relationship (which must be open to change in order to be authentic) and applying it to God without accounting for the vast difference between His nature and our own (though I realize Christ shares our nature now [but without sin] while also having His divine nature). If nothing else, I would like to hear your thoughts on this one point of my response in relation to analogy.

After saying all of this, I don’t mean to be too critical of Open Theism. There are wonderful insights in this tradition about receiving and appreciating God’s love and relational interest in us. I think that many Christian traditions bring gifts and unique insights to the universal Church. Some things should be retained and others discerned, refined, and critiqued. Your point about unity in diversity is excellent! We all need each other and one another’s gifts and insights! We should not confuse our human traditions or our own distinct languages and terminologies with the gospel! We must use discernment though and seek to embody that great dialect of truth and love that Paul mentions to us (Eph. 4:15). What are your thoughts? I’m enjoying our discussion so please write back if you like.

Posted by Jacob, who regularly blogs at Inter Christianos.

Dan Smitley: Response I

First, to what extent do our linguistic frameworks for describing the mysteries of God's nature clarify or obscure a right understanding of Him?

Dan’s response – Linguistic frameworks can certainly obscure our ability to speak to each other about God, but I would not say that my framework (or yours) are able to more accurately describe the mysteries of God.

Maybe I am too postmodern for my own good but I tend to believe that we each have a unique perspective on God (linguistic frameworks) that both clarifies and obscures the mysteries of God. So I do not think that my framework is the perfect framework for understanding God’s mysteries. However, I do believe it is the perfect framework for me and I believe it can help others connect with God in a much more intimate way. I certainly am not asking for everyone to subscribe to my framework, I am just hoping it helps others’ put words to their own spiritual development.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jacob Dodson: Response I to "Why I like Open Theism"

I really enjoyed reading Dan’s post and hearing some of his story. His emphasis on love and relationship with God is very good and something that we need to remind ourselves of regularly. I also appreciated how he acknowledges that many Christian traditions deal with these realities in unique ways, arriving at "different conclusions." For me, two fundamental questions come to mind: First, to what extent do our linguistic frameworks for describing the mysteries of God's nature clarify or obscure a right understanding of Him? Second, are there some basic, foundational truths related to this topic that form a type of consensus among many Christian traditions (ancient and modern)?

I like the relational focus that Dan highlighted in describing what draws him to open theism. I would like to hear more however about open theism’s relationship to the broader Christian tradition.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Discussion on Open Theism

One of the stated purposes of this blog from the very beginning has been dialogue and debate. As you might guess from the content you read at High Mileage Hermeneutics, I am not an Open Theist. What I would like to promote in the postings that follow is biblical, considerate, and informed dialogue. The first post (below) in this series has been written by Dan Smitley, a friend and peer of mine at Ashland Theological Seminary, from the standpoint of Open Theism. What follows will be entries from myself and others in response to and in dialogue with Dan. Take this as an invitation for you to join in the discussion. Your thoughts are welcome. All respectful comments will be posted.

Why I like Open Theism - Dan Smitley

My background:I grew up as a third generation believer in a second generation pastor’s home. Both my grandfather and my father have been pastors for the Church of the Nazarene. So I grew up saturated in Wesleyan-Arminian beliefs, and more specifically in Wesleyan-holiness.

My focus:Growing up in a holiness environment a lot of attention was given to what you were and were not doing. You were being a good Christian if you were not drinking or smoking and making sure to invite as many friends as possible to church. I was praised for my excellent Bible quizzing skills and my involvement in EVERY youth activity.

My lack:Reflecting back on my experiences I realize that what lacked in my up-bringing was a view that my “relationship” with Christ was a real relationship. That “relationship” was not just a euphemism that we used but actually described what was happening (better biblically understood as covenant).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jonah: Fact or Fiction?

"It is no wonder some people say the story of Jonah must be a fable. The miracles are too numerous and incredible: the sudden storm; the fish swallowing Jonah; the prophet’s survival in its stomach; his exit onto dry ground; national repentance; the plant that springs up one day and dies the next. Or perhaps it’s a parable; a learning aid concerning the people of Israel who disobeyed God and didn’t fulfil their calling to be a voice to the nations.Such interpretations fall apart when you begin to investigate further..."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Recent Survey finds 1/3 of Americans are Evangelical

Byron Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. In the most recent First Things, he writes The Good News About Evangelicalism, and gives some of the results of The Baylor Religious Survey.

"Those who argue that a new American landscape is emerging—one in which the conservative evangelicalism of the past few decades is losing numbers and influence—are simply ignoring the data."

"Fully one-third of Americans (approximately 100 million) affiliate with an evangelical Protestant congregation. Indeed, evangelicals remain the numerically dominant religious tradition in the United States."

Article | First Things

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hey, I'm looking for a job!

Well, my seminary coursework will be coming to a close this Spring, and I'm looking for a ministry/teaching position in a church or in Christian education. Let me know if you have any leads or would like me to send you a resume.