Psychology and Suicide in the Church

Saturday night I was surprised to read that Rick Warren‘s son, Matthew, committed suicide after a long struggle with mental illness.  You and I know Rick Warren as one of the most prominent pastors in America today.  He wrote the books The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life. He is the pastor of Saddleback Church in California and you may remember that he offered the inaugural prayer in 2009.

The statement given to his church community on Saturday reiterated that his youngest son, Matthew, was “an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man.”  He made special efforts to spot and encourage others who were struggling in the church.

But ultimately, he succumbed to his own anguish.  “In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.  Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.”

I am glad to see that the church community at large is supporting Warren’s family during such a tragedy. I too am very sad to hear about the news, particularly because mental illness likely contributed to the suicide.

But I am also saddened for another reason.  I’m surprised that there are still a number of people within the church who champion archaic notions about psychology and about suicide.  When I read the reports of the suicide, saw several of the comments people left.  While most of them were supportive, others were just mean.

Some were from folks who simply hated Warren and his church. I doubt that anyone takes them seriously–after some of these comments, I wouldn’t take them seriously about anything from that time forward.  But I’m more concerned about the Christians who say things like:

“What’s really sad about all of this is that he went to hell because he committed suicide.”

What a heartless and mindless thing to say, especially in a public forum.  Though I don’t care to delineate the biblical reasons why I think this kind of theology about suicide is ridiculous, I will say this. A person who thinks that a vibrant relationship with Christ instantly becomes null and void because of one bad decision is a legalist.  He has a poor understanding of theology and probably sees God as more of an ice-cold robot in the sky.  As long as you are sort of good and never do really terrible things like suicide, you’re in good standing.  But, even if you walk with Christ your whole life and then in a wave of abnormal despair take your own life, do you think God would toss you aside in disgust?  That is not a good relationship.

Truthfully, I am sad for the people who think this way.  The kind of people who think that God has a list that you must keep.  He likes you if you do all of these things; but if you do one of the major bad things, hit the road, buddy! There is no room for love in a relationship that demands such strict obedience. Your behavior may indicate your affections for another person, but do you really think that we will always win every battle in this life?  Do you think that the type of battles that we win or lose has bearing on our eternity?  I was under the impression that it was really about one particular battle that Christ fought on our behalf.  I think I heard that in a sermon just over a week ago.

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Luther, where Martin Luther buried a boy who took his own life.  The church would not allow the boy to be buried on church property since they believed that victims of suicide go to hell.  Luther rejected that notion and dug the boy’s grave on church property with his own hands.  He explained that the Devil used despair to kill the boy, the same way a robber kills his victims in the woods.  To Luther, one who dies of suicide loses a battle, and that is not a damnable offense.  I think this approach works best.

There is another attitude in the church that bothers me.  It’s the notion that psychology, psychiatry, and (secular) counseling is somehow unbiblical or unchristian. I would like to be godly enough to say that this grieves me, but really it just ticks me off something awful, especially since some mainline churches still take this position.  I remember a church I attended some years ago was one of the most prominent in the area.  I went with one of the pastors to visit a church member at a local hospital.  The young lady we visited had struggled with depression for years.  Recently, it became very intense.  She couldn’t manage it on her own any more.  Now, thanks to the medicine and therapy she was clear-headed and on a stable road to recovery. That’s when my pastor said “Have you considered that you just need to pray more and meditate on the scriptures instead of taking medicine?”

I wanted to slap the man. Here is a woman who was living a godly life who got sick.  Now she is making huge strides in recovery and my pastor friend thinks that this is some kind of sin.  The truth is after she recovered, her godly life continued and she thanked God for the hospital and the medicine. She didn’t abandon the faith, she could now embrace it more.  Although I will say, she didn’t have much desire to attend that church anymore!

Part of the church’s mission is about physical and spiritual healing. I hope and pray that we can eventually weed out these erroneous notions which are counterproductive to the church’s pursuits.  Clinical depression and other forms of mental illness can and must be managed with counseling and even with medicine.  The church ought not be afraid of these things, because they work!  Isn’t that reason enough to do it?  And when some people lose loved ones to these diseases, we will not be judgmental.  Instead, we cover the family with love, prayer, and support. I’m very happy to see most of the church moving in the right direction.

Categories: Practical, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Isaiah 9: the Warrior-King and Christmas


For a child has been born to us,
a son has been given to us.
He shoulders responsibility
and is called:
Extraordinary Strategist,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
9:7 His dominion will be vast
and he will bring immeasurable prosperity.
He will rule on David’s throne
and over David’s kingdom,
establishing it and strengthening it
by promoting justice and fairness,
from this time forward and forevermore.
The Lord’s intense devotion to his people will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7, NET)

Isaiah 9:6 is a favorite passage quoted by Christians just before Christmas, predicting the coming of Messiah. It’s one of my favorites, too. It is difficult for us to look at the passage in its original context, but let’s give it a try.
In the 8th century BCE, Judah was in trouble. Ephraim and Syria were a new threat just to the north and the Assyrian Empire was a terrible juggernaut gobbling up all the surrounding territories. These days, commentators say that Judah was under the “Assyrian Crisis.” The Assyrians were a pretty ruthless people who demonstrated their cruelty in some terrifying ways. Impalement and dismemberment were just a few ways they proved their power to their enemies.
In this cultural and historical setting, Isaiah gave a prophecy of great hope to a people under enormous pressure. A child would be born who would set all things straight. Isaiah’s audience were under Ahaz’s rule, but his actions were less than ideal. But this child would be a king who rules on David’s throne and would bring about a definitive order in the middle of the political chaos.
The birth announcement foretold a human event with divine intention. The child is a human conception, though God has determined its happening and purpose.
He will be one that bears a great weight of responsibility as a political leader, but will be renown for his technique and ability, because he will be called “Extraordinary Strategist” by many. I think the NET Bible communicates this well. Oftentimes we see the popular gloss “Wonderful Counselor” and think that he will be someone that will give great advice or direction in a personal matter. Instead, Isaiah’s audience was more interested in a leader who could get them out of their terrible predicament; someone who could save them from forces like Assyria.
As was common to the ancient Near East, kings were representatives of a nation’s deity. The kings embodied the authority of the gods. They were even considered the very presence of a deity on earth. The title “Mighty God” points to this divine embodiment, but it isn’t an outright incarnation that the New Testament teaches. Instead, a king who accomplished the great things destined for him would obviously be driven by the deity. His authority would be synonymous with the authority of the deity, and so he would represent the divine.
The title “Everlasting Father” really doesn’t have anything to do with deity. Instead, it refers to the fatherly provision and protection of this coming king. A Christian appeal to the Trinity would be problematic here, especially since Christian see the king as the Son and not the Father. The metaphor of a kingly father is also found in Isaiah 22:21 (esp. ESV or NIV). Of course, the duration of his protection will be “everlasting,” which fits the theme of this pericope nicely. This kind of forever language is almost always hyperbolic, not referring to a literal eternity, but is instead a magnanimous description of the coming king. It also fits the language of the promise made in 2 Samuel 7 where God promised David that one from his lineage would establish a kingdom of peace that would endure forever.
He’ll be a “Prince of Peace.” How can a king in that environment establish peace? He’ll be a supreme and unbeatable warrior-king who will force the bad guys into submission and so take care of his people. His concern for his people is clear in verse 7. He’s David’s son, he brings peace and justice to his kingdom, and that kingdom is one of great prosperity. It’s YHWH’s passion that motivates and drives him. He’s the perfect king, truly the Messiah.

Is it any wonder that the first century Jews expected a warrior king that would utterly demolish Rome? It makes a lot of sense when you hear Peter’s revolutionary language and see him charge the crowd who came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane.

But what do we do with this Isaiah 9 passage this Christmastime? The people who walked with Christ experienced a paradigm shift and interpreted these passages like this one differently and we do it too.

A child was born by human effort and divine intention. This child would set things straight and we would save us from a war going on between all humanity and God himself: this king would save us from our own sins (Matt. 1:21). The king will be not simply be a representative of God, but will be the actual incarnation of God Himself. He will not just be a symbol of God’s presence among us (Isaiah 7), but will actually be God in human flesh. He will be Immanuel in substance, and not just in spirit. His kingdom will expand as the Gospel message moves across the globe. Our reasons for fear–death, sickness, and divine retribution–will fade. In him, we got more than was originally expected. With him we gain victory over the grave and death. Political aggressors are really secondary when it comes to the issues of sin and death; and the latter are the most important things in our lives that the Messiah came to correct. The culmination of all God wants to accomplish on earth are found in the Christ child.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Christian Calendar, Christmas, Practical, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sacred Word, Broken Word by Kenton Sparks–Comments from a Former Fundamentalist

When I returned from the SBL annual meeting a few weeks ago, I told lots of folks about my experiences and about a few of the books that I purchased or had hoped to purchase in the near future. The one I began reading on the bus ride home was Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture by Kenton Sparks. I posted the picture of the book on my Facebook account, which led to a flurry of mostly negative comments. I don’t suppose most of the folks knew Sparks or anything about his book. They might have reacted to the title which calls the Bible both sacred and broken, and I’m sure Sparks’s quote from Bonhoeffer that I posted helped egg on the discussion:

“We must read this book of books with all human methods. But through the fragile and broken Bible, God meets us in the voice of the Risen One” (Sparks, 1; Bonhoeffer, Reflections on the Bible)

A former fundamentalist, I understand the concern. People assume (as I did once) that any insinuation about the Bible’s brokenness is simply an attack on the Bible’s authority. Bonhoeffer’s quote makes me uneasy, but it is also one of the more wonderful and refreshing things I’ve heard about the Bible in a long time. The more I study the Bible through an academic and critical lens, I am less convinced by the traditional ways to reconcile Bible contradictions and difficulties. It is one reason I could no longer tow the fundamentalist party line. But old habits and theological positions die hard, and Bonhoeffer’s quote makes me nervous yet hopeful in my search for a different approach to Bible interpretation. But Sparks intrigued me with his first quote, so I eagerly dove into the rest of the 156 pages for the next week. I read it slowly, marking it up in several places with some !’s, some ?’s and a whole lot of circles, underlines and comments. Overall, I was enthusiastic about the message.

He began his book by affirming that the Bible is God’s word, the sword of the Spirit, and written by those who were moved by that Spirit (8-9). It contains God’s truth and elements of divine beauty. Yet it also contains some features that are very disturbing to modern readers–to Christians and non-Christians alike. It is pretty clear that one of the basic messages in the Bible is that the world was created by God and yet contains a great deal of pain and evil. Sparks touches on different theological approaches to the creation narrative and the effects of the Fall on the universe, probably to show the theological complexity of the issue. He also offered a very brief argument himself, but ultimately stated that no one can really prove conclusively that the Christian view of evil is correct (17-19). I agree, especially since the Bible itself offers several approaches to the problem of evil (compare the messages of Job and Ecclesiastes for example). Furthermore, Sparks observed that God expresses himself through creation even though it is fallen and warped (20-21; cf. Ps. 19:1-3). I had never considered this before; and so as I read I could feel my hope grow. The Bible can and does reflect a redemptive message through the pens of depraved authors.

Next Sparks devoted a few pages to Christology..which is a little weird until you see where he is going with it. The coming of Jesus is an example of how God seeks to communicate with mankind. God became incarnate, taking on the “likeness of sinful flesh” to redeem and communicate with those people who were condemned (Rom 8:3-4). Therefore, the fallen world is only redeemed when God interacts with it (27). But unlike the nature of Christ himself, the scriptures were written by sinful men whose works were adopted or sanctified for God’s uses. To claim the scriptures themselves were sinless all together, insinuates a kind of hypostatic relationship between God’s divine perfection and text or its authors. Since none of the human authors have a simultaneously divine and human nature, a perfectly written text seems unlikely. This was a difficult section for me, but I largely agree with Sparks and I think that it honors God more to separate him from the text in this way. An inerrantist view of Scripture seems to idolatrously elevate the Bible to a divine status.

After giving some samples of the “broken” elements in the Bible, including logical and theological inconsistencies along with moral difficulties such as genocide and slavery, we get to the heart of the book where Sparks makes his main arguments. The fact that some of the laws of the Old Testament codify actions that are morally troublesome these days, indicates that the Bible is not simply a divine yardstick to measure all morality for all people. In Sparks’s estimation, “biblical error became God’s wise accommodation to the intellectual and spiritual limitations of the human audience” (53). The idea that the text cannot have errors because it is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) cannot stand since, “the Greek word itself does not really imply anything in particular about how the transaction between God and the human authors took place” (56). Strengthening his case, Sparks shows that other key theological figures have made similar remarks in Church history.

At this point, I’ve agreed with Sparks a great deal, though I feel some trepidation. When he states, “By virtue of its human form and character, Scripture is an adequate human voice that does not fare so well when judged by the yardstick of divine perfection” (61, emphasis his), I must wonder if there is a yardstick at all. What makes Scripture so special? Should we trust the Bible’s documents with the fate of our souls if it doesn’t fare so well against divine perfection? It’s here my hope begins to fade, giving way to despair. But Sparks doesn’t leave me entirely dead in the water. The Bible is not an end in itself. It is a divinely motivated witness to God’s work of redemption in the world through Christ (63). But this still doesn’t answer my questions.

The chapter on epistemology was foundational to the book and one of the most intriguing parts in my reading, probably because I’ve been exploring postmodern ideas on my own. It is important because the way a person determines truth has direct bearing on that person’s ethics. Sparks promotes what he calls “practical realism” (73), which is a tempered postmodernist view. He acknowledges the importance of empirical evidence in the pursuit of truth, but recognizes that personal experience, culture, and traditions carry a great deal of weight as well. Thus, church tradition and history inform and guide church theology and ethics.

With this in mind, Sparks then revisits some of the diversity of ideas and difficulties in the Scripture again. In anticipation of Christ’s imminent return, Paul stated that people should avoid marriage (1 Cor. 7), but Sparks states that these days one is better off looking to Genesis 2 when deciding to marry (115). Good advice, I think. Regarding slavery: “We should not try to argue that biblical laws which allowed Israel to buy foreign slaves (Lev 25:44) fit very nicely with biblical texts that call for justice, equality, freedom and love of neighbor. At a crucial point the two views are simply incommensurable” (105). These slavery texts may have more self-serving purposes for the human authors than divine mandate. And, of course, there’s the church’s old view of geocentrism they finally had to abandon based on new scientific evidence.

Okay! I get it! But how can I know if my reading of the Bible is correct? I’m a Reformed Protestant, so I cry “Sola Scriptura!“and have placed little emphasis on church tradition for my hermeneutics. But recently I have joined a church that does place a great deal of weight on church tradition; so his points resonate with me now. Sparks notes that more Protestants are like me are recognizing the importance of church traditions in Bible interpretation (125). And so my hope grows even more! (FYI: See also the emphasis on tradition in 2 Thesselonians 2:15 and 1 Corinthians 11:2) We also have confidence that the Spirit of God guides the church as she interprets the Bible. As mentioned earlier, we should also consider the natural world and scientific knowledge, since God also reveals himself in nature. Furthermore, Sparks argues that we should always consider our own experiences. He notes that he was taught as a child that Catholics could not be Christians, but working with several devout Catholics over the years has taught him that this is not the case. The church should take a similar approach when reading the Bible. Sparks also gives a list of guidelines and principles for validating one’s interpretation of the text. Part of it includes the mystery of God’s Spirit interacting with the church throughout history, and part of it recognizes one of the most obvious points of all the canon: God is on a mission to redeem the world.

If I could, I would thank Dr. Sparks personally for writing such a great book! It stretches the limits of my accepted doctrines and has given me the groundwork for an alternative to an inerrantist position. I had abandoned this position a few months ago, but Sparks’s writing has given me a nice blueprint for constructing a new hermeneutic. To me, the Bible remains authoritative even though it has clear evidence of human frailty behind it. Sparks affirmed my suspicions about the Scriptures, pointing out some difficulties I had never considered, and then gave me some guideposts with which I can chart a better hermeneutical method that still shows great reverence to Gods word. Now, I feel that I have stronger supports for my position.

Yet, I do have some criticisms and points of disagreements, but there is really only one matter I care to address. As a former fundamentalist, I was drilled with one doctrine above all: the Bible is inerrant. Without the Bible’s inerrancy, I had supposed with everyone else that all was lost. Without inerrancy, we can’t know God and his requirements. With an inerrant view, we can be certain who God is and what he requires. So when my friends saw the title “Sacred Word, Broken Word” and the Bonhoeffer quote, some felt two things: anger and despair. Anger because to question inerrancy is to question God himself, and despair because the recognition of errors in the Bible can feel like the foundation of one’s faith has been compromised. I’m a trained Biblical scholar, and I felt it even while reading Sacred Word, Broken Word; I can only imagine the layperson’s struggle through such a text. Sparks doesn’t seem to anticipate this tremendous emotional and existential struggle. Simply put, he is not pastoral anywhere in his approach. To be fair, he is a theologian and does a great job arguing his point. But this is a sensitive issue for some, and I didn’t see that he is aware of that.

The model I was taught as a fundamentalist is like that of so many: the Bible is my one foundation for truth. Sparks doesn’t replace that foundation with another, instead giving principles for good Bible interpretation via the church, tradition, experience, and nature. After reading Sparks’s book, there is no more singular foundation upon which a Christian can build his house (life). Thus, despair or anger for the fundamentalist reader. As one who has a so-called Calvinist perspective on the sovereignty of God, I find that this is a great replacement foundation to fill the fundamentalist void. The Spirit of God sovereignly moves through the church and through its members to eventually redeem us. We get it wrong sometimes, but through those errors, shortcomings, and even sins, God will be faithful to accomplish his purposes. A little emphasis on something like this would have been appreciated!



Categories: Biblical Studies, Calvinism, Existentialism, Postmodernism, Practical, Theology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why I’m not Worshipping the Devil this Halloween

When I was younger, one of the first haunted houses I attended for Halloween was actually a part of my local Baptist church building in my small rural hometown.   It was pretty hokey.  One of the church members was dressed up like a ghoul and led us from room to room.  One room was nearly pitch black, but the walls were covered from top to bottom  with aluminum foil.  Some fellah dressed in a kind of foil suit was standing in the corner.  We could barely see him as he walked and tapped us on the shoulder, on the arm, on the top of the head.  I think I freaked more people out because I was wearing glow-in-the-dark make up on my face.  So there was an invisible fellah poking us, and my head was levitating in the middle of the room.  Freaky joy for all the kiddos there.   Another darkened room had a line of several bowls on a single table.  My group was told that the bowls contained various organs harvested from human bodies.  What bodies?  Who the heck knows?  But it was cool when we felt inside the bowls and imagined that the raw chicken, pig, and cow parts from the local Piggly Wiggly were human remains.  The rest of the rooms were also a mix of cool and lame–the stuff that makes great Halloween memories.

Now I do serious Christian theology stuff and so have nothing to do with that evil Halloween nonsense.

Whatever.  I love Halloween.  Does this somehow violate my relationship with Christ?  Nah.

I suppose as a guy who is devoted to Christ, the Church, and Christian theology, I should give you a long explanation of the roots of Halloween, how it came from an ancient pagan celebration called Samhain (pronounced sah-win) which involved sacrifices, and it’s likely some were human sacrifice.  I can also tell you about how the Catholic church took the momentum of that celebration and created All Saints Day, a day when we can think about the heroes of the church who have died.  And how unlike the other Christianized pagan celebrations (Easter and Christmas), All Saints Day never really took off in the community at large.  Halloween really isn’t seen as a Christian holiday by anyone.  But that doesn’t mean that Christians must avoid it like the plague.

Sadly, some people think that the holiday is nothing but the celebration of evil, the devil, and pagan mysticism.  Maybe it  used to be, but that’s not what it is these days–at least not in the places I’ve seen it celebrated.  It doesn’t matter what it used to be, what it is now is what matters.  Now it is a time when people watch scary movies, dress up in costumes, go door-to-door looking for candy, and carve faces in pumpkins.  Now Halloween is a time of seasonal fun.  I don’t know anyone who takes the pagan rituals of Halloween seriously.  I’m sure they are out there, but that’s not what Halloween represents to me or to the people of the community.

When I carve a face in a pumpkin, I have no intentions of scaring away evil spirits.  My faith in Christ does that.  When I give candy to the kids that come to my door, it is because I love making kids happy and not because I’m afraid they will put a supernatural curse on my house.  When I watch a scary movie with friends it’s not because I’m eager to glorify death and the devil; it’s because scary stories are thrilling and entertaining.

To be sure, some people go too far.  Participation in pagan religious ceremonies for fun enters into the realm of spiritual exercise.  If someone tries to engage the spiritual world through pagan religious practices, that definitely goes against basic Judeo-Christian principles and biblical mandates.  So I think that participating in a séance or using a Ouija board to communicate with the dead is out of line for the Christian.  If the Christian trusts Christ to meet all his spiritual needs and then pursues spiritual needs though different avenues, that is spiritual adultery.

But as for the pumpkins, the cartoonish pictures of ghosts and witches, and the trick-or-treating, I’m happy to participate in those things mainly because they are cultural and not religious phenomenon.  It’s the same reason I decorate eggs on Easter (originally a pagan practice) or decorate a tree at Christmas (another pagan practice).  These are cultural things that don’t violate my fidelity to Christ and the Church.

For the past several years I have told people my plans for Halloween in a tongue-in-cheek manner.  I tell them I have a long list of things to do.  Put up the decorations outside and inside the house.  Buy chocolate for trick-or-treaters (quality stuff, not that cheap stuff in black and orange wrappers). Go to Halloween parties.  Help out at my Church’s harvest celebrations.  And, of course, worship the Devil.  But even though I have good intentions of worshiping the Devil each Halloween, I never ever get around to it.  Since I obviously don’t consider it important, I won’t even add it to my list this year.

Of course, that was never on my list, but hopefully you’ll understand my point.

Categories: Practical, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Autonomy and the Ever-Tightening Collar in the SBC

I’ve got three dogs. One with a freakishly small head. When I’m walking her she does just fine until she wants to get away. With just a few wiggles and tugs, she pops her head right out of the leash and takes off. I’ve tried tightening the collar around her neck before, but that just chokes her. So if I tighten the collar she’ll choke, but I can stay in control. If I leave the collar a little loose, I forgo absolute control and risk losing her. [Yes, I could get a shoulder harness to solve all my problems, but that would mess up my illustration.]

In a similar way, some key leaders in the SBC are trying to tighten the collar around the SBC’s neck to maintain control over it, even though it’s choking some of it’s most valuable members. Surprise, surprise, it’s over Calvinism.

The document in question is “a suggested statement of what Southern Baptists believe about the doctrine of salvation.” My understanding of the SBC is that it’s doctrines could be as diverse as any congregation chose so long as it agreed with the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). This goes hand-in-hand with the understanding of congregational autonomy–that each congregation can make their own decisions about secondary and tertiary matters so long as they agree with the BFM. But the signers of this new statement suggest that a “Traditional” Southern Baptist view of salvation is what the BFM article on salvation (IV) was supporting when it was written. But the funny thing is, Calvinist Baptists have no qualms with that statement. As a so-called ‘Five-Point Calvinist’, I have no problem with it either.

From "Baptizing in the Jordan" by Si...

From “Baptizing in the Jordan” by Silas X. Floyd (1869-1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what’s really going on here? Isn’t it obvious? It’s a power-play for the Glory of God. The leash needs to be tightened around Calvinist necks because they feel too much theological resistence. Am I being too harsh? Well, listen carefully to the tone of this statement: “The Southern Baptist majority has fellowshipped happily with its Calvinist brethren while kindly resisting Calvinism itself. And, to their credit, most Southern Baptist Calvinists have not demanded the adoption of their view as the standard. We would be fine if this consensus continued, but some New Calvinists seem to be pushing for a radical alteration of this long- standing arrangement.”I can’t help but feel the condescension here. ‘We’re the majority and have let you play ball with us for a long time. But you Calvinists are not keeping a lid on your doctrine like you’re supposed to.’ It’s true that the fear comes from efforts of some group called the ‘New Calvinists’, but this statement promotes a combative stance against all SBC Calvinists. Furthermore, the claim that there is some Calvinistic push for ‘radical alteration’ is bewildering to many SBC Calvinists.So how do the statement-writers want to fix this problem? They have given the “Traditional” SBC view of salvation–an Arminian addendum to article IV of the BFM. [Please dispense with the useless notion that it isn’t Arminianism. If you call a guy a Calvinist for holding to four points of TULIP, then I think it’s safe to say that this statement is Arminian]

Ultimately, I think this is a move to amend the BFM yet again. Key leaders have signed the document with enthusiasm, including several former SBC presidents. If the rest of the SBC leaders care anything about church autonomy or frankly the unity of the SBC overall, they shouldn’t just disagree with the statement, they should rebuke the composers and signers. Otherwise, the collar will tighten, and I wonder how many people will chose a new collar. I have.

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A Different Approach May Help Us

People have started looking at me differently since my last post. A few can’t help but think that I’ve denied the Gospel itself.  Let me make this clear: I’ve made this move because of several reasons.  One is because it does a better job affirming the gospel in our current culture.  I’ve heard many sermons at numerous churches rejecting evolutionary thought as a heresy that voids the Gospel altogether.

It reminds me of a conversation that I’ve had with a Bible professor a few years ago.  When I mentioned that people who believe in evolution feel blacklisted at church, he told me that he’d never heard that before and didn’t feel that was the case.  I didn’t respond because I didn’t have the hard evidence at my fingertips, but I can tell you that I have read several blogs in which the writer asked his/her audience a similar question.  A large number of the respondents agreed that they felt that they would be ostracized if they made their scientific views known to the leaders of the church.  I’ve also personally witnessed conversations where church membership depended on a literal view of Adam and Eve.  More than once people have whispered to me about their evolutionary thinking in church hallways, afraid that the wrong person might overhear.

These issues have frustrated me for a long time.  Even when I thought that

Portrait of Francis S. Collins.

Portrait of Francis S. Collins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adam and Eve were historical figures, it bothered me that even church membership depended on it in some cases.  How do these folks account for Francis Collins?Collins converted in part because of a personal experience he had with a patient in a hospital.  He believes in the evolutionary theory but also firmly trusts in Christ for his salvation.  We shouldn’t think that his conversion is worthless, should we?

So here’s my question.  Is belief in Adam required for salvation? Some say “yes!” But I’d like to challenge that idea.  When your pastor presents the Gospel in church, how many times does Adam come up? I’ll bet you that most of the time he doesn’t!  When someone presents the Gospel person to person, is Adam mentioned in the conversation?  Most times, he isn’t!  In fact, how many Gospel tracts have you seen that make a big deal about Adam at all?  This may be a trite point, but it has significant implications.  It is not my belief in a literal Adam that saves me and makes me right with God.  Rather, it is my hope and trust in Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection that move me to repentance.  My hope in Christ is what drives my faith; my trust in Christ that is the foundation of my belief.  I still believe in a literal Christ, his literal death and resurrection.

Further, I affirm the Ecumenical Creeds of the Church.  And yet, Adam doesn’t appear in them either! Do you see what I’m getting at here?

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that my revised thoughts on Adam do a better job affirming the gospel in our current environment.  And I think it really does.

Resurrection Window (Matthew 28:1-5)

Resurrection Window (Matthew 28:1-5) (Photo credit: jdwarrick)

Think about it with me for a minute.  How many kids go off to college rejecting evolutionary thinking and then graduate believing it.  As a consequence, some of them also reject their Christian faith.  Now, we may try to blame the professors for that, but for the most part, professors are just doing their job (though I have no doubt some are just hostile to religious ideas altogether).  I think much of the blame falls at the feet of Christian leaders who feel that the Church is at war with modern scientific ideas.  A number of them insist that if anyone begins to believe things like “evolution,” that person’s faith is in jeopardy, or even doomed.  Frankly, professors don’t have to attack Christianity.  Since certain religious leaders have drawn a large, imaginary line between evolution and Christianity when the Christian steps into the realm of evolution, he thinks he has just abandoned the Faith!  He can either try to cruise under the radar in church, hoping that no one brings up the “E” word, or he can accept what his pastor always taught him: If Adam never existed, then there is no need for Christ, the resurrection, or even Christianity!So why don’t we take a different approach?  Why not recognize different readings and approaches to Genesis 1-3?  Teach the people in our churches that the Gospel does not rise and fall on Adam; its foundation is the teachings, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  Folks need to know that there are people in the world like Francis Collins, who recognize evolution and believe in the resurrection of Christ.  One does not have to negate the other.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Practical, Theology | 23 Comments

Burning Our Virtues

Burning Our Virtues–Robert A Pyne

I wanted to share one of the most influential chapel messages I heard at DTS by Robert A. Pyne. One of the great lessons I took from it (and there are several) is that a Christian scholar (or any Christian, for that matter) ought not arbitrarily condemn this book or that article without ever reading it for yourself.  Also, I believe he is also noting that our own virtues and values can become idolatrous when we are following Christ.  Our relationship to Christ is more than a list of rules to keep.

Categories: Practical, Theology | Leave a comment

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