Posts Tagged With: theology

Nearly Twenty Years Later…

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

I came across this the other day:

“It is likely that scientific research in the next ten or twenty years will tip the weight of evidence decisively toward either a young earth or an old earth view, and the weight of Christian scholarly opinion (from both biblical scholars and scientists) will begin to shift decisively in one direction or another. This should not cause alarm to advocates of either position, because the truthfulness of Scripture is not threatened (our interpretations of Genesis 1 have enough uncertainty that either position is possible). Both sides need to grow in knowledge of the truth, even if this means abandoning a long-held position” –Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 309, 1994.

Grudem was hopeful that this debate would be settled by now.  I wish it was, but the lines are still drawn.  I wonder if they will ever be erased!

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Redeeming Christmas

Christmas tree

Christmas tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Around A.D. 336, the Christian Church made December 25 the official date to celebrate the birth of Christ. Some of the images and rituals popular in Christmas celebrations today, have their origins in ancient pagan celebrations.  The Christian Church could have rejected these images but instead redeemed them, pointing them to Christ instead of false gods.  The Biblical authors had no problem with such methods.  In Psalm 29, David described a storm rolling over Lebanon striking down trees with lightning.  Canaanites thought Baal was behind such power, but David corrected this notion, claiming YHWH was behind it all.  Pagans were right to acknowledge a deity who brought the storm, but their adoration was misdirected!  David took the religious enthusiasm fomented by the image of a storm and directed praise toward the Lord.  He used an image that was common to his Canaanite neighbors and corrected the theology behind it.

Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul recognized the religiosity of his audience by noting the pagan idols they worshipped and paid special attention to the writing on one particular altar (Acts 17:23).  Paul used the altar devoted to “the unknown god”  to preach the good news to his listeners!  They had religious momentum, yet Paul sought to correct their misconceptions about religion and direct their devotion to the true God.

So when I remember Christ in December of each year, I enjoy putting up my Christmas lights and admiring their beauty during some of the longest nights of the year, because they remind me of Christ–the light of the world who shines in the darkness.  When I decorate my Christmas tree, I think about how it stays green and vibrant while the  other trees of the woods look dead.  Christ similarly makes believers alive in a world spiritually lifeless in sin.  The gifts under that tree remind me of how Christ was a gift from the Father to the world.  The Yule log in the hearth should keep a home warm through the night until the daylight shines once again, just as Christ’s Spirit in our hearts will keep us until the dawn of the second advent.  Just as God has redeemed our lives and corrected our theology, some of the traditions of Christmas which had pagan roots long ago are now symbols that point to the true God.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Christmas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Diet of Pasta and the Diet of Worms

Pasta again!

Pasta again! (Photo credit: HatM)

What better place to discuss a break from Rome than in an Italian restaurant?  I connected with a couple of fellas at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and later we went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in Chicago.  It was one of those great evenings of conversation that theologues savor.  I knew one of the guys already, and the other was a newer acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while.  We talked about the so-called ‘quests for the historical Jesus‘ all down the sidewalk until we decided on where to eat.  After sitting down and placing our order, we talked about the weather, food, and drink.  Then, the three of us got into a rather aggressive theological debate about Luther’s break from the Roman Catholic Church.

Can you see the picture?  Three of the most un-Italian guys you can think of raising a ruckus about the Roman Catholic Church in an Italian restaurant.  The thought still makes me chuckle.

Anyway, the food was good and the conversation stimulating.  The question we addressed was this: Was it right for Luther to create a new ecclesiastical body separate from that of Rome?  Why divide the church again?  Of course, I thought this was a no-brainer, and one fellah agreed to a point.  Luther was excommunicated.  What else could he have done?  But the other gentleman disagreed.  His argument went something like this (my responses follow each):

(1) Luther was a nut. –I have no disagreement there.  Luther was probably one of the smartest and strangest dudes in church history.  Some of his actions were comical, others were just downright macabre.  But it takes an eccentric personality to make the bold history-changing moves he did.

(2) Why didn’t Luther use proper channels to seek reform? — I’m no church historian, but I thought he tried.  Furthermore, when you’re being excommunicated from the church, that pretty much stops your in-house efforts.

(3) If Luther sought to create a comparable church (a true church), then why did he make it look so very different from the Roman Catholic Church?  The protestant churches were different from Rome on virtually every level.–I think the coming of modernism and individual thought had something to do with that.  In Rome, you’d be struggling to change pre-established tradition.  The Protestants had a clean slate to start over with no traditions to stop them.  The decisions they made reflect Luther’s words at the Diet of Worms: the new doctrines were based on reason and Scripture instead of traditions.  Obviously, that would make the church look much different.

No one won our little Diet of Pasta that evening.  But it was a stimulating conversation nonetheless.

Categories: History, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

SBL Annual Meeting 2012

SBL

For the past several years, I have attended the annual and some regional Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meetings where I have learned a lot and met several great scholars. I never had the chance to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), which usually met about the same time and in the same city as ETS–though not this year. Because of my new and recent theological investigations I decided to go to SBL this year. I am so very glad that I did!For those of you who don’t know the difference between ETS and SBL, here’s the deal. ETS is primarily faith-based while SBL is purpose based. ETS is for scholars who believe in two basic things (1) the inerrancy of the Bible and (2) a trinitarian view of God (a later stipulation that deals with any Mormons who want to get involved). SBL exists to encourage any scholarship of the Bible or any literature relating to it. Since it is not limited to a religious view, the scholarship is wonderfully broad which offers so many scholarly views of any given biblical topic or text. Pure gold to a biblical scholar.

SBL exhibits3

SBL exhibits3 (Photo credit: Joe Weaks)

Why go to a conference like this? There are several reasons. One obvious reason is to learn. From Friday through Tuesday morning scholars from all over the world present papers on new findings and new theories. Some people present papers just for the sake of presenting, some really want the feedback of the other participants so they can fine-tune their ideas, some people present ideas as precursors to published essays and books. On the downside, some papers promise a lot but really aren’t worth your time. Another benefit of the conference is the books . Numerous vendors sell their books and products at a huge discount. Additionally, you’ll meet editors at these booths with whom you can discuss publishing opportunities.

Another plus is networking and running into old friends. I met several old buddies and made many new connections while looking at books, eating meals, and traveling. It was over some pasta and a few drinks that I had one of the most aggressive and serious theological discussions I’ve had in years. Each of us made very strong points…and mine were the strongest . That was probably the greatest learning experience for me on the whole trip. It was so friggin’ awesome.

Giordano’s kickin’ pizza

That leads to another reason to go to SBL–the hosting cities. The meetings are always held at great locations:

San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, and this year it was Chicago. So during my down time I would go to some of the great r

estaurants and sights. Of course, one evening I strolled to Giordano’s to get a stuffed pizza and ate it nice and slow. Another plus is the fact that you’ll do so much walking in Chicago, it helps offset the fact that you just ate ten thousand calories.

I am so going to do SBL again. I’m hooked.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Little “Ah Ha” on Saturday Morning.

The word is very qarob to you…and so is this coffee.

I’m working my way through a very good book: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer).  So, I’m learning a whole lot more about this postmodern business.  The essays are by some really smart people, and are on topics such as Anglo-American Postmodernity, Postliberal theology, Postmetaphysical theology, Deconstructive theology, Reconstructive theology, and Radical orthodoxy.  It covers more topics than you can shake a post at.  One of the great things about it is how it does not simply promote postmodern theology, but rather explores and critiques it, giving credit in some places and caution in others.

The essay I worked through this Saturday over a pastry and cup of joe was “Deconstructive Theology” by Graham Ward (a priest of the Church of England and professor of lots of philosophical and religious concepts that you and I would probably have a hard time understanding at the University of Manchester).  He gives a history of deconstructive theology and hermeneutic concluding with his own appraisal of such methods.  Discussing Jacques Derrida’s ideas, he notes that Derrida only became academically interested in theology when theologians began using his methods to interpret the scriptures.

Derrida’s approach to the text was nihilistic.  It seems he believed that any given text was a platform upon which a reader constructs meaning.  I think there is some truth in that, but I’m not entirely convinced.  I grew up interpreting the Bible a certain way.  I interpreted it the best way I could based on what I knew.  When I went to seminary, I learned a lot and so interpreted the Bible differently based on my new-found theological education.  I have more tools and knowledge of the text now.  Some bothersome questions arise now: Can God speak to me more clearly through the Bible now that I have a theological education?  If God uses the Bible to speak to me, can he speak to me better now that I’m “educated”?  Are my interpretations of his message more legitimate now than they were in the past?

And here is my “ah-ha!”  My engagement with the Bible is a divine interaction, and the Holy Spirit can and does use these readings to speak directly to me.  When I read the text, in a way, I construct the meaning of that text and I expect that the Holy Spirit is involved in that process.  It’s mysterious, and cannot be entirely measured or regulated.  My education may give me the tools and skill to have a more critical reading of the Bible, but not necessarily a more devotional and thus a more meaningful reading of the Bible.  I can now see the significance of Karl Barth’s approach to the Biblical text.  A Bible laying on a desk is the Word of God.  But an open Bible that I am reading to a church audience behaves differently.  In which instance is the Word “living and active”?–while it sits on the desk or while I actively engage it?   The Holy Spirit works in me while I read it.  I may not always get it “right,” but I have faith that it will affect me positively.

Now, I still believe there must be regulation in reading.  If the text is “God is Love” interpretations like  “My cat is red” would be delusional, illogical, or dishonest.  How does all of this work together–well…this is just an ‘ah ha!’ not a full exposition.

Categories: Postmodernism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Not to Convince a Postmodernist

Postmodernism is rebellion against modern reasoning.  In a earlier post, I showed how modernism used reason to liberate itself from the corrupt control of premodern authorities (kings, lords, popes, etc.).  Modernism indulged in reason and promoted the hope that reasonable societies were on their way to Utopia.  However, the bloodshed in the twentieth century was the worst the world had ever seen. People began to realize that even the best educated and most intellectual people disagreed about many things.  So, postmodernists rebelled against the modernist approach.  Instead of trying to find meaning in objective truth, they found purpose in their own subjective views. Personal opinion became everyone’s own reality, and the pursuit of an objective truth (a True truth) was abandoned all together.  Sure, some people still believed in one supreme truth, but the postmodernist doubted that we could see it for what it was.

Since the postmodernist has such a great suspicion against the keepers of reason, the Evangelical Church was frustrated time and time again in its efforts to reach them.  People started saying that they were against organized religion, though they found a spiritual side of life important.  Jon Meacham‘s “The End of Christian America” revealed just such an idea.  This disinterest in the church has been called the post-Christian Era.  Postmodernism has clearly affected the religious affections of America.  Though a number of scholars suggest that we have actually moved beyond postmodernism into a new era (some give it the tedious name post-postmodernism), the remnants of postmodern thinking remain.  How can the church expect to reach a post-Christian and postmodern society that distrusts (1) organized religion and (2) a pre-packaged, well-reasoned argument such as a gospel presentation or church sermon?

Let’s begin with an approach that isn’t as effective.  That is, a purely modernist approach.  When I was growing up, one of the most popular Christian books was Josh McDowell‘s Evidence that Demands a Verdict and a second volume would follow. The book was an attempt to prove without a shadow of doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was the divine Son of God who had physically resurrected from the dead and offered salvation to those who place their trust in him.  Supposedly after reading the evidence, you wouldn’t be able to deny McDowell’s claims.  The approach is clearly modernist: the truth exists and we’ll get there with reason.  The postmodernist scoffs at this kind of book.  He knows that there are many other books that seek to prove that Jesus of Nazareth never existed at all, or that he existed only as a good teacher.  The postmodernist sees a book like this as an attempt to control, not to convince. The postmodernist is not surprised that I find such books helpful because it reinforces my beliefs, but he does not because it doesn’t reinforce his.

(To McDowell’s credit, he dealt with this problem in a later book, Beyond Belief to Convictions)

If somebody wants to have meaningful dialogue with someone in this [post-]postmodern era, the best approach I’ve found is one that genuinely seeks to understand another person’s perspective.  Some years ago, I prided myself how well I could debate with others.  I had taken my college philosophy classes seriously and enjoyed any logical dialogue I could get.  I remember one rather intense conversation with a fellow who had studied to become a priest, but had later abandoned all that in favor of atheistic ideals.

My attitude? I was going to change that guy’s life.

My ego was a little too strong.  I knew the One truth, the One God, and the One way, and I wielded the tools of logic and rhetoric well enough to defeat virtually anyone.  My conversation with this gentleman was pleasant, though we disagreed about many things.  To each point he made, I offered a solid rebuttal; and at the end of the conversation, I had him in a logical corner where he had to admit that his own position contradicted itself.  It was a victory; I was very proud of myself. But I was shocked at his final response: That’s just what I’ve always believed, and I still believe it today.  It didn’t matter to him that I had out-argued him in a debate, he was still committed to his thought-system.  That day I learned a very important lesson.  Few are argued out of their positions, they are wooed.  I had engaged this man in a logical wrestling match and won.  I may have bested his outer defences, but I had not touched his inner world.  The only thing that I taught him was that his outer defences needed to be improved.

No one will woo a person by arguing them to the ground.  And the postmodernist who is cynical to a packaged logical system (and there are lots of them) will resist any notion that one logical system is objectively superior to another. So if you defeat him in debate, he is not going to abandon his system over that.  In fact, you may have inadvertently entrenched him even more, making him harder to reach next time.

There’s another approach that works much better.  I’ll propose that in my next post.

Categories: Postmodernism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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