I leaned towards the soul making theodicy as explained by John Hick, but I would go further than that. I am still toying with it, but I am leaning to calling something like entropic theodicy. Here are the basic principles:
“Evil,” “good” and “love” (along with other concepts) presuppose a moral order. Even “suffering” and “well-being” are concepts presupposing a pre-existing order. If God pre-exists order and is outside of all systems, then likewise he is outside the moral order. Therefore, such human concepts cannot easily apply to God.
God and the Cosmos are not separate (panentheism) albeit the cosmos is physical whereas God is not.
God and evil are not separate (Isaiah 45.7).
Evil is cosmological. (It exists in all corners of Creation).
Evil is entropic (hot water (unstable) growing colder (stable) due to entropy). Thus, evil leads to good, even if eventually. Thus, evil is defined as a cosmological state of instability whereas good is a cosmological state of stability. As with other entropic systems, there has to exist a separation and a difference. This allows for the transformation (theosis).
There are natural laws established by God; science has shown that in places these laws are not always strictly enforced; therefore, God is not completely bound by natural laws. Therefore, if God decides to intervene, this is to further the course of evil which will lead to good.
We can cooperate with God in the course of evil which leads to the eventual transformation.
Alright, there you go. It is still raw, but thoughts?
But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God.1
The early Christians not only would not expose their children, deformed or otherwise, but they would rescue the exposed and make them a part of the community.
I have, lately, seen a lot of articles about attracting others to Christianity. Everyone is worried about number$. We need to do X to attract demographic Y to us or else we will die. No doubt, this is what has led to the extremes forming. The Conservatives are becoming more entrenched, almost to the point of fundamentalism* because they fear the changes (from technology to any form of biblical criticism) while Liberals have nearly completed their march to the great oblivion of inconsequentiality. Why? Because too many seem focused on attracting new members.
Christianity has become something less than a hope for a grand do-over (the cosmic conflagration), ethical impulses, and philosophical considerations about our place within God’s plan all made possible because of the death (and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Rather, it now focuses on megastar pastors (and, more importantly, their downfalls); the latest theological trend (or lack of theology); and the number of people in your bean=bags, folding chairs, or other cool, hip seating circles. We focus on ourselves. Or, worse, we focus on the perceived sin of our neighbor because somehow the only verse we take super-literal and super-missional is James 5.20.
This is the great con of Christianity. We need members to make congregations grow — we measure vitality not by the immeasurable (i.e., the good we do) but by numbers. We need new members; we need new buildings — we need bigger buildings to attract new members to give us new buildings to attract members. It is a vicious cycle Mainliners, Evangelicals and others have fallen into. Fundamentalists, such as independent fundamentalist Baptists and oneness pentecostals, do not focus on this so much as focus on saving souls from the pit of hell using every ounce of fear they can muster. Neither of these approaches work. Instead the approach we must relearn is the method of the early church, something Wesley I believe saw and try to implement.
This method is very simple. We work. We work at correcting the ills of society where we can — depending not on the Law of Empire but on the Law of Grace. When the church was powerless it had the most power. It was not protected and thus it protected. The church led the way in changing morality in the Roman Empire. When the old religions fell, when immorality was worse than we can imagine today, when Christian was persecuted for doing these things it was the faith and religion it should have been. Creeds, doctrines, and our finely expressed theology all matter and must be taught. However, if we are only there to attract people into our buildings rather than serving as a means of delivering God’s reconciling and reforming grace to those around us, we are nothing more than a less successful Amway with prettier, more stationary market stations.
BTW, my local UMC church is awesome at service projects for the sake of service. I’m not bragging. I’m boasting.
Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; vol. 1; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 1172. ↩
: United Methodist Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While Joel is on vacation, I promised him I would contribute a few original posts this week on here. For the past year, Joel has given more of his energy to the United Methodist Church and the -ism Schism controversies within it. What are the reasons for schisms, and who are calling for them. There are some rather unwise persons out here in Christianity calling for schism over their pet issues, without even knowing what it means historically. Do they not understand that schismatics desire bloodshed? The history of Schisms in Church history is a rather gory one. The Protestant Reformation brought with it about a century of warfare between Catholics and Protestants. The Eastern/Western Schism in the 11th century was followed by the anti-Greek Orthodox Crusades in the 14th century and the invasion of Constantinople. In the late 15th century, Christopher Columbus declared Indians as non-persons, and pretty soon Africans replaced First Nations persons as the enslaved class, only to have thousands of “Christians” die in battle for the right to own other people during the U.S. American Civil War.
What I am trying to say is this: religious bloodshed does not happen in a vacuum. The context for each of these conflicts is church schism. The one primary example of church schism is the Donatist controversy. Blood was shed on both sides. The Donatists rejected men as bishops if they were suspected of turning over fellow Christians and the already rare copies of sacred writings. The Donatists believed their words and actions made them the one true Pure Church. The debate became about tribalism versus the Church Universal. I don’t think the Donatists were in error; they just needed to understand our righteousness comes from Christ, and not our own beliefs or commitments.
I do believe it is possible for progressives and conservatives to fellowship together. When yet another leader of the NeoCalvinist movement was selected to a high position within the Southern Baptist Convention, I said to myself this is problematic. I mean, I live across the street from Southern Baptists who identify as more Armininan. The Southern Baptist church I attend is labelled as “liberal” by Al Mohler because it ordains women deacons, and yesterday, we had the honor of having an ordained UMC elder provide the sermon for us yesterday. Her message was a testimony to the possibilities of church unity. Not only did she recognize the persecution of Christians around the world, but also the racial divisions that keep us separated here at home. She reminded us of Paul’s teaching of biblical solidarity, that Christians are all of one body. Schism is an attempt by one limb of the body in order to several all the others off. Schismatics are inherently prone to violence, and they will inevitably fail.
My interest in the concept of personhood is multifarious as I believe it will help in building a proper theology for various elements in our society and Church. In reading Vincent of Lerins, I happened upon this chapter from his Commonitory (ch14). Unlike Tertullian’s less defined, or unrefined, persona in describing the Father, Son, and Spirit, Vincent (a proper Saint) uses persona differently.
BUT inasmuch as we often use the term person, and say that GOD in a person was made man, we must take very great care, lest we seem to say that GOD the WORD took on Him our properties merely in the way of imitative acting; and that whatever made up His human conversation was done by Him not as a true man, but in adumbration, after the manner of theatres, where one individual represents in quick succession several personages, of which no one is his own.
Sed cum personam sæpius nominamus et dicimus, quod Deus per personam homo factus sit, vehementer verendum est, ne hoc dicere videamur, quod Deus Verbum sola imitatione actionis, quæ sunt nostra susceperit, et quidquid illud est conversationis humanæ, quasi adumbratus, non quasi verus homo fecerit: sicut in theatris fieri solet, ubi unus plures effingit repente personas, quarum ipse nulla est.
But the Catholic faith says that the WORD of GOD was so made man as to take on Him our properties, not fallaciously and in show, but truly and actually; and to deport Himself as a man, not as one who imitates the doings of another, but rather as in his own character; and altogether to be what He represented, just as we ourselves, in that we speak, know, live, subsist, do not imitate men, but are such…So also GOD the WORD, in assuming and having flesh, in speaking, doing and suffering in the flesh, yet without any corruption of His nature, deigned even to go so far as not to imitate or represent a perfect man, but to exhibit Himself as such; so as not merely to be seen or to be thought a true man but to be such, and to subsist as such.
Catholica vero fides ita Verbum Dei hominem factum esse dicit, ut quæ nostra sunt, non fallaciter et adumbrate, sed vere expresseque susciperet; et quæ erant humana, non quasi aliena imitaretur, sed potius ut sua gereret: et prorsus quod agebat, hoc etiam esset, quod agebat, is esset. Sicut ipsi nos quoque in eo quod loquimur, sapimus, vivimus, subsistimus, non imitamur homines, sed sumus….ta etiam Deus Verbum, adsumendo et habendo carnem, loquendo, faciendo, patiendo per carnem, sine ulla tamen suæ corruptione naturæ hoc omnino præstare dignatus est, ut hominem perfectum non imitaretur aut fingeret, sed exhiberet: ut homo verus non videretur aut putaretur, sed esset atque subsisteret.
The idea of personhood, then, as showed to us via the Holy Trinity, is that to be a person requires something more than being human.
Note, Christ could still have been a human without being a person. What makes him a person is his life, not that he was born a human. Perhaps he could have grown up completely free from sin and desire, without the need to eat or expel the wastes of eating. Perhaps he could have simply been born a human male, or dropped from the sky as such. Yet, Vincent reminds us that he subsisted as a person.
If Jesus subsisted as a person, that means he was afforded the ability to be wrong and to be right, to love (maybe lust), to be tempted, to live as each of us do even within the confounds of having previously held the universe in his hand. If Jesus really was a person and lived as such rather than simply becoming human, how might this help us answer questions about those with a disability or LGBT people?
What is required to be a person rather than just being human? And is this important? Can you see the difference?
The doctrine of divine simplicity is complicated and controversial—even among those who admire Aquinas’ philosophical theology. But the following account should provide the reader with a rough sketch of what this doctrine involves. Consider the example human being. A person is a human being in virtue of her humanity, where “humanity” denotes a species-defining characteristic. That is, humanity is an essence or “formal constituent” that makes its possessor a human being and not something else (ST Ia 3.3). Of course, a human being is also material being. In virtue of materiality, she possesses numerous individuating accidents. These would include various physical modifications such as her height or weight, her particular skin pigmentation, her set of bones, and so forth. According to Aquinas, none of these accidental traits are included in her humanity (indeed, she could lose these traits, acquire others, and remain a human being). They do, however, constitute the particular human being she is. In other words, her individuating accidents do not make her human, but they do make her a particular exemplification of humanity. This is why it would be incorrect to say that this person is identical to her humanity; instead, the individuating accidents she has make her one of many instances thereof.
Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a similar manner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was raised an anti-Trinitarian oneness guy. This view is based on ignorance of Christian Tradition, Scripture, and certain key concepts, such as monotheism. It is based on ignorance of Christianity and arrogance that we know better than 2000 years of Christian tradition.
As one who is an orthodox Christian, I am now a Trinitarian, believing the Trinity is well in line with Scripture and is a natural development of Christian doctrine.
But, outside the oneness pentecostals are those who view Christian Tradition with disdain while claiming to be Christian. (accept my nuance here ). The first thing they like to get rid of is the Trinity. Usually, a good 90% of the time, it is because they lack the knowledge necessary to understand the Trinity and its place in Christology and soteriology.
For instance, Mark Sandlin. In a recent post about his cool new anti-Christian Tradition Christianity he writes,
Jesus was a Jew. (Please tell me no one is surprised to hear that.)
As a Jew, Jew was a strong monotheist.
Except… Jewish monotheism isn’t exactly a thing for all Jews and for all Jews at the time of Jesus.
He then writes,
Jesus was a monotheist.
Can’t prove it. Indeed, we don’t know much about Jesus and his personal beliefs. If we put him next to other apocalyptic Jews, he may have believed in the two-powers of heaven, which is not monotheism. What we know about Jesus comes from the Scriptures held together by the Christian, i.e., Trinitarian Church. We know nothing of Jesus except by the Church that is Trinitarian. It is this same Church that took John (I and the Father are one), Paul (2 Co 13.14) and Proverbs 8/Wisdom of Solomon/Baruch to develop a confession holding the unity of God with the triunity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
English: Malayalam-language version of Christian Trinitarian “Shield of the Trinity” diagram, created on the lines of Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As Nathan McDonald notes, polytheism and monotheism are Enlightenment developments. In other words, a Western European concept. See Larry Hurtado as well. Indeed, one should really read Hurtado’s article. Jesus, I hate to tell the Southern minister, was not a post-Enlightenment Western European male.
By the way, the development of the Trinity was led by Africans such as Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian along with other non-European thinkers.
He goes further and says,
Even the Bible predominantly practices monotheism.
Biblically, God is always addressed with a singular pronoun, not plural.
Except, that is not true either. Not only does Scripture refer to other gods, but God actually speaks to the “we” in creating humanity. Elohim is plural. Indeed, much of the OT, if not the NT, is poly- and heno-theistic (2 Kings 3:27; Ps. 95:3; Ps. 97:7; Ps. 135:5; Ps. 89:6–7). The NT includes theomachy events which means… non-monotheistic.
Mark S. then becomes a biblicalist:
Not only that, but biblically there is no mention of the Trinity.
I find that argument little more than circular reasoning. For that matter, “bible” isn’t mentioned either, neither is the canon laid down. Nuclear missiles, electricity, and pews are out the window as well.
And for some unknown reason, he confuses confession (the Trinity is a confession, i.e., mystery) with fact when he writes,
Admittedly, the Trinity is an interesting theory and it certainly quailed some of the early Church’s division on the nature of God, but it is just that – a theory.
The Trinity is not a theory, hypothesis or otherwise. Neither is it a fact. It is a confession of our faith (Epistle to the Hebrews. Seriously, the entire book). It helps us explain Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, and even anthropology.
And then, it all becomes clear…
The lack of biblical witness leaves me to believe that either there simply was no understanding of a Trinitarian God at the time books of the Bible were written, or that the concept was so unimportant to their faith that it mostly wasn’t mentioned.
Mark has no idea what Church History is or how Christianity developed. He abandons something he doesn’t even have and insists he is doing something progressive, emergent, liberal — right. Indeed, what he is doing is what fundamentalists do. Make it up as they go along.
One of the statements I made was in response to the event called “receiving the Holy Ghost.” I said it involved people beating it into you. This is not the same thing as “laying hands” on someone and having them “slain in the spirit” (perhaps common in charismatic churches) but actually shaking, touching, and other physical contact between the crowd (mass hysteria?) and the individual “under the power.”
If you aren’t familiar, or if you are and you don’t understand the systematic operation at play here, let me break it down to you. The person is standing in the middle of the crowd. Music is blaring. It is not merely theological music, but “praise” choruses sung over and over again. For some, people separate along sex lines. Women for women and so on. Sometimes, men are allowed to help their wives and vice versa but this is discouraged since you have to comingle in very intimate ways with the opposite sex.
You have the crowd, the loud music, the chanting, and the examples of others doing it right next to you. You will raise your hands and pray until you begin to cry. People will be yelling at you, suggesting you say this or that, or yelling the “Holy Ghost” into you (I guess). They will scream encouragement at you and so forth. Someone will hold up your arms (because you ain’t giving up that easily). The crowd is now thick around you. You are not moving except by the power of others.
The music gets louder. If you start to murmur, someone may start to tap your lips/chin to “loosen them up.” By now, many in the crowd are “speaking in tongues.” Some may whisper into your ear about hell and “where you be tonight if you died.” You feel the immediate necessity to be saved — because this, the “infilling/indwelling” is the moment of salvation. If you are lucky, you only have to do this once or twice a Sunday for a few months until a revival comes around and you have a larger crowd.
This is the church (if you’ve read the book…) in Dyersburg, TN. The person in the center is the pastor’s son (not sure if he is still the pastor or not). He was up at the altar for years “seeking.” I guess one night he got lucky. But, you will notice through the crowd the movement by others geared to “helping” him.
Please don’t think I am in anyway making fun of the children and others who have experienced this. I believe with every fiber of my being that these experiences are real because with mass hysteria, you can pretty much do anything and people will feel it and internalize it. However, I digress.
These videos are not the fullest extent of what I have seen but it does help introduce you to the world. Oddly enough, one of the leaders of the old organization (not sure it exists and I sure as heck ain’t calling him a bishop) declared that no one should physically rough house anyone “seeking the Holy Ghost.” The older folks got mad. His stance on that changed slightly. Regardless, the process of “getting the Holy Ghost” in this type of Church is a physical (and psychological) one. Indeed, it is the moment of salvation.
Keep in mind — my experience applies to the types of churches I attended and indeed, to many oneness pentecostal ones as well. Perhaps your oneness pentecostal church does not do this, or rather, perhaps you do not recognize it and cannot externalize what you believe actually occurred. However, it happens and happens with greater frequency than you would care to admit.
I really have no need to continue this conversation beyond a rudimentary exploration of why I will continue to serve God without enthusiasm.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’ve seen this discussion taking place in the blogosphere (and wider social media venue) so I’ve had some time to think about it.
What would happen if the canon wasn’t closed?
That is usually the question. Some would add MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail while others may wish to add something closer to the Apostles, such as GThomas or 1st Clement.
For me, I’m not sure our canon is closed, only our understanding of what the canon is. If the canon is limited to a set of books within what we call “the bible” then it is closed because of the theological necessity at one point or the other to ensure our Church is founded only upon the words of the Apostles (or, you know, their pseudonymous followers — I’m looking you, “Timothy”)
In my opinion, the “canon” includes Scripture, the Creeds, and the writings of the Church that do not contradict the previous two.1 This means even the writings of various Christians such as John Wesley. So, my canon is not necessary closed as it is open to progressive revelation based on two firm foundations.
This isn’t exactly the UCC version of “God is still speaking…” but something along the lines of John 16.13 where we are still being guided from something, along a path, to some place.
What are your thoughts?
Btw, if I were to issue a New New Testament, I would include Thomas, Barnabas, 1st and 2nd Clement, Ignatius’s letters (short form), and Diognetus. I would also include the creed from the Council of Sardica and tell the East to bite me.
“contradict” is understood as a highly nuanced term. ↩
I had the privilege today of interviewing Dr. Ryan Stokes of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He told me about his research on satan (both a noun and a verb in biblical Hebrew). Stokes has concluded that the Satan in the Hebrew Bible is not an accuser but actually is Yahweh’s executioner. The article on this topic is in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Biblical Literature. My interview with him is here on MAP.
The Shield of the Trinity or Scutum Fidei – a traditional Christian visual symbol which expresses many aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity, summarizing the first part of the Athanasian Creed in a compact diagram. Original Latin-language version. Text was converted to paths for improved display. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Matt has responded to a previous post. I want to quickly answer a few things.
First, it seems to me a false step to set our theological priorities against the positions we hold. Is it not the case that our priorities influence, perhaps even determine, the positions we hold?
I don’t want you to think I intend to aim my criticism directly against Matt, because I am not; however, these view to me is the basic problem of (modern) Protestantism. We are so focused on “living” we have forgot to think about why we are living. Our focus is on our bodies and our neighbor’s but not on Christ. Indeed, if we spent as much if not more time focusing on Christ — Who he is, What he did — we would find relief. Theology must come before our individual positions. Why? Because theology exists outside of ourselves. It is not concerned with our individual actions so much as it is in continuing the Great Tradition. Thus, the Trinity (et al) comes before our views on LGBT issues and even alcohol.
If we confuse the great doctrines of the Church with positions, we are in serious trouble. But honestly, haven’t we? In discussing things with John, he said he would take holiness over doctrine. This smacks of Pelagianism. When we call LGBT issues a matter of salvation, we are setting our position against the priority of the Church.
Matt goes on,
How does the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity relate to marriage and sexual ethics?….Perhaps different attitudes towards human sexuality emerge from fundamentally different visions of God and what it means to bear the image of God.
And yet, Genesis 1.26-27 doesn’t really include sexual ethics, or if so, ethics that may surprise you. I believe a reasonable argument can be made that the “male and female” bit “in the image of God” can be understood to be androgynous. This view is not modern, post or otherwise, but can be found in ancient works as well. I mean, read 2 Clement.
Let me also suggest that there is a lot more to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 than sexual ethics (Wright can argue for Creation, the sanest anti-LGBT argument a Protestant can/should make). There is the whole notion of personhood and what that means in light of the image of God. If we are going to argue for positions, we need to start with God as Creator, move through the notions of things in proper order, and what it means for humans to exist as persons of sacred worth. In that final discussion, I believe, is the subset of sexual ethics.
But, beyond arguing, I want to give you “real life” examples of Doctrine v. (for a lack of a better term) Holiness.
The Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Constantinople) do not speak of holiness of the life of the Christian. These originated as baptismal formulas meant to shield the doctrine of the early Church. The questions weren’t asked “Do you promise to lead a Christian life?,” “Is X Christian?,” and so on. No, the questions were simple. Do you believe in God the Father…In Jesus…in the Holy Spirit…? What do you believe about them?
Where are the moral positions in the creeds?
Or, as Tom from Good News brought up but never returned to answer my questions, the Articles of Religion and Confessions of Faith? In the Articles of Religion, marriage is mentioned once,
The ministers of Christ are not commanded by God’s law either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage; therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christians, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness. – Article XXI
Why is this in there? No doubt because of the still lingering Catholic influence – which is why Wesley had to define his doctrines against Rome in matters of purgatory, the sacraments and ministerial marriage.
Where, though, are those positions related to holiness? Yes, Wesley mentions that these things will follow our justification (Article X). Does he list them? In the great doctrinal standard handed down to us by Wesley, does Wesley list the aspects of holiness or does he list doctrines and then say holiness will follow our justification? By the way, justification is a doctrine that is defined doctrinally.
Tom pointed out the Creeds do not give witness to episcopal authority. Yet, the Creeds were approved by Bishops. For us United Methodists, our doctrinal standards were approved by the ordained. This means the episcopal authority pre-existed the creeds and in fact, the creeds are dependent upon episcopal authority.
But, before I finish… Let me call attention to the (so-called) Athanasian Creed. While Fr. John disagreed with certain clauses of the Creed (such as the Hell bit), the creed that existed in Christianity long before Wesley is important for this conversation.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
If I were in any given mood, I might suggest that orthodoxy (right doctrine) is all that “saves us” but I don’t think so. I don’t think Scripture upholds that, nor the majority of Christian teaching. However, this creed is important because it establishes the importance of proper doctrine before anything else.
Our positions on holiness, however you may define that, will come after — not before, and not alongside — in regards to proper teaching.
We Protestants, giving honor to our name protest against relics, the preservation of statues and statuettes (the statues wives), shrines, or anything that remotely resembles idolatry or the glorification of men. Why then are we so outraged, enraged, fuming furious, about the destruction of… relics statues, statuettes (again, the statues wives) and shrines perpetrated by I.S.I.S in Iraq? This Calvinist believes in preserving history, but how can we preserve relics, and historical monuments without crossing the line of idolatry? Calvin also said this in relation to the same issue: “Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols!”
I am going to help lead a new class in the fall (if it all works out) on covenant discipleship, from the Wesleyan perspective. I am looking for various quotes and thoughts at the moment. This one…
Well, he was pope for a reason:
This linguistic change reveals a spiritual process with wide implications, namely, the attempt to get behind the Church’s confession of faith and reach the purely historical figure of Jesus. He is no longer to be understood through this confession, but, as it were, in and through himself alone; and thus his achievement and his challenge are to be reinterpreted from scratch. Consequently people no longer speak of following Christ but of following Jesus: for “discipleship of Christ” implies the Church’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, and hence it involves a basic acknowledgment of the Church as the primary form of discipleship. “Discipleship of Jesus”, however, concentrates on the man Jesus who opposes all forms of authority; one of its features is a basically critical attitude to the Church, seen as a sign of its faithfulness to Jesus. This in turn goes beyond Christology and affects soteriology, which must necessarily undergo a similar transformation. Instead of “salvation” we find “liberation” taking pride of place, and the question, “How is the liberating act of Jesus to be mediated?” automatically adopts a critical stance over against the classical doctrine of how man becomes a partaker of grace.
Joseph Ratzinger, Behold The Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology (trans. Graham Harrison; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 14.