Yesterday, a question was posed in one of the UMC FB forums about inerrancy. Granted, this question was posed by a rather young, confused non-Methodist, but it sparked conversation. One of the people in the conversation brought up Bishop Willimon to his defense. Willimon is not an inerrantist.
As John Wesley began his search for a relationship with God, he began in Scripture. He said that he studied the Bible because it was “the one, the only standard of truth and the only model of pure religion” [Works, Jackson, 2:367). Toward the end of his life he could continue to claim, “My ground is the Bible. … I follow it in all things great and small” (ibid., 3:251), In speaking of a fourfold test for belief, it is clear that Wesley set Scripture above tradition, reason, and experience in terms of ultimate authority. (The quadrilateral is not equilateral.) United Methodists can therefore be said to have a “high” view of scripture. However, we cannot be accused of bibliolatry, inerrancy, literalism, or fundamentalism. Wesley could boast that he was “a man of one book.” However, he did not mean this in a naive, uninformed way. He also meant that he not only believed but attempted to live by this one book.
The quad tries to maintain this view, although many have made all of the sides equal while misunderstanding such things as “experience.” In my view, Scripture is the authority of the Church (much like the Constitution is for the United States), but Tradition, Reason and Experience are there to help us read and apply Scripture (much like case law — although Tradition produced Scripture (and legal issues produced the Constitution).
I guess that, in the Charismatic capital of the World, this seems to be a very appropriate place for the practice of exorcism. Perhaps Charismatics are not the target, but, I think they should! From the local AM/FM Tulsa station KRMG
Even if the Pentateuch is not from Moses, and many Psalms attributed to David are not from David, and the second part of Isaiah is from another author than the first part, this does not detract from the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture. The inspiration is certain, but the authenticity is an open question. As a divine book the Bible is above all criticism, but as a human book it may, like all literature, be examined by historical-critical methods and standards.
The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This isn’t going to be a long post.
First, I read this by Stephen Webb this morning. I was left with the distinct impression that Webb did not know what he was talking about, or wrote in such a way to be more polemical than enlightening. Why? He mentions apophatictheology and calls it “more historically grounded now than in the postmodern eighties.” He means the 1980’s, not the 380’s and the Cappadocian Fathers who helped to “mainstream” negative theology. Further, he reaches to tie it to the liberalism of the last few decades, as if they are one and the same. Webb notes, “Negative theology is a sign of a crisis in theological authority.” Given the great writers who used it, Sts John of Damascus and Maximus the Confessor, among others, I doubt they were so troubled in their faith as to shrink into “cowardice.”
When I went to search for Webb, to see who he was, I discovered that this Roman Catholic holds close affinities for Mormon theology. In fact, he has adopted some of their theology about the nature (i.e., matter) of God. As one reviewer summarizes Webb’s theology states,
God is material, knowable, embodied, “not radically different from everything else that exists.” As spirits, human intelligences are eternal, existing before mortality in the presence of heavenly parents. That God is “one of us” does not impede Mormon wonder, awe, or love of the divine. Human beings can become more like God or even become gods, but in a universe of eternal progression God is also “ever becoming more Godlike.” Per Webb, Mormon materialism fosters a healthy, optimistic understanding of God, human beings, and the universe. Other Christians, Webb suggests, have a “breathtaking opportunity” to discover “the full intellectual richness of the Christian tradition” through Mormonism.
Essentially, Webb holds to a Mormon view of God and matter, eschewing the Platonic side of orthodox Christian theology. This shades his view of apophatic theology, as much as apophatic theology (and church history) shades my view of Mormon theology.1 Webb not only fails to give apophatic theology its proper historical context, setting, and tradition, but fails to include its role in Eastern Orthodoxy and even in the Tradition of the Catholic Church.
I missed it, but I guess Brian Zahnd and Michael Brown had a debate on Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). As Morgan has said, I’m not going to throw the concept of a substitutionary atonement out of the window as there is clearly a notion of Jesus dying in the place of others. We find this in Scripture and in Church Tradition. And Morgan is correct, I believe, that Scripture does not contain the necessary elements of PSA, that of a God who has honor and requires a satisfaction of that honor code.
PSA has been part of (Western) Christian Tradition since the 11th century and roundly developed during the early days of the Protestant Reformation. It is not historic in the sense that it is found in Scripture nor in the earliest Christian Tradition. Indeed, during its genesis, it faced stiff competition from Peter Abelard’s moral exemplary theory. Note, the 11th century was also the time of the Great Schism. Thankfully the East never enjoyed the benefits of the wisdom of Anselm or Calvin on PSA. Rather, the East held to and continues to hold to Christus Victor (CV). This is a linear progression from the ransom theory of early writers and, of course, of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation.
However, we cannot do away with the sacrificial death of Christ nor the role sin played in causing the death. Michael Bird has combined the two, PSA and CV, to produce CV as the overarching goal but accomplished by something akin to PSA. In general, I am okay with that. I think there is room in Scripture and in Tradition to allow for a few different atonement theories (as well as a few different understandings of atonement). The early Church simply did not develop a completely systematic theology of atonement but spent the better part of its time saving children and understanding the divinity of Christ.
I have other issues with PSA, none of which require me to place God into human terms such as honor, evil, and good. If God chose to kill his son because of our sins, then we can hardly lay at God’s feet the crime of child abuse. My rejection of PSA is not based on notions of human morality but on the lack of historical evidence for it. PSA develops during a time of the rise of individualism as well as a sharp rise in the way the West viewed the Jews. I might would say it was a wave of intellectual Marcionism. Rather than divorcing the New Testament from the Old, Anselm and others divorced the OT from its Jewishness. I cannot say Anselm did this on purpose, as he had not yet heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the rise of an area of study known as Second Temple Judaism.
Because of the lack of Jewishness in designing this new doctrine, atonement turned from the corporate to the individual. Had the Church and the Synagogue continued to work closely with one another as it had in the first few centuries of Christianity, we may never have seen such a uniquely pre-modern atonement theory develop. But, we have and we have lost a lot in regards to a corporate view of individual sin because of this. I cautiously agree with Morgan, when he writes,
The way that sin actually works doesn’t respect our individualist boundaries of blame and responsibility anyhow. We are collectively responsible as humanity for the harm that our community has made possible, even if individuals were the direct agents behind it.
I think immediately of Achan and others throughout Scripture who individually sinned and helped to lead the corporate body astray and into punishment. This is not to say individual sins do not matter, or that because a corporate body is saved, then even the worst part is cleansed; however, PSA is about the individual whereas CV focuses on the corporate notion of covenant and election. It is not a personal relationship between God through Christ and an individual, but God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. God did not through Christ make a personal covenant with each and every one of us individually based on our reaction to him, but with a people as a whole. Once we lost this sense of corporate election, we quickly devolve into individual election. Further, I believe PSA is harmful to the notion of being grafted in (Romans 9-11) as well as Scriptural points about sin as an action against the covenant.
PSA has transformed our notion of sin into individualist terms. Further, the Cross is not necessarily about blame and justice. Thus, I somewhat disagree with Morgan when he writes,
The cross happened because we will never be able to assign blame for sin with perfect accuracy and justice, so God says give all that blame to me and accept my forgiveness, recognizing your culpability and my grace…I do believe and am grateful that God came up with a way to take the blame for all the awful things we human beings have done to each other so that we can spend eternity together in authentic reconciliation and peace.
Sin is not about what we do to each other but what we have done against the covenant (although that actually includes what we do against each other (Matthew 25)). The covenant is with God and if we break it it is not against another, but against God. Thus, reconciliation is not about humans, but between God and his creation.
So, what is my view on the atonement? As I have disclosed before, I believe Jesus participated in a style of self-sacrifice commonly called devotio ducis. Why did he do it? This type was specific to those who were losing a battle and who had to offer something to deities who had abandoned them. This includes a loss, a sense of abandonment, and the notion of free will. In Stoic and developing Jewish thought, suicide was forbidden because it allowed the human to take the reigns from the deities. We are not our own, both made clear, but God’s! Thus, to do it in such a way made something more than a statement. If Jesus suggested it or rather if Paul and early /a/Christians are using this as an image (I think the earliest) then they are telling us a few things:
Jesus felt God had abandoned Israel (not only is this present in the Gospels, but so too in other Second Temple literature).
Jesus chose to die as a self-sacrifice (enough passive language in Paul to allow for this). He offered himself up via a death-by-cop motif (or death by legionnaire?). What’s the difference between martyrdom, suicide, and self-sacrifice? The motivation. All three end the same way.
By offering himself up as a sacrifice, he clearly saw himself as someone different. If he followed the views of Cato, it is possible he saw himself as divine. His death is Christological and should be understood as such.
His death is not so much an atonement for sins (nuanced – read Psalms of Solomon) as a reigniter of the covenant and the call to God to keep his promises (such as opening the covenant to the Gentiles). By his death, Jesus is attempting to force God to act (react?) and renew his covenant. If anything, the charge is not against the people of the covenant, but against God.
The self-sacrifice is meant to bring peace (not so much victory) between God and the world. The peace is the reconciliation between God and the covenant. This is not about hedonism or legalism, but about the relationship (no, Jesus is not your boyfriend) between God and his Creation. When Israel sinned, God abandoned her. And likewise, he abandoned the world. Jesus, seeing this, decided to act. He killed himself.
This is, by the way, the topic of my dissertation. I use sources from 1 Clement, Tertullian and other early Christians to support this view as well as the book of Galatians. Further, I use Josephus, Plutarch, and others. I maintain that this is an image, and would like to maintain that it is the earliest image, of the death of Christ. I equally maintain that it is not new but was known before. It just was not the dominant image. And I’m okay with that.
What does this do? I do not believe Christ “died for me” but rather, Christ died as the obedient Son God never had (i.e., Israel) which opened the door to the Gentiles. The sins of the people caused God to abandon Israel and thus deny to the Gentiles the fullness of reconciliation. It is only by the death of Jesus (who saw himself as divine) that the covenant was renewed. It is only through the death of the divine Jesus we are able to participate in the covenant with God. He became the curse so that we might become free. Jesus was the perfect Israel so that All Israel might be saved.
While I think it is time the Western Church shook off the stranglehold of PSA, we have to be watchful not to forget the sacrifice of Jesus and its relationship with sin. We need to be mindful of the several images of the atonement in the New Testament and how the early Church developed them — as well as the various early atonement models existing side by side.
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.
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. ↩