Category Archives: Theology

Am I an Evangelical?

evangelical
Image Credit: Ruthless Reviews

Every now and then, I like to examine myself and see where I fall on issues. Am I still a Mainliner? Am I drifting away, towards apostasy, or worse, evangelicalism? Am I committed to remaining open on the non-essentials and charitable in all things?

In a recent conversation, the term “evangelical” was mentioned. Admittedly, I am not a fan of this term even though I know many who claim to hold are not evangelicals in the historic sense of the word. Rather, many who hold it have slid into fundamentalism where biblicalism has become boisterous literalism.

When I asked “what is an ‘evangelical,'” David Bebbington was brought up.

Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

I want to take these issues one at a time.

  • Coversionism. I do not believe in the “born again” status. I think this passage in St. John’s Gospel is sadly misused and applied to a one time experience much to destruction of the original intent. However, I do believe we are to be engaged in a life-long process of “being saved.” I think St. Paul’s use of different tenses excludes a “conversion experience” but rests on many experiences throughout the life of the Christian. I never say “yes” to the question of, “Are you saved?” Rather, I answer with “I have been saved; I am being saved; and I will be saved.” See here for the Orthodox view.
  • Activism: I agree with this, completely. This is what draws me to United Methodism. I believe we are made disciples to transform the world, through discipleship and social holiness.
  • Biblicalism: I have a high view of Scripture — I do not take it literally. I do not take it as the ultimate authority. It is a primary authority, yet creeds and Tradition preceded Scripture. Scripture is validated through Tradition, the Tradition of the Church universal. Scripture likewise validates Holy Tradition. I am not “obedient to the Bible,” but to Holy Tradition which likewise includes the rule of faith (used to interpret Scripture), the councils, and the voices of the Fathers. Never once are we told the Holy Spirit dwells in the bible, but we are told it dwells in the Church, speaks through Scripture, and calls us today. This means that while eternal truths will not change, our own dogma may. A (narrow?) biblicalism is where I depart most heavily from Bebbington’s “evangelical.”
  • Crucicentrism: There is Christianity without Jesus Christ, no Jesus Christ without the Cross. While we may see the sacrifice, or death of Jesus, on the cross through our respective lens, the atonement is an essential.

In the end, I am 2/4’s evangelical. I do not consider the Christian life a one-time experience, but see prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace as actively transforming the person throughout life. And with Wesley, and numerous others, I too believe in an intermediate state.

What about you? Do you identify as an evangelical, and if so, how come?

A Symposium of “Adam and Eve”

Introduction:

I will need to explain a few things before I draw a conclusion. I am focusing on John Walton’s statement, “Ontology trumps biology” found in the soon-to-be published work, The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

Ontology:

Ontology (from Wikipedia):

…the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

See herehere, and here.  I cannot help but simplify ontology as the study of being (what it means to exist), and it is used here in the sense of “if being is that which transcends reality” — it is who we are before reality, under reality, and after reality.

ontology trumps biologyThere are two types of Trinitarian Theology, economic and ontological. In the economic Trinity, God exists as a Monad but expands to a Triad during this present age. Thus, God begets (not makes) God the Son and in doing so, becomes God the Father. After this present age, the Triad will shrink to become a Monad. This explains equality and a whole host of issues and was held by the early Church. Ontological Trinitarianism means the Trinity has always existed as a Trinity and will always existed as a Trinity, a view held by the Church universal today.

Plato:

Plato’s Symposium will also factor into this discussion. His view of the ontological existence of love is this:

They were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not been always their position and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.

Or, you might like a song about it. Your choice.

Adam and Eve:

Let me refresh your memory of Genesis 2.21–25:

The Lord God then put the man into a deep sleep and, while he slept, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh over the place. The rib he had taken out of the man the Lord God built up into a woman, and he brought her to the man. The man said: ‘This one at last is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh! She shall be called woman,* for from man* was she taken.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and attaches himself to his wife, and the two become one. Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they had no feeling of shame. (REB)

For woman, the transliterated is ishshah while for man, it is ish (REB notes).

Let me now relate what John Walton has said. Please note this is a prerelease of the book.

He proposes that the “deep sleep” of Adam is actually a visionary trance. Further, the rib which is often translated as “side” throughout the OT is better understood as a “side of Adam” (think side of beef). Thus, Adam’s deep sleep is a vision of the ontological being of he and Eve. Walton says, “The vision would concern her identity as ontologically related to the man.”

My paraphrase of Genesis 2.21–25, according to Walton’s notations, reads like this:

The Lord God then put the man into a visionary trance, where he took one side of the human and closed up the flesh over the place. The side of the human he had removed, the Lord God built up into a woman, and he brought her to the man. The man said: ‘This one at last is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh! She shall be called woman, for from man was she taken.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and attaches himself to his wife, and the two become one. Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they had no feeling of shame. (REB, JW version)

If you read the Symposium and Walton’s version of Genesis 2.21–25 together, there are some similarities, notably the side of the person becoming another person and the initial closing up of the wounded flesh not to mention the leaving of family to reunite the severed flesh.

But, there is more to Walton’s thesis.

While he asserts that there is mankind and womankind, he equally asserts that ontology trumps biology, ontological existence trumps biological realities (p81). “Genesis 2.24 is responding to the question of why a person would leave…” his/her family (biology) “in order to form a relationship with a biological outsider.” For Walton, we are ontologically gendered (compare this to the arguments of androgyny in Genesis 1.26). Marriage, then, is not about sex or reproduction, but about ascertaining our equal other-half. “Becoming one flesh is not just a reference to the sexual act. The sexual act may be the one that rejoins them, but it is the rejoining that is the focus. When Man and Woman become one flesh, they are returning to their original state.”

Conclusion: Does Walton’s precept, “Ontology trumps Biology,” work?

Walton is providing enough ground to dismiss natural law (separating ontology from biology) and arguments against homosexuality. Perhaps he does not see it. Perhaps you do not either. Let me contextualize this.

  • Genesis 1.27 has God creating the urmensch male-n-female, which some scholars see as an androgynous creature much like Plato’s androgyne. This idea is not new but is found in both Philo and Origen. Likewise, it is found in the Gospel of Thomas and perhaps even in 2nd Clement. In other words, the reading of Genesis 1.27 as something other than two genders, but rather as one person with two genders pre-exists modern sexual concepts. For further study on Genesis 1.27 in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, see Betz’s Hermeneia volume.
  • Walton suggests we take Genesis 2–3 as a sequel (not a recapitulation) of Genesis 1.
  • If the “original state” of humanity was this androgyne, then sexuality v. gender is a secondary argument given the forceful nature of finding our ontological completion, or perhaps, soulmate. This is why we leave biology, which is based only in reality, to find the other half.
  • “Ontology trumps biology.” Walton says this to support the notion of us leaving our families, the only real connection we have to this world, for something that is naturally opposed to us, a “biological outsider.” Why? Because the ideal state of humanity is meant to overcome reality.
  • The act of sex is secondary to the actual enjoining of the two halves. Further, Walton does not seem to state that sex itself is solely meant for procreation, but rather to aid in the enjoining. Thus, the reproductive necessity of sex, and the need for two separate genders (assuming both fertile) is dismissed.
  • When two join, they are joining as halves. We can call one Man and the other Woman, or A and B. Given that “Man” and “Woman” are not all that different, are dependent upon one another, and clearly represent one side of a whole (ontological) being, then it is safe to allow “Man” may represent a biological female as does “Woman” if there are two biological females enjoying an ontological companionship. After all, in the life after this one, we will be as the genderless angels (Matthew 22.30).
  • If Genesis 2 and Plato’s Symposium is connected, then can we, pardon the pun, separate them neatly? If we read Genesis 2–3 with Plato close by, do we not see that our current debates of sexuality v. gender is biologically based rather than ontological whereas religion and philosophy calls us to escape biological traps and instead look higher?

I do not want to suggest Walton is saying anything more than he has, only that if he is correct about this particular reading of Genesis 2–3, then we need to reconsider that “Creation order”/Natural Law arguments, which are the only theological arguments against homosexuality.

I am extrapolating data, not trying to tell you the conclusion to reach. I have long maintained that the only legitimate argument against the incompatibility of the practice of homosexuality is the one from natural order, the one from the creation account. I have not changed my mind on that yet.

The Federal Headship of Adam

I am not a Calvinist, nor one who believes in St. Augustine’s error. Rather, I believe we can theologically explain the transmitted nature of sin better. However, in reading a particular book, the federal headship view was mentioned (sort of). I wanted to invite consideration and thoughts:

Transgression of the covenant commandment would result in death. Adam chose the course of disobedience, corrupted himself by sin, became guilty in the sight of God, and as such subject to the sentence of death. And because he was the federal representative of the race, his disobedience affected all his descendants. In His righteous judgment God imputes the guilt of the first sin, committed by the head of the covenant, to all those that are federally related to him. And as a result they are born in a depraved and sinful condition as well, and this inherent corruption also involves guilt. This doctrine explains why only the first sin of Adam, and not his following sins nor the sins of our other forefathers, is imputed to us, and also safeguards the sinlessness of Jesus, for He was not a human person and therefore not in the covenant of works.1

Is Adam our representative in that one particular sin?

I’m going to go ahead and give away my view of Adam. I think the story is representative of Israel’s choice to have a king, which is a federal representative in the ancient world. When the King chose to break the covenant, then all Israel fell. This was the original intent.

For now, I don’t have to justify this with St. Paul’s view…

….however, if I had too, I would say St. Paul sees Adam as the federal representative of the people of God made that by the covenant. Christ makes a new covenant that undoes the sin (the violation of the political treaty) of Adam and thus makes a new, unbreakable covenant.

But I could be wrong.

  1. L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 242–243.

Islamic Iman Leads U.S. House of Representative Prayer. #whynot

I’ve been thinking about this and have been asking the question “why not?” There are a few things to consider here:

Watch here

  • Is this or is this not a “freedom of religion” believing country?
  • Why are Christians only the ones to be blamed for America’s secularism?
  • Isn’t the text of the Islamic Iman’s prayer a text that even a Christian or a Jew wouldn’t volunteer an hearty “amen”?

I cannot picture Moses, performing miracles in Pharaoh’s Court, using his staff, and then, when Pharaoh summons his magicians to perform the same miracles Moses was performing, that Moses would have said “no, I won’t accept this challenge… I can only accept miracles performed in the name of MY God, Jehovah”. No! Moses not only accepted the challenge but his staff-now-turned-into-snake consumed, devoured, ate, Pharaoh’s magicians staff-now-turned-into-snakes! Christians should not be afraid of any challenge from any other religion! We have to believe that God will prevail, and that our beliefs will surpass, metaphorically “eat” everyone else’s belief; otherwise we are nothing but religious weaklings, whiners and phonies! Jesus never shunned a challenge either! Let Muslims do what they do in between killings and beheadings, and let us as Christians do what we do in confidence that God will see us through as winners… In this the infamous Charismatic TV preacher is right: “I read the end of the book: We win!”

“God can do everything, except compel man to love …” #theodicy

English: "Christ in Triumph over Darkness...
English: “Christ in Triumph over Darkness and Evil”, stained glass window by French artist Gabriel Loire in memory of Earl Mountbatten, at St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa Français : “Christ in Triumph over Darkness and Evil”, vitrail par Gabriel Loire (un mémorial pour Louis Mountbatten), à la cathédrale St. George, Le Cap, Afrique du Sud (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“God can do everything, except compel man to love . . . This paradoxical impotence of God (at the creation of man), Who, of course, still remains omnipotent, already announces to us beforehand the mystery of the Cross . . . God is so omnipotent that he can suspend His omnipotence . . . There is no need for Christians to create a special theory for justifying God (theodicy). To all the questions regarding the allowance of evil by God (the problem of evil) there is one answer – Christ; the Crucified Christ, Who burns up in Himself all the world’s sufferings for ever; Christ, Who regenerates our nature and has opened the entry to the Kingdom of everlasting and full life to each one who desires it.”1

via Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary.

  1. Oliver Clement, a French theologian, wrote an article on evil published in the issue No. 31 of the journal, Contakt.

Quote of the Day: Abraham and Watson – “Creedal Faith”

English: Jesus Christ - detail from Deesis mos...
English: Jesus Christ – detail from Deesis mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this month’s Circuit Rider (the print magazine of Ministry Matters), Drs. William Abraham. They conclude,

Wesley knew what so many of us have forgotten today: the set of claims that we make about God will shape the ways in which we view the world around us and will come to bear significantly upon the way we live. We all have a way of looking at the world, but not all ways of looking at the world are equally virtuous or healthy. Not all ways of looking at the world are equally true. The witness of the Church through the centuries is that the most virtuous and truest way of looking at the world is through the lens of our creedal faith. For United Methodists these are given in our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith of the United Evangelical Brethren. The Holy Trinity brought all things into being, created humankind, mourned our rebellion, became incarnate in Jesus Christ, taught us how to live, bore the sins of the world on the cross, rose bodily from the dead, and will come again in glory. That narrative—if you internalize it—will shape the way you view everything. And so, as we say at the beginning of the book, “Belief matters.” It matters a great deal.

They make a few interesting points in this article:

  • Wesley didn’t provide a creed because he was operating within a people for which the Creed was knowledge and accepted.
  • Orthodoxy is what leads us Christians into a fuller life with God. It is not a litmus test, but something like fertilizer.

I am so very thankful I was given the room to grow into orthodoxy, battling it and questioning it along the way. Indeed, there is a difference between orthodoxy and fundamentalism — as much difference as there is between letter and spirit.

The challenge for me is to continue to “think,” “to think and let think,” and yet grow in orthodoxy. (Not to say orthodoxy is not thinking, but like any system, if can become based on the letter). Therefore, I believe we look towards the great mysteries of the faith. Like Clement of Alexandria and others among the Church Fathers, we have to recognize that Christians are on different journeys. Unlike some of them, I don’t think we should judge, coerce, or otherwise those “not up to us” (as in fact, we may be the immature ones if we do this!).

If you get a chance, read their article and their book, Key Beliefs of the United Methodist Church.

i still disagree with Watson about Mark’s Messianic secret… 

Tertullian and St. John Chrysostom on Isaiah 45.7

The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Mic...
The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo (Photo credit: Wikipedia) WHY DO THEY HAVE BELLY BUTTONS!

The verse in English, Hebrew, and Greek (LXX):

I make the light, I create the darkness;
author alike of wellbeing and woe,
I, the LORD, do all these things. (REB)

יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה׃ ס

Ἐγὼ ἡ κατασκευάσας φῶς, καὶ ποιήσας σκότος, ὁ ποιῶν εἰρήνην, καὶ κτίζων κακά· ἐγὼ Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς, ὁ ποιῶν πάντα ταῦτα.

This is an interesting discussion to have, considering the the nature of evil.

3.1 Seeing therefore, too, these cases occur in persecutions more than at other times, as there is then among us more of proving or rejecting, more of abasing or punishing, it must be that their general occurrence is permitted or commanded by Him at whose will they happen even partially; by Him, I mean, who says, “I am He who make peace and create evil,”—that is, war, for that is the antithesis of peace. But what other war has our peace than persecution? If in its issues persecution emphatically brings either life or death, either wounds or healing, you have the author, too, of this. “I will smite and heal, I will make alive and put to death.” “I will burn them,” He says, “as gold is burned; and I will try them,” He says, “as silver is tried,” for when the flame of persecution is consuming as, then the stedfastness of our faith is proved.1

St. John Chrysostom says somewhat the same thing. He breaks away sin from evil, suggesting that evil (natural disasters and other things that chastise us) is in fact God ordained.

5. There is then evil, which is really evil; fornication, adultery, covetousness, and the countless dreadful things, which are worthy of the utmost reproach and punishment. Again there is evil, which rather is not evil, but is called so, famine, pestilence, death, disease, and others of a like kind. For these would not be evils. On this account I said they are called so only. Why then? Because, were they evils, they would not have become the sources of good to us, chastening our pride, goading our sloth, and leading us on to zeal, making us more attentive. “For when,” saith one, “he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned, and came early to God.” He calls this evil therefore which chastens them, which makes them purer, which renders them more zealous, which leads them on to love of wisdom; not that which comes under suspicion and is worthy of reproach; for that is not a work of God, but an invention of our own will, but this is for the destruction of the other. He calls then by the name of evil the affliction, which arises from our punishment; thus naming it not in regard to its own nature, but according to that view which men take of it.2

Thoughts?

  1. Tertullian, “De Fuga in Persecutione,” in Fathers of the Third Century, ANF.
  2. John Chrysostom, “Three Homilies Concerning the Power of Demons,” in Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues (ed. Philip Schaff; trans. T. P. Brandram; vol. 9; A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series; New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 9182.

The Synod of Jerusalem (1672) – The Orthodox view on #Calvinism

() - Emblems of belief available for placement...
() – Emblems of belief available for placement on USVA headstones and markers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We believe the Divine and Sacred Scriptures to be God-taught; and, therefore, we ought to believe the same without doubting; yet not otherwise than as the Catholic Church hath interpreted and delivered the same. For every foul heresy receiveth, indeed, the Divine Scriptures, but perversely interpreteth the same, using metaphors, and homonymies, and sophistries of man’s wisdom, confounding what ought to be distinguished, and trifling with what ought not to be trifled with. For if [we were to receive the same] otherwise, each man holding every day a different sense concerning the same, the Catholic Church would not [as she doth] by the grace of Christ continue to be the Church until this day, holding the same  doctrine of faith, and always identically and steadfastly believing, but would be rent into innumerable parties, and subject to heresies; neither would the Church be holy, the pillar and ground of the truth, {1 Timothy 3:15} without spot or wrinkle; {Ephesians 5:27} but would be the Church of the malignant {Psalm 25:5} as it is manifest that of the heretics undoubtedly is, and especially that of Calvin, who are not ashamed to learn from the Church, and then to wickedly repudiate her. Wherefore, the witness also of the Catholic Church is, we believe, not of inferior authority to that of the Divine Scriptures. For one and the same Holy Spirit being the author of both, it is quite the same to be taught by the Scriptures and by the Catholic Church. Moreover, when any man speaketh from himself he is liable to err, and to deceive, and be deceived; but the Catholic Church, as never having spoken, or speaking from herself, but from the Spirit of God — who being her teacher, she is ever unfailingly rich — it is impossible for her to in any wise err, or to at all deceive, or be deceived; but like the Divine Scriptures, is infallible, and hath perpetual authority.

via The Confession of Dositheus @ ELCore.Net.

the #rosary as symbol

Irish penal rosary
Irish penal rosary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The monotony of these repetitions clothes the poor old woman with physical peace and recollection; and her soul, already directed on high, almost mechanically, by her habitual gesture of drawing out the rosary, immediately opens out with increasing serenity on unlimited perspectives, felt rather than analysed, which converge on God.… What does it matter, then, if the humble orante does not concern herself with living over again the exact meaning of the formula she is repeating?… often she does better, she allows her soul to rise freely into a true contemplation, well worn and obscure, uncomplicated, unsystematized, alternating with a return of attention to the words she is muttering, but building up in the long run on the mechanical basis they afford a higher, purified, personal prayer.1

  1. J. Maréchal, Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics, Eng. trans., p. 158.

Hans Urs von Balthasar on the #Rosary and Life of Mary

Quadtych with scenes from the life of Christ a...
Quadtych with scenes from the life of Christ and Mary – Resurrection of Christ and Nativity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mary’s life must be regarded as the prototype of what the ars Dei can fashion from a human material which puts up no resistance to him. It is feminine life which, in any case more than masculine life, awaits being shaped by the man, the bridegroom, Christ, and God. It is a virginal life which desires no other formative principle but God and the fruit which God gives it to bear, to give birth to, to nourish and to rear. It is at the same time a maternal and a bridal life whose power of surrender reaches from the physical to the highest spiritual level. In all this it is simply a life that lets God dispose of it as he will. From that life Christ chiselled the form he needed: unsparingly he took it, used it and squandered it to the limit, and then, with the greatest consideration, he honoured it and glorified it. The situations of this life are inimitable, unforgettable, both unique and universally valid, universally significant. The three cycles of the Rosary offer these situations to the anamnesis of the Church and of Christians, in strictest unity of form with the life of Christ. And, in fact, Mary’s life possesses no detached form of its own; it is the most intimate possible accompaniment of the Christ-form; it stands in the shadow and in the light of Christ’s form alone. But Mary’s form is not simply outshone by the form of Christ; rather, precisely because Christ exploits Mary, precisely because she bears the Cross with him, her form is inundated in a light radiating from him.1

That, my friends, should be enough to anger just about every one of you.

  1. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics I: Seeing the Form (trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis; San Francisco; New York: Ignatius Press; Crossroads Publications, 2009), 548.