Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Death of God - What It Is and What It Isn't

I remember being in session one day, with Dr. Sanders. We were talking about the Incarnation, and what it means for us to say that "God died" in the death of Jesus. And he said something so incredibly simple that I'm amazed that I haven't heard it since.

I can't remember his exact wording, but essentially, it boiled down to this: When we say that God, as Jesus, died, we mean no less - but also no more - than that the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, experienced the human phenomenon that is known as "death."

That's what we mean. And this stands against attempts to either minimize or over-emphasize what happened on the cross.

Jesus died. The God-Man, the being that is at once fully God and fully man, experienced death. The Son of God's spirit was separated from his body. The body of the second Person of the Trinity ceased to live.

That is death, and he experienced it in its fullness. He didn't "kind of" die. And it is especially and particularly not the case that the "human half" experienced death while the "God half" did not. To go down that road is to split Christ into two, to commit some sort of Nestorianism or Arianism. It is, eventually, to wind up with a Savior who is neither God enough to accomplish anything, nor man enough to matter.

But it works the other way as well. Because there are some who, desiring to emphasize the greatness of God's sacrifice and self-giving, will talk of the death of God as some sort of divine death, a deicide, even a separation from his divinity. Such speakers will talk of the Trinity being broken, even a temporary eradication or cessation of the second Person.

That did not happen either. The second Person did not somehow cease to exist or become not-God, because none of that is included in what "death" is. None of that is included in what the Bible means when it talks about death. Remember: The Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Christ accomplish what they accomplish because it's God sharing in our experiences...not God sharing in some super-special God experiences.

This is important to remember, if for no other reason than avoiding confusion during Easter! But it's also important for another reason: That in desiring to give praise to God, we might actually commit blasphemy. Take it away, Karl Barth!

"The more seriously we take this, the stronger becomes the temptation to approximate to the view of a contradiction and conflict in God Himself. Have we not to accept this view if we are to do justice to what God did for man and what He took upon Himself when He was in Christ, if we are to bring out the mystery of His mercy in all its depth and greatness?"

Barth rhetorically suggests that if we are to really grasp what God did for us, we must take Christ's death, his cry of dereliction, as far as possible: Take it to the point of contradiction and conflict in God Himself! But, he continues, there is a danger in this.

"But at this point what is meant to be supreme praise of God can in fact become supreme blasphemy. God gives Himself, but He does not give Himself away. He does not give up being God in becoming a creature, in becoming man. He does not cease to be God."

And why is this important?

"If it were otherwise, if in [this condescension] He set Himself in contradiction with Himself, how could He reconcile the world with Himself? Of what value would His deity be to us if--instead of crossing in that deity the very real gulf between Himself and us--He left that deity behind Him in His coming to us, if ti came to be outside of Him as He because ours? What would be the value to us of His way into the far country if in the course of it He lost Himself?"

Here it is, in a nutshell: In dying, Jesus defeated death. He didn't lose Himself in it. He experienced the human phenomenon known as death, and in doing so he broke its power. (to loosely paraphrase Athanasius,he lured Death to him and then snapped his freaking neck). If you try to expand that, to make Jesus experience some sort of super-special God death, you aren't actually praising him: You'e naming him not-God.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The joys and glories of life

"If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, than any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you -- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence...the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.

Our commonest expedient is to call it Beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter.Wordsworth's expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering."

CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

It's rare for more than a day or two to go by without me remembering my college days with fondness - and that is especially true when my sister Kaley calls me up to tell me about her latest Torrey session, the latest book she's reading. It is a joy to hear of her enjoyment, and a greater joy to be able to talk about the things that Torrey students talk about with her. And after we hang up, my mind wanders back to the bygone days of yore.

And I remember so much. I remember grabbing dinner after every single session: Sometimes to continue the philosophy and theologizing of session, but often to merely extol the virtues of seasoned fries and Caf-made milkshakes. I remember Torrientation, and how I completely failed to realize that the people in my group would grow into some of the most amazing friends I can imagine. I remember arguing against Chesterton's Manalive because I was a fool who mistook stagnation for contentment, and I remember my Don Rags and that one time, late before I left my dorm, running through the rain with my billion-pound backpack bouncing on my shoulders, borrowed tie streaming in the wind.

I remember Plato Family Dinners, and proving to them that Anna was real, and not imaginary. I remember passing notes in session, with the solitary three guys sitting together in a sea of hostile women, and Satan with his nose pressed against the glass, looking on at the family at Christmas. I remember going home to take Anna out on a date, and getting a call from my Plato Family informing me that while they had missed me at Freshman Initiatives, they had set a bottle of Dr. Pepper there to house my spirit, which they subsequently drank. And it must have been after the first Thor movie that me, Kyle, and Daniel dubbed ourselves the Warriors Three, with the addition of the Lady Steph.

It would be literally impossible to list them all, with any attempt inevitably followed up a moment later with "And then, of course, there's...".  And after that, there's the non-Torrey memories, which could fill another post...the wing runs, the movie nights, the Brawl and Halo and Guitar Hero and Nerf Wars and the people who made it all so awesome...

And there are days when I almost wish I could go back. There are days when I am in danger of committing the mistake that Lewis sees in Wordsworth: Of seeing this joy in my life and making it The Joy... But the friendship, the engagement, the family of Biola and Sigma Chi and Plato, was in fact a symbol, a memory of something I have yet to experience, of the great Joy still to come. And it is sweeter still because I know that those same people will be there as well.

But despite the almost, I never do wish it. Because when it comes to symbols of the ultimate reality, I'm living the best symbol there is. Being married to Anna is a greater joy, a greater happiness and companionship, than I had at Biola. And although it is not The Good, it is still a Good, and a great Good at that.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Theology of the Sloppy Wet Kiss

Back in the day (read: Early Church history), the Song of Solomon was read purely as an allegory for Christ's love for the Church. Because of course it was.

Come on, Solomon. Get your crap together. 

In a Church culture that came dangerously close to vilifying sex and marriage altogether (and sometimes actually did that), there was really no other option. That sort of stuff was obviously waaaaay too graphic to actually be talking about sex. That would be super gross and weird (not to mention sinful!)! No, what it was really about was the relationship between Christ and his Church. Because...that makes it...less weird? I guess? Maybe?

In any case, they were wrong. Most scholars now see it as a pretty frank celebration of human sexuality in marriage, although you can still make the case for it also being allegorical for the passionate love Christ has for his Church.

And that brings me to the title of this post: Theology of the Sloppy Wet Kiss

It's taken from a line in the song, "How He Loves." (it's the one that goes "Oh, how he loves us" a lot). "But wait!" you say, because you speak out loud to yourself when reading posts on the internet. "I've heard that song a lot - like, a lot - and I've never heard the words "sloppy wet kiss." Well, that's because although the song was originally written by John Mark McMillan, it was popularized by David Crowder (of "The David Crowder Band"). And they changed the words

Originally, the bridge went like this: 

"And heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss."

However, fearing (probably correctly) that the evangelical Christian world would absolutely lose their crap over the line, Crowder changed it to the much less "graphic" "unforseen kiss." 

Now, if you clicked that link up above (here it is again), you'll see that McMillan already wrote a post about this five years ago, but I didn't discover that until two minutes ago, so there's no point stopping now. So here it is:

There is nothing immature, or juvenile, or vulgar, or even irreverent in the idea of a sloppy wet kiss. In fact, as a married man, I can say without fear of retribution that they're kind of the best. Any sort of reservations or rejection is merely guilt by association. In and of itself, a sloppy wet kiss is good: It brings to mind feelings of passion, of union, of a love that won't stand on ceremony. Yes, it's messy...but then again, so was the cross. So was the Incarnation. So was this whole bloody rescue operation, ending with the triumph of triumphs and a wedding to put all other weddings to shame. 

And my point, I guess, is this. Even the Church Fathers, the ones who thought that sex was basically the worst, still understood the value of that kind of imagery when talking about Christ's love for his Bride. They still understood the value of the profound mystery that Paul spoke about in Ephesians 5:32, although they misunderstood the rest. And I wonder if maybe we've forgotten that. I wonder if we're sometimes in danger of sterilizing the Incarnation, sterilizing Christ and his Bride, and forgetting that when you get right down to it, it was really more of an action/adventure story with a romantic twist

PS: This, like many posts, was written entirely on a whim in the space of about 30 minutes, and may be poorly thought out. I guess we'll see in the morning. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Arminianism and related resources

tldr: If you don't believe in Calvinism, but don't know why you don't believe in Calvinism, there are really cool links below. If you're waffling on it, then the links below are even more important. Also, if you don't know what Arminianism is, click here.

Some time ago, I saw this post, titled "Needed: Robust Arminian Theology for Lay People (Especially Youth)," writted by Roger Olson. In it, Olson describes the recent rise of the "New Calvinism" movement (or "Young, Restless, Reformed"), and how it's especially noticeable in younger Christians (late teens and twenties) especially. More people are becoming Calvinist.

And he attributes this rise to a "doctrinal vacuum" in evangelical churches: A vacuum that occurs when churches hold to doctrines of free will and meaningful choice (aka not irresistible grace and predestination), but take those doctrines for granted. They hold those doctrines, but don't talk about them, don't defend them, don't explain them.

I know that's how I grew up: Assuming that humanity had free will, that God called us and that we could answer that call - or not, if we chose. But I can't recall a single time before college that anyone had told me why that was, or explained to me what "Calvinism" was and why we didn't believe that instead. And that's problematic, because Calvinists have that down. And so when someone from that tradition that assumes but doesn't really teach about free will runs into a Calvinist, they're suddenly going to hear legitimate arguments and reasoning from the Bible for Calvinism, and they won't have anything to balance that out. And so they often come away from those encounters believing that Calvinism is the only biblical doctrine.

This bothers me. But it's not until recently that I really realized the resources that exist, right now, to alleviate this.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago: My good friend Danny M. links me this post, titled "John Piper Asks, "Where's the Arminian?" and Receives an Answer." John Piper (the leading figure in Calvinism) takes some pot-shots at Arminianism, and Credendum (the author of the blog) lays down the freaking law. And in the process, he links to some extremely helpful resources. Here are my two favorite sites so far:

Arminian Theology: What makes this blog awesome is the bar of popular topics right at the top, which provide a fantastic intro to Arminianism. Right off the bat, you get:


                       And, of course, the killer:

Arminian Perspectives: This blog has a lot more stuff on it, and it seems to update more frequently. You got all kinds of stuff on here:

There are dozens (hundreds?) of posts here, and those are just two of the resources here. I went on an enormous binge over the Fourth of July weekend, and I learned so election can be corporate, how context really helps...See, before this, I only had "common sense" objections to Calvinism. Now, I have something more. And I think you - yes, you - should have that as well. Click some of these links. Give them a read. Let me know what you think.

Also: I guess I'm pretty much Arminian? I mean, there are some funny distinctions, like the way they insist that salvation is monergistic rather than synergistic, which seems to be solely for the purpose of dialogue with Calvinists. But still, it is neat to see certain things that I've personally thought through over the years, all codified and official, with biblical support and everything. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Friend-zoning and Entitlement

A few weeks ago, Anna and I were discussing a friend of mine's romantic entanglements. I jokingly stated that he had been "friend-zoned", and Anna paused. Then she said something extremely insightful about the whole idea of "friend-zoning", and I am now going to share it with you.

First, a brief definition of "Friend-zoning". Let's say that Person A has a romantic interest in Person B. Person A pursues a relationship with Person B. Person B, however, is not interested in Person A "that way" and wishes to remain "just friends." In this situation, Person A has been "friend-zoned" by Person B: That is, A has been relegated against his will to the zone of friends.

And Anna's objection was very simple: That the whole concept of "friend-zoning" is soaked through with entitlement. And after hearing her reasoning, I had no choice but to agree completely. Here it goes:

When you say that someone has been "friend-zoned", you imply (however subtly) that a wrong has been done to him. It implies that he has been denied something that is rightfully his; Moreover, you imply that the "friend-zoner" is, in some subtle but real way, committing a wrong. They're "not giving him a fair shot", or "not giving them a chance."

Which is pretty horrifying, actually.

See, to get to that point, you have to follow a really weird chain of logic.

1: I have a romantic interest in this person.

2: I desire to begin a romantic relationship with this person.

3: I am acting super nicely towards this person, and not like a douchebag at all.

4 (and here's where it gets odd): Because of 1, 2, and 3, I am entitled to a romantic relationship with this person.

And finally, the horrifying conclusion of 5: In denying me this romantic relationship, this person is committing a wrong against me and relegating me unjustly to the zone of friends.

Now, you might say that numbers 4 and 5 aren't necessarily part of the whole phenomenon. That you can have "friend-zoning" as a concept without all the entitlement. And while that may be true in a vacuum, I don't think it can be true here and now. And if you want proof, just think of the last TV show or movie you saw where someone got "friend-zoned." Heck, Anna and I just saw it while re-watching Scrubs for the umpteenth time. Was it portrayed as just something that happened, a morally neutral occurrence? Or was it treated as an unjust act, either to be rectified or merely recovered from?

No. The whole complaint of "friend-zoning," the entire idea, is built on a sense of commiseration and sympathy for the friend-zone-ee, and a sense of (at best) good-natured hostility/condescension towards the friend-zone-er ("She'll come around, you just need to keep at her"). And the fact that such an attitude is unconscious in most cases makes it more problematic, not less, because it is merely one more instance of the sense of entitlement: Indeed, it is not much of a stretch at all to say that it is nothing more nor less than an extension of Rape Culture that thrives through its subtlety.

It's this idea that all a guy must do in order to be rightfully owed a relationship (and possibly sex as well), is to merely not be a douchebag. And the danger of such an idea was illustrated in vivid color when an entitled man-child got fed up with not receiving what he was owed and murdered six people.

Addendum: My good friend Kellen pointed out a similar (but ultimately distinct) situation that needs teasing out: That of the hopeful suitor (Person A) who is actively being kept on the line by the suit-ee (Person B). This bears certain similarities to "friend-zoning", but is made different by the fact that in this case, Person B is actively encouraging Person A in his efforts, and is using Person A to reap some of the benefits of a true relationship, with no intention of returning those benefits. Therefore, while Person A may still bear some responsibility through entitlement, Person B shares in it as well, by actively encouraging and taking advantage of it.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Prayer in Uncertainty

Every day, at 1:00 pm, my phone goes off, with the word "Prayer" emblazoned across the screen. It's a remnant from my church's "Reach One" challenge: Every day, you were supposed to pray for one minute for one person who you wanted to reach, and the set time was meant to make it easier.

The challenge only lasted one month, but it never occurred to me to turn it off. So every day, at 1:00, I'm reminded to pray for my friend, and (almost) every day I pray for that one person. And I pray largely the same prayer. The periphery varies, but the core is consistent:

I pray that God will work the circumstances of  my friend for His glory, and for my friend's salvation. And I pray that if I have a role in that, that I will play it well.  

I've written a lot about free will, and Providence, and the possible relationship between the two. Entire theologies and denominations have centered on this relationship, this paradox. And I don't know how it all works out (although i do have some thoughts).

But here's the important bit: When I'm praying, I'm not thinking about all that. It's not super helpful at that moment. Because for the purposes of this prayer, it really doesn't matter. What matters is that we're told to pray, and we're told that prayer matters, and we know that prayer can even change the future... and that's good enough for me. I think there is a time for hypotheticals, for abstract reasoning and theoretical models of cause and effect, but that time is not during the act of praying.

I do not need to know how God will work my friend's situation for His glory and my friend's salvation. I do not need to know how God can providentially call my friend to Him, without violating my friend's free will. I only know that God can do that, and that is enough.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Calvinists are better than their theology

Two people in the last couple days wanted to hear more about this idea, making it tied for the most requested post of all time on this blog. So...this one's for you.

There's been a bit of a brouhaha (which is surprisingly recognized by spellcheck!) over this post in the last couple of days. People who have heard me talk about Calvinism know that I support most of these ideas 100%. But here's the thing:

Most Calvinists are better than their theology.

Now, I have several Calvinist friends, and I know that any Calvinist who reads this is going to want to say that I'm thinking about it all wrong, or that I'm attacking a straw man, or what have you. I don't think that's the case. We're not going to agree, but I don't think it's because I just don't really get Calvinism.

Alright: Here we go.

Most Calvinists are better than their theology. Their actions towards the world (and the individual inhabitants thereof) are often more loving, more charitable, and just plain better than their theology entails.

Calvinists, by necessity, believe that God doesn't love the majority of the people on the planet. There's no getting around that. Not only does he not save them, but according to Calvin, he actively condemns them, "for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children" (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.23.1). To love is to actively desire the good of the beloved, and the "inaccurate description of God’s character that Calvinism puts forth" (as Dr. Fred Sanders puts it) doesn't allow for that kind of attitude in God. And yet we find that many Calvinists, through missions work and charity, do in fact love people, many of whom are not merely not elect, but actively and purposefully condemned by God.

Let's get a little more specific, since the generalities can get muddy. Let's say that a good Calvinist has a beloved friend, or parent, or child, who dies an atheist. That good Calvinist, in loving that person and genuinely desiring their good, in praying for them and therefore actively working towards the good of that person, has loved that person more and better than their description of God is able to. Again, there is no way around that. Where God, far from desiring their good, actively condemned them to an eternity in Hell, these Calvinists have loved them, have worked towards their good and striven for their salvation.(And it is worth noting here that according to my Calvinist friends, God’s election/reprobation does not interfere with free will: Therefore, God is perfectly capable of saving these people without overriding their free will, and he chooses not to).  That is, of course, God's right...but it is not loving.

Calvinists are better than their theology. They describe God as someone who has eternally, irrevocably, irresistibly decreed not only the eternal destinies of everyone on earth, but every single action of everyone on earth as well...and yet many attack the mission field with the gusto of someone who might accomplish something meaningful. Many of them go through their day-to-day lives believing that a chance may come their way to bring glory to God, and believing (implicitly if not explicitly) that it is within their power to succeed or fail at that chance.

They're better than their theology. Many of them have a love for the lost that, according to their doctrine, just isn't shared by God. When someone falls away from the Church, they act as though it wasn't just God giving that person a temporary taste of goodness, just to snatch it away and render them even more worthy of damnation (3.2.11). That is why I would be happy to share communion with a Calvinist, and why this podcast missed the point. Because while it would be difficult to call brother someone who acted like their theology would entail, Calvinists are often better than that.