Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hezekiah and the Plans of God

"So...God actually changed his mind as a result of Hezekiah's prayer?"

That's what a friend of mine asked as we were discussing 2 Kings 20. I've written about this before, and it really is one of the most important passages in my understanding of prayer and how it interacts with God's plan.

So: Back to my friend's question. Did Hezekiah's prayer cause God to "change his mind"? During the initial conversation, I responded almost off-the-cuff, saying "I don't know if God necessarily had a mind to change." And after a lot of further reflection, I think that might just hold up.

I don't think it's correct to say that God planned for Hezekiah in particular to die from that particular illness at that particular time. I definitely think that God knew that Hezekiah would die with all those particulars. And I think that God had worked that event into his plans for the future. But I don't think that God planned the event itself: I don't think he designed it, or desired it to happen, or had so constructed the universe in such a way as to render it certain.

Instead, I think that Hezekiah was going to do of that particular illness, at that particular time, as a result of the natural laws that God put into place at the creation of the universe, and as a result of the free will of humanity interacting with those natural laws, and likely as a result of a bunch of other things that don't directly have to do with God explicitly planning that event.

I don't think that God "changed his mind" in healing Hezekiah. I don't think that in this particular situation, God had a mind to change. Hezekiah was going to die not because God planned it or caused it to happen, but because that's what happens in a fallen world where our bodies break down and fall prey to sickness and disease. It does not happen outside God's knowledge or control, but neither does it happen as a result of God's sovereign plan and active will.*

God's working and plan first becomes evident not in Hezekiah's disease, but in his response to Hezekiah's prayer. That is where God first takes action: That is where God steps into history and changes what is supposed to happen. He breaks the chain of natural cause-and-affect, and as a result, Hezekiah lives for another 15 years. And I actually think this is a pretty great way of understanding how our prayers can affect genuine change in the world: It's a time where God takes not just his own purposes into account, but also our own desires.

*Did God have a purpose in using Hezekiah's illness? Almost certainly - and in the same way, he also has a purpose in using our own illnesses and misfortunes. And sometimes, that purpose may be more active and deliberate, as is the case with Job. But I think it's wrong to say with certainty that any specific misfortune is "planned" by God....nothing happens without divine permission, but not all things happen by sovereign decree.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A (Hopefully) Simple Explanation of Simple Foreknowledge

"If God knew that mankind would sin, why did he still create us? Why didn't he prevent it? Doesn't that mean that he wanted the sin to happen?"

Those are some of the questions I've heard concerning the origin of sin and God's role in it: The much-discussed Problem of Evil. Why did God still create us, when he knew we were going to sin?

There are a lot of different answers to that, of course...but one that I'd never heard of before a few months ago (and I'm guessing you never have either) is Simple Foreknowledge.

Here's SF in a nutshell: God only knew that humanity would sin, after he made the decision to create humanity.* Speaking of God knowing what humanity would do, before he decided to create humanity, is nonsensical...because before he decided to create us, there was nothing for him to know about us. We didn't exist in any way, not even potentially, and God doesn't have knowledge of non-existent things.

Let me put it another way: Asking if God knew we would sin, before he decided to create us, is like asking if God knows where the leprechaun's gold is. It's like asking if God knows the color of next Friday. It's a nonsense question: There's simply nothing for him to know.

God only knew what humanity would do after he decided to create us. And if that's a viable option (and it is), then it becomes a very useful idea. We no longer have to wonder if the mere fact of the fall means that God wanted it to happen all along; We no longer have to wonder if God chose to create us even knowing that we would all fall short of his glory. It means that God decided to create us, and then had foreknowledge of the Fall and everything else that comes with it.

There are a lot of places we could go from here, one of the most interesting being how this allows for a really cool picture of God looking through human history and preparing his amazing plan: Taking the history of a doomed race and turning it into a story of glory and love and redemption. But I wanted this to be a short and quick post, so I'll just say one more thing.

This post came into being because I was thinking about the role of sin in God's plan, and whether the Fall and Cross was, as I've heard asserted by some Christians, God's "Plan A." And there are a lot of ways to answer the question of whether God knew mankind would sin before he created us, and the order of all that, and the role that his foreknowledge plays in it, and a whole lot more. But if your answer ends up asserting that the Fall was Plan A, then you have answered it wrongly.

If you end up asserting that God never had a plan for unfallen humanity, and that everything that has happened thus far - from the Fall, to the Flood, to systematized slavery and genocide, to the World Wars and the Holocaust - is all going exactly according to God's original Plan A, then you have taken a wrong turn, and you need to try again. It's fine if your answer is "I don't know." It's fine if you can't fully articulate it (although I think it's one of those things where you should look into some possible answers). But there is at least one answer that I feel to be so wrong as to taint literally every other area of your knowledge of God, and that is it.

This is not Plan A. God wanted something so much better for us, and I think that it should be impossible to read through Genesis - to read the glories of Eden, the curses in Genesis 3, and God's grief and regret in Genesis 6 - and come to any other conclusion.

"Is [God] a beast that we can stop His path, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost for ever. The first King and first Mother of our world did the forbidden thing, and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good, and what they lost we have not seen. And there were some to whom no good came nor ever will come.”

CS Lewis, Perelandra

*Note that the language of "before" and "after" is very tricky to apply to an eternal God existing in eternity: This is best understood as a logical order, not a temporal order.

Addendum: I struggled for a while to overcome my immediate Devil's Advocate response to this: "Why couldn't God just perform some sort of divine thought experiment and arrive at a hypothetical universe identical to our own?"

But the answer is actually pretty simple: Because free will doesn't work like that. If free will were the type of thing that could be exactly predicted like that, it wouldn't be free will anymore. That would mean that it was 100% dictated by the cause-and-effect of history and environment, and that everything we do is the inevitable reaction to something else that happened to us. But if free will is really free, then it most definitely is not the kind of thing that can be predicted in a thought experiment. No: It has to be done for reals.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sin is an Episode

"The atonement accomplished in Jesus Christ is God’s retort to the sin of man and its consequences. And the sin of man is an episode. It is the original of all episodes, the essence of everything that is unnecessary, disorderly, contrary to plan and purpose. It has not escaped the knowledge and control of God. But it is not a work of His creation and not a disposition of His providence.

It really comes about and is only as that which God did not will and does not will and never will will. It has its being only in the fact that it is non-being, that which from the point of view of God is unintelligible and intolerable. It takes place only as the powerful—but, of course, before God absolutely powerless—irruption of that which is not into the fulfilment of His will.

It takes place, therefore, only under the original, radical, definitive and therefore finally triumphant No of God. It is not a limitation of His positive will. Rather it exists as it is completely conditioned by His non-will. It is alive and active in all its fearfulness only on the left hand of God.

But the atonement accomplished in Jesus Christ, like creation and the providential rule of God, is a work on the right hand of God, a work of His positive will. It is so in the highest possible sense, in a way which gives it priority and precedence over creation and providence. In Jesus Christ God comes to grips with that episode. Jesus Christ is in fact God’s retort to the sin of man."

Karl Barth, The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country

When I read these words for the first time, years ago in my Trinitarian meta-torrey with Dr. Sanders, a shiver ran down my spine. I thought I had never before read such a clear accounting of the origin and being of evil, and its relation to the will of God and his Providence.

I still think that.

Let's break it down a bit:

Barth calls the sin of man "an episode." There are several potential definitions for this, but I think the most likely is "an incident or period considered in isolation." That is, an event that is not continuous with the events before or after it. And indeed, Barth explains it further in his next sentence:

  • Sin is "unnecessary": It is not needed or required - specifically, not needed or required by God's plan or providence. 
  • Sin is "disorderly": It goes against God's order, and is indeed the essence of disorderliness. 
  • Sin is "contrary to plan and purpose." This is the clearest statement so far. Barth directly states that sin goes against ANY plan or purpose of God's
Finally, he clarifies and summarizes exactly what he means:

"It has not escaped the knowledge and control of God" .Sin is NOT something that exists outside the knowledge and control of God. God is not confounded or befuddled by sin. He is not left helpless by it, and he is not powerless against it. He knows it, and he is in control over it.


"It is not a work of His creation and not a disposition of His providence." This is the point of the entire paragraph. Here, Barth seems to reject, in the strongest possible manner, the idea of felix culpa,, "Happy Fault," the idea that God uses evil to accomplish greater good than would have been possible without the evil.

Note the "greater", because it's important. God can clearly use evil for good, and in fact we see that idea throughout the entire Bible. But there is a HUGE difference between that, and the idea that there is a GREATER level of good that requires evil in order to be actualized.

This is what Barth is fighting against. And that is why he says, over and over again, that evil, in and of itself, is disorderly, contrary to plan and purpose, and unnecessary.

His language grows stronger: "It really comes about and is only as that which God did not will and does not will and never will will."

Sin is something that God did not desire or cause to exist; It is something that God does not will or desire or cause to exist: And it is something that God never will desire or cause to exist. In the strongest possible language, he lays it down that sin is something that exists entirely outside the active will of God. Instead, sin exists "as the powerful—but, of course, before God absolutely powerless—irruption of that which is not into the fulfilment of His will", and ultimately "under the original, radical, definitive and therefore finally triumphant No of God."

In other words, sin is a temporary disruption of God's plan, existing only in so far as God does not actively destroy it...which he eventually will, as he "comes to grips with that episode" in Jesus Christ.

So... why is this important?

Because it makes a huge difference whether God allows sin to happen, or causes it to happen.

Because it makes a huge difference whether the ultimate cause of sin lies in the sinner, or in God's will and providence. 

And ultimately, because it makes a huge difference in whether sin can rightly be regarded as an enemy. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why I love Christus Victor

In my previous post, I tried to restrict myself mainly to an explanation of the doctrine of Christus Victor (or CV). But now, I want to explain a few reasons why I love it.

Reason #1: It's more of a Romance than it is a formalized system of theology (although I think it can actually be formalized and logically defended to a much greater extent that Aulen does).

It is so incredibly easy, when speaking abstractly and analytically of theology, to lose track of the actual Things behind the words and ideas.

But CV doesn't speak in abstract terms, and it doesnt' seek to analyze too closely its various components. Instead, it speaks in imagery and action: Christ descends from heaven disguised as a mortal, to do battle with the devil. He devises a trap and springs it, rescuing his people from the tyrants of Sin and Death: Indeed, he makes Sin and Death his own captives, and makes a mockery of them!

It's action. It's adventure. It's a love story. It's everything good and true and pure that the human soul finds, in bits and pieces, in great literature: indeed, it is what makes great literature great.

Reason #2: Christ "plays by the rules."

The way multiple early Church Fathers saw it, Satan has legal rights to humanity. This likely stems from Hebrews, which states that the devil is the one who "holds the power of death." Reading through the Church Fathers, you see a doctrine in which Satan, by deceiving Adam and Eve into sinning, gains "legal" power of them as sinners. This is further backed up by Colossians 2, which links the forgiveness of sins and the cancelling of debts, NOT to any form of substitutionary atonement, but to the disarming and mockery of the rulers and authorities arrayed against us.

Of course, this "legal" power stems ultimately from God: Some see Satan as in some sense the executor of God's judgement on sin (See The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the Witch is described by Mr. Beaver as "the Emperor's hangman"), and God is, after all, sovereign (though not necessarily in a Calvinist sense...more on this later). However, there is the sense that however "legal" his possession of humanity might be, he got it through deceit, and he is abusing it.

God could, if he so chose, sweep in under his sovereign power and forcibly liberate humanity from its slavery. He could exert his divine power and simply remove Satan altogether. He could act outside the order he created: That would be his right as God.

But he does not do this. Instead, he sets out to "win" humanity back from within the created order, acting according to the "rules". And there are two ways that CV sees this happening (either as one or the other, or as a combination):

  • Christ offers his life as a ransom for humanity, and Satan is eager to make the trade. There is, in a sense, a contract or bargain that is struck between God and Satan, where Christ agrees to die as a ransom for his people.

  • However, in killing Christ, Satan overreaches and loses all power. Christ had done nothing to merit death, and when Death (as CV often personalizes it) attempts to strike him down, Death loses all power and authority, as a law which convicts an innocent man will be annulled.
(A careful reader of CS Lewis will notice that BOTH of these themes are present in Lion, Witch, Wardrobe. First, Aslan agrees to give his life for Edmund: But due to the workings of the Deep Magic, when an innocent being is killed, death loses its power, having overstepped its bounds). 

Finally (and although this is the main reason, I've left it till last because it has the most potential to be controversial), Reason #3: It presupposes a genuine enmity between God and Satan. Satan is doing things that God genuinely does not want to happen

That dualism, that sense of real conflict, sits at the heart of Christian theology. A bedrock assumption of the Bible is that there is a thing called Evil, that it is real, that it is really evil, and that it is at odds with God's genuine desires. God really desires a cessation of evil, and he plays no role in its creation. Sin grieves God, and he wars against it, to bring about the end of evil, and the salvation of those under its thrall (us). 

But here's the thing: This sense of enmity and conflict literally cannot exist in Calvinistic theologies, and this is for one very simple reason:

In Calvinism, everything is ultimately as it should be. Everything, including the initial Fall, was not only "allowed" but actually planned, designed, and carried out by God (albeit through secondary causes).

That means that there cannot be the genuine enmity that Christus Victor presupposes. Satan can't be doing anything that God doesn't wish to be done, because Satan only ever does the things he was meant by God to do! It is, at best, a thoroughly one-sided enmity: Satan thinks he is going against God's will, but from God's perspective, it's more like a puppeteer pretending that he is genuinely at odds with one of his marionettes. Or as my friend Danny M said, it's like a child having a pretend war while playing with toy soldiers.

CV cannot exist in a Calvinist theology, because there is no real enemy; There are only various ways and means that God employs to irresistibly bring his predetermined plan to fruition.

There is no real war: There is only God playing with toy soldiers, occasionally knocking some down and making pew-pew noises.

And there is no real victory: Only a cessation of one way in which God brings his inevitable will to pass.

And to that philosophy of puppets and fakery, Christus Victor says "No." The early Church believed what the Bible seems to plainly teach: That Sin and Death are enemies not just of ourselves, but of God. That Satan is an Accuser and a roaring lion, and that God genuinely does not wish for us to be devoured. That Jesus came into the world to tie up the strong man, to plunder his house and set the captives free.

And to that, I say "amen."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christus Victor - Part 1

A couple weeks ago, I bought Gustaf Aulen's Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement (I can only assume it's snappier in the original Swedish (or German? Maybe German). Its main object was to trace the development (and unfortunate decline) of the view of the Atonement known as Christus Victor: Christ the Victor.

CV (Christus Victor) was, as it turns out, the dominant view in the Church for the first thousand years of its existence. From some of the very earliest of theologians (including Irenaeus, writing around 170-180 AD), the primary view of Atonement has nothing to do with Penal Substitution ("for on that cross where Jesus died/ The Wrath of God was satisfied"), the view that Jesus affected a "legal restitution" for our sins, payed to God. That view didn't arise until Anselm around 1100 AD. Instead, the primary view of atonement was that of victory: Victory over Sin, Hell, and Satan.

One of the first extant proponents of this doctrine (outside of Scripture, which we'll cover later on in this post) is Irenaeus, one of the "Church Fathers." He was born in the early second century, and what's incredibly interesting here is that he was a student of Polycarp, and even earlier leader of the Church. And as for Polycarp, he's traditionally accepted as a disciple of the Apostle John.

That's right: Irenaeus is only twice removed from one of Jesus' original disciples. How crazy is that? Anyway, Aulen poses the question: For what purpose did Christ come down from heaven? He quotes Irenaeus: "That he might destroy sin, overcome death, and give life to man." He develops this answer in a longer quote:

""Through the Second Man [Christ] he bound the strong one, and spoiled his goods, and annihilated death, bringing life to man who had become subject to death. For Adam had become the devil's possession, and the devil held him under his power, by having wrongfully practised deceit upon him, and by the offer of immortality made him subject to death...Wherefore he who had taken man captive was himself taken captive by God, and man who had been taken captive was set free from the bondage of condemnation."

See the theme here? There are a couple really interesting assumptions here, that are further developed by later theologians:

  • First, that the devil is literally in possession of mankind. Man is under the power of the devil, by virtue of being subject to death. He is "captive" to the devil.

  • And second, that Christ's goal in his life, death, and resurrection is to annul and destroy the power the devil has over us, and to free us from our captivity to the devil.

That sense of conflict and victory is the central point of the doctrine (hence the name). Even more interesting, however, is the manner in which this victory is achieved. There comes up again and again the sense that God tricked the devil: That the devil was deceived by Christ's humanity.

In fact, Gregory of Nyssa, in the late 300's, actually compared the deity of Christ with a baited fish hook!

"Since the hostile power was not going to enter into relations with a God present unveiled, or endure His appearance in heavenly glory, therefor God, in order to render Himself accessible to him who demanded of Him a ransom for us, concealed Himself under the veil of our nature, in order that, as happens with greedy fishes, together with the bait of the flesh, the hook of the Godhead might also be swallowed."

And what is the result of this trickery?

"And so, through Life passing over into death, and the Light arising the darkness, that which is opposed to Life and Light might be brought to nought. For darkness cannot endure when the Light shines, nor can death remain in being where Life is active."

There is the sense that God actually lures Satan to him: That Satan snaps at Christ's human body as a fish snaps at a hook, and is undone in exactly the same way. Normally, Satan would not dare to even approach God in His radiance: In Christ, however, Satan not only approaches him but actually brings him into the the heart of his kingdom (as Christus Victor is closely linked to the slightly later developed doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell). And then Life arises in the midst of death, and the Light of creation blooms in the darkness, undoing and conquering both.

Of course, the awesomeness of the theology is not, in and of itself, an argument for its truth. And while it was the dominant theory of the Atonement for the first thousand years of Church history, that too does not constitute proof. For that, we must look to Scripture...but here, Christus Victor is most certainly not lacking (and indeed, it's difficult to conceive of the idea gaining such prominence without Scriptural support!).

Indeed, we find hints of a war of some kind even in the Old Testament. God casually mentions the storehouses of hail in Job, which are "reserved for the time of trouble,for the day of battle and war": God himself makes preparations for the conflict. This is even more fleshed out in Daniel, where an angle states that he was detained - genuinely, "physically" held back - by the "prince" of Persia: This conflict was only resolved when Michael, "One of the chief princes", comes in for back-up.

But the language of conflict is not merely present in the New Testament: It is actually built on an assumption of war, of an ongoing conflict between that which is truly, absolutely Good...and that which is really, genuinely Evil. But these are not generic categories...the sides are not abstract in the least. On each side we find distinct, active agents constantly working, constantly planning and scheming, constantly maneuvering for advantage across the battlefield of the world.

That is why Paul can speak casually of Christ "destroying every rule and every authority and power," and how "the last enemy to be destroyed is death." (any why at the end of the chapter, he speaks of the victory of Christ not only over sin, but over its weapon as well: The Law.)

It is why Paul can speak of the "present evil age" in opposition to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is why Paul goes into such detail about the "authorities", "cosmic powers", and "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." This is no mere abstraction...the forces arrayed against Christ and His Church are personal and active in their warfare.

And this war has been going on for a long time, and there have been casualties. This is no mere skirmish or invasion: It is also a rescue mission. That is why Christ calls himself " a ransom for many", and we would do well to remember that ransom is a very specific term: It is the means by which captives are released. And this is spelled out nowhere so clearly as in Hebrews, where the author clearly lays out the necessity for this rescue mission: "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),"

There is a war going on, and all of humankind are casualities and prisoners of war. And Christ comes to free the captors, to tie up the devil, take his property, and plunder his house (man, Mark 3:26-27 is awesome when read through Christus Victor...). There's actually quite a bit of nuance here, which I'll get into in the next post, but the main theme is clear: Christ is victorious over his enemies, and we are liberated by that victory.

This is not the analytical, nearly mathematical theology of Anselm onward. It can't be spoken of in terms of debt and legal obligation, of payment and restitution - at least, not to God. Instead, it is a drama, a romance in the truest, Chestertonian sense of the word. It is an adventure, a heroic quest, and a battle. Ladies and gentlemen, Christus Victor.

See Part 2 for a more detailed discussion of why I really love this doctrine. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We're supposed to be better

Earlier today, this video popped up on my facebook feed because a friend "liked" it. The caption was "ISIS Tank Gets Smoked By Brimstone Missile."

I watched in awe as what was once a tank becomes, in a fraction of a second, an enormous fireball surrounded by debris. I even laughed, that weird laugh of disbelief and amazement. It's...pretty amazing - and frightening - what we can make a tank just disappear, without anyone seeing it coming.

And then I felt a little sick, because I remembered that in all likelihood, it wasn't just a tank, an inanimate piece of metal, that had exploded. Amid that debris was a body, created in the image of God.In the middle of that explosion, a man had died: A man that God Himself had come into the world to save. And I had watched it happen - more than that, I had approved of it, for the sheer spectacle of it.

And then I looked at the comments, and I literally wanted to vomit. I still feel a little sick to my stomach, because those comments - all of them American, and almost all of them almost certainly coming from those who would characterize themselves as Christian - demonstrated a disdain for human life that has a whole hell of a lot more in common with ISIS than with any kind of Christianity or even deistic 'Murican morality .

A picture of a man burning to death, with the caption "How do you like your terrorists...Sunni side up?"

A picture of an armed jet, labeled "72 Virgin Dating Service."

An image of an actual corpse flying through the air, captioned "Its a bird! Its a plane! No...its a flying dead goat----er."

And one comment that just summed up the whole thread:

"I love those kind of Muslims, the dead ones."

I'm putting this post away now. Maybe when I come back to it, I'll have a way to finish it that doesn't involve me staring blankly at the screen.

I'm back. It's later. And I still can't figure out a way to end it, without merely stating and restating the obvious. This is horrifying. This shouldn't be. We're supposed to be better than that.

We're supposed to be better.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why don't they believe? (Probably because of stuff like this)

Why are people so skeptical of Christian truth claims? Maybe it's because we regularly demonstrate that we'll believe literally anything as long as it appears to support our worldview.

If you have a bunch of Christian friends on Facebook, it's possible that you've seen a certain story floating around in the last few days, with the unassuming headline:

"Newly-Found Document Holds Eyewitness Account of Jesus Performing Miracle"

Imagine this: You have a friend who you've been trying to lead to Christ. You've talked with them, argued with them, debated with them. They're actually coming around, because they see that you do have something different about you.

Then they see this on your Facebook page. They see you trumpeting it as indisputable evidence of the truth of your beliefs. And they think, "Maybe this is it. Maybe it really is true." 

So they click on it, and read it. And they think, "This is HUGE. Why haven't I seen this anywhere else?" So they do some digging. Maybe they click on the Disclaimer. Maybe they just ask snopes. Either way, they will realize that it's a hoax: More than that, it's not even a clever hoax. They'll realize that it's a fake news story, posted on a fake news site, that advertises its fakery on the actual site.

And they'll realize that you fell for it hook, line, and sinker. They'll realize that you were so eager to post something that verified your view of the world that you couldn't even bother to confirm that it was true, when doing so would have taken you five seconds

And if you can't be trusted to verify something that simple, to expend that little effort to confirm the truth of what you're telling your friends...then maybe they'll wonder why they should trust you about Jesus at all. If you're so willing to believe anything that confirms your worldview, how do they know your faith isn't just another example?

So here's the point: One of my friends posted this story, along with a question: Why are people so skeptical of Christian claims? His hypothesis, if I recall correctly, was that they simply didn't want to believe: That they were upset with God and didn't want to admit they were living in sin.

I present an alternate theory: They're skeptical of Christian claims because of course they areWho wouldn't be skeptical of claims made by the same people who post fake news as real news, who can't be bothered to take five seconds to research something before championing it and holding it up as a beacon of truth? Why should they believe our testimony, when we show absolutely no discernment in matters of truth and fiction? 

When we do stuff like this, we're actively hurting the cause of Christ, because we're showing our atheist friends that when it comes to our worldview, we'll believe anything. We're literally confirming the validity of their skepticism. We're actually telling them, "Release your skepticism and allow yourself to consider Christianity, and you'll end up like this, unable to discern between truth and lies, believing anything so long as it confirms your worldview."

Disclaimer: I've seen smart, intelligent people post this story. That posting represents a blind-spot, certainly, but it is most definitely not an indictment of their overall intelligence or discernment. However, that is how it will be seen by an unbelieving friend, who actually takes the time to look into it. And we need to cut that crap out.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why I care about Calvinism

A week or two ago, I mentioned a post I was working on to my friend James, about a particular aspect of Calvinism (haven't published it yet). He didn't comment on the subject of the post itself: instead, he just said, "Very few people are so fixed on one topic as you are on Calvinism."

I paused for a second, then told him that I thought I had actually been restraining myself. It had been a while since publishing a post that even mentions it: The last one was in July (nearly two months ago). But it's true: Calvinism is often on my mind. So after that, I told James a story about WHY it's so important to me. 

I had a friend (who will be referred to as "they", to preserve their anonymity). And while we didn't talk much at first, this friend began messaging me over Facebook one semester. We would have long discussions, most often on theology and their personal struggles. They'd been exposed to Calvinism and embraced it, and in my opinion, it was killing them. 

I had already believed that Calvinism was wrong. But through those conversations, I became convinced that it was dangerous: That it was a spiritual poison that could kill and maim. (Please note that I'm not saying that individual Calvinists are poisonous, or even unChristian: See this post on how Calvinists are better than their theology.)

Calvinists believe that God chose specific people before the foundation of the world to save them, and that God chose everyone else before the foundation of the world to damn them (and Calvin himself says that those who attempt to do away with the second part "do so ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation” (Institutes, 3.23.1). So we have the Elect and the Reprobate. 

Now, my friend was addicted to something. And every time they succumbed to that addiction, they grew a little more worried that they weren't Elect at all. They began to be worried that they were Reprobate, that they were damned from all eternity to sin and sin again, to be helpless before the sin until they once again grew to love the sin and revel in it. After all, where was the Irresistible Grace? Why, when they looked for grace, did they instead find that it was SIN that seemed so irresistible? Was this the experience of an Elect individual? Or that of a Reprobate?

It broke my heart. And it happened again and again. My friend didn't doubt whether they were saved...they began to wonder whether they could EVER be saved, whether the possibility was even real. 

And according to Calvinism, there was no comfort I could give them. If I was a consistent Calvinist, all I could have done would be to agree with them that they definitely MIGHT be reprobate, and that there was nothing they could do about it. 

In the face of their questioning, all I could have done is to say with Calvin, "All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation" (3.21.5). I could have told them that there was definitely some merit to their concern, and that they might be preordained to eternal damnation. Better cross your fingers and hope for the best!

In the face of their sinning, all I could have told them is, "As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts, nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will" (1.17.1). That is, all I could have told them was God was not only allowing them to fall into sin, BUT WAS ACTUALLY MAKING IT HAPPEN.

In the face of their religious feeling, and their apparent desire to not sin, I could have told them that MIGHT be evidence of their election...but to be completely honest with them, I would have also been forced to tell them that "Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect. so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the Elect... because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of Adoption" (3.2.11). 

In other words, I would have been forced to tell my friend that even when they were convinced that they were Elect, it could have been Jesus just messing with their head so he could damn them even further. And furthermore, to be completely honest with them, I would have had to tell them that this could happen at any time...that even if they recovered, on any given day they might wake up to find that the goodness of the Lord had been taken from them, and that Jesus had been playing a trick on them all along. 

(If that didn't make you throw up in your mouth a little, I don't know what to tell you.)

Obviously, I am not now, and was not then, Calvinist. So I wasn't limited like that. I could tell them that God didn't want them to sin (in ANY sense of the words "want", "ordain", "design," or any other words that Calvinists use to weasel out of it), and hadn't set up the universe in such a way as to make it unavoidable. I could tell them that God definitely had not damned them before the foundation of the world. And I could tell them that salvation was even then within their grasp, that God was ready and willing to help. 

They got better, and I thank God for it. But that convinced me that Calvinism is dangerous. 

Being a consistent Calvinist - one who actually followed Calvin's teachings - would have required me to tell my friend that it was a distinct possibility that God sincerely, genuinely desired to damn them in particular; that God could be irresistibly acting to bring that damnation about; that God would derive pleasure from that eternal damnation; and that he would be doing it for his glory. That was the good news that I could have offered my friend in their addiction and trials. And I'm scared of what might have happened if I had offered them that gospel.

For related posts, check out "Is All Well?" and "Calvinism, God's Goodness, and Alternate Interpretations."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vicious as snakes, and foolish as pigeons

"Make up lies about those who (maybe?) persecute you, or at least believe the lies that others tell. Find things to be offended at, and shout your indignation to the heavens. Be proud of your "Christian heritage", and seek out those who might be offended by it. If possible, so far as it depends on you, create conflict wherever you can, because offending people and being offended by others is the only mark of a true Christian. If your enemy says anything at all, don't hesitate to take it out of context and use it to attack him, for by doing so you will encourage others to take offense and do the same. Do not overcome liberalism with liberalism, but by sharing offensive, one-sided facebook posts that would have taken you 15 seconds to research."

Romans 12:14-21, American Popular Version

Holy crap, is Facebook saddening sometimes. The most recent example? Obama is thanking the mosque that beheaded someone! And for a more classic flavor, he shouldn't even be president in the first place, because he was a foreign exchange student! I've seen those and innumerable others on my Facebook, all from presumably well-meaning Christians who just want to get the word out.

But neither of them are true. And IT TAKES LITERALLY FIFTEEN SECONDS TO RESEARCH IT. Here's the foreign exchange student thing. And here's the mosque thing.

In fact, let's talk about the mosque thing real quick, since that's what I've seen most recently from several FB friends, all of them expressing shock that Obama could actually sink that low, as to thank people who beheaded a US citizen! It's terrible! It's unbelievable.

YES. Yes, it IS unbelievable. Because the truth is, the "thank-you" speech was referencing community service that the mosque had done, following a tornado in the area in 2013. It was a speech scheduled far in advance. Unfortunately, the recipients of that speech happened to be very loosely connected with a man who violently beheaded someone - and by "loosely connected", I mean the man had attended the mosque a few times over the course of several months.

Did Obama send a thank-you speech to the mosque? Yes he did. Was that mosque populated - dare I say - by Muslims? Indeed it was. And did a terrorist attend that mosque a few times, without getting involved with the mosque to a greater degree? Yes. All of those things are true. But it does not add up to "OUTRAGEOUS: Obama Sends THANK-YOU Letter to Oklahoma Beheader’s Mosque." Such a reading of events - and such a willingness to accept that reading of events, without seeking the truth - is not just lazy: It is dishonest. It is unfair. It is an outright rejection of our Christian calling to love and charity.

This isn't a political post, guys. This isn't about politics, policies, or any other polis-words.  It's about how we engage with all that. Remember that "verse" I opened with? Well, here's the real version:

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Romans 12:14-21

When I look at what a LOT of my Christian friends are posting on Facebook, I don't see ANY of that.

I don't see us blessing our enemies: I see us cursing and ridiculing them, proud in our knowledge that we alone are right.

I don't see us striving to live in harmony with others: I see us looking for ways to offend.

I don't see us living peaceably: I see us finding any and every way to be offended.

We are gullible. We eagerly share and re-post that which we WANT to be true, without any regard for whether it actually IS true. We use Facebook as a weapon, to ridicule our enemies and shame those who don't do the same (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Picture of a Bible that begins with "97% won't repost this..."). We are quick to anger, quick to assume the worst, and slow to seek the truth.

This should not be. We are to be both wise as serpents, and innocent as doves, But right now, many of us are neither: We are as vicious as snakes, and as foolish as pigeons. We want to think that people are offended at Christian songs, even when they aren't. And we want to think that people are offended at saluting the flag (sorry, can't link Facebook memes), even though they aren't. We want to think that we, and we alone, have discovered the fact that Obummer is a gay-loving Muslim monkey from Turbanistan and probably eats a Christian baby for breakfast every morning...but we really haven't

So knock it off. See your opponents as people before you see them as obstacles, and treat them accordingly (it's amazing what that one thing will do). But if you want something concrete and simple, do some DAMN research before you "share" or "like" that next Facebook post from The Blaze or your favorite conservative talk show host. Take just 15 seconds, google it, and if there's a single article in the first few results that seems to say something different than the post you want to share, READ IT.

And if you don't have time to read it? If you don't have time to actually confirm the truth of what you're about to post? Then you probably shouldn't be posting it in the first place.

 Don't be gullible. Don't be happy to be offended. Be both wise and innocent.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chesterton Medley - Books, Part 4

Been a while since I've done one of these, but it's time for "10 Influential Books," Part 4, Parts 1, 2, and 3 here.

I'd already done something on Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, before I'd put together this list (full list at the bottom). But I cheated, and included "Everything else by Chesterton" as my Number 2. So that's today. Because the thing is, Chesterton has been SO influential in my life. From big things like my view of adversity, to smaller things like my take on tipping, Chesterton has impacted so many different aspects of my life. So if you haven't read any of these, read at least one. And if you've read one, read another.

Introduction to the Book of Job: First of all, this isn't even a book: It's just a few short pages, so there's literally no excuse not to drop whatever you're doing and READ IT RIGHT NOW. Seriously, go and do that: I'll wait.

In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton calls Job "one of the colossal cornerstones of the world," and that definitely comes through in this introduction. It is one of the most interesting books in the world, according to Chesterton, and immensely important: It is about "the desire to know what is, and not merely what seems." It is the only book in the Old Testament that questions, not whether God is able to rule over humanity, not whether it is possible for God to sacrifice our desires and even our lives, but whether it is right and good that God do so. There really isn't a whole lot I can say to "summarize" really do need to read it.

     Memorable line:

"Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man."

Manalive: This was the first Chesterton book I'd ever read. It's short, relatively simple, and a very fun read: If you're looking for an intro to Chesterton that won't take much time or effort, this is it. It was the book for our "practice" session during Torrientationm and I'll tell you this: I sucked at it. I can't tell you too much without spoiling the whole thing, but I can tell you that the book demonstrates that true Christian contentment is active, not passive. This book showed me that passivity leads not to contentment, but to stagnation: But being truly content with what you have is an activity, something you must actively participate in.

Contentment is not a lesser pleasure, not something to be placed under the initial "infatuation" stage in terms of strength. It is not stagnation, a mere willingness to experience or endure what you experienced or endured the day before. It is shining, living and active and vibrant...but also something that must be cultivated and tended. True Christian contentment is not to "settle" for what you have, to "take the world as you find it" is to make MORE of the world than what you find in it.

     Memorable line: 

""Moon," said Arthur Inglewood, rather huskily, "you mustn't be so bitter about it. Everyone has to take the world as he finds it; of course one often finds it a bit dull—"

"That fellow doesn't," said Michael decisively; "I mean that fellow Smith. I have a fancy there's some method in his madness. It looks as if he could turn into a sort of wonderland any minute by taking one step out of the plain road. Who would have thought of that trapdoor? Who would have thought that this cursed colonial claret could taste quite nice among the chimney-pots? Perhaps that is the real key of fairyland. Perhaps Nosey Gould's beastly little Empire Cigarettes ought only to be smoked on stilts, or something of that sort. Perhaps Mrs. Duke's cold leg of mutton would seem quite appetizing at the top of a tree.""

The Ball and the Cross: An atheist duels with a Catholic across England, while the entire country conspires to stop the duel from taking place. If this were a movie, it'd be a buddy movie where the buddies crack jokes, go on adventures....and pause every couple of days to try to kill each other. A "peacemaker" who tries to stop them only ends up convincing them of the rightness of their fight, while a madman who encourages them to kill each other forces them to rethink their motives. And there's even a little romance thrown in!

This is signature Chesterton. While this book (like Manalive) is incredibly funny, the real meat is found in the conversations between the Catholic MacIan, and the atheist Turnbull. Both of them care passionately about their faith (or lack of it), and both are bewildered by the refusal of the modern world to take either of them seriously. It is an age of "tolerance," which translates to an age of apathy: This enrages both participants. Turnbull recognizes that if Christianity is not true, it is a blight that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth, while MacIan recognizes that if it IS true, then it is of the utmost importance.

     Memorable line: Tougher to narrow down than Manalive, but one of my personal favorites, from the very beginning, is...
""Wherever and whenever I meet that man," and he pointed to the editor of The Atheist, "whether it be outside this door in ten minutes from now, or twenty years hence in some distant country, wherever and whenever I meet that man, I will fight him. Do not be afraid. I will not rush at him like a bully, or bear him down with any brute superiority. I will fight him like a gentleman; I will fight him as our fathers fought. He shall choose how, sword or pistol, horse or foot. But if he refuses, I will write his cowardice on every wall in the world. If he had said of my mother what he said of the Mother of God, there is not a club of clean men in Europe that would deny my right to call him out. If he had said it of my wife, you English would yourselves have pardoned me for beating him like a dog in the market place.""

Orthodoxy: This is it: the big one. This is Chesterton's account of his own journey towards Christianity. Specifically, it focuses on his rational and reasoning: Why he believes that Christianity is not only the best practical philosophy for living life, but also the most true.

The need for "romance" (that is, adventure), the insufficiency of materialism, the marvelousness of the covers lots of things. But one of the most striking is the Christian ability to keep seeming opposites side by side, without ever mixing them. Celibacy and marriage, pacifism and just battle, proper pride (that is, a recognition of our status as images and children of God) and proper humility...Chesterton says, "It has kept them side by side like two strong colours, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink."

But possibly the most striking is the very end, where he speaks of the living Church. And that brings me to...

    Memorable line: 

"When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say "My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell." No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day...

This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden."

Chesterton. Read him. Love him. Get all his books for free on Mackenzie out!

1: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

2: (Everything else by Chesterton: Manalive, Orthodoxy, The Ball and the Cross)

3: On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria

4: The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country by Karl Barth

5: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

6: CS Lewis section (Space Trilogy, Chron. of Narnia, Abolition of Man, Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce)

7: The book of Job

8: The book of Ecclesiastes

9: The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman

10: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Motives, Mom-Blogs, and Over-Generalizations is a pretty great Christian webcomic. He has a gift for capturing foibles and errors--either of the world or the church--in just a few frames of comic. But sometimes, he goes too far--and because of his popularity and his proven track record, people go right along with it. And that's problematic.

In this comic, titled "The Rise of the Special Christian Mom-Blogs," Adam takes on the rise of "Christian Mom-Blogs," blogs that discuss certain aspects of life, from cooking recipes to Christian theology, from the perspective of a mom. And some of them--the "special" ones--have, according to Adam, abandoned orthodoxy and begun the descent into subjectivity. As the comic puts it:

"'Is there really a hell?' they asked. 'Is sin really sinful? What about sins that our contemporary society has decided to accept? Are they really sins anymore? Is the Bible really trustworthy?'"

I hated this comic. I hated it. I originally began this post with a discussion of the parts that I agreed with, but this is too important. 

This comic crossed the line

Because he did not confine himself to describing actions. He did not say "This is what they are doing, and this is why it is harmful." No. That was the first quarter of the comic. And then, without so much as a pause, he went straight into "They're doing it because they want the money/book deals/celebrity-status that comes with being heterodox in an age that prizes heterodoxy and heresy."

And that's not alright. That's so far from alright that at first I couldn't believe he'd done it. But he did, and we--we being orthodox Christians--should call him out on it. 

Because in assigning a single (very uncharitable) overarching motive to such a class of people, Adam engages in the same sort of hate-mongering and ridicule that we accuse them of when they paint orthodox Christians as hateful inquisitors.

I disagree strongly with certain aspects of "mom-bloggery". But to accuse them--all of them--of greed is not only counter-productive, but hateful; and not righteous hatred, but the childish, petty hatred that resorts to name-calling instead of argument. Because the truth is, the vast majority of these mom-blogs are likely people who have put thought into this, and who sincerely believe that what they are writing is true.

And that's important. Because if we want to engage with people, if we want to talk with them and not at them, if we want to fulfill our calling to charity and love, then we need to treat people charitably and lovingly--which means not assuming the worst of their motives without evidence. 

I feel like I'm just repeating myself now, because this issue is so mindbogglingly obvious. But if you disagree, I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Now: here's the bit that originally came first, before I realized that I really needed to call out the bad parts of the comic before-hand. It still holds, but I wanted to make it clear that his comic was not ok, and that it's something we should come down hard on. 

I share Adam's disdain for such an approach to Scripture, and I especially despise how such blogs are often done under the apparently unassailable mantle of "vulnerability." The particular approach of the "mom-blogs," combining disarming charm and rhetoric with a noticeable disdain for "theology" (the domain "where ideas are put above people") and orthodoxy, is often quite appealing to a (growing) segment of evangelical Christians, and that troubles me as well.

I can only imagine that he's targeting blogs such as Beth Woolsey's "5 Kids is a Lot of Kids", who has a lot of good things to say, combined with a few that I believe are ultimately harmful (though they go down sweet). And of course, Rachel Held Evans misses being included merely by the fact of not being a mom (at least, I think so). Both of these bloggers pit "love" against "theology", and, as another celebrity Christian-turned-heterodox said a few years back, "Love wins."

The fact remains, though: They hold to this position because they have thought it through, and not because they are greedy/doing it for the book sales. We owe them that assumption, until it is proven otherwise. And to do away with that assumption is to fail at the charity that we are called to.