Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category
President Barack Obama’s remarks concerning the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi raise troubling questions. In a statement released at WhiteHouse.gov, Obama states, “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.” Really? The U.S. “rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others“? How? Is there a government agency that monitors people’s views on religion? Is there a law that governs speech in this manner? More to the point, has the White House ever seen the movie “Religulous”? (Or, for that matter, Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”!) Has the president read Ed Harris’s “The End of Faith”?
When has the United States ever been anything but a champion free expression?
Regarding people’s attempts to “denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” this is a difficult issue to parse. I was certainly appalled when Terry Jones, a pastor from Florida, burned the Koran — from the standpoint of Christian virtue, I believe even that he offended God — but I supported his inalienable right to do so. (I would have found his action more “heroic” he had done so in Pakistan, however.) But is not Islam a critic of Christianity? Does not Islam denigrate Christian faith by saying Christians are wrong about Jesus’s divinity?
I understand that Obama wishes to placate Muslims offended by a patently offensive YouTube video about the prophet Muhammad (details of the video can be found here), but I do not believe it is wise to dismiss the right of free expression in the name of appeasement. To reject senseless violence is to champion speech that denigrates even religion.
Update: Political fallout from Romney camp — http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/12/13831714-timeline-political-fallout-from-the-attack-on-diplomats-in-libya?lite
As a student of church history, I am quite sincerely astonished that the gospel of Christ has been so clearly presented throughout 2,000 years of schisms, divisions and revisions. Despite endless fractures, there remains “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Despite additions to, or subtractions from, there remains the gospel: “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” I cannot imagine that it could be any other way, unless all of the gospel was simply imagined.
It seems to me that every great epoch of the church, or every great reformation or revival, or every birth of a great saint, is simply a fresh reading of the gospel, revisited and real. There is only “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Nothing else can be discovered or known. So in every confession, every creed, every church constitution, there is only “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Yet, the world is a Pilate, standing before Christ, questioning what truth is.
I have these several years contemplated what are the essentials, the fundamentals of Christian faith. I have nothing new to add to this conversation, nor anything to subtract. I am not Lazarus come from the grave. I do not have anything to say that will astonish the world, or anything that should offend it. Merely I have Christ’s words, his teachings, and his ministry.
Nevertheless, there is a great need for a new fundamentalism, a fundamentalism that seeks unity with God, not merely among Christians. The members of the body can no more dispense with the head, than it can with a hand or foot. Yet is that not what people have sought to do throughout 2,000 years of history? Have not people, through devisings, sought to remove the head of the body? Is that not what happens when people seek to define god, rather than be defined by Him?
A new fundamentalism begins not with a thought, but with God. A new fundamentalism (or whatever one should choose to call it) begins not with a proud confession, but a humble confession. Such is the framework for good theology, practical theology, real theology.
Am I perpetuating a myth when I say that atheists cannot establish a basis for morality? I do not believe I am. It’s not that atheists cannot be moral. Of course, they can. But they cannot be good without God, for “morality” is derived from religious belief.
(Note: By “religious belief” I mean any idea that cannot be rationally derived, which is how most atheists define religion.)
As it stands, I have never come across any atheist who could explain a so-called rational, non-religious basis morality. Usually, their replies are moralistic and very religious (an irony which hopefully alludes no one).
I am lately reading Sam Harris’ The End of Faith. As I read, I am constantly asking myself, “Absent God, what is the basis for morality?” Why are the evils he enumerates “evil”? The author constantly declares this or that to be immoral, but why? (The greatest evil, incidentally, is faith.) He is so convinced of his ideas that he actually blames the Jews for the Holocaust, for they, too, perpetuate the evil of having faith. (As I read that section of the book, I became physically ill, and that has only happened once before in my lifetime.) To be sure, Harris does not blame only the Jews for the Holocaust, just everyone who believes in God — and even, strangely, those who do not, but who derive their ideas from those who do. I will soon show that he, too, is guilty of this “crime.”
Declaring, “[w]e want to be treated with equality and respected as another facet of Biola’s diversity,” a purported student group is calling upon Biola University to accept homosexuality as normative behavior (see group’s website here) . The group does not offer theological justification for its position, and instead refers visitors to an off-site source which it claims holds “similar views” (see that site here). “Biola Underground” explains that its mission entails “[r]econciling faith with non-conforming gender/sexual identities is our most important and difficult goal. This of course will take time. We begin by sharing a few of our personal stories and writings.” Lacking a defined theological position, why does this group believe Biola should change its theological stance? Does the group believe that if Biola is harassed long enough, it will eventually change?
These students rather ingeniously portrays itself as a persecuted group, writing, “Biola is … spiritually and emotionally harmful towards those at our school part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community” (source). But they do not explain how the university is “spiritually and emotionally harmful” toward them, except that Biola won’t accept homosexuality as normative.
The group’s purpose appears to be to deny Biola’s right to self-identify. In the tradition of academic freedom, I have no objection to students challenging their school’s positions; ultimately, however, students must decide why they are there. I was once a student at a Christian college (the now-defunct Bethany University in Scotts Valley, California) and although I did not agree with every position the school held, I respected the school’s right, as an historic institution, to determine its own creed. I felt I could be a part of that process, but only a part; I did not believe I had the right to insist upon my own way, exclusive of the university’s right of self-identification. In fact, such an attitude on my part would have been arrogant and naive. If I so disagreed with the university, I was perfectly free to withdraw, and to start my own school.
It’s unfortunate that this purported student group chooses to remain anonymous. While calling upon the school to engage in a discussion, they offer no face, save a website. What they want, then, is not a discussion, but a monologue. In my judgment, this conversation has gotten off to a bad start.
A prominent pastor asks, “Are we disciples? Or are we just ‘Christians?’ … Don’t settle for ‘Christian.’” Though I agree with his general point — that we should not rely upon labels, that we should be something, that our faith be active — I believe his overall argument misses the mark. The term Christian is both historically and theologically important, and we should not be quick to dismiss or diminish it. Further, simply calling ourselves something else won’t make us, well, better Christians.
The Christian Post reports that Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga, has preached a four-week series on the subject of being disciples of Christ. The article describes that Stanley regards “Christian” as an ambiguous term.
“Christians didn’t call themselves Christians,” he is quoted as saying. “They called themselves something far more terrifying, … far more defined, … far more convicting than ‘Christian.’” That term, Stanley proposes, is disciple.
In the series, Stanley notes that Christian is applied only three times in the New Testament (which is true: Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Pet. 4:16), but that disciple is used 89 times (also true). But his conclusions are erroneous. (By the way, Stanley is not the first to draw lessons from infrequency of the term Christian in the New Testament.)
Briefly, two myths are advanced about the term Christian.
First: “[The term] was a derogatory label created for Jesus’ followers by outsiders.” This has not been proven to be true, but is speculation advanced by some scholars. The general idea is that Christian was created to mock the followers of Cristos (Greek for the Hebrew word messiah). These scholars note that “Cristos” is very similar to a name given to slaves: Chrestus, which means good or useful. Thus, it possibly follows that being called a Christian was a taunt — you are, after all, the follower of a slave. This is interesting, but it hardly suggests that Chrestus gave rise to Cristos or that Chrestus influenced the creation of the term Christian. In fact, the very opposite is understood: Chrestus was applied (purposely or ignorantly) to Cristos, not the other way around. Cristos is the originating term.
One more note: No ancient pagan or Christian author understands Christian to be a pejorative term, nor does any suggest that Christian was created by outsiders.
Acts 11:28 merely notes that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch, more than a dozen years after the founding of the faith. There is no suggestion that believers in Antioch experienced persecution; in fact, Jewish believers fled Jerusalem to Antioch to avoid persecution. The church in Antioch was a thriving, peaceful body. Nor does Luke, the author of Acts, say the term was applied negatively. Very simply, he notes that this is when Christians first became Christians.
In Acts 26:28, King Agrippa does object to Paul’s trying to make him a Christian — “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” However, Paul’s answer is affirmative: yes, I do hope to make you a Christian. Paul does not regard the term in a pejorative sense. Further, Agrippa’s outrage pertains to Paul’s challenge in the previous verse: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” In other words, Agrippa is astonished that Paul is placing him on trial; after all, Paul is the accused. One senses that Agrippa is extremely uncomfortable with Paul’s message, for it strikes close to the truth. Agrippa, Paul maintains, is very close to being a Christian!
Second: “One of the reasons that you can’t get five people to define ‘Christian’ the same way … is because ‘Christian’ is not defined in the New Testament.” This is fundamentally untrue, for the term is defined both historically and theologically in the New Testament.
That the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch is highly significant, for it marked a dramatic shift in the demographics of the church. Previously, Christianity was a Jewish sect. The followers were predominantly Jewish, and the few Gentile followers, e.g. Cornelius, were “God-fearers,” i.e. people who worshipped Yahweh. But in Antioch, there arose a new group: pagan followers of Christ (here, “pagan” simply indicates their former religious background). This group did not emerge as a separate body, distinct from the Jewish followers; they were fully incorporated into the Body of Christ. The Jewish believers and the (formerly) pagan believers were one.
Unsurprisingly, a new term arose from this occasion: Christian. That term should be derived from the Greek language, not the Hebrew language, is also significant. Though Christ is the equivalent of Messiah, the term Christian has no Hebrew equivalent. It is derived from the Greek language and from this historical moment, the point at which the church became more prominently polyglot.
Etymologically, Christian means “follower of Christ.” So, in Antioch, the disciples became followers of Christ. Not that they were not followers of Christ before, but now they were known as followers of Christ, not merely disciples of a Jewish sect. From this moment, the church would be changed, it would expand with astonishing rapidity into the whole world. To be a disciple now meant to identify oneself with Christ, regardless of one’s religious heritage — “neither Jew nor Greek.” The term became a point of identification, embraced by the disciples of Christ.
Peter defines the term theologically in his first letter. Here is the passage:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or fas a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. — 1 Peter 4:12-19
Here, to be a Christian is to bear the name of Christ, and, more importantly, to bear his sufferings. Christians are not to be identified as sinners, but as co-sufferers (cf. James 2:7). They are not to be ashamed of the name they bear, for it is their glory, their hope.
Theologically, a Christian is one who entrusts his or her soul to God, who is completely enveloped by God, who is completely submitted to God, that his or her life may be a testimony of the living Christ. This is the ultimate point of identification: we don’t merely become followers or disciples — we become Christ. This is far more frightening (and more glorious) notion.
Is it possible that Christian was created by outsiders to deride the disciples of Christ? If so, there is no hint of that idea in the New Testament, and for that matter in the writings of the early church. We may grow frustrated with the inertness of some Christians (perhaps even of our own inertness), but that is no reason to dimiss the term Christian as historically pejorative and theologically meaningless. It is anything but.
G.K. Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy –
An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century. If a man believes in unalterable natural law, he cannot believe in any miracle in any age. If a man believes in a will behind law, he can believe in any miracle in any age. Suppose, for the sake of argument, we are concerned with a case of thaumaturgic healing. A materialist of the twelfth century could not believe it any more than a materialist of the twentieth century. But a Christian Scientist of the twentieth century can believe it as much as a Christian of the twelfth century. It is simply a matter of a man’s theory of things. Therefore in dealing with any historical answer, the point is not whether it was given in our time, but whether it was given in answer to our question. And the more I thought about when and how Christianity had come into the world, the more I felt that it had actually come to answer this question. — source (emphasis mine)
An argument against the Bible is that it is out-dated, old-fashioned; that it reflects ancient viewpoints unsuited for our age. As the argument goes, no one would use a psychology text from the 1800s in counseling, or a science text from the 1600s in research. The data in those books would not be current. (Except one does consult older texts, especially if those texts are influential or important in their respective fields. But that is not the principal objection here.) The “it’s-too-old” argument is frequently applied to the Bible and the creeds of the church, and it is applied inappropriately. As Chesterton points out, the question is not of antiquity, but of relevancy.
“[It] is not whether it was given in our time, but whether it was given in answer to our question.”
Chesterton uniquely states that his book, Orthodoxy, “is not an ecclesiastical treatise but a sort of slovenly autobiography.” He does not explain why any person should believe the creeds, but how he “personally has come to believe it.” This is a necessary step. Before one can say, “Believe this,” one must first say, “I believe.” From these experiences comes the larger experience: the collective creeds of Christianity. No longer are the creeds ancient beliefs, but current ones for they exist in living people, not merely in history. Thus, they are neither out-dated or old-fashioned, but fresh and relevant.
The problem of the analytic mind is its inability to ever wholly conclude. There is always some aspect left over, some unknown detail, some remaining question. The analytic mind simply cannot conclude.
This is not to denigrate intellectualism, but to recognize its limitations. A healthy dose of this perspective may keep one from madness. And so…
Question authority. We are adept at questioning, but incapable of answering, becoming frozen in inaction (some regard this as intelligence). It appears that some are questioning to question, doubting to doubt, and disbelieving to disbelieve; not questioning to arrive at answer, or doubting to become more certain, or disbelieving to believe. It is all a lot of cleverness.
G.K. Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy:
There is, therefore, about all complete conviction a kind of huge helplessness. The belief is so big that it takes a long time to get it into action. And this hesitation chiefly arises, oddly enough, from an indifference about where one should begin. All roads lead to Rome; which is one reason why many people never get there. In the case of this defence of the Christian conviction I confess that I would as soon begin the argument with one thing as another; I would begin it with a turnip or a taximeter cab. But if I am to be at all careful about making my meaning clear, it will, I think, be wiser to continue the current arguments of the last chapter, which was concerned to urge the first of these mystical coincidences, or rather ratifications. All I had hitherto heard of Christian theology had alienated me from it. I was a pagan at the age of twelve, and a complete agnostic by the age of sixteen; and I cannot understand any one passing the age of seventeen without having asked himself so simple a question. I did, indeed, retain a cloudy reverence for a cosmic deity and a great historical interest in the Founder of Christianity. But I certainly regarded Him as a man; though perhaps I thought that, even in that point, He had an advantage over some of His modern critics. I read the scientific and sceptical literature of my time—all of it, at least, that I could find written in English and lying about; and I read nothing else; I mean I read nothing else on any other note of philosophy. The penny dreadfuls which I also read were indeed in a healthy and heroic tradition of Christianity; but I did not know this at the time. I never read a line of Christian apologetics. I read as little as I can of them now. It was Huxley and Herbert Spencer and Bradlaugh who brought me back to orthodox theology. They sowed in my mind my first wild doubts of doubt. Our grandmothers were quite right when they said that Tom Paine and the free-thinkers unsettled the mind. They do. They unsettled mine horribly. The rationalist made me question whether reason was of any use whatever; and when I had finished Herbert Spencer I had got as far as doubting (for the first time) whether evolution had occurred at all. As I laid down the last of Colonel Ingersoll’s atheistic lectures the dreadful thought broke across my mind, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” I was in a desperate way.
Chesterton was certainly not an anti-intellectual, as some Christians unfortunately end up being. He was a profound thinker — one might even say a profound doubter. (Chesterton was a great influence on C.S. Lewis.) Intellectualism for Chesterton was not death to reason, but life, an awakening to thought. They sowed in my mind my first wild doubts of doubt. Chesterton came to realize that in order to conclude, a thinker must admit knowing, and to do so he must believe. A man must not believe against the evidence, but because of it, which is journeying into that shadowy world of belief. Such a man is different from the doubter, for he acknowledges the world beyond him — not some imaginary world beyond him, a make-believe world, but the actual world that is really beyond him. The doubter does not acknowledge any world outside himself. The believer acknowledges that he is but one person among man, whose knowledge and understanding will never equal that of even two — or especially of all. He recognizes that he is dependent upon people and experiences beyond himself. In a word, he acknowledges that he is but a part of the whole, that his knowledge is but part of the greater.
Consider this point. There are Christians who claim that the Bible is the only tool they need. Further, they boast that their understanding of scripture is not dependent upon “traditions of man,” but dependent wholly on their own, independent reading of scripture. This is a fine sentiment, but the Bible is the product of 2,000 years of transmission. The words chosen in translation are the effort of countless generations of scholars interpreting the text. The Christian who says, “The Bible said it, I believe it,” ought to say, “The Bible, as I have received it from a thousand hands, said it, and I believe what I have received from many before me.”
This is one of the mysteries of faith: God employs men and women to make known his Word. And, God is entirely satisfied with the process. That the New Testament was written in Greek and copied over successive generations — further translated, interpreted, re-translated, and then critically analyzed, parsed and reassembled, is entirely satisfying to God, who did not give it any other way. To deny this progression is to say that one receives the Bible from himself. That person, independent from all, becomes a “god” unto himself.
So, too, with the doubter who refuses to believe. He denies that his knowing is the product of many people before him. The language he speaks, the history he reads, the science he engages, is not his wholly, but his partially. He is only a part. That is why he should step off the precipice into belief. He cannot hold long onto doubt without embracing madness.
The question is, can one be truly empirical, truly logical absent faith in what preexists? Or, can a created being think apart from his Creator?