Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Do Christians And Muslims Worship The Same God?

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The short answer is that it depends on what you mean by “same” and “God” in this case. I’ve seen cases for “no” and for “yes” posted by smarter folks than me since a Wheaton professor got in trouble for implying this was the case. Much of this seems to turn on the understanding of both faiths as being part of the Abrahamic tradition that also includes Judaism. The history of both religions is certainly intertwined and even the similar linguistic roots of “Elohim” and “Allah” are not that difficult to discern.

Let’s put aside all that, for the sake of argument let’s say, no, the monotheistic tradition of Abrahamic religion doesn’t count for anything. There is still a reason to hesitate in saying that Muslims worship a different god. One of the principal New Atheist arguments is that there have been thousands of deities worshipped by humans in recorded history, and most of us don’t believe in most of those gods. The idea is that almost everyone today is an atheist with regard to Odin, Zeus, Osiris, Chemosh, Baal, Ishtar and so on, that the difference between an atheist and (mono)theist is that the atheist disbelieves only one more god than the theist.

One of the better responses is not that everyone doesn’t believe in everyone else’s gods, but rather that the overwhelming majority of humans through history have had a conception of the divine, and that we are not atheists about other gods per se even as reject other conceptions of god(s). This is not to say that we are all universalists or that our distinctions don’t matter – it should be readily apparent today that they do. Rather it means that we disagree sharply about who or what is divine.

Do I have the same conception of god as a Muslim? No. We disagree about who God is and what God wants from us and how we can even know or approach God. I am not a Muslim, I am not going to give up bacon or beer for starters because I do not perceive any injunction against them. But there is still something common in our attempts to approach God, in spite of all our obvious and real differences.

Thomas Weinandy on the Suffering of God

In the course of arguing for the classical divine attribute of impassibility, Weinandy suggests there is a sense in which suffering can be attributed to God. I think it is helpful to keep this in mind, as one of the reasons the doctrine sometimes fails to persuade is the intuitive sense that such a view obviously contradicts biblical portrayals of God. However, if the classical doctrine is understood in its fullness, it does not simply reject depictions of God as suffering; it only notes that the sense in which God, as uncreated Creator, “suffers” must be sui generis.

Sorrow and grief are attributed to God not by way of predicating a passible emotional change within him, but rather by way of denoting that he is all-loving and good. Because he is perfectly loving and good, he finds sin and evil repugnant, and so he can be said to sorrow and grieve in the light of their presence. God does not grieve or sorrow because he himself experiences some injury or the loss of some good, nor that he has been affected, within his inner being, by some evil outside cause, but rather he grieves or sorrows only in the sense that he knows that human persons experience some injury or the loss of some good, and so embraces them in love. This sorrow and grief ascribed to God could contain the note of suffering only if we mean that, as all-loving, he is intensely concerned with the reality of sin and evil, and the suffering that ensues from them. To ascribe suffering to God is not to denote a positive passible emotional state as if such a state were distinct from a variety of other emotional states within God, but solely to specify the truth that God, as all-loving and good, is opposed to and finds abhorrent all that is not loving and good. To ascribe suffering to God does not then imply that God experiences inner emotional anguish or distress because he has experienced some injury or the loss of some good, nor that he has been adversely affected by some evil outside cause, but rather it accentuates the truth that God’s perfectly actualized goodness is wholly adverse to all that is contrary to his goodness, and that in his perfectly actualized love he embraces those who suffer because of sin and evil. ‘Suffering’ would then be attributed to God metaphorically since it has been purged of the passible and emotional connotations found within human suffering, but it would retain and might intensify the authentic truth that God, in his goodness, abhors evil and so repudiates it, and in his love, embraces the sufferer. The innocent who suffer injustice know then that God, in his goodness, is adverse to the injustice suffered, and experience God’s love as a love that is deeply concerned and consoling. As a way of expressing God’s repudiation of evil and as a way of accentuating his loving care for the sufferer God could then be said ‘to suffer in love,’ but God could not be said ‘to suffer in love’ in the sense that he himself experiences some form of inner anguish or distress due to some personal injury or the loss of some good. [Does God Suffer?, 169]

It’s worth considering, too, what it would mean if biblical depictions of God suffering were taken literally without any qualification. Weinandy explains:

Eternally God is immutably and impassibly adapted to every situation and circumstance, not because his love is indifferent and unresponsive, but because his love, with all its facets, is fully in act, and so he is supremely and utterly responsive to every situation and circumstance. God is unconditionally adaptable in his dynamic and passionate love because his love is immutably and impassibly in act. If God needed, sequentially in a potency/act manner, to adapt and re-adapt and re-adapt himself again to every personal situation in every momentary instance, he would be conceived as an infinite mega-computer … continuously and simultaneously processing trillions of conflicting bits of emotional data. He would then be seen to be perpetually entangled in an unending internal emotional whirligig. [162-163]

And being perpetually entangled in an unending internal emotional whirligig is a far cry from biblical descriptions of God as the makarios theos: “—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.”

Theodicy and the Goodness of God

The “problem of evil” has been around for a while, as have responses to it. One of the most perennial (appearing in places such as Job) is these days called “skeptical theism”, or else a “mysterian” reply; putting it simply, it questions the question, pointing out that God’s incomprehensibility, the limits of our knowledge, and the fallibility of our moral sensibilities, along with the positive reasons to believe in God’s power and goodness, and argues these should lead us to conclude God has sufficient reason to allow evil, though we cannot necessarily see what it is. It is a conclusion that God is trustworthy, though his ways sometimes seem inscrutable.

Sometimes, when this response has been provided, the natural question will arise: if this response is correct, what does it mean to call God “good”? I want to provide a brief answer to that question here.

Aristotle provides an intuitive definition of good which covers the various uses human beings have for the word beyond and inclusive of the ethical: “the good is that which all things desire.” In light of this definition, the classical conception of God is that God is the most desirable reality. As Thomas puts it:

But all things, each according to its mode, desire to be in act; this is clear from the fact that each thing according to its nature resists corruption. To be in act, therefore, constitutes the nature of the good. Hence it is that evil, which is opposed to the good, follows when potency is deprived of act, as is clear from the Philosopher inMetaphysics IX [9]. But, as we have shown, God is being in act without potency. Therefore, He is truly good.

I’m not here concerned to provide the arguments for the classical view of God, just to explicate what it said about his goodness. If we follow it’s roadmap, we will also say that God’s goodness means God’s desirability. To put it plainly, God is the kind of thing that, when we might see him (whether with the eyes, or in the figurative sense, with the eyes of the mind), we would want him. Or perhaps to say it yet another way, God’s goodness is what leads us to worship him, to be struck with awe and joy at the sense of his presence.

Now we can connect this back to theodicy. Questions of God’s justice focus more specifically on the moral character of God, i.e., his goodness in the more narrowly ethical sense. But the general doctrine of God’s goodness has implications for this more specific sense, too. It means, at minimum, that nothing in God’s character implies God is anything less than the ultimately desirable reality.

Returning to the “mysterian” theodicy, then, we can explain it this way. The character of cruel and evil people is repulsive; people with healthy consciences find such behaviours morally disgusting, not desirable at all. The argument claims that if we knew all the relevant truths about God and the world, which we do not know, we would be able to see both God and all the evil in the world simultaneously, and still see God as the perfectly desirable reality. Nothing in his character provides grounds to react to him as morally sane people do toward evil dispositions.

For those who want to read further on how the classical conception of God relates to the problem evil, you could do worse than to start with Ed Feser’s various posts on the subject.

Calvinism and Choice

Note: I inadvertently posted this in unfinished form when I intended merely to save an edit. Please take the updated version below as the final. Forgive me if this causes any confusion! 

The philosophy department at Tyndale University College has a blog called Every Thought Captive that is worth having on your Feedly (or whatever blog reader you use). I have had the privilege of meeting Dr. Paul Franks, one of the members of the department, a number of times, and brief though those times were, I enjoyed our conversation. I have not met Dr. Rich Davis yet, but his reputation among students of his whom I know is high. I am thankful that they teach at my local Christian university and are having an impact for the gospel in my locale and abroad.

Drs. Franks and Davis have done of a number of good series on their blog. I’ve particularly appreciated the detailed critique that they have provided of Brian McLaren’s work called “The McLaren Files.” I look forward to reading their critique of Dave Fitch in “The Fitch Files.” They are also writing a series of posts critiquing Calvinism, their most recent is what I would like to offer some thoughts on.

In “The ‘C’ in Calvinism,” Dr. Davis shares his concerns with the notion of choice and whether it is a real option given Calvinism. He asks whether choice and “determinism” are compatible. The Calvinist of choice (pardon the pun) who functions as the foil for this essay is R. C. Sproul of Ligionier Ministries, a well-known popular expositor of Reformed theology. At hand is Sproul’s notion of “Edwards’ Law of Choice” (ELC) that was outlined in his influential book Chosen By God. ELC is so-named due to its earlier articulation by the New England theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) in his work Freedom of the Will.

Dr. Davis’ piece is, as to be expected, from a philosophical point of view. I have a keen interest in philosophy, but I would like to reply to this theologically. Not because I think that free will and sovereignty are questions that only theologians can answer, but because theology is the discipline whose methods I am most familiar with. I do not think this keeps us (that is, the philosopher and the theologian) from coming to shared conclusions because the question posed by Dr. Davis, and indeed Calvinism (whatever that is), is relevant to both the philosopher and the theologian. I also think that some of the problems in the essay are theological, and need to be addressed as such. I come at this as someone sympathetic to Reformed theology, and so my thoughts are largely critical.

First, when I read the essay it struck me that it was a sophisticated way of asking a simple question, one that most Calvinists and non-Calvinists who have reflected on the question of choice have asked: Is there such thing as free choice if God is sovereign? This is something we have all wrestled with, I know that I certainly have. The essay takes this a step further by evaluating the Edwardsean answer, the so-called ELC. But it is important to remember that this is not a new question and that there are plenty of resources available giving various answers to the problem.

Second, I am not totally sure why Dr. Davis has decided to take on this particular answer (ELC) to the question of free choice. My suspicion is, due to some of his comments at the beginning of his essay about the Young, Restless, Reformed (YRR), that he might see in Sproul, and by extension Edwards, a key element and that a criticism of him/them is a de facto criticism of the broader movement. If this is the case, I do not value this kind of argument as it tends to make a movement like YRR seem monolithic, which it is not. Nor is Reformed theology, historically or at present. Arguments such as this can unfairly paint a disparate group of people with one brush. But it may not be the case that Dr. Davis has taken this approach.

Third, ELC is not the only answer given in the history of Christian theology to the problem of choice and sovereignty. In fact, it is not one that all Reformed people buy into. Even those Reformed theologians who do, also buy into other arguments. Popular conceptions of Calvinism may not make this apparent, but there is an at-times sharp distinction between Edwardseans and traditional Reformed theology. The former is generally viewed as “deterministic,” due to the influence of thinkers like Hobbes and Locke on his thought. As we will see, Reformed theology should not be tarred with determinism. Whether Edwards can be viewed this way is up for debate, but it’s significant that this distinction be made. If Dr. Davis is aware of this, I wish that it had been stated, because it can run the risk of making unsuspecting readers think that to knock down ELC is to knock down Calvinism (whatever that is) as a whole.

Fourth, what is Calvinism? Is the Edwardsean version of Calvinism the only one? Is it the true one? Is Dr. Sproul’s version? Is Calvinism even a legitimate term to use? There are a host of assumptions in Dr. Davis’ essay that make readers such as myself wish that the sophistication of the philosophical language had given way to a more sophisticated understanding of the theological issues. This is not meant as an insult, Dr. Davis is much smarter than I am, and I have the fullest confidence that he has the chops to do more.

The term Calvinism is fraught with historical and theological problems. It assumes that Calvin is the sole progenitor of this brand of theology. Historians of the Reformation have put this misunderstanding to rest, and is why many of us do not particularly like the appellant “Calvinist.” We get stuck using it because of its general, popular use, but it is a term that would be better left behind. This might sound like a mere semantic quibble, but it poses serious definitional problems. How does one define Calvinism? Is it Edwards’ version? There is a lack of evidence in Edwards’ corpus that Calvin was a significant influence. The Reformer’s writings do not even appear in the catalogue we have of Edwards’ library. I would argue that the best place to go for such answers about the nature of Reformed theology—a more satisfying term—is the confessional documents of the Reformation and post-Reformation periods. We also need to take into account the broader range of Reformed writers who contributed to the development of Reformed theology such as Bullinger, Musculus, Junius, Ames, Ussher, Owen, Turretin, and a host of others. There are a goodly number of theologians today who have done this, why not interact with them to get a truer picture? Or at least acknowledge that this is the case so that readers are not given the idea that Calvin is it for “Calvinism.”

Fifth, why use a secondary source to tell us about so-called “ELC”? Dr. Sproul’s ministry has been of incredible use to the church in popularizing Reformed theology, making some of the tough language easy for the lay-person to understand. Indeed, when I wrestled with these issues over a dozen years ago, it was Chosen By God that was a key book that helped me come to grips with the doctrine of election. My comments here are not meant to disparage Dr. Sproul at all. I am only making an historians’ point that when telling us about Edwards’ views it would be better to use Edwards’ own work. In the case of Edwards, this is particularly easy to do because Freedom of the Will, where ELC comes from, is readily available online at Yale’s site dedicated to Edwards’ Works (here). This is not say that Dr. Sproul misinterprets Edwards’ view of choice. It is to say that Edwards’ treatise is much longer with more detailed argumentation and defenses than Chosen By God because they were written for entirely different purposes.

Sixth, Dr. Davis, in his discussion of the power of contrary choice, seems to assume libertarian free will (LFW). This is not surprising, as most contemporary evangelical philosophers hold to this view (think Plantinga). This assumption contrasts LFW with Reformed theology. But is this necessarily the case? The answer to this depends on the view one takes of Reformed theology. While I do not personally espouse this, Oliver Crisp has recently argued that libertarianism can be consistent with the theology outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). At the very least, we can say that WCF statements on these matters allow for either a necessitarian or non-necessitarian view (see here). It would have been good for Dr. Davis to acknowledge this to see how it may have augmented some of his conclusions.

Seventh, Dr. Davis at a number of points refers to the Reformed view as “determinism.” This is an unfortunate use of terms and does not accurately reflect the way the Reformed tradition views itself on these matters. This is so because the term was not known in the early-modern period; opponents of Reformed theology referred to it as “Stoic fate.” Ironically, this puts more clearly the misconceptions that critics of Reformed theology have. However, to use that language would be as bad as me calling Dr. Davis a “Pelagian,” as the Reformed sadly would refer to their opponents. Such terms are unfortunate, and I hope that moving forward Dr. Davis (and others) would refrain from the term determinism when describing Reformed theology generally, because it does not accurately reflect our self-understanding and the nature of our argument.

Eighth, Dr. Davis  suggests that Calvinism (I’ll use this term as it’s the one he uses) makes no sense of Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37. Erasmus made this argument as well in his debate with Luther. Dr. Davis says, “If the reason for Jerusalem’s being unwilling is God’s not having given them I[rresistable] G[race], why chastise these people for their unwillingness? … Here the people are simply acting in accord with those desires.” Some thoughts: First, this does not take into account that this is Jesus in his human nature speaking. It says nothing of the divine will. Second, were it to speak of the divine will, Dr. Davis does not take into account the notion, as argued by John Piper, that God has two wills. This is well-reflected in Luther’s distinction between the hidden and revealed will of God. Third, it is exegetically misguided to think that this text has any bearing on the question at hand. Jesus has outlined in a series of parables and confrontations the hypocrisy of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. In Matthew 23 he pronounces a series of prophetic woes against the hypocrites. It is not a text like Romans 9, which would be a much thornier text for Dr. Davis to deal with, that has direct bearing on this question. Specifically, it answers the “control problem” that he points up later. A helpful rejoinder to the Arminian understanding of Matthew 23 is given over at Triablogue that I would suggest readers consult.

Ninth, Dr. Davis takes up the Old Testament figure of Gideon as an example of the power of contrary choice. Gideon was given a command to knock down his father’s idols in Judges 6:25, 27, but only did so at night out of fear. Dr. Davis argues that Gideon’s most powerful impulse was fear, but he acted contrary to this impulse in obedience to God’s command. “Why, otherwise, did he do it at night? Still, he obeyed the Lord—contrary to his most powerful impulse.” It strikes me that Dr. Davis has misunderstood ELC in his illustration of Gideon of what we might call Gideon’s Powerful Impulse (GPI). Is it the case that GPI is fear? If Gideon knocked down the idols, irregardless of doing so at night to mitigate his fear, he still acted on the the command to knock the idols down. Is it not the case the GPI is always manifested in the action? Dr. Davis is aware of this answer, but accuses it of question-begging. This is not question-begging, it is simply the relationship between one’s desire and action. GPI overrode his fear and enabled him to follow the command. His will was governed by his desire. It seems as though GPI affirms ELC.

Tenth, Dr. Davis quotes Dr. Sproul as defining ELC as: “The will always chooses according to its strongest inclination (desire) at the moment.” The corollary of this, that appears contradictory but is not (according to Dr. Sproul), that every choice is both free and determined. This appears incompatible, but it is is not because coercion is not involved. Dr. Davis does not agree. He argues that due to the coercive nature of “irresistable grace,” choice is not really free. There is a lot here to unpack, so for the sake of space in an already long post, I would like to offer some brief thoughts. First, if a person is dead in trespasses and sins as Ephesians 2 tells us, how is that person made alive? Is it the spiritually dead person who does it? If not, who? It must be God because Jesus tells us in John 3 that we are born from above (or again) by the Spirit. Was I born according to my own will when I was physically born? No, I had no choice in the matter. Likewise, I do not have the choice in this matter, because of my spiritual deadness, I need to be made alive by force outside of myself (extra nos). Second, coercion here is a change of nature, not a forcing upon me of something against my will. This is called grace for a reason. God, in regeneration, changes my nature so that I can freely choose what before, due to my sin, I could not. I have been released by shackles of sin so that I can now choose the good. In my deadened state, I made free choices, but they were always in conformity with my sinful nature. This is a good thing. Why take it as something bad? Even if it does in fact violate or vitiate my free will, I am glad it does! Third, I am not sure that Dr. Davis has proved the point that coercion (in the sense of regeneration, which is really what we are talking about) violates freedom. The philosophical idea of “compatibilism” gives us the categories to articulate how two seemingly opposed propositions are both true. See the helpful essay by philosopher James Anderson on Reformed views of determinism and compatibilism here for more. Fourth, and related to the third, is that a more helpful way to express this language is that of J. I. Packer in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God where he spoke of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility as an “antinomy.” In this case, both seemingly opposed views are held in common because both are clearly revealed in scripture. We see this in the story of Joseph’s description of God and man’s role in his captivity (Genesis 50:20), or in Peter’s description of God and man’s role in the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23).

I conclude with a book recommendation. A helpful book on the subject of Reformed theology and the freedom of the will is that edited by William J. van Asselt, J. Martin Bac, and Roelf T. te Velde entitled Reformed Thought on Freedom: The Concept of Free Choice in Early Modern Reformed Theology. In it we learn that the Reformed orthodox were very concerned to maintain human freedom, yet they did not want to do so at the expense of God’s freedom as their opponents did. The editors’ introduction opens with a quote by Francis Turretin (1623-1687) that illustrates this: “We establish free choice far more truly than our opponents.” After the (excellent) introduction, there are chapters devoted to freedom in the thought of Zanchi, Junius (my favourite), Gomarus, Voetius, Turretin, and de Moor. The book is a primary source reader for each. It is helpful because it ranges over the stages of orthodoxy and thus addresses variously situated theological and philosophical problems. Despite the different figures involved and the contexts they were addressing, the conclusion the editors come to is that Reformed theology self-consciously upholds the freedom of the human will and does so better than its opponents. This should not be surprising as they are part of the broader anti-Pelagian tradition rooted in Augustine (354-430), who very clearly affirmed libero arbitrio (see especially his “On Grace and Free Choice”).

I hope that this post is taken by all as a friendly rejoinder offered by one brother to another. I am thankful for the chance to rethink my own position due to the challenge that Dr. Davis poses. May my thoughts shared above go some small way towards giving greater understanding between two Christian positions as we work out our theology together in the kingdom of God. Soli Deo Gloria.

Theologians Behaving Badly

Here was a terrific test for my irony sensors:

 

For those of you not paying attention to emergent theology inside baseball-type stuff, Tony Jones has lately had some very credible accusations levelled against him about his treatment of his ex-wife. I don’t know whether it’s a deficiency of shame or of irony that would lead Jones to retweet something about assholes having bad theology, but I wonder what it’s going to do to Tony’s theology book sales when people realize he’s an asshole.

But maybe it isn’t theology? Maybe its some kind of personal experience of God? Here’s something else that showed up in one of my social feeds:

So here John Piper takes a bit of a different tack, to him it’s not theology, but some kind “knowing” that he does not elaborate on. I know that Piper is sympathetic to charismatics, so maybe it’s something on that axis? Now Piper, despite saying things that I don’t agree with and sometimes sympathizing with assholes does not appear, by all accounts, to be an asshole himself.

He might still be wrong about this though, I would argue that one can have just about any theology and have all kinds of personal, mystical, intimate, ecstatic ways of knowing God and still be an asshole. Here is a video where Žižek talks about a couple of giants of mysticism who were also monsters:

There is nothing in our experiences or our theologies that can keep us from being terrible to each other. Even if we can speak in tongues of men or of angels or can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge… and so on

Why You Need To Know About The Epistle to Diognetus

You need to know about this because a common refrain of some critics of the faith is that major Christian doctrines were not present in the earliest years of the church. They were accoutrements that developed over time. The full divinity of Jesus? Not till Nicea. A substitutionary atonement? Not until Anselm rigged the jury in the middle ages.

There are of course many ways to respond to this. One way that Dr. Michael Kruger has pointed out is to appeal to the Epistle to Diognetus, a second century work of Christian apologetics. It’s clear that the author of this Epistle had a high Christology and affirmed a robust view of substitionary atonement and even imputation.

No early evidence of the divinity of Jesus? Consider this:

But the truly all-powerful God himself, creator of all and invisible, set up and established in their [Christians’] hearts the truth and the holy word from heaven, which cannot be comprehended by humans.  To do so, he did not, as one might suppose, send them one of his servants or an angel or a ruler…but he sent the craftsman and maker of all things himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he encloses the sea within its own boundaries, whose mysteries all the elements of creation guard faithfully, from whom the sun was appointed to guard the courses that it runs during the day, whom the moon obeys when he commands it to shine at night, whom the stars obey by following the course of the moon, by whom all things are set in order and arranged and put into subjection, the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and all the things in the sea, fire, air, the abyss, creatures in the heights, creatures in the depths, and creatures in between–this is the one he sent to them. (7.2)

So, then, did he [God], as one might suppose, send him [his Son] to rule in tyranny, fear, and terror? Not at all.  But with gentleness and meekness, as a king sending his own son, he sent him as a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a human to humans.  So that he might bring salvation. (7.3-4).

The Word appeared to them [the apostles] and revealed things, speaking to them openly.  Even though he was not understood by unbelievers, he told these things to his disciples, who after being considered faithful by him came to know the mysteries of the Father.  For this reason he sent his Word, that it might be manifest to the world. This Word was dishonored by the people but proclaimed by the apostles and believed by the nations. For this is the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient, who is always being born anew in the hearts of the saints.  This is the eternal one who “today” is considered to be the Son, through whom the church is enriched and the unfolding grace is multiplied among the saints. (11:2-4).

No substitutionary atonement?

But [God] was patient, he bore with us, and out of pity for us took our sins upon himself. He gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the innocent one for the wicked, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the  imperishable one for the perishable, the immortal one for the mortal. (9.2).

For what else could hide our sins but the righteousness of that one? How could we who were lawless and impious be made upright except by the son of God alone? Oh the sweet exchange!…That the lawless deeds of many should be hidden by the one who was upright, and the righteousness of one should make upright the many who were lawless!

If you read the comments section of the post, there’s a fairly developed interaction between Dr. Kruger and a commenter named John S that some might find helpful if they want to see this point developed further.

 

 

Jack, Molly and Aslan

I read to my two eldest children, Jack and Molly, before they go to bed at night. This Christmas season we have been reading C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It has been a tremendous joy for me as a father getting to read this with them; especially tonight.

Earlier we had read about Edmund’s conversion and about the pact that Aslan made with the Witch. For a few days Jack was desperate to figure out how it was that Edmund could live, and how the Emperor’s law (that required the death of a traitor, which Edmund was) would be satisfied. My thoughtful son finally determined that it must be Mr. Tumnus, the Faun, who would have to die (not a bad guess!). So, with all this in his mind, the truth of the matter hit him like a tonne of bricks.

As I read about Aslan’s slow ascent to the Stone Table, with Lucy and Susan watching in horrified wonder, Jack lay perfectly still on his top bunk. I read about the awful and ugly jeering of the Witch’s hordes as they abused the passive Lion; the one who could have killed them with one blow had he wished. Then I read about his agonizing, lonely death, and how the two girls who were spying from their hiding places could not watch it. In silence, the chapter concluded and I put the book down. With all of the weight and poignancy of the moment, I said good night to my children and kissed them. When I looked at Jack, I was crestfallen to find that he had fallen asleep. His five-year-old body lay perfectly still under his covers. I thought: “Why, at the perfect moment, is he sleeping?!” As I turned to walk out of the room, I heard him stir. I looked back to find him sitting bolt upright in his bed staring at me. I walked back and in the darkness of the room could detect that his cheeks were flush and his eyes holding back tears. I reached out my arms and asked if he was okay, only to have him lean into me and sob his little heart out.

Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I told them to lay back down and began to read the following chapter about Aslan’s glorious, victorious resurrection. The radiance of his majesty, the joy of Susan and Lucy, the laughter they had at playing with him. We learned about the Deeper Magic from before Time that says if a person who has done no wrong gives up his life for another—as the perfect Aslan did for Edmund—then that sacrificed one can rise again. As we finished this moving chapter, I asked Jack and Molly for the technical term we use when someone has been raised from the dead. Jack replied: “Resurrected.” I asked, “Who does this remind you of?” And he said: “Jesus.”

It truly was amazing.

We prayed, and thanked God for Aslan and his triumph over the evil Witch in his resurrection, and his giving of himself for Edmund. Then I praised God for Jesus, who died for me, for Jack, and for Molly, and how he was raised again, conquering death. And prayed that he would win the final battle.

Jack, definitely, got the impact of the story.

Thank God for C. S. Lewis.

Tony Jones Gets Mainline Churches Wrong

There is some study out that indicates that there is a broad range of political and social opinions in the ranks of those pastors who self-identify as Emergent. Tony Jones has attempted to use this as an “a-ha” moment where he turns into a comic book can prove David Fitch wrong when it comes to the latter’s prediction that emergent evangelicals are on a glide-path to become indistinguishable from mainline Protestantism. The assumption that Jones appears to make is that if emergent leaders were to become more mainline, they would appear to be uniformly or at least predominantly “liberal” (whatever that even means anymore). I suppose that relative to evangelical churches which are – at least officially – uniformly supposed to be conservative, by contrast mainline churches will appear relatively more liberal, but what that looks like on the ground is the presence of many churchgoers and many clergy who would affirm many of the same things that evangelicals would about scripture or the divinity of Christ or what-have-you even while there are others who might not. In other words mainline leaders look a lot like those self-identified emergent leaders do in Jones’ survey. It’s kind of ironic that he perceives mainline denominations in pretty much the exact same way as Mark Driscoll or any of the other evangelicals he doesn’t care for.

Heinrich Bullinger on Justification by Works

Continuing in my series on Reformed theologians who affirm a sort of final justification by works, it seems to me Bullinger falls into this category in the following text:

So then, as often as the godly doth read, that our own works do justify us, that our own works are called righteousness, that unto our own works is given a reward and life everlasting; he doth not by and by swell with pride, nor yet forget the merit of Christ: but, setting a godly and apt interpretation upon such-like places, he doth consider that all things are of the grace of God, and that so great things are attributed to the works of men, because they are received into grace, and are now become the sons of God for Christ his sake; so that at the last, all things may be turned upon Christ himself, for whose sake the godly know that they and all theirs are in favour and accepted of God the Father.

This comes in the context of a sermon that is crystal clear on justification sola fide. Bullinger does not think it impossible to affirm, in a suitably qualified sense, that “our own works do justify us” or that they receive “life everlasting”, once the more foundational and controlling truth of justification by grace through faith is properly understood.

Doctrine: What can any Christian believe about Mark Driscoll?

There are very few people outside of Mars Hill leadership who can still be considered Mark Driscoll “apologists” but there are still a fair number of people in the world of conservative evangelicalism who would be very prepared, even eager, to welcome back a restored Mark Driscoll who can convincingly claim that he has learned to not be a mean-spirited or abusive leader. This post nicely sums up where a lot of people in the evangelical-reformed camp are with Mark Driscoll: he’s screwed up, pretty badly even, but at least he’s not like Rob Bell. John Piper’s contrasting tweets about Bell (farewell) and Driscoll (paraphrased: please come back soon, everyone should be rooting for you) have been pointed out by at least a few people. Geiger’s post draws the contrast that I think many have implicitly drawn: sure Driscoll has messed up in his leadership style, but at least his doctrine is solid.

Really?

It’s strange to me that so many in Driscoll’s tribe think that he’s come through all of this with his doctrine intact, since that same tribe appears to take a very great interest in pastoral epistles. One of the centrepieces of the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement (which is fast becoming the “middle-aged, grumpy and still Reformed” movement, but I digress) has been its emphasis on complementarian theology, which is largely derived from the qualifications for elders that are laid out these same pastoral epistles. It would be beyond bizarre for a group that holds to and carefully justifies male eldership (something that they need to do in an age that is much friendlier to the egalitarian position) for them to not have noticed that in the same books there were all these other qualifications for eldership that Driscoll did not meet. Contra Geiger I must say that Driscoll has guarded neither his life nor his doctrine.