theology

This category contains 110 posts

Egalitarian Music?

worship-in-churchI often find myself cringing at the lyrics that pass for contemporary Christian music as I listen to the radio (which, admittedly, I rarely do). From songs like “Courageous,” which makes it sound like only men can have courage… or at least that only they were “made to be” that way; to those like “Lead Me,” which encourages co-dependence in relationships, I find myself wondering if there are any egalitarian Christian musicians out there making music that shares that message. I know of none.

 

Anyone know of any?

The question, of course, is whether the concept of gender “roles” even needs to be an issue for egalitarian musicians. Moreover, how might an egalitarian theme be put forward meaningfully through music? I’m interested to know if anyone has thoughts on this.

Of course, all of this may just be another displayed symptom of the problem I’ve mentioned before with having a distinct genre of “Christian” music over and against other types of music.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A reflection and response– Here I react to a post encouraging discernment when thinking about the category of Christian music.

On Christian Music– I reflect on the category of “Christian Music” and whether it is even a functionally helpful tool.

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task– I discuss the latest album from Demon Hunter and how music may act as an apologetic endeavor.

SDG.

Women, Emotions, and Apologetics: A Response to “Apologetically Blonde”

clur-copancraigI recently came upon Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics, a book I’d been meaning to read for some time. I decided to take a break from the unpacking I was doing to do a little browsing as my son crawled around on my lap. I turned to the index to discover an article entitled: “Apologetically Blonde: The Struggle of Women to Defend Their Faith and What They Should Do about It” by Toni Allen (full citation below- all references to this text). As I browsed the article I knew I needed to write a response, because–with apologies to Toni Allen–I felt much of it was misguided.

Emotional Reasoning

The first critique I have of Allen’s article is the continued references to emotional reasoning and its apparent lack of justification for knowledge. Writes Allen:

…I find that women often depend on their experience and emotional connection with God as the primary justification for the beliefs they hold. In other words, women tend to perceive meaningful experiences and their corresponding emotions to be validation that what they believe is accurate. (40)

She goes on to say:

Yes, the gospel is for the whole person, and this includes existential reasons (including personal experience as well as our deepest emotions and longings)… However, a well-rounded defense of the gospel will include rational reasons and evidences. (40)

Throughout this section, Allen affirms the reality of personal experience and emotions as a basis for believing, but continually asserts that rational reasons are required in the public defense of Christianity. It is difficult to pin down exactly what Allen’s critique is in this section, because the wording is such that it could allow any number of exceptions. Words like “typically,” “often,” “includes,” and the like allow for broad interpretations of her meaning. But it does seem like the whole tone of the article as a whole is that emotions are somehow inadequate as a defense of the faith or that they are opposite or opposed to reason. This latter point is particularly problematic, and it seems like it is closest to the way Allen is leaning throughout the essay.

The reason I say this is because emotions are set up not alongside reasons and rationality, but rather as something separate from them. But this is itself mistaken. As any number of authors have pointed out, emotions themselves are part of the reasoning process and indeed can be integral or even essential to rationality. For example, Daniel Westberg argues in Renewing Moral Theology, a Thomistic approach to ethical theology, that emotions are a central part of the process of reasoning and judgment (see especially 40-43; see also my review of the book here). If Westberg is right, then for Thomists–a formidable bunch of philosophers indeed–emotions are a central aspect of reasoning; not something separate from and possibly antithetical to it. But even if he’s wrong, his case is fairly persuasive that emotions should not be dismissed from the reasoning process, and philosophers of several other flavors have agreed.

Thus, one of the major points of Allen’s assessment is itself mistaken because it operates from a false understanding of the relationship between emotions and reasoning.

As an aside, Allen’s assertion that “we must realize that appeals to religious experience typically do not function as a decisive apologetic” (41) is shifty in its wording (“typically”) while also being mistaken, as philosophers like Richard Swinburne, Caroline Franks Davis, Keith Yandell, and the like have made the argument from religious experience a powerful apologetic tool. Moreover, people like Alvin Plantinga have argued (persuasively, in my opinion), that we can have a rational basis for belief in God through properly basic belief and religious experience.

Can Women Do Apologetics?

Alongside Allen’s constant stream of arguing that women think more emotionally, there is the question of what exactly that is supposed to mean. Again and again we are treated to quotes like the one shared above and those below:

“[W]omen are naturally more cognizant of their emotions… depending on them as the primary validation for our beliefs directly affects our judgment.” (42)
“[I]n mentoring many women over the years, I have found it very common that rather than evaluate an idea on its merits, they are instead more reluctant to adopt an idea if it actuates negative feelings, or more eager to accept it because of positive ones.” (42)
“As women, we should welcome the challenge of defending our faith, even if this pushes us out of our comfort zone.” (45)

Lines like these are found throughout the essay with little supporting evidence other than personal experience–itself a great irony given the previous analysis. But apart from this, it fails to take into account that men and women operate on bell curves in regard to emotional–and other–reasoning skills and so making broad statements like these fails to reflect the reality of the spectrum of capacities for either gender.

Women, according to Allen, also are hamstrung in their attempts to do apologetics through “their natural inclination to avoid conflict” (37). But again, what does this say about men and women essentially (in the philosophical sense)? Do men who have an inclination to avoid conflict somehow become women or more feminine because of this? If so, in what fashion? And what biblical basis do we have for these kinds of assertions?

These and other issues betray a primary underlying presupposition of Allen’s article: gender essentialism. This is a deep topic that I cannot explore thoroughly here, but basically what Allen has–consciously or not–bought into is the notion that men and women operate in largely different spheres with clearly defined cognitive and other barriers between them. That’s why lines like “Women are naturally more cognizant of their emotions…” manage to sneak into the text. But these lines find little argumentative support and again fail to take into account the aforementioned reality that men and women do not operate in entirely different planes of existence–or even emotions. Although Allen generally included lines that allowed for some wiggle room, the overall message was clearly based on this presupposed and unfounded adherence to gender essentialism.

Apologetically Blonde?

A final issue I wanted to mention with the article is the title itself. Although “blonde jokes” have become part of our culture, I think that we as Christians are called to a higher standard. “Blonde” jokes select a specific portion of the population for the sake of ridicule. Though these are often “in good fun” the question is whether such jokes are taken that way and what kind of impact that might have on the people who are, well, blonde. I am not, but it’s easy to see how the use of “blonde” in the title as a synonym for “challenged” could be taken poorly and works against the gentleness and respect we need to display as Christian case-makers.

Links

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Source

Toni Allen, “Apologetically Blonde: The Struggle of Women to Defend Their Faith and What They Should Do about It” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics eds. Paul Copan & William Lane Craig (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Sacramental/Lutheran Response to Women in Church Leadership

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_BreadThe debate over women in the church–and particularly in church leadership–often has a different tenor when it is carried out in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. A recent post over at The Junia Project entitled “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” written by Tim Peck highlighted some of the different issues that come up in these church bodies. Here, I will present a few objections that often come up to women in leadership in sacramental churches, using Peck’s post for some insights. Then, I will note how from a Lutheran perspective, the notion that women cannot perform the sacraments is unfounded.

In the Place of Christ

One common objection to women serving in the office of the pastor has been that the pastor is to serve in the place of Christ when presiding over the sacraments. Thus, it is inferred that because Christ is a man, the pastor must also be a man. A similar objection is that Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and the pastor acts as Christ to the church. Thus, the pastor must be male, it is argued, because of the union of bride (church) and groom (Christ/pastor). As one complementarian I spoke with on this issue asserted, if the pastor were a woman, it would mean the church is in a homosexual relationship with the pastor (the inference being that the bride [church] would then be ‘married’ to the woman pastor).

The first part of the objection is answered fairly easily by pointing out, as Peck does, that:

Jesus was ethnically specific (Jewish), gender specific (male) and class specific (poor). To focus on just one and ignore the other two for the presider to function sacramentally seems arbitrary.

The second, similar objection can be answered by pointing out that the literal interpretation being used to exclude women from the pastoral office should also exclude any number of others from the office as well. After all, to turn the analogy the complementarian used above, if the pastor were married, then the pastor would be in a polygamous relationship with the church! But of course this is absurd. The reason it is absurd is because an analogy–the pastor being as Christ to the church–is being pressed into service literally. But this literalism is selective at best.

The Levitical Priesthood

Another argument I’ve heard a number of times is that pastors are analogous to the Levitical priesthood and, since no women were in the Levitical priesthood, women cannot serve as pastors. Peck again answers this argument:

[T]he New Testament itself insists that any priesthood existing among Christians would differ significantly from the old covenant priesthood. This should be obvious, since the old covenant priesthood was passed on by heredity. Moreover, men who suffered disabilities such as deformities, blindness, or mutilation were forbidden from serving as priests in the old covenant.

He offers other reasons to undermine this argument as well, but I think this one pretty much clinches it already: there is, again, a selectively literal reading happening. When it’s helpful for the complementarian argument, texts are taken literally, but even in the same contexts the literalism is not applied consistently.

A Lutheran Appeal

The Lutheran Confessions and the Administration of the Sacraments

From a confessional Lutheran perspective, the documents contained in the Book of Concord are binding. Yet, the types of arguments already analyzed above are often presented alongside the notion that a woman cannot perform the sacraments by virtue of being a woman. The reason this is true often varies from person to person, but the core of the reasoning is that women are excluded from the pastoral office and so by necessity cannot perform the sacraments. This reasoning reveals a presupposition: the sacraments, if performed by a woman, are made invalid.

The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.”

Thus, we find the unified teaching of the Book of Concord is that the efficacy of the sacraments is not based upon the person performing them. Indeed, if they were, then surely our confidence in the sacraments would be destroyed, for what pastor has no sin? The sacraments, then, cannot be made invalid because they are performed by a woman.

Responses to the Argument Above

The most likely response to this kind of reasoning would be to appeal to the biblical text to argue that women shouldn’t be pastors. However, this type of response would be a red herring. A discussion of the biblical texts is both necessary and valuable, but the argument that Lutheran complementarians have presented suggests that somehow the sacrament cannot be performed by a woman. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the Lutheran confessions themselves contradict this. The efficacy of the sacrament is not–thank God–dependent upon the one performing the sacrament. Thus, to argue that women would somehow invalidate the sacrament would be to deny the confessions of faith that we hold most dear and, indeed, undermine the very basis for our confidence in the validity of sacraments to begin with.

No human is without sin; none has no blemish. Our confidence in the sacraments is found not in the person performing them but in the unfailing word of God.

Another possible response is to appeal to, for example, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, section 1 in which it states that “no one should be allowed to administer the Word and sacraments unless they are duly called…” The appeal would then go on to suggest that no woman, by virtue of being a woman, can be “duly called” into the administration of the Word and Sacrament. This counter-argument begs the question from the beginning. Rather than offering an argument as to why women cannot be duly called, the complementarian has here simply assumed that women cannot be called and then applied this backwards to exclude women from performing sacraments.

If the appeal is then, again, made to the biblical text, then that is where the debate must play out. But notice that if one moves in this direction, they have already conceded the invalidity of the reasoning the argument began with. Instead, they must continually retreat from the reasoning used above and try to argue from proof texts through specific–often unquestioned–exegetical methods.

Conclusion

There are many arguments put forward in sacramental churches against the possibility of women being in the role of the pastor. An analysis of two primary arguments have shown they are faulty in that they are selectively literal. From a Lutheran perspective, we find that the Lutheran Confessions themselves actually work against anyone suggesting that the sacraments are invalid when performed by any variety of people. It is God working, not some magical formula that the human must perform.

We must instead go back to the texts and approach them with a cautious eye towards the fact that we have selectively taken parts literally that cannot, when pressed, hold up. The conversation within Lutheran circles–and indeed, within sacramental circles generally–should continue, but the arguments analyzed herein have been shown to be wanting.

Sources

Tim Peck, “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” 2015, online at http://juniaproject.com/women-leadership-in-sacramental-churches/.

All citations of the Lutheran Confessions are from:

The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008).

The Image in this post is from Wikimedia Commons and published under Creative Commons licensing. It was created by John Snyder and may be found here. Please appropriate cite if re-used.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Bound for the Promised Land” by Oren Martin

bpl-martin

Oren Martin’s Bound for the Promised Land is a canonical-perspective look at the land promise throughout the Bible. His central thesis is that “the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates the even greater land… that will… find… fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth won by Christ” (17).

The book advances a broad argument for this thesis by surveying what the Bible has to say about the land promise and its fulfillment. Martin does not offer a comprehensive look at every verse in the Bible that deals with the land promise, but rather puts forward a canonical view in which he surveys what various books of the Bible say about the promise and puts them in perspective alongside each other. He thus develops the promise from Eden in Genesis through Abraham, into Canaan, exile, through prophetic hope of return, the ushering in through Christ, and the ultimate consummation in the New Creation.

The book isn’t going to blow readers away with stunning insights. Frankly, that can be a good thing when it comes to theology texts. Martin’s exegesis is sound, based on firm principles and clearly drawn from the texts themselves. By connecting these verses to wider canonical strands, he demonstrates that his position is capable of dealing with the whole teaching of the Bible on the land promise rather than isolating it and trying to trump these threads with individual out-of-context verses.

Though not stunning or necessarily new, the insights Martin puts forward provide a great resource for those interested in eschatology and the issues raised by dispensationalists regarding the land promise. Martin does not support the dispensational view and argues cogently that it cannot be supported by the texts that teach on the land promise. The notion that we must take the land promise “literally” does not do full justice to the texts themselves and cannot account for the broadness of teaching on the topic.

Bound for the Promised Land is an insightful work that will lead to much flipping back and forth in readers’ Bibles as they go through it. I enjoyed making some new notes and re-highlighting some key points. Martin’s exegesis is solid, and the work is great for those interested in eschatology and biblical prophecy. By putting together a book focused exclusively on the land promise from a perspective that takes seriously the whole of biblical teaching on the topic, Martin has done a service for those interested in eschatology. I recommend it as a worthy read.

The Good

+Clearly outlines presuppositions the author maintains throughout the study
+Solid exegesis
+Canonical view gives picture of whole teaching of Bible on topic
+Applicable insights put forward

The Bad

-Skims over arguments very briefly at points

Disclaimer: InterVarsity Press provided me with a copy of the book for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever, nor did they request changes or edit this review in any way. 

Source

Oren Martin, Bound for the Promised Land (Downers Grove, IL: Apollos/InterVarsity Press, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is the Son “Equal To God”? – A reflection on an article from a Trinitarian Subordinationist

nes-jowershouse

One of the debates going on within evangelicalism today is the concept of the eternal subordination of the Son. That is, is God the Son eternally–not just in the Incarnation or some other temporal state–subordinate to God the Father? Setting aside the complexities of the debate, one of the central questions is whether this eternal subordination entails ontological subordination. The pro-subordination side says it does not; others charge that it does. There are, of course, many other issues, but here we will examine an article from Denny Burk written about Philippians 2:6 in the book The New Evangelical Subordinationism?. [NOTE: I am not saying that all who argue for eternal subordination would agree with Burk or that the arguments below would apply to all who hold to eternal subordination.]

Burk’s Thesis: The Son should not pursue “Equality with God”

Denny Burk argues that the Son “should” not pursue “equality with God” and the phrases “form of God” and “equality with God” are not synonymous. He surveys the use of the Greek article and concludes that the use in this instance is not anaphoric–basically the use of one expression carrying the meaning of another in context (I’m not linguist, so I hope I explained this adequately). Granting this distinction, I would suggest that Burk goes too far in concluding the Son is eternally subordinate and in fact arguing that the Son is inequal to the Father.

The Son , he argues, is in the form of God, but should not pursue “equality with God.” The final sentences of his article make this clear: “Therefore, in Paul’s Christology ‘form of God’ is something that Jesus possessed by virtue of his deity, while ‘equality with God’ is not. In fact, ‘equality with God’ is best understood as a role that Jesus refused to pursue so that he could pursue his redemptive work in the incarnation” (104, cited below).

Unequal Persons of the Godhead?

I found these statements astonishing, because I think they fundamentally do divide the Trinitarian persons on an ontological level. Consider the following premise:

P1- If two persons are “unequal,” those persons are not of the same essence.

I think this premise is eminently defensible, but simply asserting this premise begs the question against Burk’s position. Moreover, one would have to narrow down the definition and see what is meant by “unequal,” whether it applies to all forms of inequality, and the like. So rather than going down that route (one which I think would be ultimately successful but also highly complex), I’d simply suggest the following:

P2- If the Son is not “equal to God” to the same extent that the Father is “equal to God” then there is ontological division in the Trinity.

Unfortunately, we again run into the problem that without a demonstration of P2, it begs the question against Burk (and subordinationists who would use the same language). However, I think P2 is even more defensible than P1, so the establishing of P2 shall be the brief project to demonstrate Burk (and any who agree) have crossed the line with subordinationism into undermining the ontological unity of the Trinity.

Defense of P2 and Analysis of Burk’s position

There is no little danger in treating “God” as a kind of distinct entity from “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” because we may collapse into not just tritheism but rather quadri-theism where there is God, and then the the other three divine persons. Burk’s lack of defining what is meant by “equal to God” in his expressions seem to cross into this territory.

My defense of P2 will be quite simple. First, Christianity holds that Jesus is God. Period. Ergo, Jesus is equal to God. If Jesus is not just as “equal to God” as God the Father, then Jesus is not God but rather the Father is God and Jesus is some sort of quasi-divine entity having the “form of” but not “equality” with God.

Second, if we argue that two beings, x and y, do not equally share some aspect of nature, z, then it follows that x and y are not both essentially z. Converting that to our discussion of the Trinity, if we suppose that the Son and the Father do not equally have “equality to God,” then surely it must follow that the Son is not essentially God. The substance of the Godhead is not united in this view, but rather  divided. If one wants to argue that I am mistaken here, I’d simply ask for a defense of the opposite position. How can there be two entities that are not both reflecting some attribute but who are then said to both be that attribute?

Again, we run into the great difficulty that Burk never does (in this article) adequately explain what he means by “equal to God.” It seems he is using this phrase as though “equal to God” is semantically equivalent to “equal to the Father” but then Burk’s position surely assumes quite a bit and reads subordinationism into the text rather deriving it from this text. After all, we know that Paul is perfectly capable of referencing God as “Father” so if he meant to say that the Son “should not” (using Burk’s terminology) pursue equality to the Father, he could have just said that.

Burk’s own discussion of how “form of God” and equality to God may be distinct is brief:

[A]lthough Jesus actually possessed an identical characteristic of His Father with respect to his deity (i.e. “he existed in the form of God”), he did not want to grasp after another role that was not his–namely, “equality with God.”

…[T]he contrast between “grasping for equality” and “emptying himself” suggests both are functiona categories… Paul argues here that in his pre-incarnate state, Christ’s [sic] existed as theos [I transliterated this word–it is Greek for ‘God’]. Yet in this pre-incarnate existence, Christ Jesus did not seek to be like theos [transliterated] in every respect. (103-104)

These statements lead us to a related difficulty–one related to the first I noted in this section: Burk’s position seems to either turn into equivocation between “God” and “God the Father” without any distinctions (as just noted) or it seems to treat “God” as a distinct entity from the Trinitarian persons. But either of these is extremely problematic.

Moreover, one is forced to wonder how one might say of God the Son that he is God but not like God in every respect. How might one conclude that the persons of the Trinity are of one being if one is “equal to God” in role, but another is not? Burk offers little reason to think this is possible, and simply avers to roles within the Trinity. I contend that this offers little comfort to those with concerns over the possible ontological division within the Trinity coming from subordinationism.

Conclusion

I believe that P1 (properly construed) and P2 are each correct and that Burk’s subordinationism–along with any others who would draw similar conclusions–does indeed ontologically split the Trinity. Moreover, I believe that Burk fails to adequately ground any reason for thinking his position does not break the essential nature of the unity and the one being of the Godhead. It is well and good to assert different roles within the Trinity, but when one “role” is “equality to God,” and that “role” is not shared by all the persons of the Trinity, the implications for Trinitarian theology seem deleterious.

It is certainly possible I am misunderstanding Burk on these points, but it seems the conclusions I’ve drawn follow from his position. I’m happy to be corrected on this. I must, for now, conclude with a rhetorical question: In what sense can we affirm that the Son is God if the Son is not “equal to” God?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Women, Complementarianism, and the Trinity- How getting subordination wrong has undermined the Trinity– I note how some complementarians have distorted the doctrine of the Trinity in order to ground their theological position on women in the ministry

Source

Denny Burk, “Christ’s Functiona Subordination in Philippians 2:6: A Grammatical Note with Trinitarian Implications” in The New Evangelical Subordinationism? eds Dennis Jowers and H. Wayne House (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Microview: “Searching for an Adequate God” edited by John Cobb Jr. and Clark Pinnock

sadg-cobbpinnockSearching for an Adequate God (how’s that for a provocative title?) is a dialogue between process theists and open theists (aka free will theists). Process theism is most basically the notion that God is fully involved in and impacted by temporal processes like the free actions of creatures, the changing of nature, etc. (for a good summary of process thought, see here). Open theism (aka “free will theism” in this volume) is essentially classical theism, but with the notion that the future is “open”–that is, that some aspects of the future are yet undetermined and unknown (in that they are unknowable, because there are no facts about these open aspects of the future to be known).

Given the major divergence between these positions, this book provides a fascinating dialogue and real insights into points of division between two radically different concepts of God. Intriguingly, the two positions also share many basic premises (as is emphasized by every author) such as an emphasis on human free will as a way to handle theodicy, the notion that God is temporal and impacted in some way by creation, and so on.  The essays herein revolve, therefore, around these dual notions–the radical differences between the groups and the shared insights they argue they provide for theology.

The essays by David Ray Griffin (process) and William Hasker (open), along with their rebuttals to each other, frame the debate in an extremely interesting fashion, as their essays truly show the great differences between the positions. In between, essays by the other contributors (and their responses to each other) offer frequently autobiographical reflections on the two positions.

Perhaps most enlightening is the way that both positions show their distance on various points from classical theism and Christianity. Each of the Process contributors (and David Ray Griffin in particular) blithely dismissed or redefined the Trinity as a tertiary (as Griffin described it) doctrine for Christianity. This astounding claim demonstrates how vast the chasm is between the process view and Christianity. The open position, particularly as represented by Hasker, is highly critical of views of providence which entail God being even a secondary cause of evil.

The Good

+Fascinating interaction between two radically different yet frequently similar non-standard theistic positions
+Solid lineup of major representatives on both sides of the debate
+Good format
+Interesting insight into two positions which challenge classical theism

The Bad

-Too frequently autobiographical rather than topical in the middle essays

Conclusion

The value of Searching for an Adequate God is found in its many areas of clarification and insight: distinctions between process thought and classical Christian thought, clarifications on the meaning and extent of open theism, areas of mutual engagement between these divergent views, and more. It is a wonderfully fascinating book, even if I as a reader am deeply critical of both positions. I found it quite excellent.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

John B. Cobb, Jr. and Clark Pinnock, eds. Searching for an Adequate God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000). 

 

Is Natural Theology Excluded for Apologetics? – Sunday Quote!+

ffs-molnarHere’s a special edition Sunday Quote which features a more extended discussion. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Is Natural Theology Excluded for Apologetics?

Paul Molnar’s Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is a massive study on the Trinity–specifically the economic Trinity–with much insight from contemporary theology. Early on, Molnar makes a statement which, as a trained Christian apologist, seemed a bit like “fightin’ words”:

If contemporary theologians were to make explicit the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling our knowledge of the triune God, then there could be wide agreement that natural theology of whatever stripe is not only unhelpful but is directly excluded from any serious understanding of theological epistemology. (82)

Now, “natural theology” is, according to Justo Gonzalez’s Essential Theological Terms, “A theology that claims to be based on the natural gifts of the human mind, and on the ‘general revelation’ granted to all… rather than on a ‘special revelation’ in Scripture or Jesus Christ” (118). Natural theology, that is, is the attempt to show that God exists and certain other truths through looking at the world. From this quote, it seems that Molnar is arguing that if we had a better notion of the role of the Holy Spirit, we would basically think that natural theology is worthless related to knowledge of God.

Molnar develops this notion further throughout the next 50 pages or so. His argument basically is that if we acknowledge that it is the Holy Spirit who enables faith and knowledge of God, then any “knowledge” of God which is not directly through faith (i.e. through something like a cosmological argument) is not objective knowledge of God.

Although some of what Molnar argues resonates with me–particularly the notion that the Holy Spirit is the one who imparts faith rather than it being some kind of choice we make–I think that his dismissal of natural theology is unnecessary and mistaken. First, the most obvious question to be asked is whether the Spirit can use natural theology to create faith. If it is the case that the Holy Spirit can work through natural theology–something which seems to be clearly correct to me–then the objection that natural theology ignores the role of the Spirit is mistaken.

Second, Molnar’s argument seems to rely on a concept of natural theology which is entirely about trying to impart knowledge of God to those who do not have faith. This, however, ignores the use of apologetics in strengthening the faith of believers. Natural theology can be a valuable tool for those who have faith to pursue the call of 1 Peter 3:15 and have a reason for the hope within them. Whatever one’s view of whether natural theology can bring people to the true God, it seems that it can and should be used for believers to explore the natural world and bolster their faith.

Third and finally, it seems to me that Romans 1 in particular demonstrates that natural theology is not a worthless project. If God’s invisible attributes are capable of being discovered in the things God has made, then surely natural theology has some value in tracing God’s handiwork.

Should we think that natural theology is a failed project? Can it have other uses like those I listed? Is it possible to go from God to Christ? What of the role of the Spirit in apologetics?

Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is a thoroughly thought-provoking read which I recommend to those interested in the doctrine of the Trinity. It has certainly gotten my wheels turning!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015). 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is Middle Knowledge Uncontroversial?

luis-de-molina-2I was reading a recent blog post at one of the sites from which I read every post–the Pastor Matt blog–and discovered a point of some importance for those interested in the debate over omniscience and divine foreknowledge. His post “Middle Knowledge Misunderstood” is a brief introduction to the concept of middle knowledge. My focus is not going to be on that topic so much as on a claim made in the article: that middle knowledge is uncontroversial. Simply put, this claim is mistaken. Middle knowledge is the subject of much debate to this day.

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom: specifically, God’s knowledge of “If x, then y” in regards to human and other created beings’ freedom. It is more than that, and yes I am simplifying this quite a bit.

Middle knowledge has been the subject of no little amount of my efforts in studying, and when I read the claim that it is uncontroversial, I was taken aback. Frankly, to say that middle knowledge is not controversial is just entirely mistaken. I shall now demonstrate that point.

First, middle knowledge is controversial among those who deny that God has absolute knowledge of the future, namely, open theists. William Hasker, John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, and other open theists each explicitly deny the existence of these counterfactuals that make up middle knowledge. Greg Boyd, another prominent open theist, argues in multiple places that the “would” counterfactuals of middle knowledge (i.e. in situation x, person would do y) should instead be “might” counterfactuals because “would” counterfactuals can have no truth value (see, for example, his response to William Lane Craig in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2001).

Second, middle knowledge is controversial among Calvinists. Paul Helm, a noted Calvinist philosopher, writes:

Since the Reformed held that all that occurs is unconditionally decreed by God and that men and women are responsible for their actions, they saw no need for a third kind of divine knowledge, a middle knowledge, which depended upon God foreseeing what possible people would freely do in certain circumstances.

In other words, middle knowledge is superfluous. Helm goes on to state as much:

Not only is middle knowledge unnecessary to an all-knowing, all-decreeing God, but the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree.

I would contend that most any theological determinist should hold to a similar belief regarding middle knowledge. On such a position, middle knowledge is unnecessary and indeed contrary to their entire system. Certainly Calvinists in general would deny that middle knowledge is necessary or uncontroversial.

Third, Thomists, I believe, would also reject middle knowledge–and historically have–for a number of reasons, including the notion that it entails potentiality in God. The reason it would do so is because of the whole structure of modality–including possible worlds–which advocates of middle knowledge tend to put forward as well. If the assertion is that there is a different way that things God could have created, then that implies that there is a potential there–something that any Thomistic view of the world would deny. I believe the same point would go for Scholastic thinkers in general, but I’m not familiar enough with the range of scholasticism to say that is for sure.

All of this is not even delving into things like whether those who hold to simple foreknowledge would endorse middle knowledge. David Hunt, for example, in the aforementioned Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, also argues that counterfactuals of freedom required for foreknowledge are illogical. Frankly, I think any position of simple foreknowledge would have to deny middle knowledge because on simple foreknowledge the whole concept is just as superfluous and contrary as it is for theological determinists. After all, if we contend that God just knows the future, then there is little room for things like God’s knowledge of what creatures would do in varied situations: God just knows what the future is going to be. Again, I don’t know the range of thought within the simple foreknowledge position to say for sure, but I suspect the majority position would be to deny middle knowledge.

Now when I shared some of these thoughts with Pastor Matt, his response was to grant that open theists deny middle knowledge, but then later he also granted that some Calvinists do. My point is that even were these the only ones who denied middle knowledge, that would not qualify as being “uncontroversial.” But now, having demonstrated that it is theological determinists, Calvinists, some who hold to simple foreknowledge, open theists, and Thomists (and possibly others?) who would deny middle knowledge, I think that the point has carried: middle knowledge is not uncontroversial.

I say all of this as someone who thinks middle knowledge does exist. But I think that we need to confront the reality that Molinism–the position which most closely endorses middle knowledge–is itself highly controversial and hardly above criticism.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Middle Knowledge Misunderstood– Pastor Matt’s post on middle knowledge.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Lost World of Adam and Eve” by John Walton

lwae-waltonJohn Walton’s latest book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve is primarily an exegetical attempt to get at what the Bible teaches about Adam and Eve. Walton applies his insights from the Ancient Near East (ANE) to the study of the Bible. Perhaps the central focus of the text, then, is the notion that unlike us, those who wrote the Bible and were its first audience would look not for material origins but rather functional origins and purpose. When applied to the topic of Adam and Eve, this yields a number of surprising conclusions about what the text is intended to mean.

Walton argues that the Genesis creation account does not specifically tell us how Adam and Eve materially came to be but rather is an account of God giving them their functions as the image of God, ushering in order against the chaos. His view is one which sees Adam as archetypical head of humanity rather than necessarily being the first ever human. Adam and Eve were chosen by God to become God’s representatives in the world.

Many intriguing arguments are put forward by Walton once he has established what is the central thesis–that the text is concerned with functional, not material origins. These include reading Genesis 2 as a sequel to rather than recapitulation of Genesis 1, the use of the term “very good” and “good” in the text, the meaning of “formed from dust” and from the rib, the archetypal meaning of Adam and Eve, the real existence of this couple, the priesthood of the couple in sacred space, our role as bringing order from disorder, the “serpent” in the Garden, and more. Each chapter is filled with compelling arguments and sometimes surprising conclusions.

Because the worldview of the ANE was not concerned with material origins, the questions we often ask of the text like “Were Adam and Eve the first humans?”; “Are we all descended from Adam?” and the like are questions which the text is not intended to answer. These are questions from our background, not from the background of the text. Thus, Walton argues that there can be much openness to the answers to these questions. When we come to the New Testament discussions of Adam and Eve, Walton (and the contribution from NT Wright) argue that this is why the notion of federal headship (though not necessarily material/genetic headship) is probably in mind.

Readers who are unconvinced by the notion that we should apply ANE insights to our reading of the text will be challenged to support that claim. Walton cogently argues that although there is not a 1-to-1 correspondence between the worldview of the ANE and the Bible, it is highly questionable to assume that the writers and audience of the Bible would not have been influenced by their background and cultural understanding.

Regarding the science, Walton readily points out that he is not an expert in the area but defers largely to the experts. He applies the exegetical arguments to questions of original sin, federal headship, and the like in the context of  modern scientific findings, though he does so in such a way that he retains his commitment to teach what the text does rather than trying to force it to speak of our concerns.

Many (most?) readers will find this book challenging on a number of levels because Walton so readily exposes our presuppositions about what the text should say. Very often Walton simply points readers back to the text to reveal how often we have our expectations bring meaning to the text rather than allowing it to speak for itself.

The Good

+Excellent insight into the ANE background of the Old Testament
+Strong exegetical argument with a commitment to understanding the text
+Coherent with the rest of Walton’s thought
+Challenges our presuppositions about the text

The Bad

-A bit difficult to pin down exactly what his view is of original sin

Conclusion

The Lost World of Adam and Eve is a fantastic work and one which needs to be on the shelf of anyone interested in the topic. It is surprising, challenging, and frequently enlightening. Whether one agrees with Walton or not, this book is a must-read.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book courtesy of InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated to write any sort of review whatsoever. My thanks to the publisher for the copy.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

Source

John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Debate Review: Al Mohler vs. Chris Date on “Should Christians Rethink Hell?”

IMG_0691

Not hell. But it is a pretty picture I took with a kind of intriguing/ominous path.

I want to preface this post by saying I am by no means an expert on the topic of hell. I’ve only read two books on the subject and listened to several lectures. I approach this as one who is still learning and seeking understanding. I hold to what would be called in this debate the “traditional” view of hell as opposed to a literalist view of hell. That is, I believe hell is a place (spiritual? physical?) that is eternal; but I am unconvinced that the fire references made in the Bible are to be taken literally (i.e. how are they literal flames and yet the place is in darkness? – seems to me to be metaphorical language).

I was very interested in listening to this debate between the traditional view, as espoused by prominent conservative theologian Al Mohler and the conditional view (that of annihilationism–those who are unsaved are annihilated at the judgment [typically–please correct me if I have misportrayed this) as put forward by Chris Date. Here, I’ll offer a brief summary of major statements in the debate, followed by my own analysis. Note that these are my summaries of what was said, not necessarily direct quotes. I welcome critique and comments. Let me know if you listened to the debate, and feel free to offer your own thoughts! The debate may be found here.

Summary

Justin Brierly asked Mohler to speak on what he thought about the biblical basis for conditionalism.

Mohler- Anyone who speaks on a doctrinal question sees their side as more biblical, and I find the evidence for conditionalism wanting. We must also present the picture of hell which is that which should be presented to others–we have to see what the biblical picture of hell is. The biblical “meta-narrative” points to dual everlasting destinies–eternal life in a New Heaven and New Earth–and also for eternal punishment. The unified consensus reading of Scripture for the history of Christianity has been the traditional position.

Date– Regarding Matthew 25, the question is not the duration of the punishment but the actual nature of the punishment. The context suggests that the wages of sin is death, physical death and not living any more. At judgment, the conditionalist holds that the second death will be just that–death. Moreover, the alleged consensus opinion on hell has not been completely on the side of traditionalism, and in the last few centuries conditionalism has gained support. [Outlines the biblical evidence for conditionalism while citing a huge number of texts.] The preponderance of Scripture points to conditionalism. The concept of eternal punishment is correct; the question is what the nature of this punishment is.

Mohler– The normal Christian reading of Matthew 25 has been eternal conscious torment, not destruction. The infinite wrath and infinite grace of God are each being experienced. To say that eternal punishment is not an eternal state but just something that endures until it is taken away does not seem to be what the text itself implies. Humans have a life beyond this life–not an inherent right to immortality of the soul but because of the image of God in humanity–we are made for eternal life.

Date– Saying that Christ purchased eternal salvation for us in Hebrews does not imply a continued state of Christ forever redeeming; it was an act in time with eternal consequences. Eternal life is something only experienced by the saved–the punishment is death and its effect lasts forever.

Mohler– It is difficult to square this view with the actual texts. Rather than appealing to a different passage in Hebrews, Date must explain the parallelism in Matthew 25 regarding the phrase eternal–does it mean two things in the same context?

Date– Eternal means forever in both cases–eternal life and death which lasts forever.

Mohler– Substituting death does not explain away the parallelism in the text. The Christian church has long understood that this passage means eternal torment.

Date– That’s why it’s called the traditional view!

Mohler– The traditional view does not rest on isolated texts of Scripture but on the church’s understanding of the weight of the texts as a whole. There is no indication in various depictions of hell in which there is an end to the torment as spoken.

Date– Mohler’s interpretation is incorrect; the Greek can be taken in different senses in the places he cites.

Mohler– These interpretations are based on arguing that when we look at a text, we have to say it doesn’t mean what it looks like it means.

Date– Many Christians held to a conditionalist view in historic Christianity. Moreover, we should not forget that we come to the text with presuppositions, and such giants of the church as Augustine who held to the traditional view had a Platonic view of the soul which influenced their interpretation of the Bible.

Mohler– There was development of the doctrine of hell. Regarding Augustine, if we argue that Augustine’s view was due to Platonism, we have to see that his entire picture of reality was Hellenized and so his view of other important doctrines like the deity of Christ is undermined.

Date– Nobody is claiming that everything found in the Platonic view or the Hellenistic view is wrong. Scripture is the authority, however, not the culture. The Platonic view specifically imported mistakes into the view of the soul and its indestructible nature according to that view.

Mohler– Jesus held to what we call the traditional view. However, Jewish thought at the same time didn’t have much developed thought regarding hell, which is largely a distinctively Christian view.

Date– Jesus’ language speaks of destruction and seemingly endorsed the view of annihilationism through his use of language of destruction and burning up.

Mohler– Gehenna does not point to Jesus endorsing an annihilationist view because the use of that term was a reference to continued endless fire, despite being a distinct historic view. …Jesus spoke more about eternal punishment and hell than about heaven. Our understanding of the Gospel is impacted by a different view of hell. The urgency of the Christian message is undermined by the conditionalist position because it effectively removes any urgency for conversion because the materialist already believes they will just cease existing.

Date– Atheists often reject Christianity because they see the traditional view as unjust, which means that a conditionalist view has greater apologetic value. Moreover, the Gospel can continue to be presented as either the gift of life or the punishment of death. Conditionalism does not undermine urgency of spreading the Good News.

Analysis

It was edifying to listen to both presenters on this program and get a better idea about the differing views related to hell within Christianity. The speakers were each respectful and gracious–something that should be the case!

Chris Date cogently argued for and defended his position against major objections. I think one of the most pressing issues for the conditionalist/annihilationist remains the notion that, on their view, there really is no major difference between the end of the unsaved and that which the materialist believes will happen. However, it should be noted this is less a biblical challenge than it is a philosophical/theological one. Date’s defense of the biblical capacity for conditionalism was challenging to my paradigm as I think he presented some passages which do possibly read more easily on his view than on the traditional view.

I do think, however, some of Date’s claims were a bit of a stretch. For example, his assertion that Jesus endorsed conditionalist teachers perhaps goes beyond the evidence we have. Moreover, his style of argument in some sections was problematic because he simply through a number of texts out (without quoting the text, simply citing the locations) without giving any sort of context. Of course, this latter issue is more due to the format than a defect of his position.

One of the biggest problems with Al Mohler’s defense of the traditional view is how much he appealed to, well, tradition. It seems to me like the traditional view has a solid scriptural basis, and to appeal to the notion that the church as a whole has largely leaned towards the traditional view is inadequate as a defense. Thus, it was his method which I think was greatly problematic. However, towards the end he got deeper into the issues and I think made some solid points, particularly in regards to whether Gehenna necessarily entails the conditional view and on the seeming parity of the unsaved on the conditional view vs. their own position. That said, I think a stronger focus on exegesis would have been more compelling rather than a continued appeal to traditional church teaching.

Overall, I came out of this debate feeling challenged to consider my own position. I also think the conditionalist view is not, as some assert, clearly unbiblical. If one wants to continue asserting that, I think they must deal very closely with the texts Date and others cite for their position. One can’t just cite a single proof text and say that other texts must be reinterpreted in light of a single text.

What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.

Links

Should Christians Rethink Hell?– The link for the audio of the debate along with some related links from Premier Christian Radio.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

*The image in this post was taken by me. I claim the copyright as noted below.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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