theology

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Book Review: “Overcoming Sin and Temptation” by John Owen

ost-owenBe killing sin, or it will be killing you. – John Owen

John Owen was a Puritan minister who lived in the 1600s. In Overcoming Sin and Temptation, we are presented with a collection of three of his works–“Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,” “Of Temptation, the Nature and Power of It,” and “Indwelling Sin”–which are aimed at leading believers to an awareness of their own sin and the overcoming of it.

If I had to sum up this volume with one word, I would say: “Convicting.” John Owen throughout does a fantastic job calling believers to the awareness of their own sin and the various ways in which we deny our sin and try to pretend it isn’t there. There were many times I found myself nodding along, realizing that Owen had laid bare yet another way I had been trying to ignore sin in my own life. It is a powerful work of law.

Owen points out how we often rely upon grace in the face of temptation–surely we will be forgiven this sin!–rather than putting the temptation to death; he notes how we often try to ignore sin through various means like the weariness of our body (we’re too tired to avoid this sin); he exhaustively draws out the many ways we deceive ourselves through our sin and persist in sin. It’s almost tiring because we realize how often our sins have been covered up in our minds through rationalizing it away.

But Owen does not end with the conviction of our hearts for our sin. Instead, as the title of this book suggests, he puts forward ways in which we may overcome sin and temptation. Primarily, they involve watchfulness and prayer. We are called by Owen to an active assault on sin rather than passive resistance. We must always be looking out for the ways sin penetrates our lives and close those gaps. Some concrete things Owen suggests are focusing upon Christ’s work and how our sin adds to Christ’s suffering; thinking upon the grace and love of God and how we wound the great God who made us when we sin; considering God’s sovereignty and asking, with Joseph in Genesis, “How can I sin against my God?” These are only a few of the ways Owen suggests we put sin to death in our lives.

This edition of the works is made especially helpful by extensive notes explaining hard-to-understand words. Various explanatory words are sometimes added into the text (always bracketed so readers know they have been added) to continue Owen’s train of thought. Each work has a brief but information-packed introduction, and there are lengthy and detailed outlines of the works at the end of the book.

I do wish the editors had also decided to make the language throughout the text gender-inclusive. It is jarring to have to continually process: “Oh yeah, he’s using ‘men’ to reference ‘people.” It may seem like a small thing, but if this is so clearly what Owen means when he says “he” or “man” or “men,” etc., then why not just say it through the editorial process? This is a minor strike against an otherwise excellent work.

I recommend that every Christian obtain a volume of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, read it prayerfully, and integrate it into their lives. We must be killing sin lest it kill us.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Source

John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway, 2006).

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.

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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A God Who Risks… too much?- A Difficult Dilemma for Open Theists

gwr-sandersOpen theism is, briefly, the notion that God does not comprehensively know the future [edit: strictly speaking, the view is that there is no settled “future” to know to begin with, so it is not a lack of knowledge but rather the absence of such a thing as a future that will occur; see next sentence and thanks for a clarifying comment below]. The future, it is held, is in some sense “open” because it is undetermined, even for God. Most frequently, this claim is put forth in terms of denial of knowledge of free creaturely action. Representative is the claim of John Sanders:

God cannot know as definite what we will do unless he destroys the very freedom he granted us… The future is not completely fixed, but open, to what both God and humans decide to do, so there are numerous possible futures (not just one). God knows as possibilities and probabilities those events which might happen in the future. (Sanders, 206, cited below)

Thus, it is fairly central to the open theistic perspective that God does not (and indeed cannot) know the future exhaustively, and the parts God does not know exhaustively are such because free will is involved. For the open theist, then, the proposition: ‘God does not know the future free actions of creatures with certainty’ is true. Gregory Boyd, another prominent open theist, puts it this way: “open theists hold that if God is omniscient… and if the future is in fact partly comprised of ontological possibilities, then God must know the future as partly comprised of such possibilities” (Boyd, 195, cited below).

Because of this, we may fairly state the open theistic perspective as holding the following proposition to be true: “God does not know [future] counterfactuals of creaturely freedom [CCF].”

The Dilemma

I propose that open theism, because of its commitment to denial that God knows the future free actions of agents, raises an enormously difficult dilemma for those who hold to the position:

Either God possibly created knowing that it was possible no one would be saved or at least one counterfactual is true.

The dilemma draws its strength from propositions open theists, by their own writings, accept. Open theists, as demonstrated above, deny that God knows CCF. Thus, the following statement is unknown to God according to open theism:

If I (God) create the universe, at least one free creature will be saved.

Open theists must deny this statement as being known by God in order to maintain their stance that God cannot know the future free actions of creatures. But denying this counterfactual is theologically very problematic, because it means that the God who risks (to use John Sanders’ terminology) effectually risked so much that God decided to create a universe populated by moral agents without so much knowing that even one of these agents would be saved. Sure, one of the possibilities was probably that all such moral beings would be saved, but another possibility is that all moral beings would be damned. On open theism, God just didn’t know.

Now it could be that God was 99.999999999(repeating)% sure that at least one agent would be saved, but according to open theism, God could not know. I would suggest that any theological system which seriously puts forth the notion that God would create without knowing that at least one being would be saved is a theological system that cannot maintain the moral benevolence of deity.

The second part of the dilemma is also a serious problem for the open theist. Suppose the open theist embraces this part and counters “Very well, then God knew that at least one being would be saved.” But of course this would have been a CCF when God chose to create. Thus, the open theist would be forced to accept that at least one of these future counterfactuals is true. But if one is true, what possible grounds could there be for denying that others are true as well? It seems the open theist would either have to accept that CCF can be known without restraint (and therefore overthrow the philosophical framework of open theism) or simply engage in special pleading for those CCFs that must be maintained in order to not impugn the moral character of God.

Counter Arguments

Character Settled?

Greg Boyd has argued that free agents may have settled characters such that free will may not be a consideration (for the sake of space I’ve greatly summarized here; see Boyd 193-194 for one example). Perhaps at least one creature could have a settled will such that they are saved and thus God could know their salvific status without threatening to know CCFs. My response to this would be to note the highly controversial nature of this argument on a number of levels: 1) it suggests that humans are capable of, by their own free will, coming to such a point that they change their will into a form that will, with certainly, act according to God’s will, which is objectionable on a number of Scriptural grounds; 2) it holds to a view of human nature that both affirms and denies compatibilism; 3) the possibility of a “settled will” is difficult to establish or define; etc.

CCFs not Denied

Perhaps the open theist could respond by arguing that open theism need not deny that God knows CCFs. I do not think this would be possible while still maintaining open theism because it would mean God knows comprehensively the future including my future free actions.

God’s Character not Impugned?

Perhaps the most fruitful counter for the open theist would be to deny that God’s moral character is impugned by creating without knowing that at least one person would be saved. Perhaps such an activity is merely morally neutral, or God’s other reasons for creating could overcome the difficulty.

I think this is, as I said, the best avenue for open theists to pursue, but on reflection I think that the real possibility that God would create in such a way as to not know that the moral agents God brought into being would be saved–that they all might be damned despite that not being God’s intent–is extremely problematic.

Conclusion

I believe that the dilemma offered above is, frankly, lethal to open theism. I have read several works by leading proponents of open theism and think that many arguments against the same are off the mark because they often do not hit on the points open theists actually hold. Here, however, I have presented an argument derived from the core of open theistic thought. Thus, I believe that open theism is untenable. It either impugns God’s character or is self-referentially incoherent.

Links

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The Consolation of Counterfactuals: The Molinism of Boethius- Boethius was an early Christian thinker who thought of a very insightful way to discuss counterfactuals of freedom.

Is God Just Lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism- I examine the set of possible worlds from a molinistic perspective.

The New Defenders of Molinism: Reconciling God’s Foreknowledge and Our Free Will- I present a general case for molinism, analyzing various positions and concluding that God does know what we will do without predetermining it.

Sources

John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007).

Gregory Boyd “God Limits His Control” in Four Views on Divine Providence edited Gundry and Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

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.

Exegetical Fallacies- Who determines when it’s a fallacy?

question-week2I recently read through Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson. I think that he did an excellent job introducing a number of common errors regarding exegesis which may be avoided. However, I would have liked there to be more appeals for caution in the application of these fallacies. I worry about the possibility for someone to read through a book like this and then just willy-nilly apply the ‘exegetical fallacy’ hammer to all sorts of solid exegesis.

My concern is based upon two primary issues. First, the concept of “fallacy” within Carson’s usage. Second, the rather obscure nature of some of the specific “fallacies” he outlines.

The first concern is perhaps one that should be heavily qualified on its own. That is, I think that Carson’s choice of the term “fallacy” will imply, for many readers [the book is intended for an introductory level] a hard-and-fast rule for determining when something is blatantly false. Now, of course Carson cannot be faulted for using a technical term and having people misunderstand it. I simply wish that he had done more to clarify his usage of the term, because he clearly means it more broadly than “logical fallacy” but more narrowly than anything which appears to be wrong.

The second concern may help highlight the first. I am a bit worried about the application of these fallacies in practice. One can’t just say “Ha, [x fallacy] was committed, your interpretation fails!” I’m not at all suggesting that this is what Carson did (and I would be mistaken if I were to suggest that), but I am rather expressing a concern that some may attempt to use “exegetical fallacies” in this manner. For example, on page 37, Carson introduced the fallacy he termed “Appeal to unknown or unlikely meanings…” Now this, of course, is not a logical fallacy. And, in practice, it can be useful. But the question is: to what or whom are we referencing when we say “unknown” or “unlikely”? I fear that the application of this terminology could lead to people subjectively calling those things with which they disagree “unknown” or “unlikely” and then dismissing the other side as “fallacious.” Again, I’m not saying Carson does that himself, but I still think one must have a certain sense of caution in the application of this and other “fallacies.”

Another example may be found in the “root fallacy,” wherein one appeals to etymology to determine the meaning of a word. There are certainly fallacious usages of etymology in order to try to sort out the meaning of words, but as Carson himself noted, etymology can be quite useful for determining the meaning, and its usage is sometimes correct. Yet, tied into my first concern, calling this the “root fallacy” seems to denote a definitively fallacious sense to using roots to determine the meaning of words. But although Carson himself urges caution in this, he doesn’t really help to clarify when something would be fallacious as opposed to valid. Of course, that may just be the nature of the beast regarding some of these fallacies: they are highly difficult to pin down. But then I wonder what the usefulness is of making it seem as though there is some “rule” of “fallacy” regarding interpretation in this area.

I’d certainly like to be corrected and perhaps have my cautions dispelled, so feel free to drop a comment on your thoughts regarding this work.

On final analysis, I do think Carson’s book is useful in many ways. I just wish he had given more space to urging some caution and defining terms.

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!

Source

D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996).

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: “Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory” by Graham Ward

tcct-gward

There is no conceivable limit to what critical theory cannot comment upon, nor what form that comment can take. Every discipline and cultural phenomenon is swept into its purview… (xviii)

Graham Ward, in Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory, seeks to bridge a gap between critical theorists and theologians. Critical theory is essentially various ways to look at how discourse is practiced through the means of socio-cultural factors. Yes, this is a simplified definition, but at its core critical theory engages with various practices of discourse in order to draw out the implications for how the conclusions may be reached. It calls into questions those conclusions by pointing out there may be more to the story.

In order to explore critical theory, Ward outlines the thinking of various contemporary theorists under representation, history, ethics, and aesthetics. These topics are each interesting in their own ways, and readers will be often surprised at the turns critical theorists take. Much of the thinking involved here is of interest, sometimes as much for how wrong it seems as for how enlightening it may be. There are some very weird findings from critical theorists, who are often involved in psychoanalysis and other projects to draw out the alleged sources of purported evidence.

Ward ends each chapter with insights into how the theories discussed may be applied to thinking about theology today. These conclusions are highly fruitful, as they demonstrate how even some approaches which seem at odds with Christianity in whole or in part may help shape theological thought. For example, issues of gender loom large and Ward suggests that critical theorists have jumped ahead of theologians in their thinking on the topic through explorations of how concepts of gender are formed. Whatever one’s thoughts regarding gender, it is true that theologians may do well to explore this topic further, whether from a critical (!) perspective or not.

One area readers may fault the work is that Ward, while engaging critical theory, is rarely critical himself. That is, he seems to adopt the findings (if psychoanalysis of entire fields of research may be called findings) of critical theorists without himself having a critical eye towards these same. However, that would be to try to make the book into something it is not. Ward’s project is to simply present critical theory and see how it might be applied to theology. That said, it would have been nice to have a chapter which engaged these theories. Those interested in the book should be aware that it really is the case that Ward essentially just reports on the theories and comments upon how theology might benefit from them.

Again, critical theory is far more complex than outlined above, but Ward has set for himself the monumental task of distilling it and applying it to theology, another field which he stresses touches upon all aspects of human life and experience. As such, readers should realize that although this book is engaging and compelling, there is far more work which can and should be done in this area.

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!

Source

Graham Ward, Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

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.

Constantine’s Faith and the Myth of “Constantine’s Takeover”

Constantine-1There is a narrative within some branches of Christianity (and some… “offshoots”) regarding church history. It is a narrative in which Constantine is seen as the great evil (whether intentionally or not) which corrupted Christianity. The narrative basically goes like this: Constantine rose to power, then everything went wrong in Christianity. He made Christianity the state religion, which introduced scores of nominal Christians into the church. He made service in the church a well-paying position, which corrupted the office of the ministry. He himself was probably not even a Christian!

So the story goes. Is it accurate?

From Narrative to History

The question of Constantine is one of history. Too often, people have subjected Constantine to psychoanalysis, analyzing an ancient historical figure’s mental state to determine his motives. Historical study may indeed speculate about such things, but to suggest, as some do, that one may uncover some nefarious ancient plot to take over Christianity and lead it into heresy is to engage in writing historical fiction. So what may we actually learn from the historical accounts? Peter Leithart’s work, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom directly addresses this question to pursue the “real” Constantine.

Leithart notes that it seems clear that Constantine actually paid much deference to Christianity (Leithart, 93; 121ff; 128-129; 326-328, etc., cite below). He was keen to prevent major divisions within the Church which could have resulted, for example, from the Arian controversy. Hence, he called a council at Nicaea which would define Christian orthodoxy for centuries to come. Constantine himself likely favored the view of Arius, but when the Nicene Council ultimately came against Arianism, Constantine submitted to the defining of orthodoxy.

Constantine’s life appears to be one not of a plot to take Christianity over for political gain, but rather as a life lived struggling with newfound faith and attempting to integrate that faith into public policy. Alister McGrath notes that Constantine’s faith led him to legalize Christianity and sanction it, with some interesting and perhaps unforeseen side-effects:

The new imperial status of Christianity meant that its unity and polity were now matters of significance to the state. (McGrath, 139, cited below)

The much-discussed question of why, if Constatine’s faith were genuine, he would have waited until his deathbed to get baptized is easily answered by his belief that he should wait until the last possible moment to gain the purifying from sins which baptism would provide (Leithart, 299-300).

Frankly, the more one reads about Constantine, the more difficult it becomes to imagine him as someone whose faith was not genuine. Like any Christian, he had his faults–he was a sinner-saint–but he also worked through his position to try to spread and unite Christianity. Leithart notes that many of Constantine’s laws were “more often Christian in effect than in intent” (304). What he means by this is that many laws he made spring from a Christian worldview, though not being explicitly Christian themselves. For example, he outlawed gladiator shows–hardly something which can be said to be explicitly Christian–and this demonstrated Constantine’s genuine concern for human life and the “image of God” in humanity which was noted in yet another law he made (303-304).

In another work, a collection of essays on  Apologetics in the Roman EmpireMark Edwards, having traced various lines of thought in Oration to the Saints (and arguing that it was a work by Constantine), notes:

[The work] reveals an emperor who was able to give more substance to his faith than many clerics, and an apologist whose breadth of view and fertile innovations make it possible to mark him with the more eminent theologians of his age (275).

It’s time to set aside the notion that Constantine was somehow “faking it.”

dc-leithartConstantine’s Takeover?

The “narrative” of Constantine has, unfortunately, often dipped into the notion that he was indeed a Pagan who overthrew traditional Christianity and condemned Christianity to political power-plays for centuries after his death. This notion simply does not line up with historical reality. Although Constantine’s enriching of the church’s coffers did lead to church positions becoming a political gain, it also provided a counter-balance to Imperial authority (Leithart, 304).

Moreover, Leithart argues that the notion that Constantine himself brought about so many wrongs to the church is historically fictitious: “[T]here was a brief, ambiguous ‘Constantinian moment’ in the early fourth century, and there have been many tragic ‘Constantinian moments’ since. There was no permanent, epochal ‘Constantinian shift'” (287). Indeed, the notion of church and state was something found seeded in Augustine’s writings (286) and although Constantine did bring about some monumental changes, the effects they had could only take place over vast amounts of time. It would be impossible to argue that the Catholic Church of the Medieval Period was directly the same or even the exact result of Constantine’s policy.

Finally, Constantine’s policies and actions “Baptized Rome” (Leithart, 301ff). He built churches, empowered bishops, called for unity, and deferred to church teaching. His laws, as noted above, were rooted in a genuinely Christian worldview and sprung from faith.


Conclusion: Defending Constantine

Was Constantine a perfect human? Obviously not. But was Constantine a Pagan who dramatically undermined Christianity; was he a usurper of the Church’s authority who did incalculable damage to Christianity? It does not seem so. Whatever your views on the matters, one must contend with strong historical evidence for the genuineness of Constantine’s faith.  His policies indeed may have (and at points certainly did) damage the church, but was that his intent? Again, psychoanalysis of ancient figures is dubious, but the actions Constantine took were those of someone with genuine concern for the stability of Christianity. Most telling, perhaps, were his actions that were not explicitly stamped with Christianity but reflective of his background beliefs: by seeking to end violence, help alleviate poverty, and the like, he demonstrated his faith.

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!

Sources

Peter Leithart, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

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.

Honoring Giftedness- Women in David Weber’s science fiction

The_Honor_of_the_QueenDavid Weber is the author of a few New York Times Bestselling science fiction series. One, the Honor Harrington series, follows a woman who starts off as a captain of a starship sent on routine (and initially boring) missions. The second book in the series, The Honor of the Queen portrays its main character becoming involved in a wartime crisis between two nations with whom Honor’s home Kingdom is attempting to set up an alliance. There are SPOILERS for this book in what follows.

The two nations are complementarian in nature. Complementarianism is the theological belief that men and women are “complementary” in roles, which means that men should be in charge in the church and home. I have discussed it and the rival view that women should be ordained/treated as equals (egalitarianism) at length elsewhere [scroll down to see other posts].

What really struck me is that David Weber fairly presented firm theistic believers as a spectrum. In the future, the Christian Church has continued to reform and have splinter groups form because of this. Weber’s presentation of the issue showed that believers–even some who might be considered extreme–can be reasoned with and even persuaded to believe differently based upon evidence. Furthermore, he showed that even those who may line up on the side with which he disagrees are not all (or even mostly) blinded by faith or foolishness. Rather, although there are some truly evil and disillusioned people, Weber shows that many are capable of changing their position or at least acknowledging that rival views are worth consideration.

The most vivid portrayal of this theme is found in a conversation between Admiral Courvosier and Admiral Yakanov. Courvosier is from the same nation as Honor Harrington and wholly endorses his female officer in a position of command. They discuss Captain Honor Harrington:

[Yanakov responds to Courvosier’s question about his society’s reaction to Honor]: “If Captain Harrington is as outstanding an officer as you believe–as believe–she invalidates all our concepts of womanhood. She means we’re wrong, that our religion is wrong. She means we’ve spent nine centuries being wrong… I think we can admit our error, in time. Not easily… but I believe we can do it.”

“Yet if we do[” Yanakov continues, “]what happens to Grayson [Yanakov’s world]? You’ve met two of my wives. I love all three of them dearly… but your Captain Harrington, just by existing, tells me I’ve made them less than they could have been… Less capable of her independence, her ability to accept responsibility and risk… How do I know where my doubts over their capability stop being genuine love and concern?” (96, cited below)

The exchange is characteristic of the way Grayson’s people are treated throughout the book. They are real people, capable of interacting with other views in honest ways. They feel challenged by a view contrary to their own. Some react poorly, and there are extremists who are blinded by hatred and anger. Yet all of them are treated as people with real concerns shaped by their upbringing and backgrounds.

Honor Harrington ends up saving Grayson, and at the end of the book, she is commended by the rulers of that planet. She talks to the “Protector” [read: king/president] of Grayson:

“You see,” [said the Protector] “we need you.”

Need me, Sir?” [Responded Honor]

“Yes, Grayson faces tremendous changes… You’ll be the first woman in our history to hold land… and we need you as a model–and a challenge–as we bring our women fully into our society.” (419)

Weber thus allows for even ardent supporters of specific religious backgrounds to respond to reasoned argument and to change. They are capable of interacting on a human level and deserve every bit of respect as those who disagree with them. Again, there are those who are radicals and will not be reasoned with, but they are the minority and they do not win out.

The dialogue presented in this book provides some interesting insight into facets of the present dialogue between complementarians and egalitarians. David Weber’s fictional character presented a challenge to the Grayson’s notions of what it meant to be a woman by being an excellent officer and professional. There are, it seems, real “Honor Harringtons” out there, challenging preconceived notions of what it is to be a woman. When, for example, a woman takes on the role of leadership in the church and succeeds, that should not be dismissed as a fluke, but rather a challenge to a paradigm which may itself be undercutting women’s ability to succeed.

On a personal note, I have been challenged in exactly this way. When I was younger, I was a complementarian and was confronted by a woman who destroyed my presuppositions about what a woman “could do” spiritually. She showed that she could be a leader and present Christ to all without having to fit into role I defined for her. This real challenge caused me to realize that my notions of what a woman “should be” were themselves social constructs, not anything derived from the Bible. Like Yanakov, I had to rethink what my words and actions had done to perhaps limit the women around me. By God’s grace, this woman’s very existence forced me to rethink what I had assumed as truth and go back to God’s word to see where I had gone wrong.

David Weber’s own presentation of Honor Harrington as a paradigm-shattering woman is something that hits close to home for me. For you, dear reader, I think it is worth considering the same: who has challenged your view of what they are “supposed to be”? Is your view of someone’s giftedness directly drawn from the Bible or is it something that you’ve just always assumed? As for me, I think we need more Honor Harringtons in our lives.

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!

Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).

Source

David Weber, The Honor of the Queen (New York: Baen, 1993).

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.

A Brief Musing on the “Prosperity Gospel” – Psalm 4:6-7

raindropfernI have been reading back through the Psalms, because, you know, it’s what the cool kids do. Anyway, I came upon a passage which I thought may have some relevance for the “Prosperity Gospel” teaching (check out this brief summary and critique of this movement):

“Many, LORD, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’
Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
When their grain and new wine abound.” Psalm 4:6-7 [7-8 in Hebrew Bible]

The text may not immediately seem to have anything to say about the notion that God will grant us ‘health, wealth, and prosperity.’ However, I think it actually does serve as a brief refutation of this alleged “gospel.” I’ll break it down.

Many, LORD, are asking “Who will bring us prosperity?”

There are those who call out to anyone, seeking prosperity rather than seeking after the LORD. Rather than asking the King of the Universe to let His will be done, they seek out prosperity from whatever place it may come. The modern teaching of the “prosperity gospel” is a form of this, but it smuggles in the notion that God is going to provide such wealth to those who ask.

Let the light of your face shine on us.

Rather than asking the LORD for prosperity, the Psalmist David seeks only to have God “shine” on him. Happiness comes from the presence of God.

Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.

Here is what I would consider the dramatic turnaround: the first quoted section speaks of how there are others who are seeking after wealth from wherever it may come. Now, David asks from God, the only true provider, to give joy to him even when those who seek such prosperity actually get it.

Thus, we have a very real contrast: those who seek wealth as opposed to those who realize that the rain falls even upon the wicked and so they should rejoice in the light of God’s presence. The difficulty is not purely that the “others” are seeking from others; rather it is that they are seeking prosperity (more literally “happiness”) from God rather than simply rejoicing in God’s presence and Word.

Am I on Track?

I decided to take the time to look up these verses in a commentary after writing the above to see if I may be on the right track. There’s something to be said for the notion that we shouldn’t be doing theology in a vacuum. Samuel Terrien, in his commentary on Psalms from the Eerdman’s Critical Commentary series, argues that Psalm 4 should be seen as an evening prayer, likely even sung in the bedroom/prayed as one was getting into bed. His comments on the relevant passage note that “the poet is… saddened by the discovery of a certain skepticism around [him]… Happiness… which is lacking around him, may be due to a satiety of a materialist kind… For the pious, however, happiness arises from a grateful acceptance of God’s presence” (98-99, cited below).

Again, we see that the problem is that we should be finding our joy in the presence of God rather than material blessings from wherever they may come. Those who seek “health, wealth, and prosperity” are in fact pursuing the latter rather than the former. Psalm 4 should serve as a corrective to the prosperity “gospel.”

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!

Source

Samuel Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2003).

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.

Sunday Quote!- The Heartbeat and Delight of Christianity

h-mcgrathEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Heartbeat and Delight of Christianity

I re-read Alister McGrath’s Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth recently and found it to be just as thought-provoking and engaging as when I read it the first time. One beautiful line was about the core of Christianity:

If there is a heartbeat of the Christian faith, it lies in the sheer intellectual delight and excitement caused by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is the one whom the church finds to be intellectually luminous, spiritually persuasive, and infinitely satisfying, both communally and individually. (17, cited below)

I found this passage quite powerful. Jesus is the heartbeat of Christianity, and our delight. Without Christ, there is no faith. Without our Lord, there is no salvation. But McGrath goes beyond that: Jesus of Nazareth is an intellectually compelling person, which drives us to seek out formulations to explain who He is; Christ is satisfaction and communal unity.

Have you thought about Jesus in these ways? How has Jesus spurred your intellect? In what ways have you recently delighted in the person of Jesus Christ?

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)

Book Review: “Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth” by Alister McGrath- Check out my review of McGrath’s book.

Source

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

SDG.

Is the historical Adam a “Gospel” issue?

4vha-zondervan[Adam] must be a real individual who rebels against a clear divine directive at a specific moment in real time in a real place. (Barrick, 221, cited below)

One of the many issues which comes up related to the debate over the historical existence of Adam and Eve is the relation of Adam to Christ. Specifically: does undermining of the reality of Adam’s historical person undermine the work of Christ? Here, we’ll explore that question.

To be clear: we are not here exploring whether or not Adam really existed or whether there really was a real pair, Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity sprang. Rather, the question is this: if one denies the historical Adam and Eve, does one undermine the Gospel of Christ? Whatever one thinks of the answer to the question of the historical persons, one should consider the answer to this question as well. There are many issues to be addressed, so this post will only touch on a few. Write a comment to let me know your own thoughts or other issues you think of.

“Gospel” Issue?

In order to ask whether the history of Adam is a “Gospel” issue, we must first consider exactly what is meant by a “Gospel” issue. Definitions are important, and my own search for the meaning of this term yielded a whole range of definitions. Thus, I’m going to focus on a kind of working definition: to say something is a “Gospel” issue is to say that a specific doctrine, if untrue, undermines the Gospel [here meaning the glorious truth of salvation through Jesus Christ] and possibly one’s salvation itself. In the definitions I’ve found, and the use I’ve seen of this term, I believe this is an accurate understanding.

The Historical Adam as a Gospel Issue- Two Perspectives

The book, Four Views on The Historical Adam, provides a good background for exploring difference of opinion among evangelical scholars on the historicity of Adam. Most telling for our question is the young earth perspective and the theistic evolutionist response to it. William Barrick argues that the historical Adam is indeed a Gospel issue:

the biblical description of sin depends entirely on the historicity of Adam. He must be a real individual… in real time in a real place… [denial of the historical Adam] has serious implications for the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of Christ… [quoting John Mahoney]: “If the first man is not historical and the fall into sin is not historical, then one begins to wonder why there is a need for our Lord to come and undo the work of the first man.” That makes the historicity of Adam a gospel issue. (Barrick, 221-222)

Barrick’s argument seems pretty clear: if no historical Adam lived and acted in the Fall, then what reason is there for Christ to come as the second Adam and restore humanity to God? If Barrick’s argument is successful, it does seem to establish that the historical Adam is indeed vital to an understanding of the truths of salvation.

Denis Lamoureux takes up the challenge of restoring confidence in the possibility of the Gospel without an historical Adam. His argument is instead that when “behaviorally modern humans” showed up (about 50,000 years ago), they broke their relationship with God (he does not make explicit how this may have occurred). Moreover, he argues that Barrick’s argument is unsuccessful because it is a non sequitor–the conclusion simply doesn’t follow. Is it really the case, Lamoureux asks, that the reality of sin “depend[s] entirely” upon a historic Adam (Lamoureux, 229)? Barrick’s argument was simply to appeal to the requirement for sin to be an action against God (itself a disputable claim–does sin really require action or is it possible to have [actually] sinful inclination?–but we’ll set that aside). Lamoureux notes that saying there was no historical Adam does not undermine or remove the reality of sinful activity.

Moreover, Lamoureux argues that Barrick’s argument conflates the historicity of Adam with the historicity of the resurrection (ibid). Not only that, but:

The gospel is about Jesus Christ, not Adam. The gospel is about the reality of sin, not how sin entered the world. The gospel is about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, not specifically Adam’s sin. (ibid, 229)

Adam and the Gospel

So is the historical Adam a “Gospel” issue? Returning to our definition, it seems to me fairly clear that one’s salvation is not determined by whether one believes in a historical Adam. The foundation of faith is Christ raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15). Lamoureux is right to point out that the Gospel is ultimately the message of our salvation through Jesus Christ. The first part of our definition, however, asks whether the grounding for this salvation might be undermined. Romans 5:12-21 seems to demonstrate that Christ came to save humanity as the second Adam, and that a real person, Adam, really did sin and created the need for salvation.

Lamoureux’s counter to this is to argue that such statements are divine accommodation–that is, Paul did believe in a single, historical Adam, but that doesn’t mean there was one. The debate over this must wait for a different post, but for now I’ll just say that although I think there is divine accommodation in God’s revelation, I’m not convinced it involves allowing for very clearly false statements (such as the claim that Adam existed if Adam did not exist).

So if there is no historical Adam, it seems to me that this entails at least a denial of the specificity of the text in Romans 5. Thus, one could say that this undermines the basis for salvation. However, if one is willing to strip down to the bare bones of “Mere Christianity,” might one still preserve the Gospel? At this point I say yes. The basis for our salvation is belief in Jesus Christ, not belief in Adam. This does not mean that I think the historical Adam is unimportant or non-existent. Rather, I would say that anyone who does wish to say the historical Adam is necessary for salvation has yet to demonstrate that claim.

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!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Check out other posts on the origins debate within Christianity.

Sources

William Barrick, “A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View” in Four Views on The Historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).

Denis Lamoureux, “Response from the Evolutionary View” in Four Views on The Historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).

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.

 

Young Earth Creationism Does Not Have Historical Pedigree

800px-Carracci,_Agostino_-_The_Flood_-_1616-1618

Young Earth Creationists often claim that their view has been the position of the church since its earliest period. Here, I will challenge that notion and argue that, instead, modern creationism is unrecognizable in historic Christianity. Thus, my contention is simple:

Modern young earth creationism has  no historical pedigree.

It is impossible to go through a comprehensive survey of early Christian teaching on creation, so my discussion here will be necessarily brief. Further reading may be found in the sources cited, below. I note that if someone wants to contradict my contention, above, they must present evidence showing that the claims about Flood Geology, etc. are all present in early church writings, or indeed any church writings before around 1600.

Now, it is a simple fact that for much of church history, theologians held that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Do not take this sentence out of context. Recall that we’re talking about modern young earth creationism, not just a belief that the Earth is young. To say that because, for example, some church fathers held the world was a few thousand years old and allege that proves they held to modern creationism is a blatant historical anachronism for several reasons.

First, the reason many of these early teachers of the church held to this view is because their view of overall history was such that the 6 days of creation should match up with 6 “days” of thousand year periods of all of history, culminating in the second coming. The literature on this is quite easy to find, but here are a few choice examples:

“the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a Thousand years… in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished…” – Epistle to Barnabas, (quoted in Young and Stearley)

“for in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded.”- Irenaeus (quoted in ibid, 35)

“[Because] in six days God made all things, it follows that 6000 years must be fulfilled.” – Hippolytus (quoted in ibid, 35)

These quotes could be (and are, in the literature) multiplied. The simple fact is that the earliest interpretation of the Genesis text was yes, that it took place in 6 days, but also that those 6 days were important because they outlined the 6000 years of all of Earth’s history, which would end in a seventh day rest of 1000 more years.

Does that sound like modern young earth creationism to you? It shouldn’t. I don’t know of any modern creationist who holds that the Earth should have already ended because it is more than 6000 years old now, or that the days in Genesis correspond strictly to days of 1000 year lengths that define the history of creation.

Second, even the early thinkers who resonate most closely with modern young earth creationism would not have recognized it as it exists now. Early flood theories often had the water simply get placed on earth miraculously and then destroyed by God, held to a “tranquil flood” theory in which the global flood didn’t make any impact on the surface of the planet, held that fossils weren’t actual vestiges of previously living organisms (an interesting piece of geological history), and the like.

brt-youngstearleyWhy is it that YECs take these writers out of their historical contexts? It would be easy to say it is due to a project of quote-mining to find support for one’s view in the past–and I’m sure this is part of it–but perhaps a lot of it is just mere ignorance. The volumes of writings we have from the church fathers, for example, would take years to read, and lifetimes to become well-versed in. Many haven’t even been translated. Thus, it is more expedient to simply find the quote that supports one’s view and use it.

But that’s not at all how we should construct historical theology. The fact is that the constant parade of claims made by YECs that their position is that of the early church is only possible because of a lifting of quotes from church fathers out of their context in order to support the position. Moreover, the people quoted themselves, though they would support the notion of a “young earth” would do so for theological reasons tied to their view of the whole of human history–one which I know of no modern YEC buying into. To cite them as supporting modern YEC, then, is a kind of baptism-by-decontextualization. Only by ignoring the very reasons the early church held their views and the theological worldview that the early church operated under can a YEC find support for their view.

An analogy might be helpful here. To say that the early church agrees with modern young earth creationists would be like saying the early church agrees with modern modalists. Why? Because, after all, many modern modalists claim to be able to uphold the Apostles’ Creed, which, after all, never speaks of distinction of persons in an explicit enough way so as to exclude modalism. Thus, a modalist could say “Our view is from the Apostles’ Creed.” Now of course this is an extreme example, and one could argue at length as to whether the modalist is actually agreeing with the historic Creed, however, the point is that simply finding a single point of doctrine with which one agrees does not mean that one holds to an historic Christian view. It is instead to treat a system of doctrine as something which may be broken apart piecemeal into individual affirmations and then find one of these affirmations with which one agrees. But that doesn’t show one agrees to the system, only to one decontextualized part.

Thus, the best a modern YEC can claim is that the early church also felt the Earth was only a few thousand years old. But to leave it at that is disingenuous, because it paints a picture as though the early church believed this for the same reasons the modern YEC does, but that is not the case. Or perhaps instead it is to, as noted above, just break apart doctrinal systems into component parts and just pick what suits oneself. In either case, it is a mistaken way to approach the question.

The reason the early church held to the young earth was because, as noted above, of their view of the history of the Earth corresponding to 6 days of 1000 years each, not because of alleged geological evidence for a global, catastrophic flood. Although some of the early writers did not hold to this 6 – 1000 paradigm, it is very clear from their writings that there was absolutely no familiarity with the kind of “the Flood did it” reasoning which is so pervasive in YEC today. Modern creationism is founded upon Flood Geology, an absolutely foreign concept to the earliest church teachings.

Indeed, the notion that the early church would have even recognized modern YEC is a bit absurd. Modern YECs use the Noachian Deluge to explain the fossil record, stratification, and the like. But up until John Ray’s time period in the late 1600s, it had been assumed fossils were simply tricks of the rock, not vestiges of once-living organisms (for some interesting reading on this history, check out this post on John Ray). Thus, someone living earlier would simply not have understood what was meant by saying fossils were due to the Flood, let alone knowing what fossils even refer to! Moreover, stratification as a studied feature of geology didn’t really begin in earnest until the 1800s. Again, to then attribute Flood theories back to the early church is wrongheaded.

The Bottom Line

To put what we’ve reviewed above all together: modern young earth creationism does agree with the historical church broadly on the age of the Earth. That’s it. But the categories of thought in which the church has historically envisioned the history of the universe–the very context which YECs try to link their views–have no points of contact with modern creationism. Indeed, they would have been baffling to the early church because these points of contact with Flood Geology simply do not exist. The reasons the early church believed in a “young earth” were linked to their own faulty reading of Scriptures, and an eschatology not shared by modern YECs. In short, Modern Young Earth Creationism has no historical pedigree.

The Young Earth Challenge, Restored

‘Ah!’ one might exclaim. ‘That means that, at least, the early church held to the notion that the Earth was young.’

Well yes, it does mean that. But that hardly justifies belief in modern YEC. Modern YEC is an invention intended to unify the geologic record with an interpretation of the Bible. It is itself an entire system. This interpretation, which leads to speculation about the way the flood formed the geologic record, is not found in the early church. If you disagree, find it for me. Demonstrate that, say, Irenaeus when he wrote about the entire history of the Earth as corresponding to 6 days of 1000 years each, was actually speaking of how Noah’s Flood shaped the geology of the planet in order to layer sediment one atop the other. If one cannot do this, they should not claim to garner support for YEC from the early church.

Once more, YEC has no historical pedigree.

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!

“Oceans of Kansas,” Unexpected Fossils, and Young Earth Creationism- I discuss the alleged findings out out-of-sequences fossils in the fossil record and how YEC explanations fail to show they are attributable to a global catastrophic Flood.

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Source and Further Reading

Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).

Stanley L. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages (New York: Thomas Moore Press, 1992).

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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