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theology

This category contains 122 posts

Bonhoeffer on American Christianity

dietrich_bonhoefferDietrich Bonhoeffer has been criticized by people from many angles. Some criticize him for being too liberal; others, for not being liberal enough. Yet it is interesting to read what the man himself had to say, and indeed his words make it clear that he was, in fact, in that rather lonely area in the middle where answers cannot so easily be given to “simple” questions.

I’ve been reading through Bonhoeffer’s collected works, and came across yet another quote that struck me. He studied in New York at Union Theological Seminary for a year, and in Volume 10 of his collected works, Barcelona, Berlin, New York 1928-1931, there exists his report on his time there. In that report (itself undated, though sometime in 1931), he noted that the seminary had many students and teachers entirely dedicated to socialization and thus secularizing Christianity. The problem was that they reduced Christianity to a message of social justice.

On the other hand, Bonhoeffer was also critical of several aspects of American Fundamentalism, and would certainly be critical of the same today.

In a particularly insightful section, he notes difficulties of both the religious “right” and “left” (however unhelpful those categories are. He wrote:

The theological spirit at Union Theological Seminary is accelerating the process of the secularization of Christianity in America. Its criticism is directed essentially at fundamentalism and to a certain extent also at the radical humanists in Chicago; such criticism is healthy and necessary. But the foundation on which one might rebuild after tearing down is not able to support the weight. The collapse destroys it as well. A seminary in which numerous students openly laugh during a public lecture because they find it amusing when a passage on sin and forgiveness from Luther’s de servo arbitrio [On the Bondage of the Will] is cited has obviously, despite its many advantages, forgotten what Christian theology in its very essence stands for. (DBW 10, 309-310).

Thus, Bonhoeffer can be seen here noting that both ends of the theological spectrum have difficulties. He expands on his issues with “fundamentalism” elsewhere (see, for example, Creation and Fall), but here he only hints at it needing some correction. On the other hand, he also notes that it is all too easy to fall into the trap of turning Christianity into a club of social programs, rather than getting the heart at Christian theology. And for Bonhoeffer, that heart is most certainly Christ and living our lives out in light of God’s work.

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!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy 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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Ecumenism and Lutheranism – Reformation 500

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Ecumenism and Lutheranism

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Franz Hildebrand, two German Lutherans in the early 20th Century, wrote a catechetical statement in response to the question: “Why are there so many churches?”-

We are really supposed to be one church. In the midst of our incredible divisions we urgently seek communion among all Christians. It will only be possible for us humans ever to have it if we keep waiting and believing [in Christ] who is faithful to his church. (Cited in Schlingensiepen, 80, cited below)

Bonhoeffer and Hildebrand’s response is brief, but shows key aspects of ecumenism that we can continue to seek today. The first point is to realize that the true church of Christ ought to be one both in spiritual and in temporal reality. The second point is that we remain divided, but seek such unity. The third point is eschatological: we must realize that no human efforts will succeed in uniting the church; instead, we hope for Christ’s return to bring about the ultimate unity of His Church.

Elsewhere, Bonhoeffer points out that ecumenical movements must never disregard that real differences in belief and doctrine and practice exist among the present day church. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer followed his own catechetical statement and urgently sought unity and communion among all Christians. Ecumenism does not mean ignoring all differences or agreeing they don’t matter; instead, we acknowledge our differences and seek to find unity where it does exist.

The church body to which I belong, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has recently made an ecumenical statement that both acknowledges continued difference and shows points of unity with the Roman Catholic church: the Declaration on the Way. I believe this document is an important one, particularly as we continue to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The ultimate prayer for ecumenism, I believe, is “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

Sources

Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance translated by Isabel Best (New York: Continuum, 2010).

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!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

SDG.

——

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.

Too much friendship? A response to Desiring God’s “More than BFFs”

Complementarianism is the theological belief that men and women have different roles in the church and home and that these roles are ordained by God. Some have turned complementarianism into a system that controls every aspect of life. Few places make that more clear than some of the major websites that support that theological system. One of these sites, Desiring God, had an article entitled “More than BFFs: When Friendship Goes Too Far.” I could not believe what I read as I went through that article, and felt a response was necessary.

In this article, written by Kelly Needham, the main point is that friendship or friends may “take the place of God in your heart” and that we ought to defend ourselves from having friendships that do that. What I think the article reveals, in fact, is that some applications of complementarian theology lead to control beliefs that cause fear even in relationships that should be comforting.

Needham gives examples of relationships that, in her opinion, have gone too far. These examples are indicative of what is to come. The first is of a pair of friends who complement each other well–one is organized, the other is not, etc. They grow to be best friends. When one of the friends’ husbands gets a job that requires them to move, the other is devastated. Needham writes that the friend’s “despair was difficult to hide.” The second example is of roommates in college (?) that get along so well that they do almost everything together and others joke that they’re “joined at the hip.” The third example is of a woman who is shockingly (I say this tongue-in-cheek) single at 30 years old! She finds a younger woman who is eager to have her as a mentor and jumps on the opportunity. Later, when she gets asked on a date, she hesitates to say yes because she’s worried it could have an impact on her friendship.

What do you get from these examples? The first is a close friendship in which a woman is unhappy to see her best friend move away. The second is a close friendship in college. The third is a woman who doesn’t immediately jump on every man who asks her on a date, and one of those reasons is because she has a friendship she doesn’t want to change.

Well, Needham does see something nefarious here. She writes:

What do all these stories have in common? In each case, a friend became something more.

I honestly re-read the beginning of the article at this point the first time through because the wording seems to imply a sexual relationship here. But no, what Needham means is clear immediately following these words: “Kara wasn’t just a friend; she became Maddie’s other half. Allison wasn’t just a roommate; she became Leslie’s place of belonging. Ashley wasn’t just a mentee; she became Shelby’s purpose and mission in life. These are all examples of friendships that had gone too far.”

At this point, I had question marks floating in front of my eyes. What is going on here? Needham, it seems, believes that these friendships are too close. We must be wary, she argues, that our friendships don’t get too close. We don’t want to replace God with our friends:

While we may be aware of our tendency to look to spouses, children, money, food, careers, and houses to find fulfillment, many of us have assumed friendship is immune to the same kind of temptation. Since same-gender friendships are necessary for our spiritual health, it’s easy to assume they pose no threat to our walk with God. But idolatry is always dangerous to our souls, no matter how harmless the idol may seem at first glance.

Yes, on this complementarian mindset, we must not only fear that our spouses or children might give us fulfillment, we may also discover that friends could do the same thing! There is an almost conspiratorial feel to the whole article that only gets worse as it continues. We can’t have “BFFs,” apparently, because “the world’s model BFF is, by all accounts, a functional savior — someone who rescues you from the instability and trials of life, someone with whom and to whom you belong, who is committed to you ‘forever.'” We wouldn’t ever want to have a friend forever, now, would we? But then the article truly goes into a kind of sadly comedic territory.

The whole article’s point is that we must be fearful and vigilant that we may tend to replace God with friends in our lives. So, one may reasonably ask, how will I know if I’m doing that? Fear not! Needham has given us the means to determine when this may be the case. She offers a list of “Warning Signs.” She writes, “How can you know if a friendship is threatening to take God’s place in your heart? Here are a few questions you could ask about your relationship…”

What do these warning signs include? Well, before we look specifically at them, I want you to take the time to once again think about the main point of the article in question: it is an argument that you’re replacing God with your friends. So, presumably, if the “warning signs” are accurate, these are things you ought to be doing with God, right? After all, it’s hardly replacing God if you’re doing something with a friend that you don’t do with God. So, be sure to replace “friend” with “God” in warnings on the site. In fact, I went ahead and picked a couple out to do it for you to show how, frankly, silly this is:

Do you experience jealousy when your [God] spends time with others?
Have you lost interest in other [Gods]? Do you lack a desire to make new [Gods]?
Do you feel free to “speak for” your [God] with others?
Do you have frequent sleepovers, often preferring to share the same bed?
Do you use nicknames or special language with each other?
Are you more physically affectionate toward this [God] than other [Gods]? Are you physically affectionate in a way that makes others uncomfortable?

Some may think I’m being unfair here. After all, Needham can’t mean that these things are what we ought to be doing with or for God, right? I mean, I’m sorry, but I don’t really want to be physically affectionate with God in a way that makes others uncomfortable. But no, Needham makes it quite clear right after the list of warnings:

If you answered yes to some of these questions, it is worth considering whether your friend is becoming, or has become, something to you only God should be.

Yes, in the world of this particular brand of complementarianism, it is problematic to have a sleepover with your besty because, after all, you ought to be having a sleepover with God in which you use special nicknames for God and are physically affectionate with God.

I really don’t know a better way to rebut the claims in this article. It is, frankly, ridiculous. But this is the kind of thing that some (and yes, I am emphasizing some) complementarians believe we all ought to be doing. We must watch out for the dreaded friendship that becomes too close. We must take care in all our relationships to never cross that invisible boundary where we may idolize other people. And no, I’m not saying we could never make another person into an idol or a new God. But the language of this article and the paranoia it engenders towards friendships is devastating. Moreover, the examples used at the beginning are all perfectly reasonable. After all, does Needham really believe that friends ought not to be deeply saddened when their friends move away, or that a woman ought to always accept every request for a date if there is no objection to the character of the man (okay, she might be intentionally saying that last one)?

I think this article is deeply damaging, and shows yet another example of how complementarianism turns itself into a controlling doctrine that seeks to dominate every aspect of an individual’s life.

Source

Kelly Needham, “More than BFFs” accessed 7/16/17.

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!

Read other posts I’ve written on complementarian theology.

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.

 

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers: Reformation 500

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_Bread2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers

Luther himself wrote on perspicuity in no uncertain terms:

[T]hat in Scripture there are some things abstruse, and everything is not plain–this is an idea put about by the ungodly Sophists… I admit… that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of al the subject matter of Scripture. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 110, cited below)

So far as I know, Luther did not change his stance on the perspicuity of Scripture. As the Reformation continued, however, it became clear that such a stance might not be appropriate regarding the entirety of every declaration of Scripture. Lutheran reformers qualified perspicuity, noting that it applied only to that which pertains to salvation.[1] Heinrich Schmid, in his Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (translated 1875) compiles quotations from the major early Lutheran reformers to outline what Lutherans taught. Regarding perspicuity, Schmid notes:

If the Sacred Scriptures contain everything necessary to salvation, and if they alone contain it, they must necessarily exhibit it so clearly and plainly that it is accessible to the comprehension of every one; hence the attribute of Perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures… But whilst such perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures, it is not meant that every particular that is contianed in them is equally clear and plain to all, but only that all that is necessary to be known in order to salvation is clearly and plainly taught in them… it is also not maintained that the Sacred Scriptures can be understood without the possession of certain prerequisites [such as the language, maturity of judgment, unprejudiced mind, etc.].(Schmid, 87-88, emphasis his)

Schmid’s summary of Lutheran doctrine in the Reformation period sounds different from what Luther taught in The Bondage of the Will, but he shows from direct citations that this is the direction Lutherans moved in regarding perspicuity. To whit, Gerhard:

It is to be observed that when we call the Scriptures perspicuous, we do not mean that every particular expression, anywhere contained in Scripture, is so constituted that at the first glance it must be plainly and fully understood by every one. On the other hand, we confess that certain things are obscurely expressed in Scripture and difficult to be understood… (quoted in Schmid, 89)

Quenstedt:

We do not maintain that all Scripture, in every particular, is clear and perspicuous. For we grant that certain things are met with in the sacred books that are very obscure… not only in respect to the sublimity of their subject-matter, but also as to the utterance of the Holy Spirit… (ibid, 90, Quenstedt goes on to deny that there are doctrines that are so obscure that they “can nowhere be found clearly and explicitly”)

Hollaz:

The perspicuity of Scripture is not absolute, but dependent upon the use of means, inasmuch as, in endeavoring to understand it, the divinely instituted method must be accurately observed… (ibid, 91)

The whole section clarifies and explains the earliest Lutheran teaching regarding perspicuity of Scriptures, and it is clear that it is acknowledged that not every single text is plain, that the guidance of the Holy Spirit, among other things, is required to understand Scripture rightly, and that plain passage of Scripture are to be used to interpret those which seem obscure.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, this shift in perspective on perspicuity happened due to the very real differences on some major doctrines within the Protestant movement itself. If every single statement the Scriptures made about  doctrine were so clear, how could such divisions exist within a movement that was upholding sola scriptura? The answer was that perspicuity applied to that which is essential for salvation, and that shift in perspective can be observed in the writings of the Lutherans listed here.

What applications might this have? The first is that the many attempts by Christians to argue for their own doctrinal perspectives simply by appealing to the perspicuity of Scriptures fails. To argue that someone else denies perspicuity of Scripture because they disagree on certain doctrinal positions is an abuse of the doctrine of perspicuity of Scriptures. It also shows an incapacity to show one’s own point clearly from the Scriptures themselves. A second application is that it acknowledges some of the difficulty in understanding Scripture rightly.

The doctrine of perspicuity is a major aspect of Reformation theology. It should not, however, be over-generalized and abused in the way that it has, unfortunately, often been used.

[1] In researching this post, I noticed that the Wikipedia page on the clarity of Scripture has been edited to suggest without qualification that all Lutherans hold to the notion that “Lutherans hold that the Bible presents all doctrines and commands of the Christian faith clearly. God’s Word is freely accessible to every reader or hearer of ordinary intelligence, without requiring any special education.” The citations provided to show that all Lutherans hold to this teaching are not to any of the early Lutheran reformers, nor are they citations of the Book of Concord; rather, they are references to two sources published by a publishing house of one form of American Lutherans. These sources are from 1934 and 1910, respectively, and not in the Reformation period nor do they, so far as I can tell, speak for all Lutherans. Given the evidence cited above from Quenstedt, Gerhard, and the like, I find it hard to believe such a claim could be substantiated.

Sources

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation edited by Rupp and Watson (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1969).

Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

SDG.

——

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.

Indulgences are Worse than Useless: Reformation 500

Martin Luther2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Indulgences are Worse than Useless

Luther’s critique of indulgences was a typical (for him) combination of insight and invective. He sought to clearly condemn not just the sale of but also the use of indulgences, which means parts of his critique remain quite relevant today. Here we will draw primarily from Luther’s explanations of his 95 theses.

Luther argued that the pope actually has no power over purgatory and, moreover, that if the pope did have this power, he ought to exercise it:

If the pope does have the power to release anyone from purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish purgatory by letting everyone out? (81-82, cited below)

The question cuts straight to he heart of the system in which the pope is exalted as having power over souls in purgatory. It is clear that Luther did not at this point denounce the doctrine of purgatory. What his point is directed at instead, is the claim that the pope does have such power. After all, if the pope does have such power, then why would he not simply release all the souls from purgatory immediately, thus granting a most generous and wonderful reprieve? The fact that the pope of Luther’s time did not do so and was in fact selling indulgences for coin spoke volumes about the doctrine itself and the need for reformation.

But the point still has relevance today, as one might ask the question: if the pope today currently has the power over purgatory, why does he not simply release all those who are suffering there? One possible answer might be because it is just that people undergo such suffering or bettering of themselves in purgatory that they might truly be, er, reformed. But then the question of the two kingdoms comes to mind. After all, such a response effectively strips the pope of the power that has allegedly been granted him, for if the spiritual benefits of purgatory are so great, why does he ever exercise the power he is said to hold? The argument can proceed indefinitely in a circle, which seems to show that the initial point is valid.

Luther, however, did not stop there. Rather than questioning the power of the pope to grant indulgences, he also noted the great spiritual harm such indulgences do:

Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security… Indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation. Those persons are damned who think that letters of indulgence make them certain of salvation. (82)

Indulgences, by granting pardon from sin or the consequences thereof, produce a false sense of security of salvation that may lead rather to damnation. For once one believes that because someone else has told them future or past sins are paid for by some collection of merit of others, they may believe that they are forgiven, when they have not confessed and repented of that sin to God. Thus, a false sense of security is gained, but in reality the person may be condemned, not having received full and free forgiveness of their sins.

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!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

Source

Quotes from Luther are from Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon, 1950). It appears as though Bainton was either translating directly from a German edition or paraphrasing Luther.

SDG.

——

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.

Life as a Cubs Fan – Eschatology Fulfilled

wrigley-field-cubs-winI’m writing this as the Cubs are tied 1-1 in the 2016 World Series with Cleveland. I’ll be finishing it just after the World Series, and I hope beyond hope that it will be in celebration of a victory of the Cubs in the World Series, for the first time in 108 years. I’ll clearly mark the point I wrote after the World Series. Go Cubs!

There was one night I was in bed but could not fall asleep. I believe it was when the Cubs had just tied the NLCS 2-2 with the Dodgers. I was bubbling with joy because they’d just tied the series. It meant there was a chance, however remote, that the Cubs could make it to the World Series for the first time since 1945. It meant that, maybe, there wouldn’t have to be a “Next Year” this year. Maybe, just maybe, it could happen.

As I was lying there, thinking, I realized that it was at this point I truly understood the joyful anticipation that the writers of the New Testament experienced. Jesus Christ had promised to return, and soon. How great that joyful day would be! But each day, each year, there was the thought: there’s always tomorrow. One day we will experience the reality that there is no more tomorrow, and our joy will be complete.

With our eschatological hope, we know that there’s not just a chance. It’s a matter not of if Christ will return, but when. And that is something that I feel overjoyed about and also terrified. What does it mean to say Christ will return? The world will be not just a different place–a changed place–it will be made anew.

Post World Series

I just re-read a blog post I wrote back in 2012 entitled “The Eschatology of a Cubs Fan.” In that post, I wrote:

I still hold out hope though, it’s almost like an eschatological promise: “There’s always next year.” Boy, we’ve been saying that for a long time. But I really do believe it: one day, the Cubs will win one, and it will be during my lifetime. When they do, I’ll be like the fan standing up, looking at the skyline, and just rejoicing. I’ll say “This one was for you, grandpa” and I’ll see him sweeping the streets in heaven [my grandpa would get a broom out and sweep the floors when the Cubs swept a series]. If it happens, I will get to Chicago, I don’t care when it is or how it happens. I won’t have to be at a game, or even there while one happens, but I’ll get back to Chi-town, the place I love, and I’ll kiss the walls of Wrigley, wearing my “World Series Champions” hat.

One day, Cubs.

One day.

That day has come. I can’t believe it. I will write up a lengthy reflection on the win later, but for now I want to put it in perspective of this post. The consummation of so much hope, so many shattered dreams that suddenly got repaired, is one of the greatest feelings I’ve had in my entire life. But this is nothing to compare to that which will come at the final eschaton–the return of Jesus Christ. That’s not to say the World Series win for the Cubs doesn’t matter–far from it, the world really did change, and it feels new as I wake up each morning. What I’m saying, instead, is that this feeling, this joy, is one of the ways God gives us to see a greater thing to come. It’s a kind of typology, but one that can be found in the mundane–even something as simple as a human swinging a stick at a ball.

And that, really, is what Christianity (and, really, Lutheranism) is all about. Christ has come into this world, become incarnate, and is in this world now. Our God came and dwelt among us. And those blessings given us reflect God’s good reality, and a better one that is to come.

I think it is true that I, and many other Cubs fans, can now say we know what a slice of heaven looks like, what it feels like. Hope will one day be fulfilled. That long-awaited day shall come. Christ will return. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, sports, history, 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.

Bonhoeffer As Reliable Guide?

dietrich_bonhoefferI seem to have made it something of a pastime explaining to others things about Lutheran belief, and often this pertains to discussions of Bonhoeffer. Almost everyone is trying to make Bonhoeffer in their own image. Whether it is the notion of calling Bonhoeffer an evangelical, or recruiting him to various other schools of thought, Bonhoeffer is enduring a kind of celebrity right now. That celebrity comes with its share of difficulties, including pushback. Some evangelicals have labeled Bonhoeffer dangerous. A recent article by William Macleod questions whether Dietrich Bonhoeffer may be a “reliable guide” when it comes to Christianity: Bonhoeffer – A Reliable Guide? That blog post levels a number of criticisms at the Lutheran theologian, and I would like to respond to this article, which I think misrepresents Bonhoeffer in many ways. I’ll not respond to every point, because Macleod overlaps points I’ve responded to before.

Methodological Notes

At the outset, I must point out a major problem with the article is that there is a distinct lack of citation throughout. Indeed, the only footnote is a reference to an article about Bonhoeffer, not a reference to Bonhoeffer’s works at all. Moreover, though many assertions are made about what Bonhoeffer wrote–as well as a few quotations–no references are provided, which makes it at many points impossible to easily track down the reference and so provide a full response. It is disturbing to me to see such lack of citation in an article that purports to correct evangelical thought on this theologian. How are we to evaluate an article that makes it difficult to even double-check the facts?

Second, Macleod does not define evangelical in this article, or provide a clear reference to what he means. Because there is great difficulty with the definition of “evangelical” in its modern and historical usage. Indeed, Bonhoeffer’s German Lutheran church historically simply referred to itself as evangelical–a tradition carried on to this day in my church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The problem is that the term “evangelical” often means different things to different people, a problem acknowledged in many circles. The article would have been helped had Macleod provided exactly his meaning of evangelical to compare his statements to.

Bonhoeffer as Liberal Theologian?

Macleod alleges, “Far from being an evangelical, Bonhoeffer was more liberal than Barth. He considered himself a ‘modern theologian who still carries the heritage of liberal theology within himself’.” Here we already see a difficulty with the methodology–where is this quote from Bonhoeffer to be found? A search online turned up other blog posts that give this same quote, but this one, for example, writes a citation [5] in brackets but then there is no referent for [5]. I finally managed to possibly track down a reference on a different article, but don’t have the book in front of me at this point so I can’t confirm it. However, even granting he said that, I’d love to see the context. After all, he could have been saying it in the sense of saying that he has been influenced by liberal theology, which was certainly found all around him in Germany. But of course Bonhoeffer himself, at the end of his life, explicitly argued against liberal theology at multiple points.

Bultmann seems to have somehow found Barth’s limitations, but he misconstrues them in the sense of liberal theology, and so goes off into the typical liberal process of reduction – the ‘mythological’ elements of Christianity are dropped… My view is that the full content, including the ‘mythological’ concepts, must be kept… this mythology (resurrection etc.) is the thing itself… (Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 328-329)

Those are Bonhoeffer’s words, written in 1944 from prison. Does that look like an acceptance of liberal theology? Bonhoeffer does engage liberal theologians, of that there is no doubt, but he explicitly notes the deficiencies of their theology and argues the opposite position. Macleod’s attempt to poison the well here fails.

Bonhoeffer as Martyr

Macleod, amusingly, questions whether Bonhoeffer was a martyr:

When we think of Christian martyrs we think of the early Christians thrown to the lions for refusing to worship Caesar. We think of Reformers like Patrick Hamilton and William Tyndale burnt at the stake for preaching the gospel and for translating the Scriptures into the language of the people. In no sense were these men involved in conspiracies against the state. Bonhoeffer died for being involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler… his death was not because of his beliefs, but rather for his ‘crime’ of conspiracy to murder.

I actually found myself chuckling here. I don’t know Macleod, and I know nothing about him. What I do know, and have seen many times, is a lack of understanding of church history among those broadly identifying themselves as evangelicals (I’m not the only one who bemoans this, on a different end of the spectrum than me stands James White, who I’ve heard on his podcast multiple times speak of the lack of knowledge of church history in evangelical circles). I preface that remark because Macleod’s comment about martyrs shows a bit of ignorance. If he wants to say Bonhoeffer’s not a martyr because he died for political reasons, perhaps he should go back and see that the worship of Caesar for which Christians were killed was, itself, a political killing. Virtually every book I’ve ever read on this early period of Christianity confirms this. For just one reference, check out the interplay between pagan and Christian apologists found in Apologetics in the Roman Empire.

Moreover, Macleod’s comment is amusing because the separation of belief from action is a very modernist/postmodernist separation, and one that could just as easily be used to say “the early Christian martyrs weren’t killed for their beliefs, they were killed for refusing to worship Caesar, a political act.” But of course that refusal is based on belief, just as Bonhoeffer’s ethical stance regarding Hitler was based on belief. Belief put into practice remains belief. The attempt to tarnish Bonhoeffer’s legacy as, yes, Christian martyr here bespeaks both lack of historical awareness and the overall tone of the article.

The Cross

Macleod accuses Bonhoeffer of decentralizing the cross because, according to Macleod, he did not believe in substitutionary atonement. More damningly, Macleod charges Bonhoeffer with seeing the cross as “an example and an inspiration.” I was astonished to read this from Macleod. Aside from the fact that Bonhoeffer wrote an entire book about Jesus Christ being the center not just of our faith but as the center of human history (Christ the Center, 59ff), he also repeatedly emphasized this in his other writings. Macleod stated, “For evangelicals the cross is at the centre of their faith.” I’m not at all sure why he thinks he should disagree with Bonhoeffer here, unless he just hasn’t read Bonhoeffer’s body of work.

Conversion

I’ve responded to this elsewhere, but Macleod’s words about conversion regarding Bonhoeffer are deeply troubling to me:

As a Lutheran he embraced the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – you are automatically born again when you are baptised. Around 1931 Bonhoeffer experienced a ‘conversion’, when he, as he puts it, discovered the Bible… Yet it was not what evangelicals normally call conversion, or what the Scriptures describe as the new birth. He rarely referred to it… He wrote, ‘We must finally break away from the idea that the gospel deals with the salvation of an individual’s soul’.

A number of things are problematic here. First, Macleod blatantly misrepresented the Lutheran view of baptismal regeneration by couching it in terms borrowed from Baptist theology. Baptismal regeneration is not about “automatically” being born again; it is about the gift of God that has been promised through baptism, even to infants. I’m not going to debate this rather obvious point here, but the fact that Macleod effectively dismisses Bonhoeffer simply because he’s Lutheran says something disturbing about his view of what it takes to be evangelical–apparently a view that excludes Lutherans entirely.

Moreover, Macleod once again conforms to modern American evangelicalism (not even sure if he’s from the United States, but the ideas he has are) by emphasizing the individual over the community. Any number of theologians have shown time and again that the evangelical focus on individual salvation is something born, historically, from a rather American emphasis on the individual rather than being something directly derived from Scripture. Not saying that individual salvation is not there, but as the primary theme? N.T. Wright, among others, has done some correction in this regard, and Bonhoeffer himself did in works like Life Together.

Universalist Bonhoeffer?

Macleod writes:

Bonhoeffer was a universalist, believing in the eventual salvation of all. He wrote that there is no part of the world, no matter how godless, which is not accepted by God and reconciled with God in Jesus Christ. Whoever looks on the body of Jesus Christ in faith can no longer speak of the world as if it were lost, as if it were separated from Christ. Every individual will eventually be saved in Christ.

There’s no citation here, or even a quote, so it is very hard to track down what he is referencing in Bonhoeffer’s writings. Of course, what he’s written here is not universalism, but rather a denial of limited atonement and, actually, the Lutheran view of incarnation. Luther himself emphasized that Christ is present in all of creation. With the incarnation, God is present with us. Macleod, again, doesn’t give a reference to track down, but based on the rest of the article I think he is just misunderstanding Bonhoeffer again. The Lutheran perspective denies limited atonement, and whether that is correct are not is hardly a specific accusation against Bonhoeffer. Of course, without a citation, all we can do is trust Macleod not to have misrepresented Bonhoeffer–something that, at this point, I’m unwilling to do. I haven’t read everything Bonhoeffer wrote, though I’ve read about 75% of his collected works at this point, and some of his books twice, and I don’t know of any reference that could be shown to be universalism explicitly rather than a denial of limited atonement. I await a citation.

Sabbath

Macleod again reveals how much he is reliant upon his presuppositions when he writes:

The Sabbath was given to man at creation. The command to keep the one day in seven holy was reiterated on Mount Sinai and written with the finger of God on tables of stone. Jesus kept the Sabbath and said that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath. Bonhoeffer, however, is quite happy to play table tennis on Sunday or to attend the theatre.

So, again, we have Bonhoeffer critiqued for being Lutheran. This is a pretty clear example of Macleod showing his stripes. It’s not so much Bonhoeffer that’s the problem; it is anyone who isn’t some kind of Reformed Baptist that’s the problem. Bonhoeffer was just a convenient target because people know who he is. Besides all that, Macleod’s words show very clearly that according to him, humans were made for Sabbath, not the other way around. But of course that makes gospel into law–and the proper distinction of law and Gospel is one of the central teachings of Lutheranism. But again, this is a debate for a different place. It’s fair enough to point out that Macleod’s argument here relies on a very specific presupposition, one that certainly not all evangelicals share, let alone Lutherans.

Conclusion

I have already written about twice as much as I meant to, and more could be said. It is clear that Macleod’s article is little more than a hit piece. There are no explicit citations to Bonhoeffer’s works (even when he is directly quoted, allegedly!), Macleod constantly condemns Bonhoeffer for clearly Lutheran views, and the whole article is based upon Macleod’s theological convictions, many of which I doubt he could demonstrate all evangelicals share. The pot shot at Bonhoeffer alleging he’s not a martyr shows the overall attitude Macleod has towards those he disagrees with, but it also–like many other points in the post–demonstrates a lack of historical awareness that pervades much of the church. Perhaps we can use his article in one positive way: rather than as a warning against Bonhoeffer–a faith-filled, Lutheran, courageous–yes–martyr–we can see it as a warning of the dangers of not taking history seriously.

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!

Bonhoeffer’s Troubling Theology?- A response to an article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological perspectives– I respond to a different article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We again see numerous misrepresentations and misunderstandings of Bonhoeffer and Lutheranism.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy 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.

 

Practical Lutheranism: What is Sabbath?

Martin LutherI have been reading through the Book of Concord. I think it is vitally important for one who, like me, claiming to be Lutheran to be familiar with the Lutheran Confessions. That is, after all, what we believe and confess. I have been writing a series of posts on Practical Lutheranism based on the Book of Concord. These teachings remain viable and valuable today.

What is Sabbath?

One of the debates that has raged within Christianity (with different levels of flame behind this raging, whether it be a mere flickering candle or a roaring fire) has been the meaning of “Sabbath” and how it is integrated into the Christian life. Volumes have been written, multi-view books published, denominations split or created, and the like on this topic.

Luther’s Large Catechism offered a way forward in this debate, offering an understanding of keeping the day holy that could be lived by the Christian. He wrote:

Accordingly, when you are asked what “You are to hallow the day of rest” means, answer: “Hallowing the day of rest means to keep it holy.” What is meant by “keeping it holy”? Nothing else than devoting it to holy words, holy works, and holy living… [The Sabbath Day] becomes holy or unholy on your account, depending on whether you spend it doing something holy or unholy. How does such sanctifying take place? Not when we sit behind the stove and refrain from hard work, or place a garland on our head and dress up in our best clothes, but… when we make use of God’s Word and exercise ourselves in it. [The Large Catechism, Part I, 87-88, cited below]

Yet Luther, as is so often the case for Luther (and Lutherans), was not content to leave it there. In the spirit of the Lutheran both/and, he expanded this notion of making holy to the whole of Christian life:

Truly, we Christians ought to make every day such a holy day and devote ourselves only to holy things, that is, to occupy ourselves daily with God’s Word and carry it in our hearts and on our lips… For non-Christians can spend a day in rest and idleness, too… but without keeping a single day holy, because they neither preach nor practice God’s Word… [Large Catechism, I:89-90]

Thus, for Luther, we ought to remember Christ’s words: we were not made for Sabbath, but Sabbath for us. Moreover, Sabbath is part of the overall Christian life instead of being relegated to merely one part of the week. Making the day holy is something we ought always be doing: reflecting on God’s Word, singing Psalms, and praying.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

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!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, 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.

 

Book Review: “The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology” by Jordan Cooper

tgd-cooperThe Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology presents a broad-spectrum look at Reformed theology from a Lutheran perspective.* Cooper breaks this analysis up into three parts: Predestination and Free Will, Worship and the Sacraments, and Salvation. These parts are intended to show the greatest dividing lines between Reformed and Lutheran thought.

It is really quite exciting to see how well-read Cooper is on both Reformed and Lutheran thought. On the Reformed side, he frequently cites Calvin (of course), Bavinck, Edwards, Piper, Grudem, and more. On the Lutheran side, he draws from Luther, Chemnitz, Melanchthon, Kolb, and more. This thorough use of sources on both sides helps shield against bias, as Cooper continually cites the words of prominent theologians of each tradition.

Cooper provides in each chapter a presentation of Reformed thought on the topic, drawing extensively from prominent Reformed thinkers past and present, as well as various Reformed Confessions. Then, he provides a look at the Lutheran perspective, often quoting the Lutheran Confessions as well as prominent Lutheran thinkers. After providing this comparison, Cooper argues for the Lutheran position, noting the points of divergence along the way. At many points, this analysis is fairly robust. However, at other points Cooper does swiftly move from one point to another before providing enough to establish each point.

One of the things that comes to the front most clearly in the book is just how close Reformed and Lutheran thought are on a number of issues. Unfortunately, as close as the two traditions come on many areas, the chasm between the two remains vast. This is particularly clear in regards to the Sacraments and Predestination. I was also pretty surprised to see how different the Reformed and Lutheran view regarding worship is. The regulative principle within Reformed thought–that whatever is not commanded in Scripture ought not to be done in worship–was something that startled me. I hadn’t considered such a position, but Cooper showed the arguments for and against this position, coming down on the side of Lutheranism (again, he’s coming from that perspective), which sees worship as something that God allows for more leeway in than do Reformed thinkers.

It is truly amazing how much information Cooper manages to convey in just 200 pages. Readers are introduced to both Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on a number of important theological topics, treated to both exposition of those views and offered critique of the Reformed position all in a very clear style and form.

There are two minor critiques I’d offer of the book. The first is the continued use of the archaic “man” to refer to all people. There were, in fact, a few places in which I had to work to discern whether Cooper meant all people or just men when it came to what he was writing. A second critique is that because of the books relatively short length, some of the arguments on either the Reformed or Lutheran side seem extremely brief, leaving some of the arguments inconclusively demonstrated.

Jordan Cooper’s The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology is a vast trove of information and analysis. Extensively researched and well-reasoned, it will provide readers unfamiliar with either Reformed or Lutheran theology (or both) an introduction to each tradition as well as a look at how they may interact with one another.

The Good

+Engages with prominent theologians from each group
+Historically informed
+Treats Reformed thought fairly
+Vast wealth of information

The Bad

-Continued use of archaic “man” etc. as inclusive
-Some points are breezed through very quickly

*It is worth noting my own bias here: I am a Lutheran who was raised Lutheran and, though I wandered a little bit, have become quite convinced of Lutheran theology in recent years.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Source

Jordan Cooper The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy 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.

Christian Disagreement About Doctrines

IMG_0691Christians disagree about things. There, now that I’ve made the understatement of the century, I want to explore how Christians disagree about things. These usually aren’t just “things” but are rather doctrines–teachings that we believe and confess as the truth about reality itself. Not only that, but we believe that these are the things which God taught us in God’s very word revealed to us. That is not a recipe for thinking kindly of others when disagreement occurs. After all, they aren’t just wrong, they are in violation of God’s own word!

Some Personal Examples

Too often, the tenor we have in disagreement is something that reflects an extraordinarily un-Christlike manner. Several personal experiences have led me to writing this post.

I was once accosted by someone who had been directed my way by a mutual acquaintance. After summarily consigning me to hell and taunting me for being unwilling to engage in a debate with him, he asked me to direct him to some exegetical case for my position. I mentioned a book. His response was that he’d read the book and knew it was all wrong. Later in that same conversation he admitted that he’d lied about reading the book. I said I forgave him, but asked him to consider the fact that he was willing to lie about reading a book just because he was so convinced it would be so utterly worthless to him that he could just dismiss it without even having heard of it before. When I continued to refuse to respond to his insults (including his attacks on my wife) and his accusations of blasphemy, he finally stated that he was convinced that the reason I wouldn’t respond was because the Holy Spirit had shut my mouth and wouldn’t let me type responses to him because I was so blatantly wrong.

Was there any acknowledgement of how he was verbally abusing me and my wife on social media? No. Instead, his self-righteous assumption was that God had deigned to prevent me from typing responses to an angry man made blind by hatred.

Another time, I received a comment (not approved) on a post about engaging culture from a Christian perspective. The interlocutor suggested that I was a pagan promoting evil to fellow Christians. When I noted that this person had never even met or talked to me before, he responded, “I have spent a ton of time in cult and street ministry… If you’ve talked to one, you’ve talked to em all. Same lingo same, same pagan book reviews, same plastic cordiality, on and on on. Just switch the faces around. I have read and heard EVERY conceivable argument that will ever be possible regarding what you say… I am thoroughly versed in that unbiblical, antichristian garbage they taught you at Biola. Your fellow drones are roaming about the online countryside in hordes.”

These are extreme examples, yes, but they are just a few among the many, many examples that I and I’m sure countless others could cite of Christians acting without any semblance of charity or obedience to Christ to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’m not here throwing a pity party–though I admit sometimes that would be nice!–nor am I attempting to promote my own views which were being criticized in these and other comments. After all, I’m sad to say that I’m convinced people who hold my view act the same way towards those with whom I disagree. The point is that this is completely unacceptable in any context, let alone one in which Christians are interacting with fellow Christians, who are going to inherit the earth.

Some Reflection

I’ve already hinted at an approach, which is to remember Christ’s commandment to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is easy to say that, but how often do we actually think about what that means? I am fairly confident the hate-filled man who insulted my wife and I on social media while telling us to repent or go to hell didn’t much consider how he would have felt if someone did the same thing to he and his wife. Nor, I suspect, would the writer of the other example have been pleased to see me assuming that I had already conceived of every possible argument that would “ever be possible regarding” what he had to say… and dismissed them.

But again, these are extreme examples. I’m using them to highlight something, however, which is that we do this kind of thing all the time, just not on the same level. Any time we come along and refuse to listen to one with whom we’re disagreeing, or even simply wait for them to stop talking so we can jump in to show them how wrong they are–any of these times, we have disobeyed our calling to be Christ to others. Recently, I had a discussion with a fellow Christian with whom I had disagreement and they said they’d look into a source I showed them. But they followed that comment up by saying, effectively, “and I know that source is completely wrong.” This kind of theological hubris demands a cure.

A Way Forward

First, we need to note it is perfectly okay to think you’re right about something. That’s not what is at issue here. What is our concern is how we express disagreement. Second, I think it is important to not only focus on what I’d like others to change about their attitude, but also on how might change to understand others better.

One thing I have found helpful is to try to remember the spectrum of theological humility and theological unity. Theological humility is an approach which we can take to admit that we may be wrong. I am a fallible human, so my interpretation of God’s words could be mistaken. Theological unity is an emphasis on the importance of agreement. People will fall along a spectrum of positions between extreme humility (I might or even probably am wrong about most things) and extreme unity (if you disagree with me about anything you must be an idiot). When in dialogue, we should try to explore where the other person falls along this spectrum. It is likely that if they fall on either extreme, a dialogue will be difficult to move forward. Sometimes it is best to stop a dialogue before it becomes heated.

Another thing to think about is our own need to be at least somewhat humble theologically. Yes, I believe I have rightly discerned what God has taught in the Bible, but it is possible that I am mistaken. That is because, shock of all shocks, I am not God. Thus, it is always possible for me to be wrong. We ought to reflect on the fact that we are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory, and sin impacts our mind, among other things. This does not mean we aren’t allowed to believe we are correct. What it does mean is that we should never be so certain that we are right that we won’t even give ear to someone who disagrees. Why? Well, apart from the fact that we would like them to listen to us (going back to Jesus’ words about doing to others…), we should also remember that our attitude towards others will likely determine how willing they are to hear what we have to say. Moreover, it is true that we could always be possibly mistaken, no matter what the one commentator quoted above said. We may think we’ve run into every possible permutation of arguments for the other side, but we are limited beings with finite imagination.

Concluding Thoughts

I think it is a good exercise to once in a while re-examine my beliefs about various doctrines. Why? Because I want to make sure I am always in pursuit of truth. This re-examination means not just reading sources which agree with me, but also sources on the other side.

Christians should be open to being wrong. We remain sinners, though we have been justified by faith in Christ. That doesn’t mean we will always be right about everything. We need to remember to be humble, that we are finite beings, and that God has called us to listen to others and respond to them with the same respect and dignity we would like to receive.

 

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!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for discussions about all kinds of topics including science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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