Monday, August 20, 2007

The Law

On BibleForums, I responded to a thread which was a discussion of law vs. grace. While I didn't address the first question directly, I did give a frame work in which to understand the law and the old covenant in relation to Jesus and the New Covenant. Here it is (one might want to see the thread to get the context though):

I'm getting into this late and I am not really responding to any one person, but I am going to give me view on the whole Law vs. grace thing. But keep in mind this is detailed and long, but it gives what I think to be a framework in which to understand the Law and the Old Covenant with the New Covenant and grace. Also keep in mind that I am not going to quote verses for everything that I can quote for (that would take me a little while to get done), but if you want to know where I got something, I will gladly provide it.

First off, I find the whole "law vs. grace" idea to be a false dichotomy, as if to say that law and grace are in total opposition to each other. I could accept punishments of "law vs. grace" since grace is forgiveness, but this is not what is meant so much when people talking about the law and grace. Sometimes it is taken so far as to speak of law referring to any moral guideline and grace to be referring to the lack of moral guidelines one must follow. Even if it is not taken that far, it is sometimes see as following any type of law (and not just the Law of Moses) is a rejection of grace, and that is something that I do not accept either. Beyond that, it also paints the picture of those under the Old Covenant being saved by works whereas under the New Covenant people are saved by grace and do not have to follow any codes of conduct to remain saved.

I prefer to, instead, term things in matters of "the letter vs. the Spirit," which is the comparison that Paul himself uses. Even then, I don't see the letter (referring to the written Law of Moses) as being in opposition to the Spirit, but instead the letter being a code which, while it is good, does not perfectly govern all aspects of behavior. Then the Spirit alongside Jesus' teachings and example of his lifestyle can be seen as correcting and completing the Law. What do I mean by that though? In order to see that, I think we need to patterns of humanity as a whole in order to understand the purpose of the Law, which then in turn will reveal the purpose of Jesus and the Holy Spirit with the New Covenant.

Before we go into this though, let me give you frame work in which I see things from Adam and Eve till the future in the new earth:
The age of innocence - From the creation of Adam and Eve till the fall of Adam and Eve
The age of ignorance - From the fall of Adam and Eve till the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai
The age of the Law - From the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai till the death of the Messiah
The age of the Messiah - From the death of the Messiah the Baptist till the second coming of the Messiah
The age of perfect knowledge - From the second coming of the Messiah for eternity
Understand that these aren't necessarily artificial distinctions where everything is constant at one stage and then instantaneously changes at the next state. Rather, there are gradual changes that lead up to the new stage.

Furthermore, I separate under the age of ignorance the time before Noah and the time after Noah.

Finally, I do not subscribe to the idea that after the fall all humanity was always totally wicked, but instead left to their own devices, humanity would fall deeper and deeper into wickedness.

So from the fall of Adam till the time of Noah, humanity kept falling deeper and deeper into wickedness. The result is that humanity came to the point that their hearts were thinking only evil constantly (Genesis 6:5), with the exception of Noah and his family. God's solution to this then was to destroy humanity through the flood except for Noah and his family. But then afterwards God said that he would not do what he had just done again. Furthermore, He states that from the point of youth (not infant hood but adolescence) people think of evil (not evil continuously necessarily). So if God will not destroy all the unrighteous as He just did but He wants to get rid of wickedness that people have as their enter their adolescence and prevent the decay of society that had previously happened, what would He do? He would do things that change the behaviors of men.

So fast forward to Moses. What does God do? He gives a law to govern the behavior of the Israelites. It was given because of transgressions, in order to curb them. However, there was four things about the Law of Moses that was given:
1) The Law did not stop people from sinning in the end, but as a result there were more transgressions with the Israelites corporately(Romans 5:20). A reason for this is given by Paul in Romans 7.
2) The Law didn't give any solutions for the most part on what do do when there was a struggle to obey, but it simply demanded obedience. It left people for the most part without any solution to the problem of sin that they faced. There were a couple prescriptions given that did offer solutions, such as not marrying outside of the Jewish race and destroy idols and their altars, all in order to avoid idolatry. But advice like this was not common.
3) The Law did not speak of how to do what is right (righteousness), but instead said what not to do (sin). This corresponds to what Paul writes in Romans 3:20-22 (depending on the translation also) Thus, it can not make a man righteous itself because it only speaks of some forms of sin. It was incomplete as an all encompassing moral code. This is what Jesus states in Matthew 19:8-9. Divorce was permitted under the Law, but it in fact was not fine under any circumstances. Instead, the Law governed only part of the sinful behavior, but did not dictate the right thing to do was to stay married (with the exceptions of course). Why? Because people were stubborn and wouldn't because of stubbornness and ignorance accept a prohibition of divorce and so it would surely not be successful at stopping sin, but a demand for a certificate for a divorce might.
4) This goes somewhat along what number 3, but the problems with rules can be two fold. Sometimes, people find loopholes in the law where it should in fact apply. Also, sometimes a rule can be strictly applied to a situation when it should not be. No amount of rules, exceptions, and additions can ever successfully get rid of those two problems.
Secondly, the Law of Moses had two aspects to it. Rules for how people should live (in a variety of manners) and rules for sacrifices. One dictates how people are to behave, the other "atones" for a violation of the laws.

While the Law was not successful at getting rid of sin for all those whom were under it, it was part of God's plan to bring a solution to the sinfulness of humanity. And the Law itself was good, but it wasn't a perfect example of holiness, righteousness and good, but only a partial guidance. It at least the got rid of some ignorance.

Now fast forward to the time of Jesus. There seems to be a change of the message that was being preached. In Luke 16:16 it is said before John the Baptist the Law of Moses was preached, but with the John the Baptist and onward (including Jesus), a new message was delivered. And we can see that in the preaching of John the Baptist himself. In Luke 3:10-14, the Baptist teaches people to do things, such as sharing tunic or food with those who have none, which are not literally spoken of in the Law of Moses. The advice to the soldiers (presumably Roman and not Jewish) especially is not strictly in the Law.

Now one might say the meaning of those things were in the Law, and that is quite true. However, this is to go beyond the letter of the Law (which Paul speaks of) itself. In doing this, one then recognizes the Law of Moses is not complete but that there are some form of gaps in its governance of behavior.

Now John the Baptist and his preaching were precursors to the coming of the Messiah Jesus. It laid the ground work, so to speak, for the Jesus in commanding repentance and in teaching things that go beyond the Law of Moses. And we witness in Jesus similar teachings to John the Baptist. Compare for instance John in Matthew 3:10 and Luke 3:9 with Jesus in Matthew 7:9. Also consider that Jesus' ministry incorporated baptism (though not necessarily by Jesus himself) which John the Baptist had. Jesus was taking in John the Baptist's teachings, which were the message of the kingdom and getting away from strictly preaching the letter of the Law.

Not only did Jesus take in the Baptist teachings and methodology, but He went further and totally revolutionized teachings about morality. Look at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. We witness Jesus talking about certain ideas that were derived from the Law and correcting and/or adding to it (though the Law itself never prescribed sin itself), so that teachings were brought out it in a way that the Law does not speak of. The perfect example is that of adultery. Adultery under the Law was only spoken of in the physical action. But Jesus goes on further and applies adultery to the intention and desires of the heart. Here we see Jesus beginning to overcome the third and the fourth problems of the Law that I mentioned previously. But he does that not only by His teachings, but also by His actions. He is the exact nature of God as a human, and so He knows exactly how a person should act (without written rules to describe it) and does so perfectly. Both His teachings and His example show a greater good that is closer to giving people a perfect idea of righteousness than the Law does (though not perfect yet, but I will get to that briefly in a minute).

But not only does Jesus teach morality in a greater way than the Law does, but He also gives practical advice as to how to overcome the struggle against sin. Going back to the discourse on adultery, Jesus goes on further to say that if something causes you to sin, get it out of your way. He does this too with murder and anger. Jesus' teachings is also solving the second problem of the Law by commanding people to go be reconciled with their brother (and this solves the problem of hatred which is a form of murder).

So what is essentially happening is that Jesus is presenting a greater way than the Law. It is not in opposition to the Law. Instead Jesus' teachings incorporate the intent of the rules in the Law of Moses. Many times even, Jesus agree with certain sects within the Pharisees regarding behavior (the Pharisees didn't all agree in everything). But He wasn't a Pharisee, nor was He preaching simply the Law, but He was preaching a greater thing that governed the same behaviors that the Law was trying to govern. So the Law wasn't really annulled, as if it suddenly became invalid. Instead, a greater way was presented. The only contradiction is with a strict interpretation of the Law without regard for intent (but we don't need to really worry too much about intent with the Law because Jesus tells us what we could know by the Law if we understood its intent fully today).

Furthermore, by Jesus' death (and resurrection), Satan lost his stranglehold over humanity (see my thread on atonement) and as a result people could be free from sinning in order to obey and serve God and thus people could have forgiveness (Acts 26:18 says that forgiveness comes when people go from Satan's dominion/kingdom to God's dominion/kingdom). His death allows humanity to be free from sin and not to sin as a result of rules (the process Paul speaks of in Romans 7 in talking about the Law). In doing this, the first problem of the Law is overcome.

Beyond that, Jesus fulfills and overcomes the sacrificial system, just like He did with the rules in the Law of Moses concerning behavior. One might say the Law is a type of Jesus.

In Jesus solving the problems of the Law and fulfilling the Law, one would say that the Law lead to Jesus, just as Paul speaks about in Galatians 3:24. The Law is a type of Jesus that He fulfills. But even beyond that, the Law also gives knowledge to men so that are no longer as ignorant in order for them to be able to recognize the Messiah Jesus when He came.

In all this, the Law is never annulled. Jesus Himself spoke against the Law being annulled in Matthew 5:19. Instead, the meaning of the Law is incorporated into the greater way that Jesus provides, the way of righteousness.

The Law is still usable for those who are unrighteousness (and presumably ignorant) at 1 Timothy 1:8-10, but it is not of any value in comparison to Jesus and is in fact hazardous to those who are set free by Christ (Galatians 5:1-4). Why? Because the Law itself in the Old Covenant is closed, and it is incomplete. By following it strictly, by the letter of the Law, one is no longer avoid all sin, but only the sins spoken against in the Law (but the Law does not speak against every single form of sin or how to avoid sin). But this is where the Spirit comes in. The Spirit in conjunction with Jesus' teachings and example shows us how we are to live and shows us without written rules which prone to human error in interpretation and application. It is by the Spirit through faith that we learn how to act and thus have a hope for God to call us righteous (Galatians 5:5).

Now as I said though, we don't have a perfect idea of righteousness yet. We are still in ignorance in some ways. But John writes in 1 John 3:2 that we will see Jesus exactly as He is so we will be able to be exactly as He is. Even in Jesus providing an example for us, He doesn't show us what to do in each situation. He is no longer here on earth. But His teachings and example gives us many principles and how to apply them, which is superior to the letter of the Law in showing the way of righteousness. We just don't know how to perfectly apply them so we are still left with some ignorance, but we will when we see Jesus exactly as He is.

But in between now and then, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and to take away some of our ignorance, so its not as if we are left with no hope of progression. He will correct our understanding and application of the teachings and example of Jesus so as to be closer to Jesus, even though we can not see Him now.

In summary, God is trying to get rid of the ignorance of righteousness that humanity has. The Law was a tool that had its purpose to get rid of ignorance and lead to Jesus. The Law has fulfilled its purpose and now Jesus shows the a way that allows us to be closer to perfection. And God will finally solve the problem of ignorance of righteousness entirely when Jesus comes and we see Him exactly as He is. This is also in conjunction with the power of total obedience to what we know given to us by Jesus' death freeing us from sin.

Now I know this doesn't address everything (such as punishment vs. grace), but it gives a framework to work from. I'll get into the other issues as they come up.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

My current theory of atonement (part 1)

So after some ruminations on the nature of the atonement, and I have come to the conclusion that the Christus Victor approach is the closest, if not precisely, what Jesus and the apostles taught. But in order to show this, I will work from the idea of penal substitution (although I know penal substitution isn't the only type of the satisfaction theories) and how it does not accord with Scripture and then progress onward to establishing the case for Christus Victor.

First, lets look at Colossians 2:14

Colossians 2:9-17 (NASB):
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
The bolded section is perhaps the seemingly strongest case one can make for penal substitution by attributing our transgressions as debts that need to be paid for by God. However, there comes a problem with that translation exegetically speaking. From verses 9-15 Paul draws the conclusion ("Therefore" in verse 16) that no one is to act as a judge in regard to food, drink, a festival, a new moon, or a Sabbath day. All these things are related to Jewish customs. But from what part of 9-15 (which I believe to be poetic or like a hymn of some sort) can this conclusion be drawn from? None of the other verses can seem to be viable to draw the idea of freedom.

However, it is possible the bolded section can be rendered differently and in such a way to make it clear where Paul draws the conclusion of verses 16-17. And it isn't an unheard of rendition of it either. The KJV renders verse Colossians 2:14 as "handwriting of ordinances that was against us." I would render it as "the writing against us consisting of laws." In this translation, Paul is not talking about debt but rather regulations and codes, codes such as about food, drink, festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths.

However, this still leaves some further study of the passage to be done. In the translation provided above, the beginning of verse 14 is seen as relating to "having forgiven us all our transgression" in the end of verse 13. If this is how it is to be rendered, then we should translate verse 14 as the NASB does above. And it is indeed possible because EXELAPHIS is an aorist participle. But I believe the structure of 12-15 would indicate differently. If one notices the structure of verses 12-15, the verbs are ordered as participle-indicative-participle and starting over with the PIP structure on the following line. Because of this I believe these verses are poetic or hymnic. And because the structure, I am of the opinion that the participle immediately before and after the indicative are related to that verb is some manner. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that the first participle is describing the condition or time for which the second verb becomes fulfilled, with the third participle relating to how the middle verb was completed.

Now all this might be a bit confusing, so let me just give me translation of the text (based upon the NASB)

Colossians 2:9-17
"In Him all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form.

Also, you are full in Him, who is the head over all rule and authority.
Also in Him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands by the removal of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ.

When you were buried with Him in baptism, in that you have also been raised through faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.
When you were dead in your transgressions and uncircumcision of the flesh, he made you alive together with him while having forgiven us all our transgressions.
When he erased the writing against us consisting of laws, which was hostile to us, he took it out of the way by having nailed it to the cross.
When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities, he made public display of them by having triumphed over them through him."

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
In this rendition, the "writing against us consisting of laws" is taken out of the way by the cross, which aligns with Ephesians 2:15 where it says "he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in the laws." And Ephesians probably parallels Colossians in reflecting similar language and thought since they were written around the same time probably with similar themes.

Finally this gives a fuller explanation of the meaning of Colossians 2:20 where Paul writes " If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees [or laws]." This statement is essentially a combination of the writings of laws being nailed to the cross in verse 15 and Christians being baptized into Jesus death from the cross in verse 13.

So in short, I think Colossians 2:14 does not teach a penal substitution or view our transgressions and debts being paid by the cross. My next post will be the relation between atonement and forgiveness and Matthew 26:28.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A theology of Chuck Norris (or Ten propositions on Chuck Norris)

1) Chuck Norris' roundhouse kick is not actually pain but is the ground of our pain.

2) To prove Chuck Norris' roundhouse kick's existence, think about pain. If there is some type of pain, there is obviously the perfect form of pain. Therefore, Chuck Norris' roundhouse kick does indeed exist.

3) The wages of angering Chuck Norris is a roundhouse kick.

4) Chuck Norris' roundhouse kick is Chuck Norris' revelation of himself

5) The destroyer that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 10:10 is in fact Chuck Norris.

6) It is a little known fact that the earliest manuscripts of 1 Peter 2:17 say "Fear God and then fear Chuck Norris"

7) Vengeance is the Lord's and Chuck Norris is His vessel

8) For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. But God so hated the rest of them that He sent Chuck Norris.

9) Many people do not pronounce the name of Chuck Norris for fear of using his name in vain and him coming to roundhouse kick them.

10) Any references to Chuck Norris showing emotion is an anthropomorphism because Chuck Norris has no emotion.

Yes, this is what you get when you have a insomniac who is now hopped up on caffeine (I have somewhere to be early this morning). I nearly considered nixing this post, but I went through all the effort so I'll keep it up, if for no other reason than to show you how horrible my sense of humor is.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An objection to Total Depravity from a psychological point of view

As I previously mentioned in my post about my theological journey, there was a time where I had believed in the doctrine of Total Depravity. As such, I had plenty of time to reflect upon the meaning of it. However, what I believed at the time was a more theoretical view of it since I believed also in prevenient grace and so I had a Wesleyan view of it. I however found the theoretical untenable due to my belief that the Bible speaks in practical terms. This forced a revaluation of the interpretation of the passages that it came from and in the end I came to believe that Total Depravity was a interpretation that failed to take into consideration the context. From that point since, I have reflected a lot on its faults and how it is essentially untenable in my opinion, which is what I am about to present.

Total Depravity states that every part of man has been corrupted. Its not that they are as bad as possible, but that they are bad in all ways. In other words, every ability of a person is affected.

Jesus preaching about the Kingdom gave two requirements to get into it: repentance and faith. A Calvinist would say that a person is incapable of repenting and believing in God unless God bestowed grace upon them first, from which the man will irresistibly repent and believe. In the natural state though, either it is impossible for the man or the man can never be willing to.

Lets look at the regular world so to speak that isn't explicitly religious. There are many examples of people who repent of something they have done or even of their whole life style, and they are sincere as they do change in some regards. There are many, many, many examples of people who have faith in someone or something. Outside of the religious realm, it is clear that repentance and faith are very possible and do happen.

Because of this, a person who holds to total depravity would probably have to separate non-religious repentance and faith with religious repentance and faith. However this becomes very untenable as it requires a different "mechanism" for repentance and faith of a religious nature (or more precisely, a Christian religious nature) when repentance and faith of both the religious and non-religious nature are very similar in what is happening on the person's side. Cognitively speaking, repentance and faith of a religious nature would be essentially something totally different from that of a non-religious and that there is in fact no similarity between the two whatsoever. Despite the great amount of similarity of repentance and faith of the religious and non-religious nature, there is nothing similar between the two. This is an objection to the idea that an unbeliever has not ability to repent and believe.

However, many persons would state that in total depravity that man is not incapable but totally unwilling to repent and believe. In this form of argumentation, total depravity is primarily a matter of the irrational aspect of man (not in the sense of being counter to reason, but including the realm of the emotion and affect that isn't itself based on rationale) and not a matter of cognitive ability. But then this forgets the basic meaning of repentance, to cognitively decide to change that which we are otherwise drawn to. Granted, our feelings affect whether we are willing to repent but the irrational sense does not in itself dictate us cognitively decided to go against what we otherwise feel and want. In the non-religious realm, there have been examples of people who have been passionately for a certain idea or behavior, but then somehow they decide to change (repent). Once again then, a Calvinist would have to differentiate that form of self-rejection from a self-rejection before God when the only visible difference is the direction in which the repentance is directed.

Either way, there becomes a seemingly artificial difference between repentance (and faith) in the religious and non-religious realms. The result then might be to try to attribute it to the spiritual realm which would explain how repentance might happen without God's grace in the non-religious realm but spiritual "blindness" prevents a religious repentance without God's grace. At this point however, we are getting away from what is observable in the senses and going to what must be accepted on the basis of faith (and therefore comes from Scripture), but that goes beyond the purpose of this objection.

My point is to say that in order to hold to a form of total depravity, a person must relegate the reason behind it to the realm in which we can not observe (hence the spiritual realm). Total depravity lacks any basis upon that which is observable and does not explain that which can be observed any better than other ideas of the nature of humanity. To be very polemical, often times a belief that can not be backed in observation is said to be founded in the realm of the unobservable, and this is essentially a form of retreat to a "fortress of safety" since no one can essentially be proven wrong in that which is unobservable (with the exception of the exegesis of Scripture for the Christian). This is not to say that relegating something to the unobservable disproves it. There are many things that are unobservable and come primarily through revelation and faith, especially God and His nature.

So, the argumentation would move to Scripture then, which by our faith is the basis of the revelation of the unobservable. I will probably proceed to that point in future posts (although my posting topics are a big unpredictable and enigmatic at times). However, a few remarks before I conclude.

I can see how some might draw the idea of total depravity from Scripture. There are passages that can at first blush seem to teach that. However, I would say that these interpretations fail to take all the context into consideration (which is what I will probably address in future posts). And even the greatest exegete can occasionally fail to recognize certain important facts about the context.

The first person that I know of in Christian theology that developed the concept we would call Total Depravity was Augustine of Hippo. He came from a Manichean background, and Manicheanism to my knowledge had a form of predestination, a very dualistic world view, and a teaching about certain individuals that they can not possibly advance similar to that of total depravity (this was characteristic of some gnosticism like Manicheanism). While Augustine did reject the teachings of Mani, people do not just get rid of everything they believed when they reject a system of thinking but instead much of the way of thinking is changed gradually. And even then, it is easier for a person to revert back to a way of thinking they held previously. So, it is very supposable that Augustine, when he saw the passages that might be read so as to teach the concept of Total Depravity, he reverted back to his Manichean theology in that area.

I say all that not to disparage Augustine at all, but rather to show that it is probably no coincidence that the idea of Total Depravity first came from a person who held to a similar view before his Christian conversion. But then this becomes an argument about tradition, especially before Augustine, which is not something I am going to tackle in the near future. It is something that I might pick up later, but any future posts on Total Depravity will stay within the observable realm or within the realm of Scripture and revelation of the unobservable.

Monday, August 13, 2007

My theological journey, so far

Theology has been something that I have had a natural inclination to pursue ever since I started actually reading the Bible. I am by nature a person who loves to figure out systems (I especially like to try to figure out what is going on inside the black box), so considering theology is often times a system (hence systematic theology), it was only natural for me to study theology.

My theological journey has been a long journey so far in the few years that I have pursued it. I didn't start actually reading Biblical passages with much habit until around the beginning of 2003. I was an intern with a youth group at the time and for the first 4 months of so I had neglected to reach much (that sure is a very reassuring thought...). However, eventually the conviction that I had not fulfilled my responsibility in studying the book that is the foundation of our faith led me to start reading. I started off with the Gospels and then I eventually read all my way through the letters of the New Testament, especially paying particular attention to the book of Hebrews. My first major theological crisis was at hand (and by major, I mean significant for the directions I will take down the road).

To give you a bit of context, I am from the state of Mississippi where the main denomination is Southern Baptist (United Methodist comes in second). My whole family came from the Southern Baptist tradition. A couple of my great uncles on my dad's side of the family were Southern Baptist preachers, and one of my ancestors helped found one of the first Baptist churches in the state of Kentucky. Both of my parents also as children went to a Southern Baptist church, and while they didn't attend much in my childhood, there was a natural inclination towards that direction. So when I started attending a youth group and later Sunday School and then the preaching service, I went to a Southern Baptist church. My church was not a typical ultra-conservative congregation, though by no means was it liberal.

One of the big tenets of Southern Baptist thinking is Eternal Security. It was something that I was taught to believe, although I never remember being taught much about the biblical passages in my time in youth group. And then one time I asked the youth minister I interned under if eternal security was true and he said yes but he didn't know what passages to refer to. So I was indoctrinated with the teaching but I was not taught how to read certain passages that seemed to be for or against the idea of Eternal Security. This proved especially important once I started reading the book of Hebrews.

Any person that has even skimmed through the book of Hebrews can not miss the numerous passages that warn believers from falling away or sinning. When I started reading through Hebrews, I made special note of Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews 10:29. To any person that is not "trained" in how to read certain passages, these passages certainly seem to argue against an idea of Eternal Security. But having been taught it was true, I went through a time where I was trying to make sense of everything. On one hand, I had respect for the people who had taught me but on the other hand I was incapable of explaining those passages in my mind. The struggle was so great that one day I broke down in tears and asked a friend of mine what I was missing (she was Southern Baptist at the time also). In the end though after a few months, I ended up rejecting the idea of Eternal Security.

This rejection of Eternal Security (or as it is also termed by some "Once Saved, Always Saved") eventually led to my leaving the Southern Baptist denomination. In discussing the idea with a couple of my Southern Baptist friends, I was called corrupt because of my belief (although, looking back, I was not graceful at all in the discussion so I wasn't innocent). This led me to reconsider my "affiliation" with the Southern Baptist denomination. The nail on the coffin then came when I discussed the topic with the pastor of the church I interned at. In that time, he proceeded to fail to answer my questions about passages but claimed I was "proof-texting" (a favorite tactic of people who do not wish to discuss certain passages) and that there was no place in the south I could be a preacher at. This arrogance was the final straw with me. I felt I could not be a minister in the Southern Baptist church because of my belief, therefore I had to search for another denomination in which I could eventually serve.

This is especially a significant point in my theological journey because this rejection of Eternal Security is responsible for many other crises and theological reflections that I would have later on, hence I have spent so much time talking abut it. However, it is important to note that I was never really dogmatic in my belief at the time, but it was simply the one that seem to make a bit more sense than the alternative. I at times really wondered if I had been wrong and that Eternal Security was correct as I looked at some of the passages that seemed to favor it that I could not explain. Also, I had never really been exposed to the idea of Perseverance of the Saints in all this time, but I was fighting the idea that a Christian could stop believing but they are still saved. This crisis was especially significant also as I felt like my mom had believed at one time but still hadn't. However, at the time, I read Hebrews 6:4-6 to say a person could never regain their salvation. And had I been presented with Perseverance of the Saints, it might have been possible that I would have gone in that direction in my theological journey.

It was around this time of struggle regarding Eternal Security that I started to participate on a message board called Bible Forums, a growing conservative Christian forum. As I participated there I began to become solidified in my belief. However, I then came into contact with my first theological system, of which I had already rejected a tenet of it: Calvinism. The two Baptist churches I attended had not really talked much, if any, about it so I was relatively unexposed to the idea except in history classes when we discussed the formulation of predestination by John Calvin in the context of the Reformation (although in fact Augustine was the first major proponent of it). I had passed it off beforehand as being held to by lunatics and people who didn't actually read the Bible much. However, what I found were the people who held to the teachings of Calvinism were not as I had imagined them. They were relatively average people, though perhaps a bit extreme at times in my opinions. They also had passages that seemed to support their ideas, especially Romans 9 and Ephesians 1:3-14. So I began to debate the idea and had to reflect upon the Biblical passages for and against. This is my second major theological crisis.

In my time debating, in my own mind I was losing the war, so to speak, to Calvinism. I could not adequately respond to the passages presented to me at the time. My lack of acceptance of it was rooted in only three arguments. First off, philosophically I couldn't image how a God who loved the world would predestine only some to salvation but not allow it to be possible for the others to be saved. Secondly, 1 Timothy 2:4 seemed to speak against the idea of Calvinism. However, these two things where not very strong influences in my mind, even though they did guide me a little bit. My big objection of Calvinism was my rejection of Eternal Security. I rejected the P of the TULIP. Since P is the logical conclusion of TULI, by rejecting the conclusion I was rejecting the "beginnings" of the system.

Eventually though, I gradually began to be able to explain the passages used to support Calvinism and the philosophical arguments. However, the one doctrine that I didn't reject was the T, Total Depravity (because I was taking somewhat of a middle ground stance between free will and Calvinism and I thought there were passages that supported it). But I was left wondering how it could be possible to accept Total Depravity while rejecting the rest of the TULIP. This led to my discovery of prevenient grace and Wesleyan theology. I had finally come upon that first theological system that I believed. This would prove to be very important in my finding a denomination to work within.

But all the meanwhile, while I was battling the idea of Calvinism, I began to wrestle with another classical Protestant belief, justification by faith alone. It was something that I naturally believed since I had come from a Southern Baptist tradition. Also I was not a Catholic in the least bit and I was actually very wary of Catholicism at this time (no doubt during to my Baptist beginnings), so it was not something I influenced me. Instead, my questioning of the teaching was rooted in believing that a person could lose their salvation. Initially I had simply stated a person would lose their salvation by losing their belief. However, I began to focus on passages that seemed to state that by sin a person could lose their salvation, like Hebrews 10:29 (I had early on explained that passage by saying a person who stops believing would willfully practice sin). This caused me to question sola fide and then James 2:14-26 caused me to start down the path of possibly rejecting it (initially I had explained that passage in the typical "faith that saves is faith that works" fashion). This was my third major theological crisis.

I had one thing that held my belief in sola fide intact, the letter to the Romans (and my implication the letter to the Galatians). However, I couldn't at that time explain James 2:14-26 in light of a sola fide reading of Romans 3-4. Since I believed in Biblical inerrancy whole heartedly at the time, I was left trying to figure out which passage should be translated differently. And since the book of Romans is such a difficult read (2 Peter agrees with this assessment), I began to develop a love and passion for exegesis in order to understand the book of Romans. As a result, eventually I began to reject the standard Protestant reading of Romans 3-4 and I had finally rejected the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Now, at this point, I was in a weird place. I wasn't a classic Protestant. However, neither was I anywhere near Catholic even though I had rejected justification by faith alone (no doubt still due to my previous dislike for Catholicism. Around this point, I began to have a decent amount of discussions with a Greek Orthodox on the Bibleforums message board. While I was neither Protestant or Catholic, I was still very Western (Christianity) in my thought. I still saw theology with a very legal mindset. Additionally, by my acceptance of Total Depravity (though I had some questions about whether it was Biblical or not at this point) I held to a form of original sin similar to that in Western thought where we all inherited a sinful nature from Adam and Eve (though I never believed we were held guilty for their disobedience). Greek Orthodoxy, for the most part doesn't accept those two ideas because they are rooted in the theology of two Western theologians, Anselm and Augustine. While it wasn't really a struggle for me and nor was it one issue or issues that were related to each other, this could be termed as my fourth major theological crisis.

In the end as a result, I began to lose the legal mindset when looking at Christianity, especially salvation. As a result, I began to reject penal substitution as a valid atonement theory along with every other form of satisfaction theory. While I don't have an atonement theory per se, I have came to think Christ's death primarily set us free from sin (similar to redemption theory) and forgiveness was secondary and the result of being set free from sin. This aligns with the Orthodox view as salvation being a remedy for an illness. Additionally, I began to reject a sinful nature inherited from Adam or from our parents (though I would say there are genetics we inherit that predispose us to certain sinful things more). Instead I say that we inherited an environment of death and pain and suffering from Adam and these negative consequences make us choose between ourself to avoid pain or be selfish and face pain (and we mostly choose to serve ourselves without any guidance not to) and this process slowly develops a selfish and amoral center that is roughly equivalent to the Protestant view of a sinful nature. This also fits in well with Orthodoxy from what I know. However, I have many objections to Greek Orthodoxy that would not permit me to be Orthodox.

As a result of my changing of my way of viewing the Christian religion as a whole, I began to get suspicious (though not in a negative way) of other assumptions I might make in my theology. As a result, this places me in what will perhaps be another major theological crisis, the doctrine of inerrancy. I am still figuring things out, but as I stand now I am a little bit on the side of errancy, but closer to neutral than anything. It is hard to explain where I stand now in only a couple of paragraphs, but essentially I don't require inerrancy to read the Bible as I believe it is all faithful, nor am I prone to striking out certain passages as errant (especially none of a more theological nature) but instead give Scripture the benefit for the doubt. Practically speaking, with a couple exceptions here or there, I will work better with people who believe the Bible is perfectly inerrant instead of those who believe it is errant (because many are prone to striking out many passages based on whims or purely circumstantial evidence). Most people would probably not even be able to tell I reject the doctrine of inerrancy since I have only a mild rejection of it as of now.

While all of this has occured, I have certainly changed my stance on many other issues, though they do not have as tremendous of an effect. I view the nature of sacraments and rituals differently (I will perhaps explain my view on that). As a result I do not reject infant baptism, though nor do I demand it either as I have come to believe that it is neither mandated nor forbidden (something else I might expound upon). Also, a result of my crises, I have developed a philosophy on knowledge that influences how I develop my theological beliefs. Last to mention, this whole process got me to go from being a theologian only in my head to feeling my theology in my heart. I began to apply my theology and it slowly ceased to be a mere intellectual exercise.

As a result of my drastic change and essentially being on the fringes of Protestant theology (if not already out of it), I had a continuous search for where I could do ministry. It would require a place that was open theologically, but the problem is that I staunchly hold to my conservative moral values (if not become a bit more conservative with them). Most open denominations though are lukewarm, if not accepting, towards homosexuality. So that ruled out a good bit of denominations. However, one that is in the middle but it is for the most part in my experience conservative is the United Methodist church. And my earlier inclination towards Wesleyan theology (which I have since come to believe differently) led me to more Wesleyan denominations, which Methodism is. Initially though I attended a Nazarene church, but eventually I came to the point that I would join the United Methodist church.

So that explains my journey up to this point right now. I still have a lot of "traveling" to do, so to speak, but by God's grace hopefully I will continue to mature. I pray that I am following the right path as I do occasionally question whether I am merely compromising my beliefs or if I am turning more towards truth.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Having eternal life in the Gospel of John

A quick question that came to my mind. One of the big themes in the Gospel of John is "whoever believes in the Son has eternal life." We have often interpreted that as "whoever believes in the Son will live an eternal life" or "whoever believes in the Son currently lives a life that will last eternally." However, I have pondered a different interpretation: "whoever believes in the Son has the source/means of eternal life." In this understanding, having eternal life is essentially referring to the acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God, who is the life. Believe and possessing ("has") are parallel and Jesus and eternal life are parallel. (I lack the verbage to truly describe what I am getting at, so my apologies).

If this is correct, this would mean that when we believe in Jesus as the Son of God, we have everything we need to obtain to eternal life. Eternal life is in Jesus, in His death and resurrection, in His teachings, and in His example. Our belief in Jesus means that we have our eyes in the right place to possibly receive eternal life. By uniting ourselves with His death and resurrection (see Romans 6:1-6), by obeying His teachings, and by following His example we will live forever.

Believing in Jesus gives us the chance to obey Him. Disobedience to Jesus means we will not see eternal life (John 3:36). However, belief in Jesus does not dictate obedience, but the chance for obedience. And if we do not believe in Jesus, we are guaranteed not to obey Him and hence such people are already condemned (John 3:18). Whereas those who believe are not condemned presently, but this does not mean they will not be condemned at the final judgment, where those who do good will have a resurrection of life but those who do evil will have a resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29).

I am not dogmatically holding this, but something I am thinking about. What say ye? Any arguments for or against this, of the exegetical type?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Disturbing trends I see in the blogosphere world

I am one of those types that every Christian blog that I see (whether "conservative" or "liberal"). I like to subscribe to because I love to try to keep in touch with many traditions and lines of thinking in order to learn and change my thinking into a more Christ-like and Biblical foundation. However, in doing that I have also see my fair share of blogs that are used more to attack certain characters than it is to actually discuss theology.

There is one blog, which I will not name and I have since unsubscribed to, that most of the posts are basically accusing President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and any politician that is identified with the Republican party of evil. These attributions of evil are the wrongly judgmental type, automatically attributing the worst instead of giving the benefit of the doubt. The call as Christian to love everyone and not to harshly or hastily judge people apparently is not followed by many Christian bloggers, in politics (which I merely use as an example) or other realms such as theology.

I have also witnessed a few blogs that are explicitly about theology that denigrate people on the other side of the theological spectrum. One blog I subscribe to (haven't unsubscribed yet as it hasn't gotten my point of toleration yet) has the tendency to essentially denigrate, if not mock, creationists. It is not merely pointing out disagreements with creationists, but it goes far beyond that. It gives the appearance of intellectual superiority over those who hold creationist beliefs.

Many of the blogs I have seen appear to be more about getting onto a soap box. The occasional soap box rant is fine under certain conditions (or otherwise I am being a hypocrite right now). However, if we constantly are on the soap box, then we have to begin to wonder if we are angry people instead of being at peace. If we are constantly talking negatively about people when we do rant, we have to begin to wonder if we are judging unrighteously.

We as bloggers need to ask ourselves two questions.

First off, why are we blogging? Is it to rant? Is it to talk about how certain person are evil? Is it to show how stupid other groups are? Is it to show off how smart we are? Is it to teach, but all the meanwhile being unwilling to be taught? And so on.

Secondly, are we actually fulfilling our purpose in blogging? There is often times a vast chasm between intentions and actions. We may purpose our blog to be an edifying place to inject some of our ideas into the world all while remaining humble, but when caught up in the moment we fall short of edifying and/or humble.

Fortunately, I have found many very edifying Christian blogs out there. Chrisendom is definitely my favorite. Faith and theology is a good one. Leithart is another. Another one called Shuck and Jive for one that isn't one I see talked about or linked to from about nearly everyone (even though I am in disagreement with the blog owner in most that he writes). There are many others that I have not named but I find edifying, humble, and Christ-like in their tone. So I don't want to see that I am poo-pooing the Christian and theological blogosphere. I just honestly think there are some blogs that would best be served by not being out there.

*steps off the soap box himself, hoping he hasn't been hypocritical*

In other news, I have prepared a sermon for tomorrow about the "image of God" that I hope to write into something I can post here tomorrow. It is a synthesis of a lot of different theological opinions that I have developed over the past couple of months. Also, I want to comment on the idea of the Greek word kurios (translated as "Lord") itself being used to identify Jesus as God (inspired by Chris Tilling's series on Gordon Fee's book Pauline Theology: An Exegetical-Theological Study). But we shall see with all my reading that I have to do.

Additionally, I have found Paul Tillich's A History of Christian Thought to be a very good read so far, even though I see where he is coming from theologically and I am in sharp disagreement with his ideas in many areas (and it isn't about "correlation" since he hasn't gotten to it in what I have read, yet).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

And now it begins...

Sixteen. A small number if one is thinking in a large scale, but such a voluminous number in certain instances. Specifically, if the instance is textbooks for my first seminary classes. So, for your enjoyment, here is the list of books I got for this semester:

Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach (Revised Edition) by W. Randolph Tate
A Biblical History of Israel by Iain Provan, V. Phillips Long, and Tremper Longman III
Introduction to the Old Testament by Raymond Dillard and Tremper Longman III
From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew by Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.
A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament edited by William L. Holladay
A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi
A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Revised Edition) by C.L. Seow
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia
A Simplified Guide to BHS by William R. Scott
Conversion in the Wesleyan Tradition by Kenneth J. Collins and John H. Tyson
The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace by Kenneth J. Collins
John Wesley by Kenneth J. Collins
Wesley's 52 Standard Sermons... as he approved them
The Heritage of American Methodism by Kenneth Cain Kinghorn
The Story of American Methodism by Frederick A. Norwood
United Methodist Studies - Basic Bibliographies edited by Kenneth E. Rowe

Tack on the fact that I am trying to read other books (like currently, I am reading A History of Christian Thought: From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism by Paul Tillich), I am trying to learn to actually read Greek (instead of just knowing some of the grammar of it like I do now), and trying to read Jewish and Early Christian literature (which I have not done a great job here recently), I am going to be reading non-stop. On top of this, my Bible reading and performing my duties as a pastor (which at the moment is only preaching on Sundays and the occasional visit). In addition to that, maintaining my blogs (although this is last on the list).

This should be very interesting. I am not naturally an avid reader, so I have to develop the habit. I tend to lose focus while reading, but I have slowly tried to develop the habit this summer and have noticed that I can read for longer and longer periods of time before zoning out, so thats a good thing. The other concern is that I get lost in a world of intellectualism and I cease to be growing in my actual Christian life. But on the other hand, this is a chance for this to be the beginning of some very enriching and edifying years of my life if I learn to stay focused and maintain my own personal and Christian life. So I look forward to it. Pray for me though, as I will need God's grace to enable me to work through all this.