Friday, June 29, 2007

Theological proclamations

I confess that I blew off the confessions meme that was so prominent in the theoblogosphere because it seemed like it was turning into an ironically hubristic enterprise, becoming a vehicle for people to "confess" things they were already saying (or usually ranting about) anyway. I proclaim that the proclamations meme started by Halden is a worthwhile meme.

I confess that the word proclamation conjures up memories from my camp counselor days when, at the slightest mention of the word announcement, the entire camp would break into the song, "Announcements, announcements, announcements; what a terrible way to die, what a horrible way to die, what a terrible way to be bored to death, what a horrible way to die; announcement, announcements, announcements." Thus we were forced to give 'proclamations' instead. It still sort of freaks me out. As I attempt to force such horrible memories out of my mind, here are my proclamations:

I proclaim: that propositional truth is necessary but not sufficient for an adequate theological system.

I proclaim: that theology is not a list of hard-and-fast doctrines but about entering 'the great conversation'.

I proclaim: that theology is meaningless unless it is infused with life by the Holy Spirit.

I proclaim: that Wayne Grudem is a fabulous model for attempting to infuse theology with the life of the Holy Spirit but a dismal failure at participating in 'the great conversation.'

I proclaim: that one of my greatest theological fantasies is getting Jim West to speak in tongues.

I proclaim: that Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons, and we are not at liberty pick-and-choose which we will throw out.

I proclaim: that most liturgical churches are no longer properly contextualized within their given cultures.

I proclaim: that N.T. Wright is amazing when he speaks as a New Testament scholar and mediocre when he speaks as an Anglican.

I proclaim: that evangelicals need to recognize that they are not the only Christians, and non-evangelicals need to recognize that evangelicals are not all out to lunch.

I proclaim: that reformed theology offers the best theological options on just about everything but the five points.

I proclaim: that Augustine's contributions to theology have been almost completely disastrous.

I proclaim: that dispensationalism is the most absurd and bizarre theological system ever devised.

I proclaim: that nature itself teaches that theologians ought to drink beer (especially dark beers and microbrews).

I proclaim: that more theologians need to live out their faith, and more people who are living out their faith need to read theology.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Internet Rumination: How to change the World

Today I begin a new feature at the Hungry Scholar: Internet Ruminations. From time to time I plan to give you fresh information and links on a particular topic that will change your life. Today's Internet Rumination is how to change the world for Jesus.

How can we change the world for Jesus? Well, a good place to start is with some free online bible courses taught by real seminary professors like Gerald Bray, Ron Nash, and Bill Mounce. Scot McKnight has some excellent insights for changing the world in his current series on the "Missional Jesus" (He put out part 9 today). Citing stories from some of his friends who have had visions of Jimi Hendrix fishing off a cloud in Heaven, Leonard Jones predicts that the musical style of the late-60s is making a comeback and will be used by God to change the world. Regardless of Hendrix's current location, N.T. Wright reminds us that heaven is not our home, and our focus must be on changing this world. Maybe we can change the world if we understand why some people are drawn away from their faith towards neo-pagan religions like Wicca (very interesting) or how today's generation sorts through the creation/evolution debate (very funny). Changing the world will be easy if time travel is really possible since we can just go back and change whatever we need to. By faith, you can travel forward in time if you happen to fall asleep and wake up after a few centuries later. But ultimately, if you want to change the world you just keep doing your best and pray that it's blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kantzer Lecture Series

John Webster will be giving the very first series of Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology at Trinity this year (September 10-19). Modeled on the famous Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology, the Kantzer lectures will feature prominent theologians who attempt to bridge the gap between theory and practice, between academic theology and practical pastoral relevance. Webster's lectures will examine the relation between God's attributes and His interaction with His creation.

The lectures will be published in book form by Eerdmans. Just as the Gifford lectures have given us so many classics (William James, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, to name just a few), I hope to see the same from the Kantzer lectures.

The Bible and the Qu'ran

Clark Pinnock writes,
The Bible is not a book like the Koran, consisting of nothing but perfectly infallible propositions, a book that should not be translated or commented upon for fear of corrupting the incorruptible. The Bible did not fall from heaven. We do not need to wash our hands before picking it up. Inspiration did not make the writers superhuman. It did not cancel out their historicity and weaknesses, but guaranteed that through them the true testimony to Jesus Christ should come that would have lasting normativity and authority in the church. We place our trust ultimately in Jesus Christ, not in the Bible. He alone is the foundation and ground of our faith. What the Scriptures do is to present a sound and reliable testimony to who he is and what God has done for us. The marvel of it is that he has done it, not through angels, but through ordinary human beings, with all their limitations. (The Scripture Principle, 1984, p.100)

Here Pinnock provides what I believe is the first step to answering the question I asked several days ago: What theological justification do we have to call the Bible the Word of God? However, if I understand Pinnock correctly, his own answer to this question seems to be church tradition, "that entrenched in Christian thinking of every kind is a belief in the Bible as the written Word of God." (p.ix) Admittedly his purpose is to set out an understanding of what it means to say the Bible is the Word of God rather than why. Pinnock's position is quite close to biblioblogger Chris Tilling's Statement of Inerrancy (Part 1 and Part 2) that caused such a stir last week.

I hope to publish my own views defending the Bible as scripture in a few days.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Blogging, Theology, and Worship

I have discovered how much blogging requires creativity, and all creative works find their best fulfillment in worship, or at least in service to God. Similarly, at least one goal of theology must be worship, since theology gets us talking and thinking about the object of our worship. Thus theoblogging has a two-fold worship mandate. But because of our natural tendency to twist and distort things, it is easy to turn our creative works into a shrine of narcisism and our theology into a body of knowledge that is entirely independent of God Himself. Theology without worship is like foreplay without sex. Theology that is constructed independently of God's Spirit becomes spiritual pornography, an enticing but illegitimate endeavor.
In my experience, the days that theoblogging flows from or leads to worship have been very fulfilling. Days where I have blogged about theology without God Himself being particularly central have felt frustrating and unfulfilling. I'm not saying that everything we write should be explicitly about God, but I do think that no matter what we write, God should be first in our hearts.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

C.S. Lewis on Inclusivism

In the last of his books written for children, The Last Battle, Lewis includes a passage where a servant of the false god, Tash, recounts standing before the judgment of Aslan (Lewis' Christ-figure, who appears in the form of a fiersome lion).

When it began to be said that Tash and Aslan were one, then the world became dark in my yes. For always since I was a boy, I have served Taash and my great desire was to know more of him and, if it might be, to look upon his face. But the name of Aslan was hateful to me...
But when [those in charge] said that all who desired to look upon Tashlan - for so they mixed the two words to pretend that they were all one - must pass one by one into the hovel [before them]. And I said to myself, Doubtless this is some other deception. But when [another] had gone in and had come out again in a madness of terror, then I said to myself, Surely the true Tash, whom thay called on without knowledge or belief, has now come among us, and will avenge himself. And though my heart was turned into water inside me because of the greatness and terror of Tash, yet my desire was stronger than my fear, and I put force upon my knees to stay them from trembling, and on my teeth that they should not chatter, and resolved to look upon the face of Tash, though he should slay me. So I offered myself to go into the hovel...
Then I looked about me and saw the sky and the wide lands and smelled the sweetness. And I said, By the Gods, this is a pleasant place; it may be that I am come into the country of Tash. And I began to journey into the strange country and to seek him.
So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant's; his hair was like pure gold and hte brightness of his eyes, like gold that is liquid in the furnace... Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hours of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him... But the Glorious One bend down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thaou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true... that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which that hast done to him, for I and he ar of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted... But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yes I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Interview with AlHaj

This is the first of what I hope to be a series of interviews on the topic of religious pluralism and the agreement and disagreement between world religious traditions. Today's interview is with AlHaj ibn Ibrahim Asy-Sarawaki, who runs the Reminder to People of the Book blog. I have made some minor formating changes from our email interview. Using the compose feature of blogger makes consistency in formating almost entirely impossible.

RTJ: Thank you for agreeing to an interview.


RTJ: What motivated you to start a blog that addresses the People of the Book?

AlHaj: I did not start to write a blog on religion. I actually started to write a blog on cure of sickness using Quranic verses. That's why you see the url of the blog was nur-syifa. The syifa verses in the Qur'an are use to cure sickness, especially person possessed by evil spirit. I do not have experience in that, but I would like to share ideas with fellow Moslem healers. The oringinal name of the blog was Nur Syifa.

When I started to put Google ads on the blog, I do not know how ads of Chritianity appeared on my blog. I wrote to Blogger to rid off the ads. They told to me to use the ads filter. I tried but the ads filter did not function. I created the blog by trial and error until it becomes what it is now, and I came to learn the type of ads coming to your blog depend on the words appearing in your posts. If you write about Islam or Chritianity, ads relevant to them will finally appear on your blog automatically. So I have to lived with them. In a way with the ads I am indirectly propagating Christianity but on the other hand the ads help me to keep abreast of what is happening in the Christian world.

I am not an Islamic scholar, but I do find the Christianity ads are rather misleading when touching about Islam, we are always put on the defensive. [I think that's how you and J. K. Jones felt also when you read my posts]. So I started to write counter commentaries, but as far as possible I tried to be honest to stick to fact and as you see I prefer to quote from literature produced by recognize figures in their respective fields. I changed the name of the blog to 'Reminder to Believers'.

In politics I based my argument on terrorism from books written by Noam Chomsky and Samuel Huntington (they are world level thinkers). From them you know what is militant Islam or terrorism is all about - their roots. I don't want to talk from prejudicial point of view, after all we want this world to be in peace. I find the results of his research that terrorisms are engineered by America are more plausible rather than the Western prejudicial reports against Islam, not that I support terrorism or militancy. You may disagree with Chomsky. The trauma of Iraqis under the tyrant Saddam is no comparison with their trauma under American occupation. Under Saddam people can still lived their normal life, but under American occupation Iraqis genarally lost their dignity. Somalia and Afghanistan is still bleeding badly. I have with me three books, 'Imperial Ambitions', 'Failed States', and 'Perilous Power' by Chomsky and 'Who Are We' by Huntington ( also author of the 'Clash of Civilizations'). I still wanted to collect onother book by Chomsky, 'Hegemony and Survival'.

RTJ: Why do you believe Islam is true?

AlHaj: I believe Islam is true not because I was born a Moslem. My parents are not religious people, they are nominal Moslems. But I thanked God I am born a Moslem. It is the most precious gift for I can't make myself a Moslem without His will.

RTJ: In your younger days you were educated in a Roman Catholic MissionarySchool. How has this impacted you?

AlHaj: I studied Islam, I self-argued it, but I read a lot book on Islam by Moslems as well as orientalists; and I choose to go to a Christisan missionary school not because I want to study Christianity even, but I want to get the best facilitated educational opportunities. The years I studied in the missionary school ( Sacred Heart Secondary School were among my happiest younger days). I am at ease with fellow Christians in my country. We seldom talked about Islamic terrorism or militancy here, I think it is irrelevant in Malyasia. We achieved our independence from the British not through revolution as our Indonesian counterpart from the Dutch but through the round table. Turbulence historical background in one's country does affect one's world view towards others and set one mindset. We Malaysian I like to believed are gentlemen when facing natoinal crisis. We articulate our objective even when we get help from the Americans to fight the Communist insurgency in the early independence days.

But then surfers began to comment on my posts especially on political matters touching America and I find their writings quite subjective. Its hard to confront subjective writings. So I deleted all posts on political matters and retained the religious ones and again I changed the name of my blog to what you find now, concentrating entirely on People of the Books with references from the Al-Qur'an and the Bible and especially literatures written by Prof. Emeritus Geza Vermes. I have three of his books with me at the moment, 'The Gospel Of Jesus', 'Nativity', and 'Whos Who in The Age of Jesus'. I still need all his other books including the 'Dead Sea Scrolls'. I surfed the Pontif blog once in a while but his blog is not productive. I also surfed the Vatican webpage to keep abreast of the latest news and I was surprised when Bush visited the Vatican, I say Romans demonstrated against him on the Iraqi issues. See that is Godly people sympathising the suffering of the Iraqis. I feel sorry also for Alan Johnson. But I think these journalists have gone overboard reporting from insane places.
RTJ: In a comment I left on your blog I asked why you accept the authority of the Qu'ran. I also said that the Bible does not play the same part in Christian theology as the Qu'ran does in Islamic theology. For Christians, Jesus is the Word of God, just as the Qu'ran is in Islam. The Bible is more like Muhammad in that it is the vessel through which God makes His revelation known. How do you respond?
Why I believe in Islam? What do you think religion is? What do you think Qur'an is? You believe Prophet Muhammad was an imposter? Are you people honest with him as we are honest with Jesus?You say, Jesus was God's word, I believed with all my heart.

You say Jesus is God, no! If you say Jesus is God then Al-Qur'an is also God because Al-Qur'an is also God's word. What do you see of the Al-Qur'an - if not papers, ink, writing etc. Are those items God? No! And what do you see of Jesus, not man? Sure! Man is no different with papers, created. Did he not become from the womb of a woman and grew as any of us? Did he not undergo the path of creation? Why blinded yourself, because the light is too bright until you cannot see? Who raised him to the level of God, himself or you and why did you deliberate on his Godship if it is inequivocally stated by Jesus that he is God? You argued and you have to argue on his Godship in the Council of Nicea 325 AD. So you hesitated also? You did doubt it also. It took convention by convention to determine that he is God, not Jesus himself dertermined it. But then you decided to claim him God. And you deliberated 'painstakingly' to come to the point that God is Jesus based on Greek script not in his own Aramaic language, having no point of return (original Aramaic manuscripts) when there's discrepancies aroused between Arius and Athanasian?

Let us be honest. Aramaic is not simply chosen as the language of revelation, you bear that in mind, it was a 'language of revelation' chosen by God's word and that's why Jesus spoke it and God did not choose Greek as His channel. Did God choose the language of revelation hanky-panky? You are a man of reason. Why God give us the gift of reason? Reason functioned to understand not to be the arbitrator. The arbitrator is the Scripture. Once the Scripture is not in the original, the translation are noly traces! What make man fall is dishonesty.

I read also Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion'. I couldn't help laughing reading his book. I am not enraged. I pity the man. Alas he is propagting Atheism in America, aggresively huh! Its you the front liner there to counter him. There's also one big name, an old lady Karen Armstrong, also said to be an atheist but not the like of Dawkins, she defended religion. I think she is a theist without any orgainzed religion affiliation although she was ealier a Roman Catholic nun.

The Triune aside, you believe God is one. Why I believe Islam is true? Because God is one. And there's nothing in Islam that goes against my human nature.

And the idea of 'incarnation'? Whose culture is that, be honest, Greek (Hellenistic) or Semitic? Had any God's Apostles from Adam till Muhammad spoke of incarnation? Jesus? Jesus or you? I know you can quote the Biblical verses as proofs but none is objective but all are subjective that can call for multiple/variant, even the dangerous 'allegorical' interpretations.

I have read the last revised Bible ( 2006) published by Pengunin Classis, 'The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (TNCPB)' that charged that the earlier translators misrepresented some of the words in the Authorised King James Version. So the TNCPB come with and as the more precise one. Read the preface to the TNCPB. In ten years time maybe another scholar come again with another version who saw another misrepresentation. Who dare to do that if there's an original Aramaic Bible as the original Arabic Al-Qur'an is? Do not be mistaken with the Arabic Al-Qur'an with its translation. Its translation is not Al-Qur'an at all. In the end you will have voluminous Bibles and those native Christians here have to alter also from time to time the Bibles in their native languages. And they will argue among themselves which native vocabulary is of proper usage or precise. For ages you will have that problems. You have argued about the Bible eversince the Bible was in Latin or Greek and you will never stop for God is not pleased with your tempering with His scriptures.

Quranicly speaking the Holy Qur'an says, chapter 32 (The Byzantines) verse 30, 'And so, set thy face towards [one ever-true] faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the natural disposition which God has instilled in man: [for,] not to allow any change to corrupt what God has thus created - this is the [purpose of the one] ever-true faith; but most people know it not.' This makes me a Moslem. And the religion of all Prophets from Adam till Muhammad (Christ Jesus inclusive) is Islam (only officially known as Islam with the advent of Islam meaning submitting to the will of God as stated in the vesre alluded).

RTJ: What is the biggest misconception that Western Christian have about Islam?

AlHaj: My days in Roman Catholic Missionary School has made me understand the difference between Chritianity and Islam crytal clear. I can't take man as God. It is scripturally and rationally impossible. Jesus has spoken to be aware of your fellows who speaks on his behalf whom he will deny. Do you think they are we Moslems? We don't propagate Chrisitianity. Those will be you Christians preaching on his behalf speaking about him of which he never ever categorically approved.

RTJ: Do you believe there is salvation for non-Muslim monotheists?

AlHaj: If Islam is true which is true, Christians have no justification of remaining Christians but to embrace Islam. Prophet Muhammad says if Moses is living in my age of which I am the last Messenger he must also bear witness to me. Since Christians existed to the time of Muhammad so they must bear witness to Islam. If they refused their final everlasting abode is Hell. I don't joke with you with that teaching of Islam. If Moses was the last Messenger and Muhammad came before him, Muhammad must also bear witness to him and we the community of Muhammad must follow the religion of Moses. If we refuse we are regarded as not accepting the commandment of God as a whole. That's what happened to Satan when he refused to bow to Adam. Satan obeyed other aspect of God's commandments but not the commandment to bow to Adam. Satan was egoistic, he thought he was better than Adam because he was made from flame and Adam from dust. He forgot the one who gave him the commandment was God and not Adam. If Adam commanded him he may ignored the commandment on the justification of qualification but when God commanded, God's commandment is absolute. [Your question] is answered - no salvation, unless you want also to join the community of Satan.

RTJ: Is there anything eles you would like to add?

AlHaj: I quote the Qur'an, chapter 28 (The Story) verse 56: 'Verily , thou canst not guide aright everyone whom thou lovest: but it is God who guides him that wills [to be guided], and He is fully aware of all who would let themselves to be guided.'

Finally, I quote the Qur'an again, chapter 29 (The Spider) verse 46: 'And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner - unless it be such of them as are bent on evildoing - and say: 'We believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us as well as that which has been bestowed upon you: for our God (not Triune) and your God (not Triune) is one and the same (Unity), and it is unto Him that we [all] surrender ourselves.'

So, speaking from the perspective of Islam my Creator God is also your Creator God.

RTJ: Thank you for your time.

AlHaj: Thank you Ryan Jones.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Theological Competence

After shamelessly soliciting friends for comments on this blog, I received an email from someone, who wrote,

I have given [your blog] a read-through. I did enjoy it. I had planned on making a comment. The thing is... I don't think I write NEARLY well enough to appear... I fear any comment I make would look stupid. Besides the fact, I am not nearly well-read enough to be intelligent on any of your points. In short - I really don't wish to sound like an idiot. I have gotten so accustomed to it, that I really am becoming quite bored of it.

Thank you for your interest, O Mr. or Mrs. emailer who shall remain anonymous. The funny thing is that I have exactly the same fear with nearly every blog post or comment I make. I think it has to do with the competence we feel we have in the things we talk about.

I think it is interesting to observe the process of developing competence in something. There are at least four distinct levels of competence:
  1. Incompetence - You have no idea how much there is in a particular discipline that you do not know, so you refrain from commenting.
  2. Pseudo-competence - You have started to learn something about the discipline, and in beginning to interact with it you make a lot of mistakes. You can easily become impressed with yourself in how much you know. "A little knowledge in the wrong hands can be dangerous."
  3. Semi-competence - You now know enough to get around in the discipline, and perhaps more important, you know what you don't know, so that you can keep yourself from making major gafaws.
  4. Full competence - You know what you're doing. Rather than seeming impressive, knowledge of the discipline is taken for granted.

Ironically, those who care least about looking stupid are generally those at level two. It is most enlightening to watch them, especially when the interact with people at level four. I remember when my daughter was learning to read, she was especially excited that she could recognize the name of our town, "Delafield." Every time we would pass a Delafield sign in the car, I knew she would demonstrate her knowledge and let us know where we were. It was cute at first, but after twenty-five times it gets a little old.

I remember a time working in a printship when a woman with a church background wanted to demonstrate her competence in the Bible. I don't remember the exact conversation, but she said something like, "There's a verse in Thessalonians, I think, about how God works all things together for good." I have so many things I wanted to respond: Did you know there's more than one book of Thessalonians?; The verse you have in mind is in Romans; the reference is 8.28; and the verse goes on to say 'for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.' Moreover, I don't think any of that knowledge is particularly impressive (other than maybe knowing chapter and verse), but I assume it is just base-level knowledge for anyone who knows the Bible.

In learning foreign languages, it seems that one or two semesters generally gets someone to level two; it takes three or four semesters to get to level three; and real competence is only developed by lots of practice in actually using the language.

The biggest danger, for me anyway, is assuming that competence in one area transfers to competence in another. I remember what a paradigm shift it was for me when I learned that competence in the Bible did not transfer into competence in New Testament scholarship. More recently I learned that competence in the American Evangelical sub-culture is quite different from competence in Christian theology.

As a theoblogger, I hope I have moved from pseduo-competence into semi-competence. That means I'm just now becoming somewhat confident in my use of standard academic and theological vocabulary, concepts, and arguments. For those who in either category one or four, the usage of this language can seem pompous and obnoxious. But for those of us who are seeking to gain competence, we're just trying to make sure we are able to talk the talk.

In the meantime, no matter what level of theological competence you may be at, please please PLEASE do not feel you cannot leave comments here. We are all friends here. :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Raising the Issues

I have a lot of issues in my faith that I am sorting through right now. Lots of things that I once took for granted don't seem to line up anymore. I feel like I am standing atop a giant rock pounding it with a sledgehammer in order to find out what is permanent and what is merely dirt. This is, I think, a good place to be. I would hate to treat my faith delicately only to find that much of it washes away in the storm of life. I believe that Truth is solid, able to take any blow because of the simple fact that it is true. In an email correspondance on this subject with Harold Netland last fall, he counseled,
You need to rest confident that God can handle some scrutiny and his truth can withstand some pretty rigorous questioning. I doubt that you have qustions or issues that 2000 years of Christian intellectual history has not already dealt with in some form or another. So do not worry about raising the issues and wondering whether this will lead you down a path you don't want to walk. Believe me, it would be much worse to have these nagging questions and just suppress them because you are afraid of where they might lead. If the Christian faith is not the truth, I for one do not want to believe it and keep teaching it (seems that is Paul's point in 1 Cor 15).

Here is my list of hot topics:

  1. Non-Christians: Phonemonologically it seems that God interacts with people outside of the Christian tradition. How should we explain this theologically?
  2. Eternal damnation: Though rooted in the justice of God, this doctrine seems to totally subvert the logic of justice.
  3. Jesus' Resurrection: The historical evidence is just not as strong as some would like to make it out to be. It's not that I think the historical evidence is lacking, but it seems that I am searching for a different kind of evidence, perhaps theological.
  4. Jesus' Return: Every time I think about the second coming I feel like I have embraced a total science fiction plot. God just doesn't seem to work this way. It is the one part of my doctrine that feels more like Scientology than rationality.
  5. Scripture: I cannot find a theological mechanism that allows me to establish the Bible as God's eternal Word to all humanity. See my discussion a few days ago, as well as my proposed solution.

I have some ideas on number five that I will post in a few days, and I hope to explore the rest of the topics further over the next several weeks.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


The Spirit, He quietly moves
A word is spoken
In a moment of surprise
New creation springs to life

Can this be what we were made for?
Designed to be imitators
But not simply to copy
We are icons of the divine

A world in chaos
Senseless pain
Pervasive suffering
And a cry for redemption

Yet here we are undeterred
Driven to create
Desiring to play the game
Of imagination and construction

O God our Father
Draw forth our purpose
To face the faceless void
And fashion a thing of beauty

RTJ 6.17.07

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Brain Shift

Almost everyone who has ever gone to college knows about Brother Jed. He tries to be on some college campus preaching every single day that class is in session. Lots of people dislike his confrontational preaching style. A few dislike his theology. But it is hard not to find him interesting. He has a new bit he has been using with students recently. He calls it the Brain Shift:

“OK, everybody stand up and cup your hands around the genital area. Be sure not to touch anything done there. I don’t want you to have to go back to the dorm and change underwear in the middle of the day. All right now, let’s get some leverage by doing some deep knee bends, a one, a two a three. Now lift the brains out of your genitals back up in your cranium where they belong. There it is done! Now some of you should be ready to ask an intelligent question. No more questions about sex. [Homos will have to do the exercise several times a day for the next several weeks before there is any noticeable change.]"

Who is the Church?

“…it is imperative that the leadership of the church take up the
Ephesians 4 mandate to equip the saints. As I was shown prophetically a few
years ago, the Lord's patience with the shepherds and ministries who are not
doing this is running out, and they will be removed from their places. However,
New Testament ministry does not just do the work of the ministry, but equips
others to do it as well, just as the Lord Himself gave us an example.”
-Rick Joyner’s
Word for the Week, 6/11/07

Rick Joyner is one of the leaders of the charismatic-prophetic movement. He often writes about “the church,” and when he does, I wonder what he means by it. The week before he wrote, “[W]ith true spiritual maturity there will be increasing humility, not arrogance… [which] will always be found to have increasing fellowship and interchange with the rest of the body of Christ. That is also a sure sign of true spiritual maturity—we start to discern the whole body, not just our little part.” By the whole body, I assume he means more than just prophetic churches, or even charismatic churches. I tend to think he has evangelical churches in mind, though I have never seen him say asmuch.

What is “the whole body?” Is it the evangelical movement? Is it the Protestant church? Are Roman Catholics in? How about Orthodox churches? How about Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Robert Jenson, in the preface to his Systematic Theology, writes, “[T]he only church conceivably in question is the unique and unitary church of the creeds.” I think he is right on target. Does a church adhere to the Apostles’, Nicene, and Chalcedonian creeds? Then they are part of the catholic church – catholic with a small ‘c,’ meaning universal, which is much larger than the body we think of as Roman Catholic. Despite all that we might find wrong in them we must still think of them as part of ‘us’ rather than choosing a different (and arbitrary) standard that would allow us to exclude them. The catholic church includes most Protestant churches, the Roman Catholics, and Orthodox churches, but excludes Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But Jenson goes on to observe, “To live as the church in the situation of a divided church – if this can happen at all – must at least mean that we confess we live in a radical self-contradiction and that by every churchly act we contradict that contradiction.” It seems to me that he conceives of this division either in theological or hierarchical terms. Either way, it is exactly here that I take issue. The church’s unity is primarily spiritual, a result of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The unity of the church ought not to be the unity of a Christmas tree farm where order is produced through artificial rows. The unity of the church is more like a forest, which consists of a complex ordering and interconnectedness, but not the kind we might choose to impose on it. The mandate of the church is to rule over the earth and subdue it, not to be forced into a giant edifice reaching to the heavens. But we do the church a great disservice if we attempt to enforce cookie-cutter-like conformity. And it seems that an organizationally diverse church is less likely to be infiltrated and subverted from her mandate to be a prophetic voice of justice in the world.

If we reject any portion of the true church, we act as 'mere men' (1 Cor 3.3). The temptation to splinter off and form faction must always be resisted. So how much fellowship and interchange can we have with the rest of the church, especially when we have significant differences? How willing are we to follow Joyner’s admonition with respect to Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches? Are we prepared to change our thinking of who “us” is if we have defined it differently? Paul did not crease giving thanks for the whole church, frequently making mention of it in his prayers (Eph 1.16). Will we do the same?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Scripture Problem

Is the Bible the Word of God? For skeptics, the answer is simply no - us crazy humans wrote it, and Christianity is patently false. On the side of faith the answer is yes, the Bible is the owner's manual for living - those who choose to ignore it will end up shipwrecked in life. For atheists and fundamentalists alike, these seem to be the only two options. I find both options troubling.

The skeptical answer seems to deny every encounter I've ever had with God through the scriptures. God transformed my life, and He has done the same for literally billions of others. This is one reason why I don't think the atheist position has much to commend it and why I don't find the atheist-theist debate to be anything more than mildly interesting.

My problem with the fundamentalist option is that I just can't find any good reason to accept it. The various defenses generally focus on refuting claims that the Bible is unreliable or contradictory. But once you have done that, you have still not proven that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, just that it is reliable and not contradictory. As far as I know, there are only three options for defending the "Owner's manual" view of the Bible:

  1. Fulfilled prophecy - "One of the unique and fascinating aspects of the Bible is that in no other religious literature do we find the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy" (Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, 56). My difficulty is that the fulfilled prophecies are not that cut-and-dry. Matthew 2.15 fulfills Hosea 11.1, "Out of Egypt I called my Son" - except that in its context in Hosea there is nothing that sets this passage apart as a Messianic prophecy, or even as a prophecy at all. Matthew 27.35, "And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots," seems to fulfill Psalm 22.18, but the skeptic's answer seems at least equally plausible: that Matthew invented this little bit in order add credibility to his story. Daniel seems to prophesy the rise and fall of kingdoms (Daniel 11), but there is significant evidence that the book was written during the Maccabean period, long after the prophesied events had already occurred. Of course there are answers to all of these, but one's acceptance of them seems to depend on an a priori belief in the inerrancy of scripture, the very thing this argument is attempting to prove.

  2. Best option - The argument is that it is reasonable to believe that God has given us some divinely inspired writings and the Bible is the best candidate. The trouble here is that it merely shifts the problem from why we should believe the Bible to why we should assume that God would give us any divinely inspired writings. It is certainly not intuitive that God would give choose to give us a book. Why not speak directly to us? Why not write a message in the sky or light up a message on the board in a baseball stadium? Moreover, this argument has the added problem of now having to prove that the Bible is the best option, a proposition which is typically defended by creating straw men of those who defend other religious traditions. On the whole this argument seems to fail.

  3. Jesus' authority - It is reasonable to believe in the deity of Jesus on the weight of the historical evidence alone, and Jesus authenticated the scriptures. The argument is weakest in affirming the books of the New Testament, all of which were written after Jesus had made any of these statements. The classic passage used to defend the New Testament comes from John 14.26, "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." This leads us to all sorts of difficulties related to canon: How do we know we got the right books? Why should we accept Hebrews or 2 and 3 John, which offer no textual support for being written by apostles? Why should we accept Mark, Luke, and Jude which do not even claim to be written by apostles? Why should we accept any of Paul's writings, who had never even met Jesus during his earthly ministry, providing absolutely no way for the Holy Spirit to "bring to [his] remembrance all that [Jesus] spoke to [him]"? Even the strongest part of this argument, Jesus' affirmation of the Old Testament, comes from a single passage, John 10.35, where Jesus asserts that "the scriptures cannot be broken." Most critical scholars would deny that the book of John is historically reliable at all. Of course we might want to reject that consensus, but our primary reason for doing so, as above, rests on a view of inerrancy that we are trying to prove.

How can a Christian affirm the scriptures? Before I offer my solution, I am curious how you, the reader, might answer the question. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What's In a Name?

What does it mean to be a Jones? For me, not a lot. Before I was born my Grandma remarried a man named Tom Jones who adopted my Dad. Tom was, I believe, raised in an orphanage and never knew his real parents' last name. Apparently all (or at least many) nameless orphans were given the last name Jones in those days. My Grandma and Tom got together after my Grandma's ex-husband (my real grandfather) ran off with Tom's ex-wife.

So the name Jones carries no family significance for me. It does remind me that I have been adopted into God's family, so I guess that is something I can take from it.

Here are some other Jones blogs I have been reading recently:
  1. Tony Jones - my favorite emergent church blog. Unfortunately Tony hasn't been posting much lately, but he's a lot of fun to read.
  2. J.K. Jones - my favorite country-boy baptist layman industrial engineer who reads a lot of conservative evangelical theology.
  3. Leonard Jones - my favorite worship leader.

Anyone else got any other good Jones blogs worth reading?

Do We Worship Different Gods?

Apparently the assertion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is extremely controversial. I am going to take another stab at it to try to defend this position.

First, Christians and Muslims clearly have radically different conceptions of who God is, e.g. Christians are trinitarians; Muslims are unitarians. I am not at all attempting to refute this. Many would argue that the character of the Christian and Muslim concepts of God are also radically different, and I would tend to agree.

Second, Allah is synonymous with God. The former is the Arabic term for the latter. When the Bible is translated into Arabic, Allah is used in the same places where our English translations say God. Asking whether Allah is the same as God is the same as asking whether Dios (Spanish) is the same as God.

Third, there are two fundamentally different ways to think about identifying God. The first is to take God as the subject and then describe who God is. If Christians and Muslims provide contrary descriptions of God, it seems likely they are describing different gods. This is analagous to two people describing their friend Andy, who discover that they have been talking about two different people all along. On the other hand, we can take God's actions (specifically His act of creation) as the predicate and then attempt to discover who performed the action. This is analagous to two people calling their American Family Insurance rep and discovering that they have diffent conceptions of who he is.

It follows then that the theological models of who God is (as subject) are different. In worship, however, we are both addressing the Creator (as predicate). When we address our worship to the Creator, it is the creator who receives our worship regardless of who we conceive Him to be.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Gospel and Spiritual Formation

Scot McKnight has posted an outline from a talk he gave on spiritual formation in Milwaukee last weekend. Unfortunately I was not able to be there. (If I remember right I think it seemed too expensive. Plus I would have had to find a sitter for the kids.) He includes a great discussion of the difference between the modern evangelical gospel and the biblical gospel, which is, I think, quite close to the one I laid out in my last post. Scot is solidly evangelical, so I'm obviously not out in left field on this. The major difference is that I see this as way to affirm soteriological inclusivism, a conclusion I'm sure he would strongly object to. The minor difference is that I would want to emphasize the concept of covenant more than Scot.

Friday, June 08, 2007

What I Believe

For many people, struggles with faith come after their their conversions rather than before. I have had a significant number of struggles over the past three or four years. Typically they have been different kinds of struggles than the kinds I had before becoming a Christian. I have never had serious doubts about whether God exists, but I have gone through all kinds of doubts about what I believe about Him.

A couple years ago I began to have serious doubts about whether I even believed in Christianity or the gospel anymore. I did not doubt my encounters with God, I did not doubt the miracles, and I did not doubt the answered prayers. But I had serious doubts about whether Christian theology offered the best explanation for those experiences. Thinking Charismatics have long believed that supernatural experiences do not count as evidence for the authenticity of one's beliefs, as
history demonstrates. What makes my theology any different? I was sick of being forced to write off everything God seems to be doing in the world that is happening outside of a Christian context.

In particular I was reacting against a particular version of the Christian story. The story goes something like this:

  1. Each individual human is destined to spend eternity in conscious torment (Hell) because each individual human is sinful. Even if the only sin you ever committed was stealing a pencil from work, your are worthy of hell.

  2. God is merciful and does not want to punish us for our sins, but He must punish sins because He is also just.

  3. Jesus took our punishment for sins in our place when He died on the cross.

  4. The work Jesus accomplished is only effective for you if you become a Christian.
Most of my Christian friends have never even thought to question this story. But a lot of it doesn't add up to me. How is spending eternity in hell for stealing a pencil considered just? Why does God's mercy mean that He doesn't want to punish us for our sins? I think we instinctively understand this because somehow we feel that sending us to hell really would be unjust. Consider this: on this model, God would have been totally just if He had never sent Jesus and allowed us all to be eternally damned for our sins. Do you really think God would be just if every single human that had ever lived was going to hell forever, end of story? And God's command for Israel to slaughter the Canaanites seems particularly unjust if by doing so they were instantly condemned to the fiery abyss for all of time.

The turning point came for me last year when I began to see that this is not they only way to tell the story. The solution I have come to is to view the Bible through the concept of covenant. The Bible seems to tell a different story than the one I had been told. It tells the story of a fallen humanity and a just God. God's plan was to restore humanity through a covenant with Abraham, and ultimately the people of Israel. However the people of Israel failed to uphold their end of the covenant they had made with God, thus bringing judgement upon themselves. God then sent Jesus as the embodiment of the true Israel, taking their convenantal punishment upon Himself, ushering in the fulfillment of many of the eschatological (end times) prophecies that Israel would become a blessing to the nations, the answer to the problem of sin. Thus gentiles are no longer cut off from the Abrahamic promises but are offered entrance into God's covenantal people through their true King Jesus.

This has caused me to rethink my position on non-Christians. Instead of seeing an overarching dichotomy between the saved and the unsaved, the Bible seems to tell the story that God does not damn those who are outside of the covenant simply for that fact. Consider the Ninevites in the story of Jonah, who repented but clearly did not enter into a covenant with God; or Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5); or Melchizedek (Genesis 14). In general, God does not seem to have written off those who are outside the covenant. But to those who are members of the covenant, He has made promises, particularly to promise to be our God and to have us as His people.

This story has not totally taken care of all my concerns, but I feel much more confident about this story than my old evangelical story. So I can affirm that I am a Christian, in covenant with God again. As to whether I am still an evangelical, that depends on how closely you think being an evangelical is tied to the first story.

I can't wait for the comments I'm gonna get on this one. None of this is substantially different from what I've believed for the past year or so (some of it for longer). I'm not sure how prepared I am to defend it, and definitely not prepared to try to convince others. But now I've made it public, I suppose this is a sort of crossing of the theological Rubicon.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Some Thoughts About Blogging

I am still trying to sort out my identity in the blogosphere, who I am and what I am all about. Last week I was telling everyone I knew about blogging and about some of the issues I have been dealing with, like inclusivism and inerrancy. And as soon as I've gotten you all to start reading my blog, I stop posting. Sorry about that. Now lest you write this off as just another apology-for-not-blogging post (which I hate almost as much as "Under construction" web pages), I promise I have a greater purpose here.

Mostly I've been spending my blogging time trying to catch up on reading other people's blogs and submitting (what I hope to be) thoughtful reflection. Here's some of what I've been interested in:

  1. Brian LePort has been looking at interpretive issues related to the Old Testament poetry books. His analysis seems quite close to Vanhoozer's proposal that the primary purpose of scripture is not to convey propositional truths, but rather to provide everything we need to live out the Christian life.
  2. Speaking of which, Ben Myers featured a guest post by Byron Smith reviewing Vanhoozer's, The Drama of Doctrine. Dr. Vanhoozer was my theology professor last fall and is quickly becoming one of my biggest theological influences.
  3. My friend Jake has a great meditation on Psalm 50 and offering sacrifices to God.
  4. Brandon Wason has been conducting an informal poll regarding the so-called synoptic problem. I weighed in with my two-cents, which in turn got quoted on Mark Goodacre's blog, that blog that is currently ranked as the #1 Biblical Studies blog by Amazon's UnSpun. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have made it into a "real" blog!
  5. Scot McKnight offered a great list on what it takes to be a successful blogger. It got me asking why I am blogging in the first place. Really I'm blogging for me, to try to work out my own thoughts on different theological issues I'm dealing with. But if I'm going to have a "good" blog, I have to do some blogging that is purely for you, the reader.

This leads me to my two questions. First, now that at least a few people are reading my blog, my blog title feels all the more pretentious. "Real" scholars don't need to call attention to the fact that they are scholars; their work speaks for itself. Only a scholar-wannabe would use the word "scholar" in his own blog title. My defense? Okay, I admit it. I'm a scholar-wannabe. I am just that much more aware of it now. Should I change the title?

Which leads me to the second question. I ask myself what I'm good at, and I arrived at this conclusion: I'm good at asking questions. Is there a market for a blog that majors in asking questions? All I know is that I have all sorts of questions that I'm trying to sort through. That's why I'm hungry... hungry for answers, for truth.

So how much of blogging should be for the blogger, and how much for others? What do you all think?