Archive | May, 2009

Theology Avoidance Disorder

Albert Einstein once said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing . . . so is a lot.”

I have been in discussions with a gentleman who reads this blog and, occasionally, will take one of my theology courses. The main topic of discussion is the necessity of theological discourse for the average Christian. Whether it be big words, concepts, or ideas, this gentleman does not think such things are necessary for the Christian life. He prefers the simplicity of loving God and leaving the rest to the theologians. His basic argument is that such things can and often do take away from our ability to live the Christian life due to their “side-tracking” nature.

Let me paraphrase a comment he would typically make:

“Whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian, a traducianist or creationist, believe in soul sleep or intermediate bliss, believe in transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or memorialism, none of these ultimately makes any difference. In fact, these beliefs serve more to bring about sinful divisiveness than anything else.”

This attitude with regard to theology is not uncommon at all. In fact, it seems that it has a lot of truth to it. It would seem that simplicity in our confession and faith would ultimately bring about the most unity and acceptance as well as provide more energy for the things that really matter. Right?

Well, if you are saying that more knowledge is dangerous, I agree. Knowledge can puff up. Knowledge can provide ground for strong opinions, lack of perspective, and, ultimately, division. But if you are saying that because of the dangers of knowledge it is not worth the risk, I disagree.

Let me give you an illustration that I think provides a sufficient parallel to the current issue. Knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot. Knowledge of what? Well, anything. But most specifically, we could apply this to relationships. When we enter into a relationship with someone, we take risks. Relationships involve us becoming vulnerable. When we allow someone to get to know us, there is always the possibility of misunderstanding, rejection, and a sort of Trojan horse pregnability of our heart. The same is true concerning those with whom we enter a relationship. Knowledge about them is dangerous. Not only for them, as they expose themselves, but for us as we put our own ideals about them on the line. In other words, you may know someone from a distance who you have placed on an idealist pedestal. Once an opportunity comes for you to deepen that relationship, closing the blissful distance, you are entering into dangerous territory. Why? Because now you are opening yourself up to coming to know the real person. All masks will soon come off and then you will have to nuance this relationship based upon your more up-to-date and accurate knowledge of the person. This process is certainly reciprocal and it is risky—it is dangerous—for both parties. While new discoveries will certainly bring about joy and depth in the relationship, they can also bring about a great deal of pain and emotional distancing.

When the fear of relational knowledge becomes so great that people guard themselves against all forms of vulnerability, disorders follow: schizoid personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder (AvPD), social anxiety disorder. Here, people become closed and guarded hoping that this will leave their lives protected, safe, and secure.

While people might rationalize their timidity due to the reality of the dangers that are involved when knowledge is attained, this rationalization is misleading. The avoidance of knowledge causes us to neglect a basic need of humanity—relationships.

I fear that this is often the case when people rationalize their avoidance of theology. Theology is simply coming to understand God at a deeper level. Yes, there are risks, just the same as any relationship. There are risks of misunderstandings, changing your ideals, opening yourself up to criticism, and coming to know both the wonderful and, what might be perceived to be, the not so wonderful things about God. There is also the possibility of division and strife as you defend what you believe to be true. But is this really any different than any other relationship? Continue Reading →

"You Ask Me How I Know He Lives . . . He Lives Within My Heart". . . And Other Stupid Statements

The longer I am in ministry, the longer I teach theology, the more I see that some things are not quite as clear as they used to be. At one time, I had pretty much everything figured out. Ministry was just about transferring this information effectively. That is the peril of theology. If you want to have it all figured out, don’t get into this business!

At the same time, there are many things that I have believed and about which I continue to grow in conviction. One of these, ironically, is the simplicity of the Christian life. The center point is really not too difficult. God wants us to believe him. Trust, belief, conviction, assurance. These are all words we use to describe this act of the will – faith.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines faith this way:

  1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
  2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
  3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one’s supporters.
  4. The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.
  5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
  6. A set of principles or beliefs.

Each one of these, in the right context, could describe some aspect of the Christian faith. But we need to go one step further in understanding this term “faith” in a particularly Christian way.

The Reformers sought to distinguish true faith from false faith. The battle cry of sola fide (justification by faith alone) demanded that they define faith in a precise manner.

As started by Luther and developed further by Melancthon and others, the understanding of faith was expressed in three separate yet vitally connected aspects: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.

1. Notitia: This is the basic informational foundation of our faith. It is best expressed by the word “content.” Faith, according to the Reformers, must have content or substance. You cannot have faith in nothing. There must be some referential, propositional truth to which the faith points. The proposition “Christ rose from the grave” or “God loves you” for example, provide a necessary information base or notitia that Christians must have.

2. Assensus: This is the assent, confidence, or assurance that we have that the notitia is correct. Here we assent to the information, affirming it to be true. This involves evidence which leads to the conviction of the truthfulness of the proposition. According to the Reformers, to have knowledge of the proposition is not enough. We must, to some degree, be convinced that it is really true. This involves intellectual assent and persuasion based upon some degree of critical thought. While notitia claims “Christ rose from the grave,” assensus takes the next step and says, “I am persuaded to believe that Christ rose from the grave.”

But these two alone are not enough, according to the Reformers. As one person has said, these two only qualify you to be a demon, for the demons both have the right information (Jesus rose from the grave) and are convicted of its truthfulness. One aspect still remains. Continue Reading →

Six Views on the Creation/Evolution Debate

1. Young Earth Creationism

The belief that the universe and all that is in it was created by God around ten-thousand years ago or less. They insist that this is the only way to understand the Scriptures. Further, they will argue that science is on their side using “catastropheism.” They believe that world-wide biblical catastrophes sufficiently explain the fossil records and the geographic phenomenon that might otherwise suggest the earth is old. They believe in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, snake talking, and world-wide flood.

2. Gap Theory Creationists

Belief that the explanation for the old age of the universe can be found in a theoretical time gap that exists between the lines of Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. God created the earth and the earth became formless and void. Therefore God instituted the new creation which begins in Genesis 1:2b. This theory allows for an indefinite period of time for the earth to exist before the events laid out in the creation narrative. Gap theorists will differ as to what could have happened on the earth to make it become void of life. Some will argue for the possibility of a creation prior to humans that died out. This could include the dinosaurs. They normally believe in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, snake talking, and world-wide flood.

3. Time-Relative Creationism

Belief that the universe is both young and old depending on your perspective. Since time is not a constant (Einstein’s Theory of Relativity), the time at the beginning of creation would have moved much slower than it does today. From the way time is measured today, the succession of moments in the creation narrative equals that of six twenty-four hour periods, but relative to the measurements at the time of creation, the events would have transpired much more slowly, allowing for billions of years.  This view, therefore, does not assume a constancy in time and believes that any assumption upon the radical events of the first days/eons of creation is both beyond what science can assume and against the most prevailing view of science regarding time today. This view may or may not allow for an evolutionary view of creation. They can allow for in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, snake talking, and world-wide flood.

4. Old Earth Creationists
(also Progressive Creationists and Day-Age Creationists)

Belief that the old age of the universe can be reconciled with Scripture by understanding the days of Genesis 1 not at literal 24 hour periods, but as long indefinite periods of time. The word “day” would then be understood the same as in Gen. 2:4 “. . . in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” While this view believes the universe and earth are billions of years old, they believe that man was created a short time ago. Therefore, they do not believe in evolution. They believe in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, snake talking, and world-wide flood. Continue Reading →

Attitude

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”

-Chuck Swindoll

A Theology of More

As I’ve mentioned many times, I used to be firmly entrenched in Pentacostal/Charismatic circles.  As Michael noted in his last post, that while non-Charismatics have an expectation for God to move in their lives, there seems to be a higher level of expectation amongst Charismatics.  I think that’s true and something that I actually applaud as evidenced in this post here that I did some time back, An Ode to Pentacostalism.  I think that is something I will always treasure and keep with me.

However, during my time as a Charismatic, it seems that this higher level of expectation always resulted in a quest for more.  We needed a greater happenings, more miraculous signs (not that anything I witnessed ever really qualified as such), more healing, more deliverance, more prophecies, generally a greater move of God.  Whatever was existent never seemed to be enough.   Since I served on the worship team for four years (keyboards/vocals), the expectation was that we would serve as the catalyst to make this happen, to “usher in the presence of God”, as was stated so many Sundays.   Naturally, one of my favorite “soft music” tunes to play was Michael W. Smith’s, More Love More Power.  Yes we really did need more of God in our lives and looked for it in external manifestations in order to affect an internal change.

It seems to me there remained a continual state of dissatisfaction that only more could fill.  And I have noticed that even in churches that do not necessarily carry the Charismatic label, but are very mainstream in their approach have fallen victim to the “more” mentality.   The desire for church growth translates into more people, bigger churches, and more programs.  To be sure, I had heard on several occasions that we know God is doing something when the seats start filling up and we outgrow the space. Continue Reading →

Special Theology Unplugged: So What is an Online Theology Program Session Really Like?

Hello all!

We are three weeks in to our Spring 2009 (2) semester. Michael thought it would be a good idea to record the session from last night to give everyone a better idea of what our online classes are like.

Listen in to this episode of Theology Unplugged as Michael teaches session 3 of Humanity and Sin where he discusses Anthropological Dualism, Philosophical Dualism, and a few other big theological words ;-).

We hope this will give you a bit of insight into what the online sessions are like and also give you an idea of what you can expect if you enroll in the upcoming Robert Bowman class “Science and the Bible”.

I Don't Get Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman has become the new media darling of the 21st century. He’s been on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and virtually all the major news media (e.g., NPR, ABC, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, and countless others). Publisher’s Weekly, which reviews newly released books for a general readership and is the bible for the main secular bookstores in America, ran an article not too long ago called “The Ehrman Effect,” showing that books by Ehrman as well as those stimulated by his writings (both pro and con) have captured a large market. Beginning with Misquoting Jesus (2005), followed by God’s Problem (2008), and most recently, Jesus, Interrupted (2009), Ehrman’s books have sold by the tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands.

What makes him so popular? Essentially, he’s a former evangelical who is becoming increasingly outspoken about leaving the faith. He’s now a ‘happy agnostic.’ And he’s not just someone who abandoned the faith, but someone who is a bona fide biblical scholar. The media are fascinated by him. Most recently, CNN ran a story on him (May 15, 2009) entitled, “Former fundamentalist ‘debunks’ Bible.”

To those who live in the world of biblical studies, CNN’s headline is a yawn. We’ve heard it before. Some years ago, I was on a committee that was working on a revision of the standard Greek grammar of the New Testament. The grammar, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, by Blass and Debrunner and translated by Robert W. Funk in 1961, has been known by students of the New Testament simply as Blass-Debrunner-Funk or BDF. Yes, that Funk, the former head of the Jesus Seminar. This small committee met annually for about ten years; Bob Funk occasionally showed up to urge us along in his own inimical style. Since he died and the chairman of the committee, Daryl Schmidt, died, the revision of this important work has come to a standstill.

In one of our annual two-day meetings about ten years ago, we got to discussing theological liberalism during lunch. Now before you think that this was a time for bashing liberals, you need to realize that most of the scholars on this committee were theologically liberal. And one of them casually mentioned that, as far as he was aware, 100% of all theological liberals came from an evangelical or fundamentalist background. I thought his numbers were a tad high since I had once met a liberal scholar who did not come from such a background. I’d give it 99%.

Whether it’s 99%, 100%, or only 75%, the fact is that overwhelmingly, theological liberals do not start their academic study of the scriptures as theological liberals. They become liberal somewhere along the road. I won’t discuss why that is here; that’s for another blog post. My point is simply this: Bart Ehrman is hardly unique.

But he’s adored by the media because here, finally, is someone who has seen the inside of the evangelical movement (or fundamentalist fortress) and can speak intelligently both about it and about the Bible—but from a viewpoint that no longer embraces either. Or so the media think. This is old news to biblical scholars. But what makes Ehrman different is that here’s a liberal scholar who not only writes for the public square; he also speaks about his own spiritual journey in those books.

I guess, in the end, I do get Bart Ehrman. He’s capitalized on a trend that finds its greatest impetus in Bob Funk’s Jesus Seminar: liberal scholars speaking in the language of the people, and being brutally honest about their beliefs (or lack thereof). But for anyone to think that the ideas presented in such trade books are new, earth-shaking, never-before-heard-of or dealt-with trouncings of the historic Christian faith knows very little about the state of biblical scholarship today.

Why I am Not Charismatic (Complete)

View PDF here.

Part 1: Introduction

I used to walk through Christian book stores and choose my books based on whether or not the author was a charismatic. I would pick up a commentary and turn immediately to 1 Cor. 12 (the section on spiritual gifts). If the author believed that the spiritual gifts were for today, I would put it back on the shelf in disbelief that the store would carry such misleading material. If they did not believe that the gifts were for today – if the author was a “cessationist” – I would consider purchasing the book.

Such was the time when I believed that all those who believed that – i.e., all charismatics – were practicing a different Christianity, at best, or demon possessed, at worst.

I am not a charismatic, and I have my reasons, but I do not feel the same way today as I used to. Let me first define the terms and set up the field of play.

The word “charismatic” can be used in many ways. It is taken from the word “charisma.” Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader).” Many would say that Barack Obama has charisma in such a way. Charisma is taken from the Greek charisma which means “gift.” Its root, charis, means “grace.”

In Christianity, “charismatic” refers to those who believe that certain “spiritual gifts” such as tongues, prophecy, and gifts of healings, are normative for the church. In the Scriptures, we are told that God gives certain gifts to everyone in the body of Christ. Representative gift lists are mentioned in 1 Cor. 12, Rom. 12, 1 Pet. 4, and Eph. 4. Some of these gifts seem to be natural extensions of the recipients personality (leadership, teaching, encouragement) while others distinguish themselves by their extra-ordinary nature. A charismatic is one who believes that God still gifts people in the church with the extra-ordinary or supernatural gifts and that these gifts are normative in the body of Christ for the extension of God’s message, glory, and grace.

Charismatic is not a denomination, but a trans-denominational theological stance or tradition which can find representation in any denomination or tradition, including Evangelicalism. In fact, I think that the charismatic position (or some variation thereof) is the fastest growing tradition within Evangelicalism.

A cessationist (taken from “cease”), on the other hand, is one who believes that the extra-ordinary gifts ceased in the first century, either at the completion of the New Testament or at the death of the last Apostle. Cessationists believe that the supernatural gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healings were “sign gifts” that were given for the establishment of the church and then passed away due to a fulfillment of their purpose. They served as a supernatural “sign” from God that the Gospel message being proclaimed was unique and authoritative. Since the Gospel message has been proclaimed and established in the New Testament, cessationists believe that these type of gifts ceased due to an exhaustion of purpose. Therefore, with regards to the “gifts of the Spirit,” there are “permanent gifts” and there are “temporary gifts.”

What would a post be without a chart?


If you can see this (!), you will notice that certain “sign gifts” are revelatory while others are confirmatory. The revelatory gifts are those that reveal God’s message in some way. They are prophetic in nature. Not everyone would agree which gifts belong in this category. Some would not place “word of wisdom” or “word of knowledge” here and one’s placement of tongues will depend on how it is defined (prayer language? prophetic revelation in another language? Gospel proclamation in another language?). Either way, the category describes those gifts which involve a supernatural revelation from God.

The “confirmatory gifts” are those which confirm or provide evidence for the revelatory gifts. In other words, someone cannot just claim to be speaking prophetically on behalf of God. Their message must be confirmed by some undeniable act of extraordinary power. Otherwise, anyone could claim to speak on behalf of God.

Of course the gift of healings have a benevolent purpose as the benefits of such gifts affect people in a wonderful way, but, according to most cessationists (and even some charismatics), the result that a person is healed is the secondary purpose. The primary purpose is to legitimize the message of the healer.

A very important point need to be made (if you don’t get this, don’t even bother engaging in this conversation.): Whether one is a charismatic or a cessationist, all Christians believe in God’s supernatural intervention. Only a deist would claim that God has a “hand-off” approach to history and our lives. It is not that the cessationist does not believe in healings or miracles, it is that they don’t believe in the gifts of healing, miracles, etc. being given to a certain people. Both charismatics and cessationists (should) pray for God’s supernatural intervention, can believe in stories of healings, and can expect God to direct their lives through some sort of divine guidance. In other words, just because someone prayed for healing and believes it happened, this does not make one a charismatic (properly speaking).

However, there does seem to be a higher level of expectation for divine intervention among charismatics than with cessationists. I am not saying whether this is good or bad. Expectation of the power of God can both motivate a Christian’s life or be a cause for great disillusionment. Continue Reading →