Thursday, June 28, 2012

Failure to Launch the Calvinist Rocket

Fred Sanders, Wesleyan theologian, is interviewed by John Starke and it is interesting reading, I particularly enjoyed this bit, which I think is a fair and, frankly, knockout critique of Calvinism. (HT Marc)


What kept you from making the leap to Calvinism?

Well, I do consider it a kind of leap, and the place to leap off of would be Romans 9. I have felt the attraction of that reading. You would have to run all the way to the end of Paul's line of argument there about the election of Israel and their role in salvation history, which in context are all historical arguments, and then decide that it applies to individual people, to all individual people, from before creation. That is, the exegetical key to the Calvinist view is that the overall drift of Paul's argument demands that the theological points involved should be transposed into a higher order. I don't mean that's how all Calvinists get to their conclusions, I mean that's where I would make the case if I were persuaded of the Calvinist view of election.

Without Romans 9 as a key jumping-off point, it seems to me that the rest of Scripture furnishes the vocabulary used in Calvinistic predestination (Exodus! Ephesians!), but not the necessary argument and demonstration. I'm perfectly comfortable with using a key text or two as guidance in interpreting the rest of Scripture: that's the kind of hermeneutical procedure that makes me a Trinitarian (with the highest possible level of certainty and commitment) and a premillenialist (with a considerably lower level of certainty and commitment). But I'm just not persuaded that Romans 9 is the place to make one of those transcendental leaps; or that it means what Calvinists take it to mean.

Without some kind of platform like that, I can't launch the Calvinist rocket. Election and predestination are awesome, revealed realities of salvation, but the Calvinist construals and constructions of them generate a web of doctrinal inferences that clash with other biblical truths. I can't do limited atonement or irresistible grace, to pluck at two of the most vulnerable petals of the tulip. I can't affirm the perseverance of the saints as part of the predestinarian package, though I could re-state the core concern as something like the irreversibility of salvation, and (perhaps being a bad Wesleyan) affirm that.

That isn't a full critique of Calvinism, but I'm responding to the question autobiographically rather than systematically. This is why I didn't make the leap.


Let me know what you think, :-)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Free Will

The SBC are having a bit of a fidget about the Calvinist insurgence in their ranks, but we Christians are good at talking about free will without stopping to consider what it actually is - after all it is obvious, until you start to think about it. Here are two philosophers from the faculty of Florida State University (one of whom I studied philosophy with at high school) having a gentle conversation about free will for your edification.
Randolph Clarke & Stephen Kearns from Philosophy TV on Vimeo.

The video is from Philosophy TV

Let me know what you think

Thursday, June 21, 2012

brick-a-brack 210612

  • Steve Douglas on inerrancy
  • An updated free MA in Biblical studies, which looks very good if you don't need accreditation or feedback.
  • Christian Ethicist and Pediatrician John Wyatt on what is a human being, covering of course topics like abortion.
  • [video deleted cos it played everytime the home page started!]
  • A nice case study in (mis)interpretation, unfortunately dislocated from the preceding correspondence, but we can still work out roughly what was said, a bit like 1 Corinthians.
  • A FB status that made me smile,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Shoot Me Now: The End Has Come

No thanks to Rachel Held Evans for alerting me to this most disturbing and blasphemous development. Time to hide in the basement with lots of canned food cos this sort of thing can only mean the end is not far away.

Zondervan, you have finally lost all connection with what is sane and proper.

Hopefully there is an illustration of Prov 26:11 with a cute puppy licking up it's own vomit, which is pretty much what I would rather do that own a copy of this abomination.

For all Bible verses that mention dogs, click below

Thompson on Preaching

Matthew Montonini kindly pointed to some videos of Bible scholar Marrianne Meye Thompson gives us some handy hints on preaching. Enjoy!

Sermons that stick

LJO Thompson - A Memorable Sermon from Ogilvie Institute on Vimeo.

Sermons that are wise

LJO Thompson - Wise Preaching from Ogilvie Institute on Vimeo.

Jesus was a Jedi master

LJO Thompson - Challenges in Preaching John's Gospel from Ogilvie Institute on Vimeo.

More videos if you click on the link to Ogilvie inst,
Let me know what you think, :-)

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Bible Idol

I've been waiting for a while to use John Birch's cartoon,

To me it sums up the great danger evangelical Christians face with their love of scripture which can so easily become idolatry. How? Well one way this happens is summarised nicely by William Witt (HT):
There is a danger of focusing on the texts as documents, and forgetting that the Scriptures are not self-referential. They speak of a reality beyond themselves, namely, God’s creation and redemption of the world and humanity in Jesus Christ. The purpose of exegesis is not only to decipher the grammatical meaning of the text or to find precedents for permissible or impermissible behavior, but to allow oneself to be formed and transformed by the reality to which the Scriptures refer so that one can find oneself within the Bible’s story of creation and redemption.
The only sermon I've ever really managed to upset someone with (as far as I know) was when I suggested that it was possible to have too high a view of scripture! But it is very simple, I don't worship the Bible, I only love the scriptures in that they, and as far as they, point me to Jesus.

Porter on Gal 3:38

Stanley Porter's blog gives this teaser of a forthcoming essay,

I see Gal 3:28 (within the context of Gal 3:26-29) as confronting three major pillars of the oppressive Roman socio-economic system—ethnicity, slavery, and gender. Paul pulls the rug out from beneath some of these major fixtures within Roman society. Romans saw themselves as privileged as opposed to foreigners. Slaves were the backbone of the economy. Women were not people but property within a rigid and hierarchical family structure. Paul essentially dissolves all of these within the Christian community.

I see further support for this position in a number of other passages. For example, even though Paul recognizes that races exist—hence his strong statements about his being a Jew and the role of ethnic Israel (see Romans 9-11 among others)—he does not believe that race privileges people within the church.

He also attacks the very institution of slavery without calling for a slave revolt, by making the institution unable to continue by transforming social relations within the church. Those who were master and slave are transformed into brothers (see the letter to Philemon, as well as the Haustafeln passages in Ephesians and Colossians).

Paul transforms gender relations also. I think that even such notoriously controversial passages as 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15, when they are linguistically understood within their contexts (without reading into them previously decided interpretations), conform to this understanding. What Paul is arguing for is order and propriety within the Christian community, with proper behaviour on all sides.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The choice between fiction and safety

I totally get where these peeps are coming from, although I try not to do this when my kids or wife are around, because, well, they are worth putting the book down and appreciating . . . most of the time.
You’re making a choice: essentially what you’re saying (or what I’m saying) is that sometimes you’re more interested in fiction than in reality and you don’t care who knows it. You’re saying, I’m willing to chuck most or probably all of my dignity, and some measure of my personal safety, and your personal safety, because it’s more important to me to keep reading this book I’m reading than it is to look where I’m going.
On this particular day she insisted I stir the gravy NOW, a request which seemed highly unreasonable to a ten-year-old engrossed in the mishaps and scrapes of the adult Anne of Green Gables and her brood of six children. I harrumphed my way to the stove, where I stood lazily whisking with one hand and holding my book in the other. Inevitably the book drifted too close to the gas flame, and suddenly my paperback was alight.

Evangelical Calvinists are . . .

If you've ever wondered what an evangelical Calvinist might look like and why or if they are better than the common or garden variety, if you are one or if you might like to be one then this book is for you, thanks to Jason Goroncy for typing this out, more discussion on his blog. some of those essays actually look quite interesting, at least if you think that bastion of the half-baked reformation is worth rescuing from his contemporary disciples . . .

Congratulations to Myk Habets and Bobby Grow on the bringing to birth of Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. It’s good to see this baby come full term. The Table of Contents reads:
Prologue: Union in Christ: A Declaration for the Church. Andrew Purves and Mark Achtemeier
1: Theologia Reformata et Semper Reformanda. Towards a Definition of Evangelical Calvinism. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow
Part 1: Prolegomena – Historical Theology
2: The Phylogeny of Calvin’s Progeny: A Prolusion. Charles Partee
3: The Depth Dimension of Scripture: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Calvinism. Adam Nigh
4: Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature. Bobby Grow
5: The Christology of Vicarious Agency in the Scots Confession According to Karl Barth. Andrew Purves
Part 2: Systematic Theology
6: Pietas, Religio, and the God Who Is. Gannon Murphy
7: “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ:” Christologically Conditioned Election. Myk Habets
8: A Way Forward on the Question of the Transmission of Original Sin. Marcus Johnson
9: “The Highest Degree of Importance”: Union with Christ and Soteriology. Marcus Johnson
10: “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan:” J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry. Jason Goroncy
11: “Suffer the little children to come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Infant Salvation and the Destiny of the Severely Mentally Disabled. Myk Habets
Part 3: Applied Theology
12: Living as God’s Children: Calvin’s Institutes as Primer for Spiritual Formation. Julie Canlis
13: Idolaters at Providential Prayer: Calvin’s Praying Through the Divine Governance. John C McDowell
14: Worshiping like a Calvinist: Cruciform Existence. Scott Kirkland
Part 4
15: Theses on a Theme. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow
Epilogue: Post Reformation Lament. Myk Habets

Friday, June 15, 2012

Keller getting the OT wrong

Tim Keller makes a careful and patient explanation of how we should pick and choose from the OT laws.
The problem is the whole ceremonial/moral law divide is nonsense. The OT laws are not arranged into moral and ceremonial categories, no such division could have existed in the minds of its original audience and no indication is ever given in the text as to such categories. The only way to make such categorisations is to impose totally arbitrary criteria. Admittedly Keller's criteria has the appearance of being less than arbitrary,

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question—“Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

Now before I am misunderstood I both advocate Christological readings of the OT and am a conservative on issues of sexual immorality. Keller has ably demonstrated why some OT laws are not followed by Christians. What he has failed to do is show why any OT laws should be followed by Christians. Obviously Keller has in mind Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 which he wants to still carry weight because to him this is not a ceremonial issue but a moral one. But the argument from the other side of the debate is that both these chapters are set firmly in the context of OT worship and avoidance of idolatry, yes the chapters feature incest and bestiality, but they also feature Canaanite idolatry and unclean animals. More to the point, "man lying with man as with a woman" is more likely a description of male temple prostitution than a modern monogamous and loving homosexual relationship. The modern social construct of homosexuality did not exist when Leviticus was written so it can hardly be expected to be addressing our contemporary situation in quite such a direct and convenient manner.

Keller is wrong because Christians do not follow any of the OT laws - we follow Christ. We may extract principles from the OT for our theology and ethics - an example of where this is done constructively is around the year of Jubilee, an example of this being less useful is Leviticus 18 - but this is fraught with danger if not done very carefully. As Christians we only read the OT as Christians, we are God's people not because we follow the law but because of the blood of Jesus (Rev 5). We read the OT to meet Christ, not to find legal precedent for our moral convictions. So where do we get our moral convictions from? Well I'll have to leave that for another post, it is time for breakfast and to wake my kids up for school.

Let me know what you think, :-)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

brick-a-brack 120612

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cain's Offering

As I've mentioned already I'm currently preaching on the early chapters of Genesis, it has been really good getting into these theologically rich narratives and I have been wishing I had made it a longer series, there is so much that comes out of these chapters once you start digging. And note to other pastors who avoid this book, I have had heaps of good feedback from diverse sections of the congregation on this one, stop being scared and preach Genesis! This week I am preparing to preach on the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-16) and I was surprised to find that my "friends" all think the text is ambiguous as to why Cain's offering is not appreciated by God, Bruggemann just thinks God is being capricious (p56), Walton exhorts us to being noncommittal on the issue while Hamilton describes all the interpretive reasons he has come across as being "fanciful"! (p224) Which is a little embarrassing because I have always thought the was text quite clear.

וַיָּבֵ֨א קַ֜יִן מִפְּרִ֧י הָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה מִנְחָ֖ה לַֽיהוָֽה׃
Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground

וְהֶ֨בֶל הֵבִ֥יא גַם־ה֛וּא מִבְּכֹרֹ֥ות צֹאנֹ֖ו וּמֵֽחֶלְבֵהֶ֑ן
And Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions

וַיִּ֣שַׁע יְהוָ֔ה אֶל־הֶ֖בֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתֹֽו׃
And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering

וְאֶל־קַ֥יִן וְאֶל־מִנְחָתֹ֖ו לֹ֣א שָׁעָ֑ה
But for Cain and his offering he had no regard. (NRSV)

In a narrative as sparse as Genesis it seems greedy to demand more evidence than the double emphasis on standard of Abel's offering, being both the firstborn from his flock and the fatty bits. By contrast Cain's offering, which until v4 was looking perfectly unremarkable, seems rather stingy and half-hearted.

What do you think?

Monday, June 4, 2012

brick-a-brack 040512

  • James McGrath shares this little chesnut:


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Faith needs Heart Surgery: A Sermon

Another cracking sermon from Luke Powery, this one has very different tone and is perhaps more accessible than the last one I linked to. Good stuff, so much to take from this exegetically, theologically and homiletically! I particularly love his powerful and consistent use of metaphor, this is not some guy telling you what to think but a preacher opening your mind to ideas that even he doesn't fully understand yet.