Category Archives: Christianity

A Question About Christian Theology


Why would God tell us to love our enemies if at least some of our enemies are beyond redemption¹ and God has already decided to destroy at least some of them², so by asking us to love them, God therefore is asking us to do something that would be loftier and nobler than what God is willing to do³

¹ This phrase assumes, for the sake of argument, some are predetermined to be beyond redemption (predetermined in this case because of points made in the following notes). Then again, maybe none of “our enemies,” the ones who ultimately really are enemies, are beyond redemption. Furthermore, it might not be clear right now who “our enemies” really are, which might be one reason to love those who appear to be enemies.

² By choosing to save some and to damn others. This point of view, while very present in Christian theology, is difficult because God cannot choose to save some without choosing to not-save others. When One is an all-powerful being*, not-doing must be just as volitional as doing. When all-powerful, choosing not to embrace one sentient being You have created must be just as volitional as choosing to embrace another sentient being You have created.

*or even all-powerful and outside of being

³ This phrase assumes, for the sake of argument, that God does not love those whom He created yet knows ultimately will be His enemies, and additionally, assumes that God has decided to create some to ultimately become His enemies. In other words, God creates some people He does not love or plans to stop loving. So, by calling humans to love their enemies as themselves, God has asked us to do something noble and good that He neither is willing to do nor desiring to do, which you should admit is kind of strange. Again, choosing not to embrace one sentient being You have created must be just as volitional as choosing to embrace another sentient being You have created. Oddly enough, two verses later, Jesus asks, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” So maybe by asking us to love our enemies, God is asking us to follow His characteristics or part of His nature.

The question seeks a coherent explanation of both the command to love our enemies and the interpretative and systematic traditions which affirm non-universalist positions on predestination and election in which some individuals are intentionally created by God for the purposes of committing sins and thereafter being held accountable for the sins without being given grace and therefore damned. Is there some achievable coherence between God’s decision to create some people to experience His wrath and God’s command to love our enemies?

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T.S. Eliot’s Take on The Church and The World


Candidates from both major U.S. political parties have been visiting churches, which seems to make this excerpt from an old T.S. Eliot book quite timely:

“That there is an antithesis between the Church and the World is a belief we derive from the highest authority. We know also from our reading of history, that a certain tension between Church and State is desirable. When Church and State fall out completely, it is ill with the commonwealth; and when Church and State get on too well together, there is something wrong with the Church. But the distinction between the Church and the World is not so easy to draw as that between Church and State. Here we mean not any one communion or ecclesiastical organisation but the whole number of Christians as Christians; and we mean not any particular State, but the whole of society, the world over, in its secular aspect. The antithesis is not simply between two opposed groups of individuals: every individual is himself a field in which the forces of the Church and the world struggle.”

The quotation comes from a broadcast talk delivered in February 1937, then printed in “The Listener,” and later added as an appendix to Eliot’s “The Idea of a Christian Society,” published in his book Christianity and Culture.

 

Thoughts for Sunday Morning: The Believer’s Duty, According to Gabriel Marcel


Marcel often helps me do some sorting-out:

We shall understand nothing of the relation between the believer and the non-believer and there is danger of giving the most harmfully pharisaic interpretation of it if we fail to perceive something else which is even more mysterious, namely the symbiosis of belief and disbelief in the same soul. If the believer has any duty at all, it is to become aware of all that is within him of the non-believer.Gabriel Marcel, in “From opinion to faith,” Creative Fidelity

I might break it down this way:

  1. We shall understand nothing of the relation between the believer and the non-believer
  2. if we fail to perceive the co-existence of belief and disbelief in the same soul
  3. and if we fail to perceive that co-existence, we’ll probably be Pharisees, or pharisaic,
  4. so if you or I count ourselves among believers, we should probably get our heads around our own unbelief and our own non-believer tendencies before we consider ourselves too distinct.

While I Was In The Courtyard With The Witches of ‘Macbeth’


From Act I, Scene III:

First Witch: All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

Second Witch: All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!

Yesterday, students were practicing that scene in the outdoor courtyard of the humanities building. I was grading papers and taking in the October air.

The scene’s prophecies tantalize Macbeth with the promise of future power. Of course, most of us know how the rest of the play unfolds. Macbeth accepts the prophecies as true, and then he can hardly avoid the temptation to make them quickly become reality. Macbeth ultimately dooms himself with his belief in the prophecies and with his actions to bring about the witches’ forecasts.

While I graded a paper, the undergrads acted out the scene and read the lines.

And I recalled my own reaction to a prophecy I heard when I was 15 years old.

Not from three witches, but from one frog-faced man, an itinerant prophet who received from God new prophecies in King James English. He told me in front of the entire church service, in the YWCA meeting room, I would some day be a leader of young people, like the Old Testament Joshua.

The grown-ups in this room took the frog-faced prophet seriously, even if we didn’t tend to read the King James Version of the Bible. The prophet was given a microphone, and he roved around the front of the meeting room, casually preaching, really just commenting on spiritual living, while he looked at the congregants. He would feel drawn to certain faces, and he would ask them to stand up, and he would tell them what God was saying to them, as God spoke to him in King James English. Then he would continue the casual preaching until he felt drawn to another face.

People in my church believed in the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit. We were defined by that belief. If we worshiped God in the right way, if we believed enough, God would do miraculous things for us. We often sang a song from the Book of Isaiah: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” We knew human action would lead people astray, but proper faith and fullness of worship would bring God to our sides. God would heal us and bring us wealth and protect us from evil.

After the prophecy, after I had received a prophetic word, I had reassurance. No matter how poorly my life was going, God someday would make me a leader like Joshua. Even if I knew I was misbehaving, well, someday it would be part of the story of how God brought me to my heights.

God had a plan for my life. I had a future. I had a destiny. I saw new opportunities as starting points for rising to my calling as a great leader, but I rarely sought opportunities. I trusted the prophet’s words to be from God.

And so I doomed my future to waiting for God to act.

In the courtyard, I kept grading papers, and the students kept rehearsing, but I knew I had realized something about my life.

Aside

Zealous leader, the more you try to save us from ourselves, the more we need to be saved from you.

Aside

from “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” Hope is where the door is  When the church is where the war is Where no one can feel no one else’s pain You’re gonna sleep like a baby tonight In your dreams, everything … Continue reading

Ancient Mystery Religions and Their Influence on Christianity: Adding Some Expert Testimony


Quick Background

A professor writes a book. Another professor reviews it. The reviewer is critical of the book, but he begins with points of agreement.

As he goes through his points of agreement, the reviewer touches on some key points in the book and in the process provides some recent grounds for an argument I’ve been exploring: that ancient mystery religions influenced and helped shape Christianity.

Expert Testimony

At the time of the review, the reviewer, Paul Hedges, was a “Reader in Interreligious Studies at the University of Winchester, UK.”

Hedges reviewed Influences: How Ancient Hinduism Dramatically Changed Early Christianity by A.L. Herman for a 2011 edition of the Journal of Religious History.

While the question of ancient Hinduism’s influence on Christianity is not my interest at the moment, I think it’s worth noting that Hedges begins his review with, “Bunkum!”

But then, three short paragraphs later in the review, Hedges writes:

“I start with my points of agreement. These include his [Herman’s] arguments that: (1) Christianity is not uninfluenced, which affects claims of absolutism and supremacy; (2) Christianity was influenced by the mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world; and (3) there were significant currents of influence between Asia and the Mediterranean world” (boldface added).

Disclaimer

In a previous post, I excerpted four books to present some evidence for the claim that ancient mystery religions probably influenced Christianity.

I realize this is not my field of professional expertise, so I’m relying on the work of others. I’m also not well-versed in the fields that could support or deny the claim that ancient mystery religions influenced and even helped shape Christianity, so I’m just adding excerpts and information as I find them.

Upcoming

At some point in the near future, I’ll compare what two major Bible dictionaries say about ancient mystery religions and their influences upon Christianity. In at least a rhetorical sense, the two dictionaries differ in what they emphasize and how certain they are in their assessments of available evidence.