Tag Archives: Christ

Soren Kierkegaard on the birth of Christ

“The birth of Christ is an event not only on earth but also in heaven. Our justification is likewise an event not only on earth but also in heaven.” — Soren Kierkegaard, quoted in the Provocations anthology

Christ busted




Revitalizing liturgical worship: Stephen R. Holmes on history and location

“Because of the doctrine of creation, historical locatedness is something good. The tradition we inherit is part of our location in history, and so in doing theology it is necessary to relate to the tradition.” — Stephen R. Holmes in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology

Notice the assumptions in the title of the book: Theology is somewhat abstract and intellectual, while tradition is somewhat tangible and embodied.

Also, consider what Holmes is saying, and I’ll put my own interpretative spin on it: even if you don’t believe in “sacred spaces,” you can appreciate that many people have worshipped within a certain place, and you can appreciate that all the symbolism within a place points to Christ or to the Trinity, and you can appreciate that someone, whether the craftsman or just the purchaser, cared that tangible things would be symbols for God, for Christ, and for the glory of God. After all, in Christian belief, the printed word “Jesus” is not the Incarnated God, yet the word stands as a symbol for the Incarnated God. If words can refer to God, than other symbols can, too, and a place with many symbols can be considered special without being considered idolatrous. We don’t fix a flood with a drought, as Thomas Howard said in a quotation I posted the other day.

Why I argue with ministers

“The clarity and cogency that philosophy brings is accordingly something that has a potentially positive role to play in every impartial area of human endeavor, Christianity by no means excluded. No church can exist in easy comfort with its intellectuals and theologians, but no church can be a thriving concern among thinking people if it dispenses with their services.” — Nicholas Rescher, in Philosophers Who Believe

But I don’t think that requires an attempt to wear smartness on one’s sleeve. I’m thinking this through with a few questions: I’m already in my church, but would I join it today? Is my church the kind of place where I would feel comfortable inviting my colleagues? What if answering both of those questions affirmatively did not involve a conference on apologetics or brainy sermons? So what would it involve?

Don’t blame the rapist — the rape was God’s idea, after all

In this enlightening video clip, famous preacher and author John Piper explicitly describes the inescapable conclusion of the Reformed doctrine of sovereignty: God has predetermined every sin.

After watching the video clip, consider this: in Reformed theology, a rapist will experience conscious, eternal torment unless he repents of his sins, and yet God chose the rapist to be an agent for the rape; therefore, the rapist had to rape because God predetermined it; and furthermore, God may have chosen (back before the first human being became conscious) to damn the rapist. (Better yet, the rapist is due for the same punishment as an average American middle-class Joe who never commits a crime, but that’s another matter.)

So, rapist, repent from what God forced you to do according to his perfect will, or, repent from being an agent for God’s perfect will. Oh, and it’s still the rapist’s fault, not the fault of the almighty, all-powerful sovereign God of the universe, who made the rapist rape.

You have to be angry at sin and God’s will at the same time.

Have you ever seen a horror movie in which the evil creep forces someone to do something despicable?

Of course this view of sovereignty doesn’t make sense. The ultimate end of Reformed views of sovereignty is to ask us to believe in a God who created goodness while also having a completely different definition of goodness — a definition that has not the slightest bit of analogy to our definition.

Can we even understand Christ’s sacrifice without analogies? Many people understand a soldier sacrificing himself for others during a battle, or a mother sacrificing herself for her children. Some people have described Christ’s sacrifice as a judge issuing a sentence on me and then taking the punishment himself.

(To declare the analogy imperfect doesn’t matter — the analogy is being used to communicate what is said to be the most important message, ever.)

If not the slightest analogy exists between our understanding and God’s understanding, the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture has to go because language itself becomes moot — and mute. Without some semblance of analogy, no bridge between our minds and God’s mind can exist.

Elsewhere, Piper has made a plea for us not to let our minds build “implications” too far out from Biblical teachings, a softened version of other statements he has made.

But biblical interpretation itself is the building of implications. That’s not hard to figure out. Why did Piper say that about “implications”? Why do people listen to him? It must be an ideological thing, like, as long as you’re against taxes, you’ll have the favor of Republicans, or as long as you’re pro-choice, you’ll have the favor of Hollywood, never mind the reasoning behind your position or your other positions.

And when an interpretation or implication nauseates our moral consciences, we ought to be able to say it’s a wrong interpretation or implication.

(This remains confusing to me: the Reformed folks, and many others, demand that we systematize the Bible’s teachings, and then they pull back at convenient moments and declare “mystery.” They specialize in rationalistic interpretations of Scripture while Scripture itself has for too many textual variations and outright contradictions to stand in a strictly rationalistic manner. To say the Scripture should be seen as poetic truth would probably be misunderstood because people today have too low of a view of poetry, similar to the degradation of the word “myth,” which was enormously valuable to C.S. Lewis.)

Of course, Piper’s view isn’t the only available view. In his book The Beauty of the Infinite, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart writes, “At a critical moment in cultural history — not that there were not various fateful moves in the history of Western theology that led to it — many Christian thinkers somehow forgot that the incarnation of the Logos, the infinite ratio of all that is, reconciles us not only to God, but to the world, by giving us back a knowledge of creation’s goodness, allowing us to see again its essential transparency — even to the point, in Christ, of identity — before God. The covenant of light was broken. God became, progressively, the world’s infinite contrary. And this state of theological decline was so precipitous and complete that it even became possible for someone as formidably intelligent as Calvin, without any apparent embarrassment, to regard the fairly lurid portrait of the omnipotent despot of book III of his Institutes – who not only ordains the destiny of souls, but in fact predestines the first sin, and so brings the whole drama of creation and redemption to pass (including the eternal perdition of the vast majority of humanity) as a display of his own dread sovereignty — as a proper depiction of the Christian God. One ancient Augustinian misreading of Paul’s ruminations upon the mystery of election had, at last, eventuated fatalism.”

In Piper’s mind and in many evangelical and Reformed minds, God is “the world’s infinite contrary,” to the point where not the slightest semblance of analogy exists between our use of “good” and God’s “good.” Rape is bad for us, but good for God.

My church, full of feeling, does not think of these things, and offers Piper’s books, and quotes Piper in its materials. Which is worse — the belief that rape is good for God, or the insanely liberal theology of a denomination’s national church? Please tell me this is a false dilemma.

An ex-pastor’s salient point: ‘feelings, nothing more than feelings’

Feelings and experiences might just have more to do with conversion, and de-conversion, than critical thinking.

The truth is my personal experiences forced me to do what I should have been doing all along, critically examining my faith. It took these experiences because the power of delusion is that strong. So just because many of us leave the faith after some bad experiences, it does not follow that experiences alone caused us to leave the faith. The bad experiences merely caused us to wake from our dogmatic slumbers. They force us into actually thinking critically about our inherited faith for probably the first time in our lives,” writes John W. Loftus in Why I Became An Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (italics in the original).

Loftus also notes that people usually have a conversion experience or conversion feelings, and then set out to try to justify them rationally.

And, Loftus says if feelings and experiences are grounds for conversion, they can be grounds for de-conversion, too. Or maybe he was saying feelings and experiences kind of cancel each other out in the faith-versus-skepticism debate.

Maybe all that isn’t surprising. Hume said reason is, and ought to be, slave to the passions.

But it’s more than just Loftus’s perspective on bad experiences. Consider, too, this video by Dr. Valerie Tarico, a former evangelical, and watch at least to the 3:49 mark. Tarico considers the nature of conversion experiences. If you watch about the first four minutes, you might be surprised by the research Tarico presents, at least if you consider similarities in conversion experiences to be a kind of evidence for the type of belief system you have.

Furthermore, Michael Shermer and Andy Thomson take a look at how and why the brain believes — typically not upon rational bases.

So what’s the point? The point is: our way of assessing feelings and experiences tends to be central to our appropriation or rejection of a belief, and feelings and experiences are shaky grounds in light of our best available understanding of the brain.

Best line from tonight’s ‘The Walking Dead’

“Christ promised a resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.” — Hershel, on the AMC series “The Walking Dead”