The 2013 Homebrewed Christianity Podcast Awards!

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3 Books for the Price of 1!

6 week online class w/ Peter Rollins

6 week online class w/ Peter Rollins

2013 was an amazing year on the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast network.  So Bo and I decided that we would do a little year-end review show.  You will get to hear some of our favorite clips, hear what was going through our heads during some of the online scuffles, and find out just who won the coveted Homebrewed Christianity Deacon of the Year!

In the episode we give out awards for Elder of the Year, Episode of the Year, Live Event of Awesomeness, Online Scuffle Spectacular, and Deacon of the Year.

The Theology Nerd Throwdown is excited to welcome Chalice Press.  They are the offical publishing sponsor with lots of great books and resources for theology nerds, preachers, and church planters. They just might become your #1 favorite progressive Christian publisher. So check them out.

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference, Live Podcast and Craft Brewery Fun.

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference and Craft Brewery Fun.

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Is God Unique? a response to Tony Jones

Tony Jones posted a question on his blog about the uniqueness of the process god.

As you may know, I responded to Roger Olson earlier this week and I have been talking about how much appreciate ‘al‘s -setting-sun

  • relation-al
  • incarnation-al
  • mission-al
  • practic-al
  • radic-al

I would add pentecost-al

So as someone who is newly converasation-al with process thought, here is my response to Tony’s question.

I would love your feedback – or, if you feel like it, go over and post on Tony’s blog. He is going to respond Friday and Tripp and I are recording the Process/Olsen TNT podcast response.

______

I am continually surprised that this misunderstanding seems to be the sticking point for those who are theologically educated!

For the person in the pew the contentious issue is the nature of God’s power. For the theologian, it is God’s uniqueness.

Let me just say un-categorically that the answer to this question is “Yes. God is unique.”

Process affirms that, both ontologically and in the incarnated revelation of Jesus. God is unique and Jesus is a unique expression that.

Here is how process gets there:

  • God is not an exception to the way the world works  but it’s highest exemplification.
  • God both affects and is affected  by the world.
  • While the world (and all that exists) is contained within God,  God is not completely contained or explained by it. The relationship is not symmetrical.

So in just those three simple points it is clear that God is unique!  Also, God unlike other actual entities does not expire.  This fourth point is perhaps the greatest distinction of uniqueness.

I really don’t know how it could be any clearer that the process God is both unique and distinct! There is no reason that this should be a sticking point for Christian theologians.

I confess that I am baffled as to why this continues to be a last-ditch objection to adopt a process thought as a conversation partner in the theological endeavor.  from the very first moment God is unique–the Alpha and the Omega–it is just that the Omega is different from the Alpha  in that the experiences of the world have impacted the real and  living God.

Someone is going to have to explain to me how this picture of God is NOT unique.

 

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A Newbie Response to Roger Olson

Roger Olson blogged about why he is not a Process Theologian.  Since I am a newbie to Process Thought, I thought it would be fun to respond to the post point-by-point.  My responses are in bold.

In the days to come, people who do this for a living (instead of a hobby) will respond more deeply and more accurately than I have here. 

 

First … let me say that many, many people I know who think they believe in process theology really don’t. Like many theological labels and categories, over time, “process theology” has been stretched to cover much, much more than it originally covered. Many people who claim to believe in it simply don’t know what it is, historically-theologically, or what it entails logically.

I am up for the challenge. I might be who you are talking about. Let’s see how this goes. 

When I talk about “process theology” I mean the type of (so-called) Christian theology based on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (sometimes as modified by Charles Hartshorne) and expressed above all, prototypically, by John Cobb, David Griffin, Norman Pittenger, Delwin Brown, et al.

Good so far – that is what I thought it was.  

In other words, “process theology” is not just any relational theology. It is a type of relational theology, but not the only one. And, I would add, not the best one. (For example, Jürgen Moltmann’s is a relational theology and, in my opinion, much better than process theology.)

Sure. We know plenty of people who prefer Moltmann or the Open Theology of someone like Greg Boyd. No worries there. 

Many people have taken a course that included a little process theology or have read a book by a process thinker or just heard about process theology and jumped on the bandwagon without really knowing all that it involves. So—just because you call yourself “process” doesn’t mean you are.

Agreed. We try to say this all the time. Of course we say from a purist sort of qualification and you mean as as dis-qualification – but so far so good. 

So what are the essentials of process theology? My description will be of an “ideal type” based on the consensus of the most noted and influential process theologians (some of whom are mentioned above).

Let’s do this! 

First, process theology assumes that to be is to be in relation. It is a relational, organic worldview.

Yep. In fact, I would ask, “what was the other option?” 

Second, process theology avers that God is not an exception to basic ontological rules but is their chief exemplification.

This is a major distinction and one that I find very attractive. But you are right – it is a significant departure. This is why I talk about Process Thought as a not just a new program to download but a new operating system that reformats ones’ theological hard-drive.

Third, process theology asserts that omnipotence is a theological mistake; God is not and cannot be omnipotent. God’s only power is the power of influence (persuasion).

Right. The nature of God’s power is not coercive but persuasive. God’s power is not unilateral but seductive.  No problem so far. Hand_ofGod2

Fourth, process theology is a form of theistic naturalism; it does not have room for the supernatural or for divine interventions (miracles).

Umm … yes and no. This is true to the degree that the super-natural is based in a pathetically antiquated metaphysics and a three-tiered universe. But ‘no’ in the sense that there is room for the miraculous – especially as testified to in the Gospel accounts. So we are 4 in and we start to get a little shaky. 

Fifth, process theology denies creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing, and affirms classical panentheism—God and the world are mutually interdependent. There is a sense in which God is dependent on the world (beyond self-limitation).

Ya – read the two creation accounts in Genesis. There is no creation ex nihilo. Read church history. No Jewish person, including Jesus,  would have believed ex nihilo until two centuries after Christ. It is a greco-roman reading imported and imposed on the Jewish text. 

Sixth, process theology refers to God as “dipolar”—having two “poles” or “natures”—one primordial and one consequent. God’s primordial pole is potential only and consists of ideals. God’s consequent pole is actual and consists of God’s experience. The world contributes experience to God. God has no primordial experience. (Theologian Austin Farrer referred to this as process theology’s lack of “prior actuality in God.”)

Right. And doesn’t a classic Trinitarian understanding speak of the immanent and the economic Trinity? Am I wrong on this? If I am someone will tell me … 

Seventh, process theology regards God as radically temporal; God learns as history unfolds and how history unfolds is ultimately up to creatures (actual occasions). (“God proposes but man disposes.”)

Umm … isn’t there evidence of this in both the Hebrew and Christian testaments? I mean, it’s not completely unprecedented. I mean, you can go the Openess route and say that it is a ‘self-limitation’ or you can go the Process route and say that it just the way it is (God’s nature / the nature of reality).  

Eighth, process theology reduces God’s creative activity to bringing about order and harmony insofar as possible. God is not the actual creator of the world or any actual occasion (the basic building blocks of reality). God can only create, however, with creaturely cooperation.

Right – the interventionist notion of God is shed. This will become important as we move through the 20th century (let alone the 21st). 

Ninth, process theology views Jesus Christ as different in degree but not in kind from other creatures. His “divinity” consists of his embodying the self-expressive activity of God (“Logos”) which is “creative transformation.” He is not God incarnate in any absolutely unique sense that no other creature could be.

Ugh. This is overstated. I would venture to say that the last sentence is not well represented. If one listens to the latest Barrel Aged Podcast with John Cobb on Advent, you will hear a more nuanced and ‘orthodox’ presentation of this concept of incarnation. Jesus IS unique. 

I   would go as far as to say that Olsen gets this one wrong. 

Tenth, process theology denies any guaranteed ultimate victory of God or good over evil. The future is “more of the same” so far as we know. Ultimately, that is up to us, not God. God always does God’s best, but he cannot guarantee anything.

Half Right. Is the future guaranteed? No. It is 100% up to us? No – there is still a God in the universe. Does God work with us to bring about a preferable set of possibilities and open up options yet unseen? Yes. 

Now, if that is an accurate brief summary of the essential points of process theology, which I believe it is (allowing that there are people who call themselves “process” who may disagree with one or two points and who may add to it something others would not), here is why I think it is not a form of Christian theology.

I would give it a 90% – but let’s see where this goes. 

First, process theology’s ultimate authority for belief is not divine revelation but philosophy and, in particular, Whitehead’s organic metaphysic (sometimes as altered by Hartshorne). That becomes the “Procrustean bed” on which revelation must fit. It is not merely influenced by or integrated with that philosophy; that philosophy is its very soul and foundation.

Dr. Olson, you have to know that all of Christian theology is both in concert with and based on some set of philosophical frameworks. That is part & parcel of every theological project through the centuries. Process’ explicit reliance on this is not a disqualifying admittance. In fact, it is better than the implicit nature of other historical expressions. 

Second, process theology’s Jesus Christ is not God and Savior in any recognizable sense. Its Christology tends to be either adoptionistic or Nestorian (as in the case of Norman Pittenger).

What?  Oh my. Really? Oh no. We are going to have to do a TNT on this one.  The beauty of  ‘christology from below’ the subtle way that Cobb does it in the pod on Advent is masterful. 

Third, process theology has very little, if any, room for the Trinity. Attempts by process theologians to include the Trinity in their theology have been weak and mostly modalistic. (Catholic process theologian Joseph Bracken has attempted to develop a trinitarian process theology, but I’m not convinced it works.)

Now you are swinging wildly. Would you say this about the parichoretic view? 

Fourth, process theology denies miracles including the bodily resurrection/empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

Not exactly. 

Fifth, process theology constitutes radical accommodation to secular modernity.

Because Evangelicalism has made no accommodation to modernity or changed anything since the Apostles?

Sixth, process theology denies the efficacy of petitionary prayer.

There is no interventionist God in Process. 

Seventh, process theology has no realistic eschatology.

Realistic? Did you mean that? Did you mean ‘real’? Otherwise you will have to show me a ‘realistic’ one. 

Eighth, process theology makes God dependent on the world and not as a matter of voluntary self-limitation (as in the case of Moltmann, for example).

God’s nature versus decision –  a slight distinction. Certainly doesn’t need to be a matter of disqualification.  

Ninth, process theology reduces salvation to actualization of God’s “initial aim” and thereby falls into a kind of Pelagianism (except that for most process theologians everyone is or will be “saved” in the traditional sense of reconciled with God).

Now this is an interesting point – one worth fleshing out in throwdown. Having said that, I hope you are prepared to have your view of salvation scrutinized. 

Tenth, process theology is so esoteric as to be impossible for most people to understand. It uses conventional Christian language but means something so different that only people steeped in process philosophy could possibly guess at its meaning. The meanings bear little resemblance, if any, to orthodox Christianity.

Oh come on! Is that a real accusation? You just said esoteric. Big words and new concepts are not a problem. People learn new words all time: “I’ll have a venti Caffè macchiato barista”. 

Added:  This happens when people join denominations of change expression of church.  You can not become Lutheran, Episcopal, Wesleyan, Methodist, Catholic, charismatic, Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox , non-denominational  any other from without learning new words.

Sanctification, liturgy, vestry, sacrament, diocese, cruciform, stole, christen, laity … it just goes on and on.

SO the learning of  new words and concept thing is not a big deal. We do the same thing when we go seminary: soteriology, annotation, attribution, attestation, primary source, ontology, Turabian.

None of that is prohibitive. People do this all time when it A) benefits them (barista) and B) they enjoy it/ feel it is necessary.

If you talk to someone in the military, medical or legal fields … it is ubiquitous – then it come to religion and ‘Oh NOO! the average person in the pew has to understand EVERYthing  immediately’.   Why is that?

Is there anything redeemable in process theology? Not that I cannot find elsewhere.

Nothing redeemable? Is that a play on words because of the salvation thing earlier? 

Why is process theology so popular? I think it’s because it seems to solve the theodicy question. If process theology is true, there is no theodicy question. Evil exists because God is not omnipotent and creatures, having free will and some degree of self-centeredness, often resist God’s initial aim for them. I’m not sure that begins to explain evils such as the holocaust.

  1. It’s popular?  Nice. 
  2. You are right about the theodicy question. 

But process theology solves the theodicy issue at too high a cost. The God of process theology is hardly worshipful. In order to be worshipful God must be both great and good (but not one at the expense of the other). The God of process theology is not great enough to be worshipful. He/she/it is great enough to be admirable but not worshipful.

No. Wrong.  You sound like the person who says “Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th? Christmas isn’t even worth celebrating!”  Just because it isn’t the way you were taught it or previously understood it – doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. You should walk in the woods or come to church with me sometime.

A better solution to the theodicy issue may be found in God’s self-limitation in creation. This is the alternative presented by Moltmann, among others. I highly recommend Greg Boyd’s book Is God to Blame? for those attracted to process theology but wanting a more orthodox alternative. (For those who object that Boyd is an open theist, this particular book does not depend on that.)

This should get interesting. 

 
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The Limits of Labels

I have insomnia tonight – a rare occasion these days. I’m not in the mood to read any more about the use of Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle in Practical Theology so I brewed some coffee and revisited some of the online happenings from the past couple of months.

I found 3 pairs of things that I think are worth bringing up again. I will attempt to state everything in the positive as much as possible.

A couple of months ago, I made a case for the usefulness of labels. That included a couple of clarifiers:

  • that the label was used to more accurately locate a person or a thought – and not as a pejorative.
  • that the label was used accurately and not as a means to marginalize or discredit someone.

As I have attempted to make clear in various places, that when those two conditions are not the case it can be not only unhelpful, but flat-out inaccurate.

The second thing I thought was worth revisiting is that original Roger Olson article that got all of this started. Dr. Olson proclaims why he is not a liberal christian. I too have declared that I am not a liberal christian. However, I vary from Olson in my approach in several key ways.

  1. I say that being a liberal christian is a perfectly valid thing to be and that if I were one I would be so proudly. Dr. Olson doesn’t seem to have such a favorable disposition to it.
  2. I attempt to make a distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. Dr. Olson uses them seemingly interchangeably – especially in the beginning of his article. That impacts his conclusions later on.

These two points of departure are illustrative. I say something positive about the liberal tradition and I distinguish it from the ongoing trajectory of some of it’s heirs.

Here is why that is significant:

First, Dr. Olson references 2 renowned scholars as to their summation of the Liberal tradition.

  • Claude Welch: “maximal acknowledgment of the claims of modernity” in theology.
  • Gary Dorrien: defines liberal religion as rejection of any authority outside the self.

I find myself in neither of these maxims. I know people who fit them to a ‘T’ though.
I ,however, have engaged far too much post-colonial, liberation and feminist theology and am too deep into the hermeneutical turn to be there.

Second – and most importantly – Dr. Olson uses the term freely to say “If you don’t hold to this traditional/classical position .. I think of you as a Liberal.” I am saying that the term should be used very specifically by:

  1. Its historical connection to the tradition of Schleiermacher. 
  2. Its basis in the centrality of the conception of the self as primary.
  3. Its ongoing expression as a ‘constellation of loyalties’ that are in line with the previous two as well as in contrast with Conservative/Fundamentalist positions on the ‘foundationalist’ spectrum.

I don’t follow Schleiermacher, I don’t subscribe to the primacy of the self and I am post-foundational. I am therefore 0 for 3 in the classic conception of liberalism.

I hope these clarifications help clear things up. I have been very grateful for the robust conversation of the past weeks. The pushback has helped me greatly to clear up my position here and hopefully to avoid some of the confusion in future conversations by listing the 3 distinguishing marks of liberalism as well as Welch’s and Dorrien’s summations.

 

 

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There is a Difference Between Liberal and Progressive

Roger Olson caused some ripples last week when he posted “Why I am not a Liberal Christian”.  Then Scot McKnight went and took it even farther with “What is a Liberal Anyway”  and said :

“Evangelicals have successfully made “liberal” a pejorative term. So today many liberals call themselves “progressives.”

I want to be clear about 2 things:

  • Liberal and Progressive are not the same thing. I hear this accusation from conservative evangelicals all the time that young/cool liberals just hide behind the term ‘progressive’. This view is very dismissive and not very informed.

I grew up evangelical. Scot McKnight and my father car-pooled to seminary together when I was a kid in Chicago. I went to the Billy Graham School of Evangelism. I get Evangelical.
I am now part of the Emergent stream and I serve at a Mainline church and go to a Mainline seminary. MP900405058

So please believe me when I say that there is as big a difference between Liberal and Progressive and there is between Evangelical and Emergent. 

Liberal simply mean that one’s experience is a valid location for doing theology.

Progressives are folks that would be Liberal but who have learned from Feminist, Liberation and Post-Colonial critiques. *

 

Here are Olsen’s 6 markers for determining if one is Liberal:

  • First, I look at their overall view of reality. Do they think the universe is open to God’s special activity in what might be called, however infelicitously, “miracles?” Do they believe in supernatural acts of God including especially the bodily resurrection of Jesus including the empty tomb? If not, I tend to think they are liberal theologically.
  • Second, I look at their approach to “doing theology.” How do they approach knowing God? Do they begin with and recognize the authority of special revelation? Or do they begin with and give norming authority to human experience, culture, science, philosophy, “the best of contemporary thought?” That is, do they “do” theology “from above” or “from below?” Insofar as they do theology “from below” I tend to think they are liberal theologically.
  • Third, I look at their Christology. Do they think Jesus was different from other “great souls” among us in kind or only in degree? Is their Christology truly incarnational, affirming the preexistence of the Word who become human as Jesus Christ, or is it functional only, affirming only that Jesus Christ represented God, was God’s “deputy and advocate” among men and women? Insofar as their Chistology is functional and not ontologically incarnational, trinitarian, I tend to think they are theologically liberal.
  • Fourth, I look at their view of Scripture. Do they believe the Bible is “inspired insofar as it is inspiring,” a wisdom-filled source of religious illumination and record of our “spiritual ancestors’” experiences of God? Or do they believe the Bible is supernaturally inspired such that in some sense God is its author—not necessarily meaning God dictated it or even verbally inspired it? Another way of putting that “test” is similar to the Christological one above: Is the Bible different only in degree from other great books of spiritual wisdom or in kind from them? Insofar as they view the Bible as different only in degree, I tend to think they are liberal theologically.
  • Fifth, I look at their view of salvation. Do they believe salvation is forgiveness and reconciliation with God as well as being made whole and holy by God’s grace alone or do they believe salvation is only a realization of human potential—individual or social—by spiritual enlightenment and moral endeavor? Insofar as they think the latter, I tend to think they are theologically liberal.
  • Sixth, I look at their view of the future. Do they believe in a real return of Jesus Christ, however conceived, to bring about a new world of righteousness? Or do they believe the “return of Christ” is a myth that expresses an existential experience and/or social transformation only? Insofar as they believe it is only a symbol, myth or metaphor, I tend to think they are liberal theologically.

Olson says that the problem with being Liberal is that  “I find it thin, ephemeral, light, profoundly unsatisfying. It seems to me barely different from being secular humanist.”

I object!  Look, I’m no liberal – but I hang out with lots of them and to say that it is barely different from secular humanism is just non-sense. These are people who:
A) participate in the Christian tradition
B) use Christian narrative and vocabulary and
C) belong to Christian community.

Those are 3 powerful and good things – whether or not they have ‘thin’ theology.

Next is where the real contention comes. Olson says:

If I ever wake up and find that I think like a true theological liberal, I hope I will be honest enough to stop calling myself “Christian.”

This is a terrible line of reasoning.  Liberal Christianity is a kind of Christianity! Being a liberal Christian doesn’t mean you are not a christian – it just means that you are not that type of Christian.

This is the Santa Clause problem I keep talking about. It’s the equivalent of saying ‘If there is no Santa Clause and Jesus wasn’t literally born on December 25 – then Christmas isn’t worth celebrating.’  Yes it is. It has all sorts of inherent worth and intrinsic value … it’s just not where you thought it was.

So to both Olson and McKnight I want to say ‘I get what you are up to. I agree with 80% of it. But it is that final 20% that is really concerning and threatens to compromise the integrity of that other 80%’.

_______

*  Progressive does not mean that all change (progress) is good or that history is always progressing toward justice and enlightenment. 

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Proposing an Alternative to the Predicament

Part 1 of Peter Bannister’s review is here.

Sketching an alternative proposal

What options then may be open to readers who share Clayton’s and Knapp’s concern for a dynamic Christology, but who want to retain a more traditional theological framework?

Here I can of course only offer the briefest of sketches, but you might call my tentative proposal ‘semi-adoptionist’, for want of a better term, drawing on Philip Clayton’s former Doktorvater Wolfhart Pannenberg. What if we retain the pre-incarnate Logos – it is absolutely the Second Person of the Trinity who takes flesh -, but radicalize the kenosis of Philippians 2 by taking seriously the free acceptance by the Logos of subjection to physical and mental developmental processes (from conception to Cross) including all they entails in the light of our limited but real scientific knowledge of human physicality. Jesus as divine Son is united to the Father ontologically throughout his earthly life, but is not necessarily consciously aware of it; the Logos rather ‘starts again from zero’ in accepting the limitations imposed by inherited human DNA, neurological structure, cognitive development, development and obedience to his earthly parents (Luke 2:51-52), having to learn a human religious tradition in its particularity, and the unavoidable reality of spending around one-third of his life snoring (yes, Jesus slept as well as wept!).

In this scenario Jesus is not ‘adopted’ at Baptism or Resurrection in the sense of crossing a threshold between a ‘non-divine’ and a divine nature, but certainly attains to a new intensification of his Sonship in a ‘functional’ sense. He is anointed with the Spirit at Baptism, raised through the Spirit at Easter and exalted as Kyrios  at his Ascension by virtue of having defeated the Powers in his self-emptying death on the Cross.  Appropriating The Predicament’s language of emergence theory, these are real events in Jesus’s life where a new ‘emergent level’ is reached. In this scheme there is therefore authentic becoming without the radical discontinuity suggested by all-out adoptionism. At the same time this ‘becoming’ is not restricted to the humanity of Jesus; as long as we regard Christ as one person and not two and remember that his indwelling by the Spirit, his earthly life is simultaneously the experience of a human being and the life of humanity experienced by God.

To use Irenaeus’s framework of seeing Jesus’s life as a recapitulation of what it is to be a human being, I would like to suggest that the mission of his earthly existence is in some way to become in time, through a life of self-giving love and perfect obedience to the Father, the Son that he is from all eternity.

As to how it is possible to keep the notion of the eternal Son while admitting real development in Jesus’s life, I would suggest that the idea of ‘Sonship’ has two aspects which, while obviously related, are conceptually separable. This was already explored by Pannenberg in Jesus, God and Man when trying make sense of Paul’s affirmation on the one hand of Christ’s pre-existence found in expressions such as ‘God sent his Son’ (Galatians 4:4) and formulations such as Romans 1:3, where Jesus is ‘designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead’, which has sometimes been interpreted in adoptionist fashion.  Pannenberg’s position is that while adoptionist language is undoubtedly Biblical, ‘the idea of Jesus’ adoption by God says too little’ and that – quoting Paul Althaus – ‘Jesus was what he is before he knew about it’.

One aspect of the Divine Sonship is filiation, i.e. the Son as the ‘only-begotten’ of John 1:18, a status which obviously cannot be ‘renounced’ kenotically. If we are using the title ‘Son’ in this way, it seems wholly reasonable to assert that Jesus was God’s ‘Son’ even in Mary’s womb. However, once the word ‘Sonship’ is used in its second sense, invested with real content in terms of the outworking of Jesus’s character rather than merely denoting filiation, things look different; if what we talking about is Jesus’s path of self-emptying love, this inevitably requires the trajectory of a life lived. It simply can’t happen by magic.

Being a composer, let me conclude with a musical analogy. Imagine the Son’s eternal Divine nature ‘vertically’ in terms of harmony, as a chord you could strike on a piano or a guitar. Now take those same notes into the world of ‘melody’ where things happen in time, i.e. horizontally, and play them in succession from the bottom up. But don’t dampen the strings of the guitar, and leave the piano pedal down. What happens is that you arrive at the same chord. In our temporally-structured world of earthly existence, it is such a ‘melodic’ unfolding which is the only means of the ‘composing-out’ of Jesus’s Sonship (Auskomponierung in the German technical jargon of which music theorists are just as fond as systematic theologians). Something really happens. But the notes are the same as those of the chord, and the listener’s experience is enriched by the melody. Not only enriched, but hopefully inspired for her own melodic journey through life.

The project represented by The Predicament of Belief  is surely an excellent and important one; Steven Knapp and Philip Clayton deserve our congratulations and gratitude for the considerable service that they have rendered both to the academy and the Church in undertaking it. But I think that I am not misinterpreting the intentions of the authors themselves in saying that their book is best taken as a starting-point and not as a final destination.

 

To be continued.

 

 

Doubly trained in music and systematic/philosophical theology, Peter Bannister is Associate Artistic Director and Composer-in-Association of SOLI DEO GLORIA Inc., a Chicago-based organization devoted to furthering sacred music in the Judeo-Christian tradition. He also co-directs the American Church in Paris’s participation in the John Templeton Foundation’s ‘Scientists in Congregations Ministry Initiative’, and is the author of the Music and Theology blog ‘Da stand das Meer’.

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Considering Clayton’s Conundrum

Guest post by Peter Bannister

 The Predicament of Belief  by Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp is a first-rate book – both highly thought-provoking and courageous. Philip Clayton has consistently shown himself to be one of the Church’s most creative thinkers and is perhaps unequalled in offering imaginative tools for re-invigorating our approach to Christian faith ‘after Google’. For catalyzing and hosting constructive debate with a combination of intellectual vigour and graciousness there simply seems to be no-one better on the horizon of the contemporary theological landscape. So I’m a fan.

The first philosophical chapters of The Predicament of Belief, making a powerful case for the rationality of believing in a personal, benevolent Ultimate Reality, are ones with which I find myself agreeing without reservation. I start getting nervous when the authors’ ‘Christian minimalist’ position is taken as more than a pragmatic expression of what can be adduced without stepping beyond rational justifiability. When minimalism becomes a preferred option in the search not merely for human consensus but for truth about Ultimate Reality, my theological nerve-endings start jangling.

Adoptionism – the only solution ?

Here I would particularly like to focus on Christology. I’m torn between admiration for the authors’ brave attempt at a minimal ‘core Christian proposal’ that can function as a rallying-point for the contemporary Church and ambivalence towards their constructive suggestion. Is it a) the only viable truth-claim available in the present climate or b) a simple working hypothesis whose interest lies in its usefulness for stemming the decline in American mainline Protestantism, an attractive proposition to those alienated by traditional dogma? While I agree that sensitivity to those suspicious of doctrine in general is highly desirable, I find The Predicament overly pessimistic about rationally justifying anything approaching an orthodox theological viewpoint: their assumption that such a position cannot stand in the 21st century seems a little hasty. Especially as my experience is that the ‘spiritual but not religious’ constituency which minimalism hopes to attract is just as resistant to the ‘left-brain’ logical argumentation represented by The Predicament as to an insistence on literal adherence to ancient creeds.

In the book, adoptionism is presented as an option ‘that does not include the claim that the same person who became the man Jesus already existed in divine form before Jesus was born’.  Instead, ‘after Jesus’s death, God somehow took this individual’s subjectivity into the divine subjectivity, commingling them in such a way that they came to dwell within each other and even to become identical to each other.’ This supposedly offers a way out of the ‘dichotomy that either Jesus continues as the identical person within the godhead or Jesus is a merely human model for others to emulate.’ This ‘may be attractive to those contemporary Christians who can’t quite believe (even if they have no way of definitively denying) the complicated assertions of classical Trinitarian thought, but who nevertheless find themselves believing in Jesus’ continuing personal presence’.

Towards the end of his concise Emergent Village presentation of the book  (around the 30 minute mark on the HBC podcast), PC puts his theological hands up and admits that his preference goes to ‘adoptionist’ Christology because the alternative of an eternal preexistent Logos is not persuasive now that static Greek metaphysics have landed in the trash can of history. Not unless you believe in a ‘three bears with three chairs’ Trinity (don’t worry, you’ll understand if you listen to the audio…).

The pre-existent Logos: an obsolete accessory ? [Read more...]

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What is Theology?

I got a call the other day from a college student who asked me “how would you define theology?”

I said that it can be thought of as Four things:

  • God Talk: the most basic thing it to look at the etymology (theo- logy).
  • Faith Seeking Understanding: Anselm’s famous dictum is still many’s favorite.
  • 2nd order activity carried out by disciples within hermeneutical communities. The primary activity is the faith lived out in particular locations and within cultural contexts – theology is the secondary discipline reflecting upon the primary expression.

Now within theology it is important to acknowledge that there are distinct schools of Systematic, Historical, Philosophical and Biblical – these are recognized as the “Big 4” – and there is also my discipline of Practical Theology.

I am big fan of Grenz and Olson’s book Who Needs Theology? and the way that they conceptualize it.

I feel good about my 4 fold answer, but I thought it would be fun to throw it to the deacons and see it what you thought.
I also created a poll to see what was the common consensus would be.    [poll id="5"]

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There is no Evangelical Orthodoxy

Roger Olson posted an excellent article by Mike Clawson on his blog last week. It was about the fundamentalist roots of evangelicalism and their contemporary implications. In the comments (and Roger always has tons of comments) Olson reminded everyone of an article he wrote 12 years ago for Christianity Today.  I subscribed to CT back then and remembered the article.  I went back and found it but what I did not remember was just how contentious things were.

In the article Olson is trying to fight off criticisms from the ultra-reformed, or rabbid-Calvinist wing of the Evangelical camp. Folks like MacArthur, Piper, Driscoll, and Mohler – besides being continuously contentious – are always throwing around words like heresy and orthodoxy at folks like Olson, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren (all former pod guests).

 Here is the thing: there is no Evangelical Orthodoxy

 

I love reading books like Revisioning Evangelical Theology by Stanley Grenz, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage by Donald Dayton, History of Evangelical Theology by Roger Olson.  I was part of the the Lussane gathering of young leaders in Malaysia. I was very vocal last summer that Evangelical is not only a political term but has deep theological implications and is inherently and historically theological (I used Bebbington’s 4 indicators) .

 But there are two things I think need to be clear:

I got a book called the Evangelical Catechism. It is a compilation of consensus beliefs from 200 leaders, pastors, and thinkers that were surveyed. I like the book – but that is not the same as a catechism! We have no Pope, no ability to call a council, no catechism … so we need to knock it off with the “Orthodox” insistence and throwing around the word  “heresy”. LOOK: there actually is an ‘Orthodox’ church and they think that  the likes of Driscoll, MacArthur, and Piper (as well as the rest of us) have lost their way!  *

1) There is no evangelical catechism and there is no evangelical orthodoxy!  I proposed earlier this week that a dynamic conversation is the best we can hope for (I am partial to the Wesleyan quadrilateral). Can we have consensus? Ok. Can we have conversation? Absolutely. Is there a governing body to enforce your brand of ‘orthodoxy’? NO – so knock it off. Get some new words in your vocab. Think of some other ways to say what you want to say and stop pretending like you believe only what the early church believed. It fantasy at best and delusion at worst.

2) You can’t kick me out of the family. We all have siblings that think we are off and even wrong. Some brothers don’t talk to each other for years … but they are still family. That is not what determines if you are a part of a family! It is not how it works. So snuggle up sister! We are in this together, like it or not, we have the same parent, we were birthed through the same water, and we have the same blood. We don’t have to agree on everything – but stop trying to kick me out of the ‘fam’ bro! We are in this for eternity.

Now I know someone will come along and say “I told you its a meaningless term” … but I want to say

Hey Mr. Jones – if you don’t want to be evangelical that is fine. But some of us call this family and it means a lot to us. If you are done with the term, fine. But to us it has deep meaning we still use it as a family name. If you don’t count yourself as a member anymore – that is your call. But stop telling us who are inside the conversation that Evangelical doesn’t mean anything. It does to us. 

We may not have a catechism or an actual orthodoxy, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a  living branch on the family tree.

 

I also shared some thoughts about Christian unity and conformity on a TNT episode. 

 

 

* I appreciate the real Orthodox and have learned much from them.

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What God doesn’t say and how not to read the Bible

The unpleasant topic of what God doesn’t say has shown up in three different conversations this week (and its only Tuesday!) :

Tony Jones gave a little pushback to Daniel Kirk (a recent guest on Homebrewed) about homosexuality and the Apostle Paul. Both Paul and homosexuality are hot topics right now so the discussion was vibrant.

Kirk is clear about those infamous Old Testament ‘clobber’ passages but is a little more allusive when it comes to the New Testament. He pulls what appears to be equivalent to an ‘argument from silence’ saying that Jesus would have commented on it if he wasn’t OK with the dominant view of his day. Tony makes this argument:

Apply that logic to any number of other moral or ethical issues, and I’ll bet that Kirk and his fellow evangelical biblical scholars don’t agree. For instance, Jesus was silent about:

  • Slavery
  • Abortion
  • The death penalty
  • Corporal punishment
  • Racism
  • Rape

I could go on. Does that mean that we should argue that Jesus was implicitly endorsing each of these? Of course not.

The same line of reasoning has been showing up over and over again in blogs written by women about issues of church leadership, image-beauty, and marriage.

 It is tough to argue about what the Bible doesn’t say. 

I actually try to pull this off in the latest TNT (Eschatology and Resurrection) when it comes to reading the Old Testament. I use the story of Lot’s daughters (Genesis 19) and point out that there is a noticeable lack of commentary in so many places in the Bible. In that Genesis 19 narrative it never says “and what they did was wrong” or “and they should not have done that”.   It just tells the story.

I compare this to the Canaanite conquest when the Israelites come out of slavery, violence, and oppression – into a new land – and then become violent and oppressive to the inhabitants. It reads to me like a cautionary tale about groups who escape violent oppression and come into a new area will always think that A) God is on their side (which is different than saying ‘God is with them‘  B) God has prepared the land especially  for them C) that God wants them to kill the current residents

 I got this idea of the cautionary tale from a book called Native and Christian - specifically two essays entitled The Old Testament of Native America by Steve Charleston and Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians by Robert Allen Warrior.

These three topics: homosexuality, women’s roles in church & home, and religious violence are not just arguments from history … they are on our doorstep knocking angrily everyday of the 21st century. They also share something else in common: the make arguments from silence about what is not in the Bible.

Here is where it gets even stickier. I was reading an old article by Roger Olson (also a former podcast guest) from Christianity Today 10 years ago. He was illustrating how American Christianity came to be and specifically the influence that the 1800’s had on our contemporary situation.

I also stumbled into Tad Delay’s blog about American Populism in early American religion, dealing with The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan O. Hatch. Tad explains :

The language of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” a sinners prayer for salvation, and a strong emphasis on unschooled individuals reading the Bible without need for rigorous theology came out of this period. Those with any training or expertise were openly spoken of as the enemy. The most flamboyant and charismatic circuit preacher garnered fame- which was certainly a goal of many- but to be charismatic, you had to convince the hearers that the message was simple. So, the message became very simple.

And this is where I get really nervous. A plain & simple reading of the Bible is one thing – a surface understanding I am always encountering and navigating. That is one thing. But arguments about what God didn’t say and what is not in the Bible are complex and nuanced. Our popular simplistic impulse leaves us in a pickle – one that I am not sure we  commonly have the tools to get out of and one that leaves us with an increasingly irrelevant message that our young people simply walk away from.

If everything needs to be understandable to anyone … we might be in trouble when it comes to reading the Bible in 21st century.

 

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