Scot McKnight: Surprised by the Cross

Today I direct your attention to a post by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed.  How we talk about the Cross says a lot about the kind of God we believe in.  One of the most popular ways of talking about the Cross in present-day evangelicalism is to say that our sin is so bad that someone had to die, and that someone is Jesus.  But when one goes down that road, it is way too easy to arrive at a God who is an angry despot.  What if, instead, we were to look at the big picture of what God is doing in the world, working to put all things right and bring heaven and earth and all things together in Himself, and ask how the Cross fits in with that?  How might our view of the Cross change?

Read:  Surprised by the Cross:  What If? by Scot McKnight

Pete Enns: What Kind of a God Do You Believe In?

Today I direct your attention to another post by Pete Enns, in which he notes from his observations of how different Christians engage with hot-button issues such as the historicity of Adam, that the way they engage these issues betrays that they ultimately believe in different gods–or at the very least, believe completely different things about the character of God.  Which God do you believe in–a God who is not afraid to enter into human existence and experience and allow said experience to shape how the Bible behaves, or a God who stands aloof, guiding and even micromanaging the delivery of His inspired Word, an incredibly diverse collection of writings which nevertheless contains, buried deep within, a perfectly fine-tuned system of theology which we are charged to excavate and defend at all cost?

So when it comes to debates over the historical Adam and evolution, the question I have come to ask myself is, “What kind of God are you thinking of when you say X….?” Is it

an incarnating God—Immanuel, God with us, or

a Platonic god—where you have to peel off the obscuring “down here” hindrances to get to the untainted “up there” god, with the Bible as an encoded inerrant guidebook to get you there.

I don’t like the platonic god. I don’t think Jesus did either.

Read:  What kind of a god do you believe in? (a thought about Christianity and evolution) by Pete Enns

Pete Enns: Are Evangelical and Academic Oxymorons?

Today I direct your attention to a piece by Pete Enns in which he speaks to a double standard which exists in the world of evangelical academia.  This double standard arises from the fact that many evangelical institutions of higher learning were founded with an agenda to defend certain theological presuppositions from the assaults of Enlightenment-based modernity, and it says that honest academic discourse can happen anywhere except with regard to these presuppositions, which are off limits.  Can such an institution be considered academic?  Enns asks.

Yet in the world outside of evangelicalism, these presuppositions are engaged along radically different lines (not that everyone outside of evangelicalism is in agreement–they aren’t), and there is a much greater diversity of opinion.  But in response, evangelical academics claim that the “guild” is too blinded by its own presuppositions to handle the word of God properly, or that the better scholars reside in the evangelical camp.

Enns asks poignantly:

…At what point, if ever, would it show more integrity for a school to say the following:

“Our center of gravity is not academic integrity or engagement but the defense of our theology by either mining the academic discourse of biblical scholarship where useful or condemning it where harmful. We do not see ourselves as primarily an academic body but an ecclesial one.”

Should such institutions publicly acknowledge that they are centers of theological apologetics and therefore not places of academic training? Should they even be allowed to grant academic degrees?

Read:  Are “Evangelical” and “Academic” Oxymorons? by Pete Enns

Fr. Stephen Freeman: Psychology as the New Sacrament

Today I direct your attention to a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman.  Freeman is one of the largest and most influential Eastern Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things.  This post is entitled “Psychology as the New Sacrament“.

Ever since the Reformation, Western society at large, including the Church, has developed what might be called a “two-storey” view of reality.  (This view ultimately traces back to classical Greco-Roman philosophy, in which the spiritual world is good and the material world is evil.)  The lower story is the real world which we see and touch and experience with our senses on a day-in, day-out basis.  This world is completely neutral and devoid of spiritual presence or significance.  The upper story is the spiritual world, which is inhabited by God and all other spiritual realities and cordoned off from our day-to-day existence in the real world which is the lower story.

What was lost as a result of this development was a sacramental view of the universe which saw physical reality and spiritual reality as inextricably linked (though this view still exists–officially, at least–in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy).  Yet even in those places, the sacramental view of reality is limited to the church, the worship space itself.  Once you leave that space, you are back out in the real world which is completely and totally devoid of spiritual presence or significance.

Yet the presence of God in our world has not been completely rejected–such a rejection would be too hard for Christians to bear, and nature abhors a vacuum.  We know in our heart of hearts that God is truly present in our world, despite what the prevailing modernistic, materialistic culture may say.  And so we have come up with substitutes.  Such substitutes are all over the place in evangelicalism, including the view of preached-word-as-sacrament which has emerged in the past two centuries and the view of worship-music-as-sacrament which has emerged in the past two decades.

There has been a deeper shift as well:  a corollary to living in a real world devoid of spiritual significance is that we are all just individual centers of consciousness existing within a web of relationships and affiliations, some formal, others not so much, and God has simply been added to the mix.  Out of this milieu has arisen the notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus”.  I have said earlier that the “personal relationship with Jesus” is a representation of an important truth:  that God is concerned with us as individuals and desires us to be in close and meaningful connection with Him.  Yet it is a monumentally flawed and incomplete truth, one which has only arisen within the previous century.  It is a consequence of the view that we are all just individual centers of consciousness living in a web of relationships, and our relationship with God is just one more to add to the mix.  It fails to take into account that we are part of something much bigger than just ourselves and our web of relationships, part of something much bigger than just the physical world we experience with our senses–that we are in fact part of a world filled with the presence of God and part of a story of all that God is doing to make the universe right and bring all things together under Himself.

Let us open our eyes to the reality that, despite what the prevailing materialistic, modernistic culture of our world may say, we are living in a world where the presence of God is never far from us no matter where we may go, and where God is actively working to draw all things together under Himself.

Read:  “Psychology as the New Sacrament” by Fr. Stephen Freeman

N. T. Wright: Heaven Is Not the Christian Hope

Today I direct your attention to a brief video by N. T. Wright in which he unpacks his somewhat revolutionary view that going to heaven when you die is not the ultimate Christian hope.

Christianity has taken on board an awful lot of bad Western philosophy down through the centuries, specifically the idea which comes from the first-century Gnostics and from Plato, Aristotle, and other Greco-Roman philosophies that the spirit and the spirit world are good while the flesh and the material world are evil.  This has worked its way into our view of the afterlife:  When we die we will be taken by Jesus to a place called heaven somewhere up in the sky, somewhere far far away from here, perhaps even outside the known universe altogether, while the world and universe we know is burned up in a cataclysmic fire of judgment.

This is not what the Bible teaches.  What the Bible actually teaches is that at the end of time the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven if you will, will come down to earth.  Everything that is wrong in our world will be made right, and heaven and earth will be joined together into one glorious new reality.

For your viewing pleasure I have linked the video below:

Michael Spencer on the Gospel and the Culture War

Today I direct your attention to a post by Michael Spencer from a few years back entitled “Does the Gospel Change The Way You Look At The People The Culture War Tells You To Fear and Dislike?”

If the Gospel has changed us, then we regard no one in the flesh, according to our prior ways of thinking.  This includes people whom the culture war tells us to hate.  Yet if our view of such people–whether they be militant gays, atheists, angry feminists, progressives, Muslims, etc.  If we continue to regard them as enemies and threats to our culture and our beliefs, then can we really say that we have been transformed by the Gospel?

Read:  Does the Gospel Change The Way You Look At The People The Culture War Tells You To Fear and Dislike?

Fr. Ernesto on Tradition and Old Habits

Today I wish to direct your attention to a piece by Fr. Ernesto Obregon in which he writes about a tendency which is quite familiar to many of us in evangelicalism.  In fact, if you are in a megachurch like mine, this tendency is probably a big part of the reason why you are there.  It is the tendency of many churches to cling to a certain way of doing things and insist on it as God’s preferred way of doing things, when it is really nothing more than a certain set of personal and cultural preferences.  This tendency, unfortunately, is not limited to evangelicalism, and Fr. Ernesto writes about what it looks like in the Orthodox church.  Fr. Ernesto blogs at OrthoCuban.

Read:  On Tradition and Old Habits by Fr. Ernesto Obregon