Luther Never Wrote a Systematic Theology

One of the chief selling points of Martin Luther is that he never wrote a systematic theology.

Neo-Reformed Calvinism is the new black in evangelicalism.  One of its big selling points is that it offers a rigorous, intellectually satisfying way of looking at things.  One has to admire the rigor of thought produced by John Calvin and his heirs, how it all fits together into a tidy system which explains everything there is to know about God, life, and faith, all with chapter and verse to back it up.

But at the end of the day, this way of looking at things is too divorced from the reality of human life.  The vast majority of us are real, flesh-and-blood people who do not live in a universe where truth is precisely defined and the path of obedience explicitly delineated, all with chapter and verse to back it up.  We live in a real world with real struggles, real doubts, and real messiness.

Luther understood this.  He started and stayed where all theologians should:  in the pages of the Bible and in the mess of day-to-day living.  His earliest preaching assignments were from the Psalms, which captures the full range of human emotion.  In the midst of divine majesty there is also human darkness, doubt, and despair.  Luther insisted that Scripture must be taught pastorally and only in ways which lead to Christ.  The example of Luther shows us that theology is worthless unless it begins and ends with the messiness of human life, in the world in which we all live.

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Thank You Senator Flake

ICYMI:  Yesterday Arizona senator Jeff Flake announced that he would not be seeking another term.  That announcement was embedded in a remarkable speech which speaks truth with moral authority to the buffoonery currently in power.  Though some are critical of Flake for leaving the battlefield, as it were, this article takes a different view of things.

When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do — because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam — when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

Would that we could all have the courage to speak the truth in this moment in our nation’s history.

Here is Senator Flake’s speech in its entirety, along with a video.

Fr. Stephen Freeman: What To Do With What You Know

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.

In this post Freeman addresses the subject of knowledge.  His big idea is that it is not enough to know things; one must also know what to do with the knowledge.  Knowledge is useless unless it is an answer to a question that you or other people are asking.  You can gather information all day long, but unless it answers a question you are asking, you don’t really know it–why would you bother with it?

Orthodox Christianity is not a topic to be mastered. If it is rightly understood, the Orthodox faith is an account of “everything.” It is not a subset of religious knowledge or a compendium of doctrines. It is the whole of existence, created and uncreated. Most of the faith cannot be spoken. The less of the unspoken that surrounds any given statement, the more likely that statement is to be wrong or distorted.

St. Ignatius of Antioch observed: “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.” He also noted: “The more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him.”

All this, of course, comes as a stern rebuke to someone who has written over 2,000 articles. I will say, however, that my greatest accomplishment is in what I have not written. It is perhaps only there that I shall find salvation.

Read:  What To Do With What You Know by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Is the Vegas Shooting a Sign of the End Times?

Seriously people, why are we even talking about this?

Jack Wellman at Christian Crier, in a very complex convoluted piece of exegesis and yet another piece of evidence that the bar at Patheos is low enough that I could have a blog there, opines that it is.

We’ve been through this before and you know where I stand on end times stuff.  We don’t know the day or the hour.  In any historical era, including ours, there is enough stuff going on that the people living in that era could reasonably believe that they are in the last days.

Most churches outside of evangelicalism have very little to say about the end times other than what is in the historic Christian creeds:  “He [Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end” (from the Nicene Creed).  We would do very well to adopt a similar tack.

Can I Have My Patheos Blog?

Mark Driscoll is now on Patheos.

Yep, that Mark Driscoll.

The one who built the Mars Hill empire out in Seattle and then ended it all in a horrific grease fire in late 2014, only to skip town, head to Phoenix and reboot.  Though there were serious charges of plagiarism, serious concerns about his leadership style, serious concerns about his handling of church finances, serious concerns about his message and tone, he nevertheless moved on to a new city, pronounced himself fit for ministry, and got right back into the saddle.  And now he’s on Patheos.

So when do I get my Patheos blog?  Because if Mark Driscoll gets one then the bar is clearly low enough that I ought to qualify.  If any of you, dear readers, knows somebody over at Patheos, could you hook me up?  Please?  Pretty please?

Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew gives his thoughts on Driscoll’s move to Patheos.  Heads up:  He’s not too impressed.

Is the Bible the Only Tool in the Toolbox?

Today we are going to look at a controversy that has been playing out at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary over the past couple of weeks.  A Christianity Today article entitled “Has Christian Psychology Lost Its Place at Southern Seminary?” reports on the firing (very thinly disguised as an early retirement) of Dr. Eric Johnson, a longtime professor of counseling at SBTS.  The Wartburg Watch has a summary which you can read here and here.  Dustin Messner at Kuyperian Commentary gives his commentary here.

Here is the TL:DR version:  Johnson was fired essentially because his vision of what Christian psychology ought to be is substantially different from that of Al Mohler and SBTS.  Some observers blame the firing on Heath Lambert, another professor of counseling at SBTS and the executive director of an organization called the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.  There is belief that Lambert leveraged his organization, the ACBC, against SBTS, threatening to steer students away from SBTS if Johnson remained.  (SBTS is one of five Reformed seminaries among the ACBC’s certified training centers.)  There is a video clip on Youtube in which Lambert reads from Johnson’s work and calls his approach to counseling “dangerous”, “slander”, “corrupt”, and “a mockery of God’s word”.  Mohler denies all of this, and Lambert has since apologized to Johnson.  Mohler and SBTS are not offering anything at this time in the way of clarification or explanation for Johnson’s departure.

Now I am a blogger, and as such it is part and parcel of my life’s vocation and calling to offer my unsolicited opinion on subjects about which I know nothing and am unqualified to speak.  But it is not my intention today to opine on internal politics and hiring/firing decisions at SBTS.  Instead I will comment on a couple of larger themes that I believe are in play here with this story.

The first is what I believe to be one of conservative evangelicalism’s worst tendencies:  to take the approach that we are the faithful side, the Christian side and the other side is the faithless, godless side and every issue is a fight to the death between the forces of light (us) and the forces of darkness.  There is a lengthy essay by John Frame entitled “Machen’s Warrior Children” in which Frame argues that conservative Reformed evangelicals have continued the fighting spirit shown by J. Gresham Machen in resisting the incursions of liberal theology in his day, taking it into every political/cultural/theological dispute thereafter, no matter how trivial.  The most recent presidential election cycle is an example of this par excellence.

The second is a view of biblical inspiration which is pervasive in evangelicalism and, I believe, far more at home in Islam or Mormonism than in anything even remotely resembling biblical Christianity.  This is at the heart of the issue as to why Johnson was forced out at SBTS.  Johnson believes that the wisdom of Scripture combined with insights from the science of psychology ought to form the basis of one’s approach to counseling.  Mohler, Lambert, and the rest of SBTS believe that the science of psychology has nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of counseling, that the Bible is the only tool in the toolbox and to believe otherwise is to denigrate the sufficiency of Scripture.

As Christians we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture.  But sufficient for what?  To lead us into a growing and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ?  Okay.  Much of evangelicalism is unwilling to stop there and, instead, insists on making the Bible into the final authoritative word on subjects about which the ancient writers knew absolutely nothing.  Such a view turns the Bible into a “magic book” and is squarely in line with the idea of the Koran dictated to Mohammed by an angel while he was in a trance, or the Book of Mormon inscribed on golden tablets brought to Joseph Smith by an angel.

Such a view, when applied to the discipline of counseling, leads to the idea that there is no behavioral/psychological problem so severe that it cannot be solved by just throwing some Bible verses at it.  You and I both know that is simply not the case.  Insisting on the Bible as the only tool in the toolbox and closing one’s ears to anything whatsoever that secular science might have to say does people a grave disservice.

Pat Robertson: Then and Now

If I were to set up a Google feed on Pat Robertson, this blog would write itself.

Not surprisingly, Robertson has weighed in on the presidentially-manufactured controversy surrounding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.  He ties it together with the Las Vegas shootings, general criticism of Donald Trump, and just a general air of disrespect all around:

Violence in the streets, ladies and gentlemen. Why is it happening? The fact that we have disrespect for authority; there is profound disrespect for our president, all across this nation they say terrible things about him. It’s in the news, it’s in other places. There is disrespect now for our national anthem, disrespect for our veterans, disrespect for the institutions of our government, disrespect for the court system. All the way up and down the line, disrespect.

Contrast this with his remarks just a year ago at about this time, brought to you by the good people over at Right Wing Watch:

This is representative of how Robertson spent much of the Obama administration.  Apparently, radical socialism and control over every aspect of every American’s life, imposed by a small group of political elites who supposedly know more about governing than all the rest of America is perfectly OK in his alternate universe, as long as it is our guys who are on top of the heap.

Let that sink in, people.  That is worthy of pondering.