Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Strobel seems to work from the idea that some things happen because God acts and then the rest of the time creation just sort of sits out there independently and does things on its own. It's a very Modernistic understanding of divine and human agency. In other words, for post-18th century folks, creation is an autonomous realm. It hums along on its own. For theistic people, God somehow enters into the realm occasionally and that's a miracle. Again, the rest of the time it just hums along on its own, while God sits by passively.
This isn't the classical Christian understanding divine causation. God is intimately involved in everything within creation- both in his sustaining of creation and his providential care. The Bible repeatedly tells everything is sustained every moment of every day by God's Word. God is then the cause of every cause, even if he is not the maker of every decision (the classical way that the Lutheran scholastics put this (following Thomas Aquinas) was that God concurres in all acts materially, but not formally). That being so, God still works with our fallen wills and their bad effects to direct events to his good end.
From a Christian theological perspective, a better series of reasons for rejecting evolution might be the following: 1. It contradicts the authority of Scripture. 2. It is rooted in an alien Epicurean worldview that is antithetical to that of Biblical Christianity. 3. Promotes the notion that the right performance (i.e. autopoesis- works of the law) and violence, rather than God's peaceful and trustworthy giving are at the heart of and indeed the driving force behind creation. 4. It lacks evidence (no transitional species, lack of an explanation for the origin of life, genetically impossible, etc.)
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Luther] lists no preconditions for the spiritual marriage of the soul with Christ except only that we believe Christ . . . and trust that he will bestow all [that he promises]. Not a single word is said about the mutual love by which the soul loves Christ . . . nor do we hear anything about the other divine commandments, to which the keeper of which eternal life is both promised and owed. What else do those who boast of such a base spectacle do than make of the soul . . . a prostitute and an adulteress, who knowingly and wittingly connives to deceive her husband [Christ] and, daily committing fornication upon fornication and adultery upon adultery, makes of most chaste of men a pimp? As Christ does not take the trouble . . . to choose . . . a pure and honorable lover! As if Christ requires of her only belief and trust and has no interest in her righteousness and the other virtues! As if a certain mingling of righteousness with iniquity and Christ with Belial were possible
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Friday, March 18, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
A couple of thoughts.
1. Isn't this whole thing with Universalism kind of cliched at this point? Why all the furor? He's only voicing what pretty much all mainline Protestant clergy actually believe- is it a big deal because he's kinda, sorta an Evangelical?
Many so-called conservative folks in the LCMS and other Evangelicals believe all this too. It's part of being in America with a lot of cultural diversity. Original sin dictates that people are habitual self-justifiers. In the old days, people would only know people from their own religion. They also held that they were going to heaven because they were nice. It was easy to say "hey, the Hindus are badies, and their going t hell- but all the nice people I know are going to heaven!" Now that the Hindus live next door and are in empirical reality really nice folks. So they feel they can't damn them to hell. Why? Because that would mean that niceness doesn't get you to heaven and the project of self-justification would be broken.
Guess what? As this country gets more diverse, you're going to see way more Evangelical types buying into this. They already are!
2. One thing that disturbed me is Lutherans trying to defend Bell. This happened on Pr. McCain's website and on Facebook. This is highly disturbing. Lutherans can never buy into the Universalism because it militates against what the entire purpose of the preaching office is: to proclaim Christ through the Biblical Word of law and gospel. To put it succinctly: When Christ is preached, things change!
What Bell offers is nothing but a better concept of God. Humans are afraid of the hidden and wrathful God, so Bell says "let's tell them that's all an illusion. Look! No hidden and wrathful God! Jazz-hands!"
That's pure non-sense and anyone who has suffered under the hidden God (that would be everyone) and is honest (not everyone, at least not Rob Bell) knows that this merely means a re-narration of reality. Let's pretend things are different, when their not! Sinners don't need a better concept of God. All that leads to is more self-justification. What sinners need is to be killed and made alive. That happens through God changing his relationship to us through the proclamation of law and gospel.
The law doesn't pretend that God's judgment is an illusion, but executes that full judgment on the sinner. The gospel is a real resurrecting word. It is the last word of our relationship with God.
Faith is meaningful then because it is, as Luther puts it, "something omnipotent." It actually changes God's relationship to us by the power of the word of absolution. In Bell's mind, faith is nothing but enlightenment. There was a big misunderstanding. We thought God was wrathful, but I guess he really wasn't after all.
Though people might think that Bell's false gospel is antinomian, it's precisely the opposite. It's hyper legalistic. If God's grace is a given, why preach it? Word and sacrament don't really change anything. There's no move from law to gospel! Just enlightenment and the clearing up of the big misunderstanding.
What's left then? Well, a big weekly pep-talk about the law. Hence week-after-week of seminars on "godly marriage" and "godly management of money"- you get the idea! One can sort of see this in Church Dogmatics vol. 14 where Barth, after espouses a quasi-universalism (there is still an "impossible possibility" that some might not be saved) everything descends into legalism. The sacraments (baptism is really the only one he discusses) are about showing people that you're part of a community that's going to obey the law. Barth is mainly interested in preaching law. There's nothing left. Grace is boring, since it's already a given.
You see this works itself out in mainline Protestant preaching. It's all about social justice, because hey, what's the point otherwise? We're all going to heaven anyways-right? So they need a justification about why they should continue to meet in this building every week.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
In any case, there was a rather interesting moment in the book when he discusses his belief that the Church's responsibility is to engage in "peace-making" (i.e. support the UN, nuclear freeze, etc.). He loudly endorses pacifism, citing Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and some Dutch-American guy who got thrown out of his pastoral office for not wanting the US to get involved with WWI (he was against Korean and WWII as well!).
He says that these figures dispel "the myth of salvific violence" which suggest that violence is sometimes necessary to solve problems. Most people believe this myth, namely because violence is empirically necessary to solve a certain class of problems. Also, Nessan never seems to mention that all these figures lived in constitutional democracies, which operated within the English common law tradition. As George Orwell remarked, "all of Russia Gandhis disappear in the middle of the night."
But I digress. I'm probably preaching to the choir!
Anyways, Nessan tries to trace the concept of God being a god of peace throughout the Bible in order to endorse his position. He faces a couple of problems: 1. Most of his citations of "peace" in the Bible have to do with the existential peace between God and sinners that happens through justification. It has precious little to do with actual political peace, which the Bible doesn't really view as being possible this side of the Second Coming: "wars and rumors of wars, etc." This leads into his second problem 2. God throughout the Bible endorses violence and encourages it under certain circumstances. Granted, all violence is at odds with God's original intention for creation, but between the Fall and the Second Coming, it's really necessary, as common sense shows.
In order to save himself from this boggle, Nessan waves his hand and says "Hey, you could read the Bible as endorsing violence, but that would be bad. So let's read it as saying that God is for peace at all costs. That sounds better!"
Now to someone like myself who believes that God inspired the authors of Scripture to the point of determining their very grammar and word-choice, this sounds presumptuous and massively blasphemous. How does he know? How can he deal with this texts so cavalierly?
The answer is twofold. First, he doesn't really believe in the inspiration of the text. Mainline Protestants talk a good game on inspiration, but then don't buy inerrancy. What's the point of the doctrine of inspiration if it doesn't somehow guarantee the truthfulness of the text? God somehow was out to lunch for part of the text, but not the good stuff you just happen to like?
The second point is that mainline Protestants are obsessed with the concept of "Peace" and therefore he knows that everyone will automatically agree with him without much thought.
But why are they so obsessed with this concept? Part of it is merely cultural. Most of the people writing the church-documents of the mainline denominations are aging hippies, who see Jesus as a Donovan roadie, going around affirming everyone with his peace and love against the mean, mean, buzz-killing Pharisees (symbols of conservative Christians and Republicans in their imaginations).
There's something else going on here though. What I suspect is that it is part of a larger cultural phenomenon of Epicureanism redvivus.
Let me explain. Epicureanism teaches that the goal of the ethical life is to get pleasure and fulfill our physical needs. This makes sense, because the world is just made up of atoms moving around and we have no soul that survives. The gods exist, but in another realm and they don't care about us. Later people tried to use this philosophy to endorse their indulgent behavior (particularly sexual), but Epicurus himself argued that one should simply try to drag down our needs to the lowest level possible so that they would be easy to fulfill. Also, this goes hand-in-hand with an obsession with the concept of "Peace." Peace is necessary to fulfill our most basic sensual needs. Also, all wars are pretty much pointless because there are no higher spiritual ideals to die for. Why mess things up for yourself? You can eat and have sex whether you live under Hitler or George Washington.
In the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes revived this philosophy (as did Baruch Spinoza!) in order to bolster his argument in Leviathan. Having a tyranny, argued Hobbes, is better than having a war of "all against all." So, just keep your head down and obey the state authority no matter what (unless they tell you to kill yourself!).
One can of course also see the influence of Epicurus on Marx and Darwin as well. Both were materialists. Marx in particular believed that the fulfillment of human physical needs (i.e. economics) was the driving force of history. Religion or other spiritual realities were just super-structural masks for these forces. Darwin's grandfather oversaw the revival of Epicurean philosophy in Britain in the late 18th century! Logically speaking, evolution makes no sense unless you buy the idea of Epicurus that atoms can just fly together in a way that looks meaningful and intentional, but isn't (i.e., the whole universe).
Fast forward to the 60s and low and behold, you have a culture of young people who are strongly influenced by Marx and Darwin, who are obsessed with sensual self-indulgence and with the concept of peace. As we can see, the two are connected. Why worry about the soul-destroying nature of Communism, if there's no soul? Let's just do LSD, and sit around pretending to have read Heidegger in order to facilitate our next sexual encounter!
Well, you know the rest of the story. Many of these folks became mainline Protestant clergy, put out endless social statements, endorse a nuclear freeze in the 80s and state-run socialism and abortion, etc. Yada, Yada, Yada.
Again, this makes Nessan and other mainline Protestant clergy's obsession with "social justice" (i.e. spending more money on federal entitlements) make sense. Spiritual realities that the Church has always believed in don't really matter. Only the fulfillment of physical needs does, since implicitly, that's all we are!
The point is that not only does the Bible endorse violence as necessary this side of the eschaton, but because spiritual realities and ideals are more important than our physical self-indulgence, we should never endorse peace at all costs. Once we forget that God's truth and justice are more important than physical life, then we are really enslaved to those who can kill the "body but not the soul." This freedom of the gospel, is the recognition that because of Jesus' resurrection, our physical life in this world will only find consummation in the next. That makes us free to die for God's own truth. Christians are the most dangerous citizens of any tyranny!
Monday, March 7, 2011
It's sooo bad. I mean bad. I mean it's painful to read. It's especially bad since he attempts to invoke Luther's two kingdom doctrine in order to reject Luther's two kingdoms doctrine.
His basic idea is that God rules the world and opposes the Devil in two ways- law and gospel (good so far!). I suspect he really doesn't believe in the Devil, but he is a useful trope for other evil Archons in his Gnostic universe like White males and Capitalists. He then claims that the political use of the law is equally the business of the Church as is the gospel and the second use of the law.
Also, the political use of the law isn't just a way to restrain Satan, it's a way of defeating him. This is an interesting distortion of Luther, because Luther would say only the Word of God does that. The political action of the kingdom of the world can only restrain Satan prior to the final apocalyptic break.
Nevertheless, how do we defeat Satan using the law according to Nessan? By supporting the UN and having state-run socialism. Bear in mind this isn't very surprising at all. In fact, this is more or less what pretty much every mainline Protestant minister in America believes. That's why its so annoying. Having heard the sermon version of thesis over and over again in the ELCA for years, it's galling having the read 300 pages of it.
Another annoying aspect is the use of poetic rhetoric to make something that's pretty banal not so banal sounding. Whenever I talk with mainline Protestants I try to get technical on them about what they mean by such rhetorical and poetical flourishes like "the reign of peace and justice" or perhaps prayers that state "oh Lord, we're crying out for peace and justice!"
What are they talking about? Increasing federal spending on entitlements- yes, that's about it! That's when the kingdom comes- when we have more federal entitlements! And they wonder why their churches are going empty! But you see how it works- they dress up something that's so, so banal as something beautiful and life transforming, but it's not. It's boring.
This also accounts for why Nessan is so weak on the gospel. For Nessan the gospel loses its teeth, because he rejects substitutionary atonement in favor of a Schleiermachrian "Jesus died to stay true to his mission" doctrine. Same old story I've heard a million times. Jesus went around affirming everyone ("the Lord's Supper is a table where all are welcome") and people didn't like that affirmation, so they killed him- because they were meanies, I guess. God raised him to show he like's this sort of affirmation of people, so that's the Church's mission now. So spread the message of affirmation by being cool with homosexuality and having state-run socialism. Yeah!
All sounds like Bonhoeffer's "justification of sin and not the justification of the sinner." Since it is supposed to inculcate a practice (ironically, the practice is that of antinomianism), at the end of the day, this all really just law after all.