Thinking Out Loud

May 1, 2017

Open Theology and a 10-Year-Old Girl

It was the first of May and already the city’s Parks and Recreation Department Fall registration brochure had shown up in the mail. Amanda flipped over to the page “New This Year” and let out a sigh. This news was not going to go over very well.

Madison arrived home from school and Amanda said, “After you get your snack we need to talk.”

She grabbed her snack as her older brother Luke walked in the door and ran to the fridge before heading off to his game console.

Madison placed the straw in the juice pack and then returned to the living room where her mom was waiting. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

Amanda explained that the Fall sports schedule had arrived. “Madison, they’ve moved swimming and it’s now the same night as your indoor soccer league.”

She waited for Madison to process the impact of her words. Finally she said, “Well, I can do the next swimming level at Eastside pool, right?”

Amanda was impressed with the girl’s resourcefulness. However, “They’re changing all the pool times, and Eastside has Level 3 the same night as you have choir. Plus it’s a 30-minute drive.”

Madison would not be swayed. “Maybe I could do Level 3 at the private aquatic place where Zoe goes. I could get a ride with her parents?” She raised her voice at the end of the sentence as if waiting for rubber-stamped approval.

Amanda sighed for the second time that hour. “Honey, we just can’t afford to send you there. Remember, we’re a family of seven kids, and if we make an exception for you we have to pay extra for programs for everyone. Besides, it’s the same night as we’re driving Luke across town his youth group, and we’d miss some of your competitions.”

Wheels in the ten-year-old’s brain were still turning. “Luke’s old enough to take a bus.”

“Luke’s old enough to take the bus there, but he’s not old enough to take the bus home at 9:00 when it ends; especially in the winter.”

“Maybe there’s someone else who lives in Westside who goes to Luke’s church.”

“We’ve already looked into that with their student ministry director. We’re kind of an exception.”

“Well Luke could find a church close to home with a youth group that works.”

“He’s already raising money for a February missions trip with that church that your cousins are also going on. We’re not going to take that away from him.”

Madison was realizing that much of this was coming down to choice and that while her mom could just tell her what to do, she was being forced to make the choice for herself.  Finally she said, “Well, I guess I could just skip indoor soccer for a season.”

At this, Amanda realized full disclosure required her to tell the whole story; “Maddy, you can easily take a year off soccer, but when you go back in, you’ll have to go through tryouts all over again. You’ll be competing with all the kids who want to get on that team at that level. If they’re really good, you could get cut.”

Madison looked at the recently-won soccer trophy still in a place of prominence in the living room. “But Mom; I’m really good at soccer.”

Amanda shot back, “Does that mean you don’t want to give it up; you’re willing to give it up; or that you’re confident you’d get back with your teammates a year later? Also what if Level 4 swimming is scheduled opposite soccer in the new year?”

The girl was processing this. “Well, we won the finals, but I did miss three open shots in that game. If it’s the same coach a year from now, and he remembers that, he may want to cut me.”

And then she paused.

A long pause.

Finally she said, “Mom, this is really, really complicated. When is the registration deadline for swimming and soccer?”

“June 15th. Or as long as there are openings.”

“Can I drop choir?”

“Yes, but choir isn’t impacted by this. Unless you think Eastside is still a possibility. But I’m not sure it is.”

Finally the little girl crunched up the snack pack and the juice box and said, “Mom, I’m going to my room to pray about this.”

Amanda smiled and once the girl was out of earshot whispered quietly, “Maybe I should have thought of that.”


One decision affects another. At Quara.com an image of the “most epic flow chart ever.”

Amanda’s frustration with the city for changing some of the nights for pool activities was triggered not so much by the dilemma facing Madison as it was trying to run all the different scenarios of how this affected her six other siblings.

For example, making an exception for Madison when she’d already turned down her older sister Sydney when faced with similar scheduling conflicts. Or setting a precedent with Madison when her youngest brother Aiden clearly wanted to get into aquatics. And the costs. And the busyness placed on her and her husband ferrying kids to activities. And wondering down the road, which route would better serve her daughter when she reached high school athletics: Soccer or swimming?

She knew clearly which choice she wanted Madison to make. She had a favorite in her mental road-map for Maddy’s life. But it was going to be her daughter’s choice. Not hers. And Amanda has already run the various sequences in her head for Maddy’s decision and how it impacts the fall season for her, her husband, and the six other kids; and how it could impact Madison for the winter schedule and the many seasons which follow.

No matter what Madison chooses, Amanda is still the parent. She’s still in charge. She’s still guiding and directing her daughter’s life. But she’s offering her daughter the luxury — the latitude — of free choice. To make her own decisions and deal with the consequences.


What Amanda is being forced to do on a small scale, God is capable of doing on a grand scale.

To me, this story effectively illustrates the concept of open theology. Only God is capable of running all the various scenarios and sequences for billions of us. He is omnipotent, omniscient and has omniprocessing. (Try finding that one in a theological textbook.)

He’s still in charge. He’s still the sovereign. No matter what we choose. He’s still guiding. He still has some personal favorite choices he’d like us to make (because he can see all the sequences) but he’s offering us the luxury — and latitude — of free choice. He can even close his eyes to the future and let our choice surprise him.

And doing so doesn’t rob him of an iota of sovereignty.

It’s how he made us.

It’s how he designed the system to operate.

And it delights him to no end to watch us working it all through.

 

 

 

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October 9, 2016

The Gospel According to Paul

Filed under: Christianity, doctrine, Jesus — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

king-jesus-gospelI’m currently reading The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight*, in which he notes that one chapter of I Corinthians forms the basis of much of The Nicene Creed. I thought it would be different to reproduce it here from The Voice Bible**, but instead of presenting the full chapter, we’ll focus just on the verses McKnight highlights as comprising three sections: verses 1 and 2, 3 to 5, and 20 to 28.

Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; and through this gospel, you are liberated—unless, of course, your faith has come to nothing.

3-4 For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story. Afterward He appeared alive to Cephas[a] (you may know him as Simon Peter), then to the rest of the twelve.

the-voice-bible20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. 21 For since death entered this world by a man, it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality. 22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die, but through the Anointed One all of us can live again. 23 But this is how it will happen: the Anointed’s awakening is the firstfruits. It will be followed by the resurrection of all those who belong to Him at His coming, 24 and then the end will come. After He has conquered His enemies and shut down every rule and authority vying for power, He will hand over the Kingdom to God, the Father of all that is. 25 And He must reign as King until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last hostile power to be destroyed is death itself. 27 All this will happen to fulfill the Scripture that says, “You placed everything on earth beneath His feet.”[f] (Although it says “everything,” it is clear that this does not also pertain to God, who created everything and made it all subject to Him.) 28 Then, when all creation has taken its rightful place beneath God’s sovereign reign, the Son will follow, subject to the Father who exalted Him over all created things; then God will be God over all.

Footnotes:
a Luke 24:34
Psalm 8:6


*Newly released in a revised edition in paperback from Zondervan.

**McKnight does not use The Voice Bible in his work. Sections in italics in The Voice Bible are supplemental and not found in original documents; this translations adds significantly to create flow of the narrative. The use of italics for this type of addition originated with the KJV.

April 21, 2016

Visual Theology: Part of a New Generation of Reading Materials for Non-Readers

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end…
Ecclesiastes 12:12a KJV

If Solomon were alive today he might well be more accurate to say that of the writing of Facebook posts, blog articles and Tweets there is no end. Literacy is waning, attention spans are decreased and the time and money available for purchasing reading materials is being diverted to tech-based pastimes.

Rather than abandon ship, a number of people are producing materials aimed at keeping us interested in what’s on the printed page. As you’re reading more recently produced resources you’re likely to see a greater use of colors, varied fonts, sub-headers and sub-sub-headers and call-outs, those little boxes of reiterated text at the side of the page intended to draw attention to particular sentences (sometimes referred to as pull-quotes).

In the world of Christian publishing we find for example, Rose Publications providing what I call “fast facts for a bullet-point world” — they’re welcome to use that phrase — in a series of about a hundred laminated pamphlets, not dissimilar to the laminated charts you used in college science courses when there wasn’t time to read the textbook. Church history, The Temple, The Feasts, The Prophets, teachings on Baptism, translation comparison, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Armor of God and the Names of God are just a few of the many titles that condense information for those who just want the Cliffs Notes on a given topic.

Another way information is communicated online is through info-graphics, and we’ve seen this break into mainstream Christian publishing through products such as The Quickview Bible which we reviewed here a few years back. If I had a nickel for everyone I know who in the past twelve months who has used the phrase, “I’m a visual learner…”

Visual Theology coverInto this arena steps Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers (Zondervan, 2016). Because you’re reading this on your computer or phone, the Challies brand should be familiar to you. Despite originating in Canada, challies.com ranks in the top ten on many U.S. lists of the top Christian blogs, spurred on greatly by the predilection of his neo-Reformed, New Calvinist tribe to be among the most active online. Publishers pay real money to run “sponsored posts” on his blog; his Amazon referrer income is probably the envy of thousands of other bloggers; and as we found out one time, a simple mention on his à la carte daily link list can send daily reader stats skyrocketing. It’s no surprise that as a result of his blog, subtitled “Informing the Reforming,” he is now able to write full-time.

Never one to be content with past accomplishments, Tim Challies continues to re-invent the blog with a now daily quotation graphic, and a few years back introduced a number of info-graphics by Iowa communications pastor Josh Byers. While these form the distinctive element of Visual Theology and were certainly the backbone of the book’s elevator pitch, it’s the ones done as flowcharts that I think are most engaging, especially the two-pager (pp 96-7) on How To Put Sin to Death.

In terms of overall organization, the book is divided into four sections:

  • Grow Close to Christ
  • Understand the Work of Christ
  • Become Like Christ
  • Live for Christ.

with two or three chapters for each. The actual text sections — and despite the liberal use of color there’s more text here than I may be describing — are written in fairly plain language including some helpful illustrations from the author’s experiences. This is a book that non-readers — a group especially encompassing teens, twenty-somethings and males of all ages — would find very accessible.

Visual Theology

Additionally, Visual Theology is a great resource for either the person wondering, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ or the person whose current status is more of, ‘I’ve just made a commitment to become a Christian, so what do I need to know or do next?’ In terms of elementary things the Christ-follower needs to know, the book is no doubt indebted to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (who also writes the foreword) and other books of that genre, but without the dryness or clinical treatment that sometimes accompanies Christian academic or reference works.

Remarkably, the book is mostly denominationally neutral. Though the footnoted sources betray Challies’ roots and preferences (Tim Keller, Dane Ortland, R. C. Sproul,  C. J. Mahaney, John Owen, etc.) I was impressed by the doctrinal evenhandedness the book presents. True, my Anglican friends would cringe at the suggestion that ordinances means the same as sacraments, but I actually appreciated the inclusion of both terms.

In the author’s hometown, there is a congregation that advertises themselves as, “a church for people who aren’t into church.” Well, this is a book for people who aren’t into books. A gospel primer for adults, if you will.

Considering the graphic design and printing process that went into creating this book, the 156 page paperback is a steal at $17.99 US; and for the nerd in the family, the books of the Bible listed in the style of The Periodic Table of Elements is worth the price of admission.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for much-appreciated copy of Visual Theology which, if I loan it out to friends, I will probably not get back!

 

January 1, 2016

How to Disagree Theologically

Filed under: blogging, doctrine — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 am

As another year kicks in which is sure to bring more heated doctrinal discussions online, or even among your circle of church friends and acquaintances, I can think of no better way to begin the year with the quotation.

You know, brethren, that there is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer, I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But, my dear friends, far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none within her walls but Calvinistic Christians, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him, that while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself, I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitfield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one of whom the world was not worthy. I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ into their hearts, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist out of heaven.

– C. H. Spurgeon, The Man With the Measuring Line

Sourced at Soteriology 101

November 5, 2015

Answers to Tuesday’s Challenge

If you haven’t already, you need to read what was posted here 2 days ago: Here’s the link.

So let’s begin.

The Bible says Jesus is coming back.

There are a couple of problematic things here. First, Jesus said he’s coming back. Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Andy Stanley, but I have to agree with him that it’s much better to say, “The author of Proverbs says…” or “The gospel writers believed…” or “The Apostle Paul taught…” so that we’re focusing on real flesh-and-blood people and not a generic “This is what the Bible says.”

But what does it mean that Jesus is coming back. Has he been down in the polls and he’s making a comeback? The language so familiar to those of us inside the church may be meaningless to those outside. Perhaps this is a good news return like the time Uncle Raymond returned from his year in India. He’ll toss the kids on his knees and tell stories and everything will be like it was before.

Is that what it means? We believe that the second coming of Christ means that this time He is returning in judgment. If your life is yield to Him, then I suppose you approach this with joy, and it really isn’t unlike Uncle Ray’s return after all. But if you’re not sure, or definitely not ready, then I suppose you approach this with apprehension or even dread.

I believe he’s coming very soon.

I think we can present the imperative of responding to Christ without quantifying it in terms of the calendar. Personally, I think there are number of prophetic markers in place that have to happen first before the return of Christ. However, I believe some of these are stacked like dominoes, and that many of these markers could fall in quick succession.

Of greater concern however is that our days are numbered. We don’t know what tomorrow might bring, hence the reminder to “choose this day who you will serve,” and that “now is the appropriate time to respond, today is the day for salvation.”

However, by reminding us of our mortality, we can introduce fear into the equation, and the experts say that guilt and fear are great motivators for making short-term decisions, but not long-term disciples.

I think that simply saying, “We need to be ready,” places the onus of responsibility back into the hands of the person listening. It’s a call to action, “If Christ is returning, what do you need to do about it?”

I don’t think I will ever die.

It was the memory of this part of the presentation that got the ball rolling for what was posted on Tuesday. It occurred to me that years later, this person is now aware of the possibility that the second coming of Christ may not happen in his lifetime, especially as the clock keeps ticking and more years pass.

Of course, the overtones of pre-tribulation rapture theology are also implicit in this, and that viewpoint is, in my perception, losing supporters even among Evangelicals. I’m not saying there will not come a day when “some will never die,” but I’m not sure that a presentation of this nature is the right place to introduce that.

I think what is more important to signal is that the return of Christ will signal a dramatic paradigm shift. In the incarnation, Christ came as one of us, and while the world changed — recognized every time you write the date — I think it was nothing compared to what it means when he returns as king.

In the first coming, Jesus rode a donkey, and while his followers went on to found a kingdom without end, in many respects the world went on as it did. In the second coming, Jesus rides a white horse, and whether supernaturally, or through already present technology, “every eye will see him.”

That said, I believe a closing statement — if one were limited by this three-point format — is to say something instead about responding to God’s love, God’s grace or some basic statement of the implications of the atonement. I suppose how deep a person wants to get at this stage depends largely on the type of people who constitute their audience, but whether or not the speaker will ever die is at best immaterial to the responsibility of the hearer to respond to the offer God is putting forward in sending Christ.


So what’s the point?

Keep in mind, the speaker in this case — again click back to Tuesday for the backstory — was in his early 20s when he made the original presentation. But often our words are tossed out without preparation, and perhaps this type of music group or youth group approach needs to be written out, and even crafted with the help of someone with greater spiritual wisdom.

I know that I had similar days I wish I could live over. I wasn’t the speaker in this example, but I probably used similar words and phrases when I did itinerant youth ministry.

If nothing else, I hope this gives you something to think about.

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