Thinking Out Loud

February 26, 2019

The Big Trinity Theory

Filed under: Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:33 am

I was all set to watch God Friended Me on Sunday night but instead CBS was showing two hours of episodes of The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon, the spin-off prequel in which the key character from the former sitcom is portrayed in his younger years. It’s the last season for BBT so I thought I’d watch it. When Young Sheldon followed, it was an episode I had actually seen and it played on the screen for about 15 minutes while I was doing other things.

My one takeaway was how when you look at older Sheldon and younger Sheldon you’re looking at the same character. It’s not surprising since it’s the same production company and probably some of the same writers and everyone is intimately familiar with his personality quirks, which are legion. They are separated by several decades and yet the perspective, the thought processes and the mannerisms of each are identical.

That got me thinking about the Godhead and the relationship between the Father and the Son in particular. (What can I say? I’m one of the great theological minds of our generation and I see these parallels everywhere I look.)

The great mystery of what we call the Trinity is that Father and Son (and Spirit) are one and yet distinct.

The distinctiveness is summed up in The Athanasian Creed. When you click through, you see something much longer than the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Part of the length is this qualification that each holds distinction but is part of the unified whole.  (I once suggested it was written by Philadelphia lawyer!)

There is also some additional language that stems from this:

And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.

For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal.

Despite this, we also have one of the most succinct verses in the gospels, John 10:30 making the case for the unity and oneness of the Godhead: “I and the Father are one.” It’s further complicated when Jesus is asked when the end times will come and he says that “”However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” That’s in Mark 13:32 NLT, and it’s repeated in Matthew 24:36.

But then… it gets crazy complicated when in John 17:31, Jesus prays for his disciples before his crucifixion:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (NIV)
…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (ESV)
…That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (KJV)

I included three translations just to be clear. We’d have to save a discussion of the oneness in John 10:30 and the oneness in John 17:21 for our Christianity 201 blog, but when we touched on it once there we noted that the Asbury Bible Commentary states:

In nature this was identical to the oneness that united Son and Father, and it was characterized by the same glory. Its purpose was that by observing it the world might come to know that God had indeed been behind the mission of Jesus and that his blessing was on the church.

…So that’s what happens when I watch sitcoms. Here’s a drawing of what I think the Athanasian Creed uniquely states:

 

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February 21, 2019

Peter Enns: A Fresh Lens for Approaching the Bible

Filed under: bible, Christianity, doctrine, reviews, theology — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:42 am

For most of us, hearing about a book which purports to teach us “How to” read the Bible usually presents two possibilities:

  • a basic introduction to the organization of the Christian scriptures, such as a Bible handbook; the type of thing we might give to a new believer; or
  • an introduction to the idea of Biblical interpretation, or what is called hermeneutics.

In How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom, Rather than Answers—and Why that’s Great News Peter Enns takes a rather different approach; showing us how the scriptures themselves have developed — a word preferred over evolved — different ideas which are commonplace in Christian thought, including the idea of an enemy (satan) or the idea of the resurrection of the physical body.

Or here’s another way of looking at the book: Many of you were aware of a controversy a few months ago when Andy Stanley said that the Church needs to jettison itself from the Old Testament. (It was that j-word that got him hot water.) I would suggest it’s not a stretch that Peter Enns would say that successive Old Testament writers were themselves trying to jettison themselves from earlier Old Testament writers; that this is a process which has been ongoing. (See Chapter 10, the section headed “Exhibit A.”) Follow this line of thinking, and you might find yourself believing that the Bible is a living book.

Or similarly, it’s as though one Gospel writer might bristle at the the way another writer has framed a particular episode in the life of Jesus. But of course, each is writing for a different audience. Peter Enns captures these anomalies, but sees them as part of his delight in reading scripture, not as a problem to be solved.

While his scholarship is evident, his approach in this book has a remarkably common touch. In one section makes it clear that “open theology” is above his pay grade. Furthermore, one can only take on so much in a more general treatment of Bible interpretation. The book doesn’t try to be all things for all people.

Some readers may be disturbed at Enns’ gratuitous use of writings from the Apocrypha to substantiate certain arguments. As an Evangelical, I accept the historical value of those books, but am often unaccustomed to seeing them quoted in the books I review. (Keep in mind however that this books is published by HarperOne, not the Zondervan or Nelson divisions of HarperCollins.)

Still others may have a knee-jerk reaction to the books subtitle, especially “…an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book…” Ambiguous? Yes. For Enns, that’s part of the Bible’s basic equation; and that’s exactly where the “wisdom” in the other half of the extra-long subtitle comes into play.

Reading this following Stanley’s Irresistible made for an interesting pairing. In terms of our understanding of the book of books, something is clearly afoot, and Peter Enns doesn’t want you to miss it!

Thanks to Dave Knox at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for the opportunity to read How the Bible Actually Works. It went on sale on Tuesday in hardcover wherever you buy fine books.

Previously at Thinking Out Loud: A November, 2016 review of Peter Enns’ The Sin of Certainty, in which, coincidentally, Andy Stanley’s name also was mentioned!

Postscript: Books like this one, and Andy Stanley’s (mentioned above) and Rob Bell’s What is the Bible? are part of a fresh genre of books which, while not Bible handbooks in the traditional sense, serve much the same purpose. For a more conservative approach books like Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth continues to fill the void between handbook and general guide to hermeneutics.

December 31, 2018

Of Lives and Years; Of Beginnings and Endings

Have you made your New Life’s resolutions?

As I was thinking about how to wrap things up for 2019, it occurred to me that there might be four different possibility for how your year has gone; and those are the same four which can be applied to the longer span of our lives. For some context as to what I mean by this, here’s something I wrote in 2009. A small portion of this is actually appearing for the 4th time; much of it for only the 2nd time, and some is new.

I’m certainly not one of those “Everything happens for a reason” people, but I do believe every book in the Bible is there for many reasons, and with II Kings, the clearest message that I see is that when it comes to their relationship with God, not everybody ends well.

living-bibleIn II Kings we see a succession of leaders, many of whom are relegated to the most minimal of mentions. In the original The Living Bible, Ken Taylor in his most paraphrasial — ya like that word? — moment in the entire work actually lapses into point form in the later chapters. Those chapters could be called the “bullet point translation.” One could think that perhaps Taylor tired of the various Kings simply not getting it. Basically there are four main types of stories told and each King is representative of one of them:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

There are several benefits to reading this. It should make you want to end well, to leave a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to God, His word, and His work. But if you’re not solidly signed up with the eternal security camp, it also means you must end well. It allows the possibility that I can blow this Christ-following thing, with severe consequences.

Of course it helps that God, by His Holy Spirit is constantly nudging us closer to His ways. There are times in our lives however, when we don’t respond to His prompting. In the Revelation given to John, a message to the church in Laos ascribes three possible states of response: hot, cold, or lukewarm. Although the descriptors here apply to the local church as a collective noun, I believe the same terms can also apply to us individually.

heat-sensitive-imageMany of those who are cold or even lukewarm will recommit themselves down the road, but in terms of the here and now, if you were to take a picture of the spiritual temperature of people using a “spiritual heat sensitive” camera, you’d find that not everyone is responding to what the Spirit is suggesting. Or demanding; God’s not big on suggestions! Some just love their sin too much. Others are just spiritually apathetic. Some are just too busy.

One of the biggest myths in the Church (capital ‘C’ this time) is to suggest that “It’s all good.” To me, that’s not dissimilar from the Universalist perspective. It’s all good if it all ends well. Right here, right now, in the middle of the story, we don’t see so clearly how it will end. We have absolutely, positively no idea what’s going on in the lives of people at the deepest level, so we can’t begin to assume what God may be doing, or what He may be using to work His purposes, but if II Kings tells us anything it is that even Kings, representing the highest their country has to offer, can refuse to see the need to make God part of their lifelong equation.

lifes-journeyAnother myth is to say “We’re all on a spiritual journey.” The Greeks held that there were four core ‘essences:’ Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Knowing their list didn’t account for everything in the world, they held that there was a fifth essence, ‘quintessence,’ representing ‘spirit.’ Unfortunately many people live lives that are dominated by earth or air or fire or water or whatever modern equivalents represent our modern passions. Their journey can’t be characterized as spiritual at all; or if it contains elements of spiritual life, it appears to be a journey to nowhere.

In Jesus time, we see life represented in the phrase, “heart, soul, mind and strength;” both in terms of Jesus early life in Luke 2:52, but also in how we are to love the Lord with all our being. Some people allow their lives to be dominated by mental or intellectual accomplishments (mind) or physical prowess (strength) or their physical or emotional passions (the eros and philios loves; soul) rather than by a focus on their own spirit and the spiritual side of life.

Of course, it is not for us to know what God is doing in everyone’s lives. We are responsible for the ending to our own story, not that of anyone else.

I want my life to be spirit-focused; to be quintessence-focused. I want the center of that focus to be Jesus Christ. I want to end well. I want those around me to end well, too.

So while we’re caught up in what is really the ‘micro-focus’ of how a particular year began or ended or both, we need to also consider the ‘macro-focus’ on the overall progression of our lives. 

It’s a time for New Year’s resolutions, but also a time for New Life resolutions.

July 14, 2018

Don’t Condemn What God is Using in Someone’s Life

Filed under: books, Christianity, doctrine, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:53 am

I’m not going to tell you I’ve had a change of heart about the book Jesus Calling, because I’ve never really read the book in the first place. I’ve written about it here and have simply noted the concerns that some had over the use of the first-person narrative to speak as though it is God speaking, but also noted this is far from the first book to use that format.

Previously, I wrote,

I realize some of you haven’t been in touch with where the doctrinal issues in this book arise. Much of the discussion online has to do with the fact that this book is part of a very small subset of devotional literature where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. In other words, the (human) author purports to be writing this as God, speaking in the first person; “I” instead of “He.” Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, Paul Pastor’s The Listening Day and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always as examples of this; you’ll also find this type of writing on some blogs.

That’s not the entirety of some people’s objections, but it’s a large part.

Early this morning, unable to get back to sleep at 3:30, I read what I consider a generally excellent article on how to spot false teachers. I should say right here that the term “false teacher” leaves no middle ground, no room for nuance, no possibility of the person getting 90% of doctrine right, but 10% wrong. When people use that particular term, it’s all-or-nothing.

You can read the article at this link. (I don’t know the writer and have no idea why the URL is so complex, but it wouldn’t shorten.)

Toward the end he says,

When someone comes forward in the Christian community with a new fresh way of understanding certain doctrines or teachings, the general Christian community tends to eat it up. Think of William P. Young’s The Shack, or Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, or Rob Bell’s Love Wins. All of these books abandoned Christian doctrine, and yet were immensely popular.

The false teacher uses their wit, uses their intelligence and uses their ‘godliness’ from a place of arrogance and pride for the express purpose of their own personal gain.

I think there’s a danger here that someone will conflate “fresh way of understanding certain doctrines…” with “arrogance…pride…personal gain.” I’m betting the writer has one or two more recent commentaries on his shelf that also provide us with fresh insights into the scriptures. But I’ll leave that aside.

My single purpose in writing this is simply to say that I think the article loses its overall value when it starts mentioning names.

That, and to return to my first paragraph, I have been noting lately the number of people who I know and respect who have benefited from Jesus Calling and have given away copies to friends. These are people who I consider discerning in their reading, and in a very Peter-and-Cornelius way, has caused me to avoid the rush to judgement that I previously associated with people who gravitated toward this particular product. (And it’s appeal to a wider readership means there are people far from Christianity who enjoy this resource, but that in itself doesn’t give cause to write it off. After all, it was the tax collectors and sex trade workers who gravitated to Jesus.)

Out of all the Christian literature out there, these acquaintances see Jesus Calling as their best bet in connecting with those in their own sphere of influence. At that point, I don’t argue or try to dissuade them from their purchase.

I would say two things:

♦ First, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn a particular pastor, speaker, author whom God is using in the lives of someone else.

♦ Second, we shouldn’t be too quick to recommend a particular pastor, speaker, author about whom others have real concerns.

In other words, definitely write articles on how to spot false teachers. At least two of Paul’s letters have this as a primary focus.

But be slow to name names. Let the discerning process be cultivated in the individual as they mature in Christ and gently guide them to a place where their eyes are wide open.

 

January 12, 2018

Theological Comparisons: What Type of Church Do You Attend?

I’ve been amazed recently at people who attend a church which has a denominational affiliation, but they don’t know what it is. Visiting? Maybe. You’re just passing through. Attending frequently? I would have thought it was a basic question. When it comes to actual doctrines, overarching theology, spiritual values, church culture and core beliefs1 I would think people would want to know where their church fits in across various spectra2 but apparently if the worship is good, the children’s ministry is high quality, and the sermons are engaging, people are happy not knowing whose name is on the door.

A few days ago we asked the question, “What is a Charismatic.” It seems to me that a diligent blogger could start a series on this, “What is a Baptist?” and “What is an Episcopalian?”3 being next in line. Unfortunately I am not that writer. However…

We started the work week on Monday with Michael Patton, so it seemed like a good place to end the work week. First of all, for those of you who are subscribers, I need to clarify something that we updated a few hours after the piece appeared, and that is that Michael’s blog Parchment and Pen migrated to CreedoHouse.org. The specific article, What Does it Mean to Be Charismatic which we quoted, is available in full at this link.

In the interest of getting it right this time, while I couldn’t find the image below at the new site, a full explanation of it appears at this link.

My motivation in all this is often very perfunctory. As regular readers know, I spend at least two days per week serving customers in a Christian retail store. So when the above chart first appeared, I introduced it as follows:

Sometimes, I have to admit, I need to be able to put people into a box.

It’s not that they will necessarily fit into the box comfortably, but frankly it saves time; it lets me know what set of terminology to use; it indicates to me what schools of doctrinal thought are off limits; it helps me find common ground with authors or worship styles or even Bible translation preferences.

This is not good.

However, sometimes it does cut to the chase. Give me some indicators and let me make assumptions. Is that the ESV Study Bible you’re holding? Here’s a new book from John Piper you might enjoy. You attend the Revival Center? You might enjoy the new Jesus Culture album.

Stereotyping, as we once called it; today it’s called profiling.

The same day as that ran, I also ran another chart, this one from Matt Stone. His blog has also migrated, but at the risk of making the same mistake twice, I did more research this time, and the chart can now be located at this link. The new website is called Curious Christian (and he’s still very much into visuals.)


I hope this helps somehow! I realize the title of today’s piece asks a question and only gives you a minimalist framework to formulate an answer, but such as the two graphic images are, they help us get back the superficial (see cartoon above) and think about things in more important terms.


1 This phrase is all about the cadence and rhythm of the sentence. Some of the words themselves are redundant. Speaking of words, it’s interesting that the modern dichotomy of Calvinism and Arminianism is nowhere to be seen in the two graphics.
2 Spectra, as in plural of spectrum. Usually churches can be measured in terms of where they land on the spectrum for three or four major discriminators. Instead of a double-axis graph, picture something that looks more like an asterisk.
3 Or, if you prefer Anglican; but although based in Canada, I’m writing for a dominantly U.S. audience, so Episcopal it is! Some would argue that only those within a particular movement can accurately describe it or write about it. What do you think?

January 8, 2018

What is a Charismatic? Two Sets of Characteristics

A few years ago, I ran a post at Christianity 201 where the author Michael Patton gave seven reasons why he believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased to operate. This is known as the continualist position or continuism. The opposite is the cessationist position or cessationism.

Patton had blogged just the day before at Parchment and Pen about six characteristics he believes identifies Charismatic Christians. (He used a lower case ‘c’ but I have chosen to capitalize this where it refers to an admittedly diverse denomination, in the same way some are now arguing that Evangelical needs to be capitalized.) Update (12:30 PM EST): That article is now available at this link.

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

5. Very expressive worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

He spells out each of these, and then describes the entire spectrum of belief as to the gifts of the Spirit, ending up with this chart. (I do appreciate his calling both extremes as unorthodox; you can tell me that the tongues and interpretation aren’t for today, but don’t try to tell me they never happened!)

Belief Spectrum - Gifts of the Holy Spirit

At this point I would link, but unfortunately the website is no longer in service.

I think his analysis is good, though his terminology is a bit intense. Perhaps the charismatics I know are more conservative, or possibly he is envisioning charismatic believers in Africa or South America. I would rephrase his six points this way:

1. A distinct emphasis on the limitless power and work of the Holy Spirit in the world today

2. Expectant, faith-consumed prayer even in the face of great odds and obstacles

3. A belief that God speaks into the hearts and minds of his people through dreams, visions, circumstances and a ‘still small voice’

4. An acknowledgement that the Christian is always embroiled in spiritual warfare

5. Passionate worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

The problem with any doctrinal emphasis is that it always takes place at the expense of something else. So if you speak of an “unusual emphasis” on the Holy Spirit, or on demonic activity, are you doing so at the cost of not emphasizing the work of redemption on the cross, or the call to love our neighbors, or the priority of world missions? (Points 1 and 4) The Charismatics — albeit with a few exceptions — that I know haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.

And if you believe that God is still in the business of impressing things on his people (Point 3) that doesn’t mean it is at the expense of not prioritizing the role of scripture. Most of the Charismatics I know have a good working knowledge of scripture.

I did leave one (Point 6) intact. Update: The original article with about 90 insightful comments is available at this link.

January 6, 2018

The Steps to Decision

Two nights ago we were discussing the process by which people ‘cross the line of faith’ and identify as Christians. I looked all around for this graphic, including online, and discovered some people had improved on the one we posted in March, 2014.

Here’s what I wrote about this at the time,

A long time ago, in a galaxy rather close by, a new generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers. One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice. I am privileged to own (somewhere in our house) a copy of both.

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. But I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes in the graphic.

I ended up repeating some of this material and going into greater detail, including a second graphic image, at this post at Christianity 201.

November 27, 2017

Short Takes (2): Sin-Shaped Doctrine

All this week — except for Wednesday — we’re doing a series of shorter subjects.

Throughout Christian history debates have raged on controversial doctrinal subjects. We see in part and understand in part. We see through a glass darkly.

Different people read the same scriptures and come to very difficult conclusions as to their meaning. Each is convinced theirs is the correct one.

In preparing for this week’s articles here — I was originally going a very different direction — I started wondering if theologians or church leaders over the centuries were ever influenced by something else: Personal sin.

Too far fetched? Most of us can think of at least one entire denomination that was founded on one individual’s personal desire or preference. Concerning King Henry VIII, a BBC article notes that he

…was anxious to ensure a male heir after his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had borne him only a daughter. He wanted his marriage annulled in order to remarry. In 1534 after several attempts to persuade the Pope to grant an annulment, Henry passed the Act of Succession and then the Act of Supremacy. These recognized that the King was “the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia“.

But how many others, even in our time, have looked at a particular doctrine and said, ‘God would never punish that, he is a God of grace and mercy.’ So with a few published articles in theological journals we’re offered a different take on a familiar doctrine, and if other writers converge on any given viewpoint, a theological trend emerges.

Their desire is to place God in a more lax position concerning things that the church previously believed he had addressed rather clearly.

If we occupy a position of leadership or influence and our personal lifestyle requires us to characterize God as less stringent on particular issues, then through our speaking or writing we can potential introduce new ideas which become part of the contemporary religious literature.

But the root of it just might be personal sin.

 

 

 

March 2, 2017

Christians Should Study Mormonism

A reader wrote asking if I’d ever reviewed any books by Denver Snuffer. I get requests to review self-published books all the time, but this time I found the name intriguing and next thing, I was reading a number of articles on his blog. He’s written a number of books, and has an additional website commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. According to my contact, “He was raised baptist and is now an excommunicated Mormon.  He’s a lawyer who is qualified to practice in the Supreme Court.” But it was this article below, which I thought readers here might find interesting.

 

Christians Should Study Mormonism

by Denver Snuffer

Between the death of Christ’s apostles and the Council of Nicaea, Christianity changed dramatically. It is impossible to account for all that happened to cause the changes. Although some of the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Christian leaders before Nicaea) have been preserved, the records are wholly inadequate to understand everything that happened, and why it happened.

A new religion rarely appears in history. When one does, it presents a unique opportunity for us to study the process.

Religions begin with an inspired leader whose confident vision opens new light and truth into the world. If there is no new vision then the religion won’t survive. But an original, inspired leader is difficult to replicate. Within a short time, the founder’s work is overtaken by others. Their insecurities and fears leave them without the confidence once present at the foundation. Believers donate, and contributions aggregate. A new generation of believers begin to notice the wealth of their movement, and aspiring leaders who would never sacrifice their name, reputation, security and lives are drawn to management, seeking personal benefit from the institution. Bold claims become hollow echoes, and leaders’ insecurity results in defensive and protective steps. Instead of moving forward with inspired new light and truth, the established religion fears and fights against threatened losses.

William James explained the process:

A genuine first-hand experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs!” (The Varieties of Religious Experience, being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, Lectures XIV and XV: The Value of Saintlessness.)

Mormonism was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith who claimed that ten years prior to founding a church he had been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. In the intervening years between the first visit and the time a church was organized, Joseph claimed to have been visited by an angelic messenger who delivered to him a new volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon. He claimed to have received revelations before founding the church, and then many more after its organization.

mormon-article-3-2Whether you believe Joseph Smith’s claims or not, he and his followers give a unique opportunity to witness how founding a religion sets in motion a series of predictable events that happen every time a new religion begins. Perhaps the best way to decipher the transition of Christianity from the original Primitive Christianity to its replacement, Historic Christianity, is to study Mormonism. Similar to the way the Primitive Christian church passed away after the death of the apostles, Mormonism has passed away following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The same process was at work in both.

Primitive Christianity and Mormonism set out to change the world, and after some initial success, both enjoyed worldly success. Their success diverted attention from saving souls to managing people and property. Paul observed, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10.) A new religion is not profitable for the first believers. They are persecuted. They sacrifice their lives and property to follow what they believe to be God’s burden laid on them. Because of their sacrifices, they have faith and know they please God. Without sacrifice, it is impossible to obtain the faith required for salvation. Founders make sacrifices, successors enjoy the fruit of those sacrifices.

In time, the founding gives way to popular approval. John Wesley observed the price that is paid for popular acceptance is the loss of the Spirit.

“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian;… From this time they almost totally ceased;… The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens…. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. Churches all come to depend on money for survival.”

Churches, like the men who belong to them, are just as vulnerable to the “love of money” which leads to “all evil.” People can have the gifts of the Spirit, or they can acquire riches in this world, but cannot have both.

Catholicism grew wealthy from the offerings of its members. When it owned most of the European lands and ruled over all people within Roman Catholic boundaries, it was cold, corrupt, violent and cruel. The transition from persecuted minority to dangerous majority took three centuries. With that status the original was lost.

Mormonism has followed the same path and achieved the same end in less than half the time. If a Christian wants to know how Primitive Christianity was lost to apostasy, the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is where it can be found. Mormon beliefs are so unstable that they now “unequivocally condemn” 10 of the first 11 of their church presidents, including Brigham Young, John Taylor and David O. McKay.

In order to progress forward, we must go back. Since we have no way to recover enough information to understand Christianity’s trek from Jerusalem to Rome, Mormonism allows Christians a view into the transition from Nauvoo to Salt Lake. Both paths followed the same tragic topography.


Go Deeper: In a more recent article Denver Snuffer draws a parallel between the time of Irenaeus and the doctrinal path of Mormonism. Check out Christian Apostasy.

February 23, 2017

Signs of Evangelicalism’s Demise

Yesterday we mentioned an article posted by Scot McKnight at the Patheos blog Jesus Creed titled The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?

scot-mcknightHe begins,

Not long ago I posted on the loss of the evangelical soul, a post in part stimulated by the tone of conversations I am witnessing on FB. Everybody’s a prophet these days and thinks so because, so they think, they are speaking truth to power. They’re not. They’re yelling in a barrel full of self-appointed prophets

Today’s post moves into signs of evangelicalism’s demise. Let’s get the standard definition of evangelicalism on the table first: an evangelical is committed to these four elements: the Bible, the cross as the place of atonement, the necessity of personal conversion, and an active Christian life both in missions/evangelism as well as justice, peace and reconciliation….

…Those four elements are crumbling, folks, they are crumbling. It’s not that evangelicalism has been yet again swamped by politics and lost its way. Rather, it is swamped by politics because those four elements are crumbling. Bible and theology are of little interest other than an odd Bible citation to prop up a claim. Small groups read books by well-known authors, rarely are they studies on a single book of the Bible (publishers aren’t selling these as well today), far too many of its most prominent theologians write books unanchored in Scripture and they do not begin with sketches of the Bible.

He then breaks down his areas of concern with the following headers:

  1. The Bible Diminished
  2. Mission Work Has Become Social Work
  3. Where Are The Pastors?
  4. Atonement Confusion
  5. Embracing Our Flaws
  6. Pride in Politics Rather Than Piety

Again, you need to click through to read the article, it’s not lengthy and I encourage you to do so.

The section headed Atonement Confusion caught my interest:

Atonement theology has fallen on hard times. It has become politicized into penal substitution, which for some means propitiation, vs. some other center of gravity — and more and more it has moved toward Girardian scapegoat theory, exemplary theology, or a very soft Christus victor. Hard headed conservatives are protecting propitiation at all costs and neglecting kingdom themes in the process and so distort atonement while committed progressivists are determined to prevent the wrath of God against sin and sinners (mentioning Jonathan Edwards does the trick) so they can find some “theory” of atonement that turns the Holy Week into justice and more justice. Evangelicalism from beginning to end is a cross-shaped atonement-based gospel and there is little appeal for a new book like John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ except with the propitiation crowd, who are in an echo chamber of Stott. I have attempted to sketch a comprehensive theory of atonement in A Community called Atonement.

I asked Dr. McKnight if he would break this down a little bit for the lay-reader; the average parishioner like me who might find this paragraph a little above their pay grade. He graciously replied with this brief synopsis:

1. Evangelicals are shifting toward a variety of approaches to atonement. Some think it’s about the wrath of God, some think it’s about Jesus as enduring injustice, others think it’s about Jesus showing us how to fight for justice, some think Jesus got trapped in a culture-religious war, etc.

2. People think anything having to do with punishment makes God unworthy of worship and an angry, embattled God who seeks vengeance. So, they want a God of love theory.

3. Jesus did with us, instead of us, and for our redemption. (And he was raised, too!)

For more of Scot McKnight’s Kingdom view, check out his other books, including the one we reviewed here, The King Jesus Gospel.


…After considering that, I decided to go back into McKnight’s original paragraph and look at some of the elements contained there. First, scapegoat theory. This is from René Girard’s Mimetic Theory of the Scapegoat.

René Girard’s Mimetic Theory is based on the principle that human beings are mimetic creatures.  We imitate what we see in others. In fact, our desires are not actually our own, but desires we have copied from others.  The more we imitate each other, the more alike we become.  Increasingly, we vie for the same desires and we become rivals. The more human beings imitate each other, the more individuals become alike.  Distinctions between individuals are blurred as they mirror each other.  The boundaries between individuals which keep order, begin to disintegrate. Increased rivalry creates increased violence and the blurred boundaries threaten to destabilize the social fabric.

In Girard’s theory, primitive man stumbled upon the solution to this threat: the scapegoat.  By placing the blame for all the hatred and distress on one individual or group of individuals, the community’s violence becomes polarized toward the ones being blamed.  These responsible individuals become the scapegoats for all the bad feeling in the community. By expelling or killing the scapegoat, order is restored and the community becomes peaceful again. The single act of sanctioned violence, becomes like a vaccination against the disease of chaotic, out of control violence.

It is critical that the members of the community be completely convinced that the scapegoat is guilty for this mechanism to restore order.  That is why the scapegoat must be accused and slandered before he is killed, but after the killing, everyone attributes the restored order to the scapegoat’s sacrifice.  In this way, the sacrificial victim becomes responsible for both the violence and the peace in the community.  He becomes “the sacred”…

Exemplary Theology proved a little more slippery in terms of finding a concise definition. (If you can direct me to one, we’ll insert it here.)

Wikipedia has a definition of Christus victor:

According to the Christus Victor theory of the Atonement, Christ’s death defeated the powers of evil, which had held humankind in their dominion. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers, and it, or the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the Atonement for a thousand years, until Anselm of Canterbury supplanted it in the West with his Satisfaction theory of atonement.

Their article also contains three atonement theory models:

In his [1931] book, [Gustaf] Aulén identifies three main types of Atonement Theories:

  • The earliest was what Aulén called the “classic” view of the Atonement, more commonly known as the Ransom Theory, or since Aulén’s work, it is known sometimes as the “Christus Victor” theory: this is the theory that Adam and Eve made humanity subject to the Devil during the Fall, and that God, in order to redeem humanity, sent Christ as a “ransom” or “bait” so that the Devil, not knowing Christ couldn’t die permanently, would kill him, and thus lose all right to humanity following the Resurrection.
  • A second theory is the “Latin” or “objective” view, more commonly known as Satisfaction Theory, beginning with Anselmian Satisfaction (that Christ suffered as a substitute on behalf of humankind, satisfying the demands of God’s honor) and later developed by Protestants as penal substitution (that Christ is punished instead of humanity, thus satisfying the demands of justice so that God can justly forgive). Some have argued that the penal substitution theory of the atonement was expressed by the early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr c.100-165, Eusebius of Caesarea c.275-339, and Augustine of Hippo 354-430.
  • A third is the “subjective” theory, commonly known as the Moral Influence view, that Christ’s passion was an act of exemplary obedience which affects the intentions of those who come to know about it.

There is also a link there to this article by Greg Boyd.

 

 

 

 

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