Category Archives: Theology

THEOLOGICAL TURKEY

 

Image result for turkey carcass

 

The comment below is to a friend about one of his friends.  It is easy to know what the friend of my friend doesn’t believe (it includes some of the silliness I don’t believe), but tough to know what he believes.  Here’s the analogy I came up with:

At the end of it all I scratch my head every time wondering what he still believes.  He states various presuppositions, but it seems he holds to a faith so tentative that it is difficult to see any scandal of the cross. Lots of bad meat is sliced off our theological turkey, but it seems we won’t be eating any meat at his house.  Instead, it looks like he is only keen on using the carcass for spiritual soup.

ANGLICANISM

Many American Evangelicals mistake the American variety of Anglicanism for either the British variety, or worse still, the liberal Episcopalian church.  The Anglican Church North America (ACNA) is decidedly under the authority of Scripture and quite clear about the work of Christ on the cross. 

I now gladly attend an Anglican church, but I am not Anglican.  There are four major reasons I give to those wondering why we shifted from low church evangelicalism to the Anglican church: an intentional theology of the body (and the physical world), a conscious tie to the whole church throughout its history and in the world today, truly keeping primary doctrines primary which translates to giving much space to differ over a variety of non primary doctrines, and a protection against personality cults emerging with respect to the ministers.  Much could be said about those things and perhaps later I will offer more details…

TWO PEOPLE STAND OUT

There are two men who have taught me the most about the proper ways to integrate theology and literature: Ralph Wood and Roger Lundin.  I have interviewed Ralph before, and Lord willing shall be going back to Baylor for another interview.  I corresponded with Roger.  I was planning on meeting with Roger during my lecture at Wheaton, but Roger unexpectedly died a few days prior to my talk.  Jeremy Begbie of Duke collaborated with Roger.  Here is part of Begbie’s tribute:

He cared about words – or better put, he cared for people through words: his students, colleagues and readers. That was why he labored so hard to find the right ones. That was why – with that memorable sidelong glance – he paused so often in conversation. That is why he spent hours and hours revising and re-editing his essays and books. In all the years I knew Roger I can honestly say I never remember him using words carelessly. He knew that careless words could hurt, maim and wound. In a culture deluged with half-thought out words, sloppy, hollowed-out language, he saw it as his calling to hone words full of care for others, full of the winsome generosity of God. And in the corridors of the academy, few things are needed more today. We academics revel in large words – to impress, to intimidate. He inspired us to use words with largesse. And that is a legacy beyond measure.

The rest is here: http://www.transpositions.co.uk/tribute-to-professor-roger-lundin/

1+1+1=3 NOT 1!

It is common to see Christians use the 1+1+1=1 equation to describe the trinity.  Their intention is good, but I think utilizing this equation as an illustration of the trinity is misguided.

When we look at the equation we conclude that the trinity is irrational.  All our lives we have known 1+1+1=3 not 1.  But now we are instructed that there is a heavenly math of sorts where it equals 1.

I was sharing the gospel with a Muslim years ago at the University of Texas in Dallas. He said he could never become a Christian because the trinity was irrational.  I shared with him that irrational was not the right word.  Mysterious to be sure, but not irrational.

Irrational would mean we are saying God exists simultaneously as one Person and three Persons.  Another irrational option would be to say God exists simultaneously as one Being and three Beings.  But of course, Christians don’t believe either one of these things.

We do believe that God is one in His Being or Essence, yet three in Person.  Each Person is fully God not 33.333% God.  That is why you can’t conceptualize the trinity.  It is indeed beyond our understanding, but that does not make it irrational. 

I asked my Muslim friend if he could conceptualize everything about Allah.  He conceded that he could not.  He could not get his head wrapped around such things as God being uncaused or self-existent.  I asked if he thought uncaused or self-existent would be irrational.  “Not if He is God,” he replied.  Of course, it would be irrational to say God is both self-existent and dependent on someone/thing else for His existence.

So let’s drop the 1+1+1=1 for the trinity.  We don’t want to give the impression that belief in the Christian God is irrational.  Mysterious and beyond our comprehension to be sure, but not irrational.

 

THE CIVIL WAR’S BEST THEOLOGIAN?

Historian Mark Noll likes to answer the question above with Abraham Lincoln.  Not because Lincoln was a Christian, but because of his acute awareness of the mysterious tracings of God’s providence.  Here is an important except from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, the greatest American speech according to well-known Civil War historians like James McPherson and George Rable:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

HEY JERRY FALWELL JR. AND ROBERT JEFFRESS: PLEASE READ AND HEED THIS BOOK!

https://www.amazon.com/Onward-Engaging-Culture-without-Losing/dp/1433686171/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

Russell Moore’s latest book is a note of sanity in the midst of rampant confusion. And I am talking about Christians. Thankfully, Moore (no relation) also has the church in his gracious crosshairs.

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel is a good reminder of what should be central (God, His kingdom, and the good news of gospel) and what should be secondary (American politics in this case, but everything else by way of implication).

Moore is crystal clear and compelling in the variety of ways he describes an American church being coopted by many influences and straying from the scandal of the cross. Moore is not an advocate for being foolish for foolishness sake, but he reminds us that there is an otherworldly sound to the gospel. This unusual sound is arresting to non-Christians, but as Moore does a nice job of showcasing, it can also be surprising to those of us who align with the Christian faith.

The tone of this book is respectful, loving, and hard-hitting. That triad may seem contradictory, but Moore pulls it off.

Highly recommended…and if you know Falwell or Jeffress make sure to buy them a copy!

THE PAIN AND JOY OF LEARNING

If you are following the debate swirling about the trinity, I think it is quite clear that one side has the better of the argument.  My brief reflection on this, and by way of extension, all such challenges:

Luke Timothy Johnson likes to remind us of the ancient phrase that “to learn is to suffer.” Learning many times means abandoning something we believed to be true, but now realize is not.

The other side of learning is the joy of discovery. Ezekiel Cheever, the first headmaster of Massachusetts Bay, believed that “children ought to come to learn as they come to play.”

May God motivate all of us to admit when we are wrong. There will undoubtedly be some pain in the discovery, but joy will attend our way as we do.

EVANGELICALS AND CATHOLICS, EVANGELICAL CATHOLICS?

Chris Castaldo was raised on Long Island, New York where he worked full-time in the Catholic Church. Chris previously served as a pastor at College Church of Wheaton and then as Director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal at Wheaton College. He is now Lead Pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois.

The following interview revolves around Castaldo’s latest book, Talking with Catholics about the Gospel.

Moore: Your title uses “with” not “to” Catholics. Tell us a bit why you chose that way to describe the title.

Castaldo: It is common for books on Catholicism (written by evangelical Protestants) to convey an unkind attitude. The doctrinal emphasis of such works is commendable, but the irritable tone rings hollow and fails to exhibit the kindness of Jesus. It is the sort of tone that my seminary professor warned against when he said, “Don’t preach and write as though you have just swallowed embalming fluid. As Christ imparts redemptive love, so should his followers.” This love is communicated in the content of God’s message and also in its manner of presentation. Therefore, our engagements with Catholics must express genuine courtesy, even in disagreement.

Moore: You’ve written in the area of Roman Catholic theology before. What was the impetus for writing this book?

Castaldo: My previous book, Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic, was concerned with helping ex-Catholics to assess our experience of conversion from doctrinal and sociological points of view. Such reflection sought to illumine areas of difficulty (e.g., how are we dealing with patterns of injurious religious guilt?). It also attempted to shed light on challenges and opportunities connected with sharing the good news of Christ among our Catholic friends and loved ones. The new book—Talking with Catholics about the Gospel—however, was not written with reference to former Catholics. It makes no assumptions about an individual’s knowledge of Roman Catholicism (which is why, for example, it has a chapter on Roman Catholic history from the Reformation to the present in order to be a sort of primer), providing the basic information one needs to clearly communicate the gospel among Catholics.

Moore: You give three broad categories of Catholics: traditional, Evangelical, and cultural. Some Evangelicals will be surprised to see the moniker “Evangelical.” What are a few of the biggest misconceptions Evangelical Protestants have about Evangelical Catholics?

Castaldo: At the beginning of his award-winning book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll famously quipped, “The Scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” In like manner, many evangelical Protestants in my pond would like to assert that there is little substance to the term “Evangelical Catholic.” According to this viewpoint, the essence of the “evangel” is the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which Catholics repudiate, thus putting them in a category other than “evangelical.”

Having conducted my doctoral research on the doctrine of justification, I appreciate the above perspective. It is true; the ultimate basis of our acceptance before God (i.e., justification) is different from what Catholics understand it to be. The Catholic view grounds divine righteousness in a person as opposed to locating it squarely in forensic righteousness for a person (as Protestants believe). However, in contemporary Catholicism—at least in the Midwest portion of the United States—I know several Catholics who possess convictions that are evangelical in nature. For example, they attribute salvation to grace alone. They read Scripture as the most authoritative norm for Christian faith. They will even use the language of “faith alone” (as did Pope Benedict) to highlight that forgiveness is a gift of God. Are such positions perfectly consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church? I’m not convinced they always are. Nevertheless, in view of the growing number of Catholics who hold these positions, I am comfortable recognizing their evangelical orientation.

In the book, I unpack the characteristics of men and women who identify as evangelical Catholics. I won’t reiterate them here beyond what I’ve already mentioned, but I will share a good example of what it looks like in action—a dialogue between my friend, Brett Salkeld, a very bright Catholic systematic theologian who identifies himself as an “evangelical Catholic,” and Jeff Greenman, another friend of mine who is the President of Regent College, Vancouver. They are helpful examples of the sort of warm-hearted and doctrinally rigorous exchange of which we need more.

Moore: When we seek to understand the official Catholic teaching on salvation it can be a bit frustrating and confusing. I know this firsthand! Would you recommend the statements in the Catholic Catechism as the most representative?

Castaldo: Absolutely. And there is an online version of the Catechism that allows you to perform word searches. There is no longer an excuse for confusion about what the Catholic Church teaches (although understanding what exactly they mean by what they teach and how it find application may sometimes involve a measure of ambiguity).

Moore: Related to the previous two questions is the portrayal of the Roman Catholic, especially as they position themselves against the Protestant tradition. Catholics tend to portray their church as monolithic, when the feet on the ground reality is a broad, rambling landscape.   Granted, we Protestants have our thousands of denominations, but Catholics have de facto denominations. Unpack some of this diversity within the church and why many Catholics are hesitant to concede it exists.

Castaldo: When I consider this question, I think of a statement from the book Holyland USA written by Catholic author Peter Feuerherd. Here is how he captures the varied and complex shape of Catholicism:

In reality, Catholicism includes those with disparate authority and opinions about almost everything under the sun. There are liberal bishops and conservative bishops. The pope sometimes differs with his own Curia. American Catholic voters are regularly viewed by experts as a crucial swing group in every national election, too diffuse to truly categorize. In fact, some scholars of religion refer to Catholicism as the Hinduism of Christianity, because it is infused with so many different schools of prayer, ritual and perspective, much like the native and diverse religions of India now referred to under the single rubric of Hinduism.[1]

Peter’s point is important to keep in mind when we discuss the diversity of Catholicism. It is easy to see the common clerical attire of priests, the standard liturgical order of the Mass, and hierarchical structure that unifies parishes and conclude that there is general unity in the Catholic Church. Not quite. Just like in Protestantism, there are progressives and conservatives, charismatics and stoics, feminists and male elitists, postmodern relativists, liberation theologians, traditionalists, mystics, and everything in between.

Moore: What are a few things you would like readers to gain from reading your book?

Castaldo: I hope readers will understand at least three things. I want them to gain an understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches concerning religious authority and salvation, at least on a basic level. I’d also like them to understand the different types of Catholic people in America today: the traditional, the evangelical, and the cultural. Finally, I want them to embrace their calling to embody the grace and truth of Jesus (John 1:14) in reference to Roman Catholics.

In my role as a pastor, I often observe how personalities lean toward one or the other poles, grace or truth. Some of us naturally resemble lambs; others are more like pit bulls. That’s life in a world full of uniquely created people. Consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised when we disagree on how to handle specific issues; but such disagreement shouldn’t undermine the enterprise of trying to thoughtfully navigate through our differences. Although we must agree to disagree in some places, courteous dialogue is a much more Christian approach than throwing polemical hand grenades over the ecclesial fence. They will know we are Christians by our love.

[1] Feuerherd, Peter. Holyland USA: A Catholic Ride Through America’s Evangelical Landscape. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing, 2006), 72