April 14, 2009

Some Updates and Asking for Advice

There have been a couple of things I've been thinking about doing, and a couple of things that I already have planned for this blog. I thought I would share a couple of those with you so that you would have a sense of where I am going.

Throughout much of this first year, I've mostly attempted to put forward some posts stating my official stances on things, where such stances exist. There are several issues where I feel like I have failed to do this so far. Included within this are the Trinity and Federalism. Though I have a Trinity post planned right now, the concept of the Trinity is a passion of my that so far I have had little impetus to write on. I would like to correct that in the future. The other issue is my political understand of the USA, which is based on Federalism. Yet, I've not been able to really pin down these thoughts, much to my chagrin.

Another such issue is Arminianism. This is an issue that I have already talked about often, but I haven't really set forth my fall position. I started to, but hit a road block midway. This is, of course, the Why I Am an Arminian series, of which I have only done parts 1 and 2 of 5. So far, part 3 is done, but I don't intend to publish it until I finish the full series. At that point, I republish the first two parts with some redactions.

The last two ideas, I was hoping to ask you guys whether or not it is a good idea. I have two long term projects in mind that are very similar. One is to go through Thomas Oden's systematic theology, and devote a post to each chapter, mostly containing my reflections. The timing of this would be sporadic, and take as long as it would take for me to go through the book, but I mostly want to do it for the sake of reading the work. Do you guys think this makes sense? (If I do decide to do this, it'll be a few months till I start. I want to finish some other books first)

The 2nd idea is to do a very similar thing with the book of Revelation, except treat it as more of a commentary. This wouldn't be for explaining my views as much as forming them. I have a thesis about the book of Revelation, and I want to see it pan out. The series would essentially be a diary of my working out this thesis passage by passage. However, since the attempt is to see whether or not my thesis will pan out, the entire project may be scrubbed midway through if I realize I'm wrong. Do you think it is worth starting?

Thanks for your input.

16 comments:

Pizza Man said...

Hi Martin,

Your comment about Oden perked my interest, as I've been reading and listening to him lately. I found some mp3s of his online. One called "The Renewal of Classical Christianity" and the other "Libyan Christianity". They can be found on itunes for free if you're interested.

He's one smart fellow, but I have a hard time following him sometimes (because of his wide vocabulary and references to early church leaders whom I'm not familiar with). I would definitely be interested in your thoughts (and criticisms) on his systematic theology series.

So I vote for Oden over Revelation. But which ever way you go will be worthwhile I'm sure. :)

Jc_Freak: said...

It's not so much one or the other. Both would be long term series that may take over a year, if only a year to finish. I'm mostly curious whether or not it is wise to start such a long term project.

Oden himself is one of my favorite writers. I have his systematic as well as "After Modernity... What?", "Pastoral Theology", and "The Rebirth of Orthodoxy". He's point of view was a major influence within my seminary.

Pizza Man said...

I've only read "The Transforming Power of Grace". If you do decide to go through his systematic theology, give me a heads up, and I'll try to get a copy to follow along (looks like it's a 3 vol set? Maybe I can buy one at a time).

Mason said...

JC, I look forward to continuing to dialogue on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue. Though I am (like many other issues) increasingly finding my position to be neither, I think the whole debate rests on some very important foundations which we need to study, such as free will, sovereignty, soteriology etc.
I too would find a lot of value in a series on Oden’s theology, and like Pizza Man it would give me a good excuse to finally pick it up. What I’ve read from him so far has always impressed, so going through his larger work would be beneficial I’m sure.

David B. Ellis said...

I don't really understand the need to identify yourself as either arminian or calvinist. Both are made up of quite a few fairly independent theological propositions and, I would think, a christian forming his own judgements on theological matters might agree on some matters with Arminius, on some with Calvin, and on some with neither.

And on some issues the most reasonable position may simply be: scripture isn't that clear on the issue and I don't know.

David B. Ellis said...

Not that a christian should necessarily consider the bible authoritative. But that's a whole other can of worms.

Jc_Freak: said...

David,

First I would like to thank you for your comments. Though I am about to disagree with them, I do appreciate the alternative perspective.

I would say that the Bible as an authority is fundamental for being a Christian. Though it is possible to be a Christian without believing in the Bible, it would be like being an American without believing in the Constitution. It is just too foundational.

Also, I've said before that I dont think Calvinism and Arminianism are as different as many think. They basically come down to a difference on how God dispensates grace. Everything else is just comes from that. However, I recognize that as opinion.

David B. Ellis said...

I would say that the Bible as an authority is fundamental for being a Christian.
I've known more than a few people who I think it would be unreasonable to not describe as christians who think the new testament writings are simply the early writings of the church. Of great importance but purely human documents and, as such, as much capable of error, even substantial error, as anything else written by humans.

They tend to look to what they describe as their relationship with Christ as the highest authority and when scripture is in conflict with what they feel Christ would command they take that inner "command" as of far greater authority than scripture.

Personally, I think their approach makes far greater sense. One of the great dangers of religion is that, in its respect for the authority of ancient documents, it becomes an obstacle to moral progress and compassion where compassion, as so often happens, is at odds with scripture.

Aren't there, in fact, more than a few examples from the Gospels of Jesus choosing compassion when it was at odds with scripture? Is this not the example a christian ought to follow? Or are modern christians to emulate instead the worst qualities of the Pharisees in their rigid commitment to the scriptures above human need and compassion and simple common sense?

Jc_Freak: said...

"Aren't there, in fact, more than a few examples from the Gospels of Jesus choosing compassion when it was at odds with scripture? Is this not the example a christian ought to follow? Or are modern christians to emulate instead the worst qualities of the Pharisees in their rigid commitment to the scriptures above human need and compassion and simple common sense?"

I think we have a misunderstanding here. Now, I do hold to scriptural infallibility (not inerrancy, but that's another issue), but that is not what I mean by saying the Scripture is authoratative. Something does not have to be infallible to be an authority. For example, you said:

"Aren't there, in fact, more than a few examples from the Gospels of Jesus choosing compassion when it was at odds with scripture? Is this not the example a christian ought to follow?"

This is an arguement from Scriptural authority. It is that the words of Christ, and Christ's attitude as described in the Scripture serve as the basic model of Christian life. Belief in the authority of Scripture doesn't demand rigidity. Indeed, infallibility and inerrancy as desccriptions and foudation of Scriptural authority is a relatively recent phenomonon, yet the belief that Scripture represents the basic Christian witness of Christ has always been true.

David B. Ellis said...

I'm not saying you're an inerrantist. I would ask, though, in what sense you would say the bible is authoritative if one can't turn to it as an authority. That is, saying, the bible says so and so, therefore, that is what's true or what's God's will?

It is that the words of Christ, and Christ's attitude as described in the Scripture serve as the basic model of Christian life.
Which is essentially the position I described of the christian who considers the bible the writings of the early church and not stamped with the authority of God.

Jc_Freak: said...

David,

This has been a great conversation. You've really made me stop and think, which is always something I look forward to. Now for my response:

A. In regards to your friends who are Christian, there is very little I can say. I do not know them, and therefore cannot assess their walk with the Lord. I also do not fully know you, and therefore cannot simply take your word for them being genuine Christians. On the other hand, I also cannot assume theologically that they must be false Christians. That would be far too presumptuous. Therefore, since I can neither refute or be convinced by it, I cannot really consider it in the discussion.

B. I am not sure that we understand the idea of Scripture being an authority in the same way. Scripture is neither a rule book nor is it a doctrinal manual. It is instead an account (or a collection of accounts) with Almighty God, and appreciating it as an authority is saying that these accounts truly were from encounters with God (with all that implies), and they for they form the standard about what an encounter with God looks like. The level to which one interacts with the text based upon this may vary, and indeed does vary extremely.

C. You may recall that I did say that it is possible for one to be a Christian and yet not see the Bible as authoritative. I believe this to be unhealthy, but it is possible. When it comes to individuals, their understanding of God and themselves comes (and should come) primarily through their community of faith. Even the idea that they should pay closer attention to the inner command of Christ probably did not occur in a vacuum. It is possible that their community itself believes that, or they picked up up from famous Christian speakers (which is probably more likely). If a faith community is healthy and is strong with God, a person can completely ignore Scripture, and yet remain healthy because of that community. I still would not recommend it.

D. If you apply what I have just said above to what I have said before about essential doctrine, you will not be surprised that I place the authority of Scripture under "Ecclesiastically Essential Doctrine", meaning that it is not necessary for an individual, such as your friends, but is absolutely essential for a church. Without a standard, any community, no matter how healthy initially, will begin to fall away as they progress. This is due to new blood, and the loss of the old. The bible is the standard because it is the eyewitness accounts of Christ, or at least close to it. Christianity is tied to historical events, and it is necessarily bound more to primary sources than secondary.

Dan Martin said...

That's an interesting distinction you make, Martin, between an "ecclesiastically essential doctrine" and a personally essential one. I hadn't thought of it that way, but it does make sense.

Of course with my Anabaptist, free-church leanings, I see the alternate risk in that if the notion of ecclesiastical doctrines get too much ascendancy, you can wind up with the authoritarian church bodies that have led to many of the worst abuses of the historical church.

I will want to unpack your "Essential Doctrine" article in more detail when I'm not on the run, but giving it a quick scan, I think you are doing an admirable job of small-c conservatively defining the concept. Great work!

Jc_Freak: said...

Interestingly, I got this email that contained a comment from Dan Martin, yet for some reason, it never showed up on the blog. Since I believe it was a very good comment both to the conversation I've been having with David and with the thread topic, I'm publishing it below:

"David, I think I land well to Martin's left regarding scriptural authority, but I encourage you to re-examine his point. The authority of scripture can mean simply that it is a faithful witness (and the best one, however flawed, that we've got) to the character, teachings, and intents of Jesus. There's a long and varied spectrum between that and verbal-plenary inspiration. For a more detailed take on my own position, what I call a "word-of-God" hermaneutic, check out my series on biblical inspiration.

I would caution you, however, that in your comment:

They tend to look to what they describe as their relationship with Christ as the highest authority and when scripture is in conflict with what they feel Christ would command they take that inner "command" as of far greater authority than scripture.may lie the seeds of pretty much "every man does what is right in his own eyes." At the very least, we need the witness of scripture and the accountability of other disciples to keep us from going nuts.

But Martin, back to your OP, I have been thinking a lot about the Trinity lately, and not in ways most trinitarians would be happy with. I would be interested to see you develop your thoughts. I would also jump in, I'm sure, if you get into federalism, not because I am similarly compelled, but because so often I see proponents of federalism essentially defending some of the more-oppressive elements of society as being things we simply cannot or should not rein in. I'm not saying that's where you'd go with it, just that it seems to be a pattern in my experience.

In any event, I look forward to your thoughts on these things as you come to them, though I confess to a fairly visceral bias against systematic theologies in general (not being a seminarian, I have no experience with Oden specifically). I think many theologians have spent an inordinate amount of time tying up loose ends that God nor the scriptural authors ever intended to tie together. . . "

Jc_Freak: said...

Dan,

Thanks for you comment. Clearly, I appreciate it ;)

Regarding the Trinity, what aspects are you thinking about? Like I said, I've mostly lacked impetus in writing about it. If there is something you are particularly considering, I can try and gather my thoughts in regards to it.

Dan Martin said...

Thanks, Martin, I was wondering what had happened to that post, so that makes two of us. . . ;{)

Regarding the Trinity, what aspects are you thinking about? Like I said, I've mostly lacked impetus in writing about it. If there is something you are particularly considering, I can try and gather my thoughts in regards to it.Well, this is far from fully developed, but basically I question the "personality" of the Holy Spirit as opposed to a more-diffuse notion of "God's breath" which is a big topic I intend to unpack soon on my own blog. I also doubt the usual claim by many/most that believers are automatically imbued with the HS at conversion--I maintain the scriptural evidence for this is much weaker than often claimed, while empirical observation militates strongly against it.

Secondly, I think classic Trinitarianism, while not wholly incorrect, fails to engage satisfactorily with the many instances where Jesus clearly referred to the Father as someone other than, and superior to, himself (even as the scriptural case for Jesus being wholly human is clearly in error). Wrestling with this is gonna be another topic, but I freely admit it's one where I have more questions than answers.

But that's at least a thumbnail of the places I'm wrestling. . .

Dan Martin said...

OK, that last didn't come out quite right. . .what I mean is that if you buy the witness of the Gospels at all, a wholly-human (i.e. not at all divine) Jesus is not an acceptable interpretation.

So basically monotheism, Jesus' divinity, and his clear reference to the Father as 'other' are in tension more than we acknowledge. . .