April 30, 2009

The Foolishness of God

Does God Go Against Logic?
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. -I Corinthians 1:20-25 ESV
This verse has often to employed to argue for a kind of anti-intellectualism. Often any view which attempts to express itself intelligently and looks beyond cultural assumption is immediately referred to as "human reasoning" or "worldly wisdom" and promptly discarded. This interpretation of this text closes the mind and causes mental and spiritual stagnation. But I propose that Paul is not stating that we need to resist wisdom or critical thinking. There are many references of Scripture (like the entire book of Proverbs for instance) that make it clear that God respects wisdom and critical thinking.

If we assume that all of which God gives us is good, though corruptible, then we should resist any theology that renders a natural aspect of humanity untrustworthy and wicked. This would go with sex, emotions, particularity, genders, races, and, of course, cognitive faculties. If God gave us these things, then they are innately good, and must be honored. This does not mean we treat them as infallible authorities, for the human condition has completely fallen, and all aspects of our humanity are corrupted. But we also should not shun our humanity either.

Personally, I do not believe the anti-intellectual stance of modern evangelicalism has anything to do with inherit Christianity. Instead, I think it is caused by an attempt counter the overdeveloped intellectualism of modernism. But is this appropriate? Does God defy sense? Does God expect us to do foolish things simply because He's foolish? Shall we excuse irrational theological positions for simply being "mystery"? I believe not, and to do so misses the greater meaning of this text.


The subject of the discussion here is the crucifixion. This is rather important to remember because the ultimate question that Paul is answering here is, "Was Christ dying on the cross the wise thing to do?"


Wisdom in the knowledge of the right thing to do at the right time. Well, in English that is true. In Greek, wisdom more refers to learning and understanding. It refers to the philosophy, which itself simply means the love of wisdom. So when Paul refers to the wisdom of the world, he is referring to the world's understanding of the way things work. This doesn't necessarily refer to all categories of theological and philosophical thought, but merely referring to the perspective that the world has.

In this sense, the anti-intellectuals have a point. Christianity is, by its roots, a popular religion. The gospel itself is simple, and should be kept that way. When we move beyond the birth/death/resurrection/return of Christ, we have moved beyond the basics. It's not wrong to move beyond the basics, but it is wrong to treat those things which are not the basics as if they were, which is Paul's point.

To the Greek's, this was utter foolishness, because that's just not how God should behave. God is perfect and transcendent. He is in control of all things. He wouldn't risk the cosmos to die for mere human beings. God is beyond such things. This was the basic (and rather oversimplified) reaction of the Greeks to the gospel of Christ. This is what Paul was rejecting.


However, Paul claims that this merely seems foolish, yet it is truly wise. But what is wise about it? What was so wise about Christ dying on the cross? Was it the logical thing to do?

I believe, and this is merely my opinion here, that Paul didn't mean that God was more logical than the Greeks, but that God's view was higher than the Greeks, for there is something higher than logic: love.

Christ did not die on the cross because it was the logical thing to do. Christ died on the cross because it was the compassionate thing to do. Christ loved us; He loved us to death. In the end, this is wisdom in the traditional sense, because Christ dies for us before we accept Him, and regardless of whether we accept Him or not. That's not the point. The point is that He loves us, and He seeks our redemption.

We often do foolish things for love. Sometimes we do things that are just silly, like watching Fried Green Tomatoes. Other times, we do things which are sacrificial, like leaping into fires on the off chance we can reach our loved ones in time. Other times, we do things that are simply hopeless, like a mother visiting her son in jail. Love compels us to act for the other, regardless of whether or not it is wise.

Yet it is wiser to hold on to the things that you love, and to take care of them than simply to always do what should be done. God is wiser than the wisdom of the world, because He takes care of the things that really matters: His children. Ultimately, this is the aspect of God that the Greeks just couldn't get. And ultimately, this act which is foolishness to the world, out shines their wisdom because of what God can accomplish through His reckless love.

Isn't it grand that we serves such a God?


The point of this text isn't that we should abandon all forms of higher learning. It also doesn't mean that we should accept contradictory things to keep our theology simple. We can be thoughtful and extensive in our theological musings.

The point is that in our theological pursuits we should never lose sight of the heart. Compassion is greater than wisdom, and we shouldn't allow our philosophies to come between us and the heart of God. Indeed, we should judge our philosophies and theologies by whether or not it upholds the heart of God.

April 28, 2009

Audio Link to Roger Olsen

Roger Olsen is most "famous" for writing the book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I highly recommend the book if you want to better understand what Arminianism really is, because it has been horribly misrepresented on the internet, much to my chagrin.

Dr. Olsen is also a member of SEA, as am I, and I have talked with him a number of times. He is a great guy, very slow to anger, and very knowledgeable on both historical and biblical theology.

Recently, over at Wesleyan Arminian, Kevin left this audio link to a fantastic conversation between Dr. Olsen and two Calvinists. What I love most about Dr. Olsen is how much I agree with him. Indeed, my only regret is by the time I read his book, I agreed with him too much to learn anything by it (though it is full of fantastic quotes). If you are curious about Arminianism, or have been shocked about some of the things that I have said about it, then I highly recommend listening to this audio and picking up Dr. Olsen's book.

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.

Biblical Authorship

I want to make a reference, for my own sake really, of this post by Ben Witherington. It talks about some of the conventions of ancient publishing, and explains the difference between forgeries, and collaborative efforts.

April 12, 2009


Let all the Earth rejoice! Our King has risen from the dead and now He reigns!!!




April 10, 2009

O Come And Mourn with Me Awhile

Today is Good Friday. Be joyful and mourn.

There are many reasons why I am proud to be Irish (one of which is that I am Irish and am required to be proud). But if there is one thing I am proudest about, it is the Irish ability to be joyful about death. I don't know if it is unique, but I believe it is very Christian. My life is not bound to this world, but is bound to my God, and my death is not a loss on my part, though it may be on yours. There is a joy in knowing that a loved one is in the arms of their Savior, and a joy in nostalgizing their life instead of lamenting our less furnished future.

To this I want to reflect on the classic hymn "O Come and Mourn with Me Awhile" written by Fredrick W. Faber. The only version of this hymn that I really know is the Jars of Clay version from their album Redemption Songs, which is a remix of various traditional hymns. This song reflects a joyful mourning which I think is the proper tone to Good Friday. The chorus is particularly significant, as it paints a picture of a contest between anthropomorphized Love and Sin, and through Christ's death, Love has won.

So we come with a somberness, recognizing the torment and the trial. And yet, through the lashing (both by tongues and whips), through the crying, through the trek, and through the blood and offal on the ground, we celebrate a victory! A victory over death, oppression, and sin. And so we have a mixed cup of water and blood and we hold up both to our Lord. Through the sorrow on the cross our hearts can break open, and allow a door for the love of God to come in a fill us completely.

So, I present here the lyrics for your reflection on this day of joyful mourning:
O come and mourn with me awhile,
O come near to the Saviour's side,
O come together, let us mourn,
Jesus our Lord is crucified

Seven times He spoke seven words of love,
And all three hours His silence cried,
For mercy on the souls of men,
Jesus our Lord is crucified

O Love of God,
___O Sin of Man,

In this dread act your strength is tried,
And victory remains with Love,
Jesus our Lord is crucified

O break, o break hard heart of mine,
My weak self-love and guilty pride,
His Pilate and His Judus were,
Jesus our Lord is crucified

O Love of God,
___O Sin of Man,
In this dread act your strength is tried,

And victory remains with Love,
Jesus our Lord is crucified

A broken heart, a fount of tears,
Ask and they will not be denied,
A broken heart love's cradle is,
Jesus our Lord is crucified

O Love of God,
___O Sin of Man,
In this dread act your strength in tried,

And victory remains with Love,
Jesus our Lord is crucified

April 8, 2009

The Decline of Christianity in America

I found a link to this article over at Ben Witherington's site. I agree that this is a monumental shift in the American climate. I am sure that I am less surprised by Dr. Mohler in regards to the unbelief in the Northeast, seeing as I live in New York. I often wonder as to the fate of America, a land I love very much, as well as the Western Church.

It is helpful here to consider the thoughts of Loren B. Mead in his work The Once and Future Church. This work was originally written in 1991, though my edition is from 1994, but it seems to anticipate much of what is currently going on in our culture. Mead recognizes two classic paradigms in Christian ecclesiology, and what we are witnesses now is the immersion of a third.

The first paradigm he calls the Apostolic Paradigm (p. 11). In this paradigm, the context of the world was the hostile socio-political environment. Within this environment, the church was a separate "called out" entity that gathered together for mutual support and mission. Their mission was to reach out to their environment and draw people into the congregation.

He calls the second paradigm the Christendom Paradigm (p. 19). I have also heard this called imperial theology, and you may hear me use that terms else where. When Constantine converted to Christianity, and turned the empire "Christian", it did much to damage this former viewpoint. The context of the world shifted to a benevolent simpatico environment that claimed to be a part of the church. Indeed, it began to claim to be the church, and that is the fundamental shift. The process of evangelism shifted to bringing forth the reign of Christ, to spreading our particular culture. This paradigm has been maintained in the West up until this point, when our culture is beginning to turn its back to the church.

The new paradigm that Mead sees immerging (p. 26) he does not name, but so far he is dead on about the description. In many ways, it is the combination of the two paradigms, and sadly it is caused more by the change of the environment than a change in theological perspective (though that is also happening). The new context is ambigous, in that it is not entirely hostile, but it is also no longer part of the church. The mission of the Apostalic Paradigm has returned in full force, though there is still a tendancy to try and make the world Christian, rather than simply trying to proclaim Christ in the world. The inner structure of the church is equally confused, containing much of the rigidity of Christendom Paradigm, while reclaiming some of the more personal aspects of Apostalic.

I am fascinated to see what the future has in store for the Church. I am not truly worried, since I know that God is at the head of the whole thing. Instead, I am more honored to be part of the church at this crucial point in history and the world.

April 4, 2009

Essential Doctrine

This is actually a topic that I have thought a lot about. Like I said in the last post, there has been a discussion going around about the nature of orthodoxy and the concept of essential doctrine. The basic definition of essential doctrine would be as follows:
Essential Doctrine: Those ideas and beliefs which define the core of Christian thought; those ideas and beliefs where the rejection of such places one outside Christianity
As I have attempted to understand the essentialness of doctrine, I have determined that the importance of a particular idea may depend upon context. Therefore, I have identified, so far, 3 different arenas where essentialness comes into play, and the means of classifying what belongs within those categories.

(I may note that I seem to use the words context and category interchangeably in this post. In reality, these are categories that are defined by context, and therefore there is a one-to-one relationship between them. The names that I provide as the subject headings are the categories. The contexts are what defines these categories)

Soteriologically Essential Doctrine

I have tried and tried to come up with a less obfuscating word for this, but so far I've failed. Personally and Individually carry connotations that I do not intend, and Salvificly would imply a sort of gnosticism (saved by knowledge). In either case, I'm stuck with this term till either I find a better one, or someone suggests a better one.

The basic concept of soteriologically essential doctrines is that they are doctrines which are necessary for a person to believe in order to be considered a Christian. But what is necessary for one to believe in order to be Christian?

Examining the early church, we see the basic Christian creed was "Jesus is Lord" (Romans 10:9 and I Corinthians 12:3). This was a much stronger statement then we often give it credit for. The Jews refused to say the name of God and instead say "Adonai" (my Lord). Thus, to the Jew, calling Jesus Lord was saying that Jesus was Yahweh! Meanwhile, the title "Lord" was also used by the Roman Caesar cult in order to demonstrate one's political loyalties. Thus, the claim that Jesus is Lord said to the Greek that Jesus is Lord instead of Caesar, and that a Christian's loyalty to Christ was higher than their loyalty to Rome.

But in our day, our most basic creed would be "Jesus is Lord and Savior". Personally, I think that this is a rather powerful creed, and worth the dignity of the basic Christian belief. Though the early church did not include Savior in its creed, there also was no one else vying for the title. In today's world, it is precisely these two aspects of Christ's identity that are most at stake.

Additionally, if we take the Romans passage I mentioned earlier as our standard, then it is also important to understand and affirm the Christ event. Paul points to the resurrection, which is at the heart of the Christ event, but I believe this would also include Christ's birth (the incarnation), Christ's death, and Christ's return (especially the concept of our own resurrection). The details are not what is really important, but the essence of what the Christ event was and means.

If you don't not believe in these things, than you are simply not a Christian. There is no way around this. Others may want to propose other doctrines on this list, but I don't think they are as necessary. Cosmology, Ecclesiology, Pneumatology, or even Soteriology and Eschatology do not come close to defining what it means to be "Christian" more than Christology. Who is Christ? What did He do? What does that mean to me? Do I trust Him? Do I obey Him? These are the questions which are fundamental to our own Christian identity and any other belief, if it is wrong, can be corrected by the Spirit if we get those questions right! This is my belief, because in the end, our salvation is grounded in faith in Christ: in who He is and what He has done. Anything else is gnostic.

To this, I can propose this concrete list of doctrines (no particular order) that I do believe one needs to believe to be Christian, but it is important to note that I do not believe confession in this list is the basis of orthodoxy or salvation. Merely that these doctrines must be present:
  1. Monotheism
  2. Jesus is the one Son of God/Christ
  3. Jesus is God incarnate (both divine and human)
  4. All of mankind is on a path to destruction
  5. Jesus died on the cross as a means of saving humanity
  6. 3 days later, Jesus rose from the dead
  7. If we place our faith in Him, we will rise from the dead as well, and live eternally
This list can easily be stretched out (I have done it before), but that is essentially what it means to be Christian.

Ecclesiastically Essential Doctrine

When we think of essential doctrine, I think this is the category that most of us really think of. The problem lies in treating this category like the first category. The confusing of these two contexts either causes an inappropriate level of openness in church doctrine, or an oppressive pharisaic treatment of the laity.

One cannot expect every person to be an expert on doctrine and the faith. It is just impractical and unreasonable. To some degree, someone has to be a Christian before they can be a mature Christian. Part of this maturity is coming to a deeper understanding of Christian faith, and on an individual level, this category of doctrine marks some mandatory maturing marks in the Christian walk, but such a thing could hardly be called essential.

I call it ecclesiastically essential because these are things that are essential for the church to understand and teach. Pastors should believe this, as well as any teachers and leaders. Any church must believe in these if it is going to be able to propagate and grow true Christians. One reader of this blog (he can name himself if he likes) said once that you can find Christians in the most unlikely places. This is true, but it is important to distinguish the Christianity of the person and the Christianity of the place. We should not "baptize" an institution just because we might find a Christian within in it in spite of what it teaches.

The question is, does this body produce Christians?Does it help Christians to grow closer to God? Is it keeping them focused on the Christ? Is it protecting them from false doctrine? It is this last one where we get the closest to essential doctrine. But in the end, departure from ecclesiastical essential doctrine doesn't condemn a person, or even a group. What it does it is cripples that groups ability to present a proper and sustainable worldview. It does not immediately cause a downfall, but it will lead to one if left uncorrected and will definitely hurt the immature persons within the group.

Much like the heart of defining soteriologically essential doctrines is understanding Christ, the heart of this is understanding the canon. The word "canon" simply means rule, or a standard. In this case, it means the standard of the faith. This is not simply Scripture, but also understand the Rule of Faith, the nature of Christianity. But this most certainly does imply Scripture as well.

I'm sure many may argue that the belief that Scripture is authoritative belongs in the first category, but to those I ask you to hear me out. Salvation rests on Christ, not the Scripture. Scripture is important because it points to Christ. Indeed, in evangelism, the goal isn't to get someone to read and appreciate the book, but introducing them to Christ. However, the bible was compiled as a rule of faith, as a canon, and as such it represents the fundamental witness of what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, some affirmation of its authority (though infallibility or inerrancy would be unnecessary for this) would be necessary if a Church is really going to remain Christian. It must affirm the basic Christian witness.

Another important factor is the Spirit. Having an understanding of the guidance of the Spirit is absolutely essential to Christian living. Tied in with this comes an understanding of the relationship between the Father, Son, and the Spirit.

[Quick side note. I go back and forth between putting a belief in the Trinity in the first category or this one. In the end, I believe it should be this one, since I don't think we can rightly demand every member of the church to appreciate the concept of tri-unity. On the other hand, I am convinced that no body can rightly be considered Christian without a concept of the Trinity. Considering this, I currently place it here.]

Beyond this, I must decline from offering a list. There are many more doctrines I could include here, which to some degree is the problem. Such a list would be quite long, and part of the reason for this differentiation is to keep the first list short. If you wonder about whether I think a particular doctrine falls into this category, please ask.

Essential Distinctives

This is a new category which I named only last week, though the thought has been in my mind in embryonic form for much longer.

When I am referring to distinctives, I am referring to those particular thoughts and beliefs which are distinctively important to a particular church/denomination/era. To some degree we've all seen this where a particular church takes a stand on an issue that isn't definitive to Christianity. Many times they do this illegitimately by judging those outside of that church by that standard. But to some degree, you can't be a Baptist and baptize your baby, and you can't be a cessionist in Assemblies of God, or a Congregationist Catholic. When you belong to a particular group which is within the church, there may be doctrines which define that group, or subgroup.

This can also apply to eras. There was a need to take a stance on some Trinitarian issues in the first few centuries that some of us see as unimportant. But when you are active in a culture which was as metaphysically aware as the Greeks, you need to say things about metaphysics. There are stances on Scripture that needed to be made in the modern era which were unnecessary before. Same with cosmology. Much of the Creationist movement isn't about "This is how God did it", but really "Our God is the one who did it". How do you make this stance in a science obsessed culture? How can you be really sure you are making the right one?

This also applies to some individual churches. For instance, I'm a passionate Arminian, and I believe that Calvinism is a legitimate expression of Christianity, though wrong. Despite this, because I am going to be teaching Arminianism in my church, I can't promote to leadership someone who will teach otherwise. It would cause fractures in the church. Does this mean that I wouldn't let a Calvinist into my church? Of course not. I would even let that Calvinist actively try to change my mind. After all, he might. But if a person can't teach what I emphasize in my teaching, then to some degree the leadership needs to be united.

In another church, that may not be an issue. My pastor, for instance, is definitely Arminian, but he doesn't really understand the debate, so he doesn't take part in it. He could easily promote a Calvinist in his church, and I think that he should. However, he is also a strong Creationist, and would never promote someone that disagreed with him on that issue, where I would.

In the end, this point is a matter of unity. It is impossible for us all to agree on everything, but there are going to be particular doctrines where are important to particular groups that need to be believed in that group. Just like we can't all agree on what stance we should take on certain things, we also disagree on their importance, and we shouldn't judge a group or a particular leadership because they value something higher than we think they should. Instead, we should judge them on whether or not they take it outside of their "jurisdiction" so to speak.

I feel like this deserves some more clarity. These doctrines are not important in determining whether something is Christian, but they are important in dealing with leaders in the church. That is what this is about: leadership. It has nothing to do with membership. Just thought I should say that plainly.

Wrapping up

To place this in more clarity, this is a consideration of the essentialness of doctrine within three contexts: a person's salvation, the legitimacy of a church, and internal church politics. In other words: with a person, with a church, and within a church. What's important for each person is important for each church and what is important for each church is important within a church, but it never goes the opposite direction.

I feel like I should end this better. Oh well.