Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alister McGrath - Science and Religion

Alister McGrath
I am planning on reading Alister McGrath on Science and Religion. It is important in our time to do a much better job at reconciling the truth of science with the truth of Christianity.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Biblical Worldview and Kingdom Theology

Recently, I have been attempting to study the difference between N. T. Wright and John Piper’s perspective on justification. This discussion involves the discussion of many biblical terms including salvation, justification, and the righteousness of God. In my mind, it appears that there are more foundational understandings about the biblical worldview which must be discussed prior to placing these terms into the story of redemption.

To many the big question facing the reader of the bible is how do I know that if I die tonight that I will go to heaven? Instead,  N. T. Wright insists the actual biblical question is "how do I know if I am a member of the covenant people through whom God is going to bless the whole world"? If you asked a 21st century conservative evangelical it is not likely that they would ever wrestle with whether they are part of the community through whom God is going to “set things to rights”. Isn’t  the world running headlong into hell while the church limps its way into heaven? Nothing is being "set to rights" as N.T. Wright insists. These two views of history and redemption are quite at odds. To the conservative evangelical, God’s plan is to rescue people out of the temporal world and into a life of hope for eternity. But to the biblical writers and Jesus Himself, God's plan of redemption is to build a beautiful community on earth, the church, that displays his glory and the power of the gospel? What is at odds here are two different worldviews. What is really in conflict are two differing understandings of where the story of redemption is being acted out. Is the story a story about hidden souls being redeemed in a sort of hidden way or is the story being played out in a very visible reality on earth between two very visibly distinct communities, the church and the world? Is the glory of God clearly seen in the community of the elect or is it hidden and secret?

The picture below depicts the difference quite clearly.

In this illustration, the greek or gnostic view sees the good life and the good existence as the life in heaven. In contrast, the life of earth is fallen and broken. These two aspects of reality are unchanging or static. Heaven good. Earth bad. To obtain the good life, the kingdom, one must be taken out of the life of earth to the life of heaven. As believers, according to this view, we are to expect very little out of this life but we hope for eternity in heaven.

On right in this illustration, we have a less greek and more biblical worldview. This understanding of redemption sees God's plan to bless all the people groups of the world, through faith in Jesus. N.T. Wright sees this as the covenant to Abraham. This blessing is something that God has promised to perform here on earth through His covenant people. The purpose of life is not to usher souls into a status of being qualified for heaven but to bring people into the life of the covenant and to participate in the life of the Kingdom of the Christ. We urge others to enter this life of the age to come knowing that one day, at Christ's return, our kingdom life will be had in full.

What is at stake is essentially a gnostic or mystic worldview or a biblical worldview of a full bodied hope. If we understand the story of the bible to be the unfolding of God's covenant people here on earth and the bringing of the elect into the kingdom here on earth awaiting the return of the king, then we approach terms like salvation and justification quite differently than if we see the purpose of life only the work of saving souls for a future heavenly existence.

From this worldview, it becomes much simpler to reconcile the teachings of Jesus regarding the kingdom and Paul's teachings concerning how a person is justified, i.e. how a person has assurance that they are a member of this community of the elect. Terms like salvation and justification simply mean different things if seen in the context of a kingdom worldview.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Best Song Ever - Dave Matthews Band - "Why I AM"

My kids joke cause I always say, 'This is the best song ever" about every great song. So here is the first of a series...
The is the best song ever both lyrically and musically.
Thematically, it is about seeing the value of living in light of death. The GrooGrux King is his late band man and the song is a reflection on living life to the fullest as a celebration of the life of his friend.
Also, there is definitely commentary on worldliness and futile pursuits like "us and them" and petty conflicts when in reality we all go to one place - death. So it is about perspective.

Musically - pure jam!!!!

Monday, February 08, 2010

N. T. Wright - Justification God’s Plan and Paul's Vision - Part 2

In the opening pages of his response to John Piper’s critique, N. T. Wright tries to explain his perspective on the tenor of the dialogue between himself and his reformed critics.

Wright describes a scene where we are attempting to explain to a man who “by some accident of education” had never heard that the earth revolved and rotated. You expalin the solar system and planetary motion with props and passion over a glass of wine. The next morning you wake up to the other man’s persistent knock. He takes you to a hilltop over looking the ocean. He returns to the topic of the previous night and then the great evidence arises in the east and he turns and says, “see I told you. There it is before our eyes. Do not let all these new ideas confuse you when the fact is so clear and simple and is right there plain for all to see.” Confident that he is the defender of the truth against silly sophistication, he looks at you with a look of almost pity.

How N. T. Wright Flanks Piper on the Right
What is it in the self-satisfied traditionalist that stands in the way of learning? The first few chapters in Wright’s justification attempt to convince the traditionalist to consider that maybe there exist strongholds that are impeding their ability to see scriptures clearly. If we can all agree on a few hermeneutical principles, maybe some progress in the dialogue can be made. So here are the principles as I see them that Wright suggests:
We must look at everything Paul says. If our system cannot explain or account for some passages, then we must be open to a new perspective which can actually account for the entire system of Pauline thought. This suggestion is fundamentally conservative in that this principle is appealing to scripture. A good understanding of scripture must be able to assist in understanding other scriptures.
A sub set of this principle would be that in order to understand a passage we need to be able to understand the entire argument of the passage and how that passage fits in a larger argument.
As an illustration of this point, Wright uses the analogy of building a puzzle using all the puzzle pieces. If we refuse to use all the puzzle pieces and then force ourselves to make a picture out of the puzzle pieces remaining, we will not get a good picture or a clear understanding of the intended scene. So too, if we do not take every passage into account, we will not be able to understand the entire picture of Pauline thought nor will we have much success or assurance that we understand what little bits we do think we have pieced together.

A second principle is that it is important to look to scriptures and the world of scriptures as opposed to tradition and the world of the 16th century and the thought patterns of the 16th-17th centuries as the authority in scripture interpretation. This point is so obvious and humorous at the same time. Wright is clearly flanking Piper on the right. Is it conservative to point the believers to the 1st century or the 16th? To scripture or tradition? Should we illuminate Paul with the world of Paul or the world of Calvin and Luther?
A great example of this principle is Luther’s own appeal to scripture and the world of scripture to make one of the key revelations of the reformation. Luther appealed to 1st century usage of the word metanoia. Luther insisted that a more accurate translation of Pauline though would be “to repent” and not “to do penance”. On what basis could Luther make this argument but to go back to scripture and the use of such word elsewhere in the first century. Wright is out reforming the reformed purists by using examples of how the reformers did exactly what he is doing, (i.e. looking to scriptures as the final authority as against our traditions.
A last example of this is to make the distinction between the questions we are attempting to answer via the text and the questions Paul was trying to answer via his text. ewvery generation has its controversies and every generations theologies are an attempt to answer these controversies. But isn’t it more important to understand what Paul problems Paul was trying to solve when he wrote the text. The aim is to avoid eisegesis and get back to exegesis.

If we are honest, each of Wright’s principles are an appeal to true scriptural conservatism as opposed to a conservatism that attempts to conserve tradition. Indeed, N. T. Wright is flanking John Piper on the right.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

N. T. Wright On Justification - Part 1

NT Wright On Justification - Part 1

I am reading N. T. Wright’s book on justification and John Piper’s critique of N. T. Wright as well and John Owen’s original work on “Justification by Faith” (or here). My goal is actually personal in that I believe my own spiritual growth needs a big dose of grace. As we receive grace, we become more gracious. I have six children and I need a lot of grace to remain gracious. I find good exposition to be sanctifying and inspiring for me.

My blog plan is that while I read I will summarize and make comment.

The first thing one must understand and appreciate is how remarkably conservative N. T. Wright is. Many conservatives seem to paint Wright as a theological liberal but in the pantheon of New Testament scholars N. T. Wright is stand in the solidly if not even extremely conservative camp. In fact in this book, Wright’s approach is to flank Piper and co. on the right. It is Wright who appeals to scripture as opposed to tradition. On this note and with many illustrations, Wright begins his book, as he must begin all his more thorough works, with an appeal to method and an explanation of the role worldview of the many actors in hermeneutic process.

An Appeal to Method and the Role of Worldview

This section and a far more expounded discussion of method (see The New Testament and the People of God) is extremely important to understand thoroughly. The basic point is so simple. The reader must be very aware that, as a subject, he or she plays a role in the reading of the text. If one is humble in light of this awareness, the reader will seek all manner of evidence in an attempt to get to the mind of the author of the biblical text. What we are after is not our experience of the text or confirmation of our previously held convictions regarding the meaning of the text. We are always after the illusive meaning of the text itself. Therefore, it is vital that we tough the world that the author touched by immersing ourselves in the world of the author. This process is called contextualization. Is it not more important to learn about the world of Paul, than the world of the reformers if we are after and seeking to understand the bible. This process of radical doubt concerning our own preconceptions and even doubt about our traditions is the basis of conservatism and sola scriptura.

N. T. Wright illustrates this principle with many illustrations but these will have to wait for tomorrow....

Monday, February 01, 2010

How To Survive a Mid-Life Crisis

(this is part of a larger essay...It starts by explaining why the ego of a person starts to fight for survival in the mid forties)

What is a Mid-life Crisis?

The human self develops a heightened view of itself which he or she desires to project out into the world. For men, this projection of the ego is accomplished through achievements. Throughout life, a tension exists between what the person is in life in the present, his status and accomplishments, and what he would like to be or thinks he ought to be recognized as. This psychic tension must be resolved. Throughout life, we most often resolve this tension of our current position and circumstances and what we desire to be by projecting our vision of our self out into the future. We may not be accomplished and strong and victorious but we can conceive that we one day might accomplish all that our ego sets out to do in the world.

A crisis occurs at 45-55 when a man realizes that the resolution of his shame and pride, the desires of the self, through the acquisition of a preferred future is not likely. Time is running out. At this point in life, the strategy of using a projection into the future of a better you or better position or circumstances is no longer tenable. The psychic tension is irresolvable using the future projection method. It is not likely that the self will be able to affirm itself through future accomplishments. The ego begins to go into crisis. If a man is not well practiced in the process of voluntary death to self, he will not know how to put his ego to death. Instead, his ego will fight to create, before time runs out, the preferred future or vision of himself. The ego refuses to die and begins to seek affirmation in manic fashion.

Death to Self

When encountering a person or developing a relationship with a person, if one is well versed in the problem of human pride, it is not difficult to predict that this man will have a mid-life crisis. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Everyday provides opportunities to die to self. Life is social and men are constantly managing their place in the politics of their social networks and relationships. The disciple hates this jockeying and managing one’s power and position and the perceptions of others. To live on a spiritual basis is to actively cease participation in this worldly dynamic. When a person disrespects us, which happens many times in a given day, we actively allow this person to hold this opinion. We forgive and we cease managing people’s perceptions. We are not in management. Only God is in management. It is easy to see and observe if a person knows this practice of death to self. Death to self has thousands of permutations because life provides thousands of opportunities and different circumstances to die to self, to allow our ego to be humbled both before others and before ourselves. But most men are continually acting according the to the worldly system through which the individual attempts to project himself as successful, mature, wise, healthy and kind.

‘Wow, he is skilled and together. I wish I was like him”. This is how every man wants to be perceived, and in the minute relationships of life, at home, at work, in church, we size up ourselves and the other men. In each encounter with another person, egos are present and seeking power and recognition of some sort. This is the process which the disciple of Jesus is actively disengaging from. The disciple must be aware of the process, and, in this awareness, it is easy to observe other men acting out according to the desires of the pride and ego. So it is easy for a follower of Jesus to be aware of whether another man is attempting to follow the teachings of Jesus in the midst of our interactions with them or whether they are following the motivations of their self, their ego. Are we “denying our selves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus” or are we following the desires of our self?

So here is the first key to surviving a mid life: We must start learning how to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus in the small areas of life, many years before we reach this critical age of our mid-forties.

Learning to Deny Self Daily

  1. Seizing the Opportunity (in the moment): The Actual Game
  2. Silencing the Self
  3. Asking for power and faith to deny self - Mediating the situation with the presence/intimacy with Jesus Christ.
    1. Strength to resist the persistent ego (refusal to die)
    2. Faith to see it as the cross (obedience to God)
    3. Compassion for your adversary (he is sick; this battle is sick; the whole war is sick)
    4. Comfort and affirmation as a child of God
  4. Death to Self in the Big Opportunities (reflection) : Practice
    1. Sober moment of reflection
    2. Thorough inventory