Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What are you?

I wasn't very surprised by my first theological affiliation. However, I must say that I was a bit surprised with the rest of the results! Here are my results:

"You scored as J. Moltmann.
The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

John Calvin
Karl Barth
Martin Luther
Paul Tillich
Friedrich Schleiermacher
Jonathan Edwards
Charles Finney

Now, take it for yourself! Let me know what you score...

Post-Modern Theology and Deconstruction

I won't go into all the particulars, but Jacques Derrida, arguably the most influential French philosopher of the 20th century, advocated a thoroughly post-modern program of deconstruction. What does this mean? Derrida was most concerned with linguistic deconstruction, or getting at the very root of particular words. Underneath the many layers, Derrida concluded, was little, if any, meaning. We take for granted that we "know" the meaning of certain words, and yet we have very little "knowledge" by which to critically think about a subject. Thus, Derrida's work advocated an anti-meta-narrative. By this negation, "meaning" took on a whole new identity. Thus, it's though Derrida sought to "chop-up" meaning until a whole new entity arose. Is this applicable to theology? Maybe...

I'm going to try to lay out some specific examples tomorrow, but I'd like to propose that deconstruction is valuable to theology today. This program allow us to read the Bible in a new, refreshing way. No longer the stories we hear in Sunday school, Biblical narratives, post-deconstruction uncover a whole new meaning. Does God work entirely in meta-narratives? Not according to deconstructionists! Rather, by acute analysis, we can gather new meanings to Biblical narratives. The "story" takes on a whole new meaning.

Though Derrida himself tended to focus on the creation narrative of Genesis, I might try applying this to the resurrection. Now, from the outset, it's fair to say that a hard post-modern would reject any kind of resurrection as a ridiculous myth from the past. I am, however, going to be as thoroughly post-modern as possible and reject this rejection. Instead of appealing to a pre-modern view of the resurrection, I'm going to try to deconstruct the meaning of the resurrection for today's world. There is a deeper meaning to the resurrection, and I hope to elaborate on this tomorrow.

Until then, please comment on what I have to say, or give me suggestions as to how you'd like to see this play out...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Time, Space, and (a) Post-Modern Theology

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

As my project this week, I hope to blog on (a) post-modern theology. What does this mean? What does post-modern theology look like? Why is it useful? What are the draw-backs? Is Christ relevent in a post-modern world? Additionally, because I have a rather new-found affinity for art, I hope to put up some post-modern art that inspires me.

Defining a "post-modern" approach

As with all theology, it is of utmost importance to define what is being discussed. Perhaps there is no other word thrown around today (except "freedom") that is as ill-defined as 'post-modern.' The term is, itself, quite simple: the signifying of the end of the modern project. Now it gets a little sticky. Instead of launching into a huge discussion of what exactly the modern project was, let me just say that it relied on reason to explain (away?) the universe. After World War II, a semmingly non-sensical and unreasonable time in human history, many people abandoned the modern, 'enlightened' thinking, and adopted a post-modern approach to life. Post-modernism teaches deconstruction (nothing is 'whole'), irrationality-as-rationality, and a collapse of 'Truth.' Thus, there is no Truth, but truths. And you must find those truths on your own. That is, I believe, post-modernism in a nut-shell.

The Concept of Time and Space in a Post-Modern World

As shown in the above painting, Dali had (I think) a clear dislike of what is commonly called 'time' and 'space.' There weren't important to his concept of reality, a dream-like escape of the 'real' world. This is why the clocks are bent, the watch closed, and the background rather vague. Now, I am no artist, nor am I skilled in artistic interpretation; rather, my training is in theology, so I speak of art as an amateur only. But, to my theological mind, this painting sets a good tone for this week's fleshing out a post-modern theology - time and space simply aren't important in the creative work of God. Time and space delineate specific (human-made) dimensions in which to describe things in a lateral plane. God's creative process simply doesn't work in human parameters. Instead, by dispensing with time and space as simple human baggage, I think we can really get a post-modern understanding of God's creative power. So, for today, I want to begin framing my post-modern theology as being without time and without space. Historical events are simply that - historical. But, if Christ is to have any relevance for us in this reality, we must force ourselves to relegate what is past to the past and see God's creative power as occuring in this reality. Keep in mind this is framing a theology, not an entire fleshing out of the idea; I'm not saying that Jesus' historical significance doesn't have significance for us today - rather, I'm encouraging a dialogue of things that are without time and space. It is a philosophical "experiment" of sorts. Time and space keep us within an 'x, y' corrdinate plane, so let's dispense with it and move on.

Major Contributers to This Line of Thinking

Just so we're on the same page I'm going to list some major thinkers who I think propelled us toward a 'post-modern' way of thinking about theology and religion. This is so you can understand where I'm coming from.

Theology: Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rudolf Bultmann, (to an extent) Karl Barth, Thomas J.J. Altizer, William Hamilton, Harvey Cox, and Soren Kierkegaard.

Philsophy: Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Richard Rorty.

Art: Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol and the Dada movement, and Salvador Dali.

Though I know today's posting is rather vague, I hope it sets the course for where I'm going for the rest of the week. Stay tuned as I elaborate on (a) post-modern theology! As always, comments are greatly appreciated.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Use of Philosophy in Theology

This post is, in part, a response to several comments that appear from yesterday. I'd like to say a few things about how I, as a theologian in training, see philosophy.

To learn philosophy is not to memorize philosphers, their theories, or their creative arguments. Philosophy is not about movements and meta-narrative explanations. Rather one studies philosophy to learn how to think critically. One studies philosophy to learn to think coherently, rationally, and articulately. In this way, it can be argued that philosophy is the foundation of all knowledge; in theory, all students should study philosophy to understand their own field(s) better.

I've heard it argued (persuasively) that being a Christian doesn't mean checking your brain at the door. I agree completely. God calls us to think deeply and critically. Today, as in times past, Scripture has been used as a noose to "proof-text" other points of view, win arguments, and inflate one's self-righteousness. This is wrong; rather, Scripture is a testament of God's love for humanity. Philosophy helps us take what Scripture says and think about it critically. Philosophy helps us open our minds and our hearts, whereas strict, hard-line literal (noose!) interepretations do not allow God access to reveal God's self today. That is not to say that Scripture is unauthoritative; rather, it allows the authority of Scripture to have an active voice.

In one of the comments from my posts on universalism, it was commented that I appeal to an aesthetic philosophy to reason through the arguments. I do not deny this. Rather, I encourage people to think like mystics - we must eliminate from our minds all "pictures, visions, and images" of God. We can't have a picture of God, or else this is idolotry. God is the God that Jesus has a relationship with - a God who actively seeks the redemption of creation. So, when I appeal to a particular aesthetic it is going down the same path as Tillich who called this the "God beyond God." It is an aesthetic that appeals to seeing Scripture as a whole, not just isolated verses. It sees the vision of the Christian message in the world. This is the awesome beauty of Scripture - that we can use our philosophically-trained minds to see the beauty of the message.

Friday, May 26, 2006


After reading my two new posts of today, I'd like your feedback. Have you found these posts beneficial? Have they been challenging? Tell me what you think!

The Cutting Edge of Grace - Some (semi) Final Thoughts on Universalism

I titled this post "(semi) final thoughts on universalism" for one reason: I am young. Though I've a good theological education, I'm realistic enough to admit that I'm in my 20's. My thoughts on universalism are far from decided; indeed, I don't think I'll ever come to a finite "conclusion" on the issue of universalism. Let me say from the outset: I will go to my deathbed hoping that all of my brothers and sisters are eventually reconciled to God. I think the awesome mercy and love of God can and hopefully will reconcile even the most horrible villains. Is this belittling to those victims of horrendous evil? I hope not, because I want to believe that God can work through anything - the God of the bible is a healing God, a God who really cares for meaningful reconciliation.

So, we'll not begin the theological discussion. I think the issue of universalism really comes down to an issue of grace. Does the grace of God have boundaries? If so, what are they? Is it strict "belief" and "confession" of Jesus as the absolute revelation of God? Or are the saving actions of Jesus enough to reconcile the entire world? Does Jesus, in a sense, "eliminate" human history as far as God is concerned, because we are all eventually saved? These are but a few of the troubling questions involved in universalism.

The Problem of a Paradoxical Answer

I've always considered myself a kindred spirit of Soren Kierkegaard because, like him, I tend to think circuitously. Kierkegaard was unsurpassed for asking the probing questions, but, like many great thinkers, not too great at fleshing out some reasoned response. In my opinion, Kierkegaard paved the way for post-modernism in his appeal to the paradoxical. Like us post-moderns he took comfort in what is left a paradox.

As a post-modern, I should want to leave the issue of universalism a paradox. That's not good enough for me. Maybe, like several who describe themselves at St. Andrews as "post-post-modern," I want to get at the very root question. For me, it's how far God's grace will extend toward humanity.

The Question of Grace

It's really quite an orthodox assertion: God's revelation was and is and will be in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This revelation is the absolute mercy of God on humanity. But Jesus nailed on the cross shouldn't be the primary "image" of Christianity - in this case he is a dead corpse! Rather, it is the resurrected, living, breathing Jesus who fulfills humanity. We are re-created in the image of the resurrected Jesus. This is grace: our humanity is made anew and made complete in the resurrected Jesus. Thus, grace is a Christological-eschatological issue. Likewise, universalism is a Christological-eschatological issue. We are challenged by it - can we preach and teach the message of Jesus to a "lost" world? Can we help others understand that they are already saved and loved by God? Hence, grace is cutting-edge because it challenges all assertions of our earthly life.

Image and Process - The Keys to Universalism?

Here's where I try to sum up. I see the Christian vision as "image" and "process." What does this mean? It means that our humanity undergoes an entire shift, indeed a radical altering of everything that makes us human in Jesus. Our image is altered. This radical alteration means that we have a responsibility to others (like Bonhoeffer taught us), that we are existentially different (as Tillich taught us), and that we are loved by God (as Barth taught us). The image of Jesus becomes our image. This illustrates what I mean by "process." We are in the "process" of becoming citizens of the redeemed Kingdom. It is ongoing, because remain sinners. It is a daily struggle - it is always "becoming," and never static. God is also, paradoxically, in process. Though I readily admit that time is a human creation, I think we can call human history a "memory" of God. This means that God knows human history, through and through. And God is working in that history, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That working out of salvation is the key of universalism. Ultimately, we do not know (nor could we know) what God will do. But, I do think there is justifiable reason to hope that God will eventually reconcile all to God's-self.

Does this "answer" the question of universalism. No - but I don't think any of us can ultimately confirm or deny the teaching of universalism because we don't know the mind of God. Rather, by our altered image and history as process, I think we can honestly and sincerely hope for an eschatological redemption of humanity. This is my answer: I hope will all of my being. My hope is the very fabric of my being. What is the point of life? To hope in a God who has and will continue to make things right.


Universalism and Recapitulation - A Take on Dali

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Naturally, on my final day of blogging about universalism, I had to include one of the most incredible renditions of the Last Supper. In my opinion, Dali's religious work was his best because he took existing themes and presented them in ways that force us to reconsider their ultimate meaning. In the Last Supper, Dali makes some very subtle distinctions which I think are very relevant to this discussion. Notice all 12 disciples hold their heads low, perhaps in an act of submission. To me, this points to the divinity of Jesus, as the 12 are clearly holding their heads in a way that emulates behavior in a synogogue. But, the great contrast to this painting
is the outstretched arms of a man above them all. Note: the elevated arms and torso are that of a man. This is very important, as I think Dali was pointing to the humanity of Jesus. Dali creatively portrays the humanity and divinity of Jesus in this painting.

How is this relevant? Well, the outstretched arms and torso encompass the background, or in my opinion, the earth. Again, it is a man who is doing this. We return to the teaching of recapitulation, or that humanity's sin came through one man (Adam) and humanity's salvation comes from one man (Jesus). I'm not superimposing meaning on this painting (I have no idea if Dali was a universalist, or if he even cared for that matter). Rather, I think it illustrates the point beautifully. Jesus, the man and the divine, is for all of humanity.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

True Freedom? The Question of Universalism

I begin to shift the argument today, from hermeneutic and theological conerns to more paradoxical questions. Let me list some presuppositions: humans commit sin - it's inherent in human nature to do things that we know we shouldn't; humans need to be saved from their own sin, and yet God respects human freedom; there is something intrinsically askew in humanity - God is the only One who can make it right. Okay, with that out of the way, let's start.

Sin is an aweful thing. It is degrading, demeaning, and humiliating. Yet, we all do it. Why? Like I said in several posts below, it means (positively) that we are not God, and (negatively) that we are separated from God. This is why we need to be "saved" from our sin. What does "saved" mean? It means that we need meaningful reconciliation with our Creator, that we need to learn how to reform our ways, and that we have to cope with our existential situation. We are caught in this depressing part of our own freedom; how do we get out of it?

I think the question of universalism is: saved from our own freedom? We can define universalism as all are eventually saved. But what does saved mean?

In my post-modern thinking, I think the universe has a kind of polar relationship. This is not a unified theory of existence (sorry...), but a unifying theory. The bible makes it very clear: there is with God and there is without God. The latter we may call hell, but that has such baggage that I'm not sure it's worth using. For now, we'll call it separation from God. In sin, we are without God - and thus, we can surmise that the freedom to commit sin means that we have the freedom to separate ourselves from God. So, the real question here is: is the saving power of Jesus effective for those who knowingly choose separation from God? In other words, are you saved whether you like it or not? Here's the problem with the argument: it is patronizing to think that a free agent is saved whether he/she likes it or not; that is no freedom. Rather, are we bestowed with an agency that allows such horrifying and terrifying freedom - that ultimately we can separate ourselves from God? Are we (as sinners) even responsible enough to make such a decision?

To sum it up, if we are truly free agents (i.e. free to commit sin), does that freedom extend so far as to allow permanent separation from God? "Orthodox" Christianity has classically taught, yes, you can. So, universalism must rely on a Christological argument: that Christ's defeat of death (and, ultimately, perhaps) separation from God, that all free agents are eventually reconciled with God, upon their own wanting and doing. Is this even possible? The question of true freedom is really crystalized in this.

Tomorrow, my final post will deal with Christology and salvation. Is there are paradox (to reiterate my point from yesterday) that cannot be reconciled? Stay tuned, as I will give my own opinion on the entire issue of universalism.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Universalism: God's Justice and Mercy

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

In order to discuss such an enormous topic as universalism with any kind of depth, I have to limit my discussions somewhat. Today's topic is the relationship between God's justice and mercy. The above painting is, of course, by Dali, whom I have a strange affinity for. This painting is shocking - Jesus is clean! Where's the blood? I am stretching a bit to make the point, but I think it's important. To me, Dali's Christ is a contemporary rendition of the ever-important question: Did Jesus' death mean that all are eventually saved? This stark painting pushes the question: what does the crucifixion mean today? This blends nicely with a short discussion of God's justice and mercy.

God's Justice: The Case Against Universalism

For hundreds of years, the case against universalism has, as I understand it, centered on the issue of God's justice. What does "God's justice" mean? The biblical narrative paints a picture of a God who not only endorses but works for egalitarianism, fairness, and love. When we discuss a God of justice, we discuss a God who will, in the end, make things right with the world. This means that while God allows horrendous evil in our world, these things will be dealt with in due time. The issue of freedom is essential in this argument, as we can commit atrocities, unspeakable evils, and unfair treatment of others. But, the justice of God will someday make things right- to level the playing field and somehow make up for these evils. How will God do this? Well, the classical Judeo-Christian answer is the doctrine of hell. Those who purposely commit such evils will be damned, cut off from the community of God forever. While many modern people have a hard time with this, the point is very serious: God has the last word. As I was taught in my college theology classes, if there is to be anything called justice, there must be a final separation of evil from God. The question is: are people evil? Or do people do evil things? A graphic example: those millions of people who wasted away in Nazi death camps. Another example: genocide. Need I say more? Where is God in all of this? Those who posit this kind of classical justice posit the weeping God who must ultimately separate these evil people from the community.

Now, on the other hand, God's justice could mean that those unrepentent could be punished, but ultimately reconciled to God (as Origen taught). God's justice is, in other words, not a solidified, ultimate thing. There are slippery arguments on both sides.

What are we left with? Let's face it, the OT and NT often discuss the justice of God. But, ultimately, the justice of God remains permenantly hidden. God is the only One who has access and knowledge of God's justice. How will it all work out? We don't know...but it seems to me that God's justice is a good case against universalism. Action must be taken if there is anything called justice.

God's Mercy - The Case for Universalism

Read this: if God is unable to have mercy for those who never hear about Jesus, who don't "believe" in the classical sense, then we are ALL in trouble. What's disturbing, though, are those who hear, but reject the message: how far does the mercy of God go? Let me be a bit (uncharacteristically) personal here: God's mercy in my life has been awesome. Like everyone else, I have the existential feeling of guilt and need for forgiveness. Repentance is a beautiful thing: indeed, I have experienced the mercy of God. And the promise of Jesus still stands: we can all feel the mercy of God.

That said, how do we question the awesome mercy of God? Like God's justice, the extent of God's mercy is unknown. But like many theologians before me, I posit that it reaches much further than we give it credit. That is the beauty of it - we don't know how far it will reach. Throughout the Bible, God extends his radical mercy in ways unimaginable to the human mind. In short, God's mercy takes care of us, in this life and in the next - without mercy, there is NO point to existence.

However, on the other hand, we have to make sure not to belittle the victims of horrendous evil throughout humanity's turbulent history. If the torturers receive the same salvation that the victims do, that is a horrible injustice. Why bother trying to treat your neighbor well when you both end up in the same boat?

My response to this is that, perhaps, mercy is a process, not a thing. Let me explain. We assume that mercy is bestowed upon us here on earch, and eventually that mercy will lead us into God's presence. That donotes a chronological fallacy - that somehow God's mercy would stop when we end up in God's presence. Rather, as a process, humanity remains the creature of God, in constant need of God's mercy. This is hard to write, but even the torturers need mercy - they, too, are apart of humanity. Even with their evil deed, they do not eject themselves out of humanity. With mercy as a process, we are reconciled to God every waking moment, here on earth, and the hereafter. It's an on-going thing of the God who actively creates.

The Tension Between God's Justice and Mercy

I hope I've presented a fair picture of both arguments here. Unfortunately, if we are to have any kind of intellectual honesty, we must admit that there is quite a tension between God's mercy and justice. Like Kierkegaard, we must, I believe, leave this as a paradox. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Universalism - Some Hermeneutic Concerns

As I mentioned five biblical passages yesterday that underscore the theme of universalism, some hermeneutic and exegetical work is necessary to really flesh out the concerns. While there are many other references to universalism in the accepted biblical canon, these five are, in my opinion, the most obvious and lucid. There are several theological themes going on here that I wish to elaborate on - but again, I emphatically state that this is a forum and not my summa (again, look for that in about 20 years).

While I consider myself thoroughly postmodern in worldview (our world is one that is done with the modernist project), I do tend to look for larger themes in texts such as these. So, my point is that while my worldview is postmodern, my exegesis still searches for unity, for sense, for some kind of unifying theory. While there is value in deconstructing biblical passages, I think that if we as Christians are to take scripture seriously as "scripture," we must continually look for narrative themes. That said, let's delve into some (admittedly simple and concise) exegesis! (This is, by the way, my exegesis, not someone else's.)

Romans 5:15-18 and 11:32

I consider Paul's letter to the Romans his most advanced theology. The themes of other "authentic" Pauline letters are all emphatically stated in Romans. This passage is a segment from Paul's attempt to flesh out the scandal of the cross. Paul, like other early Christians, sought to explain (theologically) the meaning behind the crucifixion of Jesus. Paul's reflection of the Old Testament theology of redemption has come full-circle in his theology of the cross. The narrative of Jesus' death and resurrection climaxes in this pen-ultimate meaning of reality: we are saved through a dead-and-resurrected Christ. This is best illustrated through Paul's comparison to Adam - the fall of one man is made right again by one man, Jesus. This, I believe, is the earliest form of recapitulation, or that humanity is made right again (literally, the "head" is put back on the "body") through the actions of one man. Irenaeus would later deveolop this theology, but it seems to me that Paul lays the groundwork for such a doctrine. What we are left with is the question of Paul's wording: "for all." Is this for all believers, or for humanity? I think the question we need to put to the text is the extent of grace - is it limited for unlimited for sinful humanity? Look at the final sentence (v.18); Paul's logic would have us conclude that he is talking about all of humanity. The logic is pretty simple: one man condemns us, and one man saves us; if Adam's action condemns all of humanity, then wouldn't Jesus' action save all of humanity?

1 Corinthians 15:21-22

The themes here are similar to that of Romans: death through one man, life through another man. There is one subtle difference that I'd like to bring attention to: there is an emphatic emphasis on the "made alive in Christ." What does this mean? Well, following the aforementioned logic, it means that we are dead in Adam, but alive in Christ. But there is a deeper meaning here. Throughout the NT, and indeed in this text, there is a very clear theme of the destruction of death. Here, the defeat and finality of death is radically altered. Think in graphic terms: Jesus becomes a lifeless corpse like all of us - and yet, he is "made alive" again. The message in this passage is one of awesome hope that we, too, survive our death through the recapitulation of Christ.

1 Timothy 4:10

This verse carries the same implicit theme as the Corinthians passage: hope of life. However, we are left with one nuance that is, in my opinion, hopelessly ambiguous: "especially those who believe." What does this mean? I haven't a clue, honestly. Does God save some more than others? That's the implication. The ambiguity points to those who don't believe: they're saved, but only because of the actions of Christ. There is a positive aspect of this, though. It implies universal salvation , even for those who don't believe. Why do I point out this ambiguity? I'm trying to be fair to the text: the theme of hope is clear, but the implication is strange - that salvation for believers is somehow intrinsically different than salvation for those who don't believe.

Colossians 1:20

To me, this is the most theologically advanced statement in all of the aforementioned texts. Here we have the point of God's work on earth: total and utter reconciliation. It also contains the mode of such salvation: the blood of Jesus as shed on the cross. Now, this kind of imagery is seemingly distasteful to contemporary ears. While I have a hard time with a blood-thirsty God, I do think there is a deeper meaning to be had from the text. God is a God of justice - and mercy would not be God's radical mercy without justice. While the blood imagery is entirely appropriate (Jesus did die on a cross....), I think the point is that God was willing to sacrifice everything to reconcile humanity. The peace spoken in Colossians is not the pax Romana of Caesar, it is the peace of God who is willing to do whatever it takes to make things right with humanity.

Hermeneutic Remarks

I hope I've provided a short, insightful exegesis. While I know it may be simplified, I wish only to give context the debate on universalism. This exegesis is how I approach the text. While it is certainly a theological hermeneutic, that is the angle I chose to take. I think the debate of universalism is a theological one. Theological exegesis is necessary to contextualize the passages in a way that we can do justice to those passages that present an opposite point of view (there are many!).

Tomorrow we'll move into the theological implications of universalism: the pros and cons. What does it mean to say radical grace? What about mercy? What about justice? Is God's justice demeaned if God chooses to save everyone, regardless of any other consideration? Feel free to post your remarks!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Universalism: Some Introductory Remarks

As promised, I will devote this week to blogging about the continual issue of universalism. What is universalism? Let me offer the following, simplified answer that (hopefully) doesn't carry all of the theological/philosophical baggage: universalism teaches that all, and that means ALL, are eventually "saved" or will experience "salvation." Now, this can mean that the effect of Jesus' death and resurrection means that all are resurrection into the eternal presence of God. Or, it can mean that (like the church father Origen taught), that some do go to a place called "hell," but the fires are cleansing fires that eventually mold you into something acceptable for the Kingdom of God. As you can see from this simplified definition (and believe me, this is simplified), there are thousands of nuances that going into this teaching. This blog cannot cover all of them - sorry, it's just not possible (look for my book in about 20 years!). This definition is something that I will use as a platform. When I say universalism, I mean, simply, that all are eventually saved by God.

Now, for some other cursory remarks. The issue of universalism has been no less than explosive in the history of Christianity - and it's no less volitle today than it was 100, 1,000, or 2,000 years ago. This is a forum where we seek to peacefully work through some of the issues. Disagreement is good, in fact it's healthy, but it must be done with clear reasoning. That said, your comments are always welcome.

Now for the real issue: can we say, biblically, theologically, (and perhaps) philosophically that all are eventually saved? What I hope to present this week are fair arguments for and against universalism. Though I have my opinion, I will try to restrain myself until the end of the week, after all of the arguments have been put on the table. That being said, please remember that I don't have the time (my wife would kill me) to make this group of postings a summa; rather like I said above, it's a working forum.

Here are the five New Testament verses that begin our discussion. Read them today and I'll discuss a hermeneutic framework tomorrow. (Sorry for all of you hard-line theologians, I think theology should be started from the Bible, not from Barth, Calvin, or Luther -- this you can blame on Francis Watson's numerous visits to St. Andrews last year!) I cite from the New Oxford Annotated bible:

Romans 5: 15-18
"But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore, just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all."

Romans 11:32
"For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all."

1 Corintians 15: 21-22
"For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ."

1 Timothy 4:10
"For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe."

Colossians 1:20
"...and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross."

And the winner is....

Thank you to all who voted in this weekend's "you choose." Sorry, Chris Tilling, your vote only counts once, though I do appreciate your enthusiasm! Number 3, on post-modern art, only received one vote (nevertheless, I will blog on this in the future!). And, surprisingly, number 2 only received one vote as well. But, if you read my blog regularly, you know that I have quite the affinity for Bonhoeffer, so this will appear in the future as well. And the winner is [insert drum roll here!]....number 1, the perpetual issue of universalism! So, this week I will devote my blogging time to universalism.

As the first order of business, I must point out some great work on this topic: The Lost Message has some on-going posts on universalism which provide a great exegetical framework. There has been pain-staking research going on at this blog, so I hope to contribute to this discussion. And, Patrik has contributed a lesser, though just as significant, post on the issue. Take a look at these blogs and we'll get going with my take on universalism!

Friday, May 19, 2006


I'm going to try something different...I want YOUR feedback about what you want to see on this blog next week. So, beginning now, you can vote from the options that appear below. Please cast your vote in the 'comments' section at the bottom of this post. Voting begins friday evening (now) and will close Monday morning, 9am EST. I will devote next week to blogging about the subject that receives the highest number of votes. One vote per person, please.

Here are the options:

1) the Universalist debate: are all saved? or are only some (i.e. Christians) saved?

2) Bonhoeffer's 'religion-less Christianity' - what did he mean by this? what are the implications today?


3) What are the relationships between 'post-modern' art and contemporary Christian theology? What do each have to contribute to one another? How might this dialogue be approached?

Cast your vote now! Check back next week for an entire week devoted to one of these subjects! Have a great weekend...

A Celebration

Today, this blog crossed over the threshold of one-thousand visitors! I am quite excited! A big THANK YOU to my readers.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Harvey Cox: A Critique of Karl Barth

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Here is some food for thought. Please post your responses to this passage below:

"For [Barth], the coming of God into the world in Jesus Christ is not a 'religious' event at all, but calls all religion and all religions into radical question...For Barth, the fact that Christianity carries the word "Christ" within it gives Christians no advantage whatever over anyone else. God is no respecter of persons. Since what is disclosed for all to see in Jesus Christ is that God has already chosen and redeemed all people, not just Christians or believers or 'spiritual people," for Barth any claim that Christianity is a superior religion is simply beside the point, largely because the mode of God's reality in the world is not fundamentally a matter of religion. It was the brilliant, young, and somewhat flamboyant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was especially intrigued by this last point in Barth's thinking and decided to work out a 'nonreligious interpretation of the Gospel.' But he died dangling from a Gestapo noose in 1945 before he could even begin his work."

--Harvey Cox, "The Battle of the Gods? A Concluding Unsystematic Postscript" in The Other Side of God: A Polarity in World Religions, ed. by Peter L. Berger

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sin and Responsibility

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Patrik's recent posts have dealt extensively with issues like original sin, sin, demons, etc. This, coupled with my on-going interest in Bonhoeffer's theology, inspired me to express some of my thoughts on the doctrine of sin (from a progressive stand-point).

Augustine was, in my opinion, very wrong on many things. But, that can wait for another day. He was right when it came to the doctrine of original sin. However, I preface this with a statement that I do not believe that newborns sin, etc. I'm not that simplistic. As a Protestant, it's hard to sin (as a condition) rather than sins (the things we do everyday). I think Augustine was on to something with original sin: we are, by nature, sinful beings. What does "sin" mean? I think sins are the things we do, think, and say that separate us from God. But here is the real truth: we "sin" because we are not God! From a positive standpoint, "sin" mean that we are not God! There is a certain existential understanding that "I am not God" through the act of sin. Now, for the negative part: sin is what separates from God, so we try not to sin. This is heavily nuanced, I know, but it's really how I see it. Don't misread me, I don't think sin is good, but I do think it's necessary part of our being as being-not-God. Does that make sense?

Concerning Patrik's treatment of demons, I'd like to discuss that, but not today. I am inspired by Bonhoeffer's concept of sin: responsibile sin. This means that I am necessarily responsible for my brothers and sisters - so responsibile that I may have to "sin" to do the right thing! How is that for nuanced? Not that we are all confronted with horrendous situations like Bonhoeffer, but there is a lesson to be learned. Bonhoeffer followed Luther's dictum, sin and do it boldly. Bonhoeffer chose sin, but there is a positive aspect of it - to responsibily act for his brothers and sisters. If there any such thing as grace and forgiveness, then we are almost "called" upon to act responsibily, even if that means taking on personal sin. These are difficult words, but essential words to live the Christian life. I am responsible for you - no matter what. If only we could all see beyond ourselves. As Bonhoeffer showed us, sin is sometimes a working out of one's self to the benefit of others.

So is sin good? The short answer: no, never. The paradoxical answer: perhaps it is necessary because it means we're not God. The Christian life is, as John cogently writes, about not about sinning less, but about repenting more. Amen.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Religion and the Media: Part III

The Da Vinci Code
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

This week's issue of U.S. News and World Report covers the explosive story of the Church's response to The Da Vinci Code. Highlighted are the Vatican's strong disapproval of the narrative, the clandestine response of Opus Dei, and the many differences between the plot and "orthodoxy." The article is worth a read if you, too, are caught up in this frenzy.

As evidenced by my previous post (below), I find the whole thing rather funny. Why funny? As I've already talked about, there are no new ideas. Second, this article draws attention to certain Christian groups demanding that a disclaimer be issued for the movie: fiction. Did they have this same disclaimer with the great evangelical approval of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ? No, because they did not consider Gibson's movie "fiction." Rather, Gibson's narrative was closer to what many Christians consider "truth" or "the way it happened." Or, in more scholarly terms, Gibson's narrative followed more closely the narrative portrayed in the accepted, orthodox gospels. Now, I'm not condemning Gibson's film, I'm simply drawing attention to certain biases. Dan Brown wrote the book; Dan Brown has the right to call his work "fact" or "fiction." While we may consider the book rubbish (and rightly so), we simply don't "know" (empirically) if it is "fiction" or not. Were you there? And if you were, would your perspective of "truth" match those of Jesus' first disciples/followers/witnesses? Perhaps not. My point: don't jump to conclusions as to what is "fact" or "fiction." In many cases, we simply do not know - and that's okay because it's honest.

Rather, I think what is important here is faith. If you were shaken by the book, did you really have faith to begin with? More importantly, who do you think Jesus was? Was Jesus this hidden character, someone who would support clandestine societies? Or, was Jesus a social reformer, a Jewish mystic, a God-intoxicated individual who envisioned a better world? Was Jesus a man who sought ever-so-deepely the justice of God, the grace that is only won in sacrifice, and the permanent destruction of the powers of death? Here's my response to the Da Vinci Code and all the hype to it: who do you want Jesus to be? If the "orthodox" sources are the best sources we have, then they attest to a loving, merciful God who reveals God's self in Jesus. Does this downplay the historical significance of Gnostic sources? No. It simply draws attention to the public Jesus, the Jesus who not only sought a better way (through 'knowledge'), but enacted it in his public ministry. The Gospels attest to the action of Jesus, not just the 'knowledge' that he had. And so our faith is one of action - that we, too, share with Jesus the same vision of a better world. So, why direct so much attention to a book? Aren't there better things to do in our society?
UPDATE (5/17/06): Low and behold, the movie is getting bad reviews. At one point, there was even laughter from the audience. As long as this movie has been anticipated, this is just hilarious - it's caused so much strife, and now it seems that the move is sub-par. For a good blog post making fun of this, see Dr. Jim West. Poetic justice? Hardly - it's more than that!

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Theo-Blogosphere Today

[I'm including this to highlight some of my friends' blog discussions, as I think they're particularly interesting today.]

Sadly, Jaroslav Pelikan passed away on Saturday. Unfortunately, I'm not very familiar with his work, so I'll direct you to some memorial blog postings: here, here, and here.

Patrik Hagman has a fascinating post on original sin, as well as a post on "sin, identity, and destructive culture." Check it out - this is good theology.

John Penniman highlights some of the points of his major paper on "Henri de Lubac's influence on John Milbank." I hope he posts more, because this is good stuff. Surely, it's an "A," John.

Chris TerryNelson is doing some great thinking on Barth. I recommend his posts because they work through the many nuances of Barth.

Chris Tilling does some interesting analysis of Hans Kung. Quite the original topic, too!

And last, but not least, Mark Goodacre gives a unique insight into life at Duke University. A personal post, but quite insightful for his work.

I hope this helps. If your time is as crunched as mine, I know these kinds of posts certainly help sort through the many things that are going on out there.

Time permitting, I plan to blog again tomorrow on the Da Vinci Code, as it has attracted quite the attention (see below). Until then, peace.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Hello, everyone. As you can see, I've made some pretty drastic changes to my blog in the past few days. I've added a small library of books on the sidebar. These are books that I consider to be some of the ancient and contemporary essentials in the field of theology and biblical studies. If you don't already own them, have a look. Additionally, I've added blogrolling to make it 1) easier on me, and 2) to add new theo/biblio blogs as they are created or brought to my attention. If you are beginning a blog, send me an email and I'll try to get it on the blogroll. Also, I've added links to The Center for Progressive Christianity, an organization that I feel is benefiting a significant minority of Christians - check it out, they're sporting a new website. Also, I've linked the World Council of Churches, as I believe they are doing effective work as well. Anyway, have at it.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Cheap Grace

"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

In my opinion, these are haunting words - haunting because they are true. Bonhoeffer reflects on the Christian vision, and this is the preface to his conclusion. We are all guilty of deluding ourselves into thinking we have such cheap grace. We stand convicted before a holy God - but, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. As Bonhoeffer notes in this preface to his teaching of costly grace, grace is actualized in the cross of Jesus. Somehow, it is this costly grace that saves us. I don't want to start a lengthy discussion of salvation models, but I think the simple truth to this is love. Grace is love - divine love. Grace allows us to live, breathe, and enjoy our lives because we know that God loves us.

Bonhoeffer's words are powerful. Reflect on them today.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Da Vinci Code - What's All the Hype About?

I simply don't understand what all the hype is about? Who cares about the Da Vinci Code? Sure, it may be a good read, and maybe it'll be a good action flick, but other than that, what's the big deal? All, and I repeat, ALL of the ideas presented in the book are simply re-hashments of previous theories. Dan Brown did NOT come up with anything new - he has NO new ideas, period. Sure, he has a knack for weaving together an interesting story, but that doesn't make him different than the 5 zillion other writers out there.

And what's the deal with all of these conservative/fundamentalist Christian groups freaking out about this? I find it rather funny because it exposes their ignorance of our Christian past. Come on guys, get a life.

Again, someone please explain to me why this is such a big deal? The ideas surrounding Jesus, Mary, etc. are all very old. Dan Brown is a creative story teller - and nothing else. Seriously, people, try reading some books!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Nothingness and Sartre: The Existentialist View?

Sartre's view of nothingness has always appealed to me, not because it is overly pessimistic, but because it expresses a sort of hope beyond the abyss. Sartre's view of nothingness stood as the pointer to living a more complete life. For Sartre, death (and what follows, nothingness) was nothing more than going to sleep - unconsciousness, unawareness, non-living. Thus, it is up to us to live more full lives because it is the eternal sleep that awaits us. This sounds strange to Christian ears, but for Sartre it brought comfort. Sartre calls us to live our lives for others, to embrace our humanity, to embark on this incredible journey called life. The fact that there is no hope means that we have the hope of now.

Though this is a very short and condensed take on Sartre, I think it's fair. It means that to embody our existence is accept our fate and move beyond the nothingness. This is not that uncommon with Christian view of nothingness - as sin. It means that we are to accept the grace of God, given through Jesus, and move beyond the sin that engulfs us. Don't get me wrong: Sartre was NOT writing to a Christian audience, nor did he intend to contribute to Christian theology. Rather, I'm proposing that we learn from this brilliant philosopher. We need to learn to accept God's costly grace (to borrow from Bonhoeffer), move beyond the nothingness of our sin, and live the new life, here and now, as recreated humanity. Without realizing it, Sartre contributed to a very Christian discussion!

Barth's Birthday

A very happy birthday to Karl Barth who would have turned 120 today (for you mathematicians, he was born on May 10, 1886). Barth's impact on the world of theology cannot be over-rated. Though many disagreed with him (read: Bultmann!), Barth was admired even by his critics for his thoughtfulness, intellect, and method. Called a "Church Father" of the 20th century, Barthian scholarship will continue for the ages to come. Though I think Barth would be horrified at that thought, we agree with him that the true point of theology (and living for that matter) is to point to Jesus, the man for all humanity.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More Thoughts on Nothingness

It seems to me that we haven't really fleshed out what it means to say "nothingness." Now, there has been much written on the subject, especially with how "nothingness" has no place in the Kingdom of God. But I'm not satisfied that the subject is adequately covered (though arguably no subject is ever adequately covered). I've yet to find a comprehensive study of nothingness - I do not include Heidegger or Sartre as authoritative subjects because they were thoroughly entrenched in existential philosophy. Barth is helpful, but his study is but a short blip in the overall project of the Dogmatics. Other sources seem to have another agenda: existentialism, phenomenology, psychology, etc. Though I'm not sure any scholar will ever write an authoritative, comprehensive study of nothingness (and its many implications), I think it's productive to at least flesh out what we can of the subject. I hope in the coming days to do some "thinking out loud" on the subject. Your imput is, as always, appreciated.

Monday, May 08, 2006

New Links

As you see on the sidebar, I've included some "essential" theology texts. I consider these all must-reads for doing any kind of contemporary theology. The list will grow in the future, but this is a good start. Happy reading!

N.B. There is no obvious bias - haha!

A Call to All Bloggers (or anyone with an e-mail address)

Please take a look over at Paleojudaica (scroll down to the second article). We need to act - this kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable. We need to put more pressure on the Egyptian government to set these guys free; to think that there are many areas of the world where you can be arrested and detained for peacefully protesting is just sickening. Please follow Jim Davila's lead and write your own email. This kind of stuff needs to stop. Overflow their email system...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Paul Tillich, Buddhism, and Nietzsche - The Trajectory of Nothingness

"Nonbeing (that in God which makes his self-affirmation dynamic) opens up the divine self-seculusion and reveals him as power and love. Nonbeing makes God a living God. Without the No he has to overcome in himself and in his creature, the divine Yes to himself would be lifeless. There would be no revelation of the ground of being, there would be no life."

-- Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be

As evidenced below, I have an acute interest in nothingness and what that means to the Kingdom of God. I find it fascinating that Christian doctrine treats nothingess (or nonbeing - I use them to mean the same thing - of course, without the philosophical baggage) as the enemy, the thing to be destroyed by Christ, whereas Buddhist treats nothingness (roughly "nirvana") as the goal of existence. What is the difference? Well, I think it's what we fear: Christians fear non-being because the thought of nothingness is terrifying. And, as I understand it, the Buddhist fears the cycle of re-birth, or at its very essence, existence. So, though Buddhism and Christianity share many similarities, the doctrine of nothingness couldn't be more different. Or are they? I want to say that they really aren't that different...and here's why.

Nietzsche taught the "eternal reoccurance of the same." This means that existence is essentially futile in the sense that there is nothing but existence; knowledge of nothingness is useless because existence is, paradoxically, nothingness. Christian theologians, through the years (in the "orthodox" camp) assert that Jesus destroyed nothingness in his death and resurrection. Thus the powers of chaos (Genesis 1) , death, and destruction do not really have tangible effects on the creation (see Barth's Dogmatics, III/3). And, finally, the Buddha taught (in a similar strain, though a long before Nietzsche), that everything changes because it is eternally wrapped up in this thing called nothingness. So, what do we have here: is there such a thing as Christian acceptance of nothingess? Is there a Christian doctrine that deals with concrete existence, or as Buddha would have it, the primary causal relationship? Yes, it does: sin.

Sin is where we most tangibly touch nothingness. Sin is where we are void from God, though not rejected by God. So, like the Buddhist, our existence is essentially wrapped up in nothingness because our existence is essentially wrapped up in sin. But, as Tillich teaches, it is nothingness that reveals a loving, merciful God. The tangibility of sin has a trajectory of nullity because of the resurrection. Like the Buddhist (or even the Nietzschean), we can affirm the co-existence of nothingness in existence because we affirm the reality of sin. But, it is this affirmation that also points to a loving God.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Rules of Engagement

Yesterday, Dr. Jim West published some 'rules of engagement' for theology. While I agree with these, I would like to throw my two cents into the discussion. I think, so long as we 'do' theology as an academic subject, there needs to be some 'ground rules' for fair play. That being said, though all Christians do (or should) have an interest in current debates, some ground rules are badly needed. It's all too often that we read of bone-headed preachers going off on some tangent that may, perhaps, have theological validity, but they sound so ridiculous that no one pays attention (and rightly so). So, Jim is right to point to some basic rules.

One of my most influential professors in college, Dr. Paul Hinlicky, taught and inforced "the golden rule of theology:" one must fully comprehend and summarize his/her opponent's thesis before criticism may be given. When I taught (as a TA) at St. Andrews, I taught and inforced this same rule. I think this golden rule would severely limit the gross misunderstandings in current (and historical) theology. This rule allows one to be on 'even footing' before leveling criticism. This may be regarded as an act of simple decency, or even more encouraging, an act of solidarity.

What do you think? It seems to me that the rest of the rules are derivative of this 'golden rule.'

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Blog Recommendation

I recommend a theo-blog that is new, yet promising. Patrik Hagman, a doctoral student in Finland, writes about God in a Shrinking Universe. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Church Dogmatics - An Ode?

You've got to read this! Ben Myers has posted an "ode to the Church Dogmatics." He definitely gets extra points for creativity. But, the most incredible thing is that the "ode" is a valuble lesson on the Dogmatics. For short summaries (and I note that Barth was NOT fond of short summaries), this "ode" is very insightful.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Meaning of Grace - Barth's Sermons

Barthian research is to be commended for expounding on the great, voluminous Church Dogmatics. However, there is often much neglect of his sermons. Barth's collected sermons present the man who desperately sought to tell others of the grace they've received in Christ. Needless to say, his sermons often read easier than passages in the Church Dogmatics. Case and point:

"That God is God, not only almighty, but merciful and good, that he wills and does what is best for us, that Jesus Christ died for us to set us free, that by grace, in him, we have been saved - and this need not be a concern of our prayers. All these things are true apart from our own deeds and let our total existence be immersed in the great divine truth, by grace you have been saved." -- Karl Barth, Saved by Grace (Eph. 2:5)

I think this passage really captures the urgency in Barth's message. It also shows how deeply immersed his was in Reformed theology - there is a sense of the "already done now just accept" attitude. That being said, Barth's theology is not relegated to the past, but rather he conveys the living, breathing gospel of hope and joy. Barth's appeal to grace is found concretely in his soteriology - existence is salvation because it is thoroughly wrapped up in the divine vision of eschatological completion. This means that God's vision is realized in the resurrection of Jesus, that grace may become real in its power over life and death. But this is no divine seizure of the individual's freedom - it is a vision of salvation that is mechanized with radical grace.

I highly recommend Barth's sermons because they convey a different aspect of his theology.

Thank you for visiting. Please come back soon!