Or at least the small corner of which I happen to read…
Last year, Roger Olson’s writing on the subject of Satan and spiritual warfare helped convince me that I had shirked my pastoral responsibility to educate and warn people about the dangers we face from the principalities and powers. In earlier posts, he recommended Michael Green’s I Believe in Satan’s Downfall, which I’d also recommend to anyone. It’s out of print, but I bought a used copy through Amazon.
This week, Olson wrote another post on the topic, “Where in the Devil is Satan (in Modern Theology)?” He writes:
Few evangelicals will outrightly deny the reality of a personal power of evil called Satan or the devil. When you ask people many say “Oh, I read The Screwtape Lettersyears ago.” But you get the sense they (average North American evangelicals) haven’t given the subject any thought since then (if even then). (I suspect many people read Lewis’s classic much as they read his fiction.)
I’ll freely admit my own guilt and complicity in this neglect. I grew up on a form of evangelical life that made Satan very prominent and lived in fear of him and his power—even though pastors, evangelists and Sunday School teachers often said “Greater is he that is in you….” I just wasn’t so sure about that because of how much they talked about the devil and his power—sometimes more than they talked about Jesus!…
I suspect many evangelicals in North America have simply over reacted to the over emphasis on Satan and demons in certain circles around the fringes of evangelicalism. And, really, the main reason I’m talking about this is to raise a question about that—our tendency to over react to extremes to the point of throwing the baby out with the bathwater…
In order to avoid dualism, many intellectual Christians have abandoned Satan altogether or absorbed Satan into God (or at least God’s will and plan). I, too, want to avoid dualism, but I don’t know how or why Satan is real and powerful and “the prince of this world.” All I can say with confidence is that he is a conquered enemy of God who is still causing a great deal of chaos. Why God allows it, I don’t know. That’s God’s business. That he will eventually take away all of Satan’s power and free us from his influence lies at the heart of biblical hope.
Scot McKnight’s blog includes an interview with Tim Keller about his most recent masterpiece, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. If I haven’t convinced you to read this book by now, you’ll never be convinced.
Here, Keller discusses one of the book’s prominent themes.
Moore: It is common for people to get tripped up by the conundrum about the impossibility of God being both all-loving and all-powerful. He may be one of the two, but He can’t possibly be both or there would be no suffering. Not surprisingly, God’s wisdom, which changes everything, is always left out of the supposed dilemma.
How can we grow in our confidence of God’s wisdom when we are suffering?
Keller: There are two ways to grow in confidence in God’s wisdom. The first may sound strange—we need to be less confident of our own wisdom. This may be very hard for modern people.
Throughout history, people struggled with suffering and asked God ‘why?’ all the way back to Job. But virtually no one on record thought suffering and evil made God’s existence impossible until the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Why the change? By the mid-18th century the earliest forms of secularism had begun to develop. In the past it was assumed that if God was infinite and ineffable then his ways would have to be beyond our comprehension. So evil that was inexplicable to us—made perfect sense. If there was a God who created all things—of course he would be infinitely wiser than we are and we could never have the insight to call him on the carpet for how things are going in the world. But the modern belief was that all truth could be discovered by human reason. As we got larger in our own eyes and more sure that we understood how the universe worked, and how history should go, the problem of evil became so intolerable.
But this was all to a great degree because of our own hubris. If we can recapture that bigger view of God and the more realistic view of our own limitations, it would be easier to trust God’s wisdom.
The other way, of course, is to look at the Cross. There we see something that, to the onlookers, appeared to be a defeat. God had abandoned the best hope of the world. How could God bring anything good out of that? But we have the vantage point such that we can get at least a glimpse of the infinite wisdom of the Cross. If God can work his wisdom in suffering like he did in Jesus’ life—he can do it in ours as well.
Robert Gagnon, a New Testament professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, pointed his readers to this post by Andrew Comiskey on the problem of gay marriage:
It shows no dignity to our fellow humanity to ‘high five’ bad moral decisions. We can still love others while disagreeing with their choices. In fact, disagreeing with ‘gay marriage’ is much more costly today than blessing it. Young people who applaud gay weddings are not lampooned as haters and bigots. Rather, they are extolled as loving and tolerant, on the ‘right side of history.’
The core issue, however, is not ‘gay marriage.’ What has been lost in this debate is the truth that something is wrong with homosexuality. We no longer understand moral disorder in the context of same-sex attraction. Power brokers of all sorts have successfully brainwashed a generation into believing that being gay is natural and good, not disordered in the least.
Of course, our gut reaction is a bit different. Most wonder if an intense longing for one’s own gender isn’t a little off, and if the ‘wedding’ of same-gender friends is really a marriage at all. Still we stifle that hunch for the sake of being ‘nice’ to gay people. Perhaps it is not so much that we are loving as we are cowardly.
Finally, on the same subject, I listened to last Sunday’s sermon by fellow United Methodist pastor Jason Micheli, who attempts to analyze homosexuality from a Wesleyan Quadrilateral perspective. Micheli supports changing our church’s traditional stance. I credit him for talking about the issue (as part of a sermon series he’s been preaching on marriage). Nevertheless, while he purports to stand above the fray in this sermon, the game is rigged. Here was my initial comment that I posted on his blog, to which he replied. (Click on image to expand.)
To which I wrote the following:
“Fairly fair”? By your score, it was 3.5 to 0.5 against the traditional position. That’s a laugh. You wrote as if the only reason we have our traditional position is because of a few stray verses here and there, mostly in Leviticus (as if just because it’s in Leviticus it no longer applies). Isn’t the Great Commandment also in Leviticus? Is that no longer binding?
What about Genesis 2 and Paul’s echo of that in Romans 1? What about Jesus’ affirmation of marriage between man and woman in Matthew 19? Reason itself seems to affirm that given complementary nature of our sex organs, God intends for sex to be a gift shared between man and woman only. (And before you bring it up, anal sex is physiologically harmful.)
It’s unlikely (and science certainly doesn’t prove) that people are “born gay,” but what of it? People are born with all sorts of congenital illnesses, many of which are fatal. You hardly prove your point that because people are born a certain way, that’s the way God intends.
Regardless, you don’t contend with the New Testament’s affirmation of celibacy as a viable and blessed way to live.
You’ve surely heard or read people like N.T. Wright demolish the idea that “Paul couldn’t have imagined lifelong, monogamous homosexual relationships.” In fact, they existed in Paul’s day, philosophers wrote about them, and Paul was a smart guy.
But not just Paul… What about every other Christian thinker until about 1971? See, that’s the weight of tradition that you haven’t contended with. Why did all these otherwise smart, compassionate Christian saints fail to imagine that homosexuals could live together in lifelong, monogamous relationships? Why did none of them question the biblical teaching?
And would you really have us believe that prior to the 20th century, no one imagined that some people had a relatively fixed same-sex sexual orientation—even if they didn’t use the word “homosexual”? That seems incomprehensible to me.
You know that arguments from silence (“Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.”) are spurious. First, we have no idea what Jesus did or didn’t say about it. It’s not recorded in the Gospels. Second, given that we know for sure that first-century Judaism outlawed homosexual behavior, we could as easily interpret Jesus’ “silence” as a tacit endorsement of the status quo.
You also know that while Jesus loved and accepted the marginalized, he didn’t do so without the demand for repentance of sin.
You talk a lot about love, but you never concede that if homosexual behavior is a sin, it would be unloving not to warn people against it—to recommend change (which is possible in many cases, especially with lesbians) or celibacy.
All that to say, you haven’t been close to “fairly fair.”
In case you’re not Methodist, the Quadrilateral says that scripture is our primary authority guiding Christian belief and practice. We properly read and understand scripture through the lenses of tradition, reason, and experience.
By the way, Wesley himself never talked about a Quadrilateral. Some Wesleyan scholars in the 20th century argued that it was implicit in the way he did theology. Seems reasonable enough, although it doesn’t say all that much, and it’s nothing unique to Methodism: the Anglican tradition of which Wesley was a part speaks of a trilateral source of authority, leaving out experience.
Regardless, contrary to the way Micheli speaks of it, the Quadrilateral is not a four-legged stool (which will always wobble). It’s a three-legged stool. The “seat” is scripture, which is supported by these other things. So, even if Micheli made a slam-dunk case using tradition, reason, and experience (which he didn’t), none of these three sources of authority get a veto over the Bible.