Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Peoples’

Why Adam Hamilton is still wrong (Part 1)

April 28, 2016

In these days leading up to our United Methodist Church’s General Conference, many Methodist clergy who support changing our Book of Discipline‘s still-orthodox doctrine on sexuality and marriage have become increasingly vocal on blogs and church-related websites. None is more high profile than mega-church pastor Adam Hamilton of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.

When Hamilton first publicly stated in a 2012 sermon that he now supports changing our doctrine, I wrote about it.

He doesn’t make any new arguments in a blog post he published yesterday, except his tone is more assertive. In his 2012 sermon, he seemed almost circumspect as he shared his testimony about his “conversion” on the subject, after years of towing the traditionalist line. Today, by contrast, he’s far more confident, encouraging his fellow revisionists to hold our denomination together for just ten more years, after which this will become “a non-issue, as even most evangelical young adults in the United Methodist Church see this issue differently from their 40- and 50- and 60-year-old parents and grandparents.”

I suppose, as a 46-year-old theologically conservative evangelical, I should be insulted: What would today’s Methodist teenager or 20-something know about human sexuality that the rest of us don’t? And why should their opinion hold sway? Do they have a biblical case to make on the subject that we haven’t considered before? As even Hamilton would concede—I think—the argument for changing our doctrine must be rooted in scripture.

Maybe Hamilton will get around to making a biblical argument. There’s no evidence of one here.

Instead, he argues about our understanding of the Bible itself. First, he describes a recent letter he received from a group of conservative United Methodists in Nebraska urging him, as a delegate to General Conference, to resist the pressure to change our Discipline. They said, “We believe that the Holy Bible is God’s Word, and that His Word is unchanging.”

Hamilton writes:

These fellow United Methodists seem to be stating that everything written in the Bible is God’s Word, and that it should be applied without question today because “His Word is unchanging.”  But I don’t believe this is actually how they approach Scripture.  Nor is it the way Christians have generally approached Scripture across the last two millennia.

First, let me say that unlike Hamilton, I do believe that everything written in the Bible is God’s Word. I have no “Bucket No. 3” in my doctrine of scripture. In other words, if it’s in the Bible, it’s there because the Holy Spirit guided its writers to put it in there—for a reason.

But Hamilton would say that if I truly believe that, then I’ll inevitably be inconsistent in my interpretation and application of it.

Then, as if he hasn’t listened to any counterargument from my side over the past 40 years—not to mention in my little blog post four years ago—Hamilton continues to conflate the issue of homosexuality with slavery and the subordination of women: since the Bible got it wrong on those subjects, he argues, how can we be confident that the Bible isn’t wrong about homosexual practice?

Please note: He’s not merely saying that our interpretation of scripture has changed over the millennia in light of better exegesis of the texts; he believes the Bible is simply wrong to begin with. As he said in his discussion of buckets, some scriptures “never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.”

If you think I’m being unfair, consider the following exchange that Hamilton had on Twitter yesterday after he linked to his blog post:

hamilton

Ooh, burn! 

Does Hamilton really mean to say that we can’t hold the Bible as “authoritative” if we nevertheless believe, for good hermeneutical reasons, that parts of it are no longer binding on us today? I’ve dealt with this in many other blog posts, but this is a good starting point. Among other things, I say the following:

[C]ontrary to what United Methodist megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton asserts in this sermon, the church doesn’t arbitrarily “pick and choose” which verses reflect “God’s timeless will” and which verses we can throw in the dustbin of cultural context. We would only be picking and choosing if our hermeneutical (interpretive) principles ignored context and said every command of scripture is equally binding for all time. Maybe there are some fundamentalist Christians out there who believe this—although I’ve never met one—but the capital-C Church (not to mention Jesus himself) never did.

If we have principled and logical reasons for believing, for instance, that some commands in Leviticus are binding today and others aren’t, then it’s not picking and choosing. Hamilton knows this as well as anyone. I wish he wouldn’t play dumb. Rachel Held Evans also played dumb about this in her recent book The Year of Biblical Womanhood, which drove me crazy, but I don’t expect as much from her.

We are picking and choosing, however, if, in spite of our principles, we disregard the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality mostly because we don’t like it. I’m not sure I like it, either, but that’s hardly the point.

For more on this “picking-and-choosing” argument, see Glenn Peoples’s post here.

(Seriously… Read the Glenn Peoples’s post.)

I reject Hamilton’s premise that the Bible got it wrong when it comes to slavery and subordination of women. I fully endorse Asbury president Tim Tennent’s “trajectories” argument. And along with N.T. Wright, I believe that the case for women in ordained ministry comes from scripture. Among other things, I believe that Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene as the first apostle in John 20—literally the apostle to the apostles. I believe it’s deeply significant that Paul refers to Junia as an “apostle” in Romans 16.

Does the Bible have any such trajectory away from its condemnation of homosexual practice? Or does the same thinker who wrote, “There is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” also warn that homosexual behavior, if left unrepented, risks excluding someone from God’s kingdom?

But even if I accepted Hamilton’s premise about slavery and women, his argument is a red herring unless or until he demonstrates that there’s some connection between slavery, women, and homosexuality. You can’t just say, “We were wrong about slaves and women, therefore we’re wrong about homosexual practice.”

Are we also wrong about incest? Or polygamy? Or premarital sex? I ask because I’m sure that Hamilton has many convictions in common with our traditional understanding of sexuality. By his logic, you could say, “Yes, but we were wrong about slavery and women, so… who’s to say?”

Talk about picking and choosing!

I have more to say, but this will have to do for now.

Why I’m not Catholic, Part 29

December 19, 2015

Mother Teresa is going to be canonized by the Catholic Church. No surprise there—her soul-crashing doubts about God’s existence notwithstanding. Once the ball starts rolling toward sainthood, does it ever stop? Those two required miracles will be found, if the Vatican wants to find them badly enough… even if they have to find post-mortem miracles!

I know, I know… Who am I to judge? I’m Protestant. But I am ecumenically inclined. I’m not especially sectarian. Unfortunately, when I read the following in the New York Times about the two certifiable miracles of Mother Teresa, it only strengthens my Protestant resolve:

Two miracles are generally required for canonization. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after the Vatican concluded that an Indian woman’s prayers to the nun caused her incurable tumor to disappear. The second miracle involves a Brazilian man who suffered a viral brain infection that caused multiple abscesses, and eventually left him in a coma and dying. His wife had been praying for months to Mother Teresa, and on Dec. 9, 2008, as he was about to be taken to emergency surgery, she and her husband’s priest and relatives intensified their prayers.

Praying to the saints offends me. It’s contrary to the biblical witness. By all means, intercessory prayer is commanded by Christ and the apostles in scripture, but as N.T. Wright once observed, “Why talk to someone standing outside the throne room when you can go directly to the One sitting on the throne?” I’ve never read or heard a satisfactory answer to that question—only appeals to a tradition that is, at best, centuries after the apostolic witness.

Moreover, even granting the biblically unfounded idea that saints in heaven can hear our prayers to them, how are they now endowed with god-like powers—transcending time, space, and human limitations—such that, like God himself, they can simultaneously hear the prayers of potentially billions all at once? One theological answer, perhaps, is that God grants them these powers by his grace—through the Holy Spirit—but doesn’t that beg the question?

If it’s only through God’s grace that these departed saints’ prayers on our behalf are efficacious, then who’s really doing the “miraculous” work here? In which case, since through Christ’s atoning work we Christians are now God’s beloved sons and daughters who are privileged to call God Father on the same basis as his Son Jesus, why not just pray directly to the Father?

Even worse, in the case of someone like Mother Teresa, she’s credited for two miracles that she performed after she died! Literally. If I were Catholic and believed in praying to saints, on what basis would I pray to Mother Teresa, who, at the time, wasn’t even recognized as a saint? Were they guessing that she might be one, so they were praying to her just in case?

It’s hard enough for me to pray to God without doubting that he’ll grant my petitions; what extra measure of faith would be required for me to believe that praying to someone who’s less than God will have any effect—especially doing so without biblical warrant!

If it’s true that Pope Francis is ready to declare, during 2017’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, that the Reformation is over, and Protestants of good faith are fully equal brothers and sisters, he must also declare that this issue is at least adiaphora—one over which we Christians can rightly disagree.

See Anglican theologian Glenn Peoples’ blog post from July for more information on the tradition of praying to saints.

 

“Reason to Believe,” Week 3: Examining the alternatives

March 27, 2015

reason_to_believe_class

Last Sunday evening, I finished my three-part class, “Reason to Believe,” by examining remaining alternative theories that purport to explain the events of Easter Sunday and its aftermath. Last week we discussed the conspiracy theory, the idea that the disciples had conspired to steal the body and convince the world that Jesus had been resurrected. This week, we looked at the following alternatives:

  • Wrong tomb: that the disciples discovered the wrong tomb, which was empty, and believed on that basis that Jesus was resurrected
  • Apparent death or “swoon theory”: that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross but recovered in the tomb
  • Psychological phenomena: that the disciples, grief-stricken and guilty that they had let their teacher die, experienced hallucinations of Jesus, and believed that he had been resurrected; or they were deluded into thinking that Jesus had returned from the dead, perhaps under the influence of Peter’s leadership.
  • Pagan influences: that the disciples had borrowed motifs from pagan religions about dying and rising gods, and applied them to the life and death of Jesus—if Jesus were even an historical person.

You may download an MP3 of this file by right-clicking here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 1 is here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 2 is here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 1: Three things we know for sure (so far)

March 11, 2015

reason_to_believe_class

Last Sunday night at Hampton United Methodist Church I began my new three-week class, “Reason to Believe: Examining the Evidence for the Resurrection.” As I’ve said many times before, the resurrection of Jesus Christ rests on solid historical evidence. In this first session I began laying out the evidence using the strategy of Christian apologists Gary Habermas and Mike Licona: the “minimal facts” approach. I also draw upon the writings of William Lane Craig and N.T. Wright, as well as this podcast by Glenn Peoples.

[You can also download an MP3 of this presentation by clicking here.]

None of these ideas is original to me. In fact, since I recently listened to Dr. Peoples’s podcast in my car a few times on long car trips, I’m afraid I unintentionally stole a few turns of phrase from him. I intentionally stole some of his thoughts about Richard Carrier’s rejection of Fact #3. Sorry! But please listen to Peoples’s podcast and read his blog. He’s the best!

The minimal facts approach identifies facts surrounding Easter Sunday that nearly everyone—including the vast majority of secular historians—agrees upon. When I say “vast majority” that’s exactly what I mean: Habermas reviewed 2,200 articles related to the resurrection, written in English, German, or French, by a wide variety of scholars since 1975, and for each of these facts, nearly all agree upon the following, with the exception of the empty tomb, which enjoys a mere 75 percent of acceptance among scholars. (Don’t worry: as I say in my presentation, that the disciples found an empty tomb, especially given the historicity of Jesus’ burial in a tomb, is, from my perspective, a no-brainer.)

How one numbers and divides up these “minimal facts” varies from one person to another. In my class, I laid them out as follows (click to enlarge):

minimal_facts

As I explain in my video, we arrive at these facts, in part, by treating the documents that make up the New Testament merely as ancient historical documents, without any commitment to their inspiration by the Holy Spirit—not to mention a belief in their infallibility or inerrancy.

Notice Fact #4: I’m not asserting that historians believe the disciples saw the risen Lord, only that they sincerely believed they did. Regarding Facts #5 and 6, my point is that we can know from history that both James and Paul were “hostile witnesses”: people who disbelieved or opposed Christianity and, upon having an encounter with a person whom they believed was the resurrected Jesus, dramatically changed their lives, such that both were martyred for their faith.

In Part 1, I only covered the first three facts. As I told my class, these are not the most interesting. In fact, as scripture makes clear, only one disciple that we know of—the “beloved disciple,” or John—comes to faith on the basis of Fact #3, the discovery of the empty tomb. Nevertheless, in order to refute alternative theories that purport to explain Easter Sunday and its aftermath, we have to understand these first four facts. (Please note: Facts #5 and 6 could fall under #4. Fact #2—that Jesus was buried—could be implied by Fact #3. You get the idea.)

Enjoy! If you have a chance to watch the video (or listen to the MP3) and can offer feedback, I’d appreciate it.

“Reason to Believe,” a new three-week class on the resurrection

March 5, 2015

reason_to_believe_class

I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon that back in 2007 I witnessed a debate in Atlanta between bestselling atheist author Christopher Hitchens and one of my seminary professors, Dr. Tim Jackson. To say the least, Dr. Jackson was facing an intimidating adversary in Hitchens, yet he was able to meet his every objection with humor and equanimity.

I felt inspired: Dr. Jackson’s example made me want to take seriously Peter’s command to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

The only problem, as I said last Sunday, was that I was effectively living as an atheist myself, for all the difference God’s Word was making in my life. Among other things, I did not hold a high view of the authority of scripture. I had become a professional Bible reader—studying it mostly to prepare sermons and Bible studies, or to get a good grade on an exam or essay.

Thank God the Holy Spirit got hold of me soon enough—using thinkers like N.T. Wright, whose book The Resurrection of the Son of God was another formative influence on me. I repented. I began to take God’s Word seriously once again. And within a couple of years I started this blog, in part to defend the Christian faith.

With all this in mind, I’m excited to begin a three-part class this Sunday night on the resurrection of Jesus Christ called “Reason to Believe.”

Does our belief in the miracle at the center of our faith rest on solid historical evidence? Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected? What about alternative theories that attempt to explain Easter Sunday?

Our stakes in answering these questions couldn’t be higher: Christianity stands or falls on the historicity of this miracle. As Paul rightly understood, if the resurrection didn’t happen, then our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).

For the class, I’ll draw upon the “minimal facts” approach of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, as well as insights from N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Glenn Peoples, and others.

I look forward to a lively discussion!

Last thoughts (this week) on Christian pacifism

February 25, 2015

A few weeks ago I heard a new argument for changing our United Methodist Church’s stance on human sexuality. It wasn’t a good argument, mind you, but it was one I hadn’t heard before. I reflected on it in this blog post. A United Methodist pastor in Birmingham named Wade Griffith applied Jesus’ words in John 16:12-13 to our sexuality debate: Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

One of the “many things” that Jesus still had to say to us, the church, was that homosexual practice—at least in the context of committed, monogamous, lifelong relationships—was blessed by God. God’s attitude toward homosexual practice wasn’t different back then; it’s only that the idea was so radical that no one back then could have handled it. So, by Griffith’s logic, first Jesus and later the Holy Spirit waited until the sexual revolution of the late-twentieth century had sufficiently prepared the world—at least the wealthy Western industrialized part—for this previously radical idea.

The Holy Spirit, said Griffith, waited until the right time…

As I wrote in the blog post:

But the Spirit didn’t wait, did he? Because within 20 years of Jesus’ words in John 16, this same Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ, who makes Christ present to us, who reminds us of Christ’s teaching and how to apply it to our lives—inspired Paul to tell us through scripture that homosexual behavior contradicts God’s intentions for humanity.

Did the Spirit not know back then, when Paul was writing the so-called “clobber verses,” how confusing Paul’s words would later prove to be for Christians? Couldn’t the Spirit at least have had Paul remain silent on the subject? Or did the Holy Spirit really have so little to do with producing the canon of scripture?

My point is this: Griffith’s argument falls victim to the idea that the revelation of God in Christ is different, even at times opposed, to the revelation of God in holy scripture.

How can an evangelical committed to the authority of scripture endorse this line of reasoning?

Yet, in my own way, I was unconsciously accepting its premise in my previous blog post (and comment section) regarding Stanley Hauerwas’s view (by way of Kevin Hargaden) of “Christological non-violence.”

In distinguishing Hauerwas’s pacifism from secular pacifism, Kevin writes, “Christological non-violence is different from generic pacifism because it holds that Jesus, not war (or its absence), is the centre of ethical reality.”

In other words, our basis for rejecting war in all cases—not to mention (although Kevin never does) any violent police action, and, indeed, any violent action to defend our families or ourselves—is Christ’s own teaching and example, not our commitment to non-violence, per se.

As an evangelical, I could almost accept that principle if I believed that Jesus taught that Christians can never resort to violence as part of a military, a police force, or in an effort to defend themselves or their families.

I say “almost” because I’d have to interpret Jesus’ words and actions against other passages in scripture, including Jesus’ unqualified praise of the Roman centurion as a paragon of Christian faith, or Peter’s uncritical acceptance of centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, or Paul’s words about the state’s “sword” being a “minister of God” in Romans 13. I would then avail myself of Christian tradition: how did the saints of the past interpret these verses, and were they, as a result, pacifists?

By the way, when it comes to tradition, I always assume, as a rule of thumb, that I’m not morally superior to the Christian saints on whose shoulders I stand. Even if I were a Christian pacifist, it wouldn’t be because I’m smarter or more virtuous than, say, Augustine, who most assuredly wasn’t a pacifist. If the case for Christian pacifism were as easy and obvious as some Christians today seem to make it, then what does that say about Augustine?

I know that there are arguments from scripture and tradition to be made for pacifism. I don’t find them convincing, but they can be made. But I wonder if Hauerwas’s “Christological non-violence” isn’t an ethical principle that he believes is embedded in the life, suffering, and death of Christ, which supersedes any argument from scripture, even where it contradicts the direct words of scripture.

If so, you can count me out. Christological non-violence must be an argument, first, from scripture, all of whose words are a gift from the very Spirit of Christ to us. It’s incomprehensible to me that Christ would teach something (through his words and actions) that the Spirit would contradict when the Spirit inspired these biblical writers to write these words. This is yet another application of that badly distorted “Jesus lens” I’ve written about before.

While we’re on the subject, Dr. Glenn Peoples, a theologian from New Zealand, applauds his government’s decision to send members of the New Zealand Defence Force to Iraq to train Iraqi troops in their fight against ISIS. His thoughts on the subject reflect mine. Follow the links below on Christian pacifism and “Turn the other cheek.” Among other things, he writes (emphasis mine):

“But Christians should be pacifists!”

No they shouldn’t. I know that some say that Christianity was universally a pacifist movement (a movement that taught that there is never any justification for the use of force against others) until bad people like Augustine came along and corrupted the church with the doctrine of the just war. The kindest thing to say about this is that it is an oversimplification, but the ordinary way of describing this is as a lie. There existed pacifists among the Church Fathers, but as I have explained before, the evidence does not support the claim that they were all pacifists up to the time of Augustine. “Turn the other cheek,” some say. “Learn what that means,” I say in reply.) For those interested, I discussed this issue, albeit briefly, on a panel for Elephant TV, and that discussion is available on Youtube (I do not know for how long it will be available).

We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Certainly, Christian reflection on vengeance, violence and hatred (and love!) should feed into our thinking about what the right response to IS looks like. But the result of such thinking does not push us to pacifism. Engaging with IS need not be about hatred at all, but about love. It is one thing for people to say “love your enemy,” as though acting against IS must be viewed as contrary to love. But what does it mean to love those who are left at the mercy of IS if the world does not intervene? What kind of false piety is it that would say to them, “although we could intervene to protect you, our love for those who are about to cut off your heads prevents us from doing so. PTL.” If I were more of a mocking person (I am sometimes, but this is too serious to engage in such triviality), there would be an exposed target in the attitude that calls on men, women and children to lie down and die so that we can keep our halo untarnished. We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Glenn Peoples asks, “What makes you doubt?”

October 17, 2014

Glenn Peoples, to whom I’ve referred often on this blog, is one of my favorite Christian bloggers, apologists, and theologians. In his most recent post, he asks his readers—both believers and atheists—to step into the “public confessional” and say what makes them doubt either their belief or lack of belief in God. It is surely for the benefit of “professional Christians” like me that he writes the following:

Don’t worry that you might be “giving away” too much [if you admit that you doubt]. If you think that non-believers really accept that you have no doubts at all, you’re kidding yourself. A lot of them, I am sure, think that really you know the whole thing is nonsense, but you pretend to believe it in order to dull your fear of death. The admission of one real doubt then is hardly going to be a great revelation. You may even demonstrate to people that you have honesty and humility after all, and that you are secure enough in what you know that you can admit what you do not know. What’s more, as a public defender of Christianity, your admission that you have some doubts will be encouraging to other Christians, who will be able to say “I’m not the only one! I don’t just lack faith after all. It’s OK to have doubts.” Lastly, while you might worry that admitting your doubts gives away too much information, any intellectually honest atheist who has spent much time thinking about the God question will have at least as much doubt about their view that God isn’t there. Anyone who can look you in the eye and say that there is absolutely no reason for pause at all, and that every piece of information that we have supports their believe that God does not exist is either a worse liar than our hypothetical scientist or else far, far more deluded than anyone suffering from what Dawkins called “The God Delusion.” C. S. Lewis recalls his own moments of doubt:

Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.

Dr. Peoples confessed that he doubts that petitionary prayer accomplishes anything—that what happens is what would happen anyway, regardless whether we pray or not.

Here’s what I wrote in the comments section:

Great post, Glenn! My biggest doubt has to do with this question: Why is God as difficult to believe in as he is? What I mean is: why doesn’t he offer more direct evidence of his existence—theophanies like those, for example, given to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, or Isaiah? I understand that nature bears witness to God; that there is excellent historical evidence for the resurrection, which itself confirms the truth of the gospel; that we have lots of good arguments for God’s existence, etc. I even have much personal experience that confirms my strong intuition that God is real. But believing still requires a lot of faith on our part. I trust that God knows best, but why should it be so?

Even as I write these words, I feel a need to defend my faith—to argue myself out of this doubt—but, in the spirit of Glenn’s post, I’ll let this question stand for now.

The point is, it’s O.K. to doubt. What did Tennyson say? “There lives more faith in honest doubt,/ Believe me, than in half the creeds.”

Occasional doubt is a part of a healthy Christian faith

September 25, 2014

Not long ago, I had a parishioner who was suffering from a mysterious ailment that doctors didn’t quite know how to treat. Three times he had shown signs of improvement, was sent home, only to suffer a relapse and return to the hospital. It was frustrating and worrisome, to say the least.

I visited him several times during this two- or three-week period of his being in and out of the hospital. At the end of each visit, as is my custom, I held hands and prayed with him and any friends or family present.

Once, while I was preparing to pray, I had this internal dialogue with God: “Why am I bothering? You’re not going to do anything, no matter what I pray. Do you know how bad this is making you look? Do you  know how bad this makes me look?” (I’m vain and self-centered even in my prayers.) “This is why my atheist friends don’t believe in you. We pray and pray and pray and nothing happens.”

Yes, friends, yours truly has thoughts like these sometimes.

On another occasion, during a dark moment of self-doubt about my vocation, a friend of mine tried to cheer me up: “I admire you for all the sacrifices you’ve made. You gave up a successful career… money… prestige. Most people wouldn’t have the guts to do that.”

Immediately I thought—without saying out loud—”Yeah, I hope Christianity turns out to be true. Otherwise I’ve wasted my life!” I am “of all men most to be pitied,” as the Apostle rightly understood.

My point in sharing this is to say that I completely understand what Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, meant when he was asked recently if he ever doubts:

Yes I do. I mean there are moments, sure, where you think ‘Is there a God?’, ‘Where is God? The other day I was praying over something while I was running and I ended up saying to God, ‘This is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there,’ which is not probably what the Archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

The press in Britain had a field day with this, as if the archbishop were admitting something shocking. One headline read, “Archbishop of Canterbury doubts the existence of God.”

Oh, brother! Only someone who doesn’t practice the Christian faith could imagine that Christians never doubt.

As Archbishop Cranmer puts it:

If those who bring us the news and the majority of those who consume it had any idea what the Bible says, they would see that doubt is a continually recurring theme. The Psalms are full of it:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1,2)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1,2)

But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. (Psalm:88:13-15)

Great heroes from the pages of the Bible, including King David, Elijah, Job and ‘doubting’ Thomas had desperate moments of questioning God. John the Baptist had a major crisis of faith regarding Jesus’ divinity, despite having waited his adult life to baptise him as the Messiah. Even Jesus had his moment of turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane.

So Justin Welby is in good company. He is doing little more than being frankly honest about his relationship with God. There are things he finds wonderful about his faith and others he finds frustrating and challenging. He is not trying to pretend to be something he isn’t and most Christians will find his words resonating with their own experiences.

Glenn Peoples also says it well in this post:

As it turns out, the story could have just as easily (although not as tantalisingly – or smoothly) been called “Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has some thoughts and feelings every now and then that most normal Christians have, nothing to see here.” But there is something to see here, and it’s this: Doubt is a normal part of a committed Christian faith. Not all the time, of course, but anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what it’s like to be a mature, thoughtful Christian or else they don’t want to admit it…

Doubt can exist for a variety of reasons (usually more emotional than strictly rational), and the denial of doubt is foolishness. A faith that has never been exposed to real doubt at all must surely be weaker (or I insist, at very least much less mature) than a faith that has come out the other side of episodes of long, dark doubt that relentlessly occupies the whole mind. I have no authority over the church, but if I did I would insist that a person is only considered eligible for ministry if they have experienced that sort of doubt. You’ll need that experience when a member of your church approaches you and tells you they’re having doubts and you don’t want to respond like the idiot who says “come now, where is your faith?” How will you know how to answer the question of how to come back from soul-crushing doubt and set your eyes on what you know to be true if you’ve never had to do it? Of course it would be a mistake to automatically respond to doubt as though it were a rationally compelling factor in itself, and so to give up belief, taking the path (at that moment) of least emotional resistance. But depicting the faith as a place where serious doubt simply doesn’t happen is madness.

United Methodists affirm “sola scriptura”

September 17, 2014

One of my favorite bloggers, an evangelical theologian from New Zealand named Dr. Glenn Peoples, recently left (or so I gather) a non-liturgical Reformed church in order to become an Anglican. Is this, as some critics have wondered, a step toward “crossing the Tiber” to Roman Catholicism?

No, he says emphatically. And surely one doctrine that would prevent him from doing so more than any other is Rome’s view of the authority of scripture. He highlights this and other important distinctions between Anglican and Catholic theology and doctrine in this blog post, using the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as his guide.

Methodism, as you may know, is steeped in Anglican theology. In fact, our movement’s founder, John Wesley, adopted, with little revision, 25 of the Church of England’s 39 articles for the independent American church after the Revolutionary War. (Among those articles excluded are those that pertain to the monarchy and British politics.) But Wesley himself lived and died happily Anglican, and his reluctant endorsement of the American Methodist church was a concession to life in post-war America.

In this blog post, I want to highlight what Peoples writes about Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles (which is Article V of the Methodist Church):

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

This article goes on to affirm the 66 canonical books of the Protestant Bible.

I like what Peoples writes because, however briefly, he demonstrates that the Roman Catholic Church’s dual-authority model (in which scripture and church tradition are of equal weight) represents a later innovation.

The Anglican affirmation that the Scripture stands alone, without peer in authority and is sufficient for instruction in the faith, was no novelty. Instead it was the perpetuation of an ancient school of Christian thought. Many theologians (bishops, in fact) among the Church Fathers have expressed the same conviction. Basil the Great held that in principle all instruction for a righteous life could be derived from Scripture and the help of the Holy Spirit:

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right.2

Of course, Basil did offer his assistance even in telling people that in principle Scripture and the Spirit supplied all that we strictly need. Like Anglicans, Basil had a great love of tradition, but only where he believed that the tradition was derived from the Apostolic tradition that we find preserved in Scripture. Speaking of the Trinity, he says: “But we do not rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too followed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you.”

Anglicans cannot accept a doctrine only on the grounds that it is taught by the Church. Instead they say with Gregory of Nyssa:

We are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.4

Anglicans agree with Augustine that “among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life.”

“We make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet.”
Gregory of Nyssa

This ancient Christian way of thinking about authority and doctrine finds clear expression within the Anglican Church, setting it apart from the Catholic view in which the Church has the authority to infallibly declare doctrine as binding on the Church, even when it is not expressed in Scripture. Article 20 expresses the contrary Anglican view of Church Authority: “although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.” The Church has no authority either to decree anything against Scripture, nor does it have the authority to enforce anything as necessary when Scripture does not teach it.

Sympathy for the devil? No, Ms. Held Evans, just for Mark Driscoll

July 31, 2014

I don’t have the book in front of me, and if I did, I probably couldn’t find the quote. But about 25 years ago I read something by St. Francis de Sales in which he warned against judging others. He said something like this: we cannot say for certain that anyone is a thief, liar, or adulterer just because they’ve stolen, lied, or committed adultery in the past. Why? Because we are unable to look into their hearts at this moment and see what’s going on. Only God can. When we judge, however, we presume to have this God-like ability.

We must always, de Sales says, give our fellow sinners the benefit of the doubt that they’ve changed.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily apply this principle to the criminal justice system or our national defense policy, I think it’s a good principle for our personal lives. Indeed, I think it gets to the heart of Jesus’ words against judging.

With this in mind, you can imagine what I think of this week’s popular blog post by Rachel Held Evans entitled “Inside Mark Driscoll’s disturbed mind.”

How does Held Evans know not simply that Driscoll can be a boorish jerk at times, or that he believes things with which she strenuously disagrees—but that he has an “ugly heart,” that he has a “disturbed” and “troubled mind,” and that he “needs counseling”? Because of some recently unearthed comments that he posted pseudonymously to his church website 14 years ago.

Fourteen years ago.

By all means, at 31, he was old enough to know better, to be smarter—heck, to be a better human being! But is it fair to judge the man today based on what he said or did 14 years ago? Suppose that 14 years ago (or five years ago, or last year, or last month) someone secretly filmed or taped you at your worst. How would you look? What conclusions would people reach about you as a person right now? And would those conclusions be fair?

Driscoll has recently apologized for some of the very things that Held Evans doesn’t like about him. Is it impossible to believe that the Holy Spirit can actually change someone’s heart?

It’s hard to miss the irony when this same Rachel Held Evans complained in a post just two days earlier about her own critics, asking, “What do you do when religious people respond to your questions by calling you names? By mocking you? By casting you out?”

Held Evans doesn’t get many dissenters in the comments section of any of her posts, but she got at least one very smart one—a theologian and apologist from New Zealand whom I read named Glenn Peoples. He wrote:

I say this with not the least bit of hope that it will do any good, and I’d like to be wrong.

You say that there’s no excuse to be had because of “youth,” because he wasn’t even a youth. Fair enough. And yet, the very reason this needs to be pointed out is because you are aware that this was some time ago now, and you know that Mark – even though you evidently do not like him or what he says – no longer says things. He has “grown up,” even if you think he should have known better even then.

You say “I’m as sick as everyone else of talking about this guy.” But the truth is that you’ve spent many words criticising him. However, until now you’ve been criticising him for the person he is – or at very least the person you take him to be – now. Why then do you need, now, to give coverage to this gold nugget, this scoop that someone has uncovered, this smoking gun of how much worse Mark was years ago? Is it because you think he has regressed to that old self?

How is this not just a Christianised version of the British tabloid? yes, Mark has been a jerk and confirmed some male stereotypes in the process. There’s a certain stereotype about girls and gossip too.

Ponder the reactions you are now getting. One woman has said, in effect, that she has been concerned about mark for some time, but now she has seen THIS! As though this represents how bad he has gotten. But it doesn’t, does it?

I’ve criticised Mark in the past and have no problem with those who do. But this? This does not help your own reputation any more than it helps Mark’s.

Keep it juicy, RHE. Apparently it’s the thing now.