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Why Should We Listen? (Evangelicals & Universalism, part 4)

What would you think about someone who said, “My friend is an outstanding engineer, he’s just a little fuzzy on the laws of physics”? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to find out which building projects he was involved in, and stay away from them.

Evangelicals tend to feel the same way about theologians and salvation. If you get salvation wrong, you can’t possibly be a good theologian. Too much is at stake. So it’s best to find out which theological buildings they’ve constructed and just stay away from them. They may be pretty, but their foundations are rotten.

That is generally how evangelicals have responded to universalism in any form. It’s a rotten foundation, so we should stay away from it entirely.

And this causes problems when evangelicals meet Karl Barth. In the first post in this series, I noted that many evangelicals would question whether evangelicals and Barth should be seen together in public. And we’ve seen that one of the big concerns comes from the fact that his theology leans strongly in the direction of universalism, even though he rejected the label. So the conclusion seems clear: if universalism is bad, and if Karl Barth looks a lot like a universalist, then Karl Barth is bad. And you definitely don’t want to be seen in public with someone like that. Or, if you’re going to hang out with him, you should probably pick one of those dimly lit establishments, wear sunglasses, and sit in the back.

Although the conclusion might be understandable, we can do better. Even if he’s wrong, I think we can identify at least four ways that Barth’s approach is worth hearing anyway.

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Godly Change Requires More Than a Lane Change


For many of us, that’s a rather nasty little word. It conjures images of fire-and-brimstone preachers holding their thick, black Bibles over their heads with one hand while pointing the other menacingly at the shell-shocked crowd and yelling:

“Repent, ye depraved sinners bound for the depths of hell. Repent before the fires of heaven consume the earth. Repent if ye can. Because the Dread Pirate Roberts is here for your souls.”

Wait, I may have gotten a little Princess Bride mixed in there at the end. But you get the point. Repent rarely gets good reviews.

But the biblical authors don’t seem bothered by it at all. Actually, they seem to like it. Jesus, Peter, and Paul, all identify repentance as one of the fundamental ways in which we should respond to the gospel (e.g. Mt. 4:17; Acts 3:19; Rom 2:4). All of them seem to think that we need to repent before we can enter the Kingdom.


But wait. Doesn’t that cause a bit of a problem. We often tell people that the good news of the gospel means that they don’t need to do anything to earn salvation. We make a pretty big deal out of that point: salvation by grace means no required works before salvation. If we require repentance before salvation, then, aren’t we breaking our own rules? If you have to do something before God will save you, then it seems like some kind of legalism has slipped in through the back door (or maybe the front door!).

This is the beginning of my latest post over at the Transformed blog. You can read the rest there.

Flotsam and jetsam (12/3)

via 22 Words

Good Reads

  • Ambient Noise Spurs Creativity: Ever feel like the creative juices flow more freely when working amidst the buzz of a coffee shop than in the oppressive silence of home? New research confirms this feeling…by showing that modest ambient noise, like that found in a coffee shop or cafe, triggers the part of our brain responsible for abstract and creative thinking.
  • Neuroscience Fiction: our early-twenty-first-century world truly is filled with brain porn, with sloppy reductionist thinking and an unseemly lust for neuroscientific explanations. But the right solution is not to abandon neuroscience altogether, it’s to better understand what neuroscience can and cannot tell us, and why.

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A Prayer for Sunday (John of Damascus)

One of the greatest theologians of the early church, John of Damascus is often viewed as the last of the church fathers. Born in Syria as Yuhanna ibn Mansur ibn Sargun, John of Damascus was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to live and write under Muslim rule. He wrote extensively in theology, law, and philosophy, but is probably best known for his defense of religious icons on the face of those who wanted to eliminate all icons from Christian churches (i.e. the “iconoclasts”).

The details of his life are hard to come by, and even the date of his death is questionable. But the traditional date of his passing in December 4, 749. So today’s prayer comes from him.

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November’s Top Posts

It’s been Karl Barth month around here as I’ve begun blogging my way through a paper I wrote on Karl Barth and universalism. So it’s no great surprise to see that two of the top five posts in November are on that theme. The top spot, however, goes to one of the funnier infographics I’ve run across lately on writing. And I think this is the first time a book review has made the list, so apparently people are interested in biblical theology these days. And the final spot goes to one of the posts in my series on the Holy Spirit.

Top 5 Posts in November

Flotsam and jetsam (11/30)

Good Reads

  • The High Price of Establishment: the Church of England is a national as well as a religious institution. That means, apparently, that its dogmas and governing policies are expected to generally parallel the broad social values of society.
  • The Need for Creeds: It’s more than merely helpful to set down the church’s core convictions in words.
  • Mormonism: A Scrutinized, Yet Evolving Faith: Mormonism has only a few non-negotiable beliefs. Unlike traditional Christianity, there are no Mormon creeds, no paid clergy, and no theologians who hammer out Mormon doctrine. For that reason, Matthew Bowman, author of The Mormon People, says many followers are fluid with their beliefs.
  • On Bad Endings: Many of the world’s best novels have bad endings. I don’t mean that they end sadly, or on a back-to-work, all-is-forgiven note…, but that the ending is actually inartistic—a betrayal of what came before. This is true not just of good novels but also of books on which the reputation of Western fiction rests.

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Autism and Sensory Overload

Some people with autism have difficulty processing intense, multiple sensory experiences at once. This animation gives the viewer a glimpse into sensory overload, and how often our sensory experiences intertwine in everyday life.

This fascinating video from the Interacting with Autism Project does an excellent job showing how people with autism struggle with sensory overload in even the most “ordinary” situations.

HT David Murray

Rejecting the Obvious (Evangelicals & Universalism, part 3)

You find all kinds of interesting things when you read the doctrinal statements that beginning theology students write. Just the other day, I saw one that appealed to Ephesians 7:12 in support of their position. They must have a Director’s Cut edition of the Bible. And I often get to to point out that the way a student worded a particular statement means that they’re affirming something that was actually condemned as heresy at one of the ecumenical councils. That’s always fun.

questions, confusion, uncertainty, thinking, thoughtful, universalism, contradiction, doubt

My favorite, though, is when a student makes a claim that seems to contradict something they affirmed elsewhere in the statement. That’s when I get to draw a big arrow from X to Y asking them to clarify how both of those statements can be true. Oh the joys of grading.

When I’m reading Karl Barth’s theology, I often want to draw some arrows.

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What Should You Read Next? A Hipster Lit Flowchart

If you’re wondering what you should read next and you’d like to improve your street cred as a true hipster, this flowchart from Goodreads is for you.

literature, reading, books, hipster, culture

Flotsam and jetsam (11/28)

Good Reads

  • Why Smug Atheists Should Read More Science Fiction: there’s…a long tradition in science fiction of transcendence, and encounters with something huge and unknowable. A lot of the best science fiction also features the realization that for all our knowledge, there are still things in the universe we don’t yet fully understand.
  • Fatigue Is Your Enemy: Sustainable capacity — meaning sufficient fuel in the tank — is what makes it possible to bring one’s skill and talent to life. Not even the most talented and motivated employees can run on empty.
  • The Limitations of Contextualization: Identifying the culture of any group and contextualizing to that culture is a helpful process as long as two important truths are born in mind.

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