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Become a Heretic for a While

I recently spent several hours trying to convince a class that Arius was right, the Son is not equal with the Father, and Athanasius blew it.

Open window on brick lined wall

So we looked at all the biblical data suggesting that the Son is subordinate to the Father. We discussed Greek philosophy and how the Nicene view of three persons (hypostases) in one substance (ousia) necessarily entails either modalism–i.e. the one substance (God) just manifested himself at different times as different persons (Father, Son, and Spirit)–or tritheism–i.e. the one substance (deity) gets expressed in three distinct beings (Father, Son, and Spirit) just like our one human nature gets expressed as many particular humans. And, most importantly, we talked about the Cross, how Athanasius’ overly divine Son downplays the real human suffering on the cross that is a necessary part of any true atonement. 

In short, we presented a pretty compelling argument for the truth of Arianism. Indeed, when we were done and had summarized all the strongest arguments for Arianism on the board, I asked the class to refute them. And they were stuck. They still felt intuitively that Arianism had to be wrong, but they couldn’t find the chinks in the armor. It looked so compelling.

That’s when I knew we’d arrived.

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Why Do Animals Suffer When They’ve Done Nothing Wrong

Many theologians have claimed that all the suffering that we see in the world around us is a result of the fall. In the Garden, there was perfect peace. After the fall, suffering and death were introduced, not just for humans but for all of creation.

But does this really make sense?

death before the fallIn his new book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (IVP, 2014), Ronald Osborn says no. That answer results from an overly literal reading of the Creation/Fall narratives, and it fails to account for the fact that animal predation, and the corresponding death and suffering of animals, seems to be part of the natural order (e.g. lions look like they have been painfully devouring gazelles from the very beginning).

With this book, Osborn joins a growing list of scholars dealing with the problem of animal suffering from a biblical perspective. In just the last few years we have Michael Murray’s Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (OUP, 2008), Nicola Creegan’s Animal Suffering and the Problem of Evil (OUP, 2013), and Andrew Linzey’s Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics (OUP, 2009), among others. So clearly this is a question whose time has come. But has Osborn done the question justice? That’s what remains to be seen.

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A Common (But Bad) Reason for Rejecting Penal Substitution

Crows-Celtic-CrossAs a theology professor, I routinely hear people claim that Anselm  invented the penal substitution  view of the atonement. This is the idea that Jesus bore the punishment that we rightly deserved because of our sin, and that this was necessary for us to be reconciled to God.

Before Anselm, the church had a view that focused almost exclusively on ideas like victory—i.e. on the cross Jesus defeated the enemies of humanity like Satan, death, and sin—and healing—i.e. the entirety of his incarnate life healed our broken humanity and made it possible for us to resume the path to godlikeness. (If you’d like some examples, see here  and here .)

And people often use the relative newness of the theory as a reason for rejecting it. If the early church didn’t think of the cross as some kind of vicarious punishment, if that was just a medieval invention, let’s get rid of it.

There’s just one problem with this: it’s wrong. And it’s wrong for two important reasons.

[This is the beginning of my newest post over at Christianity.com. Head over there to check it out, and let me know what you think.]

5 Affirmations on Inerrancy

inerrancy-197x300Inerrancy continues to be one of those hot-button theological issues that frustrates some and fascinates others. In some contexts, denying inerrancy will get you fired, labeled a heretic, or possibly both. In other contexts, affirming inerrancy will get you disregarded, labeled a fundamentalist, or almost certainly both. And many of the books on inerrancy slide annoyingly toward one extreme or the other. So I’ve been looking forward to reading Zondervan’s Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy since it came out last Fall, hoping that it would offer a more nuanced exchange of perspectives on such an important issue. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Since quite a few reviews of the book have already been written (see esp. Gavin Ortlund’s review), I thought I’d do something a little different. As I was reading through the book, I was struck by the fact that each of the five essays offered something important to the discussion about inerrancy, even the ones that were most critical of the concept. So I’d like to focus on five affirmations that we can and should make about inerrancy, drawing from each of the five essays.

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The Magic Is in the Mundane

My daughters love the Lord of the Rings, but they agree that there’s one major flaw. The magic. It’s just not that impressive. Gandalf is supposed to be one of the most powerful wizards in the world, but he rarely does anything all that magical. He spends most of his time eating, smoking, and getting other people to do all the hard stuff. Sounds like good work if you can get it. (And don’t even get me started on Dumbledore.)

Magic should be more dramatic. Something noticeable, unusual, even startling. In most of the other stories, magic is impressive. But Gandalf is pretty normal most of the time.

prestige

I think many of us have the same frustration with God. After all, he’s the most powerful wizard out there, right? Surely he could do some amazing stuff if he wanted to. And he does in the stories: parting seas, raising dead people, turning rivers into blood. That’s the kind of magic we’re looking for. But most of what we see around is pretty run of the mill. The wind blows, the sun shines, the earth revolves, and people drive like idiots. Normal. Boring.

Where’s the magic?

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There Are No Ordinary People, Only Image Bearers

Super Hero Boy Ready to FlyNext Sunday morning, look around you.  Really look. There are no ordinary people in that room with you, only image bearers.

We are made in God’s image. As we have discussed before, I think this means that we are the ones through whom God manifests his glorious presence in the world. We are like little idols, physical entities by which God makes himself present throughout his creation. God is present in other ways too, of course, but we are his image bearers. And that means there nothing mere, simple, or ordinary about being human.

In one of my favorite passages from C. S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, Lewis explains that this means we need to have an amazingly high view of the people around us, along with a correspondingly high view of the responsibility that exists between us:

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Wheaton Theology Conference videos now available

2014 TheologyPostcard - WebThe videos from all of the sessions of the recent Wheaton Theology Conference, including the Q&A sessions, are now available. We’ve been working through some of the sessions together (see here), but if you have some time to watch a few of these lectures yourselves, they’re well worth the effort.

You can see all of the videos here, or jump directly to your favorites with these links. And if you want the papers, keep an eye out for the forthcoming book from IVP.

The Spirit in Scripture & the Early Church

The Spirit in Reformed & Wesleyan Perspectives

The Spirit and Global Pentecostalism

The Spirit and Interpretation

The Spirit, Creation, and the Trinity

The Spirit and Salvation

The Spirit and the Church

To the Religious Prosecutors of Error

“Men may differ from each other in many religious opinions, and yet all may retain the essentials of Christianity; men may sometimes eagerly dispute, and yet not differ much from one another: the rigorous prosecutors of error should, therefore, enlighten their zeal with knowledge, and temper their orthodoxy with charity; that charity without which orthodoxy is vain.”

Samuel Johnson, The Works of Samuel Johnson (New York: Collins and Hannay, 1825), pp. 413-414.

Toward a Pentecostal Hermeneutics (Wheaton Theology Conference 5)

After hearing a detailed explanation of the 15 steps necessary for studying the Bible, a student noticed that the professor hadn’t said anything about the role of the Holy Spirit. Somewhat confused given that most Christians affirm the doctrine of illumination–the idea the the Spirit is somehow at work with Christians enabling them to hear and understand God’s Word properly–the student asked, ”Where is the Holy Spirit in all this?”

His response: “Everywhere.”

Was that a profound insight into the fact that reading the Bible properly is a necessarily Spirit-infused task, or was that just pietistic jargon designed to cover up the fact that the professor really doesn’t believe the Spirit has anything to do with exegesis?

Leggere alimenta la mente

That’s the question Kevin Vanhoozer used to introduce a fascinating paper on the role of the Spirit in hermeneutics at the recent Wheaton Theology Conference. And his real target was on developing greater clarity about what it means to say that the Spirit “illumines” us when we read the Bible. Does it really make a difference? If so, in what way?

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The Death and Recovery of Systematic Theology

It’s not unusual these days to find people questioning whether we should be doing systematic theology at all. Isn’t that an outmoded way of thinking, one that was effectively killed off by postmodern concerns about “metanarratives” and “totalizing discourses”?

god sexuality selfThat’s the issue Sarah Coakley tackles in the first chapter of her new book God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge, 2013). Since this is the first volume in her projected new systematic theology, which promises to be one of the more interesting and creative systematic endeavors in quite some time, it makes sense for her to take some time to explain why she thinks that systematic theology is still worth doing. Along the way, she offers a fascinating overview of several objections to systematic theology, the state of systematic theology today, and why she thinks that a renewed emphasis on ascetic practice can and should lead systematic theology forward from here. 

Let’s see what she means.

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