Assessing a Theological Foundation

There’s plenty of room and reason for having a diversity of opinion on theological issues. Yet there do seem to be a core set of ideas which determine if a person’s view of God can be reconciled with the Bible’s view of God. For anyone who thinks it’s important to have the same view of God as the Bible, these questions become especially important and helpful.

I’ve been thinking recently about what those very most important, essential questions are. Here’s what I came up with. I’ll include this in English and German for simplicity’s sake. Independent of the answers which one might think are correct, I think the questions themselves help us unearth the topics on which people will have irreconcilable differences.

English

  1. Do you think we have historically and epistemologically justifiable reasons to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead in the way that the event is recorded in the New Testament? Why?
  2. Do we have to have Jesus’ understanding of the Old Testament and why?
  3. The Gospel of John says “the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God.” On the basis of this idea, the authors of the New Testament seemed to see their own writings as immediately, inherently authoritative: because they recorded the God-man’s words. Do you take this view as well? Why?
  4. Can you name a passage in Scripture which is clearly erroneous but authoritative nonetheless? Why or how is that the case?
  5. There is a long-standing debate about biblical interoperation. Some say we should interpret the Bible the way we want our own writings to be interpreted: according to authorial intent, in a way which attempts to understand us the way we want to be understood. Other say that authorial intent is less helpful or important and that we should use the Bible as a source of vocabulary and metaphors in order to explain our own more contemporary philosophy. What are your thoughts about this debate?

German

  1. Glauben Sie, dass wir historisch und erkenntnistheoretisch berechtigt sind, überzeugt zu sein, dass Jesus von Nazareth körperlich von dem Tod auferstanden ist, wie dieses Ereignis in dem Neuen Testament beschrieben wird? Wenn ja, warum? Wenn nein, warum?
  2. Müssen wir Jesus Verständnis vom Alten Testament haben?
  3. In dem Johannes Evangelium steht: der, der von Gott gesandt ist, spricht Gottes Wort. Mit dem Anfangspunkt haben die ersten Jünger die neutestamentlichen Akten als sofort autoritativ gesehen: weil sie die Worte des menschgewordenen Gottes aufnahmen. Sind Sie auch dieser Überzeugung von den Aposteln? Warum?
  4. Können Sie einen Text in der Bibel nennen, der klar fehlerhaft ist der aber noch autoritativ ist? Wenn nein, wieso?
  5. Es gibt eine langjährige Debatte über Auslegungstheorie. Manche sagen, wir sollen die Autoren der Bibel auslegen, wie wir es gerne mit unseren eigenen Worten gerne hätten: dass Leute unsere Absichten achten und versuchen, uns so zu verstehen, wie wir verstanden werden möchten. Andere sagen, dass das weniger wichtig ist, und dass wir die Bibel einfach als Quelle von Metapher verstehen sollten, die wir gebrauchen können, um eigene oder zeitnähere Philosophien hervorzuheben. Wo stehen Sie zu dieser Debatte?

Confessions of a One-Night VIP

Here’s an excerpt from my most recent publication over at the Huffington Post:

As I climbed in a cab at 3 a.m., two thoughts crossed my mind. The first, which I understood in a new way that night, was that every conversion is a miracle. Every conversion — whether of the famous actor inside, or the anonymous cab driver outside — follows a dramatic, heart-altering act of God. This is what gives us peace as we do the instrumental work of “reaching them.”

And secondly, I realized that I was thinking about these peoples’ conversion from the standpoint of their career preservation, which is a perspective which none of them would have were they truly converted. It was the perspective not of a lover of God and men, which I’m called to be, but of an elite-person-converter, a kind of career-focused person in my own right. And it struck me that no person, elite or otherwise, would ever be moved to seek God by seeing in me what he could just as easily have found in himself.

Click here to read the whole thing.


Letter from an Ex-Evangelical

This is an absolutely must read article that Rod Dreher posted. A young reader wrote him to explain why so many Christians (himself included) were leaving the church over debates about homosexuality. He absolutely nailed it.

The writer introduces himself by saying:

I went to Evangelical churches fifty-two Sundays a year for the better part of 19 years, and I cannot for the life of me remember once when the name of a theologian was mentioned. And, in fact, even the various doctrines that were taught were never mentioned by name…Instead of an intellectual tradition, it is a church built on emotion. Every sermon is a revival stump speech about the evils of the world and the need for salvation. Every sermon ends in a sentimental pop song/worship chorus to accompany an altar call in which the same handful of members weeps at the altar (these people are subsequently held up as the most exemplary Christians. I had a friend in junior high who could cry on cue; she cleaned up on attention in this system).

He continues:

A lot of the Christians that are being argued against have traded in nothing but emotion for the last 30 years. Salvation is a weeping, sinners-prayer mumbling, emotional roller coaster, and the emoting never stops. In all the years I was a member, my evangelical church made exactly one argument about SSM. It’s the argument I like to call the Argument from Ickiness: Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worst kind of sinner you can be. Period, done, amen, pass the casserole. When you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues, the moment ickiness no longer rings true with young believers, their faith is destroyed. This is why other young ex-evangelicals I know point as their “turning point” on gay marriage to the moment they first really got to know someone who was gay.

And concludes:

If your belief on SSM is based on a learned disgust at the thought of a gay person, the moment a gay person, any gay person, ceases to disgust you, you have nothing left. In short, the anti-SSM side, and really the Christian side of the culture war in general, is responsible for its own collapse. It failed to train up the young people on its own side preferring instead to harness their energy while providing them no doctrinal depth by keeping them in a bubble of emotion dependent on their never engaging with the outside world on anything but warlike terms. Perhaps someday my fellow ex-evangelical Millennials and I will join other churches, but it will be as essentially new Christians with no religious heritage from our childhoods to fall back on.


The Runners

I have tried running at several different junctures in life without it ever truly sticking long-term. But I found this short about it fascinating. I suppose some camera guy was sitting around (or maybe running around) when it dawned on him that people who are running often have a lot on their mind. At any rate, he had the great idea to pull up to them at a synchronized speed and talk to them. They probably had to talk to 100 people to get these 10-15 who actually took them up on their offer, but I found the candor very refreshing.


Ira Glass on Perseverance

As far as I can tell, the quotes which make up this video were excerpted from some kind of series of interviews. Ira Glass is the mastermind behind some of the best human-interest work on PBS, and I found the things he said here incredibly therapeutic.


Leithart on Scripture as Tradition

Peter Leithart recently wrote a short piece for FT and had this to say:

A serious reader of the Bible is never in a situation of “me and my Bible.” To read the Bible is to enter a cloud of witnesses. What does that mean? Perhaps this: Scripture is the compilation of writings composed (so it’s traditionally thought) from the time of Moses (at least) to the time of the apostles, that is, a compilation of writings composed over a couple of millennia. Dozens of writers made their contributions to the whole, so that to consult the Bible is to exercise the wisdom of seeking many counselors. To open the Bible is to gather the wisest council of advisors: Moses and Samuel, David and Solomon and the Chronicler, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Ezekiel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Jesus, Paul, James and Jude and John. I’ll put that up against any list of theologians you’d care to compile.

This is simply to say: the tradition which one is said to need so desperately for interpretation (and there is of course a certain point to be ceded there) is nonetheless in so many cases encapsulated by Scripture itself.


The Online Recipe

This from a recent speech given by the founder of Twitter, Medium, and several other online companies:

The bottom line, Williams said, is that the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” It’s not a utopia. It’s not magical. It’s simply an engine of convenience. Those who can tune that engine well — who solve basic human problems with greater speed and simplicity than those who came before — will profit immensely. Those who lose sight of basic human needs — who want to give people the next great idea — will have problems. “We often think of the internet enables you to do new things,” Williams said. “But people just want to do the same things they’ve always done.” “Here’s the formula if you want to build a billion-dollar internet company,” he said. “Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.” Read More.


Working for Yourself

I really appreciated this article from Daniel Gray. For a couple of years, I have been trying to teach myself design, largely for the purposes of serving my own projects. The hardest part in the whole process has been dealing with myself and my own expectations. In “The Hardest Client to Client,” he says:

So here I am, back at the drawing board once again. Coffee rings and scraps of ideas all over the place. I’m going to pin this one down today, oh yes I am. Thing is, it’s a massive job with wandering objectives and no obvious end-point. The client basically wants me to do everything – branding, stationery, website, marketing – with no budget and no brief. Quite what I get out of it is unclear. The crux of the problem (it’s always satisfying when a problem has a nice firm crux, isn’t it?) is that this handsome taskmaster is little old me. The hardest client to client. In theory, it shouldn’t be different from any other job. Just sit down and think about what’s needed and write a brief, then address the brief in an utterly sensible and methodical fashion. Simple, right? But no. Methodical becomes perfectionism becomes obsession and indecision and doubt. Frustration. Time and time again, I realise I’m guilty of all my own client-from-hell pet peeves. My self-imposed deadline falls out the window as best intentions mutate and fragment; decisions get swayed by arbitrary passing fads; and yes, yes I do want to see that logo just a little bit bigger please. No, a bit bigger. Bigger. Read more.


Entrepreneurs and Risk

I think this gets to the root of what makes pioneer-minded people tick:

Here’s my theory: most entrepreneurs aren’t more risk-o-philic than anyone else — they just define risk differently. For some I’ve known, the risk of losing autonomy and control of one’s “destiny” was far riskier than losing “guaranteed” income and benefits. Working for someone else’s company, reporting to a boss, and living under rules they weren’t sure made sense were a lot riskier than creating their own business. The risk of not pursuing their passion, of not making a meaningful and significant impact on the world around them, feels much riskier than starting their own venture. Read More.