Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Plain Account of my Perception of Perfection

“I resolved to dedicate all my life to God, all my thoughts and words and actions; being thoroughly convinced that there was no medium; but that every part of my life must be a sacrifice to God” –John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection

Alright, it’s been a few months, but I’m finally ready to dive back into the world of blogging. Brace yourself world…

So, many of you are aware of my interest in John Wesley and early Wesleyan theology. From the majority of my discussions with people about Wesley’s theology, there seem to be two aspects of Wesley’s theology that stir debate. The first is the doctrine of prevenient grace, which flies in the face of most Reformed soteriology. However, the other aspect of Wesley’s theology that stirs debate from both Wesleyans and non-Wesleyans is Wesley’s doctrine of entire sanctification.

To begin, many people view this doctrine as insidious, a charge I disagree with. This doctrine is pulled out of passages such as Matthew 5:48, which says “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. That being said, the doctrine of Christian perfection has many problems. First off, as Wesley himself noted, it would require a high level of naivety to say that people are capable of living without mistakes or temptations. Thus, Wesley was forced to differentiate between “sin properly so-called” (intentional sins) and “sin improperly so-called” (mistakes or sins of ignorance). This is the weakest part of Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection. He knew he had to make concessions to the residual effects of original sin, but he still tried to do honor to what he saw as a scriptural command. This led Wesley to postulate that the perfection that is attainable is perfected love, rather than perfected action. Wesley also noted that even people who seemed to have achieved perfection often fell back into sin. This led Wesley to write that perfection was attainable, but not necessarily permanent. Most crucially, at the outset of his ministry Wesley viewed perfection as necessary for salvation, but he quickly changed his views and wrote that it was a goal worth pursuing, but not necessary for salvation. The final weakness is the propensity of entire sanctification to turn into legalism. It’s not hard to find examples of Wesleyan people who struggle when they fail to reach a point of “perfected love”. In fact, John Wesley himself dealt with this very issue. These issues led many early Methodists (including John’s brother Charles) to either ignore the doctrine, or modify it, a situation that has persisted to this day. On my read, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most Wesley scholars agree that Entire Sanctification is the weak link in Wesley’s theology, and it certainly is the aspect of his doctrine most affected by the enlightenment era in which Wesley lived and ministered. Simply put, Wesley’s doctrine of perfection should never be the cornerstone of vibrant Wesleyan theology.

Nevertheless, Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection manages to address an important call that is discernible throughout Scripture -the need for piety. Even those who disagree with Wesley’s interpretation must come to grips with the unadulterated command to “be holy” found throughout the Bible. Wesley was clearly no proponent of cheap grace, and his call to pursue personal holiness continues to ring true. To this day, the modern emphasis upon praxis fits well into Wesley’s resolve to never be a “half-Christian”. In my opinion, it would benefit those who strive to follow in Wesley’s footsteps to take into consideration the distinct theology of Charles Wesley, who affirmed the call to holiness, yet retained the object of hope as being the final deliverance, rather than an instantaneous deliverance in this lifetime. This move would allow Wesleyans to hold out the command to strive for holiness as a gift of grace, while at the same time avoiding some of the convoluted definitions of sin that John Wesley utilized in order to merge the possibility of an earthly perfection that matched his experience of the lingering effects of original sin.

In conclusion, I feel that the best thing for Wesleyans to do in regards to entire sanctification is to focus upon the journey, rather than the destination. In fact, Wesley himself stated that the key factor in this doctrine was taking on the mind of Christ daily, and looking forward to the absolute perfection that is attainable only in Heaven. Quite frankly, I believe that Wesley’s rejection of “cheap grace”, and his emphasis upon the genuine fruits of the Spirit is eminently relevant to this day. Simply put, I believe that Wesleyan’s must choose to emphasize piety, rather than perfection.


Monday, June 22, 2009


Collie = employed.

As a children's ministry director here:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Happened to the Asbury Room?

This last Sunday, I spent time with a raucous group of people in church singing and dancing along with a spirited band. We sang such spiritual classics as “Johnny Be Good” by Chuck Berry, “Shout” by The Eisley Brothers and (my personal favorite) “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin. Seriously, last Sunday I was part of a group that nearly rocked the windows off in the Asbury Room at First United Methodist Church of Whittier with loud classic rock. Not only that, but this gathering was one of the highlights of my recent Christian walk. Why?

Well, to begin, this was not Sunday morning church. Fear not, we sang even older songs that morning (alas, without drums or distorted guitars). This past Sunday marked my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. Starting at three, my family and roughly 140 others celebrated the two most loving people I’ve ever known. Directly after a re-affirmation of their vows, we all headed to the church’s fellowship hall and spent three hours eating, watching slideshows of old photos, chatting with people we barely knew, and dancing. It was awesome.

Now, the room after which this post is named is something of a hallmark in many Methodist churches. It’s filled with round tables, chairs that probably became dangerous 15 years ago, couches that look like your great-grandmother’s, and is filled with the smell of lasagna dinners, coffee and Ben-Gay. Most importantly, there is an industrial-sized kitchen capable of feeding hordes of famished Wesleyan-Arminians. I’ve been to my share of old Methodist churches, and this type of room (usually named after some former champion of the denomination) is a fixture.

Now, what I love about these churches is that they not only have these rooms, but they get used all the time. Not only that, but they often are used for gatherings that don’t necessarily fit into the realm of “church activities”. Potlucks, social gatherings, anniversary celebrations and even birthday parties are hallmarks of these rooms. To tell the truth, I’ve never seen such a heartfelt sense of community in many younger churches. I mean, I’ve been to coffee shops with art on the walls and pretty decent espresso, I’ve still never seen such an emphasis upon church community as I see in some of those smelly old Asbury rooms.

I guess my question is, why? I mean, “community” has been uttered so many times it’s almost become a tired cliché. On my read, there’s still something mercenary about the ways we do “community”. Especially in some of the more “emergent” communities that I’ve witnessed, there seems to be an ulterior motive to community. Sometimes it feels as if all the talk of “authentic community” is just “authentic marketing”. What I love about these smelly rooms and old churches the fact that the gatherings held in them reflect a deep bond that transcends traditional church activities.

So, what are your suggestions? How should we genuinely foster a feeling of community within our church bodies? All I could come up with would be to value events, milestones and gatherings that have very little to do with “church” activities. I feel it’s a start, but only that. So, what do you, the loyal adventurers think? If our churches want to re-discover the value of community, what are the practical steps? I eagerly await some feedback.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We are all the Walking Wounded

Have you ever lit a candle or used a lighter in pitch-darkness? Even from a tiny flame, the effect from the light is dramatic. Contrast that with lighting a match in the middle of the day. The flame is kind of pretty, but comparably weak. Now, keep that image in your head, I’ll come back to it later.

“Grace” is one of the key words of my generation of Protestants. This is a great thing. At its heart, the gospel is the account of God’s staggering and unmerited love for humanity. Grace, when correctly understood, leads to heightened devotion to God, as well as heightened love for our neighbors. Simply put, it is impossible to dwell too much on God’s fantastic grace in dealing with the world.

One aspect of this heightened awareness of grace is the move away from “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. Once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, and I loved it. I still wouldn’t read it from the pulpit now. A common concern is that too much emphasis placed upon escaping Hell will lead to a disregard of God’s will for this life. Once again, I see the point, and I feel that it’s valid. We must emphasize that God’s salvation is seen in this life, and continues for eternity.

All that being said, I have become wary of something that I have noticed in the theology of many of my peers – the increasing silence on the reality of sin. It’s not that sin is denied, it’s just talked about less. Some thinkers, such as Tony Jones, have taken this so far as to deny the doctrine of original sin entirely. What is more common is to find churches and preachers who seem to keep language concerning sin to a minimum, or emphasize its quantifiable consequences
(environmental degradation, unjust economic practices, war – which are all extemely valid) while miminizing the aspect of our natures that is fundamentally corrupt and invariably causes us to fall away from God and necessitates the need for God’s radical action (Romans 3:23, 6:23). What is tragic about this is the fact I get the feeling that the language of total depravity, sin nature, etc. is dropped because it’s seen as too negative and dark to draw in the lost. In fact, I have come to believe that the doctrines of grace, salvation, redemption and God’s love can only be fully grasped when informed by a robust doctrine of human sinfulness.

Go back to the beginning of this post, when I mentioned the difference between a match in the light and a match in the darkness. The metaphor I would like to use is that God’s grace is that match. When it is lit in the context of our sin, we see its full potential. In a dark room, the light of the match is made very evident. By comparison, without a deep theology of our inherent sinfulness, God’s grace is more like a match in the light – it seems small, almost insignificant. John Calvin emphasized the importance of recognizing our inherent corruption, because he pointed out that doing so not only teaches us humility, it also magnifies the grace of God. In this regard I cannot agree more. On its own, God’s grace is a kind gesture that somehow we take for granted. When paired with an appreciation for the pervasiveness of sin in all of our lives, it becomes a miracle in the truest sense.

Of course, the doctrine of total depravity is a tricky one. As formulated by Augustine and Calvin, it states that our “sin” exists from conception and makes us guilty even before it manifests itself in specific “sins”. John Wesley never (to my knowledge) placed a specific starting point on our guilt, but he did write that total depravity was a non-negotiable Christian belief. The point of this post is not to delve into some of those issues, but merely to assert the importance of the truth expressed in Romans 5:19 and 1 Corithians 15:22, which holds that Adam’s sin is the template for all humanity. That fundamentally, we are drawn to rebel against God, and all of us are so guilty that we can only be saved through Christ’s intervention.

The doctrine of sin illuminates a great many other doctrines. However, on my read, this doctrine is most useful for properly understanding the necessity of the cross. On its own, the cross stands as a horrific tragedy which leaves us wondering why on earth God would require such a violent sacrifice. It is only when we see sin as a fundamental rebellion against God that is an affront to his character that we understand why such drastic measures were needed, as well as understanding how wonderful and gracious God’s love actually is. Also, there is a reason the Bible begins with the creation and subsequent fall of Adam and Eve. It illustrates our own fallenness, but also gives us hope by showing us the state in which we were created, and the relationship that we will one day enjoy with God.

Finally, without a robust doctrine of sin, our relationship with God loses much of its wonder. If our starting point is that we can have a relationship with God as we are, then it’s not hard to reach the conclusion that the way we are is just fine. Also, such thinking has a tendency to place ourselves on a pedestal above others who we deem to be “less worthy” than ourselves. When our starting point is our universal sinfulness, then all of a sudden it is impossible to condemn others, because we know that in God’s eyes were just as lost apart from Jesus (James 2:10). My pastor recently commented on Luke 15:7, where Jesus says, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent”. My pastor pointed out that we could scour the whole earth and never find one person who didn’t need to repent, much less 99, hence the title of this post. The doctrine of sin reminds us that we are all the walking wounded, struck down by our deep-rooted sinfulness. That is why the doctrine of grace is so incredible, it tells us that God saw us as the helpless creatures that we are and loved us anyway.

On its own, the language of sin can be dark, depressing and saddening. This is as it should be, because our sins are dark, depressing and sad (Jeremiah 17:9). However, when the doctrine of sin is considered alongside the rest of Scripture which tells us of God’s actions which restore us to him, the gospel truly becomes “good news”, because we see that God’s love has overcome our sin.

In conclusion, I want to see our churches loudly proclaim the radical good news to the lost. We must proclaim “come as you are” to all who will listen. The truth is that we are all the same. We are all miracles, because we are all enslaved to crushing sin, apart from God’s love. It is only when we can stand back and look in awe at the grace that we have been given, that we will be inspired to call our neighbors to receive it as well.


P.S. I listened to “Hookers and Robbers” by Charlie Hall as I was writing this, and I think this song expresses what I’m thinking quite beautifully. Check it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's the Plan Stan?

In the realm of weight lifting it is a wise decision to keep track of what exercises, number of repetitions, and the amount of weight used each session. This helps the individual set goals, keep track of the progress that they are making, and be very intentional with the use of their time and energy. This sort of mentality can be very useful in many areas of our lives.
One goal of my life is to grow in the knowledge of God’s Word. Recently I was introduced to a “Bible reading system” that has been very beneficial to my life and so I decided I would share it through this blog. Rather than copy and pasting the whole system I will just point you in the right direction and give the reasons why I recommend it.
This system was developed by Professor Grant Horner of the Master’s College. To find out more information you can join his Facebook group by searching for his name. If you are not Facebook savvy then you can download a PDF file by following the link at the bottom of the post. Basically, there are 10 lists of books (the Gospels, the Pentateuch, etc.) in which you read one chapter from each every day. For him, this system made sense because it would help him see the unity of the Bible. His goal was to gain increasing familiarity with the Scriptures and enhance memorization. Note, this did not replace his in depth study of passages.
Now, to whom would this benefit the most? Well… everyone! Although, if you are the type of individual who likes lists, sectioning things off, or is just plain A.D.D. this would probably suit you the best.
Why do I recommend it? Well for starters, it makes you pause after every chapter you read as you switch books and remember where you left off in each story or letter. For me, the continual stopping and starting prevents any form of daydreaming or thinking about what the rest of the day holds. Most importantly, it is a way to keep track and make sure you are reading the whole Bible.
And now I will leave you with a question: do you have any Bible reading habits that you think would be beneficial for others?


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Coffee and Tracts

Hello friends. How’s life? I trust that you are all doing well, staying off the police blotter, and generally out there saving the world from villains, supernatural baddies, and trans-fats. I, on the other hand, have been reading. No, this does not mean I’ve saved any of you from a nuclear meltdown (yet), but I did read one book that has really had me thinking over the last couple of weeks, and I wanted to riff on it in the sincere hopes that I could get some responses from you all. So, here goes.

The other day, I went with my family to the Eclipse Bookstore, in Bellingham. This place was great. There were literally so many used books that there were piles upon piles of them all over the ground, in addition to packed shelves. We ended up wandering for about 45 minutes, and in the end I purchased More Ready Than You Realize, by Brian McLaren. This book concerns evangelism, and it is set in the framework of e-mails between Brian and April, which slowly beautifully describe April’s progression from religious skeptic to believer. Brian uses this correspondence to illustrate what he views as the best mode of evangelism in our day, which he calls “friendship evangelism”. Overall, as I read it I was largely impressed, but it also got me thinking about the task of evangelism as a whole. As someone who studied missions, evangelism is a topic close to my heart, and I’m really hoping to hear your responses on this.

To begin, I commend McLaren for asserting that evangelism is still a vital part of the church’s mission. In McLaren’s mind, the traditional forms of evangelism have become obsolete in our post-modern milieu. Instead of traditional evangelism, which feels like a “sales pitch”, McLaren advocates evangelism made up of conversations over a period of time. McLaren’s goal is obvious, to turn Christian evangelism from a results and conversion-driven endeavor into an organic process driven by conversation rather than agenda. McLaren points out that many of our evangelistic models are derived from the revival heydays of Wesley and Edwards through Billy Graham and Billy Sunday. McLaren states that these methods were effective because they took place in a time when America still embraced its identity as a “Christian Nation”. As such, the average person was more likely to embrace the Gospel, because it appealed to his national identity. However, as our country becomes more and more likely to embrace the designation of “post-Christian”, the cultural religious identity that served the efforts of the evangelists of the past is no longer available. As our culture has changed around us, McLaren writes that Christians have failed to adapt. The statement that the church has been losing its influence over American life is hardly shocking (see this article: In the face of this situation, McLaren states that our churches must embrace their post-modern surroundings in their efforts to evangelize. Specifically, he states that we must abandon any efforts that focus on simply “making converts”, and instead seek ways to engage our neighbors in authentic conversations, which he feels will lead to both better numerical results, and more devoted followers.

As I read this book, I came away impressed for two main reasons. The first aspect that impressed me was that, by writing this book using the format of shared e-mails, McLaren demonstrated that evangelism is an exercise that we are all capable of. In McLaren’s model, the preeminent tool in the evangelism toolbox is genuine friendship. He states that the shift in America’s religious culture has removed the underlying sentiment that being “American” entails embracing “Judeo-Christian Values”. Thus, the age when preachers could appeal to these values when speaking to an audience of strangers and get a response is past. In my mind, this is not necessarily a tragedy, because it removes the excuses that we could use to pass on the work of evangelism. When this work was carried out in churches by preachers, gifts such as public speaking, personal charisma and apologetics were key components. When the venue in which evangelism takes place moves from the church to a coffee shop, park or home, the Church is no longer reliant solely upon “preachers” to reach the lost. When friendships are already in place, discussions of heavier matters are likely to occur. In the world of friendship-evangelism, Christians must be ready to seize the opportunity to speak honestly and openly about their faith on these occasions.

Even more impressive to me was the concept of taking what is “mundane” and making it “sacred”. This is more than merely a “church phenomenon” (I recommend reading David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise to see what I mean about this being a widespread trend). What McLaren hints at is that we as Christians must see our day-to-day lives as being filled with opportunities to both live out and speak about our faith. These chances are often spontaneous and unscripted. McLaren states (and I agree) that this is how it should be. Evangelism for today is most effective when it is allowed to function within the daily routines of our lives. Thus, if we want to see our loved ones drawn into a relationship with Christ, me must resist the temptation to write off our daily existence as “secular”, “mundane” or “average”. Of course, we want to avoid being so agenda-driven that we turn off the friends we hope to see saved. Instead, we must be constantly praying that God would work in these opportunities and allow us to share our faith in large or small ways. Thus, the commonplace parts of our lives take on spiritual significance. I feel that this is something that the church must understand, so that we may seize as many of these opening as possible.

Of course, McLaren’s book is far from perfect. In fact, as I read I found that I agreed with most of what he said, but I was nervous about the things that he left out. For example, in our culture, have all traditional forms of evangelism (apologetics, evangelistic outreaches, etc.) become obsolete, or must we just change how we utilize them? What sorts of knowledge would be helpful in this endeavor? For me, the most glaring absence was there seemed to be a lack of urgency. Of course, we cannot rush the work of the Holy Spirit, but I still wished that I had seen a greater sense of desperation to reach the lost. I feel that evangelism is necessary for two reasons. The primary reason is that God loves the lost, and calls us to introduce them to his love. The second is because the Bible warns of the consequences for those who reject God’s overtures. I never want to devolve into a “hellfire and brimstone” kind of guy, but I do feel that this reality should energize us to pray all the harder for the lost, and seek opportunities to share, and I missed the sense of urgency that should come with the task of evangelism. Overall, despite these critiques, I felt that this book was a pleasant surprise, and very helpful. Most of all, McLaren reminds us that the front lines of evangelism are often our homes, shops, places of employment and restaurants, rather than in the pews. After reading this book, I was reminded that the best thing our churches can do in order to reach the lost is proclaim Biblical truth, find effective ways of loving our communities, and impressing upon their congregations the fact that evangelism is best accomplished by them, Monday through Saturday.

Anyway, now that I’ve ranted, I really covet your thoughts. How is evangelism best carried out? Which methods, if any, should we abandon or modify? What role does dogmatic theology play in evangelism? What are some ways to energize the church for evangelism? Comment early, comment often.

Many thanks,
P.S. I know that Brian McLaren is something of a divisive figure in the Evangelical world. I haven't read that much of his stuff, and most of the other stuff he's written I've been more or less unimpressed with. That being said, I did find this book interesting. I guess I would say that I think this book is worth reading (carefully), but I can't speak for much of his other material.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Least Favorite Part of Wisdom

I’ll begin this post with a confession: I’m not nearly as diligent as I should be with my devotional life. Over the past several years my dedication in this regard has waxed and waned, and this last year I really began to feel the need to re-dedicate myself to consistent time in Scripture, and so far this year has been a modest success in this regard. Anyway, the first book I read this year was the book of Proverbs, and as I read it I encountered many of the themes that I expected – avoid adulterous women (and men), fear God and seek wisdom, work hard and live honestly, etc. All of it was really good stuff and things that I needed to be reminded of. However, pretty early on in my reading I noticed a theme kept popping up that I had not expected, and it was on the importance of correction. That’s right…correction. I admire those of you who read the last sentence without the urge to roll your eyes. Unfortunately, I did have the urge to roll my eyes, which goes to show why this lesson is one that I needed (still need).

I suppose the reason for my reticence in this regard of Proverbs is obvious. Correction is not a fun experience, and for me it is especially difficult. There is a sense of self-sufficiency that I often feel I’m entitled to, and the crucial nature of correction clearly has to battle this in me. Fortunately, the book of Proverbs doesn’t stop at “accept correction”. It demonstrates that correction is foundational in the pursuit of something greater – wisdom.

That is what got my attention. No matter how I feel about being corrected, I sincerely yearn for wisdom. That’s why I decided to dive right in to Proverbs, I wanted to grow in that area. What struck me is how unambiguous the book of Proverbs is – correction is a crucial part of the search for wisdom (Prov. 13:18). Not only that, correction is seen as being a lifelong need, not something that can ever be outgrown (Prov. 9:9). It seems that not matter how greatly God blesses a person with wisdom, they still require correction from others. Of course, this makes sense when one takes into account the doctrine of human depravity. Even those who hold to the doctrine of holiness can acknowledge the need for correction. This is why John Wesley repeatedly emphasized his belief that, even those who had reached a level of “perfection” still were capable of making mistakes, and always had room to grow (see A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, chapter 12). In fact, as I read Proverbs I see the need to utterly re-define correction. Instead of accepting correction as a necessary drudgery on the path to wisdom, I need to see it as an actual blessing from those who care (Prov. 15:31-33). So there, correction is a bigger deal than I thought it was. So what?

All this reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ assertion that pride is the most dangerous sin that we are capable of committing, because at its heart pride thrives on competition, the assertion that we are inherently superior to the people, expectations or morals around us. Reading Proverbs inspired me to meditate more on the subtle ways that pride (and therefore a resistance to correction) creeps into my life. It also caused me to look at many of the churches I have observed (fortunately none of my recent church homes) in which there seems to be an inability for the body to correct those in authority until it is too late. This is a shame because it not only harms the congregation, it also harms those in authority by taking away the opportunity to be constructively corrected until it is too late. So, I guess my question for you is this: how can our churches better embody a willingness to be corrected often? I am interested in practical ways that the whole body can take on an attitude of genuine humility. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. I’ll leave you with this final thought, from Hebrews 12:9-11. I hope it sums things up for you like it did for me.

"Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."


By the way, I’m currently reading The Rebirth of Orthodoxy by Thomas Oden. Even though it is aimed at mainline churches, I’m finding it a to be a fascinating take on the necessity for responsible, orthodox (small “o”) ecumenism. I recommend it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Am I Rational?

Recently I had a conversation with a friend where I mentioned that I was reading Lee Strobel's “The Case for Christ.” My concession was met with a bit of hesitation. This sort of hesitation seems to be prevalent among many of my friends.

I remember sitting in a philosophy class one day and we were talking about one philosopher’s view of faith (I’m sure you philosophy people will know who it was that we were talking about). The teacher drew on the whiteboard a stick figure climbing up a set of stairs to God. Each of the stairs was a so called "truth" that made the leap of faith to God that much shorter. Then, next to the steps was a stick figure who had dug a whole in the ground, contrary to reason, and thus his leap of faith was much larger. I remember the class thought it would be much better to be the stick figure in the hole so that God would get all the more glory from the larger leap. This sort of attitude always struck me as strange and a bit naïve (and reminded me of the kind of logic that lead to Paul's famous rhetorical question in Romans 6:1).

It seems to me that we have a God who has always proved Himself to be trustworthy and true. Though He is in no way obligated to mankind, He has decided to enter into covenants and make promises. In His covenant dealings He is always shown to be faithful and His promises He always keeps. When Jesus came He performed miracles and fulfilled prophecies. One place where we see both is in Matthew 11 when John the Baptist’s disciples ask if Jesus is the one who is to come or should they look for another. Jesus answers them by referring to a prophecy from Isaiah 35 “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:5 ESV) Jesus doesn’t answer them with a simple “yes” and expect them to be satisfied with that. Instead, He refers to His own actions as His Messianic claim.

Here is my question, is it not a rational decision to trust a trustworthy person?

(disclaimer - I'm not saying that rationality automatically leads to faith. There is this thing called repentance that needs to be there too and the Holy Spirit's working. Also read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 in reference to this discussion.)


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why theology? Why?

What are we to do with theology? There was a time when a greater sense of optimism reigned, and theologians labored under the hopes that, with the right methods, theology could reach a consensus concerning the meaning of revelation, Christology, historicity, and whether or not Tupac was still alive (well, three out of four). For a wide variety of reasons, such optimism has not reigned within the field of theology for quite some time, and it poses the question, why? If theology is bound to be an exercise that will never achieve its end goal, why continue to practice it? What about the negative effect that theology can have? Does it have value for the everyday life of the Church? These are all valid questions, and they are worth wrestling with. To begin, I believe one of the positives that have come out of this line of questioning is a more humble approach. Those who practice theology have a tendency to do so with an awareness of the pitfalls that they must deal with when attempting to ascertain the ways of God. Of course, it is worth asking whether a chastened approach is enough to make theology a worthwhile pursuit, and I believe that it is. Simply put, I strongly hold that theology is a lasting part of the Church’s role on this earth, and that it is worth the time and effort necessary to make theology accessible and relevant for the body of Christ. Thus, the point of this first entry is to demonstrate what I have seen as some of the weaknesses of this pursuit, as well as the reasons I have found to commit ourselves to responsible theology.

To be perfectly honest, the practice of theology is an easy target, and in many cases this is justified. It is not hard to find examples of dangerous sides of theology. Church schisms, arrogance, and the loss of childlike faith as the result of theological inquiry are just a few of the dangers of the idolization of theology. And yet, those who would propose that we simply rid ourselves of academic theology are often misinformed or overly optimistic. While I think it’s going too far to categorize theology as a “necessary evil”, to a certain extent it is only necessary as a response to our human brokenness. However, there is more to theology than a defense against sin. At its heart, theology is a joyful exercise, because it privileges us to be able to venture into God’s mysterious realms (hence the title of this blog). That’s what this first post is about, it’s about why I feel the study of theology is worth our time and efforts, despite its flaws.

On my read, this discussion has to begin with the flaws in theology. Simply put, theology was never intended to be complete, there are too many weaknesses inherent in our approach. The first weakness in theology is that it is systematic. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way out of this predicament. As humans our mode of thinking demands a systematic approach. Of course, the God of the Bible defies our systems and our ways of thinking, for he is in no way systematic. This is both a flaw and a strength of theology as we know it. On the one hand, even our best efforts will fall short of understanding the one we seek to understand. On the other hand, any God that fits into the systems that we create is hardly worth the effort of studying, much less worshipping. So, we who study theology must be content to live with the fact that our method will never achieve its stated aim, which is to understand the ways of a God who defies comprehension.

The second great weakness of theology is like the first, in that it is rooted in language. Just as God is not limited by systems, neither is he limited by language. Of course, this does not assist in our attempts to comprehend God’s truth. However, the fact of the matter is that theology is a constant struggle to find the language that most accurately sums up a God who defies the very language we rely on. So, just as our efforts to understand God through our systematic way of thinking are doomed from the start, so also is our reliance upon language to grasp a God who is beyond definition.

Finally, to lift from Brunner’s Christian Doctrine of God, a final objection to the study of theology is the assertion that it would be preferable to maintain a strictly Biblical theology, and dogmatic or systematic theology can have the effect of setting up an objective authority outside of scripture. In fact, the very reality that academic theology exists seems to go against the doctrine of sola scriptura. As protestants, and particularly as evangelicals, there is an understandable desire to trust solely in the revelation of scripture, and the dogmatic nature of theology seems to go against this noble goal.

In the face of these valid concerns, the question remains – why devote our attention to theology? Is theology simply an ivory-tower exercise with no edifying value for the Church at large? Well, this may come as no surprise, but I have come to believe that theology, despite its weaknesses, plays a vital role in the life of the Church. The first reason to pay attention to theology is the fact that theology has long been viewed as a necessary component in the Church’s role as a teacher. Whether it takes place in the context of confirmation classes, the creation and memorization of creeds, or the use of apologetics to defend the faith, the study of theology has been an integral part of the Church’s mission from the outset. To me, the story of Priscilla and Aquilla’s correction of Apollos’ theology is revealing in that Acts 18 states that Apollos’ ministry benefited from his improved theology. Simply put, from the outset the Church has recognized the need for dogmatic theology which is teachable and systematic, both as a teaching method and as a defense against heresy. Dogmatic theology is not intended to supplant Biblical theology, but to provide it in a simpler form, and the Church has consistently used it in this manner.

Of course, theology will always fail to grasp the fullness of God. On my read, this is actually an advantage for theology, when carried out properly. The greatness and otherness of God should incite the theologian to be more awed and in love with the God they seek to understand. Unfortunately, theology can often lead to arrogance, when the emphasis is placed upon our knowledge rather than God’s greatness (Eph. 8:1). However, the goal of theology is to devote our minds to knowing God more, and when this is done in true humility, the end result will always be like that of Job, who saw his questions float away when he came into the presence of God. If we could all experience what Job did, then surely our need for academic theology would be exhausted, as it will be in the next life. However, until this takes place, the careful study of God’s revelation is an opportunity to appreciate the truth he has revealed, and to be awed by the truths that are beyond our comprehension. As Proverbs 2:1-6 states, God rewards those who pursue him by rewarding them with wisdom and understanding. So, while one key purpose of theology is to grasp God’s gift of self-revelation, another purpose of theology is to instill a sense of wonder due to the fact that God is too awesome and complex to ever be fully understood.

Finally, theology has a final use as a defense against heresy and incorrect understandings of scripture. Of course, this should not be understood as a statement against the sufficiency of scripture. As an evangelical, I strongly believe that all theology must be responsibly drawn from scripture. However, it is evident that it is all too easy to misunderstand or misuse scripture. This is partly due to human depravity, and our ability to twist the Bible to fit our own ends (Eph. 4:14), and also due to our simple naivety (Rom. 16:18). In fact, it is revealing to look back to early Church history, and note that within 400 years the Church had found it necessary to adopt the Nicene Creed in order to combat incorrect scriptural teachings. Once again, this is a tricky doctrine, because it would be easy to understand what I am saying as an attack on the sufficiency of the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible must be the foundation of all theology. However, history has repeatedly demonstrated that people are very capable of misusing scripture. Therefore, theology serves as a further guard against the misuse of scripture, by delineating a set of truths that that have been affirmed by scripture as well as tradition. Overall, the Church has always seen fit to utilize theology as a set of defenses against those who would misappropriate God’s word, and because this danger persists so too does the usefulness of academic theology.

In the end, theology is a flawed discipline, which must be used with caution. It is intended to be taken on with an attitude of humility and awe. Overall, the odd characteristic of theology is that it has an impossible goal. The goal is to understand God, his truths, and his self-revelation. This task will never be completed in our current state. Nevertheless, theology still has a great many uses. When practiced correctly, it is intended to continually draw us closer to God by increasing our awareness of his self-revelation, and amazement at his grace and attributes. As long as we live we are capable of knowing and loving God more, and the study of theology plays a crucial role in this process.

Saturday, April 18, 2009



Welcome to the newest, hippest place in the blogosphere! (we wish)Sincerely, thanks for stopping by. We'd like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about Adventures in the Archetypes, and why we wanted to put this together.

First off, we are Danny Marriott and Collie Coburn. We've known each other since elementary school in Hesperia, CA, and we have a lot in common. We both play drums, neither of us are very tall, we are pretty nerdy, and we both enjoy theology. Over the past six years, as we've gone to college and then graduate school, we've developed our own theologies, and have found some areas in which we diverged (Collie reads John Wesley, Danny reads John Owens) and others in which we agree (the need for greater charity during theological debate, ministry strategies). Also, we think Chad Smith is a killer drummer.

Anyway, over the last couple of months we have been kicking around the idea of publishing a blog where we, as friends, can discuss our theological stances, agreements and disagreements. Hence, this website. However, we also had a series of goals for this blog, and they are as follows

1. We intend for our theology to be accessible. This ain't dissertation material, we want everyone to be able to interact with it.
2. We want it to be good. It seems obvious, but we intend to put a lot of effort into what we post, and we want it to educate and provoke those who read it.
3. We want it to be charitable. Our camaraderie within the body of Christ trumps our divergences.

So, that's the idea behind this blog. If it sounds intriguing, we would love for you to sign up to follow it, and comment liberally. Most of all, we know that this will be a place where our own ideas will be shaped and tested, and we'd love to have you along for the ride.

Danny and Collie