The fundamental problem with conservative Reformed theology is . . .

. . .  is that it’s structure of the universe is law-based.  I generally consider my outlook “Reformed” in in terms of seeing redemptive history as good creation by God, corruption by evil, and redemption by God, which ultimately will make the world the way it is supposed to be (see part 4 below). However, I strongly distance myself from just about anything having to do with the various conservative sub-cultures of Reformed theology (especially those who call themselves the Truly Reformed TR). While I know lots of good people in these environments, but systemically it seems to lack the relational presentation of the God of the Bible, and as the president of my school puts it, “Bad systems always swallow good people.” I’ve always wondered why the truly reformed sub-culture systemically tends towards the end of the spectrum away from love and the fruits of the Spirit. Daniel Kirk (Sibboleth) may have provided somewhat of an answer with his great series of posts on the fundamental problem with conservative Reformed theology (BTW: Kirk and I went to the the same seminary; he was  a year ahead of me; I wish I was half as smart as he is). UPDATE: Unfortunately, Kirk took his blog off-line, so all the links are broken. (You can proabably google the blog for the time being and click on the “cached” link).

1.) The Universe (law and the deeper magic); 2.) Ethics; 3.) Atonement; 4.)  What did Jesus Do?: Why the conservative Reformed first loved, then came to despise NT Wright.; 5). Cur Homo (Jesus as man); 6) Why Israel?; 7.) Revealed

In case you aren’t fully convinced that the whole series is worth a sustained read, I’ll try to post enough quotes to really whet your appetite (but they just aren’t as beautiful out of context):

Part 1: The Universe (law and the deeper magic)

. . . The Westminster Standards make this correlation: moral law = covenant of works = Decalogue. . . Westminster Confessional theology is based on the conviction that the Law of God gives ultimate [yes, ultimate] structure to the cosmos.

. . . If you read through Presbyterian books of order, the entire church structure was created with the conviction that the church consists in “courts”. . .. . . When the ultimate structure of the universe is the law, the purpose of the church is then to enforce that law. In other words, the litigious disposition of Presbyterian and Reformed theology is inherent to that community’s understanding of how God’s universe works. . .

. . . Why do folks determine themselves to be in the right if they can crush those who stand in theological opposition?

. . . I don’t believe that Presbyterians can truly overcome their self-devouring dysfunction until they abandon the idea that law is the ultimate force in the universe and the church exists as a court to enact that law on the earth. . .

Part 2: Ethics

“Should the death and resurrection of Jesus transform how we see ourselves acting as faithful followers of God?” The answer I see in the NT is yes, but the legal framework of the conservative Reformed Tradition requires it to say no.

. . . this biblical theology only works by stripping the biblical narratives of the historical particularity which gives them substance—and in so doing leaves Reformed theology without any mechanism for having its ethics influenced by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

On the decontextualization of the texts . . .

[In contrast to this Reformed theology, the NT teaches:] Yes, love your neighbor as yourself. But…We now have a fuller picture of love: Jesus gives us the old command, “love one another,” and yet it is simultaneously a new command: “As I have loved you; greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…”

. . . Christian ethics are cruciform, because the commands of love are tied to a narrative in which God’s great act of love is shown to us in Jesus’ going to death on the cross. . .

. . . the ultimate “is” of the cosmos is not the moral law, but the love of God put on display in the cross of Christ. Thus the ultimate “do” is not “keep the moral law” but rather “embody the cruciform love by which God embraced you to himself.”

. . . We need, a narrative of salvation, and of the cosmos, that writes us into itself by making us truly “Christians”—little Christs, not as District Attorneys and defense attorneys and judges running about declaring the system to which all must conform, but as self-giving lovers of the creation and creatures that God created for our own and God’s own glory.

Part 3: Atonement

One thing that has been a source of continual puzzlement to me over the years is why Reformed Theology has come to put so much weight on theological ideas that are nowhere found in scripture. Two examples:

  1. “imputation the active righteousness of Christ” . . . Jesus keeps the Law, and his record of Law-keeping is reckoned as the believers–and that’s why believers get to be justified. . . Jesus’ merit becomes our merit. . . So what’s the big deal? . . . no NT writer ever says such a thing, nor is it entailed as the deduction of anything else they say. This is a position required by a theological system, but not evidently the system the NT writers were working with (if they had such a thing).
  2. Limited Atonement—infamous “L” in the T-U-L-I-P of five-point Calvinism.

. . . this leaves the Gospels almost completely out of the equation. They are scoured for the 5 or 6 references to “faith” connected with “salvation” that we can use to substantiate justification by faith, and then we turn the rest into proofs that Jesus really is God.

[But in the Gospels,] Jesus heals sick people: he’s not only on mission to remit sin, but the death and decay that according to the biblical narrative were unleashed when humanity ceded its vocation to rule the world on God’s behalf. . .

[Christmas hymn:] “No more let sins and sorrows grow or thorns infest the ground: he comes to make his blessings known far as the curse is found.” That cosmic picture of restoration is what Jesus brings–not only atoning for guilt, but setting humans at one with God, each other, the powers, and creation. . .

Part 4: Why the conservative Reformed first loved, then came to despise NT Wright: (What did Jesus Do?).

. . . two crucial differences:

(1) Wright sees in the OT’s assessment of the “problem” not only sin but also injustice, persecution, groaning creation, etc. In other words, the restoration of the cosmos is going to have to deal with the powers that war against God’s good purposes–powers that are greater than the sum of the rebellion lodged in persons’ hearts.

(2) For Wright the covenants made by YHWH to deal with the problem are covenants established with people in time. This points to the most significant underlying difference in perspective: For scripture and for Wright what matter are

Continue reading

Creation, the biblical version

Our views of creation are integral to any worldview we hold. Along these lines, Margaret Barker has a great article called Creation: the Biblical Version in the 5 September version of the Church Times. Like almost everything else I link to, there will be things to disagree with, but it’s exploration of creation across the breadth of the Bible – and some wider biblical traditions – makes it an important read. [Thanks to the T&T Clark blog]

Topics include: the temple, the six days, Adam, the two trees, atonement, and the kingdom.

Here are a few random paragraphs to whet your appetite.

. . . What Jesus thought about the creation is nowhere set out in the Gospels. Since this is the most pressing question of our times, we have to reconstruct what he and the first Christians could have believed, if we are to make a Bible-based and characteristically Christian contribution to the current debate.

THE STORIES of creation and Eden form the beginning and the end of the Bible story as Christians read it. Genesis describes how things went wrong, and Revela tion shows how they were put right again. In Genesis, human beings lost access to the tree of life; in Revelation, this most fundamental gift was restored to them (Revelation 2.7; 22.14). . . 

. . . “Peace”, shalom, is a temple/creation theology word, meaning everything in its intended place in God’s plan: wholeness, integrity, justice, as well as peace in our modern sense. Peace was often coupled with “righteousness”, meaning Continue reading

What’s your eschatology? Find out with this quiz

Eschatology Quiz: 28 quick clicks – agree or disagree (range of 1-6) – just for fun ;-).
(Thanks: Carl)

Or find out which theologian you are.

Here’s my eschatology score; am I in trouble?
(I won’t make any confessions about my theologian score, or I’d really be in trouble. No, it wasn’t Schleiermacher or Tillich, but I’m definitely not a Lutheran. Choices are: Anselm, Augustine, Barth, Calvin, Edwards, Finney, Moltmann, Schleiermacher, Tillich.)

You scored as a Amillenialist
Amillenialism believes that the 1000 year reign is not literal but figurative, and that Christ began to reign at his ascension. People take some prophetic scripture far too literally in your view.
Moltmannian Eschatology
Left Behind

The Kingdom of God in Matthew (Pennington)

I was following on the reference to Jonathan Pennington (of Greek & Hebrew audio vocab fame) that Schreiner mentions in his CT interview, post, which led me to I came across this great interview of Pennington by Justin Taylor:

. . . Matthew’s “kingdom of heaven” is an important part of his four-fold use of the heaven and earth theme. “Kingdom of heaven” does not stand alone in Matthew, but relates closely to his unique emphasis on the “Father in heaven,” the repeated use of “heaven and earth” pairs, and a subtle distinction he makes between singular and plural forms of the Greek word for heaven. “Heaven’ is indeed a gloss for “God” in Matthew, but not out ofreverential circumlocution, but as part of his elaborate and beautiful heaven and earth theme. Or to put it another way, “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” denote the same thing but connote differently. . .

. . . I would define the kingdom of heaven as God’s coming kingdom in Christ, the great eschatological hope of the NT, and the central theme of the biblical message from Creation to New Creation. The power of Matthew calling it the “kingdom of heaven” as part of his heaven and earth theme is that it puts great emphasis on the contrast between God’s way of doing and ordering and bringing about kingdom (as seen in heaven) compared to humanity’s views and expectations and vision of kingdom or rule (as seen on earth). Matthew picks up on the rich biblical language of heaven and earth (from Gen 1:1 on) and uses it in a contrastive way – to highlight the current tension that exists between God’s reign in heaven and humanity’s reign on earth. This radical contrast is shown through the counter-intuitive nature of Jesus’ teachings (such as the Beatitudes, etc.) and the ways in which he pictures the kingdom of heaven in parables (see the upside-down nature of the teachings in Matt 13 and especially 20:1-16), culminating of course in the ultimate act – the king who rides into town on an ass and then willingly gets beaten, spat on, and crucified. We live now in the time of tension between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth. And notice, then, that at the core of the Lord’s Prayer (which is the precise center of the entire Sermon on the Mount), we are taught this fundamental posture – “Thy will be done; thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is supposed to be our vision and direction and hope. This is beautiful and powerful truth! There’s much more I could say, but I must stop!

What, in your view, is the relationship between the kingdom of God/heaven and the gospel?

This is a good question and one I am constantly asking myself. I would say that the gospel is the message about God’s coming kingdom in Christ. This is undeniable from even the most naïve reading of the Gospels – Jesus was preaching the kingdom. (As an important aside, notice the fascinating Matthean expression, “the gospel of the kingdom” which he uses at three crucial places in the narrative.) This is not to deny or denigrate the importance of justification by faith on the basis of the Cross; this is the means by which any can enter into a king-subject relationship with Christ. But I am consciously understanding the NT’s message as first and foremost kingdom-eschatological centered . . .

Read the whole interview.

Pennington’s book, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Supplements to Novum Testamentum) is only $185 retail ($135 Amazon).

I knew it was all about eschatology (the meaning of life)

I always get a good laugh from my friends when there is some Biblical or theological puzzle, and I lean over quietly and say, “It’s all a matter of eschatology.” See this post by poserorprophet: Eschatology, Ontology, and Meaning: A Rough Sketch

. . . I wonder if our ontological efforts are, in actuality, efforts to restore meaning to a world wherein everything appears to be meaningless, and wherein we no longer even know how to make sense.

(2) However, it also seems to me that any exploration of the question of meaning is inextricably linked to the experience of death. That is to say, it is the profound rupture of death the creates the crisis of meaning in the first place . . .

(5) Of course, the biblical approach to history and time, is one that is thoroughly eschatological. Now, by ‘eschatology’ I mean something closer to a ‘philosophy (or theology) of history’ than to the traditional understanding of eschatology as ‘last things.’ Eschatology is a way of remembering the past (especially the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) and anticipating the future (especially the parousia of Christ) in order to live meaningfully in the present.

(6) Therefore, it is eschatology, and not ontology, that provides us with the proper framework for approaching the question of meaning today. Indeed, by making this assertion, I suspect that I am simply recovering a biblical way of thinking, for I believe that the ontological paradigm is a later (Greek and Latin) imposition upon biblical modes of thought.

(7) Further, I can’t help but wonder if our ontological efforts actually contribute to the problem of meaninglessness that we are experiencing. For, it seems to me, our ontological efforts appear to be a part of our flight from history — from lived experienced — into the realm of timeless abstract truths. When truth is made abstract, then our concrete experiences become dissociated from meaning.

(9) Thus, I simply reassert my point that, if we are to recover a sense of meaning today, the way forward lies within an eschatological paradigm. We must rediscover a biblical theology of history if we are to hope to live meaningfully.

I’m now standing in the front row. . . “Preach on, brother!!” Read the whole post here.

Revelation, the beast, 666, and Emperor Domitian

Over at One Coin at a Time, Brett Telford writes:

The cruelty and executions during his reign of terror were so odius that he [Domitian] earned the nickname “the Beast” amongst Romans, Greeks, Christians and Jews, according to Ethelbert Stauffer in Coniectanea Neotestamentica XI in honorem Antonii Fridrichsen sexagenarii. Ethelbert Stauffer was a German Protestant theologian who held that gematria, the numerology of the Hebrew language and alphabet, could be used to explain the Biblical number 666. Stauffer computed this “Number of the Beast” using the short form of Domitian’s names and titles: Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus Germanicus… which in Greek is: Autokrator Kaisar Dometianos Sebastos Germanikos. The latter abbreviates to A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE and the gematrical formula reads:

A. K A I. Δ O M E T. Σ E B. Γ E. 1+ 20+1+10+4+70+40+5+300+200+5+2+ 3+5 = 666

Telford notes that gematria formulas have also been used to link 666 to Nero.

[Thanks: Ferrel Jenkins. Jenkins’s own publication “Did Domitian Persecute Christian? “is available free in PDF at BibleWorld.]