Update: My Beliefs as of Now

1) Christian, by which I mean that I identify as a person whose primary object of faith and lifestyle is the Jesus of the so-called New Testament, subsequent Christian writings, and antecedent Hebrew story. I believe that God’s good creation has become incomplete, and that salvation, in the holistic sense, is the redemptive renovation of the creation by the power of the Holy Spirit through the atonement of Christ. The effect of this salvation is restored relationship between individuals, families, and communities with God and, potentially, each other.

2) Trinitarian, by which I mean to believe in ONE GOD in three persons. I believe in God the Father, the “Son” of God, and the Holy Spirit. However, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are ONE GOD. So I believe.

3) Protestant. My formulation of Protestantism is basically the belief that the church does not consist so much of an institution as it does baptized people who put faith in Jesus Christ. I believe that to be officially considered ecclesiastical (part of the church), a person must be baptized. (This is different in my view from saying a person must be baptized in order to be made righteous.) Baptism is the initiation rite into the church, I think. Despite my Protestantism, I am staunchly critical of certain aspects of the Reformed movement as I’m convinced it tends to oversimplify and distort important aspects of justice, guilt, atonement, and theology by essentially trying too hard to systematize God in ways that often neglect original historical contexts in favor of imagined Biblical contexts. (A bad idea, in general.)

4) Sacramental. I believe in two central sacraments, namely, baptism and the Eucharist. These are activities that Christians are supposed to partake of. I’m currently not wholly conviced of what they mean ontologically, myself.

5) Miracles. I believe that God can and does override the normal, sustained behavior of the world. For example, I believe that Jesus’ crucified body was resuscitated AND resurrected. A resurrected body is different, but is still a physical representation of the dead person. I believe that Jesus performed miracles. I also think that God does and has done miracles in non-Christian cultures to make a point about himself and to bring healing to communities outside the reach of Israel and the church. I reject the general Enlightenment denial of miracles.

6) Eschatology. I believe there will be an end of the current mode of existence that we know. Creation will not be destroyed, however, but reborn to be creation as it should have been. A new heaven and a new earth would mean that the whole cosmos has been born again, and not forsaken. (“For he cannot deny himself.”)

7) Origenism. I freaking love Origen. Yeah, he thought some weird stuff, but who doesn’t, right? Gregory of Nyssa is currently my favorite church father, and he, along with the other Cappadocian Fathers was a staunch Origenist. Origenism segues well into my eighth article of faith.

8) Patristic Biblical Eschatological Purgatorial Christological Universalism. I believe that at some time during or after the Eschaton, all sinners will more or less freely choose to be reconciled to God. Origen was the first person to explicitly propose this. I agree with him, and think that the position is arguably supported by the Bible. He famously wrote something to the effect that “as long as there is one sinner in hell, Christ remains on the cross.”

9) Liberation theology. I’m very drawn to it. I think some forms of it–see Jürgen Moltmann, for example–are excellent and shed much light upon the Good News that Christ preached.

10) Inspiration and Prophecy. Prophecy is not foretelling, but forth-telling, and comes in a myriad of forms. The prophets wrote as the were “moved by the Holy Spirit.” This makes Prophecy (Scripture) a special gift of God, graciously revealing truth through the Prophet that is at least basically understandable to the average person.

Southern Baptists Resolve to Racial Reconciliation

At the link,

http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/2254/on-racial-reconciliation ,

the Southern Baptist Convention publicly resolves to fulfill racial reconciliation. One of my favorite things about the Southern Baptist movement is that although it is a historical movement, it is continuously reforming based on their commitment to rethinking (repenting). Southern Baptists aren’t perfect, as they would readily admit, but I believe that as a whole they are living in the mission of the church to display the radical, self-giving love of Christ. Their resolutions present a challenge to other Christian movements, encouraging us to always be reforming ourselves, our Christian communities, and our greater socio-geographical communities. As an alumnus of a Southern Baptist University, I am proud to acknowledge this institution as a part of my own personal story and heritage. May I be so committed to Jesus Christ, as well.

Jesus the Penultimate Hipster

Jesus was a hipster. He didn’t really fit any molds back in the day. He wasn’t another gnostic philosopher encouraging people to screw earthly things and set their hopes on a spiritual escape. (“Your kingdom come on earth…”) He wasn’t another Jewish revolutionary, trying to make his way by the sword and thereby getting killed for it. (“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” and “My kingdom is not of this world.”) Jesus was a totally different person.

He was different in that he challenged the Jewish approach to waiting for “the kingdom of God.” He once said, “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Quite the slap in the face to a people waiting! He also challenged the non-Jews when he insisted that “salvation is of the Jews.”

Jesus was kind of a boss, no matter which way you put it. But what was he all about? What did he really want? Of course, there are about a thousand answers to this question that are given again and again. I’ll share one of mine and let you think about it yourself.

I think Jesus was here to bring deliverance. As I learned from N. T. Wright last year, Jesus was intentionally evoking images from Exodus. For crying out loud, he staged his crucifixion on the Passover, a holiday that was originally inventing during the Exodus in celebration of God’s salvation from the oppression of the wicked Pharoah. Since Exodus is the story that Jesus evoked in his life and public ministry, I agree with Wright that we should look back to the Exodus story to find hints concerning what it was Jesus wanted to accomplish.

For starters, Exodus represented the free and sovereign movement of God in his unrestrained glory to rescue his people, as he promised to their forefather that he would. The God of the Hebrews is a covenant God. He makes promises, and he keeps them. In the Exodus, God rescued the Hebrews from Pharoah. In Jesus, God rescued the whole creation, making it new. My answer is Paul’s answer. “…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.”

Why then, is the world so messed up, if it has been reconciled? I will not even pretend to solve this classic question, but I will offer some of my thoughts. If God is good as I believe, then it must be good of him to suspend his final eschatological intervention in order to allow Jesus’ followers to remake the broken systems and people of our world. I trust him to be doing the right thing. I have found reason to trust in the God who raised the buried Jesus from the dead.

Maybe you are reading this and you’re frickin’ tired of Christians. Maybe the Christians you know we’re oppressive to gay people. Maybe they’re voting for a bigot candidate. Maybe they’re so heavenly minded that they’re of no earthly good. I encourage you, do not mistake a Christian for Jesus himself. Jesus did not have these problems. Jesus saw the temporal injustice of the earth and hated it. His solution wasn’t to postpone fixing everything until heaven. His solution was to heal real people now. An ancient serial killer now known as the Paul the “Apostle” said, “I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” He believed that in Christ, he was already healed and reconciled to God now on this earth even before any heavenly solutions appeared. Paul devoted his whole life to helping other people escape their “lives” of self-hatred, others-hatred, sexual brokenness, laziness, racism, spousal abuse, debauchery, and hopelessness. If Paul, a serial killer (he was kind of like a member of ISIS before Jesus interrupted him) could find new life in Jesus now, then I am confident that all of us can.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you totes disagree with something in the post, have questions, or otherwise would like to chat.

Why I am Obsessed with Universalism

I’m obsessed with universalism. I regard it as such a excellent idea! What if God actually intends to make all individuals new? I believe that we can be confident that whatever God does is best. If universalism is the best thing for God to do, we can rest assured that he will do it. If it is not, then we can rest assured that he will not do it.

“…But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.” (2 Samuel 14:14)

“For he must reign until he has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)

Limited Atonement Compatible with Universalism

I was talking to one of my Reformed friends the other day–some reasons why I don’t identify as “Reformed” coming later–and I realized that Limited atonement, the “L” in the Calvinistic “TULIP” acronym, is actually compatible with Universalism. Listening to my friend, I found it illuminating to recognize that part of the problem with universalists (like myself) is that we are talking past particularists. For me, universalism is primarily an eschatological view, whereas it appears that to particularists, universalism looks like a soteriological view. But now I think I understand what particularists mean by “Limited atonement.”

My Reformed friend said, “Limited atonement means that the atonement only applies to people who are saved.” That is, Limited atonement means that only those who have faith in Jesus Christ are the recipients of the atonement. As a universalist, I completely agree with that statement. How? I am a universalist because I believe that God will continue to devise opportunities in the afterlife for each individual to be reconciled to him through faith in Jesus Christ. Universalism doesn’t mean that people can be “saved” without putting faith in Jesus Christ. This obviously undermines basically the point of Christianity, that the Good News is “power to salvation for everyone who believes.”

An afterlife approach to universalism–the only one that I tend to regard as feasible in Christianity–kind of sounds like a version of the Parable of the 100 Sheep, in which Jesus leaves 99 safe sheep to find 1 lost sheep. It is difficult for me to believe that in the New Jerusalem, God will leave scores of people in hell. Shall he then leave the 1 to find the 99? But the parable has it the other way around.

So while Unitarian Universalists are running around as Pluralists in disguise, listen to some Trinitarian Universalists, including Robin Parry and Jason Pratt. I would be lying if I counted Barth among the convinced universalists, but he acknowledged it as possible. The legendary Eastern Orthodox academic and cleric, Timothy “Kallistos” Ware also regards universalism as possible, along with Brad Jersak and David Bentley Hart. To my knowledge, even a few important Roman Catholic clerics identify as universalists as well. Augustine wrote that many, driven by “compassion,” were universalists in his day. Origen of Alexandria was a universalist, and it appears that Gregory of Nyssa was as well, although it this sometimes disputed. The point is this: universalism is far from confined to the theologically incompetent. I believe it has much support.

Here, I quote the very verse that caused me to question my former rejection of universalism. “We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.” (2 Samuel 14:14 ESV)

And if a man has a hundred sheep and one of them is lost, shall he not leave the ninety-nine sheep to find the one?

A Case for Universalism in 1 Cor. 15

It is often claimed that the holistic Biblical witness prevents key statements from being able to be read in support Universal Reconciliation (UR), where UR is the belief that ultimately, all individuals will be reconciled to a salvific relationship with God the Father. This belief is, in fact, compatible with a purgatorial doctrine of hell. Hell, though a painful and tragic reality, does not have to be understood as final according to the UR position.

I would like to offer a lay reading of 1 Corinthians 15 in support of UR. This passage has been seen by some as supportive of UR, especially in verses 22 and 28. (The Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa himself, appears to have drawn heavily from 1 Cor. 15:28 in his Eschatological musings that are famous in some circles for being suggestive of UR.) I quote 1 Cor. 15:22 and 28 below.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22)

“When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28)

Due to the limits of my background (I am a chemist and not a Biblical exegete), I can only offer a lay reading of the text. For a more academic reading (that does not favor UR), please visit the site of Jeremy Bound. Although I disagree with Bound’s non-UR reading of 1 Corinthians 15:22, his reasoning (and citing!) in the link here is excellent.

As I understand it, the rejection of UR in 1 Cor. 15:22 is predicated on the ability of verses in the surrounding context of 1 Corinthians itself to limit the scope of the all who are in Christ. The verse, taken by itself, seems to be clear that all shall be made alive in Christ. Commentators appeal to other verses to demonstrate the invalidity of a UR reading.

One of the biggest problems that I have with this approach is that 1 Cor. 15:22 is itself a part of the context. Does that make sense? In other words, to ignore the effect of verse 22 upon the surrounding context is in a sense to ignore the surrounding context. Verse 22 is itself, after all, a part of the context! I think that discrediting the role of the independent meaning of 1 Cor. 15:22 upon the surrounding contexts is as wrong as ignoring the role of, say, 1 Cor. 15:18 upon 1 Cor. 15:22. The meaning of 1 Cor. 15:22 as an individual verse itself is also a part of the context that must be considered when interpreting the verse and the rest of 1 Cor. 15. Why insist that 1 Cor. 15:18 clarifies the context when it is possible that 1 Cor. 15:22 is meant to clarify the context, for example?

To begin with, the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians follows an internal logic that goes something like this:

  1. In verses 1-11, Paul introduces the idea that the Good News is centrally concerned with Jesus’ resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was real. Among his many Pastoral reminders, Paul mentions the Christian doctrine of the actual, historical resurrection of Christ from the dead.
  2. In verses 12-19, Paul points out that without Christ’s resurrection, those who have fallen asleep in Christ would not be raised. The Good News of New Creation and Biblical eschatology would therefore be false. Paul took the time to emphasize resurrection probably as a result of the teaching of some in the Corinthian church that there is no resurrection of the dead (v12). For Paul this was problematic for a host of reasons, including the effect that the absence of true resurrection would have upon ethics, eschatology, and soteriology. Additionally, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then those who “have fallen asleep in Christ” have perished (v13-19). Paul believes that exhortation regarding the doctrine of resurrection will help the Corinthian church overcome some of its Pastoral problems.
  3. By introducing his discussion about resurrection with 1) the Good News about the resurrection of Christ and 2) the importance of resurrection, Paul is set to write a beautiful description of the Christian eschatological hope in verses 20-28. Since Christ’s resurrection was real, the Good News, New Creation, and Biblical eschatology are all genuine realities.

Following the argument of 1 Cor. 15, I propose the following:

  1. The internal logic of 1 Corinthians 15 specifies that the purpose of 20-28 is to undermine the teaching that there is no resurrection of the dead and to reinforce the role of resurrection in the Good News.
  2. It would be a mistake to propose that emphasis of 20-28 is to reassure the Corinthian church that “those who have fallen asleep in Christ” have not perished. Certainly it is an outcome of 20-28 that the resurrection of all who have fallen asleep in Christ is guaranteed. But it is not, I believe, the purpose of these verses. The logic of chapter 15 seems to suggest that the purpose of verses 20-28 is the insistence on and the proclamation of the Christian resurrection hope.
  3. It is at least plausible that verse 22 teaches that all shall be made alive in Christ and that the surrounding contexts–of 1 Corinthians 15, the letter as a whole, the totality of the Pauline canon, and the complete Biblical witness–do not fundamentally contradict this teaching. Read in light of 23-28, a UR interpretation of 22 becomes even more likely.

Where does all of this leave a doctrine of UR? If UR is to be read in 1 Corinthians 15, it must be read in the periphery of the text as it itself does not seem quite central per se to Paul’s argument. Paul’s argument is only of immediate concern to the truth of the Good News that Christ was raised from the dead and that therefore the Corinthian church will be raised from the dead. Interestingly enough, this is exactly what we find in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul is dealing with a Pastoral concern of immediate importance: the Corinthian church is wishy-woshy about the resurrection of Christ. He deals with it by illustrating the centrality of resurrection in exactly what the Good News is all about: New Creation and an eschatology of hope.

Verse 20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The concerns that Paul mentions in 12-19 are nullified by the truth of the matter. “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” Not only that, but Christ is the firstfruits–the first of many sisters and brothers–who have died.

Verses 21-22:For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Reminiscent to Romans 5:18-19, Paul points out that now, in Christ, the resurrection of the dead is now a reality equal to death itself. A man, Adam, caused death for all. Now, another man, Christ, caused life for all. Now in the English translation that I have quoted here (the English Standard Version), I could see how one might easily say, “Now wait a minute. Only those who are in Christ shall be made alive. All who are in Christ shall be made alive, but not all are in Christ!” Fair enough. Theologically, there aren’t any immediate problems that come from looking at it like this. But the problem goes like this, as far as my lay self is capable of telling. These exegetes, including those who reject a UR reading of verse 22, don’t seem to take this line of argument. They seem to agree that by itself, 22 does literally say that all people will be made alive in Christ. Non-UR readings for verse 22 come from the surrounding context of chapter 15.

Verses 23-25:But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Paul just stated that in Christ all shall be made alive. “But wait a second,” one of the Corinthian intellectuals that Paul responded to in chapters 1-2 retorts. “We are not all alive! In fact, some of us have died (‘fallen asleep’). When shall all be made alive, Mr. St. Paul?” Paul replies happily, “…each in his own order.” Now, I am borrowing a suggestion Thomas Talbott here, but I would point out with him that for Paul, the order is a three-stage process. First, Christ the firstfruits; second, those who belong to Christ immediately at his coming; third, the end comes. I suggest that if UR is to be read into 1 Cor. 15, it should be read in the third stage in the progress.

Verses 26-28:The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” Wow. I love these verses. What does it mean for God to put his enemies under the Son’s feet? It means for his enemies to be put in subjection to him. This becomes astounding, when one reads in the next verse that the Son himself will also be subjected to God the Father. I did not notice this myself until Thomas Talbott pointed it out, but in the immediate context of this verses, it seems to be that the Son will reign until even his enemies come to be in the same subjective relationship to the Son that the Son himself will have with the Father. (This reminds me of John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all to myself.”)

In conclusion, then, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 appears to at the very least strongly suggest that at some point in the future, all shall be made alive in Christ. This apparently includes Christ’s enemies, who through the coming ages of his reign will themselves be brought into the same kind of subjection to the Son that the Son himself will be brought into beneath the Father. This will not (cannot) happen at the immediate return of Christ, because not all are in subjection to the Son yet, and that is why Paul only mentions those “who have fallen asleep in Christ” when he mentions those who will be made alive at the coming of Christ. this should not be surprising, and I do not think it should be understood to erase the possibility of UR.

I would further comment that Paul mentioned in a previous chapter of the same letter the importance of faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13). I believe that faith that all shall be made alive in Christ; hope that all shall be made alive in Christ; and love for all, who shall  be made alive in Christ fits best with a UR reading of 1 Cor. 15.

However, I insist that I read this as a layman. I therefore should not be understood as carrying any intrinsic authority. If my thoughts are helpful to you, reader, then well and good. Do remember, though, that your whole existential duty is not to me but to God, the lover of your life and the beauty of your being.

The Absurdity of Double Predestination

If Calvinism logically entails double predestination, then I contend that it logically entails the worship of an unbeautiful–perhaps even wicked–god. I would not be the first to point out that the act of creation itself would be rendered a cruelty by the ordained deriliction of lives into hell of any sort (D. B. Hart). If there is to be a hell, its doors must be locked from the inside (C. S. Lewis). Otherwise, we must conclude that it is the Lord of life himself who populates death row. And that, is to me, unthinkable.

By their Fruits

Jesus said that you will detect true doctrine by its affect on a person’s life. He did not encourage pedantic, rationalistic doctrine, but simple, heartfelt childlike faith. If you are tormented today by religious claims that just don’t seem to make sense to you, ask yourself: what is the effect that this belief is having on the people who are preaching it to me? Are they characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If not, ask the Father of Jesus Christ to pour out his Spirit upon you and lead you to the true doctrine, the Good News of Jesus Christ that turns water into wine, thorns into crowns, and death into life.