According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Sovereignty of God Displayed in Evolution's Entropic Value


Picturing the Ancient Devonian Age of the Earth

While visiting the northwest coast of Lake Michigan above the city of Petoskey I saw some petoskey stones lying on a shelf and made a guess as to their history. When later checking I found I wasn't far off from a very important period of the ancient earth. That these fossilized coral pieces were part of an ancient sea bed formed between 358 to 415 million years ago known as the Devonian period. If you've ever wondered where plants and marine life was birthed this was the era spanning 60 million years way, way, way before the dinosaur era.

Geography of the Continents during the Devonian Geologic Age

Moreover, thinking about terrestrial biologic life I remember reading an article not too long ago about how the process of evolution can be described in terms of energy gain or loss. That is, "the first significant adaptive radiation of life on dry land occurred during the Devonian [period]," according to the Wikipedia article I had turned to next. But what does this mean?

The Devonian period spawned Sea & Terrestrial Life

As you may, or may not, know all of life is a response to energy's entropic value of emitting heat until a symmetry of balance can be found (that is, a state of equilibrium). The second law of thermodynamics says that everything moves in such a way as to always balance itself back to its initial energy state with no loss and no gain. In other words, for every dissipative event there is an equally reconstituting event.

For example, if a star explodes than it's emitted energy is recovered in it's hot gases. Similarly, evolution follows this same equation. If the surface of the earth heats up than the grasses on the surface of the earth are a response to cooling it off by absorbing that energy and redistributing it in a process of photosynthesis and cellular product.

Travellers of Faith walking in Light

As such, everything revolves around radiated heat, light, and energy. Thought in these terms, the equation of evolution balances off (or dissipates) the collective build up of heat in the earth. Thus, the ever evolving complex of evolutionary eras ceding energy back and forth with itself via entropic events. It is how earth became earth by moving from a chaotic, violent planet to its many strange forms of life throughout the eons. But when you add it all up the initial energy it started with (in a closed system) always equals the energy remaining. Of course our solar system lives in an open system but I think you get the point that there are energy tradeoffs within a large scale system and between other large scale systems.

So when is the last time somebody described evolution in terms of its entropic values? Or its meaning relative to the indigenous life we observe here on planet Earth? And, if you believe in a sovereign God, than what an amazingly complex God we have who designed such a system as this to reflect His creative power, wisdom, and glory! Like gravity, small and inconsequential in its affects upon other objects when measured against other mightier forces of nature such as the weak or strong nuclear forces or the electromagnetic force (see here for further reading) yet, when viewed as a large scale gravitational force it is the mightiest of all in sheer strength and distances encompassed! So, I think is God's sovereign power, which operates weakly amongst His free-willed or indeterminative/chaotic creation but bursts forth in grandeur across the full scales of time and matter as all things are knit together back to Himself and His redemptive purposes.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
April 28, 2018

"Create in me a new heart, O Lord, a new vision of Thyself and the World"

Reference Material



Wikipedia - Second Law of Thermodynamics2nd Law of Thermodynamics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics


* * * * * * * * *


Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, thinks he has found
the underlying physics driving the origin and evolution of life.

A New Physics Theory of Life
https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-new-thermodynamics-theory-of-the-origin-of-life-20140122/

An MIT physicist has proposed the provocative idea that life exists because the
law of increasing entropy drives matter to acquire lifelike physical properties.

by Katherine Taylor for Quanta Magazine
January 22, 2014

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

Cells from the moss Plagiomnium affine with visible chloroplasts,
organelles that conduct photosynthesis by capturing sunlight.
Kristian Peters

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

His idea, detailed in a recent paper and further elaborated in a talk he is delivering at universities around the world, has sparked controversy among his colleagues, who see it as either tenuous or a potential breakthrough, or both.

England has taken “a very brave and very important step,” said Alexander Grosberg, a professor of physics at New York University who has followed England’s work since its early stages. The “big hope” is that he has identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life, Grosberg said.

“Jeremy is just about the brightest young scientist I ever came across,” said Attila Szabo, a biophysicist in the Laboratory of Chemical Physics at the National Institutes of Health who corresponded with England about his theory after meeting him at a conference. “I was struck by the originality of the ideas.”

Others, such as Eugene Shakhnovich, a professor of chemistry, chemical biology and biophysics at Harvard University, are not convinced. “Jeremy’s ideas are interesting and potentially promising, but at this point are extremely speculative, especially as applied to life phenomena,” Shakhnovich said.

England’s theoretical results are generally considered valid. It is his interpretation — that his formula represents the driving force behind a class of phenomena in nature that includes life — that remains unproven. But already, there are ideas about how to test that interpretation in the lab.

“He’s trying something radically different,” said Mara Prentiss, a professor of physics at Harvard who is contemplating such an experiment after learning about England’s work. “As an organizing lens, I think he has a fabulous idea. Right or wrong, it’s going to be very much worth the investigation.”

A computer simulation by Jeremy England and colleagues shows
a system of particles confined inside a viscous fluid in which the turquoise
particles are driven by an oscillating force. Over time (from top to bottom),
the force triggers the formation of more bonds among the particles.

Courtesy of Jeremy England 

At the heart of England’s idea is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the “arrow of time.” Hot things cool down, gas diffuses through air, eggs scramble but never spontaneously unscramble; in short, energy tends to disperse or spread out as time progresses. Entropy is a measure of this tendency, quantifying how dispersed the energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffuse those particles are throughout space. It increases as a simple matter of probability: There are more ways for energy to be spread out than for it to be concentrated. Thus, as particles in a system move around and interact, they will, through sheer chance, tend to adopt configurations in which the energy is spread out. Eventually, the system arrives at a state of maximum entropy called “thermodynamic equilibrium,” in which energy is uniformly distributed. A cup of coffee and the room it sits in become the same temperature, for example. As long as the cup and the room are left alone, this process is irreversible. The coffee never spontaneously heats up again because the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against so much of the room’s energy randomly concentrating in its atoms.

Although entropy must increase over time in an isolated or “closed” system, an “open” system can keep its entropy low — that is, divide energy unevenly among its atoms — by greatly increasing the entropy of its surroundings. In his influential 1944 monograph “What Is Life?” the eminent quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger argued that this is what living things must do. A plant, for example, absorbs extremely energetic sunlight, uses it to build sugars, and ejects infrared light, a much less concentrated form of energy. The overall entropy of the universe increases during photosynthesis as the sunlight dissipates, even as the plant prevents itself from decaying by maintaining an orderly internal structure.

Life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics, but until recently, physicists were unable to use thermodynamics to explain why it should arise in the first place. In Schrödinger’s day, they could solve the equations of thermodynamics only for closed systems in equilibrium. In the 1960s, the Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine made progress on predicting the behavior of open systems weakly driven by external energy sources (for which he won the 1977 Nobel Prize in chemistry). But the behavior of systems that are far from equilibrium, which are connected to the outside environment and strongly driven by external sources of energy, could not be predicted.

This situation changed in the late 1990s, due primarily to the work of Chris Jarzynski, now at the University of Maryland, and Gavin Crooks, now at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jarzynski and Crooks showed that the entropy produced by a thermodynamic process, such as the cooling of a cup of coffee, corresponds to a simple ratio: the probability that the atoms will undergo that process divided by their probability of undergoing the reverse process (that is, spontaneously interacting in such a way that the coffee warms up). As entropy production increases, so does this ratio: A system’s behavior becomes more and more “irreversible.” The simple yet rigorous formula could in principle be applied to any thermodynamic process, no matter how fast or far from equilibrium. “Our understanding of far-from-equilibrium statistical mechanics greatly improved,” Grosberg said. England, who is trained in both biochemistry and physics, started his own lab at MIT two years ago and decided to apply the new knowledge of statistical physics to biology.


David Kaplan explains how the law of increasing entropy could drive
random bits of matter into the stable, orderly structures of life.

Filming by Tom Hurwitz and Richard Fleming. Editing and motion
graphics by Tom McNamara. Music by Podington Bear. 

Using Jarzynski and Crooks’ formulation, he derived a generalization of the second law of thermodynamics that holds for systems of particles with certain characteristics: The systems are strongly driven by an external energy source such as an electromagnetic wave, and they can dump heat into a surrounding bath. This class of systems includes all living things. England then determined how such systems tend to evolve over time as they increase their irreversibility. “We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment’s external drives on the way to getting there,” he said. The finding makes intuitive sense: Particles tend to dissipate more energy when they resonate with a driving force, or move in the direction it is pushing them, and they are more likely to move in that direction than any other at any given moment.

“This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments,” England explained.

Self-Replicating Sphere Clusters: According to new research at Harvard,
coating the surfaces of microspheres can cause them to spontaneously
assemble into a chosen structure, such as a polytetrahedron (red), which
then triggers nearby spheres into forming an identical structure.

Courtesy of Michael Brenner/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 

Self-replication (or reproduction, in biological terms), the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time. As England put it, “A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself.” In a September paperin the Journal of Chemical Physics, he reported the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that can occur during the self-replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells, and showed that it is very close to the actual amounts these systems dissipate when replicating. He also showed that RNA, the nucleic acid that many scientists believe served as the precursor to DNA-based life, is a particularly cheap building material. Once RNA arose, he argues, its “Darwinian takeover” was perhaps not surprising.

The chemistry of the primordial soup, random mutations, geography, catastrophic events and countless other factors have contributed to the fine details of Earth’s diverse flora and fauna. But according to England’s theory, the underlying principle driving the whole process is dissipation-driven adaptation of matter.

This principle would apply to inanimate matter as well. “It is very tempting to speculate about what phenomena in nature we can now fit under this big tent of dissipation-driven adaptive organization,” England said. “Many examples could just be right under our nose, but because we haven’t been looking for them we haven’t noticed them.”

Scientists have already observed self-replication in nonliving systems. According to new research led by Philip Marcus of the University of California, Berkeley, and reported in Physical Review Letters in August, vortices in turbulent fluids spontaneously replicate themselves by drawing energy from shear in the surrounding fluid. And in a paper appearing online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Michael Brenner, a professor of applied mathematics and physics at Harvard, and his collaborators present theoretical models and simulations of microstructures that self-replicate. These clusters of specially coated microspheres dissipate energy by roping nearby spheres into forming identical clusters. “This connects very much to what Jeremy is saying,” Brenner said.

Besides self-replication, greater structural organization is another means by which strongly driven systems ramp up their ability to dissipate energy. A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy through itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms. Thus, England argues that under certain conditions, matter will spontaneously self-organize. This tendency could account for the internal order of living things and of many inanimate structures as well. “Snowflakes, sand dunes and turbulent vortices all have in common that they are strikingly patterned structures that emerge in many-particle systems driven by some dissipative process,” he said. Condensation, wind and viscous drag are the relevant processes in these particular cases.

“He is making me think that the distinction between living and nonliving matter is not sharp,” said Carl Franck, a biological physicist at Cornell University, in an email. “I’m particularly impressed by this notion when one considers systems as small as chemical circuits involving a few biomolecules.”

If a new theory is correct, the same physics it identifies as responsible
for the origin of living things could explain the formation of many
other patterned structures in nature. Snowflakes, sand dunes and
self-replicating vortices in the protoplanetary disk may all be
examples of dissipation-driven adaptation. | Wilson Bentley

England’s bold idea will likely face close scrutiny in the coming years. He is currently running computer simulations to test his theory that systems of particles adapt their structures to become better at dissipating energy. The next step will be to run experiments on living systems.

Prentiss, who runs an experimental biophysics lab at Harvard, says England’s theory could be tested by comparing cells with different mutations and looking for a correlation between the amount of energy the cells dissipate and their replication rates. “One has to be careful because any mutation might do many things,” she said. “But if one kept doing many of these experiments on different systems and if [dissipation and replication success] are indeed correlated, that would suggest this is the correct organizing principle.”

Brenner said he hopes to connect England’s theory to his own microsphere constructions and determine whether the theory correctly predicts which self-replication and self-assembly processes can occur — “a fundamental question in science,” he said.

Having an overarching principle of life and evolution would give researchers a broader perspective on the emergence of structure and function in living things, many of the researchers said. “Natural selection doesn’t explain certain characteristics,” said Ard Louis, a biophysicist at Oxford University, in an email. These characteristics include a heritable change to gene expression called methylation, increases in complexity in the absence of natural selection, and certain molecular changes Louis has recently studied.

If England’s approach stands up to more testing, it could further liberate biologists from seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and allow them to think more generally in terms of dissipation-driven organization. They might find, for example, that “the reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve,” Louis said.

“People often get stuck in thinking about individual problems,” Prentiss said. Whether or not England’s ideas turn out to be exactly right, she said, “thinking more broadly is where many scientific breakthroughs are made.”

**Emily Singer contributed reporting. This article was reprinted on ScientificAmerican.com and BusinessInsider.com.

**Correction: This article was revised on January 22, 2014, to reflect that Ilya Prigogine won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, not physics. 


Is Genesis Real History?



Is Genesis real history? Simple answer... it is, and is not, and a literal reading of a nation's legendary history doesn't make it any plainer as evidenced by archaeological finds discounting parts of it while reconfirming other parts of it.

So why then read the bible? Can God be found in its pages?

Again, the short answer is yes but extrapolating mythic literature into biblical fact isn't quite that easy unless you prefer to rewrite your own religion which has been done lots of times including within today's present Christian groups and movements around the world.

As example, would you read Viking lores and legends as factual? Probably not, unless you're a Marvel comic freak. Otherwise we have to work behind the lores and legends to get to their meaning for a civilization.

Need some biblical examples? For one, there has never been a global flood. Want another? Nor was there an original couple - but one could say with certainty there was a mitochondrial Eve but with no primary Adam.

Do these facts change our idea of God? Sure, but not His presence in our lives. What it rather reflects is the ancient's idea of God sometimes as a violent, angry, judgmental, impersonal God. Of course there were other impressions of God in the Old Testament but we'll leave it at that for the moment.

Then Jesus comes along in the New Testament and says "Love your neighbor" and "Know your God is a redeeming God." The only intolerance God showed during Jesus' ministry was for religious people who wouldn't love their neighbor because their idea of God was screwed up.

As an aside, I think we see this quite plainly in today's radicalized elements of Christianity, don't we? 

Conclusion? Reading the bible intelligently is far more warranted than reading it as you think you understand it however sincere your heart.

R.E. Slater
May 1, 2018


* * * * * * * * * * *




Is Genesis real history?

Introduction

Man from dust, woman from rib. A talking snake. Two mysterious trees. A massive flood. Confusion of languages. What do we make of these stories? Did it all really happen as described by the early chapters of Genesis? Is Genesis giving us accurate history?

Any account of past events can be considered history. Genesis recounts past events—such as God’s creation of the world and human beings—so in this sense, Genesis is history. However, Genesis is theological history and uses figurative language in some of its descriptions. The author of Genesis is not interested in telling us how God created (in material terms) or how long it took.

We believe Genesis is a true account that, like other ancient narratives, uses vivid imagery to describe past events. It is silent on the scientific questions we might wish it to answer. A close reading of the text provides clues that indicate where a plain sense meaning is not intended. For example, in Genesis 1, there are three evenings and mornings with no sun, moon, and stars, so these are not regular days as we understand them (though they function that way in the text; they are literary days). Or consider Genesis 2:7, when God forms Adam from dust and breathes into his nostrils. This could not have happened exactly as described, because we know from other passages in the Bible that God is Spirit with neither hands nor lungs.

Inspiration and authority of Genesis

Genesis is the inspired word of God, but no human observer was present during the creation of the world, and God did not simply dictate a transcript of phenomena or events to the author of Genesis. Inspiration does not work that way.

In Genesis 1, we have an Israelite author’s account of God’s creative acts communicated to an Israelite audience. We believe that the understanding of the narrator in Genesis is God-given and therefore we accept it as offering an authoritative and true understanding of the world. However, it was not intended to enable us to reconstruct the creation events according to the scientific understanding of today or meet the demands of our modern worldview.

The genre and literary style of Genesis

Asking about history is asking about genre. Often when people identify Genesis as history they are arguing against identifying it with other genres (such as myth) or other forms of literary packaging (such as poetry). They might think that identifying Genesis as myth or poetry undermines or compromises its truth claims. But truth can be conveyed through a variety of genres or literary packages. We need to ask how Genesis delivers its truth claims—what the narrator’s intentions are.

The book of Genesis packages its truth claims largely in narrative, interspersed with genealogies. Chapters 1–11 describe the founding of the human race, leading up to God’s covenant with Abraham. Chapters 12–50 recount significant developments in the story of Abraham’s family, the ancestors of Israel, thus providing the backdrop to the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. The early events described—including the side-by-side accounts of creation (ch. 1–2) and Adam and Eve’s primal act of disobedience (ch. 3)—are the opening episodes of the human story that lead to the story of Israel.

We can benefit from investigating how narratives in the Old Testament and the ancient world packaged truth related to past events. Even when their narratives deal with real events, the events are narrated as a means to a theological end.

Means to a theological end

Narratives—ancient or modern—are rarely bare chronicles of events as they happened. Take a reality TV show, for example. When an episode is filmed, multiple cameras are used to capture many events and conversations. The director then selects, arranges, and edits the raw footage to produce a coherent story consistent with the show’s agenda. Neither the director nor the viewers would expect to be able to reconstruct the raw footage from the finished product. The situation is similar in any historical account, which is a selective telling of events to serve a particular purpose. The case is no different with ancient narratives such as Genesis.

Ancient authors were more interested in the meaning of events rather than the details of the events. In that sense these narratives are not like most modern historical narratives. If we were to try to reduce their recorded event to a series of propositional truth claims, we would miss the entire point of their narrative.

When ancient narratives are interpretations of the past, they are generally not written simply to describe the past. Rather, they serve the present. Their work may be based on real events and real people, but their narratives do not explore “what really happened” in the style modern readers tend to expect. Rather, ancient narratives address the world of the narrator’s time, shedding light on that world and providing a perspective for the hearers to embrace. It is this perspective on the world, not the details used to reconstruct the events of the past, that the narrator wishes to convey to his audience.

Case study: the Flood of Genesis 6–9

Let’s apply this approach to one of the most famous stories in Genesis: the story of Noah and the Flood, found in Genesis 6–9. The Genesis Flood story is likely based on a set of even more ancient stories about an actual catastrophic regional flood event in the ancient Near East. These older legends were part of the cultural backdrop in which Genesis was written. The inspired author is re-casting these older stories using ancient literary conventions, in order to teach about the seriousness of sin and the merciful love of God for his creation. The story, based on a past flood event, is told using hyperbolic language to serve these theological points.

Genesis 6 portrays a world spinning out of control because of rebellion against God’s order. God acts to preserve his creation by returning it to the state of watery nothingness depicted in Genesis 1:2. Noah is called to participate in this preservation plan through the building of an Ark, which will allow the Earth to be repopulated and renewed after the destructive waters of the Flood subside. When this happens, God renews his covenant with humankind and reiterates his love for creation. This narrative pattern of human sin, God’s judgment, and God’s mercy is repeated throughout Genesis. The story of the Flood is intentionally told in a way that weaves the story into this larger narrative.

Like all of Genesis, the Flood story is part of God’s revelation to humankind. It informed Israel’s understanding of God’s relationship to creation and to Israel as his chosen people. This is a revelation of God to the people of Israel, not a revelation about the bare facts of science or natural history. In trying to reconstruct the details of “what really happened,” many have missed the theological point of the story.

The story of Genesis

The narratives of Genesis focus on conflict and resolution. God’s purpose from the beginning is to have his presence fill the earth; humans are to image God and subdue the earth, i.e., bring about order and fruitfulness in creation (Gen 1–2). Conflict enters the story when humans rebel against God (Gen 3). Shalom is shattered, and the earth is cursed. Further degeneration takes place (Gen 4–6) until God brings judgment and mercy (Gen 6–9). Humans then attempt to restore God’s presence (Gen 11) before God launches his own initiative to re-establish his presence on Earth (the covenant).

Genesis 1–11, then, is the founding story of humanity, ending in crisis. These narratives give a real and true assessment of God’s initial purposes and the human plight. Genesis 12–50 is the founding story of the nation with whom the covenant is eventually made at Sinai. The covenant establishes the relationship to Abraham and his descendants, provides the structure for living in God’s presence, and lays the foundation for God’s presence to be established on earth.

Conclusion

All narratives have purposes and perspectives. Genesis is a collection of ancient narratives, written and compiled by those who share the culture and literary styles of the ancient world. Like the narratives of their ancient Near Eastern neighbors, these narratives eliminate all details except those the narrator thinks are important to shape the message for his particular purpose.

The creation narratives are not included in Scripture so that we can receive a direct transmission from God about the phenomena of pre-human history; they are there because the inspired author’s interpretation of his present situation, through his narration of the events of the past, reveals truth about God and God’s purposes.

The truth of Genesis must not be judged by whether we can use it to reconstruct the “plain facts” of creation. The author wrote about past events (e.g., creation of the cosmos and humanity, humanity’s initial innocence and rebellion), but did so using evocative imagery. While all Christians can read the Bible profitably, our theological understanding is enriched as we learn more about the original audience and cultural context of Genesis. In turn, we see the continued significance and relevance of the text for our own lives.

- biologos

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Listening to the Gospel of Christ over the Airs of Church Teachings



The following article below is the kind of discussion evangelicals always seem to be speaking among themselves using popular terms and concepts which have taken on a life of their own within their circles of theology. Doctrines which must be continually re-examined lest they go too far, or don't say enough, about Christianity's central biblical tenants and beliefs.

From a process perspective I would like to think of the atonement of Christ as a necessary and good result of the love of God for humanity bound by sin and needing release from its burden. Evangelicals would also agree to this concept but always seem to come at it from a "divine wrath" perspective with hell as the condition upon which every man or woman must confront.

True, evangelicals will admit to God's love as being a motivating factor for atonement, but I often suspect it never seems enough as they preach the judgment of God upon man for his/her sin condemning each to the fires of hell if not received. It seems God's wrath is evangelicalism's primary motivation for God's offer of redemption to mankind (I can still hear Billy Grahm's crusades echoing in my ears). At which point they begin splitting hairs as to whom God redeems or condemns (sheep vs. goats; or the tares (weeds) illustrations); whether His salvation is effectively for all or practically for some (the predestined or elect); whether salvation can truly be known or not (the Catholic angst); how efficacious salvation's effects might be (faith and works); and so on and so on and so on.

The doctrine of salvation is part of the many doctrinal labyrinths whose mazes spin this way and that having begun ages ago in the histories of the early church attempting to decipher salvation's effectiveness against persistent evil, oppression, persecution, and the death of God's people before corrupt and evil human agencies.

It's like looking at a cup of water and wondering whether the glass is half full or half empty. From an open-and-relational process perspective its a "half full kind of thing" which would more readily admit the need for atonement as an extension of God's love and fellowship back to all things created rather than to approach salvation from the wrath and judgment side of the divine (which pretty much is closed and determinative according to Calvinism's Reformed doctrines). And if this former, can then more easily speak to the need for sin to be resolved within the personage of Christ Jesus as evidenced in the Gospel narratives rather than attempt to drive it out of us by fear, threats and intimidation.

Christ moved among us not because of the hell we see or live through everyday but because of God's need to imbue wholeness within us who are unwhole, unwell, broken. Who need a Savior who can move us from our binds and burdens back into His fellowship, love, care, sustenance, and healing. Where heaven might be a reality now... not later. Because God and His love is a reality now. Who sees us as worthy of the hard work of redemption which may be started in our lives now rather than later. A reality whereby this sin-held world might be released one soul at a time from its evil. For love, not for wrath, Christ came into this world to redeem.

Having grown up in evangelic doctrine I find more satisfaction having stepped away from its "cup is half empty" perspectives back into the simplicities of Scripture's plain teachings. That God loves us and must reach out to us because of His great love. Not because we are doomed to hell and divine wrath because of our sin but because divine Love is the grace which explains and drives all of life.

I prefer to place the emphasis where it needs to be. This is not to discount sin which is plainly everywhere about. But for myself, a God who is all Judge and Jury seems less attractive a gospel than a God of all Grace and Majesty. And when it comes to how He deposed Himself within Himself on the Cross when taking on the sin of the world - it is enough for me to know that He came as a holy sacrifice willing to take our sin upon Himself without causing His Being to be any less than it was before He had undertaken this atoning act. Though rent by our sin He remained wholly in fellowship with Himself while remaining unrent ontologically. That as God, He could bear sin - and sin's penalty - and still be God in the act and the outcome. But I would expect God to be this kind of God, wouldn't you?

And so, while the article below can provide a provocative read it can also provide a narrowing of the human understanding of the Cross of Christ on Calvary's hill of Redemption when over-concentrating on the what, why, or how of its transaction. A divine transaction between a holy God reaching out into a broken world offering completeness, release and rest, from its daily burdens and hardships when continually confronted by the sin and evil present within its broken provide.

Lastly, and with a word of caution, I urge readers not to be drawn away into useless arguments of the Cross or of God but to always learn to discern where God would place the emphasis of His gospel - rather than how our own human hearts might hear or think of it. We've all listened to music stripped of its beats, tempos, or rhythms from the original score, making it into something else. But when this latter is brought into the music it can soar under the hand of the composer who had wrought it. This is as true of the bible, of God, of our lives, as with anything else. Sometimes we need to listen to the heart of God over our own hearts which would misread or misinterpret God's soaring music of the Good News of the Gospel which is  found in Christ Jesus our Savior and Risen Lord.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
April 4, 2018

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Is the Wrath of God Really Satisfying?

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/march-web-only/is-wrath-of-god-satisfying-good-friday-cross.html
God’s anger against sin is real on Good Friday, but he doesn’t “turn his face away” from the Cross.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words come from the lips of Jesus as he hangs on the cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). They are powerful and haunting, and they are surely very important. But what do they mean—how are we to understand them?
For many who hold this view, the Trinity is somehow “broken” as the communion between the Father and the Son is ruptured in the darkness of that Friday afternoon. And this is said to be good news and the heart of the gospel because Jesus absorbs the wrath of God in taking the exact punishment we deserve. God is changed from wrath to mercy and can no longer justly punish those for whom Christ died.Here is one line of thinking that has recently become very popular in some circles. According to C. J. Mahaney, this cry from the lips of Jesus is the “scream of the damned.” He takes this line from R. C. Sproul who exclaims that when Jesus is crucified it is “as if a voice from heaven said, ‘Damn you, Jesus.’” This is because Jesus becomes the “virtual incarnation of evil” and even “the very embodiment of all that sin is.” Thus God abandons Jesus, turns his back on him, “curses him to the pit of hell” and “damns” him.
Such preaching is very powerful. But is it right? We should, of course, want to proclaim all that the Bible says about the work of Christ (at least as much as we are able), and we should be committed to affirming all that this teaching implies (what older theologians called “good and necessary” consequences). But we should also be very cautious about going beyond what is explicitly taught or implied— especially where the Christian tradition warns us. And we should strive to avoid anything that goes against biblical teaching and theological orthodoxy. So what are we to make of such teaching?

The Scream of the Damned?

We should be faithful to proclaim all that Scripture teaches, but we should be cautious about going beyond it. And here we must be blunt: Scripture nowhere says that Jesus’s cry of dereliction is “the scream of the damned.” Sproul says that “it is as if” there is a voice from heaven that says “Damn you, Jesus,” but in fact, there is no such voice. Jesus Christ is nowhere said in Scripture to be the “virtual incarnation of evil” or “the very embodiment of all that sin is.” To the contrary, he is the incarnation of goodness—he is holiness incarnate as truly human.
There is no biblical evidence that the Father-Son communion was somehow ruptured on that day. Nowhere is it written that the Father was angry with the Son. Nowhere can we read that God “curses him to the pit of hell.” Nowhere is it written that Jesus absorbs the wrath of God by taking the exact punishment that we deserve. In no passage is there any indication that God’s wrath is “infinitely intense” as it is poured out on Jesus. Such statements may pack a lot of rhetorical punch, but they go far beyond what Scripture teaches.
Of course, not all “going beyond” is going against, but sometimes the tradition warns us that “beyond” has become “against.” I have argued elsewhere that important patristic, medieval, and Reformation teaching denies these claims, but consider these statements (from theologians well known for their defense of a version of the doctrine of “penal substitution”). John Calvin says that “we do not admit that God was ever hostile to him, or angry (iratum) with him. For how could he be angry with his beloved Son, ‘in whom his soul delighted?’”
Similarly, Charles Hodge denies that the atoning work of Christ “consist[s] in an exact quid pro quo, so much for so much,” and he says that Christ “did not suffer either in kind or degree what sinners would have suffered.” It is tough to argue against Hodge here, for if sin deserves eternal separation from God and eternal conscious punishment (as traditional Reformed and much evangelical theology insists), then clearly this is not what Jesus receives.

One Triune God

Just as we must be cautious not to go beyond what Scripture says, so also we should not proclaim anything that goes against biblical teaching (or its “good and necessary” entailments). I have made the case elsewhere that while it is clear that the Father abandoned the Son to death on the cross, there is no good reason to think that this causes a rupture— or even a “strain” or “tension”—within the Triune life.
Not only is there no biblical text that says that the Father “turns his face away” from the Son, the passage that most plausibly speaks to the matter actually says that God did not do so. For if we take Psalm 22 to be important for our understanding of the cry of dereliction (as both Mark and Matthew clearly do), then we find these words: “he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Ps. 22:24). And the steady drumbeat of the apostolic preaching of the gospel has this consistent refrain: You killed him, but God raised him from the dead.
Finally, the “broken Trinity” and “God against God” views run aground on the doctrines of divine impassibility and simplicity as well as the doctrine of the Trinity. According to Christian orthodoxy, it not even a possibility that the Trinity was broken. If we know anything about the Trinity, we know that God is one God in three persons, and we know that God’s life is necessarily the life of holy love shared in the eternal communion of the Father, Son, and Spirit. To say that the Trinity is broken—even “temporarily”—is to imply that God does not exist.

The Just For the Unjust

We must not go beyond or against Scripture, but we should do our best to affirm all that Scripture says. So then, what can we say of the cry of dereliction? First, we should see that the biblical depiction of the human condition makes it clear—painfully and depressingly clear—that we are sinners. We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we are helpless to rescue or repair or somehow save ourselves. We have the problem of what we’ve done and the wreckage we’ve caused; our sin and guilt and shame are undeniable and unshakable. But this isn’t all, for we have the further problem of who we are, what we’ve become, and what we will continue to do if we are not radically transformed. To use the language of older theology, we are both polluted and guilty.
Death is the consequence of sin (Rom. 6:23). And because of our sin, the wrath of God is being revealed (Rom. 1:18). Our days “pass away” under God’s wrath (Ps. 90:9). God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient (Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:5–6). Indeed, we are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3, ESV).
Second, we should understand the work of Christ on our behalf within the storyline of Scripture: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). His work addresses our condition— both the guilt and the pollution. Jesus Christ reverses the disobedience and unfaithfulness of Adam and Israel. Drawing on an ancient theological insight, we can say that in becoming human the divine Son of God “recapitulates” (or “re-heads”) humanity. The incarnation is itself redemptive, and it is his entire life, death, and resurrection (as well as his ascension and session—Jesus being seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven) that brings salvation to us.
In becoming fully human as Jesus Christ, the Son enters our brokenness and takes upon himself the “curse” caused by humanity’s sin. Thus the incarnate Christ unites himself to those under the wrath of God and suffers death. Christ’s work on our behalf is thus grounded in his incarnate person; it includes his teaching and example (1 Pet. 2:21) and culminates in his glorious defeat of sin and death (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:54–57; Heb. 2:14).
To say that Christ “died in accordance with the Scriptures” is to see his work within the broad biblical storyline that begins with Adam and focuses on Israel. More precisely, this includes seeing it in light of the Old Testament witness to both the wrath of God and the sacrifices offered for sin. The New Testament draws these connections, and it presents Jesus as the one who is both priest and sacrifice, both representative and substitute.
Jesus has come to ransom others (e.g., Mark 10:45). His suffering is not merely physical (Matt. 26:38), as his intimate union with humanity makes him deeply aware of their sin and its consequences. His death was “the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18). He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” to be a “sin offering” and to “condemn sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). He redeemed us from the curse of the law by “becoming a curse for us” in his death (Gal. 3:13). We are “saved from God’s wrath” by Christ (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10). The one who was sinless (e.g., Heb. 4:15) and who “had no sin” became “a sin offering” (not a sinner) on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, “‘bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24; compare Isa. 53:5–6).
Note carefully the statement “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” We cannot afford to miss the union and participation here—Christ lived with and for us and died for our sins so that we might die to our sins and live with and for him. Nor can we afford to miss the intention; it is so that we might be transformed, so that we might be truly righteous.
Christ was a sacrifice for us so that we might live as people who are holy (e.g., Eph. 5:2–21). His sacrifice was to “do away with sin” (Heb. 9:26). It was to cleanse us from sin—the “acts that lead to death” (Heb. 9:14; 10:10). Christ was a “sin offering” precisely so that we will “not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4)—so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). As a result of Christ’s work, we can be “freed from our sins” by the one who loves us (Rev. 1:5).
We should be committed to proclaiming all that Scripture says about what Christ did for us. So we should not shrink from clarity about sin and its awful and horrific consequences. Indeed, we should be faithful to point out that “wrath remains” on all who reject the Son (John 3:36). At the same time, however, we are not at liberty to restrict our understanding of the intents, purposes, and breadth of Christ’s work.
Narrowing Christ’s work to the limited sense of taking the punishment for our sins can cause us to miss (much of) the point. Yes, Christ came to get us out of hell, but he also came to get hell out of us and to make us holy as we walk in communion with the Triune God. We should be faithful to proclaim that while Christ’s sacrificial work saves us from the wrath of God, it does so precisely as it radically transforms and changes us.
To say or imply that the Trinity is broken is to say or imply that God does not exist. This is exactly what we should seek to avoid saying on Good Friday and every other day. To the contrary, the holy love of the Triune life is the ground and wellspring of salvation: God “demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). “God is love,” and “this is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world ... as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:8–10). This we joyfully proclaim.
Thomas H. McCall is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and professorial fellow in analytic and exegetical theology at the University of St Andrews. His most recent book is An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP Academic, 2015).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Thomas Jay Oord - Strong Passibility, Trinity & Theocosmocentrism


Strong Passibility, Trinity, and Theocosmocentrism
http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/strong-passibility-trinity-theocosmocentrism

by Thomas Jay Oord
January 19, 2018

An increasing number of Christians believe God is relational. To be “relational” is, in the classical language, to be “passible.” It means that God is affected by others.

I’ve written an essay for a new book on im/passibility, and I defend what the editors call “strong passibility.” In my language, I call this God’s essential relations with others.

In this essay, I lay out two ways we might think relationality is essential to God. And I mention a third way, which is really a combination of the first two. I’ll also point to concerns with these ways, although I think at least some of these concerns can be overcome.

Strong Passibility/Essential Divine Relations

The strong divine passibility view I defend says being affected by others is a necessary attribute of God’s nature. God doesn’t voluntarily choose to be affected; God is necessarily affected. I have been using the phrase “essentially relational” to describe strong divine passibility.

I take the biblical phrase, “God is love,” to mean that love is an essential divine attribute. If God is essentially loving and love always involves relational giving and receiving relationships, God must be essentially relational. Strong divine passibility says God is necessarily and everlastingly passible.

God Essentially Relates in Trinity

There are two ways (and a third that combines them) to affirm strong divine passibility. The first says God essentially relates in Godself. This view is typically associated with a vision of God as a social Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or other names we might use) have everlastingly related with one another. Some call this relating a perichoretic dance. This Trinitarian view affirms that God everlastingly and necessarily relates in Godself.

There are several downsides placing all one’s emphasis upon the Trinity to affirm strong passibility. One downside is that saying divine persons relate to one another sounds to many people like tritheism rather than monotheism. Real relations require real differences; real relations among persons require more than one person. Few Christians want to say three Gods exist.

Those who affirm the social Trinity also typically affirm the idea that God once existed alone and then created the universe out of nothing. They say God necessarily loves and relates in Trinity but contingently loves and relates with creation. The downside of this view, however, is that God’s love for creation is arbitrary, in the sense that there is no essential divine attribute for love of creaturely others. God by nature does not love nondivine others.

The view that God only loves necessarily within Trinity can sound like God is inherently selfish. After all, God necessarily loves Godself and contingently loves creatures. By contrast, many believe love promotes the well-being of those beyond the lover. And imitating God involves loving others not just ourselves.

Those who affirm God as essentially related in Trinity respond to these criticisms. The most common response says it’s a mystery how God can be both one and essentially self-related as three. Some regard this as the highest of holy mysteries. And we should simply believe God will always love creatures, despite there being no love-for-creation attribute essential to God’s nature.

God Essentially Relates with Creation

The second way to affirm that God essentially relates with others says God essentially relates with creatures. This way denies that God once existed alone and at some time decided to create the universe out of nothing. Instead, God always and necessarily relates with creatures, because God always creates others with whom God relates.

I call this view “theocosmocentrism,” but some forms of panentheism also affirm it. Theocosmocentrism says we make the best sense of reality if we refer both to God and creation. The strong passibility version of theocosmocentrism says God necessarily loves and relates to creation, but the particular ways God loves and relates with creation are contingent.

One disadvantage to the theocosmocentric way of affirming strong divine passibility is that many people cannot fathom how God everlastingly relates to creation. Most Christians accept that God had no beginning, although they cannot fathom that view. They also accept a big bang cosmology that says our universe had a beginning. So they cannot fathom how God everlastingly creates and relates to creation. Affirming both requires believing God was creating before the big bang. That’s difficult for many to conceive.

God Essentially Relates in Trinity and with Creation

Another downside to the idea that God always relates to creatures (at least in the minds of some) is that the idea isn’t explicitly Trinitarian. Some theologians want to keep the Trinity front and center. Saying God essentially relates to creatures doesn’t require belief in Trinity, at least not obviously so.

But this downside can be overcome. One can affirm that God essentially relates in Trinity and God essentially relates with creatures. Both types of necessary relations can be true simultaneously. We might even consider Jesus’ revelation of a relational God as evidence of this doubly essential divine relatedness.

A God of Strong Passibility Exists Necessarily

One can affirm any of these versions of strong divine passibility and think God exists necessarily. Strong passibility and divine aseity are compatible. God can necessarily exist and essentially relate to divine others or creaturely others or both. There is no logical contradiction.

With the Psalmist, we can affirm that the steadfast love of the Lord can literally endure forever. And that enduring can be within Trinity, with creation, or both (Ps. 118).

Conclusion

This argument is part of my much longer essay defending God’s relationality in general and essential relations in particular. Look for it in a 4 views book next fall.

In my next blog essay, I’ll offer reasons it’s better to affirm strong divine passibility/essential relations than weak passibility. My goal in this essay, however, is to lay out two ways to say God is essentially relational.


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Why We Should Believe God is Essentially Relational
http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/believe-god-essentially-relational

by Thomas Jay Oord
January 25, 2018

It seems that most Christians believe God is relational. I agree. Theologians call this “divine passibility.” But some Christians think God chooses to be relational, while others think God is relational by nature. Does it matter whether we believe God is relational by choice or by nature?

Five Reasons to Affirm God is Essentially Relational

In my previous post, I described two forms of strong passibility, or what I usually call God’s “essential relations.” One form says God essentially relates within Trinity. The second says God essentially relates with creation. A third combines them to say God essentially relates in Trinity and with creation.

So what? Does it matter that we affirm the strong version of divine passibility? After all, biblical writers don’t explicitly endorse one version of passibility instead of the other. I think it does matter, and there are good reasons to believe God is relational by nature and not by an arbitrary choice. Saying God is essentially relational makes better sense than saying God is contingently relational.

1. The God Revealed as Relational is So by Nature

I am among many who believe it wise to unite conceptually how God self-reveals with who God truly is. We should believe the God witnessed to in Jesus, the Bible, and in other forms of revelation is who God truly is by nature.

While this argument isn’t a proof, it makes sense to think that the God revealed as relational is who God is by nature.

2. God’s Essence is Love, and Love is Relational

Affirming strong passibility provides a consistent view of divine love. If love is an essential divine attribute and God essentially and everlastingly expresses love in relations with others, strong divine passibility makes sense.

Strong divine passibility does not force us to do apophatic gymnastics when speaking of God’s love. It doesn’t balk at speculating about God’s nature. Strong divine passibility provides a coherent framework for conceiving of God’s love.

To affirm that love is an essential attribute of God, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

3. Only an Essentially Relational God Can be Trusted to Love Us

If God’s love is essentially relational and God necessarily relates with creatures (theocosmocentrism), we have assurance that God always loves us. God loves us no matter what, because that’s the kind of being God is.

Weak divine passibility cannot affirm this, because it says God’s love for us is contingent. The weak view cannot say God necessarily loves creation. And those who deny divine passibility altogether cannot speak coherently about God being compassionate or expressing love in giving-and-receiving relations.

To affirm unambiguously God’s steadfast love for us, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

4. An Essentially Relational God is Best Conceived as Uncontrolling

I’ve argued in other publications that God’s love is uncontrolling. Strong divine passibility fits nicely with the view that God’s love is necessarily uncontrolling, because divine love necessarily gives and receives.

Believing God cannot control others solves the central issue in the problem of evil: the God who cannot control is not culpable for failing to prevent evil. I call this “essential kenosis.”[1] Although one could affirm weak divine passibility and the uncontrolling love of God, the strong divine passibility view fits uncontrolling love better.

To affirm clearly that God is not culpable for evil, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

5. An Essentially Relational God Will Never Leave nor Forsake Us

The theocosmocentric version of strong divine passibility provides grounds for believing it is necessarily true that God will “never leave you or forsake you” (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5).

Other views cannot affirm that God necessarily relates to creatures. If those views are correct, God may choose to leave us and forsake us. There’s nothing to prevent God from giving up and abandoning us. Those views provide no confidence God will always be with us.

To be confident that God will never leave us or forsake us, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

Conclusion

To my way of thinking, these are powerful reasons to believe God is relational by nature and not merely by choice. But I know that some will disagree. In the final post of this series, I’ll show that even most who think God chooses to be relational actually think God is necessarily so.

- TJO

*See my arguments in The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Theory of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Academic, 2015) and various essays in Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Uncontrolling Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord, Chris Baker, Gloria Coffin, Craig Drurey, Graden Kirksey, Lisa Michaels, and Donna Ward, eds. (San Diego, Ca.: SacraSage, 2017).