Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reforming the Reformed

Having become recently acquainted with Roger Olson's very firm personal position of Arminianism and having read his submitted article to Christianity Today below, it would be stating the obvious his frustrations with today's contemporary Calvinists declaring unsupportable claims to their positions within Calvinism.  Besides being wholly inconsistent and unhistorical, they as well argue against non-Calvinistic positions in regularly inconsistent and unhistorical subjective dogmas. This gets Mr. Olson's "dander in a dither" as one would say and, as evidenced by his personal statements below, he again shows the inaccuracies of these newer Calvinists in their positions and statements both to their doctrinal support to a type of Calvinism they think this dogma teaches, as well as to the type of dogma they think other non-Calvinistic positions teach. Their statements are wholly unsupportable and inaccurate in Olson's opinion as they stir-in their very personal eclectic pot of theologies, speculations and accusations. Thus, my publication of Roger's many good observations on the more theologically consistent Arminianian position he maintains and duly proclaims while doggedly noting Calvinisms many theologic shortcomings both as a dogma as well as a doctrine. So that some of his previous sentiments now bleed through again in the following journal below as we would do well to duly and somberly note.


* * * * * * *  * * *

Calvinists, says one Calvinist,
misunderstand some of their history and theology.
A review of  'Ten Myths About Calvinism.'

by Roger E. Olson

Ten Myths About Calvinism:
Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition

by Kenneth J. Stewart
IVP Academic, 2011
255 pp., $15.49
Type "Calvinism" into any web browser and you're likely to find multiple misconceptions about Calvinism and Reformed theology. Ironically, many come from the pens and mouths of Calvinists themselves. In Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (IVP Academic), Kenneth J. Stewart demonstrates that confusion and misapprehension reign among adherents as much, if not more, than among outsiders and opponents.

Stewart, professor of theology at Covenant College, a Reformed school in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, knows the terrain. Ten Myths, an extremely well-researched and lively tour of Reformed theology's history, sets the record straight regarding Calvinism's heroes, legends, beliefs, and fluctuating fortunes. The movement, Stewart argues, is currently riding the latest of six "waves of Calvinist resurgence" since the French Revolution. But all is not well. "It is no time," Stewart warns, "for triumphalism."

Much to my surprise, I discovered the author, a dedicated convert to Calvinism, chastising many who proudly call themselves Reformed. Even when writing about non-Calvinists' misconceptions, he seems intent on calling the new Calvinists and their leaders to a course correction. "We need fewer angular, sharp-elbowed Calvinists who glory in what distinguishes their stance from others," Stewart argues, "and a lot more supporters of the Reformed faith who rejoice in what they hold in common with others." What non-Calvinist wouldn't agree?

I should confess before continuing that I am one of those non-Calvinists, although I have tried to maintain a friendly, irenic tone. I find Stewart's approach refreshing; it gives me hope that both sides can be self-critical and fair as they discuss their differences.

Room for Debate

Four of Stewart's ten myths are held by many Calvinists themselves. First, John Calvin and his Genevan experiment do not determine the entire Reformed tradition. According to Stewart, "Calvinism" is something of a misnomer. Certain Reformed leaders disagreed with Calvin's theology and did not regard him as their spokesman. After Calvin, the movement branched off in several directions, not always remaining strictly faithful to his example.

Stewart's second myth might also come as a shock: Calvin's acolytes do not uniformly share his view of predestination. Many Reformed theologians have argued for single predestination (God has marked some for salvation) rather than Calvin's double predestination (God has marked some for salvation and some for damnation).

Stewart calls for all Calvinists to be more historically aware, to stop thinking of Calvinism as a system derived straightforwardly from the pages of the Bible.

The third myth is that TULIP must be the benchmark of the truly Reformed. (TULIP stands for the doctrines of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.) Stewart's thorough history shows that the acronym probably was coined around 1913. Many enthusiastic converts among the "young, restless, and Reformed" will be shocked to hear a sympathetic voice arguing that "TULIP cannot be allowed to function as a creed." According to Stewart, Reformed theologians past and present have wrongly turned this five-point doctrine into a "Procrustean formula"—an inflexible yardstick of belief.

Stewart's fourth myth is that Calvinists dislike revivals and awakenings. He attributes this misunderstanding to contemporary Presbyterian and Reformed dismay over the manipulative methods used by some revivalists, pointing to the targeting of 18th-century evangelist Charles Finney by anti-revival Calvinists. Stewart recalls the leadership of Calvinist heroes like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield in the First Great Awakening of the 1740s. "Today, by contrast," he laments, "so many have adopted the view that revival is a dark secret, a part of our Reformed family history best kept in the closet."

Neither I nor any informed critic of Calvinism has held or promoted any of Stewart's myths. Admittedly, however, many untutored persons, not least among them committed Calvinists, have fallen under their sway. Stewart wrote this book in large part simply to correct his co-religionists.

Calvinists need not worry, however, as Ten Myths also defends the Reformed tradition preferring, for example, "definite atonement" or "particular redemption" [as applied to the converting believer] to "limited atonement," because the latter seems to limit the value of Christ's death.

Sense of History

By correcting contemporary Calvinist myths about Calvinism, Stewart intends to overcome a "self-imposed ghettoization" that may evidence "an unacknowledged remnant of the fundamentalist era of the early twentieth century." He calls for all Calvinists to be more historically aware, to stop thinking of Calvinism as a system derived straightforwardly from the pages of the Bible. However, he still affirms the essential Calvinist view of God's sovereignty over salvation known as monergism—that God saves people without their cooperation. One has to wonder if his call for a more generous, conciliatory Calvinism augurs any willingness to seriously reconsider its substance.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of Ten Myths is the final chapter, titled "Recovering Our Bearings: Calvinism in the Twenty-First Century." There Stewart's agenda becomes clear. He writes not so much to answer Calvinism's critics as to urge several adjustments to contemporary Calvinism. Clearly he believes that even misunderstandings of Calvinism can teach Reformed Christians important lessons.

Stewart chides major personalities of the current Calvinist upsurge for thinking as though it "appeared Melchizedek-like, 'without genealogy.'?" He names two heroes of the mostly 20-something crowd of new Calvinists, John Piper and Mark Driscoll, as culprits of this de-historicized vision of contemporary Calvinism. Stewart concludes that the new Calvinists need to recognize how their movement "stands in succession to and dependency on … earlier movements." Recounting the stories of five earlier Calvinist upsurges, he calls on contemporary Calvinists to admit interdependence between past and present, show loyalty to both, eschew triumphalism, and practice unity and forbearance.

Young, restless, Reformed Calvinists—indeed, all of Geneva's progeny—ought to heed the sage advice of this Reformed theology professor and scholar of Calvinist history: "If a Calvinist movement stresses only the reiteration of ideas and doctrines from long ago, its tendency will be antiquarian and old-fogeyish; its devotees might actually wish to be living in a different time and place! On the other hand, if a Calvinist movement glories chiefly in its affinities with the contemporary scene … the necessary link with historical markers of the movement may be very hard to locate."

In fact, every Christian movement needs to recognize that there is really nothing new under the sun—a recognition that cultivates humility and willingness to learn from past mistakes.

Roger E. Olson is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary and author of the forthcoming Against Calvinism (Zondervan).

continue to -



Raising Yeshua-Followers in the West Bank

Ariella, a Messianic Jew, raises four children amid violence in the Holy Land.

by Michelle Van Loon
June 15, 2011

“It’s ironic, but I feel that my kids are safer here than living in the U.S.,” said Ariella B. I met Ariella nearly two decades ago when we were attending the same Chicago-area congregation. Recently I had a chance to visit her on a recent trip to Israel. She is now a vivacious 40-something wife and mother of four elementary-aged children living in the West Bank.

“Safe” is probably not the word that comes to mind when most of us think about raising a family in a Jewish settlement on the far side of the Green Line. But Ariella insists that her family’s rhythms would be familiar to most American parents: school activities, piano lessons, chores and outings shape their day-to-day life.

“We don’t have too many fears of child abduction or mugging. There are the usual safety measures - areas you know to stay away from, and where pickpockets are in the Old City. But normally, kids stay out late here with no problem. Everyone here is required to serve in the army, so everyone knows how to take care.”

Ariella, who emigrated to Israel from the U.S. nearly 15 years ago, is a Messianic Jew. “Our town of about 40,000 is a short distance from Jerusalem. Most living here hold to some form of religious Zionism, otherwise they would not feel comfortable living here.

“When I was 13 and had my Bat Mitzvah - my coming of age ceremony - the Torah portion for that week was Ezekiel 36:24-39. This set of verses turned out to have incredible impact for me in my 20s as I came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus), and again a few years later when I became part of the community of returning exiles.” She married another Jewish believer she met after moving to Israel.

Though the number of believing Israelis is growing (current estimates place the Israeli Messianic population at around 10,000 out of a population of more than 7 million), Ariella and her family have long been accustomed to living as a sometimes-persecuted minority in the country. They attend a small Hebrew-language Messianic congregation, but have friends in many other congregations as well. This network of relationships provides support as they live their lives among those who don’t share their faith in the Messiah.

“We have a lot in common in terms of morals and lifestyle with our neighbors,” Ariella noted. “My husband and I believe God brought our family to this community. The move here was attractive as well because rents are sky-high in Jerusalem. We can afford to live here.”

There is a cost to that affordability: bars on every window of their one-story home, an armed security guard at the entrance to her community, and the gauntlet of checkpoints, concrete barriers, armed soldiers, and United Nations monitors, all ever-present reminders of the tensions that exist in her region of the world.
Two incidents of terrorism this spring struck especially close to home for Ariella’s family: the massacre of a five members of the Fogel family in Itamar, another West Bank community, and a bombing that killed a Christian Bible translator at a Jerusalem bus stop. The Fogel murders shook the entire country to the core. The funeral was broadcast live on Israeli television. Days later, the bus bombing triggered fears that a third intifada had begun.

Talking with her children about the danger in their world is a necessity, but Ariella’s approach is shaped by her faith as much as it is by the hard facts of life on the other side of the Green Line. “All Israeli kids are briefed not to touch or be around objects left alone without an owner, for instance. They know that terrorists don’t want us here. My family prays regularly for those who want to harm us. We pray for their salvation, that God will have mercy on them and stop them from doing evil.”

Ariella noted that prayer doesn’t automatically banish fear in her household, but she and her husband process scary issues as they arise in order to prepare their children to embrace their role in their culture. “They understand that here and being a believer means they won’t have an easy life. But I also want them to know that only God’s promises are our foundation for safety.”

Ariella believes she's responsible for modeling openness and fear-free engagement with both their Jewish neighbors and the Arab community. “God has given my husband and me opportunities in our daily lives to share God’s love with Arabs. I like it when the children are with me for these ‘divine encounters’ so they can witness them. Last week, I met a lady from Gaza who was in a hospital waiting room with me. In the course of our conversation, I shared my faith with her. She knew I was Jewish, but I explained my faith in Yeshua (Jesus) to her, and she let my 7-year-old daughter and me pray for her healing. My little girl has been praying for her since that encounter.”

Ariella and her husband are quick to counter any hatred the children may pick up from the polarized culture in which they live. “We don’t want the prejudices of others to be the foundation for our family’s responses,” she said. “The children know God’s heart to redeem, and that brings perspective.”

And according to Ariella, that healthy, hopeful perspective is a gift parents can give to their children, no matter what their zip code is.

Why Men Should Read Jane Austen

Occassionally I like to break out of Christian topics and simply look at culturally relevant material like this CT article below. However you may identify with it I think it behooves us to better listen and learn from one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

* * * * * * * * * *

And, how we all should read works like ‘Pride and Prejudice.’
by Gina Dalfonzo
June 20, 2011
Nobel-winning novelist V. S. Naipaul recently started a firestorm with his remarks about female writers in general and Jane Austen in particular. According to the Guardian:
In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the "greatest living writer of English prose", was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: "I don't think so." Of Austen he said he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world". 
He felt that women writers were "quite different". He said: "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me." 
The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world". "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too," he said.
Naipaul’s words caused controversy for obvious reasons: They were self-serving, condescending, and, as any of Austen’s millions of devoted readers could attest, wholly untrue. Not only was Austen’s talent equal to that of virtually any other great writer, but she was about as “sentimental” as a surgeon’s scalpel.

0620janeausten_L.jpgAs my friend Lori Smith writes in her book A Walk with Jane Austen, “Biographers sometimes wrestle with Austen’s complex character—the good Christian girl with the biting wit, with the ability to see and desire to expose the laughable and ludicrous. . . . She had a capacity for devotion as well as an ability to wryly, if at times harshly, engage the world around her.”

But Naipaul’s words will blow over before long, as publicity stunts tend to do. What should be troubling us is that his attitude seems to be deeply embedded in our culture. I’ve known quite a few men—educated, well-read men—who either dismiss Austen as “chick lit” or simply never bother to give her a thought. (I’ve even heard one man say that [Austen] didn’t know what she was talking about because she never married.) There are men who still read and enjoy her, but their number seems to be diminishing.

One reason for this, I’m afraid, is the way that many of us women read (and watch) Austen these days—drooling over the romances while passing over the satire and ignoring the fact that, as Lori puts it, “the triumph of [Austen's] books . . . is not only that the relationships come together but the kind of people who are allowed to come together—two people with characters that have been hammered out a bit, with faults that have been recognized and corrected.” In other words, the books are not just about love triumphant, but about the formation of good character and good values.

We Austen readers miss so much when we ignore the religious and moral bedrock of these novels. Sometimes we “use” the books rather than truly reading them (as C. S. Lewis expressed it in his insightful work An Experiment in Criticism), getting only romantic gratification out of them instead of thoughtfully taking in all that they have to offer. I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy the romance, but when we enjoy only that, we create an impression that that’s all these books are good for—and that’s an impression that’s hardly appealing to the average male reader.

0620jane-austen-addict.jpgAnother reason is that we as a society seem so determined to segregate children by gender as soon as they begin to read. It’s not that we do it out of bad motives; it’s more a matter of wanting to make sure that both girls and boys will love to read. The way to do that, most of us believe, is to offer books that appeal to them on the basis of gender—just as pop culture offers them movies and shows and games on that same basis. Have boys read only boyish books, the theory goes, and they’ll want to read more and more. Except that it doesn’t seem to be working out that way.

When we at BreakPoint started covering books for teens and tweens, we heard from several parents begging for some good reading options for their sons. Yet the libraries and bookstores are full of books about boys and their pursuits. Why, then, do parents have such a hard time finding material?

Maybe the answer lies in what we’ve taught them to enjoy. Everyone has different tastes, of course, but I wonder if we adults have had more input into children’s tastes than we realize. In fact, I wonder if our gender-based ideas have created something of a vicious circle: The more we promote books that we think boys will like—always exciting, not too difficult, with as many boys and as few girls as possible—the more we help to narrow their minds and ensure that they’ll never try anything else. And in the process, we’re exhausting the amount of literary resources available to them.

This problem doesn’t just involve gender, of course; it’s also about what Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” which is far more rampant in our time than in his. It leads too many parents to dismiss shelves full of classics that appealed to children in earlier generations, in endless pursuit of the modern and relevant. We send them the message that classic literature is too hard, too boring, too far removed from their lives—is it any wonder they believe it? And this doesn’t apply just to Jane Austen, or even just to female authors. Try running a blog about Charles Dickens, and finding yourself constantly explaining to people that (1) yes, Dickens is worth reading, (2) no, he was not “paid by the word,” and (3) no, they do not deserve to be pitied for the rest of their lives because a teacher “forced” them to read him.

I realize I’m asking for a lot here. These days, teaching children, regardless of gender, to enjoy all sorts of literature from all sorts of authors is generally held to be far too difficult and not worth the effort. I’m not saying it would be easy, but I am saying it would be very much worth the effort. Aside from the obvious benefits to their intellect, vocabulary, and faith—for many of those great writers incorporated a Christian worldview into their work—it would broaden their horizons and teach them that it might just be possible to learn something from people who are different from them.

V.S. Naipaul might not approve, but I’ll bet Jane Austen would.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog. She wrote "The Good Christian Girl: A Fable" and "God Loves a Good Romance" for CT online, and Guarding Your Marriage without Dissing Women,” “Bill Maher Slurs Sarah Palin, NOW Responds,” “The Social Network’s Women Problem,” "Facebook Envy on Valentine's Day," "What Are Wedding Vows For, Anyway?" "Why Sex Ruins TV Romances," and "Don't Think Pink" for Her.meneutics. Her book, “‘Bring Her Down’: How the American Media Tried to Destroy Sarah Palin,” is now available on Amazon.

Being Human 6


by RJS
June 14, 2011

The third chapter of Joel B. Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible deals with the ideas of sin and freedom. In the last post we discussed a bit of the embodied nature of sin. We do not seem to possess a separable soul capable of overriding the impulses of our bodies. This was illustrated by an extreme example of a tumor that undermined the control mechanisms in the brain and rendered a patient unable to resist the lure of pornography and sexual pleasure. The limitations imposed by the fully embodied nature of human decision making are not confined to cases of disease and accident however.

Dr. Green summarizes the scientific data:
Among the implications of these data, two are of special interest to us in this chapter. The first is simply the embodied nature of decision-making, its manifestly somatic basis, involving predispositions and emotion alongside logical weighing of considerations. Second, decision-making cannot be characterized by the laws of neurobiology in simple bottom-up terms, since our neurobiological profile is itself in a state of ongoing formation and reformation on account of environmental, and especially relational, influences and through self-reflexive evaluation of the bases and futures of past and prospective behaviors. (p. 87)
That paragraph sounds a bit like “professor-speak,” but there are important ideas here.

(1) We are embodied creatures and our decisions are constrained by this fact. The idea of a libertarian free will to choose just doesn’t fit with the data.

(2) Our choices and behaviors today influence our future choices. Relationships and community play an important role.

In the remainder of the chapter Dr. Green looks at the biblical concept of sin in 1 Peter, James, and the letters of Paul, primarily Romans. The question is how the concept of sin according to Peter, James, and Paul, relates to the neurobiological ideas of decision making and human behavior.

What is the biblical concept of sin? How does this relate to human behavior and decision making?

1 Peter

In his letter Peter refers to the former way of life practiced by his audience, behaviors to be avoided, and labels for those who are antagonists. These concepts help to define his view of sin… sin is living outside of the way of God.

“Sin,” then, is inhabiting the muck and executing the ways of a religious and moral climate set against God; it is present as an ethos of unrestrained immorality and craving that cannot but shape persons in its likeness. (p. 89)
Because of Christ his followers can be done with this way of life. The capacity for transformation is a divine gift – both through the example of Christ and through the power of Christ’s life and death. The human family needed liberation from the bondage of a sinful past. Christians enter into a new community and a new way of life. This new way shapes all.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)
Dr. Green summarizes his reading of 1 Peter:
For 1 Peter then, human life is life on the potter’s wheel, so to speak – being shaped one way or another, by the ancestral ways expressed in taken-for-granted social conventions, or by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the formative influence of the people of God. Humans act out their formation, so the primary questions must be, Formed according to what pattern? Formed within what community? (p. 94)

In the book of James sin is the child of desire born through friendship with the world. Friendship with the world is a unity of heart and mind with the ways of the world. There is a strong emphasis on both the personal and the relational.
The very epitome of the sinful life is not an act but an allegiance, relationally delimited: “friendship with the world.” (p. 95)
Partiality, hypocrisy, bitter envy, selfish ambition, these characterize friendship with the world. Peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, absence of partiality and hypocrisy, these characterize the way of of God. As in 1 Peter there is an internal and a relational component – but the problem of human desire is internal to the human person and the solution must be internalized.
The challenges of exilic life provide an arena for the unbridled exercise of human passion, the result of which is sin and death. … Required is a transformation of human nature by means of divine wisdom, the divine word that must be received and fully embodied so that it imbues who one is and what one does. Theologically this is nothing less than a conversion of the imagination, those patterns of thinking, feeling, believing, and behavior that animate our lives. (p. 98)

According to Dr. Green Paul’s view of sin is universal – not because Adam sinned, but because all sinned.
Paul’s affirmation of the universality of sin derives from his understanding that Adam’s sin set in motion a chain of effects, one sin leading to the next, not because sin was an essential constituent of the human condition but because all humanity followed Adam in his sinfulness. (p. 100)
This isn’t sinfulness passed on as a contagion but sinfulness as an inescapable part of human community ever after. Reading beyond what Dr. Green has written – this is not necessarily a condition introduced by a unique act by a unique couple, but a statement of the rebellion of mankind and the condition of humanity as a consequence. Paul may see Adam and Eve as the progenitors, but his understanding of sin and human nature does not rest on this.

Moving on, Dr. Green sees six aspects of sin in Paul:

(1) The perspective is cosmological. Sin is a condition of the human family.

(2) Acts of wickedness are expressions of sin, they are not themselves the problem.

(3) The expressions of sin evidence the moral integrity of a God who takes sin seriously. God gives humanity over to its own desires. As Wisdom 12:23 puts it: God “torments” those who live unrighteously by allowing them their own atrocities. This idea fits with the Paul’s understanding of sin.

(4) The giving over to sinful desires means that humanity is now in a condition of slavery to sin.

(5) Sin is a rupture of the divine-human relationship, human relationships, and the relationship between humans and creation. Sin is not private, it is in relation to God, to others, and to the cosmos.

(6) Humanity embraces a lie and receives a corrupt mind. [T]he conceptual patterns by which humanity perceives the world and orders its behavior is out of touch with the way things are. (p. 102)

Paul talks very little about the forgiveness of sins. Dr. Green identifies only two places (Eph 1:7, Col 1:14). Rather humanity requires a liberation from enslavement. We are liberated from the enslavement to sin and death and brought into a new community of the people of God. This new community was inaugurated and enabled through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Pulling this together. Dr. Green suggests that the following three ideas are coherent with both neurobiology and New Testament perspectives on human nature, human sin and human freedom.
1) We do what we are. That is, our behaviors are generated out of, and so reflect, our characters and dispositions.
2) Who we are is both formed and continually being formed socioculturally, and especially relationally.
3) “Choice” is contextually determined.
Biblical faith pushes beyond the inherited human nature to a broader view of the people of God. Dr. Green doesn’t quite go here in this chapter, but the conclusion seems inescapable. Sin is not the specific acts or behaviors of an individual but the condition of humanity. The acts, bitterness envy, sexual immorality, and so forth characterize a life shaped by a community apart from God or rebelling against God.

We are called and enabled to join the people of God and to re-form ourselves along biblical theological lines in the community of the people of God. This is not an instantaneous change, but an ongoing formation for which community is absolutely indispensable. There is no transformation without the church (being in relationship with the community of the people of God).

This chapter ends rather abruptly and leaves many ideas dangling. The next chapter, Being Human, Being Saved, may bring more of this together.

For now…

What do you think of Dr. Green’s identification of the nature of sin according to Peter, James, and Paul? Is this in accord with your understanding?

Does the emphasis on the communal nature of sin and sinfulness make sense?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
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