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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Biblical Authority & Incarnation vs. Analytic Theology

Some rather unanalytic thoughts on analytic theology: reflections on Logos 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

I returned on Sunday from Logos 2011, a superb three-day conference at the University of Notre Dame, sponsored by the Center for Philosophy of Religion and under the specific auspices of the Analytic Theology Project. Let me begin by thanking Michael Rea and the other organizers of the conference for inviting me to participate in the conversation. It was an honor to be there and I greatly enjoyed my time at Notre Dame.

After writing a number of tweets (#logos2011) about it, I’ve naturally been asked to comment at length about the experience. I will do so now, though my assessment here is merely provisional in nature. Larger issues raised at the conference will have to be addressed at another time. This year’s topic on divine revelation, scripture, canon, and biblical authority is a central interest of my work, and for that reason, many of the most interesting theological insights from the conference will have to wait for a future occasion. Here I only want to raise some concerns that I have about the project of analytic theology more broadly, in light of the conversations I had at the conference.

But first, let me gush about the fantastic people I was so privileged to meet. I very much enjoyed conversing with Evan Fales (Iowa), whose paper was a favorite of mine at the conference, and whose use of Leach, Durkheim, Levi-Strauss to interpret scripture is immensely interesting to me. Getting to know Tamsin Jones (Harvard) was a highlight of my time. I was also happy to meet and interact with Andrew Dole (Amherst). It was a pleasure to interact with Oliver Crisp (formerly of Bristol, now at Fuller) and Michael Rea (Notre Dame); both graciously answered my questions and Crisp especially is a lot of fun at a bar. After years of reading his work, I finally met Kevin Vanhoozer (Wheaton) for the first time, as well as his family. More recently, I have taken a great interest in Kenton Sparks (Eastern), whose book God’s Word in Human Words is perhaps the best evangelical treatment of modern biblical scholarship—a work I cannot recommend too highly. Sadly, however, I had to miss the opening session with Peter Enns, a man I highly respect and admire. The reason for this is a little long, but suffice it to say, my luggage was lost during a layover at O’Hare airport. I received it the next day around noon at our hotel, but the last shuttle for the morning session left at 11 am. I also did not have a chance to talk personally with William Abraham (SMU), who provided what was for me the highlight of the trip (see below).

Second, let me also state the obvious: for a conference organized under the auspices of analytic theology, there were very few actually analytic theology or philosophy papers. Unlike previous Logos conferences (from what I’ve heard), this conference broadened the scope of participants considerably. They also chose scholars known for their work on this particular doctrinal topic, as opposed to picking analytic scholars to speak about the topic. The result was an excellent discussion about scripture, though perhaps not as satisfying on a philosophical level for those working in analytic philosophy of religion. Since I’m not interested in analytic theology myself, I found the papers very interesting and worthwhile. Some of the papers were even critical of analytic theology, whether implicitly (Paul Nimmo) or explicitly (Vanhoozer, Abraham).

In the rest of this post, I want to raise some concerns I have about the whole project of analytic theology. I raise these as part of a good faith effort to understand what the project is trying to do. If I have misconstrued anything, I do hope those in the analytic theology circles will correct me. I view myself as a friendly critic, an outsider interested in helping those “inside” do their work better.

My general critique is a classically “continental” one: viz. that I am concerned with the apparently ahistorical and non-social conception of reason with which the analytic people appear to be working. That is to say, there seems to be a sense that theological claims and concepts can be evaluated in abstraction from the historical, cultural, and political contexts within which such claims and concepts originate and develop. So we can evaluate someone like Schleiermacher or Barth by distilling a set of propositions and deciding whether the conclusions rationally follow from the premises. While this appears quite objective, it does not properly take into account both the inherently contextual nature of these theological texts but also the intrinsically social nature of reason itself. The former comes from the fact that these and other theologians are writing within a particular tradition, responding to developments within that tradition, and seeking to speak for this tradition within a new historical situation. The latter is a larger claim that goes back at least to Hegel (see Pinkard’s The Sociality of Reason), with whom I agree. But I cannot defend that tradition of thought here. That’s not to say analytic philosophy cannot take up this Hegelian line of thinking. People like Robert Brandom and John McDowell have done just that, within an analytic pragmatism or a particular reading of Wittgenstein that socializes our thinking, speaking, and doing in the world. (One could justifiably say that the analytic tradition is divided between two different readings of Wittgenstein. By and large, those I met at Logos don’t read him the way I do.)

I bring up this “continental” argument, because I think it illuminates a lot of the disagreements and misunderstandings that I overheard at the conference. I don’t just mean the dismissal of Barth I encountered, or the statements about Schleiermacher having a God who cannot act in the world and does not love humanity. These were certainly very bad and did not inspire confidence about the future, but these are not views unique to analytic theologians; many people hold such notions out of a general lack of knowledge of these theologians and an unwillingness to charitably engage them on their own terms. The problems I am referring to are things like the incredulous stares of some at the notion that I or another person are happy to get rid of inerrancy. While it wasn’t made entirely clear, I gathered that this is because the doctrine of inerrancy is a key premise in a syllogism regarding the authority of scripture. If one dispenses with this doctrine, one dispenses with the logical argument for scripture’s authority and meaningfulness. It became clear to me that many of these analytic grad students are simply ignorant of the entire theological tradition regarding this doctrine. They’ve never read the Protestant scholastics on verbal-plenary inspiration, never studied the writings of Hodge and Warfield in their historical context, never examined the arguments Barth gives for rejecting these doctrines or assessed the cultural and historical reasons for his claims. What these philosophers of religion want to know is: is this doctrine rational or irrational? is scripture authoritative or not? The idea that inerrancy could be a culturally-loaded term, with a complex web of historical relations that have to be entangled before it can be rightly evaluated, is viewed as either irrelevant or foreign or both.

This is why I think people like Enns and Sparks—both of whom, like Barth, make a very sharp distinction between the “humanity” of the text and the “divinity” of God’s word—provoked looks of puzzled astonishment, as if they’ve heard a new language for the very first time. The analytic crowd seemed to insist that unless we could directly predicate inspiration, revelation, and authority of the biblical text (qua text, i.e. words on the page), the whole Christian game would be up. The Barthian/actualistic position—that revelation is directly identified with the person of Christ himself, and that the word of God is a christic-pneumatic event in the encounter between text and reader—got no hearing at all at the conference. I’m not sure anyone in the analytic crowd knows what to do with it. An event resists any logical proposition. It is an existential disruption, not a syllogistic conclusion. Every analytic evaluation of Barth that I’ve read ends up greatly misunderstanding Barth’s christocentrism. They seem to forget that what distinguishes Barth from someone like Charles Hodge is not the various doctrinal propositions with which each agrees; it is rather the entire nature of what theology is as a discipline: its origin, ground, and telos. Between the systematic arrangement of discrete timeless, universal, propositional facts and the contextual-historical reflection on the faith and proclamation of a particular community—between scripture as (i) the revelation of universal truths about God and (ii) Christ as the contingent actualization of God’s being that demands ever-new interpretation within new contingent situations—yawns a great chasm.

Returning to Enns for a moment: I think at the end of the day much of this conflict comes down to a christological disagreement regarding the very nature of incarnation. Enns and Sparks could both use some greater sophistication in their use of christological categories, but their essential insight is quite sound: scripture is a fundamentally and thoroughly human document, bearing all the marks of our finitude and fallenness. But precisely as a human document, God speaks in and through it in a way that remains truthful and normative. The incarnational analogy that Enns uses helps to illuminate this very point. Jesus is not God “in spite of” his human form, but precisely “as” a human, including everything that being human implies and demands (insofar as what is not assumed is not redeemed).

However, this is where we run into problems, because we have to clarify just what we mean by incarnation. The classical Chalcedonian tradition is both helpful and dangerous in this regard, because people like Cyril of Alexandria were quite willing to instrumentalize the human nature. The divine Logos was understood to be the sole active agent in the incarnation, while the flesh functioned passively like a garment worn by God in the world [(basic gnostic dualism known as (semi)pelagianism - skinhead)]. So the incarnational analogy can easily support a very instrumentalist doctrine of inerrancy, even a full-blown theory of dictation [(sic, autonomatism, unjoined robotic human reactions - skinhead)] (which a couple people at the conference came very close to accepting outright, and are at least sympathetic with). A better incarnational analogy requires a better christology, one that affirms the full human agency of Jesus. The way to do so, in my view, is through Barth, Jüngel, and McCormack—where Jesus is God precisely in his historical existence, where the “human nature” is not something appended onto the “divine nature” because the human existence is precisely where divinity is ontologically located (which to the analytics appears like a collapse of the natures).

I say all this because I think the lack of comprehension regarding incarnation and inerrancy is really indicative of a larger disagreement regarding the very nature of theological reasoning. This became clear at the after-dinner talk given by Billy Abraham (title: “Turning Philosophical Water into Theological Wine”!), in which he made it very clear that all Christian theology is a “spiritual enterprise,” which has spiritual formation as its rightful telos. Theology cannot escape things like diversity of tradition, historical and intellectual diversity, and the diversity of audiences. In short, the very idea of a universal rational discourse is, at least for theology, an illusion. He didn’t put it quite this way, but his point was that theology is about Christian discipleship, and discipleship involves concrete human beings within concrete historical contexts. It speaks from and for a particular group of believers, seeking to upbuild them in the faith and orient them toward love of God and neighbor. I do think most everyone in the room was on board with this, but there were some clear misgivings by some of the analytic types. The most telling moment occurred when one young man asked, “I really don’t understand why theology has to be concerned with spiritual formation at all. Why can’t it be just about logic and reason?” Abraham’s response was to the point: “Go do philosophy.” In other words, don’t call yourself a theologian, because you’re not doing theology. This particular man wasn’t the only person to raise this concern, and I suspect many people in the audience agreed with him.

So let me step back and assess what I take to be the general issue here. Is there such a thing as universal truth? Does theology trade in universally-valid propositions? Do we have access to timeless facts whose validity is universal in scope because [they are] not historically-conditioned? These are the kinds of questions that really divide the camps. I don’t want to get into how I would answer those questions here, since that would make this post even longer than it already is. For now, I’ll just say that even if there is universal truth, it’s not universal in the sense of being accessible to all—it is only truth for faith, i.e., within the context of the community of believers. The universality of truth is thus inseparable from the contingency and particularity of history.

My position thus stands in stark contrast to those in the analytic theology school, and I think there is a fairly obvious reason for this. Analytic theology is a subset of analytic philosophy of religion. According to proponents of analytic theology, this field is simply the systematic extension of the analytic philosophy of religion to every doctrinal locus. The aims of analytic theology are not fundamentally different from the aims of the philosophy of religion; there is a quantitative, rather than qualitative, difference between the two. Now the academic discipline of analytic philosophy understands its task to be the logical analysis of propositional arguments about various topics. Those who have not swallowed the Wittgensteinian, much less the Hegelian, pill—who still operate within the sphere of so-called universals—see themselves as capable of abstracting concepts from the historical contexts within which they are used; they can be analyzed apart from their concrete uses in particular situations for particular ends. A logically-justified claim has universal significance. Contrary to the “postmodern” continental tradition, everything is not hermeneutics.

[(It is noted here that David rightly is saying that Christians have been making bald, universally abstract statements about God and faith for a very long time in the Modern-era of Enlightenment, and that Post-Modernistic statements (or even perhaps, Emergent Christian statements) wish to localize and enmesh biblical truths into both the subjective and worship experience of believers. To back away from abstract "truths" of God and bring rather the pragmatic entanglements of God's person and being into the Christian faith. - skinhead)]

For me, on the contrary, everything is hermeneutics. Every concept is culturally situated, every claim is determined by its location within history [(sic, everything has a (Meta)Narrative, - skinhead)]. There is no universally-valid ontology, no metaphysic that is not conditioned by a particular sociopolitical context. Now I think there are many ways of reaching this “continental” conclusion, but my reason is purely theological: Jesus Christ is the historicization of God, thus the historicization of theology. Speech about God is not speech about a universal concept of deity; it is contextual speech about the concrete reality of God in the world. This means that the very being of God is the ground for the hermeneutical nature of all theological discourse. There is no speech about God that is not essentially a matter of hermeneutical understanding. All talk of God is interpretation.

Is this an absolute divide? Are these two approaches to theology mutually exclusive? I’d like to think they aren’t, because I do want to engage these analytic theologians in constructive conversation that will be to our mutual benefit. But I am deeply skeptical. I am concerned that we have such radically different views of God, Christ, scripture, and revelation that we will never be able to move past prolegomena to actually do joint work in doctrinal reflection. I hope I am proved wrong and that my suspicions and worries are misguided. Based on the conference, however, I am left with decidedly mixed feelings.

Personally, I do not believe you can start with philosophy of religion and ever reach Christian theology. I am with Barth on this one. Or as Bultmann put it, “There is no alternative; [philosophy] must be either maid or mistress.” With Barth and Bultmann, I want the former (philosophy as maid). There are many at the conference that would probably agree with this, making theology the queen of the sciences. But exactly what they mean by this is often unclear. It seems that, in practice, philosophy is in fact the mistress—or, rather, they see no qualitative distinction between philosophy and theology, and whenever such a view is held, philosophy is inevitably the one in control.

I must reiterate again my deep gratitude for the invitation to attend Logos 2011. It was a pleasure to be there. I had some of the best conversations of the year (including some of the best drinks!). I met many incredible people, whom I look forward to seeing again in the future. I hope my misgivings are themselves misguided. I eagerly await future opportunities to discuss these important topics in more depth. In the meantime, consider me a friendly but critical outsider wishing the analytic theologians the best. There is still time to turn the philosophical water into theological wine.

Evaluating "God Wins" by Mark Galli

The real impasse in the debate over Rob Bell

Posted by David W. Congdon
on Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mark Galli’s book, God Wins—a response, obviously, to Love Wins—was the topic of discussion last week. The book has been available on Kindle for a few weeks, though it doesn’t appear in print until August 1. In it, Galli explains why he thinks “love wins” is an insufficient understanding of the gospel, because it bypasses the question of God’s judgment and wrath. Hence, “God wins.” One almost wants to ask Galli whether he’s forgotten 1 John 4:8. But that’s a cheap shot. Since I haven’t read the book yet—and since I’ve already written a few thousand words on Galli in my series responding to his deeply misguided and misinformed review in Christianity Today—I defer to the recent blog posts by Roger Olson, a man I highly respect and deeply admire.

Olson, a friend of Galli, wrote about God Wins on July 7. There he made a number of ambiguous remarks that were clearly an attempt to praise the qualities of the man while criticizing the claims of the book. He begins by stating that “Mark is a serious evangelical scholar with an irenic approach to controversial material.” He then goes on to say, “I get the sense that Mark felt things that I did not feel and that I felt things Mark (and others) did not feel.” And later: “I think that may be because Mark is a member of a denomination struggling with rampant liberalism in which conservatives (by which here I mean people who value traditional, orthodox, biblical Christianity) feel embattled. I, on the other hand, have been beset by fundamentalists and aggressive neo-fundamentalist heresy-hunters.” The rest of the review is just filler: Mark is a great guy, but he’s approaching this book from a perspective I do not share. Translation: his criticisms of Love Wins are not really about Bell; they are instead about Galli’s own issues within his ecclesial context.

Olson followed up that review of God Wins with another post on “Why I defend Rob Bell’s Love Wins (and other controversial books).” In this fascinating post, Olson puts forward the claim that what is really driving a book like God Wins is the whole Calvinism-Arminianism debate. He then states:

I think SOME evangelical Calvinists are so allergic to both Arminianism and liberalism that they tend to lump them together and not see their differences. There’s something in American evangelical Calvinisms’ DNA that makes it see a trajectory from Arminianism (or anything like it) to liberalism. I deny that trajectory and, in fact, tend to think it is the other way around (if anything): Calvinism leads to liberalism.

Olson compares Love Wins to the books related to the open theism controversy. He observes that the attacks made against both by Calvinists are the very same arguments used by Calvinists against Arminianism. What happens in these debates is that the particularities of open theism and Bell’s “open eschatology” (if I may put it thus) are lost amidst polemics about divine sovereignty and human free will. In Olson’s words, “the crux of the debate has to do with two different interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:4,” and “the deep, inner logic of the attacks on Love Wins” are rooted in “Reformed assumptions about God rather than out of Arminian assumptions about God.” Olson then makes a very interesting comment that warrants further reflection:

Simply to respond that God Wins is to raise some questions from the Arminian side. In what sense does God win? Does God get everything he wanted? Does God want hell–antecedently as well as consequently? If you say no, then why does hell exist? It has to be because of free will and that has to be because of God’s loving self-limitation. If you say yes, then that raises a host of questions about God’s goodness. There don’t seem to be alternatives. Either God wanted hell antecedently, in which case God is a monster, or God only wants hell consequently (to the fall) and that means God doesn’t exactly “win” in every sense, right? But love can still win IN THE SENSE that love wants free response and not coerced or programmed response.

There is much here worth examining in detail, but in the interests of brevity, I will summarize my thoughts with the following points. These are not meant to be exhaustive. They only hit on some of the key issues for the sake of further discussion.
1. The Calvinist-Arminian debate is an old one, but it seems blissfully unaware that there are serious alternatives to this rather stale binary opposition. It might seem a bit obvious, since it’s been suggested many times before, but a really compelling alternative is that of Karl Barth. Why? Well, it all comes down to understanding what we mean by freedom. The problem with both Calvinism and Arminianism is that freedom—whether the freedom of God or the freedom of the human being, respectively—has been defined in the abstract. The Calvinist freedom of God (i.e., the absolute sovereignty to determine the elect and the reprobate) and the Arminian freedom of humanity (i.e., the free will to determine one’s eternal identity in response to the gospel message) are both known prior to and apart from how God has actually exercised freedom in the person of Jesus. In other words, both are metaphysical conceptions of freedom. They are abstract notions not determined by the concrete particularity of God’s self-revelation. Now it may be that both sides simply don’t care; they like their metaphysics and cling to it tightly. That could very well be the case. But it’s important to point out just what is being assumed on both sides. In both cases, Christ is not definitive for what divine and human freedom means theologically.
2. Of course, to lift up Barth as a possible solution to the debate is not new, nor is it very persuasive to hard-core adherents of both positions. I suspect Calvinists and Arminians want their abstract conceptions of freedom, not because they care about the debates over metaphysics but because they are both deeply afraid of what it [may] mean to go a different route. To put it directly, both Calvinists and Arminians are afraid of universalism. Calvinists need an abstract divine freedom (that is, an abstract decision of predestination) because their commitment to irresistible grace and the efficacy of God’s election means that a divine freedom determined by Christ’s reconciling promeity would result in the salvation of all people. Arminians need an abstract human freedom because their commitment to God’s universal desire for all to be saved (see Olson’s reference to 1 Tim. 2:4 above) would mean, again, that all humans would be saved were it not for our ability to thwart God’s will. But maybe—just maybe!—the problem is the presupposition by both sides that the salvation of all people is absolutely prohibited as a possible option in theology. Maybe our abstract commitments to a non-universalist eschatology and to certain notions of what freedom means for God and for human beings are at the root of the problem. Maybe we should let the reconciling mission of Christ determine what we can say about freedom and eschatological consummation.
3. In other words, the following claim by Olson is a false binary: “Either God wanted hell antecedently, in which case God is a monster, or God only wants hell consequently (to the fall) and that means God doesn’t exactly ‘win’ in every sense, right?” The answer is no and no. I agree with Olson that God would be a monster for willing hell in advance. The old doctrine of double predestination is indeed a diabolic position to hold. But the Arminian alternative fares no better. Is a God who sends people to hell really much worse than a God who is impotent in the end to save those who reject the gospel (or never hear it in the first place)? The former is a God who is sovereign but cruel; the latter is a God who is weak but loving. The former is protologically monstrous, while the latter is eschatologically monstrous. But it’s unacceptable either way. If all are not finally saved, then God cannot be said to have “won.” And a God who does not “win”—who does not fully and finally accomplish God’s own perfect will—is simply not the God attested in scripture.
4. We can put the problem another way: for both Calvinists and Arminians, love and justice have been defined in the abstract, i.e., apart from God’s concrete self-communication in Christ. They both pit love and justice in a competitive relationship. Calvinism grounds the competition in God’s eternal predestination—so that God determines where love will “win” and where justice will “win.” Arminianism grounds the competition in the conflict between a loving God and a sinful humanity: God loves everyone, but this loving divine will is overpowered by a human refusal of this love that, according to the rules of the game, forces God to exact justice. If we begin with Christ, however, it turns out that love and justice are non-competitively related, since it is precisely the love of God for all that God’s cruciform justice serves to accomplish. Justice is simply the form that God’s love takes in the event of the cross. The notions of love and justice are not theologically meaningful independent of and prior to the actualization of God’s just love in the concrete reality of Jesus Christ. The attempt to define them in advance and then figure out how they relate theologically results in this intractable debate.
5. This whole debate also seems to take for granted the notion that eschatology refers to something “beyond death,” that is, beyond each person’s individual perishing. Maybe that’s something we need to reconsider as well.
continue to -


Is There a Protestant Purgatory?

I have attempted to provided some further discussion upon this area in the article "LOST in Purgatory? Parts 1 & 2" but would encourage that the reader first read Dr. Olson's opinions before proceeding.

R.E. Slater
March 20, 2012

Is There a Protestant Purgatory?

by Roger Olson
September 7, 2010

For some years now I’ve been wrestling with the concept of purgatory and wondering whether evangelical Christians should adopt some version of it. C. S. Lewis held to a version of purgatory while rejecting the classical Roman Catholic view.

Sidebar: Once again, as I write, I am aware that some critics out there may rip what I say out of context (because they have in the past) and publicly accuse me of adopting a Roman Catholic doctrine. I can see the (admittedly small) headline in some state Baptist newspaper now: “Baptist seminary professor Roger Olson headed toward Rome!” Some of you far removed from the “Baptist wars” of the last 25 years (mainly in the South) may think this is paranoia, but you think wrongly. One influential critic invented a quote (about open theism) and attributed it to me and disseminated it to Baptist state newspapers across the South. So, if you are one of “those” please be fair (if you’re capable of it) and explain that my hypothesis of purgatory is just that–a hypothesis for discussion (technically called a theologoumenon - "a theological statement or concept in the area of individual opinion rather than of authoritative doctrine") and very different from the Roman Catholic doctrine.

What stimulated this thought process was my intensive study of Christian leaders and theologians of the past in preparation to write The Story of Christian Theology. During that research I discovered things I had never heard or read about great evangelical “heroes” of the past such as Augustine, Luther, Zwingli and Calvin.

In a wonderful little book entitled My Conversation with Martin Luther the late Lutheran theologian Timothy Lull described his imaginary dialogues with Luther in which he discovered that the German reformer had to take classes in paradise about Judaism to correct his anti-semitism.

The question that bothers me is this: How can we picture men (and perhaps some women) who absolutely hated people entering into the joys of paradise without some kind of correction? Of course, as a committed Protestant I cannot imagine paradise or heaven as a place of completion of one’s salvation. But I can imagine a justified person being greeted at the gate by St. Peter (imagery) saying “Hello. Yes, you’re name is in the book. But before entering fully into the joys of this place you’ll need to take a class taught by [so-and-so] and experience correction and reconciliation.” And I can imagine every truly saved person saying “Yes! Of course. Thank you. Let’s get started.” In other words, I don’t envision this “purgatory” as suffering except in the sense that all correction involves some suffering. But for the truly saved person true correction is also a blessing.

Let me use the four evangelical heroes mentioned above as case studies. Augustine clearly despised heretics and called on the empire to eradicate by violence those that would not submit to his church. The heretics in question were the schismatic (as he called them) Donatists.

Luther hated Zwingli and the “radicals” as well as (late in life) Jews. When Zwingli was killed in battle defending Zurich Luther said it served him right for holding false views of the Lord’s Supper. We all know about his vicious attacks (in writing) on the peasants, the Anabaptists and Jews.

Zwingli invited Anabaptist leader Balthasar Hubmaier to Zurich for a debate. When Hubmaier arrived Zwingli had him arrested and tortured. During the torture Zwingli stood in the room calling on Hubmaier to recant his “heresies” which he did. (Later, after being released, Hubmaier recanted his recantation.)

Now we come to Calvin. What concerned me last year–the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth–was all the hoopla about what a great evangelical hero he was without hardly a word about his condoning the burning of Servetus.

My favorite monthly periodical, Christianity Today, celebrated Calvin’s legacy throughout the year. (One article did mention the Servetus episode.) The editors asked me to write an article about what I disagree the most with in Calvin’s life and theology. I wrote it and mentioned his treatment of Servetus. After submitting it the editors asked me to re-write. The new assignment was to write about what I, as an Arminian, agree with in Calvin’s theology. I was happy to fulfill both assignments. And I understood CT’s reasons for the change: its editorial policy is to remain mostly positive. I gladly wrote about Calvin’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit.

I attended a conference celebrating Calvin’s life and thought at my alma mater–Sioux Falls Seminary. Understandably, none of the presenters (that I heard) mentioned Calvin’s treatment of Servetus or his dictator-like ruling of Geneva. (Yes, yes, I know. He held no civil post in the city. But as its “chief pastor” he was extremely influential over the city council expecially after his return to Geneva.)

What was ironic was that during the conference I was reading the most recent scholarly biography of Calvin: Calvin by Bruce Gordon. Gordon reveals Calvin warts and all. It is by no means the typical evangelical hagiography (sic, "the idealized biography of a saint or a venerated personage"), but neither is it in any way anti-Calvin. The portions about the Servetus affair are especially interesting. For example, many, if not most, of Calvin’s Reformed colleagues throughout Switzerland and the Rhineland harshly criticized him for it. And he took full responsibility for it even though he preferred beheading over burning and technically the city council, not Calvin, condemned Servetus.

Of course, I knew much about the Servetus affair before reading Gordon’s biography. But most of it was from Reformed hagiographies of Calvin. The Calvin revealed by my research and by Gordon absolutely hated Servetus and others.

Now most evangelicals like to say of Calvin that he was “a child of his times.” Well, not exactly. As I said, even other Reformed theologians and chief pastors criticized him for this medieval act. Burning heretics was gradually becoming a thing of the past in much of Europe–especially in Protestant lands. Exile was the more typical treatment. I wonder if excusing someone’s hateful, vengeful and violent treatment of those with whom they disagree is really excusable just because they lived long ago?

So, with regard to Augustine, Luther, Zwingli and Calvin (among others) I’m faced with a dilemma. Are they in paradise now? Are they enjoying the bliss of being in the presence of Jesus? I am not their judge, but I would like to think so. But that presses me back to considering some concept like purgatory. Lull’s little dialogue book gave me the possible answer. (Remember–I’m talking about a hypothesis and not a new doctrine.)

What’s wrong with a Protestant believing that upon entering paradise a hate-filled Christian leader of the past who condoned torture and even murder (I don’t know what else to call the burning of Servetus even though it was technically legal–we still call “legal” stonings of women in certain countries “murder”) has to take a spiritually therapeutic “class” of correction?

I can imagine (only imagine, you realize!) Zwingli entering the pearly gates (imagery–because there’s no reason to believe paradise has gates!) and being greeted by Hubmaier who says “Ulrich, it’s nice to see you here. I’ve completely forgiven you. But Christ has assigned me as your tutor and guide during your orientation to paradise. Here, sit down, let me offer you some correction about treatment of people with whom you disagree.”

You might wonder–why call that “purgatory?” Well, don’t you suppose (as I do) that Zwingli would view it as a kind of purgatory? That is–as a kind of purgation of his errors and hateful attitudes? Imagine Zwingli having to sit at Hubmaier’s feet and learn from him! Could this be the meaning of 1 Corinthians 3:15?

I have trouble exonerating Augustine, Luther, Zwingli and Calvin of their hate-filled diatribes against and treatment of those they considered heretics. And I think typical evangelical (and other) treatments of them have been too gentle and even sometimes dishonest. Last year I could not “celebrate” the life of the man Calvin. From all that I have learned of him, he was a despicable character filled with hate against many, if not all, who criticized him. With his blessing if not at his urging the city council arrested and jailed Genevans who criticized him. But I could and did celebrate certain aspects of Calvin’s theological contribution–especially his strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit so often overlooked by his contemporary followers.

Purgatory? Well, perhaps that’s not a felicitous name for the phenomenon I am imagining. But I can’t think of a better name right now. C. S. Lewis called it purgatory while distancing his idea of it from the typical Roman Catholic explanations of it. (Although I suspect some contemporary Catholics think of it more along the lines I have outlined here than with the medieval imagery of it. One Catholic priest explained it to my class as a kind of “counseling.”)

Do I really believe in it? Well, that’s another question. I have no particular biblical basis for it, so, no, I don’t exactly believe in it in the same way I believe in the deity of Christ or the resurrection. But I find it the only acceptable alternative, for me, anyway, to thinking of great Christian heroes of the past being in hell.

Response to a Good Book about Purgatory


by Roger Olson
posted March 19, 2012

Some months ago I posted some thoughts here about purgatory. I endorsed an idea that had little resemblance to any traditional Catholic idea of purgatory, but some people are apparently so fixated on that word that its very appearance made them think I was affirming the Catholic idea of purgatory. I wasn’t. I admitted some sympathy with C. S. Lewis’ idea in The Great Divorce and other writings that perhaps there is a place after death for forgiven people where they can complete their spiritual formation. I represented it as educative rather than punitive. For me it was not part of hell or between heaven and hell but a part of paradise where people who die in Christ on account of God’s grace received by faith are brought to complete repentance and total transformation of character. In other words, it is a place for the completion of sanctification. Not because entire sanctification is a requirement for salvation (as forgiveness, reconciliation, heaven) but because it is a requirement for the full beatific vision of God. This idea of “purgatory” (which has little or nothing to do with medieval images of punishment” was expressed by Lewis in several ways. Here is what he wrote in Letters to Malcolm:

“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy”? Should we not reply “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.” “It may hurt, you know”—“Even so, sir.”

This is quoted on page 164 of a new book by evangelical philosopher Jerry Walls. The book is the third in his series on life after death. The others were on hell and heaven. This one is entitled Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford, 2012). In it he advocates Protestant embrace of an idea of purgatory that, in my opinion, has little to nothing to do with popular ideas of purgatory and therefore probably should not be called that. Toward the book’s end he says of his idea of purgatory “This is not purgatory as a frightful threat, but as a gracious promise.” (175) Here is the clearest statement of his thesis:

Critics of the doctrine [purgatory] often have a tendency, sometimes inveterately so, to depict it as a matter of salvation by works and then to reject it highhandedly in the name of grace. However, to pit purgatory against grace is to fail completely to grasp that purgatory itself is very much a matter of grace. To draw this contrast is to ignore the fact that grace is much more than forgiveness, that it is also sanctification and transformation, and finally, glorification. We need more than forgiveness and justification to purge our sinful dispositions and make us fully ready for heaven. Purgatory is nothing more than the continuation of the sanctifying grace we need, for as long as necessary to complete the job, as Lewis put it. (p. 174)

Walls basically endorses Lewis’ idea of purgatory and argues that it is not far from, if different at all from, post-Vatican 2 Catholic ideas of purgatory. I can verify this as I have had several well-informed Catholic theologians speak to my classes over the past thirty years and all of them (with one possible exception—a very conservative priest who still said mass in Latin) affirmed to me and my students that, for them, purgatory is not punishment but spiritual therapy and that it will be welcomed by those who spend time there.

Walls’ book covers goes into great detail about the history of the doctrine of purgatory, how the Catholic doctrine developed and differs from Eastern Orthodoxy’s idea of life after death (not purgatory per se but nevertheless a kind of spiritual formation such that prayers for the dead can be efficacious for them), and reasons for the Protestant reformers’ rejections of the doctrine (largely because in that time it was being taught as the reason for buying indulgences). Walls also covers all the biblical and philosophical reasons for purgatory. He admits that there is no proof for purgatory; it is a deduction and opinion only. He does not want Protestants to make a doctrine of it; he is simply presenting it as an option. One goal is clearly to ease ecumenical relations between Catholics and Protestants.

One thing about Walls’ book that will turn off even some Protestants who may sympathize with his idea of purgatory is his extension of that into postmortem opportunity for salvation for those who never have opportunity to accept Christ in life before death—for example children. One thing I find ironic here is that all Calvinists I know believe all children who die in infancy, or before the age of accountability, are elect and go straight to paradise. Where is the biblical proof of that? That seems to me a deduction from the goodness of God, but Calvinists who believe it don’t seem to think God’s goodness requires universal atonement! To me, the same logic that applies with children applies to the atonement. Anyway, it’s ironic that Walls, an Arminian, does not assume all children who die in infancy or before the age of accountability go straight to paradise while most Calvinists do!

I say Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation is a good book because it is well-researched and well-written and makes some very good arguments if not compelling ones. At the end, I still don’t think purgatory is the right word for this place Walls describes and it certainly isn’t a good word for what I believe—at least not without qualifications. I think at least some great heroes of Christian faith (e.g., Luther) will have to undergo some education before entering into the fullness of heavenly bliss. Not because they aren’t forgiven but because they said, wrote or did things so absolutely antithetical to the love of Jesus Christ that they will want to repent of them. I’m thinking, for example, of Luther’s anti-semitism and of his advice to the German princes to slay the peasants mercilessly (knowing full well what that would mean). Let me bring it home. I believe that, when I die and arrive in paradise, I will want my Savior to teach me how to repent more perfectly—especially of things I was not aware, during my lifetime before death, were sinful. I also want to be corrected by God himself for my false beliefs and attitudes. It will be humbling but pleasant, possibly painful (not physically) but much appreciated.

Something Protestants should borrow from Catholics


by Roger Olson
posted on August 15, 2011

Earlier (some months ago now) I posted an essay here arguing for a Protestant version of purgatory. (Hold your fire unless you’ve read that post!)

Now I’d like to argue for a Protestant version of categories of sin–something like the Catholic categories of mortal and venial.

Recently someone commenting here repeated the Protestant cliche that all sins are equal. I think that is folk religion UNLESS it has been reflected on critically and a strong biblical case made for it. Far too many Protestants simply mindlessly repeat it having no idea that it conflicts with scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Now, IF all it means is that all sins (like sinfulness itself!) offend God and harm (if not destroy) relationship with God…fine. We could easily transfer that to human experience and say that every little act of selfishness harms any relationship. But we also know from experience that, in a relationship of love, not every act of selfishness equally harms the relationship.

So what is my biblical evidence for this distinction between sins that can destroy a relationship with God (at least in this life if not in the next) and sins that harm but do not destroy it? Romans 14:23 says that whatever is not done with faith is sin. Can anyone claim he or she always does everything with faith? What about sins of ignorance and omission? Jesus talked about a sin that is unforgiveable. 1 John 5:14-17 talks about sins that are mortal and sins that are not mortal. This distinction appears throughout Christian history–even in the Protestant Reformation. But Protestants have generally relegated “mortal sin” to the one “unforgivable” sin.

I would like to suggest that this Protestant tradition (and the cliche that expresses it in folk religious style) is simply an over reaction to Catholicism. In fact, something LIKE the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins makes a lot of sense–biblically, rationally and experientially.

IF we say that all sins are equal, even “in God’s sight,” then we have to say that kidnapping, raping and murdering a little child is on the same level as telling someone their new hair style is becoming when it isn’t. That just doesn’t make sense. Sure, of course, both child murder and the “little white lie” offend God but surely not equally!

Let’s apply a little mind experiment to test this. Suppose a true Christian–a saved person–gives into an awful impulse and rapes and murders a child and does NOT repent of it. Then suppose another real Christian–a saved person–gives in to the temptation to deceive a co-worker with a hideous new hair style by saying “It’s so pretty” and does NOT repent of it (for whatever reason but for the sake of argument let’s say she forgets about it).

Do both sins equally break the persons’ relationships with God? (Let’s not get into a debate about “once saved, always saved” over this. For now, in this context, I am simply asking whether both sins equally damage a person’s fellowship with God in this life.) Will God equally withdraw his blessing from each person? Will communion with God be damaged equally by both sins not repented of? I think that’s ludicrous–to think so.

I remember these debates in church youth group and in Sunday School–many years ago. We were told by some of our mentors that every little sin, including a “little white lie,” breaks off your relationship with God until you repent of it. But we were also told (sometimes by the same mentor!) that the condition of “sinfulness” causes everyone to commit sins of omission and ignorance but these are “covered” by the “blood of Jesus” so that they do not break off fellowship with God or God’s blessing. (Although we were also always encouraged to ask God’s forgiveness in “blanket style”–for all our sins known and unknown to us.)

What is that but something LIKE the Catholic doctrine of mortal versus venial sins? And yet, our mentors would ALSO say “All sins are equal.” I remember struggling with these contradictions but being afraid to point them out or ask for clarification. Then–during my years in a fundamentalist Bible college I DID ask about them and was harshly criticized for doing so!

So what would a Protestant version of categorizations of sin look like? I see no problem with borrowing the terminology “mortal” and “venial” sin from Catholic theology, but I know many especially evangelical Protestants will choke on those words EVEN IF they agree that not all sins are equal in terms of damaging our relationship with God. However, I haven’t come up with alternative single words for the two categories. Do we necessarily need them?

I suggest we teach our people that there are sins that damage and even break off one’s personal relationship with God and that SHOULD result in church discipline if discovered–unless the person repents. Some of them should result in the committer being barred from some levels of leadership for a time of restoration. (The fact that many Protestant denominations and churches already so this supports my contention that most Protestants really do NOT believe “all sins are equal!”) Then there are sins that do NOT break off a saved person’s relationship with God even if no specific repentance follows. We don’t have to say these are harmless or unimportant; we can say that if they become practice and a part of a person’s lifestyle they CAN add up to serious sin that harms or even breaks off the relationship with God.

In my book Questions to All Your Answers I have a chapter on this issue and I use an example from my own family history. I recall that occasionally a letter would arrive not postmarked so that the stamp could be cut off the envelope and re-used. My father insisted it was okay to do that. My stepmother insisted it was sin to do that. My brother and I listened with some amusement (but also confusion) to their discussions about this. Now, one of my parents was right and the other one was wrong. But let’s say my stepmother was right and, in God’s sight, re-using the stamp was a sin. Did re-using one break my father’s relationship with God? I can’t imagine it. Years later he was caught embezzling from his church. Did that break off his relationship with God? (I’m not talking about the being caught but the first willful, conscious, presumptuous theft he did not repent of.) I think so–unless and until he repented.

Now, was there some connection between my father’s re-using a stamp and his later embezzling from his church? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make them equal! What it means is that even those things we think are not sin but MAY BE should be carefully considered and avoided if possible–but not to the point of scrupulosity about everything (like Luther’s spending hours in confession confessing every thought that might possibly be sinful until his confessor told him to go away and not come back until he had something really sinful to repent of!).

In short, I think “all sins are equal” is simply a cliche. We should drop it–and challenge it when overheard. It doesn’t make any sense–biblically, in terms of the Great Tradition, rationally or experientially.

The Search for the Historical Adam 6

We have been working through the recent book by C. John Collins entitled Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key issues. Later this fall we will look at the question of Adam from an equally faithful, but less conservative, perspective in the context of a new book coming out by Peter Enns entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

Chapter 3 of Dr. Collins’s book looks at the biblical and extra-biblical texts concerning Adam. In the last two posts we looked specifically at Dr. Collins’s discussion of Gen 1-5 and at the OT and the extra-canonical literature. These sections are not the ones that cause most Christians difficulty though – the New Testament references, and especially the relationship of the creation story to the theology taught by Paul – these are the big issues.

I have received several e-mails while working through this series, and the big questions in all of them are theological, not scientific or even biblical (i.e. arising from biblicism). These people are willing to accept the conclusions of science (with some reservations), and have a nuanced view of the authority of scripture (again with some variance). But still, there are serious issues here. The issues begin, but do not end, with the theology surrounding the concept of sin.

This is not a topic easily dealt with in one, or even a dozen, blog posts (or sermons, or academic monographs). There are no quick, pithy answers or rejoinders.

What NT texts cause the most concern for an evolutionary view of human origins?

Where does this impact our theology?

NT references to Gen 1-5 apart from Paul. Dr. Collins breaks his consideration of the NT texts into three categories – the Gospels, Paul, and the rest of the NT. The first and third don’t provide much guidance on the question of Adam. The references to Gen 1-5 in the gospels are passing references, we should not put too much emphasis on them. Dr. Collins suggests that the Gospel writers portray Jesus as one who believed that Adam and Eve were historical and that their disobedience changed things for us (p. 78). I think that the Gospel writers portray Jesus as a biblically literate Jewish male who was steeped in the scripture and the culture – he was localized in a time and place. What he thought about historicity can’t be discerned, and our opinion of this rests in part on what we take as the consequences of incarnation.

The references in the rest of the NT outside of the writings of Paul are likewise incidental, and the truth claims of the passages do not depend on the historicity of Gen 1-5 or Gen 1-11. The references in Revelation are, by the very nature of the book, clothed in figurative language. The writer of Hebrews (11:4-7) may assume historicity, but it is of no real import to our discussion or his truth claim.

The Teachings of Paul. The references to Adam and to Gen 1-3 in the writings of Paul are more substantive and require much more care and thought. Some of the references are incidental and subject to the same kinds of caveats above. Dr. Collins points to 1 Cor. 11:7-12, 2 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim 2:13-14 as examples of incidental references. The arguments in these passages do not depend on the historicity of Adam. Thus they are only compelling for our view of Adam in the context of some assumption of what scripture must be (what we might class as a biblicist view).

There are three passages, however, that Dr. Collins points to as foundational – where Paul’s understanding of Adam is not incidental to his point. In these cases an argument can be made that the historicity of Adam in some sense is essential to the truth claims made by Paul. Dr. Collins sees this in three passages – 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 42-49, Romans 5:12-19, and Acts 17:26. Thus he spends most of the chapter discussing these three passages.

1 Cor. 15: Today I would like to consider 1 Cor. 15, where Paul begins with his statement of the gospel.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
Paul lays out his view of the gospel here – Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day, all according to the Scriptures, the plan and prophecy of the OT. This is our creed. In this passage Paul argues that the resurrection of Jesus is real and is essential to the Christian gospel.
and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. … If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15: 14,19)
For a more complete discussion of resurrection Dr. Collins refers the reader to NT Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God.

1 Cor. 15:20-23. So far we have no reference to Gen 1-5, but this changes when Paul expounds on the importance of the resurrection. The issue for our topic here is v. 21,22:
For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
The expressions “in Adam” and “in Christ” are covenantal language.
… to be “in Adam” means to be a member of the people for which Adam serves as the covenantal representative. This membership sets up a kind of solidarity, where what happens to the representative affects all members of the group, and vice versa. One prominent Pauline scholar has used the term “interchange” to describe the notion of mutual participation in a common life. (p. 79)
The prominent scholar referred to here is Morna Hooker, specifically her book From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul. Dr. Collins continues:
The person Adam is an individual who serves a public role as a representative, and there is no evidence that one can be covenantally “in” someone who had no historical existence. Indeed Paul seems to take for granted that something happened to “all” as a result of Adam’s deeds as a representative, just as something will happen to “all” as a result of Christ’s representative deeds. (pp. 79-80)
But Dr. Collins goes a bit further than this covenant relationship – he sees Paul’s claim as requiring a historical event as well. Adam is not merely representative, but is also a cause – he did something that has consequences for those he represents just as Jesus did something to correct the problem for those he represents.

1 Cor. 15: 45-49. Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 15 returns to Adam a little further on in his discussion of resurrection.
So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. (I’ve quoted the NASB – Collins uses the ESV)
This text is dense and difficult to interpret. Dr. Collins refers to NT Wright’s discussion of the text in The Resurrection of the Son of God, which he cites and quotes, “with approval” (p. 81-82). The resurrection of Jesus is embedded in a theology that views embodied humanity as a feature of God’s good creation. The resurrection of Jesus is the starting point for God’s rescue and renewal of his people – as embodied beings. We are not rescued from our embodied nature but rescued to “go on to the promised final state of the final Adam, in which this physical body will not be abandoned, but will be given new animation by the creator’s own Spirit.” (p. 353 RSOG)

From all I’ve read and heard from Dr. Wright on this topic I would venture to suggest that he does not take the position that we must have a historical Adam, nor does he consider Adam and the fall someone or something to dispensed with lightly. Rather we need to hold parts of the story with an open hand and do some serious theological, biblical, and scientific work.

[Additionally], Dr. Wright and Dr. Collins both reject a strictly typological interpretation of Adam in this narrative. Dr. Collins quotes Wright:
This [argument from Gen 2:7] is not typological (two events related in pattern but not necessarily in narrative sequence), but narratival: Gen 2:7 begins a story which, in the light of vv. 20-28, and the analogies of vv. 35-41, Paul is now in a position to compete. (p. 82 quoting p. 354 n. 128 RSOG)
Dr. Collins concludes that Paul’s argument “presupposes Adam as an actual character in the narrative” (p. 82). Adam and the reference to the events of Genesis 2-3 are not incidental to the message of Paul but is an important part of his truth claim. This does not necessarily mean that Adam and Eve are the unique progenitors of the human race (two people from whom alone all subsequent people descend), but that the existence of a real person and a real fall is, according to Dr. Collins, an integral part of the gospel of 1 Cor. 15.

This post is already long – I will return to consider the other two passages, Romans 5 and Acts 17, in the next post. For now we can consider the significance of the 1 Cor. 15 reference to Adam.

Do you think that Paul’s argument here rests on the historicity of Adam and the fall?

Could the argument rest on the empirical observation of human falleness rather than a person and an act?

On what do you base your argument for your position?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
If you have comments please visit The Search for the Historical Adam 6 at Jesus Creed.

A Dynamic Faith Requires Dynamic Restatement

Theology: Doing Away with Childish Things

by J.R. Daniel Kirk
posted August 16, 2011

In yesterday’s post, I waxed… um… something… about life being dynamic, and not simply a set of givens. Where I had intended to end up was this: the church once upon a time had the luxury of thinking that Christian faith was a set of givens, and that accepting these givens was a necessary and sufficient expression of Christian faith.

The content of this childhood dream was The Rule of Faith.

It wasn’t a bad dream. But it was a child’s dream.

The Hobbit wasn’t a bad story, but it was a child’s story. It was a there-and-back-again tale. The story of Frodo was no child’s story, but a tale of death from which there was no “back again,” even if one was fortunate enough to arrive back home.

After 2,000 years, we know that the world, and the philosophy through which we assess it, is not simply a set of givens.

We, as Christians, are part of the dynamic process through which the church’s faith continues to be articulated. We live in a world that is changing, and the transformed context of knowledge and experience changes what we must say and how we must say it. And, God is still at work in the world, and so we must allow that God, too, is a dynamic participant in this ever-changing process.

These are some of the realities behind the failure of a rule of faith to bind the church as one. When Irenaeus said to his opponents, “You are wrong because the church has always said…” He was, in essence, claiming, “You disagree with us–because you disagree with us! Hah!”

There comes a time when we have to recognize that the continuance of the church itself cannot lean on the given of two millennia ago. Perhaps that church needs, now, to be disagreed with.

Perhaps what we thought was a given needs to be reaffirmed, restated given that the parties in the agreement (the church and its members) are both completely different now.

The idea that one statement, or a cluster of like statements, can continue to define the relationship for two thousand years rests on a static view of the world that does not measure up to reality. The church did not “arrive” when it articulated the rule of faith. It said what needed to be said [for its time in] circa AD 200.

But this does not answer the question of what is necessary or sufficient to be said or done in AD 2000. We must regularly say afresh what needs to be said. This is not only because the world is dynamic and in flux, and not only because the church is dynamic and in flux, but also because God continues to be dynamically at work in both the world and the church.

Peter Rollins - Unbelieving the Lies We Tell Ourselves

ThinkFWD - Pete Rollins - Resurrection as Insurrection


Pete Rollins – Resurrection as Insurrection

Interview by Spencer Burke
Posted February 2, 2010


What we believe emanates from who we are. And who we are is not about dogma, or even about moral behavior, but about dying to ourselves. This is part of the conversation between ThinkFwd host, Spencer Burke, and Pete Rollins, author of How Not to Speak of God and The Orthodox Heretic. They explore the ideas of truth and God, of resurrection and insurrection.

Truth, says Rollins, is not one extreme or the other; it’s not the middle of the extremes. Truth is at both extremes. While traditional Christians say, “God is present. God exists, and Christianity is true;” atheists say “God isn’t there and Christianity isn’t true.” These two extremes push Rollins to explore a 3rd position and he likens it to the story of Jesus on the cross, when He felt forsaken by God– God not present–and yet God was completely present.

And so the 3rd position dwells in the very place in between. Rollins says Christians are called to dwell not on one side of the other, but in the very split that Christ opens up: between old and new; between Judaism and Christianity.

Rollins and Burke turn to the idea of self. What is our true self? Can we disagree ideologically and philosophically, and at the end of the day still be friends and go out for drinks together? Can we have a public and private profile that are at odds? Rollins believes the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are a type of fiction. That our conscious self is an idealized representation of who we are.

We can say we believe certain things, but the truth of who we are plays out in the reality of our lives. And our goal is to bring the stories we tell ourselves (I’m a good person, I’m loving, I’m kind) in line with the reality of who we are. For Rollins, the truth is, he aspires to believe in God. To live a life of mercy, faithfulness, self-control. But we are not truly living Christian lives unless we are dying to ourselves—participating in the death and resurrection of Christ.

This Easter, Rollins is doing a pub tour, “I believe in the insurrection.” What is it about? It’s about being invited to transformation. Rollins thinks the apostle Paul had it right. Paul doesn’t talk about who Jesus hung out with. Or about Jesus’ miracles. He says that being a Christian is participating in the death and resurrection of Christ. You die, and you are reborn. You can say, “I believe x, y, and z” but if you don’t think about where you live, and the work you do, and how your consumerism affects others, then that is the truth of your life, not what you SAY you believe. And so the resurrection, the insurrection is about dying, being reborn, transformed, so we are no long the same.