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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Is God Always in Control?

 
 
Since inception of this website I have been attempting to wrestle with the legitimate question of whether God is in control of this world or not, having presented it in differing contexts from salvation history (the history of Israel and the Church); to scientific (found in the science sidebars here relative to anthropologic and cosmic evolution); to mundane world and personal events (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, personal experiences of tragedy, unnecessary suffering, abusive families, friends, religions and governments); to present day Church and fellowship experiences (found in the turbulent ecclesiastical reformations occurring in today's denominations, associations, universities, media outlets, and even political parties). What I have discovered is that I can answer this question both ways by accepting, or not accepting, the updated responses of (i)  Evangelic Classical Theism (God IS in control) or of (ii) Process Theology (God is NOT in control). However, what I fundamentally believe is that it is the question itself which is wrong. To ask the question is to show both our ignorance and our fundamental misperceptions of our view of God and the world. It is a complex relationship and cannot be treated so naively nor simply.
 
 
And so, having striven to re-contextualize this question through my own views of Relational Theism (which is currently in the rough stages of development) I have been attempting to define this subject by what it is not - in relation to other systems of doctrinal thought (sic, Calvinistic Classicism and Process Thought) - but have yet to fully recreate a set of criteria of what Relational Theology could be or might become. To some extent we have already done this here through our simple explorations of emergent subject matters and topical themes. However, it has not been laid out rigorously as a (i) doctrinal theology or as a (ii) philosophical behavior and belief. And to some extent we should probably avoid this... but to the extent that this task is avoided (for fearing of misrepresenting God and His Word by systematizing Scripture) to that extent other lesser views will come along to expunge common sense biblical viewpoints with something else even less desirable. And so, it is accepted that whenever there are two strong opinions of oppositional thought, a third will mostly likely synthesize. This third I am describing as Relational Thought which may behave as an eclectic mix between Calvinism and Progress Theology until it can find a "stream of its own." In the meantime, the easy answer to our dilemma would be to continue to explore Narrative Theology which by its form and definition resists more systematic perceptions of God and his world.
 
Man made in the Image of God (Genesis 1:26 to 2:3)
Illustration from a Bible card published 1906 by the Providence Lithograph Company
 
Accordingly, the story of man is found in the story of God. And the larger story of God is found in the larger story of man (which means all of man's history - from world events to each person's experiences). God did not begin an act of holy creation to simply abandon it. No. Any artist can tell you that whether through creating a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music, all were some kind of personal expression. And to look upon our cosmos as God's expression of Himself is to re-visualize all that God is... for creation is the revelation of God. But not the perfect revelation of God. At least not yet. Only One has come to be this perfect reflection - both in essence (hupostasis) and in glory - and that is Jesus who perfectly revealed the Godhead exactly (Col. 2.9, Heb 1.1-3).
 
When God revealed Himself to man it looked like Jesus, exactly -
Other comparisons between the God of the OT and Jesus of the NT -
 
 
 
 
However, we also have the cruel distortions brought about by sin and death that arose to undo God's joy and fellowship. How it arose we cannot know. Genesis says that is came through Adam and Eve's disobedience. However, it was there before the Garden of Eden when discovering in Scripture Lucifer's angelic disobedience of pride and rebellion; and of a third of heaven's angelic beings falling likewise into the sin of pride and rebellion (Ez 28.1-19; Isa 14.1-22). And through astrophysics we've discovered that even in the very elemental stages of our universe's birth (sic, singularities and multiverses) death and destruction were the very ingredients used by God in creation's very nature of indeterminacy (sic, elementary particles being momentarily birthed and colliding to create reactive energies and forces). Of course, this last illustration differs from the first two in that those were instances of creaturely willful disobedience and pride; whereas the latter is of nature itself which is not so much "willful" but indeterminate (sic, see the science sections). Further, it is not a moral/ethical act of a sentient being but an amoral/non-ethical activity found within matter's interaction with itself and other bodies of matter. And so, how sin and death arose is unknown (I sometimes think it comes as part-and-parcel with the sublime act of creating a willful creation itself - as an allowed reactive process - but not as emanating from God Himself in His essence).
 
What we do know is that God is using sin and death, devil and demon, the cosmos, and human experience, to evolve this world into a renewed creation - into a heavenly kingdom of light-and-life. Where no sin exists. Where no death can be found. How this occurs is a mystery. How this is unlike our old cosmos is a mystery for it seems that the death of particulate matter (from cells to atoms) must still occur in our new world if life is to continue and so, cannot be abandoned but re-purposed. We do not understand these things. Nor can we so simply say that God is in control (for this would ignore the ravages of life) or is not in control (which would then ignore the redemptive story of the bible as found in this world's history and present circumstances). Consequently, it is both. In some complex mix of divine sovereignty and indeterminacy (sic, which would also include the "unknowingness of the future" which theology falls yet into another "sea of turbulent debate" known as Open Theology... also examined here in the sidebars).

For me, it is enough to know that God is God. And that He is my God. And that I am His. Beyond that we can debate and argue around-and-around-and-around our particulate views of the world we think we apprehend but can not. For God is beyond our comprehension and He will do as He will do. He will react as He will act. He will grieve as He will sing for joy. He will suffer as He will bring healing. This we do not understand but know that God is our Redeemer. And that through God His creation will be redeemed from the final throes of sin and death by the atoning work of Jesus made on the cross of Calvary.

And that during those experiences of suffering and death to not accuse God as the author for someone's cancer or a child's death, but as the God who suffers with us in our pains and losses. Who will do anything and everything that He can to help us within the parameters of this sinful world's free will turbulence and turmoil. Who allows sin and death its course but who also will direct sin and death to His ultimate ends of renewal and recreative wholeness with His Spirit. Even in sin and death, even in pain and suffering, even in defeat and death, shall God "win" and reign. God will not be defeated though we suffer. For we suffer towards renewal and recreation. Though harm and destruction comes still God's Spirit continues to work through holiness, love, justice and truth all that is Himself into the very corners and textures of a comos and humanity held in the grip of sin and death. At the last, these too shall be put  away with finality (Rev 21-22).

What this means we cannot explain. Our present cosmos is unimagined in its current construction and operation without the reality of death present within its very framework  (perhaps not sin, but death certainly, as is the bedrock of indeterminant re-creative construction of something from nothing formed within the continual process of randomness and evolution). For myself, I don't normally link sin with death (that is physically, not spiritually)... for physical death feels more natural within this world of ours and I can't imagine a physical world without it. However, sin seems very destructive and unnatural within this world of ours. It speaks to a spiritual death to be borne by sentient beings - be they human or angelic or some other form - who are willfully at cross purposes with their Creator. Each though, in their constitutions as sin or death, do bring harm and ruin to our mortal bodies.

Curiously, sin's effects upon our mortal bodies (not our souls) cannot be death... only its results. But on our souls it is immediate (thus we can effectively say that sin brings death). Sin is a process of dying. A presence of death. But I speak in spiritual terms of sin and not in physical terms. In comparison, death's effects can be seen upon our mortal bodies immediately beginning at birth as it wears away at our soul and upon our bodies. But for the Christian, death is seen as a period of transformation towards God. It can begin early in life when discovering Jesus' love for us while taking a lifetime of spiritually transformative living to fully-and-finally occur... this is what we mean by the term "salvation" (in its fullest sense). Though saved in Christ we are in the process of becoming saved in this life as we work out the effects of our salvation against the countermanding effects of sin's spiritual death. But eventually we die and must return to the earthen soil of our constitution (dust we are and dust we become - but remember, we are made of stardust!). However, with sin, it is there with us from the start. And like death, continually wears away upon us, only to be prevented when met by the power of the Holy Spirit begun at the birthing of faith come through the spiritually transformative event of Christ Jesus' living atonement and abiding resurrection. From that point onwards we are removed from spiritual death though we remain within our bodies and souls to suffer sin and death's adverse affects upon us. Even so, the cycle has been broken with promising renewal and recreation at the hands of an Almighty God. These things are mysteries and within Christianity we have all kinds of doctrines that help us explain what this means more explicitly. But this is my simplified understanding of how our Sovereign God rules in, through, and over a cosmos of sin and death.

So then, be at peace and know that our God reigns - despite what we think of the unhelpfulness of the Christianized word, control. A word I don't necessarily prefer as an explanation for this current cosmos we live within at its behest. For with its usage comes our expectations placed upon God which asks when bad things happen "Why didn't you stop this!?? Where were you when we needed you?!!" A God who controls is a God that is weak when He doesn't answer. Or is unable to help us in dire straits. Or is unwise within the predicaments of sin and death. Or has become a futile figment of the human psyche built as a dithering idol to our hopeless predicaments within this life's never-ending perturbations and agonies.

But a God who reigns, who is Sovereign, is a God who suffers with us in our tragedies. Who comes to assist us in every way possible, even until the end. This kind of God is strong. He can deliver. If not by our own expectation, then by His own expectations of renewal and recreation. The God of the Bible is the God who works within the constraints of a freewill system of this created world. Who is present with us even in our worse moments. And so, we proclaim that our God reigns sovereignly - whether He controls this old creation or not is to ask the wrong question and see the solution in the wrong perspective. No. God doesn't control anything that has its own free will. But yes, God is creation's Sovereign. And as its Sovereign He reigns over heaven and earth, hell and death, even over sin and all its miseries. God is no more and no less - though He be Creator He was  ever-and-always first creation's Redeemer! And He is our Redeemer-Creator who will rule ever-and-always to that end. Amen and Amen.

R.E. Slater
August 27, 2012
updated November 3, 2012
 
Praise the Lord; praise God our savior!
For each day he carries us in his arms
(Psalm 68.19)
 
 
1 John 1
 
English Standard Version (ESV)
 
The Word of Life
 
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete.
 
Walking in the Light
 
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
 
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Does God always get his way?
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/08/does-god-always-get-his-way/
 
by Roger Olson
August 20, 2012
Comments
 
Does God Always Get His Way?
 
I suspect that question would surprise most Christians and atheists alike. Most atheists I read seem to operate on the assumption that Western monotheism includes God’s absolute sovereignty such that whatever happens is God’s will. Most of them fall back on some version of the problem of evil to attempt to sweep away belief in God as impossible (because no one expressly questions God’s goodness). But Christians (I’ll limit my comments here to Christians although they could apply to other monotheists) give atheists their ammunition by believing that “God is in control” (a bumper sticker I often see).
 
I see two versions of “God is in control” among Christians. One is theological and the other is folk religious. The difference lies in considered reflection versus unreflective assumption.
 
Many Christian theologians believe and teach that whatever happens, without exception, falls into the category “God’s will” in the sense that it conforms to God’s “blueprint” for history and individual lives and, even though evil and innocent suffering may grieve God, God ordains and governs them for a greater good (e.g., his glory). I call this divine determinism because it fits the ordinary definition of “determinism.” Those who teach it often deny that it is deterministic (at the very least it is meticulous providence). Not only Calvinists teach this; it is a view held in a perhaps more nuanced way by many non-Calvinists (e.g., conservative Lutherans).
 
My hunch (I haven’t taken a poll) is that most Christians believe some version of divine determinism often inconsistently. This is revealed when, after a tragedy, they say “God knows what he is doing” and “God is in control.” Very often, however, that is not what they say or appear to believe before the tragedy strikes. That is certainly the view I was taught growing up in the “thick” of evangelicalism. Or perhaps I should say I wasn’t so much taught it as I caught it from my elders. Many of the songs we sang in church reflected some kind of divine determinism or meticulous providence. (E.g., “Day by Day and with Each Passing Moment”)
 
Recently I introduced a group of students to my saying that “God is in charge but not in control.” Some were shocked and indicated they probably could not accept that even though intellectually they do not think God controls everything that happens. My conviction is that “God is in control” is a cliché that has taken on a life of its own among Christians and is inevitably conveys the impression that God plans and renders certain everything that happens without exception. That is, God always gets his way in everything.
 
Let’s look at ordinary language. If I say that so-and-so is “in control” of a certain situation (and not only himself or herself), most people will automatically assume I mean that the person has a plan and is manipulating events to fit that plan. They will assume the person I’m talking about always gets his or her own way in that context. That’s what “in control” means (when said of a person about his or her management of a context).
 
Someone might quibble about that, but I believe especially when “in control” is attributed to God, who is believed to be omnipotent, it always automatically implies meticulous providence.
 
That is a problem, however, in light of Scripture and history (including contemporary events in persons’ lives). Many Scriptures more than imply that God was not getting his way in certain situation. The clearest one to me is Matthew 23:37: Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s rejection. Was God getting his way there and then? The Bible is filled with examples of God not getting his way even though he was able to bring something good out of those disappointments.
 
History also gets in the way of saying “God is in control” or “God always gets his way.” Just the other day I was told about an incident in a poverty-stricken country not far from America’s shores where a woman and her boyfriend invaded an orphanage at gunpoint, kidnapped three children they believed were theirs and took them away. When confronted by police the adults brutally butchered the children. What I want to ask people who say “God is in control” and who believe God always gets his way is: Do you believe God controlled that situation and got his way in it?
 
Now, many theologically minded Calvinists and other divine determinists will, when pushed against the wall and forced to answer, will say yes, even in such a horrible situation of innocent suffering God was getting his way and was totally in control. My complaint here is not with them although such an answer leaves me absolutely bewildered. I do complain about them and that answer, but not right now. Here my complaint is about the widespread, almost universal, unreflective assumption on the parts of non-Calvinists, non-divine determinists, that “God is in control.”
 
I theorize that this folk religious belief in God always getting his way sets especially young people up to adopt divine determinism, meticulous providence, when confronted with it. What’s wrong with that? Well, in my opinion, it can have the effect of making them immune to the real horrors of history and of sin and evil. If all that is God’s will, if in it all God is getting his way, if in it all God is “in control,” then why be fired up with indignation against it and go out to fight against it? Also, it may cause them to ignore whole chunks of Scripture and think dishonoring thoughts about God. Finally, I know from personal experience it leads some young people to think that they don’t need to resist sin in their own lives because, if they are succumbing to temptation, it must be God’s will [(sic, antinomianism - res)].
 
Here Am I: A Believer's Reflection on GodOne of my favorite books about all this is by South African theologian Adrio König. It’s title is Here Am I! A Believer’s Reflection on God (Eerdmans, 1982). Here is one of the best statements against meticulous providence (whether theological or folk religious) I have ever read and it is by a Reformed theologian!
 
Anyone who levels things out in vague generalizations by attempting to explain everything and all possible circumstances as the will of God always ends up in the impossible situation that there are more exceptions than rules, more things that are inexplicable and that clash with the picture of God that is given to us in his word, than there are comforting confirmations that he is directing everything.…
 
[And] anyone who tries to use the omnipotence and providence of God to propose a meticulously prepared divine plan which is unfolding in world history (L. Boettner) will always be left with the problem that other believers might not be able to discern the God of love in the actual course of world events.… [i]t must be emphatically stated that… the Scriptures do not present the future as something which materializes [sic] according to a ‘plan’ but according to the covenant [of God].…
 
There are distressingly many thing that happen on earth that are not the will of God (Luke 7:30 and every other sin mentioned in the Bible), that are against his will, and that stem from the incomprehensible and senseless sin in which we are born, in which the greater part of mankind lives, and in which Israel persisted, and against which even the ‘holiest men’…struggled all their days.…
 
To try to interpret all these things by means of the concept of a plan of God, creates intolerable difficulties and gives rise to more exceptions than regularities. But the most important objection is that the idea of a plan is against the message of the Bible since God himself becomes incredible if that against which he has fought with power, and for which he sacrificed his only Son, was nevertheless somehow part and parcel of his eternal counsel. (pp. 198-199) (I apologize for the spaces; I cut and pasted this and some of the formatting went strange. I don’t have time to fix it.)
 
 
 
 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Not Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater (A Message for Abused Ex-Fundamentalists)

Having decided to submit this article by Roger Olson I can't say that he and I didn't have similar fundamentalist backgrounds - with the exception that my brand of faith was less harsh, and more lenient, in many ways from his own (mainly because my family were not as closely connected to our Baptist church, which was not Pentecostal, by the way). But still, when growing up spiritually in the Lord as a young child, the Christian faith I was taught focused a lot on the "do's and don'ts", to actively participated in like-minded tribal associations of fellowship, and to go to conservative bible colleges not dissimilar with Roger's own experience. However, I was fortunate in that regard too, because the Christian college I eventually ended up at was beginning to "come around" and though we had regulations of dress and so forth, they were also hiring "intellectual" professors into our fundamentalist faith culture. Which made all the difference for me (and also explains the beginning of "evangelical creep" into the fundamentalist church movement as I was experiencing it.... not rules and regulations but "Jesus" and His "message"). I could also witness firsthand my teachers struggles and the administration's frets over lost of funding and purposeful dedication to yesteryear's standards. It allowed a person to "breathe" a little, and that was all that I needed, without the feeling of incrimination that could've grown up in its place.

Too, I was the first home-grown member to have graduated from seminary in my home church. It was an honor and I longed to do the work of ministry but very soon found that I wasn't "qualified" to be a worker without going through additional deprivations and church-based mentoring. After years of struggle (and many years of church-based ministry at my home church) I could not afford this last demand and so became isolated. My church was growing a lot during this time and had dozens of young men now willing to make this last effort (sometimes to the harm and peril of their family life). As such, the best I could expect was Sunday School ministries of some kind, and no longer the personal discipleship nor promotion of opportunity I had hoped from my pastor. Several years later another church requested my services (my wife's church) - from the Sunday School level - and offered to me grand opportunities for ministry from kids to senior adults. I choose college & career (which much later transitioned to older single adults) and the rest is history.

Those were wonderful years with the blessings of God in them. But again, curiously, this mega-church was focused on other recruitable volunteers and never once sought to present to me formal church staff ministry opportunity. Not that I had wanted it because, quite frankly, I was now married and forming my own family, and quite past the mindset of believing I could ever minister in a formal capacity again (I'm sure my shyness, or lack of confidence, had something to do with it). Rather, I was focused on God's present blessings and opportunities and was taking full advantage of them. Consequently, "formal" ministry (in the "paid" sense) never became my life path. Perhaps a past regret but now no longer a personal desire.... For I had determined that my approval comes from God and not from man. And have ceased to be concerned over the lack of purposeful recruiting by my brothers and sisters. I was in lay ministry and did not have time to think about seeking full time staff ministry. I was there to help and not self-promote. To serve and not to worry about personal recognition. These are foolish temptations better left to the devil and the world. From here, at the lay level, God has given the keys of the Kingdom, which if left to a church board or congregational vote may have been ripped out of my hands. I could therefore focus on spiritual ministry and not waste time or anxiety on lesser matters. And so, without realising it, God had blessed me by allowing ministry where ministry was thought not to exist. I had mine own pulpit of God made without earthly hands and it was enough.

Consequently, I find a great amount of sympathy for Roger in his article below. And applaud the determination he found to become the minister of God that was waiting for him. It took courage (and I imagine a bit of "growing up" in the "public-tack-and-personal-frustration" department). But God kept Roger to the course He had for him. And to that end Roger has been a great blessing to us as our favorite informal "resident" historical theologian on this blog.

In the same way, to you my readers, do not give up on God. However harsh, however incredulous, however idiotic fellow Christians and churches behave around you. Be mature and act maturely. Be wise. Be informed. Learn to speak your position better. More tactfully. Even bravely. In all things reach out in love and keep self-incriminating judgment at bay. This is God's department not ours. We judge of-a-kind but ultimately it is for God "to clean house." And, as has been said so many times through this year, "Be at peace." With yourself. With your circumstances. With God and society. We only seek to uplift God's name not our own. When that relationship is understood than all else will fall into place. Be at peace my brothers and sisters. For God reigns and will direct your life at every opportunity we give to Him for this to occur. Amen.

R.E. Slater
August 26, 2012

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


On Not Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater (A Message for Abused Ex-Fundamentalists)
1 Thessalonians 5:19-20

A few years ago I must have said “We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” once too often because when I said it the whole class burst out laughing.

That’s okay; one thing I know about myself is I’m funniest when I’m not trying to be.

I confess it. I do like that rustic saying—”Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” It very well describes a struggle I’ve been involved in for many years. In some ways, it defines my personal struggle with my religious heritage.

After teaching Christian theology to college and seminary students for 27 years I’m confident I’m not alone. Many students share my struggle in their own ways. The same is true for many of my colleagues and friends.

Some succeed in not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and some don’t. I’m not here to blame anyone but to share my struggle with you and hopefully encourage you if you find yourself involved in such a struggle.

That saying—”Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”—has an interesting history. I have heard one explanation of its origin that seems a little far-fetched. Allegedly, back in the Dark Ages, peasants bathed only once weekly. They would fill a half barrel with soapy water and the family members would take turns bathing in it. Of course, the father would go first. Then the oldest son. Then the mother and children. The baby would be bathed last and by then the water was so filthy it was easy to lose the baby in the bathwater—especially if you looked away for a minute and the baby sank down into the water. So, the tale goes, occasionally the baby would be thrown out with the bathwater.

Personally I always found that explanation unlikely. The urban myth debunking web site snopes.com agrees with me.

While nobody knows who first coined the saying, it seems to come from Germany and the first published appearance is in a 15th century book of German poems. Interestingly, Martin Luther used it in a 1526 letter. He wrote “Man soll das Kind nicht mit dem bad ausgiessen.” It’s first use in English was by British essayist Thomas Carlyle in 1849.

I suppose I probably first heard it from one of my grandmothers. They were always going around uttering quaint advice like “Watch your ‘p’s’ and q’s'”—whatever that means.

But this saying—”Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”—however quaint and odd seems to paraphrase Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians well. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 he instructs them (my translation): “Do not quench the Spirit or despise prophecies. Carefully examine all things and hold on to what is good.” In the next verse—21—he tells his readers to “reject whatever is harmful.”

Some English translations translate the Greek word δοκίμάζέτέ “prove” thus rendering the verse in English “prove all things.” That doesn’t make any sense in modern English, of course. In the past “prove” could mean “test,” but today it generally means something else. So a good, workable translation for today is “critically examine everything.”

Thayer says δοκίμάζέτέ means “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing be genuine or not)”, as in metal testing. It is used often in the New Testament and in the Septuagint almost always meaning critical examination of something to prove its validity.

The context of this verse is “prophecies.” Paul instructs the Thessalonian Christians not to despise them. Immediately he then instructs them to critically examine them which raises a lot of questions the foremost being “how?” Paul doesn’t answer here. And that’s beside the point for my purposes.

My only intention in choosing this passage as a “text that has shaped me” is to support and defend something much neglected in Christian communities—especially conservative ones. That something is critical thinking and testing of things within the church and Christian organizations.

But Paul then goes on to say that after they have tested prophecies (or whatever) they are to hold firmly to what is good. The implication, of course, is that they were to discard what is bad.

Don’t you wish Paul had finished his thoughts sometimes? I can just imagine the Thessalonian Christians listening to this letter being read to them and asking in consternation “How?” “By what criteria are we supposed to critically examine prophecies?” We can only wish with them that Paul had given specific instructions about that.

I’ll never forget when this text first hit home to me. You know that “Aha!” moment when experience and text come together and suddenly it means something very existentially compelling to you? That happened to me. I don’t remember the date, but I remember the place and the time frame. Then this text became a great comfort and challenge to me.

I grew up in a form of Christianity most of you can’t even imagine. Sometimes I’m even embarrassed to talk about it. Whenever I meet someone who also grew up in it I want to grab them and sit down and talk at length. I want to say “Hey, let’s form a support group!” Often I find they went one of two directions with it—either deeper in or farther away.

You see, the religious form of life I was raised in was almost cultic in its extreme legalism. I’ve come to refer to us as “urban Amish.” We lived in a city, but we regarded everything and everyone around us as bound for hell unless they repented and joined our group or something very much like it.

Television was held in great suspicion; it tended to come and go in our home. Our first television was a rented set so that I would have something to do when I was bed ridden for months with rheumatic fever when I was 10. A 10 year old can only read the Bible so much. And reading the Bible was strongly emphasized in our home and church. Anyone who had not read the Bible all the way though—including all the “begats”—by the time he or she was 12 was considered destined for hell. (I exaggerate only slightly!)

When I got well the television stayed for a while, but then it went back to the rental store and we didn’t have another one for years.

Movies were absolutely Verboten. “What if Jesus came back while you were sitting in a den of Hollywood iniquity where people have sex in the back seats?” Seriously. That’s what we were asked by Sunday School teachers. I didn’t darken the door of a movie theater until I was 20.

I think you get the picture. But more pertinent to my story than all the rules and regulations that governed almost every minute aspect of life was the one great unspoken but always enforced rule and I learned the consequences of breaking it much to my detriment.

That one great rule was “Don’t ask why.” Of course, it was okay to ask why IF you asked in the right spirit and with the right attitude—one of humble acceptance of whatever answer was offered. But if you asked why really challenging a rule or a belief or a custom you’d better watch out. Your eternal soul was in jeopardy. Here I do not exaggerate.

You see, our form of Christianity was not garden variety fundamentalism. It made fundamentalists look like liberals. We considered fundamentalist Baptists liberals because they didn’t believe in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues and healing.

My stepmother was the epitome of our spiritual way of life.

When we went on family vacation we had to find a church as close to ours in beliefs and practices as possible and attend it in Sunday morning—Sunday school and all.

I got punished for putting my school books on top of a Bible at home.

My brother and I weren’t allowed to wear cut off jeans, to say nothing of shorts, or to swim with girls—which meant no swimming in any public pool. Occasionally our church would rent a YMCA swimming pool for an afternoon or evening. But the boys sat out while the girls swam and vice versa.

My problem was that I pretty much kept all the rules and, in spite of them, had a marvelous, life-transforming experience of Jesus Christ in that context, but as I matured I couldn’t stop asking “Why?” Why this rule and that belief? And when the answers weren’t satisfying I kept asking.

When I was in sixth grade I must have asked too many questions in Sunday School because one Sunday the teacher stood up, threw down his Sunday School quarterly and said “Roger, you teach the class” and stomped out. I did teach the class. Needless to say, I got a spanking that afternoon.

If you grew up in our church there was really only one option for college—our denomination’s Bible college. Everyone went there. To not go there was to put a big question mark over your spirituality. It was a deal breaker—not to go there was to be shunned by family and friends. So I went there. And I suffered four years of hell.

We were not allowed to ask questions in class unless they were simply for clarification of a point. The whole curriculum and pedagogy was about indoctrination. And there was a deep strain of anti-intellectualism in the school.

I simply couldn’t stop myself from asking the “Why?” question. “Why do we believe that?” “Where does that tradition come from?” “Why do we do that?” Most often the answers were less than satisfactory and I was labeled a trouble maker for persisting in my questioning.

At a particularly low point in my college career I came across this verse—”Examine all things”—and felt released from guilt and condemnation. I came to realize that I was being spiritually abused. That my elders had created idols out of highly questionable beliefs and practices and were using shame to manipulate and control students—especially those few of us who dared to question the idols.

One day the president of the college called me into his office and told me not to come back to school the next day unless I got my hair cut. My hair then came down a bit over my collar and about half way over my ears. Men were not allowed to have “long hair” or facial hair including side burns. (Not that I could ever grow side burns anyway!) I got my hair cut, but that was a turning point for me. I knew I was being singled out for special abuse because of my constant subjecting of things to critical examination.

During the second semester of my senior year the college’s board of regents discussed not allowing me to graduate in spite of my grade point average which was 3.5. They finally decided they probably couldn’t legally prevent me from graduating, but agreed among themselves to blackball me from finding a position in the denomination.

I was tempted to run as far as I possibly could from that form of Christianity. We called ourselves “conservative evangelicals.” Did I even want to be an evangelical Christian anymore? I wasn’t at all sure.

But I kept coming back to a few really amazing experiences of the reality of Jesus Christ in my life. They kept me anchored in my evangelical faith even as I slowly but surely shook off the extreme fundamentalism and legalism and anti-intellectualism of my home, church and denomination.

The last straw for my family and church and denomination was when I enrolled in seminary. I was the first person raised in that denomination ever to go to seminary. My people always called it “cemetery.” Enrolling in a Baptist seminary assured that I would never again be welcome among my own people.

At that seminary I found a very different flavor of evangelical Christianity—a warm-hearted but at the same time tough minded evangelicalism that was not at all threatened by my questions. And I drank deeply at the wells of open, progressive evangelical theology and it tasted so good.

As I progressed on into my doctoral studies I met many young men and women who had grown up in religious environments like my own and I noticed a pattern. It seemed they either were incapable of thinking for themselves or they rejected evangelical Christianity entirely. I determined to do what I didn’t see very many of those friends doing—keep the baby while throwing out the bathwater.

It hasn’t always been easy. Where’s the line between legalism and righteousness? Between traditionalism and tradition? Between fanaticism and passion? Between authoritarianism and authority? Between gullibility and openness to the miraculous?

Over the years I’ve witnessed so many young Christians in university and seminary struggling out of abusive fundamentalism with its near idolatry of human ideas and traditions and its abuse of inquiring minds. And I’ve been dismayed by how often they do throw the baby of evangelical faith out with the bathwater of fundamentalism. But I can’t blame them because I came very close to doing it myself.

Now I’ve become a little more comfortable in my own skin and knowing the difference between the baby and the bathwater comes easier for me. I need to be patient with those who are still finding their way in that. I want to give them guidance if I can.

So let me tell you some of the things I think we should keep as we discard their counterfeits.

  • We should not throw the baby of tradition out with the bathwater of traditionalism. Historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale said that “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living while tradition is the living faith of the dead.”
  • We should not throw the baby of certitude out with the bathwater of certaintyKierkegaard coined the term “certitude” as the replacement for Enlightenment "certainty" which is a myth. We finite and fallen human beings can’t have certainty—especially about answers to life’s ultimate questions. But we can have certitude which means, in Lesslie Newbigin’s words, “proper confidence.”
  • We should not throw the baby of confession out with the bathwater of creedalism. I no longer will sign someone else’s creed or confessional statement, but if asked I will gladly tell my confession of faith in classical Christian doctrine.
  • We should not throw the baby of faith out with the bathwater of anti-intellectualism or the baby of reason out with the bathwater of rationalism.
  • We should not throw the baby of truth out with the bathwater of totalizing absolutism.
  • We should not throw the baby of feeling out with the bathwater of emotionalism
  • We should not throw the baby of patriotism out with the bathwater of nationalism
  • We should not throw the baby of the God’s supernatural activity out with the bathwater of gullibility about miracles. 
  • We should not throw the baby of biblical authority out with the bathwater of wooden literalism and strict inerrancy
  • We should not throw the baby of accountability out with the bathwater of hierarchy.

And so I could go on. There are so many examples of ways in which disillusioned Christians throw the good out with the bad.

So how can we know which is the baby and which is the bathwater? Perhaps there’s no litmus test. I haven’t found one. It would be too simple just to say “Jesus.” But a Christ-centered consciousness is part of it.

But one thing I’m sure of. In our Christian communities, we should find ways to reward and not punish those courageous souls who dare to ask “Why?” because they do us a great service by making us ask about the difference between babies and bathwater.



Monday, August 20, 2012

Re-thinking & Innovating Evangelical Christianity through the Example of Postmodern Indian Medical Practices


Strictly speaking, the post today will not be pertinent to issues of Emergent Christianity or biblical revisionism caused by cultural disruptions and the requisite societal needs that follow. However, we have spoken to creativity in the past (How the Genius Thinks) and about Christianity's need to recreate itself from its antiquated past (Thinking About a New Christianity, Parts 1-3; What Wikipedia Has to Say About the Emerging/Emergent Church. Parts 1-2). And so, today's article about Indian medical practices seems relevant to me. Especially because it reveals how our mindset must change away from societal expectations and assumptions in order to fundamentally recreate newer Gospel practices and missional objectives with far-flung affect and distillation.

If Christianity continues to refuse fundamental change, adaptation, and re-orientation, by clinging to antiquated subcultural mores and beliefs (most recently re-expressed from the 1970-1990s) then it should only expect a growing irrelevancy and subcontextualization of itself without any further impact to society-at-large - except to itself in growing isolation and systemic blow back repercussions - much like assorted Fundamentalist and Amish groups have experienced over the past century. I think a good illustration of this is the Muslim religion which has tenaciously clung to its outdated beliefs and practices in an "us" versus "them" cultural affirmation. By this mindset we have seen extreme examples of cultural/religious aggravation and frustration expressed through cruel insurgencies and governmental suppressions, unabated militarism and heart-rending terrorism, and an adamant refusal to recognise or accept religious and cultural pluralism into strict Muslim society. The saner, more wiser elements of Muslimism is doing what it can, but its voice has been far out-distance by the rhetoric of their militaristic mullahs and clerics.

However, the same could be said of Evangelical Christianity (per earlier Fundamental Christian groups self-isolating experiences) as it hunkers down from society (i) by creating subcultural contexts of itself; (ii) by becoming unnecessarily hostile to cultural and postmodernistic incursions into its belief systems and practices (as witnessed in the backlash to a small, innocuous book by the title "Love Wins"); and, (iii) by adamantly not accepting anything that even smells "unbiblical" or "non-Christian" to its way of life and living. In the end, evangelical Christianity is harming itself in spite of its sincerity of devotion to God, the Scriptures, purity of life, outspoken goals of ethical behavior, and its gospel message of salvation. More rather, (i) Jesus' radical message of love in the Gospels becomes threatening and unintelligible; (ii) Jesus' criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees of His day becomes a ghostly representation of themselves in refusing admittance to Jesus heavenly kingdom on earth; and, (iii) Jesus' universal message of salvation to all men and women everywhere is refused when bounded by church rules and creedal confessions wrenched out of historical context and biblical assignment. And this list could go on-and-on. Not that each one of these subjects haven't been reviewed and re-capsulated adnauseum here on this blogsite during this past year but that just the merest expression of each of these bullet points is enough to send an Evangelical Christian reeling to his or her nearest flock of like-minded affiliates to crucify again the Son of God in unnecessary fears, religious frockery, and pulpiteered rhetorical perturbations.

And so, when reading of the article of Indian medical practices below, I see again the need for both Church and Society to fundamentally look at themselves as objectively as possible. To take out again that metaphorical "white sheet of plain paper" and work out practices and practicalities that would best serve or reflect the objectives and ministries of the Gospel of Jesus. To welcome the disruption and evolution we see taking place in this world of sin and woe as signposts to the brokenness of our present efforts. To recognize that vast multitudes of the world's poor and destitute are being underserved and overlooked in our haste to accumulate and preserve wealth and security. To recommit our lives and livelihoods to the dedication of a more benevolent and selfless humanity. To understand that civil wars and economic dishevel are mirrors to our misdirected efforts and energies. To remove all our past knowledge and beliefs, and sit there, at our mental table, with a piece of plain white paper in our heads and our hearts, thinking through what must be removed from our lives before we can properly draw out a design for the future. A design open enough, expansive enough, unbounded enough, to force us to never again be so set in our ways and our beliefs. That will allow God to recreate our hearts and spiritual beings into the image He wants, and not our own images of fears and insecurity.

And finally, to remember that if one is to construct, one must first deconstruct; and if deconstruct, then one must remember to reconstruct. For many of us are good at one task or the other. But make sure to listen to those rare bridge builders amongst us discontent in living in either of these worlds. And learn to work together. To listen. To dispute irenically. To argue with listening ears, hands, hearts, and tongues. This Earth demands it. This Cosmos was built for this. And by our efforts, however meager, our Redeemer/Creator will sanctify each passion and desire given to the blessing humanity by the works of our hands and hearts. Be a blessing then and this day commit to an innovated thinking that matters. However small. However peripheral. We each are responsible to begin somewhere within our lives as spiritual forces. As battered vessels of servitude and blessing.

R.E. Slater
August 20, 2012



Health care in India

Lessons from a frugal innovator

The rich world’s bloated health-care systems can learn from India’s entrepreneurs
Photo by Tom Pietrasik
  
In the past that was more a reflection of the state's failure than the dynamism of entrepreneurs, but this is changing fast. Technopak Healthcare, a consulting firm, expects spending on health care in India to grow from $40 billion in 2008 to $323 billion in 2023. In part, that is the result of the growing affluence of India's emerging middle classes. Another cause is the nascent boom in health insurance, now offered both by private firms and, in some cases, by the state. In addition, the government has recently liberalised the industry, easing restrictions on lending and foreign investment in health care, encouraging public-private partnerships and offering tax breaks for health investments in smaller cities and rural areas.

Cheaper and smarter

This has attracted a wave of investment from some of India's biggest corporate groups, including Ranbaxy (the generic-drugs pioneer behind Fortis) and Reliance (one of India's biggest conglomerates). The happy collision of need and greed has produced a cauldron of innovation, as Indian entrepreneurs have devised new business models. Some just set out to do things cheaply, but others are more radical, and have helped India leapfrog the rich world.

For years India's private-health providers, such as Apollo Hospitals, focused on the affluent upper classes, but they are now racing down the pyramid. Vishal Bali, Wockhardt's boss, plans to take advantage of tax breaks to build hospitals in small and medium-sized cities (which, in India, means those with up to 3m inhabitants). Prathap Reddy, Apollo's founder, plans to do the same. He thinks he can cut costs in half for patients: a quarter saved through lower overheads, and another quarter by eliminating travel to bigger cities.

Columbia Asia, a privately held American firm with over a dozen hospitals across Asia, is also making a big push into India. Rick Evans, its boss, says his investors left America to escape over-regulation and the political power of the medical lobby. His model involves building no-frills hospitals using standardised designs, connected like spokes to a hub that can handle more complex ailments. His firm offers modestly priced services to those earning $10,000-20,000 a year within wealthy cities, thereby going after customers overlooked by fancier chains. Its small hospital on the fringes of Bangalore lacks a marble foyer and expensive imaging machines—but it does have fully integrated health information-technology (HIT) systems, including electronic health records (EHRs).

New competitors are also emerging. A recent report from Monitor, a consultancy, points to LifeSpring Hospitals, a chain of small maternity hospitals around Hyderabad. This for-profit outfit offers normal deliveries attended by private doctors for just $40 in its general ward, and Caesarean sections for about $140—as little as one-fifth of the price at the big private hospitals. It has cut costs with a basic approach: it has no canteens and outsources laboratory tests and pharmacy services.

It also achieves economies of scale by attracting large numbers of patients using marketing. Monitor estimates that its operating theatres accommodate 22-27 procedures a week, compared with four to six in other private clinics. LifeSpring's doctors perform four times as many operations a month as their counterparts do elsewhere—and, crucially, get better results as a result of high volumes and specialisation. Cheap and cheerful really can mean better.

But there is more to India's approach than cutting costs. Its health-care providers also make better use of HIT. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, fewer than 20% of doctors' surgeries in America use HIT. In contrast, according to Technopak, nearly 60% of Indian hospitals do so. And instead of grafting technology onto existing, inefficient processes, as often happens in America, Indian providers build their model around it. Apollo's integrated approach to HIT has enabled the chain to increase efficiency while cutting medical errors and labour. EHRs and drug records zip between hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, and its systems also handle patient registration and billing. Apollo is already selling its expertise to American hospitals.

Eye on the prize

A casual visitor to Madurai, a vibrant medieval-temple town in southern India, would not think it was a hotbed of innovation. And yet that is exactly what you will find at Aravind, the world's biggest eye-hospital chain, based in the town. There are perhaps 12m blind people in India, with most cases arising from treatable or preventable causes such as cataracts. Rather than rely on government handouts or charity, Aravind's founders use a tiered pricing structure that charges wealthier patients more (for example, for fancy meals or air-conditioned rooms), letting the firm cross-subsidise free care for the poorest.

The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books,
Time Magazine, August 2009
Aravind also benefits from its scale. Its staff screen over 2.7m patients a year via clinics in remote areas, referring 285,000 of them for surgery at its hospitals. International experts vouch that the care is good, not least because Aravind's doctors perform so many more operations than they would in the West that they become expert. Furthermore, the staff are rotated to deal with both paying and non-paying patients so there is no difference in quality. Monitor's new report argues that Aravind's model does not just depend on pricing, scale, technology or process, but on a clever combination of all of them.

C.K. Prahalad and other management gurus trumpet examples like Aravind, but do the rich countries accept that they could learn from India? Unsurprisingly, some reject the notion that America's model is broken. William Tauzin, head of America's pharmaceutical lobby, warns that regulatory efforts to cut costs could stifle life-saving innovation. Sandra Peterson of Bayer, a German drugs and devices giant, stoutly defends the industry's record. She argues that overall cost increases mask how medical devices, “like cars or personal computers, give better value for the money over time.” Diabetes monitors and pacemakers have improved dramatically in the past 20 years and have fallen in price—but costs have gone up because they are now being used by more patients.

But those examples are exceptions. Many studies show that America's spending on health care is soaring, yet its medical outcomes remain mediocre. Mark McClellen of the Brookings Institution, an American think-tank, says that a big problem is the overuse of technology. Whether or not a scan is needed, the system usually pays if a doctor orders it—and the scan might help defend the doctor against a malpractice claim. “The root cause is not greed, but tremendous technological progress imposed upon a fractured health system,” says Thomas Lee of Partners Community HealthCare, a health provider in Boston.

Dr McClellen, a former head of America's Food and Drug Administration, points out that other innovative industries often sell new products at a loss, and recoup their investments later. In genuinely competitive industries, innovators are rarely rewarded with the “cost plus” reimbursements demanded by medical-device makers for their gold-plated gizmos.

That is why Stanford's Dr Yock wants to turn innovation upside down. He has extended his bio-design programme to India, in part to instil an understanding of the benefits of frugality in his students. He believes that India's combination of poverty and outstanding medical and engineering talents will produce a world-class medical-devices industry. Tim Brown, the head of Ideo, a design consultancy, agrees. In the past, he notes, health bosses thought all devices had to be Rolls-Royces or Ferraris. But cost matters, too. Pointing to another recent example of India's frugal engineering, he says: “In health care, as in life, there is need for both Ferraris and Tata Nanos.”


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So what’s wrong with panentheism?


Eden's Banishment

When approaching Process Theology (PT) it is necessary to be able to grasp and understand its related and essential component of pan-en-theism from which each proceed together apace (please note we are not talking here of pan-theism. See links below for further definitions in this area). Over the past year we have attempted to discern both concepts - PT and panentheism - and to appreciate the relational aspects of our Creator God in living partnership to the cosmos and to humanity where each together are known and described as God's creative universe in living birth and dependency upon the other: God with His creation and His creation with Himself. Whereas the counter position of Classical Theology (CT) will emphasize the independency of God's being from that of His creation making Him more of a sympathetic, but wholly-Other God to creation's essence. Who holds Himself in unmitigated void apart from creation until He personally experiences it through His Incarnational birth, life and death in the wholly-Divine personage of Jesus (sic, cf. the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union of Christ). As such, the difference and the chasm that lies between both Process and Classic Theism is summed up in the phrase "ex nihilo creation" with PT denying its concept and CT affirming it.


 
Over the past year we have discussed the theological and philosophical ramifications of God and creation in terms of biblical ontology, metaphysics, and existentialism. We have also examined its scientific evolutionary origins through quantum physics and anthropological studies focused on the communicational development of individuals through learning theory and cultural sub-groupings. Beginning with man's early primitive understanding of himself and his surroundings discovered by anthropologists in the fossilized rock and earth; to the basic components of man's theorized social / psychological formation and interaction with one another in his early, primitive settings; to the archaeological examination of ancient human records discovered in early civilizations entombed around the world. Especially those ancient near-Eastern records discovered in comparative cultural and religious studies to that of the bible's own ancient contracts, social constructions, institutions, and theology of God. Who has especially revealed Himself in revelation to this region of mankind... specifically to a people/tribe/nation-state we know as Israel. Who tells us of His own divine being - who He is. What He wants. What His heart desires of us and this world that we live in. And from these early descriptions preserved upon ancient (biblical) manuscripts we enter into today's more lively discussion of Emergent Christianity.

A discussion which forces the active re-composition of the Reformational Era's theological by-products of systematized and reformed theology through a rigorous post-examination of both the Old and New Testaments from a post-modernistic understanding of narrative theology as it relates to the larger meta-narrative of God's own story to that of our own. Especially as both are beheld in the central personage of Jesus whom we understand to be the incarnate God who re-incarnates all living flesh with His own life force of redeeming grace-and-love. How? Through the profound experience of His personal atoning sacrifice that singularly reconstitutes all of life - both humanity's and the creative cosmos - from death's finality and destruction - to a newness of life and livelihood, existence and charter.

Who re-orients the cosmos and humanity from its fundamental willfulness away from Himself back into the life-giving breath-and-heart of its Maker-Creator-Sustainer. Process Theology then focuses upon this fundamental process and tells us how God is actively re-balancing creation through His own personal involvement of essential redemption. An involvement as much a part of His own divine being as it is a part of His own divine will. A fundamental act much misunderstood in Classical Theism's Reformational and Enlightened dispositions describing God as separate - and above - this very same process. But not in an unfeeling way. But in a dispassionate, ruling, capricious capacity, much as one would describe a machine or a computer dispensing truth and justice upon the non-elect of the earth.

Whereas Relational Theology then comes along and says to both Process Theology and strict Reformational Classicism that neither position should disqualify the other but join together in illuminating the many infinite aspects of the Unfathomable One who speaks life to the dry bones of our beings. Giving sunshine and warmth to the cold, mechanistic processes of life's fundamental aspects of growth and development. Mercy and peace. Truth and justice. Giving purpose, and hope, and meaning, to both the cosmos and to humanity that held none before without the active, ceaseless, involvement of a Creator God (if ever there was such a time!). Who has never let either this world, nor our own, go upon their wayward paths. But always-and-ever-and-only directs each cosmos (whether impersonal or personal) into His own paths of light-and-life even before either were created in the depths of His being's longings and passions.

For this almighty Creator knew our paths even as He knew of His plans for us (which is the debate of another doctrinal position known as Open Theism/Theology with Classic Theism/Theology - see sidebars for more info). And it is only ourselves who have become gravely misinformed by our many disconnected theories and mistaken reflections. Endlessly debating each other as we preach certain knowledge from our own biased doctrinal positions (heaven, hell, universalism, damnation, election, foreordination) all the while being woefully misguided having missed the telltale narrative themes of God's revelatory tone and import concerning these very same subjects! ...That He is. ...That He always has been. ...That He always will be.... And because of His divine being we must know and expect that He has not left us alone to the imaginations of our own hearts. But has come to be with us giving light-and-life. Foreordaining grace out of the determinative counsels of His own heart. Who will actively pursue this grace into our broken hearts and lives till all is healed and made whole. And all will sing in divine fellowship with the Godhead of creation. Singing eternal songs of love, and grace, and peace, and hope. This we must know through trust and belief.

For from time immemorial God is the God who reaches out to us in ceaseless care and love. Who desires truth and justice but knows these are unattainable without the administration first of His almighty grace and mercy in continual calls of repentance by His Spirit. And there to find common cause with the Creator of our hearts and lives who is become our Savior. Despite sin and death. Who makes all things new. Despite the ugliness and harm around us. Who creates life where there is no life. Hope where there is no hope. Who gives light in even the darkest of shadows. It is this Savior God that all will answer to. Who seeks our allegiance to trust in His great goodness. His majesty of wisdom. His undergirding power, sublime, and awesome. Who is strong in our weakness. Who is compassionate to the lost. Granting mercy to the forgotten. The downtrodden. The poor. Giving His breath of hope to the hopeless. Favour to the unfavoured. Blessings to those that languish. He is God. And His promise is to never leave us nor forsake us (whether saved or unsaved, I might add to my Calvinist friends). Not even in our sin and destruction. Our pride and shame. So be ye at peace then. God is, and will ever be, God. Incorruptible. Indivisible. Inexpressible. Incomparable. Who comes to give life. Be life. Provide life. Live life. His kingdom is forever. And forever is this kingdom ours, in the personage of His being, and majesty of His power. Be at peace then and know your salvation has come. Even as it comes into this world that we live to be remade into the image of its Sovereign Creator become its unwanted Savior.

R.E. Slater
August 8, 2012


Addendum:
Pantheism or Panentheism?

If you were like myself a year ago I would not have understood the difference between "pan-theism" and "pan-en-theism" thinking that both terms meant the same, or in my case, just not noticing the casual spelling difference between the two words! However, pantheism means that God and the universe are the same ontological entities, whereas panentheism suggests that God and the universe are two halves of the same coin, though not necessarily the same ontologically. Moreover, each are considered dependent upon the other thus removing the distinction between a Creator vs. Creation (Cosmos). Put another way, "if there were no Creator there is no Cosmos. If there is no Cosmos then there is no Creator." This is pan-en-theism.

Thought through, there isn't a lot of difference between the two concepts of pantheism and panentheism. The first term arises from a polytheistic basis such as is found in Hinduism, whereas the other term arises from a Christian basis and has been adopted into an important new branch of Christian thinking known as Process Theology/Theism/or Thought. As background to the article below please refer to the links below but begin with Part 2. And do not be afraid to wade in. Its a simple enough concept with big, big ramifications. Thanks!
 

Doctrinal Differences Compared


Basic Definitions





* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


What’s wrong with panentheism?

by Roger Olson
with emendations from R.E. Slater
 
August 7, 2012

So What’s Wrong with Panentheism?

Recently I suggested that Jonathan Edwards may have been guilty of panentheism. I won’t explain why again here; if you’re interested please go back and read that post. At least one commenter asked why that’s a problem in light of Paul’s quotation in Athens of a Greek poet. He referred to God as the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Was Paul affirming panentheism? What’s wrong with panentheism?

Confession that one is a panentheist is, rightly or wrongly, the kiss of death when it comes to being hired to teach theology at most evangelical institutions of higher education. A few years ago an acquaintance who was a candidate to teach theology at an evangelical seminary was rejected by its president because, during his interview, he admitted he is a panentheist.

“Panentheism” is a somewhat flexible and evolving concept. When someone says “panentheism” or “panentheist” I ask what they mean. The term has no definite, universally agreed on definition. I no longer take it for granted.

Panentheism is a relatively recent term, if not concept, in Christian theology and philosophy of religion. Scholars agree that it was coined by German philosophical theologian Karl Friedrich Krause (1781-1832) who invented the German word Allingottlehre which literally means “the doctrine that all is in God.” Of course, Krause was not the first person to promote the idea. (See John W. Cooper, Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers [Baker, 2006], 121-122.)

Krause meant more than merely that “all is in God, however.” That can be interpreted in multiple ways and might even fit Paul’s statement in Athens. According to John Cooper, Krause believed “the distinction between God and the world is that of whole and part.” (122) Exactly what Krause meant by panentheism is debatable, but the concept took on a life of its own, apart from whatever Krause meant, in philosophers such as G. W. F. Hegel who famously asserted that Without the world God is not God.”

Hegel is usually thought to have been the paradigmatic panentheist of the 19th century, but Alfred North Whitehead is usually considered that of the 20th century. Whitehead, of course, was the philosopher-mathematician who is the inspiration behind process theology. Whitehead said that “It is as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God.”

A consensus used to exist that panentheism is any view of the God-world relationship that portrays God and the world as essentially interdependent although God’s essence is not contributed by the world. One of the first whole books exploring the concept was Philosophers Speak of God by Charles Hartshorne and William Reese (University of Chicago Press, 1953). They defined panentheism as any view in which “To be himself [God] does not this universe, but only a universe.” (22) They asserted that, at the very least, panentheism denies creation ex nihilo (23).

So, traditional, classical panentheism distinguishes between God’s essence, his eternal being, and his experience. God’s essence, his thatness and whatness are his independent of the world, but his actual experience is given to him by the world. Many panentheists have used the body-soul or body-mind analogy to describe the God-world relationship in traditional, classical panentheism. The world (universe, cosmos) is God’s body.

I came to think that what distinguishes panentheism, in its German idealist (Hegelian) form and in its process (Whiteheadian) form, from traditional Christian theism (in its broadest form) is the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. In other words, I have no problem believing that God actually experiences the world such that there is a sense in which the world is “in” God. That’s how I interpret Paul’s statement in Athens. Also, I believe Paul meant that "the world is dependent on God for its existence from moment to moment" [which is the traditional expression for Classic Christian Theism - R.E. Slater].

The crucial difference between traditional, classical panen-theism and Christian theism, broadly interpreted (i.e., not necessarily as defined by Augustine or Anselm or Aquinas), is God’s dependence on the world. Panentheism traditionally affirms it; all forms of classical Christian theism deny it. Creatio ex nihilo [as a philosophical expression AND as a scientific expression - R.E. Slater] is the crucial doctrine that protects Christian theism from making God essentially dependent on the world....

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In re-reading what I have said here a year ago (2012) I noticed I had written my understanding of panentheism backwards... as such, I've re-written it again to read as follows:

I've come to distinguish between the two expressions by remaining neutral to the philosophical while affirming the scientific.... That is, in scientific terms "something" cannot come from "nothing"... which correlates with quantum physic's observation. So, when using the phrase creatio ex nihilo in connection with panentheism it must be considered both "nay" and "yeah." "Nay," because quantum physics has stated shown our universe to have a beginningless mass from which our present universe became. And "yeah," in that I still prefer the classic idea of God giving mass and energy to the pre-universe though this cannot be proved scientifically.

Additionally, pertaining to God's sovereignty as related to creational evolution, I understand God to have reordered the quantum nothingness of the pre-universe into a quantum state of chaos filled with divine purpose and indeterminate possibility (sic, the "free will" side of creation). That is, evolution has a "teleological" side to it. Though random and chaotic per God's divine plan, there is also found superintending over its indeterminate structure (or "creational freedom") His divine direction in some mysterious process we've yet to understand giving to us life from nothingness. Most atheistic evolutionists will disagree with this sentiment as would be proper within a strict evolutionary understanding of creation. But as a theistic evolutionist I cannot explain biblical passages that express again-and-again God's deep involvement with creation as its Creator without understanding God's involvement within it as He directs its chaotic process towards our present day humanity.

On the philosophical side of the question of whether God is, or is not, dependent upon His creation I would like to affirm classic theism's idea that God is not dependent upon it based upon His essence both ontologically and metaphysically. As well as based upon the absolute necessity that we remain culpable free willed beings for our sin (which likewise makes God blameless for our sin). And yet, because He is our Creator there is also the sense that God is not so much "dependent" upon creation but somehow equisitely "linked" to His creation. So for me, process thought has the right idea leading in the right direction but is using the wrong word and linkages when discerning the Bible's idea of God's interconnected relatedness to our world. Hence, classic theism is the poorer without process theism's observations, while process theism must widen its idea of panentheism to allow a separateness of God's ontologic being from His relational being as creation's Creator.

- R.E. Slater, August 7, 2013

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... Why is it important to deny God’s dependence on the world? Traditionally Christian theologians have said “to protect the transcendence of God.” Fine. But why? The bedrock reason is, as I have stated and argued here before, that “whatever is of nature cannot be of grace.” Christianity is not a philosophy; it is a message of grace. If God’s creation and redemption of the world is not free, then it is not of grace. Only that which is freely done is truly gracious. That’s a bedrock principle of theology. When someone disputes it, I frankly don’t know what they mean by “grace....” [To sum up: God is not dependent upon the world to protect His transcendancy over the world, but to allow our world and ourselves our greatest freedom when separated from God's "dependency" upon it (remember, I do not like the word "dependency"). When we speak biblically of creation's indeterminacy, or of man's free will, we assert a non-coercive free will of man and nature held quite apart from God's divine will. God has given to creation its highest possibility of separateness from His holy will as free-willed creatures. Thus, God is neither culpable to sin's progeneration, nor are we protected from its affects, and yet God longs for reconciliation and works always to restore creation back to Himself, who is inseparably a part of His creation in terms of will and purpose, rather than as ontologic or metaphysic connection per panentheism. As such, the term panentheism is evolving to mean many things instead of the classic Hegelian or Whiteheadian expression it once was intended to be in the 19th and 20th centuries. Consequently, we should not be afraid to use the word, but when we do, to use it less strictly, and perhaps with adjectival address. - R.E. Slater
 
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Hence, in nature - as pictured in creation's current state of fallenness - some aspect of God's image may be borne. And yet, it remains unresolved, impure in some sense, corrupted, and unlike God's fully divine image. As such, though one may find a kind of "rebirth" from some aspect of God's creation - an experience of nature perhaps, or an experience within society itself through someone's story of rebirth - the rebirth that is sensed is but a glimpse of the very God Himself imperfectly reflected through His creation. Redemption cannot lie in these experiences (per biblical statements reflected through Jesus and the Apostle Paul, amongst others), though it may be lead back to the Creator-Redeemer God. But existentially (and metaphysically), the completion of divine redemption can only be found in God Himself, and not obtained from creation's ground of being.... Redemption's reality, presence, and ultimating source, is the divine personage of God Himself. This is the Christian doctrine of redemption, salvation, rebirth, and so forth.

Creation may direct us back to God (as it can, and will, because of the image of God lying resident within it's frame when glimpsed through sin's constant distortions). But in God's being doeth redemption fully reside unhindered, unmitigated, uncorrupted, unmangled. A redemption based upon the grace of His being met in the redemptive willfulness of God as a derivative of His grace. Where salvation's fullest, redemptive expression is found in the God who bears redemption's ground of being in Himself.... Especially when understood through Jesus, as God Incarnate expressing grace and glory, healing and life, light and reconciliation.

Presented in the form of redemption to both the world and to mankind each are found to be corrupted. Held in the grip of sin's disorderliness and ungodlike willfulness. Where no synergy of fellowship can be complete (or completed) without the singularity of redemption's repurposing of all of creation's aspects back upon God's divine person, being, and fellowship. Redemption must come from God. And especially from God's grace.

- R.E. Slater

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... Notice that in Acts 17, during his speech in Athens, Paul not only quotes the Greek poet but also asserts that “God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” (vs. 24, 25) That has to be kept in balance with “in whom we live and move and have our being.”

So, the problem with traditional, classical panentheism, as expressed in the philosophies of Hegel and Whitehead (and their many followers), is that it seriously blurs the line between God and the world with the result that God’s creation and redemption of the world are not free and gracious acts but necessities for God. [Hence,] in saving the world God is somehow saving himself. And concepts like “create” and “save” don’t even mean the same in traditional, classical panentheism as in classical theism (broadly defined).

Having said all that, I must admit that the term “panentheism” is undergoing change in contemporary theology [as I have been demonstating here... R.E. Slater]. Like all theological concepts, over time it is being stretched to cover much more than it meant under the influences of Hegel and Whitehead (et al.).

A relatively recent study of panentheism illustrates this: In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World edited by Philip Clayton (we studied together under Pannenberg in the 1980s) and Arthur Peacocke (Eerdmans, 2004). Especially helpful is the chapter “Three Varieties of Panentheism” by Niels Henrik Gregersen (19-35).

I won’t go into the details here, now. I have submitted an article about this change in the meaning of panentheism to a theological journal. If it is published I will alert my blog readers to it.

Essentially, what is happening, is that some Christian theologians are adopting the term “panentheism” and adapting it to a more classical theistic view of the God-world relationship. Gregersen talks about “Christian [Theistic! - res] panentheism” by which he means a view in which God’s experience is contributed at least partly by the world [think in terms of Open Theology, if this helps - R.E. Slater], and what happens in it while God is himself not essentially dependent on the world. In other words, God freely chooses to include the world in his life. A good example is Juergen Moltmann who explicitly labels his theology panentheistic in several of his writings (“trinitarian panentheism,” “eschatological panentheism”). Many other relatively conservative Christian theologians, including some evangelicals, are calling their theologies panentheistic, but they don’t mean in the Krause, Hegel or Whitehead sense. They seem to mean only that the God-world relationship is ontologically real, not merely external to God. God freely (he could have done otherwise) creates the world and experiences it such that he is not the same with the world as he was, or would be, without it. And yet he does not literally “need” it to be who and what he is [which, with this last expression (underlined) would seem to me to be very un-panentheistic like, and not a true expression of panentheism, but some appendix of classic theism that is dangling off of it - R.E. Slater].

The analogy of parenthood comes to mind. In this panentheism, God is like a parent who freely chooses to have a child but, once the child is born or adopted, the child is part of his or her life. The parent is not the same as before. And yet, should the child die, the parent would still be the person he or she was even if changed. (This is only an analogy, of course, so please don’t pick it to death because it’s not perfect.)

My concern is whether this is stretching “panentheism” too far. It seems to me to lose all shape, so to speak, unless it is kept closely tied to (i) the rejection of creation ex nihilo and (ii) affirmation of the idea of God’s essential dependence on at least some world. I fear that, like many theological concepts, panentheism is losing meaning. In light of this broadening of its meaning to cover new ideas not traditionally meant by it, I suspect the candidate for the position teaching theology who was rejected by the evangelical president may have been treated unfairly. He may have only meant what Gregersen means by “Christian panentheism” which is compatible with creation ex nihilo.

I personally do not consider any theology that affirms creation ex nihilo panentheistic. That doesn’t mean affirming it makes everything correct; a person might affirm creation ex nihilo and be profoundly wrong about something else in his or her doctrine of God. But, it seems to me that creation ex nihilo is minimally necessary for a robust biblically and theologically sound doctrine of God. Traditionally, classically, it is one major factor dividing Christian theism from panentheism (or even pantheism).

[As addendum, in my opening comments I had mentioned how to overcome this doctrinal impasse between both theological divisions by coining the phrase Relational Theism to distinguish it from Process-Relational Theology's traditional panentheism that excludes ex nihilo creation; and from Classic Theology's impassive, wholly-Other God, unfeeling, untouched, and transcendent over His creation. I then attempted to bind both together into a synthesized framework by relating thematic plotlines from Scripture and our human experiences. Moreover, I have used the parental example myself and have found it helpful in describing God's personal experience of creation both as Creator-Sustainer and sublimely as its Incarnate (and Incarnating) Redeemer-Messiah. - R.E. Slater]