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 off 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

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Of Things Mystical and Divine, Secret and Hidden, Laid Bare By Christ and His Word

One of my first experiences as a new Christian was to stumble into the Christian mindset that made Christianity a "mysterious" experience that was unexplainable and unintelligible. Later in life I've met other Christian groups that saw Christianity in terms of a "secret" or as a "secret society" that could only be discerned by the more specially trained or discerning within their sectarian order. Each of these groups fell within major Christian denominations and movements that were (and still are) popular. But each of those sentiments had inappropriately subscribed to several of the many forms of popular Christian mysticism and Gnosticism. Sometimes portraying themselves as a sectarian group and sometimes verging on raw cultism itself (where God, Jesus, and the Bible have lost all appearance of revelatory understanding). These well-intentioned believers were not especially helpful in my Christian walk or to the growth of my spirit in my ravenous desire to comprehend God's holy Word. They more-or-less were figures that needed instruction themselves but would not have it, or hear it, misled as they were by their own self-delusions and imaginations.

Unfortunately, this was also one of my first encounters with the very early forms of Emergent Christianity being ill mis-presented (and mis-understood) by its more faithful adherents. They had made the mistake of visualizing God into esoteric categories that made the Christian faith more like a secret assemblage of "Masonic-like" templed believers adhering to its various versions of religious orders, majesteriums and specially-endowed high holy priests and priestesses. Again, I was witnessing a form of sectarian, if not cultic error, smacking of Gnostic infiltration and good intentions. But woefully misguided. Even more, some of the leadership at that time was preaching a form of Judahistic Christianity (rather than the more proper, "Messianic" Christian heritage of the NT Christian beleiver) which compounded their error thricefold while failing to discern the continuities and discontinuities fraught within the revelatory movement of the God's redemptive work among mankind. They were misled and misleading, and I sadly witnessed gullible Christians eagerly devouring the many false teachings of these men and women who had no business shepherding God's people. They did damage. And they did it convincingly. And ignorantly. And I had little pity upon them but a lot of pity upon their sad, lost flock of woefully-begotten followers.

Consequently, Roger Olson in his article below rightly debates how a Christian should approach his or her understanding of Christianity, with antennae up and with an air of alertness that would not be misled by well-intentioned, but ill-equipped, would-be shepherds and disciplers in our lives, in the pulpit, and behind the radio (or Internet) mike. We are responsible to study the Scriptures and not be easily misled by the rampant errors of our day. And that would include the very comforting positions of our traditional orthodoxies and dogmas. We must always be willing to criticize our beliefs and determine where they are leading us or misleading us, helping us to grow spiritually or holding us back. A large part of this blogsite here continues to confront and debate some of our more popularly held ideas of Christian doctrines and theologies. I accept the fact that we must begin with where we are at before then beginning the arduous task of moving from our familiar paradigms and comfortable lodgings to the more radical lessons and unfamiliar paradigms unlearned and unthought. The trick is to get it "near right." And mostly, it seems, that we must always learn to listen (or listen enough) to be able to follow the Lord's leading and guidance. Hopefully here on this website we are presenting enough sensible discussions and information to help in the formative growth and maturity of our readership. Men and women who can lead others intelligently, capably, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is always more to be said, but we've started here, and in this way, so that the responsibility is place upon us as the vanguard of the body of Christ to help each other as a community to better speak and act upon what we've started to envisage and comprehend. It is not for naught that Christ has given to us a fellowship to work and debate within for history and dialogue are great teachers when it comes to absorbing radically new directions and ideas such is being experienced by the Church today. And must be experienced if it is to move properly forward as a witness to this world and in response to the Spirit of God who is building-out the Kingdom of our Lord through the Church of Christ.

And less I miss the further point of this subject, I must reiterate again that while this blogsite is about making plain what seems lost in the verbiage of today's contemporary Christianity, that I am not above using the literary tools of mystical prose to get across the sometimes arcane and devolved misunderstandings of God and the Bible. Sometimes the human language is at pains to explain our Creator-Redeemer and I must from time to time utilize metaphors, prosaic symbolisms, and similies to force our modernistic mindsets beyond our very earthly concepts of our sometimes too-mundane lives and minded focus upon our own well being, meaning, and purpose in this life. Sometimes by using narrative and stories. Sometimes poetry and prose. And at other times by using parables. But in whatever manner God has gifted us with the beauty of language with which we should never be shy in utilizing and incorporating into our worship and portrayal of our faith. But with the heavy distinction of avoiding the distraction of a mystical Christianity that embraces sectarian Gnosticism, if not bald cultism, which this can lead to. That is not what is in view here. To this end may God continue to raise up within His Church effective leaders, theologians, practitioners, and disciples of Christ to which we one and all must exclaim, Amen!

R.E. Slater
June 1, 2012

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A Mysterious Topic: Part 1

by Roger Olson
May 31, 2012

A Mysterious Topic: “Mystery,” “Paradox,” and “Contradiction” in Theology (Part 1)

I was recently asked to preview the manuscript of a forthcoming book on theology and mystery. I promise to review it here when it is published. So far, however, the manuscript is open to possible changes by the book’s authors, so I don’t want to comment on it specifically. I have suggested some possible revisions and am trusting they may make them before the book is published.

My intention is not to tease you when I say that it is an excellent book and a badly needed one. For years I have thought about this subject and talked about it in my lectures and mentioned it in some of my books. My impression is that the average Christian has little to no understanding of what “mystery” means in theology. And, of course, it means somewhat different things in different types of Christian theology. In some of Catholic theology, for example, “mystery” has a technical meaning that is very close to and interconnected with “supernatural,” “grace” and “sacrament.”

The average Christian, I suspect, thinks “mystery” is something beyond all comprehension; it’s what you’re supposed to believe but cannot be explained or even expressed except in ways that require sacrifice of the intellect. The classical examples most people would give are the Trinity and the deity-and-humanity of Jesus Christ (what theologians call the “hypostatic union” of Christ). And, when first introduced to the orthodox versions of those doctrines, many, if not most, theological novices object that these formulas are attempts to explain what is essentially unexplainable—the mysterious.

Furthermore, most Christians, in my experience, blend together inappropriately concepts such as “mystery,” “paradox” and “contradiction.” Of course, these are not easy concepts to pin down, but I think a sound theology needs to distinguish them and relate them to each other very cautiously to avoid total confusion and even unintelligibility.

That word “unintelligibility” will probably spark some controversy. Should Christian theology be intelligible?

Here’s the problem I seem to be wrestling with. Many Christians, even some theologians, confuse "incomprehensibility" with “unintelligibility.” I believe an important task of Christian theology is to make Christian belief as intelligible as possible without pretending that God (and the “things of God”) can be made completely comprehensible.

I.  Esoteric

Defining terms is in order now. As I use “intelligible” I mean “capable of being understood and communicated without contradiction.” In other words, not esoteric. I believe Christianity, as a belief system, ought not to be esoteric. “Esoteric” means “capable of being understood only by special people with higher spiritual abilities.” It also usually implies something that should be believed but cannot be grasped by the mind’s normal functioning.

An example of something esoteric is astrology. In classical astrology (as opposed to many of its New Age versions), only special people with special spiritual wisdom and insight can grasp its truths and use it successfully. That’s why other people pay them.

There is an “alternative tradition” of “esoteric Christianity” going back to the Gnosticism. Its modern manifestations are lumped together as “theosophy” (including Anthroposophy).

(I won’t get into a discussion of the details of esoteric Christianity here. I only mention it to illustrate what I am opposed to as a Christian theologian in the orthodox tradition. Suffice to say that I once spent a couple years studying Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric Christianity and wrote a scholarly article about it in a journal devoted to new religious movements.)

I admit to being allergic to anything esoteric. “Esoteric” implies “hidden truth” or, when that truth is revealed (becomes “exoteric”), it implies truth that is not able to be grasped or understood without initiation by an “adept”—someone with higher spiritual capacities—and practice of some special spiritual technology such as yoga or Eastern meditation or chanting, etc.

II.  Mystery

“Mystery” does not necessarily equate with “esoteric.” That is, one can believe something is ultimately mysterious without believing it is esoteric. For example, in optics (a branch of physics) light is believed to have both wave-like and particle-like properties even though nobody (so far) knows how that can be the case. So, even to the scientist who studies light for many years, it remains somewhat mysterious.

Scientists study and talk about subjects that are mysterious using models. The models don’t make that which they model less mysterious; they make them capable of being studied, discussed and worked with. These models are “analog” and not “depicting” models. Nobody should imagine that a model of a molecule is what a molecule “looks like.” (Picture the typical DNA molecule—it’s a model.)

Now, back to theology. A mystery is what has been revealed but is beyond complete comprehension. We can’t picture it. We can’t point to something or build something and say “This is exactly what it is like.” We (Christian theologians) develop models of mysteries that more or less do justice to it. And often the models are meant to protect the mystery, not “explain” it as if the model we develop reduces it to something exactly like something created.

(1) The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, for example, as developed and expressed at Constantinople in 381 and as expressed by the Cappadocian Fathers (sometimes lamely and sometimes in a sophisticated manner) is a model—an analogue model, not a depicting model. The whole point of it, like (2) the hypostatic union doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ expressed at Chalcedon in 451, is to express that which cannot be pictured. Both models are meant to protect the revealed mysteries from alternative models that destroy them by reducing them to depicting models. In other words, these orthodox models are meant to protect mysteries without leaving them in the realm of the esoteric.

They are meant to make these truths intelligible (to anyone) without making them pictureable [because you can't picture them as much as you can relate them by analogy - res]. The realities they model remain mysterious, beyond creaturely comprehension. But they are not unintelligible - requiring sacrifice of the intellect or special spiritual capacities or spiritual techniques taught by an adept to understand.

Unfortunately, many Christians think the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ are esoteric mysteries—beyond intelligible thought. So just about any spiritual-sounding expression of them is okay. For example, “God is one and three,” left there without further explanation, is widely considered the spiritual expression of an unintelligible mystery. When I say “No, God is one being or nature, substance shared equally by three persons” they think I’m unnecessarily complicating the truth if not attempting to “explain” something that is ultimately mysterious.

When I ask them what they mean by “God is one and three” what I usually get is either a refusal to express it in any other words or modalism or tritheism.

In my opinion, what the fathers of Constantinople (including the Cappadocians) and Chalcedon where trying to do was not to “explain the mysteries” but express them and lay down rules for talking about them in intelligible ways that avoid sheer contradiction and reductions of the mysteries.

Much of what we believe as orthodox Christians is mysterious, but none of it is (or should be) unintelligible or esoteric.

III.  Paradox and Contradiction

All this brings me to two other concepts (besides “mystery”): paradox and contradiction.

I freely admit that paradox, which I define as apparent contradiction is inevitable and functions as a sign of mystery and of our finitude when confronting mystery. That Jesus Christ is both truly human and truly divine is a paradox—just as is that light is both wave-like and particle-like.

But there is nothing unintelligible about either of those paradoxes. Their paradoxical nature lies in the fact that we do not know how these combinations are possible. However, neither of them is a sheer contradiction. A sheer, logical contradiction is always a sure sign of error. And it always makes that which is contradictory unintelligible.

So what would be a “sheer contradiction.” Here’s one I once, in my immaturity, put forth (and was immediately corrected for it): “Jesus Christ is exclusively divine and exclusively human.” That’s not a paradox; it’s a sheer contradiction. When I said (or wrote) it, I was confusing “truly” with “exclusively.” They are not the same. One thing cannot be “exclusively” one thing and, at the same time and in the same way, “exclusively” another thing. It has to do with the definition of [the word] “exclusively” [linguistically].

Here’s another sheer contradiction: “Light is exclusively wave-like and exclusively particle-like.” That’s not just another way of saying “Light is truly wave-like and truly particle-like.” The first is a sheer contradiction and no scientist would say it. The second is a paradox; no logical contradiction is involved.

I believe a major task of theology is to exclude logical contradictions from Christian belief, make Christian belief as intelligible as possible, and yet protect real mystery as it was revealed. Critiquing and constructing models is what theology does.

I do not see any real contradictions about God or “the things of God” in revelation or the Great Tradition of Christian teaching. I see paradoxes and I regard them as tasks for further thought. For example, I believe “kenotic Christology” is a valid way of relieving some of the paradoxical tension in classical Christology (Chalcedon’s hypostatic union) that makes it appear contradictory at times. However, kenosis* is not itself part of orthodoxy; it is simply a theologoumenon—a theological idea for consideration.

Next I want to apply these considerations to soteriology.

*Ke·no·sis spelling [ki-noh-sis]. A noun. Category: Theology.
Definition: "The doctrine that Christ relinquished His divine attributes so as to experience human suffering."

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A Mysterious Topic (Part 2)

by Roger Olson
June 2, 2012

One way in which some well-meaning but misguided persons have attempted to resolve the seemingly intractable differences between divine determinism, including evil as part of God’s plan rendered certain by God, and creaturely free will as power of contrary choice, including evil as not part of God’s plan and not rendered certain by God but the result of creaturely decision and action, is appeal to mystery.

An old sermon illustration has it that absolute divine sovereignty, meticulous providence, and free will, power of contrary choice, are like two train tracks that seem incommensurable but somehow join in the distance beyond the horizon of human sight. Of course, any thinking person who hears that illustration immediately things to herself “But they don’t join in the distance!”

A perhaps more reasonable illustration, applied to salvation, that allegedly resolves the dilemma between monergism and human responsibility and decision, is the following: As one approaches the gate of heaven one sees a sign that says “Whosoever will may enter here freely,” but when the person enters and looks back at the other (inner) side of the gate one sees that it says “For you were chosen from before the foundation of the world.” Of course, any thinking person who hears that illustration in a sermon will immediately realize that it is meant only to illustrate (and therefore defend) monergism*.

*mon·er·gism  [mon-er-jiz-uhm] noun  category: Theology
"the doctrine that the Holy Ghost acts independently of the human will in the work of regeneration."
Compare synergism (def. 3).

syn·er·gism  [sin-er-jiz-uhm, si-nur-jiz-] noun 3. cat: Theology
"the doctrine that the human will cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the work of regeneration."
Compare monergism.

More sophisticated appeals to mystery to resolve the dilemma avoid illustrations such as those and simply say “It’s a mystery.” As I stated in Part 1, I have no quarrel with appeal to mystery in theology so long as it is not a resort to embrace of contradiction.

It seems to me, however, that appeal to mystery to handle the dilemma stated above necessarily involves one in contradiction. The dilemma is not between “God’s sovereignty” and “free will” as some state it. We who believe in libertarian free will (as power of contrary choice) also believe in God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign over his sovereignty and limits his determining power to make room for other determining powers.

The dilemma is between divine determinism (belief that God determines everything that is to happen even if only indirectly causes much of it) and limited providence—God’s governance of all that happens without determining it in every detail.

Those two cannot both be believed without falling into sheer contradiction. And sheer (logical) contradiction is always and in every context a sign of [theological] error. To embrace it in theology is a form of special pleading that removes theology from intelligible discourse and requires a sacrifice of the intellect. A person who embraces contradiction (which I’m not sure is even possible!) has no ground for objecting to others who embrace contradiction.

Several questions arise. First, does revelation communicate sheer, logical contradiction? I hope not. Some argue it does. For example, they point to passages that allegedly say that God is the author of sin and evil (or its designer and governor) and (others) that say sin and evil are creatures’ doing, not God’s. Both Calvinism and Arminianism attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction by privileging one set of passages over the other or finding a hermeneutical [theological]* “tool” such as divine self-limitation, prevenient grace, secondary causation, compatibilism, etc. that will relieve the paradox.

[*textual emendations mine own per previous definitions as used here in this blog space - res]

Some theologians (and non-theologians) prefer to simply let the contradiction be. To them, to use a popular saying “It is what it is.” So leave it alone. Embrace it.

Now let’s play with that idea a little to see what happens.

The preacher gets up in the pulpit and says “God determines everything including evil. God planned and rendered certain the holocaust [cause: humans] and the torturous death of a little child from leukemia [cause: nature]. And these horrible evils and instances of innocent suffering are the result of human rebellion and its resultant curse on creation. God does not want them to be, but allows them.” Who could blame his listeners who shake their heads in bewilderment and think either the preacher is nuts or they dozed off for a moment and missed something?

Even more to the point, imagine the theologian who teaches theology in a university and is invited to be on a panel with a variety of scholars from across the curriculum to discuss the nature of evil and its source. They all posit their theories and then it’s his turn and he says “God plans it and does it and God doesn’t want it and doesn’t do it.”

Surely his colleagues will press for further explanation and insist on it. Insofar as he refuses and simply rests with the contradiction his colleagues will simply write him (and possibly his theology) off as anti-intellectual if not unintelligible.

Now, the moment you go further and attempt to “explain” using concepts such as John Piper’s “two wills of God” you have abandoned contradiction (or at least attempted to) and attempted to resolve the paradox. That’s not what I’m objecting to. I’m objecting to those who say we should simply rest with contradiction and not attempt to reconcile the apparent opposites found in Scripture.

Let’s look at a specific example: Philippians 2:12-13 “Work out your own salvation…for God is at work in you….” Some (e.g., D. M. Baillie) have labeled this the “paradox of grace.” I have used that term myself. I’m okay with that. As I explained in Part 1, I find certain paradoxes inevitable signs of mystery. But is it a sheer contradiction? I hope not. One of theology’s tasks is to show that, even though we cannot plumb the depths of God’s agency and ours in salvation, thus reducing mystery to something completely comprehensible to the finite intellect, there is no need to embrace sheer contradiction.

Philippians 2:12-13 is not a contradiction once we see and acknowledge that our “work” is not the same as God’s “work” in salvation (including sanctification). Two different Greek words are translated “work” in these two verses. There’s our first clue that no contradiction is involved. However, knowing their meanings doesn’t automatically resolve the apparent tension. Theology steps in, however, to say that God’s work surrounds and underlies, enables, our “work” which is simply to allow God to do his work in us.

I use a homely illustration. Every summer here in central Texas I struggle to keep bushes alive. I turn on the outdoor faucet to which a hose is attached and drag the hundred foot hose around the house to a thirsty bush. I aim the spray nozzle at the bush and press the trigger. Nothing comes out. I go back to make sure the faucet is actually turned on. It is. Pressurized water is there in the hose. Then I realize there’s got to be a kink somewhere in that long hose that’s keeping the water from flowing. I track the length of the hose, find the kink(s) and straighten them out.

The water represents God’s grace; the kink(s) represents a wrong attitude or habit or desire that blocks up the flow of God’s grace in my life. My task is to remove those with the Spirit’s help.

The analogy breaks down, of course, in that, in my spiritual life, removing the “kinks” is just as much God’s work as mine, but I have to want it and permit it. The “energy” (one of the Greek words translated “work”) is all God’s. All I contribute is heartfelt desire, prayer and submission. That’s also “work” insofar as it’s not easy; it’s not what comes naturally.

Philippians 2:12-13 may express a paradox, but it doesn’t express a sheer contradiction. It would only be a contradiction if it said that salvation is exclusively God’s work and exclusively mine. It doesn’t say that. It implies a cooperation—a synergy. At least that’s the best way to interpret it.

If we are going to embrace contradictions, then theology really has nothing to do. Every apparent contradiction in Scripture should just be embraced without any effort to show how they are not really contradictions. The results of the deliberations of the councils of Constantinople and Chalcedon were explanations of how what Scripture says about God and Jesus Christ are not contradictions. They are mysteries, but not contradictions.

On this I am in total agreement with R. C. Sproul who emphatically rejects efforts by fellow Calvinists (and others, of course) to affirm contradiction. I have detailed that in [my book] Against Calvinism and cited Sproul’s works.

Mystery—yes. Paradox—uncomfortably yes. Contradiction—no. Admittedly it is not always easy to tell what’s a paradox and what’s a real contradiction. But some things are obviously contradictions. To affirm divine determinism and creaturely non-compatibilist free will is a contradiction. There’s no way around it. And it’s absurd. It makes Christianity unintelligible nonsense. That doesn’t serve anyone well.

The Religious Beliefs of America's Founding Fathers & the Need for Christian Theism in Ruling Government

A good book about the religious beliefs of the “founding fathers”

by Roger Olson
May 25, 2012

A person promoting revisionist history here recently declared that no honest person can deny that the U.S.’s founding fathers were Christians. I don’t know anyone who denies they (at least most of them) were formally Christians in the sense of being baptized members of nominally Christian churches. The issue is their real beliefs.

Yesterday I visited the largest Half Price Bookstore in the world–a veritable Costco (if that’s the right analogy) of books. It would take someone many hours to peruse every shelf. Even the “Religion” section is amazingly large.

I saw many copies of this book and bought one for my own library: David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (Oxford, 2006). Holmes is Walter G. Mason Professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary–the alma mater of some of the founding fathers.

(In case you wonder if I read it over night. Well, the fact is that I read it IN Half Price Bookstore months ago and intended to buy it. Just before going to the cashier to purchase it, after reading it, I laid it down outside the restroom. When I came out it was gone! I then could not find any other copies. I figured there would be another copy or copies next time I visited the store and I was right. This time many copies were on an end cap display.)

Here is a gem from the book that rings true with everything I have read and studied (of a scholarly nature) about the founding fathers:

“Deism influenced, in one way or another, most of the political leaders who designed the new American government. Since the founding fathers did not hold identical views on religion, they should not be lumped together. But if census takers trained in Christian theology had set up broad categories in 1790 labeled ‘Atheism,’ ‘Deism and Unitarianism,’ ‘Orthodox Protestantism,’ ‘Orthodox Roman Catholicism,’ and ‘Other,’ and if they had interviewed Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, they would undoubtedly have placed every one of these six founding fathers in some way under the category of ‘Deism and Unitarianism’.” (pp. 50-51)

Holmes doesn’t just assert it; he gives plenty of evidence to support it.

Holmes’ chapter 12 is “A Layperson’s Guide to Distinguishing a Deist from an Orthodox Christian.” Very helpful.

Chapter 13 is “Three Orthodox Christians.” They are: Samuel Adams (after whom the popular beer is named!), Elias Boudinot and John Jay.

Anyone tempted to buy into the current flood of revisionism about the religious beliefs and practices of the founding fathers (I say “current” because, again, nothing under the sun is new) ought to read this book. Together with similar ones (e.g., Frank Lambert’s that I recommended the other day) it absolutely blows away (as in a wind, not an explosion) the whole idea that most of the founding fathers of the American Republic were orthodox Christians.

One noted revisionist has publicly stated (on Christian TV) that Thomas Jefferson created his truncated New Testament (“The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” otherwise known as “Jefferson’s Bible”) as a tool for evangelizing the Native Americans. That is so bogus it boggles the mind. Jefferson explained his reasons for creating it in letters to friends including to John Adams. He explained that he did not agree with much that the apostles wrote and even with much that Jesus taught. But he admired some of Jesus’ teachings and actions.

My response to the commenter here is that no truly educated person can honestly claim that the majority of the founding fathers were orthodox Christians.

If you live near a Half Price Bookstore, get over there and buy Holmes’ book. Or, just order it from your local bookstore or on line. It’s not dry as dust scholarly stuff. It is written for lay people, not scholars.

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

And now…on the other hand…

by Roger Olson
May 27, 2012

For a few days we’ve been discussing the faiths of the founding fathers. I’m still on that subject, but today’s post will probably upset the “other side”–those who have been with me so far.

Even though the leading founding fathers (Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison) were not orthodox Christians, they were theists. I believe (based on much reading and studying of their writings including their private letters) that they all believed that belief in God (sorry for all the “believes”) is necessary for a functioning social order.

They (and all the founders of the American republic [I don't put Paine in that camp as he was not directly involved in writing, debating or voting for any of the founding documents]) believed that ethics, including politics, depends on transcendence. They would have been horrified and shocked at the depth of modern secularism. And I think they would have rejected the very idea of total separation between state and religion.

Sure, they believed in and strongly advocated freedom of religion. And I have no doubt they would have extended that to atheists. On the other hand, I think if you had asked them if they thought an atheist would make a good president, Supreme Court justice, congressman, they would have said no (assuming they understood by “atheism” not deism but outright denial of the existence of God or anything like God).

I agree with them that a well functioning social order depends on a shared moral vision and that a shared moral vision depends on belief in something or someone transcendent to nature. The reason is what I have said here before many time–you cannot get an “ought” from an “is.”

I always find it amusing and bewildering when atheists argue that nature itself produces prescriptive altruism. It certainly does not. It may very well be that altruism is built into our genetic code [the evolutionary idea of eusociality. - res]. If it is, that does not say anything about whether a person OUGHT to be altruistic. All you can say to someone who chooses not to be altruistic is: “You’re going against your own genetic inheritance.” Their correct answer would be “So what?”

Arguing that we OUGHT to be kind, compassionate, cooperative, caring for the common good, etc., etc. on the basis that MOST people have a gene that inclines toward that is like arguing that people ought to be heterosexual because MOST people’s genes incline them that way. Most atheists I know who use the “altruistic gene” argument would not go there.

The plain fact is that, to date, no atheist (or other person) has demonstrated here or anywhere that you can derive an OUGHT from an IS. All they do is come here (and elsewhere) and bluff and bluster about recent scientific research that supposedly proves organisms are naturally altruistic. EVEN if that is true (which I don’t think has been proven) it doesn’t say ANYTHING about what OUGHT to be the case in human behavior. It may say something about what is normal, but it doesn’t say anything about what is right.

Back to my subject here. I fear that any social order that attempts to be entirely secular is doomed to fail as a functioning social order. It has no grounding for its shared value system. There is nothing and no one to appeal to above the law (as determined by legislatures and courts). As certain postmodern philosophers have rightly pointed out (I’m thinking of Caputo, for one), law and justice are not the same. At best “law” can only approximate justice.

But, of course, that is only the case IF there really is some being who embodies justice. Otherwise, justice is just an impossible ideal subject to shifting perceptions of it.

Kantians of all kinds will, of course, object and argue that there is some kind of absolute moral imperative independent of transcendence. Even Kant, however, found it necessary, at the end of the day, to posit life after death with rewards and punishments to make his rational, categorical imperative “work.” Even he knew that "virtue is not its own reward."

So what should America’s shared value system and transcendent grounding for it be? I would argue it should be (and was implicitly until fairly recently, beginning with the Warren Court in the 1960s) Christian theism. That is not the same as “orthodox Christianity.” It is simply belief in a personal God who is the source of absolutes of right and wrong.

So why didn’t the framers of the U.S. Constitution see fit to mention God? I believe in two explanations. First, they did not anticipate the rise of atheism and secularism. Those seemed beyond comprehension to them (except as individual beliefs of a few skeptics). Second, they did not know how to bring God into the picture while moving toward separation of church and state. Any mention of God would, they feared, raise the specter of favoring a particular organized religion or denomination. I believe that, had they foreseen the rise of public atheism and secularism, they would have put God in the Constitution.

Now, how does what I’ve said here relate to separation of church and state? I am a strong believer in separation of church and state as anyone who knows me or has read this blog faithfully knows. I absolutely reject any government favoritism toward any particular organized religion and any special influence of any organized religion on government. I also reject any religious tests for public office OTHER than belief in God. (We already have that in an unofficial way as public officials are asked to put their hands on a Bible and solemnly swear “so help me God.”)

AA and the Boy Scouts are right–belief in God (even as just a “Higher Power”) is necessary for adherence to absolutes of right and wrong. Without God (or something very much like God) moral relativism is inevitable. Modern secularists are living off the left overs of Judaism and Christianity. Consistent ones know very well that moral anarchy is inevitable, that might makes right (sans God).

I expect a barrage of objections. Just keep them civil and give your reasons in a calm, respectful manner as you would if you were in my living room or office.