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

Monday, November 25, 2013

N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - The Problem of Evil

By way of a preface, over the past year or two I have been explaining the problem of evil in terms of the problem of freedom. Rather than attempt a dualistic explanation of evil (sic, "God and evil," "Good and evil"), or proposing that it be found in angelic or human revolt (sic, Luther-Satan, Adam-Eve), or as a kind of metaphysical entity that competes with God for ontological presence (sic, goes back to the argument of "dualism") I have sought to define evil in terms of creational freedom.

By way of illustration, Einstein was once asked to define the idea of "absolute zero," or the idea of "cold," and as typical of this brilliant scientist he went immediately to its opposite idea of "heat" and re-defined coldness as the absence of heat. Simple. Direct. Efficient. And I think they same can be done with the idea of evil. To define evil is to re-define it in terms of freedom. As such, evil is the absence of freedom.

Now this can be minced a bit by a'fixing adjectives to the word - adjectives such as "responsible freedom," or "beneficial freedom," or "God-fearing freedom," or "sinless freedom" (whatever that might be!), but basically its the idea of freedom being misused, misapplied, misappropriated. Or, wrongfully utilized, selfishly applied, proudly denied, self-righteously assumed, and so forth. Yet, the basic idea is that freedom breaks fellowship to that of God's will. And whenever that is done we incur various degrees of "sin" or "evil."

The word freedom also implies relationship. When freedom is rightly used, or wrongly abused, it affects our relationship with God and man. Hence, words like covenanted fellowship with our God and Creator, our Redeemer and Lord, should mean things like the responsible usage of human freedom towards God's creation and mankind. It is how man uses this great-and-good privilege that God has given to us which would determine whether or not we have "sinned." To misuse it, deny it, refuse it, is sin. A sin that begins the long and sorrowful tale of evil until it finally defies God's covenantal relationship with His creation and willfully acts against His rule even as it affects all those whom suffer from our "sinful" freedom.

Thus, evil is no more a metaphysical substance than "love" is, or "goodwill, joy, and happiness." Nor is it an ontological entity like some ghost or spirit that exists in the ether around us. No, it is something that is a part of us, part of our ethical and moral makeup, but more than this. It is a part of our relationship with our Creator-Redeemer Himself. A relationship that is fully present with our willful obedience to God's good-and-gracious will - however fierce and retributive it can sometimes be in our lives.

Thus have we tied in the idea of freedom to the other idea of relationship. Each is meaningless without the other, and it is in the grand composition of each that we see the further idea of sin and evil. Each are a misuse of freedom and breaking of relationship, or fellowship, to both God and man. To use freedom aright is to restore (and keep) fellowship. To break fellowship is to break from our responsible usage of freedom towards God and man. As sin can be defined in the idea of freedom, so words like unity, fellowship, goodwill can be defined in terms of how freedom affects the freedoms of others in relationship to ourselves, or to one another. (Do a simple word study on the phrase one another throughout the NT to see the gravity of our freedom towards each other... it is an abundant term we too often read pass and ignore).

But when this "responsible" relationship to the Lord is refused, denied, abandoned, or betrayed (commonly known as "disobedience"), then sin is present. Present in terms of our freedom refusing relational fellowship with our Lord. A divine relationship that is present with us from the time of birth as God our Creator. And a relationship that becomes profoundly united (or completed, or even, re-united) by God's own redemption through His atoning work on the Cross for our re-liberation back into His divine fellowship.

A liberation that cannot be had in any other way than through a God-enacted salvation. A salvation that baptizes us into the Spirit and Presence and Fellowship of God unlike any other activity of God or man. A salvation that restores, bit-by-bit, the deep marring that sin has brought to bear upon our promised freedom in the presence, and life, of the divine. A freedom that is restored to us through Jesus and entered into through the Spirit by faith and obedience.

Thus, to define sin is to define the brokenness of our freedom separating us from our Lord God, who would renew, rebirth, reclaim, revive, restore, a profound new freedom back to His children lost on the eve of creation's birth. A birth that decreed to mankind the great privilege of free/will. And yet, upon its unblemished pronouncement from God's first breath - which breathed life into "an empty and dark" creation - came not only man's greatest privilege, but his worst nightmare. A spiritual divide, gulf, and brokenness of relationship (or fellowship) from His very God. A God-ordained decree that at once gave to man his "rights and liberty" and also the greatest "sin and suffering" that it could imagine within the human breast. It is the cherished word liberty. We call this idea freewill. A human will that bears two halves of the same coin - one side "good" and the other "bad." A heavenly coinage that bears heavily upon its spenders  the royal fiat and diadem of divine love, mercy, goodness, and responsibility.

R.E. Slater
November 25, 2013
* * * * * * * * * *

The Dark Side of God-Belief: Evil

by Scot McKnight
November 19, 2013

Any good solution to the big problems of life must deal at some point with “why evil?” If the apostle Paul proposed big solutions to life then he had to deal with evil, so N.T. Wright, in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, sketches the various solutions to the problem of evil and then offers how Paul’s “revised monotheism” (around Jesus, around the Spirit [he spells it "spirit"]) deals with evil.
Of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Jewish monotheists, Paul fits with the Jewish monotheists and offers a version of their response to evil, which is sharper than any response one finds among the Stoics of Epicureans.
The monotheism of second-temple Jews generated a more sharply etched idea of evil than we see in the surrounding pagan worldviews, including those of ‘monotheists’ such as the Stoics. Once you offer, and celebrate, an account of creational and covenantal monotheism such as we find in Israel’s scriptures, you are going to run into major problems. If there is one God, if he is the creator of a good world and still basically in charge of it, and if he is in covenant with Israel in particular, then neither the Stoic nor the Epicurean solution will do. Nor is serious dualism an option, though there are times when it will look attractive. If the book of Job had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent it (739-740).
Now a vitally important set of ideas, so bear with the longer quotation from p. 740:
Ancient Israel did not, however, attempt a ‘solution’ in terms of a coherent analysis of why evil existed within the good creation. Job did not ‘solve’ the problem, but, like some of the Psalms, simply and strikingly reaffirmed the basic monotheistic creed – and complained sharply about the way things were. In the Torah, evil might be traced back to Adam and Eve in the garden, though interestingly there is no sign of this being offered as an ultimate analysis prior to the late first century AD. Or evil might have entered the world through the invasion of strange angelic powers, as in Genesis 6. One might also look back to the arrogance of empire, as in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Or, in relation more specifically to evil within Israel, one could lay the blame on the primal sin of Aaron in making the golden calf (Exodus 32).
These ‘solutions’ were not, of course, mutually exclusive. That was not how ancient Jews read their scriptures. The various accounts of evil functioned, not as scientific ‘explanations’, but as signposts to dark and puzzling realities. Human rebellion, idolatry and arrogance, mingled with shadowy forces from beyond the present world, had infected the world, humans and Israel itself. The narratives drew attention to different apparent elements within the problem, and left it at that. No solution was offered to the question of what modern philosophers have called ‘natural evil’ (earth- quakes, sickness and the like). Prophets might highlight particular events as warning signs from the One God – a line of thought echoed at one point by Paul  – but nobody, not even Job, seems to have asked why such things existed at all within a good creation. The occasional prophetic promise of a transformed creation bore witness to the fact that some at least had an inkling that the trouble ran right through the cosmos itself; but the offer of an eschatological solution was not matched by an analysis of why a problem existed in the first place. 
 But if scripture offered no ‘solution’ in terms of a coherent account of why ‘evil’ existed in the good creation, it offered instead a ‘solution’ in terms of what was to be done – specifically, what was to be done by the creator God. The major proposal was first covenantal and then eschatological: not ‘where did evil come from?’but ‘what will the creator God do about it?’ 
And from p. 742 another important insight: “The fact that one cannot really understand evil is itself an element of creational monotheism, a demonstration that evil is an intruder…”.
Put the argument thus far into logical outline and this (from p. 746) is what you get:
My point thus far can be summarized like this:
  1. All views about ‘evil’ are the correlate of a basic, and often theistic, worldview;
  2. All worldviews, except those of the most shallow and unreflective optimist, have some idea that something is seriously wrong with the world, and indeed with human beings, often including one’s own self;
  3. Monotheists in particular run into a problem which polytheists do not have, and there have been various ways, historically, of addressing that problem;
  4. Monotheists of the second-temple Jewish variety, that is, creational and covenantal monotheists, were bound to have a particularly sharp version of the wider monotheistic problem:
    1. (a)  the world is God’s creation, and yet there is evil in it;
    2. (b)  humans are in God’s image, and yet they rebel;
    3. (c)  Israel is called to be God’s covenant people, and yet is troddendown by the nations.
  5. This was addressed
    1. (a)  by varied use of the ancient narratives of Genesis and Exodus;
    2. (b)  by cultic monotheism (especially the sacrificial system); and
    3. (c)  by eschatological monotheism (the hope and promise that oneday YHWH would return, would unveil his covenant faithfulness in rescuing his people and renewing all things, and would set up his sovereign rule over the whole world).
Now from p. 747: “My proposal, then, is that Paul’s radical rethinking of creational and covenantal monotheism contained within itself both an intensification of the problem and an equally radical solution.”
In Wright’s resolution of these issues he begins by sketching the widespread Augustinian assumption (plight to solution) and its challenge by Sanders and Barth (solution to plight), while he wants to broaden it all to the problem of evil instead of just the problem of personal sin and salvation (and he repeats the well-worn but important new perspective view that Jews were not seeking heaven-when-we-die solutions). Wright thinks there was a plight problem, that the solution came in Christ, but that the solution redefined the original plight in more expansive terms.
What then was the reimagined plight? How did Paul’s grasp of ‘the solution’ enable him – or, indeed, compel him – to radicalize the original ‘plight’ which we have set out in the previous section? We can sketch this in three quick moves which we will then substantiate exegetically. The cross, the resurrection and the holy spirit together brought the ‘plight’ suddenly and sharply into focus.
  1. The most obvious element of Paul’s revised version of the ‘plight’ follows directly from the fact of acrucified Messiah. ‘If “righteousness” comes through the law, then the Messiah died for nothing.’ That is basic to everything else.
  2. Not so obvious, but equally important, was the fact of the risen Messiah. Paul’s understanding of the resurrection gave him a much more focused understanding of the creator’s purposes for the whole cosmos – and hence of the problem, the ‘plight’, in which that whole creation had languished.
  3. The revelation of the personal presence of Israel’s God in the trans- forming work of the spirit compelled Paul to a recognition of the depth of the human plight. All humans, Jews included, were hard-hearted, in need of renewal in the innermost human depths (750).

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