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

Friday, April 4, 2014

Excerpt from Austin Fischer’s Book, "Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed"

Introduction: Black Holes

When a big star dies, a remarkable thing happens.[i] Its own gravity crunches it until it becomes a small core of infinite density—matter squeezed together so tightly the known laws of physics cease to exist. The dead star now has a gravitational pull so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. And at this point, the dead star has become a black hole, and everything within its reach is dragged towards its center. It can swallow planets, stars, and even other black holes. Get too close and you’ve bought a one-way ticket on a journey to the center of a black hole. Its gravity is irresistible.

Gravity is an integral part of human life. It doesn’t take us long to learn that what comes up must come down. And it’s not as if anyone enforces gravity—it just is; a physical force to be accepted and not conquered. Gravity is also a spiritual force in the sense that we humans find ourselves drawn to things beyond our control. We are constantly sucked in to things—a job, a person, a hobby, an addiction. But of course if you really put spiritual gravity under the microscope, you see that the thing we are being sucked in to is ourselves.

We are black holes—walking, talking pits of narcissism, self-pity, and loneliness, pillaging the world around us in a desperate attempt to fill the void inside us. Unless something is done, you will spend the rest of your existence as a human black hole, eternally collapsing in on self in a tragic effort to preserve self. It’s bad news.

But Christians believe there is good news that is better than the bad. We believe something has been done—that through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has done what we could not do ourselves. We no longer have to live under the crushing gravity of self because where sin and selfishness abounded, grace now abounds all the more. It certainly is good news, but…

Options for the Restless

Leave it to us to take something so beautiful and other-centered and turn it into something (you guessed it) about us.

The universe-altering message of the gospel becomes a message about me: Jesus died so I could be happy and comfortable forever and ever. While this may pass for gospel in many circles, there is a growing swell of opposition to it in many others—a recognition that such thin, therapeutic, self-centered expressions of Christianity lack the gravitas to hold a human life together, much less make it thrive. A crowd of voices calls us out of consumerism, moralism, and skepticism and into sacrifice, risk, and commitment.

And for those who are restless for more, Neo-Calvinism[ii] often appears as the strongest—and perhaps only—alternative for thinking biblical people. It offers the new center of gravity that can finally draw us away from self. Such was my conviction, and I still believe Neo-Calvinism is a strong alternative to cultural Christianity.

But I believe we best say yes to God’s glory and sovereignty by saying no to Calvinism. I believe that I—along with many others, past and present—have found an even better option. It’s not new, and it’s not novel; indeed I would argue it is simply the historic consensus of the church. But correctly understood, it offers the greatest hope for a restless church. Unlike Calvinism, it doesn’t replace the black hole of self with the black hole of deity, making both God and the Bible impossible (more on that later); however, it does offer an infinitely glorious God, a crucified Messiah, and a cross-shaped call to follow Jesus.

Egotistical Sincerity

These are my convictions, and anyone with convictions faces a dilemma: would you rather be convincing or honest? Is it more important to get people to agree with you or to honestly present the best of worthy options? While I have certainly tried to be convincing, I think the truth is best served when we are honest, and so I have also tried to be honest. And the best way I have found to be honest is to tell you my story: a journey in, and out of, Calvinism. As Chesterton once confessed, sometimes you have to be egotistical if you want to be sincere.[iii]

In this reminiscing, something became clear: theology and biography belong together.[iv] We try to make sense of God as we try to make sense of our own stories, our own lives. As such, theology is meant for participants, not spectators. I write as a participant and not a spectator in the hopes it will help you become a better participant in your own theological journey, wherever it takes you. These things said, let the journey begin. Only it can’t quite begin without two quick detours.

Detour #1: The Wrong Girl

I once had a friend who was convinced the wrong girl was the right girl. He thought she hung the moon while walking on water and while I thought she was nice and all, I was convinced there was someone out there better for him. Whether I was right or wrong isn’t the point—the point is that when I talked with him about it, I wasn’t trying to sabotage his current relationship so much as I was trying to encourage the prospects of a new one. I feel much the same when I talk to people about Calvinism because while I think you could put a ring on her and live happily ever after, I also think there’s someone better out there. On top of that, it’s a shame to be known for what you’re against, so for clarity’s sake I’m not trying to get anyone to not be something (a Calvinist), but to be something.

Or to make the point with different strokes, the silhouette of the crucified God of Golgotha is an image chiseled into my heart. When sin within rises, chaos without descends, confusion all around lays waste to any semblance of comprehension—when I don’t feel like I understand a damn thing—I look up there and I understand enough to say thank you. I understand enough to call it love.

So when someone messes with this picture, adding a cryptic backdrop that threatens to stain the whole thing, I’m against the backdrop only because I’m for the picture I think the backdrop ruins. I’m not against the Calvinist picture of God so much as I am grieved by what that picture does to the picture I love, turning the full-truth of Golgotha into a duplicitous half-truth. The rest of the book is a description of what happened when my Calvinism was subjected to the searing scrutiny of that image, in the hopes you might glimpse the terrifyingly beautiful God of Jesus Christ.

Detour #2: Everything

The most devastating combination of words in the English language form a statement masquerading as a question: who cares? When this “question” is asked, a statement is made. The asker is expressing his apathy and disregard for the issue under discussion. It does not appear to matter, so why waste our breath? Why kick a hornet’s nest just so we can count the hornets? And it’s a good “question” to ask because many of the issues that hoard our energies and efforts are dead ends. It’s also a “question” I’ve been asked many times when debates about Calvinism and its alternatives arise.

Does it really matter if Calvinism is true or false? Does it really matter if we have free will? Does it really matter? Not at all, and yet, more than you could imagine.

No, it doesn’t matter because God is who he is and does what he does regardless of what we think of him, in much the same sense that the solar system keeping spinning around the sun even if we’re convinced it spins around the earth. Our opinions about God will not change God; however, they can most certainly change us. And so yes, it does matter because the conversations about Calvinism and free will plunge into the heart of the question the universe asks us at every turn:

Who is God?

And this is a question that has everything to do with everything.



[i] Or to be more precise, a remarkable thing can happen. For a good explanation of how black holes are formed, see Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (New York: Bantam, 1993), 103-104.

[ii] Neo-Calvinism proper is a Dutch strand of Calvinism associated with Abraham Kuyper. I am using it to refer to the high federal Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards, as popularized by people like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, etc. The term was used in this fashion in a Time magazine article (March 12, 2009) and seems to have stuck. As such, I am using it to delineate the New Calvinism movement chronicled in Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed, although I acknowledge some people prefer to call it other things (for example, Neo-Puritanism).

[iii] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Simon & Brown, 2012), 3.

[iv] This idea is explored in Biography as Theology by James McClendon.

@Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

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John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, Austin Fischer, and God

by Roger Olson

by Austin Fischer
Mar 7, 2014

I woke up this morning to find John Piper has posted a video with some thoughts on my book. [Full disclosure: if you’ve read the book, you know Piper had a huge impact on my life and I still have immense respect for him. So hearing him talk about the book was surreal.]

Even though I was sure the book would convert him :) … go figure, it didn’t, and he had some sharp things to say. He was particularly miffed because he felt I had misrepresented Jonathan Edwards, claiming Edwards thought and taught God was a black hole that needs human worship. [So,] a few thoughts….

This is a tricky subject, but I feel the way Piper handled it misrepresented me more than I may or may not have represented Edwards. The nub of the issue is this: I don’t think Edwards or Piper think God is a black hole that needs human worship (a vacuum cleaner, as Piper says)—period, honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor. I worship and serve alongside many Calvinists at my church and I know they don’t think that about God.

What I said is that when I traced out Edwards’ logic and thought the things Edwards thought about God, I felt forced to believe God was a black hole that seemed to need to create in order to display all of his attributes (after all, how do you display wrath and justice without a creation?). There’s a huge difference here and throughout the book I go out of my way to make this concession: this is what I felt compelled to believe as a Calvinist and isn’t what all Calvinists believe.

So while Piper says I should be “ashamed” for misrepresenting Edwards, what I hear is that I should be ashamed for not agreeing with Edwards. And that makes me sad.

To turn the tables, most firm Calvinists I know think Arminianism (or anything that’s not Calvinism) inevitably leads to semi-pelagianism. They feel that if they were Arminians, they would feel forced to be semi-pelagian. Fair enough. I very much disagree, but I understand what they’re saying and can respect that.

I’m not going to wag the Protestant papal finger of shame at them and claim they think I think my works get me into heaven and are ignorant and have egregiously misrepresented me. They’re just saying they would feel compelled to believe that if they believed what I did. Again—fair enough. Reasonable, biblical, orthodox minds can look at the same picture and see different things. We’ve done it since Jesus walked out of the tomb. As someone who’s not a fundamentalist, that’s my conviction.

Did I say some sharp things in the book? Yes. Too sharp? I hope not, but I’m not above that criticism. But did I misrepresent Edwards? I’m under no illusion that I understand Edwards perfectly (who can!?), but I don’t think I misrepresented him. This is what I think happened and what I trace out in the book.

I sat and watched the meticulous picture of God that Edwards and Piper painted. I loved so many of the strokes and colors. They finished painting, stepped back and said, “What a masterpiece! The manifold excellencies of the glory of God, displayed in the doctrines of grace.” I stepped back and said, “I really want to see that!…but I’m afraid I see a black hole instead.”


So Dear John,

I appreciate so much of what you do and what you did in my life in a formative time. I think you’re a theological force of nature. I think your ministry brings glory to God. I think you believe in an infinitely glorious and beautiful God who loved you enough to die for you. I don’t think you believe God is a black hole—honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor.

But as much as I didn’t want to and as hard as I tried, when I stepped back from the picture of God you and Edwards painted and took it all in, I didn’t see what you saw. I saw a black hole.

I’m truly sorry if you feel I implied you and Edwards believe God is a needy black hole. I know you don’t believe that, so if that’s what you feel I said, I apologize. I’m not sorry that I (along with many others) look at the picture you paint, can’t ignore the reprobate, can’t reconcile it with lots of Scripture, can’t reconcile it with a good God who looks like Jesus crucified for the whole world, and can’t help but see a black hole. I can agree to disagree. Hopefully you can too.

Grace and Peace Brother,


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