Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Common Questions and Misunderstandings about Classical Arminianism, Part 1

Arminianism FAQ 1 (Everything You Always Wanted to Know…)

by Roger E. Olson
July 4, 2014

Arminianism FAQ 1 (Everything You Always Wanted to Know…)

Today begins a summer series on Arminianism and Arminian theology. Over the past twenty plus years of promoting a correct understanding of classical Arminianism I have been asked numerous questions about the subject. There seems to be much misunderstanding about it. Here, in this series of blog posts, I will try to answer every “frequently asked question” about classical Arminianism. My aim is to keep the questions and answers clear, concise and crisp.

For those of you who are not sure about my credentials for answering questions about classical Arminianism with any authority, I can only say I have been an Arminian all my life and have dedicated the past twenty years (at least) to studying and explaining it—including in my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (InterVarsity Press).

FAQ: What is “classical Arminianism?”

Answer (A): “Classical Arminianism” has nothing to do with “Armenia.” It is a type of Christian theology especially associated with the 17th century Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (d. 1609).

However, I also refer to it as “evangelical synergism” (“synergism” here referring to “cooperation” between God and creature) because Arminius’ beliefs did not begin with him. For example, Anabaptist theologian Balthasar Hubmaier promoted much the same view almost a century before Arminius.

In brief, classical Arminianism is the belief that God genuinely wants everyone to be saved and sent Christ to live, die and rise for everyone equally. It is the belief that God does not save people without their free assent but gives them “prevenient grace” (grace that goes before and prepares) to liberate their wills from bondage to sin and make them free to hear, understand and respond to the gospel call. It is the belief that God’s grace is always resistible and election to salvation, “predestination,” is conditional: God decrees that all who believe will be saved and foreknows who will believe.

Classical Arminianism is a form of Protestant theology, so it assumes (in all of the above) that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace that cannot be merited; it can only be accepted. According to Arminius and all classical Arminians, God’s justification of sinners is “by grace [alone] through faith alone” and solely on account of the work of Christ. God’s grace in-and-through Jesus is the effectual cause of salvation/justification, but faith is the instrumental cause.

FAQ: Is Arminianism a sect or denomination?

A: It is not. But there are denominations that either assume classical Arminianism as their theology of salvation and/or have written it into their doctrinal confessions. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an Arminian as were most of his followers. Methodism, in all its forms (including ones that do not bear that name), tends to be Arminian. (Paradoxically, Calvinist-Methodist churches once existed. They were followers of Wesley’s co-evangelist George Whitefield. But, so far as I am able to tell, they have all died out or merged with traditionally Reformed-Calvinist denominations.)

“Officially” Arminian denominations include ones in the so-called “Holiness” tradition (e.g., Church of the Nazarene) and Pentecostal one (e.g., Assemblies of God). Arminianism is also the common belief of Free Will Baptists (also known as General Baptists). Many “Brethren” churches are Arminian as well. But one can find Arminians in many denominations that are not historically, “officially” Arminian such as many Baptist conventions/conferences.

FAQ: Why identify a theology with a man’s name? Why not just be “Christians?”

A: This would be ideal, but it is too late for that.

Arminians do not venerate Arminius; he was nothing more than an especially clear expounder and defender of a biblical perspective on salvation.

Arminians only use that label to distinguish themselves from Calvinists and Lutherans—two Protestant traditions that, historically-theologically, hold to what is known as “monergism” and reject all forms of “synergism” in salvation.

“Monergism” is the belief that salvation does not involve a cooperation between God and the sinner; God saves without the sinner’s free consent.

Arminians put no stock in the label “Arminianism.” Many do not even use it. However, it is a theological category and label often misrepresented by its critics (especially conservative Calvinists), so those who know they are Arminian feel the need to defend it against false accusations and misrepresentations. 

Some who do that prefer to call themselves simply “non-Calvinist,” but that is no better than “Arminian” and is less clear (because Lutherans, for example, are also “non-Calvinist” but are often just as opposed to Arminian belief in evangelical synergism as are Calvinists).

Arminians [or Arminianism] is not a movement, party or tribe of Christians. They are simply Protestant Christians who, unlike many others, believe in grace-restored freedom of the will to resist [God] or accept [God's] saving grace.

FAQ: Why is there now a rising interest in Arminianism? Why have blogs and books about a “man-made theology?”

A: Beginning around 1990, Arminianism and Arminian theology came under new pressure from outspoken proponents of Calvinism—belief that God elects people to salvation unconditionally and that Christ died only for the elect and saving grace is irresistible.

These new, aggressive Calvinists were not willing to take a “live and let live” approach to evangelical differences of theology but have attempted to marginalize, even sometimes exclude, Arminians from evangelicalism—portraying Arminianism as more “Catholic” than truly “Protestant.” One leading Calvinist theologian, editor of an evangelical monthly magazine, said in print that one can no more be an “evangelical Arminian” than one can be an “evangelical Catholic.”

Over the past twenty-to-thirty years Calvinism has been on the rise in especially American evangelical Christianity and along with that rise has come an increasingly negative portrayal of Arminians as defective Christians and not truly, authentically evangelical.

However, American evangelicalism had long been ecumenical—including Protestant Christians of many theological perspectives. Now, suddenly, many Reformed/Calvinist evangelicals were calling Arminianism “humanistic,” “man-centered,” “heterodox,” “on the precipice of heresy,” “not honoring the Bible,” etc., etc. Gradually, evangelical Arminians felt the need to defend their theology against misconceptions, misrepresentations and distortions.

Every theology is “man-made,” including Calvinism. But that is not to say theologies are solely human inventions. They are people’s best attempts to interpret the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Christian tradition and reason.

Many Calvinists claim that Calvinism is a “transcript of the gospel,” but Arminians reject that claim for any theology including Calvinism and Arminianism. We (theologians, interpreters of the Bible) are but “broken vessels” (as the Apostle Paul called himself) seeking to follow the light of God’s Word wherever it leads.

FAQ: Isn’t there a “middle ground” between Calvinism and Arminianism?

A: No, there isn’t, that is logically coherent.

In fact, Arminianism is the middle ground between Calvinism and “semi-Pelagianism” which is the heresy (so declared by the Second Synod of Orange in 529 and all the Reformers agreed) that sinners are capable of exercising a good will toward God unassisted by God’s grace.

(1) With semi-Pelagianism (still an extremely popular view in American Christianity) Arminians believe sinners have free will, but with (2) Calvinists Arminians believe free will in matters of salvation must be given by God through prevenient, assisting grace. [Man,] left to [himself], without the liberating power of [God's] grace, sinners cannot, or will not, exercise a good will toward God. But, under the pressure of liberating, enabling grace many do reach out to God who has already reached down and into them, calling them to repent and believe.

I - Against semi-Pelagianism, and with Calvinism, Arminianism believes and teaches that the initiative in salvation is God’s and that all the ability in salvation is God’s.

II - But against Calvinism, and with semi-Pelagianism, Arminians believe sinners can resist God’s grace and, in order to be saved, must accept it freely.

Thomas Jay Oord - Explaining Love to an Alien

Some scientific studies suggest that human beings are innately selfish and that Christian virtues
like self sacrifice are a delusion. In this intriguing volume, esteemed theologian Thomas Jay Oord
interprets the scientific research and responds from a theological and philosophical standpoint,
providing a state of the art overview of love and altruism studies. He offers a definition of love
that is scientifically, theologically, and philosophically adequate. As Oord helps readers arrive
at a clearer understanding of the definition, recipients, and forms of love, he mounts a case
for Christian agape and ultimately for a loving God. - Amazon blurb

Explaining Love to an Alien

by Thomas Jay Oord
June 27, 2014

Suppose an alien from Planet X leaned over the counter at Starbucks and asked, “What is this ‘love’ I hear spoken of on your planet?”

If you’re a relatively young person, the first thoughts racing across your mind may be Haddaway’s music and lyrics, “What is love? (Baby don’t hurt me!)”

If you’re from a previous generation, Foreigner’s lyrics may come to mind, “I wanna know what love is. And I want you to show me.”

Unfortunately, of course, those lyrics don’t help much when it comes to defining love. They simply ask the question. Your alien inquirer needs something more if she’s to understand love. And let’s suppose she has plenty of coffee and time to listen to your answer.

Love is a Many SPLINTERED Thing

To begin, let’s admit that our language is unlikely to capture fully what we mean by love. Although useful, language has its limits.

But we rely upon language to communicate. And despite its limits, it seems at least somewhat helpful. So let’s talk with our alien inquirer.

One option for defining love is simply to describe what people may mean each time they use the word. Take these examples:

“I love the Seattle Mariners.”

“I love my puppy.”

“I love God.”

“I love a man in uniform.”

“I love peperoni pizza.”

Our alien inquirer will quickly see the problem with this approach. We use “love” to describe our responses to so many things. Listing all of the instances may take a lifetime!

Besides, we mean something different when we say, “I love my impoverished neighbor” and “I love that girl’s emerald-green eyes.” The “love is whatever it seems to mean, given the circumstances” approach fails to inform our alien inquirer.

A similar but more scholarly approach is to describe the history of how the word “love” has been used. Philosopher Irving Singer’s multi-volume work (3), The Nature of Love, is perhaps the most comprehensive in this approach.

Irving traces major philosophers, cultural shifts, understandings of romance and marriage, and more. Noticeably absent in Irving’s work, however, is much mention of love as a religious or theological category.

Irving’s work, although a fascinating work of descriptive analytic philosophy, will likely leave our alien inquirer unsatisfied. History can be interesting. But as we read how “love” has been used, we naturally wonder what might unite these diverse notions. Love may be a many splendored thing, but its meanings are splintered in various ways!

If love is more than arbitrary word, we owe it to our alien inquirer to do more than mention every instance in which humans have used the word “love.”

The Archetypes of Love

A more common approach to understanding love is to seek general love categories. Love takes many forms, and these forms seem to fall under several archetypes.

Philosopher Alan Soble specifies what he and most scholars consider the three primary love archetypes. Soble refers to the ancient Greek words: agape, eros, philia.

Nicholas Wolterstorff also identifies three forms of love, and they roughly correspond to the meaning of the three Greek words Soble mentions: love as benevolence, love as attraction, and love as attachment

Literary scholar C. S. works from these same categories, referring to “gift-love” (agape), “need-love” (eros), friendship love (philia). He adds a fourth: affection (storge).

The attempt to place love into several major categories is laudable. And our alien inquirer may start to gain clarity.

But the work to categorize love into archetypes suggests that something unites the archetypal categories. It may be that philosopher John Armstrong is right when he says, “love doesn’t have an essence we can uncover.” But just after claiming love has no essence, Armstrong says, “it has, rather, a set of themes that interact differently in different instances of love.”

So… how do we know when we encounter an “instance of love,” to use Armstrong’s phrase? Doesn’t this suggest we presuppose some uniting essence or core notion?

Toward A Normative Definition of Love

In my research, I’ve discovered four general ways of understanding love.

One way focuses on desire and intentionality. Let’s call it “the desire understanding of love.” This approach draws from Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and the Neo-Platonic tradition.

The desire understanding of love thinks love is desire that motivates action. Thomas Aquinas puts it this way: “every agent, whatever it be, does every action from love of some kind.” This approach tends to talk about proper or improper loves. Or it talks about virtuous love or love deformed. The essence of love, from this perspective, is desire.

The second way focuses on relationality. Let’s call it “the relational understanding of love.” This approach is less common historically, but it is growing in popularity, as relational approaches to metaphysics seem to many more plausible.

The relational understanding of love says the reciprocity inherent in any relationship is itself love. [Process] Philosopher Charles Hartshorne uses the phrase “life sharing” to define love as mutuality. Hartshorne says, “love means realization in oneself of the desires and experiences of others, so that one who loves can in so far inflict suffering only by undergoing this suffering himself.” (Hartshorne uses the classic word, “suffering,” here in the way we’d use “relational” today.)

The third way to understand love focuses on feelings. This “feeling understanding of love” is common among psychologists. From the scholarly literature, however, it is difficult to ascertain what this feeling precisely entails. For this reason, the feeling understanding of love may simply describe the emotional content of the desires or relationships of the one loving.

The fourth way focuses on positive results. Or at least it says positive results are the intention of the one doing the loving. Let’s call this “the well-being understanding of love.”

In the well-being understanding, the lover is motivated to promote good. Gary Chartier defines love in the well-being sense when he says love is “a positive orientation on the other.” The essence of love, according to this understanding, is promoting the good.

My Definition of Love

For a number of reasons, I prefer the fourth understanding of love. But I think the other understandings provide necessary components to a normative definition of love. For this reason, I define love in this way:

“To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being.”

I use the phrase “to act intentionally” to take into account the desire aspect of love, which I think always accompanies those actions we rightly deem loving. I use the phrase “in sympathetic/empathetic response to others” to taking into account the relational/mutuality aspect of love, which I think is always present when we love.

The phrase “promote overall well-being” is the main object of the sentence, because in my mind the essence of love is promoting what is good. I’ve inserted “overall” into this statement on well-being, because I want to account for personal well-being, social well-being, ecological well-being, and more, [and one could mention divine well-being. - res]

Of course, I could and should say more about each aspect of my definition. I didn’t even explain why I’ve inserted the theological phrase, “(including God),” in my definition. I explain my definition further in my books, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement and The Nature of Love: A Theology.

So… back to our inquiring alien from Planet X. If asked at Starbucks what love is – and I didn’t have an hour to explain what I’ve written above – I might sing a (slightly altered) line from a Paul McCartney song: “my love does … good!”