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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Paul Tillich, The Protestant Principle, and Interpretive Doubt vs. Religious Authoritarianism

Because of (1) the polyvalence of words, (2) the ambiguity of time and space between ourselves and the oral traditions of the bible, (3) our own existential beliefs, behaviors, and predilections, (4) the many interpretive beliefs and experiences of the church over its history, and so forth, it cannot be said that the bible is our sole authority. It is but a cherished ideal we strive for sublimely observed in the behavior of God's people whether or not they fulfill Jesus' ministry of love and service to others. Otherwise, we must move together as the people of God observing one another's differing beliefs, striving for unity, and seeking the solidarity Jesus brought to humanity through His death and resurrection.

The rule of thumb then is this - "to resist any attempt to set up an absolute authority over knowledge." Even if it is the bible. The Roman Catholic Church teaches there are four authorities for Christians to observe: the bible, the church's traditions, its history, and our own human experience. But when this is not observed the church no longer is acting humbly but as a sovereign authority establishing (or enforcing) what it believes to be "God's will" rather than God's actual will.

Too often the church places itself into God's role of rule as history sadly attests again and again and again. As example, look at America's present 2016 elections as "Christians" elected to create a stronger church-based dominionism or reconstructionism into a secular democracy interpreting what it believes to be "God's Will" into society. This ideology goes beyond simply reducing governmental expenditures towards actually enforcing a perceived "Christian idea" of what, and how, a society should live. Some of that idea is the exclusion of the LGBT society from civil law, the just war theory of protectionism in the name of safety and security, the oppression of sovereign people groups and countries in the name of naked capitalism, and the refusal to work in joint global community with other nations of the world because of our differences with them.

It was not too difficult to envision the church's gross reaction to domestic and global events. People make up the church and it is people who need revisioning as much as society. Without repentance and humility this necessary work of the Spirit cannot come except in all its awful forms of bloodshed and corruption. Nor should we presume that God is judging us when this results but is the handiwork of our own very hard - and very religious - hearts intent on circumscribing the world in our own image. The judgment then is not of God but of our own hands. A judgment God forewarns us of - of saving us from ourselves lest we fall into the hell of our own destitute sin.

R.E. Slater
December 20, 2016

Seminary PL29: Tillich's Protestant Principle

by Ken Schenk
December 4, 2016

This is the fiftteenth post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the twenty-eighth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post in this series looked [at] Zwingli as an example of a leader who didn't compromise on a number of issues that he might very well have. This week now shifts to think about church splits and their causes. Today, we look at one of the Protestant causes of church split--having a text as the medium of final authority.


1. There were relatively few church splits prior to the Reformation of the 1500s, when Martin Luther inadvertently caused the separation of the Lutheran church from Catholicism. Until the 300s, Christianity was not legal and so did not have any real chance to centralize its organization. It was more of a network for the first two centuries.

But it would largely be one church for over a thousand years after that point. If you were a western Christian in the year 1000, you were part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. 1054 was the first really big organizational split, when the Orthodox East split officially from the Roman Catholic West. But for the next 500 years after that you were either one or the other.

2. That all changed after the year 1517. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) of that moment was both spiritually empty and politically weak. It did not have the power to burn Luther at the stake as it had Jan Hus a hundred years earlier in 1415. He had political protectors who were strong enough to protect him.

One of Luther's key battle cries was "Scripture only." If you could not prove it from Scripture, he could not be compelled to believe it.

Of course he was fooling himself. He continued to believe a number of legitimate theological positions that come as much from tradition as Scripture. The Bible might support infant baptism, but you cannot prove it from Scripture any more than you can prove from the Bible that you should only baptize those who are old enough to confess faith consciously. But Luther continued to believe in infant baptism. For communion, he believed in "consubstantiation," that Jesus was truly present in the bread and wine of communion. But where is that clearly stated in the Bible?

You probably cannot prove the Trinity from the New Testament, although the seeds of Trinitarian belief came from the Bible. The church answered questions like the relationship between Jesus' human and divine natures in the centuries following the New Testament, because the NT did not have explicit statements on questions of this sort. We are seeing a hint of the problem of Protestantism here.

3. The problem of Protestantism is this. Of course we would say that our final authority is God and Christ. But Protestants often operate as if the only access we have to that authority is through the words of the Bible. At the same time, we have no "magisterium" like the RCC--no authoritative teacher to give us the authoritative interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, Protestantism has as many de facto ("by the nature of the situation") authorities as it has interpreters of the biblical text.

So we have a final authority, as it were, that is inevitably co-opted by individual interpreters, individual churches, and by Christian denominations. We subtly substitute ourselves for the Bible and God without realizing it. We think we are simply reading the Bible and doing what it says, but we are as often as not bringing our own traditions, personalities, and situations to the text and reading it as a mirror of our own thoughts and desires.

4. An individual who wrestled with some of these issues was Paul Tillich (1886-1965). A German who struggled with the authoritarian context of his childhood and then Nazi Germany, he formulated what he called the Protestant Principle. In his mind, it was the extension of Luther's doctrine of justification by faith to all realms of human thought. "Justification by faith" is the idea that we cannot earn a right status with God. Rather, God accepts us on the basis of our trust in him.

Tillich applied this principle to our certainty of knowledge. We cannot know the truth with absolute certainty. Rather, as good protesters, we are justified by our doubt in any human authority that tries to establish itself as absolute, thus showing our faith in the transcendent beyond the human. We show our faith by our "ultimate concern" and our rejection of any human absolute.

He strongly resisted any attempt to set up an absolute authority over knowledge. He saw this dynamic as the problem with the Catholic system with the Pope as absolute authority, and he saw this problem with fundamentalism that sets up the Bible as an absolute authority. The heart of Protestantism for Tillich was an ongoing protest against such absolutes, including treating the Bible as an absolute.

The denominational landscape that has resulted from the Protestant Reformation is thus predictable. Tillich sees this fragmentation as a result of failed attempts to arrive at absolutes in the human realm, even in the Bible.

5. Much of Tillich's thought seems dated now. Like all of us, he was a product of his time. But we can reformulate his insight in order to shed some light on the never-ending splits that Protestantism has experienced over the years. According to Martin Marty, there are well over 20,000 Protestant denominations or collections of churches in the world. The overwhelming majority of these claim to get their beliefs from the Bible as their absolute authority. What is going on here?

Church splits tend to feed on two key factors. The fundamental cause is of course fallen human nature. We are prone to peacock. We are prone to beat our chests and to fight to see who is the stronger or to back-stab to remove a rival. We say we are fighting for the truth. We say we are fighting for God. More often than not we are fighting for ourselves, our own needs and drives.

In Protestant churches, we often play out these fallen human games as if we are fighting over interpretations of the Bible. We say the Bible is clear and our opponents say the Bible is clear. But the Bible is really just the playing field for our fallen human urge to defeat anyone who does not submit to us or who stands in our way.

6. The "polyvalence" of words enables these cock-fights. Polyvalence is the potential of words to take on more than one meaning. Words can take on many different meanings and nuances, and the Bible has many, many words. So it is not only possible, it is virtually certain that there will be never-ending disagreements over what the Bible really means at multiple points.

Protestant church splits have often played themselves out on this playing field. First, there is the ambiguity of the words themselves. Then there is the fact that the Bible is made up of dozens of books written at different times and places. These books do not say exactly the same thing, so there is plenty of room for fitting them together differently. Lastly, they were written for audiences that lived thousands of years ago, so there is the matter of bridging the gap from their time to our time.

All these factors make the interpretation of the Bible a many-splendored wonder. It is no wonder at all that we have tens of thousands of groups who all disagree with each other. Do you baptize infants or only people old enough to know what they are doing? Do you baptize by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring? Is baptism necessary or only a symbolic ritual? Does it actually change you somehow? [*In the early Christian tradition the believer identified with their faith through water baptism - res]. Can you be rebaptized? Whose baptism really counts? How soon after faith should you be baptized?

Welcome to dozens of denominations, all of whom think they are simply following the Bible.

7. Whether we admit it or not, tradition is also in play here. A non-denominational church is simply a church that isn't telling you what tradition it draws on. A few questions and you will quickly be able to tell whether it is basically Baptist, basically Pentecostal, or basically whatever. It's probably Baptist. There is no church that really only follows the Bible alone.

So one way to stop church splits is for us to become aware of ourselves, not only as fallen human beings but also as interpreters of the Bible. Not every hill is one to die on. We have been handed a historical situation in which we have countless little Christian groups. We start where we are.

There are times for Christians to agree to disagree and to go their separate ways. If we stop thinking of our denominations as the final answer on all matters of theology and practice and rather as communities who are in the same tradition and walking in the same direction, we will make great progress. We do not need to split even when we disagree on matters that are not essential to our identity--and we should not consider too much beyond common Christian faith in that bucket. [1]

The Anglican Church has found a way to exist together despite a wide range of differing beliefs. [2] Baptists of course are congregational in form, so [these assemblies] find their unity in association [with one another] rather than [in] organization [as a group]. In my tradition, the Wesleyan tradition, there are several sub-groups that could "easily" unite to form a common organization ideologically (Wesleyan, Nazarene, Free Methodist, etc). But it is just as well for us to walk together in unity as different denominations, since that is the hand history has dealt us. What we do not need is more Wesleyan denominations. [3]

So we would do well to know that we stand in Christian traditions. We are not simply reading the Bible unfiltered or without many, many influences at work on us. Much of what we think is essential Christian faith is really a matter of specific communities of faith who see faith and practice the same basic way. We can agree to disagree without de-Christianizing each other. Our attitudes toward each other are more important to God than dotting our theological i's and crossing our theological t's.

Next Week: Avoiding Church Splits and Exits

- ks


[1] There are broad traditions that exist--Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anabaptist, Reformed, Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal. Each of them have general distinctives that locate a church in that tradition. Beyond these distinctives, belonging to a specific subgroup is surely more a matter of finding a community we feel at home with than a fight over absolute truth. A Christian would ideally be able to worship in any of these churches.

[2] The Anglican Church has everything from evangelical Anglicans to Anglo-Catholics to charismatic Anglicans to non-realist Anglicans. The liturgy and geography provides the unity.

[3] Although it is quite possible we will get a "Wesleyan" split if the United Methodist church splits in the next two years. The fight here is over homosexual practice, a key ethical question of the church in general these days and a key historical issue given the virtually unanimous position of the past that is under debate. It is certainly an issue that seems more worthy of "agreeing to disagree" than what color to paint the inside of the church.

Book Review - Stephen Backhouse, "Kierkegaard, A Single Life"

Book Description

Discover a new understanding of Kierkegaard’s thought and his life, a story filled with romance, betrayal, humor, and riots.

Kierkegaard, like Einstein and Freud, is one of those geniuses whose ideas permeate the culture and shape our world even when relatively few people have read their works. That lack of familiarity with the real Kierkegaard is about to change.

This lucid new biography by scholar Stephen Backhouse presents the genius as well as the acutely sensitive man behind the brilliant books. Scholarly and accessible, Kierkegaard: A Single Life introduces his many guises—the thinker, the lover, the recluse, the writer, the controversialist—in prose so compelling it reads like a novel.

One chapter examines Kierkegaard’s influence on our greatest cultural icons—Kafka, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Camus, and Martin Luther King Jr., to name only a few.

A useful appendix presents an overview of each of Kierkegaard’s works, for the scholar and lay reader alike.

Additional Resources - Wikepedia

Book Review - Larry Hurtado, "Destroyer of the gods"

Book Description

"Silly," "stupid," "irrational," "simple." "Wicked," "hateful," "obstinate," "anti-social." "Extravagant," "perverse." The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity―including branding Christianity "new." Novelty was no Roman religious virtue.

Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in Destroyer of the gods, Christianity thrived despite its new and distinctive features and opposition to [the Roman culture].

  • Unlike nearly all other religious groups, Christianity utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world.
  • Christianity also offered a new and different kind of religious identity, one not based on ethnicity.
  • Christianity was distinctively a "bookish" religion, with the production, copying, distribution, and reading of texts as central to its faith, even preferring a distinctive book-form, the codex.
  • Christianity insisted that its adherents behave differently: unlike the simple ritual observances characteristic of the pagan religious environment, embracing Christian faith meant a behavioral transformation, with particular and novel ethical demands for men.

Unquestionably, to the Roman world, Christianity was both new and different, and, to a good many, it threatened social and religious conventions of the day.

In the rejection of the gods and in the centrality of texts, early Christianity obviously reflected commitments inherited from its Jewish origins. But these particular features were no longer identified with Jewish ethnicity and early Christianity quickly became aggressively trans-ethnic―a novel kind of religious movement. Its ethical teaching, too, bore some resemblance to the philosophers of the day, yet in contrast with these great teachers and their small circles of dedicated students, early Christianity laid its hard demands upon all adherents from the moment of conversion, producing a novel social project. 

Christianity's novelty was no badge of honor. Called atheists and suspected of political subversion, Christians earned Roman disdain and suspicion in equal amounts. Yet, as Destroyer of the gods demonstrates, in an irony of history the very features of early Christianity that rendered it distinctive and objectionable in Roman eyes have now become so commonplace in Western culture as to go unnoticed. Christianity helped destroy one world and create another.

Additional Resources - Wikipedia