Tag Archives: theology

Rob Bell’s uncertainty

“We are speculating after you die” that seems to leave no room for assurance of salvation. It robs the gospel of its very essence.

Hope.

But then later he said “what interests me is what matters, what interests me is what’s true”. Wait, what? Are we serious about our search for knowledge or aren’t we? James would like to know

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. -James 1:5-8

In the end I believe this ordeals has only served to highlight what a poor teacher Rob Bell is and has always been. And all the people who praise him for not “spoon feeding” them propositional truths gleaned from careful study are simply idiots.

What I’d like to see Rob Bell address in all of this is his underlying epistemology. Does he hold to an epistemology which has the capacity to provide him and others with certain knowledge of objective truths about reality or does he hold to something that rejects objective truths altogether like his friend Brian McLaren.

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In search of a real God with real answers

A friend of mine reminded me of a clip from the TV show “ER” where a dying patient confronts a theologically liberal hospital chaplin.

Here’s the clip and quote highlights:

All I’m hearing is some new age “God is love” one-size-fits-all crap . . . I don’t have time for this now . . . I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real Hell . . . I don’t need to “ask myself,” I need answers, and all your questions and uncertainty are only making things worse . . .
I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness, because I am running out of time!

I often wonder, when will people in the average church in America stand up and demand more of their teachers and themselves? When will it stop being ok for most people to feed off of spiritual junk?

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Maël on theological systems

Maël from “The Adventures of Maël & Cindy” blog recently wrote a piece titled “Waffle House Systems“. Here’s a portion of it:

My friend and advisor is know for describing what some systematic theologians do with a Waffle House analogy. If you have ever been to a Waffle House restaurant and have ever observed the waffle making process, you might have noticed that while the waffle is cooking some dough tends to spill out and down the sides of the waffle iron. This renegade dough cooks just like the rest and I am sure that it is as tasty as the rest, but just before the waffle is removed from the iron the expert waffle maker takes a knife and cuts this unsightly waffle dough so as to produce a perfectly round waffle. Often, theologians, as they try to produce a perfect system, also take their knife and cut the renegade information that does not quite fit their system. This information is ignored, downplayed, or re-interpreted.

He goes on to issue a challenge:

So here is my challenge: let us commit to not allow systems to define our theology. Let us commit to only allow Scripture to define our theology. Let us not pull out our theological knife and trim what does not fit. Let us make sure that we do not ignore, downplay, or re-interpret anything that does not fit our theology. Instead let us be challenged by what does not fit. Will you join me? Be forewarned, it’s harder than you think …

In the comments I half-jokingly wrote:

I like your system, I think I’ll subscribe to it 😉

On a serious note. I don’t think anyone would object to this sentiment. In fact most systems I’ve encountered would claim to be “Scripture driven”.

So the real question is; How do we know when we’ve gone off the reservation and have allowed our theological systems to define our theology as opposed to the text? What are some objective warning signs we can all (irrespective of theological preference) use?

And to my pleasant surprise, Maël followed up a few days later with a post titled “Systems Enslaving Scripture – N. T. Wright” where he includes the following quote from NT Wright:

“Once you can make scripture stand on its hind legs and dance a jig, it becomes a tame pet rather then a roaring lion. It is no longer “authoritative” in any strict sense; that is, it may be cited as though in “proof” of some point or other, but it is not leading the way, energizing the church with the fresh breath of God himself. The question must always be asked, whether scripture is being used to serve an existing theology or vice versa.”

found in N. T. Wright, The Last Word (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 70.

I think Wright and Maël are on to something here. At the least it is worth pausing and thinking about the “excess dough” we might be tempted to cut off in our haste to cross our theological T’s and dot or exegetical I’s.

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The Perspicuity (clairity) of Scripture

I recently had a chance to teach on Sunday night at a small Church my parents attend and, in trying to decide what to teach on, I remembered an ongoing conversation I’ve been having recently with my neighbor who happens to be Catholic on the nature of Scripture and it’s role in the life of the Church and individual believers.

We’ve discussed at length the authority and inerrancy of the scriptures, and if time permits I’ll post my notes on the subject, but our most recent exchange involved the clarity of Scripture for, as I found out, the roman Catholic position is that Scripture is inherently unintelligible to anyone outside the clergy (as ordained and authorized by Rome) and requires a “final” interpreter to settle disputes over questionable doctrines such as paedobaptism (baptizing infants) and the Real Presence.

In my research on Scripture, which included listening to several hours of lectures by Dr. Wayne Grudem (one of the translators for the ESV), I ran across the old reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture which, in a nutshell, simply states that the Scriptures are written so that anyone can understand them. Not that they are necessarialy easy to understand, but that they are able to be understood by anyone so that special interpreters (such as a priest) and hidden meaning (such as numerology and “I feel this means”ism) are equally wrong.

Much ink has been spilled on this subject and I won’t attempt to present the argument here (the links above are more than adequate for the faithful searcher) but I wanted to point out some of the interesting implications I’ve noticed this doctrine has and, particularly, why we should pay attention to it today.

First of all, it is an old doctrine. I like the way John Calvin speaks about it in his Institutes:

The sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words. Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have cavilled, and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?

Unpolished simplicity, I like that description of the only means we have to know who God is or what he requires of us.

Second of all, it undercuts any argument that Scripture is too hard, or that we are somehow not up to the task of, as Paul commands Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

If we fail to understand what Scripture is communicating it is only because we have neglected to study enough, not that the text is indecipherable to us as mere mortals and not because we are somehow less spiritual as some suppose. No, this doctrine clearly places the onus on our spiritual development upon our shoulders. Not that we do not require the holy Spirit to guide us into all truths according to John 16:13, but that we are able and therefore responsible for diligently studying the Word of God which fits many things we are told throughout Scripture such as the blessing we receive by meditating on the Law in Psalms 1.

Finally, this doctrine combats the subjectivism, sensationalism, gnosticism, feelingism, postmodernism, etc. However you want to define the Zeittgeist that has crept into the Church that detracts from the clear, singular, and objective meaning of Scripture. This includes not only the old-school Gnosticism that Irenaeus wrote (at length) against, but the popular notion of “God spoke to me and showed me _(insert whatever strange interpretation that fits your fancy here)_”. It also has the added benefit of combatting the silly notion that the most important thing is for us to find a way to make everything in the Bible apply to our lives. It also corrects the misguided notion that we need to make the Bible relevant to our lives, which presupposes it was ever irrelevant.

This is a dynamite doctrine, one I think could help the Church in America get back on track. It also goes to show that the reformers are still worth studying because they still have much to teach us.

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