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    Entries in Quotes (16)


    Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

    Those are some wise words, James Bryan Smith.


    Jonathan Edwards on Heaven

    Jonathan Edwards ("The Christian Pilgrim", 1733), on heaven:

    To go to heaven fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accomondations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.


    God's Plan For the Whole World


    From Bob Goff:

    I think God's hope and plan for us is pretty simple to figure out. For those who resonate with formulas, here it is: add your whole life, your loves, your passions, and your interests together with what God said He wants us to be about, and that's your answer. If you want to know the answer to the bigger question--what's God's plan for the whole world?--buckle up: it's us.

    We're God's plan, and we always have been. We aren't just supposed to be observers, listeners, or have a bunch of opinions. We're not here to let everyone know what we agree and don't agree with, because, frankly, who cares? Tell me about the God you love; tell me about what He has inspired uniquely in you; tell me about what you're going to do about it, and a plan for your life will be pretty easy to figure out from there. I guess what I'm saying is that most of us don't get an audible plan for our lives. It's way better than that. We get to be God's plan for the whole world by pointing people toward Him.


    God's Sovereignty, Determinism, and the "Deeper Mystery of Created Freedom"

    A number of the selections I have read lately center on Calvinism and Arminianism as theological systems, and I have been sorting through how best to understand the differences and the similarities, the hermeneutical problems, the strengths and weaknesses, etc.  As a result, I came across a small book by David Bentley Hart entitled, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?.  In this book, Mr. Hart uses the horrific events of the 2006 Java earthquake and ensuing tsunami as a springboard for reflection on accounts of theodicy put forth by Christians, as well as criticisms commonly forwarded by atheists who argue such events disprove the existence of a god of love.

    Though the book as a whole is engaging, I have chosen a selection that is critical of divine determinism, or the idea that God is ultimately responsible for every event, no matter how small, that occurs in human history.  Mr. Hart writes:

    To assert that every finite contingency is solely and unambiguously the effect of a single will working all things--without any deeper mystery of created freedom--is to assert nothing but that the world is what it is, for any meaningful distinction between the will of God and the simple totality of cosmic eventuality has collapsed.  If all that occurs, in the minutest detail and in the entirety of its design, is only the expression of one infinite volition that makes no real room within its transcendent determinations for other, secondary, subsidiary but free agencies (and so for some element of chance and absurdity), then the world is both arbitrary and necessary, both meaningful in every part and meaningless in its totality, an expression of pure power and nothing else.  Even if the purpose of such a world is to prepare creatures to know the majesty and justice of its God, that majesty and justice are, in a very real sense, fictions of his will, impressed upon creatures by means both good and evil, merciful and cruel, radiant and monstrous--some are created for eternal bliss and others for eternal torment, and all for the sake of the divine drama of perfect and irresistible might.  Such a God, at the end of the day, is nothing but will, and so nothing but an infinite brute event; and the only adoration that such a God can evoke is an almost perfect coincidence of faith and nihilism.  Quite apart from what I take to be the scriptural and philosophical incoherence of this concept of God, it provides an excellent moral case for atheism--or, for that matter, Gnosticism.

    Strong words.  Hart clearly has a form of "high Calvinism" in his sights, and his blaster is definitely not set to stun.  He intends to wipe away any conception of God that describes history as a perfectly executed script, decreed from time immemorial and now carried out to absolute perfection.  He argues powerfully, in my view, that any such conception of God is "nothing but will".  This is not a person, but simply a power, and beyond that, it is a power foreign to the testimony of the Bible and one that is logically impossible to accept.

    For my friends who are Calvinists, how do you reply?  How do you defend a form of determinism that places God as the cause (whether primary or secondary) of every action throughout history, as the author of every event, while maintaining that that God is also in a relationship to us that can be characterized as love, and not simply will or power?  How do you respond to alternatives that would still maintain that God is sovereign over all of history as one in charge, but not one that is in control (with control connoting a determinative relationship to every action)?


    The Void of Knowledge

    In his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't, Stephen Prothero tells the story of the void in religious knowledge in America, chronicling the reason for decline and what can be done.  Prothero writes many things in this book that are of great worth, and could be seen as a great resource for those seeking a better understanding of the history of religion in America.  Much caught my attention in this book, particularly his words on the correspondence between the decline in religious knowledge and the rise of populist style evangelicalism that minimized the importance of doctrine.

    Prothero writes:

    Many have remarked on what was gained when doctrine became antiquarian.  As preachers spiced up sermons with stories, converts crowded into the pews, particularly in denominations such as the Baptists and Methodists that embraced wholeheartedly this new homiletic style.  But what was lost in the bargain is not often noticed.  Whereas the pulpit had served as a key link in the chain of memory binding American Protestants to their religious past, by the end of the Civil War few preachers were offering robust religious instruction.


    This legacy is with us today in the narrative preaching style, which according to one historian of the sermon now aims "to achieve a happening rather than an understanding."  It is with us as well in the "seeker-sensitive" megachurches, many of which have decided to stop preaching the basic teachings of the Christian tradition because marketing research has indicated that "seekers" find that kind of thing to be a turnoff.

    Unfortunately Prothero's assessment is accurate.  Calls to shirk doctrine in favor of marketability still ring forth today.  There is a need for doctrinal preaching--robust, sound, biblical, and historically relevant preaching.  This type of communication can be evocative, in that doctrine can be intellectually stimulating and compelling.  It can provoke the imagination and equip the believer to respond creatively in a diversity of challenging situations.  Rather than relying on three (or more) principles or core applications derived from the text, doctrine can serve as a reservoir from which to draw in everyday life.