What Is A Liberal Christian?

I have been accused of being a fundamentalist and by others too liberal. I have accused others of the same. Flinging around categories is a dangerous thing, but it is necessary for communication purposes. It is the mind’s nature to take particulars and group “likes” together. Otherwise we would be immersed only in a world of particulars and our brain circuits would fry. And communication with others would grind to a halt slow enough to remind everyone of the way the Boston subway runs – all jumbled together and nothing on time.

But what is necessary can also be dangerous, lest we shut someone out who is in or let someone in who is really out. Can there be an out? Surely Jesus thought so as he often talked of false teachers. They really do exist. No kidding. Really. The theologically surgery needed for discernment is exacting, and this is in part the reason why the Church has selected some among them to live their lives developing discernment to share with others whose time and responsibilities do not allow for the serious time and training required. Of course, the bottom line is whether the person in the pew concurs or smells something that stinks.

Roger Olson has posted on his blog concerning what constitutes a Christian liberal. Some are not happy about that phrase, Christian liberal. For them one who is a Christian liberal is no Christian. But for our purposes, believing there is some kind of continuum between a more fundamentalist to a more progressive theological outlook, what does it look like when one is on the outskirts of the country called liberal. This assumes the point that at some point a “new way of practicing Christianity” become something other than Christianity.

Here are Olson’s thought: Continue reading

Myths of Mary and the Unmarried Jesus

No matter how long I have been teaching or what I am teaching, the general impression of students is that the books included in the Bible are there to serve the hierarchy of the church during the time of it collation. There are other books which tell the truer story, and that truer story includes Jesus’ association with women, Mary Magdalene in particular. In a culture of People and Us magazines, Entertainment today, paparazzi, reality TV and all manner of fraudulent attention getting means, readers of the Bible are learning to read it with similar overtones. Surely there must be a darker story that is truer to the facts of the case, readers suppose. Mark Goodacre speaks to this issue here

Arminianism Promotes the Glory of God

When I was a younger man going into ministry, I was much concerned about the over-sentimentalized versions of God. He seemed to me as perceived as essentially powerless without the serious qualities of sovereignty and Lordship. He was “on call” and always waiting at the door of our hearts until he was invited in. This was to me beneath his dignity and unworthy of his majesty. I wanted to scream out, “you can’t treat God that way!!!”

The theology of Calvinism seemed to be the way out of this sentimentality. Here, at last, I found a God worthy of being served, who was all in all. He was the General George Patton in whose army I felt called to enlist – the great leader, the great conqueror, the all powerful captain of salvation. 

I was taught that Arminianism was behind the prevalent weak view of God to which I had been exposed. This school of thought was the enemy within the camp, and because it was within the camp, it was a greater danger than even the world of unbelief outside the camp. And when I went to Westminster Seminary, the great adversary was Arminianism, too. If one weighed the invectives poured out in classes, the criticism of Arminianism was the essential default position. Next came Roman Catholicism and then, finally, Evangelicalism. Little attention was actually given to rank unbelief and how to confront and lead to conversion. Seminary was simply an exercise in internecine tribal warfare.

Maybe it is because I am now as an older man not so testosterone driven, but unfettered power is not as alluring as it was. Or maybe it is because with time I have seen the metaphysical difficulties with power as the final absolute of the universe, uncoupled with virtue. Or maybe it’s because some of the inherent problems of Calvinism forced me to actually read the works of Arminius and his faithful adherents. But I have come to believe that the Bible teaches God’s willingness to self-limit for the purposes of human choice, a choice restored to us by his prevenient grace. I have come to believe that Calvinism often does in fact lay sin at the foot of God, or at least too close for my comfort. I have come to believe that  the God of Calvinism comes to close to the Devil of the Bible, desiring for his own glory that innumerable human beings suffer eternally in Hell, being able to save them but choosing not. 

I commend to you this presentation by Dr. Roger Olson as one of the best assertions of Arminianism as that system of doctrine which most promotes the glory of God. 

Spend some time with this. I think you will see that the God of much modern day sentimentalism is not Arminianism but American folk religion that is essentially semi-Pelgianism. Semi-Pelgianism is that system of thought which denies total depravity. While admitting the Fall and corruption of our nature, it asserts that we are not so fallen that we are no longer able to choose the good in and of our own power. Arminianism DOES NOT teach this. It is not semi-Pelagian. Along with Calvin, it asserts total depravity, and that left to our natural inclination we would always choose self over God. This is what the Apostle Paul asserts in Romans 1-3. BUT Arminius taught that by an act of God’s love, a preventing grace was given to all people so that they through Christ were given a capacity to say an authentic yes or no to God in such a way that they became fully responsible for that choice apart from an unconditional predestining determination by God. I agree.

Here’s the link. Listen and let me know what you think. My soul rests in the basic assertions Dr. Olson makes. 

Top 100 Choices for Things to Give Up for Lent

Here’s the list. I have my list, but I usually keep it close to the chest per the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 6. Though some things on the list look light and without any real seriousness, I have learned that denying myself in even the smallest manner can be a gargantuan struggle. And that is Lent’s point – another demonstration of the power of the flesh’s gravity. No kidding. The old nature does not just lay down and send up the truce flag. It is always ready to defend its borders and every foray onto its territory is a declaration of war. I am not sure I can wish to you a “happy” Lent. But I know I can wish for you strength in whatever you choose to give up, because the flesh will have you in the cross hairs. 

What Does It Take for a Story to Be Told? Lessons in Why the Bible Stories Continue to Be Read.

Below is a TED talk by Ray Raphael telling the forgotten story of the America’s First Revolution. No, it wasn’t at Concord and Lexington. No, it wasn’t Paul Revere’s midnight ride. And no, it didn’t involve a battle where blood was shed. It was the successful closing of British governmental authority in Worcester, MA, some months before these events. But the story of this victory doesn’t get told. Why?

Raphael gives three reasons:

1. There was no one hero. The Worcester story was a thoroughly democratic story. 4,600 MA militiamen, without firing a shot, closed down British rule. No single figure was instrumental.

2. There was no bloodshed. No one paid the ultimate price. As they say, “if it bleeds, it leads.” We want sacrifice and blood to validate heroism.

3. We love David and Goliath stories. But in the Worcester case, the militia was the Goliath. There were just six or so British officials against 4,600 Americans. No guesswork there. Winning is a foregone conclusion. We want victory over the odds.

The stories that remain to get told are those that capture these elements. If you want to tell a good story, make sure that winning is against the odds, not with them. Maybe that is why the Bible continues to be such a rich source of stories for our collective imaginations. It is a David and Goliath story. All of it. The odds are always stacked against the Kingdom of God. Against you as a follower of Christ. Fireworks. Near misses. Suffering. Sacrifice. Doubt. Failure. Perseverance. Down for the count- at least until the number 9. And then it’s resurrection.

Give it a watch.