Books Read in 2012: No. 9 – The Moody Handbook of Theology

Title: The Moody Handbook of Theology
Author: Paul Enns
Completed on February 18, 2012

I’ve had this book in digital format for quite some time and had the pleasure of pulling it out as required reading for a recent class. It proved to be a valuable resource. Paul Enns provides readers with a reference text that breaks down, defines, and explores all the various branches of theology. He accomplishes this by first identifying and the breaking down the five major divisions of theology: Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Dogmatic Theology, and Contemporary Theology. Each of these divisions represent  a major section of the text. Enns first summarizes and then critically examines all of the various approaches and opinions concerning these branches of theology.

By breaking these main divisions into their smaller components, Enns successfully makes an enormous subject approachable. It should be pointed out that Enns was not attempting to create a non-biased look at all the branches of theology. Rather, he critically examines those views that he finds inferior. If the reader is looking for a purely non-biased primer on theology, this text will not be sufficient.

Open Theology Part 4: Prayer

Orthodox Christianity identifies God as immutable and consistently unchanging. This image of God is drawn from the Bible itself. Many Scriptures assert God’s immutability. Among them is Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (NASB). Harold C. Felder writes, “Even God’s very name “I AM” implies that He does not change” (2011). This traditional view of God allowed A.W. Tozer to write, “God will not compromise and He need not be coaxed. He cannot be persuaded to alter His Word nor talked into answering selfish prayer” (1961, p. 60). In traditional Christianity, an omniscient God knows what believers will pray before they even pray it. According to Romans 8:26, the Holy Spirit rescues believers when they are too weak to know what to pray and “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (NASB). Open Theology shifts the emphasis in prayer from God to man.

Because the future is open, mankind has genuine freewill, and God has a limited knowledge of future events; Open Theology calls into question God’s immutability. In Open Theology, God responds to prayers often by changing His mind. Open Theology suggests that God’s limited knowledge of the future causes Him to genuinely interact with the prayers of believers in a way that emphasizes His relationship with them. Greg Boyd suggests, “this translates into people who are more inclined to pray with passion and urgency” (2000, p. 95). Boyd’s argument seems ironic when one considers that Open Theology endorses a vision of God that doesn’t know the future. In traditional Christianity, believers interact with a God that intimately knows the prayers of His creation coupled with a perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future. The awesomeness of this knowledge alone should be enough to inspire the believer to pray.

Open Theology Part 3: The Problem of Suffering

Note: This is the third installment in my series examining Open Theology. To get caught up, read: Part 1: What is Open Theology? and Part 2: Scripture and God’s Knowledge of the Future.

The problem of suffering in the world is one that consistently plagues theologians. If God loves His creation, why does He allow them to endure the pain and suffering that we witness on planet earth every day? Open Theology argues that because the future is free and open, God does not have foreknowledge of suffering. This serves two purposes. First, it absolves God of any responsibility for the suffering in the world. Obviously, God would prevent suffering if it was in His power to do so, but because His creation is free to act in ways contrary to God’s desires, unexpected suffering and evil is often the result. Secondly, because Open Theology primarily revolves around God’s relationship with mankind, we can rest assured that He grieves along with us when we suffer. According to Open Theology, God is just as shocked and dismayed by unexpected suffering as we are. In Open Theology, suffering often has no point. John Sanders writes, “Thus God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil … the Holocaust is pointless evil. The rape and dismemberment of a young girl is pointless evil. The accident that caused the death of my brother was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences” (Sanders, 1998, p. 261-262). In regards to the evil and suffering in the world, Open Theology argues that God does not ordain suffering, has no divine purpose for suffering, and often has no knowledge when suffering will occur.

On a superficial level, Open Theology’s view of suffering may give His creation comfort. After all, once a person realizes that God is not responsible for the suffering they have experienced they are free to, once again, put their trust in the Divine. However, if our God is one who cannot predict when tragedy will fall upon us and has no greater purpose for that suffering, why exactly do we trust Him? Much better is the God depicted in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB). Romans chapter 8 depicts God as one who causes all things, good and bad, to work together to accomplish His will. Bruce Ware writes that the “counsel [offered] by open theists strips from Christians the very hope and confidence in God that Scripture intends them to have” (Ware, 2003, p. 71). Much better is the God who is control of suffering and uses it for a greater purpose than the god who is no control whatsoever. In opposition to Open Theology, the Bible teaches Christians who endure suffering should, “Consider it all joy … knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3, NASB). There is comfort in the orthodox belief that in His divine wisdom God allows suffering and trials because it serves His greater plans. This comfort is simply not present in Open Theology, which suggests that God is not at work in our pain.

What is Open Theology?

This post is the first in a series that examines Open Theology. My hope is to examine the subject in a tone that is productive and amicable.

What is Open Theology?

David Woodruff defines Open Theology as “a form of relational theology” that starts “with the belief that God desires to be in a relationship with creation, and uses that belief as a basis for interpretation and explanation of other aspects of the divine nature” (Woodruff, 2008, p. 53). It is in light of this desire for relationship with His creation that Open Theists believe that God voluntarily self-limits His sovereign control over mankind and grants mankind genuine freedom of will. As a result of the freewill God’s creation possesses, Open Theology posits that while God has a perfect knowledge of the past and the present, His knowledge of the future is limited. God’s limitations in regards to future-knowledge is not attributed to any weakness of His own; rather, it is impossible for God to know the future because “the future free acts of human beings are not yet reality [because they have not yet happened] and, therefore, cannot be known” (Pinnock, 2005, p. 238). Thus, Open Theology concludes that while God’s knowledge of the future is limited, it is still perfect because He knows everything about the future that can be known. Even though God knows as much as can be known, the future is still open as a result of freewill. According to Open Theology, mankind’s freewill and God’s limited knowledge of the future work together to create a relationship between Creator and creation that is real and genuine. It is a relationship that mirrors all others and includes risk and faith on the part of Deity and man.

Open Theology is an attempt to make sense of Scriptures that seem to suggest that the God of the Bible does not have an exhaustive knowledge of the future. As a system, Open Theology offers the believer a lens through which to understand why there is so much evil in the world and the impact of Christian prayer. Additionally, Open Theology makes certain assumptions concerning the nature of time. Future posts in this series will offer an examination of Open Theology as it relates to each of these issues.

Sources

Pinnock, C. H. (2005). Open theism: An answer to my critics. Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 44:3, 237-245.

Woodruff, D. M. (2008). Examining problems and assumptions: An update on criticisms of open theism. Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 47:1, 53-63. 

Advice for Young Christian Writers

y83je1oc6wc-alejandro-escamillaAs part of an assignment in a writing course I was required to write a short essay offering advice for young writers of inspirational works. The finished product is below.

Writing for Inspiration

Unfortunately, there is no step-by-step process for writing an inspirational work. Perhaps it is recognizing this fact that is your first clue in approaching the subject: avoid formulas. A piece of inspiration should originate from the heart as inspired by the Holy Spirit rather than a checklist. Once the Spirit has impressed a subject upon your heart, the next task is to identify your audience. Make no apologies for selecting a particular audience as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, however, you may want to select an audience that you share a connection with. Once you have selected your audience remain focused; remember them at every point in the writing process. Do not neglect praying for God’s inspiration. Remember, the audience is why you are writing to begin with.

Once the audience is selected the research begins. Your inspirational work, be it an article or devotional, will need to be founded upon Scripture. It is important that you understand the Scripture you are basing your work on. Consult commentaries, dictionaries, and other sources as needed to make sure you are properly applying Scripture to your work. Take care not to rush the process. A finished product that misapplies Scripture may actually serve to do more harm than good. Remember that your writing should serve to illuminate Scripture so it may speak into the hearts of your audience. Never allow Scripture to take a back seat in your work; give the Word of God the station it deserves.

When all the research is finished get out your writer’s toolbox. This is where the nuts and bolts of writing come into play. Begin with a draft. Worry less about grammar and syntax at this point and more about simply getting the words out. Once the words are on the page revise, reorganize, and rewrite. Look for words and passages that can be cut from the original draft. Shape and mold your work into a finished product. Do this prayerfully and with great attention.

Once the final draft is complete, review your markets. Do your best to identify which market your work is suited for. If possible, read the works your market has previously published asking questions along the way. Does my work fit well into the market’s overall body of publications? Does my audience fit within their audience? Does my work meet the requirements of the market as presented in their submission guidelines? Once you’re convinced your work is ready for submission and suitable for a given market, all that is left to do is submit and pray.

One final word: Do not become discouraged if your work is rejected. It happens. Your work is likely to be rejected more than it is accepted. Look at rejection as a challenge to go back over the process with determination. You may find that your work simply needs to find the correct market. Never give up! If God has laid it upon your heart to write, write with the confidence your work will eventually find the correct audience.

May God bless you and your writing exploits!

Clark

Do You Have the Itch for Something Scary?

It’s probably because Bram Stoker’s Dracula was one of my favorites reads as a child that this time of year finds me with the itch to watch a good scary movie or read a good scary book. The older I get, however, the harder it is to find a movie that is genuinely scary without being weighed down by unnecessary sex or gore (by the way Hollywood, gore does not equal scary). You may ask yourself if it’s even appropriate for a Christian to be reading or watching scary stories; if you’re interested in such a debate, visit Jared Moore’s excellent blog. For my part, I thought I would share my recommendations for two movies and two books to soak up this Halloween season.

The Day Satan Called: A True Encounter with Demon Possession and Exorcism by Bill Scott: This book is incredibly engrossing. I downloaded it to my iPad one day and finished it the next. Bill Scott relates the events of twenty or so years ago that began with a possessed girl calling his Christian radio show. It is an amazing read that is both chilling and inspirational at the same time. It also raises significant questions regarding the relationship between mental illness and demonic possession. I highly recommend this book.

The Rite (2011): Anthony Hopkins is wonderful in this movie about the Catholic Church’s involvement in exorcisms. I’ve seen it a couple of times now and and enjoy it tremendously. One particular scary scene caused my stepsons to hide under a blanket!

The Wolfman (2010): Yet another Hopkins movie. The cinematography in this flick is excellent and reminds me of the old classic movies I watched on Chiller Theater as a child. There is a fair amount of gore in this one, but it is appropriate gore (we’re talking werewolves here). The story is great and the action is fun to see.

True Haunting by Edwin F. Becker: Like Scott’s book above, the story contained with this book is one the author claims really happened. Rather than demons, however, Becker relates an encounter he had forty years ago with a house full of ghosts. The story is quite convincing (although I must admit I find it more difficult to believe in ghosts than I do demons). Perhaps the most convincing part of the story is that Becker doesn’t really report anything too awfully outrageous. Everything the author claims is somewhat believable, thus making it a little more scary.

Clark

 

Obedience As An Act of Love: A Brief Study of 1 John

Note: The following short post was inspired by a recent study of 1 John and I encourage the reader to take a few moments to read that short book of the Bible before reading this post.

When studying the Book of 1 John, one cannot help but notice that obedience is a present theme throughout. Chapter 2, verse 3 says, “We know that we have come to Him [Christ] if we obey His commands.” This passage continues to say that anyone who claims to know Christ but fails to heed His commands is a liar. The tone of this admonishment seems harsh, but it hinges on the idea that to know Christ is to obey Christ.

Does this mean that any Christian who makes a mistake and commits a sin doesn’t really know Christ? Not at all. John acknowledges that while we should strive to avoid sin, we may make mistakes from time to time. When this happens, we are blessed to have Christ as our defense attorney (1 John 2:1).

Despite this assurance that Christ will defend us, it may seem overwhelming to ponder how much emphasis God places on obedience. One particular verse from 1 John recently drove me to my knees in repentance, “This is love for God: to obey His commands …” (1 John 5:3). The realization the God equates my love for Him with my obedience blew me away! It makes sense though; as a parent I have many times thought to myself that if my kids love me, they ought to do as I say. It seems obvious that my Heavenly Father feels the same way. Mercifully, the rest of Chapter 5, verse 3 says that God’s commands are not burdensome. God doesn’t want us to live in fear that every action we take may be misconstrued as disobedience. Rather, God wants us to genuinely love Him.

What does this brand of genuine love look like in the life of the believer? John writes that if we believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us, we will know that He lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 3:23-24).

In other words, obedience and love should combine naturally and emit from the believer in a way that isn’t forced or put on. This type of love/obedience cocktail should serve to attract others to Christ and be naturally contagious. It is a trait that I feel I am still striving to embrace and am confident God is encouraging me to adopt.

God is awesome and His Holy Word is amazing!

The Problem with Pantheism

Did you or your children ever play little league baseball? Can you remember a time when only the winners of the league (and maybe 2nd and 3rd place) took home a trophy? Perhaps like me you have a hard time with the recent trend of participation trophies. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way someone got the bright idea that every kid who bought a pair of cleats should get a trophy. Rewarding the kids who work hard, practice and hone their skills is no longer a priority. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps we’re trying to spare the feelings of the losers. Perhaps the virtue of participation really is more important than the concept of winning. Personally, I think this is a bunch of bunk. Maybe a kid can’t hit a fastball. So what? Let’s help him find his own gift; maybe it’s playing a tuba or swimming. Maybe she’s a natural born writer or scientist. My point is that we should award the kids in an area that they deserve recognition. If every kid that runs onto a baseball diamond gets a trophy, the trophies become somewhat meaningless, right? What’s so special about winning a trophy if everyone gets a trophy?

Right now you’re probably asking yourself what this has to do with pantheism. I’m making a point – trust me.

The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy defines pantheism as follows:

Pantheism is a metaphysical and religious position. Broadly defined it is the view that God is everything and everything is God. A slightly more specific definition says [that] pantheism … signifies the belief that every existing entity is, only one Being; and that all other forms of reality are either modes (or appearances) of it or identical with it.

This concept of pantheism is common amongst Eastern and New Age religions. Whenever you hear a person talk about “The All” or “The One” you can rest assured they are espousing a belief in pantheism. A person who expresses a belief in pantheism is normally trying to convince others to respect nature. The argument is that we should care for and respect nature and other people because all of it – man, rocks, mountains, trees, animals and etc. – are all part of “The All.” Everything is God so we should treat everything with the proper respect.

This all sounds great doesn’t it? The problem is that this isn’t the Biblical view of creation. Rather, the Bible teaches that we should be able to recognize God based on His creation. Our appreciation of creation and nature should cause us to fall on our knees and worship the true, living God. We may discover the general attributes of God by examining His creation; for instance, He is a God who appreciates beauty, love and friendship. He is a God who loves painting glorious skies and landscapes just to watch our mouths fall open in wonder. However, we must not confuse the Creator with creation. These revelations that can be found in nature are general. If we want to learn the specific attributes of God we must study the Special Revelation found in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. When we confuse the general and special revelations of God we are making the same mistake that Paul addresses in Romans 1:25, “[We exchange] the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the creator.”

I would take it one step further and suggest we are in violation of one of the Ten Commandments.  When we worship creation as if it were God, we are creating idols. Yes we should respect, preserve, and care for our environment; but only because it is a gift from God, not because it is God.

If we consider all of creation God – you are God, I am God, the trees are God, Squirrels are God and etc. – than there is nothing special about being God; much like little league participation trophies, God becomes meaningless.

Look at it this way … if everything is God, than nothing is God. Pantheism is akin to atheism in the sense that God becomes unnecessary. I prefer to learn about the real, living God as revealed in the Scriptures. Yeah, it takes more effort and more dedication than simply pronouncing that nature is God, but it is more rewarding in the end.

Is Exodus 22:18 a Command for Christians to Kill Witches?

h8s0pf2rcqs-aaron-burdenAs part of a writing project, I have been reviewing different world religions with a particular interest in what they teach concerning sin. During my examination of the Wiccan faith, I kept stumbling across Wiccans who refer to the following verse with a mixture of anger and resentment.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” – Exodus 22:18 (King James Translation)

When reading this verse, it is understandable why there may be hurt feelings. Taken out of context, Exodus 22:18 seems to give Christians blanket permission to kill witches. Considering this is a verse that could be used to justify hate and violence, an in-depth examination seems to be in order.

We must first recognize that while the King James translates the subject of this verse as “witch,” there are slight variances in other translations. Most commonly, I have seen it translated as “sorceress” (NIV, Holman Standard); however, it has also been occasionally translated as “poisoner” – although I feel this last translation is made from weaker manuscripts. Regardless of the translation, most experts believe Exodus 22:18 is addressing those who practiced occult activities such as séances, divination, and spell-casting while eliciting the help of powers outside the one, true God. It is also generally assumed that these magic practitioners were attempting to draw their power in part from Satan. With this in mind, the words “witch” or “sorceress” seem as apt a translation as any.

Although most Wiccans take offense to Scriptures’ use of the word witch, I believe it would be a stretch to compare these witches to the modern adherents to the Wiccan faith. For instance, since Wiccans deny the existence of Satan there seems to be a clear difference between them and witches referred to in this verse. I suspect we are comparing apples to oranges, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that the witches of Exodus 22:18 and the witches of modern Wicca are one in the same. Is the Bible giving Christians blanket permission to hunt and kill witches?

The quick answer to this question is no; however, to truly understand why one must understand the context of the verse.

Exodus 22:18 is presented as part of the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:19 through 23:33) and is intended as a guide to teach the Israelites how to incorporate the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-17) into their daily lives. These commands came at a time when God was attempting to preserve the Israelites as His chosen people in order to use them in His plan to save all of us. While the Ten Commandments are considered laws that transcend time and culture, the commands that are contained within the Book of the Covenant are specific for the Israelites who received them. Thus, to take any of these Israel-specific commands and argue that they apply directly to those of us in our modern, western culture is a misapplication that misses the point of the text; so if the verse was a direct order to kill all witches it was not a direct order from God to us, but rather from God to those particular Israelites living in that particular time and place.

Even with this said, it can be argued that God wasn’t giving those Israelites a direct order to kill all witches. A reoccurring theme of the Old Testament is Israel’s failure to remain faithful to God. Over and over again God’s chosen people were led astray by pagan religions that placed idols and sex ahead of God. The Ten Commandments begin with instructions that we should have no other Gods before the true God and that we shouldn’t make idols. These were the issues at stake concerning the “witches” that lived among the Israelites.

Because, the Israelites were continually being led astray and losing focus, God instructed them to not allow a witch to “live.” The word live in this case is translated from the Hebrew word châyâh (pronounced khaw-yaw’) and refers to both a literal and figurative life. Exodus 22:18 could have just as easily been translated as a command to not allow witches to live and thrive within the Israelite community. This is especially probable considering the rules against the exploitation and oppression of foreigners presented in Exodus 22:21.

In all fairness, a “witch” or sorceress who refused to leave and continued to lead the Israelites astray would have no doubt faced capital punishment on the command of Exodus 22:18, but I tend to believe this would have only been used as a last resort.

Regardless, those who take this verse out of context and use it as a vehicle for violence are just as guilty of academic laziness as those who read the verse and claim it as evidence that Christianity teaches hate. As always, this verse needs to be placed in its proper context before it can be understood.

Center for Pointless Inquiry

Okay … the Center for Inquiry recently sponsored one of the dumbest competitions I have ever seen. To enter, a contestant needed to create a statement, phrase, or poem that would normally be considered blasphemous. The competition was a part of Blasphemy Day 2009. Normally, I try to ignore stupidity on both sides of the spectrum; however, this one has me fired up for some reason. The Center of Inquiry is an organization that hopes to foster in a world, “devoted to promoting science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”  In other words, a world of free-thinkers, provided you aren’t thinking about God or religion.

Blasphemy_Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m all for free-thinking and I am fairly certain God is as well. My common response to the question of why a good God would allow anyone to go to Hell is that He obviously thinks it is important for people to be free to reject Him. I believe that free-thinking is an inalienable, God-given right. I also believe that stupidity of this nature should be exposed and confronted.

One of the goals of the Center for Inquiry as presented on their website is to end the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever. I’m all for that goal as stated. I believe that atheists are every bit a creation of God as I am; however, I believe that competitions such as the “blasphemy challenge” reveal more about the organization than they will ever admit. I suspect their real goals are less about ending the stigma attached to nonbelievers and more about reattaching that stigma to Christians. The competition is unproductive, divisive and should be an insult to all free-thinkers … religious or not.