Archive for April, 2007

United Methodists, Southern Baptists, and War

I thought it might be interesting to look at statements on war from United Methodists and Southern Baptists.

Here first is the statement from the United Methodist social principles:

We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

This is from the Southern Baptist’s document, The Baptist Faith and Message, and I suppose we could see this as a Southern Baptist statement on war.

XVI. Peace and War

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:9,38-48; 6:33; 26:52; Luke 22:36,38; Romans 12:18-19; 13:1-7; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; James 4:1-2.

Although I’m sure there are differences in the way each denomination views the documents here, I find it interesting that the SBs give no possible excuse for war, whereas we UMs suggest war can be employed as a last resort.  What differences do you see?

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April 30, 2007 at 1:26 pm 4 comments

Sunday Sermon: The Troublesome Trinity

I usually don’t post my sermons for several reasons. One, even though they’re original, they have material from all over the place and I don’t put extensive citations in them (although I usually mention that they are references in passing). Usually, I get illustrations from a couple of places: Wikiletics & esermons.com. Sometimes I get stories or anecdotes from the internet, but many times they’re from life experiences. Anyway, I’m doing a series on the difficult passages and doctrines of the faith and this is the third one in the series, and is on “The Trinity.” Again, although this is the manuscript, they aren’t always preached just as they’re written. So without further ado, here is Sunday’s Sermon.

There are more questions about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity than just about anything else in the faith. In fact, I think it may be the most confusing doctrine of all. There was once a pastor who told the story of a friend of his who was a Christian businessman in California. This man and his wife had friends from India who visited along with their 11 year old daughter. While his friends from India traveled around California on business, they left their daughter with the man and his family. The young girl was full of questions one Sunday morning as the family got ready for Church and she was excited to go along. On their way home from Church, the husband asked her what she thought of the service. She looked confused and said, “I don’t understand why the West Coast isn’t included too.” They had no idea what she meant, and as they were trying to figure out what she was talking about when she finally said, “You know, they’re always saying ‘in the name of the Father, the Son, and the whole East Coast’.” Even though she had it a little bit mixed up, we are always using these words: singing, praising, praying, preaching and blessing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sometimes we’re get so used to doing this and saying these words that we forget that, in spite of their difficulty, they point to one of the most important and central ideas of our faith – the idea that we worship a God who is “three in one,” the idea of the Trinity.

So, even though the word Trinity isn’t in Scripture, the concept is all over the place. Another of the many examples is found in Philippians 2:6, where Paul writes that Jesus had the very nature of God. The earliest Christians used the doctrine of the Trinity to explain an important paradox. On one hand, they believed, that God is one. This is a foundational Jewish belief, and Faithful Orthodox Jewish men and women still recite Deuteronomy 6:4 twice a day ‘ Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one! Early Christians agreed: God is one. Yet, on the other hand they also believed that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were both worthy of worship and Scripture seemed to suggest they were one with God. The doctrine of the Trinity is the way they came to understand and describe these beliefs. It summarized and holds together three important ideas:

  • There is only one God
  • God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • Each person is divine (God)

The following quote is from the late Dr. Walter Martin and helps describe how this is possible in our everyday world. He wrote:

“It is a well-known fact of chemistry that plain water, when placed in a vacuum under 230 millimeters of gas pressure and at a temperature of 0 degrees Centigrade, solidifies into ice at the bottom of the container, remains liquid in the center and vaporizes at the top! At a given instant the same water is both solid, liquid and gas, yet all three are manifestations of the same basic substance or nature: H2O – hydrogen: two parts; oxygen: one. If one of the simplest of all created substances can be three in manifested form and yet remain one in nature, then the Creator of that substance can surely be Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three Persons and one Nature – without any violation of logic or reason whatever if He so wills.”

Now all of this is well and good, but we have to get to the question we always face. What in the world does this all mean? Does it really make a difference to us as we try to follow God in our daily lives? At one point, I could tell you some of what I believed about who God was and is, but I never really grasped God as Trinity. In fact, it wasn’t until about five years ago that I really felt like I started to understand why this is so important to our everyday real-world faith.

I am convinced that the Trinity is essential to who we are as Christians. It means that at the very heart of reality from before the beginning of time as we know it, God has existed as an eternally dynamic vibrant community of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is something unique and special about the way all three work in unity as one God. God has never been some isolated lonely figure who just got bored and created the universe. Instead the world was created by one God who was so full of love between three persons that it just had to be shared. Through some great mystery God decided to reach out and create our world in order to share that with all of creation. And if that’s the very nature of what is real and true, then it has some important implications for how we live

It means that we are most like God when we come together in a loving community called the Church and then reach out from this place to share God’s dynamic love with the entire world beginning with our community and moving to the ends of the earth. If we come together as the Church and become completely satisfied with who we are and where we are, then we’ve stopped being like God. We’re only imitating our Lord if we decide to reach out and share God’s love in tangible ways with everyone we meet. We’re most like God in the simple act of sharing how God works in our lives. We’re most like God when we take the time to give to someone in need. We’re most like God when we bring someone who’s never known that God is love to hear the Good News of the Gospel. This week, and throughout our lives, let’s imitate our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we reach out to share from a love so deep and so strong that it created the world as we know it. Let’s share the love of God…in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

April 30, 2007 at 7:05 am 2 comments

Robert Webber 1933-2007

Robert WebberI just received an email that Dr. Robert Webber, of Northern Seminary and famous for his Ancient Future series, died yesterday. Here is the quote from the Ancient Evangelical Future website:

We will be posting details on www.seminary.edu and this web site www.AEFCall.org) on the upcoming public memorial service in the Chicago area as soon as details are finalized. Please keep the Webber family in your prayers.

Dr. Webber had tremendous influence in leading those of us in the evangelical world to rediscover the deep nourishing waters of Christian Tradition, and he will be greatly missed. I know I have learned a great deal from him, and pray that his family will be comforted during this time of deep loss.

It is perhaps appropriate to include the following which is from his monthly email and accompanied the announcement of his passing:

Thine is the Glory

Thine is the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the victory, Thou o’er death hast won; Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, Kept the folded grave clothes where Thy body lay.

Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
Let the church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing; For her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee; aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conqu’rors, through Thy deathless love: Bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above.

Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

Christ indeed has conquered death; rest in peace Robert Webber.

April 28, 2007 at 1:56 pm Leave a comment

Religion, Science, and Naturalism

Back in 2003, I did a book review of Religion, Science, & Naturalism by Willem Drees . I haven’t posted much on science and religion (one of my great interests), so I thought I’d dust this off and share it.

Religion, Science, and NaturalismWilliem Drees hopes to develop an understanding of religion in a world that is understood scientifically. Science, for Drees, is descriptive of reality as a whole and is the preeminent way that we gain information about our world. Even in the introduction Drees argues that challenges from science should result in religious changes.
He argues that the most adequate view of the world is naturalism, specifically a ‘hard naturalism’ where human behavior is viewed as one of many objective events in nature.

Interestingly, he admits this description of his view of reality is a metaphysical position that involves several aspects: a.) there is no supernatural realm distinct from the natural world b.) all entities made of same constituents, c.) physics give us the best available description of reality, d.) description or explanation of phenomena may require concepts beyond physics because of additional complexity of interactions, and e.) fundamental physics and cosmology form a boundary where questions (that he calls limit questions) about the naturalist perspective arise.

From this Drees argues that religion should be approached in the same way as all human phenomena. He believes that eventually all human behavior will be describable from a behavioral standpoint. From here, Drees gives a chart that describes the interaction of theology (from Lindbeck’s three categories) with new advances in science.

Since one of the prevailing metaphors in the science theology debate is the ‘conflict metaphor’, Drees gives us a brief history of the interaction between religion and science using the ‘Galileo incident’ and the development of Darwinian evolution. With the ‘Galileo incident’ we see a good description of the major issues regarding hermeneutics and exegetical authority that lay behind the typical presentation seen when representing the ‘conflict’ between science and theology. Here Drees points out that members of the Church and the Academy were on both sides of the argument and the entire affair was much more complex than is commonly believed.

He then describes the debate of Huxley and Wilberforce regarding Darwinian evolution with the same thick description. Drees reminds the reader that the conflict was as much an inter-disciplinary rivalry as a conflict between science and theology.  Once again we see that there are members of the Church and the Academy on both sides of the issue. This is an interesting and important chapter, but as we see further in the book it appears Drees wants to do more than reduce the conflict between the two fields.

Drees then begins a discussion of theology and knowledge of the world. This discussion begins with divine action and the challenges presented especially by the overwhelming lawful behavior of natural processes. Here, he describes and interacts with a few modes of divine action. First is Polkinghorne’s understanding of divine action in unpredictable processes where God exerts a non-physical informational input into undetermined processes thus influencing causal events. Drees disagrees with this argument by stating that we cannot say that there is divine causality in unpredictability and describes this as a remnant of God-of-the-gaps even though it is not an epistemological gap.

He then interacts with the ‘top-down causation’ of Peacocke and others. Here God exerts control in the world-as-a-whole in an analogous way to the mind asserting control over the body. Drees disagrees with this approach as well and points to two ‘gaps’ that he believes might be legitimate for God’s activity: human subjectivity and the existence of the world. As a whole, Drees seems very skeptical about the entire program of the integration of science and theology.

Drees then begins a description of theology and knowledge of human nature. Here he goes into a few details regarding experience and the naturalistic explanation resulting from modern advances in the neurosciences. From here, we see a discussion of the evolution of traditions: specifically morality and religion. Here he argues that the evolutionary view of morality need not be in conflict with the overall benefit of morals in a society. In the area of religious evolution, he describes a few different models including the view that God ‘is natural selection’ and the prophetic view of what is and what ought to be that is intrinsic to the human person.

Finally, we see the author announce his position on science, naturalism, and religion. Unfortunately, this is not as rewarding as one might hope. Science is the preeminent cognitive exercise. It can be understood naturally without losing significance. Reality is naturalistic. Religion is simply a phenomenon within that reality. Although he writes that seeing religious as functional does not deny the reference to reality, what appears is a very limited view of God and religion.

For Drees, religion turns out to be a functional necessity of evolution that keeps us from being too aggressive in our post-hunter/gatherer societies and God is an ultimately transcendent non-temporal possibility. Give me a break.

The promise of answers to the limit questions proposes throughout by Drees (why is there something rather than nothing, etc.?) turns out to be limited as well. God may be behind the whole process, and we can have a sense of wonder at existence and see this as a version of faith. We end with Drees admission that he is from a particular tradition, that of liberal European Christianity, and thus participates in this particular ‘form’ of relating to the ‘great’ transcendent God. Although this is not particularly better than any other form, it is important that we analyze these traditions in our new evolutionary contexts, and reform them in the light of modern science. In my opinion, Drees goes a long way to say that he is a naturalistic Deist.

April 26, 2007 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

The Legacy: A Poem

THE LEGACY
A legacy passed down
Patchwork piecemeal
Accepted, rejected

The greatest legacy
The good Christian son
Accepts, rejects, reforms

A legacy transformed
A place to question
Freedom to be transformed

April 26, 2007 at 8:16 am Leave a comment

So…How Inclusive are We?

This article made me think about inclusivity. How inclusive do we really want to be? Even the most ardent supporters of Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors sometimes hesitate when faced with including those from a different theological perspective.

April 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm Leave a comment

New Computer

HP PavillionTurned on my computer and it couldn’t find the hard drive – turns out it was toast. So, I was off to buy a new one. Even though I’m planning to get an Apple someday, now just wasn’t the right time. I needed something to replace my old laptop quickly. So that’s the new one – an HP Pavillion with a Core 2 Duo processor. I had two really good posts written on BlogDesk about a book I’m reading, What God Wants for Your Life by Frederick Schmidt, and was going to upload them when the other computer went kaput. I assure you they will not be rewritten! 🙂

Anyway, the great news (and blessing) about all of this is a man from one of my churches just bought me a 500 gig external hard drive about two weeks ago, and told me to save everything on it. So, I only lost about two weeks worth of stuff because of his gracious advice and gift! God is good indeed.

April 20, 2007 at 1:29 pm 1 comment

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