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Posts Tagged ‘theology’

Hans Boersma wrote an interesting article during Lent this year, on the importance of memories. Noting that digitization in our search-driven Internet age seems to have obsoleted the need for memorization, he reminds us that “repentance depends on memory” and that character (and spiritual) formation is linked to remembrance. He cites Cicero’s assertion that “we can only make prudent moral choices by consciously drawing on past experiences” that we remember. In a similar vein, Aquinas avers that “experience is the result of many memories…and therefore prudence requires the memory of many things.”

Of course, one of the challenges of our media-saturated digital society is constant and ubiquitous distraction: texts, tweets, posts, videos, photos, etc.  This results in a lack of focus and a loss of reflection as we mindlessly allow our thoughts to bounce from one thing to another. In particular, many Christians no longer seem capable or interested in a close and careful reading of Scripture, which in turn weakens our ability to recall verses and passages in their context. Ironically, depsite the ready access to the Bible and all manner of resources online, Biblical illiteracy remains a problem in the Church. Boersma rightly observes that:

Having information at our fingertips is not the same as having stored it in our mind. This is why both classical and medieval authors were deeply concerned with memorization. Traditional practices such as lectio divina are grounded in the recognition that distraction must be countered by memorization and meditation.

Needless to say, Scripture memorization is not in fashion these days–and who has the time to meditate?! Who has the time for solitude, silence and study? So it is right that Boersma argues that “[m]emorization is a Lenten practice, reshaping our memories to be like God’s.” Though I’ve never been one for religious routines and rituals, I can see how our modern digital lifestyles conspire to inculcate habits that are counter-productive to following God. In The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, Justin Whitmel Earley confesses, “Busyness functions like an addiction … I had no idea how much my ordinary habits were shaping my soul in the most extraordinary ways. I had no idea how much my life was being formed by my habits instead of my hopes. Most of us don’t, of course, because habits are the water we swim in.”  See further James K.A. Smith’s trilogy on Cultural Liturgies for a thorough study of the power of habits to shape our spiritual formation (or his more accessible summary in You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit).

Boersma concludes thus:

When our memories are reshaped and reordered according to the immutable faithfulness of God in Christ, we re-appropriate God’s character—his steadfast love, his mercy, his compassion.  Repentance, therefore, is a turning back to the virtues of God as we see them in Christ.  Being united to him, we are united to the very character of God, for it is in the God-man that God’s virtue and human virtue meet. The hypostatic union is the locus of our repentance: In Christ human memory is re-figured to the memory of God.

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Bad Theology, Bad Behaviour

Another aspect of the recent #SBCtoo sex abuse scandal:

The young pastors at the center of the Houston Chronicle’s investigative reporting were given endless authority without a shred of spiritual formation. They weren’t allowed to grow in grace. No one warned of the pitfalls and temptations that have always been integral to pastoral ministry.

Southern Baptists, like most evangelicals, are immersed in a culture that celebrates the glory of instant conversion …

Discipleship, in this tradition, is simply a matter of getting other folks saved.

…. the clergy sex scandal proves that Moody was right when he denounced once-saved-always-saved as a dangerous heresy.

Clergy sex scandal proves Dale Moody was right about ‘once-saved-always-saved’ as a dangerous heresy

This distorted teaching (“once saved, always saved [no matter what]” or the “carnal Christian” view) is something I’ve observed in evangelicalism for awhile now. Some may recall the battle that John MacArthur (and others) waged in the so-called “Lordship salvation” debate in the late 80’s and early 90’s. A lot of the opponents of Lordship salvation (the so-called Free Grace side) were associated with Dallas Theological Seminary (Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie, Chuck Swindoll, etc.); however, another name associated with DTS, S. Lewis Johnson, gave a more nuanced explanation in “How Faith Works”. He closes his article with these helpful words:

If we keep in mind that the Lord Jesus is he who has offered himself as a propitiatory substitutionary sacrifice for sinners, and if we remember that saving faith comprehends knowledge, assent, and trust, and if we see that the new life and standing given in justification must issue in a new submission to God’s will, then we shall have our gospel thinking in order.

It is discouraging to preach the gospel and see so little convincingly genuine and long-lasting fruit. The glory of the gospel of grace and a limited response do not seem compatible, but the solution is not to be found in inducing shallow professions that do not last by the questionable methods of “decisional evangelism,” or by introducing sterner demands that have problematic biblical support. Let us remember that our sovereign God alone saves souls, and he can be trusted with that work. Let us do our work of preaching his saving Word.

Similar debates have been ignited in the past, for example, the “Marrow“ controversy, which has bearing on this more recent debate. An excellent resource on this is Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Highly recommended!

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How Sanctification Works

Simplistic perhaps, but funny!

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For my summer time reading list, I finally got around to finishing Kevin Giles’ excellent study, The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God & the Contemporary Gender Debate (IVP, 2002). The author initially wrote the book in response to observing some evangelicals beginning to teach the eternal subordination of the Son in their formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. It soon became apparent to him that what was at stake was a larger debate around theological methodology. Indeed, there has been a surge of interest recently on the theological interpretation of Scripture that has bearing on this matter.

In contemplating the theological issues, he realized that these same considerations were directly applicable to the current debate around the role of women in the church (and home).  Giles goes on to consider the hermeneutical challenges, specifically around changing historical-cultural contexts and how that impacts on our contemporary interpretation of texts. These interpretive considerations also allow Giles to discuss how Christians have understood the biblical teaching on slavery over the centuries.

It is a rich study that will is timely and rewarding—highly recommended.

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