Category Archives: Theology

The Clearest and Most Sensible Philosophical Arguments for the Existence of God Ever

The Theological University of Apeldoorn is Offering a New Degree Program in Theology

You can read all the details here.

De Theologische Universiteit Apeldoorn heeft een nieuwe stap gezet in de ontwikkeling van een nieuwe masteropleiding theologie. De Minister van Onderwijs heeft een positief besluit genomen op de aanvraag daartoe. De tweejarige deeltijdmaster wordt nu verder ontwikkeld en voorgelegd aan de Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatie Organisatie. Het is de bedoeling dat de nieuwe masteropleiding in september 2020 van start gaat.

De nieuwe master is opgezet met het oog op herbronning van de gereformeerde theologie voor hedendaagse vraagstukken. Tekst, traditie en toepassing zijn de sleutelwoorden. De Bijbelse teksten worden met het oog op de 21e eeuwse context gelezen. De theologische traditie wordt belicht met het oog op de relevantie vandaag. In pedagogische en theologische praktijken wordt naar christelijke wijsheid gezocht.

Etc.

That’s Not Evangelism

It has never been, is not now, and will never be evangelism.  It is a cheap escape from authentic evangelism which, according to Jesus, is going into the world and making DISCIPLES.  Not audiences, not the entertained, not the amused, and not lovers of money.

This is, though, how low theology among ‘evangelicals’ has gone.  The ‘Queen of the Sciences’ has become the court jester for today’s ‘Christians’.

No one has ever become a disciple because of cheap gimmicks wrongly called ‘evangelism’.  And if your evangelism is ‘easy’, it’s fake.

So, as Peter said to Simon Magus- ‘to hell with you and your money’.  Or as Luther translated it in 1545,  “Das du verdampt werdest mit deinem gelde!” (Acts 8:20)

Reminder

The minute your political ideology becomes more important to you than your Christian faith and practice, you have become an idolater.

Divine Sovereignty: An Observation

All the handwringing among Christians of late only means one thing: the notion of divine sovereignty is dead in many quarters of the Christian Church.

The Top 10 Reasons Christians Should Be At Worship On Sunday

1- Scripture admonishes us not to ‘forsake the assembly’ (Heb 10:25)

2- No other reason is necessary, is it?

3- No other reason is necessary, is it?

4- No other reason is necessary, is it?

5- No other reason is necessary, is it?

6- No other reason is necessary, is it?

7- No other reason is necessary, is it?

8- No other reason is necessary, is it?

9- No other reason is necessary, is it?

10- No other reason is necessary, is it?

Zwingli on the Source of War: Atheism

In 1522, on May 16th to be precise, Zwingli published his ‘anti-war’ book Ein göttlich vermanung an die ersamen, wysen, eerenvesten, eltisten Eydgnossen zü Schwytz, das sy sich vor frömden herren hütind und entladind, Huldrichi Zwinglii, einvaltigen verkünders des euangelii Christi Jhesu and in it he writes, towards the beginning while describing the source of conflict-

How does it happen that we Christians who are united by such powerful agencies have much greater quarrels than unbelievers? And how does it happen that in a Confederacy in which until now a fraternal love prevailed, for the sake of foreign lords violent quarrel has arisen? Answer: Real piety, by which is meant true worship and prayer to God, has disappeared among us, as St. Paul writes to the Romans [Rom. 1:28–31]: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” From these words of Paul we learn that all these evils which he enumerates arise when we desert God, do not fully recognise Him, do not look up to Him, do not place our whole trust in him, but on the contrary despise Him and regard him somewhat as we would an old sleeping dog.

War comes when God is forgotten!  That’s Zwingli’s stunning observation.  I recommend that you get hold of the book and read it.  It’s fantastic and indeed the editor of the English edition of Zwingli’s works writes in the introductory preface

… what [Zwingli] says about war is worthy of republication by our Peace Societies, and they are entirely at liberty to use this translation.*

The combatants in Israel and Gaza (and in other conflicts around the world) may think that they are doing something grand and good and great and helpful but war is never any of those things.  War is atheism and those who perpetrate it are, practically speaking, atheists because war is rejection of and denial of God.

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*The Latin Works and The Correspondence of Huldreich Zwingli: Together with Selections from His German Works, Volume 1 (S. M. Jackson, Ed.), p.130.

The Challenge of History: Readings in Modern Theology

The advent of the modern, historical, and critical methods of reading Scripture is one of the most significant events in the last five hundred years of Christian history and theology. New questions arose in the course of that history that led to new, sometimes troubling answers. New ways of considering Scripture were articulated. The crisis in which academic Christian theology has found itself for approximately two hundred years is directly related to the emergence of new ways of studying–and criticizing–the Bible.

The Challenge of History traces the trajectory of these developments, presenting key readings from over thirty-five theologians–from Erasmus to Pannenberg–whose writings relate to the birth of modern historical and critical exegesis and, more broadly, to the emergence, among theologians and biblical scholars, of a certain historical consciousness that characterizes vast segments of modernity. How did the historical and critical methods arise? How did they impact the study of Scripture? What are their implications for Christian theology? Scripture is read–and needs to be read–differently in a parish, in a monastery, and in an academic setting. But the various ways of approaching Scripture should not be cordoned off from one another.

This volume is an ideal textbook for in-depth study of one of the most important topics in modern theology.

Huldrych Zwingli On The Problem With Pseudo-Scholars

Illustration: Daniel Lienhard/Flyer Reformierte Kirche Kanton Zürich

Illustration: Daniel Lienhard/Flyer Reformierte Kirche Kanton Zürich

They are so ignorant as to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in their essence, substance, divinity, power, that they do not know what you mean when you speak of one and understand all three; and their lack of knowledge is accompanied by such recklessness that what they are extremely ignorant of they all the more violently drag under suspicion.

Or they are so willingly and knowingly impious that they assail with the depravity of a perverted heart what they see is done rightly and piously, and since they despair of accomplishing anything in open warfare, they make an underground attack, alleging a fear that we are too much inclined sometimes towards the Father, sometimes towards the Son. To all such I say, κλαίειν, “fare ill.”

Quote of the Day

We are not only permitted, but are even bound, to condemn all sins; unless we choose to rebel against God himself,—nay, to repeal his laws, to reverse his decisions, and to overturn his judgment-seat. It is his will that we should proclaim the sentence which he pronounces on the actions of men: only we must preserve such modesty towards each other, as to make it manifest that he is the only Lawgiver and Judge, (Isa. 33:22.) — John Calvin

We don’t need to condemn sin- God already has done so.  We are remiss, though, if we fail to call sin what it is, since God is the one who has declared it to be so.  That is not ‘judging’, that is repeating the sentence of God, and only a coward and a scoundrel is silent when God speaks and only a fool and a deceiver speaks when God is silent.

Anxiety: An Observation

Everything in our society aims to create anxiety in us. Politicians want us anxious so we become xenophobes and turn to them for protection and the media wants us anxious so we will tune in and watch their shows and our workplaces want us anxious about losing our jobs so we’ll show up and Madison avenue wants us anxious about how we look so we’ll buy stuff. But Jesus says ‘be anxious for nothing…’

I choose Jesus’s way.

Frey on the ‘Ehe für Alle’ Vote in Switzerland

Some Reflections on the Current Discussion about “Marriage for All” (Ehe für alle)/the Blessing of Homosexual Couples in the Context of the Reformed Churches of Switzerland

By Jörg Frey

1. In the current discussion,[1] there are people on both sides who seriously wrestle with the issue. Premature convictions from both sides are, in any case, inappropriate. Where there is simplified and judgmental argumentation (in the style of “can love be a sin”? or “but the Bible says”), one does not do justice to the seriousness of reflection on the other side.

Church-political-populism tends to discredit the church as a whole among the population. Neither “liberals” nor “conservatives” can thereby score points with such populism. Instead, everyone gets harmed. An honest and serious discussion must take place and must attempt to win over especially those who have difficulties with the one or the other position. With this goal in mind, I will attempt to formulate some deficiencies in the discussion and some of the arguments.

2. In the current discourse, the impression arises that the question about “homosexual marriage” is a central point of Christian thought. It never was and it is not. Fundamental and central is the gospel, the message of Christ crucified, who is our salvation. Everything else is subordinate to it and classified with reference to it. If we agree in our confession of this gospel, there are many remaining questions for which different positions will have to be endured. The Protestant (Die evangelische Kirche) as a church of the people must endure coexistence of different styles of piety as well as different theological and ethical positions. This is precisely what distinguishes it from free churches (Freikirchen) and associations, wherein – sometimes with more or less force (and sometimes also with severe mercilessness) – only one attitude, only one style is tolerated, and deviations from it have no place.

3.It is true that for a Protestant church (eine evangelische Kirche), the Holy Scripture should be the measure and norm for teaching and living. Admittedly, understanding of Scripture is controversial in many places, and it requires expert knowledge and competence. Simple, transference and legal application of Old or New Testament words to today’s situation are just as inappropriate as a quick “wipe off the table,” disregarding what stands upon it, under the motto “one can no longer do _____ (fill in the blank) today.” Instead, Scripture should fundamentally be read in its historical context, and that means that it must be read critically. Those who do not do this make it too easy for themselves and deceive themselves (and possibly others as well). At the same time, our reading must also be self-critical, aware of the danger (to which we are all exposed) that we would be all too happy to read our own prejudices and desires into the Bible.

4. Questions of lifestyle, ethics, and here specifically sexual ethics form the center of identity (and of one’s doctrine of sin) within certain evangelical circles. Everything seems to revolve around sex. How to deal with it seems to be of utmost concern. But even in the New Testament’s discussions about sin and sins (e.g., in the vice catalogs), sexual sins are no more emphasized than, for example, social or economic sins. Hate, greed, avarice, and a life of lies are considered of no less “bad” than adultery, unchastity, and the like. But why doesn’t one hear from the conservative corner just as strong a protest when questions of justice are at stake, where people perish under the damaging consequences of economic practices? Should God care only about coitus, should he be indifferent to consumption and the service of mammon? This is an unbiblical shift of emphasis and a darkening of the gospel.

5. The opinion that there is a specific biblical understanding of marriage cannot be upheld upon a closer inspection. In the Bible (OT and NT), there is a multitude of different family structures throughout time, from multi-woman marriages among patriarchs to clans and extended families, to precarious alliances of people who simply had to stick together to survive. The fact that questions of “sexual practice” are only rarely addressed shows that this was not the primary focus. At the same time, the Bible speaks of friendships among men (e.g., David and Jonathan), about which much is speculated, however a positive mention of a sexual relationship between them cannot be obtained from the text either (as much as some wish that this were possible).

Marriages in biblical Israel were often arranged by parents/fathers, women were widely regarded as the “property” of the husband (father or husband). At the time of marriage, women were often still underage girls (and one must ask oneself whether today one would have to talk about forced marriages, child marriages, and even child abuse). Marriages often lasted only a short time because of mortality rates, especially those of women. Children grew up in very different contexts, with living parents, with second mothers, with relatives, or within a larger family context. That is to say, “patchwork families” were more frequent in this time, if not even the norm. Therefore, we should not idealize the conditions of the biblical era.

It is not acceptable to speak of biblical relations in light of the modern “bourgeois marriage” or of the classic family, with (only) husband, wife, and their biological children.

6. Nowhere in the Bible is marriage associated in any way with a religious celebration. Marriage was a public, social act, a celebration for an entire village. It addressed issues such as property and economic conditions – just as in the case of divorce it had to be clarified who owned the property (estates, moveable objects). Moreover, nowhere in the Bible is there an order for a special blessing over a marriage or a special blessing on the occasion of a marriage. That is why (for Protestants) marriage, unlike baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is not a sacrament, but instead a “worldly thing” (welchtlich Ding). The “sacramentalization” of marriage in evangelical circles is unbiblical! The blessing (in the Old Testament, for example, over the work of creation, in the narratives about the fathers) aims at increasing life, progeny, and earthly prosperity. The primordial blessing on man, created male and female, is not a blessing on “marital status” (Ehestand). It is, therefore, a bold transformation when these words are used in ecclesiastical liturgies in this sense.

7. It would be naïve to transfer biblical statements simply as “law” to the present. Whoever does this in view of the Old Testament sexual taboos would also have to demand, for example, that a woman marry her brother-in-law when her husband dies or that she has to conceive a child from him. One would also have to regard pork as an abomination, declare mixed fabrics as forbidden, or (according to the NT) walk around without a purse, for example. For all these statements, it has to be clarified out of which interest and in which cultural context they are formulated. None of them is simply transferable. In order to determine transferability, criteria are needed, and these criteria would have to be precisely reflected.

What can these criteria be? Different models have been discussed here in the history of theology in order to justify why some commandments and statements should remain valid, while others should not: A differentiation in the history of salvation could justify why certain circumstances (e.g., the polygamy of the patriarchal period or the cultic laws of the Old Testament period) could be regarded as dismissed. Others have argued from the point of view of the reception of the Old Testament in the New Testament, that for the Christian congregation precisely those statements which are taken up in the New Testament or formulated by Christ are more binding. Martin Luther taught that one must recognize and distinguish “law” and “gospel” (both found in the Old Testament and the New Testament) in their dialectics in order to counteract the “legalization” of the gospel, which muffles the gospel and makes it inaudible. Later theologians attempted to ask which provisions can only be explained by contemporary history. Other criteria could be added to these. But above all, it is a theological matter to ask about what is in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to think about God from the knowledge of his love in Christ and in the cross? These questions cannot be answered with a general “list to be ticked off.” Instead, everyone must find individually a theologically justified position.

8. With regard to the biblical statements on “homosexuality” (if one is allowed to summarize the statements in this way at all), it can be stated that they are formulated from certain cultural contexts and interests:

(A) Certain sexual norms, especially in the Old Testament, have to do with concepts of purity, because emissions—emission of semen as well as menstruation—ritualistically polluted those affected and therefore had to be avoided in certain situations.

(B) In the background of other statements, there is the view that an Israelite must have offspring no matter the circumstances, or must sire offspring, which is why, for example, male homosexual marriage was forbidden.

(C) Moreover, in the Greek and Roman cultures, specific ideals of masculinity were widespread, and all forms of “effeminacy,” but also emotionality, were regarded – unlike today – as unmanly, disgraceful. Interestingly enough, the Bible speaks almost exclusively of male homosexual behavior; analogous behavior among women is hardly discussed.

The New Testament authors such as Paul focused on forms of sexual behavior in the Hellenistic world that were mostly exercised in relationships of dependency (with slaves), with a substantial age discrepancy (“catamites”), and were highly promiscuous. By contrast, a relationship between two same-sex partners based on stability and mutual assumption of responsibility is nowhere in view in the New Testament. If one considers this, then the simple transfer of the statements of New Testament vice catalogs to today’s homosexual ways and styles of life is not possible.

9. Today, when a state privileges and promotes marriage (which interestingly enough is not the case in Switzerland because of the “marriage penalty” [Heiratsstrafe] tax), then the reason is a decidedly secular and economic one: Here, a mutual assumption of responsibility takes place, including emergencies, which makes the intervention of society superfluous. This is the reason that motivates state authorities to open up this legal form and the privileges associated with it to other forms of cohabitation.

Since, in our legal system, the church can only hold a marriage ceremony if the state marriage has already taken place (in other legal systems this is different), the question of “marriage” (Ehe) for same-sex couples only arises if such a legal basis exists in the state (as is already the case in Germany, though not in Switzerland). A blessing in special life situations is of course possible in cases where there is pastoral justification, even without this basis (and thus already now). The pastoral considerations that need to be taken into account are analogous in both cases.

10. To ask for God’s blessing for others and to grant them this blessing is incumbent upon all followers of Jesus. This mission is not limited to pastors, even though they are especially called to it within the framework of their pastoral vocation. But it’s always persons who are blessed – not things, circumstances, attitudes, or actions.

With regard to church blessings, what is essential is what happens in a Protestant wedding (in einer evangelischen Trauung), what is blessed here/or what it is that God’s blessing is requested for. First of all, it is clear that there is no “joining together” here, neither by people nor by God. That would be a gross misunderstanding. Instead, those who come to be “married” at the church wedding have already come together. This also applies with respect to the blessing: People are blessed, not things (e.g., rings); God’s blessing is petitioned for their relationship with one another, others, and to God, for the responsible task of being together and being for one another. The blessing is also not a signing off (Absegnen) or a validation of the circumstances, the living conditions, certain attitudes, or sexual practices of the individuals. No judgement is made on any of these issues (not even in a conventional, heterosexual marriage).

For these reasons, I personally consider the opening up of church practice to be theologically justifiable in the “line of alignment” (Fluchtlinie) of the gospel and on the basis of pastoral care for people in the diversity of today’s life situations. It is indispensable, however, that no one be forced to act against his or her conscience. This applies very generally to official church acts, and especially here, with respect to this matter, where it is still possible to be constrained by a different decision of conscience. Even here, a coexistence of different conscience-based judgements must be possible in a Protestant (in einer evangelischen Kirche), if indeed it desires to remain Protestant.

I’ll let you decide if you agree or disagree.

Pentecostalism’s Ecclesiological Failure

Pentecostalism has a lot of theological deficiencies.  But most striking are its ecclesiological shortcomings.  Indeed, the fact that a heretic like Paula White cannot be removed from ministry for her abject heresy and false teaching is the greatest indicator of the ecclesiological failure of Pentecostalism.

Any church tradition which has no means to remove and censure pastoral heretics is a tradition that is ecclesiologically deficient.

It’s Available Today

It’s Don McKim’s new book and it’s titled ‘Everyday Prayer with John Calvin‘.  And it’s now available.

Drawing from the Institutes and Calvin’s Old and New Testament commentaries, Donald K. McKim comments on Calvin’s biblical insights on prayer and intersperses his short readings with Calvin’s own prayers. Reflection questions and prayer points help you to meditate on Scripture, understand Calvin’s teaching, and strengthen your own prayer life.

Divided

Our society is deeply divided.  That’s not news to anyone.  But it does give us an opportunity to remind ourselves that if we carry our political divisions into Church with us or into our Christianity, then we need to stop it and repent of doing so.

If you don’t like someone else’s political views, leave it at the door of the Church when you enter.  Or stay home.

The body of Christ doesn’t need, or want, your politics to disrupt its fellowship or worship.  And just by way of reminder, this is what Scripture too demands:

Brothers, I urge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to have factions among yourselves but all to be in agreement in what you profess; so that you are perfectly united in your beliefs and judgements. (1 Cor. 1:10)

Factions, cliques, political ideologies, and all the rest of the things that divide the Church have zero place in the Church.

Nothing Remains of Christianity in American ‘Evangelicalism’

Ben Myers tweets- Evangelical culture tends to have a competitive picture of God and human life. More of God means less of self, or less questioning in search of truth, or less commitment to the enjoyment of beauty. God is pictured as encroaching on a life rather than grounding and fulfilling it.

I respond- i.e., there is virtually nothing remaining of Christianity in so called evangelicalism. The theology is bankrupt and the bible is totally misunderstood and misapplied by the self professed ‘bearers of the Gospel’.

And I can prove it.  Show me one ‘Evangelical’ point in theology or biblical interpretation where Christianity isn’t distorted.

Forgiveness: An Observation

If you ‘forgive for you and not for someone else’ you have no idea what the Biblical understanding of forgiveness is. At all.

Biblical forgiveness is precisely about the other and the willingness of the ‘forgiver’ to bear within themselves the misery which the wrong has wrought.  Biblical forgiveness is the absorption of wrong, not the dismissal of it.

The Worst Thing That Happened to the Church…

The worst curse that ever befouled the Church is nominal Christianity. It stinks to high heaven and breeds death.

Von Harnack was absolutely right when he opined that the Church was supposed to go into the world and instead the world came into the Church.

Quote of the Day

The differences among Christians are nothing in comparison of the differences among heathens. The truth is, religion is such an illustrious, noble thing, that dissensions about it, like spots in the moon, are much more noted by the world, than about any lower, common matters. Men may raise controversies in philosophy, physic, astronomy, chronology, and yet it makes no such noise, nor causes much offense or hatred in the world: but the devil and corrupted nature have such an enmity against religion that they are glad to pick any quarrel against it, and blame it for the imperfections of all that learn it and should practice it.  — RICHARD BAXTER

A Delightful Little Phrase of Luther

Whilst discussing the glories of heaven, Luther compares them to

the latrine* of this life.

Isn’t that brilliant!

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*Luther’s German is a bit too crass for most public consumption, since he literally says ‘shit-house’. But that’s Luther for you. Simultaneously crude and brilliant.