The Futility of Theology

I must confess often when I open a theology book— which is a frequent occurrence for me—it has an attendant sense of futility and almost depression. As I am reading a theology book, whether it is one I agree with, or one I am antagonistic toward (in regard to material), I start wondering what sort of value there is in reading just some other theologian’s thoughts; creative and imaginative as they might be, in regard to what they think about a given theological locus. I mean, I’m a Protestant after all, and I’m very committed to a robust theology of the Word and the Reformed Scripture Principle. I think what happens, every now and again, is that I wonder how I can know if what I am engaging with, in a given theology, actually is meaningful. In other words, what standards am I looking for to help me adjudicate whether this or that theologian is actually theologizing in such a way that they are communicating something meaningful? And when I say ‘meaningful’ I mean in the sense that they are thinking from the reality of Godself as Self-revealed in Jesus Christ as attested to throughout the crevices and caverns of Holy Writ. So much of theology, even my own thoughts, seems, well, just ad hoc.

Sure, we can make assertions about our theological methodology as grounded in the Trinity, or we can claim to be working out the implications of the Gospel/Incarnation/Atonement; but are we really? Some will assert that our standard is the rather amorphous regulative reality of catholicity; we see this in theology of retrieval, and in Reformed circles this has come to be called: Reformed catholicity. The theory goes that there is an accessible and identifiable pedigree in classical theology/theism wherein an agreed upon conception of who and what God is is graspable for all Christians who are willing (to so grasp). The theory is that this catholicity can hold all strands of Christians together, and can be used as an ecumenical balm to succor the wandering; at least for those who want to be orthodox. As others have attempted, we can recognize the eschatological nature of Revelation, and thus conclude that our endeavors as theologians will always be relativized, and thus always already proximate to the goal of theologizing that can only ultimately be made consummate in beatific vision and eschatological bliss; as we come to know as we are known. Some people like to press coherence and self-referentially in regard to the theological systems they develop; they use this as the standard for the fruitfulness and viability of their theological work. So we have various ways to sophisticate our work, our theologies (nostra theologia), but are we really, and ultimately saying anything that really matters for the edification of the church; are we really saying anything that actually bears witness to the reality of Holy Scripture in Jesus Christ?

I’ve read lots of theology over the years and I almost always have this nagging feeling attending my reading of theologies. But maybe it’s the devil; maybe he and his minions want to cast a dark cloud over me engaging with realities, broken as they are, that will keep my mind and heart on the living God. Or maybe I give the devil too much credit; maybe it’s God himself who sends this sense of futility as a reminder that even as I keep seeking him there is always more of him to find. In the end I don’t think theology is futile, even if I often feel like it is. Don’t get me wrong, some theologies are exceedingly futile; ha!, this must mean I think there is some sort of regulative standard after all—as far as being able to adjudicate sound from unsound theology.     

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Thinking About Pastor Andrew Stoecklein’s Suicide and its Spiritual Nature: Mental Health and Spiritual Realities in Confluence

Andrew Stoecklein, as many of us know by now, a thirty year old pastor in Chino, CA attempted suicide this last Friday; succumbing to his attempt the following day in the hospital. He leaves behind his wife, and three young boys. It is a tragic story, and one that is not outside the bounds of God’s gracious mercy; one that is not outside God’s eternal love and peace that he now is extending as the Comforter to Andrew’s wife, boys, family, friends, and church. Andrew and family of only the last three years lost his dad (who pastored the church that Andrew took over) at the young age of fifty-five to a four year battle with leukemia. Andrew said that this began a progression that led him into an intense breakdown resulting in severe depression and panic attacks (debilitating). He had just come back as of the last few weeks to continue in the pulpit ministry; in his first series—entitled Hot Mess—he disclosed what in fact he had been struggling with mentally and emotionally with his parishioners. Unfortunately the swarm of panic and darkness of anxiety overcame Andrew even as he was dealing with and talking about it openly among his family, friends, and church.

His story has gone far and wide online, as it should. There have been many responses to what happened, and many points of counsel in regard to what people should do in cases where they know that this is being experienced by family, friends, or even pastors; or if it is being experienced by them. The responses I have read have been from within the church by other Christians; and they have categorized what Andrew was dealing with as mental illness. I don’t want to fully discount that language, per se, but I am going to push back on that a bit in this post. I am going to speak to this from my own experience as a Christian who walked through years of literal hell dealing with exactly what Andrew was dealing with: severe anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. The way I am going to frame this though, rather than mental illness, is through the lens of spiritual battle.

My battle started most intensely in 1995, I had been out of high school since 1992; so I was only twenty-one years old. I had grown up in the church as the son of a pastor (just like Andrew), and had a sensitivity to the Spirit of Christ; but I had grown lukewarm. I knew things weren’t right, and I began praying that the LORD would do something to draw me close to him. In the midst of that I took a weeklong trip to Las Vegas with some friends. As we were getting ready to go out every night I began to have a strong oppression hit me; it was an anxiety attack (the first one I ever experienced). Each night at the same time it would hit me, as if God’s heavy hand was on me keeping me from going out; and it did. I told my parents, and they knew exactly what I was going through; my dad had experienced this in severe ways, years prior, as he as a young Christian began service in pastoral ministry. I had hoped when I came home that it would subside and I’d get on with my life; but it didn’t. Not only did it persist but it intensified and got worse. Associated with this was an intense doubting of God’s existence; even though prior to this I never even bashed an eyelash at such a thought. This began a season of probably a nine year span where I went through the deepest of darkness you might imagine (and you couldn’t unless you’ve gone through it yourself). Because I was doubting the existence of God—who was the core of my being—I also began to doubt the existence of all of reality; so of course I felt like I was going crazy. The most interesting thing about that was that the doubt didn’t seem like it was my own; as if it was from an outside source being imposed upon me. The LORD ministered to me through this in ways that have led me to where I am today, but I almost didn’t make it. During that time, mostly in the first few years, I was in such a darkness that I was on the brink of suicide multiple times (in periods, most of the time). I kept living life; going to work, hanging out with friends, and attempting to somehow survive this. I did survive it, obviously; but barely.

I don’t want this post to be fully about me; but I wanted to provide enough context in order for you to see where I am speaking from in regard to Andrew’s story. As I began this ‘walk,’ as I noted earlier, I told my parents, and I kept talking to my parents. They would talk with me for hours sometimes, and pray with me. They encouraged me to read my Bible, and so I did; constantly. I found a church (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa) that I could attend every day of the week if I wanted to; and I did (about five days a week). My parents discerned that what I was going through was a spiritual battle, and I agree it surely was. The nature of the anxiety and panic was related to God’s existence, and then dealing with questions surrounding the veracity of Christianity versus other belief systems (even though I wasn’t really equipped to fully identify all of that at that point). Not to mention that I was also dealing with an assault of the most blasphemous and dark thoughts you could imagine (and couldn’t). My parents let me know that this wasn’t uncommon; that Charles Spurgeon himself suffered with these sorts of things throughout his pastoral ministry. So these things, I would contend, were agitated by demonic and external forces, and that God providentially allowed such assault so that I might draw close to him and he to me; and I did, and he did.

So what about Andrew? Let me quote something I tweeted earlier:

For many it is called: deep spiritual warfare wherein the demonic attempts to exploit weaknesses in the psycho-physical of our spiritual lives. The battle is real, and represents a complex that only the Gospel itself has the power of God to disentangle. Let me expand: I think the Gospel entails much. It not only entails the recreative resurrection power pro me pro nobis it entails a deep and abiding fellowship among the saints in fellowship w/ the Triune life. it places the mind and heart into a mode of deep captivation of doxology and internalizes the reality that life is given as gift from the living God. it goes beyond simply thinking of such things in terms of intellectualisms but indeed internalizes these deeper realities such that we have space to “get out of our own heads.” i would contend that being in the Christian ministry (pastoral or not) opens us up to a world of heavy spiritual battle that unless we remain vigilant we will easily be overcome. ironically what it often means to be a pastor requires attending to more superficial concerns these superficial concerns of keeping up with a certain look or sound etc actually open pastors up to more attack w/o the proper armor. as such burnout and worse can ensue and deep disaster and destruction of many sorts can take place. but i know that things are a complex. i’m just speaking from my own experience w/ anxiety, depression and spiritual warfare and being on the brink of what this pastor did many times in years past. it’s an absolute battle that the evangelical church culture doesn’t allow for so pastors and other Christians attempting to live as real life Christians bearing witness to Christ often feel isolated and feel like they have to go it alone while maintaining “appearances.” TERRIBLE. DEMONIC stuff.

And then I wrote this later on Facebook:

And I’m certainly not trying to trivialize things or complexities. I know the depths, and in the midst of it there is no easy answer or way out. Christ is present, but sometimes he lets us feel like he isn’t. We need good fellowship with sound brothers and sisters just as Titus et al comforted the Apostle Paul and brought him out of the doldrums of depression more than once. The realities of the evangelical subculture (and other church subcultures in the west) do not fit with the realities of the Kingdom; which typically and often involve being depressed having ‘the sentence of death written upon us’ much tribulation and dark nights of the soul that make us feel in the abyss. The evangelical church culture does not allow for such realities, and most people haven’t attempted to walk deep enough to even know how to comfort others with the same comfort they have been comforted with (II Cor. 1.1-6). In fact the lacuna and silence in these areas of even acknowledging what I’m noting in this comment is highly concerning for me in re to the churches. The lack of depth in regard to learning how to suffer as if it is a spiritual venture of living under ‘light affliction’ is deeply concerning. For those who desire to live holy lives there are all types of affliction just waiting to be stepped into. Often when we first experience that it feels as if we’ve entered a foreign land, and without the proper guide and perspective and understanding of what the fiery ordeal actually is we will fall into pits of despondency that others will not even be able to recognize for us.

Maybe Andrew’s sources of anxiety and panic weren’t the same as mine, but I’m guessing the darkness and abyss was very much so similar. I’m also sure that Andrew and I aren’t the only ones in the church (let alone the world ‘out there’) who have walked through this valley of the shadow of death. But what I want to press is the idea that while I can accept that there is a serious physiological component to all of this, what shouldn’t be read off of that is that this makes this issue a mental health issue alone. In fact since I believe salvation entails an embodiedness, as attested to by the bodily death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and forthcoming second advent of Jesus Christ, what should be read out of these issues is that there is a devil who is a thief and murderer who wants to destroy all of those who seek to live from the righteousness of Christ and bear witness to the name of the living God. And that because this is the reality of the Kingdom, and the in-between nature we currently inhabit, and because our LORD Jesus himself endured untold spiritual attack during his tenure on earth, we ought to read Andrew’s situation through that lens; as if what he was primarily dealing with went deeper than mental illness.

The way I see it is that “mental illness” has almost become trendy, and in our scientistic and hyper-aware times, society at large believes that we can essentially hand off these sorts of issues to the scientists and mental health experts; as if they have magic bullets that can traverse the depths of our hearts and bring us remedy and succor that “regular” non-scientific people can’t. Now, do I think that there is no place for certain medicines to maybe calm the mind down in the intensity of such seasons? No; I probably could have benefited from some of that myself, but I never did take any psycho-active drugs. But, again, these medicines don’t really or ultimately or always suppress the deeper issues; which I am going to suggest that in many cases (if not all for the Christian) are indeed a result of spiritual battle that the Christian doesn’t even know to recognize.

So what is the solution? We need fellowship, as I noted earlier, with other mature Christians. We need to experience the comfort from others that they have themselves experienced from the Comforter-God, and to fellowship in that. We need to be consistently bathing our hearts and minds in meditation upon Holy Scripture which will promote a dialogical (prayerful) interchange between the living God and the sufferer such that the sufferer (like Job) will come to the point of doxological (worshipful) awareness and come to rest in a mind and heart (God’s) that knows nothing but peace, order, and harmony as that is resident in God’s life. We also need to come to expect seasons of deep anguish, of many sorts, as Christians and not allow the surprise of the fire to over-take us to the point that we lose perspective (this is easier said than done when in the heat of the season and moment of despair). But the ultimate key is to learn to look away from ourselves, and look at the face of Christ constantly; and to learn to see him in the faces of others. As we begin the process of learning how to look out and away from our navels (which we were born to do in the ‘flesh’) it is in this that the order of God’s life comes to penetrate our psyches and we begin to experience his well-being as the basis of our being in very personal and internal ways. As these processes become patterns through the purifying fires of God’s depths for us, eventually what used to feel like utter hopelessness and abyss will be pierced through with the Light of God’s life for us.

For the Christian there is no other way of growth. Certainly there are various ways that growth occurs, and various levels of intensity that the LORD walks us through; it won’t all be the same for each of us—as the LORD has a peculiar and particular plan for each of our lives in his Kingdom. But these things need to be borne in mind as we walk this world as Christians. If we desire to live righteously we will indeed bear much tribulation; but it isn’t tribulation greater than what the LORD hasn’t already borne for us (even if it usually feels that way; especially at first).

I am not pretending to know exactly what Andrew was going through, but I am underscoring that what is called depression and anxiety is quite pervasive (as so many of us know). I am, along with you, deeply saddened at the seemingly senseless death of Andrew; but I know that he is now reveling in the presence of the living God at his right hand where there is peace and abundance forevermore. It is tragic. I am praying for his wife and three boys; and the rest of his family and church members. Rest in the Peace of Christ, Andrew. amen.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6

A Mishmash on The Development of the History of Ideas and What Jesus Has to do With That

What has probably propelled me most in my own theological development over the years isn’t exactly Christian Dogmatics or Systematic Theology; not even Biblical Theology. Instead, at a foundational level, in a sort of ground-clearing and laying way it has been getting a grasp on the history of ideas and intellectual heritage of the church. In this process it has helped me to find critical space wherein seeing myself as a Christian in an unChristian world makes more sense; indeed it helps me to identify the Christian origins of the secular and even atheist mind among us. This seems like it is a potentially apologetical foundation upon which I understand myself in the world of ideas; but I don’t see it that way. I see it as the baby steps I took, and continue to take, as my way into an intellectual and spiritual world that opens up, ontologically, to the living God in Christ; since the world is finally and fully contingent upon the living Word of God. I am simply acknowledging that I do not inhabit a docetic world wherein the divine swallows up the particularlity of the contingent world, but instead he so grounds it that any intellectual accumulation that might happen therein always already ends and begins in him, in Christ; whether we are conscious of that or not (and I simply mean because he continues to uphold all things by the word of his power; I don’t mean he is the source or cause of all ideas). In Christ the scope of world history, and the intellectual history therein, takes on new and fresh cantor; world history, and the intellects of all therein become relativized by the cruciform shape that reality is suffused with; suffused with the very logoi of the Logos of God. In other words, even as I have engaged in the study of the history of ideas, and continue to, even as that provides me with a type of critical valence I wouldn’t have outwith, in Christ it all is sublimated to the point that its development, whether towards Christ or away from him, makes no critically realistic sense. In other words, even if the atheist or agnostic thinks the foundations upon which they build their philosophies of life are abstract from the reality of God, even as we can survey the ways ideas have developed this way or that way, the unalterable reality always remains, it always comes back to the fact that we live in a contingent world. For the Christian, this is not an abstract idea, but one that fully recognizes that our God in Christ fully assumed the contingency of the world in the vicarious humanity of Christ, which then allows all of this study, all of these ideational developments to finally find their refraction in the light of his life; even if they can’t finally bring themselves to repent.

I have no idea what this post is about exactly. I was going to write a post about Descartes and intellectual history of ideas, with a quote from Gerald Cragg, but the above popped out instead. Ah, such is blogging.

Why Do Theology? On the Analogia Nebuchadnezzaro

Why do theology? Is it for the fame and fortune? No. It’s because, personally, without the constant pursuit towards a growing and intimate knowledge of God I could not function. After I came to Christ when I was 3.5 I was given a new heart, the ‘heart of flesh’ that the Apostle Paul and the Prophet Ezekiel wrote about; along with this my head was also rewired, hard-wired in fact, in such a way that reality from that point onward could only make sense if it found its ongoing ever afresh ever anew ground in a growing knowledge of the living God Self revealed in Jesus Christ. Outside of this reality, for me as a Christian anyway, everything else is non-real; there is only One reality that has the capacity to stitch all of reality together in an affectively and cognitively satisfying way. So I began to grow—in other words I didn’t stay 3.5 up and till now—and I lived into this reality, into real reality as the Holy Spirit worked and wooed in my life. As I grew older I had an ever greater appreciation for what Jesus had done, and the cylinders of my new mind and heart were firing rapidly. But a time came when I was subtly seduced into a realm where my mind and heart were completely out of place. There was a season of time that I didn’t really catch how out of place everything was. But because the God I have a relationship with is so merciful and full of grace He allowed me to see and feel (through anxiety) just exactly how out of place I had become. I had sown to my flesh continuously, to the point that great scales had grown over my eyes—the eyes of my heart and mind—and God removed those scales to let me see just exactly where I’d gotten myself. My heart and mind really had nowhere to rest; it was an excruciating experience that would extend out for years.

But remember, I noted that God graciously re-opened my eyes to the reality I had constructed for myself; a reality that was a house full of idols; a reality that my new heart and mind could not decipher or attach to. God, through His Word, began to deconstruct the false-realm I’d created, and displaced it once again with the concrete bodily reality of His recreated world that He had accomplished through His Self giveneness in His humanity in the eternal Son of God, the Man from Nazareth, the One who is homoousios with the Father and humanity, Jesus Christ. I began to feel a real peace, a real solidity in the world that God had called me into in the new creation of the Son. My affective and intellectual cylinders began to fire again, and the blood-life provided by the Son of the Father in my life, in and through my new heart, began to flow and brought life to my frontal lobe and the rest of my brain. I could once again look out at the world, and have a sense of place; and yet this time it was even lighter than it had been before in my younger years. This time I had to walk through a wilderness, a slough in order to come to the sanity that only comes as my new heart and mind are at coalescence with their source in the vicarious heart and mind that Jesus Christ has for me in His life pro me.

Even in this strange newer world there are these cycles where it seems the light of life ebbs even brighter, but then flows into a season of shadows; only then for the light to shine through the shadows with more clarity than before. Biblically all I can think of in order to illustrate this is found in II Corinthians 3: “18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” There is this ongoing transformative aspect, a growing-maturation process that is a work started by God in Christ that He will continue until beatific vision finally comes.

This is why I do theology. I have come to know, without question, that Jesus alone speaks the words of eternal life, and thus I have nowhere else to go. If I try to live a life without doing theology I experience cognitive dissonance of the sort that it literally will drive me mad. My soul needs theology like my body needs oxygen; without it I die, and dying sucks.

33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” Daniel 4:33–35

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. II Peter 3:18

 

 

An Autobiographical Note: What is My Theological Trajectory Today/

I thought I would pause for a moment and attempt to articulate where I am at in my theological development as a Christian (and by the way I realize nobody cares that much, but this is a good exercise for me). At the point of my graduation from seminary in 2003 I was probably as classically oriented as anyone in the evangelical and Reformed worlds. My most formative influence came from my historical theology professor, Ron Frost. He, by way of PhD is a Puritan expert, and did his work on English Puritanism with focused reference on Richard Sibbes. Frost offered a reading of Sibbes that placed him in the Augustinian stream of what he called (calls) Affective Theology. This theology, according to Ron, focuses heavily upon the affections, within a tripartite faculty psychology (e.g. affections, intellect, will), and all the images that that conjures up in regard to the composition of what it means to be human vis-à-vis God. In Frost’s reading Sibbes is part of a movement of ‘Calvinists’ or Reformed theologians who offered an alternative account to what Janice Knight identifies as the The Intellectual Fathers movement (e.g. Westminster Assembly); according to Knight, and then Frost following, Sibbes was part of the English Reformed development known as The Spiritual Brethren. They focused, as Frost identifies in the theology of Sibbes, on the affections, the heart as determinative of what it means to be human coram Deo; as such the emphasis in this theology is on God’s Triune love reaching out to a maiden-to-be with his winsomeness and beauty transforming the heart of stone with his soft heart of tender flesh. The focus on this approach is to reframe the covenantal relationship between God and humans from the Covenant of Works and the Mosaic Law code, and instead to see the marriage imagery as the framework through which we understand God’s relationship with the elect. Frost picks this up not just from Sibbes’ appeal to marriage mysticism, but going back to Luther et al., and the biblical text itself (i.e. starting in Genesis, working through the OT, e.g. Hosea, through the Apostle Paul in Eph 5 and eventuating in Revelation and the marriage supper feast of the Lamb). Frost believes that this motif is the better way, both historically, and biblically to understand God’s way of relating to his people. The focus is not on performance, as we might find in Federal theology, but on a life of loving caress and relationship between the Bridegroom and his Bride. So this was the thinking I left seminary with, and much of that focus has not left me.

So I left seminary with an Augustinian classical focus, albeit an alternative account and challenge to what counts as orthodox Reformed theology today (i.e. Westminster). Part of Frost’s critique followed Luther’s critique of scholastic theology, and Thomas Aquinas’s theology very closely. As such I was predisposed to this critique, so when I came across Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth and saw that they also followed this critique, by and large, I began consuming their writings. As I did, and then blogged about it, it put me into contact with folks I wouldn’t have had contact with otherwise (given my very classical and Augustinian chops); folks from Princeton Theological Seminary, mainliners, and a host of folks on the fringes and also antagonistic to the type of classical theology that Thomism and the Post Reformed orthodox represent. Beyond this, my reading of TF Torrance and Barth also put me into contact with Torrance scholars (most notably, Myk Habets), and Barth scholars who were more traditional and conservative still in orientation; and in their appropriation and reading of Barth. Through blogging, primarily, I developed electronic relationships with some of the more progressive among those I just mentioned, and had some sort of proclivity towards their own insights and development. But for me, my impulse always remained traditional and classical; relatively speaking of course. I couldn’t follow the path that my more mainline counterparts were taking; neither theologically, politically, or socially. They saw that in me, and began to ridicule that in me on their social media outlets; eventually most of them cut me off. I suppose they were just as taken in by me, at first blush, as I was by them, simply because we had a shared interest in the theology of Karl Barth. The final blow to any connections I had with that world happened a few months ago when I openly struggled through the realization that Barth lived in an adulterous relationship his whole married life (well most of that life). What that whole open struggle did was finally demonstrate to me how far away I indeed am from the progressive side of all things theological, political, and social. Not only did I receive more vitriol from these former counterparts of mine, but any lingering connections I had with them was virtually gone; and if they didn’t make that move, then I did (on social media).

So now as I look at the two most prominent connections I had at Princeton Theological Seminary, and see where they have arrived, it causes me some real grief. They both reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and at least one of them rejects the reality of a conscious afterlife (post-mortem). They both came to these conclusions, they both developed into ‘existentialist-theologians’ as a result of their engagement with Karl Barth; and then that engagement took them further into other theologians. But what this has been making me realize is that Barth, for all the awesome Christocentrism that he offers, also opens the door to a theological world that is heavily Platonic, Kantian, Hegelian, and potentially destructive; destructive in the sense that he has the potential to serve as a gateway theologian to other theologians in the modern period who can lead young thinkers into waters that take such thinkers away from the historic orthodox teaching of the church, and into an abyss of their own existential imagining. All of this is illustrative for me.

And so here I am currently. I have all of the background I have been noting, and even more that I haven’t noted (i.e. where I was at theologically prior to seminary — very Fundamentalist, Dispensationalist, and into Free Grace theology of the Zane Hodges type). I don’t really fit in anywhere, ecclesially; at least not in the evangelical world I inhabit. We have tried to attend a PCUSA church (a conservative evangelical one; yes they still exist), but I’m just not Presbyterian. We are now back at a Conservative Baptist church (which is how I grew up as the son of a Conservative Baptist pastor), but of the sort that is steeped in Federal theology (which is unique for a CBA church); pastored by a guy who was on staff with Mark Dever (ironically another Sibbes scholar whom my mentor challenged in the development of his thesis and reading of Sibbes). My friends, in real life are all conservative, Reformed, evangelical types; my church orbit is dead center in this theological frame; and the theology I have been cultivating in my own life is at direct logger-heads with my real life associations—which doesn’t make for much good fellowship (except I have one friend who is an exception).

So I have straddled various theological strata, and I’ve seen where the more progressive Barthian side leads; and I can’t go there. I have always been a traditional, classical type of guy; but the way I resource and approach that is at odds with what counts for that in our 21st century conservative, evangelical Reformed context. I have decided that the voices I am going to allow to have the greatest say in my life going forward are: Thomas Torrance, the theological impulses I’ve gleaned from Frost’s influence, Athanasius, Augustine, Patristic theologians in general, Thomas Aquinas (insofar as critically engaging with the tradition he represents), Luther, Calvin, a variety of Post Reformed orthodox theologians (critically received), and then a host of contemporary theologians (e.g. John Webster, Katherine Sonderegger, Cornelius van der Kooi, et al.). I am sure I have left off certain other people who I will allow to influence me theologically, but I am hoping to signal the direction I am coming from. I have become leery of Barth, not because I don’t like his theological emphases, but because I still struggle with his infidelity in marriage; and beyond that, when it does come to his theology, I can see how his understanding of history can open the doors to a purely existentialist theological program. I am sure I will continue to engage with Barth’s theology, and I cannot do without his reformulation of election; but for the most part I can get the best of Barth’s emphases modulated through Torrance’s theology. If I were to reduce my influences to various periods of the church it might look like this: 1) Modern period: Thomas Torrance; 2) Pre-Modern period: John Calvin, Martin Luther; 3) Mediaeval period: Bernard of Clairvaux, Jean Gerson; 4) Patristic period: Irenaeus, Athanasius and augustine.

I guess at the end of the day this makes me an Evangelical Calvinist.

I Am Afraid to Die. Death is not Natural Despite what Experience Tells Us

When people tell me they aren’t afraid to die it makes me think they’re not really telling the truth. It makes me think that they are trying to convince themselves, or at least others, that it’s just a part of life and when their time comes it just comes. As Christians we genuinely can have confidence when we die that at that moment we will be translated into the presence of the living God in Christ. But when pagans tell me they aren’t afraid to die I don’t believe them; and I’m skeptical when Christians tell me the same. I know what it feels like to face my mortality because of the type of cancer I was diagnosed with back in 2009; DSRCT (‘desmoplastic small round cell tumor sarcoma’). I love Jesus Christ, and have been his since he called me to himself when I was 3.5 years old. I walk with him, and have been for years; I read through the Bible over and again; I have fellowship with other Christians around the reality of Christ (communion). But the day I found out I had the type of cancer I had I entered another realm and level of fear that I had never experienced prior (and I’ve been through a lot prior); and that fear never really went away during that time. It is scary to know you’re dying; we weren’t created to die, contrary to what people say about the natural ‘life cycle’. I remember just after I was diagnosed, Michael Spencer, also known as the iMonk, a theological blogger I knew, a little, was diagnosed I believe with stage four colon cancer. He shared my sentiment; he was afraid, and did not want to die. He walked with Christ, had fellowship with others around Christ, and had a deep abiding relationship with the Triune God. But he felt the same as me; he believed the same as me: that death is not a natural thing; that it is a scary thing. He was scared, and so was I. I don’t think Michael and I are unique. Michael died, and it was a rough death. I didn’t die, but it was a rough road to tow nonetheless.

I’m not sure why I felt like writing this tonight, really. I think I am just being reimpressed again with the reality that every single soul on this earth is facing their own mortality. I believe when people tell me—particularly those who don’t know Christ—that they aren’t afraid to die that they aren’t really telling the truth. I think deep down when they are all by themselves, and if they had the cancer diagnosis I had, or what Michael died from, they would be terrified. There’s nothing noble about death, or in pretending that we aren’t afraid; we are. The Apostle Paul doesn’t call death the ‘last enemy’ for nothing (cf. I Cor. 15); Hebrews doesn’t say that people live ‘in fear of death’ for nothing. It is okay to admit that death is a scary thing. I think the only time I won’t be afraid of death is when I actually die (or Jesus comes back prior). I know what is going to happen to me when I die, but that doesn’t change the fact that death itself is not a scary thing; it is.

Now, as Christians, don’t get me wrong, the LORD isn’t absent in the dying process; in fact he is ever present. My experience with dying was that the LORD showed up in some powerful and unbelievable ways; he did indeed provide me with an inexpressible peace. But at the same time I was still really scared. I was so scared that my fear went beyond anxiety; it was deeper than anxiety (and I’d suffered from anxiety for years, years prior). Yes, I also had the peace of Christ abiding deeply in my soul; the LORD spoke to my heart constantly assuring me that I was going to be okay (and I am!). But the reality of being disembodied, that for me wasn’t something I could get my head around at that time (still can’t). I had an impossible time imagining myself without my body. This brings us full circle. This is where the fear of death, I believe, comes from; for all of us, if we are being honest and reflective enough. It isn’t natural to try to think life, as human beings without a physical body (see II Cor. 5). And when faced with that prospect, with a disease like cancer wherein you have the time to think about such things, fear is ever present; the enemy status of death becomes real.

I know this post might seem morbid, but I’m simply trying to reflect, in a streamy way, on all of this. God’s grace is sufficient, and his presence is hyper-real when facing a terminal illness; his assurances are ever present and always abiding. But even with all that I was still scared to die. And not just the process, but the second I took my last breath; that scared me. Indeed, at that second I would have ceased immediately to be afraid; I would have been in the presence of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, at the right hand of the Father where his pleasures are forevermore. To be clear, I actually don’t live in constant fear of death. In fact, in a sense, I stand defiantly against it in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; I stand against it as I participate in the indestructible life of the risen Savior Jesus Christ. But it’s easier for me to have such boldness as I write this in my cancer free state. I will never welcome death; indeed I will fight it till the day I die, or Christ returns, through proclaiming Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection till he comes again.

 

Theology Burnout; And Who Cares, Only Jesus is that Important

I remember telling a mentor, former seminary professor of mine (well he’s former now, he wasn’t then) years ago that I don’t really care what people think I care what God thinks as disclosed in Holy Scripture; I still think this. It’s weird, at this very moment I think I am actually struggling with theology burn-out. Meaning, I am coming full circle, rather circuitously, to what I told my prof so many years ago (approx. 15 years ago). I have been reading theologians formally since 1996 (actually earlier than that, but that’s when it really started meaning something to me). I’ve been reading historical theologians, constructive theologians, dogmatic theologians, systematic theologians, pastoral theologians so on and so forth. And at a certain point, this point, I’ve come to the spot where I’m saying: “who cares!” Who cares what x, y, or z theologian thinks; at the end of the day it is theologoumena, or theological opinion. Sure, yes, theology and theologians have their relative place in the church, but at some point they need to finally make their way back to Scripture and exegesis (not just nod the head to it over and over again as a methodology). What I have come to realize is that precisely because of the modern split between biblical studies and theological/confessional studies as distinct disciplines, and precisely because of the rise of super-specialization in various disciplines and sub-disciplines; the Bible and theological formation get thought apart from each other rather than towards and from one another. There are people in the premodern period, like John Calvin, Martin Luther et al who didn’t think this way, but at the same time, even they are simply offering some pretty theological and confessional readings of Holy Scripture. In other words, and this is the source of my burn-out, I think; there isn’t an intensive engagement with the text as text, per se. What I am doing here is betraying my own periodization, as someone who has benefited (at least I think so) from some of the modern approaches to biblical studies. The text-critical approach to Scripture has some advantages: 1) it actually attempts to read the Bible on its own intertextual/intratextual canonical terms; 2) it takes the various literary types, genres, and forms as important for gaining an accurate understanding of what the text is actually communicating; 3) and for many, it believes Scripture, all by itself, can generate the meaning it wants to generate without the help of the theologians creating meaning for it (i.e. through their imaginatively and creatively constructed contextualization apparatuses; through their hermeneutical frameworks; through their layering of traditions etc.).

Now, I have written enough at this point (even my most recent posts) to recognize that I don’t think anyone can read the Bible nakedly (or de nuda scriptura); or untheologically. But I do think that the Bible itself, contextually/canonically (contra confessionally at some points — at least when confession begins to create more meaning than is present in the inner-logic of the biblical text itself) does have the Spirit spirated power to communicate what God wants us to know about himself from himself as Scripture is given reality in itself as it finds itself in the dominion of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ). So don’t take me wrong in this post; I’m not downing the importance or reality of the “theological” in the “exegetical,” but I am saying that there needs to be a much fuller and robust movement of theologians back to the “exegetical” as an emphasis; otherwise, at least myself personally, I am left saying: “who cares, dude!”

We need the Bible. We don’t need people claiming that they can read the Bible plain and simple without any informing theological assumptions (I think of pastors like John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul et al.), but we still need to make our way back to the Bible (and we should be starting from it, no less). We shouldn’t just constantly assume that as theologians we are just grounded in the interiority of the logic that makes Scripture turn; nein. We should move beyond the divide between super-specialization and actually work at being “generalists;” in the sense that we see someone like John Calvin, Martin Luther, or even Thomas Aquinas doing. These more ancient theologians wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture ; this is what I’m talking about. Let the theological task be about this business; or “who cares!” Karl Barth wrote commentaries on various books of the Bible (Romans, Philippians, Ephesians, I Corinthians, John); if people are to care about what the theologians are talking about, then the theologians ought to care about what the Bible says more than what they say.

I’ll continue to read the theologians, but only very selectively. I think exposure to theologians via social media, on a constant basis, has contributed to my burn-out (nothing personal). Social media has the capacity for some good, but at a certain point, at least given many of my contacts, there comes a kind of imbalance of focus in regard to what is being talked about. So it gives the impression, at least to me, that the theologians think they are more important than they actually are; even if the theologians are relatively important. What is really important is Jesus Christ; I don’t really care about what classes everyone is teaching; what texts they are using; what recommendations they are seeking from their recognized peers; and all of this other type of in-house but almost narcissistic cool kid club rancor.

Identifying Tacit Theological Knowledges and How Those Have Shaped My Own Theological Development

Something just hit me; sort of. I mean this is something I recognized years ago, but it just hit me again, afresh. It has to do with my personal predispositions, theologically, and the role those play in the development of my own theological trajectory. As Torrance, in reliance on Polanyi, points up, there is a tacit knowledge of the world that we develop as youngsters, and this type of knowledge helps shape the types of big (and even small) questions we bring to the world in our interpretive processes as multi-dimensional human beings. There are at least two primary “knowledges” that became ingrained within me in my early ecclesial life (just as a youngster growing up in certain denominational contexts and theological atmospheres): 1) I had/have an innate disdain for classical predestination thinking, and/or double predestination wherein God elects certain individuals to eternal life and others (the mass) to a reprobate life leading to an eternal hell; and 2) I have a disdain for speculative philosophical intrusion upon God’s Self-revelation.

Because of these “tacit knowledges” it has predisposed me to certain theologians versus other ones; it has predisposed me to people like Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance (particularly when looking for an understanding of election wherein the universal is in the particularity of Jesus Christ and not in particular individuals abstract from Christ [and even to speak like this is part of the residue say of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, in regard to universals/particulars, but that only illustrates how I would rather stay focused on revelation and God’s second objectivity in Christ for us rather than get lost in the maze of speculative philosophy about such things—i.e. acknowledge the role certain categories have played in our theological development but not allow those categories to sublate revelation, rather allow Revelation to sublate those categories and move on from that primacy of development in regard to Revelation’s supremacy and predominance in our thinking]); it has predisposed me to lean more modern theology (and where those antecedents are found in the ecclesial history of all periods) rather than what is usually considered pre-modern (but some of these periodized barriers are actually rather artificial as far as ideas themselves go)—we see in folks like Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Bultmann, Barth, Torrance et al. a constant movement to diminish the intrusion of speculative philosophical discoveries into the theological revelational sphere; and I generalize, and speak de jure or principially (in general principle).

I was just thinking about this again tonight and thought I would share this with you all via blog post; it might help shed some light on why I blog on the things I do. It might help folks understand why I am an Evangelical Calvinist and emphasize semper reformanda (always reforming) per the dictates of Holy Scripture and its primary attestation to Jesus Christ rather than getting entangled in the verities of so called classical or scholastic theology which is indeed driven by a heavy commitment to classical metaphysics and ontology. I rebuke such things in the name of Jesus ( 🙂 )

Maybe this will help some of you understand where I’m coming from better. If nothing else, identifying these things help me understand myself better.

Addendum: Don’t take from this that I am of Schleiermacher, Bultmann, Ritschl et al. What I meant by mentioning their names was to highlight the kind of impulse that somewhat drove their desire to focus purely on Revelation rather than speculative theology. I don’t think in the final anlaysis that they were altogether successful (I think Barth came the closest in this sense). I am still very much so a reader of all orthodox theology; I enjoy all periods. I only mean to underscore my type of impulse and inclination when it comes to the way I want to think theologically.

Reflecting on Christian Death versus Pagan Death in the Context of a Cancer Diagnosis

I know what it feels like to literally be dying, because of the incurable/terminal cancer diagnosis I received in November 2009. You feel alone, even with all those loving family members surrounding you with warmth and encouragement; you still feel alone. As I recall, I could remember thinking about the idea—the unknowable idea—of being disembodied; I think that was one of the greatest fears of the unknown that I experienced as I then contemplated my apparently impending death. The Heidelberg Catechism reads:

Lord’s Day 1

Q & A 1

1 What is your only comfort in life and in death? A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Reality like this brings hope and comfort when faced with your own mortality, but it doesn’t always assuage the fear and anxiety of the heaviness of it all; you’re still scared: at least I was. I didn’t want to leave my wife, and at that point, two young children. Yet the Lord, with his still small voice, can (and does) speak sweet encouragement into your heart.

I have followed many people now who have been diagnosed with the same cancer I was: desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT), sarcoma. Most of them have died; one of them, a dear brother, just died yesterday: Brad Booth. He had a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ, and leaves behind two beautiful (and young) children, and his wife, Stacey—please hold them up in prayer.

Death is indeed the last enemy that we wait upon Jesus to finally vanquish at his coming; this is the Christian’s hope. The world doesn’t have this hope—well they do, they just haven’t repented to that reality—as such they face the sting of death without the genuine hope offered by the blood of Jesus Christ. I cannot imagine facing death without Jesus, the firstborn from the dead; there is nothing noble about attempting to face your own mortality without Christ. And yet I sat next to many in the chemo-clinic and in the cancer ward who didn’t want to hear about the hope of Jesus Christ. That experience, of people rejecting the reality of Christ for them even in the face of their impending death, in the midst of their suffering, reminded me of this passage found in  the book of Revelation:

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.[1]

As I sat there wondering at why they would not want to hear about Jesus Christ, the reality of the hardened human heart—that is beyond the point of feeling (Eph. 4)—was given illustration in a tragic way; the scriptural reality was given illustration.

Death, if the Lord continues to tarry, is something we will all face. As Christians we have the hope of the resurrection and that even though we die we shall live (Jn 11). For people without Christ they not only face this life without Christ, but even more disconcerting they face their own death without Christ; a hopeless abyss where there genuinely is no hope for those who enter that final reality.

[1] NIV, Revelation 16:8-9.

My Final Post, Ever, on Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum

Photo copyright of the Karl Barth-Archiv in Basel, Switzerland

Okay, this will be my last post in regard to Karl Barth’s and Charlotte von Kirschbaum’s relationship. I’ve heard enough from people I respect, don’t respect, and folks in between. In case you’re wondering what I’m referring to, it’s the content of this post (which weirdly went “viral”). I am going to approach this from a few different angles; I will talk about my approach to blogging; then about the reality of the lifelong affair between Barth and Kirschbaum; then I will discuss what I believe the Bible teaches about teachers, and how that applies to Barth, or not; and then I will offer a conclusion.

Transparency in Blogging

If you have followed me at all through my theo-blogging career (circa 2005) you will know that I use my blog, often, to simply think out loud; in very transparent ways. This means that when I put things on my blog they are usually ideas and thoughts that are on the way and in processing form; my post on Barth/CvK is no different. As I have already noted in my last short post, my first post was simply written from a raw and surprised perspective. So this fits my mode of blogging; I’m transparent to a fault I think. In other words, I think I open myself up to people who I shouldn’t,  much too often; people who don’t know me, and don’t care to really know me (and honestly that’s a vice versa situation in many cases). If you did know me, though, you’d understand how impacting Barth’s theology, at a material level, has been upon me; particularly over the last twelve years. So I wrote my first post from within, not without a relationship to Barth; a relationship that depended at some level on an element of me trusting him. This should help to explain the surprise component.

What transparency brings: it brings people into your life who you never would normally allow to speak with you in a serious way; and this is a flaw that I will remedy going forward (it’s one reason I’ve implemented moderate on blog comments). On this particular occasion I’ve received all kind of response (as you can imagine); mostly on Twitter and Facebook. The responses range from: you’re a legalist, you’re naïve, “if I followed his ‘logic’ I’d have to quit reading all theologians,” thank you for standing up on this issue, I agree with you, you need to take this slow, and then this gem in my comments here at the blog (it’s too good, I’ve got to share it):

“only thing this proves, is that you have been very foolish, 1. for wasting your precious time reading/studying/devoting yourself to the life/teachings of this false teacher, 2. for consigning to “rumour” what has been known about this apostate all along, and 3. for being “sick” about all this; so, go puke your guts out in disgust at your “hero”; perhaps this will be a “first step” for you, to get your head out from the sand, and start truly studying…” (signed lovingly) -James Roy

I realized, actually, when I posted my first post that I was indeed opening myself up to the variety of responses I received. The sense of anonymity built into online engagement (even if you use your real  name) works against its value; I realized that once again in this situation.

Barth and Kirschbaum

I already summarized the Christiane Tietz essay on Barth’s and Kirschbaum’s in my first post (what caused all of this). But some of the push back I have received wanted me to show where Tietz ever said that the nature of Barth’s and Kirschbaum’s affair was intimate and sexual in nature; she doesn’t explicitly say that. As Tietz recounts Barth’s mother calls it an “adulterous” relationship, and just the reality that they love each other and took trips to a cabin for months at a time together is very suggestive. Someone I know on Twitter recounts hearing this from one of his professors at Princeton about Barth and CvK:

“When I was at PTSEM, Migliore recalled that during KBs visit to the US with CvK he requested only 1 bedroom. So it was not really hidden”

Tietz never explicitly says that Barth and Kirschbaum had sex, but the intimation is there. I can’t explicitly say that their relationship was sexual either; all I can say is that by way of appearance it doesn’t look good.

The Biblical Conflict

For me, this is what caused the most conflict; i.e. the biblical standards. I take the bible as an authoritative and normative reality in my life, and read it in that way. When I read of the details of Barth’s and Kirschbaum’s relationship, as this was all substantiated for me (beyond rumor), I immediately tried to think about how this would work for anyone of us today; anyone of us who happens to be a pastor or teacher of theology for the church of Jesus Christ. Here’s one example, and the primary example of what the Bible considers the standard for an overseer (and I see this as applicable to any teacher in the church of Jesus Christ):

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full  respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. –I Timothy 3:1-7

So this represents a standard; it’s not something any one person will be perfect in achieving, but it provides a character and aim that the pastor/teacher is to meet. Barth’s lifestyle violated some key aspects of this (obviously the aspect of being “faithful to his wife”). I’ve been told that I am a legalist because I’m trying to see how Barth fits into this scriptural paradigm.

There are other passages we could refer to, but I’m sure most of you know what those are, and what the conflict is here. And here’s the reality: Barth didn’t meet a very important aspect of the qualifications for what it means to be a teacher/preacher in the church. His infidelity in marriage (whether it was sexual or not) should have disqualified him for a time; but apparently there was nobody to hold him to account in this way. So he continued in his teaching role, and produced the mammoth bulk of theological literature that we know him for today. This is the conflict for me.

Some have said that we’re all sinners. Yes we are. But that misses some of the point that the biblical conflict produces. This response, to me, makes it sound like these folks aren’t committed to the biblical standards set out for teachers/preachers in the church; it sounds like they are willing to soften or minimize what all of that entails from an orthodox perspective. The fact that we are all sinners doesn’t change the fact that there are still requirements to be met in order to hold a teaching office in the church; requirements that involve morality so on and so forth. They aren’t requirements that mean the person will be perfect; but they do ask, at the very least, that someone’s life is characterized by the characteristics that the Apostle Paul, et al. envisioned for what it meant to be a teacher/overseer in the church. And of course there is more to all of that than simply fidelity in marriage, or the entanglements that surround sexual or male/female relationships. But in this instance the issue revolves around fidelity in marriage.

But we have two separate things going on here, and this is how I’m trying to navigate the conflict. On the one hand we don’t want to simply soften or forfeit the biblical teaching of what it requires for a person to hold a teaching or pastoral office in the church; on the other hand we have Barth who wasn’t held accountable to that in his life, and so we ended up with a body of theological teaching anyway, that in itself can have an objective ex opere operato value to it insofar as it really does bear witness to Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Barth is a sinner as we all are. Barth should have been held accountable for his actions and chosen lifestyle, and yet wasn’t. He did not actually meet the biblical standards for what it means to be a teacher/pastor in the church of Jesus Christ. Yet he produced a body of theological material that is rather revolutionary in regard to how it engages with the tradition of the church. I believe, as noted, that it can be critically interacted with at an ex opere operato level (meaning that the material reality of what he produced can potentially stand in an objective way insofar as what he communicated correlates and actually does bear witness to the Gospel reality of God in Jesus Christ; see Philippians 1[1]).

Going forward: I will still engage with Barth, to one degree or another; I will just be more realistic about the engagement and under no illusion that the way he chose to live his life met with the standards of what it meant or means to be a teacher/preacher in the body of Christ. I recognize we are all sinners, and then many of our theological heroes and teachers are deeply flawed individuals; as deeply as we all are. I think for me this was just the wakeup call that I needed in regard to keeping things in perspective; particularly with reference to one of my heroes, Karl Barth.

I think we need to try and think about all of this at multiple levels, even dialectically, and try not to lose sight that there still are standards for what it means to be a leader/teacher/pastor in the body of Christ. We all fail, and God’s graciousness is there to pick the repentant heart up. But I don’t think we want to too quickly gloss over things simply because all people are sinners. We should be realistic about the realities, and take things, as we learn of them, on a case by case basis. This is how I am approaching Barth going forward; I still think his teaching on election, natural theology, and his theological method in general are revolutionary in regard to the theological landscape. And I can’t imagine that I’d ever really give any of that up. The reality is, is that there is a whole After Barth tradition that has developed, and my favorite teacher in that tradition (and yet I will say he is his own man) is Thomas Torrance. Torrance is who ever really brought me to Barth, and Torrance remains my go to guy in so many ways (bearing in mind that TFT was not perfect either, but again this all needs to be thought of with care and important distinctions). Yet, within this new critical mode for me, in regard to Barth, I cannot deny that Barth’s teaching can be engaged with, as I’ve already noted ex opere operato).

What this whole situation does, is that it invites for further exploration in regard to how, as the church, we believe the teacher and the teaching relate. Is there a relationship between someone’s character and what they teach? Is there something to the idea proffered by the author to the Hebrews ‘that without holiness no one will see God’ (we know Augustine thought so)? These are questions worth exploring in and of themselves; and they are questions I will be pondering in the days to come.

P.S.

It might appear that I have come to some sort of resolution. I think if I have come to any resolution it is that the body of Christ is an absolute mess, including all of her teachers, leadership, laity, all across the board (which of course I’ve known my whole life, this is just a new reiteration of that); and through the centuries into the present. The only thing that makes any of this worthwhile is Jesus Christ; otherwise we might as well go eat, drink, and be merry.

And let me leave with this barb: I realize we all have opinions, reactions, and responses to all types of things; and that the online climate allows us to say things we normally wouldn’t in person; just bear that in mind (and I will too).

 

[1]15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” Philippians 1:15-18 I.e. the one proclaiming the Gospel does not need to be perfect, God can still objectively use the proclamation of the Gospel, no matter who it comes from, in an edifying an positive way relative to the Kingdom. This is indeed, good news for all of us.