He's Not Quite A Reformer

I had a funny (depressing?) conversation with my lovely wife the other day ...

Me: I'm reading John Wesley's journal. It's good.

Her: Is he one of the messed up guys?

Me: What do you mean?

Her: Did he kill anyone or hate Jews or anything like that?

Me: No, you're thinking about the Reformers -- Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli. Wesley's cool.

Her: I see. :-)

John Wesley's Conversion

From his journal:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

My Name Is Eric, And I'm A Calvinist

I didn't have a choice but to lift you up. And sing whatever song you wanted me to.

-- U2, "Magnificient"


Theologically I'm not prepared to defend to death every minor point of Calvinist theology, but I've found recently the more of God's word I read, the more plainly I understand that our salvation is not our own doing. Sure, real Arminians also believe in prevenient grace, but I can't buy the idea that we have anything whatsoever to do with our eternal destination. (And for the record, I don't think Arminianism is a weak position; I simply think Calvinism carries more Biblical weight.)

For me, embracing Calvinism is embracing a paradigm-shifting thought: I'm not in control of jack squat. I can't will to do good. I can't give God a wink and a nod, saying, "Go ahead, do your stuff in me." And I certainly can't work out my own salvation with fear and trembling; it's got to be God working in me, and it is. I'm comforted knowing that what He starts He completes, and He'll perfect His work (both in me and my family) until the day of Christ JESUS (Philippians 1:6). I know that's true. I have no fear of losing salvation because it's not up to me to keep it. He will come through.

In the past I've dipped my toe into the waters of Calvinism, but I've never (I don't think) flat out said I was a Calvinist. I guess that's what I am. The theologically snooty part of me would rather be called a monergist or even an Augustinian, but Calvinist works just fine.

The Apostolic Fathers

Many, if not most, writings in this category [Apostolic Fathers] were treated as Scripture alongside the Gospels and apostles' epistles by some Christian churches in the second century. In fact, one way of understanding this category is as the books that came to be judged orthodox but barely missed being judged canonical, inspired Scripture when the Christian canon was being determined. In other words, these writings were hardly distinguished from the writings of the apostles by some Christians in the Roman Empire but were ultimately excluded because they received no universal agreement as Scripture . . .
-- Roger E. Olsen, The Story of Christian Theology


I've been reading a translation of the Apostolic Fathers lately, and, despite their inclination toward moralism, they're very refreshing to read. In fact, if Christians used the Apostolic Fathers as a theological resource on certain issues, they could help shed light on the way many first-generation believers viewed certain cultural and doctrinal issues. For example ...

Abortion

You shall not murder ... you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.

-- Didache 2:2


Baptism

Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
-- Didache 7:1-3


The Godhead

The Lord submitted to suffer for our souls, even though he is Lord of the whole world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, "Let us make humankind according to our image and likeness," . . .

-- Barnabas 5:5


Those are only a few examples of certain theological and moral issues that the Apostolic Fathers have something to say about. To be sure, the Apostolic Fathers are not Scripture, but, as Olsen said, they are by-and-large considered orthodox. Sure, in many ways they truly didn't understand the Gospel of Grace, but they didn't have the luxury of the full revelation of Scripture that we now possess.

Furthermore, it's important to note that the Apostolic Fathers were the guys who, in many instances, knew the apostles. For example, Polycarp was a disciple of John. While they didn't have the full canon of Scripture to rely on, they did have a close association with the apostles. They were Christianity's first theologians.

Presuppositions

Everyone approaches exegesis and Bible study with presuppositions. For example, one of my presuppositions is that the sacrament of water baptism is not salvific, and that influences my interpretation of Acts 2:38:

Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of JESUS Christ for the remission of sins ..." (NKJV)


Many Evangelical commentators say that "for" in that case, actually means "because of," or "due to," even though I can't locate a single popular English translation the renders the Greek in that way. (That's not to say that a minority English translation like that doesn't exist.) Just about every translation I can find seems to indicate that, in Acts 2:38, the forgiveness of sins is linked to baptism.

On a related note, if you were to go with the baptism=forgiveness route, then you'd have to concede that John's baptism had the same effect:

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
-- Mark 1:4 (NKJV)


Despite some exegetical ambiguity, my presupposition on this matter remains intact.

"No one ever asks to leave hell."

I've made it no secret around here that I question the common understanding of Hell being a literal, consuming fire that torments a conscious soul day and night without end. I do believe in Hell, and a "fire" of Hell, but I've found it curious that many believers accept a metaphorical representation of Heaven (e.g. streets of gold) as represented in Scripture, but reject a similar metaphorical representation of Hell.

In The Reason For God Tim Keller summarizes my current thinking on Hell:

In short, hell is simply one's freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity. We see this process "writ small" in addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First, there is a disintegration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction. Second, there is an isolation, as increasingly you blame others and circumstances in order to justify your behavior. . . . When you lose all humility you are out of touch with reality. No one ever asks to leave hell. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham.


The idea of Hell being something of a choice for the damned fits hand-in-glove with the idea represented by C. S. Lewis who said that the damned souls are in some sense successful rebels to the end, and, as Lewis' character George MacDonald says in The Great Divorce, "There are two types of people in the world. Those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"

I believe Dallas Willard presents a similar picture of Hell in Renovation of the Heart.

I'll end with another Keller quotation from the aforementioned book:

All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?

Where I'm At

I've pondered a lot of heavy theological stuff the past couple of years (and especially the past year), and I'm going to give a brief rundown on what I'm thinking right now:

God -- Triune
JESUS -- Supreme
Holy Spirit -- Not a toy
Grace -- HUGE (and even huger than we can fathom)
Mercy -- Yes!
Sin -- Real
Baptism -- For believers, but cool with paedo
Calvinism -- I'm in
Universalism -- I wish
Hell -- Real. Bad. And in the palm of God's hand
The Bible -- Infallible
The deuterocanonical books -- Curious
The Apostolic Fathers -- Every Christian should own a copy
Church History -- My love

With regard to Church History, it's become my favorite subject to read about. I imagine when I die there will be a line in Heaven about 100 miles long filled with people waiting to talk to St. John. I think I'll wait until that line goes down a bit and talk to his disciple, Polycarp, in the meantime. :-)

My Current Meager Thoughts ...

... on the Eucharist:

-- If it's not the literal Body and Blood, it better be treated like it is, at least upon reception, if not consecration.

-- I'm leaning toward the Lutheran understanding of the elements; namely, that the Body and Blood of our Lord is "in, with, and under" the elements of communion.

-- It's a profound mystery, and, I think, even a Roman Catholic would admit that a scientific scan of the contents of your post-communion stomach would not show human flesh and human blood, but still, those elements are present, because He said so.

-- JESUS said, "This is My body." But He also said, "This is the New Covenant in My blood." I don't think the New Covenant was inside of the cup he passed around. That's just something to think about.

-- Many Protestant churches could learn a thing or two from the Lutherans (who are fellow Protestants) and Catholics.

Doctrine

We just had some friends over for coffee. They're an older couple who do a home church thing. I guess they got burned out a few years ago on denominationalism.

Anyway, we always have awesome theological discussions with these folks, mainly because a) they don't mind talking theology, and b) they don't think they're right about everything, so it's easy to disagree with them without hurting their feelings.

Tonight one of the topics of conversation revolved around what makes a person a Christian. Is it merely belief in a historical JESUS? Is it belief and repentance? Is it mental assent to a set of doctrines?

Anyway, I'd write more, but it's past my bed time.

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