Friday, March 31, 2006

In response to “A Generous (or not so generous) Theology”

“A Generous (or not so generous) Theology”

The following will assume a reading of the post linked above.

Let me preface this post with the following clarifications. Allie, who wrote the referenced post, is my friend, and a trusted friend of my family. As such, I want to make it clear that I am not attempting a retaliatory personal attack on her. Nor am I attempting to start a “blog war” or stoke the fires of meaningless debate. Much of Allie’s post is a well-articulated critique of writing styles, observations, and personal reactions to R.C. Sproul, Wayne Grudem, and John Piper. My intent is not to refute her personal opinions of these men, nor is it to elevate or glorify those individuals. However, there are some issues presented I feel I should, in good conscience, clarify if I am able. In short, I simply want to respectfully present a contrasting view or clarification of a couple of issues presented in her post, specifically the TNIV controversy and Open Theism.

The TNIV Debate with Wayne Grudem: The post gives a generally accurate - but incomplete, in my estimation - presentation of the TNIV translation of the Bible. The presented summary of what the TNIV did is review the original Scripture texts in order to more accurately “translate the gender of some pronouns and nouns that have, for the past few hundred years, been translated according to English usage/trends. What I mean is, in Scripture, we often see the word “people” translated as “man” (“Man shall not live by bread alone, etc.”). This is passed down from English usage, but is not present in the Greek. The Greek word there is “people”, or “human beings.” Not “man” or “men”.”

Had providing more accurate translations in examples like the one above been the extent of the TNIV’s work, I’m sure very few of us, Dr. Grudem included, would have been concerned. Who wouldn’t want a more accurate translation of the Bible? In fact, in a formal debate over the TNIV with Dr. Mark Strauss, Dr. Grudem even expressly states “…When we have a sentence that talks about ‘people,’ we shouldn't just use the word ‘men’ because it would be misunderstood today. So, for instance, in Rom. 3:28, ‘we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law’. That's the NIV. I think it's appropriate and good that the TNIV changed to ‘we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law’ … I have no objection to this kind of change at all."

The issue with the TNIV that Dr. Grudem debates is the liberal eradication of gender-specific language in instances when the original texts are actually using gender-specific language. There are hundreds of instances where the TNIV abandons original-text Greek and Hebrew words for ‘father,’ ‘son,’ ‘brother,’ ‘man,’ and ‘he/him/his’ for the sake of more androgynous language while the original text is in fact gender-specific. Dr. Grudem, in the aforementioned debate with Dr. Strauss, gives compelling evidences for both subtle and glaring mistreatments of these gender-specific words in the TNIV - and again, not simply for three or four debatable texts, but for hundreds of verses. As far as Dr. Grudem’s motivation in engaging the TNIV debate in the first place, he says:

I struggled long and hard before I would speak out publicly against it. But I thought it was necessary, because the purity of the word of God was at stake, the purity of the word of God in English. I don't want there to be controversy and struggle in the church. But when there's a Bible translation that's going to lead God's people astray, a Bible translation that people cannot trust, a Bible translation that distorts the meaning of the word of God hundreds of times, simply to get rid of male-oriented language, then I say I can do nothing else, I have to stand against it, and I have to speak out.

I have only briefly presented Dr. Grudem’s side of the argument here. You can read both sides of the TNIV debate, including specific texts and examples presented by both Dr. Grudem and Dr. Strauss. Click here to read the transcript of their debate. If you’re interested in the issue, it’s a worthwhile read.

John Piper vs. Open Theism: I cannot objectively speak to the how of Dr. Piper’s addressing Open Theism, but I think I can speak on the why he addresses this issue so forcibly. Open Theism (also called Free Will Theism or the Openness of God View) is a theological position dealing with the free will of man (er… people), that free will in relationship to God, and the nature of the future. At its core, Open Theism teaches that God has given humanity free will and in order for humans to be truly free, the future choices of individuals are wholly unknown by God, who “self-limits” or denies His own sovereignty, omniscience and omnipresence. Books like The Openness of God, by Clark Pinnock and The God of the Possible, by Greg Boyd and a few others of like ilk (written mostly since the 1980’s, I think) have trumpeted Open Theism, or an “open” view of God. Interestingly, Greg Boyd claims that the differences between the openness and orthodox views of God are "relatively unimportant," "peripheral" and "minor". (The God of the Possible, pp. 8, 20, 29) Yet, I find that Open Theism asserts a radically different understanding of God than Scripture presents. It is an unnecessary – and harmful, in my estimation – attempt to promote the will and responsibility of man at the expense of the divine sovereignty of God.

As with most camps of thought (theological or otherwise) there are smaller, inner divisions or denominations. In Open Theism, some proponents hold the future is knowable while others say it is not knowable. For the Open Theists who hold that the future is knowable by God, they maintain that God voluntarily limits His knowledge of free-will choices so that human beings can remain “truly free.” Others assert that the future is non-existent and therefore unknowable, even by God. Either way, God is presented as reactionary and limited, trapped either by self-imposed boundaries or by the linear passage of time itself. Despite this, most Open Theists would deny that they present God as weak or powerless. They instead promote that God is simply capable of predicting future events and is capable of bringing certain major events to pass when needed. (i.e., God could inspire the Old Testament writers to prophecy certain events and then He could simply ensure that those events occur at the right time.) Open Theists also claim that they do not deny God’s omniscience. “They, like classical theologians, state that God is indeed all-knowing. But they differ in that God can only know that which is knowable and since the future has not yet happened, it can not be exhaustively known by God. Instead, God only knows the present exhaustively, including the inclinations, desires, thoughts, and hopes of all people.” (Matthew Slick, What is Open Theism?

In Open Theism, God is simply reactionary to what is happening in the human “now”; either by volition or happenstance, He is trapped in time along with His own creation; He takes risks that may or may not turn out as He hopes, like a cosmic Gambler of sorts; He "regrets how decisions he's made turn out," "questions how aspects of the future will go," and "experiences frustration because free agents choose unlikely courses of action" (Ibid, 87). An Open Theist would counsel a person who has experienced great tragedy or suffering that God was as surprised as everyone else at what happened. Open Theism even concedes this point: "It is true that according to the open view things can happen in our lives that God didn't plan or even foreknow with certainty (though he always foreknew they were possible). This means that in the open view things can happen to us that have no overarching divine purpose" (Ibid, 153). Strangely, according to Open Theism’s view, this makes God kinder and gentler and therefore more trustworthy. If God knew “bad things” were going to happen in the future, He would be a bad God (i.e., evil) not to prevent them from happening. Therefore, God must not know the future in order to remain good - or so it goes with Open Theism.

This view of God is supposed to inspire comfort and hope on the part of believers; but in fact, it destroys the very foundation that the Bible establishes for trusting God, undermining confidence in Him, Scripture, prayer, and faith in Christ. It is a diminished view of God that in my estimation attempts to put the will of man and God’s love of man as the central crux in all God does. These are hardly peripheral issues. I find it no stretch to imagine Open Theism falling diametrically opposite of hyper-Calvinism; God becomes the puppet attached to strings of human whim.

"The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. … Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, 'What comes into your mind when you think about God?' we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man." – A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

As always, your thoughts, clarifications, comments, and corrections are welcomed.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Your Bling-Bling is My Bounce-Bounce

Today I was reminded of what was arguably the best toy of my early childhood. Colorful. Plentiful. Delightfully unpredictable. Small enough to be dangerous, but seemingly harmless enough not to arouse suspicion should it be set about to mischief. If at this point you're thinking G.I. Joe or Transformers (or their dispicable offshoots, the GoBots)... wrong and wrong.

I'm speaking, of course, about that whimsical sphere of joy I like to call the bouncy ball.

What rekindled my interest in ye olde toye of yonder years, you wonder? I found myself wondering why I haven't seen a kid playing with a bouncy ball in so long. Apparently, they're all in California (the bouncy balls, not the kids.) Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig loosed about a quarter of a million of those lil' round cuties in the streets of San Francisco to film a commercial for a new line of LCD screens from Sony. Admitedly, I have mixed feelings about to what extent art should blend into commercialism, and this is by no means a push for whatever product is being peddled. But I have to tell you, the fact that this indie-esque commercial is working for The Man did nothing at all to diminish the visual feast of watching 250,000 rubber balls make their way though the byways of San Fran to the eerie tune of José González's Heartbeats. It was spooky.

And by spooky, I mean I wish I was a kid running around those streets while it rained bouncy balls from the heavens.

See for yourself.

[photo credit: sony]

Monday, March 20, 2006

Monopoly on Truth

In his debut post, my friend Good Will Hiking poses the question of religious plurality; that is, is there more than one way to God? Specifically, Will asks "...How do you respond to a Christian who believes that other faiths are valid ways to God--that Christianity isn't exclusive and Christians don't have a "monopoly on truth." Can this person be a Christian?"

Check it on out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Playing Church?

The Church of Fools has been hailed as the first 3D interactive web-based church. Sponsored by the Methodist Church of Great Britain, it was initially conceived as a three-month experiment and was launched in May 2004 – and ran until that September. After logging on, visitors are able to choose a cartoon double, then walk around a virtual sanctuary, kneel, pray, shout hallelujah, play a hymn, and even ring the church bells. Though now closed, the Church of Fools is still "open for individual visits" (i.e., you cannot see or interact with any other visitors).

It was inevitable that web-based community become an outlet for "doing church," and I admit, the format of Church of Fools is intriguing - especially for generations raised on video games. But my initial reaction was to think "Can you really have biblical church online?" (To which the Church of Fools FAQ section answers We're more concerned that many of the people coming to Church of Fools are not getting true, meaningful church offline. Point conceded.) However, I'm not convinced this is what the author of Hebrews had in mind with the command for us not to neglect assembling togther (10:25). Thoughts?

You can check out Church of Fools for yourself here.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Journal Entries - Slidell, LA

2.26.2006 // We arrived in Slidell, Louisiana today after a nineteen-hour drive. My first impression of the area, stupidly, is that it's not as bad as I thought it would be. Messy, yes - but far less... what's the word? Dramatic. I feel bad for not feeling worse about the situation here. Then I tried to imagine what it would be like to look for the bodies of my family and neighbors among once-familiar environs. I could not, but I find the weight of the experience many of the people here have been through is begining to sink in. Lord, would You grace me with a heart that loves.

2.28.2006 // Took time to take in a 'family-friendly' Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans ("Nawlins") this morning. Amid organized chaos, I saw a people so critical of their own city. But under their blatant disdain runs a strong fraternal current. It reminded me of when I was younger - often, I would wreak havoc on my little brother and sister. That was my "right" as their older brother. But also because they are my family, anyone else who messed with them caught hell. I get that same sense from the folks of this city.

3.1.2006 // My hands bled a little as I worked on a house today. It made me think of Jesus the carpenter, the teacher, building something. It occured to me again this afternoon that fixing physical houses do not build spiritual ones (I'm finding this to be a metaphor not short of use round these parts). But physical houses is surely a start, an in-road. Jesus' hands surely bled more than mine. Lord, would You grace me with strong hands to serve.

3.2.2006 // I miss Katie and Caleb. I wonder what it would have been like for us if this was our town? Would we stay and rebuild, or move on? One thing is certain, though - I feel sharp here. There are no church politics, no glad-handing the 'powers that be', no hours sitting behind a desk. There is work - and plenty of it - and you simply go out and do it. The novacaine of northern Virginia has withdrawn, at least in part. This feels very close to where I once had been, in a different season. The lure of the field was at the forefront of my mind today.

Post Scriptum: I am encouraged to see that most of the relief effort here is through the Church.

Post Post Scriptum: I loves me some jambalaya.

3.3.2006 // It's cool to see life taking place in the communities here. Neighbors who once argued over their property lines or who never spoke at all are coming together. One guy told me today it was becoming difficult for him to look at the storm as a bad thing, simply because of the good that has come of it since. I praised God for making His glory known here.

3.4.2006 // Heading home. This place will cease to be reality for us (for now), but I pray the Lord won't simply let it rot to vague and distant memory. The longer I was here, the more I see how wrong my first impressions were about the damage not being so bad. Thing is, I came nearly completely focused on the external damage; the overturned cars, the misplaced furniture, the junk, the occasional missing wall or caved-in roof or blown-down tree. That damage is secondary to the fact that folks' lives - not just their stuff - have been deeply impacted by the hurricane. And now, as they rebuild, it is lives that matter, not simply houses and more junk that will be blown about by the next storm.

I wondered at first if what we were doing here - rebuilding houses - really matters. I know it did for at least two families. The amount of work and repair to be done seems incalculable, but but it is undeniable that God is at work here. His grace was shown to the world through a cross. His grace is shown to Louisiana through a storm. Lord, would you grace us with eyes to see and ears to hear - Your glory is all around.

PERSPECTIVES // diddy | stroud | allie | truitt | julia | shelley