About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Friday, 29 August 2014

In defence of the Creed, part 2 (from "Deep Church Rising"

Yesterday, I offered an extract from my new book, Deep Church Rising (coauthored with Andrew G. Walker), in defence of the Creed. Here is part two of that extract. Four further thoughts in support of the Creed.

5. The Creed does define boundaries for orthodox Christian faith, but those boundaries are surprisingly wide. They are not attempts to micromanage what Christians must think but are more akin to the fence along a national border. Within the boundaries of a country there are a lot of places one can go. The fences say, “whatever you do in here you are doing within this country but if you cross that border then you have crossed outside the bounds of the country.” For instance, it is core for Christian faith that Jesus died for our sins. To deny that is to move outside the boundaries of authentic Christian beliefs. However, there are multiple different ways of trying to understand the claim that Jesus died for our sins and all of that diversity is permitted within the bounds of orthodoxy. The same goes for all sorts of different areas of theology.  
6. Orthodoxy may be a large tent but it is not infinitely large. Boundaries do need to be drawn and this, we maintain, is a good thing. If Christianity can be anything at all then it is nothing at all. The Creed protects the shape of the faith across time and space, maintaining its continuity with the apostolic message. It does not freeze the message in time because it must be understood afresh in each generation and each fresh context. The Creed contains a surplus of meaning that can speak a good word to the church in any time or place. But it cannot mean just anything and everything. All fresh interpretations have to be firmly grounded in the tradition of interpretations in the church so far. If they break free from that then they lose the claim to be authentic Christian interpretations.  
7. The ecumenical Creed serves a unifying purpose because all the main groupings within the Christian church—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant—affirm it. This is not insignificant. Christians disagree about an awful lot of things—praying to saints, who may be baptized, who may administer the Eucharist, the details of Christ’s return, and so on—but the centrality of the Creed means that in spite of all this disagreement there is unity on the central issues. Those Protestants that have tried to sideline the Creed have actually harmed ecumenical relations in so doing. The Orthodox, for instance, are quite clear that there can be no Christian unity at the cost of central gospel truths.  
8. Many point out that the Creed has “holes” in it that a robust Christian theology needs to fill. For instance, it leaps from creation to the virgin birth, making no mention of God’s way with Israel. Similarly, it leaps from Jesus’ birth to his death and makes no mention of his kingdom ministry, which occupies most of the space in the Gospels. There are three things we would say in reply. 
First, of course the Creed could say more. It is not seeking to say everything that Christians have to say; it is, rather, laying out the fundamental contours of the Christian belief in the triune God revealed in Jesus. It is not the final word about Christian beliefs and practices but it is an essential dogmatic statement about the Godness of the Spirit and the Son with the Father and of the humanity of Jesus. 
Second, what the Creed does say is intended to provide the normative theological framework within which everything else should be understood. As such it provides us with the context within which we understand the story of Israel or the ministry of Jesus or the doctrine of sin or the theology of humanity or whatever else we care to consider. 
Finally, the Creed is the tip of a theological iceberg with implicit links to all sorts of theological themes not overtly discussed. Take the missing story of Israel. The Creed does allude to it. Consider first an oblique reference to the central prayer of Israel, the shema, in the following words: “We believe in one God . . . maker of heaven and earth. ... We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made.” Behind this part of the Creed lie Paul’s words in 1 Cor 8:6, “for us there is one God ... from whom all things come ... and one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom all things exist.” And 1 Cor 8:6, as numerous NT scholars have pointed out, is an interpretation of the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, YHWH is one” (Deut 6:4). For Paul, Jesus is included within the identity of the one God of Israel, hence his radical take on the shema. The Creed preserves this Pauline interpretation of Israel’s prayer thereby implying the bigger story of Israel. That bigger story can also be seen in the words “Lord Jesus Christ,” for the title Christ (Heb. Messiah) refers to the promised ruler of Israel and the world spoken of by Israel’s prophets.  To unpack this title requires that bigger story. Again, little phrases such as “he rose again, according to the Scriptures” refer to the holy texts of ancient Israel (what Christians call the Old Testament) and thereby gesture at the story of Israel contained in those texts and also at the christological interpretation of them taught to the church by Jesus (Luke 24:25–27). Our point is that the Creed does not explicitly tell the story of Israel but it does gesture to it and require its telling. Thus the church does indeed need to give a good account of God’s way with Israel and we should not mistake the lack of that account in the Creed as indicating otherwise. 
9. To say that those who transgress aspects of the Creed have moved beyond the bounds of authentic Christian beliefs is not to say that such a person will not be saved nor even that they are not real Christians. There is an important distinction to be made between holding heretical opinions — opinions that the church has excluded as being outside the bounds of orthodoxy — and being a heretic. Error is (in part) a matter of the intellect whereas heresy is a matter of the will. Many Christians hold heretical opinions without even realizing it. They are not heretics. The heretic is a professed Christian who knows what the orthodox Christian view is and nevertheless sets his or her will against it. Gary Thorne writes, “The church must be inclusive of all those baptized who hold heretical opinions and views on their way to embrace the fuller truth of the gospel as found in the church. But the church cannot be inclusive of heretics.”  This is because the heretic “by definition deliberately sets his will over against that of the church. Heretics want the body of Christ on their own terms, and to offer Eucharistic hospitality to such persons is for the church to be complicit in the harm that will come to one who refuses to discern the Lord’s body.”  The church can be a very broad and inclusive body but it cannot be limitlessly broad without losing its gospel-grounded identity. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

In Defence of the Creed, part 1 (from "Deep Church Rising")

The following two-part-series in defence of the Creed is an extract from my new book, Deep Church Rising, co-authored with Andrew Walker.

Creeds often take a fair amount of flack. In the minds of many people they are lifeless sets of “things to believe” that substitute for authentic heart-felt faith; they epitomize outward “religion” obsessed with form and ritual, as opposed to inward devotion. For some they are seen to foster a propositional approach to faith that focuses on the primacy of assent to certain claimed facts. Others see them as a source of oppression, the top-down imposition by powerful ecclesiastical hierarchies of what Christians are compelled to affirm. Framed in those terms creeds do not resonate with the modern world, with its focus on the individual’s authority to determine what she or he chooses to believe.
We wish to present creeds differently. The great ecumenical Creed of Nicea is, we suggest, an instrument of the Holy Spirit to help keep the church focused on key aspects of the gospel message. A few points of orientation are in order. 
1. The Creed is indeed concerned with certain critical assertions about God and salvation history—assertions that Christians have historically maintained as central—but it is orientated towards the primacy of existentially committed belief: “we believe in one God ...” It is in no way a charter for a dead, intellectualized faith. Remember that in the life of the church historically and still today the Creed is embedded within the wider context of acts of spiritual devotion and worship. 
2. The Creed does not point towards itself but beyond itself, like a sign. It is not valued for its own sake but for that sake of that to which it testifies.

3. The Creed does indeed contain propositions — that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, that he was buried, and so on — but they are misunderstood if they are thought to be simple lists of items to believe. On the contrary, they are in fact narrative summaries pointing to the grand story of the triune God’s activity in creation; in the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ; in the church; and in the future with the return of Christ and the new creation. The Creed is, of course, not narrative in form nor does it intend to substitute for the biblical narrative that it points to. Rather it serves as an interpretative summary of the core aspects of the story. The Creed, in other words, is not offered as a simple list of doctrinal beliefs for Christians to tick off and feel smug about. It is a testimony to the primacy of the biblical narrative, pointing Christians back to the Bible and offering markers for its Christian interpretation. The Creed was never a substitute for Scripture nor intended to add anything to Scripture. Rather, it was created to encapsulate the core of the apostolic understanding of Scripture’s central message. 
4. The Creed is not an attempt to reduce God to a set of sentences, nor an attempt to explain God. The Fathers were well aware that the God to whom the Creed bears testimony is the transcendent Creator “who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16). But the Creed does not dispel mystery; if anything, it preserves it. Take the incarnation — the claim that the divine Logos “became flesh.” That is a mind-bending claim, pushing reason over the edge. There are various ways to soften the rational offence — to claim that Jesus was not really human (Docetism) or not fully human (Apollinarianism); to claim that Jesus was not divine (Ebionism, Adoptionism, Arianism); to claim that Jesus was actually two persons, the human Jesus and the divine Word, in one body (Nestorianism). All these suggestions were sensible proposals offered in sincerity. However, the church rejected all of them because although they may remove the logical problems they also (unintentionally) undermine critical aspects of the biblical witness and the theo-logic of the gospel itself. It is essential that Jesus is fully divine and fully human; that he is one person—not two, but that his (fully) human nature and his (fully) divine nature are not confused and blended into some hybrid. But how is that possible? It is so crazy! We don’t know and the Creed never tries to explain it. Our point here is simply that it is precisely a refusal to remove mystery at the expense of central gospel affirmations that motivates the Creed.


[part 2. tomorrow]

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Snake handling in Mark 16 (a thought from Nick Lunn)

I am currently editing a SUPERB book on the long ending of Mark's Gospel (Mark 16:9–20). The author, Nicholas Lunn, argues that the long ending was not a later addition to the Gospel but was the original ending written by Mark. In this he is going against the majority view, but I can say that his case is not simply reasonable — it is knock-down brilliant! He demonstrates that the case for the long ending being original is highly probable. (Seriously — I am as surprised as you may be.) I think that after the publication of this book anyone who still wants to argue for the exclusion of 16:9–20 from the Gospel has an uphill struggle.

Be that as it may, I just wanted to post a short comment he makes here about snake handling. It forms part of a discussion on new exodus imagery in Mark in general, and in 16:9–20 in particular. The comment on snake handling was interesting. I had never made the exodus connection before.
Within this same context of belief both passages give a prominent place to “signs.” Moses is granted certain signs (σημεῖα, vv. 9, 17, 28, 30) to perform as a confirmation of his message. Jesus speaks of signs (Mark 16:17, σημεῖα) that will accompany those who believe, so “confirming the word” (v. 20).

One of the signs given to Moses involved his staff turning into a snake (Exod 4:2–3), which he was then commanded to pick up (v. 4a). So Moses “stretched out his hand and took hold of it” (v. 4b), at which it reverted to a staff. Among the signs mentioned by Jesus an unusual one is that “they will pick up snakes” (Mark 16:18). At this point commentators typically direct their readers to the passage in Acts 28:3 where the apostle Paul was putting sticks on a fire and “a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand.” Yet it is evident that the Mosaic text forms a much closer parallel. Firstly, Paul does not actually pick up the snake, but rather it attaches itself to him. Secondly, the Greek word in Acts is ἔχιδνα (“viper”), whereas both Exodus 4:3 and Mark 16:18 contain the more general term ὄφις. Additionally, if the Markan variant “and with their hands” (καὶ ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν) is genuine, then the allusion to Exodus 4:4 (τὴν χεῖρα and ἐν τῇ χειρὶ) is even closer. Since Exodus 4 is the only other passage in scripture which expressly speaks of picking up a snake it is reasonable to suppose that the verse in Mark is alluding to this context, especially considering the similar subject matter of appearances, commissioning, belief, and signs.
Nicholas Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, forthcoming 2014)

Friday, 15 August 2014

First TV interview with Vicky Beeching about coming out as gay

Here is Vicky Beeching, a big name in contemporary Christian worship (and a theologian), speaking about her coming out as a lesbian. Her story went public yesterday in The Independent newspaper. Here is the article. In the TV interview she is in discussion with an American fundamentalist bloke.

She remains a very devout evangelical charismatic Christian with a heart to walk God's way.

This raises the interesting question of the role that experience should play in Christian theology. Now all Christians give a role to experience in their theological reflections and in their interpretations of Scripture (even those who think that they do not). But often that role is unacknowledged or little thought has gone into how it should be integrated with other sources, in particular, Scripture, tradition, and reason.

So what is the proper role of experience in biblical interpretation and theological reflection? How can it help us better understand the gospel? How may it mislead us?

This is a tricky and perennial matter. Any thoughts would be welcome.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Inspirational meditation from The Liturgists

This is well worth listening to and pondering!

Thanks to The Liturgists.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Wonder-full: The Liturgists

This is simply wonder-full.

From "The Liturgists"—check out their website

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Dawkins, rape, and paedophilia

Richard Dawkins has inflamed the twitterverse with some recent comments intended to illustrate the structure of certain arguments. The two tweets that create the firestorm were:

"Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think."

"Mild paedophilia is bad. Violent paedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild paedophilia, go away and learn how to think."

It seems that by grading rape and paedophilia in degrees of moral badness some people took Dawkins to be undermining the case that all instances of rape and paedophilia are morally bad. Or perhaps that while it is all bad, some is not worth getting all that worked up about.

Dawkins did not help himself here by speaking of "mild paedophilia".

These two issues are both highly inflammatory and Dawkins was less than sensitive to the feelings of those who have been victims of date rape and "mild paedophilia." To him, this was a simple matter of logic.

What he failed to adequately appreciate was the social context in which his comments were thrown out. Take rape. Western societies have not taken rape with the seriousness that it demands, and in particular, rape by one's partner or someone with whom one is on a date have been treated as relatively trivial. So campaigners have been working hard to drive home the message that such rape IS wrong and ought to be treated seriously. To this end, Dawkins' comments could be taken as trivializing the issue.

However, I want to say that I think that the basic point that Dawkins was making is surely correct. We do not want to say that all crimes that fall into a particular category must be ranked as equally bad. That is clearly nonsense, and we do not apply such thinking to other instances of sinful behaviour. It may be that in certain contexts, in order to drive home that all crimes in the category are bad, we will speak with equal ferocity about them all. That is appropriate in some contexts. However, to suggest that the only way to get people to take the horror of rape or paedophilia seriously is to treat all cases as maximally and equivalently evil is simply mistaken. And Dawkins is correct to say that pointing out that some evil acts are even worse than other evil acts is NOT a recommendation or excuse for any evil acts. Society is right to express its disgust at rapists and paedophiles, but society is wrong if in so doing it fails to distinguish degrees of evil in those categories. What we need is to find ways to do so that do not trivialize any particular instances.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

What is polytheism? Do polytheists exist?

I have wondered recently what polytheism is. In theory it is simple: monotheists believe that there is one god and polytheists believe that there are lots of gods. Thus, Muslims, for instance, are monotheists and Hindus are polytheists.

But it is not as simple as that. The ambiguity concerns what we mean by "God" and "gods."

Take the Bible. In the Good Book the term "god" is not reserved for Yhwh, the god of Israel. The Bible recognizes many gods. (Ps 82:6, addressed to the divine council, is a classic instance of this, quoted approvingly by Jesus in John 10:34 on the very issue of a plurality of gods.) The gods of the Old Testament are heavenly beings that rule over the nations. Yhwh is one of many 'elohim (gods).

So is Yhwh just one god among many? Is the Bible polytheist?
Not in any simple way.

Yhwh created the other gods and rules over them. He alone is thus spoken of as "the god." Yhwh is incomparable and in a league of his own. Yhwh alone is the creator, the source of all things. The other gods simply mediate his rule over creation. So we are not wrong to cap "God" when we speak of Yhwh. He is not simply another god; he is the God of gods.

I've been reading a lot of Plato recently and sometimes he seems to offer a not dissimilar picture. Plato was an ancient Athenian and we all know that Athens was polytheistic, awash with multiple gods. Plato too recognized these gods (though he distanced himself from some of the crude and immoral stories of the gods). He even saw the cosmos itself as a living being, which he calls a god. So he was a polytheist, right? Well, that depends what you mean. Plato seems to see the ultimate ground of all things as single and unitary—the Form of the Good (what neoplatonists called "The One"). When he tells his creation story he tells it in terms of a single divine craftsman who creates the gods, including the divine cosmos. Not all gods are equal in Plato's cosmos. In one sense, Plato was a monotheist—though we'd need to be careful how we spelled out exactly what we meant by the term when speaking of him.

Much the same can be said about sophisticated versions of Hinduism, in which the gods are aspects of a single ultimate divine reality. (By "sophisticated" I do not mean new versions of Indian traditions that aim to respond to monotheistic faiths by claiming to say the same thing. I mean ancient interpretations of those traditions that the most intellectually vigorous elements in the tradition have affirmed.) What may superficially seem like polytheism may turn out to be more complicated than that, and to affirm a single ultimate divine source of reality.

Indeed, one wonders whether the normal uses of monotheism and polytheism involve a category mistake. When monotheists affirm one God they are, among other things, affirming a single divine reality upon which everything else depends. The mistake is assuming that everything referred to as a "god" in a religious context is intended to fit into that category. It is not. So we need to look below the surface level of simply counting up the entities named as "gods" when deciding whether a religion is monotheistic or not.
Indeed, perhaps the categories themselves are only of limited value, concealing as much as they reveal.

Be that as it may—the biblical faith of the church is that there is one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. This, however, does not exclude acknowledging the existence of lesser gods (whatever we may mean by that); it only excludes the worship of them.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A bad argument for women bishops

After the Church of England's General Synod voted to in favour of women bishops I was reading The Independent newspaper, and there was a opinion column on the issue. Its author was not hostile to the Church of England and was very pleased that the Church had finally agreed to have women in its "top posts." However, her reasoning struck me as poor. It is very important for the Church to have women bishops, she said, because it needs to reflect the values of the society round about it.

On TV, after the news came out, various folk were being asked what they thought about the decision, and the sentiment was much the same — we're pleased because it brings the church more up to date. (Or as one person put it, "It's amazing! Next thing you know we'll land people on the moon!")

But is it the responsibility of the Church to reflect the values of the society round about it? Hardly! The NT ekklesia were often known for doing precisely the opposite. Not for the sake of being bloody minded, but for the sake of being true to the gospel.

Don't get me wrong. I support the idea of women bishops. My point is simply this:
for a Christian, the case for women bishops has to be made on grounds internal to the theo-logic of the Church.
In this instance the matter was especially tricky because there is a universal historical Christian tradition of restricting the episcopate to men. And one cannot simply set that aside as if it counted for nothing! A tradition that old and that universal would need to be taken very seriously indeed. One would need to show that the theological underpinning for a male-only episcopate was shaky and that the theological case for including women was strong. One would need to show that a restriction of the episcopacy to men is not consistent with ancient and central Christian notions.

That is why I am not dismayed at how long it has taken the Church to make this decision. The pressure is on all the time to CHANGE NOW! CHANGE FAST! While such quick change is all but required in our Speedy Gonzales culture, it is also likely to land you in a mess. Wisdom, for the most part, does not rush.

I am very pleased about the decision — it was, in my view, the theologically right one. (I appreciate that many will disagree.) But we must never seek to primarily justify it on the basis that it makes us fit in better with society at large. Such a consideration is, at best, secondary. The gospel must always call the shots.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Alleluia—wonderful contemporary choral music

"Alleluia" by Eric Whitacre

Deep Church Rising: Countdown to publication

Getting excited: Deep Church Rising is published in just eight days time (17 July 2014).

Here is the blurb:

The major cultural changes in Western societies since the Reformation have created a serious challenge for the church. Modernity in particular has been inhospitable to Christian orthodoxy and many have been tempted to reject classical versions of the faith. This has led to a division within churches that Walker and Parry name "the third schism," a divide between those who believe and practice the central tenets of Christian tradition and those who do not.

The authors have adopted and adapted C. S. Lewis' phrase "deep church" to highlight the necessity of remembering our past in order to recover historic Christian orthodoxy. This book is a call to deep church, to remember our future, to make a half-turn back to premodernity; not in order to repeat or relive the past, but in order to draw on its rich yet often-forgotten resources for the here and now.

Andrew G. Walker is Emeritus Professor of Theology, Religion, and Culture at King’s College, London.
Robin A. Parry is an editor at Wipf and Stock Publishers.

And here is the table of contents:

Part I. The Third Schism: On Losing the Gospel
1. Introduction: The Third Schism and Deep Church
2. Modernity and Postmodernity: The Roots of the Third Schism

Part II. Deep Church: On Recovering the Gospel
3. Deep Roots: On Relating Scripture and Tradition
4. Deep Calls to Deep: Introduction to Chapters 5–7
5. Deep Faith: Orthodoxia as Right Believing
6. Deep Worship: Orthodoxia as Right Worship
7. Deep Living: Orthopraxia as Right Practice
8. Deep Transformation: Recovering Catechesis
9. Deep Church: A Eucharistic Community

Appendix 1: The Nicene Creed and the Filioque
Appendix 2: Deep Church and Fundamentalism

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A song profound beyond words

This song is so unusual and striking . . . and so very deep. For me it is a fabulous demonstration of the way that form and content can work so powerfully together in music. Wow. You may not "get" it, but I am sure that some of you will.

I have only recently discovered Page CXVI and The Autumn Film (two different musical "projects," but the same people). Their music is really fantastic. This song, however, is not typical for them, except that it is in-formed by a Christian spirituality and a deep feel for music. Do check out the sites. If you sign up you get a bunch of free downloads.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Deep Church Rising—coming soon

Cascade Books and SPCK will be publishing Deep Church Rising on 17th July. It is a book written by Professor Andrew Walker of King's College London and myself. More info in the coming weeks.

So, in anticipation, here are the endorsements from the back cover:

“We don’t become either human or holy without the nurture and wisdom of others; this book helps us make contact with those others so that we can indeed grow in humanity, sanctity, and discernment as we need to.”
Lord Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

“This is a powerful and persuasive call to the churches to ground themselves in the Christian tradition, and retrieve its riches. An essential antidote to the shallow theology of technique-based approaches to mission.”
Alister McGrath, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion, University of Oxford

“This book, written with punctilious scholarship, vast scope, fidelity to history, and, perhaps above all, with great gracefulness, calls the churches to a sober scrutiny of themselves, and, perhaps thence, to fundamental reflection on what the church is. I am immensely taken with this book.”
Thomas Howard, author of On Being Catholic and other books

“This book is essential reading for all who care about the future of the church in the West. It represents years of seasoned research; it is written in a clean, accessible style; and its central claims and insights are exactly on target. Read it and be challenged and refreshed in mind and soul.”
William J. Abraham, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

“Deep Church is a deep book, intrepidly and winsomely demonstrating the ongoing viability of orthodoxy.”
Rodney Clapp, author of Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels and other books

“‘Memory can be the life-giving path to the future, and in this book the Christian church is encouraged to recover its deep memories, not so that we can look back with nostalgia to a by-gone age, but so that we move forward with renewed confidence and depth.”
Jane Williams, Lecturer, St Mellitus College, London

Friday, 13 June 2014

RAP on The limited atonement rap

I love Shai Linne — Christian rapper extraordinaire. His rap is my kind of rap.

I love that he raps solidly theological stuff — no fluffy stuff here! And I love that he pulls no punches. I also love that his rap is rap offered in worship, not simply as intellectual data.

Sadly, he is a hardline Calvinist. This comes acrosss in lots of his songs, but perhaps nowhere clearer than in this one:

I actually agree with a lot of the theology in this. All it needs is to be mixed with the theology that "God is love" (see my previous post) and SHAZAM! — a case for universalism! Alas, Shai Linne does not consider this possibility (presumably because he considers it so far off the radar that it is not even worth consideration), and so ends up teaching the view that Christ only died for some people. He describes this view as controversial. That's an understatement!

The view certainly faces tricky challenges. For instance, it is inconsistent with the prima facie teaching of Scripture. Now that does not, of itself, make the view unbiblical. Defenders of the doctrine would argue that when the problem texts are read in the context of the canon they can be interpreted in ways that are compatible with limited atonement. I don't think that they can, but I can respect those who make the attempt to do so. There is nothing wrong with trying if one things that there are good biblical reasons for affirming the doctrine. Nevertheless, it is a problem, and it is a key reason why many Calvinists are four-point Calvinists.

It also faces the challenge that it is inconsistent with the claim that "God is love" (see my previous post). This is an even harder challenge for the defenders of limited atonement. There are attempts to reply to it, but none that I have seen come close to being adequate, and it is hard to imagine how they could do. The problem is that God's sovereignty and glory is made to look like God's sovereign right to fall short of being God. You'll have to excuse me for not finding this a theologically tempting avenue to explore.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The imperfect God of classical Calvinism

One thing has always perplexed me about classical Calvinism — it so strongly insists on God's perfection (I love that theme within the Reformed tradition) and yet it simultaneously insists on a God who is, despite their protests to the contrary, less than perfect. This is not a new criticism, but it bears repeating.

Anselm insisted that God is "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." But it seems that, in Christian terms, it is easy to conceive of a God greater than the God of classical Calvinism.

Consider: for Christian theology "God is love." Which, at very least, means that in his very essence God is love. He is not loving by some happy accident but by virtue of being who he is.

Now, if you love someone you desire the best for them. Not necessarily what they think is best for them, but what is actually best for them. So if God loves someone then God will desire what is actually best for them. In a Christian view of things, what is actually best for human creatures is for them to be united with God in eschatological glory. That is the fulfillment of the human telos.

Further, if God is loving in his very essence then God cannot not love his creatures without ceasing to be the God that he is — which is, of course, impossible.

So if God is love in his very essence then he must love all his creatures and must desire to actualize what is best for them. For humans that entails a desire to unite them to himself in glory (which, given sin, requires that he desire to save them from sin).

The Calvinist God, however, does not desire to unite all humans to himself in glory, and thus does not desire to save them all from sin. This can only be because he does not love them enough to desire what is best for them. He may love them somewhat (offering them common grace), but not perfectly (refusing them saving grace).

But surely, if love is a divine perfection then loving all creatures perfectly is greater than loving only some creatures perfectly. God's not loving some creatures would be God falling short of his very being — impossible. Yet the Calvinist says that God only loves some creatures perfectly. I can imagine something greater than that. Imagining something greater than God is impossible. So the Calvinist vision of God is, in Christian terms, impossible, because it falls short of divine perfection.

At least, that is how things appear to me.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Free Randal Rauser book on heaven (today only)

Baker is running a promotion for the Kindle version of Randal Rauser's new book, What on Earth Do We Know About Heaven? 20 Questions and Answers about Life after Death.

It’s scheduled to be free at Amazon.com on June 5, and then $3.99 from June 6-12.

The promo is also running at amazon.ca and amazon.co.uk.

Check out these blurbs on the book:

"Rauser's book is the most important work on heaven in the last two millennia."

-Paul the Apostle-

"I must admit, I used to think I had heaven figured out. But What on Earth Do We Know About Heaven? has completely revolutionized my view of heaven. I'm picking up a copy for all the archangels."

-Michael the Archangel-

You've got to love him! I wish I could get endorsements like that.

Here is the blurb from Amazon
There's been a curious upsurge in interest about the afterlife lately, but we're too often limited in our concept of heaven. The reality is we all do have questions about heaven: What does a resurrected person look like? What does a resurrected earth look like? Do we get our heart's desire in heaven? In What on Earth Do We Know about Heaven?, Randal Rauser considers twenty thought-provoking questions, each of which winds back to the core concept of heaven: what it is and what it isn't. Rauser uses Scripture to remind us that God's ultimate purpose is that the whole creation will be transformed and renewed, guiding readers through a vision of a glorious afterlife, consisting of a perfected earth, perfected bodies, perfected human culture, and perfected relationships.

Monday, 2 June 2014

UK Conference on Preaching (July 2014)

OK preachers, listen up! Here is some information on what looks to be a great conference in Guildford, at Millmead Baptist Church.

A day conference (9:30am – 4:30pm) on 19 July, entitled


It is hosted by Ian Stackhouse, the minister at Millmead Baptist Church. Ian is a good bloke and a modern-day pastor-theologian after the fashion of P. T. Forsyth.

The keynote speaker is Dave Hansen, pastor and author.

Here is some info.

You can download a PDF version of this flyer here.

There will also be a book launch for a new book on preaching edited by Ian Stackhouse and Oliver D. Crisp, entitled Text Message: The Centrality of Scripture in Preaching. I have read the book and it contains some really excellent, thought-provoking chapters. More info here. Copies of the book will be available at a special price.

Friday, 30 May 2014

New Frank Schaeffer book free—today and tomorrow only.

Frank Schaeffer's new book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God, is available for free on kindle today and tomorrow only.

I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on it myself. Here is the info on Amazon.

How to Create Beauty, Give Love and Find Peace

Frank Schaeffer

Caught between the beauty of his grandchildren and grief over a friend’s death, Frank Schaeffer finds himself simultaneously believing and not believing in God — an atheist who prays. Schaeffer wrestles with faith and disbelief, sharing his innermost thoughts with a lyricism that only great writers of literary nonfiction achieve. Schaeffer writes as an imperfect son, husband and grandfather whose love for his family, art and life trumps the ugly theologies of an angry God and the atheist vision of a cold, meaningless universe. Schaeffer writes that only when we abandon our hunt for certainty do we become free to create beauty, give love and find peace.

“As someone who has made redemption his work, Frank has, in fact, shown amazing grace.” — Jane Smiley, Washington Post

“To millions of evangelical Christians, the Schaeffer name is royal, and Frank is the reluctant, wayward, traitorous prince. His crime is not financial profligacy, like some pastors’ sons, but turning his back on Christian conservatives.” — New York Times

“Frank Schaeffer’s gifts as a writer are sensual and loving. He’s also laugh-out-loud funny!” — Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog

Thursday, 29 May 2014

"Return to Sender" (musings on the weirdness of worship)

I was reading Revelation 5 this morning and paused to puzzle over a familiar passage (vv. 11–12):
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!” (ESV)
Why would the Lamb (and elsewhere, God the Father) need to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honour, glory, and blessing?

Is he lacking in any of these things?

Does he not already possess them in their fulness?

What, in other words, are God's creatures giving him that is not already his?

Here is what popped into my head — and I claim no more for it than that:

All the power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing belong to God's Be-ing. They are part of the divine fulness. However, creation, by the will of God, lives and moves and has its be-ing in God. God allows creation to participate, to varying degrees, in Godself. (This notion will need a careful explication.)

Creation is from God
Creation is through God
Creation is to God

So wisdom and power and glory (etc.) come from and through God to creation, but they only reach their perfection, their goal, their telos, when they are surrendered back to God. They only become fully what they are when the circuit is completed; when we go with the grain of the universe and orientate ourselves correctly towards the creator; when we cast our crowns before him — the crowns that he himself bestowed upon us.

So the giving of glory, wisdom, and power (etc.) to God is not to supply a lack in God, but to bring creation to its divine perfection and goal, so that the whole earth can be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.