Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Revisiting Same-Sex Marriage

This week I met up with an old friend from my Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) friends for the first time since he moved to California. While there, a woman from our mutual circle of friends asked me about what I realized was my post on same-sex marriage, which made bigger internet waves than anything else I've written. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged to know that people who don't regularly read my blog were finding and enjoying this post nonetheless. Being asked to describe the thought behind the post several months later with no notes (also the small news item of Minnesota legalizing same-sex marriage) got me thinking about the subject again.

The basic gist of that post, as was hopefully evident from the name, is that while I believe the "traditional" (to western culture) definition of marriage is God's desire for us, I don't necessarily think this should translate to politically opposing it. I think conservative Christians can be very selective and inconsistent in their opposition to same-sex marriage (while relatively ignoring other things that the Bible condemns much more clearly like divorce), and extremely un-Christlike in their condemnatory attitude towards gays and even other Christians who adopt a more tolerant stance. In contrast to the common attitude towards gays of "Repent, clean up your abominable sin, and then you can be accepted in the church", the gospel says (through the words and actions of Jesus) that were are all sinners and we are all loved more than we can imagine by God, even in the midst of our sin. This love comes before, not after, we start following Jesus.

I still stand by everything I said in that post, but I would like to add a few things. First, while I don't think that a conservative theological stance automatically translates to a "culture war" mentality of fighting it politically, neither do I think the Christian's politics can (or should) be separated from his convictions. While I don't think Minnesota's legal redefinition of marriage should be repealed, I've realized that it is certainly possible for Christians to disagree with me on this. What is critical is not the position you take, but how you hold it. (Echoing what I said about how what you believe is not as important as how you believe it) But (and this is a big but) if you take a political stance against same-sex marriage, it must be in a Christlike manner (which is rather rare, at least in the news). Your political attitude's being "for" Biblical marriage does not automatically make it okay with God, not if you hold it while looking down your nose at gays and believing they need more grace than the rest of us.

Similarly, if I were to start attacking Christians who oppose same-sex marriage as "unbiblical bigots", questioning the authenticity of their faith, and in general slinging mud and using their beliefs as an excuse not to love them, that wouldn't be very Christlike either. Claiming that your "camp" is the only one that gets it right and everyone else isn't a true believer is just the thing I want to avoid. It's really important that we get over this myth that being a Christian always means taking X stance on Y hot-button political issue because the Bible says so, "that's what Christians do", or any other conversation-destroying reason.

Also, I'd like to share a a quote from Wesley Hill, an evangelical Christian and professor of theology at Trinity School for Ministry who experiences same-sex attraction. It is from this article in which he is responding to a book written in support of an egalitarian view of gender in Christianity. When I wrote my post, while I did believe marriage between a man and a woman was what God desires for humans, but it had never really "clicked" in that intuitive way that's so essential for me. Not until I heard this.
According to the christological meaning of Genesis 2:24 given in Ephesians 5:32, the difference between male and female becomes not incidental to the meaning of marriage but essential. God established marriage, Ephesians suggests, in order that it might be a sign (mysterionsacramentum) of Christ’s love for the Church. In order for this parable to “work,” the difference between the covenant partners is required. The relationship between man and woman is here “related over and above itself to an eternal, holy, and spotless standing before God, in the love of the incarnate Christ for his bride, which is the Church”… Or, to borrow Karl Barth’s language, marriage is a parable, and for the parable to communicate its truth effectively requires certain kinds of characters, certain kinds of bodies, and not others.
This focus on gender difference—rather than the alleged presence of “exploitation” or an “excess of desire” in homosexual unions—would then explain Paul’s denunciation of same-sex erotic behavior in Romans 1:26-27. In their near locale, Paul’s descriptions of homosexuality link it to humanity’s turn away from the Creator to images of their fellow creatures. Difference is exchanged for sameness. As Simon Gathercole has written, “The key correspondence [between idolatry on the one hand and homosexual behavior on the other] lies in the fact that both involve turning away from the ‘other’ to the ‘same’ …. Humanity should be oriented toward God but turns in on itself (Rom. 1.25). Woman should be oriented toward man, but turns in on itself (Rom. 1.26). Man should be oriented toward woman, but turns in on itself (Rom. 1.27)”… 
The communion of the “wholly other” God with his creation, which was mirrored in man’s turning toward woman and vice versa, breaks down in homosexual relationships, and thus the christological meaning of marriage and gender difference is obscured.

Lessons from Hayao Miyazaki

A/N: This post is very special to me because it is what first got the attention of the woman who has since become my wife, Marissa. We might not be together if I hadn't written it and she hadn't seen it!

For my 24th birthday, I received possibly my favorite present ever: a six-DVD, sixteen-movie collection of films made by Studio Ghibli, founded in 1985 by my favorite filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki. His movies affect me like nothing else I've watched and each one is a truly wonderful treasure to be cherished. In the last week, I've already seen three of my favorites. But more than just enjoying them, I also feel like I've learned surprisingly much from these movies, not because they set out to teach anything but because they ring so full of truth, which is what makes them so beautiful in the first place.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

One of Miyazaki's oldest movies, My Neighbor Totoro is about the adventures of two young girls and their father as they move to a house in rural postwar Japan to be closer to their mother who is recovering in the hospital from an undescribed illness (an episode which is probably taken from Miyazaki's own childhood). Satsuki and her little sister Mei, excited to explore their new surroundings, soon encounter magical creatures called "totoro", benevolent forest spirits.

That this is a highly unconventional for American audiences is evident from how boring that description sounded, despite it being one of my favorite movies of all time. This movie isn't nearly as plot-focused as most, even Miyazaki's later works. There is very little conflict; the closest thing to a "villain" that exists is the mother's illness. The late Roger Ebert praised the film: would never have won its worldwide audience just because of its warm heart. It is also rich with human comedy in the way it observes the two remarkably convincing, lifelike little girls... It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.
With no overriding plot, the movies is broken down into a series of miniature adventures or explorations involving the totoro. The girls are both great and delightfully human characters (Mei reminds me of some of my Sunday school students), the totoro even more so. Whenever Big Totoro gets that manic, cheshire-cat grin on his face, you know something magical and wonderful is about to happen (whereas in an American movie, a grin like that would mean someone is about to die).
My Neighbor Totoro is amazing for its ability to create a longing in me for a time and place I've never been to. The hand-painted scenery is gorgeous and romantic (as in the artistic movement) and the music fits it and the action perfectly, just like in every Miyazaki movie I've seen. The world this movie creates is immersive, inviting, and beautiful in a way that is more than just aesthetic. It genuinely makes me wish I could live there, even though I know this wish can never be fulfilled (and there aren't any totoro anyway). It's like a dream so good that you want to weep after waking up and realizing it isn't real.

But I had already known all of that from previous viewing of this movie. What really struck me watching it a few days ago was how the all the scene-setting and world-creating work that went into this movie creates this sense of reverent wonder and delight that pervades all the pastoral and forest scenes in the movie. Some of this is probably from traditional (relatively) pantheistic Japanese religion, which believes in a multitude of spirits (such as the totoro) that dwell in nature.

A naive "Christian" way to respond to this origin for the movie's almost sacred treatment of nature would be to say, "Of course we know that there aren't a bunch of spirits dwelling in nature but the Spirit of God and His angels in heaven. This movie is an expression of an unbiblical, pantheistic worldview and we have to be on our guard and defend the truth we know against lies like this, no matter how attractive they may seem."

I am unsatisfied with this response. By reducing truth to a propositional basis (propositions concerning the number, nature, and location of spirits) and making some assumptions about the nature and working of the Holy Spirit, it somewhat arrogantly concludes that there is nothing to be learned from this film but only deception that we must watch against. But if "the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1) and God's nature has always been evident from the created world (Romans 1:20), should nature carry any less wonder for the Christian than for a practitioner of Shinto? If I'm supposed to become like a child in my faith (Matthew 18:3), then I welcome movies like My Neighbor Totoro that teach me how to see the world through starry, childlike eyes.

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away is my favorite Studio Ghibli film, and quite possibly my favorite movie of all time. It's about a young girl named Chihiro who, while moving to a new home, gets sucked into a world of spirits and must find the courage to work to free herself and her parents. This movie therefore has a somewhat more conventional plotline than My Neighbor Totoro, with a somewhat conventional villain (who is nonetheless given plenty of redeeming qualities, like most of Miyazaki's villains) and much more of a sense of progression in both the plot and in Chihiro herself. Unlike Satsuki and Mei, who are delightful characters from the start, Chihiro starts off as a somewhat bratty, cowardly ten-year-old who by the end of the movie has become considerably braver and more mature as a result of her adventures.
Spirited Away has some beautiful pastoral scenes like My Neighbor Totoro, but the centerpiece of the setting is a colossal bathhouse for the spirits (each representing part of the natural world) where they come "to replenish themselves". This bathhouse is exquisitely detailed and incredibly immersive, from the main floor to the subterranean boiler room to the paneled hotel rooms to the penthouse offices. It is extremely colorful and welcoming, but strange and scary to Chihiro and full of bizarre-looking spirits.

Populating this world is a much larger cast of characters to fall in love with besides Chihiro herself: the mysterious dragon-boy Haku; Yubaba, the witch who rules the bathhouse; Lin, a tough-minded worker in the bathhouse who becomes like a big sister to Chihiro; and Kamaji, the spider-like six-armed boiler man. Miyazaki's amazing gift to almost instantly endear you to nearly every character that crosses the screen (such as a mute, faceless hopping lamppost who only gets a minute or two of screen time) is unsurpassed by any other animator I know.  I could say more about the soundtrack (one of my favorites for any movie) and how it complements everything else, but I could never do it justice.

What struck me most this time as I watched Spirited Away is the importance of names. Yubaba secures Chihiro's servitude by stealing her name and giving her the new name, "Sen". It isn't until later when Haku helps her remember her name that Chihiro realizes how crucial remembering her name is. Later, the scene where Chihiro remember's Haku's real name is the climax of the movie. This all reinforces what I've been thinking lately about how critical your perception of yourself, or sense of identity, is to your life. Humans are peculiar in that we don't seem to have an innate, unshakeable sense of identity like animals do; we have to be told who we are, usually by something external to ourselves.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Definitely the darkest and most action-oriented of the movies I've watched so far, Princess Mononoke is an epic historical fiction story of a young prince's quest for redemption. Ashitaka is the last prince of the Emishi tribe, thought by the rest of Muromachi period Japan to have been wiped out by the emperor 500 years ago. After an encounter with a boar demon that attacks his village, his right arm is cursed by the beast's hatred. The infection will eventually spread to his entire body, drive him mad, and kill him. He is sent by the tribe's wisewoman to the west, where the iron ball lodged in the boar's body came from, "to see through eyes unclouded by hate".
The demon arm never fails.
I don't want to give away too much of the story, but Ashitaka's journey takes him to the focal point of a conflict between the spirits of an ancient forest and iron miners looking to cut down the forest for the land's resources. A simpler, more preachy movie might make this a simple environmental parable--have Ashitaka join the forest spirits and save the trees--but Miyazaki's approach is more nuanced. The morality in this movie is seriously grey-and-grey; the residents of Irontown are by-and-large good and gregarious people looking to make a living, and their leader, Lady Eboshi, though pitiless in her conquest of the defenders of the forest, has won the dedication of her people by her strong, courageous leadership and her willingness to hire prostitutes and lepers when no one else would see them as fully human. Meanwhile the forest spirits, though simply seeking to defend their home, are savage in their hatred for humans, and (in the case of the boar and ape tribes) rather stupid as well.

With the battle lines drawn, Ashitaka walks a razor's edge between the two factions in his quest for peace. Both demand to know which side he's really on, but he refuses to take a side at all. (Or he takes both) When San, the eponymous human princess of the forest raised by wolves, tries to assassinate Lady Eboshi, Ashitaka subdues them both and simply walks out of Irontown with San. When Irontown is attacked by samurai, he takes the news to the men, then continues on to save the Forest Spirit from Lady Eboshi. Ashitaka is devoted to protecting both the forest and Irontown, and on ending the cycle of hatred that threatens to consume them just as the demonic infection threatens to consume his body and mind.

I see this as a beautiful depiction of how Christians are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) in contrast to ways that we caricature it. Lady Eboshi isn't concerned with peace so much as with progress and profit; Moro, the wolf-goddess, wants the humans to leave the forest in peace and is willing to kill as many of them as necessary to achieve that peace. They might both say they want peace, but a qualified "peace-if": peace if the forest spirits are destroyed, or peace if the humans are driven out of the forest--and because these goals stapled onto peace are incompatible with each other, there can be no peace. It's a clear depiction of how conflict so often persists even in the church. Ashitaka, on the other hand, seeks reconciliation with no "right causes" or conditions placed above it. Similarly, the whole point of the reconciliation Jesus offer us is that it is unconditional, and this unconditionality goes both ways--He doesn't demand anything from us before we can accept it, and we sin if we demand anything from Him before we accept it.

Ponyo (2008)

In contrast to the other three movies which were all old favorites, I just watched Ponyo for the first time. Unlike the more mature Princess Mononoke, it's much more in the vein of My Neighbor Totoro in terms of charm and kid-friendliness. Ponyo is about a young goldfish named Brunhilde by her father, who is some kind of sea wizard (and voiced by Liam Neeson) and, after being rescued by a boy named Sosuke, dreams of becoming a human and living on land with him. It's somewhat like The Little Mermaid, only much cuter and with no singing (and Ponyo, as Sosuke names the fish, is definitely not mute). Like My Neighbor Totoro, it weaves a beautiful, immersive world, this time a fishing village on a charmingly small Japanese island.
Having only seen this movie once, last night, I haven't had as much time to process it. (But I do absolutely love it and want to see it again sometime) What made the biggest impression on me, besides how absurdly magical it is, is how this movie seems to build on what I learned from Princess Mononoke about conflict. There are only two characters in Ponyo that could be deemed antagonists, Fujimoto (the aforementioned sea wizard) and Toki, a cranky old lady at the nursing home where Sosuke's mother works. But by the end, Fujimoto is revealed to be an overprotective and somewhat xenophobic father who deeply cares about his daughter and the effect her magic is having on the world, and Toki warms up to Sosuke and discovers her courage (and gets out of her motorized wheelchair!).

This got me thinking about how much more beautiful it is to redeem your enemies than to destroy them--which is exactly the story Christians get to be a part of. Romans 5:8 says: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." So Jesus teaches us, both by word and by example, to love our enemies and pray for them, to "defeat" them with love instead of with force.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Economics of Presence

Another year, another move. (I'm hoping I can go for more than a year without moving this time) I've moved from a studio apartment on the north side of downtown Minneapolis to a two-bedroom apartment on the southeast side, just two blocks from my church. So far I'm absolutely loving the location, the reduced rent, and having a roommate again. But possibly my favorite part has been the change of my internet-going habits the move brought about. When I moved into my previous apartment, I was able to set up my internet connectivity over the phone in about a day. This time, I had to schedule an appointment and spent a week without internet access leading up to it. (The technician who did the installation wasn't sure why I couldn't do it over the phone) My roommate could still get online on his smartphone, but since I don't have one I could only go online at work.

What surprised me is that this week without the internet was actually extremely enjoyable--so much so that my computer habits seem to have drastically changed. At my old apartment I would essentially have my computer in easy reach all the time because of the personal connection the internet seemed to promise. I was present halfway in whatever I was doing, and halfway in Facebook, and therefore not completely present in either. I felt, to borrow an analogy, like butter scraped over too much toast. Anxious for interaction with my solitary job and home, I found that the more I relied on social media, the more lonely I ended up feeling. This article in The Atlantic says, "In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are...transfixed by the glare of a screen, hungering for response." It sounds uncomfortably like how I used to spend many an unproductive evening.

With that habit broken by the scheduling of a cable company, I'm now able to be more fully present and attentive in whatever I'm doing, and strangely even though I don't multitask nearly as much, I feel like I have more time than I did before. (Or that time is higher-quality) I'm more concerned with what I am doing than on what I wish I could be doing. Having a roommate so my social interaction at home isn't all either online or planned out a week in advance also helps, but more than that it's just being able to focus, wonderfully and completely, on one thing in the here-and-now (instead of there-and-then) at a time.

Could we, as a society, be addicted to multitasking, to the art of technologically diffusing ourselves so as to be present everywhere and nowhere? I don't have a smartphone partly for this reason, but I don't imagine they help much. It makes me think of one of the names Jesus is given, "Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), which means "God with us". This declaration has much less punch in our "Jesus is my homeboy" culture than it must have for Isaiah's audience, much less the people who actually met Jesus. The unimaginably holy God who guided Israel out of Egypt and ruled over them, who they only approached (but not too close!) to make offerings while acutely aware of their own unholiness, was now coming to be with them. I, for one, am glad Jesus was always fully present and didn't interrupt His ministry or time with people every five minutes to check His Facebook, send a tweet, or carry on five text message conversations. (I'm also not sure He'd have the latest and greatest iPhone/Android/whatever, but that's a topic for another post)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The God-Haunted World

I've been reading a fascinating book in the last few days, The Dancing Universe by Marcelo Gleiser. It's an engaging account of the history of scientific thinking and its association with religion through history. It's gotten my gears spinning about another one of my perennial writing topics, the nature of the relationship between science and religion.

From creation myths to the Enlightenment

In the beginning, writes Gleiser, there was no explicit relationship between science and religion because no distinction was made between the two. What we now know as science (the attempt to understand and explain the workings of the universe) was handled entirely by religion, initially by the writing of elaborate creation myths that answered, in a distinctly premodern way, the fundamental question, "Where did everything come from?". Gleiser divides these myths into creation myths and no-creation myths (ones that describe the universe as eternal or cyclic in nature), and the creation myths further as being precipitated by a god, a spontaneous emergence of order from chaos, or simply something from nothing.

In the next few chapters he covers Greek philosophy, which was surprisingly varied in its applications to nature. Various philosophers saw water, air, or fire as the primary substance of the cosmos; some believed the universe was constantly changing while others considered all change to be a mere illusion; the Pythagoreans saw all through their lens of number mysticism whole the later atomists proposed, in a mix of unintentional fact and misconception, the constitution of the universe as indivisible atoms. The only limit to the breadth of these theories seemed to be the human imagination. These philosophers were the first known thinkers to look for an explanation of the nature of the world in the world itself rather than in their conception of the divine.

Then came the two philosophers whose ideas would shape the discourse for millenia to come. Plato espoused the "world of forms", which was the highest and most fundamental reality and consisted of the true essences of things in the world, which were merely the shadows cast by them. This realm of pristine truth, he said, was to be the pursuit of all philosophers rather than the subordinate world in which we live. His student Aristotle disagreed, emphasizing the instantiation of forms in physical things and incorporating induction from the study of the world to the discovery of "universals. It was a prefigurement of the scientific method, which he saw as little different from the rest of his "natural philosophy".

Subsequent philosophers concerned themselves more with observational astronomy, taking up Plato's challenge to "save the phenomena", or find rational explanations of their observations of the cosmos that described the motions of the heavenly bodies in circles, inhabitants of the abstract world of forms. From the lack of (observable) stellar parallax, they concluded that the earth was stationary at the center of the universe and came up with increasingly complex models to explain astronomical observations, culminating in Ptolemy's model which would be the standard in Europe until the Renaissance.

While the Greeks continued to be taught for centuries after, with the Christianization and collapse of the Roman empire and the loss of the works of Aristotle to the west, what we would call "scientific progress" slowed down considerably. The only acceptable wisdom was considered to be theological, and the contemplation of information gained through the flesh (i.e. the senses) was shoved aside as a sure route to depravity and irrelevant to the path to eternal salvation. Augustine, who played a significant role in introducing neoplatonic dualism to Christian thinking, wrote:
At this point I mention another form of temptation more various and dangerous. For over and above that lust of the flesh which lies in the delight of all our senses and pleasures...there can also be in the mind itself, through those same bodily senses, a certain vain desire and curiosity, not of taking delights in the body, but of making experiments with the body's aid, and cloaked under the name of learning and knowledge... Thus men proceed to investigate the phenomena of nature--the part of nature external to us--though the knowledge is of no value to them: for they wish to know simply for the sake of knowing. Certainly the theaters no longer attract me, nor do I care to know the course of the stars.
Once the works of Aristotle were rediscovered by the west, his view of the cosmos was adopted dogmatically by the church after being somewhat "Christianized". The medieval view of the cosmos was more concerned with meanings than with actual reality; the universe was supposed to be laid out according to the mind of God and to be a moral allegory, thus rendering the exploration of nature subordinate to the more important matter of eternal salvation. So a model of the universe with the central earth surrounded by ethereal spheres; God was situated with the stars in the outermost sphere, while the other planets occupied inner spheres with the spherical earth in the middle and Satan in Hell the center of the earth (so the medieval universe was actually "diablocentric"). So traveling or directing your thoughts "up", toward God and away from Satan and this fallen earth, was assumed to be an unqualified good; the protagonist in Dante's Inferno traverses the circles of Hell and the heavenly spheres in the order prescribed by Aristotle.
After the Catholic church's spiritual authority was challenged by the Reformation, its scientific authority was challenged by the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution. Johannes Kepler marveled at the discovery of a stella nova, "new star", in the sky, actually a supernova. Using his telescope, Galileo detected smaller "stars" in motion around Jupiter, mountains and other earthlike features on the moon, and spots on the sun, which had previously been thought to be transits of Mercury. These all constituted evidence against the Aristotelian view of the heavenly bodies as unchanging, made of a totally different element than the four present on earth, and all revolving around the earth. Battle lines between astronomy and the church were drawn; I have already written about the conflict that followed and how Galileo was forced to bitterly recant his discoveries.

Finally, in the late seventeenth century, Isaac Newton published Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"), laying out his mathematical laws of motion. This exploded the perceived distinction between the "heavens" and the "earth" by showing that both operated by the same laws; the same force that makes an apple fall to the ground also holds the planets in their orbits around the sun. Newton's discovery, based on reason and observed data and (relatively) insulated from theological concerns, helped spark what would become the Enlightenment, which through the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century applied what would become the "scientific method" to more and more problems, until by the dawn of the twentieth century scientists believed that had solved every major problem in physics. That's as much as I've read so far.

The (In)compatibility of Science and Religion

As someone with an appreciation for the explanatory ability of science and a passion for correct (as in Christ-like) interpretation and use of the Bible, it was hard for me to read about the church's suppression of any thought or discovery that "contradicted the Holy Scriptures". It was almost as hard for me to read about how eagerly God was shoved aside by the rush of scientific progress in the Enlightenment, first into the impotence of the deistic god and then into total irrelevance. All a part of the perennial "conflict" between science and religion.

This conflict is based on a relatively simple assumption that I will refer to as "scientific incompatibilism": A scientific explanation for something necessarily excludes a theistic one. In other words, scientific and theological explanations are incompatible with each other. It is evident how this has played out in the history of science; once Newton's laws become common knowledge, God's role as the "unmoved mover" of the planets was forgotten and He was instead seen as the "master watchmaker" who wound up the clockwork universe and then let it proceed on its own. Once the Big Bang theory gained acceptance, even this role for God become unnecessary and atheism became an intellectually credible belief (or nonbelief) system. As we explain more and more where we previously invoked God, reason and empiricism become effective God replacements. When asked why he didn't invoke the Creator in his book Celestial Mechanics, the French mathematician Pierre-Simon de Laplace responded, "I have no need for that hypothesis." As the Kamelot song says (through the voice of Ariel, a philosopher whose sole ambition is the search for universal truth): "How can we believe in heaven? Human reason counters all."

Meanwhile, this same scientific incompatibilism reverberates through religion. The case of Galileo was more a matter of his observations' implicit challenge to the church's claim to the authority to interpret scripture, but it's hard to believe it wasn't also clinging to the Aristotelian model because (ironic, given its non-Christian origin) of its reflection of the truths of God in the cosmos. Inconvenient facts couldn't be allowed to challenge the very principles by which God ordered the universe, could they? And, of course, in the past century we've seen the perennial Christian debate over the status of evolution. Many Christians see Darwin's theory as an assault on the role of God as creator simply by virtue of its offering an explanation for the development of life that doesn't directly invoke God as the one who "did" it . Critics of young-earth creationism point out their "God of the gaps" methodology that construes questions unanswered by science as evidence for God and is another example of scientific incompatibilism.

You presumably know where I stand on the matter from my previous writing on evolution. I reject the dualistic assumption that scientific and theological explanations of the same phenomenon (e.g. human origins) are incompatible, i.e. that "either God does something or it happens naturally", on the grounds that science and theology are meant to answer totally different classes of questions, as well as the fact that God created nature in the first place so the whole dichotomy is bunk. What I am more concerned with now is the question: how did we get here? How did religion and inquiry about natural phenomena proceed hand-in-hand for millenia before so suddenly and violently bifurcating?

I propose an explanation: confusion between two different kinds of (ironically) "explaining". Also ironically, this confusion arises from a lesson not learned from Aristotle, whose ideas were the focal point of so much contention. Aristotle proposed four different kinds of "causes":
  1. The material cause, or the physical constitution of an object.
  2. The formal (or "form-al") cause, or the abstract form represented by a change or "becoming". This is the most obtuse, but for example the abstract form of a sphere might be the formal cause for the shape of a ball.
  3. The efficient cause, which we normally think of in the modern sense of "causation" as that which "causes" something else to occur. So the efficient cause of a table is a carpenter; the efficient cause of water boiling is applied heat, and so on.
  4. The final cause, or its teleological aim or purpose.
Up until the Renaissance religion and philosophy, such as that of Aristotle himself, freely investigated any and all of these kinds of causes and were indeed thought of as the only real way to do it. The various kinds of causes were often conflated, as we see in the concept of celestial spheres: the sphere, being the simplest of forms, was the formal cause of their shape; they were thought to be made of the celestial material aether (material cause); they were arranged and moved by God (efficient cause) to teach us a moral lesson pertaining to our eternal salvation (final cause).

What I think happened in the scientific revolution was that the new generation of natural philosophers saw science as having dethroned religion's role in explaining these causes. They traded theology and authority for reason and empirical observation as sources for knowledge of the four causes (the transition from premodernism to modernism in its infancy). But while science is clearly much better-equipped than religion for knowledge of the material and efficient (and, to some extent, the formal) causes of things, it is completely useless for explaining their final causes. But this is easily forgotten when you're drunk on your newfound power to lay bare the secrets of the universe, to peer into the very mind of God! (See how easy it is) I think that scientific incompatibilism arises when both science and religion each lay claim to all four of these causes as lying within their "territory", as it were, so that a scientific perspective leaves nothing left for a religious one to speak to and vice versa.

The God-Haunted World

What then? Are we to adopt Stephen Jay Gould's view that science and faith occupy "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA), leaving questions of nature and technology to one and questions of morals and meaning to the other? This is what I might have advocated in the past, but (of course) I don't think it's so simple. NOMA does not offer a way to move past scientific incompatibilism, but rather gives into it by essentially saying: "Yes, the claims of science and religion really are mutually exclusive, so the realms of knowledge in which they operate should also be mutually exclusive".

The biggest problem with this admission is that I don't think it is true. Life is not so easily compartmentalized. I don't think the ancients' total conflation of what would later become natural philosophy and science with notions of the divine or transcendent was merely a regrettable consequence of their ignorance that we have grown out of. If anything, our insistence on dividing the "natural" from the "supernatural" so completely is what needs to be grown out of. Question of final causes and meaning refuse to confine themselves to the abstract realm of armchair theology and ivory-tower ethics, and the ramifications of scientific inquiry refuse to confine themselves to questions answerable by science. As we have known from prehistory, the starry heavens overawe and confound us, as if crying out, "Explain me!" (And not just with physics, cosmology, chemistry, astrophysics, relativity, etc.) So similarly with the problem of suffering, which no amount of medicine, psychology, or social science can fully heal. So also with the mysterious nature of the mind, or why there is something rather than nothing, or the meta-question of why we are so driven to seek meaning in everything in the first place.

Where science is either silent on these questions or (more extremely) actively denies that they have any significance beyond what is empirically verifiable, faith speaks loudly and clearly to them. So Psalm 19 (written from that premodern viewpoint) begins,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
This understanding of the heavens has not been rendered obsolete by our knowledge of the true nature of stars; it may even be enhanced by it, if we could just get over the misconception that explaining something scientifically is enough to understand it. What I am getting at is what I think the Bible assumes when it speaks of something as being done both by humans and by God. Among many possible examples, Philippians 2:12-13 expresses this compactly: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." This seems at best a paradox and at worst an absurdity to our modern sensibilities, but I don't think it presented any such difficulties for Paul's audience. It is tremendously helpful to think about how this can be true.

This sets the pattern for how we, as Christians, are to hold a faith that is not purely abstract, that has practical implications for "real life" without leading us to believe we can brush aside scientific discoveries by quoting Bible verses. We tend to assume that God's actions are overtly miraculous and thus distinctly separable from our own. But the main way in which they are distinguished is not by their means, but by their meaning. The bare fact of God "doing" something must never be separated from its teleological significance, even if He "does" it through the mundane. "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." (Isaiah 53:2) I have a strong conviction that God never just "does" anything for no reason. It's always part of the story He's writing, even if we can't see how and shouldn't even try to. The acts of God are best understood, I think, in terms of their (to use Aristotle's terminology again) final rather than efficient cause. This is a way of learning to "see" God in the midst of an understanding of the world that has been deeply shaped by science and modernism, which fits over and above our mechanistic understanding of the world rather than colliding with it.

Though we can't simply go back to the premodern world of mystery where God is responsible for every change of seasons and starry night, these things aren't necessarily drained of the meaning they had to the ancients because we know the laws governing them. Understanding something scientifically in terms of composition or causation is not understanding it teleologically, as part of a larger meaningful narrative; the two complement each other rather than conflicting. The teleological understanding arranges facts into something more than just senseless, meaningless phenomena, and in turn a better understanding of "how things work" can increase the impression they make on us. This is very subjective,  but I would say that the mechanism of evolution and the incredible vastness of space both help me to appreciate God as Creator more, not less.

I would argue further that the teleological understanding is more fundamental than the scientific one. This is why the default for most of human history has been for philosophico-religious explanations of things to "lead" their mechanistic explanations while a method for rigorously explaining something scientifically had to be developed, rather than the other way around. And even now, for all our "progress" we haven't lessened our dependence on story to "make sense" of life in a way that science never could, we have merely pushed it out of the forefront of our attention. (Possibly by making the god of progress and human achievement our story) I believe (and this may shock any postmoderns reading this blog) that not all of these stories are equally true. For all our experimentation, calculation, and theorization to purge the mystery from our midst, we can't seem to escape living in a God-haunted world.

Friday, July 12, 2013

So apparently I'm postmodern (and why labels aren't everything)

If you've been following my blog in pretty much any capacity of late, you know that I just won't shut up about the nature of truth, the role of doctrine, the evolution of my perspective on the Bible as the word of God and Jesus as the Word of God, et cetera. Lately my suspicions have been confirmed--what I have been advocating so strongly for is a distinctly postmodern view of Christianity and truth. Myron Bradley Penner, in the introduction to his book The End of Apologetics, gives a good definition; he sees
postmodernity as a kind of self-reflexive condition that emerges as modernity becomes conscious or aware of itself as makes little sense to think of the postmodern ethos as characterized by a set of theses or adherence to philosophical doctrines and positions. Postmodernity is a condition, or a set of attitudes, dispositions, and practices, that is aware of itself as modern and aware that modernity's claims to rational superiority are deeply problematic.
The massive post I just finished a few days ago is all about moving from a strictly propositional, heavy, doctrine-oriented definition of "faith" to one rooted in the heart, or (using Greek to escape the overly emotional connotations) the καρδια. It questions whether truth itself is primarily propositional and natively suited to expression by words and rational discourse and pushes a role of scripture that is more about finding Jesus the Truth than finding inerrant "Biblical" truth about God.

Compare that with this article by Scot McKnight about the postmodernism of the emerging church movement, which says:
The third kind of emerging postmodernity attracts all the attention. Some have chosen to minister as postmoderns. That is, they embrace the idea that we cannot know absolute truth, or, at least, that we cannot know truth absolutely. They speak of the end of metanarratives and the importance of social location in shaping one's view of truth. They frequently express nervousness about propositional truth. LeRon Shults, formerly a professor of theology at Bethel Theological Seminary, writes:
From a theological perspective, this fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.
Though I would probably try to express it in less dense language, I pretty much agree with these sentiments, in the sense that we should rejoice that it's a testament to the grandness and majesty of the Truth that we can't know Him absolutely as we can know a doctrinal system. The comments on language are also echoed by posts I've written recently on language and how, though it is the best tool we have for communication, it is an imperfect one at best whose limitations become evident when speaking of God.

What really amuses me is that I cited that same Christianity Today article in one of my very first posts over three years ago when I didn't know who Scot McKnight is, only I was critiquing the emerging church and especially postmodernism. Normally I intensely dislike line-by-line rebuttals of peoples' writing (as if they're never allowed to be the slightest bit right), but my twenty-year-old self is in no position to defend himself and I'm quite willing to be hard on him. Let's do this.
Several things of this description of the emerging church distinctly worry me. Foremost is the movement's embracing of postmodernism, a pervasive system of thought whose central message is (correct me if I'm wrong) that scientific, rational attempts to figure the universe out have failed and that there is no one objective reality or truth, only everyone's own perception of it.
Sure, I'll correct you. Of course scientific-esque, rationalistic attempts to fully, objectively describe "the universe" or some part of the nature of God have failed. This is because what they tend to come down to is an attempt to place yourself, epistemologically, in the position of God as the one who has perfect knowledge, which amounts to a denial of your finite creature-ness.  Jesus really was God and was uniquely entitled to use truth in this way (that is, tell everyone, "Your theology is wrong and I'll tell you why because I know the truth" and be totally correct), but by and large He didn't because He Himself was the Truth He was communicating to people (John 14:6). As I recently put it, this kind of beating people over the head with truth entails "assuming that we ourselves are infallible because we possess an infallible gospel", or are in communion with an infallible source.
Postmodernists put everything under skepticism (even, hopefully, postmodernism itself) and are leery of any truths that claim to be objective, or universal.
Well, yes. I've changed the title of my blog a few times since writing that and it now incorporates the seeming contradiction "faithful skeptic", reflecting my willingness to question anything, including my own epistemology. The conflict over "absolute truth" is probably the biggest point of friction between postmodern types and evangelicals, who see it as an attempt to undermine the very validity of the "gospel". Of course I believe absolute truth exists, most especially in the person of Jesus Christ. And it's fine to try to communicate this truth (even in propositional form) or to claim to know it. But if Jesus is the Truth, then truth is not essentially propositional (that is, directly expressible through words and graspable through logic) in nature. You could say these things aren't truth's "native language". And while our words can describe truth to a high degree of accuracy, they always (except in technical fields) involve simplification, like projecting a three-dimensional scene onto a two-dimensional screen.

An example might help show what I mean. The (to understate) ongoing conversation between Calvinists and Arminians is a tense one because each "camp" has, beneath its respective five points about how predestination and salvation work, a very different position on his God works in and through His people. To the Calvinist, people are so fallen and tainted by sin that they are incapable in themselves of doing or willing any good, so their salvation and sanctification are wholly the gracious work of the God who chose them before the foundation of the world through faith alone (which is itself a gift from God by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit). The Calvinist embraces verses like Ephesians 2:1-10, which reads, in part:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
 (The Calvinist is sure to point out that Paul is saying that faith itself is a gift from God, so that we have absolutely nothing in our walk with God that we can boastfully claim as "our own") To the Arminian, people are not passive spectators but, again by God's grace, active participants in God's work in them who are (by prevenient grace) able to freely respond to and "go along with" Him even as His Spirit does the real work. They point to Philippians 2:12-13:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
To the Arminian, Calvinism makes God out to be an all-controlling dictator and ignores the role we are assigned in our spiritual life; to the Calvinist, Arminianism portrays God as an ineffectual softie whose plans are easily thwarted by human will and makes humans out to be their own functional saviors by the power of their own choices. To all of this, I respond that even before I try to draw any conclusions of my own about God's providence (which I have done very extensively), I question whether the two camps are as diametrically opposed as they seem. Could it be that the Calvinist and the Arminian both have the same intuitive, nonverbal sense of "what is really going on" when God works in us (which is independent of their perception of it), but then interpret or describe it in sharply different ways according to their chosen theological systems, both of which fail to fully describe the reality? Is this view--that something has a life and truth of its own apart from what we can say about it--more or less "objective" than the absolutist paradigm under which theology is usually pursued?
At least to me, there seems to be a bit of a problem with attempting to combine postmodernism and Christianity. While postmodernism denies that we can know any truly universal truth, Christianity emphatically declares that we can know the truth--and not just that we can intellectually grasp the truth, but that we can truly know the Truth, the Way, and the Life. The person of God--father, spirit, and son-- is the ultimate foundation of Christianity from which our beliefs and actions should descend. If, as postmodernists, we begin questioning and tampering with this essential truth, can the results really be called Christianity?
You fool! You are just starting to "get" that there is more to the truth than intellectual facts, and you think that postmodernism is opposed to that? No, no, keep going! But remember that since it's possible to "know" a friend without having them completely pinned down and figured out (so you could, for instance, make all their decisions for them), how much less can we expect to ever know God the way He knows us? And that's a good thing!

This has been a nice reminder for me of why I don't like to use labels: because they can easily go from descriptions to reductionistic definitions, whether you're applying them to yourself or to someone else. I made the first mistake in my thinking about MBTI types, as I was prevented from seeing myself as an INFJ because I "knew" that I was a "thinker". For an example of the second way, consider Matthew 9:11, when the Pharisees ask about Jesus, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" To which He responds, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Those people the Pharisees thought they could write off and stuff into the dismissive label "sinners"--they are the ones Jesus came to call, the ones who get to be part of what He is doing; "the first will be last and the last will be first." (Of course, we can easily make the same mistake when thinking about the Pharisees themselves, allowing us to become much more like them than like Jesus and never notice)

Don't fear labels. (This is actually a direct application of words not being the "native language" of truth) If your walk with God takes you through territory demarcated as "postmodernist", "emergent", or anywhere else you've been taught angels fear to tread, keep walking.


In keeping with Penner's description of postmodernism as a condition by which modernism becomes aware of its own assumptions and limitations, I think it's a fallacy to divide moderns and postmoderns into two separate "camps" and pit one against the other. Postmodernism doesn't deny modernism, it seeks to move past its naivete and take a look below the surface of its assumptions. I would then expect to see degrees of this growing awareness in people, and thus a smooth spectrum between pure "modernism" (which no one truly lives by) and fully self-aware (postmodern) modernism.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013



If you're lucky, one of my posts will follow roughly a straight line of reasoning:
Or, if it's especially thought-out, might go on a few detours along the way of the main point:
This post is more like this:
You have been warned.

In one sense, this post is nothing new. I'm hitting on a familiar topic for me of late--the nature of faith and truth, and the interplay between them--which I have already written on not only in my very last post but also in the three-part Metatheology series I did just a few months ago. But this topic is so fundamental (not only for the Christian but for everyone) and so complex that I feel that I can never really addess it "enough". It's kind of an obsession of mine lately. I intend this post to be my most complete treatment of it yet.

First Things

First let me try to define, as clearly and charitably as possible, the view I am arguing against: the treatment of the theological "truth" we believe as primarily propositional, consisting of enumerable facts, correct information, or bodies of knowledge, the Bible as our primary source for this truth, and the essence of Christian faith as believing this truth. I'm hesitant to attach a label to this somewhat nebulous cloud of meanings because so much can be obscured and hidden behind a label, but it is somewhat in the same vein as the "biblicist" view that sociologist Christian Smith argues against in his book The Bible Made Impossible.

I'm also hesitant because I know that any Christian reading the above definition will immediately respond (if only in his head) along the lines of "Of course that's not what I believe! Being a Christian is much more than just agreeing with doctrinal statements and knowing facts; it's a transformative, holistic relationship relationship with God, through Jesus, by the Spirit that transcends pure logic!" I couldn't agree more. The problem is that when you say something like this, you are still expressing your belief that the truth of Christianity transcends mere facts and propositions in a factual, propositional way. It is possible to believe this truth in a way that undermines and contradicts it and is better described by the statement, "All Christian belief is conscious and propositional." If you hold to a definition like this which makes out truth and belief to be reducible to a list of facts you affirm, adding the proposition "The truth of Christianity transcends mere facts and propositions" to your list profits you nothing.

I hope I have made the tension I'm struggling with a little clearer. Consciously believing something is an entirely different matter than living it, but it is possible to believe and affirm this as if they were coterminous. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Now that I've tried to show how traces of this view of truth may persist in the unconscious thought patterns of a believer who consciously believes otherwise, let me return to expounding more on this view and some way I see it manifested.

The Bible

I'm going to be quoting a lot of Wayne Grudem in this section, not because I dislike or disrespect him (he's done a lot more to use his intellectual gifts to serve the kingdom of God than I have), but because I have a copy of his Systematic Theology handy, it is a very clearly written and complete treatment of the subject, and I do disagree with quite a few things in it. Anyway, he starts off by stating his two guiding assumptions throughout the book: "(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only absolute standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists and that he is who the Bible says he is; the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them." In other words, the Bible is the ultimate source of truth, the clearest and primary source of self-revelation from God we have, and the firm foundation for our faith.

If the Bible is God's absolute standard of truth and revelation to His church, the means by which we know Him, then it follows that knowing the truth of the Bible better or more fully will be holier, an unqualified virtue. Knowing God becomes roughly (or functionally) synonymous with knowing His word to us. His entire self-revelation to us is centered on the Bible; other means of revelation, like the inner communication of the Spirit or the revelation of nature, may help us to understand the words scripture better and see God more clearly in them, but ultimately these are all subordinate to the Bible. Grudem explains Jesus' role as the λογος (Word) of God as the most perfect communicator of God's message for us: "Among the members of the Trinity it is especially God the Son who in his person as well as in his words has the role of communicating the character of God to us and of expressing the will of God for us."

What does this look like in practice? If we believe the Bible is the ultimate source and standard of truth, our view/definition of what truth is will be informed by the truth we find in it. And what form do we find truth in the Bible (or any book)? To quote Shakespeare, "Words, words, words." The Bible's unique role as the living word of God means that its infallible words provide a window to God's revelation to us as to His nature and will. When we are in a state of faithful submission to God, guided by his Spirit and using the proper interpretive methods, the Bible teaches us everything we need to believe and live as the children of God. It serves as a kind of truth test; you may be familiar with talk of "being Bereans" (Acts 17:10-11) or "filtering truth through scripture"; the words of the Bible serve as the ultimate foundation on which all other trustworthy truth must be based.

This is a high view of scripture indeed. Grudem writes on the sufficiency of scripture: "This does not mean that the Bible answers all the questions that we might think up, for 'the secret things belong to the Lord our God' (Deut. 29:29) But it does mean that when we are facing a problem of genuine importance to our Christian life, we can approach Scripture with the confidence that from it God will provide us with guidance for that problem." Through scripture God teaches us everything we need to know as Christians: what to believe, how to think, and how to live as His redeemed children. He communicates with us through His written word; we communicate with Him through prayer.


With this view of scripture in the back of our minds, Grudem then defines doctrine as "what the whole Bible teaches us today about some particular topic." In combination with the Bible being the very word of God, meaning that "all the words in Scripture are God's words in such a way that to disbelieve of disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God," this means that doctrine is simply what God says in His word is true and, therefore, what Christians should believe. If someone doesn't believe sound doctrine, it means he doesn't believe God, isn't "thinking biblically", and instead hears what he wants to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).

Scripture is the necessary and sufficient source for our doctrine: "In a very practical sense, it means that we are able to come to clear conclusions on many teaching of Scripture...This doctrine means, moreover, that it is possible to collect all the passages that directly relate to doctrinal issues such as the atonement, or the person of Christ, or the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life today. In these and hundreds of other moral and doctrinal questions, the biblical teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture gives us confidence that we will be able to find what God requires us to think or do in these areas." As stated above, the words of the Bible are considered the ultimate and only trustworthy foundation for the truth about what we are to think or do in matters of faith. In practice, this process of learning truth from the words of the Bible and then applying it to life, guided and sanctified by the Spirit, is how the "Christian life" works.

And again, this truth is generally considered to be primarily propositional, a natural fit for the words by which we express it. The "Gospel", the doctrine of doctrines, the ultimate point of the Bible, is said to change all of life, but is also easily reducible to four simple points that anyone can hear and understand: 1) God created us in His image, loves us, and wants to to unite us and all creation in Himself, 2) People sin and reject God by nature, and can't reconcile themselves to Him, 3) God appointed Jesus, His Son and equally God, who became human, lived a sinless life, and died, as the Savior of humanity and of the whole fallen creation, and 4) We enter into relationship with God by the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Here we see where the strong emphasis on confessions, creeds, and statements of faith arises from. If the words of the Bible are God's very words that we must believe, it is important that we state what they are saying as clearly and unambiguously as possible and unite in agreement with them. The "confessional church" is set apart from the "world" by its confession of/faith in the gospel message of Jesus Christ as expressed in statements like the Apostles' or Nicene creed; further, different denominations or sects of the church are distinguished from each other by the different doctrines they hold about matters like the nature of the trinity, the role of faith and works in justification, the sacraments, or other church practices. Churches are sure to distinguish between "open-hand" and "closed-hand" issues to explain how the denomination down the street is okay and Islam is a false gospel, even though we don't exactly agree with neither of them. Disagreement on a closed-hand issue (something the Bible speaks clearly about) can lead to deliberate separation to avoid compromising on belief in the words of God.


With all that said, I'm going to stop speaking charitably now and start making explicit the implicit and problematic assumptions I wove into that description. As I stated at the outset, this approach to Christianity assumes a certain epistemology (view of belief) or alethiology (view of truth), namely that the "truth" we believe is primarily propositional, consisting of enumerable facts, correct information, or bodies of knowledge of the kind that can be expressed in the text of the Bible. So truth is fully expressible in "words, words, words" and fully manipulable by rational discourse. I think this is the only epistemology in which Grudem's summary of the sufficiency of scripture makes sense (emphasis added): "The sufficiency of scripture means that scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have in each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly."

James K.A. Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom unpacks the fascinating concept of a "philosophical anthropology": a certain philosophical view of human nature which is implicit in a given system of beliefs or practices. (And which may be quite different than one explicitly stated in the system as Grudem does in Systematic Theology) In this case, the philosophical anthropology assumed is, as Smith outlines, that of people as primarily thinkers of thoughts, or believers of (conscious, primarily propositional) beliefs. Of course this does not mean that Christians are then told to believe only intellectually with no attention to emotions, but conscious, confessional adherence to the "truth" is assumed to be the center or essence of faith from which less-conscious things like right feeling and sanctification flow. Because we are in control of our beliefs, it is supposed that we're supposed to watch them (to "have faith", which is to some degree considered to be a gift) and trust God to work them out into a changed, "Christian life", beginning when we confess Christ for the first time.

This represents a constellation of beliefs not so much about God Himself as about ourselves (believers who have been given the truth) and how God relates to us (through the words of the Bible). I no longer believe this view aligns with reality or with the Bible. If you hold it, you probably won't be convinced by hand-wavy arguments about the nature of reality (i.e. experience), so let me given two quick Biblical examples. The thief on the cross in Luke 23:43 is assured of his salvation by Jesus Himself, despite (unless we insert some extrabiblical interpolation) knowing virtually nothing of what we consider "fundamental" knowledge of the nature of Jesus, let alone the rest of Christian doctrine. And again, Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 18:3 that "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven". In my year-plus of experience so far of teaching little children in Sunday School, I've found that their capacity for (and interest in) facts, bodies of doctrines, and statements of faith is pretty slim. These things are supposed to be the core of what it means to be a Christian?

Damage Done

Maybe you still don't share my suspicion. Maybe you are willing to defend your view of belief over my "postmodern" one; maybe you can't see how such a heady discussion really matters one way or another. Let me share some examples I've seen of where it breaks down.

Constantly warning/watching about believing "the devil's lies from the pit of hell", which are correspondingly believed to be propositional in nature, like the ancient heresies. This means that if you discover one of these lies, confess it, and refute it with scripture (e.g. someone with a spending problem confronts it with verses about God's heart for the poor, our role as stewards of what we've been given, and some good old justification by faith/new identity in Christ), you are then considered to have been delivered from it by the power of the gospel; any future struggles are then attributed to lingering sin and all we can do about them is to pray, remind ourselves of the verses, and "believe harder". After all, if people are primarily believers of things, then the real problem was your not fully believing some part of the Bible, which has now been resolved. Does this sound familiar to anyone but me?

Doctrinal division leads to (and is even assumed to be synonymous with) deep church-level schism.  If doctrine is what God (through the Bible) says and all of God's words are true or trustworthy, then a doctrinal difference means that one of you is misunderstanding, misreading, or disbelieving God's words with a less-than-authentic faith, and it sure isn't me!

It also easily leads to an elevated view of the intellectual side of Christianity; if the Bible is how we know God, then studying the Bible and having a fuller and more correct knowledge of God means we're holier for knowing God better, right? My favorite blogger Morgan Guyton recently put up a beautiful and cogent response to the recent Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, which I urge you to read. He outlines two competing visions of holiness in the church: one as "correctness, or fidelity to a set of commandments" and the other as "a state of the heart in which we have been emptied of all obstacles to loving God and our neighbor".

The first view of holiness he describes, which centers around developing "biblical thinking", a "biblical worldview", or a "biblical stance" on issues, is brought out especially by the gay marriage debate because
it pits the Bible against civil rights, which makes the opposition to homosexuality utterly confounding to liberals who get mad and call you a bunch of names, which increases your holiness points through persecution.
In other words, construing holiness as doctrinal correctness leads to viewing the way in which we resist conformity to this world (Romans 12:2) or wage spiritual warfare against the rulers and principalities of evil (Ephesians 6:12), which Christians are called to do and commended for doing, as affirming and practicing the things the Bible affirms, and condemning and fighting the things the Bible condemns (such as abortion or homosexuality), which means confronting and opposing those who support them (doing the opposite of Romans 1:32). Being despised, spat upon, or jeered at for doing so is taken as a sign that you're doing it right; after all, the unbelieving Romans did the same to Jesus. So is being seen as narrow-minded, ignorant, or intolerant (while resting assured that you really aren't but are instead taking a stand for the truth of the Bible); after all truth, by nature, is intolerant, isn't it?

Guyton's final point is that there is a great disconnect between what many, many Christians believe from Paul about justification by faith alone and how they believe this. By intellectualizing our definition of "faith" or "belief" to primarily mean "affirming correct doctrine about God", we are able to prize holiness-as-correctness as an example of the faith Paul speaks so highly of, while I suspect that he himself would have considered it to be more of a work that we do (or think) to merit salvation, rigid obedience to a law that tells us what to believe rather than how to live and that allows us to clearly define an in-group and an out-group in regard to salvation just as the Jewish leaders did with the Mosaic law.
To understand holiness as the pursuit of correctness is exactly like the gospel that Paul’s opponents were preaching to the Galatians and Romans. You cannot betray Paul’s teaching more perfectly than to take Paul’s words and make them into the new “law” that saves us. And yet so many evangelicals have basically become modern-day Galatians substituting a new “law” for the old “law,” not recognizing that putting all our trust in God’s mercy and renouncing the self-justifying pursuit of correctness is the only means by which our hearts can be conquered for Christ, who then gains the access to crucify our sinful nature and resurrect us into new life.
Using the Bible as the ultimate measure of what is true also simplifies debates tremendously. If the Bible says it, then I believe it and that's all there is to it. If the Bible doesn't say it, I'm suspicious of it and hold it at arm's length, believing it on a subordinate level only after filtering it through scripture. If the Bible says it's wrong, than I know it's wrong and don't have to listen to anyone who says otherwise, only to convince them of the truth I have from the Bible. Would you want to have a lengthy, deep conversation with someone who hews to these rules of engagement? Did Jesus?

Finally, focusing on truth as what can be known and applied directly from the Bible is dualistic, that is, it erects a wall of separation between this [physical] world and the spiritual world to come; "the kingdom of heaven is at hand", but not too close! Emphasizing "biblical thinking" or developing a "Christian worldview" breaks down as it becomes very hard to get the "Christian perspective" on things not spoken to by the Bible, for example shopping malls and sports stadiums (both of which James K.A. Smith argues are very influential in our culture). Since these things didn't exist when the Bible was written and it of course doesn't speak of them, a heavily Biblical focus on addressing them leads either to a thinly veiled "Christian" version of secular culture (it's okay to be a consumer as long as you buy "Christian" things from "Christian" stores in a "Christian" way!), extremely vague and rather unhelpful gospel tie-ins ("Jesus is Lord of the NFL, so sportsmanship counts"), or simply overlooking them outright as irrelevant to the "Christian life".

For the reasons given above both from practice and the Bible, I think an uncritically mind-centered approach to the Christian faith is unwise. Again, let me emphasize that this approach is not exclusively intellectual (it might make a big deal out of "loving" God, but that love is assumed to start with seeking Him in the scriptures) nor is it always (or maybe ever) stated explicitly, but rather is assumed implicitly and worked into a larger body of doctrine and practice.

A solution: Holiness as a state of the καρδια

Let me now try to be more constructive and work towards a better way to relate scripture, doctrine, and intellect to the Christian faith. Of course Christians in general affirm the importance of both right thinking/head level belief as well as love/heart-level belief; the present confusion is in the relation of these things. For my subsequent argument I'm going to assume (that is, not lengthen this post further by arguing to support) that God made us with both cognitive and affective faculties, and He aims to transform and use them both for to enact His plan of redemption, restore shalom, and advance His kingdom. Sounds like a safe assumption to me.

Let me return to Morgan Guyton's post to state what I see as a better approach: holiness as a state of the heart. Here's how he puts it.
With the first form of holiness, the basic guiding question is “Am I perfectly correct?” With the second, it’s “Am I perfectly loving?” To this second holiness, sin is a problem not just because the Bible says it’s wrong, but because it prevents me from seeing Jesus’ heart and being perfectly loving to others. I want to be liberated from whatever idols and addictions corrupt my love and make me oblivious to the needs of others, whether or not they are explicitly named in the Bible. When I go to the Bible, I am not looking for a set of correct opinions about issues; I am looking for a savior to follow and imitate. I understand every teaching in terms of how it will purify my heart so that all my instincts and intuitions are Christlike.
This opens up a whole new dimension of faith: Christians aren't supposed to believe something just because it's in the Bible so God said it so it's true and to disbelieve it is a sin. The point of Christian belief is not simply correctness/knowing what is true, but knowing the Truth, Jesus Christ, and being recreated in His image.

Peter Enns also put up another post in a similar vein, asking "Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe?" He acknowledges that of course they aren't mutually exclusive and both are important, but "I had a dollar for every time I've seen that theory not put into practice, I wouldn't have to work." He asks, which of these pleases Jesus more?
Loving those we disagree with, enemies, strangers, and other inconvenient people who wander into our lives while we also have unsettled theological issues about the Bible, God, Jesus, Christianity, the universe, humanity, etc., or… 
Focusing our energies on establishing, maintaining, and defending “sound doctrine” to the extent that we either do not have time or it does not enter our mind to show loving kindness to others–or, we justify sacrificing loving kindness in our efforts to establish, maintain, and defend proper thinking about the Bible, God, Jesus, Christianity the universe, humanity, etc.
He concludes that Jesus probably cares more about right do-ing than about right thinking, using the example of the Pharisees, who "said one thing and did another…those who put right thinking over right behavior." (Of course, the Pharisees were also very concerned with right behavior; more on that later)

Let me try to develop a concept which I think really is central to the Bible's own anthropology (view of human nature). The Greek word καρδια (kardia) is translated as "heart", but I think to us this tends to mean "feelings", "emotions", or maybe "conscience" (as in, "follow your heart"). The definition given by Thayer's lexicon is a bit more multifaceted:

1) the heart
a) that organ in the animal body which is the centre of the circulation of the blood, and hence was regarded as the seat of physical life
b) denotes the centre of all physical and spiritual life
1) the vigour and sense of physical life
2) the centre and seat of spiritual life
a) the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavours
b) of the understanding, the faculty and seat of the intelligence
c) of the will and character
d) of the soul so far as it is affected and stirred in a bad way or good, or of the soul as the seat of the sensibilities, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions
c) of the middle or central or inmost part of anything, even though inanimate

"The centre of all physical and spiritual life", including the soul, thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavours, understanding, intelligence, will, and character--that's a lot more than just the emotions! What we have dozens of English words to categorize and describe, Greek gets across in a single Swiss-army-knife of a word: καρδια. It is from the καρδια that both godliness (Matthew 22:37) and ungodliness (Matthew 15:19) spring, in the καρδια that we dialogue and question with ourselves (Mark 2:6,8, Luke 24:38), in the καρδια that we will or intend things (John 13:2), that we rejoice (John 16:22, Acts 2:26) and have sorrow (Romans 9:2), with our καρδια that we believe in God (Romans 10:10) and in which Jesus resides (Ephesians 3:17). The καρδια is the center of our identity and where in modern thinking it's easy to hermetically seal off our thoughts, emotions, and actions from each other, the καρδια is the wellspring of them all.  James K.A. Smith thinks a better translation of καρδια might be "gut"; I would almost go so far as to suggest an even better one: "self". (Though ψθχη, psyche, might be an even better fit) Try reading some of the passages containing καρδια in the link above and see how these fit.

Human consciousness runs far deeper than we think. Thoughts, intentions, decisions, emotions, desires, hopes, dreams, imaginings, fears, and actions all swirl together in a turbulent mixture, and sometimes all our conscious minds are capable of doing is skimming its surface. With this cauldron-analogy in mind, it becomes clearer how faith can be a "state of the heart". Faith is not simply a new ingredient added to this mixture, something we do, think, or feel differently; it is a total reorientation and transformation of the whole thing; the parts we're aware of and the parts we aren't. It affects not just the conscious phenomena of our thinking and doing, but the unconscious roots of these things which we have no direct control over; this is why faith cannot be manufactured or invented but must be, to this extent, given to us (and why the debate over what kind of "free will" we have to choose faith in God misses the whole picture, as if faith consisted of nothing but a series of conscious thoughts and choices). If we think of faith as primarily an emotional transformation, it becomes hyper-charismatic, experience-oriented hysteria. It we conceive of it as changed living, we get empty legalism or ritualism. If we consider it to be primarily correct belief, we get cold intellectualism.

This view of faith assumes a different philosophical anthropology, which was the biggest thing that jumped out at me from James K.A. Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom. He argues that people are not primarily or originally thinkers or believers but lovers who are oriented towards, desiring, and constantly striving after or "intending" an ultimate goal or prize. For a person of faith, this goal is God Himself, which profoundly affects and reorients the entire God-intending person starting from the heart, not the mind.

It also incorporates a different epistemology that hints that a strictly propositional, rational, logical model of what truth is may not be "the whole show"--that there is a greater, more personal Truth out there than what we can fit into bodies of knowledge and statements of faith. This should challenge our approach to doctrine. Which truth are we seeking in our theology and doctrine--truth as logical correctness or "that which corresponds with reality", or Truth as the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:16)? James 2:19 makes the inflammatory point that knowing things about God is not good in and of itself; even the demons do that. The Truth of God is the object, not merely the subject, of our knowledge.

The Role of the Bible

Time to cite another source: an amazing sermon preached by Jonathan Martin of Renovatus Church about scripture, Spirit, and community. I am currently in communication with Renovatus' web team about how to link directly to their sermons, but it is the first sermon in the "Both &" series preached on on June 30th 2013 on the sermon player.

Martin's main point around which he develops his message is that the principle of sola scriptura, as it has been developed and used in the 20th century, is misguided and wrong. (I will mention that I made a very similar point in my blog earlier this year) He outlines the approach to scripture he's pushing against: a hermeneutic that emphasizes the use of a Bible-only, historical-critical method to discover the original meaning of the text, which is assumed to be the "true" one and which we can then incorporate into our theology and live from. To this he makes the challenging statement: "scripture alone is not enough", before unpacking what exactly he means.

One of his big examples is Acts 15. In this chapter a disagreement arises among the early Christian church when some Jewish Christians begin to teach that circumcision "according to the custom of Moses" and obedience to the Mosaic law was necessary to be a Christian. So "the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter" and finally Peter announces:
Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.
In other words, though God used to make a distinction between the Jews as "God's people" and the gentile (non-Jewish)  outsiders, He is no longer making any such distinction in the giving of His Spirit or the cleansing of gentiles' hearts by faith. He points out that the Jews have never been able to bear the yoke of the Mosaic covenant, their screw-ups being well-documented in the Old Testament, and that they should instead trust the grace of Christ for the salvation of both Jew and gentile. Then James gets up and announces,
Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.
James is quoting the prophet Amos (9:11-12), who is promising the restoration of the nation of Israel and the inclusion of the gentiles in God's kingdom--making the point that God's plan has always been to include the gentiles, so they shouldn't be surprised now. Finally, though he says the gentile believers shouldn't be required to follow the whole Mosaic law, he gives a few practical instructions for them to abide by for the sake of church harmony.

Martin's point is that Peter and James' conclusion here would be impossible to reach by following a scripture-alone, right-method-centric hermeneutic, given that the only scripture they had at the time was the Greek Old Testament which says nothing about any such exceptions for gentiles not having to obey the law. He puts it a bit more forcefully: "There is no way anyone ever, using some sort of good historical-critical method, could take that text from the Old Testament [Amos 9:11-12] and say this conclusively proves that gentiles don't need to be circumcised." And how in the world did James conclude that, of all the laws, abstinence from idols, sexual immorality, things that have been strangled, and from blood were the only ones that the gentiles should be held to? Though the apostles do pay attention to what scripture says in their decision, they don't seem confined to what it says: "They do measure all this experience up against the text...but the text does not directly address the problem at hand."

What Martin is getting at is this kind of barrier between the writing of the scriptures and our reading of the scriptures: the assumption that the Spirit inspired the apostles to write the inerrant scriptures in a way that is totally above and beyond anything we have available today in terms of "spiritual-ness". In other words, Jesus' promise in John 16;13 that "when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" was directed only to the apostles and doesn't apply to us. He describes it as saying, "The spirit only inspired the disciples, and what the Spirit showed the what we now have in scripture." This assumption of a unique kind of inspiration is a necessary component of our reading scripture in a way completely different than the apostles did (as in the above example): they were allowed to handle scripture in ways that we consider reckless or just plain wrong today because they were "inspired by the Spirit" in a way that we aren't, which allowed them to write new scripture. After all, no one today could be inspired in the same way or they could say things on the same level as scripture! Martin argues strongly against this view of inspiration as something that only applies to the writing and not the reading of the Bible: "The spirit that breathed these texts into existence is still here right now, and we need that spirit to help us to live these texts right now."

So "scripture alone will not take you far...there must be a dynamic interplay between the Spirit, scripture, and the community of God". To the astute Bible reader who says, "I don't need any of those voices in community, all I need is the Bible, and I just do what the Bible says", he answers, "No you do not...that makes it sound like you're not doing interpretation." Don't repeat the mistakes of the Pharisees who "search the scriptures" diligently but still miss their testimony about Jesus (if we think this is because they weren't using the right methods, we miss the point). If the power that enables us to read Truth from scripture is not found in our careful study and correct hermeneutical methods but is from outside us, it means that no one has any kind of privileged, unfiltered access to what scripture "really means". This means that besides just the text, we need the Spirit to help us to interpret and apply it in community. "The goal in reading scripture is never simply to grasp the author's intent, but to experience the reality of the God who inspired those texts in community." Other interpreters of the Bible are not out there for you to disprove with your brilliantly superior Bible exposition skills, they are part of that interpretive community just like you are. He criticizes the assumption often present among Protestants that "the folks who understand scripture the most are the most educated folks...thank God for somebody who's done enough academic training!", echoing 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, which says in v19, "For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'"

He argues for the "Christocentric hermeneutic" that I've come to believe by way of other authors like Peter Enns and Christian Smith. He puts it quite simply: "The point of scripture is to reveal Jesus" (who, recall from above, is the Truth we're after in the first place). The actual words of the Bible are not somehow elevated above other words of other books; the whole point is the Word (John 1:1) that we come to know through them. It is possible to miss the Word for the words. Martin hits on this point again and again so it's impossible to miss: "If you worship scripture, then it's highly possible you miss the point of scripture, which is Jesus", or "if our reading of scripture, our reading of that word, doesn't point us to love and worship the Word...then reading scripture is worthless for us."

If you couldn't tell, I'm kind of a fan of this sermon and I highly recommend listening to it in full. The only (minor) point of contention I have about it is that I would say, agreeing with the historical-critical method, that there is an "original meaning" to any Biblical text, and that while it's wrong to hold that this is the only meaning (preventing yourself from "seeing Christ" in that text), we likewise shouldn't allow the Christocentric meaning to crowd out the original one and become the only one we see. For example, interpreters who can't see the Song of Solomon as anything other than an allegory of Christ's love for His church miss out on the (ahem) "richness" of the original book as a song between two (human) lovers and what we can learn from it about love (which my church did a sermon series about last year). In other cases knowledge of the original meaning of a text might be crucial for seeing Jesus through it, such as when Hebrews talks about how Jesus fulfills various parts of the Mosaic covenant (which presupposes that the reader has extensive knowledge of the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant and what they mean).

The Role of Doctrine

So if we're reading scripture not to simply correctly exegete logically sound truths about God using the right hermeneutical methods but to know Him through Jesus Christ, what then of doctrine? Simply saying "correct doctrine isn't everything" isn't enough; this can easily sound like you don't care about doctrine or are anti-intellectual. A credible alternative explanation of the proper role of doctrine is needed. If this view of people as lovers first, (conscious) believers second is true and these beliefs are rooted in a faith that extends below the surface of our consciousness, what role is doctrine supposed to play? The answer must be more nuanced than either "none at all" or "it must be Biblical (that is, correct)".

I have found it really helpful to draw an analogy between doctrinal belief and works. (In defiance to those who would consider doctrinal belief to be a part of "faith" and set it in opposition to works, which I don't think Paul intended at all) We are commanded to be perfect (Matthew 5:48), which of course we can't presently do, yet we hopefully aren't branded heretics or kicked out of our church for not being perfect. (If anyone knows of a church of all perfect people, let me know so I can apply to join) Yet I think it's an unspoken expectation that our theology must be, if not complete, "Biblical" (that is, correct, that is, perfect or free from error) in all it covers. I'm suspicious of this. Saying that you must believe a "fundamental" doctrine to be saved (or "truly in Christ" or something synonymous) sounds a lot like saying you must perform X ritual, discipline, or good deed to be saved. Yet we call one "legalism" and the other "Biblical doctrine".

Now we can make sense of how the Pharisees, who followed the regulations of the law perfectly and carefully read their Bibles to develop right thinking about God, could so completely miss Him when He came to them in the flesh. The truth is that faith is rooted and centered in the heart (καρδια), not in our beliefs or our actions. Though both of these things certainly matter to faith and affect it, they don't control it in such a way that we can simply focus entirely on either (or both) and just leave the rest to God. We're tempted to reduce faith to things that we have direct control over like actions or beliefs (yet we're still somehow susceptible to sin in both), but faith is a renunciation of control to God, who knows and is sovereign over our καρδια.

Just as we're being sanctified in our lives and actions, so we can also expect to be sanctified in our doctrine and thinking. This means that just as God doesn't want us to wear a veneer of "good works" to look acceptable to Him and others but rather to be "authentic", so I think it's more important to be sincere and authentic in our thinking than it is to hold onto a shallow doctrinal correctness that may only serve to hide deep doubt and questioning. It means that just as we should be slow to condemn each other for our actions, we should also be slow to stick someone with the "heretic" label for their theology, remembering that both come from the state of their καρδια (which you can't see). In my previous post I argued, echoing John Owen, that the manner of our faith is more important than the matter, but an even better way to put it might be that when Jesus Himself, as the Word of God and the Truth He wants to communicate to us (not just the ultimate communicator of the truth in the Bible) is the object (not just subject) of our faith, matter and manner become inseparable from each other.

What of parts of the Bible that seem to emphasize correct doctrine? For instance John says you can identify the Spirit of God by a doctrinal confession: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already." (1 John 4:2-3) And Paul says in Galatians 1:9 that "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Alternate translation: "Let him go to hell!") And Paul admonishes Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16 to "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching." Doesn't it seem from these verses that correct doctrine or teaching is central and essential? Only if you already believe it is, and if you assume that creeds and confessions are supposed to be purely cognitive (which I don't think the apostles did). If we see increasingly correct doctrine (orthodoxy) as one manifestation of saving faith in Jesus, not as irrelevant to it or synonymous with it, along with correct actions (orthopraxy) and correct feeling (orthopathy), these verses make perfect sense and there is no difficulty at all.


Read this post again. And again. And then maybe again, reflecting on its sheer brilliance and the truth of its words until they sink deeply into your soul and metamorphose your thinking, doing, and feeling. Don't even bother reading your Bible until you've done so.

Only kidding. I hope something (or more than one thing) in my ramblings jumped out at you as God speaking through my words in a way that will change how you live. But just in case, let me offer a few challenges.
  • Why do you read the Bible? What are you looking to find when you do?
  • Can you think of any beliefs you may hold purely cognitively that make little or no functional difference in your faith or how you live? (This is convicting for me regarding headier doctrine regarded as "essential" like the Trinity)
  • When someone disagrees with a valued point of your theology, how does it affect how you think about them? How you act toward them?