Some of what I believe today…

For those who have not been with this blog for years, or to save others from too many wild goose chases, I’m going to do a series summing up some of the positions I’ve come to and discussed in the now-three-years since I began Nailing it to the Door.  These are not settled positions.  I’ve learned a lot in dialog with many of you, and I do not expect this process to stop.  This series represents where I am today.

I am not proposing a new creed or statement of faith.  I have written before that I think the very act of defining a creed is an error on at least two fronts: first in that creeds tend to reduce faithfulness to a collection of intellectual propositions to which one must assent, and second that all-too-often the creed is used primarily to exclude dissenters from fellowship or service.

If there is a single phrase that would capture many of the conclusions to which I have come over the past few years, it would be this:

None of us knows as much as we think we do, about God or about ourselves.

By this I mean that we need to release many long-held dogmas from the death-grip in which they’ve been held.  I find it highly paradoxical that the school of Christian thought which shouts the loudest (at least to my ears) about God’s greatness and our inadequacy is the very school which insists on some of the most rigid doctrines about God and us (I refer, of course, to Calvinism).  To me, an understanding of God’s bigness and my smallness requires me to hold those things I *do* think I believe with a much gentler grip, recognizing that where God is concerned, none of us really “gets it.”  Many are fond of quoting the maxim “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  I agree.  Much of what I have written and will continue to write, is to advocate for the proposition that there are very … very … few essentials.

A great deal, though not all, of my departure from classic Christian (particularly Evangelical) thinking can be summed up in the mnemonic ROCK.  Each of the following sections will be elaborated in its own post in the coming days…I’m not defending the theses here, I’m just enumerating them.  The four “ROCK” concepts are:

Rightly Dividing the Word:

Applying the term “The Word of God” to the Bible is erroneous and unsupported by the Biblical text.  The Bible contains words of God to humanity, other words of humans to God, and a great deal of narrative about God’s interaction with humanity.  Responsible exegesis involves (in part) discerning which is which, and then giving due primacy in doctrine to that subset of the text which is actually God’s words.  It also involves reexamining–and appropriately softening, correcting, or dismissing–any teaching which is based on extracontextual or extrabiblical sources…including a great many dogmas of the “church fathers.”  Rightly divided, the Bible leaves a great many questions that later theologians have presumed to answer.  We need to gain the humility to accept that if the Bible does not answer a question, no matter how reasonable or valid that question might seem to us, the answer is not necessary to faithful obedience to Jesus.

Open View of God:

Seriously interacting with Biblical accounts of God’s dealing with humans requires us to confront a picture of God dynamically interacting with his creation.  While the Calvinist view maintains God has deterministically ordained all things, good and evil; and while Arminianism suggests God has granted humans free will to accept or reject him, but nevertheless he knows what each of us is going to do (which, I argue, is merely determinism behind a veneer of freedom as only what is determined can be foreknown); the Bible portrays a God who actually changes his mind and his actions in interaction with people.  Reconciling these apparent contradictions (and the existence of evil) requires significant mental gymnastics for both Calvinists and Arminians.  On the other hand, accepting that God well and truly delegated some choices to humans (and other creatures), and knows the outcomes instantly when they happen but not before (“omniscience” being the knowledge of all that is knowable…that is, all that is), greatly simplifies the question of human accountability and the problem of the existence of evil, all the while being far more faithful to the textual narrative, without in the slightest denying or denigrating God’s sovereignty or power.  The perspective that God has left some choices to us that might genuinely go more than one possible way, is commonly called the Open View of God, or Open Theism.

Christus Victor:

Classic theory of the work of Jesus on the cross focuses primarily on the concept of Jesus’ death paying the penalty required by God for humanity’s sin.  This doctrinal system is commonly known as “Penal-Substitutionary Atonement” (PSA).  PSA is largely based upon an erroneous interpretation of the Jewish sacrificial system, and desperately anti-contextual reading of the Epistles, in particular Romans.

A more Biblical understanding centers the work of Jesus in his resurrection, not his death, and recognizes that both are the lynchpin of Jesus’ battle with Satan and the powers that have aligned themselves against God. This perspective recognizes that sin is not merely the failings of humans, but the corruption of a whole swath of creation (maybe all of it) by God’s enemies, the Principalities and Powers of which the New Testament writers spoke.  Jesus’ death and (more especially) resurrection were key battles in that war, in which we are now engaged with God in fighting to take back territory and citizens occupied and enslaved by the enemy (Christus Victor = “Christ the victor”).  Paradoxically, as the weapon of Jesus’ victory was to take on death and defeat it by rising anew, so our greatest weapon is to take on hatred and defeat it with his love, for our weapons are not carnal.

Kingdom of Jesus Christ:

The salvation of Jesus is not simply a future escape from earth to heaven, but rather his naturalizing us into citizenship in his kingdom (the new creation) here and now.  As God breathed into Adam the breath of life in the first creation, so Jesus breathes into his disciples the Breath (Spirit) of new life in the new creation.  With our new citizenship we are now aliens in this present enslaved world, and we (individually as citizens, and collectively as embassies or outposts of the kingdom) are called to work as reconciling ambassadors and members of a divine resistance, participating with Christ to take back his territory and his people from the slavery under which they now live.  Our goal is not to get people “believing” in a “religion;” it’s to help people to recognize who is their true king–to bow the knee to Jesus as Lord now, and then to join us as citizens of Jesus’ growing kingdom.

There are other issues, in addition to ROCK, that I will revisit in this series, among them:

  • Neither Jesus nor the apostles used the threat of hell in their evangelism of the “unsaved.”  If they didn’t need it, we don’t either.  In fact, a Jesus perspective on hell is more of a warning to those who claim to be his, but who are driving others away from him with their “religion.”
  • Jesus spent his entire ministry trying to convince the Apostles that “greatness” and authority and power were not his way.  Whether or not the Apostles ever got the message, the church that followed them clearly did not, as evidenced by the hierarchical patterns of authority that were instituted by at least the second or third century A.D.  and remain to this day.
  • The doctrine of the Trinity, insisted as “orthodox” by the vast majority of Christians, is at best an oversimplification of concepts that the Biblical texts leave vastly more ambiguous.  Insistence on the fourth-century formulations of Christ and the Holy Spirit, though they were done (in part, at least) to counter genuine error, erred themselves in going far “beyond what is written” in Scripture itself.  (This is an inflammatory claim; I encourage the reader to see this post on Christology and this on the Holy Spirit before lighting the flames on my stake).

As I visit these issues over the next few weeks, I will probably come back and update this post with links to the various detailed articles, so that this document can become somewhat of an index to my credo (non credo?).  I look forward to your challenges!

Rightly dividing the word

9 thoughts on “Some of what I believe today…”

  1. Robbie

    “None of us knows as much as we think we do, about God or about ourselves”

    This reminds me of a song by my favorite band mewithoutYou called, “A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains”

    One of my favorite lines is “I was caught halfway listening to what she thinks she knows
    We are like children dressing in our parents’ clothes” saying

  2. Paul Pavao

    Ok. This is my fourth post of yours I’ve read. I’m enjoying this. I have two questions on this one.

    The “open theism” you describe, is that what Greg Boyd gets berated for? I’ve heard of the idea because of Boyd, but it didn’t capture my interest enough for me to research it.

    Rats. I can’t remember the second question, even after skimming through the post again. Here’s two things to consider:

    1. The Nicene Creed simply says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” The Apostles Creed doesn’t go much further, adding “who proceeds from the Father [Catholic: and the Son].” I don’t think the Nicene and pre-Nicene church was any more sure how to “explain” the Holy Spirit than you are.

    I wrote a booklet on the Gospel the apostles preached in Acts (to the lost, as compared to the Gospel we evangelicals preach that comes from letters to Christians). I caught a lot of things researching that, but I missed the fact that they never mention hell. I should have seen that because they don’t bother to tell the lost they are sinners, either.

    I really like John Bunyan for his attitude and life, and I really like Pilgrim’s Progress, but apparently he missed that lesson, too. Peter told the crowd in Jerusalem to flee this perverse generation. Pilgrim was told to flee the wrath to come. There is a wrath to come, but you’re right that the apostles saved that message for the church and focused on King Jesus delivering us in this present age when preaching to the lost.

    I’ll be reading your blog more in the future. If I ever comment to much or become annoying, please email me and tell me so.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Yes, it’s one of several things Greg is pilloried for. An even-better reference than Boyd, though is John Sanders’ “The God Who Risks.”

      I think you reversed the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in your comment. I’m OK with the Apostles’, but part ways with Nicaea as I wrote in http://nailtothedoor.com/why-i-dont-accept-the-nicene-creed/.

      If your book is in print, please feel free to post a link in these comments…you’ve piqued my interest.

  3. Paul Pavao

    I remember. My second question was on Jesus and hell. He did tell his hearers that it’s better to lose a hand or eye than go into gehenna where the worm doesn’t die and the fire isn’t quenched. So when you say Jesus didn’t use hell in evangelism, are you saying that wasn’t evangelism, or are you saying Jesus *almost* never used hell in evangelism?

  4. Paul Pavao

    Lol. I should keep up on modern changes. I guess. Creeds.net cites the Nicene Creed like we used to say it as a Roman Catholic child. However, that’s not accurate.

    Here’s the link to Socrates Scholasticus’ giving the Nicene Creed in the early 400’s. He cites Eusebius as his source and produces a letter with the creed in it. That’s here:

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.iv.viii.html

    Note 170 explains that Chalcedon (451) added wording to what Socrates gives. It also says that the creed is cited 12 times in 11 ancient sources. The Council of Chalcedon reports that additions were made at the Council of Constaninople in 381, and it gives both versions: the original creed from the Council of Nicea and the additions from Constaninople.

    I’m not wrong. I just didn’t realize they still called the update modern version the Nicene Creed. When it came out of Nicea, before all the crazy battles of the next 58 years, it just said “we believe in the Holy Spirit.”

    My book is on Amazon. Kindle version is very inexpensive at $5. There is an outrageous amount of research that went into it.

    Link: http://www.amazon.com/Beginning-Was-Logos-Paul-Pavao-ebook/dp/B00BQ3HKEE/

    Note that you can read the appendices, most of the primary sources for Nicea, for free at http://www.christian-history.org/ibwl-appendices-for-web.html, or you can download the .doc file of the appendices. You can read the first three or four chapters for free as well at http://www.christian-history.org/ibwl-purchase.html

    That last link is a landing page for any ads I run for it. Sorry it’s not a great landing page. I’m a terrible salesman. I like talk about history, not why someone should buy my book.

    If you prefer paper books, then wait! The current version is expensive compared to the one we’ll have out within a month. It has a better cover, and we used CreateSpace to get the price down, certainly under $15 and hopefully down near $12. It’s 460 pages, so it’s hard to do better than that.

    Kindle, though, is electronic, so we have that at $5. I give it away to bloggers who promise a review, though. You can see the reviews I have at Amazon.

  5. Paul Pavao

    Ok, read your “don’t like Nicea” post. I really like your complaint about “I believe” and the fact that there are no calls to action.

    You are objecting to what historians call the Niceano-Constantopolitan (sp?) Creed. That the adapted Creed as given by the Council at Chalcedon, where they claim that they got it from the tiny, poorly attended Council of Constantinople.

    Here’s the version given by the council itself. It does include the anathemas.

    We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:—and in one168 Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God and Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father: by whom all things were made, both which are in heaven and on earth: who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, and was made man; suffered, arose again the third day, and ascended into the heavens, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. [We] also [believe] in the Holy Spirit. But the holy Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes those who say “There was a time when he was not,” and “He was not before he was begotten” and “He was made from that which did not exist,” and those who assert that he is of other substance or essence than the Father, or that he was created, or is susceptible of change.

    The creed was based on the creed of the church in Caesarea, where Eusebius the historian was bishop (not to be confused with Eusebius of Nicomedia, who led the fight for Arianism). The Caesarean church’s rule of faith included something very close to “God from God, light from light, true God from true God,” but, IMO, that’s a poor translation. It should be divinity from divinity and true divinity from true divinity, just as John 1:1–acknowledged by every Greek commentary I’ve checked and taught to me by my Protestant, trinitarian first year Greek teacher–should be, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was the God, and the Word was divine.”

    The argument at Nicea was whether Jesus was born from out of God, thus being of the divine substance, or whether he was created from nothing (the first and greatest creation of God). That’s why the emphasis on “divinity from divinity” and “begotten, not made” and “one in substance with the Father.”

    The council is nowhere near the first place that emphasis is made. Athenagoras’ “Plea for the Christians” in AD 177 talks quite a bit about the difference between God and matter and how important it is. Theophilus of Antioch (To Autolycus, starting Bk 2, ch. 10, I believe) also spends time on the subject of divinity vs. matter.

    The anathemas may seem harsh, but really they were directed at two very divisive, stubbon, and unrepentant people: Eusebius of Nicomedia and Arius.

    Today, almost everyone, except people with doctorates in history, has forgotten what Nicea was about. Today, anathemas like that in this confused world are too strong. In 325, however, it was meant to put to stop an issue that would have made the Montanist and Novatian schisms seem tiny.

    It didn’t work. It couldn’t because the role of bishop gained political power at that time and the emperor and his governors were as involved in church affairs as the bishops were, or almost. Thus, it took an imperial decree by Theodosius in 383 to resolve the issue.

    I hope I’m not saying too much.

    Here’s what else no one seems to notice. (You may have mentioned this in another post.) The Nicene Creed, the Apostles Creed, and 1 Cor. 8:6 all say, “We believe in one God, the Father … and in one Lord, Jesus Christ.”

    That’s not terminology we use nowadays, but when the Father and Son are mentioned together, it is the only terminology used in the Bible. The Son is only ever called God when the Father is not mentioned along with him.

    I didn’t find that on my own. Tertullian explained that, and said that was the practice of the early 3rd century church as well, in Against Praxeas.

    I’ll quit with one more link. If you want a lot of quotes on this subject from before Nicea, I have quite a number at http://www.christian-history.org/trinity-quotes.html

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      I find this quite interesting, Paul. And you are right, I have also encountered several discussions that lead me to suspect that I’m actually pretty orthodox if the yardstick is pre-Nicaea/Constantinople/Chalcedon. I also am strongly suspicious that the trinitarianism of common modern Evangelical statements of faith (God eternally existing as three co-equal persons) would not have passed pre-Nicene muster, and may not have been acceptable to the Nicene Council either.

      I would be curious if you know the history of the “with the Father and son is worshipped and glorified” clause which is notably absent from the text you posted.

  6. Paul Pavao

    I went to my own book, and realized that the phrase was added at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. That council claims it came from the Council of Constantinople in 381, but there are no records of that council. We have to take their word for it.

    Again, with all the theological (and physical) battles of the fourth century to attempt to define the Trinity, it is no surprise that such things were added. The Council of Constaninople may well have been the guilty council, but the Council of Chalcedon certainly promulgated the Nicene Creed with the additions.

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