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My latest contribution to the MennoNerds vlog concerned the issue of sacraments, where I and my cat friend Kafka argued that they don’t exist:
Now, some of you may get a knee-jerk reaction when you hear that, so let me clarify what I mean. I’m not saying that things like communion, baptism and anointing of the sick don’t exist or that we shouldn’t do those things, there are clear Biblical commands prescribing us to practice that. But the Bible doesn’t call them “sacraments”, and neither should we. In the video, I briefly describe the origin of the term and how the definition of “sacrament”, which in turn decides what should be included in the category, is completely arbitrary and man-made.
Think for yourself: why isn’t helping the poor described as a sacrament? It’s not because Jesus isn’t telling us to help the poor, because He is. It’s not because helping the poor isn’t a visible sign of invisible grace, as the classical sacramental definition goes, because it is. Let’s face it, the reason why baptism and communion are included in a category that historical churches have found very important whereas helping the poor, evangelism and the Lord’s prayer has been excluded from said category, is because the founders of those sacramental categorizations subjectively thought that some Biblical commands were more important than others. I’ve written more about this here. (more…)
Extremely few Protestants live in a community of goods similar to that of the apostolic church in Acts 2 and 4. In fact, most Protestant denominations don’t have any single community connected to them. Just like charismatic, supernatural gifts used to be a rarity within Protestantism due to cessationism, something that has drastically changed over the last century, so is having everything in common. Both miraculous power and community life are biblical practices that many Christians simply don’t want, and both charismatic cessationism and economic cessationism have been defended and strengthened by forms of academic theology which quite frankly use very bad arguments.
Mennonite scholar Reta Halteman Finger wrote an excellent paper back in 2004 called ”Cultural attitudes in western Christianity toward the community of goods in Acts 2 and 4” (Mennonite quarterly review, vol. 78, no. 2). It’s a baffling read. An obvious mistake from Catholic and Orthodox theologians during pre-Reformation times was to equate the apostolic community of goods in Acts with the community of goods in the monastic movement, even though the latter is only available for celibates.
When Luther and Calvin protested in the 16th century, they rejected the monastic movement and thereby community of goods. Both argued that the only lesson we should learn from Acts 2 and 4 is that we should give a little gift sometimes to a poor person, not that we should have everything in common with them. They criticized Anabaptists for wanting to live apostolically; Luther argued that it is impossible to do what the apostles did for modern believers. The Hutterites proved him wrong, having lived in total community for over 400 years.
As liberal theology and the historical-critical method in biblical scholarship sprung up during the 19th and 20th century, Protestant academics such as Eduard Zeller, Ernst Hanchen, Hans Conzelman and Luke T. Johnson questioned the historicity of Luke’s account in Acts 2 and 4. Their main argument for this was that community of goods in their eyes is extreme and difficult, therefore the author of Acts must be making it up. Haenschen for example argued that only celibates can manage to live in community, suggesting that Hutterites don’t exist. (more…)
Based on the Nicene Creed as well as statements of faith from the Vineyard movement, Azusa Apostolic Faith Mission, the Jesus Army, the old Assemblies of God, Schelitheim Anabaptists and the Lausanne Covenant.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
The Holy Spirit and His Gifts
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells every believer in Jesus Christ and that He is our abiding Helper, Teacher, and Guide. We believe in the filling or empowering of the Holy Spirit, often a conscious experience, for ministry today. We believe in the present ministry of the Spirit and in the exercise of all the biblical gifts of the Spirit. We practice the laying on of hands for the empowering of the Spirit, for healing, and for recognition and empowering of those whom God has ordained to lead and serve the Church. (more…)
What if cessationists applied their reasoning to other things than miracles? Cessationism is the belief that miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles and that we don’t need them anymore now that we have the Bible. Many Christians sincerely believe this, especially conservative evangelicals in the US, but how would their arguments sound if they were applied to other things that the gifts of the Spirit? Yesterday, my friend Andreas Lundström and myself made a sketch about this:
Feel free to spread it on if you like it. And for you who like bloopers, here comes some bloopers:
So the kids I like to play with tend to reject the doctrine of penal substitution, the idea that Jesus took the punishment for our sins in order to satisfy the wrath of God. A recent article on the Sojourners website gives a good example of this:
Essentially, the cross is explained exclusively in legal terms. You and I are the criminal, God is the blood-thirsty judge and executioner, and Jesus becomes the one who steps in between us and lets the angry judge beat and kill him in our place. Having killed an innocent person, this judge is somehow satisfied and a little less angry, so he sets friends of the innocent dead man free as he awaits the “end times” when he’ll finally get to let the bodies hit the floor and feel good about himself.
It’s actually quite twisted when you break it down. Jesus protects us from God? Or, if you accept the inspiration of Scripture (which I 100 percent do), it gets even more uncomfortable when you see Jesus say things like: “If you have seen me, you have seen the father, for we are one,” or in Hebrews, when it is stated that Jesus is the “exact representation of God’s being.”
Accepting both the inspiration of Scripture and the penal substitution theory of the atonement, one could actually say that Jesus died to protect us from Jesus.
Which is quite silly, really — from one aspect this makes God look schizophrenic, and on the other, it makes the cross look like a bad case of domestic violence — something I personally find offensive.
With hardly any Scriptural quotations at all, Benjamin Corey goes on claiming that penal substitution is responsible for the capital punishment and crual legal system of the United States, and like many other critics of the penal substitution theology he claims that the idea was founded by Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century and that no Christian believed in it in the first millenia of the church.
Allow me to disagree.
This is an assignment I’ve written for my dogmatics course at Johannelund Theological Seminary.
Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology is a standard introduction work for thousands of students that take courses in Christian dogmatics, including the people at my seminary. On 500 pages, McGrath talks about the most central issues of systematic theology. Five of those 500 pages are about the Holy Spirit. In comparison, 50 are dedicated to the doctrines of the church and the sacraments.
McGrath admits that the Holy Spirit should deserve a chapter of his own, especially with the popularity of the charismatic movement in mind, but still he doesn’t create such a chapter but restricts himself to five pages. Here, he writes about how the Holy Spirit is described, the debate concerning the Spirit’s divinity and finally what the Holy Spirit does. Only one paragraph is dedicated to charisms, the emphasis of the charismatic movement. One paragraph in a 500 page-book.
I would say that this priority is out of touch with reality. There are around 600 million charismatics and Pentecostals worldwide, most of them in developing nations, that are very interested in the Holy Spirit and his gifts. They have realized that the New Testament very often connects the Spirit to miracles, and that the miraculous power of the Spirit is accessible to all believers. Sharing this common knowledge, there is disagreement however on how one gets baptized or filled with the Spirit, how to pray for healing, how to hear the voice of God, the role of speaking in tongues, etc. In other words, there is certainly enough material for McGrath to fill a chapter.
Yet, he doesn’t, and I think it is not so much his personal fault but rather a tendency within academic theology as a whole: charismatics are excluded from theological discussion. This can also be seen in Norwegian theologian Jan-Olav Henriksen’s introduction to dogmatics: the chapter about the Spirit is combined with the chapter about the church, to hide the embarrassment of only giving six pages to the Holy Spirit. Just as in McGrath’s work, emphasis lies on the Spirit’s soteriological role, while charismatic phenomena are de-emphasized.
Why does it look like this? Let me share some theories.
The title above may seem provocative to some, but it shouldn’t be. The Bible is holy only because the Holy Spirit inspired it. And so, there is no opposition between studying the Word and pursuing the presence of the Author. I don’t agree with everything Bill Johnson says, but to these words, qouted from an article in Charisma News, I say amen:
For decades, maybe centuries, the church has gathered weekly around a sermon. Our reasons are noble: We value the Scriptures and know that our lives are to be anchored in truth. But the study of the Scriptures is meant to launch us into an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.
In that moment of connection, we obtain life. Without encountering the One to whom Scriptures point, we are a people to be pitied. As Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).
Nearly every leader wants revival in one way or another, and many want healings, deliverances and miracles. But it’s hard to have the same fruit as the early church when we value a book they didn’t have above the Holy Spirit they did have.
That statement is not intended to get us to put less value on Scripture. That would be a great mistake. I simply point to the fact that without the Holy Spirit, the Bible is a closed book. The Bible was written in such a way that only those in relationship with God have ongoing access to its mysteries. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see truth. Jesus is the truth we long to understand. Jesus Christ is perfect theology.
The church camps around the sermon; Israel camped around the presence. Learning to recognize, treasure and carry this presence is at the heart of the Christian life. Recalibrating our hearts to this supreme value affects everything.