Friday, March 07, 2014

My Theology in Bullet Points

I was recently admiring a pastor who just seems to be able to boil down concepts into the most powerful little proverbs and snippets. For a brief moment, I had a glimpse of expressing my version of Wesleyan-Arminian theology in bullet points (with some idiosyncrasy mixed in, of course). It would look something like this:

  • Start with the faith you have. Don't try to start from scratch. Start with whatever faith tradition you are in and go from there. (faith seeking understanding)
  • All truth is God's truth. God is not a trickster. On the whole, the evidence points toward the truth. There's something suspicious about a faith that can only survive within a framework of untouchable presuppositions.
  • Why believe in God? Because he exists. It really isn't up to you. Either he exists or he doesn't. What I think about the subject or my motivations to believe are irrelevant to the answer.
  • We don't have to reach up to God. There's again something strange about an approach that feels like we have to prove God, as if it's up to me. God reaches down to us and that is the ultimate mechanism for our faith.
  • Most of the arguments for God more or less boil down to cause--cause of existence, cause of order, cause of miracles, ground of being. It is hard for us to fathom, but it may very well be that it is impossible to consider existence without presupposing God.
  • God didn't need to create. He created the universe because he wanted to.
  • God isn't literally a dude (he doesn't have genitals). God is three persons and has primarily revealed himself throughout history using masculine imagery, but he can use feminine imagery too and is not literally male.
  • Creation indicates certain things about God, especially creation out of nothing. It implies that he has all power in relation to the creation and all knowledge in relation to the creation. 
  • He is also all-present within the creation (especially the Holy Spirit), both in terms of time and space.
  • God can do whatever he wants (but he doesn't want to do certain things).
  • God's presence in all time suggests that God not only knows every possible eventuality of history but that God knows every actuality of history.
  • Because God has seen all of history, his knowledge of the actualities of history does not imply determinism. He knows because he has seen, not because it is determined prior to it happening. For God, it has already happened even though it hasn't yet for us.
  • God's primary disposition toward the creation is love, the desire for the best of everything in his creation. Justice is simply letting the consequences of our actions play out. It is not a drive within God but a default within his creation.
  • God is so sovereign and self-secure, that he can let us disobey him without feeling threatened by it.
  • To say that God is holy is to say that God is God.
  • There is only one God, but he is three persons.
Humanity and Creation
  • God created the universe out of nothing.
  • Everything that God created was good, whether evolution is legitimate or not.
  • A day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day. God is in no hurry when it comes either to revelation or judgment. He is more interested in our hearts than our heads.
  • God has a "directive" will toward the creation and a "permissive" will. Everything that happens, happens with God's permission, but God does not directly command everything that happens. 
  • God has created natural laws that play out without his direct command, and God gives a certain freedom to humanity as well.
  • Miracles are when God interrupts the normal cause-effect flow of events.
  • God loves all his creation. We are but an infinitesimal part of it in the vast scheme of things. God created not just what is seen, but what is also unseen, including angels and demons.
  • We may be animals but we are more than animals. To say we are the "image of God" suggests that all human beings are significant and to be respected. We are to love our neighbor and our enemy, because they are in the image of God.
  • God did not ultimately make males to rule over females. He created them to "tend the garden" side by side. Christ restores the possibility for this ultimate eventuality of the kingdom of God.
  • God created the possibility of evil when he created the possibility of disobeying him. Evil is not a "thing." God did not create a thing, evil, but the possibility of making evil choices. He created Satan and Adam with the power to choose against him but not with "evil" in them.
  • Context determines meaning, and intention determines sin in its most significant sense. Satan's desire for power or Adam's desire for knowledge were not intrinsically evil desires. They were evil choices because of the context in which Satan intentioned for power and the context in which Adam intentioned for knowledge. 
  • Adam or Christ can thus be tempted without having a sinful "nature" because temptation can be a good drive or desire given an inappropriate object or with an inappropriate intention. E.g., sex is morally neutral. The intention and context of sex is what can make it morally wrong.
  • There are two types of sin--objective and subjective. Objective sin is when we wrong God or others, "wrongdoing." Subjective sin is when we intend to do wrong. All have wronged God and others objectively. But the sins about which God is most concerned are intentional in nature.
  • Since Adam's sin, the default state of humanity is one of separation from God and moral dis-empowerment. "There is none righteous, no, not one." We all wrong others. "The tongue is a restless evil--who can know it?" We cannot in our own power resist our animal drives to express our desires in the wrong ways and in the wrong contexts. 
  • The amount of corporate sin committed by the human race is nothing short of astounding. Our default state is to kill other tribes and races. Our default state is to destroy others to advance.
  • God, although loving, allows evil to take place 1) because he allows us to choose between good and evil, with the result that some choose evil and 2) because he has given the creation the freedom to follow natural laws to their consequent end. 
  • Suffering is not evil but painful. It gives us the choice to mature or morally deteriorate.
  • Christ was "eternally begotten of the Father." Our sense of the Trinity before the creation is inevitably filtered through a post-creation lens. Even the notion of God in eternal relationship is presumably somewhat analogical. 
  • The picture of Christ as the Logos suggests that the primary role of the pre-incarnate Christ was as the agent of creation, the "world-bridger."
  • Christ only became human when he came to earth as Jesus, the incarnation, God assuming humanity. From that point on to eternity, he has been both fully human and fully God. 
  • Christ is the Word of God. The Bible gives witness to the Word. Preaching gives witness to the Word through the word.
  • While he was on earth, Jesus played it by the human rules. Although he was filled with the Spirit from conception, he did nothing while on earth that we cannot also do by the power of the Spirit.
  • God raised Jesus from the dead so that he could become the "author of our salvation" and "lead many sons to glory." Just as in Adam all have died, so all those in Christ will be made alive. Just as we have born the image of the earthly Adam, so we will bear the image of the heavenly Adam, Christ.
  • God the Father didn't learn anything on the cross (although the human side of Jesus did). He has always known everything, both experiential and cognitive.
  • God didn't "have" to atone for sins--he's God. He doesn't have to do anything. As sovereign, he could have forgiven us by divine fiat. And as omnipotent, he could have healed us by miracle. He chose to do so because of his love for us.
  • Nevertheless, the death of God on the cross satisfies the order of things. It is a "deep magic" whose logic drives to the core of the human condition in a way that is difficult for words.
  • Christ defeated the one who holds the power of death, the Devil.
  • God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us. Christ transferred our curse onto himself.
  • God has ordained that no one can be in right standing (justified) before him apart from the atonement provided by Christ's death. "There is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved."
  • Christ died for all. It is the plan that God has predestined, not specific individuals. When God "hardens" hearts, he is using a heart that has already chosen against him and intensifying its existing hardness.
The Holy Spirit
  • "The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son." Filtered as our understanding is by the creation, we know the Spirit primarily as the omnipresent person of God within this creation, God immanent.
  • The Spirit creates the church. The Spirit gives an assurance to a believer that, in fact, he or she is a child of God, adopted into sonship in the family of God.
  • The Spirit gives purity and power. The Spirit "sanctifies" us from the guilt and stain of previous wrongdoing and sets us apart as God's.
  • The Spirit empowers us morally to want to do the good and to be able to "do the good we want to do."
  • The Spirit empowers us to unity, to do miracles, to perform signs and wonders. All the gifts of the earliest church are still in play, including prophecy. Only the role of apostle seems to have been restricted to the earliest church and those who first saw the risen Christ.
  • The Spirit "leads us into all truth." The Spirit convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
  • God has been reaching out and preparing the way for humanity long before we knew it. He both has given "common grace" to all humanity, and his "prevenient grace" meets us and pulls us toward him long before we know to respond.
  • In God's patient walk with humanity, he came to Israel first as the beachhead of his Normandy invasion of the earth with salvation. His covenant with Israel foreshadowed the final redemption he would bring to the earth through Christ.
  • There will come a day when God will play out the ultimate consequences of redemption and set the world right. Those who have not come to God, both the living and the dead, will be lost. 
  • Whatever hell is, it is the inevitable destiny of an unredeemed life, a life without salvation.
  • God may judge us by our response to the light we have. God "lights everyone who comes into the world." We cannot get to God on our own, but God reaches out to all of us at some point in life.
  • We are not free to choose God in our default human state. We can only choose God because of his gracious empowerment for us to be repentant and have faith. 
  • We should not assume that the empowerment for faith will always be present. Those who postpone faith may not be able to find a "place of repentance" later, let alone true faith.
  • The Holy Spirit not only "sanctifies" us initially of past sins, but he empowers us to do righteousness. We never stop being animals--we will always be subject to temptation. But the power of the Spirit can so fill our lives that we will love to do what is right and have the mind "that was also in Christ Jesus."
  • God will never walk away from us, but he will not stop us from walking away from him. Once we believe on him, the only sin he reckons is intentional disobedience. "Whatever is not of faith is sin." "He who knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin."
  • All such sin damages our relationship with God. The greater the degree of intentionality against God, the greater the sin and the greater the damage to our relationship with God. Some sins may be so high handed that they severe our relationship with God at once. For others, the process of ignoring God can take place over such a long period of time that we do not even realize that we have left God.
  • Like the prodigal son, there is no distance we might walk from God that is so far that he will not take us back if we turn back. The Spirit gives us the power to repent, so anyone who can repent is not so far that he or she cannot return.
  • For humanity, the final phase of salvation is our resurrection/glorification. For the creation, the final phase is when the creation is freed from its slavery to corruption and is transformed to be a "new creation."
The Church
  • The Spirit creates the church. The presence of the Spirit in a person is the indicator that a person is in the people of God. 
  • The church is the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit is the spirit within the body.
  • The church is "invisible" in the sense that it is not to be identified with any visible denomination. The church is one church, the church is a catholic church, but it is not the Roman Catholic Church or any other earthly organization. "One, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" applies to the invisible, true church.
  • The church is visible insofar as believers meet together in physical groupings on earth.
  • Not everyone in the visible church is part of the one true, invisible church, which crosses all denominations, all boundaries of space and time, the "communion of saints."
  • For Protestants, the marks of a church are a place where 1) the word is preached, 2) two sacraments are administered, and 3) a community is rightly ordered. But in general, a visible church is anywhere that two or three individuals with the Spirit gather together regularly in Jesus' name to worship God and be transformed by his presence.
  • There is no one right form of church government. All forms of church government--episcopal, presbyterian, congregational, and pneumatic--find precedents in Scripture and are more or less appropriate in different contexts.
  • The true church is both "holy" and "apostolic." As holy, it is "in the world but not of the world." As apostolic, it "exists by mission, as flame exists by burning." It restlessly seeks to see the entire world saved and transformed.
  • A sacrament is a divinely ordained "means of grace," a God-given catalyst for God to transform us (not to save us but to transform us). God takes an ordinary medium and uses it to do extraordinary things in his people.
  • God can use anything he wants as a sacrament and, given his principle of incarnation, he may use some instruments more in some times and places than in others.
  • The chief sacraments of the ages are baptism and communion.
  • Baptism is a sacrament of inclusion and is associated with receiving the Holy Spirit. The primary model of Acts suggests that the model for a new believer is to be baptized in association with conversion. 
  • However, Acts may also hint that a child can be included in his or her formative years on the basis of the community's faith, and most Christians throughout the ages have followed suit. This is the sense that even an infant can receive some measure of the Spirit when baptized within a community of faith. Such baptism does not ensure final salvation.
  • Communion is a sacramental remembrance of Jesus' death, a potential moment of renewal, re-cleansing, and re-filling with the Spirit. People experience God's transformation more often in the moment of communion than they experience him in most other contexts.
  • God also regularly uses other "sacred moments" to transform us by his grace. Such contexts include prayer, Scripture reading, fasting, Christian fellowship, and helping others.
  • Any speaking of God is equally authoritative, infallible, and inerrant, because it is God speaking. The greater authority of Scripture than other potential modes of speaking (e.g., prophecy) is based on the uncertainty of knowing whether we are truly hearing God in those other contexts. But if we could know for certain God was speaking, that word would hold absolute and unconditional authority no matter the mode in which it came.
  • The Bible is a sacrament of transformation that God uses to change us, far more about God doing something in us than about us reaching up to him.
  • The Bible is more about God creating faith in us than about us gaining knowledge. It is about knowing him more than knowing about him.
  • It was predictable that the Bible would become a more central sacrament in Christian life after the invention of the printing press and the transition of world culture to a literary paradigm.
  • The Bible was the word of God to those for whom it was first written. It is the word of God as the Spirit has interpreted it for the church universal. It becomes the word of God as we read it today.
  • The Bible was incarnated revelation. It was God meeting his people where they were within their existing paradigms. The Bible is thus a subset of the Truth. It does not answer every question, and those it answers it largely answered in the language and paradigms of its first audiences. 
  • The so-called Wesleyan quadrilateral holds the sources of our knowledge of God in balance. Scripture first (prima scriptura) is the starting point. Yet the Spirit has clarified Scripture throughout the ages (tradition), given his church wisdom to apply it (experience), and revealed himself as well in creation (natural revelation and reason).
  • The Bible is infallible, meaning that it does not fail to achieve the purposes to which God set it. When God's purpose is to command, it is authoritative. When God's purpose is to convey truth, it is inerrant. When God's purpose was to promise, such promises will not fail. All such commands, promises, and statements of truth must be understood within the framework of God's intention. 
Christian Ethics
  • All Christian ethics--and indeed all biblical ethics--must be filtered through the twin love commands to love God and love neighbor, as Jesus did. These are the fundamental Christian moral absolutes to which there are no exceptions.
  • Love of God never contradicts love of neighbor. If there seems to be a contradiction, one or the other is misunderstood. We generally demonstrate our love of God by our love of neighbor.
  • Loving one's neighbor (and enemy) is a matter of concrete action rather than feeling. We act for the benefit of others and do to them what we would have them do to us.
  • Discipline does not contradict love of neighbor. Discipline is not to punish in the name of justice but 1) to try to redeem and reform a person, 2) to protect a larger group of people, or 3) the elimination of irredeemable evil. The last category is that into which hell fits.
  • Loving God primarily relates to our submission to his kingship and the recognition of his complete and absolute authority over our lives. "Jesus is Lord."
  • Christians largely live in the world as pilgrims, strangers, and aliens. Until Christ returns, the kingdom of this world is not the kingdom of our God. 
  • At times, however, we have the opportunity to make the world more like the kingdom, namely, a place where systems of government "love neighbors as ourselves," a place of "social justice" such as the prophets urged on Israel and Jesus illustrated in his earthly mission. 
  • When Christians can work to eliminate the oppression of others on a societal level, we should. When we can work to stop slavery or discrimination, we should. A world in which "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female" is a world more like the kingdom, and when we can work to see the world become more like the kingdom, we should.
  • However, God has also granted humanity the freedom to sin for the time being. There is a difference between working to end harm to others (e.g., opposing slavery) and trying to force the world to adopt Christian values (e.g., blue laws). The former seeks to stop oppression. The latter  tries to make the world Christian by force. God's model with the latter is to "give them up" until the day of judgment.
The Renewal of All Things
  • "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." Christianity looks to the literal return of Christ to the earth to set up his eternal kingdom and to set the world to right and free it from its bondage to decay and corruption. 
  • The embodied resurrection of the dead corresponds to the liberation of the creation. We are conscious in some form between our death and the final resurrection.
  • There will be a final judgment of the living and the dead. Hell is is the eternal consequence of irreconcilable differences with God. The finally, fully established kingdom of God is the eternal destiny of the redeemed.


Pastor Bob said...

Wonderful, I will save this in my digital library. Thank you.

Mike said...

Thank you so much for this!

David Drury said...

I'm only 1/3rd of the way through this and LOVING this list so far.

Getting a Bible scholar to get systematic is like an elephant passing through a button hole, so this is super enjoyable to me.

So far there is only one point on which I cannot wholeheartedly say AMEN to but that one I am only recently questioning in my heart.

As usual I agree with you so very much that I write less, because I can most often just say : "go read what Ken wrote because he already said it best."

Your writing is a gift to the Kingdom, Ken. Thank you for not neglecting the gift.

I'll keep reading this the rest of the week. No doubt you have some quasi-heresies tucked in here somewhere for me to chase you down on. But so far, so GREAT!

Ken Schenck said...

Don't mind the heresy...