An Emerging Headache

I am currently reading a book by Tony Jones called The New Christians: Dispatches From The Emergent Frontier (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008). I understand what Jones is reacting to, and I share many of his concerns, but some of his “dispatches” give me a splitting headache when I think about them.

Take for example Dispatch 13, delivered after a brief discussion of Stanley Fish:

Emergents believe that truth, like God, cannot be definitively articulated by
finite human beings (p. 153).

So, Tony, is that a definitive truth? It seems that you cannot escape a truth claim even when you claim to have no truth claims. The notion is self-defeating (or self-refuting). If Dispatch 13 is false, then there is some truth. If Dispatch 13 is true, then it proves itself to be false, because it is a definitively true statement.

He states the notion another way on page 154: "…“truth” is not the hinge on which the biblical narrative turns."

There’s only one response to that from someone raised in rural Tennessee: “Really; is’at so?” Here we have a true statement about the Bible that says the Bible does no depend on truth. Another self-defeating statement. I must stop typing now, my headache is getting worse and worse.


Batman: The Dark Knight

I “took the plunge” this week and went to see the new Batman movie. I was not disappointed. The action was a bit over the top, but that is to be expected these days.

Heath Ledger’s Joker was the best villain I have seen on the screen since Darth Vader.
Something about the smeared make-up brought out the “best” (do you say “worst” for a villain?) in the character.

I never thought of Batman as a Christ Figure before this film. I am torn between not revealing the end of the movie and explaining what I mean. I’ll leave it at this: Jesus Christ took all of our sin and shame upon himself on the cross. He was the only One big enough to handle that shame, and He took our shame from us as He paid the penalty for all of our sin. Batman gets the chance to do essentially the same thing for another character in the film.

Other interesting reviews of the Batman movie can be found here, here, here, and here.


Early Church Fathers and Justification by Faith Alone?

Stand to Reason’s blog has some great quotes from early church fathers on justification here. I like these quotes enough to post all of them.

For by grace you have been saved through faith," in this way: "All we bring to grace is our faith. But even in this faith, divine grace itself has become our enabler. For [Paul] adds, 'And this is not of yourselves but it is a gift from God; not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).' It is not of our own accord that we have believed, but we have come to belief after having been called; and even when we had come to believe, He did not require of us purity of life, but approving mere faith, God bestowed on us forgiveness of sins. - Theoloret of Cyrrhus, in his fourth-century commentary on the Epistles of Paul, speaking of Ephesians 2:8

So that you may not be elated by the magnitude of these benefits, see how Paul puts you in your place. For 'by grace you have been saved,' he says 'through faith.' Then, so as to do no injury to free will, he allots a role to us, then takes it away again, saying 'and this not of ourselves'...Even faith, he says, is not from us. For if the Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe? 'For how,' [Paul] says, 'shall they believe if they have not heard?' (Rom. 10:14). So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, 'the gift of God (Eph. 2:8c)." - Chrysostom, end of the fourth century, Hom. on Ephesians 2:8

Here's one from Modern Reformation quoted here:

If an example is required, I think it must suffice to mention the thief on the cross, who asked Christ to save him and was told, 'Truly, this day you will be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43)...A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the believer, even if there are works of the law these are not based on the foundation of faith. Even if they are good in themselves they cannot justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God" - Origen, commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, referencing Romans 3:28, as quoted in Thomas C. Oden, "Patristic Texts, on Justification," Modern Reformation (September/October 2007).

I would be especially interested in Lutheran and Reformed opinions on what these quotes mean. Are they teaching justification by faith alone?


Where Do We Go from Here

This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal, but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed. - Martin Luther

I have been a Christian for thirty-two years as of a few days ago. It was very simple when I was young. Christ died for my sins, and I didn’t have to worry about God being mad at me for what I had done or would do. I learned to do the right thing, not because I wanted God to like me, but because it was the right thing to do in and of itself.

I wish my life had continued to be that simple. I learned to complicate it while sitting in revival meetings, on the forth or fifth verse and chorus of “Just As I Am.” I learned that I shouldn’t be so sure that Christ had died for my sins. I learned I need to re-dedicate my life to Him each time I failed. I must have trusted Christ at least 50 times during high school.

I have developed some bad habits since becoming a Christian. Yes, it is possible to do bad things when you are a Christian, even what some consider really bad things. The consequences in my life have sometimes been severe, but never as bad as they could have been. God has disciplined me as a loving father would his child; yet his discipline has always been for my good, to conform me to Christ’s image. (See Hebrews 12:3-17 and Romans 8:18-30.)

I am encouraged by Luther’s words above. I am headed in the right direction. I have some starts and stops along the way, but God has been faithful to me. I am better than I used to be.

It’s not about where we have been, or how far we have gone; it’s about where we are headed and where we will be.


Ten Hours to Slavery

According to the post and links here, it takes about ten hours to arrange for and purchase a child slave from Haiti from New York City.

What would Wilberforce do?


The Stone’s Story

An interesting bit of information is highlighted here on Ben Witherington’s blog. I use his words:

David Jeselsohn bought an ancient tablet …but he was totally unaware of its significance. Now it may be the earliest Jewish evidence for the idea of a dying and rising messiah figure.

The stone has been credibly dated to the first century B. C., before Christ's birth, and this has caused quite a bit of discussion.

Isaiah 53 foretold the Messiah’s death a few hundred years before this stone’s composition, so I don’t think this stone should surprise most Christians. (Other prophecies from the Jewish tradition concerning Christ’s suffering are found here and here.) Of course, that will not stop some sensationalists from reaching extreme conclusions like those related here.

What’s BW3’s conclusion?

…the real implication of this for Jesus' studies should not be missed. Most radical Jesus scholars have argued that the passion and resurrection predictions by Jesus found in the Gospels were not actually made by Jesus-- they reflect the later notions and theologizing of the Evangelists.

But now, if this stone is genuine there is no reason to argue this way. One can show that Jesus, just as well as the author of this stone, could have spoken about a dying and rising messiah…

Charles Colson, who addressed this issue in his latest book, reaches a similar conclusion in the article here. From the article:

…I wrote about this new evidence in my book The Faith as an apologetic argument for the historicity of the resurrection. The idea of a messianic figure rising from the dead goes way back in antiquity. Jesus simply fulfilled the truth written by God on the human heart…The newfound stone does not call Christianity’s credibility into question. Instead, once again, when it comes to the historicity of Scripture, the only credibility at stake is the media’s.

Most of the parallels from other religious traditions either occur after Christ’s life or are such a stretch to the imagination that they are easily ignored. However, even if you do accept some of the parallels as authentic, what does that prove exactly? Could not God have given some form of revelation about Christ to other people outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition? This seems to be Colson’s logical conclusion.

Stand to Reason has an interesting post here. It seems that if you assume beforehand that accounts of Christ’s resurrection are false, then no matter what the “stones say,” you will reach the same conclusion you assumed to begin with.

(For expert opinion on related topics, see Edwin M. Yamauchi, here and here.)


Craig and Reasonable Faith

It’s good to hear that William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith is going to be released in a third edition.

I like this book, particularly it’s comprehensive overview of theological trends and, of course, it’s treatment of the Cosmological Argument. The book is one of my favorite.

See also the Christianity Today cover story here.

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