Archive for September 2010

Different Blogs/Different Perspectives

People often ask me why I read so many different blogs, from so many different viewpoints. This morning, I came across the perfect example of the reason why.
In my blog reader appeared this post over at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology:

With two things often seen in tension but actually mutually reinforcing: Calvinism and courage.
Calvinism says: The God presented to me in the Bible is so massive, so much more life-encompassing than the puny little super-god I could have conceived of on my own, that he determines the roll of the dice in Las Vegas (Prov 16:33) and the choices Obama makes (Prov 21:1) and 9/11 (Amos 3:6) and even human sin (2 Sam 24:1ff)–including the Sin of all sins, the murder of the only person who ever lived without deserving to be murdered (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28). This is a God so great, so magnificently in control, that he can tell us Jesus will be betrayed as it has been decreed from heaven and, in the same breath, pronounce woe on the one by whom he is betrayed (Luke 22:22).

The post immediately after it in my blog reader was this post from Quadrilateral Thoughts:

Similarly, some Christian traditions like the Calvinist one tend to see God orchestrating even the details of our lives. A very popular Christian book a few years back, The Purpose Driven Life, presented a view of life that saw God’s hand in almost everything that happens to you in life, God teaching you lessons and helping you grow in almost every detail.
However, I as someone from the Wesleyan tradition do not accept this view. For one thing, we also find passages in Scripture like James 1:13, which says no one should think that God tempts them to do wrong. “For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” … Some of those who take a very directive view argue that if God would allow someone to disagree with him or violate his will, then he would not truly be sovereign… Could not a parent intentionally allow a child experience the consequences of disobedience so that the child can learn, for the growth of the child?… In short, is God not sovereign enough to choose to allow people to disagree with him?

Two posts about God’s sovereignty from two different theological traditions. Two meditations. Two ways to ponder about God. Two perspectives to chew on for the rest of the day.

This is why I read so many different blogs from so many different perspectives.

Blogging Through Bloesch

Bloesch suggests that how we view God affects how we understand salvation.

The way we understand the mystery of salvation is closely tied to the way we understand God himself. If we picture God as a remote, benevolent ruler who allows the world to run by its own laws, then our salvation depends on our ability to discover and to master these laws.
If we view God as an impassible, self-sufficient Absolute who attracts our wonder by the beauty and grandeur that he possesses, then salvation is entirely a matter of self-purification and human striving, a product of eros rather than agape.
If we conceive of God as an absolute monarch with unlimited power who has predetermined whatever comes to pass, then salvation is a matter neither of grace nor of works but of abject resignation to fate.
Donald Bloesch, God the Almighty, (pg71-72)

He goes on to say that the biblical understanding of God is so much better than the options listed above.

The biblical understanding of God is multi-faceted. God is both transcendent and immanent. He is both holy and loving. He is a God of justice and He is our heavenly “Abba.”

Does how I meditate on one of these aspects of God shape how I understand salvation?

If I reflect on God as holy, then I see salvation as something I do not deserve at all.
If I reflect on God’s justice, then I feel that I should get what is coming to me (yikes!).
If I reflect on God as loving, then I’m filled with a sense of awe that He loves me.
If I reflect on God as immanent, then I am motivated to do good works because I know that He is with me in those things.

And some days, as I think about Jesus’ call to righteousness, I am overwhelmed by the thought that maybe I’m not truly saved; that I’m not really a Christian. I could never live up to all that he has commanded us to do.

Setting aside my emotional roller coasters, it seems to me that our different theological traditions, in emphasizing a specific aspect of the nature of God, also reflect a specific aspect of salvation.

Is there a way to harmonize some of our theological differences with a multi-faceted view of God? Can those who uphold the sovereignty of God learn from those who uphold God’s wide mercy (and vice versa)?

Motivational Monday–Facepalm Edition

Sunday Meditation

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.””
(Psalms 122:1 NIV)

I have put great emphasis on the fact that Christians worship because they want to, not because they are forced to. But I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians only worshiped when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship that went on…Worship is an act which develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God which is expressed in an act of worship.

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1980), pp 49-50.

Auto-tuning our Approach to God

I just finished watching vol. 2 of Season 1 of Glee in preparation for this week’s season premiere. Glee is one of those gems that comes along so rarely on television. And I appreciate how different it is from the reality tv/crime show/way serious dramas that’s dominating cable these days.

But I’ve begun to have a bit of a pet peeve, and it looks like I’m not the only one. The producers, sound people or some corporate suit, seem to really like the auto-tune function. And it just kills the voices. The worst is when they decide to auto-tune Rachel, the lead diva of the show who has an amazing voice.

Check out Don’t Stop Believing (light on the auto-tune):

versus No Air (heavy on the auto-tune):

I find the heavily auto-tuned songs lose so much. The emotion and the depth and intensity become flat and boring. And yet for some reason, some television suit out there thinks that the auto-tuned songs are better, cleaner and hipper.

Now of course, we all know that there has been much discussion on Hip Christianity (check out Brett McCracken’s new book Hipster Christianity as an example), and this whole move to make Christianity palatable and cool and clean.

I wonder though, if we also tend to auto-tune ourselves in how we approach God. By trying to sing and pray the way that everybody else does, and by putting on our “happy Sunday faces” and pretending that everything’s okay, we filter our praises and prayers through a self-made “auto-tune” because we think God will like it better. But what if auto-tuning ourselves is nothing more than robbing God of our true worship, robbing him of our emotion, depth and intensity? We think it will make it cleaner and hipper, but in actuality it makes our worship sterile and generic.

The Psalmist writes, “Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalm 100:2). How can our worship be joyful if it is sterile? Doesn’t the joyful song have so much more depth when the joy shines through our pain and suffering, our sin and brokenness? Is worship truly joyful if we fudge it and say “it’s okay because I’ll just run it through the happy-Sunday-face-auto-tune?”

Several years ago, Chuck and I went to see the Gaithers in Toronto. At the end of the show, they started singing “Because He Lives.” Something special happened. The entire stadium rose to their feet and joined them. People from different backgrounds, different cultures, and different life situations stood and sang at the top of their lungs. And the Spirit moved mightily. It didn’t matter what we were going to return to when we left that concert. In that moment, all of us sang with passion, and emotion and depth. Tears of joy and victory were flowing in abundance, hands were raised and lives were changed. There we were, 15,000 people strong, singing, praising Jesus and celebrating his Resurrection power. Without any auto-tune, self-imposed or otherwise.

Greek Rocks!


Blogging Through Bloesch

I’m currently reading Donald Bloesch’s God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love in preparation for my “Theology of God and Creation” class with Dr. Guretzki.

I will admit that the reading is a slow process because much of Bloesch’s book looks at philosophy and it’s relationship to theology, and with me being a concrete rather than abstract thinker, I struggle with philosophy and philosophical arguments. (add to it that Bloesch throws out names of philosophers and theologians with the assumption that the reader knows who they are, so I have to stop and look them up).

So I’ve decided to blog through some of the ideas and questions I have as I read this book.

In talking about how God is both deus absconditus (God is hidden) and deus revelatus (God is revealed), Bloesch says this:

“For God to cause his light to shine on us directly would be to overwhelm us. God reveals only what is adequate for our salvation and vocation as his ambassadors and heralds. God remains mystery even in his revelation…” (pg. 36).

So my questions:

How do we capture this tension in our preaching? In our worship?
Have we made God too knowable?
Are we arrogant to think that we know God?

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

There seems to be an abundance of discussion on the complementarian/egalitarian divide this week.

The ABP has an article that says Albert Mohler is embarrassed by his past stance on women in ministry: namely he is embarrassed that he used to endorse it.

Jesus Creed has an article up from the CBE newsletter entitled: “Who’s in charge (in this marriage)?”

John Piper suggests that “mature masculinity accepts the burden of the final say in disagreements between husband and wife, but does not presume to use it in every instance” (What’s the Difference?, p. 32). But 1 Corinthians 7:5 challenges Piper’s assumed maxim. If the wife disagrees with a physical separation, the husband should not overrule his wife with the “final choice.” Biblically, such separation can occur only if both husband and wife are in “symphony” (unity) about such an action.

Jeremy Pierce over at First Things has a post about complementarians/egalitarians and submission:

But I think the main reason I don’t like that complementarian response is that you shouldn’t have to go to the ideal situation to see that these commands are all right. If complementarianism is correct, then wives should submit to their husbands even if their husbands are complete jerks, and husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church even if their wives are as unlovely as someone’s inner self could be.

Camille over at Anwoth continues the examination of the T4G/TGC crowd with “Gender Roles are Not the Gospel.”

Up and Down, Up and Down

This is our fifth and final installment on Psychology and Religion with Dr. Charles Hackney. Check out the previous articles in the series:

Moral Psychology and Smell
Psychology and the Book of Ecclesiastes
Questing Without Becoming a Spineless Wimpy Lily-Livered Milquetoast
Why Christians Shouldn’t Worry about the Neuropsychology of Religion


Our Spiritual Cognitions Go Up and Down, Up and Down, Up and Down:
by Charles Hackney

Today, we will be taking a cognitive approach to religion. Cognitive psychology is the study of the ways in which we process information. Recently, Brian Meier and colleagues used the tools of cognitive psychology to investigate the ways in which we process information about spiritual matters.*

God, being a spirit, cannot be directly perceived using our physical senses, so we are provided with symbols that convey something about God. For example, we shelter under God’s wings (Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; Psalm 36:7; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4; Psalm 63:7; Psalm 91:4), even though he does not literally have physical wings. The same goes for God’s arm (Isaiah 42:10), hand (Exodus 7:5), feet (Nahum 1:3), and nostrils (2 Samuel 22:16). God is also described in terms of light (2 Samuel 22:29), fire (Deuteronomy 4:24), lightning (Psalm 29:7), and the sun (Psalm 84:11). These things tell us about God, revealing a piece of truth in terms that we can understand.

The symbols Meier and colleagues investigated involve vertical space. In a series of experiments, they tested the idea that people will automatically associate the divine with highness.

In the first experiment, the researchers found that participants processed words associated with God (like “creator” and almighty”) faster if they were paired with words associated with the concept of “up” (like “high” and “above”), and they process words associated with the Devil (like “demon” and “Satan”) faster if they were paired with words associated with the concept of “down” (like “bottom” and “descend”).

In the second experiment, participants processed words associated with God faster if those words were placed higher on a computer screen, and they processed words associated with the Devil faster if those words were placed lower on the screen.

In the third experiment, participants were shown pictures, and later asked to remember where those pictures had been on the computer screen. There was a tendency for participants to recall God-related images as having been higher on the screen than they actually had been, and to recall Devil-related images as having been lower on the screen than they actually had been.

In the fourth experiment, participants were asked to look at pictures of strangers and guess whether or not those strangers believed in God. The higher on the computer screen the pictures were, the more likely people were to guess that the stranger was a believer.

Taken together, the results of these experiments show that people tend to make automatic connections between God and being “up.” I have seen this in my own ways of approaching God. Even though I know (at an intellectual level) that God is not actually located above my head (especially given our existence on a spherical planet), I am more likely to raise my head when I pray than to point my head toward the lower left corner of the room. If I feel humbled, I am more likely to lower my eyes than to raise them or shift them off to the side.

In the Bible, we also see God being given an elevated location. Moses went up Mount Sinai to meet with God (Exodus 19). Psalms 120 through 134 are the Psalms of Ascent, sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem. The author of Psalm 144 asks God to “reach down your hand from on high” to rescue him. Jesus was lifted up in the same way that the bronze serpent was lifted up (John 3:14). After the resurrection, Jesus was “taken up” into the sky (Acts 1:9).

Why this powerful connection between God and height? Why does scripture describe God as being “up,” when technically God is equally accessible in all directions?

I guess it’s the psychologist in me, but my first thought is to go to the power of early childhood experiences. We come into the world, surrounded by people on whom we are utterly dependent. These people are tremendously stronger than we are, considerably more knowledgeable, able to accomplish feats that are beyond our comprehension, and yes, very much taller than we are. This may be one reason why parental language is also prominent in the Bible’s descriptions of God. Our early lives are spent “looking up” at these powerful caregivers, so when we think of God, we automatically “think up” at him.

Thank you for joining us in this series on the psychology of religion.

*Meier, B. P., Hauser, D. J., Robinson, M. D., Friesen, C. K., Schjeldahl, K. (2007). What’s “up” with God? Vertical space as a representation of the divine. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 699-710.

Chuck is Associate Professor of Psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary and author of Martial Virtues. Originally from Fairbanks, Alaska, Chuck has been living in Canada since 2003. He is married to a beautiful Canadian woman, me!

Even More Canadian Christian Blogs

Elle Pyke’s blog can be found here. Elle is part of the Meeting House and also hosts a radio show. Check out: No Women Allowed.

Scott’s Thoughts by Scott Kohler. Scott is a pastor out in New Brunswick. Check out: The Value of Mediocrity for the Life of the Church.

For the full list of Canadian Christian Blogs check it out here, or you can hit the tab at the top of this page.

So what Canadian Christian blogs are you reading?