Tag Archives: doctrine

Evangelical Theological Society — Day One

After a horrific day of travel, I am now officially at the ETS conference in Milwaukee. (Horrible travel day included a canceled flight after we were already boarded, two hours in line to be rebooked, being rerouted through Denver, another delayed flight, and horrible customer service at security. I arrived in Milwaukee a full 6 hours after I was originally scheduled to arrive).

First on the agenda was Kevin Vanhoozer’s paper on the relationship between biblical studies and theology, specifically the need and importance for a theological interpretation of Scripture. The room that the presentation was to take place was teeny-tiny (maybe 50 seats), so they moved to a larger room (200 seats) and even that room wasn’t big enough as several people were left with standing room only at the back. What I appreciated about Dr. Vanhoozer’s presentation (besides the topic), was that it was conversational and affable in tone. (Trust me, this is a big deal because often times paper presentations can be the most wooden and boring things to listen to.) Vanhoozer suggested that the danger in “pure” biblical studies is that it becomes “magic”, that is, a way to exert power and control to ensure the results the scholar wants, in this case discovering the “true” meaning of the passage in the original context. Because the Bible is not merely human and historical, but also points to the Divine discourse that God had and continues to have with his people, theological interpretation opens the way for us to participate in the Story of scripture.

Unfortunately, Dr. Vanhoozer’s presentation ran overtime, so I was unable to get to my second session. Instead, I went and checked out the exhibitors (translation: BOOKS! CHEAP BOOKS) I am a little ticked at IVP though, they won’t ship books to Canada, and Canadian ETS attendees who order books have to order through David C. Cook, but David C. Cook won’t give the 40% ETS discount. Grrr. Argh!

The next session I attended was a paper on the shift in Basil the Great’s understanding of the Ascetical Life. The presenter, Jason Scully, compared Basil’s “Epistle 2″ to his “Longer rule” and argued that Basil moves from being preoccupied with the soul’s intellectual purity (emphasis on purging bad habits), to being focused on the need for loving actions (emphasis on fostering good habits and pursuing virtues).

The last paper of the morning was by doctoral student Susan Rieske. Her paper looked at the language of “delight” that is used to describe God’s attitude towards Israel’s destruction and ruin if she breaks the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:63). She proposed three ways to interpret this “delight”: as a term of volition or determination; as a rhetorical device meant to get Israel’s attention; and as pointing God delighting in his overarching purposes for Israel (over and above judgement).

So far, it’s been a great experience. Yay for brainy Christians who serve God through scholarship!

Amend Your Life

“If the candidate proves to be without fault in these matters the bishop writes down his name; but if someone is accused of anything, he is asked to leave and told: ‘Amend your life and when that is done approach the baptismal font.’” Egeria. (quoted in Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God pg 38)

One of the interesting things in reading the Patristic Fathers is seeing how people were accepted into the Early Church. Of note is the idea that the person, having made a confession of faith (having been saved), has to amend their life prior to be being baptized, and baptism is the gateway into full membership into the Church. It is only the baptized who can partake of the Eucharist, for example. And this idea of righting your life is vital.

So not only in the Didache, but also in the writing of Hippolytus (another early source for liturgy of the Church from the first half of the third century), there appears to be a definite process one undergoes before they are baptized. And this time of preparation or catechesis is not mere teaching. It is not merely learning “what” to believe, but also an examination of their life to see if they are living rightly, that is, living the life of a Christian.

And when those who are to receive baptism are chosen, let their life be examined: have they lived good lives when they were catechumans?…From the time that they were set apart, let hands be laid on them daily while they are exorcized…And if anyone is not good or not pure, let him be put aside, because he has not heard the word with faith, for it is impossible that the Alien should hide himself for ever. (Article 20)

This isn’t grounded in legalism, but out of a strong desire to demonstrate that God has indeed transformed sinners, that He has so powerfully worked in their lives; and that the Church is a body of saints, a people who think and act and love so differently from the rest of the world. And so those who desire to join the Church and be baptized are to examine their lives, walk the right path (or as the Didache says, choose the Way of Life), be exorcised from all evil, and fast in preparation for baptism.

The evangelical church gets a bad rap for doing this. “Sinners” can come and visit the church, but they can’t truly become part of the church until they get their stuff together. And when this happens, the church is accused of being judgmental, unloving and unwelcoming. And so, to counter this, the evangelical church adopts “seeker sensitive” models, and open communion because hospitality and a narrow understanding of love (largely defined by a modern notion of tolerance) is now what should define the church.

Ultimately, I think this all leads back to the central question, what is the purpose of Sunday morning worship? Is it merely a gathering, or is it a time for the body of Christ to be joined to Him, to worship Him and to be refreshed and equipped to go out and do the work of grace and love in the world?

…the random reflections on the Patristics continue…

Some Thoughts on Pinnock’s ‘A Wideness in God’s Mercy’

At the heart of Pinnock’s theology is a belief in the ‘unbounded generosity’ of God, and he sums up his understanding of this generosity with 2 Peter 3:9. (pg. 18) Pinnock emphasizes the universality of the gospel with John 3:16 being central to the gospel message: God loved the whole world. Christ died to reconcile the world to God.

Pinnock places a strong emphasis on the doctrine of general revelation, that is, that God has revealed Himself enough in the world that even those who have not seen the special revelation of Jesus are able to make a choice to worship and follow God. Thus, God will take into account how people have responded to the knowledge of God they have received in their context. This is a strength in Pinnock’s book, for he rightly argues that we are ‘saved by faith’ and that there are numerous examples of people being accepted by God apart from the OT law (e.g., Moses, Job, Melchizedek etc.).

Second, Pinnock emphasizes the theme of corporate election in Scripture. He sees a continual pattern of ‘a choosing of some on behalf of the many’ (pg. 25), where because of the obedience of one person (Abraham, Noah, Jesus), God’s mercy is extended to many. Thus, election is not about God choosing who will be saved and who will be damned for all eternity, but rather, election is about being called to be witnesses and to proclaim that “God is healing the nations through the mediation of his son, rather than in some other way.” (pg. 49) The nation of Israel was to be this for the ancient world, and Christians are to be this for the world today.

Another reason to be hopeful for the unevangelized is that, through the Holy Spirit, God continues to work to redeem all of creation. He is “everywhere active in pursuing the plan of redemption disclosed in the gospel.” (pg. 103) And while God may be working to redeem social structures, including religion, it does not mean that all religions are therefore equally valid paths of salvation. (pg. 109) Indeed, Pinnock acknowledges that some religious structures are more opposed to God’s good purposes than others, and that religions are not immune from the work of Satan. Even if a religion is not effective for salvation, it does not mean that God is unable to call people from within that religion to Himself. (pg. 110)

Pinnock is correct that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of Jesus is not a ‘miser’ who delights in sending people to hell. (pg. 154) But this does not mean that everyone will be in heaven. Indeed, Pinnock affirms the need to retain humanity’s right to say ‘no’ to God.

The attractiveness of Pinnock’s hopeful theology is unfortunately complicated by Pinnock’s use of Scripture. As was discussed numerous times in class, Scripture proof-texts that Pinnock uses to support his argument do not always actually do that. One example would be his interpretation of Rev 7:9. Pinnock suggests that, because people from every tribe and tongue will be surrounding the throne of the lamb, this is evidence of a “substantial number of unevangelized.” (pg. 153) Another interpretation could be that the saving work of Christ is not limited to an ‘elect’ people like Israel alone. Instead, the good news is for all the nations, and there will be people from different walks of life who will respond to and choose Jesus as Lord.

Twenty years after the publication of A Wideness in God’s Mercy, the conversation continues. Whether it is books aimed at the general public, like Rob Bell’s Love Wins and Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town, or academic discussions like this year’s conference topic at the Evangelical Theological Society, the question of salvation among the nations is still being explored. And I as attempt to navigate the theological waters of this topic, I find myself wanting to make sure that both God’s and humanity’s freedom are central. Are we free to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation? I find myself leaning towards C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of hell: that all those in hell have chosen to be there. (the Great Divorce) Is God free to do what He wants? A universalist approach to salvation restricts God’s freedom just as much as a theology of double predestination does.

Ultimately, as a Christian, my job is to preach the good news: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. I trust in a good and faithful God, and I know that one day every knee will bow at the name of Jesus. My hope is that those who have not heard the gospel, when confronted by Jesus in glory, will choose to bow and worship and that Jesus will stand beside them as mediator before the judgment throne that we all must face. But this hope does not mean that I am released from the calling to be a light to the world, and to proclaim the good news; nor does this hope reflect what will actually happen.

While the fate of the unevangelized can be an important topic, I find that that isn’t my biggest concern. My heart breaks for those who have heard the good news and have turned away, or those who do not even see the need for the good news in their lives. These are the people that I interact with daily. These are family and friends whom I love dearly. They’re good people. In many ways they are nicer, more compassionate, more loving and more self-sacrificing than most Christians I know (myself included). These are the people that I thank God for every day. Without them my life would be less. These are the people that I lay before the altar of prayer and cry out to God to send his Holy Spirit to soften their hearts. I cry out for God’s mercy and for his grace to cover their lives. And yet, at the same time, I respect their choice to say ‘no’ to God’s good gift.

Cultural-Linguistic Approach to Religion — Conclusion

(The two previous posts can be found here and here)

What are the pros and cons—the “promises and pitfalls”—of the cultural-linguistic model for interreligious dialogue and for evangelism?

A cultural-linguistic approach allows us to embrace a non-imperalist attitude to dialogue and evangelism. In adopting a cultural-linguistic approach, we submit to learning the language, culture and story of our dialogue partner, and we begin to find ways to explain the gospel without relying on propositional bullying, and without reducing our experience to relativistic symbolism. In addition, a cultural-linguistic approach challenges us to better understand the structure of our own story which in turn will allow us to better communicate it to others. It allows us to reflect on what is essential to our story, admitting what aspects of our faith are culturally specific rather than culturally universal, as well as what elements are wholly unique, or untranslatable to other faiths.

In terms of interreligious dialogue for the purpose of uniting around a common goal (e.g., feeding the poor), in a cultural-linguistic approach we can see the other religious partner as being a participant in advancing the kingdom of God, even if they are ignorant of that truth. This is similar to the way in which Cyrus cooperated with God’s providential plan for Israel (p. 131).

A cultural-linguistic approach allows for points of commonality while at the same time admitting and recognizing that some doctrines will be untranslatable from one culture to another. An example of this is found in Lindbeck’s description of Buddhist and Christian students in dialogue. Here, the students discovered that Nirvana and the concept of God were untranslatable to the other religion. This realization is allowed and encouraged in a cultural-linguistic approach, because unlike a cognitive-propositional approach, neither side is trying to prove the existence of Nirvana or the existence of God. Indeed, one of the greatest benefits of a cultural-linguistic approach over a cognitive-propositional or experiential-expressive approach is that the dialogue is founded upon mutual respect, even when there are incommensurable ideas existing between the two groups (p. 133).

If evangelism becomes a matter of translation, a way of communicating our story after having learned the language and story of another person, culture, etc, then the proclamation of the Good News is kept at the centre of our evangelism. Our current postmodern ‘lifestyle’ evangelism is nothing more than an experiential-expressivist approach to evangelism (that is, “this is what works for my life”). The appeal of ‘lifestyle’ evangelism is understandable as a reaction to the more apologetic/propositional evangelism of an earlier generation, but both of these methods of evangelism are secondary in a cultural-linguistic approach. This is not to say that ‘lifestyle’ evangelism is not biblical, indeed, Jesus said that everybody “will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). This does not mean, however, that just because people recognize Christians by their love they will become Christians. Proclaiming the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is, in a cultural-linguistic approach, vital to the task of evangelism.

The biggest pitfall is that The Nature of Doctrine does not provide us with the tools to create a strategy of evangelism, because that was not what it was intended to do in the first place. Lindbeck himself admits that had that been the goal, the book would have been a completely different project (p. 138). Indeed, looking at the practical illustration of dialogue that Lindbeck offers in the afterword, the cultural-linguistic model works best as an academic framework, in which the rules of engagement are agreed upon in advance. In the case of the Christians and Buddhists in dialogue, “the religion that can better incorporate strengths from the other without losings its own is the one that wins.” (p. 138)

Lindbeck compares this to the encounter between rival traditions of inquiry described by Alasdair MacIntyre. His indebtedness to MacIntyre may itself be a source of this pitfall, as MacIntyre (in After Virtue, and Whose Justice? Which Rationality?) is describing the intellectual clash of conflicting scientific and philosophical theories. The end result of the conflict is one theory’s triumph and displacement of the other. This kind of adversarial interaction is at best of limited applicability to interpersonal evangelism, being better suited to formal apologetics, which in turn is inconsistent with Lindbeck’s desire for a non-imperialistic approach to dialogue.

Another potential pitfall is that it may become too easy to ignore the fact that one religion is in fact more right than another. What is important to emphasize, and what may not be clearly articulated in Lindbeck’s book, is that the way to avoid this pitfall is to recognize that a cultural-linguistic approach is neither anti-propositional, nor anti-experiential. For Lindbeck, the cultural-linguistic model is the first order proposition, while cognitive-propositions and experience-expressivisms are second order propositions. It is not about one approach eliminating the others, so much as it is about ordering and priortizing.

Rule Theory of Doctrine

(This is a continuation of a Cultural-Linguistic Approach to Religion)


What is doctrine?

Doctrines are rules to guide Christian life and speech.

They are not, Lindbeck argues, primarily propositional truth claims, nor universal symbols. This does not mean that there isn’t objective truth in doctrine, just that that is not the primary function of doctrine. Same with religious feeling or ‘experience’. It is part of the Christian faith and doctrine, but it is not the core of doctrine.

In chapter four Lindbeck lays out six categories, rules or types of doctrines:

unconditionally necessary
conditionally necessary
permanent
temporary
reversible
irreversible

In chapter five, Lindbeck sets out to test his rule theory using these six categories. The goal – to show that a Rule Theory of Doctrine “provides a nonreductive framework for discussion among those who genuinely disagree.” (pg 77)

Case #1 – The Christological Creeds (Nicaea and Chalcedon) – Unconditonally necessary//permanent

Lindbeck suggests that there is a distinction between doctrines and terminology. He reminds us that creedal terms like substance ‘ousia’ and person ‘hypostasis’ are ‘post-biblical novelties.’ (pg. 78) These terms are not essential because if they were than the creeds themselves would be temporary (rather than permanent) and conditional on a Hellenistic culture.

Christianity “has been committed to the possibility of expressing the same faith, the same teaching and the same doctrines in diverse ways.” (pg. 78)

First and second order propositions “are separable from the forms in which they are articulated.” (pg. 79).
e.g. Amanda has jaundice. We can describe this using Galen’s four humours (inbalance of the humours) or science (viral infection). Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that Amanda has jaundice (even if one explanation is more correct than the other).

What Lindbeck says we have to do is show that the doctrine of Nicaea and Chalcedon “are distinguishable from the concepts in which they are formulated” and we do this by stating, “these doctrines in different terms that have equivalent consequences.” (pg. 79)

To do this we have to see Nicaea and Chalcedon as second order ‘guidelines’ not first order ‘affirmations.’

So, Lindbeck argues that Athanasius (opponent of Arius) used Greek logic rules to describe the relationship of Christ to the Father. Athanasius expressed it with the rule ‘whatever is said of the Father is said of the Son, except the Son is not the Father.’ (pg 80). This is a rule of speech, not a first order proposition. Lindbeck argues that later scholarship imported (read in) metaphysical first order meaning into Athanasius’ statement.

Creeds are primarily regulative; not propositional.

3 regulative principles or rules behind the original creeds
1. Monotheistic principle
2. Principle of historical specificity (Jesus was really a person)
3. Principle of Christological Maximalism

The major heresies (Docetism, Arianism, Nestorianism etc) were all rejected because they violated “the limits of what was acceptable as defined by the interaction of these three criteria.” (pg. 81) Therefore, creeds are paradigms of doctrinal truth/rules. They are “permanently authoritative paradigms, not formulas to be slavishly repeated.” (pg. 82)

Practical Question – Does this mean that creeds should be re-written for a post-modern culture?
Lindbeck says ‘no.’ His reasons:
1. rare to achieve a creed that is accepted by the whole Church.
2. The creeds have “acquired liturgical and expressive functions.”
3. the recitation of the creeds is “a mighty symbol of the Church’s unity in space and time.”
4. “An updated version of the creed is less likely to invite believers to worship, proclaim and confess the faith in their language rather than in its own.” (pg. 81)

Case #2 Marian Dogmas (Immaculate Conception) – Reversibility//Irreversibility

Lindbeck argues that these two doctrines could not exist until other doctrines (i.e., Marian devotion and the doctrine of original sin) were well developed. After this long process, “Christians [Catholics] discovered that the grammar of faith required them to speak of the Mother of our Lord as sinless in a way concealed from the first generations.” (pg. 83).

A Catholic affirmation of the Immaculate Conception is necessary in order to ‘maintain her God-given and God-dependent freedom in saying ‘yes”.

So, if Marian dogma is built on a specific understanding of the theology of sin, what would happen if that understanding of the doctrine of sin changes? What if the theology of sin is temporary (culturally specific for a specific era only)? That would make it possible that the Marian dogma is reversible.

Hypothetical Ecumenical Discussion:
Evangelicals and Catholics get together to talk about Marian Dogmas. Using the ‘rule theory’ of irreversibility/reversibility how would this ecumenical dialogue proceed?
Rule Theory allows evangelicals to understand why the doctrine of IC is so important to the RC faith. It allows evangelicals to explore how to re-appropriate and appreciate the role of Mary in the biblical narrative without having to necessarily adopt the long standing traditions that led to the official IC doctrine.

But what does it do on the other side of the discussion? How would Catholics feel being told that this core doctrine is ‘reversible’, contingent on a theological tradition that may or may not continue to be accurate?

The Usefulness of Rule Theory:
So how useful is the rule theory, taxonomy of doctrine?

Positive: It ‘could make an important contribution if it encouraged the ecumenical dialogues to consider the status of doctrine in the respective churches, and also the status of particular doctrines.” (Wainwright, 130)

Negative: In reality “churches will continue to believe that doctrines make truth claims in a stronger sense than Lindbeck wants to allow. As Luther put it against Erasmus: ‘take away assertions, and you take away Christianity.” (Wainwright, 130).

Cultural-Linguistic Approach to Religion

George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine is probably the hardest book I’ve had to read. Yes, he is more difficult to read than Barth. But just because he’s a hard read doesn’t make him irrelevant. Indeed, NOD has had a huge influence on various strains of Christian thought. Protestant Liberalism and conservative evangelicalism have both been shaped in the last 25 years by the theory introduced in NOD.

Lindbeck suggests that there has been two main ways of understanding doctrine, the Cognitive-propositionalist approach (CPA) and the Experiential-expressivist approach (EEA).

Cognitive-propositional: This approach to doctrine is concerned with verifiable fact. It is about “proving” that such-and-such doctrine is metaphysically true. He says that this was the pre-liberal approach to religion.

Experiential-expressivist
: This approach to doctrine is concerned with symbols. It is about finding the common human experience and about reducing doctrine to it’s universal principle that can be found across religions. The experience of “absolute dependence” is key to this approach. This has been liberal protestantism since the days of Schleiermacher.

Lindbeck proposes a third way — The Cultural-Linguistic Approach (CLA). This CLA is at the heart of what he calls “post-liberal” theology. In short, Postliberal theology is a movement to help liberal protestantism be shaped by Scripture. As Timothy Phillips and Dennis Okholm summarize, the mission of Postliberalism is “…to reverse the trend in modern Christianity of accommodation to culture.”

The CLA is based upon principles of cultural anthropology (Clifford Geertz) as well as theory of language (Ludwig Wittgenstein). So, a CLA means that “to become a Christian involves learning the story of Israel and of Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one’s world in its terms.” (NOD, 20). It means that just like becoming fluent in a language, a person who becomes a Christian learns the language and practice; that is, how to think, act and feel within the Christian tradition.

A CLA approach means that we don’t have to “prove” the veracity of doctrines, nor do we have to reinterpret doctrines so that they can be explained to those outside of the faith. Indeed, it is very possible that there will be doctrines that will not ‘translate’ to other religions. (Example: there is no Christian equivalent to Buddhist Nirvana).

So what does this mean for explaining or evangelizing the faith? It means that in a cultural-linguistic approach, postliberal theology will ‘instead of redescribing the faith in new [modern] concepts, [it will] seek to teach the language and practices of the religion to potential adherents.” (pg. 118) Catechism becomes vital to the life of the Church. For example, Lindbeck looks back to the earliest Christian converts. He notes:

“Pagan converts…did not, for the most part, first understand the faith and then decide to become Christians; rather, the process was reversed: they first decided and then they understood. More precisely, they were first attracted by the Christian community and form of life…Only after they had acquired proficiency in the alien Christian language and form of life were they deemed able intelligently and responsibly to profess the faith.” (pg. 118)

…to be continued…

20th Century Theology

One of my favourite and most useful books on my bookshelf is Grenz and Olson’s 20th Century Theology. It does a really good job of tracing the ebb and flow of theology (particularly in tracing how the pendulum of theology swings back and forth between emphasizing the transcendence and immanence of God). The only downside is that the book is a little dated, and being written in the early 90′s is missing some of the late 20th century theological developments.

Well! Good news! Roger Olson has announced on his blog that he is in the process of revising and updating the book!

He writes:

I am now in the process of revising 20th Century Theology. The revised, updated work will include more chapters on 19th century theology (thus probably requiring a new title) and postmodern theology. One glaring omission of 20th century theology was Kierkegaard who got only passing mention in the introduction to the section on neo-orthodoxy….the revision of 20th Century Theology… will probably turn out to be a whole new book on modern theology incorporating some of the material in 20th Century Theology.

I am very excited :)

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

The top 50 biblioblog list is out for February, as is the top 10 list. I feel so honored, Cheese-Wearing Theology had been nominated for the top 10. Granted we didn’t place, but wow! Thanks readers. And if you feel so inclined, how about nominating me again for March?

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In the “I learned something today” category, it turns out you can opt-out of being in a union based on religious beliefs. From the article:

A 24-year-old woman told the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board that her Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs forbid her from joining trade unions, a denominational tradition that reaches back to the turn of the last century. The board accepted her arguments in February but said her dues would still be collected and then diverted to a charity.
Though the woman is not a union member, she will still be subject to any collective bargaining agreements.

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Christianity Today has a large article up about the different theological positions on the doctrine of hell. Of interest to me was this little tidbit on the doctrine of annihilationism:

In 1982, Houston lawyer Edward Fudge wrote The Fire that Consumes, which has become the standard reference on annihilationism. That book was heartily endorsed by noted New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce, who said he did not fit either with the church’s traditional teaching on the matter, nor quite fully with Fudge’s position. Other noted scholars who supported the book were Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd.
Evangelicals have long been divided on the value of annihilationism. In May 1989, Regent College theologian J. I. Packer attacked the idea at the Evangelical Affirmations conference held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In the discussion that followed, Reformed Seminary theologian Roger Nicole argued that annihilationism should be respected as a persistent and biblical minority position among historic evangelicals. Nicole’s speech effectively defeated a motion that would have defined annihilationists as outside the evangelical camp.

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Carmen, over at Seminary Mom, has announced that she has been accepted into the PhD program at Wheaton. Congrats!

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DET has the announcement up for the upcoming Karl Barth Conference in June. Looks like a pretty good list of presentations!

It Has Begun

Justin Taylor has a post up about Rob Bell’s upcoming new book, and at 432 comments (!) the knives are out. Even before people have read the book, they are throwing around the “H” word.

So my questions:

Just because we call someone a heretic does it make it so?

Who, in an individualistic church culture like North America, has the authority to declare someone a heretic?

Does having a different theological position automatically justify the label of heretic?

Of course, for all the hoopla over at TGC, it might have the opposite effect than the critical comments intend. The controversy will probably serve the publishers best, as it will push sales of the book quite high.

Edited to add: Kevin Young also has a post up about Rob Bell and universalism. Check out: To Hell With Hell. (HT Craig)

Edit #2: Jon Coutts offers his reflections here. I especially appreciate this comment:

Undoubtedly this is one of the more difficult questions in theology. I am not sure if I admire Bell’s boldness or find his promotional teaser a bit flippant. Regardless, this is not an open and shut theological issue and it deserves careful consideration and gracious dialogue, and I imagine that is what he’d hope for. You can’t reduce everything to principles, label everyone by those principles, and then proceed as the guardian of truth rather than a person in communion with faith seeking understanding. At this point Bell raises questions, but does not merit condemnations. If anything, the main question we might ask is why it isn’t called “Jesus is Victor”?

Michael Horton on Barth

The Christianbook blog has an interview posted with Michael Horton, author of the newly released systematic theology, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the way. In part two of the interview, Horton talks about Barth and how those in the Reformed tradition react to, and engage with Barth’s theology.

Matthew: Do you think the cool reception of Barth by many in the Reformed camp is warranted?

Horton: Barth is his own best interpreter on this. In his Göttingen Dogmatics, he relates how blown away he was by actually reading Calvin and the post-Reformation Reformed theologians.

In many ways, he was inspired in his own program by this period. He had been taught by his liberal professors to dismiss all of this as child’s play, but he found it to be a room filled with treasures. On the other hand, he himself says later that he left hardly any Reformed doctrine standing in its confessional form.

From the doctrine of Scripture to eschatology, Barth used the same terms and categories, but radically revised nearly all of them. I think we’re entering a phase now of more light than heat. There are some terrific critiques of Barth by Reformed evangelicals today that are far more nuanced, informed, and engaging than many of yesteryear.

The reaction against Barth was understandable, especially as many evangelicals were embracing his views as a way of avoiding both fundamentalism and liberalism. However, I get the sense that these days there are more folks who are not fundamentalists, liberals, or Barthians. And that perhaps allows some space for more sympathetically critical analysis.

Matthew: Do you believe he is often misunderstood by more “traditional” Reformed Theologians?

Horton: It depends on which theologian and on what topic. One challenge on our side as conservatives is to assume that we know what someone believes without having to investigate the details. If one believes X, then logically that means he or she must believe Y, and so forth. However, that doesn’t always work and it isn’t really charitable, as we know when we’re accused of believing that human beings aren’t responsible because we believe that God is sovereign.

For example, Barth was not driven by liberalism; in fact, I believe that many of his mistakes were made out of an over-reaction against liberalism. Swinging from romantic-liberal emphasis on God’s immanence, Barth so stressed God’s transcendence that revelation could not be identified directly with any creaturely medium, including Scripture. This even affected his Christology.

If we’re going to critique conclusions, we need to know how they are derived and not just assume that inadequate views of Scripture, for example, are always liberal. Distortions can come from all sorts of different quarters and the “liberal-conservative” way of categorizing things often misses important nuances.