Theology: July 2005 Archives

Since I've been writing about the disappearance of hell (here and here), I thought Pyromaniac's Monday menagerie post today was interesting -- he covers a Confucian exhibit he visited, "The Ten Courts of Hell", which graphically illustrates some Confucian teachings on their idea of hell (or perhaps more accurately a sort of purgatory). He writes this about the exhibit:

Here is where several generations of Singaporean parents have brought their children to scare them straight.

As an aside, it's worth pointing out that this isn't why I think hell and God's holiness and judgment are an important part of understanding the Christian message. Rather, as I argued in the comments on the last post, I think we need to understand the punishment we deserve from God, so that we can properly understand what he has done in sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins. And we need also need to understand what we deserve so that we will turn to Christ for salvation, rather than relying on ourselves or thinking we'll earn our own way to heaven.

I wrote the other day about the disappearance of hell from much of Christian thought and preaching. It's being replaced by a more "loving" notion of God, rather than a God who is "judgmental". I think this is unfortunate, and we need, instead, to maintain a Biblical and balanced view of God. We are not to take a single one of God's attributes in isolation. God's love needs to be understood in view of his justice and holiness, for example, and God's judgments need to be seen in view of his other attributes, as well.

This is the second post in a series on the subject. Here, I want to point out an article by D. A. Carson on Distorting the Love of God which I recommend. (Hat tip to Macht in the comments on the last post). He points out that there are different aspects of God's love, and if we focus on just one aspect, we lose sight of what God's love really means. He also argues that God's love, when properly understood, is a difficult doctrine. It's worth reading in its entirety, but here are some particularly good points:

This one really shocked me. This is from Doug Wilson, of all people. Gay marriage is a judgment on our culture, and as God's people Christians should allow that judgment to play out. Now this shouldn't be too shocking from someone who thinks we need to make a strong distinction between the heavenly reality of the church (what Augustine called the City of God) and earthly governments. Wink and I disagree on how much the government has a moral responsibility to represent moral truth as taught by Christianity, which we both believe to get moral teaching correct, but we agree on the strong distinction between the two cities of Augustine. For those who don't know who Wilson is, he's a theonomist, maybe the most influential one in the world. That means he sees no such distinction. For him to say something like this sounds really strange, at least if you think of theonomy the way pundits complaining about conservative evangelicals' politics think of it. However, those complainers don't understand what the more sane versions of theonomy really amount to, and Wilson's stance on this issue demonstrates that. [Hat tip: World, whose weird code for links I can never get to work either in Internet Explorer or Firefox, which is why I'm not giving any links to Wilson himself.]

On the more general point about Theocracy Paranoia, Gene Veith said something a few weeks back that I thought was incredibly insightful. The primary things people are worried about are the unsuccessful attempts by conservatives, many of whom are Christians, to limit abortion and to prevent marriage from being gender-neutral. Consider the failed attempt to limit what can best be described as the most barbaric abortion procedure ever invented That description of it is almost a direct quote from a Norwegian atheist philosopher friend of mine who is thoroughly opposed to the pro-life position. He says he doesn't know how American politicians like my senators can defend such an barbaric procedure. Even after Congress passed it and the president signed it, judges wouldn't allow the ban, claiming that it might sometimes be healthier for a woman to kill her child during birth than to go ahead and finish delivery. If the so-called theocrats can't even accomplish that small and relatively reasonable restriction on a dreadful procedure, I don't know why there's such paranoia about the looming theocracy that we all need to beware of. Anyway, in the light of that point, Veith asks the following question. "A few decades ago, when abortion was against the law and homosexuality was assumed by all sides to be immoral, was that a theocracy?"

Update: I hadn't thought to run my mouse over the World link and then type in the URL. I've done that. Apparently it's a piece by Doug Jones and Doug Wilson together. My thoughts on the actual piece follow below the fold.

Recently, one of my church leaders read Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God at a Fourth of July service at my church. By way of introduction, it was pointed out that this used to be commonly read in schools as part of American History or English, but this is falling by the wayside. The sermon is certainly a sobering one, and one I think everyone should read, even if they disagree.

Around the same time, I had a discussion with someone who said essentially that Edwards was too "fire and brimstone". My response was to argue that, as far as I can tell, Edwards' theology is Biblical theology. Granted, in that sermon he uses some graphic imagery. But the Bible itself speaks seriously about sin and punishment, and, at times, uses very graphical language.

time signature carry on wayward son 4/4
Yes, it's 4/4, fairly boring for Kansas. There are lots of other Kansas songs to pick if you want 11/8, 13/8, 7/8, 9/8, 5/4, or whatever unusual time signature you need. You probably have all of those and more just in The Spider, and that's only like three minutes long.

must be a Christian Hedonist to be saved
This one amazed me. It led to some people taking Piper way out of context. He says that you need to find joy in what God has done in Christ before you can receive it, which is just astoundingly obvious. How could someone receive the gift of God while finding it horrific? These people think Piper is teaching that you need to have an explicit affirmation of the thesis of Christian hedonism to be saved, which isn't even close to what he says. Piper is making a very small point. He thinks Christian hedonism is true, and he thinks those who have accepted the Christian gospel and repented of their sin are living as Christian hedonists to some degree, even if they pretend they aren't. So when someone asks him if you need to fulfill your desires in God to be saved, of course he'll say yes. To paint him as if he's saying that someone can't be saved without affirming the words that he uses to describe Christian hedonism is simply bearing false witness against him.

IntolerantElle has a question for those who see baptism as a means of grace. Why do parents not baptize their children as soon as possible after birth? Now I believe she has in mind the Lutheran view, but Presbyterians have some answer to this question that I don't think is available to Lutherans. The extent to which they see baptism as a means of grace isn't any more than Baptists see baby dedications as a means of grace, which is pretty much equivalent to how all Christians see preaching, godly correction, Bible study, or the gift of encouragement as a means of grace. What's more difficult is if you mean something stronger in seeing it as a means of grace, which I think Lutherans do. But the most intriguing element of her post is the closing line, because it raises the issue that most fundamentally convinced me of the wrongness of paedobaptism, and it's something so radical that I refused to believe that paedobaptists really taught this until some of them insisted on it to me as an argument for their view. IntolerantElle says, "I know I couldn't stand to look my newborn in the eyes and know I was the one responsible for keeping him from being part of God's family."

Christians and July 4

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At this time last year, I wrote What Should Christians Think of July 4? I've been told my several people whose opinion I greatly respect that this is one of my best posts, and I think it's among the best of this blog myself, so I might mention it to those who didn't read it the first time around.

Patrick Taylor posts at Prosblogion regarding a new paper by Jeff Jordan on the problem of evil. Some philosophers have claimed that any suffering God allows will ultimately be in the best interest of the person suffering. I'm not sure I can agree with this claim, but I also can't agree with what Jordan thinks follows from it. He thinks that if you believe something like this you'll have to accept that it's never wrong to cause someone to suffer, because if you cause them to suffer and God allows it, it's really in their best interest. Similarly, it shouldn't ever be ok to reduce anyone's suffering, because that would be reducing what God has set for them in terms of their best interest. I have to say that I can't see how Jordan's conclusions would follow from that view, and his confusion seems to be a fundamental sort of confusion that I don't normally see except in introductory philosophy classes. This is basically the fallacious argument that some have called the Lazy Sophism, though I'm not going to address it in those terms. The rest of this post is adapted from my comment on Patrick's post.

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