Friday, November 17, 2017

Position in New Testament

The School of Theology and Ministry, where I am currently Dean (not the seminary) has an open position in New Testament. Here is the advertisement:
_____________________________________
The School of Theology and Ministry on the residential campus of Indiana Wesleyan University invites applications for a full-time faculty position in New Testament to begin in August 2018. The preferred candidate will have a PhD in New Testament, and those who actively pursue New Testament scholarship from diverse ethnic, racial, and class perspectives are especially encouraged to apply. The successful candidate will have a positive view of the local church and embrace the Wesleyan tradition of which the university is a part. In addition to the normal expectations of a professor listed below, responsibilities especially include teaching introductory and upper level Bible courses, with the possibility of some teaching on the graduate level.
_____________________________________

Here are some of our goals and flavor:

1. IWU is a Wesleyan institution. That means professors not only need to be people of faith, but one's faith needs to be personal and a matter of life (not just intellectual). We agree to certain lifestyle commitments and respect the theology of our host denomination.

2. We are on a journey toward kingdom diversity. Diversity is the number one goal of STM right now. We would be excited if individuals of color might feel called to come and help us. We want to become the church of Revelation 7:9 around the throne. Our students need role models of color. We need leaders of color. Our spirits are willing to learn.

3. We believe in both truth and biblical justice. Some say you have to choose today. We bind ourselves both to the pursuit of objective truth and the values of social justice. In keeping with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, truth is both revealed and discovered.

4. Mentoring and teaching are job #1. Scholarship is of course part of being on faculty at a university, but the first order of business is the students. We have coffee with them. We come alongside them. We keep at least 10 office hours a week. Only then do we hide in our offices to write. :-)

5. Influencing the church and culture. We want to influence the direction of the church and the world. We want to play a prophetic role. We do this first of all through our students as they go out into the world. We also do it through our scholarship and service. Some of our key initiatives at the moment include:
  • The KERN program - I believe it is the leading ministerial training program in the Wesleyan Church for 18-22 year olds, directed by Eddy Shigley. Students get a master's degree in five years, cover all the content of an MDIV degree, get the best of a residential cohort experience, and get some of the best internships in cutting edge churches like 12Stone or Cypress Wesleyan.
  • Examen - This high school program brings a diverse group of students to campus in the summer or summers before they go to college. Amanda Drury heads the program. These students have a spectacular time together while getting college credit and creating community, a taste of college life.
  • Youth Ministry Events - Headed by Charlie Alcock, we not only bring thousands of middle school and high school students to campus but Charlie takes his equipment on the road every year to youth events and even supports events like the Gathering of the Wesleyan Church.
  • High School Dual Credit - We will increasingly be offering online courses to students who are not enrolled in the university. These courses are philosophy, NT, OT, and theology.
This is just a small taste of who we are, who we are becoming, and who we want to be. If this world sounds like you, I will be at SBL if you want to have coffee.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon Starters: No Fear in Love

I gave a very brief wedding charge yesterday. The couple was already married legally so the service was really a community commitment and celebration of what was already the case in the eyes of the law.

But since my brief talk could be made into a fuller sermon, here is the basic flow:

Text: 1 John 4:7-8, 16, 18
Key Verse: "There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear.
Key Idea: There is no need for fear in truly loving relationships

Our relationships with each other:
  • Not just new or old marriages but all truly loving relationships
  • The fear here is not fear of sickness, financial trouble, or nuclear war.
  • It is about security in relationship and safety in commitment.
  • We all mess up in relationships (give personal example or example you have heard of).
  • Love means there's no need to fear when you forget to take out the trash or pick up toilet paper.
  • People are quirky. We're strange. Some people are strange because they're just a little too normal.
  • Of course there are times when we intentionally do wrong to those we love. This is intrinsically contrary to love and implies a lack of "perfection" in our love.
  • True love can withstand even these storms. 1 Corinthians 13:7: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Love is a commitment in addition to being a glue.
  • Some of our habits can reflect a lack of attention to actions we could stop if we tried. We may forget certain things and thus not intentionally wrong on a specific occasion, but why haven't we been working to address our forgetfulness prior to that moment?
  • Love covers a multitude of sins.
Our relationship with God
  • These aspects of loving relationships also apply to our relationship with God.
  • The context of 1 John 4 is actually about God rather than marriage.
  • Before Christ, sin may be a matter of legality. After Christ, sin is a matter of relationship.
  • We can wrong God unintentionally. But we have no reason to fear.
  • Un-intention, however, can speak to something we should have been working on, if we fully loved God.
  • Intentional sin against God is of course highly inappropriate. If we truly run back, however, like the Prodigal Son, we need have no fear that God will take us back.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Sermon Starters: Dual Citizenship

Preached in chapel at IWU Monday. My assigned text was Philippians 3:17-21.

I. Recap of Philippians
  • Because this is in a series of Monday sermons this semester over Philippians, I decided to start with a recap of the book up to this point.
  • Philippians is a thank you letter. They have sent Paul a care package while he's in jail waiting an appearance before some Roman official. 
  • This is perhaps Paul's dearest church. Galatians gave him problems. Corinthians really gave him problems. Philippians repeatedly sent him help (Paul didn't take aid from a church while he was there).
  • Two chief themes of Philippians: rejoicing in suffering and unity amid squabbling.
  • Rejoice while in jail??? "I have learned to be content whatever my circumstances" (4:12). "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say..." (4:4).
  • Chapter 1: "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain" (1:22). Victor Frankl: "A person can live with any how if they have a why."
  • Chapter 2: heavy on the unity. Have the mind of Christ. Be "one-souled."
  • Chapter 3. Paul digresses into those who might try the congregation to get circumcised and convert to Judaism. He has a good Jewish resume--it's nothing, dung, next to the surpassing greatness of Christ. 
II. The verses of the morning
  • Follow his example.
  • There are enemies of Christ out there: Romans like those who have him in jail, Jews who do not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Christians who believe you have to convert fully to Judaism.
  • Their god is their belly--focus on pleasure? Judaizers and food laws?
  • "But our citizenship is in heaven."
III. Our citizenship is in heaven.
What was in the "bubble" above Paul's head?
A. Jerusalem?
  • fits the theme of Philippians 3
  • Today, we might relate it to visible Christian groups like denominations, local churches, Christian colleges, etc.
  • No visible group equates to the invisible church.
  • Not all Wesleyans are citizens of heaven. Not all IWU students are likely to be citizens of heaven. Not all who attend or are members of College Wesleyan Church are likely to be citizens of heaven.
  • Matthew 13--the wheat and the weeds
B. Roman citizenship?
  • Particularly relevant is the fact that Philippi was a Roman colony. If you were a citizen of the city of Philippi, you were a citizen of Rome, a great honor and privilege.
  • But that's nothin. That's dung next to the surpassing greatness of Christ. Like a drop of water next to the ocean of the greatness of God's kingdom.
  • No earthly group is holy enough to compare to the kingdom of God. No human citizenship is anything but dung next to the surpassing greatness of Christ and his kingdom.
  • On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with being excited about your heritage. I'm a mixture of English, Scottish, Dutch, and German.  I'm an American. My Dad was in WW2. I'm proud to be an American.
  • But we must never come anywhere close to equating such things, such groups--my family, my ethnicity, my country--with the kingdom of God. That's blasphemy.
  • All groups have shame in their story too. "All [groups] have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
  • I'm proud that so far in American history, "The arch of justice is long but it bends toward justice" (MLK). But it took eighty years and a horrible, horrible war to end race slavery. That's shame in the American story. It took a hundred more to allow African-Americans to use the same bathroom and drink from the same water fountain as others There is plenty of shame in the American story, in addition to the things we might boast about. 
  • There is no country, ethnicity, or family that is holy enough to be equated with the kingdom of heaven... not even close.
IV. Dual citizenship
  • How do we live as both citizens of heaven and earth?
  • Never confuse any visible, earthly group with the kingdom based in the heavens.
  • Remember that the kingdom of God is always contextualized. There is no earthly embodiment of the kingdom that is not enculturated (this includes the people of God in Scripture). Love God, love neighbor are principles, but how that looks in a specific context is enculturated.
  • Some guidelines. The kingdom of God is more redemptive than punitive.
  • The kingdom of God is more unifying than dividing.
  • The kingdom of God is more about mutual submission and yielding to others than forcing others.
  • We have to work out these things with prayer and fasting, in community, working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

95 Theses for the Church Today

Today is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his famed 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, the spark of the Reformation. He had no thought of splitting the church, only of reforming it. He had no idea of the impact. Small events often have wildly disproportional consequences.

Here are 95 theses from me for the church today.
_____________________
1. Rightly did the Old Testament teach Israel that there was only one God.

2. Rightly did the early church come to understand that the one God exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

3. Rightly did the early church discern two testaments to go along with two covenants, the old and the new.

4. Rightly did the early church come to affirm the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed.

5. Rightly did the early church come to discern the canon of the New Testament, consisting of 27 books.

6. Rightly did the church recognize with certainly the canonicity of 39 books of the Old Testament.

7. Seven more, along with additions to Daniel and Esther, are in a sort of middle status, a "deutero" canon.

8. Luther demoted them entirely out of the canon. In response, the Council of Trent (1545) promoted them to full status. Both moves changed their status.

9. The doctrine of purgatory, while logical, has no clear basis in Scripture, not even in 2 Maccabees.

10. The doctrine of hell is biblical, but Scripture uses figurative language to point to something we probably cannot understand.

11. The Old Testament does not engage the question of the afterlife much, chiefly in Daniel 12:2-3.

12. Paul never engages the question of hell, but clearly indicates a resurrected body on the Day of the Lord for those who are in Christ.

13. Revelation speaks of a lake of fire, originally prepared for the Devil and his angels.

14. Matthew speaks of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

15. Scripture does not teach that ministers must be celibate.

16. Nor does Scripture teach that ministers must be male.

17. In Christ there is not "male and female," therefore, there is no function in life or the church in which a qualified woman or man cannot serve.

18. The laying on of hands is attested in Scripture as a means of grace whereby individuals are sent with ministry purpose.

19. Scripture also attests to the importance of study for the minister.

20. Therefore, it is appropriate for groups of believers to provide means of education and commissioning for the work of the ministry, known as ordination.

21. The doctrine of justification by faith is well attested in Romans and Galatians, and indicates that, when we first enter the people of God, a right status with God is only attained by putting our trust in him and in his king Jesus.

22. We put our "faith" in Jesus by confessing allegiance to him as our Lord.

23. The writings of Paul in Romans 2, 2 Corinthians 5, and James 2 also indicate that our works as a believer will be recognized on the Day of the Lord.

24. Works follow naturally as a result of having the Holy Spirit.

25. The Holy Spirit inside us empowers the image of God within us to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

26. We can be in Christ, have received the Holy Spirit, have left Egypt, and still not make it to the Promised Land. We can be disqualified for the prize despite having once been justified by faith.

27. Depravity in Paul is a thorough depravity rather than an absolute depravity. Every aspect of our selves is marred by the power of Sin over this world.

28. But the image of God is not destroyed. Thus while we do not have the power to be righteous for justification on our own, the goodness of God is present in us because we remain in the image of God.

29. All the world is under the power of Sin. Augustine called this dynamic a "sin nature."

30. For Paul, human flesh is under the power of Sin in this world unless the power of the Spirit takes over. Paul does not speak of this dynamic as a nature.

31. Temptation is not sin. It is when temptation has conceived by intention that it is sin.

32. There is such a thing as unintentional sin. Christ has atoned for all the unintentional sin of the believer.

33. Paul never says that we sinned "in Adam," as Augustine indicated. Rather, because of the power of Sin we sin like Adam.

34. Therefore, no individual is condemned because of the sin of Adam.

35. Original sin only has validity as a reference to Adam's original sin. I have no guilt because of Adam's sin, only its consequences.

36. The power of the Spirit makes it possible to love God and neighbor and thus to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law.

37. Paul rejects any theology that considers sin the default life of the believer. We are not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies.

38. The basis of justification is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

39. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ is his obedience unto death.

40. Paul likens Christ's death to an atoning sacrifice that God offered or displayed.

41. The doctrine of penal substitution goes beyond the scope of what is claimed in Scripture.

42. We find in Scripture the sense that Jesus satisfied God's justice and that Christ died "for us."

43. But Scripture does not develop a doctrine whereby Christ mathematically satisfied a quantitative justice that was the sum of all sins past, present, and future.

44. "Sola fide," faith alone, thus must take into account the full biblical picture. Our act of faith is the trigger of justification.

45. Our faith is more than an intellectual assent but an act of allegiance that involves a life of faithfulness.

46. If our faith allegiance departs from Christ, then those acts can disqualify our justification. Any version of sola fide that does not take these truths into account is not biblical.

47. Being in Christ is a relationship. Relationships are seldom broken by a single moment or act, but they can be broken.

48. In the working out of Christian theology, both Calvin and Wesley suggested that God's grace empowers us to make the choice of faith. These are logical extensions of broader theology.

49. Wesley believed that this "prevenient grace" was a grace that empowered a free choice. This "theology of the iceberg under the surface" fits best with the appearance of a free choice in Scripture.

50. "Sola gratia," grace alone, needs to recognize that grace in the biblical texts derives from the world of patron-client relationships. In this world, grace could be solicited and could come with informal expectations.

51. Biblical grace thus can be solicited by our prayer of repentance, and our faith in God and his Christ can solicit forgiveness and justification.

52. Grace thus also comes with the expectation of commitment to Jesus as Lord. Such grace can be trampled on and insulted. One should not think such grace would then continue.

53. "Sola Christi," Christ alone is the effective basis for justification. God has chosen of his own free will the offering of Christ as the sole basis of justification.

54. Abraham was justified by faith in God when he was still uncircumcised, that is, a Gentile. He is thus the model of those who are justified by faith in God who are not Jews, as well as the model of faith for those Jews who are justified by faith.

55. He is at least possibly a model of those who have faith in God even though they have not yet heard of Christ. Such individuals would still be justified by faith on the basis of the offering of Christ.

56. When Augustine, Wycliffe, and Calvin read the predestination language of the New Testament in absolute terms, they did injustice to half of the biblical language.

57. Predestination is primarily about the plan of salvation rather than the individuals who are saved, and God's plan involves the participation of human wills.

58. When the Reformers invoked "sola scriptura," they had a pre-modern hermeneutic that was unaware of the extent to which their reading of Scripture was still guided by the rule of faith God developed in the church.

59. The Reformers only eliminated extraneous aspects of catholic tradition that were obvious to them but retained many appropriate core features of tradition, like the Trinity.

60. Because individual interpretation of Scripture uses the individual to provide the "glue" that joins the different teachings of the Bible together and serves as the basis for determining the continuity and discontinuity between that time and our time, the Protestant principle arises. The Protestant principle, set forth by Paul Tillich, is that Protestant churches will continue to split and re-split, to multiply without end, because there is no common basis to join scriptures together or determine the connection between that time and today.

61. Today there are over 30,000 Protestant churches who think they are just following scripture alone. In short, history has shown Luther the loser of his debate with Erasmus.

62. Interpretation and exegesis only tell us what it meant. They do not tell us how God wants us to appropriate it.

63. The Bible should thus be appropriated in communities of faith.

64. The appropriation of Scripture not only requires contextualization by communities of faith.

65. The appropriation of Scripture to individual situations requires improvisation. There is no Pharisaic list of application that can account for every possible situation.

66. Communion was originally a meal that remembered the Last Supper of Christ and looked forward to another meal with him in the eschaton.

67. God has used communion throughout the centuries as a means of grace, whereby the partaker with faith is spiritually empowered to love of God and neighbor.

68. Baptism was a Jewish rite that the early Christians used to signify the washing of sins and incorporation into the people of God.

69. As children were born to these first believers, it is at least possible they were baptized as well. Certainly this became the tradition of the church.

70. Infant baptism indicates that the child is in the people of God, a partaker of its faith, until the child reaches a point when he or she could make that faith his or her own.

71. The child receives a grace mediated through the community in which he or she is baptized. It is a protecting grace.

72. The adult in baptism receives a means of grace as well through the community. It is an including grace. The adult is now reckoned fully in the people of God.

73. The legalization of Christianity was not evil.

74. The organization of Christianity is not intrinsically evil.

75. Nevertheless, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When the church and state coincide, oppression eventually happens.

76. Therefore, the church should be very cautious about its involvement with the state.

77. In keeping with the way God governs the world, the church should not try to force the world to believe as it believes.

78. The church should not try to force the world to pass laws that fit with its particular theological understanding--especially the understanding of one specific Christian group.

79. The church should focus its involvement with the state on supporting laws of general morality--those which prevent harm to others.

80. In keeping with the prophets, its activism should focus on protecting those who cannot protect themselves and empowering all the members of society.

81. The social gospel was not wrong because of its focus on helping the needy and marginalized--this is what Jesus did on earth.

82. The social gospel was wrong because it left out other essential parts of Christian faith--Jesus as Lord, not least.

83. Fundamentalism is a reduction of the Christian faith to a visceral reaction against changes in modern culture.

84. All truth is God's truth, no matter where he reveals it or we discover it by his grace.

85. The New Testament says "Love God and love neighbor" is the fulfillment of the whole law. There is no commandment of God for our lives that is left out (Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-10).

86. The love of neighbor includes the love of enemy. God himself loves Satan still and grieves at his perdition.

87. The love of neighbor and enemy never contradicts the love of God, for God never asks us to do or be anything for him that is unloving toward our neighbor.

88. God's justice fits within the context of his love. He is not a slave to justice.

89. God has the authority to forgive without payment. This would be no problem for him but less helpful for us.

90. Our love of God and Christ consists in our submission to his will as our Lord, and his will is that we love one another. God's will is that we love what he loves, and he loves not just the individual but the whole of humanity, groups within humanity, and indeed his creation.

91. There are many points on which Christians disagree. Paul gives guidelines for such situations.

92. On matters of personal conviction, each person should be fully convinced of what God expects of him or her.

93. Despite individual freedom, Christians should behave in a way that is loving toward others. Despite individual freedom, Christians should behave in a way that builds up the faith of others.

94. Paul affirms that no object is intrinsically unclean. It is a matter of personal understanding and conviction. Many actions are not intrinsically unclean. It is a matter of your intention as you act.

95. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Everything else is mostly ice cream on the cake.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Happy Birthday Dad!

Dad in middle, Eugene on left
(just passed), Maurice on right
My Dad would be 93 if he were still with us. I find myself quoting him often to my children. Here are some sayings and things that have come to mind this past year.

1. "Anything worth doing is worth doing right."

2. Also, "Good enough for who it's for" (I don't remember this one until after he retired).

3. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." I remember him saying that my uncle Paul Myers helped him see that if you don't speak up, you shouldn't expect anything to change and you certainly won't get what you really wanted at a restaurant.

4. "Anything but instant obedience is disobedience." :-)

5. "A man convinced against his will is of the same mind still." That one came from a Dale Carnegie course that he took.

6. "More accidents happen in parking lots than anywhere else." He was an insurance adjuster for years. :-)

7. "There's no time better than the present." "Why put off to tomorrow what you can do today?"

8. "I don't understand how a guy as educated as you are doesn't carry a pen around." I have now for about 10 years, along with a Moleskin. He always had a "pocket secretary," which was too bulky for me. A student laughed at me a couple weeks ago when I pulled the Moleskin out of my pocket (instead of taking notes on my phone). :-)

9. Dad used to add up the individual receipts at certain restaurants to see if he could predict the bill. When I was old enough I would do it too. Come to find out, Uncle Eugene who just passed did that too. Dad was really good at adding numbers. I was thinking it probably came from their Dad's store. He had a slide rule too, although I'm not sure he ever used it in my lifetime.

10. Dad liked liver. No one else did. I did like baloney and Braunschweiger, two meats he would eat. He used to deep fry tacos sometimes on Sunday nights when I was a boy.

11. I heard someone say Saturday that you have to drink coffee if you're in the army. Certainly my Dad did... very much. Uncle Eugene did too. My wife Angie says I slurp coffee like he did.

12. Dad would give off a little growl when he was frustrated. I do it too sometimes. "Shoot" was about as wordy he got.

13. I was also remembering recently an incident that happened when he was working out of an MIC office on US1 getting down toward the Ft. Lauderdale airport in the 70s, south of Sears. A drunk man came in and asked him for some money. His snap response was, "What you need is to sober up." The man responded haltingly, "Thank you for those kind words." Dad felt bad and bought him a meal.

There's a few memories. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Another seminary curriculum

I've been thinking off and on lately, what would have been the ideal seminary curriculum for me. It would probably look much like the traditional curriculum I had in seminary, except it might be more integrated within each course.

Almost impossible to do it. There's just too much. Here's a shot if we could still do 90 hour MDIV curricula (15 hours per semester). For maximum benefit and coverage, every course should have a view to 1) spiritual formation, 2) connecting to other disciplines and subject matter, 3) appropriation.

Year 1
Fall 
  • The Life of a Minister (1 hour)
  • Greek for Ministry
  • IBS: The Gospel of Matthew
  • History: The First Christian Centuries (2 hours)
  • Christian Theology 1
  • The Mission of the Church
Spring
  • Intro to Spiritual Formation (1 hour)
  • Greek for Study
  • IBS: Romans
  • History: Catholics and Protestants (2 hours)
  • Christian Theology 2
  • The Pastor as Leader
Year 2
Fall
  • Supervised Ministry 1 (1 hour)
  • Greek Exegesis: Philippians
  • The Pentateuch 
  • History: American Christianity (2 hours)
  • Race, Class, and Gender
  • The Pastor and Congregational Care
Spring
  • Personal Spiritual Formation
  • Greek Exegesis: Gospel of John
  • Hebrew for Ministry
  • Historical and Poetic Books
  • The Pastor as Priest
Year 3
Fall
  • Supervised Ministry 2 (1 hour)
  • Hebrew for Study
  • Luke-Acts
  • Philosophy and Christian Faith (2 hours)
  • Great Theologians of the Centuries
  • The Pastor and Discipleship
Spring
  • The Integrated Pastor
  • Hebrew Exegesis: The Prophets
  • Contemporary Theologians
  • The Letters of the New Testament
  • The Pastor as Prophet

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Life Check-In

There was almost a month without a blog post, something unheard of. Somehow I feel I will be blogging less. I was on Facebook daily of course. Those posts no doubt reveal how troubled I am by the state of America right now and by the state of the church world of which I am a part. The past year has seriously undermined a kind of optimism I used to have about the arch of history.

I wanted to jot down some brief notes to catalog my own story these past three years. Otherwise perhaps I'll forget. I cataloged my time as Dean of Wesley Seminary.

So let me label my last two years and this one.

2015-16
This was the year of return. This was the year that I returned to the undergraduate School of Theology and Ministry to teaching. The first semester was quite a shock. Students are different. I no longer had a fan base. I did way too much.

I taught two sections of Honor's College. I really enjoyed the students but the response to me was more mixed. Nevertheless, I think I have a good relationship with these students still today.

I taught a "First Year Experience" New Testament Survey. This program is really good. I think it went really well and, again, have a good relationship with these students even today.

I taught for the KERN masters' students in the first year of the graduate program. These were some really high powered students who are already showing signs of future leadership. Eddy Shigley, Dave Ward, and Brian Bernius did a great job of setting up this program, which gets a student from high school to MDIV equivalency in 5 years.


2016-17
This was the year of sorting out. In the spring of my first year of return I was tapped to be interim Dean of the undergraduate School of Theology and Ministry. I remarked several times that Dave Ward had done such a good job of structuring the School that it was hard to go wrong. Brian Bernius handles curriculum. David Vardaman handles course assignments and student issues. The Dean goes to broader meetings and facilitates vision and strategy. Brilliant set up!

With Eddy Shigley pumping the KERN, Amanda Drury generating all sorts of innovation, and Charlie Alcock pulling together Youth Ministry Events, this is a powerful line up. Youth Ministry Events was pulled fully into STM during this year. Amanda's Examen is doing great things. And Eddy is a machine.

The most significant events of the year were the sorting out of who does what between the Seminary, adult programs, and STM. The results did redirect the planned trajectory of STM, and other plans faced resistance in various bodies. Some initiatives ended up relocated.

On the innovative side, however, Scott Burson did teach an online philosophy class in the spring for undergrad students. There are courses of this sort, especially in the summer, but this was a potential turning point for the undergraduate campus.

2017-18
I commenced as full Dean July 1, 2017. We are only a couple months into this academic year. So far, it may prove to be the year of waking up. Issues of diversity have been at the forefront so far. This is a difficult and uncomfortable topic. It is however a strategic goal for STM. I convened an ad hoc group at the beginning of the year and momentum seems to be toward the hard process of becoming more like the kingdom of God as a campus. This is tough work with frequent set backs.

We've lost Abson Joseph to the Seminary. He will become Dean January 1. The Seminary has become a model of diversity, thanks in large part to the trajectory first set by Wayne Schmidt.

The most exciting innovation is the possibility that the undergraduate campus will launch into a major dual credit initiative with high school students, perhaps especially the home school domain. Mike Egenreider, the new VP for enrollment management on the residential campus, gets the credit for catalyzing this exciting new development. I of course have been talking about this sort of idea for a couple years, but he is the man to make it happen.

STM hopes to offer four online courses a semester to mostly high school students next fall. Scott Burson is piloting one such course this fall (see, I was already doing it), and I hope to offer NT Survey online in the spring.

It helps to write this out. I feel like the most important voice the church needs right now is to help it sort out where it should stand in relation to current events in nation, culture, and church. Yet what I really feel is lament.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hebrews and New Perspectives

Forty years ago now, New Testament studies reached a certain tipping point on the question of how the books of the New Testament might have related to the Judaism from which they emerged. Prior to this moment, numerous unexamined assumptions had prevailed about the earliest church in relation to Judaism. Suddenly, a paradigm shift took place. To those participating in this shift, this "new perspective on Paul" seemed obvious. Predictably, those invested in the traditional paradigm strongly resisted.

However, the blind spots of the traditional paradigm seemed obvious to many. The earliest Christians did not think they were part of a new religion. They saw their faith in Jesus as Messiah as nothing but the truest faith of Israel. They saw themselves participating in the fulfillment of Israel's story, not in the beginning of a new story or a new religion. The spread of the Jesus-movement to Gentiles was surely unanticipated by many of the earliest believers. The Christian story was a Jewish story in its very essence.

The bias against Judaism by many Christians was also laid bare. Judaism affirmed the grace of God. Jews by and large did not believe that they could merit God's favor apart from God's grace, of which the sacrificial system was a part. Protestants in particular were wont to read into the theology of the New Testament the theology of the Reformation, another anachronism exposed by the new perspective. The New Testament itself had far more room for works than would make Martin Luther comfortable.

The first chapter discusses these developments in greater detail. A significant amount of literature arose in the 1980s and 90s re-examining Paul's letters and Judaism from this new perspective, which claimed to be the original perspective itself, not truly a new perspective at all. Then it is no surprise that this re-examination of the relationship between Paul and Judaism soon led to another look at Jesus in relationship to Judaism, a movement sometimes called the "third quest for the historical Jesus."

Finally, again predictably, the question shifted to exactly when Christianity and Judaism actually parted ways. For years many had simply read back the situation today into the early church. Christianity and Judaism are different religions today. It was perhaps natural to assume that they had always been different religions. Now the question needed to be asked, "When did they actually become distinct religions?" When did they truly part ways? The question has proved far more complex and variegated than we might have imagined forty years ago.

Although the study of books like Hebrews has continued to swim in the altered waters of these debates, no one to date has actually done a holistic re-examination of Hebrews in the light of these revised perspectives. The interpretation of a verse might change here and there. Perhaps a scholar might soften his or her sense of the tone with which Hebrews viewed the Levitical system as no longer needed. However, it is my contention that the unexamined assumptions go much deeper.

Why is it that so much study of Hebrews thinks it obvious that the audience must have been Jewish? Could it be a serious underestimation of the degree to which Gentile converts saw themselves joining a Jewish movement and embracing the story, symbols, and institutions of Israel? Why does it seem obvious that an audience invested in the temple would have to be a Jewish group tempted to return to mainstream Judaism? Could it be still more unexamined assumptions? We know that the temple was destroyed and never returned. Today it is obvious to Christians that Christ made the temple obsolete. Why is this obvious to Christians today? It is obvious because of the book of Hebrews itself! Prior to the book of Hebrews, it is not at all clear that Christ's supercession of the temple would have been obvious to Jesus followers.

It seems far more likely that it took some time for the earliest Christians to reach this conclusion. I would argue that it did not likely become a prevailing understanding among Jesus-followers until after the temple was destroyed. The earliest Christians were not likely at all to conclude instantly that Christ's offering had replaced the temple. Over time it is likely that a spectrum of positions developed on this question within the movement, just as took place earlier on the question of the Jewish Law. Accordingly, the earliest Gentile converts to the Jesus movement would have owned the Jerusalem temple as part of their new faith just like other Christian Jews likely did.

Forty years after the tipping point, scholarship on the book of Hebrews is still largely operating within a pre-new perspective paradigm. The intuitions of American scholars in particular still find it difficult to move beyond the glasses of the Protestant Reformation and Nicaea to hear this sermon in its original Jewish and Gentile Christian context. We do not need to abandon our personal faith to read Hebrews in context. A mature hermeneutic will recognize the difference between fuller theological readings and appropriations of scriptural texts and historical-cultural interpretations which attempt to examine moments on the way to the later formulations. We can distinguish historical tasks from confessional ones without sacrificing either.

The pages that follow are one attempt to look at Hebrews in this light. As with any scholarly construct, it is a probing of the possibilities. It is an attempt to play out one possible scenario in the light of the evidence we have and the conversation of interpreters as it stands. Time will tell whether it manages to convince others or if it stands alone as just one possibility to check off the list. I offer it to the great, never-ending conversation that is biblical scholarship.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What is Humanity Like?

1. In the creation story of Genesis 1, the Bible repeatedly says that God saw what he created and it was good (Gen. 1:31). This is an important point. Christians believe that every human being is a small reflection of God. We say that a human being is the "image" of God (Gen. 1:27). This fact means that every human being has an intrinsic worth.

Any unnecessary loss of human life should thus grieve us, because a small reflection of God has died. When a flood or a storm takes a life, a small reflection of God has died. When cancer or an accident takes a life, a tiny image of God has died.

When war takes a life on either side, we are grieved because the failures of humanity have killed a small mirror of God. War always involves a human failure at some point. We say it is a result of human "sin" at some point. Even when a violent criminal dies, even as a result of his or her own sinful actions, we mourn the loss of an image of God.

We treat others the way we would want them to treat us--we act lovingly toward others--because every human being is created in the image of God. All human beings have an intrinsic worth and dignity, because all human beings are a small mirror of God who created us.

2. The universe has an intrinsic worth because it is God's creation. God did not have to create the world. He did not have to create the stars or the galaxies. He did so because he wanted to create them. They are created for God's pleasure.

We should thus treat God's creation with respect. Genesis 1 suggests that God has appointed humanity as a steward of his creation where we live (Gen. 1:28). As his appointed caretakers, we see human pollution and the exploitation of the natural world as an insult to God. It treats as common what is his and which is thus holy. As caretakers of our world, we oppose cancer and sickness. We use the intelligence God has given us to develop science in a way that protects and restores the world.

The quest for knowledge is part of our fulfillment of God's command to "subdue the earth." Science and exploration is one way to keep this command. It is not in any way a command to abuse the earth but to steward it. Sabbath is a principle of rest that stewards our bodies and minds, allowing us to be better servants of God (Gen. 2:3).

3. "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 is the story of every one of us. There is a power over humanity for evil. We call it the power of Sin. We look around us and often resonate with the desperate words of an early Christian named Paul when he said, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10).

Sin is the impulse to act for myself in a way that selfishly harms others. Sin is the impulse to act in a way that conflicts with my surrender to God as the most important thing. Sin is the impulse to hurt myself when I should treat myself as someone created in the image of God.

In short, sin is anything that violates the fundamental ethic set down by God in the command to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31). Sin is not best thought of as a violation of rules. That is a less mature understanding of sin. Sin is an impulse to act selfishly in relation to either God, others, or even myself.

4. History is replete with the story of human sinfulness. War is the consummate example of human sinfulness, the human impulse to destroy others for the advancement or stubbornness of an individual person or a certain group. The Bible supports a time for a people to defend themselves or to protect others in war. The Bible suggests there is a time when war is necessary. But the causes of war are thoroughly sinful.

Murder is a microcosm of war. Yet human sinfulness extends to more mundane circumstances where I hurt others to get ahead or simply because I feel like it. Factionalism and the tendency to put my group above others is another manifestation of Sin. It is human nature to herd, to align righteousness with my party or my nation or my race. This aspect of human nature becomes another manifestation of human sinfulness when my group selfishly or thoughtlessly harms others.

At times the thoroughness of human sinfulness threatens to bring us to despair. But God has shown us a more excellent way.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Who is God?

1. God is the creator of the universe, of everything that is seen and unseen.

Christians believe that God created the universe out of nothing. This is not just creation of everything out of emptiness. It is creation of the emptiness itself. The laws of nature did not exist before. The laws of logic did not exist before. The rules of math did not exist before. God invented them all.

God must therefore have more knowledge than the universe (because God created all knowledge). God must therefore have more power than the universe (because God created all matter and energy). We believe that God is everywhere present in the universe.

2. It is conventional to refer to God as a "he," but God has no sexuality. Christians do believe that God is personal rather than a thing. God has intellect and intentions.

Indeed, Christians believe that God is mysteriously three persons yet only one God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). This is a mystery. It says everything that needs to be said: 1) there is only one God, 2) God the Father is God and is a distinct person, 3) Jesus is God and is a distinct person, and 4) the Holy Spirit is God and is a distinct person. How these statements can all be true is a mystery.

God is self-sufficient. That is to say, God does not need the world. God created the universe because he wanted to, not because he needed to. It was an act of supreme artistry and creativity, and God loves everything God created.

3. Christians have historically believed that God not only knows everything that can possibly happen but everything that will actually happen. This is God's foreknowledge. However, the Wesleyan tradition does not believe that God predestines what will happen in every detail. God has an overall plan for history, including the coming of Christ and the salvation of the world.

But God does not predetermine every aspect of the world. God has built freedom and creativity into the creation on the quantum level. And at this time God empowers human beings to decide whether they choose to serve him or not.

4. God is the ruler of the universe. The appropriate response is submission and obedience. To surrender yourself to God is to transcend the impoverished, selfish state that is our default human condition. We humans are born thinking only of ourselves and perhaps of our own tribes. Submission to God is submission to Truth beyond what is convenient for ourselves. It is submission to the "other," which makes humanity better than it would otherwise be. It is submission to the justice of the prophets in the Bible, which seeks to see every human valued and equal to every other.

God is Love and Justice. God is love from the very act of creation. God wants what is best for the creation. God wants to save what is lost in the creation, without forcing his help on the creation. God calls us to love one another as God has loved the world.

God is justice in that he has created a certain order to the universe. When of our choices we crash into that order, we hurt ourselves. Sometimes God "disciplines" us to help us get back on course. Sometimes God removes us to protect others. Sometimes God removes us because we can no longer be saved and have become a symbol of that which stands against the Good.

5. God is both "beyond" the universe (transcendent) and present within the universe (immanent). In his "otherness," we say that God is holy. To say that God is holy is to say that God is God. It is to say that he is not like us. It is to say that he is awesome and tremendous. There is a certain fear we can have around something that is so much greater than us, something that is so much more powerful. This is the holiness of God.

When we become God's possession, we become holy as well. We become God's property, God's "stuff." As such we do not want any part of our being to be out of sync with God. We want to "be holy as God is holy." We want to be like God, and God makes it possible for it to happen.

6. God is a God who reveals Godself to us. The Bible is a witness to God walking with humanity, especially one people known as Israel. But the Bible ends in the New Testament with a decisive turn to the whole of humanity.

When God reveals himself, he comes to us in language and categories that we can understand. All revelation is thus "incarnated" revelation. It comes to us in terms that we can understand. The Scriptures are the central and most important record of God meeting his people in their own language and categories.

The most important record within Scripture is the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. Jesus is the Word of God for the world. In Christ all of God's speakings hold together. The speakings before point to Christ. The speakings after unpack the significance of Christ. The Scriptures are thus sufficient revelation for us to know God and be reconciled to him. The Scriptures tell us the most important truths about God and the world. The Scriptures tell us God's authoritative will for how to live in his world.

7. The Holy Spirit continues to speak to us. The Holy Spirit makes the words of the Bible come alive for us today, although we must test the spirits to see if these revelations are truly of God. The Holy Spirit gives us experiences of God, including knowledge. The Holy Spirit can also guide our reason to the truth.

The most important check and balance on individual whim and fancy is the Church, the body of Christ. The church is that collection of God's people who have lived and will live in all places and times. Under the guidance of the Spirit, God's people as a whole can redirect our interpretations of the Bible when they have gone astray. The body of Christ can clarify our reason and experience when they are off track. When God's people have commonly believed and practiced something throughout history, it is then very likely that God has revealed that truth to the Church.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thoughts on Kingdom Diversification

Thoughts on stages of kingdom diversification:
  1. You don't notice you're all the same.
  2. You commit to welcome and treat equally any different person who stumbles your way. Language of being "color blind" used, while not really seeing the different. 
  3. You feel discomfort that you do not reflect your community. 
  4. You tokenize any "border" people who are different but can handle your homogeneity. You may be awkwardly over-friendly to visitors who are different. 
  5. Same is the host, showing hospitality to the different, maybe "helping" them. 
  6. "Bridge" people come, who begin to weave difference into your identity. A synthesis begins. Same feels increasing discomfort. Resistance increases. 
  7. Different takes over key leadership roles. Same likely feels significant discomfort over systemic culture change. Revolt may break out. Some "base" diversity may begin to come. 
  8. At some point, a new multi-ethnic equilibrium emerges.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Genesis in a Nutshell 1

Genesis
The Creation
1. "When God began to create the skies and the land, it was formless and empty. Darkness was over the face of the deep and the breath of God moved over the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good... And God called the light, "Day," and the darkness he called, "Night." And the evening and the morning was day one" (1:1-5).

The rest of the first chapter poetically sets out an orderly creation of the world in six "days." Finally, on the sixth day, God creates humans.

"Then God said, 'Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness. And let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the skies and over the cattle of the land and over every creeping thing that creeps on the land.' And God created humanity in his own image. In the image of God he created human. Male and female he created them" (1:26-28).

"God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and gain control of it... God saw all that he had made and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day" (1:31).

"And the skies and the land were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed the work he had done. And God rested the seventh day from all the work that he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and set it apart as holy, because on it he rested from all his work which God had created and made" (2:1-3).

2. A later book in the Old Testament, the Psalms, poetically says the following about God in comparison to the creation:

"You of old founded the earth,
     and the skies are the works of your hands.
They will also perish, but you endure.
     They will all wear out like a garment...
But you are the same,
     And your years will not come to an end" (Ps. 102:25-27).

Adam and Eve
3. Genesis 2-3 then give the story of Adam and Eve. In the story, God first creates Adam out of the dust of the earth: "The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being" (2:7). Whenever you see LORD or GOD in all capital letters, you are looking at the name of God in the original Hebrew language, YAHWEH.

God brings the animals to Adam to name. Adam sees that all the other animals are paired into male and female, but for Adam no one was found to be at his side (2:20). So the LORD God causes Adam to sleep, and while he is sleeping, God creates Eve from his rib.

They are in a garden, the Garden of Eden. They are "naked and unashamed" (2:25).

4. Another one of the Psalms, gives a poetic expression of this creation of humanity. Psalm 8 beautifully reads:

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
     Who have displayed your glory above the skies...
When I consider the skies, the work of your hands,
      The moon and the stars, which you have fixed,
What is a mortal, that you remember them
     Or the child of a mortal, that you visit them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
     And you crown them with glory and honor
You make them rule over the works of your hands,
     You have put everything under their feet...
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"

You can see the way Hebrew poetry works by way of parallelism. You say something in one line, then you repeat it or contrast with it in the next line.

5. Genesis 3 then tells about the "Fall" of Adam and Eve from the glory of the Garden. Snakes crawl on their belly without legs. Men have often worked hard to get fields to yield crops. Women have painful childbirth and have often in history been subject to the demands of men. Why is the world not as God intended it to be?

Genesis 3 tells of two trees in the Garden: 1) the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and 2) the Tree of Life. If Adam and Eve could have eaten regularly of the second tree, they would have lived forever. However, they were forbidden to eat of the first tree.

The first tree was a parable of the knowledge of evil. The snake tempted Eve to eat of it, and she urged Adam to eat of it with her. When they ate the fruit, they indeed came to know evil. They were banished from the Garden and thus were doomed in that moment to die, since they could not eat of the Tree of Life. God administers the punishments mentioned above.

6. The New Testament will later reflect on this story and on the dynamics of sin. A book called James says, "Let no one say when he or she is tempted, 'God is tempting me.' God is not tempted with evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Each person is tempted when they are carried away and enticed by their own desire. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. And sin, when it is finished, brings forth death" (Jas. 1:13-15).

All the human beings who have lived ever since, except for Jesus, have repeated the same failure as Adam and Eve. A New Testament writer named Paul writes, "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God," just as Adam and Eve fell from the glorious place that God had given them. The words of Paul echo through our lives: "Death passed to every human being, because everyone sins" (Rom. 5:12).

A New Testament book named Hebrews echoes our current failure to achieve Psalm 8 when it says, "We do not see everything under humanity's feet at present" (Heb. 2:8).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Science: Let There Be Space 1

"In the beginning, GOD created space and matter. And the matter was formless and unconnected and there was darkness over the face of the soup. And the Spirit of God moved throughout the face of the chaos. Then God said, 'Let there be photons,' and the cosmic background radiation was released. And God saw the light, that it was good." Genesis 1:1-4

1. In the beginning, GOD created space and matter. YHWH said, "Let there be space." And there was space. And the LORD saw the space, that it was good.

God created the smallest cloud of possibilities within a framework of certainties. God created that smallest of nothings with everything in it, and delighted to watch it enfold.

"Before" that moment, there was nothing. There was God of course. "Where" God was--we have no point of reference to say. "When" God was--we have no categories to express. We have no point of reference even to understand these questions.

And when we say there was nothing "here," we mean there was not even emptiness. There was not even zero. There was no space. There was only empty set, which is different than zero. Empty set does not even have zero in it.

We often assume, unknowingly, that God has to follow the constraints of this universe. We think God has to follow our understanding of logic. We act like YHWH had to learn math in universe school just like everyone else.

But God invented our math. YHWH invented our logic. It is difficult for us to imagine how 1 + 1 could not equal 2. It is difficult for us to imagine a world where the syllogism does not work.

What we need to understand is that when God made the universe out of nothing, he made it out of nothing. He invented the rules of math for this universe. They did not exist before. He invented the rules of logic for this universe. They did not exist before.

It was not like someone who stumbles into a kitchen and starts mixing things together. Maybe our creation will taste good even if we mix things with complete randomness. After all, we did not invent the chemical rules that determine how things mix. We did not invent the way our taste buds taste.

Creation was not like that. In creation God not only created the ingredients. YHWH set in motion the laws for how those ingredients combine. The LORD designed and invented all of that. God created all the options.

2. And GOD said, "Let there be everything." YHWH spoke this command at the same instance that he said, "Let there be space." And the LORD saw everything created, that it was good.

It was not yet in heaven and earth form. In fact it wasn't even in space and matter form. In that first moment--whatever we want to call it--what God created was smaller than anything even angel eyes could see. It was smaller than anything science could see. It was a point full of the universe.

That point held the possibility of space. It was not yet exactly space yet. It was all the possibilities of the universe somehow piled on top of each other in a point. It is not a situation that can continue for more than the smallest of instants, a moment about 10-43 seconds long. In such a situation, the very fabric of everything is unstable and unsituated.

In that moment, all at the same "time," God said several things. When YHWH said, "Let there be space," God was also saying, "Let there be length." "Let there be area." "Let there be volume."

GOD also said, "Let there be one." YHWH did something no mathematician can do. The LORD divided nothing by zero and got one. He pressed the omega button and created one from empty set.

So God created length. That length of one was infinitesimal by our understanding. Call it the "Planck length," LP. It amounts to 0.0000000000000000000000000000000016 meters. We abbreviate it as 1.6 x 10-33, which is 1/100,000,000,000,000,000,000th the size of a proton.

3. In that very same moment, GOD said, "Let there be interaction," which allowed not only for two, but for three, four, and all the numbers. He created the possibility for addition and subtraction. He created multiplication and division, which are forms of addition and subtraction. He created exponents and roots, which are forms of multiplication and division. All of math came into existence in that moment, including exotic numbers like e and i and π.

God dictated that these interactions would take place in units. You cannot divide space infinitely. You cannot divide anything infinitely. Space reduces finally to small units of Planck length, and the interactions between things reduce to Planck "packets" of interaction. Light interacts in packets. Space interacts in packets. Gravity interacts in packets.

The key to these packets is another fundamental number. Call it the "Planck constant," h. It is the fundamental unit of information exchange between the smallest units of reality. It is the unit for a quantum of action. It is, by one reckoning, 6.6 x 10-34 Joule-seconds, where a joule is a unit of work.

4. In that very same moment, GOD said, "Let there be the speed of light," c. That is to say, YHWH set a limit to the rate of interaction between things. "Let space contract as necessary for the speed of light to be the same in any framework. Let the past and the future be constrained by the time it takes for light to get from one place to another."

And the LORD saw the Planck length, and the Planck constant, and the speed of light, the three fundamental constants of the structure of the universe. God saw that it was good.

In that first moment, time itself did not quite exist. What we call time comes from the rate at which things interact and change, governed mostly by the speed limit of light. However, Time as we know it did not yet exist. Time as we know it only comes to exist when things become irreversible. We can only speak definitively of the future when we cannot go back to the past.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Wesleyans Among the Protestants 1

October 31 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I'm celebrating it in three ways on this blog:
  • The IWU Monday reading group will be going through Alister McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea, which gives a sketch of the Protestant Reformation.
  • I plan to read through the Book of Concord, which is a comprehensive collection of Lutheran confessions.
  • I plan to blog on Sunday's an engagement with the Reformation from my Wesleyan perspective (not the Wesleyan Church's perspective, but a Wesleyan perspective). This post begins this third goal.
________________________
1. A tradition is like a family. Not everyone in the family looks exactly alike. Over time, with intermarriage with other families, new features emerge that do not look at all like our ancestors. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren have minds of their own. Sometimes things that were very important to us are discarded without a thought by our descendants.

In that sense, the Wesleyan tradition--or any tradition--is not bound by John Wesley. Certainly if some Wesleyan group were to diverge so far from Wesley that it held none of his characteristic beliefs or practices in common with him, we could wonder why they still used the name. Nevertheless, it would still be their right, for what a word means today is a matter of what it means today--not what it meant two hundred and fifty years ago.

The American branch of Wesleyanism has inevitably been affected dramatically by its context. America was Frontier country and Baptist country. Even the United Methodist church, which officially still baptizes infants and holds more closely to John Wesley's theology, has many a Methodist Baptist in its pews. In the democratic spirit of America, many people freely move from church to church, providing a good cross-fertilization of tradition.

2. So what is the Wesleyan tradition? What is distinctive about it over and against other traditions? We should keep in mind the possibility that over time what was once unique has disappeared. We should also keep in mind that, if we are truly Protestants, we are certainly free to reinvent ourselves in accordance to what we believe is truest to Scripture. Some Protestants have taken the protest further, feeling free to reinvent themselves in accordance to what they believe is true.

It may very well be that, for some, what makes them Wesleyan is primarily historical. That is to say, if you trace the story of an organization back in time, it goes back in some way to John Wesley. Others may come from the outside yet discover something about the beliefs and practices of the man that they find attractive. They may feel enough of an affinity for the tradition that they feel that the label fits.

Again, that tradition is living. It is not merely about the man himself. It is about the Methodists and Wesleyans and Nazarenes and Free Methodists and scores of other little groups that have related in some way to the family. My friend Keith Drury likes to say that The Wesleyan Church is something more like the great grandchild of the man than the child or even grandchild.

So one is either Wesleyan historically or ideologically in some way. We will leave it at that for now.

3. Wesley was a Protestant. He was a Protestant in two ways. He was a Protestant historically. He was a Protestant because he was an Anglican of the eighteenth century, and the Anglican Church of the 1700s was Protestant.

We will discuss soon enough the idea that the Anglican Church was a "via media" or "middle way" between Roman Catholicism and what I call the "high" Protestantism of Luther and Calvin. For example, the Wesleyan tradition is not bound to the same understanding of the "solas" that Lutherans and the Reformed have (i.e., grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, glory to God alone). The Anglican Church was born on a different path, one that retained more of catholicism than the Lutherans and Calvinists did.

Wesley was also a Protestant ultimately because he rejected the Catholic church of his day. [1] He called himself a "man of one book," and implicitly took his side with Luther on that issue. [2] Nevertheless, to America's Baptistified version of Wesleyanism today, much of his thinking will seem quite catholic to some.

4. It is often said that Wesley was an eclectic thinker. I personally like to think of this trait as a family characteristic. I believe that Wesleyan thought can be systematized, but its flavor is more focused on practice than theology. Wesley is often considered to be one of the original "evangelicals" in both his focus on evangelism and social justice.

So Wesley's thinking was a mixture. The recipe started with a common catholic foundation as filtered through Anglicanism. Then there was Luther's idea of justification by faith filtered through his Pietist encounters. Then there was Calvin--a lot of Calvin--but with an Arminian twist. Finally, there was England and the rise of the Enlightenment. There was individualism. There was the worth of the everyday individual.

This was the making of Wesleyan theology.

Next Week: The Anglican Via Media

[1] He could be quite vitriolic in relation to the Pope of his day.

[2] In the Preface to Wesley's sermons. However, given that this expression may go back to Aquinas, it counts less for Wesley's Protestantism than one might think at first.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Quantum Physics, Cosmology, and God

David Higle and I were exchanging emails about sources on quantum physics and theology. He already knew everything I thought of, especially Polkinghorne's Quantum Physics and Theology. I'm on a slow train pursuing these things, but thought I would give a snapshot of musings.

1. Big Bang
Contrary to some rhetoric, I've long thought that the idea of a Big Bang plays right into Christian theology. Why? Because it suggests a beginning of sorts to the universe. If the universe had a beginning, then we can ask why it began. In other words, the Big Bang seems to play right into the cosmological argument for the existence of God.

The current theory is:
  • The universe had a beginning--matter is not being eternally created somewhere (steady-state theory).
  • It does not have enough mass to re-collapse, meaning it probably has not been banging in some eternal cycle (oscillating big bang).
  • That suggests a beginning, which leads us to ask, "Why?" "What caused it?"
Cosmological theory has developed significantly over the last couple decades, but I think it still more or less amounts to the same thing. At 10-43 seconds, all the universe was in a ball the size of 1.6 x 10-33 meters. In the next moment, it expanded astronomically to something much closer to its current size.

2. Quantum Uncertainty
In the 1600s, Newton reinforced a deterministic universe, where all the future could be predicted as the simple playing out of laws and objects in motion. It fit well with the theology of Calvin and Hobbes.

The quantum world is not a deterministic world. It is an indeterministic world. That is to say, you cannot predict the future at all on an individual scale. All you can predict are the averages. There are still some who think there may be "hidden variables" that would return us to determinism, but most do not agree.

This suggests that the universe on some level has a mind of its own. There is an unpredictability to the universe. You cannot predict what I will do (I can't either) because there is a fundamental uncertainty at the bottom of everything. It is not exactly free will as we once might have thought of it, but it is similar.

3. Quantum entanglement
Certain particles are entangled with each other after they part. They may be on opposite sides of the universe but if you know what the one is doing then you know what the other is. I'm not sure what the implications are for us. I once tweeted that God has been quantumly entangled with the whole universe since the creation, implying that he knows everything and is connected to everything. But is was really more of a poetic thought than something that actually makes sense. :-)

4. Time
It is not clear what time is. Each frame of reference has a certain internal clock of sorts, meaning that "time" moves at different rates for different things. From one perspective, time is merely the rate at which things change, with light as the ultimate speed limit.

Time is a puzzle on the quantum level. In one respect, there is no real difference between past and future on the quantum level. All processes are reversible.

On the macro-scale, entropy is what really tells time. The loss of heat in disorder seems to be the only truly irreversible aspect to this universe. It tells time.

What does this say about God? It does suggest that entropy is not a consequence of the Fall. There would be no past or future without it.

It doesn't help us figure out God's knowledge of the future. How do we know how God knows what he knows? He was "outside" the universe "before." Who knows what that means for during and after?

That's it. My attempt for today...

A New School Year at IWU

1. Another year is beginning at IWU. In July they took the word "interim" off my title, so I am the Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) this year.

It's a little confusing for those who knew me as dean of the seminary. The seminary of course is graduate level and mostly "older" adult students. STM is mostly undergraduate students, 18-22 year olds.

We have a great team and great students on the residential campus. It's a great campus if you've never been. I've always said that if we can get a prospective student or faculty member to campus, it will be hard for them not to come. You can see from my bad picture most of the faculty of STM dressed up for a social we do for the new students every year.

Why send your kids to IWU? Why come to IWU yourself? Of course it's a great education. That goes without saying. We have one of the leading worship professors in the world (Constance Cherry). We have brilliant minds in practical theology (Dave Ward, Amanda Drury). We have incredibly experienced practitioners in youth, children's, and local church ministry (Charlie Alcock, David Vardaman, Keith Springer, Eddy Shigley). We have Jim Lo and Norm Wilson for global and intercultural studies. Theology (Jonathan Morgan), Bible (Abson Joseph, Elaine Bernius, Brian Bernius, Ken Schenck), Church History (Miranda Cruz), Philosophy (Scott Burson, Steve Horst), Counseling (Judy Crossman). And we have two rising scholars as teaching fellows (Kayla Murphy-Crouso and G. B. McClanahan).

2. So there is the educational piece. There is an experiential piece. There are lots of opportunities to do ministry and to try out your wings in an internship. In fact, the KERN program gets a high school student to MDIV equivalency in 5 years, leaving them with a heavily scholarshiped master's degree at the end at less cost than a straightforward undergraduate degree. The final year is at a church. We're finishing up an agreement with Mick Veach in Detroit for students to do a semester internship in an urban context. We've worked hard to make it possible for all our students to graduate in 3 years, chopping off over $10,000.

STM Retreat Worship, with Wesley Seminary
Picture courtesy of Jim Lo
3. STM has always been a fun place to make your college memories. There are other options today. You can get an online degree. You can go to a community college. But you won't have the memories of college. You won't have the intensity of the friendships. I'm a big fan of online education as an option.

But you can't replace the overall experience of going to college as an 18 year old. You can achieve the individual learning outcomes, yes. But the overall Gestalt--you 'll never get it online. For some it's a worth-while trade-off for the convenience. Personally, I'm glad I spent those years in a living community, going for runs with friends, eating together, going out on dates, hiking, staying up all night together. Perhaps more importantly, I had my first faith crisis in a community of faith, not alone on my own.

I wish I could become an 18 year old and do it all again.