Seminary Ramblings

Updates from life at seminary

A Thought on Theodicy

“The suffering of the guiltless, which is the primary problem of life for those who look at history from the standpoint of their own virtues, is made into the ultimate answer of history for those who look at it from the standpoint of the problematic character of all human virtue.”

-Reinhold Niebuhr, Faith and History: A Comparison of Christian and Modern Views of History (London, 1949), 161.

God in Suffering

In an age of “name it and claim it” theology where God becomes our tool to accomplish our own worldly desires, we need words like Luther’s which thunder against any and all forms of triumphalism. Here is Luther, from his explanations of Theses 20 & 21 of the Heidelberg Disputation (1518).

 

Because humans misused the knowledge of God through works, God wished again to be recognized in suffering–to condemn wisdom concerning invisible things by means of wisdom concerning visible things, so that those who did not honor God as manifested in the Divine works should honor God hidden in suffering…Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does one no good to recognize God in Divine glory and majesty, unless one recognizes God in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isaiah (45:15) says, “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself.

So, also, in John 14, where Philip spoke according to the theology of glory: “Show us the Father.” Christ forthwith set aside his flighty thought about seeking God elsewhere and led him to himself, saying, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father.” For this reason, true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ…

This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said.

A Short History of Student Missions

A fantastic short video on the history of the modern student missionary movement. Historically accurate, spiritually inspiring, and above all humbling. Show it to your friends.

Everyone else is an expert on the present; I wish to file a minority report on behalf of the past.
-Jaroslav Pelikan

Feeling excited for the opportunity to dive back into some history this spring and feeling like I may want the sentiment of that quote to be my one minor contribution to the church.

Singles and the Church

As a young and single person, I am frequently caught up in conversations about singleness, dating, and the opposite sex. In fact I frequently initiate these types of conversations myself. Young and single people love to talk about relationships, and particularly about the possibilities of being young and not so single. Paradoxically, while our culture is delaying marriage to ever-older ages, the zeal of so many young singles to find a spouse (or at least a significant other) seems unabated. Indeed, any person granted a week to listen to the conversations of some young single people might be forgiven if they conclude that this demographic suffers from relationship idolatry.

Single people can even form entire friendships around jointly lamenting the woes of singleness. While you might not have a lot in common with another person, anytime a conversation wanes it is a surefire panacea to simply bring up the topic of relationships. Everyone is interested in talking about that and everyone has something to say about it.

I bring this up because lately I have been reflecting on singleness, the church, and how being in the church should transform our experience of singleness. The way I currently see it, the struggle singles often feel is the tension between two different biblical threads. On the one hand singles may read this biblical statement and feel a sting:

            Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (1 Cor 7:27)

On the other hand they read this and can be just about waving their hands in the air in agreement.

            It is not good that man should be alone. (Gen 2:18) 

The single Christian’s reaction to the first statement is likely enough to be a dour look, their reaction to the second often more closely resembles that of fans of the winning team in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl.

On the one hand the Bible tells us it is good to be single (in light of the fact that we are living in the last days), on the other hand it also tells us that even before the fall men and women were meant to live life together. Indeed, the Genesis passage even tells us that it is not good for male and female to not have each other. This leads to a seeming conundrum, which Tim Keller puts well:

 How can we claim that long-term singleness is a good condition in light of the [the previous argument] that males and females are in some ways incomplete without the other? The answer is the same. It has to do, again, with our hope in Christ and our experience of Christian community. Just as Christian singles find their “heirs” and family within the church, so do brothers find their sisters and sisters find their brothers. (The Meaning of Marriage, 199)

 When I read this quote from Keller I was intrigued. Christian community, the church in other words, should provide singles with an analogous level of “completeness” that the marriage relationship between a man and a woman brings. That is, Christian singles can rightly experience a sort of fulfillment of the verse “it is not good that man should be alone” in the church. Keller then goes on to say:

 Of course it is less intense than in marriage. And yet the more corporate experience is not a poor second to marriage, since in marriage you are put together with just one member of the opposite sex. Marriage does and should somewhat limit the extent of friendships you have with others of the opposite sex. In Christian community, however, singles can have a greater range of friendships among both sexes. (201)

 So Christian community for singles provides a kind of more widely dispersed form of what marriage brings in a focused intensity. I suspect that this actually resonates with the experience of many single Christians. That is to say, aside from a few rare people, it seems to me that most singles don’t love to hang out exclusively with members of the same sex. Sure, that is where they are and perhaps should be spending most of their time, but if they were to never talk to a girl (for guys) or a guy (for girls) that would seem like a bit of an impoverished existence.

After all, who hasn’t experienced how a good friend of the opposite sex can often provide a helpfully different perspective on an issue or even (dare I say) make a social situation feel more “complete.” This is (hopefully) not because they are being used as a surrogate boyfriend/girlfriend to fulfill an unfulfilled romantic longing, but rather because God has divinely created each sex to in some sense find completion in the other.

While this is all still a bit of a gray area to me, all I am suggesting is this: the church rarely adequately teaches singles that it is in fact healthy to have cross-gender relationships. The church thus fails to do at least part of what it is uniquely capable of doing; providing a place where people find spiritual siblings in the household of God to live life with together.

What I am not suggesting is that cross-gender friendships will ever be the same as or a replacement for same-gender friendships. Indeed, I think Genesis 2:18 would not bear this out. Neither am I suggesting that cross-gender friendships should be conducted in exactly the same way as same-gender friendships. That would be neither wise nor respecting of the differences that God has made males and females with. I am simply intrigued by the idea that the church can be the place where “it is not good that man should be alone” finds its fulfillment for those who are single.

Good Guys and Bad Guys: Who are we?

In his climactic seventh and final woe against the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus tells them the following:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. (Matt. 23:29-31)

What I believe Jesus is essentially saying is this: scribes and Pharisees, you take it for granted that you are on the side of the good guys. When you read your Old Testament, you always place yourself in the story as one of the good guys and not one of the bad guys. And what I want you to know is this: the very fact that you assume you are one of the good guys shows that you in fact are not. The fact that you read the indictments of the prophets and always see yourselves as being in the righteous and obedient remnant shows that you in fact are hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Do not assume so quickly that you would do the right thing if given the chance. Do not assume so quickly that you are better than others and always heed the voice of God.

And so the question for us is this: When we read the Old Testament, do we always place ourselves on the side of the good guys, or do we see ourselves in the unfaithful wife Gomer, in Aaron building the golden calf, in the wilderness generation grumbling how much better it would have been to stay in Egypt? If we too quickly assume we always would have done right, we may in fact be witnessing against ourselves that we are doing wrong.

Evolutionary History? Evolutionary IQ’s?

Here’s a great piece on the notion that our secularized generation must be inherently smarter than all previous generations. One salient quote to whet your appetite:

What we need to remember is that the great advances of which we have been the very fortunate recipients were a long, long time in coming.  The foolish thesis about us being more intelligent than people of the past is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how and why progress in the sciences has come to pass over many generations. It has never been a matter of increasing intelligence over time on the part of individuals (as if IQs slowly climbed to the point where someone could finally “see” things better).  Advances in the natural sciences and in technology are the result of records kept and passed down. Since life-spans do not allow the best and brightest in a generation to spend 300 years working in a given field, someone in a future generation gets the opportunity to pick up where the previous genius left off.  Newton is still considered by many the greatest scientist (and some even say the greatest mind) in history. His famous line that he had “stood on the shoulders of giants” was a reference to something echoed by others since at least the Middle Ages, where we find it expressed by theologians and philosophers like Bernard of Chartres and John of Salisbury. The most noted version from these men reads:

We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.

The irony is amusing when you think about it. Centuries of great thinkers bequeath to us a world with so many more comforts, with less physical pain, with less daily inconvenience, with a rich intellectual tradition, with technological breakthroughs, with libraries of brilliant works in every area of human thought; and our response to all of this – from our easy chairs – is to virtually write them off while we consider ourselves so much smarter than they were.  It’s as if a relay team had a weak runner anchoring the foursome, but the previous runners put him so far ahead that he couldn’t help but win, only to see him then boast to the world about his athletic greatness.

“There is no such thing as a Christian

“There is no such thing as a Christian nation other than the body of Christ, which admits no distinctions of race, culture, class, or sex before God.”

-Michael Horton

Pyrotechnics are in; taste it out

Here’s an interesting article on American Idol and last Tuesday’s episode where contestants were asked to sing a song from the Great American Songbook. It’s a thought provoking piece on how Idol militates against musicial subtlety, minimalism, or anything but musical pyrotechnics.

Perhaps the most controversial part (with which I am in complete agreement), comes when explaining how Harry Connick Jr. “made it clear why, despite the impressive vocal abilities of the four finalists — Candice Glover, Angie Miller, Amber Holcomb and Kree Harrison — they probably will never be truly great singers in the mode of those who came before, like Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone and Billy Eckstein.”

Check it out.

Dwight Schrute bringing the truth.

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