Tuesday, July 24, 2012

OUTLINING THE UNFATHOMABLE GOD

Beginning to create a basic outline on the Christian worldview, our understanding of God's revelation of Himself is foundational.

A. Image of God

1. Nature (natural attributes)

a. The nature of God consists of attributes He has eternally possessed, never having chosen to possess them

(1) Supreme in duration (Eternal)

(a) Was, is and is to be

(2) Supreme in knowledge (Omniscient)

(a) Knows all that can be known

(3) Supreme in authority (Sovereign)

(a) The one to whom all other authorities will give an account (as opposed to omnicausal)

(4) Supreme in power (Omnipotent)

(a) Possessing (but not always exerting) more power than any other being

(5) Supreme in presence (Omnipresent)

(a) Transcending physical limitation

(6) Supreme in relationship (Trinitarian)

(a) Eternally interacting in the persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

(7) Supreme in energy / intensity (Spiritual)

(a) Existing purely in a "form" / realm that, in its essence, is too for our physical realm

(8) Supreme in personality

(a) Personality involves His mind (ability to think, imagine, remember, analyze, evaluate, etc.) emotional system (ability to experience positive and negative feelings of hurt / anger, happiness / joy, etc.) and will (ability to make choices and decision in conjunction with, but not caused by, His mental and emotional activity

2. Character (moral character)

a. The character of God relates to how He chooses to use His natural attributes

(1) Love (the resolve to purpose and pursue the highest good, all pertinent factors taken into consideration – the following moral characteristic should properly be known as “attributes” of love)

(a) Holiness (set apart – God has resolved to dedicate all His capabilities and capacities in service to love)

(b) Righteousness (manifested holiness – the use of His capabilities and capacities in service to love)

(c) Faithfulness (the consistent use of His capabilities and capacities in service to love)

(d) Mercy (the choice to express leniency and patience in the process of using His capabilities and capacities in service to love)

(e) Wisdom (the mental process of evaluating how to use His capabilities and capacities in service to love – wisdom has been referred to as the mental practice of identifying the best means of arriving at the best end)

Monday, July 16, 2012

PRIVATIZATION, PLURALISM and RELATIVISM

Two ingredients that go into resisting the proper agenda of the church and its mission to disciple the nations are Privatization and confusion over the issues of Pluralism and Relativism.

I begin by making a few preliminary points about “religious freedom.” First, we need to understand that the word “religious” is not limited to, what we often think of as, organized religion. Reference to organized religion conjures thoughts of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. We must, however, realize that any set of beliefs that serve to guide one’s line of reasoning, choices, activities and lifestyle are religious beliefs. Atheism and Humanism are religious belief systems. Next, we must be clear that there is a tremendous difference between Freedom OF Religion and Freedom FROM Religion. To confuse or misrepresent (purposely or not) the two affects the way we view the relationship between the church and the state.

Many Christians intellectually acknowledge that there is nothing excluded from the Lordship of Christ and yet practically live as though we accept the idea that we must keep Him and MY religion out of certain areas of society (civil government and “public” education being two important such spheres). There seems to be a general acceptance that there are “public” affairs which need to be religion-free and “private” affairs within which we are ALLOWED to practice our religion.

With this in mind, we can briefly consider the topic of Pluralism. In a pluralistic society, it is expected that there will be people with different beliefs; a different set of “religious” standards. We might say that, in this world and in this nation, pluralism is a fact – there are, living side by side, many people with many different systems of belief. In a pluralistic society, it should, however, be expected that people will attempt to represent the credibility of their belief system and the error of others (one does not hold to a belief system while believing it to be wrong). This being the case, all adherents of a particular belief system should be challenged to 1) understand and 2) represent the details of their belief system. I would like to emphasize this point for my Christian readers. In 1 Peter 3:15 we read, “…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” Though effectively representing one’s case will have an impact upon the pluralistic landscape of a culture, we are not “fighting” against pluralism. It is best to encourage people to know and follow their convictions (the essence of a pluralistic culture) while attempting to change people on the level of their convictions. We begin to cross the line between Pluralism and Relativism when we assume, first, that it’s inappropriate to promote, defend or attempt to convince others of the belief system to which we hold and, next, that it’s inappropriate to establish and run a corporate entity (even to the level of civil government) upon a specific belief system (i.e. we must avoid national commitment to one particular God or belief system). The unavoidable fact is, “public policy” will always be the reflection of some belief system. If we do not realize that legalizing abortion, removing prayer from “public” school and efforts to legalize gay marriage (among other things) are motivated by accompanying belief systems, we are simply ignoring what is clearly there to be known. Even in our pluralistic society, the Biblical worldview is a belief system against which there is significant discrimination.

The first thing we should know about Relativism is that it is one of many philosophical responses to the factual existence of Pluralism; one way of explaining and dealing with plurality of beliefs. The relativistic perspective attempts to give equal credence to all belief systems by emphasizing that all assertions of a belief system are based on social, environment, psychological and economic factors. We do not hold to moral beliefs because they are true but because we are reacting to other factors that give rise to our beliefs. I do not deny that some of what we believe involves this ingredient but I do deny that we can ascribe this source as the primary or even prevalent origin of our belief systems. Relativism attempts to deny claims of absolute truth or that our beliefs are efforts to arrive at truth. Consequently, no one can claim to be right, in the sense of communicating absolute truth.

Since we must have a reason to believe what we believe, in the absence of truth as the criteria, Relativism tends to lead to Pragmatism and Utilitarianism. Pragmatism emphasizes that if something works (on a practical level) it is “good.” Since we can’t say it’s right or true, we base the value of a belief on whether it works. Consequently, if lying works, it’s acceptable. Utilitarianism emphasizes that if something serves a purpose it is “good.”

Relativism views religion as different systems of thought attempting to promote the same end. Therefore, you cannot say that your religion represents truth and another is false. This idea is comparable to ice cream. We would not refer to vanilla ice cream as true ice cream and chocolate ice cream as false ice cream; they both serve the same function of making different people happy based on their personal preference. The only place the relativist might concede is when it comes to empirically provable, scientific data. In a relativistic culture the only way to be wrong is to say you are right. In a Relativistic system, condemning or judging is, therefore, condemned and judged to be unacceptable and wrong. At some point, it must borrow from beliefs outside itself in order to promote and support itself. Consequently, Relativism, as with all false belief systems, is internally self-destructive. It will eventually contradict itself or deny its own ideal at a certain point. Consider the following two illustrations.

Not only will Relativism contradict and destroy itself but, instead of encouraging and defending pluralism, it will eventually destroy it. Relativism insists on being the one belief system that defines how we deal with all other belief systems, consequently becoming the one belief system we are not allowed to question. Relativism, therefore, refuses to subject itself to Pluralism and is not actually interested in Plurality of belief but Unity of belief insisting all beliefs unite around or under Relativism. When the Relativist says there is no ultimate difference between religious beliefs, he is not supporting but arrogantly denying Pluralism.

Friday, July 13, 2012

God and Government

click here to view Colson, Boyd and Claiborne discuss evangelical politics
Though all three participants had many interesting things to say, I would like to contribute (since I was not invited to be part of the discussion) a perspective that I did not see surface.
God & Government

1. God gave Mankind stewardship over all earthly creation and over all of which Jesus is Lord.

a. When considering the Lordship of Christ, we must understand that it extends to all realms and spheres of personal and corporate life.

2. Addressing the issue of stewardship has to do with learning how to govern in all individual and corporate areas of life.

a. Self government, family government, civil government, etc. are all part of engaging in an effective stewardship under God, over the earth.

3. In order to stay on track, we must guard against creating an unhealthy dichotomy between Old Testament and New Testament revelation.

a. The idea that the kingdom always looks like Jesus, as Greg Boyd often emphasizes, needs to be developed properly if it is to be helpful as opposed to misleading and counterproductive.

b. To expound upon the above statement, we must realize that the existence and activity of Jesus spans a much greater period than the 33 years of life (or 3 years of active ministry) that He had on planet earth as the incarnate God. We cannot afford to ignore the fact that He was present during the evaluation of Sodom and Gomorrah and a variety of other such dealings (the event the golden calf triggered, the swallowing up of those who rebelled against Moses, the command for the advancement of Israel's army against other nations, etc.). If we are to have an honest, well rounded view and representation of Christianity, this must be taken into consideration when we hear Jesus tell us that when we've seen Him, we've seen the Father.

c. This position also seems to over look the important fact that the earthly ministry of Jesus was intended to accomplish certain very important, but limited goals. Though addressing a major dimension of God's redemptive agenda, it does not represent the entire picture. For example, Jesus states that He did not come to judge the world but that the world might be saved. Though true of His earthly "project" there is yet a dimension of His ministry that does involve judgement (Jn.3:18-19; 5:22-32; Acts 17:30-31).

d. Illustration of above idea: Imagine a man who has a 30 year career of repossessing cars. During one of those 30 years, however, the company he worked for was involved in a charity program during which he was in charge of giving cars to the needy. To draw a conclusion about his career based on observing only that one year period will lead to certain distortion. 

e. The “love” and “peace” emphasis and positions established upon these words need to take much greater care in formulating its definition of such words. We cannot afford to create concepts based upon a partial approach toward the Scriptural revelation we have regarding the character of the God of love of which it speaks.

4. The God & government issue (church and state) is not an either / or matter.

a. Though the church and civil government serve distinct functions they both play necessary roles in human beings exercising responsible, God-pleasing stewardship over planet earth and the nation thereupon.

b. The truth the church is supposed to possess is to be employed in our stewardship over civil government.

c. It is no more appropriate for civil government to state that Christians are to stay out of the affairs of civil government as it is for the Christians to state the same.

d. As it has been given to human being to exercise such stewardship and civil government is one of many realms of government of which our stewardship involves, it is inappropriate to single out such a sphere and label it taboo. It is not as though we cease to be human beings with human responsibility for such areas of society when we become Christians. We must be careful not to establish yet another unhealthy and, ultimately, unfruitful dichotomy.

5. Possessing truth that leads to life (abundantly), it is a great act of LOVE, as well as our righteous, moral obligation before God to work toward seeing the nations understand and operate according to these Biblical truths and principles.

a. Teaching people to observe all He commanded does not only pertain to the period of His earthly human existence as suggested above.

6. Finally, every “experiment” in which we establish a community designed to reflect the right way to do all of this, will, of necessity (because it is ordained of God) have civil government. I am not against such "experiments" (as the U.S of A. is one such experiment) but it is naive to assume that pursuing such a community will free us from the need to figure out how our Christianity relates to civil government.

a. With this thought, I would challenge those who seem to look down upon love of country as though it is inherently evil or anti-Kingdom of God. If we are to love our enemies, why does it stop when speaking of our nation?