Saturday, September 24, 2016

We Are Weak But He Is Strong

Karl Barth is widely considered the most profound and influential Protestant theologian of the entire twentieth century, and maybe even in all of modern Christianity. Pope Pius XII called him the most important Christian theologian since St. Thomas Aquinas. Karl Barth was to twentieth century theology what Billy Graham was to evangelism and more. Both made the cover of Time Magazine due to the extraordinary impact of their Christian faith on mainstream culture.

A couple of decades ago a pastor friend of mine found out I was reading Barth when I started pelting him with questions at our regular breakfast meet ups. Barth's theology is not only profound, but quite complex. It can make your head hurt, and I wanted this pastor, who had the benefit of formal seminary training, to help me understand the complexities of Karl Barth.

He asked me if I knew Karl Barth's most profound truth about God. I got a little excited because I thought I was about to be enlightened with some amazing new truth that would open my mind to the vistas of God's grandeur. This pastor friend was a bit of a jokester, and I sat on the edge of my seat in anticipation of some new nugget of truth as he started singing in a quiet voice...

"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tell me so..."

I was so disappointed. I may have even accused him of lying because at that point in my life I was considering going to seminary. I was so hungry for the deep truths of God that I was upset about hearing the great Karl Barth's most profound truth was in the child's song "Jesus Loves Me." I didn't believe him, but this apocryphal story is all over the place. It might actually be true, but it doesn't really matter. Even if the great Karl Barth didn't say this, the fact remains that the most profound truth about God is the love of God.

I turned 49 yesterday, and I still don't think I understand the love of God. Jesus told us all of God's laws can be summed up in two commands that both involve love. (1) Love God, and (2) love other people. If all of us got that right the world would be a very different and better place. I'm still working on that simple but surprisingly deep truth. I don't fully grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge as the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 3, and lately I'm realizing this child's song has even more theological depth further along in the first stanza. The next two lines are mind blowing too.

"Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong..."

One of the most read articles on this blog is The Paradox Principle. "We are weak, but He is strong" is yet another paradox to add to the list. When you're a little kid, you don't have any power. Everyone is bigger and stronger, and you have no say. Everyone else tells you what to do, but as we grow up we get more power. Those of us of the male persuasion are particularly proud about our accomplishments and achievements because we are no longer weak. Now we are strong.

I go to the gym to get strong. The meat heads at my gym prance around in their testosterone induced states showing their strength. I used to watch a lot of UFC fights and go to an MMA gym because I enjoyed watching displays of strength, and I too wanted to be invincible. The modern American male myth is the independent, indestructible, self-reliant rugged individual. And it is a myth. Real men are like Jesus.

Real men love, and real men are weak. If you pay attention, the verse doesn't say Jesus makes me strong. Jesus is the strong one. I could try to impress you with my Bible knowledge of how Paul taught this paradoxical truth in 2 Corinthians 12, but I'm no Karl Barth. Even then, if someone had asked Karl about the second most profound truth about God, I think he might have just kept on singing "Jesus Loves Me."

Saturday, September 03, 2016

A Rose By Any Other Name

My spiritual journey has been a bit circuitous. I was raised in a Christian home, but left the faith during my young adult years. It wasn't an intentional or unusual apostasy. Lots of kids who grow up in fundamentalist Christian homes leave the faith during their young adult years. Many of them never return. I've blogged elsewhere about that (here and here) including my return to Christianity as a young parent seeking answers on what I should teach my sons about God.

Earlier this year, my wife and I entered a new life stage. We're empty nesters now, and my spiritual journey has entered a new stage as well. During the years I raised my boys, I leaned pretty hard toward a Calvinist view of God. Sadly, this led to parenting behaviors and unintended consequences I greatly regret. I was pretty much a "command and control" dad, and I believe a lot of that was a result of my view of God being "command and control" too. I was reflecting what I now believe to be an errant view of the Father. This is a good example of how an errant view of God has personal consequences in the lives and relationships of people who love one another. I was pursuing God sincerely, but I was wrong. Good theology matters.

I believe deeply that the God of the Bible is a loving father who enters into relationships with his children. He is not unaffected by our choices. In theological terms, God is not impassible. And at the risk of my Calvinist friends accusing me of heresy, I also doubt God is immutable in the strict Calvinist sense. As the petals of the Calvinist TULIP started to fall away in my theology, starting with Limited Atonement, my heart longed to understand God theologically the way God interacts with me personally and experientially. At just the right time, I re-discovered Greg Boyd and Open Theism.

I say re-discovered, because I first learned of Greg Boyd a number of years ago when I was reading The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day, but I had other interests at that time and was not open to Open Theism. Back in April, I gave a copy of Vox's book to an atheist friend who shortly thereafter posted some irrational comments during a friendly but spirited Facebook discussion. When it became clear he never read the book, I pulled out my copy of Vox and gave him the references. I saw Vox's references to Greg Boyd again which reminded me how I never really dug into the open view of the future, known as Open Theism.

There is more to the backstory including a couple of dreams I've had recently about the nature of time and God's foreknowledge. These bizarre dreams included experiences in the Star Trek holodeck, and I woke up somewhat obsessed in solving some open questions in my mind regarding the nature of time. Reading Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos before going to bed may have had something to do with that. Another part of the backstory is a new Facebook friendship with a formerly atheist astrophysicist turned Christian whose blog I love.

These serendipitous events have left me deeply engrossed in exploring Open Theism. I'm sure some of my "fundie" Christian friends of the Calvinist stripe will think I'm a heretic. Greg Boyd had to deal with a lot of blowback back in the early 1990s when he popularized it, including John Piper trying to ruin his life. (And I say that as a big John Piper fan.) I greatly respect William Lane Craig (WLC), and he disagrees with Boyd too. I've spent a lot of time looking into WLC's Molinist view of middle knowledge, and when my brain doesn't cramp up thinking about it, his view makes some rational sense to me, but Open Theism just smells right to me. I'm still on the journey, but this time I'm going to take my time and smell the roses before I come to any hard conclusions.

The Calvinists have their TULIP, but I'm starting to reject that in favor of the ROSE of Open Theism.

The ROSE Acronym

R - Responsibility (Libertarian Freewill) -- God has granted free agents significant freedom and responsibility to make moral choices for which they are culpable and upon which at least part of the future hangs. The choices of free agents effect others, the future, and God.

O - Openness --God knows all of reality as it is. In the scriptural 'Motif of Future Openness,' God speaks of and knows the possible, future choices of free agents as possibilities. God allows the future to remain open to the extent God chooses. Therefore, the future is partly open.

S - Sovereignty -- God knows all of reality as it is. In the scriptural 'Motif of Future Determinism,' God speaks of and knows the certainties that God will carry out in God's own power as certainties. God determines the future to the extent God chooses. Therefore, the future is partly composed of certainties.

E - Emotion -- God is Love. God is affected by the choices of free agents. God responds to free agents. God changes God's mind and plans in response to free agents. God is the most moved mover. It is God's desire to extend the intense love that God has always shared in the Trinity to the creatures God created forever. Christ is the perfect revelation of who God is, even in his emotions.

The ROSE Acronym (© 2007 T. C. Moore)