Recently, a fan of the blog remarked that I only write about things I disagree with, tearing down arguments, and never giving a positive case for what I believe. This is mostly true. Evaluating arguments is fun for me. It’s a fair criticism, so here are some of my commitments.
I’m not afraid of this word. How badly the cults and other Christian traditions have used the concept of spirituality does not scare me off. There is nuance, variety, imagination, beauty, and joy in the world. The world would not be worth living in without them. God gave us those things as gifts. Spirituality is subjective, real, and just as “true” as objective, rational truths. Just as I know my wife loves me even though I could not prove it to you; I know Jesus loves me and I know I cannot prove it to you. That is OK with me.
I have a mystical connection with Jesus, and specifically the Holy Spirit, and it guides my life as a flashlight and warms my soul like the embrace of a friend. This experience lives outside the intellect and is just as necessary to the healthy functioning of the human soul. Experiencing beautiful and good things in the form of art and relationships is just as valuable to a Christians’ health as good doctrine. For a long time I was imbalanced on this score and it caused me great harm. The Spirit, through my seminary experience, has awakened my soul to this truth but I am still healing.
This mystical spark draws me to other Christians I recognize as having it. Once observed, I don’t rightly care how much I disagree with them about theology. Seeing virtue and goodness in Christian leaders I have worked with is vastly more important than agreeing with them about theology.
Talbot School of Theology
I spent eight years of my life on the campus of Biola University two to three times a week as a seminary student, receiving an M.Div with an emphasis in Pastoral Care and Counseling. This experience has deeply shaped me.
Talbot had a few hills it planted its theological flag on (trinitarianism, inerrancy, conservative theology, etc.) but then allowed for widely diverse viewpoints from within those boundaries. I studied theology under both Reformed and non-Reformed professors; from biblical scholars to self-proclaimed “shrinks”. In an all the ninety-six units I took, only two classes were disappointing. The rest were taught by professors that were somewhere between good to fantastic professors and men and women of God.
One of the great gifts I received from this educations was the absolute obliteration of my pre-conceived notions of what a Christian should look like, talk like, and believe (within orthodoxy, it goes without saying). The body of Christ is wildly diverse and that’s a good thing. The other great gift was that is showed me how much I do not know. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I had yet to learn. This was the attitude embodied by almost all the professors I studied under, and it trickled down to the students and formed our experience of learning. I admire them for this and hope to never become too certain.
Hills to Die On
I do have intellectual, philosophical hills I have planted my flag on that I will defend. I haven’t planted my flag because I’m Absolutely Certain and I hopefully always admit that I could be wrong. But these philosophical presuppositions, these a priori first truths are worth defending and I hope you can see why I would defend them.
The first is God is recognizably good. He’s not good because whatever God does is good. No, God is goodness. God had revealed His character to us through common and special revelation and we can trust that objective moral values accurately reflect His good character. This means that good things are good and we can celebrate and participate in good things, in whatever form they come. We can affirm that all good things come from God. This is a defense of God’s holiness, an apologetic for God’s character, and an evangelistic tool for the hurting.
This one is a close cousin to the first: God does not want evil for you in any sense. There is no sense in which God wants evil for you. That terrible thing that happened to you was not a part of God’s plan. God has a specific plan and it includes the redemption of all the terrible and evil things; not that those things would happen to you. Rather, God is always with you. God never abandons you even if you are in the depths of despair. During the dark night of the soul God is with you.
The third flag is planted upon the worth of human beings. You are not a worm. You are a loved child of God. Some of you are not yet “beloved” because you do not yet believe. But if you do believe, you are beloved by God. Christians are saints, not worms, not wretched sinners, but saints washed clean by the blood of Christ.
I have planted my flag on those three hills because I love the Church. If those are not true then the perfectly rational progression for God’s people, and really all people, is abject despair. Thankfully, most Christians and non-Christians live their lives as if those three presuppositions are true, even if their theology contradicts it.
The Bible resists systems. Systematic theology has limited uses. The Bible is primarily a story rather than a theological textbook. Its theological truths are contained in the story the Bible is telling about God and His people. The Bible is rightly understood with in his historical, socio-cultural context. What follows from this is that biblical, literary, and grammatical context is king in understand the meaning of a biblical passage. What one biblical author teaches in one context need not be harmonized completely with another author’s meaning in a different context. These truths ought not be systematized but understood on their own merits. Any correlation and comparison can then be done after the author’s intended meaning is properly understood.
Doctrines, likewise, are best understood in their historical, socio-cultural context. Every Christian doctrine was developed by the faithful men of God who’s contemporary problems the creation of the doctrines were meant to solve. They often did not succeed, but that was their aim. The grand example of this, of course, is the Reformation but this is true of doctrines developed in smaller contexts. For example, “Provisionism” has been developed in response to the rise of Calvinism in evangelicalism while “Traditionalism” has been developed in response to the rise of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention (and its seminaries). These contexts can be complicated but if we don’t understand them, we don’t understand the doctrine.
There is much more I could say on each one of those topics. I’m sure each statements brings with it questions. Please, ask them in the comments below. As I continue to write here on Soteriology 101, you will see these a priori commitments shape my observations and arguments.