EWCC Blog

EWCC Blog

Diverse, respectful theological dialogue.

Online Theological Book Club

 

Click here for a quick YouTube video.

Announcement:

I’m going to be starting an online theological book club!

I’m going to be choosing some books that may be a bit of a challenge for some but not so difficult that they would be overly frustrating. We’ll be reading the books and talking about them once per month to begin with.

I will start off each week by giving some background information, laying out various views and such, as a means of kicking off the dialogue. I do not plan to dominate the discussion nor do I plan to go into the discussions with an agenda as it relates to theology/doctrine etc.  I do hope that this may eventually be the groundwork for a church plant but involvement in that vision is not necessary.  In fact, we will almost assuredly have in attendance people from all over the country!

People can talk a little or a lot (within reason!) and should not be concerned about being called on to answer questions. Dialogue will be respectful and challenging.  It may get messy but people will be asked to remain professional.

Attendees should expect a variety of views to be shared. The theme of diversity of thought will remain a core value.

We’ll have webinar and conference call capabilities. I may at some point offer two time slots for the same discussion topic to help facilitate differing schedules.

The webinars will be the first Thursday of every month at 8:00pm Central time beginning on December 8th, 2016.

I hope to bring in some guests occasionally (theologians, etc.) and welcome the opportunity to allow others to lead the discussion.

We welcome all attendees to invite friends to join and there is no pressure to be present at every event. People of all degrees of theological experience are welcome.

I hope to see you there!

If you’d like to stay informed, please join our main Facebook page here for announcements.

 

Our first book is an easy read but has some interesting ideas.  We’ll be discussing Greg Boyd’s book Letters From A Skeptic.  You can purchase the book here.  Please let me know if you need monetary help with the cost of the book.  Our hope is no one would miss out on the fun due to finances.  (FYI – We will not always be reading books within my own theological preferences, but for a number of reasons I thought this book would be a nice place to start.)

Brian Bram November 4, 2016 1 Comment Permalink

God of Anger – God of Love

Click here for an intro video.

I found out recently that scientifically, neurologically, human beings have one of two ways of thinking about God primarily.  When thinking about God, people tend to focus on either God’s love or they tend to focus on God as an angry fella.  So, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately.

Apparently, there are many benefits to thinking about God’s love during prayer and many consequences on the body to thinking about God’s anger.  I’ll provide a link to the article I found soon.  But, before we get there, what are my thoughts theologically regarding this recent discovery?

First, I’d like to say something about the distinction when it comes to God regarding love and anger.  There are certainly texts regarding God getting angry.  However, anger is not depicted as an essence of God.  Love is.  God is love. 

I wouldn’t say, “God is anger.”  I do say, “God is love.” 

God doesn’t have love or do acts of love.  No, that would be the many gods Genesis takes aim at.  All the other gods out there may have certain roles to play and may occasionally perform loving acts but the God of Abraham declares that love is in His very essence.  For all eternity, God has been love and has shown love within the Trinity and He continues to show love and be love today.

[Side Bar – I don’t have the space here to defend my idea (and many other theologian’s idea) that God is love against various competing thoughts.  My theology here is simply that overall, good Bible theology teaches that God is love.]

Lastly, I’d like to say a word about apologetics here.  I’ve become much more cautious about any appeal to the Intelligent Design apologetic lately.  For example, appeals to the complexity of the human eye as proof that there must be a designer have some real scientific problems that I’ll save for another day.

However, it is interesting to read about the health benefits of meditating on God’s love verses the adverse effects of meditating on God’s anger.  The lowering rather than raising of blood pressure, the increased focus, and the increased ability to forgive are all great benefits of concentrating on God’s love. 

So, science is showing that there are health benefits to praying with a focus on the love of God and thinking about God as primarily a loving God.

Now, that just might be the beginning of a design argument I can get behind!

Click here for the article “How Your Brain is Wired for God”

 

Theology & Science – Part 9

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 9)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the third question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.              Click HERE for Part 2.              Click HERE for Part 3.              Click HERE for Part 4.

Click HERE for Part 5.              Click HERE for Part 6.              Click HERE for Part 7.              Click HERE for Part 8.

Exam Question: Describe the various ways in which the field of ethics intersects with the problem of evolutionary suffering and explain how practical ethics informs and/or is informed by answers to that problem (such as you may have given in #4).

Finally, let’s now take a look at the pragmatic aspect of all of this. What are we to do about the suffering in nature? We will examine whether or not we should respond to animal suffering in the same way that we respond to human suffering since this is one of the greatest ways that the reality of evolution intersects with ethics. Additionally, we have to consider the part hermeneutics plays in this, even though it isn’t called out in the question. The reason for that is because of the change in the meaning of suffering when we go from a worldview that denies evolution to a world where we admit it.

If we deny evolution, we may think the meaning is wrapped up in the perfect plan of God, for example. Or, maybe creation suffers because of the Fall. However, when we realize that suffering is the very thing that brings about the advancement of life, maybe the meaning of suffering is linked more to God working with broken things through His own love infused guidelines, like my view claims.

So, some ethic systems seek to leave nature alone at all costs. This is the view of Tom Regan. Starting now, we should all do everything we can possibly do to leave nature alone. In some ways, this makes a lot of sense. We can all think of examples when we’ve meddled too much in nature and we’ve done a lot of harm to it. The problem with this view is that we have already meddled. So, if we carry out this ethic to its extreme, we should release the pets. The trouble is, I don’t think our little Toda (puppy) would last long in the wild.

Furthermore, this view is criticized by Sideris based on where we should draw the line in our practical efforts to carry this ethic out to its fullest conclusion. Here is my example based on her thoughts. Should we advocate for no more digging? Digging in the ground to locate fresh water for humans constitutes an interruption by humans of nature. Regan gets around this, or tries to anyway, by distinguishing between creatures that are subjects of a life and those that are not. So, Sideris criticizes Regan by asking once again, where we should draw the line. Essentially, one of the other major problems with this ethic is that while it likely started out as an attempt to draw no lines, actually, as an attempt to never need to ask where to draw the line (no interference in nature), it ends up consistently in a position of being unable to tell exactly where the line should be drawn.

Like me, Southgate proposes a different ethic. His seems to me to be acknowledging that humans are a part of this creation, and as a part of it, we will sometimes be responsible for the suffering of non-humans. Also, like me, he sees in the world a need for a certain kind of healing. Finally, like me, he sees no reason to attempt to have any game-changing influences on the relationships between predators and their prey. Believe it or not, there are ethicists that call for humans to attempt to do just that.

The issue that many of these ethicists seem to have is that they don’t seem to worry much about the implications of carrying their ethic out in full. It sounds great to say Christians should be advocates for the dolphins, but we have to ask ourselves why we should stop there and why we started there in the first place. This is where I veer from Southgate and his ethic on extinction. He wants to work against extinction even if it is wholly from nature, if that is even a possible scenario anymore. However, as Sideris has pointed out, what usually happens in actual practice is that non-humans that are most like humans are the ones that really do get saved. No one cares about the valuable ugly beetle. We’d rather save the pandas. An ethic is not a good ethic unless it can be applied with consistency.

This is not to say that we don’t take in the different contingencies of various situations into account. What it is saying is this. Natural selection cares nothing about whether a being is like or unlike human beings. If you can’t cut it in this world, this world may just cut you down. That is the ethic of the land and the appeal of the land ethic of Sideris.

But, it is not without its holes. For example, the land ethic seems to be lacking in its account for the way that humans are a normal part of nature, one that operates on cause and effect just like the rest of the natural world. So, a land ethic has little ability to distinguish between normal and non-normal ways that humans negatively affect the world. As Sideris teaches us in her most salient point of her book, our ethics have to take seriously the reality of evolution by natural selection. For her, if we follow a land ethic, we will accomplish that.

However, I think Southgate’s ethic is more in line with mine in some ways, though I agree with a lot of what Sideris has done. First of all, my meta-theology absolutely is centered on the resurrection. It is the resurrection that is the center of my apologetic, the center of my worship, and the center of my ethic. It is the resurrection that shows me that at the darkest hour, when things can’t seem to look worse for the ultimate fate of humankind, God pulls out the “deep magic” that C.S. Lewis faithfully tells us about. So, when I’m trying to solve the mystery of theodicy, I can at least have some hope that God will somehow, some way pull out some unexpected thing when it seems like nothing could be done to make things right for all the creatures that were ever torn apart by the lion.

To me, this is an improvement on all those theologians, including Moltmann, that are doing their ethic with the cloudy details of the eschaton in mind. It still allows for the element of hope that Moltmann and Wright want to display but it does so on something that I feel is more tangible and real in its details.

If we have then the idea that someday things will be better, what should we do now? Should we do nothing and let God sort it all out? Even worse should we act recklessly in the world so that we do it great harm while we count on the return of Christ? No, God forbid. God may grant us His grace but we should not abuse it. So, my ethic may tend to have lots of grey area lines. Maybe even as many as Regan. The difference is that I’m not trying to eliminate those lines from the start. I’m trying to embrace those lines. There is no great panacea to get rid of all the grey. As Sideris has said, there are a lot of tough choices to be made in ethical decisions.

To the dismay of my fundamentalist friends, it’s not all right there in black and white. In this way my ethics is informed by my theology, and even my theology with evolution in mind. I’ve attempted to be intentional about including evolution in the mix of the conversation but I’ve admitted that there are still some grey areas, such as how exactly God “works” in the process of natural selection. I’m no clearer here than I am about how He actually “works” in my tough circumstances without affecting free will and all that. So, my theology makes space for grey areas, and correspondingly my ethic ends up with grey areas.

Russell talks extensively about ethics and the idea of “best possible world.” Like my theology, my ethic doesn’t assume that this is the best of all possible worlds. Theologically speaking, I would say that the best possible world is one where God creates creation with limited freedom and limited possibilities and in turn that creation continuously “chooses” to get its life from God. So if God did create the best possible world it no longer exists. Additionally, even if He did create the best possible world it would still be finite so it would still fall short. So, even if that happened then the best possible world is gone and God is now working within something less than the best of all possible worlds. The great news is that God is always working with something less than the best when working with creation.

My proclivity is to think that my ethic shouldn’t inform my theology in any arena, much less in regard to evolution. It seems closely related to saying my culture should influence my theology. We know it does do that but it doesn’t feel like we should allow it to do so uncritically. It seems like my theology should always influence my ethic. If it is done the other way around, it seems like my ethic would have had to come from somewhere other than my theology and I would deem that to be something less trustworthy. For example, say I believed that animals had no souls and so, therefore we could torture them and cause them to suffer. If I allowed that to influence my theology I’d miss all mention of justice in scripture and I would never correct my ethic. However, even a theology like McFague’s, if it is informing her ethic doesn’t wind up in such a distasteful crude place as this. I’ve previously made a case to jump back and forth between hermeneutics and epistemology but I can’t make that same case to jump back and forth between theology and ethics. It seems perspicuous to me to allow that flow only from theology to ethics. Selah.

Theology & Science – Part 8

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 8)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the third question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.              Click HERE for Part 2.              Click HERE for Part 3.              Click HERE for Part 4.

Click HERE for Part 5.              Click HERE for Part 6.              Click HERE for Part 7.

Exam Question:  Given how you answered #3, give your answer to the problem of this course.  In other words, given the problem of evolutionary suffering how can the Gospel still be considered to be “good news”?

[The Solution]

So, how can we now go about the topic of the way in which the gospel remains the Good News in light of evolution? In my view, very little needed to change for me here. I’ve never claimed to have the clear picture regarding the eschaton so I didn’t need to do a lot of adjusting there. I do somewhat follow Moltmann’s eschatology over and against Left Behind or other escapist proposals so I do see that there is something in creation that needs to be “put to rights.”

Here, I am out of favor with Sideris and Rolston. However, they are correct to point out that Moltmann has failed to truly account for evolution by natural selection. I’ve also had to do little overhaul of my theology in regards to what the Good News is for humans. For humans, it is a freedom from the bondage of sin, among other things. However, my thinking regarding what the Good News is for nature did have to change quite a bit.

I will lay out what I so far see as the minimum changes that I had to make as a result of taking this class regarding the Good News for creation. This does not mean I’m unwilling to make further changes. It just means these are the changes I’ve thought of so far that need to be changed.

Firstly, I see it at least as a freedom from bondage but not a bondage to sin. What that bondage is to, I’m not sure yet. Some, like Boyd or Southgate may introduce the idea of bondage to fallen angelic beings here. I’d probably lean this way if I had to presently. However, I’ve not had the time to study the topic in any depth yet. From a bird’s eye view I see lots of reference to angelic beings in scripture although I also recognize that mentions of fallen angels in scripture, if that’s even the proper reference here, are extremely vague and speculative.

Maybe nature is simply in bondage to its own nature. This would be a non-anthropocentric view since humans can never say the same thing. We can’t say we’re in bondage to our own nature without any involvement with sin. Every way we can describe our bondage includes sin. But maybe nature, which cannot sin, by definition, but which can only fall short by its own finiteness, can be in bondage to its own way of doing things. Maybe the lion is so in bondage to its own nature that he/she never sees other options.

It’s impossible to imagine, because we’re all so entrenched in the way things are now, but somehow, in the escaton, there will be a new heavens and a new Earth. In my view that will include no suffering for humans and for non-humans, if they are around. It’s at this point that I have to take the stance that there is much in the eschaton that we will never fully understand until it comes. For example, will animals be a part of the new creation? If not, could we really say they were “put to rights?” I believe there may be ways for God to accomplish that without granting eternal life to them. However, I also see this possibility as less likely than the possibility that all of God’s creatures go on, and things are put right.