Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Salvation and Sin (a throwback for the sake of discussion)

I wrote this several years ago as a Facebook Note (remember those?) Having taken some actual theology classes since then, there are a few thinks I say in here that I might say a little differently, but I still think this is a fair characterization of Grace-centered Calvinism (also know as actual Calvinism).

Alright, here's the thing. I come from the reformed tradition, that means I am a Theological descendant of Martin Luther, John Calvin and specifically to me as a Presbyterian, John Knox. We like the Bible, we like God, we like people.

Now on to the harder part.

I believe that people suck. A lot. At almost everything.

Nobody is capable of saving themselves. Period. Post-Fall humanity is not able to approach God in any way shape or form.

But wait, there's more...

So there's this guy Jesus, a regular guy with a few exceptions: He's the son of God, He's sinless, and he's here to re-establish that communication. He tells people to be nice to one another, pay their taxes, not to resist oppression, and to devote their lives to God.

So naturally we, as people who suck, killed him for it.

Which worked out OK in the end, because through his death AND RESURRECTION humanity was saved.

Read that last part again.

OK, now once more.

That's good. I believe that I was saved almost 2000 years ago when Jesus died and rose again from the dead. I also believe that that statement is either true or not true for everyone else on the planet. If you are among the elect, it's because of God's work, not because you said "Ok, this Jesus sounds like a cool guy, I think I'll follow him now." The action of accepting Jesus implies some ability on the part of the human to affect their own salvation. Which is not the case. We are saved by the Grace of God, once we decide that Jesus had it going on we start to live lives more according to the will of God.

Which makes life here much better. It makes our lives better as Children of God. It makes the world a better place. But does it affect our salvation?

Say it with me now...


Good. Glad we got that straight.

Does that mean I'm sinless? By no means. I sin every day. Paul said "Whenever I try to do good, evil is right there with me." He's absolutely right. All of us want to do good, all of us want to be good. All of us want to be loved.

Let's address those one at a time shall we?

Do I do good?

Sometimes, but usually not. Just by realizing I did something good for another person and patting yourself on the back you have done something not good. Way to be prideful. Next time I do something intentionally good, it will be for that rush of happiness from helping someone. Way to be selfish. Good is still done, and the other person may not realize that I'm helping them only in the process of helping yourself, it's still worth doing, but it's still not righteous.

Am I good?

No. I suck. I deserve to spend an eternity suffering in hell.

Am I loved?

ABSOLUTELY. If I'm not loved, why am I not being destroyed/already been destroyed? God loves us all more than we can possibly imagine. That's why Jesus came, because God loved me, and you, and everybody else. Quit trying to earn it, it's irritating. Be yourself with all your suckiness and try to let God have a little more control in your life.

Ok, a lot more control would be nice, but we need to start somewhere.

Everybody sins. Constantly. Anyone who says they are without sin is full of lies. The good news is you're forgiven before you've even said you're sorry. At least by God, people might hold a grudge for a while.

So I can't save myself, and I can't stop sinning, and I'm already saved, so why not just go on sinning and reaping the benefits of it?

Ah, that's the big question isn't it...

Answer: Beats the hell out of me. Go ahead, I can't stop you, God probably won't stop you. But God loves you, and I'm pretty sure you like him too and want to make him proud of you. That's why you follow Christ, that's why you do good things. It makes Father proud of you and glad he created you. Because post-resurrection, we are part of a new creation, and God can see the image of God in us, therefore we can approach God and say "sorry, I really screwed that one up," and "thanks God, I appreciate that," and even "God, was that really necessary, I didn't appreciate that very much."

So go, show God you're grateful. Give it a shot. Screw up, but do it boldly and trying to make headway for the Kingdom of God. Who knows, God might even use your hands to do God's work.

What do you think? Do you disagree with what I said here back in 2007? Is college Joseph a crazy heretic? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A response to the Creation Debate

Last night, I watched much of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate on the viability of young earth creationism as a science. It was a surprisingly civil debate, and I was very grateful that it happened. I thought it may be prudent to weigh in on their discussion.

I found the opening statements of both debaters to be compelling and well organized. Neither one of them made comments that were off putting. Going into the debate, I favored Nye's evolutionary views, but kept an open mind on Ham's arguments.

The biggest problem throughout the debate seemed to be one of authority. Nye did not recognize the authority of scripture in explaining the origins of the universe. Ham, likewise, did not accept the scientific evidence as valid.

My objection was that both used scripture in an all-or-nothing mindset: either all of scripture is factual, or none of it is. I just don't think that's an accurate way of interacting with a complex library of documents, written over a long period of time by dozens of different authors.

One of the major emphases in my theological education was to consider the genre of the text one is studying. For some genres, one can assert a certain level of historical accuracy. For others, a more nuanced approach is called for. In a twist of irony, my experience is that those who rush to claim Genesis is literal are equally quick to read the Song of Solomon as an allegory.

Let me be clear: Scripture is so much more than a fact sheet. It's a complex and beautiful work of faithful people for thousands of years, both in writing down what God inspired and in transmitting it to future generations through compiling, translating, copying, and teaching. It is a unique and authoritative witness to what God has done in the world. It is powerful, compelling, and potentially transformative because God is revealed in it. But it's purpose is not to provide a list of unquestionable facts. It's purpose is to point to God.

There are several creation stories in scripture, some of them disagree on the order that things happened. But that doesn't bother me because the purpose of an origin story is not to maintain absolute facts, but to reveal the identity of the creator and the created. Genesis 1 shows a powerful God who speaks into being things that do not exist. Genesis 2 shows an intimate God who plants a garden and molds people out of clay. Job 38-41 shows a God who is active throughout all of nature. John 1 shows the presence of Christ throughout creation. Each of these says something different about God, and something about us as well.

God has given us eyes to see and minds to interpret, and the Holy Spirit is active in every time and place. Perhaps the origin story that these evidences point to is spiritually compelling because it means that God has been active for billions of years, forming the world into something new and amazing each day.

That's called creatio continua, and we studied it in my theology class. We also studied creation ex nihilo, or creation out of nothing. Neither was espoused as the "correct" view, and I don't think they're opposing. I hold to a blend of the two: God created the universe out of nothing, and continues to renew creation each moment.

As the debate went on, I was troubled that so much of Ham's arguments seemed to be thoroughly steeped in confirmation bias. Science, as I understand it, seeks to disprove theories, eliminating the impossible so that only the most accurate description remains. Creationist "science," at least as Ham presented it, was far more interested in confirming a fundamentalist and un-nuanced interpretation of the Bible than in refining its own views. That's bad science, and that's bad theology.

But, and I think think this is the most important lesson from last night's debate, People who disagree can come together for a coherent and civil discussion, without needing to change the other's mind. The exchange of ideas is valuable in and of itself. Because like creation, that kind of relational discussion tells us something about God, and about ourselves.