Screwing for Virginity

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Obedience and Morality

In my last post, I said that obedience precedes morality, so Old Testament soldiers were above reproach, because they were acting in obedience to God (Gabe has offered another theory, which I find interesting, but am not yet willing to accept). By this, I am getting at what Kierkegaard (or was it Dick Van Paten) says in Fear and Trembling, under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio.

Morality is a human construct. I agree with Ryan that it comes from God, in that we interact with his commands to develop a working morality. I realize that seems revaltive, and it is, but I don't mean to say anything goes. Today most Christians consider polygamy to be immoral, but in King David's time, that was not so, and God never seems to condemn it. Also consider what Jesus said about divorce in Matthew 5.31: ""It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 24.1, and then says that though this was once the morality by which God's people lived (so much so that it was canonized), now that is not the case.

So while we as Christians must live by a morality that is always subject to God's Word, as people of faith, we must be open to God's direct command to do something that violates that morality. Kierkegaard's example is of Abram's experience when God tells him to sacrifice his son. This violates morality and even seems to go against God's promises to Abram, but because God commands, Abram obeys and is upheld as a model of faith in Hebrews 11. Other examples occur in the lives of Jephthah, Enoch, and Peter.

To apply this to what I've said about life and death in previous posts, nothing in the New Testament supports a morality that allows for war or the death penalty. When Christians accept them, as American Christians freely do, they are appealing to a standard of morality outside of the Bible. While valid sources of authority exist outside of Scripture, the text is our standard, and in this case, war and other sorts of violence violate a morality based on the teachings of the Prince of Peace.

God is not limited to our morality. If he commands something that violates our morality, then we must obey. How to determine whether he has is a tricky subject and for another post (or multi-volume set of books).

I'm a little rusty on my Kierkegaard so if someone else can explain it better, please do so. Also, as a caveat, I am not as individualistic as Kierkegaard, which should be apparent from previous posts, so please don't build any existential strawmen. Thanks.


  • At 12:00 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Prodigy-Maestro said…

    Hey, i like your blog

  • At 1:13 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Thanks for explaining, I'll have to chew on it for a bit. Just one point of clarification that I feel is appropriate to point out, maybe I've said it before. Jesus is not the Prince of Peace in the sense that he opposes war. He is the peace offering between God and man, making it possible for the forgiveness of sin, thus peace between God and man. The name Prince of Peace has absolutely nothing to do w/ the way humans treat other humans. I'm not saying that He advocated war between humans, I'm just saying that the name is misleading when used in that context, and could possibly be a misrepresentation of who He is.

  • At 2:13 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…

    Happy ruminating.

    I agree that Christ has made peace between man and God, apart from that I disagree with everything you said. Jesus being the Prince of Peace has everything to do with how we treat one another. We are the body of Christ, and as such, we are to act out in Creation what Jesus has done for us. As Christ forgave us, we are to forgive others. Christ did not condemn; we do not condemn. Christ has made peace between us and God; we are to live out that peace here on earth.

    Jesus may not have been called the Prince of Peace because he opposed war. We, however, must oppose war because we are followers of the Prince of Peace.

  • At 2:50 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Your principles of what humans are to do b/c of what Christ did are in line with what I believe, so we don't disagree there whatsoever. That wasn't my point. But applying a name that was given to Him for one purpose and making it say something different is what I disagree with. Him being called the Prince of Peace doesn't negate the fact that the Father (who Christ is One with and is also peace loving) has at times commanded otherwise. To me it's like saying that because He's Lord of Lords He hates lying. He might hate lying, but that name has nothing to do with it.

    Luke 12:49-53 has Christ saying "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division."

    All I'm trying to establish is that Prince of Peace doesn't mean that Christ is always trying to create that among men. It doesn't mean He's not the Prince of Peace, it's just what you think that means might not be true.

  • At 3:03 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Prodigy-Maestro said…

    Question- what do you mean exactly when you say "morality is a construct"? It doesn't 'exactly' come from God. What of non-religous peoples who are highly moral? If you say that morality comes from God, that leads into a conversation about predestination and such. Just a thought. . .

  • At 4:20 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…

    No, it's like saying that because he is the Truth, he hates lying.

    I understand your point, and I'm not saying that Jesus is called the Prince of Peace because he opposes war; I am saying that because we follow the Prince of Peace, we must oppose war, which is antithetical to peace. The cart is securely behind the horse.

    What it seems to come down to is that I think that this designation has practical application, whereas you seem to think that it has primarily a spiritual meaning. Do you agree?

    When I say that morality is a construct, I mean that it is not handed down from on high. We have been given guidelines, and the morality we construct is subject to Scripture, our primary standard. As I said, other valid standards exist, and I would say that these are what "non-religious" people (if such people exist), who are moral, appeal to.

    Ryan and I have a gentlemen's agreement not to discuss free will and predestination (because he chooses to believe in predestination, whereas I seem to be predestined toward Armenianism), but if anyone else has any ideas on the subject, please share.

  • At 5:34 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Prodigy-Maestro said…

    Ah, I see now what you mean. I think I may have read the original post to fast and interpreted wrong. I agree, save one small detail; "the morality we construct is subject to Scripture". Would you say that the entirety of our morality is from the scripture or part of it? There are some behaviors and beliefs of mine that I consider moral which go against some of what's in the Bible. As one of the many Christians whom is yet to finish reading the whole Bible, I believe much our morality is dervived moreso from the society around us, rather than scripture. What do you say?

    On premeditation, I don't want to start up a ruckus since you two have an agreement but you said share so, if I may, I'll quote from my book(unpublished and unfinished, lol), but here it is: "It is said that God is an all-knowing being, spirit. If in fact He knows all, that most definitely includedes "time". For this to be true, God must know every facet and intricacy of the past, present, and future.
    If He knows the future, theoretically, he knows things such as who will murder and when they will murder. In turn, this justifies my theory of predition. God knows the future, meaning the future(as well as the past and present) is already written, already premeditated by the creator."

    That's how I see; it's just a theory. . .

  • At 5:45 PM, January 20, 2006, Anonymous Jeff said…


    I'd like for you to explain more why you think the title "Prince of Peace" is best understood in spiritual God-man terms.

    The title comes from Isaiah 9:6: "For to us a child is born,to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this."

    Verse 7 talks about this peace in very concrete terms: the king will establish justice and righteousness throughout his kingdom. The word for "peace" used by Isaiah is the Hebrew word shalom. So Jesus is the Prince of Shalom (i.e., wholeness, flourishing).

    Also, the God-man relationship is not separated from the man-man relationship. So peace between God-man does not exist unless a concrete change in the man-man relationship occurs. In other words, if I kill someone (sin) then my Jeff-God relationship is affected as well. So "peace" cannot [i]only[/i] refer to the restoration of the vertical God-man relationship.

    Buddy, I just listened to a great January Series lecture by Lauren Winner. She's talking about her recent book, Real Sex. In light of your last post, I thought you may be interested:

  • At 6:35 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    In Isaiah, (and I believe Peter and Revelation) Israel is viewed as a microcosm for all the whole creation. Therefore the destruction of the earth in Isaiah is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. And the New Heavens and New Earth is referring to the Reconstructed Jerusalem beginning in 539 under Cyrus. In this, wouldn't the Prince of Peace in Isaiah referring to Israel.
    Christ then came to show Israel how to be Israel. And was therefore, the Prince of Peace. Now we are the Body of Christ called to embody and "flesh out" what he started. So this is not a spiritual God-man olive branch of peace. It seems to be more a reconciliation of all things, a more holistic or as Jeff said "shalom".

  • At 10:13 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    I just need things to be validated with scripture. If I have a passage that says flat out that Christ's purpose on earth was the opposite of peace, it's something worth wrestling over. I'm not negating His name or His attributes. Jeff, I get the idea that His purpose was not to create peace among the man-man b/c of that verse in Luke.
    If we're to only do things that bring peace b/c we follow the prince of peace, how do you explain the prince of peace doing things that aren't supposed to lead to peace? I'm not saying that the name has no practical application, I just don't think it's so 1 to 1. one of his names has the word peace in the title, that doesn't always mean that He opposes all division or conflict. And yes, I think the names are more spiritual in nature than say "Buddy is a fun guy, he's outgoing, intelligent. He will be called cool." You have to admit that Christ's names aren't usually practical, they're holy.

  • At 11:16 PM, January 20, 2006, Anonymous Jeff said…

    I realized I didn't define my terms very clearly. Let me explain what I'm getting at. By "peace" I don't mean a mere lack of conflict. After all, Christ explicitly says that his message will result in strife and conflict. The word peace or shalom as I use it means something like wholeness, fullness of relationship, justice, etc.

    All I'm saying is that Christ's mission has as much to do with man-man relations as with God-man relations because the two are inseparable.

    I'm not completely clear on why you contrast holy with practical. They don't seem like opposites. Could you explain what you mean?

  • At 11:42 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    I think the context of this passage in Luke is significant. This passage is couched in the middle of a discussion of the parousia and eschatological judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple. The purpose of this is division, those within the New Jerusalem and those outside the city (whose gates will never be shut). Do you find this significant?
    Furthermore, how would you deal with the multiple times Jesus speaks of peace and love in light of this passage in Luke?

  • At 11:44 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    And it would be "human-human" or "God-human" relationships. Let's not forget the ladies.

  • At 2:35 PM, January 21, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Jeff, that makes sense to me, and let me explain a little more what I meant by the difference between holy and practical. God is called Provider. Does that mean that He provides every thing that you want? Obviously not. He provides what He wants us to have, meaning that all we have comes from Him. Sometimes He is more glorified by us not having something. Being called the Prince of Peace would also not determine that He will always make things peaceful. Sometimes He is more glorified by things not being at peace.

    I agree that followers of Christ must always pursue peace.
    Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."
    That statement has 2 words, possible and depends, that make it seem clear there will be times when peace is not the case, and that it is alright. This doesn't negate the pursuit of peace, but followers of the Prince of Peace could find themselves in a situation that is not possible for peace to exist, and for it to be ok.
    Chris, I know that the context behind Christ's words in Luke were not in reference to war. My point was that He doesn't always deem peace the goal of His actions. And my apologies to any ladies, of course I meant human-human.

  • At 3:22 PM, January 21, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    My point was that Christ here was referring about the Kingdom. He came to establish a foundation for the New Jerusalem which will divide those who are in the city and those outside the gates. This seems to be the division that Christ is referring to. But these gates will never be shut, there will be (or still is) a mission to the nations.

  • At 3:23 PM, January 21, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    i mean "referring to" not "referring about", sorry.

  • At 4:08 PM, January 21, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…

    This is how I used to think about it as well - it was the only way I could understand the O.T. genocide and the binding of Isaac. Thanks in part to Nik Ansell and Jack Miles, I now have a different view of what it means to obey the voice of God.

    First, in the binding of Isaac, perhaps Abraham's faith is not in his willingness to sacrifice, but in his knowledge that this is not what the God he served would ask for. Ansell reads this passage as necessary to condemn the ancient custom of child sacrifice, not as a test of Abraham's faith.

    As Ansell writes, the only reason we now have a problem with child sacrifice is exactly because of this story. Asking for a child sacrifice is exactly something that an Ancient Near Eastern god would ask. He writes: "Initially, God's words seem to come to Abraham in this 'world.' At the same time, Abraham seems to have an inkling that something else is going on. 'We will worship and then we will come back to you' he says to the servant in verse 5. It is precisely because Yahweh is not a pagan deity that what is asked of Abraham is beyond his understanding. It is not that the command is clear and that it is the obeying that is hard. It is only in the process, the risk, of obedience that the command is revealed. This is not a test of obedience. It is a test of discernment." Abraham's faith is revealed when he hears the commandment not to kill his son - when he is able to discern the true voice of God apart from the voice of pagan deities.

    Ansell makes the point that God's will only becomes clear in time, and not instantaneously before an action is carried out. Abraham had to enact the process of sacrificing his son in order for the pagan notion of child sacrifice to be subverted. I do not believe that we can be absolutely sure of God’s commandment before we carry out particular actions. We must be careful while acting to hear the voice of God over what we expect is morally correct.

    I would argue similarly for the genocide in the O.T. I believe that Israel understood their God to be a warrior God like the gods of the nations around them. God allows them to name him in this way for a time, but breaks though and reveals that he is not like the warrior gods of the surrounding nations. Also in Hosea, God seems to be schizophrenic because he first is an abusive spouse that is typical of an Ancient Near Eastern male, and then his voice is a completely reversed and he forgives the actions of the spouse. This reversal continues throughout the book, and I have argued that Hosea is representing his own feelings about what should happen to Gomer (representative of Israel), and the opposing voice is the true voice of God breaking through Hosea’s Near Eastern mindset.

    You are correct in saying that morality is a human construct, but I think that statement can be taken further and we can say that God’s commandments are often human constructs. If they follow the narrative, then they are likely in line with the will of God, but we must always be attentive to the voice of God that subverts our “commandments.” I cannot say that the Old Testament soldiers were obeying God – instead they were following their idea of God, and refusing to heed his voice. It is always a risk to interpret the commandments of God.

  • At 11:24 AM, January 22, 2006, Anonymous Jeff Dodson said…

    Chris, you are right about the human-God language. Point taken.

    Jeff, I have a question that I'm having difficulty articulating. I'll try. You say that Abraham's encounter is a test of discernment rather than obedience. If Abraham could never be sure that God's voice disclosed his will then by what standard was he to discern? In other words, on what basis was he supposed to discern that God didn't desire the sacrifice if the Word of God was telling him differently? I'm still trying to get my mind around what you're saying so bear with me.

    In addition to the above question, I have a concern. You're suggesting that God allowed Israel to operate with a false understanding of himself in order that, at some point down the road, they could see the truth. Doesn't this become problematic when we realize the fruit of this false understanding? God stood back while Israel, operating under a mistaken theology, murdered thousands of people in his name? He didn't attempt to correct their mistaken theology; he sat back. It seems like your explanation doesn't portray God in a better light than the standard interpretation of Judges. Whether God is active of passive, he is still complicit in the OT violence.

    Lastly, (sorry this is post is becoming long) what do you do with the passages which clearly describe God in warrior language. I think the theme of Holy War is a constant one throughout the Bible.

  • At 4:41 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    God did want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but not in the way that Abraham thought, not in the same way as the pagan gods commanded child sacrifice. Sacrifice is transformed and redefined in binding of Isaac. We have a problem with God's initial command thanks to this text. Thanks to this text we are in a religious and cultural tradition that understands that pagan sacrifice is wrong. Abraham didn't have that luxury, he was in a culture that found it normal.
    God's calls are to be struggled with and discerned. It is in the risk of obedience that the command is revealed, not as a pagan sacrifice, but as a redefined and transformed sacrifice to the one true God.
    I think it is signifant thatin Joshua 5:14 the "captain of the army of Yahweh" is on neither Israel's side nor their enemies.

  • At 6:21 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…


    First off - it is Nik that uses the word discernment, but I do tend to agree with him. I think that Abraham did know that God was not going to allow him to kill his son, hence he uses a plural pronoun in reference to coming back. Abraham had already had several experiences with God that informed him that Yahweh is not like other gods (such as God's commandment not to lie about Sarai being his sister to the kings, which was a common during Abrahm's period). So I believe that Abraham already had some idea that it is not God's true wish that he sacrifice his son, and it is this faith that allows him to discern the voice of God and subvert the tradition of child sacrifice. So I would argue that the basis for Abraham's discernment is his previous experience with Yahweh.

    Your second point is a good one, and one I've contemplated for some time. I honestly have not had the time to work through the Old Testament in an effort to understand the idea exegetically, and thus do not hold to it too tightly yet. I intend to work through it soon, and I find that it is amazing what reading the Bible from a different paradigm can do to traditional readings. I do firmly believe that God allows his/her people to name him/her in various ways, and when those namings become oppressive, God speaks against such a naming (such as in Hosea). However, I have not yet established for myself whether God speaks against such a name immediately or not. Perhaps God did speak against the warrior metaphor (it certainly seems that Jesus did), and Israel was too deaf to listen. The disciples still expected a warrior in the Messiah, and were quite surprized by the true incarnation of God. In either case, God standing by while thousands of people are murdered is not worse than God commanding the murder of thousands of people. It is not better either, but I am surprised that you are more offended by God's passivity in murder than you are by God's activity in it.

    I think you and I may be working from a different paradigm as well. I believe that in creating an other, God shares his/her power with that other, and is not omnipotent in the traditional sense. God is omnipotent because all power belongs to God, but that power has been subverted by human evil. It is the work of the elect to return power to its proper source. So while you might understand God's passivity as optional, I would see it as necessary. God has truly relinquished the power to give and take life to humanity, and God cannot take it back. Perhaps the concept of Holy War in the Old Testament is a harmful and improper metaphor for God and God's desire, and I would argue that Jesus Christ proves it.

    Sorry this post is becoming long, but it is in response to your long post. Lastly, I think the passages that describe God as a warrior are subverted by the reality of Jesus Christ and must be read in that light.

  • At 7:30 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…

    What's with all the apologizing for long posts? By all means, take the time to say what you want to say.

    Jeff (the one in a nutshell) and Chris, are you saying (as Gabe said earlier) that God never did command war and that the Israelites misread him? That's what I'm hearing, and I want to clarify.

  • At 7:41 PM, January 22, 2006, Anonymous Jeff Dodson said…

    Just a quick comment while I mull over things. Jeff, when you say that Jesus subverts ideas and themes of the OT are you saying that he corrected them? I want to be clear on what you mean.

    It almost sounds like you're tiptoeing (sp?) towards Marcionism. The bad, vengeful teaching of the Old Testament was supplanted by the good, loving teaching of Jesus in the New Testament.

  • At 2:08 AM, January 23, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    It seems that Israel failed to struggle with the call of God. Abraham struggled with it and was called a friend of God. Israel did not and was not a friend of God.

  • At 11:37 AM, January 23, 2006, Blogger Gabe said…

    Ok. As you know, Buddy, I have a bit of a different take on this issue. Although I would be real hesitant even to call it a "theory," more like a bunch of questions and a few VERY tentative suggestions for potential answers.

    You used the text in Matthew about divorce, but in Mark 10, Jesus is even more specific. He clearly places the blame on Moses. It was Moses who permitted divorce (v. 4) and it was Moses who wrote the law because of the "hardness of your hearts" (v. 5). Yet, in Deuteronomy, what else is Moses doing other than declaring "thus saith the LORD?" Isn't it just possible that Moses was declaring "thus saith the LORD" when the LORD saith no such thing? As I mentioned before, I think we have ample historical evidence to indicate that God has consistently allowed His people to invoke His approval and command for immoral actions. I mean, come on, practically every time Falwell, Robertson, or Dobson open their mouths about what God supposedly says I feel the sudden urge to become an atheist.

    Anyway, I really wanted to ask you a question. I actually do sympathize with your position and find myself somewhat convinced by your reasoning. However, how does the "obedience precedes moralty" stance not become "might makes right" morality? Are we to obey God and reject our own consciences simply because He is bigger and stronger? If not, does He have some kind of ultmate moral superiority? And wouldn't this imply some sort of moral standard that God Himself must conform to? How is a God who "changes His mind" or alters the standard over time (polygamy is ok, polygamy is not ok, divorce is permitted, divorce is not permitted, etc.) different from a fickle God, prone to flights of fancy? What makes such a God worth obeying?

    Ok. That's more than one question. But these are the questions I keep coming back to. I would appreciate your input.

  • At 12:18 PM, January 23, 2006, Anonymous Jeff Dodson said…


    You say the difference between Abraham and Israel is that the former struggled with the call of God. Two things: 1) In what sense did Abraham struggle and Israel didn't? Didn't both of them hear the Word of God and obey it? Abraham didn't question God's command; he obeyed. 2) You say the fault is found in Israel's response--not their understanding of the call. So you are saying, contra Jeff(?), that Israel did indeed receive a call from God to kill the Canaanites. No misinterpretation occurred; God truly did command genocide. Am I interpretting you correctly?

    I don't think that passivity on God's part is any worse than an active command. I'm simply saying it's no better.

  • At 12:54 PM, January 23, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…


    Sorry if portrayed your position as more systematic than it is. I also have more questions than answers, but my educational history makes it difficult for me to avoid theoretical language.

    I agree with your interpretation of the Matthew passage. Moses had developed a morality based on what God had told him. Jesus said that that was not an acceptable morality.

    I don't think the cultural differences in morality, e.g., polygamy, divorce, result from God's being fickle, but in God's people's responsibility to develop a morality based on his word. As God's people, our identity is in our allegiance to him. Because that is our identity, I don't see a position where I could question why we obey him. Obviously, that doesn't mean we can't; I just can't see how.

    I just watched a lecture Howard Zinn gave at UCSB, and he listed several ways that American leaders have claimed to have God on their side. I feel your pain.


    In calling into question Israel's response to God's call, are you saying that Joshua and Caleb were the ones who most fundamentally misunderstood God's call and that they should not be considered the heroes of faith that they have traditionally been?

  • At 3:25 PM, January 23, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…


    That was an awfully polite way of calling me a heretic. It's ok though, several of us had to fight of the brand of Marcionism in our IDS course on violence last year, so I've worn the label before. I know you are taking the idea from Boersma, so I think you already know that my position would be fundamentally different than that of Marcion (pg. 41 of Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross).

    I would not place a sharp division between the God of the Old and New Testament, I believe that the God Israel and the God portrayed in Christ is the same God, and a God that is fundamentally interested in caring for Israel. I believe that Jesus fulfills the office of Israel (the suffering servant) so that Israel does not have to fill that role themselves. Jesus' act of redemption fulfills the role that the elect nation of Israel failed to fulfill in bringing the glory of God to all Creation. Part of that failure may be due to Israel's assumptions about their call to Holy War. I do believe that God was interested in releasing Israel from exile and oppression, but the purpose was to use Israel as an example of a nation of peace, and to thus free all people from exile and oppression. I suppose because of human evil, the protection of Israel required violence, but the fundamental message of Christ is a submission (and thus subversion) of human violence. Accepting this position, I two options: Either believe that God learned alongside Israel and changed his plan to bring redemption to Creation, or that humanity has misinterpreted the voice of God throughout history. I began by exploring the first option, but found it dissatisfying, and now I am beginning to explore the second option.

    You also stress that the teaching of the O.T. is bad and "corrected" by the good teaching of the N.T. Marcionism doesn't place the teaching of the Old and New Testament in opposition, it places the Gods of the Old and New Testament in opposition. And I am not placing the teaching in complete opposition either. I believe that the teaching of the Old Testament read in the light of the New Testament is fundamentally altered, but I am not placing them in total discontinuity. It is exactly because there is a continuity between the Old and New that allows us to read the Old in a different light. The "scandal" of the Gospel is a scandal because it subverts the teaching of the Old Testament, not because it replaces or "corrects" it.

    I must be careful to emphasize the fact that my views are not in the least bit anti-Semitic. I believe that Israel was the elect nation of God, and certainly Christianity does no better at interpreting the revelation of God than Israel did.

    And I agree that passivity is no better than activity, I figured you would as well. I am not arguing for passivity though, I am arguing for incapability. God cannot revoke the power given to creation. This is not because God does not want to, but because God can only work in creation through creation. If the elect refuse to follow the call of God, then it is impossible for God to intervene through “all powerful” force. I am not saying that God cannot act in creation, but God can only act through creation.

    Buddy – Yes, I am arguing that Israel misunderstood the call to war. Honestly, this is still an exploratory position for me, and I do not know how to properly articulate it yet. I am not yet certain if God called Israel to war or not. If God did, I would argue that Israel misunderstood the intentions for going to war. If God did call Israel to war, it was for the purpose of protecting the elect so that they could reflect the glory of God to all nations, thus God would not have called for genocide. If God did in fact call Israel to war, I would argue that it was for the purpose of preventing the chosen people from being totally eradicated. I would argue that God no longer uses nations to act as the people of God, and thus there would no longer be any call for a nation to go to war.

    I am sorry if I am not able to respond quickly from this point on. This is a great discussion that is helping me to further explore alternative positions, but I do have a 30 page paper due in two weeks. Forgive me if I cannot respond to everyone quickly (though accusing me of heresy will motivate me to defend myself pretty quickly).

  • At 3:44 PM, January 23, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    Something I am thinking...
    Herem normally understood as a Holy War or a curse of destruction when all things are to given over to God (humans and animals killed, booty is given to the santuary).
    At least this is what it would mean in the context of the Israelites world which the call was spoken into. Perhaps, it could have been a failure to struggle with this call. The Promised land was a land of syncretism (the fusing of different beliefs). God may have been calling Israel not to fall into this syncretism but to devote or reconcile these fused beliefs to God. I don't know, I just started thinking through this.
    I'm using "struggle" to refer to the covenant. God calls, humanity responds and in this covenant (or struggle) the will of God takes shape and can be discerned. In the case of Israel, God calls, Israel responds in obedience but fails to discern. Maybe that's what I mean, but it probably doesn't make much sense.
    Israel's fault is in their response of Holy War. This is because of their failure to struggle with and discern God's call. So I'm not disagreeing with the Nutshell.
    I'm questioning it.

  • At 4:05 PM, January 23, 2006, Anonymous Jeff Dodson said…


    Thanks for the response. I'm still thinking through all of what you wrote. Your distinction between willing passivity and incapability is fair and intriguing. I'll have to wrestle with that a bit more. You're correct that we're operating with different paradigms on that point.

    Let me offer a clarification. I didn't (or didn't intend to) outright accuse you of Marcionism. I was simply stating that it seemed (and maybe still seems) like you were inching towards something like it. That's why I asked if I was interpretting you correctly. Anyway, good luck on your paper. What is it on?

  • At 6:06 PM, January 23, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Nutshell, your incapability theory is pretty interesting to me. Do we not see evidence of God intervening despite creation's efforts? I am interested to see where you see Creation having true power to thwart God, first of all. Then having the power so strongly that it is impossible for God to get it back. I know you're wading through this gently (and that you're busy) but I'm curious where the legs are planted on this.

  • At 6:20 PM, January 23, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…

    I still don't believe I am anywhere near Marcionism (or headed towards it), maybe you can clarify how you think I am. Marcionism indicates a total discontinuity between not only the teaching of the Old Testament and the New Testament, but also between the God of the Old and New.

    Jesus wasn't crucified because he held to the continuity of the Old Testament. He wasn't exactly a defender of orthodoxy. Just because we've come to accept Jesus as the Messiah now dulls down the discontinuity between the expected Messiah of the O.T. and Jesus. So if understanding a discontinuity between the teaching of the Old Testament and the Gospel is heading towards Marcionism, I would argue that all Christians are headed in that direction (but that isn’t how I understand Marcionism). It seems to me that part of claiming Jesus as the Christ requires seeing some discontinuity. Just as Gabe has argued, Jesus usurped/replaced/fulfilled many of the laws of the O.T. (such as divorce, etc.), and I want to extend that to our very understanding of God (not because he is a different God, but because the name of God was being misused at times). There is a good reason a majority of the Jewish community failed to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. It is because he didn't act like their conception (metaphor, naming) of God at all. Just because Jesus didn't fit the communities conception does not mean that he is a different God, and this is Marcion's mistake.

    And I understand that it takes a while to wrestle with the idea of God being impotent at times, but I find that it fits the Biblical narrative quite well. This is why Moltmann claims that the enthronement of Christ is Jesus on the cross. The glory and power of God is not revealed in crushing his enemies, but by suffering death at their hands. The power of God is fulfilled when Jesus overcomes death and human evil by returning the power of death to its rightful owner (God) and resurrection is the result. This is the model that we are to follow, we are to overcome the powers of evil by returning them to God, by redeeming them. All power belongs to God, but it is not yet God's because humanity has chosen autonomy. If God is truly the warrior God, then I would expect Christ to have been quite different. I would have expected exactly what the disciples expected. I would have expected Christ to crush the oppressors and rule in absolute authority - Death to all that do not obey. But Christ comes to bring life to all, and I believe that his actions show that fact. I think the Christian tradition has made the same mistake that the disciples and much of Israel made. We expect Christ to come back and smite those that are against us, and again, I think we will not recognize the true Messiah.

    Thank you for helping me think through this, it has been very fruitful for me, and I hope that it is at least intriguing to you.

  • At 6:59 PM, January 23, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…


    I see the choice of the first man and woman to disobey God's commandment as the first time that God's will is thwarted. I do not think God expected them to break the covenant, for God certainly acts surprised by their actions. I am not sure this is the first act of evil though, it is just the beginning of the human struggle for autonomy. The first recorded act of evil is the murder of Able, and it goes downhill from there as humanity continues to struggle for autonomy from God and their fellow man (and later from creation itself. In our current abuse of the land we show our desire to be free from dependence upon it). The murder of Able clearly thwarts God's plan, again God seems surprised by the human's actions. I believe God asks "What have you done" not because he wants Cain to explain it for his own sake, but because God is honestly appalled by the act of rage and jealousy. Able was not supposed to be murdered, God's plan is thwarted.

    If you are going to say that God's will is never thwarted, then you would have to argue that human evil was part of God's will. However, I do not believe that God is completely powerless, in fact I believe God is quite powerful, and able to enact change in creative ways. Ideally, God chooses or elects some to work against the powers of evil and return that power in a covenental relationship with God (as you might be able to tell, I believe that the elect are not elect unto salvation, but elect to do the work of saving. The elect are not only the redeemed, they are the redeemers).

    I believe that when God gives the first man and woman the command to subdue (serve) the earth, God gave them true power to do so. They are the agents of God, their power rightly belongs to God, but when they used their power outside of the covenant relationship, their power became power against God.

    It does not make sense to me at all to say that God has all power, and then to indicate that creation does as well. If God is all powerful, then we are all powerless. It does make sense to say that all power belongs to God, and that in choosing to create an other, God took a risk by allocating some power to that other. Just like in a marriage, or any relationship, you give some amount of power over yourself to that other person. They can then use that power to your benefit (empowerment) or against you. When you enter into a covenant (such as marriage) with an other, you do not go into it (hopefully) expecting the person to use that power against you. You don't get married expecting your spouse to cheat on you. I fully believe that when God gave true power to creation, God did not expect creation to use that power against him. God is surprised when humans break the covenant for the first time. However, they are only able to break that covenant because God gave them true power to be in relationship with him.

    The eschatological hope is that humanity will one day return to their coventantal expectations, and use the power they have been given for God. God will be all powerful because those that have been given the power of God will be using it for God.

  • At 9:50 PM, January 23, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    I'm sure Buddy and several others here would be able to tell you that I do believe human evil was a part of God's will. And that God is not actually surprised by the actions taken.
    If all power belongs to God, but He is not powerful enough to wield His own power... how do you have true hope that He will ever redeem this world? If this game of power keep-away continues forever and God is left sitting on his hands, that's what's going to make every knee bow and tongue confess? just wondering. by the way, this has been fruitful for me as well so thank you for indulging me.

  • At 11:50 PM, January 23, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…


    I tend to have more hope in the future believing in a God that was taken aback by human evil than one that preordained it, so I guess I would ask you the same question. Theodicy is a worthless venture for me, for all that I believe we can do in the face of horrific evil is lament it (not attempt to explain it). The only answer I can give to a holocaust survivor or a sexually abused child is that the evil they experienced should not have happened. A paraphrase of Clark M. Williamson that I had posted on my blog particularly stands out in my mind: We should never make theological assertions that could not be made in the presence of burning children. Obviously, this is an extreme statement that manipulates the emotions, but thinking of the most horrific evils tend to keep one from trying to explain them away.

    Also, as a preterist and post millennialist, I am less concerned with how God is going to bring about the eschaton, and more concerned about my own role in it. This is not out of pride, but a calling that I find in the biblical narrative, a calling of humility and service. I believe that God has called us to reflect his glory, and promised to bring about a future in which every tear is wiped away and without death, mourning, crying, or pain. The dynamics of gift/call are a primary way of understanding the world at ICS, and one does not go without the other. We are called to act as agents of God in this world, and we can have hope in the eschaton. The eschaton is not a prediction, it is a promise, and I think that the distinction is often lost in Evangelical theology. Old Testament prophecy was never about predicting the future. Rather, it was about discerning the promises of God, proclaiming them, and then living in the hope of their fulfillment (unless of course it was a prophecy of warning, and the intention was to change action and hope to avoid fulfillment). Prophetic proclamations did not always come to fruition, the actions of the people often changed God's "mind" in both positive and negative examples. In the same way, the promise of the eschaton partly rests upon our shoulders. We must answer the call in order to receive/fulfill the promise.

    I'm just curious as to why you think that evil is part of God's will. I would assume that you work from a mercy/wrath paradigm to support that position. In which case how do you answer to Barth's christocentric claim that the mercy/wrath paradigm has no place in the cross?

  • At 5:39 PM, January 24, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Nutshell, I apologize but I don't know what mercy/wrath paradigm you're referring to, or the Mr. Barth who challenges it. So I can't really touch on that part of it. In an effort to not steer the conversation back onto this well tread upon topic, you could just read my post from last year called "Evil, Author Unknown" to get some idea as to where I'm coming from. But, I would appreciate the benefit of the doubt in the meantime that I am not trying to "explain away" tragic evils, and I think about the most extreme examples as well to make sure my heart still holds water. that's not the only place to look though. I must also look to scripture, which is where I find this a difficult yet constant statement throughout the narrative.
    question for you: How can God make promises that He has no power to bring about, and could very well not happen if things don't go according to His plans? I agree that some promises/covenants are conditional, but the eschaton is not one that would fit in that category in my opinion. It kind of seems like God's ego could be writing checks His body can't cash. If you're going to assert that He is powerless to insert His will in contradiction to creation's, then His promises are mere fluff that have no baring on actual outcomes. I might as well promise that the Cubs will win the World Series, then when it doesn't happen claim that it would've happened if they had only made the playoffs. You'd think twice about my next "promise" right? You'd probably just call it a prediction, b/c that's what it would be.

  • At 6:02 PM, January 24, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    I think the eschaton is the quintessential example of promise of the covenant as conditional. God will hold up God's side but we have to hold up our side. If we don't it won't be realized. That is why the New Jerusalem is not fully realized, because of our response.
    Also I think that Ryan and Nutshell are attaching a different meaning to the word "prediction". It seems that Ryan is using it similarly to "predicting the weather". Jeff is using it in the sense of foretelling. God is not saying "THIS is how it is going to be". He is making a promise about how it is going to be. But this promise depends on human response.
    I don't think God's promises are mere fluff. I think that he has chosen to work within his world through humanity to reconcile all things unto himself.

  • At 9:41 PM, January 24, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    you're right about the "prediction" distinction, that's what I thought he meant.

    I also don't believe God's promises are mere fluff. But that's because I know God has the power to bring them about, and that He will. I view humanity as being responsible for their actions, not responsible for God's plans/promises. The eschaton is a promise of what God will definitely do, period. There is no debate about whether or not it will happen, so therefore under no conditions will this never happen. So, ultimately it's not an example of a conditional promise. I understand your point though, and that He calls us to respond is not up for debate.

    We will probably not get completely on the same ground b/c you guys believe that humanity can thwart God's plan, and I definitely do not. So for you all, humanity could somehow screw this up for God and it could all go wrong (or at least that's the way I would view it if I were you). It's interesting how many conversations end at that root when you trace back the beliefs.

  • At 11:46 AM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    Do you then see God's call as mere fluff? You admitted that God calls and humanity must respond whether faithfully or unfaithfully. But whatever way humanity responds doesn't really matter because God's promise will be fulfilled. So God's calling doesn't really matter and human response doesn't matter because for God's promises to be fulfilled is not contingent on humanity's response to God's call.

  • At 11:49 AM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    It is interesting how our conversations always go back to this root. I am in a class that is based on the concepts of dialogue and difference. I find it interesting that we can continue to dialogue despite the differences in our basic convictions.

  • At 11:59 AM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Gabe said…


    I think I get what you are saying, so correct me if I mischaracterize your position. It sounds like you are saying (let's just take the example of Moses and the divorce laws) that morality is a human construction and that, in this case, Moses constructed a morality based upon the Word given from God and handed this humanly constructed morality down to the people in the form of law. It sounds like you are making a distinction between the actual Word of God and the constructed moral statements handed down by the humans (Moses) responsible for transmitting that Word.

    If I haven't mangled your position, then it makes sense to me. I realize I may be moving on to a different question, but I then want to ask, "How do we know the difference?" All of God's Word (I think we would all agree) is transmitted by other human beings. If Moses could decree that God permits divorce, but Moses spoke for God out of his own constructed morality (a morality Jesus declares as deficient), then how can we know which is which?

    And, further, isn't at least part of the way I go about discerning the actual Word (Will?) of God by attending to my own conscience? I may be able to agree in theory that, if God calls me to do something that violates my conscience, I must obey God and not conscience. But, in reality, that command to violate my moral conscience will come from a HUMAN other. And isn't at least one of the ways in which I determine whether or not that human other (and I am including the human authors of Scripture here) is speaking the actual Word of God and not their own moral construction of that Word by whether or not my conscience can bear it?

    Example. I have plenty of Christians in my life (including family members) who think that I am disobeying God's Word when it comes to how my marriage is structured (I'm sure you probably have some similar experiences with various areas similar to this). Now, I have worked very hard to construct what I believe to be a theologically-sound, biblically-based defense for an egalitarian marital structure (and Church structure, as well). But, if I am honest, I have to admit that at least PART of the motivation for doing so has to do with the fact that a more hierarchical structure offends my moral sensibilities. See what I'm saying? I realize I have a bit of an anit-authority streak in me (just one of my many hang-ups), but I have a hard time trusting anyone who claims to speak for God - especially when that "Word" asks me to violate my conscience.

  • At 2:54 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…


    Your question is one I have wrestled with (and still wrestle with), and, as I understand it, it gets at the heart of fear and trembling (both as Kierkegaard used it and as Paul did). We don't KNOW that the voice we hear is God; we must FAITH that it is. (This is an issue that many disagree with, saying that faith is a form of knowing. In my opinion, the verb "to know" has become too objective and cognitive in modernity, so I would rather use the verb "to faith," a more relational term.) For Kierkegaard, faith picked up where reason left off, and this is where I disagree with him and prefer Augustine, who said he believed in order to understand.

    I agree that all revelation is mediated, not only by human beings, but by other elements of Creation as well. Nature contains limitless revelation, and Creational structures reveal God's word as well. Because of the fall, the message is not always transmitted accurately, even by the redeemed.

    You asked how we know regarding specific moral issues, but I think we need to take it back further. How do we know that the Word of God we first accepted as such when we chose to be followers of God was, in fact, the Word of God? For most of us, believing was not a rational experience. I believed (or faithed) because I was embraced by a community that believed and told me that it was so. My conscience may have had something to do with it, but it was not the final authority.

    I can relate to your specific example; the plan for my wife and me was that I would work to support her while she went to school. As it's turned out, I can't work, so I stay home and cook and clean (more of the former than the latter), while she goes to school. A structure such as this and similar others, such as female pastors and teachers, would once have offended my conscience. Now, however, I believe it to be a faithful response.

    Therefore, my conscience is not the authority for determining what is and is not from God, though it is part of it. If it were, I would never have arrived at the conclusions I have. As people of faith, we must be discerning, and that involves the consceince as well as the rational mind, and it always takes place within a faith community, whether a church body or a school of philosophy or theology.

    I strongly sympathize with you anti-authoritarian tendencies. I am very skeptical of people who say "thus sayeth the Lord" without any evidence of fear and trembling (I'm not talking about timidity here).

    This is much more a stream on conscious collection of my thoughts than a reasoned argument, but I hope it's helpful.

  • At 3:39 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…


    I think my roommate cleared up the prediction predicament, and I think we can all agree that we don't think God's promises are fluff. Just like Chris, I do not want to minimize the human responsibility in answering the call. I do not think that God is powerless to bring about his promises, I believe quite the contrary. But because God has truly given power to creation, he cannot suddenly revoke that power in order to bring the peace of the kingdom of heaven to a war torn earth. We must prepare the way of the Lord, and the covenant calls us to sojourn with God to bring about the kingdom. We cannot just sit on our hands waiting for an all powerful God to change the world for us. We must uphold the covenant and usher in the kingdom of God who has given us the real power to do so.

    Much of my theological understanding is based on Sallie McFague who argues (quite convincingly) that we must use metaphors (since that is the only way we can talk about God) that are helpful. I agree with her analysis that the metaphor of an all powerful, warrior God is not helpful in our time. It has led both to militarism (there is a reason Bush is so fascinated with the Middle East) and escapism (look at the Left Behind books and the typical American Evangelical apathy towards the environment). I believe that the metaphor of a covenant God who works alongside creation to resolve evil is a more helpful metaphor at this time. However, I have no intention of being as arrogant as the theologians of the past and arguing that this is the only metaphor for all time. This is merely a helpful metaphor for this time, especially for people in a country who have incredible power for both good and evil.

    The mercy/wrath paradigm is how most classical theologians explain the presence of evil against the problem of evil (1. God is all powerful 2. God is all loving and good 3. There is evil). They argue that even though God has predetermined the entire existence of the world in the eternal moment, that evil is only enacted by humans. In order to make sense of this, they argue that God is only perfect in both mercy and wrath. When men, women, and children are killed (either in the Old Testament, in hell, or in the Iraq war) it is because God judged them in perfect wrath. This judgement proves God's perfect justice. At the same time God is said to be merciful, so even though all of humanity participates in evil, he chooses to save some and this demonstrates his perfect mercy. Mercy is thus dependant upon wrath, and it is said that God could not have one without the other. In a sense, we would have never known God's mercy if it were not for the presence of evil (just as we would not appreciate light if we had never experienced darkness).

    Karl Barth is a seminal (I hate using that word) theologian, and the most widely read modern theologian today (especially in America, they loved him here, even though he always told them that they didn't understand him). A list of the "mega" theologians would include Aquinas, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Barth (I would include more than that personally, but this would be a typical undergraduate survey of ecumenical Christian theology). One of Barth's major contributions (his Church Dogmatics alone is over 6 million words, so he has contributed a lot) is his argument against the mercy/wrath paradigm by claiming that it finds no place in the cross. Because Barth held to a highly Christocentric theology, he often argued that if a doctrine could not be found in the revelation of Jesus Christ that it was most likely an improper construction of the church. I have yet to find a convincing argument for the wrath/mercy paradigm since, but would be very interested in reading one. That’s why I asked if you supported it and if you would be able to point me in the direction of one. It would be helpful to me to find a good rebuttal.

  • At 3:47 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…

    By the way Buddy, an excellent blog you have here. I wish I had such good discussions on mine. Thanks for letting me crash yours. :)

    Oh, and J Dod., thanks for the well-wishing. In my paper I am attempting to borrow a matrix from Wendell Berry and use it to take a horizontal slice out of (get this) classical, open, and process theology, and then to point to something beyond. This is the direction that Nik first pushed me in, and so far its received a decent response. The matrix I am borrowing sets up pride and despair against joy and grief. It is out of "The Body and the Earth," and I found that it helps me to frame the three theologies relation towards time. If you are interested, I can explain more, it would help to have other people to talk it through with. (Chris is getting sick of it already).

  • At 3:57 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Chris, I don't see God's calling or human action as fluff whatsoever. I just don't believe that God is dependant on humanity. He can tell us to do something, but no matter what we choose to do about that command His will, ultimately has the last word. That doesn't mean that the human response has no consequences (without consequences or effects the calling might be mere fluff).

    Gabe and Buddy, I think you guys both just said a lot of great things. I for one was greatly encouraged by the heartfelt nature in which you spoke. I think (going back to Chris' statement about why we continue to dialogue) that this kind of thing is the reason. In the pursuit of truth, there are hearts involved that long to beat together. Acknowledging the lack of unity of thought only spurns my heart towards more dialogue, not to walk away. Only when the pursuit itself is in question does my heart want to wander from the dialogue, finding it empty and void of hope.

    i've struggled with the issue you guys are bringing up more than anything else in my spiritual journey. I would echo some of Buddy's thoughts on the matter, especially concerning the conscious. So many things hinge on where we place our true flag. If scripture says it, is that the final word? If it doesn't feel right to us, is that the final word? The latter is definitely not where the Jews were coming from, being much less independant-driven people and more group centered.

    And again one could argue that another word for conscious could be the Spirit who lives inside trying to steer us somehow. Those 2 voices are sometimes one and the same, sometimes not at all. Can I listen to a God who tells me things that I don't like to hear? Only if he calls me "baby pie," that's my one condition.

  • At 4:12 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Nutshell, I have heard the wrath/mercy paradigm now that you explain it, but like you I don't ascribe to it. I'm sorry I don't have a good rebuttal for you.
    I would claim that we have a false sense of the standard of evil. There is no standard of evil that exists on its own (as dualism would claim), it only exists b/c we do. Meaning, God cannot possibly do evil b/c He is not held up to a standard called good/evil and judged accordingly. So all things can be ordained and carried through by God, and none of His actions would be evil/wrong. Humans on the other hand, have responsibility and opportunity to come down on either side of the standard, which is why all of the evil is only enacted by them, for they are the only ones to which the standard of evil applies. tell me if that makes sense to you or if you have questions.

  • At 5:48 PM, January 25, 2006, Anonymous Jeff Dodson said…

    I haven't read all of the most recent posts yet so I'll probably comment more later. I have two quick things right now though.

    Jeff, I would love to talk about your paper. I'm always up for a good discussion.

    Buddy, I like the word "confidence." It seems to get past the (as you point out) objective, cognitive connotations of "knowing." It also avoids the irrational overtones of the word "faith." I also think it is a relational term.

  • At 7:12 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…

    Ryan and Chris, I think the two of you could find a point of understanding by considering the story of God's people wandering in the desert. God had promised his people a land to call their own (how they were to acquire that land has become a point of disagreement, but I think we can agree that a promised land is a constant theme throughout Scripture). God sent his people to enter the land, but they were afraid and many (including Moses) were not allowed to enter. After the unfaithful had died, those who trusted God were allowed to take the land.

    This shows the interaction between human responsibility and God's power. What God promised came true, but not until his people responded faithfully (this story is one reason why I can't accept that God didn't want the conquest of Canaan, but that's not the point I want to make here).

    Concerning the eschaton, I think Chris would agree that it will be fulfilled when (not if, an important distinction) God's people respond faithfully to his call. So God's promises will come to pass, but when is determined by human response.

  • At 7:34 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    I prefer the word "trust", it is relational. Also, would you say that revelation did not need to be interpreted before the fall?

    J Dod,
    "Confidence" seems to push aside the "Fear and Trembling" (especially since I read Berry's "The Burden of The Gospels).

    I'm sick of you.

    It seems that if God's promise was not contingent on humanity's response to be fulfilled it would seem that God's calling and humanity's response would be meaningless. Is God just trying to make us believe that His calling is meaningful? Because it doesn't seem like it matter if we followed it or not because God's promise is going to be fulfilled whatever we do.
    It seems like God has, as Nutshell said, given us power. But furthermore, he has entered a relationship with us in the covenant. It seems to me that in every promise God made in the Bible, it's fulfillment depended on human response. If any don't, would you please point me to them? (this is an honest question, not meant to be sarcastic).

    I was going to write more but I forgot.

  • At 8:16 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    You aren't supposed to post while I am writing a really long post and then delete half of it so it takes 2 hours to write.
    So anyway...
    I think that all God's promises depend on human response. But they can be divided into "when" and "if" we respond faithfully. Some of them will be fulfilled "when" we respond faithfully, such as the eschaton...I trust humanity and some of them will be fulfilled "if" we respond faithfully, such as the story of Zedekiah in Jeremiah. Zedekiah is promised that he will die in peace and be buried with his fathers in Jer. 34:5. In Chapter 38 God calls him to surrender to the Babylonians, and he will not die, and his city will not be burnt. But he fought, fled and was caught. We see in Jer. 39, that his sons are killed before his eyes, his eyes are gouged out and he is chained and carried to Babylon. Where he will die in jail. This isn't dying in peace or being buried with his fathers. God's promise of a peaceful death and burial with his father's depended on Zedekiah's faithful response to God's call to surrender. He did not faithfully respond and surrendor and then did not die peacefully and in Babylon where his father's were not buried.
    So I'm happy with the "if" and "when" distinction

  • At 9:50 PM, January 25, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    I think we can find a lot of common ground, and I agree with your points on "if" and "when" types of covenants. I would say that the human consequences (Zedekiah) are great examples of what happens when humans don't respond correctly. We agree on what we're supposed to do, and I honestly believe that we both put the same level of importance on our actions (i'm not at all sitting on my hands waiting for some God to do my job for me)... all we disagree on is that God can do what He pleases, He is not bound by any so called power that we might have.

  • At 10:42 PM, January 26, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…

    I ought to say that "omni" types of theology does not necessarily cause people to "sit on their hands." There are many people who have worked from these theological structures and done great things. My father would be the example of one. While he has held to traditional Evangelical beliefs, he has always struggled to put the needs of his neighbor first. That is the difficult thing about doctrinal theology, it does not always lead to the practice one would expect.

    I am merely attempting to work out a theology that is helpful to those that have been harmed by traditional theology, and to work out an alternative meaning to being Christian. I personally saw a great deal of racism, classism, militarism, escapism, and sexism in the church (my father was a pastor), and saw how people connected certain doctrines with these practices. I can no longer hold to those doctrines, and believe that there is an alternative voice in the biblical story. I only argue strongly against certain doctrines because I see how they have paralyzed some people and hurt others. But these doctrines cannot always be blamed a person’s actions.

    If a person has extremely different theological views than myself, but still cares for their neighbor, and is concerned about their impact on the world around them (in not only a spiritual, but also ecological, economic, and physical way), I readily embrace that person. Theology only matters to an extent. It is the religious foundings of a person that causes them to act in certain ways, and that is what truly matters. Theology is only a reflection upon those religious foundings (though I do not always understand how some people reconcile the two), and I am only apt to strongly disagree with someone if their theology is harming another part of creation. Orthopraxy ought to be prioritized before orthodoxy (by which I mean right belief, not traditional belief). I would assume that this is where all of us are in agreement. A healthy Christian community requires theological differentiation. The signs of health are not found in doctrines, but in the practical out workings of the community.

    And Jeff, I'd love to bounce the idea of my paper off of you. I would feel better emailing you than clogging up Buddy's blog with it, so I'll just get your address from Chris. Thanks.

  • At 8:58 AM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Gabe said…


    Thanks, that actually helps quite a bit. You've helped me articulate a bit better what I think I have been leaning toward for some time now.

    I like your definition of Faith as a relational term. I've been thinking a lot about what Faith is lately, and I would agree that it would at least have to be fundamentally relational in substance.

    I also agree that conscience cannot be final authority in discernment of God's Word, but I have experienced in practice far too little tolerance in the Christian community for the kind of struggle and wrestling required for this kind of discernment. A little less "heretical" and "backsliding/worldly Christian" talk and a little more Fear and Trembling would be nice, I think.

    Perhaps I am a bit on the same track as Jeffinanutshell, as I do think that the outcome of the Christian life is even more important than "believing all the right things" (sorry, I'm paraphrasing - that may not totally represent Jeffinanutshell's position. My training is in Psychology, not Theology or Philosophy, so I may not get the details of the concepts right). I certainly think, however, that the New Testament authors emphasized a way of life far more than specific doctrinal beliefs. Paul even seems to explicitly state that one can be right as rain and, without love as the outcome, still be wrong - specifically a big, loud, obnoxious noise!

    Hey, I think I just described the church I grew up in.

  • At 10:13 AM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Nutshell, thank you for clarifying, I agree with your conclusions. Although, it kind of reminded me of thinking in a different scenario that I disagree with, so I'd like to probe a little further. First of all, all of those things you listed as having experienced and been linked to this certain doctorine, you would ultimately have to agree are linked to sin first. We do those things b/c we are sinful, not 1 to 1 that we have certain doctorinal stances. I agree that a certain outlook can fuel an already sinful mindset in a person. But here's my point... some people have had such bad experiences with people within a church that they refuse to believe in Christ. What your line of thinking would lead people to do would be to change Christ, not change the sinful mindsets of the people claiming to follow Him. If the Christ they're believing in is causing them to act in this way, we should come up with a new version (or doctorine) that will be encouraging people to be less sinful.

    I just don't see evaluating something based on that being a goog starting point. I start with "Is it truth?" If it is, then we need to learn how to live in right relationship with God in that knowledge, not run from it. If there is no truth there, then by all means we need to keep searching. I'm not attacking your specific theology here and saying there's no truth in it, just questioning the mindset that drove you to dig for it. make sense?

  • At 5:20 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…


    You said exactly what I was getting at in far fewer words, and I congratulate you. I don't think you lost anything in the paraphrase. It may be better to filter all my ramblings through you.


    Yes, the bad experiences were based in sin, but not the idea of sin that the church I grew up in had. They believed sin was going to a movie theater, dancing, drinking, and masturbating.

    And I believe that the office of Christ can be a bit more flexible than you seem to believe. Christ is not Jesus' last name, it is an office that we attribute to him at great risk. And even then, I believe that I am recapturing the radical message of Jesus. I do not think I am trying to change the message or actions of Jesus, I think I am trying to change the conception of him.

    I cannot claim truth either. What is truth? We can only interpret what Jesus said and did, and no one interpretation will be agreed upon. I would agree with McFague by saying that Jesus desired "every creature living fully." The church I grew up in would say that Jesus wanted me to attend two Sunday services and never drink alcohol. I don't have a problem with people who do not drink alcohol, or attend church regularly. I do have a problem when they run minorities out of their neighborhood and emotionally abuse their wives. I have a problem when they treat a single mother living on welfare like a worthless piece of #### and wonder why we can't just let their families starve.

    My point was that not everyone in the church was like that. My father certainly wasn't, but their doctrinal views were the same. They did not have extremely different interpretations of what it meant to follow Jesus. They claimed to know the same "truth." This is exactly the problem with claiming to know truth. Knowing Jesus has nothing to do with intellectual propositions. Biblical knowing is more tied to sexual intimacy and practical work like farming. To "know" in the biblical sense is to do, it is to take action. I am not concerned whether or not someone "knows" the "truth" (whatever they think it is). I am concerned with whether they are working towards every creature living fully.

    I'm not sure if that makes sense, because I am not completely clear on what you meant (especially your last paragraph). I agree that we do wrong to one another because we are sinful, and our sin is not necessarily tied to our doctrinal affiliation. I feel like you agree with me there. I do not believe that I am trying to change the office of Christ (or the historical figure of Jesus). Do you think I am? If so, how? And on "truth", I disagree. Someone is following the example of Jesus (or fulfilling the office of Christ, however you want to phrase it) when they are preforming redemptive acts. Even if they do not know of Jesus, they are acting as little christs when they preform redemptive acts.

  • At 12:16 AM, January 28, 2006, Anonymous Jeff Dodson said…


    I find myself agreeing with most of what you've said. I too want to reject the reduction of truth to propositions. The privileging of right belief over right action is undoubtedly problematic.

    However, your last post contains a few statements that I've been thinking hard on lately and want to explore. You said, "Knowing Jesus has nothing to do with intellectual propositions... I am not concerned whether or not someone 'knows' the 'truth' ... I am concerned with whether they are working towards every creature living fully."

    Is it possible to utterly divorce "knowing Jesus" from propsitional or cognitive knowledge of Jesus? Doesn't at least part of knowing Jesus entail knowing who he is (as, perhaps, revealed in the [propositional] Nicaean Creed). How can we know Jesus relationally if we cannot distinguish that Jesus from another religious figure?

    Let me get at the concern from another angle. Paul [Colossians] and John [his epistles] had some very harsh words to say about the Gnostic teaching about Jesus. Their contention was not so much that they were living incorrectly as much as it was their teaching about Jesus was false (ie, incorrect belief--heterodoxy). What do you make of this?

    J.I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, says that there are two inseperable sides to knowledge of God. The first is knowledge about God. The second is knowing God in a relational sense. This makes sense to me.

    The reason I've been thinking about this lately is because I have the same questions when I read books by Emergent church folk.

    What are your (and others') thoughts?

  • At 9:15 AM, January 28, 2006, Blogger jeffinanutshell said…

    You are correct Jeff, I worded that sentence much to strongly. Knowledge does require a cognitive aspect, but full knowing also requires action. One cannot know another (in the "biblical sense") without knowing them cognitively first, nor can one complete a practical task like sowing wheat without first have a cognitive idea of how to do so, and what the implications of that sowing are.

    It would be better to say that the full sense of knowing involves both the cognitive and the active. Merely knowing how to sow wheat is worthless without the action. Only cognitive knowing will lead to starvation. (I don't want to stretch this analogy too far).

    So how do I hold to practical action as more important than cognitive knowledge? I will have to think about it more, but I still believe that people act redemptively without cognitively knowing of Jesus (or having cognitively rejected him). I know that a Jew, a Muslim, or someone who believes in the myth of progress can act redemptively, and thus act as Christ.

    Perhaps we could speak of a fullness found in those that cognitively attribute their actions to Christ? You are right, we cannot divorce knowing from the cognitive. But there is something to the person who does not agree with me doctrinally (or even from a different faith) that is feeding the homeless in this city (my neighbors) that is more Christlike than myself. I want to say that they are more than just nice people - because they are. A nice person is someone who holds a door open for you. A person that is giving life to another is fulfilling the role of Christ in a profound way, whether they "know" it or not.

    What do you think?

  • At 9:54 AM, January 28, 2006, Anonymous Jeff Dodson said…

    I agree... sort of. Those who feed the hungry are more than simply "nice." They are profoundly more human than than one who is self-serving. But doesn't the doctrine of Common Grace provide ample room for making sense of this? All people, Christians or not, are recipients of God's grace and can therefore be good mothers, good students, etc.

    The question I keep coming back to (and want to press you on) is this: If we reduce Christianity to praxis, is there a difference between being a faithful Christian and a consistent humanist? Is there a reason why one should be a Christian and not a humanist?

  • At 4:49 PM, January 28, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Nutshell, I apologize, it seems as though my point wasn't very clear. Let me try to re-phrase... as you've pointed out, doctorine doesn't necessarily dictate action. we all agree on the fullness of knowing being knowledge and action together. you place more emphasis on action than knowing, which i try to treat them as the same, but either way we see mostly the same way. i don't really want to go there right now.
    what i'm trying to get at is that your theology seems very reactitonary. these people were offensive, they had this doctorine, so you tend to shy away from it. even though others you respected also had it and it didn't lead to the actions you hated. therefore, we can determine that just looking at the people and judging the truth from that is a very hazy standard for decision making. one group of people would tell you that obviously their doctorine is incorrect, while another would tell you that theirs is obviously correct, but it's the same doctorine. so how do you make the decision to react against a theology you know can't be truly to blame?


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