Ascension: Our Glory & the Bible’s Hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconToday in the Christian Church Calendar is Ascension Day, where we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven after his resurrection and now sitting at “the right hand of God the Father.”

The Useless Ascension

“Ascension” doesn’t get a lot of attention nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it’s an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations. Additionally, the New Testament sees it as the primary proof of Jesus’ divinity and “lordship” and it’s the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament: “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.'” (Remember this verse.)

Maybe we neglect this because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”; and we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart ad nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension isn’t “useful” to us in that way. There’s not much we can “do” with it.

Which is precisely why it’s so valuable. More than many other aspects of the Gospel and Christianity, the Ascension isn’t an “idea” to mull or unpack, but rather “news” to receive and let it act on us.
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Sometimes, Mercy is Sweeter Than Grace


I grew up in a pretty stereotypical Evangelical setting, which led to a pretty stereotypical back-and-forth between guilt and self-righteousness. That is, until I really heard the Gospel of radical Grace.

Many of us have this same story, where it has been so healing to hear that how God relates to us is not, in fact, based on our performance. Instead, everything necessary for God to be pleased with us has been accomplished on our behalf by his Son.

In response to this, we fall in love with God’s Grace. We pray for it, long for it, and cry for it. We read books about it, write about it, and talk about it. We try and speak it into others’ lives while trying to figure out why we don’t apply it to our own. We joyfully build our relationship with God on the glorious foundation of His Grace. It is fundamental, primary, and essential.

In short: we love Grace.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I fell in love with liturgy and ancient forms of worship, to notice the utter lack of “grace” from the prayers and worship of the earliest saints. Continue reading

Protestants, Catholics, Communion–oh my! (Happy Corpus Christi!)


Today is a Christian Holy Day called “Corpus Christi” (Latin for “the body of Christ”). Today we meditate on the mystery of Communion/Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper.

I’ve mentioned some of my Communion views before and what I articulated is a synthesis and summary of the ideas of many theologians, both Protestant and Catholic. And so today, I want talk to all my fellow Protestant brothers and sisters out there.

In my opinion, the popular Evangelical idea of the Catholic view on the Eucharist is not really right or helpful (as is the popular conception of most of Catholic doctrine). Today I want to argue that Catholicism’s “Eucharist problem” is more historical and rhetorical than theological.

Some History

In the earliest decades and centuries of church history, people were able to simply maintain the simple doctrine that at Communion, they are receiving the true presence of Christ in the Bread and the Wine (source, albeit biased). In the middle ages, though, people starting asking themselves “Wait, what does that actually mean?” Differing answers started forming and a diversity of opinion about the Eucharist began taking place. The leaders of the Church tried to bring some commonality to this. In fact, the medieval Catholic church made a few “errant” teachers affirm these statements in 1078 and 1079:
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Ascension: Our glory & the Bible’s hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconYesterday in the Christian church calendar was Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.”

The Useless Ascension

The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:

The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.

And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today.
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Dyeing Tulips: Calvinism, “Free” Will, & Losing Our Religion


Rembrandt-Return-ProdigalWell, this little miniseries on Calvinism has been fun.

We’ve talked through a bookthe history,  and reframed the traditional “points” of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement. Today, we will look at the final two emphases of Calvinist belief.

I hope you’ve been challenged to evaluate Calvinism in broader and deeper ways so that, if you already agreed with it, you were challenged in the complexity and nuance of the issues here; and if you did not, that you found Calvinism a bit more inviting and interesting.

For more on just how broad and diverse Calvinist thought it, I can’t more highly reccomend Oliver Crisp’s Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology or the book that initiated this whole discussion, Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. Continue reading

Tweaking Calvinism: Universal Limited Atonement


Adel-Abdesemmed-razor-blade-crucifix-jesus-2

UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

I recently offered some proposals on some “less intense” (yet still Reformed) articulations of Calvinism (see above). The election (of a different kind) derailed those posts for a bit, but I wanted to pick it up today, by talking about the most controversial of the “points” of Calvinism: Limited Atonement.

This is the most controversial of Calvinism’s points, but it’s also the most logical. The least charitable way to explain it is to say that Jesus only died for Christians and not others. The more charitable way is that there is not a drop of Jesus’ blood that is shed in vain. God accomplishes what he sets out to do. So traditionally, the belief is that Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross was “limited” to cover only the sins of people that would become Christians.

There seems to be only two options, here, right? Limited or Unlimited? Particular or Universal? How can we approach this in a more winsome and erudite way while still calling ourselves Calvinists?

Atonement is NOT Salvation

This is really important. In my last post, I pointed out that God’s Election is more about our life here-and-now, and less about our future eternal destiny. The same can be said of Atonement.
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Tweaking Calvinism: Unconditional Election?


tulips-red

UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

As our book club is going through Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, I’m blogging some of my thoughts.

In this little Calvinism mini-series, I’ve talked about some of the things that make Calvinism hard for our modern ears, and I’ve begun articulating a broader view of these ideas, by first looking at the “T” (“Total Depravity) of the usual acronym of Calvinist beliefs: TULIP. Today we’ll look at the “U”: Unconditional Election.

Unconditional (Corporate, Vocational) Election

Traditionally, the “U” of TULIP stands for “Unconditional Election”, which simply means that when God chose us as his people, he made this choice on the basis of no condition outside of his own good pleasure. In short, God didn’t choose you because of anything you are or had done. This is true. And yet, it’s not the whole (or even the main) story.

In the Reformation’s move away from the Institutionalism of the medieval Catholic Church, and Scholasticism’s emphasis on the ability and intellect of the individual in society, much of the foundation of Calvinist doctrine was laid in very individualistic terms.

Think about it: each of the five ideas represented by the letters in TULIP are fundamentally about how individuals are reconnected and reconciled to God. I think this really distorts what the Gospel and Christianity (and Calvinism) are about.
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Calvinism: A (Humble) Proposal for Some Tweaks, pt.1


UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

[As our book club is going through Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, I’m blogging some of my thoughts.]

If you have any sense about Calvinism, its reputation, and what it believes, you probably know that it is not especially popular. Contemporary Calvinists nearly always fall into one of only two camps: irritating, uncharitable jerks that are unapologetic for their Calvinism; and kind, warm people that too apologetic about it. In other words, you have the “damn right, I’m a Calvinist” crowd, and the “I wish I wasn’t a Calvinist, but it just makes sense to me” people.

Depending on my coffee and/or alcohol intake, I can be either one. But I definitely think (and hope) I lean more towards the latter.

I started out my Calvinistic journey in college as I sat under a sermon miniseries on the topic that utterly convinced me of the truth of the doctrines. I’m going on over a decade now having sat with these beliefs and (in my opinion) truths, and I’ve watched then morph and shift over time in my soul.

I definitely began the journey as the arrogant, tight-fisted, dogmatic Calvinist that generally annoyed anyone that didn’t agree with me. I also hurt a lot of suffering people. I acted in good faith, thinking that changing the doctrinal minds of others would unlock such joy and security in such a big God. Sometimes this happened. A lot of times it didn’t.
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Calvinism: What it Is, and Why it’s Crazy


John_Calvin_by_HolbeinUPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

This month, our Theology Book Club is going through Richard Mouw’s remarkable book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, in which he articulates a vision for how Calvinists might understand and hold their doctrinal convictions.

But first, what is this “Calvinism” thing I’m talking about?

Every school of thought has some core foundation on top of which they build every thing else–some assumption that guides and shapes the rest. In that sense, Calvinism is a cluster of beliefs that are centered around the idea that Jesus is Lord, or (in more traditional language), that the Triune God is uncompromisingly sovereign and has no competition in this area. That is the center of Calvinism from which everything else fans out. As Mouw summarizes:

“Unlike other traditions, Calvinism rigorously guards this emphasis on divine sovereignty by refusing to allow any other theological point to detract from it. [So] when Calvinists get around to attempting to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom, we are so concerned to protect the former that we are willing to risk sounding like we are waffling on the latter rather than to imply in any way that God’s power is limited.” (p.27)

If you’re only somewhat familiar with Calvinism, you likely think it was some archaic belief mainly held by cranky medieval Christians and Puritans that said God was in absolute control of every little thing and human free will was largely an illusion. Further, you may also have some vague sense that it’s super depressing, focuses almost entirely on how bad and useless humans are, and had some role in creating the American work ethic.

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The Belgic Confession: Church, State, & Reformation


church-state-puzzle

As I prepare for ordination in the Reformed Church in America, I am wrestling with the documents, Creeds, and Confessions to which I will be committing myself. I invite you to reflect alongside me.

In the Belgic Confession, one of the most foundational documents of the Reformed tradition, there is an incredibly odd Article towards the end–number 36. It is about the Civil Government and it says, among other things:

We believe that because of the depravity of the human race, our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers. God wants the world to be governed by laws and policies so that human lawlessness may be restrained and that everything may be conducted in good order among human beings….

And the government’s task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word….

The whole of the Confession is worth your time and reading. It is beautiful and ecumenical. Its desire is to bring people together and articulate the Reformed tradition in a charitable and loving way. And yet, this Article–the next to the last one in the whole writing–sticks out like a sore thumb in both tone and content. It’s so confusing. Why is it written this way? What do we make of it today?

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