Monday, August 18, 2014

Thoughts on Historical Criticism and Fundamentalism and Inconsequential theology/ethics from Resident Aliens

From Resident Aliens:

Historical Criticism and Fundamentalism- two sides of the same coin: 
"Tragically, many of us are trying to preach without scripture and to interpret scripture without the church. Fundamentalist biblical interpretation and higher criticism of the Bible are often two sides of the same coin. The fundamentalist interpreter has roots in the Scottish Common Sense school of philosophy (fundamentalism is such a modernist heresy), which asserted that propositions are accessible to any thinking, rational person. Any rational person ought to be able to see the common sense of the assertion that God created the heavens and the earth. A Christian preacher merely has to assert these propositions, which, because they are true, are understandable to anybody with common sense.
This historical-critical method denies the fundamentalist claim. Scripture, higher-criticism asserts, is the result of a long historical process. One must therefore apply sophisticated rules and tools of historical analysis to a given biblical text, because one cannot understand the text without understanding its true context. Presumably, anybody who applies the correct historical tools will be able to understand the text.
Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone's being a member of the community for which the Bible is scripture. Perhaps the recent enthusiasm for so-called inductive preaching- preaching that attempts to communicate the gospel indirectly, inductively through stories rather than through logical, deductive reasoning- is an attempt to understand scripture without being in the church. Inductive preaching presents the gospel in a way that enables everyone to "make up his or her own mind." But we suspect that scripture wonders if we have a mind worth making up! Minds worth making up are those with critical intelligence, minds trained to judge the true from the false on the basis of something more substantial than their own, personal subjectivism." (pg.163-164)

Theology and Ethics:
"Not that we are much better off in our seminary courses in theology and ethics. There we are introduced to assorted theories of moral rationality and justification. We debate whether or not a deontological or a teleological ethic is to be preferred; or what is the correct understanding of love and justice. Christian ethics and theology are reduced to intellectual dilemmas, schemes of typology rather than an account of how the church practically discusses what it ought to be. The situation is aggravated as contemporary theologians and ethicists write for other theologians and ethicists rather than for those in ministry. Which helps explain why those in ministry read fewer and fewer books on theology and ethics. It also explains why he have the new discipline of "practical theology," which is supposed to translate academic theology into something usable. Theology, to be Christian, is by definition practical. Either it serves the formation of the church or it is trivial and inconsequential. Preachers are the acid test of theology that would be Christian. Alas, too much theology today seems to have as its goal the convincing of preachers that they are too dumb to understand real theology. Before preachers buy into that assumption, we would like preachers to ask themselves if the problem lies with theologies which have become inconsequential."  (Pg.164-165)

Talk by MIT Chemist on the integration of science and faith (two thumbs up)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Found a new resource today.

It has a listing of major books, articles, commentaries and other stuff that is categorized for each book of the bible as well as bigger categories like OT, NT or biblical theology. Some of them are links to free pdf's. Below is their purpose:


To make high quality theological material available throughout the world, thus providing Bible teachers and pastors with the resources they need to spread the Gospel in their countries. This is achieved by:
  • Digitising and uploading in co-operation with authors and publishers, rare and out-of-print theology books and articles. Over 20,000 articles are now available for free download here or via the subject menus on the left hand side of the page.
  • Providing detailed bibliographies for Seminary level students and ministers.
  • Providing a single cross-linked resource made up of five websites collectively known as "Theology on the Web". Click here to read more. You should also be aware of the disclaimer here.

Intro to Modernism and Postmodernism

john Stackhouse : Postmodernism: A Bad Thing? A Good Thing? Or Just a Thing? from CSPS on Vimeo.

An informative and entertaining presentation of the last few hundred years of western philosophy and society from "modernism to post-modernism".

Interesting new thoughts for me was calling postmodernism a "ptsd" movement...a reaction to the war, disappointment and failure of the enlightenment process. I like and agree with his consensus of Postmodernism as not a good thing, a bad thing but just a thing

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Barth on the church and the word of God

Karl Barth- God Here and Now:

"The sovereignty of the Word of God is always the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. When the Church recognizes in the witness of the prophets and the apostles its own foundation, the source of all wisdom and the norm of its teaching and life; when it dares in obedience, in the exposition and application of this witness, to proclaim God's Word itself; when it baptizes in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; when it calls men to the Lord's Supper as to the visible proclamation of the death of Jesus Christ and thus to the true spiritual food of His body and blood given for us; and further, when this witness runs and works in the Church itself and in the world; when it awakens to life but also executes justice; when it brings peace but also causes discomfort, struggle, and suffering; when it gives answers but also raises new questions; when men are called out of the world so that they are sent forth again into the same world as sheep among wolves; when the question of the just state is raised by the free gospel in an unavoidable way- then all of that, together and in each of its parts, insofar as it happens in truth and non in mere appearance, all of that is the one sovereign act of the Word of God as it unfolds, reaches out near and far, works directly or indirectly. Always it is He himself, Jesus the Lord, who is acting in all that." (pg.19-20)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Athanasius views of Creation

Here is a great excerpt from Athanasius' book "on the Incarnation" that presents his views of creation. It is valuable for seeing the traditional and classic christian views of creation that were strongly and clearly communicated already 300-400 years after Christ's death. I am not well versed with the "creation debate", but I think any christian who tries to reconcile the science of evolution with the teaching of Scripture should not easily sidestep or wipe away these two pillars of christian thought: (1) There is a mind behind the universe and (2) God created "ex-nihilo" out of nothing- he was pre-existent before matter. I would be interested to see how. (For a website supporting the dialogue between orthodox christianity and modern science see

(2) In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self-originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.

Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.

Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis,

“He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female . . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” 

How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says,

“All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being.”

How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

(3) Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;4

and again through that most helpful book The Shepherd,

“Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.”5

Paul also indicates the same thing when he says,

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which we see now did not come into being out of things which had previously appeared.”6

Saturday, August 2, 2014

C.S. Lewis on reading classics (from his introduction to Athanasius' "on the incarnation")

Some great wisdom from C.S. Lewis about reading classic books and a "mere christianity" passed down throughout the ages that can challenged our fashionable modern attempts at christianity. the preface and the whole book can be found here


by C. S. Lewis

here is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

    This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

    Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ("mere Christianity" as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

    Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.