Tag Archives | theology

Theology Comes Standard | Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Kevin J. VanhoozerTheology is not a luxury, an optional extra (like leather trim), but a standard operating feature (like a steering wheel) of the pastorate.

—Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 27.

The Pentecostals | Walter J. Hollenweger

The cover of Hollenweger's The PentecostalsIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I laughed and cringed—often during the same page. With the passion of a genealogical researcher, Hollenweger uncovers the history of our pentecostal ancestors in all of its glory and absurdity, its passion and pragmatism.

Hollenweger has been viewed as the granddaddy of Pentecostal research for good reason. His doctoral dissertation, Handbuch der Pfingstbewegung, was a ten volume study of global pentecostalism, the first of its kind. Yes, you read that correctly. Ten volumes! That is what makes The Pentecostals so great.

Perhaps aware that not many people would read his ten volume German dissertation, he condensed his findings into a 500 page Enthusiastisches Christentum: die Pfingstbewegung in Geschichte und Gegenwart which appears in English translation as The Pentecostals. Hollenweger is generous while remaining appropriately critical. Through judicious quoting of source material (the early Pentecostals were know for their prolific production of journals), Hollenweger allows the reader to feel the ethos of the early Pentecostals. He approached his work in two ways.

First, Hollenweger traces the history of pentecostalism. He begins in the United States with the story of Parham and Seymour which most pentecostals are aware of, but he does not stop there. The first half of the book explains how pentecostalism broke out worldwide, from the United states to Brazil, South Africa, and various countries in Europe.

Second, Hollenweger looks at the theology of the diverse pentecostal movement in appropriate categories such as the understanding of scripture, the Trinity, and demonology. This is where Hollenweger applies a more critical lens to the movement. Consider his insight on the gifts of the Spirit (and remember, he wrote this in 1969):

We must look beyond the gifts of the Spirit which are manifested in the Pentecostal movement to find modern gifts of the Spirit: the gifts of service to society and science. That is, we need gifts that will help us to understand better our sick world of politics, economics and science and to contribute to the task of healing it. (373)

I was raised in a small-town Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada church. In reading Hollenweger’s account I finally understood many of the odd theological quirks I grew up with. This not only helps my self-understanding—it enables me to see the doctrinal roots of my own congregants.

The Pentecostals was as compelling as it was informative. My next task is to read his work on pentecostalism that he wrote at the other end of his career: Pentecostalism. A man who bookended his career with in-depth studies of pentecostalism should be read and valued by thoughtful pentecostals today.

Hollenweger, Walter J. The Pentecostals. Translated by R. A. Wilson. London: SCM Press, 1972.

The Christian Faith| Colin E. Gunton

The cover of Gunton's The Christian FaithSystematic theology makes me nervous.

Think about it for a moment. Systematic theologians organize and distill the Bible (a diverse library of literature composed over many centuries) into one structure. The constant danger for systematists is to improperly exegete scripture to make it fit, not unlike trimming a puzzle piece to force it into place. The best systematic theologians are faithful to scripture and treat their own edifice as provisional. I appreciate Gunton’s acknowledgement in the preface: “the Christian faith cannot without falsification be systematized” (xi).

Gunton has done a remarkable job at condensing the heart of the Christian faith into less than 200 pages. He writes with concise precision. Structurally, he uses the tripartite division of the creeds to focus on the Father and creation, the Son and salvation, and the Spirit and eschatology. Gunton’s theology is deeply trinitarian.

Most helpful is Gunton’s understanding of eschatology. Eschatology is not something that only happens in the future when this world is over. Eschatology is the in-breaking of the Spirit of God in the midst of our time in order to bring all creation to its rightful end. This has powerful implications for us. A right understanding of Spirit baptism leads us to reject escapist fantasies that place all hope in the future. Instead, we value the present as the time when we experience God’s perfecting power in our daily lives.

[The Spirit] teaches us to find perfection in the ordinary and power in weakness. That is the way things are transformed this side of the end. (172)

The Christian Faith is nothing to be nervous about. Colin E. Gunton has provided a clear and concise overview of the Trinity and His creation.

—Colin E. Gunton, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2002).

Torrence’s Incarnation 6.3: The Patristic Doctrine of Christ

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationNow that we have considered the hypostatic union and the relationship between this union and the atonement, it’s time to consider how to examine this in light of Patristic theology.

a) The differing strands in Patristic theology

The doctrine of Christ in the early church fell into two main camps: Antioch, which emphasized Jesus’ humanity, and Alexandria, which emphasized Jesus’ divinity. In the middle of these positions were Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Cyril, who stressed both natures equally. The tendency of the early church, in its battle against a lopsided hypostatic union, was to ignore the atonement in its effort to get incarnation correct. This is a problem since it’s only in the atonement that both natures receive equal emphasis.

The council of Chalcedon is the key defining moment of Patristic christology. The statement of the council steered clear of Apollinarianism and Nestorianism, but it didn’t fully equate the incarnation of Christ with his atoning work. The council of Chalcedon misunderstood what human nature meant. They would not insist that Jesus assumed fallen human nature—and of course, “the unassumed is the unhealed” (Gregory Nazianzen in Torrance 201).

Whatever else we say of the human nature of Jesus, we must affirm that he is the perfect man, representative of all humanity. From there we can say two things:

  1. Jesus is completely like us. He assumed our “frail, feeble and corrupt and temptable humanity” (205).
  2. Jesus is completely unlike us. He resisted the drag of human nature toward temptation and sanctified it.

b) The significance of the Chalcedonian ‘hypostatic union’

There are seven ways that the Chalcedonian definition of the hypostatic union is significant:

  1. The entire union is a pure act of grace on God’s part.
  2. The union is a twofold movement in one act whereby God condescends to take on human nature even as human nature is elevated and sanctified.
  3. The union is without parallel or analogy and can be described as a person union within one person.
  4. The union is inconfuse et immutabiliter. The two natures are not confused or changed.
  5. The union is indivise et inseparabiliter. The natures are not divided and are inseparable.
  6. In the union the peculiarity of each nature is preserved. This means that Jesus Christ continues to exist as man even while seated at the right hand of God.
  7. The union was between God and a man, not between God and man in general. While we must beware of adoptionist leanings in this statement, it is a corrective to the problem of Nestorian separation.

c) Factors helping to safeguard the humanity of Jesus

In addition to the work of the Chalcedonian council, there are four other factors which worked to limit Alexandrian christology:

  1. In 381 Apollinarius’ doctrine that Christ did not possess a rational human soul was condemned.
  2. In 448 Eutyches’ doctrine that Christ’s human nature was absorbed into the divine was condemned.
  3. In the sixth century Leontius of Byzantium repudiated the Nestorians and Eutychians by teaching that Christ’s true humanity had a full place “within the hypostasis of the Son as ‘enhypostatic'” (211).
  4. In 680 the Monothelites who believed there was only one will in Christ (thus rendering him incapable of being tempted) were condemned.

Some Reflections

If it is our fallen humanity that he sinlessly assumed, in order to heal and sanctify it, not only through the act of assumption, but through a life of perfect obedience and a death in sacrifice, then we cannot state the doctrine of the hypostatic union statically but must state it dynamically, in terms of the whole course of Christ’s life and obedience, from his birth to his resurrection. (201)

In our desire to keep Christ sinless (which he was and is), we are tentative to speak of him assuming our fallen nature. Once we admit that this is precisely what he did, we have to look at the hypostatic union differently. We cannot zero in timelessly and perfect ontologically definitions of the union. The union only becomes clear in Jesus’ life of obedience as well as his death and resurrection.

How much richer should our worship be when we realize the depth of fallenness that Jesus assumed to rescue us?

The hypostatic union … is one long act of atoning and sanctifying reconciliation in which he both judges our sin and enmity, and restores our human nature to its true relation with the Father and therefore to its perfection as human nature. (204)

This is a hope-filled quote. In Jesus Christ, our human nature has been restored to rights. In Christ, then, we do not have to give in to temptation. We can revel in our restored relationship to the Father.

← 6.2: The Hypostatic Union in Revelation and Reconciliation
6.4: The Reformation Doctrine of Christ →

Theology and Worship | Samuel Terrien

The cover of Terrien's The PsalmsTheology may raise questions or even challenge ancient beliefs, but theology in worship ultimately adores without renouncing human reflection.

—Samuel Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 306.

Captive to the Word of God | Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf perceives the world on a deeper level than most. He has given time and thought to the theological lens through which he understands existence—something self-evident in all of his works.

Captive to the Word of God demonstrates this depth of perception. After an original essay which explains his method (“Reading the Bible Theologically”), this volume collects five essays written over the course of sixteen years. Each essay demonstrates a life and thought process infused with an understanding of God’s Word.

Two essays stood out. In “Peculiar Politics: John’s Gospel, Dualism, and Contemporary Pluralism,” Volf undermines the so-called dualisms implicit in John’s Gospel (dark/light, death/life, etc.) and demonstrates the various shades of grey. For example, What is the salvific status of Nicodemus? How can we hate the world if God loves the world? Volf then applies his understanding of the Gospel of John to our contemporary pluralistic-leaning society with penetrating observations and insight.

“Hunger for Infinity: Christian Faith and the Dynamics of Economic Progress” is another gem. Using the book of Ecclesiastes, Volf torpedoes the myth of process and reveals how our understanding of God has been co-opted to serve the “hamster wheel” of desire:

Masters of subtle religious ideological manipulation engineered a gradual metamorphosis of the God of Jesus Christ into the god of this world. They were shrewd enough not to overdo it, however, The mask of the old God was retained; appearances must be kept up, you know. (170)

Volf is never easy reading, but a deliberate and careful reading pays dividends with this short collection of essays.

The Process Perspective | John B. Cobb, Jr.

I’ve got to give them credit. Bo Sanders and Tripp Fuller over at Homebrewed Christianity have got me thinking about process theology. For a long time, all I knew about process theology came from one class in Bible College where I learned how mistaken Alfred North Whitehead was. After listening to a number of Homebrewed podcasts, I’ve started to think that the process people bring something valuable to the theological table. Thus, I’ve started to read Cobb, process theology’s chief modern evangelist.

This first of two volumes about The Process Perspective uses a question-and-answer format to engage the various implications of process theology, categorized roughly in five sections:

  1. God
  2. Christ
  3. The Church and the Bible
  4. Humankind
  5. Ethics and Society

These questions were curated by Jeanyne B. Slettom from processandfaith.org, a website where Cobb responds to a variety of questions.

While I’m no process theologian (or open theist, for that matter), I thought I’d point out a few areas highlighted in this book where other believers can learn from the process perspective:

  1. The decisions we make affect God. This affirmation from the process camp should be taken seriously be all theologians—at least if you’re going to take the OT language of divine repentance seriously.
  2. The church should accept truth and wisdom wherever they are found. If you believe that all truth is rooted in God, then this is an important perspective.
  3. “In every moment, we are being directed, called, or lured by God to that self-actualization that is best for that moment and also for future occasions in our own personal life and in the lives of other creatures, human and nonhuman. … What we need, of course, is to develop a habit of openness to God and readiness to respond even when this is somewhat costly in relation to our other appetites and desires” (100). I can’t think of a better description of what pentecostal spirituality should aim towards!
  4. When it comes to prayer, every event is connected to other events. We can not manipulate God by some strange magic into rewriting these events, naively viewing them in isolation from the whole.
  5. Patriotism is idolatry when we obey our government, “right or wrong.”

You don’t have to be a process thinker to benefit from a thoughtful reading of Cobb’s Process Perspective.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes