Schreiner’s criticism involves a claim to speak authoritatively for Paul and God, and thus for historical truth. Following such a remarkable methodological claim, one might expect his dismissal to be closely based on what Paul wrote—but it is not. To put this bluntly: Paul may well have been inspired to speak for God (which is not historically verifiable), but unless Schreiner claims the same inspiration for himself, he should accept that he is, like everyone else, limited to engaging in the interpretation of Paul’s texts. Consider briefly each of the details of his summary description. – Four Views of Paul the Apostle, 58
Archives for August 2014
Bruce Charlton is one of the brightest bloggers I’ve ever come across. He’s also brilliant off the internet. He posts interesting, though not always totally convincing essays on a variety of topics: evolution, Mormonism, Christian spirituality, etc. He recently posted about exercise and fitness. This is important for him, I wager, due to his interest in evolution and civilization.
He ends his posting, characterizing people who lift weights thus:
Nowadays, the local equivalent are the vastly bulky androgen-using power-weight-trainers, maybe working as ‘bouncers’ (door security) – who are fit for lifting weights, and strong at lifting weights (and presumably also at shoving and hitting people).
Or perhaps they are sportsmen – who are fit for their sport – strong at whatever the sport requires.
Or perhaps they are the narcissistic weight trainers/ body builders who use drugs (and dietary supplements etc) – but only as a means to the end of enhancing and sculpting their muscles, and making themselves feel more… well, if not exactly ‘masculine’, then at least macho.
They are fit to look at themselves in the mirror; to parade up-and-down in cut-away vests, shorts and flip-flops. They are strong at using exercise machines.
Fit for what, strong at what?
And what is the point of it?
I do believe that his answers to the closing questions are meant to be inferred to be “Nothing.” and “There isn’t one.” But I would wager that there is ample evidence, scientific (which he notes might be poorly done in the comments) and anecdotal that strength training improves several domains in the life of the practitioner who also aims to practice certain Christian virtues like humility and modesty. Thoughts:
- The average western male has a job that precise atrophies the body rather than toughens it. Part of Charlton’s point is that in older times men had bodies that could be useful for battle if need be because their jobs demanded it. Weight training fills precisely this gap.
- Weight training, according to many who do it thoughtfully, can improve pain tolerance as well as patience for long term goal seeking.
- Being physically stronger, as a Christian, allows one to serve others in more fruitful ways. Moving things, catching people who fall, being less tired after physical exertion are all useful skills that are strongly lacking in our era.
- Physical strength can decrease the likelihood of several types of injuries because weight training strengthens bones, connective tissue, and muscle.
- Caring about physical beauty is not, in itself, vain. Weight training is a way to maintain physical appearance without resorting to methods that do not arrange for personal discipline or physical improvement (like various make-ups, piercings, and personal enhancements)
- Most people I know who lift weights also note an increase in mental acuity and focus when they are disciplined about the process and their diet.
- Very few weightlifters that I know actually dress the way he mentions except in the gym (where I lift, it is incredibly hot, I simply wear basketball shorts and a single pocket shirt I bought when I was 18).
- He is right that in some sense improvement is task specific, but there is such a thing as general strength. Learning to use exercise machines does not necessarily translate well into other tasks, but lifting heavy objects, doing chin-ups, running sprints, etc all translate well into other tasks.
- Weight training can lead to helpful results when only a brief time is used per week over the course of a year. Somebody who walks for an hour every day need only utilize an hour maximum one to three times a week to see excellent results over the course of a year.
I’m citing anecdotal evidence here precisely because all of these claims could be attested to by asking a large number of people who, precisely because they take their exercise seriously do not have the moral maladies Dr. Charlton associates with that particular use of leisure time. I’ve had very useful improvements in my health from strength training, some of which involved utilizing self-experiments very similar to those Dr. Charlton himself laments the loss of in modern science.
The issues related to Calvinism, libertarian free will, open theism, and other such concepts have long since become less interesting to me as controversies. The concepts of human responsibility, God’s grace, God’s foreknowledge, etc are still important as matters of logic and divine revelation. My problem with the topics as issues is more an emotional or temperamental issue. Nevertheless, I made an observation several years ago that I’ve always kept in the back of my mind. I’m sharing it because of a strange association of several ideas that is not logically necessary:
- Thesis 1: The doctrine of grace, summarized as TULIP are not necessarily connected to God’s predestination in all matters. In other words, soteriology is not connected to providence in a necessary fashion,
- For instance, Charles Spurgeon, a Calvinist if there ever was one, could say:
“I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism.” In other words, Calvinist soteriology does not necessarily entail that God controls all events meticulously.
- Similarly, one could believe in a mechanisitc universe wherein all things were precisely predestined by God and set into motion where in God saves only those whom he predestined to earn their salvation.
- Or, one could be an open theist, as regards God’s creation (future events don’t exist, therefore they cannot be known with certainty, unless God explicitly causes them happen), but as regards soteriology, believe that God regenerates totally depraved people whom he chose unconditionally and then cause them to persevere. Greg Boyd nearly takes this view. In fact, one could find open theist exegesis of the Old Testament (when God has to find things by examination and ask questions of people for instance) but find Calvinist exegesis of Romans 8-11 very convincing on textual grounds and not find a contradiction in the perspective.
- I am not claiming that anybody believes these combinations of propositions. I am claiming that the connection between various views of predestination, salvation, and human history is not as clear cut as it is often claimed to be.
- For instance, Charles Spurgeon, a Calvinist if there ever was one, could say:
- Thesis 2: If the logical connections between these aspects of theology are not necessary, then there may be psychological or sociological reasons that people connect the ideas.
- Some take it as axiomatic that, “One random atom or “maverick molecule,”…could throw everything back into chaos.” This point of view is not uncommon.
- Those who hold to the idea that Calvinism and comprehensive meticulous control of all things are necessarily connected are, by John Piper’s admission, of a certain cast of mind: “But I think there is an attractiveness about them [the doctrines of TULIP] to some people, in large matter, because of their intellectual rigor. They are powerfully coherent doctrines, and certain kinds of minds are drawn to that. And those kinds of minds tend to be argumentative. So the intellectual appeal of the system of Calvinism draws a certain kind of intellectual person, and that type of person doesn’t tend to be the most warm, fuzzy, and tender. Therefore this type of person has a greater danger of being hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive or intellectualistic.” And Piper is known for his connection of the five points of Calvinism with two more points: a Leibniz-esque view that the world is the best of all possible worlds and a stark double-predestinarian supra-lapsarianism (the idea that God ordained to send people to hell logically prior to his creation of those people or rather, that he created them for the purpose of hell). There are probably several other ideological concomitants that could be teased out here, but I’m not sure that they are as often as this. For instance many Calvinists belief in an Old Earth, some have very plastic beliefs about how ancient culture can be used to interpret Scripture, some are libertarians, some are reflexively republican neo-cons, some think non-Calvinists aren’t Christians, some love missions, some don’t, some focus on the law/gospel distinction, some focus on discipleship, etc. It’s just too difficult to go in that direction, though it would be interesting.
- Similarly, Open Theists are often, though not always, committed to denying anything like Tulip. But many Arminian thinkers, who certainly deny Tulip, fully accept God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and similarly deny God’s exhaustive planning of all events. Weirdly enough though, Arminian thinkers only overlap on concomitant beliefs sometimes (Arminians like Norman Geisler want to remove other Arminians from ETS for thinking that Genre is important in Biblical studies). But Open Theists like Greg Boyd do seem to overlap in beliefs with fellows like Scot McKnight (though Scot has a much clearer grasp of the New Testament than Boyd), Peter Enns, and Roger Olson.
I don’t have enough data to make some hard and fast conclusion, but methinks there is more afoot here than simple systematic consideration of the issues. The likelihood that with all of the intelligent Calvinists and all of the intelligent Arminians/Open Theist types that one side was utterly logically coherent and the other side entirely refused to see the problem seems really unlikely. So it’s probably not a matter of one side getting it and the other side missing it. It seems that it is more a matter of value-level commitments affecting how the Christian worldview is expressed. Now these judgments, on both sides, are obviously informed by Scripture, but that does not mean that they aren’t informed by other things too: temperament, upbringing, culture, etc.
A classmate of mine this summer turned out not only to be a brother in Christ, but also a Thomist. We had a very edifying discussion a few weeks ago about the transcendentals. He said that at one level truth, goodness, and beauty as such are the same thing and really at the ultimate level, because of God’s simplicity, they are God just like being, as such, is God. But at the level of created reality and things that change, he noted, truth, goodness, and beauty are ways of talking about order.
- Truth is order apprehended by the intellect.
- Goodness is order apprehended by the will.
- Beauty is order apprehended by the appetites.
I think this is a remarkable explanation. I’m sure it had antecedents in something he read, but there it is.
Tonight I had an interesting discussion about horror movies…though I rather did most of the talking.
The thing about horror movies is that I’ve always liked the genre because the stakes are high and often the plot devices (magic, technology, absurd levels of psychopathy, etc) are too over the top to be truly capable of influencing the way you think about reality. Thus, a horror film or book is one of the few pieces of entertainment that allows me to experience feelings I don’t often have. It’s not that I’m not easily frightened, it’s that I live within civilization and I’ve rarely been afraid. Truthfully, any adventures I’ve have in the wilderness or with the unpleasantries of crime and violence have all happened so suddenly that any type of fear came later.
Anyhow, my wife and I were at a cafe with a friend and she asked about horror as a genre of art. We discussed it in as Socratic a fashion as we could.
Essentially these were the questions:
- Scripture commands us not to fear so often, why intentionally be afraid?
- Well, lets hold off on that, is natural fear ever a good thing? For instance, is it biologically, socially, or personally expedient?
- Are those commands in Scripture generalized for all human emotion or are they contextual?
- If they are context based, is it possible to enjoy exploring circumstances that lead to fear without inculcating bad or inappropriately fearful habits in life?
- Could fear ever be spiritually expedient?
- Have Christians utilized the genre of fear producing rhetoric or imagery in positive/negative ways?
- Is it possible that horror genres give rise to emotionally exploring topics usually too difficult to explore quickly? For instance, this scene in the Fly (don’t watch if you’re squeamish):
Essentially the idea is that the human without restraint is every bit as brutal, but also every bit as morally significant as an insect.
- Does the portrayal of horrific material necessarily entail the endorsement thereof?
- Can horrific material be portrayed in a way that is not reveling, pornographic, or celebratory of evil? Or could a book or movie portray people celebrating evil, even horrifying evil without the author’s endorsement thereof (one thinks of Scripture)?
- Horror movies, as a genre, tend to include a great deal of gratuitous nudity, is that a logical conclusion of enjoying the fictional fear of other people?
- Is it possible to enjoy frightening roller coasters without creating a lapse in virtue because you’re merely simulating fear as a form of pleasure, sort of like enjoying a romance poem when you’re single?
- Should we make a distinction between art/film designed to create a yearning for perversion rather than to display it as perverse and thus undesirable? Also, is there not a difference between entertainment that portrays people pretending to do something for plot purposes (pretending to lie/steal/be a villain/take over the world) and something that literally portrays people performing morally illicit acts (various forms of nudity, filmed sadism masquerading as art, etc)?
All of these questions came up. Ultimately, I suppose, we all need a bit less low entertainment in the form of movies and more time with other flesh and blood humans, more books, and more quality high and folk art. But, when it comes to movies, should Christians choose to watch them, is it merely preference that dictates what Christians watch, should they choose to do so?
I think anything that draws you away from God, the transcendentals (truth, goodness, and beauty), or the truly human things (virtue, community, contemplation, vocational excellence, etc) is a bad idea.
Another popular myth in evangelicalism is the idea that Jesus died to obviate our need for righteousness. This is a dangerous half truth. It is perpetuated in silly bumper stickers, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” popular sermons (I teach at a Christian school and students bring this one up a lot…it’s coming form somewhere), and even in a Derek Webb song where he sings:
I am thankful that I’m incapable
Of doing any good on my own
I’m so thankful that I’m incapable
Of doing any good on my own
Now, it could be the case that brother Derek it thankful that he knows that he is incapable. But it seems rather that he’s thankful that the results of the fall are so comprehensively deleterious. Anyhow, back to the myth: false, untrue, silly, not thought out, out of sync with scripture, tradition, and sound reason:
- The gospel is nearly always accompanied by a command to repent in Acts, this is because the call to repentance is no mere accompaniment to the gospel, it is part of the gospel. Seriously, just read Acts on this one.
- The teaching of Jesus is almost all about repentance and what repentance entails due to the arrival of the kingdom of God. In fact, Matthew, Luke, and Mark put it that way (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, and Luke 5:32). There is even an interesting parallel between John’s gospel and the synoptics, when Jesus tells Nicodemas that he must be born again (John 3:5-8), and Jesus tells the disciples that they must turn and become like children. The connection between Baptism and being born again, as well as repentance and Baptism is pretty clear. Anyhow, faith in Jesus requires some measure of repentance. In Protestant theology this is not a meritorious work, it is simply fealty to Jesus.
- If your theology comes from a bumper sticker that’s just a bad sign.
- Here is a miniscule sampling of other scripture says Jesus came to make us righteous:
- For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:3-4)
- For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Tit 2:11-14)
- It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mat 20:26-28) Jesus came to atone for our sins here, but he also sets himself up as the exemplar of a great personage in his kingdom.
- The Westminster Confession (about as Calvinistic and thus as evangelically grace focused a document as possible put it this way:
Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, (Ezek. 36:31–32, Ezek. 16:61–63) which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; (Hos. 14:2, 4, Rom. 3:24, Eph. 1:7) yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it. (Luke 13:3, 5, Acts 17:30–31)
This post is probably obvious information to many. But this myth is so persistent that I thought these few points could put it to rest. I didn’t translate out the passages of Scripture quoted precisely so that they might be looked up and read. This is especially important in the case of Acts. It is not mere slogan that the gospel of the Apostles is found in the sermons of Acts and the four gospels. Calling sinners like you and I to repentance is one of the many things Jesus explicitly claimed to have come to do. It would be weird to divorce his mission from the content of his preaching. The appropriate way to say this idea is that Jesus came to die for us so that we would be conformed to his image (Romans 8:28-30).