Monday, March 28, 2011

The Impact of the Gospel

Following up on Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, I have repeatedly read through the second.

The topics are, unsurprisingly, very similar. Tradition holds that the church at Thessalonica was founded during Paul's second missionary journey. He clearly spent some time there personally teaching them (2 Thes 2:5, 3:7). The letters may have been written in 50 and 51 AD.

The first letter offers encouragement and hope in the face of persecution (including tantalizing information about Jesus' return for the Church).

For the second letter, it is clear that the persecution is still ongoing (chapter 1). On top of this, there seems to be some sort of false teaching going on (2:1-3a). Apparently, someone claiming inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and falsely claiming the support of Paul has told them that they are living in the last days (the Great Tribulation, although Paul does not use those words).

What is Paul's response? That the Great Tribulation is only metaphorical, that things will get progressively better as the Church renews the world?

No. He tells them that there will be a great rebellion (probably spiritual, but possibly physical or both), that a "man of perdition" (or destruction) will rise up, and that all the unsaved will be deceived.

Paul here tantalizes us again:
"Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And now you know what holds back, for him to be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already working, only he is now holding back until it comes out of the midst. And then the lawless one will be revealed..." (2:5-8a)
Um, no Paul I don't remember, I wasn't there!

The King James has "he who now lets will let", which shows the importance of updating translations. "Let", to us, means "allow". But at the time of the KJV, it meant "deny" (or block). Thus, the Modern King James has fixed this to be "he is now holding back". The second "will let" was actually added - it is not in the Greek. But the idea is confirmed by the later "until he is taken out of the way (or midst)".

Dispensationalists hold that this is the Church being taken away, reducing the mediating effects of the Holy Spirit in the world. It makes a lot of sense, but it is not an open and close case from just this passage.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Language of God

"The Language of God" (Francis Collins) - For those who are unaware, Francis Collins is part of the founding team of Biologos. I'm somewhat surprised it has taken me this long to get around to reading something by him.

This book is largely a testimony of Collins' faith journey. His background is chemistry and biology, so he has held onto evolution as compatible with Christianity (much of his argument is basically, "I'm a Christian and an Evolutionist, therefore they are compatible").

I took very few notes on this one. Not much new, not a lot of deep analysis or theology. Collins' testimony is pretty solid (conviction from the moral law). Although it's clear he hasn't thought through all the theological ramifications of evolution.

Some of this shows up in the appendix. His thinking is clearly fuzzy on the use of embryonic stem cells for research (which we have seen before), and similarly for therapeutic cloning (pages 250-252, 253, and 256).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Science and the Trinity

"Science and the Trinity" (John Polkinghorne) - I picked up this book because Polkinghorne is a guest contributor at Biologos. It is very short (180 pages), but a very slow read (Polkinghorne likes big words).

Biologos says its goal is to get conservative Christians to accept evolution. I don't think this goal is served by having liberals address the issue! (It does lead me to believe that no conservatives really support evolution, or at least, are not willing to publicly support it. One of their favorite conservatives, BB Warfield, is dead!).

Polkinghorne is a scientist, not a theologian, which makes it difficult to pin down exactly what his theology is. But it is obviously very far from orthodoxy. Some examples, just on page 46:
"It is not surprising, therefore, that we find attitudes expressed in the Bible that today we neither can nor should agree with. These include an unquestioned patriarchal governance of the family... an unhesitating acceptance of slavery" (emphasis added)
"Those who attribute no abiding significance to these timebound attitudes are recognizing that the canon of scripture is not of uniform authority." (He actually goes on more in this vein...)
"the many New Testament passages that speak of fearful and fiery judgement [sic] are rightly interpreted as implying that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ requires the punishment of unending torture for those who have not committed themselves to some kind of Christian orthodoxy in this life." (into page 47)
That's just in two pages, fairly early! It doesn't get better.

Polkinghorne seems to embrace open theism, at least to some degee:
"God does not use the prophets to provide a detailed preview of what must inevitably come to pass... God does not yet know the unformed future" (page 54)
"cosmic history is an unfolding improvisation and not the performance of an already written score" (page 80)
"God does not have that future available for perusal beforehand." (page 108)
I could go on. Polkinghorne manages to pack a lot of error into a small space. I am concerned mostly with the consequences of his theology, and its impact on the Gospel.

First we see the embrace of a sort of universalism (or at least, conversion after death):
"Yet the divine love will surely not be withdrawn in that world [death], but will continue to seek to draw all people into its orbit." (page 158-159)
He also seems to deny "absent from the body, present with the Lord":
"The soul, as I understand it, possesses no intrinsic immortality. The pattern that is me will dissolve at my death... we have no naturalistic expectation of a destiny beyond death... It seems a perfectly coherent hope to believe that the pattern that is me will be preserved by God at my death and held in the divine memory until... the new creation."
This is comparable to the belief of Jehovah's Witnesses, that God will recreate someone very much like you in the resurrection.

He also embraces "the best of all possible worlds" (the idea that God created the world with natural evil, because He is too weak to do any better):
"The existence of free creatures is a greater good than a world populated by perfectly behaving automata, but that good has the cost of mortality and suffering." (page 165)
Yet again, the god of human free will calls for the sacrifice of God's power and knowledge (also, I have reference to the sacrifice of God's holiness on page 94). I will stop here.