Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Four Views on the Presence of Christ in Holy Communion

The Presence of Christ in Holy Communion. There have been four primary understandings concerning this issue.

 

The Roman Catholic position is called transubstantiation While there has been some relatively recent reinterpretation of how to talk about transubstantiation by contemporary Catholic theologians, the position basically means that the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the physical body and blood of Christ during the prayer, while the "accidents" remain those of bread and wine.

 

The Lutheran position is called consubstantiation.  In this understanding, the bread and wine do not miraculously become the body and blood of Christ.  They remain bread and wine, but the presence of Christ is said to be "in, with, and under the elements."  Therefore, in receiving the bread and wine, one also receives the body and blood of Christ.

 

Ulrich Zwingli's view (taken up by many Evangelical churches) is called the memorialist view.  For Zwingli, the bread and wine signify  Christ's body and blood.  The sacrament (or ordinance) does not convey salvific grace, but rather it is a sign of grace that has already been received by faith.  The Table, then reminds us of the redemption won by the death of Christ.  However, to be fair (and many who hold this position do not understand this aspect), it is not simply a "mental" remembering.  Rather, it is a remembrance by reenactment.  (In reality, all of the positions would agree that the Sacrament is a memorial.  The other positions would say, however, that it is much more than just a memorial.)

 

Calvin's position is called spiritual presence.  Calvin's position rejects the Roman and Lutheran position, on the one hand, and Zwingli's position on the other hand.  Like the Roman and Lutheran positions, Calvin held that Christ is truly present and actually feeds believers with His body and blood.  At issue is how this happens.  Since it is believed that Christ is bodily present in heaven, He is seen to be spiritually present by the Holy Spirit, so that the Supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with His body and His blood.  Rob Staples quotes Calvin as saying, "Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare.  And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it." 

The Wesleyan view is most like that of Calvin's, though there are some differences. Wesley rejected the other three positions and held to a real, spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament.  However, Calvin talks about Christ's body being present in terms of "power," mediated by the Holy Spirit, while Wesley speaks of the presence of Christ in terms of His divinity.


Like Calvin, Wesley was not so concerned as to explain the how of Christ's presence.  Instead, he was concerned that the faithful experience the reality of Christ's presence.  -  Such an emphasis is expressed in the following two Wesley hymns taken from J. Ernest Rattenbury's, The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley:

 

57

 

1. O the depth of love Divine,

Th' unfathomable grace!

Who shall say how bread and wine

God into man conveys!

How the bread His flesh impart,

How the wine transmits His blood,

Fills His faithful people's hearts

With all the life of God!

 

2. Let the wisest mortal show

How we the grace receive,

Feeble elements bestow

A power not theirs to give.

Who explains the wondrous way,

How through these the virtue came?

These the virtue did convey,

Yet still remain the same.

 

3. How can heavenly spirits rise,

By earthly matter fed,

Drink herewith Divine supplies,

And eat immortal bread?

Ask the Father's Wisdom how;

Him that did the means ordain!

Angels round our altars bow

To search it out in vain.

 

4. Sure and real is the grace,

The manner be unknown;

Only meet us in Thy ways,

And perfect us in one.

Let us taste the heavenly powers;

Lord, we ask for nothing more:

Thine to bless, 'tis only ours

To wonder and adore.

 

 

 

Rob Staples' Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality. Beacon Hill P. Kansas City, MO. 1991.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Holy Week Reading Plan

Holy Week Reading Plan 

Liturgy of the Palms - March 24, 2024 

- Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
- Matthew 21:1-11 

 

Liturgy of the Passion – March 24, 2024 

- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- Psalm 31:9-16
- Philippians 2:5-11 

- Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54 

 

Monday of Holy Week – March 25, 2024 

- Isaiah 42:1-9
- Psalm 36:5-11
- Hebrews 9:11-15 

- John 12:1-11 

 

Tuesday of Holy Week – March 26, 2024 

- Isaiah 49:1-7
- Psalm 71:1-14
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 

- John 12:20-36 

 

Wednesday of Holy Week – March 27, 2024 

- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- Psalm 70
- Hebrews 12:1-3 

- John 13:21-32 

 

Maundy Thursday – March 28, 2024

- Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
- Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 

- John 13:1-17, 31b-35 

 

Good Friday – March 29, 2024
- Isaiah 52:13-53:12
- Psalm 22
- Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 

- John 18:1-19:42 

Holy Saturday – March 30, 2024
- Job 14:1-14 or Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24 - Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
- 1 Peter 4:1-8
- Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42 

 

Easter Vigil – March 31, 2024
Old Testament Readings and Psalms 

- Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26
- Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13 and Psalm 46
- Genesis 22:1-18 and Psalm 16
- Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 and Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18
- Isaiah 55:1-11 and Isaiah 12:2-6
- Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 and Psalm 19 

- Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Psalm 42, 43
- Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Psalm 143
- Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Psalm 98 

New Testament Reading and Psalm - Romans 6:3-11 and Psalm 114 

Gospel
- Matthew 28:1-10 

 

Resurrection of the Lord – March 31, 2024 

- Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
- Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
- Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43 

- John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10 

 

Easter Evening – March 31, 2023 

- Isaiah 25:6-9
- Psalm 114
- 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8

- Luke 24:13-49 

 

 

May God richly bless your study and reflections,

 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Public Theology


 

 

 

 

An Essay Engaging:

‘What is Public Theology?’ By Harold Breitenberg Jr. and

‘Speaking the Truth in Love: Elements of a Missional Hermeneutic’ 

By James V.  Brownson

 

 

 

        In this paper I will engage ‘What is Public Theology?’ by Harold Breitenberg Jr.[1]   

 And ‘Speaking the Truth in Love: Elements of a missional Hermeneutic’ by James V. Brownson[2] to make comparisons and demonstrate the necessity of a missional hermeneutic in public theology. 

       Breitenberg filters out the numerous confusing definitions for Public Theology and defines it first as: A “theologically informed discourse” seeking to be knowable to those within its own religious institution and those external to it. Second, public theology, “is concerned with issues, institutions, interactions, and processes that are of importance and pertinence both to the church and or other religious communities and the larger society.” This definition includes those of the same faith and those of differing faiths, and ones claiming no faith and religious affiliation. Breitenberg notes on this point that “public theology interprets public life, engages society and its institutions, and offers guidance to and for society and its different sectors, interactions, and organizations,” making public theology in essence an ethical exercise. Lastly, Breitenberg claims that public theology, “draws on and makes use of sources of insight, terminology, and forms of discourse and argument that are in theory available and open to all,” outside of ones that are specifically religious (Hainsworth & Paeth, 4-5).

      Theology is human speech about God. It is humanity’s best attempts at naming and responding to a gift that God has given us- life and language. The best way to know God is to speak to God, and read God’s Word where one discovers what God is doing in revealing God’s self to us, in our own language. Everyone is a theologian; theology is any reflection on life’s ultimate questions directed toward God. Specifically, Christian theologians are ones who reflect on and articulate the God-centered life and beliefs that Christians believe and embody, and it is done that God might be glorified in all Christians are and do. 

      This exercise takes place in a moving, and changing world. The issue is that we don’t stand removed and bracketed out. Our reading of the Bible is taking place within a moving and changing world; it is a “public theology.” We are embedded in our world, there’s no safe place to hide. We do theology in the midst of the cultural, or as Breitenberg claims, the “public,” and this needs to be interpreted well and often. This is why I point to Brownson’s work on the elements of a Missional Hermeneutic.

      Brownson draws attention to the need specifically in North America for Christians to claim a fresh vision for what it means to live and be Christian in a post-Christian context. Secondly, Brownson believes the Christian faith offers good news and hope to our context (and I’ll add the world in general), but this truth has to be “lived out and proclaimed with courage and wisdom,” (Hunsberger & Van Gelder, P. 228). This is where I detect a useful intersection between the work of Breitenberg and Brownson. Both authors though not identical in analyses, each begin with theology and end with its application to life.

      Brownson notes that to further aid in the process of visioning, discernment is needed. First, look at our own cultural context and see what’s taking place and take action. I would add here that it is our mission as Christian believers to take action daily in the way we live out our faith. Brownson points to the enlightenment and uses Newbigin’s analysis of our current worldview. Newbigin points to empiricism as the dominant hermeneutic for our context, one that looks to the “empirical- what can be measured and qualified- has resulted in an unhealthy split between the public and the private realm,” (Hunsberger & Van Gelder, 229). This is where Brownson points to religion, generally speaking, and the Christian faith, particularly, as having been “relegated to the private realm,” (Ibid). Resultantly, the public realm is emptied of the hope of a moral framework leaving our world without a common good or sense of purpose. 

      Secondly, Brownson points to postmodernism as the as a powerful force affecting our context and mission. The move has shifted from an enlightened way of thinking-“grand synthesis of all human arts under the banner of reason and science, a postmodern perspective consciously and explicitly eschews such a goal,” (Ibid, 229). Within a postmodern world the pluralism causes fragmentation and a constant grasping for control and the inevitable violent resultants. The attention now turns toward the gospel and it’s claims and power to influence the public sphere, I would define this as the Christian mission. 

      Brownson moves into a hermeneutical understanding of the gospel that seeks to move beyond terminology toward an identification of available hermeneutical models and how they should work for our context. Brownson proposes: A Hermeneutic of Diversity to include a missional hermeneutic, A Hermeneutic of Coherence, and Gospel as Hermeneutical Framework to lay out a model for interpretation that actively incorporates the truths of the biblical text and our current context. 

      I was specifically drawn to Brownson’s use of “A Missional Hermeneutic” because it takes the truths of scripture to include the Christian movement it sprang from to reveal a missional character. This was a boundary crossing movement that crossed the cultural, and engaged the world not only with a message but also as the embodiment of that message. Brownson’s model assumes plurality in its interpretation not as a factor for failure in its task, but to demonstrate that this allows for effectiveness by accepting each context and reader. Here Breitenberg’s definition gives another point of comparison “public theology interprets public life, engages society and its institutions, and offers guidance to and for society and its different sectors, interactions, and organizations.” 

      The good news of an incarnational gospel is that it has power to transform the public sphere by defragmenting the chaos of pluralistic society and teaching love as a means to suppress the violence. In my tradition I support and incorporate John Wesley’s hermeneutic of interpretation translated by Albert Outler as: Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition as a framework for interpreting my world and mission, and allowing me to proclaim with my life Jesus is Lord.”    

         

                



[1] Hainsworth, Deirdre and Paeth, Scott. Public Theology for a Global Society (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans 2010) PP. 3-17 

[2] Hunsberger, George and Van Gelder, Craig The Church Between Gospel & Culture (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans 1996) PP. 228-259

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Miracles


     


     Heres' another paper that I wrote in seminary for a course in philosophy. The assignment was to determine whether David Hume’s objection to miracles is successful in calling stories of miracles to question.

 

      “’Miracle,’ is a complex concept, with every aspect the basis for significant debate” (p.472).[1] David Hume (1711-1776) has offered a “classic and influential” argument for the debate, contending that Miracles do not exist because they go against the laws of nature. However, in this exposition, I will also argue that Miracles are impossible, but with the touch of the divine and supernatural intervention, even the most extraordinary and unbelievable of happenings can be reality.

     Hume effectively criticizes the reliability of human testimony in establishing truths and provides four reasons for why miraculous claims are inherently invalid: The Witnesses are not reliable, Humans are gullible, Educated people are seldom convinced, and the Counterevidence is always stronger.[2] Hume directs his critique towards religious belief in an effective attempt that disables the miraculous foundation upon which all major religions are upheld. While there are many critiques to Hume’s ‘Of Miracles’, there are none so powerful as to completely discredit Hume’s argument. Hume begins his critique by establishing the definition of the word “miracle.” He states that, “a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.”

     David Hume, asserts that one's experiences allows for a foundation of reasoning to be formed, from which a person can reasonably deduce or expect a certain event of occurring given certain circumstances. As such, he goes on to say that person’s experiences or testimonies are thus the most essential and useful form of reasoning to us.   However, he goes on to disclaim stories of miracles by stating that human beings are not always trustworthy and they have their own agendas, which lead to lies that would distort the truth. Following this, when faced with a conflict of experiences, Hume contends that when faced with a experience or testimonial of a miracle, he judges the probability exceedingly higher that the person who made the claim was either lying or lied to. 

      The weight of the lack of support from probability combined with Hume’s views that miraculous acts such as the resurrection of the dead defy what nature says can or cannot be done leads to his conclusion that miracles necessarily do not exist. However, I would argue that the premises Hume bases his conclusion upon are false although his conclusion that miracles are impossible may or may not be right. A more accurate statement would be, "Without God or some super natural being who actively intervenes in human affairs, there would be no such thing as miracles"

     When someone uses the word Miracle' in our everyday context, it is unlikely that the miracle is referring to something like an act of resurrection or the parting of seas. Usually, claims of,  ”it's a miracle!” would follow something fortunate on a scale far less grand such as receiving an inheritance from a long lost relative in times of dire financial need.   I submit the idea that although the probability of such an eventuality occurring to an individual is really low, it does not mean that it could not happen. The chances that you or someone you know winning the lottery and accumulating millions of dollars is low.  According to Hume, such events of such low probability are not worth taking serious and it would be easier to assume that anyone, “a reporter” who claims such an experience was either lying, hallucinating, or “magnifying country, his family or himself,” (477). However, we know from documentation from neutral parties that this is not the case, that there are some people who have been indeed been blessed with such outrageous “luck.”  Hence, from this we can establish that just because an event has a very low probability of occurring, it does not mean it may not, or should not.

     As mentioned earlier, people tend to use the term “miracle” in all sorts of contexts. However, in most of these cases, “miracle” is offered as a figure of speech or metaphorically in statements such as “it's a miracle he made it to the meeting on time” and doesn’t capture the actual meaning of the term. A miracle as defined by Webster's dictionary is, “An extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”[3] with the key terms being “extraordinary” and “divine.” As such, even the most fantastic of occurrences such as a baby being ran over and not suffering any injuries would not be considered a miracle unless God or some supernatural being had intervened and prevented the injuries; it would instead be described as merely “extraordinary.”   That being established, I would like to contest Hume's premise that Laws of nature are a testimony against Miracles. The reasoning for this is simple, if divine forces are involved the laws of nature are at the mercy of the divine, or super natural. Is the dead coming back to life, seas parting by themselves not natural? Absolutely! That's why these events are termed “supernatural” and not simply “natural.” Hence, it would be fair to conclude that since miracles necessarily involve the divine, laws of nature do not apply nor restrain them in any way. This is where one objector, Alistair Mckinnon would essentially say that if in fact a miracle takes place it isn’t really a miracle it is obeying hidden natural laws so we explore, and keep on exploring, so even a resurrection is possible just find the natural law that applies to this particular event, even the law that applies to the unique timing.[4] I would counter that unless we assume miracles are impossible we cannot assume that violations of nature are impossible. 

      It is not necessary for Hume to prove any miracles wrong. It is, however, necessary for the believers to prove the miracle to be true. While it may be true that most believers and propagators of the miraculous are indeed uneducated, ignorant, and barbaric, that alone does not discredit the fact that miracles do happen. While it may make it less likely for miraculous accounts to be true, it is not necessarily an argument against miracles. There are many examples of what appear to be miraculous events propagated by civilized and educated people, however Hume does address this in questioning the motives behind testimony and drawing attention to the fact that we all harbor some degree of ignorance about the world. While other objections exist, the most poignant only establish that Hume cannot disprove miracles, he can only point to the fact that reason dictates we should treat them with the utmost skepticism. However, these objections deny the burden of proof, which is upon the believers. Hume’s arguments provide a useful skeptical foundation for judging the validity of testimony concerning miraculous events.

     Now that we've established low probability doesn't mean an event won't happen and that miracles are supernatural and transcend the laws of nature. Whether or not miracles really exist would be dependent on one crucial factor: Whether or not there is a God or all powerful being that actively participates in our worldly affairs. Assuming there is no such being, then miracles would not exist at all since all miracles are defined by the presence and touch of a supernatural being. On the other hand, assuming that such a being in fact does exist and this divine being has an inclination to intervene in our affairs causing extraordinary and marvelous works. Then, it would be wrong to deny that miracles exist. Of course, we have from experience realized that miracles do not happen often to everyone and as such the probability of a miracle being performed would be very low at best but as already discussed, a low probability isn’t proof of non-existence.

    In conclusion, David Hume’s objection to miracles is successful in calling stories of miracles to question. I would like to state that although Hume may have been right to suggest that miracles do not exist, and it is impossible to determine truths from testimony that goes against the entire history of human experience and knowledge about the natural world. The founding premises for these beliefs are not true. Existence of miraculous acts would depend upon the presence of a higher being and not probability, or laws of nature. I would for that reason once again put forth my thesis (and I assume to be a rational being) that, "Miracles would inevitably not exist if a god or supernatural being who involves itself in human affairs does not exist.” 



[1] Basinger, Hasker, Peterson, Reichenbach. “Philosophy of Christian Religion.” P. 472. New York, Oxford Univ. Press. 2007.

[2] Basinger, Hasker, Peterson, Reichenbach. “Philosophy of Christian Religion.” PP. 472-478. New York, Oxford Univ. Press. 2007.

[3] Webster, ‘Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition’ p.792. Springfield, Mass. Merriam Webster Inc. 2012.

[4] Class Notes PH 501: Module 04 Lesson 02 Miracles Nov. 16th 2012

 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023



 Is consumerism killing the Church? 



What contribution can theological reflection make concerning consumerism in church and society?

 

    

    It could easily be determined that today’s society is being consumed by consumerism. Each day we are inundated with options for purchase and the ability to make the purchases happen even if we do not physically have the money currently to do so. This reality is present daily within the confines of every mailbox. Sadly, consumerism fosters the belief that happiness and contentment depends largely on the degree of personal consumption. “Socially, the consumer society today is really a result of individualism and the belief that the individual has the right to consume and use whatever they want.”[1] This reality has also infected the life and ministries of the church, the very institution who could offer a positive contribution toward this issue. 

    We need to define and interpret consumerism as a movement within society and religion, and the contribution theological reflection can make concerning consumerism in church and society. To begin, a consumer is defined by Merriam-Webster as one that consumes; as one that utilizes economic goods; less helpful for our context but very interesting nonetheless, a consumer is also an organism requiring complex organic compounds for food, which it obtains by preying on other organisms or by eating particles of organic matter. “A consumerist society is one in which people devote a great deal of time, energy, resources and thought to “consuming.” The general view of life in a consumerist society is that consumption is good, and more consumption is even better.”[2] The United States would be an example of a “hyper-consumerist society.” In this context people’s daily lives are surrounded by advertisements seeking to make them purchase their product. 

    Consumerism is the promotion of the consumer’s interests; the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; or a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods. Consumerism can also be defined as a movement or policies aimed at regulating the products, services, methods, and standards of manufactures, sellers, and advertisers in the interests of the one making the purchase. Such regulation can by institutional, statutory, or embodied in a voluntary code adopted by a particular industry, or it may result indirectly from the influence of consumer organizations.[3]        

    Consumerism “is occasionally used to denote the consumer movement and advocacy on behalf of consumers vis-à-vis the producers of consumer products. The term is also infrequently used to refer to the economic theory that maintains the growth of consumption is always good for an economy.”[4] Usually, in spite of all this, consumerism is deplored as a significant behavioral flaw in modern industrial society. Consumerism is compared with addiction, as it implies an inordinate concern with the accumulating, consumption, and owning of material goods and services. Implied within consumerism is “foolishness, selfishness, individualism, possessiveness and covetousness.”[5] This interpretation reveals that society as a whole has chosen the path of selfishness and greed.

    Some have suggested that consumerism is the essential component to the modern capitalistic economy’s sensational spread of production. Seen from this perspective consumerism is driven by producers and advertisers. The result is a never-ending need for mass-produced consumer goods. Consumer credit is ever available and constantly promoted, and often financed by manufactures.

    Consumerism can be understood as an essential means of defining class and status lines in modern industrial civilization. Therefore and individual by consuming could identify with a particular group, as a status symbol. As society constantly changes so does class and status therefore new consumer products and services are always being introduced and marketed so people will consume new and more products. This perspective leans away from greed and selfishness more toward a keeping up with the Jones’ interpretation.

    Another perspective is a blending of the other perspectives and sees consumerism as a behavioral reflection essential of a new kind of culture. The new cultural needs, becomes the cultures religion. “Advertisers and other specialists have become priestly mediators of new, and predominantly materialistic, virtues and values.”[6] In the end it all boils down to a romantic ethic where the individual is driven by instant gratification, the driving force of this new kind of culture.

    Christopher Kiesling offers an example defining what the contrast of consumerism would be. He defines it as, “An economic system and related mentality and tendency to produce goods and services to satisfy the basic human needs of an ever wider circle of human beings before increasing the level of physical convenience and comfort of a relatively small population, or a system to produce and consume material goods and services with primary concern for conserving natural resources and environment for needs of future generations.”[7] This type of consumerism moves beyond individualism to a concern for all peoples and the environment. This definition includes an element of justice to those who purchase and consume goods beyond just meeting basic individual needs.      

    I am a pastor within the United Methodist Church and I support our stance on consumption; which offers a beneficial word to our discussion. Within the Social Principles of The Book of Discipline ‘Consumption’ it states, “Consumers should exercise their economic power to encourage the manufacture of goods that are necessary and beneficial to humanity while avoiding the desecration of the environment in either production or consumption. Consumers should avoid purchasing products made in conditions where workers are being exploited because of their age, gender, or economic status.”[8]

     It goes on to recommend buying “fair-trade” items. The principle then mentions that consumers should measure their consumption in light of the need for enhanced quality of life rather than never ending production of material goods. The discipline calls on those who consume, including the local congregation and church related institutions, to the task of systematizing to achieve the stated goals promoting life and freedom and to show dissatisfaction with harmful economic, social, or ecological practices by the appropriate methods of boycott, letter writing, corporate resolution, and advertisement.    

    Christians aren’t immune to the powerful lure of consumerism either. Banks and Stevens claim that the rise of denominationalism, and the current rise of religious plurality have created a situation where Christians are “increasingly encouraged to ‘shop for,’ and so to be consumers of, religion itself.”[9] The unfortunate consuming of religion would imply that an essential transformation in the meaning of religious belief has less and less to do with conviction and more with personal freedom and choice. 

    I recently found a picture and posted it to Facebook for review, questioning, comments, and fun that I feel captures the current state of the church and consumerism. The picture is of a church sign; the title of the church is ‘Consumerist Church of the Sacred Demographics.’ Beneath the name of the church was the weekly schedule: Seniors Gospel Hour at 7 am, Gregorian Chant Liturgy at 8 am, Contemporary Suburban Worship at 9am, Hip Hop Praise Jam! 10 at am, X-Treme Youth Service at 11:00 am, Mystic Journey: The Worship Experience at 2 pm, Holy Spirit Freestyle at 3 pm. At the bottom of the sign listed the week’s message: “God Has A Wonderful Cafeteria Plan For Your Life.” 

    As silly as this picture is it happens to be exactly the way most approach church life. The argument is that the church needs to offer something for all types of interests. If we can do this people will find their niche that they connect with, so therefore, the church should do all in its power to create a place for everyone’s niche. The result is a consumer driven, “church shopping” culture. 

    On the dilemma of “church shopping,” Hank Hanegraaf “The Bible Answer Man” says, “we know we have discovered a good church if God is worshiped in Spirit and in truth through prayer, praise, and the proclamation of the Word; if the oneness we share in Christ is tangibly manifested through community, confession, and contribution; and if the church is equipping its members as witnesses who can communicate what they believe, why they believe, and Who they believe.”[10] These are signs of a church who hasn’t been impacted by culture but who are impacting the culture through the power of God given to the church. Where this isn’t true you find worship replaced with entertainment, and fellowship changed into individualism.    

    Churches have recapitulated to our culture. We have become a microcosm of culture by failing to be salt and light. It is as if comfort takes precedence over revival. It has been easier for the church to change belief by repackaging ourselves for the sake of easy convenient consumption. Evidence of this move is the current type of religious marketplace where religious consumers are offered a buffet of religious alternatives. Church shopping has replaced faithfulness to tradition, and left the church with the results of widespread deterioration of denominational and congregational loyalty.      

    Madonna proudly sang of being a material girl in 1985, some Christians undoubtedly saw this as a construal of her identity in terms of possessions. “Still, Christian patterns of consumption are often indistinguishable from those of people without any particular religious affiliation. Popular authors smilingly justify contemporary consumptive patterns by calling it, ‘your best life now’ or ‘breaking through to the blessed life.’ These prosperity theologians play into the extant consumerist value system by selectively appealing to Old Testament promises, while ignoring prophetic invectives against the wealthy and wisdom teachings that laud the piety of the poor.”[11]               

    Aside from the many theological reasons to critique consumerism the definition alone is enough to cause concern for this type of behavior. To consume is “to burn,” “to exhaust,” and “to destroy completely.”[12] It should be our task from a Christian perspective to respond to consumerism with the Lord’s help if for no other reason than to help keep humanity from consuming/destroying itself. Banks and Stevens uses Wendell Berry’s example for our first concern, “to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues.” A helpful comparison for the church is to view the modern obsession with possessions, and grasping for gain with the Christian way of living that promotes gratitude, generosity, and love.

    The Scriptures, God’s word, calls us to view our lives from the perspective of stewardship with gratitude realizing that our lives are a gift from God for God’s purposes of creation. This perspective naturally leads to generous living motivated by love for God and love for our neighbor. Jesus told His disciples not to worry or be anxious for the things of this world, “sell your possessions and give to the poor, make for yourselves purses which do not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys,” (Luke 12:33). 

    Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment to love one another. As we see the church birthed at Pentecost and begin to grow this became an identifying characteristic of Christians, they were known by love, they lived by faith in God and not in their possessions, and they became vessels of hope for the world.   

    All Christians are familiar with the Biblical mandate to go into the world making disciples, preaching, teaching, and baptizing (Matt. 28:19-20). The temptation is to follow the North American capitalistic approach; which essentially says if certain things work in one place, then the obvious answer is to copy those methods for all churches, package it and franchise how to be the church. 

    The Bible teaches a different approach: care about people first and foremost at all costs. The franchise approach cares only for methods and results first. Any church no matter the demographic can focus first on people, creatively and particular to their communities utilizing available resources. The church would benefit from doing one thing well and do it often, make disciples of Jesus Christ for the sake of transforming the world.

    I have made the case that there are contributions that theological reflection can make concerning consumerism in church and society. Our task now as believers, the theologians, by God’s power is to go live by faith, be known by love, good deeds, and offer hope to a lost and broken world. 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Edgar, Brian. (2012, May) Janis, Freedom and Society On Janis Joplin and “Freedom’s just another word for nothing’ left to lose” Asbury Theological Seminary

 

[2] Norton, August. Contemporary American Society, Consumerism, Aug. 2009 www.ssc.wisc.edu. Accessed 05/14/13. 

[3] Merriam-webster.com//consumer; consumerism retrieved 05/11/13 www.merriam-webster.com 

[4] Banks, Robert & Stevens, Paul. The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity (Downers Grove Intervarsity Press, 1997) P. 220 

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Kiesling, Christopher. Source: Liturgy and Consumption Worship, 52 no 4 Jl 1978, p 359-368. Article, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, accessed 05/15/13.

[8] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ¶ 163 Social Principles (Nashville: The UM Pub. House 2012) P.129-130 

[9] Ibid. P. 221

[10] Hanegraaf, Hank. How Do I Find a Good Church? Counterfeit Revival. Article. www.equip.org accessed 03/15/13.  

[11] Hays, Christopher M. Source: Beyond mint and rue: the implications of Luke's interpretive controversies for modern consumerism, PoliticalTheology, 11 no 3 My 2010, p 383-398. Publication Type: Article. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, accessed 05/14/13. 

[12] Ibid. P. 222

Friday, February 3, 2023

Are We Free of Not?

    Brian Sanderson

PH 501 Fall 2012

The Philosophy of Religion

Professor: Dr. Okello 

 

Paper 1. Topic #3 Are humans free or are they determined? Defend your position

 

The Concept of Freedom Analyzed critically from within assigned readings to include “The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647”   

  

     “The Westminster Confession of Faith” (WFC) was compiled by a group of theologians, assembled in 1643 by the British Parliament, and held at Westminster Abbey for the purpose of achieving doctrinal unity and clarity among a diverse group of Christians.[1] This document is representative of Calvinist orthodoxy. It was hoped that this assembly would end the religious doctrinal disputes that divided the country.

     The purpose of this paper is to argue for human freedom by analyzing and criticizing the concept of freedom operating within chapters three and ten of “The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647.” This will involve first identifying what view or views of freedom are found therein, and supporting that analyses using text from the Confession itself.  Once identified, I will render criticism of the philosophic adequacy of the concept of freedom presented. In order to deal philosophically with this theological stance, I must presuppose the doctrine of predestination hypothetically. This will maintain the necessary “boundary between theology and philosophy.”[2]

     The concept of freedom that I draw attention to relates to the, “the conflict between our sense of freedom of choice, and the many reasons which seem to suggest that our actions are not free but rather necessitated,” (Hasker 31). The labels used to identify positions of freedom are taken from the texts, notes, and lectures from Dr. Joseph Okello.

     Chapter three within the WCF is entitled “Of God’s Eternal Decree.” In discussing freedom of choice, any decree from God that fixes future events, based on His will can certainly affect freedom. The very first statement of this chapter has strong implications in that respect. It states, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” There are other statements with equal importance as follows:

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestined and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. (Ch. III, par. III & IV)    

     Hasker quotes Augustine as stating, “The will of God is the necessity of things” (51). There seems to be no question, given the above statements that God has unchangeably mapped out the future and this predestination logically produces determinism. Hasker calls it “theological determinism,” (51). In light of the language noted so far, I would label it hard determinism, thus negating the freedom of choice.

     There is other language, however that seems to be an attempt to soften the determinism and allow for a degree of freedom. An example of this can be found in the phrase, “Nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures” (Ch. III Par. I). This statement, at first glance, could suggest that some freedom is granted but in Par. II the following is stated, “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.” This clearly points to God’s omniscience, and further claims His decrees are in no way related to that foreknowledge. His decrees are a function of his own will, and are not swayed by any other factors. It appears freewill of the creature is again nullified.

     One again might suppose that this absence of freedom is problematic for some people. Especially having one’s ultimate eternal fate foreordained could lead to fatalism. The authors of the WCF may have been attempting to prevent this reaction by offering the following statement:

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel (Ch. III, Par. VIII).

     I argue that this attempt is weak at best. It is an attempt to give consolation to the effect by providing a way to be sure they will receive everlasting life “from the certainty of their effectual vocation.” This is God’s will, revealed in His word, calling one to obedience and the religious life. The breakdown comes late in Ch. X, Par. IV. It states, “Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore can not be saved.” If both the elect and those not saved can be called by the Word and even be affected by the Spirit, it seems beyond the bounds of possibility to attain the consolation offered. Therefore, what here prevents a fatalistic view if that’s truly intended?

       Hard determinism has another problem area relating to moral conduct, reward, and punishment. Given predestination and the absence of freedom of choice how can a person be worthy of either praise or punishment? Yet the confession states:

The rest of mankind was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withheld mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice, (Ch. III. Par. VII).

     It would seem problematic to discuss “dishonor and wrath for their sin,” and use the term, “glorious justice” within the same breath if there is no freedom to affect any aspect of one’s behavior. Humans have choice. The experience of choice carries with it the powerful belief that various alternatives are within our power. Nothing prevents a person from choosing one thing or another. Assume all human actions

are causally determined, then who could ever be morally responsible for any action? Nevertheless, rational people believe that in most situations people are indeed morally responsible for their actions. Therefore, not all human actions are causally determined. Whether one cares to admit it or not we hold deep beliefs that we are responsible for our actions.  Just try envisioning a social order that would abolish the belief in responsibility completely. 

     It has been my intention to critically dissect a “best calculated,” “peculiarly excellent” work compiled by "learned, godly and judicious Divines" of the Reformed Tradition. I have argued for human freedom by analyzing and criticizing the concept of freedom operating within “The Westminster Confession of Faith.” The revelation is that the WCF leans most closely to a hard deterministic stance, which therefore excludes human freedom. The authors may have attempted to use language to demonstrate soft determinism, but not successfully. Another failure in my opinion is to effectively eliminate a potential fatalistic response to this confession.     

 

   



[1] Readings in Christian Thought Kerr Hugh, Nashville: Abingdon Press 1990, pp.182-185.

[2] Metaphysics Hasker William, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, p.50.