Cheating the system with Jesus is not justice

I usually like Coffee with Jesus, but this time…

via Radio Free Babylon on Facebook

In a way I do like this one because it flatly exposes the chicanery involved with the kind of Atonement so popular in Evangelical circles these days–although seemingly without realizing it.

Sadly, it appears Kevin and Jesus haven’t read their George MacDonald, their René Girard, or for that matter, their Steve Douglas.

July 21st, 2013 by Steve Douglas | No Comments »

A quick update

Hi, everyone. Remember me?

I’m not really abandoning the blog. But gosh if it doesn’t seem like I’ve said my piece on most of the topics I’ve discussed.

I have mostly used this blog as a way of working through major shifts in my theology; to give you an idea, here’s a roughly chronological if somewhat overlapping list of most of the major issues I’ve wrestled with (each followed by varying periods of campaigning for my conclusions) since the blog’s beginning:

  • Explaining my already completed move away from futurism toward preterism
  • Explaining my discomfort with CSBI-style inerrancy (which I already held suspect) toward a very mild sort of inerrancy called theological concordism, i.e. the belief that the Bible’s theological claims are all true even if its scientific and historical ones aren’t
  • Acknowledgement (and justification) of my embrace of modern science, including evolutionary theory, etc.
  • A budding conviction about the importance of the historical community of faith
  • Expositions about the meaning of biblical faith, characterized by a growing social consciousness
  • A modification of my bibliology to reject concordism in all its forms and accept the Bible as fully human with no divine guarantee of accuracy
  • A rejection of soteriological exclusivism (the belief that only those who know Jesus by name can be saved)
  • A growing discomfort with “full preterism” based on my developing historical-critical understanding of the Gospels
  • Apathy about the arguments over the Atonement models morphing suddenly into fierce opposition to penal substitution
  • A rising attraction to older forms of ecclesiology
  • Acceptance of Christian universalism

Now, while I certainly don’t want to imply that I’ve arrived, I do think I’ve come to a certain equilibrium where I get the impression I’m in the right vicinity on a lot of the bigger theological issues, and the refinement process isn’t volatile enough to power the kinds of whopping posts I’ve done in the past. But as I said, I’m not packing it in. It’s just likely that going forward this site will be composed less of what amounted to articles and be more of a journal or…well, a blog.

I say that sincerely enough, but I also know how wary I am of posting a quick burst of opinion that misleads by giving an incomplete picture: although I have often attempted short posts in the past, I find that I end up explaining things so that the post can stand alone, which inflates its size. So who knows…

And for anyone concerned about my faith, as I typically am when blogs like mine suddenly go dark, don’t worry: it’s just as strong as it was. So strong that I just don’t feel threatened or that I need to defend it all the time, which is another reason the site has slowed down.

A third reason I’ve been posting less is that I’ve found an outlet for my theologizing  in a remarkably eclectic Google+ Community I created called Theogeeks, intended for Christians or other interested parties not wanting to initiate Christianity vs. atheism/agnosticism, etc. debates. If you’d like to see what’s going on or have things you’d like to discuss I invite you to join.

Hope you all are well. Thanks for reading my update!

July 18th, 2013 by Steve Douglas | 4 Comments »

From Fear to Faith

Just wanted to inform any readers I might still have here (I’ve been so negligent of this blog of late) that one of my old blog posts was revised and has just been published in a book edited by Travis Milam and Joel Watts (yes, that guy), called From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion). Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

There’s a stereotype of a young, zealous Christian who feels called to the ministry as a pastor, goes to seminary, and then loses his faith as he studies the writings of all those intellectuals and theologians. The stereotype may not be accurate, but there are those who fit this description, not to mention many who leave home for college as passionate Christians and come home unbelievers. More importantly, that stereotype represents a fear the fear that too much education or contact with those whose beliefs differ from those of a particular community will cause someone to lose their faith.

But there’s another group, much larger, but not heard nearly as frequently. This group consists of people who have gone from the position of fear that creates the stereotype to a position of faith, a faith that is no longer afraid of that outer darkness that looms outside the walls of their religious community. Indeed, they may not perceive any looming darkness at all.

From Fear to Faith, edited by Travis Milam and Joel L. Watts, gives voice to that too often unheard group. It is a collection of essays from those who have lived in fear, have faced the looming dark, collided with their share of brick walls, but have come out with a new-found faith and undismayed trust.

The journeys of faith presented in this book reveal a group deeply insightful and grounded minds, rich in thriving spirituality, joy, and hope. Where there was once trepidation in asking the tough questions of human existence, of the divine relationship with creation, there is now a certain hope found when these authors have struggled to overcome canyons of fear, leaving behind a life of black and white certitude, to live in a beautiful world of gray.

They have learned that having questions and even doubts does not reflect a lack of faith. Rather, hiding in fear from the serious questions indicates a lack of faith in the one who said, “Don’t be afraid.”

Come join in this journey from fear to faith.

Most of the essays in this volume are testimonials, what Pete Enns (one of the endorsers) summarized as “stories about leaving conservative churches.” And he’s right: there are some really good stories in here from insightful writers, such as my friend Mike Beidler.

My contribution in Chapter 11, called “The Second Greatest of These”, is an odd man out from the testimonial format, as I seek to temper the fearsome task of “doubt” with a generous helping of “hope”. It explains why my journey with faith (which didn’t so much begin in “fear” as was the case with many of the other contributors) began with questioning and underwent some pretty ground-shaking revisions but hasn’t terminated in the wastelands of “doubt”–the normally assumed and feared trajectory. I’m keen to stand at the bottom of the slippery slope and let everyone know that this is not the end of the ride: for many of us who’ve learned from and embraced the hard lessons of humility on our way down, the bottom of the slope is not a crash landing but a launchpad to better things. My main point is this: doubt is important to accept as a lesson in humility, but it shouldn’t be a destination.

The book is quite affordable, so check it out. And if you do, please drop by and let me know what you thought of it!

May 31st, 2013 by Steve Douglas | 5 Comments »

Moral atheists (Mondays with MacDonald)

In his novel, Paul Faber, Surgeon, George MacDonald indicated that he would have agreed with a substantial part of Pope Francis’s recent positive remarks about moral atheists:

But such as Faber was, he was both loved and honored by all whom he had ever attended; and, with his fine tastes, his genial nature, his quiet conscience, his good health, his enjoyment of life, his knowledge and love of his profession, his activity, his tender heart–especially to women and children, his keen intellect, and his devising though not embodying imagination, if any man could get on without a God, Faber was that man. He was now trying it, and as yet the trial had cost him no effort: he seemed to himself to be doing very well indeed. And why should he not do as well as the thousands, who counting themselves religious people, get through the business of the hour, the day, the week, the year, without one reference in any thing they do or abstain from doing, to the will of God, or the words of Christ? If he was more helpful to his fellows than they, he fared better; for actions in themselves good, however imperfect the motives that give rise to them, react blissfully upon character and nature. It is better to be an atheist who does the will of God, than a so-called Christian who does not. [It is not] the atheist [who] will…be dismissed because he said Lord, Lord, and did not obey.

The thing that God loves is the only lovely thing, and he who does it, does well, and is upon the way to discover that he does it very badly. When he comes to do it as the will of the perfect Good, then is he on the road to do it perfectly–that is, from love of its own inherent self-constituted goodness, born in the heart of the Perfect. The doing of things from duty is but a stage on the road to the kingdom of truth and love. Not the less must the stage be journeyed; every path diverging from it is “the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and the great fire.”

If loving what is good for its own sake is indeed the path to the perfect, then many a moral atheist is further along the narrow way to redemption than those Christians who think that goodness is defined by God’s arbitrary whims and who obey out of the belief that God demands it. Good is done either way, but the faithful child of God will seek not only to obey, but to love what is commanded and recognize its intrinsic goodness.

The objectiveness of goodness that apologists speak of is touted as unaccountable in atheistic morality–yet ironically it is the atheist (or believer) behaving morally just because it’s the unmotivated “right thing to do” who is closer to God’s heart. Believers should certainly find common ground with those who act in the interests of Goodness, which is God, and find that these who are with Him in that way are not at all against Him.

May 27th, 2013 by Steve Douglas | 2 Comments »

Toward a fuzzier Jesus

In his review of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (edited by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne), Nijay Gupta writes,

[Morna] Hooker expresses the kind of skepticism towards the authenticity-criteria that is indicative of most of the contributors. She writes, “Perhaps…the time has come to abandon the whole enterprise of trying to discover the ‘real historical Jesus’” (xiv). Why is she wanting to throw in the towel? A large part of it has to do with the tendency to focus on words and phrases, which ends up being too “cut-and-paste” for good historical study. [Hooker writes,] “As with an expressionist painting, what we need to do is to stand back from it, rather than poring over details, for the closer we get, the less we see the whole” (xv).

This of course is specifically addressing the authenticity criterion for the words of Jesus in the Gospels, but I think the problem touches on more than just that. I’ve been following historical Jesus studies and biblical criticism for several years, at least from a distance in my armchair. It can be exhausting after a while seeing completely contradictory theories posed equally plausibly. The frequently cacophonous and yet somehow still unnervingly self-assured stances of critical scholars, especially when coupled with the clever but fundamentally speculative revisionist reconstructions of NT texts, have disconcerted and discombobulated many people into abandoning all hope for commitment to any understanding of the Jesus laid out by the Gospels. Indeed, it’s no doubt partly responsible for the popularity of the movement defined by the denial of even Jesus’ historical existence, which seems to have been declared guilty by its close association with the Gospels.

An impression gradually emerged that when all is said and done, many of the arguments and reconstructions are interesting, but in order to understand what the Jesus of history was all about we ultimately have to step back and try to grapple with the gist of the accounts, to find the impressions Jesus left on his followers and try to recover why they got those impressions. If we waste our time like some (but not all) text critics have done, pulling each phrase out of context and stitching them all back together like some kidnapper’s ransom note, we’ll never reach the more interesting and, arguably, more attainable goal of seeing the bigger picture.

Making concessions to the very real ambiguities and imperfections of the documents we collectively call the New Testament, we must avoid the inerrantist’s claims of a clear picture of Jesus and his teachings; but we really shouldn’t kid ourselves that we can reach a similar level of clarity through biblical criticism. It sounds as though Keith, Le Donne, et al. are sensibly coming to grips with the necessity of adopting a “fuzzier” view of Jesus’ life and ministry, one that’s more heuristic and less definitive.

Hopefully not quite this fuzzy.

Many of these historians of shadowy antiquity seem to have been trying to approach the data as engineers pulling apart complex math equations rather than as interpreters of what is actually messy literature. Historical criticism and text reception history as we’ve typically seen them over the past century strike me as analogous to trying to describe Rembrandt’s works, themes, and overall artistic character by envisaging the brush strokes that created his works–trying to reconstruct the order in which he laid them to canvas, the source of his brushes, and the composition of his paint. Those theories may be interesting, and not even necessarily wrong, but at the same time, even should they somehow successfully recover the fine details about what Jesus said and didn’t say, I have sincere doubts that those insights will be especially helpful for understanding the artist or his work. The latter in comparison seems to me to be low-hanging fruit.

February 13th, 2013 by Steve Douglas | 2 Comments »

The proximity of the divine and human natures (Mondays with MacDonald)

And now the day draws nigh when Christ was born;
The day that showed how like to God himself
Man had been made, since God could be revealed
By one that was a man with men, and still
Was one with God the Father; that men might
By drawing nigh to him draw nigh to God,
Who had come near to them in tenderness.

George MacDonald, from Within and Without (1855)

December 24th, 2012 by Steve Douglas | No Comments »

Infinite power — but not infinite love? (Mondays with MacDonald)

There are, or there used to be when I was a boy, [those] who, in their reverence for the name of the Most High, would have shown horror at the idea that he could not do anything or everything in a moment as it pleased him, but would not have been shocked at all at the idea that he might not please to give this or that man any help. In their eyes power was a grander thing than love, though it is nowhere said in the Book that God is omnipotence. Such, because they are told that he is omnipotent, call him Omnipotence; when told that he is Love, do not care to argue that he must then be loving? But as to doing what he wills with a word—see what it cost him to redeem the world! He did not find that easy, or to be done in a moment without pain or toil. Yea, awfully omnipotent is God. For he wills, effects and perfects the thing which, because of the bad in us, he has to carry out in suffering and sorrow, his own and his Son’s Evil is a hard thing for God himself to overcome. Yet thoroughly and altogether and triumphantly will he overcome it; and that not by crushing it underfoot—any god of man’s idea could do that!—but by conquest of heart over heart, of life in life, of life over death. Nothing shall be too hard for the God that fears not pain, but will deliver and make true and blessed at his own severest cost.

George MacDonald, from his novel Weighed and Wanting (1882)

December 10th, 2012 by Steve Douglas | No Comments »