Friday, March 31, 2017

Faithful Presence (Summary)

Questioning the necessity of 'church' is a growing phenomenon among even Christian people. But David Fitch believes The Church is vitally important to the world when it is the 'faithful presence' of God in the world. In order for the church to serve as the faithful presence of God, it best practice the 7 disciplines that are the focus of this book. These are the disciplines that shape Christians into communities that change the world.

Chapter 1 God's Faithful Presence
The story of God is the story of God's presence. From the Garden to the formation of Israel to the Tabernacle to the Temple to the prophecies of Immanuel ("God with us") to the coming New Heavens and Earth... "The Scriptures, from beginning to end, tell the marvelous story of God returning his presence to all creation. It always was God's intent to be with his creation in the fullness of his presence." In fact, "God's people are not his people apart from his presence." The church today needs to rediscover its sense of the presence of God. When the church does this, it once again becomes the hope of the world. It becomes an access point for all to experience God's presence.

Chapter 2 To Change the World
God is, of course, present in the whole world. But His plan to change the world involves having his presence especially manifest in a particular people (the church). Fitch believes the 7 disciplines that prepare the church to be the faithful presence of God are as follows: The Lord's Table, reconciliation, proclaiming the Gospel, being with the least of these, being with children, the fivefold ministry, and kingdom prayer. Young champions these 7 because they are given directly by Christ in Scripture, time-tested, repeatable, holistic, and social. When the church faithfully practices these disciplines, God's presence becomes visible in the church's worship, the neighborhoods of its members, and throughout the world. God's presence, in other words, is always moving outward (and re-engaging at the center). We must avoid both the holy huddle (thinking we can only find God's presence in our worship services) and mere social activism (thinking we can change the world with our social activity alone).

* I'd be interested to know how much agreement there might be between Fitch and WM Paul Young in regards to 2 Corinthians 5:19. Young believes all people are saved and just need to be led to realize as much. Fitch, I would guess, would not go so far as that... but there does seem to be some sympathy for that position on the bottoms of pages 36 and 39.
* I like Fitch's 3 circles imagery. The close, dotted, and half circles seem like helpful ways of thinking through ecclesial mission.

Chapter 3 The Discipline of the Lord's Table
Our society is a mass of disconnected souls, but starving for connection and real presence. Fitch sees the Eucharist as the answer to this problem (for it is all about the genuine presence of God and people). He recognizes that there are many different traditions when it comes to the Lord's Table. Drawing on those traditions, Fitch would have us to re-imagine what God is up to in this sacred discipline. The table trains us to discern God's presence all week long. Our practice of the Lord's Table in our church congregations may be more formal and Sunday only, but it 'sets the table' for further disciplines of communion throughout the week. Fitch wants us to see meal-sharing during the week as a discipline of the Lord's table. Not-yet-followers of Jesus are welcomed into our homes (we host God's presence). We get invited into their homes (and we discern God's presence there as well). In short, "The Lord's Table happens every time we share a meal together with people and tend to the presence of Christ among us." We must practice the discipline of the Lord's Table in all three settings (close circle (church congregation), dotted circle (in our homes as hosts), half circle (in our communities as guests). Fitch thinks this 'extending-table' model was lost around the time of Constantine when communion became just a formal little ceremony in a church building rather than a shared meal in a home. Food brings us together and, even more importantly, when we are together we can best experience the presence of Jesus.

*I could tell Fitch truly values this discipline in his own life, but it seems to me most churches just practice communion as a routine ritual. The power of the discipline seems to be lost in most churches. I don't sense an 'amazing social dynamic' breaking forth when we break the bread. This should be a matter of prayer.
* I really liked Fitch's application of his 3 circles to the issue of the Lord's Table. I like the idea of thinking of meals in our homes and neighborhoods as extensions of this discipline. And I think his New Testament examples were on point.
* I got the impression that Fitch thinks the food just brings us together. It is our togetherness (not the bread and drink) that truly makes Christ present.

Chapter 4 The Discipline of Reconciliation
Broken relationships exist on both the surface level of our society and they simmer beneath. The world hungers for reconciliation and the church must lead the way in this discipline (in fact, when we see no reconciliation in our churches, there is no gospel in them). The discipline itself is really quite simple. When (not IF, conflict is an inevitable part of life and actually shows we are engaging challenging places with the gospel) there is a problem in a relationship, we meet each other face to face. Jesus is there. As reconciliation occurs, the world takes notice and may even begin to seek the aid of the church in further reconciliation. Fitch understands, though, that reconciliation won't always take place ("nine times out of ten, it may be rejected"), but we must persist. Doing the hard work of reconciliation is dangerous, but amidst this work the kingdom of God breaks in. Fitch thinks the church has too often just tried to manage conflict (at the leadership level) rather than discerning the presence of Christ in it (at the every day level). If the church becomes a faithful presence for reconciliation, the world will change.

* It wasn't totally clear why the word 'mediation' has such a negative connotation for Fitch. He seems to think it means one party gets its way (judged as 'right'). I think of it more as two parties being brought together. He also seems to contradict his own position on the bottom of page 79. He's against mediation, conflict management, conflict resolution, etc., but it is not entirely clear how those things differ from 'reconciliation' in Fitch's mind.
* Once again, Fitch seems to speak of forgiveness as something already accomplished for all people via Christ (page 81). This sounds very much like William Paul Young's position.

Chapter 5 The Discipline of Proclaiming the Gospel
Our world is becoming more and more hopeless. People don't think change is possible. Proclaiming the Gospel is proclaiming not just the possibility, but the reality, of new world. The gospel is big news. It is not just about individual salvation. Fitch wants to make a clear distinction between proclamation and teaching. Proclamation announces a new world. Teaching simply informs about that world. Proclamation must precede teaching. Proclamation keeps God at the center, not our rational minds and our ability to process information. Proclamation cannot be argued or debated, only accepted or rejected. Proclamation isn't aimed at non-Christians only. We are in constant need of re-orienting ourselves toward the new realities in Christ. In that sense, we need to get saved all over again each Sunday in church worship (close circle). The church then moves from house to house, proclaiming the Gospel in our daily relationships (dotted circle). But we must also go into the world as guests (half circle). We must be present, as guests, before we proclaim to the world. In many cases, our proclamation will be rejected. Even still, we have been faithfully present.

* I liked a lot of what Fitch said here about proclamation and how it differs from teaching. This book wasn't the context for it, but I would like to hear more of what Fitch thinks about the role of teaching. He seemed a bit too cynical, to me at least, about what currently goes on in most churches. I think a lot of contemporary preaching is a blend of proclamation and teaching. And I don't think that's a bad thing. His presentation is a bit black and white at times, but most authors have to do this to make their emphasis clear. I do the same.

Chapter 6 The Discipline of Being with the Least of These
Fitch is very concerned that we've turned caring for the poor into merely a program (he is careful to say that programs do some good work, but he clearly consider them highly problematic when used as an exclusive or even primary method to help the poor... even to the point of suggesting that they do more harm than good in the long term). Instead, we must discipline ourselves to be WITH the poor and needy. This will not only benefit the poor (who long to be more than 'projects'), but it will benefit Christ's people (for it puts them in His presence). This is what the early Christians were known for. This needs to start in the close circle. The church must be with the poor among their own members and care for them, but this will allow the church to extend this discipline of 'withness' to the dotted circle and the half circle as well. We need to spend real time with the poor. In doing so, we will access Christ.

*I felt like some of the biblical interpretation in this chapter was unnecessarily stretched (though not beyond credulity). I'm thinking here of Luke 16 and Matthew 25 and the motivation for Paul's tent-making vocation, but I'm willing to prayerfully consider these thoughts some more.
*Overall, I liked this chapter best of all so far.

Chapter 7 The Discipline of Being with Children
Fitch believes that we obsess over and idolize children in our culture without actually spending time with them. We must resist centering our lives around our children and instead center our lives together with them in Christ's presence. Being with children actually is an encounter with the living Christ! All Christians need to spend time with children (it's not a spiritual gift for only some). But we should resist making children's ministry a 'program', it must be a way of life. Being with children will naturally connect us with our community (birthday parties, play dates, etc.). We've got to stop trying to distract our children away from presence and bless them (and be blessed) with presence.

*Really good thoughts in this chapter.

Chapter 8 The Discipline of the Fivefold Gifting
The contemporary church seems defaulted to a hierarchical leadership structure. But there is another (better) option according to Fitch. The world longs for mutuality and the church should lead the way by a leadership structure of the fivefold ministry (from Ephesians 4). In this style, a leadership team (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher), relates in mutual submission under the authority of Christ. These leaders serve under the community, not over it (discerning the gifts of the people and equipping them for ministry). Fitch is adamant that this is the way (abandoned at the time of Constantine) church leadership should be structured and that it is the basis for the church being a place of faithful presence.

*I liked Fitch's emphasis on the importance of leaders being vulnerable and willing to confess sins in front of each other and others.
*I actually agree that the church needs a less hierarchical leadership structure. I'm not sure if I agree that the 'fivefold ministry' is the only or best replacement option.
*I wonder if Fitch makes a distinction between Apostles in the (walked with Jesus) sense and apostles in the modern day sense (since he says he believes there are modern day apostles). I also noticed that Fitch seemed to somewhat regularly neglect the 'teacher' role. I wondered if this was accidental or on purpose.
*I liked the way Fitch was willing to use spiritual gifts assessments, but not be ruled by them

Chapter 9 The Discipline of Kingdom Prayer
Fitch stresses that, though he has saved this discipline for last, in practice it must come first. Disciplining ourselves in prayer demonstrates that we know we need God. It is an act of inviting God's presence into a disordered world (and, therefore, a revolutionary act). Fitch believes we'd do well to stick to the Lord's Prayer. We must also pray in all three circles (so 'praying the hours' is wise). We do well to offer prayer (but must never coerce someone in prayer). There should be no drive-by prayers. Prayer flows from presence (true knowledge of a situation... a relationship) and aligns us with God's presence.

* I totally agree with his point that prayer needs to be listed as a separate category (even though it is part of all the other disciplines) for the very reason that it is so important and so easily neglected.
* I was convicted by Fitch's statement about not be too quick to offer kingdom prayer. He stresses that we must be present to the other person and to Christ's presence at work in the situation. "True kingdom prayer demands we know and are involved in the situation concretely." This contrasts with most 'prayer meetings' which tend to pray through a list of generally unknown names and situations.

Epilogue & Appendixes
Fitch sees a disconnect between much of the older generation of Christians (maintenance mode) and the younger generation (exhaustion mode). It once to combine the strengths and eliminate the weaknesses of these two modes. He's calling the church to become 'political (not a reference to national politics) organizers for the kingdom'. We do this by practicing the 7 Disciplines in all 3 circles.

*Appendix 4 was especially interesting to me. Fitch discusses the two major interpretations of Matthew 25. One emphasizes taking care of the church (neglecting world). The other emphasizes taking care of the world (neglecting church). Fitch offers a third interpretation. It's whatever YOU (Jesus' disciples) to do the least of these (the needy in the world). It must be the CHURCH reaching out to the WORLD. This cannot occur without a strong church. Fitch believes the missional church often has a weak ecclesiology (appendix 3) and he hopes his book offers a corrective.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lies We Believe About God

Below are links to my chapter by chapter review of WM. Paul Young's book Lies We Believe About God.

Foreword (C. Baxter Kruger)
Chapter 1 'God loves us, but doesn't like us'
Chapter 2 'God is good. I am not'
Chapter 3 'God is in control'
Chapter 4 'God does not submit'
Chapter 5 'God is a Christian'
Chapter 6 'God wants to use me'
Chapter 7 'God is more he than she'
Chapter 8 'God wants to be a priority'
Chapter 9 'God is a magician'
Chapter 10 'God is a prude'
Chapter 11 'God blesses my politics'
Chapter 12 'God created (my) religion'
Chapter 13 'You need to get saved'
Chapter 14 'God doesn't care about what I'm passionate about'
Chapter 15 'Hell is separation from God'
Chapter 16 'God is not good'
Chapter 17 'The cross was God's idea'
Chapter 18 'That was just a coincidence'
Chapter 19 'God requires child sacrifice'
Chapter 20 'God is a divine Santa Claus'
Chapter 21 'Death is more powerful than God'
Chapter 22 'God is not involved in my suffering'
Chapter 23 'You will never find God in a box'
Chapter 24 'Not everyone is a child of God'
Chapter 25 'God is disappointed in me'
Chapter 26 'God loves me for my potential'
Chapter 27 'Sin separates us from God'
Chapter 28 'God is One alone'
A Catena

A Closer Look at Young's Universalism
Summary Review of Lies We Believe About God

A Closer Look at Young's Universalism

Here are some important distinctions to be aware of when discussing Young's Universalism:

1. It is important to distinguish between General Universalism (all roads lead to God) and Christian Universalism (Christ will save all people). The former is not a Christian teaching. The latter is a view that has been held by many Christians throughout church history. It is a possible interpretation of Scripture. Just because Young takes this minority view doesn't make him a heretic. He still believes in Judgment Day and still believes in hell. He still believes that all people are saved by Christ. I'm not exactly sure what the 'heresy' would be.

2. It is important to distinguish between Dogmatic universalism (all will be saved) and Hopeful universalism (all may be saved). Young doesn't come across as a dogmatic person, but he does come across as a dogmatic universalist insofar as he believes the correct interpretation of Scripture (and the correct 'theology') leads to the view that salvation will be actualized in the life of every single individual. Personally, I'm an Free Will Open Theist, so dogmatic Christian universalism doesn't make much sense to me. But, again, I wouldn't consider it a heresy.

3. It is important to make a distinction between Future Universalism (all will be saved in the future) and Present Universalism (all are already saved by Jesus and just need to become aware of this truth). Young is a proponent of the latter. This is a view that may be picking up some momentum, but I consider it deeply flawed. It is one thing to tell Christians that they need to live out their new reality (you are a new creation!). It is another thing to tell people who are not currently following Christ that their reality is that they are already saved! It is enough to tell them that they are already loved and invite them to respond!

I consider this 3rd distinction the most important problem regarding Young's Universalism. Even still, I think it is worth pointing out that, in practice, Young's approach to someone not yet following Jesus would (theoretically) but the same as that of someone who didn't believe in Christian Universalism at all. He'd still tell them about God's love and focus on Jesus as the means to experiencing salvation.

Lies We Believe About God (Summary)

Below I will share my overall thoughts on WM. Paul Young's book Lies We Believe About God in summary format. I will utilize a green light, yellow light, red light format in my critique.

Green Light (Stuff I really liked....GO!)

1. The Tone- I liked the humble tone of the introduction (and carried through to the rest of the book). Young is not being dogmatic. He is sharing his thoughts. He is raising questions and creating conversation. This is healthy.

2. The Jesus Centered Approach- I believe this is the right approach. Young attempts to keep Jesus at the center, but that's not as easy as one might think. At times it seemed that Young might be leaning more on a certain interpretation of Paul or even certain statements of Jesus (while ignoring others).

3. Emphasis on Genesis 1- I like that Young talked about the inherent goodness of humanity. We need more voices that take Genesis 1 as the anthropological (not just chronological) predecessor to Genesis 3.

4. A Non-Controlling God- Young is right, it seems to me, to move away from meticulous sovereignty and toward a God who is purposefully non-controlling. Surprisingly, it seemed that Young departed from this a bit in the chapter about coincidences, but overall I thought he was solid on this point.

5. Caution Toward Religion- I agree with Young that Jesus didn't come to start another religion to compete with other religions. He came to end religion.

6. God and Gender- I never had a problem with Young's portrayal of the Trinity in The Shack so far as it concerns gender. In this book, he does a good job of stating his view. I concur.

7. Magic Christianity- I think Young did a very good job of describing how some Christians have a magical view of faith and performance. This is something I come across in local church ministry quite often.

8. Sex- I think Young was on point in the chapter on God's relationship to sexuality.

9. Politics- With the exception of not fleshing out (or even mentioning) Romans 13, I think Young did a great job of discussing the Christian relationship to the state (especially considering how short a space he devoted to this).

10. Hell- As someone who wrote a thesis paper on hell, I felt Young's treatment of the subject was fair. I don't agree with his view (Christian Universalism), but I don't consider it heretical either.

11. Atonement- I think Young did a good job of critiquing some forms of penal substitution theory that pit God the Father against the Son.

12. Trinity- I appreciated and share Young's thoughts on the Trinity. I do believe that 'God is love' is a true statement because God is a plurality of unified persons. It's wonderful to know that love is at the very core of reality.

Yellow Light (Stuff I'd be cautious about... SLOW DOWN!)

1. View of the Fall- I was not thoroughly convinced that Young had a thoroughgoing view of the depth of human depravity. His best statement of it was in chapter 22, but overall he seemed to view the human condition as one where our goodness is just buried deep inside us rather than actually distorted. In his view we are blind to the light (but in Scripture we actually love darkness).

2. Christian Universalism- I consider General Universalism to be a non-Christian teaching, but I wouldn't say this about Christian Universalism. In the latter, I would distinguish between dogmatic universalism and hopeful universalism. Young seems basically certain that all will be saved. I would be more open to hopeful universalism. I actually think Young's certainty on this point goes against some of his basic operating principles.

3. Unclear Writing and/or Thinking- On a number of points, Young's position is either unclear or doesn't make sense to me. For instance, he says that our salvation is secure, but that participation in it is necessary. I'm not sure how those statements could both be true (how can you guarantee free will participation?). On the problem of pain, Young says God is able to intervene miraculously, but doesn't usually do this. Nevertheless, Young says he himself would intervene into such situations if possible. He leans heavily on mystery here, I guess. The coincidence chapter didn't seem to fit with some of his other thinking. You can't really say, in my opinion, that God isn't behind the bad stuff that happens and then say He's behind every detail of the good stuff. Either God utilizes meticulous sovereignty or God doesn't.

Red Light (Stuff I didn't like... STOP!)

1. We're Already Saved- I don't think Young is right about this. I think he has focused on a possible interpretation of some verses at the expense of better interpretations of said passages, the context of those passages, and a multitude of other verses that suggest otherwise. I don't think this is just semantics. There is truth in telling fellow Christians that they need to keep their new reality (they are a new creation!) in mind, but it's inappropriate, in my view, to say the same to non-Christians (for they are not yet a new creation). A non-follower of Jesus doesn't just need to wake up to reality. They need a new reality.

2.We're All God's Children- Much the same here. I think Young was wrong to ignore the necessary nuance on this point. He literally dismissed the opportunity to add good nuance (top of 205). It even comes across, to me, as a bit lazy (it'd be complicated to nuance this... so let's just not do it). It is true that we are all children of God in the sense that we are all God's creation. It is also true that we are all loved by God. But it is not true that everyone is a child of God in every sense. And some of those senses are important (life and death stuff).

Overall, I thought the book had (much) much more true teaching than false teaching (from my perspective). Specifically, I think Young is wrong to label the following statements as lies:

Chapter 13 "You need to get saved"
Chapter 24 "Not everyone is a child of God"

That's not to say that everything Young says in those chapters is wrong. It's just to say that I think there is actually more truth in the supposed 'lie' than there is in his rebuttal.

Lies We Believe About God (Catena)

Summary of "A Catena"
Young lists a chain of Scriptures (picking his preferred translations and giving his own emphasis) that speak to the biblical theme of God's saving work for all. He believes they speak powerfully in support of his perspective.

I'll react to each verse independently below:

Luke 3:6 "All flesh shall see the salvation of God"
Of course, these words from Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) only say that all humans will see the salvation of God, not that all flesh will experience it. In fact, in the very next paragraph, John the Baptist is telling some people that they are a 'brood of vipers' and need to flee wrath. They need to repent and produce fruit. They should stop thinking that they are children of Abraham. They're headed toward death and hell. When John's hearers then ask, 'What should we do', John's reply is not 'realize your true identity.' His response is actually quite performance based. Share your extra tunic. Stop robbing people. Don't make false accusations. In other words, I don't think the wording of Luke 3:6 necessarily communicates what Young thinks it communicates and the context seems to say some things at odds with his conclusions.

John 1:7 "That through him all would believe"
Young here picks a translation that uses the word 'would' whereas most every translation uses the word 'might'. The Greek, it seems to me, allows for either. Even 'would' doesn't necessarily mean that all will. It could just as easily mean 'would be able' to believe (which is the same as 'might'). Indeed, just a handful of verses later John writes "Yet to all who received him to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." This seems to speak against Young's idea that all people are automatically children of God in every important sense and against his idea that all will certainly end up saved (since salvation is conditional upon believing/allegiance).

John 1:29 "Takes away the sin of the world"
Yes, Jesus is the one who takes away the sin of the world. Nobody else is able to do that. The verse doesn't necessarily mean that Jesus actually has already taken away the sin of every individual in the world. Nor can it mean contextually since the words come form John the Baptist who preached repentance of sin.

John 3:16-17 "God so loved the world... To save the world through Him"
God loves the whole world. But individual members of that world only experience eternal life if they believe in the One God sent. Jesus is The Way to be saved. Young's quotation only supports the truth that God loves all people. It does not support the idea that all people are already saved.

John 3:35 "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand"
The context of this verse is the statement in the previous verse that God gave Jesus the Spirit without limit. So the meaning of this verse is most likely reiterating that point. Additionally, the very next verse repeats: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life for God's wrath remains on him." Young isolates verse 35 to make it sound as if all individuals are already saved by Jesus, but the context doesn't really support such an interpretation.

John 4:42 "This really is the Savior of the world"
Yes, Jesus really is the Savior of the world. Young seems to think that anytime the words 'salvation' and 'world' are used in the same sentence, this must mean that all individual members of the world will be (or, in fact, already are) saved. This doesn't really follow. It could just mean that the only way for the world to be saved is through Jesus.

John 6:33 "Gives life to the world"
Yes, Jesus is the source of life. Anyone who has physical life owes it to Jesus. And anyone who has spiritual life owes it to Jesus. Jesus is a giver of life. But that doesn't mean that every individual in the world receives Jesus' gift. Again, just two verses later Jesus makes clear that you actually have to come to him. Some don't come to Him. One's response to Jesus is a matter of life and death. It is simply not the case that we all already have life and just need to realize as much.

John 8:12 "I am the light of the world"
Indeed, Jesus is a light to the whole world. But the world prefers darkness to light (John 3:19). Again, the very same verse (just not the part of the verse Young quotes) says we actually have to follow Jesus to have that light. It's not already in us.

John 12:32 "Will draw [drag] all men to Myself"
First of all, I think his emphasis [drag] speaks, once again, to the fact that he's coming from a Calvinistic background. Second, just because Jesus draws/drags all people to Himself doesn't mean they all repent and are saved. It could just mean that everyone will at some point be confronted by the reality of the cross. Third, the statement was prompted by a visit by some Greek people who wanted more of Jesus. The statement could simply be saying that all people (more than just Jews) were and will be drawn to Jesus. It needn't be suggesting that every individual will be drawn to Him (let alone that they will all then be saved or realize that they are already saved).

John 13:3 "The Father had given all things into His hands"
Yes, but what does Jesus do with the "all things" that are in His hands? Does He force them to respond positively to His love? Does He force them to adhere to the truth? It is true that Jesus has been given all authority, but He chooses to delegate that authority... to share it... in order to make what He's after (love) possible. This is a point Young is aware of and even supports, so it is a bit surprising if he is taking this verse to mean more than that.

John 6:37, 39 "All that the Father gives me will come"
In context, this passage is not about soteriology (who is or will be saved) but Christology. Jesus is in dispute with unbelievers. These people assumed they were in right relationship to God, yet they rejected Jesus. Jesus point is that the very fact that they are rejecting Him shows that they weren't in right relationship to God in the first place. Everyone who is in right relationship with the Father will recognize Jesus as His Son. The very context, then, shows that some people are indeed outsiders to the Kingdom for the very fact that they don't submit to the Father or the Son.

John 17:2 "Authority of all people, that he might give eternal life to all"
Yes, Jesus has authority over all people. But, again, how does Jesus use that authority? Does He force all people to be saved and/or recognize their salvation? No. He offers them salvation as a gift. They must receive it. The whole rest of the prayer in this chapter assumes a distinction between believers and unbelievers that Young doesn't seem to want to recognize. Jesus often spoke in categories that conflict with Young's most controversial point.

Acts 3:21 "God to restore all things"
Verse 19 says "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out," Frankly, the text demands that we must be saved (the idea that we are already saved would, it seems to me, be baffling to the New Testament authors). God is going to restore His original intent (a beautiful earth filled with love), but whether or not individual people choose to participate in that by the grace of God is another matter.

Ephesians 1:9-10 "He might gather together in one all things in Christ"
Young might believe that all things are already in Christ, but the text doesn't necessarily share Young's assumption. It simply points to a future unity in Christ. Our response to Jesus determines whether or not we are in the body of Christ.

Ephesians 1:22-23 "Head over all things to the church... Him who fills all in all"
It is somewhat surprising that Young would utilize this verse insofar as it specifically speaks of Jesus as the head of the church (not the entire world). The church is Jesus' body (again, not the world).

Ephesians 2:8-9 "By grace you have been saved through faith... not of works"
I'm guessing that Young included this point because he wants to make sure we don't understand salvation as performance based. I agree. I'd simply remind Young that the reception of a gift is not a performance. No one gets 'credit' for receiving a gift. The passage is saying that the people of faith (not everyone) have received the gift of salvation by grace.

Colossians 1:15-17, 20 "To reconcile all things to Himself"
Young doesn't print the verses in between which speak of the church, specifically, as the body of Christ. The passage says that we were all alienated from God, not just because of lies we believed but also because of behaviors that we performed. But now we (the Colossian Christians and all believers) have been reconciled. Indeed, it is even possible for us to stop being reconciled if we don't continue in the faith according to this passage (v. 23).

Romans 5:18 "Free gift came to all men"
Again, a free gift still has to be received. And this reception is not a work (of course). I agree the gift is offered to all. But there's no indication that all receive it. It is possible to reject a gift of love (otherwise it is not love, it is coercion).

Romans 8:38-39 "[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God"
Amen! I agree. God's love is universal. But that doesn't mean it is reciprocated by every individual. Obviously it is not. My love for my children does not dictate that they will love me.

Romans 11:36 "From him and through him and to him are all things"
Amen! It's all about Jesus!

Romans 11:32 "So that he might have mercy on all"
Yes, God has indeed been merciful to all of us. Not only has God been merciful... God has also been gracious. Indeed, God makes salvation available to all. Amen! But that doesn't mean that all are saved.

1 Corinthians 15:22 "In Christ all will be made alive"
Young, it seems, takes this to mean that all are in Christ and saved. There are two other options (both better). It could be that all will be resurrected (at which point they will be distinguished as either holy or wicked). Or, more likely, Young is just wrong in his prior assumption that all are already 'in Christ'. The verse is just saying that everyone in Christ will experience eternal life in a resurrected body.

1 Corinthians 15:24-28 "God may be all in all"
Amen! God will be all in all. Death itself will be defeated. Everything will be submitted to the authority of God. But this comes after the destruction of some things that would not or could not submit. So the 'all' is qualified in that sense.

2 Corinthians 5:19 "God was in Christ reconciling the cosmos to Himself"
Yes, the incarnation made possible the reconciliation of the world to God. Anyone who is 'in Christ' is therefore reconciled. They are part of the new creation, as the context makes clear. We continue this work of reconciliation as ambassadors. Ambassadors serve among foreigners (people who are not from the nation of the Ambassador). We preach 'be reconciled' not 'you are reconciled already'.

Philippians 2:10-11 "Every knee will bow... every tongue confess"
Yes, all will ultimately submit to the fact of God's authority. But bowing and confession can possibly be done reluctantly. Some translations just have it that every knee 'should' bow (KJV & NIV).

Philippians 3:21 "Subject all things to Himself"
Here's the context: "Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction... but our citizenship is in heaven." It is the bodies of believers that will be made like His glorious body. Christ has the power to control everyone, but doesn't utilize that power in an attempt to force love. "All are subject" does not necessarily equate to "All are believers".

1 Timothy 2:4 "He desires all people to be saved"
Amen! Of course, God may not get all that God wants because what God wants most is love and love cannot be forced.

1 Timothy 4:10 "Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe"
This statement should be read in the context of the entire letter. Early (2:4) Paul wrote that God wants all men to be saved. Some aren't currently saved and might remain lost. In 2:6 it says Jesus gave Himself for all, but that doesn't mean all people received that gift. Jesus is the only Savior for all humanity, but only those who put their trust in Him receive that salvation.

Titus 2:11 "Salvation to all people"
The NIV has it "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." The verse doesn't suggest that all people respond to salvation. The next verses speak about those who receive grace (us). There is an insider/outside perspective in Scripture. It's just not based on religious stuff. It's based on Jesus.

Hebrews 1:1-2 "He appointed the Son heir of all things"
The Son will inherit everything the Father has to give. But in an important sense, the Father does not possess the hearts of those who refused His love. Thus, "all things" does not necessarily entail every individual soul.

2 Peter 3:9 "He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come"
Amen! God doesn't want anyone to perish. In the same context Peter brings up Noah's flood. I think we can safely assume that God did not want anyone in Noah's day to perish either. But almost all of them did. God's desire for all to enter into divine love does not (and cannot) guarantee that all will enter into that love because it is love (which must be freely chosen) that we are talking about.

1 John 2:2 "Atoning sacrifice... for those of the whole world"
John Stott comments on this verse: "This cannot be pressed into meaning that all sins are automatically pardoned through the propitiation of Christ, but that a universal pardon is offered for (the sins of) the whole world and is enjoyed by those who embrace it." The point is that this is the one way for the whole world to be put right with God.

Revelation 5:13 "I heard every creature"
This is apocalyptic literature... a dramatized scene (potentially including hyperbole). Or it could be literal but only include those who remain after judgment. Or it could be a recognize of authority without actual heart-felt worship. It need not be interpreted to mean that, ultimately, every individual that has ever existed will experience salvation. Many verses in the book of Revelation seem to suggest otherwise.

Revelation 21:5 "Behold, I make all things new"
This passage is part of the bookends of Scripture. The idea is that God will restore everything that was originally intended. God intended a beautiful planet filled with love-filled human beings. Those intentions took a detour because of human sin. The world and human beings have been experiencing decay and death. But God didn't give up on His original intention. God will take the decay and death and overcome it. He has already begun. He makes all things new in Christ. It's not a statement about every individual who has ever lived nor a promise that each person will ultimately be saved. It's a statement that God's plan for creation will be accomplished. We can choose whether to participate or not participate.

Lies We Believe About God (28)

Summary of Chapter 28
The 28th and final 'lie' that Young suggests is the lie that 'God is One alone'. In The Shack, the lead character (Mack) believed in a unitarian God. But when he arrived at the shack that God was nowhere to be found. Why? Because that God doesn't exist. God is trinitarian, not unitarian. God is inherently love and that statement (1 John 4:8, 16) could not be true if God was ever NOT Trinity. The truth oft he Trinity is good news because it means love is the central reality.

We have the clearest confession of the particulars of his theological upbringing. He was told that God was the originator of evil (meticulous sovereignty, divine determinism), a distant deity (some form of deism) who had a plan that included the torture of a child (some forms of penal substitution theory). Again, I've suggested throughout this review that I believe Young is reacting (and in some cases over-reacting) against some form of hard-calvinism.

I think Young is correct, in this reaction, to go to Jesus as the source for rebuilding his theological paradigm. Young makes an excellent point about love and the Trinity. It's a point I've made many times myself. If the doctrine of the Trinity is true (and I believe it is), it means that Love is at the core of the universe because the universe was created out of Love. I have no objections to this chapter.

Lies We Believe About God (27)

Summary of Chapter 27
The 27th 'lie' we believe about God, according to Young, is that 'sin separates us from God'. Young wants to distinguish between mistakes and sins. Mistakes, he suggests, are an essential part of being human (as in, even Jesus would have made mistakes and needed to 'grow' in, for instance, wisdom). Sin is something fundamentally deeper. It is, according to Young, failing to realize (missing the mark of) the relational reality that you are a child of God... an image bearer of the divine. The truest truth about all of us is that we are part of a very good creation. Sin is failing to see this and live it out. Deep down, you are all those things that Paul says love is in 1 Corinthians 13 (even if that is difficult to believe). Your sin doesn't separate you from God. Nothing could ever do that (Romans 8:38-39). Jesus' incarnation shows us what it looks like for a human being to live out the truth of our inherent goodness.

It seems to me that we are here, again, dealing with the major point of contention in this book. Young's anthropology is different that most. He believes that we are fundamentally good. That sentence (my words, but Young's sentiment) will automatically turn off some Christians. But our rejection of it shouldn't be automatic. There is much truth in the sentiment. Genesis 1 (that we are 'good' and made in the image of God) does come before Genesis 3 ('the fall'). So, fundamentally (at the most basic level), we are good. Our inherent goodness is, indeed, the truest truth about us.

In saying this, Young is almost certainly reacting against a particular interpretation of the doctrine of total depravity. Some have used this doctrine to say that human beings are utterly sinful (sinful in every sense). We are just, basically, piles of poop (to get right to the point). This is actually a misunderstanding of the doctrine of total depravity (which only states that every aspect of humanity has been tainted by sin). It seems to me that Young is reacting against the mis-interpretation of this doctrine by going to the opposite extreme. Rather than agreeing that all of our goodness has been tainted by sin, he prefers to speak of it as still present (just deeper down). Our goodness hasn't been twisted so much as it has been buried. These words (twisted, buried) are metaphors, of course, but I think they get at the heart of where many will depart from Young. Personally, I think I'd rather have someone err on the side Young may be erring than err on the other side. But, of course, I'd rather we not err at all!

One thing Young seems to clearly want to dismantle in this chapter (though he never specifically mentions it) is the "Bridge of Life" illustration that many Christians use to evangelize. This illustration (literally, a drawing) shows a chasm between God and us. The chasm represents sin. Jesus builds a bridge across this chasm and invites us back to God. Young doesn't see it that way. He says, "Jesus did not come to build a bridge back to God" because he insists that we were never separated from God's love in the first place. But why does this illustration have to be seen in such a way that it imagines us being separated from God's love? It need only be taken to mean that there's a relational distance between us and God (caused by us). God still loves us despite this distance (like the father still loved the son in the prodigal parable). God initiated reconciliation (by sending Jesus to bridge that distance) because God loved the people on the other side of that chasm. By following Christ, we aren't making our way back to God (Jesus is God!)... we are walking with God toward deeper relationship. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, here. But it seems a point worth making.

Overall, I appreciate some of the points Young is making in this chapter. I do think there is a difference between mistakes and sin. I'm intrigued by his way of defining sin. I like that he emphasizes the truth of Genesis 1. But I also think he goes too far in imagining that our inherent goodness is just buried deep instead of twisted. Perhaps I'm mis-reading him. But I do object to what I think he's saying to some degree.

Lies We Believe About God (26)

Summary of Chapter 26
The 26th 'lie' is that 'God loves me for my potential'. Talk of potential piles on pressure. Potential is impossible to reach because it's a moving target. God doesn't love us because of our potential. God loves us now... as we are!

I think Young makes a good and simple point here. I would only add that just because God loves us as we are, that does not mean He doesn't (in His love) help us reach our potential. Or, to eliminate the double-negative, God loves us in a way that grows us... enabling us to become the best version of us possible. Just a little more nuance... no objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (25)

Summary of Chapter 25
The 25th 'lie' Young argues against is that 'God is disappointed in me'. Again, we get some autobiographical material. Young felt like his earthly father was always disappointed in him. He wants to distinguish between grief (a healthy response to loss) and disappointment (which revolves around expectation and imagination). God often grieves over us, but is never disappointed in us because God never had any illusions about us.

One thing that seems clear throughout this book is that Young is not an Open Theist (I am). In that sense he is more in line with what we might call 'classical theism' (perhaps to the surprise of many of his toughest critics). There's no need to get heavy into the open theism debate here, but I do wonder what Young would say about some of the passages in Scripture where God does seem surprised by human action (or inaction). I think Open Theism could potentially strengthen Young's theology in a couple of different areas. Nonetheless, that's a whole other discussion. No strong objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (24)

Summary of Chapter 24
The 24th 'lie' that Young wants to combat is that 'not everyone is a child of God'. Young recognizes that not everyone presently believes they are a child of God, but he insists that we are whether we believe it or not. He uses the illustration of his own children. There is nothing they could do to stop being his kids. God created us... so we are God's children. Case closed. We are not powerful enough to change that fact.

This covers the same terrain as chapter 13 (which I assume will be considered the most controversial section of Young's book). In that chapter Young said we don't need to be saved because we already are saved. In this chapter, much the same, Young is saying that we don't need to become a child of God because we already are God's children.

I think the key moment in this chapter comes at the top of page 205. After making his claim that all people are already children of God, Young anticipates the objection: "Well, everyone is a child of God in the sense that everyone is created by God, but...". But Young rebukes this 'but' because it's just another attempt for us humans to categorize and divide people.

The problem I have with Young's point is that he seems to have a categorical opposition to nuance... but nuance is sometimes necessary. Why can't it be true that there is a 'sense' in which all humans are God's children and a 'sense' in which some aren't? It seems to me that the Jews in John 8:41 thought they were children of God, but they weren't. Jesus (who is supposed to be the source of all of Young's thinking) said to them: "If God were your Father, you would love me." Jesus went even further: "You belong to your father, the devil." Young simply doesn't address such verses. Is there not a New Testament theme that one needs to be born again to join God's family?

What's more, Young has emphasized (throughout the book) the importance God places on giving humans free will (a form of power). So why aren't humans 'powerful enough' to opt out of God's family? That wouldn't mean that God stopped loving them as His children, but you can't receive an inheritance if you won't answer your phone or the mail.

It seems to me that we are all God's children in the sense that God created us all. And I do believe that God wants us to all be children in right relationship. God is always ready to embrace. But some of us are prodigal sons and daughters. And there's a real sense in which such children will miss out if they never come home. There's even a real sense in which some are children of the devil. Part of me thinks Young has an overly literal understanding of some of the relational metaphors in Scripture that causes him to miss some of the truth presented in his non-favorite verses.

I object to the idea that no nuance is necessary when stating that we are all God's children. As it says in 1 John 2:29-3:2... "Everyone WHO DOES WHAT IS RIGHT has been BORN of him. How great is the love the Father has lavished upon US, that WE should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, NOW we are children of God..." (emphasis mine).

Lies We Believe About God (23)

Summary of Chapter 23
The 23rd 'lie' is the idea that 'you will never find God in a box'. Young grew up in a world where God was placed in a box (a too neatly packaged theology). Eventually, he could no longer accept delivery of that package. But he wants us to be aware that, sometimes, when we leave one box, we make a box of our own (all the while becoming smug toward people who still use the first box). Young's point seems to be that even though God doesn't fit in any of our boxes, God will become small enough to get in our boxes because God wants to be where we are.

This chapter gives some more insight into Young's history that sheds light on some of his positions. It also shows some humble self-awareness about the dangers of feeling like you've figured out some things that most seem in the dark about. Finally, it shows yet another way God is willing to humble Himself just to be with us. No objections here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lies We Believe About God (22)

Summary of Chapter 22
The 23rd 'lie' that Young wants to bring into the light is that 'God is not involved in my suffering'. Young believes love and loss are the two great realities of our present existence. But, ultimately, loss will be no more and only love will be left. In the meantime, God enters into the suffering brought about by our quest for independence. And we must do the same for others. That's how love wins.

There isn't much to react to in this chapter. I agree that God enters into our sufferings and that we should do the same for others. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this chapter is that it seems to contain Young's clearest statement of 'The Fall'. He describes it as 'Adam's independent turning from Life' which 'introduced death into the cosmos'. Young also believes that 'as we each in our choices and actions continue to turn from Life, we reaffirm the profound hold that death has on us.' It seems to me this is an adequate, though perhaps not quite bold enough, statement of our fallen condition (something I was hoping to come across in my reading of this book). I'm content to raise no objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (21)

Summary of Chapter 21
The 21st 'lie' is that 'death is more powerful than God'. This chapter is not, however, a statement about the truth of resurrection. It is about the possibility of choosing life even after death... about postmortem conversion. Young believes free will continues beyond death. God's love for us remains. Our freedom to choose remains. Death, in Young's view, is the beginning of a restorative process intended to free us to run into the arms of love. Young believes death will carry with it the opportunity to choose Life. Life is bigger than death.

This chapter is not surprising to anyone who read chapters 13 or 15. Young believes that all people will ultimately be saved (actually, to reiterate, he believes that all people ARE saved, but some simply are not yet aware of or experiencing their salvation). Since many don't ever begin to experience their salvation in this lifetime, Young believes they will come to this experience after death (thus, in a strange way, many saved people experience hell and, in fact, hell is completely occupied by 'saved' people).

But the main point of this chapter is clearly that Young believes postmortem conversion is possible. And he believes this because he sees no reason to believe that free will ceases to exist after death. I agree that there's no air-tight case for the elimination of free will after death. I would say, though, that an even better argument for the possibility of postmortem conversion is the unchanging character of God. Young would certainly support this, but doesn't emphasize it as much as the free will angle. A difference between Young and myself, it seems to me, is that I am not sure that anyone will convert in 'hell' and Young is sure that everyone will. I don't think it is legitimate for Young to be so confident about this, especially given his emphasis on free will. How can he (how can God even!?) guarantee the future choice of a free will creature (I recognize that Young is not, like myself, an open theist... but that doesn't remove what appears to me a logical inconsistency).

Concerning his main point (the possibility of postmortem conversion), I have no major objection. I consider it a possibility as well. C.S. Lewis famously said the gates of hell are locked from the inside and the Book of Revelation states that the gates of the holy city will never be shut. No major objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (20)

Summary of Chapter 20
The 20th 'lie' dealt with by Young is that 'God is a divine Santa Claus'. Some people, according to Young, have 'projected their notions about Santa Claus into their thinking about God'. Young adds another layer in suggesting that we think of Jesus as the nice, gift-giving Santa and the Father as the nasty Santa who keeps a record of all our wrongs. But the Father, Young insists, is not a different sort of Person than the Son. We would do better, when attempting to understand what God is like, to look at who we long to be (since we are made in God's image). We would do BEST to look at Jesus, Who is the human we (deep down) long to be.

The idea that many of us think of God like we used to think of Santa Claus is certainly not novel, but Young does a good job of quickly explaining this particular theological projection. He is right that some pit the Father against the Son as if they have different character traits. Young is also correct to say that we should look toward Jesus if we want to get our theology right. He is the direct revelation of God. No objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (19)

Summary of Chapter 19
The 19th 'lie' is that 'God requires child sacrifice'. Here, Young confronts the common 'Christian' narrative that (because of sin) God required child sacrifice (specifically, His own Son Jesus) in order to appease divine wrath. Young says we know in our guts that this doesn't match what we know about the God who is love. Scripture itself bans child sacrifice. Even the story of Abraham, sometimes used as justification, actually has the opposite message (God was simply willing to stoop to Abraham's level of thinking to teach him that his thinking was wrong). Sacrifice is the language we humans speak, so God became the sacrifice we required.

There was a lot of overlap here with chapter 17 (the order of some of these chapters is quite strange, as ones that could easily have been combined are often separated by chapters that seemingly don't have much in common with their prequels or sequels). I agree with Young that God is against child sacrifice and did not require the death of His own Son to appease His wrath. I think Young's understanding of the story of Abraham & Isaac is solid. No objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (18)

Summary of Chapter 18
The 18th 'lie' is that 'that was just a coincidence'. Young believes that God is involved in the details of our lives. There are no coincidences. Coincidence has a name: God! In fact, those things we are apt to call coincidences often turn into awesome moments of divine providence. Young is 'personally convinced that nothing is apart from the abiding presence and activity of God'.

In some ways, this chapter is surprising. Young has spilled a lot of ink to declare that God is not the author of spilled blood, but here he seems to insist that God is in all the details of life. Of course, Young is focusing, here, on 'good' coincidences. I don't know for sure what he would think about the question of random evil (if chapter 16 is any indication, I'm guessing he would consider them mysterious). My point is that I'm not sure how consistent this chapter is with the rest of the book and the theological paradigm that Young espouses.

Lies We Believe About God (17)

Summary of Chapter 17
The 17th 'lie' covered in the book is that 'the cross was God's idea'. Young says there is nothing good about the cross. If it was God's idea... that would reflect poorly on God (God would be a cosmic child abuser). Rather, the cross (a torture device) was our idea. God knew from the beginning that we would do this. God submitted to it and transformed the cross into a symbol of grace.

Though this chapter would surely offend some people (Divine Determinists/Calvinists), I think Young is correct. God's plan was not to have Jesus tortured on a Roman cross. That's what we did. But God lovingly works through tragedy to accomplish good. No objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (16)

Summary of Chapter 16
The 16th 'lie' Young wants to correct is that 'God is not good'. Of course, few believers would repeat such a lie, but Young suspects that many of us doubt God's goodness deep down in our hearts. We feel this way because even though God could fix every problem in an instant... God doesn't. And this creates a lack of trust in God's goodness. Young believes the existence of evil is a wrenching question. He doesn't really try to solve the problem of pain in this chapter. He simply reminds us that there is much beauty and goodness in the world too and insists on God's goodness.

Young believes that 'God is able to heal, instantly and thoroughly', but he also recognizes that miracles are just a 'press of a pause button'. Ultimately, we will all die of our last illness. In any case, miracles are the exception, not the rule. What's interesting, in this chapter, is that Young still says (of evil): 'If I could, I would fix it', but he believes God could and doesn't. This remains a mystery for him. I would guess that Young, if his theology continues in its current trajectory, will come to a conclusion similar to something like that of Thomas Jay Oord (The Uncontrolling Love of God, which I reviewed here) in which God (in some real sense) isn't even capable of 'fixing it' instantly. But that's just a guess. I have no real objects to this chapter because Young doesn't really try to resolve the problem of pain. He simply states it and continues to trust in God.

Lies We Believe About God (15)

Summary of Chapter 15
The 15th 'lie' that Young reacts to is that 'hell is separation from God'. Young starts out by saying that he grew up in a fear-based version of faith. One became a Christian to avoid hell (viewed as eternal conscious torment). Young now knows that there are actually 3 'Christian' views of hell (eternal torment, annihiliation, redemptive). In this chapter, however, he simply aims to address the lie in the title. Young insists that, while we can reject or ignore it, we do not have the power to separate ourselves from the love of God. In Hell (as on earth) we may experience a 'sense' of separation, but we are never actually separated from the love of God. That's impossible. The 'fires' of hell serve the loving purpose of burning away 'every vistage of evil and darkness that prevents us from being fully free and fully alive'. Hell is a place of purification, not punishment.

I am glad Young brought up the 3 'Christian' views of hell. I, too, believe that each of these views fit within broader Christian orthodoxy (Hell was the subject of my Master's Thesis). Additionally, I think Young's point in this chapter (that hell is not technically separation from God) is a good one. God's character doesn't change after we die, nor does God's omnipresence meet its borders. No objections here.

This chapter also sheds some more light on what was said in chapter 13. It seems that Young believes hell is an 'age of redemptive purification' (the 3rd view). So, from his perspective, all who die not yet having experienced their pre-existing salvation (still ignorant of it or rejecting it) will be confronted with the fiery love of God which will burn away (so to speak, I doubt Young interprets this literally) our ignorance and rejection of God. All will experience God's love and be saved. As I said, I do not consider this 3rd view (which I refer to as 'eventual restoration' to be heretical. My own view would include the possibility of postmortem redemption (with Young), but not the certainty of it (against Young).

Lies We Believe About God (14)

Summary of Chapter 14
The 14th 'lie' Young wants to expose is that 'God doesn't care about what I'm passionate about'. The chapter emphasizes that God cares about what we care about because we care about it and because God is actually the source of that good thing. God loves us and the things which rightfully excite us.

Not much to react to in this chapter. I think most Christians have a beautiful enough picture of God to believe that God is the source of all good things and enjoys seeing us enjoy creation. God loves to rejoice with us. No objections here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lies We Believe About God (13)

Summary of Chapter 13
A 13th 'lie' according to Young is that 'you need to get saved'. In this chapter Young argues against viewing salvation likes a sales-pitch. He doesn't like how Christians try to get people to say the sinner's prayer and then (and only then) tell them about the fine-print (all the things they'll have to 'do' now that they are 'religious'). Such a view doesn't really sound like good news to Young. Alternatively, he believes that salvation simply isn't something people need to acquire. They already have it! Jesus has already, unilaterally, saved every person on the planet (whether they believe or not). It is Jesus' faith that saves us, not ours. Young believes in universal salvation. We must actively participate not in our salvation, but the working out of our salvation. This participation doesn't make our salvation true, it is a response to the truth of salvation.

There was a definite turning point in this chapter (specifically, the bottom of page 117). In the first half of the chapter, Young is making some solid points against the transactional view of salvation. I agree that our evangelism is not healthy when we are just trying to get people to say the sinner's prayer. But in the second half of the chapter Young shares something that has only been hinted at earlier in the book. Young, it seems, is a Christian Universalist.

Now before I react specifically to Young's Christian Universalism, it might be helpful to distinguish between general Universalism and Christian Universalism. The former teaches that all roads lead to God (all people will ultimately be saved irregardless of their relation to Christ). Such a view is outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. Christian Universalism is different. It is the belief that all people will ultimately be saved via relationship with Jesus. To my mind, there is nothing necessarily unorthodox about Christian Universalism (even though I don't agree with it). There were Christian Universalists in the early church (and there have been throughout church history). There are some verses in Scripture that could be read that way (Young lists some of them in this chapter).

Young's particular brand of Christian Universalism isn't quite that all people WILL EVENTUALLY be saved. His view is that all people ALREADY ARE saved (whether they know it or not). The incarnation of Christ, according to Young, brought all of humanity into connection to Christ. We don't get a vote. We are saved. Our experience of salvation is simply a matter of discovery.

A frustrating aspect to this chapter is that Young, who claims we must participate in 'working-out' our salvation, doesn't really 'work-out' in what sense our participation is necessary. He SAYS "our participation in the working out of this salvation is essential. Our ongoing choices matter." But he also says that our salvation is "fully secured from all eternity in Jesus". How can something be fully secured but necessarily participatory? The final line of the chapter states that "We don't participate in the working out in order to make it true; we do so because it is true." But what if some do NOT do so? Can Young really have it both ways?

I'd imagine his view is that in the afterlife (experience and observation says it doesn't always happen on earth, right?) everyone will come to recognize God's love for them and everyone will respond accordingly. And I'd assume that Young's confidence about this comes from his interpretation of the inclusive-sounding passages he references in the chapter (and in the Catena at the end of the book).

Let us consider the passages Young believes make his case. Here are the references and, in parenthesis, what Young believes they prove:

John 12:32 ("God dragged all human being to Himself")
Jesus simply says, here, that when He dies on the cross, he will "draw all men" to himself. I can understand someone interpreting that in a universalist direction, but the context doesn't seem to support such a view. In the context, some Greeks have arrived on the scene (they were pursuing Jesus). So Jesus may simply be reacting to that by saying that all kinds of people (not just Jews) will be drawn to Him. And, of course, being drawn toward (made to face) someone doesn't necessarily indicate a positive relationship. What's more, the very same context has Jesus talking about how those who love their lives will lose it and only those who hate their lives (so to speak) will keep it (experience eternal life). The context just doesn't make the argument of Christian Universalm even if the isolated line potentially could be read that way.

1 Timothy 4:10 ("Jesus is Savior to all humankind")
The verse says that Jesus is the Savior of all men (people), especially of those who believe. It seems Young takes this to mean that all people are saved, but only those presently believing are 'experiencing' (working-out) their salvation. Again, I can see why he might take it that way. But earlier in the same letter Paul wrote that God 'wants' all men to be saved (2:4). That is to say they aren't currently saved and might potentially remain lost. The similar sounding statement in 4:10 must be read in this context. 1 Timothy 2:6 says that Jesus gave Himself for all men, but that doesn't mean all people receive Him. Jesus, then, is the Savior to all humanity (He's the only true Savior available), but believers actualize this salvation.

John 1:3 ("Every single human being is in Christ")
This verse says that through Christ (the Word) all things were made. Well, to my mind anyways, that is a far cry from saying that every single human being is 'in Christ' in the sense that the Scriptures use that important phrase. Paul's usage of this phrase seems to militate against the idea that everyone simply is in Christ from the start.

2 Corinthians 5:19 ("When Christ X, we all X")
Young takes the ideas contained in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (He died for all, therefore all died) to indicate that we all share in Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. 5:19  says God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ. But again, the whole context of the chapter seems to go against Young's conclusions on this. 5:17 says IF anyone is in Christ (which seems to indicate that some are not). The whole idea of Christ (and us) having a ministry of reconciliation (5:18) seems to assume that some are not yet reconciled. The idea that we are ambassadors (5:20) on this earth suggests that some people are still foreigners to God's kingdom. Our mission is to implore people to "Be reconciled to God" (5:20), not tell them that they already are reconciled. Jesus came that we MIGHT become the righteousness of God (5:21), not that we already are the righteousness of God in Christ.

2 Timothy 1:9 ("We were all saved in eternity")
The verse says that God has saved "us" and called us to a holy life. This was not based on anything we did, but God's sovereign election before the beginning of time. Young assumes "us" means "all" (it seems) and, therefore, believes that every individual was saved before the beginning of time. Well this interpretation, to be blunt, just adds a universalistic flavor to a calvinistic understanding of the doctrine of election (there are, of course, other possibilities).

That brings up an important point to ponder. Could it be that Young grew up with some form of Calvinism (he wasn't very specific about his Evangelical Protestant background, but most of his points are clearly a reaction to hard-Calvinism) and is just having a hard time letting it go. I have heard many Arminians say that if they were Calvinists, they'd have to be Universalists as well (after all, if God is love and God decides who to save irregardless of their participation, wouldn't God simply save all?). It seems to me that Young might be an example of this. Someone who struggles to fully free himself completely from Calvinism and, therefore, becomes a Christian Universalist. I'm just speculating here, of course.

All in all, I have no objection to the first half of the chapter. I do, however, have some real problems with the second half. It is not just that Young seems to be a Christian Universalist (a position I disagree with but don't consider necessarily heretical). It is sort of Christian Universalism he seems to adhere to (people are ALREADY saved). I believe a better case could be made for postmortem salvation of all people than pre-existing salvation of all people. And, finally, I think Young is guilty of trying to have his cake and eat it too with some of his statements about salvation be secure AND participation being a necessity.

Obviously, my reaction to this chapter has been significantly larger than what came before it, but that is because Young boldly made some claims that are, at best, highly questionable.

Lies We Believe About God (12)

Summary of Chapter 12
The 12th 'lie' is 'God created (my) religion' and covers similar content to chapter 5 ('God is a Christian'). Again, Young understands religion as a human construct and an attempt to 'do' things to earn God's favor. God works with (submits) to religion, but only because that's how to relate to many of us. Christianity, like every other religion, must be measured by its allegiance to Jesus.

There is quite a bit of overlap with chapter 5 here. The point is a common (and good) one. Jesus did not come to start just another in the long list of world religions. He came, in a large sense, to end religion. It is interesting that Young sees religion as a human construct, but feels some elements of some religions do come from God (Golden Rule, Jubilee, etc.). Young's mode of operation for discerning which elements are truly from God seems to be how they measure up to Jesus which, to my mind, is the perfect paradigm. No objections here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lies We Believe About God (11)

Summary of Chapter 11
The 11th 'lie' addressed by Young is that 'God blesses my politics'. Young believes it is very dangerous to apply our faith to nationalism and/or politics. He is skeptical about nations (believing them to be inherently beastly). In his view, God didn't institute the concept of government. God's idea is the Kingdom of God, which is an ALTERNATIVE to these social constructs. God's people are peacemakers... even when the price for being a peacemaker is high.

As an Anabaptist and as one suspicious of Empire, I resonated with most all Young was saying here. Clearly too many Christians  (Americans especially) have blended their faith in Jesus with their nationalism (or political party). Young is right to point out how dangerous this is. And I agree with Young that nation-states tend to be beastly at their core. All that being said, I'm curious what Young thinks of Romans 13 in light of his statement that "Government is not instituted by or originated by God" (the text and the quote seem to be in contradiction with one another). More nuance would have been helpful here, but I agree with his overall point and his emphasis on peacemaking. No real objections here, but I do wish there was a bit more of an explanation for the aforementioned quote.

Lies We Believe About God (10)

Summary of Chapter 10
The 10th 'lie' Young wants to confront is the idea that 'God is a prude'. Young makes clear that sexuality originates from God. Sexuality is an extremely relational mentality. It is only when taken out of the context of loving relationship that sex becomes a bad thing. Young claims we've turned 'agape' love into 'eros' love and that that is the problem. But God is not a prude even if sometimes the church is prudish.

Again, hard to argue with his overall point here. Certainly the church (and religion in general) has sometimes considered sex to be an inherently dirty word. And that IS a lie. Sexuality is a beautiful thing. I might question Young's black & white contrast between agape and eros (in terms of Greek usage), but that would probably be quibbling. His broader point is clear and correct. No objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (9)

Summary of Chapter 9
The 9th 'lie' Young speaks about is that 'God is a magician' waiting for us to give him the right ingredients before He does what we want Him to do. He confronts to variations of this lie. First, some people treat faith like magic (if we have enough of it... and the right kind of it... God is obligated to give us what we are believing in/for). Second, some people treat performance like magic (if we do certain things... God will be pleased with us and give us whatever we ask for). The alternative, once again for Young, is relationship.

The beginning of chapter 8 and all of chapter 9 speak to the problem of a 'magical' understanding of faith. As a pastor, I come across this 'lie' often. I completely agree with Young that this is a lie many people believe about God. And it does leave people feeling horribly about their faith and/or performance. My only issue is that Young doesn't imagine many would blame God when the magic fails, but I think many do, in fact, do just that. No objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (8)

Summary of Chapter 8
The 8th 'lie' Young combats is 'God wants to be a priority'. He's against the idea of thinking that God should be a mere 'priority' in our lives. The word 'priority' (he points out) is not even a biblical word or concept. God doesn't want to be the first priority among many of the different things in our lives. God wants to be central to all that we are and do.

I've preached this message before. God doesn't want to have a piece of the pie that is our life. God wants to have a relationship with us that is central to our being and doing. How the parts of our day are utilized should be fluid and based on the leading of the Spirit. God is involved in all of it, not part. There is nothing to object to in this chapter.

*The first pages of this chapter (discussion of magic) are oddly placed in my opinion. Seemingly, they would have fit much more naturally with the next chapter.

Lies We Believe About God (7)

Summary of Chapter 7
The 7th 'lie' confronted is that 'God is more he than she'. The chapter contains an amazing story of a baby born in 1946 weighing just 1 pound. Through the risky (against the orders of the Doctor) love of a teenage nurse (Young's mother, Bernice), this baby boy (Harold) survived, grew up to become a minister, and many years later was re-united with and became a close friend of Bernice! When Bernice began to read The Shack she concluded that her son was a heretic (because of the depiction of God the Father as a woman), but correspondence with Harold led her to change her mind and realize that God is not less feminine than masculine. The Bible (as does The Shack) depicts God in a multitude of images (some masculine, some feminine, some animal, some inanimate object). None of this imagery is meant to define God, but to give us a window through which to see aspects of God's character.

In this chapter, Young addresses the controversy which arose from his portrayal, in The Shack, of God the Father as a black woman. The story he tells is an amazing one, no doubt. And I think his point is strong. He recognizes that his depiction of God in The Shack was startling to some, but he is right to declare that God is not 'male'. He's right that "the image of God in us is not less feminine than masculine". And he's right that the Bible uses multiple images to help us gain insight into God's character. The Shack, in my opinion, goes out of its way to address why God the Father appeared to Mack (the main character) as a black woman. I don't think there are any good objections to this aspect of The Shack or to this chapter of the book.

Lies We Believe About God (6)

Summary of Chapter 6
The 6th 'lie' addressed by Young is that 'God wants to use me'. He recognizes that most people mean well when they say they just want to be used (as tools) by God, but he believes this sentiment paints God in utilitarian (rather than loving) colors. We don't have a relationship with our tools. We are not commodities in God's sight. We are God's children.

This short chapter makes a minor point. I doubt many of the people who use the utilitarian language described by Young fail to recognize that God is relational. But I think it's still a point worth making. No objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (5)

Summary of Chapter 5
The 5th 'lie' that Young brings up is that 'God is a Christian'. He's making a point here about religion in general. In his view, Jesus challenges every religious category. Christianity is not so much a religion as the end of all religions. Humans tend to categorize people according to religion, but God (according to Young) sees all people as 'beloved insiders'. What is important is following Christ, not a religious label.

I essentially agree with Young's point that Jesus brought the end of (the need for) religion (in the sense of human's searching for God and attempting to earn his favor with sacrifices). Any suggestion that God only cares for people who fit under the label of 'Christian' is ruled out by God's character. But does God really relate to everyone as a 'beloved insider'? I think it would be more accurate to say that God loves everyone and invites them into the trinitarian dance than to say everyone already is an insider. Young's meaning seems unclear. He clearly says that all people need to discover Jesus, but he simultaneously seems to be suggesting that even people who haven't yet discovered Jesus are already insiders in some sense (inside the scope of God's love, perhaps).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lies We Believe About God (4)

Summary of Chapter 4
The 4th 'lie' that Young wants to focus on is that 'God does not submit'. The basic idea here is that God, as Trinity, exists as a divine dance of mutual submission. And the Persons of the Trinity relate to us in the same way that They relate to each other. God submits to our choices (rather than making them for us).

This was sort of a strange chapter. Young seemed to be making a few different points (perhaps tying up a few loose ends from the first chapters and setting the reader up for what is to come?). I take no issue with Young's idea that God keeps His own Golden Rule. It also seems like Young and I share a similar (social) understanding of the the doctrine of The Trinity. I agree with him that submission need not be a negative word. It can be an act of love. No objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (3)

Summary of Chapter 3
The 3rd 'lie' that Young identifies is the idea that 'God is in control'. Young is reacting, here, against divine determinism (the idea that God is the direct cause of all that happens... even evil). He is not rejecting the idea that God is sovereign. Rather, he wants to understand sovereignty as the choice God made to create a relational world in which other beings make genuine decisions that God is willing to take ownership of and/or submit to. God would rather create with us than control us. God is more like an artist than an engineer.

I think Young hits the nail on the head in this chapter. He is right to reject the notion that God is the author of the atrocities we see in the world. Divine determinism is an ugly and false doctrine. He does a good job pointing out that God is willing to take ownership for creating a world capable of evil and he does a good job describing how God is able to work in the midst of the evil we generate. Surely some Christians will be uncomfortable with the idea that God is not in control, but I'm not among them since a lack of deterministic control was God's sovereign choice. No objections here.

Lies We Believe About God (2)

Summary of Chapter 2
The 2nd 'lie' Young addresses is 'God is good. I am not.' Of course, Young does not dispute God's goodness, but he does question our lack of goodness. He believes that there is good in us. In fact, he believes that we are essentially good (since we are made by God in the divine image). Young acknowledges that something has gone wrong with God's good creation, but sees it in terms of sickness and blindness rather than actual depravity. Rather than simply being wicked, we are deceived about our truest nature.

The overall point does not seem to be altogether different from that of chapter 1. Again, Young is emphasizing the truth of Genesis 1 over and against the truth of Genesis 3. We've believed lies and forgotten truths. Young is far from endorsing a view that humans are inherently good in and of themselves. He is careful to link our goodness to the fact that we are God's creation. But it does seem that Young runs the risk of underestimating human depravity. It seems to me that our problem is not simply that we're surrounded by deceptive darkness. In some cases we actually love the darkness. Jesus met some people who didn't think of themselves as image-bearers, but he also met some people who struggled not with shame, but with pride. My continued caution, here, is that Young's view of our sin might not be thoroughgoing enough.

Lies We Believe About God (1)

Summary of Chapter 1
The 1st 'lie' Young addresses is the idea that "God loves us, but doesn't like us". Young remembers sharing at a women's prison. One woman, who had read The Shack asked directly (after his talk): "Do you really think that Papa is fond of me?" Young feels the answer to that question, seemingly no matter who is asking, is YES. God doesn't just love us become 'God is love' but also because we are loveable and likeable. God is fond of us.

Young seems to be reacting (why respond to lies that don't exist?), here, against an over-emphasis (by some) on our fallenness. It does seem, I'd agree, that too many Christian teachers beat the drum of human depravity without also singing the note of our inherent worth. Genesis 1 (that we are divine image bearers) comes before Genesis 3 (that we are fallen). Our inherent goodness is a greater, more basic, truth about us than our badness. Obviously, it would be possible to over-react (to the idea that we are merely pond-scum) in the opposite direction and conclude that human beings are simply good. But I see no evidence, at this early point, that Young is in danger of making that mistake. No clear objections here, but I am curious if Young might have swung to the other extreme by not taking our fallenness quite seriously enough.

Lies We Believe About God (Intro)

Today, I am summarizing and reacting to WM. Paul Young's introduction to his new book Lies We Believe About God.

Introduction Summary
Young was brought up in the Western Evangelical Protestant tradition which, he believes, places too much emphasis on acquiring (a sense of) certainty. He now believes that we do well to ask questions. He believes that question-asking has freed him to improve his theology which, in turn, has helped him to become a better man. He doesn't claim to be a theological expert and he insists that his readers look to the Trinity (not him) for truth. He offers his thoughts not as final answers, but as personal ponderings worthy of consideration as we pursue the truth of Christ.

I resonate with Young's introduction. I, too, feel the church in my context too often sees things in black & white terms. A sense of certainly has arguably become an idol within American Christianity. Questions are good and healthy to ask. The introduction comes across to me as humble and written in the right spirit.

Lies We Believe About God (Foreword)

Today, I begin reviewing, chapter by chapter, the book "Lies We Believe About God" by WM. Paul Young. His first book The Shack (a fictional story) created a great amount of controversy. Some claimed the book was heretical while others defended its orthodoxy. This new book (a work of non-fiction) is sure to reveal Young's present theology with greater clarity. This review will serve as an opportunity for me to share my thoughts on the book's content.

To begin, I will summarize and react to the foreword for this book, which was written by C. Baxter Kruger.

Foreword Summary
C. Baxter Kruger is a theologian and a friend of Young's. He wrote a (I'm guessing) positive response to The Shack titled The Shack Revisited.  In this foreword, he aims to share with us the framework from which Young writes, which (he claims) is the world shaking truth that Jesus is the God-man. Kruger suggests that Young's theology is an attempt to work out the implications of the fact that Jesus truly represents God and humanity. Kruger is not sure he agrees with everything that Young has written in this work (he admits the possibility that christological mistakes are made), but he agrees with much and appreciates (and shares) the Jesus-centered paradigm from which Young is working.

I have read 1 book by Kruger (Jesus and the Undoing of Adam) which I considered to be an excellent resource on atonement theology. What's more, I agree with the Jesus centered paradigm that Kruger and Young are working with. Kruger is right, I think, in saying that "working out the implications of Jesus's identity as the eternal Son of God united with humanity in our sin is the task of truly Christian theology."