Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I believe (and why)

Since this is my everything blog, and is meant to be broadly from a Christian world view, it's worth articulating what that is. Further, since I tutor regularly in a course in science and religion at a major Australian university, it's also useful to have something to point these students towards as to where their tutor comes from. So here's a brief intro to my views theological and scientific.

I wasn't raised a Christian although my mother's faith was always active (though at the time non-participatory), my father's latent due to various life issues. At age 10 I struggled with the concept of God with little guidance, at 16 pursued Zen Buddhism through Karate and Judo, finding excitement and inspiration through physical discipline, the sayings of Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) and the five virtues of Goju Kai karate. Then at 18, after trying to dodge the various Christian groups I ended up in an 8 or so week biblestudy to explore the basics of the Christian faith, and "gave my life to Christ".

Moving on
One of the keys in understanding Christianity was understanding who Jesus is what what he achieved. This was illustrated with the so-called bridge to life illustration - see for example here. Now this is useful as far as it goes, but it's quite limited, focuses mostly on avoiding punishment and a feeling of assurance of the same. It isn't much of a basis for an ongoing faith.

What was key for me was to work out that if God was creator, then everything had to be thought about in terms of a theological (God talk) framework - not just my prayers, biblestudy, cold turkey evangelism and dating habits, but the way I viewed the world. I starting studying theology no more than about a year or so after becoming a Christian, through a certificate course at Moore College in Sydney (by distance) and I also enrolled in first year philosophy because I wanted to start thinking about thinking.

Since then I've completed a number of degrees in science and an undergrad qualification in theology, with a Masters waiting to be taken up. I like big picture books (no, not the ones you read to a child) like Jarrod Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, or the works of Tom Wright on understanding the New Testament through Old Testament and first century lenses. I like to view the world through what I see as the complimentary lenses of science, history and so on, and theology. The two can't be separated.

Theological specifics
I call myself Christian because I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah or Israel's long awaited king. Further, in all that Jesus said and did, he identified with the mind and mission of the God of Israel as described in the Old Testament - i.e. he assumed God's roles and God's authority and in doing so therefore claimed identity with that God. This isn't the same thing as we say "he said he was God" because it seems Jews thought in functional and relational terms, not purely material ontological terms (the 'of one being with the Father' language of later creedal forumation). So yes, Jesus was God and Saviour.

I also understand Jesus as Lord, and in a first century reading this means Caesar is not. The gospel (good news) about Jesus is the political language of rulership and authority, not just the private language of devotion. Don't immediately think of Fred Nile or US politics, or indeed Middle Eastern fundamentalist Islamic countries, but ruling through weakness, through love and forgiveness.

I call myself Evangelical because while I value good historical scholarship, liberalism has bought into the Deistic view of the Enlightenment and left us with little left to believe in. However, as a post-conservative (to borrow from Roger Olson, see for example his Reformed and always reforming - see my guest blog post review here), it means I am neither necessarily politically conservative, anti-science, etc. Specifically:
  • I believe that the bible is inspired in a variety of ways (not just dictation), but think the idea of infallibility is a Modernist imposition on ancient texts that are both fully divine but also fully human and therefore not timeless truths embedded in culture from which we must extract them, but an authoritative narrative we are to bring our own narratives in line with. Both Tom Wright and Roger Olson have been helpful here
  • I believe God is three in one. The doctrine of the Trinity is an attempt to understand the biblical witness and will never fully capture this mystery. We are talking about the infinite, unseen God here so get over it. Ideas like perichoresis are incredibly fruitful areas for theological reflection
  • I believe that Genesis one is not a modern scientific text telling us how God created everything but a piece of ancient cosmology telling us why things exist and what for, including our own roles as images and priests. This does not clash with the mechanism of evolution, just the materialism behind it. See John Walton's The lost world of Genesis one
  • Further, I generally accept science in what it reveals, but am careful to see the assumptions behind it. For example, it is clear the multiverse hypothesis has materialist or anti-theist roots, i.e. it doesn't want to leave the big bang unexplained and leave a gap for God. But existence is the ultimate gap for God because either the multiverse is a necessary given or God is a necessary being - this is metaphysics not just science. Explanation eventually stops. I just think God is the best explanation of existence.
  • I believe that God is sovereign, but that Calvinism expresses a model of this sovereignty that is ultimately at odds with God's loving character. This love means God limits Godself to allow the other to be, hence Arminianism's view of prevenient but resistable grace. Open Theism is an extension of this, but currently at least I haven't bought into that view. However, I am open to it (pardon the pun) because I value going back to Scripture more than someone's systematic view placed on top of it.
  • With regards the theology of Paul, I follow the so-called New Perspective and see a close tie between theologies of salvation and church (soteriology and ecclesiology)
  • I'm not a dualist - so I support a dynamical monistic view of the person but do believe in 'going to heaven when you die'. It's just that I believe even more in the physical resurrection.
  • My non-dualism means I place great weight on caring for the whole person, indeed the whole of creation, which is why I am an aspiring eco-theologian with a blog on the area (Ethos Environment)
  • I believe that all humans and not just some have issues - it's called sin and evil and that this needs to be dealt with. Specifically, I think Jesus overcame and exhausted evil on the cross (Christus Victor) and died in our place, for our sin (atonement). And this was for the whole world, even if not all appropriate it.
  • Dealing with evil means those who refuse to come onside with the new project choose their own path to dehumanisation. I think we need to be very careful with some texts - most of what Jesus said was about rejection of him in his own time. A lot of what is understood about Hell is caricature. And why would final destruction be any less fitting than eternal punishment - it's certainly less out of line with God's loving character and doesn't seem to borrow from medieval concepts of merit. But I don't know and am undecided. Personally, I am glad to claim what Jesus has done.
  • Given John's Gospel is clear that eternal life begins now - Christianity is as much, if not more about life than death (final, spiritual, eternal punishment) and as such is about the quality of our lives, relationship with God, each other and the creation - expressed in piety, peace and justice.
  • With regards women and their role in the church, I am an egalitarian - meaning authority is shared in my marriage and I believe women can hold any role in the church, and that Scripture supports this view. I'm also very anti-porn and currently organising a project designed to get Christian guys confessing and being delivered from this
  • I hold traditional views on human sexuality and its expression, but would rather the church focused on this in-house, dealing with promoting healthy marriages, biblical attitudes towards sex - marrieds only and often, properly punishing sexual offenders - i.e. full disclosure to the law and being loving to all. Pointing the finger to the outside world is usually unhelpful, counter-productive and portrays the church as being anti- rather than pro-. Let's be clear and firm on what we believe, but be pro and loving rather than anti and hateful.
  • I'm cautious about use of technology because the Babel principle holds - we use technology to make us great in the sight of God and believe our own hype of immortality, invincibility, cleverness, etc. Hence my issue with embryonic stem cell research (turning women into egg factories, tissues into test tubes - incidentally when other stem cells may do the job). We approach technology as a Baal rather than through Yahweh and hence as the Israelites did on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 17-18) we turn to the source of the problem for a solution rather than repenting first - this is the issue of environmental degradation.
No doubt there is more, but that's a start!

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