Total providence or total depravity? (John Cassian as a remedy for Augustinian nihilism)

In a recent post, John Meunier writes, “You cannot speak intelligently about Wesleyan theology if you discard the doctrine of Original Sin.” He shares a statement in the Book of Discipline which says, “We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil.” I agree that we need to know we’re sinful in order to recognize our need for Christ. But is the Christian gospel really unintelligible unless we believe that every non-Christian around us is “destitute of holiness and inclined to evil”? I wanted to offer a different way to narrate this, with the help of 4th century saint John Cassian. I ultimately think a doctrine of total providence is more faithful to John Wesley’s vision than total depravity.

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How in charge is God when tragedy strikes?

piper tweet re oklahoma

I knew it was coming: the Piper tweet, this time quoting Job in response to the Oklahoma tornado. As the dean of the neo-Calvinist movement, John Piper likes to push the envelope with his commentary on God’s role in natural disasters. He did it about a year ago when tornadoes hit the midwest. In 2007 after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, he wrote that he and his daughter discussed how God must have done it so the people of Minneapolis would fear Him because our sin against God is “an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge.” Piper would say that he’s just being Biblical and that it shouldn’t be surprising that speaking Biblically would make people feel uncomfortable. So how do we talk about God’s role in tragedies?

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Let God be a baby

God’s not allowed to be a baby. That was the thought that scandalized 5th century Archbishop Nestorius of Constantinople. How can God have a mother? How can an unwed teenage girl be given the title “God-bearer”? It’s not so much a question of whether God can perform miracles like the virgin birth. The scandal is for the omnipotent, ineffable creator of the universe to become someone who cries and pees and poops all over himself. Nestorius decided that the baby Jesus must have been born human and then became divine after being assumed by the eternal Word of God. Though Nestorius was condemned as a heretic, I wonder how many of us engage in our own subtle Nestorianisms in how we think about Christmas. Continue reading

Richard Mourdock: misogyny, poor taste, or bad theology?

“I struggled with it for a long time, but then I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.” That’s the quote from Richard Mourdock that lit the blogosphere on fire. So what’s going on here? Is it misogyny, poor taste, or bad theology, or some combination of all three? It really depends upon how we define misogyny. I don’t think this quote proves that Richard Mourdock hates women; I have no reason to think he isn’t a perfectly humble and compassionate gentleman to all the women in his life. But I do think that his bad theology caused him to think in abstract, ideological terms about a delicate issue with the result that he said something in extremely poor taste that does real emotional violence to the rape victims who read it. And since I’m a theologian, I’m going to focus on the theology. Continue reading

Communion or correctness? The underlying question.

Is God’s goal for humanity communion or correctness? The way you answer that question will determine your understanding of atonement, orthodoxy, holiness, Biblical interpretation, and just about every other major issue within Christian thought. Does Jesus’ cross serves the purpose of imputing perfect correctness to imperfect people or creating peace and reconciliation between otherwise irreconcilable people? That is the distinction. For the purpose of this piece, I want to define correctness very specifically as a way of thinking about behavior and opinions in which there is one right answer and the goal is absolute uniformity. Righteousness is different from correctness; its absolute would be perfect love for God and neighbor which would not necessarily result in identical decisions being made in the same circumstances but a perfect disposition for making these decisions. I believe that a certain threshold of correctness is important for the sake of establishing communion between God’s people, but if correctness means chasing after an elusive goal of absolute ideological conformity, then it is a source of schism in the body of Christ and as such a heretical pursuit.

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