Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Religious bathwater, moral baby

I have recently become aware of a growing trend among some Christians in favour of open marriage, sometimes also referred to as polyamory.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines polyamory as “the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved”. The idea is that a married couple may mutually agree that either or both spouses are free to pursue relationships – including sexual intimacy – with other people, while remaining married to each other.

It seems obvious to me that such an arrangement is fraught with potential difficulties. Putting in the effort required to maintain one committed relationship is a huge enough undertaking; I seriously doubt most people’s ability to successfully pull it off with more than one. There is the potential for jealousy, rivalry, anger and all kinds of other troublesome emotions to arise within any given relationship; how much more when one is involved in multiple relationships, especially given the human tendency to make comparisons? And I could go on.

Of course, proponents of polyamory will produce counter-arguments in response to just about any concern you may care to raise. However, the purpose of this post is not to lay out a solid argument against polyamory.

So why am I raising this issue at all?

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The glory we seek

This morning’s Old Testament lectionary reading included the following verse:

“I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them.” (Ezekiel 39:21)

The context: twenty-five years into an exile that would eventually last seventy years, Israel is still trying to make sense of the disaster that has come upon it. The Prophet explains that it is God’s punishment for disobedience, and thus a display of His glory.

What struck me is how glory – even God’s glory – is directly equated with the ability to inflict punishment. The greater the punishment that can be inflicted, the greater the glory.

How little things have changed. Shock and awe, fire and fury… As nations, we obsess over our ability to deliver punishment, and the more devastating, the better. And, of course, we are the righteous agents of God as we do so!

Here is a clue as to how Jesus understood glory:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23–25)

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

[Image: Stephen Oung]

The pinnacle of theology

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading and writing about theology. The nature of God, the person and work of Jesus, the cross, the atonement, salvation, scripture, prayer, suffering… all these and more are topics I’ve pondered and wrestled with. And no doubt I’ll continue to do so.

But…

All my reflecting, wrestling and theologising has led me to also wonder what’s the point of it all. What’s at the top of this theological mountain I’m trying to climb?

As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve realised I already know the answer. And, despite the many theological rabbit trails down which one may wander, it’s really very simple.

Ready?

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Book review: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd

Today I have the privilege of posting some brief thoughts on the latest new book from Brian Zahnd, titled Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, published by WaterBrook and released on 15 August.

Those who have followed my blog or my Facebook posts for any length of time will be no stranger to Zahnd. A veteran pastor of 35 years’ standing, in recent years he has become a prolific and increasingly important voice for those who tire of dogmatic fundamentalism and its ugly implications, but who are unwilling to simply throw in the towel and walk away from the faith altogether. As a result, Zahnd is at the forefront of a rising tide of prophetic voices whose mission is to help Christians and non-Christians alike rediscover – in the words of the book’s subtitle – “The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News”. (I have previously reviewed two other books by Zahnd: A Farewell To Mars and Water to Wine).

In a way, Sinners bears some similarity with Zahnd’s previous book Water to Wine: Some of my Story, in that it starts with what he once believed as a zealous young Jesus freak and tracks his theological trajectory from there towards a much broader, deeper and more beautiful faith. The key difference, though, is that where Water to Wine was essentially a biographical narrative that served as a framework for Zahnd’s theological growth, Sinners is unashamedly a work of theology – by which I mean that its focus is theological, not biographical, and it is structured into broad theological topics, including some “hot potatoes”.

A quick word about the book’s title, whose resonance may escape those less familiar with the history of American evangelicalism. In 1741, revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards preached what would become his most famous sermon, titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, in which he expounded, often in lurid terms,  on fallen man’s utter depravity and God’s deserved utter contempt for humankind. The sermon went on to become a Puritan classic, and was without doubt foundational and extremely influential in later American revivalism and evangelicalism more broadly. (For a flavour of Edwards’s sermon, read Zahnd’s book: he quotes a sample of excerpts from it in the first chapter.)

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Book review: The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas Jay Oord

If God is good and loving, why do evil and suffering exist in the world? This question, often referred to as the problem of theodicy, is one of the thorniest issues theologians have had to wrestle with through the ages. And in our twenty-first century world, where stark visual images of all manner of suffering and strife are streamed into our living rooms daily, it is no less important – and no less challenging – a question than it ever has been.

Far from being the preserve of specialists, theodicy is – or at least should be – of genuine concern to the ordinary Christian. Self-described theologian, philosopher and multidisciplinary scholar Thomas Jay Oord introduces the problem thus:

“To a greater or lesser degree, we all want to make sense of life. Yet doing so proves difficult, even for those of us who believe in God. Although we witness beauty, purpose and goodness all around, we also witness random accidents, pain and evil. Simplistic answers to life’s difficult questions […] leave many of us unsatisfied. We need better answers. Believers want to reconcile randomness and evil with the idea that God acts providentially.” (15)

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The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: responding to Greg Boyd’s responses

I recently posted a three-part review of Greg Boyd’s colossal new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereafter CWG). (Links here to part 1, part 2 and part 3.) My twin aims in writing this review were (i) to provide a concise and accurate overview of the structure and content of CWG and (ii) to briefly set out the top three things I liked about CWG and my top three concerns with it.

I’ve been thrilled with the amount of comment and conversation my review has generated; if nothing else, Greg is to be heartily applauded for throwing open the debate on a number of crucial theological issues.

This past week, Greg began a series of posts at his ReKnew website titled Reviewing the Reviews. Imagine my surprise when the first review of CWG he chose to respond to was mine! Given that the ideas put forward in CWG will doubtless be discussed by the great and the good of the theological world, I’m over the moon that Greg chose to seriously engage with a review written by an amateur and a relative nobody like little old me. What’s more, he had some really nice things to say about my review, describing it as “excellent”, “detailed and probing” and “an accurate, clear and insightful overview”.

Thanks, Greg!

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Book review: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (part 3 of 3)

Today I’m delighted to share with you the final part of my three-part review of pastor-teacher-academic Greg Boyd’s long-awaited new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereinafter referred to as CWG).

In part 1 and part 2, I attempted to set out a high-level overview of the structure and content of CWG. While, given the length and depth of the book, this was necessarily a skim over the surface rather than a deep dive, I hope I have done enough that those who have read CWG will recognise my sketch as a reasonably faithful synopsis, and that those who have not will gain at least a bare-bones understanding of what Boyd is trying to do and how he is trying to do it.

In this third and final part, I will briefly set out what I consider to be the main strengths of Boyd’s work in CWG, as well as my main concerns with it. There are many positive things that could be said about this book, and more than a few concerns that one might validly raise about it; for the sake of space and time, I shall limit myself to three positive points and three primary concerns.

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