Monday, March 13, 2006

Theodicy or The Problem of Pain

Pain and suffering are consequences of the fall. If you read through the account of the fall in Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve that life will be much harder for them from that point on. Let's think about the fall theologically for a moment. What exactly was it that Adam and Eve did? They ate of the fruit from the one tree that God expressly told them not to eat of. The fall is really about making choices that are contrary to God's will.

Because the only perfect will is God's, every choice that we make outside of God's will is flawed. God had a choice in creating us. He could have made us as wind-up toys that do exactly what he says, or he could make us creatures with a free will. He chose the latter of these two options. It is easy to get a wind-up toy to love you, but is this really love? God created each one of us hoping that we would turn to him in love and live in accordance with his will.

Think about an orchestra for a moment. Even the best symphony in the world would sound terrible without a conductor and without sheet music. Each person would play whatever note they want in whatever tempo they want. Now imagine the same orchestra with conductor and would sound quite beautiful. I think it is the same thing between God and us. When we are making choices according to our own wills, everyone runs in different directions with different agendas. We end up with pain and suffering because each one of us is trying coerce everyone else into our agendas. We are trying to conduct God's symphony for him.

This is why Jesus came into the world. We needed some outside help to redeem us and to redeem the creation. As more and more people sign on to Jesus' agenda, the world will begin to look like a better place. Of course none of this will be perfect because we are still fallen creatures. Every once in awhile, however, we can get little glimpses of what that might be like.

In the book of Revelation the Apostle John writes that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. He also says that at that time, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4) This is what it was like in the Garden of Eden before the fall, and this is what it will be like in the new heaven and new earth after God's creation has been fully redeemed.

In the mean time, we live in the midst of pain and suffering. This is our problem because we are sinful creatures. Our God keeps calling us back to him, but we are still creatures with free-wills and it is our burden to respond. Some of us do respond and we are allowed to work on God's team as change agents, helping him to redeem the world. Those of us who hear the Gospel are the wheat, but there are still a lot of weeds growing alongside us (Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43). This is why there is still pain and suffering in the world. It is not something God desires. I am sure he sheds tears every day over the pain and sorrow that we cause one another. But until he comes again in power and glory, there will still be multiple agendas causing discord instead of the harmony that God intended.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Generous Orthodoxy

I have just finished reading Brian McLaren's "A Generous Orthodoxy" along with his "New Kind of Christian" trilogy. Above all, I have to give him credit for being thought provoking and for successfully avoiding being pegged as either a liberal or conservative (he would consider himself to be "post" both of these distinctions along with a long list of others). I mentioned D. A. Carson's book, "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church" in an earlier post. After reading McLaren first hand, I would have to say that Carson is a bit on the harsh side in the way he evaluates McLaren's work.

Anyway, the thing that I have found most thought provoking are McLaren's ideas about hell, judgment and salvation. I don't know that I whole heartedly agree with him, but he tackles some tough questions. Basically, he feels that evangelicals have equated "judgment" with God condemning people to hell. He rightly asserts that it is not just non-Christians who will be judged, everyone will. Though he never directly quotes it, his judgment looks, to me, a lot like the image in 1 Cor. 3:10-15:

"10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (ESV)

In other words, we will all stand before God and all that is evil in us will be burned away. The only thing that will remain is that which is good. For some people, this will not leave much.

He then goes on to say that it is not up to us to condemn others to hell. That is a job that should be left to God alone. In the end, I think I agree with this. We have too much evangelism to do to be worrying about who is in and who is out. Our job is simply to faithfully preach the Gospel that has been handed down to us. We can reserve the ultimate judgment for God.

Beyond this, McLaren has an expanded view of salvation that includes not only individual Christians but the entirety of God's creation. He seems to be frustrated with the idea that the entire point of Christianity (and Christ's sacrifice on the Cross) is to keep those who believe in Jesus from going to hell. The motivation for becoming a Christian then boils down to self-interest. McLaren, however, feels that the point of becoming a Christian is to join in the work that God is already doing. For him, this still involves a personal salvation, but it is also so much more than that.

So Mr. McLaren, I don't know if I can agree with everything you have to say, but I most certainly appreciate your ability to get me thinking.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


I realize this is a bit late, but I thought I should talk a little about our experience last week in Seattle. As with England, the main purpose of our trip was to look into the emerging church conversation, trying to get a better idea of what the movement is about. Unlike England, this time we were only visiting one Church, Church of the Apostles (COTA) and their Pastor/Abbess, Karen Ward. We had a wonderful time, and I would like to thank Karen and all of the Apostles for their hospitality.

We first became interested in this group through their website, which is fabulous. As we poked around, we realized that this was a group that really understands what it means to be a community. We then discovered the CD, "Ordo," which they put out and we were hooked.

Their weekly worship is fascinating. They have taken the basic Ordo of a mass, and then done some things to make it distinctly contemporary and fitting to their context in Freemont. The service is much less formal than you would find in a traditional Episcopal/Lutheran church, but I think most people from either of these traditions would recognize the basic pattern of worship. Scripture is read and responded to, there is a sermon (followed by interactive stations to engage the message), the community prays for themselves and the world, and then they celebrate the Eucharist.

I am excited to see what the future holds for their ministry!

Friday, January 20, 2006


We just returned from the UK where we had a wonderful 10 days exploring the country and the "fresh expressions" of the church of England. We had the opportunity to meet with many of the big thinkers in Emerging Christianity in the UK. Jonny Baker, Pete Ward, and Ian Adams were all extremely helpful.

Throughout the journey, I was reading a book by D A Carson called "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church." This is rather interesting because it comes at the Emerging Church from an outsider's perspective, offering both praise and criticism. My biggest concerns are with the missiological aspect of emerging Christianity. Being "missional" is one of the big objects of the movement, but many of the churches I have come in contact with have not been able to reach the unchurched. Thus there is a lot of transfer growth, but not a whole lot of new believers.

Carson also has some interesting points about the difference between modern and postmodern theology. It sometimes makes me wonder if postmodernity and Christianity are compatible? How much should the Church become "postmodern" and at what points do we need to draw the line.

I'm looking forward to asking more questions when we Visit Karen Ward and Church of the Apostles this weekend. Yes, we really did spend only one day in WI between trips to the UK and Seattle!

Canonical Exams

Ever since the Michaelmas term ended, it seems as though Carrie and I have been running from one thing to the next. I spent the week after Christmas studying for my Canonical Exams (or as Carrie calls them, the "big priest exam") which I then took the following week. I was able to pass in all areas, getting distinction in Liturgy, Pastoral Theology, and History. The only snag was with my sermon which was too much of a blend between teaching and preaching. I will preach another sermon this semester and, God willing, this should resolve the issue!