Friday, March 26, 2010

Clark Pinnock

I would like to link to this post regarding Clark Pinnock, and post here a review of his contribution to theology,

    Clark Pinnock is a theological giant in our day. His influence has been great, especially in Evangelical circles. This news of Alzheimer’s disease indicates that his active contribution to theology will now diminish if not cease.

    Pinnock’s personal theological journey has been intriguing. He moved from affirming a more or less conventional and/or fundamentalist view of God to the Open view he considers more faithful to the biblical witness.

    In this journey, Pinnock consistently considered the Bible his primary source for theology. He gave particular weight to biblical narrative and the language of personal relationships found in Scripture. Although he rejected a Fundamentalist view of the Bible, he remained committed to honoring the Bible as his principal authority for theology.

    Open theology offers a coherent doctrine of God, says Pinnock, in which each divine attribute “should be compatible with one another and with the vision of God as a whole.” For instance, Pinnock wishes to offer a vision of the God who “combines love and power perfectly.” Unless the portrait of God compels, he says, the “credibility of belief in God is bound to decline.”

    Open theology as Pinnock presents it depicts God as a self-sufficient, though relational, Trinitarian being. God graciously relates to the world as one self-limited out of respect for the genuine freedom of creatures. Creatures genuine influence God. God is transcendent and immanent, has changing and unchanging aspects, gives to and receives from others, is present to all things, and has supreme power. God’s love, says Pinnock, includes responsiveness, generosity, sensitivity, openness, and vulnerability.

    Open theology rejects traditional theologies that portray God as an aloof monarch. Influential theologians of yesteryear often portrayed God as completely unchangeable, ultimately all determining, and irresistible. By contrast, Pinnock says the biblical vision presents a loving God who seeks relationship with free creatures. “The Christian life involves a genuine interaction between God and human beings,” he says. “We respond to God’s gracious initiatives and God responds to our responses . . . and on it goes.”

    The future is not entirely settled, according to Open theology. This means that while God knows all possibilities, God does not know with certainty what free creatures will actually do until creatures act. Classic views of God’s foreknowledge are incompatible with creaturely freedom, says Pinnock. “If choices are real and freedom significant,” he argues, “future decisions cannot be exhaustively known.”

    Open theology does affirm that God is all knowing. God knows all things knowable. Believers should not understand divine omniscience as the idea God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events, says Pinnock. After all, future possible events are not yet actual.

    Biblical evidence for Open theology’s view of omniscience comes in many forms. Dozens of biblical passages, for instance, record God saying “perhaps.” This uncertainty on God’s part means the future remains open, not completely certain. The Bible also says God makes various covenants. These covenants suggest God does not know with certainty everything to occur in the future. God often asks Israel to choose one course of action over another.

    For instance, Jeremiah records God offering two possible futures for Israel: “If you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David…. But if you will not heed these words, I will swear by myself, says the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation” (Jer. 22: 4-5). God’s particular course of future action depends in part upon Israel’s choice. God apparently does not know with certainty what Israel’s choice will be. Other Old Testament passages exhibit covenant language in which the future is yet to be decided, and God does not know with certainty what will actually occur.

    God cannot be in all ways timeless, say Open theologians. We best conceive of God’s experience as temporally everlasting rather than timelessly eternal. To say God is in all ways timeless implies God is totally actualized, immutable, impassible, and outside of time and sequence. Such a God is static and aloof, says Pinnock, not relational and responsive. The temporally everlasting Lord is the Living God of the Bible.

    Those who embrace conventional theology have difficulty accepting Open theology. This difficulty arises because Open theology challenges certain well-established traditions, argues Pinnock, not because it opposes the Bible. Open theology themes appear throughout the biblical witness: “the idea of God taking risks, of God’s will being thwarted, of God being flexible, of grace being resistible, of God having a temporal dimension, of God being impacted by the creature, and of God not knowing the entire future as certain.”
    One of Open theology’s greatest assets is its fit with Christian experience. It addresses well the demands of ordinary life and practices of the saints. “It is no small point in favor of the openness model,” Pinnock argues, “that it is difficult to live life in any other way than the way it describes.”

    Open theology releases people to live their lives meaningfully, says Pinnock. “As individuals we are significant in God’s eyes… the things we do and say, the decisions and choices we make, and our prayers all help shape the future.” Our lives and life-decisions really matter.

    Open theology is preferable in other ways. It points to a friendship with God possible in cooperative relationship. Most conventional theologies implicitly or explicitly reject friendship with God. Open theology emphasizes the reality of freedom we all presuppose. Many conventional theologies directly or indirectly reject creaturely freedom vis-à-vis God.

    Open theology corresponds with our intuition that love ought to be persuasive rather than coercive. It emphasizes sanctification in the sense of growth in grace and decisive moments. Open theology corresponds with the view that God calls and empowers growth in Christ-likeness.

    Christians should especially prefer Open theology to conventional theology on the issue of petitionary prayer. Most Christians believe their prayers make a difference to God, including influencing at least sometimes how God acts. Pinnock argues that petitionary prayer does not genuinely influence now the God who foreordains and/or foreknows all things. Petitionary prayer cannot change an already settled future.

    “People pray passionately when they see purpose in it, when they think prayer can make a difference and that God may act because of it,” argues Pinnock. “There would not be much urgency in our praying if we thought God’s decrees could not be changed and/or that the future is entirely settled.”

    Above all, Open theology emphasizes love as God’s chief attribute and priority for theological construction. “God created the world out of love and with the goal of acquiring a people who would, like a bride, freely participate in his love.” Love was God’s goal, and giving freedom the means to that goal. “God is inviting us to join in his own ongoing Trinitarian communion and conversation,” says Pinnock. God “wants us to join in and share the intimacy of his own divine life.”

    God’s loving nature is unchanging, but God’s experience, knowledge, and action change in the divine give-and-take of interactive loving relationship. “The living God is . . . the God of the Bible,” says Pinnock, “the one who is genuinely related to the world, whose nature is the power of love, and whose relationship with the world is that of a most moved, not unmoved, Mover.”

    Because of this, Open theology “is a model of love.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

godless love

George Eliot deconverted from evangelicalism in her 20's. She was known as "godless" in both beilef and practice since she lived for much of her life with her "husband" George Lewes, although they were never legally married. Her relationship put her outside the boundaries of Victorian society.

However, Queen Victoria was always a strong fan of George Eliot. (In an aside, this reminds me that the queen was also an enthusiastic fan of Annie Oakley.) Victoria was not a promoter of complementary gender roles, as we would imagine them today. She was, nevertheless a romantically attached wife, as were George Eliot and Annie Oakley. These women were all of them pro women, as well as pro marriage.

Adam Bede was George Eliot's first novel, and recounts an incident which the author knew from real life, of a young peasant girl becoming pregnant by a man above her station. Of course, he could not marry her, and the book tells the dark story that ensues. Another sympathetically drawn character in the novel is a young female Methodist preacher, who visits the girl later in prison. We also hear her preach a sermon on compassion and empathy.

The unbelieving George Eliot is still able to depict a preacher in a positive light, highlighting her words of compassion and love. She in no way polemicizes gender roles in ministry in this book, and the young preacher does marry and happily retires from public ministry to become a wife and mother. There is no dichotomy of alienated feminist and domestic wife. For George Eliot, the true woman, is one who is both compassionate and equal, both preacher and wife.

Regarding love, Eliot writes in this novel,
    What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life — to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of last parting? (ch. 54)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

George Eliot

I have been immersed in a biography of George Eliot, The Last Victorian by Kathryn Hughes. And I had recently finished a biography of Jane Austen, not so interesting. Although I love the novels of Jane Austen as much as anyone, and could sit through some film treatments of her work over and over, her books did not have the same impact on me that George Eliot's novels have had. I had read The Mill on the Floss at a young age, along with Tess of the D'Urberville's by Thomas Hardy in my teens. But to tell the truth, I don't think I really appreciated them at that time.

When I read Middlemarch, at about the age of 40, I felt that it had been written about me. That if only I had read this book in my teens, then I would not have lived the life I lived. I later found some copies of George Eliot's books that had belonged to my grandmother - after my mother had died. Did my mother keep these novels from us girls? I'll never know. If we had been forewarned of the consequences of living within a patriarchal framework, would I have resisted? If you have not read Middlemarch, you might enjoy it. I will always wonder if Eliot's books were kept from me so that I would accept living within the confines of patriarchy more easily.

George Eliot's biography is fascinating. Under her real name, Marian Evans, she translated The Life of Jesus, by D.F. Strauss from German. Her life story is a spiritual and emotional journey through social and theological mazes that we find hard to imagine today.

In the Victorian era, about one third of women did not marry. They could not own property, could not get a university education or work in any profession except as a governess, and were dependent on the goodwill of a father or brother for a meagre income. The fight for more rights for women was fueled by this vast marginally employed workforce, women living at the whim of men who did not put them first in any way, shape or form.

Marian Evans was an exception. She was able to make a good living from her novels, and helped to support her common law husband, and his first wife and children. She also supported the first wife's many children by her lover. The laws were too complex to ever allow this couple to divorce so the first wife of Evans' common law husband, was never free to marry her lover. He didn't want her anyway, because he was preoccupied with supporting his own wife and children. Well, you have to read it for yourself.

This is the idyllic life of couples in a day where divorce was difficult. Wouldn't we like to go back to the good old days, when, if a woman was not as clever as George Eliot - clearly the most brilliant woman in England in her day, she might easily end up a prostitute, one of the few other occupations for women in patriarchal England.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Liberal or Conservative ... in the past

James McGrath and John Hobbins have been engaged in a discussion regarding the inerrancy of the scripture. Dr. McGrath is arguing for a liberal approach to inerrancy. In this post, McGrath outlines why he calls himself a Christian although he does not believe in the inerrancy of scripture. This would be consistent with a "liberal" theological position. He writes,
    So why am I a Christian? A short answer would be that it was within a Christian context that I had a life-changing religious experience. But given that I do not espouse Biblical literalism and inerrancy, some might ask whether I am still a Christian, and my answer would be that taking the whole Bible seriously is certainly no less Christian than quoting it selectively while pretending to believe it all and take it all literally.

    I find very helpful an answer to this question that Marcus Borg has also articulated. I am a Christian in much the same way that I am an American. It is not because I condone the actions of everyone who has officially represented America, or that I espouse the viewpoints of its current leaders. It is because I was born into it, and value the positive elements of this heritage enough that I think it is worth fighting over the definition of what it means to be American, rather than giving up on it and moving somewhere else. In the same way, the tradition that gave birth to my faith and nurtured it is one that has great riches (as well as much else beside), and I want to struggle for an understanding of Christianity that emphasizes those things.
McGrath counts himself as a liberal both regarding inerrancy and his theological position. He asks John Hobbins if his position could be better represented as liberal regarding inerrancy and conservative with regard to theology. Here is his reading of John's position,
    In your view, Scripture is inerrant, and it inerrantly has different voices, and so its function is not to communicate the view of one of these authors or the other, but to (presumably inerrantly) illustrate to us that it is out of this conversation that truth emerges. This frees you to accept all that liberal and mainstream scholarship has to offer, including its recognition of a diversity of voices (and even invoke Hegel), and yet from that plurality to choose to draw as many conservative conclusions as possible, at least enough to justify continuing to think of yourself in those terms and bear that label.
    Now, there's nothing wrong with that, but it might be fairer if you were to acknowledge that you are thoroughly liberal in your view of Scripture, and only conservative in (some of) what you choose to build upon it.
John responds with this,
    Conservative Christians today, though of course we want to be as intellectually responsible as possible in how we affirm it, stand with the early Christians. Liberal Christians do not (and the neo-orthodox in the mold of Karl Barth do not either; I’m not sure about Schweitzer; a lot of paleo-liberals were orthodox in a number of ways).
Those of us raised in environments where preachers claimed that our community was closer to that of the early Christians know how hollow this claim is. We can never recreate the worldview, the mental framework, the presuppositions and conditions of the past. We can never enter the mindset of previous eras. This is a mirage. All we can do is mine the past, excavate the remains, and assess the extricated fragments as best we can.

We cannot say that the early Christians were conservative vs liberal, in the sense that these words are used today. We can, however, note that some people are liberal with regard to the scripture but conservative in social and theological positions, or vice versa. Many visitors here are selectively liberal in many of their stances, but conservative in their view of inerrancy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My One and Only

My apologies for not posting more often. Lots of other stuff in life to keep me busy. Here is a movie I really enjoyed watching with my kids. My One and Only. It is a refreshingly funny story of a single mother and her two sons seeking their fortune and perhaps a new man, set in the 1950's. There are many touching lines about the absent father(s) and an uncle presents a strong male role model. Nothing man-hating about this movie, but not a classic Hollywood ending, although definitely a Hollywood ending. You have to see it. Nice to have this kind of comedy around.

PS Here is a post at Wade Burleson's blog on a similar topic, although not a comic treatment. He cites a letter he received,
    I know many of you do not care for Barak Obama, and as pastor (not to mention an elections official), I'm not endorsing or condemning Obama in anyway. However, I've heard him say something recently concerning the one time that he met his father at the age of ten that has resonated with me and it's this: "I considered the absence of my father to be a strength."

    I say all that to say this: My mother, when left alone, was able to work and be a mother raising a future attorney (my sister) and a future Christian minister (me) doing doctoral studies at the seminary. It was only when the man returned to the home from time to time that much of my mom's work was undermined and at times, seemingly destroyed (and would've been if it had not been for God's grace).
Absent fathers - and mothers - are longed for. They may sometimes appear to be written off, but privately they are longed for. However, reality does teach some people, those who are open to facing reality, that absence is sometimes a blessing.

John Hobbins keeps women from talking to each other

The position of women in the bibliosphere is an odd one. There is no active woman blogger among the top 50 at the moment. And no wonder. Really what woman would want such an association.

John Hobbins made an interesting post here concluding with this statement, "If this topic has been touched on by other bibliobloggers, I haven’t run across it."

Since it is a topic which I originally raised on John's blog, and have blogged about repeatedly, I wanted to comment to that effect. I was able to. However as soon as Marilyn showed up, all my comments following hers, were removed or blocked.

If anyone wants to ask John about this, please do. Or don't. It won't have much effect anyway.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Titanic vs Lusitania

I am well aware of having missed several great conversations in the bibliosphere. I hope I can catch up. But this one is fascinating.

The CBMW gender blog has posted on the difference in the behaviour of men during the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania. On the Titanic, women and children were more likely to survive than on the Lusitania.
    What accounts for the difference? The researchers looked at several factors, but settled on one that appeared more obvious as they considered the question -- the length of time it took the ship to sink. As the report explains, on the Lusitania "the short-run flight impulse dominated behavior. On the slowly sinking Titanic, there was time for socially determined behavioral patterns to reemerge."

    Put plainly, on the Lusitania the male passengers demonstrated "selfish rationality." As TIME explains, this is "a behavior that's every bit as me-centered as it sounds and that provides an edge to strong, younger males in particular. On the Titanic, the rules concerning gender, class and the gentle treatment of children - in other words, good manners - had a chance to assert themselves."

    Note carefully the assumption here that "the rules concerning gender, class and the gentle treatment of children" are ascribed to "good manners" and "socially determined behavioral patterns." In other words, the male decision to give priority to the welfare of women and children is just a learned behavior, a social convention.

    Is that all there is to it? There is a huge question looming in this -- is it right for men to act with care and concern toward women and children, or is this just an outmoded relic of Victorian morality?

    What do modern feminists do with this? Those who stake their lives on the elimination of all meaningful gender distinctions must, if honest, take what they see on the Lusitania as the inevitable result of such a worldview. Are we really to believe that the moral call that makes men act against their own self-preservation is just a socially-constructed artifact of manners?

    Aboard the Lusitania, young males acted out of a selfish survival instinct, and women and children were cast aside, left to the waves. Aboard the Titanic, there was time for men to consider what was at stake and to call themselves to a higher morality. There was time for conscience to raise its voice and authority, and for men, young and old, to know and to do their duty.

I suppose some might class me as a modern feminist, although I fit few stereotypes, for those who know me. But let me answer anyway. As a mother of adult age children, male and female, I would strongly object to an older woman taking the place of a younger man in a lifeboat. I do understand the dictum "women and children first," but it is not by any means the only way to organize survival in a crisis.

I would rather go down with the Titanic than accept the subordination of women, just so I could be dumped screaming in a lifeboat, and watch a young adult male of my acquaintance go down with the ship.

Another problematic aspect of this study is that the men on the Lusitania did not put children first. This suggests that young men do not have a natural protective instinct toward children. And yet many suggest that mothers do have a natural instinct to sacrifice for their children. This is a disturbing study. On the one hand, the men on the Titanic did sacrifice for women and children. On the other hand, the men on the Lusitania did not. Perhaps it suggests that men are human too, just like women, and should not be given authority over women.

Its an interesting study, but one not one which supports the erroneous notion that men should be in charge of women.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Pearl's disciplinary methods

I have been reading No Longer Quivering lately and find it very distressing. I can hardly imagine homes like the ones described there. Not all of them are Quiverfull - a variety of traditions are represented. The common thread is male authority.

The latest post was on the Pearl's and the death of Lydia. I hardly know what to say. It sounds unbelievable.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Tim Keller and rule and submission

This is from Tim Keller's paper,
    A head only exercises authority to over-rule when he believes his spouse is doing something destructive to her or the family. In a marriage, where there are only two "votes", now will the stalemate be broken in cases where there is not just a difference in taste or preference, but in cases where both parties believe the other is seriously mistaken? There can be no unity unless one person has the right to cast the deciding "vote". That person knows that, along with this "right' comes the greatest accountability and responsibility.
Keller does not recognize that men can do anything destructive. He speaks of only women being destructive. He denies reality.

Keller suggests that women have diminished responsibility and diminished accountability in law for their own children. I believe this is against the law.

I would like very much to interact with Marilyn on John's blog but I can't because I can only post on John's blog during my lunch break at work. But Marilyn can only comment in the evening. I guess that keeps the pace nice and slow.