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Filtering by Tag: Theology

I Hope

Thomas Whitley

There has been some request that I post the sermon I preached recently on Psalm 130. I am posting it below.

I Hope Psalm 130

My goal is to be as honest with you as possible this morning, because if I can’t be open and honest and vulnerable in my church, then where can I be?

For those of you who don’t know, I lost someone very close to me 3 ½ weeks ago. Daniel Goodman was my professor and mentor, but more than that he was my friend. I spent hours in his office talking about school, politics, music and a host of other unproductive and nonacademic topics. We e-mailed back and forth almost constantly. We went to concerts together and in October we traveled to D.C., Savannah and Charleston studying Jewish-Christian relations in America. Danny had a way of drawing you in. Everyone wanted to be around him and many of us wanted to be him. I was always amazed at how he captivated a classroom and even more amazed when I found out that he had put off the more academic endeavors (writing scholarly articles, writings books, etc.) until this semester so that he could spend time with his family, specifically his two sons. He was such a great model and he did such great work.

I have experienced loss before in my life, but never such senseless loss. I ask, as we often do of situations like this, why? I know I will not get an answer that is suitable to me. For one, I am theologically opposed to many of the rehearsed answers that get thrown around after things like this happen, such as, “God must have needed another angel;” “We know that it was part of God’s plan;” and the other countless responses that are simply cover ups because we’re too scared to admit that we have absolutely no idea why someone so young and doing so much good in the world should die.

It doesn’t make us bad people or bad Christians to say that we don’t know. It makes us honest. And if what we truly desire with God is a relationship and truly believe that God desires relationship with us, then honest we must be. This is where I am. Darkness is all around me and I am crying out in confusion and disbelief and anger and agony. This is how I approach this psalm. I share all of this with you because I think it is important to how we understand this psalm. We are too quick to jump to “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope” and we forget the rest of the psalm. In doing so, we see this in a completely positive light that I am convinced is at odds with the perspective from which it was written. The psalmist is not bursting with joy when these words are being written.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

This is heart-wrenching anguish. The psalmist is desperate, as I am desperate, for a word of hope. One of the beauty’s of the Bible is its ability to speak to us where we are. At different stages in life we glean different things from the Bible. Psalm 130 was recited in unison at Dr. Goodman’s funeral. Since then I have not been able to get this psalm out of my head. It meant something completely different now. No longer could I breeze through the words and say, “Oh yeah, this psalm is about hope. We’ve got to have hope.” No, no longer could I be that flippant. For, over the past 3 ½ weeks I have felt this psalm, I have lived this psalm.

So, let me tell you how I read this psalm today. I hear in the words of the psalm what I see reflected in my life. I believe (in my head) that hope is true and necessary and that it comes from the Lord, but I don’t feel it right now. It’s hard to hope when I see so much waste. It’s hard to hope when I feel so much pain, but I really, honestly believe in hope. So there is a disconnect in my life right now, but I think the psalmist experienced this same disconnect. The psalmist is desperate for a word from the Lord and he is waiting anxiously for it, he is hoping for it. The anticipation is building.

God I need You to hear me, I need You to listen. But I know my place in the grand scheme of things. I know that You are holier than I. Nevertheless I have cried out to You and I am waiting for You to respond. I am waiting for a word from You. O Lord, how badly I need a word of hope. I am waiting. It is dark and I need the light of day.

An experience that comes to mind every time I read verse 6 is when I was camping one time during college. I was helping lead the guys ministry for Campus Crusade and since I am an Eagle scout I was asked to plan and lead a guys camping trip. I was excited to take all of these guys, most of whom had never been camping, to a place that is near and dear to my heart, Uwharrie National Forest. Oh yeah, and I didn’t mind showing of my camping skills. I had been bragging, sort or, to these guys for a few weeks before we went about how I love to sleep in a hammock. They asked all sorts of things like didn’t I get cold, is it really comfortable, etc. I assured them it was the best sleeping they’d ever do. I still agree with that statement, but this particular weekend it was not the best sleeping ever. I took two of my tents and my hammock with me. I helped them set the tents up so they could sleep in them and then I tied up my hammock. When we were going to bed that night there was one more space in one of the tents and one of the guys asked if I was sure I didn’t want it. I assured him I was fine, I would be plenty warm and way more comfortable than him. So we went to sleep, but not for long. Well, at least for me anyway. I woke up absolutely freezing at about 3:30. I decided I would be fine if I could just go back to sleep, so I tried to and after a little while I was successful. But that didn’t last too long. I woke up again at 4:30 and this time could not go back to sleep. So I laid in my hammock awake from 4:30 to 6:15 waiting for the first break of dawn so I could start a fire. The sun has never taken so long to rise. This experience helps me understand this psalm and where I am in my life better. Waiting in the freezing cold waiting for daybreak was miserable. I regretted decisions I had made, I prayed, I laid there with utter anticipation. It felt like morning would never come, but I knew one thing. Morning will come. Morning always comes. I remembered this. The psalmist, too, in his despair remembered where hope came from. He may not have felt very hopeful at the time, but he knew that his hope came from the Lord. He remembered the love of the Lord and that the Lord had redeemed him. Dr. Goodman taught me that in Judaism memory is sacred. So, when I am in the depths and feel as if there is no hope, I know I can remember. That sacred memory, then leads me to hope. For, when I say I remember it certainly means that I remember the past, the good and the bad, but above all, when I say I remember, it means that I hope.

On our trip in October we visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. I have a few favorite quotes from the museum, but there is one that is quite apropos. It stands out from the rest of the quotes in the museum because it is unlike the rest. It is a quote out of Anne Frank’s diary. I assume that if we haven’t all read The Diary of Anne Frank that we are at least aware of it. The diary contains the inner thoughts of a young Jewish girl who lived in hiding from the Nazis for two years, from the ages of 13 to 15. At times when I am upset and ready to battle her words disarm me:

That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.

The hope in her words takes me back every time I read them. Her words are so at odds with how I think a Jew should be feeling in her situation. She should be angry at the Nazis and angry at God as Elie Wiesel and many other Jews were, but she wasn’t. She was hopeful. This is pure, honest, unadulterated hope. It’s a word that I need to hear. It’s a word we need to hear.

This morning I hope. It is not easy, as you know, but I hope and I am calling you to hope with me. Let us hope for the future to be better than the past and better than the present. I assert, along with the psalmist: “hope in the Lord, for the with Lord there is steadfast love and with the Lord there is plentiful redemption.” The psalmist did not keep hope to himself, but called all Israel to hope with him. I cannot hope by myself. We must hope together. We must cry out together and wait in anticipation together and hope together and experience the love and redemption of the Lord together.

I have been honest and vulnerable with you this morning in hopes that you will see that it’s okay. It’s okay to have questions without answers and to need hope. I do. The psalmist did. To be sure, I have experienced pain and suffering. I know how real evil is in this world. I know how much waste is in the world. It is in the midst of this pain and suffering and evil, in spite of these, and perhaps because of these, that I must assert as my final words two small, yet abundantly meaningful words: “I hope.”

As you can probably tell, I am a manuscript writer. I do not always, and did not this time, stick exactly to the manuscript, but this will at least give you a general idea of where my thoughts are/were on this passage.

Lifeway's Warning Labels

Thomas Whitley

I am absolutely appalled by this. Lifeway has begun putting warning labels on books that

…may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.

These waring labels are marked Read with Discernment. Should we not read everything with discernment, Lifeway? Especially books that you accept without question.

The announcement (which can be found here) goes on to say that the reason they are still making these books available is

…because we believe the books do present content that is relevant and of value to Christians and/or because pastors, seminary students, and other ministry leaders need access to this type of material, strictly for critical study or research to help them understand and develop responses to the diversity of religious thought in today’s postmodern world.

Lifeway, are you afraid that people will begin to think for themselves? Are you afraid that people will learn that there are other, more peaceful, more egalitarian ways to view the world? Furthermore, do you not realize that much (most) of the Bible is “inconsistent with historical evangelical theology”? I think the Bible deserves one of your fancy warning labels as well, what with people hammering stakes through others’ temples, other people having more than one wife and multiple concubines and it being acceptable, Abraham and Moses and everyone else pre-exile being polytheistic (henotheistic at best), and young ladies tricking their father so they can have sex with him.

Give it some thought, Lifeway, and quit being so scared. It’s really not becoming.

Not-So-Progressive Revelation

Thomas Whitley

As usual during my Ethics class we talked about something completely unrelated to Ethics. Tonight it was “progressive revelation.” Honestly, I was pretty zoned out for much of his soliloquy. I did regain consciousness long enough to see what was written on the board though:

“Progressive Revelation - Its culmination is Jesus”

In actuality, the “is” was not italicized, but rather was underlined three times. My question is one of simple logic: how is it progressive if it has a culmination? Answer: it’s not. Progressive revelation starts from what it desires to be the end and says that everything that went before was only partially true or pure or contained only some partial understanding while that which I uphold contains all truth and is the fullest understanding possible. It would be much more honest of proponents of progressive revelation if they would simply say that anything that is not what they consider to be the truest and fullest revelation is simply untrue. I say this because if progressive revelation were taken to the fullest of its implications, then its proponents would have to understand Islam as superseding Christianity, Mormonism superseding Christianity and Islam, etc., but they are wholly unwilling to support this view.

My other point of contention with Christian Progressive Revelation is that it firmly upholds supersessionism, insofar as it relates to Christianity superseding Judaism and Gentile Christians superseding Jews as God’s chosen people. This is a view that I vehemently oppose.

So, adhere to progressive revelation if you want to, but if you do chose to adhere to it, do it logically and rationally. Do not say that you believe in progressive revelation if by that you really mean, “I think I have the absolute hold on truth and everything that came before was merely precursor to what I have and everything that follows is heresy.”

On another note, that is still somewhat related, please stop reading the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) into the Hebrew Bible (commonly referred to as the Old Testament). As much as many people hate to hear it, Isaiah had no idea who Jesus the Nazarene was when he was writing (his “suffering servant” model that so many apply to Jesus was actually most likely in reference to Cyrus) and the Abraham and Isaac story was not a foreshadowing of Jesus and his act of being a sacrifice. The Hebrew Bible is very important, for me at least, and is very influential in my own faith, but let it stand on its own without reading it christocentrically.

What's Your Atonement Theory?

Thomas Whitley

My wife and I were having a discussion the other night about atonement theories and that prompted this post. What is your atonement theory? Here is a list of some popular ones:

- Gusat Aulen’s Christus-victor
- Irenaeus’ ransom or bait and switch
- Anselm’s idea of satisfying a debt
- Calvin’s idea of the appeasement of the wrath of God
- Luther’s Christ as the fishhook
- Hugo Grotius’ governmental view (God as governor)
- Abelard’s view that Christ’s love is the sole cause of redemption
- Horace Bushnell’s vicarious sacrifice

If you pick one of these, why? If you operate from a different theory of atonement what is it and why? I am curious because I am having difficulty finding these theories very meaningful for me.

If you have no idea what anything in the above list means, take this as your opportunity to research the different ideas about atonement. If you do understand the list, hopefully you can offer something constructive about one of the theories from the list above or offer some theory I haven’t listed.


What I "Learned" Tonight

Thomas Whitley

Tonight I “learned” two things. One was from a discussion board for my worship class and the other was from my Ethics professor. I say that I “learned” these two things for two reasons. The first is that I was already aware of these views/positions. The second is that I vehemently disagree with both of them and typically when someone truly learns something, they respond by subscribing to it.

Lesson 1
The comment on my Worship class’ discussion board was in the context of responding to reading the first chapter of Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative. One of my class members responded to another class member with the following comment:

Worship could never be possible without reading Jesus back into the OT narratives and texts. Although not specifically named in many, if not most OT references, Jesus is present from Genesis to Revelation, therefore He was included in OT worship forms.

This is a very common view that I have major problems with. I will not expound on all of them now, but I will mention a few. This view is typically called, in academic circles, supersessionism. Supersessionism is the belief that Christians superseded the Jews as God’s chosen people and as such receive God’s blessing and Jews now receive God’s damnation.

Besides the fact that this view is rather poor theology (it is likely very good christology if by good christology one really means high christology, but it is not good theology), and is not, in my understanding, good and appropriate work with the biblical text, this view is also very demeaning and does great harm and a great disservice to Judaism.

Furthermore, to say that it is impossible to have an Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (henceforth HB) worship without reading Jesus back into the narratives and texts of the HB says that for the thousands of years of recorded human history before Jesus the Nazarene came on to the scene no one really knew God and they were not capable of worshiping God. I, for one, will not say that Israelites and Judeans did not know God or that they were incapable of worshiping God because Jesus was not yet alive. That is quite a ridiculous view.

Moreover, my classmate’s response fails to realize that in actuality Jesus is never explicitly named in the HB. As difficult as it is for many to realize, the prophets that were writing in HB and during that time period had no clue who Jesus was (perhaps “would be” is more appropriate) and they were not predicting the future. Prophecy in the HB, as a trade and class, was about recounting history and speaking about present events and situations in the world view (ethos) of religion. Though the HB prophets are typically read as predicting the future, a solid exegesis that is informed by good historical studies will show that they were not.

That is all that I will say on this topic, for now.

Lesson 2
The second thing that I “learned” tonight was espoused by my Ethics professor. He said that you cannot read the New Testament (henceforth NT) and not be Trinitarian. Trinitarianism is the belief that God is only one being, yet three persons, manifested as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Many of you may well hold this belief and that is perfectly fine, but my question to you is this, how many of the NT authors were Trinitarian? Answer: none. Does the Bible speak of the Trinity? Answer: no.

The doctrine of the Trinity has as its origin the Council of Nicea in 325, when the debate came to a head about whether Jesus and God the Father were “of the same substance” or not. Before then many people believed that Jesus was fully divine, just as many others believed that Jesus was fully human. Proclaiming that Jesus was fully human and fully divine and “of the same substance” as God was not a prerequisite up to that point of being a Christian.

Trinitarianism is an acceptable view to hold, but it is not biblical. I am perfectly fine with people holding to beliefs and convictions that are not biblical, so long as they recognize it as such and do not attempt to beat down those who do not hold to those same views and treat them (or tell them) that they are not Christian because of it. Many of you reading this post probably already have doubts about my Christianity. Regarding that, I really do not care. I do not say that to be callous, but my relationship with God is just that, my relationship with God. It is not yours and it certainly is not yours to make judgments about. But, if you do insist on making judgments, which we all do from time to time, please make sure that your judgments and arguments are sound.

I am not a Trinitarian for two main reasons. The first is not so much that it is not biblical, which has been established, but that there is no evidence that Jesus himself or his earliest followers believed anything of the sort. It is simply a doctrine of the church, not a core, foundational belief. The second reason is that I am a monotheist (I believe there is only one God) and I have the same questions/problems that Jews and Muslims have of most Christians. How can I call myself a monotheist and yet say that there is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. My faith, for me personally, must follow logic as far as possible and in this case my ethos simply will not allow me to subscribe to both views, monotheism and Trinitarianism. They are mutually exclusive.

What do you think?

A Chronic Struggle

Thomas Whitley

I have a chronic struggle.

This struggle of mine is one that I’m sure most everyone deals with at least on occasion. The struggle is simply how much do we share and how much do we keep to ourselves. My version of this struggle is specifically related to religious belief.

I know that never will there be a time when everyone agrees - I, in fact, think this is wonderful, for without diversity of belief growth and change for the better would never be possible - and I am someone who enjoys and respects differences of belief and opinion, as long as they are sincere and reasonable. Thus, given someone else’s sincere and reasonable belief/opinion I typically do not share my own views unless asked to. I personally dislike people sharing their unsolicited opinions with me, so I try very hard not to share mine in that manner.

The question, then, is “does there come a time when I should share my beliefs/opinions even when they’re not asked for?”

What do I do when I know that other people find person X’s views very meaningful and important, but I find person X’s views to be wrong and detrimental? Part of me feels that I have a moral obligation to that person and everyone who admires this person to share with them what I believe to be truth. However, there is another, larger part of me that questions my motives. Am I just trying to get other people to think and believe like me?

Everything I believe, I believe seriously and I think my beliefs and true and right (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t subscribe to them…duh), but does that give me the right to create conflict and begin a process of dream-crushing and belief-crushing just because there is a chance that I may be right?

So, what am I really saying? What am I asking for?

Really, I don’t know that I’m asking for anything, though I will gladly accept comments on how you deal with this struggle. I guess really what I’m saying is that our thoughts and beliefs are important to us and to others and I take this very seriously.

It is not right for me to think that it is acceptable for me to share my unsolicited views/beliefs if I don’t want others to do the same. I work very hard to not employ double standards in my life and frankly wish that others would too. Most Christians, I have found, believe that it is completely acceptable for them to evangelize and share their beliefs with others, but get terribly offended when people of others religious faiths/traditions attempt to share their beliefs. This goes against equality and fairness, two things I highly value, and, in my opinion, shows immaturity.

Am I just too passive in this realm?

Should I be more forthright and less respectful of others’ beliefs/views?

I have a chronic struggle.

Gods die when the visions they support disintegrate. They do not die, however, at the same time or in the same way for everyone. Even if the death of God does take place, in one way or another, that passing does not mean so much that religious ending has been reached but that beginnings have been made possible for new and different encounters with the source and ground of our being within history itself.

Thomas Whitley

Gods die when the visions they support disintegrate. They do not die, however, at the same time or in the same way for everyone. Even if the death of God does take place, in one way or another, that passing does not mean so much that religious ending has been reached but that beginnings have been made possible for new and different encounters with the source and ground of our being within history itself.
John K. Roth, “The Holocaust, Genocide, and Radical Theology: An Assessment of the Death of God Movement” in Stephen R Haynes and John K. Roth, eds., The Death of God Movement and the Holocaust: Radical Theology Encounters the Shoah (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), 74. Italics mine.

Newsweek Trashes Bible, Part 2

Thomas Whitley

Earlier I wrote about the Newsweek article written from the perspective of a biblical support of gay marriage. Today, David Henson over at unorthodoxology has posted this about where the article goes wrong. The essence of his argument is summed up in the following quote (though I strongly encourage you to read the entire post, it’s not that long):

So, again, I’ll argue the simple point. If this debate has boiled down to the absurdity of a definition, why not just change the word?

Get rid of state-sponsored marriage. Let the state grant only civil unions or domestic partnerships. And let churches, synagogues, temples and mosques grant marriages. All it takes is a one-word change on a certificate, from marriage to union.

The terms of the debate, quite literally, will be changed. Then, the argument that marriage is between one man and one woman can be both true and false, depending on your house of worship.

Is he right that marriage is essentially a religious sacrament and that this actually violates the separation of church and state? Should we move to system of just granting everyone civil unions?

This is quite an interesting idea.


Newsweek Trashes Bible

Thomas Whitley

At least that’s what the American Family Association is saying.

Now, I appreciate debates/arguments over what the Bible says on many issues, homosexuality included. And I have no problem with the AFA purporting their interpretation.

What is amusing/sad is the manner in which they go about it.

“Miller’s article is one of the most biased and distorted pieces concerning homosexual marriage ever published by any major news organization. The article is much too long for this e-mail.”

While the AFA may not agree with Lisa Miller’s article (which can be found here), she does not distort. Her interpretation is certainly different, but it is not distortion. It is also amusing to me that they say “The article is much too long for this e-mail” knowing that most of their readers will not click though and read Miller’s article. Moreover, the e-mail offers Al Mohler’s response and encourages its readers to read Mohler’s article before reading Miller’s. Are they afraid that if someone reads Miller’s article without Al Mohler glasses that they will be tainted or not be able to clearly discern for themselves?

I very much appreciate that the e-mail offers both sides, but am troubled by the implication that people need to read Al Mohler before they read Lisa Miller so they can know what to think about the article. Further, I do very much take issue with the AFA asserting that someone else has distorted the Bible for the simple reason that they read the Bible and came down on a different side than did the AFA. I am fond of referencing Jewish rabbis who say that every verse has 70 interpretations.

I encourage you to read both articles and let me know what you think.


Thomas Whitley

Our Friends over at G-DCAST are putting together a series of videos that tell the story of Torah.

Here’s how they describe their site:

What is this?! G-dcast is a place to watch cartoons based on the story Jews are reading in the Torah this week. Low commitment learning! Check out a different narrator for 4 minutes each week - some tell stories, some sing country songs. (And then there’s the hip hoppers, too.) Whether you already know this story, or this is totally new stuff, you’ll meet 54 new voices this year. New episodes drop Mondays.

Here’s their video on the story of Noah, Parshat Noah.

The Death of God

Thomas Whitley

I am currently working on a paper on Christian theologies of the death of God (when I finish it I will post it on here) and so it got me wondering what other people think about the topic.

What do you think when you hear “death of God” or “God is dead”?
What do you know about the death of God movement?

I’m really just curious to see how educated people are about this subject, so please indulge me and let me know.

P.S. Please respond/comment before you go searching on Wikipedia and other such sources or this won’t really be worth anything.