WOMEN In the life of the Church: An upcoming series on women in ministry.
Watch for it on Tuesday.
WOMEN In the life of the Church: An upcoming series on women in ministry.
Watch for it on Tuesday.
I’d like to recommend a recent book on the atonement (the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus) by Jeremy R. Treat. It’s entitled The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).
Its main argument that cross and kingdom are intrinsically linked is an important one, and the author presents his case convincingly and clearly. The book delves into both biblical and systematic theology and is well researched and highly readable.
More controversially, the book stresses the importance of the penal substitutionary view of the atonement (both for cross and kingdom), tracing this theme throughout Scripture and explicating its internal theo-logic.
Here is my official review of the book, published in the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 15 (2013-14): http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/documents/Volume15/15.MJTM.R28-Franklin_on_Treat.pdf
Here is a brief summary statement from my review (see the link above for the full review):
Treat succeeds in convincingly demonstrating his central thesis that the kingdom and the cross belong together and are mutually informing realities. His contention that Christ the King suffered and died a substitutionary death on the cross in order to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth (one that is hidden and cruciform, yet perceived in faith to be the power and wisdom of God) is both refreshing and compelling. He presents strong evidence from Scripture and tradition to support his position.
However, Treat’s secondary argument concerning the logical relations between atonement metaphors, and especially his insistence on the primacy of penal substitution, is far less convincing. His view may turn out to be true, but his argument does not sufficiently demonstrate it. . . .
. . . Despite these critical comments, I highly recommend The Crucified King to all who wish to engage atonement theology and kingdom theology seriously.
Earlier this year, I wrote several posts related to creation and origins issues. In one post, I reflected on the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate over creationism. In another, I suggested that reading the early chapters of Genesis ‘literally’ might not be the best way to discern what the author (and more importantly God) was trying to communicate to us. Recently, I wrote a post about devout Christians who affirm evolution and suggested that this should provoke our curiosity concerning how these believers integrate their science with their Christian faith.
I had indicated in a few of my earlier posts that I was in the process of writing an article on how we might approach evolution theologically. Well, it’s just been published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation and the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation).
The abstract for the article is as follows:
This article proposes that a trinitarian eschatological hermeneutic, applied to the doctrine of creation, helps us to make sense of evolution theologically. From this perspective, the Holy Spirit incessantly draws creation to the Father’s intended destination for it (new creation) through the cosmic, creative-redemptive work of the Son. This article first develops the proposed hermeneutic in dialogue with scripture and Trinitarian theology. It then commends the hermeneutic as a way forward in resolving theologically three important issues in the science-faith dialogue concerning evolution: (1) it avoids both a deistic naturalism/materialism and a crude supernaturalist interventionism with respect to God’s interaction with creation; (2) it provides a rich theology of nature while avoiding the pitfalls of pantheism; and (3) it helps us to account theologically for the existence of death as a naturally occurring phenomenon intrinsic to creation.
Here is the link to the article:
Patrick Franklin, “Understanding the Beginning in Light of the End: Eschatological Reflections on Making Theological Sense of Evolution,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 66, no. 3 (Sept. 2014): 154-70.
In July I attended the joint, annual conference of the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation, the American Scientific Affiliation, and Christians in Science (UK). The conference took place at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON.
Here are some of my reflections on the event: http://asa3.org/ASA/newsletter/fall14.pdf
“He endured death as a lamb; he devoured it as a lion . . . . in being slain he slew death.”
- Augustine, Sermon 375A
I’m currently reviewing a book for the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry. While reading it, I came across a nice, concise and coherent, distinction between biblical and systematic theology. I like it, because while distingushing the two it also points to their unity and mutually enriching character. He writes:
Biblical theology is faith seeking understanding of the redemptive-historical and literary unity of the Bible in its own terms, concepts, and contexts. Systematic theology is faith seeking understanding of the logical coherence of the Bible in conversation with the church’s tradition and contemporary theology.
Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 35.
To round out the last part of the definition, I would that the ‘conversation’ also includes present experience of God’s Spirit (or what the church discerns the Spirit is doing).
Many evangelical Christians are shocked when they hear that other evangelical Christians, perhaps even prominent ones, believe that evolution is true. But knowing about such Christians can open up space for important questions and constructive dialogue.
Many have grown up believing that evolution is the enemy of faith, that it is basically equivalent with atheism (or, at least, theological liberalism), that it entails a denial of miracles or the supernatural, a rejection of the authority and truthfulness of Scripture, and is threatening to cherished Christian beliefs about creation, sin, salvation, the uniqueness of human beings as made in God’s image, etc. Of course, belief in evolution requires none of these other commitments (or rejections). But the past legacy of religious and cultural wars in America have linked them together in the minds of many (on both sides, whether religious or non-religious, conservative or liberal).
Interestingly, there is a huge disconnect between popular (esp. American) evangelicalism’s general rejection of evolution and what many actual scientists holding to evangelical faith (and attending evangelical churches and even teaching at evangelical institutions) say about evolution. I find this disconnect interesting . . . and troubling.
As an example, a recent survey of of the members of the American Scientific Affiliation and Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation (a large affiliation of scientists who hold to evangelical faith, including the authority of the Bible), found that 66% of respondents affirmed the statement: “biologically, Homo Sapiens evolved through natural processes from ancestral forms in common with primates.” Moreover, the greater the respondent’s expertise in a relevant field (e.g., biology, genetics, biochemistry, etc.), the more likely they are to affirm the consensus view (evolution). To quote the report:
Employed scientists are more likely to accept the consensus science than retired ones. Scientists employed in areas that are more likely to do basic science, likewise. Finally, the areas of expertise closest to the areas of age of the earth and evolution are also more likely to accept this than areas that are further away. Going to a Christian college versus a secular one has no bearing on whether the mainstream science is accepted.
After reading this survey a while back, I became interested in knowing about prominent Christians who affirm evolution. I’ve been compiling a list, which I share below. It’s not exhaustive (far from it), but gives a nice sampling of Christians (many evangelical) who hold to the consensus view within the sciences.
Of course, many Christians do not believe in evolution, and their voices need to be heard too (rational discourse demands this!). My point in sharing this list is not to create a popularity contest or to say something like “all the important people believe this, therefore you should believe it” . . . but simply to indicate that devout and intelligent Christians can think very differently about this issue and to raise awareness about those who affirm evolution.
I think this should provoke our curiosity about how these believers integrate their science with their faith. Being scientists and theologians who are making important contributions to their fields, and who have a passion for Christian faith, discipleship, worldview, and ethics, they might have some important things to say! Many, in fact, have published books on the relationship between faith and science generally, or more specifically about how Christian faith relates to particular questions and discoveries in their fields of expertise.
Also, with any list of this kind, it is always important to note each scholar’s particular field, expertise, and contributions if one is to properly weigh their voice as an authority. So, I’ve included some of these details and encourage you to google these names yourself.
So, here is the list:
Prominent Christians Who Support Evolution
Today is mother’s day. And so today we celebrate our mothers, our wives, our sisters, and our daughters. We pause to thank God for them and show our love and gratitude for them. Today is about mothers; but more than that, today is also about family and mothers often play a central role in bringing the family together and nurturing family relationships and cohesion.
Of course, families are not perfect. And for some, family life is very difficult. Some of us do not enjoy a close relationship with our mother, perhaps because of distance or conflict or something else that makes the relationship difficult. Some are grieving the loss of a mother or a child today. So, mother’s day is a day of celebration for many, but for others it is difficult.
In the story of Naomi and Ruth, we encounter both of these things: the joy and wonder of being a mother, but also the pain and suffering of enduring loss. In the midst of all of this is hope, because God is drawing all of us into his larger family, his covenant family. We become members of this family not because of our biology but because of God’s covenant promise and invitation; in this family we are related to one another not primarily through blood but through faith.
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There are a number of famous mothers in the Bible, women who play crucial roles in the unfolding of salvation history: Eve, the mother of all who live; Sarah, the mother of the covenant through which God is going to bless all nations of the earth; Rebekah, the mother of Jacob who becomes Israel; Naomi and Ruth, who are important in the genealogy of King David; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; and Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible sometimes even depicts God himself as a mother: God is like a woman in labour (Isa. 42:14), a mother suckling her children (Num. 11:12), a mother who does not forget the child she nurses (Isa. 49:14-15), a mother who comforts her children (Isa. 66:12-13), a mother who births and protects Israel (Isa. 46:3-4), a mother who gave birth to the Israelites (Deut. 32:18), and a mother who calls, teaches, holds, heals, and feeds her young (Hosea 11:1-4).
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Today we are focusing on Naomi and Ruth, whose story is recorded in the book of Ruth in the OT. The story begins “in the days when the judges ruled Israel.” Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and their two sons Mahlon and Kilion, leave their home town of Bethlehem in Judah because of a severe famine. They settle in Moab. While they are in Moab, Naomi’s husband Elimelech dies and she is left alone with her two sons. Her two sons marry Moabite women (one marries a woman named Orpah and the other a woman named Ruth), but after about ten years both sons die. Neither of them had fathered children, so the women are now left without husbands and without children.
When Naomi hears that the famine in Judah is over, she and her daughters-in-law get ready to leave Moab and return to her homeland of Judah. Along the way, Naomi, with great love and kindness toward her daughters-in-law, tells them to return to the home of their parents. She says, “‘Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.’” Then she kisses them good-bye, and they all break down and weep (Ruth 1:8-9). After some deliberation, Orpah agrees to return to Moab, but Ruth decides to stay with Naomi:
16 Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18
The story emphasizes two things about this relationship between Naomi and Ruth: (1) Naomi’s graciousness and gratitude toward Ruth and (2) Ruth’s kindness and faithfulness to Naomi. All of this is an expression of love. And in their graciousness, kindness, and faithfulness, Naomi and Ruth reflect the character of the God they serve, the covenant God of Israel who is abundantly gracious, kind, and faithful.
Both women have experienced great loss. Naomi (who now wishes to be called Mara, or ‘bitter’) has lost a husband and two sons; Ruth has lost a husband, a father-in-law and a brother-in-law. But in the midst of their grief and loss they have found each other and though they are not blood relatives they are family together, mother and daughter. They are not obligated to stay together. Ruth could have returned to her own family to begin again, but she decided to stay.
And while they don’t realize it at the time, God has a larger plan for them and for their family. The story of their relationship is going to become an important part of God’s larger story, God’s redemptive plan not only for Israel but for the whole world.
As the book of Ruth unfolds, Ruth meets and marries a man named Boaz, who is a close relative of Naomi’s. Boaz agrees to become a family redeemer or kinsman redeemer. In those days, when a man died without leaving an heir, it was customary for the closest next-of-kin male relative to claim and ‘redeem’ both the widow and the property. In this way, the woman could then bear a son who would be an heir to her first husband’s estate. In chapter four, near the end of the story, we read:
13 So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. (Ruth 4:13-17)
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So, what do we learn about God’s family from Naomi and Ruth?
The book of Ruth teaches us much about God’s view of family. From Ruth, we learn about the importance of love, kindness, and faithfulness. Ruth made a commitment to Naomi and selflessly put the needs of her mother-in-law before her own. Similarly, Boaz, Ruth’s husband, honoured his own family by fulfilling his responsibilities as kinsman redeemer. God honours both of them by choosing them to be part of the messianic line: their child will be the grandfather of King David!
From Naomi, we learn about the importance of openness, hospitality, and gratitude. She took Ruth, a foreigner – a Gentile! – into her own family and loved her as a true daughter. And God blesses her with a new family and a baby grandchild who will be her husband’s heir.
Most importantly, the story of Naomi and Ruth teaches us about God. Their relationship exemplifies God’s own love, grace, goodness, and faithfulness. And their story teaches us about the kind of family that God wants to represent him in this world. It teaches us that God’s grace and our response to his grace in faith form the basis of a new family that God himself creates. This family might include our actual blood relatives, but it includes many others as well—others who are sometimes radically different from us.
Think for a minute about God’s inclusion of Ruth in his special covenant line. Ruth is a non-Israelite, a pagan foreigner not related to the family of Abraham by birth. Yet, she becomes the mother of Obed, who is the father of Jesse, the grandfather of David, and the great ancestor of Jesus the Messiah! Ruth—an outsider—becomes a key link in the chain of God’s chosen people, a people through whom God will bless the entire world.
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Jesus himself came to create a family. He begins on the cross with his own mother, Mary. Like Naomi, Mary had also suffered the loss of a husband and was now facing the death of her son. In the midst of the pain and loneliness of the cross, Jesus calls his mother and his close friend into a new family:
25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)
This was just the beginning. Jesus died and rose again to create one new family made up of both Jews and Gentiles, one including people from every tribe, tongue, language, and nation. Jesus died to bring people back to God and to bring people together in God’s great family. Those who are unrelated by birth are now family in Jesus – we are brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers in Christ bound together in the one Holy Spirit united in one baptism and gathered around one table. As the apostle Peter puts it, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Pet. 2:10).
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So, how shall we respond? First, we can show love, kindness, graciousness, and gratitude to and for one another – whether we are children or mothers. We can strive to treat our own mothers as Ruth treated Naomi: with kindness and faithfulness. And we can strive to treat our own children as Naomi treated Ruth: with openness and gratitude.
Second, we can open our lives to others—others who are not related to us. We can strive to be open, showing hospitality to those who need a family. No one should be alone in the body of Christ. We are called to be brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers for another in Christ. This takes effort, intentionality, and sometimes overcoming fear, selfishness, and even prejudice.
Today is Mother’s Day. But for Christians, it is more than a Hallmark holiday. It is a church day. A day when we recognize and celebrate together our spiritual kinship together in Christ.
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Painting: He Qi, “Naomi and Ruth”
“The gross distortions of Christian truth with which the church’s history is replete have often resulted from the misuse of good doctrines and not only from what we label false doctrine.”
– George Lindbeck
I just read this quote and thought I’d share it. It’s one worthy of pause and reflection.
Truth matters! Christians believe this resolutely. But truth must be understood in context. We must strive to understand not just that something is true, but also how it is true and why it matters. And knowing truth is not enough; what we really need is wisdom to apply the truth fittingly and lovingly. “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only,” says James the brother of our Lord (Jas. 1:22). Similarly,Paul talks about the importance of correctly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about theology is that theology is about memorizing and regurgitating doctrines. This makes theology boring, legalistic, and devoid of life and contextual richness. It’s like learning a bunch of mathematical or statistical formulas without actually understanding how they work or knowing when to apply them. Of course, doctrines have an important place in theological learning and thinking. But doctrines must be studied and understood in the context of their historical development and applied in the present with discernment and appropriateness.
Doctrine is the fruit of theology, not its beginning point or final end. It’s what results from the church’s emersion in Scripture and tradition, as it seeks to make rational sense of its experience of the living God in its midst. As such, doctrine is formulated and reformulated over the course of an ongoing dialogue taking place over many centuries — with much continuity to be sure, but also some revision. Genuine theology, then, is about the pursuit of wisdom. It’s about understanding all things in the light of God revealed in Christ. In all things, it seeks to glorify God and bear articulate witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Its doctrines are short-form ‘formulas’ that guide the church as it seeks to understand, articulate, and embody the truth in its life and mission.
On a summer night when I was five, the temperature in the house at sunset still stood at over a hundred degrees, so my mother took cots outside for sleeping. I looked up at the darkening sky and asked, “Mommy, what are those? to which she replied, “Those are stars — you’ve often seen them!” I am reported to have responded, “But I never knew they stayed out all night!” And that was the beginning of my love affair with the stars.
- Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe