Theblogogy - The Blog of Theology and Questions

The Blog of Theology and Questions

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pagan Propitiation

The Gospel is often presented as: We're sinners. God is angry about that. Jesus took our punishment. Now, by believing He died for us and rose again, we can connect with God and go to heaven.

The theological term for Jesus' sacrifice like this is "propitiation" ... or "appeasing an angry god." The related idea is "penal substitution," the concept that Jesus took our punishment.

N.T. Wright argues that this idea is far more pagan than Jewish. Instead, he convincing contends that Jesus, being Israel's Messiah, must be viewed from within the Jewish context. In this light, His crucifixion isn't about absorbing God's wrath, but rather about proving purification for His people. Israel's animal sacrifices weren't about punishing the animals in place of people, but rather providing blood for purification. Jesus' sacrifice, His blood, then, provides us with purification rather than cosmic punishment.

This transforms the Good News of Christianity from "Jesus took the divine bullet for you" to a message more like: Christ has defeated the evil powers that held us captive and enables us to return to our proper position as people, namely "a kingdom of priests" who exist to bring healing to a broken world and through that praise to God.

Wright's book is a fascinating read even if you've never been bothered by the idea that God's justice requires Him to punish someone for sin. For me, what's more, N.T. Wright brilliantly addresses every single "issue" brought up in Mr. Deity episode 2.

So go check out Mr. Deity and then pick up The Day the Revolution Began.

Granted, I've only barely summarized what I see in Wright's technical argument which spans seventeen hours in the audio book version. Needless to say, there's a lot more to learn.

So let's learn more, together.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Theodicy

I've been thinking about self-driving cars and the legal/ethical issues they pose. Imagine with me that the first car was perfectly self-driving. It never had an accident. Then along came a guy like Henry Ford who wanted everyone to have the joy of driving their own car themselves. Suddenly, with humans in the mix, accidents happen everywhere.

Is Henry Ford ethically/legally responsible for those deaths? He let people drive.

What about the person who originally created the perfect car? Without any cars, no one would have gotten hurt by them.

While lawmakers currently wrestle with these questions now that corporations and computer programmers could be blamed for accidents that lead to the deaths of children, I can't help but think of this as a theodicy: an exploration of how God relates to the problem of evil.

Assuming the Bible is right, when God first created us, we were complete, without any brokenness. Then along comes Satan who convinces Adam and Eve that we really should be the ones directing our lives. And immediately problems begin for us and the whole world.

These problems are everywhere today. Do we blame Satan? God?

I can't wait for safe, self-driving cars. I know I don't drive well when I'm tired or angry or distracted. And I can't help but notice that this ties in really well with the call of Christianity to surrender our lives to Christ who loves us and asks us to let Him "take the driver's seat." (I've never really liked that phrase, but it's making a bit more sense now...).

There is tons of scholarship on all sides of the problem of evil. I'm sure we'll talk about it more. For now, I urge you to dig into this deeper.

I'd love to hear what you think and have been thinking about.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Nature of Hell

What is hell like? If you’re seen the Keanu Reeves Constantine, it’s a fiery place filled with animated skeletons. Playing through Monkey Island, you discover it has mushrooms. But more important than the physical attributes of hell, let’s talk about purpose.

Why does hell exist? It’s the place created for Satan and his fallen angels when they were kicked out of heaven after rebelling against God (based on this odd little passage in Isaiah, which we can discuss more if you want). It’s important to note that God did not create hell with the goal of sending people there.

Hell, then, is a place of torment but not because God is constantly turning the torture screws. Instead, it’s a place of horror because it is separated from God’s grace. I really like how C.S. Lewis depicts hell in The Great Divorce: A place full of selfish, mean people who keep moving further away from one another. It’s lonely and horrible because the people there are lonely and horrible. And if I think about myself, there are times that that is exactly where I’d choose to be.

Is hell eternal? That makes the most sense to me. Any eternal being that does not want to hang out with God has to be somewhere that is not with God… and that place would be hell.

So hell exists. It’s where people go who don’t want to be with God. It’s horrible because it is devoid of love and grace.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

"House of Cards" Abraham

House of Cards has long toyed with religious themes. And as I've written elsewhere, "Modern culture is woefully ignorant of the Bible and Christian thought. Please stop making us even more ill-informed." This continues to today. There is a scene at the end of Season 3, Episode 4 which was simply so ... bad? misleading? almost something? filled with potential? ... whatever it was, I felt it important to rant about it for a bit.

The video above is long. Sorry, I ramble when I get excited.

The episode continues to return to the theme of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac and God giving His Son to die. Frank, battling some inner demons, asks a religious leader about justice. "What is it?"

The guy replies that there are two kinds: The justice man follows/creates by interpreting the 10 Commandments and the two central commands that we love God, love others.

Frank isn't convinced we need that much interpretation considering "Thou shalt not kill" is pretty straightforward. The religious guy isn't convinced. "There's lots of killing in the Bible," he counters. "Ultimately, it's either us who do the killing or someone else will." ...which sounds like the beginning of a good followup to the how should we respond to threats? question we considered a while back. There's an even deeper problem. The command that we should not kill is better said, "Do not murder." Why? Because killing is not the same as murder. Murder is the rectangle to the "kill" square. Murder is the malicious/premeditated killing of someone. This is different than, say, accidentally hitting someone with your car. Even the Bible provides a clear distinction between these two causes of human death. This is why, way back in the Old Testament, God commanded that there be cities of refuge (if you don't know what those are, click the link and read the 10, or so, verses; it won't take long).

They don't mention any of this in the show even though it fits perfectly with why Frank is asking about justice. Thematically, technically, philosophically, and ethically, this discussion would have been just what Frank needed to hear. But, no. The guy simply mentions that even Kind David was a warrior (not to mention murderer and adulterer).

"You can't love the people you kill," Frank says.

The religious guy counters that you can. And you need to even love those who are trying to kill you, just as Jesus asked God to forgive the Romans as they crucified Him.

"Why didn't He fight?" Frank asks.

Rather than answering the question -- you know, with passages from the Bible -- this religious character says, "I ask myself that same question."


Frank then says that he understands the vengeful God of the Old Testament who rules through fear. But Him..." and here he turns to look at a crucifix.

And this I like. Here we get to see the utterly bewildering aspect of Jesus, the radical display of God's love, and how incomprehensible it can be. There's a bit more to the scene, but it ends with Frank alone with the statue of Jesus. "You're selling love? Well," Frank scowls, "I don't buy it." Which is perfect. Exactly. It's very difficult for people to understand this crazy thing called love. But what I don't like is that we never get to see how there isn't a violent God of the Old Testament and this buddy-Jesus of the New. I get how people get that impression, but it's simply not the case.

Anyway, after spitting on the crucifix -- like people did to Jesus during the crucifixion -- the ceramic Jesus falls off the cross and smashes on the ground, echoing -- I guess -- the Dagon statue. This ends with Frank picking up a piece of the broken figure and saying to the audience, "I have God's ear now."


This scene isn't shocking -- especially considering the graveside scene at the start of the season -- because there have been far better scenes before it ...such as the crucifix burning sequence in Amadeus.

Why go through all this? Well, because the scene is such a great opportunity to interact with religious ideas in a culturally relevant way. There's also some very good stuff in here, along with really terrible oversights.

Anyway, let's learn more together. Any input?


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Infinite Love

Some people -- especially in the courtship/anti-dating crowd -- have cautioned against falling in love. "Don't love people," the thinking goes, "or you'll keep losing bits of your heart." One such author went so far as to say that the more people you love, the less "sticky" your love is, like duct tape placed on the skin and ripped off again and again until it is useless and your arm smarts.

Painful simile aside, I disagree with this idea. We should strive toward infinite love; put another way, the more we love others, the bigger our heart becomes, increasing our capacity for loving others. And, no, I'm not promoting polygamy ... but that has much more to do with marriage than love. What I'm suggesting is that we grow in love, not fear love, and seek to ever love people better.

We're familiar with the four kinds of love: Family, Friendship, Romance, and this crazy notion of "Unconditional Love." As we exercise our heart muscle, we should find ourselves moving in the direction of the kind of love usually relegated to the divine. Ultimately, we should find ourselves loving not just our friends and those near us, but developing a heart for the world.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Worms Loved by God

We are but worms, made in God's image; sinners, dearly loved; fallen, redeemable. Contradiction, or paradox?

I don't think it's either.

The "worm" side is a reminder of what we are without God. The other a reminder of who God is. The purpose of both ideas is to point us to God. But I think we tend to think about these ideas as about us. Am I a worm? Am I lovely? Yes. Yet your wormness or worthitude come from who you are. And you, you are a beloved child of God, constantly being urged to act like it.

Still, as you look from one of the spectrum to the other, a hardcore Total Depravity girl is going to seem completely opposite of a God Loves Me for Me guy. And, in reality, both are are a little wrong. But both are on to something. And that unity is something I think Christians should foster and those interested in religion should consider.

Which end of the spectrum resonates more with you?


Saturday, January 31, 2015

God of the Gaps

The idea of a "God of the gaps" betrays a profound confusion about the nature of God. If you define God as a place-holder for stuff we can't explain, then, yes, a theistic worldview is going to be very weak. The problem is that we have failed to make it clear that God isn't about filling in for stuff we can't understand.

Put another way, "God of the gaps" is a secular argument that is not aligned with reality. Rather, we have found that reality -- including science, mathematics, history, archaeology, etc -- all offer supporting evidence for God. Our faith in Him encourages us to keep looking for answers. In other words, the Christian view of God is the opposite of the God of the gaps as it pushes us to find answers.

This came from a few comments from the God, Science & the Big Questions discussion at Biola University. More to come!