Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Manifold Witness 1

posted by Scot McKnight

ManWit.jpgPerhaps the central issue for the emerging movement is the issue of truth, and at the core of the issue is what John Franke, in his new and exciting book Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth (Living Theology)
, calls “the sheer, existential reality of Christian plurality” (3). 

Emerging folks are often asked “Do you believe in truth?” and John’s book addresses that question. Those who have criticized the emerging folks for their stance on truth are obligated to listen to John’s voice. He represents the best among the emerging voices.
Here’s one way that many of us believe has to be dealt with: Which truth? or Whose truth? The Reformed, the Lutheran, the Catholic, the Orthodox, the low-church evangelical? 
More: “If the Bible is the Word of God … and if God gives liberally to those who ask, and if the Holy Spirit is at work guiding the church into all truth, how are we to account for and make sense of the plurality of the church?” (6). These differences are over important matters and they can’t be denied, and anyone who cares about truth must deal with plurality. John believes in the inspiration of Scripture, the generosity of God in providing wisdom and in the guidance of the Spirit and in the plurality of truth. How so?

“… the expression of biblical and orthodox Christian faith is inherently and irreducibly pluralistic” (7). That is, “diversity is part of the divine design” (7).
This does not open Pandora’s box of relativity; truth must be declared and defended. Some ideas are wrong; some are right. But still “Christian witness that is pleasing to the Lord” is a “manifold witness” (8). Thus, the “plurality of the Christian community constitutes a faithful witness to God’s intentions for the church” (8).
John gives a credible witness: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God in the flesh and that, as such, he is the way, the truth, and the life” (9).


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Jim Calamas

posted October 13, 2009 at 8:36 am


This sounds like an attempt to justify our fallen condition. As I understand it, Jesus established “His Church”. as the years and decades have passed, we have taken it upon ourselves to change that which was “Established”. How much of the formula for Coca Cola can we change and still have Coca Cola? Indeed, we will have something different. We can claim to have part of the truth here and there, but there is only one complete truth and thus one true Christianity. Grace is wherever God wishes, but our response is limited if we to be “in the Church”. Compare Orthodoxy to what was “established” and then examine the “plurality” concept that you seem to embrace.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 8:40 am


My spiritual formation has been just about as pluralistic as a human being can reasonably experience — and not simply limited to Christianity. Christianity has always been diverse and pluralistic in some ways as it has gone to the nations because we are diverse. So a Russian does not worship in exactly the same way as an Arab, or a Greek, or a Frenchman, or a Celt (the list could obviously go on indefinitely). Moreover, from the most ancient of times to the present, Christian mission done well (which it has not always been done) has looked for whatever truth the people already knew and lived and built on that.
With that said, the God of Christianity is a personal God. And by that, I mean he is three actual persons who somehow form one “essence” (we always push the boundaries of language here). And that means it matters what we say about those persons. Every Christian agrees with this to some extent. At least most of us still reject Arius’ teaching that there was a time when the Son was not. Most of us reject Nestorius’ teaching that Jesus consisted of two persons, one human and one divine. I hope most of us also reject the idea that Jesus had only a divine will. I hope we all agree that the Holy Spirit is an actual person, not merely energy or force or expression of divine love.
Most of the great Christian controversies have centered on what we say about the divine persons of the Trinity. Clearly we all agree at some level that that matters. How we describe a person, even a fellow human being, impacts our image of that person. The more the image of a person diverges from the reality of that person, the more difficulty we will have relating to the actual person, the more our actions toward that person will be based on false premises.
Of course, God transcends our ability to wrap our minds around him. I’m big on mystery, so you won’t find any argument from me there. Nevertheless, to the extent we can say anything about the Persons of the Godhead, Christian history indicates that it has always been seen as important that we speak as truly as we can.
I say all that to say this. I’ve now, to the extent that I can, inhabited a number of Christian perspectives, and explored many more. And they do not describe the same divine Persons. Some, such as Calvinism and Orthodoxy, have almost no points of similarity. The God described in each of those two traditions is almost mutually exclusive with the other. Others are more similar, nevertheless their description of one or more Persons of the Trinity differs in significant ways. As a result, even when they use the same words, they often mean radically different things by those words.
Simply declaring Christianity pluralistic does nothing to help this very basic problem. It does nothing to help us know God truly. It does nothing to help us move past our own constructed images of God that impede knowing him. And I will also point out that if the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Calvinistic, the Lutheran, the Baptist, and the Methodist descriptions of the actual Persons of the Triune God can all be accepted as somehow “true”, then on what basis do we reject any of the ancient heresies about the Godhead and the nature of Christ? They aren’t really any more divergent or pluralistic than some of the above are from each other.
And that does matter. Some Christian traditions describe a God I long to embrace, with whom I long to commune. Other Christian traditions describe a God I would never, in a million years, voluntarily worship. When you’re describing real Persons, these are not merely abstract ideas.



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David

posted October 13, 2009 at 8:46 am


Arius could have made the same argument.



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Taylor George

posted October 13, 2009 at 8:46 am


“Whose truth? The Reformed, the Lutheran, the Catholic, the Orthodox, the low-church evangelical?”
This is such a big dilema in my mind. Take for example baptism. Catholics and Lutherans believe that it is actually performing “new birth” and washing of sin, while low church evangelicals believe it is merely a symbol and focus their attention on a personel conversion experience. The reformed seem to land somewhere in between. I’m left wondering whose truth is right on a very significant piece of doctrine.



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T

posted October 13, 2009 at 9:15 am


I think there is some validity to the plurality of truth concept, at least as it is explained by the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant or something similar.
And here’s part of what I think is going on in our “plurality of truth”: I agree that God gives wisdom generously and that the Spirit leads us into “all truth” BUT I have a hunch that our idea of “all truth” is usually in a theoretical/systematic theology kind of way, whereas, I think Jesus was meaning more of a “all the truth you need to know to live and work as my faithful people and witnesses.” We have to stand his promise alongside other statements such as “even prophecy (the specific gift from the Spirit to allow us perceive mysteries) reveals little” or only allows us to “see in part.” In other words, Jesus’ promise here is often read in a typical western-knowledge kind of way, when I think he meant it in more of an eastern sense, more akin to how we think of wisdom or skill for living. If that’s correct, then there may indeed be more than one kind of wisdom or way to skin a cat that are both God given and “true.” I think many if not most of our theological extrapolations (theories on baptism or even justification, for instance) are, from God’s perspective more like different ways of skinning a cat, and we think of them like the one and only formula to Coke. Now some ways to skin a cat simply won’t work, but there are many “true” ways nonetheless.



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JKG

posted October 13, 2009 at 9:33 am


If we insist that our perceptions and understandings are the basis for truth, then we will inevitably have differences among individual perceptions.
If our perceptions are individual observations of an objective external truth, we can humbly offer them up to others as part of a dialogue.
The sacraments are a good example of this. My understanding of the Lord’s supper and baptism may be different than yours. My perception of what happens in those sacraments may be different. The understanding I have fits with the experiences and patterns I have been given. I can explain from scripture why I am at peace with that interpretation. I would be glad to share any of this with you. I will not presume, however, that the understanding I have is the absolute truth, that it “is” the sacrament.
I can never hold the truth itself in my mind and heart; I can hold only my internalized relational experience of it. The truth is much too big for any of us.
Peace to all.



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Rick in Texas

posted October 13, 2009 at 9:57 am


There are theological truths in scripture that are very clear.
There are other matters, like baptism as Taylor observes above in #4, where Christians of different perspectives have sincerely studied and arrived at differing conclusions.
And yet the same God’s voice is behind the scripture; the same spirit superintended the human authors in such a way as to make some matters clear and others open to various ways of interpreting.
How can one escape the conclusion that the spirit made clear what was necessary to be clear, and left room in areas where varieties of interpretation are OK?



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 10:03 am


T, the arrogance of the blind men and the elephant metaphor tends to turn me off. As soon as you assert it, you are placing yourself in the role of the super-observer who can see both that all those others are blind and that it is, in fact, an elephant. I don’t believe that a Buddhist, or a Hindu guru, or Muslim Imam, or a Jewish Rabbi, or a Christian Father, or a neo-pagan priest, (or ad infinitum) are blind in the sense that they do not understand the deity they are they describing or the spiritual path they are following. I’ve also been pluralistic in the sense that I’ve always taken any path I’ve followed or explored at it is presented and never tried to somehow “reconcile” them with each other.
Maybe that’s why I struggle with Christian pluralism. I take each tradition at its word and practice.
The responses so far deal with a rejection of the modernist systematic approach to describing God. I have no issues with such a rejection. Trying to accumulate and organize facts about God has little connection to knowing God any more than someone who has researched various facts about me through multiple sources can be said to actually know me.
The objection I presented to Christian pluralism was fundamentally a relational and experiential objection, not a systematic or intellectual knowledge-based objection. Am I alone at looking through that lens?



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Rick

posted October 13, 2009 at 10:11 am


Scott M #8-
“Am I alone at looking through that lens?”
I am not saying I disagree with you, but would like you to break down your thoughts at little further,
“I’ve now, to the extent that I can, inhabited a number of Christian perspectives, and explored many more. And they do not describe the same divine Persons. Some, such as Calvinism and Orthodoxy, have almost no points of similarity. The God described in each of those two traditions is almost mutually exclusive with the other.”
How are they so different that they impact the relational aspect?



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 10:30 am


In other words, I’m working from a different level than asking whether the Reformed God is true or (to simply pick the farthest possible opposing spectrum) the Orthodox God is true. Rather, I take what each says about the members of the Trinity, the meaning of their actions in creation, the purpose and activity of the Incarnation, and all the rest at face value as they present it. Each paints a picture of a personal God. However, they are not really even vaguely similar pictures.
I would not, for instance, ever willingly worship a God like the God of Reformed theology. (Of course, I recognize the absurdity of that statement from that particular perspective, but I can only speak as who I am.) I absolutely and without reservation can state that I find the Brahman of Hinduism or the non-god of a purer Buddhist perspective vastly preferable to the particular, personal God that Reformed theology describes.
On the other hand, I call myself Christian because that does not match the God I have known, nor does it bear any resemblance to the God I find described over the course of Christian history. This God I encountered and whom I have thirstily been searching to know better for fifteen years now is a lot more like the God that Orthodoxy describes, though there are other traditions that are more compatible with that perspective of God than the Reformed tradition.
Nevertheless, it’s not about a systematic theology about God. That is not the scriptural basis for knowledge of God or of truth. (The excerpt often taken out of context “the Truth shall set you free” is not referring to abstract, intellectual knowledge.) The Christian God is three actual persons. What we say about those persons matters, in the sense that we are either actually describing the real Person or we are not. And if we are not, it will distort our effort to relate to that Person. That pretty much lies at the root of all the ecumenical councils.
The idea that we can somehow collect all the diverse ideas about God and call them somehow “orthodox”, when those diverse ideas are so far apart from each other that some describe a God I rush to embrace and others describe a God I utterly reject, is absurd. If we can do that, then there’s really no basis for rejecting any description of God, going all the way back to the gnostics. Our rejection has always been that those rejected are choosing another God, another faith.



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T

posted October 13, 2009 at 10:45 am


Scott, I think I made it clear in my brief comment that I was not claiming to have all truth about God (i.e., see the whole elephant). Nor was I using the metaphor in reference to adherents to other faiths, though I’m sure it has some useful application there. The point isn’t that the blind men are completely unable to perceive something real and true. The point is merely that their perception of the Whole is limited, and that their understanding of the Whole would increase if they appreciated that fact and listened to each other in that light. I think that is true about the various Christian traditions. As to your point about a relational and experiential objection, yes, on the one hand, since we’re talking about a person of a certain character, our mistakes are not merely mistakes of fact, but are personal. In fact, the point of my original post was that the kind of “truth” that I think God is attempting to impart is more eastern than western, more relational than abstract.
But, consistent with the above paragraph, I disagree that stating that there is, to some very real extent, a plurality of truth, doesn’t help us relate to God and others. On the contrary, it can do precicely that, and the deeply personal nature of our relations with God and his with us only strengthens that argument. God has not, in the biblical record or elsewhere, dealt with each of us exactly the same way, even if there is overlap of revelation. Each of our personal experiences with him are different, some markedly so. And of course, we can misperceive. All that doesn’t mean God is not a consistent character within himself, it just means that for each of us, some things about God will only be learned from others with a different experience. It may also mean that there is much about him that we don’t need to know to live a fruitful life of faith and therefore won’t know, at least in this age, and that’s okay. It may even mean that some true revelations would stunt one person’s growth and fuel another’s. As you likely agree, accumulation of objective knowledge about God is not the goal (it’s certainly not God’s goal for us). Our goal is more relational and practically constructive, with which I think you deeply agree.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 10:49 am


Rick, the list is very, very long. And this isn’t really a post on any specific theology, so I think it would be taking it far astray to start to wander into there. I will say, however, that if I’m going to choose any form of monoism (which, however nuanced, is ultimately what Calvinism is), I’ll choose one with an impersonal, rather than a personal, God.
I picked those two extremes because I know at least one Orthodox council some centuries ago formally denounced Calvinism as heresy. While I would probably disagree here and there with it, and find the tone grating at times, I do agree with the gist of the Orthodox statements about Calvinism in that decision. (A simple online search should bring it up if you want to explore it further without cluttering this thread.)
But aside from either of those, here’s a quick example of one issue. Is God a God who can’t forgive offenses, but who instead must have his justice (or honor) satisfied through payment? Or is God a God of love and mercy who overflows with forgiveness with no payment whatsoever? How you answer those questions will then in turn impact how you view the Incarnation and the Cross. But those are outworkings of how you answer that question about God. (Both statements, of course, are caricatures. But you can’t make a nuanced statement in a single sentence. Neither statement is a gross caricature.)
Is God wrath? Or is God love? That’s a question about the fundamental nature of God.
Of course, a relationship is two-way. I also find that the description of the nature of man varies wildly. From the moment I first encountered it, I had the same reaction to the doctrine of total depravity that I later discovered C.S. Lewis had. And since we are the creation of God, the things we say about our nature do tend to reflect back on the God who created us.
Well, I’ve rambled and probably got more into specifics of different theologies than I intended to when I started writing. I don’t want to draw the post away from its central point of discussing Christian pluralism.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 10:55 am


Yes, T. I do deeply agree that our goal is relational and practically constructed. Nor do I have problems with varying ways of emphasizing different aspects of relating to the transcendent Persons of the Triune God as I assume no person can relate in exactly the same way. My problem is that the current scope of Christian pluralism includes versions of God so different from each other that some I embrace and some I abhor. They no longer even describe the same Persons in any meaningful way.
That’s my relational and experiential problem.



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Henry Zonio

posted October 13, 2009 at 11:26 am


Wow! This looks like a great book. I’ve ordered it, and I look forward to your future posts on it. This is definitely something that needs to further attention as we continue to look for a Third Way.



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T

posted October 13, 2009 at 11:57 am


Scott, FWIW, I’m not a huge fan of the Reformed perspective, but I would say I have benefited from those planted firmly within it in many ways. That, I think, is part of the point of the post.
I’m reminded in this post about Scot’s post about preaching a few days ago. His point there, that the sermon needs to be both adjusted and re-valued in light of the Church’s larger formational goals and other tools, has application here. I don’t particularly love Reformed or Calvinist systematics, but I do love several Reformed folks, and have been made better in many ways by their friendship and perspective, even if I never swallow their whole systematics. (I will concede I’ve also been harmed by some folks in that camp and others, but that’s a given in all relations). Who knows, maybe they’re even right about what I think they miss? Or maybe the bits of their theology that hinder my growth, are perfect for someone else’s progress and mission?
Further, not even Jesus gave the apostles all that he wanted to tell them, because they weren’t ready after three years with him. Surely there is some “truth” that I, too, am not ready to accept or deal with in a positive way. Perhaps what “truth” we’re ready for has more to do with our personal history than our maturity level, per se. Does the abused child need the same revelation about God as the arrogant Pharisee in order to take the next best step? It doesn’t shock me, for instance, that Luther, given his history, benefited so little from the book of James that he believed it wasn’t worthy of being in the canon, even if he matured greatly over the course of his life. If the canon is correct, James is “true.” But Luther may have never personally been encouraged to worship the God he saw in it because of his personal history of carrying such heavy religious burdens. Maybe we need to think not only about our limitations of perception, but also those of formational prudence, as missionaries often do (as Jesus and Paul did). Maybe at least some of the reason for the mystery and even the plurality of the truth about God is God’s pastoral/formational intentions.



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dopderbeck

posted October 13, 2009 at 12:46 pm


Scott Morziot, it seem to me that you’re falling into the very kinds of binaries that Franke hopes to correct. “Is God wrath? Or is God love?” is just a mistaken question. “Wrath” and “love” aren’t mutually exclusive. And I think this is the sort of thing Franke ultimately is getting at in this book. God is so much bigger than any of our conceptions or descriptions of Him that we inevitably settle into traditions that emphasize one aspect or another.
Jim (#1) thinks this is entirely a result of the Fall. There’s probably some truth to that inclination, but ultimately I think it’s also and to a significant extent a result of simply being created, human and finite. Even without the distortions of sin, we cannot fully grasp or explain God. So, I’d say that both because of our inherent human finiteness, and because of sin, God has designed and allowed for there to be a variety of traditions in which He receives worship and through which He works.
This raises an interesting question for me about the “Great Tradition.” Can Franke’s perspective be reconciled with paleo-orthodoxy and using the “Great Tradition” as a measuring stick? We should be clear that Franke is not advocating “pluralism” ala John Hick, in which all religions are equal paths to God — the unique centrality of Jesus Christ remains. But running down from the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is there one “Great Tradition” or many “great traditions”?



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 12:49 pm


T, that’s the quandary I often find myself in. I can’t think of a way of making my point without using specific examples of particular camps, but then the discussion tends to be redirected into discussions of the camps I mentioned. For the record, I had at least one Aunt who was Presbyterian (though I had no idea what theological camp that was associated with until much later in life) who was a wonderful woman. And currently, one of my good friends leans in the Reformed direction. In fact, I used in my example two theological perspectives with whom I have had no negative personal interaction with anyone in either camp, only positive interaction. I have been hurt in the past, fairly seriously at one point, by Christian groups. And I suppose I could have used that camp in my example. But that’s not the point I was trying to make. I suppose I could have used Roman Catholics, mountain Baptists, some flavors of charismatics, or any of the host of options in Christian pluralism. I picked the ones I did because I have no personal negative baggage with either and because I feel they are about as far apart from each other as any two I could pick.
My basic point was that if God is truly personal (as in three actual Persons) rather than an abstract idea, then it’s not really a matter of “right” or “wrong” belief about God having any independent value. Rather, the image of God we construct from those ideas is either going to more or less correspond to the reality of God. It’s not really much different in that regard than relating to a person. If you were trying to relate to me in some way and you had a lot of false ideas about me, that would distort your ability to relate to me. And as you communicated those ideas about me to others, it might damage other relationships as well.
Here I’ll go back to the examples I chose. If God is truly personal, then he has a personal reality. Certainly, we cannot fully grasp that reality, but we can know God through Christ. (I believe it is said we grow in knowledge and we grow in grace. As we relate, as we commune with God, we come to know him better.) If we cannot, then our Scriptures and our faith are lies. Regardless of the extent to which God can break through our false notions and draw people to him, some perceptions make that more difficult than others. I think few would argue that one bound from birth by one of the darker forms of ancestor worship will have fewer points of reference from which to relate to the God made known in Jesus than someone born and raised in a culture shaped to one extent or another by Christianity in some form. Similarly, our views about God are only helpful to the extent they conform with the reality of the personhood of God. To the degree we perceive God through the lens of false conceptions about him as a person, we are impeded in our relationship, not helped.
That’s the failing of Christian pluralism. Orthodox, Reformed, charismatics, mountain Baptists, and all the diverse ideas about God’s personal being and the meaning of his actions do not even vaguely describe the same persons — not if you inhabit them and try to look through their various lenses. Some of them have almost no points of correspondence at all. If you say that some are helpful to some people and some are helpful to others, then you are essentially saying that God is a different, and often radically different, person to every human being. If that’s true, then not only is there no reason to reject Nestorius, Arius, or the gnostics, but there’s no real reason to reject the experience of the divine within Wicca or Hinduism or any other faith as a valid and true personal experience.
Is God all things to all people? Or is he three unchanging Persons? If the former, then we can say anything we want about him. It doesn’t really matter. If the latter, then what we say about him, the ideas with which we construct the lens through which we see him, do matter. (There is, of course, a middle ground in which God is three persons, but those three persons change to one degree or another according to the individual relating to them.) I have no particular fear of the rabbit hole. I’ve walked so many spiritual paths from early childhood, the idea of spiritual diversity and pluralism holds no particular negative onus for me. But I don’t see any way to fit that sort of pluralism into anything vaguely like what Christianity has proclaimed for the past two thousand years.
I’m not sure, but because they often use the same words (though rarely the same meaning for those words) I sometimes have the sense that people assume the various modern Christian traditions are more similar to each other than they actually are.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 12:56 pm


dopderbeck, I don’t think in binaries. Never have. Never will. (Except when programming. [g]) I also don’t agree with your assessment. As an expression of being rather than action, wrath and love are antithetical — at least in any sense that matters to me. Certainly I would “relate” differently to a god of wrath than I would to a god of love. Which was the point at which I was driving.
And there is only a unique centrality to Jesus Christ if we describe the same Christ. If we describe different people, then we will attribute different purposes to those people, we will attempt to relate in different ways, and in practice it really isn’t much different than following a different religion. We’re just using similar labels to describe what are in practical terms differing faiths.



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Travis Greene

posted October 13, 2009 at 1:36 pm


Scott Morizot “That’s the failing of Christian pluralism. Orthodox, Reformed, charismatics, mountain Baptists, and all the diverse ideas about God’s personal being and the meaning of his actions do not even vaguely describe the same persons — not if you inhabit them and try to look through their various lenses. Some of them have almost no points of correspondence at all.”
I think that’s where I, at least, would disagree with you. I too have significant troubles with certain aspects of Reformed theology, but I wouldn’t say that it is describing a completely different God than the Orthodox — and even if it is, it is doing so in reaction to some of the excesses of Orthodoxy/Roman Catholicism.
Christian pluralism to me goes hand in hand with the multiplicity of gifts. We do in fact need each other to describe God to us, and that applies at level of individual persons and whole communities. Frequently it means listening to people I don’t particularly like, whose point of view I find distasteful.
I don’t think that precludes believing that Orthodoxy, say, is closer to full truth (personal truth, not just propositional truth) than Calvinism. I think, in fact, that I would probably say that. And yes, that implies a continuum rather than a strict binary for other faiths and heresies and so forth. I think most of us would agree it’s better to be Mormon than to worship some cruel Norse god. It’s better to be Pelagian or Muslim than nothing, I think. Which is where Christian pluralism dovetails with centered-set rather than bounded-set thinking.



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T

posted October 13, 2009 at 2:05 pm


Scott,
I think this is the point at which we disagree: “Orthodox, Reformed, charismatics, mountain Baptists, and all the diverse ideas about God’s personal being and the meaning of his actions do not even vaguely describe the same persons . . . Some of them have almost no points of correspondence at all.” I will admit limited familiarity with Orthodox and mountain Baptists, but I have at least some experience with various independent Baptists, Southern Baptists, charismatics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics, Methodists, Missionary Alliance, Anglicans, etc., etc., and I honestly have to say that the best of each group have much in common, as do the moderates of each camp, as with the worst.
And, yes, I think God is “all things to all men” at least to whatever extent that Paul strove to be, even though he is One, consistent person about whom some things cannot be truthfully said. You and I are differing over matters of degree, I think. (And saying that God reveals different aspects of himself to people at different times and in different ways for his pastoral purposes is not “essentially” the same as saying that he has no definable character which work against.)
You say to dopderbeck, “there is only a unique centrality to Jesus Christ if we describe the same Christ.” I’m sure your conception of Jesus is different than mine. I’m sure most everyone’s is to some degree. And they’re all different from the reality in various ways. How much difference is too much to facilitate growth, transformation, cooperation, faithful service and love? I don’t know. But I think the threshold for those things is lower than for systematic theological unity (which the church tends to focus on).



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm


Hmmm. I’ve had Mormon friends and looked at their faith. And I’m also familiar with the Norse mythos and studied some of the ways that played out in their life. Personally, I don’t think I would necessarily agree with that comparison. There are sorts of Christianity against which I would easily count some non-Christian religions as superior. That’s why I compared Calvin’s God specifically to Brahman. In that comparison, I think the Reformed God comes up on the short end of the stick.
Of course, I can also find plenty of examples of both modern (as in continuing today, though perhaps of ancient origin) and ancient religions that are so dark and oppressive that there is little of redeeming value in them.
I would also ask, if radical Christian pluralism is necessary for us to describe God to each other, why did it only become necessary in the last few hundred years?



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 2:17 pm


Travis, another thought. Whether or not you or I would say the Orthodox and the Reformed are describing a different God also seems somewhat irrelevant. I know the Orthodox say so (though they don’t tend to be blunt). And I daresay, if pressed (and for some even if not), most within the Reformed tradition would say the same.



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Cam R.

posted October 13, 2009 at 2:33 pm


Isn’t this idea of Christian Pluralism related to the two-tiers of theology that was presented in the “Deep Church” thread?
There are going to be some first tier essentials like inspiration of the bible, deity of Jesus, need for atonement, atonement through life, death, and resurrection; and the doctrine of the Trinity etc. Without the first tier, we are dealing with something outside of the Christian Orthodoxy. Second tier is where the plurality comes in.
Scott M. I would disagree with your example of plurality that the God of Reformed theology and of Orthodoxy are not the same and that wrath and love are antithetical. In my mind your are elevating these “second tier” nuances to “first tier”–we worship different gods level.
Don’t most orthodox tradition, believe that God is a God of wrath and of love. NT Wright actually says that wrath actually comes from his love.
http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/news/2007/20070423wright.cfm?doc=205
If God didn’t judge the sin and evil that was destroying his people than would he really be loving? God’s wrath comes from His holy love or loving holiness. Scot Mcknight explores this in “Community of Atonement”.
If the reformed folks have focused a little more on the holy part of “holy love” and other focus on the lovingness part, aren’t we still describing the God revealed in the bible, the God revealed in Jesus? Isn’t it the “both/and” instead of “either/or” where Christian plurality comes in?



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 2:59 pm


Well, Cam, if someone who was Reformed were to become Orthodox, they would have to formally renounce their prior adherence to pretty much all the core descriptions of God and man within Reformed theology. If I recall correctly, “heresy” comes from the idea of choosing, as in choosing to worship a different God. So when the Orthodox described Reformed theology as heresy, it seems to me that they believe it’s describing a different God.
Like I’ve at least implied, I don’t believe I’m the super-observer who can determine when various traditions are *really* talking about the same or different God. Instead, I try to understand what they say from within their tradition. The Reformed would say much the same about the Orthodox from everything I can tell. Heck, the Anabaptists were more like the Reformed than the Orthodox and we know what Calvin thought of them.
I’m not the guy watching the “blind” Orthodox and Reformed folks feeling different parts of the elephant and thinking it is different. I can’t inform them that they are really feeling an elephant despite their best guesses to the contrary.



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dopderbeck

posted October 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm


Scott M. (#18), you say you don’t think in binaries, but then in the next sentence you say “As an expression of being rather than action, wrath and love are antithetical”. Um — that’s a binary. It’s also mistaken about how Christian theology typically describes God’s “being” or “attributes” in relation to His “wrath.” God’s “wrath” towards sin is an expression of His “holiness” and “justice,” as well as of His “goodness” and “love.”
You also seem to be confusing our limited understanding of Jesus with the independent reality of the person of Jesus. Of course we all understand Jesus differently, but that doesn’t mean Jesus is nonexistent apart from our understanding. I also don’t perfectly understand my wife, and I’m sure my understanding of my wife differs from that of her parents and brothers and even of her own self-understanding, but nevertheless my wife is a real person apart from how we all understand her. And, though I and my wife’s parents and brothers each relate to my wife very differently, nevertheless we all are authentically relating to the same person. The same is true of the different ways in which people within different Christian traditions relate to Christ.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 13, 2009 at 3:25 pm


dopderbeck, I’m well aware that we never really know even another person in their essence and we all have slightly varying lenses through which we perceive and interact with the other. Further, none of those lenses ever conform precisely to reality. Our inability to grasp God is even greater. There is and has always been (long before the present-day radical pluralism) some variation in the way we describe God and always the awareness that anything we can say will be incomplete.
You, you wife’s parents, and her brothers may relate differently to your wife, but unless their is something unusual in your situation, you all have largely the same image of her in your minds. The things you all believe about her are very similar and largely overlapping. Now, if I were to enter the picture and relate to your wife as though she were, for instance, a raging alcoholic, and if I then convinced others that she in fact was and they began relating to her based on that perception, we would be relating to her in vastly different ways that did not significantly overlap with her reality. (I don’t know you or your wife at all and came up with this simply to illustrate the point I’m struggling to make. So I’m assuming real social interaction and what is hopefully an absurd premise.) Further, our attempts to interact based on our false perception would begin to distort the fabric of common or shared interactions throughout our common community.
When members of one community say that those in another are not describing the reality of the same God, which is the case in the ones I’ve chosen, then we are talking that sort of difference. And as I said, I’m not in a position to tell either of them they are wrong in their assessment. I have no privileged knowledge or vision. I can look at the God they each describe and say whether or not I would be willing to worship that God — which is what I have stated. I’m not arrogant enough to tell them that they are really talking about the same God if they would just open their eyes.



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Your Name

posted October 13, 2009 at 4:04 pm


Scott,
I think I misunderstood your point. It is fair enough to say that if someone was to become Orthodox then they would need to affirm the Orthodox theology and confession of faith and leave their reformed theology but I wonder if we aren’t missing the point of the post.
You think that John Franke is suggesting a super-observer position and that in itself is a problem? How so? Aren’t all truth claims exclusive?
What is an alternative for the emerging movement or a Third way? How would we deal with differences in theology?
Is it paleo-orthodoxy like dopderbeck mentioned? Then the ancient church is the super observer and defines what is the elephant and we are the blind men.
Thoughts?



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Cam R.

posted October 13, 2009 at 4:07 pm


#27 was mine.



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dopderbeck

posted October 13, 2009 at 4:49 pm


Scott M. (#26) said: you all have largely the same image of her in your minds. The things you all believe about her are very similar and largely overlapping.
I respond: I’m not so sure that’s the case. My brother-in-law’s knowledge and perception of my wife in many ways is very different than mine. He knows her as his annoying older sister. I know her as my lover. There’s very little overlap in those aspects, and I don’t think that’s unusual at all. Of course, there’s significant continuity as well, but there are very real differences.
Regardless, I don’t agree that most Christian groups have radically different views of Jesus. Certainly there are differences where there is little overlap, but Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Reformed, Pentecostal, etc., Christians all recognize in Jesus the Son of God who died for the sins of the world and rose again. And I’m not at all surprised that there are this substantial congruences, because each group, after all, is worshiping the living Christ.



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Cam R.

posted October 13, 2009 at 5:07 pm


Scott,
So I don’t get it. You don’t feel you are in a position tell the different traditions that they really worship the same God but you are willing to judge their view of God as the true God for your own worship.
Isn’t that just as arrogant? or Are you describing a relative view of truth–you judge what is true for you and they judge what is truth from them?



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Andy W.

posted October 13, 2009 at 5:11 pm


I can’t help but resonate and have the same questions and struggle as Scott M. If you want to see how far apart EO is from Western notions of God, here’s an interesting article:
http://www.orthodoxpress.org/parish/river_of_fire.htm



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Dana Ames

posted October 13, 2009 at 9:28 pm


Cam R @23,
The N.T. Wright article you referenced is actually Wright commenting, by means of reviewing another author’s work, on how much of the current understanding of “wrath” and “propitiation” is likely a caricature of what scripture is saying about the atonement. Wright is not in fact saying that God’s wrath comes from his love. Wright has a more nuanced view than that and is actually much closer to what EOrthodoxy expresses.
Cam and T and David Opderbeck,
I have to agree with Scott Morizot. Unlike Scott, I have been churched all my life. I’ve had hardly any bad experiences/bad treatment. Nevertheless, I could no longer reconcile some things about my theology and experiences and interpretation of scripture. I began allowing some questions to surface about ten years ago, in the atmosphere of the “emerging conversation”, among them these:
What kind of god is God?
Why do humans exist?
What is God up to with humanity?
I looked hard at the answers offered by the different expressions of the plurality within Christianity, and I found that there really are some stark differences, even though some can be clustered together as “more alike”, with a similar starting point. So I found myself “homeless” within most of that plurality.
There is a reason why Wright’s magnum opus is called “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” He says that we all take for granted what we mean by “god”, and it’s time to re-examine that.
I am disturbed when I see how quickly people assert that God *must* be wrathful/vengeful. I’ve seen this discussion play out on a couple of blog sites, and it is quite amazing the lengths to which people go to deny God’s love, or prove that wrath is an aspect of God’s love. Not saying anyone here is doing that. But did y’all notice the wind change when we dipped our toes in those waters?
I’ll stand with Scott Morizot.
Dana



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Scott Morizot

posted October 14, 2009 at 12:40 am


I’ll at least try one more time.
Cam, I don’t have the slightest clue how we even begin to get back to one church. I think it’s important that we find a way. I think that Jesus explicitly gave those who do not believe in him the right to judge us based on our unity and love for each other. But I don’t personally see any way to put humpty dumpty back together again. I was demonstrating the deep and I think unresolveable flaws in the Christian pluralism approach. That was initially attractive to me since it was most in line with my own formation. But when I poked it, it wouldn’t hold air. I’m a latecomer to Christianity and have only been identifiably Christian for about fifteen years. Wiser minds than mine have tried to crack this nut and failed.
Further, I am saying that the Orthodox would not agree that the Reformed describe the same God that they describe. And the Reformed would not agree that the Orthodox describe the same God that they describe. I am not so arrogant as to contradict their own statements about the beliefs of their own traditions. I’ve examined many traditions, not just those two. However, when discussing those two there is nothing arrogant about sharing my own personal perception of the God they each describe. I absolutely would (and perhaps even do — though not fully) worship the God that the Orthodox describe. I would never willingly worship the God the Reformed describe. If the alternative is some eternal torture chamber, fine. Bring it on. I would rather suffer eternally than ever bend a knee to the Reformed God. I find that God to be an evil God and the theology to border on the demonic. I know there are many good and noble people who adhere to that tradition. I’ve known and know some of them. But I attribute that to the power of God to reach everyone in every place and bring them to him than to anything good in the Reformed perspective.
In truth, I must confess that I have so experienced the love and goodness of God that, like St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Gregory the
Theologian, I find it hard to credit that the unrelenting love of God will not eventually win out in every human heart. I suppose, in that regard, I am something like a universalist, but not much like the modern rendition of one.
dopderbeck, I did not say that you all knew your wife in the same way, or at least did not intend to say that. Rather, in any healthy familial relationship, all of your various visions of her correspond to her reality and are thus, in their essence, overlapping. There is no such common thread in the radical Christian pluralism today. Traditions do not even mean vaguely the same thing even in those cases in which they “affirm” the ancient creeds.
Thanks, Dana. ’nuff said. I think you understood what I was trying to say, though obviously very inadequately. Others, for the record, the Holy Scriptures say that God IS love. They never say that God IS wrath. Ever. Therefore, anything describing the “wrath” of God must interpret that wrath as a human experience of his ontological love. Any other approach denies the God revealed in the Holy Scriptures as far as I can tell.



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Rick

posted October 14, 2009 at 7:17 am


Scott and Dana-
You both bring up worthy concerns, but I still agree with the others who have indicated that the Reformed and Orthodox, at their core, are still speaking of the same God. I say that as someone who leans more towards the Orthodox.
However, the problem has come from the discussions (such as the ones Dana points out) that move from the core traits of God, to positions that emphasize and prioritize more extreme views. Michael Spencer (Internet Monk), yesterday touched on this by pointing out his view that Calvinism:
“I find Calvinism to have a much bigger sovereign God than it does a central mediating Christ. It was seeing the difference in Lutheranism and Calvinism on the centrality of Jesus that has most influenced me recently. Calvinism is about the decrees of God in which Jesus is an executive. Luther, it seems to me, kept Christ at the center and avoiding pursuing questions of God?s sovereignty which Calvinists like Piper can?t stop fixating on….My problem with Calvinism is partly theological- the train wreck of limited atonement and sovereignty as the highest value in the Gospel- and mostly personal, i.e. my experiences with some Calvinists are painful enough to make me want to convert to Taoism.”
So, for example, the problem is not the sovereignty of God, but the stressing of that to the point of excluding other wonderful attributes and positions. It is the same God, yet the focus is off-center.
Therefore, I see the “plurality of the truth” as a problem if it prevents the consideration, education, some incorporation, and balance from other strands of the church.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 14, 2009 at 8:54 am


Rick, as I mentioned, the one Orthodox council that has formally considered Calvinism denounced it as heresy. While I’ve heard many within Orthodoxy have issues with the Western influence in the structure and style and some of the language (and especially in its effort to be more comprehensive than it needed to be), I’ve not heard any voice that disputes its basic conclusion, that the teachings of Calvin are in the same class as those of Arius, Nestorius, and the rest. So it’s as clear as such things can be that the Orthodox do not consider the Calvinists to be speaking of the same God in any meaningful sense.
From all I can tell, the same is true from the Reformed perspective. Heck, most days they don’t really consider the “papists” real Christians and they at least share the idea of original sin as inherited guilt and a few other concepts with them. (There is, of course, no formal decision to point to and you’ll find individual people who hold to some or all of the tenets of Reformed theology all over the map in who they do or do not consider “Christian”.)
And I didn’t build some list of theological points to see how much correspondence the two traditions do or don’t have. No, I tried to see the God they each describe as they describe him to the best of my ability. That’s how I’ve always explored different spiritualities And I agree with both of them. They aren’t describing the same God. The Gods they envision aren’t really even all that similar.
So on what basis do you assert that they are somehow talking about the same God if they don’t believe they are? That really doesn’t sound much different to me than people who insist that Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Shinto, and everyone else are all somehow worshiping the same “god”. And in what way is picking and choosing what you do or don’t like from within Christian pluralism effectively any different than the broader sort of spiritual syncretism I have practiced in the past?



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Rick

posted October 14, 2009 at 10:32 am


Scott-
“So on what basis do you assert that they are somehow talking about the same God if they don’t believe they are? That really doesn’t sound much different to me than people who insist that Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Shinto, and everyone else are all somehow worshiping the same “god”.”
They both are worshipping a monotheistic God, are trinitarians, who believe the creeds of the early church, the love of God, the sinfulness of manthe sacrifice of Christ, etc…
Are they defining and emphasizing (or over-emphasizing) some things differently? Yes.
Are there large theological differences and implications? Yes.
But both are still operating within the same basic framework of a God who has revealed Himself in the history, the flesh, Scripture, and the early church. You cannot downplay the importance of that common ground.
In regards to the heresy claims on Calvinism, here is an interesting discussion, led by an Orthodox priest, on that very topic. Please note in the comments his admission that this council is not a major council, and is weak on points. Also note there is not the expression of a different God, rather concern about God as author of sin.
http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/06/24/calvinism-as-heresy/
Which is why I hold to more a paleo-orthodox approach. The paleo-orth approach also helps deal with the issue of Christian pluralism you raised. Christian practices should be seen in the light of the overall church, and priorities (including theological essentials) for the church.



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RJS

posted October 14, 2009 at 11:05 am


Rick,
Thanks – great points, and it helps me put some of this in better persective. There is a difference between claiming that a view is wrong or overemphasizes only part of the picture and dismissing a view within the tradition as “a different God” akin to hinduism or such.



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Your Name

posted October 14, 2009 at 12:32 pm


Scott,
I don’t think we have been understanding eachother. Sorry if I have been talking past you.
“Therefore, anything describing the “wrath” of God must interpret that wrath as a human experience of his ontological love.”
Is this the viewpoint I have been trying to describe. I guess not so well. What I heard you saying was that there God has no wrath or justice for evil and sin. Perhaps it was because it was a polemic?
I agree that our views of God really affect how faith is lived out. As well, promoting false views of God really hurt receptivity for the gospel.
If the theology differs so greatly between different traditions isn’t our future just more factioning until Jesus comes again?



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Andy W.

posted October 14, 2009 at 12:37 pm


Rick,
Thanks for your comments. I still struggle with coming to a helpful conclusion around this issue…maybe there is no such remedy. This still leaves me deeply concerned about the power of Holy Spirit to “Lead us in all Truth”. You said:
“But both are still operating within the same basic framework of a God who has revealed Himself in the history, the flesh, Scripture, and the early church. You cannot downplay the importance of that common ground.”
While I agree with your comment, the conclusions reached about this basic framework describe a VERY different God. I don’t know what to do with that? Is God, in His great mercy, simply revealing Himself in ways that different people/personalities/cultures can relate to Him? I know some staunch Calvinist who find great comfort in “TULIP” and see a God of tremendous love for them personally. I look at that and can’t relate and am even repulsed at that view. If this is so, how is any sense of unity to reached? How is the Body of Christ to be whole?



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RJS

posted October 14, 2009 at 1:00 pm


Andy W,
When I struggle over this too much I come back to “praxis.” I don’t think that God, in His great mercy, simply reveals himself in different ways to different people – rather that we all struggle imperfectly with what it all means. And this is where praxis comes in – in many ways. I think that we can have unity if we are all committed to what Rick describes as the basic framework – and if we are all committed to live according to the teachings of the NT. If we come to this common ground than these other views of “nature of God” and such are not front and center. Now I know that this still causes great division – not least on the “women in ministry” question, but I still think that we can have a substantive unity if this is the starting point. Primarily because the commands are not for book knowledge of the nature of God but for living in community.
I know many rather staunch Calvinists – and I do disagree rather profoundly with much of this doctrine – but “how it lives out” is not substantially different for any of us. And when it is different the problem is usually not really with the doctrine – but with the fallenness of man (pride, arrogance, greed, apathy and so on).



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Cam R.

posted October 14, 2009 at 2:33 pm


RJS,
I agree with you that we can find common ground in the basic essentials and in how we live but can we really decouple our actions from our beliefs?
The emerging church I was a part of had praxis as the core and what ended up happening was the basic essentials were done away with for the sake of unity within the staff and leadership. Unfortunately, it was just a surface unity. We ran into into trouble when we tried to communicate the gospel or significance of the cross or the meaning of baptism or view of the nature of God. The solution was to stop dealing with those issues and continue focusing on praxis. Our praxis became devoid of proclaiming the good news because of the differences in theology.
I think we needed more. One of our elders often joked that we should just give the $700K/year church budget to the United Way because they would be more efficient at making a difference in the society the church organization. Our differences in theology ultimately cut our being the church into being a inefficient charity with motivational messages on Sundays.
Are we in the same boat if we use all the same words but mean different things and act the same?



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RJS

posted October 14, 2009 at 2:47 pm


Cam R,
I don’t think that it is necessarily the case that we will be effective working together within a local Church despite theological differences. But I do think that we can have effective cooperation between Christians – individuals and churches – despite our differences. The common ground is big enough. This common ground should also allow us to come to the table together.
On the other hand – I also do think that the leadership of a church with strong views should be humble enough to realize (1) that they are certainly wrong about some things, (2) that they may be wrong about their dearest distinctives, and (3) that others with opposing views are also trying to follow Christ.



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Rick

posted October 14, 2009 at 3:08 pm


Cam R.-
I won’t say this is part of the plan of God (although it may be), but part of the beauty of trying to balance the pluralism with unity is that it forces us to focus on those essentials. We put aside (as much as possible) the later theological developments to remember where our focus, faith, and trust really rests- in the Trinitarian God, Creator, Savior, Christ, who was God and man.
As you experienced, if people ignore the essentials then there is no true unity.
Unfortunately, there is not enough dialogue to trying to work through the various views on those essentials. There is enough agreement on the foundations to allow for some basic dialogue.
Case in point- the Orthodox Church has expressed interest in dialogue with the Anglican Church. Does this mean there will be quick agreement on all issues? Of course not, but it does indicate an understanding of their common ground and the potential unity (in at least some areas) that might come from such discussions.



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andy W.

posted October 14, 2009 at 5:55 pm


RJS,
Wise words and I certainly agree from a functional standpoint. Heck, I attend a Presbyterian Church! However, I’m looking at this more from a relational perspective and hence why I think this is so, so, so important. I also think this is what Scott M. has been saying.
How we understand who God is theologically totally directs how we interact with God (and others) relationally.
If one looks at sin as bondage and sickness rather than as transgression (East vs. West), that totally changes what one thinks is God’s view of us and how we now relate to Him and others.
If one views atonement as recapitulation, rather than appeasement (East vs West), that again totally changes the relational dynamic.
I think your right that most of the time it’s our own sin and brokenness that gets in the way, but HOW we are healed is directly related to our understanding of God relationally.



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Craig V.

posted October 14, 2009 at 6:29 pm


Perhaps it’s a mistake to try to settle on the goal before we start. I’m what many would consider to be a staunch Calvinist. I agree that trying to reconcile Calvinism and Orthodoxy might be an impossible dream. It doesn’t follow from this, however, that I don’t have much to learn from the Orthodox faith. The link made me uncomfortable, but I think that’s good. At times I thought my views were simply being caricatured. At other times, I was forced to think more deeply about the view of God I express (intentionally or not) in my reformed theology. I believe I benefited from listening even if I did a poor job of it.
Would I (should I) listen to a Hindu the same way. It is a deep teaching of reformed theology that I should always be quick to listen because I’m finite and fallen. The difference, however, is that a Hindu does not claim to be following Jesus. Should I listen to a Mormon? Yes. I believe we’ve done more harm than we know by being too quick to condemn. That doesn’t change the significance, however, of the agreement, at least as a starting point, amongst those who adhere to the early church councils.



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Andy W.

posted October 14, 2009 at 9:27 pm


Craig V,
Thanks for sharing and I hope you aren’t feeling picked on! My roots are DEEP in the reformed tradition as George Wishart, the scottish reformer, is my Great, Great++++ Grandfather! I am actively involved and teach @ my Presbyterian church here in New England. I’m speaking from a person on the inside here. As you can imagine, my pastor does not know what to do with a person like me. I’m sure that article was extremely uncomfortable, as it is to me in so many ways as well. Yet, that was exactly the point, to show the contrast and difficulty in reconciling these radically different views of God…within the Christian faith! This is the journey I am on. I really struggle with this particularly issue.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 14, 2009 at 10:02 pm


The turn in the conversation reminded me of this article and I thought I would share. I think it’s pretty relevant, having pursued Hinduism to some extent myself. Perhaps it also better expresses some of the nuances I’ve been trying, though very poorly, to engage.
http://www.orthocuban.com/2009/08/newsweek-we-are-all-hindus-now/
Beyond that, I don’t think I really have anything else to add. Thanks all for your patience with me.



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