It goes without saying that we are living at a time of great uncertainty around the world. That which used to provide confidence and assurance seems to be dissipating, creating a void in the lives of those that held on to what now can be seen as a false sense of security. With this uncertainty there has also come a time in which anything that in anyway is connected to, or mentions God has come under attack. It may seem as if this something that nobody saw coming, but the reality of it is that it has been progressing forward at a very rapid rate during this past century. Anytime that Christianity is compromised for the benefit of progress, you are left with an incomplete form of Christianity that is unable to withstand the forces that are in control at this time. Never has their been such a loosening of morality and a direct attack to the foundation of the family similar to what is being carried out today. These have been strategic steps taken during a time when the church has been distracted with its own internal debates and divisions.
Just recently it was reported that a man was arrested outside of a Department of Motor Vehicle building in the United States for opening a Bible and preaching to those that waited on line. This of itself could be irreprehensible if it was not for the actual wording of the violation in referring to the preaching as a protest. The defense on the part of the law makers was that a permit would have been provided for the protest, if one would have been applied for. Now, since when has the preaching of the Gospel been referred to as protest. We are now at a time when Christianity and the evangelizing of the lost has become another form of protest against the general consensus. Yet, Christians continue to live as if we have been stripped of all power. We now maintain a low profile in order to not bring attention to ourselves and avoid the calamity that taking a stand may bring. Now, this is occurring in a country that according to the past census considers itself primarily a Christian country.
You may be asking yourself, what does this has to do with theology? I will answer this, as I do not want anyone to view the TheologyExchange as just another political or social blog. That is not my purpose in creating the TheologyExchange. So, let’s connect the begining of this post with theology.
How has sin impacted our society? To answer this question you must first understand what sin is. Unless you have understanding of sin, then how can you measure how it has changed the direction of our society and its impact on the actual church. Sin, per se, is a theological conception. Only through the acceptance of the existence of a Holy God can sin and its reality be understood. Without sin and its implications then grace would be non-existent, for why then would it be needed. And as we know, without grace how can we have hope. We can better understand sin by categorizing it into two areas: (1) ungodliness, and (2) unrighteousness. The first, ungodliness, deals with our relationship with God. It is directly connected to a place of arrogance and/or self-glorification. The second, unrighteousness, deals with our relationship with each other. Unrighteousness is understood more as an untrue or unjust dealing between man and his neighbor. Now, unrighteousness is a direct result of ungodliness. The rejection of God is then the foundation of sin.
In summarizing what was said at the beginning of this post, we can then understand that the condition of our society has been brought about by a condition of sin. This through the direct rejection of God and His existence. This has lead to an ungodly society. One that represents itself arrogantly as not in need of a God figure. So it feeds its self-glorification by the dismissal of God from all of its dealings. We are then left with the second component of sin which is transferred directly to the society. That is the unrighteousness that prevails throughout people who have been led by the ungodliness of its leaders and representatives. This has created a false sense of security and confidence in those things that feed into the positions of ungodliness and unrighteousness. In other words, the actions of a people whose sinful position dictates and influences the decisions made by that society. The temporary gains only serve to fuel the desires to do away more with those things related to God, as man attempts to stand on his own by turning its back on his own Creator, to the point of proclaiming the non-existence of God.
So now that the temporary gains are beginning to come to an end, man does not turn against God, since He has already been rejected, but turns against his fellow man in a war of the fittest. Confidence is now placed in our abilities to hold on to those temporary gains. Yet we as Christians should not be fooled by the temporary, since we are expectant of the eternal. Our confidence must be in God for only then can godliness and righteousness defeat the sin that is currently showing its true fangs to those who chose the temporary over the eternal by rejecting a relationship with their Creator. The church should stand firm and not entertain the perception that it may have a shared interest with this world. Remember, we are in this world, but not of this world. We cannot regulate our beliefs in order to please those outside of the church, as if we have somethings in common, for what does light have in common with darkness, but to shine in it and eliminate the other. Let us continually be a beacon that will never be ashamed to stand in defense of our Christian principles, by being faithful to the true source of our confidence, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and the foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lust of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” (Romans 1:21-25)
Man has chosen to draw a line with regards to those things that are to be accepted beyond the laws of nature. The inclinations towards a humanist perspective on life continues to influence man’s ability to accept that which stands outside of logical and philosophical reasoning. It is the advancements of man that continue to feed and adjust the epistemology (or theory of knowledge), by which our claims are measured and the basis or grounds for interpretations given. For example, the claims made in Scripture by Israel is not grounded on establishing an affirmation for the existence of God, but rely on a believe in God through self-revelation to the Patriarchs and Prophets. Belief in God is structured on a responsive reaction to an initiative established by God, and not based on investigations led by human reasoning and origin. However, today this has been restructured in order to have God be the object of study through natural scientific comparison and not through self-revelation. The argument then becomes, that if there is an argument for the existence of God, then it must be aligned with the natural laws of existence.
It does bypass man that God is self-existent. By this I mean that God’s existence is not based on external circumstances. Because He has always been and is, as Creator, He is the very substance by which all existence came to be. This being the case, then a natural scientific study for the existence of God would be based on matter created by the very God who’s existence it is attempting to prove. This would only serve to emphasize the limitations established in natural matter, which can only serve to provide a partial fingerprint of its creator.
However note that natural matter (the things that have been made) does provide a clear look to God’s eternal power and Godhead, providing a view of His invisible nature and attributes. This is clearly stated in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
The issue with a natural scientific study is not in obtaining the proof for the very existence of God, it is when the study logically attempts to move further than what nature has provided by moving passed the cause and effect of nature and attempting to place God within the confines of natural laws. Again, God is creator and nature is created. To attempt to study nature in an attempt to study God is a reversed order in which that which has been created will be limited by a limitless Creator. That which has been created is only a beginning to understanding the nature of God and removes all excuses for the argument of His existence. That which has been created is subject to its Creator.
Calvin goes on to explain it in this way, “No idea can be formed of God without including his eternity, power, wisdom, goodness, truth, righteousness, and mercy. His eternity appears evident, because he is the maker of all things – his power, because he holds all thing in his hands and continues their existence – his wisdom, because he has arranged things in such an exquisite order – his goodness, for there is no other cause than himself, why he created all things, and not other reason, why he should be induced to preserve them – his justice, because in his government he punishes the guilty and defends the innocent – his mercy, because he bears with so much forbearance the perversity of men – and his truth, because he is unchangeable.”
Calvin concludes with the following, “Having forsaken the truth of God, they turned to the vanity of their own reason, all the acuteness of which is fading and passes away like vapour”.
In conclusion, man attempts to rationalize the existence of God within the study of nature, only to be led by their own reason into a blindness to the truth found in the very testimony of nature itself. This self-imposed ignorance does not excuse them from the very fact that nature itself claims the very attributes of our creative God that holds all things in the palms of His hands.
I begin with the understanding of the limitations that we are under in order to truly exhaust an answer to this question in this type of forum. However, this being said, we do have enough from which to built on in creating a fundamental understanding to this question and how our theology is built.
All theological perspectives are developed from within the foundation, yet individual answer to this question. In all expressed terms, in order to present the arguments of theology (the study of God: theo+logy) assumptions must first be created in the mind of the theologian as to the very nature and position of (God) matter. The categories of this assumptions being labeled by presuppositions established in the philosophical or Biblical views.
It is possible for an agreement to exist between a philosophical and a Bible viewpoint relating to the existence and nature of God. However, the philosophical will always be lacking in trying to understand through logic the transcendence and immanence of God.
An early 1900’s Dictionary (White’s Modern Dictionary of the English Language) gave a simple yet conscientious definition of the word God. White’s definitions is, The Supreme Being.
A 2008 copyright edition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines God is the following manner:
1. any of various beings conceived of as supernatural, immortal, and having special powers over the lives and affairs of people and the course of nature;
2. an image that is worshiped;
3. a person or thing deified or excessively honored and admired;
4. in monotheistic religions, the creator and ruler of the universe, regarded as eternal, infinite, all-powerful, and all-knowing;
Take into consideration the definitions given by these two dictionaries in a space of 100 years, and you can see why theological views may differ when a definition for God can evolve to a modern definition pointing to 4 possible applications. The Supreme Being of the early 1900s has become a possible alternative meaning in the early 2000. Why is this important? If the object of the study can evolve in definition, then the research methods and viewpoints will only follow.
An effort has been made in these times to provide alternative meanings, where man is free to choose a definition that will align with his own personal beliefs. Instead of beginning with God in our theology, we begin with our own methodology and presuppositions; fit them into a preconceived and self-adequate definition of God, and finally build theological views and positions that are, what may be called, user-friendly. We end up with distorted views of God that are then passed along from generation to generation, each readjusting the building blocks used to fit the current mood of society.
Is the theology of today a representation of the theology presented by the early church? Or better asked, Is our view of God today the same as that found in the Bible? You may believe that God is unchanging, as indicated in Scripture, however, the very study of God (theology) continues to evolve and adjust to the sentiment of the people and times they live in. The reality is that as our theology changes, so does our perspective of the God we know.
It is then of great concern for anyone who is involved in theological studies to measure there results with the one thing that does not change, the Word of God. If we solely depend upon the opinions of men, then truly we take a risk of distorting our view of who God is to us, and transfer that distorted view to those who are willing to hear us. It is how we have come, as indicated above, to a point in our modern times of having multiple definitions available on God, and how we define Him.
First let me say that the structure of Christianity is one that is based on exclusivity. Exclusivity comes from the idea of shutting out other considerations, or better defined as excluding all but what is specified. The position of exclusivity is one that is radical and leaves no room to be negotiated.
In Christianity a foundational position is that no other religion or belief structure is true other than what has been centered on the person of Jesus the Christ. Take a look at these statements made by Jesus: “I am the bread which came down from heaven”; “I am the bread of life”; “I am from him, and he hath sent me”; “I am the light of the world”; “I am from above”; “I proceedeth forth and came from God”; “I am the door”; “I give unto them eternal life”; “I and my Father are one”; “I am the resurrection and the life”; “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. Notice the focus on the “I” found throughout these statements. In just these few statements, Jesus was establishing the exclusivity for eternal life to be found only in the Christian faith. He is the only way to eternal life. All other ways are excluded and this is exclusivity.
Now, tolerance comes from the idea of recognizing and respecting others beliefs and practices without sharing them. There are many religions in the world that have established their own systems of beliefs and practices, and in religious tolerance, we are asked to recognized and respect each one. However, the Christian faith presents an exclusive position. What tolerance can be found between darkness and light, life and death, or salvation and condemnation. The principles of Christianity separate our beliefs and practices to direct contradictions found in all other religious systems. However, it is love and not tolerance that the Christian has been told to reflect. We are told to love our neighbors. This is to be accomplished without compromising our beliefs.
Can Christianity co-exist with other religious beliefs? Of course. We do so everyday. We are instructed to do so in love. However, in Christianity there is not an equality shared with other belief systems. We do not compromise truth. The fact is that there is only one way and all others lead down the path of condemnation. We do not compromise for the sake of unity, but show compassion through love for the masses that have erred in choosing a path that is not centered on Jesus, the Son of God. All roads do not lead to God.
There is no question that there has been a modern shift found in today’s theological circles. We have ventured into a time where man does not keep up with theology. Instead, theology must keep up with man and must meet man’s approval, if it is to be accepted as having met the right to be included in theological purposes.
When religion is socialized into a cultural phenomena, then the shifts is society through cultural adjustments also affects the theological views that surround that religion. Taking this into account, when you extract the unchanging spiritual truths found in Scripture, to make the religion fit the relevance of a modern society, you fall into an unstable reality of who or what God is. This in turn, makes the study of that God view a shifting and unpredictable theology that adjusts itself to fit the current modern viewpoints in the society. Theology then becomes an assortment of opinions based on social translations. Acceptance by a world society is what becomes key in the inclusion of a theological viewpoint in religion today. Any contradictions between these modern day theological viewpoints and the Scriptural text is explained away as the necessary growth of knowledge for understanding God and His relevance to the changing times. The personal experience and application does away with a structured unity that is to be found in a corporal body of many believers whose mission should be to become one under the truth found in the Bible, and not fall into an individualistic method of finding God or theological truths that is acceptable by all under religious toleration.
The truth is that a secular and contemporary culture will establish a secular and contemporary theology to follow. The fact is that if we remove the permanence of the message and application of Scripture and make it only partially relevant to a secular and contemporary society, then we have transformed that theology from its original purpose and meaning. Today’s religion adopts its theology by maintaining its central message of salvation, regardless of the foundational mechanism required to obtain that salvation found in a secularized and tolerant theology which allows itself to be interpreted or manipulated to fit a society that abhors the exclusivity of Scripture and the truths found therein.
There is no doubt that we live in a world in turmoil. Our society proceeds forward with very little knowledge and understanding of the issues that affect, or will affect, the nations as we see them. It is not my intention to enter into a debate as to why the world has chosen the paths that it has. Neither is it to judge our national leaders and their capabilities.
However, there is a question that does need addressing and that does require some sense of accountability. That question is, ‘Where is the Church today?.’ I do not speak about the 10 different church buildings found on the same street in our towns. Nor do I speak of the numerous choices among denominations to fit everyone’s personality and method of Christian service.
I speak of the Church that was founded by, and who’s cornerstone is, our Lord Jesus Christ. That body of believers that represents His bride. I speak of that Church that stands on Biblical principles and refuses, at all costs, to compromise its Christian morals and beliefs. That Church that charges forward to present the Kingdom of God, not as one denomination, but as one body. That one that suffers when any part of its body is suffering. The one that stands boldly in the face of opposition and as Peter said to the leaders of his time, “You decide what God would want. Should we obey you or God? We cannot keep quite. We must speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 NCV). Peter continued by answering to the command to be silent by declaring, “We must obey God, not human authority!” (Acts 5:29 NCV).
It is evident that the Church has lost its unity and has been for the most part silenced. Take a look at the statistics alone in the United States. This is a nation that according to a 2007 Pew Research Center Survey, proclaims to be 78.5% Christian (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_United_States). I do not know what definition many may have as to what constitutes a majority, but a minimum 51% should be enough to turn the tides to create change. Why is it then that the Church has been silenced and limited by an obvious minority?
Jesus said that we are the light of the world in Matthew 5:14. He goes on to say in verse 16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” In other words, we have not been called to grow dim and hide in the shadows, but have been called to ‘shine’ in a way that it be seeing by ALL men. When Jesus declares in verse 14, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden”, He was not referring to any place of governance but to His Church.
Have we allowed our light to grow dim? Just look around and honestly ask yourself, what impact has the Church made in the world in the last 25 years? In all truth, the last 35 – 40 years have represented a large shift in morality and what is acceptable for the sake of a so-called tolerance. Again, keep in mind that self-proclaim Christians hold a 78.2% majority in the United States alone.
Who’s to blame and who is at fault? Where is that city that should be set on a hill? Where is that new Jerusalem composed of believers from all Christian groups? To be dim is to compromise the light with darkness. Has the Church compromise for the sake of complacency and funding?
This is the age of information. Never in history has so much information been shared in such a short period of time. This primarily due to the introduction of the internet. Today websites abound in the search engines touching on every subject found in Christianity. What was once limited by demographics and time restraints, is now open to an entire world.
This is a far cry from the times of past theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Zwingly, Arminius or Calvin. Yet still today, we study the writings of these theologians and for the most part, reference their teachings in the foundations of our doctrinal beliefs. These, and for that matter, theologians of the beginning of the past century, did not benefit from an information system as is provided to us through this technological age. Their studies into any subject or topic of the Christian faith would have required many months if not years to complete. Keep in mind that these did not benefit from our Google or Yahoo search engines. Each point had to be dissected through a manual search of archives and a constant dedication to prayer for clarification.
Roger E. Olson, in The Story of Christian Theology, explains the differences in levels of importance found in Christian beliefs. He goes on to explain the differences between dogmas [worth serious and even heated defense, such as for the Trinity and incarnation], doctrines [considered essential to the Christian in their groups, such as part of their particular tradition, denomination, or church], and theological opinions or individual interpretations [matters of indifference 'adiaphora', for example details of belief about the exact nature of angels and about the details of events surrounding the second coming of Christ].
It is here where the distinctions of traditional theology must take place. What has been handed down as dogmas normally stay within the foundation of every system of belief in time. It is the responsibility of all theologian today to safeguard those traditional theologies that represent our dogmas [that which is certain]. Doctrines are developmental based on the specific inclinations of a group with regards to their traditions. It is the responsibility of the individual theologian in their specific groups to present and uphold the doctrines that form part of the core teachings of that specific group. However, the individual theologian must accept that other groups exist with their one particular doctrines which may differ from their own. Theological Opinions are ever changing based on the times and the interpreter’s point of view. It is the responsibility of all theologians to understand the limits of their own Theological Opinions as a matter of choice in an inconclusive topic.
Today we have at our fingertips the ability to isolate within seconds information through the web on any specific topic. Yet we continue to rely on the teachings of these theological laborers to anchor our system of beliefs. We use their writings for teaching the principles of Christianity today in our classrooms and churches. We seek to present a stamp of approval in our discussions by quoting their work. We establish relevance to our lectures in the sole mention of their names.
Yet differences existed then as they do today between this theologians. Their viewpoints where as diversified as well. They sought to present their positions and argue for the right to discern Scripture in light of new understanding or interpretation of the application of the text. The theologians of those past times experienced persecution from the structured church in their specific age, if they deviated in anyway from a consensus viewpoint and teaching.
Today we have branched out into a great number of schools of thought in the various subjects of theology. We have even tolerated the introduction of a new postmodern theology, seeking to fit into relevance a culture and society that finds itself worlds apart from the culture and society of those ancient times. This is not totally a bad idea until we stop utilizing the Scriptures as the instrument of reference and solely begin the structure of our new theology through a sole connection with the writings of theologians that stand on our side of the aisle, not differentiating between what are dogmas, what are doctrines, and what are theological opinions.
We must study and return to the building of theology in the same manner as those that positioned all matters of the faith based on the text of the Scriptures. This is what has stood against the test of time to make the writings of those theologians of the past centuries, foundational to the dogmatic positions today. We can agree to disagree on the interpretation of a Biblical text. However, positions that are presented based on the ideologies of those that have drifted away from the Scriptural reference, itself carries very little weight and should have no influence in dogmatic theological issues.
So, being careful to maintain the Scriptures as centered in the foundation of our theological arguments and categorizing the issue into one of three positions [dogma, doctrine, and theological opinion], we can truly see the impact that traditional theology [whether accepted or dismissed as irrelevant by the Church] has done on today’s modern Christian worldview.