Theology


I recently finished Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church.  This massive tome of 860 pages thoroughly explores the theology and practice of baptism in the first five centuries of the church.  What follows is a brief summary of Ferguson’s main findings.

Origins

Baptism was a big deal to the early Christians.  It was modeled on John’s practice, as well as Jesus’ example and command.  Unlike Jewish and pagan precursors which saw ritual washings as related ritual purification, Christian baptism was intended for spiritual cleansing and moral transformation.

Ceremony

Great pomp and ceremony developed very early around the church’s practice of baptism. While traditions differed from region to region as well as over time, in general, baptism was performed in the nude, via triple immersion, with the laying on of hands, exorcisms, renunciation of the devil, anointing with oil, confession of the creed, post-baptismal eucharist, and the wearing of a white garment.  (more…)

Advertisements

In the parting words of Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica, he admonished them with several imperatives, including “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).

Many Christians have struggled to make sense of Paul’s admonition because it’s evident that we cannot literally pray without ceasing. At the very least, we would have to stop praying when we go to sleep at night. Even if Paul was only talking about our conscious hours, one cannot pray while they are talking to other people, concentrating on their work, etc. Many Christians, wanting to affirm the sense of “continual prayer,” have taken this verse to mean that we should continually be in “a spirit of prayer.” This is often construed along the lines of always having a prayerful attitude even when we are not praying to God (which should be a frequent affair throughout one’s day). What exactly a prayerful attitude is, is not entirely clear. Others take it to mean that we should pray about everything.

(more…)

Jesus said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24; Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25). Jesus said this after the young rich ruler refused Jesus’ call to discipleship because he was unwilling to give away all of his riches.  Jesus’ point seems to be that people with wealth tend to trust in their wealth, making it difficult for them to place their trust in Christ.

This doesn’t make much sense on a Calvinistic view of salvation, and thus serves as evidence against Calvinism.

(more…)

We often speak of the need to “forgive yourself.”  While I understand what is meant by this phrase, it is unintelligible on the Christian worldview.  People speak of the need to forgive themselves in the context of feeling guilt for something they did (or failed to do).  They recognize the need to eliminate this guilt and get on with their life – to stop beating themselves up for their failure.

The problem with this notion is that it’s not possible to forgive oneself.  Forgiveness is something only a third party can grant to you.  You can no more forgive yourself than you can give something to yourself.  On the Christian worldview, the ultimate source of our forgiveness is God Himself.  We will never stop feeling guilt if we are looking to ourselves.  The solution for guilt is not self-forgiveness, but divine forgiveness.  If we continue feeling guilt after we have repented of our sin, that is evidence that we have not truly believed that God has forgiven us – because once God forgives and we believe He has forgiven, the conscience ought to be quieted (Heb 9).

In the past I offered a general Christian creed written from a Oneness perspective.  Here is another creed I wrote specifically articulating Oneness theology:

I believe in one God, eternal and almighty,
creator of heaven and earth;
Both one in essence and one in person;
Who for us became one of us, and yet remained God;
One person in two natures, both divine and human;
The eternal God who became temporal man.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God incarnate;
Son of God and son of Adam;
Who took on our nature to take away our sin;
Divine by identity and human by function,
he rescued us as one of us, dying in our stead;
Raised from death to die no more,
In whom we confidently wait for the same, amen.

Part of our theodicy for the problem of evil includes the point that it was logically impossible for God to create a world in which humans enjoyed free will (a good thing), and yet were unable to use that freedom to choose evil as well as the good. I accept that as true, and yet Christianity proclaims there is coming a day in which there will be a world consisting of humans with libertarian free-will, who will never choose evil: heaven. The future hope of Christians seems to undermine one of the central premises in our theodicy. Can this be reconciled?

Some have suggested that we will not sin in heaven because we’ll be in the beatific presence of God. Presumably, the angels exist in the beatific presence of God, and yet many of the angels chose to rebel against God in that state. This alone, then, cannot explain why humans won’t sin in heaven.

Others have suggested that we will not sin in heaven because God will glorify our humanity. But this is not a solution; it is an admission of the problem. Glorification is being put forward, not to show that such a world cannot exist, but rather to explain how it will become a reality. If in the future God is able—through glorification—to make human beings such that they have free will, and yet will not choose evil, then it falsifies the claim that God cannot create a world in which humans enjoy libertarian free will, and yet never choose evil. Indeed, He will do so in the future. In light of such, we might ask why God did not do this from the onset. Why didn’t He create humans in a glorified state to begin with, if glorified humans can exercise free will and yet not choose evil?

(more…)

Skeptics of Christianity often try to undermine the truth of Christianity by pointing to supposed errors or contradictions in the Bible.  As a result, some Christians have abandoned the faith, while others remain shaken in their faith.  This is unfortunate because the skeptics’ approach is fundamentally flawed.

We must distinguish between what makes Christianity true (an ontological question) and how we know Christianity to be true (an epistemological question).  Many people think it’s the Bible that makes Christianity true.  That’s why they question the truth of Christianity when they are confronted with supposed errors or contradictions in the Bible.  A moment’s reflection reveals this to be wrongheaded.  After all, couldn’t God have chosen to communicate the Gospel truths orally rather than in a written format?  Of course!  Indeed, that’s how it was transmitted in the early church.  If Christianity could still be true without any written Bible at all, then surely it could still be true even if the Bible contains errors.

(more…)

Next Page »