Friday, February 27, 2015

The Gospel Formulation: Simple or Simplistic?

So the following popped up in my Twitter feed today. And yes, I have some issues with it. 

It is certainly simple (I mean, it fits into a 140-character tweet). But is it simplistic? Is this an accurate definition of “the gospel”?

There are three subparts to the statement, and each one is correct. But just because there are no errors in fact does not necessarily follow that the composed statement is the best representation of what is true. To be fair, the statement does not explicitly state the relationships between the elements, but I think it is clear that the assumptions being made are that (italics are unstated assumptions required to make the statement work):

  • A (God is holy) –>
  • B (and we are sinners) –>
  • C (and we need a Savior and Jesus is our Savior) =
  • D (therefore, this is the gospel).

imageAgain, I don’t see anything wrong with the stated parts of A, B, and C. But does D necessarily follow A, B, and C? I realize this is a very common formulation, especially in evangelical and neo-Reformed circles.

But where is “love” in the gospel? The same circles that formulate the above are also very fond of John 3:16. But many also hold that God’s holiness is his supreme attribute (hence the “A” above) and that love is merely a manifestation of his holiness (or something along these lines).

So what I see is that this “simple” formulation of the gospel is in fact, not generally applicable to all groups who are defined as Christian (and who, by the way, defines who is and isn’t “Christian”?). This formulation is based on a priori theological axioms that may or may not be agreed upon by all Christians, and makes many relational assumptions between the elements.

As a Progressive Arminian/Wesleyan with leanings toward aspects of open and process theologies, my theological foundation is that:

  • God is primarily defined by his love,
  • And that love requires that there can be no force or coercion,
  • Therefore, humans must be free to choose in an absolute sense;
  • Because of that, God knows all possibilities but does not fully know which choices creation will take.

I also accept for myself that the best explanation for Jesus Christ’s incarnation and atonement work is described by the Christus Victor metaphor where the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a dramatic event (as opposed to the more common forensic/legal/penal-substitution theory from Anselm) that defeated sin and death.

So my formulation is that:

  • M: God is love
  • N: Love demands creation be given freedom
  • O: Love compelled God to act when creation fell
  • P: Jesus Christ (his whole life, death, and resurrection) shows the natural consequences of sin
  • Q: Christ defeated sin and death by destroying its power through his death and resurrection
  • R: Creation is restored through the power of life, evidenced in the resurrection
  • S: Therefore, the entirety of creation has hope for new life; and this is the gospel.

It isn’t as short and concise, but it isn’t simplistic either. And I believe it offers better hope than the more simplistic formulation that is more commonly seen and heard.

There is more than one way to explain and define “the gospel.” Some, I think, are better than others.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Video: Origins Today–Genesis 1-3 Through Ancient Eyes by John H. Walton

How should modern Christians interpret and understand the creation accounts of Genesis 1-3?

My notes follow.



  • What does the Bible reveal? How does the Bible reveal what it reveals?
  • God reveals his purpose through human communicators. This communication is limited to human means, culture, time, language.
  • Bible is written “for us, but not to us. Message transcends culture, but form is culture-bound.” We are reading someone else’s mail.
  • We have to learn to see the world as the original writers of the text saw the world. What was their view of cosmology? (E.g., they didn’t see the world as a globe/sphere.)
  • What we see today as “mythology” was the ancients’ truth.
  • The Israelites/Hebrews had their particular cosmological view that does not look like anything like our modern scientific one.
  • If God is going communicate into the ancient culture, which cosmology would he use? Theirs or ours? God uses what is familiar, but by his communication he is not endorsing the cosmological viewpoint.
  • The human view of cosmology is always in flux. Much has changed even in the last century about how we see the universe.
  • “We must see the text the way the ancient Israelites saw the text.” The definition and meaning of words in the Bible must be what they understood. We must not impose our definitions onto the text.
  • The Bible does not provide new scientific revelation – it is a theological text.
  • When the Bible speaks about “thinking or feeling” in the heart, we know what that means. We don’t feel the need to “defend” the Bible’s “physiological” and “neurological” perspective of thought, mind, and emotions. So we should extend this to other “science claims” in the Bible.
  • The Bible is not teaching or revealing science. It is making certain historical claims. But it’s primary intent is theological.
  • The Creation account of Genesis is not about material origins, but about functional origins. Ancients did not consider “existence” to be about material origins, but about something being given a “function.”
  • “Naming and separating are acts of creation.”
  • Genesis 1 is “not about building a house, but making a house a home.”
  • Days 1-3: functions proclaimed (no material creation)
    • Basis for 1) time, 2) weather and space, 3) food provision
  • Days 4-6: functionaries installed
    • 4) Lights (not objects) for signs, celebrations, days, years; 5) fish and birds to fill the world; 6) animals to fill the world and people to subdue and rule
    • The Israelites saw sun, moon, and stars as “lights,” not objects. (The other peoples in ANE saw these as both lights and gods.)
  • The world is thus a home. Whose home?
  • The world is a cosmic temple. The Creation account is the arrival and enthroning of God in his home. It is a cosmological account; not a material account.
    • The Sabbath is the day in which God arrives.
    • In the ancient world, gods “rest” in temples
    • “Rest” is the main goal of creation and the creation account
    • Resting expresses having control over an ordered system
    • It is from where God governs the world
  • “Rest” in the Bible is not about downtime. It is about order and stability.
    • When the book of Hebrews talks about “not yet having achieved rest” it means that there is yet another level of order and stability that has not yet been seen.
    • Rest is not about activity/inactivity
    • Biblical rest is about engagement
    • The opposite of rest is unrest
  • Creation account
    • The days are 24-hour periods – but it’s not about material creation
    • Therefore, it is not making a claim about the age of the earth of how it was created
  • Second account of creation: Genesis 2
    • It is not about an expansion of Day 6
    • There is a sequence problem if we try to fit it into Day 6
  • Synoptic (doubling back, restating) vs. Sequel (moving forward, a different account)
    • All Genesis synoptic relationships concern brothers
    • Genesis 2 does not involve brothers
    • Genesis 1 speaks of a large multitude of human beings created
    • Genesis 2 speaks of two distinct individuals: Adam and Eve
  • If Genesis 2 is a sequel account, it is a later time period than Genesis 1
    • Solves the problem of Cain and a large population that is assumed to exist
  • Genesis 2 – an account of archetypal function of humans
    • Adam and Eve may be historical individuals, but Genesis 2 is more about their forming as archetypes
    • If the text is making statements that is true about all humanity, it is most likely archetypal
    • If the text is making statements that cannot be true for all humanity, it is about individuals
  • The “forming” account of humans
    • Not about chemistry or sculpting
    • Dust cannot be formed (clay works better)
    • Dust represents mortality (Gen. 3:19)
    • Genesis 2 is making a statement about human mortality
      • Humans were created mortal (otherwise there would have been no need for the tree of life)
    • What about Paul’s statement that sin brought death? Doesn’t that mean humans were originally immortal?
      • No. Sin caused humans to lose access to the tree of life. Thus sin brought death.
      • Paul’s statement says nothing about the original immortality of human beings
  • When the Bible speaks of “forming” people, it is about functions and identity – not material origins
    • E.g., Psalm 103:14; 1 Cor. 15:47-48
  • Genesis 1 – functional creation of the world and all its inhabitants. Genesis 2 – a “choosing” of some subset of humans for a specific purpose.
  • What about the creation of woman?
    • More than just rib – bone and flesh
    • “Rib” – never used anatomically again. Used architecturally to mean “one side of a pair.”
    • Not about surgery.
    • “Deep sleep” – a visionary state. Adam is “seeing” something in a vision; something that is deeply theological.
    • The collective human race is only complete when both men and women come together (not specifically about marriage or sex).
    • This is another archetypal statement.
  • Both men and women designed and commissioned to serve as priests (Gen. 2:15)
    • “Helpmeet” – Eve to help Adam in sacred task
  • Genesis contains no information about the “forming” of individuals
  • There is no biblical account of material/biological human origins
  • The Bible says nothing on whether evolution and common origins is true or not; but the Bible would not contradict, either.
  • The theological, ontological human creation account
    • Endowed with the image of God
    • Creation of a spiritual being
    • Designation as priests
  • Biology being could have evolved, but the spiritual being could not
  • Genesis 3: Order, non-order, and disorder
    • Order – connected to sacred space
    • Non-order – remained after creation
    • People given the task of expanding sacred space and order
    • Presence of God brought life
    • Serpent as chaos creature promoting disorder
    • People wanted (desired) to be the center of order (temptation)
      • The fall isn’t about disobedience and eating fruit, but about wanting to be like God – center of order
      • This desire led to disobedience and eating fruit
    • Sin brought disorder
    • Humans cast out from sacred space into les ordered realm
  • An alternate way to interpret Genesis 1-3
  • How can people who read the Bible and accept its authority, but interpret it very differently, get along together?
  • By only allowing a singular interpretation of the Bible (usually a strict creationism), Christians fail to minister to one another graciously, Christians fail to evangelize effectively, and is leading to attrition among Christians.
  • By defending the singular, traditional interpretations so strongly, are Christians failing in our mission?
  • Q&A
    • Original sin or original innocence? Case can be made for latter.
    • Human soul – not tied to the breath of life (because all living beings have it) but connected with being created in the image of God.
    • Origin of civilizations – distinct from material and ontological origins