Forever Reforming

Originally titled, “Always Reforming,” I read this opinion piece at a mini-conference for my writing workshop as my show case for Karl Giberson and Peter Enns.  I do not claim much originality in its message, but it bridges my personal experiences of theology with the continuing legacy of the Christian faith.  Imagine me reading this to you out loud.

A year ago, I sat in my dorm room, thinking about the implications of what I had heard in my professor’s lecture.  In his course, a survey of the New Testament, some of the points he made challenged the theology I brought to college.  Immediately, something like scales fell from my eyes.  I realized the Bible I read was one interpreted through the lens of a Korean Protestant living in the United States, in the 21st century, and that Paul wrote his letters two thousand years ago on the other side of the world.  When the doctrine of inerrancy as I had known it was pulled out from underneath me, I fell hard.  But when I picked myself up, I came to appreciate what I had once condemned as the “liberal” historically-contextualized view of Scripture, against a “plain” reading that treats the Bible as if it fell out of the sky one day.

Pandora’s Box opened up, and in my spare time I studied, prayed over, and explored the issues which poured out of it, which I previously forbidden to scrutiny.  This young undergraduate could not help but wrestle with the authenticity of Paul’s letters, the moral character of the God portrayed in the Old Testament, the incarnation, the atonement, Heaven, Hell, the sacraments, universalism,  the age of the Earth, the historical Adam, the list goes on.

Of all the doctrines I had to wrestle with, I felt most reluctant to reconsider my view on justification.  With all my heart, I believed in double imputation, the Reformed belief that God imputes the sinless righteousness of Jesus to sinners, so that I was justified by Christ’s perfect obedience and none of my own deeds.  However, Anglican theologian N.T. Wright, an advocate of a school in Biblical thought called the New Perspective on Paul, argued against this.  He and other proponents believe that we are justified in part by our own deeds.  They displayed much credibility as scholars who studied the historical context behind Paul’s letters.

It became unsettling to think that this doctrine, something that caused me to love God, could be argued untrue.  But I remained determined to have a charitable, open mind to all views, no matter how uncomfortable it made me.  Or so I thought.  I pored over many online blogs and articles involving justification from conservative Protestants like myself.  But I did not have the intention of seeking the right interpretation of Paul.  Why should I, when I thought I already had it?  But I wanted some intellectual justification for my view, and so I went online to seek arguments that could refute Wright.

However, they either dismissed him as a heretic or responded defensively against him with arguments that did not take into account the occasional nature of Paul’s letters, and then called him a heretic.  It felt as if another set of scales fell from my eyes.  I became convinced that N.T. Wright had it right.  When I discussed this with a prominent Christian hip-hop artist on Facebook, the conversation ended with him condemning me as a heretic, telling me he prayed for my soul because I denied double imputation.  He excommunicated me for my apostasy by removing me from his friends list.

As months passed, I learned to make an important distinction between two types of Reformed individuals.  There are those on the Internet angry enough to condemn whatever they want in the name of discernment, too stubborn to change their views; and those in flesh and blood who respond with love, and the humility to have wrestled with the same issues I have and still hold to their views.  I found the latter to be my local seminarians and pastors.  I would clash with them, sometimes with unwarranted hostility and the arrogance of a young budding theologian.  They respectfully disagreed with intellect and maturity that humbled me, as they had thought these things through and probably read more than I have on the matter.  They pointed me to Michael Horton, a heavyweight in today’s Reformed scholarship that takes into account the historical background of Scripture in his matters, something I desperately wanted months earlier.

Thankfully, I realized I had become somewhat entrenched in Wright’s theology.   I noticed this as I talked with these seminarians who had studied more on the subject than I did.  I remembered not to make the same mistake of stubbornly holding onto one view.  So, I read Horton’s book, Covenant and Salvation, with the most charitable, thoughtful mindset.  He gave a strong defense of double imputation against proponents of the New Perspective on Paul, including N.T. Wright, and pointed out the flaws in their arguments that I did not notice.

At this point, some may expect me to say, “Then I dismissed the New Perspective, and came back to the Old Perspective, with the intellectual support, humility, and maturity that I needed.” But no, I did not return to my old theological view on double imputation.  Wright believed that Christians are justified by the works of the law, and Horton effectively argues that Paul does not think that way.  But there still seemed no Scripture to show that Paul believed God imputes Jesus’ active obedience to sinners in a purely forensic sense.  Another set of scales fell from my eyes, and at this point, I wondered if I had any eyes left since I could not agree with either N.T. Wright or Michael Horton.  Clearly, I am not as brilliant as they are.

If I ever find the answer of how God justifies sinners, I will come to it with humility and a provisional attitude, and I hope many other Christians in North America consider adopting a similar mindset.  Ironically, individuals like the aforementioned rapper on Facebook seem to betray the principles of the Reformation when they vehemently defend its theology, instead of openly considering different views.  Unwilling to critically examine the church’s authority and theology, when men like Calvin and Luther did just that by challenging the establishment by saying, “Come, let us reason, by comparing tradition with another look at the word of God.”

I want to believe that the neo-evangelicals of today do honor to the Reformation when they challenge traditions with another fresh look at Scripture.  With gratitude, we stand on the shoulders of Luther and Calvin.  Not as parrots to mimic everything they believed, but as springboards to greater insights in loving God and neighbor.  After all, these theologians sought to resolve problems and to challenge what they perceived as oppressive tradition and corruption, to reform.  Authors like N.T. Wright, though I may disagree with him on the law, do not write about the issues they address out of an egotistical liberalism or for the sake of divisive speculation, but to hold onto this noble paradigm.

At its heart, the emergent church should not be considered “Post-Reformation,” but “Reformation.”  If they had the archaeological discoveries, the information, and the tools to understand Scripture in the historically contextualized way we do today, would not past theologians come to see the Word of God differently?  So, we do not contradict, we continue.  We do not end it, but extend it.  Today’s traditionalist perspectives have lost the meaning of “Reformed.”

In T.S. Eliot’s poem, Little Gidding, it says “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”  Karl Giberson uses this quote at the end of his book, Saving Darwin, to make a point about the mystery of the universe, but it resonates to the ever explored and ever reformed view of Scripture.  I never abandoned my Reformed faith, but have found its fulfillment in the progressive perspectives I espouse now.

This means that the real Reformers of today hold onto their perspectives with open hands, or else they establish a tradition which may possibly oppress later generations.  Who knows?  Someone might discover another set of Dead Sea Scrolls which overturns the new paradigms of today.  By then, I hope the scales fall from our eyes yet again, joyfully passing on the torch given to us by Luther, onward to future Reformers.

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Beautiful.

Carefully Arranged Words*

I.
I have loved you and
dwelt within your walls. I
have sung praises
in your tongue and read
your recommendations.

We have gone and
witnessed, spent Summers
saving spent sinners,
convincing them into despair
and sorrow, but offering them
salvation through our
conceptual Christ.

I have come to your conferences, and I
have memorized your music. I have learned
your cant and taken your words seriously.
I have lost my youth to your urban ascetic,
rejected The Lost on their terms, that they
may meet me on our own.

II.
But I reject you, now,
and hold no grudge.
You are the sick.
You are the broken.
You are the lost.
You are in need of healing.

I don’t love your conditioned Jesus, and have
faced the consequences. The alienation
from His people
(they are not yours),
the rejection from
roles, the demands
to keep silent.

I reject you…

View original post 161 more words

Recalibration

In my last post, I hoped that life would happen less.  It didn’t.  Not only did I not get my research done, I fell into a period of deep depression that hindered me from getting work done.  Among other personal problems, much of it has to do with the on-going dark night of the soul, the never-ending wrestling of doubt which I face in the literature I read and the questions I ask about the world around me, intimately tied with the issues I address here on the Reform-Asian.

I’ve made some solid progress in my research project on the Church Fathers, so far with Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Barnabas, Irenaeus, Tertullian.  I must have spent at least eight hours today doing that.  Gee, don’t I sound productive?  Except, I should have had this all completed weeks ago.

Procrastination, along with the intimidating challenge of quoting, citing, organizing the digitized .pdf files of the monstrously voluminous volumes of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series simply deterred me from doing the work that I should have done.  I will find it miraculous to successfully manage my course load, my readings, my obligations for the rest of the semester.

Some things are different.  Everything looks different.  Something with my system is off-kilter, and I’m just trying to recalibrate.  I try not to stress.  Will we care about what we do today in five, ten years?

Take it easy. Life is short. It’s okay if I get a C.  And if that’s too presumptuous for me to assume that I’ll even acquire a grade that high, whatever.  Life moves on, so will I.

Deconstruction

Apologies for not updating last week. Life happens, and then you have to stop doing things for a while because life happened the crap out of you.

What have I read recently? I read two essays, one by Paul Ricoeur and the other by Jacques Derrida, the “Father of Deconstruction.” How post-structuralist! Aside from all this, I haven’t done much but feel quite deconstructed myself.

For Easter Break, I’ll stay on campus and actually do some of the work I meant to hash out over Spring Break but never did. But I need to mean it this time. More than half the semester has passed by, and I feel like I’ve slacked off to a considerable degree in the writing workshop. I need to make a heroic effort and finish strong.

At least I wrote a review for Peter Rollins’ Insurrection and posted it on Amazon. But I still need to read Uncle Karl’s The Wonder of the Universe, write more reviews, complete the Gospel for Academia piece for the Tartan newsletter, a campus publication.

Yeah. I hope life happens less next week.

The Betrayal of Fidelity

The final stretch!  Spring Break has ended, starting the fourth quad for this academic year.  Time for me to step things up multiple notches for increased productivity and increase my caffeine intake!

Last week, I finished reading The Fidelity of Betrayal.  When Peter Rollins signed my copy at Newton Centre, he told me that some critics have stated that this was his best work.  After having completed it myself, I can see why.  I mean, I’ve only read Insurrection so far.  And now I must write reviews for both books.

I also need to read through Uncle Karl’s new book, The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World.  Just recently published, I read the first review on Amazon from George P. Wood.

I always find it useful to read reviews of a book to help calibrate the one I’ll write later (also so I don’t miss a major insight and look totally foolish), but then I must critically examine myself to make sure I don’t jump on the bandwagon of thought.

Anyway, at one point of Wood’s review, he mentions Dr. Giberson’s background:

From 1984 to 2011, Giberson was professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College. In 2008, he became president of the BioLogos Foundation, ‘a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.’ He currently directs the Science & Religion Writing Workshop at Gordon College. (emphasis added)

That’s us!  I always feel a sense of privilege whenever I read that Uncle Karl directs Gordon’s writing workshop in some major publication or article.  I certainly can’t stop mentioning it on my own blog!

Speaking of Gordon, I started thinking about the piece I’ve started to flesh out, with the working title, “The Gospel for Academia.”  I want to contextualize it for The Tartan, the campus newsletter.  Does it seem too mundane to say that the euangelion of the New Testament should compel us to seek knowledge?  I hope not.

Today, I also read an essay by Derek Flood published in 2010 through Evangelical Quarterly, Substitutionary atonement and the Church Fathers: A reply to the authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions.  It resonated personally with my own experiences in my own wrestling with the Reformed view of penal substitution.

I perceive that many of those who still hold this traditional perspective of atonement have had no substantial method of supporting their interpretation outside of projecting their theological systems into not only Scripture, but as shown here, the Church Fathers.

As Flood states, while some Patristic teachings may hold concepts of penal substitution, that does not mean they thought it the way Calvin did.  In several examples, he argues that they did not see a God who dealt through retributive justice, but a restorative justice.  The Church Fathers did not think that Jesus died to appease the wrath of God.

I would go further as to say they did not espouse the Reformed doctrine of double imputation, either.  But I will save that for another post.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many Reformed critics, via print or Internet, as ultimately betraying their Reformed tradition whenever their initial instinct involves forensic rhetoric (i.e. defending a set of doctrines) instead of humbly considering alternative views on topics such as the atonement, justification, the inerrancy of Scripture, etc.  I don’t see as many individuals willing to critically examine the Church, but men like Calvin and Luther did just that.  They challenged the institutions of their day which became oppressive, and argued, “Let’s see if our tradition should change with another look at Scripture.”

In fact, one might sum up The Fidelity of Betrayal as this: Ecclesia semper reformanda est, with the principle taken to its radical and logical fulfillment.  Rollins just happens to get there a different way through a post-structuralist framework in the 21st century with snappy controversial phrases intended to make traditionalists uncomfortable like, “What would Judas do?”

For Rollins to suggest that we should be willing to betray our traditions in order to honor them comes closer to the heart of the Reformation than the caricature of “free-floating Biblical revisionism” (26), as some critics paint him and other post-evangelicals.  In light of what he calls “fidelity” in the betrayal of tradition, I would say that some of his critics have betrayed this fidelity.  Hence, why I’ve twisted the phrase for the sake of having an interesting blog title.

This does not just fall on those of the Reformed side today, but also the other side of post-evangelicals.  We must always remain open to change, otherwise the new traditions we set up will one day become as oppressive as the institutions we seek to reform today.

Faithful for a Friday

Originally published through Tumblr on March 6, 2012.

While I most enjoyed the blog title, “Fun with the Uncle Karl,” I needed to change it to something more appropriate for a more specific audience beyond the writing workshop with Uncle Karl.  So for now, I stick with Reform-Asian.  In a way, it falls in lines with my convictions that I don’t see my theological perspectives as undermining the Reformation, but ultimately honoring and continuing it.  In another way, I just find it amusing and the best title I have for now until I can think of something more appropriate.  If you have any suggestions for titles that better suit the Tumblr description or what I write about, hook a brother up!

Anyways, I had probably the most intellectually stimulating Friday ever this past weekend! On March 2, I sat in front row in the A.J. Chapel to see Karl Willard Giberson talk on The Language of Science and Faith for the Annual Crum Lecture in the campus convocation.  Quite the misnomer, as it did not come off as crummy whatsoever!  Don’t worry; I know “Crum” doesn’t actually refer to something dirty or unpleasant.

Uncle Karl spoke with eloquence and humor in the “New Brunswickian accent” we have all come to know and love.  By “we,” I refer to the students in the writing workshop he instructs; he affectionately called us the “Dream Team” in front of the whole audience.  That’s right, everybody.  We’re the Dream Team, and our leader is Captain K.G.B.!

Against the backdrop of his beautiful and elaborate slide presentation, he challenged the dichotomy between faith and science so prevalently embedded into our culture, with some simple questions—What if we replaced the ancient science of Genesis but kept everything else?  What does it mean to say, “And God saw that [Creation] was very good”?

After reading his twisted version of the Creation story, with each day divided into “epochs of Creation” (no doubt demonically devised in the deepest dungeons of Hell), the lecture ended with him asking everyone to rise and sing the Doxology.  I rather enjoyed it all.

I believe we need more speakers out there in public to share a similar healthy attitude, those willing to argue for a responsible synthesis of Story (of the Bible) and Science.  We don’t have to see them as mutually exclusive.  Of course, I have my biases in favor of him as his student. (:

I had the privilege to join him and others at a crowded table in the Lane Student Center, enjoying free food and discussing various topics like the ancient use of genealogies in relation to Adam, and the relationship between humans and other organisms in light of evolutionary theory.  For the most part, Uncle Karl simply couldn’t stop saying “My new book” whenever he opened his mouth.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the glorious atmosphere of the private luncheon—somewhat awkwardly, I might add—for another lunch appointment with Steve, my favorite local Johannine scholar (also the only local Johannine scholar; also my professor), and my theologically and philosophically-minded brother Tom, right outside the Lion’s Den.  I find myself privileged to spend meal times with such intellectual individuals, talking about Scripture, science, and philosophy.  For me, the best part of the learning experience at Gordon involves more than simply reading books and articles, but discussing it with cherished friends and even established scholars.

For the evening, Steve, his imaginary son Nathaniel, Tom, Tom’s imaginary girlfriend Rebecca, and another couple figments of our collectively sanctified imagination drove to the Union Street Restaurant in Newton Centre, not a half hour away from Boston.  We went to the bar on the second floor, not to acquire copious amounts of alcohol, but for “The Idolatry of God: An Evening with Peter Rollins.”

Yup.  I got to see the author of InsurrectionHow (Not) to Speak of God, The Orthodox Heretic speak on deeply controversial issues in the middle of a pub.  This emergent church thinker has a reputation of touring around the States in bars, advocating what he calls “pyro-theology.”  He actually argues for people to give up their belief in God for the sake of living out a more material faith.  With his distinct Irish-accented humor and absurd Lacanian psychoanalytical arguments (whatever that means), he had the attention of the crowded pub.

After his talk ended, we all got to meet Dr. Rollins, even Steve’s imaginary son Nathaniel and Tom’s imaginary girlfriend, Rebecca!  We told him about how we came from Gordon, and how dope it would be if he came to speak at our school someday.  I shook his hand; he signed my copy of Insurrection and The Fidelity of Betrayal—he mentioned that some have stated this is his best work, which excited me.  I got to ask him several questions, at the expense of other members of the audience who had to wait for me, heheheh.  How does the abolishment of the psychological structures which hinder Christians from living the way they should not establish a structure of its own?What do you really believe?, and What does worship look like in a community that embraces doubt?

His answers intrigued me, and out of respect for him I won’t disclose what he really believes.  But I’ll give you a hint: It’s not what you think it isn’t, but it is what you think it isn’t.  I hope that helps.

Anyways, later that night, I finished reading Peter Rollins’ Insurrection.  Not only did it blow my mind and my socks away, it almost blew my faith away, and I still find myself reeling from it.  Yes, I just shared something quite personal here.  But I think that shows more that I’ve come to a point where I have a stronger, healthier attitude toward my doubt, as uncomforting as it may seem.  In some ways, I find it a blessing.  Thinking back to lunch time, Steve quoted Voltaire, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

Of course, I can doubt the system that puts certainty in doubting certainty, and come to believe something else.  Who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll convert to Zoroastrianism next month.  No offense intended to any of you Zoroastrians who might stumble upon this post.

After classes end tomorrow, Spring Break starts for me.  I hope to get a ton of research done, make much progress on the Patristic perspectives on Adam, read more on the conversation with the emergent church, start fleshing out a document for the Good News for Academia, and just read, read, read!  I look forward to Fridays like this for the future of my faith.