Tuesday, October 28, 2014


The deep amber of honey locust
The indigo scarlet of dogwood
Sugar maple 
with the colors of the sun burning into the green 
by dark wet branches 

The bright goldenrod of fall gingkos
The oak's brown clinging on
The red falling 
The leaves, 
to be crunched, 
to be claimed

is dying
The cold air 
brings warm colors
In death 
the palette comes alive

An Adoption Analogy

Recently some friends of mine have been in the process of adoption. It's opened my eyes to why Jesus commands us to care for orphans and widows - the marginalized. It's because it shows God's passionate love to those who don't deserve it, and who need it most. Just as Christ loved us while we were God's enemies. It is in adoption that God's love shown through Spirit-filled followers of Christ is fully, personally, and experientially demonstrated. I have seen this!

The above concept can be illustrated by a story of a king. He went out to several peasants in His kingdom, and adopted them. He invited them to be part of his life and to join the king in his palace. They could enjoy all good things, the food, the palace, all the benefits of being a child of the king. He just ravished them with his love. What should the response of the adopted peasant chlidren be? Should they fully accept his love and find themselves blown away by the king's love? Or should they suspect that this is too good to be true, and thus it is not true? Or perhaps they protest, "I just can't quite accept it, because this is who I am. I can't give up my life as a peasant."

Give up your life. Accept the ravishing love of God.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Theodicean Odyssey

'Theodicy is often presented as a logical contradiction of three foundational beliefs. 1. God is utterly omnipotent. 2. God is infinite love. 3. Enormous evil exists in this world. It is claimed by many that the first two statements are incompatible with the third, for an all-powerful, all-loving God would not allow so much evil.'

Ah, yes! The classic question on why God would allow such pain, suffering, and evil in the world. Honestly and pastorally, in times of actual suffering, there are no bromides that are adequate. So I pray for God the Holy Spirit to comfort. It oft seems that many are already looking for an excuse not to believe, as if the existence of evil and suffering is a vindication of unbelief. Yet the logical contradiction must be approached philosophically. That is, each of the three premises must be examined. I will do so in a way reminiscent of Aquinas.

1. God is utterly omnipotent. This cannot be absolutely true. Although God can do anything that he desires, he has chosen to limit himself according to his nature, the order of the created world, and especially through the person of His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. God is fully and truly all-powerful within the order of creation. To intervene and avert every disaster and wicked act would upset the balance of the world. That is, it thus becomes a matter of which crimes deserve God's omnipotent intervention? In shock and horror of the evil of humanity's heart we either blame ourselves, others, or God. This is where God's omnipotence gets put on trial.

2. God is infinite love. Yes, this is true. Yet many times we demand our definition of love. A loving God wouldn't do that! (Fill in the blanks with the latest suffering or evil incarnate.) How quick we forget the incarnation where Christ emphathized with humanity, taking the form of humanity, laying aside the Godhead, suffered pain and death on the cross in order to rise again, defeating evil, sin, and death. It is only through God's infinite love whereby the suffering caused by evil in the world is redeemed. Thus, a better definition of infinite love incorporates the incarnate Christ. Thus, I believe love is the self-sacrificial giving of one's self for the highest and best good of another.

3. Enormous evil exists in the world. Yes, this is absolutely true. In addition, natural disasters take place and disease is rampant. Ultimately, God has created this wonderful world with the potential for good, love, justice, and holiness. However, people wrested control from God's hand, insisting on doing things according to their selfish-desires (original sin). While the explanation of free will is sometimes inadequate for those in tears and heartache, it is the dearth of response to the grace of God that has caused such. Blaming God for the sin and evil man commits is thus akin to blaming the wrong person and is a wish for loveless automatons.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Is Creation Good or Evil?

Historically, the church fathers vigorously fought against the belief that creation is evil (both the world and humanity). Gnostics believed matter was evil and the spiritual was good. For the Manicheans, they also believed in a dualism where the material creation was debased. Augustine (a former Manichean) wrote against Manichaeans who said that we should spare God the embarassment of being connected to the created world. As Thomas Oden records in Classic Christianity, this Gnostic thought has implications today. For if creation is evil, it can be neglected (141).

Sadly, the church today has seemingly failed to learn the lesson of history in affirming the goodness of the created world and humanity, especially in regards to our sexuality. Eschatological views (specifically premillenialism) have hindered our current stewardship of the earth. 2 Peter 3:10 has been misinterpreted, and the term "dominion" from Genesis has been an excuse for abuse of the earth and its resources.

Furthermore, in a subtle way, believers have failed to fully affirm the goodness of the body. God created us as wonderful beings with intricate systems, senses, and experiences. Although, grace should never be an excuse for bodily sin. This idea has probably been so prevalent due to the exaltation of the spiritual. The incarnation should teach us that God has affirmed both the spirituality and physicality of humans. Thus, we should be active in helping the body of Christ to redeem the world (humanity & nature) through teaching that God's creation is good.

What in the World Is Christian Perfection?

One of the distinct emphases of Wesleyanism in general, and United Methodism in particular, is that of sanctifying grace. This is what we refer to as Christian holiness, or what Wesley termed 'Christian perfection.' As United Methodists we have several foundational documents for our beliefs and behaviors. These include our Articles of Religion, the General Rules, and Wesley's Sermons and Notes on the New Testament. To this end we hold core beliefs and values such as found in the Doctrinal Standards, Theological Task, and Social Principles. One of these distinct beliefs is the notion of Christian perfection. This is probably most clearly articulated in Wesley's sermon on the subject, and his work, "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection." 

Christian Perfection as Wesley expounded and Methodists believe is rooted in the idea of sanctification. That is, when we become children of God we are made right (justified) and made new (sanctified) simultaneously. Thus, for the believer, Christian perfection is a clarion call from God, found in scripture, to grow in holiness/sanctification. This is because sanctification is both a crisis and a process. Wesley taught that in an instant we are regenerated and are dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Yet there is a lifelong process whereby we become more and more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). So, Christian perfection is the act and process of becoming perfect, in order that every part of us loves God, and loves others as ourself, and our desire to sin is cleansed by the Holy Spirit. 

Though many are upset by the term "Christian perfection" Wesley believed that he must preach the "whole counsel of God" (Sermon 40) especially on account that the doctrine was profusely found in scripture. "Indeed, [Christian perfection] is only another term for holiness." (Wesley) He also believed that those who are holy are perfect according to scripture (Sermon 40). Wesley, in his sermon on the topic, devotes his organization to understanding what Christian perfection is, and what it is not. Christians are not perfect in the sense of knowledge. We still remain ignorant in mysteries of the faith. Neither are Christians free from mistake. Christian perfection does not make us supernaturally competent. Neither does being perfect mean freedom from infirmities (morally neutral inward/outward imperfections, e.g. forgetfulness). In addition, Christian perfection is by no means a complete freedom from temptation or the ability to sin. The opportunity and possibility remain.

Yet Wesley is clear what constitutes Christian perfection. It is both inward and outward. It involves inner affections, motives, and desires (cf. Wesley's Notes on Gal. 2:20). This is what Wesley called freedom from "evil thoughts and tempers" (Sermon). It also involves specific actions, words, and behaviors. Wesley firmly believed that Christian perfection involved being made free from outward sin in the sense of not continuing in sin (habitually, continually, 1 John 3:8-9, 5:18; Rom. 6:1-2; However, if one does sin cf. 1 John 2:1). Christian perfection is both negatively and positively expressed (i.e. sinful nature destroyed and Christ's holy living presence in us). Wesley describes this beautiful perfection as a deliverance not only from outward sin, but also the inner sin of the heart. Wesley had an optimistic view of the human condition only because of God's sanctifying grace, and the abundance of evidence for Christian perfection found in scripture. He used language such as "being filled up to all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19) seeing Christian perfection as being full of God's "light, love, wisdom, holiness, power, and glory." (Wesley's Notes, Eph. 3:19). Furthermore, he noted the command in Matthew 5:48 "be perfect as your Father is perfect" as a wise and gracious promise of God to perfect the believer (Wesley's Notes, Matt. 5:48).

In summary, Christian perfection (holiness, maturity) is attained by faith through the work of the Holy Spirit in one's heart and life. It is received by the grace of God whereby the believer desires less and less to do wrong. It is lived by daily surrender to God, in covenant to live wholly for Him, and to use the means of grace to increase in love for God and others, renouncing the works of sin and death.