Orthodoxy and Relevance

Christians have long talked about life as a journey, whether as runners or pilgrims or travelers or something else. Journeys tend to involve forks in the road, decisions to make, and obstacles to overcome. Sometimes, the decisions of this journey are between light and darkness, holiness and sin, redemption and backsliding. In these instances, the follower of Christ is called to choose the path of faithfulness. Other times, however, the decisions we make along the way do not seem to be inherently good or bad—it’s not immediately clear whether one path is better than the other.

Such an image of journey has been on my mind lately as I’ve wrestled with what seems to be an increasingly common trope for contemporary Christians: the ongoing debate between orthodoxy and relevance.

Per Merriam-Webster, orthodoxy means “right belief, sound doctrine” and relevance means “the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate.” Based on those definitions, you wouldn’t expect contemporary Christians to believe that orthodoxy and relevance are at odds with one another. But if you talk to many Christians, you’d be wrong. Let me explain. Continue reading

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Platonism and Paul?

Faith and ReasonThe dialogue between faith and reason has long held a place of prominence in the Christian tradition. Sometimes this relationship has been understood positively—construed in the words of Anselm of Canterbury as “faith seeking understanding”—and other times it has been construed negatively—perhaps best represented by Tertullian of Carthage when he asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”[1] However one views the relationship between faith (or theology) and reason (or philosophy), coming to terms with how these “spheres of knowing” interact with one another remains an important part of not only what it means to be a Christian, but also what it means to be a human. Thinking carefully and critically about both theology and philosophy is an important posture for finding answers to life’s great questions. Here, I want to briefly comment on this relationship between theology and philosophy for one of the earliest followers of Jesus, the Apostle Paul. Continue reading

Reflections on the Institute for Creation Research

Institute for Creation ResearchThe topic of “Creation versus Evolution,” at least in many circles, often elicits a good deal of debate, many times in rather a heated manner. The point of this post is not to provoke strong emotions in anyone, but only to offer a few thoughts about the Institute for Creation Research, an outspoken advocate of scientific “Creationism.” The integration of faith and reason in science has been an important consideration for many American Protestant Christians over the past 120 years. In the early 1900’s, intellectual change on a number of levels was sweeping across America, especially in relation to biological science. In 1925, the Scopes Trial in Dayton, TN made Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (first published in 1859) and brought a creation/evolution dichotomy to the forefront of American culture. Over the next few decades, the increasingly divided American Church responded to an increasingly secular scientific culture in a variety of ways. Many of the more “liberal” denominations acclimated to the changes in the philosophy of science, while many “conservative” denominations either fought against such changes or (more often) merely abandoned serious scientific inquiry altogether. By the 1970’s, the divide on creation and evolution was nearly complete, a divide that has directly impacted the nature of American Christianity on a variety of topics (scientific, theological, ethical, and political) since. Continue reading

Religious Secularity

This post is part of an ongoing series investigating “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which the world religious approach and understand the Divine. Today’s post engages a chapter of Mark C. Taylor’s work, After God.

Map of the InternetIn this reflection, I want to focus on Taylor’s chapter “Religious Secularity,” specifically his discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity and its implications for understanding Protestant theology’s impact on the formation of the “secular” West. From the perspective of one having been trained in theological method and the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, there are a number of points that Taylor draws out in his discussion worthy of consideration. First, Taylor’s relation of the Trinitarian scheme to visions of the “interplay between God, self, and world” is fundamentally positive, and would seem to serve as an excellent starting point for Taylor’s constructive theological claims for the 21st century (139). This tri-part reality he effectively ties into conceptions of “creative mergence” (later developed by Hegel) as the source of appropriate theologies of nature, history, and culture (142). Continue reading

Maurice Wiles and the Definition of Theology

OxfordThere are many questions in life with the potential for multidisciplinary and eternal significance. Among these are such questions as “Is there a god?”, “Do right and wrong exist?”, and “What happens when we die?” [1] Theologian Maurice Wiles adds to this list yet another question in his book titled What is Theology? To begin this work, Reverend Wiles defines theology as “reasoned discourse about God.”[2] If the term theology is broken down into its semantic parts, “theos” means “God” and “logos” means “word” or “reason.”[3] Therefore the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary is fitting: “the study and nature of God; religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed.” Continue reading

Poems, Protest, and a Dream

Sor JuanaOf the various perspectives within the confines of post-Reformation Church history, perhaps none is more interesting than the writings of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. A Catholic writer (and later a Catholic nun) living in the New World during the 15th century (xxiv), Sor Juana’s theological perspective exhibits the increasingly uneasy place of traditional Catholic faith in the midst of the rise of Modernism. Sor Juana’s reflections remain extant primarily in poetic form, though at least one major treatise is available to us. Through our examination of Sor Juana’s writings found in Poems, Protests, and a Dream, we see that Sor Juana conceived of her Catholic faith in terms of increasing awareness of the relationship of faith and reason and the importance of individuality with regard to intellectual and personal faith. Continue reading