Few people have shaped contemporary Christianity more than Billy Graham. Though not as active, popular, or visible as he once was, Graham’s decades of evangelism, writing, and preaching continue to influence Christians around the world. Even in retirement, Graham continues to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. It was thus with eagerness that this reviewer engaged one of his latest books, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation (Thomas Nelson: 2013). Continue reading
In the book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Questions—Why We Suffer (New York: Harper One, 2008), Bart D. Ehrman examines the various explanations for suffering presented in the text of the Christian Bible. Ehrman, a New Testament textual critic and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has written a number of books concerning the text of the Christian Bible, and here presents an exegetical treatment of a contemporary question for the general public. God’s Problem is a New York Times Best Seller, indicating Ehrman’s popularity and the ever-increasing interest that the general public has in answers for life’s questions. In this book, Ehrman gives consideration to various Biblical perspectives and presents the positions in sections dealing with the Classical view of suffering, the Consequential view of suffering, the answer of Redemptive suffering, the Question of Questionable and Meaningless suffering, and the Apocalyptic view of suffering. This review will examine Ehrman’s general perspective on these various positions and additionally his position as presented as the book as a whole. Continue reading
The Second Vatican Council (1962-5) stands apart as one of the single most important events of modern Church history, not only because of the number of Christians that the Church at Rome influences, but also because of the magnitude and depth of the canons of the council. While a thorough examination remains outside the parameters of our course, here we examine three of the most interesting and impactful sections of the Vatican II documents, those decrees on Indulgences, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Non-Christian Religions. Through our examination of these sections we will note the interesting connection of the Vatican II statements to the history of the Catholic Church. Continue reading
Insights from historical fiction are often intended to make readers pause for careful consideration, especially so with Shasaka Endo’s Silence, the account of a Christians amidst the persecutions of 16th century Japan. Central to this narrative is Endo’s portrayal of the conflict between Eastern and Western civilizations, especially as that conflict impacted Christianity. The narrative traces the journey of Portuguese Jesuit Sebastian Rodrigues to Macao and then Japan, his interactions with Japanese Christians, his confrontation with the apostate Christovao Ferreira, and his eventual capitulation to the tactics of the magistrate Inoue, developing a number of theological concerns along the way. In this essay, we examine several of these, including Rodrigues’ relationship with Kichijiro, Endo’s use of the term “silence,” the co-opting of the Biblical narrative, and the conflict between East and West as demonstrated through the “swamp of Japan.” Through engagement with these considerations, I argue that central to Endo’s perspective is the centrality of a Christian love that seeks to transcend the cultural boundaries of East and West. Continue reading
Can God really be good? Will God really judge all non-Christians? How can you believe in a God who commanded genocide?
These are questions which many people—many Christians—struggle to honestly answer, queries which have caused people to walk away from the Christian faith, problems that have eroded many hearts and minds. And, lest we be seen as overly dismissive, these are significant and important questions, questions which need understanding and (when possible) answers. To help us think through such questions, Joshua Ryan Butler has written The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War (Nashville: Thomas Nelson: 2014). Continue reading
Even after nearly 2000 years, the Shepherd of Hermas remains an intriguing set of apocalyptic writings from the early Church. The central concern of Hermas revolves around post-baptismal sin: What can Christians do if they have fallen into sin after their baptism? In answering this question, Hermas writes down five visions, twelve commandments, and ten parables, many of which he recounts in terms of divine visions and conversations with an angelic figure called the Shepherd (hence the title of the book). The Shepherd remains the longest extant text of early Christianity, much longer than a number of New Testament books, and was included in many early canonical lists and codices, including Codex Sinaiticus and some contemporaries of Eusebius and Athanasius. Ultimately, the Shepherd was rejected as canonical, due at least in part to its not being written by an apostle (as argued in the Muratorian Canon). Hermas may have been the brother of Pius, Bishop of Rome from around 140 to 154, and Origen argues that he was the Hermas mentioned in Romans 16.14. Additionally, Hermas mentions someone named Clement in V8.2, which may be a reference to Clement of Rome. Most scholars agree that the Shepherd was likely written between 110-140 CE, perhaps over a period of time. Such as early date fits the writings widespread use in both East and West, as well as the claims to usefulness by the Church Fathers despite its ultimate non-canonical status. Continue reading
This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.
Why do we suffer? This is a question which, unfortunately, we all must ask at some point in our lives. The 2011-2012 academic year was a year in which this question took on a special relevance in my own life, first in a theology class devoted to wrestling with this question and then in my own life with the illness and death of my Grandfather. Life is painful when the lessons of the classroom become the lessons of reality.
Over the next two weeks, I want to offer some reflections on suffering and then propose a potential “answer” (the scare quotes are very intentional here) to the question of suffering. Today, I offer some basic insights into some of the proposed answers to the theological problem of evil and suffering. Proposed answers to this most hideous and painful of all questions have been labeled such things as the “retributive justice” or Classical view, the Consequences view, Meaningless suffering, the Apocalyptic perspective, and the Free Will argument for suffering. Continue reading
Watchman Nee was one of the most influential leaders and thinkers in the history of Chinese Christianity. It has been said that Nee’s writings and example, more than any other factor, have shaped the contemporary Chinese church. In his highly popular book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Nee offered an exegesis of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians that outlines the Christian’s position in Christ, life in the world, and attitude toward the enemy (10). In this book, Nee argues that Paul advocated that the Ephesian church interact with the cosmos in three distinct ways: sitting, walking, and standing. For Nee these concepts not only appear to provide an exegetical model for understanding Ephesians, but also seem to function as one of the primary lenses through which he views the Christian life. Continue reading
The sixteenth century was for Western Europe a time of much socio-theological consternation and change. Numerous theological reformations occurred (or sought to occur) in a variety of social contexts, for a plethora of reasons, and employing numerous methodologies. One such reformation was that of the institutional Catholic Church under the auspices of such leaders as Girolamo Savonarola and Ignatius of Loyola. These two theologians, whilst occasionally interacting with the theologies of other contemporary reformation attempts apart from the Catholic church, crafted reformation theologies within the institution of the Catholic Church. In this essay we examine some of the reforming perspectives of these men, noting that central to their conception of reformation within the Catholic Church was the reformation of the individual Christian. Continue reading
Though hardly an accurate representation of the varieties and differences among the plethora of multiform reformation theologies and practices at work in Europe during the 16th century, the term “Radical Reformation” has long been used as a ‘catch-all’ phrase describing non-magisterial reformers such as Conrad Grebel, Michael Sattler, and Pilgrim Marpeck. In this paper we examine the perspectives of these reformers, noting that despite their theological differences, each of these reformers argued for a conception of Christian faith that emphasized a strong reliance upon scripture alone as the basis of authority as well as arguments against the coercion of conscience and faith by force. Continue reading