Quote of the Day

I am now reading a book on liturgical theology by an Asian Assemblies of God theologian Simon Chan.  When I am done I will review it, but I loved this quote in a chapter dealing with the relationship between the Word preached and the Eucharist.

“If preaching does not have [this] a eucharistic orientation and focus, it no longer qualifies as the proclamation of the gospel.  This is what happens when worship is not shaped by the Eucharist.  Preaching then takes on a life of its own, and before long all sorts of “gospels” are proclaimed in the name of Christ.” – emphasis my own, p69

One of my favorite things that hooked me when I began attending an Episcopal Church, was that the sermon was only about 15 minutes, as compared to like 45 min to an hour in my low protestant pentecostal church.  The focus was truly on Jesus present in the bread and wine, and the pulpit wasn’t for bashing Methodists (which is ironic considering the AG roots from Methodism, but whatever)



  1. Another breath of fresh air, for me, was to finally hear a sermon on baptism that wasn’t 99% “Here is why everyone should dunk like we do.” I, frankly, am shocked to hear that this is an A/G writer. Seems a little too sacramental for the mentality. So, thanks for exposing me to pentecostal writers that aren’t just waving the flag.


  2. Yes, but…

    Yes, preaching should lead its hearers into the life of a community founded on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and following in his footsteps. Communion is the sacrament of that community.

    But, it is equally true to say that without preaching, the Eucharist takes on a life of its own and becomes an idol.

    How long should a sermon be? I have no idea. Paul evidently preached long enough to put Eutychus to sleep. If you preach that long, you had better be able–like Paul–to raise Eutychus from the dead when he falls out of the window.


  3. What is funny Shawn is that a large percentage of AG academics are not “dyed in the wool” AG’ers, even if they are thoroughly Pentecostal. There is notorious tension between them and the fellowship (in some though not all cases of course). Gordon Fee is an excellent example. He doesn’t believe in “separate and subsequent”-type language to describe receiving the Holy Spirit let alone “initial physical evidence.”


  4. Absolutely George, the two need each other, without preaching, the faith is not aroused which is needed to “discern” the sacrament.

    I’m not sayin it needs to be shorter, just that I like it shorter. Plus then it tends to be about the readings rather than about spurious popular topics. I could not even count on all my phylanges the number of sermons I have heard about “fulfilling my dreams.”


  5. Tony:

    I hear ya about bad topical sermons, but I wonder if there might be good topical ones. How much of Jesus’ preaching was expositional, for example? How much of Paul’s? Certainly Jesus exposited texts (Luke 4). But it seems he also addressed topical concerns. I would say the same is true of Paul.

    The question is not topical versus expositional, let alone topical versus lectionary. Whether the Jews and early Christians followed a standard lectionary in the first century is a matter of historical dispute. Rather, the question is whether the gospel shines through either.



  6. George,

    I’m not really trying to say that ALL “topical” sermons are inappropriate;but I do wonder if indeed there are better times and places for them, such as bible studies and cell groups. Whatever the case certainly, the Gospel shines on every aspect of our lives, including the modern topics.



  7. Oh,

    And perhaps the entire “Pentecost” season. The short time I have spent learning the Christian calender and contemplating its cycle, the more I have really seen how from Advent to Easter, the calender allows us to immerse ourselves in the Gospel precisely as a lived story, and so especially during this time, I feel that the sermons should enhance the theological truth of the season(s).


  8. An aspect of this issue might be the modern Church’s tendency to overcentralize on Bible study as the climax of a worship service. Historically, pre-literate, pre-printing press cultures couldn’t count on the text but instead on the Eucharist. (This is one reason why I’m drawn to the Eastern tradition where icons take such a large part in worship.)

    This is not to discredit study and teaching on Scripture as part of Church experience, but I agree with Tony that the real, down and dirty, “let’s get knee-deep in the word” type of stuff belongs in a different setting.


  9. Interesting Quote, though I am not sure how I feel about it. An aspect of this issue that has not been raised, is whether or not it is wrong to preach a new gospel in the name of Christ? It seems to me that the importance of the gospel (not the content) was its work of unification of the spirit of God with the spirit of men via the love of Christ. Is it not then possible to channel that message of Christ’s love through new more relevant images and symbols? Is it possible that the image of the eucharist is not the most effective symbolism for bringing human beings in today’s world closer to the spirit of God? I know that these question presuppose a definition of “gospel” and “eucharist” that are not unilaterally held. That said, I thought I would bring in some questions from a progressive perspective. Just in case any one was considering reminding me of the place reserved in hell for progressives such as myself, consider it unneccesary to say. I don’t believe in hell so it matters not to me.



  10. Jeremy,

    You don’t need to believe in hell to burn there. 😉

    That said, to me, there is the matter of historical context. These definitions do not at all work within the world of Palestine and Galilee in the time of Jesus. Moreover it doesn’t work within the OT context either or in the vast majority of subsequent Christian interpretation.

    Let me ask you something…I do genuinely mean this with full respect.

    From what I know, as one who embraces a pluralistic religious worldview, you would say that most if not all religions are “valid” ways of experiencing and/or approaching “God,” however defined, as they are currently practiced, provided they also embrace your universal ethics. If, then, you would affirm a Hindu in the practice of her religion, would you also require that she translate her religious ideas and vocabulary to conform to your pluralistic view in order to be truly valid?

    I ask that because one of the things that frustrates me most about our conversations is not that you hold a pluralistic worldview, as I think you mean to be a pious man who truly demonstrates love for God as you understand him; but, if you affirm other religious paths as they are, why then do you feel the need to translate Christian language into something it is not?

    It seems to me that if you want to be a pluralist Christian, then you should be fair and allow the Christian myth to dictate its own theology according to its worldview and experience of revelation.


  11. Tony,
    I do not believe that I am arguing the validity of any religion. Rather, I am arguing relevancy. I feel as though you think that I only see issues within Christianity which need to be reconsidered. This is not the case. I have argued for revisions in Islam, Hinduism, etc. The fundamental differance between us is not pluralism or exclusivism. The differance is evolution. I see religion, in its broadest sense, as a living, adapting, evolving entity. That said, the questions I bring are meant to move Christianity to someplace new. I don’t see exclusivism as a Christian dogma problem. Rather, I see it as one of the remaining vestiges of a past form of religious expression. While you seek to ground yourself in what the church was, I seek to move the church, the mosque, and the temple to where I feel God desires it to be. I understand that this might sound incredibly arrogant of me. It is not as though I profess to know the entirety of the picture, or have any more of a connection to God than anyone else. I don’t feel as though I have any special part to play. This is simply the humble perspective from which I work. I don’t mean to frustrate you Tony. I am simply bringing my viewpont to your topics. Since you and Reed post most frequently on this blog, most of the topics engage orthodox issues. That is why it seems as though I am always attempting to change “what Christianity is”. The “pluralism” which I ascribe to does not see all religions as the same, but it does see them moving in the same direction. That direction is closer to God, and thus ultimately closer to each other.


  12. Jeremy,

    That actually helps a lot to know where you are coming from. That clears some things up for me, forgive me where I have misunderstood you. I think that subsequent discussion on my part will take this into consideration.

    Still, I also see Christianity as evolving, make no mistake about it. I simply disagree on what pace and what elements, perhaps we could discuss that further. Which elements and why?


  13. I think Jeremy is overdue for a post (or series of posts) on his pervading ideas about religion, inter-religious dialogue, and the future of faith.

    (Perhaps you’ll reserve a special section for Borg and Spong worship?)

    In all seriousness, I’d appreciate more dissenting voices on this blog. Tony and I agree on far more than we disagree on which is fine when we go to Church together but can be quite dull to read about.


  14. Pluralism is a fascinating subject to cover. I believe Jeremy could hash out a beautiful series along that line.


  15. Reed:

    You wrote, “An aspect of this issue might be the modern Church’s tendency to overcentralize on Bible study as the climax of a worship service. Historically, pre-literate, pre-printing press cultures couldn’t count on the text but instead on the Eucharist. (This is one reason why I’m drawn to the Eastern tradition where icons take such a large part in worship.)”

    No, no, no, no, no!

    Is that dissenting enough? LOL.

    Actually, modify all those noes to “yes, buts….”

    The Eastern Orthodox tradition has a lively, uh, tradition of expositional preaching. Take a look at the sermons of John Chrysostom, for example. He wasn’t nicknamed “golden mouthed” (chrysostomos) because he handed out wafers with efficient alacrity.


    I have so many disagreements with you that I don’t even know where to begin. That’s why I quite our epistemology exchange. I still can’t believe you and James asked me to defend my epistemic devaluation of hallucinogenic mushrooms, but whatever. For the record, I disagree with your religious pluralism, which makes me a religious exclusivist. The interesting question is how you can be a religious pluralist if you disagree with my form of religious exclusivism.



  16. Tony:

    It looks like we’ve found something to disagree on.


    Theophiliacs wouldn’t be the same without your dissent! However, you’re hitting us from one side of the spectrum, now I’m ready to be battered from the other.

    I am not unaware of John Chrysostom’s reputation (I’ve attended an Antiochian Orthodox Church off and on for about 10 months now. It’s none-stop Golden-Tongue.) But this exemplifies my point all the more. Once again, I fear you’re arguing against me as if I’m an extremist when my point is much more moderate.

    Of course, Eastern Orthodoxy has a lively tradition of expositional preaching. It’s a tradition of preaching that takes places in conjunction with the Eucharist! Chrysostom preached most beautifully about the communion of the Church through the partaking in the body and blood!

    Please don’t misunderstand me and think I’m for removing preaching from the Church! I simply believe that our modern tradition (and too much sola scriptura) have overemphasized its place at the expense of the fuller Christian experience.

    The most poignant paradigm I can think of appears in Luke 24, on the road to Emmaus. Recall that as Jesus walked with his two followers he indeed taught them the wisdom of the scriptures. BUT IT WASN’T UNTIL THEY BROKE BREAD TOGETHER THAT HIS PRESENCE AS THE RISEN CHRIST WAS REVEALED TO THEM! After Jesus vanished, they said:

    “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

    Most modern NT scholars understand this passage as a parable for Luke’s picture of the early Church. It’s a beautiful picture of the mystery of breaking bread and the interpretive textual tradition mixing to form a sacred act.


  17. You know what Crossan says? “Emmaus never happened, Emmaus always happens” Borg, ever the helper shortened it for himself to “Emmaus always happens.”


  18. Reed:

    Luke 24 is one of my favorite passages, and your use of it coincides precisely with sermons and Bible studies I have taught on it. Bible study is not enough. Eucharist is not enough. It’s the coming together of the two that makes the magic happen. (And by “magic” I’m not speaking literally or metaphorically but colloquially.)

    One problem I have, however, with identifying the Luke 24 meal with the Eucharist is that it’s too reductionistic. If I understand Luke 24 and 1 Corinthians 11 correctly, the Eucharist was part of a larger meal consumed by parishioners at their worship services. Now, I’m not saying we have to have a sit-down feast every Sunday, but I think Eucharist is reduced from what it’s supposed to be by pretty much all churches when they separate it from regular fellowship around the table. This table fellowship has broader social and economic purposes than just a sip of wine and bit of matzoh. But that’s a discussion for another day.

    As for Borg, of course he thinks this is a parable since he doesn’t think the resurrection was a literal, physical event that happened to Jesus, as opposed to a psychological event that happened within the disciples. But several factors militate against such a non-literal interpretation of Luke 24. (1) The genre of the passage is historical narrative, not parable. (2) The passage serves as an evidentiary chain for eyewitnesses to the resurrection, one of the eyewitnesses being Cleopas. (3) Luke no doubt saw the theological importance of the incident, which gives it preaching legs, but that’s not the same thing as saying it’s a parable.


  19. I never said Emmaus didn’t happen. I said Luke used it as a parable to describe the Eucharist. It’s not beyond the NT writers to describe concrete events abstractly in order to serve as a metaphor for a theological idea.

    I don’t know if Emmaus actually happened. But by reducing the pericope to a mere issue of its historicity I think both folks in the Seminar and Inerrantists miss the larger mystery and beauty of the story.


  20. George for an answer to your “interesting question” see my response to Tony. I am not arguing the validity of your religious perspective. I believe your religious exclusivism is a valid expression of religion. I just also believe it to be an archaic one. I believe you might be working from to narrow a perspective on pluralism.


  21. Tony,

    I am going to interrupt this nerd-off for a second. I won’t tell you that I am not trying to be contentious, because, well, I am. However, I am not trying to be divisive.

    I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard someone say that the A/G camp is full of people who aren’t proclaiming the same doctrinal or party lines and then say Gordon Fee’s name. To me, it’s like listening to white people in the mid-west trying to prove they aren’t racist by talking about their one black friend. Undoubtedly, you have personal acquaintances in mind. However, is their self-proclamation of “A/G’ness” sufficient when the denominational leaders will not recognize their ideas?

    Now, I was trained at CBC and I was mentored by some of those “dyed in the wool” Assembly of God academics who disagree with the party line. You are absolutely correct when you say that the tension between them and their overseers is remarkable. My contention, however, is that those men were A/G by association, tradition, or some other sociological phenomenon and not by their theology. In fact, if you read some of the employment contracts that places like CBC are handing out these days you will see that the institution rejects their dissention outright. Employees, technically, aren’t allowed to contradict the national office, even in their own homes.

    See: www. cbcag. edu / view.asp?p=364
    Also: www. cbcag. edu/ view.asp?p=149 for a couple of examples regarding my point.

    The A/G has a component that is working toward hard institutionalization and they don’t even recognize these men as “A/G,” and will fire them from employment on the grounds of doctrinal disagreement. (If I’m not mistaken, even George has advocated these “hardening” practices on other blogs – correct me if I have misunderstood you, George) So, if the A/G doesn’t identify them, how can we say they are A/G? They’ll probably keep claiming men like Fee for a while, but only for the reasons that they keep placing such reverence on men like Horton.
    The more I write this, the more I am sure it is off topic from the current discussion and belongs elsewhere. I would repost somewhere else, but I don’t think that it would get read or responded to, so do what thou wilt moderator. :0)


  22. Shawn,

    So wait, are you agreeing with me or disagreeing with me? Fee is just the obvious name. W.Randolf Tate or even Simon Chan might be another excellent example. My professors at NCU almost all had their issues…so are you saying that they are not AG at all, or I guess I’m just confused since I agree with you.


  23. Tony,

    Yes! I got you confused.

    I am saying that these men and women are probably modern Pentecostals according to the larger faith community. But, I do not think that the A/G endorses their ideas, to the extent that they are promising to fire new hires at A/G Bible Colleges and Universities for practicing the same open mindedness about faith and practice. So, I don’t think you are accurately labeling them as A/G writers. Do they hold papers with the A/G?-probably. Would CBC and other institutions fire them for voicing the opinions in their books?-probably. So, are they really A/G? My only point here is that I expressed shock at an actual Assemblies of God writer being so open, but it turns out I question whether they are “really A/G” or not. I am looking for some discussion as to whether they are not A/G, because the institution would not claim them, not because of any personal claims they make.


  24. Yet another interesting twist on the ongoing authority debate. In the case of this evangelical, pentecostal, “fellowship,” who has the authority to say you are “in” or not? If Shawn is indeed correct (I think he is) about his apocolyptic vision of doctrinal nasgul setting forth from Mordor (Springfield) to purge the AG of percieved heretics starting with dissenting academics, is this not an interesting movement toward becoming a more heirarchal and homogenous denomination? The way the history of the AG has been presented to me, it seems that in the early days of the AG it looked very much like a spontaneous, covental fellowship, but, almost from that point forward (esp. from the point where they starting kicking black people out) the AG has been moving in the direction of a centralized, homogenous hierarchy. Is this a movement from diversity in the Holy Spirit to homogeny in the spirit of being doctrinaire, or is it simply not practical to run a denomination full of dissidents? Can you have both, covenant and hierarchy, or do you have to choose?


  25. Jeremy:

    “I am not arguing the validity of your religious perspective. I believe your religious exclusivism is a valid expression of religion. I just also believe it to be an archaic one. I believe you might be working from to narrow a perspective on pluralism.”

    What do you mean by valid? Valid for whom?

    So what if it’s archaic? Is something invalid because it’s archaic?

    I’m working with the standard critiques of John Hick’s formulation of religious pluralism. Whether they’re too narrow is beside the point for me. What matters is whether they’re true.



  26. Shawn:

    I couldn’t get the first link to work. Here’s what I found on the second link: “All employees at Central Bible College are representatives of the Assemblies of God and their employment is on this basis. It is incumbent upon each one to uphold the standards of that Fellowship in a way that will give offense to none. Careless living, failure to pay debts, attending questionable places of amusement, and any other departure from accepted Assemblies of God standards shall be considered grounds for dismissal.” This seems like a fairly standard morals clause to me. I’m not really sure what you find controversial about this. It doesn’t even mention doctrine.



  27. Shawn:

    What I’ve advocated is that people follow the rules. If a person cannot in good conscience sign the AG ministerial credential renewal form, he or she should not be an AG minister. That doesn’t preclude AG ministers working from the inside to change AG doctrine or “accepted standards.”

    BTW, Fee is an AG minister, which means he signs his renewal forms every year. So, in some sense, even he assents to AG doctrinal standards.



  28. George,

    After some digging around on the site a few months back, there are statements that clearly spell out the fact that dissention against A/G doctrinal beliefs will not be tolerated by teaching staff, under any circumstances. My friends and I have begun to affectionately refer to this as the Dr. Purdy clause.

    Two points here /1/ I understand the function of a denominational Bible college. It is to train its ministers to serve within the accepted or normative practices and beliefs. /2/ CBC and all other institutions have the right to dictate the terms of employment and matriculation any way they like (within the bounds of federal and state discrimination laws, of course).

    Thank you for clarifying your own points for me. In reference to the material, you did find online, further searching reveals that CBC expects its employees to follow the position papers as well as the 16 fundies. Now, when I was a student, the position papers were still up in the air. However, there has been a recent move (like at CBC) to make them standards of practice. If they weren’t worthy to be doctrine then, why are they now? This doesn’t sound like a hardening/institutionalizing to you?

    Regarding Fee holding papers, do you really believe that the A/G holds all of its credentialed ministers to the same standards of membership and fellowship?

    – Shawn


  29. Shawn:

    I’ve been meaning to post something about the legal status of position papers vis-a-vis credential-holding with the AG. To be blunt, I don’t know if an AG minister must hold to them at the cost of losing his credentials. I don’t see anything like that in the Constitution or Bylaws. My personal opinion is that some of them need major revision. If memory serves, the Commission on Doctrinal Purity is re-examining them one by one.

    Are there discrepancies in the way standards are applied to AG ministers? Yes and no. Yes. The 57 Districts vary in their interpretation and (or at least) enforcement of the position papers. At least that’s my understanding. That’s why, for example, Southern California is considered a “liberal” district while Northern Texas is not. And no. Why? Because the credential renewal form self-reports. If a person checks off all the boxes, he’s basically left alone. But, then again, yes. Some AG scholars have been grilled over their beliefs, Fee, Mel Robeck, etc. That’s discrepant treatment. I’m not sure I would want to be a prominent AG scholar. Then again, perhaps this is changing under the current administration.

    CBC may very well be circling the wagons around the 16 Fundamentals and position papers. It considers itself the guardian of AG orthodoxy. It has the right to do so, of course; and students have the right to attend or not to attend based on what CBC requires.



  30. George,

    I know that this is already well trodden ground here at theophiliacs (and agthinktank), but while we all agree that a denomination has a right to circle the wagons around the 16 fundamentals and position papers, one really good reason why a denomination wouldn’t want to do this is that any institution which does so (speaking here of especially CBC and NCU) seems to turn itself into a machine for making young idealistic future AG pastors (like myself) into Anglicans.


  31. Indeed, at my church there are five North Centralites seeking ordination; I know one other at another Anglican institution in town, and counting James that’s seven within the last couple years.


  32. Reed:

    Thanks for the clarification! I think what set me off was your use of the word “parable.” Luke clearly is doing theology and paranesis in this story, so you’re right that a concern for mere historicity misses the point Luke is trying to make. By the same token, however, is there even a “parable” here if the event didn’t happen? Luke’s historical narratives are theologically rich precisely because his theology is historically rooted.



  33. Tony:

    My dad refers to Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church as “the largest AG church in southern California” and as “the AG in diaspora.” Rick recently spoke at an AG pastor’s event and brought all his AG staff with him. It was a good chunk of his senior people.

    So, it’s not just TEC that’s benefitting from the exodus of AG ministers.



  34. Have you ever wondered George if God raised up Pentecostalism ultimately not to start a new denomination but to revive the larger Christian body? If so, can this diaspora be seen as at least a part of the Lords intention?

    I know that is pure speculation, but I have wondered


  35. Tony:

    Yes, I have wondered that.

    If memory serves, the Azusa Street Mission self-consciously positioned itself as a broad-spectrum, trans-denominational revival movement. If Pentecostalism later became a narrower-spectrum family of denominations, several factors were at play: (1) opposition from denominations who didn’t feel a need for revival, (2) the inherent systematizing and institutionalizing trends inherent in any spiritual movement (or social movement, for that matter), and (3) the need to attains efficiencies of scale in publications and missions and to curb excesses among entrepreneurial evangelists.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the AG position itself as a bit more in the ASM mold, without losing the real benefits of system and institution. How you balance those two things is anyone’s guess, though.



  36. George,
    Did you read the words of mine that you quoted?

    “I am not arguing the validity of your religious perspective.”

    You ask for clarification of my intended use of validity. Once again I am not arguing that your religious position is invalid for anyone. I am arguing that it is less relevant to current culture than a pluralistic view. Again, I didn’t equate archaic with invalid, you did. As far as working from a Hickian view of pluralism, you again are working from outdated and irrelevant sources to my position. Hick is for a form of amalgamation of the world’s great religions. This in my opinion would invalidate the uniqueness of all of them. You can argue from canned responses to Hick all you would like, but that has nothing to do with my position. Maybe you should write him instead of responding to my post.


  37. Jeremy:

    Here’s what I take to be the essence of your position on pluarlism:

    “The ‘pluralism’ which I ascribe to does not see all religions as the same, but it does see them moving in the same direction. That direction is closer to God, and thus ultimately closer to each other.”

    A. The end you seek, then, is not religious pluralism but something approaching religious monism.

    B. The only way to achieve this “moving in the same direction” is for each of them to modify those doctrinal stances and ethical practices that distinguish them from one another. Between, “You shall have no other gods before me” and “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet” there can be no logical agreement unless either (1) the Christian accepts Muhammad’s prophethood or (2) the Muslim gives it up.

    C. Which means that you’re really working with the same species of dilemmas that Hick faces in his determination to redirect all religions toward “the One,” whatever that might be. And what is that species of dilemmas? Simply that in order to move religions in the same direction, you have to sacrifice their individuality, at the same time sacrificing your own commitment to pluralism.

    If you can do a better job of explaining your way out of that dilemma than Hick, perhaps you could put it in a post.



  38. George,

    You do vex me with your insistance on arguing points which I have not made. My statement of movement towards God and each other was speaking relationally not theologically. My understanding of the movement of religions is not a redirecting but the natural evolution of the institution as it interacts with its members current paradigm. I plan to write a post for you to dissect. I just have not gotten around to it. Please refrain from throwing me in with Hick simply because it is the only form of pluralism you are familiar with.


  39. Jeremy:

    Consider me your willing thorn in the flesh, and let me vex you again.

    You wrote, “My statement of movement towards God and each other was speaking relationally not theologically.”

    Well, that certainly clears things up. What, after all, does it mean for religions to move closer to one another relationally? And how can they move closer to God relationally if they disagree on who God is?

    You wrote, “My understanding of the movement of religions is not a redirecting but the natural evolution of the institution as it interacts with its members current paradigm.”

    And if the natural evolution of religion is not toward relational unity? If natural evolution, why argue your point? Won’t the religions get their eventually anyway without your help? And why privilege the “current paradigm”? What’s more, whose current paradigm? Yours? Mine? Islam’s? Christianity’s?

    As for John Hick, I’m not really sure how you know that it is “the only form of pluralism [I am] familiar with” since you’ve never inspected my library. But since you’re obviously better informed on this subject than I am, why don’t you let me know which pluralist authors I should be reading.



  40. Let me give a shot a vexing Jeremy by putting words in his mouth, too. One way religions could grow together relationally is by not being hell bent on killing each other. And being committed to talking to each other. How do we do that? Well, as Christians this might mean separating ourselves from the idolatrous, nationalistic American civic religion that sees Islam as its enemy.

    As far as growing relationally with God when we can’t agree on who God might be, I think there are several things to keep in mind.

    1. Si comprehendis non est Deus. Christians or Muslims or Jews or anyone else cannot claim ultimate understanding of God. For instance, God works outside the church in ways we will probably never understand, and in ways the Bible may not necessarily describe.

    2. We grow in relationship to God, not by formulating doctrine or by contrasting that doctrine with other doctrine, but through religious experiences such as prayer, liturgy, even (maybe) speaking in tongues.

    Let’s look at differences in theology between Christian denominations for instance. What if I experience God through taking the Eucharist, while my father-in-law experiences God through speaking in tongues. Doctrinally speaking, he does not think the Catholic tradition of Christianity worships the same God as he does, but he cannot argue with my experience.

    Now the separation between Catholic and evangelical is smaller than say the separation between Christian and Buddhist, but I think the principles above still apply. At the end of the day different religions can argue doctrine all they want and never get anywhere, but can we really ignore each other’s testimony of religious experience? As I Christian I naturally think my doctrine and practice to be more true than other religions, but I am certainly not ready to completely invalidate the religious experiences of my Buddhist or Islamic friends. How can I rectify this with the rules of “logic” (non-contradiction-only-one-truth and all that crap)? I can’t, but again I’m okay with that. Something tells me you, George, won’t be. But, I’m okay with that, too.


  41. George,
    Let me first say I apologize for the assumptive tone in which my last statement was made. I am sure that you are quite well read on this and every other topic on this blog. That said if you would like a recommendation, presumming you do not currently own works by these authors, I would suggest John Cobb for a better approach to pluralism than Hick. As far as Cobb much of his work is based on John Whitehead, which would also be a good read. I also like the work of Frithjof Schuon.
    James has made quite good points in response to your position on moving toward God so I wont answer your other questions more than to say that I will address these issues in my future post.


  42. Jeremy:

    You apologize too much. I haven’t been offended by anything you’ve written, nor the way in which you’ve written it. Intellectually provoked, yes, but not offended.

    I am actually old enough that I’ve heard John Cobb lecture. I wasn’t impressed with process theology then, and I’m still not now, but there differences between Hick’s version of pluralism and Cobb’s. I still think both are incoherent, and unlike James, I’m not okay with that.


    I’ll call your bluff on American nationalism. Now that that’s out of the way, I’m still not convinced by your (excellent) examples. Admittedly, I’m never convinced; I’ll argue against people advocating my own beliefs when I think they’re getting sloppy. That’s why I blog on this site; so you young whippersnappers won’t let me get sloppy. But I digress…

    True, we cannot completely comprehend God. But it doesn’t follow from that that we cannot grasp him intellectually enough to test competing truth claims about him. For example, I may not comprehend God, but I know enough about him to know that either he exists or he doesn’t. If he exists, then atheism is false and any spirituality built upon it yields misleading or misinterpreted experiences. If he doesn’t exist, then theism is wrong and any spirituality based upon it yields misleading or misinterpreted experiences. Of course, you’re not much of a fan of the law of contradiction, so this won’t matter to you a whit.

    But it should. You wrote, “God works outside the church in ways we will probably never understand, and in ways the Bible may not necessarily describe.” Presumably, you think this is true and the alternative–that God does not work outside the church or in any way except that which the Bible describes–is false. Indeed, you think it’s true enough to make an argument on this website. Of course, absent the law of contradiction (which forces us to choose between mutually exclusive truth claims), why should I bother listening to you?

    Your more important point has to do with spiritual experiences: “We grow in relationship to God, not by formulating doctrine or by contrasting that doctrine with other doctrine, but through religious experiences such as prayer, liturgy, even (maybe) speaking in tongues.” If you had written, “not merely,” I would have agreed with you and let the matter rest. But you seem to be implying that theology plays no part in “religious experiences” and spiritual growth. That seems wrong for several reasons:

    1. Theology tells us what, or rather–Who, we’re experiencing.

    2. Reflection on the character of God can be spiritually exhilarating if combined with worship. The unfortunate modern tendency is to make systematic theology an arid, intellectual enterprise. That’s not the biblical example. Much of John’s theology in Revelation is communicated by means of the songs of worship sung by the inhabitants of heaven. Pre-modern theologians understood this well. Augustine wrote his Confessions in the form of an extended prayer. Anselm wrote the Proslogion in the same way. Heck, even J.I. Packer’s little systematic, Knowing God, advises us to turn our thoughts about God into prayers to God. Theology and spiritual experience are mutually re-enforcing, not mutually exclusive. But I suspect you believe that too to some degree.

    3. Absent theology, how do we differentiate spiritual experiences of the divine from spiritual experiences of the demonic? Perhaps you discount the demonic entirely in your theology. So, you don’t believe it’s possible to have a demonic spiritual experience (whether understood as literal demon possession or as some metaphorical existential wrestling with evil). If you believe that, that’s your right; but notice that you’ve imported theological presuppositions in your spirituality, just as I do with mine. They’re just different presuppositions.

    You wrote, “At the end of the day different religions can argue doctrine all they want and never get anywhere, but can we really ignore each other’s testimony of religious experience?” “Yes, we can,” to coin a phrase. My grandparents were missionaries in northwestern China and Tibet prior to the Communist revolution of 1949. Among the religious artifacts given to them by Tibetan converts were the top of a human skull turned into a drum and the femur of a young woman who evidently had been thrown off a cliff in order to obtain the femur, which was later turned into a musical instrument. Are you telling me I can’t invalidate that kind of religious experience? Or, to ask a question closer to home, are you really telling me that I can’t invalidate “the idolatrous, nationalistic American civic religion that sees Islam as its enemy,” as one author has put it?



  43. George,

    I will freely admit that I am both a young whippersnapper, and sloppy. But allow me maybe to clarify some things: I do not believe (neither one of us can “prove” this) that Truth is always a dichotomy. That is why I call the law of non-contradiction (long live that holy Creed of modernism) crap. Sometimes, and indeed in my experience rarely, we do come across a situation that is as black and white as “this is true” and “this is false.” Most of the time we are left in the gray, murky area in between. Truth is more of a spectrum than a single location. There may be two or more competing truths. And there may be things that are true to varying degrees. One of the limits of language (I believe) is that due to the limits of human communication all attempts to describe truth will only be true to varying degrees. Though I can’t take credit for this term, nor remember who should, there is a term that describes how this plays out in Christian belief and practice: Orthoparadoxy (just thought I’d throw that in since it’s such a cool word).

    Applying this to religious pluralism, I would say that Christianity is more true than Buddhism, but that Buddhism also has much truth, etc., etc. Much like Jeremy (I think) that does not mean that I think all truths (or religions) are equal. For example, Human sacrifice etc., is abhorrent to most religions, but not all. I would say that human sacrifice (though again I cannot without using my own limited sense or morality “prove” anything) is one of the things that makes some religions or moral codes less true than others. But does that mean that there is nothing true in a religion that practices things abhorrent to us? Are there absolutely no valid religious experiences to be had for those people? Along with that pesky non-contradiction law there is also a law about universal statements. It goes something like this: “Unless you’re universal you can’t make can’t make universal statements” (Of course, we’ll have to leave the discussion about the rules of logic being internally incoherent for another time). That is why I am not willing to invalidate completely the religious experiences of others.

    As far as me invalidating religious experiences connected to American nationalism, if waving a flag and saying a pledge like a prayer, and singing a national anthem like a hymn, and then using Scripture justify and bombing Muslims is a religious experience for you or anyone else, fine. No, I am not invalidating that. I am only suggesting that Christians distance themselves from that particular group of religious experiences because they are not Christian, nor (in my opinion) should they be. Americanism is a separate religion altogether–one that makes human sacrifices, and beats on drums similar in spirit if not in construction with the drum you describe from Tibet.


  44. And I almost forgot to say, George, point well made about the practice of theology being a religious experience. Certainly when it is incorporated is say the liturgy, like when I spoke aloud the Nicene Creed this morning and joined my voice with the voices of millions of saints throughout the centuries, that was a religious experience indeed. I guess what I had in mind in my previous post were things such as drawing doctrinal lines in the sand, arguing about homosexuality, etc. That does not seem to be a religous experience, especially not one that is likely to draw us closer to God and each other (of course, I can only speak for myself here).


  45. I think that the time is right for us to do a series on other faiths, maybe even that fuzzy word “truth.”


  46. Thanks for the clarifications, James! I agree with Tony that a series on “truth” would be interesting, specifically on the concept of truth in religions.

    Having said that, I’m not really sure why you think the law of non-contradiction is “crap” or even “the holy creed of Modernism.” Logic predates modernism by, well, millennia, and it’s hard to do anythink remotely approaching thinking without it.

    But I think you’re on to something when you talk about truth in other religions. So, let me clarify what I believe about other religions. Other religions can communicate truths. When the Koran encourages almsgiving, that strikes me as on the right track. When Buddhism commends compassion toward the suffering, that also strikes me as being on the right track. Indeed, C.S. Lewis went so far as to say that the religions basically agre on ethics. He said this as a proponent of the natural law. He’s probably onto something. But religions are not merely systems of ethics. Or rather, the Christian religion is not merely a system of ethics. It is also a soteriology, a way of salvation. Here’s where I start wondering whether Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, whatever speak the truth. That’s where I think the most interesting argument lies. And the more I study religion, the more I realize that not only do the religions diverge on soteriological ends (resurrection, soul-sleep, nirvana, etc.), but they also diverge on soteriological means (grace, works, karma, etc.). The law of contradiction helps us sort out the fact that the soteriological ends and means of various religions are mutually exclusive. One cannot have both resurrection and the destruction of the self through absorption into the all. Resurrection presupposes the continued existence of the individual, while destruction through absorption does not.




  47. First, Payne,

    “Holy Blog! I have no idea what any of you are saying!”

    You made me squirt port out of my nose when I lol’ed at this statement.

    Second, I leave my blog trolling alone for 24 hours and you people blow up on me, what gives?

    Third, George,

    “Some AG scholars have been grilled over their beliefs, Fee, Mel Robeck, etc. That’s discrepant treatment. I’m not sure I would want to be a prominent AG scholar. Then again, perhaps this is changing under the current administration.”

    This may be the point I am ineffectively trying to communicate. The wider population of A/G membership is not happy with Fee, et. all – they might admit (MIGHT) he is Pentecostal when it serves their purposes, but they do not see him as “dyed in the wool” A/G. So, does that mean we should either?


    I was an A/G “golden boy” pre-CBC, I received their preaching and evangelism scholarship and was going out to win the world for Jesus, the A/G, and America (perhaps not in that order, back then). So, make me #8 – I am essentially just waiting for my diocese to elect a bishop so that I may begin ordination with the Episcopal Church.


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