Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dekker's "Thr3e" - Pelagianism Alive and Well

I have to admit it: I'm a junky for the psycho-thrillers. Movies, that is, not books. I can tell you that watching "The Ring" in 2002 marked a coming of age for me and my movie-going experiences. So, when a friend told me about this Christian fellow, Ted Dekker, whose novel was made into a nail-biting thriller, I was intrigued.

The movie, Thr3e, was released in 2006. I recently had the opportunity to watch the film with friends on home video. Not that I'm a movie critic (nor is this blog devoted to such content), but I will tell you that from a purely entertainment standpoint, it's well worth the view. Low-budget, for sure, but behind the lackluster cinematography and screenplay, the plot alone is enough to keep one's attention. I have no doubt the book is equally worthy.

But, while the film is entertaining, the undertones presented by an outspoken Christian author are cause for viewer discretion to be advised. As the plot unfolds, we find seminary student Kevin Parson entangled in classic predicaments which force him to face his own sins and deepest secrets. Meanwhile, Parson is struggling to complete his doctoral thesis--a work on the nature of evil within man--which contains the theological message that viewers (whether aware of it or not) are asked to believe based on the story presented.

What the student, Parson, posits in his thesis soon becomes the reality of his life. (Warning: if you haven't watched the film and plan to, what follows may be a spoiler for you). The three main characters--Parson, his warm-hearted friend Sam, and the evil antagonist Slater--are eventually exposed as mere alter-egos of the skitzophrenic Parson. In the dramatic scene where the mystery is revealed, Parson's thesis is cited regarding the three (hence the title) natures that he argues every man contains: the evil, the good, and the moral creature struggling in between.

Had I not known of the author's professed faith, I would not have given the plot a second thought. It cannot be overlooked, however, that the Christian author Tim Dekker is offering his audience more than just an exciting plot. He is offering a statement on philosophy with deep theological implications.

Is man really entangled in such an epic battle? Are we torn within ourselves between the good nature and the evil? Scripture, church fathers, and historic doctrine all say no--and I humbly submit that I, too, deny an ounce of "good" in unredeemed Man. Man, outside of the redemption which comes through Christ, is not torn at all. There is no struggle. There is no epic battle of moral disposition. Man is, and has been since the fall, full of sin. "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12).

Though Pelagius' heresy was identified and condemned at its outset in the 4th century, his teaching has permeated the Church, both pre and post reformation. Not only so, but his notions of a morally-torn man struggling against and capable to overcome evil has been the tune of countless religions in every culture throughout history. Indeed, the Spirit's work in the world is not merely to reveal Christ as perfect and good, it is also to convict men that they, contrary to popular belief, are quite the opposite.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who do you think you are?

A little over 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson penned a statement (amid a much longer document) that stated his belief that all men are created equal. 55 other men put their signatures on the document, affirming that they, too, believed this and the accompanying statements that it supported. Do you know what was so equal about these 55 men? They were all white males who owned black people because they didn't see them as equal--which meant, in turn, they didn't see them as men.

The problem with the perspective of our founding fathers was not their self-image. They knew they were white. They knew they were males. The problem was the inherent value that they placed on these qualities.

In the last few verses of Galatians 3, we find Paul charging something very similar. His opponents, the judaisers, were not incorrect in their self assessment. They were indeed Jews. They were indeed freemen. They were indeed male. And, as an interesting tidbit of historical context, those three attributes comprised a common prayer for the Jewish member of a synagogue in the 1st century--not unlike (though not identical to) the haughty prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18.

The Judaisers were not wrong, however, in that they were Jews. They were male. They were freemen. They were wrong, however, in the ultimate relevance of these facts to the matter of their own righteousness.

However, this topic burrows far deeper into the theological and doctrinal realms than mere social justice and racial equality. In the verses that follow, the first 7 verses of Galatians 4, Paul goes on to describe exactly what sort of equal playing field "we"--both Jews and Gentiles--are all on. Paul describes all of God's sons as once being children, and as children, likened to slaves. Under the guide of masters, children are held prisoner to the most basic of rules--such as the Law.

But Christ, born of a woman under the Law, redeemed us. The language is very reminiscent of Exodus 13, where firstborn sons belong to God and must be killed, that is unless redeemed by the blood of a spotless lamb. So, then, having been redeemed in similar fashion we are spared from death and reinstated our "full rights" as sons--nay, even heirs, as if to say firstborn sons. As a deposit of this inheritance--since, after all, we are sons--God sent the Spirit of His Son.

So, up to this point you may be thinking that all this amount to the very familiar doctrine of the atonement. Where does all that "burrowing far deeper into the theological and doctrinal realms" come from? Well, ask yourself this. In the description Paul gives in this text, is there ever a moment when we are not children, even before we are redeemed and given full rights as sons? As Paul teaches his readers the right view of their humble beginnings with God, he is sure to remind them that God foreknew them and redeemed them with purpose.

Moreover, the spirit of the sonship is not just a deposit. He is not just sent to help us live as heirs. He is not just sent to give us special powers and supernatural abilities as God's children. No, it is the Spirit Himself who actually cries "abba, Father." The Spirit is not sent to those who believe, it is sent to those to believe.

So, who do you think you are? Are you the religiously pious overly confident in your own righteousness. Are you the spiritually insightful one who found God and pursued Him with all your might? Are you the loving soul mimicking Christ as you try to bring Heaven to earth? Or, are you the child, born a child of God, redeemed by His son, and even given the very Spirit by which you cry out to your Father?

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Friday, June 19, 2009

He Stinketh: My Thoughts on Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis

A bit harsh, I know, but the joke was too easy. I'm the type of guy that cannot resist an open opportunity at humor. He left himself wide open for it, though. If you've ever read his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith you would undoubtedly remember the sappy application drawn from Martha's comment on her four-day dead brother Lazarus, "He stinketh" (Luke 11:39 KJV). Bell's reaction to this two-word phrase is uncomfortable at best. By uncomfortable, I don't mean theologically awry, I mean that to read it made me feel so awkward just hearing his words in my head that I would have preferred to get a wet kiss from my great aunt than to continue on in the chapter. What "stinketh" in you, Rob Bell? Let's start with your exegesis and go from there.

But, as I mentioned, it's more the humor afforded by the situation that I'm enthralled with, not necessarily a hatred of the book. I have, in fact, a love-hate relationship with this book and with Rob Bell's theology. I have enjoyed his communication style, his illustrative ability, and many of the contextual insight's he's offered, which often came as just tangents rather than main points. Although, given the "hate" side which I'm about to describe, I do intend to check his sources before holding to tightly to the facts he's presented.

So, that said, would I recommend this book to others? To be honest, probably not. So, is Nick just jumping on the bandwagon with all the other staunch traditionalists and defenders of orthodox doctrine? I hope not, but I have to ask... what's so wrong with orthodoxy? If you've read with interest Velvet Elvis and came away with a sentiment of disgust for the "old" way of the reformers and for the guard dogs of doctrine in conservative academia today--then you've proven my point. That being the likely reaction of readers is precisely why I would not recommend this book.

Bell seems to introduce a notion that our theology and doctrine are ever changing, evolving, and being reinvented by each generation into something better and more applicable to life. It's a notion that, by the way, wreaks of open theism and a distinctly Darwinian understanding of progression.

As evidence for his views, Bell offers Jesus. Who else? In His sermon on the mount, He repeatedly said "You have heard it said... but I tell you..." repealing the traditions and--according to Bell--evolving theology. The conclusion, then, is that we are to likewise be "binding and loosing," as he calls it, in an ever-changing exploration of theology.

The failure point of this conclusion is that Jesus was not taking part of a linear process of morphing theology. He was opening blind eyes to see anew the beauty and truth in the dry, old scriptures of such practitioners of orthodoxy as Moses and David, which their teachers and pharisees had so ignorantly missed. Jesus was not spurring on some evolutionary process by which we improve our relationship with God, He was rectifying a wrong understanding of God with timeless scripture penned by men long forgotten.

What I caution readers of Bell and other emergent leaders like him is this: to accept these teachers' charge to "re-examine" scripture and take a fresh approach to theology is indeed encouraged... so long as you don't begin with the demand that this "fresh" exploration cannot possibly lead to the same conclusions that it once led Edwards, or Calvin, or Augustine, or Paul. It is pure arrogance, born of Darwinian mindset, that tells us we are at a pinnacle of truth today which was unattainable in generations past.

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