Thursday, September 25

All Grown Up...Now What?

So now that I'm all graduated from college and working, I get home from my job and think, "this is it? I went to school for four years to go to work, go back to my apartment, and recover from work watching long-winded news updates about long-winded political candidates?" Hmm. In college I had a routine, which was pretty much class homework, and more homework, and hanging out with people when we all felt like it. But I had a goal, and that was to do well in my classes and graduate.  Now that there isn't the perpetual cloud of homework hanging over my head to fill my time and the laundry list of tests on my calander, life feels a little bit...well...directionless. And for some reason, I always feel like I have to be heading somewhere.
So I sat down to think of all the potential things I could do with myself.

a.) Get a dog and find a husband

Well, not very original. 2/3 of my graduating class has done that already. And really, I don't think getting married should be a goal in and of itself; it should be something I do because I happen to find someone who I want to share my life with.

b.) Write a book

Don't have the life experience yet. Maybe I could write about being a new nurse, but frankly I don't want to think about nursing when I'm not at work. And it would either sound idealistic and sappy or cynical and unfeeling. There's always the God memoirs, but there have been a flood of those lately. And there's the little problem of never having published anything. Moving on...

c.) Apply to seminary

Then the question becomes, "which seminary?" I'm all over the ecclesiastical map. And there's the little problem of having exactly one theology class on my transcript. I love studying theology, but I don't think I have to skill to teach it, and I don't think full-time ministry would be my cup of tea either. I would get another degree, graduate with a pile of debt and have to get...a nursing job. :)

d.) Go to graduate school for nursing

Besides the fact that I think I'm going to puke if I have to write one more care plan, this might be an option down the road. I think I would like being a family nurse practitioner...more autonomy, less hospital craziness. I could work in a clinic for the underprivilaged and feel like I was helping the community.

e.) Transfer to the OR, learn surgical nursing, and then travel around with one of those charity agencies that does surgeries in foreign countries to fix cleft palletes, etc.

Could work...except that OR jobs are hard to come by because they actually have semi-normal hours and all the senior nurses want them. And I think you actually have to PAY to go on one of those mercy-ship type things. And there's the fact that I want to see the world about as much as I want to help that bad?

f.) Buy a ticket to Europe, travel around staying in youth hostals, learn another language, and we'll see if I ever come back.

Too chicken. ;)

For now it's my current option:

g.) hang around in my hometown, work a job I don't mind but don't want forever, audit a class I would rather be taking for real, hang out with friends who are mostly still in college and pretend I'm still in college, facebook fellow '08 graduates at least once a week to tell them I miss them, take a random belly-dancing class with my coworkers, watch election coverage even though it makes me want to run for the hills, and dream about doing big things...someday.

Thursday, August 28

Life, man...whew!

Well, it seems as though I haven't been a very good blogger this summer. It's not that there's not a lot to say, it's just that I've been too exhausted to come up with creative ways of saying it.

Let's see...I'm finally a real nurse...passed the boards, registered with the state of Michigan, blah, blah, blah. It's starting to sink in about how much responsibility I have, and it's making me wonder if I was in my right mind with I signed on for this. But I'm muddling through. Hopefully I can get a year or so of experience in and find a job that's more suited to my interests. Right now I work on an LTACH (long-term acute care) unit. I'm seeing a good variety of patients and learning a lot, but it's a pretty draining population to be dealing with. My people are often frustrated because they're in the hospital because of something that went wrong at another hospital, or they've been hospitalized for months. Most of them die or go to long-term care. I'd rather work in an outpatient cosmetic surgery center...give people boob jobs and make them happy! But I can't complain, really. I'm learning a lot and my coworkers have been really gracious and helpful. And then there's the patient or two that takes my hand and says, "Thank you for all you did for me." And right then it seems worth it. 

And of course there's all my theological pondering. Lately I've been going to an Eastern Orthodox church. Long story, but I was introduced through a class that I took in January. The beauty of the divine liturgy is striking, I appreciate Eastern perspective on a lot of theological issues such as the Atonement, but I am just not convinced at this point that being Orthodox would be so much better than being Christian Reformed. I miss my CRC church a lot sometimes. So I'm "auditing" Orthodox catechism since a few of my friends are going through it as well. Weird? Yep, I know. I just keep thinking...maybe I can appreciate the beauty of Orthodoxy without actually making the leap. Maybe there's something to sticking with the communion that I was baptized into, and educated in, for that matter.

In other news, my roommate and I are moving to another apartment this weekend. I feel like this makes my college to real life transition official, for some reason. 

Well, I'm going to try and get back into blogging now that I'm not studying for boards and going to EKG class. Hopefully I can post some more specific reflections on all of the above.

Saturday, May 24

Sarah Coakley on Liturgy

This past week, my friend Joyce and I decided to be nerds and attend the Philosophy and Liturgy conference at my (now) alma mater Calvin College. It was definitely more philosophical jargon than I'm used to, and the irony of a bunch of talking heads sitting around talking about how great embodiment was definitely wasn't lost on me. Anyway, one lecture I thought was absolutely brilliant (as well as understandable!) was Sarah Coakley's talk, "Beyond ‘Belief’: Liturgy and the Cognitive Apprehension of God." Here are my notes, even though they hardly begin to do justice to her paper.
-part of the reason secular Europe lacks faith is because of "untaught bodies," not just "untaught minds."
-liturgy in of itself conveys a particular type of knowledge/truth

1. Religious Experience: problems with using this as a framework for knowing God
-insists on direct/unmediated perception of God
-relies on sporadic, self-authenticating experiences
-interprets mystical experiences apart from wider asetic narratives
-God= "other" to be percieved, not means of all perception.

2. Insights from feminist epistemology
-questions "perception at a distance," such as the classic philosophical examples of percieving a chair in the middle of the room.
-insists that we can't ignore the significance of personal/communal interactions
-need to take identity of embodied knower into account
-primary relationships (such as a mother and infant) are a basis for knowing later on, and provide a basis for reflection on knowing God.-->"fundamental and ongoing knowledge by aquaintance." 

3. Liturgical knowledge of God

-litergy irreducibly conveys theoloical truth/intimacy with God.
-litergical practices are socially mediated, bodily enacted, and give cognitive access to pers
onal knowledge of God.
-Gregory of Nyssa: through liturgy, we train the physical senses and begin to sense as Christ senses. (the "spiritual senses" tradition, beginning with Origen)
-liturgical knowing=sensual acuity, affective longing
-engaging in liturgical practice causes us to assent to the basic beliefs of the Christian faith in different ways over time, the goal being "full integration of embodied selfhood into the life of Christ."
-liturgy engages us in trasformation toward an eschatological goal.
-eschatological moments where time stands still are moments where we remind ourselves corporately of where we are going.

I thought what she said made a lot of sense, especially the part about the problem with trying to percieve God as an "other" from a distance, and not as "the means of all perception," especially knowing what I know about psychology and human development.  When babies are born, they "know" their mother by her voice, even though they are not yet self-aware and cannot consciously understand who their mother is.  They become securely or insecurely attached based on whether or not their parents respond to them consistently. This forms a personality disposition that will stay with them throughout their entire lives, all before they can consciously apprehend who their parents are. I wonder if the writer of 1 Peter was subconsciously thinking about liturgy when he wrote, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation."

Monday, May 19

I did it!

College graduate...has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 14

I don't get art.

Can someone please explain why in heaven's name this painting sold for $33.6 million?

Friday, May 2

Ridiculousness Overheard

This same girl has managed to make my jaw drop two class periods in a row now:

Friday we're talking about the environment and its effect on health and the discussion moves to the ecological crisis and what we can do to. She turns around and says to me, "I don't even know why we're talking about this. God is going to destroy the earth anyway."

And today we were talking about the Reformed Worldview and how our vocation can be used in the kingdom of God:

"I don't know why we're learning this either. Advancing the kingdom of God? Come on! I mean, it's not like there's anything we can do. The world just keeps getting worse and worse and it's just heading towards total chaos..."

It was a great wake-up call to remember that people actually think like this. What depressing theology! I'm not for a "salvation by works" per se, but I still think that salvation takes work. I don't think that the new creation would be nearly as exciting if God hadn't let us take part in it. If we're made in his image to problem-solve, be creative, and glorify him with our talents, it only makes sense that he would give us some work to do, rather than tell us to hang tight until the world ends in a fiery mess.

Saturday, April 19


I didn't choose to attend the Festival of Faith and Writing this year, but I did decide to go to one lecture by Kathleen Norris, author of one of my favorite books, The Cloister Walk. It was a pleasant read, but it probably wouldn't have made my favorites list if it hadn't been for one small chapter entitled "Acedia." In it, Norris quotes a 4th century desert monk named Evagrius who describes the experience of the "Noonday Demon" making time drag on endlessly and seem totally meaningless. Acedia is ultimately a life-denying condition, causing one not to care and not to feel. I bookmarked this chapter, referred to it often, and even referenced it in a post last year. I attended the lecture this morning hoping that Norris would address this spiritual condition that I have been so fascinated...and afflicted by.

To my surprise...and delight...Norris's next book is going to be all about this very topic and her lecture contained a lot of reflecting on it. In a life of routine and drudgery, the mantra of so many people is, "who cares?" "Why am I doing this? What's the point?" She quoted this poem by Phillip Larkin:

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

It's freaky if you think about it long enough. We spend our lives breathing, eating, and excreting in 24-hour cycles, and for what? I think that the "and for what" part is acedia. Where's the meaning in the monotony? There's one part of our liturgy that goes, "The faithfulness of our great Provider gives sense to our days and hope to our years." Norris suggests, and I want to tinker with this idea a little, that a liturgical approach to life is an anecdote to acedia. The two counterpoints to acedia that Norris identifies, story-telling and zeal, are both rich in the liturgical life of the church.

Storytelling, said Norris, is the most significant way in which we humans create meaning in our lives, citing a quote that humans are "hairy, story-telling bipeds." I used to beg my aunts to tell me stories about my dad, my teachers told my parents stories about me, and so on. We get together as a family and my grandpa regales us with tales of struggling through the Depression and the "Great Tornado of 1954." And every week we gather to recount the story of Christ through the Word, the Lord's Supper, and the Apostle's Creed. Whether it's around the dinner table or the alter, the liturgical act of storytelling affirms our communal identity.

Zeal, I think, is connected to eschatology and the mission of the church. Our liturgy says, "In the joy of his resurrection, and in the hope of his coming again, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices." The words "zeal" and "zealot" have pretty bad connotations, but the truth is, people can't live without a cause. As Christians, our cause should be the glory of God and the salvation of the world. With our eyes looking to the day when Christ will make all things new, we set about the task of ending injustice and inhumanity, doing our best to peel back the darkness in whatever corner we find ourselves.

I think, too, that the basic idea of liturgy helps to combat acedia and this feeling of hopelessness. In a liturgy, every act means something; it points beyond itself. We pass the peace to the people sitting around us as we're supposed to share God's peace with the people in our everyday lives. We bring monetary offerings to the front as we're supposed to sacrifice our entire lives to God. Setting my alarm and going to bed the other night, I thought about how it was a liturgical act of surrender and trust. God keeps my body functioning and the earth whirling through space even as I'm dead to the world for (preferably) eight hours. Every act in the liturgy and in our lives means something because it's part of our larger story, and part of God's.

I wish I could develop these ideas a little further, but in general I lack the time and the vocabulary. I'm sure Kathleen Norris will do a great job, though.

Thursday, April 10

Is it cheaper just to let people get sick?

In nursing school they ram prevention down our throats as a way of lowering sky high health care costs. But this article in the Washington Post suggests that maybe prevention isn't cheaper after all. Hmm...

Monday, March 24

Odds 'n Ends

Happy (late) Easter! I came to the same conclusion this year that I have the past few years: if the Resurrection really happened, then, shit!—that’s some good news! It’s hard to explain, but for the bulk of my life I celebrated Easter like I was waiting for the tooth fairy. Nice, but no reality. It’s easy to start reading the “After the Sabbath, at dawn, on the first day of the week…” passage like “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” I have to take a step back and remind myself that the Resurrection was an actual, historical event and it represents real eschatological hope. I guess that’s obvious, but how often do we really let it sink in?

Rob Bell had a two-page spread in our local paper, the GR Press. Aside from the fact that I find this feature slightly creepy, I really enjoyed the article. As a former Mars Hill attendee, I was reminded why I have a mostly love-hate relationship with the guy. I can’t deny that my five years at Mars contributed positively to my spiritual growth. Rob has an ingenious way of tackling issues that are on peoples’ minds and hearts in a biblically, philosophically, and theologically sound way while still making the message understandable. I really think he has his finger on the current pulse of disillusionment and search for meaning. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat suffering by pulling out wimpy theodicies and he certainly doesn’t shy away from questioning God.

But from where I’m sitting, the personality cult thing just got to be too much. Mars Hill is Rob’s brainchild, and the culture of the place is what it is because of him. From the very first week it was defined by Rob-isms…calling services “gatherings” instead of services, calling the congregation “all you folks in the gray chairs,” and after we moved into the mall, making endless jokes about how cool it was that we were a church in a mall with a punk rock-looking preacher. People come just to hear Rob, and you can’t really blame them, because when he’s not there it’s pretty dull. Basically I think his strength ended up being his weakness. He is so passionate about Christ, but with his creativity and strong personality everything became too much about him. I’ll take the liturgy and the sacraments over “trampoline” Christianity and velvet Elvis ripping, thank you very much.

I don’t talk about nursing that much on this blog, mostly because I’ve got lots of real-life people to commiserate with. But the latest is that I’m done with my Leadership rotation in Outpatient OR, which translates to no longer having to scrape my car off at five in the morning during the second-snowiest winter ever in Michigan. Hooray! And I have a pretty promising interview in one OR after graduation. Wow, that was exciting. That would be why I don’t blog about nursing.


Friday, February 29

Jesus loves you, but his Dad thinks you're a...

I stole this from Halden's's seriously funny!

Monday, February 25

22...So Far, So Good!

I just turned 22 and what a birthday it was!

I got back from my Modern Theology night class to find this taped on my door (A quote from Bridget Jones, of course):

My apartment was full of lots of Bridget balloons (I think this one is the, "I like you very much, just as you are" quote):
and a table full of candles. Thanks, guys!
That weekend we headed to Chicago for my all-time favorite musical, Wicked! Laura likes to take pictures of herself while she's driving.

They couldn't open the doors fast enough! The anticipation was killing me.EEeeeeeeeeee! :)

We spent way too much money on tee-shirts. :)

And then we finished off the weekend with some great Mexican food with Laura's mom and aunt.

Seriously, what can beat Bridget and Wicked? 22 is great so far.

Sunday, February 24

Saved from Clouds and Harps

I checked the Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank this morning and found that Kevin Corcoran had posted a link to a Time interview with NT Wright about his new book, Suprised by Hope. After reading the interview, I can't say how excited I am to read his book. Wright talks about how we got it wrong with the view of Heaven as some sort of ethereal, disembodied existence. I don't know about you, but I find this a colossal relief. The life everlasting had never much appealed to me until somebody explained the doctrine of the Trinity and life as participation in the love of God and I found out that Heaven was real and earthy and I would still be myself.
It was kind of funny, because in his sermon this morning Jack remarked, "I don't want to just exist forever, that would be hell!" We were created to live real communion.

Tuesday, February 12

The Resurrection and the Life

I thought this selection from Jack's sermon a couple weeks ago was particularly thought-provoking...just wanted to share. :)

You see, secularism, Christianity criticizes it not because it doesn’t sufficiently comfort people in this dying. It does it all too well. Christianity’s quarrel with this acceptance and normalizing of death is that it has turned God’s creation into a cosmic cemetery. It has simply eliminated God and accepted death, normalized it. And there is something so profound – so telling about the fact that the Prince of Peace, the Life, the Resurrection – seeing death, seeing grief – His heart shatters. He is deeply moved in spirit to see what the principalities of darkness and powers have done to God’s creation. We have a quarrel with death. Jesus is come not to ease our way into dying He has come to trample death to death.

Saturday, January 26

More Sympo Thoughts

John Witvliet had some great stuff to say today about liturgical theology. What I found the most helpful was a comment that he made at the end, saying that the biggest divide in worship today is not between traditional and contemporary, it's between worship that is expressive and worship that is formative. People who say we shouldn't say a prayer of confession unless we mean it, like really mean it, are people who think worship should be expressive of what we're already feeling. And then there are the folks who think that we should say the prayer of confession even when we don't feel like it so we can grow. He said in like five words what I've been trying to tell people about why I made the low-to-higher church hop. Liturgy has words for us to grow into.

The other workshop I really liked was David Rylersdaam's talk about children and the Lord's Supper. He gave a great presentation that was compelling and biblically and theologically sound. If kids are members of the covenant, why deny them participation in the Lord's Supper? I have to admit I remember being and feeling hurt and left out as the grown-ups passed the elements over my head and down the row. This is one thing the CRC should change pronto. The Eastern church has always communed children. In fact, in the case of two of my professor's children, their first solid food was Eucharist. Isn't that just beautiful?

So anyway, after coming from this workshop, I went to the closing Communion service. The Table liturgy included a Q&A session with a child and a pastor about what Communion was for and why we did it. It incidentally made me mad, because that is the format that is used during the Passover meal in the Jewish tradition. Traditionally, the youngest child asks the questions about what the meal means and then they celebrate Passover. What's the difference? In the Jewish tradition, the children, no matter how young, can participate. The CRC, however, does not commune its covenant children until they've made public profession of faith. So why act all kid-friendly when you're not going to commune most of them? This made me ornery enough that I felt that I shouldn't participate. But I don't want that to be my last word, because it really was a beautiful service. I loved the Taize chants, and there was also this really beautiful song from Ireland that brought tears to my eyes.

All in all, it was a good experience. I remembered again how much I love relating worship to the doctrine of the Trinity, I'm even more convinced that the CRC should commune kids, and I can't wait to read my Ken Bailey book. ;)

Thursday, January 24

Worship Symposium: Day 1

My first day at Worship Symposium started out with a seminar on lament by Michael Card and Calvin Seerveld. I don't know if it was my lack of coffee or what, but it was a little hard to follow. But from what I caught, I appreciated their insights. Calvin spent quite some time talking about the laments of vulnerable people; women who are raped and children who are abused. Sickness and disease is one thing, but the gross misuse of power just strips people of their humanity. Yup, something to lament all right. I think that they took the right tack by not trying to develop theodicies or justify why these things happen. They simply emphasized the fact that God became one of us and shared our pain and suffering. We need God to show up, and he came to us in the Incarnation, and he's coming again.

Next was the plenary by Dallas Willard. I had never heard of the guy, but apparently he's the biggest name here. He talked about weaving worship into the fabric of our lives. I was really tickled right off the bat because he emphasized the fact that we worship a triune God. I spent way too many years simply paying lip service to the Holy Trinity, but it's one of the richest doctrines in Christianity and it has huge implications for our understanding and worship of God. (For a superb treatment of this topic, see Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace by T.F. Torrence.) Part of his talk was about "praying without ceasing" and orienting ourselves to the worship of God in our everyday lives. He talked about one guy who wrote a book about trying to center himself on God minute-by-minute. I just got done reading a book about monastics on Mount Athos, so it immediately struck me that this was a very old idea. Many of the monks pray the Jesus Prayer constantly..."Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." They pray it hundreds of times a day, until it is internalized and their hearts "pray by themselves"(don't ask me how that works). We evangelicals are just beginning to get on board with some very ancient ideas.

I went to the Vespers service that was the piano and organ concert. It was one of the loveliest half-hours in recent memory. Maybe I'm just partial to the piano after playing it for so long. The combination of the two was so powerful. Hopefully I can go to their full-length concert.

I caught up with Joyce, who has been away in England, and I got to meet my blogosphere buddies Bob and Bethany in living color. I also got to eat dinner with three other people from the church I went to as a child, including my former pastor. I moved when I was ten and pretty much started all over again, so it was weird running into non-family members who know all my history. My pastor buried my dad and baptized me and my siblings, so those ties aren't easily forgotten. It is really fun to run into people after so long and compare notes. It'll be fun in Heaven when we can see our old friends, share our stories, and see how our lives affected each other.

The worship service in the FAC featured guests from China and Africa singing in their own languages. I couldn't help but get a little misty when we were singing "O, for a Thousand Tounges to Sing" in like five different languages. Maybe it was because I spent the majority of the day lamenting. That day when we all bow before God together can't come soon enough, but those eschatological snapshots we get every now and then pack a punch full of grace.

Tuesday, January 22

God, Glory, Love, and the Doctrine of Election

EDIT: Here is another great Trinitarian quote that speaks to the issue of the Trinity and ethics.

Last semester when we were talking about the doctrine of the Trinity, our prof. encouraged us to use the Trinitarian nature of God as a starting point for all the theological concepts we deal with. He demonstrated by talking about omnipotence and gracious use of power, and after class I decided to tackle a toughy: hell! "Ok," I thought, "we have a God who is eternally love within God's self...perfect self-giving and other-recieving love. How does God pre-ordaining the damned fit into this picture? Uhh...."

One common argument given to defend double-predestination is, "If it glorifies God, it must be ok!" So, what is God's nature and how is he glorified? As I was pondering and googling, I came across a couple quotes from John Piper and Karl Barth over at Der Evangelische Theologe that illustrate how two theologians explain the relationship between God's love and God's glory:

“God’s ultimate goal therefore is to preserve and display his inifinte and awesome greatness and worth, that is, his glory. God has many other goals in what he does. But none of them is more ultimate than this. They are all subordinate. God’s overwhelming passion is to exalt the value of his glory. To that end, he seeks to display it, to oppose those who belittle it, and to vindicate it from all contempt. It is clearly the uppermost reality in his affections. He loves his glory infinitely. This is the same as saying: he loves himself infinitely.”
“God’s loving is an end in itself. All the purposes that are willed and achieved in Him are contained and explained in this end, and therefore in this loving in itself and as such. For this loving is itself the blessing that it communicates to the loved…Certainly in loving us God wills His own glory and our salvation. But He does not love us because He wills this. He wills it for the sake of His love. God loves in realising these purposes. But God loves because He loves; because this act is His being, His essence and His nature. He loves without and before realising these purposes. He loves to eternity. Even in realising them, He loves because He loves.”

At the risk of oversimplification, it seems like what it comes down to is:

Piper: God loves his glory!
Barth: God's love is his glory!

I guess for Piper if God has some hidden purpose for damning people from the beginning of time, it's ok if it contributes to his glory. Barth, on the other hand, sees God's glory in his perfect love and forgiveness of all people. You can probably guess that I'm more partial to the second reading. I don't know...I feel like Piper's God has to somehow protect his reputation by only electing a select few. Why wouldn't God be just as glorified if he elected everybody? Piper doesn't really define God's glory; it's sort of this terrifying, hidden thing. I think Barth's view of God's glory is rooted in where God's glory is most fully revealed: the cross of Christ. His glory is not his ability to exercise power as he pleases, but humility and perfect, self-giving love.

But what do I know...I'm not a theologian. Thoughts?

Monday, January 21

Not Again!

This is the second time this sign has shown up on! These people need to get their act together and come to Worship Symposium.

Friday, January 18

"Lord, what must I do to be saved?"

The question of religious plurality and Christian exclusivity came up in class today. We were talking about how Eastern monastics do all sorts of funny levitating things because they're holy, and apparently holy people can do those sorts of things. And I said, "Do these sorts of things happen at Buddhist monasteries too?" And my professor said probably. So we talked about Christ and other religions for the next half-hour.

It's easy to draw clear lines and say, "If someone doesn't confess Christ, they're going to hell and that's it," but I think that experience and common sense should cause us to question this. There are tens of thousands of followers of other religions who live holy, self-sacrificing lives and an embarrassing amount of professing Christians who don't (myself included, most of the time). God's not going to say,"Gee Ghandi, thanks for all the good you did for my creation, but you're heading for eternal torment anyway while all these folks that created are going to enjoy my presence forever." It's an extreme example, but extreme examples help point out what happens when you take something that doesn't seem so ridiculous at first to its logical end. Moreover, drawing the line at those who explicitly confess Christ doesn't bode so well for babies, the developmentally disable, or the mentally ill--all groups that Christ would have compassion on!

As much as Pelagius makes me shudder, I think he might have been on to something, even though he took it a bit too far. When Jesus talked about salvation, didn't he always mention doing something? He told the rich man to sell everything he had and give to the poor, and he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. If someone doesn't believe in Christ but they're following the 2nd Greatest Commandment, shouldn't that count for something? I think it does, and the Bible does hint at it. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, some of the sheep were completely flabbergasted to hear Christ say, "What you did unto the least of these brothers of mine, you did unto me."

In the Eastern tradition, they talk about salvation as participation in the life of God. I think this concept helps when thinking about other religions, because maybe it is possible to participate in the life of God even if you aren't aware of the fullness of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Think about Forrest Gump. He played college football even though he had absolutely no clue how to play football. All he saw was the sign, "Run, Forrest, Run!" and he ran. His coaches and teammates knew the big picture and they orchestrated the plays. God is big and he's in the business of loving and redeeming his entire creation. Maybe some people don't have the whole picture, but as Romans 1 say, "God has set eternity in the hearts of men." Maybe if they follow the signs pointing to God, they're headed in the right direction. I don't think God will overlook the fact that they're helping us win the game. Maybe there will be a lot of people in Heaven like Forrest, oblivious to the fact that they're about to meet the president and downing bottle after bottle of Dr. Pepper. Indeed, maybe Christians will be even more accountable for the plays that didn't go so well.

Monday, January 14

The Inescapable Love of God: Considering Universal Salvation

If you grew up in any way like me, the words “universal” and “salvation” in the same sentence automatically raise a number of red flags. “But God is just, he has to punish sin,” “we deserve hell,” “Jesus talked about hell,” and “what about the lake of fire in Revelation?” But also, if you’re anything like me, all this eternal damnation business makes you wonder: “how can a loving God send people to suffer eternal torment?” “What about people who have never heard of Christ?” “Does grace really win the day if a large percentage of humanity is lost forever?” This certainly is a sticky bunch of questions. However, some reading I have been doing lately has forced me to consider that maybe the case isn’t as open-and-shut as I had once thought. Consider the following.

Precedence in Church History

The idea of universal salvation was not a new one for the early church. Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius the desert monk, and St. Isaac the Syrian were all early Christian writers and proponents of the hope of universal salvation. Origen was condemmed at the Fifth Ecumenical council, and while most people assume it implied a condemnation of his universalism, it should be noted that he held other strange and un-orthodox beliefs such as the pre-existence of souls and a pre-cosmic fall. His student, Gregory of Nyssa, abandoned Origen’s ideas about the pre-existence, but was still an outspoken universalist. Not only was his teaching never condemned, he remains a beloved saint in the Eastern Orthodox church to this day.

The Demands of Justice?

Much of the debate surrounding universalism centers on the idea that wrongdoing demands punishment and therefore eternal conscious torment is just as a punishment for our sins. Bishop Kallistos Ware outlines Origen’s analysis of punishment in his piece, “Dare we hope for the salvation of all?” The first is the retributive argument: those who have done wrong should suffer in proportion to their wrongdoing (hence the “eye-for-eye” formulation in Leviticus). But, Christ rejects this principle in the Sermon on the Mount. “If we humans are forbidden by Christ to exact retribution in this way from our fellow humans,” writes Ware, “how much more should we refrain from attributing vindictive and retributive behavior to God. It is blasphemous to assert that the Holy Trinity is vengeful.” Not to mention that eternal hell would be exacting an infinite punishment for a finite offense.

The second view of punishment is as a deterrent. The threat of hell-fire is the best way to hold us back from wrongdoing. But wouldn’t a threat of bad, but not eternal, punishment work just as well as a deterrent? In any case, it appears that the threat of eternal hell-fire is working badly as a deterrent. One only needs to read a couple testimonies from disgruntled fundamentalists to see that this teaching many times has the opposite effect!

The third view Origen outlines is the reformative understanding of punishment, which he considers the only view to be morally acceptable. It is a punishment that is not retaliatory, but remedial. Parents punish their children to change them for the better, states put criminals in prison (for the most part) to rehabilitate them. Just as a doctor may sometimes have to subject us to painful treatment and amputate a limb, so God is the physician of our souls.

Hell: a Refiner’s Fire

If we are to subscribe to this third vision of justice, how do we apply it to hell? Richard Beck, a professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University suggests that hell will be us exposed to the natural consequences of our behavior, like in the parable of the prodigal son. Once we get tired of living in the muck and are completely ashamed of ourselves, we will come home, no coercion required. St. Issac the Syrian calls hell, “the scourge of love…the contrition that comes from love is the harsh torment.” God will expose us to the consequences of our behavior, but he will always give us the opportunity to repent. C.S. Lewis espoused a view similar to this in The Great Divorce and remarked that hell would be locked “from the inside.”

In my opinion, this is a much more morally coherent way of viewing hell and God’s punishment. In theology we are faced with a challenge: to reconcile a God who is eternal self-giving love within himself with a God who has been wronged and demands justice. Traditionally, Christians have reconciled these two things by comparing God to a parent. Yes, he is angry, but the more important thing is that he loves his child. However, this analogy seems to break down when we approach the subject of punishment. We instinctively know that any parent who would beat their child for stealing a candy bar should NOT be a parent, but we still think it’s ok for God to torture people FOREVER for something they did in their 80-something years on earth. Moreover, what parent could be happy if any of their children were lost forever? William Barclay makes this point in his essay, "I am a Convinced Universalist."

"If God was no more than a King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies were agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father - he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God."

Lost in Translation

What then, may you ask, of those pesky passages that talk about eternal punishment? There are many passages in the Bible that deserve a better treatment than what I can give them, obviously, but I do have one brief translation note. The Greek word aionios, which we translate “eternal” in fact means simply “age-long.” It could be eternity, or just the next age or two. Who knows. 

The Triumph of Grace

For as little as I know about hermeneutics, I know it is quite the balancing act. You have two passages that seem to contradict each other, so you weigh them each in context and decide which one you’re going to go with. My point is, that for as many passages that talk about God’s apparent wrath, there are a wealth of passages that speak of God’s mercy and his desire that all people be saved.

Ezekiel 33:11 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die?
1 Timothy 2:4 [God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
1 John 4:9-10 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
John 3:17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 12:32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.
1Corinthians 15:21-28 Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive... The last enemy to be destroyed is death... so that God may be all in all.
Romans 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
2Corinthians 5:15 Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
2Corinthians 5:19 God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.
Ephesians 1:10 [God will] bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 1John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

While it would be foolish to underestimate the reality of punishment and consequences for our sins, I think it would be even more tragic to limit the scope of God’s grace. We should hope for the salvation of all, and pray for the salvation of all. While it is true that Universalism has been the minority position throughout Christian history, it doesn't mean we should discount it. (May I remind you, dear reader, that women were one precious step above swine for most of human history according to majority opinion.) Especially as Reformed Christians, we should be examining our teachings to see if they square with the biblical witness and God's revelation in Christ. Am I completely biblically and theologically convinced that God will save everyone? No. But I wouldn’t put it past him. ;)

And I leave you with this poem by Anne Bronte:

And, oh! there lives within my heart
A hope, long nursed by me;
(And, should its cheering ray depart,
How dark my soul would be!)

That as in Adam all have died,
In Christ shall all men live;
And ever round his throne abide,
Eternal praise to give.

That even the wicked shall at last
Be fitted for the skies;
And, when their dreadful doom is past,
To life and light arise.

I ask not, how remote the day,
Nor what the sinners' woe,
Before their dross is purged away;
Enough for me, to know

That when the cup of wrath is drained,
The metal purified,
They'll cling to what they once disdained,
And live by Him that died.

Universalism Links:

Could Hell be Redemptive?
The Fire and the Rose: Universalism in the Blogesphere
William Barclay: I am a Convinced Universalist
Universalism and the Bible

Saturday, January 12

What's Your Theological Worldview?

Geez, this Eastern Orthodoxy class has got me bouncing all over the theological map. :)

What's your theological worldview?
created with
You scored as Neo orthodox

You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Reformed Evangelical


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal






Monday, January 7

Why am I in church, anyway?

I had a conversation with my dad recently about church and liturgy that sort of caught me off-guard. The main gist of it was something like this:

Me: We celebrate the Lord's Supper every week at church because it is a proclamation of one of the central tenants of our faith.

Dad: Well, Rob is teaching us how to live out our faith.

By Rob he means Rob Bell, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church and the NOOMA series and by "live out" he means doing lots of social justicey things. I think that what my dad was saying without really saying it was, "what does going through a liturgy and celebrating the Lord's Supper matter if you don't care about other people?" I didn’t have a response right at that moment, but the discomfort has been percolating for a couple weeks and I realized that it comes down to one question: “What is church for?”

The way I’ve observed it during my forays into various facets of Protestentism it seems that church (services) are for one of three things:
1. Evangelization with theology-lite presentation of the gospel (“Seekers, come get coffee!”)
2. Rallying the troops (“Jeannie, why don’t you talk to us for a half-hour about the neighborhod children’s ministry?” Or worse yet: “Jesus wants you to succeed at your job and your marriage.”)
3. Proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the sacrament of the Eucharist.
4. Some combination of the above

It seems to me that my Dad and others are mostly concerned with #2…so now that we are Christians, what do we do about it? It’s not an illegitimate question; in fact it’s a good one and an important one. What I’m wondering is whether it is a question that is, ironically, distracting us from the gospel itself. Do we spend so much time talking about what we should do that we forget about what Christ has done? Do we spend more time thinking about what God wants us to do rather than who God is?

I would say yes. By the time I got to my Christian Theology class sophmore year of college I was starving for the basics. Hearing the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation articulated and receiving the Lord’s Supper every week infused my understanding of God with a richness I didn’t know was there. I’m studying Eastern Orthodoxy right now, and the other day our class took a look at the earliest description of Christian liturgy from Justin Martyr. It was very much centered around the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist. The liturgy wasn’t an evangelistic tool, it was for Christians! It wasn’t for strategizing or self-congratulations, it was for worship!

When I heard this, my remaining evangelical sensibilities sounded the alarm bells. “What good is ‘going through the motions’ if you’re not reaching other people?” First of all, as my professor pointed out, these were the people who evangelized the world…and they didn’t have “seeker services!”Second, isn’t right doctrine foundational to right practice? We forgive because we have been forgiven, we love because we have been loved, and what better reminder of that love is there than the Eucharist? Mostly, I think that Evangelicalism in America is underestimating the simple power of the Gospel. We would do well to quit with all the moralizing and start by proclaiming the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. If not, everything will just become about social justice, anti-racism, and good parenting with Christ tacked onto the end.