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Entries in Theological Foundations (6)


Easter with Eschatology

It's crunch time at school. It's unfortunate that the end of the semester is running into Easter, because I'm sure most students at my school are feeling the pressure, and sometimes, that distracts us from what's happening around us.

In my systematic theology class this week, I've been immersed in eschatology. It is intereting to be looking at the culmination of God's plan and the end of the age while being in the middle of Easter. And yet, it is rather fitting in some ways. The death and resurrection of Christ is what allows the end to be what it is promised for those who believe. Revelation 21:1-4 says:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth pased awy, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he will dwell anong them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself with be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.

We can't have what is depicted here apart from what happens on Good Friday. So, while it seems out of sync to be studying eschatology during Easter, it is a reminder of what it ultimately bought: our entrance into a new heaven and a new earth.

Today, at Out of the Ordinary, Becky is writing about the death of Jesus. It was just what I needed this morning. It reminds me of what was done for me so that I may partake of the new heaven and the new earth.


Getting over eschatophobia

For the last two weeks of my Systematic Theology class, we're looking at eschatology. I am waiting to have all of my questions answered, and my position solidified. That is definitely tongue-in-cheek. During a discussion in a class on Augustine last semester, Dr. Haykin said it took him seven years to arrive at a certain view on eschatology. In the past few years, I've given it precious little thought.

One thing we looked at first was the reality of extremes. There is "eschatomania," where eschatological views are the sum of one's theology; everything revolves around it. Then there are those who hold to "eschatophobia:" they're afraid of even talking about it, because of the difficulty surrounding the doctrine. I can understand that apprehension. I appreciated the comment from my textbook:

In some cases eschatophobia is a reaction against those who have a definite interpretation of all prophetic material in the Bible, and identify every significant event in history with some biblical prediction. Not wanting to be equated with this rather sensationallist approach to eschatology, some preachers and teachers avoid discussion of the subject altogether.

I understand that sentiment of looking at the end times and the tendency to assign an eschatological significance to every news story that comes along. My concern with this came to a head a number of years ago when some of the young people in my church, having been exposed to dispensational teaching all of their lives, came to the conclusion that Tony Blair, who was then Prime Minister, was the antichrist. 

I think I have had a case of eschataphobia these past few years.

Many years ago, in my first year at the University of Waterloo, I attended a Bible study. I had been a Christian for less than a year. I remember I was shocked that the leader of the study didn't appear to share the views that I had been taught. Note the significant phrase, "that I had been taught." I had not come to these views on my own. I was a very young believer, so it was not surprising. It's all part of the process of growing in our faith. About fifteen years ago, while homeschooling, I was shocked to hear that some Christians don't believe there will be a rapture. My church places a huge importance on that teaching, and I was not sure what to think. So, I really didn't think much at all.

And now in these last two weeks (which is surely not enough time) I must look at it. And I've decided that it's not all that scary after all. I am not sure where I will land. I think I need to give it a lot more consideration than a few days. The lesson in all of this is that we must sort through these matters on our own. And we have to be intellectually honest enough to admit when opposing views challenge us. I feel quite comfortable following the example of Dr. Haykin, and giving myself a little time.


Exam Review: Beware of contemporary theologies

My final exam in theological foundations is on Thursday. I am reviewing the 690 pages of text reading as well as the 50 pages of lecture outlines. Thankfully, Dr. Fowler prepared us well by having a weekly quiz, so that I'm not drawing a complete blank as I go back.

One of the chapters we looked at discussed the methodology of theology. Erickson recounted some of the changes in contemporary theology. For example, there are no more theolgical "giants" like there once were. We don't have a lot of Augustines, Aquinases, or Calvins these days. The explosion of information has narrowed the focus of theology so that most theologians are "experts" in one particular area rather than being conversant in a larger range of study.

Erickson gave some warnings about aligning ourselves too closely with contemporary theologies. He pointed out that the love of popularity in other areas has infiltrated theological circles so that we have scholars drawing large audiences before there is any longevity in their teaching. He said:

. . . beware of too close an identification with any current mood in culture. The rapid changes in theologies are but a reflectioon of the rapid changes in culture in general. In times of such rapid changes, it is probably wise not to attempt too close a fit between theology and the world in which it is expressed . . . it is perhaps prudent at the present time to take a step back toward the enduring form of Christian truth, and away from an ultracontemporary statement of it.

. . . the result of unreserved commitment to another person's system of thought is that one becomes a disciple in the worse sense of that term, merely repeating what has been learned from the master. Creative and independent thinking ceases.

I was particularly struck by that second sentiment. I remember hearing D.A. Carson at a conference say that latching on to one or two teachers is a bad thing, but once one has looked at many, he is on the road to learning. We do like our little groups, and I can see how the rise of what is known as "tribalism" in Christian circles has become an issue. I think it's alive and well. The desire for independence in thinking isn't promoted as much.

Onward and upward. I'm hoping to get a lot covered today.


The theological spiral

I had my first class yesterday in Theological Foundations. I am really going to like it. The prof has a very dry wit, which I appreciate. He's also a seasoned teacher; at 70 years of age, he has been doing this for a while. 

Yesterday, in addition to being introduced to one another and the subject matter, we discussed some of the objections to studying theology as well as devising a method for doing theology. Some of the objections were:

"The Bible is enough -- I don't need theology."

"Theology is impractical -- give me something life-related."

"The diversity of opinion among theologians shows that firm conclsions are impossible anyway."

"Doctrine divides, but experience unites."

"Theology is incomprehensible."

I've heard all of those objections, but most frequently the first one. Of course, we discussed the objections to those statements. 

One of the things I most appreciated about our time together yesterday was the reminder for intellectual humility. We really don't know it all, and while truth is not changing, we as humans are, and our reception of it may look different. On our course, notes, there was an interesting passage about the theological spiral. I thought this was interesting in light of Grant Osborne's book The Hermeneutical Spiral. I like the image of a spiral to discuss learning:

The theological spiral continues: we come to doctrinal conclusions based on our reading of the biblical texts, then this doctrinal perspective informs our reading of biblical texts, but at some point we may notice that we are continually explaining away the texts, which then leads to a revised or clarified doctrinal position, and that new perspective informs our reading of the texts . . . . 

Our readings of Scripture are always reforming and growing. It doesn't mean, however, that we never land on a particular position; rather, we are humble enough to entertain the prospect that we don't know it all.

I was also very grateful for the discussion of looking at the historical development of doctrine. We were reminded that we were not the first people to attempt to evaluate doctrine and express theology. One of the things I continue to see is how much I don't know. I am regularly confronted with instances of being asked to think about different implications, and it's good to be challenged.


The sense of gasp

In the introductory lecture in the series "Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies," Derek Thomas first provided a list of distinctives of good theology. He narrows this discussion further by talking about what is Reformed theology.

Thomas recognizes that there are misunderstandings about what Reformed really means. There are people in my life who think Reformed means nothing other than infant baptism and particular redemption. Thomas lists the distinctives of Reformed theology:

  1. Authority of Scripture
  2. Sovereignty of God
  3. The Majesty of God
  4. Invincibility of Grace
  5. The Christian Life
  6. Third use of the Law
  7. Relationship Between Kingdom of God and Kingdom of the World
  8. The Church/Preaching

I won't take the time to provide details, but I do want to mention what he said in the context of The Majesty of God. When he defined it, he used words like awe, incomprehensible, answerable to no one. He also used a phrase: "a sense of gasp."

Imagine Isaiah in Isaiah 6, before the throne of God, watching the seraphim, hearing their cry: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory!"

Imagine him as the foundations of the thresholds shook and the voice called out amid the smoke. What is Isaiah's response? "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"

Do you think he might have gasped a little? 

This is why I love to hear theology expounded, and to read it myself: the sense of gasp.  The more I study theology, the more I study Scripture and see God revealed in its pages, and the more I amazed I am. I may not be given a view of God like Isaiah, but I have something he didn't have: the entire revelation of God. Do you ever put down your bible, or a book, or finish a sermon, and feel like Isaiah? Woe is me?

Thomas also quoted Herman Bavinck: "Mystery is the vital element of dogmatics."

This is not mystery that we must unravel, but mystery that is revealed to us. We won't understand everything, but he will reveal what we need to know of his majesty. God is not a pet to be domesticated. He's not a genie meant to serve our every whim. This majesty doesn't make him untouchable, for we have free access to him in Christ. But the majesty of God reminds us who he is and who we are not.