philosophy science theology

answers, questions & tensions

My few posts on this blog touching on epistemology are a drop in the ocean of literature on the topic, the majority of which I’ll almost certainly never know about, let alone read.  But allow little wee me to suggest that the wisdom of human experience tells us that any proper pursuit of knowledge should be accompanied by all three of the following: answers, questions and tensions.  The opposite way of saying this is that as long as we retain our position as finite observers and non-omniscient know-ers, we must not have only answers, only questions or only tensions.

I reckon this is the case for all kinds of knowledge.  Scientific knowledge of the natural world has all three.  Every answer and natural discovery opens up new questions and fields of natural research.  Science both closes and opens gaps in knowledge, so don’t listen to anyone who talks as if we’ve figured out how the entire universe works from top to bottom.  Personal knowledge of other persons has them too.  Does one every completely know their mate or partner or friend?  The more one thinks, speaks and acts as if they do, the worse mate, partner or friend they will be.  Even theological knowledge of God, which dares to speak words about the Ultimate (only because of its conviction that the Ultimate has first spoken to us), remains a discipline that has real questions.  Don’t listen to any preacher who speaks of God as though they’ve got him easily boxed up and packaged.

When it comes to knowledge and know-ers, sometimes the knowledge claimed says something about that which is known – the melon might actually be a bit browned compared to other melons.  But it can also say something (or everything) about the one doing the knowing – the melon might only appear browned because the viewer forgot she was wearing sunglasses.  Each type of know-er will have their strengths, but strengths become weaknesses if not balanced by the other kinds of know-ers.

The mistake common to ‘answers’ type (or ‘black and white’) people is to be so intent on finding answers that they pushing away questions or not marrying up one answer with another, so they need the question-asking and tension-finding type people to humble and grow them.

The mistake common to ‘question’ type (or ‘grey’) people is to be so focussed on questioning everything that they ignore the answers and tensions that might be right before their eyes, so they need the answer-giving, and tension-finding types to reign in their advocacy to various devils.

The mistake common to ‘tensions’ type (or ‘both/and’) people, which I count myself to be within, is to be so familiar with finding tension and paradox that they fail to acknowledge times when it just might be either/or, or a different both/and than they currently hold to, so they need the answer-giving and question-asking types to disturb and re-frame the tensions they have grown (possibly too?) comfortable with.

bible christianity ethics theology

both-and, again…

This photo (found on Facebook) reflects a false, either/or view of Christian spirituality.

It assumes that a) respecting, serving, growing and happiness of ‘you’ and b) respecting, serving, growing and happiness of ‘God’ are in direct and total contradiction.  To quote Hannah Moore from the film ‘Amazing Grace’, “we humbly suggest you can do both.”

I suspect that the person making these ‘corrections’ to the original photo probably meant well, and I agree that a ‘humanism’ that defines itself as being over-and-against (or otherwise independent of) God is counter to Scripture and the Gospel.  But I deny that loving yourself is in tension with loving God or others.  Indeed, based on Christ’s epitomisation of the entire Law (i.e. Mark 12:29-31), I’m inclined to believe that Love of God, others and self are inseparable.

bible christianity theology

participative redemption

This post was inspired by a good discussion-slash-debate about Wesley’s doctrine of “entire sanctification” with my good friend and accountability partner Frank Ritchie.

Wesley had a simple ‘Ordo Salutis’ (order of salvation): justification > sanctification > glorification.  It is often said that we ‘have been saved’ (justified), ‘are being saved’ (sanctified), and ‘will be saved’ (glorified).  Simple enough.  But despite my respect for Wesley (I love his Quadrilateral for sources of theology), his doctrine of ‘entire sanctification’ seems (to my mind) to be positing at best a kind of second-tier sanctification, or at worst a kind of strange quasi-glorification-in-the-present.  If Wesley is merely intending to describe a state of increased commitment to the sanctifying process, he should have just used that language instead of calling it ‘entire’, which is just another word for ‘complete’, total, ‘perfect’ or full – which is only proper to glorification, not sanctification.

But in addition to being anachronistic, it also seems to place too much emphasis on human participation.  Stated in Arminian-friendly terms, I think Scripture affirms both human and divine elements in the salvation process, but at the same time want to frame it all within the singular sovereignty of God.  Stated in Calvinism-friendly terms, I think Scripture affirms that the entire salvation process is framed in the singular sovereignty of God, but also affirms both human and divine elements in that process.  For example, here’s how I understand Justification, Sanctification and Glorification.

Justification is the work of God, declaring one to be ‘just’ not on the basis of human ‘works’ (good or of course evil), but rather on the basis of divine grace, which becomes effective through the human participation in the aforementioned work of God, by placing their faith/’trust’ (itself a ‘gift of God’) in the person and work of Christ.

Sanctification is the work of God, conforming one more into the ‘saintly’ (meaning ‘holy’ from the Latin ‘sancte’) image of Christ progressively during their lifetime, which involves human participation (‘working out’ salvation) with aforementioned work of God the Holy Spirit (who is ‘at work in’ us to will and to do).

Glorification is the work of God, perfecting and completing one into the image of Christ through the final resurrection from the dead, which (it perhaps not stretching language too far) involves human participation in the sense that we will be somehow rewarded for our works.

Of the three, sanctification appears (perhaps wrongly) to be the one where the human is most involved.  And of course, a rather large discussion of the human and divine elements of both could and should be had.  But I will content myself to make the observation that this ‘ordo salutis’ preserves both the freedom of the individual and the redemptive sovereignty of God.  To use language proper to the discussion, it is both synergistic (by work ‘with’; human with divine) and monergistic (by ‘one’ work; solely divine).

How so?  Well, firstly, without the human elements of trusting Christ’s work (justification) and working with Christ’s Spirit (sanctification), it would be very hard (it seems) to preserve any sense of human participation (synergism) in the redemptive process, which is no longer a process but a moment of transition at glorification which would seem to deny the freedom of the individual.  Secondly, without the divine elements of grace (justification) and resurrection (glorification), it would be in danger of being ‘monergistic’ in the sense of being entirely according to human work.

In justification, the human responds to and thus participates with the grace of God with faith, but both grace and faith are themselves gifts of God.  Human freedom within divine sovereignty.

In sanctification, the human works alongside and thus participates with the Spirit of God with obedience, but both the Spirit and the ability to work and participate are themselves gifts of God.  Human freedom within divine sovereignty.

In glorification, the human is rewarded ‘according to their deeds’ and thus participates with the judgment of God with joy, but both the reward according to works, and the ability to do those works to are themselves gifts of God.  Human freedom within divine sovereignty.

I don’t know a term or prefix that we could attach to ‘ergism’ that would equate to a singular (‘mono’) sovereign work, which nonetheless enables and involves a free human response of working ‘with’ (‘syn’), but someone else might!

culture ethics politics

rights and responsibilities

Three recent events, a complaint about a sermon, a movie about Margaret Thatcher and a FB conversation about gun laws, have me reflecting on the tendencies of ‘left-wingers’ and ‘right-wingers’.  Both left and right folk will express concern for both ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, but at different times.

On the topic of social welfare:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the poor/unemployed
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the poor/unemployed

On the topic of gun laws:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of gun owners
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of gun ownership/use

On the topic of war:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of all humans to have peace
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of defending peace

On the topic of abortion:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the woman
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the man and woman

On the topic of ‘the environment’:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of individuals and businesses
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of individuals and businesses

In all of these scenarios, I am interested in embracing the tension between BOTH rights AND responsibilities.  I’m interested in BOTH short-term practicalities, AND long-term wisdom.

I’m interested in social policy that is both generous and sustainable – that avoids the extremes of too much or too little assistance, which (ironically) both end up cementing the poor in their poverty.

I’m interested in gun laws that are both practical and wise – that avoid the foolish extremes of taking guns away or assuming that no regulation is needed at all – both of which will end up causing harm.

I’m interested in a military policy that is both prepared to use force, and seeks to be accountable to human rights – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic and passive pacifism on one hand, and a short-sighted/arrogant agression on the other.

I’m interested in an abortion policy that is committed to the quality and quantity of life for both the pre-born human and the mother (and father, family…) – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic, legislate-heaven-to-earth, fantasy on one hand, and a careless, inhumane, abortion-as-contraception nightmare on the other.

I’m interested in environmental policy that uses both legislation and education to motivate people and businesses to care for creation – avoiding the extremes of avoidance and assumptions that all is OK on one hand, and aggressive, undemocratic pushing through of eco-laws on the other.

christianity science

hoof it to church

“Darwinists are not necessarily hoofed and horned monsters, but are occasionally of pacific habits, and may even be detected in the act of going to church.” (Leslie Stephen, ‘Darwinism and Divinity’ in Essays on Freethinking and Plainspeaking, 1873).