Archive for August, 2013

Grape Juice, Holiness, and the Creation of a Christian Culture

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

Welch's_logoThere is a constant debate about the impact of Christianity upon the United States.

If the question is whether the United States is a Christian nation, then the answer must be no. There is no established religion in the United States or, at least, there has not been since Congregationalism lost its status in Massachusetts in 1833.

If, however, the question concerns the cultivation of a Christian culture in the United States, then there is little doubt of its existence.

Moreover, as a feature of discipleship, Christians should teach their children how much of what we take for granted stems from the impact of Christianity upon the United States.

As one example, take Welch’s Grape Juice. Read the rest of this entry »

Works Righteousness and Going Nuclear

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

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Protestants love to use the phrase “works righteousness” when describing various positions even though they disagree as to what it is and therefore what theological positions support it.

It’s one of those “going nuclear” phrases. Like pushing the red button, it is used to annihilate another position in a single move.

For example, my blog last week about penance got some reactions about it being another form of salvation by works. If you have to do something as part of your repentance then you’re working to gain favor.

There are several misconceptions here beginning with what happens in salvation. Read the rest of this entry »

From Pentecost to the Triune God

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 by Christopher Stephenson

StudebakerSteven M. Studebaker, From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6530-4. $34.00.

Steven M. Studebaker’s pneumatological trinitarian theology undertakes two basic tasks. First, he wishes to demonstrate the implications of pentecostal experience for the doctrine of the Trinity. In this respect, his work stands in continuity with Frank D. Macchia’s efforts to reestablish baptism in the Holy Spirit as the centerpiece of pentecostal theology. Second, Studebaker wants to make the biblical narrative’s witness to the Spirit a primary resource for the doctrine of the Trinity. His methodological move, then, is from pentecostal experience of the Spirit to biblical texts–to the triune God.

Studebaker’s driving theological principle is that in the Trinity “economic activity arises from immanent identity” (3). This indicates reciprocity between the Spirit’s work and the Spirit’s identity. Like many other theologians, he believes that the economic Trinity is the source of knowledge of God. Whereas they usually begin with Jesus Christ, however, Studebaker begins with the Holy Spirit, in part because he maintains that a proper Spirit christology implies that pneumatology conditions Christology.

Much of Studebaker’s thought is funded by the trinitarian theology of David M. Coffey, but this is not an uncritical reduplication of Coffey’s mutual love model of the Trinity. Studebaker does not simply offer a pentecostal deployment of Coffey’s trinitarian theology but an improvement of it. Most notably, Studebaker wisely inverts Coffey’s move from the immanent Trinity to the economic Trinity and bases his claims about the eternal divine persons on their activity within the economy of salvation. What Studebaker calls the liminal, constitutional, and consummative works of the Spirit in creation and redemption suggest that the Spirit plays a constitutive role in the immanent Trinity. The Holy Spirit completes the fellowship of the Triune God, but not simply as the mutual love between Father and Son hypostasized.

The common accusation that systematic theologians sometimes read historical theological texts with little care or precision will find no basis here. Studebaker—himself assistant professor of both systematic and historical theology (McMaster Divinity College)—easily moves back and forth between premodern and modern sources from Gregory of Nyssa to Jonathan Edwards to D. Lyle Dabney. One example of his careful reading comes in the third and most important chapter of the book, namely, his avoidance of the nearly pervasive caricature of Western trinitarian theology beginning with the one divine essence and Eastern trinitarian theology beginning with the distinction of the three divine persons. This foundation gives even surer footing to his legitimate criticisms of Western and Eastern models of the Trinity, one of the most poignant challenges to them since the first volume of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology. In fact, Pannenberg may deserve a little more direct engagement than Studebaker gives him in light of Pannenberg’s similar accomplishments.

Studebaker’s primary concern is that the traditional models do not exhibit the Holy Spirit’s constitution of the personal identities of the Father and the Son in the immanent Trinity, something that must be maintained since the Holy Spirit constitutes fellowship between Father and Son in the economy of salvation. The Spirit completes the economic work of redemption and completes the immanent fellowship of God. Of course, Studebaker does not reverse the relations of origin, but maintains that those relations do not exhaustively define the divine persons. Thus, in the immanent Trinity the Holy Spirit is not merely passive, and the Spirit’s identity is not merely derivative.

Before rounding out the volume with contributions to theology of religions and creation care, Studebaker offers equally insightful evaluations of evangelical and charismatic trinitarian theologies. His theology of religions furthers recent pentecostal discussions and develops an inclusivist account of the soteriological ends of those outside the church. His engagement with ecology provides the theoretical basis for viewing acts of creation care as spiritual disciplines.

This is constructive pentecostal theology at its best: bold, clear, in conversation with multiple Christian traditions, and thoroughly informed by the biblical witness without bypassing the dimensions of speculative theology frequently lacking in pentecostal theology. This book is one of the constructive highlights of the Pentecostal Manifestos series.

Penance, Evangelical Style

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

554px-Paris_psaulter_gr139_fol136vThe recent episode surrounding Sam Hinn’s confession of a four-year affair and his sudden restoration shows the pastoral necessities of some rite like penance. The brother of well-known televangelist Benny Hinn, Sam Hinn was the pastor of The Gathering Place in Sanford, FL (greater Orlando) when he issued a letter to his church of an indiscretion and resigned his position in January of this year. Since the church had no ties to any larger body, Hinn submitted to a process of restoration led by another Orlando pastor, Ron Johnson.

Evidently, Hinn did not want to complete the two-year process Ron Johnson laid out for him and he was recently “re-ordained” by a group of bishops, including another televangelist Bishop Mark Chironna. Johnson has now publicly denounced Sam Hinn in Charisma and the Orlando Sentinel for stopping the process after only three months.

While there are many issues that these events raise, such as accountability for non-denominational church leaders or the use of the media as a mechanism of church discipline, what interests me most is Johnson’s description of the process of restoration. It  is simply the sacrament of penance or reconciliation by another name and it illustrates the need for some rite within evangelicalism. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Pedagogies: Renewing Theological Education Today

Monday, August 12th, 2013 by Amos Yong

pedagogyI have recently finished a five-week, six-country whirlwind trip around the world. It was an honor to have preached in small and mega-churches during my trip, a privilege to have lectured in diverse venues ranging from Bible institute and established college settings to scholarly conference environments, and a blessing to have had the chance to renew old friendships while gaining many new ones. My travels have prompted reflection on many aspects of global renewal (my weekly thoughts from New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia/Singapore, Indonesia, and England can be found here). But as I return to my regular “day job” as dean of a theological school, I want to pause to briefly focus on theological education amidst the dynamics of contemporary globalization. Against this latter horizon, a number of considerations deserve mention. Read the rest of this entry »

Fasting and the Spiritual Life

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 by Diane Chandler

fastingbreaksthechainThroughout Christian history, fasting has been a spiritual discipline with a focus on seeking God.  Including medieval figures, others like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and Charles Finney engaged in the practice of fasting.  Rarely today in our Western consumer-driven culture, however, do we hear much about the practice and benefits of fasting.

Yet as we look into the pages of Scripture, we see multiple examples of those who abstained from food in order to seek God.  Moses fasted for 40 days atop Mount Sinai before the giving of the Law and again during another 40 days in repentance for Israel’s sin.  Esther called for a 3-day fast on her behalf in order to preserve her people in a spiritual emergency.  In repentance, David fasted after the death of his son.  Daniel and his three friends fasted for 10 days in order not to defile themselves by eating the Babylonian king’s food.  Later after reading Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, Daniel fasted for 21 days, repented for personal and national sin, and contended for the future of his nation.

Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights prior to beginning His ministry.  The prophetess Anna, who worshipped God daily in the temple with fasting and prayer, was able to see Jesus when his parents presented him in the temple.  This is to say nothing of Ezra, Nehemiah, Cornelius and Paul – each of whom fasted as a means to focus on God.

Reasons for fasting may vary:  (1) deepening intimacy with the Lord; (2) personal and/or corporate repentance, cleansing, and consecration; (3) divine guidance, empowerment, revelation, or deliverance; (4) intercession resulting from a specific burden, circumstance, or godly cause; (5) spiritual warfare and breakthrough for self or others; (6) God’s purposes for individuals and groups; and (7) local, national, and global concerns.  

Read the rest of this entry »