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Posts Tagged ‘Augustine’

I have, over the past couple years, had some exposure to Open Theists.  To be fair I have never read their books or heard their speeches.  My friends who are interested in converting to Open Theism tell me their understanding of the theology.  My two main concerns are these: first, that the reason Open Theism is attractive is because God as described by the Bible is unattractive and so unacceptable to them; and second, that while Open Theists may find some verses that support their theory, their theory disregards and occasionally contradicts other passages of Scripture.  So before you convert to Open Theism, don’t you think you should be very familiar with the whole Bible, even those obscure God-revealing passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ecclesiastes and Acts (I’ve started a list) that point to God’s sovereignty and comprehensive omniscience? Conveniently, God did not set us in the world interpreting the Bible – or even books about the Bible – by ourselves.  So even if I am not acquainted with a relevant passage of Scripture, it is likely that one of my concerned and involved friends will be.  I appreciate that.

In fact, in every case I can remember where my friends found it necessary to point out where the Bible contradicted my ideas, I came away respecting them much more, willing to listen to anything they have to say much more, and considerably humbler in my own handling of the topics of God and the Bible.  General observation would declare that I have a ways to go in the field of humility, so I am welcoming further interference by God’s Word-wielding friends.  That is one of the reasons Open Theism has become a fixture of tension-perspective in my studying.  My friends have been led by their investigation of the theory into bringing up parts of the Bible and God’s character that are rarely examined, parts I find comfortable to ignore.

Anyway, the other month someone mentioned NT Wright, and in the back of my mind I remembered reading that his theology was weird, but that was before I’d ever really heard of Open Theism, and something said maybe NT Wright was one of the original Open Theists.  I Googled his name and Open Theism and not much came up, so I was wrong, but then I was wondering what his deal was.

Two weeks ago a friend mentioned he was reading an article by NT Wright about the authority of Scripture.  Wow.  It’s so hard to explain that these are all connected in my mind, these topics, but trust me.  I am, as far as the “five points” go, a Calvinist.  And I discovered when I admitted I was a Calvinist that I had been a Calvinist all along.  Because Calvinists are those people who believe that God is smarter, wiser, and better than we are, so they submit to Him.  Submitting to Him is usually manifest, to these intellectual theologians, by submitting to the written Word of God, the “inerrant Scriptures”.  Sola Scriptura is the Latin phrase for one of the (again, five) pillars of the reformation.  Anyway, Calvinists almost always subscribe to Sola Scriptura (except for the CJ Mahaney, Sovereign Grace crowd) and I am a Calvinist, and Open Theists don’t agree with the Five Points much at all, so NT Wright arguing against the authority of Scripture is associated with Open Theism.  There.

Anyway, I’m interested in the “sola” part of Scriptura, having run around a bit with that Sovereign Grace crowd but having depended my whole life on the revelation of God being complete in the Bible.  So I went over to NT Wright’s article myself (online for free) and read it. Obviously most of the theologians I read would be skeptical of a Christian leader who sidesteps the authority of Scripture, so maybe, I thought, that was the questionable thing I had heard about him years ago.  The article is long, transcribed from a speech, but I skimmed and paid more attention to interesting parts.  Essentially his thesis is that the Bible was not written to be a law, so it is not set to be our authority.

Mostly the Bible is narrative, accounts of God’s ways, of God’s character.  The Bible is true, but how authoritative is it that once upon a time a prophet cured poisoned water by throwing flour in it?  Is it more authoritative that once upon a time a prophet told the Church to collect money weekly to have it ready to give to the poor when the messengers came for it?  Or is it authoritative that the apostles commanded the Roman Christians to submit to governing authorities?  Are the promises for us?  Are the commands?  Instructions?  Reasoning?  And, my goodness! Have you ever noticed how the apostles interpreted Scripture!  We don’t do it like them at all!

While still pondering these things, I was babysitting for a friend who is ordained in the Presbyterian Church.  Thus his house is full of Calvin, Sproul, Piper, and Grudem.  He is also an inner-city church planter, so he has numerous books that are borderline Emergent, books about “missional” living and “incarnational” ministry, the messy life books like Blue Like Jazz and semi-mystical works of early Christian authors like Augustine.  Every time I am at their house, I scan their bookshelves.  On this occasion, after the two little boys were in bed I picked up an issue of RC Sproul’s Tabletalk Magazine to read in the quiet evening ahead.  The subject was NT Wright’s doctrine of justification.  I discovered that this was the subject on which I had heard warnings against NT Wright.  For the purpose of this blog, I will not here describe or refute the “new Paul” ideas NT Wright has proposed.  (Piper wrote a whole book on it. Download as PDF at this link.)  Because while I was edified by Reformed teachers talking about justification, substitutionary atonement, etc. the most interesting article was the last one.

The final article in that edition of Tabletalk Magazine was not directly related to NT Wright at all.  It was a review, a recommendation for John Newton’s “On Controversy,” a letter of Christian wisdom written to a friend about to confront another man about a matter of disagreement.  I have been learning a lot lately about meekness and confrontation and debate, challenged to listen more and pray more and bite my tongue more.  This article reaffirmed that and pushed me farther.  There remains value in discussion, in communicating disagreement or different perspectives, especially when there is mutual respect and interest not to be seen as the winner, the correct one, but in having everyone know the truth.  We should not pretend unity by avoiding difficult subjects.  In fact we ought to have more in mind than mere consensus.

I have a friend who is a poet, who is burdened about the division in the Church and about the way Christians have boiled the Word of God down to a list of rules.  He wrote a poem about that and much more that I want to finish with, but you have to go read it at his blog.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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“I have also acted to protect the lives of Americans by my adherence to the doctrine of “just war.” This doctrine, as articulated by Augustine, suggested that war must only be waged as a last resort— for a discernible moral and public good, with the right intentions, vetted through established legal authorities (a constitutionally required declaration of the Congress), and with a likely probability of success.”
 ~ Ron Paul, July 2007

Earlier in the year, when the primary season was still going for Republicans, I read an approbation of Ron Paul, and heard a defense of his apparent isolationism, citing his adherence to Augustine’s doctrine of “just war.”  I know that Ron Paul wants American forces out of Iraq immediately.  Aside from his economic policy, this is his second biggest campaign pillar.  Having already decided that his take on the US Constitution and federal government are impossible to implement (and also incompatible with the intentions of the founding fathers), I didn’t research Augustine’s position any further until I read another quote from Augustine in The Preacher and the Presidents

The way Christians embraced Ron Paul because he follows Augustine disturbed me, because as Christians, we are not bound to agree with or follow the teaching of any religious leader.  I follow God and His inspired word, the Bible.  Augustine, being human, can make mistakes. 

Augustine’s ‘Just War’ entry on Wikipedia says, “Firstly, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power. Secondly, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. Thirdly, love must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.” 

Wikipedia has an entire page about ‘Just War,’ which summarizes the doctrine’s points and history. 

I disagree with maintaining Augustine’s position for the following reasons:

  1. Augustine also lived a long time ago, when the threat of war, though very great, was not so distant and imminent at once.  What I’m saying is that enemies today can launch a rocket and wipe out a city, at least, in our country, before we have any chance of retaliation – all from thousands of miles away.  In Augustine’s day, and army had to march into another country, wreak its havoc, and then wait for the next move.  Retaliation was more accessible and potentially less harmful.  (If we’re attacked with a nuclear weapon today and choose to repay our damages in kind, a lot more damage has been done on both sides than if we had dropped normal bombs on the weapons facilities the enemy was building to use against us.) 
  2. There were no spy satellites or photographs, no sound recording.  Whereas today we can have concrete proof of the capabilities and intentions of our enemies, when the doctrine of just war was devised, the only way to know for sure what someone could or would do to you was to watch them do it. 
  3. Augustine’s just war seems to rest on the philosophy of retaliation rather than self-defense.  Here in America, we have always believed in self-defense.  That’s more or less the story of our founding (“When in the course of human events…”).  If the sword is coming down on your head, can you not raise your own to prevent it?  A step back from that, if a professed enemy is charging you with his sword point-first, can you do an Indiana Jones, point your gun at him and shoot?  I think you can.  I think that’s still self-defense.  And just. 
  4. Finally, Augustine’s sense of justice may be questionable.  He is often quoted as having said, “An unjust law is no law at all.”  Considering one of his tenets of a just war is that it be legally authorized, I wonder if his position has any foundation at all.  Either he must stand up under his own wisdom, defining justice himself and ensuring that all laws and wars are in accordance with his preference, or (which is ultimately the same thing) he has to use circular reasoning. 

Please don’t misconstrue: I’m not trying to attack any candidate or defend any one decision in history.  I am not telling you about any event that has happened.  Only as a matter of principle, of philosophy, am I warning against an outdated view of the world.  Perhaps if Augustine’s doctrines were grounded in eternal truth, rather than temporal and temporary fact, he would have remained relevant.  When Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, that did not rest on technology. 

For further consideration, should a Christian support even a just war?  Or did Jesus not command all our conduct to be based in love and mercy – a turn-the-other-cheek approach to world affairs?  My friend Brian at The Philosophy of Time Travel is wrestling, if I understand it correctly, with this question, and has compiled a list of resources on his post, To Everything there is a Season.  Take a look. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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