Pentecost questions

Yesterday was Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church.  In celebration and contemplation of the day and the new season of the church year that we will be in for awhile, I would like to pose a couple questions:

(1)  At the first Pentecost, those upon whom the Holy Spirit descended spoke in tongues.  But why is this associated with the charismatic practice of glossolalia?  Wasn’t what the disciples did the opposite of that?  The whole point is that their languages were understood.   People from every nation, speaking many different languages, were all hearing the apostles preach “the mighty works of God” in their own language.  Isn’t Pentecost fulfilled even today as people all over the world are hearing the apostolic testimony recorded in the Word of God, which has been translated into so many of the world’s languages?

Speaking in  tongues that no one can understand is referred to in the epistles to the Corinthians, so I’m not totally discounting the phenomenon.  But I’m just saying that the Pentecost account is describing something very different.

(2)  Some theological traditions think of the Holy Spirit as coming to us from the outside (for example, through God’s Word); others as coming from the inside (inspiring us through inner voices or impulses).  And yet both perspectives speak of the Holy Spirit guiding us.  Is that just a matter of reading the Bible to see what the Holy Spirit tells us?  Or do you think–and I’m especially addressing those who stress the external work of the Holy Spirit–that He guides us in other ways?  If so, how does that work?  For those of you who stress the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, how can you discern what inner senses are  from the Spirit and what isn’t?

I don’t particularly want to provoke a bitter theological debate about the charismatic movement.  I’d just like to hear from different people on how they perceive the Holy Spirit in their lives.

10,000 Adams and Eves

Thus far the main controversy between Christianity and mainline scientists has been over evolution.  Many Christians have tried to resolve that dilemma by embracing “theistic evolution,” the notion that God did create every living thing, but that He used evolution to do it.  (Never mind that Darwin’s theory of evolution specifically insists on the randomness of mutations and of natural selection.  Believing that evolution is directed is beyond the pale of actual Darwinism and is just another form of Intelligent Design, despite what the theistic evolutionists claim.)  Anyway, theistic evolutionists often still affirmed the historical existence of some kind of Adam and Eve, the first humans however they evolved, who, in some way, fell from their paradisal state and transmitted original sin to their descendants, who were redeemed by Christ, the Second Adam.

But now a new front in the battle has opened up, which, according to Christianity Today, is raising new questions and opening up a new level of controversy.  According to recent genetic evidence, the human race did not begin with two people.  Rather, it must have begun with a population of around 10,000.  Otherwise, according to the geneticists, there is no way to account for the genetic diversity that we can currently observe.  See The Search for the Historical Adam | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

It’s hard to imagine how 10,000 creatures could, at the same, evolve into the same species.  I can’t help but wonder where they came from.  Who were their parents?  (Can anyone explain how the geneticists answer that?)

An accompanying editorial in Christianity Today says that without an historical Adam and Eve, the whole Gospel comes apart, since there would be no original sin and no “Second Adam” who could redeem us.  Does that take it too far?   Could “Adam,” which means literally “man,” refer to human beings in a collective way, all of whom have re-enacted the Fall in their own lives,whereupon Christ, in His Incarnation, did indeed become “man” and thus “Adam,” to redeem the human race.  Some are arguing that a story can be true in its meaning, even if it does not recount literal historical events.  Should Christians be seeking an interpretation like that?  Or reject the genetic findings?  Or just not jump to conclusions, since scientific findings are never complete and are themselves always being re-interpreted?

At any rate, I suppose this evidence should bother me or shake my faith in the Bible, but, strangely, it does not.  How about you?

Nature & Grace in “The Tree of Life”

The movie that took the top prize at Cannes is entitled The Tree of Life.  Most critics laud the beauty of its scenes from nature but were puzzled by it all.  But Rev. Robert Barron, priest and theology professor at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, sees the Book of Job–which is directly referenced in the film–as the key.  His review in the Chicago Tribune is worth reading for his own reflections on that Book and on the way it resolves the Problem of Evil:

What could possibly tie together the following scenes: a flock of birds cavorting in breathtakingly harmonious patterns, the meeting of flowing lava and crashing waves, a larger dinosaur dominating a smaller one, a young boy throwing a baseball through a window just because he is forbidden to do so, a depressed middle-aged man sitting in a coldly modernistic office building, and a meteor crashing into the primordial earth?

If I am at all correct in my reading of Terrence Malick’s meditative film, “The Tree of Life,” in which those and many other seemingly disparate scenes occur, what ties them together is that they are all ingredient in the plan and purpose of God. I realize how pretentious that can sound, but this is a filmmaker (and a film) with very grand ambitions indeed.

The movie opens with a quotation from the book of Job: “where were you when I founded the earth…while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38: 4,7)?

These are some of the first lines of the magnificent speech that God delivers to Job, the righteous man who had been beset with every imaginable suffering and who had challenged God to explain himself.

Malick’s film opens with a couple (played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), who have been informed that their 19 year old son has died and who are experiencing a Job-like confusion and indignation: how could God have done this to them and to their son?

God’s answer to Job is puzzling, for it does not directly address the matter at hand; instead, it unfolds as a grand tour of the cosmos, in all of its strangeness, beauty, and complexity, culminating with a detailed description of the virtues of Leviathan (probably a whale) and Behemoth (perhaps a hippopotamus).

Malick’s film mimics the speech of God in the measure that it takes us away from the suffering couple to a visually stunning sequence of scenes depicting dynamics within the cosmos, from the birth of stars and the splitting of cells to the demise of the dinosaurs and the ballet-like movements of a jellyfish swimming toward the surface of the ocean.

The author of the book of Job and Terrence Malick both are suggesting that the “answer” to this most painful and searching of questions is found through the widest possible broadening of one’s perspective, so as to see what God is up to everywhere in his creation.

On Malick’s telling, the universe—from its primordial beginnings to now—is marked by a play of two forces, nature and grace. Nature is strong, conflictual, hard-edged, and violent; whereas grace is gentle, loving, and forgiving. Both are constantly in play, constantly in tension with one another, and somehow both are part of God’s design.

One of the most striking images in the film–the meeting of lava and ocean wave that I mentioned above—is a particularly apt symbol of the way that nature and grace come together to produce something beautiful.

Having made his literally “cosmic” point, Malick sharpens his focus and returns in flashback to the young couple now just beginning their family. The father, played with convincing understatement by Pitt, is a decent man who loves his children, but he is, first and foremost, a disciplinarian, eager to make his boys tough and self-reliant. He is the embodiment of the principle of nature.

The mother, delicately evoked by Chastain, is the avatar of grace. She is playful with her children, exuberant, lively, sensitive, quick to forgive.

It would be quite wrong, I think, to read them simply as evil and good, respectively. Both parents awaken something positive and negative in their children; each calls out to the other for completion. . . .

What I find particularly fascinating—and it brings us to the theological heart of the film—is that both nature and grace are grounded in God and are part of his providential design. The brutal and the gentle; the violent and the peaceful; the competitive and the cooperative come together in a way that produces the rough order that we see in the cosmos and in human affairs. Thomas Aquinas, very much influenced by the book of Job, said that God is a “wise provider” who permits certain evils in order to bring about a greater good in the totality of his creation, and I think Terrence Malick is making much the same point in “Tree of Life.”

Perhaps just a word in closing about the title. In the third chapter of Genesis, we hear that Adam and Eve, after having eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, were expelled from the Garden of Eden and denied access to the Tree of Life.

What prevented them from participating in life, in other words, was the attempt to gain a knowledge of the play of good and evil that belongs to God alone. Grasping at perfect knowledge, they fell.

A basic message of the Bible is that, in the play of good and evil, in the tension between nature and grace, God is up to something beautiful, though we are unable to grasp it totally. The way to life, therefore, is a path of surrender and acceptance. I think that “Tree of Life” is communicating this same difficult but vital lesson.

via The Seeker: Tree of Life glorifies God.

This sounds like a movie (which has not yet been broadly released) that is more of a Christian work of art than the typical problem+conversion+happy ending film that generally defines the genre.   The nature/grace dichotomy, which Thomists are so fond of, finds an interesting application here.   Missing, though, is the true high point of Job:  “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Christless Christianity

On Sunday, Pastor Douthwaite at our church gave one of the best comments on the Harold Camping fiasco.  From his sermon on John 14:

Thomas and Philip didn’t quite understand all that Jesus was saying. They ask questions. Their knowledge isn’t quite right or complete. But don’t mock them or think less of them for this – for who among us understands all this? Especially the mystery of the Trinity which Jesus here is teaching. But give Thomas and Philip credit for this – though they didn’t fully understand, they looked to Jesus for the answers. They clung to Him tenaciously.

That’s not only a good example for us, it is what a certain Mr. Harold Camping missed this weekend. I’m certain that you’ve heard of him. The media has paid an unusual amount of attention to him and his prediction that the end of the world was going to begin yesterday. I don’t want to go into the details of all that he said. But you know what he missed? Christ. Not that he’s not a Christian. I’m not saying that. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But in all his study of the Bible, he looked for numbers and clues and codes and all sorts of things . . . but he missed Christ. And that’s what the Scriptures are all about. They’re not about hidden clues, secret teachings, mysterious numbers, and being able to calculate days and times. They’re all about Jesus. About his death and resurrection. That dying and rising with Jesus is the truth, and the way to eternal life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

Camping is not alone in spinning a Christless Christianity.  I have read “Christian” books going into all kinds of profound theology and teachings about Christian living that did not so much as mention Christ.  I have heard sermons, even evangelistic sermons, that left out Christ.   I have heard expositions of the Bible that said nothing about Christ.  I have heard personal testimonies and evangelistic witnesses that leave Jesus out of the picture.  I have looked at lots of Sunday school curriculum and “Christian” children’s books that are pure moralism, without a shred of Jesus and His gospel.  Since the root of “Christianity” is, you know, “Christ,” how is this possible?  Don’t you have a different religion if you leave Jesus out of your Christianity?

P.S.:  This is the reason to discuss Camping and not just to ignore him, as some of you were recommending:  To discern how his particular spirit may be manifesting itself in other contexts closer to home.   That’s the theme of this post and the one below.

Who was left behind?

I’m writing this on Saturday morning, but I’ve set it up so that the post appears on Monday.  So I MIGHT be raptured by the end of the day.  I don’t know yet.  Right now I’m either in Heaven or Texas.

So who is left?  We need to hear from you.  Are the Lutherans all gone?  Where are the Calvinists?  Did the Baptists get taken?  Are the non-denominational Christians gone, or did they need to belong to a denomination after all?

We need to hear from the individuals who are always getting in theological arguments so that we can see if you have been right or not.  Roll call:  Grace?  Porcell?  Todd?  DonS?

Does anyone know if Mr. Camping is still here?  If so, what is he saying?  Just because we might not have noticed large groups of people disappearing doesn’t mean the rapture didn’t happen.  Maybe the gate is so narrow that only a handful of true Christians exist.  Maybe some homeless people, some New Guinea tribesmen, and some persecuted Christian Arabs–individuals no one would notice–got raptured.

So now let’s get ready for the Tribulation!  And the End of the World on October 21!

What do we learn from all of this?

Harold Camping speaks

I was afraid Harold Camping would disappear, making it look like he, at least, was raptured on Saturday, even if he was the only one.  But he showed up and made a statement:

“It has been a really tough weekend,” said Harold Camping, the 89-year-old fundamentalist radio preacher who convinced hundreds of his followers that the rapture would occur on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Massive earthquakes would strike, he said. Believers would ascend to heaven and the rest would be left to wander a godforsaken planet until Oct. 21, when Camping promised a fiery end to the world.

But today, almost 18 hours after he thought he’d be in Heaven, there was Camping, “flabbergasted” in Alameda, wearing tan slacks, a tucked-in polo shirt and a light jacket.

Birds chirped. A gentle breeze blew. Across the street, neighbors focused on their yard work and the latest neighborhood gossip.

“I’m looking for answers,” Camping said, adding that meant frequent prayer and consultations with friends.

“But now I have nothing else to say,” he said, closing the door to his home. “I’ll be back to work Monday and will say more then.”

via Harold Camping “flabbergasted” world didn’t end.

As I expected, the failure of the Rapture to take place when Camping predicted has been the occasion for all kinds of snarky comments in the media and the blogosphere making fun of Christians.  Never mind that Camping in one of his other doctrines that he has made up repudiates ALL churches, saying that this is no longer the dispensation of the church and that all churches have become apostate.   By Biblical standards, which labels even one prophecy that does not come true as the mark of a false prophet, no one should believe anything this guy says (Deuteronomy 13).

When we first blogged about this prophecy over a year ago, some of his followers chimed in and defended him.   I’d love to hear from them now.  I’d like to ask, do you still believe in his teachings now?  On what grounds?


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