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Evolution and Faith?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:36 AM

I received an interesting article on intelligent design (or rather an argument against it and for evolution from a religious perspective) in my mailbox. This is rather unusual, so I thought I'd share it:

Advocates of American-style “intelligent design” (ID) have had a tough year. Their anti-evolution arguments have been soundly rejected by the scientific community, they lost spectacularly in a highly-publicised federal trial on the issue of ID in schools, and most recently the voters in Kansas rejected ID school board candidates in a statewide election. So they may surely be forgiven for hoping that Pope Benedict's discussions on evolution this month with his former students could bring some rare good news.

You can read the rest here. What strikes me on this, as it does elsewhere, is confusion on the term Intelligent Design. If God is the ultimate causation of evolution, what is that other than Intelligent Design? Perhaps I'm just being a stickler, but I think there are three major positions — Naturalistic Darwinian Evolution, Intelligent Design Evolution and Creationism — and blurring the latter two together just muddies the waters needlessly.

Regardless, the article is worth a read. Thoughts?

Karl Barth and Universalism

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:30 AM

So, does Barth say that all are saved? No. In fact, the patient reader will find on page 417, of the English translation, that Barth explicitly denies a traditional universalist position: insisting that all are saved impinges on God's Freedom just as much as insisting He should save any one person or none at all. If there is one thing that holds together Barth's theology it is that God is “the one who loves in freedom” (c.f.19, 95, 99). Of course, if he stopped here, one might naturally ask why anyone would think Barth a universalist. The problem is that Barth sees God's freedom as so overridingly important that he essentially takes an agnostic position on the issue. God, he says, can make the circle of “frontier crossings” — that circle of people who cross from the rejected to the elected — as wide or as narrow as He wishes (417). In His freedom, God can do whatever He wants.

What we see here is not an admittance of universalism. Instead, Barth is essentially rightly saying he does not know the mysterious will of God. How can we? We know that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that salvation requires spiritual rebirth, but just watching a group of Christians debate whether this or that person is “Christian” shows that we really don't know precisely the point at which one crosses into the Church Eternal. We know the rough outline, but questions such as what to do with “virtuous pagans” who never knew of the Gospel shows how mysterious salvation remains to us.

Like I said, Barth shifts the focus. He prods us. Why are we worrying about the litmus test of salvation? Jesus never told us to speculate about who or how many would be saved, he told us to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19-20). Instead of concentrating on the negative (rejection) we should exclusively concentrate on the “future faith” of those who do not now believe (295-96). As Bradley Hanson writes in reference to Luther's view, we ought to “focus on God's revealed intention that all should be saved” (Hanson 254).

Barth's view is best justified in his own words,
“Peculiar Christendom, whose most pressing problem seems to consist in this, that God's grace in this direction should be too free, that hell, instead of being amply populated, might one day perhaps be found empty.” (Short 149)

That is, Barth does not promote universalism but questions any overriding concern in the condemned as condemned. Admittedly, as Brown jokes in his book, Barth will never face a heresy execution for “espousing a doctrine of limited atonement,” but that still does not make him a Universalist (95). Instead, he takes a more radical, yet more orthodox, position by simply rejecting the church's overactive interest in restricting God's freedom in the matter. God has told us our job (to preach the Gospel) and as such, as John Keats says, that is “all [we] need to know.”

Works Cited
Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Vol. 2.2 Trans. G. W. Bromiley, J. C. Campbell, Iain Wilson, et. al. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957.

Brown, Robert McAfee. The Collect'd Writings of St. Hereticus. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964.

Hanson, Bradley C. Introduction to Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.

Short, Robert L. The Parables of Peanuts. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.


By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:19 AM

In 1999, my church first presented a plan to expand our building, a plan that would have been OK, but did not garner enough support to pass and fell by the way side. This led to a much better expansion project being designed, one that was passed in 2001, one we broke ground on in 2004 and one that was dedicated today.

While the object of a church isn't a cool building, I have to say this new project is really, really nice. We now have one main entrance that is a straight hallway that looks all the way down to the Narthex and straight through the sanctuary to the stained glass front of the church. We have a huge new multipurpose room ideal for our two annual church dinners and other special events, better office facilities and nicely remodeled old facilities that now look bright and cheerful. Thanks to the strict building code of Creve Coeur, the expansion also ties very nicely into the brick, buttressed design of the old part of the building.

I only did a few minor things to help with the project (some IT consulting and other minor stuff), but it still feels like a big, long project that finally has come to fruition by God's grace. How exciting!

Nein or Nature and Grace?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:53 AM

After my most recent post on Neo-Orthodoxy wherein I noted my reasons for leaning toward Neo-Orthodoxy over Fundamentalism (though many would probably still consider me a “fundie”), Eduardo provided a very nice response. He says a lot of good things, and I would say anyone interested in the subject should go read his post. Nevertheless, I wanted to provide a slightly different perspective on the three areas he critiques Karl Barth on, particularly, natural theology, universalism and higher criticism.

I'm going to start off with the easiest in today's entry. Natural theology. Eduardo says,

The strong emphasis on the centrality of the revelation of God in Christ causes Barth to deny all possibility of a natural theology, understood as theological thinking without recourse to a special revelation from God.


I fully concur with Barth when he explicitly denies any possibility of attaining true knowledge of God to that second-type of “natural theology”; but to go from that position to the claim that all natural and rational knowledge of God is impossible is, in my opinion, too much of a leap. Even the Reformers, for all their condemnation to the Scholastic natural theology, gave some place to rational reflection on God; only with the proviso, of course, that this reflection could not be normative for Christian life and doctrine, and totally superseded by special revelation.

I tend to think because Barth so vehemently attacks all of natural theology in Nein! (a book that begins with a chapter entitled “Angry Introduction,” no less), people have come to see Barth as anti-rational. However, he claims in his Dogmatics in Outline that belief is quite rational (23). This point, which I'll dwell on more in a series on Kierkegaard and Barth later this month, is essentially boiled down to this: it is rational for the believer to reflect on God, but that rational reflection ought to take place with regards to God's revealed self, not from something we might reason separately.

This really doesn't hurt the Christian cause because objective proofs of God all fail to prove anything anyway (something I'll deal in another piece I'll probably post next week). The ontological, teleological, axiological and cosmological arguments can all be torn apart, and, indeed, are, by Kant, Hume and Kierkegaard, among others. That doesn't mean they don't work for the believer as a reinforcement of faith, but if they are taken from outside Christianity, they serve — at best — to come up with what Barth terms a “philosopher's god,” not the God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.

Emil Brunner, in Nature and Grace, the text that provoked Barth's ire in Nein!, suggested that the “other” task of theology had to do with understanding natural revelation. I think this is the meat of what Barth objected to. Interestingly enough, Barth defends the ontological argument (I have only skimmed the book in which he does, but have a mental note to check it out and read it some day.) Barth in this respect is very similar to Kierkegaard, I believe, and I think they both make valid points. The objection isn't so much about whether rational calculations about God can and do occur, but instead that they don't lead to a knowledge of the real God, given our fallen state, unless those rational calculations draw on God's revealed self.

I believe I read in a Barth biography in ChristianityToday that he softened up on this somewhat in later life and reconciled (at least personally) with Brunner. But, I tend to think Barth might not be quite as extreme as he seemed to be, even before that. I think the rejection of natural theology had a lot more to do with practical concerns about its usefulness than anything else.

Choosing Masters: Christ or the Bible?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:03 AM

It is interesting that Ed just posted something about this. I had been meaning to write about this for awhile.

I have realized that I am not a fundamentalist. Well, this isn't exactly a new revelation, but I've been thinking about it more lately. This has been a gradual shift over the last two or three years as I've spent more time really digging into theology and, especially, learning about Barthian Neo-Orthodoxy.

But, recently, I got an urge to write on this when I was reading an entry over at Theopedia. It was critiquing a theology or theologian — I can't remember which — and the problem with this theology or theologian was that it did not adhere to the most important doctrine of Christianity, or so the article said. What is that doctrine? The doctrine of salvation by grace through faith? No. The doctrine of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? No. The doctrine of perfections of God? No. The doctrine of the person of Christ? No. No, it was none of these, it was the inerrancy of Scripture.

Now, the point isn't that inerrancy isn't all well and good. The point is that the author of this actually thought that inerrancy was the utmost doctrine of Christianity. Unless the Bible is somehow going to die for my sins, however, I cannot agree. The center of the Church, the center of the Bible, the center of the Gospel, the center of everything is Christ. Ultimately, we ought to resolve to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified — just as Paul did.

My problem with fundamentalism is deeper than this — I also see an increasingly strong anti-intellectualism trend in that realm — but primarily it is that its ultimate concern, to borrow a nice phrase from Paul Tillich (sorry, Ed), is not God. Fundamentalism today makes idols out of the Bible, out of Creationism, out of politics and “keeping faith public” and many similar things. Many, if not all, of these things are good in moderate quantities, but they aren't our ultimate concern as Christians.

I've read a bit of Jacque Derrida recently, and the phrase “decentering the center” keeps coming to mind. In deconstructionism there can be no center, but ultimately as Christians we must insist there is a center, and if that center is anything other than Christ, then we are worshipping idols. What good is the Bible without Christ? What good is Creationism without Christ? Christ is first, last and everything in between.

Sadly, while many people get that (and Barth emphasizes it as much as he can), many of those who claim to adhere to the “fundamentals” of faith do not get it in practice, even if they claim it in theory.

Left Behind: The Language of God?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:50 AM

I'm wondering if Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins think that God's linguistic abilities somehow got left behind in the 17th century, and, to boot, that God is a sound-byte type of God that only has a few things to say. Why do I wonder this, all of a sudden? Well, last summer I read the Glorious Appearing, the final part of the main 12-book Left Behind series. It annoyed me for a simple reason: Jesus was given a “speaking role” in it, but all he did was act like a Denziger theologian who is more than able to perfectly quote Scripture but not say anything new or directly phrased in response to what was going on “in the now.”

The fictional Jesus of Appearing, if anything, seemed rather like someone who would have fit well in a presidential debate: ask a question and get back a pre-assembled, stump speech answer. Other than the heavy push to make sure you knew the bad guys from the good guys, I think the authors came dangerously close to making the Antichrist seem more in tune with people than Christ. But, I got over it and moved on to better books.

Last weekend, I started reading the Rising. As a whole, I'd say this first part of the new prequel trilogy to Left Behind is actually more exciting than the final few novels of the main series, but again God is given a chance to speak and, in my opinion, He comes off rather stiff. While the Bible is wonderful, the God of the Left Behind world is made to feel distant because He only quotes Scriptures, he does not respond directly. It's as if LaHaye and Jenkins think God is a giant magic-8 ball that has preset answers.

It is fiction yes, but I'm left to wonder: why are they making God so unlike the real living Word? Are they just afraid to write fictional words into God's “mouth” or do they really find God that way in their own lives?

Sin and the Resurrection

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:39 AM

When I think about the glorious news of today, I find it hard to believe I could think one sinful thing or commit one evil act. How would that be possible in light of today? Even if tomorrow I'd fall back into my fallen, despicable state, how could I not spend the entirety of today focusing on our Savior's triumph over death?

And yet I realize, looking back, I was sinful throughout the day. There are numerous examples of things I should not have done today that I did. I was proud, I was deceitful, I was lustful. If only I could somehow finally excise all these things from my being, it would be so grand.

I am just so thankful that through the death and resurrection of Jesus I have hope despite my failings. Despite my failings even this day. Forgive me, Lord, for failing you this day.

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

—John Newton, Amazing Grace

Good Friday Meditation: Pilate's Truth

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:03 AM

That was the truth confronting Pilate on that Friday nearly two thousand years ago. Not just a truth, but the ultimate in truth.

Truth is easier to deal with if it can be just pushed off aside; redefined into something more comforting: What is truth? There were many truths Pilate faced that day. He faced the truth that the leaders of Jesus’ own people were dead set to see blood, and that they would take whatever means necessary to get it. This was the truth that Pilate’s job was in danger from his constituents. All of Pilate’s goals and dreams were at risk; he was a man outside of his league who had been given a job of power through influential connections (Houston 76). Despite those connections, he was a bungling leader and truth was that it wouldn’t be hard for a few angry people to ruin it all for him. What if they tried to turn Caesar against him? A few years later just that would happen: a mob of people and an attempt to put down a feared uprising led to Pilate’s demise as a politician.

What is truth? Truth was that his wife had warned Pilate to avoid having anything to do with the death of Jesus. As a relative of Caesar’s, she clearly could weld some power over him if she wanted (Houston 81). But I think that’s only part of the story: it seems that her words rang true to Pilate. Jesus did seem innocent, strangely, peculiarly innocent – perhaps more so because he refused to do anything to defend himself. Pilate beheld the man, and saw a truth: he was innocent.

What is truth? Truth is that Pilate’s job was to uphold the laws of the land (Barth Outline 111). His job was to uphold the laws, but would he have a job if he upheld them? Situational truth arose, perhaps: it was truer that his job was at stake than that he was a defender of laws. Pilate had seen more than his fair share of bloodshed under his reign, why should one innocent man stand in the way of his continued power over Judea? Perhaps for a moment he puzzled at why he had to be stuck at this far flung outpost of the empire, but regardless of that, the truth was that this was his post and like it or not, Jesus stood before him and a mob awaited him outside. Maybe truth could be redefined just a bit.

Pilate wouldn’t know this, but truth had much to do with his place in the scheme of things. Truth, the truth of Jesus’ innocent death, would be attested to for all time because of his act. As the Apostle’s creed says: He suffered under Pontius Pilate. Pilate served a very important role to truth: he cemented the fact that the Word of God Incarnate, the Savior was not an abstract philosopher’s idea or some kind of supersized metaphor, but a real life, flesh and blood reality: in his contact with Pilate, Jesus broke away from merely being a figment of Israelite history and into the history of the whole world, at least as it was known at the time: the Roman Empire (112). No longer was the “Jesus Question” one that needed to be dealt with only by Jews; years before Paul became the great Apostle to the Gentles, the Gentile Pilate was forced reluctantly to ponder this matter of what to do with Jesus. He had to ponder truth.

What is truth? Pilate had to rationalize: he had to make “his” truth out of what he surely knew was a lie: if he simply washed his hands of the matter, he could be done with it. Truth is that the very act of washing his hands is what would immortalize him as the indecisive one: the one who betrayed truth, betrayed Jesus by indecision. His one memorable action was actively choosing inaction. Pilate was confronted by Truth incarnate and he instead made his own truth: if he didn’t take sides, if he just let everyone else sort things out, he could just go on with life. Truth isn’t that simple.

What is Truth? Truth is that Jesus was for Pilate, and yet Pilate lived a lie of self-deception. He really had no choice to make: had he chosen to side with Christ, he would have received the election that Jesus was going to earn for him on the cross. Maybe he’d have lost his outpost, or maybe not, but in a much more significant way, all would have been well. But Pilate deceived himself into thinking there was another choice. He was torn: as a power hungry statesman, he opted to the route of the corrupt, but, nevertheless, the ideal of the statesman still could not be entirely covered by his corruption: a glimmer of truth was in him and it forced him to declare Jesus innocent (112). He wasn’t blind to the truth, he blinded himself to it. Confronted with truth, he rejected it actively. The cast would be set for Pilate: Jesus was for Pilate, but Pilate would be known as against Christ for all eternity.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate. Pilate was not a man chosen by God to do this evil inaction. Instead, he was chosen, like everyone else to receive God’s good news. Yet, failing to do just that, God still turned what Pilate meant for evil into good. As Joseph said in Genesis 50:22, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.” This thing was bigger than Pilate imagined, and though Pilate’s choice would condemn him to infamy, it was a meaningless choice (113). He was deceived from truth: God’s “superior will” was going to be done regardless of what Pilate chose to do, it was simply a matter of Pilate choosing on what side of that will he was to be known.

What is truth? That question still rings true today. Confronted with that question, beholding the man, what will you do with him?

Originally presented on Good Friday, April 14, 2006 at St. Paul’s Evangelical Church, St. Louis, MO. Primary among sources consulted were Dogmatics in Outline (New York: Haper Torchbooks, 1959) and Church Dogmatics volume 2.2 (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK: T. & T. Clark, 1957), both by Karl Barth. Also referenced was Where You There? Seeing Yourself in the Drama of the Cross by Tom Houston (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1987).

A Nice Treat

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:15 AM

My professor and mentor, Dr. Alan Meyers, filled in for his pastor at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church yesterday. I knew that he preached every so often, so I've been asking for awhile for him to let me know when he would be doing so. He let me know last week, so after going to my normal church service (I needed to be there, since my usher team is ushering this month), I went further into the city and got to enjoy a service at Oak Hill.

Not surprisingly, it was a great sermon, and there were a number of interesting elements to the service as well (most out of the ordinary was an electronic oboe that one member played for the communion mediation). The sermon had a really interesting, thought provoking perspective on death and it simply being a “ceasing to be (something).” To freshen up the idea of the old self dying to the new self, Dr. Meyers used a number of metaphors of other changes in life — such as marriage — and how they represent a dying of one self and birth of a new one in much the same way.

Like most good sermons, it was interesting not so much in how many completely new ideas it brought out, but how it makes one look at ideas that have become too routine to really think about.

Welcome Dear Feast of Lent

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:12 AM

Lent by George Herbert

Welcome deare feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authoritie,
        But is compos'd of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church sayes, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
        To ev'ry Corporation.

The humble soul compos'd of love and fear
Begins at home, and layes the burden there,
        When doctrines disagree.
He sayes, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandall to the Church, and not
        The Church is so to me.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
        When good is seasonable;
Unlesse Authoritie, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it lesse,
        And Power it self disable.

Besides the cleannesse of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
        A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulnesse there are sluttish1 fumes,
Sowre exhalations, and dishonest rheumes,2
        Revenging the delight.

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
        And goodnesse of the deed.
Neither ought other mens abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
        We forfeit all our Creed.

It 's true, we cannot reach Christ's fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
        Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior's purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev'n as he.
        In both let 's do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
        That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
        May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast
        As may our faults control:
That ev'ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor,
        And among those his soul.
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