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Posts Tagged ‘presuppositions’


Sometimes you come across a book that looks like it will address the big questions you’ve been churning over in your mind. When you read it you are disappointed because it barely addresses those questions. This can happen more frequently in the time of internet shopping. But it is quite frustrating as you invest time in a book that doesn’t scratch the itch you have.

Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds is one of those books for me. Based on the subtitle I thought it would focus on the profound ways we have been sinned against. Indeed, Chris Brauns does include a number of stories about such profound sins. But I found a disconnect between those stories and the content he presented. So while there was some good material here, it didn’t really help me in the issues I was looking for help personally and professionally.

In his introduction he claims to address “where I’m coming from”. This is not so much about his presuppositions (more in a moment) but the questions he will address, such as: should we forgive God, does God forgive everyone, and should we forgive everyone?

He does lay out one presupposition: “only God’s Word can unpack forgiveness”. He then says “unpacking forgiveness is like relocating a family.” Unpacking takes a lot longer than the actual event of moving. He mentions that 2 years after a move, his family was still unpacking. This is what I was hoping he’d address but really didn’t as I’d hoped. And some of what he said hindered this process, at least as I understand it.

I was struck at the two main presuppositions he didn’t address which shape so much about forgiveness. He never defined his understanding of sin. He assumes we all know. He doesn’t use this term often, preferring the terms derived from the verb “to offend”. While sin rightfully offends, we often use that term (which he doesn’t define either) in many ways no connected to sin. It often has psychological (for lack of a better term) uses, and he generally distances himself from other psychological concepts. This focus on “offense” is a more subjective understanding of sin, not an largely objective one. For instance he says “we have all offended his standard” (pp. 45) with regard to Romans 3:23 (I assume since he doesn’t note it). This is a great time to clarify that “sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” Look, was that difficult? No. But he assumes the reader has a definition of sin, and that it is the same as his unexpressed one.

The other big presupposition was the nature and extent of the atonement. He quotes a few Calvinistic and Reformed guys (he mentions Piper frequently), but how he speaks about forgiveness points to a general atonement in which salvation is possible but not actually procured. I could be wrong about what he actually believes, which is the point: he doesn’t actually express it. (To be fair, he defines ‘propitiation’ on pp. 46.)

Granted, you can’t say everything about everything when you write a book, but these seem to be significant issues that affect much of what you say on this topic. I’m not “heresy hunting” but noticing large gaps in his reasoning.

At times his vagueness affects how he interacts with Scripture. I have notes written in the margins at times questioning how he understands particular texts.

He interacts with Lewis Smedes on the topic of “mandatory forgiveness”, representing a less than biblical view of forgiveness. But he doesn’t interact with anyone else on significant issues. I would have liked him to interact with Dan Allender’s material in Bold Love, as an example. His work regarding forgiveness is different than Brauns’ (and Smedes’). Such interaction would have helped clarify a few things in his book that I still have questions about regarding his perspective.

The main premise of the book is that “we forgive as God forgave us.” He doesn’t simply take this as forgive because we’ve been forgiven, or even in a similar way, but rather “in the same way.” He rightfully notes the graciousness of God’s forgiveness, and the costliness to God in the atonement of Christ. He properly notes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us in justification. He notes the connection of forgiveness with reconciliation (they are not identical). He also notes that forgiveness does not remove all earthly consequences which in Christ have been transformed from punishment to training in righteousness. But I struggle with his definition of forgiveness.

“God’s forgiveness: a commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences.”

So, for you to forgive is a similar commitment to those who repent.

Take a moment though to insert that definition into a passage in the place of forgiveness. Passages like these:

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,Luke 1

30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, …. Ephesians 1 cf. Colossians 1:14

In this way, he goes beyond the simple meaning or use of the term forgiveness (which he mentions) as release from a debt to this more complex idea. We therefore offer people forgiveness, but they must repent in order for us to actually forgive them. We have an “attitude” of forgiveness toward them.

So, while he therefore says we don’t need to “forgive” everyone. He never gets to what I think is a core issue based on the doctrine of sin. I don’t forgive people unless they sin, thereby incurring a debt, against me. I can’t forgive Timothy McVeigh, whom he mentions, for instance because he didn’t sin against me except in the most vague way since I’m an American. I can feel outrage, but that is the problem: I’m carrying an indirect burden since he didn’t take anything away from me. His treatment of this issue, in my opinion, is quite superficial and unhelpful.

Let’s apply this to an unknown rapist whose repentance a victim may never know about. She has an attitude of forgiveness, and a “gift” she doesn’t know where to send. This is where it breaks down for me. Theology is all about distinctions, and there are a number of big ones he doesn’t make. The “gift” makes sense in understanding my personal relationships. But not in these profound sins in which there is no personal relationship (for instance with an uncle who physically abuses the victim).

Another important distinction that is never spelled out (or I missed it if he did) was that just because I forgive someone doesn’t mean God does. He seems to imply it does at points in his argument against automatic or mandatory forgiveness. Not only may their be state sanctions (though he has conflicting statements on this too), their may be divine sanctions that remain. Let me illustrate: there is a family member who sinned against me profoundly (it was not a crime so there would be no legal sanctions), in a way that still haunts me to this day. There person can’t really face it, or understand it. For an extended period of time I was very angry with them. Despite their lack of repentance I forgave them. I didn’t just have an attitude of forgiveness, but forgave their debt to me. I am reconciled with them despite this sin and their lack of repentance. This doesn’t mean God forgave them or is reconciled with them (by all appearances He has not).

He missed another important distinction in his chapter about when you can’t stop thinking about it. Why are you thinking about it? Is the source Satan to continually put up walls between you, to get you to be bitter or feel false condemnation, shame etc.? Or is the source God to help you deepen your forgiveness of the other person? This, in my opinion, matters. But he never mentions the latter possibility.

What I mean is this (which I hoped the book would be about or address): at times we come to a deeper understanding of the debt incurred. Something we thought was a $50 debt is really a $1,000 debt. For instance, I minimized that debt a family member incurred. I needed to face what I really needed to forgive. Ultimately God intended that process for good, even as Satan intended it for evil (to trap me in bitterness). THIS is real pastoral theology, not the superficial approach he presented that we shouldn’t think about it if we’ve forgiven. But what have we forgiven? Have we forgiven the debt as much as we can understand it?

A question he doesn’t really answer is that though forgiveness is often the basis of reconciliation, must I reconcile with someone because I have forgiven them? A rape or abuse victim should forgive the person who sinned against them. Perhaps the person has even repented. Must you be reconciled to them? Have them over for dinner? Leave your kids with them? No. Forgiveness does not mean that the person is suddenly trustworthy, or that you trust them with your life. It just means you no longer want your pound of flesh, for the debt to be repaid. It doesn’t mean you have to loan out more money.

There was also somewhat of an internal conflict in the book. He thinks we should only forgive if the other person repents. That was not the intention of Jesus’ answer to the question. It was not what must they do for me to forgive them, but if they repent must I forgive them. Very different question, and to distort that distorts the answer. As long as someone repents, I must forgive them. But it doesn’t mean I must wait until they repent to forgive, which is what Brauns says at points.

Later in the book he notes we can overlook an offense. But they didn’t repent. Unlike Ken Sande, whom he references at times, there is no real process for sorting out when I should just overlook an offense or sin. Some even Braun, despite his previous statements, means they don’t have to repent for you to forgive them.

This book does present some good material that may be helpful to a number of people. He is closer to the biblical understanding of forgiveness than Smedes is. But there are some holes in the foundation, gaps he didn’t address or distinctions he failed to make that prove unhelpful for others. For instance, my sister-in-law found the book helpful. Okay. I don’t think she’s deceived or stupid. It helped her and that is GOOD. I didn’t find it as helpful. That could be a function of my understanding of theological complexities which differs from hers necessarily as a pastor, and/or the ways I have been sinned against that she has not. I still find Allender’s work more helpful for me. If you are more like my sister-in-law you may legitimately find this book helpful. If you are more like me, you may not find this book helpful for equally legitimate reasons.

 

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I recently picked up a book in an attempt to understand one of my children better so I can parent better. It is a book on the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I heard about the book from a congregant who thought I was a HSP. As I read some of the book this morning, thinking both of my child and my self, I found both confusion and clarity.

My Presuppositions: We are all broken, though in different places and to different degrees. As a result of Adam’s sin, we are not only sinners but we are also affected physically and emotionally. We are a mess, and while Jesus doesn’t keep us as messy we don’t always understand the mess. Is that messy? Some aspects of our brokenness are there from the beginning of our lives. They are genetic. The author mentions this with regard to HSPs. She sees them as “naturally occurring” on the spectrum of sensitivity. There are some, I gather she’d say, who look like HSPs but aren’t: they’ve been traumatized by something. Their increased sensitivity would not be innate, but picked up from their environment or circumstances. Some of our brokenness comes at the hands of others after birth: parents, friends, strangers. It is hard for us, much of the time, to tell which it is.

The Problem of Pop Psychology: Often times symptoms overlap. A condition is describe in such terms that too many people see themselves there. If you read too many books, you can think you’ve got everything. Or just the wrong thing.

Years ago I read Driven to Distraction on the recommendation of a friend who struggled with ADD and saw a similar struggle in me. Don’t confuse ADD with ADHD. I never saw myself as hyperactive, but I struggle to remain focused. I am easily distracted and have a hard time in environments like airplanes for anything much longer than an hour. I get restless leg syndrome, I can’t read anything more engaging than a novel and end up fairly miserable.

But do I have ADD? I can check enough boxes in the self-test to say ‘yes.’ But not only are we a mess, but a mysterious mess. Our symptoms could be explained by other things. For instance, the author of the book on HSPs distinguishes it from ADD (this was helpful!). They differ, apparently on where the blood flows more in their brains.

“Children with ADD probably have very active go-for-it systems and relatively inactive pause-to-check systems. … But ADD is a disorder because it indicates a general lack of adequate ‘executive functions,’ such as decision making, focusing, and reflecting on outcomes. HSCs are usually good at all of this, at least when they are in a calm, familiar environment. For whatever reason (the cause is not known), children with ADD find it difficult to learn to prioritize, to return their attention to what they are doing once they have glanced outside or know the teacher is not talking to them personally. … another reason HSCs can be misdiagnosed as having ADD is because, if the distractions are numerous or prolonged, or they are emotionally upset and thus overstimulated already from within, they may very well become overwhelmed by outer distractions and behave as if agitated or ‘spacey.'” Elaine Aron (The Highly Sensitive Child)

I can prioritize, reflect on outcomes and have a pause-to-check system. I am not a big risk taker. I am thoughtful. But I may be easily overwhelmed by data or sensory input. I can study to music and TV, but not to talking. Or apparently with an internet connection at hand. I may be distracted, but for different reasons.

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I’ve tried to become less reactionary in my blogging. I might have made some progress, or perhaps I’ve just been busier and don’t think about it very much. Sometimes there is an article or blog post that comes to my attention that is so annoying that I feel compelled to consider it for blog fodder. This morning I read one of them called 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible. I suppose I am tempted to read too much into his Patheos post, but aware of this and will try my best to interpret his words well.

He is Roger Wolsey, a “progressive” United Methodist pastor. What he does is helpful because he does lay out his assumptions when he interprets the Bible. He doesn’t defend those assumptions, he just assumes they are superior to the assumptions held by “Fundamentalists”. By the way he articulates his argument you’d think there were only “Fundamentalists”, “Atheists” and “Progressives.” I am part of the great unknown (perhaps not to him but at least “Sir Not-Mentioned-in-this-Article”) that would fall under the category of Conservative and Confessional.

“All Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible (to interpret) literally, progressive Christians simply admit this and share how we discern.”

Not sure I’d agree with that statement. Most people I know admit this and talk about how they discern the difference. Progressives are not superior to anyone in this matter. They don’t have “interpretative righteousness” as a result. I am bringing my men’s study through the book Bible Study that addresses many of these issues and I often verbalize these things as I preach or teach SS (the Revelation series was not an exception). I suggest he doesn’t give those pesky Fundamentalists enough credit. So much for the love (or charity) he talks about later. He seems to always paint them in a most negative light.

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The question of an individual’s relationship to the state is an important one. The answer reflects how one views the state and its responsibilities. Christians have given many answers to this question. In his discussion of the 5th Commandment in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame gives the answers that various traditions have given.

Frame is of the opinion that the state is essentially the government of an incredibly large family. Such large scale government is far more complex than governing a nuclear or even extended family., In places like Romans 13 we see that God has ordained the State, it is not an accident or human invention (though there have been developments that are the product of human thinking). As Christians, we have dual citizenship. Becoming a Christian does not mean rejecting your earthly citizenship. Paul remained a Roman citizen. We should seek to be good citizens of both kingdoms.

In early non-Christian thought, there was the tendencies toward elitism and libertarianism. Frame notes that the rationalist moved toward totalitarianism. We see this in Greek thinking about the state. Some were born to rule, and some were born to be slaves. Plato’s Republic was not democracy, but ruled by philosopher kings. This was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. But there is a strong tendency toward totalitarianism among political elites today. They know better than the hoi poloi, the masses. Machiavelli, for one, argued that rulers should increase their own glory thru non-traditional (immoral) means to accomplish their goals. This ends justifies the means thinking is prominent in the big government crowd.

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There is a place for “bite-sized” reflections on ethical issues. Al Mohler provides just that in Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America.  I suspect this book is taken from his blog posts from 2001-2005. I read the expanded edition which contains some newer chapters from 2010-11. The chapters are short enough to read in less than 30 minutes. Mohler interacts with events and controversies, so these pieces are not abstract. As John Piper notes, he is clear-headed.

While he tackles some complex issues, I never got the sense I was in over my head. He makes the material accessible to ordinary people. He has 3 chapters on Public Law, first laying out 3 secular arguments, then 3 secular myths and finally 5 theses. Many of these chapters are still relevant, like his chapter on Offendedness. There are chapters wrestling with 9/11, the Tsumani, abortion, Darwinism and more. These are things to think about. At times you can see how perceptive he is.

“Instead, Saletan argued that the pro-abortion movement should coalesce around an agenda of lowering the total number of abortions and increasing the use of contraceptives.”

This, for instance, has been the rhetoric of our President.

But he looks not merely at personal sins, but at structures. This is not as common for conservatives. This is part of the tension between conservatives and progressives today. The one sees personal morality as the main issue, and the other public morality as the main issue so sin is found either in the individual or the structures. For a Christian, we should recognize both. And both need to be addressed.

“Sin is so interwoven in our lives and institutional structures that we often cannot even see it.”

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The final chapter, though there is an appendix, in Children at the Lord’s Table? has Venema’s concluding observations and an evaluation. Most of the chapter reviews the material presented earlier in the book. It is fairly redundant, as one other reviewer noted.He does remind us that since this view is out of step with the Reformed Confessions, the burden of proof is on them to show from Scripture that they have it right and we’ve gotten it wrong for 500 years (it is possible). But they failed to provide sufficient evidence (in his opinion, and mine).

But his evaluation includes some thoughts about the different view of the covenant that functions under the surface of their arguments. In other words, he moves on to their presuppositions. This is where the disagreement really lies. The subject of infant communion is just the visible evidence of the different presuppositions (the same is true for the infant-believers’ baptism debate).

The advocates of infant communion operate with a view of the covenant that claims that all members of the covenant “enjoy a full and saving union with Christ.” This got me to thinking. It sounds remarkably like the argument for the “pure church” used by many credobaptists. Their argument for paedocommunion is completely consistent with that view of the covenant. But is that a proper view of the covenant? Is the pure church a proper understanding of the covenant community? Why then practice excommunication (apart from being commanded to) if they have a saving relationship with Christ because they’ve been baptized?

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Ever seen a dog with a bone? They just can’t seem to let it go. That’s my dog with rawhide.  She’ll make herself sick.

On the surface, I might be seen as a guy who “can’t let it go”, but I don’t think that is the case. Why? First, the issue hasn’t gone away. I interact with people giving me the same argument on different particular issues. Second, I’m continuing to think more deeply about the issue.

The issue? New Covenant Theology. This is a view of the covenants held by a growing number of people that undermines a Reformed understanding of the sacraments (particularly baptism) and the Law. I’ve engaged in some blog discussion and debate with one of the leading proponents of this position, Andrew Farley. It becomes an exercise in futility as we compare biblical texts. I’ve tried to keep those texts in their contexts (this is important!). But the discussion goes nowhere.

The discussion must go deeper- to presuppositions. I noted this in my reviews  of 3 different arguments for baptism.  What is the presupposition, the unproven assumption, made by adherents of the various forms of New Covenant Theology? It sounds like a holdover from Dispensational Theology, but here we go: Nothing from the Old Covenant is binding unless repeated in the New Testament.

Got that? The New replaces the Old, so nothing remains of the Old unless repeated in the New. This is why Farley tosses out tithing, a sabbath rest and the moral law. This is why Calvinistic Baptists toss our infant baptism. It seems logical, right?

But is this presupposition biblical? Is this how the Bible treats the issue? Our call is not be logical, but biblical (though we use reason as well as illumination to properly understand the Bible).

They do not prove their assumption. Can it stand up to a biblical litmus test?

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