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Posted 3/26/12 at 9:10 PM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D.
Yesterday, as we looked at Gutting's article, I stated that Gutting's use of the ontological argument was an insufficient basis to speak to the doctrine of salvation, yet he does it anyway.
Here, I will assert that 2) Gutting limits God's omnipotence and moral perfection.
Gutting rightly says that, if one is to believe in God and if one desires to achieve salvation, then that one must believe that God, as Gutting writes, "is good enough to desire our salvation and powerful enough to achieve it." He then uses the ontological argument as the basis for the existence of this God, who is morally perfect and omnipotent. He is right when he says that the ontological argument posits such a God. The argument presents God as the greatest conceivable being. The greatest conceivable being would necessary be morally pure and all powerful.
Gutting then asks the question, "But would we have any reason to think that God would in fact do this?"
The answer to this question must follow from the premise that God is morally perfect and all powerful. Moral perfection would entail perfect justice that is balanced with perfect love. Omnipotence entails God's ability to exercise perfect justice and perfect love so that the two act in harmony and one does not cancel the other out. FULL POST
Posted 3/25/12 at 6:37 PM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D.
Gary Gutting's article cites John Gray's argument that religion's importance is based less on the content of a person's beliefs, and more about the way he or she lives. As we saw in Part I, Gutting writes that religion becomes problematic once belief in God and eternal life are seen to be centrally important.
Gutting spends a great deal of time discussing theism and the problem of evil, but he doesn't do so because he is interested in addressing and answering the problem of evil. He does it because he wants to argue in favor of the idea that belief in theological assertions such as God exists, Jesus died to save sinners, etc. are not important. Good living is what is important.
To get there, Gutting attempts to discredit belief in God by using the problem of evil to try and show that, since God's wisdom and ways are so far beyond our understanding, we cannot ever know if salvation is possible. He conceives of God in terms of the ontological argument. And he characterizes the solution to the problem of evil only in terms of appeals to mystery. FULL POST
Posted 3/25/12 at 12:14 AM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D. |
Gary Gutting of the University of Notre Dame thinks it might help, but at a high price. In this piece, he describes where an appeal to mystery, or human ignorance of God's work, might help solve the problem of evil, but may hinder our faith in God's willingness to save us. He says that because an appeal to mystery is ultimately unsatisfying, we have three options left to us: 1) we can accept by blind faith that God will, in fact, save us, 2) we can accept John Gray's argument that belief in God is unnecessary to be religious and happy, or 3) "we need to find a better response to the problem of evil than appealing to ignorance."
Gutting's article opens by referencing John Gray's idea that what matters in this life is not the content of our belief, but how we live. For Gray, it all depends on what a person wants to find in living religiously. If all someone desires consists in a good life, then all one needs is to live ethically and meditatively. But if one is seeking eternal life, things get more problematic. If eternal life is the goal, then we have to come to the conclusion that God exists and that He can save us, and that He would be interested in doing so. FULL POST
Posted 3/19/12 at 11:46 PM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D. |
Oliver Thomas has a column in USA Today on the topic. The title of piece is "A Christian View of American Exceptionalism."
I am working on a paper and a book proposal on the topic of American exceptionalism. My intent is to write a historical and theological analysis of American exceptionalism, and argue that it is not an idea in alignment with Christianity. This column caught my attention.
Thomas begins his piece by saying,
"Even before we could get off the ship, Massachusetts' first governor, John Winthrop, explained it to us. We were to be a city on a hill, a light to the nations, the new Israel. Iconic politicians from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan have invoked this famous biblical imagery to explain America's role in the world."
Winthrop was the governor of Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630, not the same thing as the state of Massachusetts. He could not have envisioned that what he described as a "city on a hill" would move beyond the shady boundaries of what he could see in 1630. We can also question whether or not his metaphor of "city on a hill" is rightly applied to America's adventures over the centuries. And while Winthrop intended Massachusetts Bay to be a Puritan commonwealth, and thus a "Christian nation," that is not what the framers of the Constitution produced, but a nation with full religious freedom. Furthermore, the descriptions of "city on a hill" and "light to the nations" are used in Scripture to apply respectively to the followers of Christ (Matt 5) and to Christ Himself (Isa 49, 60). FULL POST
Posted 3/17/12 at 3:27 AM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D.
In this final post on whether a seminary education is necessary to the pastoral ministry or not, I will argue the following. Seminary education is not legally, logically, or even practically necessary for the work of the pastor. But seminary education does provide skills and content that are indispensable to the work of a pastor. Pastors who forgo seminary education place themselves at an acute disadvantage if they try to preach, teach, and apply Christ's gospel to this complex, multi-dimensional, religiously pluralistic, immoral and self-seeking culture.
What are these indispensable skills and content that can only be learned within a formal seminary education?
1. Accountability and scrutiny. The ability to submit to accountability and scrutiny of one's work under the eye of an expert as well as one's peers is not possible outside of a formal education. The acquiring of this skill is not easy, and attaining it does not come naturally. Nobody enjoys being told that their work, which is produced with care, diligence, and emotional investment, needs improvement in some way. The possibility of failure can be frightening. The effort it takes to correct mistakes, logical failings, gaps in knowledge, one-dimensional thinking, bad written and oral communication, etc. can be very difficult. FULL POST
Posted 3/17/12 at 2:17 AM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D. |
Pastor Matt Chandler of The Village Church is my brother in Christ. I respect him and his work for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I thank the Lord for him, his family, and his ministry. He is a much more gifted pastor and preacher than I. I want to be careful to lead my comments below with these sincere statements of my regard for him as a fellow laborer in service to Christ.
It is also important that I be fair to Pastor Chandler--he does not say that seminary is worthless and that nobody should go to seminary. He is careful to note that he values seminary education under a certain set of circumstances and for a certain kind of person. He writes, "The truth is I think most men need to go to seminary and scholarship is extremely important."
Posted 3/17/12 at 12:53 AM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D.
In Part I, I listed nine critiques that I have seen of seminary education in contemporary times. Despite the validity of each of those critiques, I am going to argue that seminary education provides tools and content that are indispensable to Christian ministry. While a someone endeavoring to be a pastor does not necessarily need a seminary education to be effective, there are aspects of ministry that require that which only seminary education can give.
First, let me answer each of the nine critiques I offered in Part I.
1. Seminary education is expensive. While the federal government does not offer assistance for seminary education, churches often do. Churches provide huge financial support for all Southern Baptist seminaries through the Cooperative Program. At the seminary where I teach, the Cooperative Program covers half the tuition cost for students who are members of a Southern Baptist church (see here). Half's a lot! Furthermore, many scholarships are available for students going to Baptist seminaries. These are offered through churches, associations, state conventions, and other sources. Here is one example for residents of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. FULL POST
Posted 3/16/12 at 11:38 PM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D.
I am biased. I spent eleven years at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary studying for an M.Div. and a Ph.D. I had a wonderful experience there in both degree programs. I met some lifelong friends. I learned many practical skills in preaching, exegesis, church administration, and leadership. I expanded my base of knowledge in the Bible, church history, theology, and philosophy from very little to a lot. I carry no debts from student loans. Overall, I'd say that my seminary experiences helped me immensely in many years of church work and teaching. And, lest I neglect to be entirely frank--a seminary presents me with a regular paycheck.
But seminary education is falling on hard times these days. There are some who say that seminary education is not necessary for the pastorate (e.g. Pastor Matt Chandler--see here). Others suggest that seminary education is superfluous, expensive, and outdated--and therefore, not necessary (see Jerry Bowers' pieces in Forbes here and here). FULL POST
Posted 3/15/12 at 11:46 PM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D.
I just finished reading Andreas Köstenberger's Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (Crossway, 2011). It seems that the theme of excellence is written about and discussed in many different venues of Christian ministry these days. It is hard to find a resource that treats the subject with humility, thoroughness, and theological consideration. In short, there is a plethora of books on excellence, but very few seem to be, well, excellent. Köstenberger's work lives up to its title.
Full disclosure—I do have a perspective on Dr. Köstenberger that perhaps some of his readers do not. He is the Director of Ph.D. studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where I did my master's and doctoral work. I first met Dr. Köstenberger in an introductory course that all incoming Ph.D. students must take called Introduction to Research. The first day of class (it was just a two day class, each eight hours in length), there were two book reviews due. One was on The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The other was on Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams. All this was explained very clearly in the syllabus. The syllabi were mailed out to us months before the class began. I was in the process of closing out my youth ministry in another state, selling my house, and packing up to move to North Carolina. The syllabus which I had received (and had never looked at) got lost. That meant that I showed up for the first day of class in my Ph.D. program without having my book reviews ready to submit. It's the stuff of which nightmares are made! FULL POST
Posted 3/14/12 at 11:54 PM | John D. Wilsey, Ph.D.
There is really nothing in the world like ministering the word of God to people in partnership with like minded believers and pastors. When I was a teacher and principal at Carmel Christian School in Caroline County, VA (1992-1994), I served as Minister of Announcements (unpaid, unofficial staff position) at our church, Carmel Baptist Church. There was Dave Pettit, the pastor, Philip Bennett, the worship pastor, and Bruce Etter, who taught high school, and then me--we all served the Lord together in that school and that church and enjoyed such a tremendous bond of unity and friendship while doing it. It was hard work, but they were among the best days of my life.
Preaching revival this past week at Salem First Baptist was like that. Dr. Andy DeWitt, the pastor of the church, Stephen Brubaker, Andy's friend of over thirty years, who led worship, and I each had a small part in ministering to the Salem community this week. Andy and Stephen have been friends for years, and I was the guy nobody knew. But they just took me in, and we had such an awesome time of fellowship and ministry this week. We had great theological conversations, and laughed a lot, too! FULL POST