Letter to a Christian Nation

You may be wondering why I am reading a work by Sam Harris, a well known atheist. Well, I am always willing to read and interact with those who are opposed to the Christian faith. To make accusations against anyone who opposes the Christian faith with knowing and reading their point of view is a somewhat useless exercise. Many read these works, a national best seller, and they foster misconceptions of the Christian faith. Sam Harris, and others I might add, have impacted our culture with Letter to a Christian Nation and I cannot begin to respond to everything, but here are a few.

Harris’s intentions are clearly stated as “to arm secularists in our society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy, against their opponents on the Christian right. (viii)” Simply put, Christianity consists of immoral and irrational group of people and if you care anything about our world and our society you would give up this foolishness and reject such things in public life.

One regularly occurring theme is that problems in this world are attributed to God, as the origin and cause and thus liable. In speaking about abortion, Harris turns to biology and points out that nature alone causes multiple abortions through miscarriage. This occurrence in nature makes God the “most prolific abortionist of all time. (38)” This is one of the methodical flaws for Harris.

However, in the context of a world of suffering and sin that we willfully created in the Garden of Eden, our perspective should change. If this was God’s intention and plan for the way life should be then I would agree with Harris. However, God cares deeply about suffering and death so much that he will one day end the tragedy through His son Jesus Christ. The fact that our bodies do not function properly should not instill a bold finger of accusation to God but a humble heart that cries for a savior to fix this mess.

Considering the New Orleans Hurricane Katrina, Harris claims that religion is speechless (53). On the flip side, science predicted the landfall in time for people to escape the coming destruction. By Harris’s estimate, God consistently fails to protect humanity. Is Christianity and science separated or at odds? If you’re a Christian, you can never accept anything science says (this seems to be his point). Science triumphs religion because God never informed anyone of the coming destruction but science diligently discovered the true nature of the events. I concur with Harris that science is a great thing and it has helped society tremendously, but who gave researchers and scientist minds, critical thinking, and simply the ability of observation? Religion has no response for natural disasters? Our response should be repentance! (Luke 13:1-5)

Christ teaching in the Temple

Observing our frail bodies, Harris says that “design is much to be desired. (77)” In a sense, this is true. There is much to be desired in this world and our Christian response is to point to Christ who will one day fix the mess.

I will end on a positive note that I believe many of us need to recognize. Harris speaks about religious conflict around the world from many religions. A typical response is simply that we need to teach people how to be civil. Education is the key! But the hijackers of 9-11 were college education middle class citizens. Maybe education isn’t the answer. Harris gives his answer and I believe it to be very profound. Harris says, “The cause of their confusion is simple: They don’t know what it is like to really believe in God. (83)” If we really believed in God, we might care for all of God’s creation. From the baby in the womb who is about to be aborted to the inmate on death row, may we stand for life. From the outcast in the middle school lunch room to the junkie who makes a living in strip bars, may we stand for loving them. May we stand for the truth in all areas and consider the possible contradictions against the Good News of Jesus Christ that we have created.


Arminian Theology: Roger E. Olson

The debate between Arminian theology and Calvanism over the doctrine of soteriology has always been heated and filled with tension. Roger E. Olson in Arminian Theology seeks to quiet the flames with toleration and understanding by illustrating the various myths and realities of Arminian theology. The book is not so much an exposition of beliefs and systematic theologies of Arminian theologians but is mainly concerned with curbing the misconceptions that Calvanists trumpet. Olson’s project is thought provoking at times but I believe he fails to follow his own rule of thumb when understanding theologies that are orthodox but still in opposition to their own. The following are areas that I commend Olson on and other instances of criticism.

I believe Olson is correct in that the mischaracterization and demonizing of Arminian theology has no place in the Christian faith. Although the book has failed to convince me of their interpretation of God’s redemptive plan, I would never anathematize or declare heretical their beliefs. Instead, Calvinist should strive to create a friendly dialogue to understand each other and debate with vigor. However, what creates such a heated discussion is the utter importance in the area of the doctrine of salvation or soteriology.

Olson’s work is mainly a constant plea for the ceasing for misconceptions of Arminian theology. The majority of Oslon’s book focuses on this topic. Olson consistently says that Arminian theology adheres to Reformation theology, such as Luther and Calvin. He makes a number of historical connections, from Arminius to modern day theologian Thomas Oden, in order to shows that Arminian theology believes the same in the sovereignty of God, free will, predestination, and justification by grace alone. These are staple doctrine of the Reformation and Olson shows that Arminians certainly continue the same beliefs. Thus, the misconceptions demonstrated by various Calvanist is uncalled for given the high connectedness between Arminians and Reformation doctrine.

However, Olson fails to live up to his own principles because he exemplifies misconceptions of Calvanism without any pause to the obvious misunderstanding. When Olson speaks about Calvanistic notions of single predestination and double predestination, he concludes that a Calvanistic view of God is not one of goodness. Of course for Olson, the heart of Arminian theology is the goodness of God and he even states that this is what prompts the entire theological system, as if such notions are void in Calvanism. It should be obvious to all readers that the view of God from a Calvanist perspective is that of a good God. This is a ridiculous conclusion to Calvanism predestination but Olson presents it in such a way that many readers would choose Arminian theology because all Christians believe that God is good. Olson desires that his opponents in Calvanism perceive his theology correctly and those of a differing tradition would echo his sentiments.[1]

Olson’s work is a good piece to begin a dialogue with Arminian theologians and his highlighting of various theologians throughout the century on each issue is a terrific launching pad. However, I do not believe the Olson’s work is a good explanation of what Arminian’s believe. Olson admits that there are logical inconsistencies and difficulties within the theology but he fails to flesh this out (but this was probably not his intention). My difficulties with the theology that Olson presents is the Arminian understanding of total depravity. Understandably, Arminian theology adheres that mankind is hopeless and helpless apart from the grace of God. Luckily, through prevenient grace, all of humanity now has the ability to resist or not resist God. Therefore, what is there to say about total depravity now with prevenient grace? How can a theology adhere to a doctrine like total depravity but have no present reality of that doctrine? If prevenient grace came through the Christ event, thus how were people saved in their total depravity prior to Christ when there was no grace to help them along in their choosing? It would seem that the Calvinistic soteriology is more cohesive in Gods active saving acts throughout history.

It is questions like these that I found myself constantly colliding with as I read Olson’s book. If Olson’s main objective was to capture a dialogue with Calvanism that did not immediately begin with heresy, mission accomplished. In continuing, I will now seek out a better explanation of what Arminian theology is because Olson did not answer my questions in this regard.

[1] Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006). Olson quotes H. Orton Wiley as saying, “It (predestination) is not an arbitrary, indiscriminate act of God intended to secure the salvation of so many and no more.” Wiley is contrasting this view of predestination with the Arminian view, which is “the gracious purpose of God to save mankind from utter ruin (64).” Olson states that the Calvanist perspective on atonement “cannot avoid limiting the love of God (65).” If God saves one person through the course of history, He is amazingly loving and his love is not limited. Olson does suggest that both systems have difficulties that they should admit too. However, Olson quotes Jerry Walls saying, “The Calvanist cannot tell us why or on what basis God chooses some for salvation and passes others by.” (88) As a student of Theology, I do not consider myself an expert in this area but from a Calvanistic perspective I would say that God’s choosing is based on his love. I think our perspective does have an answer to this.

Ode to Eugene

Eugene Peterson is a prolific writer and well known for his translation The Message. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College. Not only has Peterson taught in the classroom, he was the founding pastor of Christ our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland. The Message is his most popular work, which received criticism from many. One critic claimed that Peterson only wanted to make more money on his commentary that he calls a translation. Essentially, since Peterson could not make revenue on publishing a commentary he “pimped the scripture (J.R. Miller).”

Sadly, I shared these criticisms ignorantly and through popular opinion. However, my opinions of Peterson have matured due to more recent reading of other publications, such as Eat this Book, The Jesus Way, and Practice Resurrection. In Eat This Book, I am encouraged and challenged by his approach to scripture and its meaning. Peters says that in order to read the Scriptures “adequately and accurately, it is necessary at the same time to live them” (xii). I am also challenged to not see scripture reading as simply a cognitive exercise, as if learning more about the bible creates greater spirituality (although it does enrich ones faith). Scripture must be eaten and metabolized into good works. Peterson says, “Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son (18).” This line is worth the price of the book. I would make this into a poster and place on the walls of my office, if I had one, as encouragement for the extension of scripture beyond my cognitive knowledge.

Another aspect that Peterson draws out in Eat This Book is ones motivation behind the individual. Reading scripture should be motivated by wanting to do good works in the world for the kingdom. However, the motivations that we (and I) wrestle with are when we read the scripture because we need something, want something, and want to feel something. These are selfish needs that Peterson titles a new Holy Trinity. Perhaps when I read the scriptures, I should not be focused on my needs and rights, my wants or my feelings, because God supplies my identity through the text. These feelings, wants, and needs have saturated the world and the world pours over into our Christian world, including mine.

Finally, I appreciated Peterson’s apology for the Message translation. In reading Petersons own thoughts about the Message; It helped me to clarify issues. First, my false conception of Peterson was that he did not know Greek and Hebrew and thus I did not expect accurate translation. Of course, Peterson is a well equipped translator who knowing the languages took 10 years in translating the Message. Secondly, he reminded what translation is all about. Translation of the bible exists so that the words and message of God’s revelation may be understood in a specific language for a specific people. I feel that Peterson has alleviated my conscience from the misunderstandings translation meaning. I am extremely humbled and appreciative of the work that Peterson has done and what it means in my studying of the scriptures and my participation in the Kingdom of God.

*I will be adding to this blog upon completion of other works by Peterson.