Reflecting on Today’s Sunday School Discussion

9781631990021Today my Sunday School class, The Way at First UMC Pensacola, will spend a second week discussing Process Theology after reading Bruce Epperly’s little introduction (Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God).

Last week we spent most of our time on definitions. Asked to relate Calvinism, Arminianism, Openness Theology, and Process Theology, here’s what I came up with. Perhaps my more theologically inclined readers will tell me how I did.

  • Calvinism – God created the universe and foreordained all that would happen. He knows the future both because he does it, and because he is above space and time, transcendent.
  • Arminianism – God created the universe, and the people in it have real free choice, an impact on what happens, and God elected those who he foreknew would choose salvation. As with the Calvinists, God is seen as separate from the universe, not bound by time and space.
  • Openness – God created the universe as described by the Arminians, but has chosen to work within the universe and not to know. It is as though all time and space is available for God to see, but he chooses not to see all time, and thus works with us as though he lacks this form of foreknowledge. (Note: I have also heard openness express as “God knows everything there is to know, but the future is not there to know. I got the definition I used through an interview with Dr. Richard Rice of Loma Linda University and am using it from memory, so I wish to credit him without blaming him for the way I shortened it!)
  • Process Theology – God is entangled with space and time, expressed by panentheism, i.e. the universe is entirely in God. Process theologians talk about God’s action much as openness theologians do but without the same transcendence. (Note that this is not the same as pantheism, in with the universe and God are the same.)

One of the questions I will ask today is this: How much difference does your belief on these various systems make in the way you relate to God and to others? Is this important or trivial?

My own comment is that while I personally don’t find Calvinism scripturally acceptable (though I certainly understand where it comes from scripturally), I have never had difficulty working with Calvinists in ministry and mission. (A few of them have difficulty working with me, I suppose, but really not that many.) So while I’m Arminian with a certain sympathy for the openness position, I don’t consider this some sort of test of fellowship or faith. The reason is simple: I don’t think I know the answer. I see in scripture God interacting with people as though the outcome was in doubt. I see statements that sound much more static. I see humanity’s free will and responsibility asserted. I see God’s absolute sovereignty asserted. I don’t think we really know how they relate in actuality.

So on something that is so contentious, and I think so subject to error, a bit of humility is in order.

Next week we’ll begin studying my own book When People Speak for God. Other than my study guides to Revelation and Hebrews, I’ve rarely used one of my own books as the basis for a class discussion. Fun!

Allan Bevere and a Third Way

Recently on Facebook Allan Bevere commented that he had taken the road less traveled and now he didn’t know where he was. Sometimes I think I resemble that remark.

But wherever Allan is, we may be neighbors, as he talks about a third way, avoiding liberal/progressive and conservative, in this interview on the WesleyCast. I’ve been thinking about writing something about the danger of moderate pride as well. It’s easy to sneer at all the people who post their overdone political notes on Facebook, with the reason of the moment that the world is coming to an end. But then there is the complacency of having the wisdom to avoid all such overblown statements.

But there are a number of key elements that I think are important. Perhaps I’ll have to make some overblown statements of my own. At times one may need to be a bit over the top in order to get people’s attention. Allan’s comments are largely on current issues in the United Methodist Church, but they have wide applicability.

So here are some key points, in my own words. (Listen to the interview for Allan’s take on them):

  • It’s not about always choosing the middle way. It’s about seeing all the ways and then choosing what works. That’s why I’m sometimes told I’m not moderate, but rather liberal or conservative. I take the fact that I’ve been accused of both fundamentalism and liberalism as a good thing.
  • It can be just as important to understand why I make particular choices as it is to make the right ones. I think being accidentally right is not particularly helpful. It’s hard to repeat!
  • As Christians we should be about connection first, I think. Allan’s suggestion of having communion together more often would be very, very helpful. The problem is, we don’t always regard those who disagree with us as Christians. Perhaps the idea of “open communion” should be pushed more vigorously. Breaking bread with someone is not an endorsement of all their views. It is simply a statement that one desires fellowship.
  • Let’s examine the roots of our beliefs more closely.
  • Let’s examine the priorities of our beliefs more closely. For example, I find it interesting that many Christians believe that movies with explicit sexual scenes are unacceptable, yet will accept extreme violence. Is this the result of our cultural prejudices or of considering what is good for our spiritual lives?

Well, those are some random thoughts. Mostly I want you to listen to Allan’s interview and hear what he has to say.


Bible Study for Monday, July 28

Well, we didn’t do so well this past Monday, but a new week is coming! On Monday, July 28, we will meet again via Google Hangouts, with the announcement via e-mail (if you’ve requested one), or on my Google+ page.

Jody has already posted the question for this coming Monday and the scriptures:

The Scriptures for this week are:
Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145:8-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Opening question is: What legacy will you leave your family and friends? Or What legacy did your parents leave you?

I’d simply focus in on the word “legacy.” Start with Romans 9:1-5 and work outward. I suggest reading all of Psalm 145 and Isaiah 55. If you haven’t read all of Romans 9-11 recently, try that as well. It puts the question of Romans 9:1-5 into some context. I’ve found that those on the Arminian side of the divide people tend not to like Romans 9-11 very much. When I took Exegesis of Romans as an undergraduate, we didn’t make it out of chapter 8. The semester ended and there we were!

I recall one discussion group I was leading as we studied the book of Hebrews and its connections with other scriptures. Suddenly in the middle of one session one of the members stopped us all by exclaiming, “Wow! You’d almost think there was a plan!”

Yeah, you just might at that. Look for the plan. Look for the legacy.

Breaking Homeless (and other) Stereotypes

The title of this blog, Threads from Henry’s Web, suggests that I’m the one producing the threads and hopefully drawing you in. But often the threads are leading me somewhere. Some things happened in just the last couple of weeks:

  • A conversation with an author about a new book talking about those living on the fringe of society. (Yes, we’re going to publish it. Watch for announcements on Energion Publications news.)
  • A book of poetry that evoked some startlingly strong and stark images for me (also to be published)
  • Work on a web site for a local community ministry (Pensacola United Methodist Community Ministries), that involved a good conversation about what they hope to accomplish in the community here. Watch for some big and exciting changes in their web site!
  • The video I’ll link below.

Think about it.

Others may not be what you imagine them to be.

Patently False Church Sign

I was stopped at a light and saw this church sign. Yep! I did! I grabbed my cell phone and took a picture. (It was a long red!)

what you permit you promoteIt’s nonsense.

It’s a particularly bad use of the slippery slope argument.

A free society depends on us permitting things that we do not promote. I permit people to utter nonsense, even in my presence. I do not promote their speech.

I’m guessing that this was intended to refer to same-sex marriage, as a warning that if we allow it, we must promote it. But permitting and promoting are not the same thing.

It is, of course, quite possible that we should neither permit nor promote some activities. Murder, for example. But permitting even murder would not be the same thing as promoting it.

I suppose it’s too much to expect the purveyors of church sign quotes to use the language with any skill. In fact, church signs are a very rich source of really bad quotes.

But this one just got on my nerves.

OK. I’m done.

Work Glitch and Bible Study

Something happened on the way to Bible study, and we were unavailable. We apologize profoundly to anyone who showed up. We will resume next Monday night. We’ll announce the topic tomorrow.

Lost and Found (Fiction Version)

I’ve written a short story to (hopefully) help stimulate thought about Lectionary Proper 12A, which we’ll be discussing at our online Bible study on Monday night.

Next Monday Night Bible Study (Proper 12A)

Jody has already announced this, but our texts Monday night will be:

Lectionary texts:
1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-52

Opening question: What is THE treasure?

Or: is the kingdom seeking you or are you seeking the kingdom?

No, not the same question, but they may shed light on one another.

The Lively Inspiration of Scripture

A Living Bible. Process theology affirms the lively inspiration of scripture. God was at work in the communities that shaped our written scriptures and in the various writers who penned the library of texts we call the Bible. Profoundly historical, biblical inspiration varies from verse to verse and chapter to chapter. Some biblical messages have universal applicability; others are time bound and, frankly, no longer relevant to our current scientific, ethical, and theological understandings

. (Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, 19)

This is from the material we will be discussing in The Way Sunday School class at First UMC Pensacola tomorrow.

We’ve completed our study of Ecclesiastes, and are moving to the opposite end of the theological spectrum with this new book. We’ll spend two weeks on this small book, and then we’ve decided to continue with a study of my book When People Speak for God.

One of the goals of this class is to look at a variety of viewponts, learn and evaluate.

Bible Study Report – July 14

Last night’s Bible study hangout was attended by five people, and I believe enjoyed by all concerned. We discussed the wheat and the weeds along with several other passages, including Psalm 139 (the whole Psalm, not the portions selected for the Lectionary). I’ll be posting our passages and the theme we’ll look for in them some time this afternoon.

I want to thank everyone who participated, and all those who have worked through technical difficulties. We’re still hearing from more people who want to join at some point, though we’d be happy to do this with just four or five people. There’s nothing formal about it. Just come prepared to discuss. There’s no presuppositions about beliefs either.