Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Response to Bob Campbell

I posted a response of Bob's to a blog of mine. Bob also has a blog. Isn't he a friendly looking guy? I do like Bob. I have liked him since I knew him in upstate New York.

I remember once at a presbytery meeting he had a debate with another colleague on some theological point that I can't remember now. I have to confess that I found more points of agreement with Bob's opponent than Bob; however, Bob was far more gentle, collegial, and decent than the other guy. That scored a lot of points with me. I think it helped me to be more sympathetic for Bob's points of view. Before y'all think I am going to hop in bed with Bob, here is our discussion:

Points of agreement:

#1) Bob said:
I entirely agree with you about premillenial dispensationalism. Anyone who is a Reformed Christian should say the same. Premillenial dispensationalism is a bad exegesis and bad theology.

Hallelujah, Bob. I am pleased that not just wacko liberals have a problem with this. John Dominic Crossan said that the challenge of the 21st century will not be between science against religion but between science and religion against fantasy. I believe that PD (rapture) is a critical issue to face. It is not about theory. It is about the future of Earth.

#2) Bob also sent me an essay he wrote about the Iraq war. Excellent. I wrote about something similar here and, of course, along with Bob, opposed the whole wretched enterprise from the beginning. I am very, very pleased that evangelical reformed Christians like Bob also oppose it.

Frankly, those two agreements are good enough for me. The rest is quibbling as far as I am concerned.

#3) Bob provides a critique of my statement: “A ball does not roll down an incline plane because God wills it.” Bob says that is theological not scientific. I agree. Thanks. But he does understand my main point: science explains the how and theology tries to give meaning.

Points for further discussion:

#1) I would challenge Bob on this statement regarding balls rolling down incline planes. Bob said:
But, being the rather traditional Calvinist that I am, I would also say that if just one time God wants the ball to roll up the incline instead of down, God can do that.

I don't think God can do that. Putting it positively, I think that if scientists observed a ball rolling up an incline plane, they could eventually determine why that happened without resorting to a supernatural cause. That is a scientific explanation.

Now, for a theological explanation. When we think of God we often think of a person. A person much like us to whom we can speak etc. God as a person is a metaphor. It has its advantages and its disadvantages. The major disadvantage to thinking of God as a person is that we get into a metaphysical bind when that person doesn't do something when she should. God, in my view, does not intervene now and then or ever to disrupt the physical laws of the universe. That is because God, ultimately, is not a person. That whole question of God as a person is one in which Bob and I might explore further.

#2) Let's jump to the fun one, the return of Christ. Bob wrote (quite eloquently):

I believe Jesus will return. I do believe that God calls us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to seek to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God now and therefore to live justly and with compassion and also to work in an attempt to so influence governments and societies that there may be more justice and compassion. Both as a theological observation and as an observation on the vicious way humans treat one another and God’s good creation, I don’t believe justice and compassion can become complete until Jesus returns and makes it complete. That, I think, is the true purpose of Christ’s return, of which judgment of humans will merely be a part.

My issue is this: in what manner does Christ return? I am assuming that Bob does not think that Christ will return in such a way that the whole universe will collapse suddenly or that Earth will stop spinning on its axis and cease rotating around the sun. I am assuming that Bob believes that Christ's return has to do with justice for Earth. If that is so, I am in complete agreement. I think that the return of Christ is a metaphor (not just a metaphor, but YES a metaphor!) for the reality of justice and peace on Earth. That second coming is happening now. It is not just up to human willpower, but God is participating in that if we open ourselves to God.

That is enough for now. I am most certain that I have not adequately answered nor stated Bob's concerns. I trust that he will point those out to me.


  1. Bravo! A continuation of a good discussion; I'm going to have to go ahead and agree with you on your points John, but again, Pastor Bob stated his case really well. As for the return of Jesus, I thought that was explained last year anyway. As I recall, he was away trying to find the remnants of his exploded home planet Krypton, but he came back via rocket ship; Ma Kent found him and gave him some chicken noodle soup and he was right as rain. He even survived that trouble at the end of the movie.

  2. Much a I hate labels, I've considered myself a progressive/liberal Christian for about 20 years. I don't believe the Bible is straight from God's mind to the page, and I certainly don't think it's a scientific "how to" book, but I do think it holds authority for how we understand the Gospel's claim on our lives. Yet I find I have more in common with Bob than with you.

    I believe in a relational God who interacts in history and with creation. I believe Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again -- physically and metaphysically. As for where he'll come from, that's God's business, but I believe the promise. Until that happens, God definitely has business for us, and that business is called righteousness, which includes justice.

    I also believe that if God wants to make a ball roll up an incline plane, God can do it. I don't think God wants to do it (what would be the point of that?), but I believe God can do it.

    If that makes me evangelical I'll gladly wear the label (though I don't care for labels) because I believe God is relational, and that's good news.

  3. I believe the Holy Spirit (the spirit of goodness that has been known to dwell in the hearts of men) has has tremendous power that none of us fully understand.

    Ball rolling backwards? I've seen buildings roll backwards during earthquakes. What challenge would a ball be?

    I'm pretty confident that if God could make a ball roll backwards, he would simply use such power to wipe each and every one of us off this planet forever and let the earth live in peace.

    Hey, John. Sorry about the use of the "B" word yesterday. You've read my blog, at least give me credit for writing a whole page and only getting nasty once. :P
    Could be a record. :D

  4. Thanks, Bobby!

    Welcome, Unblogger! Love the title. Glad you are here! I really am happy you find more in common with Bob and than I and have said so. We all find ourselves on a different place in our quest!

    TN420, You are cool. Glad you are here, too. Just wanted to alert you to what others were saying about you.

    I like what you said: "I believe the Holy Spirit (the spirit of goodness that has been known to dwell in the hearts of men) has tremendous power that none of us fully understand."

    Amen. Let us see if we cannot open ourselves to it!