Monthly Archives: October 2011

Interview With Thomas Oden

In honor of Thomas Oden’s 80th birthday, Christianity Today reposted an interview they did with him in 1990. It can be found here: Back to the Fathers.  Oden discusses modernism, post modernism, and his move from modernism to classical Christianity.  He has some great insights.

HT: Society of Evangelical Arminians

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The Ghost at Epworth

One of the best documented ghost stories took place in 1716 at the childhood home of John and Charles Wesley. The story was mentioned in the diaries and correspondence of several family members, including Samuel and Susannah Wesley (the parents).  John Wesley also later mentioned the story in the Arminian magazine. At the time the Wesleys had 10 living children, 7 at home.  Samuel Jr was at college, John  (age 12) was in school, Charles (age 8) was also away from home.  The event took place between December 1716 – January 1717.

The following account by Samuel Wesley (along with accounts by other family members) can be found in Memoirs of the Wesley Family, by Adam Clarke, 1817, pages 161-165

AN ACCOUNT OF NOISES AND DISTURBANCES IN MY HOUSE AT EPWORTH, LINCOLNSHIRE, IN DECEMBER AND JANUARY 1716

From the 1st of December my children and servants heard many strange noises, groans, knockings, etc., in every story and most of the rooms of my house, but I hearing nothing of it myself-they would not tell me for some time, because, according to the vulgar opinion, if it boded any ill to me I could not hear it. When it increased, and the family could not easily conceal it, they told me of it.

My daughters, Susannah and Ann, were below stairs in the dining-room, and heard first at the doors, then over their heads, and the night after a knocking under their feet, though nobody was in the chambers or below them. The like they and my servants heard in both the kitchens, at the door against the partition, and over them. The maid-servant heard groans as of a dying man.

My daughter Emilia coming downstairs to draw up the clock and lock the doors at ten o’clock at night, as usual, heard under the staircase a sound among some bottles there, as if they had been all dashed to pieces; but when she looked, all was safe.

Something, like the steps of a man, was heard going up and downstairs at all hours of the night, and vast rumblings below stairs and in the garrets. My man, who lay in the garret, heard someone come slaring through the garret to his chamber, rattling by his side as if against his shoes, though he had none there; at other times walking up and downstairs, when all the house were in bed, and gobbling like a turkey-cock. Noises were heard in the nursery and all the other chambers; knocking first at the feet of the bed and behind it; and a sound like that of dancing in a matted chamber, next the nursery, when the door was locked and nobody in it.

My wife would have persuaded them it was rats within doors, and some unlucky people knocking without; till at last we heard several loud knocks in our own chamber, on my side of the bed; but till, I think, the 21st at night I heard nothing of it. That night I was waked a little before one by nine distinct very loud knocks, which seemed to be in the next room to ours, with a sort of pause at every third stroke. I thought it might be somebody without the house, and having got a stout mastiff, hoped he would soon rid me of it.

The next night I heard six knocks, but not so loud as the former. I know not whether it was in the morning after Sunday, the 23rd, when about seven my daughter Emily called her mother into the nursery, and told her she might now hear the noises there. She went in, and heard it at the bedsteads, and then under the beds, then at the head of it. She knocked, and it answered her. She looked under the bed and thought something ran from thence, but could not well tell of what shape, but thought it most like a badger.

The next night but one we were awaked about one by the noises, which were so violent it was in vain to think of sleep while they continued. I rose, but my wife would rise with me. We went into every chamber and downstairs; and generally as we went into one room, we heard it in that behind us, though all the family bad been in bed several hours. When we were going downstairs, and at the bottom of them, we heard, as Emily had done before, a clashing among the bottles, as if they had been broke all to pieces, and another sound distinct from it, as if a piece of money bad been thrown before us. The same, three of my daughters heard at another time.

We went through the hall into the kitchen, when our mastiff came whining to us, as he did always after the first night of its coming; for then he barked violently at it, but was silent afterwards, and seemed more afraid than any of the children. We still heard it rattle and thunder in every room above or behind us, locked as well as open, except my study, where as yet it never came. After two we went to bed, and were pretty quiet the rest of the night.

Wednesday night, December 26, after or a little before ten, my daughter Emilia heard the signal of its beginning to play, with which she was perfectly acquainted; it was like the strong winding up of a jack. She called us, and I went into the nursery, where it used to be most violent. The rest of the children were asleep. It began with knocking in the kitchen underneath, then seemed to be at the bed’s feet, then under the bed, and last at the head of it. I went downstairs, and knocked with my stick against the joists of the kitchen. It answered me as often and as loud as I knocked; but then I knocked, as I usually do, at my door, 1-23456-7, but this puzzled it, and it did not answer, or not in the same method, though the children heard it do the same twice or thrice after.

I went upstairs and found it still knocking hard, though with some respite, sometimes under the bed, sometimes at the bed’s head. I observed my children that they were frightened in their sleep, and trembled very much till it waked them. I stayed there alone, bid them go to sleep, and sat at the bed’s head by them, when the noise began again. I asked what it was, and why it disturbed innocent children, and did not come to me in my study if it had anything to say to me. Soon after it gave one knock on the outside of the house. All the rest were within, and knocked off for that night.

I went out of doors, sometimes alone, at others with company, and walked round the house, but could see or hear nothing. Several nights the latch of our lodging chamber would be lifted up very often when all were in bed. One night, when the noise was great in the kitchen, and on a deal partition, and the door in the yard, the latch whereof was often lifted up, my daughter Emilia went and held it fast on the inside, but it was still lifted up, and the door pushed violently against her, though nothing was to be seen on the outside.

When we were at prayers and came to the prayer for King George and the prince it would make a great noise over our heads constantly, whence some of the family called it a Jacobite. I have been thrice pushed by an invisible power, once against the corner of my desk in the study, a second time against the door of the matted chamber, a third time against the right side of the frame of my study door as I was going in.

I followed the noise into almost every room in the house, both by day and by night, with lights and without, and have sat alone for some time, and when I heard the noise, spoke to it to tell me what it was, but never heard any articulate voice, and only once or twice two or three feeble squeaks, a little louder than the chirping of a bird, but not like the noise of rats, which I have often heard.

I had designed on Friday, December the 28th, to make a visit to a friend, Mr. Downs, at Normandy, and stay some days with him, but the noises were so boisterous on Thursday night, that I did not care to leave my family. So I went to Mr. Hoole of Haxey, and desired his company on Friday night. He came, and it began after ten, a little later than ordinary. The younger children were gone to bed, the rest of the family and My Hoole were together in the matted chamber. I sent the servants down to fetch in some fuel, went with them, and staid in the kitchen till they came in. When they were gone I heard loud noises against the doors and partition, and at length the usual signal, though somewhat after the time. I had never heard it before, but knew it by the description my daughter had given me. It was much like the turning of a windmill when the wind changes. When the servants returned I went up to the company, who had heard the other noises below, but not the signal. We heard all the knockings as usual from one chamber to another, but at its going off, like the rubbing of a beast against the wall, but from that time till January the 24th we were quiet.

Having received a letter from Samuel the day before relating to it, I read what I had written of it to my family, and this day at morning prayer the family heard the usual knocks at the prayer for the king. At night they were more distinct, both in the prayer for the king and that for the prince, and one very loud knock at the AMEN was heard by my wife and most of my children at the inside of my bed. I heard nothing myself. After nine, Robert Brown, sitting alone by the fire in the back kitchen, saw something come out of the copper-hole like a rabbit, but less, and turned round five times very swiftly. Its ears lay flat upon its neck, and its little scut stood straight up. He ran after it with the tongs in his hands, but when he could find nothing he was frighted, and went to the maid in the parlour.

On Friday, the 25th, having prayers at church, I shortened as usual those in the family at morning, omitting the confession, absolution, and prayers for the king and prince. I observed when this is done there is no knocking. I therefore used them one morning for a trial; at the name of King George it began to knock, and did the same when I prayed for the prince. Two knocks I heard, but took no notice after prayers, till after all who were in the room, ten persons besides me, spoke of it, and said they heard it. No noise at all at the rest of the prayers.

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Ministry Direct – Interview with Roger Olson

George Wood from Ministry Direct recently did a Q&A session with Roger Olson, about his new book: Against Calvinism.

The interview can be found here.

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My Cat Illustrates the Difference Between Arminianism and Calvinism

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say.  Instead of writing a 2,000 word post on the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism, I have posted two pictures of my cat.

The difference between Arminianism and Calvinism is this:  Arminians believe that grace is resistible.  Calvinists believe that grace is irresistible.

First, let’s look at the Calvinistic concept of irresistible grace.  Those to whom God gives grace will certainly receive it.  God’s grace is provided in a way that it is not coercive, because God works in the hearts in minds of the elect in such a way that they freely want to receive what He provides.  Below my cat illustrates what this looks like:


As you can see, the cat’s heart and mind have irresistibly been changed in such a way that she joyously receives the mandatory love that I give her.  I am feeling much glory because of our reciprocal relationship.

Next, kitty will illustrate the Arminian concept of grace.  Arminians believe that grace is resistible.  God gives grace to everyone, and by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, each person has a decision as to whether or not to accept God’s offer.  In this system I do not need to hold the cat by the neck in order to show what grace is like.  Again kitty demonstrates.

Well bummer, that didn’t work as planned.  Apparently, a kitty that is a recipient of irresistible grace is no longer in the mood to receive a more resistible form of grace.  Interesting. 

Perhaps this behavior can be briefly summarized in Latin: felius catus no grabus.

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Popular Phrases and the Christians Who Should Have Coined Them

Below are some popular phrases, and next to the phrase is the name of the Christian who should have coined it.  This is meant to be lighthearted.  Additional suggestions welcome.

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Nothing is certain but death and taxes. -Greg Boyd

What you see is what you get. -Paul Tillich

Pardon my French. -Mark Driscoll

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  -Harold Camping

All you need is love. -Rob Bell

If it aint broke, don’t fix it. -Martin Luther

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  -Theodore Beza

Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. -Jacob Arminius

There’s a sucker born every minute. -Benny Hinn

All publicity is good publicity. -Pat Robertson

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. -C.S. Lewis

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. -Irenaeus

Don’t upset the apple-cart. -Servetus

Is the Pope Catholic? -the Pope

It is better to give than to receive. -Joel Osteen

Don’t count your chickens until they’ve hatched. -John Calvin

It’s all Greek to me. -Augustine

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. -Robert Schuller

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout. -Jonathan Edwards

Don’t lose your head. -Johan van Oldenbarnevelt

Elvis has left the building. -Elvis (Hey, he sang gospel songs)

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Prison Ministry Observations

The past few months I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a local prison ministry.  Here’s some stuff that happens at the prison service that is cool:

  • There’s lots of preaching about grace.  Prisoners know that they need God’s grace.  It’s their only hope.  It’s our only hope too.
  • The power of Jesus Christ is boldly declared. Jesus redeems, he saves, he delivers from bondage to sin. Prisoners believe it.
  • The audience really wants to be at the service. They are excited to praise God, and they look forward fellowship with others.  For many of them, it is the highlight of their week.
  • The audience is diverse.  Both theologically and racially.
  • Baptisms happen pretty regularly.
  • I also find it easy to be bold in that environment.  It’s hard to share my testimony with a co-worker.  But it’s easier to share with a prisoner.  I don’t quite understand why that’s the case, but it is.

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The Idiot’s Guide to Augustine

Next to the New Testament authors, perhaps no person has had a bigger impact on the church than Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine lived in North Africa [AD 354-430].  His mother Monica was a devout Christian.  His father was a pagan who converted to Christianity towards the end of life.  Augustine was born after the conversion of Constantine, at a time when Christianity had become more acceptable to the Roman empire, and also at a time when the empire was in decline.  Augustine was a brilliant thinker and an avid writer.  He brought new doctrines to the church and expanded others.  Given the breadth of his writings, most Christians will find themselves in agreement with some of his teachings, while disagreeing with others. Below is an overview of some the major points of his doctrine.  I’ve attempted to present a balanced, charitable view of his thought.

Original Sin: Original sin (or concupiscence) is the teaching that since Adam and Eve sinned, all humans are born sinful and are guilty before God.  Every human is conceived with an inherently sinful nature, and is unable to seek after God or please God without divine grace.  Original sin was taught before Augustine (See Romans 5:12 for example),  however, Augustine was the first person to systematically articulate the concept,  and to pursue some of its theological implications.   Most Christians today hold to some sort of belief in the inherent sinfulness of humanity, but not all agree with Augustine’s conclusions as to how it affects us.

Infant Baptism:  Should infants be baptized?  This question was in contention during Augustine’s era, just like it is in ours.  Augustine was not baptized as an infant, but he strongly advocated the view – believing it was necessary to take away the guilt of original sin.  He held that unbaptized infants who died were under the wrath of God.   “Concupiscence, therefore, as the law of sin which remains in the members of this body of death, is born with infants. In baptized infants, it is deprived of guilt, is left for the struggle [of life], but pursues with no condemnation, such as die before the struggle. Unbaptized infants it implicates as guilty and as children of wrath, even if they die in infancy, draws into condemnation.”(1)

Celibacy:  Augustine was quite conservative with his views on sexual pleasure – even in the context of marriage. He came to the conclusion that complete chastity was the only solution to the problem of lust.(2)  He taught that being single was preferable to being married, appealing to Paul (1 Cor 7:32-35).  He taught that even in marriage sexual pleasure led to lust.  He viewed sexual intercourse as positive in the context of pro-creation.  Augustine struggled with lust for much of his early life, and was transparent about it in his writings.  He once reportedly prayed: “[God] give me chastity and continence, but not yet!”.  Prior to conversion, he had relationships with at least two concubines – one relationship which lasted for 13 years, and with whom he had a son.  He wanted to marry the long time concubine, but was not permitted to because of her lower social status.  When he was 30 years old, his mother arraigned an engagement with a young girl of equal social status.  Augustine ultimately broke off the relationship with the concubine, and also broke off the arraigned engagement, choosing to commit to a single and celibate life.

Perpetual Virginity of Mary:  The early church held that Mary was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Christ, but early writers did not defend the matter of whether or not she remained a virgin for her entire life.  Since the Gospels record that Jesus had siblings (Matt 13:55-56), this seems impossible.  By the time of Augustine most contemporary theologians held to the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Augustine advocated this view.  He allegorically interpreted Ezek 44:2 as a reference to Mary’s virginity. “What means this closed gate in the house of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that ‘no man shall pass through it,’ save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this: “The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it,” except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of Angels shall be born of her? And what means this – “It shall be shut for evermore,” but that Mary is a Virgin before His birth, a Virgin in His birth, and a Virgin after His birth.”(3)

Just War: Prior to Augustine, Christians were typically pacifists.  Augustine was born after the conversion of Constantine.  Roman persecution of Christianity (at least sanctioned forms) had ended, and the Catholic church had developed an integral relationship with the state.  At the same time the empire was in decline.  The Germanic tribes sacked Rome in 410.  Some blamed the empire’s weakness on the growing influence of Christian pacifism.  Augustine proposed that it was possible to be both a good Christian, and a full Roman citizen.  He argued that a Christian could be a soldier, and could kill an enemy combatant in battle if the cause was just.(4)

Delayed Ensoulment: Prior to Augustine, most church fathers believed that a fetus received a soul infused from the parents at the time of conception.   This view was called traducianism.  Augustine leaned towards “creationism”, a belief that the human body received a soul created by God at some point after conception (thought to be 40 days for males, 90 days for females).   Fetuses that had not yet received a soul were not considered fully human.  Augustine also speculated on the idea of pre-existence of souls (advocated by Origen), but did not come to a conclusion on that issue.  His arguments have relevance to the modern abortion debate.  Nancy Pelosi recently appealed to Augustine on the issue.(5)  He argued that induced abortion was not murder until after ensoulment took place, although he clearly rejected abortion at any point during a pregnancy. “The great question about the soul is not hastily decided by unargued and rash judgment; the law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation when it is not formed in the flesh, and so not yet endowed with sense.”(6)

Predestination: Differing concepts of election and predestination divide Calvinists and Arminians to this day.  Prior to Augustine, the church taught that humanity had free agency (by God’s grace and design), and that anyone could put their faith in Christ and be saved.  In condemning Gnosticism, Irenaeus was one of the fathers who expressed the pre-Augustinian view of grace and free will: “This expression [of our Lord], “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not,” set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests (ad utendum sententia) of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all.”(7)  Augustine instead taught that free agency was destroyed at the fall, and that God imparted faith only to the elect.  His views were a reaction against Pelagius, a British monk who taught that man was inherently good and did not require the grace of God.  Augustine wanted to make clear that man cannot be good on his own.  He argued that only the elect (whom God unconditionally chooses) will be saved.  Against Pelagius, Augustine wrote: “faith itself makes the believer to differ from the unbeliever. And thus, when it is said, “For who makes you to differ? And what have you that you received not?” if any one dare to say, “I have faith of myself, I did not, therefore, receive it,” he directly contradicts this most manifest truth—not because it is not in the choice of man’s will to believe or not to believe, but because in the elect the will is prepared by the Lord.”“(8)

Salvation in Only the Catholic Church:  In Augustine’s time there was a schism between the Catholics and the Donatists.  The split was based on whether or not laity needed to submit themselves to the authority of a group of disputed bishops.  Of particular concern to the Donatists were the bishops who had renounced their faith during times of persecution and repented once persecution was over. The Catholics said it was necessary to submit to these reinstated leaders, the Donatists said no.  The Donatists also held that the church should remain separate from the state.  The Catholics instead argued that church unity and submission to authority were most important.  The Catholics had the backing of the state, and Augustine sided with them.  He held that the Donatists were not saved, and were usurping the authority of the church.   Against Emeritus (a Donatist bishop), Augustine wrote: “No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have the sacraments, one can sing alleluia, one can answer amen, one can have faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and preach it too, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church”.(9)

Amillennialism:  There are several different Christian views about the end times and the nature of Christ’s second coming.  The two views that influenced Augustine will be addressed here – premillennialism and amillennialism.  Premillenialists taught that there would be a tribulation on earth (with Christians present), and that after the tribulation Christ would return for a 1000 year physical reign.  Augustine initially held to premillennialism, but later switched to the amillennial view.(10)   This was in part due to his disagreement with the Donatists, who held to the pre view.  Augustine held that Christ’s 1000 year reign was a symbolic return, and not not a physical one.  His view became the default view of the church.  While Augustine interpreted the physical reign of Christ’s as symbolic, he still held to the 1000 years as a literal time period.  He speculated that the world would end in either AD 650, or AD 1000 (both of which were far in the future).  After AD 1000,  amillennialist views were adjusted to allow for other possibilities.

Purgatory: Purgatory is the belief that Christians who die must go through a purification period before getting into heaven.  Catholics and Orthodox hold to purgatory.  Most Protestants reject the concept.  Augustine held to the idea of purgatory, writing that: “For our part, we recognize that even in this life some punishments are purgatorial…temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment of the world to come.”(11)

Intercession of the Saints:  Saintly Intercession is the teaching that it is possible for believers to ask deceased saints to pray and intercede for them.  Like purgatory, the doctrine is held by Catholics and Orthodox, but rejected by Protestants.  Augustine held to intercession of  saints.  In his prayer to Mary, he wrote:  “Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily repay you with praise and thanks for having rescued a fallen world by your generous consent! Receive our gratitude,and by your prayers obtain the pardon of our sins. Take our prayers into the sanctuary of heaven and enable them to make our peace with God.”(12)

How Do You Pronounce That Name?  If you’ve made it this far, be sure to vote on how to correctly pronounce Augustine’s name.  You can vote here (previous blog post).

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(1)  On the Merit and Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants, Augustine
(2) Augustine’s Sex-Life Change: From Profligate to Celibate,  Frank A James III
(3) Augustine on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, catholicfidelity.com
(4) A time for war?  Robert L Holmes, Christianity Today.
(5) Abortion, Augustine and … Nancy Pelosi? David Gibson, August 26, 2008
(6) On Exodus 21, 80, Augustine
(7) Against Heresies, Irenaeus
(8) On the Predestination of the Saints, Augustine
(9) Address to the People of the Church at Caesarea, Augustine
(10) Amillennialism from Augustine to Modern Times, Walvoord, Bible.org
(11) City of God, XXI, 14, Augustine
(12) Prayer to Our Lady of Mercy, Augustine

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