www.christiancafe.com
Spread the love

In this post, I provide an overview of my theology as it stood in 2007. It serves as a good starting point for me as I reflect upon my faith journey over the past thirteen years and as I progress in my studies here at Yale Divinity School.

my theology

Photo by michael kooiman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. This content uses referral links.

The final paper in my Systematic Theology class this semester requires me to create a personal Credo, a statement of my theology and what I understand the purpose of theology to be.

As I have been thinking about my theology and how to approach this paper, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my own faith journey, particularly since I graduated from college thirteen years ago, and how my theology continues to evolve.

The last class I took in college was Christian Theology, a kind of capstone course for Christian Studies majors at Ouachita Baptist University. At the end of that course, I had to submit a “My Theology” paper that outlined my own theological belief system.

The nature of the assignment was different than the one on which I am currently working. Nonetheless, I have been reflecting upon where my theology was then and where it is am now.

I have decided to post my original “My Theology” paper below as part of my God and Man at Yale Divinity School blog series for those who may be interested simply to serve as a further explanation of my background.

I believe this “My Theology” paper provides a point of comparison as I continue to work through my own theological perspective here at Yale.

So, below, for those who are interested, is the condensed theology of my twenty-one-year-old self, circa 2007. I have made only slight modifications for stylistic and grammatical purposes.

Refraining from making significant changes to this “My Theology” paper was difficult, as I find a few lines cringe-worthy now. But where I felt compelled to provide commentary, I did so only in footnotes.

My Theology: Garrett Ham, 2007

Below I provide a brief but wide-ranging description of my theology as I formulated it during my senior year in college in 2007.

The Nature of God

God eternally exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each one as a distinguishable entity is inherently God in and of himself, and yet God is one. The Godhead exists in eternal relationship within itself.

I find the perspective of Eastern Orthodoxy that God’s threeness is an assumed reality to which his oneness must be reconciled more helpful than the reversed Western view.

I affirm God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and sovereignty.

God practices a general sovereignty, desiring genuine give and take relationships with free agents. He consequently has given them a real freedom to love or reject him. The Triune God is relational by nature, and that is reflected in the type of sovereignty he chooses to practice.[1]

The Nature of Man 

Mankind[2] is born into sin, an objective force, and in need of a Savior. Sin has enslaved all of mankind, and it is into this slavery that man is born.

The Pelagian-Augustinian debate over whether or not the individual inherits a sin nature is a peripheral issue. Humanity is corporately under the power of sin, and every individual is born into that slavery. A slave does not inherit a slave nature in his DNA. He is a slave only because he is the child of slaves.[3]

Sin

Sin nature is imposed upon an individual, not inherent to his being. He is a slave because he is the child of slaves.

Individuals cannot help but sin because they are slaves to sin. The individual is in bondage to sin because humanity is corporately in bondage to sin. Therefore, salvation for the individual must entail salvation for all creation.

Man’s End

Man is, by nature, immortal. At death, the individual continues to exist apart from the body. The believing individual continues to serve God in this capacity, but his death marks a victory for Satan, a condition that must be rectified.

The greatest significance of resurrection, therefore, lies beyond the individual. The question, “If humans continue to exist after death, then why is resurrection necessary?” misses the point in that it focuses only upon the ramifications of resurrection for the individual.

Death is the devil’s greatest weapon. Resurrection, therefore, marks God’s final victory over Satan and man’s finally fulfilling his original purpose to serve as God’s viceroy on earth.

At the resurrection, Satan’s last grasp on man, and consequently the creation man was to subdue, is broken, and he is finally defeated.[4] Resurrection renders Satan impotent.

Resurrection’s cosmic and corporate significance is much more important than its significance for the individual, though through resurrection the individual shares in the final victory of Christ.

Spiritual Warfare

Other spiritual beings exist, are active, and have a real impact on world events.[5] Like humans, these spiritual beings were created to serve God but possess the freedom to accept or reject him.

Those who serve him are generally referred to as angels. Those living in rebellion against him are typically called demons. The leader of this rebellion is Satan, and he is the god of this world.

God and his angels fight against Satan and his forces for control of creation. Satan was ultimately defeated through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, but his final defeat awaits the eschaton.

Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ is the incarnation of Yahweh, being in essence fully God and fully man. He was born of a virgin and partook of all the experiences of humanity. He became like man in every way, except in sin.

As a man, he recapitulated the purpose of mankind, fulfilling God’s original intention for man. In so doing, particularly through his death and resurrection, Christ set man free from the bondage of sin and death.

At the conclusion of his ministry, he ascended into heaven victorious to sit at the right hand of the Father. There he functions as our high priest, interceding on our behalf. He will come again to judge creation, claim his final victory, and set up his eternal kingdom.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit indwells the individual Christian and guides the corporate body of Christ, that is, the Church. He proceeds from the Father and the Son and is of the same essence. He is personal, relational, and fully divine, equal with the Father and the Son.

In partnership with the Father and the Son, he is the active agent in achieving the work of God on earth today. His work is a mystery, and consequently, he is often the forgotten member of the Trinity.

Nevertheless, he is fully divine, existing in eternal fellowship with the Father and Son, and his power and influence is real and pronounced throughout the world.

Baptism

Baptism brings a child into the Church and allows him or her to share in the benefits of living in a freed community of faith. Baptism, therefore, while not bringing or guaranteeing personal salvation for the infant, delivers him or her from a state of total depravity.[6]

The child, like the mature believer, enjoys an already-not yet existence of the human nature, freed from sin but continuing to sin under the external influence of sin.

The sacramental nature of baptism is not bestowed by the water itself, as if there were magic within it. Rather, God bestows his grace upon the child through the physical act on account of the faith of the freed community into which the child is born.

This does not, however, remove the need for the child to make his or her own decision of faith later.

While baptism and entrance into the Church grant the child special benefits, the child still must freely decide to serve Christ. Through that choice, the child chooses to either validate or reject and void the grace he or she received through baptism.

Baptism does not remove free will or bring salvation. Baptism is an initiation rite into the Church with all the accompanying benefits.

The mature believer who refuses baptism insists on coming to God on his or her own terms and so demonstrates a lack of true salvific faith.

Salvation

Personal salvation requires a real and personal commitment to Jesus Christ and an acceptance of his grace for salvation. This commitment does not have to occur at one point in time, but must be real nonetheless.

Salvation cannot be inherited. Nevertheless, children of believers stand at an advantage, in that they are born children of freemen. That is to say, their parents do not stand under the bondage of sin. Total depravity is a consequence of living in bondage to the power of sin.

God does everything he can to save each individual, but should an individual choose to reject God, God will not force that individual into communion with himself. God will force no one into heaven.[7]

The Process of Salvation

Salvation is a process that begins at baptism.

For the baptized infant, the process is voided if no personal commitment eventually follows. For the unbaptized who come to faith later in life, personal faith and baptism mark the beginning of the salvation process, but the two cannot be rightfully distinguished.

The beginning of the salvation process, often called justification, cannot be distinguished from the process as a whole, often called sanctification.[8] Salvation has a beginning, but its end does not come until the eschaton.

Sanctification, the process by which God transforms believers into the image of Christ, can be distinguished from justification in the same way a race can be distinguished from its starting line. One cannot exist without the other, for they are aspects of one reality.

Salvation is not a point-in-time event, but rather an all-encompassing reality of the believer’s life. Through the salvation process, God transforms the believer into the divine image. As Athanasius wrote, “The Son of God became man, that we might become God.”

This does not mean the believer can ontologically become God, but rather that God works to incorporate the believer into the divine work and transform his nature to reflect the divine nature. The believer becomes like God in every way except in essence.

God and man cooperate in this process of theosis, for man is powerless to do it on his own, and God will not force his agenda upon anyone.

Purgatory

Every true believer must undergo this process of theosis. Should this progression be interrupted by death, then God and man will cooperate to complete this process postmortem in purgatory.[9]

Purgatory is not a place for the believer to be punished for his sins, for Christ has paid the penalty of sin. Purgatory is instead a place to complete the sanctification process. While it will doubtlessly be unpleasant, it is not a place to be feared.

Purgatory is not inflicted upon the believer, but is rather a joint effort between the believer and Christ, as the believer cooperates with the divine plan. There is comfort in the assurance that God will bring every believer into sainthood.

Defining the nature of purgatory and by what means God will complete the sanctification process is beyond human understanding. There is a mystery to this.

When the process of theosis is “complete,” that is, when the believer’s character reflects the divine character, the believer enters into Christ’s service in heaven and awaits the final culmination of the salvation process at the eschaton.[10]

Security of the Believer

In light of the process of salvation, the question, “Can one lose his or her salvation?” is a nonsensical one.[11]

Salvation is not something to be possessed, like a wallet that can be accidentally lost or misplaced. Salvation is relational. It is a life-giving dependency on the Father that cannot be reduced to mere legal jargon concerning justification.

Salvation is a process that occurs between God and man. God offers his grace that brings freedom from the bondage of sin. Man must only receive God’s grace and accept Christ as his new master, thereby freeing him from Satan’s grip.

That acceptance, however, does not bring man into a passive experience of salvation. Because salvation is relational, man must cooperate with the grace offered to him. Should man reject this relationship with God, God will not force him into communion with himself.

Despite its frequent practical perversions, the Roman Catholic doctrine of mortal sin—that is, the commission of grave sin with full knowledge of its gravity and with full consent and intent—is helpful, in that mortal sin marks a rejection of God in the most intensely personal, relational terms.

By definition, no one can accidentally commit mortal sin, and what is mortal sin cannot be clearly defined. Mortal sin is not a legal formula, but a severing of relationship, the believer’s rejection of God.

Cheap Grace

Some believe they can take advantage of God, claiming salvation but refusing to cooperate in the divine plan. They point to this perverse understanding of soteriology and call it grace.

Those who claim doing, saying, or believing certain things will bring them heaven, despite their life of sin, have no place in the kingdom of God. Their soteriology makes a mockery of God, but God cannot be mocked. Salvation is relationship, and relationship requires cooperation.[12]

None who intentionally, continually, and habitually sin have any hope of salvation apart from repentance. There is no such thing as “fire insurance” to be purchased by the recitation of a particular prayer or creed or adherence to a proper belief system. Salvation lies only close to God.

Damnation

Those who forsake God forsake salvation.[13] God will pursue the individual to bring him back to the fold, but should he refuse to repent, God will relent.

Death eternalizes man’s state before God. If a believer dies rejecting God, that rejection is eternalized, and he has no share in God’s kingdom.

God does not send people to hell. Hell is simply separation from God, and God allows each individual to choose to draw close to himself or to flee his presence. Every damned individual dies while being pursued by the divine love.

Those in Christ never have to fear damnation. Yet, should they choose to apostate their position in Christ and separate themselves from relationship with God, God will not override their free will.

Rejection of the process of salvation is a rejection of God, and ultimate salvation cannot be achieved if the individual short-circuits the process.

God, in his mercy, allows the apostate believer to resume the process should he repent, but there is no room for complacent Christianity. Indeed, complacent Christianity is no Christianity at all.

We are, therefore, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

The Bible

The Bible is without error in all matters of faith and practice.[14] On all matters Scripture addresses, it is infallible.

Scripture, however, is a book of theological truths, written to guide God’s people in the practice of faith. The Bible is not a science or history book.

Issues such as science, history, chronology, and numerical accounts are peripheral issues that do not speak to the main point of Scripture. They are simply culturally conditioned presuppositions, which the author brings to the text.

God did not write Scripture; it did not fall from heaven. He did, however, inspire Scripture, granting it infallibility in all matters of theological truths, which it addresses.

Humans did the actual writing of Scripture and brought with them their own scientific and historical presuppositions and understandings.

God did not find it necessary to precede revelation with a lesson in science or history in order to correct cultural misunderstandings (such as the sun’s revolving around the earth). Consequently, Scripture could theoretically contain historical, scientific, numerical, and chronological errors that do not threaten its infallibility.

Scripture must be understood for what it says, and so these “errors” do not affect scriptural inerrancy. Neither do issues of authorship and source criticism threaten the infallibility of Scripture. Scripture is infallible in its canonical form as defined by the Church.

The Church

The Church is the body of Christ and carries his authority. Christ vested his authority with the apostles, particularly Peter, and that authority continues through their successors in the episcopate, particularly through the office of the papacy.

As the body of Christ, the Church is Christ, though not all of Christ. Consequently, the Church is powerfully guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Church is not infallible per se, but the Holy Spirit is continually moving it toward infallibility on issues of faith and practice. So, for example, after 300 years of grappling with the issues of canonicity, the Church was able to discern infallibly which books were canonical and which were not.

The Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was able to discern the spiritual truth of canonicity. Similarly, the Church can discern spiritual and theological truths in other areas.

For example, the Church can discern the meaning and purpose of baptism, the finishing of the sanctification process in purgatory, and the reality of transubstantiation.

These things are not true because the Church declares them to be so. The Church declares them to be so because they are true.

The Church may struggle with theological issues for hundreds of years before reaching a conclusion that can be called infallible. Nonetheless, it is toward this infallibility that the Holy Spirit is moving the Church, despite the Church’s frequent missteps along the way.

The Papacy 

In accordance with the First Vatican Council, I affirm that the pope, as the successor of Peter, when he speaks on matters of faith and practice ex cathedra, not inventing new doctrines but expounding or elaborating upon doctrines received from the apostles, whether through Scripture or the oral tradition, speaks infallibly on account of Christ’s intercession to guide his Church.

The pope, a fallible human being, can, therefore, in narrow circumstances, speak infallibly in the same way the fallible Paul was, in rare cases, able to write infallibly.

This infallibility is bestowed upon the papal office, not upon the individual holding the post. It demonstrates the mercy of Christ, and the pope cannot use it for personal gain.

Ecclesiastical authority and Scriptural authority flow together as one stream of authority received from the Holy Spirit.

Eschatology

Concerning eschatology, I reject millennialism as a misunderstanding of Scripture.

The Book of Revelation has little to say about future events, except for its pointing to the ultimate victory of God over Satan.

Revelation, as well as other apocalyptic material from Scripture, references events contemporary to its writing. Christ could come back tomorrow or ten thousand years from now. There is no way to know.

In addition, God’s practice of delaying his coming, as Peter teaches, makes the date fluid and impossible to be nailed down.

Let us, therefore, like the faithful servant, be about our master’s work until his coming, whenever that may be.

The Foundation of My Theology 

In sum, I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.


Footnotes:

[1] This paragraph reflects my strong interest in open theism at the time.

[2] I attended college in a conservative evangelical environment. The stress on inclusive language that is prevalent at Yale and other similar institutions is clearly absent, as should be apparent throughout this “My Theology” paper.

[3] I don’t think that I would phrase it exactly this way today.

[4] Even then I meant “subdue” in the biblical sense, that is, as a caretaker, 

[5] I now find this section a bit hokey. While I thought it made coherent sense in the theodicy I was formulating at the time, I am much less sure of such a reality now. The views in this paragraph clearly reflect the works of YDS alum Greg Boyd—particularly his God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil —whom I read heavily in college. While I believe he has created a coherent systematic theological system, I find this view more difficult to accept now, even though I don’t yet know with what I would replace it.

[6] This viewpoint was woefully underdeveloped in my theology at the time. My main purpose in this section was obviously to justify infant baptism, writing as I was into a Baptist environment and having grown up in Baptist churches myself.

[7] Questions of salvation for those outside the Church were just beginning to occur to me at the time. I frankly thought little of it until later, so issues of exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism, etc. were not on my mind, though I would now consider myself an inclusivist.

[8] These terms are consistent with the evangelical environment into which I was writing.

[9] At this point, I was just beginning what would turn out to be a very long journey into the Roman Catholic Church.

[10] There is some mixture of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox concepts here.

[11] This is a predominant question within conservative evangelical Christian circles.

[12] I directed this criticism at the use of the “sinner’s prayer” so popular in the evangelical circles of my youth, a concept with which I had grown increasingly uncomfortable by this point in my life.

[13] This marked my rejection of the “security of the believer” concept of the Southern Baptist Church.

[14] I reflect upon my current—and perhaps evolving—position on this matter in my theology elsewhere on this website.


See Also:

Week 5: Conservatives at Yale Divinity

God and Man at Yale Divinity

www.christiancafe.com

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.