Category Archives: theology

Christopher Hitchens Interviewed by Marilyn Sewell

I must confess — I like Christopher Hitchens.  I think he is funny, witty, intelligent and is a fabulous writer.  Obviously I would disagree with Hitchens on a number of philosophical and historical issues.

The interchange between Hitchens and Wilson in Collision is very enjoyable.  They prove to be well-matched opponents in the oft one-sided Christian vs. Atheist debate format.

Recently Hitchens was interviewed by the Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell.  In their encounter Hitchens makes quite a few stunning observations.

Amid the nonsensical questions (Hitchens categorizes one of Sewell’s ambiguous spiritual utterances as a “statement that [has] no meaning — at all),  Sewell  stumbles on Hitchens view of the non-material portion of a person (i.e., a soul).  Hitchens, though not subscribing to an immortal soul or something of that nature, acknowledges that there is a portion of each human that is not “entirely materialistic.”  His evidence?  Innocence in children, existences of love, and other “unquantifiable” attributes.  This sounds vaguely reminiscent of the classic Christian triad of “truth, goodness, and beauty.”

I am not one to normally criticize “liberal Christianity” (whatever that means), but Sewell so clearly believes she is a part of the Christian tradition.  She self identifies with Christianity though she believes virtually nothing of the Orthodox Christian faith according to the Scriptures.  I was pleased to see Hitchens candidly point out the inconsistency in Sewell’s belief systems.  Here are portions of there exchange:

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds.  I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally.  I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example).  Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Sewell: Let me go someplace else.  When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich.  He shocked people by describing the traditional God — as you might as a matter of fact — as, “an invincible tyrant.”  For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.”  It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish-fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death.  What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?

Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning — at all.”  Christianity, remember is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus.  Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy.  If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you.

Sewell: Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change.  I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian.  You do:  You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually.

Hitchens: Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.

The rest of the exchange is quite fascinating.  If anything, Sewell reveals that she is more akin to Hitchens (an atheist) than a Biblical Christian.

Is forgiveness really once for all?

I have been comparing the idea of Jesus’ forgiveness of  sins being sufficient for all time (a la Hebrews 10) and the insistence by many of continually confessing sin (a la 1 John 1:9).  In my cursory reading of 1 John it appears that such a confession is a mere agreement that one is guilty before rather than  a continual appropriation of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a one time act accomplished solely by God (1 John 2:12).

My initial conclusion: confession of sin is a realization of one’s condition and God’s salvation.  God does the saving, confession is a natural result (not a prerequisite or ongoing requirement).  I am not sure if this is all a part of evangelicalism’s “Catholic hangover” or just a failure to fully trust in the grace alone, faith alone message of the gospel.

I wonder how my actions would change if I really lived in the guilt free, once-for-all forgiveness of Jesus?

The Forest or the Trees?: Thoughts on Reading the Bible

Recently I came across a review of N.T. Wright’s new book on justification in the e-journal Themelios.  Though I have not read the book I am familiar with the ongoing debate between John Piper and N. T. Wright on the nature of “justification” in Romans.  Sidenote – an obvious conflict of interest exists when the reviewer is the executive pastoral assistant to John Piper.  However, more to the point of reading the Bible, the reviewer criticizes Wright’s exegesis by comparing him to Piper:

Exegesis has two different flavors for Wright and Piper. Piper wrestles word by word, proposition by proposition, and then paragraph by paragraph. Wright moves much quicker through large chunks of Paul’s thought, refers frequently to whole chapters and paragraphs…

Mathis illustrates a common mistake in reading Scripture.  To Mathis’ point, one must not merely hover over the text or keep the text at arm’s length.  However, the myth of word-by-word exegesis has been propagated to the exclusion of context.  Every word is important, but any given word, phrase, or paragraph is pointless if it does not contribute to a coherent whole.  There are many contemporary examples of preachers, teachers, and scholars who purport to do Biblically faithful exegesis merely by teaching word-for-word through a text.  However, it might be more impressive when one synthesizes and explains the content of an entire paragraph, chapter, or book in the Bible.

Are You Self-Aware?

They say “ignorance is bliss.”  It has always been my contention that ignorance is merely ignorance.  I do not believe that genuine bliss can contain ignorance.  Certainly when one is unaware they do not “worry” about their situation, but when informed with reality their is no true “happiness.”

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:8).

The reality of our situation is one of sin.  We are sinners in need of grace.  Ignoring this fact may give one an excuse to live in their own fantasy world, but it does not change the reality of their situation.

Rather than live in the myth of my own goodness, I pray that I understand the reality of my sin and I live in the reality of God’s grace.