Thursday, December 2, 2010

Star Trek News

Just thought I'd quickly highlight two Star Trek stories. is reporting that their are some pitches being made to CBS for new Trek TV shows. Tim Russ ('Mr. Tuvok') is quoted as saying:
Star Trek’s been around 40 years, spun off 6 series and 11 movies. Is it time to give the Trek franchise a rest?
“In a sense it is in hiatus right now, because there’s nothing on. "(Star Trek) Enterprise" was the last series, and that’s been off several years. They’re discussing other Star Trek projects, other series. I think there’s still a loyal audience out there that would love to have something to watch that’s Star Trek-related.”
1. It is possible to overdue things so that people suffer brand-fatigue. However, given the success of the rebooting of Battlestar Galactica and the rumored Star Wars TV series, I think it is possible for a Star Trek series to again become relevant for a new generation, if it is done right.

2. I don't think the issues of which timeline you could do a series in is important, I think they way to have success is to do something relevant to a broader audience that is true to the spirit of Star Trek. If you catch and reintroduce the notion of a 'wagon train to the stars' and focus on real character development in a science fiction storyline, you will have a recipe for success. (a) People appreciate the optimism of Star Trek if their is a struggle to realize the ideals of human exploration with a potential for creating a better world. (b) If Star Trek is not too sterilized by over dependance of technology. As much as I like Star Trek (and believe me, I enjoy it). When I watch some of the later Voyager episodes and even the Enterprise episodes, I don't always get the sense that the technology always works and can always bale them out. Sometimes the universe seems a little too perfect.

Second, this is why I think the writers of the lastest Star Trek movie, who are now working on a sequel, 'get it' as it were. Robert Orci has said:

One of the big challenges is all of the characters are together now. A prequel is a pain in the butt, but one of the nice little advantages was that you get to meet the characters as you go through the story and they get to meet each other. That’s fun. We don’t [have] that luxury of not having the entire family there together at the start of the story. So now you want the character stories to be good for everybody but also not just be there to be stories but also fit into the plot and be organic. We’re looking at a lot of the old episodes for inspiration, still. Whereas the last movie was all about breaking free from “Star Trek” and its canon, now that we can do whatever we want, we still want it to feel like good ol’ “Star Trek” even though it’s a new story. 

You cannot just make a science fiction movie with spaceships and slap the Star Trek label and lingo to it. You can't just slap the characters names of people. You have to "get the feel." I think they did the smart thing to reboot the canon in a way that feels natural in a science fiction world. They did it without just 'dumping' all that Star Trek was as if to say 'that 1960s TV didn't happen.' But now they are free as a sort. Yet not only do they want to make a good movie, they want to be faithful, as it were, to the spirit of what has gone before. 

I think this is an exciting time to be a Trekkie.

Dueling Duo: Rhetoric and Arminianism

Are Calvinists the only one who have bad rhetoric in the Calvinism vs. Arminian debate? Are Arminians the only ones calling for fair play? Even with the rise of so-called 'New Calvinism,' which is really a discovery of all that is great about the doctrines of grace in Old Calvinism, it seems neither side has cornered the market on civility or unbridled passion lacking in charity.

I used to do these things I called dueling duos. Most times I'd put two quotes side by side, whereas the first one was newer, the second one was usually something I agreed with that was older than the first quote and had long since refuted the idea of the first quote. Other times, I'd just put two quotes side-by-side. This is going to be one of the latter. They are by the same Arminian author.

This is a reason why I increasingly view evangelicalism as two movements rather than one.  We are like ships passing in the night even though we both call ourselves evangelicals and stand in that movement’s historical trajectory.  Wesley and Whitefield have been pitted against each other.  Indeed.  Thank God they could both serve as catalysts for the Great Awakening, but their profoundly different views of God largely kept them apart.  Wesley’s hermeneutic was captivated by God’s love revealed above all else in Jesus Christ.  Whitefield’s hermeneutic was captivated by God’s glory revealed above all else in God’s sovereign election of individuals to heaven or hell.
How can these two evangelicalisms work together for the greater glory of God?  Well, they probably cannot–especially so long as either side casts aspersions of “idolatry” at the other one.  It always starts as a vigorous disagreement about God’s sovereignty and human free will.  Next comes the caricaturing of views.  Then follows the angry epithets of philosophical reasoning over biblical faithfulness followed by charges of heresy and idolatry.
While I acknowledge that some Arminians have been guilty of such, overall and in general it is representatives of the “new Calvinism” (or sometimes just plain old decretal theology Calvinism) that engage in the most vitriolic rhetoric against other people who are allegedly (so one might have thought) their fellow evangelical Christians.   (Many people in the world wide Reformed fellowship are not guilty of this at all.)

There is much that is helpful in this excerpt. [For Calvinists saying similar things see here]

All that is to say that Arminianism’s critics are the proverbial people casting stones while living in glass houses.  They talk endlessly about God’s glory and about God-centeredness while sucking the goodness out of God and thus divesting him of real glory.  Their theology may be God-centered but the God at its center is unworthy of being the center.  Better a man-centered theology than one that revolves around a being hardly distinguishable from the devil... 
One finds no hint anywhere in Arminius of any concern for human autonomy for its own sake.  Arminius’s only reason for affirming libertarian free will is to disconnect sin from God and make the sinner solely responsible for it.  His one overriding concern is for God’s glory in all things.  There can be no doubt that he would agree whole heartedly with the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism “What is the chief end of man?”  “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Time prohibits me from rehearsing a litany of Arminian affirmations of the glory of God after Arminius.  Suffice it to say that all classical Arminians have always agreed with Arminius about this matter.  I challenge critics of Armininism to display one example of a classical Arminian theologian who has elevated humanity to an end in itself or in any way made God’s chief end the glory of man.  It doesn’t exist.
I conclude with this observation.  The difference between Arminian and Calvinist theologies does not lie in man-centeredness versus God-centeredness.  True Arminianism is as thoroughly God-centered as Calvinism.  A fair reading of classical Arminian theologians from Arminius to Thomas Oden cannot avoid finding in them a ringing endorsement of the God-centeredness of all creation and redemption.  The difference, rather, lies in the nature and character of the God who stands at the centers of these two systems.  The God who stands at the center of classical, high Calvinism of the TULIP variety is a morally ambiguous being of power and control who is hardly distinguishable from the devil.  The devil wants all people to go to hell whereas the God of Calvinism wants some, perhaps most, people to go to hell.  The devil is God’s instrument in wreaking havoc and horror in the world—for God’s glory.  The God who stands at the center of classical Arminianism is the God of Jesus Christ, full of love and compassion as well as justice and wrath who voluntarily limits his power to allow creaturely rebellion but is nevertheless the source of all good for whose glory and honor everything except sin exists.

1. It is a shame that these quotes are by a professional theologian who is worthy of respect.

2. There is a double standard here, to say the least, within the second quote itself. 

One the one hand, he would have people represent Arminianism fairly in that their is an aspect of their theology that is concerned with God's glory. One the other hand, we could challenge him to find in Calvinism such a grotesque portrayal of God so that he does not even treat Calvinism as he wants Arminians to be treated. 

So he will not allow the Calvinist to offer an external critique of Arminianism when we say "they aren't God-centered." Of course a Calvinist does not deny that an Arminian cares about God and God is somehow central to his thinking, rather the critique is that their theology does not place enough emphasis on God and His glory in the same manner and to the same extent that the Biblical text does. Yet it is an external critique of the Arminian evaluating Calvinism from the outside Calvinism that makes such a gross caricature possible. No Calvinist would say this of their own system (just as no Arminian would say they aren't 'God-centered').

3. It strike me as odd that "vitriolic rhetoric" and "the caricaturing of views" can be so deplored on the one hand in the first quote. And then on the very next post one can say Calvinism "hardly distinguishable from the devil." To this we might reply respectfully: Physician, heal thyself! 

4. I am unconvinced that this issue is somehow not about 'who is God-centered vs. who is man-centered.' If, as we are told, Calvinism makes God like the devil, then that is indeed idolatry. And if it is idolatry, then it is man-centered and not God-centered. If the God of Calvinism is, as we are told, "is a morally ambiguous being of power and control who is hardly distinguishable from the devil," then he has been remade in an idolatrous man-centered approach. I fail to be convinced that a debate about the attributes and character of God is not a part of the 'man-centered vs. God-centered' debate. Any person who is adding or taking away from the attributes of God as Scripture portrays them is then doing something that is man-centered instead of something that is God-centered. 

At the end of the day the debate is not about which side thinks they are more God-centered and not man-centered. Of course both sides argue that they are God-centered. The debate is about who is actually more faithful to the Biblical attributes and character of God. Claiming "we are God-centered because we think we are" is not the point of the debate. We cannot say 'I think therefore I am.' The grounds for legitimate debate is not what each side thinks about itself. 

The author knows full well no Calvinist thinks God is like the devil but he brings his criticism to bear. I do not think the criticism stands but the author brings it to bear because from his system and perspective he has interpreted his opponent. A response should deflect the criticism and show this is untrue of Calvinism both theologically and Biblically. At the same time, a Calvinist can and should know that Arminians claim to be God-centered. If someone disagrees they should show why this is not actually true. Readers and listeners of such debates are then able to decide who is right and who is wrong as they compare it to Scripture.

In the end, it is right to call for fair representation and honest debate. Straw men should be put to rest and ended by all involved. Digging in with epithets and charges of damnable heresy serves no purpose. It is unfortunate that the same author who applauds such fairness and honest debate in the end considers his opponent's view of God as "hardly distinguishable from the devil."

Let's not pretend it is only the Calvinists, New Calvinist, 'conservative evangelicals' or *gasp* fundamentalists who have a zeal that can at times get the better of them. We used to respect people who stood by their convictions and critiqued other based upon those convictions, even while we disagreed with the principles.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bad Theology: On American Exceptionalism

Over at the Washington Post, there is an essay on American Exceptionalism and the Republican capitalization of it:
"The nation's ideology can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez faire," wrote the late political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset, one of the leading scholars of the subject.
Indeed, exceptionalism has often been employed to explain "why the United States is the only industrialized country which does not have a significant socialist movement or Labor party," Lipset wrote.
The proposition of American exceptionalism, which goes at least as far back as the writing of French aristocrat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, asserts that this country has a unique character.
It is also rooted in religious belief. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: "God has granted America a special role in human history."
Gingrich says Obama fails to understand that "American exceptionalism refers directly to the grant of rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence," and that it is a term "which relates directly to our unique assertion of an unprecedented set of rights granted by God."
I believe there is something to be said for a form of 'limited' American exceptionalism. I am willing to grant that America is not just subjectively one of the best nations but objectively has granted the most amounts of freedoms to its people. It has led the way in many fields, not least the promotion of democracy but also science and innovation because of its free market ideals among other things. This is not to say we can "go it alone" or that we should not engage a globalized world. This is to say America has a uniqueness amongst nations of the last two centuries. While we have commonalities with other democratic nations, there is something that has been embedded since our founding. It is something that I think should be in its own form embedded in other nations. I think other nations can and should aspire to this ideal of granting the liberty of a democratic republic to their people.

That said: I deplore the notion that we are "unique to God's history." Quite frankly, if as American we rejected the divine right of kings, then we should reject the divine right of nations, particularly as it pertains to us.

(1) Americans can't even agree on who God is--nor should we pretend that we have some common creed. 'God' is cannot be a generic noun with which we fill whatever we want into it.

(2) Nationalism should not and must not be routed in civil religion.

(3) When we start thinking we have a 'special role in God's history' --we make America take on a sort of Messianic quality. Theologically only Israel and the church as the 'people of God' fulfill this character and only then because of their union with the Messiah.

(4) I agree that our rights are granted by God. Human beings are made in God's image--but let's not replace that with a notion that we are special because we've found it. I think most of us are going to be shocked at the judgement that God will have for us because of our American sins.

(5) While there are something that we can look at in history and say that America was uniquely suited and raised up to do something and that something was infallibly part of God's plan--God has done that with nations since the dawn of time, and he is doing it throughout the world. We are no more important in God's sovereign plan than anybody else. There is nothing exceptional about us before God.

(6) This notion of God's blessing in our 'American Exceptionalism' becomes theological Pelagianism applied to the national politic and human history. God blessed us because of who we made ourselves. We acknowledged Him and therefore He granted us pride of place. It is offense to anyone with a Biblical doctrine of sin and the gospel.

(7) America's pride in her exceptionalism will be her undoing. Mounting this pride and excusing because we see ourselves as uniquely 'under God' puts us at odds with the character of God who cherishes humility.

All that said: I am proud to be an American. I am grateful to God for privileges he has afforded me as an American and even through being an American. But let's not mix the kingdom of man with the kingdom of God. The right doesn't like it when the left does it in their economic and socialistic policies, but shame of the right for doing the same thing with American Exceptionalism.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...