Note: In his hilarious and satirical book, The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, the late Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
As we look at the New Testament, we find a term in Greek that is most consistently translated “to forgive.” That term is aphiēmi which communicates the idea of “letting go.” By way of illustration, if you remember in the movie Top Gun,
Tom Cruise’s character Maverick, feels guilt and responsibility for the death of his partner, Goose. He hangs onto Goose’s dog tags, which symbolize to him Goose’s presence. At the end of the movie we see him flinging Goose’s dog tags out to sea . . . he is letting go . . . letting go of Goose, letting go of the regret and the guilt. He is forgiving himself. In one sense, we can say this is a biblical picture of what forgiveness is. It is a letting go. In another sense, it is a vast oversimplification of what process of forgiveness looks like.
Several scriptural examples make it clear that the idea of forgiveness and consequences are not antithetical. Perhaps the most vivid is the example of David. The example of David in 2 Samuel may be instructive here. His affair with Bathsheba is legendary. David tried to cover his misdeed/sin going so far as to order a “hit” on her husband. He was able to keep up the appearances for over a year, but at great immediate spiritual cost as Psalm 51 testifies to. Finally he is confronted by Nathan the prophet, at which point he confesses his sin and is forgiven by God. The forgiveness was free and restored his existential relationship with God, but his actions were not without cost. He had brought dishonor upon himself, his office and God. The son born from that adulterous relationship died. But that was not the end of it. His reign which up to this point had been a Camelot type period for him and for Israel was beset from there on out with family trouble, treachery, betrayal. His son Absalom led a rebellion and usurped the throne. He took David’s harem and publicly went in and had sexual relations with his father’s wives. This too, God said was part of the ongoing consequences of David’s sin. Sowing to the wind, David reaped the whirlwind.
The following is the euology delivered by my wife Kay at her Mom’s memorial service August 27, 2011
a Eulogy by
Kay Fuqua Sawyer
We are here to celebrate! My Mom and is having a grand homecoming celebration in heaven…and if it were up to me, I would say that heaven is the richer for her being there. And probably all the angels are now wearing corsages! She was a wonderful Mom in every phase of my life.
Mom chose to serve her Lord first and foremost with her life. Because of that Mom’s life was a grand adventure! Such a grand adventure it has been. When I was a child life in the Amazon jungle was just everyday normal: going barefoot despite poisonous snakes & large insects, swimming with the piranhas, riding bikes all over, climbing banyan trees and mango trees. As I have been an adult in the US raising my own family, my parents’ chosen life has become amazing to me.
M. James Sawyer, Th.M. Ph.D.
Prefatory Remarks:The following essay is an early version which was later revised and published in The Survivor’s Guide to Theology which was published by Zondervan in 2006 . The purpose of the book is to explore the various aspects of Theological Introduction looking at the study of theology, from epistemological, methodological, and systematic perspective. My purpose in this section is to explore the idea of doctrinal taxonomy and look at the historic foundational doctrines of the Christian faith, not to expound my personal commitment to a particular tradition. Comments made about the various theological traditions and positions have reference to the official stated theology as embodied by the best of the traditions, as opposed to the popular piety. For example the popular piety of Roman Catholicism teaches that by being good enough and using the sacraments one can be saved. This is something very different from official Catholic doctrine about salvation. From the perspective of Calvinism, popular piety in some circles falls into a fatalism that is not reflected in the best of the theological expositions of the tradition. The fact that I place particular formulations of the doctrine of salvation on a second level of a taxonomy does not imply that I hold the Reformation understanding of justification sola fide as unimportant. Indeed, what can be seen at times only murkily in other traditions is brought into bold relief by the Reformers. That this truth was not clearly articulated until the Reformation should inform us that it is not necessary to cognitively understand forensic justification in order to be saved. Salvation involves faith in Jesus Christ as opposed to any particular formulation of doctrine. However, in this case a Protestant understanding of forensic justification may give a clarity to the proclamation of the gospel message and provide a firm foundation to living the Christian life that other traditions’ articulations of salvation cannot provide.
Constantine has remained an enigma and controversial figure to historians. This is due to the fact that analyses of him and his policies as emperor commonly intermingle two different questions: that of politics and that of theology. When this happens the result is a conclusion that tries to have it both ways. This is precisely the assumption that is employed in the Da Vinci Code and by various scholars of the early Church who see the heavy-handed imprimatur of Constantine on the council of Nicea as well as the formation of the canon of the New Testament. Contrary to the suggestion of Dan Brown, Constantine had no clear theological agenda. In fact, the emperor hardly seemed interested in the finer points of doctrine at all. Like the Roman emperors before him, Constantine saw religion as the glue that held his empire together. As long as unity was the outcome, he didn’t care which side won the theological battles. It is strange to twenty-first century Christians that, Constantine continued to feature the pagan deity the Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”) on coins after his conversion to Christianity. And he apparently rebuffed the pronouncement of Nicea by inviting the defeated Arians back into the fold and banishing the Nicene hero Athanasius. Constantine was and remained a layman who was not skilled in theological nuances. He was also a pragmatic emperor/politician who lacked the power that revisionists historians ascribe to him.
Beginning in 1997, noted American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark[i] turned his attention from broader issues in the field of sociology of religion particularly, to the study of the history of Christianity from a sociological perspective. The volumes listed above chronicle the rapid publication of six volumes, the last five over just seven years.
Twenty five years ago Stark and William Sims Bainbridge published A Theory of Religion (1987) which articulated what has come to be known as the Stark-Bainbridge theory of religion,[ii] this work followed the earlier publication of The Future of Religion (1986). At the time of the publication of A Theory of Religion both authors declared they were “personally incapable of religions faith.”[iii]
The Virgin Birth: Why is it important?
The reality of the Virgin Birth has been affirmed by the church at least since the writing of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is affirmed in the Church’s earliest creedal affirmation: The Old Roman Symbol (or the Roman Baptismal Creed) dating from no later than the second century during which time it is cited by both Tertullian and Irenaeus.
A Hole in Our Gospel
I have recently finished reading Richard Stearns best selling recent book, The Hole in Our Gospel. In case you are not familiar with Stearns, he is President of World Vision, an evangelical relief agency founded about sixty years ago. During the past six decades it has grown into one of the largest relief agencies in the world. It has programs that sponsor children in poverty stricken countries, is instrumental in bringing clean water to the underdeveloped areas of the world where it never has been safe to drink the water, sponsors micro-loan funding to build sustainable economic growth among the poorest of the poor. World Vision has an impressive record and has proved itself an organization of impeccable financial accountability, and spends a modest 16.3% of worldwide revenues on administrative overhead and fundraising (as opposed to other well know organizations which spend up to 80% of income on fundraising and overhead!)
On Being a Learner
Last week Kay and I went to the memorial service for Brian Klemmer. A model of health and amazing activity, Brian died suddenly on April 7 at a very young 61 years of age. His company Klemmer and Associates, which he founded almost 20 years ago, is one of the world leaders in personal transformational training. Throughout his career Brian has touched millions of people, tens of thousands directly through the seminars, and millions through his books. His biggest seller was The Compassionate Samurai which was, for several months, number one on the New York Times business book bestseller list. He was a man driven by his passionate commitment first to Jesus Christ, and a mission: “To Create a World that Works for Everyone with No One Left Behind.” The key to accomplishing his mission: leadership by character rather than technique. This is the message of the Compassionate Samurai.