Why have I decided to blog?
Like Anselm, I have a faith that seeks understanding. I find that writing is a helpful process toward clarifying my thoughts and moving me forward in my understanding. On one occasion, in the early 1990s, while I was in the process of writing a review article of three books on the salvation of the unevangelized, my own mind changed. It took me by surprise, but I suddenly saw the subject from a different perspective and had what Kuhn might have considered a “paradigm shift.” I have rarely had occasions on which my understanding changed so dramatically in the writing process, but many times I have found my thoughts becoming more clear as I formulated them in writing.
I appreciate the opportunity to get response to my ideas from other people. I expect a blog to provide some of that, although I am aware that many “professional” theologians will scarcely have time to read my thoughts, let alone to respond. Yet all Christians should do theology, and I expect to be helped in my own understanding, even by people with limited theological training. At the very least I can learn what others have heard me to be saying. Sometimes, regrettably, this turns out to be something quite different than I intended, but discovering this is very helpful.
I like the immediacy of the blogging medium. When I have written articles or book reviews, it has frequently been a year before they have appeared in print. Books have taken years. With a blog, I can get my thoughts out in public instantly.
I appreciate the accessibility of material posted on the web. Research has indicated that the average journal article is read by very few people. Similarly, I know of people who have purchased one of my books but have not yet gotten to read it. The fact that my last two books have each been over 400 pages long, may account for some of that delay. But with the blog and my new ability to post documents for access through the web, some of my thoughts will be accessible to people in remote parts of the world, where the internet is available but books are very hard to get.
What will I do on the blog?
As the title of my blog indicates, I plan to think out loud theologically about things I hear, read and see.
I expect to do some reviews and interactions. In some cases, these may be in the form of book reviews in journals, including a careful restatement of the author’s presentation and offering some critique and interaction. In such cases, I anticipate that I will review a book in one post.
More often, however, I envision moving more slowly through a book, attempting to restate the author’s perspective accurately and fairly, but focusing on my own thoughts about what the author has said. In these cases, I may not even restate the whole of an author’s presentation in a chapter but opt rather to identify points of particular interest to me, and to interact with them. These might better be called “book interactions” than reviews. It would be very beneficial to me and to my readers if the authors of the books with which I interact get involved in the discussion. Given the busyness of authors’ lives, however, this may be too much to hope for.
I may interact similarly with ideas I meet in the reading of journals and magazines, or that I hear in spoken presentations or see in movies. In all cases, my goal will be to work through my theological thoughts in writing, and to post them on the web for consideration by others and to stimulate conversation.
Doing theology to give God pleasure
In 2009, Gail and I spent Christmas in Barcelona, with the families of a couple of our sons. Together, we enjoyed visiting La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral to which Antonio Gaudi devoted most of his time in the last 11 years of his life. Begun in 1915, it was not yet finished when we were there, but it was awe inspiring to see the structure of a building so clearly intended for the glory of God. When completed, it will seat 13,000 worshippers and has two balconies for choirs, accommodating 1200 and 300 choristers respectively.
Gaudi was “asked why he lavished so much care on the tops of the spires, which no one would see from close up.” He answered: “‘The angels will see them’” (Lonely Planet’s Barcelona City Guide¸6th edition, p. 105). As I launch this blog, it occurs to me that no one may read some of my posts, but I take heart from Gaudi’s example. Some of the angels may read it and enjoy my quest for God, just as they rejoice over sinners that repent (Lk 15:7). Even failing that, I know that God will read my posts and that he will be pleased at my attempts to understand what he has revealed to us and to express my faith, as it progresses toward the greater knowledge of God which will be our wonderful and endless delight in the new earth.
I think of theology (speaking about God and his works) as a means of worship. With the psalmist, therefore, I pray that “the words of my mouth” and the posts of my blog, which express “the meditation of my heart,” may be acceptable to God my Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Ps 19:14). I expect to enjoy writing the blog, and I hope that God will enjoy the blog too. Meanwhile, I leave to his wise providence the direction of readers and conversation partners to this project, however long it may last.
41 replies on “Why another theological blog?”
Thank you so much Terry for this introductory blog. Congrats! I’ll look forward to your next blog. Sincerely, Robin
As an active, even addicted blogger myself, I look forward to your invigorating theological writing. I understand how ideas and positions are positively affected by the exercise of writing and the research for the purpose of writing. I enjoy the concept that the writing/work/art that I do whether seen by anyone else can still give God pleasure. While I do what I do for a collective of reasons, the underlying motivation is Solus Christus. Write my friend!
As an active, even addicted blogger myself, I look forward your invigorating theological writing. I understand how ideas and positions are positively affected by the exercise of writing and the research for the purpose of writing. I enjoy the concept that the writing/work/art that I do whether seen by anyone else can still give God pleasure. While I do what I do for a collective of reasons, the underlying motivation is Solus Christus. Write my friend!
You are now on my blogroll! I look forward to reading your stuff and hopefully conversing with you.
Welcome to the blogworld, Terry — in which you have been immersed more than I already. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and seeing where the pursuit for God takes you, and each of us.
Cathedral spires draw the eyes of onlookers upwards toward God. Your blog will do the same for its readers . Congrats on the launch!
Hi Terry. I will be sure to visit. Blessings upon your blog project!
Terry, I have not been a blogger in the past although I have often benefited from others who are blogging. What has held me back is time and other priorities. I have great respect for your thinking from personal conversations and your books. I’m signing on as a newbie.
Like others, writing has clarified many of my thoughts in the past. I often write out my prayers, finding it has helped me be much more careful in how and what I pray.
Thanks for inviting me into your thinking, and that of others.
You and your work have always been a model for me. Thanks for this service to the kingdom. Blog on!
Hi Terry; So what was your paradigm shift with the salvation of the unevangelized? Thanks for the invite to join!
Nice to hear from you, Wayne and Libby.
When I finished reading and started to review the three books, I was a convinced gospel exclusivist. I believed that only those who heard the gospel could be saved by Christ’s atoning work. Inexplicably, and suddenly, I saw things differently and the article came out differently than I had expected when I started to write.
I came to believe that what is commonly called “inclusivism,” was biblically true. The redemptive work of Jesus has always been, and still is, the only way by which sinners could be reconciled to God. But I came to believe that God gives everyone revelation of himself which has the potential to save if one responds with the appropriate faith. The kind of faith that pleases God (cf. Heb. 11:6 for its minimal requirements) is determined by the content of the revelation God has given a person. I prefer the term “accessibilism” to identify my position, because I think it better captures the main point – saving revelation is universally accessible.
Gospel exclusivists believe that God’s revelation in nature is sufficient to justify condemnation of all human beings but insufficient to save any of them. I now believe, however, that Rom 1:21 specifies quite clearly what God seeks from those to whom he only makes himself known in nature. He wants them to acknowledge him as God and to be thankful to him for his providential care.
I unpacked my understanding in Who Can Be Saved?. There I gave an example or two of people of whom we know from missionary literature who give evidence of having the sort of faith that Romans 1 specifies.
More about this subject will certainly come up in coming blog posts and discussions.
What is your own understanding?
I hope I can reply to your reply even though I am not the one that you were replying to initially.
One question: given your paradigm shift, do you now believe that natural religion is sufficient to save? What about Buddhism and/or Hinduism? (I suppose I could substitute any religion here as each may be considered a response of “faith” in deity as a result of natural revelation.) If so, then I would question your understanding. If not, then what sort of content is necessary for salvation, if any content at all?
Thanks for your important question Keith.
The short answer is: yes, I do in principle believe that the Holy Spirit might illumine the heart and mind of someone who has only natural revelation so that they would stop “suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness” and would acknowledge God as Creator and giver of all good gifts. In fact, however, I doubt that there are many (if any) people in the world who only have natural revelation. I have enumerated various reasons for this, in my book, but the most important to mention here is the remnant of knowledge of particular revelation that has been passed down in the communal memory of so many cultures we discover around the world.
You will also notice my emphasis on the necessity of divine illumination. This is as true of natural revelation as it is of particular revelation, whether that be universally normative or non-universally normative.
As to Buddhism and Hinduism, I can not conceive of anyone being saved within those contexts whom the Spirit of God had not enabled to see the folly of idolatry and led them on to worship of the Creator. I have instanced examples of this in my book.
Hebrews 11:6 gives us one bottom line. One must believe that God is and that he rewards those who seek him. Romans 1 specifies a bit further. Any worship of the creature rather than the Creator is evidence that a person has suppressed God’s revelation in unrighteousness. Additionally, we must include conscience in our thought about universal revelation. In the hearts of those whom God is drawing to himself the Holy Spirit will bring a conviction of sin and lead them to cast themselves upon the mercy of God.
Accessibilism arouses a great (and significant) fear that the church’s missionary zeal will be undermined. I have devoted a chapter to demonstrating why such is not the case. You’ll note that no biblical writer ever cites as a motive for evangelism the thought that God can only save those who hear the gospel. But to deny to any whom God has saved through very minimal knowledge the opportunity to know the privilege and joy of full new covenant revelation and the opportunity to participate in the church, the people of God whom he has created as his primary missionary instrument in the world, would be an extraordinary attitude of selfishness and a lack of love. It was the love of Christ that compelled Paul and it should compel us too, but Paul never ever cites gospel exclusivism as a missionary motivation.
Pondering and thinking. I shall have to take your book back down and re-read it.
It is my opinion that while there are certain steps that need to be taken in order for one to ‘become saved’ and a member of the family of God, how a person gets to those steps is left to the eternal creativity of our Creator.
I say this because my first step toward salvation was as a result of observing the beauty of nature and concluding that it was too perfect for there not to be God involved. I may have even said it out loud. At that point the Spirit of God spoke the words to me that God was waiting to hear from me. A novel idea I thought, but sounds good. So, my next step was taken of talking with God. From there, within the next several months God led me to give my life to Him.
I don’t think there is any situation that God cannot handle so long as an individual is willing to hear and respond to God’s calling.
Looking forward to reading your blog, Terry.
Thus is fulfilled the prophecy spoken to me at ETS two months ago. I can’t imagine anyone with whom I would rather dialogue about theology. You will be on my list of blogs to visit regularly.
Welcome to the blogosphere!
I have often appreciated your public writing and your personal correspondence. I trust you will enjoy this new endeavour as much we who will benefit from your writing.
Thanks for the invitation to access your blog. I will make your blog a regular read.
Proud of you, Dad! 🙂 Love, Rachel and Shawn
I am just in the process of reading your book “Who Can Be Saved”. What I have found so helpful is the way you frame and approach the very questions with which I have been wrestling. I find your approach refreshing and challenging, especially your discussion about the salvation of children and the whole matter of the “age of innocence.” I too look forward to interacting with you through your material in the days ahead.
Delighted to learn of this and have subscribed immediately. It was a pleasure meeting you in person in San Francisco last November! God’s best on this new venture. Be blessed and be a blessing!
Thanks for inviting me also. I enjoyed your classes, and I will follow this blog regularly. As an exclusivist, I expect you to challenge me. As a Christian, I expect you to stimulate converstaion which will draw me closer to Christ.
Hello Mr. Tiessen,
It was a pleasant surprise to have stumbled upon your new blog. I was once a student of yours at Providence Seminary years ago. Although, I went under the name of Jerry Peters in those days.
I’m currently one of those non-believers with an evangelical background who still finds contemporary theology fascinating. Lately, the whole historical Adam conversation has perked up my ears (I may just have to buy Peter Enns’ book).
Anyways, I look forward to your posts.
Thanks for the invite — I’ve added it to my feed list, and shall no doubt enjoy the food!
(I might just add that it surprises me not at all to find that you have started out with an apologia for the blog itself, and that that is itself already a thoroughgoing theological rationale!)
You have always been one of my main sources of theological inputs (although we do differ on several key points). I am glad to be able to have an avenue through which I can continue to learn more and more what goes on inside that head of yours. I will read all your blog posts with fascination.
A welcome addition to my regular readings.
Thanks for your blog.
I went to Bible Study tonight.
No one showed up.
I get so discouraged.
Thank you for reminding me that I went for the sake of the angels.
I preach on Sunday.
Week after week.
Very few people show up.
Thank you for reminding me that when I preach, I preach for the angels.
I had forgotten.
Congratulations on launching your blog. I have benefited a great deal from your personal and theological insights. I look forward to benefiting to no less a degree from your blog.
I’ll be a faithful reader Terry – keep the content coming!
Thanks for the notice, Terry. I’ll be following this with interest!
For me this may be a chance to rekindle the meetings in your office after class which were a source of challenge and inspiration which always made me long for more. Lead on Mcduff!
I have already benefited from your writings and our conversations. I am sure this blog will be another wonderful contribution. I especially look forward to the potential interaction which may occur here from the cloud of bloggers.
[…] impressed by it. In my opinion it is one the best defenses of an inclusivist position on salvation. He says that while writing this book “it took me by surprise, but I suddenly saw the subject from a […]
Looking forward to your first full post, can’t wait to see the topic.
Thanks for the heads-up on the blog — I appreciate the thoughts expressed on your “paradigm shift” — my own journey in that direction began (I think) with reading C.S. Lewis’s “Last Battle,” the final book in the chronicles of Narnia, where some of Aslan’s followers, having crossed into the “new country” are surprised to find a devotee of some other supposed god present with the redeemed. I doubt that Lewis intended strict literalness in the portrayal, but it opened a window to a new perspective that challenged some of my preconceptions. Clearly, we are dealing with issues of God’s sovereign grace, and as you point out, no one is saved apart from Christ’s work.
I am reminded of an interchange I had many years ago with the late Clark Pinnock at a ministerial meeting in which he was presenting similar ideas; I put to him the hypothetical question (at least so it seemed to me) of what would happen in the case of someone who had come to faith through natural revelation if and when that person subsequently was exposed to a genuine, loving presentation of the gospel of Jesus. Would that person recognize the truth, and acknowledge Christ as the fulfilment of what he had longed for? We have heard the missionary accounts of that very kind of thing happening. However, would that person infallibly recognize the fulness of truth in Christ? I suspect that in the nature of things, this might be akin to the discussion of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but it’s nonetheless interesting…
It is indeed still interesting Steve. I think that medieval theologians have been unfairly pilloried by the suggestion that they discussed “trivia,” such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? I don’t actually know whether or not they did have such discussions, but the question addresses a fascinating metaphysical puzzle about the nature of the limited presence of angels. Though not physical, they have some sort of “shape” for they are not, like the divine Spirit, infinite in their relationship to space. I wonder, when Paul says that “there are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies” (1 Cor 15:40), is he speaking of the “bodies” of angels? Nice to have you on board.
Great to be invited and on board, Terry!
I look forward to reading what you have to say. No doubt there might be the odd cat amongst a few pigeons 😉
[…] that was much more widely influential than the one (to accessibilism) which I mentioned in my first post. I found Murray’s exegesis of Romans 8 persuasive, and it pushed me to reread the whole of […]
Sorry, Terry, to have missed your initial notice of your new blog. I saw it today in my ‘Junk email’ folder. Belated congratulations on its launch.
As to angels dancing on a pin head, I once heard/read somewhere that no theologian in history actually seriously debated this. Instead, it was mentioned as a fictional ad absurdum, i.e., someone dismissed some issue as being as absurd as if one were to debate how many angels might dance on the head of a pin.
I should add that over the past several centuries too many have used the allegedly serious debate over how many angels might dance on the head of a pin as a strawman means of dismissing serious theological debate as invariably irrelevant. Too many of these claim Christ as their Lord. I rather doubt that they will be visiting this blog.
Hi Terry, from the East,
I look forward to the learning and interaction of this “newer” Tiessen endeavour.
In Christ, Mags