Thinking Theologically is a group that is intended to empower and encourage deeper thinking, on a theological level, through problems, situations and our reality using published theological thought to nourish our conversation. While slightly academic, and potentially abstract, the intention is to be pragmatic and realistic, learning and developing theological and/or analytical skills to applying Christian teaching and the Word of Jesus to daily life in all of its dimensions: social, economic, physical, spiritual, technological, relational and ecclesiastical.
You don't have to have a degree in order to participate. Nor even have ever done any serious theological study or received any philosophical training. The goal is to be learning, expanding our horizons and asking questions of each other and ourselves. You will be expected though to have done some part of the reading or pre-gathering reflection if you are going to vocally participate. As the goal is not to receive a lesson or conviction of any one person, but rather to work through the posed question and thought articulated in our reading. That being said, you don't have to understand all of it, nor any of it, to join in the conversation.
Believing from the affirmation of God's Sovereignty in the Institutes of the Christian Religion
Our text-driven discussion will circle around the theological foundation of the thought of French Reformer John Calvin, the founder of the Reformed Tradition, which became our Presbyterian Church (USA). His theology is based upon the foundational affirmation of the sovereignty of God.
Readings for our gathering
PDF of Book 1 Chapter 16 of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. John Calvin 1551.
PDF of Chapter 3 of Calvin for Armchair Theologians. Christopher Elwood (Author), Ron Hill (Illustrator), 2002.
An brief introduction to our conversation
What is the sovereignty of God?
The word “sovereign” means principal, chief, supreme. Hence the sovereignty of God means that God has total control of all things. This sovereignty is beyond time over all things past, present and future. It implies that nothing happens that is out of God’s knowledge and control. All things are either caused by God or allowed by God for God’s own purposes and through the divine perfect will and timing (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6).
Questions for discussion
- How do you agree or disagree with John Calvin about God being sovereign? How have you experienced that in your life?
- What does God being sovereign imply for our own agency (actions)?
- How are you a Calvinist? How are you not? What does that mean for you?
- How do you understand God's sovereignty in the light of contemporary thinking and worldviews such as Chaos Theory and Multiverse Theories?
- What do you mean when you confess that God is in control, such as the affirmation we confess each Sunday at the end of worship when we say aloud, "God is good. All the time. And all the time. God is good."?
A Brief Biography of John Calvin
John Calvin, born Jehan Cauvin: 10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564) was an influential French theologian, pastor and reformer during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism, aspects of which include the doctrines of predestination and of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation of the human soul from death and eternal damnation, in which doctrines Calvin was influenced by and elaborated upon the Augustinian and other Christian traditions. Various Congregational, Reformed, and Presbyterian churches, which look to Calvin as the chief expositor of their beliefs, have spread throughout the world.
Calvin was a tireless polemic and apologetic writer who generated much controversy. He also exchanged cordial and supportive letters with many reformers, including Philipp Melanchthon and Heinrich Bullinger. In addition to his seminal Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible, confessional documents, and various other theological treatises.
Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530. After religious tensions erupted in widespread deadly violence against Protestant Christians in France, Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland, where in 1536 he published the first edition of the Institutes. In that same year, Calvin was recruited by Frenchman William Farel to help reform the church in Geneva, where he regularly preached sermons throughout the week; but the governing council of the city resisted the implementation of their ideas, and both men were expelled. At the invitation of Martin Bucer, Calvin proceeded to Strasbourg, where he became the minister of a church of French refugees. He continued to support the reform movement in Geneva, and in 1541 he was invited back to lead the church of the city.
Following his return, Calvin introduced new forms of church government and liturgy, despite opposition from several powerful families in the city who tried to curb his authority. During this period, Michael Servetus, a Spaniard regarded by both Roman Catholics and Protestants as having a heretical view of the Trinity, arrived in Geneva. He was denounced by Calvin and burned at the stake for heresy by the city council. Following an influx of supportive refugees and new elections to the city council, Calvin's opponents were forced out. Calvin spent his final years promoting the Reformation both in Geneva and throughout Europe.
[borrowed from the Wikipedia Entry on John Calvin] read more...
Tuesday, May 16th, 7:30pm
Our text-driven discussion will circle around the theological conundrum posed in the work of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who first articulated the “leap of faith” expression.
(5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855)
was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual", giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment.
Kierkegaard's theological work focuses on Christian ethics, the institution of the Church, the differences between purely objective proofs of Christianity, the infinite qualitative distinction between man and God, and the individual's subjective relationship to the God-Man Jesus the Christ, which came through faith. Much of his work deals with Christian love. He was extremely critical of the practice of Christianity as a state religion, primarily that of the Church of Denmark. His psychological work explored the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with life choices.
Some of Kierkegaard's key ideas include the concept of "Truth as Subjectivity", the knight of faith, the recollection and repetition dichotomy, angst, the infinite qualitative distinction, faith as a passion, and the three stages on life's way. Kierkegaard's writings were written in Danish and were initially limited to Scandinavia, but by the turn of the 20th century, his writings were translated into major European languages, such as French and German. By the mid-20th century, his thought exerted a substantial influence on philosophy, theology, and Western culture.
Notably, he wrote: "Science and scholarship want to teach that becoming objective is the way. Christianity teaches that the way is to become subjective, to become a subject." While scientists can learn about the world by observation, Kierkegaard emphatically denied that observation could reveal the inner workings of the world of the spirit.
introduction to Kierkegaard adapted from the Wikipedia Entry you can find [HERE].
An excerpt from Training in Christianity and the Edifying Discourse.