Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paideia: Theological Method

Last night was my first class at Western Seminary... at least the first class of my full time attendance at the actual location in Portland. To be honest, it didn't strike me that I was starting school at all yesterday - I'd become pretty comfortable hanging out with Noelle all day, going on walks, runs, bike rides, playing tennis, and so on. I knew it would have to end come August 30th, but sort of didn't want it to. So when I went to class from 6-10 pm last night, it was a bit of a rude awakening.

One of the bigger topics we covered last night was Theological Method - that is, which approach someone takes when studying a topic of theology. The truth is that everyone has a theological method even if they don't refer to it as that, or if they don't use the three formal categories I'm going to present. But perhaps that's why understanding your theological method (and considering the downsides of each) can be so important - it may help you understand better why some people are content with conclusions and others aren't. Let's dive in.

The three Theological Methods are "Deduction", Induction", and "Retroduction". Let's define these ideas and then get into the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Deduction: this method is employed when someone pursues the thoughts and expertise of a more learned person than themselves. So, when someone approaches a pastor or professor, or picks up a commentary or a book, this is deduction. The key is this: the deduction method typically means receiving the person's (or perhaps a few people's) thoughts on a matter to be authoritative and becomes the person's position.

Induction: this method is used when someone comes across a topic or difficulty in theology, puts away all commentaries and human assistance, and solely digs into the Bible to find an answer. The goal is to come up with a Biblical argument for something based on your own personal research and prayer in the Scriptures.

Retroduction: this method occurs when someone comes across an issue, seeks opinions from multiple sources who most likely disagree with one another, and does their best to reach a personal conclusion based on which resonates the best with Scripture. An example would be the question "What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit?" and asking four or five different denominations for answers, comparing them with Scripture, surveying the answers, and finding out which one had the least "holes" in their argument according to Scripture.

So, which method is best? First off, each method does have good biblical basis and perhaps each method is right in certain circumstances. Hebrews 13:17 speaks about coming underneath the teaching of an elder/pastor (deduction); Acts 17:11 refers to the Berean Christians studying Scripture for themselves to validate the preaching of the Apostles (induction); and Acts 15 recounts a story in which Pharisees, Paul, Peter, James, and others gave their thoughts regarding the necessity of circumcision to be in the family of faith, compared them with Scripture, and made a conclusion (not that they all made the same conclusion) - this is retroduction.

Each method is also not without its own set if potential dangers. If you rely too heavily on one or two people's opinions and they are wrong, then you're led astray easily because you adopt their views without thinking. If you hole up and shove away the wisdom from theologians or pastors and only take the "me and God will figure it out" approach, you may not have the necessary knowledge or interpretation ability to come up with a solid, biblical answer. And if you get too many opinions (retroduction gone wild) from other perspectives, even if they are all Christian groups who believe Scripture to be their highest authority, you might get so much knowledge about something that it's impossible to really come up with a consensus.

In the end, my professor is a Retroduction kind of guy. Get several opinions on a matter, seek God's Word, discover the strongest position, and come up with a conclusion. He sees this method as sort of marrying the first two together: you're not just relying on one brain (yours or one other person's), but you're not pushing everyone away and falsely believing you can come up with the answer on your own. Your going to God's Word, hearing other people, and moving forward. Perhaps this is sort of "teacher's pet" of me to say, but I'm convinced this is the right method as well. Truth be told, "retroduction" was a brand new word to me last night... but I think that's been my approach for a long time.

A new blog topic series: Paideia

So I've been sort of slacking on blogging with topical themes, but I'm going to renew that plan starting this week. Now that I started seminary officially, there is a plethora of opportunities to regurgitate what I'm learning and help people as best I can. By writing out some of what I'm learning, I'll also learn it better and more permanently.

So, what in the world is "paideia"? It's the ancient Greek word for "education", and I thought it would be fitting to name this series after education - I'm diving back into education through seminary and want to help educate people with what I'm learning. I'm sure I won't be able to sum up everything as good as many of my professors will do it, but hopefully by reviewing my notes and doing the assigned reading, I'll be able to come to a good knowledge of a wide variety of topics.

So, I hope this is helpful. My tone in this series will be far less opinion based and more factual - more of a teaching format. Thanks

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thoughts on Broken Glass

It was 2:11pm Monday afternoon. We were spending our afternoon as we've spent most of our afternoons since moving to Portland: not doing too much, with something planned later in the day. On this day, we were going to go golfing around 4:00pm and were sort of just hanging out. I was in the second bedroom dinking around on the computer - you know, checking Google Reader, ESPN, Facebook... dinking. Noelle was taking care of a few things (so she says) and also on her computer. Suddenly, a sound of a couple glasses breaking. My first thought is "Oh no, she broke another glass while cleaning it". Then, a split second later, the absolute loudest sound I'd heard in a really long time. It sounded like a hundred things came crashing down all at once in our living room. Noelle let out a scream more piercing than I'd ever heard from her. I think I flew to the living room in .03 seconds, expecting to find Noelle motionless on the ground with glass all over her. Fortunately I found her standing next to the broken glass, hands covering her face, shocked at what had transpired. Somehow, the glass shelf that our glasses (wine glasses, champagne, china glasses from my mother and from our own set) were on in our china hutch had come off its hinge and every last glass broke against either the floor or, more likely, other broken glasses. Except two. Somehow, the cheapest and least meaningful glasses had survived - two champagne glasses from Rogers Jewelers that I'd been given because I was with my buddy Keith shopping while he looked for diamond earrings for his wife (every guy needs a wingman in those kind of places). Thanks, Rogers.

It took over 30 minutes to clean it up and even then we couldn't be sure we got it all. We should probably vacuum five more times, very slowly, hoping to get the little shards of glass that might remain hidden until the opportune time when some nice new friend comes over for dinner, takes off their sandals, and gets somehow gashed in the bottom of their foot and sends us the $2000 medical bill. Just sayin'. Anyways, it was a pretty upsetting experience because many of those glasses carried sentimental value to them. Some were from wine/food events in towns like Murphys, Fairplay, and a recent one near Portland. Some were from my mother's china collection, and weren't wine glasses but we used them for fun desserts and stuff. Others were fairly expensive parts of our own china collection. But, as good Christians we just said "Oh well, it's just material things". But, to be honest, I'm still sincerely bummed about the "stuff" we lost. I'm an experience-over-possessions guy, until a possession that is attached to a great experience is gone through a freak glass breaking accident. Then I think about how instead of drinking out of cool memory-filled glasses, we are now drinking out of glasses we went and bought cheap at Fred Meyer (a store similar to Target).

But, the truth is, it was just stuff and stuff always breaks. Electronics (which we pay much more for than wine glasses) rarely last more than 3-5 years - I say it's a conspiracy and makers of electronics "don't make 'em like the used to" on purpose so you spend more money. Food rots, furniture gets old and uncomfortable, clothes get holes in them (even though people pay more money for pre-made holes in jeans, go figure), and everything else breaks, burns, wilts, or goes bad in some form or another. And it got me thinking about brokenness in general and how fragile everything really is. Seriously, everything. Well, except for some materials and compounds that seemingly never get broken, but for the sake of the argument we'll say everything. And that's not more true in anything than our human bodies.

Have you ever stopped to think about how fragile you are? We get sick from little organisms that powerful microscopes can barely see. We get gashed on the foot by little pieces of glass hidden in carpets. We slip and break bones. We are so fragile yet we tend to spend such little time thinking about it or acting like we're fragile. Instead we tend to pretend we'll be around forever and even have the audacity to just assume we'll make it home, even when home is just a few miles away (I read once that the majority of auto accidents happen within 1 mile of home).

All I'm saying is, don't take it for granted. Don't take people for granted that you love. Don't take your health for granted, or even if you're not healthy don't take the fact that you're still breathing for granted. Make it count. Know your Creator, Sustainer and Lord, love him, walk with him, and trust in him. Thank him for all the "stuff" you have, and pray that God makes sure you don't get more attached to the stuff rather than him or other people around you. Think about the miracle of your body working properly so you can move around. You're not an accident, though accidents do happen to you.

All this reflection came from a bunch of glass breaking? Yes.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Just Some Thoughts

I told Noelle recently that this month will likely be the strangest month of our entire marriage, no matter how long God gives us to be together. It's seriously an amazing and weird thing at the same time. Here we are, having waited for this month to arrive for about a year and a half when neither of us would have a real job and would move to Portland. We'd have a few weeks before I start school on the 30th, and we'd enjoy ourselves. And we have very much enjoyed ourselves. Trying new restaurants, hiking to Mirror Lake (near Mt Hood), arranging our home, going to an awesome food and wine festival, seeing a movie, camping for a night near the coast, going to the Tillamook Factory (they have amazing ice cream too, by the way), and more. Yet so much of our time has honestly been spent doing almost nothing, and we've grown a little restless.

Imagine that... the Ritters are growing restless with nothing to do. We are definitely creatures of habit, thriving on the detailed schedule even though we think we want less scheduling in our lives. While this has no doubt been one of the most wonderful months in our lives, it's also been so strange that we need it to be over fairly soon or we'll really get antsy. But maybe that's just what God has for us right now - learning how to do less, how to enjoy each other more (not that we didn't before), and how to take in all the sights and sounds of a new city.

So, we wait. We wait for school to start and for Noelle to start work wherever God provides the work. And while we wait, we'll have fun. We're missing the people we love in CA, the memories we made there and the life we had. But we're also filled with anticipation. It won't all be easy, but it will be beautiful because we know without a doubt that this is where God has us to be. And when we are restless, we'll remind ourselves this is an unusual month and is a gift from God. So, thank you God, and may we never forget you have been preparing us for this in more ways than we will ever know.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grace and peace to you

I love the way the Apostle Paul starts most of his letters to churches in the New Testament. Almost every one of them begins with something like "Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." That's how he starts Philippians, which I started reading this morning. Every once in a while I pause when I read these phrases and just think how people must have felt when they read that from Paul for the first time. Most Christians in that time period were not favored politically, socially, or any other way. Christianity was relatively new and still viewed as the red-headed step child of the Jewish faith. Most people didn't understand that it was the continuation of God's eternal plan to announce the Kingdom of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But that's for another time.

Imagine it for yourself. You're in Philippi, huddled into a small building or even more likely in another Christian's home (many churches were in homes at that time), and someone just brought a letter from Paul who is currently in prison. Paul, who started the church in Philippi probably 5 or more years ago. Paul, who was one of few well-known Christians at the time. Paul, who suffered mightily in the name of Jesus, preaching the Gospel everywhere he went and who always had a soft spot in his heart for this little flock. What is he going to say? How is he doing? What is his mood going to be? The questions are answered immediately when Paul extends a warm greeting to the church: grace and peace to you.

Those two words are words that should stir the soul of every Christian. Why? Because they sum up the theme of the Gospel better than perhaps any other two words can. Grace: you have been received by the Creator of the Universe as one of his children. God has dealt kindly with you, placing the wrath you deserved on the Son, Jesus Christ. You haven't earned your way into this relationship - in fact, you've done everything to keep yourself OUT of the relationship. But you've been brought in, loved, and given grace. And now Paul offers you grace again from God. God didn't only give it to you once, at the moment of salvation, he gives it to you continually on earth until the day you see him face to face and enjoy unending grace for eternity.

Peace: you have been made right with God through Jesus Christ. God reconciled you when you were his enemy. Paul has unpacked this for us (I don't know that the Philippians had the book of Romans) in Romans 3-5 in majestic fashion - read it sometime if you haven't... or even if you have, do it again for good measure. God has re-created you, given you new life and peace in the name of Jesus. You can rest your soul on the work Christ did on the cross. And, like grace, peace is not a momentary feeling you have only at the moment of your redemption. It is being given to you even now. It is available always, even in the darkest hour of your life. Even when you're unloved, when earthly relationships are not peaceful, when your job is stressful and unfair. God's peace is given to you at every moment.

Grace and peace to you. Take a moment to dwell on these words further, ask God for more insight on what the words mean for you today. How has he shown you grace and peace lately? How would you describe God's peace to someone who doesn't have the slightest clue as to what it feels like? Give it some thought, and I'd love to hear what you come up with!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

10 years ago today

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of my mother seeing God for the first time... and she's been seeing him ever since. Pat Ritter was an extraordinary woman, not perfect by any means but a woman who loved God, fought cancer hard, loved others well, and left a deep impact on many people. She was a strong willed woman, not afraid of controversy but not looking for it either. Whenever I would argue with her (which was quite often as a teenager), I knew I'd lost the argument when she would say "Fine, do whatever your little heart desires." That one always got to me and I would concede victory to her over whatever trite thing we were fighting about.

It's hard to believe that 10 years has gone by since her life slipped away at Kaiser hospital in Roseville, CA. It was approximately 6:00pm, though that was the culmination of about 6 days in the making of her actual departure from this world. There are many vivid memories of those final days with her - the dozens of people that poured in every day, flooding out of her room and into the hallway, causing a bit of a scene as if to say "this is no ordinary woman we are about to lose here". The brief conversations she had with loved ones while she was strong enough to have them. The way she worried about me being only 16 - and trust me, she had plenty to worry about! For the most part time has flown by and every time August 14th rolls around I find myself saying "It's been that long already?" But indeed it has. While for me the pain has dissipated and the piercing questions about life and death - its timing and God's purpose in it all - have come and gone, one thing has become utterly clear: God is faithful.

God's faithfulness has been my favorite characteristic about God for quite a few years now. After a stint of about two years mostly running from his presence, seeking to fill the void of my mother with busy activities, friends, girls, and the like, upon growing up a little and reflecting on these past years I've witnessed God's immense faithfulness in many ways. The most important ways are the ones you can't necessarily measure, in my opinion. The way he sustained me emotionally and spiritually and continues to do so, though the strongest person in my life was taken from me at a very tender and treacherous age. The way he has firmly rooted his love toward me in my heart, shown me grace when I've continually strayed, and used my experience and pain to bring others hope, comfort, and even some wise perspective (now THAT'S a miracle!). He has been faithful and present, and though not all the questions are answered, I've realized I don't need all the questions answered. I'll be interested to ask God some big questions in Heaven, but by the time I get around to them there won't be any pain left in the questions, only joy that I am in the presence of the Lord.

So, 10 years down and still marching on. People die every day, and God is faithful every day. Life is an amazing blend of comedy and tragedy, and without faith in a good, holy, gracious God I truly don't understand how people cope with it. If reality has hit you square in the face recently through difficult times, know this: God is with you and is faithful. If you're running from him, turn around and receive grace. If you're hiding from him, expose yourself and your sin to his forgiveness. If you're angry with him, realize you are incredibly finite and are dealing with an infinitely wise and just God, full of mercy. If you're resisting him, just stop it already. If you can't see his faithfulness, at the very least admit you are not faithful to him and are probably not opening your eyes to see his faithfulness.

I love you mom, and I miss you. I'll see you one day though, and I'm VERY excited about that moment.

Monday, August 9, 2010

New Places

For quite some time now, my favorite destinations have been new places. I love going somewhere I've never been because that will mean that every experience I have in that place will be brand new. If we dine out at local restaurants, it will be the first (and maybe only) time I'll be at the restaurant. If we go to a local park, the same follows. For example, when Noelle and I were in Boston in April, everything was new. Just about everything we did was brand new to me. We even got to spend 24 hours in Newport, Rhode Island - a place I enjoyed thoroughly but will likely never be able to visit again.

I say all of this because this new city we are in, Portland, is sort of like one of those trips for me. Almost everything we are doing right now is new to us - new pizza joints, a local brewery restaurant, a new church, a run along the Wilamette River at Waterfront Park, and more. But the trick right now is that we are trying to call this new place home. It's far from Sacramento, where I grew up, and it's far from Monterey where Noelle grew up. It's much different than San Diego where I went to school and Azusa where Noelle went. But, nonetheless, we are calling it home. We have "home" programmed into our GPS and we refer to our new apartment as home already, but it's all so new.

I feel as if God has been preparing me to love new places for at least the past year because many people seem to prefer familiar things to new things. Not me. I prefer new things - foods I've never tried, music I've never heard, events I never knew existed. I prefer them over familiar stuff, and maybe that's been God's grace to me. In a city this large, it will take quite some time before things aren't new to me. Maybe in time this will be truly home. Maybe not. I'll leave that up to the Lord - wouldn't I be foolish to do anything else? For now Noelle and I are going to enjoy the next 3 weeks of having less to do than we've ever had in our married life so far. And we'll keep soaking up these new experiences.