Theological Question of the Day: What makes someone “evangelical”?

From Roger E. Olson:

Thus, this speaker is arguing that ALL evangelicals (well, there may be a few exceptions) recognize AT LEAST ONE BOUNDARY around evangelicalism: the necessity of a born again experience.  Anything that threatens that is anathema.

This blog is dedicated PARTLY, at least, to exploring the reality of evangelicalism and evangelical faith.  This is an interesting proposal from an astute scholar of evangelicalism who has taught in two evangelical institutions for twenty-some years.  My own thought is that while evangelicals do want to preserve and promote the born again experience (however exactly conceived–whether instantaneous or a process) many, especially when pushed, admit that such an experience may not be necessary for reconciliation with God (salvation as forgiveness).  I know many evangelicals who, when pushed on the matter, admit that Old Testament “saints” were and are saved without anything resembling evangelicals’ born again experience.  Then, when asked to reflect on that, many are willing to admit that God may have ways of saving the lost we know little or nothing about and that may include imputing righteousness to them without an explicit born again experience such as we have and promote.

This raises many questions.  Are only evangelicals saved?  Is salvation limited to those with a born again experience?  If so, how are the Old Testament people of God saved?  What about the Jew or God fearer with Abrahamic faith who died one month or one year after Jesus’ death and resurrection without ever hearing of him?  Are all the unevangelized automatically hell bound?  Can an unevangelized person have a born again experience?  Must he or she?  These are crucial questions for evangelicals to consider.  They’re not new questions, but I doubt there are many, if any, new questions.


Theological Question of the Day: What Kind of Freedom Did Adam and Eve Have Before the Fall?

While reading For Calvinism by Michael Horton, I came across the following quote:

A libertarian view of human freedom insists on nothing less than the ability to choose anything. However, this means that the will is free not only from external compulsion but from the person who is exercising it! In other words, it assumes that the will is independent of the mind, preferences, character, and heart of persons (pp. 43–44).

By contrast, Horton, like most Calvinists, subscribes to a compatibilist view of human freedom in which freedom is understood as freedom from external compulsion. What choices free people make must be explained in reference to their mind, preferences, character, and heart. He writes:

Before the fall, humankind had the natural and moral ability to obey God with complete fidelity and freedom of will. After the fall, we still have the natural but no longer the moral liberty to do so. When it comes to our fallen condition, we all have the natural ability to think, will, feel, and do what we should. None of our faculties has been lost. We have all of the “equipment” necessary for loving God and our neighbors. Nevertheless, the fall has rendered us morally incapable of using these gifts in a way that could restore us to God’s favor (p. 44).

The juxtaposition of these passages led to the following chain of reasoning: If before the fall, Adam and Eve had compatibilist freedom, then their mind, preferences, character, and heart explain their action. But if their mind, preferences, character, and heart were morally good, why did they sin? Unless we attribute Adam and Eve’s fall to some flaw in their created nature (i.e., their mind, preferences, character, and heart), it seems that Adam and Eve’s prelapsarian fall was libertarian in nature. How else could a good tree—contrary to its nature—produce bad fruit?

So here’s today theological question: Before the fall, what kind of freedom did Adam and Eve enjoy? A libertarian or a compatibilist freedom?

Theological Question of the Day

Some atheists argue that religious belief has its origins in cognitive functions such as hypersensitive agency detection device (HADD). Justin L. Barrett describes HADD this way: “our perceptual and conceptual systems readily attribute minded agency with little provocation—even in conditions in which we reflectively think that such attribution is in error.” For example, we hear a twig snap in the woods, think a predator must be near, and start running. From an evolutionary point of view, HADD is beneficial, even if it generates false positives, because it is better to run from an imaginary predator than to be dinner for an actual one. The atheist application of HADD to religious belief is straightforward: Religious belief—belief in God, gods, or supernatural causes—is a byproduct of HADD, understandable since human beings “readily attribute minded agency,” but nonetheless a false positive.

Christian theists have at least three responses available to them:

(1) One could simply deny that HADD explains or has anything to do with the origins of religious belief.

(2) One could argue that in and of itself, HADD is insufficient to determine whether belief in God is false. It is adaptive, biologically speaking, precisely because it alerts us to true positives, even as it generates false negatives. So, to show that religious belief is false, an atheist needs to do more than show that religious belief arises from HADD. He or she must also show—on other grounds—that HADD has generated a false positive in the case of religious belief.

(3) One could argue that HADD explains, at least partially, the origin of religious belief. If God exists, after all, and if he has made embodied creatures such as we are, then perhaps HADD is exactly the kind of cognitive function God would use to help us come to know him.

Today’s theological question is compound: Which response do you think is best, and why?

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