Thursday, September 18, 2014

WSPK 2: The world in front of the text

I started a series yesterday--What should a pastor know about the Bible? (WSPK) Yesterday I made two key points:
  • The words of the Bible in themselves are susceptible to multiple interpretations.
  • The Bible as Scripture is as much transformational as informational.
2. Today, I want to dive a little deeper into the first one.
  • We are always unaware to some extent of how much of "us" is in our reading of the Bible. The less we know about ourselves, the less we are able to read the Bible as something other than a mirror.
This is especially the case if we have grown up hearing certain interpretations and ways of reading the Bible. So I grew up in the Wesleyan-holiness tradition. So grew up with certain definitions of words like "holiness" and "sanctification." I grew up reading Acts 2 a certain way that I inherited.

As it turns out, these interpretations had as much to do with the nineteenth century American holiness movement as they did with what the various biblical authors likely had in mind. Inevitably, we are all wearing glasses that color our reading of the Bible. No one can escape them completely. We can't know when we're not aware of something... because we're not aware of it!

We call this element of reading the Bible, "the world in front of the text." It's me, and all the preconceptions I bring as a reader, sitting in front of the text. I assume the text is as it appears to me. And I don't realize how different it appears to someone else... including those to whom it was first written.
2. So what is the right interpretation of the Bible? That is the ultimate question, isn't it?

Here's at least a place to start:
  • The books of the Bible say they were written to ancient Israelites, Thessalonians, Corinthians, etc. That means their first meanings were meanings that made sense to these ancient people in the way they used words at their times and their places. 
It may be difficult at first to appreciate the magnitude of this statement and how far its implications reach. We tend to read the Bible as God speaking to us, not as Paul to the Philippians or even God speaking through Paul to the Philippians. What was the literal meaning of the Bible? It was the meaning that was communicated and understood by those to whom it actually says it was first written.

Our first reaction might be, "It doesn't matter that it was written to them first. God inspired it for all times and all places." Let's hold that thought for now. Perhaps this is true in some sense. My point right now is that we know it was written to them. We have to argue it is for us too because that's not really what the books of the Bible themselves say for the most part.

So let's hold off on the question of the extent to which the Bible might be God's word for all times and all places. Let's start with some absolutely obvious truths about the first meanings of the Bible.
  • The Bible was not one book originally. It was dozens of books written over many centuries in at least three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek).
  • They were originally written to audiences at different times and places. That is to say, the "yous" in the Bible were, in the first place, no one alive today. "YOU shall have no other gods before me" was first spoken to ancient Israelites (Exod. 20:3) who lived over 3000 years ago. 
  • For the most part, therefore, each book of the Bible was originally a stand-alone book. For the most part, they were first written to be read separately, not as a collection.
In the first place, we are reading someone else's mail when we read the books of the Bible. Perhaps it is also our mail in some way too. But we should not miss the obvious for that which must be argued. The obvious is that it was their mail first.

What we will find is that to read them for us as well usually requires us to take them in a less than literal way, in an extended sense. Chances are, you know how to read them in an extended sense. The greater blind spot is knowing how to read them for what they literally meant originally, their first meaning in context.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Does your church hit all spiritual styles?

Looking at Gary Thomas' Sacred Pathways in spiritual formation at the seminary. He reminds us that we don't all experience God as naturally the same way. It only makes sense that God would speak to each of us differently depending on our personalities and dominant intelligence.

It is not an excuse to relate to God in only one way--we should expand our experiences of God. And some congregations will almost inevitably minister more to one set of styles than another. But it is worth asking the question. Does your church unthinkingly minister more or less to only one type of person?  Here is my modified version of Thomas' list of styles:

1. The Idea Person
So is your church just about ideas, just hitting one type of person? Is your church just about hearing some nifty ideas on Sunday morning?

2. The Ritual Person
Is your church just a place for the person who likes things like liturgy, saying creeds, taking communion?

3. The Activist
Is your church just about politics and what is going on in the world that needs to be stopped? Is your church just about doing things in the community?

4. The Emotionalist
Is your church just about excitement and getting an emotional rush, miracles, tongues, the public exercise of spiritual gifts?

5. The Caregiver
Is your church just about helping people who are suffering or in need in the congregation?  Is it about fellowship and being with one another?

6. The Contemplative
Is church primarily about prayer and waiting for God? Is it about mystery and deeply personal experiences of the divine?

7. The Monk
There is a kind of person who most experiences God by self-denial and retreat. Fasting and silence are the kinds of things that are tickets to divine encounter.

8. The Senses Person
There is a type of person that encounters God most easily through the senses--the eyes, the ears, the smell, the taste, the touch. Maybe this person can build something for the church as an offering to God.

9. The Nature Person
There is a person who most easily encounters God on a lake, in the woods, or climbing a mountain.

So we shouldn't say that one way of encountering God is better than another, although there are some that aren't optional. Coming together in worship is not optional for the nature person. And the idea person is impoverished if s/he doesn't take communion. The activist needs some ideas to be active about. Etc...

But is your church a one stop shop?  Do you just give ideas with no plan of action? Do you lack actions that are repeated and have a common story behind them? Do you have retreats? Do you have something for the person who needs to do something with his or her hands?

What should a pastor know about the Bible?

I'm thinking about starting a new series. What should a pastor know about the Bible?

I'm not talking about content. I'm assuming a pastor will know the content of the Bible. I'm talking about things contextual and hermeneutical.

What is the Bible?
So I think it is appropriate to make the first post hermeneutical. Hermeneutics, by one definition, is the study of meaning and interpretation. How is it that the Bible comes to have meaning to us?

I imagine a common response to the question, "What is the Bible?" would be, "the inspired word of God." That is the appropriate salute, but what do we mean when we say something of this sort?
  • It is, at the very least, a salute to God's authority as mediated in some way through the words of the Bible.
  • It usually implies that the Bible gives me the right answers to the questions of life.
  • It usually implies that the Bible gives me commands on how to live.
1. However, these responses do not answer the most crucial question of all--how am I to understand the words of the Bible? There is usually an assumption in this answer that the meaning of the Bible is self-evident and obvious, which experience tells us it is not.
  • This is the first insight I would like to mention about what a pastor should know about the Bible. The words are susceptible to multiple interpretations. The panoply of differing denominations is not an indicator of our godlessness. It is a direct reflection of the ambiguity of language, especially religious language (we tend to read Scripture differently than we read ordinary communication). It also reflects the pervasive lack of training in how to read the Bible in context, which at least potentially can delimit the polyvalence of the biblical texts.
I don't see how anyone could even begin to argue anything to the contrary and still drive down your average city block in America with its ten different churches.

2. A second point is much more crucial. These responses to the question, "What is the Bible?" tend toward an informational reading of Scripture. But think about it, if the primary function of Scripture is informational--what I should believe and how I should live--then it is not formatted very helpfully. If the primary function of the Bible is informational, then the best thing to do is to break it down into a systematic presentation of what we should believe and how we should live.

If the Bible is only informational, then we should stop worrying about preaching from the biblical texts themselves and should focus on its implicit theology in preaching and teaching. If its purpose is primarily informational, then its actual genres (stories, occasional letters, prophecies to Israel, etc) are distracting. We should boil the content down and extract it for more efficient use.

This leads us to a second realization about Scripture:
  • The Bible is as much or more transformational as it is informational. We have a different experience when we read Genesis as a story than when we try to extract its implicit ideas and practices. In that sense, it is not primarily a book of answers or ideas. It is a sacrament of transformation, a divinely appointed place to encounter God.
That's enough for today. Today I suggested that a pastor should have a larger sense of the Bible than it simply being an answer, idea, or worldview book. It is a book more for God to do something to us than a book for us to find out something.

More to come...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two Resources for Pastors

I was delighted to receive in the mail yesterday the second edition of Craig Keener's well known The IVP Bible Background Commentary. What a great idea--the one piece of the puzzle you can't get from the text itself is the historical and cultural background of the text. These are the things the text assumes because the original author and audience already knew it, swam in it. But you don't know it because you're swimming in the twenty-first century.

So how about a commentary that goes passage by passage with a view to the background you have no other way of knowing? As you would expect, the commentary comes from a mainstream American evangelical perspective.

Also of tremendous value on this score are the social-scientific commentaries of Bruce Malina.

I also would like to suggest the Eerdman's Commentary on the Bible as the best one volume commentary on the whole Bible. It will give you the most recent historical-cultural background of passages in dialog with the most recent informed discussion of scholarship.

Matthew Henry is good for spiritual insight, but this is the kind of source you want for contextual insight, all in one volume. The authors tend to be British evangelical-ish. That's the best of both worlds--faith-friendly but truth-insistent.

10 Years a Blogger

Today's the tenth anniversary of my first blog post. If you are a young scholar thinking of blogging, here are my reflections.

1. I have a platform. I view my near daily posts as something like a newspaper. People scan the headlines of all sorts of info sources and if my title strikes a fancy, you might just take a gander. The discipline of such regular posting means that I have a voice, for good or ill.

2. I have grown from the interactions. I have learned from critique. I have probably become less provincial, because I get reaction from all sides. I have developed a thicker skin. I've had a taste of what it must be like to be a politician.

3. I have cranked out a number of popular Christian books here, including some self-published one.

1. While I have written nearly ten books by blogging through, my scholarly writing has slowed down. I don't feel like I can blog through scholarly writing for more than one reason. It's hard to set aside time for the slow and arduous task of scholarly writing when you put the near instant gratification of blogging next to it.

2. I have made myself more controversial than I prefer. A blog inevitably blurs differing social roles. There is a way of being with family, with a local church, with a group of scholars, with friends who have one perspective versus friends who have another.

So I am just not sure if it's a good idea for Scotland to leave Great Britain. Most of you don't care. But James Petticrew does! I thought about posting something on the upcoming vote, but in deference to James I won't. :-)

In normal conversation, a polite person moderates their thoughts. A blog makes all thoughts accessible. You can't escape controversy without graying everything out.

On the whole, I think the pros have probably outweighed the cons, although I'm determined to write more on a scholarly level, even if it means backing off daily posts.

P.S. I think Word Press is probably the way to go if you're just starting out.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Worship of Jesus, again

I'm trying to finish a piece on Hebrews and Christology, and I thought I'd use the blog to process some thoughts again. I wrote a piece in 2008 here on the spectrum of positions on the worship of Jesus and received some good feedback from friends. I want to try again.

1. First, let me name the individuals whom I consider to be key players in this discussion. That is to say, any categorization scheme I come up with needs to account with sufficient nuance for the positions of these scholars (I've thrown in some whom I want to be mentioned in the footnotes):
  • Jarl Fossum
  • Margaret Barker
  • Peter Hayman
  • Alan Segal
  • Maurice Casey
  • James D. G. Dunn
  • Loren Stuckenbruck
  • Larry Hurtado
  • Richard Bauckham
  • Paula Frederickson
  • James McGrath
  • Adela Yarbro Collins
  • William Horbury
  • Bart Ehrman
2. What are the key questions? In my 2008 post, I suggested that three questions suffice to adequately categorize these thinkers:
  • Did those who believed Jesus was the Messiah worship him in the strictest sense of that term?
  • If they did, did this worship stand outside the boundaries of mainstream Jewish monotheism?
  • When did this worship of Jesus first take place and what factors facilitated it?
I am pondering whether it would be more precise to present these questions in a slightly more involved form:

a. Was the worship of YHWH exclusive within mainstream Judaism at the time of Christ? A fundamental question is of course what it means to "worship" a being.

b. If it was, to what extent did Judaism allow for the reverence or worship of subsidiary beings as a special case of the worship of the one God YHWH?

c. At what point did the early Christians begin to worship Jesus? Within incipient Christian Judaism? Within early Hellenistic Christianity? Within late first century Christianity or later?

d. Was this worship in continuity with Jewish precedents (especially in conjunction with the answer to #2 above), or did it mark an unprecedented innovation? Was that innovation a "parting" from Jewish monotheism or somehow a new variation on it?

3. So let me try to run Richard Bauckham through this series of questions.

a. He believes the worship of YHWH was exclusive.
b. He also believes that the Jews did not worship any other subsidiary being, even one closely associated with YHWH.
c. He believes the worship of Jesus was very, very early in incipient Christian Judaism.
d. He considers it a clear innovation, but not one that parted from Jewish monotheism. Rather, Jesus is understood to be within the identify of the one God, whose oneness is typified by his role in creation, in eschatology, and in being the sole recipient of sacrifices.

4. Now let me try Larry Hurtado, who perhaps will correct me if I'm wrong.

a. He believes the worship of YHWH was exclusive.
b. He does not believe that Jews actually worshiped any of the agents of God in early Judaism before Christ, although there was the rise of the two power heresy later.
c. He believes that the worship of Jesus was very, very early within incipient Christian Judaism.
d. He considers it a significant mutation, one helped by the traditions about divine agents in Judaism, but of a distinctly new form. Jesus is cultically worshiped in a way they were not. I believe he sees this as a significant discontinuity with mainstream Judaism, worthy of the name, "binitarian."

5. Now let me try James Dunn:

a. He believes the worship of YHWH was exclusive.
b. He does not believe that Jews worshiped any of the agents of God in early Judaism before Christ.
c. He believes that the worship of Jesus in any strong sense was slow to develop within early Christianity.
d. He thus believes that earliest Christianity remained in continuity with Jewish monotheism in the sense that the early veneration of Jesus was not in discontinuity with Jewish precedents.

6. Now let me try Margaret Barker:

a. She did not believe that the worship of YHWH was exclusive. There was at least one other deity, Elohim. (I have always considered her positions bizarre in the extreme)
b. I suppose this makes the second question a bit moot.
c. She thus doesn't have a problem with the early worship of Jesus, I don't think.
d. And she sees the worship of Jesus in continuity with earlier Jewish tradition.

I'd be curious to know if other scholars find this way of approaching categorization helpful. Let me try James McGrath:

a. I believe he considers the worship of YHWH generally exclusive.
b. But he does believe there were precedents for a softer worship of other beings associated with YHWH within a Judaism whose understanding of monotheism changed over time.
c. He does not believe that the earliest worship of Jesus was as robust as Hurtado or Bauckham think. In particular, Jesus was never the recipient of sacrificial worship.
d. He thus does not see the early reverence of Jesus as any kind of departure from the monotheistic precedents within Judaism.

How'd I do, James?

F3. God has revealed himself in nature.

This is the third post in the first section in my series, theology in bullet points. (Here are three of the later sections that I've already done).
God has revealed himself in nature. [1]

1. That is to say, certain aspects of the creation suggest truths about God. As Psalm 19:1 puts it, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." The magnificence of the creation suggests the magnificence of the God who rules over it.

In later articles, we will discuss various options concerning God's relationship to the creation. There, we will suggest that historic Christianity 1) considers the creation to be something distinct in existence from God. In opposition to pantheism, which holds that the creation is God, and in opposition to panentheism, which sees the creation as part of God, orthodox Christianity sees the creation as something distinct from God that God created out of nothing. At one point, the creation did not exist. Then God spoke and it did.

A 2) second consideration is the degree to which God has created the universe to run on its own. That is to say, does God determine everything that happens by his continuous action in the universe on the quantum level? Some Christian traditions would say yes; other traditions leave room for the possibility that God has created the world to run on its own by certain "natural laws." I am writing these explorations of Christian theology, the study of all things relating to God, from a perspective that can allow for belief in natural laws. [2]

The idea of natural law is more or less intrinsic to science, where it refers to the predictable nature of the way the universe works, at least on the macro-scale. [3] We can distinguish between nature and miracle by using the word "natural" to refer to events that seem to follow the normal operations of the universe and "miracle" to refer to God's interruptions of the normal operations of the universe in order to do something. [4]

Natural revelation thus refers to aspects of the universe, in its normal patterns of operations, that point to truths about God. To believe in natural revelation is thus to believe that the normal operations of the world point to truths about God.

2. The three classic arguments for the existence of God fall into this category. The first two relate mostly to the so called law of cause and effect. "For every effect, there is an adequate cause." So if the universe began at a particular point, we seemingly need to account for the cause of its beginning. The current majority position of cosmology (the study of the universe) is that the universe did indeed begin at a particular point in time. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask why it began when it did.

The Christian answer is to suggest that God is the cause, and that God created the universe out of nothing. [5] This is the cosmological argument for God's existence, the argument from cause and effect. We might formulate this argument in this way:

1. Everything event we observe in the macro-universe has a cause.
2. It is reasonable to suggest that the entire universe began in an event at a point in time.
3. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that there was a cause behind that event. [6]

You will notice that I have only suggested the reasonableness of belief in God as Creator. A deductive presentation might start with faith and go in the opposite direction:

1. Christians affirm that God created the universe out of nothing.
2. In order to cause something, there must be as much potential power in the causes as the effects.
3. Therefore, God is "all-powerful" in relation to the creation. He had as much power as he created.

The teleological argument or the argument from design is similarly based on an aspect of cause and effect. In this argument, the complexity of the world suggests that the universe had a designer. For example, William Paley (1743-1805) suggested that, if you find a watch, you immediately wonder whose it is. You do not suspect that nature has accidentally caused the watch to exist. You assume there was a designer.

In the same way, the argument goes, the beauty and complexity of the universe suggests an intelligent Designer. In more recent times, the theory of evolution and chaos theory might be thought to work against the argument from design. The theory of evolution is the theory that holds that the complex forms of life we observe to day evolved from simpler forms of life over the course of millions of years. Chaos theory suggests that instances of complexity will result randomly over time as a result of the sheer number of events taking place (it is the "truth is stranger than fiction" principle).

In the end, these theories merely push the question back further. So evolution takes place by a set of rules, and chaos theory also follows the laws of cause and effect. As Richard Swinburne has suggested, the question of design can be pushed back to the very existence of laws of nature themselves. [7]

A third classic argument is problematic in its earlier forms, but may hold some force if modified. The ontological argument as presented by Anselm (1033-1109) largely amounted to saying that, because we can conceive of God, he must exist. It went something like the following:

1. God exists in my mind as the greatest possible Being.
2. But to be the greatest possible Being, he must exist in the world of senses as well as my mind.
3. Therefore, God must also exist in the world of senses.

This argument does not make sense. It mixes apples and oranges (my thoughts and the world outside my thoughts) on the basis of assumptions Anselm made about the world. These are assumptions with which most of us no longer agree (namely, Platonic assumptions).

However, Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) made an argument that we might also modify to create a form of revised ontological argument.

1. The existence of everything we observe is contingent. Nothing we observe has to exist.
2. But if the existence of everything is contingent, then the universe in theory, might not exist.
3. This is contrary to what we know, namely, that the universe does exist.
4. Therefore, there must be at least one Entity that exists necessarily.

Christians call this Necessary Being God, the "ground of all being."

3. These arguments, based more or less on the natural realm, probably do not prove the existence of God. However, they seem to be reasonable arguments. They suggest that the existence of a "First Cause" or "First Mover" who was an "Intelligent Designer" and a "Necessary Being" who grounds all being is reasonable.

Next week: F4. God reveals himself in events apart from nature.

[1] In a later article, we will note that God is not literally male. He does not have sexual organs. If it were natural English to say, "God has revealed Godself in history" or "personself," it would be more literal.

[2] I am writing from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective. This is a perspective that historically derives from the thinking of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) and John Wesley (1703-91). However, it is not limited to their thinking. See F5. There is a spectrum of Christian thinking and practice.

[3] The atomic and subatomic level, as it turns out, is much less predictable, at least in terms of our current understanding.

[4] These definitions can work for those who believe God determines everything that happens as well. They will simply believe that the distinction here is between the normal predictable way God acts, which look like natural laws, and those instances where he does not act in that way.

[5] We discuss the question of where God came from in a later article.

[6] In Christian circles, William Lane Craig is known for a certain version of the medieval Kalaam argument. It goes something like the following (I am paraphrasing): 1) Infinites do not exist in the real world, only theoretically in math; 2) an infinite past would be an infinite in the real world; 3) therefore, the universe must have had a beginning. It seems difficult to me, however, to demonstrate either 1 or 2, despite my agreement that 3 is true.

It is currently fashionable in cosmological circles to speak of multiple universes and the creation of our universe as a sort of bubble that arose within the multi-verse. Such schemes do not disprove the cosmological argument. For example, they could take it further back than we could possibly imagine at this point. There are also alternative creation schemes that, while historically "heterodox" or outside the mainstream, could be engaged in the never-ending search for the all truth that is God's truth.

[7] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University, 2004)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Family History 16: Eli Shepherd Supplement

I've already written about the Shepherds in this series. As this series comes to a close, I wanted to wrap up my further attempts to figure out this line.

1. Elijah Washington Shepherd (1839-96)
My grandfather's dad, Washington, died when my Grandpa was still 12. Washington applied a few times for some sort of pension or disability for injuries sustained during the Civil War. A cavalry horse ran over him, it seems, while he was escorting an unruly soldier back to camp in Arkansas. He seems to have sustained some sort of back injury that he carried with him the rest of his life.

On his pension application, he says he was born in Alamance County, North Carolina on March 25, 1839. This is a curious statement because 1) Alamance County wasn't founded until 1850, 2) all the census records have him born in Indiana, and 3) his parents seem to have been married in 1834 in Scott County, Indiana. Like so much of our history-telling, I think he was giving a truth, but he got a little confused.

I think his father's family was from North Carolina in the Randolph/Guilford/Alamance County (then Orange County) area, but I seriously doubt at this point that Washington himself ever set foot in North Carolina, unless it was passing through during the war.

In 1840, Washington and his two older sisters, Nancy and Ibe Jane, were less than five years old and living in Scott County, Indiana. Both of his parents were illiterate. I don't know what they were going for with "Ibe." She is variously listed in censuses as Ibia (1880) and Ibby (1900), even Ibbia.

By 1850, they had moved to Clay County and had two more girls: Emma (1847) and Louisa (1850).

In 1860 when the census was taken, Washington was working as a day laborer just over the border in Crawford County, Illinois. On August 31, 1861, he enlisted as a Private in Company C, Indiana's 11th Infantry Regiment. I wonder if he was motivated by financial reasons.

After the war, in 1867 he would marry my G-Grandmother Seba. They would live in Sullivan, Indiana. In 1870 he is listed as a "brick moulder." Both he and his wife were illiterate at that time.

By 1880, my Grandpa Shepherd's two older sisters had been born--Marquerite (1877) and Nora (1880). Now he is listed as a Blacksmith. This census suggests he could now read and write, but that Seba couldn't write. She died in 1890 and he died in 1896.

2. Wesley D. Sheppard
Parallel to Washington is either an uncle or a cousin named Wesley, born in the Guilford County, North Carolina area, July 17, 1823. He would marry Catharine Patience Reynolds on March 21, 1850 in Guilford County, and they would immediately leave for Indiana that year.

His name, and the name of his third son, Charles Wesley Sheppard, suggest to me that he was Methodist. Catharine, however, was of Quaker background, although she married out of unity when she married him. Her family had a strong connection with the Center Friends Meeting in Guilford County. She was still 23 when they married. Although she married out of unity, a very nice obituary for her when she died in 1911 suggests she continued to have good ties with the Quaker community back at Center.

I know almost nothing of where Wesley had been prior to his marriage. He must have lived in the area long enough to get to know Catharine. Sometimes I wonder if his family had already headed west and he came back for her.

A contact has added more information to this puzzle. Another individual has a letter from Catharine to a niece of Wesley. Her name is Theresa Sheppard, born in Randolph County, North Carolina in 1843. I have not been able to come up with any Sheppards, Shepherds, or close in Randolph County after 1810, so it's clear to me that the census records are incomplete.

In the letter, Catharine apologizes for not getting to see Theresa when she last visited Guilford, but she had no transportation. She is writing post-Civil War, I suspect in the late 1860s, because she mentions that a cousin of theirs, George Washington Shepard, had died in the war fighting for the South. There are other clues in the letter that I haven't fully figured out. 

One key clue is that Catharine had not heard from "Father Shepard" and "feared most of them dead.." This might suggest to me that Wesley's father had continued west beyond Indiana (or had remained in Kentucky). I'm assuming he would have been Theresa's grandfather.

Here are some other clues, however. Theresa herself seems to have had Quaker associations. This suggests to me that the Shepherds were in fact Quakers in origin, although perhaps not always good ones. My searching of the records suggests that the realities of frontier life often required men to be less than perfect Quakers, especially when war called.

To finish the Wesley story, we pick him up in Sullivan County in the 1860 census. He is listed as a farmer. On July 1, 1863, he is listed in relation to the draft. I'm getting a sense that no one wanted to mention that they were born in North Carolina in that time period.

In 1862, he is listed as a wagon wheel maker in Brick Mill, 12 miles east of Sullivan. In 1864 he died and was buried in Pleasantville Cemetery, Sullivan County. Apparently he was stabbed in Kentucky or Tennessee somehow and died later of infection.

Catharine would then move to Linton and spend most of the rest of her life in Greene County.

3. William Shepperd
There are two William Shepperds living in Randolph County, North Carolina in 1810. I suppose that makes it simple. One of them was probably my ancestor. Both of them have two sons who are less than 10 years old. If my GG-Grandfather Eli Shepherd was one of these two children, then we have the beginning of the family tree I know.

Here is a theory. William Shepperd, born about 1780, was living in Randolph County, North Carolina in the year 1810. At that time he had two sons. One was my G-Grandfather Eli Washington Shepherd. The other's name is unknown to me at this time.

At some point, William moved on perhaps to Kentucky, taking Eli with him. Perhaps the other son was a little older and stayed behind in Randolph to start a family. He would have Wesley in 1823 and probably two other sons whose names I don't know. One of Wesley's brothers was the father of Theresa mentioned above. Another brother, perhaps named Zacheus, had a son named George Washington Shepard, who died fighting for the South in the Civil War (another theory is that Zacheus was Catharine's brother rather than Wesley's).

Then Wesley's father would also head west, perhaps to Indiana and perhaps beyond. I can only speculate whether he took Wesley with him and then if Wesley returned to marry Catharine in 1850.

Meanwhile, Eli (Wesley's uncle in this scenario) made his way north from Kentucky and we pick him up in 1840 in Scott County, Indiana. It is here that he married my GG-Grandmother Lucy, and it was likely here in 1839 that my G-Grandfather Washington was to be born.

4. Lucinda Stark
One of the most interesting theories I have developed has to do with my GG-Grandmother Lucy, the wife of Eli. Their paths seem to have crossed in Scott County, Indiana. Her family, in my theory, were Quakers who had migrated to Indiana from Kentucky after migrating there from Pennsylvania. I don't know whether she and Eli had met in Kentucky. One record actually has him born in Kentucky but I haven't conceded that yet.

She married a man named John Curtis in 1826, perhaps in Kentucky. They moved to Indiana and she had at least one son from that marriage, a Jonathon in 1832. But her husband must have died.

So she then remarries to Eli in 1834. She was a few years older than him, it seems. In 1840 they are still living in Scott County and the thread I mentioned above takes over.

After Eli died, some time in the 1870s, she goes to live with her son Jonathon Curtis from her first marriage, who is now living in Jasper County, Illinois. She is living there in the 1880 census.

5. Back to Ireland
I am obviously not sure that Eli Shepherd's father was one of the Williams in Randolph County in 1810. There are lots of other Shepherds in Guilford County at that time, but they don't fit the family memory. The Shepherds/Shavers of Guilford/Alamance were German. Our family memory is Scotch-Irish, with Quaker connections.

Let me tell you another story.

a. In 1729, Solomon Shepherd Jr. transported himself from Ireland to America by serving as an apprentice of the ship. He was from Tyrone, Ireland, from the Grange Quaker Meeting near Charlemont County. His father was Solomon Sr., and his father was one John Shepherd. They were Scotch-Irish.

Solomon Jr. would serve as a Quaker minister. He married Jane Wilson in 1733 at New Garden Quaker meeting, Pennsylvania. He died about 1749 after they had four children: John, Sarah, Solomon III, and Elizabeth.

I can account for the movements of his children. John and Solomon III went west in Pennsylvania to Redstone County. In 1790, John was disowned by the Quaker community at Fredericktown. Those lines don't connect to me.

What is curious is that Solomon Jr's wife Jane actually moved to Guilford County in 1767. She moved there with her daughter Elizabeth to New Garden Quaker Meeting in Guilford, North Carolina. She would marry a man named Stephanas Haworth in 1768 and they would live out their lives there, dying in 1807 and 1804 respectively.

They moved there because the other daughter, Sarah, had moved there in 1762 when she married one William Brazelton from Maryland. They would then move to Jefferson County, Tennessee in 1790. Since Sarah and Elizabeth took on the names of their spouses, their lines can't connect to me.

b. However, Solomon also had a brother, William Sheppard, who came over from Ireland in 1739, also a Quaker. In fact there seem to have been a number of Quaker Sheppards swimming around Pennsylvania in the mid to late 1700s.

My current hypothesis is that some of his descendants also made their way south to the Guilford area. Some of them, like the William that was the father of Eli, were just passing through. (Could he be the grandson of the William Sheppard who came from Ireland?) Others stayed in Guilford.

For the moment, I'll have to leave it at that.

Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck, also see here)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd in 20s)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd, also supplement)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller, with clarifications here)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)
The Dorsey Stream (Pearl Dorsey)

4. A New Family
Joining Two Streams (my parents)
A Young Family

5. The Closing Sixties
Prophet, Pastor, and Professor (Harry Shepherd)
The Wright Stuff (Seba Wright)
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

6. Tales of My Life
Memories of Childhood
Notes for my Children

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Who was Job's Redeemer? (Job 19:25-26)

1. There is a beautiful Aria in Handel's Messiah based on these verses in Job:

"I know that my redeemer lives,
     and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
     yet in my flesh I will see God."

It is a tremendously powerful picture!  Job is suffering. In one Christian reading of these verses, he faces potential death, but he knows that Jesus is alive, shall we even say that he will rise from the dead! I know that my Redeemer, Jesus, whom the Romans put to death, has risen and that he will come again. One day he will stand on the earth. Long after Job's skin has disintegrated and he is died, he will rise again from the dead. In his flesh, he will see God.

This is a powerful theological reading of Job. Although I can't think of any place where the New Testament actually interprets this verse from Job in this way, it is a fine theological reading of the verse.

2. The question in my mind is what the verse meant when it was first written? The default reading probably goes something like this:
  • "I read the verse against my world and my definitions. As a Christian, Jesus is my Redeemer. "In the end he will stand on the earth," sounds like my belief in the second coming. Skin destroyed and then returning? Sounds like resurrection to me.
The problem is when I try to read the verse against its literary context (the rest of Job) and historical-cultural context (how words were being used in the Ancient Near East at the time, roughly).

a. For example, within Job, look at these verses in the literary context of Job:
  • Job 14:12 come into play: "mortals lie down and do not rise again." 
  • Job 7:9-10: "those who go down to Sheol do not come up; they return no more to their houses"
  • And Job 3:16-19: "why was I not buried like a stillborn child... There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest... The small and the great are there, and the slaves are free from their masters."
In other words, Job does not yet seem to have any sense yet of resurrection or of a meaningful afterlife. For this reason alone, it is unlikely that Job 19:25-26 are about resurrection. The rest of Job does not seem to think in those categories yet.

b. When we expand to the historical-cultural context, the situation doesn't seem to change. The other wisdom books, whose final form I personally would date to the same period, have similar things to say:
  • Psalm 88:3-6: "My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those who remember no more… in the regions dark and deep."
  • Ecclesiastes 9:5: "The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost."
3. So what was Job saying originally? It seems to me that the most likely meaning is captured in the following paraphrase:
"I know that God, the one who is going to get me out of my current situation, is alive. I know that he is going to show up here in the land. My skin is rotting now with these boils. But he is going to vindicate and restore me. He is going to restore my skin to normal. In my restored flesh, I will see God."

Obviously I could be wrong. My point is merely to exercise the method one uses when the goal is what the text really meant originally. Then we are free, I believe, to hear true Holy Spirit meanings as well. For this reason, I will continue to prize the theological interpretation of Handel's Messiah! It is a Christological reading that is fully correct theologically.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bobby Clinton and Mark Driscoll

First, let me preface this post by speaking of the idea of Mark Driscoll. I don't know Driscoll. I shouldn't draw final conclusions on the real Driscoll because I am not involved with him. He has not wronged me personally that I know of. I am using the rumors of Driscoll to ask a question.

Can a leader without integrity be effective? This question begs others. What does it mean to be effective? What do you mean by integrity?

In the rumors, it sounds like Driscoll's leadership style ultimately undid him at least for the moment. It wasn't the accusations of plagiarism though. It was, in rumor, the way he treated other people.

But here is my question. What if a leader's lack of integrity never becomes known? Is it possible that there are leaders out there right now who are, by all accounts, very effective leaders but who have significant integrity issues?  I would almost bet my life on it.

I want to be very clear here. It is essential for truly Christian leaders to have moral integrity. I am not in any way trying to negate the need for inner spiritual health in a Christian leader. What I am saying is this. I don't think for one moment that there haven't been famous Christian leaders we deeply admire and whose ministries we view as immense successes who will not be in the kingdom. I strongly believe we will find out in the kingdom of God that some of our idols, as it turns out, did not have integrity.

This is the principle that God often lets the wicked prosper. In this world, God often lets the unrighteous prevail. Indeed, I would say that it is more likely that, on average, the most righteous in the church are not the leaders but the servants. God uses and blesses the gifts and drive that often are present in great leaders, but that drive also carries with it great temptations.

So I can't see at all how a Bobby Clinton can say, "God won't use a leader who lacks integrity" (63). What about Pharoah? What about Cyrus, king of Persia? True, they weren't Christians, but I think even the barest look at church history suggests this idea is blatantly false. Historically, I suspect some of the leaders we think of having the biggest effect sometimes were far less principled than many under them.

I would edit Clinton's sentence, not to speak of effective leadership but to speak of godly leadership: "Integrity is foundational for godly leadership," for leadership that truly counts. Integrity is essential for a leadership that God values and considers worth a dime, yes.

But by worldly standards, I suspect there are gobs of "effective" and "extraordinary" leaders who have had serious integrity issues. It's just that, in God's eyes, they're schmucks.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Biblical words for soul and spirit

1. The typical process of reading the Bible goes like this:
  • I see the same English word used throughout the Bible. For example, "soul" or "spirit."
  • I assume that word has the same meaning throughout the Bible, since it is the same English word.
  • I assume that the meaning of that word is whatever that word means to me in English, which could involve things I've heard from the pulpit or things I've read somewhere.
  • Perhaps there is a key verse or passage that drives my understanding of that word, the Archimedian point from which I interpret all other verses or the focal lens through which view all the other verses.
So on a topic like "soul" or "spirit," I may have had someone say that the "biblical" view of a person is that we are made up of a body, a soul, and a spirit, variously defined. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 might be a focal verse: "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

2. This of course is a pre-modern way of reading the Bible. It is unreflective and completely unaware of how to read the words in historical context. So,
  • These were not the same words in Greek and Hebrew.
  • The meanings were not the same because the books in which these words were used spanned 1000 years and words change meaning over time in any language.
  • The proper dictionary for defining these words is not an English one, but a function of the "dictionary" in use at the time and place where each book was written.
  • You cannot use the meaning of a word in one part of Scripture to define a word in another part of Scripture because the meaning of a word is a matter of how it is used at a specific time and place.
3. So if we look at the biblical words for spirit and soul, here's something like how they map out over time.

a. nephesh - a living being of some sort. Genesis 1 calls the living creatures that God creates in the sea, nephesh chayah. So, in Hebrew, these sea creatures were "living souls." C. S. Lewis knew enough to put it this way: "You don't have a soul. You are a soul." Of course that is only the Old Testament way of using the word.

Adam as a living soul is the whole Adam, body and breath (Gen. 2:7). The NIV well translates the phrase here as "living being." There is thus not a single instance in the Old Testament where the word "soul" means a detachable part of a human being.

b. ruach - breath. In Hebrew, "spirit" comes much closer to what we think of when we speak of the soul. But it would be anachronistic to think of spirit in the OT as what we mean by the soul. I personally think it is misleading to translate this word as "spirit" anywhere in the OT. We would be much more accurate to translate the word as "breath."

c. psyche - The Greek word for "soul" both retains the OT sense of nephesh but also occasionally adds the use of the word in some Greek circles. So in 1 Peter 3:20, eight "souls" are saved on the ark. Notice how the NIV, realizing how confusing the word soul would be for an English speaker here, has prudently left the word untranslated. "Soul" here simply means a living being, as in Hebrew.

Psyche can also mean "life," as in Matthew 10:39. Here it is obviously not a part of us that continues to live after death, for it would then make no sense to say that "whoever loses his soul will find it."

So there are really very few places like 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where something like the Greek picture of a bipartite or tripartite person is invoked. In such cases, we are only looking at a picture, a metaphor of human existence. It would be foolhardy in the extreme to treat this as the ultimate secret to understanding human psychology.

In such instances, the soul seems to be something like the meeting point and intersection of body and spirit. It is like the animal part of us. Philo, for example, calls the spirit the "soul's soul." I do not think at any place, however, the NT considers the soul in Platonic fashion to be a detachable part of us that survives death.

d. pneuma - "Spirit" retains its connection to the idea of breath (cf. English derivative pneumonia). However, the NT does seem to draw more consistently on the Greek image of the spirit as a part of the human being that holds the essence of who we are and that can leave our bodies. This is ultimately, I believe, still a metaphor of sorts, not a scientific picture. Although there are significant scholarly voices against me, I still think that Hebrews 12:23 most likely pictures the disembodied spirits of the righteous around the throne in heaven.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Biblical Words for Hell

I was a little surprised at how much discussion took place on Facebook yesterday when I mentioned that the "gates of hell" in Matthew 16:18 were not the gates of Gehenna, the hell of fire, but the gates of Hades, the gates of the dead.

I suggested that Matthew's audience would have immediately associated the "gates of Hades" with stories they had heard ranging from Odysseus to Hercules. The realm of the dead in that frame of reference did not distinguish between the righteous and unrighteous but had all the mindless dead mixed together.

Then someone mentioned underlying Aramaic. We didn't go down that rabbit hole (For example, is there an underlying Aramaic for this verse in Matthew?). But in Hebrew/Aramaic, there was still a distinction between Sheol as the general realm of the dead and Gehenna as a place of fiery destruction.

To sum up the main words (e.g., I've left out abaddon):

Sheol: The Hebrew word for the realm of the dead. The OT has no concept of an eternal place of punishment (Dan. 12:2 comes closest). Sheol is basically a poetic way of referring to the realm of all the dead. "He will not abandon my life to Sheol" in Psalm 16:10 originally meant, "He will not let me die."

Hades: Hades is the Greek equivalent to Sheol and also does not distinguish between righteous and unrighteous. It is a way of referring to all the mindless dead. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church means that death will not prevail against the Church.

Gehenna: The Aramaic word arose in the late intertestamental period in reference to the trash heap outside Jerusalem in the Valley ge Hinnom. It was thought to be the place where the bodies of the dead would be burned after an apocalyptic battle and thus came to be used in reference to the place of eternal fire for the ungodly. It occurs primarily in Matthew.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

F2. All truth is God's truth.

This is the second post in the first section in my series, theology in bullet points. (Here are three of the later sections that I've already done).
"All truth is God's truth," the saying goes.

1. The basic idea of this saying is that, if something is true, then it not only fits with God, but it comes from God, since God designed and created all things. You might say that the Truth is everything that God believes or, rather, that God knows. You might say that the Truth is everything God has created to be true in this universe. [1]

It is in the application of the saying that Christians begin to get bent out of shape. This saying is usually used to say that if science comes up with something as a truth, then that truth fits with God just as much as a truth from the Bible, since "all truth is God's truth." Someone might then object that the Bible gives us a much more certain view of truth than science or some other field like psychology.

So while everyone mostly agrees that truth is truth, wherever you may find it, arguments over this saying amount to disagreement over where and how you find that truth. Here we enter into debates over whether truth is mostly something that we can discover or whether truth is mostly something that is revealed. The saying, "All truth is God's truth," is usually made by someone who is arguing that the truths that are discovered are just as much truths as the truths that are revealed.

There are several possibilities: 1) human thinking is fallen or damaged such that we cannot hope to reason or discover our way to truth; 2) human thinking is perfectly reliable at arriving at the truth by reason or discovery; 3) there are some truths at which human reason and discovery can arrive but others where we will never come up with the right answer without direct revelation from God.

Here we might pause to notice that we are thinking. We cannot have this discussion without thinking. Indeed, we cannot interpret the Bible without thinking. True, the Spirit might zap you with a direct revelation while you are reading it. But any attempt to understand the Bible can only take place with the involvement of basic reasoning. This is a fundamental insight.

Therefore, reason is more fundamental to the process of arriving at truth than the Bible can be, because the Bible itself is an object of knowledge. The Bible contains definitive truths, but you cannot know them apart from the exercise of basic human reasoning. The Bible provides true content, but it does not provide the most fundamental mechanisms by which my mind organizes that content, which have to do with the "operating system" we call, "thinking."

Nor does the Bible exhaust the Truth. The Truth is a much bigger set with many more elements than the Bible. The Bible does not give the birth date of my grandfather. It is a truth that is not in the Bible.

2. The bottom line is the proper mix of presupposition and evidentiary thinking. To what extent should we allow evidence to trump our presuppositions or to what extent should we let our presuppositions steer our processing of evidence?

Presuppositions are things that we assume without evidence. Those who most favor a presuppositional approach are quick to point out that we all have presuppositions--often ones that we are not even aware of. If you ever took a geometry class, you might remember that you started with axioms and postulates like, "For every two points A and B, there exists one and only one line that contains them both." You cannot prove this. It is a matter of definition. Then you built "theorems" out of these basic assumptions.

However, those who most favor a presuppositional approach usually go well beyond common sense assumptions like these. A presuppositional approach usually wants you to assume entire ideological systems and shove them down the throat of reality no matter what evidence you might find to the contrary. The fundamental problem is the source of such systems. They usually claim to be biblical, but this claim proves to be mistaken and self-contradictory.

For example, it is impossible for any such "worldview" to be truly biblical because the Bible was not written as a worldview textbook. The books of the Bible themselves tell us that they were written to specific audiences at specific times and places to accomplish specific purposes. Any attempt to abstract a philosophical worldview from them thus involves a massive exercise of reason, inference, and induction in a way that stands in tension with the obvious genres of the documents themselves. [2]

In the end, such attempts are pre-modern, based upon unreflective readings of the texts themselves. Ideological presuppositionalism has to make massive assumptions about the biblical texts in order to get any content for its assumptions from the biblical texts. In other words, its most basic assumptions still come from outside the biblical texts, assumptions about how to draw information from the biblical texts.

Such interpretation obviously involves fundamental reasoning processes on a massive scale. Thus, the presuppositional approach on this level is fundamentally incoherent. It must base its presuppositions on massive amounts of thinking and reason while claiming to by-pass such reasoning as a source of truth.

3. We cannot escape evidence. There is a certain personality that can dig a hole of ideological coping mechanism that is as profound and complex as it is perverse. But there is a point where most if not all human minds will finally concede what lies before my eyes. I may not want my father to be dead. Maybe that was not really his body at the funeral. Maybe he has just gone on an extended trip. Maybe he was abducted by aliens.

But eventually, the evidence may persuade me. Evidence almost never proves something. Except for my belief that something exists, all other conclusions about the outside world require some degree of faith. I do not think that I am dreaming right now or in a computer program. I cannot prove it, but it is reasonable to think otherwise. I am willing to take it on faith.

Evidence can be misleading. My senses can be misleading. I can make mistakes in my reasoning. Evidence is not an infallible indicator of truth. Science can go for long periods of time with models and paradigms that are rejected in the end.

Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to believe that God is not a trickster, that the evidence of the universe more or less points us in the right direction. "There is something up in the sky," is much more reasonable than, "The Devil tricked me into thinking that there was a shiny ball above my head today."

4. The point is that we can find truth not only in the Bible, but in science and in the world around us. Our apprehension of that truth will always face the potential skew of my thinking and reasoning, not to mention the fact that I can only see the universe from one small, tiny spot within it.

We call the truth that we find in the Bible and in God's direct revelations to humanity, special revelation. Then we call the truths that anyone can discover in the world, natural revelation. I strongly believe in both. Truth is both revealed and discovered in the world.

All truth is God's truth, wherever we may find it. We can find it in the Bible, but we can also find it as we behold the glory of the heavens (Ps. 19:1-6).

Next week: God has revealed himself in nature.

[1] At this point someone might say that Jesus is the "way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Certainly this is true, but it is a metonymic statement. That is, truth is so associated with Jesus, that we can figuratively say that he is the truth.

A metonymy is a figure of speech where we call something by the name of something closely associated with it. Let's say I always wear a particularly goofy hat. So you might say, "Here comes the hat." The hat is so closely associated with me that you can say that I am the hat.

To say "God is love" or "Jesus is truth" is to use a metonymic figure of this sort. It is to call God by a characteristic that dominates his nature. It is to call Jesus by something to which he is key. It is not to say that if you were to look at the atoms of God or Jesus under a microscope you would conclude, "Well, what do you know? God's atoms are made up of love!" Or, "Jesus' cells really are made up of  truth."

So to believe in Jesus is to understand the most significant aspects of the universe. But every truth is not covered by the category of Jesus. "There is a trampoline in the backyard" may be a true statement, but it is not a statement about Jesus in any obvious or straightforward way. (At this point, someone will no doubt try to come up with some tortured and convoluted connection)

Jesus is part of the Truth, just like the Bible is part of the Truth. However, neither exhaust the Truth. To say otherwise is to be confused about what a statement like, "I am the truth" means.

[2] The degree of defensive backpedaling that can take place in argument is nothing short of astounding. "God has to define what the appropriate definition of a genre is." OK, and how do you know what that definition is? Did God tell you this morning? You can't answer, "the Bible," because we are talking about how to interpret the Bible. You cannot get an answer on that question from the Bible until we know how to get an answer from the Bible.

The level of irrationality to which some will go to defend an obviously incoherent position is nothing short of astounding.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Deeds, not Words (James 2:14-16)

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"

James continues the general theme he has been hammering home since the end of chapter one. Faith is not just about what you think. What you do is also an essential part.

James points out a fundamental contradiction between those who might say they love others and yet do nothing to show it, especially when the needs are obvious. It is similar to Jesus in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Jesus sends a group off to eternal punishment who are surprised at their verdict. Because they did not clothe the naked, feed the sick, or give drink to the thirsty, they are not saved. Similarly, James says that faith that does not demonstrate itself in the concrete love of others is not sufficient to save a person from God’s judgment. It is a “no good” faith, in James’ estimation. We are our brother’s keeper as Christians.

Poverty was fairly straightforward in James’ day. There were people who needed food and clothing and had no means whatsoever to get it. Family was the primary back-up plan, but an orphan or a widow might not have any. There were no jobs you could apply for, like today. There was no government welfare program like today. Either someone found it in his or her heart to give you something or you were lost. The situation is a little more complex today. What does it mean to help someone today? Certainly it still means not to let someone starve. But some people need help to find a job. A person can also become unnecessarily dependent on others. It calls for great discernment.

You have probably heard the saying, “Give a person a fish and he or she has a fish today. Teach them to fish and they will have fish for the rest of their lives.” Certainly a believer will not let someone starve or freeze to death if it is at all within our power to stop it. But even more important is helping others become self-sufficient so that they do not need help the next time. What is difficult is that some people do not want to fish, the causes of which are complex and do not let us off the hook from helping. To love others means to try to help others concretely in all three ways—immediately, by equipping, and by changing mindsets.

Jesus, keep us from becoming callous to the needs of others. Make us excellent teachers of fishing.

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” John Bunyan

Family History 15: The Wright Stuff

My family history posts are almost at an end. Here is one of the loose ends.

1. My grandfather, Harry Shepherd, lost his mother when he was still just six years old. I can't imagine what that would be like. I've mentioned a poem my grandfather wrote in her memory.

Her name was Seba Elizabeth Wright, born March 19, 1847 in Sullivan County, Indiana. Her name was problematic for census takers. It's Lucebey in 1850, Luceba in 1860. In 1870 it's Celia, and in 1880 its Elizabeth, her middle name. She died March 27, 1890 at the age of 43. Her mother had only died three years earlier.

I know almost nothing about her. The 1870 census says that neither she nor my G-grandfather Washington could read or write. The 1880 census says they could both read, but she couldn't write. She and my G-grandfather married April 5, 1867 in Sullivan, just a couple years after he came back from the Civil War.

Although she was born in Indiana, her father was from Virginia (Hardin Wright) and her mother was from Tennessee (Sarah Bennet). They married in Greene County, Indiana in 1833, no doubt a typical convergence of people coming up from the south and people coming west.

Hardin's father William had come to Green County, Indiana by 1830, bringing Hardin with him. The Wright family had lived in Grayson County, Virginia for several generations before that time.

2. Hardin (1815-1874) was the son of William Jr (1789-1861), who came to Green County, Indiana from Grayson County, Virginia. William Jr. was the son of William Sr. (1758-1829), who lived his whole life in Comer's Rock, Grayson County, Virginia.

William Sr. was the son of Richard Wright (1739-1820), who also lived his whole life there, as had his father Thomas Wright (1688-1748).  His father was apparently a John Wright, a Judge, who was originally from Chester County, Pennsylvania (1650-1736).

His father was a Thomas Wright from Connecticut (1630-1683), who lived in Connecticut his whole life. And his father was Thomas Sr. (1610-1670), who came across from Essex, England, before 1630 with his wife, Mary Cranbroke. His father may have been a Lord, John Wright (1577-1640).

3. Now it goes back in England. John's father was Thomas (1542-1617). Then a Lord Robert of Brook Hall (1516-1587), son of John Sir Lord Kelvedon Wright (1488-1551). This John rose in the ranks by assisting Henry VIII in his separation from the Roman Catholic Church. He was made "Sir" and "Lord" as a result and purchased Kelvedon Hall, which I guess remained in the Wright family there until 1922.

And so back and back in Essex it seems to go. Wright becomes Whitebread becomes Whytebrede, somewhere in Essex in the early 1200s.

Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck, also see here)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd in 20s)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller, with clarifications here)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)
The Dorsey Stream (Pearl Dorsey)

4. A New Family
Joining Two Streams (my parents)
A Young Family

5. The Closing Sixties
Prophet, Pastor, and Professor (Harry Shepherd)
The Wright Stuff (Seba Wright)
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

6. Tales of My Life
Memories of Childhood
Notes for my Children

Friday, September 05, 2014

My Response to Ricoeur

For a little over a month now, I have been reading through Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory. I would now like to appropriate it (see what I did there).

1. First, let me mention some aspects of his enterprise that I most appreciated. The first is his sense that the approaches of philosophers of meaning like Ferdinand de Saussure and his trajectory ending with Jacques Derrida are insufficient because 1) they do not properly take into account the fact that a sentence is a different level of meaning than a mere word and 2) the fact that the sentence often involves a reference to the world outside language. There are reasonable, although not definitive, limiting factors in the proposed meaning of a text.

The second is his sense that a written text is severed from its author. It takes on a life of its own. We call this the semantic autonomy of the text. An author cannot control what a text will come to mean once he or she is no longer present. In that sense, it potentially takes on a universal audience. Once Paul dispatched his letter to the Philippians, he lost control over its potential meaning and he opened up the door that not just the Philippians would read the letter but that countless people 2000 years later would.

On metaphor, I am very good with his basic definition, which I take from Time and Narrative--a metaphor is the creation of a new semantic pertinence by the comparison of two unlike things. I agree that a metaphor is not a mere ornament but that new meaning is created in its use. Indeed, I believe metaphor, figure, poetry, and ritual tend to be far more powerful than the literal--a sign of the impoverishment of a certain strand of Protestant thinking (not Wesleyan).

2. I used to feel stupid a lot in school when I didn't understand a thinker. To be sure, there were those who were able to catch on to those thinkers from the start. But over the years I've come to have two other thoughts as well. First, sometimes those thinkers just didn't make sense. I didn't understand some of them because I expected what they were saying to make sense and they just plain didn't (Plato, Leibniz come to mind).

The second thought is really more a matter of annoyance. Some philosophers invent their own language and then call you stupid for not understanding them. I find Heidegger and Hegel the worse offenders here. I'm not sure I would entirely put Ricoeur in that category, but there were times reading this book that I wondered if he was being unnecessarily "poetic."

It's fine to engage in a discussion with peers who are already in the discussion with you. You don't have to explain Gadamer or Dilthey to a room of philosophers. Actually, in that respect Ricoeur explained a lot that he wouldn't have had to. Thanks, Paul. :-)

3. Ricoeur wrote in the hey day of structuralism, so his lingering on the text-in-itself was understandable. I thought his run through Jakobson's six factors in relation to the fixation of meaning in writing quite brilliant. Ricoeur rightly points to "ostensive" features of texts that refer to things in the real world outside of language.

However, I believe he is ultimately wrong to believe that a text has a meaning-in-itself. There is no sense inherent in a text-in-itself. There is no understanding that corresponds to the text-in-itself. There is no objectivity in the text. There is no logical or atemporal or ideological aspect of a text that is not a construct or an abstraction, a heuristic device, not truly something that inheres in the text itself. There is only a text-as-uttered and a text-as-received. A text has no fixed meaning-in-itself without a context.

The text-as-meaning does not exist in itself. It only exists as understood by a mind against a context. This is, I believe, a fundamental implication of Wittgenstein. There is no unambiguous meaning "behind" the text. The text does not point to a stable meaning beyond or behind it in itself. The text has a meaning as a function of a mind receiving it as interpreted against the language games the reader can play against the forms of life of which the reader is aware.

That meaning is a function of the language-games-situated-in-forms-of-life of the person receiving the text, including its own author. These interpretations of the text can be as varied as those who read the text. The understanding of the author is one of these interpretations, but it is not the only one. Concrete references to the outside world can be part of those language games and forms of life but they can also be fictive.

I think I'll leave it at that. It would be fun to rewrite this book and tweak it from my perspective, but no time or reason for that.

4. As relates to the Bible, we can apply these fundamental insights as I have repeatedly over the years. There was an event of meaning when these texts were fixed in writing. An expert will point out that some biblical writings were formed in multiple events of meaning, yielding at times complex layers of potential meaning in biblical texts beyond the bare polyvalence of texts in general.

These first meanings were overwhelmingly if not entirely functions of the language games and forms of life of the original authors and audiences. Even the original situation involved potential variations between the writer and audience/reader who shared the same forms of life and language games.

The language games and forms of life of those in New Testament times were already different from those of the Old Testament. Therefore, it is completely predictable and expected that the New Testament authors would interpret the OT texts in different ways than they were originally understood. The resistance of some to this notion in certain circles is intellectually perverse in the extreme.

The overwhelmingly vast sea of differing interpretations of the Bible especially in Protestantism is also entirely predictable. The "autonomous text," freed from the moorings of its original contexts, assumes the form of the countless readers throughout history reading these words in countless forms of life against the domain of possible language games within those forms of life. "Scripture alone" does not exist. Scripture-as-interpreted is all that exists.

When there is an external authority to render the "right" interpretation, the meaning of the text stabilizes.  This was the case to a great extent within Roman Catholicism and it is increasingly the case within the evangelical hegemony in the United States. But the stable meaning of the text in these cases is deceptive. What is stable is the interpretive community with its authoritative reading of the text.

The situation is complicated by the fact that we are more aware of historical meaning since the historical revolution of the 1800s. Fundamentalism was a reaction to this "attack from within." Whereas the pre-modern might simply reinterpret the words, history threatened to fix the meaning in the times and places when the texts were written. But these fixed points weren't always what traditional faith wanted them to be.

So boundaries were fixed to what you were allowed to let the text mean, and a kind of pretend historical method was used in the process. So you looked like you were playing the game of history, a game that you cannot, not play (or intentionally choose not to play), to the extent you understand it. But while the motions of historical evidence gathering were played, the game was rigged so that the right interpretation would be attained.

So fundamentalist and mainstream evangelical interpretation is a strange amalgam of old and new. We find original meaning glued to theological re-appropriations in order to create a sociologically enforced interpretation.

5. I would rather keep the hot part hot and the cold part cold. The text had a meaning-in-context. We cannot fully reconstruct the intention of the author but we can reconstruct a spectrum of more and less likely originally intended and received meanings to the biblical texts. Let them be what they are. Anything else is just dishonest and the sign of an errant hermeneutic.

But we can still allow for theologically reinterpreted readings of the text. This is a category that Spirit-oriented traditions should be open to. Cannot the Spirit speak in new ways through the same texts? The NT use of the OT would suggest so.

What is the excluded middle? The text-alone approach. The mainstream evangelical/high Protestant approach becomes the one that is more or less hermeneutically incoherent.

There is room for progressive revelation, which sees a developing and unfolding in the biblical texts, as God moves and speaks from situation to situation. There is room for an orthodox reading of the text, which takes as its Archimedian point the consensus of the Church written large but does not in pre-modern fashion pretend that these were always the original meanings. There is room for pneumatic traditions, that see the text still as an instrument of revelation by the Holy Spirit.

All these are coherent readings. Everything else is either unreflective or hermeneutically perverse.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Ricoeur: Conclusion

Finally, the conclusion of Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory, a series of foundational lectures on hermeneutics that he gave in 1973 at Texas Christian University.

1. Language as Discourse
2. Speaking and Writing
3. Metaphor and Symbol
4. Explanation and Understanding

In these last seven pages or so, Ricoeur concludes his series of essays. He returns especially to a dialectic he presented in the second essay, the dialectic between the distanciation of a written text and our appropriation of it. We are estranged from a written text in that it has been severed of its context and author, yet somehow it creates a new way of being in the world for us.

This is the question of how distance can be made productive (89).

He finds the key to his answer in the text as a world in itself. He repeats his disagreement with Romanticist or "historicist" hermeneutics. To explain a text, for him, is not to see it as an expression of certain socio-cultural needs, a response to perplexities localized in space and time (90).

He is more sympathetic, although not uncritical of the trajectory of Frege and Husserl, which sees a text to have its own ideality. They pushed back against the hermeneutics of Dilthey--"the act of verstehen is less geschichtlich and more logisch" (91). Understanding a text is less historical and more logical. A text is "a kind of atemporal object."

Ricoeur says, "I agree" with the main presupposition of this trajectory--"the objectivity of meaning in general." "The semantic autonomy of written discourse and the self-contained existence of the literary work are ultimately grounded in the objectivity of meaning of oral discourse itself" (91). "The text--objectified and dehistoricized--becomes the necessary mediation between writer and reader," not the inner psychic connection of Dilthey.

Thus far he has summarized the element of distanciation. Now he moves on to appropriation.

"To 'make one's own' what was previously 'foreign' remains the aim of all hermeneutics" (91). "Appropriation remains the concept for the actualization of the meaning as addressed to somebody" (92). Now severed from its context, "potentially a text is addresse to anyone who can read. Actually, it is addressed to me, hic et nunc," here and now. "As appropriation, interpretation becomes an event."

He then addresses several misconceptions of appropriation. First, for him, appropriation is not a return to Romanticist hermeneutics. It is not about finding the intention of the author or the original historical situation. Those are technically lost. "What has to be appropriated is the meaning of the text itself, conceived in a dynamic way as the direction of thought opened up by the text" (92).

Appropriation is not about recovering the inner life of another ego, that of the author. It is about disclosing a possible way of looking at things for me as a reader. "Appropriation has nothing to do with any kind of person to person appeal. "To understand an author better than he could understand himself is to display the power of disclosure implied in his discourse beyond the limited horizon of his own existential situation" (93).

In Gadamerian fashion, the ideality of the text, its self-contained ahistoricity, mediates a fusion between the horizon of the reader and the horizon of the author.

A second misconception is the notion that it is the original addressee of the text that rules the hermeneutical task. For Ricoeur, "the letters of Paul are no less addressed to me than to the Romans, the Galatians, the Corinthians, and the Ephesians" (93). "The text has escaped its original addressee."

Finally, he rejects the notion that the interpretation of a text by a reader is contained by the finite capacities of the understanding of a reader (93-94). "What is 'made one's own' is not something mental, not the intention of another subject, presumably hidden behind the text, but the project of a world, the pro-position of a mode of being in the world that the text opens up in front of itself by means of its non-ostensive references" (94).

"If the reference of the text is the project of a world, then it is not the reader who primarily projects himself. The reader rather is enlarged in his capacity of self-projection by receiving a new mode of being from the text itself" (94).

In this way, appropriation is not a matter of possessing the text but a "dispossession of the egoistic and narcissistic ego" (94). "Only the interpretation that complies with the injunction of the text, that follows the 'arrow' of the sense and that tries to think accordingly, initiates a new self-understanding."

The "ego," the I that precedes the text, receives a "self" from the understanding of the text.

Here endeth the reading.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Don't Blame God (James 1:13-15)

"When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (Jas. 1:13-15)

In these verses, James quickly corrects anyone who would say that God, let alone the Devil, made you do something wrong. God is not in the business of trying to get us to fail. The responsibility lies with us.

James 1:13 is a very important verse in the Bible. It tells us that God is not in the business of tempting people. God doesn’t try to get us to fail, and he doesn’t get a certain fiendish delight when we do. God wants us to succeed when we face trials and are tempted to find the wrong way out. There are certainly stories in the Old Testament that sound like God was tempting someone (e.g., Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22). But the New Testament gives us the fullest understanding of how it works. Satan may tempt us (e.g., 1 Chron. 21:1). But while God allows us to be tempted, he does not tempt us himself.

James 1:14-15 also makes an important distinction between temptation and sin. It is not sin to be tempted to do wrong. It is sinful to act on that temptation, to make a choice for that temptation. Of course, one can make a choice of this sort with our minds, not only with our bodies. But this is not a matter of a passing thought. We can’t keep thoughts from running through our heads, and it would be foolish to try too hard to stop them. Then we only end up having more and more thoughts about them. The key is not to let them give birth to choices and intentions. That is when sin is conceived, and we are on our way toward death.

It is human nature to make excuses. Psychologists call it rationalization. We are uncomfortable with the consequences of our actions, so we try to explain them away. These verses reek of the kinds of excuses a person might make. The Devil made me do it. Still worse, someone might suggest that God was testing them, so it’s his fault. But James lays the blame squarely on us. It was your evil desire that led to this sin, he says. You let it seduce you rather than running away. Not only that, but you let it give birth to sin. I am to blame, he says, not someone else, not my circumstances, upbringing, or environment. The blame stops here.

Father, help us to take responsibility for the wrongs we do. Only when we accept our guilt can we get forgiveness.

“No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from.” George Eliot

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Blessed with Craig Keener's volumes on Acts!

I'm trying to get my head around the magnitude of even the first two volumes of Craig Keener's commentary series on Acts with Baker Academic. I'm jealous that Asbury has biblical scholars of such exhaustive and profound knowledge! The third volume (and he will not have finished Acts yet even with that), is currently scheduled to come out in October.

I tell you the truth, thus far I had not found a resting place, a base camp commentary for the book of Acts. This will now be the first one I pick up. I have added it to my astore of resources. I am just completely dumbfounded at the immensity of his work here!

Thanks to Craig and Baker Academic for the copies! I inaugurated them this morning with Acts 13:2 and the connotation of leitourgeo. He has four pages with copious footnotes on just this one verse! He's almost at 2200 pages at the end of Volume 2. Each volume even comes with a CD-ROM with copious sources and indices.

I think I'm going to go work in a factory in Mother Russia.

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