Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pre-Modern Bible Reading

Although I've said some things repeatedly in the past, it's worth repeating some of them every once and a while. I consider the following claims more or less beyond reasonable dispute:

1. All of us see the world from "within our heads." That is to say, we see the world as it appears to us, not as it actually is.

2. This also applies to the Bible, since it is outside our heads. The meaning of the Bible does not come into our heads without being filtered through our interpretation machines.

3. A pre-modern interpreter--which is ultimately all of us because of #1--is unreflective in his or her interpretation. A pre-modern interpretation is one that does not realize that it is projecting meaning onto the thing being interpreted.

4. Texts are polyvalent. That is to say, the same text is susceptible to multiple interpretations. The closer the text is to its speaker and utterance, the easier it is to pin down the intended meaning. The more removed the utterance is from the person interpreting it, the more likely it is that the interpreter will see a different meaning in the text than the one intended.

5. The meaning of words is a function of the way they are used in particular contexts. These meanings change over time and have a "deep structure." That is to say, the meaning of words is ensconced in socio-cultural contexts.

6. The original meanings of the Bible were (overwhelmingly if not entirely) meanings that its original authors understood or were meant to understood. Therefore, the deep structure of biblical meaning is, at least in the first place, a meaning that was a function of ancient socio-cultural systems.

7. These connotations are different from our defaults. We inevitably invest the words of the Bible with the meanings of our defaults (thus pre-moderns). That is, we inevitably invest the words with our deep structures, our socio-cultural norms.

8. The general tendency to read the books of the Bible as a unity of meaning is a pre-modern tendency. That is, it is a tendency to rip the texts from their context-dependent, deep structured meanings and to replace those deep structures with the singular deep-structure of us as readers. What were originally dozens of separate books written against multiple contexts becomes one book read against our singular context.

9. The tendency to speak of a biblical worldview is a tendency to pre-modern interpretation. The worldview of which we speak is, to a large extent, our worldview rather than that of the Bible.

10. Modern inerrancy was designed to stop progress toward contextual (modern) reading of the Bible at a semi-arbitrary spot. A road sign was erected to say, "You must continue to read the Bible with the same pre-modern conclusions as before but using modern historical methods to arrive at them, guided by certain untouchable presuppositions."

Again, although I perhaps have not worded these as clearly as possible, most of these I consider beyond reasonable question, if you understand what I am saying.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

1 John 1 in Greek

This was a final video for my summer Greek for ministry class. Its aim was to capture the benefit of the class for interpretation. The webpage used is on

Reading Notes on Genesis

Below are reading notes on Genesis, an 18 day read through the book. For my reading notes on the New Testament, see here.

1. Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Creation)
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24 (The Fall)
3. Genesis 4-5 (Cain and Abel)
4. Genesis 6-9 (The Flood)
5. Genesis 10-11 (The Tower of Babel)
6. Genesis 12 (The Call of Abram)
7. Genesis 13-14 (Melchizedek)
8. Genesis 15-17 (Hagar and Ishmael)
9. Genesis 18-19 (Sodom and Gomorrah)
10. Genesis 20-22 (Abraham and Isaac)
11. Genesis 23-24 (Isaac and Rebekah)
12. Genesis 25-26 (Birth of Jacob and Esau)
13. Genesis 27:1-30:24 (Jacob's Trickery, Flight, and Children)
14. Genesis 30:25-36:43 (Jacob's Departure from Haran)
15. Genesis 37-38 (Sibling Issues: Joseph, Tamar)
16. Genesis 39-41 (Joseph - from slave to ruler)
17. Genesis 42:1-47:26 (Joseph and his brothers)
18. Genesis 47:27-50:26 (Jacob's Testament)

18. Genesis 47:27-50:26 (Jacob's Testament)

And now, the final post of Genesis, for Genesis 47:27-50:26.

In these chapters:
  • As Jacob is about to die, he has Joseph swear he will bury him back in Canaan. Genesis 47:31 sounds like Jacob dies, but then he is still alive in Genesis 48.
  • In Genesis 48, Jacob blesses the two children of Joseph--Manasseh and Ephraim. He switches his hands to bless the younger, Ephraim, more than the older Manasseh, and he does so over Joseph's objections. This is because he also was the younger, blessed more than his older brother Esau.
  • Genesis 49 gives his testament blessings on his twelve sons and then dies. Judah is the most favored in this testament, which foreshadows in the story the future kingship of the Davidic line. The chapter uses both YHWH (49:18) and Shaddai (49:25) for God.
  • Genesis 50:1-14 gives the burial of Joseph back in Canaan by a large contingency from Egypt, including all of Jacob's family.
  • Perhaps the key verse of the entire Joseph cycle is 50:20: The brothers planned something for bad, but God used it for God.
  • Finally, Joseph dies. He wants to be buried back in Canaan eventually, although it will have to wait several hundred years. 
Previous notes:
1. Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Creation)
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24 (The Fall)
3. Genesis 4-5 (Cain and Abel)
4. Genesis 6-9 (The Flood)
5. Genesis 10-11 (The Tower of Babel)
6. Genesis 12 (The Call of Abram)
7. Genesis 13-14 (Melchizedek)
8. Genesis 15-17 (Hagar and Ishmael)
9. Genesis 18-19 (Sodom and Gomorrah)
10. Genesis 20-22 (Abraham and Isaac)
11. Genesis 23-24 (Isaac and Rebekah)
12. Genesis 25-26 (Birth of Jacob and Esau)
13. Genesis 27:1-30:24 (Jacob's Trickery, Flight, and Children)
14. Genesis 30:25-36:43 (Jacob's Departure from Haran)
15. Genesis 37-38 (Sibling Issues: Joseph, Tamar)
16. Genesis 39-41 (Joseph - from slave to ruler)
17. Genesis 42:1-47:26 (Joseph and his brothers)

Here endeth Genesis.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

17. Genesis 42:1-47:26 (Joseph and his brothers)

I burned out on Genesis a couple months ago with only two posts left. No one seemed to be paying attention to the series anyway. But finish Genesis must I. Then I'll set this project aside till an angel appears and tells me to continue with Exodus.

So today is Genesis 42:1-47:26.
The First Trip to Egypt (Gen. 42)
  • Now the story reconnects. Joseph has been in Egypt for years. His father Jacob has thought him dead probably over a decade in the story. His brothers probably have more or less forgotten him. Now they are on a trajectory to meet him again.
  • Joseph recognizes them but they do not recognize him. All but Benjamin are with them. Joseph begins to toy with them. He accuses them of being spies.
  • Joseph makes them leave Simeon with him until they come back with Benjamin to prove that their story would pan out. Joseph cries for the first time, understanding in their language that Reuben is seeing this trouble as punishment (from God) for what they did to Joseph. Meanwhile, Joseph puts their silver back in their bags. 
  • Reuben, the firstborn, continues to have regrets as before.
The Second Trip to Egypt (Gen. 42)
  • Soon the food runs out again. They must go back to Egypt. They have to take Benjamin. Now Judah promises he will make sure Benjamin comes back. They take presents.
  • Jacob invokes El Shaddai in 43:14, and 43:23 references "your El and the El of your father."
  • They "bowed low to pay him honor" (NIV) in 43:28. Significant for understanding the word "worship" is the fact that the most common word for worship in the NT is used here in the Greek translation of this verse (proskyneo).
  • As they leave, Joseph once again plants his sliver cup in Benjamin's bag as a pretext to keep them from leaving. Joseph's ability to practice divination is mentioned in 44:15.
  • Joseph finally cannot contain himself. He breaks down weeping. He reveals himself to them.
  • God let them sell him into slavery to save lives (45:5). Good examples of salvation language in these verses (e.g., 45:7). Joseph wants the family to move to Goshen in Egypt.
Jacob's Trip to Egypt
  • Jacob offers sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Elohim speaks to him and promises to bring his descendants back into the land of promise again. Sixty-six of Jacob's direct descendants go down to Egypt, and Genesis 46 gives the roll call. Jacob is finally reunited with Joseph.
  • Jacob's family have to live separate from the Egyptians because they detest shepherds. By contrast, pig herders were detestable to the Israelites. Herein is the real cultural to the prohibition on pork, not some supposed hygienic reason. The Egyptians apparently felt the same way about lamb.
  • Powerful words of Jacob in 47:9: "My years have been few and difficult." 
  • Joseph ends up acquiring the lands of all but the priests for Pharaoh.
Previous notes:
1. Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Creation)
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24 (The Fall)
3. Genesis 4-5 (Cain and Abel)
4. Genesis 6-9 (The Flood)
5. Genesis 10-11 (The Tower of Babel)
6. Genesis 12 (The Call of Abram)
7. Genesis 13-14 (Melchizedek)
8. Genesis 15-17 (Hagar and Ishmael)
9. Genesis 18-19 (Sodom and Gomorrah)
10. Genesis 20-22 (Abraham and Isaac)
11. Genesis 23-24 (Isaac and Rebekah)
12. Genesis 25-26 (Birth of Jacob and Esau)
13. Genesis 27:1-30:24 (Jacob's Trickery, Flight, and Children)
14. Genesis 30:25-36:43 (Jacob's Departure from Haran)
15. Genesis 37-38 (Sibling Issues: Joseph, Tamar)
16. Genesis 39-41 (Joseph - from slave to ruler)

Final post tomorrow, Genesis 47:27-50:26.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Let me buck the academic norm again and say this. A master must know the primary sources. A teacher should know the primary sources. But, in terms of learning, secondary sources (including the teacher) are usually FAR, FAR, FAR more important than the primary ones. A good teacher or secondary source can abstract the key points in a relevant way, while primary sources are often obtuse and idiosyncratic.

The skill of abstracting information from a primary source is a useful one, and the deeper someone goes into a topic, the more important it becomes to evaluate secondary sources in the light of the primary ones. But when it comes to learning, the vast majority of students will learn FAR, FAR, FAR more--and FAR more students will be started on the journey to understanding--if you begin with summaries and secondary evaluations of primary writings, even if such summaries and evaluations would prove to be wrong on some details!!!

It is hard for me to express how frustrating I find the intellectual purist on these things. I can get the vast majority of college students in the door. Those who wish may then go on with the perfectionist to perfection, and they can laugh at how stupid I was on so many things. But the purist gets VERY few in the door with the "all or nothing" entry way, many of whom go on simply to perpetuate the same ineffective purism.

For example, I can see an honor's introductory philosophy class wading through some primary sources, but I GUARANTEE you that the vast majority of students in an introductory philosophy class will more be left with a disgust and distaste for philosophy--and a confirmed conviction of its general irrelevance--if you make them wade through the Republic or Marx's Communist Manifesto instead of summarizing and systematizing the key ideas of these thinkers from a contemporary standpoint.

So you tell me, O Academic Man, which is better, to get the 10 students who are able to follow you through the primary sources, or the 100 students I could lead to the same ultimate destination starting with secondary ones?

I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on me.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ehrman Epilog: After Nicaea

And now it is with great pleasure that I finish the Epilog of Bart Ehrman's, How Jesus Became God.

So far:
1. Divine Humans in Ancient Greece and Rome
2. Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism
3. Did Jesus Think He Was God?
4. The Resurrection of Jesus: What We Cannot Know
5. The Resurrection - What We Can Know
6. The Beginning of Christology
7. Jesus as God on Earth: Early Incarnation Christologies
8. After the New Testament (2nd and 3rd centuries)
9. Paradoxes on the Road to Nicaea

The Epilog both gives a little of what happened after Nicaea, while also giving Ehrman's personal conclusion.

1. For Ehrman, he notes that his own story is a mirror opposite of that in the early church. While views of Jesus in the early church got "higher and higher." His own understanding went "lower and lower." He still resonates with the ethical teaching of Jesus (e.g., love your neighbor), although even here he believes that Jesus' teaching had a rationale from Jewish apocalyptic that is quite unlike his own thinking. Ehrman doesn't believe that a heavenly figure called the "Son of Man" is soon going to rush in to set the world straight.

Here he says something that is true to at least some extent. We have a tendency to "recontextualize" Jesus. If you were to look at the many portraits of Jesus that have been written (even painted) over the last centuries, you would find that biographers of Jesus have a tendency to create him in their own image. I absolutely believe it is true that the Jesus you hear from the pulpits today is a Jesus that makes sense to each particular preacher.

We may quote the same words from the Bible about Jesus and tell the same biblical stories, but the meanings we give those words and stories tend to be a Jesus who reflects our values and ways of looking at things. Imagine my surprise, for example, to hear people today reading Jesus as a Tea Party type! No doubt whatever the next subcultural Christian fling of the next decade is, it will likely--surprise, surprise--see Jesus as its home boy too.

2. The development Ehrman has painted in his book goes as follows: "Jesus went from being a potential (human) messiah to being the Son of God exalted to a divine status at his resurrection; to being a preexistent angelic being who came to earth incarnate as a man; to being the incarnation of the Word of God who existed before all time and through whom the world was created; to being God himself, equal with God the Father and always existent with him" (353).

There are two points especially where Ehrman's reconstruction is idiosyncratic from a majority opinion of scholarship. One is his sense that Jesus looked to the coming of a different figure from him, a being called the Son of Man. The other is his sense that Jesus was understood to be an angel. Both are ideas that surfaced in the early 1900s. Neither have gained much of a following among scholars.

There has of course been the rise in the last twenty years of an "early high Christology" model in certain circles. Ehrman gives the famous Martin Hengel quote about more happening in the first twenty years of early Christianity than since (371). Larry Hurtado has also argued strongly for a striking worship of Jesus that rose in the earliest days after Jesus was on earth. Richard Bauckham has also argued as intelligently as anyone for an inclusion of Christ within God's divine identity from the earliest points.

Ehrman does not completely disagree. Indeed, although he argues for development here, he sees the worship of Christ as a divine being a very early development.

What is a believer to make of this discussion? For me, the key is to see this as a conversation from the outside of Jesus looking on. In other words, we are asking about the evolution of how Jesus was understood, not about who Jesus actually was. Jesus was of course the same person all along, regardless of how understandings about him developed.

Here's the point. By faith, Jesus was the second person of the Trinity from eternity past. When he came to earth and became a man, he arguably put the vast majority of his omniscience in some divine subconscious and learned things like a normal human. That is to say, he did not know everything about who he was all at once. He may not have "remembered" that he was the second person of the Trinity until his resurrection!

The understanding of Christ in the church may have taken some time to unfold as well, but this is not a matter of who Jesus actually was while he was on earth. It is a question of our unfolding understanding of Jesus. All that is to say that the development of understanding of Jesus in the early church--however it unfolded--does not contradict orthodox faith in who Jesus is.

3. Ehrman spends part of this chapter talking about the impact of Constantine making Christianity legal on its flavor. Since Constantine now believed exclusively in the Christian God, emperor worship immediately stopped. Predictably, conversion to Christianity went into hyperdrive. I can't confirm his numbers but he suggests Christianity went from being about 5% of the Roman Empire when Constantine legalized it to about 50% by the end of the 300s. Obviously we can question whether this was real conversion or rather convenience.

He argues that Jews were then increasingly persecuted. It's one thing when persecuted Christians say vitriolic things about Jews. It's another when Christians in power say those things. Ehrman argues that Jews were soon marginalized into a position far worse than they had been--and they were none popular before. I can't confirm the tone he gives about Ambrose in this section, but he suggests that Ambrose pressured the emperor at that time from punishing a mob that had destroyed a synagogue and from letting them rebuild it.

This is, by the way, why I favor a form of separation of church and state that is friendly toward all religions, including Christianity (thus, I mean a form that is different from the model that seeks to drive all religion out of the public sphere). When a religion is in power, no matter what religion it is, it almost always has a tendency to oppress those who are not part of it. I love a quote allegedly by Charles Spurgeon about why the Baptists never burned anyone at the stake. His answer, "Because we were never in power."

4. Finally he deals with some post-Nicaea "heresies." He makes a point with which I agree. The vigor with which these "heretics" were opposed was ignorant of the developments that had already taken place. Apollinaris believed that Jesus' soul was the Logos. So it was as if he had a divine mind and a human body. This attempt to work things out was seen to negate Jesus' full humanity and was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Ehrman says, "he was not allowed any longer to worship in a Christian church in public" (368).

Obviously I don't agree with Apollinaris and maybe he was a contentious guy. If it was his divisiveness that kept him out of churches, I can understand that. If it was some self-ignorant self-righteousness on the part of those who hereticized him, I have problems with that. It reminds me of John Piper's sense that Wesleyan-Arminians should not be teaching at truly evangelical institutions.

Nestorius similarly was trying to work out the mystery of Christs being both fully human and fully divine after Nicaea. Apparently, his views came close to sounding like Christ was two persons, a divine one and a human one. Again, he was condemned.

A final "wrong turn" was that of Marcellus of Ancyra, who saw Christ as emerging from within God the Father for the space of creation, destined to return within the Father after the universe was set right. A fascinating proposal, in the end rejected in 381 at Constantinople.

5. So ends the book. In dealing with these issues in the 90s, I ended up putting a stake in Chalcedon, the Council of 451. By faith, I affirm that God is three persons but one substance, that the substance should not be divided and the persons should not be conflated (Nicaea). By faith I affirm that Jesus was both fully God and fully human, two natures but one person (Chalcedon).

As one person put it: "One canon, two testaments, three creeds, four councils, five centuries."

This benchmark has allowed me personally to let the interpretation of New Testament texts go where I think they want to go. I have grown to hate what I see as revisionary interpretation meant to make sure that interpretations of the New Testament match orthodox faith. The drive to do so is understandable. Having made all that fuss in the Reformation of getting back to the Bible alone, imagine how embarrassing it would be if the Bible itself undermined orthodoxy. So there is a lot of interpretive pressure evangelical Bible scholars feel to make the books come out "right."

That does raise a question. As Ehrman's last few chapters have argued, the debates of the 300s and 400s became increasingly minute. These debates arguably entered into territory where the Bible just didn't go, trying to answer questions the Bible just didn't ask. The debates increasingly became philosophical.

To what extent does the Protestant principle of "back to the Bible" apply to these debates? For example, I'm not sure how anyone would use the Bible to hereticize Marcellus above. Is it acceptable to be a "Marcellian" today? Of the three creeds mentioned above, I'm quite happy that John Wesley only accepted the teaching of the Athanasian Creed, not its condemnations of those who disagree.

We also have the occasional oneness Pentecostal come through our programs. I don't agree with their theology, but I don't personally doubt their rightness with God. If these discussions tell me anything, it's that Pietism is a very coherent position. God is more interested in what is going on in people's hearts than their heads.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My astore: books on modern physics

I've posted the books so far that have been helpful to me in trying to get a grasp on the developments in relativity and quantum physics this last century. I've barely scratched the surface, but if you want to poke around my Astore, here's the link to the new section: Modern Physics.

E1. Evil is a matter of choice, intention, and desire.

Now with two sections of my theology in bullet points done, we move on to the third section I am doing, "The Problem of Evil."
Evil is a matter of choice, intention, and desire.

Technically speaking, people are not literally evil and no one literally has evil inside them. This is figurative language. Literally, people make choices based on evil intentions, and such choices can so typify a person's choices that we might say metonymically that they are evil people or that they have evil inside of them. [1] People have evil desires. And people make evil choices.

Most significantly, an evil desire is a desire to do harm to others or see harm happen to others. This is because the ultimate standard of good is the twin love command to love God and love neighbor. It is against this standard that wrongdoing is most meaningfully measured.

An evil intent is an intent to harm others directly or to cause harm in some degree to others indirectly. An evil choice is an act, physically or mentally, intended to harm others or to lead to the harm of others. We call such evil choices, "sins," intentional acts against God and others when we know what the righteous choice would be.

Desires are not yet sins (Jas 1:14-15). It is only when the desire conceives a choice to act that a sin has taken place.

We can of course speak more broadly. It is perverse to desire to harm "the good" in general, where the good is anything God has called good. It is perverse to want to destroy or damage beautiful things.

There are thus degrees of evil intent and thus degrees of sin. The more defiant the choice against God, the more "high handed" the sin. The greater the intent to see harm done to others, the more heinous the evil. You might say with Paul that "nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean" (Rom. 14:14).

The most meaningful standard of evil intent is thus measured most appropriately against the most meaningful standard of good intent, which is the love of God and others. It is not most meaningfully measured against standards outside of human intent, such as a set of objective laws or rules. God is interested in the consequences of our actions, because he loves everyone and he loves his creation. But the standard of moral culpability is a standard of intention.

The same act can thus be sinful when done by one person but not sinful when done by another. It depends on the knowledge and intention of the person involved.

Note that it is a misinterpretation of Romans 3:23 to see sin as anything short of perfection. The New Living Translation wrongly translates the latter part of this verse to say, "fallen short of God's glorious standard." Rather, all are "lacking the glory of God," where the glory of God is what God originally created humanity to have within the creation (Ps. 8:5; cf. Heb. 2:6-8). The verse is not defining sin as anything short of God's perfect standard.

Despite how popular it is to say that "all sin is the same," the Bible does not in any way bear out this slogan in terms of sin itself. There is some truth to the saying if you mean to say that no one can earn God's favor and that "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23). But this is something different from what we are saying, namely, that some sins are more heinous than others.

The Old Testament sharply distinguishes between sins with intention (e.g., Num. 35:16-21) and unintentional sins (e.g., Lev. 4:1, 13, 22). In general, the Levitical system of atonement did not make provision for atonement in relation to intentional wrongdoing. The death of the perpetrator was generally required for that.

However, the holiness codes established objective standards of what was clean and unclean, and you could violate these codes unintentionally by accidentally touching the wrong thing. The New Testament more or less does away with this system of cleanness (e.g., Mark 7:19).

It is still possible to wrong others unintentionally in the New Testament, as it is today, but the primary sense of sin in the New Testament is doing wrong with intent, including the wrong of others. [2] John Wesley called this sort of wrongdoing, "sin properly so called" and defined sin as a "voluntary transgression of the known law of God." [3] So James 4:17 tells believers that it is sin if someone "knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it." Paul in Romans 14:23 says that "everything that does not come from faith is sin." Both verses strongly reference the intention of the wrongdoer in the light of what they are thinking.

Emotions are thus not sinful in themselves. You can be angry and not sin (e.g., Eph. 4:26). You can have evil desires and not yet have sinned (Jas 1:15). It is when we make the wrong choices in relation to our emotions that we cross the threshold of sin.

The level of intentionality correlates directly with the intensity of the evil. This is why law systems distinguish between manslaughter and first degree murder. The punishment for a well planned out murder (murder in the first degree) is greater than killing someone in a fit of rage (manslaughter). Wesley somewhat humorously called the latter kinds of sins, "sins of surprise." [4] They bear the intentionality of the moment rather than a more extensive act of will.

However, Wesley was also clear that a person can set themselves up for sins of the moment. A momentary act can be the culmination of emotions and desires that have been brewing long before the act. A person is morally culpable for failing to deal with the storm before the lightning came. Similarly, one may have chosen not to know better. In short, a person can be wrongly convinced about the known law of God (e.g., Rom. 14:22).

Sin is thus to do wrong or to wrong others. You can sin unintentionally. Unintentional sin is not evil because it does not involve intention. By contrast, all intentional sin is evil to some degree. It is primarily intentional sin for which God holds us morally culpable. [5]

You can have evil desires without yet sinning. This is a desire to do wrong or to wrong others that has not yet reached the level of intent. Evil intentions are when a person has made the choice to sin.

Next Sunday: God created the possibility of evil choices.

[1] A metonymy is when something is so associated with something that you can refer to the thing by it. So you might say of someone known for wearing a bow tie, "Here comes the bow tie." In the same way, to say someone is evil--indeed to say God is love--is not to imply that their atoms are made up of evil or love but that evil and love so typify them that we can say figuratively, "He's evil."

[2] All sin is thus a function either of motive or consequence. Unintentional sin congeals around consequence. Intentional sin centers on motive. In neither case is sin fundamentally a matter of the act itself. Character, the fourth domain of ethical consideration, is the accumulated pattern of one's intentions and choices.

[3] You can find references to "sin properly so called" in Wesley's sermon, "The Scripture Way of Salvation" and you can find this definition of sin in a letter he wrote in 1772 to a Mrs. Elizabeth Bennis.

[4] E.g., in his sermon, "The Fruits of the Spirit." He did not reference murder when speaking of this category, I should make clear.

[5] However, you might argue that, apart from trusting in the atonement provided by Christ, we are also held morally culpable for our unintentional sin.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Family History 8: A Dutch Reformed Past (Schenck)

For the last couple weeks I have been looking at my Grandma Schenck's family, the Millers (her father) and the Wises (her mother). The week before that, I looked at the 1920s, when my parents were born. Today I flashback from the year 1930 to look at my Grandpa Schenck's family, my namesake.

1. In the year 1930, my father turned 6 and was living with his parents, brothers, and (at that time) one sister in Indianapolis. At that time, his father Dorsey was running a church, I presume, either out of his own house or out of one he was buying or renting ("Riverside"). Perhaps he was also running a store out of the front room of his house or another house. My mother turned 4 and was living in Frankfort, where her father Harry was teaching at Frankfort Pilgrim College.
Dorsey the butcher/store owner

Most of my parents' grandparents were still living as well.
  • My mother's father, Harry Shepherd's parents, of course, had already been gone for over thirty years, having died when he was just a boy before the turn of the century. 
  • But my Grandma (Verna) Shepherd's parents were both alive and living in Kokomo, Indiana.
  • My Grandma (Esther) Schenck's Old German Baptist parents were both still alive and living in Camden, Indiana--Amsey and Salome Miller
  • My Grandpa (Dorsey) Schenck's parents were both also living around the Frankfort area when the year 1930 dawned. 
2. However, in October of 1930, Samuel Schenck, my Grandpa Schenck's Dad, would die of a burst appendix. It was only a little more than a week before my father's 6th birthday. My Dad had a few memories of him and visiting his farm just north of Frankfort, pleasant memories. We drove around looking for it some twenty years ago but couldn't find it. I believe my Dad had memories of his funeral.

I'm assuming that Samuel and his wife were Methodists, since they are buried at New Hope Methodist Church just north of Frankfort. Samuel had an aunt whom I know was a fairly involved Methodist (Mary Ghere). My Dad's Aunt Lula was certainly a Methodist, Samuel's youngest daughter.

It was always a treat to visit Aunt Lula just outside Michigantown. When I was a boy, she always had sheep on her property and served farm meals that were always to my liking. Her house was at a bend on a country gravel road (I used it as the setting for my first of countless unfinished novels ;-) She was a member of the Woman's Temperance Union until she went into the nursing home across the street from Frankfort Camp Meeting.

Aunt Lula's house outside Michigantown
I don't know how engaged Samuel was with the Methodist Church, but my grandfather led him to the Lord while he was in the hospital. He had a very narrow sense of who was truly a Christian and who wasn't, and this means at least that Samuel consented with a prayer asking God to forgive his sins. At that time, he was apparently taken from Frankfort to St. Joseph's hospital in Kokomo--the very hospital where Tom and Sophie were born, my youngest two. I suspect if the event had taken place fifty or sixty years later, he would have survived.

Samuel was born in Clinton County in 1871. The story of his mother (Ellen Ghere) is quite interesting, although sad. Her father brought her to Frankfort, Indiana from Pennsylvania when she was only about six years old, in 1847. But he left the family in 1849 with the "Forty-Niners" for the Gold Rush and the hopes of getting rich. They never saw him again. He died in Sacramento, California in September of 1854.

Samuel was about 14 years old when his grandmother--the abandoned Mennonite wife--died. He seems to have moved around a fair amount himself. In 1900, he was a traveling salesman in Rush County. In 1910 he was a farm manager in Carroll County (it may have been here that one of my grandfather's sisters became acquainted with Esther, who would become his wife 10 years later). In 1920 Samuel was back in Frankfort as a farmer, perhaps on the land where he would live the rest of his life. But in 1930, the year he died, he seems to have taken on the role of a laborer on a dairy farm.

3. Samuel's father, Henry, was born in Ohio in 1833. At some point in between 1850 and 1860, probably after his father died in 1855, he would strike out on his own from northeastern Ohio to the Crawfordsville area of Indiana. He seems to have married a woman from Indiana about that time, Elizabeth, but I don't know whether he married her back in Ohio or when he arrived. He seems to have taken a niece and another boy with him, assuming he didn't have a child at 14.

That wife, Elizabeth, would apparently die before their tenth year of marriage. Somehow he would meet the Ellen ("Ella") from Frankfort I mentioned above and marry again in 1864. By the time my great grandfather was born they had shifted slightly east to the Frankfort area for good. Henry, as almost everyone settling in Indiana at that time, was a farmer.

4. In the 1930 census, whoever answered the door to my great grandfather Samuel's house led the census taker to think that his father was born in Holland. Maybe they asked something like, "And where was your husband's father from?" Misunderstanding the question, someone must have answered, "Oh, his family's from Holland originally."

True enough, but a couple hundred years before. The original American pronunciation of my last name is SKANK, sad to say, although thankfully I was long out of high school before those sounds came to be used in pop slang to refer to a trashy woman. The Dutch pronunciation is a little more complicated, but it rounded off to "skank" after a few generations here in America.

A lot of Dutch Reformed Schencks seem to have made their way through northeastern Ohio in the early 1800s. I suppose most of them ended up in Michigan. The frontier seems to have beat the Dutch Reformed out of my ancestors.

William Schenck was born in Monmouth, New Jersey in 1804. But by 1840 he was in Butler County, Ohio. He is listed as Schyler Schenck in the 1850 census. He is thus quite likely the William Schuyler Schenck who was christened in a Dutch Reformed Church in Monmouth, New Jersey in 1804.

William lived from 1804 to 1855 and died in Butler County, Ohio. As I said above, his son Henry (born in 1833 there) seems to have headed to Indiana immediately upon his father's death.

5. From this point going back, the names become increasingly Dutch and increasingly repetitive, often skipping a generation.

a. One Roelof Schenck seems to have come to New York from Holland in 1650. He had a son named Garret in 1671, still in Flatlands, New York. Garret is the one that moved the family to Holmdel Township, Monmouth, New Jersey. He died there in 1745.

b. Garret had a son named Kortenius, Koert for short. He lived and died in Monmouth County, living from 1702 to 1771, dying right before the Revolutionary War.

c. But Koert's grandson, also named Koert wouldn't miss out. In between was another Garret who unfortunately died even before his father (1725-61). His grandson Koert however was twenty-five on July 4, 1776. Koert fought in the Battle of Germantown under General Forman. He then went on to become a tanner.

d. All of these, from the first Garret born in the US to revolutionary soldier Koert's son Garret, died in New Jersey. It was only with William Schuyler Schenck, his middle name after his great-grandmother's family, that they left Jersey for the west.

Ruins of Bleijenbeek Castle in Holland
6. The Roelof that came to America from Holland in 1650 seems to have come from a family of some status in the Netherlands. His great, great, great grandfather seems to have been one Dederick I Schenck van Nydech in the 1400s. His son then Dederick II (1481-1525), and his son Dederick III (1514-1560). This last person apparently was born at a castle called Bleijenbeek near Afferden.

Roelof's grandfather was a Peter VII Schenck Van Nydeck (1547-89). Peter was apparently a general, although I don't know what war. Finally, Roelof's father was Martin (1584-1650), who lived in Utrecht, where Roelof was born.

I put this entire lineage in biblical genealogical form here for Father's Day.
Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)

6. The Divisive Sixties
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Science Friday: The End of Gamow

Finally finished this classic of popular physics I've had since the 80s, George Gamow's classic, Thirty Years That Shook Physics.

The previous posts were:

1a. Planck's Quantum
1b. Jumping Photons (Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect)
1c. The Compton Effect (Proof of Energy Packets)

2a. Thomson and Rutherford's Atoms
2b. Bohr's Contributions (How electrons fill the atom)

3a. Pauli Exclusion Principle (no two electrons at any one energy state)
3b. The Pauli Neutrino

4a. De Broglie's Wavy Particles
4b. Schrödinger's Wave Equation

5. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle
6. Dirac's Anti-Particles
7. Chapters 7-8: Fermi and Yukawa

And now the final chapter, "Men and Work" and the playful stunt play, "The Blegdmasvej Faust"

1. Gamow was writing in the 1960s and, from his perspective, not much momentous had taken place in the some thirty years since the content of the book. To be sure, we have seen the perfection of the Standard Model with numerous particles not mentioned in Gamow's books (e.g., quarks). But as Lee Smolin's book, The Trouble with Physics, reflects, the breakthrough that Gamow hoped would take place before the year 2000 is yet to happen. [As an addendum, see this post of mine.]

Not only has Gamow sat on my shelves for years, there are a number of "physics classics" there waiting to be read in this series, QED, The First Three Minutes, A Brief History of Time. All in good time. But I think I'm going to go next to a biography of Richard Feynman. If Einstein typified 1900-1920, if Bohr dominated 1920-1940, Feynman is the central figure of quantum physics in the mid-twentieth century, it seems to me. So next Friday I hope to post on the first chapter of Quantum Man.

2. Gamow, I think, gives some great insights in this final chapter. He suggests that one path forward might be to explore the significance of a new set of fundamental "dimensions" in the quantum world. In the large world we inhabit, length, time, and mass are the key dimensions from which all other physical quantities and units are derived.

But what if there are really much more fundamental units when we get right down to the bottom line of existence at the quantum level. It's not hard to figure out what the first two of the three most fundamental constants might be. Planck stumbled on one--h or Planck's constant. It seems to pop up all over the place in the atomic world. The speed of light, c, is another, the dandy of Einstein.

But what might the third be? Gamow suggests that there might be a fundamental unit of distance, λ, anticipated from Pythagoras to Heisenberg. He suggests it is somewhere around 2.8 x 10-13cm, the range of forces acting between nucleons and the point at which all the calculations seem to go to infinity. I don't know whether this specific suggestion ever went anywhere, although I do believe the notion that there is a quantum distance of this sort is quite commonly held (e.g., a Planck length).

2. He ends with an informal play performed in 1932 in Copenhagen, a riff off the German play Faust, in which a genius is bored with all normal learning and sells his soul to the Devil. Gamow was prevented from attending because the Soviet's wouldn't let him go from Russia at that time.

Faust itself is rather sacrilegious, so it might be a bit jarring. God stands for Bohr in the play, and Pauli is the Devil (Mephisto). God is pleaing for Mephisto not to take away all of his prized notions, like mass and charge. All the Devil is interested in is the neutrino.

Probably the best known part of the play is Faust's opening monologue and it's fun to see what they've done with it. "I have--alas--learned Valence Chemistry... Yet here I stand, for all my lore, No wiser than I was before..."

The play seems to jump from image to image. No doubt those at the conference found much of it hilarious (such as things falling into Dirac's holes). Mephisto (Pauli) longs for his neutrino (Gretchen) but, in the end, Chadwick's neutron is what shows up.


Wesley Seminary - ATS Accredited!

Although we have known unofficially for about a month now, we received the official letter in the mail yesterday announcing that Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University is now fully and officially accredited by the Association of Theological Schools! How incredible it is to think that it was only five years ago next month that our first MDIV cohort arrived on campus for its first class!

We are incredibly grateful to all those who have had a hand in making this possible, from former President Smith and the countless minds who played a role in the design of the seminary to Wayne Schmidt and all the faculty who daily give their best to its future. But most of all, we have to thank the students!  They are the seminary.

I figure some 600 students, maybe more, have come through Wesley's halls, electronic and otherwise, these last five years. We're expecting our August enrollment snapshot to be somewhere around 450, surely making us the fastest growing seminary in the world right now! Hard to believe! The average seminary size is about 155.

There's no guarantee of the future. And while we are ever thankful to God, there is no sure correlation between spiritual worthiness and growth. So if you were to ask me, practically, the causes of this growth, here's my analysis:

1. An enthusiastic launching pad
Let's face it, if Indiana Wesleyan University and The Wesleyan Church had not put their full and enthusiastic weight behind the start of the seminary, including some significant financial resources, Wesley wouldn't have happened. While being embedded in a broader institution is not without its own challenges, we simply would not exist without those resources.

What genius minds had a role to play in the start of Wesley, including the likes of Keith Drury, Russ Gunsalus, Ed Hoover... so many sharp cookies!  Enthusiasm about a place is not to be underrated. It creates and maintains momentum. I believe that enthusiasm has been a key element in the growth of Wesley.

2. Accessible, affordable, practical
Former President Smith used to summarize Wesley with these three words, and there's no question in my mind that these are also essential components of Wesley's growth. The financial incentives that were put in place almost make it insane for a Wesleyan pastor to go to any other seminary unless they're just perverse. :-)

The demand for online education at a distance is so overwhelming it boggles my mind. If we had to rely on onsite cohorts, we would close our doors tomorrow. The initial floodgates of our enrollment have primarily been individuals who would not normally have gone to seminary in the traditional days of moving somewhere.

Our curriculum is overwhelmingly practical. How it warms the heart to hear students say, "I saw changes in my congregation before the eight week class was even over"! And it is "faith-friendly." Let's face it, a lot of Bible classes at traditional seminaries are professors doing therapy over their ex-fundamentalism. It's like the main goal is to show you how stupid you are about the Bible. None of that at Wesley.

3. A "yes," "can do" attitude
Wesley was started with a "can do" attitude that has always been biased toward saying, "Yes." It's not that there aren't standards. It's just that, if it is reasonable to get to point B but the path from A to B is not straightforward, we will do everything we can to get you to point B anyway. Sometimes there isn't a way, but we spend a good deal of our energy trying to get individual students where they have every reason to go.

This is a problem-solving, possibility-seeing spirit that is student-oriented. It majors on the major and is more focused on getting to the destination than on a prescribed path to get there. Function must always trump form.

4. A quality, sacrificial, gap-filling faculty
We have a tireless faculty. I vividly remember a meeting just after John Drury and Lenny Luchetti were hired where I physically sighed with relief to realize that they were revving their engines to start filling in the gaps and to "go on unto perfection" (in the words of Heb. 6:1 in the KJV). Each faculty member brings their own superpowers:
  • Bob Whitesel - a true genius who as I write has a group of students in England on a Wesley's Leadership tour. They're reading Wesley and about Wesley in the most significant places of Wesley's ministry. I'm not even 50 and I'm wondering where he got the energy to do everything he does. He's become a Wesley scholar in his own right, just getting ready for these trips.
  • Charles Arn - This guy has the gift of online teaching. What a great way to begin the program for students. He is full of a can-do spirit, meets students when he's just passing through town, is always coming up with some resource he found that is relevant to whomever. A true servant's heart who is always volunteering to serve, even though he lives in California.
  • John Drury - Dr. Drury is a genius beyond question. He's the kind of mind that could be locked up at Harvard or Oxford writing the next step in theology. But get this, he's a tremendous teacher as well, who loves to meet with students one-on-one, not just for the mind but for the spirit as well.
  • Lenny Luchetti - Dr. Luchetti is a work horse. It seems like every time I see him he is in an all out sprint. Did anyone seriously ever suggest that this was going to be a "lite" seminary? Insert condescending guffaw. They obviously haven't compared their courses to Lenny's! He has a pastor's heart and a heart for pastors. 
  • Colleen Derr - Dr. Derr has stepped into the gap repeatedly. She has pinch hit for me countless times to see projects through. Our adjuncts are now more than adequately served with her as advisor, and it was she who completely revamped our dwindling youth ministry MA into a children, youth, and family concentration that is so much in demand that we're going to have to split the new group starting next month.
  • Safiyah Fosua - When I heard Dr. Fosua doing a devotional last year, I wondered why in the world I was the official Bible person in the seminary. What power in the spoken word!  And she's not even the preaching prof! Dr. Fosua took over the worship component at Wesley when it was barely keeping its head above the water and made it excellent.
  • Kwasi Kena - Dr. K, as the Bishop Benjamin cohort calls him, brings a level of excellence and perfection to bear on everything he does that is mind-numbing to me. He's tireless and the consummate professional with an eye for detail. He and Dr. Fosua have sacrificed to make a contextualized, urban cohort in Indy an amazing and growing success. (A real treat are the jam sessions he, Dr. Fosua, and Dr. Drury bring to bear on our convocation and consecration services.)
  • Joanne Solis-Walker - She's not faculty but has sacrificially and almost single-handedly erected a Spanish MDIV program, with a quality team of gifted and dedicated adjuncts. Her half-time has been more like double time. She dreams big and works tirelessly to make it happen.
  • As of July 1 we have two more full-time faculty to add to the mix. Brannon Hancock and Luigi Peñaranda are going to be two more amazing contributors to the momentum. Dr. Hancock is an extroverted practical theologian whose bow ties amaze the Nazarene eye. He can teach just about anything and is another musician. Dr. Peñaranda will finally bring a full time faculty eye to the Spanish MDIV, while bringing an intersection of leadership and Bible expertise to the table of all the students in the seminary. He has the innovative DNA with which the seminary was founded.
  • Educational institutions these days couldn't survive without a significant pool of competent, faithful adjuncts. Here's to all the brilliant professors who have been willing to bring their expertise to our students' table in the first five years of the seminary!
5. A networking leader
In my opinion, the seminary would be stable but not growing if it weren't for its connection-making leader, Dr. Wayne Schmidt. Hardly a day seems to go by when he is not meeting with some new possible partner to serve and walk on a common journey. In the business of education, it seems like to stand still is to move backwards. Atlanta, multiple groups in Indy, Colombia, and who knows where next. You don't need to come for him to build it. He'll come to you!

6. A great team
Dare I say that the seminary has a knock-out admissions team led by Aaron Wilkinson. It's hard to imagine how you could beat him, Dianne Clark, Kami Mauldin, and Moses Avila as an optimistic welcome sign to the seminary. Long before our students hit their first class, they are pumped and ready to go because of the enthusiasm of this team.

And it goes without saying that the real machine at the heart of the seminary is Karen Clark, Tenley Horner, Allison Horner, Becky Perry, and Tera Teitjens? They are the ones that keep things going. What a sad state things would be in if they were not cranking the wheels and feeding the monster.

I've done a dangerous thing, mentioning specific names. Beyond the walls is the team of the broader university, countless faces that make things happen and lend their enthusiastic support--not least President David Wright, whose years of experience are a constant source of wisdom and insight. Beyond IWU are the Wesleyan leaders who share in the dream. We now have seminary alumni who are out there spreading the word, feeding the lore, creating a culture.

Happy Birthday, Wesley Seminary! Happy Accreditation! The LORD bless you for years to come!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

6. Social and Political Philosophy

Here's the final piece of my Philosophy in Bullet Points, celebrating my new philosophy textbook (also see my theology bullet points). Unlike the textbook, which tries to present all basic positions fairly, these posts give my personal, philosophical inklings.

1. Epistemology and Metaphysics.
2. Philosophies of God and Science
3. Philosophies of History and Art
4. Logic and Philosophy of Person
5. Ethics

Social Contract
  • Social philosophy is ethical philosophy written large, on the societal level.
  • "Man is a political animal" (Aristotle). We are a herd animal that travels in tribes.
  • People live together on the basis of "social contracts" (Locke, Rousseau). We trade off some of the freedom we might have alone in order to gain potential advantages from living together.
  • (One of the complications of American identity is that our past involves a significant element of frontier isolation and the "Wild West." But that level of freedom is indicative of the primitive, initial stages of a society's existence and is increasingly unsustainable as a society enlarges and develops.)
  • Rousseau's idea of a noble savage is nonsense. Human, animal nature doesn't change no matter what its default context.
  • The ideal society lives between the utilitarian principle of "the greatest good for the greatest number" and certain fundamental human rights (e.g., Bill of Rights), human freedom within the limits of harm.
  • "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" (Spock). Or, perhaps better, the good of the many takes priority over the pleasure or benefit of a few.
  • The United States Constitution is a social contract in which "in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," we agree to live within certain boundaries while respecting certain fundamental "rights" of others.
  • If we live here, we give "tacit consent" to this contract (Locke).
  • The Christian goal for a society is that it would be as "loving" a context as possible to all of the people within its sphere of influence, legal or illegal, at home or abroad.
  • An Arminian Christian goal for society is that it motivate but allow humans to choose a virtuous life rather than to force one. Nevertheless, it will work to discourage self-destructiveness and work against structures that do harm to others. An Arminian approach to government thus does not try to legislate or force morality except insofar as such legislation prevents harm to others and intensely self-destructive behavior. 
  • A truly Wesleyan goal for society is egalitarian in every respect, promoting a society that equally values and provides equal opportunities for every individual regardless of gender, race, or social status.
  • The most crucial part of a social contract, indeed the primary motivation behind most social contracts, is the safety of those within the contract, both from within and without. I agree not to kill you if you agree not to kill me. I agree to defend you if you agree to defend me.
  • A nation should not go to war unless "1) the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; 2) all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; 3) there must be serious prospects of success; 4) the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated." (Catholic Catechism).
  • "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" encapsulates the basic principle of justice. From a Christian standpoint, love and mercy trump justice, but the good of the overall structure of justice can be a greater good than individual mercy. 
  • In general, you can only force people to do the right thing within limits, and it takes massive amounts of energy and resources to do so. More efficient is to incentivize and motivate a society to be good. 
  • The use of force to compel the good is often as effective as stomping on an ant hill. In some cases, the amount of force necessary exceeds a certain limit, and the one pursuing justice becomes themselves the evil monster. 
  • A society that ignores its most discontent or disempowered elements is destined for revolution and crime. The feet of a society that only pays attention to rewarding the "meritorious" (the "haves") will disintegrate and undermine the stability of the society as a whole.
  • In order for a society to be truly great, it must have a place for the more human dimensions of existence, not merely the pragmatic. A great society will have a significant space in which the arts and the pursuit of truth for its own sake thrive.
Political philosophy
  • A Christian can be content in God, regardless of political context (Phil. 4:11). "A man can live with any 'how' if he has a 'why'" (Victor Frankl).
  • "That government governs best that governs least" (often attributed to Jefferson). Yes, but as with Einstein's quote ("A good scientific theory should be as simple as possible but no simpler"), "least governance" remains huge the more sophisticated a society becomes. 
  • Anarchy or no government simply allows those who can to do whatever they want. Default human nature wants pleasure and, without the checks of government, those who can will increase themselves at the expense of others. Government is thus necessary for the happiness of the majority.
  • No form of government is perfect, because humans are involved. Without great care in the structuring of government, the majority of people in a society will inevitably suffer as they would under anarchy. 
  • A theocracy sounds good, but humans inevitably mediate revelation from the deity (reducing theocracy to monarchy or oligarchy). A benevolent monarchy with a gifted and informed administration might be ideal but it often has the half life of one king. 
  • A representational democracy, within the limits of certain "inalienable rights," remains the most stable, sustainable, and potentially just form of government, combining in itself the efficiency of an executive, the pressure of the majority (ideally mediated through the most gifted), with the checks and balances of a judiciary.
  • A balance of power is thus ideal (Montesquieu): executive, legislative, judicial.
  • It is human nature for the majority to oppress the minority. Accordingly, the power of the majority must always be kept within the boundaries of the fundamental rights of others. Despite the fact that tolerance of others is a fundamental principle of a democracy, for democracy to succeed, it must ultimately be intolerant of intolerance, when it comes to the fundamental boundaries of democracy.
Economic philosophy
  • The economic structure of a society is a substructure of its social contract.
  • The way a society is economically structured has everything to do with the accumulation of resources and possessions, especially in a large society. It is not simply the case that a person "owns" x amount. The economic structure of a society has everything to do with how resources flow and accumulate, and massive wealth can only be accumulated off the back of a societal structure.
  • An excessive concentration of wealth and resources in the hands of a few is just as dangerous to the health of a democracy as entrusting official power in the hands of a few. Formally, the society may still be called a democracy but, informally, such a society is really an oligarchy if there aren't serious checks against the power of wealth.
  • The economic resources of a successful democracy must potentially (real potential) be available in significant quantities to everyone within that society. 
  • Anarchic communism as an economic system is a complete failure. The default incentive of most human beings is not to work for the good of others but to do what they have to for their own pleasure. While it is a noble, even Christian dream to have a society where everyone does as much as they can with the results flowing to those in need, regardless of their contribution, the twentieth century has demonstrated in the most emphatic of terms that this approach doesn't achieve its goals and actually demoralizes and impoverishes a society. (contra Marx)
  • The most sound basis for human economics is self-interest. (Adam Smith) The fundamental principle of capitalism is sound--people will work to attain a desired amount of pleasure, like a rabbit chasing a carrot. 
  • There is something inherently just and rewarding about working in relation to receiving. Grace--unearned benefit--is virtuous on the part of the giver and exceedingly Christian. However, the value of grace is undermined if a person feels entitled to it ("cheap grace"--Bonhoeffer). A person should have to do something in response to grace, even though it is disproportionate to the grace bestowed. (This is a very Wesleyan and New Testament understanding of grace).
  • The goal of capitalism as an economic structure is the maximal happiness of the members of a society. (Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham) This goal coheres well with Christian values, even if the means plays to fallen human nature.
  • However, capitalism does not function to this end without significant regulation. (J. S. Mill) The default trajectory of unbridled, anarchic capitalism is to concentrate the resources of a society in the hands of a few with a resulting oppression of those who do the work for the few, sometimes ending in bloody revolution. (Marx)
  • In order for capitalism to work as it was initially intended, competition must potentially be possible between any member of a society. This speaks to the necessity of anti-trust laws and other regulations.
  • Self-interest in the pursuit of individual pleasure will always find new ways to work against the true goal of capitalism, which is the empowerment of the many. Whenever new ways to undermine this goal arise, appropriate new structures have to arise to keep the underlying goal in place.
  • So as with government in general, that capitalism functions best that is regulated least, but "least" does not mean none. It may have to be quite extensive for capitalism to achieve its underlying goal of maximal societal happiness in relation to resources.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

5. Ethics in Bullet Points

Almost done with my Philosophy in Bullet Points in celebration of my new philosophy textbook (also see my theology bullet points). Unlike the textbook, which tries to present all basic positions fairly, these posts give my personal, philosophical inklings.

1. Epistemology and Metaphysics.
2. Philosophies of God and Science
3. Philosophies of History and Art
4. Logic and Philosophy of Person

  • God is the ultimate value and benchmark for righteousness.
  • The ultimate Christian standard for living consists in the twin love command: love God and love neighbor.
  • Loving God implies ceasing to be the center of value. The goal of life is thus not egoistic (what's in it for me) but putting God's purposes above my individual desires, putting virtue above personal pleasure, putting others above myself. 
  • God's goals, however, are not onerous. I demonstrate my love of God most when I am loving others, and the love of others never contradicts my love of God.
  • To love others is to act in a way that promotes their good, which goes beyond pleasure to promoting their wholeness as a human being made in God's image in a loving way. 
  • To "do wrong" is thus, primarily, to act in a way that is unloving either toward God or others (or not to do good when I have a clear opportunity to do so). This implies intent, an intentional wrong, knowingly done toward God or others. To do wrong is to act self-centeredly in a way that dishonors God or harms others.
  • Since I am also created in God's image, I deserve respect and dignity as well, and there is a time to honor myself as an honor to God, even over and against potential good I could do for others.
  • One can also wrong God or others unintentionally. From a moral perspective, such wrongdoing is less significant but, since God loves everyone, is ultimately significant.
  • Virtue honors God--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, wisdom, courage, justice, and so forth.
  • Virtue is a pattern of choice, which can become a disposition by habitual choice (a version of Aristotle). 
  • Goodness is a matter of our choices, not our feelings. The cumulative weight of our choices is our character. 
  • No physical act is intrinsically wrong. ("No food is unclean of itself") Acts are right are wrong depending on the intention of the person acting and the consequence of the action. ("Whatever is not of faith is sin")  
  • One can act in mind as well as body. (You have heard it said... but I say to you.)
  • The twin love command is the ultimate ethical absolute, and it is a standard of intention. There is no situation when it would be right not to love God, others, or to respect myself as a human being.
  • Other rights and wrongs are derivative of these absolutes and play out contextually.
  • So killing other human beings is almost always wrong, but there are exceptions. Such exceptions can include self-defense, just war, and final justice. Therefore, by definition, killing is not an absolute wrong but a wrong that is universal, with exceptions.
  • Most specific wrongs fall into this category--universally wrong with exceptions. Some wrongs, however, are a matter of personal conviction or derive from the cultural significance of actions. ("If anyone thinks it is unclean, it is unclean.")
  • Those few ethical norms that are absolute (universal and exceptionless) are so because there is no circumstance in which there is an exception (e.g., adultery). Universal significance to action is an aggregate of all particular instances of an action having a similar significance.
  • One cannot dismiss an ethical claim by labeling it "relativistic" or "situational ethics." It is overwhelmingly obvious that the core value of love plays out differently in different situations, as well as that some norms are cultural or personal. Such "dismissal by categorization" is not only for the feeble minded but is a tool of injustice and oppression.
  • We inevitably operate with a hierarchy of values. For example, the value of saving life takes precedence over the value of obeying the speed limit. Making ethical decisions typically involves weighing legitimate values against each other in the light of the consequences of various courses of action.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ehrman Chapter 9: The Council on the Trinity

Only the Epilog after this post, on chapter 9 of Bart Ehrman's, How Jesus Became God.

So far:
1. Divine Humans in Ancient Greece and Rome
2. Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism
3. Did Jesus Think He Was God?
4. The Resurrection of Jesus: What We Cannot Know
5. The Resurrection - What We Can Know
6. The Beginning of Christology
7. Jesus as God on Earth: Early Incarnation Christologies
8. After the New Testament (2nd and 3rd centuries)

And now chapter 9, "Paradoxes on the Road to Nicaea"...

Like the last chapter, I did not find a great deal in this chapter to disagree with. The bottom line, as it has been all along, is whether you believe God was leading the Church to Nicaea or whether you see the process as nothing more than the power plays and coincidences of history. It is of course possible that Ehrman is off on some details, but if so I am not expert enough to see it.

1. So it seems accurate to say that, with each decision Christians made to accept one alternative and reject another, they were on a path toward Nicaea. I have heard it said that Nicaea was the inevitable outcome if the church was to affirm everything it needed to affirm while denying everything it needed to deny.

This statement, it seems to me, is something similar to what Ehrman is saying when Trinity is a collection of "ortho-paradoxes." He grounds the Trinitarian paradoxes in two things.

First, there are the paradoxes of Scripture. The Gospel of John says that Jesus is God. But it also says that Jesus is human. Isaiah 45:21 says there is only one God. But Psalm 45:6 speaks to another God.

Second, Christians were navigating between extremes on both sides of issues. "But both of two opposing views cannot be completely wrong, or nothing is right, and so the orthodox--in attacking opposing views--had to affirm part of each view as being right and the rest as being wrong. the result was a paradox that each of the opposing sides was wrong in what it denied but right in what it affirmed" (327).

Here's another way of putting it: "If you put together all the orthodox affirmations, the result is the ortho-paradox: Christ is God; Christ is a man; but he is one being, not two" (328). "As time went on, heresies became increasingly detailed, and the orthodox affirmations became increasingly paradoxical."

I can't think of anything really to disagree with here.

2. In the lead up to Nicaea, Ehrman treats several individuals along the way who reflect the fluidity of faith in the centuries leading up to the great Council of Nicaea in AD325.

Justin Martyr
Justin lived in the mid-100s. Ehrman means to show that while Justin is movement toward orthodoxy, he is not there yet. I am not an expert on Justin, but it would certainly make sense if this were true.

I did wonder whether he had Justin quite right on Jesus being the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. Given what Ehrman has said about Paul's Christology earlier in the book, it would be easy to read this section to say that Justin had the same view.

However, I have more thought that Justin saw the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament as a Christophany. A Christophany is when Jesus appears in the Old Testament in some form, such as in the form of the Angel of the Lord. This would be something quite different from Jesus being an angel who appeared. It would be Jesus appearing as an angel.

I have read a little of David Runia on the impact of Logos thinking on early Christianity. Runia does suggest that the Logos Christology we find in these early centuries (e.g., in Origin) would eventually prove inadequate in the light of full Trinitarian belief. The Logos emerges from God in relation to the creation, and this doesn't neatly fit "eternally begotten." So Runia argues, if I remember correctly, that the later church stopped using this imagery that had been used earlier, as the orthodox view became the norm.

Novatian was a problem in the church because of the schism he led in the 200s after the persecution of Decius in 250. I believe it was he who inspired Cyprian to say that long since famous quote, "There is no salvation outside the church."

Ehrman says that "his theology, however, was completely orthodox in its day" (335). Again, while not being an expert, I suspect Ehrman is correct (although remember the distinction I made in my last post between not violating an orthodoxy and it not yet being appropriate to speak of an orthodox position yet on a particular topic). Novatian disagreed with the modalists, on the one hand, and the adoptionists on the other. For him, Christ was divine but he was distinct from God the Father.

Where Ehrman argues the later church would consider him heretical is in the fact that he saw Christ as subordinate to God. Christ is Lord and God of everything except for God the Father, to whom he is subject. I believe Ehrman rightly sees this subordinationist understanding of Christ as a view that would later be deemed incorrect.

Dionysius of Rome
As Ehrman presents the situation, one Dionysius in Rome wrote to one Dionysius in Alexandria, to steer him toward unity in his conception of the Trinity. Dionysius of Alexandria, in combating modalism was coming to close to tri-theism, in D of R's view. In D of R's view, D of A is too close to affirming three Gods to combat those who see the three persons as three faces of the same God.

Dionysius of Rome insisted that the unity within threeness had to be maintained.

3. We thus arrive at the trigger for the Council of Nicaea. The emperor Constantine made Christianity a legal religion in AD313. Ehrman spends a little time discussing Constantine in this chapter. He takes the position that Constantine saw Christianity as a potential way of unifying the empire. Ehrman is also sympathetic to the view that Constantine truly believed it and thus that it would have been important for him to get the worship of Christ correct within his kingdom.

So Constantine writes the priests of Alexandria about their understanding of an Old Testament passage. Ehrman wonders if the passage was Proverbs 8, which is about wisdom as God's master craftsman in creation.

As an aside, I might say that this is a heavy role that theologians and scholars often play within a group. I sometimes get asked about various issues (I received a question via Facebook messaging just last night on the various Greek words for worship in the NT). Orthodoxy is stable. It isn't so hard to answer a question like, "What does orthodoxy teach about x," because there often are right and wrong answers. It is often possible to say, "The consensus of Christian history is this."

A question like, "What does the Bible teach," on the other hand, seems tougher to me, because the Bible is a flow of voices addressing a flow of situations. In my world, most of us who count as scholars are really scholars who try to connect specific theological traditions with other domains of scholarship. The more idiosyncratic the tradition, the more unstable the connection between scholars of that tradition and broader scholarship. As a Wesleyan, there are specific concerns that have to be kept in mind when answering a question, and from the vantage point of an outsider, these might appear to skew the answers. The same applies to other traditions.

All that is to say that I prefer to give options as answers, based on particular points of view, rather than to pretend to have the answers. I at least agree with Ehrman on this point. History is a science that arrives at greater and lesser probabilities given the evidence as we have it. The negotiation of history in relation to theology, on the other hand, is a much less straightforward dialog that has everything to do with what assumptions you start with. And that is why there are thousands upon thousands of divergent Christian opinions on things.

4. The answer to Constantine from one of the priests in Egypt, Arius, brought him into major conflict with his bishop, Alexander of Alexandria. Arius suggested that Jesus was indeed the "firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15). He was divine. He was Lord over all creation. We must worship him.

BUT, Arius taught that only God the Father was without beginning. There was a point when the Son did not exist. For Arius, it was before time, before creation, for Christ was God's agent in creation. So, like Origen before him, Arius saw Christ as superior to all of creation, just not as "of one substance" as the Father. For Arius, like others before him, Christ was only subordinate to God the Father. He was supreme over everything else that exists.

I would agree with Ehrman that Arius' position was not yet heretical at this time. The paint is not wet. I personally don't think we can speak of orthodoxy on this subject until the consensus was firm in the 400s. To me, orthodoxy is not as simple as a vote taken by some group of men at a council. That is because, to me, orthodoxy is a matter of Spirit consensus.

Arius would lose this vote. It would take decades for what would become orthodoxy to become what I am calling a consensus. But the current position of Christendom won the day in 325. Christ is "of one being" with the Father. He is "begotten, not made." Indeed, he is "eternally begotten."

So the Spirit consensus was beginning to congeal. Christ is not a distinct being from God the Father. He is not even "similar" in being to God the Father--the compromise position suggested by Eusebius. He was "of the same substance" and co-eternal, along with the Holy Spirit.

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