Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Introduction to Hebrews' Paper

I thought I'd share the introduction to my Scotland Hebrews paper:

"As the Holy Spirit Says": Hebrews' Theology of Scripture
Hebrews has no explicitly stated theology of Scripture. Indeed, the word graphe does not even occur in the sermon. What Hebrews does have is a pervasive sense of God speaking and, thus, of God's word, his logos. It would of course be anachronistic to make some direct equation between the word of God in Hebrews and the Jewish Scriptures. From every perspective, logos is a much larger concept than some written text or texts.

Nevertheless, the author assumes without even considering the need for argument that the Scriptures are a witness to truth. The conversations of Scripture where God speaks are truly incidences when God spoke. At the same time, the "literal" meaning of Scriptural texts is not the only possible meaning. Indeed, it may not be the most important signification of the text. The author knows the difference between literal and allegorical, and at times he operates on a literal level. But his most significant points as often flow from some deeper meaning made clear by the Holy Spirit.

In this paper, we will unfold the following dynamics to Hebrews' use of Scripture. First, while Hebrews demonstrates an awareness of the human instruments involved in the origins of Scriptural texts, human authors play almost no appreciable role whatsoever for the author in the meaning of Scripture. He prefers to speak of the witness of the text itself.

Secondly, the literal meaning for the author is conceived thoroughly in a pre-modern way. The author makes no distinction between the story in the text and the real world story in which those texts are historically located. The events, characters, and settings of biblical narratives (narratives both explicit and implicitly derived) are not examined in their own right, but primarily for how they might constitute exempla for contemporary understanding.

However, in the most significant instances, the author understands the text to speak directly to the audience in some way. The author seems to believe that in many such instances, the Holy Spirit is speaking directly to the audience through the words of the text. In other cases, early Christian traditions or various aspects of the Scriptural context lead the author to read passages as if Christ were the one speaking the words. In one situation, the author believes the words of Scripture are most appropriately placed on the lips of himself and the audience! In these instances the author is aware that he is going beyond the literal--it is just that the literal meaning is not the important one at that point.

Behind all these dynamics, driving the specific interpretive courses of action, is the author's theology brought to bear on a specific rhetorical situation. This theology obviously involved a hefty Christological component. But more than anything else the author's lens was eschatological. The author locates himself and the audience at the consummation of the ages brought about by Christ. And he argued from the biblical text to move the audience to his desired end.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The TNIV of Romans 16

Some of you will be happy the previous post was only up a few hours... I promise I'm only moving on because I'm ADHD and have had other idle thoughts that quickly... With my personality, my emotions flash and then are gone. Once expressed, I'm thinking, "Hey, what's for supper?"

Some might remember I started a Paul novel last summer. I got to page 31 and then the flash ran out or something. A year and the novel that is my understanding of Paul has grown a little--or perhaps just changed :-)

So I posted sometime in the meantime that Colossians 1:23 (the gospel already preached to every creature under heaven) had convinced me that Colossians wasn't written from Ephesus, like I had schemed. I'm still holding out for Philemon and Philippians from Ephesus. But another year, who knows where I'll be.

And I felt particularly "convicted" as Roger McKenzie from SWU spoke at the Truth Conference about how he reacted to various blogs. I don't know whether he's ever looked at my blog or not, but perhaps my theology/Bible posts fit in the category he termed "who cares."

Well, all of that is preface. You can stop reading now.

But if you didn't stop reading, I have consistently been impressed with the translations of the TNIV. You'll remember that the TNIV is the version Dobson's group and others (e.g., World Magazine, which actually posted a response I sent them on their article) were up in arms about because it uses "brothers and sisters" where Paul only had "brothers" (see my blather elsewhere and on my archive site if you're interested in more about this).

I've been looking at Romans 16 because I currently think it was directed at Ephesus rather than Rome, and my novel starts near the end of Paul's stay in Ephesus.

(a change of mind I had last summer; this is of course a position that's been around for a long time. But I generally take a "what you see is what you get" approach to things like this so it was only after some time that I became persuaded that chapter 16 was only written at the same time as Romans, not to the same destination. The reasons are things like Priscilla and Aquila being so prominent--we know of them primarily being in Ephesus. Epaenetus is mentioned as the firstfruits of Asia, which makes a whole lot more sense if Rom. 16 is written to Asia. A Paul mentions fellow prisoners which wouldn't make much sense if they are in Rome--where would he have been imprisoned with them, if that is what this means?)

Anyway, the TNIV did a good job of translating what is to most people a boring list of names. It renders Junia as a woman (interestingly, I noticed that the RSV inserts the word "men" into the verse to make it clear they think she is a male--Ha!). But particularly impressive to me was the way the TNIV translated "my kinsmen." I think rightly, it translates the phrase as "my fellow Jew." Right on the money.

By the way, there are women in this list beyond question! Who is Mary in 16:6 or the individuals in 16:12? Women! So don't be so hard on the TNIV for rendering "brothers" in 16:17 as "brothers and sisters." It's quite clear that Paul means to include everyone in this greeting by the word "brothers"! So you really have to admit, the TNIV isn't so evil really. It's very clear here that Paul really did mean "brothers and sisters" even though he just said "brothers."

It is vastly better than the NIV; it's less dynamic than the NLT; and it reads really nice!

Bush in Austria

I was really sad by the reaction to Bush in Austria last week. Where was it in Europe that a hefty percentage considered the US a greater destablizing force in the world than Iran or North Korea? It appears that the general feeling of the world toward us right now is generally negative everywhere.

Other things have struck me as well. Karzai in Afghanistan has criticized American forces for killing 400 fighters in southern Afghanistan. Also, the prime minister of Iraq is calling for amnesty to Iraqis who have fought against the US.

On the one hand, I don't care about foreign opinion as much if I feel confident we have the moral high ground. I feel we had generally good intentions, but not the moral high ground.

So I have tried to ask myself objectively, "Who has destabilized the world more in the last 4 years (that is, in the time after 9-11)?" Al Qaeda sparked the destabilization of the world at 9-11, to be sure. But I don't think our actions in Iraq have worked at all toward its stabilization, even though that was our intention. I think, in terms of the past four years, we have had a far more destabilizing effect on the Middle East than Iran. The question is where it is going--will the net effect be more stability or more instability. I do not feel confident at all that it will be more stability.

I feel we have effectively cemented a new generation of coming terrorists. If the Russian-Afghan war of the 80's raised bin Laden. Then I fear in twenty years we will be fighting someone we have helped raise in Iraq. I hope we will not follow the same courses of action then that we followed in the 80's and are following again now.

I say in all sincerity. If I had been president instead of Bush, we would be on the best terms with the world now that we have ever been, including the Muslim nations, and we would have been concentrating on stabilizing Afghanistan all this time instead of pursuing tangential adventures in our own blood and budget letting in Iraq. Iraq did not start as a war against terrorism.

When all is said and done. Iraq and Afghanistan will not be more our allies than Turkey or Egypt. And that will not have been worth the loss it took to get there.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Perils of Star Trek

I was chuckling to myself the other day about Star Trek. I'm far too ADHD to be a Trekkie. I think it would be hard for me to form addictive behaviors because I lose focus and move on to something else too quickly. Like, what was I talking about?

Oh, Star Trek. I used to watch the reruns in my late childhood and teenage years. And who did I identify with? Spock. That doesn't mean I'm Spock-like, just that he was my hero. He struggled on rare occasions to keep his human side under control, with its emotions (the hardest times were every seventh year in his mating season and on the off occasion when he was blasted by some strange variety of spore). I repeat, I am not a Trekkie.

I was chuckling because I think I formed a lot of values watching Star Trek--far more than my unsuspecting conservative parents might have imagined. Of course the conservative political lobbyist machine didn't really exist yet. I think Chuck Colson was still in prison :-) We still unknowingly celebrated Halloween and stuff.

But I've decided that the writers for Star Trek must have been steeped in the civil rights movement and all sorts of "liberal" late sixties causes. I remember this one episode where two almost identical men fought in a never ending battle in an all but destroyed planet simply because their faces had the reverse color scheme from one another. What was that all about?

Then there was another where a planet was so crowded that you couldn't not be touching two or three people at a time as you walked around. Only a very few ultra priviledged had a room where they could look out a glass and the shuffling crowds. Hmmm. What was that all about?

But I think Star Trek "jumped the shark" in the fourth movie when they beamed a humpback whale on to the enterprise, much to the surprise of the evil whalers chasing it.

Well, I learned a lot more than these things from Star Trek. It taught me how to think. Spock taught me that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." Then Kirk taught me in the next movie that sometimes "the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the few." A naive primitive set Kirk to fighting a charlatan, with the sentiment that good always wins over evil. McCoy then taught me that in his experience, "Evil often triumphs over good unless good is very careful."

These were worthwhile lessons for a teenage mind. I think I'll go by the DVD's and see if I can get my son interested... ;-)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hebrews Update

I've refrained from posting all my Hebrews' study I've been doing this week--it would soon become clutter. I counted 39 explicit citations of the Old Testament in Hebrews, 29 of which are attributed/put on the mouth of either God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit. Only two are attributed to a specific human, Moses, and that's because he's the one speaking in the biblical story.

So that has brought me to a more important question. Which of these attributions are attributions of authorship and which are simply references to "characters" speaking in biblical narratives (for any who might not be acquainted with this language, I'm not at all implying that these are made up stories--it's just a way to talk about the text)? What I mean is this. I might write a story about Benny the Rabbit and have Benny say something. What I've calculated above lumps references to "Ken writes in his best selling children's book Benny the Rabbit..." in with references to "Benny said, 'My, what big carrots you have.'"

So let's recalculate. Of the 18 quotes of God speaking, how many are God speaking in the story, as a character in the plot, so to speak, and which are thinking of God as the author of the text, as the one standing behind the text's meaning as text, not just as story?

In some cases it is easy to decide. So (in the paradigm of the author of Hebrews) Psalm 2 depicts God speaking to the Messiah (1:5a; 5:5); 2 Samuel 7:14 depicts God speaking to David (1:5b); in Deut. 32 God is speaking (1:6; 10:30a, 30b?). Psalm 110:1 and 4 are both God speaking in the text (1:13; 5:6; 7:17, 21). Gen. 22:16 is God speaking to Abraham in the story (6:13). Similarly it is God in the story who speaks in Jeremiah 31 (8:8-12; 10:16-17). Finally both Hab. 2:4-6 (10:37-38) and Hag. 2:6 (12:26) are God speaking in the biblical text.

In other cases there may (or may not) be more nuance involved. So Ps. 104:4 (1:7) is about God and is not strictly God speaking in the text. We might accordingly take this as God as author behind the text saying something about himself. Ps. 45:6-7 is not spoken by God in the most likely reading of the psalm. It is a good candidate for God being behind the text.

Psalm 102:25-27 is a fascinating one. On first glance, this psalm is someone crying out to God for help and the words in question are clearly about God the Father rather than Christ. However, 1) early Christians sometimes read psalms like this one as Jesus praying. In that case it is at least theoretically possible that 2) the author of Hebrews or others saw 25-28 as God's response to Christ's plea in 23-24. In that case we would classify this citation in with God as "character" rather than "author." Of course it is possible that the author of Hebrews is completely ignoring the context of the broader psalm, in which case it is another God behind the text instance. Hard to tell given what we have to go on.

I do not propose that the author of Hebrews had carefully thought through the distinction I am analyzing here: God as character in the text and God as voice behind the text. I note only for the moment that despite God having the majority of attributions for explicit citations, I find only two somewhat nominal instances of God speaking through the text where the text itself cannot be said to attribute the words to God in some way.

For more intervening research... http://www.schenckalongside.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Naming God in Public School

Some may know that a Nevada school cut off the microphone on a valedictorian who started to share the gospel in the middle of her valedictorian speech, invoking the idea of the "establishment clause" of the Constitution.

These things really make me angry. I am no lawyer or scholar of the Constitution. But I feel quite confident that this is nothing like what the establishment clause was about. Wasn't it about keeping the nation from espousing a particular form of Christianity as the form to the exclusion of the others. I take it against the backdrop of a world where Catholics burned Protestants at the stake and Protestants burned Catholics and both burned Anabaptists.

And I think this was very wise. As far as religion is concerned, Congress should ensure that the United States is a place where everyone can practice religion as they please--as long as their religion does not violate more important principles (so I'm not allowed to murder even if it is part of my religion). The non-establishment clause is about creating an environment where everyone can worship their god in their own way, not about stifling religion out of the public arena.

So how is forbidding a Christian from talking about God in their speech against the Constitution? By the way, the Constitution doesn't actually forbid individual states from establishing a particular religion. Maryland could go Roman Catholic if it wanted. Perhaps this was part of the original mix as well--Congress is not to take sides between states who fall down on different sides of the Christian equation.

It's all a crock, in my opinion. A bunch of stupidity. I don't think that Congress should legislate morality of a specific faith, but I don't think the government has any place forbidding the free and open expression of any religion either. Bring on the manger scene on the courthouse, and the ten commandments understood as an important example of law, and the Menorah, and the Kwanza stuff and a Koran for all I care. But let everyone do it.

If there's one good thing about Bush, it's the fact that the current court won't stand for this nonsense. No doubt someone's already offering to back a lawsuit by this girl. And it will win.

By the way, I see no real value in irritating a captive audience--who doesn't know about Christianity? Who's going to convert because she says a few words about God? Saying the words isn't evangelism. Following someone around reading a Bible is not evangelism. Ticking off a captive audience--doesn't help the cause. So the girl probably is an idiot. At the very least she broke her promise not to read the part of the speech she did (did she lie when she said she wouldn't?).

But she has every right to say what she wants to say about the religion. And there's nothing wrong with public schools doing their best to teach religion as objectively as possible if they want to. I mean, it's not like the audience couldn't help but become Christians. It's not like they melted or something. And next year if a Muslim becomes valedictorian, they can say how great Allah is. I'll be in no danger of caving in if I'm there, oh ye of feeble mind.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bullies and Misbehavior

I saw a segment tonight on the news about a 14 year old pounding on a 10 year old on a school bus. The video was very irritating. After my year of substitute teaching in the 90's in South Florida, I despaired of the American education system. As I've said over and over, "No Child Left Behind" is no solution at all. It just says, "Get education done" but provides no real insight on how to reach that goal.

After the segment on TV, my mind flashed back to the Truth Conference and the opening presentations which I found irritating at best, disturbing at worst. One joke has lingered in my mind. First, the presentations in question had an anti-education edge to them, as if the guy was doing therapy for having trouble getting through his doctoral program (one of his points was basically, "Don't believe anything you hear in grad school).

The joke was about the mother of a bully who witnesses her son punching some other kid in a mall or something. She runs over and asks her son what's bothering him. Then the punchline, the speaker knew at that moment that she must be a university professor.

Ha, ha. The implication was probably that she should have gone over and beat him.

Now I want to make it clear that I am not against corporal punishment or spanking if it is not done violently and the parent is under control. In other words, if it is done constructively. I am no expert on these matters--and I may in fact have some vastly mistaken thoughts on these matters. But I think it is important for children to understand the concept of authority at a young age.

And I really believe that for some children, it will be way too late if you wait till you can try to do this on a conceptual level. I really think some children, particularly some boys, can only learn this on a physical and fear level at the point when they need to learn it. By all means, take things away, give them "time outs" if they work (they do work with most children if enacted with forcefulness), use positive reinforcement. When applied properly, none of these things are appropriate targets for ridicule--only as some parents practice them.

And don't go looking for an opportunity to teach authority. Some parents make a joke of authority by the way they try to teach it (some talk way too much, for example, telling the child about their authority rather than showing them). Some children seem so perfect, a cross look is enough. These are the ones that make us wonder about the Christian doctrine of a fallen nature.

But with most the occasion to teach authority will present itself soon enough. I love the words of Jefferson with regard to government: "that government governs best that governs least." So the home, I think. Have few rules and enforce the ones you have. By the way, there will be no videotape of my children shown at the end of this entry--I am far from a perfect parent and they are far from perfect children.

Back to the bully in the video and the Truth Conference speaker's joke. There is a point where, for whatever reason, physical force doesn't work any more. Perhaps the parents have just failed. I suspect that is often the case. They've let the ship drift into troubled waters. It is deeply ironic that anyone can be a parent. I didn't have to take classes on it. I didn't have to read a single book. Any imbecile can be a parent, and I suppose a good number of us are.

Maybe some children are almost born to be bullies. I have no doubt that some are born with a better than average head start. I don't think it's disputable that some parents who are violent "provoke their children to wrath." Anger can make you an abuser, especially if you're passing on the abuse you've received from someone else. I don't think this is debatable. I really believe that most bullies are probably bullies because they themselves have been bullied by someone--parent, sibling, life, etc... They're passing the buck along.

So the idea, "what that bully on the bus needs is a belt or a switch" probably is quite pointless. If the child is at this point at 14, it's too late for the corporal punishment. Someone somewhere has let a child become a burden on society, and it's time for damage control. And we simply don't have the space or the resources to put all these people in jail. Forget about responsibility or Christian values--we need to rehabilitate these types out of sheer self-interest, so that our world is not out of control.

If a child is a bully because they've been spoiled, then sure, give them some stern consequences. I have no problem with giving a spoiled brat a lesson in "you're not such big stuff after all," are you. But at 14, it needs to be something more sophisticated than a spanking. Once they can think, spankings increasingly become anachronistic.

What am I saying? ...that bullies are our concern, even if they aren't our children ...that there's a point where a child becomes hardened to intimidation and physical punishment. At that point it is pointless to use it; you're going to have to back up and try something else (P.S. most of the kids in our schools are already there). ... that it isn't funny.

Who Speaks in Scripture?

I'm giving a paper next month on Hebrews' Theology of Scripture. It's more fun for me to do my brainstorming here than by myself. So I may post some thoughts here these next few days.

Hebrews 1 has several quotations of the Old Testament.

1. In the first and second quotations (1:5), Hebrews quotes as the words of God words from Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:14 that are there the words of God.

2. In the third quotation (1:6), the voice of Deuteronomy 32:43 is that of Moses.

Note: the Greek text of the OT used by the author of Hebrews was different from the OT text on which most of our Bible versions are based (again, the NRSV wins on these issues). Our versions are still largely and unfortunately based on late Hebrew manuscripts. The Dead Sea Scrolls agree with the Septuagint that Hebrews' version of the verse is closer to the original. Hebrews was using the "RSV" while our Old Testament texts are still the later "KJV."

The author does not reference this verse, however, as Moses speaking. It is rather God who asks the angels to worship Christ. Further, the him of the original text was referring to God as the one the angels were to worship. Now it is taken in reference to Christ, I have argued the exalted Christ as he enters heaven.

The remaining quotes are all from Psalms
3. Psalm 104:4 (Heb. 1:7) is originally the voice of an anonymous psalmist. Now it is God speaking.

4. Psalm 45:6-7 (Heb. 1:8-9) was again originally a psalmist. Now it is God speaking to Christ.

5. Psalm 102:25-27 (Heb. 1:10-12) was again a psalmist, crying out to God. Now it is God speaking to Christ.

6. Psalm 110:1 (Heb. 1:13) is in its original context the psalmist telling of Yahweh speaking to the ancient king--the LORD said to my Lord. However, this is not how the early Christians understood the psalm. They took it to be David speaking of Yahweh speaking to the Messiah (cf. Mark 12:35-37).

In any case, the author is taking the words as God's voice just as the psalm indicates. The receiver of the message differs a little from the original in that Christ is the one to whom these words are directed, rather than the ancient king. It is perhaps useful to note that Mark 12:36 considers this meaning a meaning of the Holy Spirit.

Summary:
Hebrews 1 understands all of its Scripture quotes in terms of God as the speaker. In some cases, this was the original meaning. In other cases, it quite obviously was not the original meaning.

(By the way, if anyone is tracking my claim that the NT largely does not worry about the original meaning, this little study of Hebrews--as any study of any NT book--will pound to smithereens any doubts anyone might have. I remain astounded that any scholar of any girth at all could maintain that NT authors had any real concern to stay close to the original meanings of these texts. It is these modernist scholars' paradigm, not their intelligence, that is to blame. But what a complete loser of a paradigm!!!!! It blows over like a piece of fluff in the air.)

In particular, the author of Hebrews considers these words of the biblical text to be the logos of God, God's word.

Did the author do this intentionally? In other words, did he knowingly take certain words as the words of God when in fact he knew they were not in context. I do not know that I have enough evidence to conclude this yet. The non-contextual paradigm doesn't always ask contextual questions, even though the answers are often obvious once the question is asked. For example, surely any Jew knew Deuteronomy 32 as the Song of Moses. And the crying out of the psalmist in Psalm 102 is clearly not that of God (e.g., Ps. 102:1-2).

I am almost certain I will conclude that these out of context readings are done consciously by the author (to varying degrees). I think I will conclude that it is not that the author doesn't realize he is reading out of context. I think his answer is, "So what... this is the spiritual meaning of the text, the important one."

Again, we hear the modernist evangelical paradigm disappear in a puff of smoke. The paradigm that leads us to listen to the original meaning to hear God's voice concludes that the original meaning is not necessarily the locus of God's voice. EE-EE-EE-EE-EE-EE-OINK-OINK (Pac Mac dying)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Alongside the Text with Jehu

2 Kings 9 has a quite amazing story. The prophet Elisha sends a prophet in his company to a militant named Jehu. The instructions are to anoint Jehu as king over Israel. Jehu is then to strike down the house of Ahab (9:7), cutting off every male, bond or free, in Israel (9:8). The motivation? Judgment for Jezebel killing the prophets of Yahweh.

The rest of 2 Kings 9 and into 10 tell of Jehu's approach to Jezreel, where Ahab and Jezebel had one of their palaces. Jehu kills Ahab's son, King Joram (Ahab was already dead by this point). He kills King Ahaziah of Judah, who happened to be visiting. He has Jezebel thrown down from her window, dead and eaten by dogs.

Then he proceeds to have the heads of the 70 sons of Ahab sent to him from Samaria back to Jezreel. He does what so many coup leaders in history do (like Herod the Great in a more indirect way)--he killed off anyone else from the former dynasty who might have a genetic claim to the throne.

The killing continues. Jehu then kills all the worshippers of Baal he can find. He wipes out Baal from the northern kingdom.

Up to this point, the "evaluative voice" of 2 Kings seems to affirm Jehu. He has the backing of Elisha. He has eliminated Baal from the land. God affirms that his descendents to the fourth generation will rule (10:30).

Then suddenly comes 10:31--Jehu was not careful to follow the law and did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam. The following verse then tells of how the LORD began to trim off parts of Israel.

The sin of Jeroboam was that he propagated the worship of Yahweh in the northern kingdom rather than at the temple in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Kings 12:25-33). Instead of travelling to Jerusalem, they sacrificed to Yahweh all over the place, in "high places" and so forth. Be very clear--this is not about worship of other gods. It is about where Yahweh is worshipped.

There are any number of questions that arise as we sit at the table alongside the text reading 2 Kings. So Jehu committed this sin of Jeroboam. So did Elijah and Elisha! At no point in Kings do Elijah or Elisha go to Jerusalem. According to the evaluative perspective of 2 Kings, we should see Elijah and Elisha guilty of the same sins as Jehu! Indeed, we should see Gideon and Samuel as guilty in this same way.

This leads us to the consensus of non-evangelical scholars. Outside evangelical lands, it is generally agreed that the notion of one place to worship Yahwah is a late idea (Hezekiah and Josiah) and one anachronistically applied to the days of Elijah and Elisha. In other words, Elijah and Elisha would not have known anything about having to worship Yahweh only in Jerusalem.

We will want to think carefully before we adopt this point of view, for it requires us to see several key Old Testament texts written much later than the traditional views. But it is easy enough to see why most non-evangelicals have adopted it. It explains very well what we see in Kings. Indeed, it would explain why we see apparently valid altars built to Yahweh all over the place in Judges and the books of Samuel by "good" people like Samuel and Gideon. In the south we have kings who are good even though they don't tear down high places to Yahweh. How can this be? The prevailing theory would argue that it was not yet considered inappropriate at that time to do so.

In the north we have prophets and kings who seem good like Jehu, but then suddenly they are bad, because they don't worship in Jerusalem. In the evaluative point of view of Kings, no northern king can be good by definition because no northern king worships Yahweh in Jerusalem. But this theory is difficult for us to adopt because it requires a significant paradigm shift with regard to books like Deuteronomy and Joshua. It sees the evaluative point of view of books like Kings as having a good deal to do with the politics of the southern kingdom.

As we sit at the table alongside 2 Kings, other human reflections come to mind. Historically, the northern kingdom begins to wane in its borders and power after Jehu's massacres. After all, he has killed off the best and brightest leaders of the northern kingdom and substituted his own kangaroo court instead. From that point on, Israel gets pounced on by its enemies.

But now for the real deal of reflecting alongside the text. Hosea 1:4-5 condemn Jehu's actions!!!! In other words, we seem to have a conflicting point of view in the Old Testament toward the same event. This is part of the "messiness" that David Thompson spoke about in conversation at the Truth Conference. The approach that tries to abstract principles from each individual text without weighing those texts against the others runs the risk of significantly skewing the message.

Hosea clearly considers Jehu's actions at Jezreel something for which God will judge rather than reward Israel. How are we to fit these two events together so that we know what "the Bible" says about the event? The Bible doesn't tell us, and this is a whopper.

At the table of discernment alongside the text, we are really bringing more to the table than these two texts. We have Jesus' evaluative voice, which says that "he who lives by the sword dies by the sword." We have the often repeated biblical sense that God can bring judgment through the unrighteous... whom He then punishes for their violent acts. We have the Spirit and the church alongside us as well.

Now for the real rub. People wearing the name Christian have used texts in Numbers, Joshua, and Kings to support the annihilation of others. The Crusaders tried to wipe out the Muslims of the Middle Ages. Protestants burned Catholics at the stake and Catholics burned Protestants at the stake. Now some Christians would like to eliminate all Muslims like Jehu or Elijah eliminated all the prophets of Baal they could get their hands on.

Of course I don't think this is the tactic that God wants us to take as we sit at the table alongside Scripture today. For one thing, neither Elijah nor Jehu--indeed none of the Old Testament figures--were Christians. Not even the disciples were properly Christian until the Day of Pentecost when their sins were definitively cleansed by the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ, the Paraclete, had not come on them until that day--"if I go away I will send another advocate..." And if someone does not have the Spirit, they are none of his (Rom. 8).

The Old Testament understanding is not yet a perfect understanding of God, let alone of Christ or salvation. In this regard, the New Testament "selects" certain passages of the Old Testament and "deselects" others, just as Jesus says things like "you have heard eye for eye; I say do good to those who hate you." While most of the Old Testament is vindictive toward the enemies of Israel, it is the message of Jonah that the New Testament selects.

You can hardly bring a message of repentance to a people you are trying to annihilate.

Hosea condemns Jehu's actions at Jezreel and proclaims God's judgment on Israel for them. He stands as a significant caution to all those who like to use Old Testament narratives to sanction military violence even for good purposes. Certainly the idea of pacificism is foreign to the Old Testament. But Hosea indicates that the "clearest" sanctioning of violence like we find in Joshua or Numbers is not necessarily the final answer on what God was thinking at the time.

Hearing God's voice alongside the Bible is a very messy thing and x doesn't always mark the spot. In many circumstances we have to do some serious praying and thinking and talking well beyond the Bible to know how to proceed. On the issue of war, I believe it is the consensus of the church at large--a consensus that won out in the hard lessons of death in the Middle Ages and Protestant Rennihilation--that Christians should not be in the business of killing people. I don't care that fundamentalists have some prooftexts in Joshua. They know the words of Scripture but not the original meaning. They serve God with their lips, but their heart is far from Him. They do not have the mind of the Holy Spirit on these issues.

What do I want to get out of this adventure in two biblical texts. 1) that the pre-modern approach, "I see what I think I should see" approach, only works if you have the Holy Spirit whispering in your ear, 2) that the fundamentalist, "do exactly what they did" approach is ignorant and the path of a fool, 3) that the evangelical approach is inadequate because biblical texts sometimes dialog with each other, 4) that we're going to have to take responsibility as the church for what we do with the Bible and do some hard work--working out our appropriations with fear and trembling!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Alongside the Text

I continue to re-present my understanding of how we use the Bible in different ways. I hope that the ideas come into better focus, that the images and metaphors take on greater clarity over time. In a side conversation at the Truth Conference, an image emerged that I have reflected on somewhat and think might be helpful.

The pre-modern reader of Scripture tends to think of the meaning of the Bible as a single whole, with God as the sender of the message, the text as the message, and him or herself as the receiver of the message. The person often will say that the receiver is "all people," but in practice this amounts to saying that "I" am the receiver--when you place yourself in your default perspective as having the same message as everyone else, you have automatically implied that those whose default perspective is different from yours are less the receiver of the message.

And this is a crucial point. The text may be the same, but the meaning of the text changes as the "sender" and "receiver" are altered. The same message for all times and places is simply not a possibility of language.

So the pre-modern and the fundamentalist (quarter modern, three-quarter pre-modern) reader fiddles with the definitions of the words of the text to create a unified meaning to the text.

The modernist evangelical reader also seeks a unified meaning to the text while at the same time trying to listen to the words in terms of their original meanings in specific contexts and cultures. This is a more daunting task. It requires at the very least for the interpreter to abstract principles from individual contexts, pealing off circumstantial and cultural forms from essential substance.

What I have pointed out in my "Postmodernism and the Bible" paper is that this process of abstracting and integrating is something that the Bible itself does not and cannot do for us. It is something we by the very nature of the linguistic situation are forced to do from the outside looking in.

The phrase that emerged from the conference conversation is "alongside the text." The ideas that we call "the Bible," the truths that we call Christian, emerge alongside the Bible. They are not the Bible itself, for they are reflections on individual texts. They are not the Bible alone, for we bring all sorts of things to our reflections on those texts, not only our reason and experience but our culture and traditions as well.

I want to explore this image of using the Bible as Christians--living alongside the text in the space where the Spirit, theology, and the church meet at a table to discern God's will and revelation. It involves letting the books of the Bible be themselves without shoving a bunch of preconceived notions down their throat. It acknowledges that we will need more than the original meaning--we will need the Spirit to hear God's voice in these words for today authentically. And we will need a hefty communion with the saints both past and present, for they are the body that the Spirit indwells.

Let's journey alongside the Bible together...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

When Force Doesn't Work

I didn't date at all until college, and up to that point I took my cues from movies as to what such close relationships would be like. My siblings are all quite a bit older than me, so I also didn't have the "benefit" of living with someone whose will was sometimes in tension with mine. So I used to dream of how conversations and relationships would go with whatever girl I had a crush on at the time.

But when I started dating... then after I got married... then after I had children... I came to realize--I know, what a deep and profound bit of knowledge--that other people just don't always talk and act the way you had them talk and act when you were in charge of the dream. When I ran the dreams, others did and responded how I wanted them to. In real life, they had their own personalities and dreams, and their own will.

As a parent, I have at my disposal a certain amount of force I can use to make or try to make a child do what I want him or her to do. There is the threat of a spanking, the withholding of a toy or video game, the ever present grounding.

On the other hand, there is also a point where the amount of force necessary to move to action has such negative repercussions it is not worth it. So, for example, normal people would not use a gun to try to move another adult to action. And there is a point where our children get so far into life that we cannot spank any more.

In short, there is a time when the right thing to do is to lose. If it takes a gun for force to work with other normal people, it's time to lose. Too many parents don't get that they must increasingly give autonomy to their teenagers--they're too used to the easier use of force in childhood--and they win a few battles but ultimately lose their children. If we have not managed to build a certain character into our children by a certain point, long after force works, then we have lost.

But all of this is of course a parable for more than parenting. I am really talking about the limited value of using force to achieve objectives. For whatever reason, much of our culture is oriented around the use of force to achieve our objectives as well as to punish for wrongdoing. I am not a pacifist, nor am I against consequences for wrongdoing. But force and punishment are not ends to themselves. They are very effective in the short term, and very ineffective in the long term.

We might force certain foreigners to act a certain way. But if we have not changed their attitudes, then we have only postponed the problem to the time when we are not able to reach or enforce our will. Building walls between America and Mexico or Israel and the Palestinians might have some value in the short term, but it represents failure if we can't quickly bring them back down. It was easy to bring down Hussein by force, but force cannot win the peace of Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia.

And Palestinians like Hamas will not win statehood by force. Force might get someone else's attention, but they will fail unless they learn how to make peace as well.

Here is wisdom. There is a time to admit that you cannot win by force. We cannot morally kill all Iraqis. Indeed, in the aftermath of Bosnia, Rwanda, civil wars in Sierra Leone and Somalia, it has been impossible even to bring to justice every individual who has committed an atrocious act--in some cases almost no one would be left if everyone who deserved punishment were punished.

There is a time to lose. This is one of the lessons of parenting that is so hard but so crucial. Something in the American heart wants consequences no matter what. We might be willing to reneg on punishment if repentance occurs. But there is a time to lose even when there is no repentance--because you are thinking of the long term. You are losing the battle so you can win the war, rather than winning the battle and losing the war.

I am not advocating for withdrawal from Iraq. I'm arguing for a major paradigm shift in our foreign policy, indeed in many, many areas. Kingdom building, they call it. Kerry called it having a plan to win the peace. I'm not sure that Kerry would have made much of a president, but he was right on with this comment.

It is empowerment of the weak and true "correction" of the criminal. No one said these things were easy. Force is initially easy--and thus is the first recourse for those who are not up to the bigger challenge. "It's their own fault." Yes it is. But it is foolishness to think it won't come back to bite us if we don't do something about it.

Of course there is simply no debate that a Christian will be concerned with poverty. I'm not even going to argue that one. But poverty is something an atheist should be concerned about, not because of values but consequences. That person without resources is going to be far more likely to do crime, to get into drugs, etc... Whether we like it or not, their problem is our problem too.

While some of the terrorists are spoiled brats like bin Laden, I bet you anything that most suicide bombers are dirt poor (not literally, Wesleyans don't bet). The fundamentalist Muslim problem has something to do with economics too. Just look at our most prosperous churches--neither a fat Christian nor a fat Muslim is bound to be very fanatical in their faith.

Make "no child left behind" about educating children from the inside out rather than by holding a stick over school administrators if they don't get "results."

There is a wholesale paradigm shift I am advocating here, a shift toward wisdom and real understanding. It is not "liberal nonsense"--there is a time for force, in my opinion. This is balanced wisdom that can see the long term consequences of short term solutions.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Allah the Same God?

A teenager once remarked casually to me, "Did you know that the Muslim God may be the same God as the Christian God?"

This question always leaves me with a puzzled look on my face. What is it supposed to mean? I mean, it's not like someone would say, "You know, I thought that there were two gods up there but it turns out that there is really only one!"

A better question would be, "Is the Christian and the Muslim conception of God basically the same?" I suspect this might actually be what the person who asks my lead off question is asking--isn't the Muslim and Christian understanding of God basically the same? Isn't the Bible and the Koran basically the same?

Well, not really. The Christian God includes Christ. If Christ is not a "substantial" part of God for you, then you do not have a historically Christian understanding of God. Any belief that does not believe that Christ was literally God come to earth in a way that could not be true of any other human being does not have the traditional Christian understanding of God.

Similarly, historic Christians believe that Christ, his death in particular, is the only way to get right with God. The Koran and Islam emphatically disagree. So again, anyone who thinks that the Muslim and Christian conceptions of God or religions are pretty much the same is neither a good Christian or a good Muslim, at least not in the historic senses of those words.

Others may have a more sophisticated question in mind (actually, I doubt it or they would have worded the question differently): "Is God like an elephant and the Christians and Muslims are just holding on to different parts of the same animal?" Or maybe someone would believe that Christians and Muslims are both, as far as is humanly possible, reaching toward the same Deity, although both do it from a different starting point.

This is a respectable question, although again, a historic Christian or Muslim has to answer "no." A person who adopts this perspective asks a reasonable question, but if s/he answers yes, then s/he has stepped outside the historic boundaries of either faith. That person might be a sociological Christian or Muslim--they might belong to these groups from a socio-cultural perspective. But they have stepped outside the foundations of their respective faith.

Still others I suspect have never believed in a "real" god in the first place, whether Christian or Muslim. This is the person who may not even realize that their "God-language" is really self-talk. This is the person whose prayers are not really directed at any Being out there at all but are nice little monologs. This is the pastor who preaches to his or her congregation in the prayer, making you think, "Wait, I think God already knows what s/he's saying. I thought s/he was talking to God... Or is he or she really talking to us?"

Some people might ask, "Why should I believe in God?" or "God doesn't talk to me so I don't believe in Him any more."

But either God literally exists outside ourselves or He doesn't. If He does exist, then the answer to the question, "Why should I believe in God" is, "Because He exists." Why should I believe that the car coming at me exists? Maybe I don't want to. Maybe it's not driving where I want it to so I'm not going to believe it's coming toward me.

But the answer to this question hardly depends on what's in it for me. If there's a God; there's a God regardless of what I want to think.

So is the Muslim and Christian God really the same God? If you mean are Muslim and Christian beliefs about God the same, the answer is no. If you mean are both religions basically reaching imperfectly after the same Entity, the answer is no if you are a Christian or Muslim in the historic senses of those words. Will the real Deity accept someone from either religion? Not according to the official positions of both religions, although there are some Christian theologians who have argued for the existence of "anonymous Christians" who have had the right faith despite what they think they have faith in. Are these both just similar subjective projections of human longings, again not if you're a historic Christian or Muslim.

So it looks like the answer is no if you are either a true Christian or Muslim in the historical senses of those terms.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Relativism, Absolutism, and Other Pop-Misconceptions

I hate it when I look stupid. The main reason I hate it is because it happens so often. My son Tommy unfortunately has to live with the fact that he reminds me of myself. He's so often oblivious to what's going on around him; he drops things and breaks things all the time; he plays great defense but doesn't seem to get the fact that it's goals that win a soccer game.

So when I rant about pop-Christianity making Christians look stupid, I'm doing therapy. I'm yelling at myself twenty years ago and revealing how stupid I think I was as a zealous young college student. I know what it is to move to the next level on a topic and realize how simplistic your thought used to be.

For example, a thunderstorm passed through early this morning, and I found myself comforting my 5 year old girl Sophie. "What is God angry at?" she asked. "Was he fighting someone?"

"It's not God," I said. "It's electricity. The electricity comes from the sky to the ground." Then I started to say, "Well actually..." but by then she was asleep again. I had suddenly remembered middle school science and the fact that lightning is allegedly electric movement from the negatively charged ground to the positively charged sky. But since I'm not sure how that works myself, I'm sure I couldn't have expressed it at all to Sophie.

Now I'm no scientist. But I bet it's a whole lot more complicated than I just expressed.

That's how I now look at Christian icons like Francis Schaeffer and Dobson. I know they have impressive letters after their names, but why do their ideas seem so kindergartenish to me so often?

For example, these types tend to confuse absolutes in terms of epistemology (truth) and absolutes in terms of morality (ethics). These are quite distinct categories. Thus it could be absolutely true that there are no moral absolutes. I believe in moral absolutes, but I'm making a point--this is a coherent position.

By the way, the Bible enjoins two primary absolutes: love God and love neighbor. It is never appropriate to make an exception to these laws. Here is another pet peeve of mine. Absolutes in ethics mean that there are never any legitimate exceptions. If Jesus made exception to the Sabbath law, then he did not consider it an absolute. The Bible rarely treats moral commands as exceptionless--certainly that is not the spirit of Jesus or Paul. In that sense, pop-Christian media is confused when it equates absolutes with the Bible or God. It is confusing contemporary Christian culture with Scripture (as usual).

And relativism is not the only alternative to absolutism. Yet time and time again we hear pop-moralists saying, "We don't believe in relativism so we must believe in absolutes." This is such elementary school thinking it blows my mind. Thank you once again for making us look stupid.

And relativism is not the belief that there is no such thing as right and wrong. That's moral nihilism. Relativism only means that right and wrong is relative either to individuals or cultures. A person who has a conviction against wearing a wedding ring but who believes it is not sinning for some other Christians is a relativist on this particular topic! Don't balk at the example, that's what the word means in its proper sense.

So Dobson and Schaeffer are great coffee table discussion partners. I hope some in the coming generation are prepared to go much deeper.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Six Hundred and Sixty Something

Well it's that time of the century. The one day a century where the sixes all line up just wrong. The number of course comes from Revelation 13:18, where it is said to be the number of the beast from the sea.

The most popular interpretation, the Left Behind approach, sees this Beast as a figure called the Antichrist (a word Revelation never uses). In this scenario, the Antichrist is an end time figure who will persecute the church and enslave the world to sin in the years around the time of Christ's return. Call it Left Behind, Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay in the 70's, John Darby in the 1800's (the originator of this line of interpretation), individuals are said to need a "mark" in their right arm or forehead with the number six hundred and sixty something (you know) for them to be able to buy or sell.

So there have always been speculations. Bar codes on our bodies, implanted chips, these are the stuff of the popular Christian mind. Then there are speculations on the name of the beast. The number here is the "number of his name." Ancient languages did not have separate symbols for numbers and letters--the same symbols served double duty. So you could pretend that the letters of a person's name were numbers and add up the number of someone's name. Matthew does this when it divides up the family tree of Jesus into groups of 14. David in Hebrew is D-V-D or 4-6-4. Add them up and you have 14.

So Christians for the last hundred years have added up everyone's name from Roosevelt to Gorbachov to Reagan. Usually you can do it in a way that comes out with the magic number of today's namesake.

What did Revelation mean originally? It seems hard not to come up with Nero's name after reading the imagery of these central chapters of Nero, although there is disagreement among original meaning scholars. If you take Neron Caesar, put the letters in Hebrew, you get 666. If you leave the n off, you get 616, which is one of the manuscript variations at this point of the text.

Nero was of course fatally wounded (cf. Rev. 13:3, 14)--he committed suicide. But there was a legend attested at this time that he was still alive and going to return from the east with the Parthians. A writing called Sibylline Oracles 5 records this common idea of the late first century.

This part of Revelation of course swims in imagery of Rome, which the early Christians referred to as Babylon because Revelation had destroyed Jerusalem like Babylon had so many years before (cf. 1 Pet. 5:13). The mark of the beast without which one might not buy or sell is enigmatic, but I've always been intrigued if it might refer to coinage of the emperor Domitian, which I believe said "Our Lord and God" on it. I can see Christians having a faith crisis over such money--am I ascribing deity to the emperor if I use this money? Of course most ancient Mediterraneans would have preferred to barter anyway, it being more of an agricultural economy than a monetary one.

But the clincer for thinking Nero and Domitian comes from Revelation 17. There is a woman drunk with the blood of the saints (the Roman empire; 17:6). She sits on a beast with seven heads (17:7). The seven heads are seven hills who are seven kings, five of which are dead, one of which is, a seventh of which will reign for a short period. The beast is the eighth.

I can't imagine that anyone at the churches to which Revelation was originally addressed would not have thought of Rome as a city with seven hills. And the first five emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero. Nero thus is likely the fatally wounded beast prototype (although Caligula was assasinated). If we can ignore the year of three emperors (69), the sixth would be Vespasian, the seventh Titus, and the eighth Domitian.

Here we run into problems. Everyone says that Revelation was written during the reign of Domitian. Yet the timing of Revelation 17 would date things during Vespasian, the emperor when Jerusalem was destroyed. For this reason some suggest Revelation may have been written over some period of time, starting during the reign of Vespasian but not finished until the reign of Domitian.

This is all fun, fine, and dandy. It seems reasonable enough that Nero is the prototype of the beast, who is either Domitian or perhaps a symbol of the final conflict between the Roman Empire and Christendom. But what of our belief in inerrancy? The original meaning of the text doesn't really seem too hard to figure out here (at least I've tried), but what does it say inerrantly to today?

I don't know for sure, and I welcome the help of others. Here are just some starter thoughts. Prophecy seems to me by its very nature more polyvalent (capable of multiple interpretations/fulfillments) than other parts of Scripture. Is Mark 13 about the end times or the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70? Perhaps it's both mixed together. Is Ezekiel 40 about the rebuilt temple of 516BC (which wasn't nearly so grand) or about heaven in some way?

Perhaps this part of Revelation should be read against the continual struggle in all times between God's people and the secular world in which they find themselves. The world, with its material and ungodly values, will always tend to persecute those who do not play by the rules, who do not take the mark of its values. There will always be Neros and Domitians who will try to force Christians to succumb, who will shed the blood of the saints. The day is coming when God will vindicate His people, just as Rome itself finally was defeated. Meanwhile the church lived on stronger than ever (see Augustine's City of God).

Ironically, the best application of Revelation 13:18 today has to do with our economic practices. In a strange twist of irony, American Christians have come to associate Christian values straightforwardly with the values of capitalism. I think capitalism is the most beneficial system myself, but only because the world is a fallen world. Capitalism is based on the idea that everyone acts in their own self-interest and so sets up a system where buyers pay the least they can and sellers get the most they can. A best case scenario evolves where we all meet in the middle.

But this is not Christian in the sense of the ideal--it is based on selfishness and self-preservation. It is most appropriate to our world because of our human nature. Far more Christian in spirit would be to give to those who have need and to work as the servant of others (i.e., the unattainable ideal of communism). 6-6-06 bids us reflect a little today on our economic values and whether we have sold out to the world's values while at the same time convincing ourselves that they are God's. That's a bit like taking the mark of the beast.

I think John Wesley had a beautiful philosophy of money. "Earn all you can, Skimp all you can, Give all you can." The skimp part is my translation of Wesley. He said "save."

Friday, June 02, 2006

Vanhoozer in Wonderland

In relation to the Truth Conference, I have been wandering around Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in This Text? I found many of his presentations of postmodern and late modern philosophers helpful in the first half. But his "solutions" are, in my opinion, wishful thinking.

Some of his adventures in wonderand include:

1. The book's fundamental hypothesis:
a. Alvin Plantinga says Christian philosophers need to get on with their own agendas (in other words, who cares what the philosophers of the first half of this book think, I'm going to ignore them and just tell you what I think), p. 199.

b. So here's what I (Vanhoozer) think: God designed words for communication between people, so you've got to listen to what a speaker is saying (esp. 205-206). Therefore, a Christian has to link the meaning of a text to the meaning the author intended.

Or as I would put it, you can't ignore the original meaning because, well, you just can't.

Thank you Vanhoozer for giving us yet another example of modernist evangelicals showing that they can swim in the waters of people doing deep thinking, well summarize and analyze what those others think only then to given the conclusion you started with in as sophisticated language as possible. ..more of the cop-out artistry I've come to expect from modernist evangelical scholars. 467 pages of rough sledding summarized in a circular argument.

2. Vanhoozer and sensus plenior
Here's the real rub: the New Testament authors often couldn't have cared less about the original meaning. This deconstructs Vanhoozer's fundamental claim. When we find the original meaning of Scripture, we find that the original meaning was not the emphasis of the biblical authors. At times they ignored it when they must certainly have known it. At other times their operative paradigms probably led them not to be aware of what the original meaning actually was.

On the one hand, Vanhoozer: "The divine intention does not contravene the intention of the human author but rather supervenes on it" (265). "[T]he Spirit is tied to the written Word as significance is tied to meaning... the role of the Spirit is to serve as the Spirit of significance and thus to apply meaning, not to change it" (265). In other words, the Holy Spirit is not allowed to make the words mean anything contrary to their original meaning (boy, I hope the Holy Spirit is reading all this so He doesn't disobey!)

So how close is Paul to the original meaning of the Hagar-Ishmael passages when he makes Hagar symbolize the literal Jerusalem on earth and Sarah symbolize the heavenly one (Gal. 4)? How close is Matthew to the original meaning of any passage when he sees Jesus growing up in the city of Nazareth as a fulfillment of more than one set of words in the Old Testament that had nothing to do with such a (at that time) non-existent village (Matt. 2:23). He seems to be building off of the similarity between the Hebrew word branch (nezer) in Isaiah 11:1 (which has nothing to do with a city). I think he is also playing of the words of the prophecy about Samson ("he will be called a Nazirite"), but this has nothing to do with Jesus, since he was not a Nazirite, as Samson was and it still has nothing to do with a village.

In short, you could only see the fulfillment in Matthew 2:23 as highly interested in the original meaning of these if you, well, just have to and refuse actually to listen to the text itself. Modernist evangelicals at this point apparently just have to, because ultimately it isn't really the text that's important to them but their idea of the text. And they will feel free (subconsciously) to twist the meaning of the text and shove their presuppositions down its throat to make sure their paradigm works.

The best modernist evangelical cop-out I've heard on this one is relayed by Ben Witherington, maybe the village of Nazareth was founded by descendents of David who looked to the future coming of the "Branch," the Messiah. Ingenious! No one ever should accuse such modernist evangelicals of stupidity. Au contraire. The only way to prop up such a failed paradigm is to be a genius.

An example of a biblical author probably not knowing he is reading out of context but doing so paradigmatically is perhaps Matthew 2:23: "a virgin will conceive and bear a son." Matthew's paradigm may have led him to think this verse was literally in its first sense in reference to Jesus. But in the original context of Isaiah, this was a sign to Ahaz in the eighth century BC. If the sign didn't come until 700 years after, it wasn't much of a sign to Ahaz. It must originally have referred to (I think) an heir to the throne, probably a child of Ahaz (perhaps Hezekiah).

With this example, Vanhoozer might argue for some supervening meaning, a somewhat allegorical one.

3. "The context that yields this maximal sense is the canon, taken as a unified communcations act" (265).

But Vanhoozer's token canonical suggestion will fail just as Childs' did. Even the text of Scripture as a whole will need to be informed by later church history to take on a truly canonical, Christian sense. The canon is a product of the church and the properly canonical sense of Scripture must take into account the definitions, prioritizations, and significations of the consensus ecclesiae to get Vanhoozer where he is really trying to go.

My thoughts... yours?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Truth Conference

The Truth Conference is now over. I think the positive of the conference might be a little different for each individual.

If I leave aside the selfish enjoyment of being allowed to talk, the most beneficial thing about the conference to me was getting better acquainted with my brothers and sisters at other Wesleyan colleges and in church leadership here and there. I was impressed by various individuals from every Wesleyan college.

Just to mention a couple, I would of course have expected a Houghton philosophy professor to be impressive, but I really enjoyed Carlton Fisher's paper, which (at least in my mind) flowed like butter into mine. It is always nice to find that people whose knowledge you respect are thinking in similar ways to you and even nicer to find out they're Wesleyan!

Similarly, I have known Ken Gavel since seminary, but I was really impressed not only by his knowledge of theology, but by his careful, exacting scholarship. Here is a scholar in the classic tradition! He teaches theology at Bethany, and disabuses anyone of the idea that professors at Bible colleges are inferior to liberal arts teachers. I might say that Bethany seems to be a really neat place, perhaps an unsung hero among our colleges.

In my "marketing stereotypes," Bethany to me is the "emergent" college, Houghton is the "academic" college, IWU is the "ministerial training" college, SWU is the "Southern" college (with all the appertinences pertaining thereto), and OWU is the conservative college (not meaning Wesleyan conservative as in legalistic but leaning a bit toward the fundamentalist).

If you were to ask for consensus conclusions, I would say that all agreed we needed to minister to the postmodern, next generation. While that's obvious, the second half of the conference seemed to gravitate to the question of how our ministries and teachings will need to change. It seemed generally agreed that we would need to be more positive, authentic, and loving than divisive, authoritarian, and exclusive.

On the other hand, the lead off to the conference seemed to take a more confrontative, combative approach. So there was some diversity of sentiment.

So the second half tended to focus more on postmodernism as a culture. The first half focused more on postmodernism as an (anti) ideology. The first two presentations (both by the same individual, associated with OWU) tended to see postmodernism strictly as something to fight against, while most of the papers that followed agreed that there was truth to be reckoned with in postmodern (anti) thought, not least that we will need to be much more humble in our pretensions to having everything figured out.

So I suspect the benefit of the conference will vary from individual to individual. Some will continue to treat postmodernism strictly as the enemy. Most will see it as a force to be reckoned with. Some will see it as a helpful corrective as long as room is allowed for faith and a truth that is ultimately beyond our full comprehension.

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