Thursday, January 31, 2008
Given the recent discussion of immigration, the thought crossed my mind--I wonder if she's legal. I figured she probably was, because I would be very nervous about such a public job if I wasn't.
But what if she was undocumented? It's possible. I pictured a life of increasing fear. Maybe she has children. What if she finds herself unable to get a driver's license? How would she get to work? What if she gets fired? How will she feed her family? What if she has been here for decades and doesn't have any home to go back to?
The American government has looked the other way on this issue for years and years. For some of us, we are only now thinking about these things. But it has been acceptable to look the other way on these things for decades. The government has known about fake Social Security cards and other mechanisms of underground immigration forever. They might seem like new news to us, but this is big time old news.
So you can understand if I feel that it's not a little hypocritical to get "righteously indignant" about this issue all of a sudden. It would be like the Wesleyan Church suddenly revoking the membership of Wesleyans who go to movies after decades of a rule on the books that almost no one paid any attention to. Shall we suddenly start imprisoning individuals who violate blue laws where they are still on the books? Shall we make homosexuals do prison time? It's still on the books in Texas.
Shall we throw Rosa Parks in prison for not getting out of her seat? It was against the law.
We as America have been complicit in creating this problem, and it is not a little hypocritical to pretend as if they are fully to blame when we have not acted like these were important rules.
And what of the individuals whose lives are suddenly ghetto-ized by new rules. Some have lived here for decades peacefully, working minimum wage jobs. Many have children in our public schools who were born here--they are US citizens. Many have no home back in Mexico to go back to--this is where they had moved to spend the rest of their lives.
If some politicians get their way, the unintended result will be a ghetto-izing of this group--real men, women, and children--not completely unlike what the Nazis did intentionally to the Jews. No jobs--how will they eat? (Answer: Christians will feed them in violation of the law because it is better to serve God than mortals) No cars--how will they be able to get outside their "fence"?
They have broken a law. Have any of us broken a law? Anyone ever received a speeding ticket? Did you know that walking on a train track is trespassing on Federal property? Let's look at the income tax filings of the most vociferous voices on this issue. I guarantee many of them regularly violate the law more most of these families looking for a better life.
And law in Mexico is not like we imagine law to be in the United States. We often ignore speed limits, but we do it at least half willing to pay the consequences. In Mexico, the law is sometimes a matter of bribery. It does not have the ideological status it has here. The effect is that the intentionality of entering does not have the significance for them that we are (currently) assigning to it.
But the title of this post is trying to think Christianly about this subject. Thus far I have only tried to highlight some blind spots and hypocrisy in the current debate. Let me now get out my Bible and go looking for some principals:
1. God is no respecter of persons.
Americans are not more valuable or important to God than Mexicans. God looks on the heart. In God's eyes, we are not worth a dime more than any one of them. Did you know that my church has Hispanic churches? Could anyone in any of them be undocumented? Let's turn them over the government. (Really, the Wesleyan Church has those kinds of churches--I thought you all were good white Christians?)
I have no doubt but that there is a healthy dose of prejudice in play here. We can blah, blah, blah and rationalize it. "I know they are just as valuable in God's eyes, but there are consequences for breaking the law." It's very hard for me to see this kind of comment as anything but a rationalization of prejudice. Multiplication of words does not the truth make.
So fine them and make them become legal--that's a consequence.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
How would you want to be treated if you lived below the poverty line but had it better here than in Mexico? Maybe you would like to become legal but the possibility of deportation keeps you from it. The bottom line is that most people do not put illegals in the same category as themselves at all. They think of them more along the lines of animals that need to be run off the property.
3. Christ died for the whole world.
People who think Christianly think redemptively--how can we minister God's grace to those whose lives are broken on every level. An obvious answer is to help them come in to the fold. It is not, let us send them as far away from the gospel as we can.
If I had any political power? I'd try to secure the borders and make a path to citizenship for those who truly want to be a part of the great American experiment. Teach them English, sure.
So, Schenck, you believe in "amnesty"--that dirty word. Funny how the politicians are so concerned not to get this label. Who cares? I'm not interested in what you call something; I'm interested in what Jesus would do.
And what Jesus did was bring "good news to the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to the captives." The elder brother might chastise his dad for reaching out to his brother, make him pay for the wrong things he did. Jesus cares more for 1 lost sheep than for 99 middle class white American Christians.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
1. First, the three major sources of revelation for a Christian are 1) Scripture, 2) Christian tradition or the Church, and 3) direct revelation from the Holy Spirit.
2. Surely Christians would also agree that reason and our senses (or experience) are sources of truth as well. We might call these sources of discovered truth rather than sources of revealed truth. So we can reason our way to truths of math. If a right triangle has smaller sides a and b, we can reasonably conclude that the longest side measures the square root of a + b.
Similarly, I have personally learned that it hurts to break a finger. Western culture is primarily oriented around the use of the senses to discover truth. It is a culture of science and experimentation.
Throughout history there have been extreme examples of rationalists (Plato) and empiricists (Hume), but both extremes are inappropriate. On the one hand, our culture pushes us to recognize how strange it would be to say that reason apart from the experiences of our senses is the sole source of truth. Where we need convincing is to see that it is absurd also to say that our senses apart from reason are the sole source of truth.
I cannot experience the future. It is always something I am about to experience. In that sense, my senses alone cannot tell me what will happen if I jump off a cliff. It is my reason that connects that as yet unexperienced action to my past experience.
These things were well captured by Kant--the content of my knowledge may come through my senses, but the structure I give to that content is a function of my mind. This situation eventually leads to the postmodern question, for since I do not understand the world apart from my mind's organization of its input, how do I know that the organization of my mind is in fact true?
3. As we contemplate revelatory sources of truth like Scripture, Christian tradition, and the Holy Spirit, how does our reason and sense experience relate to them? Can I appropriate revealed truth without the operation of reason and experience?
The best candidate for revelation that does not involve any reasoning or sense experience would be a direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. Of course, as soon as I put that revelation in language, I have used human reason. Perhaps there was some pre-verbal "umph" to Noah that involved only the tiniest bit of reason to put into the form: "God wants me to build an ark." The danger of course of such revelation is to make sure that it is, in fact, revelation from God and not from breakfast.
The use of the Bible--apart from individual "umphs" from the Holy Spirit that alight from the words of the text directly to me--involves vast and overwhelming amounts of reason. First I must define the words and contruct meaning from sentence structure. Then I must compile the meanings of sentences into the broader meanings of discourses.
Then I must map the meanings of one part of the Bible to the other parts. And I must also consider the difference between the many different ancient contexts of the Bible and my context today. All these operations require overwhelming amounts of reasoning, and of course it is no wonder that we have tens of thousands of different Christian groups with differing interpretations. The appropriation of the Bible is probably the most unstable and reason-laden operations of knowledge mentioned in this chapter.
By the same token, the common beliefs of Christianity are extremely stable. It approximately amounts to polling all the Christians who have lived for the last 2000 years. What do they say about the Trinity? It is an overwhelmingly clear affirmation. What do they say about our existence between death and resurrection? Again, they answer in the affirmative. It is the control of the Church that keeps a Scripture only group from becoming a cult.
4. So what is the appropriate relationship between revealed truth and discovered truth? We can mention three principal options:
a. "I understand in order to believe."
Josh McDowell, C. S. Lewis, the apologists, Abelard, Aquinas
The evidence demands the verdict of what we believe. Revelation is extremely reasonable.
b. "I believe in order to understand."
Anselm, Pascal, Barth
Faith seeks understanding, but if you don't start with faith in your reasoning, you are just as likely to go astray.
c. Faith is blind faith, irrational
Perhaps we might be able to place various Christian beliefs in each one of these categories?
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I've added a chat pod this week, which I'm hoping will allow anyone to chime in with a question during the presentation. There may be a couple students present in the room as well (in the Old College Church, southeast corner classroom, all welcome). I'm hoping that it will be more interesting with some interaction rather than just a talking head. Bring your laptop if you come so you can see the PowerPoints.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Here's what we think is distinctive about our proposed curriculum:
1. We believe this Wesleyan seminary would provide the most integrative MDiv degree in existence.
Most seminary programs follow a scholastic model where you take individual Bible, theology, and historical courses that largely remain unconnected to practical courses or at best connect in an ad hoc way. Our MDiv would offer individual elective courses in Bible and theology to be sure, but the core curriculum is completely oriented around the practice of ministry. Each of the six practical domains (global mission, congregational formation, congregational life, proclamation, worship, and leadership) includes biblical, theological, and historical units within the course, informed by content experts in these areas. So unlike other programs, you have interdisciplinary accountability in the curriculum of practitioners by theoreticians and theoreticians by practitioners within each course design.
2. We believe this Wesleyan seminary would offer the most practice oriented MDiv degree in existence.
This orientation is evident not only from the way biblical, theological, and historical material is organized around practical ministry, but from the fact that each of the six domain courses requires a person to be in ministry currently. Each course thus involves a supervised ministry in which case studies of a problem-based nature are brought into the mix of the course. The actual practice of the domain is part of the course. Full time residential students without appointment will receive placements within reasonable proximity to the campus.
3. Although most programs have spiritual formation components, this Wesleyan MDiv would be one of the few that has spiritual formation across the curriculum.
Alongside each of the six domain courses, a person will take a one hour spiritual formation course with the same facilitator, who also serves as the cohort advisor. Distinctive here is the fact that these courses follow the process of change, rather than the traditional course in spiritual disciplines that has no real map for change but only sends you off to read and pray.
4. This Wesleyan seminary would likely join those few cutting edge MDiv degrees that only require about a third of the degree to be onsite.
Yet even these onsite courses would not require a person to move to a residential location. In roughly two, one week onsite intensive courses per year, the student would be able to complete their residential requirement. However, a student would also be able to move to Marion to attend the seminary full time.
5. The program would be a 75 hour degree, which would make it one of the most compact MDiv degrees in existence.
The lowest number of hours currently accepted by the Association of Theological Schools is 72 hours. The typical student will complete this degree in a little over 4 years, although a full time student might finish it in a little more than 2. The Association of Theological Schools also allows for about 15 hours of such a program to be “excused” in the light of courses a person has already taken in undergraduate programs. We would further allow for a certain amount of “credit by assessment” if a student can assemble a convincing portfolio. These features will combine to make IWU’s degree highly competitive in a market that runs on convenience.
6. Finally, the program would allow for a 15 hour concentration in an area of specialization.
This concentration will fit hand in glove with MA specializations currently offered by IWU's graduate program in religion: Youth Ministries and Ministerial Leadership. These concentrations will no doubt proliferate. For example, a concentration in Biblical Preaching might accentuate skills of biblical interpretation and hermeneutics. Certainly Greek and Hebrew will be available as electives, as will a number of advanced theology courses. These concentrations allow a person to develop a specific skill set. Further, a student can take the concentration either on the front or back end of the program.
Here are the most general objectives of the Global Christian Mission course:
Description: This course is a comprehensive, integrative approach to missional Christianity, beginning with biblical foundations and ending with the tools needed to facilitate mission, church multiplication, and service in the church today. Topics range from the classical fields of evangelism, church growth, and global missions to volunteerism and service to the world in its economic and social dimensions. The course involves contextually appropriate missional ministry and so requires that a student currently be in an approved ministry setting. Prerequisite: Pastor, Church, and World.
Objectives: By the end of this course the student should be able to
1. Compare and evaluate the most effective ways to lead others to Christ and grow the church.
2. Compare and evaluate the most common and effective ways in which Christians can and should serve the non-believing world both locally and globally, in all the domains of life.
3. Be able to apply the theoretical principles of mission, church multiplication, and Christian service to one’s own ministerial context.
4. Be able to integrate Scripture, Christian theology, and Christian history with the conduct of mission and the multiplication of the church, as well as in the service of others.
5. Express the importance of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment of loving service to others in all domains of life.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Some of us IWU religion faculty were in our Monday reading group and were talking about a footnote in James Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? Here he was mentioning his belief that Reformed theology represents the final working out of Christian orthodoxy.
In this conversation, a "Princetonian" perspective on orthodoxy was mentioned: The New Testament threw the ball to Augustine, who shuffle passed it to Calvin, who shuffle passed it to Barth, who ran it in for a touchdown.
So the question arose--what is the "lineage" of Wesleyan-Arminian theology--who have carried the ball through history. This led us to an important distinction in our minds. Our list is not so much thinkers, but individuals who have deeply experienced God.
Surely, one might make a line through Augustine, Calvin, and Wesley, but it is a somewhat bizarre line. It seems much more appropriate to draw a more affective line through the early ascetics and the medieval mystics line John of Damascus to Madame Guyon and Fenelon to the Moravians and Pietists to Wesley to (for the Wesleyan Church) Phoebe Palmer (whom Thomas Oden called the greatest American theologian of the 1800's) to the revivals at the turn of the twentieth century.
A visitor to our campus yesterday remarked that the danger about schools in the Wesleyan tradition is that they function on Wesley's principle--"If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand." In this sense, while other traditions stand the danger of a faith without works, Wesleyan schools stand the danger of an experience without faith.
As the most distinguished theologian of the Wesleyan Church has remarked (I won't give the name, although ironically he's not Wesleyan :-), the Wesleyan tradition thus is in the awkward position of being one step away from liberalism.
In any case, it is no surprise that about 10 years ago when a Reformed consultant came to IWU under President Barnes, he warned Barnes of a religion professor (not me ;-) who he should watch out for. That was the most distinguished theologian of the Wesleyan Church at that time he was talking about :-)
Sorry Charlie. You don't understand our tradition. Go back to Reformed land and check off your cognitive list over a nice cold brewskie.
A more basic question is when would one preach or teach about angels in general. Christians believe in angels, so it only makes sense that at some point you would preach or teach about them. Hebrews has a piece of the angel puzzle.
First, Hebrews talks about angels as messengers for God. In 2:2 we will be reminded that they are mediators of the old covenant. It is doubtful, however, that many in our churches today will be struggling with too high a view of angels in relation to Christ or in thinking that Christ himself was an angel.
There might be other "mediators" that a person might have too high a view of, however. It seems unlikely these days, but it is of course possible that a Catholic or Orthodox person might let a saint or icon come into competition with the intercessory role of Christ. I personally find this highly doubtful in this day and age.
Certainly there is much to celebrate about Christ here, to be sure. He is God's Son, the appointed Messiah. If the angels worship him, how much more must we! Christ's authority in relation to the creation is also a part of this passage. Finally, we see that the angels are sent to minister to us as we await salvation.
Do you have other thoughts on sermons and lessons you might do from Hebrews 1:5-14?
Saturday, January 26, 2008
How do you know that you know what you think you know? In the last chapter we mentioned three "tests" that people use regularly when deciding whether something is true or not.
- Does this claim correspond to the evidence? (correspondence test)
- Does this claim make sense or does it contradict itself? (coherence test)
- Does this claim work in the real world? (pragmatic test)
This chapter asks a slightly different question, namely, what are valid sources of truth. We have some sense of how to evaluate claims with these three tests for truth. But where do the claims come from? What paths to truth work best? That is the topic of this chapter.
4.2 The Bible, The Church, and the Spirit
You may know a children's chorus that says, "Jesus loves me--this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Historically, Christians have believed in several sources of truth that hold an authority higher than that of mere human reasoning or experience. The Bible certainly comes immediately to mind, especially for Protestant churches.
Yet we might also mention groups like Pentecostals, charismatics, and holiness churches for whom spiritual experiences have often played an equally strong role in hearing God's voice. Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches would further point out the role of the church in understanding the Bible and God's ongoing will in the world.
Although different Christian groups have different formulas for how they work together, all would officially acknowledge a role for these three distinct sources of Christian truth: Scripture, the Church everywhere throughout the ages, and the Holy Spirit. For example, Catholic and Orthodox traditions affirm the authority of Scripture. Where they differ is their sense that the Church (as they understand it) is the only reliable guide to which interpretation of the Bible is actually authoritative.
Similarly, while charismatic traditions put a premium on direct revelation from the Holy Spirit, they believe that some of the most authoritative revelations come when the Spirit speaks through the words of Scripture. Finally, even a "Scripture only" tradition like the Reformed Church sees a role for the Holy Spirit and the Church in helping believers know how apply the Bible appropriately to today.
As we saw in the second chapter, it is the nature of philosophy to ask "meta-questions," questions that follow up on the kinds of claims we have just mentioned. For example, one crucial meta-question in this discussion is, "What is the meaning of words in general and the words of the Bible in particular?" You do not have to drive far in any city in America to discover dozens of different churches with the names of different groups on their signs. No doubt the Bible plays a role in almost all of them, yet they have differing interpretations and often quite different beliefs.
This fact has long played a role in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox critique of Protestantism, where giving each individual the opportunity to interpret the Bible has resulted in a massive fragmentation of Christianity into tens of thousands of individual groups. Further, it has played into certain Protestant critiques of "spiritual" uses of Scripture where the words of the Bible can almost come to mean as many different things as such individuals think the Spirit is saying to them through the words.
It is beyond the scope of this book to delve very deeply into the philosophy of language, also known as hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is that branch of philosophy that asks about how communication takes place and what it means to say some "text" means something.<1> Just a few thoughts will have to suffice.
One of the most convenient ways to think of communication is in terms of a text, its author, and its reader. Of course a text need not be written. A smoke signal is a text, as are the motions of sign language. As such, the "reader" could actually be someone listening to you talk or a blind person who feels a braille text.
Hermeneutics asks second order questions about the relationships between authors, readers, texts, and meaning. It asks questions not only about how these relationships work, but about how they should work. Believe it or not, there is a lot of disagreement about the answers to these questions, even among Christian philosophers of language.
On the one hand, most Christians probably do not realize how flexible the words of the Bible can be. Some would call the way most Christians read the Bible pre-modern in the sense that most Christians are not fully aware of the glasses they bring to the biblical text.<1> However, it is more helpful to say that most people are "unreflective" in the way they understand words. The process of interpretation takes place almost completely on a subconscious level without the reflection of conscious thought.
[textbox: pre-modern, modern, and post-modern]
For example, most Christians throughout history have read the words of Scripture with the idea that God is the author or speaker of the words and they are the reader or audience of the words. A little reflection on this way of viewing the Bible quickly explains why there are so many differing interpretations.
First, each individual reader brings to the words of the text certain "definitions" for the words that they have absorbed from their own world. An African reader brings a slightly different sense of words like father, son, and even "me" to the text than a Westerner or Asian. It is thus no surprise if that person hears slightly different connotations and implications to the Bible's words.
Secondly, even if we believe God inspired the books of the Bible, the Bible itself tells us God did so as ancient individuals like Isaiah or Paul addressed ancient communities like Israel, Thessalonians, and Romans. If these "original audiences" understood the words, they understood them not as a modern African or European, but as ancient Israelites, Greeks, and Romans.
Key to this discussion is the realization that a text by itself is simply a set of squiggles on a page, sounds in the air, or in general, a set of signs of some sort located within a system of signs. The signs themselves--the individual words, for example--do not have intrinsic meanings. They have meanings that a particular group or group has assigned to them. Communication cannot take place unless both the author and reader are operating with the same understanding of those signs.
[texbox: linguistic signs]
What we also find is that language in general limits--prunes down, if you would--how meaning can be communicated. It forces an author to convert his or her thoughts into a string of words, a code that a reader can then reconvert into thought. Texts can thus be ambiguous in meaning. And in the case of the Bible, when we are talking about ancient languages whose immediate authors are not around to question, its text can be very ambiguous to us indeed! We do not have an ancient dictionary in which to look up the meanings of these words.
So when we return to the three groups we have mentioned, we begin to understand more clearly the nature of their differences on how the Bible, the Church, and the Spirit function as sources of truth. In "Scripture only" traditions like the Reformed and Lutheran churches, we tend to find optimism about our ability to reconstruct the original meaning of the biblical text, as well as a strong sense that those meanings will translate fairly straightforwardly into our world. Meanwhile, the Spirit is not allowed to change the meaning from what it originally meant.
Kevin Vanhoozer writes,
The Spirit "does not contravene the intention of the human author but rather supervenes on it ... the role of the Spirit is to serve as the Spirit of significance and thus to apply meaning, not to change it"<2>
"The Spirit may blow where He wills, but He does not blow what He wills"<3>
By contrast, the Roman Catholic tradition has often pointed out the potential ambiguity of Scripture since Martin Luther--the "father" of Protestantism, debated with a Roman Catholic by the name of Erasmus.<4> Postmodernism has only accentuated the issue, as we will see in chapter 16.
Here is a paraphrase of Erasmus' response to Luther:
"You say, 'What does an assembly of the church have to do with understanding Scripture when not one of them may genuinely have the Holy Spirit?' I reply, 'What, then, does some independent group of a few have to do with it, in which it is even more likely that none of them have the Spirit?' ... Now every Tom, Dick, and Harry wants you believe him when he says he has the Spirit of the gospel."<5>
On the other end of the spectrum, charismatic and revivalist traditions have tended to embrace the idea that the Spirit speaks through the words of Scripture to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Indeed, the Spirit may have distinct messages in the same words to several different people. The danger here, as Erasmus and the high Protestant tradition has pointed out, is that it becomes difficult to know whether such an individual is truly hearing the Spirit or the consequence of whatever they had for breakfast.
What we can say is that all three--Scripture, the universal Church, and the Holy Spirit are in some way appropriate sources of truth from God. Further, we can say that Christians since the very beginning have placed the primacy on Scripture, even in the Roman Catholic tradition.
Further, we can see that no matter what Christian tradition you are from, human reason and experience are involved in "processing" this truth from God, this divine revelation. Christians do believe that the most authoritative sources of truth over them come from the Bible, the Church, and the Spirit. But these sources do not come with your brain, like a program on your hard drive that came with your computer. We think about the meaning of the Bible and of Christian tradition, and we interpret our experiences of God.
<1>See chapter 16, "The Postmodern World" for a more detailed exploration of terms like pre-modernism, modernism, and postmodernism.
<2>Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 265.
<4>We find the best known instance of this debate in Luther's treatise "On the Bondage of the Will."
<5>Paraphrased from Erasmus and Luther: Free Will and Salvation, E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson, eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1978), 42.
Friday, January 25, 2008
(P.S. I'm not serious, which of course doesn't mean that people aren't actually out to get me.)
Below are the vodcasts I'm having these two classes watch in partial substitution for class tomorrow:
For Greek 2: The Second Aorist Tense (about 10 minutes long)
Names taken in vain: Stanley Porter and Robert Mounce.
For New Testament Survey:
Special Themes of Mark (19 minutes)
The Formation of the Canon (16 minutes)
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Here are the URL's for the Hebrews vodcasts for the week (the second is livelier than the first, although there's a cameo by Russ Gunsalus in the first).
Vodcast 1: Hebrews 1:1-14
Scholars mentioned: John Meier and Richard Bauckham.
Vodcast 2: Hebrews 2:1-18
Scholars mentioned: George Guthrie and Ernst Käsemann.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
I will admit to some shame from my past. I did not grow up in a context that thought much of Dr. King. Even in recent years, I have heard individuals from my childhood make snide remarks about the holiday.
My question is this: Why?
I listened to the entire speech this morning. It is a great speech, better than the Gettysburg Address. I cannot think of anything about the content of the speech that any Christian could object to. If I am to love my neighbor as myself, then I cannot be happy with a world where a person has to ride in the back of the bus because of their color or has to go to a different school simply because of their race.
If I would not want to be treated this way, as a Christian I cannot want others to be treated this way.
No argument--THAT is the Christian position. If your natural tendency is to balk at this and say, "Yes, but..." then you are trying to "kick against the pricks," you are resisting the will of God. Anyone with the heart of Christ should have supported the goal of civil rights, end of story.
So why didn't they? Help me out here.
Did they oppose the civil rights movement while supporting the ultimate goal? I would say that this is the reason they gave. Mind you, often our given reasons are rationalizations rather than the real reasons.
Standing up for your rights was not considered appropriate in my Pilgrim Holiness background. Yet standing up for the rights of others should have been!
Frankly, Dr. King's approach was not violent like some others. It was civil disobedience. I know some in my context did not think that was appropriate. Funny how they support the Revolutionary War, however--a far less noble cause in itself. They supported the north in the Civil War, but in a way demeaning to the slaves--"Let us help you poor people." Free the slaves and then abandon them to rot without any means of living.
I guarantee that more in the South felt comfortable being around slaves than those in the North did, despite high sounding rhetoric. The North may have argued for freedom, but most did not think of the slaves as equals. At least Southerners were up front about their prejudices.
Much of it is obviously fallacious. Some of it is ad hominem--attack the person rather than the argument. So at this point people will resort to attacks on Dr. King. "Did you know he plagiarized his dissertation?" or something else. Sorry, you can't oppose the content of this speech because of who is giving it. The content of the speech is thoroughly Christian and completely sound.
Some of it is the fallacy of division--prejudice. We should oppose this because all African-Americans are x. Or the fallacy of composition--so and so in the civil rights movement did this and so the whole movement is wrong.
Or perhaps it was too Democrat. Now in the pre-Roe vs. Wade days, what excuse did Republican Christians have for saying it was un-Christian to be a Democrat? It's all a farse. I guarantee you that most Christian Republicans use abortion as a smokescreen for nothing but a civil form of religion that misidentifies Christianity with a particular party.
"I don't think I could vote for a Democrat as a Christian because..." I doubt that what follows is usually the real reason. More often it's a rationalization, just as people rationalized away what King represented, coming up with reasons that weren't the real reasons. Certainly we wouldn't want to identify Christianity with the Democratic party either. We shouldn't identify Christianity with either party.
By the way, time has shown that the Republicans of that day were on the wrong side of history on this issue. We would find repugnant today any Republican who would say the things they were saying in the early 60's. Anyone with the heart of Christ would, anyway.
So what are we--Republicans and Democrats--on the wrong side of today. Cut through all our skubala and ask, what will our grandchildren wag their heads at us over? Don't pick something easy, something your group is speaking out against. Ask what issue your opposition is speaking out against that history will show you to be wrong about.
I guarantee, there is something that falls in this category for you... and me.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
This mention of the angels provides a convenient segway into a chain of quotations that demonstrate the superiority of Christ to the angels in 1:5-14. 1:3-4 straightforwardly point to the timing of Christ's superiority--it is after he is exalted to God's right hand. Christ sat at God's right hand, thereby becoming greater than the angels.
Hebrews 2 will give us further background to this setting because it indicates that Christ became lower than the angels for a little while in his earthly life. We should thus read the chain of quotes in relation to the exalted, post-resurrection Christ. The burden of proof is squarely on anyone who would suggest otherwise.
There is a straightforward structure to this "catena" or chain of quotes:
a. The first and last quotes form what is called an inclusio--they are both introduced with the same words--"To which of the angels has He said at any time" (1:5, 13). That signals the beginning and ending to the chain.
b. Verse 7 forms an "on the one hand" (μεν)-"on the other hand (δε) relation with 8-12. This makes it unlikely that the chain is shaped in the shape of some chiasm (e.g., Meier, A, B, C, C, B, A). Further, we should thus look for the point of contrast with verse 7 to know the main reason the author uses the specific quotes of 8-12.
Verse 5--"For to which of the angels has He said at any time, 'You are my Son; today I have given you birth' and "I will be a Father to him, and he will be a Son?'"
These OT passages, Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:14, were passages that we find the Dead Sea Scrolls use in relation to the Messiah. In their OT contexts they of course referred to the early king. Here, however, they are used in relation to the exalted Christ, who is enthroned at the point of his exaltation to God's right hand. This is the timing also of Acts 13:33 and Romans 1:3.
God has never made the angels king, but He has just made Jesus king, Christ, Son of God.
This leads us to the question of the name Christ has inherited. Given the context, we are immediately pushed to think that the name is Son. The word "for" in 1:5 seems to be substantiating and/or explaining what 1:4 has just said, and 1:4 has just said Jesus was given a name more excellent than them.
On the other hand, Richard Bauckham argues vigorously that the name must be Yahweh, or Lord. After all, this is in fact God's specific name. The reasoning fits well with our ways of thinking. Son is a category, not a name. The proper name of God is Yahweh and so this is the name the Father would pass on to His Son.
And the translation of Yahweh into Greek is Lord, which appears later in the passage. Further, it seems very likely that the "name above all names" Philippians 2 is Yahweh or Lord, so we have evidence of a tradition.
Bauckham (who literally was red in the face in Scotland trying to push this point) is brilliant, but I haven't conceded his point because the logic seems conspicuously modern to me. Further, it is not the direction the context seems to be pushing since 1) the verse immediately following 1:4 uses the word Son and 2) nothing is made of the word Lord beyond the fact that it is in one of the quotes. I would actually argue that 8:2 uses Lord of God the Father rather than God the Son.
In any case, Son is a royal title, so perhaps we should not push too big a distinction between the "divine titles" of this chain of quotations: Son, God, and Lord.
Verse 6--"And again, whenever He leads His firstborn Son into the civilized world he says, 'And let all the angels of God worship him.'"
This verse connects to the previous one in structure--"To which (5a)... and (5b)... and again (6)."
It is easy for us to read this verse in relation to Christ's birth, but this is apparently not what the author was thinking. The context does not place Christ above the angels in his earthly life but in his exalted state after the resurrection. On earth he becomes "lower than the angels."
The "whenever" could lead a person to see this verse in relation to the second coming, especially if you relocate the word again--"whenever He leads His firstborn Son into the world again."
But given the contextual setting (and given the use of this word, "civilized world," in 2:5), we should take this verse in relation to Christ's arrival in heaven after his resurrection. Notice that the civilized world has been relocated now in heaven rather than on earth, perhaps in the light of Jerusalem's destruction.
The picture is again an enthronement, and the word "worship" here is a word used of the proper due given to a king. It is not a word restricted to the worship of a conventional god.
The picture is thus a celebration of the arrival of the king into his throneroom, and all the subjects of the kingdom in the room (the angels) bow.
Verse 7--"And to the angels, on the one hand, he says, 'The One who makes His angels winds and His ministers a flame of fire."
They are servants of God in the creation--runners, servants in the kingdom. The chain ends with an apt recapitulation of this idea--"Are they not all ministering spirits send for those about to inherit salvation."
Verses 8-9--"But to the Son, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever and the staff of straightness is the staff of your kingdom. You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. On account of this, God--your God--has anointed you with an oil of exaltation in the presence of your companions."
This is Psalm 45, a wedding psalm originally addressed to a human king. The word God here thus highlights the fact once again that Jesus is king, just as the title Son of God does. It was originally in the OT, of course, a somewhat metaphorical address, as the psalm goes on to distinguish the human king as God from the king's God, the literal God. The imagery of anointing evokes a sense of kingship also, as well as the title Christ.
But the points of contrast with verse 7 have to do with the Son's permanence and royalty. The angels are like winds and flames--constantly changing. The Son's throne is forever and ever. Similarly, they are ministers, servants. Christ is king.
Verses 10-12--"and 'You at the beginning, Lord, founded the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish, but you remain, and they all as a garment will become old, and as a wrap you will wrap them up, as a garment they will even be changed. But you are the same and your years will not fail."
This is another reference to Christ in relation to creation. My same thoughts on high metaphor apply here. But the point of contrast is again that the angels are transitory like winds and flames--indeed like the creation. But Christ the Lord will remain forever, even after the creation is destroyed. The destruction of the cosmos anticipates the mention of its removal in chapter 12.
Verse 13--"But to which of the angels has He said at any time, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'"
Thus the chain comes to a full circle. We know from 1 Corinthians 15 that Psalm 2 (1:5) and Psalm 110:1 (1:14) were connected in Pauline circles. So the author of Hebrews similarly connects them. We end with a clear reference to the exaltation, but it has been in mind throughout.
Verse 14--"Are they not all ministering spirits sent to minister to those about to inherit salvation?"
This verse squarely locates the earthly function of the angels during the old age. Their role may linger until the creation is removed, but at some point they will only worship God and the Son, their task on earth being done. We remember that 2:2 associates them with the giving of the Law, again reminding us of their old covenant role.
We are left wondering why the author spends so much time here contrasting Christ with the angels. Certainly an easy answer is the fact that the angels delivered the law. In that sense it is perfectly appropriate to contrast the two as mediators of the two covenants.
Did the audience have an overly inflated view of angels? Did they worship angels? Did they think Christ was just an angel? It is usually at this point that Colossians 2 is brought into discussion or the Dead Sea document that refers to an angel Melchizedek.
We cannot say too certainly one way or another. If anything, it would fit best if the audience associated the angels with heavenly atonement, as we find in the Testament of Levi and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Although most students do not care much for math and science, the Western world as a whole tends to value science more than most other fields of knowledge. High school teenagers may call good math and science students "nerds" and "geeks." But as adults we are all thankful for the cell phones and lap tops such students go on to invent. And the ex-jock working sales at a used car lot may envy their pay check.
Certainly you can make more money in business or entertainment, but as a culture most in the Western world consider scientists and mathematicians the smartest type of people. Of course, it is not necessarily true. That ex-jock in theory could have a much higher IQ than the valedictorian who now teaches physics at MIT. But as a culture we think of science as king in the game of truth.
A paradigm is a particular way of thinking about a particular topic. Where a worldview involves a person's whole view of the world, a paradigm has to do with a person's view of just one particular piece of the puzzle. In that sense, a worldview is the collection of all your paradigms put together.<1>
[text box, paradigm, worldview]
Although most in the Western world may not be good at science, we tend to have elements of a scientific paradigm in our varying views of the world. For example, if we are in a thunderstorm, we do not usually ask ourselves what demon might be angry with us or if God is trying to teach us a lesson. We tend to think of rain and snow as natural events rather than "supernatural" ones involving spiritual forces like angels.
By the same token, we do not ask what angel will be flying our plane to Denver this afternoon. We worry more about engines and pilot error than whether demons might try to down our plane. If something unusual were to happen, like a crash or an accident, then some would begin to inquire what purpose God (or Satan) had in mind. But we less often refer to God or other spiritual forces to explain the "ordinary" workings of our lives.<2>
This train of thought leads us to an important issue. On the one hand, we would not have all the scientific discoveries of these last years if people at some point had not begun to look for natural explanations for the things that happen rather than spiritual ones. Isaac Newton (1643-1727)strongly believed in the existence of God. But he did not refer to God to explain the precise mechanics of gravity. Instead, he looked for a physical law of nature to explain it:
Yet as Christians, we believe that God is involved in the world. Where do we draw the line between "natural" explanations for events and "supernatural" ones? A little more than a hundred years earlier, a young man named Martin Luther (1483-1546) had committed to become a monk in a thunderstorm. He wondered whether a lightning strike near him was God threatening him if he did not. So Luther abandoned his studies to be a lawyer and became a Roman Catholic priest. The rest is history--he went on to lead the "Protestant" mass exodus from the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in the great variety of non-catholic churches we have today.
[textbox, Protestant Reformation]
Unlike Newton, Luther saw this storm as a spiritual rather than natural event. He did not divide the world into the categories of "natural" and "supernatural." Rather, everything about the world was spiritual. If scientists viewed the world the way Luther did, they would not invent anything, for they would not look for "laws" to explain the workings of the world. They would attribute events to the wills of spiritual beings. In short, they would not be scientists.
Here we arrive at the main topic of this chapter. Does the world around us consist of matter that operates according to laws that God created and then set to run largely on their own? Is the universe a natural realm that, we believe, is in distinction from the supernatural realm of God, angels, and other spiritual forces "outside" it?
[textbox, natural versus supernatural]
Or perhaps, on the other end of the spectrum, our sense of matter is an illusion. Perhaps the world in some sense is an extension of God. Perhaps when physics digs a little deeper, beyond quarks and neutrinos, it will find that "dark matter" is, after all, the "material" of God. Or perhaps we are all thoughts in the mind of God rather than some separate, natural material. We will talk about these options in the second part of this chapter.
Most Christians today function as "dualists" who believe in two fundamental kinds of reality in God's creation. They picture distinct natural and supernatural elements to the world right "next" to each other--for example, a human soul associated with our physical bodies. We will discuss this option in the final section of this chapter.
This chapter deals with these questions of ontology, the part of philosophy that asks what reality is made of--what is the nature of existence. Ontology is one of the two sub-branches of metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that asks questions about reality.<3>
In the first part of this chapter, we will explore whether a Christian could have a mostly materialist view of God's creation. A materialist believes that the universe consists only of matter. This person does not believe that we have a detachable soul or that reality involves some other distinct type of reality like spirit.<4>
[textbox--materialist, naturalist, ontology]
7.2 A Material World?
Certainly a person cannot be a historic Christian if they do not believe in a God who in some sense is distinguishable or "detachable" from the creation. In that sense, a Christian could not be a naturalist: someone who believes that nature is all that exists.
However, we might still call a person like Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) a materialist, even though he believed in the existence of God. While he believed that God created the world, he saw the world itself as a kind of machine that ran according to its own laws apart from any divine intervention.<5> His view of the creation, therefore, was entirely materialist.
[textbox: Thomas Hobbes]
At this point we want to pick up the question we raised in the introduction above. To what extent can we as Christians distinguish the material, the reality of the universe, from God? Western philosophy has traditionally traced its beginnings back to a Greek named Thales, who lived approximately from 624 to 546BC.<6> He is often called the "father" of philosophy, although we know that this designation is drastically "ethnocentric"--it makes it sound as if philosophy originated in the so called "Western world."<7> It makes those who identify themselves as Westerners sound like they are smarter than those in other parts of the world who do not identify themselves in this way.
As we define philosophy, however, philosophy has existed since the first human. In the first chapter, we suggested that there was a sense in which a person is not fully human unless they reflect on the world and life. By this definition, philosophy has existed since the first "true" human. We might suggest, then, that Adam (or Eve) might have been the first philosopher.
Nevertheless, the reason why many have looked to Thales as the first Greek philosopher is because he looked for an explanation for the world apart from the gods. Thales believed that the earth around him had been generated from an underlying and surrounding water. For him, therefore, water was the basic substance from which all other materials were produced.
This was not a startling suggestion, since several of the cultures at that time had a significant place for water in their myths of creation. In the Babylonian creation story, the Enuma Elish, the god Marduk fashions the world out of chaotic water goddesses. Even in Genesis 1:2, we see "formless and empty" waters there at the very beginning of creation, before God has spoken a word.<8>
So while it puzzles many philosophers to hear that Thales also said, "There are gods in everything," we should not be surprised. The so called break between myth and science with Thales was not likely so great a break as some would like to think. Indeed, in the next chapter we will suggest that modern science is not so far removed from myth as most think.
Nevertheless, Thales is often considered the father of science as well as the father of philosophy.<9> The later philosopher Aristotle and others considered Thales the first of several philosophers over the next few years who suggested one or another "element" as the basic substance from which the world was made. For Thales is was water. For Anaximenes the most basic substance was air. Heraclitus thought it was fire. So we see that science as a field of study originated in philosophy as individuals asked what the underlying nature of the world was.
[text box: natural philosophers]
Materialism in its modern form was a by-product of the scientific revolutions of the 1500's and 1600's. People began to look for natural explanations for the world, laws that govern the way the universe works. This development led some to become Deists. A Deist is someone who believes that God created the world to run like a machine on its own. God created the universe like a watchmaker makes a watch. The watchmaker makes the watch and winds it up. Then it runs on its own. Many of the minds we associate with the 1600's and 1700's fall into this category, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
[textbox: deism, theism]
The materialists of that time tended to be determinists. Determinists of this sort believed that everything that happens must happen because of the laws of cause and effect. If we think of the materials of the world as a set of pool balls in motion, we could predict what all the balls would do because of the laws of physics.<10> So materialists tend to think that history is simply playing out the "bouncing" of one material "ball" against another.
[text box: determinism, monism]
Today we do find some Christian materialists who are not deists. In the manner of Hobbes, they would believe in God and the supernatural realm, but see the natural, created realm as entirely material. Such a person is a monist, a person who believes reality consists of one type of "stuff." Unlike Hobbes, however, they would not be deists because they would believe that God can and does act in the world today. They might believe in the possibility of miracles and be theists who believe God is involved in the world, rather than deists who believe God is not.
Yet they would not believe that we have souls that are immaterial, made up of something different from the materials of the world. They would not believe in spirit as something different from matter. We will discuss these Christian "physicalists" when we get to chapter 9.
<1> In the second chapter, we treated worldviews as if they were "monolithic," single packages that fit together neatly. Many Christian thinkers treat worldviews in this way, a "naturalistic" worldview, a "theistic" worldview. In reality, however, few of us are entirely consistent across all our paradigms, in addition to the fact that each worldview usually accommodates a good deal of variation within it.
<2> Certainly some Christians do. A good example of a thoroughgoing application of divine purpose to our lives is Rick Warren's, Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).
<3> We will discuss the other sub-branch of metaphysics, cosmology, in the next chapter.
<4> We will wait until chapter 9 to discuss the question of the human soul.
<5> In other words, he was a Deist.
<6> It is possible that Thales was Phonecian, but he lived in Greek territory.
<7> Historians debate the extent to which it makes much sense to group together the various individual cultures we call the Western world.
<8> We will discuss creation at greater length in the next chapter.
<9> What then are we to make of the many others who did impressive things like the Egyptians who had built the pyramids over a thousand years before Thales?
<10> In chapter 10 we will see that this analogy does not actually work. Because of quantum physics, one cannot say today that materialism implies determinism at all.
Friday, January 18, 2008
1. The single most important element in the change was of course Vatican II (1958-63) under Pope John XXIII. Here we Protestants were acknowledged as "brothers" (and sisters) for the first time since the Reformation. We are separated brothers to be sure, but brothers nonetheless. The RCC further took some of the blame in the rift of the Reformation.
David Well's put it like this: the changes of the council "rendered the vast majority of Protestant analysis of Catholic doctrine obsolete" (60).
The Decree on Ecumenism from the council opened up discussions with Protestants, one of the biggest results of which was the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" in 1999 between the RCC and the Lutherans.
The second Vatican council also placed new found emphasis on the laity as the people of God. Noll and Nystrom write, "To outsiders, these developments look like a Catholic acceptance of some aspects of the Protestant emphasis on the priesthood of all believers" (60).
2. In another section of this chapter, N & N discuss changes in World Christianity that have softened tensions between the RCC and Protestantism. One of the main ones is the rise of the charismatic movement in the two-thirds world. New music, worship focused on the affective, expressive spirituality were found to be in common no matter which church you belonged to. Suddenly Protestants and Catholics found themselves singing some of the same choruses.
Many women in the grass roots level have taken roles of leadership too. N & N suggest that these women have seemed to be far less preoccupied with drawing ecclesiastical boundaries as men (67).
3. Next they discuss changes in American politics. The election of JFK softened fears about a Catholic in office. Then his assassination made him an American hero that santified his catholicism in its train. I had not realized that George Washington had suppressed Guy Fawkes night. In England Guy Fawles night is a fun night where you create an effigy of Guy Fawkes and burn him. The guy tried to blow up Parliament in London. What did not click with me yesterday is that November 5 has an anti-catholic element to it.
Catholics and evangelicals in the trenches have increasingly found themselves on the same side of political issues on sex, national defense, and the economy. This has broken down walls too.
4. N & N also mention individuals who have worked to bridge gaps. Ironically (or was this an application), Noll mentions that Notre Dame has hired some of evangelicalisms brightest scholars (e.g., Plantinga). Of course then they hired him :-)
5. N & N also mention some growing appreciation of catholicism by Protestants. He mentions an article by Scot McNight on how many of his students over the years converted to catholicism.
6. They conclude by noting that not all have opened up. He mentions the famous anti-catholic Chick Tracks of the early 80's that could just as well have been written in the 1600's. The books have of course long since been exposed as fraudulent.
Like the political emails we all receive, they had no truth to them but played into the fears and biases of those who read them. Frankly, some of those tracks scarred the bejebers out of me in high school.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
1 John has several things to say about sin, some of which may seem confusing at first. On the one hand, most contemporary Christians do not bat an eye when they read 1 John 1:8: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Christianity today is very accepting of sin as a regular feature in a believer’s life. Accordingly, many think this verse not only confirms the presence of sin in the Christian life; they see it as a strong rebuke to anyone who would suggest the contrary.
This same person might then get a bit confused when they get to 1 John 3:9: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” “Wait a minute,” we think. “How can 1 John 3:9 and 1 John 1:8 be in the same book? These two verses seem to say exactly the opposite!
The first thing we need to keep in mind is that 1 John is not a textbook about what Christians believe. It is a real letter written for real people in a real situation. When John says things like, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (3:15), both John and his audience pictured specific individuals in their minds. 1 John 2:19 clues us into the fact that this church had recently undergone a split. John says of those who left, “[T]hey did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us.”
So what does it mean to sin in this context? It does not mean, as we hear so often, “to miss the mark,” as if sin in 1 John referred to anything short of absolute perfection. 1 John itself tells us what it has in mind when it talks about sin: “All wrongdoing is sin” (5:17). Sin for John has to do with action, “doing” sin, doing wrong. In particular, it has to do with wronging others. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (3:17).
John divides these “wrong doings” into two categories. First, he says, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life” (5:16). Then John goes on: “There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.” It is hard to know exactly what John means by “death” here, but in light of the recent church split, he probably means spiritual death. If so, then apparently some wrongdoing can completely sever our relationship with God. Other wrongdoing only harms it—that is if we confess it (1:9) or have godly brothers and sisters praying for us (5:16).
Who were these individuals who had committed sins that led to death? Most scholars think they belonged to a group called the Gnostics. Gnostics thought that the physical world was evil and so had difficulty believing that Jesus had truly taken on human flesh when he was on earth. John says, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (4:2-3).
The problems with this belief went deep. If Jesus did not die in the flesh, then you could not find forgiveness for your sins. You had no “atoning sacrifice” (2:2). We do not know exactly how the Gnostics might have answered this objection. It is just possible that they responded by saying, “We have not sinned” (1:10) or “We are without sin” (1:8). In other words, “We do not actually need Jesus’ death to atone for our sins.”
Now we have come full circle. 1 John 1:8 pictures someone who in effect denies any need for Christ’s atoning death in the first place, someone who says they have never sinned at all. 1:8 does not say, “If we claim to never sin.” The Greek says, “If we say we do not have sin.” It pictures someone who sees no need for Christ’s atonement in the first place. The verse is not about doing sin. It is about having sin from the past.
1 John 3:9 does not contradict this claim in any way. Rather, it states straightforwardly what the default Christian standard is. Those who are born of God do not sin (3:9; 5:18). Instead, those who are born of God practice righteousness (2:29). John is giving us the caption under a Christian’s picture. The caption should read “doer of righteousness,” not “doer of sin.”
Throughout 2:28-3:10, John uses the Greek present tense to make these comments, which gives them an ongoing or habitual sense. When he says the person born of God does not sin, he means that his or her lifestyle in general is not prone to doing wrong. Rather, it is prone to doing the right thing. What is the right thing? It is “the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (3:11).
1 John gives us the perfect balance in a Christian understanding of sinning. All have sinned; all have done wrong. Every single person needs Christ as an atoning sacrifice. At the same time, doing wrong is not the default mode for a believer. The very fact that we are born of God’s seed makes it obvious that wrongdoing should not be normal for a Christian. John writes so that the audience will not sin. “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:1).
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
To check out what they've been saying, see
Monday, January 14, 2008
I think I have come to a fair grasp of Reformed epistemology and radical orthodoxy--by the time this is finished it will be even better. But I post it here in hopes that the experts will refine any rough edges.
Thus far in the chapter, we have argued that while some Christians have opposed certain forms of philosophy, all Christians are philosophers because they have views on the questions of philosophy. As we end the chapter, we need to discuss an issue that gets at the heart of Christian opposition to philosophy where it has occurred. What role does revelation and faith play in what Christians believe?
A good place to begin talking about revelation and philosophy is to notice that all thinking is, well, thinking. As we will discuss at greater length in chapter 4, we simply cannot get away from a basic sort of reasoning. We cannot “understand” anything without basic patterns of thought. Tertullian used it; Kierkegaard used it. When we articulate faith, we utilize basic reasoning.
It is thus somewhat misleading to speak of faith versus reason. Unless you believe that every individual thought you have is directly revealed to you by God and that there is no logical connection between each of your thoughts, then you use reason all the time. You think; you make connections from one thought to the next. Rather, what we should contrast is faith versus evidence. We will explore this topic in more detail in chapter 4: “Paths to Truth.”
For the moment, we would claim that Christian thinking differs from other thinking not so much in the thinking itself, the “rules” of good thinking that we will discuss in the next chapter. Rather, Christian thinking differs from other thinking because of the presuppositions by which it operates. As we said earlier in the chapter, a presupposition is something you assume before you start reasoning rather than something you necessarily argue for. They are somewhat like axioms in geometry. You do not try to prove that two points make a line. You assume it and in fact use it to prove other things.
So Christians assume any number of beliefs and interpret the world through those assumptions. For example, when a Christian reads the gospel stories, he or she will read them with the belief that miracles can actually happen. Belief in the possibility of miracles is a presupposition, and we likely come to different conclusions about the gospels depending on whether we start with this belief or not.
Now some Christian philosophers have argued that certain Christian beliefs are almost exactly like axioms. I personally believe that God exists, even though I am not sure I can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, it is a presupposition that I bring to the world when I am trying to understand what is going on. I assert belief in God by faith in the absence of definitive evidence.
Reformed epistemology goes one step further. You know from the previous chapter that epistemology is the branch of philosophy that asks about how we can know anything. Reformed epistemology argues that a number of beliefs about reality are properly basic, like axioms, such that we do not need to argue for them. It does not worry about trying to evaluate these beliefs in terms of faith versus evidence, as we did above. It holds that we could hardly function in the world without assuming certain basic beliefs.
So how could we function if we did not assume that the world exists outside ourselves and that the people we see have minds that are at least similar to ours? Alvin Plantinga has argued that belief in God is so intrinsic to reality that it is not only beyond reasonable doubt. He would say that our existence and our thinking all presuppose the existence of a God who makes existence and truth possible. He believes the world does not make sense unless we assume God’s existence.[i] Perhaps he is correct.
Reformed epistemology: An approach to truth that considers certain beliefs, such as the existence of other minds, as “properly basic,” beliefs without which we could not even function in the world. Such beliefs are “warranted” without argument.
Alvin Plantinga: Along with Nicolas Wolterstorff, one of the originators and main proponents of Reformed epistemology.
At the same time, it is no coincidence that Reformed epistemology is identified with a particular Christian tradition: the Reformed tradition. Reformed Christians believe that the only ones who will make it to heaven are those specific individuals that God has chosen to be saved. You can see that it makes sense for such a person to believe that no proof or warrant is needed for belief in God. Those whom God has chosen will obviously see the truth of God’s existence with or without logical proof.
On the one hand, other Christian traditions probably would agree that logical proof is not the most important part of faith in God. You do not need to be able to prove God’s existence beyond a reasonable doubt to justify belief that God exists. Yet it is also no coincidence that Christians who believe God gives everyone a legitimate opportunity to be saved have more room for argument about such things than Reformed epistemologists do. This textbook stands in such a tradition.
Reformed epistemology is philosophy—in fact it is hard core philosophy. It would not object to philosophy itself as a subject. However, it might object to an approach to philosophy that did not largely assume the truths of the Christian faith. This is especially true of a position very similar to Reformed epistemology called radical orthodoxy.[ii] It would especially believe that philosophy is not Christian unless it assumes all the essential elements of Christian faith.
Reformed epistemology argues that we can assume certain beliefs without argument, yet it has a very rational flavor to it. Postmodernism claims that we cannot be certain that our reasoning is sound and leads us to truth. In this light, radical orthodoxy argues that, since you cannot really prove what is true anyway, we should simply assume all the essentials of Christian faith in our thinking. Whereas Reformed epistemology might argue that belief in God is properly basic, radical orthodoxy would assume a full blown belief in the Trinity, the virgin birth, and many other things without argument that clearly are not properly basic to human thought.
Radical orthodoxy: a postmodern approach to truth claiming that, since we cannot be objectively certain about what is true, we should assume all the essential beliefs of Christianity without argument.
Before we leave this chapter, we should also mention that our minds are really much more than our conscious thoughts. If we are to believe the field of neuropsychology, we are only aware of the tip of the iceberg of what takes place in our brains. This fact makes us wonder the extent to which we are playing games when we act as if philosophical arguments and ideas are really the heart of our perspective on the world. What if, in fact, we behave the way we do because of things going on much “deeper” inside us than we realize? If so, then a good deal of our professed quest for truth might be a game we are playing with ourselves, a game that potentially is not really about what we think it is. It might conceivably undermine this entire book. We will return to this question in our unit “What is Truth?”
[i] See especially Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University, 2000).
[ii] See especially James K. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004). While many proponents of radical orthodoxy are Reformed, not all are. The postmodern element is sufficient in itself as as a basis for this position.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
"In many and various ways, God formerly spoke ... in these last days He's spoken through a Son."
The Final Way
There is a clear contrast in the first two verses between former ways and the way God is now speaking. Two characteristics come to mind--
1) Previous ways were many and various--the current way is singular, a Son.
The singularity implied here reminds me of John 14:6--"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Of course the plurality of God's revelations in the past were not a pluralism. The plurality was within the bounds of the worship of the singular God, Yahweh. The theologians can also debate exactly how the one way of the Son might work. Does it work, for example, according to the light we have, to where someone who has never heard of Christ might be saved by Christ because they have responded to the light they have?
2) The use of the phrase "the last days" shows that the Son is the final way. This is the historic belief of Christian faith. There are people who are Christians in the social and cultural sense who do not believe that Christ is the only way, but their "center point" is therefore not Christianity but a point outside that draws on selective Christian elements.
God appointed him heir of all things--indeed He made the worlds through him.
I never know what to do with capitals of Him and him. I have typically used "Him" for God the Father and "him" for God the Son. Otherwise there would be capitals everywhere and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference--same if I used small case for both. Of course it's bad theology to distinguish them...
It's All About Christ
The next few options could either be points in one sermon or several sermons. So for this verse, we have Christ at the beginning and end of creation. He is the one to whom God is giving the world as an enthronement present... Indeed Christ is the one through whom God made the worlds. As I said last week, I think this means that Christ is like God's word (see John 1:14), His will in action. So Christ is God's will for the worlds...
Christ "is a reflection of God's glory and an impression of His substance"
What God Looks Like
I could see a sermon based off this verse arguing that if you want to know what God looks like, look at what Jesus Christ looks like. The sermon might then go through various stories about Jesus that highlight the Father's character through Jesus' character.
Love, Justice, Mercy, Victory, Cares for the forgotten, etc...
Christ "sat on the right hand of Majesty in the heavens, as much greater than the angels as the name he has inherited is greater than theirs."
The Kingship of Christ
You might join this sermon to the preceding one. The picture here is the enthroned Christ, with the angels bowing before him as his servants. How would you relate to such a person--ignore them, listen to them selectively? I bet you would pay attention to them and want them to see your good side (P.S. He's always in the room).
These are some of my preaching notes from Hebrews 1:1-4.
Friday, January 11, 2008
1. The chapter begins as it ends: with pictures of the situation between Protestants and Catholics in the mid-twentieth century. This 1945 quote from Carl McIntyre captures the dominant Protestant tone of the last five hundred years: "the greatest enemy of freedom and liberty that the world has to face today is the Roman Catholic system. Yes, we have Communism in Russia and all that is involved there, but if one had to choose between the two ... one would be much better off in a communistic society than in a Roman Catholic Fascist set up" (38).
By the way, this election season--as all election seasons--is a golden time to be teaching philosophy. Election campaigns and logical fallacies almost go hand in hand. The favorite fallacy is of course the ad hominem fallacy where you attack the person rather than the position. The feeble of mind on both sides are currently being inundated with emails and phone calls of malarchy about how so and so is really Dr. Evil. You know, "Did you know that Joe Politician snuck out his/her window one Friday night in high school and attended a Hare Krishna rally (by the way, did you know that the Hare Krishna are secretly communist)."
Just remember--anyone who just buys whatever that email or phone call says is not a good thinker and is a dangerous voter. Your vote is not your vote but the vote of those who are manipulating you (and no doubt laughing about how stupid you are). A good thinker will assume that anything you receive in this format is false. Only things that are aired in a public forum where they can be critiqued by the opposition are truly trustworthy (which eliminates any number of radio and cable shows). "A word to the wise is sufficient"--no amount of words can convince the dimwitted.
To continue, President Truman's appointment of a representative to the Vatican in 1946 was similarly greeting with rumbles all along the Protestant spectrum. Etc... Most of the chapter is simply a compounding of evidence for what most of us already know--Protestants and Catholics have not gotten along well these last five hundred years. Even this week I heard of a casual conversation at Marion High School in which a Protestant student critiqued a Catholic student for his worship of Mary.
Of course Catholics are not supposed to worship Mary. What they really believe is that Mary and the saints help their prayers. I have no idea whether this is the case--and of course God doesn't really need any help hearing--but I don't find the view objectionable any more than the idea that God might use angels as intermediaries with the world. People get angry over these sorts of things because it's traditional to get angry over these things, not because there's anything substantial to get angry about.
2. Noll and Nystrom then go on to give some of the "long history" of evangelical-catholic fighting. Their summary of the rhetoric of the Reformation will sound very familiar:
Protestants about Catholics
- salvation by good works
- don't let common person read Bible
- manufactured saints and rites over Bible
- made Mary a coauthor of salvation
- forced new doctrines at the whim of popes and councils
- promoted a corrupting, despotic power structure
- their salvation by faith denied the need for holiness before God
- let any Tom, Dick, and Mary come up with their own interpretation of the Bible
- denied the Holy Spirit reveals things in church times as well as Bible times
- denied God's gracious help through Mary and the saints
- rejected apostolic authority in preference for rationalism and moral anarchy
- foolishly neglected God's gracious help through the seven sacraments
- chose individualism over genuine church leadership
Paul Dudley's 1750 legacy to Harvard provided for a lecture devoted to "detecting and convicting and exposing the Idolatry of the Romish Church, Their Tyranny, Usurpations, damnable Heresies, fatal Errors, abominable Superstitions, and other crying Wickednesses in their High Places; and Finally that the Church of Rome is that mystical Babylon, That Man of Sin, That apostate Church spoken of, in the New Testament" (43).
Noll and Nystrom tell how much flack Charles Hodge received in the 1800's when he, despite rejecting Roman Catholicism, considered Roman Catholic baptism to be legitimate, also assuming that there were some legitimate Christians who were also Roman Catholic.
4. The next section shows the connection that almost inevitably seems to be forged by the human animal between religion and civil concerns.
I might note that to the extent to which a person of professed faith connects their faith to specific political bodies, especially of a civil sort, to that extent I question the purity of their faith. A person who lock steps their faith to either the Democratic or Republican party for example, is in my mind a person whose faith is not pure, whose faith is syncretistic. They have let cultural matters spread like a cancer in their faith. Such people's faith changes with the tide of human affairs.
Noll and Nystrom give two exemplary quotes in this section:
The first is from George Whitefield, who preached a sermon in 1746 Philadelphia thanking God for rescuing the British from the "Catholic monarchy" by leading the British to vanquish Bonnie Prince Charlie in Scotland:
"How soon would our pulpits every where have been filled with these old antichristian doctrines, free-will, meriting by works, transubstantiation, purgatory, works of supererogation, passive-obedience, non-resistance, and all the other abominations of the whore of Babylon" (46).
The second is a 1756 quote from Aaron Burr Sr., president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton:
"We have heard of the Policy and Perfidy of France, of her arbitrary Power, Popish tyranny and Bigotry... Their established religion is Popery; which, beside all its other Corruptions, disposes them from Principle, to be cruel to Protestants."
This section gives many other examples during the times of the Civil War where such rhetoric associating Catholicism with tyranny and anti-democratic rhetoric was used.
5. Occasional Nice-Nice
Toward the end of the chapter, Noll and Nystrom do show occasionally moments when Protestants and Catholics were more hospitable to each other.
For example, I had never heard of the Council of Regensburg in 1541, where a group of Protestant and Catholic leaders sat down and actually reached an agreement on the issue of justification by faith. Even John Calvin admitted that something significant had occurred. Of course the Council of Trent in the late 1540's would seal the separation from the Catholic side, if it was not already sealed from the Protestant side.
Protestants have continued to read Catholic authors. Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas a Kempis were read by individuals like Martin Luther and John Wesley. Even after the split, people like George Whitefield, John Newton, and Charles Wesley read Blaise Pascal, a Catholic. Evangelicals read post split Catholic mystics like Francois Fenelon and Madam Guyon.
We Wesleyans know that John Wesley used some of the same harsh language against the Roman Church as others, but Noll and Nystrom choose to highlight his indictment of those who utterly destroy brotherly love in their abominable polemics toward it.
Meanwhile, Roman Catholics have also from time to time admired Protestant thinkers as well. A Catholic periodical in Munich in the mid-1800's praised the Protestant Francois Guizot's historical accuracy, adding the words that "one is often astonished" at his fairness (51).
Kenneth Scott Latourette's 1949 presidential address to the American Historical Association was scorned by most, but praised by Catholic priests present with the remark, "the theology was perfect."
We end the review of chapter 2 with this comment by the notorious Cardinal John Henry Newman, who famously converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in the late 1800's:
"I can but bow before the great mystery that those are divided here [Protestant and Catholic] and look for the means of grace and glory in such different directions, who have so much in common in faith and hope" (55).
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Workshop 1 (January 8-14): The Situation of Hebrews
1. Post a brief bio of yourself on the (private) Application Blog. Try to do this before Friday midnight (Jan 11).
2. Watch the Week 1 Commentary Vodcasts: 1) “The Author of Hebrews,” 2) “The Audience of Hebrews,” 3) “The Situation of Hebrews,” 4) “The Date of Hebrews.”
3. Read the relevant sections of the three commentaries you have chosen for this week in relation to the above topics.
4. Now post a 500 word entry on the Commentary Blog comparing and contrasting the three commentaries with Schenck on these topics—side with one or more of the commentators. Have this posted by midnight Friday night (Jan 11).
5. Now post at least a 50 word substantive response to each of the other members of the class by midnight Monday night (Jan 14).
6. This first week we will be surveying Hebrews rather than applying it. First, watch the instructional vodcast, “How to Survey.”
7. Now follow the method set out in the vodcast and survey Hebrews yourself (worth up to 50 points). I will invite you to look at a sample survey on Google Docs, as well as some written instructions on how to do surveys. Email it to me by midnight Monday night (Jan 14).
Monday, January 07, 2008
Christian Answers to Philosophy's Questions
In the first chapter, we boiled down the basic issues of philosophy to nine basic questions. Even though some Christians have argued that philosophy is not Christian, Christians throughout history have addressed these questions in one way or another. For some of these questions, the Christian answers to the questions are clear cut. For others, various Christians have answered in different ways. In those cases we might be able to identify a range of possible answers rather than a distinctly Christian position on that issue.
Before we run through these basic philosophical questions with Christian eyes, it is important to clarify what we mean by the word Christian. Here we distinguish strongly between "historic" Christianity and what we might call "cultural" Christianity or social groups that identify themselves as Christians. A person might be a Christian in terms of their social identity and yet hold to none of the beliefs or practices of historic Christianity.
For example, the twentieth century saw a great deal of conflict between Irish Catholics and Protestants, and much of this conflict took place with at least a veneer of Christian rhetoric attached. However, neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Anglican Church sanctioned such violence, and the actions of such groups often stood definitively outside the boundaries of historic Christianity. When we speak of Christian answers to these questions, we mean answers that are in the flow of historic Christianity. While many Christian groups disagree on many things, Christians share a good number of core beliefs and practices in common and have since the earliest days of Christianity.
Further, almost all Christian groups have worked out these beliefs in dialog with the Bible, the Christian Scriptures. Even the Roman Catholic Church, despite what Protestants sometimes think, holds that its beliefs and practices are the inspired working out of biblical teaching in the Church. Thus the Bible also plays a significant role in identifying a belief or practice as Christian.
1. Does God exist and, if so, what is God's nature?
This question provides us with a good example of a "historic" Christian belief. Many people in the world are "Christian" by social group--some even go to church--yet do not believe that God exists or have serious questions about His existence. A group in England known as the "Sea of Faith" movement styles itself a group of "non-realists" when it comes to talk about God. They do not believe that God actually exists as a person, but think the idea of God is real and accomplishes good things in the world.
Nevertheless, the historic belief of Christianity is clearly that "God exists and is someone who rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). The "orthodox" Christian belief is that God is a Being who exists apart from the existence of any human being. Indeed, historic Christianity believes that while there is only one God, He has always existed as three distinct persons--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Christians further believe that God created the world and have historically held that the world is distinct from Him. They have traditionally believed that God has "all power" and "all knowledge" in relation to the creation. They believe that God is good and loves what is created, and that God is just. We will discuss some variations on these basic themes in the unit on the philosophy of religion, but these beliefs are some of the most commonly held of all Christian beliefs.
2. What is the nature of the other things that exist?
If we find virtual unanimity by Christians on the first question, we have a variety of Christian positions on the second. On the one hand, we have individuals like George Berkeley (1685-1753) who believed matter did not really exist and that we were thoughts in the mind of God. The Christian School of Alexandria also included individuals like Origen (ca. AD200), whose Platonist leanings made him see our spiritual side as more real than our physical bodies.
Yet some Christian thinkers today--while affirming basic Christian beliefs about the afterlife--have argued that we do not have "souls" apart from bodies. In that sense, they would argue that there is no such thing as a non-physical existence apart from material of some sort or another. We will discuss their ideas in our unit on the philosophy of the psyche.
Most Christians today, however, are dualists. A dualist today would believe that reality consists of both the material and the non-material, the natural and the supernatural realms, if you would. When we get to the unit on the philosophy of science, however, you may just be surprised to learn how recent this kind of dualistic thinking is!
3. What constitutes good thinking?
We have already seen in the first part of this chapter that a number of significant Christians like Tertullian and Kierkegaard have questioned the possibility of "good thinking" on the basis of reason alone. While most Christians accept the basic rules of logic, it is essential for the Christian thinker to have a place for faith in their thinking as well. We will argue in the next section that faith need not be contrary to reason, but it does imply a lack of evidence.
As we look at Christian history, we find some variety of thought about the proper formula for faith in relation to evidence. On the one hand, we have thinkers like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) or C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), who have seen faith in highly rational and evidentiary terms. On the other end of the spectrum are people like Søren Kierkegaard who have seen faith more along the lines of "blind" faith.
4. How do I know what is true?
The next unit in this book is titled, "What is Truth?" In addition to the subject of good thinking, which we just mentioned, it will ask what the proper sources of truth are. Clearly reason and experience play a significant role in the way we arrive at what we think is true. Accordingly, there have been Christian rationalists like René Descartes (1596-1650) who have seen reason as the key to truth. Yet we could also mention Christian empiricists like John Locke (1632-1704) who thought our experiences were the path to truth. Others like Immanuel Kant have seen a combination of the two essential (1724-1804).
However, Christianity introduces other very important elements into this equation, sources of truth revealed by God. Evangelical Protestants see the Bible as the most important source for truth about the most important aspects of life. "Catholic" traditions like the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox traditions have further argued that the Church is essential as well as an interpreter of the Bible. Charismatic and Pentecostal traditions, including holiness traditions, have generally seen direct revelation from God (as the "Holy Spirit") as a regular part of Christian life as well.
5. What is a human being?
Christians do not believe that humans are simply biological machines or merely the product of mindless evolution. Certainly we are biological machines and some Christians do believe that God directed an evolutionary process. But historic Christians believe that humans are much more than highly sophisticated animals. Christians believe that human beings are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and thus intrinsically valuable.
Most Christians, though not all, have also affirmed that humans have a "detachable" part of them that continues to exist at death. The Bible, in the few places where it mentions such things, usually refers to this part of us as our "spirit." Historically, however, Christians of the ages have more often called it the "soul." We will discuss this issue in more detail in the unit on the philosophy of the psyche.
6. How should I live in the world?
We can speak of a fundamental Christian ethic which boasts the teaching of Jesus, Matthew, Paul, James, and John in the New Testament. That ethic is love of God and love of our fellow human. The New Testament treats these two commands as its foundational, rock bottom ethic, and Christianity has followed suit. To be sure, many Christians and Christian groups throughout history have endorsed hatred, but we can question to that existent whether they have been properly Christian at that point.
However, as we will see in our unit on philosophies of living, we would be wrong to restrict questions of living to action. The ancient world, and Christianity as a part of it, more emphasized proper character and virtue than proper action. So we find some Christian groups that have emphasized proper action (sometimes becoming somewhat legalistic in the process), and we find others who have emphasized a proper relationship with God. Some groups--such as the Lutheran tradition--have actually tended to de-emphasize ethics because such a focus tends to focus us on our own "works" rather than on God's work in us.
7. How do humans best live together in the world?
We cannot speak of a common Christian belief on how society should be organized or on what economic system would be most Christian. Some Christians argued for the "divine right" of kings in the 1600's, yet many American Christians would probably say democracy is most Christian. We similarly find among Christian ranks both pacifists and those who believe in St. Augustine's "just war" theory. Further, we find ardent Christian supporters of the capitalistic system and others who believe a communist society would be most Christian in nature. We will discuss these ideas as well in our unit on philosophies of living.
8. What makes something beautiful?
We probably cannot speak of any distinctly Christian position on this question either, except perhaps to say that whatever is truly beautiful will no doubt cohere with God. Certainly there have been Christians who have argued that art can only be "true" if it is representational and thus actually looks like something in the real world. Perhaps most Christians today would consider this view to be impoverished. Christians do debate over whether some material of questionable content can be considered art. We will discuss these issues in the chapter on the philosophy of art.
9. Where is history headed?
Historically, Christians have affirmed with the "Apostle's Creed" that Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead." Although some have questioned whether we should take Christ's second coming as a literal event yet to come, Christianity has traditionally believed that Jesus will return to earth one day and will set the world straight. At that time the dead will rise and evil will be banished forever.
However, we do find significant pockets of Christianity that question whether Christ will come to interrupt human history in this way. On a popular level, for example, most Christians today operate as if judgment is a matter of dying and then either going to heaven or hell. Further, we find among those who affirm the second coming some variety of perspective in the events that will lead up to it. Some see the world getting better and better in preparation for Christ's return. Others think the world will get worse and worse. We discuss these perspectives in greater detail in the chapter on the philosophy of history.
We can see from the preceding sketch that, while there are certain core beliefs on certain issues, we cannot really speak of a single Christian worldview that encompasses all the philosophical questions. On most of the questions of philosophy, we find a variety of Christian responses throughout the ages. The chapters that follow will explore these issues in greater detail and give you an opportunity to work through the questions yourself!