Sunday, January 31, 2010

Joel Green quote (Body, Soul, and Human Life)

"Libet found that conscious awareness occurred temporally after the onset of brain activity setting in motion the voluntary movement though before the movement itself. This led Libet to argue against "free will" in favor of "free won't" -- that is, that even though we do not consciously cause an action like a voluntary finger movement, we are capable of stopping it before it happens."

Interesting...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Final Installment: The Sermon

And now, the final part of the sermon. I should be getting up in the second chapel as this posts.

Introduction
The Head: God's Third Order of Business
The Heart: God's First Order of Business

The Feet: The Second Order of Business

And so I end this morning with God’s second order of business. The first order of business is your heart. More than anything else, God wants to transform your heart. He wants to make you a person after his own heart. God’s third order of business, I’ve suggested, is your head. Ideas are important. No one could ever rightly accuse me of not being interested in the truth. Why do you think I’m here at a university and now at a seminary?

But before our heads, God is not only interested in our hearts, but He is also interested in our feet. Our feet are God’s second order of business. What I’m talking about is our actions, how we live in the world.

A verse came to mind as I thought about our actions as God’s second priority. It is Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful are the feet, Of those who bring the good news: “Our God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7.

I have taken the verse a little out of context, another great inheritance of the Wesleyan holiness tradition. Dr. Lennox, here at the university, did his doctoral dissertation on the interpretive techniques of the Wesleyan writers of the late 1800s. And let me say that they were not known for how strictly they read the words of the Bible in context.

Again, there are those who look down on us for our past use of “spiritual methods” of interpretation, just as there are those who look down on Pentecostals and Baptists for lifting verses out of context, what we sometimes call “proof-texting.” But as it turns out, that’s pretty much how the New Testament interprets the Old Testament, so I guess we’re all in good company.

Isaiah 52:7 was originally about the return of Israel from captivity in Babylon. The image of the feet of the messenger is the picture of someone coming from a battle to announce victory. Most of you here will know what a Marathon is. The race takes its name from the Battle of Marathon, where the Greeks decisively beat the Persians. The Greek messenger ran a little over 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce victory in the battle (and then of course died).

So the original image in Isaiah 52:7 is of a messenger coming from Babylon to Jerusalem to announce that God has won, that many of those who were taken away for some seventy years would soon be returning.

But what jumped out at me from this verse were the feet of God’s messengers. God’s messengers—which is all of us—should surely have beautiful feet! How do our feet look to those around us? Are those around us happy to see us coming? God’s second priority is our lives.

Christians should not have ugly feet. Our lives should be good news to those around us! That certainly applies to those in need, such as those in great need right now in Haiti. We should bring good news in the form of food for the hungry and water for the thirsty and clothing for the naked. That’s what I believe. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

But our actions should also be beautiful to God as well. One of the verses that I learned growing up was 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has taken hold of you, That you don’t have in common with everyone else. God is faithful! He will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, But He will also make with the temptation a way out, to be able to bear it."

I’ll be frank with you. I cannot find a single place in Scripture that, when read in context, tells us that we cannot help but sin intentionally. By intentionally I mean you know the right thing to do—or the thing you should not do—and you do the wrong thing. I firmly believe that popular interpretations of passages like Romans 7 (I do the thing I do not want to do) or 1 John 1:8 (if we say we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves) are misinterpretations. And yes, I am a Wesleyan.

But what I do find in Scripture are statements about how Paul wants his churches to be blameless at Christ’s coming or that those who persist in certain sins will not inherit the kingdom of God or that those who continue to sin willfully use up Christ’s sacrifice or that there is a sin that leads to death or that some who were part of the Christian community will have to depart from Christ on the Day of Judgment.

When it comes to summing up how we are to live in this world, what I find is 1 Corinthians 10:31, which I mentioned at the very beginning of the sermon about Doing all to the glory of God. "Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31. This verse sums it up for me, how God expects us to live.

I grew up with a misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5 based on the King James Version—but I still think it was a true spiritual interpretation of the verse. “Avoid the very appearance of evil.”
Of course the old time Wesleyans probably took the verse too far. One of my grandfathers would never have eaten in Applebee’s because of the bar in the middle—it has the “appearance of evil.”

The point is rather that our orientation in life in how we live should be around what gives God the most glory. A teenager once asked me how far he could go with a girl before he would go to hell. It was completely the wrong question. In a very real sense, he had already gone too far in his heart.

The right question is not what can’t I do or what can I do to get out of being punished. The question is what can I do that will be most pleasing to God. How would every detail of my life look if I were completely surrendered to God?

These are things that excite me. It excites me that God is most interested in my heart, and that He empowers it to be like His heart. It excites me to orient my entire life around God, and that He will empower me to live a life fully devoted to Him. And, yes, I am excited about the truth and all that God wants to teach me through Scripture and through God’s people.

These are things that excite me. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

Third installment: Sermon

I should actually be starting the sermon in chapel as this third installment publishes:

Introduction
The Head: God's Third Order of Business

Now, The Heart: God's First Order of Business

So what is God’s first order of business? It is the heart, heart transformation. The verse that came to mind is not a particularly Wesleyan verse, but it is a verse that jumps out at me. And, yes, I happen to be Wesleyan.

Mark 7 says that Out of the heart, Evil thoughts come (Mark 7:21). And “What goes out of a person, That defiles a person.

Jesus here is talking to some Pharisees. Not all Pharisees were like the ones pictured in the gospels, especially in Matthew. But the picture we get is of a group of people who are so focused on outward actions (which are actually important, by the way) that they miss the first order of business, the heart. Jesus here sets the record straight. Actions flow from the heart, and if the heart is straight, then the actions will be too.

But it is not only these words of Jesus that lead me to think the heart is God’s first priority, over beliefs and actions. It is looking out at all of you. How is it that godly people from every church and denomination can have a true and vibrant relationship with God and God not bring us all on the same page on the details? Now God has brought us all on the same page on the Apostle’s Creed. Maybe those head things are really important. But God doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to correct all of us on the things we squabble over among ourselves. It just doesn’t seem to be high on His agenda.

In fact, for those of us who are Protestants, God let the Church believe a lot of things we don’t believe for a 1000 years! He didn’t seem in too big of a hurry to correct it.

And how many 1000s of years did God wait before sending Christ? It was over a thousand years from Moses to Jesus, a period that Hebrews and Colossians say only involved a shadow of the reality in Christ. Hebrews says the sacrifices of the Old Testament didn’t actually take away sins—even though they no doubt thought they did. God just didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to set Israel straight on the details.

And none of that is even to say how long it was before God gave the Law to Moses. It was all word of mouth before then. 2 Peter 3 reminded the Christians of that time that “a day with the Lord is like a 1000 years.” Setting the record straight in our heads just doesn’t seem to be God’s first order of business.

You don’t need to have it all figured out in your head to be saved. You do need to have committed your heart to God as your king and Jesus as Lord. And I also have a hunch that God will judge those who have not heard—or those whose head is really messed up—according to the light they have had. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

All the studies of the brain and all the recent reflections on human knowing have concluded that we are far more “feeling” and “experiencing” things than “thinking things,” to borrow a phrase from James K. A. Smith. Socrates used to say that “right thinking leads to right action.” That’s a nice idea, that if we have our heads straight, then our actions will be right too.

But it is rarely true. Our minds are, as Augustine put it, “fallen.” It has not been my experience that people will do the right thing if they know what the right thing is. A much better version of the saying—and one that fits with Jesus—is that, “A right heart leads to right action.”

And of course when we are oriented around our hearts, then we will get along a lot better. John Wesley was not perfect or inspired. But he did have a saying I quite like, “If your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mine.”

One thing I like about The Wesleyan Church is the fact that it has a “big tent” on a lot of issues. Take baptism. You can immerse. You can sprinkle. You can pour. You can baptize believers. You can baptize infants. You can decide not to baptize at all. If your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mine.

You can believe communion is just a remembrance of Christ’s death or you can believe the bread and juice actually and literally become the body and blood of Jesus. But is your heart right with God?

You believe in pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib, no trib. We haven’t even ever defined exactly what it means to say the Bible is inerrant. But is your heart right with God?

There’s a great saying that some Wesleyans used to say (although they probably didn’t practice it very well): “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” The most essential thing is that you be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is room for many differing ideas within that essential.

That’s what I think. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

Sermon continues

The introduction to the sermon is here.

The Head: The Third Order of Business
Third of all, there are a group of beliefs that get me excited as a Christian. Yes, I said third of all. It may seem strange for me to start with the third group of things instead of the first. In fact, you might chalk it up to those illogical Wesleyans. Figures, that they would get things out of order.

Wesley has sometimes been put down for not being a thinker like, say, John Calvin. (And let me make it clear that despite the statues of Wesley on campus, John Wesley was not the founder of The Wesleyan Church, and we are not bound in any way to follow his exact teachings.) But back to Calvin—Calvin produced a lovely, systematic theology that logically goes through Christian beliefs. But what did Wesley leave behind? What is the resource for the Methodism he started?

It’s a series of sermons. So it figures that I would put things having to do with our heads third on the list of things that excite me. That’s because I believe the head is God’s third order of business, not His first order of business. That’s what I take from the Bible; and, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

Of course, I’m saying this at Indiana Wesleyan University, a Christian academic community. The head may be God’s third order of business in general, but within the body of Christ, the head is our first priority here. IWU is not a church. This is a chapel service, but I sure hope you don’t substitute this gathering for becoming a part of a local church in a permanent community. Our number one task here is to address your heads.

But it is God’s third order of business. I start with the head because there are some things I believe as a Wesleyan that I think almost everyone here believes as well. We might call those things "Common Christianity." I’ve put on the screen my own wording of the Apostle’s Creed, which will be familiar to many of you. These are things I think almost everyone here in the room believes. They are certainly things I believe. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan:

We believe in God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin, Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead and buried. He descended to the dead. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, And is seated at the right hand of God, the Father, Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, The holy Church universal, (you probably know that line better as “the holy catholic church,” but what it means is the Church everywhere), The communion of the holy, (which is what the saints are, the “holy ones,” and that is you and me and all the Christians who have ever lived), The forgiveness of sins, The resurrection of the body, And never ending life, (or as you may have said it, “and life everlasting.”)

These are things all of us who are Christians believe and we have for almost two thousand years. These things are important, even though they are only God’s third order of business.

Something else that we all hold in common is our valuing Scripture. All of us who are Christians—at least Christians in continuity with the last 2000 years (There are any number of people who still call themselves Christians today who are quite different from Christians in the past). All of us who are Christians would affirm the words of 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is God-breathed, And beneficial for teaching, For correction, For improvement, For training in righteousness.

I don’t care whether you are a Roman Catholic or a Baptist or a Lutheran or a Pentecostal or Reformed or a Wesleyan, you affirm that Scripture is a God-breathed source of divine teaching and training.

I believe you will also find in every Christian group those who also believe that the Bible is without error. There are Catholics who believe the Bible is without error and Baptists who believe the Bible is without error. There are Lutherans who believe the Bible is without error and Reformed people who believe the Bible is without error. There are Pentecostals who believe the Bible is without error and yes, Wesleyans believe the Bible is without error.

But even saying this brings us to a sobering moment. We have suggested that there are godly, righteous people in all of these groups who will be part of the kingdom of God. And we have suggested that there are people in all these groups who believe the Bible is without error. And yet we still have significant disagreements in what we believe the Bible teaches.

I remember talking to a family member once about the Wesleyan tradition—the Wesleyan tradition thinks this or the Wesleyan tradition does that. After a little while the family member got a little tired of me talking about the Wesleyan tradition. “Stop talking about the Wesleyan tradition,” they said. “We just read the Bible and do what it says.” Yes, and so do the Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Reformed, and Pentecostals I just mentioned.

It would seem that even to say the Bible is without error doesn’t actually say much. The far more crucial question is which interpretation of the Bible is the right one or authoritative one.The fact that God hasn’t got all the godly people from all these different groups on the same page with regard to the details may suggest that the head—at least on these sorts of details—is not God’s first order of business.

That’s what I think. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Preaching tomorrow...

... at IWU. Here's the written version of the introduction:
____________
The calendar says that today is “Wesleyan Day,” which no doubt struck fear into the hearts of any of you who looked at the calendar. All it really means is that most of the prospective students here today are Wesleyans. And you’ll be happy to know that I don’t plan to talk about what a Wesleyan is today—well, not exactly.

Yes, I am a Wesleyan. But I suspect that most of you out there are not. In fact, you may not have a clue what in the world a Wesleyan is. Is that a cult? Kind of like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses? (And, by the way, my apologies to any Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses who might be out there). In fact, I even wonder if those of you out there who are Wesleyans are quite sure what a Wesleyan is.

And of course, what does it really matter anyway? There was a time, long ago in a far away place, when there might have been some people in my tradition who actually thought we were about the only ones going to heaven. (In fact, when I was in high school, I used to be amazed to think that I just happened to be born into the Christian group that had it all right. I mean, how likely is that?!)

I’m a little wiser now (I hope). I still think we’re pretty close to having it all right (smile), but I’ll have to admit that Wesleyans are probably wrong on at least something, even though we don’t know it. And I think you’ll all agree with me that there will surely be Christians “from every tribe and nation”—and church—in the kingdom of God.

Every church—I think—has a flavor and, just maybe, a specialty. Non-denominational churches have flavors too—they just don’t announce what it is on their church signs. Most non-denominational churches are basically Baptist or charismatic.

Baptists, I think, really “get” the security of believers in Christ. God’s not waiting around the corner just looking for an excuse to shoot you. Now, as a Wesleyan I might think they take it a little too far, but I agree that true believers shouldn’t worry about their salvation.

The Reformed Church and Calvinists really “get” the sovereignty of God, His complete control over everything and the fact that He is what everything is about. Pentecostals and charismatics really get the fact that God still does miracles and that His power is available right now in our lives.

I’ve asked myself what the special flavor, the superpower of the Wesleyan tradition might be--Free Methodists, Nazarenes, Methodists, Wesleyans. I think it’s actually quite similar to the Pentecostals. We are optimistic about God’s power to make you morally pure, holy, actually righteous right now and not just in the kingdom to come. You can actually resist every temptation that comes your way, by God’s power.

Not only that, but God often works through us to change the world, right now—not just when Christ returns and forces every knee to bow. I know the idea of world changers can be a little cliché and is even the subject of a course that must not be named. But I believe that there are periods of history where God actually does change the world to be more like the kingdom. That he does sometimes help us do away with slavery or give women equal status to men.

I’ve also realized that different Christian groups have particular passages of Scripture that speak more directly to them than to others. For example, I bet the last part of Romans 8 really jumps out at Baptists—nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. It’s not that I don’t believe this as a Wesleyan. It just don’t hear quite the same thing when I read it.

I’ve asked myself what a good Wesleyan passage might be. Obviously you all would agree with the verse too. But I tried to think of some that might jump out at me given where I’ve come from. Certainly I can think of others, but a couple really jumped out at me. One is Colossians 3:17—“whatever you do in word or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The other one, where the title up on the screen comes from, is in 1 Corinthians 10:31—where the title of today’s sermon comes from: “Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

Like I said, I don’t want to talk today about what a Wesleyan is, today—not exactly. I want to talk about what really gets me excited. You know the things that get your professors going. You know the questions to ask when you want to get them off topic. This morning I want to talk about some things that get me excited. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

State of the Union

If you saw my post on "Church and Politics" yesterday, Obama's State of the Union gives us a good chance to apply it. Was there, for example, anything in his speech that the church should specifically take a position on? Using Mouw and Henry's criteria, I don' t think there was. As individuals we might have more or less informed opinions, but I can't think of anything in the speech where the church should take a specific position.

So on issues like health care, Supreme Court decisions on corporate giving to campaigns, whether or not filibusters are appropriate, how to stimulate the economy, even environmental legislation, Mouw and Henry would say the church should not advocate a specific proposal or approach. Rather, the church stands for general principles--we should make sure no one goes without food, clothing, or essential medical treatment. We should be good stewards of the world God has given us. Etc.

The only potential item is seems to me that even comes close to a church position item was lifting a ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Yet it seems to me that even this issue is different from the church taking a position on whether God favors homosexual behavior. Even this issue seems to be about people rather than practice. Coercive Christian traditions such as the Calvinist tradition might feel compelled to say "no," even though we are talking here about the presence of individuals in a secular, non-Christian institution and not about Christians or what takes place in the church. Questions of how people will behave around certain other people again fall into the area of "individual expertise" (namely psychology and sociology) rather than general principles the church sets down.

Other traditions that believe in free will, "persuasive" Christian traditions such as Arminian ones, will more naturally let individual responsibility and action take its own course in the secular arena while trying to persuade individuals to Christ. All of that is to say, it is not at all clear to me that even this is a subject on which the church would take an official stand if the general principle Mouw and Henry set down is valid. Individuals certainly may, with varying degrees of expertise and or sense of God's leading them.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Church and Politics

Interesting article in Christianity Today by Richard Mouw, President of Fuller, in relation to C. F. H. Henry's view of the church and politics. Here's an excerpt:

[Henry believed that the] church is obliged to "declare the criteria by which nations will ultimately be judged, and the divine standards to which man [sic] and society must conform if civilization is to endure." What the Bible actually says about such matters should "belong legitimately to pulpit proclamation." Evangelicals, he urged, needed to do a more effective job of "enunciating theological and moral principles that bear upon public life."

This did not mean for Henry that the church should get into endorsing specific solutions. A constant theme in his writings was that the church as such has neither the competence nor the authority to address political or economic specifics. He would usually add, though—probably with the memory of Nazi Germany in mind—that there may be "emergency situations" in which the church would have clear mandate from God to address specific evils. But in the normal course of things, the church should leave it up to individuals to take a very general mandate to think and act Christianly in the public arena.
____________
I actually am quite sympathetic to what Henry and now Mouw are thinking here. I don't consider myself as stupid at economics and politics as some think I am, but I never have offered my hunches as positions all Christians or the church should endorse. They are my hunches and musings as an individual Christian. I would be very hesitant of suggesting that the church should support a particular candidate or a particular piece of legislation.

Shouldn't we all?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Situation of Hebrews

Teaching Hebrews again. I don't suppose I've posted very often on the situation. Here's a summary of situation thoughts:

Author
  • male
  • highly educated (one use of Scripture in Heb. 13 is only found elsewhere in Philo)
  • probably Hellenistic Jew
  • not an apostle, not likely Paul
  • possibly in Pauline circle
Destination
  • Rome has most votes ("those from Italy" send greetings back; first shows up in Clement of Rome; most known persecutions in Rome)
  • Some think Asia Minor, perhaps making connection with Colossians
  • Jerusalem was traditional, but rarely suggested today
Audience
  • Greek speaking, Septuagint using
  • have been believers for some time
  • went through a previous crisis (if Rome, either Claudius explusion or Nero persecution)
  • founding leaders probably martyred (13:7, if Rome makes post-Nero most likely)
  • struggling with atonement anxiety (most thus say audience Jewish, but Gentile can't be as easily ruled out here as one might think at first)
  • are demoralized, fatigued, perhaps ramping up to new crisis, are stopping to gather together (Schenck suggests post-temple destruction is a good candidate)
  • Schenck thinks the beginning things they need to relearn in 6 are not things a Jew would learn when believing on Christ, concludes the audience is primarily Gentile
Date
  • If Rome, post-Nero, then post-temple destruction fits best
  • can't be too late if Timothy is Timothy

Monday, January 25, 2010

Comparing Christian Traditions

A friend suggested a make a chart something like this one, but with the Wesleyan tradition as the baseline. Why not? Take this mostly as just having fun. :-)

Wesleyan (0% un-Wesleyan)
1. Apostle's Creed
2. Personal faith experience essential
3. Works follow justification, can nullify salvation
4. Consistent moral purity possible
5. Bible without error (implicitly, as understood by the Wesleyan tradition)
6. Any form of baptism, as long as not thought to save
7. Any view of communion allowed

Methodist (can be 0% un-Wesleyan)
1. Apostle's Creed
2. Personal faith experience can be thought essential
3. Works follow justification, can nullify salvation
4. Consistent moral purity can be thought possible
5. Bible can be thought without error
6. Infant baptism by sprinkling preferred
7. Communion a sacrament

Roman Catholic (at least 20% un-Wesleyan)
1. Apostle's Creed
2. Baptized in church saved, but many non-Catholics will also be saved
3. Works follow justification, can nullify salvation
4. Sin a constant expectation
5. Bible the putative source of theology (explicitly, as understood by the Catholic tradition)
6. Infant baptism very important
7. Eucharist literally becomes the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation)

Southern Baptist (at least 40% un-Wesleyan)
1. Apostle's Creed
2. Personal faith experience essential
3. Works follow justification, but cannot nullify salvation
4. Sin a constant expectation
5. Bible without error (implicitly, as understood by the Southern Baptist tradition)
6. Believer's baptism by immersion very important
7. Communion a memorial of Christ's sacrifice

Lutheran (at least 40% un-Wesleyan)
1. Apostle's Creed
2. Mystery who ends in the church
3. Important not to think about works, although do follow salvation
4. Sin a constant expectation
5. Bible the putative source of theology (implicitly, as understood by the Lutheran tradition)
6. Infant baptism very important
7. Christ comes to be with the Eucharist (consubstantiation)

Reformed (at least 60% un-Wesleyan)
1. Apostle's Creed
2. Predestined will end in the church
3. Works follow justification, but never nullify salvation
4. Sin a constant expectation
5. Bible the putative source of theology (implicitly, as understood by the Reformed tradition)
6. Infant baptism very important
7. Communion a sacrament

"Whither Wheaton"

Scot McKnight (http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/) has drawn attention to this piece that was yanked from Books and Culture at the last minute. Scot McKnight has mentioned it in abbreviated form on his blog:

Wheaton 1
Wheaton 2

Virtually impossible to keep anything quiet or private these days. Don't wait to make your own announcements. Someone in the room will have Twittered it before you even leave the meeting. I don't know how to change our privacy laws, but I wonder if they will be to our detriment in the twenty-first century.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Josephus Observed: Apion 1

Finished Josephus' Against Apion, Book 1 tonight, two days behind schedule. For a few highlights: http://yearwithjosephus.blogspot.com/.

Good stuff.

9.4 A Soul in a Body, Part 1

The earlier parts of this chapter were:

9.1 Biological Machines
9.2 Socially-Constructed Identity
9.3 Existentialism and Identity

A Soul in a Body, Part 1:
When we who are Christians affirm the “Apostle’s Creed,” we confess our belief in the “forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Popular Christianity often misses the meaning of Christian faith in “the resurrection of the body.” It is an affirmation that, one day in the future, God will transform our dead corpses (or whatever is left of them) into new bodies, and we will come back from the dead, possibly on an equally transformed earth. The “resurrection of the body” is thus something distinct from the “immortality of the soul,” even if the two ideas do not necessarily contradict each other. The idea that “you die and go to heaven or hell” is thus slightly different from what most Christians in the past have believed. It would be more accurate to say that most Christians in history have traditionally believed that you die and go to a place of reward or torment to wait for the final resurrection and judgment, after which you will go either to eternal life or condemnation.

So where does the idea of the soul come in? As we will see, we do find some language in the New Testament that seems to relate to “disembodied” existence between our deaths and our resurrections—whether for eternal life or death. But we ironically find very little language in the Bible that speaks of “souls” in this way. The idea that we have a detachable soul, which comes into existence at least at our conception and continues to exist forever, arguably came into Christian tradition more from the influence of Greek philosophy than from the Bible itself.[i]

Nevertheless, it became the consensus of Christendom, not only that at some point in the future we will receive resurrection bodies, but that we have immortal souls. When the vast majority of Christians have believed something for so long, we must surely be very cautious about drawing a different conclusion. Those of us who are Protestants have room for “reformation,” particularly when the majority seems to have deviated from the founding principles and practices of earliest Christianity. But some developments from New Testament times seem like appropriate extensions or refinements of first principles and practices, even clarifications of tensions or ambiguities within the earliest church. So it would seem we can neither dismiss common elements of historic Christianity easily nor completely affirm them without the possibility of reformation or development.

At the same time, no human being can remove their thinking completely from the categories of their times and places. You could argue that it is not so much the existence of the soul that is the important consensus but rather what language of the soul was really about. We could argue that belief in the soul has primarily been about our continued existence after death. The soul also provides potential mechanisms to explain our individual identity or even free will. For others, the existence of a soul at conception might provide an argument against abortion when as yet an embryo not only has no blood or breath—the biblical images of life—but has no nerves to feel pain, let alone has thought. You could at least argue that what is important is that we can affirm these things—continued existence, continued identity—rather than a particular version of human psychology...

[i] The church father Origen (AD185-254) believed that God created all the souls of humankind when He made the world. He thus believed that our souls pre-existed our conception. He also believed that, since all souls were good, all humans would be good after they were freed of their bodies. He is thus the earliest known Christian “universalist,” someone who believes everyone will be saved in the end. For this reason he was posthumously excommunicated several centuries after his death.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Coping Mechanisms? Noll's New Shape

One of the books I hope to buy and skim this year is Mark Noll's The New Shape of World Christianity. From what I hear, it is intended as somewhat of a corrective to Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom.

It also gets put in my new category, "scholarly coping mechanisms." I haven't read the book yet, so it is just a warning category right now. My new category relates to an earlier post on how certain ideological tribes within scholarship (both liberal and conservative) crank up their scholarly machines to address "naughty data" that has emerged. Rather than following the data to its most probable conclusions, they apply their considerable intellect and creativity to possible ones that are more convenient for their tribes.

Now I do suspect that there may be some skew to Jenkins' book as well. But I'm putting Noll's new book on the "coping mechanism" list until I get a good sense of whether he is legitimately correcting Jenkins or whether this is another example of scholarly coping mechanism.

9.3 Existentialism and Identity

Previous posts in this chapter have been:
9.1 Biological Machines
9.2 Socially-Constructed Identity

9.3 Existentialism and Identity
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), one of the best known atheists and skeptics of the 1800s, is often quoted for his famous line, “God is dead.”[i] However, Nietzsche’s point in saying it was not so much to argue for the non-existence of God as to show what he thought the implications were.[ii] The twentieth century saw a proliferation of atheism, and we may very well be witnessing a further decline in Christianity in North America already this century as well.[iii] Many of those who adopt an atheist position do so with the same ignorance that Nietzsche himself talked about well over a hundred years ago. In that respect, Nietzsche is sometimes called a prophet of the twentieth century. Popular atheism failed to recognize the potentially disastrous consequences of what a world without God might look like, potentially justifying things like holocausts and world annihilation.

In his 1882 book, The Gay Science, Nietzsche depicts a madman coming to a marketplace where a group of people are more celebratory than anything at the fact that God is dead (125). The madman tries to make them realize what they have done in killing God, but they are uninterested. He finally goes away, concluding that they do not know what the consequences will be. In particular, the madman claims that we will have to become like gods to be worthy of having killed God. What Nietzsche meant is fairly clear from his other writings, not least his novel, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

If God is dead, Nietzsche argued, then we are entirely responsible for who we are and what we do.[iv] Echoing Fyodor Dostoevsky, who did believe in God, Nietzsche would write that if God does not exist, “Nothing is true; everything is permissible.”[v] Nietzsche thus developed his understanding of the “superman,” the person who has a strong enough will to create him or herself. Ordinary people, “men” needed God to tell them who they are and what they can and cannot do. If God is dead, then “men” must either become “supermen” and create their own identities, or they must follow and obey those who do have such a “will to power.”[vi]

Nietzsche’s philosophy thus both stood at the end of a long deterioration of theism while also trying to find meaning in a meaningless world.[vii] In chapter 7, we looked at some of the changes in Western culture that led from a world in which almost everyone believed that God existed and was actively involved in the world (theism) to the Enlightenment where many believed God had created the world but was no longer involved (deism) to a worldview in which everything could be explained on a purely natural and scientific basis (naturalism). What Nietzsche effectively predicted was that a world in which God does not exist to give meaning to the world is a nihilistic world, a world that lacks any intrinsic meaning or purpose. If God does not exist as a Guarantor of meaning and right and wrong, then everything is ultimately meaningless.

At the same time, Nietzsche anticipated a twentieth century movement called existentialism. It is a “glass is half empty” view to say that everything is meaningless. The “glass is half full” view that corresponds to it is to consider everything as equally meaningful. If there is no real or intrinsic meaning to the world, then any meaning I adopt and make my own is just as meaningful as anything else. The existentialists of the mid-twentieth century thus taught that we create our own identities. We make ourselves what we are. Therefore, an existentialist would say we are whatever we will ourselves to be. A human person is a creator of identity, and identity is self-constructed.

Probably the best known existentialists of the twentieth century were Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) and Albert Camus (1913-60). Sartre captures existentialism well, particularly atheistic existentialism, in his motto, “Existence precedes essence.” Existence is whether or not we exist, that we are. By contrast, our essence is what we are. Our essential characteristics are the things that, if you changed them, we would be someone different. Sartre himself put it in this way:

"What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man [sic] first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards… Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man simply is. Not that he is simply what he conceives himself to be, but he is what he wills, and as he conceives himself after already existing – as he wills to be after that leap towards existence. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism" (“Existence is a Humanism,” 1946).

Sartre is basically saying the same thing as Nietzsche did. Humanity has no objective identity, no “what it really is” and no “what it should be.” We are born; we come into existence. But we are the ones who have to decide what we are, what our essence will be. “Man [sic] is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.”[viii] For Sartre, therefore, none of us have a destiny. We have to determine who we are.

Quotes
“A man [sic] can live with any how, if he has a why.” Victor Frankl

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” Simone de Beauvoir

“Every man [sic] is born as many men and dies as a single one.” Martin Heidegger

At the same time, it does not matter to the atheistic existentialist what we choose to be. One identity is as legitimate as any other. Albert Camus (pronounced Al-BEAR Ca-MOO) is known for saying that, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”[ix] Behind this comment was the idea that life itself has no objective meaning. It does not matter whether we live or die. Camus wrote a number of novels in the genre of the theater of the absurd. In novels like The Stranger, he portrayed matters of life and death taking place by pure chance and happenstance, with matters we experience as incredibly serious treated casually and as insignificant. Things we might consider absurd are really no different from things we consider significant.

The positive is that any reason we find to live, to go on, becomes valid. Why have you not committed suicide? Any reason you have to live is as legitimate as it is absurd. Go with it.
Do you love to help the needy and liberate the oppressed? Wonderful! You have found a reason to live. Do you love collecting rocks or stamps or repeatedly seeing how many times you can hop on one leg? Great! Go for it. You have found a reason to live.

While we might most associate existentialism with atheism, we can also speak of a certain Christian existentialism. Indeed, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55), whom we have met before, has as much claim to be the founder of existentialism as anyone else. As we saw in chapter 2, Kierkegaard is the one that promoted ideas like a “leap of faith” or “blind faith.” For him, we cannot find any compelling rational basis for our faith. Therefore, our faith is a matter of our choice. We take a leap of faith into Christian faith. The problem with Kierkegaard’s approach, of course, is that it gives us no compelling reason not to jump just as well into Islam or atheism.

Nevertheless, some of the imagery of existentialism can fit with certain forms of Christianity. Existentialism emphasizes the importance of identity as a matter of individual choice. While Christians do not believe the nature of this identity is a free-for-all or a matter of individual determination, many Christians do believe that a person can be “born again” as a new person, a new creation by a choice for Christ. The New Testament itself uses the imagery of moving from death to life (e.g., 1 John 3:14). Many Christians might say, thus, that we take on our true identity when we make a choice to have faith.[x]

[i] Nietzsche makes this statement both in The Gay Science (1882) and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85).
[ii] That is to say, Nietzsche concluded early in his life that God did not exist. His writings were not arguments to advance the idea that God did not exist but rather his sense of what the implications of God’s non-existence were for morality and human identity.
[iii] A book to consult here is The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christendom (Oxford: Oxford University, 2007).
[iv] Another key work of Nietzsche here is Beyond Good and Evil (1886).
[v] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, part 4, “The Shadow.” Nietzsche and Dostoevsky apparently reached similar conclusions independently about what is true if God does not exist. However, Dostoevsky did so with faith that God actually did exist. His novel Crime and Punishment (1866) is an apt expression of his understanding.
[vi] It is generally argued that Nietzsche would not have thought of Hitler as such a “Superman,” even though Hilter himself did,
[vii] An interesting book that aims at tracing the philosophical deterioration of faith in God over the last few centuries is James Sire’s, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009).
[viii] “Existence is Humanism.”
[ix] The Myth of Sisyphus.
[x] The Zeitgeist or spirit of the age has in fact often taken Christians too far. Historically, Christianity has not believed that I can decide to have faith in my own power. Orthodox Christianity believes that it is only by God’s gracious empowerment that anyone can make a choice for God.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

9.2 Socially-Contructed Identity

The first post of this chapter, "What is a Human Being?" was Biological Machines. Now for the second:

9.2 Socially Constructed Identity
We are often unaware of the degree to which we are different from others until we meet someone different from us. This dynamic is true of our personalities. We might assume that someone who does not plan out their future in detail is irresponsible or, visa versa, that someone who plans things out in detail is boring and inflexible. The truth is rather that both personalities have their strengths and weaknesses, and neither should look down on the other.

What is true of individuals is also true of culture. Cultures as a whole can take on personalities, although we must always be careful not to stereotype or “pre-judge” an individual’s identity or probable behavior simply because of where he or she is from. However, cultures usually do have different norms, ideas, and practices. And you often cannot see the idiosyncrasies of your own culture until you live a while in another and can see your own looking in from the outside.

One of the benefits of intercultural experience is to realize that most of these differences are not a matter of right or wrong—cultures are just different from each other. This realization is especially important when it comes to reading the Bible. Do Christian women today need to veil their heads when they pray or prophesy in worship (1 Cor. 11:5)? Do Christians need to abstain from pork (Lev. 11:7)? Must the husband be the head of the household in the twenty-first century United States (1 Cor. 11:3)? These are all issues raised by instructions various books of the Bible gave that were very relevant to the cultural situations of their day. At the same time, they all seem far removed from contemporary Western culture. So do they still apply?

Our identity, thinking, and behavior as human beings are far more “socially-constructed” than we might at first imagine. One of the ground breaking books of this dimension of human existence was Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman’s The Social Construction of Reality.[i] They write, “to be given an identity involves being assigned a specific place in the world.”[ii] One grows up with experiences of how your parents and those around you treat you and eventually makes general assumptions about how “everyone” should act and be treated. This becomes a part of our sense of who we are—the “internalization of society as such and of the objective reality established therein, and, at the same time, the subjective establishment of a coherent and continuous identity.”[iii]

We thus largely absorb our default understanding of what a human being is from our environment growing up. These understandings are some of the most basic ways we think about ourselves and others around us—and some of the elements of our thinking about which we tend to be most unreflective. In the West, for example, children are often raised to be individualists who can sharply distinguish themselves from their families and starting point in life. We often think of ourselves as free to determine who we are, whom we marry, and what we want to be.

However, this understanding does not seem to be the default way in which most human beings think about themselves. The majority of cultures both in the past and present have not tended to think of themselves in this way. The West cherishes the freedom of individuals to determine their own identity and to have individual influence on society at large. But most cultures in history have valued remaining true to your inherited identity and societal structure, with certain select individuals destined to lead the vast majority of “lessers.” The contrast between these two perspectives—both largely un-reflected upon—has been particularly evident when the West has tried to “help” other cultures in the area of freedom and democracy without clearly taking the distinctions into full account.

[textbox: collectivist culture, individualist culture]

The distinction also comes into play for Western Christians when we read the books of the Bible, which were written in what are sometimes called collectivist cultures, cultures
in which a person’s identity is primarily embedded in the groups to which you belong, particularly your race, family, and gender.[iv] Westerners will tend to read simple words like “I” and “you” with all the assumptions they make when they use these words in reference to themselves and others as individuals. But many of these assumptions will not hold true for what biblical authors and audiences were thinking.

In collectivist or group cultures, individuals have more what is called dyadic personality. A person defines themselves primarily in terms of their external relationships and the way others perceive them rather than by personal self-identification. Men are a certain way and women are another. Jews are one way and Greeks are another. Wealthy people are this way and poor people another.

In reality, of course, people and people groups are much more complex than simple stereotypes. But most human brains can only differentiate things by way of a relatively small number of distinctions. We inevitably learn things and process the world by categorizing things, by putting things into “boxes.”[v] In group cultures, these boxes are relatively large and are sanctioned by culture and “tribe.” We tend to ignore the things that don’t fit in our boxes—or label such people as deviant—while highlighting those things that fit with our preconceived categories. Such boxes thus have an inherent tendency to skew reality, despite the fact that we cannot think without them.[vi]

The biblical texts are filled with reflections of the group orientation of its authors and audiences. While Christians affirm Israel as God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, the relationship God has with Israel has a number of characteristics that fit with the way other ancient peoples understood their relationship with their chief god. For example, the most likely original wording of Deuteronomy 32:8 pictures Israel’s God as “God Most High” assigning the lesser gods to the other nations of the world.[vii] Different peoples had different gods as their special patrons. Their gods were part of their identity, went to war with them, and so forth.

The fact that the Egyptians detested shepherds who herded sheep (Gen. 46:34) suggests that the Old Testament prohibition against pork was as much a matter of ethnic identity as anything else, despite the common claim that it had to do with health issues. The surrounding Philistines, Moabites, and Ammonites ate pork, Israelites and Canaanites of the central plain did not. And since gods were part of this identity, to eat pork was thus indirectly to associate with the gods of the surrounding peoples as well. When the Prodigal Son of Luke 15 finds himself feeding pigs, a Jewish audience would have immediately recognized that he had left Israel and, by implication, Israel’s God.

The New Testament also reflects group embedded identity, although much of it also undermines traditional groupings. Titus reinforces the stereotype that “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Tit. 1:12). Today we would want to emphasize that every individual from a place like Crete should be allowed to determine by their own actions whether they are a liar or not. We would call such a statement prejudicial. But it is typical of collectivist, “us-them,” thinking.

The household codes of Ephesians 5-6, Colossians 3-4, and 1 Peter 2-3 largely embody stereotypically ancient roles for men and women, slaves and free, parents and children. Passages like Galatians 3:28 are far more distinctive and unique in the ancient world: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.” Of course the ancient world also allowed for “deviants.” Aristotle, for example, can speak of certain women who are a “departure from nature” in their fitness to lead others (Politics 1.1259b). Again, today in the Western world we would recognize that such boxes are as much a matter of culture as of nature and would argue that an individual should be defined by his or her actions and intentions rather than presupposing how someone will act or think because of the groups to which they belong.

A group culture is more oriented around external honor and shame rather than internal guilt for violating your own values.[viii] Westerners tend not to notice statements in the Bible like, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Rom. 1:16), Jesus scorning the shame of the cross (Heb. 12:2), God crowning humanity with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5), or sex with an aunt uncovering the “nakedness” of an uncle (Lev. 18:14). Even the “blesseds” of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are about receiving honor from God despite the shame or apparent foolishness of earthly peacemaking or poverty. We have changed the meaning when we read them in terms of individual happiness.

So what is a human person, as far as most of the world in most times and most places throughout history is concerned? The predominant answer has been that there are different types of persons depending on their groups—their social location. Ancient Jews divided the world into Jews and non-Jews (Rom. 1:16). Greeks divided the world into Greeks and barbarians (Rom. 1:14). There are slaves and free individuals. There are men and women. There are the rich and everyone else. We would argue that the default understanding of the human person, in so far as how people understand people, has historically been to define them externally in terms of the key groups to which they belong.

That is not to say, however, that we do not find expressions of common or universal personhood, especially in what we might call wisdom or proverbial type literature. “All people are like grass, and all human faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fail, because the breath of the LORD blows on them” (Isa. 40:6-7). “Man is born for uprightness. If a man lose his uprightness and yet live, his escape from death is mere good fortune.”[ix] Yet even in the proverbial wisdom of the ancients, we generally find people divided up into types like “righteous” and “wicked,” with little sense of the possibility for someone to change from one to another or little allowance for mixture.

[i] The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor, 1966).
[ii] Social Construction, 132.
[iii] Social Construction, 133.
[iv] See, for example, Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology ***.
[v] Cf. Jean Piaget’s theory of learning.
[vi] See chap. 16 and postmodernism.
[vii] The Dead Sea Scrolls have confirmed that the ancient Greek translation of Deuteronomy 32:8 was actually more original than the Hebrew texts we had prior to 1947. They read, “When [the Most High] ... separated [humankind, he set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of] the children of God” (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible ***).
[viii] Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology...
[ix] Confucius

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Does God rig elections?

Interesting election tonight in Massachusetts. I get the impression the loser deserved to lose. But was this an act of God? To stop the health care bill? To steer it?

I would never venture an answer to such questions. The same group one year can speak of God's hand and vindication. Then the next election they might have to attribute the result to Satan. Does God rig elections? Maybe. But I doubt you or I will ever know for sure when and why.

It would seem odd to claim God's hand in victory with the election of Brown if--assuming the likely position of the person who would say this--God wasn't able to pull off the election of McCain.

But who knows? Maybe God is behind this result--God, whose ways are past finding out...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wesleyan-Arminian Confession

I've been using the Anglican liturgy for five years now in the liturgical service I preside at for College Wesleyan Church. I've always been unhappy with the confession. It is a corporate confession as much as an individual one, so I have swallowed hard the presumption in the Anglican confession that we will have sinned intentionally or unintentionally. Isn't it at least possible in theory that in the course of a week, the people of God might have been entirely pleasing to God? I think so, regardless of how many few weeks it might be.

So here is a suggestion for a Wesleyan-Arminian revision.
___
Almighty and most merciful Father, all we like sheep have gone astray and have turned to our own way. We follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We offend against your holy laws. We leave undone those things that we ought to have done, and do those things that we ought not to do.

But you, O Lord, have mercy on us. Spare those who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to humanity in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Josephus Observed

Finished Josephus' Life yesterday, two days late. On to his "Against Apion" on my "Year with Josephus" blog.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mousetraps, Seminaries, and new friends...

The new seminary group finished their first class today and, from what I hear, had as good a time as the first. We always end these first weeks with "ropes course" type activities. This time it was indoors (the first group will be jealous) and involved jumping rope and trusting each other to set off mousetraps with our eyes closed.

Here's some of the group (the rest are scattered around the edges of the room) after we all successfully disarmed the traps without losing any fingers.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Best Steaks in Marion

Everyone's a critic...

I hardly ever order steaks anywhere in Marion or in Kokomo. I don't like Outback steaks or Texas Roadhouse steaks. I don't like Ruth Chris Steakhouse steaks.

The best steaks in Marion, in my unsophisticated opinion, are from Sirloin Stockade. And the best steaks I know in Indianapolis, in my uncultured opinion, are from O'Charlies. In my uneducated opinion, you'll do better than most of the 20 dollar steak places if you marinate your steaks for a few minutes in Soy Sauce before cooking them yourself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

IWU--New Chapel Opening

We were privileged to open a new chapel today at IWU. It is a magnificent building that will make graduations much easier. Although we are staying with two chapels, we were able to house everyone in one service today.

My favorite part of the service today, strangely, was the closing prayer of Joan Bardsley, wife of the late Rev. Harold Bardsley. She spoke vibrantly of her husband's enthusiasm for the ministry of IWU and his excitement about this chapel, which unfortunately he was not able to see opened.

I hope God will help us keep that spirit of spontaneity and spiritual vibrancy amid the professionalism and traditional academics that seem so much the new emphasis of our current phase of existence. May IWU continue to be a living, Spirit-filled, personable, exciting and entrepeneurial place to be, as well as a place of increasing respectability and traditional rigor!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Formative vs. Summative Prophecy

There is a psychological dynamic among much of American Christianity that pushes us to want to "call sin sin," to "call out the sinner," to "speak truth to power." But my observation is that much of this dynamic is a pronouncement of judgment, much like Jonah at Ninevah. In other words, it is not proclamation for change. It is just enjoyable venting.

There is something about this dynamic that seems inevitably self-satisfying and low on the moral development scale. We enjoy it. It makes us feel good. It's like a kind of gossip on steriods that we (self-servingly) justify because it looks a little like some prophecy in the Bible.

But truly Christian prophecy is prophecy for change and is as different from this sort of child-level telling off as what God had in mind for Nineveh differed from what Jonah had in mind. God will one day pronounce a summative judgment on all flesh, a final verdict. But especially for Arminians, almost all prophecy on this side of eternity must at least be hopeful formative prophecy, prophecy that longs for change in those to whom we speak.

Perhaps this is the best way to distinguish between the kind of judging we are not to do as believers (e.g., Matt. 7:1) and the kind of judging we must do (e.g., 1 Cor. 5). God is the Judge. He will make the summative verdict. Our judgments, on the other hand, must work toward redemption.

The problem as always is our rationalizations in the face of a lack of self-knowledge. We enjoy pointing out other people's sins and sin ourselves in the process. These are very simple psychological phenomenon and nothing spiritual at all.

There is a vast difference between the rather child-level, psychologically based drive to tell others what to do and where to go (calling sin, sin) and preaching for the redemption of souls and bodies. There is a significant difference between the prophetic drive to stand up for the oppressed that we see in Old Testament prophets and Jesus and the more Jonah-like drive to see the demise of those whose personal sins we want to see God punish today. Christian preaching is not oriented around punishment but around redemption.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Second Seminary Group Begins!

Our second group of seminary students started today at Wesley Seminary@IWU. 31 new students to add to 27 from the Fall, making 58 MDIV students (making over 200 total students in the seminary when you add the existing MA students).

Here's a picture of today's group. You can see the new seminary head up front, Rev. Dr. Wayne Schmidt, about to give devotions. Russ Gunsalus, the previous head is in the front corner (he's teaching the class).
Next group start is in May. Start praying about signing up!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2nd Lecture: Finishing 1 Corinthians 11

There were three more segments on 1 Corinthians 11 at the beginning of the second lecture. Here are the links to them.

Part 6: From the second lecture, but this gives my sense of what husband headship has to do with women in ministry--my answer is nothing. Paul does not connect the two issues.

Part 7: Some background literature (Joseph and Aseneth) to 1 Corinthians 11

Part 8: This second part of the second lecture gives my final sense of 1 Corinthians 11, the bottom line on its meaning.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

You are Adam

No, not the Adam of Garden of Eden fame, although you are him too. I just couldn't think of a better title.

My wife and I watched a move called Adam this morning. I enjoyed it but my wife hated the ending. I'm not necessarily recommending you see it.

In the movie, Adam is a 29 year old man with Asperger's syndrome, although he is highly functioning, can hold down a job, etc. But there are things he doesn't see. He doesn't get humor very well. He has difficulty knowing when his banter about astrophysics is absolutely boring. He doesn't get the concept of holding your tongue very well--or of white lies. He is completely honest--which gets him into trouble socially.

The movie is a drama, not a comedy, but it's not too dramatic. It won't win any awards. But it occurred to me that one of the problems we all have is that we all are like Adam but we don't realize it.

There are things we are good at, things we "get." But almost all of us have blind spots, areas where we don't realize we don't get it. And, ironically, these are often the areas where we think everyone else is stupid!

It is a simple observation--this is an area where someone else can do X just as easy as a fish swims in water. You probably have some of these areas too--where you're the fish in water. Your blind spot might be the weakness that goes with your Fish-Strength.

So in what area of life do you have "Blind Spot Syndrome"?

Friday, January 08, 2010

In Trust article on Wesley Seminary@IWU

We were delighted to be featured in this issue of In Trust magazine. This periodical is the standard periodical for theological schools. Mike Cline, former IWU student and Bethel Seminary student, helped in the researching of the article.

You can find the article online here.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Women in Ministry Lecture 1 (1 Corinthians 11)

Below is the first Spring 2009 lecture I gave at Indiana Wesleyan University on women in ministry on 1 Corinthians 11.

Part 1: Galatians 3:28 as possible Christian tradition

Part 2: patriarchal cultures (including the biblical ones) had space for exceptional women leaders

Part 3: We don't know all the circumstances behind Paul's comments on women.

Part 4: Nothing uniquely Christian in the Bible about male headship in the ancient world.

Part 5: What's up with the head covering thing?

Part 6: From the second lecture, but this gives my sense of what husband headship has to do with women in ministry--my answer is nothing. Paul does not connect the two issues.

Part 7: Some background literature (Joseph and Aseneth) to 1 Corinthians 11

Part 8: This second part of the second lecture gives my final sense of 1 Corinthians 11, the bottom line on its meaning.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Kamesar's Philo 2

I posted previously on Danny Schwartz's first chapter on Philo's life. Here let me give notice of chapter 2, by James Royse (apparently with some additions by Kamesar): "The Works of Philo."

This is an excellent chapter! If you want to get an overview of Philo's writings, this is the place. His works are generally divided into five groups:

1. His Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus
This is one of the three great series Philo wrote and is aimed at a fairly introductory level audience.

2. The Allegorical Commentary
Probably this is the work that Philo is best known for. Philo often accepts the literal meaning of biblical passages, but he especially values the allegorical meanings.

3. The Exposition of the Law
This is my favorite by far of the three series, not only including his biographies of Abraham and such but also his treatise "On the Creation of the World." Greg Sterling's review disagrees with the majority position of Philo scholars in that he places the two volume Life of Moses as the beginning of this series. I prefer Sterling's position.

I might note that the book form was not in use at the time of Christ, so we have to use clues in the texts themselves and in ancients who referred to them to decide which of Philo's books went with which series. This is the brilliance of Philo scholarship, the piecing together they have done (although admittedly it doesn't come close to the work done by Dead Sea Scroll scholars). Royse's lists and summaries of the books are excellent.

4. Philo's Apologetic and Historical Works
Philo's treatises on Caligula and the Roman governor Flaccus are great places to dive into his writings. Most put his Life of Moses here as well.

5. Philosophical Works
Some are perhaps his earliest, some are probably among his latest.

Great overview of his works!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Berger/Luckman Quotes

Was researching with Berger and Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality today. Here are some quotes:

"All human activity is subject to habilitualization" (53).

"Institutionalization occurs whenever there is a reciprocal typification of habilitualized actions by types of actors" (54).

"... the institutionalizing process of reciprocal typification would occur even if two individuals began to interact de novo" (55).

If two strangers were to encounter each other for the first time in some somewhat isolated situation, "typifications will be produced quite quickly" (56)... "a social world will be in process of construction, containing within it the roots of an expanding institutional order" (57).

If they have children, these habituations and routines take on objectivity. "'There we go again' becomes 'This is how these things are done'" (59).

Externalization leads to objectivation to internalization. "only with the appearance of a new generation can one properly speak of a social world" (61) (would be interesting to pursue this in relation to early Christianity).

"The ediface of legitimations is built on language" (64). "... every institution has a body of transmitted recipe knowledge, that is, knowledge that supplies the institutionally appropriate rules of conduct" (65).

Experiences retained in consciousness need to congeal in recollection (sedimentation). This needs to be objectivated in a sign system, usually language (67).

"The past history of the society can be reinterpreted without necessarily upsetting the institutional order as a result" (69).

"... since human beings are frequently stupid, institutional meanings tend to become simplified in the process of transmission, so that the given collection of institutional 'formulae' can be readily learned and memorable by successive generations" (70).

Friday, January 01, 2010

Dunn Quote

Quote from Dunn's Jesus Remembered: When looking at figures across a historical gulf like Jesus, "the absence of some element of strangeness probably indicates that the depth of historical distance and the degree of historical difference have been underestimated" (49).

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