Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Preachers and Presidents...

It was announced yesterday that IWU has a new president.  Provost David Wright has become President David Wright.  Dr. Wright is well known far and wide for his innovation, his burden for global witness (he's an MK by heritage), his academic-institutional prowess, and his wisdom in general. I think we will be truly amazed at the creative things that will come out of his presidency.

As an example of his wisdom, Steve Deneff quoted him at the Emerging Preachers Conference this week, which was a cooperative between College Wesleyan Church and Wesley Seminary.  Deneff remembers David telling him that there were three basic kinds of preachers: 1) those who are gifted with words, 2) those who are gifted with people, and 3) those who are gifted with organization.

I thought the preaching conference went great, with Lenny Luchetti being the main force behind it.  Some of the emerging preachers preached and coach teams gave them valuable feedback.  Great insights were doled out by the likes of Steve Deneff, Keith Drury, Wayne Schmidt, Lenny Luchetti, and Safiyah Fosua.  I find conferences rare where insights are as common as they were at this conference.

Great experience!

I'm off to Turkey for a few days, so my posts may become sporadic... or maybe they won't. :-)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wesleyan Doctrine of Holiness Class

I taught one of our denominational requirements the last part of this week for FLAME. I haven't taught for FLAME for over 10 years, so it was fun. I have to take my hat off to Wayne Richards for the incredible organizational skill he has and for the way he has created an incredible grass roots community across the church for those moving toward ordination.

What is the state of the doctrine of holiness in the church among this group of emerging ministers? It is probably as mixed as your average Wesleyan district is. Here are some observations:

1. The old language of eradicating the carnal nature is dead. Nobody thinks in these sorts of terms. I tried to see if I could sell the following language: the Spirit part of your life can so come to dominate the flesh part of your life that you love God and others with ease, overcome temptation with ease, and sometimes don't even notice that your flesh part is even there.

Some were good with that, I think. I frankly don't think a person is Wesleyan ministerial material if they can't at least agree to this much.

2. I think everyone largely agreed that debates over the "how" were distracting. Focus on the "instantaneous" versus "progressive" piece tends to get people's eye off the ball, which is the goal that a person 1) be fully surrendered to God to the best of their knowledge and 2) be empowered by the Spirit to love God and others with delight and consistently make the right choice in temptation with delight.

I think almost everyone in the class found the Discipline statement puzzling and incommunicative, more of an obstacle to the doctrine (especially in terms of outsiders/doctrinal skeptics) than helpful.

3. Here's my short version:

Those who believe in Christ often find that there are areas of their lives that they either haven't surrendered to God or struggle to surrender to God. They experience their early Christian life as a series of struggles to do what they know God wants them to do, like the person Paul pictures in Romans 7.

Sometimes, this leads to a major struggle with some really big item, something that potentially is "make or break" for continuing to serve God.  It's like you've given God almost all the rooms in the house but there is this one broom closet that you don't want him to go in.

But when you finally surrender everything you know to surrender to him--and commit to continue to surrender all the new things that will eventually come up--there is usually a release.  This full surrender, to the best of your knowledge, makes it possible for God to empower you for good on a whole new level, to give you a fullness of the Holy Spirit, so to speak.

It's like the plug wasn't fully in the wall up to that point and now it's all the way in.  The power's not cutting in and out now. It's like the fruit is ripe and mature.

Of course, just because the plug is all the way in doesn't mean that you can't grow to take more voltage. It's just that the plug is now all the way in.  The connection is solid, the way it's supposed to be. There's plenty of room for growing to take more power. There's an infinite supply on the other side of the plug.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Going to Heaven

I suspect that most of us grew up talking about dying and going to heaven.  Anyone grow up with the hymn, "When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be"?  If I remember correctly, that's even how Wesley talked about it.

You may have noticed that I try not to talk about "going to heaven" in my language. I talk about "getting into the kingdom." That's because the more historical view of Christianity--and the more prevalent view of the New Testament--is that eternity will be on a renewed earth. N. T. Wright has hammered this point, maybe over-hammered it, in his book Surprised by Hope.

Some thoughts:
1. This is the dominant New Testament view. Matthew 8:11 and its parallels clearly picture the banquet at the commencement of eternity as being on earth. Romans 8:20-21 talks about the restoration of the creation to its original, uncorrupted form. Revelation 21:2 speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem coming down to earth. So it is more biblical to speak of eternity on a renewed earth than going off to heaven forever.

2. The idea that we die and go to heaven forever became dominant, apparently, in the Enlightenment of the 1700s. It was thus a product of a trajectory away from believing that God would transform our bodies. It is a reflection of the faith crisis of that age, of the rise of the idea of a new view of the soul. It was movement away from traditional faith. It was a view that fit the scientific age more comfortably.

Even today, you find some Christians who think the empty tomb a trivial point, perhaps even irrelevant. They confuse resurrection with afterlife. "So you go to heaven when you die," they might say. "Who cares what happens to your body?"  This is a new development in history from the skepticism of the 1700s.

3. Now, I'm not wanting to get too down on "go to heaven" talk.  There is a certain kind of condescending tone the Wrights and such can get on this topic.  "Oh, you don't know that the kingdom will come to the earth."  They dismiss what I believe is evidence for the opposite view in John and Hebrews. And things get really symbolic when you start talking about eternity, so I think we have to be a little tentative about these sorts of things, including the precise nature of hell.

My point here is, if you've never heard of this sort of discussion, to let you in it so some arrogant know-it-all doesn't call you out as stupid or heretical because "you didn't know." But they probably do have the weight more on their side. Both the more historic Christian position and the predominant view of the New Testament is that eternity will be down here on a renewed earth.

I thought you'd like to know, if you hadn't heard :-)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Notes on Luther 1

Some day I would like either to blog or write through church history. This was my last week doing the Bible-theology-church history for a leadership class and we ended with a recap of Luther.  I haven't done nearly enough research on Luther for it to count fully, but I thought I would put down some notes from today that I could pick up at some point in the future.

1. In hindsight, we tend to see the factors leading up to a major event out of proportion to their significance at the time. If we are involved in an event, we may get some hindsight. If we are outsiders, we will tend to see the lead up to an event in a skewed way. For example, was there truly any failing in not catching the Boston Marathon bombers beforehand? There may be room for improvement, but was the process of vigilance at the time normal and appropriate? After all, we have to balance the free life we all enjoy as Americans with threats like these.

So it surely could not even have occurred to Luther that he might start a new church or a movement of withdrawal from the Roman Catholic Church. It simply wasn't even conceivable, surely. Luther thought a number of things were wrong with his church--his church, the church, the only church. He hoped they could be corrected. He was not trying to leave. That simply wasn't on anyone's radar.

2. Luther was a medieval person.  He was a decidedly pre-modern individual.  When there was a thunderstorm, he didn't think of barometric pressure, electric charges, or condensation. He thought of spirits and demons. The line that we may draw so solidly with Luther is hindsight.  He was not born in the modern age.

He committed to become a monk in a bad thunderstorm, calling on St. Anne for protection.

3. I imagine Luther's brief encounter with Rome in 1510, before that fateful day in 1517, had a major effect on him. What he saw in Rome was a world that seemed to have little to do with the kingdom of God. He saw the resources of peasants being spent on opulence. He saw a materialistic world that was not focused on spiritual things. Perhaps he saw immorality.

Basically, he saw a building project (St. Peter's) supported by the doctrine of purgatory and indulgences.  You pay money, the Pope gives you time out of purgatory. Our ideas rarely exist in some Platonic vacuum. This experience no doubt had a major impact on Luther's drive to find a way theologically to do away with indulgences. We shouldn't think that his ideas of "faith alone" and "Scripture alone" came out of nowhere. They followed naturally from his concrete hatred of the injustice he saw in papal indulgences.

3. In Luther's own words, he hated the idea of the idea of "righteousness of God" in Romans 1:17 because he heard in it the "justice of God" (iustitia dei).  Perhaps his hatred here also related to his hatred of the idea of purgatory, the place where God's justice was allegedly satisfied. He kept his monastic vows.

It was perhaps somewhere around the year 1516 that he had his breakthrough.  What if Romans 1:17 isn't talking about the justice of God being revealed in the gospel but a righteousness that God gives us, a righteousness from God.  What if the gospel is about God declaring us righteous even though we are sinners?

This was the ideological breakthrough that would allow him to undo purgatory. God is not looking for moral perfection but for repentance, and nothing but individual repentance is required, not some penance administered by a priest. Rather, God justifies us by faith alone.

We should not think his theology was fully cooked at this time.  It is really in his commentary on Galatians in 1531 that his theology here reaches something like its mature form. And of course most Paul scholars would say Luther was wrong on Romans even if mostly right on Christian theology.  The righteousness of God in Romans 1:17 is God's propensity to save his people. And the gospel is the fact that God has enthroned Jesus as king by raising him from the dead, along with all that entails.

4. If you read the 95 Theses he nailed on October 31, 1517, they overwhelmingly address the question of indulgences.  They are not the grand "five solas" of the Reformation. While Scripture played a major role in Luther's argument, we also find an acceptance of the Pope's authority in general. Sola scriptura would evolve later in the fullness of his defense. Again, most of our arguments follow our intuitions, to justify them. Most people do not move from ideas to reality but the other way around.

We can see Luther's hatred of the doctrine of purgatory standing behind his explusion of the "deuterocanonical books" from the Bible. What Protestants now call the Apocrypha had been quoted and used extensively from the very beginning of Christianity. Jerome in the 400s called them a "second canon," not quite as authoritative as the "protocanonical" books but still with some authority.

Luther would demote them, then the RC Council of Trent in 1545 would upgrade them to protocanonical status. Why did Luther not like them? Because 2 Maccabees had the proof-text used to justify purgatory. It may seem nonchalant for Luther to take these books out of the mix, because as Protestants we are used to them being out.  In Luther's day, it reflected that 1) he did not view the canon as strongly as we think he did and 2) it was in the spirit of the same striking freedom he felt not to include James initially in his translation of the Bible into German.

5. October 31, 1517 was the tipping point.  Contrary to Brad Gregory, Luther was not the primary cause of secularism.  Luther could only happen because the church had undermined its own spiritual authority for years and its political power had been waning for years.  Luther represents a critical mass of protests that had gone on for centuries and the Protestant Reformation is part of the Renaissance, which had been going on for a couple centuries as well.

The Reformation is part of the Renaissance.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

8 Degrees with Worst Return on Investment

My electronic friend Bill Barnwell posted this link on the 8 degrees with the worst return on investment in terms of likely salary:

8. Sociology
7. Fine arts
6. Education
5. Religious Studies/Theology
4. Hospitality/Tourism
3. Nutrition
2. Psychology
1. Communications

Potentially fulfilling, yes. Possible life calling, maybe. Money makers, no.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Benefit of Inconsistency

It will seem bizarre (and to me embarrassing) that I wrestled in college with whether I should date girls that wear earrings. But that was the religious culture from which I emerged. I didn't personally care and wanted to date them. But my conscience, determined as it always is by the culture in which we are raised, told me I shouldn't. Didn't 1 Peter 3:3 say so?

A family member told me not to worry about it. Things would take care of themselves. God would tell anyone who needed to be told about jewelry in his own time. And if a girl was the right sort of person, she would listen to whatever God told her. My objection was that I needed to be consistent.

Of course a year and a relationship later I found myself quite frustrated with the idea as ridiculous.  An earring was little different than me wearing a tie. Reality prevailed over random and indefensible ideas for me, as I hope it has ever since.

You might have heard the saying, "Ideas have consequences." They certainly can, in the hands of an idealist or an idealogue. There are an awful lot of them around right now. They get people stirred up. They start revolutions. They create and become suicide bombers. The ideological chickens don't kill themselves but others around them.

Most of us prize the person who is consistent in his or her beliefs. We preach it as a virtue from our pulpits. The problem is that most systems of thought are flawed. When an ideologue begins to be consistent with flawed ideas, they can become quite dangerous. Think Nazi. Think Muslim extremist. Think terrorist.

A somewhat humorous example to me is the KJV only person backed into the corner. I've mentioned one progression before.

"You realize that the KJV you're using was revised several times."

"Fine, then I'll use the 1611 version."

"You realize the 1611 version was an Anglican compromise that had the Apocrypha. The Puritans used the Geneva Bible."

"Fine, so I'll use the Geneva Bible."

It is this "consistency" with an initially flawed idea or system that has some American evangelicals arguing that slavery wasn't so bad. Why? Because they are opposed to gay marriage and women in ministry.

So here's to inconsistency.  Here's to all the so called thinkers out there who have one or two bizarre ideas that they do not play out in the rest of their lives. Here's to the warm-hearted folk whose heart doesn't let them be consistent with whatever theory they hold in one area that would become truly dangerous in another. Here's to all the dis-integrated teachers and professors who are teaching their area of expertise with distinction... and not letting the bizarre ideas they have in other areas infect the area they actually know about.

Monday, May 06, 2013

1 What is theology?

I did an introductory video to Christian theology, for anyone interested, the second in this stream that I have made:



Here's a link to the second in the series: 2 Revelation: All Truth is God's Truth

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Practical Theology 8: Three in One

More in the theology series...

Introduction
1. Is Theology Practical?
2. Why Believe in God?

God as Creator
3. God as Other
4. God as All-Powerful
5. God as All-Knowing
6. God as Eternal
7. God as Spirit


8. Three in One
Probably no Christian belief is more mysterious than the Trinity.  The Trinity of course is the firmly held belief, on the one hand, that there is only one God, coupled with the equally firmly held belief that God the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. The overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the centuries have believed that God exists as three persons, even though he is only one substance.

It seems very difficult to explain this belief in any detail without running into imbalance either on the one God side or the three persons side. And if we do fall into imbalance, there is sure to be a name from history for the imbalance. For example, if someone suggested that there were three gods, that is polytheism.  If someone suggested there was only one God who changed his roles and functions throughout time, that is called modalism or Sabellianism.

There is a massive history here, and it is not clear how practical it is to know it except that it reinforces to us a sense that what Christians believe sometimes has as much to do with the church in history as it does with the Bible. There were options the Bible seems to leave open that were quite decisively shut closed in church history.

For example, some Jewish Christians of the early second century believed Jesus was the Messiah without believing he was divine (Ebionites, Nazoreans). Some New Testament interpreters see them in continuity with some of the earliest Christians, perhaps like the Judaizers. Acts 15 possibly treats such people as "in" at that time, but they would be "out" at least by the late second century.

Another early heresy was the idea that Jesus became God at his baptism, adoptionism.  Then there was the idea that Jesus the divine spirit being never fully became human, Docetism (he only "seemed" to be human).  We already mentioned modalism, which is the idea that God the Father in the Old Testament became God the Son in Jesus, who then ascended and returned to earth as the Holy Spirit.

Probably the biggest historical challenger to what we now consider to be orthodoxy was a heresy called Arianism.  Arius at the beginning of the 300s believed that Jesus was the "firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15), that Christ was the first thing God created and the most pre-eminent thing that God created, but still part of the creation. At one point in the mid-300s, probably more Christians were Arians than were trinitarians. Again, you can see how Arius could argue his point from Scripture.

These ideas only became heresies at a certain point in time. That is to say, while it may be obvious to us today that they are false, it was not always obvious at the time. We might expect to see some of these thinkers in the kingdom, even though their beliefs were eventually condemned. Some only became heretics after they were dead.

Historically, it seems pretty clear that the doctrine of the Trinity developed in order to clarify several beliefs that seemed in tension with each other. So the belief that there is only one God is central to a Jewish understanding of the Old Testament, even if most of ancient Israel believed in the existence of other gods that were not legitimate recipients of worship. That is to say, the official practice of ancient Israel was "monolatry," the worship of one God, and they were "henotheists."

But by the time of the New Testament, such gods were thought of as demons (1 Cor. 10:20), and belief in one God seems firmly established within Judaism. Subordinates to YHWH could be reverenced as a function of worshiping him, such as bowing to the king or reverencing exalted angels that represented YHWH or bore his name. The New Testament strongly affirms that there is only one God (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:4-6; Eph. 4:6).

Yet the New Testament also considers Jesus to be God (John 1:1) as a distinct person, and some passages consider the Holy Spirit to be a distinct person (16:7-11) who is obviously God as well. So we have one God, but we have three persons who are God. This is basically what the idea of the Trinity, clarified at the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381), affirms. God is one in substance, but exists as three persons. This belief affirms everything that needs to be affirmed.

What is the practical pay-off?  Probably the first that comes to mind from the history is a recognition of how much we owe to the church in the first four centuries for what we now believe about the Trinity. It may seem obvious to us today that the Bible teaches the Trinity, but it was not obvious to all the early Christians for several hundred years. Indeed, when the Reformation opened the door to a re-examination of catholic belief in the light of Scripture alone, we should not be surprised to find that some Protestants, like the Socinians, ended up rejecting the Trinity.

Even such revered Protestant names as John Milton (Paradise Lost) and Isaac Newton (laws of physics) seem to have rejected the classic view of the Trinity. John Wesley firmly believed in the Trinity, but believed individuals such as these would be in the kingdom. [1] Even today, there are "oneness Pentecostals" who are basically modalists who believe that the one God only has existed in history as one person at a time, and they would have an inerrantist view of the Bible. The long and short of it is that we seem to need more than the Bible alone in order to arbitrate such debates and that, as in the case of the biblical canon itself, one has to put some faith in the church to have certainty on the doctrine of the Trinity.

What other practical pay-off might the doctrine have? Certainly you hear lots of supposed practical insights allegedly drawn from the Trinity. Both egalitarians and complementarians sometimes refer to the Trinity as a basis for their beliefs. [2] Look, the egalitarian says, Christians have historically believed that the divine Son is not subordinate to the divine Father. The complementarian then responds with Scriptures where the (human) Jesus is subordinate to the divine Father. Both arguments seem rather arcane and probably unhelpful.

Others see the Trinity as an embodiment of love and relationship as an eternal attribute of God, with John 17 no doubt playing the key biblical role. The theologian Karl Barth structured his entire, voluminous theology on the structure of the Trinity. So much of the teaching we find right now on the Trinity seems quite speculative, especially considering how mysterious it is and how cautiously it came together in church history. So much thinking right now about it seems reminiscent of the layer after layer of paint added to Christianity in the medieval period.

In my view, the most practical view to take on the Trinity is to stick somewhat closely to its original form. We Christians affirm that there is only one God. We also affirm that Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. We can talk of Father, Son, and Spirit as distinct persons while only affirming one God. To go much beyond this basic affirmation is to enter the often impractical world of speculation and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

[1] Egalitarians do not believe that it is God's long term will for wives to be subordinate to their husbands, even though God accommodated the culture of ancient times in parts of the Bible (e.g., Col. 3). Complementarians believe that God has built into the creation the subordination of wives to their husbands at least for the time prior to the coming of God's kingdom.

9. God as Love
10. God as Just
11. God as Unchanging

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Grudem 12e: God's Moral Attributes (peace and justice)

... continued from a couple weeks ago.

10. Peace (or Order)
Summary
"God's peace means that in God's being and in his actions he is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerable well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions" (203).

Evaluation
God is a God of peace, especially ultimate peace. However, the point of the passages that describe God as a God of peace seem to refer to the fact that he brings peace to us rather than to make some statement about his nature.  He is a God of peace because he ultimately brings peace, although at some times it takes some conflict to get there.

It would be easy for a certain personality to take a description like Grudem's and use it to evaluate certain situations as more or less godly because of how "orderly" or "disorderly" they seemed. Both advanced math and science indicate that there is a certain degree of what looks to us as chaos and randomness to the most fundamental level of material existence. Surprising order can emerge (seemingly) randomly from chaos.

In the end, it seems more helpful to think of peace as a characteristic of what God brings to us than to impose extraneous assumptions onto God.

11. Righteousness, Justice
Summary
"God's righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right" (204). Part of God's justice for Grudem is that "it is necessary that God punish sin, for it does not deserve reward; it is wrong and deserves punishment."  He mentions Romans 3:25-26, where Christ's death demonstrates the justice of God even though he had not yet punished sins.

What is right?  Predictably, Grudem defines "whatever conforms to God's moral character is right" (204). He mentions Scriptures like Romans 9 and Job 40 where humans have no right to question God's righteousness. God does not answer Job with a justification of his actions but with a statement of his own majesty and power.

Evaluation
Surely all Christians will agree that God always acts in accordance with what is right.  The questions we can raise about Grudem's description and definition are 1) whether righteousness has a normal definition that is not based circularly as simply whatever God does, 2) the extent to which God is compelled to punish someone for sin, and 3) whether it is inappropriate to question God's justice.

We face the same issue here that we faced with God's goodness. Did God, when he created the world out of nothing, create as it were standards of what goodness, justice, and righteousness were?  Is there some sense in which they are built into this universe, in some way? We believe by faith that God never acts in a way that violates these standards, although at times it may seem so.

Key is to recognize that there is a normal definition of righteousness and of justice.  To say that God is righteous is to say that he does what is right, where "what is right" refers to some normal way of thinking about what is right. To say God is just is to say that he at least does not act unjustly, where there is a normal sense of what injustice is. These are not a circular concepts, as if we can really get away with just saying that the definition of righteousness is whatever God does. We can believe God is righteous and acts righteously without a circular definition.

In theory, God could be measured against these standards. While Grudem gives a couple instances where individuals are said not to question God, the whole council of God includes places where righteous individuals do question God.  Habakkuk 1 and Psalm 13 are examples.

The notion of the whole council of God is crucial when appropriating the Bible. Individual passages or books of Scripture rarely give the whole picture. For example, there are several key respects in which the book of Job only gives part of the picture on issues like the afterlife or Satan. In Romans 9 as well, Paul is probably over-making a point. This chapter is best read as a footnote in Paul's theology rather than as ground zero.

Does God have to administer justice?  Certainly Grudem thinks so. We can at least raise questions about this sentiment.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant do not picture God as having to do anything along these lines. God forgives the prodigal son and the servant that owes him an outrageous amount without anyone paying. We have to suspect that God could show mercy to anyone he wanted without demand of payment--because he is sovereign God.

Nevertheless, there is a kind of order to things that, normally, calls for justice.  If someone hurts others, if someone does evil, the universe calls for justice.  "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." It is the order of things. This is the normal way of things and so it is completely appropriate for Paul to see Christ's death as a sacrifice that shows God cares about justice (Rom. 3:25-26).

We should not leave the question of God's righteousness without recognizing that the prevailing sense of God's righteousness in Scripture is not legal.  God's righteousness in the Old Testament often has to do with his faithfulness to his people Israel and is thus can be relational in character.

Consider Isaiah 46:13: "I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel." Righteousness is parallel to bringing salvation to Israel, not because Israel deserves it or has earned it, but because God is faithful to Israel and has committed himself to them.

Similarly, the righteousness of God in Romans 1:17 is not just his justice but his faithfulness, now not only to Israel but to the whole world. [1] As always, these sorts of words have definitions that come from particular historical contexts and describe how God acts in the world. Great care must be taken in abstracting what they might mean for God's "nature," since it is so easy to substitute elements of our own historical context into our definitions without even realizing it.

12-13. Jealousy and Wrath
Summary
"God's jealousy means that God continually seeks to protect his own honor" (205). Jealousy for humans is almost always wrong, seeking to preserve our own honor. But Grudem argues it is completely appropriate for God to seek his own honor.

"God's wrath means that he intensely hates all sin" (206).  God's wrath is found in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Grudem mentions John 3:36 and Romans 1:18. Christians, however, have no reason to fear God's wrath, and Christians should also remember God's patience before executing his wrath.

Evaluation
Jealousy and wrath both relate directly to human emotion. As we have already suggested, emotion involves response and response means a new sense of awareness. Since God is all knowing and all aware at all points in every way, any depiction of God's emotion must be anthropopathic and figurative on some level. It is thus misleading to describe these as attributes of God's nature.

God is a just God who acts with justice. Although most biblical authors would surely have accepted the proposition that God can show mercy without expectation of any penalty, many Christian thinkers would like to say in hindsight that Christ's death justifies any mercy he has ever shown.

To say God is a jealous God is to say that God is worthy of the exclusive worship, submission, and obedience of his entire creation.  It would be just for him to "lash out in wrath" toward any part of the creation that does not worship, submit, or obey him entirely and exclusively. The biblical record indicates that sometimes he does, even though he does not literally experience these sorts of emotions.

The New Testament message is that "mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas. 2:13). If God implements wrath, it is for good.  It is 1) to help get his people or world back on track or 2) to protect the good from the evil or 3) there may be some instances where the "order of things" needs to be satisfied by annihilation of unredeemable evil.

[1] N. T. Wright has famously suggested that righteousness here is God's "covenant faithfulness." See, for example, What Saint Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), e.g., 99.

Friday, May 03, 2013

"Most Scholars Think..."

More resources for interpreting the Bible are free online now than ever, or at least easily accessible.  There's blueletterbible, with easy access to free Greek dictionaries and analytical information. This site has an entire interlinear of the whole Bible for free. You think of a resource like Logos software, that bundles massive amounts of things.  There are incredible study Bibles the likes the world has never seen before.

So what do we mean when we say, "most scholars think..."?  This is the age old question of who counts as a scholar.  You can certainly get a certain impression of what most free materials seem to say.  The things for free or easily available tend to be King James type fundamentalist sources.  So do "most scholars think Ezra wrote Ezra"?  You might get that impression if your main sources are individuals like John MacArthur, who I would not consider a real Bible scholar.

A true Bible scholar on a particular aspect of the Bible is someone who 1) has advanced understanding of the original languages, especially in relation to the text in question, 2) knows the history of interpretation of that text, 3) knows the historical-cultural background against which that text has been interpreted, and 4) strives to be objective in relation to an inductive reading of that text.

The last one can lead to various debates. So a certain kind of scholar might be very knowledgeable on the first three but insist that certain presuppositions must guide the processing of evidence, rather than going with the most likely inductive reading of the text.

Suffice it to say, most of the free and most accessible materials tend to be ideologically rather than objectively driven. Most people have no idea what a world class Bible scholar actually looks like. And, unfortunately, these types tend to be locked in an office somewhere publishing expensive monographs no one has ever heard of.  This type of person may have no idea that Logos has buried them in masses of interpretive dung that is so cheap and easy to obtain. This type of person may not be a particularly good communicator.

So what am I to do if Walvoord and Zuck are cheap and readily available and give the impression that most scholars think Matthew was written in the early 50s?  "Most scholars" don't think this at all.  Basically, "most scholars" need to start putting things on the web for free or at east make it relatively inexpensive and readily available.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Why would anyone think Joshua wrote Joshua...

... or that Samuel wrote Samuel or that Ezra wrote Ezra?

Think about it, these books are about these people.  They don't read like, "I did this," "I did that," "I said that."  They read, "Joshua did this," "Ezra did that," "Samuel said that."  In the case of Samuel, the book of Samuel in Hebrew (it's only one book in Hebrew) extends to the death of David, long after the death of Samuel.

Could God have inspired him to write about all those future events? Sure, but why would we even think anything like that? There's no reason to think that.  It doesn't say that Samuel wrote it... anywhere!

It is understandable that people argue over the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch or of the Davidic authorship of many psalms or of the Isaianic authorship of the later chapters of Isaiah.  After all, there are New Testament passages that seem to refer to Moses or David or Isaiah as their authors.

But there are no New Testament passages that refer to Joshua as the author of Joshua or Samuel as the author of Samuel. We are free to take them exactly as they seem to be--historical narratives written some time after the people they talk about had passed from the scene.

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