Saturday, December 31, 2005

Lectionary for January 1-6

This is really more for me than for anyone else, but I'm trying to "cook" my own lectionary up. I've started a separate blog for any reflections I might have on the daily readings (

The basic principles I'm trying to aim at are:

--Through the NT once a year, Gospels and Acts 1+ (some repetition given church seasons)
--Through the OT once in two years
--Through the Psalms once a year + (some repetition in particular church seasons)
--Through the Proverbs once a year

I've decided to start January with John (selections from all four gospels will appear in December), Genesis, and Romans. Even my first try didn't come out quite right.

So this week's readings will be:

Morning: Psalm 1; John 1:1-18

Evening: Genesis 1; Romans 1:1-7; Proverbs 1:1-6

Morning: Psalm 2; John 1:19-34

Evening: Genesis 2; Romans 1:8-17; Prov. 1:7

Morning: Psalm 3; John 1:35-51

Evening: Genesis 3; Romans 1:18-32; Prov. 1:8-14

Morning: Psalm 4; John 2:1-12

Evening: Genesis 4; Romans 2:1-11; Prov. 1:15-19

Morning: Psalm 5:1-6; John 2:13-22

Evening: Genesis 5; Rom. 2:12-16; Prov. 1:20-25

Morning: Psalm 5:7-12; John 2:23-3:21

Evening: Genesis 6; Rom. 2:17-29; Prov. 1:26-30

Morning: Psalm 6; John 3:22-36

Evening: Genesis 7; Rom. 3:1-8; Prov. 1:31-33

Friday, December 30, 2005

Doug Pagitt at Logos 5

Last night I attended a brief chat session with Doug Pagitt here in Grand Rapids. I guess he would qualify as a leader of the Emergent movement. I think his most recent book is BodyWorship, which seems interesting. It's about different postures you could use in prayer. I think it might be a "worth buying."

I don't think I heard or interacted with him enough to know exactly where he's coming from. I wonder if that's part of the schtick--be suggestive and vague and see what happens? Today I heard a group tried to get him to say that he was a Christian and I think he resisted. It reminded me of Barth refusing to discuss any absolute proof of the historicity of the resurrection. He believed in it, but refused to discuss proofs. Maybe Pagitt was making a similar point? You don't claim to be a Christian; you show it? Or maybe I'm giving him too much credit? Maybe he's not really that clever.

So who knows what he really thinks about anything. But I wanted to mention four "red flags." I put these under the heading of "Things emergents say that they think make them sound intelligent and prophet-like, when in fact it's, yawn, didn't-Reimarus-say-that-in-the-1700's stuff."

1. Pagitt was driving some distinction home between the kingdom of God Jesus preached and the gospel as "Jesus rose from the dead."

Again, what he meant by this, I don't know. I could put the refusal to call himself a Christian into a pot with it and conclude that he believes God is bigger than Christianity, that the kingdom of Christ is just one subset of the bigger kingdom of God. I chuckled when he said something like "not that the 'God from God, light from light' stuff of the creeds isn't important--it was some really good work they hammered out in the second [sic] and third [sic] centuries" (P.S. sic means note the error).

a. This is as old as the hill. And of course it's true that Jesus did not primarily preach about himself. But orthodox Christianity sees the gospel that Paul and Acts preached as a more detailed and specific version of what Jesus preached, not as one valid subset among other valid subsets (e.g., Islam?).

You can take the path of the early 1800's Unitarians, the heirs of the Puritans who abandoned the Trinity. You can take the path of early 1900's liberalism and focus on Jesus the social worker, leaving off the dying for sins part. You can just ask WWJD and forget about the resurrection and incarnation part that is what is actually distinctively Christian...

... but at this point you will have to redefine what you mean when you call yourself a Christian. Maybe you will even resist using that word to identify yourself because you are now identifying with the bigger "kingdom of God" that Jesus preached and, perhaps, you think the church perverted.

2. The idea that the church establishment perverted the original teaching of Jesus is as old as the hills. I mean, I can respect you if you really believe this, but don't pretend like you're Yoda or some newly enlightened one--you're a couple hundred years late for the most recent version of this scenario.

Here the red flag words are "religious leaders" and "Constantine created the church establishment." It's the whole Da Vinci schtick. Again, good novel, but not good history. Christians who focus on Jesus' relation to the religious leaders of his day immediately set off my "Okay, this person is going to make a parable of Jesus' relationship to the religious leaders and draw an analogy to the 'true,' Erwin McManus, Barna Christian versus established denominations and churches.

Well there were authoritative bishops as early as 112 when Ignatius was making his way to Rome, so the Constantine theory is off about two hundred years. Indeed, 1 Timothy sets down rules for authoritative leaders in the church. And the parable is not a good one. The best parallel with the religious leaders of Jesus day does not focus on the leader part or the established part but on the spiritual part. Are you so focused on the letter of Scripture that you miss the Spirit? Are you so focused on how important you are that you don't think of others or that you manipulate the means at your disposal to your advantage? Hey, do you reject Jesus as the divinely sent Son of God because of your idea of the kingdom of God? Then you're approaching a good parallel to the religious leaders of Jesus' day.

3. Don't drive a wedge between the social and spiritual ministry of Jesus. I don't know that Pagitt did this. But he completely flubbed any attempt to explain why many conservatives of the early 1900's rejected the idea of a "social gospel." In the early 1900's, you had a lot of educated ministers who stopped believing in things like the divinity of Christ and the resurrection. To retain their Christian name, they changed the Christian message purely into a matter of helping the needy and the disempowered. Sound familiar? Some conservatives wrongly overreacted and completely rejected Jesus' social message (by the way, when many conservative Christians see Democratic values and socialism as anti-Christian, I think we are witnessing a "hang-over" from this earlier era).

We must not do the same thing our forebears by making the gospel purely spiritual. The gospel is for the whole person and indeed the whole world--even for the environment.

But the turn to Jesus' social teachings when you begin to doubt the resurrection bit... that's a hundred years old. It's a both/and, not an either/or.

4. The kingdom of God is "in you." There's the Gnostic twist that makes the kingdom of God an individualistic, privitized religion. Two comments:

a. This verse in Luke is a bit of an oddball among all the kingdom of God sayings in the gospels. The vast majority of them really seem to look for a real, visible kingdom at some point. To focus purely on this verse as the key to the kingdom of God language is to use the exception to make the rule. And by the way, the Jesus Seminar will love you cause that was one of their favorite verses too.

b. I actually think the phrase is better translated "among you." It fits that a modern individualist would translate it as an introspective, personal venture. I think it fits much better with Jesus' world to understand it in corporate terms.

So these are the "red flag" words and phrases.

"You know Jesus' preaching of the kingdom wasn't about his own death and resurrection."

"Jesus rejected the established church of his day. He hated religion too."

"Constantine invented Christianity."

"Jesus preached that the kingdom is inside you, not in a church building."

These are at best, half truths. At worst, they're downright perversions. Beware when you hear "enlightened ones" saying things like these. They may be perfectly innocent comments, well intentioned. Other times they may be subtle prods to push you away from orthodox Christianity.

I do respect the person who is up front in saying, "I'm not a traditional Christian."

But don't wander into something--know where you're drifting!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Messiah 2

No Expectation
As we look through Jewish literature from the latest books of the Jewish Bible/OT to the time of Christ, we find that a significant portion betrays no sense of a coming king. For example, we find no clear expectation of a messiah in any of the so called Apocrypha, books that are in the Roman Catholic but not most Protestant Bibles.<1> Some of their authors may have had such expectations and simply not have brought up the subject. In other cases they may have content with the form of governance they had at the time.

Thus Tobit expects the return of Jewish captives from afar to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of a splendid Jerusalem with a glorious house of God (14:5; cf. 13:10). But in all these predictions nothing is said of a new king for that city. It is of course possible that such a king was part of the deal at the end of the age (14:5). Of course, the Jerusalem of Tobit's day had no king, and this fact alone may be enough to explain why no king is mentioned in its prophecies.<2>

Similarly, Baruch and Sirach give no indication of a coming king. Baruch has high expectations of the return of Israel from all over the world (e.g., 4:37; 5:5-6), but mentions no restored king.<3> Sirach, written about 200BCE, seems perfectly content with its ruling high priests in the absence of a king.<4> Its list of praises understandably focuses on Aaron rather than Moses, because Aaron started the lineage of priests. No doubt because the high priest was the dominant political figure in Jersualem at the time, David receives a scant mention in one verse (45:25) and even that verse quickly returns to speak of Aaron. So we find no mention of a Messiah in either of these books of the Intertestamental Period.

At first we might be a little surprised to find that the books of Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees have no clear conception of a coming king. These books all relate to the Maccabean crisis in which guerrilla fighters of Israel successfully defeated the dominant Syrians until they allowed Israel to keep the laws and practices of the Jewish Bible/OT.<5> On the other hand, it seems likely that these books were all written during the time that the descendants of the Maccabees were in control of Jerusalem. Since Aristobulus actually took the title "king" in 104BCE, Israel in effect had a king at the time. Accordingly, we would not expect to find a mainstream writing of this time expecting a different anointed one to come.<6>

It is also little surprise to find that few Jewish writings from outside Palestine have any clear expectation of a Messianic king. Thus neither the Wisdom of Solomon, 3 nor 4 Maccabees have any real sense of a coming messiah. Most of the Diaspora writings that have survived come from Alexandria in Egypt. Here we can find such strange things as Sibylline Oracle 3 which actually speaks of one of the kings of Egypt in messianic terms, the "King from the Sun."

Probably the most important witness on this topic is none other than Philo of Alexandria, who lived at the same time as Jesus and Paul (ca. 20BCE-50CE). His treatise on Rewards hopes that the nations will come to their senses and realize that Israel has a corner on the truth but believes God will give victory in battle if they refuse (Rewards 79-97). Part of this expectation involves a king (Moses 1.290; Rewards 95).<7> There can be no doubt but that what he has in mind is a human, earthly king. He has no expectation of some heavenly figure to come to earth or for God to become human. Still less does he expect such a king to die on a cross. Quite the opposite, it is possibly the humilation of the Jews during Caligula's reign that sparks some of Philo's rhetoric here.<8>

Messianic expectation is thus something that largely flourished when the Jews or a particular group of Jews were particularly disaffected with the current political state of Israel. For example, we can imagine that most of the high priests and Sadducees of Jerusalem did not particularly look for any Jew to ascend to the throne of Israel. While some Jews no doubt preferred someone from Herod's family to rule over a Roman procurator,<9> it is doubtful that many thought of any Herod as a continuation of David's royal line.

<1> The Roman Catholic Old Testament includes not only expansions of Esther and Daniel (Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Azariah) but seven other books: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees.

<2> Here we remember that Tobit is broadly written from the perspective of the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom that took place in 722/21 BCE. But Tobit was actually written in the Persian (539-332BCE) or early Hellenistic Period (ca. third century). Its author thus knows that the rebuild temple of 516BCE would "not be like the former one" (*14:5).

<3> Again, we might simply explain Baruch's failure to mention a restored king from the fact that Baruch knew there would not be one in Israel for the foreseeable future. Although the setting of Baruch is the Babylonian captivity that began in 587/86BCE, Baruch itself was written much later.

<4> E.g., Sirach 50 praises the high priest Simon at the end of a long list of heroes from Israel's past. This Simon is probably Simon II who served around 219-196BCE.

<5> The date of Judith is somewhat debatable, but many if not most would date it to the Maccabean period.

<6> On the other hand, we are not surprised to find such expectation among the disaffected of the time, such as the disempowered sect at the Dead Sea.

<7> For the debate over what precisely Philo had in mind, see Tobin****

<8> I refer here first to the persecution of the Jews in the city of Alexandria in the year 38CE and then the attempt of Caligula to set up a statue of himself in the Jerusalem temple, probably in the year 40CE.

<9> Perhaps the "Herodians" of Mark * are such individuals. See J. P. Meier***, JBL...

Jewish Views of the Messiah 1

Readers of the New Testament often assume that everyone in Jesus' day expected a Messiah to come. And many assume that all Jews had the same basic view of what that Messiah would be like. For example, Matthew 2 presents us with religious leaders who know that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Given the barrage of prophetic verses that the New Testament sees fulfilled in Jesus, it is easy to get the impression that all the Jews in Palestine knew--or at least should have known--exactly what their Messiah was going to be like. And of course, Christians believe that Messiah should have looked just like Jesus.

But here we must remember that the New Testament primarily gives us the early Christian perspective on what the true Messiah should look like. The ideas that the Messiah would come from heaven (John) or that the Messiah would suffer for sins (Mark, Paul) were almost completely unique perspectives in Jesus' day. Indeed, Paul presents the idea of a suffering Messiah as a stumblingblock to the Jews, who were scarcely expecting such a Messiah (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:8).

And we must also remember that the New Testament authors largely interpreted the Jewish Bible (or Old Testament, for Christians) "spiritually." That is, they did not read the words of the Bible with a view to what those words meant originally when they were first written. They read them with a view to what God might be saying to them through through those words in their "true" meaning. Most of the words that Matthew finds fulfilled in the life of Jesus would not have meant the same things to his contemporaries. Most of them are interpretations unique to Matthew among ancient Jewish writers.

The Jewish Bible/Old Testament
In context, the most relevant passages of the Jewish Bible/OT on this topic are those that relate to Israel having a king. The word "Messiah" is the English version of meshiach, the Hebrew word for "anointed." A king is thus an "anointed one," anointed with oil when he becomes king and thus considered approved and empowered by God to rule. The Greek word for Messiah is christos. So "Christ" means the same thing as "Messiah." When Christians refer to "Jesus Christ," they are calling Jesus the Messiah, the anointed king.

Several passages in the Jewish Bible/OT clearly hold that a descendant of King David would continue to rule forever. To be sure, comments like these probably did not have 1000's of years in the future in mind when they were first written. But they are a clear basis for why some Jews at the time of Christ expected God eventually to send them a king. For example, Psalm89:29 says "I will establish his [David's] line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure." Whenever the Jews did not perceive themselves to be in power--or did not think the correct individuals were in power--such a time was ripe for some group to look to a coming "anointed one" to restore Israel's national fortunes.

But perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Jews did not always expect such a political figure to arise. And at times groups might vary in what types of individuals they expected God to anoint. Thus the community at the Dead Sea expected God not only to anoint a king, but a true priest as well. The majority of scholars on this topic currently agree that there was no single expectation of what a Messiah might be at the time of Christ. But when Jews did expect one, the dominant picture was that of a human, earthly king who would restore Israel as a nation. Such expectations flow neatly from those parts of the Bible that expect David's descendants to rule Israel forever.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Despiser 3: Talking Hermeneutics

Let me start this third and final post by affirming Gary's first three presentations at OWU as intelligent and informed attempts to grapple with the nature and function of Scripture from a largely modernist evangelical perspective. His position is not a stereotypical straw man but is a real position. He acknowledges the incarnational nature of biblical revelation.

He accepts that there are matters to be solved with the traditional affirmation of inerrancy and at least seems to affirm considerations such as 1) the careful definition of exactly what is and is not an error and 2) making distinctions between exactly what the point of a given passage is or is not. He theoretically factors into the equation matters like ancient worldview and expressions not meant to be taken scientifically (e.g., sunrise and sunset). He even allows for interpreting the OT in the light of Christ to some extent and affirms the Christian order of the OT vis-a-vis the Jewish way (thus incidentally favoring the church's order for the books over and against the way they were categorized in Christ's day!!! see Luke 24:44).

At the same time, Gary is extremely conservative in his exercise of these allowances. For example, he stops short of accepting the Septuagint as the Scriptural OT, even though it is the text used by the majority of NT authors (and one of his arguments is that Jesus used it! He thus ironically gives the historical Jesus precedent over the Scriptural text!). He would reject any use of genre to allow for significantly lessened historicity (e.g., in the gospels or Acts). He would reject a combination of sources or process of book development that would result in too much deviation from a "what you see is what you get" behind any biblical text (e.g., the standard Pentateuch or Isaiah development theories). He would reject pseudonymity in the Bible. He also argues strongly that inerrancy has always been part and parcel of the holiness tradition.

As I think about Gary's argument, I can't help but think of Thomas Kuhn and scientific revolutions. Every paradigm has "naughty data" that does not fit as easily with the paradigm. Normal science can spend a good deal of its time trying to modify and "complexify" the basic paradigm to accommodate the dominant paradigm. I see Gary's work as largely reactionary, attempts to plug holes in a leaky ship. His plugins are good, I think. In fact, I think they are so good that they might make a mighty good starting point for a new dominant paradigm.

Those of you who've heard me blather on about hermeneutics will have some sense of what that new paradigm might be. And if I might co-opt a Scripture verse... "which is not a new paradigm, but the paradigm you had from the beginning." Gary seems to be aruging that inerrancy has always been a part of the holiness tradition. I would present Gary's argument in the following way. The holiness tradition has always affirmed the accuracy of the biblical witness, particularly in the face of challenges from Deist, modernist, or naturalist circles. The [traditional] idea of inerrancy is thus in complete harmony with the holiness tradition.

At the same time, he implicitly acknowledges in his comments that it did not appear in the Wesleyan Methodist polity until 1955. He does not mention the Pilgrim Holiness Church, the other half, which did not have this term in its polity. He also implicitly acknowledges that the actual term rose within fundamentalism in response to the challenges of biblical criticism in the latter part of the 19th century. He also implicitly acknowledges (citing none other than our own Steve Lennox) that many late 1800's holiness individuals sought escape from these rational challenges in an experiential focus on the Spirit and entire sanctification.

OK, now I have all the ingredients on the table. Let's cook.

I would argue that there is a slight of hand at work in Gary's presentation in which the word inerrancy takes on slightly different nuances. One the one hand, he is clearly operating primarily with a definition of inerrancy that affirms the historicity of the Bible in the face of questions raised by biblical criticism. He acknowledges that the real rise of this fundmentalist term was after the late 1800's. He acknowledges that most of the late 1800's holiness authors resorted to experientialism rather than intellectualism in reaction. And he acknowledges that the term did not become a part of the Wesleyan tradition until the 1950's, and then only in half of it (not the Pilgrim side).

So I would put the story this way. What we are looking at here is the tension that has arisen as the modern era has thrust a sense of "original meaning" on us. Most Christians throughout the ages, indeed most Christians today, read the Bible primarily in a pre-modern way. The text is read as God's word to us and historical features of the text are only engaged with to flesh out application for us. Hans Frei has argued profoundly that without the rise of modernism, people not only assume the historicity of the text--but the possibility that the stories did not occur doesn't even occur to them. They see themselves as part of the story and the potential distinction between story and history is not made.

Modernism has raised questions of historicity and scientific accuracy about the text. Those who engage with it are changed simply by the raising of the question--the distinction between story and history is made even when a person is defending historicity. And it is true that the Wesleyan tradition, to the extent that it has engaged with such things, has generally taken the fundamentalist side of the argument when the distinction has been made.

But I think Gary implicitly acknowledges that those who have done so have stood on the perpiphery of the holiness movement. The holiness movement itself (and we must remember that it is more the holiness movement than John Wesley that is the forebear of the current Wesleyan church) has historically been more experientially oriented than rationally oriented. We have always had individuals like Gary who were heavily rationalist in orientation. But the bulk of Wesleyans--the people who do most of the living and dying around here--have always been pietists. And they have always been pre-moderns--and thus pre the inerrancy debate in its proper terms. In its history, most Wesleyans have not even engaged the question of whether the Bible is historical. It has not been a part of their engagement with Scripture.

Modernist evangelicalism stands incoherently between two Scriptural paradigms. On the one hand, it recognizes that the original audience of 1 Thessalonians were ancient Thessalonians and not some modern reader. It recognizes that the meaning of a martyros is not a martyr, what the word suggests to us, but a witness, what the word meant to them. It understands that when Psalm 74:13 speaks of God breaking the heads of dragons (KJV, RSV) it was alluding to a mythical creation story of the ancient near east.

Well, that last one will set off the "circuit breakers" of many modernist evangelicals. It's a little too close for comfort. Like Gary, modernist evangelicalism will only "read in context" so far, then it falls back on its pre-modern heritage. To be fair to Gary, he really does try to listen to the text even when it makes him uncomfortable. He even acknowledges in a footnote that Jude may actually have thought 1 Enoch to be Scripture. And I should clarify that I think Psalm 74 is only using the image of the mythical creation stories, not that the author actually believed them (my circuit breakers?).

The pre-modern paradigm is the other Scriptural paradigm. The pre-modern paradigm reads the text as a direct word from God to us. Forget the Thessalonians, or more accurately, the Thessalonians don't even occur to us because we read the words as God's word to us without a second thought. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:10--"Is it for oxen that God is concerned [when he says not to muzzle the ox when its treading the grain] or it is written for our sake." The other option largely doesn't occur to the pre-modernist--Scripture is for us and was written for our sake! Without even thinking about it, we assume that the Bible was written for us rather than the oxen (the original addressees). Check out any prophecy program on TBN for confirmation.

Of course in practice most people read the words of the Bible somewhere on a continuum between the two. Most Bible readers today will have a good deal of awareness of the ancient world. People like Gary and (I hope) myself have quite a large awareness of the ancient context in which the Bible was created. And yet, at the same time, we are all unaware of our glasses and assumptions, blind spots that make the way we read the Bible different from the way they did.

The new paradigm I am suggesting, one that I think is emerging, affirms both ways of reading the text while keeping them distinct.

We can read the original meaning of the Bible as God's word to them, and let the text be fully incarnated into their paradigms and worldviews. Yet we can acknowledge that the Bible as Scripture, as God's word to us, has always taken the words a little out of context in the sense that the pre-modern hermeneutic--and now post-modern because we are doing it consciously--applies the words to us out of context.

I believe that if we are honest with ourselves, we have always read the Bible with certain rules behind the scenes, what I just called "circuit breakers." When we read 1 Peter 3:19-20 about Christ preaching in the Spirit after he died to the spirits of those who sinned in the days of Noah, we immediately sense that this verse is "weird." It doesn't fit our paradigm. Many a modernist scholar will begin to play dodge ball. No, it can't allude to the story in 1 Enoch of angels having sex with human women and being chained until the day of judgment in consequence.

My point is that pre-modern believers and modernist evangelicals both have circuit breakers in terms of what they will or won't let the biblical text actually mean. Much of the time, these circuit breakers are related to orthodoxy and tradition. I fully affirm this orthodoxy, as well as orthopraxy. I am arguing that these are the appropriate circuit breakers when it comes to applying the Bible to what we believe or do.

But not for determining what the original meaning was! What I don't affirm is twisting the original meaning of the Bible to make it fit with this orthodoxy. I see that as setting yourself up for a crisis of faith the more you learn and ponder. Let the original meaning be the original meaning, truth incarnated in a particular time and place. Let Genesis 1:1 picture a pre-creation chaotic formless mess of primordial waters, cause that's what everyone else in the world thought until at least the 1st century BC (cf. 2 Peter 3:5). But then let's read the text Scripturally as well with the consensus of the church in mind. In that sense it wouldn't matter if Paul did not fully understand Christ's pre-existence (although most scholars think he did), because the issue was fully settled in the church.

In that sense we begin every discussion with the Bible. But as I have written previously, it cannot end there because the Bible itself has not reached a final answer on many very important issues (e.g., the relationship between Christ as Son of God and God the Father; the creation of the world--is it out of nothing; is Christ's death the end of the sacrificial system, as Hebrews indicates, but surely James in Acts 21 might question).

With regard to women in ministry, the booklet was not meant to be an academic piece. It was a sermon. I consider the movement to affirm women in every way as a prophetic movement in the church much as the Protestant Reformation was. It is the cutting edge of the Spirit in the world today. It is the working out of the gospel in the church (this aspect of the gospel has actually worked itself out partially in the world before the church, much to our shame). Those who oppose it will be shamed by the Christians of coming generations, much as we now look at the "fundamentalists" of the 1800's who argued pro-slavery. Those who argue for artificial roles for women because of their anatomy are the heirs of those who used the Bible a 100 years ago to argue for slavery as a biblical institution.

Gary himself is pro-women in ministry, so I consider him a person of the Spirit on this issue. I just think his head is getting in the way as he tries to work "what the Spirit inside him is saying" through his own paradigms and worldview. I do consider it a rather large failure of judgment on his part to use this booklet as the "whipping boy" of his hermeneutical argument on a campus that I hear already leans against women in all roles of ministry. I wonder if he left the campus feeling, "Yep, women in ministry is wrong"--even though that's not what he said.

So let the discussion continue...

I believe we know where God is leading the process (for I am far from alone--we are a growing movement in the church). Although I do not at all believe we are wrong on the issue, I believe strongly that God will get the church where it needs to go. I don't think for one minute that our misunderstandings will somehow foil God's plans! God is in control.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cultured Despiser 2: Relativizing the Text

Gary identified four errors with the thought of my booklet on women in ministry:

1. Failing to interpret Galatians 3:28 in its immediate context.
2. Failing to interpret it in the light of the broader Pauline context.
3. Drawing sweeping conclusions from very small data.
4. Relativizing clear NT teaching as merely first century culture.

I partially addressed 1, 2, and 3 in my previous post. With regard to number 3, connecting the wording of Galatians 3:28 with Genesis 1:27, I made my position clear. I think it is a plausible and arguable connection but admittedly without sufficient evidence to conclude beyond doubt. But I suggested that it is at least as likely as a reading that sees no connection between the two.

With regard to the broader Pauline context, I indicated that Gary had actually misunderstood my position somewhat. I do not believe that Paul applied Galatians 3:28 toward some abolition of existing social structures. However, I do strongly affirm that sonship for Paul had a strong eschatological element. By seeing no distinction between male and female in terms of being a part of the kingdom, Paul sets up certain principles that are very relevant to the social structures of this world, even if Paul did not apply them fully to his world. These are hermeneutical issues well beyond questions of Paul's original meaning, and I will address them in my final post.

That leaves this post to discuss the charge of relativizing the text. Here I want to turn a weakness into a strength--I think that the entire Bible was relevant to its world and that the overwhelming majority of its meaning was originally understood relative to that world. Even prophecies were almost always (in their "near" meaning) relative to current circumstances. In that sense, every word of the Bible in its original meaning was relative to its world. In terms of original meaning, scarcely a word of the Bible was written to anyone alive today (to press the paradigmatic nature of our reading of Scripture, even John 17:20 likely referred originally to the Johannine community that the Gospel of John addressed).

But, when I say these things, I am not saying it is irrelevant to us! Not at all! Both in its original meaning and as the living Word, the Bible is for us and speaks to us. We have two choices. First, we can discern its meaning for us indirectly, by reading its words in context and applying them to today with integrity by taking the differences between our worlds genuinely into account. Or we can apply them directly to ourselves today by taking them out of context as the Spirit or the Church has and continues to dictate. I have thought about these issues for over a decade and cannot see any other valid option outside these two.

One of my main critiques of modernist evangelicalism is that it is intelligent and informed enough to realize that the Bible was written two thousand years ago and in quite different historical and social consequences. Yet it is still pre-modern enough to want to apply the words directly to today. The classic pre-modernist reads the words of the Bible out of context and applies the meaning directly to today. The classic modernist evangelical is incoherent in that he (and I use the masculine pronoun with a smile) knows in principle how to read the words of the Bible in context, but still wants to apply the words directly to today.

The after-modernist evangelical makes the distinction and considers both paths potentially valid, although separate ways of applying the text: 1) the original meaning as God's word to varied ancient situations within their paradigms and worldviews--thus indirectly applicable to us as we connect the worlds; 2) out of context readings of these words as the Spirit or the Church applies them. These latter readings need not be vastly out of sync with the original ones, but they can be. I'm getting ahead of myself. I will provide the reasoning in the next post for why these options are the only valid ones.

Now back to my "patent non-sense." The women in ministry book points out that Aristotle, some four hundred years before Paul, held that the husband was the head of the wife. I claimed that Paul was "talking like any non-Christian" when he said that the husband was the head of the wife. Let me put it more academically: there was nothing uniquely Christian in Paul's world to claim that a husband should be the head of his wife. Since Aristotle says this--husband...head...of wife--I don't see how this point is debatable. Paul says nothing uniquely Christian in the claim itself that the husband is the head of the wife.

But Gary takes this comment to a different place with a slight jump in logic. He presumes that I am claiming that Paul is saying something non-Christian. Of course this is a jump in logic that is not a fair representation of what I said. To say that Paul is not saying something uniquely Christian is not to say that he is saying something unChristian.

I would agree with what he is thinking, namely, that Paul's spin on this common idea is "thoroughly Christian." Ephesians presents the relationship against the backdrop of Christ's relationship with the church. That's a massive upgrade to Aristotle!

But it doesn't change the fact that Paul did not come up with the basic relational structure. Would Gary suggest that God had therefore made clear to the ancient world and humanity throughout the ages--by natural revelation?--that husbands should be heads of wives? Would he claim that this is a truth intrinsic to the creation or directly revealed to Aristotle? The Greeks had the idea long before Paul. Did God reveal it completely independently to Paul, and it is just a coincidence that this was commonly said in the ancient world? If you'd have told Paul that Aristotle had said this years before he'd respond: "Wow, imagine that. God just revealed that to me too and I had no idea"?

Or would Gary say that God started with where Paul was at in his ancient context and sanctified that paradigm with specific Christian content? That is, of course, what I am saying, and it seems to me the only sensical conclusion. God took an idea Paul had from his world--that husbands are normally the heads of their wives--and steered this understanding in a specifically Christian direction.

But this raises the question--is the headship of the husband part of the incarnated revelation or the clothing in which the revelation comes (Gary used the word incarnational in his presentations, but I imagine he would be hesitant to apply it in this way). In my next post, I will show that we cannot reject the question. Like it or not, God revealed the truth of the Bible through the paradigms and worldviews of the original authors. This forces the question on us when we begin to reflect maturely on matters of hermeneutics.

By the way, I want to clarify that I really believe in common sense leadership in the home of today. If the husband is more gifted at a particular point in time on a particular issue to take leadership, by all means let him lead. If on another occasion the woman is more gifted on a particular issue, it at least seems stupid not to let her lead. God is not stupid. There is perhaps a time when we say, "It doesn't make sense, so it must just be a test of our obedience." I'm not convinced at all that this is such a time.

If a woman has a pilot's license, the pilot of our little plane has gone into a coma, I have no piloting experience whatsoever, and the plane's going to crash... should I say, "Step aside, ma'am. I'll handle this because I have male genitalia." That's how stupid we Christians appear sometimes. I personally believe that if the Dobsonians are right on the headship issue, then this is an issue requiring Kierkegaardian blind faith, because it is irrational. I believe it is unchristlike and unspiritual.

Further, I would argue that even Paul's world had room for what I would call the "deviant woman." Even Aristotle acknowledges that there are occasionally women who are unnaturally suited to command. The command for the husband to head the home in Aristotle's mind was based on the premise that men are simply the naturally gifted ones to lead and women aren't.

Similarly, I believe the absolutist position of so many conservative Christians today--a woman can never head the home--is a misinterpretation of the original scope of Paul's comments even in their original meaning. I have little serious doubt but that Paul understood the phrase "the husband is the head of the wife" to apply to most homes. But there was always room for the "deviant" like Deborah or Huldah, etc...

Well, this is long enough. My final post will address a very important question that Gary raises: "who gives me the privilege of identifying part of its [the Bible's] teaching as non-Christian." I reject the non-Christian part of this question. I believe Paul's comments were fully Christian for his context. Let me reword the question: "On what authority might we say that a portion of Scripture was appropriate for "that time," but not God's perfect will for "our time." This is an incredibly important question!! In anticipation, note that I've changed the question from the typically modernist Protestant "I" to the more appropriate "we."

Next post...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lectionary Bible: Catching Up with Advent

Week 2 (December 8-14)
Sunday: Isaiah 5:1-7; 2 Peter 3:11-18; Luke 7:28-35; Psalm 110

Monday: Isaiah 5:8-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Luke 21:20-28

Tuesday: Isaiah 5:13-25; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28; Luke 21:29-32

Wednesday: Isaiah 6:1-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11; Psalm 132

Thursday: Isaiah 7:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Luke 22:1-13

Friday: Isaiah 7:10-25; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5; Luke 22:14-30

Saturday: Isaiah 8:1-15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18; Luke 22:31-38; Psalm 2

Week 3 (December 15-21):
Sunday: Isaiah 13:6-13; Hebrews 12:18-29; John 3:22-30; Psalm 45

Monday: Isaiah 8:16-9:1; 2 Peter 1:1-11; Luke 22:39-53

Tuesday: Isaiah 9:1-7; 2 Peter 1:12-21; Luke 22:54-69

Wednesday: Isaiah 9:8-17; 2 Peter 2:1-10a; Mark 1:1-8; Psalm 89

Thursday: Isaiah 9:18-10:4; 2 Peter 2:10b-16; Matt. 3:1-12

Friday: Isaiah 10:5-19; 2 Peter 2:17-22; Matt. 11:2-15

Saturday: Isaiah 10:20-27; Jude; Luke 3:1-9; Psalm 110

The Lectionary Bible

Another idea to tuck away for eternity. One year Bibles are great ideas, but I have two suggestions:

1. It's an aweful lot to read every day. It's a real challenge--great thing, very difficult. Even my Mom and Dad often find themselves doing catch up, and they're seriously retired.

2. Because the readings are simply put in order--a little Genesis, a little Matthew, a psalm and proverb--the readings don't necessary fit together.

Suggestion: the Lectionary Bible, a two year read through the Bible where the readings are arranged in relation to the Christian calendar and thus have a topical dimension. I've heard there are lectionary devotionals. Could incorporate something of that sort as well.

The lectionary Bible certainly begins with the first Sunday of Advent. Not sure if it should be linked to a specific starting date--not preferable, but perhaps practically important. Maybe have the possibility of both, listing readings primarily by the Christian week but perhaps offering a starting date of December 1 for those who want to follow a concrete date.

So I'm a little behind (21 days in theory).
Here are the BCP readings for the first week of Advent, I'm assigning Dec. 1-7:
Sunday: Isaiah 1:1-9; 2 Peter 3:1-10; Matt. 25:1-13; Psalm 2

Monday: Isaiah 1:10-20; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Luke 20:1-8;

Tuesday: Isaiah 1:21-31; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Luke 20:9-18;

Wednesday: Isaiah 2:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20; Luke 20:19-26; Psalm 45

Thursday: Isaiah 2:12-22; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13; Luke 20:27-40

Friday: Isaiah 3:8-15; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; Luke 20:41-21:4

Saturday: Isaiah 4:2-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Luke 21:5-19; Psalm 89

Romans Gateway

If you're interested, I've put what I'm calling the Romans Gateway on my website:

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

To My Cultured Despiser 1: The Context of Gal. 3

I count Gary Cockerill of Wesley Biblical Seminary as an elder and friend--I really don't think he despises me. But he does disagree with me ... often.

His most noticeable disagreement with me of late was at Oklahoma Wesleyan University where he critiqued the booklet I wrote on women in ministry. Since I have the text of his presentations, I thought I might respond. Perhaps he will log on and dialog some.

I thought I would start out with the mechanical part of his critique, namely his criticism of what he takes to be my interpretation of the original meaning of Galatians 3:28.

First, he believes that I see in Galatians 3:28 the abolishment of distinctions in social roles between men and women in Paul's thought. He appropriately turns to other passages in Paul and concludes that Paul did not understand the verse to imply a carte blanche abolition of social distinctions in the roles between men and women. I agree with him--Paul did not understand the idea that there is "not male and female" to imply the complete abolition of social role distinctions. 1 Corinthians 11 makes this point clear.

This is an understandable misreading of me. I actually view this verse more like David Thompson (whom Gary also critiques). I am not arguing that Paul applied these implications himself in practice. I am arguing that there are broader social implications to this principle than Paul himself applied in his writings. I will address Gary's critique of this idea, which he attributes to Thompson, in the third post.

So what did Paul mean in context? First, I should note the possibility that this phrase did not actually originate with Paul. Many think the verse was something said sometimes at baptism. If this idea is true--and of course we cannot prove or disprove the idea beyond a reasonable doubt--then it is possible that the "creed writer" may not have understood the statement quite the same as Paul did. Whether or not what Paul was thinking is the key to the Scriptural understanding of this verse--or still less some hypothetical creed writer--is a crucial issue we will address in the third post.

In Galatians 3:23-29, Paul is speaking of inclusion among the sons of God. Who is in? What does this mean? It means who is included among the people of God. It reflects who will be saved on the Day of Wrath and who will be in the kingdom. Paul startlingly says that as far as sonship is concerned, in the kingdom there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, no distinction between slave and free, no distinction between male and female. As far as getting into the kingdom is involved, all individuals are equally included regardless of race, status, or gender.

But we must also understand these comments in an eschatological sense. Perhaps Gary knows this as well. I consider it beyond reasonable doubt. When Paul says that someone is a son of God--and Paul uses the masculine "sons" in reference to women here--he implies something about inheritance and "heir-ship" (cf. Rom. 8:17). I consider it beyond reasonable doubt that Paul's dominant use of salvation language is future-oriented around the Day of the Lord to come. His kingdom language is also soundly future rather than present oriented (cf. 1 Cor. 6:10), a fact punctuated by his comment that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).

Does anyone, including Gary, truly believe that in the coming kingdom there will still be role distinctions between Jew and Greek, between slave and free, indeed, between male and female? Will there be these kinds of role distinctions in the eschaton? Surely there will not be. Surely there will not be slavery in the kingdom. Isn't this idea one of the main points of the fact that women do not marry in the kingdom (Mark 12:18-23)? Isn't one of the assumptions of this passage that marriage involves the subordination of women to men, something that does not happen in the kingdom? Indeed, it is not clear at all to me that for Paul resurrection bodies even make gender distinctions.

But Gary is correct. Paul himself did not fully carry out the eschatological point in terms of social roles in this world. Indeed, I think Gary is copping out when he says that Paul so much as tells Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom from slavery. Slavery and female subordination as roles are not sticking points for Paul--they are elements of a world he believes will soon be radically changed (1 Cor. 7:29-31). The important thing is to be spreading the gospel, not changing social roles: "don't let it trouble you" (7:21). And I think it likely that Paul put the brakes on with the Corinthians when they started to play out some of these things in a way that caused disruption in the Corinthian community.

The question Thompson and myself are asking is whether a world in which women can take roles of leadership in the church and home (Gary allows for it in the church) is a world closer to the kingdom than one in which they must be subordinate to their husbands regardless of their respective giftedness. These are matters of my third post. But I consider it a matter for Christian celebration. Praise God! Our sons and daughters prophesy! The kingdom's a comin'. It won't be long now.

The second critique I want to address briefly here is whether there is signifance to the wording "not male and female." I have followed those who think this wording may allude to Genesis 1:27 where God creates humanity "male and female."

I accept up front that we do not have enough evidence to conclude this idea with certainty, so I am not suggesting the point is beyond doubt. However, I don't think it is "too broad and sweeping an assertion on the basis of such small and irrelevant evidence."

1. There is a shift in grammar here: "neither/nor..., neither/nor..., not male and female." Perhaps there is no significance to the shift. But it is not unreasonable to suggest there is. On balance, the shift would more likely indicate significance than not.

2. Paul is speaking in reference to incorporation in Christ at baptism (Gal. 3:27). Is this context really that much different from 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 where Paul says that "if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation"? Is it really far-fetched to suggest that Paul would see a parallel between the first creation of humanity and the new creation that takes place when one is incorporated in Christ, the one "through whom are all things" (1 Cor. 8:6)?

3. I suppose the irrelevant evidence Gary means are Jewish traditions that saw the human of Genesis 1:27 as neither male nor female. Perhaps this evidence is irrelevant. But a cumulative case can be made on the basis of things like Paul's psychichos/pneumatikos distinctions in 1 Corinthians that Paul was in dialog with some of these traditions. It is plausible, although ultimately unprovable. But that does not mean it is disproved either. I believe a strong case can be made that certain early Christians interacted with "Alexandrian" traditions in their wrestling with the truths of the new age (e.g., Col. 1:15; 2:17).

Ultimately, the uncertainty of an allusion to Genesis 1:27 does not make Gary's non-allusion thereby more likely in itself.

I also disagree with Gary's sentiment that "there is no clear teaching elsewhere in Scripture to support such a position." I am arguing that Paul, in a somewhat poetic statement that he may not even have created, speaks hyperbolically of the undoing of gender distinctions in women becoming sons of God. Doesn't the fact that he calls them "sons" point in this direction? I believe he certainly means it hyperbolically in relation to this current world. But I'm not sure at all but that Paul understands it far more literally with regard to the future kingdom. It is an eschatological statement that relates to who men and women are in terms of their true identity today and who they may fully be in the eschaton.

I see nothing fallacious or improbable about this interpretation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Five Important Points about Romans 9-11

1. They're not totally about individuals.
Indeed, Romans 9-11 are far more about Israel and the Gentiles than about individuals. More than anything else, the question Paul is asking is why the vast majority of Israel has not accepted Christ as the Messiah. His discussion is not an abstract philosophical discourse on the fate of individuals in the sovereign will of God. The question is why the overwhelming majority of Jews in the world have not accepted the good news.

To answer this question, he invokes remnant language (e.g., 9:27). There is a chosen remnant who will be saved, true Israel. "Not all Israel is truly Israel" (e.g., 9:6).

If we dot our philosophical i's and cross our logical t's, these statements would indeed imply that God had selected individual Israelites from Israel to be saved. Augustine and later five point Calvinists would thus rebut that individual predestination is implied even if it is not Paul's primary point. Logically this is of course true.

But good original meaning interpretation is not about fitting the words of the Bible into some abstract philosophical or theological system. That is modernist glue. Good original meaning interpretation asks what Paul's logic was, tries to get into his head rather than to put him into ours.

What is Paul really doing with these words? Is he making an abstract argument for individual predestination? He is not. His focus is why a group has rejected Jesus, not why specific individuals have accepted him.

2. The dots of election and condition are not connected.
It is perfectly logical to suggest that if God determines who will be saved on the basis of His will (e.g., Rom. 9:16), then election is unconditional in terms of human will. But is this Paul's logic? That is the question for the person who actually listens to Paul rather than shoving his or her own abstract logic down his throat.

Certainly Paul does not practice this theology of election. He says in Romans 10:13, "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." And he conducts his mission with the hope that anyone might accept the lordship of Christ. Again, we cannot fault the logic of soft determinists who argue that we must act in this world as if we have free will even though we know we can only accept God if He has already chosen us of His own will.

Very logical. But is it Paul's logic? We at least run into problems with this logic in certain other books of the New Testament. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God wants everyone to be saved. But if God truly elects unconditionally, then we must conclude for universalism--that all humans will indeed be saved in the end. But since this is clearly not Paul's position, we begin to wonder whether Paul connected the philosophical dots that are the pride of certain Christian thinkers.

Indeed, we run into linguistic problems in 2 Peter 1:11, which encourages its audience to make its calling and election "steadfast." If election is unconditional, then how can human action play a role in election? Similarly, Romans 8:29 says that it is those whom God foreknew, that He predestined for resurrection.

If we really value the text, then we will let it say what it says. How does it reflect a "higher" view of Scripture to make it fit with our logic when good listening says it doesn't. That's a higher view of logic, not a higher view of the actual text of Scripture.

Paul and the early Christians used the word election, but they did not connect it in practice to conditions on salvation nor did they connect it to other parts of their theology.

Here we think of the Oedipus saga. In this story, everyone seems to act freely. Oepidus seems freely to leave Corinth so he will not kill his father. Laius seems freely to surrender his child to be killed. But at the end of all these free actions, the result is exactly what was fated and foretold. Perhaps this is instructive. Fate seems to have worked paradoxically in the ancient world. Within the limits of their circumstances, people felt free in their actions and their wills did not feel compelled. But they saw the end results as something determined by Fate.

3. Salvation is not limited by the theology of election.
This one is a no brainer, and we remember that there are four point Calvinists who reject the idea of limited atonement. It would be plausible to suggest that because God has chosen those who will be saved, Christ died only for those. But four point Calvinists rightly reject this point of hard core five pointism.

While not all come to Christ, the operating principles of Paul and other early Christians were that "whoever" could come. Even if one is to adopt a rigid view of predestination, far more noble is that Calvinist view that holds out the theoretical possibility that anyone might come--only that in reality only those helped specifically by grace will.

But again, these are not the arguments or logic of Paul. They are the arguments we get into when we begin to try to connect exegetical dots. We're certainly not in Romans anymore.

4. God can do whatever He wants.
I believe that one of the main points of Romans 9 is that God can do whatever He wants. And this is of course true. If God wants to command, say, Abraham to go sacrifice His son Isaac, God can do it. He's God.

But it is equally important to point out that, in the end, He doesn't have Abraham go through with it. In other words, Romans 9 is more a reminder of God's right to put His plan into force than it is a statement on how much God is looking forward to frying Israel.

And we must ultimately see Romans 9 in terms of God's plan. In God's mysterious will, Israel is currently experiencing a hardening of heart (Rom. 11:7, 25). And God can harden Pharoah's heart if He wants to (9:16-18).

These statements seem to be making a theological point that, once again, Paul does not integrate into the rest of His theology or into His practice. The pottery has no right to question what its potter God is doing. If God wants to bring the Gentiles in, if He wants the bulk of Israel to reject Christ, then that's His prerogative.

5. Even those He has hardened will persevere.
But Paul doesn't connect the dots, as we mentioned above in point two. He is describing what has happened and attributing it to God's mysterious will. But he does not thereby give up on those whom he has just called hardened.

Have they stumbled so much as to fall (11:11)? No. Has God rejected them, even though He has hardened them (11:1)? No. Indeed, because God's election of Israel is irrevocable (11:29), all Israel will be saved (11:26). Those who are currently the enemies of God will turn to God when God is done with His work on the Gentiles.

These are quite remarkable statements, for they imply that even the "hardened" can be saved. This is no standard predestination fare, especially when we consider that Paul likely thought these things would happen far sooner than later. In other words, he was not thinking that the salvation of Israel would take place 2000 years later. Given comments he makes in passages like 1 Corinthians 7:29 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he seems to have expected these things within a few years. We thus must see the same individuals potentially involved in both the hardening and salvation.

In short, Paul affirms salvation as a matter of God's election and hardening (at least in relation to the Israel of that day) as a matter of God's will as well. But Paul operates both in the rest of his theology and certainly in practice as if everyone can freely chose God. Election language is thus "after the fact" language in the way Paul uses it, not "pre" language. Despite the fact that he uses it in reference to predetermined things, his actual use reflects that we only know election because of human choices, not before.

Monday, December 12, 2005

CafeTutor, further troubleshooting

I've now changed the colors to fit the cafe/default video setting. Does it look any better or is it Annie get your gun time?

I've now set up pages for Greek down to the letter video. If you're interested, click down to the letters and tell me what happens:

1. If you have your browser set in a certain way and have loaded Quick Time 7, does the top click open and start playing almost immediately?

2. Does it ask you whether you want to save it or open it?

I think I'm going to have to add a link on the home page called something like "Browser Hints" to suggest how to get these things set appropriately.

Daniel Lambert has directed me toward getting some controls on the opening welcome and setting it so it doesn't automatically start everytime you come to the site. It will have to wait for another break from grading...

Thanks for all walking along this journey with me. I spent some time going over algebra and slope intercept stuff with one of my step daughters tonight... sounds like a click pick, home schooling extravaganza (my kids are in public schools, but I smell a market)!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My Philosophy of Life 1

Paraphrasing St. Francis (I think):

Lord, help me accept what I cannot change,
give me courage to change the things I can,
and give me the wisdom to know the difference.

A college friend onced summarized my operating principle quite in contrast to this proverb: "Ken, sometimes you look, sometimes you leap, but you never do them at the same time." I hope that isn't so true any more.

I would side with Aristotle on the use of emotions and passions in life: be moderate (metriopatheia). The Stoics are logically correct: if you cannot change something, it is pointless to try. But we are humans, and it is good to laugh and cry, to feel pain and joy deeply... and then move on. So the Stoics' (and Buddhist) sense of abandoning passions is unnecessary and unhuman. Feel and then move on.

Moderation in all things... Aristotle's Golden Mean. Obviously there are some things you shouldn't ever do (murder, marital affairs).

There is no point to bitterness, but there is to anger at times.

With regard to inculcating virtue and diminishing vices, Aristotle comes through with his sense that virtue is a habit. I do not thereby decline the importance of prayer and meditation. But it is simply the case that as hard as the first correct act is, the second is easier, and the third easier still.

Be realistic--rarely do people change all at once. An inch is an inch closer: one day without this week, two days without next. One footstep a day will wear down a concrete stair in a few hundred years.

Whenever someone asks if I need anything, I always think, "How can I need anything, when my very existence in this world is not needed?"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Testing the Home Page

I have reformated the home page of But since I am an amateur web designer, I'd be glad for any testing you might be willing to do for fun.

If you go to, I have no doubt the basic homepage will come up.

Question 1: Does it look right? On one screen everything's balanced; on another, the spacing is way off. Any artistic comments are also welcome (color scheme, etc..).

Then I'd like to know what happens next. Does the streaming welcome open? If you're willing to download Quick Time 7 (link on page), does the streaming welcome open immediately after you have downloaded it? What messages is your browser giving you?

If you can't get any of that to work, click on the Problems link and download the welcome as a straight mp4.

I haven't altered any of the deeper links yet (e.g., the Greek alphabet one yet). After all, I do have students and a family to think about...

Thanks for any idle time or suggestions you might have.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Guest Book Review: Revolution by Barna

December 5, 2005, from David Smith, chair of IWU's Religion division, cowritten by Keith Drury and Chris Bounds.

Students and friends,

Often in our classrooms we recommend book-lists which will enable you to grow on your own, apart from us as professors. This time we would like to take a moment and recommend a “NOT-list.” The first book we will bring to you is the newly released, Revolution, by the skilled-pollster (and amateur theologian) George Barna. Overall, this book is a critique (make that a full-body slam) of the church’s inability to impact the American culture in a positive (i.e., redemptive) manner. Thus, in this book he notes that due to the church’s lack of being an impact player, God must be calling His people outside of the church to utilize their gifts and serve the Lord. Barna now calls these Christians who no longer center their lives around Church “Revolutionaries” and believes they (his count of 20 million of them and growing) are the real future of the manifested body of Christ on earth. Barna also joyously admits that he is now one of them as well.

First, from a biblical standpoint, this text would fail any and all of our exegesis classes. He claims to have studied the scriptures on the subject but there is a glaring lack of any serious reference to what the biblical pattern for the church really involves. It is a wholly invalid process to critique what the church is NOT until he establishes a biblical baseline for what the church IS! This effort, to be of value, must begin with a clear and precise ecclesiology; stating what the Church is, not what Mr. Barna wants it to accomplish.

His practice is to silence the opinions of others with out-of-context proof-texts. Barna (mis)uses God’s Words to Peter, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” This reference specifically calls Peter to welcome Gentiles into the Church. In no way does it justify one to jettison the church in a wholesale manner or even to re-invent “Church” according to a new paradigm.

Moreover, Barna simplifies (trivializes?) the church to be a series of quotes from the Book of Acts. Interestingly, Barna describes his understanding of the church from passages in Acts 2, 4, and 5. But it is worth noting that at that point the Gospel has not even been proclaimed to the Samaritans, God-fearers, or the gentiles. The true nature of servant-hood, forgiveness, and grace has yet to be encountered. Further, loosely based upon these scriptures, Barna describes the attributes he finds in the early church (what he calls “seven core passions”, pp. 22-25). These are so resoundingly modern in their orientation that they would be unrecognizable to the apostles.

Finally, Barna writes, “This mission demands single-minded commitment and a disregard for the criticisms of those who lack the same dedication to the cause of Christ. [Can you hear the spiritual arrogance?] You answer to only one Commander-in-Chief, and only you will give an explanation for your choices.” (p. 27).

Friends, there is no place in scripture which permits a Christian to function as a lone-ranger apart from the Body. We are called into fellowship not out of it. As I see it, Revolution is essentially autobiographical, not biblical. Barna’s approach is purely phenomenological; the fact that something is happening becomes its own validation. My suggestion to Mr. Barna; this book should have been co-written with a team of scholars who would join together with to utilize Barna’s sociological strength of reporting trends of culture and opinions of society; not interpreting scriptures and evaluating the church’s ability to meet his self-selected criterion for success. But that is the nature of what Barna is calling the future church to look like, not a unified Body but individuals working disconnected from one another and from the “head.”

Second, from a theological perspective, the ecclesiology espoused by Barna is plagued with problems. While Barna declares himself a “revolutionary,” espousing an innovative way of discipleship beyond the local church, he deludes himself. His ecclesiology, with a myopic preoccupation upon individual discipleship and a personal relationship with Christ, simply follows to its logical conclusion a shallow Americanized model of the Church, dominant in contemporary evangelicalism. Ironically, Barna’s stated doctrine of the Church is a product of the evangelical churches he critiques, both of which misunderstand the fundamental nature of the Church, distort the doctrine of grace and the means of grace, and ultimately succumb to Pelegian pragmaticism. As such, his book not only exposes his own inadequate ecclesiology, but highlights the deficiencies of many contemporary evangelical models of the Church.

Fundamentally, Barna sees the Church, the Body of Christ, exclusively as a mystical, spiritual community of “revolutionaries” without any direct relationship to the local church. The Church is a community that Christians spiritually join when they decide to follow Jesus, rather than one into which they are incorporated concretely through baptism and local church discipline.

However, membership in the Church, the Body of Christ, is problematic without relationship to the local church. Why? Because as the Reformed, Lutheran, and Wesleyan forms of Protestantism have consistently recognized, along with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, the Church is the primary means of God’s saving grace and the Church is expressed concretely in local churches. Local churches are the means by which God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus given to the Church is made available to humanity. Through the preaching of the Word, the due administration of the sacraments, and the community rightly ordered (the marks of the Church), saving, confirming and sanctifying grace is communicated to people.

For people to isolate themselves from hearing the scriptures read and the Word of God proclaimed in community, from participation in the sacraments of the Church, and from submitting themselves to the discipline, order and life of the local church is to cut themselves off from the primary means of God’s grace. As such, while a generation of “revolutionaries” may be able to sustain themselves for a period of time, grace capable of sustaining and nourishing Barna’s “revolutionaries” for the long haul, much less succeeding generations, will prove difficult, if not impossible.

In the end, Barna surrenders the biblically and theologically prudent understanding of the Church for an expedient model that ultimately cannot birth, nourish and sustain believers. Dangerously, Barna’s ecclesiology has more in common with the Donatist movement in the third century and Pelegianism in the fifth century than it does in orthodox Christian theology. While these movements flourished in the moment, having great spiritual zeal and fervor, they could not be sustained, and their followers in subsequent generations were left without access to the means of God’s saving and sustaining grace found in the Church.

Finally, from a practical effect (especially among younger people) is to encourage them to drop out of church attendance and practice a do-it-yourself religion. Among ministerial students it encourages them to seek other more exciting venues for their ministry instead of the old fashioned local church. To the laity it legitimizes dropping out of church and going golfing—just so long as they go on a mission’s trip with a Para church organization occasionally and have a neighbor Bible study with a few friends on Tuesday evenings so they can skip church and go golfing on Sunday mornings. The practical effect of the book is to elevate lone ranger religion to which the local church (and obviously districts and denominations) are totally irrelevant.

In pondering this book, it seems to only have come from the pen (laptop?) of a frustrated “boomer.” Moreover, his focus is so modern, western, and individualistic in orientation that it has lost all connections with the biblical times or text. Moreover, it is not global in focus, making it an American Christianity issue, not Kingdom. This is a call to selfish, self-centered Christians who want what they want, want it now, and are not willing to submit to one another. It’s a call to men (predominantly, Eldredge “Wild at Heart” types) who need adventure and an instant-spiritual-gratification spirituality. Faith, forgiveness, perseverance, and body-submission are no where to be seen. Life is measured by pure performance rather than biblical faithfulness.

This is a dangerous book scripturally, theologically and practically—which is why it may be a popular book. Encouraging our people to buy it would be like promoting a book that celebrated pre-marital sex and extra-marital affairs as the wave of the future. People do not need encouragement toward such behaviors. What this book promotes if far more serious than pre-marital or extra-marital sex: it is a dangerous book.

Jointly composed and sincerely Church-men,
Chris Bounds
Keith Drury
David Smith

Back to the Drawing Board

Well, I guess the video files I've embedded at aren't coming up on computers. I think I may have embedded these things with software that would need to be downloaded (shockwave in particular). I'll get back to you when it's running better (and since it's the end of the semester, that may not be tomorrow).

You can check in on the progress at

Friday, December 02, 2005

1000th Execution Since 1976

Early this morning the 1000th execution took place since capital punishment was reinstated. I offer a few thoughts and ask for help in what I might not understand.

First, it was not unjust. There does not seem to have been any question about the man's guilt, who killed his estranged husband and her boyfriend, I believe. The basic principle of justice is the balance of the lex talonis "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life." This man intentionally took a life, I imagine in a premeditated fashion, so justice is the taking of his life. In a sense, we would need to take two lives from him to make up justice. Someone might suggest that life imprisonment is a more effective taking of two lives than his death is. Perhaps. I make only the claim that his execution was not unjust.

Second, it was not unbiblical, even from a New Testament perspective. While we surely cannot just stop with Paul's comments in Romans 13 about governments--these comments surely have an element of rhetoric to them--Paul says that governments are established to punish wrongdoers. And the government he has in mind put people to death frequently. We have no evidence here that it ever entered Paul's mind that capital punishment was an inappropriate punishment in the equation.

Thirdly, I do not believe it is unchristlike, for I don't think Jesus ever addresses such an issue. On the rare occasions when he spoke to those with power, he encouraged them to be just (e.g., Matthew 3). He shows mercy indeed in Paradise, but does not rescue the thief on the cross from his death, a death Luke indicates was rightfully carried out by his implicit endorsement of what the thief himself says. In short, God is the model for governance; Jesus is the model for citizenship, particularly under an oppressive regime.

The governmental Jesus will of course cast many "into outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth." The governmental Jesus does not send the rich man back to witness to his brothers--he is stuck in torment. And while I think he would give time for repentance, there is a point at which "they will not hear you even if a man come back from the dead." God disciplines his children (Hebrews 12) and Christians discipline others in the church (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5). It is not incoherent to see death as a discipline in some circumstances despite ultimate salvation, in the name of justice.

By these comments I do not make an argument for capital punishment. My argument is only that it is not unjust, unbiblical, or unchristlike.