Sunday, April 30, 2006

What's the Wesleyan in IWU? 3

Cognitive Integration Continued
Someone might be thinking by now, "Where is the Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience of the Wesleyan Quadrilaterl?" For example, are we only to introduce Scripture or tradition at the cognitive moment? Hasn't a good deal of the two inner circles been a matter of experience and will you really be seen to give precedence to it over Scripture? Haven't you been using reasoning all along thus far?

Indeed, I could see someone drawing the Wesleyan model of integration as concentric circles with Scripture at the center, tradition next, then reason and experience. Would that not be a good diagram of Wesleyan integration?

I don't think it would. Once we have drawn it, the picture does not really give us a good picture of Wesleyan integration. Why? Because Scripture does not have a fixed meaning until you identity the context against which you are reading it. If you choose the original contexts as the context, we have not yet found the meaning for the church today, only the meanings for the people of God at a different point in time. My contention is that the context against to read Scripture is the church. It is thus Scripture-as-churched that is the central authority for the Christian. Nor can you divorce reason informed by experience from the process--especially experience of the Holy Spirit.

In short, it is the presupposition of our diagram that it has been created as reason informed by experience has been informed by Scripture-as-churched. As authoritative, Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience cannot be neatly separated from one another--they are like joints and marrow, soul and spirit, thought and intention, logically distinct in theory, but nearly impossible to separate in practice.

So we have heart integration at the core of the integration of faith and learning at a Wesleyan academic community. Since it presupposes reason informed by experience as informed by Scripture-as-churched, this is no blind existentialist leap of the heart. It is a Christian heart with a specific content.

Then we have ethical integration for many disciplines beyond the heart. This is no secular ethic based on some utilitarian calculus or rational categorical imperative. This is the love ethic that stands as the basis for all Christian ethic, as dictated by Scripture-as-churched.

Let me suggest three levels or rings of concentric circles relating to the cognitive integration of a Wesleyan college or university.

a. Core presuppositions
At the heart of cognitive integration, in the third circle from the center, is integration with the core dogma of the Christian faith. These dogma are found in the creeds of the church catholic. The creation of God, the divinity of Christ, his virgin birth, and bodily resurrection.

To my knowledge, IWU has never hired a faculty member who could not subscribe to this core. As things currently stand, it is inconceivable that a person committed to Mormon beliefs would teach here--even in mathematics. A person committed to the beliefs of the United Pentecostal Church could not in good conscience teach here, for he or she would have to view us as a secular campus, since few of us have spoken in tongues and none have been baptized in the name of Jesus only. In good conscience, they would need to evangelize students and faculty to help them become Christians.

Could we let a "bad" UPCer or Mormon teach here, someone who did not really subscribe to all the beliefs of their church? That's hard question for me. There are systemic issues and "line crossing" issues that make such decisions bigger than individuals and their personal situations.

Integration of core presuppositions is of course a matter of many disciplines. While the manner of God's creation is not in the creeds, the fact that He is creator is core. A Wesleyan faculty member thus could not teach that God was not involved in creation or that after creation He ceased to be involved with the creation. These are matters of core Christian integration.

b. Doctrines of the consensus ecclesiae
Beyond the creeds there are many other beliefs that are held in common by all orthodox Christian groups. These beliefs are the consensus ecclesiae, the "consensus of the church." Creation of the universe ex nihilo or out of nothing has been the common belief of Christians since the 200s. The existence of a detachable soul that continues to exist at death in the time before the yet to come resurrection of the dead. These are views that are not clearly enumerated in Scripture nor are they explicitly stated in the core creeds of the faith. Yet they are things that mainstream Christianity has believed from its earliest days.

These views are perhaps slightly--though not much more in flux than the dogmas of Christendom. For example, in the year 1300 the entire church pretty much agreed that the ideal was for a priest to be celibate. Yet this is not the consensus of the church today. Similarly, two hundred years ago it was pretty much the consensus of the church that women could not be ministers. Yet this is not at all the consensus of the church today. In my opinion, perhaps the most important next step in the rapproachment of the church universal is to work out the dynamics and rules of the consensus ecclesiae. Clearly I am not Roman Catholic, so their answer is not my answer.

We now face some of the thornier issues of integration of faith and learning. Matters of consensus like creation ex nihilo, the inception of death because of the sin of Adam, the existence of a detachable soul. These interpretations of Scripture-as-churched were forged under vastly different circumstances than the academic contexts in which such things are discussed today. As science has looked beyond the "expressions" of reality to "explain" their nature and causes, science and Christianity have come to battle on any number of occasions. Let's be honest about these conflicts. Christianity has more than once come away looking to be a religion of the ignorant and of the losers. This is highly unfortunate. It has created a climate in which we have shamed God by insisting that the sun goes around the earth or that technology was evil.

I think some insights from the post-modern era provide us with some helpful paths forward. I hope you will read my next words carefully. I believe that as historic Christians, we must believe that reality exists. God is not just a construct of our minds--there is a sentient Being who actually exists distinctly from this universe. But post-modernism indicates that our formulations of reality, our apprehensions and understandings of that reality, are a function of the cognitive frameworks within which we function. The universe outside us exists, but our apprehensions of that world are a function of our position relative to that reality.

We might think of it as if three people from three different cities were to draw a map to some landmark. The landmark truly exists as do the three people and their locations. But their maps will all differ because of their location in relation to the landmark. God could draw an overarching map that incorporated all three and the landmark relative to Himself as absolute.

What this means is that our categories and language--including the language of science--is really much more expressive of reality than explanatory. Scientific equations are like very, very precise myths that express the way things work on a particular scientific playing field. But no one should mistake Schroedinger's equation for reality itself. It is only an expression of a very small part of reality.

Let me return to the integration of learning with the consensus ecclesiae. We of course believe that these affirmations are expressions of truths. However, they were not forged in the categories or in the face of the data with which specialists today confront. The important task of integration, it seems to me, is to successfully "map" the modern intellectual landscape to these doctrines. It seems to me that the lessons of history are that we simply shame Christ when we deny the evidentiary landscape to keep from confronting contemporary data.

I want to give one example of what I am thinking here. I see the existence of a detachable soul as a matter of Christian consensus. However, this belief was not forged in dialog with modern psychology or physiology. I might add just to keep things in perspective that the idea of the soul's immortality is not a dominating concern of Scripture either nor does the idea appear in the creeds. In the New Testament and in the creeds, it is the resurrection of the body that is dogma.

So what does the doctrine of the soul really affirm--under what circumstances was this idea formed? Well it clearly reflects Platonic influence on early Christianity. But I suspect that the idea largely is meant to attest to the fact that individuals continue to exist personally and consciously after death even before the resurrection. This idea is clearly attested in the NT in Luke, Philippians, and Revelation.

What if a psychology professor at a Wesleyan institution were to conclude that there are no elements of human personality, memory, or cognition that are not explained by the biological functioning of the human brain? What if they began to wonder if there really is a detachable soul? In my opinion, we should give them some leeway to pursue the evidence of their discipline. Otherwise we make the idea of a Christian university an oxymoron and a farse.

What is important, in my opinion, is that they are able to map whatever conclusions they might have reached to the doctrine of the soul. They must believe in the future resurrection of the dead, for this is not doctrine--it is dogma, essential core belief. But beyond resurrection, I believe there is more than one way that they might strategize with regard to the doctrine of the soul.

For example, I know a professor at a Wesleyan university who has pondered whether God might create a temporary embodiment for the dead in the time between death and resurrection. His discipline (psychology) has pushed him increasingly toward the conclusion that embodiment of some sort is necessary for consciousness.

I once strategized with another psychology professor at a Wesleyan institution who was a little more resistant to the idea of an intermediate state (he's no longer there). I suggested that perhaps if he viewed eternity as an eternal now, then the dead are immediately conscious at death because in eternity, the resurrection has already happened.

Of course Scripture nor the early church fathers had any such things in mind when they were forging the doctrine of the soul. I suggest these things merely to show that it should always be possible to map developments in understanding in a discipline to the consensus of the church, recognizing that both the formulation of these items of consensus--and indeed, the conclusions of any contemporary discipline--remain somewhat in flux.

In my final post on cognitive integration, I will suggest that the outermost circle is the denominational one...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

What's the Wesleyan in IWU? 2

Skipping over some of my talk, I come to the question of a Wesleyan model of integration. By the way, I won't be saying all the following tonight. It is more raw "get it out" for later polishing.

A Wesleyan Model of Integration
Evangelical academia has witnessed a good deal of discussion on the integration of faith and learning over the last thirty years. The integration gurus have suggested a number of different models: 1) the "Lutheran" two kingdoms model that keeps faith and learning separate from each other, 2) the "Pietist" model that focuses more on behavior and attitude, 3) the "Reformed" model that emphasizes the proper cognitive presuppositions. Occasionally the possibility of a "Wesleyan" model has been mentioned (Wesleyan here in the broader sense of pan-Wesleyanism). The book in question usually will bring up Outler's idea of a Wesleyan Quadrilateral at this point (Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) and deem a Wesleyan model of integration the incorporation of these elements.

I believe that this summary is on the right track. Let me develop it both as a pan-Wesleyan and as a member of The Wesleyan Church, give it a little more sophistication, and bring it into the post-modern era.

First of all, notice that a Wesleyan model of integration is by its very nature more inclined to be multi-faceted and eclectic. While the other models do this more by way of exception--"We emphasize heart but head is not unimportant" "We emphasize head but heart is not unimportant"--a Wesleyan model is by its very nature a matter of integration itself. Frankly I smile after Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton, has finished making allowances for these other traditions (Conceiving the Christian College). By the time he has made his allowances for the strong points of non-Reformed traditions, he has basically arrived at the integrative Wesleyan model! And while I believe the core of a Wesleyan model has more in common with the Pietist model than the Reformed, no one could ever legitimately accuse John Wesley of being anti-intellectual.

Again, quite amusingly, Arthur Holmes' different forms of integration (attitudinal, ethical, foundational, and worldview--changed slightly from the first edition of his book) are not far from the Wesleyan kingdom themselves! I believe that all we need is give them a proper prioritization and we have a fair model of Wesleyan integration. Let us draw a Wesleyan model of integration as a number of concentric circles surrounding a core.

1. Heart Integration
I believe that a truly Wesleyan model will agree with the Pietist model on the highest priority and core element in integration. No matter what your discipline, the heart of integration is the integration of the heart.

There may be little on a presuppositional level for a mathematician to integrate with his or her discipline. Christian mathematics will mostly if not completely be a matter of a Christian doing mathematics.

And here let me add that a "personal relationship" with God is an essential element in the equation. I place this phrase in quotations, however, under the realization that much of what passes for this phrase is distinctively Western, modern, and individualistic. I use the phrase with room for collectivist personalities without well defined individual identities. I do not imply any particular emotional content to the phrase. A person must affirm as an individual (however that individuality is culturally parsed) that "Jesus is Lord" with their being.

Let me include within heart integration the matter of personal behavior and personal ethics. You will sooner get fired from a Wesleyan college for moral failure than for strange beliefs. This is a part of Wesleyan pietism that I suspect distinguishes it from a Calvin or Wheaton College. A professor who has an affair with a student at a Wesleyan college or university will almost certainly lose his or her job immediately and without recourse.

Church attendance should be an essential component of the heart integration of a Wesleyan college. Professors who rarely attend church should not be hired or promoted in rank. Prolonged absence from the body of Christ should be grounds for dismissal. "There is no salvation outside the church."

2. Ethical Integration
Here I retain Holmes sense that for many disciplines, integration will involve an ethical component. I do not mean personal behavior here but situations where the facts of the discipline may point in directions that, as Christians, we simply cannot take. If all disciplines require their professors to integrate with the heart, many will also require an integration of discipline with the fundamental "love ethic" of Christianity. Whenever relevant, no Christian teaching can be properly considered Christian if it does not cohere with the dual commands to love God with all one's being and one's neighbor as self.

Here the subject of economics comes to mind. It may be true that market factors eventually work themselves out into a system that comes to be best for the majority. But Christians are obligated by Christ to consider individuals as ends in themselves rather than as means to other greater ends (when being such a means conflicts with their existence as ends in themselves). What these ethical concerns may mean is that Christian economics will be obliged to chose different economic paths than a secular economist or an economist following a Lutheran model of (non) integration might. The science of economics is the same, but the implementation is likely different for a Christian.

3. Cognitive Integration
Let me gather other forms of integration under the general heading of "cognitive integration." We might also call it presuppositional integration. However, in a post-modern age it seems important to draw very clear and tight lines around and within this domain of integration. It is at this point that we might make a claim in comparing a Reformed model with a Wesleyan one. In practice, I would claim that the Reformed model has typically "drawn" presuppositional integration at the core of integration, with matters like ethical and heart integration on the periphery in terms of emphasis. This is an inappropriate priority in emphasis. Further, in the twilight of modernism, it is a sign of the Reformed model's eclipse. In contrast, a Wesleyan model of integration such as I propose holds much more promise at becoming the dominant model of the decades that follow.

It is at this point that I would like to interject some thoughts on Wesleyan integration at this point in history. It is my contention that we are currently witnessing a collapse of the distinction between Scripture and tradition. The events at Wheaton, where a professor was fired for converting to Roman Catholicism, are part of the birth pains of that which is becoming. As even one Wheaton professor has acknowledged (First Things article--note that President Litfin apparently does not agree with him), we stand at a point where the Wheaton ethos statement seems inadequate as it stands to prevent a Roman Catholic from being a member of its faculty. This is a situation that would not have happened perhaps even ten years ago.

[I might add that this issue seems less significant at a Wesleyan college where a personal relationship with Christ is the crucial issue outside the religion division more than debates on how the meaning of the Bible is determined--the real debate that as yet evangelicals have largely not admitted to themselves]

The professor claimed to be able to affirm that the Bible is the "supreme and highest authority" for the Christian, since the Pope's authority is not understood to supercede the Bible but to function in terms of its authoritative interpretation--and even then only when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, a very rare thing indeed (I don't think Pope John Paul ever invoked this authority). This is one of the big issues facing evangelicalism in the near future, and I believe the Wesleyan tradition is capable of an answer with greater depth than Wheaton College has thus far mustered.

With over 20,000 different Protestant denominations that think they get their beliefs from the Bible alone, Erasmus seems without any question the winner of the sola scriptura debate between him and Luther. The post-modern question is not "Is the Bible inspired or authoritative?" This is a kindergartenish question. The question is "Which interpretation of the Bible is inspired or authoritative?" It is none too difficult to show that Christians--including evangelicals, Reformation Protestants, and indeed, the Catholics of the ages--have generally blurred the lines between Scripture and tradition. Most groups prior to the post-modern era have seen Scripture as the true authority behind what they say (including Catholics)-- yet usually without any real awareness of the glasses of tradition through which they have read the Bible.

Postmodernism draws our attention to the fact that orthodox interpretations of the Bible regularly invest meaning into the words that are anachronistic to their original contexts. E.g., that the "we" of Genesis 1:27 is the Trinity when it took hundreds of years after the NT to refine this belief (see Psalm 82 for a more likely hint at the original background). Orthodox interpretations--whether they come by way of a translation like the NIV or by intensively scholarly rationalization--use the traditional lenses of the creeds and consensus of the church to provide the "rules" governing what biblical texts can and cannot mean. It is just not really until now that we have been self-aware enough to admit it to ourselves.

So to distinguish itself from Roman Catholicism, Wheaton cannot coherently paint the issue in the old terms of "only the Bible" versus "more than the Bible." Wheaton's ethos already goes beyond the Bible. I believe the way the issue for Protestants must be framed is "consensus of the church catholic" versus "further developments particular to Roman Catholicism." But once Wheaton has admitted this as the more accurate distinction, it is doubtful it will want to prohibit Roman Catholics from its faculty simply by virtue of the fact that they are Roman Catholics.

So I suggest three levels of cognitive integration particular to a Wesleyan university with some further additions to the third level for a university owned by The Wesleyan Church. I will suggest these in the next post.

Friday, April 28, 2006

What Does "Wesleyan" Mean at a Wesleyan University? 1

I am giving a talk tomorrow to some of our Adult and Professional Studies profs on what the "Wesleyan" means in Indiana Wesleyan University. But I am writing up this piece so it would apply at any Wesleyan institution of higher learning (but it works for Wesleyan high schools too :-).

The talk is already prepared in my head and Power Point--it is basically a modified version of what I blogged about the personality and essence of The Wesleyan Church (now on my archive site: But I am creating a full length version under the above title as well. In my usual fashion, I thought I would blog the "patches" here from the other piece to this one.

For example, the new introduction follows:

The Nature of Wesleyan Colleges and Universities
A college or university of The Wesleyan Church is not the same as a Wheaton or a Fuller. Indeed, they are not even the same as Free Methodist colleges or universities. For example, many might be surprised to know that Wheaton College was actually founded as a Wesleyan Methodist institution. But because it was created as a self-contained institution, it's trustees felt free to change first to a Congregationalist college and then to this day it remains somewhat Calvinist in flavor. But its governance is a matter of a self-perpetuating group of trustees who have the authority to make it become anything they want it to be.

Not so with a Wesleyan university. The Wesleyan Methodist Church learned its lesson after "losing" a couple institutions like Wheaton and from then on made sure it held the title deeds to the colleges it founded. This is not true of, say, Free Methodist institutions. If a Free Methodist college decided to abandon its connection with the Free Methodist Church, the most the denomination could do would be to withdraw its funding and support.

But the Wesleyan Church has the authority to fire the board of trustees of any of its institutions. Indeed, the Wesleyan Church closed one of its former institutions even though its trustees had unanimously voted to keep it open. A college like IWU will never become more liberal than the Wesleyan Church will allow it. If its trustees at some point decided that for some reason they wanted to be all about making money to the exclusion of being a Christian college in some way, the Wesleyan Church could remove every one of them from office and replace them with whomever they wished.

This is an important fact about a Wesleyan college or university. Its boss is The Wesleyan Church, and it serves the pleasure of The Wesleyan Church. To be sure, the Wesleyan Church does not have an oppressive or antagonistic attitude toward its institutions. Those of us who work at Wesleyan universities can be thankful for having a very helpful boss that, indeed, looks to us for guidance on important issues. I do not view this relationship as a bane to us!

But this is simply not a matter for debate. Here is a warning to the naive who think that academia--anywhere--is just about truth and that an intellectual can argue his or her way into existence. There are things that can be changed and things that cannot be changed. This is an issue that will not change for the foreseeable future. End of story. If you feel strongly to the contrary, you will eventually need to go somewhere else.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

We establish law (conclusion)

Thanks for those who tagged along these last few brainstorming posts. I think I now "have my head" on what I plan to write up as an article submission this summer. Thanks to Mike for thinking through things with me.

My basic thesis will be

1. Paul is not opposed to "works of law," a phrase that gravitates toward what Dunn calls "boundary issues." But these are not what God is looking for to justify someone.

2. Paul's argument in Romans and Galatians operates significantly on the basis of a "law within the law" that is more universal in application.

3. Paul argues theologically that the power of sin over flesh keeps a person from keeping the "law within the law" before the Spirit.

4. We can affirm law after the Spirit because the Spirit becomes the law written on our hearts. A Gentile Christian will do by nature the things in the law because they have the "work of the law" written on their hearts.

We'll see where it goes...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

We establish law 5

4. What law had Paul not kept prior to coming to Christ?
I disagree with Dunn, who sees Romans 7 as something Paul claimed to be the ongoing struggle of a believer. Rather, Romans 8 should be read as the victorious ability of a person walking by the Spirit to keep the righteous expectation of the law, largely equivalent to love.

So if Romans 7 is not about Paul's current experience, is it about his past experiences? Are these Paul's past struggles (Moo) or is Romans 7 is largely hypothetical as far as Paul's own experiences went (Stendahl, Sanders). Sanders notoriously suggests that Paul has backed himself into an argumentative corner in Romans 7, as (in Sanders' interpretation) Paul tries to figure out why the law wasn't adequate on its own for justification. Sanders thinks Paul pushes his argument to the brink of saying that the law itself is evil in the process. So according to Sanders, Paul walks a not too convincing tight rope between affirming the law as holy, good, and righteous while portraying it as ineffective as a path to righteousness.

The tact I took in the last entry removes some of Sanders' difficulties while supporting his sense that the basic "problem" with the law for Paul is largely that it isn't Christ, God's chosen path by which He affirms "righteousness." I remove others of Sanders' difficulties by recognizing that the law is, on one level, simply an indicator of righteousness. A ruler doesn't make something a certain length. It only tells you what length it is. Thus it is clear that the law is not a path to righteousness--it is only a ruler to tell you whether you are righteous already or not. The question for Paul is thus not whether the law can make a person righteous but whether God is willing in his unmerited favor to accept the effort to keep the law as grounds for being reckoned righteous (Paul answers no; other Jews would have answered yes in terms of staying in a favored status).

So Paul's claim is that God is looking for faith as the basis for being reckoned righteous. A Jew can show faith by keeping the law, but here Paul would say that faith in what God has done in Christ Jesus is also essential in addition to any works of law. Meanwhile, I Gentile does not even have this effort to stand on. So it is the same God who will justify (on the Day of Judgment) the Jews on the basis of faith and the Gentiles through faith (Rom. 3:30).

But all this is basically review. In Romans 7, Paul claims that without the Spirit, the rule ("law") of sin and the power of sin will overcome even the person who wants to do good. Here we should consider Romans 5:12 through the first part of Romans 8 as one related train of thought. Paul is discussing the forces of sin over flesh that entered the world after Adam. Recourse to Adam is made to broaden the theological discussion beyond that of Israel to include Gentiles as well in the discussion. Although Paul argues that Abraham is the basis of justification by faith for all peoples, Adam clearly makes Paul's discussion about all humanity.

Thus despite the fact that Paul is referring to the Jewish law, the entire character of his discussion in this section pushes us to see this law in terms of a "law within the law" that Paul affirms (the law largely in its universal, non-Jewish-particular aspects), Christ's law that we mentioned in our second post or the "law of God" in Romans 8:7. Paul is not arguing so much over "works of law," which gravitates toward boundary issues that separate Jew and Gentile, but about the fundamental situation of flesh that makes it impossible even to keep the heart of the law.

Now this does seem a very bizarre discussion in the light of Paul's Jewish background. In my opinion, his writings do not breathe like he had felt like a horrible failure at keeping the law before he experienced Christ. I do not see the struggle of Romans 7 as some typical experience Paul had before he came to Christ. It does, however, seem to give some reasons why all sin. It also introduces Paul's pneumatology to this discussion: Paul sees the Spirit as the counter to the power of sin.

So in what at least superificially seems a very bizarre theology for a Jew, Paul teaches that evil forces and the power of sin frustrate anyone's attempt to keep the "law within the law" if one does not have the Spirit. But in the apocalyptic age of the Spirit, a person might actually keep the law within the law, Christ's law, the perfect law of love.

At this point I step out into the darkness of my scholarship knowledge, for surely people have already speculated along the lines I now do. As we try to read behind Paul's comments in Romans 6-8 looking for appropriate Jewish precedents against which Paul might have come to think in this way, an intersection comes to mind between early Christian speculation on a "new covenant" (derived from Jesus' own teaching? See 1 Corinthians 11:25), on Jeremiah 31 as the only place in the Old Testament where such a covenant is mentioned (see particularly 31:31 and 33) and Joel 2:29-32, where before the day of the Lord God pours out His Spirit on all flesh (cf. Romans 10:13).

This cocktail of passages easily could add up to the idea that 1) Jesus was inaugurating a new covenant by his blood, 2) that was a pouring out of Holy Spirit on all flesh, both Jew and Gentile, and 3) this Spirit would enable all flesh to keep the heart of the law from the inside out. It did not make void the law, particularly for Jews, but it provided a way for Gentiles to "do by nature those things that are in the law" (Rom. 2:14-15), counting their uncircumcision as circumcision (see also 2 Corinthians 3). Meanwhile, even for Jews it made it possible to do the good of the law that they wanted to do, although Paul at this point may be making more a theological point than one that many Jews would identify with experientially.

Friday, April 21, 2006

We establish law 4

3. What law had Paul kept prior to Christ?
It is now over forty years after Stendahl's classic article called into radical question the claim that Paul felt like a miserable sinner before he came to Christ. The key text is Philippians 3:4-6:

"Although I have confidence even in flesh. If someone else thinks to have confidence in flesh, I have more.... according to the righteousness that comes by law, I was blameless."

It is at this point that we must consider that Paul the pre-Christian Jew--indeed most Jews--believed God would find them acceptable because of His grace even though it was impossible to keep the Jewish law with absolute perfection.

I now find it surprising that Sanders could not consider Paul's statement: "All have sinned..." (Rom. 3:23) as something to which any Jew might subscribe. Nor is it surprising to find Paul saying that all are "justified freely by His grace" (3:24). What seems unique to Paul and the early Christians is the rest of the verse: "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

I conceptualize this current issue in terms of two standards of righteousness:

1. Absolute Standard Time
2. Jewish Standard Time

With regard to the first, Judaism in general assumed without question that God's favor toward Israel and those individuals within her as a matter of His graciousness. No one earned their way into God's people. To use Sanders' famous line: "keeping the law was about staying in, not getting in." Keeping the covenant was in response to God's graciousness, not a matter of earning His favor.

So on the surface I'm not sure that there is much that is ultimately too controversial in Paul's claims that all have sinned or that the Law gives knowledge of sin or that the Law is powerless to justify in itself. It is in relation to the second standard that Paul is in serious disagreement. I believe some of the Thanksgiving Hymns in which the Teacher of Righteousness expresses his sinfulness bear out this point.

My claim with regard to the first, however, seems to distinguish my position from Sanders (who I think lumps the first in with the second), Stendahl, Gaston, Stowers, and Gager (who all limit Paul's comments on sinfulness to Gentiles).

The point where Paul differs from his contemporaries is in relation to Jewish Standard Time. While Jews believed they did not earn God's grace, they nevertheless believed that God had set up any number of "counter-mechanisms" that God found acceptable. There was repentance, prayer, acts of righteousness, temple sacrifices, etc... Many scholars have pointed out how striking Paul's writings are for the absence of emphasis on repentance.

So what's going on with Paul? First, the point at issue is primarily the inclusion of the Gentiles into Christ. Paul's Christian opponents have pointed to Abraham to argue that circumcision is necessary for inclusion in God's people. Paul turns to Abraham and argues on the contrary that it was Abraham's faith in God that was reckoned as righteousness. Paul broadens out the principle: faith is the only thing that ultimately can justify a person before God, whether a person is Jew or Gentile. And at this point of God's relationship with the world, only faith in what God has done in Christ will do.

But Paul probably did okay at the "works of law" thing before he came to Christ. With regard to what law was Paul blameless according to the righteousness in the law? I suspect it was the "works of law" that Paul was blameless at. But to claim that such acts of righteousness might justify you was to give God an apple when He was asking for an orange. God may like apples like works of law. But when it comes to justification, he wants the orange of faith. And in particular, He demands faith in what He has done through Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

We establish law 3

2. What don't we establish?
If we establish law, what don't we establish? I think the best answer in the light of Romans 3:28 is that we do not establish justification by "works of law." Notice that I didn't say we don't establish law (which would contradict 3:31) or the law (although the absence of "the" in Romans 3:31 may be signicant) or even that Paul doesn't establish "works of law." It is justification by works of law that Paul does not reinforce.

In this connection, look at how 3:28 is worded:

We think that a person is "reckoned righteous" because of faith apart from works of law.

In other words, Paul does not condemn works of law for a Jew, only justification solely on the basis of them. If justification required works of law, then God would "be God of Jews only" (3:29). But since God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, there must be a way for Gentiles to be justified "apart from works of law."

This line of thought requires us to consider "works of law" and the law that Paul establishes in 3:31 as two different things. On this score James Dunn seems to come close to an acceptable explanation. By "works of law" Paul primarily thinks of the kinds of ethnic boundary matters in the law that separated Jew and Gentile: things like circumcision, sabbath observance, food laws, etc... It is not clear to me that we can solely define them in these terms, but I think such was probably the main connotation the phrase had.

In this connection we have likely been aided by the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries in that one of the documents discovered is actually titled, "All the Works of the Torah." This document is arguably a letter from the hero of the Dead Sea community, the Teacher of Righteousness, to the Maccabean priest in charge of the temple. And the content of this letter deals with the finer points (to be sure, not fine to the Teacher of Righteousness) of calendar and the purity of the temple.

For me, the key matter is that the debates are what I would characterize as intra-Jewish debates, debates between varying Jewish sects. So while I imagine "works of law" might have broadly referred to any keeping of the law in theory, I wonder if when the rubber hit the road, Jews mostly used this phrase when they were debating the finer points. In other words, my line of thought amounts to Dunn's position.

Of course this is not the place to go very far into discussing what Paul was establishing with regard to justification. Everything is debated. I have defined the verb to justify as "to reckon righteous," in keeping with Paul's defining quote of Genesis 15:6 in reference to Abraham: "Abraham had faith in God, and it [his faith] was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom. 4:9). It is this faith in God to justify the ungodly (Rom. 4:5), this faith in God to raise the dead (Rom. 4:24), this faith that God raised Jesus for our justification (Rom. 4:25; 10:9), it is this faith by which human individuals are justified (Rom. 3:28).

Yet Jesus also had faith that God would raise him from the dead (cf. my interpretation of 2 Cor. 4:16, Hebrews 5:7) and that is possibly the "faith of Jesus" in Rom. 3:26. This faith lead to his faithfulness unto death (cf. Phil. 2:8), the one act of obedience through which many will be confirmed righteous (Rom. 5:19). I feel increasingly comfortable with the idea that the lead off phrase "through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ" in Rom. 3:22; Gal. 2:16; and Phil. 3:9 are all references to Jesus' faithfulness unto death and wonder if this was a traditional phrase used in the early church.

These comments are digressions from the question of what law Paul establishes. Suffice it to say that we have 1) concluded that it is something like the law of love as a summary of the law, Christ's law, if you would and 2) that the phrase works of law more often gravitated toward matters of detail in the keeping of the law, particularly in reference to those parts that made Jews ethnically distinct.

Next post, did Paul really think a Jew couldn't keep the law of love without the Spirit?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

We establish law 2

1. Passages where Paul affirms the importance of law
Romans 3:31: In some way, Paul wants to make it clear that justification on the basis of faith (whether Paul has in mind Christ's faithfulness, human faith in God, or both) does not nullify the idea of law.

"Do we nullify law through the faith? May it not be! But we establish law."

Romans 8:4: God sent his own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin to condemn sin in the flesh, "so that the righteous requirement (dikaioma) of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk, not according to flesh but according to Spirit."

So apparently we affirm the dikaioma of the law. Is this establishment of law? Dikaioma bears a closer look. Its form would lead us to see it as something like "an act of righteousness," "an instance of righteousness." But words ultimately don't care what their form pushes us toward. Word study time. I'll proceed for the moment on the assumption that it means something like I'm thinking here--righteous requirement, righteous product in life.

The train of thought in Romans 6-8 leads us to associate whatever this fulfillment is with the contrasts of Romans 6.

Romans 6:1, 12: "Should we remain in sin, that grace might abound? May it not be!" "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires."

Apparently Paul affirms, through the power of the Spirit, both the possibility and necessity of fulfilling the dikaioma of the law, which means an absence of sin and implies a freedom from the power of sin.

Romans 13:8-10: Notice that this passage uses pleroma, "fulness of the law is love." We remember that 8:4 speaks of the "righteous requirement" of the law being fulfilled (pleroo) in us.

It is therefore reasonable to conclude that for Paul the Spirit enables the believer to love his/her neighbor, which must stand at the heart of what he means when he suggests that believers affirm law.

1 Corinthians 9:21: "To those without law [I became] as one without law, although not being lawless with respect to God but enlawed with respect to Christ, so that I might gain those without law."

This comment again seems completely to cohere with the line of interpretation above. It seems that Frank Thielman has pursued this line of thought. Note to self...

None of these things seem too problematic yet, even if they contradict several popular understandings of Paul and the law (particularly the traditionally Lutheran and Bultmannian ones).

We might throw our first "problem" into the mix:

Romans 2:14: "For whenever Gentiles who do not have the law do by nature the things of the law, these although they do not have law are law in themselves. Who demonstrate the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also witnessing between one or another of their reasonings, accusing or defending on the Day when God will judge the hidden things of people according to my gospel through Jesus Christ."

Here Paul seems to give us a situation where Gentiles fulfill the dikaioma of the law by nature. This has always been a difficult passage for me to interpret. Up until now I have generally assumed that Paul is presenting a non-possible scenario, for all have sinned. But as I've begun to fiddle with my understanding of certain other passages in Romans, I think I will here declare my affiliation with another possible interpretation.

I think I will align myself with Hays and others who believe Paul is speaking of Gentile believers who, because they have the Holy Spirit, have the law written on their hearts. This is the law of Christ, the law of love, the law that "we establish." And thus the relevance of the comment "according to my gospel," thus this is true for the way he preaches the salvation of the Gentiles, "on the Day."

Next entry is about places where Paul talks about his law keeping before coming to Christ...

We establish law (Rom. 3:31) 1

Mike Cline ("Sniper") and I have been meeting this semester to banter about Paul and the law, seeing if we might send off an article somewhere at the end of the game. This is generally what Kevin Wright and I did last year and the current form of that work sits with Catholic Biblical Quarterly being evaluated.

I want to dedicate the next couple of weeks to the seeds of an article I hope to submit this summer. I say seeds because 1) publishers are hesistant to publish things already put in the public eye elsewhere, and the web does count for something and 2) I am embarrassingly behind in my reading on this subject. Having studied under James Dunn you would think I would breathe this stuff. I know a bit but feel like I'm more on oxygen than breathing the stuff.

Paul and the law is an immense subject with a massive literature, everyone at least claiming to make fine distinctions from all the other people. Paul's key verses on the topic all individually have given rise to massively different positions and interpretations. I'm a big picture person, which means that until I can map all this stuff in relation to all the other stuff, I feel like I don't know anything except that my head is going in a thousand different directions.

So let the games begin. Mike and I have decided to focus on Paul's comment in Romans 3:31: "Do we then nullify law through the faith? May it not be! But we establish law."

What law does Paul have in mind here? And how does it relate to Paul's other references to law in his writings? These are our questions...

Next entry: places in Paul's writings where he might be said to "establish law."

This is our doing

Israel has proclaimed Iran, Syria, and the Hamas led Palestinian government a new axis of terror. And they are. They are a very scary sign of the time. Russia and China are taking the opportunities to solidify their power in the region by making friends with these rogue states. Meanwhile, the instability is fueling rising gas prices.

I believe these are all unintended consequences of our invasion of Iraq. The world could have looked much differently if this administration had not launched this tangential affair in Iraq that has empowered the terrorist parties in these countries. It was completely unintended. The conservative think tanks in Washington meant it for the greater good. It's not logical at all--people should have wanted freedom, should have seen that we were trying to help them. Why in the world would the Palestinian people put in power individuals that were sure to cause them problems in the broader world community?

People aren't logical. Dare I affirm the worlds of a former teacher I knew, "People are stupid." Only an educated democracy works correctly--either here or anywhere. Every one counts, but not everyone's opinion counts as much. I'm sorry (not really), Wim VanderMerwe's opinion on quantum physics counts a whole lot more than mine because he knows physics.

After 9-11 we had the world's sympathy. A wise leader would have cultivated that and used it to help the good elements in places like Iran, Iraq, and Palestine to gain power over those elements in their midst like the 9-11 hijackers. Instead, this incompetent administration--something the vast majority of dull Americans are finally admitting to themselves--has sown incredibly scary seeds.

The verdict is still out on where this complicated and tenuous mess will go. World War III is not out of the question. War with Iran and a widespread terrorist thrust that would make 9-11 look like a minor tremor is very possible. The "tipping" of America as the world power, with the oil countries driving our economy into the ground, very possible. And what wild and whacky liberal American government will exact its revenge on conservative Americans now that it's almost sure to come to power in the next American elections (may some moderate win out on either side). Pride goes before a fall...

The path to destruction is paved with good intentions, and my rhetoric doesn't help anything. The bad seed is already sown, and it will be God's grace that saves the world from our own stupidity. Yes, that's the way to get rid of ants. Stamp on the ant pile.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Resurrection Accounts

Steph raised a very interesting question in the Easter entry comments. I started to blab on a bit there and realized this topic really involved more than enough for a separate entry. Voila!

The resurrection accounts are each notoriously unique in their approach to Jesus' appearances. For someone who needs very precise historicity, we can mostly fit them together if we suppose that the others just didn't mention all the events--like Steph's comment that John mentions only Mary Magdalene as going to the tomb and she alone sees Jesus (John 20:1, 10-18). Matthew tells us that Jesus appeared to both M. M. and "the other Mary" (Matt. 28:1), probably Mary the mother of James mentioned in Mark 16:1. Mark also mentions Salome.

If Mark 16 had an original ending that was lost, we can suppose that it came closest to Matthew's ending (since Matthew and Mark are without question the closest in presentation to each other overall). I suspect it at least included an appearance of Jesus in Galilee. Clayton Croy (Asbury grad) wrote a whole book on the subject, if you're interested: The Mutilation of Mark's Gospel. As it stands, there is nothing in Mark that is significantly incompatible with the other gospels (its tensions with Luke are no different from the tensions Matthew has with Luke).

Matthew presents an appearance of Jesus to two women at the tomb (Matt. 28:9), a claim that fits with John's presentation of the appearance to Mary Magdalene. In this case, I'm okay with the idea that John has omitted reference to Mary mother of James and that she also saw the risen Christ. I'm guessing that for whatever reason, Salome did not see Jesus on this occasion (Mark 16:1). Luke mentions a Joanna and others. I'm not too bothered about tensions in details like these. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Great Commission presents a couple of issues. On the one hand, its theology seems a bit advanced for this point in the life of the disciples. For example, it involves a commission to all nations and a "trinitarian" baptismal formula. I completely affirm everything in it. But if this is exactly what Jesus said, the disciples didn't seem to remember it for decades, if you know what I mean. Some wonder if Matthew is basically summarizing "the rest of the story" here, while the story itself took a lot longer to come to this understanding. I can't give you the answer. I believe Jesus appeared to the disciples in Galilee and commissioned them to spread the word.

This now leads us to Luke, in some ways the most unique. Luke tells us nothing of Galilee. If all we had was Luke, you would crucify me if I even suggested the content of Matthew and Mark! Here is a stern warning to those who think they are defending God with their zealous harmonizations and deChristianization of others for not holding a rigid, Chicago statement type version of inerrancy. If all we had was any one of the four gospel presentations, they would deChristianize someone for suggesting any of the other gospel versions! Since the other gospels are equally inspired, we must seriously doubt that such zealots are very good representatives of God on this issue. Like the pre-Christian apostle Paul, they have a zeal without knowledge.

The men on the road to Emmaus are unique to Luke (I've mentioned previously that I think the longer ending of Mark is basically summarizing Luke at this point). I don't doubt this story--maybe some early Christians did doubt these guys' story, which might explain why the other gospels don't include it.

Then Luke slips in a most surprising comment in 24:34: "The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!" Why isn't this narrated anywhere? It is surely the most significant appearance of all, one that Paul mentions as the frontispiece in 1 Corinthians 15:5!

It seems to me that we must take one of two paths at this point.

1. We might suppose that it is at this point that Luke has omitted the appearances of Jesus in Galilee. This has the strength of fitting with the trajectories of Matthew and Mark, which both give us no reason to believe that Jesus ever appeared in Jerusalem to the disciples. On the other hand, both Luke and John tell us that Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem the night of the resurrection. To conclude otherwise requires us to sacrifice a major aspect of their historical portrayal (although not their theological portrayal).

This might not be too difficult if it were only Luke, since Luke seems to artfully arrange his material. E.g., compare the ending of Luke with Acts. Not only are there no appearances of Jesus in Galilee at all there, but the time connections would most naturally lead us to see Jesus rising and ascending to heaven on the same day (24:1, 9, 13, 33, 36, 50)! The only possible gap is at verse 50, and we wouldn't guess it unless we had Acts and the other gospels.

I conclude that Luke presents these events with artistry without in any way feeling it wrong to arrange things to make the message at hand as clear as possible. Thus his omission of any resurrection appearances in Galilee. His goal is to present the truth of the gospel as clearly as possible, not to present the most precise historical reconstruction possible.

By the way, one reason to suggest the downplaying of the appearence in Galilee (e.g., to Peter and the others) is precisely because of what Matthew 28:17 tells us... some of the disciples were not convinced by these appearances. What if the disciples rushed back to Jerusalem when some of them believed that Jesus had risen from the dead?

This seems a very tempting place to put the trip to Galilee, and it allows us to take the rest of the story in Luke at face value, the appearance to them in Jerusalem being the one that really convinced the other disciples! While Jesus is appearing to the men on the road to Emmaus, the other disciples are seeing him in Galilee. Then they all rush back to Jerusalem!

The biggest weakness to this theory is that John also tells us of Jesus' appearance that first night in Jerusalem (20:19-23). This fact significantly ups the historical ante, especially since so many think John is a witness independent of the other gospels. Therefore, most of us will feel more comfortable with option number 2.

2. The Galilee appearances took place during the 40 period mentioned in Acts one, after this evening appearance in Jerusalem.

This option has only the disadvantage of not explaining why some in Galilee still doubted in Matthew 28:17. Especially after the appearance to Thomas and such in John!

It seems to me that we have worked out at least two plausible explanations for the major issues of the gospel resurrection accounts. I do not believe you can remain sane and look at these four with a rigid, Chicago Statement, Southern Baptist inerrantist perspective. But we can plausibly fit the major aspects of these portrayals together--certainly enough to provide a plausible account of the resurrection, which is what is essential to Christian faith.

We have reconstructed the events like this:

1. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James after they and other women find the tomb empty. Paul interestingly doesn't mention these in 1 Corinthians 15 (heh, heh, heh, women? ...)

2. Jesus appears to Peter, either somewhere near Jerusalem (Luke) or in Galilee.

3. Jesus appears to the disciples, either in Jerusalem the night of his resurrection (Luke, John) or in Galilee (Matthew, [Mark]), or both (adjusting the timing of Luke and John a little or placing it during the 40 days of Acts 1).

4. Jesus appears to over 500 brothers at once (before the ascension on the Mount of Olives?)

5. Jesus appears to James and others who the NT calls apostles, lastly including Paul.

I don't claim to have all the answers. But I am trying to take all the accounts seriously as individual accounts, rather than shoving one or another down the throats of all the others. Someone might argue that this latter practice comes from a high idea of Scripture. But in my view it shows no respect at all for the actual books of Scripture themselves. The books don't hurt after I'm done with them--only the theology of misguided zealots.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Blessed Easter!

Christ's death on Friday meant atonement. From the human side it was humanity making an offering to God for its sins. It was also the satisfaction of God's justice toward sin, a way for God to be "just and the justifier of those who have faith like Jesus."

Easter means victory over death and the "defeat of the one holding power over death, the Devil." From the human side it represents our future resurrection from the dead. From God's side it is the vindication of Jesus and all that he preached while he was on earth.

While some parts of the New Testament emphasize the meaning of the death of Christ (e.g., Mark, parts of Paul, Hebrews), others emphasize the resurrection (Matthew, John, Acts, 1 Corinthians 15). For Acts it is the key verse of every sermon except for Stephen's. And arguably Stephen would have come to that point of his sermon as well if he hadn't been interrupted with stoning! In Acts it implies God's exaltation of Jesus as the cosmic Lord of all, the enthronement of Jesus at God's right hand.

In 1 Corinthians 15 it is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Paul lock-steps Christ's resurrection with ours, to where if we will not be raised, then Christ could not have been also. Similarly, if Christ has been raised, then we will be also. Christ is the "first fruits" of the dead.
On this score yet again I am thankful for the Corinthian problems, for one of the strongest arguments for the resurrection comes from this chapter.

One part of any historical argument we might make for the resurrection is the empty tomb. Even opponents to Christianity are said to admit no body in Matthew 28. And surely one would not invent women finding the empty tomb if one was making the story up--the ancients by and large did not consider them credible.

The other part of any argument for the resurrection comes from the resurrection appearances, particularly those that Paul mentions here:

"For I delivered to as of first importance what was also delivered to me, that Christ died in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again the first day in accordance with the Scriptures. That he appeared to Peter, then the twelve, then to over 500 brothers at once, many of whom are still alive [check my references]. Then he appeared to James and the other disciples. Lastly he appeared to me, as of one born out of season."

Paul has no reason to lie--after all some at Corinth don't like him and would love to catch him out. Further, he can refer to Cephas in passing in the letter, so they must know a little something about him. All our evidence indicates that so many of these witnesses went on to die for their conviction in the resurrection. That spells conviction in what they thought they had seen.

In short, if you believe that resurrections are possible, this must have been one of them.
May this be a blessed Easter (somehow happy doesn't seem to cut it)! I hope you will revel in the defeat of death, the enthronement of Christ as king, and promise of your own victory over death!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Reflections on Good Friday

In my mind, the arrest and death of Jesus must have been very shocking to the disciples. I believe Peter was ready to die for Jesus to live. He just wasn't ready to live for Jesus to die.

Paul calls the message of the cross foolishness to those who are perishing. And indeed it is ludicrous. The Messiah, exposed to public disgrace on a cross, cursed by hanging on a tree? How is this victory?

Tony Campolo made famous his line, "It's Friday, but Sunday's a comin'." But today, it's Friday. It is worthwhile to remember that not all the biblical texts focus on the resurrection. True, Acts does. 1 Corinthians 15 does. Matthew and John do.

But Mark presented the story with the climax at the cross. The climax of Mark's gospel is when the centurion sees how Jesus died and proclaims, "Wow, this guy must have been the Son of God!" It is the first time in the gospel of Mark that a human being has connected Jesus' identity with his suffering.

Peter didn't. After he was the first human to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, he then corrects Jesus for suggesting he is going to die. "Get behind me, Satan." It is ironically not even a Jew in Mark who first proclaims this truth, but a Roman soldier, a type of Gentiles like me who come to Christ.

So the bold message of Mark is that Jesus is Messiah--not despite the fact that he dies on a cross--but indeed, the cross reveals that he is Messiah. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

I picture the disciples scratching their heads to make sense of Jesus' death. Is he, like the Maccabean martyrs, a propitiation and satisfaction of God's wrath toward Israel? Again, God had bigger plans. Not just Israel, but the sins of the whole world, of whosoever believes in him.

Hebrews gives us the final word on the cross: "with one sacrifice Christ has forever perfected those who are being sanctified." Despite our affirmation of Wesleyan theology, let's not miss the point of Hebrews. The blood of Christ cleanses our sins; it deletes them from the registry of our conscience, making it "whole." His blood enables us to join that company of the spirits of those in the heavenly Jerusalem. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no more need for sacrifices.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tongues: Conclusion

6. Conclusion
I would summarize our discussion on tongues in four points:

1. The New Testament can speak of both the tongues of "humans and angels." In other words, the NT affirms the existence of tongues that do not involve the mind and that are not human languages. At least in Acts 2, the tongues in question seem to be what we call xenoglossia, speaking in foreign languages that have not been learned (they are a witness to unbelievers). 1 Corinthians 14 seems to be regular glossolalia (they turn off unbelievers).

2. The New Testament does not teach that you must speak in tongues to be a Christian. Paul flatly says, "Do all speak in tongues? (No)." He makes no distinction between tongues as evidence of the Spirit and tongues as a spiritual gift. The word for speak is the same in both Acts 2 and this comment in 1 Corinthians 12.

3. Some Christians have the gift of tongues, understood as non-human languages that do not involve the mind. Paul says not to forbid this gift. He means in Corinthian worship. I believe it is appropriate for some groups to apply it today as don't forbid exercise of this gift in private. Paul himself may very well have had this gift.

4. Paul does not wish tongues to be a hindrance in worship. At Corinth he reined in the use of tongues in worship. He forbid it unless there was an interpretation and even then only two or three one at a time. With the variety of Christian denominations today, I see this principle playing out in more than one way. There are communities of faith where uninterpreted tongues does not seem to be a hindrance to edification in any way. There are others where any exercise of tongues in worship would create massive disruption and possible schism. Let each group do whatever they do to the glory of God.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tongues 5

5. 1 Corinthians 14
I would summarize Paul's point in this chapter as follows:

Your worship is a horrible mess. Everyone is just thinking of him or herself. Do things that build up each other, like prophecy. Tongues more often than not build up individuals but don't build up the body of Christ. What is worse, unbelievers can easily mistake them for some pagan religious experience. Don't forbid tongues, as long as someone has an interpretation. You yourself should pray to be able to interpret your tongues. Even then, only have two or at the most three speak in worship, one at a time, and again, only with interpretation.

Tongues at Corinth were a problem. I suppose that tongues in an Assemblies of God church are usually not a problem. In fact, I acknowledged to a student once that it might be possible for everyone in a Pentecostal church to be edified by watching everyone else speak in tongues--even if there wasn't any interpretation. And I doubt many unbelievers these days in America will mistake tongues for some mystery religion experience. After all, what is that? I do think most non-tongues speakers feel really wierd on their first exposure to tongues--even many people the first time they experience tongues.

But in the end, there are so many more churches and church groups today than Paul could have imagined. And the existence of many of them is primarily due to the exercise of tongues. Chances are, if you're going to an Assemblies of God church, you probably find tongues edifying even if they're not interpreted.

By the same token, tongues would be incredibly divisive in your typical Wesleyan Church. I have no problem with our current stance that, for those worshipping in our fellowship, tongues is a gift best exercised in private for one's personal edification. If we have few who speak in tongues, we would have almost no one with the gift of interpretation. And I guarantee you that even if tongues were interpreted, the vast majority of our congregations would feel like "foreigners" to those speaking or interpreting (cf. 1 Cor. 14:11).

Tongues would create schism in most of our communities. I have no hesitation about what I think Paul would say in such a context, mirroring things he said about the Lord's Supper, meat offered to idols, and indeed, about the use of tongues at Corinth: "Do you not have homes to pray in tongues in? I will not speak in tongues in church if it causes my brother or sister to stumble or the church to divide."

We can be thankful that the body of Christ has come to have whole denominations whose special emphasis is speaking in tongues and who freely allow for it in worship. And that allows for whole denominations who don't forbid a person from speaking in tongues, but only use intelligible languages in worship.

And after giving you my conclusion, let me give my understanding of the train of thought in 1 Corinthians 14.

1-5: It's better to prophecy than to speak in tongues, because prophecy builds up the church. Tongues tends more to build up the individual.

And here let me point out the obvious: Paul's point in 14:5 is not "I wish you all spoke in tongues." His point is "BUT I would rather have you prophecy." Remember, this is in the form of a break up line: "I really like you Ken, but I don't want to go out any more." The goal of the sentence is the part after the "but," not the part before. Notice that the possibility of interpreting tongues is not brought up in this paragraph.

6-25: Prophecy is better than tongues in worship, because it builds up the church. Paul uses examples of "confused sounds" to argue against the use of tongues in worship. And here I note that it is not until verse 13 that he first brings up the possibility of interpretation. And even then, he argues that the speaker him or herself pray to be able to interpret it. And of course if a person knew such an interpretation, there would be no need to speak in tongues in the first place. You would presumably just tell the church the prophecy straight out. In effect, even though Paul has brought up the possibility of interpretation, he has brought it up in a way that leads to the disuse of tongues in worship.

In 14:18-19 we have another break up line: "I thank God that I speak in more tongues than all of you, but in church I would prefer to speak five words with my mind than ten thousand words in a tongue." The first clause is again a concession on the way to the real point of the sentence--worship should be intelligible.

I think that it is more likely than not that Paul is claiming to have the same gift as some Corinthians are exercising. While it is possible that he means human languages, the contrast he sets up--"with my mind"--pushes us rather to see his tongues as something he does without his mind. In Romans 8:26, Paul mentions unspeakable groans of the Spirit in prayer, and some scholars think this might be Paul speaking of his use of tongues in private prayer. Can "unspeakable" mean "speaking," as in tongues?

On the other hand, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 seems Paul's attempt to defend himself against those who would claim to have more spectacular religious experiences than him. On balance the evidence seems to favor Paul speaking in tongues. But it is not an absolute certainty since Paul generally tries to agree with the Corinthian positions as much as possible before steering them in a more profitable direction.

For the worship context, however, look at Paul's contrast: even 5 intelligible words are better than 10,000 words in a tongue. Paul does not mention the possibility of interpretation in this verse, reflecting his emphasis in the chapter away from the use of tongues in worship.

20-25 speak of the negative effect that tongues will likely have on unbelievers, urging the congregation to lean more toward prophecy. Again, Paul does not mention the possibility of interpretation in these verses, reflecting his emphasis in the chapter away from the use of tongues in worship.

In addition to unbelievers, he also mentions the potentially negative effect tongues might have on those who do not understand (idiotes). In this sense, the Wesleyan Church is largely made up of idiotes :-), those who do not understand. Paul likely wishes to prevent exactly what would happen in most Wesleyan churches if someone started praying in tongues in a worship service--the rest of the church would be idiotes to the tongue.

26-40 The remainder of the chapter lays down the rules by which tongues can be practiced in worship at Corinth. Two or at the most three people may speak in tongues during a service. They must go one at a time and only if there is an interpretation.

So Paul says not to forbid speaking in tongues at Corinth. But his trajectory is clear enough. In part because he knows what's going on at Corinth, he severely limits the use of tongues in public worship. He affirms that it is personally edifying and may even himself have the gift. But worship is about communication, and he recognizes the roundabout way in which tongues can communicate--and that only if someone has an interpretation. Prophecy thus serves the purpose of worship much more straightforwardly.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tongues 4

4. The Situation at Corinth
Ah, the Corinthian church. I love this church and am thankful for their problems. Just think of what it would be like if we did not have 1 Corinthians... in other words, if they had not had so many problems! There is SOOO much we would not know about the early church if it weren't for them!

The fundamental problem they had was division (1 Cor. 1:10). In particular, two power blocks seemed to be locking horns. The "Paul group" was a group, presumably of church leaders and original church members, who remained loyal to Paul's authority. A second group, the "Apollos group," was likely prosperous and of some status. I suppose that some of them became Christians under the educated, eloquent, and probably upper class Apollos.

If I have it right, this Apollos group had enough clout to take others to court, to afford meat and serve it to others, and had enough wine to get drunk. I think this is largely the same group, a group that considered themselves "wise" (see 1 Cor. 6:5) and to have knowledge (8:1). Paul mocks them when he tells them how envious of them he is, since they are already reigning in the kingdom of God and all (4:8). The edges of the groups involved on any issue may have been blurry, but I see most of the problems in the church centering on two core groups in conflict.

It is difficult to know for certain how the "spiritual gift" conflict does or doesn't connect to these two basic groups. But my hunch is that those claiming to have spiritual gifts are probably primarily from the Apollos group. Why? Because this language of spirituality in 12-14 is similar to things Paul says in 2:14-15. In that context Paul strangely speaks of the "psychikos" (soulish) person versus the "pneumatikos" (spiritual) person. The wording is so unusual for Paul (and, indeed, for most ancient writings) that many think Paul is using the language of his Corinthian detractors themselves at this point.

If so, the Apollos group is likely the group claiming to be spiritual. Paul himself does not encourage eating meat offered to idols, but we can see some PhD like Apollos telling them that "we Jews know that there's no one home at the temple of Apollo. Eat the meat because you know this and, thus, your conscience is strong." Whether they or Apollos came up with this argument, it is far more likely the Apollos group claiming to have knowledge and be wise in these kinds of ways. Perhaps 1 Corinthians 2 reflects them distinguishing themeselves from others in the church, whom they are deeming "soul-ish," psychikos.

But Paul then moves to his categories in chapter 3. "I wish I could call you spiritual, but you are really fleshly." They think they are spiritual. Paul says they are carnal, fleshly, babes in Christ.

So when 1 Corinthians 12 begins, "Now concerning spiritual things..." (pneumatika: the word gifts isn't actually there in this verse), it surely relates to those claiming to be spiritual. And if we use 1 Corinthians 12 to help us understand further what some of the issues of spirituality were--you guessed it--some at Corinth were claiming to be more spiritually significant than others in the church because of their spiritual gifts.

We can basically summarize Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 12 as "People are equally valuable no matter what spiritual gift they have." Some are eyes, some are ears, some are feet... But all valuable, and we should not look down on someone else because they are a hand.

Similarly, it is no coincidence that the "love chapter" is sandwiched in the middle of this discussion of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14. Love is clearly the antidote to the Corinthian divisions and, more specifically, to their spiritual gift issues.

But what might be the focal point of the issue here? What spiritual gift does Paul focus on in 1 Corinthians 12-14? What is he leading the Corinthians away from, other than the way some are dishonoring those without their gift? What gift does Paul have in mind when he ends chapter 12 with "be zealous for the greater gifts" (now shifting from the value of persons to those gifts that are most beneficial to the body)?

We know the answer when Paul picks up his train of thought in chapter 14: "... be zealous for the spiritual things, but more (mallon) that you prophesy, for the one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to humans, but to God..."

After beginning with the general issue of spiritual gifts, Paul now gets down to business. Apparently the way tongues were being practiced at Corinth was the focal point of the issue over spiritual gifts and apparently tongues were the lesser gifts (in benefit) that he alluded to in 12:31. And it is no coincidence that after beginning with "God appointed first apostles..." (12:28), tongues and then their interpretation are last on the list (12:30).

In short, while Paul clearly believes that individuals who speak in tongues are equal in value to any Christian with any other gift, the overall trajectory of his rhetoric in the overall context of 1 Corinthians 14 is to move the Corinthians away from the way they are using tongues in their community. Further, he is likely moving a certain segment of the church from thinking they are more important than the others in the congregation because they speak in tongues. Paul is "reining in" the way tongues are used at Corinth.

We will consider the specifics of Paul's instructions in the next entry.

Tongues 3

3. Mark 16:17 (Textus Receptus)
"And these signs will follow those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues..."

For some conservative Pentecostals, this verse also plays a prominent role. I say conservative because the only translations of the New Testament that consider it to have been in the original text of Mark are the King James Version and the New King James Version. Other versions only print the text because of its historical importance, but this is in deference to tradition. Their translators did not consider them original.

After I have said this, however, I have no problems with the message of this text. I believe that Mark 16:9-20 is a pastiche of post-resurrection events that some author took probably from the endings of the other gospels and Acts. When 16:18 mentions taking up snakes, for example, I picture Paul on the island of Malta in Acts 27. The mention of Mary Magdalene in 16:9 reminds me of John. The two mentioned in 16:12 are the men on the road to Emmaus in Luke. 16:15 is drawn from the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

Finally, 16:17 surely alludes to the Day of Pentecost. The word "new" tongues ("new" isn't even in all the manuscripts that have this ending) seems simply a reference to the fact that the languages on the Day of Pentecost were new to the apostles. I suppose it is possible that it is a reference to the tongues of 1 Corinthinans 14.

So even if the passage was original, it would not contribute anything new to our discussion of tongues. For example, the verse doesn't say that every Christian will do all these things.

I might just rehearse the reasons why there is such uniform agreement that Mark 16:9-20 was not a part of the original Mark:

External Evidence
There are two types of evidence that are discussed when one is trying to decide what the original reading of a text was. This is a science that can be used on any text in which we only have copies of copies that differ from one another and we are trying to decide between the various readings to figure out what the first copy said.

With regard to what we might call "the longer ending" of Mark, the external evidence is not good. I call it the longer ending because there is also a shorter one and a longer, longer one. The presence of the shorter one shows that someone else added another ending because 16:8 didn't seem like a good way to end the gospel... and thus even those manuscripts with the shorter ending are evidence that there was no ending after 16:8 in the manuscripts before them.

Jerome (400) says that he does not know many Greek manuscripts with the longer ending. Eusebius (300's) divided up the gospels into sections but made no room for verses at this point. The longer ending is not in any of the major ancient manuscripts and translations, including the two most famous, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. However, it was used by Tatian in the late 100's in his spliced together "four gospels" and Irenaeus knows of it as well (Justin Martyr has a sentence with some of the same words, but it's not a conclusive allusion).

A late Armenian manuscript says, "of Ariston" right before the longer ending. Ariston lived in the early 100's, but most textual scholars don't believe some copier in the 800's (I think) could know who came up with the ending when no other manuscripts say this. But Ariston did live at the right time for the creation of this ending.

To sum up the external evidence, we have evidence that the reading existed by the mid to late 100's, but it did not appear in most ancient Greek manuscripts, particularly those considered most weighty.

Internal Evidence
The internal evidence is, however, determinative. Verse 9 basically starts all over again with the post-resurrection. It's like 1-8 never happened. Verse 8 ends with the women telling no one. Then all of a sudden we're talking about "Now having risen on the first day" again. The women were the subject in verse 8. Then Jesus is suddenly the subject in verse 9. This fact alone militates against the verses being original.

There are at least nine words or phrases in these few short verses (including connecting phrases) that appear no where else in Mark, and the style is different. These verses are more of a summary than the narrative we have been reading up to this point. I've already mentioned that the content of this ending is a pastiche of references from other gospels. If these verses were original, they would be the most "harmonistic" track of gospel anywhere in the four gospels. That's one of the reasons why many don't notice how odd they are--because we're used to reading the gospels as a single witness to Jesus rather than four distinct witness.

In short, there are a few ultra-conservative people with PhD's who think these verses are original. But their very position on this issue demonstrates to me that they have come to the evidence with their conclusion already in hand. I consider no one a reliable textual scholar who thinks these verses were original.

As a side note, I have finally admitted to myself that Mark probably did have some other ending that is lost. It would be unprecedented for a book to end with the word "for" (which is how it ends in the Greek... I won't go into it). And the other places in Mark where the word "fear" is used in this way, someone is usually afraid of something. Witherington thinks the ending of Matthew is the best place for us to go to figure out what the original ending might have looked like. That's a fair enough suggestion, if Matthew used Mark, but given the beginning of Mark, I doubt Mark had as much at the end as Matthew does.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tongues 2

2. Tongues in Acts
Most Pentecostals understandably make their home in Acts 2 (thus, Pentecost-als ;-). Acts 2 provides for many a direct association between being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Thus for the original Pentecostals (who had their roots in the holiness movement), speaking in tongues was a second or even third "work of grace" for a Christian after conversion. For those like the United Pentecostal Church, who see the Spirit-fillings of Acts as an essential part of conversion, it is a short step to say that you can't even be a Christian if you do not speak in tongues.

There are a number of problems here.

For one thing, the book of Acts does not say anywhere that tongues are always involved when the Holy Spirit fills a person. There are of course three incidents in Acts where tongues are mentioned when the Holy Spirit comes (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6). But there are other places where the Spirit comes and tongues are not mentioned (Acts 4:31; 8:17-19; 9:17-19; and the rest of Acts).

A person who argues you have to speak in tongues to have the Spirit is arguing from the silence of the text. I think Acts does indicate that tongues of its sort are an indication that you have the Spirit (e.g., 10:46). But Acts never says the opposite is true: that you will speak in tongues if you have the Holy Spirit. It never says this.

I might also add that 1 Corinthians 12:30 gives me the final answer on the issue of whether all Christians will speak in tongues: "All don't speak in tongues, do they?" In Greek this is a question introduced by me, thus a question expecting a no answer: "Do all speak in tongues? No" is a legitimate translation. And for those UPCers out there, Paul doesn't say, "Do all have the gift of tongues?" He simply says that all do not speak (laleo) in tongues, the same word that Acts 2:4 uses when it says the apostles spoke (laleo) in different tongues.

As a matter of argument, tongues are rarely mentioned in the New Testament as a whole. They feature prominently in 1 Corinthians where Paul is addressing a problem in the Corinthian church. But he doesn't even mention them in his list of spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8 (see their absence also in Ephesians 4:7-13). Indeed, they are last on his list even in 1 Corinthians 12:10. In short, a Pentecostal would not have written the New Testament this way--it would not look this way if their emphases were that of the NT authors.

So what of those Pentecostals who would distinguish between tongues as evidence of the Holy Spirit and tongues as a gift, as in 1 Corinthians 12-14? First, this is not a distinction we find the Bible ever making. That's a tell tale sign of a Christian tradition taking over, when the heart of a doctrine is nowhere stated. It's an ingenious way of splicing Acts to 1 Corinthians--just not one the Bible ever says. And I've already mentioned that 1 Corinthians 12:30 argues against this line of interpretation.

Again, if tongues were the evidence of the Holy Spirit, then we would expect it to go hand in hand with any discussion of the Holy Spirit. We would expect John to say the Holy Spirit leads into all truth (John 16:13), convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), and you will know it because you will speak in tongues. We would expect Romans to say that the Spirit bears witness with our Spirit as we speak in tongues and tells us we are a child of God (Romans 8:16). We would expect Paul to say that the Holy Spirit is a downpayment that guarantees our inheritance (2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:14), God's seal of ownership on us (2 Cor. 1:22), made clear as we speak in tongues. And it would sure be great if Hebrews 6:4 would be a little clearer in telling us that the heavenly gift it has in mind is speaking in tongues--it does relate it to partaking of the Holy Spirit, after all.

A Pentecostal would have told us these things in these passages. The New Testament authors did not. The most logical reason they don't is because they do not think of tongues every time they think of the Holy Spirit.

A second thing to think about is the fact that the tongues in Acts 2 are human languages, at least that is the most natural way to take it. I think Charles Carter used to suggest that they were speaking the same thing as 1 Corinthians 14, but that the people were given the gift of interpretation to where they heard it in their own languages. Ingenious! But of course Acts says nothing like this. It is another reading into the text to iron out an issue in our theology.

"They began to speak in different languages [tongues] as the Spirit was giving to them to speak out" (Acts 2:4) ... "... each one was hearing them speak in his own dialect (2:6) ... we hear them speaking in our languages [tongues] the great things of God (2:11)."

It seems to me that the most natural way to take this is that they spoke in different languages and the people heard them in those different languages.

I suspect strongly that the tongues of those who claim that their tongues are the evidence of the Holy Spirit would not pass a foreign language test. Yet this seems to be the tongues of Acts 2.

And while Acts 10 and 19 do not tell us if the tongues are foreign languages or not, the book of Acts itself gives us no basis to consider it anything different from the tongues of Acts 2. That is, Acts never informs us of the 1 Corinthians 14 type of tongues. In the story world of Acts, they do not clearly exist. The burden of proof is thus on anyone who would argue that the tongues in Acts 10 and 19 are angelic languages or prayer languages or ecstatic languages or anything other than the different human languages of Acts 2.

So why does Luke mention tongues these three times?

It is interesting to me that the interpretation Peter gives of the tongues in Acts 2 is a Scripture from Joel that sees prophecy as a primary feature of the coming of the Spirit. This fits with the fact that the tongues in Acts 2 are used for missionary purposes--not for personal edification as the "evidence" of the Spirit turns out to be in the UPC. One of Luke's special emphasis is that the gospel is for the whole world and to the ends of the earth. How appropriate that the prophetic message be given to people from all over the world through the ability to speak in their languages!

I believe Luke mentions the tongues in Acts 10 to make it clear that the experience of the Gentiles wasn't different in any way from the experience of Jews on the Day of Pentecost. This was a very important point so that Jewish Christians could not claim any superiority over Gentile Christians. Again, tongues in Acts 10 serve an important corporate purpose.

Similarly, I believe that Acts 19 mentions tongues to make it doubly clear that being baptized by John the Baptist was not the same thing as being baptized by the Spirit. The tongues emphasize this point. Again, tongues serve to make a theological point here.

A final note. The text of Acts 2, presenting us with events on the Day of Pentecost, has proved to be extremely important as a sacrament of revelation both to Wesleyan and Pentecostal communities of faith. Indeed, this text is more important to us than to most other Christian communities. A good deal of our past identity is tied up with a particular reading of this text. Without closing the doors to these sacramental means of theological grace, we might also keep in mind an original meaning concern in the process.

While we have four gospels, we have only one Acts. Those gospels are often quite unique from each other and can differ both in arrangement and emphasis. Indeed, in some instances we might be quite misled if we had only one of them.

For example, we would not know that Mary and Joseph came from Nazareth to Bethlehem if we didn't have Luke. We would think they had always lived in Bethlehem and only moved to Nazareth after Jesus was born (from Matthew). Similarly, we would not know that Jesus spoke in parables or cast out demons if all we had was John.

Here's the warning: if we had second volumes to Matthew, Mark, or John, they would likely differ as much from Acts as Luke differs from Matthew, Mark, and John. Unfortunately, we don't know exactly how they would differ.

So we probably should not take Acts to be a straightforward videotape of events in the life of the early church. This fact argues against basing the core of one's theology on a specific way of reading between the lines of the specifics of Acts. And that is exactly what Pentecostals tend to do.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Tongues 1

I don't know how much I will blog on tongues, but this entry hath come forth.

What are tongues?
The Greek word glossa means "tongue" (as in the organ in your mouth) but also by extension, "language" (the thing your tongue speaks). Paul mentions the "tongues of humans and angels" in 1 Corinthians 13:1, and the fact that the Testament of Job tells of Job's daughters speaking in angelic tongues leads us to take "angels" seriously in this verse (although some argue it is a later Christian addition to the text). In other words, when certain non-Christian Jews spoke in "tongues," they apparently believed they were speaking in angelic languages.

Were they? Were the Corinthians possibly speaking in angelic languages? I personally doubt it, but must remain open to the possibility. Paul speaks of the "third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2) and likely alludes to the dead "under the earth" (Phil. 2:10), but I see such language as God incarnating truth in their ancient worldview. Of course don't take me to believe the sun goes around the earth just because I might occasionally say something about the "sun setting." So we have at least three possibilities: 1) sometimes people do speak in angelic languages, 2) Paul never really understood the phrase "angelic languages" literally in the first place, and 3) while he may have thought of them literally, this is an instance of God revealing something through their ancient worldview.

We actually get mixed signals on whether tongues are human languages (xenoglossia) or not in the biblical texts. In Acts 2, the most obvious interpretation is that the disciples are speaking in human languages. Jews hear the gospel proclaimed in their own tongues from all around the Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand, Paul speaks of the tongues at Corinth more in terms of "the tongues of angels." They do not pray with their minds (14:10, 19). The words are unintelligible (cf. 14:7-11). And Paul's presumption is that unbelievers will not understand them (14:21-23).

So the Bible implies that tongues might be human languages or they might be something else that Paul alludes to in one way or another as "tongues of angels."

I might point out that in something like its 1 Corinthians 14 variety, tongues seems to be a pan-religious phenomenon. I have already mentioned non-Christian Jews above who apparently spoke in tongues. I do not feel it necessary to say that such individuals were demon possessed or that Satan was in these instances counterfeiting the genuine article. The most logical explanation to me is that certain brains are just wired to have these kinds of experiences. And in the case of Christians, God sanctifies the experience as a means of grace. This is just my personal hunch as to what is going on in the vast majority of cases where tongues is spoken today. I am open to other possibilities.

So the Bible refers to two different kinds of activity as speaking in tongues. First, in Acts 2 individuals speak in tongues in a way that serves as a witness to unbelievers. Second, in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul speaks of tongues that shouldn't be done around unbelievers (glossolalia). But the biblical text refers to both as tongues. You cannot tell by the word "tongues" itself which the Bible refers to apart from context.