Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Brave New World of 1 Peter

We worked through 1 Peter 4 today in General Epistles class. 1 Peter has to be the "naughty verse" capital of the Bible, especially for Protestants. Just today, we came across:

4:1--"Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mentality, for the one who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin."

4:6--"For this reason [the gospel] was preached even to the dead so that they might be judged in the flesh according to mortals but might live in spirit according to God."

4:8--"love hides a great number of sins"

I usually conclude that verses like these are actually as strange as they sound--and that the evangelical scholarship that comes out with "nice" interpretations is usually a wonderful example of Kuhn's thesis. Kuhn's thesis is that paradigms usually (he would say always) have anomalies that can't be fit into the paradigm. These anomalies are the seeds of paradigm change, but of course the power brokers of paradigms resist new paradigms and usually use their power to oppose them. Most scholars in the field of course devote their considerable intelligence and energy to finding possible ways of explaining the anomalies.

So it seems to me that 1 Peter 4:1 does mean to say that the sufferings of the audience, which Peter understands to be the beginning of the judgment with the house of God, are "purgatorial" in nature. God's discipline really does in some sense address their sin. Yet the discipline also has corrective force that leads them to avoid sinful behavior too. This is not a very good Protestant interpretation, but it is the one that seems to me to fit the text of 1 Peter the best.

1 Peter 4:6 sounds like the gospel was preached to the dead, who had in a sense endured punishment for their sins in death. The verse sounds as if these dead had an opportunity thereafter for their spirits to be resurrected. Scot McKnight gives a good argument for the NIV addition of the word "now" in his commentary--the gospel was preached to those who are now dead, but they weren't dead when the gospel was preached to them.

It's a close call, but it seems to me the text could have easily have been clear about this if it were the intended meaning. I fall off the log today with the interpretation that this refers to Christ preaching to the righteous dead of pre-Christian times, giving "saints" like Abraham a chance to be a part of the resurrection. In this sense it would be a one time event, since the living since Christ have the benefit of hearing the gospel while they are living (not getting sidetracked into the question of those who have never heard).

The final verse, 4:8, it seems to me does in fact turn out to have a "nice" interpretation. The key is to understand "sins" here in terms of wrongs done to others. When our fundamental attitude is love toward one another, we are much more likely to overlook any wrongs that we might do to one another. That will preach!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Monday Thoughts: 1 Enoch and the New Testament

The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36; pre-200BC)
The book of Jude makes the relevance of 1 Enoch for the NT beyond question. Jude 14 quotes the first part of 1 Enoch, called the Book of the Watchers: "Enoch, the seventh from Adam, has also prophesied about these individuals, 'Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand saints to effect judgment on all and to convict every soul in relation to all their deeds of ungodliness that they did and all the harsh things ungodly sinners have spoken against him" (quoting 1 Enoch 1:9). It seems reasonable to conclude that Jude considered some portion of 1 Enoch actually to come from Enoch and, perhaps, even to be Scripture.

Since Jude already quotes the Book of the Watchers, it is easy to hear Jude 6 in the light of 1 Enoch as well. Jude 6 says, "the angels who did not keep their beginning but left their first dwelling have been kept for the judgment of the great day in eternal chains under gloom" (2 Pet. 2:4 incorporates the same material). While Christians naturally understand this statement in the light of Satan's fall, it seems more likely that Jude has in mind the fall of the watchers in the days of Noah. The sons of God (angels) have sex with the daughters of men (human women) and giants are born of the union. But God has the angels Raphael and Michael bind these angels in the valleys of the earth (1 Enoch 10:4, 11-12) until the day of judgment.

1 Enoch 6-11 tells the story as it was commonly understood by many Jews and early Christians. Tertullian in fact believed that this story held the key to 1 Corinthians 11 and the veiling of women. Women praying and prophesying, interacting with the spiritual realm, should have a veil on their heads because of angels like the ones that slept with women before the Flood. I don't personally go with this interpretation of 1 Cor. 11, but it does shed some light on how the ancients understood angels.

First, the ancients conceptualized angels as males, including male organs. There are no female angel names in the Bible or ancient Jewish literature. Secondly, not all angels are good. Paul mentions that Christians will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3). It is possible that he has these same angels in mind! The question at least arises whether Jesus' comment that all will be like the angels in resurrection pictures the resurrection body as angelic (cf. Thomas 104).

It also seems most likely that 1 Peter 3:19-20 has this story in view. Christ, "having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in spirit, in which also having gone he preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed formerly when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah..." What other Jewish tradition involves the binding of spirits who sinned in the days of Noah? The idea is that as part of the end of the age, the resurrected Christ proclaimed judgment to the spirits of the fallen angels.

There are some more general ways in which the Book of the Watchers might give background to the thought of the New Testament and Jesus' ministry. One of the hallmarks of Jesus' ministry was his casting out of demons. How is it that demons have come to rule the earth? For 1 Enoch 12-16 (not for 1 Enoch 10:15), demons emerged from the dead bodies of the giants. God tells Enoch to tell the fallen watchers: "you originally existed as spirits, living forever... The spirits of heaven, in heaven is their dwelling; But now the giants who were begotten by the spirits and flesh--they will call them evil spirits on the earth, for their dwelling will be on the earth. The spirits that have gone forth from the body of their flesh are evil spirits" (15:6-9--Nickelsburg's new translation).

Not of immediate importance to the New Testament, but important background as we consider Jewish understandings of the afterlife, is 1 Enoch 22. In this passage we find four compartments for the dead. Those in two compartments are set. These are criminals who were punished on earth and the righteous who apparently died peaceful deaths. Those who face unfinished business are the righteous who were unjustly killed and the wicked who apparently died in peace. This chapter reminds us that not all Jews looked to a general resurrection. Indeed, it is not clear that we should think of a bodily resurrection in this chapter at all.

Astronomical Book (72-82; ca. 200BC)
I can't think of any significant background that this portion of 1 Enoch provides for the NT.

The Apocalypse of Weeks (93:1-10; 91:11-17; ca. 200-170BC)
The NT does not directly interact with this historical apocalypse. It is significant generally in the fact that it does not consider the current temple legitimate yet has no sense of a coming messiah or resurrection. There is perhaps a sense that the fallen angels will be replaced after they are judged with new "powers of heaven." Not clear at all from this context that these are resurrected righteous.

The Dream Visions and Animal Apocalypse (83-90, esp. 85-90; ca. 160BC)
Again, no specific interaction with the NT. Now there does seem to be a somewhat messianic figure along with the new temple (90:37), but in my opinion there is still no resurrection. The fact that "all the sheep" are in that house is more likely a reference to the gathering of Israel from the Diaspora (90:29). I am not convinced that the abyss full of fire (90:26-27) is different from the Valley ge Hinnom, since bones burn.

The Epistle of Enoch (92-105; some parts 1st century BC)
An extensive part of the middle section of this part of 1 Enoch is not attested at Qumran, leading Gabriele Boccaccini to suggest it was written after the group went to the Dead Sea (ca. 100BC). One of the striking passages in this section for me is 103:4: "The souls of the pious who have died will come to life, and they will rejoice and be glad; and their spirits will not perish." This is not a bodily resurrection. It is some sort of strange resurrection of spirits, perhaps like 1 Enoch 22.

Where this datum potentially impacts our understanding of the NT is realizing that there may have existed a category of resurrection among the Enoch-Essene trajectory that was not physical resurrection--as in 2 Maccabees and perhaps the Pharisees--but spirit resurrection, whatever that might mean.

And here let me give my support for this translation of Acts 23:8: "For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angelic or spirit resurrection, but the Pharisees confess both." Whether this datum sheds light on Paul's spiritual body or 1 Peter's, "having been made alive in spirit," I don't know. It does, however, correct the (I believe) misconception that the Sadducees did not believe in angels. That idea is based solely on a faulty translation of this verse.

Similitudes of Enoch (37-71; late 1st century BC)
Perhaps the most important background 1 Enoch provides for the NT comes from the Parables of Enoch. This section of the collection is not attested at Qumran and the mention of the Parthians may date it to around 40-30BC. The most important intersections with the NT are:

1. The "Son of Man" as the Messiah. Jesus of course regularly referred to himself as the Son of Man. But what did he mean by this phrase? It was probably as ambiguous to his audiences as it has proved difficult for scholars to agree on. At times Jesus seems to use it to say little more than he is a guy, a son of man (Foxes have holes... the son of man has nowhere...). At other times the phrase has all the significance of Daniel 7:13, such as when Jesus tells the high priest that he will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62).

2. The Son of Man seems pre-existent in some way. The Parables at times came into focus in the early 80's in the question of how Christians came to see Christ as pre-existent. The dating of the Parables was a significant factor in that equation. The Son of Man was named before the stars of heaven were made (48:3). This "light of the nations" (cf. the servant of Isaiah 42) "was chosen and hidden in his presence before the world was created and forever" (48:6). It is possible, however, that the Son of Man is portrayed here as Wisdom (cf. 42:1).

3. The third parable features the Son of Man seated on a throne of glory judging the angels and all humanity (61:8; 62:2, 5). Earlier it is said that Sheol would give up all its dead, our first sense of general resurrection in the Enoch corpus (51:1 in the second parable, which also involves the Chosen One sitting on a throne, 51:3).

The parallels of these images with Matthew in particular are strong. Matthew 25:31-46 speaks of the Son of Man sitting on a throne with his angels with him, as in the Parables. Matthew in general has more fire, weeping and wailing, etc. as we find in 1 Enoch. This imagery is not nearly so prevalent in other intertestamental literature. Further, Matthew seems to adjust various Q material to portray Jesus as divine wisdom.

Of course the idea of Jesus on a throne judging the world also appears in Revelation 20:11. And Jesus destroys the lawless one with the breath of his mouth in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, just as the Chosen One slays all the sinners with the word of his mouth in 1 Enoch 62:2.

All in all, it seems very likely that Jesus and the authors of the NT were aware of and influenced by the Enoch corpus. It of course goes beyond the evidence to suggest that Christianity might have grown significantly from the Essene tradition. But that doesn't stop me from wondering...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lectionary Thoughts: 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18

Today's BCP lectionary reading (Year C ;-) is from 2 Timothy:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

We traditionally read these words in the light of Paul's approaching death. The first defense is understood as a preliminary appearance before Nero. We generally think of Paul dying after a subsequent appearance.

There is a serious pathos to the second paragraph. Even Paul's fellow workers deserted him, except for Luke. Yet he is a model for us as we face the ultimate. First, he faces the future with resolve. Despite opposition from those outside and abandonment by those who should have stood at his side, he stands resolute, ready for his departure. How would we do if we were put in such ultimate circumstances?

There's a fair chance that many Christians would do fine when facing the ultimate challenge to their faith. Indeed, they are more likely to be defeated by the smaller, day to day challenges where the "Christ or sin" choice is far less clear. Paul had been preparing for the ultimate. The challenge for us may not be so much to answer correctly before the emperor. The question for us is whether we can say at the end that we have fought the good fight all along!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Review: The Civil War as a Theological Crisis

A friend of mine put me on to a chapter in Mark Noll's book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. The chapter was "The Crisis over the Bible." What a salacious read! I'll start with a summary, but you'll see why I enjoyed it in my description. The chapter relates to the debate over what the Bible might have to say on the subject of slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War.

1. First, it was easy for those in favor of slavery to point to individuals like William Lloyd Garrison, who basically argued that there were times when discarding a portion of Scripture was the highest evidence of a love for truth. Garrison's presumption here was that the Bible did indeed endorse slavery, but a love of the truth lead one to disregard its teaching on this subject.

This argument of course empowered pro-slavery Christians, for they could use Garrison to argue that all those who were against slavery were godless people who didn't believe in the Bible.

2. Second, the pro-slavery Christians had many, many specific verses to use in their favor. As Noll says, "open the Bible, read it, believe it."

Lev. 25:45-46a: "the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever."

Philemon: Paul instructs an escaped slave to return to his master.

Gen. 9:25-27: "Cursed be Canaan... Canaan shall be his servant." In other words, Ham's descendents were to be the slaves of Noah's two other sons. It was a common belief at that time that the peoples of Africa were the descendents of these.

Gen. 17:22: "he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger" [shall be circumcised].

Deuteronomy 20:10-11: "When thou goest forth to war... and thou hast taken them captive..."

Jesus: abrogated many OT regulations like polygamy and easy divorce--but never said a word against slaveholding.

1 Cor. 7:11--"Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it..."

Rom. 13:1, 7--"Be subject to the higher powers." Paul tells them to conform to the Roman imperial system, which had a harsh system of slaveholding.

Col. 3:22; 4:1--"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh." Paul does not question the master-slave relationship.

1 Tim. 6:1-2--"servants under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour... they that have believing masters, let them not despise them." Conversion of slaves did not provide cause for emancipation.

These verses were used by Thomas Thompson to support the slave trade in the early 1770's biblically.

3. Third, Noll mentions two defining moments in the early 1800's:

There was a fair debate between one Richard Fuller and Francis Wayland in 1844. Fuller vigorously defended slavery biblically, although he conceded that there were many abuses in the South. Here was Fuller's bottom line: Wayland "admits that neither the Saviour nor his apostles commanded masters to emancipate their slaves; nay, they 'go further,' he adds, 'and prescribe the duties, be it remembered, there is not an intimation of manumission, but the whole code contemplates the continuation of the relation."

So how, Fuller asked, can Wayland argue in general that the moral precepts of the gospel condemn slavery? Wayland was arguing that slavery went against the overall principles of the gospel. Meanwhile, Fuller hammered him with specific verses.

A second defining moment came from Moses Stuart. Stuart believed that Southern Christians, while not compelled, should give up slavery voluntarily. He did not think, for many of the biblical reasons quoted above, that slavery was an evil in and of itself. He simply believed that working out the principles of the gospel would eventually result in the gradual elimination of the practice.

Noll ends this section with some quotes from pro-slavery advocates who said things like that "we have long since settled" the biblical sanction of slavery, descriptions of the cause of slavery as "the cause of God, the cause of Christ ... of Bible with Northern infidelity -- of pure Chrisitianity."

I might also add that the Southern Baptist Convention was founded in opposition to a ruling of the American Baptist Missionary Union in 1844 resolved that it would not appoint slaveholders as missionaries. So the Southern Baptist Convention was formed on the basis of an ardent pro-slavery stance.

4. Those who were against slavery seemed to draw as much on common sense and the basic republican principles on which America was founded ("all men are created equal") as on specific biblical texts: "the principles of the Bible are justice and righteousness." They argued for the "one-bloodism" of humankind (e.g., Acts 17:26).

Beautifully, the most powerful rhetoric against slavery came from the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin! Here a slave owner is depicted as saying that if suddenly owning slaves were to become a great financial burden, the slave owners would all immediately "discover" that the Bible was clearly against slavery. The impression is given that the Bible is easily manipulated to prove anything.

The verse debate is captured as one person quotes about Canaan and another responds "whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so unto them." As usual, specific verse goes against basic principle.

In one of the more memorable scenes, a Senator in favor of the Compromise of 1850 (States can declare themselves free but agree to return escaped slaves to the South) is convinced by his wife that he can't return a runaway slave to the South. In the actual situation, he recognizes that what seemed a good theory is wrong in practice.

Some also argued against slavery by arguing for the priority of the spirit over the letter. Noll mentions a man named Leonard Bacon who would have been glad to oppose slavery if he could have justified that position biblically. But he concluded that the spirit over the letter argument did great damage to the Scriptures. He ended up condemning slavery as it was practiced in the South.

5. There were some more nuanced biblical arguments against slavery.

David Barrow pointed out that the comparison between Canaan and Africans didn't follow. Southern slave owners weren't Hebrews and the Africans weren't Canaanites.

Exod. 21:27 says that a slave should be freed if the master harmed him or her (even knocked out a tooth). The South didn't do this.

James Pendleton argued in Kentucky that its slavery was very different from biblical slavery. What slaveowners armed their slaves like Abraham armed his?

Rabbi Raphall argued that American slavery dehumanized its slaves, which was not the biblical thrust. Biblical slaves were not property.

Tayler Lewis argued that racial distinctions were done away with in Christ and that the Bible nowhere legitimated racially defined slavery.

6. Noll sums up. It was easy for pro-slavery advocates to paint their opponents as opposed to the Bible. They couldn't accept at all the idea of the blood unity of the race. The more sophisticated arguments of some against slavery didn't fare well against the more commonsensically literal approach (God said it; I believe it; that settles it).

And of course the best line is one Noll has used elsewhere: "it was left to those consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant."

The similarity between the current situation on the issue of women and the situation regarding slavery 150 years ago should be obvious, even startling.

1. Those opposed to women in ministry and in favor of an inflexible husband headship turn to secular feminists to argue that you can't believe in the Bible and be in favor of women ministers or a more egalitarian home.

2. They marshall a host of specific verses, especially 1 Timothy 2 but also 1 Corinthians 14 and the household codes of Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter.

3. The Southern Baptist Convention is leading the charge still for "sticking to the Bible" on women ... and they will try to hide this part of their history in 100 years just like they don't talk much about their founding in rebellion to a rule only forbiding slave owners from being missionaries.

We also have the middle ground people today who say, women can be ministers even though the husband must be the head of the home. Also, those opposed use Jesus (why didn't Jesus make one of his disciples a woman?).

4. Those who argue for Christian egalitarianism often use basic principles over and against specific injunctions--"in Christ there is neither male nor female..."

5. Ironically, I myself have used the letter-spirit distinction :-)

6. We won't have a war on this one. But I do predict as many did about slavery that the trajectory is clear. Christians 100 years from now will wag their heads at those who didn't see the "obvious" truth of the gospel that God can and will use a woman in any role or way that He uses men.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Was Hebrews Written to Jews: What Scholars Have Said

I think we could fairly say that the majority of English-speaking Hebrews' scholars believe Hebrews was written to a primarily Jewish audience. I don't think so, but I wanted to quote some of the reasons that have been given in support of a Jewish audience. I comment after each quote.

1. Although he is commenting on the dating of Hebrews, Richard Longenecker (Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 144-45) assumes a Jewish audience in the following comment. He has concluded a Jewish audience drawing on William Manson, Yigael Yadin, and especially on Alexander Nairne. This comment is of a piece with this assessment:

"[O]nly on the supposition that the sacrificial worship of the Jerusalem temple still existed as the heart of the nation's life and an intact Judaism continued to offer a live option for the author's readers does the letter become historically intelligible."

The assumption is that the rhetoric of Hebrews is aimed to dissuade a Jewish audience from relying on the Jerusalem cultus. This is a seriously unexamined assumption, however, for Hebrews does not tell its audience not to rely on the Jerusalem cultus (yes, I am aware of 13:9-10). It tells them to rely on Christ's atonement because it works in contrast to the Jerusalem cultus. But such a message might apply as well to console an audience that has lost a temple it relied on as it would apply to an audience tempted to turn to it.

The second unexamined assumption is thus that the audience as Christians did not rely on the Jerusalem temple for atonement in some way. But it remains to be argued that all early Christians understood Christ's atonement to replace the temple cultus in toto. It seems rather more likely to me that many early Christians saw Christ's "sacrifice" as a supplement rather than full replacement. This is exactly the reason why Hebrews is written--to show that Christ's atonement is in fact a full atonement rather than an additional one.

As it plays into the ethnicity of the audience, a third unexamined assumption is that this entire discussion, taken either in the polemic or consolation direction, would obviously apply only to Christian Jews rather than to Christian Gentiles. In other words, it assumes Gentile="liberal in relation to Judaism" while Jew="conservative in relation to Judaism." But this is almost certainly false. In reality there were likely Jewish believers who were far more liberal than many Gentile believers, while there was likely a significant portion of Gentile believers who were more "conservative" in relation to Judaism than Paul.

In short, Longenecker's argument reflects exactly the sort of paradigmatic blind spots that recent scholarship has been working hard to overcome.

I might also mention here a comment James Dunn made in Partings of the Ways some time ago that probably makes the common assumption that Hebrews is a polemic against the Levitical system rather than a consolation in its absence:

"likely we have to envisage a fairly homogeneous Christian-Jewish community somewhere in the diaspora, untouched by the sort of questions Paul raised; but hankering after the ritual and tangibility of the Temple cult, such as the primitive Jerusalem church had enjoyed. In other words, quite likely a group of Christians who had migrated from Jerusalem or Judaea, during or as a result of the Jewish revolt (66-70) and of the Roman suppression of it" (87).

Accordingly, "it is difficult to avoid talking of a parting of the ways in the case of Hebrews" (91).

2. F. F. Bruce (The Epistle to the Hebrews, xxiv-xxx).

Bruce's argument is somewhat nuanced:

a. First, Bruce recognizes a popular argument that is sometimes made for a Jewish audience and rightly dismisses it. In this we affirm Bruce while noting the "unexamined assumption" he thus brings up himself:

"The whole argument [of Hebrews] is conducted against a background of Old Testament allusion; considerable familiarity with the Levitical ritual, and interest in it, are presupposed. Yet all this in itself does not require either the author or the people addressed to be Jewish; we have known at the present time Gentile Christians who were thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament, accepted it as sacred and authoritative scripture, and manifested a lively interest in the details of the Mosaic tabernacle and the Levitical offerings..." (xxv).

Bruce himself, although he favors a Jewish audience, rightly recognizes that this argument is not definitive in any way. I am a Gentile, for example. David deSilva puts it another way: "the Gentile Christian was socialized to view himself or herself as the heir to the titles and promises that belonged to God's chosen people" (Perseverance in Gratitude, 3).

b. Bruce goes on, however, to argue for a Jewish audience:

"[T]he whole 'foundation' of Ch. 6:1ff implies the Jewish antecedents of the readers..." (xxvi)

Let us look at 6:1-2 and see if this comment holds water:

"Therefore, having left the word of the beginning of the Christ, let us bring on perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith upon God, the teaching of baptisms and laying on hands, both [the teaching] of resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment."

I am frankly flabbergasted at Bruce's suggestion that these words imply a Jewish audience, for the author implies that these items--repentance, faith, baptisms, laying on hands, resurrection of the dead, eternal life--are things that coincided with the "word of the beginning of the Christ." They also presumably correlate with "the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God" mentioned in 5:12. In other words, these are elements of foundation laid for the audience when they began to believe the word about Christ.

But most of these would not likely have been items of foundation laid for a Jew coming to believe on Christ! A Jew would quite likely already believe in repentance in relation to sins ("dead works"), faith in God, resurrecton, and eternal life. In short, rather than point to a Jewish audience, these verses provide the strongest evidence for a primarily Gentile audience!

David deSilva argues for a mixed audience, but he supports some Gentile overtones here in the phrase, "repentance from dead works": "More attractive is the suggestion that 'dead works' refer to idols" (216). Again, it is very difficult to see even a Jewish believer referring to performance of the Jewish law as "dead works." We find a similar blind spot in William Lane's commentary (Hebrews 1-8, 140): "the 'dead works' [here as in 9:14] are defined as the external regulations associated with the Levitical priesthood in the earthly sanctuary."

Yet deSilva argues against a purely Gentile implication for these verses when he says things like, "Jewish converts would also need to reorient their own trust in God to incorporate the role of Jesus in securing God's promises and favor" (217). I think it bears tremendous argument that Christian Jewish saw their faith in God as substantially different from their faith in God before they believed on Christ. The difference is their faith in what God has done rather than their faith in God per se. I can't think of any NT evidence that the phrase "faith in God" took on such substantially different connotations for believers that it would have been obvious that the phrase meant something significantly different for a believing Jew than it did for a non-believing Jew.

Harold Attridge (The Epistle to the Hebrews) notes rightly, "It is striking how little in this summary is distinctive of Christianity" (163). I have failed, however, to find a clear cut statement in his commentary on what he thinks of the ethnicity of the audience is. He presents the arguments for a Gentile audience second and is clearly has no problem with the idea of Gentiles in the audience. My guess is he would go with mixed.

c. Bruce's comment goes on: "... implies the Jewish antecedents of the readers, as does also the description of Christ's death in Ch. 9:15 as procuring 'redemption' of the transgressions that were under the first covenant" (xxvi).

Later on the same page he says that the author's "insistance that the old covenant has been antiquated is expressed with a moral earnestness and driven home repeatedly in a manner which would be pointless if his readers were not specially disposed to live under that covenant."

The false assumption here, however, is of a piece with the very assumption Bruce himself has already dismissed, namely, that Gentile believers would not have adopted a perspective in which they believed the Jerusalem cultus to provide atonement for their sins and that they would not have come to associate themselves with God's covenant with Israel even though they had not submitted to circumcision.

The blind spot is the assumption that the early Christians already had the perspective of Hebrews all along, namely, that Christ's death provided the only necessary atonement for sins, that after his death there was no longer any need for sacrifice at all. But this is not at all likely! They would likely have conceived of Jesus' death more along the lines of the Maccabean martyrs, through whom God brought His wrath on Israel to an end. Such an "atoning sacrifice" certainly would not imply to them the end of any need for sacrifice at all! Indeed, we fail to appreciate the potency of Hebrews when we do not realize how revolutionary its suggestion that Christ is the end of all sacrifice is!

My purpose here has been to show not only how weak most arguments for a Jewish audience for Hebrews are, but even moreso to point out paradigmatic blindspots in false assumptions about Judaism and Jewish Christianity that play into them. Of course I could now turn to positive arguments for a Gentile audience, but that will have to wait for another day...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Implications of Ex Nihilo Creation

By faith I believe that God created the world out of nothing, from no material that previously existed.

I believe this because it is the consensus of Christendom since the Gnostic debates of the second century. It is not in any of the creeds exactly. It is not clearly taught in the Bible. A very strong argument can be made that it is not what Genesis 1:1-2 was saying, although Victor Hamilton has given a very intelligent argument that it is what Genesis 1:1-2 was saying. But it is not clear that this is what any biblical text was saying.

But let's assume by faith that it is the Christian position. It seems to me that a number of things follow.

1. If God created the world out of nothing, then it seems to me that He must at least have as much power as the universe He has created. I can't lift 500 pounds unless I am 500 pounds strong. So in order to create the universe, God must at least have as much power of the universe.

This only implies that He is "all powerful" in relation to the universe, not that He is all powerful in relation to whatever "domain" He might occupy, if it makes any sense even to speak of His "domain" outside this universe.

2. If God created the world out of nothing, then it seems to me that He must understand everything there is to know about the universe's structure, fabric, and possibilities. I might coincidentally make something that tastes good in the kitchen because I did not invent the laws of how ingredients mix. But if God created the universe, then He created the rules for how things are and how they mix.

This implies that God knows what it is to be human. God knows what it feels like to sin. God knows what it feels like to suffer. The suggestion that God might have to become human to identify with us seems preposterous--God made every possibility of human existence and experience from nothing. Indeed, God must have made the possibility of evil and thus, in a somewhat figurative sense, "made evil."

Now, perhaps God also knows every specific thing that will happen before it happens (by faith I believe He does), but it seems to me that is not a necessary consequence of God creating everything out of nothing. Creation ex nihilo only requires that God know every possible event. Creation ex nihilo also does not imply whether God determined everything that would happen or whether He built randomness into the created order. Quantum physics currently suggests that He built randomness into the creation, which might possibly serve as a basis for some sense of free will.

3. It is difficult from this "natural revelation" perspective to know whether it makes sense to say
that God might "circumscribe" or envelop that which He has created. However, this idea doesn't seem ridiculous, whatever it might literally mean.

To say that God circumscribes His creation in space is perhaps to suggest that He is aware and has access to every space, whatever this might mean (and I am very uncertain whether we can really speak of space in these terms). From our perspective, we might call this "omnipresence."

To say that God circumscribes His creation in "time" is perhaps to suggest that He is aware and has access to every "point in time,"whatever this might mean (and I am very uncertain whether we can really speak of time in these terms). From our perspective, we might call this "timelessness."

If God has access to every point in time and space, then we might suppose that He is omniscient, not merely in the sense of the Open Theist for whom God knows every possible sequence of events. But if God "circumscribes" both time and space, then we might reasonably suggest that He knows every actual sequence of events.

In this case such foreknowledge does not necessarily imply predestination, for God could simply play the role of observer. However, it does pose the question of whether God gains specific knowledge of the actual sequence of events at the point of creation, at the point when He creates time.

4. If God created the world out of nothing, then in some fundamental sense He exists independently of the creation. "Heaven," at least in the sense of God's fundamental "dwelling" must be "elsewhere." We have no rational basis to say what the rules or nature of such a dwelling are for God, although certainly He is welcome to reveal a bit to us about it. We should strongly suspect, however, that such revelations will come by way of analogy, since it is not clear that we have any firm point of reference from which to understand them.

What we are saying is that we can draw few inferences about what God is in His essence or nature from the perspective of creation ex nihilo, and we strongly suspect that revelations about His "nature" are far more metaphorical than literal. It is indeed possible that what we think of as God's nature is really the face He shows to the world, the "nature" of God as we understand it from where we sit in this universe, the self He has revealed to us.

5. One benefit of this line of thinking is the foolishness of the skeptic's question, "Then who created God?" The cosmological argument suggests that because every effect needs a cause, therefore, there must be a first Cause that is uncaused. David Hume replies, "Then who made God?"

But an ex nihilo perspective renders this objection itself as foolish. The cosmological argument is now, "We observe that effects in this universe generally need a cause (although we can question this idea on the quantum level now). Indeed, it is currently the consensus of astrophysicists that the world had a beginning at a "point in time." It is at least possible that the question, "What caused that beginning?" is a coherent one.

But to say that the universe needs a cause says nothing about that Cause outside this universe. The very argument has been that things in this universe need causes, which says nothing about things outside this universe. The question of where God comes from thus turns not to understand the nuance of the argument.

6. But indeed, most of Christian theology to the present has continued to speak of God as if he were inside the universe in His fundamental "being." Discussions of His nature are of this sort. We must at least set a question mark at the end of any comment in the current rage of using Trinitarian models to talk about everything. We remember that the language of Nicaea and Chalcedon itself was expressed in the world views of the fourth and fifth centuries. I suspect that there will be much ribbing in heaven of all those who have gone beyond the metaphors of "one substance," "three distinct persons" to what will turn out to be gross oversimplications of the reality.

7. In this same vein, one might use the perspective of ex nihilo creation to suggest the possibility that the goodness of God is a matter of how He has created this universe, that good is good here because God says so. Whether language of His nature outside this universe makes sense, we cannot determine. We cannot determine it by reason for we have no point of reference. We cannot determine it by revelation for revelation is "incarnational" in nature and thus often metaphorical without any clear criteria by which to know when revelation is true on a literal level and when it is true on a metaphorical level.

We can thus imagine--although we have no basis to argue that it is so--that God might create other universes that function on the basis of other moralities and indeed on the basis of rules we can't even anticipate in any way.

8. In a sense, Boethius' and Aquinas' notions of simplicity, that God's essence is His existence now make some sense in relation to this universe. In other words, when we consider God's essence in conjunction with the parts of this universe, it somehow makes sense to suggest that His essence has no parts. What we see, however, is that this claim was, as most Christian theology, formulated from the perspective of God in relation to this universe and parts in this universe. It says nothing about God outside this universe.

9. Finally, we see from the perspective of natural revelation, to say that God is the "greatest possible Being" or the "most perfect Being" carries with it the qualifier, "in relation to this universe." By faith we might further affirm these in an absolute sense.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday Thoughts: The Authority of the Reader: Dumbledore as Case Study

J. K. Rowling revealed over the weekend that, in fact, Albus Dumbledore of the Harry Potter series was gay (he's killed in the sixth book, I understand, although he apparently makes a cameo to Harry when he briefly dies in the seventh :-). The trigger for this revelation came when she had them remove from the next movie an allusion to a girl he had once liked. Rowling informed the screenplay writer that Dumbledore would not have had such a crush because he is gay.

What a great opportunity to discuss hermeneutics (I can bring just about anything back to the subject)! To what extent does the author of these books have the authority to tell us things that she has not made clear already in the books? They are, as she tells us, already a "closed canon." That is to say, she will not be writing any more books in the series. Can she then make the texts mean something that they do not clearly mean?

The names that should spring to mind are of course Paul Ricoeur and Stanley Fish. For Ricoeur, once a text has been uttered, its author loses control over its meaning. It becomes, in a sense, autonomous. Nevertheless, Ricoeur did believe that the "world of the text" accommodated certain interpretations better than others.

For Fish, even the text cannot hold control over its own meaning. Texts mean whatever the communities that read them want them to mean.

So we return to the original question, Does Rowling have the power to control the meaning of her uttered texts? According to Vanhoozer, there is an "ethics of meaning" that requires us to listen to the author's intent. But somehow with art, with novels, paintings, sculptures, architecture, the piece itself seems to trancend such earthly moorings. The brilliance of art is that the viewer can make it after her own image.

So some reading communities of Potter will no doubt be glad to adopt Rowling's "interpretation" of one of her characters--indeed had done so before her announcement. But the character of Dumbledore in the text of Harry Potter winks at us and refuses to tell us. Indeed, Rowling herself cannot make him tell of his sexuality. It is his secret--he is free to be whatever he wants to be.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lectionary Thoughts: Isaiah 45:1-7

The BCP OT reading for today is from Isaiah 45:1-7:

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.

I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

These verses relate to Cyrus, the king of Persia who in 538BC allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. It is striking that the LORD refers to Cyrus as His "anointed," which of course is the word that will come to mean "messiah" around the time of Christ (it would be anachronistic to translate it that way at this time, however). God is thus saying that he is using Cyrus as His king to accomplish military purposes. What is striking is thus 1) that God is using a foreign ruler instead of someone from Israel and 2) that God is involved in the affairs of nations other than Israel. The first is more striking to us than the second, although the second might also have been striking to an ancient Israelite.

The second paragraph is as strong as any monotheistic statement in the OT, in fact stronger than most. In most of the OT, other "gods" protect and advocate for other nations. But here there are no other gods. God interestingly is even said to create darkness.

When we appropriate these verses for today, certainly we would affirm just as and perhaps even more vehemently than this passage that there is only one God. We might add further that, yes, He did create everything, including darkness. That He is in control of the nations is also no surprise to us. There is no nation, no country, no interest group, no faction, no person that stands outside His sovereignty.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Review: The Hermeneutical Spiral

The revised edition of Grant Osborne's The Hermeneutical Spiral is a 624 page monster, but it would seem to be the gold standard in graduate level interpretation textbooks. Beginning with minute attention to grammar, he leads us through to biblical theology to systematic theology and finally to delivering the sermon. In addition, two appendices deal with some of the hermeneutical issues raised by postmodernism and other late twentieth century hermeneutical discussions.

Despite my usual critique of the "modernist evangelical" paradigm at some points, Osborne has proved to be someone who recognizes the complexity of the hermeneutical situation and is appropriately nuanced. He has won my respect with his careful thought. I have very seriously asked myself whether this should be the textbook for the now board approved and, Lord willing, approaching IWU MDiv degree. For the record, we'll probably stick with W. Randolph Tate's Biblical Interpretation with some significant videocast and paper samples of the exegetical process.

Part I
Under Part I, "General Hermeneutics," Osborne leads us through the familiar territory of context, grammar, semantics, syntax, and historical-cultural background. He covers all the appropriate topics, although I think his headings could be streamlined.

For example, why have a chapter on context and then have another chapter on historical and cultural backgrounds--which is context? Osborne also reveals his "propositional" inclinations when he calls the literary context the "logical" context. Herein lies one of my critiques of his book--it reflects the modernist evangelical paradigm by leaning a little too much toward the Bible as propositional. I should temper this critique because he recognizes the extent of narrative in the biblical text, so he only leans a little excessively in this direction, not a lot.

In the chapter on grammar is, by Osborne's own admission, the most tedious to the student in the sense that he reviews aspects of Hebrew and Greek grammar. If a person doesn't know anything about these, the chapter might as well be in Greek or Hebrew. He does begin with matters of establishing the text, which though a student will not be proficient after a few pages, is a topic to be covered in such a class.

In Semantics he deals with the meanings of words, including semantic fallacies. In syntax he deals with the relationships between words. I probably would rearrange some of this material. For example, I think I would have covered figures of speech in the chapter on semantics rather than syntax. Also, he has an excursus on rhetorical criticism in Syntax. I would have had an entire chapter on discourse (as Hays and Duvall do) and put some of the stuff from his chapter on Context there. Rhetorical criticism applies to the level of discourse.

There were some significant take-aways for me from these chapters, however. I have already said several times in classes this semester the idea that we should not see more meaning in a word than is necessary for its particular context--a good way to think of how not to commit the overload fallacy. A blind spot for me was the apparent consensus that the Masoretic text remains a more reliable textual tradition than the Dead Sea Scrolls. I had assumed otherwise. This is, however, also a double check item for me. Another one of my critiques of Osborne is that after he has done a great job of presenting the mechanics of inductive Bible study, his theological presuppositions then steer specific interpretations. It is not clear to me, however, that this contradicts his professed method, for pre-understanding is a good thing for him, and hermeneutics for him has both inductive and deductive elements.

Another take away actually relates well to my take away from Derrida--meaning is found much more in the "difference" between words than in the words themselves. Call it semotaxis if you will. Meaning is not finding a word for a word but finding the meaning space in the interplay of words.

Part 2
The second part of the book proceeds through the various biblical genres. Here, as I just mentioned, Osborne's theological presuppositions begin to show. As some examples, he assumes without argument that Israel's law code was early and, unlike the pagan law codes of the day, were not idealized representations but actual demands (187). At the end of this part of the book, in his chapter on the use of the OT in the NT, Osborne assumes that the Jewish pattern of historiograph sought accuracy of content, as opposed to Thucydides' practice of inventing speeches (336). As far as I can tell, statements like these simply reflect modernist evangelical values and have no clear basis either in the biblical text or in ancient contexts.

In my opinion, some of Osborne's analysis in the genre section is flat, two dimensional. By that I mean that it lacks a certain depth in its apprehension of the socio-cultural dimension. And of course Osborne critiqued sociological approaches to historical background in chapter 5. His critique is probably fair to some degree.

However, I believe Mary Douglas' work on purity and holiness greatly enriches our understanding of clean and unclean. And I think that it was the dirt or uncleanness of the community, rather than sin in the way we might understand it, that was transferred to the ram on the Day of Atonement.

Here I might mention another critique of the book, Osborne often incorporates summaries of other scholars' work in the middle of his own discussion. This might seem a strength and maybe it is, although I would relegate the type of material he does here to the endnotes. The lists of claims of other scholars sometimes seem like foreign bodies in his text and make the reader work to ask whether Osborne actually agrees with the points of the other scholar or is simply presenting them. Osborne is a master scholar, yes! But his lists of other scholars' perspective come off to me like a high school book report--except of course that the material being covered is graduate level :-)

Osborne's theological presuppositions come out in the chapter on Law (an addition from the first edition) when he makes a strong claim that the Law has not been abolished in Christ but completed (199). This is a very important point for Osborne's theology of the Scriptures. My critique would be that the actual way in which the NT appropriates the OT is just plain messy. This is a nice sentiment, "completed in Christ," but it is unclear to me, for example, how this might fit with Osborne's sense of progressive revelation (something, I might add, he has toned down in the revised edition from the first, actually removing a section in the introduction with that heading!). Also, some of the OT just seems to be plain cultural rather than part of some tidy covenantal scheme.

The chapter on narrative is one of Osborne's best. By the end of the chapter we have not only been introduced to source, form, redaction, and narrative criticism, but he has led us to a deep consideration of whether narrative criticism intrinsically "fictionalizes" the biblical text. He correctly pinpoints the weakness of early narrative criticism for most Bible readers--because the real author and circumstances of the text's origins were bracketed from consideration, some strange meanings tended to emerge from a consideration of the text alone, particularly when an editor had left seams in the text. It did not take narrative criticism long to return to a consideration of such factors.

I did not find the chapter on poetry as helpful. Apparently OT poetry scholars have conducted a rather anal debate over whether we can truly speak of synonymous parallelism since every second line is going to be different in some way. Pointless. Osborne rightly concludes that the idea of synonymous parallelism is valid. I didn't find his organization of psalm types as helpful as it could be. Any outline in which "royal psalms" is a subheading rather than a main heading is less than optimal for use.

The chapters on Wisdom and Prophecy were fine. The chapter on Apocalyptic I thought was better, a very readable introduction to what can be a difficult genre to present. His evangelical presuppositions come out when he considers the history of the apocalyptic genre. Assuming that Daniel can't be pseudonymous, he must conclude that the apocalyptic movement started and then restarted again in the second century BC (290).

The chapters on Parable and Epistle are also fine, although Osborne again at times ends up listing the categories of other scholars in succession at times. He rightly dismisses the "one point" lunacy of Jülicher and those who argued Jesus didn't tell any parables with more than one point. I would suggest that he expand his epistle chapter next revision to include some of the recent work on secretaries, particularly that by Richards. He also does not give as much attention to the topic of pseudonymity as he might. I smiled widely when I read this comment, "I for one remain unconvinced regarding the late origin of works like Daniel, the Pastorals, James, or 1 Peter" (319). I smiled because of the book that's missing--2 Peter! Does the Grant Osborne of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School think that 2 Peter is pseudonymous??!!

By far my greatest criticisms of the book have to do with chapter 14, the "Old Testament in the New Testament," a new chapter in the revised edition. The NT authors simply didn't share modernist evangelicals concerns that OT passages be read in context. This datum has within itself the seeds of the paradigm's deconstruction. If your authoritative texts don't sanction your method of appropriating their authority, then your authoritative texts are not authoritative for you on the most fundamental level.

As we begin this chapter, Osborne begins with some highly questionable assumptions about the development of the OT and NT canons. For example, it is extremely doubtful that the OT canon was closed by 100BC. See the recently published The Biblical Canon. By far the "wow" sentence of this chatper was in reference to the apocryphal books: "the uncertainty of the early fathers about the extent of the canon is due more to their ignorance of Jewish views on the issue than to the actual state of the canon then" (324). What? Are you suggesting that the early fathers ideally would have realized that they were following an inaccurate canon in relation to the true canon--the one non-Christian Jews were using???

Perhaps it's not fair for me to treat the statement this way. Osborne's a smart guy. He probably would say, "No, I mean they probably were ignorant of the canon that Jesus and the apostles used as Jews since the Jewish canon was set by then." Really? The Greek speaking church was that out of touch with the earliest Christians? Time for Protestants to own up, it is far more correct to say that Luther took the Apocrypha out of the canon than to say that the Catholic Church added it in.

Osborne has the expected strong distinction between typology and allegory, the former of which supposedly pays attention to context and the latter of which tends more to ignore it. "It seems to me that typology [rather than allegory, pesher, etc...] is sufficient to explain the use of the Old Testament in the New" (329). Osborne admits he's in the minority (330). Frances Young put it well: the distinction between typology and allegory was “born of modern historical consciousness” and would have been confusing to the church “fathers,” Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1997), 152-53.

Part 3
In the final section of the book, Osborne moves toward the appropriation of the meanings that we have discovered through the tedious process of interpretative method. I might at this point mention something he said way back in the introduction when he was speaking of the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture. Osborne amazingly argues that what is clear is the result of interpretation, not the process (27). In other words, the method necessary to arrive at the meaning is arduous, but the result will be a clear interpretation. The hermeneutical principles "are not restricted to any 'elite' but are available to all who have the interest and energy to learn them."

It seems to me quite possible that this conception of perspicuity will not stand. For one thing, the interpretive result is clearly not clear, going by the diversity of interpretations among scholars. Secondly, this is a difficult book for most students. Few will ascend these heights. The method may be available for all to learn, but if this is the path to God's Word, only an elite few will be able to climb it.

Chapter 15 is on biblical theology and I was pretty happy with it. For Osborne, the aim of biblical theology is to trace themes through the diverse sections of the Bible. Systematic theology (chap. 16) then systematizes the themes and homiletical theology (chap. 17) puts them in a contemporary, contextualized form for proclamation. We might also mention historical theology as the study of the unfolding of understanding of systematic theology in history.

Where I would differ on biblical theology with Osborne is of course his optimism with regard to unity. I suspect that we must do a good deal more theological gluing and sifting to arrive at a biblical theology than he thinks will be necessary. In my opinion, biblical theology is indeed the crucial step in the process, but it is a step that is already at one significant remove from the biblical texts themselves. The paradigmatic prioritization and arrangement of biblical materials into a theology already requires an authoritative vantage point ultimately outside the text from which to process the text.

Here let me mention Osborne's occasional discussions of the "rule of faith," the "analogy of faith," and the "analogy of Scripture" (e.g., 361). For Osborne, the "rule of faith" represents the centrality of ecclesial tradition in determining doctrine and he associates it with the Roman Catholic Church (28). My use of the phrase is similar, but important to distinguish here. For me, the "rule of faith" is the consensus of the church, which sets certain boundaries for biblical appropriation. It cannot, for me, set boundaries for biblical interpretation, for the text meant what it meant originally.

But as the consensus of the church has degrees and is in some sense susceptible to change, the boundaries are not equally fixed on every issue. Further, the rule of faith has more to do with how we cannot appropriate the text than with how we appropriate the text.

Luther of course rejected the rule of faith in deference to the analogy of faith (28). In the analogy of faith, Scripture interprets Scripture rather than the Roman Catholic Church interpreting Scripture, assuming the ultimate perspicuity of the overall text on fundamental issues. Although Osborne does not spell out his critique of the analogy of faith, I will read between the lines because I think I agree with him here.

The problem with Luther's analogy of faith is that it still treats biblical texts in a non-contextual way. In other words, it is not a deep or contextual understanding of one text that is used to interpret another, but a rather superficial or pre-modern use of biblical texts. Osborne aptly quotes Gerhard Ebeling, "the analogia fidei actually undercuts a true biblical theology, since in the end 'the faith' of the interpreter's preunderstanding takes precedence over Scripture itself" (361). According to Osborne, Calvin revised Luther's analogy of faith to an "analogy of Scripture" (28-29).

I have attempted to process what Osborne (and Calvin) might mean by the phrase "analogy of Scripture" and here is my analysis from within my own perspective. First, Osborne means a genuine reading of Scripture in context. In other words, we are finding unity between diverse texts rather than interpreting one text on the basis of another. Secondly, if there are instances where a text does not seem to have any analogous texts (like baptism for the dead), we just walk away. Osborne quotes Milton Terry writing in 1890 (28): "No single statement or obscure passage of one book can be allowed to set aside a doctrine which is clearly established by many passages."

In chapter 16, we now consider systematic theology, the "proper goal of biblical study and teaching" (374). In this chapter Osborne considers the role not only of Scripture but also of tradition, community, experience, and philosophy in the process of systematizing biblical truth. Osborne is to be commended in his acknowledgement that all these other factors are inevitably involved in forming a systematic theology, unlike Grudem, who believes that "theology should be explicitly based on the teachings of Scripture." Osborne thinks this is a commendable but ultimately impossible thing to do. The Bible simply is not systematic (404).

My main critique from this point out in the book is that I believe Osborne does not acknowledge the degree to which his non-biblical preunderstandings affect his interpretation and integration of the biblical texts. This denial of skew in interpretation and of tradition in his integration allows him to claim that his application is largely the outgrowth of the biblical text. But in reality, the most central processing paradigm derives as much from the traditions to which he belongs, both that of orthodox Christianity and that of the modern evangelical movement.

One of the more interesting discussions in this chapter is his treatment of metaphor. He rightly recognizes that metaphors cannot simply be reduced to literal statements. Osborne then goes on to discuss theological models like Calvinism and Arminianism as somewhat metaphorical in the sense that they are "creative approximations intended to depict a particular theory or belief graphically" (391). He urges a certain tentativity about such models and to distinguish between cardinal doctrines and nonessential ones.

The final two chapters deal with homiletics. Chapter 17 treats the principles of contextualization. Perhaps we can sense a great deal of nervousness in this chapter. Osborne is very concerned that our attempt to put truth in new contextual form does not undermine the priority of the Scriptural text. Accordingly, we interestingly find some of the strongest statements on the authority of Scripture in this chapter:

"A plenary-verbal, inerrantist approach to contextualization accepts the supracultural nature of all biblical truth and thereby the unchanging nature of these scriptural principles" (411).

"contextualization must occur at the level of form rather than of content" (414).

He objects to Charles Kraft's sense of the Bible as a "divinely inspired casebook" rather than a theological textbook (415). He is afraid that there will be "too little left of the text when Kraft finishes, too little that is supracultural" (416). My critique here is of a kind with that I have mentioned several times already, the appropriation of the Bible is messy. It does not reduce to simple theological schemes such as those Osborne advances. Kraft is more correct than Osborne. Osborne suggests that "The issue is not whether a passage is normative but whether the normative principle is found at the surface level (that is, supracultural) or at the principle level underlying the passage (with the surface situation or command applying mainly to the ancient setting)" (421). The level of complexity required to work this approach exhausts me just to think of it--it would require me to skew the interpretation at numerous points and, moreover, ignores an honest look at the way the NT itself interprets Scripture.

Occam's Razor suggests that maybe in fact the Earth goes around the sun, and that Osborne's paradigm is fundamentally flawed because it is too propositionally oriented. Not that others have not gone to the other extremes too with their relational and narrative approaches, but Osborne is also off center. Don't peg me on an extreme either--that's too easy and inaccurate. I actually would categorize myself as a modest foundationalist and critical realist along with Osborne. I agree with Osborne, for example, that sometimes specific commands in Scripture can be supracultural.

A couple items of note appear in the final main chapter on the sermon. First, I smile to see that, unsurprisingly, Osborne keeps the Holy Spirit on a short leash: "the Word [sic on the capital--Bible, not Christ] provides the objective authority, the witness of the Spirit provides the subjective authority (that understood by us) of the divine revelation" (436). Again, the NT's use of the OT authorizes the Spirit to blow through the text wherever He wants, without any constraint on the basis of the "objective" original meaning of the text.

More helpfully, Osborne suggests that we as preachers should have a devotional relationship with the text before we preach it. Unsurprisingly, the sermon must flow from the theological principles of the text as we have arrived at them through the hermeneutical process of the book. Osborne ends with some helpful tips on how to prepare the sermon in form.

And so the book proper has ended. But there are two appendices on theoretical hermeneutics, the first of which deals with the problem of meaning and the second with Osborne's solution.

In the first appendix, Osborne presents the recent devolution of meaning among hermeneuticians, from the older author centered approach of Schleiermacher and Dilthey to Gadamer, structuralism, poststructuralism, reader-response criticism, and deconstruction. Osborne is fair in his treatment of these movements. He acknowledges, for example, that "The metaphorical nature of language is for the most part correct" (486). One the most fun statements in the book for me was his recognition that "a great deal of what the deconstructionist argues actually occurs in some modern preaching and Bible study groups."

Basically, Osborne is dealing with the challenge of what Ricoeur calls the autonomy of the text (which of course Osborne does not ultimately agree with). Once a text is severed from its author, there is no control to fix the meaning of the text and it becomes susceptible to the whims of its readers. Wolfgang Iser, for example, has pointed to the inevitable gaps that texts leave behind for a reader to fill in. Stanley Fish has pointed out the role that interpretive communities play in the meaning of a text. For the latter, an author's intent is not what a text is ultimately about but the way reading communities appropriate it.

Osborne discusses individuals like Ricoeur who mediate a middle position not quite as extreme as Fish or Derrida (Mr. Deconstruction). Ricoeur speaks of a world of the text that we can allow to control our processing of it. In other words, some readings of texts clearly pay more attention to the overall text in question than others. Canon-critical approaches create an even larger world of the text from which to view the meaning of individual passages. In my opinion, this canonical approach is an important part of the puzzle in relation to the rule of faith, for it was the consensus of the church that set the canon and thus the consensus of the church that sets boundaries and canons for approaching the entire text as the reading community that is the church.

Of course this is not the trajectory Osborne is on. He is rather more interested in Kevin Vanhoozer's "ethics of meaning" and Anthony Thiselton's appropriation of speech-act theory. For Vanhoozer, there is a moral demand of a reader that we seek what the author of a text wished to convey. For Thiselton, following J. L. Austin, a text has not simply a locutionary or statement meaning. Texts also have an illocutionary dimension which presupposes an author's intent as to what kind of text it is (a promise, an assertion, a command, etc.). A good reader reads texts accordingly.

I affirm the appropriateness of trying to determine authorial intent in Scripture, especially if we follow Joel Green's claim that we are a part of the people of the same God that these biblical peoples were. However, the NT example does not allow us to see authorial intent or original meaning as the be all and end all of biblical interpretation.

I'll confess that I was disappointed with Osborne's solution appendix. He rightfully dismisses pychos like A. J. Ayer and Anthony Flew, but he should have focused more clearly and intently on what he calls "action theory," which is basically what I said above about the illocutionary dimension of speech acts. He then discusses the sociology of knowledge of Apel and Habermas and then paradigm change as taught by Kuhn and modified by Barbour. The thrust of all this is to make us aware of our own preunderstanding as we approach biblical texts.

Osborne sees preunderstanding as a positive and necessary feature of the hermeneutical spiral (which involves circling between reader and text as we get closer and closer to the meaning). Of course some preunderstandings he does not believe should be negotiable. We ultimately are not looking for certainty, either verifiability or falsifiability, but for probability, given such criteria as coherence (hypothesis fits better than others), adequacy (harmony of data inside and outside the text), consistency (viable pattern of data), durability (theory has staying power, recognized by others), cross-fertilization (accepted by more than one school of thought).

He ends with a "field approach" to hermeneutics after passing through a section on "propositional truth and the logic of narrativity." He is certainly right that the plot and structure of biblical narrative do indeed function at the levels of assertion as well as command and promise" (513). He acknowledges that "not all speech acts in Scripture take propositional form. I have no problem with what he says here, except for the baggage in the background.

His field approach attempts to integrate all the polarities in such debates. It is nice and my main critique is only that it does not sufficiently recognize the role of the Spirit and the Church in the process. It is in this section that Osborne mentions Vanhoozer's distinction between infallibility and inerrancy, that I have already blogged on. Another interesting definition is that "the literal sense of an utterance or text is the sum total of those illocutionary acts performed by the author intentionally and with self-awareness" (520).

And thus, near exhaustion, we end the reading of the book. We may not agree with Osborne at every point, but certainly The Hermeneutical Spiral must be considered the classic evangelical hermeneutical text. He deserves deep respect and admiration for it!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Typical Skew on Sin in James

In my General Epistles class this semester, we worked through Nystrom's commentary in the NIV Application series. My impression of Nystrom from the commentary is that I would like this guy. He seems full of faith and exactly the type of person Zondervan wanted to write for this series. An added bonus to me are the references to classical literature sprinkled throughout. I don't know if Nystrom had some training in classics or if one of his principal sources did, but I like it.

I do have one bone to pick with him, however, and that is his use of the idea of a yetzer hara, an evil impulse, as the lens through which to look at double-mindedness in James. We all have an evil impulse, so the story goes, as is attested in the rabbinic literature. Thus we have a war within us between our good side and our evil side.

I'm going to leave almost completely out of discussion (in other words, other than this paragraph ;-) the fact that it is always thin ground to use later rabbinic discussions to interpret a person like Paul or James, who wrote some 150 years before the rabbinic material was written down. I know it puts a horrible damper on things, but half the stuff pastors use from the pulpit comes from older sources like Jeremias who were not scrupulous with their use of later sources--often much later!

But what is really significant is that this concept is clearly the wrong lens through which to read James. The double minded person in James is not "everyman" but is a person in big trouble. This person should not think they will receive anything from the Lord. The double minded person is someone whose loyalties are divided between God and the world, and this divided loyalty must either stop or face judgment.

So once again, the Zeitgeist of the church right now, unable to see that the Bible does not expect believers to be defeated by sin, the world, or the Devil, let alone to be double-minded.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vanhoozer on Infallibility and Inerrancy

My hermeneutics class has finished reading Grant Osborne's Hermeneutical Spiral and I plan to post my review of it Friday. In the final chapter, we came across Vanhoozer's definition of infallibility and inerrancy, which I thought was very nicely nuanced (and fairly easy to connect to my own understanding). Basically, Vanhoozer would say that the infallibility of the Bible means that God's word invariably accomplishes its purposes. In turn, inerrancy then means that when its purpose is assertion, the proposition of the speech-act is true.

This is very interesting and much more sophisticated than most people who use this language. For example, it recognizes that a good deal of the Bible is not "propositional" in nature. Genesis is a series of narratives, for example. Exodus, Numbers, Joshua through Kings, these are narratives rather than propositions. Sure, one might try to distill them into propositions, but it is a matter for serious debate whether this was their true purpose--at least when we look at the types of propositions that the "propositionalists" want to get from them.

So in what way is Psalm 137 infallible? This is the psalm that ends by applauding anyone who might bash the babies of the Babylonians against a rock. Clearly the purpose of this psalm is not to make propositional assertions. Indeed, this psalm is an expression of great grief. It does not really inform us about God or give us some deep theological truth. To me this psalm tells me that it is okay to cry out to God, okay to vent.

By Vanhoozer's definition, the term infallible applies to Psalm 137, but the term "inerrant" has no meaning because Psalm 137 does not make an assertion.

The word "inerrant" would thus apply only to statements like "God is love" or "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another..." It would not apply, on the other hand, to "Love your neighbor as yourself," for this is not an assertion but a command. The command is certainly God's command and fully accomplishes God's purposes.

Very interesting!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

1 Peter 1:10-12, IBS, and Inspiration

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look! (NRSV)

This is yet another biblical passage that, at least initially, seems to pose quite a problem for inductive Bible study. 1 Peter seems to say that prophetic texts about the Christ were understood by the biblical authors not to be about their own times but about the time when Christ would come.

The difficulty here is of course the fact that inductive Bible study leads us to conclude that most of the texts that NT authors read in relation to Christ had a first meaning that related to the time of the prophet. As is often said (even in Osborne's Hermeneutical Spiral), the prophetic genre was far more about forth-telling than fore-telling. There was a lively debate in the 1900's over whether it made sense to speak of a "fuller sense" to such texts (double sense, progressive fulfillment, analogous fulfillment, etc...), a "near" and a "far" interpretation.

Yet 1 Peter 1 seems to take a posture similar to Paul when he finds it difficult to believe that God really cares about cattle (he was a city boy, after all: 1 Cor. 9:9-10). 1 Peter seems to picture the prophets as recognizing that they were not talking about their own time but about the time of the Christ.

The problem is solved by applying the "incarnational truth" principle even here. It is easy for us to apply it when it comes to hair coverings or holy kisses, that is, to recognize that the Bible gives us incarnated truth in the categories of its original audience. Yet the principle applies to ideas as well, as when Paul speaks of everything under the earth bowing to Christ or being taken up into the third sky.

Another factor to take into the equation is the fact that pre-modern exegesis blurs the "characters" of the biblical text with the historical individuals of the biblical text. In that sense, 1 Peter is as much thinking of the "implied prophet" in the text as about what the "historical prophet" was thinking.

The affirmation that 1 Peter is making is the surety of salvation that the audience has despite their current sufferings, and it bolsters this affirmation by recourse to the collection of prophetic texts from Scripture that must have been part of early Christian proclamation. The incarnational aspect is the fact that the early Christians did not follow "inductive Bible study" methods but the methods of interpretation common to their day. These methods paid varying degrees of attention to the original context of the passages in which they heard God's voice speaking to them about Christ.

So I find no fault or error in 1 Peter. But what we do have is yet another serious undermining of the sole legitimacy of contextual exegesis, the idea that "it cannot mean something now that it did not mean then." The NT itself deconstructs this hermeneutic.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Monday Thoughts: Deconsecrating Sacred Space

If you look at the post immediately below this one, you'll see the liturgy I used in the deconsecration service of the chapel of College Wesleyan Church (we are moving buildings).

I have excerpted some of the liturgy below. What do you think of the theology and/or hermeneutics?

1. The Opening Sentence
Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge. Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there I will gather you, and from there I will bring you back.

2. The Content of the Opening Litany
Throughout the Bible, the history of Israel, and throughout Christian history, God has set aside “sacred spaces” where heaven and earth meet. Such spaces are like the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. God sets apart ordinary materials for holy purposes, and they become special mediations of God’s presence and action in us. The Bible is no less of a sacrament, a “place” where ordinary words are set apart for holy purposes, and God’s revelation is mediated. The Chapel of College Wesleyan Church has served such a sacral purpose for us.

When the common materials of this building were consecrated to God, God began to use them to mediate His presence and action here. First, this place became symbolic of heaven and God’s presence. We did not treat this space as we would treat ordinary space but as we would treat the very presence of God.

But sacred spaces are not merely symbolic, for God graciously transforms symbolism into reality. Not by our action or conceptualization, but through His gracious action the common becomes the holy and ordinary space becomes God’s real presence.

Today we return this space to the common and return this place to the earth. God will still be present here, for He is always everywhere present. God might still meet us and act in this space, for God can meet us and act anywhere. But today His glory departs from this room and from this church with us, until He deigns to sanctify new holy ground for us.

The Collect for the Day
All present God, who has sanctified this ground as holy ground, has met us here in the body and blood of your Son, has sent your Spirit forth time and time again and created us anew: Go with us from this place today until we find another resting place where we may remove our shoes in the presence of Your holiness, through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Service of Deconsecration: College Wesleyan Church

Today is our last day in the old building at College Wesleyan Church on Selby Street. We'll have services of deconsecration in each of the venues and in the main sanctuary and then will not meet in our new building until three weeks from today. In the meantime we'll be meeting in the college's Performing Arts Center.

As I looked to put together a liturgy for our "Liturgical Venue," I was surprised to find that there is no Service of Deconsecration in either the Book of Common Prayer or the United Methodist Book of Worship. Google similarly yielded little on the web except that churches had these sorts of services.

So I have put together the following, except for the final litany of thanksgiving, which is the same for the main sanctuary in a slightly edited form for our venue:
A Service of De-consecration

College Wesleyan Church
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

October 14, 2007

A Service of Word and Table

Opening Sentence (sitting)
Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge. Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there I will gather you, and from there I will bring you back.

Opening Litany (standing)
Officiant: Throughout the Bible, the history of Israel, and throughout Christian history, God has set aside “sacred spaces” where heaven and earth meet. Such spaces are like the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. God sets apart ordinary materials for holy purposes, and they become special mediations of God’s presence and action in us. The Bible is no less of a sacrament, a “place” where ordinary words are set apart for holy purposes, and God’s revelation is mediated.

People: The Chapel of College Wesleyan Church has served such a sacral purpose for us.

Officiant: When the common materials of this building were consecrated to God, God began to use them to mediate His presence and action here. First, this place became symbolic of heaven and God’s presence.

People: We did not treat this space as we would treat ordinary space but as we would treat the very presence of God.

Officiant: But sacred spaces are not merely symbolic, for God graciously transforms symbolism into reality. Not by our action or conceptualization, but through His gracious action the common becomes the holy and ordinary space becomes God’s real presence.

People: Today we return this space to the common and return this place to the earth.

Officiant: God will still be present here, for He is always everywhere present. God might still meet us and act in this space, for God can meet us and act anywhere.

People: But today His glory departs from this room and from this church with us, until He deigns to sanctify new holy ground for us.

The Peace (standing)
Officiant: The peace of the Lord be with you.
People: And with your spirit.

(Take a moment to greet one another)

Introduction to Confession (sitting)

Officiant: We have come together in the presence of Almighty God, our heavenly Father, to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and our salvation. And so that we may prepare ourselves in heart and mind to worship him, let us kneel in silence as we are able, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess any sins, that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy.


Confession (kneeling, as able)

All: Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws. We have left undone those things that we ought to have done, and we have done those things that we ought not to have done.

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

Affirmation of Forgiveness
Officiant: The Almighty and merciful Lord grant you forgiveness and remission of all your sins, grant you true repentance, amendment of life, and grant you the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit.
All: Amen

Scripture and Creed
Invitatory (standing)

Officiant: O Lord, open our lips

People: And our mouth will show forth your praise.

All (sung): Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Psalter (sitting): Psalm 139:7-12, 23-24
Reader: Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

People: If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

Reader: If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

People: Even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

Reader: If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”

People: Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Reader: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

People: See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Old Testament Lesson (sitting): Exodus 33:12-17

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (NRSV).

Reader: This is the Word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

Epistle Lesson (sitting): Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them (NRSV).

Reader: This is the Word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

Canticle: Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

Gospel Lesson (standing): John 14:1-3, 16:4-16
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

"A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.”

Reader: This is the Word of the Lord
All: Thanks be to God.

All (spoken): Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The Nicene Creed (standing)
All: We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and was made man. He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father. He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and glorified, who spoke by the Prophets. We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Officiant: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.

Officiant: Let us pray.

Lord’s Prayer (kneeling, as able)

Litany (kneeling, as able)
Officiant: O Lord, show your mercy upon us,
People: And grant us your salvation.

Officiant: O Lord, save our nation.
People: And mercifully hear us when we call upon you.

Officiant: Give peace in our time, O Lord.
People: Because there is none other that fights for us, but only you, O God.

Officiant: Endue your ministers with righteousness
People: And make your people joyful.

Officiant: O God, make clean our hearts within us.
People: And take not your Holy Spirit from us.

Collect of the Day (kneeling, as able)
All present God, who has sanctified this ground as holy ground, has met us here in the body and blood of your Son, has sent your Spirit forth time and time again and created us anew: Go with us from this place today until we find another resting place where we may remove our shoes in the presence of Your holiness, through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Intercession for the World, the Nation and City, the Church and Us
You may come forward and kneel if you feel led.

Collect for Peace
O God, who are the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom stands our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom, defend us your humble servants in all assaults of our enemies, that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect for Grace
O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who have safely brought us to the beginning of this day, defend us in the same with your mighty power, and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings may be ordered by your governance, to do always what is righteous in your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A Prayer of St. Chrysostom
Almighty God, who have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications to you and do promise that when two or three are gathered together in your name you will grant their requests, fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of your servants, as may be most expedient for them, granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the world to come, life everlasting.

A Service of Word
(We listen to God’s word on video feed.)

A Service of Table

(Pastor DeNeff will lead us in remembrance of the night when Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup.)

Celebrant: Prayer (sitting)
Therefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of your dear Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, we your humble servants do celebrate and make here before your divine Majesty, this memorial your Son commanded us to make. Make them be for us the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Approach (sitting)
Celebrant: Let us pray.
All: We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat this sacrament of your Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk in newness of life, may grow into his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

The Eucharist

Prayer of Thanks
All: Almighty and ever-living God, we most heartily thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the body and blood of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. And here we offer and present to you, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory be to you, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

Litany of Thanksgiving
Leader: Blessed be your name, O God, whose word has long gone out in and from this place!

Congregation: Thanks be to God.

Leader: You have met us in the bread and wine and empowered us for the days until you come again.

Congregation: Thanks be to God.

Leader: You have sent out many from within these walls into the world. Your Spirit has blessed countless disciples.

Congregation: Thanks be to God.

Leader: You have begun new ministries here, and new leaders have been empowered and equipped for ministry.

Congregation: Thanks be to God.

Leader: You have listened to the needs and concerns of your people. You have shown us your will and made us one as the body and family of Christ.

Congregation: Thanks be to God.

Leader: You have given birth to new families through marriage. You have made parents and grandparents. You have helped us in life and death.

Congregation: Thanks be to God.

Leader: And now we, Your people, called to fulfill Your purpose, go forward to a new sacred place, to continue Your work, in the power of Your presence.

Congregation: Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The Stripping of the Altar

Recessional (in silence)
First the cross, then the candles, then the people, then the chalice and plate, then the cloth, and lastly, the crucifix