Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday Thoughts: "Other-ism"

I read/watched three different things this weekend that point to the same same social phenomenon--we tend to belittle the intelligence and of course value of the "out group." When we are talking about those who are "in group," we accentuate the positive and ignore the negative. When we are talking about those "out group," we accentuate the negative and ignore the positive.

No doubt I am also guilty... and no doubt you can see my myopia far more clearly than I can (thus, myopia :-). But of course, that doesn't mean we do not correctly see the stupidities of the past either.

This is the stuff of prejudice, racism, and sexism. I find a woman who does something less than intelligent and conclude, "All women are unintelligent." I find a black person who does something violent and conclude, "All black persons are violent." Meanwhile, I find a smart white male and conclude, "All white men are smart."

Three examples of "other-ism" stood out to me this weekend in reading/watching:

Anne Hutchinson
I was looking at Neil Elliott's Liberating Paul and he gave examples of how Paul's writings have been used to keep slaves in line in the South, women in line in Puritan New England, Jews in line in Nazi Poland, rebels in control in Guatemala.

The first one that stood out to me was the story of Anne Hutchinson. She ticked off the preachers of Massachusetts by meetings in her home. At these meetings, she and other women evaluated sermons, which eventually led to her trial and ultimate banishment from the colony (her family was then killed by Native Americans in Rhode Island).

It is fairly clear that John Winthrop and others who had it in for Hutchinson thought that women were by nature less insightful than men. Modern complementarians have done a good job of "cleaning up" the obvious stupidity of their ancestors. Those who used to say women shouldn't teach and shouldn't be leaders did not think that women were as intelligent and were more gullible than men.

In our day, however, this is so patently false that no one would dare suggest this in any forum where they might easily be shown a fool. So the modern complementarians, riding on the fumes of their forebears, have modified their position--it is not that women are in any way less spiritual or intelligent than men. It is, well, uh, not God's plan for them to lead. Yeah, that's it. It just isn't the way God designed things. They're equal, but just have different roles ordained by God and, yeah, that's what the Bible says too.

Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts. In an age where the naked truth that women are as smart and spiritual as men, this propped up version of the old "women are stupid and sin-laden" will evaporate away soon enough.

The Kite Runner
My wife has just finished reading this novel destined to be on future high school reading lists (sorry to my children and their friends--Harry Potter will not be on the list). So we watched the movie version last night.

There is so much in this movie to expose the "other-ism" among Christians. The movie is set first in the days before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and then in 2000 under the Taliban. The other-ism in this case deals with a boy born out of wed-lock, the same boy as a Pashtun, a girl who had slept with another man previously, a man who did not have a beard.

Certainly we as Christians do not believe that Islam understands God as well as we do. However, the things that we say from our pulpits about Islam often indicate such a wholesale ignorance it is beyond words This year especially I have heard among freshmen the idea they must be hearing in their homes and churches that suicide bombers being good representatives of all Muslims in the world.

I found a statement left on a white board in a classroom that sums it up well: "Radical Islam is to Islam in general as the KKK is to Christianity." Can you imagine how stupid we would think someone was who assumed that all Christians had the same views as members of the KKK? That's how stupid we sound to most Muslims, especially American Muslims.

The Keys to the Kingdom
The faculty reading group I'm in is reading this 1940's novel to finish out the year. It's about a Catholic priest in Scotland who lives his whole life surrounded by Christians who aren't particularly good representatives of Christ. His father dies in the aftermath of visiting a nearly Protestant town to report how many salmon he's caught that month.

A woman is raped, has a child in a place where nuns can take care of the child, is forced to marry a man in town to make the situation "right." I'm not done and others say the novel is not clear about who the rapist was, but so far I wonder if it was a priest.

This priest become missionary doesn't fit in, in part because he doesn't do things the way everyone else does. There is a certain raw value and "get along" aspect to out-group people that consistently causes him problems with the in-group.

Maybe Rodney King put it best: "Why can't we all just get along?" That doesn't mean we aren't convinced we are right about what we believe. It means that those who disagree with us are just as valuable in God's eyes as we are.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Hebrews: Explanatory Notes on Hebrews 3:1-6

3:1 Therefore, holy brothers [and sisters], partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus,

With this "therefore," the author continues to show the superiority of Christ to the old covenant and to urge the audience to continue in faith. In 2:17-18 he has introduced the idea of Christ as high priest. In 3:1 the author begins to "consider" him. The sense of him as an apostle to us echoes comments in chapter 2 that relate to Christ partaking of flesh and blood in order to lead us to glory.

The heavenly calling either refers to the place from which God calls us or the place to which we are called. Hebrews, in my opinion, fits more with the popular Christian sense of dying and then going immediately to heaven than some of Paul's writings do (although 2 Corinthians 5 may indicate that Paul himself came to this view). Resurrection is certainly present in Hebrews (6:2; 13:20). The question is what the author understands it to be.

Some debate has taken place over the years over what exactly the "confession" might be. Predictably, those from higher church contexts tend to see it as a specific confession of faith of some sort, such as "Jesus is the Son of God." Those from lower church contexts tend to see it somewhat metaphorical as having faith.

Given that the early church apparently used confessions, perhaps in association with baptism, it seems not unlikely that the author did have a specific confession in view. The confession "Jesus is Lord" is well attested in Paul (e.g., Rom. 10:9), but we have no good evidence to see it in Hebrews. Some have suggested "Jesus is the Son of God," since Christ's Sonship is a major part of Hebrews Christology (cf. Acts 8:37 in late manuscripts).

Another intriguing possibility is the early Aramaic affirmation "Our Lord, come," "marana tha" (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:22). It would fit the particular issues of Hebrews well. We simply do not have enough information to know exactly what confession the author specifically has in mind.

3:2 ... who was faithful to the One who made him as also Moses [was] in his house.
In chapter 1 the author poetically proclaimed that Christ was greater than the angels. In these six verses the author will show that Christ is greater than Moses. Within Judaism, this would have been an astounding claim. For so many Jews, Moses took precedence over any other figure in all of history, including Abraham.

The subtext of the contrasts between Christ and angels/Moses is that of the law. In 2:2 the author reminded us that Jewish thought at this time saw the law coming to Moses at the hands of angels. To say that Christ is greater than angels or Moses is thus to say that he is a more significant mediator between God and humanity than any other.

House here means household. We have to adjust our thinking to remember that the household at this time is not merely two parents and two and a half children but the extended family as well including servants. Caesar's household, for example, presumably included the whole Roman administrative system.

The question of "making" Christ was of course part of the Trinitarian debates of the 300's. The word can also mean "appoint." Mark uses it of when Jesus "makes" or "appoints" his disciples.

3:3 For this [Jesus] has been deemed worthy of greater glory than Moses in as much as the person who builds the house has greater honor than the house.

Paul had also contrasted the glory of Moses with the glory of the new covenant in 2 Corinthians. Here the author shifts from house=household to house=building. Jesus builds the house, makes it happen. Moses is a part of the house--a servant as we will see.

3:4 For every house is built by someone, and the one who built all things is God.

Once again we see that it is only in the poetic context of Hebrews 1 that Christ is declared to be the agent of creation. Here God is the ultimate builder.

3:5 And Moses, on the one hand, was faithful in all his house as a servant to witness to the things going to be spoken,

This verse is an allusion to Numbers 12:6-8: "If a prophet of the Lord should arise among you, I will be known to him in a vision and I will speak to him in a dream. It is not this way with My servant Moses. He is faithful in all My house. I will speak mouth to mouth to him..." (LXX). The author seizes on the mention of Moses as a servant to show in the next verse that Jesus is the Son.

The "things going to be spoken" are surely the "word of salvation" that was first spoken by the Lord (2:3). When we get to chapters 7-10, we will see that the author of Hebrews saw the literal practices of the Pentateuch, the book of Moses, as filled with shadowy illustrations of the reality in Christ. The Law is thus a witness to the things going to be spoken through the Lord.

3:6 ... but Christ [was faithful] as a Son in his house, whose house we are, if indeed we hold fast to confidence and the boasting of hope.
With this comment the author makes the contrast between Christ and Moses clear. Moses was only a servant in God's house. Jesus was a Son.

We notice that membership in the household of Christ is conditional. The author uses an intensified form of condition, "if indeed." The whole sermon of Hebrews is in fact about the need to hold fast in confidence, not to give up faith. To keep believing in that for which we hope. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Only if we hold fast to this confidence and this hope can we remain in the household of God.

3:7-19 make it overwhelmingly clear that this is what the author has in mind.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A New Category Heading: Happy Muse Day

Sorry I'm pummeling the web today.

Sometimes I am particularly happy with the way something comes out as I write, thus the new blog category, "Happy Muse Day." I was particularly happy today with these sentences:

"Hebrews as a whole is an exercise in the fact that the things most assumed and known in conversation are often the things least likely to be mentioned explicitly. The author does not need to mention his name, where he is located, where the audience is located, when he is writing, or that he is writing in response to questions about atonement and the humiliation of association with Judaism in the wake of the temple and Jerusalem’s destruction. The audience already knew these things all too well."

My Favorites of Final Eight

UNC and Davidson. With Duke and all Indiana teams out, I'm going with a North Carolina ticket.

Sorry... it's a hangover from going to Southern Wesleyan and living in an apartment with Brian Matherlee at Asbury (Wesleyan pastor in North Carolina--used to be Dave Vardaman's youth pastor in Gastonia).

Great Quote from I. Howard Marshall

I came across this quote today from I. Howard Marshall in his commentary on the pastoral epistles:

"... there are few limits that can be set on the ingenuity of scholars" (73).

He's talking about the ingenious reconstructions of the "real story" behind how things have come to be the way they are in the biblical text. Of course the same could be said of non-scholarly interpretation too.

Issues in the Philippian "Hymn" 1

2:2-5 ... fulfill my joy so that you think the same thing, having the same love, are like-souled, thinking in common, nothing from strife or for vainglory but in humility considering one another more important than yourselves, each looking not on the things of yourselves but also on the things of others.

Think this way among yourselves that also [was] in Christ Jesus:
The similarity between Jesus' attitude in the verses that follow is so similar to the attitude Paul has just asked the Philippians to have that it seems impossible not to see Paul making an explicit comparison: Have the same attitude that Jesus also had. This is the ethical interpretation, the traditional understanding of the "hymn" that follows.

However, Ernst Käsemann and Ralph Martin have favored a kerygmatic interpretation: Think the way that is appropriate for a person in Christ Jesus. The hymn then goes on to teach us about Christ with no real connection to what leads up to it.

Nah, I don't think so. It's pretty clear that Käsemann had Lutheran issues that made it hard for him to see Paul making any ethical comparison between Jesus and us (he had the same issues with Hebrews 2). Paul means for the "mind of Christ" to be an example of the mind we should have.

2:6 ... who... existing in the form of God
Since Ernst Lohmeyer in 1928, it has been conventional to speak of Philippians 2:6-11 as a hymn. Until recently, it was a foregone conclusion. The standard reasoning is 1) the clearly poetic quality of what follows, 2) the formulaic use of "who" to introduce the material about Christ, with participles following, 3) the fact that these verses are self-contained and distinct from the surrounding verses, 4) some unusual vocabulary and wording for Paul.

Lohmeyer of course not only thought these verses were originally a hymn, he thought it was a "pre-Pauline" hymn. The tell tale sign was the fact that Paul had added the line, "even the death of a cross." He offered an analysis of the poetic structure that consisted of 6 stanzas of three lines each.

Yet a number of very significant voices have questioned whether we have a hymn here at all. Gordon Fee, for example, considers these verses exalted Pauline prose at best (commentary, BBR article). Several of his arguments are significant.

First, he questions the word hymn because ancient hymns sung praises to a god while these verses are about Christ. Second, the structure at many points is prosaic rather than any normal poetry of the day. Conjunctions like "in order that," "therefore," and "that" would not normally be in a poem, especially a Semitic one. And it is none to easy to get the lines to be roughly the same length.

Indeed, there are about five different prominent analyses of the poetic structure of the hymn, each with different ideas of lines that Paul might have added to an original hymn on one thing or another. Joseph Fitzmeyer and others have tried to identify a Semitic original, but such attempts seem little more than speculation.

N. T. Wright has further argued against Pauline expansions and thus, along with I. Howard Marshall and others, thinks of Paul entirely as the author. If it were a hymn, he suggests, the congregation would not sit well with Pauline insertions here and there. Stop talking; I'm singing.

The question of whether to call it a hymn or a poem is perhaps not too significant. More interesting is whether Paul has modified an earlier poem, a question that boils down to whether we can identify clear Pauline additions. Certainly as Fee, Wright, and others have noted, Paul clearly agrees with the whole poem as it stands or else he wouldn't have left the material here.

In the form of God existing,
Not plunder he considered the to be equal to God,
But he emptied himself,
Form of a servant having taken.

Lohmeyer analyzed the "hymn" in terms of six stanzas of three lines each. Thus the first two stanzas for him were:

I. In form of God existing,
Not plunder he considered
The to be equal to God,

II. But he emptied himself
Form of a servant having taken,
In likeness of mortals having become.

I personally find preferable Jeremias' idea of three stanzas with two line couplets. For him the first stanza was thus as I have in bold above, with each set of two lines forming couplets. Where things get problematic is in the so called third "stanza." More on that when we get there.

Perhaps at some point this afternoon I will get into the thick of it. The "first stanza" is the one that has engendered the most debate and variety of interpretation.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Review: James Dunn's The New Perspective on Paul: Preface

James D. G. Dunn is without question one of the most significant New Testament scholars of the last 50 years. He is now retired (in theory), an emeritus professor of the University of Durham. His work has been diverse and has spanned from Paul to Jesus to Judaism. His writings are so encapsulating, so clearly written, that they remain some of the best starting places to dive into a great variety of issues. You may disagree with him, but his writings are the young scholar's friend.

Do you want to know about New Testament Christology and its development? Christology in the Making is a great place to start. Are you interested in the complexity of the early church? Unity and Diversity in the New Testament is a great place to start. His 2 volume Romans commentary in the Word series has to rank as one of the best, if not the best scholarly commentary on Romans ever written.

His main writing project currently is a series called Christianity in the Making. The first volume, Jesus Remembered, is Dunn's answer to the quest for the historical Jesus. I am waiting with bated breath for his next volume, which I think will come out next year. I'm waiting for it with the same anticipation I had 13 years ago for Wright's next volume on Paul--which has yet to come out :-).

Despite his many contributions on so many different topics, I decided last night that the book that represents his most lasting contribution to New Testament study, the book that is truly "Jimmy Dunn in a nutshell," is the recent compilation of his articles called The New Perspective on Paul. The first edition with Mohr/Siebeck (German publisher) was so expensive the best I could do was order it for the IWU library. Now three years later, I have finally been able to afford to buy Eerdmans' paperback revised edition for $23.76 :-)

What is new in this book is the 97 page introduction and a new final chapter on Philippians 3. The rest of the 490 pages consists of twenty scholarly articles Dunn published over the last twenty five years or so on what has come to be known as the "new perspective on Paul." Some of you will know that I tried to referee between John Piper and Tom Wright in a series of posts in the Fall on Piper's book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright.

But if you have a couple years of Bible training under your belt and want to dig into the real scoop, Dunn's book is the place to go. He has read everything and thus shows you the way into everything else that has been written (or has taken him to task) up until 2005. His analysis is razor sharp.

Unlike both Piper and Wright, he doesn't have some underlying theological or interpretive system driving his exegesis. He builds his interpretations from the ground up, not from the system down. And that's good exegesis. It doesn't mean he's always right. It means he's fair and honest with the evidence.

What makes this book the Dunn book, in my opinion, is that it is not just a book at a moment in time. It is twenty-five years of seminal scholarship on a trajectory, and the topic is the one for which I believe Dunn will be most remembered. You can relive the debate as Dunn experienced it, wrestled with it, lived it.

This book is a reflection of what biblical studies is all about when its aim is to determine the original meaning of the biblical texts. No postmodern sloppiness here, no shoving of pre-conceived theology down the text's throat, no confusion of a Christian reading of the text with the original meaning reading. I believe Christian readings are valid too--in fact more important for Christians than the original meaning ones. But most evangelical scholars, in my opinion, confuse the two, try to make the one the other.

Is there bias? Sure, "presuppositionless exegesis" is an impossibility. But here is an interpreter without guile, someone who actually tries to be objective, even when it requires a change of perspective or a retraction. It's why I wanted to study with him.

Here is the kind of scholar I aspire to be. Here is what one segment of biblical scholarship will once again become after it gets over its postmodern jollies. (The other segment, I believe, will self-consciously read the biblical texts in the light of Christian theology in a reader-response approach)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mark Noll at IWU

IWU was privileged today to have Mark Noll on campus. I was able to hear him in a luncheon and at a presentation on evangelical scholars in the field of history. He is a gentleman and a scholar, warm hearted, dare I say entirely sanctified :-)

Actually he confessed in an after lunch conversation that he prefers Charles Wesley to John :-)He also playfully noted his Calvinism--he knew his audience better than they knew themselves. Russ Gunsalus whispered to me after his presentation, "He knows his stuff."

That is not to say, of course, that his biases are not also apparent--he's aware of them himself, dare I say. I was not surprised to find Kuyper as an exemplary model of engagement with truth for its own sake coupled with a recognition that Christians are something different from the world. :-)

The main theme of the day was how to get more Christians in all disciplines--and Wesleyans--into the broader dialog of truth. He used the field of history, and Timothy Smith (a Nazarene, no less) and Marsden, as examples of a process that has taken years and years for evangelicals to get into the dialog.

I did have a chance after lunch to tell him playfully that he and Marsden were messing up my attempts to distinguish my revivalist forebears from fundamentalism. When I brought up Machen and asked him where he would fit in the revivalists, Pentecostals, and dispensationalists scheme, he answered that he didn't think of Machen as a fundamentalist. :-)

He was curious when someone mentioned we might start a seminary and inquired of where Wesleyan ministers currently went to seminary, what sort of seminary we might start, and so forth. I gave him a few stats:
  • The Wesleyan Church has never had a seminary of its own, thus the rallying cry: "Real denominations have seminaries. Either we should found one or join a real denomination."
  • And since he's now at Notre Dame, I also quoted the book of Sirach: "Call no one happy until he's dead." I won't say IWU is going to have a seminary until IWU has a seminary.
  • Currently most Wesleyans who go to seminary go to Asbury, which over time has (in my opinion) been a very positive influence on the denomination. But interestingly enough, Princeton next year will have the second largest number of Wesleyans going to seminary.

Nice man, great scholar... but where is the Wesleyan that will look at these things with a more careful sense of distinctions important to us?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Annual Women in Ministry Post

I've written quite a bit on women in ministry, and even preached on it:

What Wesleyans Believe About Women in Ministry
Difficult Verses on Women in Ministry
Sermon on Faithful Women

But I haven't posted on the topic in a little while and it was on my mind, so I thought I would throw out some thoughts today.

1. I want to start out with "spiritual common sense."
If I was a new Christian coming to the Bible, what would I expect it to say? Clearly women aren't worse thinkers than men because they don't have certain physical organs (an organ that, in any case, is not usually associated with good thinking). Clearly women aren't less spiritual than men because of their bodies--if anything women in the church seem more spiritual than men in the church. Acts 2:18 is exactly what my spiritual common sense tells me--in the age of the Spirit, men and women will prophesy, that is, proclaim God's revelations to His people and the world. I should expect this to be in fact an indication of the dawn of God's reign on earth as it is in heaven.

Teaching and preaching is a spiritual activity and in Christ there is no male and female when it comes to the Spirit. So it is surprising to find that there are verses in the New Testament that seem to subordinate women to men and a couple that seem to silence them.

Surprising until of course I recognize that this is the way everyone in the ancient world thought, that there is nothing uniquely Christian in saying a husband is head of a wife (Aristotle uses this language hundreds of years before Christ). These statements should strike us the same way passages on women veiling their heads do--clearly this teaching has everything to do with the ancient world but not much to do with the coming kingdom of God (where women will be like the angels and not "given" in marriage to men).

2. Most people who are against women in ministry are fooling themselves when they say, "I only don't believe in it because that's what the Bible says."
Do you stone rebellious children? Deuteronomy says to do it. Do you insist women veil their heads when they pray? 1 Corinthians says to do it. Do you prohibit polygamy? The Bible doesn't--and it isn't too explicit about pre-marital sex either. Do you believe in the Trinity? The New Testament doesn't come close to equating Jesus ontologically with God the Father.

Those who think their opposition to women in ministry is a matter of the Bible alone are like waves driven and tossed by the winds of their particular sub-culture. They don't even know what's blowing them. Their culture leads them to notice certain verses and give them prominence over others. 1 Timothy 2:12--the only verse that potentially could prohibit women from ministry--is obscure in situation and its reasoning. Those who base their view of women on it, read the Bible in an incredibly out of focus way, ignoring the overall thrust of Scripture in deference to a hard verse.

Why isn't there a big fuss about the fact that we don't follow 1 Timothy 5:9-12:

"Let a widow be enrolled who is not less than sixty [years old], has been the wife of one husband, is known for good works, if she has nourished children, if she has shown hospitality, if she has washed the feet of the saints, if she has helped those in troubles, if she has pursued every good work.

"But refuse younger widows. For whenever they are drawn away from the Christ by their sensual desires, they want to marry [which you vow not to do when you are enrolled as a widow], having judgment because they rejected their first faith."

Why focus overwhelmingly on the one verse (and not even going on to 2:13-15) and completely ignore verses like these?

It's stuff in their culture pushing them. Don't hide behind the Bible for your view. Acknowledge that you basically don't like the idea of women ministers and stop hiding behind God as if He is the reason for your view.

3. The main cultural push behind anti-women in ministry forces is a defensive reaction to the broader empowerment of women in our society.
In Old Testament times, when the superiority of men was assured, there was a recognized place for the exceptional woman, the Deborah who was a general. It is no coincidence that opposition to women in ministry--particularly in Wesleyan circles--has mostly risen in the post-WW2 era, with those opposing it today largely unaware of why feelings have gone strong. It's insecurity in relation to a changing world.

So ironically, if the disempowerment of women in our broader culture were still an unexamined assumption, we would not find opposition to women in ministry in Wesleyan circles. Ironically, we would probably still have 20-30% of our pulpits filled by women as they were in the early twentieth century. Ignorance in this case is not bliss for the kingdom of God!

4. The uniquely Christian trajectories of the New Testament are in how it dialogs with its culture and situations--here it empowers women, while being careful to head off potential problems such empowerment might create.
1 Corinthians 11 is a great example of Paul dancing around the new realities of the kingdom. He assumes that women can prophecy in church but he does not want to disgrace their husbands in the process. So he insists that they wear veils when they pray or prophesy so that their husbands are respected. Whatever the silence of 1 Corinthians 14 is, therefore, it is not prophetic speech. Paul assumes women will prophesy in the Christian assembly.

1 Timothy 2 must be another example of this dynamic if we are to accept that Paul wrote it. (I put it in this way because it is the nearly unanimous consensus of non-evangelical scholars that it was written several decades after Paul's death and thus that it represents an institutionalized situation in the late first/early second century). Unless Paul has had a drastic change of mind since his earlier letters and portrayal in Acts, the harsh words of 1 Timothy toward women seem inexplicable unless there is something very significant in the Ephesian context leading Paul to say what he says.

The best hypothesis is that women are facilitating false teaching at Ephesus (2 Tim. 3:6). This would explain why he is so keen to prevent women from teaching men here when he scarcely has any such word for Priscilla or Junia or Euodia or Syntyche or Phoebe elsewhere but assumes that they are all his co-ministers.

5. Only one verse--and that a difficult one--potentially prohibits women from ministry.
Let's make something very clear. Husband headship is not incompatible with women in ministry. My spiritual common sense tells me it is cultural too, but let's not argue over that here. 1 Corinthians 11 has women prophesying at the same time that they are under their husband head. That means none of the headship passages can be used to prohibit women from being full ministers of the gospel as men.

That leaves 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Again, because Paul allows women to speak in Corinthian worship in chapter 11, chapter 14 cannot mean that Paul expects prophetic silence of women in church.

There is thus only one verse in the entire Bible that might be taken to prohibit women from ministering to men, and that is 1 Timothy 2:12.

But notice how difficult this verse is.

a. A woman is not to exercise authority over a man/husband because Adam was made first, then Eve.

First, "exercise authority" is a strong word, and we have not precluded husband-headship from our discussion. In other words, 1 Corinthians 11 shows that a woman can prophesy without exercising authority over her husband--she is giving God voice to a congregation. Further, the Genesis story itself does not subjugate Eve to Adam on the basis of birth order, but as a consequence of her sin--a sin that Christ atoned for entirely.

b. A woman is not to teach because Eve was deceived and has come to be in transgression, a transgression from which they will be saved through childbearing.

Wow! I thought we were all saved through Jesus Christ! I thought Hebrews indicates that his one sacrifice has forever perfected those who are sanctified! Difficult and in any case foolishness to base an entire practice on (and only one verse at that).

6. An apt word of caution to women opposed to women in ministry
You might be surprised to find that, in Africa, it is not just the men who angrily resist those who tell them that female circumcision is an immoral practice that must be stopped. Women as well, accustomed to the practices of their culture, oppose the abolition of the practice just as strongly.

The difference in the American situation is one of degree, not one of kind. Those women who strongly oppose women in ministry are simply living out the same anthropological and sociological dynamic as those women in Africa who oppose the abolition of female circumcision.

Female circumcision keeps women in their proper place in the order of things. It keeps them subject to their husbands and less prone to go looking to have an affair. You know how women are--all women are always looking to have sex and are too weak willed to resist.

The first step toward freedom is to recognize why you think the way you do.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Today in Hebrews: Hebrews 11

Here is the link for the vodcast on Hebrews 11 from today:

Names taken in vain: Pam Eisenbaum, Erich Grässer, and Ron Paul.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday Thoughts: My Take Away from Noll’s Scandal

I’m done with Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and have had some time for things to percolate in my mind. Here are some thoughts:

1. I am appreciative of many areas where Noll has filled in history to which I have not paid much attention in the past. I will leave a question mark over some of it—where is spin I’m not equipped to recognize? But I would rather have a starter knowledge to edit later than have no knowledge at all.

2. I agree that the history of American Protestant Christian conservatism has been fairly anti-intellectual, particularly since the Civil War. Maybe it has always been since our colonist days because of the frontier personality.

Pragmatists came here and survived here, the kind of people who weren’t prone to value long standing traditions, do it yourself people. The most urgent truths are what are valued—what works, what will make it possible for my family to survive the winter? Typical US beginnings were by rough and ready individualists who didn’t let others tell them what to do—and that includes the Pope or some European church. Give me a Bible and I’ll tell you what God thinks.

The internet age has made it more difficult to hide from what the experts in any discipline are saying. But it's also not clear to me that the rising generations believe in experts. The sense is that truth is whatever works for me, a postmodern cultural Zeitgeist (not to be confused with some legitimate challenges from postmodern philosophy). Ironically, postmodernism has in part become the most recent excuse for anti-intellectualism among some pockets of conservative American Protestant Christianity.

3. Noll seems to me very modernist himself in many respects. Those who invoke him certainly are. I listen to us talk, we Christian "intellectuals” in conservative settings. So often the discussion is along the lines of the “ignorant masses” to whom we can offer so much in the way of truth. The problem is of course that so many of the views I hear espoused under this heading seem quite provisional themselves, to where our ignorance is only one step removed from those whom we ourselves criticize. (Physician, heal thyself)

We Christian thinkers need to be more humble in our truth assertions--especially as individuals but even as conservative or moderate groupings of thinkers. It’s “I don’t see how it could be otherwise, but I could be wrong.” It’s not “you're anti-intellectual if you don’t see things how I see them.”

I predict we’ll get over our fascination with subjectivism soon enough as a culture—including as a Christian culture—and start a new, chastened quest for objectivity in thinking. The postmodern critique is significant and valid. But the quest for truth will go on and over time the hypotheses that best account for the data will eliminate "cop out scholarship," scholarship that is not really interested in what is true but in applying one's intellect to support extreme minority or narcissistic positions.

4. Perhaps the most sobering thought I’ve had reading Noll is that the holiness/revivalist tradition isn't even at the table. People like Marsden and Noll have no reason to make careful distinctions when it comes to the history of my tradition. You can hardly blame them on one level.

Where are the holiness revivalist thinkers today? Is this sentence an oxymoron, to where the only way we can be thinkers is to abandon the holiness/revivalist part? Certainly Noll and Marsden think so.

Where is the standard Wesleyan-Arminian systematic theology to read? Where is the conglomeration of broader Wesleyan scholars presenting our take on church history, theology, and hermeneutics?

There are some broader Methodist voices in which I can see what such a movement might look like. They seem to be at Duke--people like Maddox, Hays, and Jones come to mind. But they are not dialoging with the holiness revivalist tradition. It is a Methodist seminary, and who of us is reading them with a view to our identity?

Asbury has had some lone scholars over the years. Bob Lyon more than anyone else probably brought about the de-Actsification of the holiness movement. But most of Asbury's people don't publish in a way that might create a movement in holiness revivalist circles (although Ken Collins would be a potential). And they also are primarily focused on things Methodist.

As far as the Wesleyan Church is concerned, there are no Leo Coxes today, no Wilbur Daytons or Melvin Dieters. Where even would an organized consortium of broader Wesleyan thinkers rise up from? Who among us is even recognized by broader scholarship as a voice for Wesleyan-Arminian thought?

Who will reach out to organize and mobilize us? Nazarene Theological Seminary? Do we even want to be mobilized as thinkers? Azusa won't, couldn't, even with a motivated David Wright as Dean. It's faculty are what so many faculties are--a bunch of individual lone rangers with no common cause and barely still in the holiness tradition. Wesley Biblical has great scholars, but they are not thought trailblazers. They are outstanding rear guard scholars.

I want to thank Keith Drury for providing me with a path to conceptualize my gnawing complaint with the way Marsden and Noll divide up early twentieth century conservative Christian history. First, I find it telling that the founding voices of fundamentalism do not fit into any of Mark Noll’s fundy categories: holiness revivalists, Pentecostals, and dispensationalists. It surely reveals a “fundamental” flaw in his history telling that the real movers and shakers of early twentieth century fundamentalism—people like J. Gresham Machen—do not fit into any of his categories.

The term Drury coined in his most recent Tuesday Column is “anti-modern.” Yes, my forebears were anti-modernist. They intuitively retreated into emotional experiences and end time scenarios to cope with the rapid secularization of America after the Civil War. They retreated from science and politics into countless little fragmented separatist groups.

But to call these groups "fundamentalists" is, I think, to assume that the standard of identity in play here is ideological. I don't think the key to understanding my forebears is to see them as retreating to the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. They were retreating to what they saw as the fundamental experiences of Christianity.

I would expect historians with Reformed backgrounds to lump together people based on their orientation toward ideas. But call the intellectual anti-modernists "fundamentalists," people like Machen. Then let the next generation of revivalist thinkers--if we can find them--put a head on my experiential and behavior-oriented ancestors.

Is there any church historian of the Wesleyan tradition who is looking for a dissertation topic? So many current intellectual developments open doors for our tradition—the new perspective on Judaism and Paul, the impossibility of meaning in a text alone, the postmodern critique of absolute rational certainty.

Who will marshal us together and mobilize us? Or is the holiness revivalist tradition so anti-intellectual that it cannot survive thinking? I don't think so. We just need a revival :-)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He is Risen Indeed!

I was thinking of some verses throughout the NT that point to implications of the resurrection, some of which may not always occur to us (verses are from the ESV):

Acts 2:33  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

Acts 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Romans 4:24-25 It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 6:4-5
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Colossians 1:18 he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

What are some I haven't mentioned that are favorites of yours?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Upper Room: Friday began at sundown on (our) Thursday. They met in the upper room. While I doubt very seriously this is the room, this is the site you visit on tour:

Garden of Gethsemane: This is the garden. They've found a cave near here that the disciple's might have hid in when they weren't praying.

Jesus taken to the high priest: Very likely up this path.

Prison where Jesus may have waited to see Caiaphas the high priest:

In the wee hours of the morning, Jesus talks to the high priest. Peter denies him three times. He goes before Pilate.

About the third hour, nine in the morning, he is crucified at Golgotha, the place of a skull. This was likely in a quarry just outside the city wall. The wall has moved so it is currently within the city walls, likely in the spot occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The skeleton of a crucified man named Johanan has been found. His body indicates that nails weren't placed in the palms but higher up the arm, perhaps even between the radius and ulna bones. The knees were apparently buckled and a nail put through the ankle bones.

The Discovery Channel's "Jesus: the Complete Story" has a very plausible version of what it might very well have looked like. It will be on practically every hour on Saturday. Here's the best rendition of Johanan I have found on the web (Jesus would not have had a loincloth):

Here is the traditional, and I think as likely as any, spot of the crucifixion:

About the ninth hour, 3 in the afternoon, Jesus gave up the ghost. There were some tombs near the quarry. His actual tomb may have stood in this spot (although between Christians removing rock to isolate the tomb and medieval Muslims destroying what was left, well, there's nothing of the original rock remaining.

But here's something like what it might have looked like originally:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thursday: Getting Ready for Passover

Tonight at sundown, the Passover meal will be eaten. In the Jewish system, Friday begins at sundown. Thursday morning is thus spent getting ready. A room is readied for Jesus and his disciples.

Some think that Jesus' instructions show he has already prearranged to set up the meeting secretly. Go to such and such a place and you'll see a man with a jar. He'll give you further instructions.

The words that Jesus uttered over supper--this is my body; this is my blood--these are mentioned so early. Paul mentions them in the early 50's and claims the words come from Jesus. Since eyewitnesses were around to disagree, it is hard to imagine that Jesus didn't actually say these things.

So Jesus knows he is about to die.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday: Plotting

I think almost anyone reading this blog would be of the opinion that Jesus expected to die in Jerusalem. What has stood out to me this time through the passion stories is that I have almost had the impression that Jesus was provoking his death.

At least in Mark, Jesus seems to plan on Sunday what he will do in the temple on Monday. Then on Tuesday his Parable of the Vineyard (assuming this is where it goes historically) was extremely insulting and provoking. Some of course wonder if Judas himself was only provoking a confrontation by betraying Jesus, not expecting him to end up dead but victorious.

So it is no surprise to find Jerusalem leaders plotting his demise on Wednesday. And Judas plays right into their schemes. Although the timing is different in John, Caiaphas suggests that it is better for one man to die than the whole nation perish. Ironically, he was right. Jesus died so that the rest of the world does not have to die eternally.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Today in Hebrews: Hebrews 10

Here is the link from today's interpretation of Hebrews 10:

Tuesday: Jerusalem Showtime

On Monday Jesus drew major attention to himself in the temple. If we are to follow Mark's account, it was not coincidental. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus overturns the tables on the same day as he enters Jerusalem for the first time (indeed, in Matthew he curses the fig tree on Tuesday and it immediately withers--he comes across as much more angerable).

But in Mark, he looks at the temple on Sunday, then goes away to come back on Monday, when he upsets the apple cart. If we follow Mark, the temple action was not a random act of anger, it was premeditated to make a statement and create a stir. It was intended to draw attention.

On Tuesday, Jesus has that attention. All the different groups of Jerusalem are engaging him: lawyers, Sadducees, even some Hellenists. He speaks of resurrection, the greatest commandment, whose son the messiah is. There is a strong political tone underlying most of the debate.

Resurrection implies the overthrow of the current establishments of the earth, both in Israel and in Rome. The discussion of whose son the messiah is might address the rumors that Jesus might be the messiah. "Yet how could that be, since he is from Nazareth and isn't in the Davidic line," or so they might have said.

"Whose coin is this?" a question to catch a messiah wanna be. He'll blow up when he sees that coin. He'll reveal his true agenda to overthrow the Romans.

The synoptics all present Jesus' eschatological discourse here. In its current form it predicts the temple's destruction. It fits the tone of this day, where Jesus seriously indicts Israel's leadership.

Mark has one parable here--the parable of the vineyard. It was based in the imagery of Isaiah and reinforced the action Jesus had made in the temple the previous day. The leaders of Israel had forgotten who truly owned the vineyard and were doing their own thing.

So on Monday he gave the paper cut. On Tuesday he put salt in it. Tomorrow they'll be plotting his death.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday Thoughts: Jesus in the Temple

In Mark on Monday of Passion Week, Jesus drives out of the temple those buying and selling there, as well as the tables of the money changers. Why did he do this?

Jesus says that the sellers and moneychangers had made the place into a den of thieves (11:17). The quote alludes to Jeremiah 7:11.

Here are some of the suggestions for what was going on here?
1. Coincidence--Jesus died as a part of a Roman sweep through the crowd.

2. Jesus showing us that you could be angry (even righteously indignant) and yet not sin (even be entirely sanctified and throw tables over!).

3. Jesus was showing us how much he didn't like religion. He didn't come to start a religion and hates religion as much as you do.

P.S. Question: Do I think the hyper-individualist "Revolutions" crowd is the church of the future? Answer: No. They don't believe in churches so they will melt away into the world never to be seen again. The church of the future will be, well, the church of the future. Don't fear the anti-church wing of the emergent church--either they'll follow their philosophy until they evaporate away, or one day they'll finish doing their therapy and find a local church.

4. Jesus opposed the buying and selling that was going on in the temple, maybe where in the temple it was going on. You shouldn't sell merchandise within the church's walls.

5. Jesus is predicting the coming destruction of the temple, even symbolically acting it out.

6. By evoking Jeremiah, Jesus is indicting the priorities of the temple leadership. They neglect the social justice of the prophets--taking care of the poor, widows, orphans--and instead make a profit off of the people.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Hebrews: Preaching Notes on Hebrews 2:1-18

Hebrews 2 in many respects is the Pauline gospel in a nutshell. God intended humanity to have glory. Mortals were intended to rule over the created realm. But we do not see this intent in play. All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God.

But we see Jesus, who troubleshoots the human problem. Our computer has a virus. We try to boot up to the glory God intended us to have, but the sin virus causes the process to fail every time.

So Jesus logs on as a human, a human without sin. He takes on flesh and blood just as we have. Unlike us, however, he is able to boot up to glory. Now all we need to do is log in under his ID, and we will too.

One of the more remarkable features of 2:5-18 is Christ's solidarity with us as fellow humans. We both have the same father. He is not ashamed to call us brothers. He is our faithful and merciful high priest, whose sufferings have made him the perfect atonement for our sins. He has defeated the Devil, the one with the power of death. He has even shown us how to have faith in God (2:13).

2:1-4 also give us the other side. Do not think that there will not be punishment for those who drift away from him and his covenant. Punishment for drifting away is not less likely in the new covenant than the old covenant--it is even more certain (2:3). The parallel between old and new covenant breaking will appear again soon enough--in chapter 3.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What is an Evangelical?

Kevin Wright and I were having a good discussion of what an evangelical is under my Thursday post. He has already listed several important resources on the subject, one of the most important of which is David Bebbington's Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s and more recently The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody. You can see his full treatment now on his blog, where he engages with the key literature.

Bebbington gives four basic characteristics of an evangelical: 1) biblicism, 2) activism, 3) conversionism, and 4) cruciformism (or something like that--I'm doing it from memory). Obviously this is not my area, so I welcome some help on some questions I have.

First, I know that the German word for Protestant is evangelisch (which in Germany basically means Lutheran). German universities until recent time had sharply divided theology faculties--katholisch and evangelisch. In that sense, I strongly suspect that English-speaking Christianity that strongly identified with the Reformation might have considered itself "evangelical."

Here are some questions I don't know the answers to:

1. Did Jonathan Edwards ever refer to himself as an evangelical? In what context? How central a self-description was it?
2. Did George Whitfield ever refer to himself as an evangelical? In what context? How central a self-description was it?
3. Did John Wesley ever refer to himself as an evangelical? In what context? How central a self-description was it?
4. Did Phoebe Palmer, Luther Lee, Orange Scott, William Booth, Phineas Bresee, B. T. Roberts, Seth C. Reese, Martin Wells Knapp, or any of the holiness "fathers and mothers" ever refer to themselves as evangelicals? In what context? How central a self-description was it?

Obviously evangelisch cannot be translated evangelical, for we wouldn't consider all Protestants or even all Lutherans to be "evangelical" in the sense of the word today. In fact, if memory serves, the Wesleyan Theological Society has engaged in serious debate in the past as to whether Wesleyan-Arminians should consider themselves evangelical at all. Certainly most mainstream "evangelical" writing looks at Arminian theology as less than truly evangelical.

In fact, wasn't this part of the reason for the founding and existence of the Wesleyan Theological Society, because the Evangelical Theological Society tends to define evangelical as Calvinist? Some Wesleyans (e.g., Gary Cockerill) feel very comfortable in ETS. My sense is that most Wesleyan theologians (e.g., Randy Maddox, Don Thorson) don't or feel marginalized.

Note: I recognize neither of these individuals are Wesleyans (UM and FM respectively), but the Wesleyan Church doesn't yet have a recognized theologian (John Drury is our best candidate currently).

In the end, I think the discomfort I feel with measuring the present by the past "evangelical" measuring rod is that the meaning of a word is how it is used. When I describe someone today as an evangelical, I personally mean a neo-evangelical, someone in continuity with the rise of evangelicalism in the 40's among people like C. F. H. Henry and Ockenga. It was an attempt to find a middle way between the fundamentalists of the early 1900's and the liberals of the same period.

Perhaps we might date it to the time the National Association of Evangelicals was founded. While the popular media today is tending to lump evangelicals and fundamentalists together, they are not the same sociological group, despite some similarities. When the president of the NAE had to resign a few years back, Jerry Falwell told a puzzled interviewer from the media that he had nothing to do with this group. He was a fundamentalist, not an evangelical.

In biblical studies, I think of people like F. F. Bruce as the first generation of evangelical biblical scholars. Others like I. Howard Marshall and Gordon Fee (the token Pentecostal) are the retiring second generation. Would people like N. T. Wright, Doug Moo, and Simon Gathercole be the third generation?

I sit in relation to these people a little like I perceive James Dunn to. They are some of his principal dialog partners, but he doesn't let theology set the boundaries for interpretation in the way I feel they all have to one extent or another.

I would say that the Wesleyan Church is evangelical in much the same way it holds to inerrancy--these are very general terms without much serious reflection attached to it. We are conservative, we belong to the NAE. But most Wesleyans don't know the history, or why this group was started to distinguish itself from the fundamentalism of the time, while not being liberal. So in terms of recent times, to call oneself evangelical has been to distinguish oneself from being a fundamentalist.

In this light, I strongly object to Noll's description of fundamentalists as revivalists, Pentecostals, and dispensationalists. J. Greshem Machen was a fundamentalist, my gold standard in fact for that era. He was no revivalist or Pentecostal. I doubt seriously that he was a dispensationalist (in fact wasn't there a massive split between Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Dallas Theological Seminary over dispensationalism?). I strongly object to Noll's characterization of revivalists and Pentecostals as fundamentalists.

If I were competent to write on this subject and had been in play 10 years ago, I would have skewered him for this sloppy history writing. It serves his purposes to distance ideal evangelicalism from fundamentalism and to lump in more affective and pietist traditions in with it. But they don't go together--especially not as defective evangelicals.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Review: Is the Reformation Over?, Chapter 5

In chapter 5 of Noll's book, he discusses "The Catholic Catechism." This is a 756 page document commissioned by Pope John Paul II in 1986 and completed in 1992. The length of it is a reflection of the difference between Protestant traditions and the Catholic tradition. The Wesleyan Articles of Religion are dramatically short in comparison.

Roman Catholics know what they believe. It is spelled out clearly. This is a compendium based on 2000 years of tradition. Catholic priests know the Fathers, they know the literature, they know it in Latin. There is no changing of their Discipline in the way you can, admittedly with some difficulty, change the faith of my denomination. They can only reinterpret and wiggle narrowly around a tradition that is pretty much set in stone.

That last paragraph is of course me rather than Noll and Nystrom.

To me this is the best laid out and written chapter thus far. It is mainly divided into 1) areas of agreement, 2) understanding differences, and 3) Catholics and the church.

1. Areas of Agreement
a. orthodoxy
In a powerful layout, Noll and Nystrom present quotations from the Catholic Catechism that together form a kind of creed in outline. In other words, they excerpt what looks pretty much like the faith statement of any Protestant denomination.

Here are a few of excerpts that caught my attention:

1. "God is the author of sacred Scripture ... the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."

2. "Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven"

3. "Our justification comes from the grace of God."

4. "Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man."

b. devotion to God
Apparently, the Catholic Cathecism reads like a devotional book. Here is a Byzantine prayer of ordination that Noll and Nystrom cite as an example.

c. holy living
In this section Noll and Nystrom talk about Catholic expectations with regard to things like Sabbath, respect for human life, sexual ethics, marriage and divorce, social ethics, and sin. My parents' generation would resonate strongly with almost everything here. Ironically, the current state of my church, the Wesleyan Church, is far more liberal than anything here.

2. Understanding Differences
a. Authority
Perhaps the key difference between the RCC and most Protestant traditions is in the relationship between Scripture and tradition. Most Protestants at least claim (I deny that it is as much the case as they think) that for them Scripture is the supreme authority for doctrine and practice. Scripture is to interpret tradition rather than tradition interpreting Scripture.

By contrast the RCC not only sees tradition to be accepted and honored "with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence," but further, "the task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.

Those who know my hermeneutic will see an attempt to find a middle way between these two extremes. The typical Protestant equation is Scripture only (with unacknowledged traditions governing the way in which that Scripture is processed). The Catholic equation is Scripture and tradition as co-equal, with the Magisterium serving to arbitrate. My equation is to read Scripture with the eyes of the consensus of the church, with an eye to its original meaning and the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Where I thus differ from most Protestants is my acceptance that Scripture alone has no organizing principle by which to speak with a single voice. Further, we will not arrive at a Christian understanding of important doctrines like the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ without much that is not in Scripture.

I differ from Catholics in that the Western Church has not represented the church catholic for a 1000 years. Further, the Holy Spirit has seen fit to reverse consensus on a number of issues in the Reformation, using a crude yet appropriate measure of Scripture's original meaning. The consensus of the church is thus not static or absolute. Christ is the ultimate point to which reform might theoretically reverse before Christianity itself would deconstruct (at which point Christianity would revert to Judaism).

b. Mary
I will confess that I do not identify with the RC adoration of Mary. They do not worship Mary. She herself, though sinless, without original sin, and assumed directly to heaven, is these things because of the merits of Christ.

I'll need someone to show me why it is so bad to ask saints to help us. I don't do it. I don't feel the need to do it. I feel quite comfortable praying directly to the Father through Jesus. But prayer to Mary and saints seems more quirky to me than dangerous. Thoughts?

c. baptism
RCs of course baptize infants. Justification is a function of baptism. Faith follows rather than precedes. Baptism is considered essential for salvation, however, the current Catholic understanding holds out hope for unbaptized children. Limbo is not a current RC belief and never was an official belief.

Certainly the longest standing Protestant churches baptize infants: Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans, Methodists. It is allowable even in the Wesleyan Church. However, it is allowable for Wesleyans on the assumption that baptism itself does not save. No Protestant would make a strict equation between baptism and justification.

d. salvation by works or grace
In this section Noll and Nystrom discuss the RC belief that a justified person might end up spending eternity in hell. They note that Wesleyan-Arminians agree. Calvinists of course disagree on this point.

Another point of difference is the typical Protestant sense that justification is an individual affair, while Catholics see the Church the way through which God justifies.

e. celibacy and saints
These are well known points of difference between Protestants and Catholics. Noll and Nystrom point out, however, how little is said in the new catechism about celibacy, almost as if it is something the Church has to live with because of the positions past Popes have taken.

The Catholic position on saints is also difficult for Protestants (and of course from a NT point of view). All Christians are saints, according to the NT.

f. sacraments
We've already mentioned transubstantiation and the sacraments in last Friday's post. There were some memorable lines in this section of this chapter, however:

"Many Catholics see Protestant worship services, when Communion is not celibrated, as little more than light religious entertainment accompanied by a motivational speaker" (144).


3. Catholics and the Church
Noll and Nystrom begin with what was apparently a common saying by Protestants in ecumenical dialog with Catholics: "The main difference between us and the Catholics is ecclesiology. They have one and we don't" (145). N & N end the chapter with this question: "Why do we not possess such a thorough, clear and God-centered account of our faith as the Catechism offers to Roman Catholics?" (150).

Here's my answer: Barth has written his; Tom Oden has written his; Jurgen Moltmann has written his. There is no single Protestant authority to write one. Of course the purist might say--we have had one for 2000 years... it's called the Bible. But as fun a retort as this is, I believe it is misguided. The Bible requires synthesis, interpretation, and appropriation such as the Catholic Catechism does for RCs.

However, I await someone to write an equivalent of the RC catechism that sets out the real consensus of the church with its variations. As usual, I am not qualified to write one, although I think I have some sense of what it would look like. It would sketch out all the areas that the vast majority of Christians have and continue to be in agreement. Then under each discussion it would catalog the points of disagreement.

This last paragraph suggests my agreement and disagreement with Catholic ecclesiology. The RC church considers itself the body of Christ. Its structure, its Pope and sacerdotal structure are the ligaments of that body. I am a separated brother.

With the smallest of changes, a perspective very similar and yet more appropriate comes into view. If the church be not identified with a specific ecclesiastical body on earth, we can nevertheless see the visible churches on earth as the visible body of Christ and the path through which God has primarily chosen to minister to His people.

That's this week's chapter review.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quotes from Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

The reading group book of the semester at IWU is Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. His basic premise is, well, that there isn't one (or at least hasn't been since Jonathan Edwards, blessed be he). I find the book pretty disappointing, Foucaultian in its typologies, and more than anything else a Nietzschean attempt for the disempowered (intellectual wannabies within evangelicalism) to shame the empowered (the vulgar crowd that has control of the college purse strings).

Of course that is not to say that I disagree with everything in the book--not at all. That my revivalist past was frequently anti-intellectual, absolutely. That its values detracted from serious truth inquiry, absolutely. I don't think I'll be reviewing the book, although some uber-reflections may eventually percolate through my darkened mind.

Two quotes captured my attention today:

"Those who don't learn from the past are condemned to write end times books" (174).

Corollary: "God doesn't read prophesy books."

"[I]f evangelicals continue to be influenced by historicist dispensationalism ... there is little intellectual hope for the future" (173).


P.S. I had to laugh when he mentioned Frank Peretti as an example of the forces working against intellectual life among evangelicals. We have a bust of him as a "world changer" in our rotunda here :-)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Conversation 2: Wesleyans and Membership

Tom: So what were you saying about the Discipline Monday, Jane? Something about things being in strange places?

Jane: Yeah, to start off with, it's very difficult to change things like the Articles of Religion or covenant membership requirements because things not only have to pass the General Conference by two-thirds majority, they have to pass a two-thirds majority of all the districts in the North American General Conference, as well as other full General Conferences like the Caribbean and Philippine conferences. They have a status equal to the North American General Conference when it comes to the World Wesleyan Fellowship.

Matt: I think that's a good thing. A rogue general conference can't do away with the virgin birth, because it would never pass muster with the church at large.

Mary: And I think that makes the drinking issue somewhat of a moot point. Things like this don't change unless the church does its homework, gets buy in, gets widespread support. When the church has made significant changes in the past on issues like divorce and tongues, it has commissioned four year studies.

By the way, you still haven't convinced me that drunkenness in the Bible just refers to alcoholism.

Tom: So what were you thinking, Jane?

Jane: Well, because of the way it's set up, it's fairly easy to add things to the membership requirements that people feel strongly about. Just a few years ago, we added the idea that marriage was between one man and one woman, for example.

Matt: But it's really hard to take things out.

Jane: Right. So we still have as a membership requirement that Wesleyans will have family devotions every day. But we don't have any statement on abortion in the membership requirements.

Matt: Isn't there a statement on abortion in the "special directions," the place where we used to have stuff on social issues like dancing and going to movies?

Jane: Yes, but not in the membership commitments.

Mary: Are you telling me a person could be a member of our church and have an abortion?

Jane: They could be a member and perform abortions.

Jack: But they can't drink, and they have to have devotions with their families every night.

Matt: It's what happens as we change as a denomination over time. Some things become more important issues; other things recede into the background.

Sally: If I and my friends were to write the membership stuff today, we'd probably put in some things about taking care of the environment and taking care of the poor.

Jack: Try to get my generation to pass that! We don't see things like that as sin.

Sally: We will (smiling)... when we're in charge in a few years.

Jack: I tell you, we shouldn't have anything as membership requirements that isn't basic Christianity, not one thing more than the Bible itself requires of all people.

Matt: But what about things like polygamy and slavery? The Bible never mentions abortion. I don't think Paul or Jesus would have approved of it, but they never say anything about it. No verse in the Bible says anything about it.

Sally: What about the Trinity? I guess Christians worked on that question for almost 400 years after the New Testament was done.

Tom: Actually, I think the issue of polygamy raises a good question, Matt. What do we do when we bring the gospel to a culture where polygamy is accepted? Do we require new converts to divorce two of their wives?

Mary: We should at least have them pick one and stop having sex with the others.

Sally: Tough luck for two of them. What have we actually done in those situations? Keep them out of leadership but keep their families intact as they are?

Tom: I'm not sure any of us in this room are in a position to really understand what we're talking about, let alone that we should be deciding all these sorts of things for them.

Jack: Sure we can.

Matt: Spoken like a true Boomer (smiling).

Tom: But when it comes to things like drinking. If our stance on drinking is weird to some people in our larger churches now and to the younger generation, you can imagine how odd it is to Wesleyans in Australia.

Jane: It seems to me that several different things are going on. On the one hand, half the Wesleyan Church today is like the Wesleyan Church of the past, a group culture where membership requirements mirrored a fairly monolithic "culture." We wouldn't allow men to go around without their shirts because that's what most of us looked like.

Sally: And my generation doesn't get any of that. We think that we need to blend in, make friends with others. We don't think Christians should look different than other people, as if we're better than they are.

Mary: Then how will anyone know you're even a Christian?

Matt: This is way too complex to hammer out in a few minutes.

Jane: I think it's too complex to hammer out in a General Conference. Someone needs to do some serious study of the assumptions in our current membership structure--things those who designed the Discipline may not have even realized they were assuming.

Jack: What makes a person a member? Is it attending and being a Christian?

Mary: Or is it our historical understanding of what the Bible teaches, including special understandings we have on things like drinking?

Matt: Or is it less absolute and more a matter of what we as a group affirm, without claiming that other groups are less Christian because they do things differently?

Tom: And let's not forget that we are no longer a monolithic group. I personally think membership requirements should be more "local" than universal.

Matt: ... because the universals of the gospel play out differently in different contexts.

Sally: I personally think they should revisit membership requirements every other decade or so, because things change so quickly.

Jane: Maybe they could write that into the Discipline.

Matt: We'll see soon enough whether anything changes.

Jane: Oh things will continue to change... it always has... whether officially or unofficially.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Today in Hebrews: Hebrews 9

The link for today's lecture on Hebrews 9 is

Names taken in vain include Harold Attridge, Lincoln Hurst, Wilfried Eisele, Ben Witherington, and Otto Michel.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday Thoughts: Wesleyans and Drinking, An Imaginary Conversation

Jane: I just found out that only 11% of U.S. Americans are lifelong abstainers from drinking. If the Wesleyan Church won't allow its members to drink, aren't we basically telling 89% of the American population that they can't be Wesleyan?

Matt: Yes, but 50% of Americans didn't drink last year, so the 89% figure is a little high.

Mary: Besides, if a person is really committed to Christ, they will be willing to give up drinking to serve the Lord.

Tom: But you're assuming that there is some connection between drinking and spirituality. I have friends both in America and especially abroad who are more godly than anyone in this discussion but who drink moderately. The biblical issue is drunkenness, not drinking.

Matt: The thing is, how do you know when you're drunk. What if one drink makes you drunk?

Sally: I don't think someone from Bible times would read verses on drunkenness that way, Matt. When the Bible condemns drunkenness, it's talking about someone we would call an alcoholic, someone who does bad things to themselves and others because they drink.

Matt: But if you never take the first drink, you can never become an alcoholic.

Jane: Actually, only about 3.5% of Americans last year were classified as alcoholic, another 5% would fall into the category of individuals whose abuse of alcohol became destructive. So about 8.5% of Americans last year had a problem with drinking or 17% of those who drank had problems.

Tom: And Christians should be very clear about those who abuse alcohol. Sometimes I think the fact that we lump all individuals who drink alcohol together causes us to miss the biblical point--this 8.5% need help, some of them need help from themselves, some of them we need to protect others from.

On the other hand, we are just as mistaken to think the other 83% of drinkers automatically have a spiritual problem as we were when we used to judge women who cut their hair.

Mary: I just think we're caving into the pressures of the world. Why should we let the world set our agenda? We need to be telling the world how to change, not changing for the world.

Sally: I don't really care personally one way or another--I tried a beer once in college and hated it. And it would definitely not be worth changing the rules if it caused some sort of a split in our church. But I don't see how the rules can stay the way they are forever. If the Bible does not prohibit drinking, then I don't see how we can continue to prohibit it, especially when we are really engaging the world.

Mary: I just don't agree that the Bible allows drinking. I know a fellow with a PhD who teaches at a Christian college who has written a booklet that shows that what the Bible calls wine was actually unfermented grape juice.

Tom: I don't see how that could be the case. Jesus distinguishes himself from John the Baptist in Matthew 11:18-19 by saying that John came not drinking while he came drinking. John was a Nazirite, so didn't drink alcohol. By the way, since most Israelites were not Nazirites, the implication is that most of them did drink alcohol.

Jesus says that as a result of him drinking, his opponents called him a drunkard. Of course I don't believe Jesus was a drunkard, but the accusation doesn't make any sense unless he drank the kind of alcohol that could make you drunk.

Sally: I agree that Jesus drank, but I am a little concerned about what trajectory our church might go on if it allowed drinking. To so many, it will feel like we're going liberal. Will we accept homosexuality next?

Tom: That's the slippery slope argument.

Sally: Well, I'm not suggesting if we allow drinking we'll all stop believing in the virgin birth. I just think that people need to feel like they stand for something, and if all we ever do is loosen the rules, it doesn't feel like we're any different from anyone else.

Tom: That's why it's important no matter what we continue to take a strong stand against biblical drunkenness. I have a Christian friend from another denomination who's a prosecuting attorney. He is always telling me how evil alcohol is for that 10% Jane was talking about--it needs to be preached against vigorously.

But interestingly enough, my friend drinks. It seems to me that he has the biblical equation right.

Jack: I haven't said anything but I'm a little worried about my children staying with the Wesleyan Church over things like these. We go to a large church with a lot of people who weren't raised Wesleyan. They want to be members but don't understand things that seem quirky to them. They hear people joking about how we didn't used to dance or go to movies.

Drinking is the same way to them. They have a glass of wine with their supper, but we've never seen them drunk. My children have been exposed to so many other Christians that I'm afraid they'll look on our church as backward and go somewhere else.

Mary: They wouldn't if their heart was right with God. They would be willing to surrender their pride and submit to God.

Tom: But Mary, you're again assuming that God has a horse in this race. If God loves the non-denominational church around the corner as much as He loves the Wesleyan Church, then it's not a matter of submission to God where they go. We shouldn't be different just to be different. We should be different on things that God has called us to be different.

Jack: When we were a little denomination that no one had heard of, it didn't matter that we had Wesleyan wads and didn't wear wedding rings. But when our position on drinking begins to be an unecessary hindrance in our bigger churches that are really reaching out to others, then we have to streamline our requirements. I know several large churches that already ignore the Discipline on these sorts of things because they are a hindrance to the gospel.

If the Bible doesn't prohibit drinking, then we shouldn't prohibit drinking.

Matt: The Bible doesn't prohibit polygamy. Show me the verse where it does. The Bible doesn't prohibit slavery. Paul assumes it in Colossians. Membership issues have to do with playing out biblical principles in specific contexts. If drinking is a bad witness to our culture, then we shouldn't drink to be that witness.

Sally: I'm just afraid this will tear the church apart.

Tom: And we don't want that to happen, I agree. That's a bottom line for me.

Jane: You know, as I've looked at the Wesleyan Discipline, I think there are some more fundamental issues to be raised about the process of editing membership requirements. There are some really strange things about what we require and where.

Tom: Sounds like another discussion for another day, I have to go pick up my kids from school.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Free or Fated 2

10.3 Hobbes and Determinism
The news strip Calvin and Hobbes was not randomly named. John Calvin (1509-64) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) lived at about the same time, a period when the scientific revolution was just beginning. And it is probably no coincidence that both were determinists who believed that certain aspects of the future were already decided by forces beyond our control. Despite the significant differences between these two thinkers, they both are good examples of the Zeitgeist of their time--the "spirit of the age."

Thomas Hobbes lived at the beginning of the Baroque period of history, for many a pessimistic time in Europe's history. It was the time of the Thirty Years War (1608-48) that decimated Germany and Austria. It was the time of the English Civil War, involving the unprecedented execution of the English king (1649) and the harsh rule of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell for a time.

It was also the time of Shakespeare, whose lines sometimes capture the spirit of the age. In As You Like It, Jaques says,

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts."

The lines have a clear sense of fatalism to them. We do not write our "script" in life. We merely read the lines and play the role that the world has already assigned to us.

MacBeth has the same feel:

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour across the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

With the rise of scientific explanation, people had a greater and greater sense that the world was a big machine. God may have created the machine, but people more and more thought of things happening because of natural laws rather than because of divine intervention. The world is like a pool table. God "broke" with His divine cue stick and now the balls are in motion. If you knew the math and physics, you could predict exactly where all the balls would end up.

Thomas Hobbes is a good example of this type of thinker from this time period. He was a materialist who rejected Descartes dualism of soul and body (see chap. *). Since the world is only matter, what happens in the world is strictly a matter of the laws of cause and effect. If we knew everything about that matter and all the laws that govern it, we could predict everything that would happen from now until the universe goes cold.

For Hobbes, freedom is not the ability to want what you want to want. For Hobbes our wants are strictly a product of the math. Freedom is the ability to do what we desire, freedom to act according to our desires rather than the freedom to determine our desires.

10.4 Calvin and Arminius
The fatalistic Zeitgeist of the 1500's and 1600's also expressed itself in the theology of John Calvin. Calvinists are various Christian groups today that are the heirs of his theology in one respect or another, including Reformed and Presbyterian traditions. To a lesser degree, Calvin's thought has had a significant influence on other traditions like the Baptist, Anglican, and Methodist traditions.

John Calvin largely took up and developed the thinking of Augustine (400's). According to Calvin, humanity was completely "depraved" as a result of Adam's sin in the Garden of Evil. No human is capable of doing any good at all in his or her own power. As a result, if anyone is to be saved, Calvin suggested, God must choose them. Going to heaven was thus entirely a matter of God's "election."

Calvin thus believed that the only people who will be saved are those that God has determined to be saved. God in his complete control of the universe has arbitrarily (at least from our perspective) chosen to elect some to be saved. The others are of course already damned, so God does not determine their fate--it is already determined by Adam's choice.

Calvin's thinking was later summarized by his opponents with the letters TULIP:

Total depravity--No human can do any good in his or her own power.
Unconditional election--God has chosen who will be saved with us playing no part in it at all.
Limited atonement--Christ only died for those God has chosen, not for everyone.
Irresistable grace--If God has chosen you, you are chosen; there's nothing you can do about it.
Perseverence of the saints--If you are chosen, you will make it.

By the time of Hobbes, Calvin's "single" predestination had become "double predestination," where God not only actively determined who would be saved but who would be damned as well. Today some "hyper-Calvinists" even believe God dictated that Satan and Adam would sin as well.

Not everyone within Calvin's Reformed tradition agreed fully with the way he worked out his theology. Jakobus Arminius in particular (1560-1609), in Holland, objected to the idea that God's "election" of those who would be saved did not involve any human element at all. He suggested that God predestined those who would be saved because He foreknew, knew ahead of time, what their free will choices would be.

Arminius' view raises a philosophical issue we have already mentioned--the question of whether God's foreknowledge of what will happen implies determinism. The argument usually advanced by Calvinists is that if God knows what I will do, then I can't possibly do anything other than what God knows. But if I must do what God knows, then I am not free to do anything else. Many Calvinists thus argue that God's omniscience and free will are incompatible. We cannot have free will if God is all knowing. <1>

However, this argument seems seriously flawed. For example, let us say that you are present at a football game that you video to watch with your friends later. When you watch the game later with your friends, you might be able to predict everything that happens in the game. But certainly your foreknowledge of what will happen does not determine what will happen on the video.

If God in someway is outside time, as Christian philosophers like Boethius (400's) and Aquinas (1200's) have suggested, then it is possible that He knows the future because He has already seen it. What seems to be foreknowledge from our perspective amounts to past knowledge on God's part. In any case, it does not follow that knowledge equals determinism. We are not in a position to say how God knows what God knows.

At the same time, the argument that God is outside time does not eliminate the idea that God might gain knowledge at some point, namely, at the point that He created the universe. Luis de Molina (1526-1600) was a Spanish Jesuit who wrestled with the issue of God's foreknowledge and human free will at the same time that these others were. He introduced some important distinctions into the discussion that contemporary philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig have adopted.

Molinism, the approach to God's knowledge started by Molina, is best known for its belief in what it calls middle knowledge. According to Molina, God has three kinds of knowledge. His first type of knowledge is His knowledge of what must be true. His third kind of knowledge is His knowledge of what will happen depending on how He acts in the world. Middle knowledge is his knowledge of what will happen depending on human will.

Middle knowledge thus amounts to God knowing every possible thing that might happen. If God is outside of time, however, His knowledge of what could happen is also knowledge of what will actually happen in this universe. <2> When God creates time and the universe, He comes to know everything that will happen without determining it.

Of course, after we have had this entire discussion, we must admit that we have no real way of knowing how knowledge works for God. God may have ways of knowing that do not imply determinism, ways that we could not possibly comprehend.

John Wesley (1703-91) built further on Arminius' objections to Calvinism. His theology is sometimes called Wesleyan-Arminian theology. Like Calvin, Arminius, and Augustine, Wesley agreed that humans were totally depraved and could do no good in their own power. However, like Arminius, he denied that God elected humans unconditionally, with no element of human will involved.

The difference was that Calvin viewed God's election somewhat like an "on-off" switch. Either God turned the light on or He left it off. If God turned His grace on, you would be saved. If God did not, you would remain damned.

For Wesley, on the other hand, God at some point turned the lights up for everyone so that they could choose or reject His grace. In other words, Wesley believed that God offered everyone the opportunity to be saved. It was entirely God's power that made this choice possible, but God offered it to everyone, not just to a few He has arbitrarily chosen.

The issue of predestination is alive and well today. It largely follows the lines laid down in the debates of the 1500's and 1600's. "Five point" Calvinism is currently experiencing somewhat of a revival, including even some hyper-Calvinist forms we have mentioned. At the same time, Arminianism has enjoyed a prominence among some of the most significant Christian philosophers of recent times. Certainly this book leans far more in its direction than in the other.

<1> Which is of course the basis for Open Theism. As we mentioned earlier in the chapter, Open Theism limits God's foreknowledge so that humans can have free will.

<2> It is of course possible, if Leibniz is wrong about God only being able to create the best possible world, that God also knows what will happen in other possible universes as well, where human will makes other possible choices.