Thursday, July 30, 2009

1 Faith, Evidence, and Biblical Scholarship

The potential beginning of this possible booklet is coming into view. Here's my thought for the first section. Drafts of subsequent sections include...

2. Biblical Hermeneutics
3. The Old Testament Canon
4. Genres in the Pentateuch
5. Critical Issues in the Pentateuch
6. Critical Issues in the Historical Books
7. The Poetic Sub-Genre
8. Critical Issues in the Psalms
9. Critical Issues in Wisdom Literature
10. Critical Issues in Isaiah
11. Critical Issues in the Other Prophets 1
12. Critical Issues in the Other Prophets 2
The issues of this booklet have been the source of great controversy in the past. Interestingly, the controversy has died down quite a bit these last thirty years or so, even in evangelical circles. The focus among evangelicals turned much more to soul winning and growing the church in the eighties and nineties. Then this decade has seen a resurgence of interest in serving the world, ministering to the poor and needy worldwide.

To many of our youth, perhaps even our pastors, these issues may seem very foreign, things they've never heard about. In some ways, they seem so tangent to doing the work of the ministry. I personally find them largely tangential to hearing God speak through the Bible. It seems to me a minister should have heard of them, but should not spend too much time worrying about them. In those instances where these issues have come up, young ministry students often say things like, "Who cares who the author was--the message is true."

Hiatuses of this sort provide rare opportunities for reflection and potential reassessment. Was the fervor and zeal of past evangelicals warranted? If it was for its time, is it still warranted? Why did they respond so vigorously? What was going on historically and sociologically at the time? A few decades can potentially bring a clarity those in the middle of battle did not have at the time.

On the other hand, of late we have also seen a revived defense of traditional evangelical concerns in some circles as well. While evangelicalism was busy growing the church, some of its children went to seminary and got doctorates in a context where they were not as pressured to come to a particular conclusion on these issues. In the context of that freedom, some of them found ways to reconcile their faith with certain elements of broader biblical scholarship. Some traditional evangelicals have suddenly found scholars in their midst who are evangelicals but who do not draw as rigid boundaries as were sacrosant in some circles at one time.

My goal in this booklet, in addition to making sure ministers have at least heard of these issues, is to try to find a middle way of faith that respects both what the late Robert Webber called "traditional" and what he called "younger" evangelicals (The Younger Evangelicals 2002). Obviously there are many younger evangelicals with traditional views and there are older evangelicals who hold broader views than some of their contemporaries. Indeed, it is clear that these categories are biased toward the younger evangelicals, one of which I would consider myself.

But my goal is not to try to convert either "traditional" or "younger" evangelicals to a particular position on specific issues. The middle way I seek is not a particular position on these issues but a general attitude toward them in relation to faith. First, I am urging honesty in relation to the evidence. Most of us, including myself, usually think we are more objective than we actually are. Objectivity is often best found in the conflict of opposing views. Although the internet age has made it more and more difficult, it has often been easy enough for "conservative" and "liberal" alike to surround themselves with those who agree with some supposed party line. Objectivity is difficult to find in such enclaves.

Whatever we might disagree with in postmodern trends, the overall climate has drawn our attention to the fundamental role faith inevitably plays in our understanding of reality. X does not always mark the spot. In a world where we admit the evidence is less conclusive than the previous age assumed, we realize it is not irrational to take a faith position even when the evidence does not currently seem in our favor.

This situation potentially gives us great freedom. We do not need to skew the evidence in order to take a position that is more possible than probable. Although others may disagree, I have long felt that scholars of both conservative and liberal stripe sometimes confuse what it is possible to argue for and what is a more probable reading of the evidence. In a postmodern age, we can be up front about our presuppositions and need not pretend that the evidence is always in favor of the positions we take.

An even more important development in twentieth century thinking is the realization that, regardless of the origins and history of a text, meaning is ultimately a function of a person hearing or reading it. If we reflect on this phenomenon a while, it may eventually transform our perspective on these sorts of issues. Why has scholarship these last two centuries, both conservative and liberal alike, spent so much time arguing over meanings the text had in the past when in order for it to be God's word today, it must have an inspired meaning today?

What a tremendous irony! Certainly Christianity will not have much credibility if it claims the Bible was not also God's word in the past. New religions that claim to have timeless truth but that only started a few years ago have never been very credible. But it seems peculiar that we have expended so much time and energy questing after meanings of the past when we need a word from God today.

So we hope in the next few pages to cover some of the basic issues that have been raised these last two centuries in biblical scholarship. We believe a minister should at least be aware that they exist. We wish to respect those who take varied positions on them, while trying to be as honest as we can be about the way the issue seems to lie evidentially. We presuppose Christian faith, but do not insist that faith necessarily requires a specific position on every issue.

Again, we believe that what is important to hear the books of the Bible as Christian Scripture is to read them with Christian eyes. It is not necessarily to read them in their original meanings, although these meanings were also surely God's speakings to ancient peoples and situations too. It is thus Isaiah read through Christian eyes, assisted by the Holy Spirit, that is God's word for us today. The process by which Isaiah reached its current form, whatever it was, was surely filled with inspiration as well, perhaps with God speaking to more than one ancient individual along the way. But coming to a firm conclusion on these sorts of issues will not necessarily help us hear God's word in this text.

And so it is with a spirit of faith that we proceed through these issues. These sorts of issues have been called "critical" issues in the past. No doubt some in the past used this term to suggest that other scholarship was uncritical, that is, not objective. The historical critical method was thus promoted as an approach that was really interested in the truth, as opposed to those who disagreed. That sort of hostile bias was no doubt part of the reason fundamentalists and evangelicals fought so vehemently against such claims that very often were hostile to faith. As we said earlier, we hope that the current climate and hiatus from such battles might make it possible for us to be critical thinkers about these issues and full of faith, regardless of our specific conclusions.

11 Critical Issues in the Other Prophets 2

And now the second installment to finish out critical issues in the other prophets. Previous posts in this series include:

1. Faith, Evidence, and Biblical Scholarship
2. The Old Testament Canon
3. Genres in the Pentateuch
4. Critical Issues in the Pentateuch
5. Critical Issues in the Historical Books
6. The Poetic Sub-Genre
7. Critical Issues in the Psalms
8. Critical Issues in Wisdom Literature
9. Critical Issues in Isaiah
10. Critical Issues in the Other Prophets 1

And now, the other prophets, again...
Christian Interpretation
From the time of the exile on, we are not surprised to find an increasing expectation that, one day, God would restore the fortunes of Israel. One day, a king from the line of David would rise again. Not all Jewish literature in the centuries after exile necessarily had such an expectation, but some of the post-exilic material in the prophets understandably does.

One critical issue in the prophets is material about such a coming king that appears in the writings of prophets who lived prior to the exile (e.g., Micah 5:2; Isa. 23:5-6). Some scholars see this material as part of the post-exilic editing of the prophet, since such predictions would have made little sense when there was actually a king ruling on the throne. Traditionally, of course, such statements have been read as centuries long anticipations of Jesus. Certainly one's presuppositions about the supernatural can come into play in one's conclusions--is it possible for a person to see the future so far in advance? At the same time, one might believe in prophecy and yet still conclude that it is more likely this material comes from after the exile.

The Christian belief that Jesus is enthroned as cosmic Lord at God's right hand in heaven is a significant upgrade from the prophetic sense that a great human king would once more assume Israel's throne. For example, Micah 5:2-4 predicts the return of a presumably human descendant of David who will restore the boundaries of Israel. It does not seem likely that anyone prior to the first century AD would have understood this verse in relation to a Messiah who had come to Bethlehem from heaven.

Indeed, the imagery in Micah of a ruler arising from Bethlehem need not even be taken originally in reference to the location of the king's birthplace. One might easily read it as a statement of the lineage of the king. In that case we find at least two possible shifts in the Christian reading of this passage in Matthew 2:6 from its original meaning. The one is its application to Jesus, who at least initially is a far different kind of king that Micah had in mind (suffering, cosmic). The second is taking the verse as an indication of birth location rather than general lineage.

Those New Testament authors who quote from the prophetic writings thus continue to read verses at varying removes from their original contexts. One of the easiest examples of this dynamic is Matthew 2:15's use of Hosea 11:1. Hosea 11:1 in its original context talks about how God brought Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus but that Israel then turned to other gods and did not serve Yahweh. Matthew strikingly lifts the words "out of Egypt I called my son" out of the verse and reads it in relation to Jesus returning from Egypt as a child after those seeking to kill him had died.

A reading of prophetic texts in greater continuity with the original meaning is Hebrews' and Paul's use of the new covenant concept in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (38:31-34 in the Greek Old Testament). The passage originally is a somewhat poetic prediction of the eventual restoration of Israel after its captivity in Babylon. Hebrews and Paul's understanding is in continuity with this anticipation but it is also "fuller" and richer. For Hebrews, the law written on our hearts is mediated by the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us, and in Paul and Luke the new covenant is inaugurated by Jesus' blood. Jeremiah knows none of these specifics, but provides a general framework into which the "fuller sense" of these early Christians fit easily.

We encounter the same sorts of issues with sources and editing in the other prophets as we do in Isaiah and other books. Did, for example, Jeremiah undergo some editing by "Deuteronomists," similar hands that supposedly edited Deuteronomy and the historical books? Did Amos and Hosea get edited in the southern kingdom after being directed toward the northern kingom? The reasoning behind such suggestions, whether they be true or not, are tensions between material that obviously fits the situation of the prophet and then other material that seems anachronistic or in tension with other things the prophet says.

For example, some scholars suggest that Micah 4-5 date to the period after the exile and 6-7 even later. Micah himself lived in the 700s BC. Zechariah 1-8 are sometimes called "First Zechariah," since it seems to go together as a coherent book. Then the tone and subject matter changes significantly in chapters 7-8, again leading some scholars to consider it from a different setting. Each individual will have to decide what they think of such suggestions.

Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi seem to be in a slightly different situation from other suggestions about sources and such. This material appeared at the end of scrolls of "The Twelve," which we think of as the Minor Prophets. But it is debated whether the name of a prophet actually appears in any of these chapters. Malachi in Hebrew simply means "my messenger," and Zechariah is not mentioned anywhere in what now appears as Zechariah 9-14.

Some scholars thus suggest that the prophecies from Zechariah 9 to Malachi 4 were originally a somewhat miscellaneous collection of prophecies at the end of scrolls containing the so called minor prophets. At the same time, the material of Malachi does hang together under the heading "oracle of the Lord to Israel through my messenger" (or through Malachi). Since the New Testament never references any of this material by the names Zechariah or Malachi, it would seem as if nothing would keep a person from any of these options if one so concluded, except for tradition.

Historical Issues
One of the big issues in the prophets is whether one believes that God exists and tells people the distant future. One of the criticisms that has often been made of scholarship on the Old Testament is that some scholars do not even believe prophecy is possible. In such cases, it is little surprise they think material is late, since they do not believe someone can predict the future in the first place. Undoubtedly there is truth to this criticism. At the same time, a person might believe in the possibility of true prophecy and yet still conclude it most likely that certain material was written much later.

Another historical issue in prophecy has to do with predictions that, at least on the surface, do not seem to have come true. On the one hand, the Jews would scarcely have preserved the prophetic writings if they did not believe they had largely turned out to come to pass. Most prophetic material had to do with the immediate situation of the prophet. So in those instances when predictions were made, they were soon either verified or discounted, and Jeremiah indicates that this is the way one distinguishes a true prophet from a false one (cf. Jer. 28:8-9; Deut. 18:22). Of course, not all prophecy was predictive--much of it indicted current practices like idolatry and mistreatment of the poor, orphans, widows, and so forth.

At the same time, we do encounter instances that seem hard to reconcile with other historical material from the ancient world. Such circumstances sometimes led later interpreters to take predictions allegorically or figuratively. Another possibility is to take such predictions in relation to an age yet to come, the "end times." For example, it is difficult to reconcile Ezekiel's prediction of the fall of Tyre or that Nebuchadnezzar would conquer Egypt (Ezek. 29:8-12) with the evidence from elsewhere. Haggai 2 seems to adjust the prophecy about the splendor of the rebuilt temple in light of the fact that the temple did not turn out to be as grand as pictured in Haggai 1.

Ezekiel 40 and following similarly looks to a wondrously rebuilt temple, a prediction that we presumably need to take symbolically if we consider it still in force. The temple rebuilt in 516BC was nothing of this caliber, nor was Herod's refurbishment that began in 20BC. Given Hebrews' sense that no more animal sacrifice should take place and that the true tabernacle is in heaven, it is difficult for us as Christians now to believe that God's glory could again return to an earthly temple (cf. Ezek. 43:1-5) and thus that this prophecy could come to pass in a literal sense. Daniel 11 reads like a history of the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV until verse 40, where his downfall and death in the land of Israel is seemingly predicted. Again, all the indications from elsewhere are that he died elsewhere under different circumstances. Some interpreters thus relate that part of the chapter to the end times and an "antichrist" of a different age.

These are difficult issues and no doubt ingenious solutions have been offered to explain them. They raise the possibility not least that God might change His mind in response to human action, such as we see in Jonah 3-4 when Nineveh repents. However, many of these instances seem much less profound. One must either simply take by faith that there are explanations for the seeming anomalies or adjust one's sense of what inspiration entails or what the inspired meaning of Scripture is.

Jonah presents its own issues. Many interpreters suggest the story of Jonah itself was a parable or novella that was never meant to be taken as a depiction of history. At first glance it is hard to object to this suggestion, since no one would then be accusing Jonah of lying or being wrong. Jesus never suggests that the prodigal of his parable was ever a real person or that he really knew of an incident with a Samaritan near Jericho. This approach to Jonah would put it in a similar category, true but not historical

There are features of Jonah's story that are difficult from a historical standpoint. We have no record of a mass repentance and turn to Yahweh in the extensive annals and records of Nineveh from this period, capital of the Assyrian empire at the time (the same kingdom that destroyed the northern kingdom in 722BC). The idea that it would take three days to cross Nineveh also seems quite a shocking claim from an archaeological perspective (Jonah 3:3). Again, if we believe we must take Jonah historically, we are justified in believing by faith that there are explanations for such things, even if we do not know them at this point. No doubt many ingenious explanations have already been offered.

On the other hand, if a person is inclined to take the story as a parable of sorts, we have once again to deal with the fact that Jesus seems to refer to the story as historical event. Jesus in Matthew and Luke offers the sign of Jonah as the principal sign he had to offer to his detractors. Matthew 12:38-41 and Luke 11:29-32 both seem to take the Jonah story literally and historically. We thus face the same issue with Jonah that we face with the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the Davidic authorship of the Psalms, and the Isaianic authorship of chapters 40-66. Of course even if Jonah were novelistic in nature, it is possible that the historical Jonah did have a tussle with a fish and preached with success in Nineveh.

Although Lamentations appears in the Writings of the Hebrew Bible (among the "five scrolls" or Tefillim), it is couched between Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the Christian Bible. It is traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah, although technically it is anonymous. Lamentations never mentions its author, although it is clearly a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. Confer with 2 Chronicles 35:25 for the possible connection between Lamentations and the prophet Jeremiah.

Lamentations is a lovely example of artfulness in the Bible. It consists of five poems, each of which is shaped by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The first, second, and fourth poems are acrostics with twenty-two stanzas, each of which begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which has 22 letters). The third has three stanzas per letter. The fifth has twenty-two stanzas, but they are not alphabetical. Psalm 119 is also an acrostic psalm.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Elmer Towns here at IWU's seminary

I can now say it! The seminary at IWU has Elmer Towns here this week teaching a class of 45 students. We now have over 200 students in the new seminary. I think the median number of students in the Association of Theological Schools is 176 or so.

He's teaching the class on, you guessed it, prayer. Lesser known is the fact that he was one of the founders of Liberty Baptist Seminary, now one of the largest seminaries in the world. A couple of side comments of advice from him were funny but that I should probably soften a bit. Basically, he said not to let traditional academics run the thing. :-)

Book Review: Richard Peace's Conversion in NT

Peace, Richard, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

In this clearly written book, Richard Peace basically argues two things. First, he argues that Paul's "conversion" in Acts provides us with a basic model of the core elements in Christian conversion (11-12, 19), of truly becoming a Christian. Secondly, he argues that while the conversion of the twelve disciples involved these same elements, the dynamics of their change involved much more time and took place much more gradually (12-13). When Peace draws the implications for evangelism at the end of the book, he thus presents two models: 1) encounter evangelism, based on Paul's conversion, and 2) process evangelism, based on his sense of the conversion of the Twelve.

First, Peace looks at the accounts of Paul coming to Christ in Acts and abstracts three basic elements: 1) insight (seeing one's true state before God and who Jesus really is); 2) turning (from before to after); and 3) transformation (25-26). His chapters two through four unpack these three elements of Paul's conversion in Acts one by one. Peace considers these three elements essential to all true conversions to Christ. [1]

However, he does not believe that the way they unfold need always be the same. In the case of Paul, his conversion was an event that largely took place all at once. By contrast, Peace argues, the conversion of the disciples "took place in fits and starts over the course of their years with Jesus" (106). He spends the next six chapters analyzing the Gospel of Mark as a story showing the gradual conversion of the twelve disciples. He presents his understanding of the structure of Mark's gospel and of how the understanding of Jesus progresses as the gospel moves along.

In this review, it is these first ten chapters we want to look at. On the one hand, surely Peace has done well to outline what most will agree are usually central elements and dynamics to Christian conversion. Repentance born of insight leading to transformation seems an excellent way to conceptualize key elements you will usually observe in a human in the process of conversion.

Further, Peace's contrast between event and process will also be familiar. We observe some people who undergo some sort of dramatic turn around in a moment's time. Yet we also observe other people whose lives have changed over a much longer period. After a long and gradual process of change, they wake up one morning and say to themselves, "Wow, I'm a Christian."

What is deeply problematic about Peace's treatment is that he has almost completely overlooked the most important element in "conversion" in the New Testament, the one that stands at the very heart of Paul's own understanding of becoming a "Christian." And this element holds the potential of significantly revising Peace's presentation of the Twelve's conversion. Here we are speaking of the Holy Spirit.

At least for Paul, Acts, and Hebrews, the critical moment of getting "in" to Christ is receiving the Holy Spirit. Peace does mention transformation as a key element in conversion. And buried deep in another section of some 353 pages of text we do find a comment that comes out of the blue and disappears just as quickly, "The Holy Spirit is a key agent in conversion" (219). But Peace does not speak of the Holy Spirit in his material on transformation. And the Holy Spirit is not just a key agent in conversion. Reception of the Holy Spirit, for Paul and Luke-Acts is the defining element of conversion. [2]

Paul says in Romans 8:9 that "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ" (TNIV). Paul calls the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 5:5 an "earnest" of what is to come, just as Ephesians 1:14 calls Him an "earnest" of our inheritance. Most modern translations unpack what an "earnest" is, such as when the TNIV says the Holy Spirit is "a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." Anyone who has purchased a house will be familiar with "earnest money," money that guarantees you are the one getting the house and that serves as a downpayment toward that purchase. The Holy Spirit thus guarantees our coming salvation from God's judgment because the Spirit is God's "seal of ownership on us" (2 Cor. 1:22). And since spirit is the "stuff" of heaven, the Holy Spirit is a "foretaste of glory divine."

The book of Acts is even starker in its Spirit-theology of conversion. The incident in Samaria in Acts 8 makes the point most clearly. Here is a group of individuals who have believed and have even been baptized in the name of Jesus (8:12). But there is a problem. They have not received the Holy Spirit and are thus not "in" yet. Peter and John come up to Samaria and lay hands on them so that they will receive the Holy Spirit. A person can receive the Spirit before they have even been baptized (Acts 10:44). A person can receive the Spirit after baptism (8:17). But unless the Holy Spirit has come, the person is not yet "converted."

From the standpoint of Acts, then, the key ingredient in conversion is neither insight, nor turning, but the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. We might speak of longer and shorter lead ups to that moment of receiving the Holy Spirit. But the book of Acts and Paul know nothing of anything but a moment of instantaneous reception of the Spirit. In the world of Luke-Acts, the disciples may be learning over the course of Jesus' ministry. But until Jesus has ascended and sent the Holy Spirit, they are not yet Christians. They are not truly "converted."

In the world of Luke-Acts, the Day of Pentecost is the beginning of all conversions. The lives of the Twelve during Jesus' earthly ministry are in that sense much like the lives of any Old Testament prophets. Until the Spirit comes on them in Acts 2, they are not yet "in" the new age. Whether Matthew and Mark have such an understanding of the disciple's pilgrimage is difficult to know, since they are largely silent on the issue. Certainly if one takes Acts 2 as a reference to a real, historical event on the Day of Pentecost, then one will adopt this view in relation to the other gospels as well. And Matthew and Mark do anticipate that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8).

I am reminded of the difference between the way we make different sounds with our mouths. There are some, like the letters r and l, that are like liquids that will continue to flow as long as you have breath. But there are others that are called "stops." These are letters like b or d. You can take as long as you like getting ready to say the letter. But you can only say it in a moment, and then it is said and done.

God can do more with His people than He did with the small portion of early Christian believers we hear about in the New Testament. To clarify the nature of conversion in the New Testament does not in itself end our discussion of how God converts people today. But it is worthwhile at least to listen to what the New Testament has to say on the topic. And for a significant portion of those writings, over half the New Testament, conversion is ultimately a matter of a moment when God's Spirit comes to inhabit that new member of the people of God.

[1] There is an important caveat in this entire discussion, one that Peace himself at least partially recognizes, and that is that the entire notion of conversion is ripe for anachronism. The very term conversion is not a New Testament one in the sense we are using it here, yet it is a major category for us. That is a recipe for reading things into the text that were not actually a part of the original meaning. Such things may be true, but we are not really getting them from the text.

Since Krister Stendahl's 1963 lectures, a vigorous debate has ensued over whether it is appropriate to call Paul's encounter with Christ a "conversion" (See Paul among Jews and Gentiles [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976], 7-23). The general consensus, which with Peace agrees, is that the word conversion is appropriate if one is speaking of a radical change of direction or change from one group to another. However, it is highly inappropriate if one is thinking of Paul changing from one religion to another. Christianity remained a subset of Judaism throughout the period when the New Testament books were written.

[2] The only way that Peace can consider "turning," repentance, an important element of conversion for Paul is to base his camp in Acts. In terms of Paul himself, repentance is not a major category in his writings. We cannot know, of course, to what extent he may have emphasized it in his preaching, but it does not function prominently in his letters in the New Testament. Repentance is thus a very important element in the theology of Luke-Acts, but not of Paul's letters.

Monday Blog Report

Another week, another set of blog, writing, and seminary goals.

The seminary update this week overviews spiritual formation in the MDIV curriculum at the new seminary at IWU.

For the novel in progress, now beginning chapter 4, see Fragmented Chaos. All four chapters can be bought in a Word file at for 99 cents through PayPal.

Post goals for this week are:
Tuesday--Ordination and Training (Generous Ecclesiology)
Wednesday--The Rise of the Individual (philosophy)
Friday--A Change in Direction 2 (Paul)
Saturday--Critical Issues in Daniel
Sunday--Explanatory Notes (Philippians 4:1-7)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Explanatory Notes: Philippians 3:17-21

Somewhere, scattered throughout the blog, are posts on Philippians up though 3:16. I'll gather them all together when I'm done as I have with 1 Thessalonians and Galatians.
3:17 Become fellow imitators of me, brothers, and be watching those who walk thus, just as you have us as a model.
It is jarring to some popular conceptions of Paul to hear the confidence he had in putting himself forward as an example of how to live. Not only does good exegesis undermine the idea that Romans 7 gives Paul's ongoing struggle with Sin. Verses such as this one show definitively that Paul considered his own pattern of life a model for his churches to emulate. "Do as I do" invites a striking examination of his own "walking" in the world.

3:18-19 for many walk with regard to whom I used to say often to you--and now I also am saying, crying--[they walk as] enemies of the cross of the Christ, whose end is destruction, whose God is the belly and [whose] glory [is] in their shame, who think earthly things.
The referent of these verses is somewhat obscure. Does Paul refer to 1) Gentile opponents to the Christ movement, 2) non-believing Jews who oppose faith in Christ, or 3) Christian Jews who disagree with Paul's way of thinking? The following verse implies that such individuals prize in some way "citizenship" on earth. This could refer to Roman citizenship or citizenship in a particular city, which would make sense given that Philippi was a Roman colony whose citizens were automatically citizens of Rome. But it might also be a dig at Jews, Christian or otherwise, who Paul sarcastically implies are too attached to the earthy Jerusalem.

On the one hand, it is easier to see Paul "crying" in relation to his own brothers in Israel than about Romans, per se (cf. Rom. 9:2-5), unless we mean to say he cries over his own difficulties. But this latter thoughts seems less likely. The mention of the "cross" of Christ reminds us of Paul's accusations of other Christians who argue over keeping the Jewish Law. Paul considers such believers to "boast in flesh" (Gal. 6:13) and want a "good showing in flesh (6:12). They do not want to be persecuted for the "cross of Christ" (6:12).

In our dating of Galatians and Philippians, Paul writes Galatians just after 1 Corinthians and only a year or two before Philippians, all while ministering in and around Ephesus. The conglomeration of themes thus would relate to considers he had particularly in this period. The fact that Philippians 3 begins with reference to the "mutilators," which we take as Christian Jews who insist on circumcision and full conversion to Judaism, it is reasonable to think at the end of the chapter that he is closing the page on this discussion.

Paul thus reasonably has Jews, Christian or otherwise, who oppose the Christ movement as he once did as a corruption of Jewish faith. The reference to the belly is opaque. Is it too far of a stretch to think of things like circumcision as part of the realm of the "belly"? Certainly it could be an allusion to food laws and table fellowship, an issue that caused significant conflict for Paul at Antioch (cf. Gal. 2).

Those Jews who glory in such "works of Law," elements of Jewish separation and distinction, were in fact glorying in things that were to their shame, in Paul's view. These individuals were rather headed for destruction, by which Paul may be thinking the judgment that will come to the living who are not in Christ when he returns to judge the world. Such individuals are thinking "earthly" rather than heavenly, or as Paul puts it in Galatians, they are enslaved to the elements of the world (e.g., Gal. 4:3, 9).

3:20 For our citizenship is in the heavens, from which also we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
If this line of thinking is correct, then Paul is contrasting citizenship in the heavens with those who overly prize the earthly Jerusalem. Again, we find in Galatians a similar theme as Paul contrasts the heavenly and the earthly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25-26). At the same time, the imagery of citizenship would have been readily understood by the Philippians, for the city of Philippi was a Roman colony. Roman colonies had the highest status of any cities in the Roman world. Their citizens were automatically citizens of Rome, although not everyone that lived in a city was considered a city of it. The official language of the city was Latin, even though Paul easily can write to them in Greek.

The model of living in a city at somewhat remove from the place of citizenship is apt here. Roman citizens might not live in Rome and yet have citizenship based there. In another way, Jews might in a sense be citizens of Jerusalem, even though they live in the Diaspora. So believers are citizens of heaven, even though they are located on earth.

The notion of a Savior coming from the place of citizenship might also easily have Roman overtones. The Roman emperor Augustus, for example, was fashioned as the Savior of the Roman world. Whether Paul's eschatology has undergone any modifications in Philippians or not, he still expects Christ to return to earth at some point bringing salvation to those who believe and destruction to those who do not.

The question of whether Paul also implies that we will at some point go to our "home city" in heaven is a matter of some debate. Some scholars would argue quite strongly that Paul does not in any way picture believers "going to heaven" in some way. However, it is hard to imagine what it might mean to die and go to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23-24) if it does not picture going to heaven in some way, at least in the time prior to the resurrection, assuming Paul still has a conventional understanding of resurrection as something that takes place at some point in the future rather than at death.

3:21 ... who will transform the body of our humility into the same form as the body of his glory according to the working that makes him able even to subject all things to himself.
The time that Paul has in mind is apparently the point when Christ as Savior returns from heaven in salvation and destruction. The verse thus speaks directly of the transformation that will happen to the earthy bodies of those believers who are alive at the point of Christ's arrival or parousia. This is the sort of transformation Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 15 that there will happen to the dead in Christ. Whether 2 Corinthians 5 implies Paul developed to come to see this transformation taking place at death is a matter of debate.

Our current earthly bodies are thus "bodies of humility" or perhaps even humilation, thus reinforcing the sense that it is foolish to focus on matters of the "belly" or the foreskin. The verse also implies that the glorified body of believers will be the same as the glorified body that Christ received at the point of his resurrection. It is in this glorified state that Christ will eventually see everything subjected to him (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:25-28).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

10 Critical Issues in the Other Prophets 1

Previous posts in this series include:

1. Faith, Evidence, and Biblical Scholarship
2. The Old Testament Canon
3. Genres in the Pentateuch
4. Critical Issues in the Pentateuch
5. Critical Issues in the Historical Books
6. The Poetic Sub-Genre
7. Critical Issues in the Psalms
8. Critical Issues in Wisdom Literature
9. Critical Issues in Isaiah

Too much involved in this one for me to crank it all out at once, so here's the first installment.
We best begin to locate the prophetic writings of the Old Testament by dividing them into those prophets who lived before the exile of Judah to Babylon (586BC), those who date from the time of the exile, and those who were "post-exilic," who prophesied after the exile. Here we are speaking of the time when the prophet himself lived, in distinction from when the books we now have in the Old Testament were written or reached something like their "canonical" form, the way they appear in the Bible.

Amos and Hosea prophecied not only before the exile of the southern kingdom, but before the destruction of the northern kingdom in 722BC. They are almost unique among the prophets because they prophesied to the northern kingdom, although their prophesies were preserved in the southern kingdom. Some scholars argue that the form of Amos and Hosea we now have shows the hands of editors in the southern kingdom. Jonah was also prophet in the northern kingdom who lived before the exile (cf. 2 Kings 14:25). However, the book of Jonah itself does not include any prophecy to the northern kingdom, since it concerns prophecy to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian kingdom.

Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, and Zephaniah prophesied around the time when the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel (722BC). Nahum in particular celebrates the justice of the northern kingdom's destruction. Habakkuk and Jeremiah then lived just before the time of the Babylonian invasion. The first wave of captives were taken to Babylon in 597BC.

Ezekiel and Obadiah then lived and prophesied at the beginning of the exile. Ezekiel and Daniel are both figures located not in Jerusalem or Judea, but prophesying in Babylon itself. The book of Daniel appears in the Writings rather than the prophets, and we will cover its issues in a later section. If one accepts the "three" Isaiah hypothesis, then the middle chapters of Isaiah (40-55) would also date from the last part of the exile in Babylon.

Haggai and Zechariah lived in the time just after return from exile (538BC) and urged the rebuilding of the temple, which took place in 516BC. If one accepts the three Isaiah hypothesis, Isaiah 56-66 would also date to this period. Then Malachi and perhaps Joel would date from the 400s BC.

Textual Criticism of the Old Testament
The branch of biblical studies that tries to determine the way the original texts of the Bible were worded is called textual criticism. It is surprising, even disturbing sometimes to some the first time they hear that we have none of the original documents of the Bible. For those who deal in ancient documents, however, it is exciting to know how many ancient copies of the biblical books that have actually survived. Things fall apart, and we thankfully have a wealth of copies of the Bible in comparison to what has survived of all other ancient writings.

Over a hundred years ago when archaeologists began to discover very old copies of the New Testament, many Christians were disturbed to find significant differences at some points, like the fact that the oldest copies of Mark did not have Mark 16:9-20. But these differences did not call into question the vast majority of the way the Bible had been printed over the years. As we would expect, there were those who reacted vehemently against these discoveries because it raised questions where all had previously been assumption. [1] They were caught off guard and, indeed, many of the scholars who raised such issues were hostile to faith.

But by the time the Dead Sea Scrolls came around in the late 1940s, the idea that the original text of the Old Testament might have differed a little from the text Christians bought in the Christian book store was not as shocking. These scrolls, which mostly date to the century before Christ, were about a thousand years older than any copies of the Old Testament we had at the time. For the most part, they confirmed the way the Old Testament had been printed in the Bibles of the day. In some other cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls pointed to alternative wordings we had known about, but had not used.

For example, the Old Testament was translated into Greek in the Egyptian city of Alexandria from around 250BC to just before the time of Christ. We informally call this Greek translation, the Septuagint, based on a legend about 70 Jews who translated the Pentateuch. We had known for years that this Greek translation sometimes was worded differently than the Masoretic text, the medieval text from about AD900 that had been used as the basis for printed Bibles since the invention of the printing press. In some places, the Dead Sea Scrolls have confirmed that the Septuagint was actually more original than the Hebrew text that stood behind our Bibles at the time.

For example, the King James Version of Deuteronomy 32:8 reads, "When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance... he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." Yet we had always known that the Greek Old Testament of this verse said that God set the boundaries according to the "sons of God" rather than of Israel. The Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that the original reading of Deuteronomy was likely "sons of God," referring to the spiritual powers worshipped by other nations. We have already mentioned the likely henotheism of ancient Israel in passages like Psalm 82. In any case, we can see why some rabbinic Jews might have wanted to alter the text.

In a few rare cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls have presented us with texts we had never known before. For example, the transition from 1 Samuel 10:27 and chapter 11 had often puzzled interpreters. Where did this Nahash the Ammonite come from in 1 Samuel 11, showing up unannounced. The Dead Sea Scrolls have a paragraph after 10:27 that helps explain, now included in the New Revised Standard Version:

"Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead."

If this paragraph is original, it would fill a gap in the existing storyline.

The reason we are addressing the textual criticism of the Old Testament in this section is the fact that the Greek text of Jeremiah presents some very interesting and significant variations from the Hebrew. The Greek text is about an eighth shorter than the Hebrew text as we have it. Several passages are missing. Also interestingly, the oracles against the nations, which appear in chapters 46-51 in our Bibles, are inserted after 25:13 in the Greek. One of the fragments of Jeremiah found at Qumran seems to confirm at long last that the Greek is probably the more original version.

These sorts of findings cause us to sit back and reflect on the way we approach the biblical text. The initial reaction in such cases is often to deny a new idea without truly examining it. Significant intellectual energy might be applied to finding ways to finesse the evidence to make a different interpretation plausible. And maybe in some cases, these alternative explanations are correct. It is telling, however, that what is initially troubling to one generation often poses no issues to the next, implying that the initial reaction had more to do with emotion and perceived insecurity rather than substance. Textual criticism, which was a big issue to some in the late 1800s was not a big issue for their grandchildren in the 1900s.

So evangelicals came to grips with textual criticism long ago. Anyone who uses the New International Version or the English Standard Version implicitly accepts the science of textual criticism as valid. But as one person said, we have to wonder about an approach to the Bible that puts a premium on an inerrant text we do not have and has no problem with an "errant" text we do have! [2] Apparently God was not concerned to correct anyone about the order of the text of Jeremiah these last few thousand years, which implies that He is not as concerned with the minute details of the biblical text as some think He is.

There are popular legends you sometimes hear about the care with which the Bible was copied. But these stories come from the medieval period and do not seem to apply to the time of Christ or Old Testament times. All the evidence from the first three centuries of Christianity, as well as the formative period of the Hebrew Bible, seems to point rather to a kind of fluidity to these texts. Indeed, it is difficult to decide what it might mean to speak of the "original manuscript" of a text like Isaiah or Jeremiah. A good argument can be made that they were more like living oracles, snowballs that started rolling through Israel's history with core prophetic material from the prophets themselves, then gathering material for a century or two after the prophet himself had passed from the scene.

A good argument can be made that God inspired reinterpretations and expansions of them for later generations. Then at some point they reached certain roughly fixed forms that were passed along as somewhat independent traditions of how the texts read. Some would strongly object to this model. For them it is very important to think that Jeremiah himself either wrote the book in its current form or that he was still alive to approve most of it in this form even if someone else might have edited the material together. Each will have to make up his or her own mind.

However, as we mentioned in the Introduction, regardless of what the biblical texts meant in the past, the crucial moment for them as Scripture for me and for you is now, as I read it. Do I need to know the original meaning of Jeremiah to hear God speak throught it? Do I even need to know the textual history or the original wording of Jeremiah to hear God speak through it? Surely the answer to these questions is a resounding "No!" From a pragmatic perspective, very few people have heard God's word through these texts if we can only hear God through the original meaning.

This is why I do not think it should bother us if in fact we have been looking at a "less than original" form of Jeremiah--or the ending of Mark--all these centuries. God did not and does not need the original wording to speak to us. And it is why I believe on a broader scale that we should be open to any scholarship that is honestly trying to hear these texts in their original contexts, even if some of their suggestions are initially unnerving. A case can be made that some evangelicals have made a cottage industry out of trying to put out perceived fires set by new evidence, a kind of well established coping mechanism. In an age that emphasizes authenticity, this type of scholarship may not yield much fruit among those who might otherwise believe.

If we accept that we can read the text Christianly, regardless of its so called original meaning, the preoccupations of twentieth century evangelical scholarship become largely tangential. Again, this is not to say evangelical scholarship has been wrong all the time, only that it has often seemed blatantly biased in its treatment of evidence rather than even attempting transparency in its motivations. God has and does speak through the biblical text whether a person has studied these issues or not. The New Testament itself models this approach, as we have seen, for its authors heard God speaking in the Old Testament text often despite its original contexts.

[1] Even today, there are a few Christians who might call themselves "King James only," an artifact of a century ago.

[2] Although I personally object to using the word "errant" of the text we do have. It is no error when something attains its intended standard.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Paul: A Change in Life Direction 1

So Paul was a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. He tells us he was from the tribe of Benjamin and a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5). By this expression he meant to say not only that Aramaic was a first language for him, but that he was raised on the values of "purist" Jerusalem society. These were the ones who thought they did Judaism the right way, not like those "Diaspora," scattered Jews. They spoke Greek at best and at worst spoke whatever obscure local language was the native tongue where they lived. [1]

In Philippians 3:5, he goes on to say that he had a Pharisaic approach to the Jewish Law before he believed. [2] Indeed, he says in 3:6 that he was faultless when it came to the kind of righteousness you could have in relation to the Jewish Law. This is a statement we are generally programmed to skip over. What? Paul says he was blameless in some way in relation to his Law-keeping before he believed on Christ? Never noticed that before!

If we can get beyond the kinds of things people say so often about Paul and actually listen to what he has to say, we will soon be struck by a number of things. If we let him construct his sense of himself, both before and after he believed, we will not likely conclude that he was the kind of guy who likely felt like a moral failure before he turned to Christ. Nor did he think of himself as a slave to sin after he followed Jesus. [3]

For example, in Philippians 3, as in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul does not discuss his past as a time of failure. Instead, he says that "whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ" (3:7, TNIV). He calls his Jewish badges of honor matters of potential "gain," not illustrations of his past sinfulness or moral failure.

So a little bit later on, when he says, "forgetting what is behind," he is not forgetting all his past failures. He has said nothing of the sort. He is forgetting things that, from a certain human perspective, might have been quite impressive indeed! The problem is that these things did not make him righteous enough to demand God's favor. And besides, they paled next to the power of Christ's faithful death and resurrection.

Romans 7:14-25 is often taken as an obvious indication not only of Paul's past moral struggle, but indeed of the struggle he continued to have with sin as a Christian. Does not Paul use the present tense when he says, "the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing" (7:19)? And after all, don't so many of us Christians identify with Paul's alleged struggle with sin? Do we not find ourselves often struggle to do the right thing, even though on some level we truly want to?

But our identification with these words applied to our own lives does not change what Paul meant two thousand years ago. And the broader context of Romans 7 demands we not take these words of Paul's current struggle. In the chapter before (e.g., Rom. 6:17-18), the chapter itself (e.g., Rom. 7:5-6), and in the chapter after (e.g., Rom. 8:1-4) Paul urges that Christians are no longer slaves to sin but are now slaves to righteousness.

The majority of Pauline scholars thus now acknowledge that Paul is giving a dramatic portrayal in Romans 7:14-25 of those who want to do the good of the Jewish Law but are unable because they do not have the Holy Spirit to empower them. It is irrelevant that he is speaking in the present tense, since you would expect a person to use the present tense when playing out a hypothetical. In short, you would have to rip this chapter from its context to make of it what so many Christian readers today do.

Some scholars have acknowledged that Paul is not talking about his present in these verses, but suggested he is remembering the struggle of his past. All we can say is that Paul almost never gives off that sort of message when he talks about his past. We find nothing of this tone in Philippians 3 or 2 Corinthians 11. Words like "repentance" and "forgiveness" do not show up much at all in Paul's writings, as some fossil of former worries. At the same time, from his earliest letters he urges his churches to be blameless in their lives (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:23; Phil. 1:10-11) and is completely comfortable to suggest they follow his example (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:6-7; Phil. 3:17). [4]

No, if we want a picture of what Paul was like before he believed on Christ, we would more profitably read the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14. It is not hard to hear the same Paul who exerted such strong authority over his churches saying in his former life, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people--robbers, evildoers, adulterers"--and these lawless Christians. Is not his, "Hebrew of the Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; ... as for righteousness based on law, faultless" similar to the Pharisee in Luke who says, "I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get" (Luke 18:12).

At the same time, we must be very careful not to make blanket assumptions about Judaism or even about Pharisees in Jesus' day. The caricatures that work so well in popular preaching have also fed holocausts and crusades from time to time in history. We are so used today to Christianity and Judaism being separate religions that it is easy to forget that the earliest Christians were Jews and almost certainly would have continued to identify themselves as Jews to their deaths. Paul speaks of Gentile believers being "grafted into" the tree whose "natural branches remained ethnic Jews (Rom. 11:17-21). And he believes that around the time of Christ's return, the bulk of non-believing Israel will believe (Rom. 11:26).

There is a popular fiction you sometimes hear out there in preaching, that Saul was Paul's Jewish name and Paul his Christian name. But the most superficial glance at Acts dispels this idea. The book of Acts continues to call him Saul some fifteen years into his life as a Christian, only suddenly to switch to Paul while Paul is on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:9). The best answer to the question of Paul's dual names is that one of these is his nickname, and the other part of his name as a Roman citizen.

[to be continued next Friday..., d.v.]

[1] All the while we remember that Paul was from Tarsus in the Diaspora, that he was fluent in Greek, and, indeed, that as often as not he quotes Scripture from the Greek translation even when it differs somewhat from the Hebrew.

[2] In Acts 23:6, Paul identifies himself to the Jewish ruling council, the Sandhedrin as a Pharisee in the present tense, almost thirty years after he believed in Jesus. It was acceptable for historians of the day to compose such speeches (e.g., Thucydides tells his readers as much in Pelopponesian War 1.22), so we cannot be completely sure that Paul said exactly these words. Even if he did, he was surely saying it for rhetorical effect. The position Paul takes in writings like Galatians and Romans is light years away from anything a normal Pharisee would say.

[3] In the first chapter, n.1, I mentioned that I will be mentioning the fifty or so works on Paul that a person might read to master his writings. Here we should mention one of the most important of all, in my opinion. Other than reading Paul's writings themselves, you would do well to start the quest to master Paul with the late Krister Stendahl's, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West," conveniently reprinted in his book, Paul among Jews and Gentiles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976), 78-96.

[4] The only real candidate for this argument is 1 Timothy 1:16, which calls Paul the "worst of sinners" before he believed. But as we will see in the companion volume to this book, 1 Timothy differs so significantly from Paul's earlier letters that one should not use it as the starting place or the "base camp" for understanding any aspect of Paul or his writings. And, in any case, calling oneself the worst at some point in the past, can actually serve as a badge of honor in the present, as anyone who grew up listening to conversion testimonies knows.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Seminary Vision (7-23-09): Genius of Our MDIV

I was chatting earlier this week with a former student for a magazine article about our new MDIV degree. Yes, we've said it all before... But I thought the unique features coalesced exceptionally well in my mind in this conversation.

1. Convenient for students
Online...... doesn't make us unique, but it does distinguish us along with the leaders of seminary education. Bethel Seminary (where Mike Cline who was interviewing me went) certainly is one of the leaders here. Asbury Seminary is as well. Others like Wesley Biblical have joined.

The flagship seminaries like Duke and Princeton will survive without programs that allow you to do most of your courses online and then only come to campus once or twice a year for intensives. But most seminaries will wither away without these sorts of options. The Wesleyan Seminary immediately joins a small group of leaders who offer seminary degrees without making you move somewhere.

2. On the job training
Study while in ministry... really puts us in a small number. Bethel Seminary has this option as well, but who else but us and them does? And even then, my impression is that Bethel has not geared their curriculum (yet) to maximize the learning in relation to being in a local church while studying specific topics. My impression is that "in ministry" for them simply means the same as #1 above--you don't have to leave your church to train.

By contrast, in our program, you do action research on your local congregation and its environment every week! The sample below brings this out.

3. Integrated foundations with practice
Learn Bible, theology church history in the context of ministry...... nowhere, and I mean no one, has this integrative piece, not the way we do. The sample says it all.

Sample week at our seminary:
You'll remember that someone gave our seminary concept a rather scathing review a few weeks ago. I really felt sorry for him because he really has no idea how much more the typical seminary student is going to like our way over business as usual--and how much sounder the paradigm is pedagogically. Purists are usually wrong. But even more often, they end up marginalized.

I was looking at a week from one of our online courses starting this Fall. Three features of this week jumped out at me because these are assignments his seminary couldn't assign even if they wanted to!
  • Do Action Research assessing the “human needs” of both the immediate context of your church, as well as any target areas on which you believe your church should focus (50 points).
  • Review and evaluate the demographic research you did for the Cultural Contexts of Ministry course.
  • Explore the biblical question, “Who is my neighbor?” in relation to your local context.

First, since you are on location in a church, you don't just explore in the abstract what the possible human needs of a community might be. You actually explore the needs of your community, of your church's community, the place where you are ministering. Other seminaries can't do this, because they don't require you to be at a church!

Second, you bring something from a previous course into this one. With the possible exception of Bethel, other seminaries just aren't sequenced so intentionally to where you build like this from one course to the next. From the discussions we've had with accrediting bodies, they'll crown us king just for this alone. NO seminary anywhere maps out the curriculum in the detail we have.

Finally, his seminary might have a class where you do exegetical work on Luke 10, the final bullet above. If you're lucky, they have a class on Luke you can take. If you're lucky, you'll have a Bible prof who is interested not only in what scholars of Luke have said and their own pet projects but in applying the text to today.

What they do not have is a Bible prof "dropping into" a missional class. Some at least have "missional" courses, rather than old style evangelism classes. And it is possible that a practical prof might do a class on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, maybe. But no seminary brings a Biblehead into the same class (so to speak) with a Missional prof with as much intentionality and integration as our program does.

If you thought IWU was being picked on by a big gun, don't feel bad. In my honest opinion, there's simply no seminary pedagogical design that comes close to what we're proposing. May we be good stewards of what God has entrusted us with...

... and of course, we don't expect to be the only ones for long. This is too good for others not to borrow! Purists like our detractor will be fighting the visionaries in their own faculties in the days to come, not to mention their own administrations urging them to get with the program!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Christians and Evolution (philosophy)

Let the failure begin... I wasn't able to finish my planned section of the philosophy book for today. I used all my writing time finishing, polishing, and editing the previous chapter. So I'll share some of what I worked on yesterday in this regard, and move on.
It is beyond the scope of this book to engage in Christian debates over the science of macroevolution. [1] Over the last few decades, a significant literature has emerged against it by scientific creationists and more recently, by those who hold to Intelligent Design theory (ID). The former group marshaled biologists, geologists, and other scientists in the 1970s to argue for a young earth whose complexion is best explained on the basis of catastrophes like
the biblical Flood.[i] Their model of the earth’s geology is thus called catastrophism, as opposed to the uniformitarianism of Darwinism. Uniformitarianism assumes that the earth’s geology has resulted from the same slow processes we observe today, just over billions of years.
textbox material
Darwinism: the idea that evolution has taken place gradually over millions of years simply by nature “selecting” organisms better equipped to survive in particular environments

mutation: a change in the fundamental molecular structure of an organism

neo-Darwinism: a revision of Darwin’s theory that understands mutation as the method by which organisms arise that are better equipped to survive in particular environments

scientific creationism: a Christian approach to scientific evidence that arose in the 1970s to counter belief in macroevolution. It assumes a literal seven day creation and explains the earth’s geology by recourse to a world-wide flood

Intelligent Design theory (ID): a more recent Christian approach to scientific evidence that suggests it cannot be explained adequately without recourse to an Intelligent Designer, namely, God

uniformitarianism: the idea that the earth’s geology can be explained on the assumption that conditions have largely remained the same over the course of its history

catastrophism: the idea that the earth’s geology is largely explained by a major catastrophe, namely, a world-wide flood

Intelligent design theory takes a slightly different tactic.[ii] It suggests that certain aspects of life reflect an “irreducible complexity” that could not have evolved by chance. They attempt to demonstrate that the evolution of certain things like proteins is a mathematical impossibility by chance, because they are so complex. Unless they were designed, we cannot account for their existence.

At the same time, the evolutionary community has not stood still either. Many evolutionists no longer hold to the strict uniformitarianism of Darwinism and now suggest that the most radical phases of evolution may take place “quickly” in various spurts (quickly meaning over thousands rather than millions of years). This process is sometimes called punctuated (not spontaneous) equilibrium.

Again, our purpose is not to examine the science involved. We can refer to a body of Christian scientific literature that makes scientific arguments against macroevolution.[iii] Other Christian scientists argue for theistic evolution, the idea that God directed the evolutionary process.[iv] When the theory of evolution first began to gain prominence, some Christians strategized to fit it with their Christian understanding. For example, some suggested what became known as the “gap theory,” the idea that dinosaurs and other extinct animals might have lived in between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. They suggested that Satan’s fall from heaven might have caused the world of 1:1 to become “formless and empty” in 1:2.

Over time, however, evolution was used as an excuse for social Darwinism, the idea that the rich and powerful should naturally run over the poor and powerless in society. After all, they were the fittest! It is quite possible that William Jennings Bryan, who famously argued against evolution in the famed Scope’s Trial of 1925, was so vehemently opposed to evolution primarily because of what he saw as its unchristian social implications, more than because it violated a literal understanding of the Bible.[v] That emphasis of scientific creationism came more to the front in the 1970s.

We might briefly mention the biblical texts that most come into play in such debates. The first is obviously Genesis 1, which presents creation in terms of seven “days.” Theistic evolutionists take such language as figurative and poetic rather than a straightforward, literal description. Perhaps the days represent ages of history, they might say. At the same time, fundamentalist interpreters put a high premium on taking the days as literal 24 hour days. Similarly, when Genesis says God made everything “after its kind,” this description is taken to preclude evolution between species.
more textbox material

social Darwinism: the application of the idea of “survival of the fittest” to its “have’s” and “have not’s,” justifying the domination of the powerful over society’s weak

theistic evolution: the idea that God in some way directed the evolutionary process or at least that macroevolution is compatible with belief in God

Perhaps a greater challenge to the theistic evolutionist view comes from the book of Romans in the New Testament. In Romans 5, Paul tells the Romans that death entered the world through sin, through the sin of Adam in particular (e.g., 5:12). From the similar passage in 1 Corinthians 15:22, it is clear that Paul includes physical death in what he is talking about. [6] Yet evolution requires lots and lots of death to take place before Adam. The theistic evolutionist must thus take Paul’s argument somewhat less than literally.

For some, like Kenneth Miller, the Adam and Eve story might shift into the category we explored at the beginning of the chapter: a story expressing a mystery that does not refer to historical figures.[vi] This solution of course then removes for us Augustine’s “free will” explanation for world-wide evil and natural calamity—we would have no human parent on which to pin the “Fall.” Other theistic evolutionists see God much more involved in the process of evolution. They might accept the existence of an Adam and see him as the first homo sapiens into which God put a soul. They would then see Paul’s language of death really having more to do with spiritual death than physical death. Indeed, they might argue that Adam and Eve themselves were designed to die unless they ate of the tree of life (Gen. 3:22).

What is non-negotiable for the historic Christian is that God created the universe and has all power and knowledge of it as He sees fit. Further, God is involved in the world and through Christ will eventually set right everything that is wrong in it. Within these boundaries, we find some variety of perspective among faithful Christians. Each one will have to decide what they think is acceptable to believe.

[1] For the spectrum of positions Christians have taken on this issue, see Greg Boyd, ed., Across the Spectrum (***).

[i] E.g., Henry M. Morris, Scientific Creationism (Green Forest, AR: Master, 1974).
[ii] E.g., Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski, and Stephen C. Meyer, Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000).
[iii] In addition to nn.ii-iii, we might also mention Michael J. Behe’s, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, 2nd ed. (New York: Free, 2006).
[iv] E.g., Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution (New York: Cliff Street, 1999).
[v] See Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 189.

[6] For an arugment that Paul does not have physical death in view, see David Snoke, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (***).

[vi] See n.iv. Another excellent resource for Christianity in relation to science is Francis Collins' The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (***).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fundamentalism Definition, Take 2

OK, I tried to take some of the insights from feedback on the blog and on Facebook, and revise the definition while sticking to my own guns.

Is this better?

fundamentalism: In American Christianity, a movement that arose in the early twentieth century in reaction to certain developments in biblical studies (e.g., higher criticism), science (e.g., evolution), and broader American culture (e.g., woman’s rights). It is thus often best characterized by what it opposes, often militantly, or that from which it is separated.

My Blogs Update

The weekly seminary snippet/update is now posted on the seminary academic blog.

We're now into chapter 3 of my novel, all set up to post throughout the week. I've removed the first chapter. All 15 pages are now purchasable for 99¢.

Don't hold me to it, but my planned posts for the week are:

Tuesday (philosophy): The Rise of the Individual
Thursday (critical issues): Critical Issues in the Other Prophets
Friday (Paul): A Change in Life Direction 1
Sunday (explanatory notes): Philippians 3:17-21

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How's this definition of "fundamentalism"?

I was creating a textbox on fundamentalism for one of my writing projects. I call upon ye, O decentralized Muses, what think ye of this definition?

fundamentalism: In American Christianity, a movement that arose in the early twentieth century in reaction to certain developments in science, biblical studies, and culture. Its identity thus has centered on opposition to evolution, to anything but a particular kind of literal reading of the Bible, to egalitarianism, and to anything perceived as a betrayal of traditional American values

Book Review: Finishing the Starfish and Spider

The reading list off to the right has stayed the same for embarrassingly long. I had a little time today and thought I would knock off one of them, The Starfish and the Spider.

So I've now read chapter 4: Standing on Five Legs (in decentralized organizations):
1) the role somewhat independent circles of groups play (Bibleheads, practioners, church leaders)
2) the role of catalysing personalities (me and Drury for the seminary)
3) the centrality of common ideology (real denominations have seminaries!)
4) connecting with pre-existing networks (IWU and the Wesleyan Church)
5) having champions who make it happen (President Smith and Russ Gunsalus for the seminary)

I've read chapter 5: The Hidden Power of the Catalyst

I've read chapter 6: Taking on Decentralization
Interesting stuff on Al-Qaeda in here, stuff I've been saying since I started this blog in 2004.
1) Changing Ideology
2) Centralize them (give their catalysts cows to compete over)
3) Decentralize yourself (if you can't beat them, join them)

I've read chapter 7: The Combo Special: The Hybrid Organization
Had an MA student do a final project on the Hybrid Church. Watch out!
1) Some centralized companies decentralize the customer experience (eBay is the model here)
2) Some centralized companies decentralize parts of the company (GE, for example)

I've read chapter 8: In Search of the Sweet Spot
That is, the right hybrid mix between centralization and decentralization. GM is the loser in this chapter, Toyota the winner. The sweet spot can shift rapidly, which is why those who were massively on top in the music industry 9 years ago are going out of business today. Apple brilliantly capitalized on the change with iTunes.

And I read chapter 9: The New World:

1. Diseconomies of scale--smaller can be better
2. The Network effect--overall value increases with each member added to the network
3. The Power of Chaos--which optimizes creativity. Increased, tidy organizational structures can be an organization's downfall (knowing looks to friends)
4. Knowledge is at the edge--The best understanding of the organization is often at its fringes
5. Everyone wants to contribute
6. Beware the hydra--cut off one head and two more come back in a decentralized setting (which is why I said the Bush administration with terrorism and Israel with Lebanon were like a couple fools stomping on an ant hill.
7. Catalysts rule
8. The values are the organization (ideology, common goals and values are what make a decentralized organization go)
9. Measure, monitor, and manage (that is, the circles)--but do it as a cheerleader
10. Flatten or be flattened.

Sometime this week you should see my next book purchase in this area (what's wrong with me... I haven't read a fifth of the books I bought just last month!):

Deneff on Temptation: A Wesleyan Reflection

Steve Deneff preached a good sermon this morning on temptation. You can listen to it on iTunes in a day or two. Check back at the College Wesleyan website.

What made me think of posting was the fact that he really ignored the Wesleyan question of entire sanctification. If we're honest, few Wesleyan pastors preach this doctrine. Few people in the pew understand it. Forgive the imagery, but this morning sermon struck me as something like a by-pass around a blocked artery.

Deneff's sermon took off from Genesis 4 and the line that "sin crouches at the door." He made very healthy distinctions between evil and sin. He had a helpful section on avenues by which temptation come (personality, physical issues, environment). He had a practical "to this" start toward solutions (practice the virtue opposite the tempting vice).

He warned the entirely sanctified not to forget that still "sin crouches at the door." Crouches, not as in we "fall" into sin but that it is looking to get us.

How am I as a Wesleyan to map this sermon to our historical doctrines? Is this Keswick? Sin will always be a struggle, even though you can beat it through the Spirit. That's not historically Wesleyan. What about entire sanctification? Where the power of Sin over me is defeated over the whole?

For good or ill, those aren't the questions Christians are asking and I suspect if we were to dwell on them, we simply consign ourselves to irrelevance. I believe Deneff has hit the nail on the head this morning and has, intentionally or not, boiled down the Wesleyan tradition in this area to what people need to hear and will actually help them.

1. Sin crouches at the door of all our lives, no matter how long you have been a Christian. No one dare think they have arrived or ignore the constant possibility of having and yielding to temptation.

2. No one need be defeated by Sin or temptation, through the Spirit's power. Sin may crouch, but it never need catch.

3. Implicit, although it was not the focus this morning, is the possibility that God can "break the power of cancelled Sin." I personally think it is more problematic than helpful to debate the breaking of the power of Sin for the entirety of a person, since we are constantly changing all the time. In principle, I completely agree that a Christian should be able to say at any point of their life that, for their part, they are as surrendered to God as they know how to be and would obey Him whatever He might ask them to do.

But what matters today--and as humans we only ever have today--is that the power of Sin be broken in the area where Sin is crouching today. Wesleyans believe that God can shoot the lion crouching today to where that particular temptation ceases to crouch so threatenly tomorrow.

The blood will flow through this artery.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

9. Critical Issues in Isaiah

Previous posts in this series include:

1. Faith, Evidence, and Biblical Scholarship
2. The Old Testament Canon
3. Genres in the Pentateuch
4. Critical Issues in the Pentateuch
5. Critical Issues in the Historical Books
6. The Poetic Sub-Genre
7. Critical Issues in the Psalms
8. Critical Issues in Wisdom Literature
As we mentioned earlier, the Hebrew Bible is divided into three parts: the Law, Prophets, and Writings. We can further divide the Prophets into two parts: the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve). Isaiah thus leads off the prophets proper.

Prophecy was not a phenomenon limited to ancient Israel. The Old Testament itself illustrates this point not only with reference to the prophets of Ba'al (e.g., 1 Kings 18:19) but also in the character of Balaam, who is not an Israelite and free lances for whatever god from which a person might want to hear (e.g., Num. 22:4-6). Texts discovered from throughout the Ancient Near East (ANE) reinforce this observation.

The primary function of a prophet would seem to be that of a messenger from the gods, with the message uttered in the form of a prophetic oracle. The intended audience of such oracles was not a generation centuries in the future but the message was for those who were the actual individuals standing in front of the prophet as the message was given. In that sense, the prophetic texts of the Old Testament are, at least in the first instance, compilations of speech uttered orally on previous occasions.

It is now recognized that the transition from oral prophecy to written record of prophecy need not have been long. For example, Isaiah 8:16 mentions Isaiah's testimony being bound up by his followers. Jeremiah 36:4 mentions Baruch as his "secretary." At the same time, nothing about inspiration requires that it had to be the prophet himself that wrote it down, let alone edited the prophecies of a lifetime into a collection of prophecies.

The nature of such collections is such that the writings of the prophets have probably to some extent been "de-contextualized" from their original settings in real life (their Sitz im Leben, situation in life) and "re-contextualized" because of being repackaged as a new literary whole. The same is of course true of the sayings of Jesus as well in the gospels. Such re-contextualization inevitably results in some change in meaning and connotation. The larger the prophetic book, the more relocation and thus the greater potential shift in meaning.

We witness an apparent transition from the early days of prophecy in Israel to the prophets of the later monarchy (rule by king). This transition follows the shift from a period when Israel was a loose collection of tribes with no real common leadership to the more centralized days when kings ruled. The prophets and "seers" of the earlier days (cf. 1 Sam. 9:9) were apparently very "charismatic" figures, for lack of a better word, who often acted in groups. Saul comes on a group of such prophets after he is anointed king. He finds them processing from sacrifice with musical instruments.

When Saul joins them, a spirit from God possesses him and he goes into a kind of prophetic frenzy (1 Sam. 10:10). In another part of 1 Samuel, Saul actually strips his clothes off when this happens, and he lies naked for a whole day and night (1 Sam. 19:24). Similarly, when David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, he dances and leaps largely uncovered (2 Sam. 6:14, 16, 20).

These sorts of texts remind us that the concept of the Satan was not yet around when they were written. What 2 Samuel 24:1 attributes to God, 1 Chronicles 21:1 attributes to Satan. It is difficult for us, from a New Testament perspective to think that it was God directly who sent an "evil spirit" on Saul and led him to throw a spear at David (1 Sam. 16:14)! And so from a Christian perspective, it is not completely clear to us which spiritual powers were really responsible for various spiritual activities attributed to God in the Historical Books.

By contrast, the prophets of the Latter Prophets date from the later monarchy on. At least in presentation, they seem much less frenzied than the earlier companies of prophets (Ezekiel is a noticeable exception at points). Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel may all have been priests. Their messages often have to do with social justice (concern for the poor, widows, orphans, etc.), although we do find engagement with geo-political events, concern for appropriate worship of Yahweh, and so forth.

Christian Interpretation
The New Testament quotes Isaiah and the Psalms more than any other books in the Old Testament. And as we have seen with the Psalms, the New Testament tends to take its words in a "fuller sense," a sensus plenior. To varying degrees, the New Testament was somewhat unconcerned to read Isaiah in context. Its paradigm for reading Scripture was not wired to look for original, contextual meaning but for how the words might be read spiritually in relation to Christ and the concerns of the early church.

We arguably find this hermeneutic at play in a number of well known instances. For example, when the Old Testament portion of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) first came out in 1952, a good deal of controversy rose over its translation of Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." The issue of course is that this verse is a classic prophecy of the virgin conception in Matthew 1:23.

But the RSV was not denying the virgin birth. Indeed, it uses "virgin" in its translation of Matthew 1:23. The issue is that the Hebrew word 'alma in Isaiah 7 would not seem to demand a miraculous birth. Young women--in fact virgins--conceive all the time. They just conceive by way of sex rather than by miracle!

The original context of Isaiah 7 is the LORD giving a sign to King Ahaz in relation to two kings that were threatening him from the north. A young woman would give birth to a son as a sign to him, and before the child grew up, God would take the threat to the north away (7:16). Now if this prediction only applied to Jesus, then it was not a sign to Ahaz in any way. He died over 700 years before Jesus! Matthew reads Isaiah 7 with Spiritual eyes and sees a meaning no one, including Isaiah, had ever seen before Jesus.

We find this pattern of interpretation consistently throughout the New Testament. Prophecies that originally had to do with the immediate situations of the prophets are read figuratively, spiritually, in relation to the New Testament context. For this reason, the prediction-fulfillment argument for the truth of Christianity is dangerous and potentially counter-productive. It seems primarily through spiritual eyes that the Old Testament words are understood of Christ and New Testament events. So we potentially provide an opportunity for the skeptic when we argue that these verses "predict" Jesus.

One of the most important texts in Isaiah for us as Christians is Isaiah 53, a text that we relate to the sufferings of Jesus on our behalf. Interestingly, the New Testament does not actually engage this text as a witness to Christ's suffering very often. For example, Matthew 8:16-17 is the only text in the gospel that quotes it, and it uses it in relation to Jesus' healing ministry rather than his death. The main texts that read it in this way are 1 Peter 2:22-25 and Acts 8, where God uses this text to provide an opportunity for Philip to bring the gospel to an Ethiopian.

What is interesting about this text hermeneutically is that it poses some challenges to read in its literary context. The broader literary context equates the servant in question with Israel (e.g., 44:1, 21; 45:4; 49:3). But Isaiah 53 speaks about the servant suffering for "our" transgressions (53:5). If the "our" is Israel, then we have Israel suffering for Israel. In short, we can identify with the Ethiopian eunuch's question in Acts 8:34, "About whom is the prophet speaking?" Thus some Old Testament passages have elements that seem to have pushed later readers toward more than literal interpretations.

"Three Isaiahs"
The fact that New Testament authors were not wired to read the Old Testament in context immediately provides a warning for those who insist we must limit our understandings of Old Testament authorship to the names by which the New Testament references the Old Testament. When it comes to Isaiah, we have no good reason to suggest that the core material of the first half of the book does not incorporate prophesies that Isaiah himself uttered in the 700s BC. The points of debate come with the packaging of those prophecies together in the first half and with the authorship of the second half.

If you approach Isaiah inductively, letting its text generate your thoughts on matters like dating and authorship, you will immediately be struck with its second half. For example, Isaiah 36-39 is not prophetic material, but a historical narrative of events near the end of King Hezekiah's reign. This material is virtually word for word the same as material in 2 Kings 18-20. Like the Pentateuch, this material talks about Isaiah and things he does. Inductively, however, it does not read as if Isaiah is writing these chapters. In th light of what follows, it reads more like someone has excerpted Kings to provide a bridge between the time of Isaiah and a time two hundred years later.

Since the New Testament does not quote these chapters, the main reason someone would ascribe them to Isaiah is the current packaging of them in a book that begins in 1:1 to say, "The vision of Isaiah..." Proverbs also begins by saying its contents are "The proverbs of Solomon" but then goes on to include proverbs of the wise (24:23), of Agur (30:1), and of Lemuel (31:1). It is at least possible that the ancients did not think of such headings as having to extend to everything that followed.

However, the real controversy comes when we get to Isaiah 40-66. Once again, from an inductive perspective, Isaiah is mentioned nowhere in these pages. These chapters do not attribute their material to Isaiah. It is only the packaging of them in the same book as Isaiah 1:1 that starts us out with this expectation inductively.

But as we proceed inductively through the rest of these chapters, they do not seem to picture a setting in the time of Isaiah. The setting is that of Israel about to return from exile around the year 539BC. Isaiah prophesied in the late 700s. Nowhere is this setting clearer than in Isaiah 45:1, where the Persian king Cyrus is mentioned. Cyrus is the king who in 538BC allowed the Jews to return to Israel from Babylon. Isaiah 45 addresses him in the present and even past tense in 45:1.

We therefore cannot simply say that someone who dates this portion of Isaiah to the 500s does not believe in prophecy. These words would not have made much sense at all during the time of Isaiah or the intervening century until 586BC when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. For example, Isaiah 61:4 speaks of God rebuilding ancient ruins and destroyed cities. The literary context both before and afterwards indicates that it is Jerusalem that is in view, a city that was not destroyed for 150 years after Isaiah and could not have been considered ancient ruins for some time after that.

Once again, the primary reason the authorship of these chapters in Isaiah is an issue is the way the New Testament quotes them. It is the fact that Jesus and the New Testament cite this material as material from Isaiah (e.g., Matt. 12:17). Unlike the Psalms, however, no New Testament author makes an argument on the basis of Isaiah's authorship. It is rather a matter of how the New Testament and Jesus reference the material in these later chapters. Each believer will have to decide whether the New Testament quotes such material within the categories of its day or whether God wants us to take from these references a timeless statement of authorship.

It is thus conventional since the commentary of Bernhard Duhm in 1892 to speak of Isaiah 49-55 as "deutero" or second Isaiah and Isaiah 56-66 as "trito" or third Isaiah. Material from the first part ("proto" Isaiah) thus was thought to go back to Isaiah. Isaiah 40-55 was thought to date from the time right before Cyrus allowed Israel to return from captivity and Isaiah 56-66 was thought to date from the period immediately following return in the late 500s BC. The idea is not that there were three different people named Isaiah. At most, some have suggested that a group of Jews preserved and extended the Isaianic tradition in the late sixth century.

As with Wellhausen's theory of the Pentateuch, the specifics have not gone unquestioned in the intervening days. And with the rise of literary approaches to the Bible in the 70s and 80s such as the narrative criticism we mentioned earlier, the study of Isaiah has focused more attention on the literary unity of the sixty-six books rather than the partitioning up of the book into parts. Common themes such as God as the "Holy One" appear throughout. Regardless of what one thinks about the historical origins of Isaiah's content, therefore, it is possible to read it literarily and theologically as a unity.