Sunday, October 31, 2010

Short Catechism 3: "God wants everyone to be saved"

This was originally my second, now revised to be third in a series of short chats I am having with my children to convey my sense of Christianity to them beyond what they might absorb from some other Christian activity.  The first one was based on James 2:13: "Mercy trumps justice."

The second one is based on 1 Timothy 2:4--"God wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth."  Several truths lurk in this verse:

1. First, that people need rescued.  We Christians can quibble over things like how depraved the world and we are.  But it is painfully obvious that an aweful lot of people are in trouble.  They are enslaved to drugs, enslaved to poverty, enslaved to selfishness and greed, enslaved to pleasure and power.  The human animal seems self-destructive by nature.  The world is thoroughly in need of rescue, both spiritually and materially.

2. Secondly, God does not force anyone to be rescued.  He does not predetermine who will be saved and who will not.  If he did, everyone would be saved because he wants everyone to be saved.  However it works in the mystery of his power and will, he does not force it.  He gives everyone a chance.

3. Finally, we want everyone to be saved.  We do not give up easily on the hard cases but, like God, work diligently to see them saved in every sense, spiritually and materially.  We know the leopard can't change his spots, but God can.  With mortals this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.  We interact with the world in hope of salvation, not with the presumption of failure.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thoughts on high school science education...

I took yesterday and today off to be with my family the last day of their Fall Break.  We went to Chicago, a little more than 3 hrs away.  This morning we were at the Museum of Science and Industry.  I had the same feeling I've had for a while now.

We are a nation that makes fun of smart kids.  The general populace not only feels comfortable questioning things overwhelmingly assumed by scientists.  They villify them for it (e.g., the so called global warming conspiracy). We are increasingly a nation that doesn't want our government taking any of our money to invest in general scientific investigation.  With our rhetoric against "earmarks" we are almost relegating the advance of science to things companies can make an immediate profit on or the government can protect or kill with (and you can imagine what this does for the arts that keep us human). In short, I worry about the long term prospects. 

As for my idea... After what we have done at the new seminary to integrate Bible, theology, and church history with the practice of ministry, it is hard to look at the way we teach math and science in high school the same.  First, there is just so much more to learn than thirty years ago when I started high school.  I had a hilarious conversation recently with a college math professor who didn't like the fact they were teaching geometry and things so early.  Her complaint was that a child's brain was not yet developed enough to get the abstractions accurately. 

I laughed because her approach--don't teach it until they can get everything accurately--consigns math and science to almost no one.  We have to start as early as possible, even if it involves imperfection (after all, Newtonian physics is imperfect).  You can often learn something more quickly by learning it first a little wrongly and then perfecting your understanding later, like chiseling at a block of marble.  You "learn it wrong to learn it right."

I wish I knew math and science well enough to integrate the teaching the way we have tried to integrate Bible, theology, and church history.  Students from the earliest ages would work on various problems and learn the math and science to solve them.  They would not learn some individual math or science item and then do an example about that one thing.  They would learn it all in a bundle by constructing things, learn science by building things.  They would create Tesla coils, launch projectiles, blow up things, and learn calculus, chemistry, and physics by doing it, in order to do it.  It would be the "engineering project" that would dictate the interlocking items in math and science to learn.

To teach this way would require informed pedagogues mapping practical projects to a mega-list of math and science outcomes--individual bits to learn distributed among countless science projects.  Then in college they could do it the traditional way, learning isolated and specialized disciplines in depth.  But they would learn what science can do in middle and high school.  They would do engineering type things in school and whet their appetite.  No more abstract and seemingly irrelevant math and scientific theory.  All of it would be integrated with the practice of science in high school.  Then the depth stuff would come in college for those who go forward, which would be more than now because they would see what it can do.

By the way, getting college credit for AP is something you should only do if you don't plan on going on in that area.  High school chemistry AP, for example, even if you get a 5 on the exam, is simply not adequate to go forward with a chemistry major.  You need to start from the beginning again with university chemistry.  High school chemistry won't carry you straight into analytical chemistry very well.

My thoughts...

My Paul book is out! (volume 1)

Paul: Messenger of Grace, is now available (also here if you want to go straight to the publisher).  It covers:

Paul's early years, Paul's turn to Christ, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, and 2 Corinthians.  After giving my sense of the historical, I then reflect some on current issues in dialog with Paul's letters.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Women in the Pastorals 1 (9.3)

A modern, Western woman is likely to be taken aback when reading through 1 Timothy.  After hearing 1 Timothy 2:11-12 for the first time, a teenage girl once remarked, "That's not really in there!"  It reads in the New International Version, "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent." 

Here we come to a point of inner conflict.  On the one hand, we are reading Scripture, which as Christians we understand to have authority over us.  On the other hand, these verses seem to conflict with the gospel of Christ, so well captured in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female."  Some of 1 Timothy borderlines on the harsh toward women.  For example, at one point it tells church leaders not to trust widows who say they will not remarry, because "their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ" (1 Tim. 5:11).

It is hard not to put a comment like this one in the category of the "situation specific" rather than the "timelessly applicable."  What was going on in the context of 1 Timothy to provoke such strong rhetoric, which seems significantly different from Paul's tone and practice toward women in his earlier letters?  To the modern reader, some of these comments sound as strange as Psalm 137:8-9 ("happy is he who... seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks") or Galatians 5:12 ("I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves").

Both in Paul's earlier letters and in the portrait of him in Acts, Paul seems to have a significantly different attitude toward women and widows.  For example, 1 Timothy instructs church leaders not to support younger widows materially but to have their families take care of them until they get remarried (5:9, 11, 18).  The system seems to have worked in this way.  When a woman became a widow, the church would support her for the rest of her life if she committed never to remarry (5:9, 11). 

In practice, however, younger widows apparently tended to go back on their vow and remarry, clearly a source of great irritation.  In the meantime, those widows who did not were perceived to be "idlers," "gossips," and "busybodies" (5:13).  The instruction to remarry seems to assume that if such widows would remarry, the duties of the household, husband, and family would instead preoccupy them with "bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds" (5:10).  So 1 Timothy instructs church leaders not to put a widow on the support list unless she is at least sixty years of age and has been a reputable wife and woman.

Again, such comments sound highly sexist to our Western ears.  They are also quite different from what Paul has to say about widows in 1 Corinthians 7.  There, he says that the ideal is for a widow not to remarry (7:40).  Indeed, the instruction of the entire chapter assumes that the Lord is going to return very soon.  "[T]he time is short.  From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none... this world in its present form is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:29, 31). 

Here is another major difference between Paul's earlier writings and the Pastorals.  Writings like 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians seem to operate under the assumption that Christ will return very soon indeed, probably even before Paul dies.  By contrast, at least 1 and 2 Timothy look to some future time presumably after Paul's death: "in later times" (1 Tim. 4:1) and "in the last days" (2 Tim. 3:1).  The shift from Christ's imminent return to his prolonged delay is a major shift between Paul's earlier writings and 1 Timothy.

So at the very least Paul's sense of widows in the church has changed or alternatively we are witnessing a church some time after Paul hunkering down for the long haul of history.  Other instruction about women in the Pastorals has a similarly different tone than we find either in Paul's earlier letters or in the depiction of his ministry in Acts.  For example, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 seem to assume that church overseers and deacons will be male (e.g., 1 Tim. 3:2, 8, 11; Tit. 1:6). 

But Paul's earlier letters and Acts are full of women seemingly at all levels of participation in the ministry of the church.  For example, we already saw in chapter 5 that Romans 16:1 refers to a woman named Phoebe as a deacon of the church of Cenchrea.  We also saw in that chapter that Paul seems to consider a woman named Junia as an apostle--someone who had witnessed the risen Lord and called to proclaim the good news (Rom. 16:7).  We do not explicitly find Paul referring to a woman as an overseer or an elder, but individuals like Priscilla (Rom. 16:3); Euodia, and Syntyche (Phil. 3:2) might easily have held this office in Paul's churches. 

Again, the tone of 1 Timothy is surprising in this light.  We concluded in chapter 5 that Romans 16 likely greeted individuals at Ephesus, the same location to which 1 Timothy most ostensibly relates.  If Paul did not have a fourth missionary journey, the proximity of these two letters in time would make his sudden silence on women in ministry there jolting... 

Common English Bible

I received a free copy of the New Testament of the CEB yesterday, the Common English Bible.  You can see more about the project at  It's very readable, so somewhat dynamic.  I haven't looked at it in too much detail yet, but I did enjoy Romans 3:21-26, the only translation as yet I know to have the courage to translate this way:

"But now God’s righteousness has been revealed apart from the Law, which is confirmed by the Law and the prophets. 22 God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction. 23 All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, 24 but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. 25 Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness in passing over sins that happened before, 26 during the time of God’s patient tolerance. He also did this to demonstrate that he is righteous in the present time, and to treat the one who has faith in Jesus as righteous."

I don't like 3:23 but I think this has to be the best English translation of the passage ever... other than, of course, mine ;-)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ignatius, the Sabbath, and the Lord's Day

I needed to create a sample of "church historical precedents" for seminary classes.  This isn't as polished as I'd like, but time has run out...
Ignatius of Antioch was bishop of the city of Antioch mentioned in Acts 13:1. It was located in the uppermost part of Palestine in Syria, where modern day Turkey suddenly juts out to the west. Around the year AD107 (González, 41), Ignatius was tried and condemned to death by Roman authorities in Antioch. He left behind seven letters to various churches and individuals, written on the course of his journey from Antioch to Rome, where he was presumably martyred.

In his letter to the Romans, he urges the church there not to try to rescue him from death (Ign. Rom. 4.1), perhaps by bribery or some other means. There he also tells us that he is being escorted by “wild beasts” or “leopards” (5.1; cf. 1 Cor. 15:32). In transit, he also writes the churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Trallia, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna.

Judaizing Gentile Believers
The evidence of the New Testament is very clear that a significant number of believers in the early church insisted a male Gentile must be circumcised and convert to Judaism in order to be saved and fully become a Christ-follower (cf. Brown and Meier, 2004, p. 2-3). For example, while Paul may have considered these “Judaizing” individuals in Galatia to be “false brothers” (Gal. 2:4), they clearly did not view themselves this way (cf. Acts 15:1-5). His opponents were believers, perhaps even missionaries like him (cf. Dunn, 1993, pp. 9-11).

It would be inappropriate to think of such individuals only in terms of Jewish believers in Christ. Even Galatians never specifies whether Paul’s opponents are Jewish or Gentile, although it perhaps makes most sense to think of them as natural born Jews (cf. Gal. 6:13). The writings of Ignatius probably imply that some Gentiles advocated following the Jewish particulars of the Law even into the second century.

In Philadelphians 6.1, Ignatius says, “But if anyone interpret Judaism to you do not listen to him; for it is better to hear Christianity from the circumcised than Judaism from the uncircumcised.” On the one hand, the most natural way of taking this comment is that those who are pushing certain “Jewish” practices are uncircumcised (so also Robinson, 2009, 122). We are then left to debate exactly what it might mean to “interpret Judaism.” We can at least make an argument that Ignatius’ comments relate as much to the situation in his home city of Antioch as it does to something he might know about the city of Philadelphia.

His letter to the Magnesians has a similar comment. “Be not led astray by strange doctrines or by old fables which are profitless. For if we are living until now according to Judaism, we confess that we have not received grace” (Magn. 8.1). In Magnesians 10.3, Ignatius even goes so far as to say that “it is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism.” Clearly there must have been Christians in Ignatius’ day who strongly advocated the importance of keeping elements of Jewish practice while probably falling just short of advocating circumcision.

The Lord’s Day not the Sabbath
The most concrete reference Ignatius makes to such a Jewish practice is in Magnesians 9.1: “If then they who walked in ancient customs came to a new hope, no longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord’s Day, on which also our life sprang up through him and his death.” Groups like the Seventh Day Adventists who believe Christians should still observe the Sabbath on Saturday tend to reinterpret this passage (e.g., Bacciochi, 1977, p. 213-23; Thiel, 2010). For example, Bob Thiel suggests that kyriakē refers to the Lord’s “way” rather than to the Lord’s day.

Such attempts however are clearly motivated by prior theological commitments rather than from the most natural reading of the text (e.g., Schoedel, 1985, pp. 123 n.3). On the one hand, it is true that a verb sabbatizo is used rather than the noun for Sabbath (e.g., Thiel, 2010). However, the cumulative case that it refers to observance of the Jewish Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday is strong.

First, we have the background context of Philadelphians 6 and the immediate literary context of Magnesians 8 pointing us toward interpreting sabbatizo in relation to a specifically Jewish practice. Second, it is fairly clear from Revelation 1:10 that the kyriakē is a day, not a way. John of Revelation is in the Spirit on a particular day. It thus makes sense that to sabbatizo is to do something different from living according to the kyriakē, a different day. Finally, the allusion to the resurrection, “on which also our life sprang up through him and his death” (9.1), confirms a reference to Sunday, since it is clear in all the gospels that Jesus rose on the first day of the week (e.g., Matt. 28:1).

We conclude that tension continued to exist over whether Christians should observe the Jewish Sabbath or not into the second century AD. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, not only opposes observance of the Jewish Sabbath, but his language is very pejorative toward such individuals, who apparently were Gentile rather than Jewish believers in his context. His language treats them as marginal within the church. Further, Ignatius does not reinterpret the Sabbath as Sunday. He dispenses with it entirely as a Jewish practice. In this regard, Ignatius seems to be in strong continuity with both Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16.

Works Cited and Bibliography
Bacciocchi, Samuele. (1977). From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity. Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University.

Brown, Raymond and Meier, John. (2004). Antioch and Rome: Cradles of New Testament Christianity. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist.

Carson, D. A., ed. (1982). From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Dunn, James D. G. (1993). The Epistle to the Galatians. London: A & C Black.

González, Justo. (2009). The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day. Peabody: MA: Prince.

Robinson, Thomas A. (2009). Ignatius of Antioch and the Parting of the Ways: Early Jewish-Christian Relations. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Schoedel, William R. (1985). Ignatius of Antioch. Philadelphia: Fortress.

Thiel, Bob. (retrieved October 26, 2010). “The Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath,”

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to be Saved (4.3)

The race is on to finish Paul 2...
Enveloped in Paul’s thoughts about God’s plan for the Gentiles are some familiar verses. We have heard them in terms of “getting saved,” about “becoming a Christian,” about “getting to heaven.” For example, Romans 10:13 says "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved," quoting Joel 2:32.  Romans 10:9 features in the “Roman road,” a series of verses from Romans meant to lead a person through the logic of becoming a Christian. On the Roman road, Romans 3:23 first tells us that “all have sinned,” which of course includes me. Then Romans 6:23 tells me that the “wages” for my sin is death. But Romans 5:8 gives me hope—even though I was a sinner, Christ died for me. Finally, we come to our verse from this passage, Romans 10:9: “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Hopefully the last few chapters have made it clear that, while this way of using these verses is not completely off, it approaches these verses a little differently than Paul did. For Paul, all these statements had to do with the question of whether Gentiles, non-Jews, could escape God’s coming judgment. This is what being saved and salvation means for Paul.  It refers to escaping God’s wrathful judgment on the day when Christ returns to the earth and everyone gives him an account for the deeds they have done on earth—including believers for the things they have done after God forgives their sins (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). In that sense, no one is literally saved yet because salvation is something that is yet to come, on the Day of Judgment. When we speak of “getting saved,” we are really speaking of our assurance of something that has not yet happened.

So in Paul’s mind, the “all” in “all have sinned” meant "both Jew and Gentile" rather than just Gentiles—all, both, have sinned. And Paul’s arguments about the wages of sin and Christ dying for the ungodly were situated in his mind in a story in which the Jewish Law set the standard for sin and Israel would eventually recognize that Jesus was its messiah. Later Christianity has universalized Paul’s thinking in ways that are not wrong, but are slightly out of context. The Law becomes the universal moral law rather than the Jewish Law. The “all” in “all have sinned” shifts to the individual trying to be justified and ultimately saved, rather than the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

So Romans 10:9 is also situated in a passage where Paul is asking why it is that so many Gentiles are headed for salvation while most Jews were not. Why? Paul says it is because they insisted on doing it their way rather than God’s way.  God's way was to make the world right with him through trust in Jesus, but the Jews by and large wanted to be right with God through keeping the Jewish Law (9:30-33).  They stumbled over God's plan for "righteousness," in this case a right standing before God, through Jesus (9:33).  They tried to establish a right standing before God on their own, rather than what God had in mind (10:3). [1]

Christ is thus the goal of the Law, that to which the Jewish Law points (10:4).  Some traditions take the phrase "Christ is the end of the law" to mean that Christ brings an end to the law.  But it is far more likely that Paul is saying Christ is the goal, the telos of the Law.  As Paul says in Galatians 3:24, the Law was a guardian, a tutor for the Jews to be ready for Christ (NASB).  But now that Christ has come, born under the Law to redeem Jews under the Law (4:4-5), faith has come and neither Jews nor Gentiles need the tutor any more (3:25).  We have "grown up" in the maturity of salvation history now to have the status of sons and daughters who no longer need the Law as our guardian...

[1] The parallelism of 10:3 pushes us to take the phrase, "the righteousness of God" in 10:3 in reference to human righteousness more than God's righteousness as in 1:17.  Of course Paul may intend a double entendre, as he may in Romans 3:21.  Some like N. T. Wright insist that Paul always must mean God's righteousness when he uses the phrase (What Saint Paul Really Said ***), but this approach seems excessively rigid.  Wright and others are correct that the background of the phrase pushes us toward God's righteousness as the default.  But ultimately the immediate literary context must cast the deciding vote.


I have seen the future and it is this article in Inside Higher Ed, "An Amazon Book Rental Plan."  At least I hope it's the future.  Mind you, Amazon doesn't do this yet.  It just could be really nice.

The idea is something like Netflix. 
  • I pay a monthly fee to have access to electronic books on Amazon or Google.
  • I access those eBooks like I would access books in a library.  I check one or two out at a time.  Return them.  Check out the next one.
This could also potentially answer the question of royalties on the other end.  What if authors/publishers received a small royalty every time someone accessed their books?

So here's what would be my perfect world:
  • Google/Amazon have all books in electronic format.
  • You have a subscription, to where you pay a very small amount for every page you access.
  • An even smaller amount is paid to each publisher/author each time a page of their book is accessed.
  • Or you can purchase the book electronically because you will be accessing that book regularly.
How 'bout it, Google?  Amazon?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Short Catechism: "Mercy trumps justice"

It is important to me that my children know some of the key things I believe.  Needless to say, they do not read my blog and their attention span for deep conversation is not very long.  When my youngest two hit middle school, a certain window to their mind will be hard to open if it is not already open.  So this last couple of years we've been oiling the hinges on that window.

One very key thing in my mind is the fact that even within Christianity, my children will be exposed to many forms of Christianity when I'm not looking.  They might join a high school Bible study where the leader is Baptist beige or have Sunday School teachers or youth leaders who are fairly untrained Wesleyans.  Even a pastor like Steve Deneff often says things that are different from what I think.  Ultimately, they have to choose, but I would at least like them to know what I think.  I would rather them intentionally and thoughtfully choose other options than merely to be driven and tossed by the winds, even the Christian winds of their environment.

Today I began with James 2:13: "Mercy trumps justice."  Justice is when you receive a punishment equal to your wrongdoing.  "An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth."  If you intentionally break someone's arm, justice would be for them to break your arm back in exactly the same way.

My kind of Methodist and Wesleyan believes that God's character as love is more primary for him than God's character as just.  We do not believe that God had to crucify Jesus because of some mindless rule about having to punish wrongdoing.  God wants to forgive.  That does not mean he does not punish.  But God's punishment is meant to help us get on the right track, not to satisfy some underlying need for therapy that God has. 

The cross is an astounding act of God's love, not only because Jesus took the punishment we deserved but because God could have forgiven us by divine fiat.  But it was much more powerful for him to become us and suffer with us.  It better satisfied the innate order of things and thus was more powerful to heal than a mere declaration.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Strong and Weak (5.3)


P.S. Saw Juan Williams on Fox this morning.  Regardless of NPRs appropriateness, he's clearly better off from the incident. ;-)
Although Paul has never been to Rome, he arguably knows a little about the church there. [1]  In particular, Roman believers seem to have argued over things like meat from pagan temples just like the Corinthians did.  In Romans 14-15, Paul labels the two sides in such issues as the "strong" and the "weak."  The strong are those whose faith is strong enough to eat meat that has been sacrificed to a pagan god or who can give every day to the Lord without worry (14:1-2).  The weak are those who are troubled over the potential uncleaness of their meat or who feel constrained to observe the Jewish Sabbath (14:5). 

To be sure, we should take into account the strong possibility that there is an element of rhetoric here.  Paul makes the "strong" feel good by putting them in a position of knowledge and strength.  But his goal is to lead them to respect and honor those who are more conservative.  In a sense, he massages the ego of the person who feels free to do certain things, while moving them in the direction of those who do not.

His argument is very similar to what he said about "disputable matters" at Corinth, although it is more general here in Romans. Paul gives no evidence in this chapter that the debate is a Jew-Gentile one at Rome.  Indeed, we have argued throughout the book thus far that Paul's audience in Romans was predominantly Gentile. [2]  We will grow in our thinking about the early church if we recognize the strong likelihood that there were both Jews who were "ultra-liberal" on these issues and Gentiles who were "ultra-conservative" on them.

Although Paul does not bring out the issue explicitly, the eating issue is almost certainly the same question he faced at Corinth--whether a believer should eat meat that has been sacrificed to an idol.  In fact, he is writing Romans from the city of Corinth, where their saga was no doubt fresh in his mind.  So when he mentions vegetarians (14:2), he is not talking about people who did not believe in killing animals and eating them.  He is talking about people who are so concerned about potentially eating meat that had been sacrificed to a god that they preferred not to eat meat at all.

Several items of background are helpful here. [3] First, we should remember that meat was somewhat of a luxury.  Most ancient people only had meat during city festivals, so not eating meat was nothing like the sacrifice it is today.  And most of the meat available in a city probably came from nearby temples.  Ancient sacrifices did not consume the whole animal. [4] Even after priests and the family of the sacrificer had eaten to their fill, a good deal of meat would be left over.  Since it could not be refrigerated for later, it might easily make its way to the market place...

[1] Especially if Romans 16 gives greetings to individuals at Rome.  However, see the final section of this chapter where we think it more likely that chapter was directed to the churches at Ephesus.

[2] You'll have to buy the book to hear the argument ;-)

[3] See chapter 7, "Disagreement and Disorder at Corinth, in the first Paul volume in this series, Paul: Messenger of Grace (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing, 2010).

[4] The Jewish "whole burnt offering" was unique to Israel.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The NPR Debacle

All kinds of insights and lessons to get from the firing of Juan Williams from NPR.  First, I listen to NPR whenever I am in the car and one of their news programs is on.  I highly value its "old school" style that insists its moderates try to maintain a neutral position.  I highly affirm its insistence that its reporters not participate in pundit shows like O'Reilly's Fox program.  In that sense, I agree that it would be difficult for him to be on the "opinion circuit" and work for NPR.

The first observation I have is thus that this firing was a long time coming.  NPR had warned him and moved him around more than once already for dabbling in the much more lucrative and popular opinion circuit.  In these sort of situations, institutions often are looking for an excuse to let someone go.  Given the legal complications and potential lawsuits, the presenting reason for firing often is not the real reason.  It's a fine line institutions walk.

Was this the right moment?  A little weak, I think.  NPR and other shows disgrace their own code by only playing Williams' initial comments without putting them in their full context.  The CEO of NPR made another classic mistake by mentioning a "psychiatrist" in her explanation.  It is so hard to hold your tongue as an administrator of this sort when doing this sort of thing.  So she did exactly the same thing she is criticizing him for.

In a postmodern world, we know no one is objective.  It is a blogger's world where I can blog my opinions without anyone fact checking me before I post.  But we must have venues where moderators try to maintain objectivity.  I don't know what I would do without some news outlets where I can't tell what position the moderator holds.  I agree with the rule that says an NPR reporter can't appear on pundit TV shows.  It is not for this comment, but for going on O'Reilly in the first place that Williams should be let go.

Meanwhile the outcry from Republicans is a sham.  I am disappointed with the CEO of NPR, but NPR's presentation is one of the most objective I know.  Even earlier this week I was thanking the Lord for having a source of news in the middle, whose position on the issues they cover is not immediately obvious to me.  I was thinking it was because it is supported by donations from people like me rather than from advertisements and money moguls. 

When you do not know the position of the reporter or moderator--that is a truth seeking operation.  But when you know where the moderator stands and it is your position, you are most likely to be feeding your own bias and missing part of the bigger picture.  We learn the truth by hearing the sides we disagree with on their own terms.

Placing the Pastorals (9.1)

In the most popular evangelical scenario, Paul wrote his Pastoral Epistles last--1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.  At least since F. F. Bruce, [1] it is very popular to think that Paul appeared before Nero at the end of Acts and then was released.  Paul then would have spent a couple additional years travelling around the Mediterranean, a time when he wrote these three letters, before being arrested again and finally martyred by Nero.

This is an ingenious reconstruction, even if it is only about fifty years old.  It stitches together scattered comments in Paul's writings and makes them into a "fourth" missionary journey beyond the so called three missionary journeys of Acts.  In Romans 15 Paul says he plans to go to Spain.  So perhaps after release from Rome, he conducts a missionary journey in Spain.  In Philemon he tells this slave owner to prepare a guest room for him.  Perhaps he wrote this letter from Rome and later visited Colossae.  In Philippians he says he expects to visit them.  Perhaps he wrote this letter from Rome and later visited there.

This reconstruction can also accommodate scattered comments in the pastoral letters themselves.  For example, when did Paul leave Titus behind at Crete?  There is no really obvious place in Acts where Paul would have been to Crete.  Indeed, Acts does not even mention Titus anywhere. And when exactly did Paul leave Timothy behind in Ephesus?  Paul did leave Ephesus in Acts 20:1, but did he leave Timothy behind in a pastoral role?  After all, Timothy seems to be with Paul in Macedonia just thereafter (e.g., 2 Cor. 1:1).

2 Timothy clearly seems to picture Paul in his final round with Caesar in Rome.  So when did Paul leave Trophimus sick at Miletus, on the cost of Asia Minor (2 Tim. 4:20)?  When did he leave his cloak and parchments in Troas (2 Tim. 4:13)?  A fourth missionary journey provides a convenient way to account for all these intentions and details.

But this scenario also faces serious, if not fatal difficulties.  For various reasons, it seems quite likely that Paul was actually put to death at the end of Acts after appearing before Nero.  This is in fact the traditional understanding we find up until the late twentieth century.  Certainly we cannot just assume such a tradition is correct, but it is also the strong implication of Acts itself.

The argument for Paul's death at the end of Acts is two-fold.  First, the latter chapters of Acts consistently foreshadow Paul's impending death.  Secondly, Acts was very likely written after Paul's death.  The author of Acts thus knew the outcome of Paul's trial before Nero, and he foreshadows it having a negative result.  These dynamics seem fatal to this popular reconstruction, coupled with other problems with details.  See the endnotes for further details. [2]

[1] E.g., Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free ***

[2] You'll have to buy the book when it comes out ;-)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The NIV strikes again! (Acts 16:34)

Once again the ideological skew of the original NIV's translators strikes again!  The NIV of Acts 16:34 reads, "The jailer brought them [Paul and Silas] into his house and set a meal before them: he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole family."

What the Greek of the last line actually says is, "and he rejoiced with his whole house, he having come to believe in God."  The "having come to believe" is nominative singular, and thus refers to the jailer alone.  What's going on here?  As usual, the translators didn't want anyone to get the impression that anything evil like infant baptism was going on here. :-)
Doug Moo, you out there?  Please take this pervasive theological ax grinding out of the N2IV!

Placing Ephesians (8.1)

Sure trying to finish up the second Paul book.  Building the ediface of the last few chapters... will go back and fill in the blanks.
Ephesians is difficult to place, like most of the letters we treat in the rest of this book. For example, even though we traditionally call it “Ephesians,” it does not at all seem likely it was written to Ephesus if it was written within Paul’s lifetime. Ephesians 3:2 tells the audience, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you.” But Paul spent three years at Ephesus and its immediate vicinity, so they not only had heard of Paul’s ministry. They had experienced it on the most intimate of terms. They had witnessed a massive riot at its end, and perhaps even observed a rather serious imprisonment of Paul at the end of his visit (cf. 2 Cor. 1:8).

Traditionally, it was thought that Paul wrote Ephesians while imprisoned at Rome some four or five years after leaving the city. The words of Ephesians 3:2 thus do not fit an Ephesian destination. Indeed, the words “at Ephesus” in its address (1:1) are missing from the earliest surviving copies of this letter, [1] leading some to suggest it was originally a “circular letter” sent to the whole region of Asia rather than to one specific city. [2] In keeping with this theory, the letter of Ephesians is the least concrete of any of the letters in the Pauline collection. It has the least details relating to either Paul’s situation or that of the audience. The only other individual named in the whole letter is a man named Tychicus. Paul mentions no other cowriter and gives no specific greetings at the end, unlike all the letters we have looked at so far.

Some have suggested Ephesians was a cover letter meant to summarize Paul’s teaching, written some time after Paul’s death, when his letters were being collected together and put into one document. [3] But this is speculation no one could ever prove. It does seem that Ephesians is the best candidate of all Paul’s letters for a fairly common type of writing in the ancient world, where someone re-presents the thinking of a famous authority from the past to a new generation or context. [4] In this scenario, Ephesians would present Paul’s message in summary form to a context some time after Paul’s death. Paul would not be the literal author, but no deception would need be involved any more than a parable or a novel involves deception. The original audience would know that Ephesians conveyed Paul’s voice rather than being written directly by Paul.

As we go through the message of Ephesians, we will leave it to you to fill in these details. You can think of Ephesians as a circular letter sent to Asia as a whole, with the audience filling in the “TO” line when it came to their location. [5] Or you can think of Ephesians as a literary device that summarizes Paul’s teaching for the generation after his death. In either case, we will read it as Christian Scripture, as God’s word both for our time and the time it was written. Indeed, the fact that Ephesians does not involve the specifics of a particular location makes it read more easily as timeless Scripture than some other biblical texts. It was clearly written in very general terms that not only were applicable throughout the world of its day but that float across history with great ease.

[1] Including not only some of the earliest church “fathers” like Origen (ca. AD200) but the earliest collection of Paul’s letters (p46, dating to about AD200) and the two most complete collections of the New Testament from the early 300s (so called Sinaiticus and Vaticanus).
[2] The second century “heretic” Marcion apparently referred to it as a letter to the Laodiceans, thinking it to be the letter mentioned in Colossians 4:16.  Others have also taken this point of view in modern times.  Colossae and Laodicea were only about ten miles apart in the Lycus Valley.  Since Colossians and Ephesians share a good deal of content, it has been tempting to see them as twin letters sent at about the same time.  Colossians is, however, much more concrete than Ephesians.  Ephesians has nothing about it that would lend itself to a specific destination like the church at Laodicea.
[3] E.g., Edgar Goodspeed ***
[4] Called a pseudonymous writing.  It is true that such writings were not typically in letter form.  Most evangelical scholars have been hesitant to accept the presence of any pseudonymous writings in the New Testament because they have found it difficult to imagine that such writings would not involve deception.
[5] The earliest manuscripts simply read at 1:1, “to those who are,” and do not specify a location thereafter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Hate the Ads...

It's all this, "he did this" and "he did that" stuff.  You can't trust any of them.  It's all lies and smears on both sides.  If someone was positive and said what they stood for, if it was reasonable, if I felt like I could trust someone to listen to both sides and really vote for what they calmly and rationally thought was best, they'd have my vote.

I'm not hearing any candidates like that here in Indiana.  I hear Dan Coats say, "Pelosi, Obama, don't vote for Elsworth."  I hear Brad Elsworth say, "lobbyist, lobbyist," don't vote for Coats.  I don't hear Coats say, "We just have to get the budget balanced" and I don't hear Elsworth say, "We saved the economy from disaster."  How do I feel about these two--I feel like they're both a couple of morons neither of whom should be a Senator.  Thanks a lot, Evan Bayh for resigning and leaving us this mess.

Day of the Lord here?

Got ya.  This is actually from the 7th chapter of my second Paul book. :-)
2 Thessalonians 2 is one of the most cryptic passages in the Bible. Paul seems intentionally vague. He alludes to knowledge he and the Thessalonians share but that he apparently does not want to mention explicitly in the letter. “You know,” Paul says, “what is holding him back” (2:6). But he does not say what or who it is. He mentions things he told them when he was with them but keeps the details out of the letter. It feels like some of the powers he of which speaks are looking over his shoulder.

The general topic is the “Day of the Lord,” which Paul associates with the parousia or “arrival” of Jesus, as well as with believers being gathered to him (2:1-2). 1 Thessalonians also speaks of the Day of the Lord. It says that this event will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). For unbelievers, the arrival of Christ will be surprising, along with the wrath of God that ensues (1:10; 5:9). But it will not surprise believers for they are awake (5:4-5). Just before that Day, Christ will return from heaven. The dead will rise and Christ will meet us with them in the clouds (4:16-17).

The tone here is quite different in 2 Thessalonians. If 1 Thessalonians urges them to be ready for the Lord to come at any time like a thief, 2 Thessalonians puts on the brakes and tells them to wait because a few things still have to happen yet. For this reason, they do not feel like they were written one right after the other. Certainly 2 Thessalonians does not feel like it was written before 1 Thessalonians. A scenario sometimes advanced is that Paul wrote the Thessalonians that Christ could return any day then some of them stopped working and acted as if the Day had already come.

But the situation seems driven by something more than Paul’s former teaching. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 mentions a rumor going around that the Day of the Lord had come. Paul even mentions the possibility that someone might forge a letter in his name to this effect. This statement, coupled with the strong claim at the end of 2 Thessalonians that Paul signed the letter with his own hand (3:17), raises the stakes for us not to take Paul as the author of this letter. If Paul was not the author of 2 Thessalonians, then it would be difficult not to take this letter as a somewhat blatant attempt to deceive.

But what circumstances might lead the Thessalonians to think that the Day of the Lord had arrived? On the one hand, we should probably think of this comment more as the beginnings of the end. Surely everyone believed that the return of the Lord from heaven to judge the earth would be a fairly obvious event—you will know when it happens. Surely it was not like the Thessalonians had heard Jesus had returned to Jerusalem already!

But surely some event of major proportions was happening to trigger such talk. Even if we bracket the question of Paul’s authorship, the temple must still be standing, for 2:4 mentions some “man of lawlessness” setting himself up in the Jerusalem temple as God. It is very difficult to imagine that any Jew or Gentile believer at that time would have pictured anything but the Jerusalem temple when they heard this statement. Certainly Paul does spiritualize the temple at times (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16). But 2 Thessalonians is talking about rebellions and the movements of a lawless individual. Surely the audience of 2 Thessalonians would have heard Daniel 11:31 in these words, the desecration of the temple by a contemptible king who sets up an “abomination that causes desolation.”

Indeed, it is hard for us not to hear overtones here of Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, where Jesus speaks of such an abomination in the temple. And surely it would have been hard for any audience at the time of Paul not to remember a somewhat recent event when the emperor Caligula tried to have a statue of himself erected in the Jerusalem temple. This event happened at least ten years before 2 Thessalonians, so it is not the event Paul has in mind. But it seems very likely that it gives important background for what Paul and the Thessalonians would have pictured when Paul spoke of the man of lawlessness setting himself up in the temple as God...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Christians and World (5.3)

Today's snippet from the second Paul book:
Interspersed in Paul’s comments about how believers should relate to each other are comments on how they should relate to those outside the church. What Paul says in Romans 12:18 is some of the best advice you could get on the subject: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The problem of course is that it is not always possible to live at peace with others. If someone else wants to pick a fight, then you simply cannot live at peace with them. It should be possible for you as a believer to live at peace with anyone through the power of the Holy Spirit. But because others often do not feel the same, sometimes we just have to walk away, or endure, or perhaps even go to war.

This last comment is a matter of debate among Christians. In our human mind, it seems impossible to picture a world where war or self-defense is not a necessary evil in some cases. Can I not shoot an intruder intent on killing or raping my spouse or children? Can a nation under attack not fight back or can a nation not come to the aid of another country in dire need? Common sense tells us that fighting in these cases is a lamentable but virtuous thing to do.

At the same time, the biblical case is not nearly as strong as some imagine. Jesus’ teaching in particular leans toward the pacifist—do not fight back—and some of the things Paul says in Romans 12 sound a lot like some of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). For example, Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:14-15). This verse covers several elements in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. “Blessed are those who mourn” (5:4). “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness… Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (5:10, 12). Jesus goes on to say, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (5:39).

Some thus suggest that Paul is alluding to Jesus’ teaching when he says not to curse those who persecute you. Paul goes on to say, “Do not repay evil for evil” (12:17). You are not to get revenge for the bad things people do to you (12:19). Rather, Paul says to let God take care of it. “Leave room for God’s wrath,” Paul says. God is the one that gets to avenge wrongdoing. It is his to repay (12:20). We, by contrast, are to feed our enemy when he or she is hungry. We are to give drink to our enemy when he or she is thirsty. We are to “overcome evil with good,” while to respond to evil in kind is to be overcome by evil (12:21).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Not racist...

We had a great evening opening to the conference reflecting the 10 year anniversary of Michael Emerson and Christian Smith's Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America.

There are any number of great insights in this discussion.  For example, most of us who are "white" do not realize how much more complicated things are for "others."  We walk into stores.  We go up to bank tellers.  We rent cars.  No problem.  "Others" face questions, suspicious looks, watchful eyes.  It's not that we ask for these privileges.  Indeed, we don't even realize we are privileged.  This is a great thing to be aware of.

Language of "Repent of the sin of racism" or "Acknowledge that the structure of things is sinful" has a tendency to alienate.  While no doubt there is plenty of latent racism and injustice in the systems of things, a much more helpful approach is simply for "whites" of middle and upper class to acknowledge the privileges they have and that "others" face challenges we do not.  Then we can begin to talk about changing the way things are as a society rather than focusing on myself as an individual. 

It is simply unacceptable from a Christian standpoint for "whites" to earn on average 20 times what African-Americans do (it has progressively become worse over the last 30 years).  Don't try to explain it away... "It's because..."  Whatever you might think the cause is, it is an unacceptable situation and all Christians should want to see it changed.  We can agree to work toward solutions.

A great insight is to realize that the category of "white" isn't even real.  It is real because of social construction but has no intrinsic reality.  "White" is simply not "other."  So when the Irish first came here, they weren't white, but now they are.  Where do whites come from?  Are they English?  French? Scandinavian? Spanish?  Did we all come from the country Whitey? You might have noticed that Hispanic was not considered a distinct race on the most recent census but a subcategory of Caucasian.  Race is ultimately a matter of social construction. 

The current hives many are feeling over illegal Mexican immigrants is really an old worn out page from American history whenever there is an influx of "others," and those all bent out of shape over it don't know their history.  Historically they will end up looking just as foolish as those who got all bent out of shape over those drunken Irish Catholics or those stupid Polacks or those Chinsey slant eyed Chinese or Indian givers.  Better hide your wallet.  Here comes a Jew.  And so the masses continue to be tossed around by forces of which they are not aware.

The question of multiracial churches arose.  The intentional integration of our churches is one step Christians can take to try to overcome the inherent inequalities of American society.  Not easy, not comfortable, but a move in the kingdom direction.  As long as we live in different neighborhoods, as long as we worship in separate churches, as long as we do not interact with each other--whatever disperate groups we might have in mind--then the structure of society will have a tendency to perpetuate islands of miscommunication and inadvertant inequities.  Obviously this goes both ways, since it is more comfortable for everyone--white and black--to stay with "our own kind."  But it is only if we see and hear each other that we can really see things from each other's perspective.

Desegregation was clearly painful.  But who would deny that Birmingham today is a far more Christian city than it was sixty years ago?  And how much of the current rhetoric over "strict constructionism" of the Constitution is residual resentment of being forced to integrate, of being forced to give women equal opportunity in the work place?  Isn't that where those feelings toward Supreme Court justices really started?  I personally wouldn't want to be on that side of history.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Puritans--The Original American Evangelicals?

I'm skimming Divided by Faith for the conference on campus this weekend reflecting on the book 10 years later.  So far an excellent book.

What I'm sick of is the construct of evangelicalism, propagated by Mark Noll, that the New England Puritans were the original American evangelicals with the movement somewhat abating until the mid-twentieth century.  These aren't my family or my progeny.

Why we as Wesleyans have any need to identify ourselves as evangelicals is beyond me.

Chronicle Article: Run Universities Like Wikipedia?

The piece below is from the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Something this good would have to be a new start, probably.  That's the only way we were able to start as revolutionary a seminary as we have at Wesley.  Academics ironically are often the least innovative and most selfish people out there.  Most want a job where they can stand up in front of a captive audience and be boring and relatively irrelevant to the people in front of them.  When you truly are astronomically brilliant (in which case you probably aren't at the majority of small colleges out there), fair enough.  But almost anyone can get a doctorate these days...

I love the obscure and fully affirm its legitimacy.  But in this world, it's the other people in the room who pay the bills.  Give them mostly what they want (and of course feel free to sneak in some profundity they didn't ask for that actually makes them better people)... or you'll be closing down soon enough.
What if We Ran Universities Like Wikipedia?

October 13, 2010, 5:43 pm

By Marc Parry

Anaheim, Calif.—A silly question? Maybe. But the analogy, made by a speaker at the Educause conference here today, reflects a recurring theme at this year’s event: Do our university bureaucracies still make sense in the era of networks?

In a session called “The University as an Agile Organization,” David J. Staley laid out the findings of a focus group he conducted asking educators what a college would look like if it ran like Wikipedia.

First, it wouldn’t have formal admissions, said Mr. Staley, director of the Harvey Goldberg Center for Excellence in Teaching at Ohio State University. People could enter and exit as they wished. It would consist of voluntary and self-organizing associations of teachers and students “not unlike the original idea for the university, in the Middle Ages,” he said. Its curriculum would be intellectually fluid.

And instead of tenure, it would have professors “whose longevity would be determined by the community,” Mr. Staley said, and who would move back and forth between the “real world” and the university.

Universities “seem to be becoming more top-down and hierarchical at a time when more and more organizations are looking more like networks,” said Mr. Staley, who expanded on the Wikipedia theme last year in Educause Review.

The Wikipedia analogy struck one observer as silly. Universities are nothing like an encyclopedia, and Wikipedia is nothing like a university, argued Siva Vaidhyanathan, associate professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia... [read the rest at the link above]

What is a "transformed mind"? (Romans 12:2)

Trying desperately to find moments to write on Paul.  Argh!  Here's an excerpt from late night writing last night:
Such newness of life involves a transformed way of thinking that is different from the way unbelievers in the world think. For some, it is tempting to make Paul’s words in Romans 12:2 into a command to study and get a set of ideas right. Socrates allegedly once said that “Right thinking leads to right action.” Some personalities that are oriented around reason and thinking mistakenly take Paul to say that it is key that we get our ideas and worldviews in order, that if we can only get our ideas right, then everything else will take care of itself. Our “right ideas” will play themselves out into “right living.”

Unfortunately, this is just not the case. Most people have significant points of discontinuity between their professed ideas and how they live. Some of us do not realize it, but many would not change their way of life even if they did. How many people make no attempt to stop smoking or to control their eating even though they know it is horribly harmful to their bodies? How many people in the past have believed in God but continued to live in ways they themselves knew were wrong?

Further, more often than not, the ideas we profess come from our sense about life, rather than the other way around. The arguments we give are just as often meant to justify the conclusion we want to hold rather than real attempts to be objective about the evidence. In the rare occasion when you might get someone to admit their own inconsistency, many will simply confess that they just are not interested in the truth. We humans are simply not rational creatures for the most part, and those interpreters of Romans 12:2 who see the verse in relation to reasoning things out logically are destined for never-ending frustration.

In the end, though, logic simply is not what Paul means when he speaks of a transformed mind. The verses that follow make it clear that he is thinking about a way of thinking about each other, that is, about our attitudes toward one another, as in Philippians 2...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Early Faith Community (5.4)

From chapter 5 of my second Paul book.
The list of names at the end of Romans may not at first seem inspiring, but it has lots of tantalizing nuggets, especially when we think that we are looking at a community of faith just like us.  Think about the people that you worship with each Sunday.  Close your eyes and imagine you are in a worship service right now.  Look around with your mind's eye.  You know everyone's "assigned seat."  You know the older couple that sits over on the right and then young couple that sits over on the side.

It is this sort of list we are reading in Romans 16, except of course that they met in houses rather than church buildings and we are looking at believers scattered across a city rather than a single local assembly of believers.  Romans 16 gives us a truly amazing peek into some of the social dynamics of the earliest churches, especially those associated with Paul's mission. [1]  People have often wondered how Paul could know so many people so well already at Rome when he has never visited there.  Since the last time we ran into Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3) they were in Ephesus (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:19; cf. 2 Tim. 4:19), many scholars suggest that Romans 16 was originally sent to Ephesus rather than Rome.

[insert evidence and argument: sorry, have to get my day going...]

We rightly read the Bible as God's word to us.  Indeed, I would argue that part of reading a text as Scripture is reading it as a living and direct word to the present.  However, clearly the books of the Bible say they were first written to people who lived a very long time ago, and it is a simple fact of language that the Bible must then have been written in their categories first.  We appropriately hear God's direct voice in these words but we should be aware that to that extent we are often not hearing the words for what they originally meant.

The reason I mention this fact is that we might easily mistake the current "packaging" of the biblical books for their original packaging.  Just because a book of the Bible is packaged a certain way now does not mean it was originally arranged that way.  We saw this issue in the first Paul volume in relation to 2 Corinthians, where most scholars think Paul wrote chapters 10-13 at a slightly later time than the first 9 chapters.

We tend to picture the prophet Isaiah sitting down to write the book with his name from beginning to end in one sitting, with God dictating each word as he went along.  But it is not at all likely that Isaiah came together in this way. [2] And even with a letter like Romans, we should think of a process of at least several days of writing, quite possibly weeks, with a rough draft first. [3] Writers generally kept a copy of their letters with them, as well as sending one.  If so, then we can easily imagine Paul writing the Romans and writing the Ephesians at the same time in Corinth.  The letter to Romans had the first 15 chapters of our Romans.  The letter to Ephesus had the 16th chapter, and the copy Paul kept with him had both in something like Romans' current form.

[1] One of the books our first Paul volume mentioned as key to mastering Paul's writings is Wayne Meeks' The First Urban Christians (***).  It provided a key analysis of passages such as this one.

[2] Prophets were not writers.  They were speakers.  We should picture the prophets speaking their prophecies in context, probably in a much different order than they currently appear in our Bibles.  In the case of Isaiah, the chapters from 36 on do not even claim to come from Isaiah.  Isaiah 36-39 are taken virtually word for word from 2 Kings, and the last 27 chapters assume a situation some two hundred years after Isaiah and talk about events from that time as if they are currently happening.

[3] We mentioned in the first volume also the book of E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First Century Letter Writing ***.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thomas Hobbes

Chapter 10 of my philosophy book finished!  Here's a textbox on Thomas Hobbes.
Thomas Hobbes lived from 1588 to 1679, a turbulent time in the history of England in which it rose to political dominance, executed one of its kings, and implemented a brief commonwealth. It was also a time when some of the most foundational developments in modern science were taking place. During his life Hobbes navigated the rough political waters of the English Civil War and spent eleven years in Paris, France, as the royalists, supporters of Charles I, lost power and Charles himself was executed (1649). Some of his writings would later anger royalists as well.

Hobbes was a materialist who disagreed with the dualism of soul and body that René Descartes taught. Indeed, the two knew each other and corresponded for a time while Hobbes was in Paris, just a few years before Descartes’ death. Although he was accused of being an atheist later in life, Hobbes affirmed the key creed of the church, the Nicene Creed. Nevertheless, he did believe that the material nature of the world meant that the normal course of history was determined on the basis of the laws of motion.

His work, Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance was part of an exchange with the Arminian-believing bishop John Bramhall and perhaps the first clear expression of psychological determinism, the idea that our thoughts are ultimately determined by the forces on us. But Hobbes is better known as a compatibilist, someone who believes determinism and free will are compatible. By free will, Hobbes meant that we are free to act according to our will, not that our will is somehow undetermined by the forces at work on us.

Hobbes is best known for his political philosophy. In Leviathan, he compared the state to the fantastical monster of the Bible (e.g., Ps. 74:14). Humans form the state because of their need for protection and then dissolve it as their passions lead to strife. In general, it is a defense of the absolute power of kings on the basis of a “social contract” between a king and his people.

If people were completely in a “state of nature,” it would be everyone for themselves and the result would be a “war of all against all.” For this reason, people make implicit or explicit contracts with sovereign powers like kings for protection. In return they surrender absolute power to the sovereign in all areas, in civil, judicial, military, and even church matters. Even if the sovereign abuses these powers, the people cannot take the authority back.

Monday, October 11, 2010

William James quote

I've been desperate to finish a chapter of the philosophy textbook I've been writing for 5 years (Argh!).  In my revised schedule, I hoped to finish chapter 9, "Free or Fated?" last Monday.  I'm very close and might be able to finish it today.

Anyway, here is a quote from William James I liked today.  Not that anyone who actually sees this book will care, but I've pursued a rather controversal approach in quotes.  I believe it is valid to translate even English writers and so there is a small element of dynamic equivalence in my rendering:
"I cannot understand the belief that an act is bad without regret at its happening. I cannot understand regret without the admission of real, genuine possibilities in the world… The great point is that the possibilities are really here. Whether it be we who solve them or he working through us is no matter. At those soul-trying moments when fate’s scales seem to quiver, when good snatches the victory from evil or to the contrary shrinks from the fight, what is important is that we acknowledge that the issue is decided nowhere else than here and now. That is what gives the palpitating reality to our moral life and makes it tingle…"

William James, The Will to Believe

What is making people so angry?

I'll confess I'm at a loss.  There is so much anger toward the government right now and the Obama administration, but the equation doesn't add up to me.  People will say things like, I bet those Christians who voted for Obama regret it now.  But I'm never quite sure what they are pointing to.

These are elements of anger I hear:

1. Big deficit and getting bigger exponentially
2. Unemployment
3. Health care legislation
4. "Big government" (is this code for health care legislation?)
5. Socialism (is this code for health care legislation?)
6. Bail outs of banks, GM, Chrysler, etc...
7. Attitude toward immigration

But I think there's more to it than this, predispositions and missing elements.  What would you say are the missing elements in the equation, if you think there are?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Romans 13 and Government Assistance

A Devotional Thought

I am not an economist, nor do I know the details of the health care legislation passed this year.  Although I am hopeful, I am not informed enough to speculate too much on whether it will improve the American situation in keeping with my values.  But I have discussed it with friends and family, with students and colleagues, with people on the web.  What I often hear is that the church should take care of the poor, that the government only mucks things up.

On the one hand, I'm thankful that people in my circles at least acknowledge that it is a Christian value to try to address poverty and those in need around the world.  This is at least one step beyond many out there who call themselves Christians who see poverty as a self-inflicted wound.  "Those people could get a job.  It's their own fault that they're in that situation, and they deserve whatever hardship they have as a punishment for being lazy."  When you consider that no more than six passages even mention homosexual sex and some 600 deal with God's concern for the poor, we at least have to be thankful that much of American Christianity is at least coming to grips with this fundamental biblical and Christian value!

I took away from the Wheaton Consultation on "Government, Foreign Assistance, and God's Mission in the World" some of my current response.  First, the church is not equipped to address the needs of the world to anything like the scope of the need or the capacity of governments.  Indeed, virtually all the Christian non-profit organizations involved in such ministry take significant money from the US governement (World Vision, World Hope, etc...).  Churches can help a few people they have connections with locally, regionally, and globally.  But the church is simply not equipped to meet the need.

And of course, the church mucks it up too--especially if by mucking it up you mean doing nothing.  Again, one of the take-aways from the previous consultation is that well-meaning but uninformed Christian individuals often do more harm than good.  The recent Haiti earthquake apparently provided a number of cases in point.  The "mission trip" phenomenon we are witnessing is often just a glorified vacation.  Thousands of dollars that could have fed thousands for a year instead buy a place to sit your rear on a plane for a few hours.

One of the interesting questions of the consultation was what biblical texts we might bring to bear on the question of church and government working together to address issues of poverty and global need.  While there are hundreds of texts on the Christian value of addressing the poor, orphans, and widows, this topic proved more challenging.  Sure, there are passages like Psalm 72 that urge the king to give social justice to his people.  Sure, there are passages like Psalm 82 where God foretells the fall of the gods of the nations because they have not brought social justice to their peoples.

But my theology resists any direct equation between Israel and the United States.  Whatever the rhetoric we hear today, the United States is not a Christian nation, even if its Constitution coheres well with Christian values, even if its people are mostly Christian.  Its Constitution explicitly says that the United States does not have an official religion, and that's the final answer on that question.  The model of our sojourn here is more like that of the New Testament in the Roman Empire.  We are strangers and aliens in the land (Heb. 11:13), even though we have the rights of citizenship.

So I have been more intrigued by Romans 13:4 in this regard: "[Authority] is God's servant for you, for the good."  To be sure, Paul is more talking here about worldly authorities--the Roman government in particular--in their role of punishing wrongdoing.  You don't need to worry about the government if you obey the law.

Of course Paul himself knew that the Romans often mucked it up.  He likely had a few scars on his back to show that worldly authorities often mucked up their job of punishing wrongdoing and promoting justice.  We should think of Romans 13 much more as a public policy statement, the way things are meant to be, than the way they often end up.  Paul no doubt had a few other things to say about Roman governance when the mic was off and he was chatting around the water cooler.

But let's do a thought experiment.  I am more of a Hebrews scholar but I have written a little on Paul a little too.  I've taught courses in Paul's writings for over 10 years.  I think I can get into Paul's head as well as most people.  Imagine that you were to come to Paul and say, "Guess what, Paul?  Caesar is starting a new program to feed the poor throughout the Roman empire.  He's going to end poverty in every province." 

What do you think he would say?  Do you think he would say?  "Oh no!  Caesar always mucks things up.  The church is the one that needs to help the poor and those in need around the empire and the government needs to keep out."  I almost laugh to think of Paul saying something like that.  It's a ludicrous suggestion from all I know of Paul.  I would expect him rather to say something like, "Amen and Amen!  God can use Cyrus, king of Persia to do His will, and God can use Caesar too."

Richard Mouw recently wrote a nice piece about the difference between clarifying our Christian values and the expertise usually needed to implement them.  One of the things I appreciate about organizations like Bread for the World, World Hope, and other organizations is the nuts and bolts expertise they bring to questions of how to implement Christian values in these areas.  It seems to me the values are pretty clear.  God cares for the weak, disempowered, and oppressed.  He desires His people and nations to address these needs.  If we can work together with worldly authorities to further this good news, we should.

There are the values. And the word to those with the skills to implement the values is "Go, go, go!"

Saturday, October 09, 2010

At Wheaton again today...

This is a follow up to the previous conference on Government, the Poor, and God's Mission in the World conference and is hosted by Bread for the World.  I'm giving a 10 minute closing reflection on Romans 13:4: "For [authority] is God's servant for you for the good." I might post it here later.  I'm supposed to be finishing up a chapter in the second Paul book on Romans 12-16 today (Hmmmm).  I might post a snippet on Romans 13 tomorrow.

Hope everyone is having a little sabbath this weekend...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Wesleyan Theological Vision Part 2

This is going to be much rougher than yesterday.  Call it impressions and random thoughts.  I'm not an expert in dogmatics or church history, but here are some "angles" I wish might be workable in Wesleyan theological teaching, assuming they can bear the scrutiny of informed examination.  These are what I consider the best and most appropriate views but the likelihood of any one Wesleyan scholar holding to them all is of course not very likely.

1. I would like to see theology taught with a sense that "thought systems" are vehicles for Christians being in the world.  We believe they point to truths, but we don't mistake the language or precise thought structure for reality and truth itself.  It points to it, but the truth is transcendent.  Language is time conditioned.  So relationship with God and a transformed being/heart takes precedence over ideological system.

2. What we are advocating here is a kind of critical realist epistemology, one that accepts that absolute truth underlies reality as being what God "thinks," but which does not believe that human categories and thoughts correspond in any straightforward or one-on-one relationship to it.  It would not reject scientific or empiricist method or advocate the kind of "seclusionism" of much popular Christianity.  Scientific discoveries broadly conceived must be engaged and while they also are susceptible to the finitude and skewedness of human understanding, consensus is something we must take very, very seriously.  The thought systems that challenge us are not conspiracies, although it is always possible that they are driven by false presuppositions.  But our presuppositions are also subject to examination.

3. If relationship/transformation is the primary concern, then ethics is the secondary concern, relationship with neighbor (love in particular).  The ideological theological agenda is the third order of business for systematics.  Certainly societal social justice will be the main focus of Wesleyan ethics, with personal ethics secondary.

4. Christ would be the center of theology, meaning the lens through which God is viewed, the lens through which revelation is viewed, the lens through which humanity is viewed.  God is thus not viewed as the abstract set of attributes of the scholastics, rationally derived, but as the Father of our Lord.  Classic apologetics is thus seen as somewhat deficient because it tends to argue for a deist or non-trinitarian theistic God. Humanity is not primarily viewed as the hopelessly depraved but as the potentially and fully redeemed and restored, with Christ as that humanity to which earthly humanity can attain through the power of the Spirit. 

5. The dynamic interaction of the Spirit in the world is strongly affirmed, both in His prevenient work with humanity, His sustaining and benevoling work in the world, His ongoing revelation of God's will and contextualizing of the gospel and righteousness of God in the world toward salvation and the establishment of God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

6. We would move back before Augustine on issues of depravity to a more Eastern view.  Humanity is thoroughly depraved (rather than totally depraved, necessarily) and we must give God's grace the credit for goodness, but who is to say the precise equation of human wickedness?  And God has left some common, natural goodness in the world.

7. History, whether pre-biblical, biblical, or Christian would be taught from the standpoint of progressive revelation, with points at which it reaches a kind of apparent terminus on various issues (e.g., monotheism, Christology, etc).

8. The Wesleyan-Methodist tradition would be viewed as a mediation between Catholic and Protestant, neither in complete agreement with the fountainheads of the Reformation nor the reformed Roman Catholic Church.  We would view it as "catholic" small c.  We are thus able to see the balance between common Christian tradition and reformation.  We recognize initial justification by Christ alone, by grace and faith alone.  However Scripture is never the sole source of Christian theology, nor does the fragmentation of Protestantism bode well at least for Luther's sense of perspicuity.  Wesley's so called "quadrilateral," appropriately adjusted in the light of other points here is more balanced (e.g., reason is not a separate source but is the unavoidable processor of all sources.  Tradition is the Spirit-led appropriator of Scripture).  Similarly, works are an element in final justification.

9. In American history, we would not see the Puritans or nineteenth century Princetonians as the torchbearers but more individuals like Roger Williams in Rhode Island, the nineteenth century Quakers and Salvationists, etc.  We would not see the Christian goal in governance as one of creating a set of laws as close to our particular understandings as possible but one in which humans do not harm each other or themselves, while being free to choose between good and evil when it does not harm others, a system that encourages the good while allowing for freedom of will, thus reflecting our Arminian roots. We would thus not push a legal agenda that is based solely on uniquely Christian convictions.

10. Methodist history, including Wesley, would be evaluated fairly.  Wesley is not seen as inerrant but is fully recognized as a child of the Enlightenment with its positives and negatives (a good deal of the Enlightenment was positive and we can thank it in part for so much of our present prosperity).  Wesley was still too Augustinian and Calvinist in some areas--categories that need to be transcended.  Wesley is thus seen more as our grandfather than our father.  The reformism and revivalism of the 1800s is our mother.

11. The social impulses of Wesleyan Methodism in the 1800s are embraced.  The legalistic holiness and fundamentalizing tendencies of some 20th century Wesleyanism are rejected as aberrant and ignoble, including the tendency of popular Wesleyanism of the late 20th century to be on the wrong side (from a Wesleyan standpoint) on many social issues (e.g., civil rights, resisiting empowerment of women and minorities, bias against the poor and immigrants).  The drive to protect the rights of the unborn and children in situations of abuse and trafficking is affirmed.  Twentieth century Liberalism and the social gospel are seen not as a reaction against anything but as what was left of genuine Christianity after belief in the supernatural was lost.  Its social values are thus affirmed as thoroughly Christian, even if fundamentally deficient.

12. The varied views of atonement are taken to give different pictures of the truth of this mystery.  Certainly no rigid sense of penal substitution is endorsed, as if God's justice requires the exact amount of payment for every drop of sin.  God's drive to mercy is given priority over his drive to justice, meaning that His holiness is not some automatic mindless issue of wrath on evil.  The freedom of God to forgive is emphasized over the necessity of God's nature to punish injustice, which is denied as a necessity of His nature.

These are just a few of my proposals for theological education in the Wesleyan tradition for the 21st cntury, submitted for discussion and critique.  What have I missed?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Visiting Speakers at Wesley: Outreach in an eWorld (November)

Nov. 9-11, 2010, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University will host an extraordinary lineup of speakers to address...

“Outreach in an eWorld: Innovation, Creativity & Connectivity”

1. Thom Rainer: “How to Become a Transformation Church Part 1”
Founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Mission & Evangelism and author of twenty-two books, including Simple Life, Simple Church and Essential Church.

2. Dan Kimball: “Love-Hate Stories of e-Mission”
Author of Emerging Church, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church and Emerging Worship.

3. Warren Bird: “Reaching a Wireless Generation: What 1000 Youth Told Us.”
Dir. of Research for Leadership Network and author of Viral Churches and Multi-site Church Road Trip

4. Ed Stetzer: “How to Become a Transformation Church Part 2”
Dir. of Lifeway Research and author of Comeback Churches, Breaking the Missional Code and Viral Churches.

5. Rusty Rueff: “Real Time Church”
Former VP of Electronic Arts & PepsiCo and uthor of Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business

INFO & Registration:

This is the Great Commission Research Network's annual meeting, taking place in Marion this November.  Cost for college/seminary students is only $39! But this conference is for lay volunteers, pastors and denominational leaders!

A Wesleyan Theological Vision, Part 1

Not the Wesleyan theological vision.  Here is what I want to be distinctive about the way the Bible, theology, and church history are taught at Wesley seminary and IWU.  It is a first stab (obviously after years of lunchroom and coffee pot banter), very open to revision and refinement, especially by my colleagues.  This is my first stab at more general principles, which I might follow up with more specifically Wesleyan ones.

1. Whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not, our appropriation of the Bible involves a complex combination of history, theology, our experiences, our cultures, our circumstances, and our personalities.  This cannot, not be the case.  We must embrace it, make it conscious, and normalize it.

2. Common Christian Tradition, the "catholic" faith, must surely reflect the normalizing work of the Spirit in appropriating the biblical texts and the key speakings from God to humanity for the future of God's people.  Christian theology, as it has developed in Christian history is the normalizing work of the Spirit in appropriating the biblical texts and fulfilling God's voice in the world.

3. Common Christian Tradition is as stable and solid as any revelatory "corpus," but it is still open to reformation by the Spirit and requires contextualization.  It is never completely clear what elements of common Christian Tradition were themselves contextualizations of the past.

4.  The very nature of the biblical texts originally was far more contextualized than propositional.  In that sense they must be located within the flow of God's ongoing revelation and read with a view to their contexts.  At the same time, God has used and continues to use them as a sacrament of revelation whereby he has both developed common Christian tradition and through which he effects reformation.  He can and does speak directly to us today, even individually, through meanings he gives to the Scriptures both old and new.  Both historical and theological readings of the Bible are thus appropriate, the former for a sense of how God has developed his relationship with humanity in the past and the latter as a mirror of where he has brought us in his working in the present.

5. The primary purpose of learning about God, His people, and the world in the past is to form us as beings and doers in the present and future.  The most appropriate orientation toward the Bible, theology, and Christian history is thus not backward looking, to discover timeless truths (which is as often as not a semantic game we are playing with ourselves), but to know how to be and do in relationship with God, the church, and the world both today and in the days to come.

Perhaps more to come...  Very open to critique...

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Impact of Free Will/Determinism on other areas...

Your sense of human freedom usually has immense implications for other areas of your life. Say you believe God directly determines many if not most things that happen in your life.[1] Say you believe God also predetermines whether you will believe or not. This sense of determinism will often bleed over into other areas of your view of the world. You might emphasize the absolute authority and sovereignty of God, along with justice as the key dimension of God’s nature. On the other hand, a person who believes in free will tends to see love as the primary way God currently relates to the world, with an emphasis on helping us grow and come to make the right choices.

While none of us is completely consistent with our ideas, these views of God will tend to play themselves out in other areas of our lives, like how we raise our children or how we vote. [2] A person for whom God’s justice is so prominent may tend to respond to a child’s disobedience with an immediate and wrathful response, a focus on punishment of wrongdoing. The person for whom God’s mercy is more prominent may see disobedience as the child inflicting harm on him or herself, a moment when the child needs to learn something for his or her own good.

Similarly, the person who emphasizes God’s justice may see it as a duty to try to make the laws of the land mirror as much as possible divine law. Such a person will emphasize preaching against sin, since sin is an effrontery to God’s justice. The person who believes in free will, on the other hand, will not likely feel as much compulsion to force the rest of the world to follow God’s will. After all, they believe God created a world in which we can choose to disobey him. They would focus more on influencing others for good than in trying to force it.

[1] Many of those who believe in predestination, of course, do not believe that God pre-determines everything.  Many believe he only determines one’s ultimate salvation.  Popularly, however, many Christians believe that God orchestrates even little things in our lives to give them direction and purpose.

[2] Not to mention other areas of our belief system. For example, Calvinists tend to emphasize the idea of “penal substitution.” It is the sense that because God’s justice is so absolute, God must exact the precise amount of penalty for any sin. God cannot simply have mercy on someone. For Calvin, Christ not only took our punishment, including his descent into hell. For Calvin, Christ experienced the exact amount of punishment justice demanded of every individual God predestined for forgiveness.

Others see such a mathematical sense of God’s justice as absurd. God is God, and in the parables, Jesus presents a God who has the authority to forgive sins simply on his own authority. For example, Joel Green and Mark Baker point out in Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross that the Parable of the Prodigal Son says nothing about the father having to arrange someone to pay for the debts of the younger son (***). The father has the authority simply to forgive the son, with no payment made at all.
What have I missed?