Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Launching the MDIV in Spanish

The greatest strength of IWU is its "can do" spirit, its eagerness to innovate.  It has been its orientation this last decade.  IWU isn't perfect.  It isn't necessarily the first adopter.  There's plenty of room for improvement.  Just because it is forward looking on this venture here today does not mean it will be on that issue or in the future.

But, man, what a ride it's been this last decade!

The latest instance is the launch of the MDIV entirely in Spanish this January, after just a year and a half as a seminary.  It's been quite a rush, with everyone in a flurry to get webpages and data systems in place, flipping the Spanish switch in Blackboard.  We've seen the future in Google Translate.  Man, it's not perfect but did you know you can set Google automatically to translate your incoming emails into English!

There's a whole philosophy at work here that I hope one day we'll give full expression to.  It's a pragmatist philosophy.  It's "we learn by doing."  It's "truth rises from the particulars rather than truth as the playing out of universals."  It's "truth is closely related to what works and systems of truth should correspond closely to the presenting data of reality."  The philosophical cloud brings to mind terms like pragmatism, Aristotle, empiricism, Occam, Wittgenstein, non-foundationalism, critical realism, etc.  It seems on an opposite end from Platonism, rationalism, presuppositionalism, foundationalism, fundamentalism.

It's the internet (statistically generated paths rather than pre-planned ones).  It's networking rather than top down hierarchy.  It's a Wikipedia that is mostly right and generated overnight rather than a project planned out over ten years.  It's Google translate that is based on a statistical model--probability--rather than a program in which a fluent expert  sits down and tries to program a dictionary.  It's learn what you need as you need it (and thus remember it) rather than learn the entire system and only then move to application (after you've largely forgotten it or never really learned it in the first place).  It's you almost always learn it a little wrongly first and then only later refine your understanding.  

In short, Erasmus wins.

I'm sure I'll blog more on the Spanish MDIV in the days to come.  This post didn't even start out about this.

FOX: "Bailout clipped taxpayers for $25 Billion"...

If you can't see, I'm smiling.  This FOX news article is about the fact that the current estimate for what the TARP bailout will cost the American people in the end is $25 billion.  The initial payout was $700 billion and the current final tally is half a previous estimate that was itself considered overly optimistic.

So what I'm smiling at is FOX's begrudging wording of the news in the worse way possible.  The news is that Bush/Obama's bailouts saved the economy and quickly stabilized the world economy for way, way less than anyone hoped.  The news is that Bush and Obama's decision was the right one and that FOX and the Tea Party were wrong on this one.

But I will take the faint praise of the FOX article anyway: "The bailout fund, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, became hugely unpopular with the public and in Congress. Advocates and even some critics, however, credit it for stabilizing the financial sector in the wake of Wall Street's meltdown in 2008."  Read between the lines: even economists who oppose the TARP bailout recognize that it stabilized the financial sector. 

The anger of the American people, at least on this particular subject, was misplaced, based on ignorance, and fanned by conservative rabble rousers who were wrong, at least on this one.

What's in a Denomination? 1

Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University--that is quite a mouthful.  You can tell from the word "seminary" that it is a place to train ministers on the graduate level.  It is a place of education and training.

It is located "at Indiana Wesleyan University"--at least that is where its main offices and its main onsite classrooms are.  It is there where can find most of its faculty.  That is where you will soon find the "seminary building," its central hub, if you would.  Thus far, however, we have found the greatest demand for seminary education online.  If the traditional onsite seminary is struggling to find individuals who can move to their campuses for three years, the desire for training "on the job," in location out there where people are already doing ministry, is strong.  Indeed, it is like a torrent welled up and longing for release.

Indiana Wesleyan University is a broader place of learning.  It has a traditional undergraduate campus and residential student population.  It has a massive adult program with many different degrees offered both at dozens of sites in Indiana and nearby states, as well as around the world online.  This existing infrastructure has made it possible to have a seminary that can survive economically.  

Finally, the words "Wesley" and "Wesleyan" show up prominently in our name.  This name locates us as a seminary in the Methodist tradition, a tradition that traces back to an eighteenth century English minister named John Wesley.  The Wesleyan tradition, as it is called, has a certain flavor that colors the kind of seminary education you receive at Wesley Seminary at IWU.  The next few pages aim to give you some sense of exactly what that flavor might be...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bounds on Grace in the Fathers...

Is the Theological Seminar today at 3:30 in the IWU CM building, Room 122.  "Grace in the Early Church" is his topic, I believe.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ephesians: Colossians Expanded and Universalized

It is also fascinating to compare Ephesians to Colossians.  For example, at one point Ephesians is exactly the same as Colossians for over twenty-five words straight, namely, at the end when commending Tychicus to the audiences (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-8).  For this reason, some have suggested that Ephesians might be the lost letter to the Laodiceans mentioned in Colossians 4:16.  Indeed, at no less than thirteen points, Ephesians and Colossians say either exactly or almost exactly the same thing, in the same order.[i]  Because in each case Colossians’ version seems more concretely related to its audience’s situation and because Ephesians seems to expand many of the points, it seems that Ephesians used Colossians as its starting point.  Ephesians in some respects is an expanded and universalized version of Colossians.

[i] E.g., Col. 1:14 and Eph. 1:7 (in whom we have redemption, through his blood); Col. 1:16-17 and Eph. 1:21 (above all spiritual powers); Col. 1:18 and Eph. 1:22-23 (head of the body, the church); Col. 1:21-22 and Eph. 2:16-17 (reconciling those far away through Christ’s blood); Col. 1:26-27 and Eph. 3:4-6 (mystery of the Gentiles’ inclusion); Col. 2:1 and Eph. 3:2 (audience has only heard, not seen Paul’s ministry); Col. 2:3 and Eph. 3:4 (mystery of Christ); Col. 2:15 and Eph. 3:10 (rulers and authorities) ; Col. 2:19 and Eph. 4:16 (body grows out of the head); Col. 3:9 and Eph. 4:22 (put off old self); Col. 3:9 and Eph. 4:25 (do not lie to each other); Col. 3:18-4:1 and Eph. 5:22-6:9 (household codes); Col. 4:7-8 and Eph. 6:21-22 (word for word closing).

Ephesians: Predestination (chap 7)

To God be praise for planning before creating the world to make his people holy and blameless (1:4). To God be praise for planning to reconcile heaven and earth to himself through Christ at just the right time in history (1:10). To God be praise for arranging ahead of time to adopt those who believe as his children (1:5). We have seen no predestination language of this sort elsewhere in Paul’s writings. Sure, Romans 9 is extensively about God’s right to predetermine the fate of his people, but Paul there does not really celebrate being a part of the “elect.” Ephesians 1 gives us the primary instance in the Pauline collection where we find a celebration of being part of the elect, being part of those chosen by God.

Even here, however, the celebration is for those who are already in. Ephesians 1 does not use predestination language to exclude those who are out or predict those who will come in. It is language that praises God collectively for those who are already in. It thus functions, as we argued in chapter 4, as “after the fact” language that relates more to believers as a whole than as individual believers.

Indeed, if we take predestination language in Ephesians 1 as some do, we run into all sorts of thorny problems. Some, for example, would suggest that God not only arranged for us to be saved but for Adam to fail in the first place so that we would need to be saved. Surely it is foolish for us to try to figure out the details of what God was thinking before the creation. How could we possibly understand such things? Surely the poetic comments of passages like Ephesians 1 are the barest of pictures.

God knew the world would need fixed. God knew he would fix it through Christ. God knew that not all would avail themselves of Christ and be rescued. The precise dynamics are mystery, and the biblical texts themselves gave their original audiences pictures they could understand. We know that God was and is in control of all things. We know that God’s desire is to save. We know that not everyone is rescued in the end. The connection of these dots is mystery.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Works: Ephesians vs. Romans (chap 7)

Ephesians 2:8-9 have had an immense impact on the history of Christianity these last five hundred years because these are some of the key verses of the Protestant Reformation: “by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Interpreters of Paul ever since have had a tendency to read Paul’s earlier letters through the lens of these verses. But there are some key distinctions between Ephesians 2:8-9 and letters like Romans and Galatians. It is actually Ephesians that is unusual for Paul.

For example, Paul does not usually speak of salvation in the past tense: “you have been saved.” Romans 5:9 speaks of how we will be saved from God’s wrath, namely, on the Day of Wrath which is to come. Salvation is thus something that has not yet happened literally. Even in Ephesians, “you have been saved” probably is a poetic way of saying that it is a sure thing. Because of God’s grace, because of the audience’s faith, their salvation is going to happen at the appropriate time.

A second difference is in what “works” are in mind. In Galatians and Romans, the works Paul has in mind are works of the Jewish Law. Paul may be writing to Gentiles, but he is defending his preaching in the light of objections from other Jewish believers. His basic message is that no one can be right with God by how well they keep the particulars of the Jewish Law, especially the parts that most distinguished Jew from Gentile: circumcision, food laws, Sabbath observance, and so forth.

But Ephesians is not a defense against Jewish opposition. Ephesians only uses the word “law” once, and there only to say that Christ has abolished it—also quite unlike Romans, as we will see below. So when Ephesians 2:9 says that its audience is not saved by works, it is saying something quite different from Romans 3:28. The works in question are not works of the Jewish Law, but good works in general. While Romans says that a Jew does not have an advantage before God because of the Jewish Law, Ephesians says that no one is good enough to escape God’s wrath.

Interestingly, Ephesians is accordingly more positive toward works once one is "saved."  We are "created in Christ Jesus to do good works" (Eph. 2:10).  In Romans and Galatians, works of law are something a Gentile believer should not do.  Indeed, Paul tells the Galatians that if they become circumcised, Christ will be of no use to them (Gal. 5:2).  So works of Law are something a believer should not do, at least not a Gentile believer.  In Ephesians, by contrast, good works are a good thing.  They cannot save a person from God's wrath, but they are something God has created us to do in the name of Christ.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Household in Colossians (chap 6)

It is not hard to understand these instructions to the Colossians, a city that may very well have been destroyed by an earthquake in AD61. It is more difficult to know how to apply them. In the early 1800s, Colossians was one of many texts that those who opposed the abolition of slavery used to show that the New Testament accepted slavery as an institution. Certainly “there is neither… slave nor free” in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). But Paul could reconcile this principle with the existence of slavery in the meantime. Sure, a time was coming when there would be no slaves, but for the time being each should “remain in the situation God called him to” (1 Cor. 7:24). “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (7:21).

Of course Paul also thought that Christ would return far sooner than he has. In that same passage in 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that “the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none” (7:29). In 1 Corinthians, Paul does not think we have time to worry about our social location in society. Slavery would not exist in the kingdom of God, but he had more pressing things to do in the immanence of Christ’s return than work to free slaves.

Colossians does not have this same sense of urgency, and we should recognize the distinction. Social structures that were temporary in 1 Corinthians have become an accommodation to the structures of the age in Colossians. Although women will not be subordinated to husbands in the kingdom—they are not given in marriage there (e.g., Mark 12:25)—Colossians acquiesces to this social structure of the ancient world. And although there will be no slaves in the kingdom, Colossians assumes its continued practice in the meantime.

Indeed, Colossians only puts into effect one of the equal pairs in Galatians 3:28, namely, that of Jew and Greek. Colossians addresses Gentile believers, since in Colossians 2:13 Paul speaks of how they were uncircumcised in flesh when they believed. Colossians thus tells a Gentile audience not to worry about keeping the Jewish particulars of the Law. But slaves are still subordinated to masters, and wives to husbands.

Therefore, the entire Western world—not only the Western church—moved closer to the kingdom of God when it did away with slavery here on earth. It may be hard for us to feel how the church of two hundred years ago struggled with this question. Many Christians argued that slavery should be reformed rather than abolished, and they came to this conclusion from a fair reading of the biblical texts. We now recognize that it was those who looked more to the spiritual principle of “neither slave nor free” who were the true prophets of that day, not those who argued over the specific instructions like those in Colossians, given in specific ancient situations and cultures.

We believe it is the same today with regard to wives and husbands. On the one hand, those who merely try to reform the hierarchical relationship between husband and wife are to be commended for their piety and attention to detail. They want to ensure that husbands do indeed love and not abuse their perceived position of authority. Similarly, wives are affirmed as equally valuable in God’s eyes, only with a different God-ordained role to play. They are like those who preached against masters who abused their slaves but who still taught slaves to be obedient to their masters, as the Bible teaches.

In the end, however, those who merely want to reform marriage while retaining the hierarchical relationship are spiritually short-sighted. Like those who affirmed slavery as biblical, they are correct in the letter but incorrect in the Spirit. There is nothing about the structure of this world that implies a wife needs to be or should be subordinate to a man. Male anatomy and physiology does not automatically make a man a better thinker or leader than a woman, just as female anatomy and physiology does not make women worse thinkers or leaders. Logically, husbands and wives should cooperate in leadership, deferring in love to the needs and desires of the other, deferring to the gifts and expertise of the other.

We know from Scripture that God is leading women in this direction anyway. The kingdom will afford women complete equality with men. We know from practice that one cannot single out a person for leadership or insight on the basis of his or her gender. We know from Scripture that God has used both women and men both in prophetic and leadership roles. In short, if we can move closer to the kingdom now, why would we not?

The instructions of Scripture were not given for their own sake. They were given in a context and must be applied with careful consideration of how the principles might apply today. To work within the structure of a husband-wife hierarchy was already in Paul’s day a concession to the structures of this world. For us to perpetuate them now, however, is for us to move backward, away from the kingdom. In a time when the secular world has enacted the structures of the kingdom, how ironic it would be for the church to resist!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Dating of Luke-Acts

I was giving feedback on a seminary assignment and thought I would copy some of what I wrote here.
I believe Luke-Acts was written after the destruction of the temple in AD70 because:

1. Almost all experts have concluded that Luke drew on Mark as a major source, and most experts date Mark either to the late 60s or the early 70s. Luke-Acts would thus have to date later.

There's a whole lot of thinking just behind that preliminary paragraph. For example, there is the synoptic question, the fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so similar on a verbal level (although sometimes with minor variations) that it is a virtually unanimous position that the three stand in some relationship of literary dependence. Most think Mark was first with the others later. A minority think Matthew was first and the others later (I reject this position because Matthew's text is grammatically smoother than Mark, and it makes no sense that Mark would "rough up" Matthew's). But I know of no one who thinks Luke was first.

I'll leave it at that. One thing I'd like to push here is that most pastors have no idea how much minute examination of the biblical texts has led to these sorts of conclusions--or how much support they command among those who have done the homework. It is a disconnect seminary would ideally connect, while letting you come to your own conclusions. In any case, if Mark reached its final form not long after the destruction of Jerusalem (as I think) or even if it was written in the late 60s (as others think), it would place Luke-Acts later, likely after the destruction of the temple.

2. One example of the kind of painstaking and detailed work is when you compare the readings of the individual gospels and look for signs of how the theology of a particular gospel writer impacted the way they edited their sources. For example, when we compare Mark 13:14 with Luke 21:20, we see some clear signs of Luke's editing. Mark and Matthew both have the very ambiguous, "When you see the abomination that causes desolation standing where it should not be..." Luke's version is quite different, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you know that its desolation is near."

Could Jesus have said both? Sure. Not likely. This is not a parable Jesus told over and over again. It is an explanation at a particular place and time. And when you have compared the gospels over and over again, you inevitably come to grips with the fact they are using each other and you accept that this is overwhelmingly likely to be Luke editing Mark. Again, there's no substitute for the long, painstaking comparison of the gospels if you really want to understand how this sort of thing works.

So notice how different Luke's inspired "Message" translation of Mark is. In Daniel 11, where the abomination language comes from, we would think it is the temple being desecrated. Matthew and Mark can easily be interpreted this way. The abomination is standing somewhere--in the temple in Daniel. To see it as armies surrounding Jerusalem is not what we would have expected.

In short, Luke's editing has all the marks of an explanation of the prophecy with the insight that comes from being after the events, after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. Mind you, I think Matthew is post-70 as well and it doesn't make these changes. But making such edits is part and parcel of the way the NT interprets the OT. Again, long, detailed examination of these patterns leaves us with this sort of strong impression.

In short, I find it very difficult to think of any open-minded way of arguing for a pre-70 date for Luke-Acts. Certainly if one is determined to argue for something, it is almost always possible to do so. In my mind, however, a true scholar of the Bible is someone who looks for what is most probable, not someone who applies their intellect to defend the possible but more convenient!

My opinions. You are welcome to disagree!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SBL Day 4 (2010)

By complete coincidence, I'm sitting next to James McGrath, good friend and fellow Dunnite, on the plane ride back to Indy from SBL (who is also blogging ;-).  I missed the bibliobloggers session yesterday he presented at (argh!).

Delta's giving free Wi-Fi on this flight in the name of Google Chrome this Thanksgiving season.  And now that I've left the hotel, let me make fun of the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta for charging us for drinking water, I mean charging for wireless in the hotel room.  So most of the time everyone went down to the Peachtree Center, which actually exists in the twenty-first century ;-)

But if that isn't all, I broke down the final day to do some grading in the room.  Come to find out, the Hyatt has two different rates for wireless the room.  A 10 buck rate to IM people and do some simple stuff at a slow rate and a "business" one at almost $13 to get full bandwidth and email with attachments.  Then my roomate, Eric Key, a student at Wesley, tried to get on in the room and they were going to charge him too to get on!

Today's twentieth century award goes to the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.  In the sentiments of Eric's wife, Even cheap hotels offer free Wi-Fi.

Anyway, I went to the Philo Group this morning, which is always a delight for me.  It is just amazing how well these Philo scholars know their texts and the secondary literature.  There were presenters from Italy, Israel, and US, and John Barclay of Durham responded.

Then a seemless retraction from Atlanta, with my bulky carry on adequately stowed overhead, and free Wi-Fi in the air (and, let me say, I've been shocked to find Delta on time both to and from).  Today's twenty-first century award goes to Delta ;-)

Now back to work...

Colossians Excerpt

From my second, forthcoming Paul book:
Once we have a clearer sense of what Colossians is combating, we can also clear up some misapplications of these passages. Many a Christian has used Colossians 2:8’s critique of a “philosophy,” to rail against education and “highfalutin” learning. It is the all too common, popular, and deeply ironic notion that education makes you “stupider.” Certainly learning can confuse a person. The great thing about common sense is that it works! At least it seems to work. It just often does not work for the reasons we tell ourselves.

I can think of at least two reasons why so many Americans, including very many American Christians, have a negative sense of education. The first is that it exposes our own ignorance both of ourselves and the world around us. Learning can expose the faultiness of our reasoning, and it can expose our prejudices. We may find out that we do not think certain things for the reasons we pretended we did. The darker or ignorant sides of our motivations may be laid bare, and none of us like to feel stupid.

So we laugh at those “nerds” who can do math and science, in part to cover our own inability to understand. We make fun of scientists who believe in global warming or evolution, when we might flunk a college class in biology or environmental science. It is unfortunately and ironically the American way to think our opinion is just as valid as those who are actually experts and have studied a particular subject for years. Despite the fact that we spend our nights watching cartoons or the latest comedy on TV, we somehow, amazingly, think that our uneducated hunches are just as valid as “so called” experts.

If part of the problem is ours, part of the problem also lies with the experts as well. They often disagree fundamentally with each other. Indeed, sometimes their theories do not seem to correspond at all to our experiences on the ground. If the greatest validation of a theory is that it work in the real world, then many theories of thinkers in various fields do not ring true. Again, the reason why common sense is so compelling is because it seems to work in everyday life.

Of course science does seem to work very well. We drive cars, ride airplanes, use cell phones and computers. If our common sense seems to conflict with the applied sciences, we should probably concede the battle. When it comes to more abstract fields like philosophy and theology, it is more difficult to see the pay off. So many thinkers seem to live in a self-contained world, like they are speaking a completely foreign language to everyday life. At least in part, therefore, some of them have perhaps earned our questions.

But one thing is clear. The Colossian philosophy was not like the philosophy class you would take at your local college. Colossians is not protesting against education or against theoretical thinking. Colossians was warning the believers at Colossae about a particular form of Jewish religious practice more akin to something you would find at a charismatic church than at a university. If we want to protest against some aspect of education or philosophy, we will have to indict it on its own merits rather than with some blanket condemnation based on the word “philosophy” in Colossians. Indeed, this is a great illustration of where learning about the context of Colossians helps us understand the truth more accurately.

Monday, November 22, 2010

SBL Day 3 (2010)

Today I was definitely unwinding.  It just occurred to me that I didn't go to a single session.  Instead, I went to a Hebrews planning breakfast with some very brilliant people it was a delight simply to sit in the same room with. 

Then I had coffee with Alicia Meyers, one of many incredibly gifted young scholars just now coming out of the machine (Baylor, did her masters at Duke).  She (as so many names I could put here) will be one of the SBL leaders in 10-15 years, if not sooner.  I could give you the names of 5-10 up and coming scholars who fall in that category, but it would be foolish because I would leave someone out.  You can see them, though, as clear as day, marching into view: Nijay Gupta, David Moffitt, Eric Mason, I've got to stop there. ;-) 

I milled through the book stalls.  I was surprisingly able to resist everything that was left, although I probably would have bought Dale Allison's Constructing Jesus if they hadn't all been gone.  Ate with old friends, edited a few pages on Philemon for my next Paul book and...

... spent several hours grading.  Yuck!

SBL Day 2 (2010)

I enjoyed Day 2 much more than Day 1.  I went to the Pauline Epistles section in the morning and heard Troels Engberg-Petersen, Stanley Stowers, and Edward Adams on Paul's cosmology.  Then I went to Philo and heard Eric Gruen.  These sessions reminded me why I come to SBL--because there are research scholars out there who know entire bodies of ancient literature like my family knows Harry Potter ;-)

I ran into compatriots of mine from other seminaries--had lunch with Gary Cockerill of Wesley Biblical and had a few minutes chat with David Bauer of Asbury (not to mention one of my closest friends, Bill Patrick, of Asbury Orlando, here showing the SBL flora and fauna to his son).  Stopped in at the bibliobloggers "dinner" (which was really just hanging out at a pub). 

Then the annual Durham reception was outstanding as usual.  As John Barclay put it, Durham graduates are indeed very loyal, and it was a great visit with old friends indeed.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

SBL Day 1 (2010)

I'm not counting yesterday.  What a long day!  I'm going to crash after writing this.

Always nice to see old friends and see people who have helped form my thinking, both positively and negatively.  Same old feelings:
  • Wow, look at all these books!
  • Most of these books are pointless.
  • Not another commentary series!
  • Down with the foundationalist, (Calvino-)-evangelical hegemony (my reaction to the Zondervan booth).
  • Popular doesn't correlate to truth at all--it might even work the other way around.
  • The people at logos are darn clever (they gave free Greek NTs to everyone here and let us know that it's also free to download into logos software) and have a nice life.
  • The most prominent scholars here know too much.  They see way too many connections between unrelated things.
  • The budding scholars are grasping at straws to present something worthwhile so that they can get a job.  Half or more are about to face a rude awakening: Everyone is glad to take your money and to give you a degree.  No one is waiting to give you a job.
  • Truth for its own sake is perfectly legitimate, but in most seminary and college settings should only take up a small percentage of learning time.  At SBL, the vast majority of stuff falls in the category of "truth for its own sake."
  • I only want to write things that are valuable in some context.
  • I believe there is a small percentage of very valuable things to get from coming here--you have to look for it.
  • I'm tired.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Off to SBL...

It's time for the annual pilgrimage of all aspiring biblical experts to the Society of Biblical Literature.  It's in Atlanta this year.  I'm only responding this year, to the venerable James Thompson, a Hebrews patriarch. 

All the main papers for the first day of hte Hebrews Group this year are posted here: http://www.hebrews.unibas.ch/Program2010.html

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Ending of Romans

If Romans 16 was sent to Ephesus, then the part sent to Rome might have originally ended at 15:33: “The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Interestingly, the earliest copy of Paul’s letters, which dates to around AD200, has the doxology of Romans 16:25-27 exactly here, at the end of Romans 15. This location may indicate that some very early copies of Romans ended there. Early manuscripts of Romans are all over the map in how they end. Many early ones have this doxology right after Romans 16, as it is in our Bibles. Others have it both here and at the end of chapter 14! Some do not have it after chapter 16 but have it at the end of chapter 14. Then of course some do not have it at all.

The originality of the doxology itself faces serious questions. It does not sound like the rest of Romans in many respects (e.g., “the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God”). It does not appear in all manuscripts and widely differs in where it is placed in those that have it. To top off things, some manuscripts of Romans have 16:20b after verse 23 to become verse 24: “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” It is as if they are hinting that earlier copies of Romans ended here and did not have the doxology. Most experts accordingly do not believe this doxology was originally a part of Romans.

Here is what we wonder. The letter that Paul sent to Rome ended with Romans 15:33. Romans 16 was sent to Ephesus as a letter of recommendation for Phoebe and a greeting of the churches there. Meanwhile, the early Christian Origen (ca. AD200) implies that a man named Marcion (ca. AD150) had lopped off the last two chapters. Therefore, near the end of the 100s AD, we found three versions of Romans out there: one that ended after chapter 14, one that ended after chapter 15, and one that ended after chapter 16. All three of these seemed to lack a proper ending. In some manuscripts, Romans 16:20b was moved to the end of 16:23 to give a more appropriate ending. Meanwhile, someone created the doxology, and it found its way on to all the different versions of Romans.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia

This is from chapter 5 of the second Paul book, in process.
Romans 16 is, first of all, a letter of recommendation for a woman named Phoebe. Phoebe was a “deacon” (diakonos) at the port village of Cenchrea, about five miles southeast of Corinth. It was a common practice to take a letter of recommendation such as this one when going to a location where they did not know you. In this case, the church at Ephesus (or Rome) would know that they could trust Phoebe because of Paul’s letter. They would know that she was who she said she was and that they could incorporate her into the ministry of the city.

Those who do not believe women ministered in Paul’s churches are keen to reinterpret the word diakonos in 16:1. They want to translate it merely as “servant” (NIV) or perhaps even as “deaconess” (Philipps). But this is the very same word Paul uses in Philippians 1:1 of certain ministry leaders at Philippi. It is the word that 1 Timothy 4:6 uses of Timothy himself as a servant of Christ.

Therefore, we can be certain above all that the word does not mean deaconess. It is the same masculine word used in 1 Timothy 4:6 of Timothy and elsewhere to refer to the official role of a deacon. It is the same form of the word used in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 where the qualifications for such a position are given. Further, since Phoebe is the diakonos of a specific house church in 16:1, the burden of proof is on the person who wants to argue she does not hold a formal leadership role in the church there...

Almost a third of those greeted in Romans 16 are women, perhaps implying that about a third of the leadership in the church at Ephesus (or Rome) were women. Not all of these women are in husband-wife teams (e.g., Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis), as if Paul only mentions women attached to a man. Indeed, he does not mention the wives of most of the men, as if he is only greeting these women on a social level. His criterion is that these women have “worked very hard” (e.g., 16:6, 12).

Indeed, in the most significant wife-husband ministry team of all, Paul mentions the woman first, Priscilla. In Acts, her husband’s name only appears before Priscilla’s in relation to their move from Rome to Corinth (18:2). In the passage where they are actually engaged in ministry, Priscilla’s name appears first, namely, when she and her husband instruct Apollos the way of Christ more accurately (18:24-28). Similarly, the only instance where Paul puts her husband Aquila’s name first is in his greeting in 1 Corinthians 16:19—addressed to a church apparently having problems with some of its wives.

Perhaps most startling of all in this chapter is Paul’s greeting to a husband and wife by the names of Andronicus and Junia. Our interest in them would be piqued if for no other reason than that they are said to be “prominent among the apostles” (16:7, CEB). What does this statement mean? Does it mean the apostles were well acquainted with them or that they were notable apostles themselves?

First, what was an apostle? In Paul’s understanding, an apostle is someone to whom the risen Lord appeared and sent out to proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1). Paul thought of himself as the last of such apostles, the last to whom the risen Lord appeared, some three years after Jesus’ resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:8). Paul thus did not in any way restrict apostleship to the eleven original disciples. For example, he refers to Barnabas as an apostle such as he is (cf. 1 Cor. 9:6).

Could Andronicus and Junia qualify? Paul tells us that “they were in Christ before I was” (Rom. 16:7), so they fit the time frame of an apostle. The fact that they are at the very least known by the original apostles implies that they were from Palestine. They are Paul’s “kinsmen” (e.g., NASB), by which Paul probably means that they are Jews. They have been imprisoned with Paul, which implies that they were Christian leaders. Perhaps we might more appropriately ask what would keep us from understanding them to be apostles! Would not interpreters across the board strongly agree that these two were apostles if it were not for the name of a woman?

Indeed, some manuscripts of Romans have “Junias,” a man’s name, instead of “Junia” here. The best explanation is that some copyists were increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of a female apostle and so added the s to make her male. One of the most basic rules of figuring out the original wording of a text is to ask how the wording might have changed over time. We know that Christianity, if anything, became less supportive of women in leadership over time rather than more supportive. So it is easy to imagine that someone changed the name from feminine to masculine—difficult to imagine it going the other way around.

Stanley Hauerwas on campus (and IWU Religion Coffee Talk 2)

Stanley Hauerwas was on campus today for the undergraduate Fall Religion Colloquium. Here's the link to John Drury's summary of what he had to say.

While I was there, I thought of some more IWU Coffee talk.  The first was that we give each other knowing looks when people use "worldview" language.  It's not that we don't acknowledge presuppositions.  It's the overly cognitive and oversimplified use of them.

The second, mentioned in the first post, is an aversion to Barna's understanding of the church.  We love the local church and think a Christian out in the woods every Sunday worshipping God probably won't remain a Christian very long if s/he doesn't get back into a local assembly of believers.  Stanley Hauerwas put it today even more starkly than I would.  He believes that God mediates salvation through the church.

The third thing, which I remembered in conversation, is that the undergraduate faculty give each other knowing looks when people confuse John Wesley with the Wesleyan Church.  As K. Drury likes to say, Wesley is more our grandfather or even great-grandfather than our father.  Phoebe Palmer is more like our mother or grandmother even.

In short, we like Wesley but don't really care about those who want to correct the Wesleyan Church because it is not enough like John Wesley.  John Wesley didn't found the Wesleyan Church.  There is no need for any more dissertations about John Wesley.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Short Catechism: God as Creator

Brief chat today about God as creator.  What does it mean to say that God is creator?

"That he made everything."

"Did He make that car?"


"I thought the car came from a factory."

"God made the factory."

"I thought the people dug in the ground and then built the building.  How about God made all the materials?"


"And God made science, the rules for what materials do.  So God doesn't make everything directly.  He made the materials and the rules and then gave everything a push."

When God was making the world, He had a choice.  Do I make people into robots, so that they are my slaves who do whatever I make them do?  Or do I let them choose, which of course means that some of them will not make good choices.

So God decided to give people choices.  And that's why bad things happen in the world.  Because some people make bad choices. 

But then again, some people make good choices too!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Feedback welcome (welfare; 5.3)

I was afraid I might be missing something in these three paragraphs.  Thoughts on this section...
Certainly we can debate how to help others best. James Dobson once popularized the idea that “love must be tough.” His basic claim was that love does not always give a person what he or she wants. It may actually be better for others to let them experience the consequences of their actions in the hope that they will become better. In that sense, simply giving to others will not always be the best way to help them. By now the old proverb about fishing is well known: Give someone a fish and you have fed them once. Teach someone how to fish and you have fed them for a lifetime.

In our world, we have created a new issue. Western societies have gone at least half way in providing food and resources for the needy. But we have sometimes left such individuals with no desire to fish. The needy of Jesus’ day were so desperate, they would have likely fished at any opportunity. No doubt the poor of the two-thirds world would love nothing less than to work to feed themselves today. Immigrants to America today are some of the hardest working individuals you can find. Unfortunately, at times Western democracies have only partially empowered the disempowered and left some of them in a half-way state that is neither sufficient nor motivating to do something about it. The loving thing in such cases may be neither simply to provide fish or opportunities to learn to fish. In some instances, they may need to want to fish.

But none of this is an excuse to abandon the needy, especially with some warped sense of justice. God loved us when we were his enemies, when we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). So those who use the current state of things as an excuse to do nothing are clearly in the wrong. What we should do to help others may change depending on the circumstances, but the drive to help others--even to the point of personal sacrifice--is a Christian absolute, without exception.

Social Gospel (5.3)

Desperately trying to finish my second Paul book... still.  Here's an excerpt from a section on Romans 13.
A final argument that is sometimes used is an artifact of American history and perhaps to a large degree an explanation for why so many Christians can go against the clear tenor of Scripture on this sort of topic. In the early 1900s, helping the poor among Christians became associated with what was called a “social gospel.” Those who most emphasized helping others were “liberal” Christians, often Christians who questioned things like the virgin birth or the divinity of Christ. As is often the case, we disassociate ourselves not only with the things we disagree with in others, but also with good aspects of their thinking that we might just as well agree with. Such was the case in mainstream evangelical circles of the mid-twentieth century with regard to helping the poor and needy.

The Wesleyan tradition of which I am a part did not fully participate in this reaction, nor of course did Christians from other countries. The Salvation Army, the Free Methodist Church—it would be hard to say that this over-reaction had much of any impact on them. The Wesleyan-Methodist tradition was born with an emphasis on social action, abolition, and the women’s rights movements. Thankfully, our isolation from the broader discussion largely kept our food pantries intact. If we have been affected, it has only been of late because of the political climate of the last few decades.

But is essential to realize that the social gospel message of mainline churches in the early twentieth century was not a reaction against the truth. It was all that was left of the truth. After so many mainline churches had lost their belief in miracles, in the divinity of Christ, in the revelation of Scripture, all they had left was the Christian ethos of loving our neighbor. There was nothing wrong with these drives. It was all they had left of Christianity, the only thing that motivated them to continue to call themselves Christians. Let us therefore not be deceived by the accidents of history into abandoning one of the central messages of the Bible and of Jesus' ministry.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Highest Tax Cuts

I'm too busy to write something this morning, so I'll just pose a question.  In most cases (except when the state has some resource that pays for everything--oil, for example), taxes seem necessary to run a country.  A country like ours is based on a social contract.  The people establish government to "provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty." 

So our taxes support the police and the army, provide "general welfare" works like education, social security, and potentially health care, etc.  These structures reflect the fact that no one in a country of this sort has absolute rights, including rights to property.  The goal is to maximize individual rights and common benefit at the same time, in some maximized give and take.  We all surrender some of our rights for the benefit we receive by not having to protect ourselves and potentially for having fall back networks for such a time as we cannot take care of ourselves.  I believe a good deal of the current furor either has lost sight of these aspects of the Enlightenment context in which the Constitution was formed or never knew it.

So the question of going back to the previous tax rate on those earning over $250,000 a year reduces to one question and one question only.  It is not a question of morality.  After all, it's the way the rate was 10 years ago and no doubt better than what the rate was under Reagan.  Definitely better than the rate under Nixon. 

The question as far as I can see it is a purely economic one.  Yes, reinstating this tax level will generate much needed money for the economy with incredible deficits.  But given free market dynamics, does it economically do the economy better to keep this money flowing in the hands of such individuals?  I really don't know.  This is the key question I don't hear anyone discussing.

So I am posing an economic question today, not a moral one.  Which course would be better for the economy--raising the money through taxes or keeping that money flowing in the hands of such individuals?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scholars and Prophets ;-)

Came across a great quote of A. W. Tozer on a seminary website: “Scholars can interpret the past; it takes prophets to interpret the present.” 

This is true of the Bible!  Scholars can interpret the original meaning of the Bible.  It takes prophets to apply it to the present!  This is the scandal of evangelical and mainline hermeneutics, but not of the Pentecostal or revivalist traditions.

Economics and Morality

Just some quick musings for a change of pace early in the morning.

1. The original intent of capitalism's inventors, Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, was to level the playing field.  The goal was that the pleasure of the coal miner counted as much as the pleasure of the king.  Capitalism was birthed in ultilitarianism, the greatest pleasure for the greatest number, where everyone's pleasure counted the same,  The philosophical background of capitalism is thus egalitarian with the goal of maximizing the happiness of society.

2. To that end, the laissez-faire, free enterprise system built on the premise that people can look out for their own interests.  If everyone does, then merchants will not charge more than they can get away with and consumers will buy as cheaply as they can.  The ideal result is thus the greatest good for the greatest number.

3. John Stuart Mill already recognized some complications to the theory.  For example, people do not always act in their own interest.  Also, we can question whether all pleasures should count the same.  Our take away is that consumers need to be informed and, in various ways, protected, for the system to work as Adam Smith intended.

4. By the mid-1800s, the Industrial Revolution began to reveal even more complications to the system, captured aptly in some of the European revolutions of 1848 and then later in the Bloody Revolution of 1917 in Russia.  While history has soundly rejected Karl Marx's own Hegelian predictions and suggestions, his critiques of capitalism are harder to deny. 

Capitalism empowered certain individuals on such a scale that the "little man" could not possibly compete.  What average or even above average individual has the capacity to compete with Wal-Mart?  Factories ran over the little man and could replace him or her in an instant.  If she gets sick, if the management is tyrannical or pays pitifully, most individuals are powerless--the very individuals capitalism was meant to empower.  The reality is that people get stuck, don't know where else to go, don't know what to do.  The late 1800s and early 1900 (think, The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath) revealed nothing like Adam Smith or Jeremy Bentham's dream.

5. So unbridled capitalism of the late 1800s simply recreated the divide between haves and have nots in a different way.  Protections price gouging laws and anti-trust laws are meant to keep the system in balance so that free market principles can actually work.  Consumer protections do the same.  The goal of capitalism was not to reward those in a position of advantage or greater know how to be able to get rich.  The goal was to create a system where everyone could thrive.

6. History has vindicated Hayek's economic approach over Keynes', one that radically deregulates, does not fix prices or pump money from the government into the system.  Perhaps it is true that a Hayek approach after the Great Depression would have ended the Depression sooner, as opposed to F.D.R's more Keynesian approach.

7. However, here is where morality and the underlying philosophy of capitalism comes into play.  When Milton Friedman and others went to Chile, yes, their Hayekian principles got the economy under control.  But what a painful year to get there!  The same for Eastern Europe. 

The bottom line is this.  Utilitarianism is a macro-system.  It does not take the individual into mind.  It's goal is for, say, 90/100 people to be as happy as possible.  But in the process, it allows for the immense unhappiness of the other 10.  This is the brilliance of the Bill of Rights and a "universal ethical egoist" system over a purely utilitarian system.  It is simply unacceptable from a moral perspective for 10 people to starve to death while on a fast track to make the world a better place for the other 90.

So we have to take into consideration whether anyone starved to death in that really bad Chilean year.  And the situation in Russia after Jeffery Sachs Hayekized it is filled with organized crime who took all the capital for themselves.

Moral Principals going forward
1. Capitalism is far from a divine right.  It is a mechanism we affirm because it is the economic system that holds the most potential to maximize happiness.  It's philosophical goals were originally not entirely different from those of Marxism or socialism--it is just effective while we can see that socialist economics are a complete failure. 

A key point is that we have to get over the labels, as if the label capitalism equals good and the label socialism equals bad.  This is ignorant and illogical.  Each idea must stand or fall on its own two feet and the overall goal of maximizing societal happiness without running over individual rights must be kept in view.

2. History has vindicated Hayek over Keynes as an economic method.  However, history has also shown that unbridled capitalism does not achieve its underlying goals either.  When all regulation and control is taken away, capitalism becomes oppressive with a very few gaining immensely and the vast majority suffering.  Protections for the consumer and worker are essential to keep such things from happening.

Theory must not be implemented merely with a view to the quickest recovery.  The lives of a societies individuals are a moral element in the equation that must be considered.  I am neither enough of a historian or an economist to say, but it is possible that FDRs policies were the more moral course of action even if they slowed down recovery from the Great Depression.

3. The implementation of economic theory must always be driven by the impetus to maximize the happiness of society at large without destroying individuals.  Again, the "fittest" do not have a divine or evolutionary right to accrue wealth at the expense of the little man.  This contradicts the founding goals of capitalism in the first place.

4. We need to make a clear distinction between my property and the system that can facilitate the accumulation of wealth.  For Christians, it is important to realize that my "net worth" today is something quite different from any biblical understanding of wage or property.  In biblical terms, property is something I inherit and a day's wage is somewhat standard throughout the world. 

There is no divine right or innate justice to market wages.  They vary according to demand and the state of the system.  In philosophical terms, we have no basis to say that the $250,000 salary of one person is more of a "possession" to that person than the $20,000 of someone else.  It is the system that has assigned a different value to each person, not necessarily the amount of work he or she has done. 

The long and short of it is that the Tea Party person does not have the same claim on every penny of that money as she might think she does.  It is not a concrete possession like a car in the driveway.  The system gave that amount for work and the system can take it away without either action being either morally right or wrong.  The moral significance of money in a capitalist system does not map directly or neatly to the moral significance of property in an agrarian one.

I don't know if I have done these ideas justice, but these are some of my musings at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Strong and Weak (5.2)

Be glad for any feedback on today's snippet from the second Paul book:
The important thing, as we see so clearly in Romans 14-15, is that you are thinking of the other person and that you are not putting a reason to stumble in front of someone else (Rom. 14:13). It is so easy for the person whose conscience does not bother them on some issue to think of themselves as superior to those who are troubled by the same things. So on the Sabbath, Paul says, some Gentiles are not worried about whether or not they set one day apart (14:5). They consider every day alike. They must not look down at their conservative Jewish or Gentile brothers and sisters who are concerned to observe sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday as a Sabbath on which they do no work.

Paul’s principles here are so clear, so immediately applicable to our day, and yet so pervasively ignored by Christians today. Admittedly, it is not always easy for us to see what the disputable matters truly are and what are non-negotiable. The “conservatives” of Paul’s day might easily have said, “Look, the Sabbath goes back to creation in Genesis. Look, it is one of the Ten Commandments.” And amazingly, Paul does not seem to give it a second thought. In fact, Colossians almost denigrates those who worried about “a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16). So also today, there are no doubt issues where Christians come down hard on other Christians because of the letter of Scripture without realizing they have not caught its Spirit. The issue of women in ministry comes to mind.

But Paul’s admonition in Romans 14 is far more directed at the “liberal” than the conservative, even though Paul places himself among the liberal in his argument. The person of strong conscience must not despise the person of weak conscience, even though he or she may be in the right. It is far more important for the church to be unified and edified than for it to be “right” on these sorts of matters. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Paul says (Rom. 14:4). We stand or fall before our own master.

Finding the balance between things on which we should or should not “judge” our brothers and sisters is a matter of great care. The current spirit of the age is not to judge at all. But Paul does not model this extreme either, nor does Jesus. Jesus clearly had an indictment to bring to the leaders of Israel, and Paul does not shrink from pronouncing judgment on the man sleeping with his step-mother (1 Cor. 5:3). The Bible has no criticism for someone who would make a serial killer aware that they were displeasing God!

What Paul indicts in Romans 2:1 is the person who passes judgment on another when he or she is guilty of the same or similar sins. And what Paul indicts in Romans 14:3-4 is the person who condemns another believer on a matter of conviction, when that other Christian’s conscience is clear. The problem, as we have said, is that Christians regularly disagree on what is or is not a matter of personal conviction. For example, we find individuals who believe in Christ, consider themselves Christians, yet who would say their conscience is clear with regard to homosexual practice. Is this a disputable matter or a matter where Paul would expel a person from Christian fellowship?

It seems fairly clear that Paul would have expelled such an individual from the church, given what he says in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 6:9. But lest we think the clarity of Scripture makes such decisions obvious, we should remember that the Old Testament speaks much more emphatically and frequently about the importance of Sabbath observance than it does against homosexual sex (e.g., Num. 15:32-36; Ezek. 20). We believe Paul was inspired to be able to distinguish between which issue was “disputable” and which was not. But we can rest assured that in Paul’s day the difference would not at all have been clear to a devout Jew!

Christians disagree on many things, especially in a world where Protestantism has fragmented the church into tens of thousands of small groups. I grew up around Christians who would have said that wearing jewelry or a woman wearing slacks was not a disputable issue but practices every believer must follow. I imagine we are always free to share our concerns with others if, as Paul says, our love is sincere (Rom. 12:9). However, one suspects that a lot of “concern sharing” over the years has been little but a gossiping and critical spirit. With such a history, it is understandable that the current generation would almost refrain from any comment at all.

Perhaps we should consider as a disputable matter anything that does not clearly harm another person and over which people clearly devoted to Christ disagree. On these issues we should agree to disagree and be charitable in spirit. “We will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (14:10). “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (14:12). We can be wrongly convinced. “Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve” (14:22, NRSV). On these sorts of matters, even beyond matters we feel comfortable with, Paul bids us leave it up to God.

“Let all be fully convinced in their own minds” (14:5, NRSV). This is the key, that we are truly acting from faith. “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (14:23). We can deceive ourselves. We can convince ourselves that we can do things that we in reality doubt we are right about. This is the kind of doubter Paul has in mind in 14:23, the person who is not really convinced they can do what they say they can. I do not believe Paul has in mind the person with a hyperactive conscience, who would feel guilty about anything. He means the person who really knows inside that what they propose to do is wrong but are pretending to be clear of conscience so they can get away with something. Be sure, while we should probably let them get away with it, God knows what is in their hearts.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Paul's Election Language (4.4)

I post these things in part to solicit feedback, in case I have missed something significant.
Certainly Paul regularly uses language of predestination and election. It was clearly a major category of this thinking and language, but what did he mean by it? We started off this chapter with the claim that such language served two basic purposes. First, it affirmed that God is in control and that nothing happens without his approval. And yet, it would clearly go against the tenor of Paul and Scripture as a whole to suggest that God caused Peter to be a hypocrite at Antioch or directly commanded Satan to tempt Jesus. The biblical texts do not say or imply such things.

At least as important as what Paul says with his words is what he does with his words. Paul’s words are not propositions in a philosophy textbook. They are real life statements with certain common sense limits, often accompanied by emotion, and usually formulated in such a way as to persuade. Later thinkers like Augustine or Calvin then tried to fill in the blanks and connect the dots, as we all do when we reflect on such things. The problem is when we connect the dots and end up with ideas that clearly do not fit with other things Paul says.

So Paul does not use predestination language in a way that ensures an individual’s future without condition. For example, surely Paul considered himself to be one of the elect. Surely he considered himself to be justified by faith. Surely he had more confidence of his own place among the sanctified than he did the bulk of the Corinthian church. Yet he still expresses the possibility that he would not make it. He disciplines his life so that after running so well in the race of faith, he does not end up disqualified for the prize of salvation (1 Cor. 9:27). He continues on his course of suffering “if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:11, NRSV). A predestinarian can certainly explain such verses—even though Paul is unsure of his election, God is. But this explanation is something imposed on the text, not something Paul ever says.

Similarly, Paul does not use predestination language in a way that ensures that someone “prepared for destruction” (e.g., Rom. 9:22) will inevitably be damned. After speaking in the strongest of terms about God’s sovereign right to predestine the disbelieving in Israel for destruction, Paul then goes on in Romans 11:23 to say that those who have been grafted out can be grafted back in. In other words, he does not talk about predestination as if what is predetermined is unconditionally predetermined. Again, the predestinarian can explain Paul’s language elsewhere away. If we could see behind the curtain, they might say, we would see that God predestined this individual Israelite first to be grafted out and then to be grafted back in. But this is not what Paul actually says.

In the end, Paul’s predestination language functions as “after the fact” language. It primarily serves to affirm those who have responded to the gospel with faith. And it functions in this way primarily on a corporate rather than individual level. It functions to assure the “elect,” those who are here, of God’s favor toward them without guaranteeing that favor apart from their continued faithfulness. It functions in his rhetoric more on an affective and cohesive level as on a propositional level. Meanwhile, he hardly ever uses such language in relation to the wicked. He does so in Romans 9 in a context of highly charged rhetoric in relation to God’s right to do whatever he wants with his creation.

So we return to some of the insights we had at the beginning of the chapter. Paul’s language of predestination fits well with the fatalism of his world. Also like the fatalism of his world, Paul does not speak of election in a way that is mutually exclusive with freedom of choice. Rather, we know what God has willed by what happens, after the fact. Predestination language, while sounding predictive, actually functions entirely in retrospect. It does not impact who can be saved or how one is to go about mission.

So when we get to application, we can see that no matter what we believe in theory about predestination, we must all live as if we have free will. We must live as if the way we live out our faithfulness to God matters. We must live as if we can lose our right standing with God. We must conduct the mission of the church as if everyone can be saved. We must do all these things in faith that God is in control and that nothing happens without his approval. Who knows, perhaps in some way that would blow our mind, God who is beyond our understanding was able to create a world in which he both determines everything and where we have the ability to choose or not to choose him.

We end the chapter with these well known verses from Romans 8:28-30:

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified (CEB).

Christians regularly invoke 8:28 with the sense that no matter what difficult circumstance you might be in, God will work it out for your good. Certainly God always does have our good in mind and helps us in all our trials and troubles.

But in context, we can see that the good in view goes far beyond my immediate circumstances to eternity, indeed beyond me as an individual to all believers taken together. The good here is to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. What does Paul mean? He elsewhere says that we will bear the likeness of Jesus in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:49), that our bodies will be transformed to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:21). He elsewhere speaks of Christ as the first fruits of the dead, with us following him (1 Cor. 15:20; cf. Heb. 2:10). In short, the good that God is working out, what it means to be conformed to Christ’s image, almost certainly refers to our glorification that will take place at the resurrection.

God has “decided in advance” that we will experience this transformation together, that our bodies will all be conformed to the form of his glorified body. Knowing who would participate in the resurrection, he called us, “elected” us. He planned for us to become right with God, justified. He planned for us to be glorified in the resurrection, just as Christ was.

What makes the church the church (Lenny Luchetti)

I thought someone might be interested in this piece by Lenny Luchetti, proclamation professor at Wesley Seminary@ IWU, up today on the seminary blog.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Saved cont. (4.3)

And so it goes, and so it goes, and so will you soon, I suppose...
So what is God’s plan for right standing? It is to trust in what God has done through Jesus the Christ. Romans has already set out what the plan is. First, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Paul never really spells out the specifics of how Christ’s death works. When 1 Corinthians 15:3 says that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” Paul is not laying out some specific teaching about Christ taking our place. The word “for” simply means he died to deal with them. Paul does not say exactly how.

One picture he gives us is the transference of the curse of our sin to Christ on the cross. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13). Paul seems to imply in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that the cross stood at the center of his preaching, making the logic of Galatians 3:13 very significant to understanding Paul’s thinking. In this picture of the cross, Christ does not take our punishment, but he takes our curse. Like the scapegoat of Leviticus 16, our defilement (not our debt or punishment) is transferred to Christ.

We also find the picture of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice here and there in Paul’s writings. The most explicit is in Romans 3:25, “Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood” (CEB). This translation is debated, with the NIV and the NRSV going with the more common “sacrifice of atonement.” The reason the CEB translates it as “place of atonement” is because the word Paul uses regularly refers to the cover of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, the place where blood was taken once a year by the high priest to atone for the sins of Israel (cf. Leviticus 16:14). One way or another, Paul is thinking of Jesus’ death in sacrificial terms.

Atonement is reconciliation by way of an offering. The idea of Jesus’ death as such an offering pops up throughout Paul’s letters. Romans 8:3, for example, likely speaks of God sending Jesus as a sin offering. 1 Corinthians 5:7 thinks of Christ as a Passover lamb sacrificed for believers. The inner dynamics of sacrifice are often difficult for us to get our heads around. Sacrifice fits roughly in the category of “satisfaction” theories of atonement, where Christ’s death satisfies the wrath of God, “propitiates” it. But it is not clear that Paul connected these dots. In some ways, C. S. Lewis’ picture of a “deep magic” that is mysterious and inexplicable may come closer to a less defined sense that the order of things was restored through the offering of blood.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was also significant for Paul in getting us right with God. “If Christ has not been raised,” Paul writes, “you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). In Romans 4:25, Paul says that Christ was “raised to life for our justification.” Perhaps hiding behind such statements is yet another Christian theory of atonement, namely, the “Christus Victor” or “Christ the conqueror” view. Paul speaks of death as the last enemy for Christ to defeat, one that he will definitively defeat at the time of the final resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-28).

Again, it is difficult for us to get into Paul’s head. After all, Paul did not think of death as a person or Sin as a person. It is mysterious to us how exactly Jesus’ victorious resurrection might defeat of Sin and death. Indeed, just because Paul found such language natural does not necessarily mean that he could explain the specifics of how it worked either. Nevertheless, “the sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15:56) and “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2, NRSV). Somehow, Christ’s resurrection entails the defeat of these forces against us.

CEB of Romans 3:25

The Common English Bible (CEB) continues on its quotable course with Romans 3:25: "Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood.”  Fun!  I agree with most (I think) that "through faith" refers to God's rather than our faith.  More controversial is the rendering of hilasterion as "place of sacrifice."  I have never crossed over to this interpretation but I feel its force.  In the OT, hilasterion regularly refers to the cover on the Ark of the Covenant.

Short Catechism 2: Our God is an Awesome God

I've finagled the order a little this week.  This third post becomes the second in the series:

1. Mercy trumps justice.
2. God is an awesome God.
3. God wants to save everyone.

These are kernels of chats with my younger children.

Our God is an Awesome God
1. Hard for us even to understand how great God is.
Think of your principal or someone you look up to.  Think of someone really strong on TV or in the movies.  God makes such people look like ants.  He could crush the earth with his pinky.  How do you normally act around someone so strong?

He made the earth out of nothing--so he designed it all, understands it all.  He doesn't need us--he helps us because he likes us!

So how should we act around someone like this--all powerful, all knowing, but someone who made us, likes us, and sees everything we do?  Should we insult him?  ignore him?

2. Sometimes God intervenes, sometimes he lets things go.
We don't know why he saves us sometimes and then other times does not.  Sometimes he swoops in to the rescue like Superman.  If we ignore him long enough, he often lets us go, with all the bad things that happen when we are selfish.  There's a point after which you have lost his phone number and don't even realize it.  You wouldn't know where to find his number even if you suddenly became desperate.

3. After we die, if we have been friends with God, we will be with him forever.  If we have ignored him, he will abandon us to the course we have set in life, separation from him forever, eternal death.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Evans' letter to a young Calvinist from a young Arminian...

A colleague, as well as Scot McKnight's blog, pointed out Rachel Held Evans' blog post this week: "Letters to a Young Calvinist from a Young Arminian."  She is quite right that there are many fine five point Calvinists out there whose hearts are as my heart.  I am thankful that the strident and militant ones seem oh so irrelevant to my ministry and teaching.

Delighted to be your brother-in-Christ, irenic five pointers out there.  And don't be intimidated, oh ye Arminians who believe God truly would prefer for everyone to be saved.  The entire Calvinist system deconstructs on the fact that Paul himself did not consider his salvation secure (1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:11).  But if it is possible for the justified not to make it, then those who are elect are not certain to persevere (Heb. 3:6, 14), then God's grace is not irresistible in his design (cf. Heb. 10:29), then election is not unconditional (cf. 2 Pet. 1:10). The whole system falls like a deck of cards. ;-)

So who cares about Piper, Driscoll, or Mohler?  They blow away with a puff of wind, leaving the rest of us to go on trying to save everyone.

Some ongoing CEB scuttlebutt...

Found this round-up of some web CEB reaction from a year ago on John Hobbins' blog: http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/11/the-common-english-bible-a-roundup-of-posts-and-some-critical-notes.html.

It will be interesting to see where the CEB goes.  I noticed this morning that while it goes with the "faithfulness of Jesus Christ" in Romans 3:22 it sticks with the traditional "faith in Jesus" in Galatians 2:16.  Oops--must have been two different translation teams.

Other things I have mixed feelings about.  While it's hard to hear "Son of Man" rendered as "the Human One" or "abomination that causes desolation" as "disgusting and destructive thing," I have to admit it is only because I have a doctorate in New Testament and I have no question but that the CEB's version would be more understandable to just about anyone.

Friday, November 05, 2010

American Syncretism in Christian Worship

Couldn't come up with a better title.  This week in the seminary's worship class they are looking at acts of worship beyond baptism, communion, and other sign acts (last week involved everything from tongues to footwashing).  We're talking weddings, funerals, and things we might put in the category of "civil religion," including the frequent intersection of nationalism with Christian worship.

For example, I don't get too bent out of shape over it, but it seems very peculiar to put an American flag in the pulpit area.  We are so used to this practice that it is hard for us to see how truly bizarre it is.  To try to get at the bizarreness, imagine how Dietrich Bonhoeffer would respond if he had walked in after seeing Nazi flags in German churches?  Picture a Brazilian flag on a pulpit in Brazil or a Russian flag in a Russian Orthodox chancel.  Are we saying that we worship our country along with God or that our country is as holy as the cross.  Imagine how we Protestants would react to an icon of a Christian saint up front--and it's at least Christian!  God smiles.

There are other perspectives you commonly hear from worship professors, things that most American ministers have never even thought of.  For example, although I think God is very patient, I would strongly urge couples getting married to include the congregation in communion if they are having it.  Communion is not something two people do in private.  It is a body of Christ thing. 

Other things worship experts often say, perhaps with less force than the above: 1) having a wedding outside rather than in a church building hints at a mindset that is probably leaning more secular than Christian; 2) the Wedding March comes from A Midsummer Night's Dream, hardly a Christian drama, and is odd in a worship service; 3) close the casket at a funeral because a Christian funeral should be a worship service, and a worship service is more about God than the individual who has died; 4) some even argue against the typical time of testimonials to the dead person in the worship service of the funeral proper.

What are your thoughts?  I always smile at a church that makes a big deal out of Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Mother's Day, but couldn't tell you what Advent or Ash Wednesday was to save its life.  This is the typical syncretism of religion and culture that takes place everywhere in all religions.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

$9.99 special on my Paul book...

This was the promo that went out today from my publisher: ;-)
Learn from Paul's Life and Letters
SALE! Only $9.99! (Reg. $14.99)
Act Now! Sale ends Nov. 12.
Click HERE or call 1-800-493-7539.

Table of Contents and a FREE Excerpt! (This is the first chapter of the book)

Author Kenneth Schenck bridges time and culture to bring you Paul—Messenger of Grace. Immerse yourself in the world of one of history’s most polarizing figures to learn about his background, his conversion, his missionary journeys, and his letters. But this is not just a history book; each chapter concludes with the author’s reflections about how Paul’s life and letters can help shape our lives more into the image of Christ.

Paul—Messenger of Grace covers the earlier part of Paul’s life and ministry including the Bible books of 1Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians.

Preview the Messenger of Grace Bible Studies!
Coming December 2010!
There are two 5 week Bible study books in association with the book, both coming out next month, one on 1 Thessalonians and the second on Philippians.

Criteria of Missional Faithfulness

Lois Barrett in Treasure in Clay Jars has 8 criteria for taking the missional temperature of a church.  I thought I'd summarize them in my own language:

1. Missionary Vocation: Does your congregation define success in terms of its faithfulness to Christ, not it terms of its numbers?

2. Missional Formation: Is your congregation eager to learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus? 

3. Missional Courage: To what extent is the church willing to take risks for the sake of the gospel?

4. Missional Love: Does your congregation love one another as Christ loved the church?

5. Missional Worship: Is worship is the central act of your faith community and does it lead your people to testify to the gospel?

6. Missional Dependency: Does your community confess its dependency on the Holy Spirit in prayer? 

7. Missional Agency: Does your congregation see itself as an agent to bring the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven?

8. Missional Authority: Does the Holy Spirit work through the leadership of your church so that the congregation has a missional mentality?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Governmental Hopes

The results are in as you all know.  The Republicans take the House by storm. The Dems and Harry Reid only narrowly keep the Senate.  What are my hopes for this Congress?

1. I hope it will do what Republicans have often prided themselves on--cutting down the deficit.  I don't know how they'll do it.  I have fears about missteps in trying to do it.  But I wish them all Godspeed in doing it.

2. I hope that both sides will be more flexible than they were these last two years.  I hope both sides will let individual Senators vote their consciences rather than destroying those who break rank.  The Dems don't have enough to filibuster in the House, so at least we won't see that.  I hope we'll see up or down votes in the Senate.

3. I hope some of the good things the Democrats have wanted to do--and in the past some Republicans have wanted to do--will continue forward.  Since the Republicans can relax now, I hope they will do some of the things they've opposed just to oppose.  Let them take credit for it, sure.  Either way, good would be done.

I'm not really expecting any of this, of course.  I'm expecting gridlock as usual and many interesting/scary ideological battles to take place, nice things to blog on. ;-)

On the side, here's a post on the NIV around the blogosphere.  The reaction seems pretty much the same as mine.  Like the first link on that post, I sent in my suggestions where the NIV does voodoo with grammar and the text because of the ideologies of its translators.  Pretty much ignored.  One shining light, you'll see, is that it translates sarx as flesh in Romans.  That was one of my suggestions too.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

IWU Religion Coffee Talk 1

I may not post any more of these, but it occurs to me it would be fun to have somewhere some of the ideas IWU undergraduate professors might joke about over coffee--ideological biases of a sort.  This is not policy, this is not absolute.  It's not even everyone.  It's not make or break stuff.  It's flavor, even prejudice.

Here's one that occurred to me today.  As a piece of IWU mishnah, the word “worldview” immediately would cause knowing looks.  The thoughts that immediately go through my head are 1) Reformed? Schaffer? Glenn Martin? (see James Smith's woes), 2) overly simplistic reduction of human motivations and machinations to overly simplistic macro-ideas, 3) inability to read the Bible in its complex contexts, reduction of the multi-genred Bible to overly simplistic propositions. ;-)  

Who knows if I will ever come back to tell you the reaction "Barna" causes ;-)  

Community as a higher order of reality

Christian Smith will be on campus November 10th to discuss his latest book, What is a Person?  Some of us have been reading through it to prepare.  Let me say he really is a "J" personality.  The book is full of "before I get to x, I need to talk about y" and then "Y has four parts with 3 exceptions and 4 fallacies." 

It's not necessarily a hard read--actually he's quite clear.  But at one point I sent this link from Monty Python to my friends with the heading, "Christian Smith getting ready to make his point."  We've finally concluded that he doesn't really have a point he's building toward.  The point of each chapter is actually quite simple.

Here's the Reader's Digest version of his book:

1. Reality exists as something different from me knowing it (critical realism).

2. A person is a higher order of reality than the sum of our parts (against physical reductionism).

3. Much of our reality is socially constructed (against foundationalism), but not all of it (against extreme social constructivism).

4. We are not people apart from relational networks with others.

5. Much of the statistical research in sociology is crap.  Correlation does not equal causation.  Research that is purely quantitative is crap.  Clear cause-effect relationships must be argued for from some theoretical framework.

Well, none of that is why I started this post.  It occurred to me more clearly than ever how to frame the importance of community in relation to Christian life and why Barna doesn't know what he's talking about.  One of the theories Christian Smith discusses is "emergence theory."  As usual, it's a very simple concept pretty obvious to common sense but apparently heavily argued in some circles.  It's the idea that there are levels of reality where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

For example, I am a biological machine.  Some Christian thinkers are currently arguing that what we call the "soul" is not a separable part of me.  For the sake of argument, let's say they're right.  Nevertheless, myself as a person is a different order of reality.  You could add up all the pieces to me but that would not equal me.  "I" am a person and a person is a thing of a different order in its own right.  I consider this pretty obvious, despite many in sociology currently who might resist it.

And now Schenck finally getting to his point.  Genuine community is also like this.  It is a different level of reality.  Adding up the individuals in a community does not equal the reality of the community together.  It is a higher order of reality that is an entity, an organism in its own right.  This means you cannot be a complete Christian on your own in the woods.  You will be lacking in your Christian identity.  Even if you as an individual are more "spiritual" than everyone else in a particular place, you cannot be as spiritual as they are when they are together in Christian community.

This is the hypothesis that struck me today... no doubt one that would have Christian Smith responding, "Isn't that what I said?" ;-)

Monday, November 01, 2010

NIV, pronounced dead at 37

The NIV2010 revision is now available online.  My spot check leads me to conclude that the NIV is now dead at the age of 37. 

The NIV was never a very good translation from an inductive Bible study perspective.  It wore the theology of its translators on its sleeves in numerous places where it added words and played interpretive possibilities.

The TNIV was a definite improvement, and I was prepared to make it the default for all my church and university writing.  Of course politically, the use of "brothers and sisters" for "brothers" opened a door that the ESV walked through.  The ESV has quickly become the (Calvinist) evangelical favorite.  It is a better formal equivalence translation than the NIV ever was.

In this context, the NIV2010 would have had to hit some sort of wacky home run, and I was very curious to see what they would do.  Instead, it is less than expected.  It reverses clear gains of the TNIV while keeping the one aspect of the TNIV that ticked its clientele off--"brothers and sisters."  So it now combines the skew of the NIV with the marketing challenges of the TNIV.

It's dead.  There is nothing here to excite anyone and all the old embarrassments.  I wash my hands of the NIV. 

Election Tomorrow!

By all accounts, it looks like the Republicans will take back the House, possibly the Senate as well.  I've been really surprised at how weak the Democratic response has been to the Tea Party and Republican ads and rhetoric.  Anyone who reads my blog knows that my opinions are that:
  • TARP bail-outs saved the world from a global depression, with many banks already having paid back substantial amounts.
  • Obama saved thousands of jobs and a big hit on the economy by bailing out GM and Chrysler, with them already having paid back substantial amounts.
  • The stimulus bill if anything may not have been enough, but is generally agreed by economists to have improved the economy.
  • The health care bill aims at good goals that coincide with Christian goals, although we can debate about the details.  The timing given the current debt is a question although something needs to be done and never is.
  • The key to the housing crisis was not the lending practices of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, although these no doubt need reformed as well.  It was what what Wall Street did with these debts, bundling them together and trading them, that created the economic tsunami.  This means that regulation of these things is key, the opposite trajectory of those posed to take power tomorrow.
  • Rhetoric about socialism or stealing from the people has a Christian sound but really is the typical syncretism of culture with Christianity.  It has little to do with biblical teaching read in context and in fact in many respects is ironically opposed to biblical values.
  • An approach to government that precludes it from "peripheral" good like supporting the arts or science or empowering the weak in the end will deconstruct America as we know it.
But the Democratic ads don't have the guts to take up these things... which amounts to a concession that those who oppose them are right.  This brilliant plan seems to have worked masterfully. ;-)

In other news, it was my week to post on the seminary blog and I chose the topic Engaging Worldly Powers.  Unfortunately for me, I'm up today at 3:30 to present at the Theological Seminar.  My topic is "Otherworldly Afterlife with Resurrection."  I'll have to go with PowerPoints since I've hardly had time to write a paper these days.  It is part of my "Four Afterlife Trajectories in Second Temple Judaism" series, based on research I did on a Fulbright in Germany in 2004.  Unfortunately, it took me 10 years to go from initial work to publication on my last scholarly book.  I hope I can beat that this time.