Friday, December 31, 2010

1 Timothy and Law

1 Timothy focuses on a different part of the Jewish Law than Romans and Galatians do.  The focus of the Law Romans and Galatians is on “works of Law,” the things that most distinguished Jew from Gentile ethnically (e.g., Gal. 2:16).  In Paul’s central writings, the Law pertains to the former age—it is something to which believers die when they die with Christ (e.g., Gal. 2:19).  Believers are thus no longer “under Law” (1 Cor. 9:20), even though they now fulfill the “righteous requirements of the law” (Rom. 8:4).

By contrast, the focus of “law” in 1 Timothy is not on its “past-ness,” as in Paul’s central writings.  The law in 1 Timothy is the common moral standard for all people—basically the Ten Commandments.  It is still in force, but because Christians keep this standard, it is not something Christians need to think much about.  “[T]he law is not made for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels” (1 Tim. 1:9).  The list that follows roughly corresponds to the Ten Commandments.

It is for the “ungodly and sinful,” those who have other gods before God.  It is for the “unholy and irreligious,” those who would take God’s name in vain.  It is for “those who kill their fathers and mothers,” who do not honor their father and mother.  It is for murderers.  It is for the sexually immoral and men who practice homosexuality (1:10, ESV), sexual prohibitions related to the heading of adultery.  Finally, slave traders, liars, and perjurers relate to the commands not to bear false witness or to covet.

Unlike Paul’s central writings, 1 Timothy thus focuses on the law as basic and universal moral standard, something Christians do not need worry about because they already keep these requirements.  Those who need worry about the law are thus criminals and lawbreakers.  This is quite a strikingly different way of talking about the law than we find in Romans and Galatians, where the Law retains a strongly Jewish flavor and is relegated to the age before Christ.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christian Schools and Churches

One of the Wesleyan churches in Marion has a school associated with it.  Until recently, it had a middle and high school, but because of the recent financial crisis, it bit the bullet and limited itself to pre-K through 5.  Now it looks perhaps to rebuild.

I am not wise in the way of such things, but their situation does raise all kinds of questions that churches around America and in other places might profitably ask.  For example, to what extent do Christian schools sometimes become albatrosses around a church's neck, to where the school becomes the ministry to their communities?  In other words, they have to expend so much energy and resources keeping a school going that they can hardly do anything else.  It reminds me a little of the situation many districts have faced with camp meetings that serve a very small niche minority but require massive amounts of the district's resources.  Hard to get out of the business once you're in it.

At the same time, the public school situation here in Marion is quite challenging, to say the least.  It's not the teachers, despite the rhetoric we hear from state and national officials.  The children are just out of control because of their home issues past and present, and the system has pruned back the kind of staff that used to handle these things (e.g., doing away with "time away" and making the teachers deal with it, with whatever social worker and office staff is available in a never ending day moving from crisis to crisis).  The good teacher is the person who manages to teach the teachable while managing the psycho distractions.  It's a bloody mess.

So there probably is a market in Marion for a good private school, and we have a couple.  The question mark is always whether your child is going to receive a "mainstream" education there.  The market for Christian schools is often what I might call "reactionary fundamentalist" of various kinds.  Are the kids going to learn mainstream history and science or will it look something more like what the school board in Texas has been about these days?  Are they going to learn English in the second grade by memorizing the five different sounds the phoneme "ra" can have, because of some bizarre sense that anything but an extreme phonics approach is that liberal whole language approach?  That's the sort of psycho-stuff that often fuels the founding of Christian schools in America, in my opinion.

One thing in today's newspaper is encouraging to me about the possible return of upper grades at the local Wesleyan Christian school.  There is talk about partnering with IWU.  I personally would have loved to see IWU have started a charter school a few years back when we bought the property of Center School.  What better way to give to the community and train teachers.  If the local church school could extensively use student teachers from IWU, that might be a win, win in some ways.

Of course, I could just be babbling nonsense about things I don't know.  Never done that before ;-)

Order in Society (Pastorals cont)

We find some miscellaneous teaching in 1 Timothy and Titus that also fits into the category of an orderly society. For example, along with the instruction about widows, 1 Timothy 5 also has instructions about how to treat older men and women. You are to treat older men in the church with respect, like you would treat your own father. As the church is your family, you should treat younger men like brothers, older women like your mother, and younger women like your sisters (5:1-2). By extension, you should take care of widows with no one else to care for them.

However, if the widow has children or grandchildren, they are primarily responsible (5:4). 1 Timothy 5:8 is a key expression of family values in the first century: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” While such strong words sound rather extreme to our modern ears, the principle of taking care of our own and those within our reach remains strong even today.  In keeping with this saying, those of us in the Wesleyan tradition could see a person’s intentional neglect of family going to such an extreme that it could lead to loss of faith.  For most of us, it is an apt reminder of our responsibility to help those we can, especially those who most depend on us.

Titus has similar instructions, except they are directed at these individuals.  Older men are to be “temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance” (Tit. 2:2).  Older women are “to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good” (2:3).  They are to train the younger women to “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands” (2:4-5).  Again, we have argued that it is not the specific structures of ancient society that apply to us today as Scripture but the principle of living at peace with each other in a manner most appropriate to our cultural and social contexts.  We are to work out the best ways to “love our neighbor” in our social context.

Young men are to be self controlled (2:6).  Titus 2:8 gives the bottom line of all this social instruction, very similar to 1 Peter 2:12.  The goal is “that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”  This underlying principle makes it clear that the specifics of the instructions here have everything to do with the shared social values of the first century Mediterranean world.  To apply them directly to today in every respect thus has the ironic consequence of bringing the opposite effect.  If we artificially put women in a particular social location, rather than giving them fully equal opportunities to men, we give the world a great deal bad to say about us.  Indeed, we create a situation where the world’s values are more Christian than ours!

1 Timothy and Titus also have teaching on slaves.  Slaves are to be subject to their masters (Tit. 2:9), just as wives are to be subject to their husbands.  They are to try to please them and not talk back to them or steal from them (2:9-10).  They are to be fully trustworthy.  Again there is the same goal as with family relationships—to make Christ look attractive to the world (2:10).  They should treat them with full respect so that God’s name is not slandered (1 Tim. 6:1). Slaves with believing masters are to treat them even better than they would unbelieving masters (6:2).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Women in 1 Timothy, Closing Remarks (W)

If you ever go to modern Israel, you will find some interesting practices in relation to the Old Testament Law.  One fascinating one is the fact that you cannot get both meat and dairy products with the same meal or in the same store in Israel.  I once saw a young man ushered right out of a restaurant that primarily served lamb meat because he had brought in pizza from across the alley.  Pizza has cheese and was not allowed in the same shop.  Why, you ask?  It is because of a verse in Exodus that forbids boiling a goat’s kid in its mother’s milk (23:19; 34:26).

Now whatever this verse was originally about—probably against some Canaanite practice—it was not about eating pizza and lamb meat in the same meal.  It highlights the fact again that the books of the Bible just were not written to us originally.  When passages seem to make the least sense to us, we are often looking at words that spoke directly to the time they were written but not so clearly to our time and context.

I am convinced that the teaching of 1 Timothy on women falls into this category of things locked up in the past, despite the fact that many segments of the church are comfortable with its instructions.  For example, most Christians today would be hard pressed to think of why it would be preferable for a widow not to remarry or why she would need to get remarried because of an inability to refrain from her sexual desires.  We assume these instructions made perfect sense in their first century context, but it is not at all clear they do now.

And most Protestant churches have not seen any virtue in a man needing to be married only once to be an effective leader, especially if his first wife died.  True, the Orthodox Church still holds to this requirement, and many Protestants still have problems with a minister who is divorced.  But it is not clear what intrinsic reason we could come up with today that would make much sense.  Why would a widowed minister who remarries be less wise or less effective than one who remained single?

The position of many segments of the church today on women, both women ministers and women in the home, also strikes of the Jewish rule against eating pizza and meat in the same meal.  I like to think of it this way.  Let us say we are on a plane whose pilot is incapacitated, and we have a choice between having a woman take over who actually knows how to fly a plane or having a man take over who has no knowledge of flying whatsoever.  Of course we would have the woman fly the plane, because she is the most competent to do so.

In our current context, insisting that a man be the senior pastor or the head of the home simply because of his genitals makes about as much sense.  Let us speak plainly.  This is plain irrationality.  It makes a mockery of the idea that God is all-wise and omniscient.  It makes a mockery of God and Christ before the world.

And what is worse, this headship for its own sake, this genital-based leadership—not a theory you will find in any book on leadership, mind you—is headed in the opposite direction of the kingdom.  It is, in the words of Colossians, to submit to the “elemental spirits of the world” (Col. 2:20) rather than see the trajectory of the kingdom, where wives are not given to men in marriage (Mark 12:25) and there is not “male and female” any longer (Gal. 3:28).  It is to approach blasphemy, as if Christ only died for some sins but not all, not the sins of Eve.  Indeed, we can tell we are in the age of the Spirit precisely because our sons and daughters prophesy (Acts 2:17).

We have shown in these two volumes that no Scripture, rightly interpreted, prohibits women from any level of leadership and ministry in the church, indeed, that we find such women in the New Testament.  Let us be clear on this score.  Paul did not see husband-headship in conflict with the prophetic ministry of a woman, which 1 Corinthians 11 proves. And, therefore, the silence of women in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, if these verses are even original, cannot be about spiritual speech but only about disruptive speech. 

Now we see that 1 Timothy 2:12 is also about the husband-wife relationship and thus does not have any bearing on a woman’s prophetic ministry.  And in any case, surely Paul’s central writings and Acts have a better claim to stand at the center of our understanding, rather than some interpretation of a writing that is in so many ways the exception in the Pauline corpus rather than the rule.  All we have left to debate is whether husband-headship is timeless or, like eating pizza with meat, is a feature of Paul’s ancient context.  Since it is irrational to base leadership on genitals—physical organs not particularly known for their wisdom—I have little doubt personally where God is leading his church today.

Ministers as Parents (W)

Excerpt from chapter 9 of second Paul book:
1 Timothy and Titus’ comments on the children of ministers may be a cause of particular concern to some.  Pastors’ children are notorious in church lore for misbehavior.  What then are we to make of the comment that an overseer can scarcely be trusted with the church if he cannot control his own children or if his children lose faith?  No doubt such sentiments have brought violence from some ministers in the past, thinking that they must beat their children into submission to keep their children under control.  And parenting studies will no doubt confirm that this approach leads in exactly the opposite direction today, to where their children will then be even more likely to be disorderly and to lose faith.

In short, what counted as good management of a family in the ancient world will not count the same today.  Our children are not sequestered in the home.  Through television, through the internet, through the public schools, it is scarcely possible to control all the influences on our children.  This fact has led some to forbid television.  It has led some to isolate themselves socially from the rest of the world.  Such people can perhaps protect their children for a time, but they also have removed themselves from the mission.  Few will come to faith in Christ as a result of their witness.

In the end, our children have free will too.  What is timeless about the instructions of 1 Timothy is that the pastor should be an exemplary model of righteousness for his or her children.  Their children should see that their mother or father is consistent at home and at church.  They should see that their father or mother practices what he or she preaches.  They should see that their parent truly is serving and selfless at home and at church.  They must be present at home and in the lives of their kids, not married more to the church than to their spouses and families.  None of these things is a guarantee of a child’s salvation, but they should be a guarantee of a clear conscience.

Education is Broken

I am more and more convinced that the American system of education is ludicrously wasteful.  It is designed for a small number of students gifted in a particular way, with a particular learning style.  It is designed for the cultural leader, the future scientist, the researcher, just as the liberal arts college is.  But this is a small percentage of the population.  What is worse is that it often doesn't even give these individuals the best they could get and, because of the drain from the vast majority who are just in the wrong system, it fails to serve even these well.

I'll say it again.  The vast majority of American students need to be prepared to get a job and be healthy contributors to society.  Sure, they need to be able to read and write, but even a minimally effective elementary school system can give them everything they need in general for that.  Beyond that they need 1) to know how to be good members of society in general and 2) to know a skill that will get them a job. Accordingly, the vast majority of high school is a waste of time, except that it gets them off the streets.

Where to begin, where to begin?  I have little confidence at this time in any top down correction.  I think it should best start local, with the government validating, supporting, and then getting out of the way.  Here's my suggestion.  Local businesses should coordinate with local high schools and city administration to create career tracks in high school. The high school would offer courses that equip students for those jobs and those employers would provide internships, job placement, and would be involved in the high school curriculum.

I'm not limiting things to blue collar jobs.  More advanced employers could continue this track through local colleges and work with them as well.  Ball State has a program where a student's last two years of high school are done on campus, doubling for the first two years of college.  Given the waste of time that is most high school senior years, this is a great idea.

Newton had made most of his major discoveries before he was 22.  We're wasting our brightest kids' time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Constructing Jesus 2 (S)

The first post in this review:
Chapter 1: Memories of Jesus

Chapter 2, "The Eschatology of Jesus" is about 190 pages.  At my pace, it will take me over a month to get through it..  And I have some other things I need to fit in.  So here are the next thirty pages or so, pp.31-59.

The basic point of these pages, as of the chapter as a whole, is that "Jesus held what we may call... an 'apocalyptic eschatology'" (32).  By this he means a cluster of themes from post-exilic Jewish literature relating to coming crisis between good and evil in which things on the earth will get very bad but God will come at set everything right.  Allison does not believe that such expectation was usually if ever about the distant future but was by assumption a near expectation.  "The rule in the ancient sources is this: if it is coming, it must be close" (45).

Pages 33-43 are what seems to be a typical sort of list for Allison.  He catalogs point after point of apocalyptic expectation in the gospels.  Allison's point is very commonsensical and persuasive.  It doesn't matter whether any one of these events or sayings was historical for the general impression to be true.  "[M]ore material pertains to eschatology than to exorcism" (43).  I perceive a global pattern and it is apocalyptic" (44).  "[O]ur choice is not between an apocalyptic Jesus; it is between an apocalyptic Jesus and no Jesus at all... The pertinent material is sufficiently abundant that removing it all should leave one thoroughly skeptical about the mnemonic competence of the tradition" (46-47).

He then begins a list of nine supportive considerations, two of which were part of my reading this week.

1. Jesus' location between John the Baptist and the early church.
This is again such a no brainer it amazes me that anyone seriously questions it.  You find it in Sanders, Wright, earlier in Meyer.  If John the Baptist preached the imminent coming of God's kingdom and if the early church did, then Jesus must have.

2. "God raised him from the dead."
Again, Allison makes imminent sense.  Paul knew Peter and James.  They all claimed to believe Jesus had risen bodily from the dead.  Therefore, "that settles the issue" (55).  He of course is not saying that all the initial followers of Jesus believed this.  He is only saying that these individuals must have.

Further, if they had not believed in resurrection prior to the Jesus event, they would not have interpreted it in this way.  "[T]he disciples looked for the resurrection of the dead before Good Friday; otherwise they would have interpreted their experiences in some other way" (59).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Elders in the Early Church (W)

The W means Wesleyan, which means that in this post I am writing for the church rather than for scholars.
The instructions about church leadership focus on two roles: the overseer and the deacon. Some have argued that the clarity of these two positions speaks to a period later than Paul, but it would be hard to prove it. We find Paul speaking of these two offices in letters everyone agrees he wrote, like Philippians (cf. 1:1). If 1 Timothy is earlier, the overseer here is probably one of several overseers or elders in a local Christian assembly, not a solo pastor or senior pastor like we have today. On the other hand, if 1 Timothy is later, the word increasingly came to mean something more like our word “bishop,” the head leader of the Christians perhaps in a whole city. [1] The role does not seem this extensive yet in the Pastorals.

In the New Testament, we do not find clear reason to think that the word “overseer” (episkopos) yet meant anything substantially different from the word “elder” (presbyteros). Titus 1:6-7 glides seamlessly from one term to the other with no distinction, clearly considering both words to mean the same thing. In 1 Peter 5:1-2, Peter is called a “fellow elder,” and “elders” (presbyteros) are charged to “pastor” or “shepherd” the flock. Although it very well may not have been in the original copy of 1 Peter, these same elders are charged to “oversee” (episkopeō) this flock. The implication is that at least some early Christians must have seen the function of the elders of a local assembly as overseeing that local assembly.

We thus suspect that each local assembly in the early church had multiple elders and overseers. The word “elder” probably had a literal sense that such individuals were in fact older. [2] The ancient world, as most cultures outside the Western world, associated age with wisdom. Was there a senior leader? It is hard to imagine that there was not. [3] But these individuals probably were not like pastors today whose only job is to pastor the church, and we can imagine that this function could even have rotated from time to time. We can imagine that leadership in part emerged organically as those who were gifted to lead rose to the surface. Acts 14:23 also pictures Paul and Barnabas appointing elders in cities, and it is very easy to see them laying the mantle of leadership on specific individuals as they moved from one location to another.

However, we also should not underestimate the role of itinerant and prophetic leadership in the early church. Apostles like Paul moved around from place to place and while it is clear a place like Corinth felt free to question his authority, he saw himself as a superior authority to any local elder or overseer. The letter of recommendation Paul gave to Phoebe as a deacon in Romans 16:1 probably is only one instance of many such letters as itinerant teachers moved from one place to another. Indeed, we will argue in the next chapter that one aspect of the situation behind the Pastorals is the increasing sense that such travelling teachers were corrupting the church with false teaching.

Prophecy was also a key element of the earliest church. As we saw in chapter 7, Ephesians even considers these early prophets to be part of the foundation of the church, along with the apostles. We argued there that very prominent prophets were in mind, individuals like Agabas in Acts 11 and 20. But local churches had prophets as well, both men and women, as we saw in 1 Corinthians.

Were there women apostles, elders, and overseers? We argued back in chapter 5 that Phoebe was a deacon (Rom. 16:1) and Junia was an apostle (Rom. 16:7). As for overseers and elders, we do not have the name of a single elder or overseer in the New Testament, which includes both men and women. [4] So we will fill in the silence with our general sense of things. On the one hand, given the patriarchal nature of ancient culture, we would expect elders and overseers primarily to be male. Yet it was also the nature of such cultures to make exceptions when a particularly gifted (or they might have thought “deviant”) woman came along.

For example, there is no question that the majority of military leaders in Israel were men. But there was always a place for the exceptional woman like Deborah, who was such an outstanding leader of soldiers that Barak refused to go to battle without her (cf. Judg. 4:8). Judges sees her identity as a prophetess (4:4) flowing neatly into her role as a “general” over men, a clear sign that the distinction some make today between spiritual and administrative leadership is a modern construct completely foreign to the biblical text. The situation in the formative stages of the New Testament church was probably the same. The bulk of elders, overseers, and deacons were likely men. But when a Priscilla came along (Rom. 16:3), you recognized God’s Spirit on her and, if she was old enough, included her as an elder, probably even before including her husband Aquila.

So it is not surprising that 1 Timothy 3 seems to assume that both overseers and deacons will be male, although it nowhere says that women cannot take these roles. When Paul told the “brothers” at Thessalonica to respect those who work among them, was he excluding the “sisters” in the assembly (1 Thess. 5:12)? Surely not. In the same way, the assumption in 1 Timothy 3 that overseers and deacons are male says nothing in itself about whether a woman might also be an overseer or a deacon.

We would argue that 1 Timothy 3 should be interpreted in the following way on this issue. If Paul is its author, we do see in them the general assumption that overseers and deacons will be male, but we will see this assumption much as we see Paul's instructions to "brothers"--the "sisters" were also included even if not named explicitly. Given what we know of Paul’s ministry from his other writings and Acts, we should assume that women also played these roles in his churches. On the other hand, if 1 Timothy was written several decades after Paul’s death, we might infer that the structure of church leadership had become somewhat more regularized and that fewer women took these roles. Even then, however, we have evidence from the first few centuries of the church that women still took these roles from time to time, so even in this case it is not an absolute assumption, only a general one.

[1] The word appears to have moved in this direction by the time Ignatius of Antioch wrote his famous seven letters ca. AD110.

[2] Interestingly, Timothy is young in 1 Timothy (cf. 4:12), too young perhaps to be an elder. 1 Timothy 4:6 actually uses the word “deacon” of him, although most translations are perhaps correct to translate the word in this instance as “servant.” Nevertheless, given that 1 Timothy gives instructions about deacons, it is intriguing to think of Paul addressing Timothy as a deacon.

[3] My discussion here may be frustrating to those who like to idealize the early church, as if there was a single structure, a single pattern of leadership, a single God-ordained way of doing things that provides an easy model for us to follow. But the fact of the matter is, human relationships are complicated and emerge from the specific dynamics not only of culture but of the specific personalities involved. The Bible does not provide us with the easy answers simple minds seek. God expects us to do some thinking here too. The simple answers on these sorts of things are usually the wrong ones.

[4] Although he does not identify his own name, it is perhaps reasonable to assume that "the elder" of 2 and 3 John is "John the elder."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas All!

Merry Christmas to anyone milling around the web today!

What I most appreciate about Christmas is not the great significance the day has for us today in retrospect--typified by angelic hosts, rich Magi and jealous kings.  What I appreciate the most is the insignificance of the original day, the sense that God visited little nowhere places like Bethlehem and Nazareth, under the cloud of scandal to a woman who was not married, noticed primarily by shepherd outcasts who happened to be nearby.

Who is there in any place that God does not care about?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two paragraphs on 1 Timothy 2:12

From chapter 9 of my second Paul volume:
However, I also believe that the popular interpretation of this verse is also slightly mistaken. Its most popular use is to argue against women in ministry—at least women ministering to adult men or taking senior leadership in a church. But the words for “woman” (gynē) and “man” (anēr) here can also mean “wife” and “husband.” In fact, they usually do have this meaning when the two words are used in close proximity. Given the general assumption of 1 Timothy that women need to be married (because a single woman is prone to be a gossip and a busybody—5:13), this verse surely assumes that the woman in question is married. Also, the Adam/Eve relationship and the significance of childbearing are an intrinsic part of the argument that follows (2:13-15). So a much more accurate translation would be, “A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener” (CEB).

What we have in these verses is thus not an argument against women in ministry, but a reiteration of the need for the woman to submit to the authority of her husband, as in the household codes of Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18. Since in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul sees no contradiction whatsoever between husband headship and women participating fully in the prophetic life of the church, 1 Timothy 2:12 does not address the issue of women in ministry at all. It addresses the apparent need for social order within the early church in relation to husbands and wives, particularly in the worship setting. We can imagine that house churches created interesting social conflicts in the relationships between women and men, since women normally directed the private activities of the home. [1] But Christian worship made the private domain of the home a public domain of worship, and we can perceive Paul’s writings wrestling with the kinds of tensions this situation created.

[1] It is not exactly accurate to say that men were the head of the home in the ancient world. They were generally the head of the household, but in general, women directed the activities of the private home and men conducted public activities outside the home. Cf. the picture of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31.

CEB gets it right! (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

I continue to enjoy the Common English Bible's translation choices.  Why do the same old thing every other translation does, not to mention that I generally agree with it.

Here is 1 Timothy 2:11-12:

"A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener. Adam was formed first, and then Eve."

I disagree with where it goes from there, trying to gloss over what is just a very difficult passage.  I would translate the remaining verses as:

"And Adam was not deceived, but the wife, having been deceived, has come to be in a state of transgression, but she will be saved through childbearing, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with modesty."

The CEB has, "Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived. But a wife will be brought safely through giving birth to their children, if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control."

Paul die at end of Acts?

The argument for Paul’s death at the end of Acts is two-fold. First, it is very likely that Luke-Acts was written after Paul’s death and, thus, that the author of Luke-Acts knew the outcome of Paul’s trial before Nero. For example, the overwhelming majority of experts on the gospels would say that the Gospel of Luke used some form of the Gospel of Mark as a primary source. Since they also date Mark to the late 60s or early 70s of the first century, Luke would have to be written later, which places it several years after Paul’s death.

However, the real clincher for a post-70AD date for Luke-Acts is in the way Luke 21:20 clarifies Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13:14. Both Mark 13:14 and Matthew 24:15 have the ambiguous prediction of an “abomination that causes desolation” standing where it should not be standing, namely “in the holy place,” the temple (Matt. 24:15). Accordingly, we are a little surprised when we find Luke 21:20 speak of “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” and its desolation. Given where this statement comes in the prophecy and the fact that Luke is using Mark as a source, we can tell that this is Luke’s interpretation of the prophecy. After all, if Jesus said it this way instead of the way it is in Mark, why are Matthew and Mark so ambiguous? They almost seem to be saying different things!

By far the most likely explanation is that Luke has clarified the meaning of the Jesus prophecy because he already knows what the prophecy was referring to, because he is writing after it has happened. He has “translated” the prophecy dynamically, like The Message paraphrases the Bible in conversational English. Jewish translations we have from the time—including the New Testament itself—show that translators regularly rendered the Bible with this sort of freedom to paraphrase. And so it is overwhelmingly likely that Luke was written after Jerusalem’s destruction in AD70, and thus several years after Paul’s death.

So, secondly, if the author of Acts knows how Paul died, we have to take very seriously the way he foreshadows doom for Paul in the last chapters of the book.  Particularly striking are some of Paul’s final words to the Ephesians in Acts 20:25: “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again” (NIV). If this statement is true—and surely the author of Acts would not have included it if it was not—then the popular evangelical reconstruction of a fourth missionary journey cannot be correct. For example, Paul would not have revisited Ephesus again to account for him leaving Timothy there as in 1 Timothy 1:3. Nor would it be likely that he had gone on from there to visit Colossae.

This sense of foreboding continues when Paul lands in Palestine. The prophet Agabas comes to Paul, ties his hands up with Paul’s belt, and predicts that “In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11). Then the people there plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem. They weep and break Paul’s heart, and Paul signals his willingness to die in Jerusalem (21:13). This build-up seems overly melodramatic if it is only foreshadowing imprisonment, when Paul has been imprisoned before. Acts thus seems once again to foreshadow Paul’s destiny when Herod Agrippa II tells the Roman governor Festus in effect that it is a pity Paul appealed to Caesar: “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (26:32). The possibility of death is again mentioned explicitly (26:31).

So if the author of Acts knew the outcome of Paul’s trial and implies it was negative, then it seems very likely that the outcome of Paul’s trial was negative. The question we then might hear is why Acts does not then tell us. The assumption is that if the author had known the outcome of the trial, he would have told us. But of course Acts was not written for us, and it is quite likely that the original audience did know the outcome of Paul’s trail. It was thus not necessary for Acts to say. Perhaps the author thought it would end Acts on a negative note, particularly when a consistent theme in Acts is to show that Christians had fairly smooth relationships with Roman officials.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Philo Cheat Sheet

I recently reviewed Adam Kamesar's (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Philo for the American Journal of Philology.  It occurred to me that I could create a (more or less) one page "cheat sheet" on Philo that really would go a very long way.  Here's my first draft:

  • Prominent Jew of Alexandria, Egypt, ca. 20BCE-50CE.  More Jews lived in 2 of the 5 quarters of Alexandria than in all of Jerusalem.
  • Alexandria had a very significant synagogue and the city had a history of a mixture of philosophy with biblical interpretation that preceded Philo by centuries (e.g., Aristobulus, 2nd century BCE).  Eudorus of Alexandria (not Jewish) may be the fountainhead of "Middle Platonism," the transition from earlier Platonism/Stocisim to Neoplatonism.
  • Very wealthy family, brother Alexander was chief customs official for Egypt (alabarch), nephew Tiberius Julius Alexander apostacized from Judaism and was procurator of Judea from 46-48.  Philo likely had a Greek gymnasium education.
  • Philo himself protests that he did not like having to engage in politics, but perhaps he protests too much.  It was Philo that led a delegation to Rome for the Jews of Alexandria after the crisis of 38CE.  This trouble is sometimes called a "pogrom" in which some Jews were killed, their property was plundered, and they were quasi-ghettoized to escape the violence.  It seems precipitated by a trip from Herod Agrippa I to the city that created ethnic tensions.
  • The outcome of the crisis was that Jews by and large were not considered citizens of the city, as attested by a copy of Claudius' decision.  They had at least liked to consider themselves such before.  The Romans added an extra top layer on the previous social stratification when they took over the city.  Previously Greeks had been upper class with Egyptians and Jews vying for second place.
  • Philo did not know Hebrew.  The Hebrew knowledge he seems to have probably came from cheat sheets of the day.
  • Philo valued the Jerusalem temple as a Jew and Jewish customs, although he considered their literal value far inferior to their allegorical significance.
  • Philo had little place in his writings for a Jewish Messiah, although there are a couple potential allusions.
  • Philo had no place for bodily resurrection in his thought.  Indeed, only the most virtuous had a meaningful destiny among the stars (heavenly beings).  Angels are also disembodied spirits.
  • Philo dabbled in philosophy, but he is more than anything else an interpreter of the Jewish Scriptures, and he mixes together various philosophical threads depending on the passage he is interpreting.
  • Only 48 of Philo's writings have survived.  We know of some that are missing.  They were largely preserved by Christians, ignored by Jews (perhaps because they were in Greek, in part; perhaps because Christians liked them, in part).  Origen took them to Caesarea around 200CE and they were preserved there.
  • Philo wrote 3 great commentary series with increasing level of demand and expertise: The Exposition on the Law is most basic, Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus serve to teach a beginning Jewish audience, and The Allegorical Commentary is most esoteric and allegorically demanding.
  • The rest are usually grouped into "apologetic/historical writings" and "philosophical writings."  The best books to start reading in Philo's corpus are his writings Against Flaccus, The Embassy to Gaius, and his two book Life of Moses.  To transition to his more advanced works, On the Creation of the World is interesting.  Students of the New Testament may find his surviving books On Dreams and Who is the Heir of All Things interesting.
  • Philo's canon is largely limited to the Torah, perhaps an artifact of when Jews first moved to Egypt.  He has nice words to say about Jeremiah in a second category.
  • Philo is somewhat unique in that he believed Scripture could have both a literal and an allegorical meaning (vs. Stoics).  As others, he often shifted to allegory when the literal seemed impossible to him ("defect of the letter").  The allegorical often related to the literal as the body to the shadow (cf. Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5).
  • Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were allegories for moral progress (prokopton).  Abraham is the person who learns virtue by being taught. Jacob learns virtue through practice.  Isaac does not need to learn because he is self-taught.
  • Adam, Eve, and the serpent constitute an "allegory of the soul," where Adam represents the mind arbitrating between our senses (Eve) and pleasure (serpent).  Philo accepts on a practical level the Aristotelian goal of moderation of passion (metriopathea) but prefers the Stoic complete removal of them (apatheia).
  • The logos for Philo is a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism.  When he speaks of it (Middle) Platonically, it is the copy of God as pattern (the "image of God"), while the world is the copy of the logos as pattern.  When he speaks of it Stoically, it is a fragment/seed of the divine in all of us.  
  • The Adam of Genesis one is thus the ideal pattern of humanity (neither male nor female) while the man of Genesis 2 is the shadowy, physical copy.
  • The logos is the instrument God used in creation, the collection of ideas God used in making the world.  It is the glue that holds all things together.  The parallels to John 1 and Colossians 1 are clear.
  • The logos was a "second God."  It was created but not created like the rest of creation.  It is intermediary, a quasi-hypostasis.  Philo also interpreted the words Yahweh and Elohim as powers of God, namely, his royal and creative powers respectively.
  • The goal of ethics for Philo is godliness, the progress of the soul (prokopton) embodied in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob taken allegorically.  He disagreed thus with the Stoics, who saw the goal as coming to grips with who you are (oikeiosis).
  • Philo clearly had an impact on formative Christianity of the second through fifth centuries.  Whether his ideas had an impact on the New Testament, directly or indirectly, is debated.  Clearly there are a number of parallels, among which Hebrews is regularly mentioned.
  • It is often suggested that Philo does know of some interpretive traditions in Palestine that would flow into the rabbinic tradition of the following centuries.  In general, however, the rabbis do not engage his thought much at all.
There you have it, in 30 minutes ;-)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Constructing Jesus 1 (S)

I've wondered if I should code my posts occasionally, to help various people know which ones to skip ;-) For example, this one would get an S for Scholarship. That would mean I am dealing with material on a scholarly playing field, which has different rules from a church playing field.

W might then stand for Wesleyan, which would tell a potential reader that I am dealing with the particulars of my denomination, ordination, and place of employment.  The titles usually make my political and personal posts clear enough...

One of my goals for the Advent to Easter period is to read through Dale Allison's final historical Jesus book, Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History. I've never met Allison, but I like him. I like him because I sense he is someone who really tries to let the chips fall where they lie. He is friendly to faith but doesn't cook the books.

Last week I read the first chapter of his book, "Memories of Jesus." His first chapter has two basic points, as far as I can see: 1) "memory is fuzzy" (13) and 2) "We are rightly more confident about the generalities than about the particulars" (19). The rest of the chapter is details, clarifications, and objections.

Memory is Fuzzy
1. Long term memory is reconstructive (fills in missing elements), reproductive (accurate reproduction of material), and involves imagination.
2. Post-event information is often incorporated into memory.
3. Present biases often get read into earlier memories--our present selves read into our former selves.
4. Memories tend to become less and less distinct over time.
5. The order of how things happens gets moved around.
6. We create patterns out of our memories that serve our self-interests.
7. Groups rehearse memories that they hold dear.
8. Put into stories, memories take on a beginning, middle, and end.
9. Vivid memories are no more accurate than others.

This is the most important contribution of the chapter. While so much historical Jesus scholarship has atomized the biblical texts and pursued the historicity of small sayings, Allison protests that it is rather the themes that appear repeatedly that are most reliable. For example, the gospels repeatedly present Jesus casting out demons and healing. These are some of the most likely reliable memories of Jesus of all (from a historian's standpoint) because they are general impressions that are pervasive.

Allison thus rejects the classic criteria of authenticity from the "New Quest for the Historical Jesus," which was oriented around arguing over each individual saying one by one.  Allison, by contrast, argues that we need not be able to prove beyond a reasonable historical doubt any one healing or exorcism story to affirm that Jesus was accurately remembered as healing and casting out demons.

He also clarifies and answers objections. For example, he is not saying we have to stop with generalities, only that generalities are the place to start. So Jesus was a teacher, beyond the likely historicity of any one bit of teaching.

Next chapter is very long: "The Eschatology of Jesus." I'll have to break it up into chunks.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Moon Turns to Blood Tonight...

... at about 2:45am EST.  See you outside only to realize that it is too cloudy for me to see the first winter solstice eclipse since 1638. ;-)

The Insanity of Prophecy Chasers

A paragraph from chapter 8 of my second Paul book:

"It is hard to know what to take from the specifics of 2 Thessalonians 2. However, the history of the interpretation of passages like this one is clear enough. Those who have connected contemporary events with the details of passages like this one have not only been consistently wrong; they have been wrong every single time to date as far as we can tell. A case in point was a little booklet called Eighty-Eight Reasons Why the Lord Is Coming Back in 1988. What a sobering thought! If I engage in prophetic speculation, the odds are astronomically against me being correct on pretty much everything. I am far more likely to win the lottery every week for the rest of my life than to be correct on any one detail of prophetic interpretation."

Wesleyan Vision

So where are we to go from here? Hopefully these last few pages have presented a fairly accurate sense of what the Wesleyan tradition is and has been in its some two hundred years. But as we have also argued, no tradition is perfect. Presumably there are denominations that have nothing distinctive to contribute who should merge with other groups with whom they have no significant differences. Perhaps their vision and contribution can become the unity of the church. We believe there are many small denominations in the Wesleyan tradition that have no real reason to exist independently of one another, perhaps aside from the complications of merging.

Nevertheless, we also believe that the Wesleyan tradition as a whole has much to contribute to the body of Christ at large and thus a reason for it to retain its fundamental identity amid the diversity of Christendom. Ironically, one of its contributions is its generous spirit toward other traditions. The problem with pluralism--an acceptance of all groups as equally valid in their thinking and practice--is that no group retains any real identity at all. A much more tenable position is identity within diversity. We humbly recognize that our understanding and approach to things will likely turn out to be wrong at points and we are open-hearted toward other traditions and their critique. But this attitude does not negate our sense that our theology and values are at the very least right for us and perhaps may be right at many points overall.

Nevertheless, a generous and humble sense of our place in the kingdom of God urges us to make alliances with other traditions. As we said at the very beginning, we have much more in common with the rest of Christendom than we differ. Certainly we would share with a vast host of Christianity a sense of mission to the world that goes beyond eternal destiny to salvation in the sense of Luke-Acts, the restoration of humanity on every level. Many Christian groups have lost their way on this fundamental Christian value and pose a false dichotomy between serving the needy and saving their souls. We can participate in the mission of God to rescue all of humanity in every area of life alongside all those who have the heart of Christ.

Although we differ on the theory behind the practice, Wesleyans share with Calvinists and many others the sense that God's mission is to everyone and that faithfulness to God is an essential part of our task. A Calvinist might say we must participate in a mission toward everyone because we do not know who God has chosen. An Arminian might say we must participate in the mission because anyone can be chosen. In either case, the mission invites everyone. A Calvinist might say you know a person is elect because they have remained faithful. An Arminian might say they remain among the elect because they remain faithful. Both traditions believe that we must remain faithful.

We remain faithful by making God the absolute authority of our life, which shows itself in our consistent love of our neighbor. Nothing is an exception to these two rules, a belief that Wesleyans surely hold in common with most others who call themselves Christians. No supposed interpretation of the Bible can legitimately support hateful actions toward our neighbors. One of the ways in which we are distinctive is in our belief that there are no glib excuses for failure in these areas. God expects us to succeed in loving our neighbor, and he empowers us to do it.

The Wesleyan tradition also has an activism that sees the potential for us to love our neighbors beyond the level of the individual. Christianity can be a force in the reformation of societal structures that perpetuate hatred of our neighbor. Unfortunately, those who call themselves Christians have often participated in the oppression of the minority. We have gone on Crusades to kill the Muslim. We have argued for slavery and against giving women the right to vote. We have supported Hitler against the Jews. We have lynched African-Americans in the KKK and grumbled against those who sought the right to go to the same schools and drink the same water as the majority. We have ignored the economically enslaved, the powerless immigrant, and rallied around the bombing of the unnamed other in a foreign country.

Suffice it to say, the best element of the Wesleyan tradition has always stood with the minority. They were abolitionists and supporters of women's rights. They were in favor of women in all roles of leadership. They were arrested along with other non-violent protesters in the Civil Rights movement. They take into mind the people who are crushed by legislation aimed at the self-sufficient, legal, and comfortable majority. Even when they have disagreed with the lifestyle of those whose sexual desires are toward the same sex, they have taken into mind the fact that God loves them every bit as much as the comfortable majority, that they are people we must treat with the love of Christ. This is the spirit of the Wesleyan tradition.

The Wesleyan tradition also moves forward into the twenty-first century with an ease that some other traditions do not. The postmodern challenge has exposed the frailty of human systems of thinking and of the degree to which our understanding of the Bible is and has been a function of us as readers more than of what these texts actually meant. The best philosophical answers to these challenges have been a "critical realist" or even "pragmatic realist" point of view. These perspectives focus on the heuristic value of our systems of thinking rather than on them as absolute systems that are the same as what God thinks. Our ideas stick closely to the evidence at hand and to what it is we are trying to do with our ideas. Again, this sense of thought in the service of our values and actions fits well with the Wesleyan spirit.

Similarly, once we realize that the Bible itself is an object of our knowing, the way it functions in Christian life must change. Regardless of the perfection of the Bible's message, we are stuck as its interpreters. The perfection of the Bible in practice therefore cannot rise in practice beyond the perfection of our understanding. These recognitions, along with a better understanding of the particularity of the Bible's original meaning, forces us to acknowledge the powerful, Spirit-led role that common Christian tradition has played in the appropriation of Scripture throughout the ages. We can no longer separate Scripture from tradition in the manner of the Reformation.

Again, the Wesleyan tradition slides easily into this mode, not only because Wesley was an Anglican rather than a Lutheran or a Calvinist, but because the Wesleyan tradition has a strong revivalist stream within it. This openness to the Spirit makes us comfortable with the notion of direct revelation from God in the words of Scripture and it makes us comfortable with the non-literal unity of Scripture that formative Christianity heard in its words. We can thus look forward to the challenges of the twenty-first century with Scripture as our starting point, with common Christian tradition setting the boundaries of our application, and with the Spirit to move us further along on the trajectory of the kingdom.

Latinos/as No Longer GOP

If there was any question, the GOP sealed its fate to lose the Mexican-Hispanic vote for the foreseeable future because of voting against the DREAM Act, which would have made a path for children of illegals to citizenship by going to college or serving in the military. Richard Lugar retains my vote for voting in the spirit of the America I love, the one with the Statue of Liberty that welcomes all who wish to participate in our grand society. "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to breathe free."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

God's Breathings 3

Once again, these developments place Wesleyan and Pentecostal traditions in a unique position to make a hermeneutical contribution in the days ahead. The problem with mainstream evangelical hermeneutics is that it has over-emphasized the literal meaning of the Bible. This trajectory was set back in the days of the Protestant Reformation itself, where the Reformers rejected allegorical and other interpretive methods used in the medieval catholic church in deference to the Bible's "plain sense." Ironically, it was this focus that in large part led to the liberalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Chiefly, the trajectory of historical interpretation is to see each book of the Bible in its full particularity. As the study of language and culture has advanced, biblical experts have more and more been able to appreciate how well the language of the Bible's books fit in their original contexts. And they have more and more seen how different those contexts are from ours.

For example, a modern reader might assume that she can simply apply what the Bible says about lending and money directly to today. But did money work the same way two thousand years ago as it does today? Did people think about money the same way we think about money? After all, the "literal" meaning of the Bible is not how the words strike me. The literal meaning of the Bible is how it would have struck the people it says it was actually written to. The study of culture and human anthropology has raised instance after instance where words that seem to have obvious meaning to us would have meant something quite different originally.

Our point is that it was inevitable that a divide would arise between the study of the Bible and Christian theology once the Protestant Reformation restricted meaning to the literal. Liberalism is thus as much a child of the Reformation as evangelicalism. Indeed, mainstream evangelical hermeneutics itself deconstructs on this very point. It insists that only the contextual meaning of Scripture is the authoritative one, but when we listen to the New Testament in context, we find that it regularly finds authority in non-contextual meanings. The New Testament itself often finds inspired meaning in the Old Testament in "more than literal" interpretations. If we are to take seriously the Bible as the starting place for Christian thinking and action, then surely we must take seriously the fact that the Bible models a Spirit-mode of interpretation far more than a historical-contextual one.

For example, when Paul reads Deuteronomy 25:4's prohibition of muzzling an ox while it is treading grain, he finds it unlikely that the main point of this verse is about oxen: "Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake" (1 Cor. 9:9-10, NRSV). In other words, Paul sees the main spiritual point of this passage on an allegorical rather than a literal level. The New Testament thus bridges the gap between the historical and the theological by loosening the biblical text from its contextual moorings.

This is a point of immense significance. When 2 Timothy 3:16 says that "all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness," it does not in any way restrict such instruction to the literal meaning. Given the New Testament's own consistent interpretative method, we must acknowledge that the Spirit is free to interpret and apply Scriptures in ways you could never get from a masterful sentence diagram or Hebrew word study. Revivalist and Pentecostal hermeneutics thus stand in far greater continuity with biblical interpretive methods than mainstream evangelical hermeneutics do.

The solution to the "ditch" between the original, historical meanings of the Bible and the theological meanings Christians have seen in the words since the very beginning, is a careful allowance for more than literal meanings to the text. In truth, we who see the Bible as one book do this broadening of meaning whether we are willing to admit it to ourselves or not. Since the very beginning, Christians have brought Christian tradition with them to the text. Those who have not have more often formed cults or splinter groups.

The last five hundred years--especially in America--have witnessed the rise of tens of thousands of small Christian denominations who think they are just reading the Bible and doing what it says. But what they are really doing is finding unity in the Bible by reading it against their own social context, bringing their own non-historical definitions to the Bible's words. Here is the tension. Reading the Bible as Christian Scripture, as more than particular historical texts, will require us to bring some organizing principles from outside the text. But without something to ground the meaning of the text, we are each prone to "read what is right in our own eyes," resulting in the over twenty thousand different Christian denominations we have today.

The soundest way forward is not a quadrilateral, but a "trilateral" of Scripture, common Christian tradition, and Spiritual experience. We can continue to accept that each of the biblical writings were inspired historically for their own times and places, but the more we understand what this dynamic truly means, the more complicated it becomes to apply them to today, to bridge the distance between "that time" and "this time." But it is through common Christian tradition that the Spirit has set the boundaries for how to apply them, giving us a "Spiritual common sense" we all bring to the texts, whether we realize it or not. Common tradition provides the most stable rules for how to read and apply these diverse books as a single text with a common story. It is what the Christians of the first few centuries called the "rule of faith."

Behind all inspired meaning is the Spirit. It is the Spirit who makes the Bible be Scripture for us, a sacrament of revelation. He is constantly at work in us as individual readers, as Christian groups and denominations, and as the church universal.

The Wesleyan revivalist tradition, along with the Pentecostal tradition, is thus in an excellent position to be among those leading hermeneutics forward in the twenty-first century. We have always been a Scripture-centered tradition, but we have also been a pneumatic tradition. While it is perhaps not a great boast to say that we have produced few scholars of the historical-contextual meaning of the Bible, it has left us well situated to take the lead in a more balanced approach going forward. We can acknowledge the soundness of historical interpretation as providing insight into God's workings in the history of salvation, of God meeting the audiences of the Old and New Testaments where they were at in their particularity.

But we can also acknowledge that the Spirit brought a unity to these diverse texts in the hearts and minds of formative Christianity in the first centuries of this era. The Spirit led Christians to hear a common story, a common faith, and a common ethic in these texts, transforming them from individual books to a unified Scripture. The Spirit has provided correctives throughout history when tradition has arguably gone astray, chiefly in the Protestant Reformation. Yet the Spirit also can speak to individuals and small groups today, making the text come alive with meanings and direction just for them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

God's Breathings 2

The previous post is here.
One clear feature that we see throughout the Wesleyan tradition is a greater openness to the experiential dimension of Christian thought and life than some other branches of Christianity.  In his own day, Wesley was accused of being an "enthusiast" (which he denied) for his emphasis on spiritual experiences that purified and empowered believers.  In the early twentieth century, you would have seen people "running the aisles," shouting praises, and even experiencing "holy laughter" in countless holiness churches and camp meetings.  Indeed, apart from speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit, the experiential practices of holiness and Pentecostal churches were quite similar, a similarity all the more ironic given that these holiness churches generally demonized tongues-speaking and forbade it in worship.

It is not hard to see why more mainstream Christian traditions might have looked somewhat askance at these revivalist movements, indeed, why these holiness denominations themselves eventually moved toward more orderly worship.  When every individual claims to have a direct revelation from God, you inevitably end up with a lot of "revelations" that are nothing but random nonsense.  Such movements are the stuff of false prophets and megalomaniacs, who lead off sincere but naive believers to isolated camps in Guyana or Waco.  Your sense of Christian faith and action becomes hyper-subjective and the most convincing demagogue wins.

Yet in an age where the limits of human reason have become painfully obvious, Wesley's balance between reason and experience seems a powerful voice in a new generation.  Wesley experts have often summarized his way of interpreting God's will as a "quadrilateral" between Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  To be sure, Wesley saw Scripture as the determinative voice in the interplay between these potential paths for hearing God's voice.  Yet, as with Luther and Calvin, common Christian tradition appears throughout his writings.  As someone who lived at a time when the Enlightenment was moving toward Romanticism, it is no surprise that reason and experience also played distinctive roles in his thinking.

But it would be foolish to try to imitate the finer points of Wesley's hermeneutic today.  After all, the discussion has moved on and, arguably, we have a much fuller perspective on language and meaning today by far than Wesley or indeed any Christian prior to the twentieth century did.  The key contribution from Wesley is his sense of balance, with all the valid sources of truth playing a role.

The revivalist wing of the Wesleyan tradition largely passed through the increasingly turbulent waters of biblical criticism unscathed, not because of its intellectual response to historical criticism, but because of its detachment from it.  To be sure, some Wesleyan scholars engaged the developments of the day and participated in the rise of neo-evangelicalism in the forties and fifties.  Terms like "inerrancy" and "infallible" still appear in the doctrinal articles of these churches as a fossil of those debates.

But most of the heirs of revivalism were blissfully unaware of these movements.  They were more concerned about hair or skirt length than fighting the intellectual battles of the age.  This proved to be both a strength and a weakness.  It was a weakness in that they were not engaged and were prone to legalism and unproductive introspection.  It was a strength because they were less tainted by the categories of the debate.  Even when they adopted the language of fundamentalism or evangelicalism, that language scarcely had the significance for them that it had for other groups that were on the front lines.

For example, the holiness movement of the late 1800s had a penchant for "figural" interpretations in which they took various elements of the biblical text as symbols of other theological truths.  Perhaps the red cord that Rahab puts outside a window in Joshua 2:18 is a hidden symbol of the blood of Christ whereby we are saved.  Holiness churches were far more prone to waves of dispensationalism than to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy.  Prophecy teachers found contemporary events and nations hidden in the words of Scripture.  Individuals might hear God calling them to be missionaries or to move their families in a particular turn of phrase here and there.

Again, this orientation around symbolic and hidden meanings was both a strength and a weakness.  It was a weakness because holiness preachers had little or no sense of how to read the Bible in context, for what it actually meant when its books were written.  Mainstream evangelicalism may have fought with certain aspects of biblical criticism, but the soundness of the historical method was all too clear to them.  In a sense, many of them were ruined of any chance to hear God's voice in such "pneumatic," spiritual ways when it was painfully obvious to them that none of these meanings had anything to do with the original meaning of the Bible's books.

The mid-twentieth century move of evangelicalism to come to grips with historical criticism was to go half way.  Evangelical scholars adopted the historical method, but set boundaries as to how far you could go with it.  If historical evidence seemed to be leading past one of these boundaries, your method shifted from finding the most likely conclusion to finding a way to spin the evidence in a more acceptable direction.

The strength of holiness figurative interpretation is that it allowed its participants to hear the direct voice of God in the words of Scripture without having to know anything about the complicated interpretive method that evangelical intellectuals had to develop.  Even to this day, mainstream evangelical institutions spend massive amounts of time teaching students the finer points of biblical languages and historical method, treating God's will as a mechanical and scientific formula.  The postmodern challenge has presented these traditions with a major crisis that threatens to undermine them to their very hermeneutical foundations because in responding to modernism, they adopted its hermeneutical values.

Once again, these developments place Wesleyan and Pentecostal traditions in a unique position to make a hermeneutical contribution in the days ahead...

Friday, December 17, 2010

God's Breathings 1

The Wesleyan tradition was not encased in stone with Wesley.  Wesley's heirs are a diverse collection of churches with more and less direct connections to him historically.  In the United States, Wesley's most direct heir is the United Methodist Church, which retains Wesley's sense of openness to those of a kindred spirit and perhaps a hint of his "methodical" personality.  However, the 1800s saw a host of Wesleyan denominations come into existence both because of various quarrels with the Methodist church and then in the late 1800s/early 1900s with a wave of revivalism that swept America.

These smaller Wesleyan denominations, such as my own, often were at one or two removes from many aspects of Wesley's own thought and practice.  For example, Wesley remained an Anglican his entire life.  He believed that infant baptism was important to wash away the original sin of Adam.  But if you look at the various Wesleyan denominations who reflect his influence, you will find some that have been more influenced by Anabaptist streams of American Christianity on such issues.  Indeed, the Salvation Army tends not to baptize at all, showing an affinity some Wesleyan denominations formed with Quaker streams.  And the smaller the Wesleyan denomination, the more likely it is to look more Baptist in its worship style than the high church Wesley.

Similarly, "Christian perfection" for Wesley was something that came on God's time schedule.  In his more pessimistic moments, Wesley saw it as something few would experience and, even then, most likely near the end of their lives.  By contrast, the "holiness revivals" of the late 1800s saw "entire sanctification" as something God wanted to give you as soon as possible, and a culture of spiritual experience resulted that would eventually lead to the Pentecostal revivals of the early twentieth century.  Both the holiness movement and the Pentecostal movement flowed from the same revivalist waters of the late 1800s.

The long and short of it is that John Wesley is more the grandfather of the Wesleyan tradition than its father.  Those of us in the Wesleyan tradition today face both the necessity and the opportunity to determine what elements of Wesleyan tradition we believe should come forward.  We have taken this perspective throughout these pages, trying to preserve the genius of Wesley without being a slave to his thinking or practice.  He was, after all, a child of his age as we are of ours...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Be Faithful 3

The previous post is here.
The second way in which the Wesleyan tradition differs from some other Christian traditions is in its sense that those who do not remain faithful to God will not be part of the kingdom of God.  For this reason, some have accused Arminians of believing in "salvation by works," of believing that we are not saved by "faith alone" but by our deeds.  Since the Reformation began in part over this issue, with Luther arguing against the Roman Catholic Church for this reason, some groups consider this distinctive of Arminian theology defective.

Similarly, these same groups might describe Wesleyan-Arminians as "Pelagian" or "semi-Pelagian."  Pelagius was a Christian in the 300s/400s who believed that humans could still do some good in their own power, without God helping them.  In response, Augustine argued that we are currently in a state of "total depravity," that it is only by the power of God that anyone might do or even want to do any good in the world.

To be fair, none of these charges are true of the Wesleyan tradition.  For example, John Wesley accepted Augustine's teaching on total depravity.  The difference is that while Calvin saw God's empowerment as a matter of "all or nothing."  Wesleyan theology sees God empowering people to make moral choices, both toward and away from God.  Accordingly, God not only empowers everyone potentially to move toward God.  God also empowers those who have already come to him, who have become truly right with him through Christ and received the Spirit, also to choose to move away from him.

Without the possibility of such moral choice, the central claims of Christianity seem incoherent.  If God does not give everyone the possibility of salvation, then the central claim that God is love does not seem to make sense.  But if it does not matter how one lives thereafter, then serving God is potentially a trivial matter, and our moral choices potentially become meaningless.

Of course you might notice that the last few paragraphs say nothing about the Bible.  Indeed, Paul knows nothing of these debates.  They are debates that arise, as we said at the beginning, from theological systems that various thinkers have developed as they have filled in the blanks.  Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit who has helped them fill in these blanks, but it is significant to make the distinction between what is Bible and what is later Christian tradition.

It is not necessary to go into details about how Protestant Christian tradition has expanded on Paul's language and meaning.  For example, it would be more accurate to Paul to say that humanity is thoroughly depraved rather than totally depraved.  And Paul never says that we are justified by faith alone.  The only place in Scripture where the word "alone" is used with either the word faith or works is in James 2:24 where James says that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Indeed, many Pauline experts believe that Paul had as much the faithfulness of Jesus in view as faith in Jesus.  Further, it seems likely that it is not so much faith versus works in general that was Paul's focus as works of the Jewish Law, especially those that clearly separated Jew and Gentile ethnically.  Such boundary issues would especially include things like circumcision, food laws, and sabbath observance.  Augustine's universalization and systematization of Paul thus involved some significant shifts in meaning.

And so it is no surprise that Romans 2:6-10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 have recently drawn the attention of Pauline experts.  Arguably, both of these passages say explicitly that believers will be judged by Christ for their works even after they are justified.  A picture emerges where we are made right with God at first, solely because of our trust in what God has done through Jesus.  But after that point, God expects us to be faithful.

Indeed, a proper understanding of grace in its first century context supports this understanding.  Grace (charis) in the New Testament is best understood against the backdrop of ancient patron-client relationships.  In these prevalent relationships, individuals of means would give to those without means.  Such gifts (charisma) were not earned.  That is to say, the gift was disproportionate to anything the recipient might give in return.  Technically speaking, gifts also came without any strings attached, meaning that the "client" would not be asked to give the gift back.

However, when we view New Testament grace from this perspective, we see how naturally Wesleyan-Arminian theology fits Paul's thinking.  No patron would continue to give patronage if a client disrespected him or her.  And while there were technically no strings attached, there were often informal expectations that came along with the gift.  Further, while the gift would be something you could not possibly earn, there might be things you could do to trigger the gift.

Our default expectation of Paul is thus that he would see God's acceptance as a gift, something you could not possibly earn but something you might seek.  He would expect, along with the gift, that you would serve him and submit to his lordship--after all, he was empowering you with his Spirit to do so as part of the gift itself!  Finally, we would expect that if a person continued to sin willfully, insulting God's grace (cf. Heb. 10:26, 29), God eventually would stop extending his gracious forgiveness for those sins.

And arguably this is exactly what we find in Paul's writings.  Perhaps the consummate example is the fact that Paul does not consider his own eternal destiny decided.  In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul indicates that he himself might be disqualified for the prize of salvation if he does not continue in faithfulness.  Hebrews 3 later builds on the imagery of 1 Corinthians 10 to say that just because a person has begun the journey to the promised land does not mean a person will make it.  Hebrews 3:14 uses a perfect tense to say that even though we have become a partaker of Christ (completed action), that status will not continue unless we hold firm to the end.

Indeed, Hebrews is notorious for its warning passages that tell believers they will not inherit the promise if they intentionally turn their backs on God.  If they fall away, they will not be able to repent again, like ground that after much watering only yields thorns (6:4-8), like Esau who could not find a place of repentance even though he sought it with tears (12:16-17).  It seems impossible to work around what Hebrews is saying here, that a person can be genuinely "in" and yet not make it because they turn away.

So also Paul presses on in hope to get that "upward call" of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).  He has not yet attained a guarantee of the resurrection (Phil. 3:11-12).  It is something he strives toward.  He must continue to be faithful if he hopes to be perfected when Christ returns.  His sufferings are like a sharing in Christ's sufferings "if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:11, NRSV).  What we find is that Paul himself talks like an Arminian, and it is arguably only the theological system of various Protestant groups that makes this thinking problematic.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Be Faithful 2

The previous post.
Against this general Protestant background, the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition stands out in two clear ways. First, the Wesleyan tradition is more optimistic about just how righteous God wants to make us in this life. Most Romans experts have come to realize that Romans 7 is not about Paul's current struggle with temptation ("I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do," 7:19). It is Paul vividly acting out the struggle of a Jew who wants to keep the core commands of the Jewish Law, but who does not have the Spirit to empower him or her to do it.  Yet most of popular Christianity continues to see Romans 7 as the default struggle of a Christian with sin.

In that sense, this is a great time for the Wesleyan tradition, for Pauline scholarship has come these last few decades to affirm our basic understanding of Paul on sin in Romans. For example, one cannot take Romans 7 to be about a believer's current struggle with temptation unless you rip it from Paul's entire train of thought in chapters 6-8. In Romans 6, Paul's clear point is that Christians are not to remain in sin (6:1) and that they are not to sin (6:13). We "used to be slaves to sin" (6:17), but "thanks be to God" we have been set from from sin and have become "slaves to righteousness" (6:18).

Paul repeats this imagery throughout these chapters, including in the section that leads into the last part of Romans 7 (e.g., 7:5-6). Even within the "I don't do what I want to do passage" the same pattern emerges. In 7:14-24, Paul vividly and dramatically assumes the perspective of a person who is a slave to sin. This leads up to 7:25, where Paul presents his "thanks be to God" again as it is "through Jesus Christ our Lord" that we are freed. Romans 8 then goes on to expand on the person set free from the law of sin and death (8:1), who is not "in the flesh" (8:8) and is able to keep the righteous requirement of the law (8:4) because she walks (behaves) in the Spirit (8:5). As Paul says in Galatians 5:16, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (NASB).

We find this same attitude toward sin throughout the New Testament. Never in the New Testament do we find any default expectation that Christians will sin. For one thing, unintentional sin is a concept that, while biblical, is hardly a concern of the New Testament. Sin that is of concern in the New Testament is conscious, intentional, "high handed" sin. Many passages are misinterpreted because of later theological lenses.

For example, 1 John 1:8 speaks of having sin in the present rather than doing sin now, and 1:10 clarifies that the issue is someone who claims not to need Christ's atonement at all. In Philippians 3:12, Paul does not say that he is not perfect in the way we think of perfection in English. The previous verse makes it clear that by perfection he is speaking of resurrection. He is not yet guaranteed resurrection, because he must continue on in faithfulness to be assured the "upward call" (3:14). Only James 3:2 points to our common human failings, and here the word "sin" is not used. The notion of sin as anything short of absolute perfection is not the operational definition of sin in the New Testament, which would be better defined as to do wrong, especially to do wrong intentionally.

It thus turns out that the Wesleyan tradition, along with other pietist traditions, seems to treat sin much as Paul did in his original context. Indeed, Paul was far more in continuity with his Jewish background on these issues than the high Protestant traditions have previously allowed, and they have understandably struggled more with the "new perspective on Paul" than the Wesleyan tradition has. Wesleyan and pietist traditions thus accurately have an optimism about the degree to which God wants to empower a believer to become righteous.

Indeed, the Wesleyan tradition has taught that believers might, by the Spirit's power, go the entirety of the rest of their Christian lives without ever intentionally wronging God or another, and that they might do it with joy. If you are confronted with a choice--you know God's will is A but you are tempted by B--Wesleyans believe you can consistently, perhaps even without exception, choose A. Although Wesley used the word "perfection" in relation to this goal, that language is probably unproductive today--it can lead to unprofitable introspection and self-doubt. The basic point is clear: "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Earmarks do a lot of good...

I can think of a better system for doing the good that earmarks do, but since everyone seems to assume unthinkingly that they are bad, I want to put my hands up for the good they do.

"Earmarks" are basically add-ons to legislation that are often tangential to that legislation.  They are currently under fire because 1) they seem sneaky, 2) they are associated with "special interest groups," and 3) the current libertarian atmosphere.  They seem sneaky because they are like the little fish that attach themselves to whales.  You want the whale, not the Remora attached to it.  But because you want the whale, you take the Remora too.  It's too hard to get legislation through to propose a bill just about that bridge that would bring commerce to the little island you live on. So you slip it in with something else.

Certainly special interest groups lobby for them.  The ethanol companies in my state would sure love that tax deduction, and that will help my state's economy.  Then there's the libertarian thing.  Why should I as a citizen of Indiana be paying for some bridge in Alaska?

After saying all that, I oppose doing away with earmarks until some other system to replace the good it does is in place.  The things these earmarks do are often the difference between the necessary and the beneficial.  Can we live with the ferry taking us to the island?  Yes.  But how much better things would be if we had a bridge, and my state does not have the extra money to build it.

As far as the libertarian argument goes, the principle is that what goes around comes around.  I may pay for your bridge today, but you will help my university tomorrow.  We all become better together than any of us could be alone.  This is the fatal flaw of libertarianism.  The sum is greater than its parts.

I'm sure there is a better way to do it, maybe a pie from which every state received a certain percentage for these sorts of projects.  But until something like that is in place, it would impoverish us to do away with earmarks.  Cut them down?  Absolutely.  Be very careful about the ludicrous ones?  Absolutely.  But recognize the great value they have played in enriching America as a whole?  Certainly.

Be Faithful 1

All the mainstream Christian traditions would share in common the sense that we must be faithful to God who has graciously called us and welcomed us into his coming kingdom.  Even the Lutheran tradition, which perhaps wants to talk the least about "works" in the Christian life, will hesitantly acknowledge that if a person is in Christ, then his or her life should improve.  The standard Protestant understanding is that salvation is "by grace alone" (sola gratia), meaning that it is strictly a matter of God's favor, not something we can earn.  It is "by faith alone" (sola fide), meaning it is only because of our faith, which itself is a gift of God, "not from works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8).  It is "by Christ alone" (sola Christi), and we can find no other path to God.

Where traditions differ is in how optimistic they are about how much God wants to "sanctify" us, actually make us righteous.  They also differ about whether the way we live after God has "justified" us, made us right with him, has any impact on the continued state of our relationship with him.  You can see the logic of some.  If we are not made right with God by works, then our works cannot make us "un-right" with God either.

For the Calvinist, grace is "irresistable," so the only one who could take it away is God himself.  And if God has given it to you, then why would he take it away?  If God has chosen you, you will make it.  You will persevere till the end.  For the Lutheran, salvation is totally by faith, so while our works should improve as Christians, they have nothing to do with our salvation one way or another.  In fact, even talking about them is unhealthy because it might tempt us to boast in our own goodness.  Baptists have combined the Arminian sense of assurance (you can know now that you are saved) with the Calvinist sense that the elect will persevere (because God's grace is irresistable), resulting in the hybrid view that once a person is truly saved, that person will always be saved: "eternal security."

Against this general Protestant background, the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition stands out in two clear ways.  First, the Wesleyan tradition is more optimistic about just how righteous God wants to make us in this life...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Love Neighbor 3

The last bread crumb was here.
The history of the Wesleyan tradition, indeed the origins of my own branch of it, went beyond the principle of helping the individual needy to a concern for the structures of society as they perpetuate inequity.  Addressing the "hateful" structures of a society is loving your neighbor written large.  The Wesleyan Methodist Church traces its origins to 1843 when a group of Methodists withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church primarily in opposition to slavery as an institution in the United States.  Along with Quakers, some of these individuals participated in the underground railroad and one can still see the bullet holes in one of the church buildings that survives in the South.

In keeping with their sense of the trajectory of the gospel, they were some of the first in recent times to acknowledge that God could call women as well as men to preach the gospel, in keeping with the promise of this age of Christ, when God's sons and daughters would prophesy (Acts 2:17).  It was in the building of a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York, that the movement to give women the right to vote, the birth of the women's rights movement, took place.  And Luther Lee, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, preached the sermon at the service of the first woman to be ordained in America, Antoinette Brown, in 1851.

As we mentioned above, the Wesleyan tradition could take these positions because it recognized the priority of the principles of Scripture over its time-bound particulars.  This is not to say that our parents in the faith had worked through their hermeneutic in sophisticated terms.  It is only to say that they recognized that in their time, it seemed impossible to play out the core principles of the gospel and perpetuate structures that Scripture allowed, such as slavery.

At the same time, we are prone to miss the ministry role that, for example, women actually played in the ministry of the early church.  We would argue that only one passage in the entire Bible potentially stands in tension with women in ministry--1 Timothy 2:11-15--at that it is really much more about the husband-wife relationship than women preaching.  By contrast, we have ample evidence that in practice women worked side-by-side with men in ministry.  There was nothing unusual for Phoebe to be a deacon in Romans 16:1 or for Junia to be an apostle in Romans 16:7.  The book of Acts also treats the ministries of women like Priscilla (Acts 18:26) or Lydia (Acts 16:15), just as Paul speaks of Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3).

We wonder if today even the structure of husband headship in the home, a concept whose language and categories come more from Greek political theory than from the Old Testament, is a structure God would have us abolish today in the name of Christ.  The subordination of Eve to Adam in Genesis 3 was a consequence of the Fall, and Christ has atoned for all the sins of Adam, let alone the sins of Eve.  We know that women are not in any way innately inferior to men intellectually, spiritually, or as leaders. Nothing stops us today--indeed we improve our witness to the world--if we advocate for women as complete co-partners with men in all areas of life, including the home, without putting on them the artificial distinctions of ancient culture.  In the kingdom women will not be "given to men" in marriage, in subordination as they were.  What would stop us from making the structures of earth now more like the structures of heaven?

There may be other societal structures our love of neighbor will want to speak prophetically to.  Those of us who are "white"--a construct that only means we do not look like those who are "other"--do not realize the ease with which we move through life in comparison to others.  We do not have police or store owners scrutinize us more carefully because of how we look.  We do not face the likelihood of distrust in many of our dealings with others.  We often to not realize the additional obstacles that those who look differently face on a regular basis.  The same has often been the case for women in contrast to men.

Those of us who grew up in middle-class homes where you are expected to go to college and walk into a predictable career also do not often realize the obstacles--both real and psychological--that might keep others from emerging from cycles of poverty and dependence.  The path out may seems obvious to us--go get a job.  But usually those who would say such things do not realize the difficulties such a seemingly simple proposition may pose (we have cars, attainable jobs that pay enough and are in good proximity, either no children or someone to take care of them).  But perhaps even more serious, what seems like a common sense path to us may be to others like some skill we do not have would be to us.  Suggesting someone in generational poverty go get a job might be like someone asking me to replace a water pump.

Suffice it to say, it is the charge of the Wesleyan tradition to be on guard against structural hatred of our neighbor, and to work for its abolishment and reformation.  Many in our tradition failed in this charge in the twentieth century.  We were not outraged that African-Americans had to ride in the back of the bus or drink from a different water fountain.  Indeed, many begrudged those "trouble makers" who were causing such a societal ruckass.  We largely slept through the civil rights movement, to our shame.

Even today, many grass-roots Wesleyans are more concerned about the fact that illegal immigrants have broken the rules in getting here than about the lives of real people and the potential consequences of reactionary laws to children and adult alike.  Suffice it to say that this attitude is not only out of sync with the Wesleyan tradition.  It does not know the mind of Christ as revealed in the New Testament, nor the dictates of the Old Testament law toward strangers in Israel's midst.  No "true Wesleyan," the name of some of an early journal of our tradition, will have such attitudes today.  The working out of principles is complicated.  These values are not.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ephesians on Wives

Excerpt from chapter 7 of second Paul volume:

Ephesians 5:22-33 goes on to talk not only about the relationship between husbands and wives in the church but, even more significantly, about the relationship between Christ and the church. Indeed, most of what Ephesians says in these twelve verses is perhaps more about Christ and the church, only using the husband-wife relationship as a metaphor for this more significant relationship. As far as the husband-wife relationship, Ephesians assumes the standard relationship of wife to husband in the Mediterranean world and then sanctifies it, makes it holy. There is nothing uniquely biblical or Christian to say that “the husband is the head of the wife” (5:23). Again, Aristotle had said very similar things three hundred years before when he spoke of the “rule” of the husband in the household.

What is distinctly Christian in Paul’s day was thus the heightened value he gave to women, not the subordination of the wife to the husband, willingly or not.  Ephesians actually has very little to say to wives here. It merely seems to tell wives to submit to the authority of their husbands as all must submit to Christ’s authority (5:24), then it moves on to give instructions to the husband. In the last chapter, we asked whether this structure was more a matter of ancient culture or what God’s ideal might be for the present. While various Christians will disagree, we argued that because such structures will not exist in the kingdom of God, God would be pleased for us to abolish them now.

There is no reason for such structures either in relation to the intellect or potential leadership ability of women. The only reasons anyone might suggest are either cultural or simply because it is the rule. But in Western culture, giving women the same potential authority as men is not a detraction from the witness of the gospel.  In our context, husband headship simply for its own sake actually diminishes the world’s estimation of Christ. And the example of Jesus and Paul quickly suggests that God does not usually make rules for their own sake, especially when the rule is a potential hindrance to the gospel. We thus take the prophetic stance that taking the household codes out of their own world and applying it to our quite different one is contrary to the gospel and the trajectory of the kingdom.

Ephesians admonishes husbands to love their wives, even to the degree that Christ loved the church and sacrificed himself for it (5:25). Some women have suggested that they would willingly submit to their husbands if they had this attitude.  Certainly both husbands and wives should have this kind of love for each other. At the same time, we want to challenge such women in the same way we might have challenged slaves before the American Civil War. The woman who responds in this way is like the slave of the early 1800s who might have said, “If my master treated me like a brother or sister, I would gladly serve him.”

But the full gospel today goes way beyond, “masters, treat your slaves as if they are your brothers.” It is time for us to play the gospel out in a fuller way than even the New Testament church did in its day. It sells the kingdom short and can bury your God-given potential in the ground. Some of those most opposed to women in ministry are not men, but women who enjoy not having to take the lead, even though they have more spiritual wisdom than their husbands several times over. God does not expect every woman to lead any more than he expects every man to lead. But every woman and man should heed the charge of 1 Thessalonians 5:19 not to “put out the Spirit’s fire”!

If God calls you as a woman to lead, you had best not disobey. If God has given you the greater wisdom in a moment of decision, why impoverish those who might benefit? If you as a husband can see your wife's greater wisdom in a moment of decision, what value is there in resisting it? Clearly we must be sensitive to our circumstances. God is a God of peace. But God also is not a God of timidity!