Monday, May 30, 2011

OMT: Romans 9:6-18

Previous translations:

Romans 1:1-7
Romans 1:8-10
Romans 1:11-15
Romans 1:16-17
Romans 5:12-17
Romans 7:13-25
Romans 8:1-8
Romans 9:1-5

6But [it is] not such a case that the word of God has failed [till now].  For not all those from Israel are Israel. 7And [it is] not that all the children are seed of Abraham, but "From Isaac will your seed be called" (Gen. 21:12). 8That is, those children of the flesh [are] not the children of God but the children of promise are considered as seed. 9 For the word of promise is this: "According to this time I will come and a son will be to Sarah" (Gen. 18:10).

10But not only [Sarah], but [the promise relates] also [to] Rebecca, being pregnant from one [man], Isaac our father. 11For [the children] not yet having been born nor having done anything good or bad (so that the purpose of God according to election might remain, 12 not from works but from the one who calls), it was said to her that "The older will serve the younger" (Gen.25:23), 13 just as it stands written, "I love Jacob, but I hate Esau" (Mal. 1:2-3).

14What, therefore, will we say?  Unrighteousness is not with God, is it?  May it not be!  15 For to Moses he says, "I will show mercy on whomever I will show mercy and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion" (Ex. 33:19). 16 Therefore, then, it is not a matter of the one willing nor of the one running but of God who shows mercy.  17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "I led you to this very [point] so that I might demonstrate my power in you and that I might proclaim my name in all the earth" (Ex. 9:16).  Therefore, then, he will show mercy on whom he wills, and he will harden whom he wills.

OMT: Romans 9:1-5

Previous translations include:

Romans 1:1-7
Romans 1:8-10
Romans 1:11-15
Romans 1:16-17
Romans 5:12-17
Romans 7:13-25
Romans 8:1-8

And now, Romans 9:1-5:
9:1 I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, as my conscience corroborates with me by the Holy Spirit 2--that it is a tremendous grief to me and a constant anguish in my heart. For I would pray to be accursed, I myself, from the Messiah on behalf of my brothers, my relatives according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belong the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the sacrificial worship and the promises, 5 to whom belong the fathers and from whom [came] the Messiah in terms of the flesh.  [May] the God who is over all things [be] blessed forever.  Amen.


First, in the modified words of Paul, "What special honor do we give to our own who have served and died in our defense?  Much in every way!  They have preserved our life and way of life, often at a great price.  They have done it so that we did not have to."

Then a poem by John Donne for today, which summarizes the broader sense of homo sapiens (wise human, evolved human), as well as that of the Christian:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Piper: Warren is my Home Boy

Thanks to Rachel Held Evans' blog and Keith Drury for pointing out this interview between John Piper and Rick Warren.  The interview makes it clear that Warren's beliefs are the same as Piper's, only that Warren has a more practical approach.

This is pretty much what I have said and why Purpose Driven Life is not really something a Wesleyan-Arminian would naturally espouse.  But in the general absence of any theological emphasis in the Wesleyan Church, it is no surprise that its pastors and leaders often unknowingly absorb these broader evangelical currents.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The big question 1

In a play about Job, Satan taunts, "If God is God, he is not good.  If God is good, he is not God." [1]  The play writer, Archibald MacLeish, poetically captures here what is often called the problem of evil.  If God is God--that is, if he is all powerful--then how is it that he allows so much evil to go on in the world, not to mention pain in general.  On the other hand, if God is good, then you would think he would want to put an end to evil and  suffering.  Perhaps he just is not powerful enough to do away with it.

It is not a new question.  It is a question that has come up whenever some people dared to think that their gods loved them.  It is implied in Old Testament stories like when Israel lost in battle to the city of Ai in Joshua 7.  How could they lose when Yahweh was powerful enough for them to win?  The Greek philosopher Epicurus raised the question hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth.

It is a question that knocks on the door of the modern world more than ever before, because individuals are more empowered than ever before.  In the ancient world, in the two-thirds world, powerlessness in the face of the wicked is such a given that it is often easier to accept.  A sense of fatalism--that the world just is what it is--often is the name of the game.  Death is an ever present reality you just accept.

But the democratic, Western world at least in theory has given everyone a voice.  And science has allowed us to beat death far more than ever before.  Never before has so much seemed possible.  Never before have we seemed more empowered to say "no" to evil and suffering than before.

So perhaps never before have the impossibilities of this world seemed more anomalous, more angering.  When we are so motivated to change the world, why does God seem to let "the nations rage" (Ps. 2:1)?  When we are now noticing the forgotten of the world, why does God continue to let them suffer?  When we now pass laws that look out for those with disabilities and provide health care for the impoverished, why does God not put an end to such things?  These are the problems of evil and suffering.

[1] JB, by Archibald MacLeish.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Again, Paul the Arminian...

Romans 8:13, addressed to Roman believers:

"If you are living according to flesh, you are about to die."

I guess this "works righteousness" aspect of Judaism that Luther and Calvin decried--and that Arminians are now criticized for--turns out be what Paul himself taught.  Oops.

So let's keep a list: Paul the Jew, Paul the Arminian, Paul the nominalist...

Original Meaning Translation: Romans 8:1-8

I don't know if anyone likes these translations enough for me to do much more than the spot translations I've done to help myself, but here's another one.

Previous ones include:
Romans 1:1-7
Romans 1:8-10
Romans 1:11-15
Romans 1:16-17
Romans 5:12-17
Romans 7:13-25

And now, Romans 8:1-8:

8:1 Then now [there is] no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, 2 for the "law" of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the "law" of Sin and death. 3 For with regard to the impossibility of the Law (in that it was weak through the flesh), God condemned Sin in the flesh when he sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering* 4 so that the righteous expectation of the Law might be fulfilled in us who are walking not according to flesh but according to Spirit.

5 For those who are in the category of flesh are minded toward the things of the flesh, but those who are in the category of Spirit [are minded toward] the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mindedness of the flesh [is] death, but the mindedness of the Spirit [is] life and peace. 7 Therefore the mindedness of the flesh [is] hostile toward God, for it is not subject to the law of God, for [that] is not even possible. 8 And those who are in the flesh are not able to please God.

Original Meaning Translation: Romans 7:13-8:2

For previous parts of Romans.

13 Therefore, has the good become death?  May it not be!  But Sin, so that it might appear as sin, was working death in me through the good, so that Sin might become incredibly sinful through the commandment.  14 For I know that the Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, having been enslaved under Sin. 15 For I do not know what I am doing. 16 But if I am doing what I do not want [to do], I agree with the Law, that [it is] good. 17 But now I am no longer doing it, but the Sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that good does not dwell in me--that is, in my flesh.  For the will is present in me, but to do the good is not. 19 For I am not doing the good that I want [to do], but I am practicing that bad that I do not want [to do]. 20 But if I am not doing that which I want [to do], it is no longer I doing it but the Sin that dwells in me.

21 Then, I am finding the "law" in me--the one wanting to do the good--that the bad is present in me.  For I delight in the law of God in my inner person, 23 but I am seeing a different "law" in my [body] parts, warring against the "law" of my mind and subjugating me with the "law" of Sin which is in my [body] parts. 24 A wretched person [am] I!  Who will rescue me from the body of this death?  25 But thanks [be] to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  

Therefore then, [to summarize the default state of the good-desiring Jew], I myself am serving the law of God with the mind, but the "law" of Sin with the flesh.

8:1 Then now [there is] no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, 2 for the "law" of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the "law" of Sin and death...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wages of Sin...

I finished the Romans 6 section of the devotional I'm writing on Romans 1-8, to go with Paul: Soldier of Peace, which is scheduled to come out in July.  I was reflecting on the well known verse, Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."

Although Paul here primarily has in mind the time prior to being baptizing into Christ, dying with Christ, dying to law, it struck me that the context might easily push us to see this comment also in relation to the believer.  When the Romans used to be slaves to sin, they used to surrender the parts of their bodies as instruments of Sin.  "The end of those things is death" (6:21).

These are the things Paul is telling them believers cannot continue to do after dying with Christ.  "Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" (6:15).  The climax of the chapter is then the last verse.  The wages of sin is death.  The end of these actions is death.  Don't do them.

On balance, the trajectory of the chapter pushes us to conclude that the wages of sin could become death for a believer as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fixed Points in Relative Meaning

In physics, you sometimes map one frame of reference to another.  So a train may be moving at a certain velocity in a certain direction.  Meanwhile, let's say a plane is flying overhead in a different direction.

For the moment, let's forget the ground.  It is quite possible in physics, to figure out the motion of the plane relative to the train or the train relative the plane.

The point is, to say that the meaning of events and actions is relative to a culture is not to say that meaning is random, nor is it necessarily to say that it cannot be mapped to the meanings of events and actions in other cultures.  It is to say, however, that the connections must be mapped.

One person might say, "You have thrown out the window the possibility of speaking of definite rights and wrongs." No, the certainty is in the relationship between the relative frames of reference.  It is a more complex fixity and requires one to realize that you are located on only one frame of reference, but there is fixity in the coordination of the frames.

But what of the ground, you ask?  Is not God's frame of reference the ground, by which we might coordinate both the movement of the plane and the train?

Yes, I do consider God's point of view to be the ground.  But inevitably the person who has just discovered their own frame of reference somehow thinks they can jump on God's frame of reference.  But God's way is not to teach us his point of reference but to meet us in ours.

Or they might invoke the Bible as God's frame of reference.  But the Bible is actually dozens of frames of reference as well--the frame of Paul, the frame of Matthew, the frame of Isaiah, etc.  Mature biblical interpretation maps the frames of each to each other and also to your frame of reference today.

We cannot get off our frame of reference in this life--ever.  We can only map other frames of reference to ours.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bobby Clinton and Bible Characters

I want to be a little more positive to begin with towards Boby clinto's use of biblical characters than I was in the last post on him.  Despite the annoying rigidity of his system, despite his annoying determinism, despite his hermeneutical obliviousness, he obviously knows an aweful lot about the kinds of experiences emerging leaders often undergo.  He just needs someone to remove the annoying clothing in which he dresses thse components and all would be well.

What he sees in the various characters of the Bible often works because 1) he knows what he's looking for and 2) there are indeed some traces of common human lessons in these stories to be learned.  Much of what we say we are getting from the Bible often turns out to be a mirror of our own God-given wisdom rather than a true drawing from the text.  This is why ten different preachers can give ten different helpful messages from the same passage and a hundred members of these different congregations hear a hundred still different helpful unintended messages.

But here are three clear problems with Clinton's use of biblical characters:

1. He confuses description with prescription.  We cannot assume that God wants us to imitate the actions of any biblical narrative just because someone is described as doing something.  Fee and Stuart say we have to find a clear statement in the non-narrative portions of Scripture to know what to imitate in the narratives.  I think we can do more than this, because narratives often have an implied "evaluative point of view."  But even so we must take into account...

2. Individual books of Scripture speak to us in relation to the whole of Scripture.  Any individual book may give us a misleading sense of direction if we do not take into account the rest.  If we only had Ecclesiastes, we would not believe in the afterlife.  If we only had Joshua, we would think that misfortune is always a consequence of sin.  We do not technically move from any one passage to today, but through the whole council of Scripture to today.

So Elijah built high places to Yahweh all over the place, never went to Jerusalem to worship as far as we know, believed Baal was a real god, and more or less commissioned Jehu to assassinate Ahab.  He was a scary dude.  There may be lessons about modern leadership we can learn from him, but I bet Clinton would be taken aback if he had actually met him.

3. Leadership in one culture will not be the same in another.  If you just look at my description of Elijah above, you can see his sense of leadership would not be advised in a North American church.  Because Jesus ministered at a different time and place, it is not even clear that he gives us the paradigm for leadership in our time in terms of specifics.

4. Biblical narratives do not seem to be exact videotapes.  These characters in real life were almost certainly more complex than in the biblical narratives.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our Fallen World

Yesterday morning a popular boy whom we knew from the neighborhood we used to live in was shot five times and killed here in Marion.  What a waste.  You can tell from the response on his Facebook page that he was well loved.

My sense is that he was on a typical trajectory.  Easy going kid hanging out with friends, having a good time, living for pleasure.  No sense of anything greater than doing the next thing.  No sense of how his next thing might come into conflict with someone else's next thing.

The church is not having much impact this age group--high school and just after who aren't headed to college.  Those who try mostly just come off as preachy.  The trajectory of the government toward his demographic is either to reinforce the status quo (Democrats) or to worsen it (Republicans).  I have heard of some Christians who move into neighborhoods without meaningful trajectories and actually live out good news, give hope, give healthy distraction.

God save us from ourselves and send us some true prophets...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Original Meaning Translation: Romans 5:12-17

OK, I'm going to translate this section.  For when I started:

12 For this [reason], just as through one person Sin entered into the world and through Sin, death, and so death passed to all people because everyone sinned--13 (for Sin was in the world before the Law, but sin is not added up when there is no law. 14 But Sin ruled from Adam to Moses and over those who did not sin in a similar way to Adam's transgression, who is a type of the one who was coming.

15 But even the act of grace is not like the transgression.  For if many people died because of the transgression of the one person, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one person Jesus Christ abound to the many.  16 And the gift dispensed [is] also not like [what came] through the one who sinned.  For the judgment from the one [resulted] in condemnation, but the act of grace [resulted] in being righteous out of many transgressions. 17 For if death ruled through the one person because of the transgression of the one person, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness rule through the one person, Jesus Messiah.)

CEB on Romans 5:18

I find this a peculiar translation:

"So now the righteous requirements necessary for life are met for everyone through the righteous act of one person, just as judgment fell on everyone through the failure of one person."

Here is a wooden translation:

"Therefore, as through one transgression to all people into condemnation, so also through one righteous act to all people to the justification of life."

I smell someone's theology tweaking the translation...

Invitation to you and your "family"

My wife Angela just addressed a graduation invitation to one of her cousin's children, but she unthinkingly put:

Mr. and Mrs. *** and "family"

We were wondering if she was saying something about their children.  Does she think they're not really their children.  Does she think they're her fake family?  You're not foolin' anyone you know...


After the Rapture...

Christians have generally believed for 2000 years that Christ will return to judge the earth at some point (e.g., Heb. 9:28).  Of course I do not think that an informed biblical theology will include a seven year tribulation or a rapture that is somehow separated from the judgment in time.  Indeed, it seems likely to me that in 1 Thessalonians 4 believers meet Jesus in the air only to return to the earth for the judgment.

Unless Harold Camping is the greatest prophet since John the Revelator, I doubt very seriously there will be a rapture today.  I will continue grading.  He has no clue how to read the Bible in context, and he falls into a predictable pattern.  On Sunday he will either recalculate or say the rapture happened in some spiritual way.  It's all been done before... many times... especially in America.

And once again, people will associate Christianity with stupidity.  Christianity will take another knock this week.  Those with the signs this week, they should be silent for a while.  They should take stock, realizing that they have made God look bad... again.  

Friday, May 20, 2011

James McGrath on Tom McCall

I'm glad to call both of these gentlemen my friends.  James McGrath has just reviewed Tom McCall's new book, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism.

Bobby Clinton's Leadership Emergence Theory

Let me just say that the way Bobby Clinton formulated his "Leadership Emergence Theory" back in the 80s really grates on me.  Lots of important elements of leadership development.  But he presents it in a Calvinist framework of "I fell down the stairs," what is God trying to teach me today.  And of course I'm sure the Bible professors at Fuller used to make fun of him for having no clue how to read the Bible in its socio-cultural contexts.

Here's a sample:

Integrity checks: “An integrity check is a test that God uses to evaluate intentions in order to shape character” (58).  A biblical text that embodies for Clinton this sort of check is the story of Daniel 1 where Daniel has to decide whether to keep Israel’s food purity laws or to participate in the food of Babylon.  In Clinton’s view, “God won’t use a leader who lacks integrity” (63).

Clinton has several assumptions here.  For example, there is the question of whether God micro-manages our development in such an orchestrated way or whether we should more think of these kinds of events as opportunities for development as leaders that we are bound to face.  Another question is Clinton’s penchant to see things as almost having to occur in a particular order. 

Further, if God can use the Babylonians and Persians (e.g., Hab. 1:6; Isa. 45:1), then surely God can use anyone, even a leader who lacks integrity.  Indeed, Christians reached this conclusion in the 300s during the Donatist controversy, where the church concluded that God's work in a church was not dependent on the integrity of the minister.  Obviously God would rather use a leader with integrity.  Presumably the days of a leader without integrity are numbered.  On the other hand, some of the most wicked kings of Israel and Judah had the longest reigns and died peacefully in their beds (e.g., Jeroboam II and Manasseh).

None of these questions are meant to deny that our integrity as leaders will be checked, that it is important and formative for us to pass these checks with integrity, or that God will not use those checks to help us grow.

Writing All Nighters...

All right, all right, I got about four and a half hours of sleep.  I'm a wimp.  I've been trying to get over the hump on the Romans 1-8 devotional I'm supposed to have finished a long time ago.

Sometimes thoughts just flow and sometimes it's like pulling teeth.  This particular assignment is hard because the format is fairly rigid and segmented.  But it comes out being almost like a mini-commentary with application every ten verses or so.  I was really happy with the ones on Philippians and 1 Thessalonians.

But after pulling teeth for weeks, I have been cranking out about 450 words an hour since yesterday afternoon, with a brief crash in the middle ;-)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What is cleansing the heavenly sanctuary in Heb. 9:23?

Horace Jeffery Hodges over at Gypsy Scholar was exploring Hebrews 9:23.  The key question I believe he is asking is what it means to cleanse the heavenly sanctuary: "Therefore, [it was] necessary for the examples of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these [things], but the heavenly [things] themselves with better sacrifices than these."  I personally believe that heavenly [things] here refers to the heavenly holies, the heavenly Most Holy Place.

So the age old question is this--why would the heavenly sanctuary need cleansed?  It's in heaven.  Lincoln Hurst has given us a clarification that alleviates the problem a little, but not completely--this is about inauguration of a sanctuary.  But the reason inaugural sanctuaries need cleansed is still to make them pure and holy.  Harold Attridge and others have suggested perhaps what Hebrews is pretty much talking about is the cleansing of the conscience.

Here is my personal sense of what's going on here in Hebrews.  With language that is serving rhetorical purposes, you have to get a full picture of what is going on to really understand the significance of the language.  So for Hebrews, the basic rhetorical point is that Christ's death has removed any necessity for the Levitical system and its sanctuary.  We can debate whether the sanctuary is already gone and the author is, in a way, consoling the audience (my position) or whether he is dissuading the audience from using a standing structure.

The author's rhetorical strategy to make this point is to construct a complex metaphor in which every key element of the Levitical system is surpassed by Christ's death.  So if the Levitical system had priests, Christ is a priest to end all priests, after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7).  If the Levitical system had sacrifices, Christ is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (e.g., 10:14), an "eternal spirit" sacrifice even (9:14).

With regard to the sanctuary, the author drew on existing metaphors that considered heaven the truest sanctuary of God, with the earthly sanctuary modeled after the universe (Philo, Josephus).  I personally find no compelling evidence in the argument of Hebrews 8-10 to think that the author sees an actual structure in heaven with two rooms.  Rather, I argue that the author sees the highest heaven as a kind of Most Holy Place where God dwells.

So the idea of "inaugurating the heavenly sanctuary" with a better sacrifice does not correspond neatly to one thing because it is part of an overall, complex metaphor.  What is being cleansed here?  An abstraction.  "Inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary" means the commencement of that age of reliance on Christ's death as means of atonement or, in Hebrews' terms, the age of real atonement versus proleptic rain checks looking forward to atonement.

Perhaps I should not even say that the cleansing of the conscience is the closest "literal" meaning of the image, then.  The author is not saying that the "literal" heaven needed cleansed.  He is simply playing out a metaphor, and when you do that, the image eventually breaks down into unintended resonances.

My opinion...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bible Answer Book?

One of the great privileges of being where I am at is that I am seeing more and more of the leadership of the American church at closer and closer proximity.  As a Biblehead, this also means that I increasingly get frustrated at faulty thinking that is perpetuated from American Christian voices.

For example, I have always tried to make hermeneutical space for the way Christians generally read the Bible as a single book from God to them--and thus by definition read its individual books out of their historical context.  I continue to affirm this "directly to me" way of reading the Bible as valid and even as perhaps the most important way God speaks through Scripture.

However, as the default Biblehead at my denomination's only seminary, I also feel obligated to try to point out how to read the Bible for what its books actually meant.  There are some very simple truths involved here that I have tried to point out over and over again, and just within the last week a couple things lead me to reiterate them:

1. In terms of what the books of the Bible really meant, they were not written to us.  The "Y-O-U" of the Bible is not, in its original meaning, me at any point.  That means there is a historical distance between me and the books of the Bible in their initial revelation.

2. The individual books of the Bible themselves do not have the same audiences.  That is, the "Y-O-U" of each book is often different from each other.

3. If you understand how culture and situations change, the implication is that we cannot simply assume that the Bible's categories or commands should be directly applied to today.

"It was written for all time."  Pertinent language just doesn't work that way.  The categories of biblical times are not our categories.  They must be translated.

"God doesn't change."  Yes, but people do, and assuming that God wants to be understood (isn't that what revelation means?), then he is going to speak in different ways to different people in categories they can understand.  Principles play out differently in different situations.

I heard someone say recently (perhaps jokingly) that we need to call church boards a "board of elders" not a "Local Board of Administration" because where do you find the phrase "Local Board of Administration" in the  Bible.  Frankly, I like the term elders better, but this argument just doesn't follow.  [For one thing, even before I get to the point of this post, it confuses description with prescription, a fundamental distinction to make when reading the Bible.  Jacob is described as taking on several wives and concubines.  Is that something I should model too?  Sheez, welcome to the American church]  This is the same sort of lunacy as those churches that don't use organs because organs aren't mentioned in the Bible.

Doing what they did may have a completely different meaning in our context.  That means there may be things they did we should not do and there may be things they did not do that we should.  This is a fundamental and incontrovertible insight.  The question of whether we should drink, for example, is not automatically answered on the basis of whether they drank in biblical times, any more than the fact that the OT fully allows for polygamy means that we are allowed to be polygamous today. 

Bottom line: a mature understanding of the Bible will know how to read it in its original socio-cultural contexts.  That means a regular intercultural experience greater than travelling to Africa.  The books of the Bible were "answer books"--but they were answer books for people who have been dead for 2000 years and more.

Translating the answers is a major task that is not simply a matter of some formula.  It is a spiritual task.  It is a corporate task.  The result is that the Bible is not a crutch with easy answers to hard questions--not if you really understand it. It is a means of grace, yes, an appointed place for divine encounter.  It is a place of joy and edification.  It is a place where the Spirit may speak directly to you.

But when things get serious, the community of faith has to get down to business and struggle to "work out its salvation with fear and trembling."  Next time when someone makes fun of another Christian who disagrees with them and references the Bible as obvious on that matter, the thought that should appear in your head is, "Hmmm, he or she probably doesn't know how to read the Bible in context very well."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lecture vs. Problem Based Learning

This study that Scot McKnight quotes gives exactly the results I would expect.  Lecture covers more material in a shorter amount of time, but the average learning is significantly less than problem based learning.  I believe this conclusion also applies to online teaching with little lecture and a lot of discussion forums.  The average student take away is greater, even though the student who best learns in "binge mode" may not learn as much.

We are now, of course, in a position to video/audio record or even have live lectures in online classes, allowing for what is sure to become more and more of a hybrid online learning experience going forward.  Indeed, I know of seminaries that are experimenting with real time online classes that are just like traditional classes except the students are all over the globe.

P.S. As ideal as that may sound, in the end, most students prefer to have the freedom to get on whenever they want, which is why any electives I offer (e.g., Hebrew for Ministry that starts at the end of the month) have a one hour real time video session that you are urged to attend but is recorded so you can view it later if you cannot.

Did you know? (Psalm 45 and the King's Wedding)

... that Psalm 45 calls the king of Judah "God" in the middle of a psalm celebrating his wedding?

Part 1: Getting a Sense of the Context
Verse 1 announces that the psalm is about the king, which--duh--anyone hearing it when it was written would have immediately understood to be about the guy that was their king.

Verse 10 addresses a woman, who is told to forget her father's house.  Verse 11 tells us the king thinks she's hot.  In verse 13 we find out she is a princess, and in verse 14 she is led to the king, with many maidens following her.  Then verse 16 tells us the king is going to have some children who will become successful princes.

No question what the most likely interpretation of this psalm in its historical context is.  The king's getting married, and this is a wedding psalm.  To think that an audience at the time this was written would think anything different is to be an incompetent exegete, incompetent at inductive Bible study.

Part 2: The King as god
So now we take this clear context and go back to verses 6-7.  "Your throne, O God, endures forever..."  Following the train of thought from the beginning of the psalm to this point, the king is clearly addressed as "god," following standard practice of the Ancient Near East considering kings as representatives of the gods, as divine sons (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14, which is about Solomon in context).  Indeed, verse 7 goes on to distinguish the king as god from God as the king's God.  The king is thus only god in a somewhat derivative and somewhat figurative sense.

Part 3: Christ as God
Hebrews 1:8-9 then, as the NT regularly does, read these verses with a "fuller sense" and redirects them in relation to Christ, who of course is God for Hebrews in a greater sense than the king is god in Psalm 45.

Did you know?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Events and Meanings

It seems to me that most of the time, the connection between action, meaning, and intent is fairly straightforward. It's one big ball mixed together.  "He was angry and punched the other guy."  Sure, there are times when the meaning of an event is not so clear, "What just happened here?"

What is the meaning of an event?  This question blurs into a swirl of other issues like, "What were the events that lead up to this event, and what were their causes?"  "What were the intentions and motives of the individuals who acted in this current event?"  "What will the consequences be of this current event?"

Human intent itself is no doubt more complicated than most of us imagine.  We usually speak and think of ourselves as single individuals, but we are no doubt a mixture of competing impulses deriving from physical brain structures and mixtures of chemicals affected by everything from what we ate for breakfast to how much sleep we had or whether we have just been exercising.

[By the way, I suspect that a realistic sense of human make-up makes a lot of theological speak about human will look ridiculous, e.g., Kierkegaard's idea of willing one thing.]

Albert Camus with his theater of the absurd capitalized on the disjunction between event and meaning.  In The Stranger a man ends up being hanged for killing someone largely without much intention at all.  Some of my friends at seminary used to joke about "Things that Change Your Life Forever."  One suggested that his seminary career might quickly come to an end if he goose stepped down the center aisle of Estes Chapel while then President McKenna was preaching.

I have moments where the disjunction between things I do and their significance stands out as a mystery to me.  Perhaps I am diagnosable ;-) Blogging I think especially causes this disjunction from time to time.  I don't foresee the effect my thoughts might have on others.  Humor especially can come off as quite unfunny to some even while hilarious to others.  

Philosophically, I do not think that events have intrinsic meanings, even if they can have clear causes and consequences.  I accept the fact-value divide as a real divide--the ascription of significance to events is a matter of minds and is not intrinsic to the world itself.  Thus, the idea of a moral structure to the universe seems incoherent to me.  

There are consequences.  There are causes and effects.  God assigns significance to events.  But significance is ascribed; it is a matter of minds looking on.  The idea of a moral fabric to the universe is a metaphor for God's ideal for the universe, the evaluation he makes of the universe.

I end with Paul's nominalist creed: "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean" (Rom. 14:14, NRSV).  I extend this claim philosophically thus: Moral absolutes are those actions that God always considers wrong to do, wrong to do in every circumstance without exception.  This is not an aspect of the universe, but of God as he ascribes significance to the universe.   

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Rapture is Next Saturday...

I guess the rapture is next Saturday.  I'm not even going to bother finishing grading the rest of this semester's stuff. ;-) Some people have set their blogs to keep posting even after the rapture (at least till Judgment Day on October 21), so I'm not going to worry about it.

By the way, this might be a good argument for greater training of ministers and laity in how to read the Bible in context... rather than us continually making Christianity look foolish.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Did you know? (Matthew 11 and Sirach)

Did you know?
... that when Jesus says in Matthew 11 for his audience to "Come to me" and "take my yoke on you," he is echoing Sirach 24 and 31, a book that was widely used in the first few centuries of the church and remains in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Old Testament?  In Sirach, it is wisdom talking, and for various reasons it seems likely that Matthew wants us to think of Jesus as God's wisdom come to earth in a fuller sense than the Law was God's wisdom.

In Sirach 24:19, wisdom tells Israel to "Come to me" and in 24:23, this wisdom turns out to be the Law of Moses.  In Sirach 51, the teacher speaks of how he found wisdom and then invites the uneducated to "draw near to me" (51:23), to "put your neck under wisdom's yoke" (51:26), by which the teacher labored little and found much rest (51:27).

So Jesus is God's wisdom and a teacher of wisdom, under whose yoke you will find peace, a fuller peace than you would find under the Law.

Did you know?

NT Wright Translation

It looks like NT Wright is going to take the translations N. T. Wright did in his "For Everyone" series of the NT and put them together to constitute an NT Wright translation of the NT.

I was doing some translations of Romans here as I worked through my devotionals, but what's the use? Too many translations, too many commentaries...

Gingrich--biggest election since 1860

I drew this quote from "Republican Newt Gingrich told a Georgia audience on Friday evening that the 2012 presidential election is the most consequential since the 1860 race that elected Abraham Lincoln to the White House and was soon followed by the Civil War.

"Addressing the Georgia Republican Party's convention, Gingrich said the nation is at a crossroads and that the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama would lead to four more years of 'radical left-wing values' that would drive the nation to ruin."

What struck me as ironic about this comment is that Gingrich is comparing this race with the Lincoln race, and he's doing so in Georgia.  I don't think he intended the overtones this comment brings with it in context.  The context might lead one to conclude that Gingrich thinks that the 1860 race went the wrong way.  After all, Lincoln advocated the authority of the federal government over the rights of individual states like Georgia, and Georgia opposed Lincoln. Furthermore, Gingrich stands for a substantial reversal of the trajectory the Lincoln administration solidified with regard to federalism.

The current Republican party has ironically done a 180 flip since Lincoln and become the party of states' rights over the authority of the federal government.  It is no wonder it is strongest in the south.  I strongly suspect that a fascinating side effect of the movement to elect Presidents who appoint judges who might overturn Roe-v-Wade is that we have found ourselves voting for an anti-civil rights, states' rights agenda.

P.S. Indiana just passed the toughest anti-abortion law since Roe vs. Wade--no abortions after the 20th week.  And it had nothing to do with the Supreme Court.

The Perfect Movie

I was thinking tonight what the perfect movie for me would be.

1. It would have action like the Bourne trilogy.

2. It would be funny and clever like Pirates of the Caribbean.

3. It would move at a constant clip, like the first Hoodwinked, with little "monologuing," dialog, or transition.  Don't blink or you miss something.

4. It would have a good love story in the middle of a broader struggle, one with tension.  The movies that came to mind probably will seem weird--in terms of the woman role, Somersby and the Kevin Costner Robin Hood; in terms of the man role, maybe something like Bourne.

5. If it is an imaginative film, then I like either the retro-science feel of a Sherlock Holmes or the futuristic science of the recent Star Trek.  I like main characters who are geniuses, tricky, one step ahead of you.

6. Some movies create a whole world with its own rules, language, etc., like the Harry Potter series.

7. A certain kind of movie can also interact with history, religion, or philosophy in creative ways.  Time Bandits, Hitchhikers Guide, Matrix, Lost, etc...

8. I like double meaning symbolism as well.  Alice in Wonderland...

What have I missed for the perfect movie?  If it were clearer in my head, I'd try to write it...  Obviously it's not ;-)

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Blog Eclipse of 2011

Blogger has been down for a couple days in an unprecedented and cataclysmic event.

What?  You didn't notice? ;-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

John Wesley on Biblical Languages

Henry Neufield has this Wesley quote on the site, "Participatory Bible Study Blog":

"Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretense? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?”

John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” in Works X:491.

On the one hand, I agree with Wesley that it would be dubious for those who scorn the learning of biblical languages and indeed much, much more about historical context and the history of interpretation, not to mention the study of theology, to think to speak authoritatively on matters of faith and Christian ethics.  True, more urgent are the day to day competencies of ministry.  But when situations rise that call for judgments on faith and ethics, those who have scorned expertise in these areas should yield much to those who have.

BUT, there is the prophet to take into consideration too.  They are not as prevalent as some are wont to think, but are an important exception.

AND we are not speaking of one theologian or biblical scholar, but of the collective voice of such experts in the church, since one expert will often be idiosyncratic.

FINALLY, Wesley himself did not fully understand the context of Scripture or the inner workings and hermeneutics of how he himself moved from text to doctrine.  He suffered under the pre-modern view expressed by Melanchthon that theology was simply the application of grammar to the biblical text.  Rather, "context is everything."

Some thoughts...

Did you know? (Romans 1 and the Book of Wisdom)

I was working on the devotional that goes along with my forthcoming Paul book on Romans (with Wesleyan Publishing) and was remembering how similar Romans 1 is to some themes in Wisdom 13 and 14.

Did you know?
... that Paul seems to be interacting with the book of Wisdom in Romans 1?  The "Wisdom of Solomon," as it is sometimes called, was written at about the same time as Paul--perhaps several decades earlier.  It was used extensively by the Christians of the earliest centuries and remains in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Old Testament.  Hebrews 1:3 alludes to Wisdom 7:26.

Wisdom 13 talks about how foolish Gentiles worshiped wood when they used the other half of the tree to make a boat.  It talks about how people should have realized the Creator behind the creation but worshiped created things instead.  Wisdom 14 then talks about how sexual immorality naturally followed idolatry.

It is exactly this same sequence of ideas we find in Romans 1.  Paul says that God's eternal power should have been evident, but instead Gentiles worshiped the creation and idols. God then left humanity to spiral out of control, manifesting itself not least in sexual immorality.

The similarity of themes and progression may be strong enough to conclude that Paul knew the book of Wisdom and was interacting with it.

Did you know?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Priority of Doing over Knowing (Romans 2)

I've been scrambling to finish the first devotional that goes along with my forthcoming second book in the Paul series, this one on Romans.  As I was writing the devotional on Romans 2:1-16, it struck me that the main point of this section is that doing the good is far more important than knowing the good.  While this seems common sense to me as a Pietist, a good deal of Christendom has somehow talked itself out of this basic ethical truth.

In fact, it was with great delight that I recognized again how these verses undermine the high Protestant Reformation (remembering that I'm one of those bastard children of the Reformation they call Arminians). Like it or not, Paul says that God judges people according to their works in 2:6 (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10)--Christians included.

1. Law cannot mean the entirety of the Jewish Law or else the idea of Gentiles keeping it would not make sense (2:14).

2. Keeping the Law thus relates to the fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the law in Romans 8:4, a subset of the broader Jewish Law that later Christians termed "the moral law."

3.The irony is thus that those who did not know the Law (Gentiles) now keep the Law, while many of those who knew the Law (Jews) were for all intents and purposes "de-circumcised" for that reason.

Luther was thus only right about "works" in relation to initial justification, not final justification.  And Calvin (and N. T. Wright) was wrong to think that the works would always follow sufficiently to guarantee final justification.

But the spark for the post was not this old theme of mine.  It was the clear priority Paul gives in these verses to doing the good over knowing it.  Truth is important, but virtue takes primacy of place over truth.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Did you know? (the word in John 1)

I was thinking about a new kind of post to do.  One of my roles in the church is surely informant...  If my education is worth anything, why not share some tidbits from time to time.  So here's a first shot.

Did you know...
That the "word" in John 1 has a rich background in both Jewish and secular literature at the time of Christ.

1. It certainly does not refer to Scripture in its original sense.  You will only think this if you are defining the words on the basis of your dictionary rather than the dictionary of John's time.

2. It eventually refers to Jesus in John 1.  In the immediate literary context, the word becomes flesh in 1:14 and turns out to be none other than Jesus among the people of that time.

3. Jewish literature like the book of Wisdom and the writings of a Jew from Egypt named Philo use the word logos, "word," sometimes as a metaphor, sometimes as an almost personal entity that puts God's will into action.  Here are a couple quotes:

"Through the logos God made the world, using it as an instrument..." (Philo, Allegorical Laws 3.96)

"Some regard the image of God, his messenger the logos, as God's very self" (Philo, On Dreams 1.239)

"God... you made all things through your logos..." (Wisdom 9:1).

So, in my opinion, when John 1 says, "In the beginning was the logos," it is drawing on this rich tradition.  In the beginning was God's will for the world in action... and that will for the world became flesh, and tabernacled among us, just like the tabernacle where Moses met God in the wilderness...

Did you know?

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Hebrews 1:5-14 (CEB, Wesley Study Bible)

In a previous post, I looked at the CEB translation of Hebrews 1:1-4 and the Wesley Study Bible notes of the NRSV of the same.  Today, Hebrews 1:5-14.

1:4 But then, when he brought his firstborn into the world...
This rendering gives a common impression of Hebrews 1:7, namely, that we are now talking about Jesus' birth.  It discourages me.  The words are not "but then" but "and again."  It is a feature of Hebrews' citation style elsewhere (chap. 2) to give two supporting quotes for the same idea with this intro, "and again."  This is not the birth but it still talking about the exaltation, as in 1:5.  The only other place where this word for "world" is used is in 2:5, where it clearly means the world to come.

The rest of the chapter is translated just fine and, like the Greek, can be interpreted variously.

There are two basic approaches to this section among interpreters, off the top of my head.  The one is to see the entire chain of quotes in relation to the exalted Christ, which is the position I take.  The other is more popular, namely, to see this chain as a celebration of Christ throughout his existence--pre-existence, creation, birth, exaltation, maybe even judgment.  You can see how the latter would be popular... just not correct ;-)

Wesley Study Bible (NRSV)
The study notes steer the reader away from thinking the audience is worshiping angels and I strongly suspect this is correct.  There could be some angel thing going on, but insufficient evidence to know what that might look like.  There's a nice text box on John Wesley's understanding of revelation.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Indiana Education Reform

Governor Mitch Daniels signed into law yesterday a bill that allows students to take the tax money appropriated for them in the public schools and use it toward private schools.  If I understand correctly, it mainly funds middle and lower income families, which I presume is what Governor Daniels meant by social justice.

First of all, I like Daniels.  I voted for Daniels.  I consider him an honorable man.  He would make a better Republican President than anyone else I know in the field.

I have two strong concerns about this particular program.

1. The first is that the public school system, when it functions properly, is meant to provide a neutral education zone that equips the public to be profitable and fully functioning members of society.  Private schools, on the other hand, like home schools, are often mechanisms for insulating children into tribal backwaters.

Let's say there was a city where most people were Schenckacrucians, a new religion that believes the earth is flat and that we should abolish the Constitution in favor of my Book of Schenck.  The redistribution of funds for public education will only add to the return to pre-modern tribalism that is well underway in America by allowing the loony parents of Cultsville to send their children to my private school.

2. The problem with the public schools--I say as someone with several children in them and very, very close friends who are on the ground in them--is not the teachers.  The problem are the kids who daily call their teachers obscenities in the middle of class that I can't even mention here (I'm talking elementary school).  These are the kids who have all manner of defiance disorders who, because of funding cuts, have nowhere to go but the public school classroom.  They flip desks, daily cause classrooms to be emptied of the good students so that whoever--sometimes funding cuts have reduced support staff almost to secretaries in the office--can talk them down.  School personnel are not allowed to touch them and are discouraged from calling the police.

These are the kids who are in class with your children who, if they were adults, would be locked up or be put in a mental health facility.  Funding cuts take away support systems like behaviorists and clinical social workers--four such jobs have been eliminated from the Marion Community Schools system already for next year.  And we criticize and hold accountable teachers who are not trained to do that level of psychotherapy and abnormal behavior management on a daily basis. These are not special ed issues--they are mental health issues beyond the competency of teacher training.

How can a school pass ISTEP when these students, and mentally challenged students, and students who have  massive attendance problems are part of the assessment?  And then we tell the teacher they will be penalized if their class as a whole doesn't improve?  We discourage them from taking on hard classes because their pay would be contingent on a no win situation.

My son takes Taekwondo and occasionally, the master will have them play a game where they compete to see who can pull a strip of cloth out from behind their opponent.  But he sometimes ties it so that, without the person knowing it, there's no real chance he or she can win.

That's what we've been doing to the public school system these last ten years.  We've set it up for failure and then treated our teachers like dirt when their students' test scores don't improve.  This new law, however well intentioned, is yet another example of hamstringing an incredibly important part of the American social contract... in my opinion.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Does God directly cause suffering...

I've noticed that some bloggers, like some preachers, have a tendency to "preach from the same passage" over and over.  I know I have.  There are some topics I'm tired of because I've mentioned them over and over--and I'm sure you are even moreso. I have had a couple of instances these last few weeks, however, that give examples of old topics, namely, that the OT read in context is not yet Christian.

One such occasion had to do with the possibility that a certain external person at some point might teach a course in a non-religion context at IWU on suffering and disability. This person uses a book by John Piper for her theology piece: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.  I have advocated for the Arminian position also being represented if the course ever materializes.

Our position is that God may sometimes cause suffering directly, but that God's normal mode of operation is to allow humans to act freely and, I would say, to allow the creation to follow through its normal course of cause and effect.  As humans act freely and as the creation plays out cause and effect, suffering happens.  God allows it, signs off on it.  Yes, he's sovereign.

But the whole Purpose Driven Life, "what is God trying to tell me by causing me to get a pimple," is narcissistic clap-trap.  Yes, you can probably learn something valuable from breaking your arm, maybe even getting a pimple.  But God doesn't micro-manage his creation.  Grow up, baby head, and take some responsibility for your own actions.

The potential visitor on suffering was quite willing to include the Arminian perspective and apparently already did, but without a real sense of how to justify it.  Three passages were offered with a sense that they were pretty clear to her: Exodus 4:11, Psalm 94:9, and Isaiah 45:7.  Does not God directly decide to make people blind?

My response was that one cannot explain the differences between certain OT passages and other biblical passages unless one supposes a development in understanding on topics like this.  I mentioned James 1:13 which says God does not tempt people, while the OT clearly says that he has led people to evil on various occasions (e.g., 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Sam. 18:10).  The only way to find unity between these two passages is to conclude that these OT passages do not understand God as fully as the NT does.

My standard example of such development is to compare 2 Sam. 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1.  In the first, God incites David to take a census.  1 Chronicles says it was Satan who incited him.  What we see unfolding in the history of ideas is a distancing of God from the direct causation of evil.  In the NT, we have Satan and demons who, in addition to human flesh and desire, tempt and do evil. In the earlier parts of the OT, God is given credit for the whole sha-bang.

A contextual reading of the OT is thus not yet Christian unless it is read in the light of the NT and a mature Christian understanding as it unfolded in the first few centuries of Christianity.  A Christian reading of the OT will filter its application through the NT and not directly apply it.

Monday, May 02, 2011

bin Laden who?

Given the justice of bin Laden's demise, given his darkened, hardened, and unrepentant heart, I wake up satisfied to find him not only removed from the equation but to find his body dispensed with.  I won't give him the satisfaction of a shout.  I absolutely oppose the acknowledgement of him a holiday would give him.  They found him.  They dispensed with him.  Next.