Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quests for the Historical Jesus

Here's a very brief overview of the quests for the historical Jesus.  Some "questers" have recently balked at the idea of three quests as an artificial imposition on history. No doubt there is some truth to their push back, but here is the standard schtick.

The (First) Quest for the Historical Jesus
With the Enlightenment and the rise of historical consciousness in the 1800s, the gospels were looked at in a new way by some. For example, someone who didn't believe in miracles in the 1700s or early 1800s might accept the basics of a biblical story but reinterpret it. One person suggested that it wasn't that Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes but that when the crowds saw the generosity of the little boy, they decided to share their food as well. Someone else suggested that Jesus was only mostly dead after the crucifixion, thus trying to explain his resurrection appearances.

David Strauss changed the rules of the game (1835). He categorized these Jesus stories as "myths" and suggested the feeding of the 5000 never happened at all and that the resurrection didn't happen at all. In effect, this launched a "quest for the historical Jesus," an attempt to determine what really happened and what didn't. Since John was so different from the Synoptics, it was quickly thought not to offer much to the quest. Then in the late 1800s when it became accepted that Matthew and Luke drew on Mark, they were thought not to offer much to the quest except for their "Q" material. Then when William Wrede suggested that even Mark invented parts of the story (1901)--like demons talking--the quest seemed to hit a dead end.

The first quest is usually said to have ended with Albert Schweitzer who wrote up all the material above (1906). Schweitzer's portrait of Jesus was that of an apocalyptic prophet whom, he thought, ended feeling like God had failed him.

No Quest
The first half of the twentieth century is often described as a time of no quest for the historical Jesus. Usually Rudolph Bultmann is pointed to, along with Karl Barth, as individuals who shifted the question away from the historical Jesus and toward the theological Jesus. For Bultmann, the Christ of faith was valid even if the Jesus of history didn't match (and Bultmann thought it was obvious that he didn't). Of course for Barth the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith were more or less the same, although he had no time for those preoccupied with proving it (he rejected the entire line of thought). Martin Kähler also wrote a famous book denying that there was any difference between the "so called historical Jesus" and the "historic, biblical Christ."

New Quest
In the late 1950s, one of Bultmann's students, Ernst Käsemann, opened the door for a "new quest for the historical Jesus." Over the next few years, some very minimalistic criteria developed.
  • The criterion of dissimilarity--if something Jesus said is not something that either a Jew or a Christian would say, Jesus probably said it.
  • The criterion of multiple attestation--if some saying appears in multiple layers of Jesus tradition (e.g., Mark, Q, John, the Gospel of Thomas) then it is more likely historical.
  • The criterion of coherence--if a saying fits with things you derived from the above, Jesus might have said it.
  • The criterion of embarrassment--the followers of Jesus would not have invented something they would have found embarrassing
  • The Aramaic criterion--if a saying is easily translatable back into Aramaic, it enhances the likelihood that Jesus said it.
These criteria didn't cull much fruit. Edward Schillebeeckx wrote a 700 page book with very little he could say was clearly historical.

Third Quest
In 1977, E. P. Sanders' study, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, came out. It surveyed all the Jewish literature from around the time of Christ and showed that the stereotypes of Judaism passed down from Luther and the Reformers through the time of the Holocaust had given us a significantly skewed view of Judaism. The Jewishness not only of Paul but of Jesus himself began to be taken seriously by scholars. By the 80s, all sorts of common sense observations were emerging.

For example, why had the "new quest" focused almost entirely on Jesus' sayings? After all, you can make a saying mean a whole lot of things. Events were surely more helpful to focus on, what A. E. Harvey called the "constraints" of history. The dissimilarity argument also made little sense. Jesus was a Jew and Christianity came from him. You would expect most of what he said to fit on a trajectory from Judaism to Christianity (what N. T. Wright calls "double similarity").

Almost every one of the new quest criteria has a major flaw or qualification to be made. Basically, the historical study of Jesus has been a lot more faith-friendly in the last couple decades. John Meier's multi-volume study, James Dunn's Jesus Remembered, N. T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God, are all magisterial studies from individuals of faith.

Dunn has argued that oral traditions about Jesus would have started long before he was even crucified, an obvious model that surprisingly had eluded earlier questers. Dale Allison's Constructing Jesus has again common sensically argued that those who focused on specific sayings were missing the obvious--if there are a lot of instances of Jesus doing or saying similar types of things, those likely indicate that Jesus was remembered as doing and saying those sorts of things.

After a slough of Jesus books in the 90s, the field is probably pretty tired of questing. Nevertheless, you can be sure that in a few years, there will be some new angle and yet another quest...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients...

I'm not sure what to make of the bill that the Indiana House passed requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug testing. Given the climate, it's easy to think this is motivated by the desire to punish moochers.  Is the goal rather to help people get off welfare?  I'm skeptical.  That's just not the vibe I get these days.

Will this hurt the children of parents who decide not to go because they're not clean?  What will they eat while the parents are going through some sort of training?  Will this bill result in the crime rate going up?

I have no doubt that the welfare system needs reformed to where it moves people toward becoming profitable members of society.  I'm just not sure that this bill will do anything but make the most desperate even more desperate.  It feels like the less mature, "stick it to them," rather than the moral high ground, "rescue the perishing."

Monday, February 25, 2013

The DMIN cometh...

The DMIN cometh!

At Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, we are in the very early stages of brainstorming the possibility of a Doctor of Ministry degree program and would like your help. If you or anyone you know (it doesn't have to be anyone associated with Wesley, IWU, or the Wesleyan Church) might potentially be interested in getting a DMIN one day, would you send them in the next couple weeks to the following link to answer just a few questions:

The more who participate, the better the result.  The tentative brainstorm is to commence offering the degree in the Fall of 2015.  We are also brainstorming a "bridge" for former IWU MA students to get to the 72 hours required to be "MDIV equivalent" and thus eligible for beginning a DMIN.

Thanks for any help you might give!

The Race to Cooperate

I'll be giving out an award on Friday to whichever party in Washington cooperates the most to avoid the sequester.  I want to give the award in a three-way tie between Republicans, Democrats, and the President.  I'm more expecting that I won't be able to give out the award at all.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Favorite Passage in Philo

... is one where he gives one of his most personal asides.  It is at the beginning of his third treatise exploring all the "specific laws" that expand on the commandments not to commit adultery and not to murder (Spec. Leg. 3).  Here is the quote from Yonge's translation:

"There was once a time when, devoting my leisure to philosophy and to the contemplation of the world and the things in it, I reaped the fruit of excellent and desirable and blessed intellectual feelings... I appeared to be raised and borne aloft by a certain inspiration of the soul, and to dwell in the regions of the sun and moon, and to associate with the whole heaven, and the whole universal world...

"Nevertheless, the most grievous of all evils was lying in wait for me... till envy had taken me and thrown me into the vast sea of the cares of public politics, in which I was and am still tossed about..."

This, I submit to you, is the experience of almost all philosophy majors after graduation, when they start looking for a job.

P.S. I like to think--can't prove it you know--that Philo was writing about the events around the year 38 when the Jews of Egypt got into quite a pickle, eventually leading Philo to head a delegation to the emperor Caligula.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Middle Man

Or woman, say I,
The one between but not,
Better to say a little of both,
Some of each she's got.

Sometimes just right, a balanced feat,
He's not too hot or cold.
Or else a transitory place
Becomes unhappy, old.

The poles, the dialectic spot
Comes only for a moment.
It's only right, it only fits
A time, a place, to foment.

The Philosoph, the absolute
Might find the perfect balance.
God himself, he knows them all
Among an inf'nite parlance.

Unhappy is the face between
Two fists that are at war.
Her fate to lose, his destiny
A casualty of war.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lincoln, "Lure of Politics" 2

I'm in the third chapter of Team of Rivals about Lincoln and his cabinet team of Republican rivals.

Previous posts:
1. Lead up to election
2. Family background of Lincoln and rivals
3a. Lure of Politics for Edward Bates

Again, the third chapter talks about the entrance of the four men of the book into politics.  This week I read the section of the chapter on William Seward. I also saw the movie Lincoln by Spielberg this past weekend.  Seward's character in the movie was not as I imagined him, so I'll bracket that image as I continue reading in this book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Seward, if you remember, was the governor of New York for 2 terms (1838-42).  He was a Whig, the precursor to the Republican party.  It is quite interesting to me that so many of the values of the Republican party back then are more the values of the Democratic party right now.  I resonate strongly with the values of the original Republican party and am one of the many lifetime Republicans who is quite alienated by the party's emphases right now.

For example, the Whigs/Republicans stood for things like
  • unionism (versus excessive state's rights), 
  • internal improvements (roads, bridges, infrastructure--things that helped markets back then), 
  • anti-slavery (and thus pro-the rights of disempowered groups that today would translate into civil rights, immigration rights, and the pro-life movement as long as it takes seriously the lives of the women having the babies as well)
  • better public schools
It would be wrong to say that all southerners today are against such things.  When I went to Southern Wesleyan, the good Wesleyan folk who were my professors were pretty much on the same page politically as I am today.  I would argue that they are the most Wesleyan values and that a good deal of the grass roots Wesleyan church has strayed into foreign territory.

Seward seemed to wrestle significantly with balancing his political ambitions with his devotion to family.  His wife did not travel with him to the state house in New York and their relationship seemed to falter as an ambiguous friend of Seward (Tracy) was at first smothered Seward himself and then got too friendly with his wife Francis.

Seward was a principled man.  He was strongly against slavery and in fact hurt New York's trade with Virginia by refusing to turn over two freed slaves who had tried to smuggle a runaway slave out of Virginia.  He did allow the runaway to be returned, following the Constitution.

He got into problems with strong anti-catholics by trying to provide education for Irish and German catholic immigrants. This made him an enemy of the "nativists" and possibly lost him the Republican nomination won by Lincoln.

Horace Greeley wrote of his second election as governor that he would "henceforth be honored more for the three thousand votes he has lost, considering the causes, than for all he has received in his life" (84). Seward lost those votes for his stand against slavery and for providing education to all, even dirty, no good immigrants.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bishop 8 (Bishops Teaching)

I'll be so glad to finish this book!  Just two more chapters after this one.  Today it's chapter 8 of William Willimon's Bishop, "Bishops Preaching."  Previous chapters were:

1. Methodists, Alabama Conference in Motion
2. Summoned to be Bishop
3. Bishops Sending Pastors
4. Bishops Cultivating Fruitfulness
5. Bishops as Change Agents
6. Bishops Body Building
7. Bishops Proclaiming

Now, highlights of chapter 8:
  • Like Willimon, I have a short attention span, but I frankly have a hard time seeing how his chapters hold together.  Let's just call every chapter, "Willimon's Proverbs," and leave it at that.  Here is a proverb that is true and faithful: "Stories create world. The one who would change people must offer better stories" (131).  Hear, hear.
  • Adaptive leadership (following Heifetz and Linsky) is 1) about change that enables thriving, 2) build on the past rather than jettisoning it, 3) occurs through experimentation, 4) relies on diversity, 5) requires significant displacement, reregulation, and rearrangement of old DNA, and 6) takes time.
  • The distinction between leadership and management is an important one.  "'Management is about coping with complexity,' while 'leadership is about coping with change'" (134).  By the way, administration is yet another category.  Administrator types can actually create unnecessary complexity if left to their own devices.  In my opinion, IWU needs a new president who can facilitate good management that pulls out a lot of unnecessary wires and good leadership that will turn around our declining traditional enrollment.
  • Five characteristics of adaptive organizations are 1) elephants in the room are named, 2) responsibility for the future is shared, 3) independent judgment is expected, 4) leadership capacity is developed, and 5) reflection and continuous learning is institutionalized.
  • Interesting slam at the World Methodist Council as a waste of time and resources. Of course Wesleyans, including the seminary, participate in that.  
  • Willimon talks about a "culture of niceness" in the UM church that avoids conflict and sees conflict resolution as a primary task.  Given his personality, you would suspect that Willimon doesn't care much about whether there is conflict or not :-)  But he is quite right that some conflict almost seems necessary for there to be progress.  I personally also think that conflict can happen nicely :-)
  • I chuckled at Willimon's comments about the need for decisions to be made after data collection, that data collection can't go on indefinitely.  I knew a leader whose advice to new leaders below was not to let people push you into making a decision until you had all the data.  Some of those receiving this advice would just smile and wave... you never have all the data.  Being an insightful leader means having an intuitive sense of where the data is headed even before it is all in. And being a good leader inevitably involves some risk taking. 
  • Some advice from Heifetz on how to bear the responsibility of leadership: 1) get on the balcony, 2) distinguish yourself from your role, 3) externalize the conflict, 4) use partners, 5) invite outsiders' points of view, 6) find a sanctuary, and 7) maintain a sense of purpose.

    Friday, February 15, 2013

    Christian Century on Seminary Education

    The latest issue of Christian Century was a fun read about how some mainline seminaries are finally beginning to address the changing realities of education in general. It is interesting to watch some of the more traditional seminaries enter into the online playing field--better late than never.  The articles have a feel of "Gordon Conwell is cutting edge" because its students can now do a third of their MDIV in their pajamas at home without moving to Boston.

    That tone is very amusing because over ten years ago Asbury students could already do two-thirds of their MDIV online. I actually hear that Asbury's current president is somewhat skeptical of online education, but thankfully he hasn't been able to dislodge the faculty yet.  Students at our seminary, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, can also do two-thirds of their program online and have been able to do so since we were founded over three years ago.

    It is almost surreal to read some of the things in the cover story, as if they were something new. We've been doing them for years. For example, the government has tested and documented that the learning in online education is at the very least equal to that onsite and in many instances is probably better. After all, you can usually hide in the back of an onsite class (especially when it is in lecture format), but in an online class you either participate or you're absent.

    The article also addresses some of the continuing skepticism about developing close community online.  In our program, because you start together onsite, because you move through the program in a cohort, and because you return onsite once a year throughout your program, online classes are not disembodied or random.  They're like calling someone on the phone that you already know (even that illustration is outdated, but I'm trying to meet the skeptics where they usually are on the technology spectrum). Again, I guarantee you there is as much community going on there as in most traditional seminary classrooms.

    Some of the examples in this article are actually about the new MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and the use of increasing bandwidth to put longer lectures online. This is actually a step back pedagogically the way it is currently being done, although IWU will almost certainly enter this playing field because of the demand.  Currently, it is simply transplanting the "90% loss of learning" in lecture format into the online world.  Those like Asbury, Fuller, and Wesley who have been doing this for years know that lecture is the least effective learning method there is.

    Those who say you cannot effectively teach preaching or do spiritual formation online simply have no idea what they're talking about. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophy.  I don't think any of us have any real idea what is coming.

    Thursday, February 14, 2013

    Buy one e-book get one free...

    I guess there's a "buy one get one free" offer on e-books at Wesleyan Publishing House until the end of next week.  Go to this link.  Enter the code "BOGO" during checkout. This code works only once per user.

    I don't think one of mine has to be one of them :-)

    For lack of a Wesleyan theology...

    Interestingly, I've recently heard about push back on theology textbooks being used here and there in the Wesleyan Church from more than one part of the church.  What people don't realize is that there just isn't a great Wesleyan theology book out there right now.  I suppose Tom Oden's Classic Christianity is pretty good, but it's written from a "common Christianity" standpoint and is boring as a fish to me.

    Migliore's Faith Seeking Understanding is one of the best written, but is mainstream, so annoys Wesleyans who want to agree with everything they read in a theology book.  Theology books from the Nazarenes like Greathouse and Dunning's probably come the closest to a Wesleyan theology, but they write in a way that can alarm conservative Wesleyans.  They probably don't mean it but their "red flag" language at points can come off as in your face. Wiley, as one person said to me recently, is so old it's more of a historical artifact than a real option.

    I think it is a sign of theological sickness in the Wesleyan church that a lot of Wesleyans would probably prefer to use a Calvinist theology like Grudem over the Nazarene one by Greathouse.  For example, if I were to write a Wesleyan theology, I have no doubt I would be attacked for it, even if I wrote it in an irenic way.  To me that reflects how much fundamentalism continues to lurk in our church.

    Lincoln, "Lure of Politics" 1

    I'm in the third chapter of Team of Rivals about Lincoln and his cabinet team of Republican rivals.

    Previous posts:
    1. Lead up to election
    2. Family background of Lincoln and rivals

    The third chapter talks about the entrance of the four men of the book into politics.  In my attempt to die before finishing the book, I only got through the material on Edward Bates this week.

    Not much to say about Bates except that he lived in Missouri through the days of the Missouri Compromise, whereby Missouri could come into the US as a slave state as long as Maine came in as a free state.  It was a compromise worked out not least by Henry Clay of Kentucky in 1820.

    Bates was in Missouri during the Dred Scott case, where Dred Scott sued for his freedom as a slave since he had lived in free states and would therefore by the law of those states have become free while living there. The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed.  One of Bates' sisters was married to one of the judges who dissented with the judgment.  When DS went to the Supreme Court and they denied Dred his freedom, it in effect ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and moved the country closer to war.

    Bates was a moderate.  His family had owned slaves and he sold them rather than freed them. He became well known in the national debate over an internal improvements bill vetoed by President James K. Polk. The Democrats opposed it and the Whigs favored it (interesting how the positions are now reversed, since the Whigs effectively became the Republicans.  Obama's SOTU called for money to fix national infrastructure, a proposal that faces a dubious future in the Republican controlled House).

    Bates did such a good job presiding over a national convention on the issue and spoke so well for moderation and compromise that it pushed him into the public eye as someone who should be part of the national conversation.  Lincoln was also at the convention and distinguished himself in his rebuttals of Democratic arguments against internal improvements.

    Seward is up next in the chapter.  If you need a placeholder for him, he's the one that bought Alaska for the US from Russia, known as "Seward's folly" at the time.

    Wednesday, February 13, 2013

    Ash Wednesday

    The forty days of preparation for Easter begin today. I like to think of it in the same way as I think of getting ready for communion, a time for reflection on where you're at with God, a time of repentance and preparation for change, a time of purgation.  Easter is then like Christian New Year, where you start life anew.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    Jesus with an MBA

    I was reading someone saying that the Vatileaks incident was somewhere in the back of the pope resigning.  I guess there's a saying somewhere that a good RC bishop "needs to be like Jesus with an MBA."  I guess the current pope may think the RCC needs as a pope some young energetic person with strong organizational skills who can crack some heads and oust a bunch of corruption.

    This reflects my own pilgrimage in viewing Wesleyan church leadership, even Wesleyan college leadership.  When I was a naive boy, I used to think that only the holiest of people became general superintendents.  It was the Melvin Snyders and the Roy Nicholsons. I imagine most catholics like to think of the Pope that way.

    But that's not really what organizations need to function well or, if the supreme leader is chosen for being most holy, they often need someone else on the side actually running the operations.  Holy people don't necessarily make for good managers, at least not when it comes to making sure the trains run on time. And they don't always make for good leaders either when it comes to making decisions, problem solving, and casting vision.

    If the RCC wants a saintly pope, they'd better have a spankin' good executive at his side...

    Pope's Passing Baton

    Quite a surprise that Pope Benedict is passing the baton this way. You wonder what's behind the scenes to break with a 600 year precedent. A beef Ratzinger's always had, that Pope's spent their last years on autopilot?  Afraid of other people running it while he's frail?  Wanting to have influence on who his successor is?  If I had to pick one, the last one would be high on my list as a factor.

    I've never really liked Ratzinger.  I suspect he would undo a lot of Vatican II if he could. Certainly not a voice of progress.  Certainly not going to move the church forward.

    My guess is that they will elect someone like Peter Turkson from Ghana, Africa. He's a little more moderate than Benedict, which works well for me.

    Monday, February 11, 2013

    Bishop 7 (Bishops Proclaiming)

    Some highlights from chapter 7 of William Willimon's Bishop, "Bishops Preaching."  Previous chapters were:

    1. Methodists, Alabama Conference in Motion
    2. Summoned to be Bishop
    3. Bishops Sending Pastors
    4. Bishops Cultivating Fruitfulness
    5. Bishops as Change Agents
    6. Bishops Body Building

    Highlights of chapter 7:
    • Willimon's style is to give lots of snapshots from different angles, none of which is the whole picture but that provide a collage of sorts.  The main motif of this chapter would seem to be that bishops need to proclaim the main thing over and over.
    • I suppose different readers will take away different senses of what that main thing is.  Some will no doubt hear that the main message is to make Christians, evangelism.  They will hear Willimon dismissing all those voices in the UM church on all sides preoccupied with issues of sex and sexuality. He sure seems to think that adding believers to the UM church should be pretty high on the list right now in terms of focus.
    • Other readers may lock on to his comments on how we need less "nonbiblical drivel" and more biblical preaching (121). The church needs to hear more of its old message and unlearn some of its new. Of course how a fundamentalist hears these words will almost certainly be different from how he means them. He absolutely doesn't mean preaching more against gay marriage.
    • Perhaps he means "clear articulation of the faith" (123). He doesn't like the shift to calling ministers "pastors." He prefers to call them "preachers."
    • The leader who guards the direction of an organization “must be a big talker, relentlessly reiterating our core values” (118).  In Made to Stick, Heath says, “If you say three things, you don’t say anything” (126. 
    • Truly original ideas rarely stick. An idea “needs communicated at least seven times, seven different ways, before the idea is received” (126, Blanchard). •  
    • “A spirit of experimentation is more needed than one of care, causing, and planning” (122). “Over-planning is often the result of an over-cautious ethos that is afraid to fail” (123). 
    • But “good decisions require good information” (115).  There's the balance.  An organization will probably start to decline if it is averse to risk, but risks should be made with due diligence.
    • “Most of a good manager’s time should be spent with the organization’s best people” (116). But, then again, he emphasizes listening to everyone and the fact that he used to spend two hours a day on email. 
    • UM church does not need more good ideas but “more insights on what we ought to do next” (128). That's instructive for an organization that is stuck in a rut.  It's not innovation in itself that is needed in that case, but innovation that brings results.
    What I enjoyed most in the chapter was the four modes of decision making:
    • authoritative - the "my way or the highway" leader.  Worked good in the early Middle Ages.  Not so much now
    • voting - suffice it to say, those with exceptional insight are, by definition, not the majority
    • consensus - ideal, but almost impossible to achieve on hard decisions
    • contributive - it comes last so it must be what he likes (Willimon didn't actually come up with this list).  This is when a leader or appropriate leaders listen to all the voices and then make an informed decision.

    Sunday, February 10, 2013

    1 Timothy 2:12 and Women in Ministry 1

    Continuing some of my typical thoughts on women in ministry for a self-published booklet.
    With 1 Corinthians 14:34 irrelevant to the topic of women in ministry, the case against it really comes down to a single obscure verse in the entire Bible: 1 Timothy 2:12: "I do not allow a wife to teach nor to domineer a husband but to be in quietness."  If this verse were not in the Bible, it is hard to see how those against women in ministry would be able to persuade any earnest Bible reader at all.

    It's understandable that individuals would see 1 Timothy 2 in terms of a worship gathering. It pictures men praying for emperors and secular leaders (2:2), and public worship seems a likely place for such prayer to take place. Presumably the wives would not have adorned themselves at home (2:9), but they might have done so to gather in someone else's home for worship.  Presumably such adornment was not only a distraction to worship at the time, but implicitly demoralizing to the majority of wives there who did not have the means for such jewelry.

    You can see how this train of thought would lead someone to put comments on wives learning in quiet subordination (2:11) into a public worship setting. This context would then apply also to 2:12, where the wives are not to teach or dominate their husbands.  Nevertheless, the supporting arguments Paul gives to this statement are general rather than worship specific, even if they would be especially true in public.

    You'll notice I have consistently spoken of husbands and wives here. The supporting arguments Paul gives to his instruction in 2:12 make it clear that he is not thinking of women teaching men in general in these verses.  He is trying to protect the dynamics of the ancient household, as he was less strictly in 1 Corinthians 11.  Again, when the Greek word gynē is used in close proximity to the word anēr, the default assumption is that husbands and wives are the topic of discussion unless there are clear reasons to the contrary.

    In the culture of the time, a woman was never a woman in isolation. At the time, a woman was always defined in connection to a man.  A young female was a woman-as-fathered.  A married female was a woman-as-wifed.  To the extent that someone thinks of these verses as being about women and men in general, one has already modernized them to some extent.

    Paul's supporting arguments emphasize the fact that women-as-wives are in view.  Adam, the husband, was made first, then Eve, the wife (2:13).  It is a "birth order" argument that fit well in an ancient world where the oldest son clearly had the place of highest authority in the family.  God clearly made exceptions even in Old Testament times, such as when he chose Jacob over Esau.

    Because Western society empowers all the individuals in a family, most Western Christians would implicitly act as if these structures were more cultural than a matter of eternal principle. Indeed, the kingdom of God presumably will not give more authority to those born earlier in history than those born later, making the birth order principle a matter of the "elementary principles of the world" (Gal. 4:3).  It is second best because it is not kingdom best.

    The second supporting argument comes from the sin of Eve, the wife.  "And Adam was not deceived, but the wife, having been deceived, has come to be and remains in transgression, but she will be saved through childbearing if they remain in faith and love and holiness with self-control" (2:14-15)...

    Wednesday, February 06, 2013

    Lincoln, "Longing to Rise"

    Only now finishing the second chapter of Team of Rivals.  Wrote about the first chapter before.  At this rate, I'll finish the book in 2015.

    The second chapter talks about the backgrounds of the four key players in the book, Seward, Chase, Bates, and Lincoln. Seward grew up in New York to privilege. He left Union College to work in Georgia his senior year because his father cut off the purse strings. He came back to be valedictorian.

    It was clear from this chapter that the 1800s were a century of intimate male attachments that weren't sexual.  I remember the late Michael Vasey of Cranmer Hall at St. John's College saying that one of the costs of the sexualization of intimacy in the late twentieth century was the loss of intimate male relationships.  Such things are inevitably interpreted sexually today.

    Seward was used to coming first.  He went into law.  He didn't, however, have the knack at intonation in speaking. Of all the rivals, his was the picture perfect life, even though he wouldn't attain the presidency.  His life had the least death. The most comfort. The most leisure.

    Chase was such a tortured soul.  His father made a risky business venture in the War of 1812, lost the family fortune.  Then he died when Chase was only nine.  He was parceled to a bishop uncle in Ohio who had little of nurture to him and plenty of harsh rigor.

    Chase seemed to walk a tortured balance between not being good enough and being better than everyone else. He was far too serious.  He didn't read novels. Went into law, nurtured by a man above his station (he would have gone for the Wirt's daughter but he wasn't socially worthy).

    His first wife died after childbirth (they were still stupidly practicing blood letting back then, so frustrating). He feared she did not make it to heaven and he became legalistically religious thereafter, apparently. His second wife died of tuberculosis. His third died also and he stopped remarrying.  He lost two daughters.  The omnipresence of death in the 1800s really came through in this chapter.

    Bates was born in Virginia. His father died when he was 11. Eventually, he ended up going west following his older brother Frederick, whom Jefferson appointed secretary of the new Missouri territory. Like the others, he became a lawyer. He moved his family to Missouri. This line was fun: "To cross the wilds of Illinois and Indiana, a guide was necessary" (46). :-)

    Lincoln came from nothing. His father was illiterate and resented his interest in reading and telling stories he'd heard. His mother died of "milk sickness" when Lincoln was 9. His beloved older sister died in childbirth. She had taken care of him for months in Indiana when he was 12 while his father went back to Kentucky to bring back a new wife.  At that time Indiana was "a wild region where the panther's scream, filled the night with fear and bears preyed on the swine" (48).

    He was raised to be a man of melancholic temperament yet with a good sense of humor.  I like him.  He was completely self-taught.  He read anything he could get his hands on.

    He moved to New Salem, Illinois.  An early love died possibly of typhoid.  He went into a major funk. Although Lincoln believed in an omnipotent God, it's not clear he believed in heaven. The same is true of Seward.

    Then Lincoln moved to Springfield. He became close friends with Joshua Speed, perhaps his closest friend for the rest of his life.

    Sunday, February 03, 2013

    Inerrancy 7: Conclusion

    1. A Little History
    2. The Authority of God
    3. Different Kinds of Speaking
    4. What God Intended 1
    5. What God Intended 2
    6. What God Intends
    7. Conclusion
    The Wesleyan Church has never defined exactly what it means by inerrancy. Obviously it means that the Bible is without error.  But it has never defined what an error is or created a list of positions on specific issues as if to say, "Such and such a position on this issue violates inerrancy."

    This is a crucial observation.  It surely means that there is some leeway among Wesleyans in exactly what a person understands an error to be.  Whether individuals affirm inerrancy surely depends, within reasonable limits, on their attitude toward Scripture rather than on the specific positions they take.

    When some Wesleyans use the word "inerrancy," they have a very specific list of positions in mind.  For example, it might mean affirmation that God created the world in six literal days, that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, David the Psalms, and Isaiah all of Isaiah. It might mean for them that the gospels are historically harmonizable on the level of detail and that all the books of the New Testament were literally written by the individuals whose names are on them.

    It is very understandable that some equate inerrancy with these positions, because these were some of the key issues at the time the term came to the fore in American culture.  Modernists had taken contrary positions and said the Bible was in error. Fundamentalists had responded that the Bible was not in error and took traditional positions.

    But both sides, interestingly, were operating with the same definition of an error at the time, namely, the modernist one.  Fundamentalists, perhaps without even fully realizing it, absorbed the definition of an error as something not being historical, not being literal, or not being scientifically accurate. As I hope this booklet has shown, these standards for error are not obviously the appropriate ones for the Bible, as common sense as they may have seemed in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

    For example, what if the rules of ancient history writing were not the same as modern history writing?  What if God inspired the biblical authors in genres that we are not as familiar with today?  As I mentioned earlier, it is no error if you do not hit a target you are not aiming for.  No one considers a parable to be lying even though the genre of parable is fictional rather than historical.

    To affirm inerrancy thus does not presume that a person will take a particular position on these sorts of issues.  The key to inerrancy is not so much specific positions on interpretive issues but whether a person believes the Bible failed at some point at what God wanted it to do.

    The value of this approach is that it allows Wesleyans to listen to the biblical text, even if they think it is leading in a different direction than tradition.  They may of course be wrong.  But can we really say we are interested in truth unless we are willing to change our minds given a sufficient basis or amount of evidence?  It is often the person who feels threatened by new evidence who argues most strongly against it.

    Thankfully, Wesleyans have never fought over inerrancy.  Wesleyans have always valued Scripture on the highest level.  We have never had a group of scholars or ministers arguing that the Bible has errors in it.  If some Wesleyans have at times had what seemed to be peculiar positions, they have held them within a framework of respect for the Bible and a sense that they accurately understood what God intended the text to mean.

    What a great thing to be able to say that!  We have neither had scholars trying to convince us that the Bible has errors, nor have we had hard core fundamentalists trying to kick people out of the church for their positions on specific issues.  Both arguably have the wrong attitude. You can rest assured that such controversies do not bring anyone closer to God. They are far more likely to drive people away from Christ.

    Wesleyans believe that God's word never fails.  The books of the Bible never failed at what God inspired them to do nor do they fail at what he intends them to do today. God's commands in the Bible were authoritative then, and they remain authoritative over us today insofar as God intends them to remain in force. Finally, the truths that God asserted in the Bible were true then, and they continue to be without error today, inerrant.

    Saturday, February 02, 2013

    1 Corinthians 14:34-35 not original

    Since this came up in a comment under the previous post, I thought I would also post the rest of the section in the booklet.
    ... In the end, however, I would side with those who do not think these verses were even in 1 Corinthians to begin with. We do not need this argument—1 Corinthians 11 alone shows that women prophesied and thus spoke spiritually in the public, mixed worship of the church. Nevertheless, I believe the balance of evidence is against these verses being original.

    First, if you are not aware of the situation, we do not have any of the original copies of any book of the Bible. All we pretty much have are copies of copies of copies. The originals disintegrated long ago. Someone, whether it be the experts behind the King James Version four hundred years ago or those behind modern versions today, had to decide which of the surviving copies is more likely to preserve the way the original text was worded.

    There is only the slightest manuscript evidence that something funny happened to these verses. A couple copies of 1 Corinthians from the 500s put the verses after 14:40 rather than where they are in all the others. There is also a Christian from the 300s who indicated the verses were in that spot. It is very slim evidence, quite curious, but it hints that something else might be going on here.

    Here is how the copy from the 500s reads, the one I just mentioned:

    "Let two or three prophets speak and let the others pass judgment. And if something should be revealed to another who is sitting, let the first person be silent. For you are all able to prophesy individually so that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, for God is not about confusion but about peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints. Or did the word of God go out from you or did it come to you alone? If someone seems to be a prophet or someone spiritual, let them understand that what I am writing to you is the command of the Lord. And if someone is ignorant, he is ignorant."

    I guarantee you that no one reading this version would think something is missing. It reads smoothly and naturally.

    By contrast, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 do not fit 1 Corinthians—or Paul—very well. We saw earlier in the booklet that women played significant roles in Paul’s mission. And we've just seen the tension that would result if Paul told Corinthian wives to be silent, given his assumption earlier in the letter that they did speak regularly.  I'm not surprised that someone might think these verses seem more sweeping than disruptive speech--and to that extent they don't fit well in 1 Corinthians itself.

    There are other clues. The verses immediately before and after 14:34-35 are about prophecy. If the verses belonged here, you might think they were saying women should not be allowed to prophesy. That is what you would think they were saying given the immediate context. But Paul has already assumed women will prophesy in church, so they cannot be saying that. As such, they are an interruption to the natural train of thought.  They come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly without a trace.

    There are a couple other subtle shifts. For example, these verses are not just an interruption of topic. They also change the perspective. 14:31 addresses the community with "you," in the second person.  14:36 continues with "you," the second person. But these verses shift to "they," the third person. It is a minor shift, but it shows that these verses shift grammatically as well as in content.

    More significant is the shift from addressing the singular church of Corinth to give instructions relating to churches elsewhere.  The church at Corinth was exactly that, one church, one assembly. The entire church could meet in the house of Gaius (Rom. 16:23). It would not make sense for Paul to give it instructions for churches, plural--"let wives be silent in the churches." He was not talking to churches.  He was talking to a singular church.

    This discrepancy hints strongly that someone created these verses after 1 Corinthians began to circulate more widely, after it was no longer just a letter for one church but was being read in multiple churches. Someone apparently believed wives were disruptive in the charismatic worship of early Christian assemblies. Perhaps he added these words in the margin of a key early copy of 1 Corinthians, perhaps even in the late first century.

    As I said above, these verses cannot forbid women to speak prophetically or spiritually in worship even if they are original. However, there are good reasons to believe that they were not part of the original letter.

    1 Corinthians 14:34 and Women in Ministry

    I wrote a booklet a few years ago called "Why Wesleyans Favor Women in Ministry."  The Wesleyan Church added some prefatory material and printed it.  You can still get copies of it at cost from the denomination or download a PDF of it here.

    Since a lot of people don't want the electronic version and a printed version requires a little work to get, I've decided to self-publish a slightly different form of it under the title, "Why the Bible Favors Women in Ministry."  This aims to be about a 24 page booklet like the first one, which of course remains available from HQ.

    Since I write better in public, I may reshape some of it here:
    You wonder if there would even be any debate over women in ministry if it were not for two verses: 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12. I imagine there would, because sometimes we fight for certain positions more because of our traditions than because of the biblical texts themselves. But if you are looking for a smoking gun against women in ministry, these are the verses everyone will mention.

    Of course neither of these verses are actually about women in ministry.  We will look at 1 Timothy 2 in a moment, but we can start by saying that 1 Corinthians 14 has absolutely nothing to do with the issue.  It's not even close.

    Let's assume for the moment that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 were actually in the original letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians (it is not certain they were). They say, "Let the wives be silent in the assemblies, for it is not fitting for them to speak but let them be subject as the Law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a wife to speak in an assembly."

    These verses sound rather damning when you rip them out of context. On the one hand, we should probably point out that they have to do with husband-wife relationships, not with women ministering to men in general.  When the Greek word gynē (“woman,” “wife”) is used in the presence of anēr (“husband), it usually refers to wives in relation to husbands rather than women in relation to men in general. The word “to submit” reinforces this impression (14:34).

    What is a little puzzling about these verses is that 1 Corinthians 11 has already assumed that women did prophecy in Corinthian worship (cf. 11:5), which of course required speaking in the assembly.  There, Paul doesn't feel any need to justify the idea of women praying or prophesying in worship. He assumes it as something that regularly takes place.

    In fact, the whole idea of wives needing to cover their heads in worship is exactly because Paul wants them to be modest in the presence of men who aren't their husbands, including God and the angels, who are putatively male. Paul is walking a careful line here.  He is assuming that, in the age of the Spirit, women will have spiritual messages from God like men. But he doesn't want to undermine the marriages of the Corinthians either, and the head covering helps keep the balance between the two principles, which have come into conflict.

    In this light, whatever 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 means, it cannot be about women speaking spiritually in worship. Otherwise Paul would contradict himself. He would assume that women prophesy in worship only to forbid it later in the same letter!  Accordingly, we can’t use these verses to argue against women in ministry.

    Whatever these verses were about, they weren't about women speaking for God in worship, not if they are original. They must have been about disruptive speech. The verses assume that wives were asking questions in worship, questions they should rather ask their own husbands at home (presumably rather than other people's husbands). The verses thus have nothing to do with women ministering. They have to do with preserving marriages and keeping order in public worship...

    Inerrancy 6: What God Intends

    1. A Little History
    2. The Authority of God
    3. Different Kinds of Speaking
    4. What God Intended 1
    5. What God Intended 2
    6. What God Intends
    The default reading of Scripture is probably not to focus on what it meant, past tense, but on what it means, present tense.  Probably, most Christians would not see a distinction.  What it meant is what it means in all tenses--one meaning for all time.

    As the last section explored, others will conclude that language usually does not work this way. In fact, you could argue that the more general an audience language has, the less immediately relevant it normally is to any one audience.  By contrast, evangelical Bible scholars generally see the New Testament letters as "occasional" in nature, meaning that in general they were not written as theological treatises but to address the needs of real communities at specific times and places. Even in the case of Romans, few if any experts would consider this magnificent letter to be a "compendium of Christian doctrine."  It also addressed a real community at a particular time and place.

    These dynamics bring us to the question of how to apply Scripture to today. Sometimes the text will reach out to us over time and apply directly to our situation today.  Sometimes it will not.  Sometimes it will apply in a more general sense but with different specifics. Our Wesleyan heritage would also allow that the Spirit can sometimes reapply the text to us in ways completely new and different from anything originally meant.

    Whatever God intends the text to do today, it will unfailingly do. Whatever God wants to assert to us today through the text will be inerrant. Whatever God wants to command us to do today through the biblical text will be authoritative.  And these may be the same, similar, related in some way, or completely different from what he originally intended in the past through those Scriptures.

    For example, if we look at biblical commands, we would all agree that some biblical commands obviously apply to all time. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is one (e.g., Matt. 22:39). This command is present both in the Jewish Law and throughout the New Testament. The New Testament itself repeatedly affirms the love command as an encapsulation of the Law. Christians since have found this command to ring true. It is one of the unquestionable absolutes of Christian ethics and just as authoritative over us today as ever.

    What about the instruction for Thessalonian men to greet each other with a kiss (1 Thess. 5:26)? What about the commands to offer animal sacrifices or to put tassels on the edges of garments? In the first case, the meaning of greeting with a kiss today probably would not be the same at least in North America as it was in ancient Thessalonica.  Here God's intention is surely that the church view itself as a family and in warm fellowship.  Perhaps a holy handshake will do the trick. We can thus play out the instruction in a similar way while not doing exactly the same thing.

    But I do not know of any Christians that believe God intends for us to offer animal sacrifices today, and I do not know any Christians who stay up at night worrying about having clothing with tassels. In the first case, the New Testament book of Hebrews puts Leviticus into Christian perspective. In the second case, most Christians would consider tassels as something specific to Israel and not required of believers in the new covenant, following the lead of the apostle Paul.

    When you get into the details, the old, "God said it, I believe it" approach simply does not settle it in many cases because we are not the original audience. We are not the ones God was talking to. A lot of spiritual common sense is involved in applying Scripture, not to mention a whole lot of inherited Christian tradition about applying the text. And chances are, we are not even fully aware these processes are going on.

    How do we know what God intends for a text, especially when it is not exactly the same as what he intended originally?  There is a historical method for determining what the text meant. But to determine what God means today for the text goes beyond what it meant and requires input from outside the text in question itself.

    In the case of the Old Testament, the New Testament (if you are a Christian) gives us a clear sense of what God intended for the church beyond what he might have intended for Israel. Those who read the Bible as a single book may not even realize the extent to which they already read the Old Testament through New Testament eyes. They may not even be fully aware of the originally intended meaning for Israel.

    For example, ancient Israel arguably did not read Genesis 2-3 as the reason there is sin in the world.  They probably did not see the serpent in Genesis 3 as Satan. They may not even have read it as the reason there is death in the world. We are so used to reading Genesis through the eyes of Paul (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15) as Christian tradition has interpreted him (e.g., through Augustine), that we automatically read these chapters with Christian eyes, as we believe God intends for us to read them.

    But Genesis 2-3 do not mention Satan. We have no evidence of a Jew interpreting the snake as Satan until around the time of Jesus. The word "sin" is nowhere in this passage. Indeed, in the story, Adam and Eve were expected to die from the very beginning--the tree of life would have added life. If we listen to the original story, death is a consequence in the sense that Adam's disobedience (also a word not used in Genesis) prevented life. It did not directly cause death.

    What God intended for this story in ancient Israel arguably had to do with expressing the problem of hard labor in farming, pain in childbearing, and why snakes and humans do not get along together (Gen. 3:17-19). After all, this is what the text actually says. But through the eyes of the New Testament, we believe that God intends for us to see much more in the story, namely, the sinful human condition that needs the atonement of Christ.  God did not fail in his original purposes for the text and he does not fail today in the text.

    God did not fail in the New Testament when he inspired Paul to see a more cosmic meaning to the story, even though it was a relatively new meaning as far as Israel was concerned. And the Spirit will not fail you if the Spirit speaks authentically to you through some new meaning of the text he gives you. God did not fail in the first meaning he intended, the original meaning. God did not fail in the New Testament or Christian meaning he established for biblical texts, the God meaning. And God will not fail in any extended meaning he might make come alive for you, a Spirit meaning.

    The problem with extended meanings is knowing for certain that they are from God. An individual can be completely wrong about what the Spirit is saying. But any word from God is as authoritative as any other, because the authority behind any of God's authentic words is God. The problem of knowing which is which is our problem, not a problem with the word itself.

    Many people do not realize how flexible the meaning of words is.  This is why there are tens of thousands of Christian groups, so many of which think they are simply reading the Bible and doing what it says. Even the New Testament authors themselves, although God spoke through them, perhaps did not fully realize this flexibility of language. They were good charismatics, who heard what God intended for them in the words without always realizing how it might have been different from what God originally intended for Israel.

    They did not err when they saw spiritual meanings in Old Testament texts.  I was once quite troubled about the way Matthew uses Hosea in Matthew 2:15. In Matthew, Joseph and Mary have taken toddler Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod. They stay there till Herod dies. Then they return to Israel, which Matthew says fulfills the Old Testament verse, "Out of Egypt I called my son" in Hosea 11:1.

    I had never looked, but I fully expected that if I were to look this verse in Hosea 11 up, I would find a fairly straightforward prediction saying that the future Messiah at some point would travel out of Egypt. But that is not what Hosea 11 says. Hosea 11 is not a prediction about the future. It is a comment about something that was already past for Hosea for some 500 years, the exodus from Egypt.

    And not only was it not originally about the Messiah or Jesus, it was about sinful Israel.  Hosea 11:2 goes on to say that although God had brought Israel, his son, out of Egypt, Israel had served other gods. The passage in Hosea goes on to say how God was going to judge the Israel of Hosea's day for its faithlessness, which God did when he brought Assyria against them and destroyed the northern kingdom in 722BC.

    I was horrified by this issue when it first really came home. Given the fundamentalist way I had understood inerrancy, Matthew seemed to be in error. He seemed to have misunderstood the passage in Hosea. After all, there is no ambiguity whatsoever about what Hosea meant, and Hosea certainly wasn't predicting anything about the Messiah, let alone about his travel plans.

    This is why some Wesleyans will want to take a broader understanding of inerrancy, one that allows for God's intentions for a text to be broader than even what a biblical author originally understood. Now Matthew may very well have known he was taking Hosea in an extended sense.  We cannot even say his understanding of the text was in error.  I would now certainly want to say that the fundamentalist expectations I had of the text were in error.

    But none of that is the point. The point is that God did not fail in what he wanted to do originally through this biblical text in Hosea's day. And God also did not fail in what he wanted to do in the New Testament through an Old Testament text in Matthew's day. And the Spirit will not fail in something he may want to do today through this biblical text.

    When 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed and that it is profitable for teaching, correcting, and training, it is important to realize that no New Testament author treated this instruction as if it only applied to the literal or original meaning of a text. Paul shows this quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, where he applies a verse in Deuteronomy 25:4 that says not to muzzle and ox when it is harvesting grain. He sees the key meaning of this verse not in its literal meaning, but in an extended sense. Paul practically dismisses its literal reading. The spiritual meaning he legitimately sees is that ministers should be supported by those whom they serve. 2 Timothy 3:16 thus cannot be used to enforce a narrow view of inerrancy.

    So some Wesleyans function with a more or less fundamentalist understanding of inerrancy, one that sees each text more or less having one meaning for all time. They would see those meanings as largely assertive and apply inerrancy to all or almost all aspects of that single meaning. This is an acceptable perspective for a Wesleyan to have.

    Other Wesleyans will factor in the kinds of complexity we have been discussing throughout this booklet. This is also a legitimate perspective for a Wesleyan to have. Both groups should respect each other because both are, in their own way, doing their best to listen to the text and to submit to God's authority as mediated by the text.

    Tomorrow: the conclusion (dv)