Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wright on Third Quest

Pushing myself on the harder writing again today...
In 1988, the feature that [N. T.] Wright found common to this third quest [for the historical Jesus] was a focus on history. [1]  We have to place his sense of this common ground against the backdrop of the era of Barth and Bultmann, when history was de-emphasized in deference to theology [2] and against the so called "New Quest" in which the criterion of dissimilarity reigned supreme.  The criterion of dissimilarity looked for sayings of Jesus that neither fit well within the Jewish context of Palestine nor a later context of Christian faith. Such sayings would surely derive authentically from Jesus, since no one would be motivated to make such a saying up or misdirect an existing one. While this reasoning is sound, the collection of such sayings surely would not give us a picture of Jesus that is anything like he likely was. [3]

Wright himself would later argue for a criterion of "double similarity." [4]  That is to say, we would expect to find both authentic sayings and events in the life of Jesus somewhere on a trajectory from Jesus' Jewish context to the faith of the earliest church that issued from his life. While Wright thus emphasized the return to history in his initial analysis of the resurgence of Jesus research at the time, that surge would include significant attention to Jesus against the backdrop of his Jewish context, as the title of Vermes' book indicates. [5] A. E. Harvey, another "quester" that Wright featured, wrote of the "constraints" of history, namely, that for Jesus to communicate to his audiences, "he had to speak a language they could understand, perform actions they would find intelligible, and conduct his life and undergo his death in a manner of which they could make some sense." [6]

James Dunn in fact considers the work of Sanders a more appropriate place to begin speaking of a third quest for the historical Jesus.  "If traditional New Testament scholarship had misrepresented the Judaism with which Paul had to do, how much more was it necessary for Jesus' relationship to his ancestral Judaism to be reassessed. [7]  In this regard, it is not surprising to find that Sanders himself wrote an analysis of the historical Jesus in the decade after his book on Paul, nor to find that Wright includes his work among those of the third quest. [8]...

[1] He says of Geza Vermes writing as a historian: "that is the major distinguishing mark of all the 'Third Quest' authors" (Interpretation, 381).

[2] A situation in which we more or less find ourselves again at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

[3] For a critique of the criterion of dissimilarity, see "Saving the Quest from the Criterion of Dissimilarity: History and Plausibility," in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, eds. (London: T & T Clark, 2012), 115-31.

[4] Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 132.

[5] In his magnum opus on the historical Jesus, James Dunn highlights the way in which late nineteenth century questers tried to distance Jesus from his Jewishness. Ernst Renan, for example, wrote that, "Fundamentally there was nothing Jewish about Jesus," quoted in Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 86. Later in that section, Dunn writes, "In the history of Jesus research nothing has evidenced the flight from history more devastatingly than the persistent refusal to give any significance to the Jewishness of Jesus" (88).

[6] A. E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1982), 7*.

[7] Jesus Remembered, 89.

[8] Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985).  Wright's analysis of Sanders in this regard is found in Interpretation, 391-96.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Early Christian Witness 5

A sixth dimension of the early community of faith were the signs and wonders that the apostles performed (2:43).  This was a direct consequence of the fact that they had received the Holy Spirit.  It is no coincidence that the chapter immediately after Pentecost is about the healing of a lame man.

Peter and John are at the temple to pray, and a lame man looks at them expectantly. They have something better to offer than money. They see him and say, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you" (3:6). They then help him up, and he is able to walk again.

It is sometimes pointed out that, today, we as a church often have the silver or gold, but we don't have the power to say, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Obviously if we had to choose, the latter is more important.  When we are comfortable, we often do not feel the need to rely on God, even though in reality we need him just as much as ever.

Some believe that God sometimes pushes back on us when we get too comfortable and forget that he is the center of things. Whether he is so active in getting our attention or whether reality itself has a way of reminding us, life often does pull the rug out from under our feet.  The problem with a life of ease is that you take things for granted.  You become unthankful. Perhaps this is partly why "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24).

The healing of the lame man leads naturally to a seventh feature of the earliest Christian community. The miracle brought the opportunity for witness, "evangelism," with the result that others join the community destined for salvation when Christ returns (cf. Acts 17:31). On the one hand, the picture we get of the early Jerusalem believers is that God largely brought the opportunities to witness to them. They didn't go knocking door to door in Jerusalem.  They didn't stand at the temple door passing out tracks.

They saw a lame beggar and healed him--then plenty of people wanted to hear what they had to say. They were praying and filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak miraculously in other languages--and plenty of people wanted to hear what they had to say. It is not the only model for sharing the good news that Jesus is risen from the dead, but it seems to have been the way it happened the most at first.

And people respected them.  They were "enjoying the favor of all the people" (2:47).  It would not always be that way, to be sure.  Very quickly they came on the radar of the leaders of Jerusalem too. But when you are doing good in the world, people notice you. Fair-minded people respect you. The early church did not get people saved and then help them.  The earliest believers helped people, and people got saved.

The miracles of the apostles--as well as the trouble they got into--gave them the opportunity to give witness to Jesus' resurrection.  After they have healed the lame man, Peter gives the second sermon in Acts.  Its basic content is similar to the Pentecost sermon.

The people of Jerusalem, Peter charges, put Jesus to death, "the Holy and Righteous One" (3:14).  They ironically put to death the "author of life" (3:15).  Then comes the key line in almost all the sermons of Acts: "But God raised him from the dead."  It is faith in Jesus that healed the man, faith in the one God raised, faith that God is a God who brings life from the dead.

And Jesus' death was all part of God's plan.  When we read the Law and the Prophets with spiritual eyes, we can see all sorts of hints we didn't see before.  For example, Jesus is a prophet like Moses, just like Deuteronomy 18 talked about.

The bottom line?  Just as in the Pentecost sermon, the appropriate response is for Israelites to repent of their sins and turn from their wicked ways (3:26).  Jesus is in heaven, waiting to return to refresh the earth (3:21) and he wants them to be a part of his kingdom.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Early Christian Sharing 4

A fifth element of early Christian fellowship was sharing each others possessions with those who were in need (2:45).  We hear an example at the end of Acts 4. Barnabas, who would go with Paul on some of his missionary journeys, apparently had an extra field.  He sold it and gave it to the apostles to use in order to serve others in the community who were in need.

Barnabas was not forced to sell the field.  In Acts 5 when a couple lie about how much they sold their land for, Peter makes it clear that they were not forced either to sell their land or give it all to the disciples (5:1-4).  To argue over such things is to miss the point. Acts pictures a community where people wanted to help those in need around them and were willing to share their own possessions to make it happen.

They did not think of their possessions as being their own (4:32). True, they may have thought that the kingdom of God was about to arrive.  But they demonstrated an attitude that is strongly and consistently affirmed throughout the New Testament.  Christians are not hoarders.  They are sharers.

And this attitude makes sense if the church is like a healthy family.  What ideal father and mother does not help their children out when they are truly in need?  What brother or sister would not help the other out if the need is legitimate?  Many of us have aunts and uncles or cousins who would do the same.

Help of course can come in more than just material form.  Help can be sharing knowledge or skills. Help can be training people to help themselves.

Of course we can also use these as excuses.  Human nature is very good at rationalization. We can pretend to be sharing when we are not, like Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Or we can point out technicalities of Acts to justify an unsharing attitude.  God knows the difference.  You cannot lie to the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira pretend to be generous.  They sell some property and act as if they are giving it to the community.  The Holy Spirit tells Peter that they are pretending, that they are lying. Peter does not rebuke them for not giving all.  He rebukes them because their heart was wrong.

Ananias immediately falls over dead, and when his wife hears what happened she does as well. It is a reminder that God administers discipline in the new covenant as well as the old. There are plenty of people in the church today who are pretending to be righteous. It would be surprising if such individuals did not go to church. But we should always keep in mind that God knows the difference, even if we can fool those around us much of the time.

A striking line is that, "No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had" (4:32). Such words can spark strong feelings in Americans who lived through the Cold War, where the greatest enemy of the United States was communist Russia. The Korean War and the Vietnam War were both fought against communist states. Suffice it to say, many Americans have a deeply ingrained hatred of communism.

And Acts 4:32 sounds like communism, whose founding motto was, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." [1] To some this motto will sound noble, to others it will sound unfair--shouldn't I get more if I am able to do more (cf. Matt. 20:1-16)? Enter rationalization, like the argument that it is no surprise the Jerusalem church found itself needing material support a few years later when Paul and others took supplies down to Jerusalem from Antioch.

Of course these debates go far beyond anything this verse was saying. The communism of Russia and Eastern Europe did not make its people better off.  In fact, it never even really managed to become truly communist in the sense of Karl Marx, the founder of the modern idea.  These countries were really dictatorships--and economic failures.

And as is often pointed out, the early church did not do away with individual property.  Rather, they had a giving attitude that caused each person to share from their overflow with the needs of others. Sacrificial giving--where you share in a way that causes you to be uncomfortable--is also Christ-like. No one was forced to share, but that doesn't mean giving wasn't the right thing to do. Not sharing can disqualify someone from the kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).

If we can listen to the biblical text with cool heads, the problem with communism is that it does not work in the real world as an economic system. The idea of each working as they are able and giving away all their extra to those in need is thoroughly Christian. But human beings are selfish. We are often not motivated without the promise of personal gain.

Capitalism feeds off our lust and greed for more--that is why it works.  It builds off of human materialism and self-interest.  But ironically, if it is carefully watched and implemented, it can create an economic context in which everyone has more to share and fewer people suffer economically.

But it is important for Christians to remember that this is not because its underlying values are Christian or ideal. It is rather its potential results that can be helpful to others.  We find ourselves in the ironic situation where the values of communism are more Christ-like, but do not usually result in a better world.  Meanwhile, the typical values of capitalism are devilish, but can result in a more loving world if its implementation is carefully watched.

[1] Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Early Christian Fellowship 3

... continued from yesterday
Fellowship is a second key element of healthy church life, and it is also a mechanism for discipleship. The early Christians met together often, and not only to worship.  They may initially have expected Jesus to return rather quickly--we remember that they didn't really leave Jerusalem on the mission until someone got killed (and even then, the disciples didn't leave). They may have gathered at the temple in part expecting Jesus to return there.

Nevertheless, they modeled the fact that God's people are a fellowshipping people. People tend to hang out with other people who have the same values and way of looking at the world. Since God must be the ultimate value for a believer, who provides the ultimate lens for looking at the world, something is wrong if Christians do not enjoy hanging out with one another. It's not that we should behave like some cult that never speaks to anyone else--Jesus certainly didn't model that approach either. It's that we should have more in common with other believers, where it counts the most, than we do with individuals who do not share our faith.

They ate together, "breaking bread." Acts does not explicitly connect the fellowship of the early church with the last supper in Luke 22, communion.  But Paul, writing earlier than Luke, seems to assume that the Corinthians ate "the Lord's supper" whenever they came together (1 Cor. 11:20). From his description, this supper was not a small 10-15 minute ceremony at the end of a worship service but an entire meal. It is at least reasonable, then, to assume that the regular breaking of bread Acts mentions quickly became associated with Jesus' final meal with his disciples. Each meal remembered that they would eat with Jesus one day when he returned and set up his kingdom on earth.

These were "love feasts," as Jude 12 seems to call them, something like the pitch-in dinners churches often have today. The earliest Christians seem to have eaten together often, perhaps even more than once a week on the Lord's Day, Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead (cf. Rev. 1:10).  They "ate together with glad and sincere hearts."  They no doubt prayed.  They probably shared their needs with one another.

They broke bread together in homes.  This was a completely appropriate place to meet because believers had become a family, brothers and sisters now.  And where else would be easier to cook food and eat?  "Table fellowship" was a major sign of intimacy in Israel at the time, and we remember that Jesus' opponents criticized him for eating with the wrong people (e.g, Luke 19:7).

A third element Acts mentions is prayer.  The earliest Christians prayed together.  We would like to think that they prayed alone as individuals as well, but this is not the kind of prayer that Acts highlights. The prayer that the New Testament talks about by far is corporate prayer, prayer that the community of faith did together. They prayed together when they were in each others homes and they prayed when they gathered together at the temple.

1 Corinthians 14 pictures a rather charismatic service in Christian homes. Perhaps they started with the meal.  Then after supper, perhaps they had a time of prayer and prophecy, as the Lord led.  From 1 Corinthians 11, we know that women prayed and prophesied just as the men did (cf. 1 Cor. 11:5), which fits with what Peter says will happen in Acts 2:17. This would also be a natural time for teaching.

We see in Acts that they also gathered at the temple, a fourth element in this early description of the church.  Nothing about Acts suggests they met there to rail against the temple or indict its sinfulness. Stephen will have some words against the temple leaders soon enough, and it gets him stoned. There is no evidence in Acts that the disciples said such things when they visited the temple.

The tone is rather one of worship, similar to the way Christians today go to church to worship. In fact, Acts 21:24 indicates that the Jerusalem Christians even offered sacrifices at the temple.  In hindsight, we know that the temple was destined to be destroyed and never rebuilt.  We know that Jesus was a full replacement for the temple sacrifices (cf. Heb. 10:8-9).  It arguably took them much longer to realize these things, and one of the reasons the New Testament is so clear on these points is possibly because the gospels also had the benefit of hindsight.

The principle is perhaps that the earliest Christians went to the place where God's name was, the temple (cf. Deut. 12:5).  Since Jesus is the reality to which the temple pointed, this is now "where two or three gather" (Matt. 18:20). This can certainly be in a home, but there is something about a location that is set aside, sacred space, that helps our human minds focus on worship.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

To what were Gentiles converting...

Publishers often don't like it.  It's always a first draft and thus not polished.  It exposes me to unnecessary criticism from people I might otherwise be on good terms with (and I'm not talking of a single unified group but people who switch back and forth from fan to opponent depending on the issue). For these reasons it is unfortunate that I write with the greatest motivation and style when there is at least a possibility that someone is listening and enjoying.  So I'm going to try to jump start some scholarly writing today by writing a few hundred words here...
... The form of Judaism to which they [Gentiles] were converting would have been the Christian Judaism of the previous chapter. These were Jews who did not see their faith as an alternative to Israel's faith but as its truest understanding and culmination. Arguably, Christian faith in Jesus as Messiah initially assigned a name to the messianic expectation of other Jewish groups. These were groups looking for God to restore the kingdom of Israel by way of someone from the Davidic line. [1] In earliest Christianity, this faith almost immediately transformed into something much more extensive in scope. Nevertheless, as we will argue in a subsequent chapter, it did not cross any obvious line in the first century that would clearly have demarcated it as a separate religion from its parent Judaism. [2]

The ritual of baptism in itself was not uniquely Christian.  The most unique feature of the baptism of John the Baptist was its "one time" nature. [3] That is to say, ritual washings were a normal part of temple purity, indicated by the numerous miqvaot or cleansing pools throughout Israel. [4] The site at Qumran had such a pool at both of its entrances.  Perhaps you descended unclean down into the water on one side and then ascended clean on the other, now purified to enter the Qumran community. [5] What distinguished the baptism of John was the fact that it arguably was preparing for a unique event in history, the arrival of the restored kingdom of Israel on earth. [6]  It was thus conceptualized to be a one time event before the arrival of the promised king.

The origins of early Christian thinking about the Spirit perhaps involved the convergence of several trajectories. In this regard, Joel 2:28-32 surely played an important role, and it was probably connected with other important passages for early Christian understanding such as the new covenant imagery of Jeremiah 31 and the association of Jesus with passages in Isaiah.  The Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that imagery of God's holy spirit was already in use within Israel, [7] and the miracles of the early church no doubt provided ample events with which to link God's Spirit. [8] By the time we reach the book of Acts, baptism associated with the Holy Spirit came to distinguish baptism in Jesus' name from the baptisms performed by John the Baptist (cf. Acts 19:1-7).

All of these distinguishing elements within Judaism were intra-Jewish distinctions rather than distinctions that would have separated Christian Jews from Judaism "proper." [9]  In relation to Gentiles, the earliest Christians debated what a Gentile would need to do in order to be fully "in" the people of God...

[1] It is not at all clear that all Jewish groups of the time had this expectation (see James H. Charlesworth, The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009]). The best known text in this regard is Psalms of Solomon 17.  The provenance of Psalms of Solomon is not agreed, although some have suggested it could be Essene (***). The Dead Sea Scrolls also have a few messianic texts (***; see John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star.

[2] See chapter 5.  As we will argue, this interpretation is true in part because the Judaism of the time did not have entirely clear boundary lines in the first place in relation to what it meant to believe in "one God."

[3] ***

[4] ***

[5] *** James VanderKam...

[6] ***

[7] ***

[8] Whether one believes that supernatural miracles can occur or not, it seems beyond question that the earliest church could identity any number of events that it considered to be miracles, not only in the ministry of Jesus but also in the early church. See ***.

[9] We remember from the first chapter that Judaism at the time of Christ was diverse enough that many prefer to speak in terms of Judaisms rather than Judaism at the time as some monolithic entity. See pp. **.

Early Christian Teaching 2

... continued from Thursday
Acts surely wants us to see the picture of the earliest Christians in Acts 2:42-47 as an ideal one.  This is the ideal way believers are supposed to behave and relate to one another.  Acts is not some mere, dispassionate history. Luke told the story in a certain way to emphasize certain things about earliest Christianity. Nowhere in Acts do we get the slightest critique of the way these early believers behaved. On the contrary, Acts probably portrays them more ideally than they actually were!

The picture in these verses is thus an ideal picture of what a community of faith should look like when it is full of the Holy Spirit. [1] Acts gives us at least seven features of this early community here, all of which apply equally to today as they did back then.

First, there was teaching. The apostles were no doubt still figuring a lot of things out at this point, but they knew more than the new believers. They had all the teaching they had heard from Jesus before his ascension. And they were now filled with the Spirit to lead them into more truth (cf. John 14:26, 16:13).

But again, Acts is not just giving us history here.  To Luke, the apostle's teaching probably represented more of something like what 2 Timothy calls a "good deposit" and a "pattern of sound teaching" (2 Tim. 1:13-14).  Ephesians 2:20 also says that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and (Christian) prophets of its formative period. For us today, these things amount to the New Testament Scriptures.

The ideal church thus involves a teaching of the Scriptures. It will not stop with the Bible, of course, because the Spirit has not stopped working in the church.  For example, God used the first few centuries of the church to clarify a number of key things in the Scriptures, like the Trinity.  Even today, God uses the church to help connect past teaching with new issues and situations. And, of course, God speaks to individual Christians to help them make decisions in their own lives.

Another important point is that discipleship--training of believers to become followers of Christ--is not just a matter of filling people's heads with information.  It is more importantly about formation, about seeing people changed to be more like Christ. It is far more about "training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16) than a multiple choice test.

Fellowship is a second key element of healthy church life, and it is also a mechanism for discipleship...

[1] We probably should add, an ideal community of believers in the first century, since the picture no doubt changes a little from time to time and place to place. However, the picture here seems to have a timeless quality to it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Science Friday: Einstein's Relativity 1

Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, trans. by R. W. Lawson (New York: Bonanza, 1961).

Part 1: The Special Theory of Relativity
I. Physical Meaning of Geometrical Propositions
Geometry reduces to assumptions, "axioms."  Propositions are built out of these axioms.  We prove things based on whether they proceed logically from the axioms.

At the same time, the basic ideas of geometry undoubtedly derived from nature originally. "Geometrical ideas correspond to more or less exact objects in nature, and these last are undoubtedly the exclusive cause of the genesis of those ideas" (2).

In fact, we can turn geometry into physics if we add the following proposition: "Two points on a practically rigid body always correspond to the same distance..., independently of any changes in position" (3).  So Einstein has now connected abstract geometry to physical objects.  We have connected what was an idea (geometry) to the real world (physics).

As the book continues, Einstein will go on to show that the "truth" of this proposition is actually limited.
Note: The idea that the ideas of math originate in nature seems sound.  Pythagoras believed that numbers were the greatest reality, and that the world played them out in some way. Plato believed that the physical world was a copy of an ideal original. They had it backwards.  Aristotle probably came closer: numbers and mathematical "realities" are simply abstractions of the "real world."

II. The System of Coordinates
We can identify the location of something with reference to the body it is on or we can take a rigid measuring rod from a body to it.  So we can locate a place on the earth by measuring off how many of the units on this rod it takes to get to it from some reference point or we can use a measuring pole to get to a point in a cloud above that point on the earth.

So we imagine locating any point by a number of units of some rigid measuring body to get to it from some point of reference. We don't always have to use a physical pole, since we can use other means to measure.  The Cartesian system of reference imagines three planes (x, y, z) from which we can construct perpendiculars to any point in space.

So in Euclidean geometry, "Every description of events in space involves the use of a rigid body to which such events have to be referred" (8).

III. Space and Time in Classical Mechanics
"The purpose of mechanics is to describe how bodies change their position in space with 'time'" (9). But the concepts of "position" and "space" are somewhat ambiguous. If I drop a rock straight down from a train, it looks like it falls in a straight line to me, but it looks likes it falls in the shape of a parabola to someone sitting on the ground.

First, let's do away with the notion of space ("of which, we must honestly acknowledge, we cannot form the slightest conception," 9) and replace it with "motion relative to a practically rigid body of reference." And by "rigid body of reference," we are thinking of a "system of coordinates" such as was defined in the previous chapter.

There is thus "no such thing as an independently existing trajectory... but only a trajectory relative to a particular body of reference" (10).

A complete description of the motion of a body includes how its position relative that frame of reference changes in relation to time.  The person dropping the rock off the train has a clock and the observer on the ground both have identical clocks measuring "ticks" on the clock as the rock drops.

IV. The Galilean System of Coordinates
The fundamental law of mechanics in physics is the law of inertia set down by Galileo and Newton.  A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and body in motion tends to stay in motion.  This law, however, only relates to a particular frame of reference, an "inertial frame of reference."  [A body at rest on the earth stays at rest on the earth, but it is constantly accelerating in relation to the sun because the earth is spinning.]

"A system of co-ordinates of which the state of motion is such that the law of inertia holds relative to it is called 'a Galilean system of co-ordinates'" (11).

V. The Principle of Relativity (in the restricted sense)
A "uniform translation" is when something is moving at a constant velocity and direction in relation to some frame of reference.  It is not rotating, for example.

"If K is a Galilean co-ordinate system, then every other co-ordinate system K' is a Galilean one, when, in relation to K, it is in a condition of uniform motion of translation" (13).  Accordingly, the mechanical laws of Galileo and Newton will hold good in K' just like they do in K.  In other words, the same physical laws work in K and K'.  This is the principle of relativity (in its restricted sense).

Developments in the study of electrodynamics in the late 1800s had called into question the principle of relativity. [Einstein's work would demonstrate that it could still hold.] But there were strong reasons to think it might hold. For example, "it supplies us with the actual motions of the heavenly bodies with a delicacy of detail little short of wonderful" (13). Why would it work in mechanics but not in electrodynamics?

Another complication if the principle of relativity didn't hold would be that we would have to have some basic frame of reference where the laws of mechanics hold most simply, but the rules would change somewhat in other frames of reference moving in relation to it.  So the laws of motion would apply straightforwardly in coordinate system K but they would be complicated by the motion of K' in relation to K.

Take the earth, for example, rotating around the sun.  Because it is moving in a circle, we would expect its movement to alter its velocity in relation to some absolute frame of reference throughout the course of the year.  Accordingly, we would expect the laws of motion to change in some way throughout the year as we moved in relation to the "absolute state of rest."

"The most careful observations have never revealed such anisotropic [different properties when something is moving in a different direction] properties in terrestrial physical space" (15). For Einstein, this was a very powerful argument for the principle of relativity, that the laws of motion apply the same way in every inertial frame of reference.
Note: It would be very interesting to trace the history of rhetoric against relativism.  I've never heard anyone in Christian circles speak against relativity, but I can imagine some preachers in the early 20th century doing so.  Although the notion of relativism in ethics has been around forever, I have wondered if rhetoric against relativism in any way was affected or triggered by Einstein's theory of relativity at the turn of the twentieth century.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Early Christian Community 1

The response to Peter's sermon is dramatic.  About three thousand Jews accept Peter's message and are baptized.  We can assume both that they repented of their past sins and also received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). If the Feast of Pentecost was a celebration of the harvest, then these are the "first fruits" of the age of the Spirit and the new covenant.

Presumably, every one of these three thousand people was a Jew.  That is to say, they were not changing religions. They were not leaving Judaism to Christianity.  They were becoming better Jews. They were believing in the Jewish Messiah. They were repenting of their failure to be faithful to God's covenant with Israel. And they were receiving the promised Spirit of the Scriptures of Israel.

This was as much the renewal of Israel as the birth of the church--at least it should have been. It would not always be this way. In the early days, the number increased first to around five thousand Jews in Acts 4:4, and then 5:14 speaks of a "multitude" constantly being added. But we know from Paul's letter to the Romans that most Jews would not end up believing.  In Romans 9-11, Paul wrestles with the paradox that although the good news was first for Israel, most of Israel did not believe it at that time.

We should thus be careful not to assume that church growth--especially massive church growth--is always going to be the norm.  We can sometimes get the impression that if a church is doing all the right things, it will not only grow in numbers but will grow astronomically. But we should remember that the beginning of the church was somewhat of a unique event. Growth did not continue on this magnitude for long in Jerusalem.

The Jewish historian Josephus barely even mentions Jesus in his history of this period. [1]  That is to say, Christianity was not a major feature of Israel--at least not to him--in the late first century. Sometimes the church grows. Sometimes it grows fantastically. But sometimes Jesus cannot perform miracles because a location lacks faith (cf. Mark 6:5-6). He does not force people to believe. Sometimes the gate is small and the road is narrow, and few find it (Matt. 7:14). Because God gives humanity a choice, nothing anyone does can guarantee that others will believe...

[1] Josephus' mention of Jesus in Antiquities 18.5.2 has been tampered with, leading some to argue that Josephus never mentioned Jesus at all.  However, it is more likely that Josephus briefly mentioned Jesus and that some later Christian copyists "enhanced" his description.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Daniels, Zinn, and Higher Education

You may have heard that some emails have surfaced from 2010 in which then Governor Daniels expressed his desire to make sure Howard Zinn was not part of Indiana University's training for secondary school teachers.  Certainly we are all allowed to think of various positions as excrement, and special care should be given to what is taught in public schools.

I've only read a couple chapters of Zinn's book, so I can't speak to its excremental qualities. But the situation is a good reminder about what a quality education and, indeed, what the pursuit of truth is really about.  Knowledge of facts is clearly an important element of education, but arguably the most significant element is learning how to think critically.

A quality education will present multiple perspectives and develop a student's ability to arbitrate between them. Quality colleges are not institutions of indoctrination, as if the truth needs us to hide the alternatives. Quality institutions of higher learning try their best to look at each interpretation of the evidence as objectively as possible, both for strong points and weak points.

So if a liberal professor were to disallow all perspectives but that of Zinn, that would be a bad education.  I imagine there is some of that going around here and there. Similarly, if Daniels in his new role were to try to keep Purdue professors from presenting Zinn, it would immediately disqualify him from his job. I don't imagine he will try that.

It is a reminder, though, that those who cry "truth" the loudest are often those least interested in it. God is not worried about the new atheists, because he knows he exists. Go ahead, present your case to the contrary.

If we are really interested in the truth, we are willing to listen as objectively as possible to varying and contrasting perspectives.  We are even willing to change our mind given a sufficient basis.  God would change his mind about his own existence if you could convince him :-)

Anger and militancy can actually be a sign of insecurity about what one believes, a kind of compensation for lack of substance.  Not always, but often.

Feel free to disagree...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Grudem 14b: Trinity in Scripture cont.

... continued from this morning.
Yet surely Grudem is right to think we should find traces of the Trinity in the Old Testament. And we do find the Spirit of God in numerous places in the Old Testament. Even in Genesis 1:2 we find the Spirit of God hovering over the primordial waters. The Spirit of God comes on various people in the history of Israel--David, for example (1 Sam. 16:3).

And perhaps Grudem is right that the angel of the LORD reflects one of the persons of the Trinity, such as the pre-incarnated Christ. This is a difficult concept, since it is hard to imagine what the person of the Son was before he took on human personhood.  But these are questions beyond the scope of individual speculation.

The New Testament does not specify the exact nature of the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Grudem is quite right that all three are said to be divine. All three are distinct persons.  Yet God is one. God would work out the rest of the details in the church.

Grudem 14a: Scriptures on the Trinity

... continued from last week.
Chapter 14: The Trinity
A. Progressively Revealed in Scripture
This part of the chapter has two sections.  The first is on the partial revelation of the Trinity in the Old Testament. The second is on the more complete revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament. Grudem acknowledges up front that the word trinity is not found in the Bible. However, he believes the idea represented by the word is found in several places.

As for the Old Testament, he says it would be surprising not to find indications of it if God indeed has existed eternally as three persons. Although it is not explicitly found, he catalogs at least 9 passages that might imply that God exists as more than one person.
  • Let us make humanity in Genesis 1:26
  • God distinguished from his God in Psalm 45:6-7
  • The LORD said to my Lord in Psalm 110:1
  • God speaking of Israel grieving his Holy Spirit in Isaiah 63:10
  • The LORD speaking of the Lord coming to his temple in Malachi 3:12
  • The LORD saying he will save them by the LORD in Hosea 1:7
  • The servant of the LORD in Isaiah 48:16 distinguishing between the LORD and his Spirit
  • Passages having to do with the angel of the LORD that glide between them being messengers and God speaking in the first person
  • Possibly wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 who stands at God's side in creation--Grudem does not actually think this one is likely (229 n.7).
Then Grudem sees more explicit teaching about the trinitarian nature of God in the New Testament, as you might expect when the Son of God came to earth.  He explores at least 8 passages that might relate somewhat directly to the fact that three distinct persons are God even though there is only one God.
  • Father, Son, and Spirit present at Jesus' baptism (e.g., Matt. 3:16-17).
  • The three invoked in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19
  • The mention of all three in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
  • The final blessing of 1 Corinthians 13:13 mentions all three.
  • The mention of all three in Ephesians 4:4-6
  • All three mentioned in 1 Peter 1:2
  • All three mentioned in Jude 20-21
  • Grudem mentions 1 John 5:7 in the King James Version, but makes it clear that it is not at all likely that this verse was in the original text of 1 John.
Grudem has done a good job of pulling together various texts from the two testaments that have played some role in the question of the Trinity and the Bible.  He also demonstrates that he does not simply accept an idea because it fits with his way of thinking.  For example, Proverbs 8 is almost certainly a personification of wisdom such as we find in other Jewish literature. It is not in any way thinking of wisdom as an actual being, despite how vividly it portrays her.

Similarly, 1 John 5:7 played no role in the great trinitarian debates of the 300s. This fact alone would indicate it did not exist at the time. After all, it would have been the most explicit trinitarian verse in the entire Bible if it had existed at the time. I affirm Grudem for looking at these passages objectively.

I want to affirm in strong terms his sense that the Trinity is "progressively" understood in Scripture. That is to say, the New Testament has much more to say in relation to the three persons of the Trinity than the Old Testament does. It is perhaps also significant that he says "more complete" revelation about the Trinity in the New Testament.  Surely this wording is acknowledging what seems impossible to deny, namely, that the most complete understanding of the Trinity did not come until the 300s and 400s--hundreds of years after the New Testament was written.

Grudem's basic expectation of the Old Testament seems, at first glance, to be reasonable. We should expect to find hints of the different persons of the Trinity in the Old Testament.  The question is whether Grudem is looking in the right way in the right places.

Here we face a fundamental issue of hermeneutics. Do we read biblical texts for what they were likely to mean to those to whom they were first written or do we read them in terms of the full blown Christian faith that was not in place until the 400s after Jesus? For Grudem, these two ways of reading will tend to be the same because he does not really know how to read biblical texts in context.

I personally believe that both are valid ways of reading the text, although the second way is more Christian. It just isn't always what the text meant originally.

For example, Psalm 45 seems to have been a wedding psalm for a king originally. The princess is ready in her chamber, dressed in gold (45:13).  She is led to the king with many virgin maidens accompanying her (45:14). They enter the palace and the promise of sons and princes is mentioned (45:16).

This confirms that the psalm originally referred to a human king when it spoke of riding out in military triumph (45:4-5) and that it was indeed a theme in relation to a human king (45:1). The entire literary context thus pushes us to see the words, "your throne, O god" addressed to a human king (45:6), and the historical context tells us that earthly kings were often addressed as gods at that point in history. After all, the king is the embodiment of God on earth, God's focal representative at that time. We are not surprised, then, to find the next verse distinguish the king as god from Yahweh as God (45:7). Hebrews then takes these verses in a "fuller sense," a spiritual sense, when it reads them in relation to Christ (Heb. 1:8-9).

Suffice it to say, ancient Israel probably did not take any of these verses in the Old Testament in the way Grudem and other Christians have in the past. That does not mean that God did not intentionally plant clues for later Christians to find. It only means that all these verses probably were read differently originally, since the Trinity was not a way of reading the Old Testament until after the New Testament. Even New Testament passages like Hebrews 1:8-9 may have been more nuanced originally than Christians came to take them.

So no Israelite would have taken Genesis 1:26 in relation to a triunity within God.  They would have taken the "us" in one of the other ways Grudem mentions--either a kind of plural of majesty or, perhaps more likely, as an address to other heavenly beings. There is clear evidence from the rest of the Old Testament that Yahweh could be visioned in the presence of other gods (e.g., Psalm 82; Deuteronomy 32:8 in its more likely original wording).

Psalm 110 is an uncomfortable passage in this discussion. On the one hand, like Psalm 45, it reads quite easily in relation to a human king. Since the headings of psalms and other biblical books were added to them later, they are usually not considered part of the inspired text. In that case, the LORD (Yahweh) is addressing the Lord (king) of the psalmist.  It thus becomes a psalm in honor of a human king of Israel.

God promises to put the enemies of the king under his feet (110:1). God will bring triumph over enemies as the king rides out with his troops on the day of battle (110:2-3).  He will be a king-priest like Melchizedek in Genesis 22, a king who also represented God spiritually (110:4).  The king Lord fights at God's right hand, crushing other kings and judging nations (110:5-7).

Surely this is how those who first heard this psalm would have taken it.  After the heading was added, the Israelites probably took it as David speaking of himself. This interpretation is not problematic so far.

What creates difficulty is the fact that Jesus uses this psalm in his sparring with his debaters and the early church followed suit.  As part of his argument--and that of the early church--Davidic authorship is assumed. For the early Christians, including the gospel writers, we can suggest something that we often find, namely, that God inspired the biblical authors in the categories of the day, including the structure of the universe and human personality. It does not seem problematic to say that authorship was never the inspired point but rather the clothing in which the inspired point was presented, just as we do not think of there being three heavens above us to get to God (2 Cor. 12:2).

But what about Jesus (Mark 12:35-37)?  Did not Jesus know who the author of Psalm 110 was, since he is God himself? We could suggest that Jesus was "gaming" them, playing on their own assumptions rather than his own. On the other hand, Jesus himself tells us he did not access his omniscience while on earth (Mark 13:32).  But most would be more comfortable thinking that this only means his knowledge was partial rather than inaccurate at some point.

Grudem, in fact, would probably consider it an unintentional sin to assert the wrong authorship of a book. As a Wesleyan-Arminian, I do not.  The intention to lie would not be present, and no one would be wronged inadvertently since the overall point being made was true either way. It is a sensitive enough issue that I will not take a position on it, only to say that Psalm 110:1 was not likely read to indicate more than one divine being until the time of Christ...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Cafeteria at Camp Meeting...

I was remembering this morning the old practice at Frankfort Camp meeting of taking a "free will offering" for meals on Sunday. Since we didn't believe in buying or selling on the Sabbath (understood to be Sunday), they didn't believe in buying or selling food on Sunday during camp meeting. On the other hand, people had to eat, didn't they?

The answer was a solution the ancient Pharisees would have been proud of (and you have to know that I don't mean that with the bias many would--the Pharisees were not the stereotypical boogie men they are often made out to be--they were just good at finding ways to do things within the rules rather than just making exceptions in certain circumstances).  The people who worked in the kitchen were volunteers, so no one was paid for working on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Sunday meal was a free will offering. The normal amount was posted, but not required.

So in theory, you could have eaten for free on Sunday. But with conscience clear, most people just paid the suggested amount.  And to be honest, they would have felt like they were stealing if they hadn't. :-)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Want to come journey with me, Bob Whitesel, and Lenny Luchetti this Fall???

Although most of Wesley Seminary's students are online, you may not know that you can actually move to the central Indiana area and take classes here onsite in our new building!
  • This Fall on Thursdays you can join Bob Whitesel and me for Missional Church.  He'll journey with you in relation to God's mission to the world. I'll process the Bible, theology, and church history with you in relation to mission.  It's a team taught course, face-to-face.
  • ... and you can take Lenny Luchetti for spiritual formation on Thursdays as well--how does change take place in our lives?
You can live in Marion or as much as an hour or two from campus and still take classes from 9-4 in the new building on Thursdays.  We can work with you to connect with a church in the area if you need.  If you want to move to Marion, we'll work with you on housing.

Sure, you can do it online... but you don't have to turn in as many assignments onsite in the new building. :-)

By the way, I forgot to say to email or you can email me too: .

P.S. Did I mention that we have a new building!

Hebrew Bible Tools

17 minute video on a couple tools to help you get at the Hebrew behind the OT without knowing too much Hebrew (,

Oops, we've killed the messiah (4)

... continued from yesterday.
The people listening to Peter are cut to the heart. Have you ever made a major mistake before, one that really hurt someone? Imagine making a mistake that got someone killed!

Many times, those in this situation refuse to admit that they have messed up, especially if clear wrongdoing or wrong motives are involved. No doubt many of those most responsible for Jesus' death fell into this category.  But the crowd in Acts 2 do not have hard hearts. Peter does not specifically say here that they were the ones who had cried for Jesus' crucifixion, but they clearly recognized their past sins and need for God's forgiveness.

Peter gives the bottom line for salvation in Acts 2:38.  It is similar to other verses like Romans 10:9 or John 1:12 that all point to the same basic attitude toward God.  Peter says, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

To "repent" is to recognize that you have wronged God and others in the past and that you need God's grace and forgiveness.  Luke-Acts does not focus so much on Jesus' death, but for the apostle Paul, Jesus' death made it possible for believers to get out from under the curse of sin (e.g., Gal. 3:13). But Acts focuses much more on Jesus' resurrection and the fact that it opened the door for the Spirit to cleanse our hearts.

Although Peter's sermon does not mention faith here, it is clear from elsewhere in Acts that "believing" or "having faith" in the message was a clear element in the process of getting right with God (4:4). Although the word "believe" and "faith" look quite different in English, they are actually the same root in Greek (pisteuo and pistis). Both words can focus on "head belief," and both words can lean more toward "trusting in" someone or something.

In this context, to believe the message is more than just checking "true" on a true/false test.  Believing in the message implied in itself repentance from previous behavior and a turn to embrace a new direction and a new way of living. Faith implied commitment to everything the message implied as far as how to live and, more importantly, who to serve.

So repentance and faith were key elements of the response of the crowd.  They also became baptized in water to symbolize the washing away of their past sins. It arguably was not the baptism itself that saved them from the judgment to come, but it was an important action. Symbolic actions are powerful, usually far more powerful than mere words or ideas.

We can get right with God without baptism--it happens to the Gentiles in Acts 10. They receive the Holy Spirit before they get to the baptism part.  But why would we want to skip the power of such a sacred moment, a "sacrament" where God uses ordinary water to meet us in an extraordinary way?

Up to this point, the process of getting right with God has not differed from the process John the Baptist had brought to Israel at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The baptism of the earliest Christians in Acts differed in one incredibly significant way.  It involved receiving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sealed the deal.

The factor in the New Testament that shows par excellence that you are in the people of God in this age is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the single determining factor of whether someone is in the people of God in the New Testament (e.g., Rom. 8:9).  The Spirit can come whether a person is baptized or not. The Spirit can come on a child long before it has the presence of mind to repent or have faith (e.g., Luke 1:15). But if a person has not received or been filled with the Spirit, the person is not "in" the people of God in this final age.

The Spirit is God's "seal of ownership" on us (e.g., 2 Cor. 1:22), the stamp or brand that says we belong to God.  The Spirit is a down payment of the kingdom, that guarantees us a place in it (2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:14). Earlier in the chapter, we recognized that not everyone will have a deeply dramatic experience of the Holy Spirit. Most do not speak in tongues.  Many experience a boldness to witness to Christ's power on their lives.

Most will have a sense of peace, but even here some need the body of Christ to speak God's love directly to them in ways they have difficulty feeling. Most will have a clear sense that God has washed away their past and cleaned up their lives.  Most will have a new sense of the possibilities of the future, a future filled with goodness, love, and a live devoted to God.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

God raised Jesus from the dead... (3)

... continued from Saturday
But the heart of the sermons in Acts has to do with Jesus. Some aspects of the sermons may be a little surprising to us because we are so used to the fact that Jesus is divine. If anything, we struggle today to remember that Jesus was also fully human. But in the earliest days it was probably the other way around. They knew Jesus was fully human, and they had only begun to understand the fullness of his divinity.

So Peter speaks of Jesus as a "man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs" (Acts 2:22). These were things that God did "through" Jesus. We probably wouldn't put it quite this way today. We would probably prefer to say something like, "Jesus showed us who he was by the miracles he did." The way this sermon in Acts puts it sounds like the way you might talk about miracles God did through you or me.

And perhaps there is a point to be taken here. While he was on earth, Jesus played it by the human rules. Dare we say that, in one sense, there is nothing Jesus did while he was on earth that we cannot also do through the power of the Holy Spirit, just as he showed us? Now obviously we cannot atone for the sins of the whole world. None of us will ever go our whole lives without sinning.

But through the Spirit we at least potentially can live without intentional sin from today to the day we die. By the Spirit God can do miracles through us like he did through Jesus. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:12 that they will do greater things than he himself did while he was on earth.

One pattern that emerges in Acts is an implicit comparison between the things Jesus, Peter, and Paul do. Jesus heals a cripped woman (Luke 13). Peter heals a lame man (Acts 3). Paul heals a lame man (Acts 14). Jesus raises a girl from the dead (Luke 8). Peter raises a woman from the dead (Acts 9). Paul raises a young man from the dead (Acts 20).

In each case, these three points make a line that points to us today. It says that, through the power of the Spirit, God can do miracles like healing the lame and raising the dead today through us. Jesus was fully human. You could argue that the things he did on earth, he did in part to show us what God can do through humanity on earth. He played it by the human rules to show us what the Spirit-filled human rules were.

Peter goes on to make it clear that the people and rulers of Jerusalem didn't pull one over on God or Jesus. Jesus' death on the cross was part of God's plan, something he knew was going to happen ahead of time. We will talk about this feature of Acts in later chapters. Acts has strong wording here and there about God's plans and foreknowledge, language that different Christians unpack in different ways.

Then we get to the climax of the sermon, the part that we always know is coming: "God raised him from the dead" (2:24). Again, we probably prefer to sing, "He arose! He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!"  Acts and Paul put Jesus in the more passive position--God raised Jesus. God is the one who vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.

With spiritual ears, Peter hears an echo of the resurrection in Psalm 16, which appears in more than one sermon in Acts. We will return to it when we look at Paul's sermon in Acts 13. God did not let Jesus' body disintegrate in the manner of mortal bodies, but raised him from the dead. More than anything else, the resurrection and all that it entails is what the apostles were sent to witness (2:32).

The significance of Jesus' resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand may also take us a little by surprise in Acts.  "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (2:36). The train of thought goes in this way. You killed him. God raised him. God exalted him and gave him a seat at his right hand. That is to say, God has installed him as the Lord and as the anointed king, the "Messiah."

But wasn't Jesus always the Lord? Wasn't Jesus always the Messiah? Isn't Jesus the second person of the Trinity? Of course he was, and we find language in the gospels that refers to Jesus as Lord and Messiah prior to his resurrection.

However, we are so used to these truths that it is hard for us to get into the heads of the first disciples or to hear the full meaning these terms had originally. Again, they knew Jesus was human. They were only beginning to understand the extent of his divinity. In fact, it is possible the disciples never had the full understanding we now have, after centuries of the early Christians struggling to find the right words to describe Jesus' nature. We are blessed today to have the end result of those debates--the early creeds of the church.

It is also worth hearing the sense titles like "Lord" and "Messiah" had to the earliest Christians. In a real sense, they thought of Jesus' exaltation to God's right hand as a kind of enthronement. Jesus is finally installed as king in heaven as he is seated by God's throne.  Perhaps in its earliest sense, it is at this moment that he most truly becomes king.  He truly begins to rule.

We sing it in the chorus, "He is Lord. He is Lord. He is risen from the dead, and he is Lord."  This is the timing of Acts.  Jesus assumes his role as Lord most fully after his resurrection.  Romans 10:9 embodies this timing: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." What does it mean to declare "Jesus is Lord"? It is to confess that God raised him from the dead and installed him as king.

The "hymn" in Philippians 2 confirms this timing. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name... that every knee should bow... and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:9-11).  The timing of the hymn puts this giving of the name after Jesus has suffered death.

The earliest Christians seem to have thought of Jesus' resurrection and subsequent exaltation to God's right hand as his enthronement as king of the cosmos. The reign of God through Jesus begins as Jesus fully assumes the titles of Lord and Christ, royal titles that God bequeaths to him. We will see this pattern throughout the sermons in Acts...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Techology Show today...

... with old classmate Tony Casey (  This is a great service he, Health Mullikin, and Matthew Tietje provide for the church almost every Tuesday at noon.  "Technology, Theology, and Everything in Between"

Monday, July 15, 2013

P.S. Wesleyans don't believe this...

"God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone..." (James 1:13)

And why do we call ourselves evangelicals?

There's a small discussion about what Wesleyan pastors should know about church history taking place in the corners of Facebook.  I thought I'd post one of my thoughts here for discussion.
... It seems to me that the broader Wesleyan tradition (Nazarenes, Free Methodists, Wesleyans) has often had an uneasy feeling about the term “evangelical.” And frankly, broader evangelicalism has often had an uneasy feeling about including us. Don Dayton’s book, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, meant to show that we were “in,” but the book might just as well have been an argument that we were always something different. After all, it is a book that highlights how different we were from other "evangelicals" in the 1800s by being abolitionists, pro-women in ministry and such.

The word “evangelical” ultimately comes from the German “evangelisch.” But it simply means Protestant in German—a much broader meaning than the word currently has in English. Mainstream evangelical literature has often looked back to Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans as the fountainheads of American evangelicalism--Calvinists who have nothing to do with the Wesleyan tradition. So why would we want to look to them to describe ourselves? We have more in common with the people they kicked out of their communities, Arminians like Roger Williams.

And the “evangelicals” of the 1800s were Calvinists like Charles Hodge who were on the complete opposite side of the Wesleyan Methodists when it came to slavery. Again I ask, why are we interested in adopting the term evangelical? To associate ourselves with them?

Evangelicalism today is really “neo-evangelicalism,” a movement that started in the late 1940s. These evangelicals were trying to distinguish themselves from "uneducated" folk like us holiness people, dispensationalists, and Pentecostals.  George Marsden and Mark Noll call us types "fundamentalists" and make retreat from the world (rather than engagement) our defining characteristic.  That's funny, because the scholars that produced the namesake of fundamentalism, "the Fundamentals," were the type of Reformed Calvinists who founded Westminster Theological Seminary. Neo-evangelicalism pretty much grew out of that "fundamentals" crowd. And why would we want to call ourselves evangelicals?

Yet, the more educated Wesleyan Methodists of the 1950s were keen to jump on that bandwagon.  Stephen Paine convinced the WMsts in the 50s to add the term "inerrancy" to their Discipline, following this broader movement.  Both Bob Black and the recent study of the Nazarenes confirm its background in 19th century American Calvinism--the Charles Hodge types that opposed the core values of the Wesleyan movement. The Pilgrims did not have the term in their Manual, but clearly didn't think the Bible had errors when the question came up at merger in 1968--who would want to argue for that?

A more appropriate definition of a fundamentalist is an uncharitable and militant idealist whose aim is to make the whole world conform to his or her traditional religious ideology, while opposing modernizing factors.  But this is almost how the public has come to understand the word "evangelical" anyway today.  And why do we want to be called evangelicals in that context?

The most recent mainstream evangelical self-description is a five volume series whose glue is a set of characteristics retrofitted onto the past based on what evangelicalism is today. So Wesley and the Pietists get to be included now (how charitable of mainstream evangelicalism) because they can be roughly made to fit Bebbington's four characteristics extrapolated from the present: 1) conversion, 2) Bible, 3) activism, and 4) centrality of the cross. Can Wesleyans fit in his mold?

Most of us can, but that doesn't mean it is the kind of list we would come up with to describe ourselves or that best describes who we are.  For example, Wesley's quadrilateral argues that prima scriptura is a better description of him than sola scriptura. Wesleyan activism is not just about evangelism (the main sense in Bebbington's description) but social action as well to a degree that has historically made evangelicals uncomfortable.

And at least part of the Wesleyan tradition is sympathetic to the Quaker idea of God judging people according to the light they have (awkward). And we are sometimes a little light on the penal substitution often hiding in Bebbington's fourth characteristic.  Both leanings put us in the dubious category to evangelicals like John Piper, who doesn't think Arminians should be allowed to teach at truly evangelical institutions.

In short, the current popular description of an evangelical does apply to many Wesleyans, but there are also many Wesleyans in good standing for whom some of these descriptions fit awkwardly at best. It is no wonder mainstream evangelicalism hasn't always been sure whether we were in or out. From the sound of this post, they are sometimes suspect to us as well. We have much in common with American evangelicalism, but it should not be the central way we define ourselves, in my opinion...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Grudem 13c: God's Perfection and Glory

... continued from last week.
E. Summary Attributes
In this final section of chapter 13, Grudem finishes his list of God's attributes. He does not believe that these four attributes fit very well into any of the previous categories but that they, in some sense, capture the other attributes as a whole.

17. Perfection
"God's perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him" (218).  He "fully possesses all of his attributes and lacks nothing from any one of those attributes."

Surely almost all Christians would agree that God possesses every excellent characteristic to its fullest.  In terms of anything we could possibly know, God is the best possible being.

Grudem does not do a great job of interpreting the Bible in context, as usual. Matthew 5:48 is about God being "complete" in his love of the world, loving not only his friends but his enemies as well.  The Sermon on the Mount commands Jesus followers to do the same. So while God is obviously perfect, Grudem does not find a good verse to pin it on.

18. Blessedness
"God's blessedness means that God delights fully in himself and in all that reflects his character" (218). Grudem basically equates being blessed with being happy "in a rich sense."  Predictably, Grudem connects God's happiness with God's self. Even God's delight in the creation becomes God rejoicing in "his own excellent qualities" (219). Similarly, "we imitate God's blessedness when we find delight and happiness in all that is pleasing to God."

Grudem probably hits a bit far of the mark when he more or less equates blessedness with happiness. This is what we might think with the mindset of an individualist culture.  But in an honor-shame culture, blessedness has to do with the honor that comes from embodying the values of the group--and thus reflecting God's values.  It is not about individual emotion, even if it is God's.

So God's blessedness turns out to be quite similar to his glory.  It reflects the honor and glory of being God, the greatest of all things.

As for God more or less narcissistically delighting in himself, this is quite typical of the Calvinist tradition, especially the thoroughgoing one.  However, from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective, God created the world with somewhat of a will of its own, distinct from his own. In that sense, while the goodness of the creation is God's doing and indeed a reflection of his own greatness, he has given the creation a glory of its own as well.

19. Beauty
"God's beauty is that attribute of God whereby he is the sum of all desirable qualities" (219). Grudem sees God's beauty as closely related to his perfection. If God's perfection means that he does not lack anything desirable, his beauty means that he has everything desirable. "We reflect God's beauty in our own lives when we exhibit conduct that is pleasing to him" (220).

It is interesting that Grudem actually had defined perfection in terms of God possessing all excellent qualities, while here he says it is that he does not lack anything desirable. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that we should associate God with everything that is beautiful.

Beauty is more often than not a matter of affect. No doubt there is an objective basis for what we find beautiful, and no doubt God fits such characteristics to the highest degree. But like honor and glory, beauty is an adjective humans ascribe to God far more than adjectives he would ascribe to himself.

20. Glory
"God's glory is the created brightness that surrounds God's revelation of himself" (220).  Glory is the final attribute Grudem ascribes to God. Here he says something he might have said about God's blessedness and beauty: "The glory of God is not exactly an attribute of his being but rather describes the superlative honor that should be given to God by everything in the universe."

But he goes on to speak of God's glory as the "bright light that surrounds God's presence" (220).  It is a "created light or brilliance that surrounds God as he manifests himself in his creation" (221). Similarly, "there is a brightness, a splendor, or a beauty about the manner of life of a person who deeply loves God."

Grudem's description of God's glory as the superlative honor he deserves from the universe is completely appropriate. It is of course possible that Grudem takes the imagery of light from the Bible too literally at some points. The way he talks about the brightness of a life devoted to God probably comes closer to the metaphorical nature of language about God's brightness.

Ethnicity of Hebrews' Audience

a small excerpt from my writing on Hebrews today...
For many interpreters, especially in the English speaking world, the Jewish identity of Hebrews’ audience is almost taken for granted. The subtle and extensive argumentation from the Jewish Scriptures, so the argument sometimes goes, would have required too much of a Gentile audience. Many believe the sermon aimed to prevent the audience from “falling back” into Judaism. So it has seemed all the more clear that the audience must have been Jewish in composition. What Gentile audience, it is often assumed unthinkingly, would be tempted to rely on the Levitical cultus, if a major purpose of Hebrews were to dissuade some audience from such reliance?

The unexamined assumptions of this line of thinking, particularly in the light of the previous chapter, are nothing short of astounding. If believing in Jesus as Messiah did not involve a change of religion for Jews, then Gentiles who believed in Jesus saw themselves as converting to a form of Judaism, Christian Judaism. Jews who believed in Jesus at most were changing from one Jewish sect to another, but most early believers probably did not even picture the change in this strong of terms. For one, most Jews did not actually belong to the groups of which we think—Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees. Most Jews were simply Jews, the “people of the land.” Their faith in Jesus did involve joining a new group, a new movement, but other than Israel itself, they had not been part of a distinct group before. In fact, Acts does not even speak of the Pharisees who believed as leaving the Pharisaic sect. They are simply Pharisees who believed (cf. Acts 15:5).

The Gentiles who became Christians thus saw themselves as converting to Judaism...

According to God's Plan (2)

... continued from Thursday.
Peter's sermon thus serves as a kind of encapsulation of the gospel.  It gives us a snapshot of the message of Acts. It gives us an overview of what the earliest Christians preached.

The first part of each sermon often reached back into the Old Testament Scriptures and showed that Christ's death was all part of God's plan.  In the Acts 2 sermon, Peter even uses Scripture to show that the Day of Pentecost was part of God's long term plan. Acts opens up Joel 2:28-32 through the eyes of the Spirit and hears an overtone of what was taking place that day.

Joel 2 was originally about a locust disaster that had ravished Israel (Joel 2:25).  "Armies" of locusts had destroyed the land, bringing a time of gloom and darkness (2:2). The words that Peter quotes originally had to do with God's promise to restore the land of Israel after that horrible plague.

But more than one New Testament author also heard in these words a promise of restoration that was taking place in their day as well with Jesus and the Spirit. [1] If Israel would repent of its sins, God would refresh the land with his Spirit.  Everyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved (Joel 2:32).

While Joel 2 originally referred to God the Father (Yahweh) as the Lord, the early Christians called Jesus "Lord" and applied this verse to calling on Jesus for salvation (e.g., Rom. 10:13). In Romans, salvation is escape from the wrathful judgment of God that was soon coming on the earth (Rom 1:18). We can see how it worked at least in Paul's mind. [2]

God's judgment was coming on the earth.  Through his death and resurrection, God had used Jesus to make it possible to escape God's wrath--to be "saved" and experience "salvation." Those who called on Jesus the Lord could be saved and would receive the Holy Spirit as a sign of these earth-shattering events.

A couple other aspects of Joel 2 are interesting.  We see one of them in an expression I just used, "earth-shattering." [3]  No native English speaker will think that I am literally suggesting that the earth will break apart upon hearing of "earth-shattering" news.  It is a metaphor, "apocalyptic" language that indicates something incredibly significant is happening in history.

In the same way, the sun darkening and the moon turning to blood probably did not refer to any literal damage done to these celestial bodies.  Peter is saying, in effect, that the Day of Pentecost is a "sun-darkening" and "moon-bloodying" event.  It is an event that will alter the course of history.

One element of that history altering event is that the "daughters" of Israel will prophesy as a result of the Spirit, not only the "sons" (Acts 2:17-18).  Luke seemed especially interested to show the role that women played in the story of the church, including their role as prophets (cf. Acts 21:9). The Spirit is the great equalizer of the genders, a truly remarkable idea in Luke's own day.

And why wouldn't the Spirit have this effect. The differences between men and women are a matter of their bodies.  If women have the same access to the Spirit that men do, then we would expect women to have just as much spiritual wisdom to share as any man. Prophetic speech, preaching the good news--these are spiritual activities, and so we should not be surprised to find that Paul simply assumes women will prophesy and pray in public worship (1 Cor. 11:5)...

[1] Like so many Christian readers today, they may or may not have paid much attention to the verses about the locusts that came right before the words that especially jumped out at them. Nevertheless, Israel was under foreign rule at the time, and it would have been easy at times to compare the armies of the Romans with the armies of locusts in Joel 2.

[2] Luke-Acts does not have quite as strong a sense of God's coming wrath as Paul does, for example. Salvation in Luke has more to do with healing and restoration than with escaping God's wrath (e.g., Luke 18:42; Acts 4:9).

[3] I owe this insight to N. T. Wright, I think in his summary of the third quest for the historical Jesus in the chapter he added to Stephen's Neil's The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1986.  ***  Wright at this point was significantly drawing on his Doctor Father, G. B. Caird, whose massively insightful The Language and Imagery of the Bible argued that we take a lot of apocalyptic language literally that was not really meant to be taken in this way.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Taste of Scholarship

Most of us don't really know what real scholarship is like by people who are truly experts.  When you see this level of expertise, you immediately recognize it.

Here's a sample in relation to the recent archaeological find in Jerusalem.  I know almost nothing about epigraphy on this level.

The Core of the Gospel 1

The story of Jesus is "good news."  It is the "gospel" that God has enthroned Jesus as king of the universe.  A gospel in the time of the New Testament was extraordinary news, like the birth of a successor to the throne or a key military victory. In the preaching of Jesus, the image of "preaching the gospel" may have pointed directly at Isaiah 52:7 and the good news that God was restoring his people after a time of captivity. [1]

The sermons of Acts are all encapsulations of the good news as well, and almost all of them climax with the fact that God has raised Jesus from the dead and enthroned him as king of everything. [2]  They are all very similar, which probably shows that they are as much the handiwork of Luke as word-for-word transcripts of exactly what was said on each occasion. [3] But they nevertheless give us a clear picture of the earliest preaching of the church. [4]

The sermons of Acts almost all have a roughly similar outline. [5]  First, God had foretold his plan in the prophets of Scripture. He was now making it happen through Jesus of Nazareth. The people of Jerusalem had put him to death, but God had raised him from the dead. The resurrection is the climax of all the sermons in Acts but Stephen's. God installed him as king of everything and has now sent out his Spirit. In response, everyone should repent, be baptized, and they will receive the Holy Spirit...

[1] See Ken Schenck, Jesus: The Mission (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013), 22-23.

[2] See 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 for another narrative encapsulation of the gospel.

[3] We know from the Greek historian Thucydides that it was perfectly acceptable for a historian to compose speeches that fit the occasion about which they were writing (cf. History of the Pelopponesian War, 2.97.4). The sermon of Acts 2 gives us a hint of Luke's handiwork in that Peter seems to quote Psalm 16 from the Greek version, while Peter would have spoken Aramaic on the Day of Pentecost. Compare Acts 2:26 with Psalm 16:9.

[4] A classic here is C. H. Dodd's, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-Structure of New Testament Theology (London: Nisbet, 1952).  You can read it for free online here.  I studied under Dunn who studied under Moule who studied under Dodd.  This basic gospel preaching is sometimes called the "kerygma."

[5] Arguably Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 would have ended up similarly, but he gets stoned before he finishes.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vision of President David Wright of IWU

Yesterday, newly appointed President David Wright presented his vision for Indiana Wesleyan to the broad administrative leaders of the university.  It was a deeply encouraging meeting.  Here is a link to his presentation.

We have permission to share some thoughts from it. In fact, a good indication that he is a president worthy of our times is the fact that he recognized that some content from the presentation will have already gone out in texts and tweets while he was presenting.  Gone are the days where you can control the release of information given to a group of people.

I thought I would just share three things that indicated to me, once again, that he is a president for our time. Of course there were the pieces we all knew would be there. The Chronicle-Tribune already captured his passion for global education. We all know that IWU needs to continue its diversification in terms of serving students of all ethnicities and having a faculty/administration that looks more like the diverse kingdom of God. We all knew those pieces would be there--and they were.

But here are three elements of his vision that to me were particularly important at this point in our history.

1. He would like us to steer toward the goal of IWU being a truly great university. In itself, there's nothing remarkable about this statement.  It was how he defined it in terms of the story of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  Anyone who would be truly great must be a servant.

In other words, he did not define greatness in terms of how much our faculty publishes or how good we look to the rest of the academy.  He defined greatness in terms of how well we serve our students. You do things differently if your goal is to look good to academics and important outsiders than if your goal is to serve your students. The one approach says, "what makes this work best." The other says, "what will make other people admire us." I fear that some elements of IWU have been gravitating toward the latter.

2. Following on my first observation, he ironically began with a recognition that other institutions already look to us for ideas on how to innovate in the light of our changing technological times. IWU's online and distance programs have always been an ironic source of both admiration and mockery. Traditional academia has always tended to mock us (I think of the seminary president who, upon being newly elected, held up our seminary curriculum to his faculty and mocked, "This is not what we will be doing here." Yet here we are in the top 25% of seminaries after 4 years).

Of course we know that the kinds of institutions that used to mock things like online education are now often the ones that are in major financial crisis, even in danger of closing. It is deeply ironic that anyone would want to make IWU like institutions that, for all intents and purposes, are struggling to survive in our changing times. Dr. Wright did not say anything explicitly, but I noted to myself what was implied in his beginning: he recognizes that we are already more of a benchmark ourselves rather than an institution that needs to fix itself by benchmarking other, generally failing institutions.

3. The final thing that stuck out to me was his strategy on the structure of the institution. Again, he noted that across the academy, the prevailing practice is to structure an organization around disciplines.  This is how everyone does it. You have schools of business that teach all the business in the university.

But he recognized that it has historically been more effective at IWU to structure by modality.  You have to admire a leader who isn't afraid to do something different than everyone else--especially when it represents true insight.  In effect, he proposes an operational grouping of the university around two halves, primarily residential and primarily non-residential.  He proposed decentralizing leadership and to some extent infrastructure.

It was at this point that I tweeted yesterday what a smart cookie he was. This is brilliant and exactly the kind of thing the most effective organizations of our age are doing. Wright cited a term coined by Dee Hock, founder of VISA: "chaordic."  You create structures that empower creativity on the part of your people.  You structure a place around what it does, function over form.

What a breath of fresh air!  Traditional academia is like algebra next to this calculus.  It wants nice symmetrical boxes that look pretty on an organizational chart. Dr. Wright proposes a structure that focuses on functionality--to do the work--over formality.  It is substance over form.

I was tremendously encouraged. This vision was the best of IWU past, poised to continue into the future.   All the indications so far, from big statements to little things he has done, are very positive for his presidency going forward.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Hebrew Nouns and Adjectives

Here's a 27 minute video on Hebrew nouns and adjectives, with a couple other things also thrown in.

The Power of the Spirit (4)

... continued from Friday.
But this is exactly what it means for someone to be a Lord. A lord is a master, someone whom you must serve and obey. We do not have masters today in most contexts, certainly not in America. We do not have kings who can have us put to death if we do not submit to their authority.

It seems that few people have a real comprehension of what a God is. We take God for granted, almost as if he exists to serve us rather than the other way around. So the notion that we would want to give God complete authority over our lives may at times seem foreign even to many who actually call themselves Christians.

So there is nothing wrong with using the idea of being filled with the Spirit for a new sense of purity, power, and authority God takes over our lives that comes once we surrender completely to him. Although it is not exactly biblical language, holiness preachers were on to a marvelous image when they talked of the fullness of the Spirit. After all, will God take full control of our lives if we have not given him all of our lives that we know to give?

But this idea, valid though it is, does not seem to be what the book of Acts had in mind. [1] As we have seen, the coming of the Spirit in Acts primarily has to do with the initial experience of Christians when they first believe in Jesus as Messiah and are baptized.  The situation of the disciples is different because the Spirit had not yet come in this way until the Day of Pentecost.

In Luke-Acts, the Day of Pentecost, as we saw earlier, is finally the fulfillment of the prediction John the Baptist made that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. [2] The disciples could not have been filled with the Spirit in this way until after Jesus died and rose from the dead.

So what is the coming of the Holy Spirit about in Acts?  Yes, for those who are first believing on Jesus, being filled with the Spirit is truly the mechanism of past sins being cleansed.  Baptism is the outward act with our bodies that corresponds to the spiritual act the Spirit does in cleansing our sins. Acts 15:9 tells us that the hearts of the Gentiles had been purified when they received the Spirit.

But Acts focuses much more on the power that comes when people receive the Holy Spirit.  Isn't this exactly what Jesus predicted in Acts 1:9: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you"?  And it is exactly power that we see the disciples have in the chapters that follow the Day of Pentecost.  They receive power to perform miracles, such as the healing of the lame man in Acts 3. They receive boldness to witness to the resurrection even though they are persecuted for it.

And this power is available for believers even today. In Romans 8:9, Paul tells the Romans that a person is not truly a child of God if he or she does not have the Holy Spirit. Most people today do not experience as dramatic an experience as those in Acts, although some do.  Most today experience a peace, a calm assurance. [3]

Luke-Acts draws a line to us, as if to tell us that in the power of the Spirit we can do the same miracles today.  Luke-Acts shows Paul doing the same miracles that Peter did, which were the same miracles that Jesus did.  The three points make, as it were, a line that points to today.

[1] Again, if the Spirit-fillings of Acts were about a distinct spiritual experience like entire sanctification, we would surely expect Acts to be more explicit about it. We should always question interpretations of this magnitude that require us to read between the lines. Interestingly, John Wesley himself did not use Acts to present his teaching on sanctification anywhere in his writings.

[2] Again, John 20:22 is not part of the narrative of Luke-Acts. As far as Acts is concerned, the Day of Pentecost is the first time the promise of Luke 3 comes to pass.

[3] For whatever reasons, some believers are also plagued with difficulty experiencing the love of God. In such cases, the body of Christ often steps in to embody the love and assurance of God for them.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Grudem 13b: God's Freedom and Omnipotence

... continued from last week.
15. Freedom
In the previous section, Grudem has already indicated that God is not free to be something other than he is.  When Grudem speaks of God's freedom, he is saying that "God is not constrained by anything external to himself" (216).  "God's freedom is that attribute of God whereby he does whatever he pleases."

Grudem suggests that we should not ask for answers to why God created the world or decided to save us. We should content ourselves with the fact that God is totally free--that is, as long as he acts consistent with his character.

In the previous section, we have already critiqued Grudem's sense that God is a slave to his "nature."  Nevertheless, his sense that God is entirely free in relation to all external forces and influences is completely correct.  No one or no force outside of God can force God to do anything.

16. Omnipotence (Power, Sovereignty)
"God's omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will" (216).  God has the power to do whatever he decides to do. God's sovereignty is his exercise of power over the creation (217).

Of course, again, Grudem believes there are some things that God cannot decide to do. "God cannot will or do anything that would deny his own character" (217). So God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18). God cannot be tempted with evil (Jas. 1:13).  So, Grudem says, "it is not entirely accurate to say that God can do anything." Humans have "relative freedom" as a faint reflection of the freedom of God's will.

This seems like a fairly anemic sense of God's power. We have already given our preference to say that God chooses not to lie.  He does not want to lie, not that he could not lie if he actually wanted to do so. With regard to Scripture, we should be careful not to lift statements out of a localized context and make them into absolute propositions.

So in Hebrews, God does not lie when he makes a promise. In James, God is not tempted to do wrong. He always wants to do right and chooses to do right. God is not constrained not to lie or not to do evil. He simply does not choose to do so.

God created the universe out of nothing. That means that God has as much power as what he created because he did not start with any existing materials. It follows that he is capable of doing anything in this universe that is possible to do.

By that I do not mean to suggest that God cannot do things that are impossible to do in this universe. One sometimes reads this definition of omnipotence, that God can do anything that is logically possible. But since God exists outside this universe and its rules, who is to say that God cannot make 1 + 1 = 3 in some way that we cannot possibly imagine.