Friday, February 28, 2014

Possible Devotional for Lent

I hope a lot of people are doing the #40daybible read through the New Testament, which is just about to finish its first week. If you're not, I wanted to mention a devotional I did on Passion Week in Mark's Gospel, including the resurrection.

It is 30 devotionals that you might go through for Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday.  Here's the link if you're interested:

Book Link

Kindle Link

#40daybible Dave Five (Luke 19:28-24:53)

So we come to the end of the first week of the 40 day read through the New Testament. Here's the link for today's reading, covering Luke 19:28-24:53, the rest of Luke. If you missed this week, read the whole Gospel of Luke this weekend to catch up. You can do it in a couple hours!

Some highlights of today's reading.
  • This reading leads us to the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.
  • The way Luke has edited Mark 13 (since most think Matthew and Luke started with Mark in preparing their gospels) suggests that Luke was written after the destruction of Jerusalem. See how much more vividly Luke 21:20 is than Mark 13:14? We would have already dated Luke after the destruction, given that it used Mark and Mark itself is probably late 60s or early 70s.
  • Luke has some unique features during the Last Supper and is closest to Paul's wording (1 Corinthians 11). In particular, only these two mention that the wine, after supper, represents a "new" covenant (22:20). Luke mentions another cup before the bread too.
  • Only Luke gives us Jesus telling the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in paradise. This is a rare testimony to the intermediate state in the New Testament--there really isn't much in the NT on what happens between our deaths and resurrection.
  • Only Luke has the story of the men on the road to Emmaus after Jesus rose from the dead.
  • In Luke, Jesus eats with his disciples after he rises from the dead, showing that he is not a ghost. I personally wonder if Luke is written around AD80, when Gnosticism was beginning to rise.
  • Notice the sense of immediacy Luke gives in chapter 24, boom, boom, boom. You would never guess that, when we open up the next scroll of Acts, we would find that there were 40 days here.
My take-away
  • Although it is a few verses before today's reading, here is my verse for today: "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost" (19:10).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

#40daybible Day Four (Luke 13:22-19:27)

Here's the link for today's reading, covering Luke 13:22-19:27.

Some of the special features of this section:
  • Luke isn't as negative toward the Pharisees as Matthew. In fact, some Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod Antipas is trying to kill him.
  • Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15
  • Parable of the Shrewd Manager is very bizarre in Luke 16, but it fits with the fact that Luke is very hard on the wealthy.
  • The new NIV2011 has a better translation of Luke 17:21. The idea is not that the kingdom of God is inside you as an individual but that it is among us as a community of faith.
  • The story of Zacchaeus is unique to Luke.
My biggest reminder:
  • Don't assume you belong in the seat of honor. Take a lower seat and let the host call you to come up higher.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Day Three #40daybible (Luke 9:51-13:21)

Here's the link for today's reading. It covers Luke 9:51-13:21

Some of the highlights include:
  • The sending of the 72 (symbolizes the nations, unique to Luke)
  • The fall of Satan from the sky is probably not about his fall at the beginning but the fact that the exorcist ministry of Jesus and his disciples was dethroning Satan as the prince and power of the air on earth.
  • Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.
  • Notice how the material in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is scattered throughout Luke.
  • Notice Luke's woes on the Pharisees, parallel to Matthew 23.
  • The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12 reminds us of James 4:13-17.
  • Luke 13:1-5 indicates that natural catastrophes are not necessarily God's judgments on the wicked. Just because you were in the Twin Towers on 9-11 doesn't mean you're more wicked than anyone else.
My personal take-away:
  • It's not the Jesus way to pray down fire on those who don't receive the truth, especially when we are hiding the fact that we don't like them anyway.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Luke 4:14-9:50 (40 Day Bible)

Two days into the 40 day Bible experience and we've blasted through almost 9 chapters of Luke. Here is the reading for today.

What strikes me the most about this first section of Luke is what I like to call Jesus' inaugural address in Luke 4:16-21. Luke arguably has put this incident first to capture what he wanted to bring out as the primary focus of Jesus' earthly ministry.

Another interesting feature of this section are the women who followed Jesus and provided for Jesus and his disciples as they ministered around the countryside.

The sayings of Jesus in Luke seem barer than those it shares with Matthew, and they aren't collected into sermons like Matthew has them. If you take the sermon in Luke 6, for example, Luke's version is "Blessed are the poor," period. Matthew 5 has the more spiritualized, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

What stands out to you in these chapters?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Read the New Testament with us?

The Wesleyan Church starts the 40 Day Bible experience today:

Want to join us?  Here is the reading for today. It's Luke 1:1-4:13.

For more information, go here.

Which Sources Should I Trust?

This is my seminary blog post for the day.

We live in the information age. The glut of potential sources of information is overwhelming, even if amazingly beautiful. Gone are the days when you have to find a library to read a book. Also gone are the days when you can successfully insulate your children or congregation from ideas you consider to be dangerous.

With the internet close at hand, we are forced to become more discerning in how we filter information. Who do we trust? To whom are we going to listen? From person in the pew to minister, which source is right? So many of them seem so convincing, so confident that everyone else is wrong. Many even demonize those with differing positions on the issues.

We are all working out how to deal with this situation, but here are some beginning thoughts on the issue:

1. Faith seeking understanding
There is no reason to start from scratch. You may as well start on the assumption that the form of Christianity with which you are beginning, whatever it might be, is innocent until proven guilty. If you are Baptist, who are the voices to whom Baptists tend to listen? Are you Wesleyan, what are the voices to which Wesleyans like to listen?

No need to start over. If you know the kinds of people to whom your tribe listens, why not start by trusting those sources the most.

And perhaps we should mention that there’s a lot of interpretation that goes on in reading the Bible. Our first instinct is to say, “Well what does the Bible say on this issue?” But what we may not realize is that there are different ways to read the Bible and that these “ways of reading” are part of our traditions too. There is a certain circularity to the “just go to the Bible” idea. We inevitably go to the Bible with a certain way of going to the Bible. Inevitably, we find similar things to what everyone else reading the Bible that way finds.

The overwhelming majority of the churches in your city are reading the Bible, but they still disagree on what it means. Until we recognize that we all are wearing glasses when we read the Bible, we will never advance toward real understanding.

2. Phone a friend
Of course, you may not know what sources your tradition likes the most. Indeed, you may not really know what your tradition is. To be sure, there’s no such thing as a “blank slate” church. Every church represents a mixture of influences, even if it calls itself non-denominational. It probably baptizes a certain way and leans certain ways on certain issues. It probably has a position on tongues or women in ministry. It may say it is just reading the Bible, but its answers to these questions will quickly reveal what its underlying traditional influences are.

Who is someone you trust who has studied stuff? If you can think of someone like that, seek out their advice on good sources for whatever question you are pursuing.

3. God is bigger than one tradition.
If God’s first order of business was getting everyone’s head straight, there would probably be a single church that all the most godly people were in. And it would be obvious to anyone with the eyes of the Spirit that it was the one true Church. The fact that there is no such church suggests that God is primarily interested in our hearts rather than our heads.

But it also seems likely that each Christian tradition has a piece to add to the puzzle. It is human nature for us to go to extremes but is it possible that different Christian traditions preserve different emphases within the overall truth? Some may make God’s authority clearer than others. Some may make God’s love clearer than others.

The point is that you can recognize the strength of your own tradition–as well as perhaps its weaknesses–if you make it a discipline to read things also by traditions other than your own.

4. The more the merrier.
Every interpretation and argument you know makes you freer in what you think. If you have heard all the arguments to the contrary of your starting point, yet you remain convinced of where you started, then you hold that position more freely than you did to begin with. Chances are, the more angles you hear, the more sides you hear to the story, the more of a Christian hybrid you will become.

Don’t just look at one source of information. Listen to several. Figure out what the spectrum of positions are on a question before you reach a final answer.

5. Become an expert yourself.
The current American context is arguably one in which experts are almost distrusted simply for being experts. It’s as if popular opinion feels threatened by the very existence of individuals who know the most about a particular issue. But there are such things as experts, and you can become one on a particular topic. An expert is someone who thoroughly knows the issue, thoroughly knows the various positions that have been taken on the issue and why, and has come to an informed and reasoned conclusion on that issue.

Anyone is welcome to have an opinion on an issue, but not every opinion counts as much as every other.

So these are some first thoughts on how to deal with the glut of information that now lies at our feet. Like someone who cannot distinguish a cacophony of sounds from each other, there can be so many voices that we can’t tell which one we should listen to. It is a skill that we will all need to develop in this age of information.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The God-fearers

As you might expect, there has been some debate over the years over exactly who "God-fearers" were. [1] Nevertheless, we have every reason to accept the basic picture of Acts, where many of the earliest Gentile converts to the Jesus movement were already sympathetic to Judaism and had frequented the synagogue (e.g., Acts 10:2, 22, 3513:16, 26, 43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7). [2] While Philo and Josephus may exaggerate their accounts, their depictions of the attractiveness of Jewish law and custom ring true with what evidence we have. [3] Even Roman historians make passing comments that indicate substantial interest in Judaism by Romans, including some elites. [4] Augustine quotes Seneca, referencing sympathizers to Judaism, complaining about how "the conquered have given their laws to the victors." [5] The Roman satirist Juvenal similarly mocked those who go beyond their parents, who merely followed some Jewish customs. Their children, he complains, go on to become circumcised and fully converted. [6]

This last reference is significant, because it points to a readiness on the part of many to convert fully to Judaism. That is to say, it verifies the picture in Galatians of Gentile believers who would consider circumcision. If there was significant enough interest in Judaism to draw such frequent criticism by Roman elites like Juvenal, Tacitus, and Seneca--and in relation to conversion in general--then we can easily see that Gentile converts to the Jesus movement might be susceptible to such pressure. Indeed, they would likely be more susceptible, given the apocalyptic pressure of Jesus' imminent return...

[1] For those who have most leaned away from the majority position, see Alfred Bertholet, Die Stellung der Israeliten und der Juden zu den Fremden (Leipzig: Mohr, 1896); Kirsopp Lake, "Proselytes and God fearers," in The Acts of the Apostles, F. F. Jackson and K. Lake, eds. (London: Macmillan, 1933), 74-96; Max Wilcox, "The God fearers in Acts--A Reconsideration," JSNT 13 (1981): 102-22; Louis H. Feldman (more balanced), Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World (Princeton: Princeton University, 1993), 342-82; Judith Lieu, "The Synagogue and Separation of the Christians," The Ancient Synagogue from its Origins until 200C.E. (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2003), 189-207.

[2] Cf. James D. G. Dunn, Beginning with Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 297-99, 560-63.

[3] E.g., Philo, Mos. 2.17-24; Josephus, War 7.45; Ant. 14:110; Ap. 1.166-67; 2.282.

[4] E.g., Suetonius, Tiberius 36; Domitian 12.2; Dio Cassius, Roman History 67.14.1-2; Petronius, fr. 37; Epictetus, quoted in Arrian, Dissertationes 2.19-21.

[5] In City of God 6.11.

[6] Satires 14.96-99.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Worthen: The Evangelical Mind (11)

The final chapter of Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

Reviews of previous chapters include:

Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)
Chapter 2 (Evangelicals on the Edges)
Chapter 3 (The Strivings of Christianity Today)
Chapter 4 (Mennonites and Nazarenes in the 50s)
Chapter 5 (The Drive to Accreditation)
Chapter 6 (The Church Growth Movement)
Chapter 7 (The Canterbury Trail)
Chapter 8 (Democrat Evangelicals)
Chapter 9 (A Form of Intellectualism)
Chapter 10 (The Presuppositionalists)

Finally, chapter 11: "The Paradox of the Evangelical Imagination"

1. The lead off of this chapter is a now famous question by Mark Noll in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: could it be that "it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both an evangelical and an intellectual" (241). Noll wrote that in 1994. He has since converted to Roman Catholicism and moved from Wheaton to Notre Dame.

I wondered if there was a little more opinion in this chapter than the others. But here is the basic point of the chapter and perhaps the book: "The problem with evangelical life is not that its participants obey authority. All rational thought requires the rule of some kind of law based on irreducible assumptions. The problem is that evangelicals attempt to obey multiple authorities at the same time. They demand that presuppositions trump evidence while counting the right kind of evidence as universal fact" (258).

This critique is similar to my critique of Ken Ham. He tries to look like he is using an evidentiary approach but he only uses it until the evidence seems to point away from the desired direction (to be fair, he makes the shift most when shifting from "observational science" to what he calls "historical science." Then he invokes his presuppositions to channel the evidence in a different direction).

So if it looks like stars are millions of light years away, we can simply assume God created the light in mid-stream because of our presuppositions. When our presuppositions are in danger, we find a "possible solution" relating to evidence and thus avoid the more "probable solution." We are still talking evidence but we look for a more complex and less likely interpretation that will fit with our assumptions.

There is a spectrum to this dilemma. At what point should presuppositions be brought in to trump the apparent trajectory of evidence, if ever? We inevitably operate with certain "irreducible assumptions," but are they huge systems or more atomic in nature?

2. Worthen mentions the founding of what came to be called the CCCU in 1971. This coalition of Christian colleges and universities met even a couple weeks ago, I believe. It has made it possible for grants and exchanges to take place. It helped Christian colleges become more than they could have become on their own.

3. The chapter mentioned the bromance that has occasionally happened between evangelicals and Catholics. For example, Notre Dame has hired a string of famous evangelicals over the last few decades: George Marsden (historian), Alvin Plantinga (philosopher), John Howard Yoder (ethicist), Stanley Hauerwas (ethicist), Mark Noll (historian), Christian Smith (sociologist). Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus founded Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

The Catholic idea of "natural law" has provided a way for Christians to argue for various things in the public sphere without explicit religious language. The notion is that there are certain features of the world that argue for certain legislation and that all humans can see these laws without having to reference special revelation or Scripture.

4. I didn't like the way a section on thriving anti-intellectualism threw in together Richard Mouw and Ken Ham. Mouw is worlds away from Ham, IMO. This section also mentioned David Barton, who is very popular in some circles but considered an incompetent historian by most historians. Harper Collins pulled his book on Thomas Jefferson almost as soon as it was published because of its historical problems.

5. Worthen also mentions left-leaning evangelicals in this chapter, the "emergent church" in particular. She depicts the "new monasticism" of a Shane Claiborne as picking a few features of the Middle Ages and laying them over a still very modern mindset. "Without quite realizing what they have done, evangelicals often use these ancient teachings and practices to confirm, rather than challenge, their own assumptions" (254).

She especially has Western individualism in view. "Worship is more of a therapeutic means to personal fulfillment than submission to a higher authority" (256).

6. The last section of the book speaks of the "evangelical imagination," something deeper than ideas, something that involves underlying drives and impulses. She especially engages James Davison Hunter in this section. To him, evangelicals exaggerate the importance of ideas and worldviews. To him, evangelicals take history and "warp it into self-serving myth" (260).

"The anti-intellectual inclinations in evangelical culture stem not from wholehearted and confident obedience to scripture... but from deep disagreements over what the Bible means, a sincere desire to uphold the standards of modern reason alongside God's word--and the defensive reflexes that outsiders' skepticism provokes" (261).

Here is as close to a conclusion as we get: "If we continue to use the word evangelical at all, and we will--we must allow room for diversity and internal contradiction, for those who love the label and those who hate it. We must recognize that American evangelicalism owes more to its fractures and clashes, its anxieties and doubts, than to any political pronouncement or point of doctrine" (264).

7. Take-away
I have personally hated the word evangelical because I have come to associate it with the neo-evangelicalism of the 1940s and the fundamentalism of the Moral Majority. This book has helped me, in the words of Donald Dayton, "re-discover an evangelical heritage." The publisher changed his title to, "discovering," but the title he wanted was "re-discovering."

That is to say, the word evangelical was revivalist before it was co-opted to primarily be what it is today. The book has helped me be able to use that word of my faith community without exactly equating it to the mainstream evangelical establishment that has evolved over the last 50 years. The book, no doubt annoyingly to those who think they speak for evangelicalism, makes it clear that we are a bigger group--and more diverse--than at first appears.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Progress or Decline?

I had a moment's glimpse last night of a great philosophy class for our time. The danger for me and people like me is that I love the truth. I love the truth whether it has any obvious immediate benefit or not. There are students who want that and I hope there continue to be places where those students can get it, dreamy places where thinkers and students can sit together by the river Cam and think deeply.

But what most people need in a philosophy course at a Christian university are the tools to think truly and coherently about the life most of them are going to live. Philosophy in the majority of the academy should be about learning how to think logically and learning how to engage the issues of the day in a helpful and profound way. For a Christian college or university, it should help them consider Christian ways of thinking about the world, recognizing that there is often more than one way even a Christian can process things.

Last night, after a mid-term, until the thunderstorm warning went off, we pondered a little the philosophy of history. It struck me how relevant this topic was, because there is a narrative of decline assumed among most American conservative Christians. Maybe it is true but it is an interpretation.

I immediately felt guilty. I had put this topic in a backwater of the course, the mindless time in the second half of an evening class after the mid-term. But this was one of the most important topics of the course. What skills are needed to be discerning about interpretations of history?

We interpret history all the time. I'm not so interested as a philosophy teacher that a student adopt my interpretation but I want them to know that they have inherited an interpretation. Are the things you hear about Thomas Jefferson in the public school lies, as David Barton says? Has the Western world been on a decline since Aquinas?  Since the Reformation? Since the Enlightenment? Since they took prayer out of the public schools?  Or is it all up, up, and away, until there will be no cats in America and the streets will be paved with cheese?

For just a moment, I had a vision of the philosophy course the American Christian college needs...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What's in an education?

Heard an update yesterday on brewings in Washington over educational reform. The basic impression is that whether you're talking about the Department of Education or the Congress, neither really know what they're doing. The DOE wants to regulate, but doesn't have the right regulations. The Congress wants to deregulate and let every whacko and yahoo give you a badge out of a gumball machine.

One thing said is that both sides seem to be convinced by individual stories rather than statistics. Statistics have always and continue to demonstrate without any dispute that a college degree improves a person's likely economic future dramatically. But what moves Congress and the DOE is an individual story by Joe Exception who had a degree but couldn't find a job. (Obviously they need to take a philosophy class)

Do colleges need to find ways to decrease cost and debt? Absolutely. Is an education about more than getting job skills? Ideally it is. Ideally it is also about making people better thinkers and better citizens. Indeed, a Christian college believes an education should be about becoming a better person and a better Christian.

The climate is requiring educational institutions to cut costs and demonstrate that they are worth the money. That can be a good thing. And it is something that can be done.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

James 2

James continued...
In response, James makes it clear who the true Patron of every believer is, "Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (1:16-17). It is difficult to rely on God, who is unseen, when someone is seen right in front of you.

This idea, that God is the one on whom we should rely, arguably stands in the background of the whole book of James. It is there in James 2, when James tells Christians not to show favoritism to the rich and warns them that faith without deeds is about as useful as the faith of demons. In James 3, James tells Christians to rely on the wisdom from above, which will keep them from using their tongue to curse others. In James 4, he warns them about friendship with the world and scolds those who think they can rely on their own plans or earthly riches. He ends his word with encouragement to wait on the Lord, to have faith in prayer, and to help those who have strayed to return.

James thus draws a sharp distinction between the world and reliance on the world and reliance on God. Wealth, greed, selfish ambition, living for pleasure, envy--these are worldly attitudes that lead to fighting and division. By contrast, Christians should be "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (Jas. 1:19). They should submit to God as the one who is the only true Judge and Lawgiver (4:12).
This is feeling very dry and boring to me. Feels like a bad start... may need to start over.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Worthen: Presuppositionalists and the End Times (10)

It neareth the end: Chapter 10 of Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

Reviews of previous chapters include:

Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)
Chapter 2 (Evangelicals on the Edges)
Chapter 3 (The Strivings of Christianity Today)
Chapter 4 (Mennonites and Nazarenes in the 50s)
Chapter 5 (The Drive to Accreditation)
Chapter 6 (The Church Growth Movement)
Chapter 7 (The Canterbury Trail)
Chapter 8 (Democrat Evangelicals)
Chapter 9 (A Form of Intellectualism)

And now, chapter 10, "God's Idea Men."

The final sentences of this chapter are worthy to start with: "Schaeffer, Falwell, and other self-appointed spokesmen of the Christian Right appeared, to casual observers, to reflect some kind of consensus. One must not underestimate the power in this illusion of solidarity--but one should not take it for reality either" (240).

1. This statement comes at the end of a section called "history is written by the victors," which tells the story of the conservative take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention. Prior to the 80s and 90s, the Baptists tended to be Arminians, were largely opposed to any kind of credal statement, and put a strong emphasis on "soul competency," the idea that each individual is only accountable before God.

But by the end of the century, the Southern Baptists were controlled by 5 point Reformed Calvinists and had added credal requirements like inerrancy to their core statements. Clear roles for men and women were added to their statements to prevent women in ministry. When I was at Asbury in the late 80s, there were still ordinations of women even in Kentucky, before Al Mohler's notorious purge of the faculty at Louisville Southern Baptist Seminary.

There is an important point here. It can feel like the Bible has an obvious meaning and that all contemporary evangelicals see it. This sets up evangelicalism to be the true elect, those who are truly following the Bible. What isn't remembered is that there was a thirty year political struggle through which a particular ideology consolidated its power. The current "clarity" of Scripture within contemporary evangelicalism is an example of history told by the winners.

2. The chapter begins with the influence of "Reformed presuppositionalism," such as that espoused by Schaeffer, on the American church. Schaeffer wrote, "People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize" (221). His mistake is that he is talking about large ideological systems. He is right that people have underlying values that they live by, but to equate them with overarching philosophical systems is to skew the discussion.

And people are inconsistent. We operate by different paradigms depending on what the area of life is. More primary are our drives and urges, not our thoughts--which often are rationalizations that aim to justify what we want to do. And to the extent to which we might operate by presuppositions, they tend to be micro-presuppositions rather than grand recits.

But we have the "high end" presuppositionalists of Alvin Plantinga and Nicolas Wolterstorff. They argued that belief in God is "properly basic." That is to say, belief in God is something that does not need proof but can be assumed like an axiom of geometry.

They could be right although obviously it is obviously a matter of dispute. I have not read Plantinga's tome where he sets this out (Warranted Christian Belief), but I suspect his claim connects with the ontological argument in some way. If it is impossible to conceive of existence itself without a necessary Being, then the existence of God might be considered properly basic.

I suspect this sort of presuppositionalism is compatible with Wesleyanism, although I consider it a foreign body within our theology. I believe pragmatism is more at home within Wesley-Arminianism, and I hope there will always be room for the more natural breed. By contrast, a whole army of IWU students was indoctrinated in presuppositionalism by one of IWU's best known twentieth century professors.

Rushdoony is another presuppositionist, so radical in his thinking that he wanted to bring back stoning disobedient children. He influenced conservative American thinking with a stark capitalist ideology that he fused with biblical interpretation, sanctifying a particular economic approach as the Christian approach.

John Whitcomb and Henry Morris gave rise to the creationist movement. It's easy to forget some of the diversity that used to exist on evolution in earlier times. They effectively squashed options like the "gap theory" and gave form to the current assumed consensus within fundamentalism. Again, we live at a time when the positions of fundamentalism seem obvious and seem a straightforward reading of the Bible to many, but this consensus was won over a half-century of American religious politics.

3. The final element in this chapter to mention are the envoys of the end times, Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. "Like Schaeffer's offhand references to Locke and Jung, Late Great Planet Earth made the reader feel smart, in the know, and personally involved in history's climax" (229). It is worthwhile noting how often the revealed antichrist has changed over the years. Lindsey was sure that the USSR was going to attack Israel and that the European Common Market reflected the ten horns of Daniel. Who is the antichrist of the day now? It seems to change with the decade.

One more chapter...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Whacky English 1500s

For whatever reason, I am fascinated with the 1500s, the century of the Reformation. This brief list does not do it justice. Alas...

The Kings and Queens
I don't know the kings in Europe well, but the monarchs of England in the 1500s are fascinating:
  • Henry VIII (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived)
  • Edward VI (sickly)
  • Bloody Mary (The Catholic strikes back)
  • Elisabeth, the "Virgin" Queen
  • James starts just into the 1600s
The transitions are interesting. Poor Lady Jane Grey gets beheaded in the transition to Mary, a young girl manipulated into trying to prevent Mary from becoming queen in 1553. Mary kills heroes like Lattimore, Ridley, Cranmer, John Rogers (publisher of Matthew's Bible). Thankfully, she died in 1558 before she could do more damage.

The Bibles
Gutenberg's version of the printing press was invented in 1450, and the Latin Bible was printed that year.
  • The Dutch Erasmus raced to get the first Greek NT printed in 1516. The fact that he was first would give him immense influence. 
  • Luther would use Erasmus' second edition in 1519 to translate the Bible into German (1522). 
  • Tyndale used it to publish the first English translation of the NT based on the original Greek (1526) and was then put to death near Brussels in 1536 for it.
  • Henry VIII would allow then Tyndale's Bible to become the basis for the Great Bible, an authorized Bible for the Anglican church in 1539. 
  • In 1551, Stephanus produced a revision of the Greek NT, the first with verses.
  • In exile from Queen Mary, the Geneva Bible NT was finished in 1557, the whole Bible in 1560. It would become the popular favorite in Puritan circles in England. It had study notes, with some of which, the bishops and rulers were not so pleased.
  • Other Bibles--the Bishop's Bible (1568), the Catholic Douay Rheims (1582) were responses.
  • The King James Version (1611) would start with the Bishop's Bible and go from there.
The Reformers
  • In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 debate points on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.
  • 1529, the Marburg Colloquy - the failure of Luther and Zwingli to reconcile prophesied the future fate of Protestantism. Without an authority to arbitrate different interpretations of the Bible, Protestantism would inevitably split and split and split and split again.
  • In 1533, Henry VIII was excommunicated, effectively beginning the Anglican Church.
  • In 1536, Calvin publishes his Institutes on the Christian Religion.
  • 1545 Catholic Council of Trent strikes back - Apocrypha declared protocanonical
  • 1549 - Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer
I might also add that in 1588, the English defeat of the Spanish Armada effectively shifted world power from Spain to England.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Trump Verse Hermeneutics

I wish I had it all crystallized, but I've been pondering for some time how to present in a convincing way to the church that they are reading the Bible wrongly in a way that does ultimate harm to the kingdom and its causes. It fits with my "greatest common denominator" theme. I thought I would try to collect some more thoughts and blogging is the most effective way for me to do that.

I put it like this to a class--before the 1800s, people interpreted individual verses in the light of their overall theology. Now, individual trump verses, often unclear verses, create a miscellaneous collection of atomized beliefs and practices. American Christianity has become Pharisaical--we have a list of things to believe and do, without underlying reasons for believing or doing them.

Let me see if I can unpack that a little. In their support of slavery, the Princeton Calvinists used a "trump verse hermeneutic." Forget the big principles of Scripture, Colossians 3:22 tells slaves to obey their masters. A context developed in which people focus on individual verses rather than on the big principles of Scripture.

The problem with trump verse hermeneutics is:
  • These words weren't written to you originally. It is on the most localized level that verses are most likely to be context-bound to the worlds and situations they first addressed.
  • It is on this micro-verse level that meaning is most ambiguous and susceptible to multiple interpretations.
So let's look at John Wesley, who lived in the 1700s. He can quote Scripture like the Dickens, but he quotes them as examples of an overall theology, just like the apostle Paul did. By contrast, in the fundamentalist hermeneutic of today, individual verses are planks in a Pharisaic platform. I call it Pharisaic because the rules and ideas are not a matter of underlying principles playing themselves out but they are a collection of arbitrary dictates from God to be followed.

You think of the fact that Jews don't eat meat and dairy in the same meal because "you will not boil the kid in its mother's milk." The reason for this rule is lost to history, but today it is observed blindly in a context that makes the rule seem silly. In the same way, fundamentalists today insist the husband must be the head of the home not because it fits the big picture of Scripture applied today but because there are some trump verses, like the verses used in support of slavery in the 1800s.

We have created a culture in American Christianity where we urge and drive the person in the pew to pour over the Bible and linger on every word, but we have set the individual Christian up for failure. First, they have no hope to understand the words in context, at least not on their own. The first meaning of the Bible was a meaning of the times when it was written. Period. No debate. To disagree is not to understand the situation.

This has never been the end of the story, however. The Spirit can speak to anyone through the Bible, whether they know what the Bible really meant or not. Nevertheless, the problem I am addressing is that in our enthusiasm to get Christians into Scripture, we have inadvertently made them into Pharisees.

History has taken away from the American Bible reader the key to success when reading the individual verses of the Bible without contextual training. We have not given them an overall theological compass into which they might fit those individual verses. We have not taught them to see in the individual verses of the Bible the great truths of Scripture. We have not given them the "clear" by which to approach the "unclear" individual verse.

Instead, we have programmed them to come up with a thousand individual truths from a thousand individual verses, ripped from their contexts. We have not given them a dictionary by which to read the individual verses but have programmed them to see each individual verse as an individual truth. Their theologies are a loose collection of direct mandates and atoms to believe.

American Christianity has become a grand company of Pharisees and theological lawyers, and the mechanism for propagating this system has only become more and more sophisticated. We have trained our pastors to train our people to read the Bible this way. The pro-slavery interpreters of the early 1800s have won.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tough Philosophy Night

Tonight's philosophy class was on the problem of suffering and evil. Difficult because the bottom line to me is that we just have to trust God:
  • We have to trust that God can stop evil and suffering, even if he doesn't.
  • We have to trust that God is loving in a meaningful sense. A meaningful sense is one in which God actually would prefer for everyone to be saved and doesn't determine who will be saved or damned. 
  • Within that context, we have to trust that, despite our suffering and the continuance of evil, there is some bigger picture that we do not see in which God still loves us in a meaningful sense.
Where I think I got into murky waters, I think, is in relation to what evil is. In my philosophy, evil always involves personal intentionality. If I made the class suffer tonight out of delight for them to suffer, I was evil. If it was unintentional torture, it was just suffering, not evil.

I function with two definitions of sin. The most important, the one by which I believe God judges us, is a matter of intention. To paraphrase Wesley, the meaningful sense of sinning is when a person intentionally does something they know they shouldn't do. This is the intransitive sense of sin, "I sinned."

Yet a person can also sin against another person without intending to do so. A person can lose control of the wheel through no fault of his or her own and swerve and kill someone. They have sinned against the other person although they have not sinned in intent. A person can also sin against God, not by violating some absolute law but by wronging God, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Here's the most controversial thought. My Wesleyan theology would be incoherent, I think, if God judged anyone on the basis of the second definition of sin, although the second definition of sin is atoned for by Christ's blood, just as the first one is.

The first kind of sin is evil. The second kind of sin relates to suffering. Of course there is also much suffering that is not a matter of human action, but I'll stop here. I'm sure I unsuccessfully tried to tease this out here.

Wikipedia entry on the Geneva Bible

I took a peak at the Wikipedia entry on the Geneva Bible of 1560. It thankfully has at the top, "The neutrality of this article is disputed." If you read it, the article seems to have been written or doctored by an enthusiast.

Modernism wasn't entirely evil. It's true, no one is objective. But I'd rather get my information from someone who is at least trying to be Spock-like, not FOX News or MSNBC. Postmodernism has simply given a green light for institutions of information and learning to be premodern.

We need reference points that are thoroughly committed to evidentiary thinking, because the more presuppositional you are, the less you base your thinking on data. This is what educational institutions are supposed to be, places where the professors aim at objectivity based on evidence rather than partisan promotion.

I'm hoping the climate in America, at least among its thought leaders, will return to the goal of dispassionate observation. The current climate, which encourages magical thinking, will simply return us to the second world.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Gentile converts and the Law

I think it is fair to say that the Gentiles who converted to Christian Judaism, remembering that Christianity was not a distinct religion from Judaism at first, would have exhibited a wide range of attitudes toward the Jewish Law, just as there was a spectrum of Christian Jewish attitudes toward the Law.

If we look at the spectrum that, for example, Brown and Meier suggest was present in the earliest church, we had Jews like the Pharisee Christians in Acts 15 who believed that Gentiles not only needed to keep the Law but needed to be circumcised to escape God's coming wrath. From the looks of Galatians, these "Judaizers" surprisingly found Gentiles who were open to their convictions. You can imagine that a sense of eschatological urgency might easily have pushed those who had previously been God-fearers into become actual proselytes to Judaism by undergoing circumcision. The urgency and tone of Galatians suggests that such conversions did in fact occur on a noticeable level.

James and the Jerusalem church suggest a second kind of Gentile convert to Christian Judaism, namely, those that did not become circumcised but remained more conservative than Paul when it came to keeping the Law. Although the general consensus is that Romans addressed a mixed audience, a good argument can be made that it was predominantly, although not exclusively, Gentile (e.g., Rom. 1:13; 11:13). [1] Indeed, some of the unexamined assumptions we are addressing here in relation to Hebrews apply equally to Romans. It is overwhelmingly likely that early first century Gentile Christianity displayed the same spectrum of attitudes toward the Jewish Law that we find within Christian Judaism in general.

So Brown and Meier plausibly argue that "the dominant Christianity at Rome had been shaped by the Jerusalem Christianity associated with James and Peter, and hence was a Christianity appreciative of Judaism and loyal to its customs." [2] ...

[1] E.g., Beker, Jewett, 70.

[2] Antioch and Rome, 110. This notion is confirmed by Ambriosiaster...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Democracy Caveat

I think a lot of people mistakenly think that American democracy--or any successful democracy--is simply about the majority getting its way. That is the starting point, but there are some important caveats to keep a democracy from becoming what de Tocqueville called, "the tyranny of the majority."

1. There must be boundaries to what the majority can do. This is what happened in Egypt, when the Muslim Brotherhood tried to use majority rule to make the country so Muslim that Coptic Christians and secular Muslims were oppressed. This is why the Bill of Rights is so important. Neither the government--nor the people--can violate the basic rights of a minority or an individual.

This is why we have a justice system that is not the part of the government that makes laws (Congress) nor the part of the government that enacts law (executive). This is why Supreme Courts judges are for life. If you remember, the notion of "activist judges" comes from a time when the Supreme Court, with the cooperation of the executive branch, forced the South to stop its highly prejudicial practices in relation to blacks. The South "majority" didn't want to be forced to take into account the rights of the "minority" in the South.

So there are some things in a successful democracy that are not a matter of a vote.

2. The second caveat is that ethical decisions are rarely decisions that can be made successfully on a local level. So let's assume that the chemical regulations of West Virginia are inadequate. Shall we count on West Virginia to make those decisions? Apparently not.

Decisions relating to the "general welfare" of the minority--or those who are not in power--are never best made on the local level. They are best made on the federal level, where there is enough distance from a situation to see more objectively. This, again, was the case in the civil rights era. Trust Alabama to make decisions about the rights of African-Americans? Apparently not.

Somehow we have forgotten where all this rhetoric of state's rights, activist judges, and the drive to the local comes from. It is a hangover from the time when people resented being forced to let blacks drink from the same water fountain and resented the government forcing them to let black children go to school with their white children.

Ethical decisions are best made by third parties who are more impartial. Will they always make the right decision? Of course not. But they will more likely be fair than the local or state level, where self-interest and power more easily overrun the rights of individuals and the minority.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Worthen: A Form of Intellectualism... (9)

Chapter 8 of Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

Reviews of previous chapters include:

Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)
Chapter 2 (Evangelicals on the Edges)
Chapter 3 (The Strivings of Christianity Today)
Chapter 4 (Mennonites and Nazarenes in the 50s)
Chapter 5 (The Drive to Accreditation)
Chapter 6 (The Church Growth Movement)
Chapter 7 (The Canterbury Trail)
Chapter 8 (Democrat Evangelicals)

And now, chapter 9, "Evangelicals' Great Matter."  I lament that this book has taken so much of my time. I would rather be reading something else. But I believe it is important for someone with my particular skill set to be engaging the whims of religious culture. I view my engagement with these sorts of issues a ministry to evangelicalism and to my own faith community.

Those who control the story, control the future. Most people aren't interested in nuance--slogans and simple narratives win the day. Scholars, who usually deal in nuance and are often boring communicators, are thus easily and often lynched by the masses. I feel like someone needs to be carefully wading in these historical waters and offering simple but accurate counter-narratives.

1. Two names basically sum up this chapter. The first is Harold Lindsell, known for his incendiary 1976 book, The Battle for the Bible. His slogan? Inerrancy.

Simple. An easy idea to rally around. How could a scholar compete, full of nuance and knowledge of ancient genres unfamiliar to the person in the pew or the wealthy donor? Even to make a counter-argument sounds like you are against the Bible. As one Southern Baptist leader at the time put it, "it is no easy matter to bridge the gap between the scholarly historical approach and the views of the Bible which some people hold" (199).

Lindsell would have his revenge on Fuller, where he left in protest in 1962. He would paint a picture in his book of them as liberals abandoning Scripture--a narrative I heard from someone even last week. Here is Fuller's evil statement on the Bible: "All the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice"

Lindsell wanted more and was instrumental in getting the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy written in 1978. Such a tool would help fight off trends like women in ministry and the way the church growth movement was contextualizing the gospel in new contexts. It would stem the tide of the charismatic movement with its emphasis on the Spirit speaking through Scripture.

"To argue that [his] inerrantist position represented the original view of the early Church Fathers and Protestant Reformers, Lindsell began with a string of quotations plucked from church history and shorn of context" (201). The meaning of words is not merely in quoting them (locution). It is in knowing what they meant within the context where they were spoken (illocution). Lindsell quoted the words, but gave them subtly different meanings, because he had quite different assumptions from a different time and place.

Yes, Christians have never thought of the Bible as having errors. But what is an error? And what meaning to the Bible were they saying did not have error?" Even the Reformers were not reading the text as a science or history book but as a book about faith and practice. Even Lindsell's old roommate and friend, Carl Henry, lamented that Lindsell had "shifted the public perception of the evangelical movement from its role as a dynamic life-growing force to a cult squabbling over inerrancy" (202).

Worse, he basically set conservative Christians on a warpath to devour each other, which made no one more godly, did great harm to the church internally, and turned lost souls off to Christ.

2.  The second name in this chapter is Francis Schaeffer. Mark Noll, then the darling evangelical historian of Wheaton, had this to say about Francis Schaeffer to Newsweek: "the danger is that people will take [Schaeffer] for a scholar, which he is not. Evangelical historians are especially bothered by his simplified myth of America's Christian past" (218).

Worthen sums up his historiography in this way: "Schaeffer wowed audiences by explaining 500 years of intellectual history in a paragraph and a casual chalkboard diagram--but he did so with exaggeration, oversimplifications, and misinformation that would make a specialist cry" (216).

What was this grand narrative? It was one of decline. It was Schaeffer that made abortion the climax of a Western decline that he said started with Thomas Aquinas in the 1100s. Interestingly, it was Schaeffer who made abortion the centerpiece of conservative American Christian politics, to where even today many Christians can't even imagine a Christian voting for a Democratic candidate.

His book, How Should We Then Live?, was more than influential in ideas. It was a multi-media presentation. Evangelicals would now begin to enter the entertainment world to try to influence the popular imagination. He would revive the slogan, "Ideas have consequences" (from a 1948 book that instead looked to William of Ockham instead of Aquinas as the beginning of the end).

Schaeffer created a battle for civilization based in ideas. After all, Schaeffer had dabbled in the fundamentalist Calvinist world of Kuyper and Van Til. So it is predictable that he would see a decline of ideas at the root of civilization's decline, starting with the ridiculous notion that Aquinas stood at the fountainhead.

True decline, from a biblical standpoint, has to do with submission to God and love of our neighbor. Has love of neighbor declined in our world? I seriously doubt it. There was as much hatred and prejudice in the Middle Ages down to the civil rights era as ever. In fact, if anything, the Western world is more loving than ever toward the other.

Submission to God appears to be in decline, especially if you filter it through a question of what people believe. But are less people truly in submission to God than before? In truth, people who call themselves Christians have always used the name of God, even the Bible as a cover to do hateful things opposed to God! Were the fundamentalists pastors who rallied with the KKK more in submission to God than Bill Nye the science guy, even though he is an atheist?

I don't want to push too hard on Schaeffer's ideas here. I think he even influenced some of my early thinking on the last 500 years, at least indirectly. I believe that Schaeffer was a wonderful man and I wish I could have met him. I believe L'Abri must have been a wonderful place for people to find Christ. I think I would have enjoyed the warmth of this man, who believed in taking care of God's creation and helping those in need.

I have only pushed back because, as you know, ideas have consequences.

3. I also push back because these forces so easily capture popular imagination, so much so that my own tradition is infected. I didn't think much of it at the time, but what business did Wesleyans have going to Bill Gothard's seminars in the 70s, when his sentiments are vastly different from those of historical Wesleyanism?

In 1978, Nazarene scholar Mildred Wynkoop summed up my feelings well: young Nazarenes "are being drawn in to the many 'cultish' movements in our religious world, today... These include groups with a very strong Calvinist ground, often camouflaged by social activity or flashy philosophy... A one-man (or woman) operation... 'Un-Christianizes' all those who question or reject some theory of Scripture... Claiming to be a Shepherd over others (only Christ is Shepherd) rather than Servanthood, as Jesus and Paul indicated" (209).

Finally, this chapter covered the switch to the NIV that took place in the 70s. Interestingly, it was facilitated in reaction to The Living Bible. Next to the KJV, the NIV looked like a liberal force. But next to the Living Bible, it seemed conservative.

The bottom line of the NIV debate is that many people can't tell the difference between what is a matter of faith and what is a matter of tradition. A person's faith inevitably gets formed around whatever form of faith they grow up with. Accordingly, when a person says something about there not just being three wise men, they take that as an attack on faith rather than as a refining of faith.

So it was with the NIV. If you grew up with the ending of Mark, it seemed like an attack on faith to suggest it wasn't original. In reality, it was just a refining of the form of faith. Ironically, when the TNIV and then NIV2011 came out, those who had formed their faith around the old NIV made the same KJV complaints again and came up with the ESV.

Hear the conclusion of the matter: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Septuagint Day

By a happy coincidence, I both finished a brief piece on the Septuagint today and then discovered it is "Septuagint Day."  Here are some loose thoughts on the Septuagint:
  • The Septuagint, technically, refers to the early Greek translation of the Pentateuch into Greek. However, people often use the word loosely to refer to the whole OT in Greek at the time of Christ.
  • The Letter of Aristeas tells a lovely legend of its translation in Egypt for the library of Alexandria... of course no one thinks it really happened that way.
  • The legend grew, however. Augustine had the translators all translating it independently and miraculously coming up with the same translation. Justin Martyr had them translating the whole OT instead of just the Law.
  • In reality, the LXX (Septuagint), now referring to the whole OT, was translated here and there over a couple hundred years. It may indeed have started in Alexandria around 250BC.
  • The text of such translations was not standardized. In some cases, we have more than one textual tradition (e.g., Daniel).
  • The LXX is in some cases the earliest witness to the text of the OT. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) of course have helped immensely and in some cases confirmed readings of the LXX over the Masoretic text. The Masoretic text dates from the 900s AD and was the basis of the Hebrew Bible behind the KJV and really the old NIV. Versions since the 90s have increasingly engaged the OT text of the DSS more and more.
  • A taste of the difference is Deuteronomy 32:8-9 in the NRSV. I consider this wording overwhelmingly more likely than the wording of the NIV here. Both the DSS and the LXX more or less support the NRSV reading.
  • The LXX was the OT of the NT authors. In several cases, NT authors made points from the Greek text that wouldn't have been clear or possible from the Hebrew (e.g., compare Heb. 10:5 with the Hebrew version of Psalm 40:6). 
  • The LXX included translations of books now treated by Protestants as Apocrypha. Since the LXX was the Bible of the NT authors and the Christians of the first centuries, a stronger case can be made that these books were part of the Bible of the earliest Christians than not.
  • For the Greek Orthodox Church, the text of the LXX remains the Old Testament for them, not the text of the Hebrew Bible.

My Ancestors in 1850

During the Olympic openings, I fiddled around with the incredible census data that is available now. It gets a little spotty once you get back before 1850, but here's what my ancestors were doing in the US in 1850.

1. William Schenck, my father's, father's, father's, father's father (great-great-great grandfather) was living in Butler County, Ohio. He was 46 years old at the time, born in New Jersey. His wife's name was Jane. He was likely of Dutch ancestry.

His son Henry (my great-great grandfather) was 17 and living with him in Ohio at the time. Ten years later, in 1860, Henry would be living in Union Township, Montgomery County, Indiana and farming. Henry's second wife, my ancestor, Ella (or Ellen), was probably living in Pennsylvania in 1850.

2. Eli Shepherd, my mother's, father's, father's father (great-great grandfather) was about 42, living in Clay County, Indiana with his wife Lucinda. His son (my great grandfather), Elijah Washington Shepherd, was still at home and 11 years old. EW would fight in the Civil War a little over a decade later.

3. Champeon Shelburn, my mother's mother's, mother's, mother's father (great-great-great grandfather) was living in Sullivan County, Indiana. He was 57 years old at the time, born in Kentucky in the 1790s. His wife, my ancestor, seems to have already died by that time.

His daughter Melisse (my great-great grandmother), perhaps 12 (Malissey), was still at home and had also been born in Kentucky.

4. Jackson Rich, my mother's, mother's, father's, father's, father (great-great-great grandfather) was about 25 years old and farming in Lawrence County, Indiana

5. Mary Walls (they apparently would drop the "s" later), my mother's, mother's, mother's, father's, mother (great-great-great grandmother) was apparently a widow living in Franklin Township, Hendricks County, Indiana in 1850. She was 53 years old at the time, born in North Carolina.

Her son, William Wall (my great-great grandfather) was 11 and living with his mother. About 5 years later, he would marry Melisse above (#3).

6. David Y. Miller, my father's, mother's, father's, father's, father (great-great-great grandfather) was a Dunker 40 year old "preacher of the gospel" living in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife Eve.

7. Finally, Leonard Wise, my father's, mother's, mother's, father's, father (great-great-great grandfather) was about 40 years old and farming in Carroll county, he and his wife Catharine having been born in Ohio. His son Eli (my great-great grandfather Elias) wasn't even a year old.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Notes on God Creating...

Some thoughts I'm putting away for possible later use.

1. God didn't have to create. God is self-sufficient in his own being.

2. The nature of our universe is a matter of God's will, not his "nature." God in his essence is beyond understanding, deus abconditus. The idea of God's "nature" comes from God in relation to this universe. We understand God primarily if not entirely by analogy. The traditional sense of God's nature inevitably mistakes anthropomorphism for literal and reduces God to a big Zeus.

3. Even our understanding of the Trinity is significantly colored by creation. The Holy Spirit relates directly to God's presence everywhere in the creation, although, interestingly, the idea that God is Spirit has also been used in itself to reflect the fact that God is not physically located in the cosmos. Biblical language operates with a relatively small cosmos--land/water, underworld, layers of sky going up until you hit God in the highest layer. Pre-incarnational language of Christ uses imagery of the Logos, in Jewish literature the instrument of creation.

4. Creation ex nihilo implies a radical discontinuity between the universe and God's essence. God did not simply put matter in space, but God created space itself. Much Christian thinking throughout history has unreflectively assumed that God did not invent the rules for the creation ex nihilo as well.

5. If God created the universe out of nothing, then God must have as much power as what he creates. God must therefore be able to "bend" the universe anyway that he created the universe to "bend." God is omnipotent, all powerful.

6. A lot of Christian philosophy has inadvertently located God within rather than apart from the universe. For example, to define God as "the greatest possible Being" or "the most perfect Being" (and especially as God as a "being greater than which cannot be conceived") accidentally means, "in relation to this universe." God is thus inadvertently defined by the way God has made this world. He is contained and made a big Zeus.

Even the notion of divine simplicity is God's essence projected from the perspective of this universe, God reduced to a point because of the implication of him having parts in this universe. By contrast, the essence of God can only be understood by a via negativa.

7. Since God created the universe out of nothing, there is no truth to the universe that he did not create. There is no aspect to the creation that is by accident. God knows every possibility of the creation, because he created it. God created the possibility of evil. God created the possibility of sin. God created the possibility of temptation.

There is no difference between God's experiential and God's "head" knowledge. God created both. God knows what it is like to sin. God knows every feeling Satan has. God created the possibility for all these things. God the Father did not learn anything on the cross.

God cannot literally have emotions--this is an anthropomorphism. Emotions presuppose reaction, and God knows everything entirely at every moment of all time. Images of God's anger are pictures and analogies for our benefit. God cannot change his mind literally because he knew he would "change his mind" at least since the moment of creation and we presume since eternity past.

8. By faith we believe that God not only knows every possible eventuality of this creation but every actuality. We are not in a position to know if this is only one of an infinite number of universes, each one of which plays out the myriad possible eventualities. For the moment, let us assume that there are multiple possible outcomes to the story of the universe and that God knows all of them.

9. We choose to believe that while God knows the actual course of history, he does not overly determine it.  He is not limited by the time constraints of the universe. We use metaphors like: "God exists outside time" and "God is timeless." We choose to believe that God knows the future because he has already observed it, not because he determines it or that it is determined by mere cause and effect.

The notion that if God knows the future, the future must be determined results from an anemic distinction between God and the universe, an inadequate view of creation out of nothing. This line of reasoning unthinkingly assumes that God is only experiencing the passage of time within the creation. God's knowledge of the future comes from his existence "outside" of time.

This is, again, the failing of propositional, syllogistic, analytical approaches to God that are common among analytical Christian philosophers like Plantinga, Craig, etc... The premises used normally implicitly have the qualifier "in relation to this universe" (see #6 above). They therefore undermine the very truth-goals they aim to unfold logically from the very beginning.

10. We choose to believe that God has empowered some degree of autonomy to the creation, including humanity. With regard to creation, God has created the universe to follow what we call natural laws. There is, at least on a macro-level, a certain cause-effect determinacy to the universe. By contrast, there is the wiggle room of indeterminacy on the quantum level, which may allow for creational freedom as well. Humanity is also part of the creation and bears a similar mix of determinacy and indeterminacy by design.

9. God is everywhere present in the creation, especially in terms of the Holy Spirit.

10. God has revealed his disposition in relation to the universe as one of love. He has revealed that the fundamental standard for universal morality is acting for the benefit of others. This fundament of morality is not obvious at present as an inherent structure of the universe. It is a matter of revelation.

Justice or consequence to action seems a more obvious part of the order of things. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." "If you play with fire, you get burnt."

Love is God's right in the face of justice, God's freedom in the face of determinism.

11. No doubt there is immense stupidity to be associated with this post...

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Worthen: Democratic Evangelicals (8)

Chapter 8 of Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

Reviews of previous chapters include:

Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)
Chapter 2 (Evangelicals on the Edges)
Chapter 3 (The Strivings of Christianity Today)
Chapter 4 (Mennonites and Nazarenes in the 50s)
Chapter 5 (The Drive to Accreditation)
Chapter 6 (The Church Growth Movement)
Chapter 7 (The Canterbury Trail)

Now chapter 8, "The Gospel of Liberation"

This chapter deals with the awkward evangelicals of the 60s, 70s, and 80s who didn't fit the political mould of the central neo-evangelicals. It is no surprise that Wesleyans and Anabaptists feature strongly in this chapter, because strong streams of our tradition stand in tension with the political sensibilities of other evangelicals.

1. For example, the Wesleyan tradition was an abolitionist movement in the early 1800s (the equivalent today of being pro-immigration reform, pro-civil rights, etc). Meanwhile, social action to the NAE in the 60s meant anti-communism, anti-Roman Catholic, anti-IRS taxing of ministers, stopping alcohol on airplanes, and anti-Hollywood. So Nazarenes like Timothy Smith pointed out that evangelicals were "social progressives" long before liberal Protestant theology.

The problem with the social gospel, as I've often said, was not that it wanted to help the poor--that's straight Bible. The problem was that it no longer believed Jesus was God.

2. This chapter also introduced us to Jim Wallis, Sojourners, and Ron Sider. They are evangelicals in the older sense, even though they support what are often thought of as "liberal" causes.

3. Again, churches in the Wesleyan tradition have been supporting women's rights since before Protestant liberalism even existed. It ordained women in the 1800s, almost a century even before the United Methodist Church did. Many in the Wesleyan tradition thus have seen no contradiction between being a "feminist" and being a Wesleyan.

4. "Evangelicals for McGovern"  McGovern was the son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister and a Democratic candidate for president. This was before the issue of abortion had become what it is today. This was before Roe vs. Wade. "Historian David Swartz has suggested that as late as the mid-1970s, the political prospects of the evangelical Left seemed nearly as bright as those of their peers on the Right. Evangelicals' ambivalent opinions on social policy, gender equality, and abortion rights had not yet hardened into the slogans of the Moral Majority" (191).

I think this is an important point. The political positions of conservative Christians today seem clearer than they were in the year 1970. We do not have a good memory of the period when these positions were hardening. And I should throw in here that memory studies show that the human brain infects earlier memories with later ones. That is to say, it is predictable that some of those who lived through this period will remember themselves having a firmer opinion on abortion in 1970 than they actually did at the time.

Worthen is spot on with this analysis--the right had a better "grand narrative." That is to say, the narrative of American moral deterioration has had staying power in a Christian premillennial culture that expects things to get worse and worse before Christ's return.

5. A strain of scholars continued to engage Europe. People like George Ladd, Geoffrey Bromiley, Paul Jewett engaged the thinking of people like Karl Barth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer became a hero.

There was also an Anabaptist renaissance during the Vietnam War. Pacifism was anathema during WW2, but the Vietnam War was a different story. Stanley Hauerwas became part of the mix, along with John Howard Yoder.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Ken Ham versus Bill Nye Debate

I'll have to say that I found the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye tonight somewhat depressing. It made me sad on both sides. Nye made me sad because at a certain point I thought he became somewhat demeaning. I know that made his side happy, but it didn't help convince anyone who was unconvinced. Ham made me sad both because he makes non-Christians think he represents what Christians believe and because he potentially polarizes the Christian community itself.

1. I thought one of the questions asked was very revealing on both sides. "What would make you change your mind?" Ham's answer was basically that his understanding of the Bible is a presupposition. Even when asked whether he could believe in God if the earth was older than 10,000 years old, his answer was, "No one could ever prove that."

But Nye's answer was not credible either, IMO. He said he would change his view on evolution with certain kinds of evidence, but I don't believe him. He really is a naturalist. His answer to questions of "What was before the Big Bang?" amounted to "It's a mystery--keep looking and you will find a natural explanation." In short, no amount of evidence would lead him to change his mind in terms of his naturalistic assumptions. For him, naturalism really is an assumption.

There are other positions on both sides of these debates. There are agnostics who are open to God as the answer to the question of ultimate existence. They're just not convinced. And there are Christians who are open to the possibility that God used evolution to create life. In short, there are many individuals on both sides that would change their minds under certain circumstances. Neither of these two are examples of them.

2. I felt sorry for the rabid fans on both sides. Some of the tweets on both sides (#hamonnye, #nyehamdebate, #creationdebate, #answersingenesis) were so wanting their hero to slam the other side. That sort of anger always points to something psychological going on below the surface. It can be insecurity in your own position. It can of course be pain from the past.

Here's the funny thing. People who are that hyped on either side of a debate often end up converting to the other side. There are atheists who will end up believers because they are fighting a deep down insecurity. And of course there are fundamentalists who will lose their faith for the same reason.

3. There is a fundamental (no pun intended) circularity to Ham's position that I find problematic. On the one hand, his position is clearly presuppositional, based on a particular interpretation of the Bible. Yet he seems to want to argue that his argument is also the clear conclusion based on the evidence.

In other words, Ham really seems to be playing a game. Why worry about the evidence of science if it is really a matter of presupposition? Why fall back on presuppositions if it is the clear conclusion of science? It seems like he is trying to play two different epistemological games at the same time in an incoherent way. (I play both games too, but I think in a more coherent way.)

4. Ham made a big deal out of the difference between historical and observational science. I believe this is a distinction without a difference. Let me use an extreme example to clarify what I think is Ham's perspective. Even if the stars are billions of light years away, no one on earth observed the light starting from those stars billions of years ago and making its way to us over billions of years. Perhaps God created the stars with the light from them in mid-photon stream.

Now Nye would find this argument ridiculous but, philosophically, it cannot be disproved. Here is one of the big differences between the two. Ham is, ultimately, a philosopher and theologian, not a scientist really. Nye is no philosopher but a scientist. He ultimately has no time for questions like, "Could the universe have been created five seconds ago with our memories intact?"

But I agree with Nye that our default assumption should be "what you see is what you get" in science. If the Grand Canyon looks like it took millions of years to become what it is, then that is the conclusion geologists should reach until the evidence seems to say something different. Ham would have us filter our scientific thinking through a set of presuppositions based on interpretations of the Bible that most biblical scholars themselves, I believe, find deeply problematic. Although I think it was unhelpful to put down Kentucky, Texas, and Oklahoma, I think Nye is right that we need to train our children to be evidentiary thinkers if we expect to compete with the rest of the world scientifically.

5. It will be interesting to see what comes from the debate, if anything. I will be interested to know if young earth creationists felt like Ham won the debate. I thought Nye won the debate but came across as mean at a few points. I actually felt sorry for Ham at one point. Then again, there were a few places where I felt like Nye hadn't really understood some of the theological coaching someone had tried to give him...

What did you think, if you saw the debate?

Biblical Paradigms are Persistent...

I was reminded again yesterday how hard it is to gain a historical sense of the books of the Bible. We are so programmed growing up to read the Bible as one book from God to me. And that "one book" tends to be whatever version we grew up with with whatever meanings we grew up hearing. Half of what we call "the Bible" is inherited tradition about the Bible.

People get upset when you mess with stuff they think is the Bible, whether it was really the Bible or not. Take the three wise men. The Bible doesn't say there were three, period. But some people will fight you tooth and nail on this one.

I'm not quite sure how to create "aha" moments. For example, although I don't mind if someone uses the King James Version, I would like a person to do so in a way that actually makes sense. As hard as it is to believe, there are actually Christians who do think Peter and Paul wrote their parts of the King James. It is flabbergasting to me how difficult it can be to help someone understand how much work has gone into trying to figure out what the "first editions" of the Bible might have said.

Concepts like "original meaning" or "original manuscript" are incredibly hard sometimes to get across. I'm not quite sure how to do it. We are so thoroughly unreflective and pre-modern in the way we read the Bible. We throw all the normal common sense of reading something out the window. Instead of following the way one sentence leads to the next, we rip sentences out and put them on a poster.

Some of the things people believe in the name of the Bible are almost unimaginable...

Monday, February 03, 2014

Publishing in Scholarly Journals

A friend asked about how to go about publishing in a scholarly journal.  Here's what I wrote back:

There are several elements to a journal article. They don’t have to come together in an exact order:
  1. An idea – obviously you can’t get a journal idea published if you don’t have a spark of an idea.
  2. What journal – journals sometimes have their own niches or styles. One approach might be to decide the journal early so you know what your style is.
  3. Where’s the discussion – you’ll want to know the lay of the scholarly land. Find the most recent thing written in relation to your idea so that you can get a sense of what the most recent part of the conversation is.
  4. Outline what you’re going to write
  5. Start writing – often I find I don’t find my voice until I’ve slogged through an entire first draft.
  6. Revise outline, rewrite as necessary
  7. Submit
  8. Revise and resubmit as necessary – you often get feedback with a rejection. That can help you before resubmitting to another journal. Of course sometimes you face scholarly whim… no advice for a bad reviewer except to try and try again.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Greatest Common Denominator: God's People

Now continuing some notes on the "greatest common denominators" of Scripture in terms of theology. Previous posts were:

The fallen world

Today, I want to think a little about the people of God in Scripture, the church.

1. In the OT, Israel was God's people by election. It would have been easy for them to get the impression that they were the only ones God had chosen, as if God's election is arbitrary and without any human element in the equation. But it is exactly this attitude that Paul undermines in Romans: "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too" (3:29).

So in at least one strand of the OT, there was an openness to outsiders, to strangers who were willing to join Israel. We think of Rahab. We think of Ruth. We think of God's willingness to spare even Nineveh, the city God knew would eventually destroy the northern kingdom.

Job provides a special case. The setting of Job seems to be outside of Israel and is often pictured as patriarchal. Job holds out hope that those who do not know the God of Israel precisely may yet serve him according to what little light they may have.

2. The NT significantly complicates the question of who belongs to the people of God. Parts of the NT sounds like it is a matter of God's arbitrary whim (e.g., Rom. 9) but such an approach makes a mockery not only of the NT's sense that anyone can be saved (e.g., John 3:16) and, indeed, the rest of this part of Romans seems to imply that human choice is involved in our eternal destiny (Rom. 11). The invitation is open to anyone who calls on the name of the Lord (e.g., Rom. 10:9-13).

The best take away from the predestination language of the NT is thus the great mystery of who chooses Christ and who does not, as well as the fact that God is ultimately in control of the universe.

3. It is possible that we should distinguish between those who will be saved in the end and those who are in the people of God. This is a difficult distinction for us. Are babies in the people of God? They have made no confession of faith yet most believe they will be saved.

What of the "Job" of our age, who perhaps do not know of Christ or who live in a context where their understanding of Jesus is bound to be perverted by their culture? Is there no hope that God in love will judge them by the light they have?

Parts of the NT do not seem concerned with Paul's theology of inclusion. Matthew merely passes on that following Jesus, including a compassion toward others as he had compassion, is key to salvation. James similarly looks to the works that come from faith as essential to justification before God (cf. 2:24).

4. In Paul's debates, however, a more refined theology of who is "in" the people of God emerged. The key element in the equation is the Holy Spirit. Acts, Paul, and Hebrews all see having the Spirit, receiving the Spirit, tasting of the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, being baptized with the Holy Spirit as the key element, the "that without which" of being in the people of God.

The Spirit cleanses sins, "cleanses the conscience."  This cleansing corresponds with outward baptism in Acts. This cleansing is the "inward" reality that corresponds to the legal justification of a person. A person is declared "not guilty" before God in justification and the cleansing of the Holy Spirit from sins is the actual mechanism that makes such a verdict possible.

Sonship follows. The individuals is "adopted" into the family of God, although the whole human race is God's offspring. The Spirit "regenerates" us, gives us new life. This is a "sanctification" of our past sins with us now set apart to God as his.

5. The NT often speaks of repentance and faith as the precursors to receiving the Spirit and crossing from death to life. Repentance is a turning from a life moving away from God to one that is moving in God's direction. Faith is a commitment to God and his Christ. But it is the Spirit that marks the actual crossing. Repentance and faith are mere precursors to God's work through the Spirit.

6. The NT does not treat being in the people of God as irreversible. God has no desire for anyone to leave but he does not stop any one from leaving. Yet Paul has images of the need to press on like an athlete (1 Cor. 9) and to press on for the prize of the upward call (Phil. 3). Hebrews 3 warns its audience that just because you have left Egypt doesn't automatically mean you will make it to the Promised Land if one does not persist in faith.

7. The church or "assembly" of those "in Christ" is both visible and invisible. It is visible insofar as the "assembly" is a local body of believers who meet together regularly to encourage each other in faithfulness to the end (Heb. 10:25). It is invisible in that it is the collection of all those who have the Holy Spirit, and this group does not exactly correspond to those who visibly meet together. It is a group that crosses all times and places.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Sinaiticus: The Whole Bible in One Place

I took a fun class in seminary called New Testament Textual Criticism. It was with the late Bob Lyon, one of those professor personalities that becomes the stuff of lore. I think Dave Smith was in that class with me, although we didn't know each other then.

I reread yesterday and today about at the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, one of the two oldest complete Greek manuscripts of the Bible. It's a fun story.

Enter Constantin von Tischendorf, German professor from Leipzig. His version of the discovery is a little suspect. He told everyone that he had seen leaves of this great manuscript in a trash bin at St. Catherine's monastery at Mt. Sinai, destined to be fuel for the oven. This seems highly unlikely to me and the monks later disputed it. They gave or sold him 43 leaves to take with him, including portions of 1 Chronicles and Jeremiah in Greek. This was 1844.

It would take about 15 more years before he could get them to show him the rest of the manuscript. He stayed up all night pouring over it the night before he had to leave. What then ensued was some clever manipulation on Tischendorf's part. He apparently convinced the monks that they could influence the Czar's appointment of a new abbot if they presented him with the manuscript. But apparently, Tischendorf had told them they would get it back.

They never did. Once in the Czar's hands, Tischendorf got the Czar to have it published in honor of the thousandth anniversary of the Roman Empire in 1862. Of course the communists weren't interested in it after the revolution, so the British Museum purchased it in 1933 for 100,000 pounds. And there the majority of the manuscript remains to this day.

Sinaiticus largely read like Vaticanus and a number of other manuscripts that were beginning to be grouped as "Alexandrian" in type. Almost all modern translations follow this type now.