Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Family's History of the United States

I had a fun idea the other day. If my research is right, I could write a fairly curious history of the US based on various ancestors of mine. For various reasons, I wanted to start with what I see as chapter 7, "The Revivalin' Twenties." I thought I might post some on Saturdays and maybe eventually self-publish it as "A Family's History of the United States."
[As a post-note, I have clarified a number of issues in subsequent posts. Some of the information here has been refined or corrected, as the clip from the Camden Record below shows in relation to my grandparents' wedding]
The Revivalin' Twenties
When the year 1920 came along, all of my ancestors had lived in Indiana for a while. Many of them probably had less a sense of their ancestry than I now have. As we've seen, in 1910 I had a great grandfather farming just north of Frankfort (Samuel Schenck). There was a great-grandfather running some kind of a grocery store in Sullivan, Indiana (Oscar Rich). Another was a Dunker working as a carpenter in Camden (Amsey Miller).

None of my parents were yet born in 1920, but they were almost twinkles in my grandparents' eyes. My grandfather, Dorsey Schenck seems to have been sowing his wild oats that year. I can't remember where I heard that he had headed west sneaking onto trains to California. Was it his sister Lula? It seems a little far fetched and I don't trust the memory of the young Kenny who thinks he heard it.

I do know this. The 21 year old Dorsey was not living at home in 1920 when the census taker came knocking at his father's farm just north of Frankfort. He would apparently run off with my grandmother Esther that summer, no doubt much to the consternation of her Dunker father. She would have just turned 18 at the first of the year. She would not end up wearing the bonnet.

Camden Record
They were married September 11 of that year in Camden. I presume it was at the Dunker church there, the one where I attended the funeral of my great uncle Calvin. Perhaps my aunt or uncle knows. If so, I can imagine that it was a matter of some discussion. Should Esther be married to this man outside the Dunker community in a Dunker church?

I presume that Dorsey was more or less a nominal Methodist at that time, the Dutch Reformed background of his ancestors long forgotten on the frontier. They were far from grace at that time, he might have later said. Neither of them would later believe they had been "saved" up to that point.

That all changed at a tent revival in Delphi, Indiana the next year. My grandmother wrote in the family Bible that they were saved in May of 1921. Then "sanctified" in August. To be sanctified in the Pilgrim Holiness Church, which they immediately joined that May, meant to have your sinful nature eradicated, your "bent to sinning."

I don't know, but I can imagine that Esther's conscience had been tender that first year of marriage. Perhaps someone in my family knows the story. Were they both interested in going to the meeting, or did she urge him to go? What is clear is that he would get a call to ministry within two years. In 1923 he received his local license to preach...

Dorsey and Esther, perhaps in front of his Indy grocery store in the 40s or 50s

James: Faith with Deeds

One of the things that James is famous for--maybe even infamous for--is the teaching that faith by itself is not enough to make you right with God. "You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone." (2:24). Wait a minute!  Doesn't this statement go directly against that great teaching of Martin Luther and the Reformation: "justification by faith alone" (sola fide)?

Luther himself wondered as much in the early 1500s, when he accidentally started the Protestant movement. In 1522, when he first translated the New Testament into his own language of German, he put the book of James at the end with other books he didn't think were as solid as Paul and the earlier parts of the New Testament. [1] He considered it to be an "epistle of straw" because it seemed to pull against what he thought Paul taught. Meanwhile, when Luther was translating Romans 3:28, he added the word "only," which isn't there in the original Greek: "a man becomes right without works of law, through faith alone." [2]

It is a striking contrast, isn't it:

Paul: "A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (NIV).

James: "a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (NASB).

Now I don't personally think that Paul and James really contradict each other. But I do wonder if James thought he did! For me, it is hard to read what James has to say in James 2--especially the way he uses the same exact verse from Genesis about Abraham that Paul does (Gen. 15:6)--and not think that he is sparring at least with what he thinks Paul is teaching. You might say that James is arguing against a perverted version of Paul.

Why don't they contradict each other? They don't contradict because true faith for Paul absolutely entails righteous living. Similarly, the kind of "faith" that James is attacking is a mere belief without anything to show for it.

It helps to know that the same word can have more than one meaning. In fact, the different meanings of a word don't even need to have any relation to each other. Over time, words go wherever we take them, and their new meanings don't have to have anything with what they meant originally.

The different meanings of the word "faith" are actually somewhat similar to each other. So faith can be the pure "head knowledge" of James 2:19--"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." The word "believe" in Greek here is pisteuo, which is related to the word for faith (pistis). To believe, in Greek, basically means "to have faith," here in the sense of having a belief.

This is the kind of faith that James says cannot justify you or make you okay with God. The demons believe that God exists. They would no doubt get 100% on any test you gave them about God, creation, or pretty much anything to do with theology. But Jesus was not their Lord. They had not put their faith in Jesus or God.

For Paul, faith involved a reliance on and a commitment to Christ. "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" (Rom. 10:9). Declaring someone your "Lord" is not some "scout's honor" or "pinky swear" that doesn't really matter. A Lord is a master, the kind of person you go and die in battle fighting for.

When Paul talks about "believing" that God raised Jesus from the dead, he means you are buying the whole deal. God raised Jesus from the dead and installed him as King of Kings over the whole universe. That is what you are declaring when you declare Jesus as Lord. You are, as it were, swearing your allegiance to the King. [3]

By contrast, James is concerned with the person who says all the right things, believes all the right things, but their life has nothing to show for it. The demons, he says, have that much faith, and they're still pretty scared. "Faith without deeds," James says, "is useless" (2:20). "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." (2:26).

What does it mean for faith to have works? It means that if you see someone who is hungry or someone who barely has clothes, you do something about it. He puts it this way later: if you know the good you ought to do and you don't do it, that's what sin is (4:17). A man named John Wesley in the 1700s recognized this central sense of what the New Testament really means when it talks about doing wrong. The "sin" that God was really concerned about was any "voluntary transgression of a known law" of God." [4] In other words, when you know what God wants you to do (or not do) and you do the opposite.

James goes further to say that it is not good enough just to keep one part of God's will really well. For example, it is not enough to be really good at not stealing if you are constantly having affairs on your spouse. And it is not good enough to be really good at not killing if you hoard all the wealth God has given you and do not help those in need. This is what James means when he says, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (2:10).

One thing is to be sure. James and Paul both agree that you will be doing the right thing if you love your neighbor (2:8). This is the "royal" law. As Paul says, "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10).

How do we apply these truths to today?...

[1] Namely, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation.

[2] My translation

[3] Another difference between Paul and James to keep in mind is that when Paul talks about "works of Law," he was especially concerned with those parts of the Jewish Law that distinguished Jew and Gentile. So in Galatians, the main point of discussion is circumcision. Paul wants the Galatians to know that "works of Law" (i.e., like circumcision) cannot make them right with God.

[4] Wesley says this several places. For example, in a sermon called, "On Perfection."

Friday, May 30, 2014

Science Friday: Wolfgang Pauli's Exclusion Principle

I'll muster the will to make my Friday post on George Gamow's classic, Thirty Years That Shook Physics. This week I started chapter 3, "W. Pauli and the Exclusion Principle."  The previous posts were:

1a. Planck's Quantum
1b. Jumping Photons (Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect)
1c. The Compton Effect (Proof of Energy Packets)

2a. Thomson and Rutherford's Atoms
2b. Bohr's Contributions (How electrons fill the atom)

Again, it's delightful to read someone with a playful personality who knew the key players in the quantum revolution. Before he gets down to business, Gamow talks of how Pauli, though German, was an anti-Nazi. He talks of how once with his arm in a cast that propped it up, he refused to be photographed with his arm in that position.

Pauli apparently laughed quite loudly and his round figure jiggled when he laughed.  Gamow also playfully speaks of the "Pauli Effect," whereby things tended to break when he was around. In words that reminded me of Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory, Gamow writes, "It is well known that theoretical physicists cannot handle experimental equipment; it breaks whenever they touch it" (64). [Might I add that in early high school I thought of going into theoretical physics...]

Forgive me for not going into detail on the exclusion principle. The problem that Pauli first addressed was the question of why electrons did not collapse toward the lowest quantum state. His finding was basically that there is a "quota" for each electron state. Once the lower levels are filled, electrons have to fill higher levels. No more than two electrons can exist on any one level.

It's like assigned seating in an auditorium. Only two electrons can sit on the first row, right by the nucleus platform. Then there are only two seats in the second row as well. Then it gets a little more complicated. Interestingly, the average diameter of the atom remains constant no matter how big the atom is.

With these basic principles in view, Pauli and Bohr were able to model all the atoms from hydrogen to uranium.

15. Genesis 37-38 (Sibling Issues: Joseph, Tamar)

Still running behind!  Here is Wednesday's post, Genesis 37-38:
  • Family Lessons: I think most of us recognize several problems here. First, Joseph is immature and shouldn't talk about the concubines of his father. Second, Jacob shouldn't show favoritism to his children. Note also the sense of being a stranger in a foreign land that adds to the Bible's value to help the stranger in the land.
  • Don't Gloat: Again, Joseph is immature. Don't tell your brothers you're going to rule over them. Let time show them.
  • Older folk are wiser: Note that the older Jacob, as well as the older sons Reuben and Judah, are wiser about killing Joseph than the others.
  • Line of Christ: Tamar is in the line of Christ, as she is an ancestor of King David. The women in Jesus' genealogy seem to foreshadow the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God.
  • Don't blame the woman: Genesis 38 makes it clear that it is not Tamar who is to blame for the deaths of Er and Onan. It is because they were immoral. (P.S. Onan has nothing to do with Onanism.)
  • Levirite marriage: Even this early, it was cultural to practice Levirite marriage (really Levirite sex here), where it was the duty of younger brothers to "help" the wife of a deceased older brother have a male heir. See Deuteronomy 25:5-10.
  • Tamar wins: Judah sleeps with her, thinking she is a prostitute. Apparently it was okay for the man to go to a prostitute but not okay for someone in the family to be a prostitute.
Previous notes:
1. Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Creation)
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24 (The Fall)
3. Genesis 4-5 (Cain and Abel)
4. Genesis 6-9 (The Flood)
5. Genesis 10-11 (The Tower of Babel)
6. Genesis 12 (The Call of Abram)
7. Genesis 13-14 (Melchizedek)
8. Genesis 15-17 (Hagar and Ishmael)
9. Genesis 18-19 (Sodom and Gomorrah)
10. Genesis 20-22 (Abraham and Isaac)
11. Genesis 23-24 (Isaac and Rebekah)
12. Genesis 25-26 (Birth of Jacob and Esau)
13. Genesis 27:1-30:24 (Jacob's Trickery, Flight, and Children)
14. Genesis 30:25-36:43 (Jacob's Departure from Haran)

Next post next Friday on Genesis 39:1-47:26.

Wesley to the People Called Methodist (a pseudepigraph)

To Mr. Francis Asbury, February 25, 1791.

My dear brother, sensing that my time on this earth may not be long (indeed, it may be that by the time this letter reaches you I will myself have reached that distant shore), I am moved to release the burden of my heart for the people called Methodist who will come in the last days.

You know that we have disagreed on the matter of Bishops in the now former colonies. Yet I have come to accept that it may be necessary to have strong leadership in a country destined to be spread over a vast expanse of land. Otherwise our travelling preachers might come Independent of each other and the Spirit worketh best communally. Yet you know my experiences here in England, where the Episcopacy has oft become an obstacle to the Gospel.

May there never come a time in your fellowship when your Bishops would lord it over the people called Methodists! Nevertheless have I learned to trust the Spirit to move His people to His desired destination, although it oft takes time. One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. God is never slack concerning His promise. He will always renew His people. At first it might be a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.

The Bishoprick will not alway be right, but neither shall the preachers and plain men. We must believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. We are every man prone to think we are right, and here we must remember the words of Gamaliel, that if counsel or work be only of men, then God will surely bring it to nought. Or contrariwise, if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

So perhaps it is best alway to work within whatever Church, until they finally force you into the field. At times it seems inevitable that a Bishoprick or Institution will lose sight of Primary things. Dare I think that there would come a time when the people called Methodist would become timid with regard to such a vile Institution as slavery? Or God forbid there come a time when the Bishops might not endure the sound faith which was once delivered to the saints.

The call of the Methodist thus will always be to reform the nation and especially the Church, even if that Church be the Methodist. In such a time as this, we still only plant and water. Only God giveth the increase.

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen God forsake His righteous. Be patient. Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God, who never faileth. He will get His people where they need to go.

As for me, the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. And what I have discovered best of all is, God is with us!

Your affectionate friend and brother,
J. Wesley

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Let the Wesleyan Movement Begin!

Don't get me wrong, there is such a thing as a Wesleyan theology and there can even be a Wesleyan denomination. But I was reminded yesterday by John Wright of Point Loma that Wesley didn't set out to start a church but to "reform the nation, particularly the Church, and spread Scriptural holiness over the land."

For some reason I have never applied this insight to the Church today. It has always only been for me a historical reminder that many of those who have started new churches were only originally trying to reform the church they were in.  Sure, we know the charismatic movement, which has found its way into just about every Christian tradition there is. I also believe that there are evangelical Catholics, evangelical Anglicans, evangelical Wesleyans, and so forth.

But what struck me yesterday in a way it never has is that you can have Wesleyan Anglicans, Wesleyan Catholics, Wesleyan Baptists, and even Wesleyan Reformed! What would a Wesleyan movement of this sort look like, one that was not so much a church but a revolution within many churches?

1. Transformed Heart
Wesley, like the other "evangelicals" of the 1700s, preached for conversion and life change. He took from the Pietists the idea of assurance--you can know if you are on your way to heaven. He believed God wants to change you through the cross of Christ, to "save" you, and you can know it when he does.

What you believe is significant, but far more important is that God has grabbed hold of you, that you are in a "personal relationship" with him. This is God's doing, although we can put ourselves in the path of his grace by going to the "places" we know he hangs out, places like Scripture, baptism, communion, church, doing good to others. In other words, we can avail ourselves of the means of grace.

Whatever the denomination, a "Wesleyan" is someone who believes God wants to transform our hearts and walk through life in fellowship with us--and we can know he is there with us.

2. A "Generous Orthodoxy"
Someone with the heart of a Wesleyan is more concerned about the state of your heart, than with the specific ideas in your head. It's not that your ideas aren't important. Scripture is of central importance to a Wesleyan and what we believe. Orthodoxy is very important and a key assumption of what is in the head of a transformed heart.

But because of Wesley's focus on the heart, it is not as important that we iron out all our theological differences with each other. Just as a Baptist or a Catholic can speak in tongues, so a Reformed person or an Anglican can have a transformed heart. "If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand."

Whatever the denomination, a "Wesleyan" is someone who is orthodox in faith and looks to Scripture for understanding but who is "generous" toward those whose interpretations and understandings may differ from theirs, especially if they demonstrate a transformed heart.

3. Mature Love
Wesley was optimistic about the power of God to change your life in a concrete, evident way. He did not believe that it was inevitable that you would fail to do the right thing. While he did not deny that a person could accidentally wrong someone else, the "sin" that mattered most to God was when a person intentionally did something you fully knew God didn't want you to do.

What Wesley saw in the New Testament was that God was not primarily interested in whether we measured up to some absolute standard of perfection but whether or not we were allowing the Holy Spirit to empower us to do God's will. He believed God actually wanted to make us holy people in this sense. He believed God wanted to give us a truly mature love for God and others, which he called "perfect love" in his 1700s language. And God has given us the Church to hold us accountable and urge us on to do good.

Whatever the denomination, a "Wesleyan" is someone who is optimistic about God's desire to empower us to do the right thing even here on earth. We do not have to live lives of constant moral defeat but can actually, by the Spirit's power, do the good we know we ought to do.

4. Whole Person, Whole Society, Whole Creation
Wesley did not see God's desire to transform lives as just a matter of our hearts and intentions. Rather, God wants to save everything, "to the uttermost." God is concerned not just with our souls, but with our families and our economics and our society and by extension even the creation. Wesley did not see helping others as something in competition with saving souls. God cares especially for the lost sheep, which biblically includes the poor and the stranger, and so should we.

Wesley was concerned about social justice in England in the 1700s. His heirs were concerned with the plight of slaves and the rights of women. And it is consistent with his spirit to view ourselves today as stewards of God's creation.

Whatever the denomination today, a "Wesleyan" is someone who believes that God wants us to help those who are in need in the most robust way possible. A "Wesleyan" works to see unjust structures in society changed and to make the world a better place.

Let the movement begin!
One reason it has always been difficult to identify a distinctively Wesleyan theology historically is because Wesley really did not aim to create a distinct tradition. What he aimed to do was to see the Church reformed from within!

So if your heart is as my heart, let the revival begin... in whatever church you may call home!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jude: The Righteous Church

I want to try a new approach to my book writing here. Rather than blog the actual pages of what I am writing, I want to use the blog either to plan out my writing for the day, to give a point of interest from what I hope to write for the day, or to give you a teaser that might actually motivate you to get the book once it is finished.

So here is my first shot. Tonight I want to plan out my chapter on Jude for the book I am trying to finish up in the next week or so: The Church Moving Forward: Hebrews to Revelation. So here goes.

A Curious Little Letter
  • Who is this Jude? Did Jesus really have brothers and sisters (brother of James, gospels)?
  • We don't really know when this letter was written. Is it post-apostolic (17)?
A Righteous Faith
  • Although we might at first think that Jude is primarily about having the right belief, the right "faith," when Jude clarifies what he is talking about, it becomes clear that he is not primarily concerned about beliefs but about immorality (3, 4).
  • Application: NT did not isolate beliefs from actions.
  • There are sexual overtones to the immorality in question (7, ) but the illustrations have to do with angels (6-7)!
  • They are grumblers, self-indulgent, arrogant, and show favoritism (16). They are inside the church! (see love feast in 12) They create divisions (19). They don't have the Spirit.
  • Application: There are "hidden reefs" in the church. Yes, we need to be concerned about their souls but they are also dangers to the body of Christ.
The Importance of Staying Faithful
  • 5-6 are about Israelites and angels who fell.
  • He would like to write about salvation, but they need a warning instead (3)
  • 24 indicates that God can keep you from falling and present y'all (plural) blameless.
  • God punishes immorality - look at Sodom and Gomorrah (7), eternal fire, a fire whose consequence lasted forever
  • Saving the doubter and the sinner (22-23)
  • Build each other up in the foundations (20)
  • Application: It is essential to remain faithful, although God doesn't want anyone to perish. Note that Jude is not clear about the exact nature of eternal fire.
Some Strange Stuff
  • The bit with angels is strange. Are they Gnostics? They disrespect angels (8-10). They deny Jesus in some way (think 1 John), 4, are they false teachers (11) They have dreams (8).
  • Jude draws on apocalyptic writings that did not make it into the Bible (9, 14)
  • Application: God can speak to us in all sorts of ways and meets us within the framework of understanding we have and takes us from there.

14. Genesis 30:25-36:43 (Jacob's Departure from Haran)

A little behind. Here's Sunday's post, Genesis 30:25-36:43.
  • Divination: As an indication of how undeveloped the understanding of God is at this point, Laban seems to practice a form of "divination," which Leviticus 19:26 forbids of Israel.
  • Two Tricksters: Laban makes an agreement about cattle, but then cheats Jacob. But Jacob shows that he flunked genetics. God no doubt has a good laugh with the angels, but accommodates.
  • Angel of Elohim: God prospers Jacob, reminds him of Bethel, tells him to go home.
  • Household gods: It was customary in many parts of the ancient world (including the Romans) even to have family gods. Rachel steals her family's gods, then shows that she is a trickster too in hiding them from her father.
  • The "Fear" of Isaac: Quite a unique name for Elohim, the "Fear" of Isaac and the God of Abraham. Laban and Jacob set a marker and make a covenant not to pass it to do harm, invoking the "Fear" of Isaac.
  • More angels of Elohim: They meet Jacob on his way.
  • Facing Esau: Jacob now has to face up to his brother. What will happen? It turns out well in the end.
  • "Face of God": In the meantime, Jacob wrestles with an angel of Yahweh, who Jacob will characteristically call God in this passage. Calls the place, "Peniel," "face of God." Jacob now receives the name, "Israel." Apparently some Israelites did not eat the tendon attached to the thigh because of this story.
  • El, God of Israel: We have seen El before: "El Elyon" ("God Most High"), "El Roi" ("God Sees"), "El Shaddai" ("God Almighty"), "El Olam" ("God Forever"). El was king of the Canaanite pantheon.
  • Dinah and Circumcision: Circumcision is alive and well at Shechem! Don't mess with our sister.
  • Back to Bethel: Another naming of Bethel (with Elohim). They get rid of their foreign gods and El Shaddai appears to Jacob with the same promises of blessing he had given to Abraham and Isaac.
  • Deaths of Rachel and Isaac: Rachel dies in childbirth, giving birth to Benjamin. She is buried near Bethlehem. Isaac also dies finally. Meanwhile, Reuben sleeps with his father's concubine.
  • The generations of Esau
Previous notes:
1. Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Creation)
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24 (The Fall)
3. Genesis 4-5 (Cain and Abel)
4. Genesis 6-9 (The Flood)
5. Genesis 10-11 (The Tower of Babel)
6. Genesis 12 (The Call of Abram)
7. Genesis 13-14 (Melchizedek)
8. Genesis 15-17 (Hagar and Ishmael)
9. Genesis 18-19 (Sodom and Gomorrah)
10. Genesis 20-22 (Abraham and Isaac)
11. Genesis 23-24 (Isaac and Rebekah)
12. Genesis 25-26 (Birth of Jacob and Esau)
13. Genesis 27:1-30:24 (Jacob's Trickery, Flight, and Children)

Next post Wednesday (eh, Thursday) on Genesis 37-38 (Sibling Issues: Joseph, Tamar)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Double Header: Lennox and Abraham

Wanting to give honor to whom honor is due. Russ Gunsalus and his team have lined up a great team of thinkers in Indianapolis to talk about the nature of Wesleyan higher education, with not only Wesleyan speakers but also representatives of conservative Methodism, Free Methodism, and even the Nazarenes. :-)

1. First off tonight, our own Steve Lennox gave a presentation on which he has reflected for years, namely, his sense that the distinctive nature of Wesleyan higher education comes from the fact that it treats education as a "sanctifying context." It is a context of reconciliation and restoration, effected through community, placed within the broader narrative of God's redemptive work on humanity and the creation. Shockingly, Wesleyan schools should aim at "forming saints" in the broadest sense possible!

2. Responding was no less than the delightful William Abraham. Two things stuck out to me in his response. The first is his sense that the Wesleyan tradition, along with other traditions like the Pentecostals, really fits within a third house, in addition to the more catholic on the one side and high Protestant on the other. He finds the glue for the third house in the words of Irenaeus, "where the Spirit is, there is the Church."

He also suggested that we have no business calling ourselves, "Wesleyan" if we haven't read Wesley's standard sermons. Fair enough. Although I don't think Wesley is a trump card for what Wesleyans must believe, I completely agree that we should know Wesley. Aaron Perry put it this way in response to my earlier post: "I like what Eddie Fox said of the Methodist movement. He said that we don't follow Wesley, but we follow Jesus in the company of the Wesleys."

Wesley versus the Wesleyans

The United Methodist Church is in a major crisis right now. Billy Abraham (who is part of the Theological Symposium at Wesleyan HQ these next two days) has given his own spin on the factions within the church here. Part of the UM problem, he suggests, is that it was a conglomeration of multiple parent bodies in 1960s.

The practical focus of The Wesleyan Church, coming as it did at the leading edge of the Church Growth Movement, has minimized distinctions between our parent bodies, especially The Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Pilgrim Holiness Church. The identities of both were arguably forged most in the fires of turn of the century revivalism, as well as the fundamentalizing forces of the mid-twentieth century.

So what is your point, Schenck? My point is that this twin parentage might suggest different levels of proximity to the man himself, John Wesley. For example, as someone from the Pilgrim side, I respect Wesley, but think we can do better. I get a little annoyed at those who think that Wesley is some sort of control or final authority in relation to what Wesleyans must think. Good grief, the guy lived in the 1700s. We potentially have 200 years of further Wesleyan thinking to draw on.

I get especially annoyed with what I view as "I've learned a little" trump-ism. This is the person that now thinks he or she is smarter than everyone else because they've now read a little in the man. I consider this is a transitional stage. Full maturity, IMO, is when one not only knows a little about the man, great though he was, but can now think Wesleyan for him or herself.

Some thoughts...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ehrman Chapter 2: Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism

I am working through Bart Ehrman's, How Jesus Became God, on Mondays.  Here are the posts so far:

1. Divine Humans in Ancient Greece and Rome

Today is chapter 2, "Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism."

In this chapter, Ehrman aims to show that there was a spectrum of "divinity" within Judaism just as within the Greco-Roman world. For most of this review, I want to take the examples he gives and put them into my own sense of the flow of Jewish thought.

A key point comes at the end of the chapter and is worth starting with: "It is absolutely the case that by the time of Jesus and his followers most Jews were almost certainly monotheists" (83). So what is his point in the chapter then?  It would seem to be this: Humans nonetheless, "could share some of the authority, status, and power of that one God." I am good with this assessment.

However, I'm not sure that is the same thing as the next sentence: "Even within a strict monotheism, there could be other divine beings and the possibility of a gradation of divinity." I don't think that's quite right. The sentence before shows that, in Judaism, it was really only when a being was representing God in a very, very narrow sense that we come anywhere close to saying such a being "shared" in the "authority, status, and power" of the one God.

That is to say, in Judaism we only get divine language used of other beings in a derivative way. No being comes close to such language on its own but only in some special relation to the one God, in a representative or reflective sense. And even then, it's not like we have a lot of examples of this sort of thing.

Old Testament Henotheism
So we start with some OT passages he mentions that reflect a henotheist view. Yes, Israel not only had its share of polytheists (the sort Elijah contended with). Yes, the Israelites were mosly henotheists and "monolaters" who only worshiped Yahweh while not denying the existence of other gods (e.g., Ps. 82; Deut. 32:8-9).

Nothing new here. Again, even he says, "by the time of Jesus and his followers most Jews were almost certainly monotheists" (54). So this is fun historical background... largely irrelevant to the question of what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus.

The Old Testament King 
It might shock you to know that the Israelites could refer to their earthly king as "God," but there's nothing to see here. This is well known. Psalm 45 was originally a wedding psalm for a king. But, as Michael Bird points out, there was no confusion for anyone in ancient Israel between the king and God himself (42). The king as God's representative on earth is clearly distinguished from the God in 45:7.

The question, again, is whether this aspect of Israelite thought centuries before Jesus is relevant to the time of Jesus. It does seem to me that the incident in the play by Ezekiel the Tragedian (ca. 200BC) does indicate that some Jews at the time of Christ could think of an earthly king "sharing" the honor due God in a derivative way. But I disagree with the way Ehrman puts it.

Ehrman puts it this way: The stars "bow down in worship to Moses, who has been transformed into a being even greater than they" (61). I don't agree. They bow down to Moses because he is sitting on God's throne, representing the one God. It is a derivative bowing, not an instance of Moses himself being transformed into the divine. I have argued this elsewhere.

The Angel of the Lord
The Angel of the Lord is an interesting figure in the early OT. Genesis and Exodus seem to consider this messenger of Yahweh so much to be identified with Yahweh that those who see the angel are said to see God. John Collins puts it this way, "there is no substantive difference between the deity and his agents" (57).

An interesting history lesson. But is it relevant to the time of Jesus? It was some 1000 years earlier or so.

Angels Having Sex
I'm not sure this is really relevant either to the topic of how the earliest Christians came to equate Jesus with God. Yes, many Jews did believe that angels could have sex with women. 1 Enoch explains Genesis 6:1-2 in this way. As a side note, Dale Martin might suggest that many Jews thought of angels as truly masculine such that they didn't have "to assume human shape" (63). Isn't it just as likely that these Jews assumed angels were literally male?

Exalted Angels
Ehrman mentions a number of exalted angels, but you can't blur Psalm 82 with the Prayer of Joseph or the Apocalypse of Abraham. They are separated by numerous centuries. Is Ehrman's implied argument:
  • The word God is plural in OT Hebrew and can mean "angels."
  • There are angels who come to earth in the Prayer of Joseph and Apocalypse of Abraham
  • Therefore, we can say that these angels who come down to earth in later texts are gods come to earth.
Maybe I'm missing something but this logic doesn't seem to work. The meanings of words at any one point in time are a function of that point in time, not hundreds of years earlier.

Humans who become angels
Again, it feels like he's mixing up some different times and places. So Enoch doesn't become an angel in Genesis or in most of 1 Enoch. There are some texts from around the time of Christ where humans become angel-like (2 Baruch). I do believe there are places where the dead are thought of as becoming angels (Acts 12:15). Basically, it's all over the map.

I'm waiting to see, though, any evidence yet that the earliest Christians thought Jesus had become an angel.

Hypostases and Philo
I think Ehrman goes too far in thinking of wisdom and word in Jewish thought as hypostases. I think for the vast majority of Jewish literature, wisdom and logos are simply personifications of God's attributes, spoken of poetically and figuratively. For example, I disagree with him in thinking that the Wisdom of Solomon thinks of wisdom as an actual being. She's still just an attribute of God, referred to poetically.

Even in Philo, I believe the word and wisdom of God are, more often than not, personifications of God's attributes. True, there are times in Philo where I think the Logos crosses a line and becomes an actual entity, "created but not created like mortals" (Heir 205-6). But there is no question in Philo's mind, even in this case, that the Logos is not "uncreated like God."

Philo's use of allegory and figural language requires some care in reading his comments. Without a sense of his overall point, you can easily mistake an allegorical comment for a literal one. For example, is Philo really talking about the literal Moses or does Moses represent something else, such as a characteristic of God.

Ehrman is right that the rabbis of the second century began to clamp down on how exalted some Jews had come to think of there being "two powers" in heaven (67-69). He is also right that, whatever the official position of a religion, people are going to believe all sorts of things on a popular level (50). I personally question whether Colossians 2 is about worshiping angels, but I suspect there were Jews who crossed the line in their devotion to angelic beings.

Is he suggesting that the earliest Christians had precedents for crossing a similar line? I guess we'll find out.

The Son of Man
Ehrman introduces us to the heavenly figure of Daniel 7 known as the "Son of Man." He is right that, in 1 Enoch, this figure sits on God's throne and judges the nations. This picture may very well have influenced the picture of Jesus sitting on a throne in Matthew 25.

I do want to make a strong distinction, however, between parallels like these generating the heart of early Christian understandings of Jesus and the possibility that the earliest Christians drew on some images like these to find ways to express what they already had experienced in relation to Jesus. In other words, resurrection faith came first. Drawing on existing imagery to describe these unbelievable events came second.

Larry Hurtado
I may have missed it, but I haven't seen a direct response to Ehrman's book on Hurtado's blog. But Ehrman does quote the classic One God One Lord at one point in support of his thesis. Hurtado concludes that "principle angel speculation and other types of divine agency thinking... provided the earliest Christians with a basic scheme for accommodating the resurrected Christ next to God without having to depart from their monotheistic tradition" (61).

I might selectively agree with Hurtado here, but I wonder whether Hurtado likes the way Ehrman paraphrases this quote: "to make Jesus divine, one simply needs to think of him as an angel in human form" (61).

I really don't think that's what Hurtado said. Hurtado, like me, believes that the earliest believers drew on Jewish precedents to describe their recent experiences. As far as I can remember, I don't think he holds to any sort of "angelic Christology," the belief that the earliest Christians saw Jesus as a kind of angel.

Next week: "Did Jesus Think He Was God?"

Happy Memorial Day!

Not all wars are just, but I believe the wars in which my father and great-grandfather fought were just wars. Here's the memories of my father and great grandfather.

1. M. Lee Schenck (1924-2012)
2011, The Gathering
My father was drafted into World War II when he was 18, right after graduating from high school in 1943. Dad was in the Ordnance Corp. He started out in Patton's 3rd Army, 563 Ordnance Company. But while still in New Orleans he became Master Sergeant in a new ordnance company. This would keep him away from the Battle of the Bulge.

His company, in which he ended as Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank, thankfully never had to see the front line. They were in Cheltenham, England, not long after D-Day. Then in Nancy, France as the war in Europe came to an end. Then he was finally in Mannheim, Germany when VJ Day came, spared having to enter the Pacific arena.

Dad in Mannheim, 1945
2. Elijah Washington Shepherd (1839-1896)
My great grandfather fought in the Civil War as part of the 11th Infantry regiment, which organized in Indianapolis in 1861. He was injured in Helena, Arkansas while escorting an unruly soldier back to camp. Apparently, a cavalry man ran over him with his horse in the process, late 1862 or early 1863. I've pasted the later report below. Nevertheless, he seems to have been able to stay with his regiment until the end of the war in 1865.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

G11. Sólo hay un Dios, pero Dios es tres personas.

Mis disculpas, la traducción inicial para este capítulo provienen de Google Translate. El original en Inglés está aquí. Estos capítulos son reflexiones sobre la teología cristiana de la Wesleyan-arminiana.
Sólo hay un Dios, pero Dios es tres personas.

¿Cómo puede Dios ser sólo un Dios y sin embargo ser tres personas distintas? Es un misterio. Cualquier intento de explicar esta histórica creencia cristiana está condenado a caer en algo que ha sido considerado una herejía en algún momento u otro en la historia del cristianismo. Se podría decir que, en el mejor, simplemente podríamos afirmar todo lo que necesitamos para afirmar y no tratar de averiguar cómo encaja todo.

1. Hay un solo Dios.
Este es un pilar central de la fe judía de la que emergió la fe cristiana. Fe del Antiguo Testamento era, por supuesto, más complicado en el contexto del antiguo Cercano Oriente. Los israelitas creían que existía Baal. Ellos simplemente no creían que él era un dios apropiado para adorar ni nada tan poderoso como el Señor, el Dios de Israel. [1] El Dios de Israel es de hecho el Dios Altísimo, el Dios Creador, el único Dios verdadero. Los otros eran seres inferiores que eran nada al lado de Dios. Tenían que poner ningún dios delante de Jehová (Éxodo 20:03).

Nosotros, como cristianos hoy en día ni siquiera llamaríamos tales "dioses." Seres Podemos tomar el ejemplo de Pablo y llamarlos demonios en el mejor (1 Cor 10:20). - Quizás incluso invenciones de la imaginación cananea. El único y verdadero Dios es el único Creador del universo de la nada. [2] Él creó todas las otras potencias espirituales, incluyendo los que se asocian con otros pueblos en el Antiguo Cercano Oriente.

Pablo lo dice de esta manera: "Pues aunque haya algunos que se llamen dioses, sea en el cielo o en la tierra (como hay muchos" dioses "y muchos" señores "), sin embargo, para nosotros hay un solo Dios, el Padre , del cual proceden todas las cosas, y nosotros somos para él "(1 Cor. 08:05-6a). Esta es una enseñanza constante de la Escritura. Efesios dice claramente que: "No hay ... solo Dios y Padre de todos, que está sobre todos, por todos y en todos" (4:04, 6).

2. Hay tres personas que son un solo Dios.
Aquí es donde se pone complicado. Desde el 300, el cristianismo ha afirmado no sólo que hay un solo Dios, sino que Dios el Padre es Dios, Jesús es Dios, y el Espíritu Santo es Dios. Como un credo de los primeros siglos, dice, no confundamos las personas de la Trinidad, esta vez de tres-en-. Y nosotros no dividimos la sustancia. [3]

Como este credo dice, "hay una persona del Padre, y una persona del Hijo, y una persona del Espíritu Santo, pero la divinidad del Padre, el Hijo y el Espíritu Santo es uno." Los tres son increado. Los tres son eternos. Los tres son todopoderosos. "El Padre es Dios, el Hijo es Dios, el Espíritu Santo es Dios. Sin embargo, no hay tres dioses, sino un solo Dios."

Los detalles de esta creencia se elaboraron en los primeros siglos del cristianismo como la Iglesia trató de discernir lo que la Biblia indica acerca de Dios. Así que Juan 1:01 dice que "el Verbo era Dios", lo que significa que Jesús era Dios. Pero Jesús se hizo Dios en su bautismo o la resurrección (adopcionismo)? ¿Fue Jesús el primero más exaltado de la creación de Dios, pero sigue siendo parte de la creación (el arrianismo),? O tal vez Jesús estaba sólo es similar en esencia a Dios Padre (homoiousios) en lugar de "de la misma sustancia" (homoousios).

En el otro lado de la ecuación, eran el Padre, el Hijo y el Espíritu Santo simplemente tres caras diferentes de Dios, pero no realmente tres personas distintas (modalismo)? Tras el cristianismo se convirtió en una religión legal en el Imperio Romano, los líderes de la cristiandad se reunieron en una ciudad llamada Nicea en el 325 DC el año para tratar de llegar a algunos de estos desacuerdos. [4] Se tomará la mayor parte de un siglo, pero hacia el año 400, la creencia actual se había convertido en la comúnmente aceptada uno en la Trinidad.

La creencia común de la cristiandad desde entonces es que las tres personas de la Trinidad son personas distintas, sino que son un solo Dios.

3. Este es un concepto difícil, y siempre ha sido tentador para modificarlo o darle una mayor claridad de lo que estamos en condiciones de entender. También es una posición que requiere a los cristianos a responder a las preguntas que no son del todo claro en la Biblia, y los diferentes grupos que argumentaban en los primeros siglos toda la Escritura utilizada para argumentar a favor de sus posiciones.

Incluso hoy en día, hay una tendencia a entrar en detalles acerca de las relaciones entre el Padre, el Hijo y el Espíritu Santo antes de la creación del mundo. Pero en toda la Escritura, el único pasaje para venir en cualquier lugar cerca de decir nada en este sentido es cuando Jesús habla de la gloria que compartía con Dios el Padre antes que el mundo comenzó (Juan 17:05). En la Biblia, vemos a la naturaleza de la relación de Jesús con el Padre mientras él está en la tierra, pero no tanto antes.

Conocer las tradiciones de tendencia tienen que crecer, lo mejor es que nos centremos más en la Trinidad en relación con los roles de cada jugador en la Escritura y no especular demasiado sobre cosas que no podríamos comprender. Dios, el Padre más en las Escrituras como el Creador trascendente y soberano a quien toda la gloria debe ir en última instancia (por ejemplo, Fil. 2:11). Funciones de Jesús más en las Escrituras como el agente de Dios en la redención del mundo, aquel en quien el mundo se encuentra una vez más su significado y propósito propuesto. El Espíritu funciones más en las Escrituras como el canal de la presencia de Dios y el poder sobre la tierra.

En la Escritura, Dios es tres personas, a pesar de que sólo hay un Dios.

Capítulo siguiente: C1. Dios creó el universo de la nada.

[1] La adoración de un solo Dios, mientras que existen otros creyentes se llama "monolatría", y la posición se llama "henoteísmo."

[2] Estoy siguiendo la delantera de la descripción de Richard Bauckham del monoteísmo judío en la época de Cristo en Jesús y el Dios de Israel: Dios crucificado y otros estudios sobre la cristología del Nuevo Testamento de la Divina Identidad (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008) , 184. Además de monoteísmo "creacional", describe el monoteísmo judío como "monoteísmo del culto" (lo que significa que sólo Yahvé era digno de adoración) y "monoteísmo escatológico" (sólo Yahvé emergería victorioso al final de la historia).

[3] El llamado Athansian Creed.

[4] El emperador romano Constantino hizo del cristianismo una religión legal en 313 dC.

Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections on God

Here are my posts on the Doctrine of God.

1. God didn't need to create. (God's self-sufficiency)
2. God isn't literally a guy.
3. God has the power to do anything. (God's omnipotence)
4. God is present in all places and all times. (God's omnipresence)
5. God knows every possible thing to know.
6. God knows every actual thing to know. (God's omniscience)
7. God can do whatever he wants. (God's sovereignty)
8. God loves everything he has created. (God is love)
9. God's justice fits within the context of his love. (God is just)
10. To say God is holy is to say God is God. (God is holy)
11. There is only one God, but God is three persons. (God is a Trinity)

G.11 There is only one God, but God is three persons.

Last post in the section on God in my ongoing series giving some thoughts on theology in bullet points. I may have missed something, but I believe this concludes my section on God. I'll post all the links in a separate post in a moment.
G11. There is only one God, but God is three persons.

How can God only be one God and yet be three distinct persons? It is a mystery. Any attempt to explain this historic Christian belief is doomed to fall into something that has been considered a heresy at some point or another in Christian history. You might say that, at best, we might simply affirm everything we need to affirm and not try to figure out how it all fits together.

1. There is only one God.
This is a central pillar of the Jewish faith from which Christian faith emerged. Old Testament faith was of course more complicated in its Ancient Near Eastern context. The Israelites believed that Ba'al existed. They just didn't believe he was an appropriate god to worship nor anywhere near as powerful as Yahweh, the God of Israel. [1] The God of Israel was in fact God Most High, the Creator God, the one true God. The others were inferior beings who were nothing next to God. They were to put no god before Yahweh (Exod. 20:3).

We as Christians today would not even call such beings "gods." We might take Paul's lead and call them demons at best (1 Cor. 10:20)--perhaps even figments of the Canaanite imagination. The one true God is the sole Creator of the universe out of nothing. [2] He created all other spiritual powers, including those that were associated with other peoples in the Ancient Near East.

Paul puts it this way: "For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live" (1 Cor. 8:5-6a). This is a consistent teaching of Scripture. Ephesians clearly states that, "There is... one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (4:4, 6).

2. There are three persons who are the one God.
Here is where it gets complicated. Since the 300s, Christianity has affirmed not only that there is one God, but that God the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. As a creed from those early centuries puts it, we do not confuse the persons of the Trinity, this three-in-one. And we do not divide the one substance. [3]

As this creed puts it, "there is one person of the Father and one person of the Son, and one person of the Holy Spirit, but the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one." All three are uncreated. All three are eternal. All three are all powerful. "The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three gods, but one God."

The details of this belief were worked out in the first few centuries of Christianity as the Church tried to discern what the Bible indicated about God. So John 1:1 said that "the Word was God," meaning that Jesus was God. But did Jesus become God at his baptism or resurrection (adoptionism)? Was Jesus the first, most exalted of God's creation, but still part of the creation (Arianism)? Or perhaps Jesus was only similar in substance to God the Father (homoiousios) rather than "of the same substance" (homoousios).

On the other side of the equation, were the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simply three different faces of God but not really three distinct persons (modalism)?  After Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire, the leaders of Christianity came together at a city called Nicaea in the year AD325 to try to hammer out some of these disagreements. [4] It would take the better part of a century, but by about the year 400, the current belief had become the commonly accepted one on the Trinity.

The common belief of Christianity ever since is that all three persons of the Trinity are distinct persons but that they are only one God.

3. This is a difficult concept, and it has always been tempting to modify it or give it greater clarity than we are in a position to understand. It is also a position that required Christians to answer questions that are not entirely clear in the Bible, and the different groups who argued in the first centuries all used Scripture to argue for their positions.

Even today, there is a tendency to go into great detail about relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before the creation of the world. But in all of Scripture, the only passage to come anywhere close to saying anything along these lines is when Jesus speaks of the glory he shared with God the Father before the world began (John 17:5). In the Bible itself, we see the nature of Jesus' relationship with the Father while he is on earth but not so much before.

Knowing the tendency traditions have to grow, it is best for us to focus most on the Trinity in relation to the roles each play in Scripture and not to speculate too much about things we could not possibly comprehend. God the Father functions most in Scripture as the transcendent and sovereign Creator to whom all glory must ultimately go (e.g., Phil. 2:11). Jesus functions most in Scripture as the agent of God in the redemption of the world, the one in whom the world once again finds its intended meaning and purpose. The Spirit functions most in Scripture as the channel of God's presence and power on the earth.

In Scripture, God is three persons, even though there is only one God.

Next week: C.1 God created the universe out of nothing.

[1] The worship of one God while believing others exist is called "monolatry," and the position is called "henotheism."

[2] I am following the lead here of Richard Bauckham's description of Jewish monotheism at the time of Christ in Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 184. In addition to "creational" monotheism, he describes Jewish monotheism as "cultic monotheism" (meaning that only Yahweh was worthy of worship) and "eschatological monotheism" (only Yahweh would emerge victorious at the end of history).

[3] The so called Athansian Creed.

[4] The Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity a legal religion in AD313.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Church publishing houses going forward...

I am worried about the future of church associated publishing houses like Abingdon, Nazarene Publishing House, and even my own Wesleyan Publishing House. I've talked to various prognosticators and of course have thought on my own about such things.  Here are some thoughts:

1. These brands are worth saving. Sure, I can publish oodles on my own and make a whole lot more on individual sales. But there is still value in a press endorsing your work. If I only self-publish, then my books are only worth as much as people don't think I need someone else's endorsement.

There is value in keeping the brand. And there is value in a denomination having an identity, which for the time being still involves both print and electronic materials. Rumors of the demise of demand for print materials have been much exaggerated, even among millennials. Yes, electronic is essential and should overwhelmingly dominate, but print will not go away completely any time soon, maybe never.

It's like a college. You can start a new college to be sure and start from scratch. But they say buying a failing college is worth 10 years and 10 million dollars just for the accreditation alone. So having the brand is worth it, even if publishing houses have to be reconceptualized.

2. Editing can be outsourced. Unfortunately, the years of having a full time editorial staff are pretty much over. Publishers just can't afford it and stay in business. But you don't have to pay someone 40,000 a year when you can pay someone a couple thousand to edit a book freelance. There are many competent individuals willing to serve in this capacity on the side.

3. For churches, publication decisions can be made by a committee made up of a combination of ex officio denominational officials and appropriate individuals within the denomination. It is the nature of things in denominations for lay leader and minister to serve willingly on boards of this sort with no remuneration other than expense--which such individuals often donate because they believe in the cause.

4. Printing can be done directly through Create Space and Amazon with a "print on demand" model. Amazon will take care of the printing and shipping. There may be some situations where it is worth having some quantities of books on stock. But in this day and age, no book should ever go out of print. This is the age where a single copy can be printed on demand and a profit be made.

5. For a denominational press, the various departments of the denomination should serve as the primary facilitators of new books and resources, as well as their primary marketers. So a spiritual formation department might play a primary role in the creation and publication of resources from the press in spiritual formation.

Some thoughts on how we can keep church publishing houses open for the indefinite future. Obviously, there will need to be someone somewhere doing the book keeping too...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fin de siècle (1800s) Physics

Forgive me for picking up another book on physics this week: Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century. I had high hopes after enjoying so much The Perfect Theory on general relativity.

It's not a good sign that I am a little bored and disappointed after the introduction and the first chapter. This sentence in the introduction in and of itself may have predicted the doom of this book for me: "I have described, rather than analyzed, important parts of the development of physics between 1895 and 1995" (xiv).

The first chapter, on "end of the century" physics at the end of the 1800s, kept the author's promise. It seemed to me a cluttered and somewhat boring catalog of people and their ideas at the end of the 1800s. I feel like I could write a more interesting account... who cares that it wouldn't be nearly as accurate. :-) Give me the flavor. Give me the controversy. Give me the narrative. Give me Gamow. Give me Hawking.

The standard narrative is that physics was all but putting on the finishing touches and letting the paint dry at the end of the 1800s. Kragh says not so fast. He no doubt treats these figures much more fairly. But, come on, I want to feel smart by making these guys look silly.

Maybe someday I can write the Mickey Mouse version of 20th century physics...

Hebrews 11 - The Faith Chapter

Continued from yesterday
Probably the best known part of Hebrews is chapter 11, the "faith chapter." Hebrews 11:1 is a common memory verse: "Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."

This verse is not exactly a definition of faith, although the NIV has translated it somewhat like one. It is more of a description of faith. The Greek reads more literally, "Faith is the substance of things being hoped, the proof of things not being seen."

It is really somewhat of a poetic statement. What is it like to have faith? It is like having something now that you are hoping to have in the future. It is like having evidence now of something that you cannot see. Faith is like that.

For almost two chapters now we have been unfolding the situation and message of Hebrews. Hopefully you can now see that Hebrews 11 did not just come out of nowhere. This chapter, full of heroes of faith, fits perfectly with the rest of Hebrews' message.

Hebrews has been telling its audience repeatedly that they needed to keep going in faith. They did not want to be like the wilderness generation of Israel that left Egypt but never arrived at the Promised Land. The author has sternly warned them that if they fall away, they will never find their way back. Even after the central argument of the sermon is over at 10:18, the author urges them not to continue sinning, not to stop meeting together. We are not like those who shrink back, he tells them, but like those who keep going and finally make it to salvation (10:39).

It is exactly at this point that Hebrews 11 comes. Faith keeps us going to the end. The chapter is full of examples of individuals who kept on going. When the chapter is over, Hebrews 12:1-3 confirm the point at which all these examples have been driving. These examples form a "cloud of witnesses," like crowds in a stadium watching us run a race. They are urging us on to finish the race as we look to Jesus, who finished the very same race first.

The faith examples of Hebrews 11 are not haphazard. The author arguably chose these specific examples because he thought they were directly relevant to the situation of the audience. They basically fall into three categories. Some have to do with trusting when you cannot see, especially when something hasn't happened yet that God has promised. Some arguably have to do with trusting in Christ's sacrifice (e.g., Abel in 11:4). Some have to do with trusting God in persecution, knowing that sometimes God rescues us. But even when he doesn't, there is a better salvation yet to come.

Noah and Abraham are key examples of faithful individuals who kept going even though they had not yet seen what God had promised. Noah was told to build an ark. Abraham was told to go into a land his descendants would inherit. But the promise took a long time to come. But they kept going anyway. The point for the audience is obvious. They needed to keep going too. Here we might mention that the word faith in Greek has several different nuances, one of which is faithfulness.

Hebrews 11:13 is thus something like the key to the whole chapter: "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth." So the audience needs to keep going in faithfulness, even if they should die before they finally see the promise.

Of course, sometimes, God does rescue. Enoch was rescued from the earth (11:5). The Israelites were rescued through the Red Sea, while their persecutors died (11:29). The Egyptians in this case might easily have reminded the audience of the Romans.

Indeed, some of the imagery of Moses has to do with resisting a persecuting king. Moses' parents disregarded the command of the king (11:23). Similarly, Moses did not fear the king's anger (11:27). Without the kind of faith that keeps going when you cannot see, even when you are being oppressed--without that sort of faith it is impossible to please God (11:6). [1] These images might easily remind the audience of Rome and its emperor.

Of course sometimes God does not rescue us on earth. Some examples of faith were victorious (e.g., 11:32-34). Others were not (11:35-38). Some suffered a martyr's death, "refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection" (11:35).

Again, the point to the audience is clear. They might not yet see Christ's return. They might not yet see the promised salvation. They may be facing significant persecution from the Romans. They may feel like they have no city, no homeland (11:10, 14-15). But God has prepared a city for them in heaven, a better country (11:16).

[1] The mention of believing that God exists would relate more to a Gentile audience than a Jewish one.

Science Friday: 2b. Bohr's Contributions (5)

I've been reading through George Gamow's classic, Thirty Years That Shook Physics. This week finishes chapter 2, "N. Bohr and Quantum Orbits."  The previous posts were:

1a. Planck's Quantum
1b. Jumping Photons (Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect)
1c. The Compton Effect (Proof of Energy Packets)

2a. Thomson and Rutherford's Atoms

The rest of chapter 2 was a delight, not because of the equations but because of the stories. The rest of the chapter primary deals with Niels Bohr, who took the notion of energy packets and applied it to the atom.

1. Why doesn't the energy of electrons dissipate away? Because it has an energy "ground state," lower than which its energy cannot go. Further, electrons can only gain energy in the discrete packets that Planck suggested.

At this point, Bohr pulled together the results of several different experiments. As hydrogen is excited, say by running electricity through it, it produces a characteristic set of lines if light from it is passed through a prism. This "line spectrum" is like hydrogen's signature.

What interested Bohr about hydrogen is that he supposed that it might only have one electron. It was thus perfect for exploring the possible energy states an electron could have. The real innovation was his hypothesis that the different line spectra of hydrogen might correspond to different circular orbits hydrogen's electron might have.

Several scientists had already derived equations for different parts of hydrogen's spectrum (Balmer, Lyman, Paschen, and Brackett). Bohr connected these different parts of hydrogen's spectrum into a model in which you had a number of energy states at one orbit and then a number at another orbit, then more at another, and so forth.

Here are two diagrams to depict his theory. The first shows the series of electrons he proposed at each orbit. The second relates these to the various series of line spectra found for hydrogen.



Sommerfeld would then, like Kepler, suggest elliptical orbits. Any student of chemistry today will recognize these hypotheses as the beginning of what we now know as the various orbitals of electrons within various shells (1s2, 2s2, 2p6, 3s2, 3p6, 4s2, 3d10...).

2. But the most enjoyable part of the chapter were the personal reminiscences of Gamow about Bohr. I had never gotten this far in the book before. I guess the Carlsberg Brewery of Denmark fame has an scientific institute in the center of its property, Blegdamsvej 15, at that time. The most famous Danish scientist of the time is supposed to live there, and Bohr took up his residence there for many years.

I guess many of the most famous physicists of those days spent at least some time there with Bohr, who apparently was a delightful, whimsical person who "fathered many scientific children" (51). Gamow contrasts Einstein, who generally worked alone, with Bohr, who apparently loved to mentor and work with others.

Gamow describes a community of geniuses that I suspect most of us interested in ideas dream of being a part of. But alas, it doesn't happen very often, and who of us would qualify? There was Cambridge in the 20s with philosophers and writers. There was Princeton for the relativists with Jim Peebles. There's the Chicago School in economics...

What a remarkable time to be a physicist! Gamow had managed to go to Germany from Russia for a couple months in the summer of 1928. He relates that the Soviet Union had not yet closed the door to such things yet at that time. He had come up with a brilliant idea about the nucleus in those months and had sent off a paper for consideration to be published.

On his way back to Russia, he had just enough money left to go by Copenhagen for a day and try to meet Bohr, unannounced, just a hope to meet the man. As an indication of the kind of man Bohr was, Gamow ended up staying for a year there on a fellowship. The chapter continues with reminiscences of Bohr's whimsy.

Gamow ends the chapter remembering the time in 1939 at a conference in DC, where he had gone to teach in 1933. Bohr was at the conference, as was Enrico Fermi (coming up in chapter 7). In the middle of the conference, they received word that an experiment had been conducted in Berlin in which uranium basically split in half when bombarded with neutrons.

The experiment was partially reproduced that evening in DC and would lead to the atomic bomb, six years later.

Next Week: Wolfgang Pauli

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Great Society (after 50 years)

Fifty years ago today, Lyndon B. Johnson gave one of his famous "The Great Society" speeches at a University of Michigan graduation ceremony.

What were Johnson's initial three points?
1. He wanted to see the American city not just be a place to live but a place to live "the good life" (a phrase from Aristotle). He wanted urban centers to be places of community and where you could still see some of the green of nature.

2. He didn't want to see the countryside disappear or be spoiled. He didn't want to see the countryside become a place where water couldn't be drunk or where the air was polluted.

3. Finally, he wanted to see the classrooms of America become a place where learning offered an escape from poverty and where poverty did not keep you from an education.

He proposed a "creative federalism," in which national and local governments cooperated together to work toward these goals.

What came out of it?
1. Civil Rights
I hope no Christian would think that a world where blacks have to ride in the back of the bus or can't drink from the same water fountain as whites is a better world than one where black and white student go to school together. Even George Wallace later repented of his attitude before being forced to do the right thing.

Did they integrate in the best way? I don't know. But there is a time where no amount of conversation will get an entity to where it needs to be. I believe the Civil War was one such time. I believe the 60s were another. It seems like the smaller the level of government, the more likely the majority will run over the rights of the minority and the need for a larger arm of justice to step in.

I'm going to say that this was a good thing from a Christian perspective.

2. The Welfare State
I think there is much agreement that the current welfare system needs fixed. Johnson had noble goals, very Christian goals. Help people in poverty get out of poverty. But what we seem to have is a system that simply perpetuates poverty. It does not empower people out of poverty. It does not lead people to the good life. It more props them up to have a mediocre life, and it does so at the expense of others.

So, again, the goal was very Christian, a society where people are empowered out of misery to a truly good life. The problem is that it hasn't worked, and neither political party seems to have a healthy vision on how to fix it. I love this quote by Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg: "We know what to do, we just don't know how to get re-elected after we have done it."

3. Arts and Humanities
Part of the good life is an appreciation of beauty. It is not just making money. It is not just living for pleasure. These are animalistic interests. To be human is to look beyond mundane pleasure to the things that make us a different sort of creature than my dog that spends half her time chasing shadows in the kitchen. Most of all, it means looking to God, but part of what God has given us is a mind to wonder and love. Johnson's attention to the arts and humanities made our culture more human and less animal.

I'm going to call this one a success, an enrichment to our lives as Americans.

4. Environment
Johnson said this to Congress, "The society that receives the rewards of technology, must, as a cooperating whole, take responsibility for [their] control." While at times environomentalists, IMO, go overboard, I think there is a basic common sense here. The chemical spill in West Virginia makes the point. We want business to succeed but not at the expense of destroying drinking water. We don't want our cities to look like this:
Mexico City at one time
There is a middle way, one that leaves our world clean and enjoyable while still letting business succeed. Again, I think if we could remember clearly where things were headed and where they are today, we would overall consider this aspect of Johnson's vision a positive one.
The pattern of history on such things is that, while many people resist change, they end up agreeing with much of what they initially resisted without being fully conscious of it. So many strongly resisted the civil rights movement at the time, but no Republican today would stomach anyone who had the same attitude as their equivalent 50 years ago. The 1960 Strom Thurmond or George Wallace would be looked at today the way we look at Westboro Baptist or worse. So they angrily resisted civil rights at the time and still would consider Johnson a godless liberal. But they don't remember how foul their position was at the time or realize how much of Johnson's values they would now agree with.

My personal take-away is that Johnson's goals were noble and, indeed, very Christian. Much of what he and the Congress of that time enacted was positive. The main weakness would seem to be the "welfare state" that they created. It has not done what it was supposed to do and needs some significant reconceptualization.

But I would welcome a leader in 2016 who had a truly workable vision for maintaining and remaking America as a truly "Great Society."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What would you like this summer?

My current rhythm, if you haven't guessed, is the following:

Sunday: Theology in Bullet Points
Monday: Book review
  • Currently, How Jesus Became God
  • Upcoming: Rome
Periodically: Reading through Genesis and beyond

Friday: Something Science or Math
Saturday: Reviews of Grudem and N. T. Wright

Anything you're interested in talking about this summer?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hebrews - the Big Warning

Continued from Saturday
... However, the strongest warning by far in Hebrews comes in 5:11-6:8. After the author has started to discuss Jesus as a priest, he suddenly interrupts his train of thought to give the sternest warning to the audience in the whole sermon. They have been believers long enough to be teachers but they are back on milk again, presumably because they don't understand that Christ has now made the sacrifices of the Old Testament unnecessary. [1] The author warns them in the strongest of terms that if they don't watch out, they may end up in the fires of God's judgment, even though they started out so well.

First, the sermon slaps them for being babies. They can't tell the good from the bad, the author scolds them (5:14). It's like they need to go back to elementary school and learn their ABCs all over again (5:12). They can't see the clear path of righteousness.

The author shames them. When they first believed, they had to learn about not sinning and about trusting in God (6:1). They learned about Christian baptism and about laying hands on people, perhaps to receive the baptism of the Spirit (6:2). When they first believed, they learned about the resurrection and eternal judgment for those who are not going to be saved. [2]

They need to move on from these ABCs. Now, they need to trust in Christ for atonement and let go of their felt need for the temple. They needed to go on to maturity (6:1). Some of this heightened shame tactic is meant to move them to action--the author doesn't really think they will fall away (6:9). But this sort of shock therapy was a culturally appropriate way of scolding them into movement again.

The most shocking statement of all no doubt comes in 6:4-8. They have come so far. They have received the Holy Spirit and thus tasted the glory of heaven that is coming. They have experienced the power of the coming age. If they fall away at this point, Hebrews says, they will never find their way back. It would be impossible for them to get to a place of repentance again.

Hebrews 12:16-17 use Esau as a model of someone who sold his birthright and then tried to find a way back to the blessing. But although Esau tried, "he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears" (12:17, NASB). The parallel for the audience is obvious. If they sell their "birthright," if they toss away their sonship (e.g., 2:11-13), they will not be able to "be brought back to repentance" (6:6). Rather, their corpses will fall in the desert, short of the Promised Land, like the wilderness generation (3:17).

Hebrews says to toss Christ away at this point would be like trying to crucify Jesus all over again (6:6), putting him up on the cross to humiliate him again. Hebrews 10:26 uses the image of using up the sacrifice of Christ and having no more blood left. Obviously this is just a picture but it is truly a shocking one. To turn away from Christ deliberately when they have come as far as the audience, that would be like insulting the Holy Spirit (10:29). It would be like throwing the blood of Jesus on the ground and stomping on it.

The warning in 6:7-8 ends with yet another halting image. If you keep watering a piece of land over and over again, but the only things that grow are thorns and thistles, that land is destined for burning. The author surely made his point clear. Having come so far at such a key point in history, the audience had best think carefully before they turned away from the living God! "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (10:31).

[1] It is the mention of Christ as a priest like Melchizedek that sparks this interruption, reinforcing our sense that it is the final sufficiency of Christ's atonement that is key to their wavering faith in some way.

[2] It was this list that changed my mind about whether the audience was primarily Jew or Gentile. This is not the sort of list that a Jewish believer in Christ would learn when first believing, but it is the sort of list a new Gentile believer would learn when converting.

13. Genesis 27:1-30:24 (Jacob's Trickery, Flight, and Children)

Today we catch up with Genesis 27-30.
  • Jacob the Trickster: In 27:1-29, Jacob and his mother Rebekah conspire to cheat Esau out of his blessing. It is a classic story about how one parent sometimes shows favoritism to one child and another to another (something that should avoided by parents). This is a passage that uses Yahweh for God.
  • No Repentance: Hebrews 12 uses this part of the Esau story (compare Gen. 25 for the first part) to indicate that after selling his birthright, Esau could not inherit the blessing. He sought a place of repentance diligently, but couldn't find one. For Hebrews, this indicates that those who apostatize will not be able to find their way back.
  • Run away: Esau wants to kill Jacob after he steals his blessing. Rebekah plots to send Jacob away north to her home in Haran, to her brother Laban. She is a trickster like Jacob. She convinces Isaac to send him away using the excuse of marriage but she is also concerned about protection.
  • El-Shaddai: Here is the thread of God blessing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and being called "El Shaddai."
  • Polygamy acceptable: Esau has many wives. The Pentateuch assumes without argument that having multiple wives is acceptable--there is no indication it was an issue at that time.
  • Stairway to Heaven: While Jacob is on his way north, he dreams of a stairway to heaven  Yahweh blesses him as YHWH did Abraham and Isaac, and he gives him the same promise of countless descendants. The nearby town was called Luz, but Jacob gives it the name Beth-El, "house of God." Earlier, Abraham had worshipped Yahweh here as well, but now we learn how the place got its later name.
  • Rachel and Leah: Jacob meets his cousins (Laban's daughters) when he reaches Haran. He meets Rachel in a way similar to the way Abraham's servant had met Rebekah (at a well). Jacob wants to marry Rachel and works for seven years to get her. When the seven years are up, Laban (also a trickster), gives him Leah (the oldest) instead. But when Jacob agrees to work for seven more years, Laban gives him Rachel too.
  • Marriage customs: Several interesting cultural features to this story. Once again, polygamy is acceptable. The oldest daughter needs to be married first. Jacob works for them. Apparently, whatever ceremony and even the consummation of the marriage did not involve seeing the face (veiled). Quite possibly, Rachel was too young for marriage when Jacob arrived.
  • 12 sons: The rest of Genesis 29 and half of 30 present the birth of Jacob's 12 sons, whose descendants will become the 12 tribes of Israel. It is noteworthy that Yahweh has compassion on Leah for being unloved. She has the first four sons (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah). Then Rachel's servant Bilhah has Dan and Naphtali. Then Zilpah, Leah's servant has Gad and Asher. Then Leah has Isaachar, Zebulun, and Dinah, a daughter. Finally, Rachel conceives and has Joseph.
  • Erotic herbs: There is a glimpse of ancient superstition in these stories. In Genesis 30 we see Rachel and Leah arguing over erotic herbs.
Previous notes:
1. Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Creation)
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24 (The Fall)
3. Genesis 4-5 (Cain and Abel)
4. Genesis 6-9 (The Flood)
5. Genesis 10-11 (The Tower of Babel)
6. Genesis 12 (The Call of Abram)
7. Genesis 13-14 (Melchizedek)
8. Genesis 15-17 (Hagar and Ishmael)
9. Genesis 18-19 (Sodom and Gomorrah)
10. Genesis 20-22 (Abraham and Isaac)
11. Genesis 23-24 (Isaac and Rebekah)
12. Genesis 25-26 (Birth of Jacob and Esau)

Next post Sunday on Genesis 30:25-35:29.