Sunday, August 31, 2014

Gems in Romans 12:9-21

One of the lectionary readings for today is Romans 12:9-21. Now there's a sermon series that could last for months! What great truths!  What hard truths! I actually wrote a devotional over these last few chapters of Romans.

A few verses that stick out to me are:
  • "Honor one another above yourselves." This was one of my Grandpa Shepherd's verses that my Dad also adopted as a life mission: "in honor, preferring one another." Don't act selfishly but act in a way that is in the interests of others. Put others first.
  • "Rejoice with those who rejoice." This is one I have said more than one to my children. It's tempting when something good happens to a sibling to be jealous. Instead, we should rejoice with those who have good things happen to them.
  • "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." You can't always do it, because it takes two for there to be peace. Some people (spouses, countries, etc...) will pick a fight no matter what you say or do. There's nothing you can do about that. But you can live at peace with others "as far as it depends on you."
  • "Leave room for God's wrath." It's not your job to make sure that every wrongdoer gets his or her just deserts. Leave them to God.
  • "Do not repay anyone evil for evil." "Overcome evil with good." This is in the same vein as "a gentle answer turns away wrath" (Prov. 15:1). Things only escalate when you respond in kind... until one or both of you is dead.
Great stuff! Hard stuff!

F1. Start with the faith you have.

I see this post as the very first in the first section (although I've already done three of the later ones) in my theology in bullet points.
In your search for God, start with the faith you have.

Technically speaking, it is first and foremost God's quest for you. The search for God is not primarily one in which you try to discover God in your own power. Indeed, it is ironic that some try to search for God in their own power by way of the Bible. One critique of Bible-centric, fundamentalist forms of Christian faith is that they usually are, inadvertantly, human centered because they usually picture us as individuals reaching for God by trying to understand and "master" the biblical texts.

Rather, revelation is about God reaching out to us, about God revealing himself to us. The Bible is part of that reaching out, as we will see later in this series. But God has been reaching out to humanity long before there was a Bible. And God reaches out to those who do not have a Bible. And God can reach out to us before we read or are touched through the Bible.

There is a reaching out to us in creation (natural revelation). There is the record of God reaching out to his chosen people (the Bible). God reaches out to each one of us as individuals in many and various ways (personal revelation). But the consummate reaching out to us took place when God himself took on human flesh in Jesus the Christ (incarnation). John 1 does not refer to the Bible when it speaks of the Word made flesh (nor do the other references to the logos in the New Testament), but it refers to Jesus. [1]

We are not in danger of missing out on God if we can't come up with the right answers on our own. We do not have to worry about coming up with the right understanding of the Bible to be saved. Revelation is not about us figuring out or discovering God. Revelation is about God letting us find him through whatever means he chooses.

John Wesley spoke of a special grace that works in God bringing us to him. We call it "prevenient grace." [2] Grace is God's undeserved blessing, his "unmerited favor," as they used to say. It is God reaching out to us long before we are even aware of him. He has been preparing things for us to find him since eternity past, knowing that we would need to.

It is not our study of the Bible in itself that leads us to God, but it is God helping us find him as we read the Scriptures. It is not because the evidence demands a verdict that we find God but, in some cases, God finds us and helps us find him as he removes obstacles to faith in our minds. We do not have to worry that our brains are too feeble to understand. We do not have to worry that we are not born into a family that goes to church. The Word, Jesus, gives light to everyone (John 1:9).

So start with the faith you have. Just considering the law of averages, it is not at all likely that any of us are born into a Christian group that has everything right. Indeed, it is not at all likely that there is a Christian group that has everything right, no matter how many godly people there may be in that group. This suggests that God is more interested in seeing our hearts move than our heads and understandings.

What is essential is that we respond to the light of God when it comes. God wants to be found. God is already here, longing for us to see him, to experience his transformation. We do not have to come up to him. We cannot come up to him. He has come to us. He stands at the door knocking.

Start with the faith you have because that is where God starts. As you open yourself to him, he will begin to change you. He will change your mind, yes. More importantly, he will change your heart. Then your life will change as a result.

There is an old expression for this process: "faith seeking understanding" (fides quaerens intellectum) or "I believe in order to understand (credo ut intelligam). We might only tweak it to say that it is God's transformation, most of all, that we are seeking: "faith seeking transformation."

So if you feel the tug of God, his reaching out to you, start the journey. Put yourself in the way of what are called the "means of grace." Read the Bible--not to master it, but to be touched by God. Seek out a community of believers where God is apparent, knowing that no one community has all the right answers. Pray and listen to God. Look for God everywhere, for he is everywhere.

And if you are already in a community of faith, don't start over. Don't throw everything out and start from scratch. Let God speak to you through the people around you. Read the Bible and pray on your own and listen to God. Don't look to change everything--which is often our human weakness disguised as the quest for God's voice. If God has a word for you, listen.

Start with the faith you have. God will take you where you need to go.

[1] The use of the word logos in the New Testament has a rich history in the impact of Stoic philosophy on Jewish thinking in places like Alexandria, Egypt and Jewish thinkers like Philo. The logos or word of God is God's will for the world in action. God speaks, and his will is done, with his "word" being conceptualized as the instrument through which it is done.

When we look at passages like Hebrews 4:12, James 1:18 and 21, or 1 Peter 1:23, they do not refer specifically to the Bible when they speak of the word of God but to the way in which God speaks his will into the world. For a small glimpse of the Jewish background to this use of the logos, see the book of Wisdom 9:1-2 and 18:15, not to mention Isaiah 55:11.

[2] He technically called it "preventing grace," but it is standard now in Wesleyan circles to call it "prevenient grace."

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Family History 14: Memories of Childhood

So with only one hole yet to fill (I'm still hoping I'll find more information), I arrive at my lifetime.

I was born in the late 60s.

1. It didn't seem so far in the past at first, but the decades fly by and you wonder where they went. You hear of people you haven't seen in years dying and you picture them the age at which they wandered through your life. And then you realize they are now in their 90s and wonder where the decades went...

Of my grandparents, only my Grandpa Shepherd was already gone when I was born. He died in 1963. My great-grandmother Rich was still alive for a year (d. 1967), but I of course don't remember her. I was a surprise to my parents, my next oldest sister is 8 years older. And all those before me were girls. My Dad used to sing a song to me as a child, "Kenny's my boy. He's the only boy I've got. All my other boys are girls. Kenny's my boy."

For the first years of my life, barely enough to have any memories, we lived on the northern outskirts of Indianapolis. The area is now well developed, except there is a bit of horse farm hiding on the south side of Carmel near our house on Preston Drive, just off College Ave. There's an artesian well somewhere up there. My Dad used to walk with me to the fire hydrant at the turn into the neighborhood off College Ave. I'm sure our talks at 3 and 4 years old were profound. :-)

2. We attended Northside, which would eventually move out to the suburbs and become Trinity Wesleyan on Allisonville Road. My Uncle Paul worked hard in the transition around the year 1980, when he died of a damaged heart. My last memory of him is him mowing waist high grass at the site where Trinity was going to go... with a push mower... knowing he had a damaged heart. He is buried across the street.

He was the favorite uncle of most of us. For me, it was the fact that he let me drive his riding mower. I loved his house and property on Highland Dr., just off of 106th Street. My wife and I actually found a house here in Marion that is modeled on exactly the same floor plan. I wanted to buy it when we were house shopping, but for some reason my wife wasn't as struck as I was. :-)

Uncle Paul had this large back yard that ended in woods with a stream. He was the gentlest of souls, never a harsh word, dipped in the River Patience by his father as a child. He could quote poetry, I remember.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1980, he was taking a nap on the couch after the large meal, suddenly sat up, and he was gone. I was a Freshman in high school, first semester.  and I remember that I had to study for an American History test over the Civil War during the trip. I remember there was still just a little trace of snow on the ground when we got to Indiana.

I could not really remember seeing snow, since we had lived in Florida for almost 10 years by then. There was that one strange day in 1974 in Fort Lauderdale when a few flakes fell and we all rushed out of class to see it.

3. His mother, Grandma Shepherd, had only died the previous year in 1979. She died in August. It seems like my family has a propensity to leave this world in August, around the time of Frankfort Camp Meeting. It's like August 1 is the beginning of our calendar, the center of the temporal universe. My Uncle Maurice on my Dad's side died in August around the time of camp meeting. Aunt Frances died just after camp meeting. My Dad's Uncle Calvin died around less than a month before camp meeting.

Grandma Shepherd was clearly in her twilight for the little over a decade of my life's beginning. When my mother was in high school, my grandparents had bought a house off of the Frankfort Pilgrim campus, across the railroad tracks, across a flood plane. Their house was severely damaged in a Flood I know at one point. I forget exactly when but I know a lot was lost.

My grandmother had a small house built behind their main house, maybe when my grandfather died, so that she could rent out the house in front and have an income. The two story house in front has long since been torn down and the little house in the back looks condemned. I have memories of my grandfather's sister Nora having a silver trailer parked next to the little house in the back.

Nora was born in 1880, which I always thought was cool, how old she was. I told my mother once that Aunt Nora's skin looked like the wrinkly under-crust of a chicken pot pie. My grandmother and Aunt Nora spent some months with us down in Florida when I was young. During that time, Nora inspired me to memorize all the Presidents of the US in order.

She was very patriotic, a militant Republican. I suppose that makes sense of someone whose father went by Washington (at least the patriotic part). She probably wouldn't have known it, but she actually had a distant cousin named George Washington Shepherd who died fighting for the South in the Civil War. Of course her Dad fought for the north and died when she was only 16. I can't imagine her having any sympathy for the South.

She had an old frame with pictures of the three presidents who were assassinated at the time it was made--Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, and James Garfield. Obviously the frame was made before JFK was assassinated.

4. I have a vague memory of Grandma Shepherd having a walker, maybe when I was 3 or 4 years old, but she was soon in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. I remember her and a friend named Mrs. Royer sitting in wheelchairs at Frankfort Camp Meeting. I remember Mrs. Royer because she didn't pull her facial hairs. :-)

Frankfort Camp was our yearly vacation. Most families take vacations to the beach or to Hawaii or some fun place. There were a couple like that, especially before my sisters were married. I know there was a trip to Pike's Peak in the 50s. My Grandpa Shepherd was nervous by how fast my Dad was driving. But then again, in his travels in the 30s the cars only went 30 miles an hour.

There were some trips to Florida right before General Motors moved my Dad to Fort Lauderdale. There was a trip to Key West in there somewhere. I remember catching cowfish somewhere in the string of islands leading down to Key West. One of my recurring dreams as a child/teen was the seven mile bridge running out of bridge or of the bridge slowly submerging into the ocean.

But for most of my life, all my Dad's vacation time was used up by church related activities. There was vacation time used for General Conference every four years (my Dad was a delegate every conference of The Wesleyan Church until the last one of his life in Orlando). There was vacation time for District Conference. There was vacation time for Winter Camp at Brooksville, Florida. And there was vacation time for Frankfort Camp.

My grandmother, I believe, gave my parents their red cottage on the camp grounds. Uncle Paul had a grey one about three cottages north of ours. One of my sisters leases it now. It was a 99 year lease.

I have nice memories of the camp ground as a boy. I remember the old boy's dorm being condemned. A couple boys and I climbed in a window and looked around. Then there was the old chapel. There was a walk in refrigerator in the basement and various other places you could sneak into. Then there was the admin building. It still had jars of things in formaldehyde when we explored it.

While my Grandma was in Florida, I offered to build her an airplane to fly her back to Indiana. I actually started nailing boards together. I wouldn't let anyone tell me that I couldn't build a plane.

I did that a lot as a child. "Dad, I see this ad for books to tell you how to raise worms and sell them for money." My Dad patiently bought me those worm books (even though they didn't really use worms back then for fishing in Florida). He even bought me a tub. But then I moved on to something else. There were all sorts of ideas in the ads in the back of Popular Mechanics and Popular Electronics.

My grandmother had some sort of a biopsy done on her in Florida and Mom always thought that her mind was never really the same after that. She went back to Indiana and spent her final years in a nursing home in Rossville. If I remember correctly, my Uncle Paul visited her in the morning and my Aunt then came around noon and she was gone, August 3, 1979.

5. My Dad's parents had died a few years earlier. Grandpa Schenck died in 1974. I remember laughing and laughing with my youngest cousins on the front porch of his house on DeQuincy. I remember feeling a little guilty, and perhaps someone suggesting we be a little more respectful. Grandpa had a great coin collection. My Grandma Schenck died in 1977. I've mentioned quite a bit about both of them in earlier posts.

It occurs to me that I have not mentioned an unfortunate story that happened there with a grandchild in the 50s, I believe. My oldest uncle had married a girl even before he lived in the apartment next to my parents on Olny Street. They had two children together and then she left him in the mid-1940s, taking the kids with her. He would remarry and have a great marriage for over fifty years thereafter.

I hate that, in that segment of the Pilgrim world, he carried the stigma of being a divorced and remarried man his whole life, even though she had left him, even though he didn't remarry until after she had. Some thought he was committing adultery every day he lived with his second wife, even after he had been married to her over 50 years. This is just one example of the legalism to which I referred last week.

His daughter by that first wife went on to marry and have a child. One time when they were visiting my grandparents, that little girl ran out unexpectedly into the street from between two cars. She was hit and killed by a car going down the street, right there in front of my grandparents' house.

6. Even though our trips almost always had a church connection, there were some great trips. Take the 1976 Wesleyan General Conference in Wichita, Kansas. At that time, two of my sisters were working at "Brainerd Indiana School" in South Dakota. So we took a little time to drive through the Badlands (I failed to stay awake, I'm afraid). We visited Mt. Rushmore and the Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out the next year, with the Tower fresh in memory (of course we didn't go to movies, so I didn't get to see the movie until years later... movies always came out on TV on Sunday nights... and we didn't watch TV on Sunday ;-)

A couple years later, my second oldest sister had moved to the Philippines to be a missionary teacher there. My father, mother, and I went to visit her. It was a great memory of Manila, Rosales, Sinipsip, and Bagio City, not to mention Tikka lizards, Pandesal bread, squatters' shacks, a stop at Quam, and a sleepy stop at Seoul airport.

7. The merger of the Pilgrim Holiness Church with the Wesleyan Methodists in 1968 was a big deal for my extended family. Some Pilgrims thought of merger as movement toward a one world religion. They thought the Wesleyan Methodists were liberal. Of course there were Wesleyan Methodists who opposed the merger as well, probably for the same reasons.

But my grandfather Schenck didn't go with the merger, along with two of my uncles on his side. Another uncle was with the Nazarenes for a while. Then my Dad and his older brother stayed with the new denomination.

8. In a world without video games, without internet, when cartoons were only until noon on a Saturday morning, life was pretty boring. There were neighborhood friends. There were trees. You could dig a hole in the back yard.

Mostly there were encyclopedias, books on the presidents, and the Lincoln Library (it gave pi to a crazy number of digits). The nearby grocery store (Grand Union) sold a new volume of Funk and Wagnall's each month and Dad bought me the whole set over the course of a couple years.

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck, also see here)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd in 20s)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller, with clarifications here)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)
The Dorsey Stream (Pearl Dorsey)

4. A New Family
Joining Two Streams (my parents)
A Young Family

5. The Closing Sixties
Prophet, Pastor, and Professor (Harry Shepherd)
The Wright Stuff (Seba Wright)
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

6. Tales of My Life
Memories of Childhood
Notes for my Children

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Psalm for Pay Day

Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices...

Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever;
they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.

I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

They are ever giving liberally and lending,
and their children become a blessing...

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their refuge in the time of trouble.

The Lord helps them and rescues them;
he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

(Psalm 37, NRSV)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Was Jesus an ISFP?

Here are some exploratory thoughts (about 24 minutes) I had in relation to the particularity of Jesus. Here's my question--did Jesus come to earth as "everyman," or did he come as a particular man?  He certainly showed us the potential of every human. But did he come to earth as a particular man, with a particular combination of DNA like any of us? I suggest that his coming to earth as a man did not imply that females are less central in identity than men. It rather is just one example of "Jesus the particular."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sermon Starters: Love the Whole Way (Matt. 5)

Wesleyan Publishing House had the idea of creating some sermon starter material to go along with some of the devotionals I've written, as well as some of the books on Jesus and Paul I've written. These will be available on their website for anyone who would, for example, want to preach a 6 week sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount.

So I thought I'd create one today on Matthew 5:43-48 with the possible title of "Love the Whole Way." It isn't exactly a three point suggestion, so I hope it passes muster with Lenny Luchetti. :-)

1. You might start with a story about someone who did pretty well with something but did not finish or did not go the whole way and thus failed in some key way. It could be an example from sports or history or the Bible. It could be a personal story. It could even be a hypothetical, like a product that was mostly finished but missing some crucial final component.

2. Explain the context of Matthew 5:17-48. See The Wisdom of Jesus, Week 2, and Jesus: Portraits from the Gospels, chapter 4.

1. Jesus calls us to love everybody.
  • You don't have to like someone to love them. Love is a choice in this context. When you are faced with Choice A and Choice B, love does the Jesus thing, not the unloving thing. This dynamic is especially important in the special case of the person who has wronged you in a significant way. Forgiveness and love, in this context, are not about feelings. They are about how you act toward others.
  • Illustration. Again, you can use a personal story, a story from the newspaper, history, sports, or the Bible. For example, a nice cross reference here is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus picked the "wrong person" to be the good guy in this story. Who is the person you most do not want to "love." That is the person you should picture in this parable.
2.  Examples Jesus gives (sprinkle with your own stories to drive the points home--each of these points could actually be a sermon in its own right, a four week series, for example)
  • Hatred: The first example Jesus gives has to do with murder and hatred. It's not enough just not to kill anyone. Going the loving way, going the whole way, means not acting hatefully, not only in our actions, but in the choices of our minds. See supporting material for more details. 
  • Sexual Faithfulness: Again, it is not simply enough not to commit adultery. (What is adultery, see supporting materials) Do you commit adultery with your mind? Some would divorce in order to try to commit adultery legally.
  • Keeping your word: Going the loving way in truthfulness is not simply telling the truths when you swear by God. It is being a truthful person, someone who is dependable in what they say. This is not a matter of legalism but a matter of being loving with your words. An important example is the person who is unloving while telling the truth--this person also violates the spirit of Jesus here.
  • Mercy over justice: It is common to think of these instructions as "making things even harder," but that is not exactly what Jesus is doing. Jesus is not being a legalist with Scripture (see supporting materials). In going the loving way, some of the Old Testament instruction gets shuffled (such as the "eye for an eye" instruction). "Fulfilling the Law and Prophets" (Matt. 5:17) sometimes means making exceptions to the rule. It involves the right priorities, with love as the chief priority.
3. This is what it means, biblically, to be "perfect" (Matt. 5:48)
  • "Perfect" here is not about mistakes or absolute perfection. It is not about performance. It is about an attitude. It is about acting in a "complete" way. (See supporting materials)
  • Illustration: Give a story that captures this principle, especially an example where someone is very "imperfect" at being "perfect."
Virtue is not simply about making the right choices. Give an example of someone who finds something easy. I know people who are thin, but they do not have to exert any effort to be thin. They could overeat every day and be thin.

Virtue is when it takes effort to make the right choices. "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" (5:46). As Christians, we do not believe we either have to do it alone or even can do it alone. But we have the promise that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do the right thing, the loving thing (1 Cor. 10:13).

End with a call to commitment and a challenge to live accordingly this week.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Sermon in Stats

I LOLed to see the stats on my posts the last few days:

Matthew Henry post - 155 pageviews
The womanizing physicist - 106 pageviews
Beware Thayer's Lexicon - 387 views
My Family in the 50s - 150 views
Sunday Theology - 114 views
My post about not having a post - 119 views

And today's on philosopher Paul Ricoeur - blowing the charts at 30 views


Ricoeur Review 4: Explanation and Understanding

Now the fourth essay in Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory, a series of foundational lectures on hermeneutics that he gave in 1973 at Texas Christian University.

1. Language as Discourse
2. Speaking and Writing
3. Metaphor and Symbol

Now the final chapter before the conclusion, "Explanation and Understanding."

The first essay in the series dealt with the speaker and an utterance--"What is meant when somebody speaks?" (71). The second dealt with a writer and a text--What is meant "when somebody writes?" Then the third essay dealt with the situation "when somebody means more than what he actually says."

Now this final essay deals with the reader and a text. "What is it to understand a discourse when that discourse is a text or literary work?"

1. Beyond Romanticist Hermeneutics
There is a little bit of background that Ricoeur draws on that we might clarify from the beginning. By "Romanticist hermeneutics," Ricoeur refers to a hermeneutic that aims to "understand an author better than he understood himself" (75). That is, it is an approach to a text that aims to recover the psychic state of an author in writing, the author's intention.

In an endnote, Ricoeur distinguishes himself from E. D. Hirsch on this score: "the intention of the author is lost as a psychic event" (100). In actuality, Ricoeur and Hirsch share much in common, especially over and against those like Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida who have more or less completely divorced the meaning of a text from its writer. But Ricoeur nevertheless draws a clear line between the psychic intention of an author and what we as readers actually have in front of us, namely, a text.

In Ricoeur's description, Romanticist hermeneutics draws a sharp distinction between explanation and understanding. Explanation is something you do in science (Naturwissenschaften). You make a hypothesis and test it. By contrast, understanding relates to the humanities (Geisteswissenschaften) where we understand the speaker on the basis of our common human experiences. Interpretation is then a subcategory of understanding in the case when we connect with the mind of the speaker indirectly through writing.

Ricoeur of course rejects this neat partitioning. "Understanding and explanation tend to overlap and to pass over into each other" (72). He thinks of understanding as comprehending a text as a whole, in one act of synthesis that pulls together the chain of partial meanings that go sentence by sentence. Explanation then, for him, is the unfolding of the range of propositions and meanings.

His understanding in this essay goes back to a maxim he set out in the first lecture: "If discourse is produced as an event, it is understood as meaning" (73). So in reading, in Ricoeur's terminology, understanding is the event of reading. "The first time, understanding will be a naive grasping of the meaning of the text as a whole" (74). "In the beginning, understanding is a guess."

Explanation is then, in his terminology, "is more directed toward the analytic structure of the text." (74). It relates to the meaning of the discourse (71). Meanwhile, he uses the term "comprehension" for "a sophisticated mode of understanding, supported by explanatory procedures." That is, after a circular process of understanding, then explaining, then understanding again, we move toward comprehending a text.

This entire process, in Ricoeur's terminology, is the process of interpretation. Interpretation is "the whole process that encompasses explanation and understanding" (74).

2. From Guess to Validation
So, according to Ricoeur, the first act of understanding a text takes the form of a guess. "With writing, the verbal meaning of the text no longer coincides with the mental meaning or intention of the text" (75). "Consequently, to understand is not merely to repeat the speech event in a similar event, it is to generate a new event beginning from the text in which the initial event has been objectified."

"The author can no longer 'rescue' his work" (75). Inevitably, the meaning of the text surpasses the intention of the author (thus the subtitle of this book, the "surplus of meaning"). The dialectic (back and forth) of erklären (explanation) and verstehen (understanding) begins with this surplus of meaning in the text over and against the author's intent. "Misunderstanding is possible and even unavoidable" (76).

Guess is unavoidable at the start. "To construe the meaning as the verbal meaning of the text is to make a guess" (76). "There are no rules for making good guesses." However, "there are methods for validating those guesses we do make."

"The transition from guessing to explaining is secured by an investigation of the specific object of guessing" (76). Ricoeur suggests three dimensions to that investigation. First, there is a conceptualization of the text as a whole. This is more than just a sense of a text sentence by sentence because "a work of discourse [emphasis on the word, "work"] is more than a linear sequence of sentences. It is a cumulative, holistic process."

A complex work will have a certain "plurivocity" that goes beyond the "polysemy" of individual words and the ambiguity of individual sentences. There is a circular process of reconstructing the text's architecture, a construal of the whole in a recognition of the parts and then the parts again in the light of the whole, and around again.

Second, the individual text is located within known genres of texts. One may know a type of work with certain general characteristics. How does this specific text stand within that genre? There is a "process of narrowing down the scope of generic concepts, which include the literary genre, the class of texts to which this text belongs, and the types of codes and structures that intersect in this text" (77).

There is a "perspectival" aspect to these processes. "The text as a whole and as a singular whole may be compared to an object, which may be viewed from several sides" (77). "A specific kind of onesidedness is implied in the act of reading. This onesidedness grounds the guess character of interpretation" (78).

Finally, there is the question of "potential horizons of meaning, which may be actualized in different ways" (78). Ricoeur especially seems to have the question of metaphor and symbolism in view here. Are there multiple meanings beyond the meaning in general? Metaphor and symbol "provide a decisive extension to the field of meaningful expressions." They "open the work to several readings."

In exploring all the dimensions of reading a text above, the guess of the reader is the starting point of interpretation in the back and forth (dialectic) between understanding in the light of explaining and then explaining in the light of understanding and so forth.

We test our guesses, looking for validation. Ricoeur agrees with Hirsch that this process is "closer to a logic of probability than to a logic of empirical verification" (78). That is to say, we will not find certainty in the meaning of the text, only perhaps probability of meaning. The "hermeneutical circle" is a dialog between a subjective approach to the text (the guess, the perspective, which relates to the Romanticist's Geisteswissenschaft) and the objective meaning of the text under investigation (which is something like the Romanticist's Naturwissenschaft). But these two converge rather than being clearly separate and distinct, as in Romanticist hermeneutics.

"To the procedures of validation there also belong procedures of invalidation similar to the criteria of falsifiability proposed by Karl Popper" (79). There is a competition between competing interpretations. "An interpretation must not only be probable, but more probable than another interpretation." "It is not true that all interpretations are equal."

3. From Explanation to Comprehension
Comprehension, for Ricoeur, is something like the goal of this dialog between understanding as a sense of the text's meaning as a whole and explanation as the unfolding of its parts. It is something like the goal of a reading process than has moved from guess to validation. Understanding in this process, for him, is the process of guessing meaning, while explaining is the process of validating or falsifying those guesses.

In his consideration of this goal of comprehension, Ricoeur returns to another dimension of communication from the first and second essays, namely, the dialectic between sense and reference. The second essay spoke of how "the referential function of written texts is deeply affected by the lack of situation common to both writer and reader" (80). It is even possible in some literary works for the referential intention to be suspended.

Ricoeur conceptualizes the dialog between explanation and comprehension to an adventure in the referential function of the text. He suggests two options for comprehending the text that open up when we consider the reference of the text from the standpoint of the reader.

The trajectory of this final part of the essay might be summed up in some statements at the end of the essay. "To understand a text is to follow its movement from sense to reference: from what it says, to what it talks about" (87-88). The world behind the text had to do with the author. A text in relation to a reader, however, for Ricoeur, does not point backward. It points forward. "The sense of a text is not behind the text, but in front of it" (87). It "points toward a possible world" for the reader.

While Ricoeur surely sees some relationship between this world the text creates and the event of text creation in its past, the final part of this essay seems to lose all track of the event of text creation and its encoded meaning. He suggests two attitudes in relation to the text as a reader, which form a sort of movement in his mind. [1]

First, he legitimates interpretations of texts that suspend the referential function altogether. Here he especially has in mind structuralist interpretations. "According to this choice, the text no longer has an exterior, it only has an interior" (81). [2]

For several pages, Ricoeur then addresses structuralist approaches to myth and narrative, which he considers examples of interpretations which suspend the referential function of language. He begins with Claude Lévi-Strauss' analyses of myth. Strauss analyzes the components of myth (mythemes) much like phonemes come together to make combinations of sounds and morphemes come together to make combinations of grammatical bits. Mythemes are for him the constituent units of the myth.

As an example, Ricoeur looks at Strauss' analysis of the Oedipus myth. Strauss makes four columns. In the first and second he puts family relationships that are over-esteemed and then under-esteemed. In the third and fourth columns he puts monsters with their destruction and then words relating to the difficulty of walking properly. Strauss sees polarities in these columns that imply a certain underlying explanation of the myth. (although Ricoeur would say, not an interpretation of it--we have not re-enacted it so that its power comes out)

As another example of suspension of the referential function, Ricoeur turns to the narrative analyses of Greimas. A narrative is segmented into units. The logic of action involves the linking together of action kernels. We see a certain underlying narrative logic. We also see relationships between the roles in the narrative, a "hierarchy of actors correlative to the hierarchy of actions" (85).

But these analyses, which suspend the referential dimension of the text, still point toward the reader in front of the text.

The second possibility that emerges from Ricoeur's analysis is that the text will be read against "a new situation" (81), namely, that of the reader. "Nobody stops with a conception of myths and narratives as formal as this algebra of constitutive units" (86). This whole "system of oppositions and combinations" points beyond itself to the underlying existential conflicts of human experience. The Oedipus myth would not be meaningful if it were not for the underlying human oppositions of "birth and death, blindness and lucidity, sexuality and truth." These are referential dimensions to the reader in front of the text.

"Could we not then say that the function of the structural analysis is to lead us from a surface semantics [the suspended referential dimension]... to a depth semantics, that of the boundary situations, which constitute the ultimate 'referent' of the myth?" (87).

So structural analysis is "one stage--albeit a necessary one--between a naive interpretation and a critical one, between a surface interpretation and a depth interpretation" (87). The structural analysis relates to the sense of the text and the depth interpretation relates to its reference. The depth interpretation "points toward a possible world."

"Understanding has less than ever to do with the author and his situation. It seeks to grasp the world-propositions opened up by the reference of the text. To understand a text is to follow its movement from sense to reference: from what it says, to what it talks about" (87-88). [3]

"What we have said about the depth semantics that structural analysis yields rather invites us to think of the sense of the text as an injunction coming from the text, as a new way of looking at things, as an injunction to think in a certain manner" (88). "The text speaks of a possible world and of a possible way of orientating oneself within it."

[1] In this last section, Ricoeur seems to lose sight of one particular kind of reading scheme whose goal is, as much as possible, to try to reconstruct the most likely intended, historical senses and references of the text.

[2] We can question whether or not it is really possible truly to suspend the referential function of a text. All readings of texts are, in the end, reader readings that presuppose a world. There is no text-in-itself, as far as meaning is concerned.

[3] It seems to me that Ricoeur here slightly alters his use of the word "understand" from the way he has used it earlier in this essay. Earlier, he has used it of the first guess at a text's meaning. It seems that he would be more consistent here if he used the word "comprehend" instead of "understand."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Newsblog

I've come to view my blog as something like a morning newspaper. I try to have something up in the morning for someone to read before the day starts.

This morning I've got nuthin. My final book review of Ricoeur's not ready. There's nothing I care to weigh in on in the world. There's no gem on someone else's blog. I didn't have an unbloged, random tweeted thought.

So it's just good morning, this morning. Of course if there's something you want to talk about, the comment box stands at your service...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

E6. There is such a thing as corporate and structural sin.

Now, for real, the sixth and final post in the third section of theology in bullet points on the nature of evil.
1.There is such a thing as corporate sin and sin that is perpetuated by the structures of society. These are sometimes difficult concepts within Western culture. Western culture tends to be individualistic in orientation, and our system of justice does not hold me responsible for the actions of those with whom I am associated.

This is neither the default of the human animal nor the majority sentiment of human culture in history. Homo sapiens is a herd animal. We live and travel in tribes, and we have tended to hold entire tribes and families guilty for the actions of single individuals within those tribes.

We are not surprised to find this dynamic in the stories of the Bible as well. When Achan sins in Joshua, all of Israel loses its battle with Ai. Then, in order to cleanse itself, Achan's whole family--even his animals--are stoned to death. The elimination of his whole family accomplishes a kind of atonement, and Israel is thereby collectively purged of its guilt.

By far the most striking example of this "collectivist" dynamic has to do with the Babylonian captivity. There is a layer of texts in the Old Testament that indicate that the generation of Israel that went into captivity was not the cause of the captivity. In 2 Kings, it was the sin of Manasseh--who died peacefully of old age in bed--who ensured Israel's destruction, even though the righteousness of Josiah followed him (2 Kings 23:25-27).

Both prophets and psalmist wrestled with this collective punishment for the sins of a previous generation, indeed, a previous king according to 2 Kings. Both Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31 record a saying that circulated in Israel, "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." One of the psalmists does not even blame the sin of a previous generation: "All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant" (Ps. 44:17-19).

Jeremiah 31 associates a new dispensation with a new covenant God was going to make with Israel: "everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge" (31:30). The idea that we all stand as individuals before God is thus not just an idea of Western culture. It is an important strand within the biblical texts as well. So Paul may invoke Adam to explain the current situation of humanity (collective guilt) but his theology does so in order to make salvation available to every individual.

2. It is no surprise, therefore, that we tend to think more today in terms of the collective consequences of the sins of others than in terms of collective guilt. This is not a bad thing. Indeed, in the flow of biblical revelation, the strand that should prevail is the one that affirms with Ezekiel 18:4: "The one who sins is the one who will die." [1] We should not model our behaviors toward others on the basis of the groups to which they belong.

There have been and no doubt are Christian groups that would use a sense of collectivist guilt in Scripture as a pretense for prejudice against other groups. Certainly Jews have been persecuted by Christians in the past under such a pretense. And today many American Christians would no doubt be tempted to want to destroy all Muslims under a similar assumption.

The New Testament principle of "neither Jew nor Greek" in Galatians 3:28 cuts across all group culture. Revelation 7:9 suggests that people "of every nation, tribe, people and language" will be part of the kingdom of God. The trajectory of the kingdom thus trumps any sense of collective identity based on racial or ethnic determinants. We have a new family, a new tribe as Christians, and the true Church is an "invisible" Church insofar as our ability to determine who is in it.

Nevertheless, it is clear that there are collective consequences to the sins of our groups. The "sins of my parents," when we speak of such things as drug use or unwise actions during pregnancy, can have a direct effect on the health and soundness of the child. If my father gambles away all the resources of my family, then I may very well suffer in consequence. There were Germans who hated Hitler and still died in the Allied bombings.

We might say that the notion of collective guilt, insofar as it is legitimately considered, is a hyperbolic way of speaking of collective consequence, except in the case of collective sin mentioned below.

3. However, there is such a thing as collective sin. Wrongdoing is compounded in the hands of a gang or a subculture or a tribe or a culture. The sin of one can be amplified when many are doing it together. The collective sin of the Nazis was far worse than the sin of Hitler himself or any one Nazi. We begin to enter the territory of the atrocity.

We can also speak of individuals being "complicit" in the sins of others or in the sins of their group. This is a kind of sin of omission, a sin by what one doesn't do rather than by what one does do. It is a sin of silence while others do wrong around you. Is there a time to die in protest of the wrongdoing of the surrounding culture?

The story of Kitty Genovese is now a reference point in American law for those who standby and do nothing while a crime is being committed. [2] An American rightly can be found guilty of not helping a person when the crime is serious and it would have been easy enough to help. This is the enactment in law of James 4:17: "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them."

Collective sin is thus the wrongdoing perpetuated by a group of people, including those who do nothing when they could. As with individual sin, collective sin can be intentional or unintentional. A group can harm another unintentionally, especially out of ignorance. There is a kind of collective guilt that goes along with collective sin, including collective sin that is unintentional.

4. A society can not only sin corporately, but it can set up or allow structures to exist that perpetuate collective sin. Slavery as we conceive it today is a societal institution that perpetuates collective sin structurally. American slavery was a system of more or less permanent domination that is a classic example of "structural sin."

Any system that perpetuates injustice toward a particular segment of society is "structurally sinful." The Jim Crow laws are another good example of structural sin, where whites in America enacted laws that systemically oppressed another group. Any economic system that perpetuates poverty is structurally sinful. [3] Any system that has a "glass ceiling" for women of equal giftedness is a structurally sinful system.

If the fundamental criterion of sin toward others is that which does not love neighbor, then any structuring of society that is unloving toward specific individuals, not on the basis of their choices but on the basis of their grouping, is structurally sinful.

There is such a thing as corporate sin, and the structures of society can also be "sinful" in the sense that they wrong the individuals in that society.

[1] I suspect that the greatest deficiency with the current default neo-evangelical approach to the Bible is that it tends to apply individual passages of Scripture directly to today without taking into account the entirety of Scripture, its overall council. It does not adequately take into account the diversity of the Bible or the way in which God has accommodated his message to particular times and places.

[2] This woman was mugged and murdered outside an apartment complex. The murderer came at her three times and stopped the first two times when lights in the apartment building came on. But no one called the police.

[3] It is significant that the perpetuation of poverty is not merely a question of "Republican versus Democrat." You could argue that the welfare system in America, because of the way it functions, actually perpetuates poverty and dependence. This argument seems every bit as sound as the nineteenth century argument that unbridled capitalism tends to make a few very wealthy while taking advantage of the majority who do the work.

In the future, we may have to consider a system where automation controlled by artificial intelligence eliminates the need for most human workers and, thus, creates a system where the owners of the automation accumulate wealth while the masses have no economic means. This is a question of structural sin we may have to face in the days ahead.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Family History 13: A Young Family

1. My parents married in 1947. My oldest sister was born the next year. Their first years of marriage, they lived in a store building my grandfather Dorsey owned on Olney Street in Indianapolis. There were two three room apartments upstairs and, if you were looking at the store front from the street, my Mom and Dad were on the top left, and Vernon with Katherine were on the right. I guess there was no shower, bath, or refrigerator in each apartment, although there was a toilet, a sink, and a stove.

My Dad first worked a couple years for his older brother Vernon, a pie/cake business, I believe. Then my Dad drove a route for Tasty Bread, which required him to get up at 2 in the morning. I guess he fell asleep and drove off the road once. He'd go to sleep when he got home as late as 4 in the afternoon. But that was also about the time that his Dad's meat market would get busy. He'd ask Mom to get Dad up to help and sometimes she could hardly wake him. As my Mom told one pastor, "All he wants to do is go to bed." While they were living over the store, they went to Dorsey's church plant.

In four years they had three girls. I'm not sure how long they were married when my Dad took a chance on a different job with General Motors. Initially, it would be a pay cut. But it had a potential future that could take him further. He would go to work for GMAC, then called MIC (Motors Insurance Corporation). He would become an insurance adjuster, which fit his book keeping personality.

My mother would raise the girls and later teach piano on the side. At one time she had over 20 students. She was a member of the Indiana Music Teacher's Association. My three oldest sister would become the "Schenck Trio" in their teen years and would sing at various Pilgrim Holiness churches. There was one instance where one of them had trimmed bangs and a pastor was uncomfortable with her singing--because she had trimmed her hair.

My mother tells a story about struggling over how to dress the girls in relation to standards. She felt like the Lord gave her Philippians 2:12, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." She felt like God was saying that she shouldn't worry about what others thought but do what her judgment and conscience thought was best.

That reminds me of some stories from her earlier years as well. There was a story I think I've mentioned earlier of a church leader who thought children shouldn't play with dolls (that was at Kingswood, Kentucky). But as a young girl, she felt like she shouldn't listen to fictional stories on the radio like Ma Perkins. She felt like she was misappropriating her time, getting too involved with them.

2. They lived four years over Grandpa Schenck's store. Then they moved to Evanston Ave, right before my third sister was born. My Uncle Paul followed them there, not far from where Northside Pilgrim Church was (which later became Trinity Wesleyan on Allisonville).

Uncle Paul must have loved Mom a lot. After he and his young wife got married, they soon moved in a curtained off place in the kitchen area of my parents' apartment above Dorsey's store. He and Aunt B. moved where Mom and Dad moved several times. First to Evanston Ave, then to Crestview, and finally to a magnificent house and yard (I always thought) not far from Preston Ave. The exceptions were the year Mom and Dad moved to Evansville and the three months Mom and Dad lived in Anderson. Of course they didn't move to Florida in 1971. I wrote much of the story of this period after my father died, so I need not repeat it.

I mentioned last week how Paul followed them to Indianapolis the night of their wedding to give them money for their honeymoon. He gave my Mom her first bike when she was twelve years old in Greenwood. He put it together using parts from several bikes. (She hit a fence her first time) He went to a pawn shop in a torrent of rain the day before Mom graduated to get her a watch.

My Dad went up to General Motors Institute to take some classes during the 50s. At one point he took a Dale Carnegie course that made a big impression on him. Tricks to memorizing things, for example (Dale Carnegie's memory pegs, IRA memory formula). Somehow, Dad got me going down this line and I'm not sure where I came across a system I used throughout high school and college to memorize lists and numbers (make the numbers into words 1 is t, 2 is n, 3 is m...).

There were other slogans from Dale Carnegie that I found almost as impressionable as he did. Randomly, I was telling my daughter yesterday about KISS, "Keep it simple, stupid."  Another quote that came from Grandpa Shepherd was, "A man convinced against his will is of the same mind still." They're like Keith Drury's Strategetics. Common sense. Memorable.

Dad traveled a fair amount in those days, assessing vehicle damage at car dealerships. He knew dealerships and dealership owners all over Indiana. In fact, my youngest sister, born in the late 50s, always teased him about the fact that he was away in Michigan, as I recall, when she was born (perhaps doing his first training with GM). She always considered my Uncle Paul her surrogate Dad because he drove Mom to the hospital.

My oldest sisters slowly shifted from the public schools of Indianapolis to the high school at Frankfort Pilgrim College. My Grandpa Shepherd died in 1963 and my sisters one by one went to live with my Grandma Shepherd and go to school there. The first two graduated from the college, the third had to finish at Hobe Sound Bible College in Florida because the college closed after the Pilgrim church merged with the Wesleyan Methodists.

I suppose it was a predictable outcome. The Wesleyan Methodist schools seemed to be better schools academically and were further along with regard to accreditation. They provided a spectrum of degrees while the Pilgrims mostly had Bible colleges. My Dad was on the board at Frankfort when it closed in, what, 1971? I know that decision pained him, but it was logical.

My Dad was a rule-follower. He made a good District Treasurer. I'm sure he was a thorn in the side of more than one dreamer wanting to spend church or district money in one way or another. He of course submitted to however a final vote came out and didn't make a fuss, but he took the Discipline, the rule book of the church, quite seriously, almost as if it were the inspired interpretation of Scripture.

3. Those were days of my parents finding their own conscience in our Christian circle as well. My Dad soon started being on local and district church boards for the Pilgrim Holiness Church. I suspect he was middle of the road as far as standards went back then. My grandfather Schenck would become increasingly conservative--or was it that everyone else just became increasingly liberal? Of course "liberal" in those circles was crazy-conservative to just about anyone today.

My family felt like Grandpa Schenck wouldn't come visit for a long time because he thought there might be a TV inside what was actually a rather large stereo we had. In reality, I don't think we had even a small black and white TV until the 60s. My Dad had clear rules on the TV even then. My sisters weren't to watch any shooting, like on a cowboy show. They tried to turn the volume down if the plot came to that point.

One time they didn't get there in time and my oldest sister ran to him before he could show up, pleading urgently that, "It was in self-defense!" We didn't watch TV on Sundays because my Dad thought he would end up spending all day watching football if he opened that door. As the last child, "one born out of season," these rules were a little looser by the time I came along, although still the default.

[I realize that what follows sounded quite harsh toward people and institutions I deeply love and respect. I hope any such readers will know that I grew up very fond of Frankfort Pilgrim College and have many good things to say about the entrepreneurial spirit of the Pilgrim Church, especially in its early days. What follows refers to the rampant legalism that was also an element in it, as well as to the absence of any individuals with advanced academic training in Bible. It is not a blight on the intelligence of the individuals involved.]

I have a love/hate relationship with the Pilgrim Church of that era. On the one hand, I grew up going to Brooksville Winter Camp Meeting in the 70s, where many of the church leaders of the 50s ended up. I idolized the P. F. Elliotts, the William Neffs, the Florabel Slaters and Daisy Bubys, the Roy Nicholsons, the Melvin Snyders and others. There were noble, Spirit-filled people in this era that I looked up to. They knew the content of the Bible through and through.

But they had little expertise in the historical context of the Bible and little if any real knowledge of biblical scholarship. How few if any real Bible scholars were around in those days! The Wesleyan Methodists had a few quasi-fundamentalist scholars (Stephen Paine, Wilbur Dayton). They could speak knowledgeably about textual criticism. But I'd be hard pressed to name even one real Pilgrim Bible scholar from that era. It's no wonder our twig of the Methodist tradition never produced a systematic theology.

The church was full of people who understood entire sanctification to be about what you didn't wear and what you didn't do. I don't completely blame the many people who left the church for the Nazarenes in those days. (Of course the Nazarenes had their share of legalists too.) I completely understand that Paul Rees, son of the putative founder of the Pilgrim Church, didn't go with the Pilgrims. And when you look at a Don Dayton, who is a true scholar (church historian), it is no surprise that he has only skirted the edges of the church for most of his life, generally viewed with suspicion. (of course he is a bit of a rebel too)

When I first came to IWU and went to the Society of Biblical Literature, another Wesleyan skirter expressed surprise that someone from IWU would be there. I completely understood what he was saying. How odd for a Wesleyan to be at a meeting of biblical scholars. I could give examples of how this general avoidance of real biblical scholarship is still present in the church today.

When I was at Asbury, there was still a little lingering tension between the seminary and the local Wesleyan church in Lexington. Apparently, a former pastor had more or less maligned the education at the seminary as something to be avoided, almost suggesting that Wesleyan students there leave it. There were several Wesleyans teaching there who predictably stopped attending the local Wesleyan church. Wesleyan professors at Asbury have predictably always tended to be "skirters" of the denominational mainstream (e.g., Don Boyd, Chuck Killian, David Thompson, Joe Dongell less these days).

IMO, Asbury has been an incredibly positive influence on the Wesleyan Church over the ages in terms of its thinking. It turned on the lights of so many to inductive Bible study, Wesleyan theology, and the historic practices of Christendom. True, some Wesleyans left the church after going to Asbury. The late twentieth century of the Wesleyan Church was full of bleeding, the gap was so great between its general thinking and just about any kind of real theological education.

But I digress. My father had a great heart. I always say that he was "strict," rather than being a legalist. For his own context, he was a moderate, which is where I think the ideal almost always lies. When a relative told him he would pray for his soul if he went with the merger of Pilgrims and Wesleyan Methodists in the late 60s, he did not lash out at the person in defensiveness. But he didn't give in to such nonsensical ignorance either.

There was so much ignorance in those days. So many Wesleyans took the wrong side of the civil rights movement. "Those law breakers," they thought of the peaceful protests. The issues have changed, but the attitudes of so many Wesleyans are the same. The issues of legalism and misplaced values have changed. But the attitude is often the same.

We mocked the earlier generation for worrying about sleeve lengths and whether a pastor wore shorts while mowing the parsonage lawn. We might think them ignorant for opposing the integration of schools. But we sometimes have the same attitudes as they did. Many still think of holiness in terms of what you don't do (e.g., drinking). And many still want to stick it to those rule breakers who snuck across the border.

What do you think? Are we still much of the same mindset, just with different issues?

Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck, also see here)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd in 20s)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)
The Dorsey Stream (Pearl Dorsey)

4. A New Family
Joining Two Streams (my parents)
A Young Family

5. The Divisive Sixties
Prophet, Pastor, and Professor (Harry Shepherd)
Harry Shepherd's Orphan Past (Elijah and Seba)
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Beware Thayer's in Blue Letter Bible!

I have long introduced students to Blue Letter Bible because 1) it's free and 2) it gives you a quick way to see all the instances where a Greek or Hebrew word is used in the respective testament. I also take time usually to point out that there is very little difference between the Greek behind the KJV and the Greek behind all the other versions.

However, I also warn them not to pay attention to the dictionary stuff in BLB, the "Outline of Biblical Usage" and Thayer's. This material goes back to an era of RAMPANT word fallacies, fallacies that are proclaimed from pulpit and televised sermon Sunday after Sunday. This is the Kittel generation.

Kittel's 10 volume Theological Dictionary is useful for background information on words, but it is the embodiment of fallacious and sophomoric semantics. These German scholars assumed that because the German language compounds etymology - Hand-tuch, Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung, Heilsgeschichte - that Greek and all languages thought this way.

But, of course, it is DEFINITIVELY and obviously true that not all languages or language speakers even consider the etymology or history of a word when they use it. Only the most poetic and clever of us try to "stand under" something when "under-standing" something. Most of us just use the word. It is even a wild goose chase to picture a wild goose when using this dead metaphor. Words take their meaning from their current context, not from their history.

So to sin is not to miss the mark. The church is not the collection of those who are called out--at least not semantically. By all means, continue to use illustrations like these. Just know that it's a fun blast from the past, not the real meaning. The word ekklesia didn't mean anything of the sort at the time of the NT. Agape is not a special kind of love that only Christians have. I hate to burst everyone's bubble. It may be true that Christians need to have a higher love than the default human, but this truth doesn't come from a magical word.  And abba isn't Daddy.

Preach the same truths you were, continue use these myths as illustrations. Just know that the truth you are preaching is true because it's true, not because the words actually mean those things.

I came across an example of the overload fallacy this week, based on Thayer's in BLB for Philippians 4:10 - "I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again now you revived in your thinking about me."  Thayer's says this about the word anathallo, the word I've translated as "revive" here: "to shoot up, sprout again, grow green again, flourish again." Someone was explaining this word as pointing toward a flower that comes back to life.

There are two potential fallacies I see in this line of thought. First, Thayer's may be fine to say this word means to "shoot up." But if you are good at words, you will know that just because anathallo historically comes from ana and thallo doesn't in any way guarantee that the meaning of the compound will be the meaning of these two parts put together. That's called the etymological fallacy. All of Thayer's definitions look like etymological put-togethers. again-sprout, again-flourish. "Revive" is a fine translation.

The flower illustration is exactly that, an illustration. Someone might say, "This is a word you could use if you wanted to talk about a garden coming back to life." What you can't do is take the meaning a word has in one sentence in one context (gardening) and then assume the word will take that flower power to a completely different sentence in another context.

The meaning comes from a word in context, not from the word by itself.

For more on word fallacies, see other party poopers like James Barr and D. A. Carson.

Feynman 4: Womanizing Genius

On to chapter 8 of Quantum Man, a biography of Richard Feynman. I only was able to slip in one chapter this week.

So far:
Chapters 1-2: High school, MIT, and Princeton
Chapters 3-5: The Path to a Doctorate
Chapters 6-7: Theorizing the Bomb

One of the most disturbing features of Richard Feynman's life was the way he began to use women after his wife died. He became a notorious womanizer. You hear of professors in the late twentieth century who used the charm of their genius to entice grad students. Thankfully, those days are mostly over, I hope. The increased attention to sexual harassment and sexual ethics in the workplace is something to be thankful for. Christians who scoff at this sort of thing with the label, "political correctness," have no idea how unchristian they are being.

There are some more innocuous stories of Feynman's increasing disregard for the rules of society. He seems to have become a real Cynic, in the ancient sense. One I found particularly entertaining is how he would sometimes sneak into Los Alamos--the high security place where they were building the first atomic bomb. Then he would leave by the front gate with no record of him ever coming in.

He was flamboyant. He loved the Feynman legends that arose about him. He was a showman. Another stunt was when he intentionally convinced several military psychologists that he was mentally unfit.

The physics of this chapter deals with the some eighteen years between Dirac's breakthrough in which he formulated a relativistic version of Schrodinger's wave equation and a conference on Shelter Island off of Long Island, New York in June of 1947. I. I. Rabi described these years as "the most sterile of the century" (119).

The antiparticle version of the electron--the positron, effectively an electron with a positive charge--was predicted by Dirac's equation and found in 1932. But it gave rise to an even greater pool of infinite occurrences, for there was the possibility in QED, Quantum Electrodynamics, that a photon would momentarily split into an electron-positron pair, only to return to a photon. These sorts of possibilities, occurring seemingly randomly, were part of the new quantum reality.

Most of the calculations of the atom in this period seemed to give nonsensical answers that went to infinity. What the theoreticians seemed to need at this time was some hint from experimental data. Krauss notes that Willis Lamb stepped into this void, "one of the last of a breed of physicists who were equally adept in the laboratory and performing calculations" (119).

In 1946 Lamb found a way to measure the spectrum of the hydrogen atom more finely than had ever been done before. These results were concrete, not some theoretical infinite. He presented them on Shelter Island at a conference called, "Conference on the Foundations of Quantum Theory," a conference Feynman would call the most important one he ever attended. Wheeler, Oppenheimer, Bethe, another young physicist superstar named Julian Schwinger--they were all there.

Lamb presented his results. Bethe was so excited he fixed some of the existing equations on the train on his way to his mother's in upstate New york after the conference. He called Feynman immediately. The race was now on to move forward with quantum theory.

Feynman's look at total paths of particles would play a key role. Relativistic problem enter in when you get to talking about the specific time of different particles, since different objects in motion potentially have different time frames. By looking at the overall energy sums and paths, Feynman had a potential way around the problem.

Let me close with a theological aside. One of the reasons there are so many different interpretations of the Bible and so many different theologies is that there isn't always "experimental data" to ground it. Much of individual theologizing and interpretation is, extensively, unbridled speculation. Indirectly, of course, we as interpreters and theorizers of religion are grounded by our concrete circumstances and the cultures in which we are embedded.

Most of us don't realize that these are as powerful drivers of our interpretations and thoughts as the Bible or God--I would say far more influential, actually. We like to think we are speaking for God or proclaiming the Word of God, but much of it is just self-therapy, giving expression to our inner desires and conflicts.

This is why I long to know the original meaning of the Bible, the real meaning it had in its original times and places. History is cold and uncaring. It is a more or less scientific inquiry. It is the most likely meaning we can suggest given the known literary and historical context.

It is not always certain. In fact it is far less certain than many of us Bible scholars like to think. But, at the same time, it at least eliminates quickly a great mass of things thought and said about the Bible within Christendom. It is a kind of experimental grounding to interpretation and thus gives a tangible grounding to theology.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Matthew Henry, Adam Clarke

I thought I would weigh in on Matthew Henry. I'm probably a little unusual for a Biblehead in that I don't reject the use of his commentary by pastors. This goes along with my sense that God has always spoken truth through wise, godly individuals. Indeed, I would also be unpopular among many preaching professors to claim that the wisdom and God-given insight of the preacher has as much or more to do with the power of the sermon as the biblical text from which he or she preaches.

The reason I think this is because, in interpretation and in sermons, the communication is only as powerful as the reader or audience receive it. I can write something brilliant, but in the end it only ends up as brilliant as the reader can understand it. So the inspiration is only as effective as a person reading or hearing it can receive it. Apart from the Holy Spirit, the preacher is the most direct instrument of how a congregation receives the biblical text in a sermon.

So Matthew Henry was a wise man who had great spiritual insight. Why wouldn't a preacher draw from the well of the spiritual insights he had as he read the biblical texts?

1. So why do Bibleheads tend to discourage using him? Because he lived in the 1600 and 1700s. That directly implies at least three things. First, it means that he did not have the wealth of background information at his fingertips that you and I have today. He did not have the Dead Sea Scrolls. He did not have the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. He did not have the excavations of Jericho or Tel-Dan. No matter how smart or spiritual he was, he didn't have a massive amount of information that I can pull up on the internet here at Starbucks.

2. Secondly, he did not have the benefit of the interpretive discussion of the last 150 years. The commentaries get thicker and thicker. They go to two volumes and three volumes, as more people get PhDs in Bible. More people think up new educated possibilities given new evidence, given new discussions. That means someone like you or I can be further along than the greatest scholars of the last generation, because we not only have their brilliant thoughts but the brilliant thoughts of those who critiqued them.

I don't think most of us, including myself, have any real sense of how massive the gaps in our knowledge of the past are. This came home to me as I've done family research. The amount of good, educated guesses I've made that have been overturned by my oldest relatives makes me shudder to think of how wrong I must be about those who are dead.

And when you think of the Bible? We must be way off on the history time and time again. Indeed, I would strongly discourage using even the early church fathers if you are looking for historical insight on the biblical texts. The back and forth of scholars is helpful in this regard, even if much of it proves to be nonsense. Surely somewhere among all the whacky suggestions are the most likely ones, and surely the least likely ones are eliminated over time by this collective discussion.

3. Finally, and maybe most significantly, Matthew Henry lived before the historical revolution of the 1800s, when the world moved to a completely different level of understanding of what it means to interpret something in its historical context. Matthew Henry may be good at the literary context of the Bible, but he lived before the historical revolution. His interpretations of the Bible, like those of most Christians, including many evangelical scholars, are two-dimensional. As my colleague John Drury puts it, he was not yet "bit" by history (see Hans Frei). Reading in context is not merely knowing the dates and places, but knowing the deep cultural assumptions.

As John puts it, once you have been "bit" by history, you can't go back. You can achieve a "second naivete" in some area (Paul Ricoeur), but you can never really have that first naivete again. Once you understand what it means to read Leviticus against the deep, inexplicable category of purity in a primitive society, you can't ever read it again in terms of avoiding trichinosis in pork, I don't think.

So Matthew Henry is great for spiritual insight, but probably not the best source for what the text actually meant. The same would also go for Adam Clarke, in my opinion.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hybrid Teaching Experiment!

Had a most excellent class this morning with some onsite and some live online.  So grateful for the online and onsite students who were game to try something new! It seemed to be the best of both worlds.
  • The onsite students didn't have to stay as long as normal on campus (just part of the morning) because there was an online discussion that will continue for the rest of the week. 
  • Meanwhile, the online students won't have to type as much online (two fewer discussion forums) and they get the benefit of face-to-face interaction.
I love this stuff!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monday Ricoeur: Metaphor and Symbol 3

This is now my third installment of Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory, a series of foundational lectures on hermeneutics that he gave in 1973 at Texas Christian University.

1. Language as Discourse
2. Speaking and Writing
Now for the third chapter: Metaphor and Symbol

1. Introduction
Ricoeur considers a treatment of metaphor and symbol important for a theory of verbal signification to have its "greatest possible extension" (45). There were those in the early twentieth century, easily following the trajectory of Aristotle and others, who saw metaphors as non-cognitive and emotional, rather than cognitive features of language. By contrast, Ricoeur means to show that "metaphor is the touchstone of the cognitive value of literary works."

In this essay, Ricoeur will revisit a topic from his earlier work as well--the symbol. What distinguishes the symbol from the metaphor, in his view, is that symbols are not merely semantic (like metaphors). Symbols involve something non-semantic as well. More on this topic in a moment.

2. The Theory of Metaphor
In Ricoeur's day, it was common to see a metaphor as "bereft of any cognitive significance" (46). Metaphors were analyzed on the model of denotation and connotation. In this approach, "only the denotation is cognitive and, as such... of a cognitive order." Denotation refers to the basic meaning of a word.

I personally think of connotations as overtones beyond the basic meaning. The older approach to metaphor saw connotation as "extra-semantic because it consists of the weaving together of emotive evocations, which lack cognitive value" (46). He visits Aristotle, where metaphor is merely a matter of naming. For Cicero, metaphor is simply an abridged comparison.

Aristotle isolates words from one another (he thus can be critiqued by Ricoeur as not looking at meaning from the standpoint of the sentence). In the ancient rhetoricians, the function of rhetoric is to please or perhaps seduce the audience, to persuade them, and in that sense a metaphor might prove of some value.

Ricoeur sums up how the ancients treated metaphors: 1) as a trope, a simple substitution of one word for another, a figure of discourse relating to the "denomination" of an individual word or two, 2) as an extension of the meaning of a name, derived from the literal meaning of the word or words, 3) based on a resemblance of some kind, 4) with the literal word easily being substituted for the metaphor instead and the meaning remaining the same. Thus, 5) there is no semantic innovation with the use of metaphor and 6) no new information involved. It serves a merely emotive function (49).

Ricoeur's move is ingenius. He "shifts the problem of metaphor from the semantics of the word to the semantics of the sentence" (47). This move will allow him to provide a purely semantic definition for all literature in its three essential classes, poetry, essays, and prose fiction.

Ricoeur proceeds to reject the above presuppositions about metaphor. "Metaphor has to do with semantics of the sentence before it concerns the semantics of a word" (49). That is to say, it is a "phenomenon of predication, not denomination" (50). Metaphors involve a tension, not between two words or names, but between two interpretations. "A metaphor does not exist in itself, but in and through an interpretation." Ricoeur thus undermines the second presupposition above.

Now he attacks the third. A metaphor is not the clothing of an idea in an image based on comparison or similarity. Rather, for him the key semantic feature of a metaphor derives from the dissimilarity. How can these two dissimilar things be connected, we ask ourselves? The act of "reducing the shock engendered by two incompatible ideas" helps us find the resemblance that gives meaning.

The tension between two interpretations of meaning brings the creation of new meaning. There is no mere substitution of one word for another as in #4, and a new meaning takes place, against #5 and 6. "A new signification emerges" (52). "A metaphor is an instantaneous creation, a semantic innovation which has no status in already established language and which only exists because of the attribution of an unusual or an unexpected predicate."

Ricoeur thus does not include dead metaphors as metaphors any longer. There is no longer a tension in their use ("the foot of a chair"). Their extended meaning has become part of our lexicon. "There are no live metaphors in a dictionary" (52).

Therefore, "real metaphors are not translatable" (52). They can be paraphrased in many ways but a single word cannot be substituted for them. And metaphors are not mere ornaments of discourse.

3. From Metaphor to Symbol
Ricoeur now switches to a treatment of symbols, a topic which has not long been studied by rhetoricians and which, unlike metaphor, moves beyond the merely linguistic and semantic. For example, psychoanalysis deals with things like dreams and other symbols relating to deep psychic conflicts. Poetics in the broad sense can engage persistent figures within a culture or a school of literature. Then there is the religious use of symbols that engages symbols of space and time, of transcendence, and the wholly other.

Symbols thus belong to too many and too diverse fields of research for their study to be as easy as the study of metaphor, and they bring together the linguistic order together with the non-linguistic order.

Nevertheless, Ricoeur believes that his approach to metaphor can clarify the significance of symbols. He aims first to identify the semantic kernel of a symbol. This move in turn will help him isolate the non-linguistic stratum of symbols. This will finally allow him to complete his theory of metaphor.

The Semantic Moment of a Symbol
To begin with, "the symbol, in effect, only gives rise to thought if it gives rise to speech" (55). Within language, the tension theory of metaphor he is laying out can provide an entry point for understanding the semantic dimension of symbols. "The metaphorical twist, which our words must undergo in response to the semantic impertinence at the level of the entire sentence, can be taken as the model for the extension of meaning operative in every symbol."

There is an "excess of signification in a symbol," just as there is in a metaphor. "It is the recognition of the literal meaning that allows us to see that a symbol still contains more meaning. This surplus of meaning is the residue of the literal interpretation" (55). "Yet for the one who participates in the symbolic signification there are really not two significations, one literal and the other symbolic, but rather a single movement."

As a side note, he takes a moment here to distinguish symbol from allegory. "Allegory is a rhetorical procedure that can be eliminated once it has done its job. Having ascended the ladder, we can then descend it. Allegory is a didactic procedure" (56). I'm not sure if this will do, but it is suggestive.

In symbol, we speak of assimilation rather than apprehension. "The symbol assimilates rather than apprehends a resemblance" (56). "All the boundaries are blurred--between the things as well as between the things and ourselves." "There is more in a symbol than in any of its conceptual equivalents" (57).

But it gives rise to concepts. Ricoeur disagrees with those who make us choose between symbols and concepts. Rather, "symbols give rise to endless exegesis" (57). "No given categorization can embrace all the semantic possibilities of a symbol. But it is the work of the concept alone that can testify to this surplus of meaning."

The Non-Semantic Moment of a Symbol
After clarifying the semantic dimension of symbols, Ricoeur now seeks to clarify the non-semantic dimension of symbols. "The opacity of a symbol is related to the rootedness of symbols in areas of our experience that are open to different methods of investigation" (57). Psychoanalysis, for example, delves into sleep. Poetry, he says, connects to a global form of behavior. And religious symbols engage engagement with supernatural forces, "which dwell in the depths of human existence, transcending and dominating it" (58).

"It is the task of many disciplines to reveal the lines that attach the symbolic function to this or that non-symbolic or pre-linguistic activity" (58).

The rest of this section analyzes the symbols of these three areas: psychoanalysis, poetics, and religious symbols. Ricoeur's basic conclusion is that "what asks to be brought to language in symbols, but which never passes completely into language, is always something powerful, efficacious, forceful" (63). They involve a "dialectic of power and form... which insures that language only captures the foam on the surface of life."

For psychoanalysis, symbols skirt the boundary between desire and culture, the boundary between primary repression (of our impulses versus reality) and secondary repression (the restrictions of society and culture). "Psychoanalysis must develop a mixed language," a mixture of the inner and the outer (58). Dream accounts involve a kind of "palimpsest, riddle or hieroglyph," a distorted presentation of a mixed inner and outer reality.

Thus while "metaphor occurs in the already purified universe of the logos... the symbol hesistates [sic] on the dividing line between bios and logos. It testifies to the primordial rootedness of Discourse in Life. It is born where force and form coincide" (59).

Ricoeur's treatment of poetic language seems a little more forced, but we can see that he is engaging it with a hint of the same psychological underbelly as he approached psychoanalysis. "The poetic project is one of destroying the world as we ordinarily take it for granted" (59).

Boundedness is significant for Ricoeur in this section. As he will say of religious symbolism, "The bound character of symbols makes all the difference between a symbol and a metaphor. The latter is a free invention of discourse; the former is bound by the cosmos" (61). So in poetics, "the poem is bound by what it creates" (60) just as in dreams and deep psychology, there is a boundedness of the symbols to our psychic reality.

Yet, in regard to poetics, the hypothetical realm created brings to life new meanings, "new ways of being in the world" (60). "What binds poetic discourse, then, is the need to bring to language modes of being that ordinary vision obscures or even represses."

His discussion of religious symbolism brings this discussion of the non-semantic boundedness of symbol home. He references Rudolph Otto's sense of the numinous (the transcendent that creates awe, as in Isaiah 6) and Mircea Eleade's sense of hierophany (manifestation of the sacred). There is a power to the sacred that cannot be captured in speech. It does not "pass over completely into the articulation of meaning" (61).

"The numinous element is not first a question of language, if it ever really becomes one, for to speak of power is to speak of something other than speech" (60). There is a preverbal character of such experience.

"The bond between myth and ritual attests in another way to this non-linguistic dimension of the Sacred" (61). Perhaps Ricoeur again goes too far, but his fundamental point is that there is a logic of correspondences between the universe and the Sacred and this law of correspondences makes religious language bounded by the universe rather than freely composed, as in metaphor.

"A temple always conforms to some celestial model" (62). There are intrinsic correspondences between the body, houses, and the cosmos. The skull is like a roof. Our breath is like the wind. A rite of passage is like a bridge.

But without language, "the Sacred would remain unmanifested" (62). Ritual is also a "modality of making or doing--a doing of something marked by power." But it would "lack the power to organize space and time without an instituting word." "Symbolism only works when its structure is interpreted... a minimal hermeneutic is required for the functioning of symbolism" (62-63). But the interpretation presupposes the symbol. "The revealing grounds the saying, not the reverse" (63).

4. The Intermediate Degrees between Symbol and Metaphor
Having explored the character of symbols, Ricoeur now returns to the metaphor, to see if his venture might in turn further clarify his starting point in the essay.

Ricoeur suggests three ways in which the foray into symbols shows how certain metaphors--especially those that have a connection to symbols--can have staying power beyond the moment of invention. How can the metaphor of the moment, a moment of invention in an event of discourse, resist simply becoming trivial and then a dead metaphor? And why is it that symbols seem to have staying power, that symbols never die.

The first potential extending factor is the fact that metaphors can function in a network or chain of metaphors. This is when "one metaphor, in effect, calls for another and each one stays alive by conserving its power to evoke the whole network" (84). Ricoeur uses the imagery of God in the Hebraic tradition--he is King, Father, Husband, Lord, Shepherd, Judge, Rock, Fortress, and so forth. These interconnections create a kind of equilibrium.

There is a "root metaphor" here of sorts, Ricoeur claims, that both assembles and scatters. The network "assembles subordinate images together, and they scatter concepts at a higher level" (64).

A second factor that potentially extends the life of a metaphor is a potential hierarchical structure. "Certain fundamental human experiences make up an immediate symbolism that presides over the most primitive metaphorical order" (65). "This anthropological and cosmic symbolism is in a kind of subterranean communication with our libidinal sphere."

Then there can be metaphors that build on these more fundamental metaphors--what Philip Wheelwright calls archetypes. "Everything indicates that symbol systems constitute a reservoir of meaning whose metaphoric potential is yet to be spoken" (65). "The most insistent metaphors hold fast to the intertwining of the symbolic infrastructure and metaphorical superstructure."

The final factor that extends the longevity of metaphor is its potentially referential dimension, the use of metaphor as a model for interpreting the world. Here Ricoeur recaps Frege, whom he mentioned in the first lecture. The sense of a statement is "the pure predicative relation, the reference its pretention to say something about reality, in short, its truth value" (66). The sense is what it says. The reference is what it says it about.

As in science, metaphors can serve like a theoretical model in science, a way of exploring a complex domain of reality by way of a heuristic, somewhat imaginary perspective. Such a model is "an instrument of redescription" (66).

Ricoeur uses this notion in the remainder of his analysis. Metaphor can be an instrument whereby we redescribe the world. We "describe a domain of reality in terms of an imaginary theoretical model" (67, Max Black's sense of metaphors as models). It is a "way of seeing things differently by changing our language about the subject of our investigation." "Thanks to this detour through the heuristic fiction we perceive new connections among things."

So "poetry creates its own world" (67). Both poetic and scientific language "aim at a reality more real than appearances." We suspend the reality of ordinary language in the metaphor so that we can gain the benefit of a "second degree of reference" (68). We redescribe reality. From this tensive apprehension, "a new vision of reality springs forth." "the eclipse of the objective, manipulable world thus makes way for the revelation of a new dimension of reality and truth."

"Poetic language does not tell how things literally are, but what they are like" (68). "The literal 'is' is overturned by the absurdity [of the comparison and representation] and surmounted by a metaphorical 'is' [that is] equivalent to 'is like.'"

Therefore to conclude this section, he writes, "Can we not then call insistent metaphors--those metaphors that are closest to the symbolic depths of our existence--metaphors that owe their privilege of revealing what things are like [referential dimension] to their organization into networks and hierarchical levels?" (68).

Then to conclude the entire essay, he asserts to contrary propositions. "On the one side, there is more in the metaphor than in the symbol; one the other side, there is more in the symbol than in the metaphor" (68).

On the first score, a metaphor "brings to language the implicit semantics of the symbol" (69). Thus the metaphor brings out more meaning. But, on the other hand, "metaphor is just the linguistic procedure--that bizarre form of predication--within which the symbolic power is deposited" (69). "Metaphors are just the linguistic surface of symbols," while "symbols plunge us into the shadowy experience of power."