Monday, May 29, 2017

The Writing Experiment Begins

I'm trying a new experiment to write a book. I blogged through most of the books I wrote for Wesleyan Publishing House, but normal blogging doesn't seem appropriate for other books, especially scholarly ones.

So I have set up a mock course in coursesites. To get access, send me your email address at If you want to give a free will offering, there is a donate button on the upper right hand part of this website, but you do not have to.

The plan is to upload a few paragraphs each day and do a chapter a week to finish in August. (I have already written bits and pieces).

Here's a paragraph from today, the first day of the writing:

"Everything I have written thus far may seem obvious. In fact, we process this evidence without hardly a thought when we are reading an email from someone or talking to a friend. It gets more complicated when we are further removed from the speaker or the conversation. Sometimes we hear a quote from someone and we do not know the words they said before the quote. We may end up hearing their words "out of context," which makes it likely we will misinterpret the meaning they intended."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Seminary CM4: The Cultures of the Bible

This is the fourth post on the Contexts of Ministry in my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom for the previous posts in this unit, "The Person and Contexts of a Minister." I have completed one other unit in this series, The Pastor as Leader.
1. Last week we looked at how culture works. There is probably a tendency among Christians to think of the Bible as somehow removed from culture, as if its words all stand in some timeless bubble outside of the time-bound nature of culture. However, this is not the case.

For one, we humans cannot escape culture. If the Bible were somehow removed from culture, it would be removed from us. God does not bring us up to his level when he reveals truth to us. Rather, he meets us where we are. This is the principle of incarnation. God is in the business of taking on human flesh. He becomes us. Jesus is the Word of God par excellence, God become flesh (John 1:14).

Every word of the Bible is incarnated revelation. Every word of the Bible is truth in culture. Those who think the Bible stands outside of culture inevitably think that they know the true meaning of the Bible. So since they are in culture, they are unknowingly implying that their culture has finally arrived. They are implying that they are on God's level, and all the other cultures up to this point have fallen short.

Beyond this reasoning, it is simply the case that the books of the Bible fit overwhelmingly well against the backdrop of the societies and cultures when they were written. The socio-cultural dimension of the Bible is the piece of the puzzle most overlooked in interpretation, as we have a tendency to interpret its words in ways that make sense to us. And the ways that make sense to us are inevitably the ways of our culture.

2. We presented a framework that can be used to analyze culture in the previous entry. It amounted to 1) your identity, 2) your relationship to others within and outside your groups, 3) the significance of the surrounding world. These understandings are reflected in 1) stories, 2) practices, 3) symbols, and 4) ideas.

As far as identity goes, there is no question but that the identity of Israel in the Old Testament and the default identity of those in the early church was collectivist in nature. In Genesis, we have the clans of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham is said to have migrated from Ur. Genesis ends with the clan in Egypt, from which they migrate in Exodus, finally infiltrating Canaan in Joshua.

A clear indication of collectivism is the fact that the sins of the fathers made guilty their children. "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me" (Exod. 20:5). When Achan sins in Joshua 7, his entire family is put to death to atone for it. Psalm 44:7 suggests that Israel was destroyed not because of its own sins but because of the sins of its fathers (cf. 2 Kings 23:26-27).

A move toward individualism is apparent in Ezekiel 18:4 where it will now be the person that sins that gets punished. No longer will it be, "Our fathers ate sour grapes but it is our teeth that hurt." Yet even in the New Testament, there is still debate about whether some physical problems could be the result of a parent's sin (cf. John 9:1).

3. Certain practices set the tribes of Israel apart from the surrounding peoples. Like the Egyptians, they circumcised their male children. Unlike the Egyptians, they were shepherds. The prohibition against pork was probably another distinction between Israelites and the surrounding peoples of the early Iron Age.

In the early Iron Age, Israel took on a king. Before that point, they were an amphictyony, a loose collection of related tribes. Benjamin, Judah, Ephraim--these were the primary identity markers.

4. The New Testament church began as a Jewish sect. Throughout the New Testament, all the New Testament authors understood themselves to be part of Israel. Gentile converts to Judaism saw themselves as becoming "Gentile Jews" of a sort, as it were.

Bruce Malina has suggested that ancient Mediterranean identity was a matter of gender, genealogy, and geography. [1] We are thus not surprised to find some gender differentiation in the later books of the New Testament. The geography of Christian identity was clearly linked to Judea.

However, the early Christian movement held within it the seeds of a new race. Because Christian identity cut across visible and inherited identity, Christianity held within it the seeds of individualism. Similarly, Galatians 3:28 holds within it the seeds to unravel genealogy as an identity marker. Christians become part of a new clan, a new extended family. Baptism is a ritual of incorporation into a new identity with new brothers and sisters.

5. The culture of the Old Testament was the culture of the Ancient Near East (ANE). In the oldest layers of the Old Testament, we can hear the traces of child sacrifice. The Akedah of Genesis 22 is a striking deconstruction of that practice, as God prevents Abraham from sacrificing Isaac.

The ANE was of course a polytheistic context, as all the surrounding worlds of the Bible. Abraham's ancestors were clearly polytheists (Josh. 24:2). At least from the days of Moses on, the tribes of Israel were increasingly henotheistic, worshiping Yahweh as their patron deity. [2] Nevertheless, well into the monarchy the prophets still struggled to stamp out the worship of other Canaanite deities like Ba'al or Asherah. An eighth century inscription found in a cave in eastern Sinai refers to "Yahweh and his Asherah."

Under King Josiah (reigned 640-609BC), a concerted effort was made to centralize the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. However, since Jerusalem was destroyed in 586BC, this centralization was short lived. However, it would be the norm of the post-exilic period.

6. The nature of ancient sacrifice is debated. Its most basic function would seem to be reciprocity, a time of fellowship with the god and with those participating in the sacrificial meal. So atonement was not the sole function of sacrifice, perhaps not even the primary function. The life-giving power of the blood is the key to atonement (cf. Lev. 17:11). In the Day of Atonement ritual, the uncleanness of Israel is transferred to a goat that is let go into the desert.

Uncleanness is a category often difficult for Westerners to grasp, as is holiness. We are a culture largely devoid of sacred space. [3] Mary Douglas' famous dictum that "dirt is matter out of place" suggested that ancient Israel had a clear sense of "kinds" of things, categories of things. Violations of these categories made things unclean. Clean birds, sea creatures, and creatures fit within these boxes, while unclean ones did not.

Holiness is similarly a matter of belonging to the god in question or touching his or her space. Space that is holy is space that pertains to the god. The fundamental meaning of sanctification and holiness in the Bible is thus belonging to God, being set apart as his. Anything that is in this "space" is holy and thus requires special treatment and consideration. The idea of purity is thus derivative of the connection with God.

3. Recent decades have seen a rich set of sources to help us understand the cultural background of the New Testament world. [4] Here are just a few of the key categories:
  • As a collectivist culture, the New Testament world was an honor-shame world, not an individualist world. Words like glory, honor, shame, blessing, cursing are all in this domain.
  • Family was the most basic unit of culture. Families were extended in nature, not nuclear.
  • The evil eye of envy or jealousy was a key concept. Envying others was akin to placing a curse of sorts upon them.
  • Reciprocity and patron-client relationships were a cornerstone of the culture. Giving expected return, a never ending cycle of friendship. Grace in the New Testament should be understood in these terms.
  • Economics functioned with a sense of limited good. There was only so much to go around and thus the accumulation of wealth at a certain level was akin to stealing.
Understanding these sorts of dynamics is key to understanding the original meaning of the Bible. Since most pastors preach from modern cultural assumptions, we can assume that a good deal of the interpretation made from pulpit and pew is fundamentally skewed, at least as it relates to the original meaning. (I believe we also have to assume that God makes texts come alive within our cultural assumptions if we are to believe that direct speaking takes place to us today.)

For example, attempts to find financial guidelines in Scripture for today are only as helpful as the common sense of the interpreter. Since the ancient world was agrarian and functioned on the notion of limited good, any attempt to find biblical principles on money is bound to be skewed in one way or another with regard to the original meaning of these texts. However, the Spirit may meet those interpreters where they are, giving insights that are true, just not what the biblical texts actually meant.

Next Sunday: Culture 5: The Church and Culture

[1] Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996).

[2] Henotheism accepts the existence of multiple gods, but considers only one God as appropriate for worship. "You will have no other gods before me" (Exod. 20:3).

[3] A pioneering work here is Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge, 1966).

[4] I have put the picture of the pioneering work above. Bruce Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, 3rd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001).

The Calling of a Minister
The Person of a Pastor
Contexts of Ministry

Saturday, May 27, 2017

9.1 Rise and Decay of Current and Voltage

So it's on to Module 9 of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series from the 1970s. The previous modules have been:
Module 9 is titled, "Relationships of Current, Counter EMF, and Voltage in LR Circuits."

1. The first unit is rather simple to summarize, it would seem. The diagram to the left gives a circuit that has a three way switch. When the switch is on one, no current runs through the circuit. When it is on two, the circuit powers up. When it is then on three, the circuit powers down.

From the previous module, we know that an inductor coil such as that pictured in the circuit diagram to the left will oppose the increase of current when the current powers up. Then it will oppose the decrease in current when the circuit powers down. The first section of the book gives us a diagram to represent this dynamic.
2. So the bottom axis is the time axis: T0, T1, T2, etc. The bottom part of the chart represents current. The middle of the chart represents the voltage in the resistor (which represents the total resistance of the circuit rather than a literal resistor). Then the top part of the chart represents the counter-EMF induced by the inductor.

If there were no inductor, the current and voltage would immediately jump to 1 amp and 10 volts respectively. But because of the counter-EMF of the inductor, it takes a moment of sorts to reach capacity. Meanwhile, you can see that the counter-EMF is maximum at the moment the circuit is closed and then is also maximum immediately when the voltage is turned off.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer Inductive Bible Study

Playing with an idea. I have a book mostly on Inductive Bible Study that I need to finish. It's with Pickwick so it's not something I feel good about blogging through here every day. But blogging really helps me write too.

So here's the thought. I can set up a "course" in for the summer. I would gladly accept a free will offering to get into the course. :-) Participants have to be added to the space to get in. It's not public.

Here would be the writing schedule. I would put up material daily in there by chapter. There would be a discussion board for each week where anyone participating could comment or ask questions. I have already written some, but need to finish it up this summer:

"How to Read the Bible: The Bible as History and Sacrament"
May 29 - Two Ways to Read the Bible
June 5 -  Language and Bible Translations
June 12 - Observing Details
June 19 - How Words Work
June 26 - Seeing the Big Picture
July 3 - Situations in History
July 10 - Cultural Contexts
July 17 - Old Testament Genres
July 24 - The New Testament Use of the Old
July 31 - New Testament Genres
August 7 - The Christian Canon
August 14 - Biblical Theologies
August 21 - Sacrament and History

Anyone interested?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Preaching from Exile

I spoke today at the Festival of Preaching at College Wesleyan Church today. I think the video will be available eventually. The topic I was given is, "Finding Themes of Exile in the Word." Here is my basic outline and thesis:

1. Introduction
I started by noting that pretty much every Christian in America has felt like they were in exile over the last five years:
  • We should be mindful that there are some Christians who have never felt in power. All their lives they have felt marginalized, not just as Christians but as people.
  • American evangelicals have increasingly felt exiled from their Christian nation since Roe v. Wade in the 70s. But Obergefell especially gave a profound and sudden sense of alienation and disorientation.
  • For another group, especially a lot of younger Christians, felt oriented by the 2016 election. To them, the forces of hatred seemed to prevail. To them, not only the electorate but evangelical Christianity itself vote the opposite. They have felt not only alienated from their country, which in any case they never thought of as Christian, but from denominations and the church itself.
  • Point 1: While we may have felt especially alienated in these recent days, we have always been exiles.
Christians are always in exile because Sin reigns over this world. We have been in exile since the day Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, and we will be in exile until Jesus returns and brings his kingdom to this earth as it is in heaven.

Hebrews 11:9-16
The exile that Hebrews mentions here is more profound that a mere situation behind this sermon. Hebrews considers this created realm itself to be in need of shaking (12:26-27). I gave my sense of the situation of Hebrews as it related to a context of marginalization and alienation.

The implications here are striking:
  • It implies that even when Israel was in control of its land, there was an Israel within Israel. It was not the political Israel that was the exiled people of God, but some subset within Israel.
  • Is this not what Jesus said: "Narrow is the gate and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14)?
  • Ed Stetzer has a striking position here. The amount of true Christians in America probably hasn't changed. We are simply seeing the true number better and better.
2. Models of Exile
If we are always in exile, what are some of the modes of believers in exile? I expanded H. Reinhold Niebuhr's categories to suggest some modes of being in the world in exile and thus some modes of preaching while in exile in the world.

Point 2: God has inspired Scripture in such a way that different texts in Scripture speak more directly and more powerfully at different specific times and places. The Bible is a library of words, some of which jump out today, here. Others jump out tomorrow, there.

a. Taking over the culture (Christ above culture)
I called this mode of exile, "temporary assertion." It is for Joshua days. I think these are rare. After all, the conquest is a unique biblical event, never again repeated. There may be times when God calls us to disobey the government (e.g., the underground railroad). But most of the time, this is not the mode.

When religions try to take over the state (e.g., sharia law), bad things tend to happen. This is not a primary biblical mode of exile. In fact, the conquest of Canaan in Joshua was only done in order to create a context where Israel could withdraw from its surrounding world (option five below).

b. Desperate assimilation (Christ and culture in paradox)
I tweaked this one a little. This is the compartmentalizing of faith. I say I believe in church. It doesn't affect the way I live. I again suggested that this is not a primary mode of exile. Maybe it is never an appropriate mode. Certainly it is not a mode in any normal times. In normal times it is an indicator that someone is not truly part of the people of God.

But there are possible times when this has happened in exile. The movie Silence is about a Roman Catholic missionary who recanted his faith, not to save his own life, but to save the lives of other believers. Did the declaration of loyalty by the Russian Orthodox patriarch to the Soviet revolution save the church in Russia or ensure that it would only continue to exist in a corrupted form?

I can only think of one text in the Bible that might fall in this category in some way and that is the book of Esther. This is not a recommended mode of exile.

c. Principled assimilation (Christ in culture)
Again, I've tweaked this one a little. Here I looked to 1 Peter and echoed Scot McKnight's sense that it embodies a defensive strategy.
  • Babylon - This reference suggests that Rome was breathing down the neck of the audience.
  • "exiles and aliens" - not literal but this is how they're feeling
  • "judgment has begun" - the church feels like it is experiencing the end times
  • "Live good lives" - don't let them have any real reason to punish you.
  • Blend in - slaves be good slaves, wives be good wives
d. Separation (Christ versus culture)
Paul largely sees the church as living in a separate world than the Roman world around him. He doesn't stop sharing the good news, both in synagogue and church, but he largely sees the world as something that is God's concern, not the church's.
  • 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
  • This is similar to Jesus on taxes. "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
e. Withdrawal (Christ really versus culture)
The people have done this from time to time. Monks, Shakers. Israel may be the best illustration. In Egypt, probably in Babylon, the very nature of the Law itself was to provide a hedge around God's people to keep them from serving other gods. I used 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.

f. Influence (Christ transforming culture)
We all say we favor this, but God's mode is one of wooing, not forcing the world to follow God. In Romans 1, God "gives them up." I end with Philippians 3:18-20.
  • Philippi was a Roman colony. Citizens of this city were citizens of Rome. It was largely settled by Roman soldiers who were rewarded for their service with land here.
  • Paul calls these Christians "citizens of heaven" nonetheless. They might have reason to boast in their earthly citizen, as American Christians. But Paul reminds them they are really in exile.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Seminary CM3: How Culture Works

This is the third post on the Contexts of Ministry in my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom for the previous posts in this unit, "The Person and Contexts of a Minister." I have completed one other unit in this series, The Pastor as Leader.
1. David Livermore suggests that our human identity is formed on the basis of three basic forces: a) there is human nature itself, which we share in common with our species, b) there is our individual personality, which distinguishes us from other individuals, and c) there are the cultures and subcultures to which we belong. [1]

Human nature in itself speaks to a context that all of us share with the other men and women of our species. We have a tendency to stereotype humanity with our own cultural assumptions, including our flat readings of the Bible and Christian theology. If we want to see the world more clearly, we will suspend such thinking until we get out a little and travel the world, and not just a few days here and there, and not just moving our body somewhere else without ever really leaving home. We may want to live in the inner city to see what it is really like or live a while in someone else's shoes. Best suspend my assumptions of what human nature is while I am exploring the way culture works.

There's a good chance that there is a lot of culture in what I thought was basic human nature.

Then there is my individual personality. I have already explored the Myers-Briggs personality test and how it might impact ministry. Becoming better aware of the fact that other people have a different personality than I do was one of the most important take-aways I had from seminary.

2. So what is culture? I like this definition: "Culture is the shared understandings people use within a society to align their actions." Or another way to put it is that culture is the "software behind how we operate." [2] We swim in cultures. We cannot get out of the water. There is nothing for us that is "trans" cultural in the sense of being removed or fully abstracted from culture. There are only a few things that are "omni" cultural, common to all human cultures. If we use the word transcultural at all, we mean that it is something shared across cultures. As I have often said, "All truth is incarnated truth."

I would say that there are three main aspects to culture. First, there is how individuals or groups define themselves as entities. Second, there is how individuals or groups relate to other individuals within and outside of each group. Third, there are the beliefs and practices of individuals or groups in relation to the world around them. [3] In philosophy, we talk of "paradigms," ways of viewing particular issues or dimensions of life. A "worldview" is then a collection of paradigms that come together as a whole. A worldview is a way of looking at the world. [4]

It would be vastly mistaken to think that humans primarily operate by playing out cognitive ideas in their lives. Rather, we are born within certain cultures and subcultures that form our basic perspectives on life. We certainly can change. Education can vastly expand our horizons. But the less aware we are of the forces on us, the more than our ideas and views are simply inherited and newly invented ways of justifying the assumptions we inherited from our environment.

Ideas can take on a life of their own. This is a gift of human nature. But our ideas are far more epiphenomena than archetype. That is to say, our ideas far more serve to defend and mirror what we already believe and practice than being the real source and origin of our behavior. It is human nature to come up with arguments to defend what we already think and do.

3. In terms of how individuals or groups identify themselves as entities, there are a number of elements and variations. Livermore suggests that there are six key cultural spectra that we can use to analyze a culture: individualism versus collectivism, hierarchy vs. egalitarianism, low vs high risk avoidance, short term vs. long term orientation, explicit vs. implicit communication, and being vs. doing. [5]

Of these spectra, the one that is most important when it comes to how individuals or groups identify themselves, is the individualism versus collectivism spectrum. Westerners--and especially "white" Americans--strongly tend to assume that they are largely independent individuals, distinct and autonomous in relation to other people, whom they also see as individuals. [6]

Mind you, individualism is not the human default. Homo sapiens is a herd animal, and we should not be surprised to find that Americans tend to group as well. In older Republicans and Democrats especially we find something more collectivist, where loyalty to the group is a greater priority that objectivity or evidentiary truth. Americans are often extremely "prejudiced" in the sense of pre-judging other people according to the way they look or their demographic. This is collectivist thinking, thinking that identifies people according to the groups to which they belong rather than some common or "objective" standard.

Indeed, "one truth" cultures have little to do with truth per se but with loyalty to the "truth" of the dominant group. When many Christians refer to the truth and protest loudly about standing up for the truth, what they really mean is standing up for their group's way of looking at the world. By contrast, Western individualism seeks a common standard by which all individuals are measured, something beyond a particular group. Blind spots have often resulted in this simply being a more subtle form of the dominant group deciding on the standard, but an honest and earnest embracing of the goal is still more likely to result in a greater "equal justice for all" than throwing the notion of "equal justice for all" out the window.

4. So individualists define themselves. They decide what they like. They decide what their values are. They decide what career to follow and whom to marry.

In a collectivist culture, identity is "group-embedded." You know who a person is largely on the basis of external features. Men are this way, woman are that way. Jews, Italians, Russians, Kenyans are a certain way. Families of status are this way, families who are merchants are that way. You can arrange marriages even before birth because the key characteristics of identity are known before birth.

Loyalty to one's group--its truth, its values--is a key virtue in collectivist cultures and sub-cultures. Chances are, your group has authority figures in it as well. Submission to their authority is a virtue. Collectivist cultures tend to be honor/shame cultures. You might hear words like "glory," "honor," "disgrace," "shame," "embarrassment," and so forth. But you won't hear someone say, "Be true to yourself" or "Let your conscience be your guide."

5. Paul Hiebert has pointed out the difference between "bounded sets" and "centered sets." Livermore argues that individualist cultures tend to think in terms of bounded sets. That is to say, they tend to set fairly well-defined boundaries to decide who is in and who is out. In a group culture, where being in or out is a matter of belonging to the group, there can be a less well defined boundary. There can be a "black sheep" of the family who is still in the family.

The distinction between bounded and centered sets seems particularly helpful when it comes to Christian colleges and universities. The more "traditional" a Christian college, the more likely it is that the college was established to perpetuate the beliefs and values of the group that founded it or that owns it. However, it is in the nature of academy to emphasize the pursuit of truth for its own sake, wherever the evidence may lead.

These two values are bound to come into conflict, because no group has a corner on the truth. The more traditional the college, the more likely it will function as a bounded set. Step outside the line and you are gone. By contrast, a centered set model suggests a model that tries to draw on the best of both worlds. The traditional identity of the college can be privileged, while the edges of scholarly examination left somewhat vague, as long as the scholars do not directly undermine the college's identity and respect it.

6. There are other identity markers. Race and ethnicity are two. Gender is another. Geography can be significant. When religion is inherited, it is part of this mix as well.

Ethnicity has to do with one's people group of origin. It is thus an extension of kinship. White Americans tend to think of families in more "nuclear" terms. A husband-wife and any immediate children. Other cultures expand the family to include grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and so forth. There are an increasing number of single parent and foster parent units now as well, and of course the US has made gay marriage an option as well.

Ethnicity thus relates to one's kinship group in its broadest terms: Italian, German, English, Scottish, etc. "White" is not really an ethnicity but has come to refer to the collection of groups like those mentioned above who have a similar light skin. "Race" has thus come to be about look, which overlaps with ethnicity but is not exactly the same. Similarly, "black" is not an ethnicity but a grouping together of all those of African origin with dark skin. The slave trade of the 1600s created the category of black. Before that point, there were Timni and Hutu and Tutsi and so forth.

7. Language is a key identity marker, and Livermore suspects that the way we speak has an effect on the way we think. Ethnicity and language are typically connected, to where our people group is associated with a particular language. When this language is part of a broader pool of groups that speak the same language, the impact is probably less than when your language is situated in a context where more than one language is spoken.

Nevertheless, even in English there are accents that we associate with stereotypes. There is a southern accent, a New York accent, a British accent. Each of these accents can give rise to assumptions about group and individual identity. Indeed, regions often have identities within a country or broader people group.

8. Gender is typically stereotyped around the world. The Western individualist world has strongly attempted to individualize gender. The goal here is that a man or a woman is not categorized by their gender but by their abilities and choices.

In individualist cultures, an individual at least in theory can choose their religion. In a group culture, one is born into a particular religion. In a group culture, all these identity markers are blended together so that to change religions is to betray one's group.

9. The last two centuries has seen the birth of nationalism. Nationalism is a group identity that transcends ethnicity. So rather than being proud to be Irish in origin, one becomes proud to be an American. Geography becomes a key identity marker, not because of one's place of origin (e.g., a Jew is someone originating ethnically from Judah), but because of the nation-state to which you belong.

10. We reinforce these identities by the stories we tell about our supposed past, by certain practices that are considered normal for your group, with key symbols that we take pride in or that we abhor, and there are often ideologies associated with a particular identity. For example, there is a certain version of American history that a certain group of Americans might tell involving brave patriots who overthrew the tyranny of Great Britain during the Revolutionary War. But a southern African-American might have a quite different story to tell about American history.

Groups tell these stories to define themselves. These versions are never the whole truth. Indeed, their function is more to give honor and purpose to our group than to give anything like an objective picture of history in the modern sense.

Groups have practices and symbols too that contribute to their sense of self-identity. Most Americans observe Thanksgiving and July, but of course Germans and the British do not. The American flag is such a strong symbol to some American groups that it is displayed proudly in many churches throughout America. The connection between God and country is more typical lost on Christians from other countries. Indeed, the association of church and state in many places has not been positive.

11. So the first aspect of culture we have identified is how culture defines individuals or groups themselves. A second dimension to culture is thus how these individuals or groups interact with one another, both with other individuals/groups within a broader culture and individuals/groups outside a culture.

Individuals within a broader culture often stratify in some sort of hierarchical fashion. The culture of India at least in the past is a standard example. The caste system identified layers of class that were not allowed to intermarry and were connected with Hindu religion according to virtue in one’s past life. The Brahman class was the most worthy and the most virtuous in a previous life. They were also a priestly class. Below them were other classes considered to be inferior.

Class is of course not unique to India. Throughout history there have always been the more privileged and powerful alongside the less. From ancient times there were the kings and there were the slaves. In medieval times there were the lords and the serfs. In recent times there are the rich and the poor, there are the working class and the management class. There has thus always been an economic dimension to culture.

Economies work in different ways at different places at different times. For example, money has not been the primary basis for exchange in most places in history. Rather, trading and barter has been. Throughout history, agriculture rather than industry has been the basis of exchange.

When goods are the basis for exchange, a sense of limited good or a zero-sum game can operate, where it is assumed that if one person has more, someone somewhere else has less. For this reason perhaps more than any, the New Testament is generally negative toward the accumulation of wealth. Western Americans however do not generally think that way.

12. Some cultures are more hierarchical, while others are more egalitarian. Most cultures probably have strongly been hierarchical. The notion that all individuals are of equal value and should have equal opportunity is a fairly unique cultural idea, it would seem, even among Christian cultures in history.

Respect for authority is thus a key moral value in most cultures. On the other hand, oppression is considered such a vice, that the impulse to revolution is also found in most cultures. This is an impulse to overthrow the tyrant (usually to replace him or her with another one). In more individualistic cultures, this can take the form of fighting for liberty.

Different cultures thus have different senses of how much freedom versus conformity is expected. Western culture has often put a primacy on independent thinking and “thinking for yourself.” Most other cultures, by contrast, would consider such thinking to be deviant. Of course individual personalities can lean in these different directions as well.

13. Generations often have differing cultures, especially in recent times when the world and technological environment is changing so rapidly. In white Americanism, you hear talk of the “builder” generation who came of age during World War II. Then there is the “boomer” generation born in its aftermath. Generation X and millennials followed suit. Each generation is often stereotyped with certain sub-cultural, generational characteristics.

14. Another spectrum on which different cultures differ is that of explicit versus implicit communication. In much of America, frankness is almost considered equivalent to honesty. Yet in many cultures, you are expected to pick up on clues that are more subtle. In an honor-shame context, open confrontation can be considered disgraceful and disgracing.

15. A sense of fairness would seem to be common to most if not all cultures, but each cultures sense of exactly what that fairness can differ wildly. [7] In American politics, for example, you can hear one politician say that the wealthy need to pay their “fair share,” while another politician might say it is unfair to make the wealthy pay a higher percentage of their income than the middle class.

All cultures seem to share a sense that it is wrong to harm the innocent within your own group. [8] “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Where Jesus was counter-cultural was when he suggested that our enemies are also our neighbors. In most cultures, it is not necessarily considered wrong to harm someone who is from an enemy group.

15. Finally, there is how the individual/group relates to the world around it. How does a culture categorize its world and its behavior in it?

Livermore identifies three additional cultural spectra that I would place in this category. One of them is the difference between low and high risk cultures. Some cultures tend to be more likely to venture out into risky territory than others, which tend to be more conservative. Of course this also applies to different personality types as well. We would expect high risk avoidance cultures to be "law and order" cultures that have autocratic tendencies.

Some cultures tend to be more short term versus long term. White American culture has often been an impatient, “Get it done now” kind of culture. Other cultures play a much longer game. Related to these spectra is the spectrum between cultures that more emphasize being versus doing. White American culture seems to have a need to be doing things. Other cultures are much more content simply to be.

It would be impossible to catalog all the different ways that cultures identify and categorize items in the world around them. One interesting feature of the way cultures categorize their world is “category width.” If rice is important for a particular culture, it is likely that the culture will have more words for different kinds of rice. If a particular category is not as central for a culture, there may only be one word for that whole category (e.g., rice) and adjectives may be added to distinguish different kinds (e.g., brown, white).

16. A final aspect of culture that has not always been appreciated in “Western” culture is that of clean, unclean, and the holy, the category of sanctity. The West has at times lost any real sense of the sacred. Everything has become common.

But many cultures have a sense of the sacred, and there is a kind of cult of patriotism in the United States that exhibits features of this cultural dimension. Do not desecrate the flag. Not to stand for the national anthem is treasonous. These are traces of the impulse to the holy in other cultures. “Touch not the unclean thing.”

A comparison of cultures around the world reveals that morality has a strong cultural dimension. In fact, the worlds ethics and morality themselves come from Greek and Latin words that mean “nations” and “customs” respectively. The Greek historian Herodotus once concluded that “Custom is king over all,” meaning that what a people thinks is right and wrong is a function of that people.

Certainly Christians believe that some moral universals have been revealed by God. Similarly, the Enlightenment worked out some philosophical principles that, when worked out, approximate the core ethic of the New Testament. Yet there is no denying that Christian cultures have played out their understandings differently and that individual cultures often have varying senses of virtue. Around the world, morality is also cultural or at least has a significant cultural dimension.

17. The name of David Livermore’s book is Cultural Intelligence. He is not concerned only with “knowledge CQ” (cultural quotient) and with “interpretation CQ, but with what he calls “perseverance CQ” and “behavioral CQ.” The material I have set out above largely has to do with understanding how culture works and having some basic categories from which to interpret culture.

By “perseverance CQ,” Livermore refers to the necessity to endure and persist when immersed in or surrounded by cultures different from your own default. It can be stressful to persist. When I went to England, McDonalds was of no particular significance to me. But after a year there, I was willing to walk or run three miles to have a hamburger that was at least a little like what I was used to at home. Behavioral CQ suggests that you not only know difference in culture but that you are willing to change your behavior as necessary when you are encountering the other.

In the end, we are all slaves to culture. It's just that most of us don't know it.

Next Sunday: The Cultures of the Bible

[1] David A. Livermore, Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 85.

[2] Livermore, 81. The first is Howard Becker, the second Geert Hofstede.

[3] I have found this way of analyzing culture helpful for today's entry. Livermore speaks of three primary "cultural domains" that relate to ministry. He defines them as socio-ethnic, organizational, and generational (93). Following Jeffrey Sonnenfield, he categorizes organizational culture as academy culture, baseball culture, club culture, and fortress culture (99-101). I initially played around with reformulating these categories as 1) ethnic (kinship, national, global), social (economic, religious, voluntary), and generational (age related). Some of these can also be analyzed in terms of space (where you are located) and time (age).

[4] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) once suggested that there are four elements in worldview. These were a) a group's story, b) a group's basic practices, c) a group's symbols, and d) a group's answer to basic worldview questions like "Who are we?" "Where are we?" "What is wrong?" "What is the solution?"

[5] Livermore, Cultural Intelligence,121-41.

[6] By "Americans" I mean individuals from the United States. I am not meaning to dismiss Canadians or individuals from Latin America. This is just common parlance in the US and the simplest way to refer to this group.

[7] I have integrated the six moral foundations set out by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind in my analysis here.

[8] The Iq people, who at one time seemed not to consider it wrong to let harm come to one’s children, could arguably have been called a sick and dying culture at that time.

The Calling of a Minister
The Person of a Pastor
Contexts of Ministry

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review 2: Elements of Cultural Intelligence

I started skimming Cultural Intelligence yesterday. Today I ran through chapter 3: "CQ 101: The Path to Loving the Other." In this chapter Livermore gives us the basic components of what he is calling CQ. The later chapters will run through these in more detail.

Here are the four:

1. Knowledge CQ
This is about basic understanding of another culture or other cultures.

2. Interpretive CQ (or metacognitive CQ)
This is about being able to discern want is happening in an intercultural situation. Livermore calls the combination of knowledge and interpretive CQ, "cultural strategic thinking." He also says that, "Interpretive CQ is the dimension of cultural intelligence most desperately lacking in the cross-cultural behavior of many American ministry leaders" (52).

3. Perseverance CQ
Once you know what's going on, are you going to persevere or try to force your culture on situations?

4. Behavorial CQ
How are you going to behave. In the end, your actions and words are how we measure your cultural intelligence.

Another thought from the chapter:
  • "Many argue that EQ has far more influence than IQ on how well someone succeeds in life and work" (47). Absolutely true. Grades in high school or college are less a predictor of life success than the ability to have good relationships.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Schenck books on sale

Until this Sunday, there is a massive sale on my books with Wesleyan Publishing House. WPH is moving to a mostly digital and print on demand model. [Remember I was called naive for suggesting this move a year and a half ago.]

I have written books on the whole New Testament with accompanying devotional books. Here are the books that are on sale:

Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians
1. 1 and 2 Corinthians (a full length commentary on these letters) ($4.20)

2. Jesus: The Mission (the overall mission of Jesus) ($3.15)
3. Jesus: Portraits from the Gospels (the special emphases of the four Gospels) ($3.15)

4. The Wisdom of Jesus (devotionals on the Sermon on the Mount) ($2.10)
5. The Passion of Jesus (devotionals on Mark's Passion narrative) ($2.10)
6. The Parables of Jesus (devotionals on Jesus' parables, especially in Luke) ($2.10)
7. The Witness of Jesus (devotionals on the symbolism of John's Gospel) ($2.10)

8. The Early Church: Reaching the World ($3.15)

9. Our Foundation (devotionals on Acts 13-28) ($6.99)
10. Our Mission (devotionals on Acts 13-28) ($2.10)

11. Paul: Messenger of Grace (Corinthians, Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians) ($2.73)
12. Paul: Soldier of Peace (Romans) ($2.73)
13. Paul: Prisoner of Hope (the Prison and Pastoral Epistles) ($2.73)

14. Our Joy (devotionals on Philippians) (1.89)
15. Our Hope (devotionals on 1 Thessalonians) (1.89)
16. Our Righteousness (devotionals on (Romans 1-8) (1.89)
17. Our Relationships (devotionals on Romans 9-16) ($1.89)
18. Our Purpose (devotionals on Ephesians and Colossians) ($1.89)
19. Our Faith (devotionals on 1-2 Timothy and Titus) ($1.89)

Hebrews through Revelation
20. The Early Church: Letters to the Body of Christ ($3.15)

21. Our Walk (devotionals on James)
22. Our Future (devotionals on Revelation) ($6.99)

How to Interpret the Bible
23. Making Sense of God's Word ($1.68) (also available in this form)

New Testament Survey
24. God's Plan Fulfilled ($4.20) (also available in this fuller form)

Women in Ministry
25. Why Wesleyans Favor Women in Ministry ($2.50)

Other Publications
And since I'm at it, here are other books I've written:
26. Understanding the Book of Hebrews ($23.71)
27. A Christian Philosophical Journey ($26.69)
28. A Brief Guide to Philo ($29.25)
29. Cosmology and Eschatology in Hebrews: The Settings of the Sacrifice ($45.83)

1. Who Decides What the Bible Means?
2. The True Wesleyan
3. The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Why Does God Allow It?
4. Explanatory Notes on Galatians
5. God and Creation: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections
6. Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology 1

Book Review: Cultural Intelligence 1

1. I'm trying to skim/read David Livermore's book on Cultural Intelligence this week in preparation for my Sunday post. Today is the first two chapters.

Chapter 1: Twenty-First Century CQ
2. "CQ" stands for "cultural intelligence." I thought this quote about short term missions was worth reproducing:
  • "The questionable motivation behind many trips, the paternalistic interactions that often occur, and the increasing amounts of money spent are reasons for concern. Many studies raise questions about whether anything positive results from these trips for the local communities that receive the missionaries. Many receiving communities view short-term missions groups as primarily being a way to enlist needed funds" (26).
Chapter 2: First Century CQ: God Speaks "Jesus"
3. Here are some key points from this chapter:
  • "There is no one right way for the gospel to be expressed" (33).
  • "At the same time, clearly not all expressions of the gospel are equally valid" (33).
Livermore sets up an axis between word and deed, on the one hand, and the kingdom and culture, on the other.

An incarnational ministry should thus balance proclamation and presence. The kingdom is of course where God is taking history in the end, a destination that is always in a tension between "now" and "not yet." Culture meanwhile has both elements that can be assimilated and others that need to be rejected.

4. He looks at how Jesus engaged temple, land, Torah, and Jewish ethnicity. What was the tension between his embracing and protesting?

[Ken: The dangers here (from a scholarly perspective) are that we are not getting straight Jesus in the Gospels and a lot of our apprehensions even then are heavily caked with modern church history filters. Reading the Gospels in context is a cross-cultural experience in itself. Doing serious historical Jesus research is also a skill beyond the training of most pastors and even ministry professors.

We never see the kingdom as it is. Our sense of the underlying principles in Scripture and our sense of the trajectory of the kingdom are always colored by where we sit. The goal is worth steering by, but we should not think that the "principles" we identify in Scripture are God's unfiltered thoughts. They are still our thoughts.]

5. The balance between telling and showing is always hard to achieve. We tend to side toward the one or the other not only as individuals but as church traditions.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

8.4 Inductance and Induction

Here's the fourth and final installment of Module 8, Induction, in Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series from the 1970s. The first three units were:

8.1 Electromagnetism
8.2 Inductors and Flux Density
8.3 Inducing Voltage

1. Inductance is the property of a circuit that opposes any change of the current. Last entry we learned this idea as "Lenz's Law": "The voltage induced in a circuit by changing current always opposes the change causing it" (87). This opposing voltage is sometimes called "counter EMF" or CEMF for short.

This principle reminds me of Newton's third law: "A body in motion wants to stay in motion, and a body at rest wants to stay at rest." So with inductance. When current is decreasing, inductance wants to maintain it. When current is increasing, inductance wants to resist it.

The unit of inductance is the henry. 1 henry is the amount of inductance that yields one volt when the current is changing at the rate of 1 ampere per second. The symbol for inductance is L. The abbreviation for a henry is h, and it often appears in small quantities like the millihenry (1/1000) and the microhenry (1/1000000)

2. Computing inductance is done using the same formulas we used to calculate resistance.
  • In a series circuit, the total inductance is simply the sum of all the individual inductors. 
  • If a group of inductors in parallel all have the same value, then the total inductance is simply the inductance of one inductor divided by the total number of conductors in parallel.
  • If you have two inductors, then the total inductance is L1 x L2/L1 + L2.
  • If you have more than two inductors in parallel with different values, then the total inductance is the reciprocal of the sum of the reciprocals of all the inductors.
3. The amount of inductance for a coil depends on its physical characteristics.
  • The greater the number of turns of the coil increases inductance.
  • The larger the cross-sectional area of the core, the greater the inductance.
  • The greater the permeability of the core, the greater the inductance.
  • The longer the core material, the lower the inductance.
  • The greater the space between coil turns, the lower the inductance.
4. Inductance is the capacity of a coil to oppose a change in current. By contrast, induction is the actual creation of a voltage, which requires motion. Inductance does not require current flow. Induction does. Induction is the action of inducing a voltage when current is changing in a circuit.

So the six factors which affect induction are
  • the number of turns in the coil
  • the cross-sectional area of the core
  • the permeability of the core material
  • the length of the core (inversely)
  • space between the coil turns
  • the rate of change in current flow
4. The changing current in one circuit can induce voltage in another circuit, which is called mutual inductance. This is also measured in henrys. The symbol for mutual inductance is M. Two coils can be positioned next to each other so as to exhibit mutual inductance.

The amount of mutual inductance is affected by their proximity, for this determines the percentage of flux lines of one coil in the turns of the other coil. This percentage is called the coefficient of coupling.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Review 6: Passover Imagery in 1 Corinthians

The final main chapter is on 1 Corinthians in Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast. Previous chapters reviewed include:
1. Chapter 5 is titled, "1 Corinthians: The Community That Keeps the Feast." The previous chapter applied Patterson's understanding of sacrifice and metaphor to Philippians. This chapter does the same with 1 Corinthians.

Her aim in this chapter is to show that "metaphors relating to the Passover appear to bring together a number of Paul's counsels in 1 Corinthians, and to offer a set of associations to guide the community's ethical reflections in the future" (117). The chapter is largely set out by looking at the metaphors in 1 Corinthians section by section, following the rhetorical structure set out by Margaret Mitchell.

“Entailments of metaphors of the Passover (leaven, holiness, unity, freedom, wilderness, blood, covenant, remembrance) challenge the church at Corinth to become a community of belonging, to God and one another, by imaginatively placing themselves both within the exodus narrative and within the ongoing community of commemoration” (157). There is the essence of this chapter. Since I have a tendency to ask questions like, "What were the earliest layers of this book?" I tend to see the chapter on Philippians as very early, probably the inspiration for the book (I'm picturing this as originally being a dissertation). So the chapter on Philippians seems sloppier to me (sorry). By the time the chapter on 1 Corinthians was written, it feels like a bit greater sophistication might have developed. Mind you, this might all be in my mind. So she doesn't try to sweep all the metaphors of 1 Corinthians into a paschal pattern but recognizes a “layering” of metaphors.

Patterson finds sacrificial imagery and imagery relating to the Passover as far as chapter 13. As with Philippians, it is not clear to me whether the Passover plays as strong a role in the meaning of 1 Corinthians as Patterson sees. As far as the first four chapters, she takes the phrase logos tou theou in 1:18 as an expression of the “logic” of the cross rather than the “message about the cross.” Although she does not identify this logic with the later Passover metaphor, she believes it works in concert with it. Not sure I agree. For the time being, I'm sticking with the message of the cross.

Other images in the first main proof of the letter (1:18-4:21) similarly work in concert: the community as a building and the community as a temple. She sees an allusion to the scapegoat of Yom Kippur in 4:13. These two paragraphs were fascinating.

2. Certainly she is correct to see imagery relating to Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in 1 Corinthians 5. She rightly notes that this sacrificial imagery is not principally about atonement. For example, the call to unity properly characterized those who kept the Passover feast. There was a preparation necessary to celebrate the Passover, so the Corinthians needed to prepare themselves properly for their ongoing life together. “The use of a metaphor of Passover, in a letter devoted to rebuilding true community among the congregation at Corinth, undergirds arguments against divisiveness by focusing on behavior within the community that Paul regards as corrupting” (135).

I don't know if I believe that the Passover metaphor lingered in Paul’s mind beyond 1 Corinthians 5. Patterson sees synergies with the purity and sanctification language of 1 Corinthians 6 and 7. She sees a synergy in the “higher slavery” to Christ in chapter 7. The “puffing up” of the Corinthians in chapter 8 is antithetical to the right kind of preparation for the feast. Just not really sure about this.

1 Corinthians 10 does evoke imagery of Israel just after the exodus. For Patterson, there is a consistency in this imagery, because “Paul continues to map the experiences of the Corinthian community onto those of the Israelites who were delivered from bondage in Egypt on the night of the first Passover sacrifice, wandered in the wilderness, and then kept the Passover immediately upon entry into the land” (145).

The Lord’s Supper was likely a Passover meal. She has helped me out with the historical Jesus here by pointing out that “The Passover is the only sacrifice that is set distinctly for nighttime” (150). Scholars like Hans Conzelmann and Richard Horsley have denied a connection to the Passover in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Of course she disagrees. I think she would say that the kind of sacrifice in view is not an atoning sacrifice but a covenant making and restoring sacrifice. Maybe I'm groggy but thought she could have been clearer here.

Concluding Chapter
3. In the conclusion of chapter 7, Patterson does not provide a thoroughgoing study of sacrificial metaphors in Romans, but she does suggest the kinds of conclusions such a study might bring. “The use of cultic metaphors in Romans is as contextually specific and rhetorically strategic as those of Philippians and 1 Corinthians” (161). She sees a number of “partial frequencies” or sacrificial resonances in Romans, with a wide variety of sacrifices in view: Yom Kippur, the Akedah, the firstfruits, the shelamim and more.

Although she does not develop the idea, she stakes her claim with those who emphasize that the Jewish sacrificial system “was about life, not death, and that the modern preoccupation with the death of the victim is misplaced” (165). Meanwhile, none of the metaphors of Romans in any way undermine the continued functioning of the Jerusalem Temple.

So I personally really liked this book. I learned a lot. She gave me a lot of good fuel for thought.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Review 5: Sacrificial Giving in Philippians

Now we get to Philippians in my reading of Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast. Previous chapters reviewed include:
1. Chapter 4 is titled, "Philippians: Sacrificial Giving." In this chapter we finally get to the direct application of the dynamics that have been unfolded thus far in the book to the book of Philippians.

The chapter begins with a very brief run through the rhetorical structure of Philippians with a view to possible sacrificial metaphors. Patterson's claim is that these sacrificial metaphors are more than "rhetorical flourishes" but are "a tool of active thought" (113). She wishes to show that "the shelamim sacrifices (sacrifices of thanksgiving) constitute a pattern of offering that Paul applies metaphorically and imaginatively as a guide for the actions of the Philippians" (86).

The core thank-offering metaphors occur in 2:17 and 4:12. Yet because Philippians was meant to be read over and over, this metaphor would have developed a persuasive power in rereading (83) as the entailments resonated throughout the whole. As examples, there is the language of holiness in 1:1 and the image of the audience as holy and blameless (1:10; 2:15).

More controversially, she would extend the entailments of this metaphor to the Christ Hymn of 2:6-11 and to Paul's thoughts on his possible death in 1:20-26. All these images are meant to suggest a model of living to the Philippians. "The shelamim sacrifices (sacrifices of thanksgiving) constitute a pattern of offering that Paul applies metaphorically and imaginatively as a guide for the actions of the Philippians" (86).

2. The Christ hymn is a linchpin in Patterson's argument. She aims to show that there is a pattern of self-offering in the hymn that may be described as sacrificial (90). Christ empties himself, which is similar to the pouring out of the servant in Isaiah 53:12. Ralph Martin has critiqued this idea, claiming that the hymn would surely have been more explicit about the sin-bearing nature of Christ's death if the author had Isaiah 53 in mind. Her response is that the sacrifice in view is not a sin-offering but a thank-offering.

Nevertheless, aspects to her argument in this section seem confused. Does not Isaiah 53 have the bearing of sin in view, not a more general thank-offering? She is arguing that the hymn is sacrificial in part because it may have Isaiah 53 in its background and yet she denies that the kind of sacrifice evoked by Isaiah 53 is in view. In one paragraph she seems to suggest that the whole burnt offering has also impacted Paul's imagery of the thank-offering (87-88). Most puzzling is a moment when she seems to apply the modern metaphorical sense of personal sacrifice to the Christ hymn as an argument in favor of a sacrificial undertone (89).

3. In the latter part of Philippians 2, she suggests that a passage from Numbers 28 stands in the backdrop. This passage in Numbers takes place as Israel is about to take the land of Canaan and the Greek of this passage has common language with Philippians like "sacrifice," "aroma of sweetness," "pour a drink offering," and "blameless." She thus suggests that "The effect of this scattering of sacrificial references is to link the actions of Paul and the Philippians with the ancient record of God's direction of the Israelites on their coming into the land, even as the Philippians are called to see the place where they now live as the ground upon which they will enact their heavenly citizenship" (93).

Suffice it to say, this connection seems somewhat of an over-read of the evidence. The constellation of similar terms would go together in any context and, if Paul had Numbers in view, he surely did not make the connection very obvious. We might say the same of any sacrificial connotation in the Christ Hymn. On the one hand, she acknowledges that the cross in the hymn is not mentioned in relation to atonement (89-91). Yet she seems far from being able to demonstrate that Paul has anything along the lines of a thank-offering in view.

4. She also discusses the possibility that Philippians is a letter of friendship and how ancient friendship included gift-giving. Since "gift-exchange between heaven and earth is one of the fundamental patterns of sacrifice," she sees this aspect of Philippians as part of the patterns of sacrifice that permeate the letter. She also tries to place the metaphors of sacrifice in Philippians into an apocalyptic framework. One of the more interesting comments in this section is when she notes that the imagery of 4:18 "almost seems to describe the ascent of the smoke of the sacrifices" (106).

Finally, she sees the metaphor of thank-offering as a way to bind joy with suffering. "Rejoicing is the natural accompaniment to a sacrifice of thanksgiving" (110), even though a death is involved. "A dedicatory sacrifice... is a complex event that suggests a whole series of entailments, as it brings together a community's understandings of holiness, friendship, morality, reciprocal gift-giving, the relationship between suffering and joy, and commerce between heaven and earth" (115).

5. I personally found this chapter to be more scattered and less persuasive than the others. To what extent does the metaphor of a thank-offering dominate the rhetoric and thought of Philippians? It is clearly present in 2:17 and 4:12. Could Paul have had it in mind when he spoke of the possibility of his own death? It is possible but the evidence is not definitive, even less so when it comes to the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2. We can hardly find evidence for it in the mention of Timothy and Epaphroditus.

There is a good deal that is suggestive in this chapter, Patterson has a way of throwing out possibilities that the reader might think she will develop later but that she never seem to. We are thus left with possible readings of Philippians for which we seem to lack sufficient evidence to embrace.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Review 4: The Meaning of Sacrifice

The reading of Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast continues. Previous chapters reviewed include:
1. Chapter 3 is titled, "Sacrifice as an Object of Study." This chapter reviews scholarship on sacrifice in the modern era. The key take-aways from the chapter are, first of all, a distinction between sacrifices as practiced by the ordinary person and sacrifices as competing "literate cultic specialists" vied to win others over to their particular emphasis in interpreting sacrifice. Paul is one such person vying for his interpretation.

The chief voices in his way of analyzing ancient sacrifice are Stanley Stowers and Daniel Ullucci. As for the ordinary person taking part in sacrifice, both Stowers and Ullucci see the practice as grounded in basic human practices of reciprocity. The precise nature of that reciprocity could vary from context to context.

Then religious professionals competed with one another on what deeper significance sacrifice might have. What they were not arguing about, Patterson suggests, is whether to sacrifice or not. These literate religious specialists tended either toward the conservation of traditions or innovative reinterpretation. "Christianity," she says, "had its beginnings in an intellectual reexamination and reinterpretation within Judaism, as an outcome of criticism of the collusion of first-century Jewish leadership with Rome. The letters of Paul are an artifact of this 'entrepreneurial' intellectual reassessment" (75).

2. As a potential critique, she has repeatedly claimed that Paul did not see Christ's metaphorical sacrifice as entailing an end to sacrifice. It seems clear to me that this claim fits well with her repeated sense that using sacrifice as a metaphor did not imply the rejection of the practice of sacrifice. However, although I agree with her, she has offered very little in terms of actual argument to this end so far.

We catch our first glimpse in footnote 56 on page 79. "In the case of Paul, I am assuming that if it still made sense to portray Paul as participating in the Jerusalem cult by the time Acts was composed, then he most likely did continue to participate in sacrifices when he was in Jerusalem." I agree, but this bare footnote so far seems her only actual argument to that end.

3. By siding with Stowers and Ullucci, Patterson rejects the quest for a single essential meaning for sacrifice. She sides with Bruce Chilton in concluding that "there is no global explanation for the whole phenomenon" (73). By contrast, the quest for an essential meaning is reflected in the various scholars she analyzes in the first part of the chapter, along with the central idea each suggests: Edward Burnett Tylor (gift-giving), Robertson Smith (totemism), Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss (proxy for death of offerer), Mary Douglas (ordering the world), René Girard (mimetic desire for violence), Nancy Jay (reinforcing patriarchy), William Beers (male identity formation), and Marcel Detienne (cuisine to enforce political power).

She also rejects all evolutionary schema that create hierarchies of more or less advanced understandings (e.g., Tylor) or more or less spiritualized understandings (e.g., Stephen Finlan). A given text may manifest multiple "levels" at the same time (78). Nevertheless, she believes that the varied suggestions of all these scholars may give the interpreter of someone like Paul "an ear for some of the entailments of sacrifice that might otherwise be hard for a nonsacrificer to discern" (80). "When sacrifice is used as a metaphor, these are some of the entailments that will either be heightened or masked in the use of the metaphor."

Review 3: Jewish and Greco-Roman Sacrifice

I continue to read Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast today. Previous chapters reviewed include:
1. Chapter 2 is titled, "Sacrifice as Greco-Roman and Jewish Practice." In this chapter she looks at what she has called the "entailments" of sacrificial metaphor both in broader Greco-Roman and in specifically Jewish sacrificial practices. The audiences both at Corinth and Philippi participated in both symbolic universes. As Gentiles, the Greco-Roman entailments of sacrifice were their cultural default.

Paul was of course enculturating them to more specifically Jewish entailments, although the two were not at all entirely distinct. Paul was "grounding his communities in a Jewish matrix of meaning" (35). On the whole, "the sacrificial metaphors he uses are intended to underscore the invitation to the Gentiles to become part of the people of the Jewish God, YHWH" (36).

2. The metaphors of sacrifice in Philippians, Patterson argues, had the greater degree of overlap between the Jewish and Greco-Roman frames of reference. In Philippians, the shelamim or thank offerings of Judaism overlapped significantly with the predominant nature of Greco-Roman sacrifices as commensal in nature. That is, Greco-Roman sacrifices provided an opportunity for celebration and feasting with the god in question.

Patterson spends several pages exploring the general functions of sacrifice in the Greco-Roman world, which she effectively divides into two categories: commensal sacrifices and covenant sacrifices, the first of which was by far the most common. She also notes the critique of sacrifice that existed in the Greco-Roman world.

In the commensal sacrifice, a portion of the meat is offered to the god, followed by a communal meal filled with merriment and joy. Thus, "Greek sacrifices had mainly to do with cuisine" (57), and some descriptions of Greek sacrifice almost sound like recipes. In such celebrations, "the boundary between human beings and the gods seems to disappear" (38). The god joins the celebration.

Less commonly, what some call "covenantal" sacrifices have to do with moments where a covenant is either made or broken. In such cases, the violence of sacrifice is highlighted, an element missing from the commensal sacrifice. "The consequence of a broken oath are shame and violent death for the perpetrator, and these consequences radiate out from him to all his family" (42), Patterson notes of what would happen to a person who might break covenant with Zeus in The Iliad.

Some have of course seen parallels in some Greek critiques of sacrifice to Paul's sacrificial language. Yet even a philosopher like Epicurus, who did not believe that the Greek gods were real, saw sacrifices as central to civic and public life. One of Patterson's central claims in this book is that "Paul's use of cultic metaphors relies upon the power of the practice, not upon its denigration" (43). "Paul was using metaphors of sacrifice at the same time that he participated in the cult itself" (48).

4. Next she turns to the Jewish sacrificial system. Patterson argues that while the whole burnt offering of the Jewish system has pride of place in the thinking of the priestly layer of the Jewish Scriptures, the shelamim reflected a much more "customary form of sacrifice in actual practice, the offering most frequently experienced by Jews" (47). Another central thesis of the book is that "when Paul refers to sacrifice in Philippians, without any qualifier, it is my contention that his repeated language of rejoicing suggests that he has the shelamim in mind" (47).

Some of the entailments of sacrifices of thanksgiving were festive joy and celebration. They reflected the whole-hearted dedication of the offerer and an intimate relationship with God and one's community. There was often a fragrance associated with them. These entailments "communicate metaphorically across a wide spectrum of ancient cultic experience" (53) and thus made thank-offerings an effective image for Paul to use with the Philippians.

5. The chapter ends with a discussion of the entailments of the more specifically Jewish sacrifice made at Passover. At its root, the sacrifice was probably apotropaic in nature, used to avert evil forces (56). In that sense it has some of the nature of a covenant sacrifice. It thus reinforces the dangers of breaking the covenant and binds together the people of Israel as a unified whole (57). Although the rite may have originally taken place in and around people's homes, at the time of Paul it took place in the Temple courts.

In that sense, there may be a stronger connection than might at first appear between the Passover metaphor of 1 Corinthians 5 and Paul's claim that the Corinthians are a temple of the Lord. The joining of Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread suggests an entailment of purity concern connected with the Passover metaphor. Other entailments of the Passover metaphor are those of liberation and of return to faithfulness.

Seminary CM2: The Making of Meaning

This is the second post on the Contexts of Ministry  in my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom for the previous posts in this unit, "The Person and Contexts of a Minister." I have completed one other unit in this series, The Pastor as Leader.
1. It is natural for us as humans to assume that the meaning of things is generally intrinsic to both words and the world. Of course these meanings are not obvious to a child. A child is constantly learning the meanings that their context assigns to words and things. By the time we reach a certain point of maturity, we know these meanings and eventually assume that they are obvious and innately attached to words and things.

What has really happened, though, is that we have become more or less unreflective about the meaning of things. [1] The assigning of meaning to words, to things, and to events is a similar process with some differences. In each case, these meanings are largely assigned by our contexts. To a great extent they are not "in" the words or things themselves.

A red light means to stop not because there is something intrinsic to the color red that means stop but because our context has assigned that meaning to the color. Now, there is no doubt a history here. We can imagine that the background here is the fact that our blood is red and that bleeding signifies potential danger to our health. Thus red means stop or red means danger.

But it would not have to be that way. I have never had the thought of the previous paragraph my whole life of fifty years until this morning. There are probably cultures where red is just another color. There could be a culture where red could mean "go" for some reason. And in any case, while history often leaves traces, it plays no determinative role in what things mean today. Past meaning does not determine present meaning. To say otherwise is to commit the etymological fallacy.

So meaning in the present is always "synchronic" (a matter of today and the interrelations of current meaning), even though current meaning developed "diachronically" (that is, over time from the past).

2. There can of course be a basis for meaning in the world itself. Blood is an aspect of the world, and it absorbs certain light frequencies by nature. The use of red to signify a danger thus has a basis in the world itself even though the meaning of the word "red" and the significance of a red light are in no way fixed by that real world origin.

Words may have originated in human culture as pictures of sorts, as we see with Egyptian hieroglyphics. There may originally have been a resemblance between words and the things to which they referred. However, language has become far richer than mere references to things, as we will mention below.

There do seem to be some basic categories of reality that suggest common items of interest for any culture or language. Aristotle suggested ten such categories. To give my own modified list, these include:
  • quantity (how much)
  • objective characteristics (shape, color, hardness, etc)
  • location in space (where)
  • location in time (when)
  • relationship (to environment)
In addition, we can give a number of possible relationships between a thing and its context or between one thought and another:
  • recurrence (the same thing again)
  • sameness
  • difference
  • general followed by particulars
  • particulars ending with general
  • preparation
  • conclusion
  • cause to effect
  • effect to an explanation or substantiation of cause 
This small number of categories and relationships do seem to be intrinsic to the world and thus give an objective basis for language and the assignment of meaning by culture. However, the ways in which human beings create language and assign such meanings varies widely from people group to people group. They provide a certain objective framework for reality, within which individual and group subjectivity reign supreme.

3. The meaning of words is overwhelmingly a matter of use in a context. [2] Words are not mere referents to things. To what thing does the word is refer? What about righteousness? Words change meaning over time as contexts begin to use them in new ways and stop using them in old ways.

Even when words do point to things, they do so according to the meanings assigned to those things by the culture in question. The word dog may refer to a certain objective species in the world, but the significance of a dog can vary widely between Malibu, California, sub-Saharan Africa, and China.

Words do things. [3] They do not merely inform. They also command, promise, warn, marry people, make you a minister, and many many more things. These functions of words are assigned by contexts. They always have some basis in history, but their present meaning is entirely a matter of how words are being used now.

This understanding of the meaning of words obviously has great significance for our understanding of the Bible. The Bible does not have one meaning from God to all times and all places. That is just not how words work. Anyone who thinks this way mistakenly is assuming that people in all other contexts have understood the same meaning to words, things, and events as they understand. This is not only mistaken but is ludicrous to the highest level of cultural ignorance.

There are meanings to words, events, and things that at least approach universal significance (e.g., love) but even here there would be significant difference in how love plays out. A key is to recognize that universal meaning, to the extent that it exists, exists because of commonality between contexts, not because any meaning transcends context. That is to say, context is still determinative of meaning in such cases. Universal meaning results only from the fact that something means the same thing in all contexts.

4. You can see that the distinction between "denotation" and "connotation" is blurred once language is more accurately understood. There is no clear line between "what a word means" and "the overtones a word has in a particular context." There is really only "what a word means in a context." Nevertheless, when words do refer to things (e.g., dog), we can make a rough distinction between the denotation of the word (its objective referent) and its connotations.

Metaphor opens up the door for a seemingly limitless possible number of new meanings that take place as we compare two things that are not the same. Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) spoke of the dual "is" and "is not" nature of metaphors. By comparing a person to an island, I suggest new ways of thinking about a person by comparing him or her to something quite different.

Because metaphor and figurative language opens up worlds of meaning that move beyond the literal, they are incredibly appropriate for God, who cannot be captured in literal language. He is, at least in some ways, unfathomable because he is infinite. We can much more easily speak of what he is like than of what he is. Even to use the word "he" is to use an analogy to understand him. He has no genitalia, male or female.

We are thus seeing some principles. The Bible must be incarnated revelation. Since words only have clear meanings in contexts, the Bible must be a collection of instances of God meeting specific people in specific contexts. Yes, the Bible gives us understandings that are common to all human contexts, but the more we understand context, the smaller this set of understandings becomes. All of Scripture is cultural because all meaning is contextual.

Second, we best understand God when we move beyond the literal to the figurative, analogical, and metaphorical. To have the opposite focus is the path to conceptual idolatry, where we mistake our literal sense of God for the God who is beyond finding out. Many a theological misstep comes when we mistake what is anthropomorphic in Scripture for the literal. Similarly, theology is most accurately found in the synthesis of revelation, not in individual instances of revelation. We inevitably construct our theology in the interstices of individual revelations.

4. Cultures not only assign meanings to words. Cultures also assign meanings to things, events, and actions. Again, there are some universal categories and relationships, as mentioned above. But within this framework, there is great variety. So time is common to all cultures, but how time is understood varies. There is nothing intrinsic to reality that says "coming at the precisely set time is virtuous." If everyone in a particular culture knows that 9 o'clock really means 10 o'clock-ish, then that is the proper understanding of time in that place. 10 o'clock-ish becomes "being on time." To think otherwise is simply to reveal that you have never really left your own cultural context. [4]

David Hume (1711-76) pointed out that there is often no intrinsic relationship between facts and values. The "morality" of a culture often varies from the morality of other cultures. In fact, the word morality comes from a Latin word that means "customs." [5] So it is wrong to eat cat in America, but it may not be wrong to eat cat somewhere else. You will look vainly to the Bible for a word from the Lord on this one. It is simply a matter of culture.

There are of course often explanations for why cultures develop certain moralities. It is my contention that animals that we humanize become "unclean" to eat. Westerners generally don't eat horses because they are our coworkers. Dogs and cats can almost be like children. Indians do not eat cow because they may be reincarnated relatives.

For ancient Israel, pigs were the animals of the Philistines and other enemies who served other gods. This fact is far more likely the reason for its prohibition than because of hygiene. Once these enemies no longer existed, the New Testament had no problem now allowing believers to eat pork. Paul himself gives the principle: "I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean" (Rom. 14:14, NIV).

There are of course universal rights and wrongs. Truthfulness is a universal value. Protecting life is a universal value. You can see that these values have their basis in the more fundamental law of love. The scope of this value is revealed in Scripture. It is universal. But the fundamental value of love is intrinsic to humanity. We are built to love our children and our group.

5. These thoughts should provide an adequate starting point for discussing ministry in contexts. The basic thrust is to realize that the meanings of words and things is much less fixed than we generally think at first. In reaction to this reality, the twentieth century saw some backlash. Predictably, "push-back scholarship" developed against the idea of "contextualization," the idea that we should present the message of the gospel in terms that fit the context in which we are presenting it.

For example, you may have heard rhetoric about absolutes and relativism. This rhetoric is usually ideologically sloppy in the extreme and basically serves to protect the default culture of whoever is speaking. It thus is self-serving and group-serving rather than God-serving. It is sloppy because it often confuses forms with substance, ideas with their application, and scope with existence.
  • So the claim that one item is relative does not imply that all items are relative.
  • Everyone is a "relativist" on some issues (e.g., how much you should eat) and even "nihilist" on some (what color jello should you get for lunch).
  • There can be exceptions to a rule without the rule ceasing to be universal.
  • Questions of absolute truth are different from questions of absolute ethics.
Let's just say that the rhetoric you sometimes hear on such issues is usually embarrassingly ignorant. In the end, some issues are relative (as Paul says in Romans 14) and some are not. We have to do the hard work of thinking and working together to figure out which is which. Dismissing something by slapping a label on something is a tool of the mindless looking for an excuse not to change.

Next Sunday: Contexts 3: Cultural Intelligence

[1] You might say that we have become "pre-moderns." This language has been used to assign meaning to history, considering the period before Descartes in the 1600s a pre-modern period. Then from the 1600s to the 1900s is the modernist period, followed by the post-modern era that began in the late 1900s. This is of course yet another attempt to assign meaning to things, in this case history. It is a gross oversimplification, even if loosely connected to people and events of the past and present.

[2] A key figure here is Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), who suggested that the meaning of a word depends on what "language game" we are playing in what "form of life."

[3] The key figure here, building on Wittgenstein, is J. L. Austin (1911-60).

[4] It is significant to realize that many missionaries of the past may never have fully left the United States culturally. I venture to say that there have been many missionaries who lived decades in a foreign country and even may have died on the mission field without ever really gaining true cultural understanding. The culture in which they worked remained a funny curiosity over which they were always superior and in which they never fully participated. What they took to be the Bible may have been little more than the cultural understanding of the Bible they had before they left America. They simply created a colony of their home culture in a different location.

Similarly, those who serve overseas in the military or who make frequent business trips overseas usually do not gain much of a cultural understanding of the locations they are in. They live in little islands of America, often do not learn the language, and may only interact with the surrounding culture on their own terms. Like those who go on short term mission trips, such individuals often think they now know another culture while in reality they never really left home culturally.

[5] The word morality certainly no longer means customs in my cultural context. Past meaning does not determine present meaning.

The Calling of a Minister
The Person of a Pastor
Contexts of Ministry