Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Indexing for a world class scholar

Two students here at IWU recently worked with me to do the author and sources indexes for James Dunn's forthcoming third volume in his Christianity in the Making series. This book is going to be fantastic!

First, insert my usual grumbling that the average New Testament scholar these days doesn't measure up to the historical knowledge of previous generations. As universities shut down their biblical studies programs, as theological interpretation rules the day, as ideological pockets of Christianity multiply their Bible training programs and democratize its meaning, hard core historical interpretation increasingly becomes the province of a small cadre of largely irrelevant scholars. This trend won't hurt the church much probably in the short term, although interpretation that doesn't keep at least an eye on the historical has a tendency to go off the rails (arguably what happened in the medieval Catholic church).

As I looked over all the historical sources that Dunn engages in this volume, I was reminded what you have to know truly to be a world class expert on the Bible. I leave this post with a small taste of the categories:
  • The books of the OT and the NT
  • The Apocrypha (Sirach, Wisdom, etc...)
  • Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (e.g., 1 Enoch, Aristeas, etc...)
  • Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Philo and Josephus
  • Mishnah, Talmud, Rabbinic Literature
  • Apostolic Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, etc...)
  • Nag Hammadi and Gnostic Literature
  • New Testament Apocrypha (Acts of Paul, Apostolic Constitutions, etc...)
  • Early Christian Writers (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, etc...)
  • Early Greek and Roman Writers (Plato, Tacitus, etc...)
  • Papyri and Fragments (e.g., Oxyrhynchus papyri)
A good historical scholar of the New Testament will know what all these are and know the primary passages where they potentially intersect with the New Testament.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fascination with Pope

Some real quick thoughts this morning. On Saturday night, I found myself saying, "For a moment in time, America seems really enamored with the Pope. Why?"

[BTW, Keith Drury re-posted this document some of us at IWU created a few years back on the Catholic Catechism. It points out the places where, say, Wesleyans would differ from Catholics. You can also see that most of the document has no comments. We should also keep in mind that the RCC today also differs quite a bit after Vatican 2 in the 1960s than before. See, for example, this joint statement on justification by faith by both Catholics and Lutherans.]

So why is America enamored with the Pope? My first two points are trivial. But the second two may hold out some thoughts for us as the church in America.

1. Star power
We are enamored with any superstar. I'd probably go to the White House if any President invited me, even if I strongly disagreed with him or her.

2. Catholic pride
There are a lot of nominal Catholics out there who don't agree with the Pope, but they grew up Catholic. This would include a significant number of people in the media.

3. The Pope's humility and confidence
The Pope is clear in what he believes, but he isn't pushy. It's at this point that I began to wonder. There is a place for pushy prophets. But I wonder if the point where America is ripe for revival right now is churches with a confident yet non-pushy humility. It seems clear to me that much of America is enamored with this man who is so confident and yet so loving and so humble.

I wonder if this is a point for revival. The revival point in America right now might not be with the pushy prophets, who could actually be pushing people in the direction of hell right now. Is it possible that some souls will be lost who might otherwise have been saved because of what are perceived to be angry, pushy people?

4. The Pope's message is attractive.
Call it liberal, but the message of love toward all, forgiveness toward sinners, helping the poor, showing mercy to the immigrant, stewarding the environment seems to be an attractive message to a lot of non-Christian Americans. And of course while there are some Christians who decry these as Devilish, there are also a lot of Christians who would say these are actually the core of the Bible.

I wonder if it is thus from some "liberal" direction of this sort that the next great American revival will come. Revival never comes from where we expect it. We want it to come from where it came before.

Bottom line: Saturday night I found myself wondering if the Pope's popularity revealed that there was actually still a spiritual longing in America. I found myself wondering if America is actually ripe for a revival, but one that will come from the "wrong" place.

We'll see.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Notes on 1 Peter (2:11-3:7) = controversy!

For the last three weeks I've been presenting on 1 Peter at College Wesleyan Church. Last week, for example, was on 1 Peter 1:3-2:10. Last night we looked at what are to me the difficult chapters, chaps 2-3.

1. Inevitably, we processed them in the light of America's situation and also Steve Deneff's sermon series that he's doing on being in exile.

Several very interesting thoughts emerged that I wanted to capture before they slipped out of my porous mind. The first is something that I've encountered before in Joel Green's commentary on 1 Peter and now in Abson Joseph's work as well. This is the idea that we are slaves to God but really free when it comes to our oppressors and the powers of the world (2:16).

In a couple key places, 1 Peter uses the Greek middle voice (2:18; 3:1), which can have the connotation of doing something to yourself--"submit yourselves to." In other words, submission in 1 Peter is not about being helplessly enslaved but it is about a free believer choosing to submit him or herself to a master or unbelieving husband as an act of the will, even though those to whom we are submitting are unjust.

So in 2:18 it is the household servant choosing to submit to an unjust master. Then in chapter 3 a wife is willingly submitting to a possibly unbelieving husband.

2. But probably the most generative thoughts of the night were the fact that different books of the Bible speak more powerfully to different times and places. So 1 Peter speaks especially to a situation where it is God's will for us to submit to powers that are oppressive or unjust. We spoke of Joshua as an example of a kind of text that might speak to a time when the church needs to fight and take action.

We used the example of the 1840s before the Civil War in America. That was not a time for Christians to be focusing on 1 Peter but rather a time for them to be reading Joshua.

How do we know what time it is? We only know for sure in hindsight. In Deuteronomy 18:22, we know whether someone is a false prophet by whether their prophecy comes true. In the same way, we will know whether the "fighters" in the church or the "submitters" are right in time.

I also suggested that if the Spirit is in believers, then we might look for trends in the church. My Facebook feed is divided over Kim Davis. I think she should have submitted. Others think she should fight. The church is divided. Which way is the Church moving? In hindsight we may have better clarity on who the true and who the "false prophets" were.

3. Another thought Steve Deneff had was that sometimes God has a 1 Peter role for one person and a Joshua role for another person, even in the same time. I remembered what someone in an African-American class in Indy said to me about the Civil Rights struggle. He believed that African-Americans would not have won that struggle if there had not been both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, that it took both the fighters and the submitters for culture to change.

It was an interesting thought that I won't pursue further, but unfortunately it does seem sometimes that it takes a slap in the face to get the dominant culture's attention when it is unthinkingly oppressing a minority.

4. I don't remember who first suggested that the inspiration of Scripture is best thought of not as one voice for all times but as a collection of voices, some of which speak more powerfully in some times and places than others. The miracle is that this diverse collection of text stands ready to speak poignantly even though the situations of history can vary drastically.

The unreflective reader does not realize that he or she is focusing on different passages than other Christians have at other times. They do not realize that 1 Peter is speaking more poignantly to them than Joshua at that time. The unreflective reader does not realize that he or she is hearing certain passages differently than others have heard them in other times and places.

But this is the miracle of inspiration, not that all the books say the same thing, but that they say different things, all of which speak directly at some time.

So are we living in the days of 1 Peter or the days of Joshua?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wesley Seminary passes 500!

So exited to see Wesley Seminary at IWU pass the 500 mark this month! That puts it in the top 20 seminaries in the Association of Theological Schools (the average seminary is only about 155 students).

Amazing kudos to President Wayne Schmidt (I'm just going to call him that ;-), Dean Dave Smith, and Aaron Wilkinson, who is
(he called the event, pictured in the middle).

President David Wright reminisced on some of the questions the Seminary had to answer when it began. Would the whole church accept it or would it be more an IWU regional seminary? Wayne Schmidt in command guaranteed that the whole church would claim it for its own.

Then there were those who suggested it might not have girth because most of it is online. Man, do those voices sound like pre-Industrial Revolution curmudgeons now. I dare anyone who thinks it's light weight to take a class... hands down more demanding than the classes at _________ (insert name of your seminary here).

Aaron did a great job of thanking all the players at IWU who make everything possible. It was a LONG list! When President Wright got up, he joked that the list of people it takes to run the place is almost as many as the 500 students Wesley now has.

So many congrats to Wesley, to Wayne, Aaron, the faculty, staff, and new Dean Dave Smith, who is fixing all the problems I left with magnificent skill!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Augustine's De doctrina Christiana: My Take-Aways

I wanted to bring closer to this walk through Augustine's book with some final notes.

Book 1
"Anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them" (86).

This concept would seem to me to be the most important one in Book 1. All the ethical requirements of God for humanity are summed up in "love God, love neighbor." If we truly understood this double love command, then we would not even need the Scriptures to know how to live in this world, for everything the Scriptures command us are summed up in them.

Where I would critique Augustine is that he does not have a firm sense of historical meaning. Although we do not have full access to the original meanings of the books of the Bible, the most likely method to know them is not theological but historical-cultural. Augustine advocates a method that fiddles with the meanings of the biblical texts if they do not fit with the love of God or orthodoxy (the rule of faith). He is right about appropriation, but not about interpretation.

The texts meant what they meant in history. We can't change that. From a standpoint of truth, we best let them mean what they seem to have meant and then live in that tension. Augustine basically advocates a method of retrofitting the original meaning to suit his theology.

But Augustine is completely sound when it comes to appropriating the biblical texts. We must always appropriate them through the filter of Jesus' double love command.

Book 2
"A person who is good and a true Christian should realize that truth belongs to the Lord, wherever it is found." (72)

Augustine deals with the clear passages of Scripture in Book 2. There is much that I believe needs critiqued in Book 2. He has an inferior understanding of how language works ("picture theory"). He will develop his method of "fiddling" with the interpretation of texts in Books 2 and 3. Book 2 deals with signs of which we are ignorant, Book 3 with signs that are ambiguous.

I have quoted above a theme that he follows through much of Book 2, namely, that there is validity in much study outside of the Bible, including knowledge gained from logic, history, and science. In the end of the Book, however, I think he approaches taking it away: "What a person learns independently of scripture is condemned there if it is harmful, but found there if it is useful" (151).

There are all sorts of caveats to the notion that "All truth is God's truth." But the basic principle is sound, even if the application is complicated. (Another key element in this Book, BTW, is Augustine's canon list, from the 390s before the Lateran Council of Carthage that set that NT canon for the West.)

Book 3
First we must consult “the rule of faith, as it is perceived through the plainer passages of the scriptures and the authority of the church.” (3)

Book 3 deals with ambiguous texts in Scripture. Here we find the principle to let the clear passages interpret the unclear ones. From the standpoint of historical consciousness, again, this approach is pre-reflective. The texts meant what they meant in history. You cannot change the meaning of a text from one period by a text from another.

However, in the age of hermeneutics, we shift the principle to our appropriation of Scripture. We focus on texts that are "clear" in the light of Christian consensus.

It is more difficult to identify exactly how we can identify exactly what the contents of the "rule of faith" are. Augustine seems to follow a principle that looked to the most prominent churches of his day in Book 1. Someone might say, "the Bible is the rule of faith," but the function of the rule of faith is to help us know how to prioritize biblical material. So do we go with frequency, trajectory, centrality of the biblical teaching? How would we establish centrality?

Orthodoxy seems to require some sense of trajectory, especially on issues like the Trinity or the nature of Christ. The consensus of Christendom is a possible move here--what have the majority of Christians believed throughout the centuries? Formulating a biblical theology is a corporate, spiritual art that resists any easy or straightforward formula.

Book 4
Book 4 is about the delivery of the word of God in preaching.

"It is the duty, then, of the interpreter and teacher of Holy Scripture, the defender of the true faith and the opponent of error, both to teach what is right and to refute what is wrong, and in the performance of this task to conciliate the hostile, to rouse the careless, and to tell the ignorant both what is occurring at present and what is probable in the future."

Clearly Augustine thinks that substance--both in content and in the person of the preacher--is more important than the style or form of delivery. But having said that, Augustine fully supports the use of good rhetoric in presentation. In keeping with the three forms of ancient rhetoric (forensic, epideictic, and deliberative), Augustine sees the three different goals of speech as to teach, to give pleasure, and persuasiveness. Good speaking in each case respectively are clarity, beauty, and persuasiveness.

Wisdom, he says, is more important than eloquence. He urges prayer before speaking, and indicates that the character of the preacher is important if there is hope for the audience to heed the words.

Perhaps the most controversial point he argues is that some biblical passages shouldn't be preached because they are difficult. This flies in the face of current thinking, but I think he has more of a case than you might think at first. For example, imprecatory psalms may show us that it is okay to be angry and I could see myself preaching from one, but the law of Christ suggests we should not dwell on them.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

SA6: The Scriptures are a sacrament of God's transformation.

This is the sixth post on sacraments in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. This third set is on sacraments.
The Scriptures are a sacrament of God's transformation.

1. It is true that we find information in the pages of the Bible. The books of the Bible are a witness to the most important moments in God's interaction with humanity, not least when he came to earth in the person of Jesus the Christ, died for the sins of the world, and rose again victoriously as king.

In the pages of the books of the Bible we thus hear about the most important events of salvation's history. We hear about how God walked with Israel and the earliest Church. We learn of his character and attributes. We hear about the instruction that he gave them. We hear about the hope and promises he gave them.

There is a fundamental continuity in the people of God. As Israel was the people of God and the earliest believers were the people of God, so are we still the people of God. Their story is our story. The love he showed them is a love he also has for us. The hope that God gave them promises hope still to us. The future of salvation that he promised them is still our promise.

2. To be sure, there are also differences. The words that God spoke to them were first of all words for them. Words only have meanings in contexts, and the original meanings were rich in context. [1] The instructions, warnings, and even the frameworks of thinking in the Bible had much to do with the contexts in which they were spoken and revealed. Only the Spirit can guarantee that we will appropriate them well without taking such distance into account.

The default reader is unaware of such distance. The default is to try to make sense of the words of the Bible using the definitions in our heads--which come from our current world--and then to apply them as best we can make sense to today. The Spirit and the Church are crucial elements in this equation if we have any hope of applying the Bible in this way in a helpful way.

The Spirit helps our weakness. He guides us into truth. The Spirit has already helped the Church develop a kind of intuition about the kinds of things the Bible might or might not say. This is one of the crucial roles the Church plays--developing our intuitions for the reading and appropriating of Scripture. The two greatest intuitions are the "law of love" and the "rule of faith."

3. The law of love is nothing other than Jesus' summary of all God's expectations for humanity. Love God with all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. Every ethical expectation God has of us falls into this two-fold command. All Christian ethics is summed up therein. Jesus said so (e.g., Matt. 7:12; 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-33). Paul said so (Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10). John says so (1 John 4:7-8). James implies as much (Jas. 2:8).

If we understood this love command, we would not need any other Scripture to tell us how to live in this world. How are we to act toward others in this world? We are to act for the good of others, whether they are our friend or enemy (e.g., Matt. 5:43-48). We are not to act in a harmful way toward others. Any attempt to employ the Bible in a way to justify unloving action toward others is simply a misapplication of the Bible, no matter how clear we may think it is.

To love God is to submit entirely to his authority. It is to do everything to his glory (e.g., Col. 3:17). There is a tendency to use the supposed love of God to justify doing unloving things toward our neighbor. There is a tendency to use the supposed love of God to place meaningless restrictions on others because it is "just the way God intended things to be." We should soundly reject the first and strongly question the second.

4. The rule of faith is the "right belief" or understanding that God has unfolded both in the Bible and in the Church. Jesus is the "last word," the final revelation of God's character and will. The New Testament is simply the unfolding of that final word, and the Spirit continued to unfold that basic understanding in the early Church. We find these basic insights in the early creeds of the Church, especially in the Apostle's and Nicene creeds. They clarified God's existence as a Trinity and the way in which Christ's humanity and divinity relate to each other.

There are other common agreements that God developed in the early days after Christ. Which books are the Christian Scriptures? The Scriptures themselves do not answer this question. It was in the first four centuries of the Church that God clarified the New Testament canon, or collection of books that give authoritative witness to Christ. Other issues of consensus include a belief that God created the universe out of nothing, that we will be conscious in Christ's presence between our death and the resurrection, and that we will spend eternity on a new earth. [2]

These intuitions, along with intuitions that come from the various branches of Christianity to which we belong, are always present when we read the Bible. They influence the direction in which we take the words. If we are Baptist, we will steer our interpretations in certain ways. If we are Wesleyan, we steer them another. If we are Lutheran or Reformed, we will have yet another set of boundaries.

These traditions influence us even when we are in a non-denominational church. We never simply "just read the Bible and do what it says." To think so is merely to show that we are unaware of the traditional influences on us.

5. So God first spoke through the words of the books of the Bible to the people of God in the past. And the Spirit uses the Bible to speak to people in the present, even when they are not aware of the fact that they may be reading the Bible with different meanings than those words had originally.

The process of determining what these words originally meant is largely a science. It requires us to read words in their literary and historical contexts. There will almost always be some ambiguity and polyvalence to the words in their literary context. And we lack sufficient historical evidence and understanding to know the meaning of the words against their historical context with certainty. We will also always have some degree of unreflectivity about the role our own presuppositions and preunderstandings play in what we think the text meant.

So, although the process of historical interpretation may be somewhat of a science, it rarely yields results that are absolutely certain.

By contrast, the process of connecting biblical texts together and appropriating them for today is not a science. It is, rather, a spiritual and corporate task. We could know the original meaning of a verse for certain and still not know exactly how to appropriate that specific verse for today. This leads us to two important caveats.

The first is that the appropriation of Scripture for today is a "whole Bible" task. Given the contextual nature of individual verses, we are least secure in the appropriation of the Bible to today when we operate on the level of individual verses. We need to locate all individual verses within the context of the "whole counsel of God" and thus the whole of Scripture. The Bible by and large does not tell us how to locate one book in relation to another. This is a task we are forced to do from the outside looking on.

The second caveat is the recognition that since the books of the Bible addressed "that time" (or, better yet, "their times"), the task of connecting it with our time and our context is again a task we are forced to do from the outside looking on. The Bible itself does not directly tell us how to apply it to today. Thus it is important to read the Bible as reflectively as possible and it is very important to read the Bible in communities of faith, where individual whims and fancies are less likely to dominate.

6. All that precedes might still look to the Bible for information--information about what is true, information about how to live. When we look at the Bible in this way, there is the danger that we would look at the Bible as something for us to master. We gain knowledge. We gain power. We might be able to label all the parts, like a dissected frog. [3]

When we read the Bible as Christian Scripture, it becomes a tool of transformation in the hands of God. As Scripture, God is the one meeting us in these words. We must be careful about thinking that the Bible has intrinsic authority, just as we must be careful of thinking that the water of baptism or the bread of communion has intrinsic power. The authority behind Scripture is the authority of God. It is a derivative authority.

If our reading of the Bible does not move beyond itself to the real God (not merely to our ideas about God), then the Bible has only lead us to shadowy images of truth, not to the truth itself.

An atheist might be able to master the science of interpretation. Indeed, an atheist might imagine what the meaning might be if Christian presuppositions were true. An atheist could possibly be a much better interpreter of the original meaning of the Bible than some Christian.

However, the Bible is not Scripture to such a person. That person has not surrendered to the transformation of God through these words. The Spirit does not normally transform these words to become the word of God for that person. [4]

As Scripture, God does much more through the words of the Bible than merely inform. True, God does inform us of his nature, of our story, of our destiny, of the way to live. But much more important is the fact that he changes us. He makes us more loving. He makes us hopeful. He purges our tears and anger. He leads his Church. He leads us in the way we should go.

7. A sacrament is a divinely appointed instrument that God uses to give us grace. Since the Spirit led Israel and then the Church to collect these writings together, God has used them to speak to and transform his people. When we submit to God as we read the Scriptures, he uses them to make us more like him. He reveals to us what he is like and, thereby, what we are to be like in the world.

Next week: SA7: Christians vary somewhat in their conceptions of Scripture.

[1] An older approach to language saw words as signs that pointed to things (e.g., Augustine in De doctrina christiana) or as signs that point to things signified (Ferdinand de Saussure) or a sense that pointed to a reference (Gottlob Frege). With this approach, there is the possibility to see words as timeless in meaning, for you might think that the things to which the words point do not change.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, however, recognized that it is more accurate to say that words "do" things. They are tools. And to know what a word does, you have to know the context in which the word is being used and the "game" the person uttering/writing the word is playing. The same word thus can have very many different meanings, because the same words can be used to do different things in different contexts. Similarly, the use of a word to a listener/reader can be different than the one the utterer/author intended.

This reality explains the wide diversity of interpretations of the Bible even though its readers are reading the same words. It also demonstrates that any approach to the Bible that assumes its words have one meaning that applies equally to all times and places is "pre-reflective." Words just do not work like that.

[2] Christians do disagree on such things from time to time. Such disagreements are not as crucial as disagreements on core beliefs about God and Christ.

[3] Joel Green uses this image in Seized by Truth (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007).

[4] Although God's prevenient grace can certainly draw them through Scripture. And the Spirit can certainly speak judgment to them through Scripture.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Biblical View of Economics 2

Yesterday I posted a worldview framework for my talk on a biblical view of economics. Here were more of my thoughts:

1. God created humanity to flourish, which included work and striving for excellence, for humanity to "be all it could be." God put Adam and Eve in the Garden and gave them the task of tending it. In Genesis 1, God gave Adam and Eve the charge to be fruitful and multiply, to excel on the earth. Psalm 8 speaks of the glory God created humanity to have in the creation.

How is it that Adam could sin when he didn't have a sin nature? How is it that Christ could be tempted when he didn't have a sin nature?

The best answer I can think of is that the desire for knowledge, the desire to excel, perhaps all human drives are not evil in themselves. They become evil when they are expressed in relation to an improper object or are expressed in an improper context, remembering that temptation itself is not sin.

So the drive to excel, even the competitive drive is not unchristian. You could argue that God created us with a drive to advance.

2. I really believe that communism might have worked prior to the Fall--"From each according to his ability; to each according to his need." Humanity was created with the drive to work. Before the Fall, they would have worked without need for reward. Before the Fall, they would have given without payment.

After the Fall, humanity's drive to work was marred. Now, some don't want to work at all. Others not only want to advance, but often advance over the backs of others. They sometimes even enjoy running other people over.

Capitalism was invented as an economic system by Adam Smith in the age of utilitarianism in England in the 1700s. The idea was that as sellers charged as much as they could in their own self-interest and buyers paid as little as they had to in their own self-interest, a system would develop "as if by an unseen hand" in which everyone's happiness was maximized.

Capitalism thus works best in a fallen world. It is based on human selfishness, as Ayn Rand wrote in The Virtue of Selfishness. She considered altruism immoral because it messed up a system that only maximized happiness when everyone acted in their own self-interest.

3. It is a strange thing, to suggest that a system based on fallen human nature might actually hold promise to bring about human thriving. But capitalism was designed to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number. In this fallen world, it is a structure that has the potential of maximizing "love for our neighbor."

[There are important caveats, however. Unbridled capitalism has not always proven to maximize happiness. As the Industrial Revolution took capitalism into new territory, instead of maximizing happiness, it made a few people very rich off the backs of a whole lot of workers. The Great Depression, the recent recession, are both examples of how unstable capitalism can be, especially if certain safeguards aren't put into place.]

[We are now entering new economic territory again in the age of artificial intelligence. IMO, the growing income disparity is just a small symptom of what is coming. Like the late 1800s, the new conditions will not only make a very few incomprehensibly wealthy, but the menial jobs that were available in the late 1800s won't exist any more even for the common person to be exploited. Those who own the intelligent machines that are coming will have all the wealth and there will be few jobs for the average person needed.]

[Those last two paragraphs weren't things I said yesterday.]

Of course the attempts at communism were arguably far worse. I was in Berlin in the mid-90s, and the difference between the vibrant West Berlin and the depressing East Berlin was more than obvious. The Soviet Union, North Korea, Eastern Europe are all testaments to the failure of communism as a modern system to achieve its intended goals. Even among Christian groups, communal experiences did not last much more than a generation.

So it would seem that the most "loving structure" in this current age, at least potentially, is ironically a capitalistic one based on selfishness, but with controls to make sure it does indeed bring about the greatest good for the greatest number.

4. An important caveat to this overall utilitarian structure is that the value of each individual must be taken into account. From a biblical, a Christian, and an American perspective (e.g., the Bill of Rights), every individual has worth. A benefit cannot be brought to the majority off the oppression of a minority any more than the Hutu can kill off the Tutsi tribe to maximize the majority's happiness.

From a Christian perspective, every life counts. Jesus wants to redeem every person and cares about every area of their existence, including their economic existence. For Christians in this age, justice is redemptive and protective. The wrath form of justice is God's business.

So there is no space for the Christian of this age to say, "They made their [economic] bed. Let them lie in it." There is a time for letting people experience the consequences of their actions, but only so that they might learn not to do it again or to protect those they might harm. There is no space for the Christian to watch someone die of hunger because "they deserve it."

So if a person is starving to death, we are obligated as Christians to give them a fish. Far more significant though is to teach them to fish or, as one person said, to provide them with a pond in which to fish. In many cases today, people need to be motivated to fish. Others have said we need to change their perspective toward fishing.

5. So here is an attempt to end with some basic guidelines for macro-economic structures that work toward a culture that maximizes human flourishing. [Note: This is different from what God expects of us as individuals or as churches.]
  • All individuals who are able should contribute something. Dependency may be temporarily necessary, but it becomes bondage if it is long-term. 
  • There are many paths of motivation. The baser ones have to do with self-interest and selfishness. Preferred are motivations based on common vision and a sense of identity.
  • No one should fall through the cracks. Everyone is important.
  • The goal of economic systems is the flourishing of all, not the wealth of a few.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Biblical View of Economics 1

I'm speaking this morning in Michigan on "Biblical Foundations for Faith, Work, and Economics: Human Flourishing and the Kingdom of God."

I start off with the basics of a Biblical Worldview, using some material I developed to present to a graduate class of Orthopedic Therapists at IWU. Here is the basic worldview piece of my presentation:

1. God exists and is involved in the world.
2. All human beings have intrinsic worth.
3. The world is not as it should be.
4. God has fixed, is fixing, and will fix the world through Christ--history has a direction.
5. In Scripture, God has revealed two foundational ethical absolutes.

My second slide then emphasizes that we should not think of worldviews here as ideas in a weak sense. By "views" I mean perspectives that are expressions of deep seated values and drives, what Jesus calls the "heart" in Mark 7. James 2 indicates how "dead" mere ideas are, even ideas about God. "Faith without works is dead" or we might say, "Belief that doesn't come from the heart is dead."

Our behaviors and habits flow from our loves, which we often try to express in words and ideas. There are also other very significant components to our view of the world--the way we tell our stories and the stories of others, as well as the key symbols and "rituals" of our lives.

I'll post more later...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Notes on 1 Peter (1:3-2:10)

1. Last night was the second of five nights on 1 Peter at College Wesleyan. Here was the confusing background diagram I drew:
The idea is that 1 Peter sees the current situation of the churches to which it is addressed as one of suffering and judgment. Peter looks forward to the coming revelation of Jesus Christ at his return to earth from heaven. That is the time of salvation (Salvation in 1 Peter, as in Paul, is a future event).

The inheritance for which they wait is on lay-away in heaven. It is kept in heaven for the time of Christ's return. They are being guarded as they wait for it. At that point their present sufferings will become glories.

2. But at present, they feel like foreigners in a hostile land. They are sojourning in fear (1:17). They are being purified through suffering. They are being tried like gold in a fire.

As an aside, it seems beyond reasonable doubt to me that the audience is primarily Gentile. A verse like 1:18, which calls their past a "foolish way of life handed down from your forefathers" makes no sense at all of a Jewish background, unless one doesn't understand that Judaism and Christianity were not yet two distinct religions. It is completely anachronistic to think that Peter would say that to Jews.

[Insert rant here about the sad state of biblical education in America right now from my perspective. It's not going to get better any time soon, IMO.]

I picture a Christianity that feels alone and isolated. I picture a Christianity that wonders where God is. It doesn't feel like he's around.

3. In this context, they are to be holy (1:16). In 1 Peter, this is not just being set apart, but implies a moral purity as well. It involves self-control (1:13). It involves pure love for others (1:22). They are to get rid of malice and hypocrisy (2:1).

There is also language that pictures the audience as a replacement temple. If Hebrews was written to Rome and 1 Peter was written from Rome, I muse in a forthcoming book if 1 Peter might have been influenced by Hebrews. Not something I want to die for, though.

So these Gentile believers are a holy priesthood who offer spiritual sacrifices (2:5, 9). They are a holy nation (2:9). If Roman oppression of Israel is part of the background of 1 Peter, this latter statement would also pop. Alas, there could be a richness here that our simple schemes won't let us explore.

Back to reading Augustine...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Spot the Fallacy Night

For the Presidential debates (for both parties), our esteemed philosophy professor Steve Horst has his Logic class doing a "spot the fallacy" assignment. If I have enough time, I may tweet the fallacies myself.

Want to join? Let's use #logicalfallacies .

Notes on 1 Peter (1)

Last week I began a Bible study at College Wesleyan on 1 Peter. I don't have time to flesh it out but here are some of my notes from the first week:
  • The greeting tells us this letter is being written to a cross-section of believers scattered throughout what is modern-day Turkey. It has a very large audience.
  • 1 Peter 5:13 has the key for me to 1 Peter. It is being written "in Babylon." This is not the literal Babylon but a code word for Rome. It suggests that, whenever the letter was written, Rome has become a major oppressor of the Jews. Of course Rome destroyed Jerusalem in AD70, just as Babylon did in 586BC.
  • "Beloved, I urge you as foreigners and aliens, stay away from fleshly desires, which war against your soul, having such a good way of life among the Gentiles that, even though they accuse you as a wrongdoer [now], they might glorify God on the Day of Oversight as they see your good works [then in retrospect]” (2:11-12, NRSV).
  • The audience do not see themselves as belonging in the Roman empire. Rather, the empire is a foreign context. 1 Peter is a defensive strategy, how to live in hostile territory when your "host" is watching you and ready to pounce.
  • “For it is time for The Judgment to begin with the with the household of God. And if it is first with us, what will the end of those who are disobeying the gospel of God?” (4:17)
  • Both the church and the Jews are experiencing hard times. It won't end here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

President Wright Looking at Year Three

In his post today, President Wright tackles the question of what he sees as his focus in his third year. Read it here: "Third Year Questions: Focus for Year Three."

Augustine's "On Teaching" 2:73-152

I have been working through Augustine's De doctrina christiana again. Here are my posts so far:

Preface and Book I
Book II, first post

Now here is the rest of Book II.
1. Two kinds of learning in pagan society: 1) human made, 2) divine made. He then spends some time talking about human superstition, which is quite fun, for we catch a glimpse of superstitions in Roman culture in Augustine's day. He also includes some of what we might call astrology today.

He talks about how the fifth and sixth months (their year started in March) could be renamed after Julius and Augustus Caesar by imperial decree because there was no real god to offend. He disproves the validity of astrology by pointing out how completely different twins can be, even though they come out of the womb one right after the other without any significant interval. They are both born under the same constellations, but can be quite different in their life's outcome.

He also relays the notion that we find in some Jewish writings and that I think is reflected at some points in the NT that the wicked angels inhabit the lowest sky or heaven. Thus in the NT, Satan is called the "ruler and power of the air" (Eph. 2:2).

I suspect we see the antecedent of some twentieth century views on words as signs in Augustine, and hear I am thinking especially of de Saussure. Augustine indicates that many words have meaning because of agreed convention (that is the signs have no intrinsic meaning). He mentions lege, which means "read" in Latin but "speak" in Greek (93).

2. Having covered human learning that is superstitious, he turns to human learning that is not superstitious.
  • "Everyone aims at some degree of similarity when they use signs, making signs as similar as possible to the things which are signified" (98).
  • "Nothing should be thought more peculiar to mankind than lies and falsehoods" (99).
There's a helpful section here where he speaks of valid human learning. The sense is similar to "all truth is God's truth" although Augustine is unreflective about presuppositions and such. History is history and can be used to correct faulty interpretations of the Bible. He does not see himself of course as correcting the Bible but of correcting interpretations of the Bible with secular history.
  • "For what has already gone into the past and cannot be undone must be considered part of the history of time, whose creator and controller is God" (56).
BTW, he gets the relative timing of Plato and Jeremiah wrong in this section, something he corrects in City of God.

Medicine is different from superstition and is valid as a source of knowledge. Astronomy as it comes to the predictable motions of the planets and stars is valid, although it can be a waste of time. :-) Logic and arithmetic are valid sources of knowledge, including arguments like syllogisms and non sequitur arguments.
  • "The validity of syllogisms is not something instituted by humans, but observed and recorded by them, so that the subject may be taught or learnt. It is built into the permanent and divinely instituted system of things" (121).
There's some good basic logic in these sections.

3. "Falsehood is the description of something which is not actually in the state in which it is asserted to be" (130). "There are two kinds of falsehood, one consisting of things which cannot possibly be true, another of things which are not true, but could be."

Here's a good quote: "The pleasure derived from the open display of truth is greater than the assistance gained from discussing or examining it, though indeed these things can sharpen the intellect, which is a good thing provided that they do not also make people more mischievous or conceited or, in other words, more inclined to deceive others by plausible talk and questioning, or to think that by learning these things they have done something marvelous or which entitles them to consider themselves superior to ordinary unsophisticated people" (135).

As he approaches the end of Book II, Augustine suggests that secular studies that do not contribute to our understanding of Scripture are more or less useless (140). Nothing in excess. However, he finds great use in Platonism (surprise).

Basically, pagan knowledge is like all the gold taken from Egypt in contrast to all the gold of Solomon's kingdom. "What a person learns independently of scripture is condemned there if it is harmful, but found there if it is useful" (151).

Of course, since he interprets much of Scripture figurally, he is wrong. He thinks he sees all truths in Scripture, but many he brings to the Scriptures. Scripture tells us all things necessary for life and salvation. It doesn't tell us how to build a watch. And that's okay.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Augustine's "On Teaching" 2.1-72

I'm working through Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana again as I teach an Honor's College class this fall called, "Foundations of Christian Tradition." I have already blogged through Book 3 on an earlier occasion. Thanks to those who gave feedback on Book I. By the way, here is an excellent version of this work online.

1. Augustine begins by giving the background to his sense that words are signs that point to things. This is what signs are--signifiers of things. Some signs are natural, like smoke that points to fire. But some signs are people made, including both non-verbal and verbal signs.

Some signs are natural--smoke points to fire. But others are "given" or "conventional." These are signs that human beings give to things. There are different ways that humans signify meanings to each other. Some are sounds. Some are picked up by the eyes. The most significant, perhaps, are words.

Scripture gives remedy to many diseases of the human will (9). Augustine believes that the human authors followed the will of God as they wrote. So by figuring out what these authors were trying to say, we can find out the will of God.

2. I don't want to get too far before I do some reflection. Augustine is often connected with what has been called a "picture theory" of language. Words are signs that point to things. The general sense is similar to Gottlob Frege's idea that words have a sense and a reference. The reference is what words point to.

It's true that things and references are often involved in language. But the notion of words as tools seems to express more closely how words work. "Words do stuff" (Wittgenstein, Austin, Searle) expresses how words work far more closely than "Words point to things."

I will have reason to consider Augustine unreflective in his sense that what he is doing in his interpretation is finding out what the human authors were saying. There's too much fiddling with the meaning to make it come out right for this sentiment to be a good description of what Augustine does. I have the same critique of some evangelical interpretation. When the text doesn't say what it needs to say, we downshift into reinterpretation.

3. Augustine speaks of men coming to the font of baptism, rising born again with the Holy Spirit, and then living with the double love of God and neighbor (11). His point is not this statement in itself but that it's much more pleasing to hear about this type of thing in the symbolic imagery of the Song of Songs. But the insight into his theology and the practice of the church in his day is interesting.

He speaks of a process toward knowing God's will. It starts with the fear of God (16), proceeds to holiness, then moves to knowledge. This is knowledge of our own need, of our own lack of love for God and neighbor. This knowledge leads to a fourth stage--fortitude or endurance, which leads to compassion. You wonder if Wesley was impacted by this section. Augustine speaks of becoming perfect in love (21). The sixth stage is a purified eye, which finally leads to wisdom.

4. Now Augustine returns to the third stage--knowledge--which leads him to think more about the Scriptures. A person seeking knowledge should have a knowledge of the content of the canonical Scriptures. And here Augustine gives us a helpful glimpse of the canon as it existed in the late 390s. There are two striking features.

The first is that the New Testament book list is exactly the same as our current one. This is striking because that precise list is no where listed until AD367 in a letter Athanasius sent out at Easter. It would be ratified in the West at the Council of Carthage in 398. But it is not yet official when Augustine was writing. Interestingly, he also says to go with what the "big churches" say on this matter, the renowned ones.

The second is the fact that he considers the Apocrypha to be part of the canon. Jerome at about the same time would put them in something like a second level canon (deuterocanonical). This speaks to my general claim that, in the Reformation, Luther downgraded the Apocrypha from their original status for Christianity, while the Council of Trent upgraded them then.

5. So the first rule of knowledge is to know these books and commit them to memory. Next, examine those matters that are clearly stated in them. You can find everything necessary for faith and the moral life in those parts that are clearly stated, and the greater a person's intellectual capacity, the more of these he or she will find.

I wonder if this paragraph is behind the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, as well as the idea that the Scriptures contain "all things necessary for life and salvation."

Finally, from the clear passages, one should proceed to interpret the unclear ones.

Of course this is a pre-historical approach. Passages meant what they meant. Sometimes their original meaning is unclear. But Augustine as much refers to passages whose theology doesn't seem to fit, and he espouses a method of fiddling with those sorts of passages on the level of meaning, not on the level of application. This simply isn't appropriate from a historical perspective.

6. Passages can be unclear for two reasons--either the "thing" to which the sign points can be unknown or it can be ambiguous (32).

But Augustine steps back for a second as he builds a theory of language. Signs can either be literal or metaphorical. They are literal when "they signify the things for which they were invented." They are metaphorical when they are used to signify something else.

Augustine mentions some causes of ambiguity. Lack of knowledge of original languages, for example (he indicates that the first translations into Latin were pretty rough). Here's Augustine's position on proper Latin grammar, by the way: "What, then, is correctness of speech but the maintenance of the practice of others, as established by the authority of ancient speakers?" (45).

Then Augustine suggests that weak men are preoccupied with such things. "Their weakness stems from a desire to appear learned, not with a knowledge of things, by which we are edified, but with a knowledge of signs" (46). I completely agree. Shallow people are preoccupied with form rather than substance.

7. Augustine suggests we use multiple translations when we do not know the original languages of the Bible, as well as that we use multiple manuscripts--a sign of his time. Interestingly, he considers the Septuagint to be authoritative over the Hebrew Old Testament (53). This is because of a quasi-inspiration that many afforded to its translation. I believe the Greek Orthodox Church still holds to something similar. When manuscripts differ, he defers to the "more learned and diligent churches" (56).

He certainly believes in hidden, metaphorical meanings (57). He spends several paragraphs talking about such meanings in numbers and such. Ignorance of music can also be a hindrance to understanding.

I close with this quote from 72: "A person who is good and a true Christian should realize that truth belongs to the Lord, wherever it is found." So truth can be found even in pagan literature.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

SA5: Christians vary some in their perspectives on communion.

This is the fifth post on sacraments in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. This third set is on sacraments.
Christians vary some in their perspectives on communion.

1. The precise nature of communion was one of the early debate points in the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, disagreement over communion may have ensured that Protestantism would never be a unified church over and against the Roman Catholic Church. In 1529 at the so called Marburg Colloquy, Martin Luther met with another key "protestant" named Huldrych Zwingli. Although they could agree on most items, they did not agree on communion, and this fact was a deal breaker.

Both disagreed, of course, with the Roman Catholic Church's sense of transubstantiation. Transubstantiation is the belief that the bread and wine of communion literally become the body and blood of Christ in communion. It is an idea that reached its maturity with Thomas Aquinas in the 1200s.

It is also an idea, it would seem, that is strongly based in Aristotle's view of reality as a matter of form and substance. The form is all that we can see. The underlying substance is not available to our view.

This perspective, while no longer one we share, did allow transubstantiation to survive into the Age of Science. Even when it could be determined that bread and wine do not physically transform into flesh and blood, the Catholic Church could see the transformation on the level of some unseen substance. There is thus no need for the bread and wine of communion to take on the cell structure of skin, hemoglobin, or platelets. These are the form, whereas it is the substance that literally becomes the body and blood of Christ.

While it is hard to come up with an objection to this belief, it is also difficult to come up with any reason to hold it other than tradition. No one today would retain Aristotle's view of reality in any straightforward way. And no biblical text has such a view, not when properly interpreted. [1]

2. Luther's own view was far more suitable for a world after Aristotle. Translating transubstantiation into his own view of the world, Luther believed that the "real presence" of Jesus was there in the elements of communion after they were consecrated. [2] His view is called "consubstantiation."

Again, it is difficult to find any serious objection to this view. Nor can we find any necessity of believing it. It would seem to fall into the category of "disputable issues," and what one believes can be a matter of individual conviction.

3. Zwingli's position is usually associated with a "memorialist" view. [3] In its extreme form, it sees communion merely as a remembering of Jesus' death and his Last Supper. This view thus seems to undersell the power of communion and the way God uses it to renew and spiritually empower those who come to the table in faith.

All traditions view communion as a memorial, but many see it as more than a mere memorial.

4. In Romans, Paul speaks of the spiritual significance of food. "Nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean" (Rom. 14:14). We might say the same of communion. The bread and wine are not intrinsically effective to empower, but to those who are truly and earnestly seeking God's grace, they can facilitate a great moment of spiritual empowerment.

John Calvin suggested that the partaker of communion was taken into the presence of Christ, not that the presence of Christ came to the bread. [4] However, we need not know such particulars. It is clear that many people experience Christ in communion and that they are empowered in the process.

To the one who has faith, to the one who does truly and earnestly repent of his or her sins, communion is a means of grace. It is a divinely appointed meeting place where, in a sacred moment, God's Spirit renews and empowers us to continue to walk in the Spirit. That is all we need to know.

Next Sunday: SA6: The Scriptures are a sacrament of God's transformation.

[1] A statement like, "This is my body," could be either literal or metaphorical. Given that Jesus was speaking of bread, the most natural way to take his words is metaphorical, that the bread in some way was like his body.

[2] The dominant philosophical force in Luther's world was nominalism rather than the metaphysics of Aristotle. In nominalism, things neither have some underlying universal substance (Aristotle) nor are they the material versions of ideas (Plato). Rather, each thing can have its own unique, independent existence and identity unconnected to the existence and identity of other things.

[3] In reality, Zwingli did in the end use some language of a spiritual presence in communion.

[4] In this way he avoided the objection of Zwingli and others that Jesus as truly human could not be present in more than one place at once.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Monday, then Friday, the first week

1. With the clock hitting 2:30, I finished my first full week back teaching. The thought I expressed to a couple people was that I was definitely back in my natural habitat. I am nowhere happier then when talking about the Bible, truth, and just about anything with people who at least pretend like they're interested.

It's also been an exhausting week. I don't remember it being this tiring! I am older, of course. I feel more like a Dad now than a buddy. Believe it or not, I used to feel like I was teaching my own age group even when I was in my early 40s. That's a little different now. I know Jim Lo feels it too.

2. I hate to say it, but I'm taking teaching a little more seriously now too. I think up until my Dad died, I still was playing a little at my job. I'm a little more sober and mature now than before, just maybe. I hope it doesn't hurt my teaching. :-)

Then there is that first impression thing. This is a generation than knew not Schenck and Lo. There's no money in the bank. Working hard to deposit some!

I will say that the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) are greatly improved in many ways from when I was a teacher before. There are a lot more systems in place than before, for example. Dave Ward has done an incredible job at leading STM into a degree of excellence I don't think it had before. He's appointed David Vardaman and Brian Bernius as leaders of departments, and together they are really forming a world class School. On the level of CAS itself, Dave and a new leadership team are improving the systems of the College and Arts and Sciences in common sense ways almost daily, it seems.

3. I am of course tired in part because I'm teaching a lot. There seems to be some extra factor in almost every course I'm teaching. So I'm not just teaching New Testament survey, I'm teaching a first year experience version of it.

Just a few of my
First Year Experience students
What they have done in the College of Arts and Sciences here is just spectacular! New students come in a week before the semester begins and they meet with a professor they're going to have that semester the week before, as well as with a "peer." So I felt really close to that class, even before the semester began.

And the Romans class I'm teaching is not just undergraduates, but the first master's group for STM's new residential Master of Christian Ministry. Paired with the right undergraduate courses, this program is an MDIV equivalent degree that both includes a year of internship at a church and an advanced theological training.

I'm also teaching two sections of the Foundations course for the Honor's College, which is a new prep. And I'm teaching Philippians in Greek. I'm back in the groove, I think, but on Monday I was trying to pull some endings I haven't looked at for a while out my ear.

4. Bottom line is that I am exactly where I am supposed to be! I am delighted to be working with my old friends in STM, who are all high quality scholars and teachers. I remain deeply grateful for their friendship, for their excellence, and especially for their warm welcome back. I know Jim Lo feels the same!

President Wright Looking Back

Today Dr. Wright gave some thought on his presidential blog to this question: "You are now beginning your third year as President of IWU. How would you characterize the first two years of your presidency and what would you say will be your focus in this third year?"

See his answer here, "The Stuff Presidents Watch."

Post any questions you have on his blog!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

President Wright's Third Year Questions

I had coffee with Dr. David Wright the other day. He is now beginning his third year as President of Indiana Wesleyan University. Many will know that both of his godly parents went to be with the Lord in about the space of about a month, first his mother and then his father last week. It's a reminder to us all that we have to take up the mantle of prayer and example that their generation wore so well.

I was thinking back to when Jim Barnes and Henry Smith were President, and it seemed at times like their world was sometimes far removed from the day to day life of the residential campus. In the case of David, I know he has been pioneering a trail in the South Pacific, making possible global connections for IWU as a fully international university.

The thought emerged for him to blog through some questions about the beginning of his third year. I came up with some questions Monday night and sent them to him. He's decided to take them on at his presidential blog, which you might notice shows up in my feed to the right from time to time.

Here is his first post, which includes the questions I sent him. I'm looking forward to hearing his thoughts at the start of his third year! You can also ask him questions!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

I (Still) Believe: Walter Moberly

Here's another chapter from John Byron and Joel Lohr's new book, I (Still) Believe! It's a book about world class Bible scholars who have faith. Today I want to look at the chapter by Walter Moberly.

Previous posts include:

Richard Bauckham
Walter Brueggemann
Ellen Davis
James Dunn
Gordon Fee
Beverly Roberts Gaventa
John Goldingay
Scot McKnight

1. I am constantly thankful to God for the privileged life I have led. I am not a naturally happy person. It's just not my nature. :-) But I hope that I am never ungrateful for the blessed life God has given me.

One of those blessings was being able to sit for three years in the Durham New Testament Research Seminar, with a number of world class scholars and emerging scholars always present. One faithful face in that seminar was Dr. Walter Moberly. Dr. Moberly is an Old Testament scholar. But as a Christian of deep faith, the whole Bible is of great interest to him. He is also a "theological interpreter," who is interested in the canon as a whole read from a Christian perspective.

2. As with some other scholars in this book, there is a thread of suffering in Dr. Moberly's story. For one, he struggles with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. This is one reason why he ended up teaching theology rather than pastoring. He pastored for some time and hoped to do some pastoring along with his teaching, but his physical condition will not allow it.

I was at Durham when Dr. Moberly's first wife died of cancer less than four months after giving birth. It was not even known that she had cancer when she went in to give birth. The night of his son's birth was a night he likens to Jacob wrestling with the angel. It was filled with images of Abraham offering up his son Isaac and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. He emerged with a confidence that both he and his first wife were in God's hands.

He says this: "My night as wrestling Jacob finally persuaded me that most kinds of theodicy, attempts to rationalize and/or justify the ways of God, are futile; the bottom line is that either you trust, or you don't" (205).

I'll let you read for yourself his other notes on his personal story, including his remarriage, which also happened while I was at Durham. It is no surprise that Genesis 22 has featured in his scholarship.

3. I have been particularly interested in Dr. Moberly's wrestling to fit his scholarship with his faith and especially his faith in Scripture. He clearly has a twin commitment. His first love is faith, but he is also committed to critical scholarship. The ongoing tension between the two was palpable to me in this chapter. It was a tension that emerged when he was training to be a minister and wrestled with the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy.

He invokes an image that I also use in my own pilgrimage, namely, the idea of a second naivete. For myself--and my pilgrimage is not exactly the same as his--most Christians function to one degree or another with what you might call a pre-historical sense of the biblical text. This way of reading the Bible can be incredibly powerful and sacramental.

But there is also no legitimate way of denying history and context, which can be introduced in either positive or negative ways. All too often, history is introduced in a confrontative, faith-undermining way. Moberly is an example of someone who has been able to continue to experience God in the biblical texts without denying the fullness of historical study.

4. Read his chapter to hear more about his discovery of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, plus more!

Monday, September 07, 2015

When you leave your position...

... will everyone give a sigh of relief?

(BTW, before I start I trust no one will think that I am talking about anyone at IWU or any Wesleyan church leaders in this post.)

1. I thank the Lord that I didn't stay Dean of the seminary long enough for everyone to throw a party in celebration that I was leaving. I thank the Lord for that!

It's natural for there to be some grumbling about leaders. It would be a VERY rare leadership situation for EVERYONE to completely affirm everything you do. Hopefully most pastors don't get too upset when they get a few no votes. My Dad used to say that quote: "You can please some of the people all of the time. You can please all of the people some of the time. But you can't please all of the people all of the time."

But I've been around long enough now to see some situations where a pastor or leader just stayed too long. It's a tough situation. It can take years to get a weak leader transitioned out. You can imagine how hard it is to get a strong leader to move on.

It's even harder when boards or voters are Christ-like, because they will want the leader to have every possible chance to redeem themselves. Christ-like people don't have a "kick-them-out" attitude, which makes them putty in the hands of a strong-willed or crafty leader, who may actually enjoy crushing people.

I can't judge Mark Driscoll, so let me make it clear that I am only using his story as an illustration. But going with the stories, see how long it took to dislodge him. If the story is true, how many employees were mistreated before he was finally dislodged? There can be many noble casualties before a beach is finally taken.

Then everyone celebrates, and we finally hear the stories. When a leader who has overstayed is out, how everyone breathes a final sigh of relief. Hopefully an organization is not beyond recovery by then! And after the bad leader is gone, the people celebrate. When President Mobuto of Zaire was finally dead, how everyone rejoiced! This is a reminder to anyone drunk with their own power. There will come a time when they are powerless to control the story. Then how the truth will resound!

2. The autocrat rarely sees it him or herself. After all, it is a divine right to rule, right? But here are some signs that an organization needs to finally get up the courage to move a leader along:
  • There are stories of employees who were mistreated that stretch out over time. Especially of concern are those who tried to help the leader, to speak redemptively into their life, but who were then summarily fired or manipulated out. The extent of the abuse may only become painfully clear after the leader is gone.
  • They cannot stomach disagreement. Everyone must either agree with them or hit the road. Even more, the bad leader may want to destroy the opposition with false accusations and slander. Think Haman. If Mordecai won't bow, he must be eliminated.
  • They have a form of righteousness, but it is really about their own advancement. They may sound like they are standing up for the mission or the truth or the right, but it is really a subtle form of self-promotion. They use conflict and crises as an opportunity to thrust themselves into the spotlight. 
  • You may have heard the saying not to wrestle with a pig--you both get dirty but the pig likes it. Some autocrats love a fight. This is part of why they can last so long. The people or board know that the battle will be fierce, the mud will be thick, and there will be casualties. Every i must be dotted and every t crossed because there will be no surrender, submission, or relent until everything is wasted and Hitler takes his own life in a bunker.
  • They are often ladder climbers. But if they are unable to climb any further, they may end up stuck on the rung they have reached--which is a real bummer for that organization! Now they not only cannot ascend, they will become frustrated at being stuck where they are. That is bad news for those who are stuck with them. 
  • There is a point where a bad leader puts an organization in jeopardy. All leaders have weaknesses. As a skilled leader, Wayne Schmidt surrounded me with a support team that could offset mine. But at some point, a leader's weakness can put a church or organization in danger. At that point, the people or the board must have the courage to exit the leader. Certainly with grace, but it must be done for love's sake. 
How many churches have died because a pastor didn't move on? How many administrators became stale but stayed in a position because they didn't want a cut in salary? For everything there is a season. There is a time to move on. And there is a time to move a leader on.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

SA4: Communion is a sacrament of re-empowerment.

This is the fourth post on sacraments in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. This third set is on sacraments.
Communion is a sacrament of re-empowerment.

1. Along with baptism, communion is the other practice that many Protestant churches consider to be a sacrament. It is the practice that remembers the Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples before dying. Bread and wine (or juice) are consumed after the biblical words of that meal are spoken. It is often a time of reflection, even repentance, and the believer is renewed and strengthened to continue to walk with Christ and live a godly life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The medium of communion is thus bread and wine. [1] The sacramental power of the Spirit is the power of renewal. The partaker is ideally renewed in faith and re-empowered by the Spirit.

2. On the one hand, communion is also a remembrance. The very first meal at the Last Supper of Jesus before his death was around the time of Passover. [2] It remembered the exodus and how God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt.

For Christians, in this meal we especially "give thanks" for the fact that Jesus died for the sins of the world. Communion is often called the "Eucharist" or the "thanksgiving" for Jesus' death and the power it has made available for the believer. This is a power not only for salvation but also the power to defeat Sin.

Communion thus, in part, looks back. "Do this in remembrance of me," Jesus said on the night he was betrayed (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:24-25; Luke 22:19). In communion we remember Jesus' death on the cross.

The wine was the "new covenant" in Jesus' blood (1 Cor. 11:25; Luke 22:20). It remembers that his blood was "poured out for many" (Mark 14:24) and "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28). So also taking communion can be a time when any sins are forgiven again. It is a sacred moment ripe for any needed repentance and forgiveness.

Communion also looks forward to the "wedding banquet" that we will eat with Jesus when he returns and the kingdom of God fully comes to the earth as it is in heaven. Mark remembers Jesus telling his followers that night, "I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25). When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we thus look forward to the day when we will be with Christ in the kingdom of God on earth.

3. Like the Passover meal and the Last Supper meal, communion was probably a meal originally. 1 Corinthians 11 tells us of problems the Corinthian church had when they ate the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). Enough wine was consumed by some that they became drunk, while others ended up hungry (11:21). This suggests that the meal was a full meal.

Jude 12 similarly mentions an agape or love-feast that was apparently customary for Christians. Likely this is another reference to the Lord's Supper as a meal. However, the solemnity of the event increased quickly, perhaps in part from the circulation of Paul's letter to the Corinthians. By the time of the Didache in the early second century, only those who are baptized are allowed to participate in this meal (9.5). [3] Eventually it would become a smaller ritual embedded within a worship service.

4. The word communion suggests one significance of the event, namely, the unity of the Church. This was the problem at Corinth. The wealthy and those with status in the community were eating their full and getting drunk, while slaves and those with little status presumably were those who went hungry (1 Cor. 11:21). [4] Paul even suggests that some have become sick and died in the community because of such contempt toward others (1 Cor. 11:30).

The unity of the body of Christ is thus a major connotation of "communion." Paul says words that are sometimes spoken during communion: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17). This meaning of communion is sometimes obscured in the American church when individual wafers and cups are used for communion. The older, historic practice is for there to be one cup and one loaf of bread to signify the unity of the body of Christ. So also at the Last Supper, they passed the same cup and loaf around (e.g., Luke 22:19)

5. Paul urged the Corinthian church to examine themselves before they ate the bread and drank the cup of thanksgiving (1 Cor. 11:28). Some have found this admonition terrifying, especially since it is accompanied by a statement that some have died for eating unworthily. In some places, individuals will actually skip a church service if they know that communion will be served.

But Paul is not saying that one must have repented of all sin before taking communion. He was targeting the divisive way in which those at Corinth with high status were scorning those of low status in the communion meal. In truth, the act of communion is itself a highly appropriate moment during which one can repent of any sin and receive forgiveness. It is ripe for this renewal and re-empowerment for service and victory over temptation.

It seems likely that the earliest Christians came together to eat this agape at least once a week. We have good reason to believe that many Christians gathered early on Sunday morning, the "Lord's Day," to celebrate the resurrection. Pliny the Younger in the early second century mentions that Christians in northern Turkey met before dawn on a certain day, presumably Sunday, and then gathered together later to partake of a meal. (Letters 10.97). It thus seems likely that Christians ate the Lord's Supper every Sunday.

6. It is good for believers to eat together. Eating is a common human practice. In the first century, you ate together with those with whom you considered yourself one, whether family or the groups to which you belonged. This is why table fellowship was such a controversial issue. The Pharisees would only eat with those who were pure.

And so in Galatians 2, the dispute over Jewish believers eating with Gentile believers was likely a question of eating the communion meal together (Gal. 2:12). Paul saw the need for unity especially crucial here, for it was a question of being covered by the blood of Christ. Jew and Gentile believer both stood equally before the blood of Christ. Both should eat together.

When we celebrate the Lord's Supper as a church, when we "give thanks" in the Eucharist, we both remember what Christ has done and look forward to what he will do. "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." But the Eucharist is more than a remembrance and an anticipation. It is "strength for today," as well as "bright hope for tomorrow."

Communion is a sacrament of renewal and re-empowerment. It is a wonderful time to repent of any sin and trust in God for the power to face another week in his name.

Next Sunday: SA5: Christians vary some in their perspectives on communion.

[1] The use of grape juice instead of wine rose within Methodism in the late 1800s. A Methodist named Thomas Bramwell Welch invented a process of stopping the fermentation of the juice and his son created the business of Welch's Grape Juice. By the mid-1860s, Methodist churches insisted on using unfermented juice in communion, and most low-church denominations followed suit.

[2] The Gospels give differing impressions on whether the Last Supper was the actual Passover meal or not. In the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we get the impression that the Last Supper was indeed a Passover meal. In John, however, we get the impression that Jesus dies on the cross at about the time that the Passover lambs are being slaughtered for supper than night (e.g., John 18:28; 19:14, 31).

[3] At Corinth, it is overwhelmingly likely that children participated in the meal. It is not clear from the Didache whether children participated in the eucharistic meal, but it does seem to be a meal, since it mentions being full (10.1).

[4] We can infer this social status dynamic by what we know about the nature of ancient dining and how even menus were often differentiated on the basis of status at the same meal. See Pliny the Younger, Letters 11.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Separatist Spirit

1. Family is a funny thing. I don't have any sisters that annoy me (no doubt I was an annoying child). But I do know families where some of the siblings love each other but don't really enjoy being around each other very much.

I say that to make it clear that, although I was only eight when he died, I loved my grandfather. He was a bit scary to me--I knew better than to go into his office in the back of his house. But he let me shoot his B-B gun (I shot out a light rather than hitting the target), and I believe he loved his grandchildren.

2. As I've learned more about him, there is much that I admire about him. He was a church planter, an entrepreneur of sorts. At various times he owned a grocery store. He worked as a butcher sometimes. He could fix cars.

As I said, he was also a little rough. He came from the old school where you preached against stuff. You preached against hellovision, going to the moving picture theater, and you made sure that people knew that they were to dress a certain way. You preached against wedding rings and buying on Sunday.

He was an "against" kind of guy. He believed in shunning and shaming, in giving people a "good letting alone." As Freud would have it, one of my aunts married someone very similar who once told my father that he would pray for his soul if he stayed with the Wesleyan Church when it was merging in 1968. Even my Dad once asked me what I was against--a revealing artifact of his upbringing.

3. My grandfather was thus a "come-outer." I've blogged through a book on the holiness movement at the turn of the twentieth century. There were a lot of come-outers in that gang. There's a certain personality that gets an adrenaline rush from shouting at what's wrong with, whatever, and then walking out of the room. Although I hate to say it, there were LOTS of those types in the holiness movement of early twentieth century.

Mind you, they weren't the part of the holiness movement that grew. They were the part that split and split and frequently died. One thing I learned from that book was that the more even-tempered Nazarenes--often a target of the separatists--were the part of the holiness movement that really grew. It is the largest holiness denomination still today.

I have some of that fire in my veins. I can feel it. I'm channeling a little of my grandfather in this post. But it's not the part of me that "grows Ken."

I loved my grandfather. But I have little admiration for splitters as splitters. We all like to think ourselves prophets, but how many of us really are? The Prophets preached more for people than against sin as a violation of the rules. Could it be that a certain kind of person hides behind the prophets as an excuse to express anger at... whatever they can justify being angry at?

I have little admiration for those with a separatist spirit. The spirit of Christ is more a spirit of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5), at least until the very end when it's clear there will be no reconciliation. The Wesley way is to see mercy as the primary over judgment (Jas. 2:13). The Wesley way seeks for points of agreement to build on far more than excuses to rent their clothes over the disagreements.

4. Aren't there verses about separating? Of course there are. I'm sure my grandfather knew them all. He liked them. Separatists love them. They hide behind them. Did you know that you can use the Bible as an excuse to kick against Christ?

If you put all the verses on reconciling and separating on the scales, which has the greater weight in God's eyes? I fear that some people are delighted when they have an excuse to excommunicate. I have little respect for such people. I had no respect for the Evangelical Theological Society in those years that they seemed to delight in figuring out who they could vote out next year. College presidents that delight in kicking faculty out leave most people with a bitter taste in their mouths.

Worst of all is the grandstander, the person who isn't even condemning primarily for cause but as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves. Clever politicians do that from time to time. They use a moment of protest to shove themselves into the spotlight and gain attention and power. Many would say that MacCarthy did that with regard to communism, that he saw the issue as a way to thrust himself into the spotlight. The best thing to do is to ignore them. That type feeds off conflict.

The most noble separations I know of--Luther and Wesley--happened because the parent body they were trying to reform kicked them out. Even with regard to the Wesleyan Methodist Church, I've always respected the fact that Luther Lee went back into the Methodist Episcopal Church, after the Civil War was over and the issue of slavery was over. I'm proud of the fact that the Pilgrim Holiness Church resulted from a series of mergers, as did the Wesleyan Church.

5. This is the spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christ is the spirit of reconciliation. In the new covenant, we don't get unclean by touching a sinner. There's a fair amount of old covenant thinking involved here, the same traditions that led the old separatists to fight over new moons and sabbaths, over women wearing that which pertaineth to a man or trimming the edges of a beard. We're not touching the unclean thing. We're stoning Achan's children and livestock because Achan has touched them.

Are there times when we need to separate ourselves? Absolutely. We need to separate ourselves when we need to protect ourselves from bad influences. There is also a point where two parties disagree so much that they are hindering each other's mission and work. That is a good time to part company as Paul and Barnabas did, to agree to disagree and part amicably. But that's different from renting our clothes and putting ashes on our heads. "I thank God that I'm not like other men."

I doubt there will be a split in the Methodist church at this point. I suspect at this point we will more see individual churches leave. But if there had been a separation, I hope it would have happened by the one side simply saying that they believed the disagreement was just too significant for the two to work profitably together. Not storming from the room in "righteous indignation," but separating in peace because it had become clear that the two parts just had significantly different missions that worked against each other. I hope the churches that end up leaving will do it that way. We agree to disagree and withdraw to better accomplish our sense of the mission.

Hindsight will tell, but I actually respect the fact that there wasn't a split. That's the side I believe Christ would err on, if he could err. If they had split, I would have had to think long and hard about whether I favored my church joining with them. You can believe the same things and yet be of a different spirit, a different flavor. I want to be with the unifiers, not the come-outers.

The peaceful departer is not what I mean by the separatist spirit. I have in mind the church splitter, who didn't get his or her way. There's the Zwingli, who will not be satisfied unless Luther sees every last thing his way. There's the grandstander and the Pharisee, who is purer than other men. And of course there's the ignoramus who thinks he or she has a new revelation from God and is upset that no one agrees with him. Nothing new to see here. 1 Corinthians has a few words to say about the divisive in heart.

6. I'm convinced that most Christians agree with me. The problem, I believe, is that those who don't are usually the most vocal. May the fight in my blood be of some service to the more Christ-like souls who hold their tongues--the peacemakers, the meek, and the pure in heart. Blessed are they... at least Jesus thought so.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

I (Still) Believe: Scot McKnight

The book is out, John Byron and Joel Lohr's, I (Still) Believe! You can now get it for reals! Although I'm finishing the book, I'm being more selective now in my posts. Here is a post on Scot McKnight's testimony.

Previous posts include:

Richard Bauckham
Walter Brueggemann
Ellen Davis
James Dunn
Gordon Fee
Beverly Roberts Gaventa
John Goldingay

1. I have always known that Scot likes sports, and that is clear from this chapter as well. He traded in a sports destiny for a teaching one, though, when he was injured his senior year of high school. There's no question in my mind that Scot has had a blessed life. I'm sure he has had pains as well, but his life gives off a strong aroma of peace.

He married his childhood sweetheart before he was even out of college. They have a model marriage, indeed a dream marriage. He is obviously a greatly intelligent scholar. You can see his appetite to learn everywhere in this chapter. Unlike myself, who mostly wanted to read, read, read, Scot was actually able to do it.

He was one of Dunn's students when he was still at Nottingham. He ended up teaching at Trinity. His taking of Wayne Grudem's place is ironic, as he mentions. He pitched to Walter Kaiser (then Dean) that they needed an Arminian who favored women in ministry to balance out the department. I have never heard a negative word from Scot about Trinity, but it is also clear that he is now finally in his sweet spot at Northern (with a good run at North Park in the meantime).

Northern is an amazing seminary in Chicago with an amazing team. Important for him is the unified support for women in ministry there. This is also a value of Wesley Seminary and Indiana Wesleyan University. Last week a prospective student at Wesley Seminary asked if she would only be allowed to take certain courses because she is a woman. That's the way it is at some seminaries. Why would a woman go there??? Come to Northern or Wesley or IWU's School of Theology and Ministry!

2. He has some nice stories of his interactions with students over the years. A key insight he shares is that "I was not teaching subjects to students... but teaching students about a subject" (166).

In college Scot transitioned from fundamentalism to evangelicalism. A class on the Synoptic Gospels made him what he is. In particular, over the next years his detailed study of the Gospels would convince him that they used sources and edited them in keeping with their theologies.

The end point of this journey was a sense that the Bible "is not one self-contained text added to the previous but one text interacting with--sometimes agreeing, sometimes even disagreeing, but often expanding and adjusting and renewing--the previous texts" (167). "God's inspiration then is at work in a history and a community as expressed by an author for a given moment."

He concludes that "the Bible is God's true and living Word is far more in line with the realities of the Bible itself than the political terms that have arisen among evangelicals in the twentieth century" (168). And here he refers to the term inerrancy.

I'll let you buy the book and read the rest, including some controversial comments on historical Jesus studies.

Scot's the man!