Sunday, December 30, 2007

Principles of Historical Criticism, Part II

[Part five in the Scripture and History series]

This time, we begin to look at what Greg Herrick calls "A Better Approach". Herrick examines several "Criteria of Authenticity" that have been used by critics such as the Jesus Seminar to examine the sayings and deeds of Jesus. Before examining the criteria he makes some general points:

  1. The criteria are not about "proof" - "intent of the criteria is to judge the probability of the authenticity of a certain saying or deed"

  2. "the criteria are to be used together and from a perspective that maintains that the accounts are trustworthy until the contrary has been reasonably demonstrated.". This tends to be supported by:
    • the presence of eyewitnesses;
    • the existence of a church center in Jerusalem to oversee the guarding and disseminating of the traditions;
    • the generally high view the church had for its traditions
    • the faithfulness of the church in transmitting some of Jesus' more difficult sayings
    • the problems of the early church as seen in the epistles are not specifically found in the Gospels
The criteria are [the block quotes are Herrick's comments/adjustments/etc of the criteria]:
  • The Criterion of Dissimilarity: affirms that a saying or deed may be regarded as authentic if it cannot be shown to go back to similar phenomena in ancient Judaism or the church
    This criterion has some strength in that it can validate a tradition, but it cannot invalidate a saying necessarily. That is, if a saying cannot be located in Judaism or the early church then it is reasonable to conclude that it goes back to the creative mind of Jesus. However, Jesus was a man who lived in the Jewish culture and therefore, it is unfair to rule as inauthentic a saying simply because it can be found in Judaism . . . This criterion is helpful for determining what is unique to Jesus not what is characteristic of him.
  • The Criterion of Multiple Attestation: any motif may be regarded as authentic if the words upon which it rests are found in all, or most, of the sources which stand behind the synoptic Gospels
    This particular criterion presupposes a solution to the synoptic problem and to the degree that that is tentative, so is this dictum . . . Also, there is nothing that necessitates a tradition being inauthentic simply because it is found in only one source. Other principles such as internal improbability and contradiction with other traditions must take greater precedent in determining this.
  • The The Criterion of Semitisms: any presence of Aramaic linguistic phenomena argues for the primitiveness of the tradition and the more primitive a tradition is the more likely that it actually came from Jesus himself.
    The principle assumes, at least at some level, that the early Christians did not write or speak Aramaic and did not add such activity to the gospel traditions. But isn't this the whole reason for the "criteria"—to determine which sayings and deeds are really of Jesus? . . . The principle has therefore limited usefulness, but when combined with other criteria may help to determine the actual words of Jesus. This criterion must also take into account: 1) the influence of the LXX upon the writers of the New Testament; 2) that there remains some question as to whether the Greek of the Gospels can be accurately translated back into Aramaic; and 3) the probability that Jesus himself spoke Greek on occasion
  • The Criterion of Divergent Traditions: suggests that when a particular tradition differs somewhat from what appears to be the author's general perspective it may be regarded as authentic
    This criterion does help to establish difficult sayings such as Mark 13:32, the theology of which does not seem to agree with Mark 1:1, wherein Mark seems to portray a fairly high Christology. But, the principle may require of us knowledge of the early church which we do not really possess and can tend to individualize the NT writers too much. As regards this last point, we must exercise caution before we set about to say that two traditions are in contradiction. Our knowledge of the situation in the early church may really not be adequate to the task.
  • The Criterion of Primitive Eschatology: If a particular saying evinces a primitive/imminent eschatological outlook, it may be regarded as authentic
    . . . there seems to be no a priori reason to reject the fact that Jesus shifted his eschatological focus during his ministry, especially in the light of the growing rejection of his person by the Jews. Perhaps this is the case in Matthew.
  • The Criterion of Palestinian Environment: affirms that if a saying or deed appears to have a Hellenistic origin, it cannot be from Jesus, but is a later creation of the church. On the other hand, any saying or deed, be it religious, political, social or otherwise, must reflect Palestinian provenance to be considered authentic.
    Some have argued against the authenticity of Mark 10:11-12 on this basis, since a wife divorcing her husband is unheard of in Judaism. Yet, as Stein points out, there is a realistic Sitz im Leben in Jesus' ministry for just such a saying, namely, the case of Herod and Herodias. This criterion might play a greater role in the case of customs, religious practices, social phenomena, etc. in the Gospels that are explicitly or implicitly communicating something about Jewish life. We can then compare that with other data we have about such things.
  • The Criterion of Coherence: There is a lot of material from the earliest strata of Gospel tradition which cannot be verified as authentic using the criterion of dissimilarity, but as it coheres (i.e. substantially agrees with) with material deemed authentic by the criterion of dissimilarity, it may be regarded as authentic.
    Insofar as this criterion rests upon the conclusions of the principle of dissimilarity it inherently acquires the strengths and weaknesses of it. It also has the methodological problem of determining what coheres with what, and why.
  • The Criterion of Cause-Effect or Correlation: affirms a sound principle of historiography, namely, that causes postulated to account for the established effects one sees in one's sources must in fact be adequate to account for those effects.

  • The Criterion of the Tendency of the Developing Tradition: seeks to discern what the evangelist as theologian/redactor has added or deleted from the tradition as he received it. This, of course, is in an attempt to "get back" to the original words or deeds of Jesus by understanding the "laws" of transmission of the tradition
    When I use this criterion in the paper and suggest that a particular tradition meets this, I mean that the tradition in question has not been altered by the later church in the light of its theological interests and that the "laws" operative in this case are ones of memorization due to the essential nature of the material.
  • The Criterion of Embarrassment: brings to light sayings or actions that are in the traditions, but at the same time constitute a possible embarrassment to the church. The baptism of Jesus and Peter's denial of Christ would fall into such a category.
In the next post, I will outline Herrick's use of the above criteria to examine the historical veracity of the Resurrection accounts.

Read more!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Principles of Historical Criticism, Part I

[Part four in the Scripture and History series.]

At the end of "Miracles and History" I quoted this:

The result is that miracles are not logically absurd, nor historically impossible and therefore the wedge between history and theology (i.e. the supernatural) is unfounded. This does not mean that every report of a miracle is as probable as the next. One must critically examine the historical evidence. As concerns the Gospels this is a welcome study. Many principles have been enumerated for doing historiography and critically examining the miracles recorded in the Gospels. In the next section we will briefly state some accepted, sound guidelines for doing historiography . . .
from "The Historical Veracity of the Resurrection Narratives" by Greg Herrick (see An Introduction to Christian Belief: A Layman's Guide for his systematic theology). This is the primary article I am going to follow for this, and the next, parts of the series. Right now we start out with . . .

Ernst Troeltsch

Herrick examines Troeltsch's principles from "On Historical and Dogmatic Method in Theology" [definitions from "Bibical Miracles: Fact or Fiction?"]:

  1. methodological doubt and criticism: “ the realm of history there are only judgments of probability, varying from the highest to the lowest degree, and that consequently an estimate must be made of the degree of probability attaching to any tradition” (Troeltsch). Brantley, in the linked article:
    Obviously, this approach precludes the possibility of complete, historical accuracy of the biblical text.
  2. analogy: the key to historical criticism. This idea suggests that all legitimate, historical phenomena must have a present-day analogy. Underlying this principle is the uniformitarian assumption that all events in history are similar. Consistent with this assumption, a historian dismisses as unhistorical any recorded event that transcends the experience of contemporary humanity. [Troeltsch] rejects a priori the factuality of unique, miraculous events such as Jesus’ resurrection, since no analogous event occurs today.

  3. correlation: “...knit together in a permanent relationship of which everything is interconnected and each single event is related to all others” (Troeltsch). In other words, all historical events form a unified web of immanent causes and effects. Every event must be interpreted “...within the context of the whole of history in terms of its causes and effects, its antecedents and its consequences”. Brantley again:
    This principle views history as a closed continuum of natural causes and effects, which eliminates the possibility of a transcendent God’s entering into
    human history. Yet, that is what the Bible is all about
Herrick had far less difficulty with principles one and three - methodological doubt and correlation - than Brantley did:
Most [historians] would agree . . . that historical knowledge is only probable . . . and that the principle of correlation makes sense out of past events, causes, effects, internal probabilities, etc
His problem with analogy is only if it is taken as an absolute:
The principle of analogy . . . states that all events in present experience are similar to those in the past, otherwise the study of history would be impossible, since it proceeds by way of comparison of the present with the evidence from the past. To this principle all would agree except when uniformity is exalted as an absolute. To this few would subscribe. This leads to an a priori ruling out of certain kinds of evidence.

The point of view that applies Troeltsch's principles to the historical evidence allowing only for natural causation is known as historicism . . . As Krentz says, "The historicist view, modeled on the laws of natural science, expresses itself in the exclusion of God as a causative factor and in the denial of the possibility of a miracle." Now, we have already argued above that such an a priori stance against the supernatural is dogmatic in nature, indefensible and indeed an illusion.
Herrick deals with two criticisms of a methodology which does not a priori remove the possibility of the supernatural:
  1. "it will destroy historical inquiry since it undermines the principle of analogy." Herrick quotes C.S. Lewis from On Miracles:
    But if we admit God, must we admit a miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain. Theology says to you in effect, 'Admit God and with him the risk of a few miracles, and I in turn will ratify your faith in uniformity as regards the overwhelming majority of events.' The philosophy which forbids you to make uniformity absolute is also the philosophy which offers you solid grounds for believing it to be general, to be almost absolute. The Being who threatens nature's claim to omnipotence confirms her in her lawful occasions. Give us this ha' porth of tar and we will save the ship. The alternative is really much worse. Try to make nature absolute and you find that her uniformity is not even probable . . . You get the deadlock as in Hume. Theology offers you a working arrangement, which leaves the scientist free to continue his experiments and the Christian to continue his prayers (italics [Herrick's] except in the case of the term "almost")
  2. "miracles are so contradictory to human experience so as to be absurd. This is false and remains the premise among many who deny miracles. If miracles were contradictory or absurd, we would not be able to identify them or talk about them at all. A better idea is that they are contrary to normal human experience, but not contradictory or absurd, logically speaking" - Herrick
Next time, we will look at what Herrick calls "A Better Approach":
The principles that Troeltsch outlined, when practiced from a worldview that allows for the supernatural, are extremely helpful in evaluating the evidence in order to reconstruct the past.

Read more!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Philophronos Blogging

[This is a repost from October 26, 2006 (actually an update). It seems fitting for this time of the political season as we are about to enter the primary season.]

Laura from Pursuing Holiness

The internet, as much as I enjoy it, has helped lower the level of political discourse because it is far easier to type something directed at a stranger that you'd never dream of saying to the face of someone with whom you're acquainted. It even affects the Christian blogosphere. I'm not alone in occasionally wanting "to not just debate the point, but to crush [someone's] argument into oblivion." I also know that feeling is not consistent with 1 Peter 3:15-16:
But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.
Laura again:
If we are called to make our defense of our faith with gentleness and respect, how much more should we do so with respect to minor issues like the politics of our nation or any of the temporary governments of this world? Those things may feel quite important right now, but in the light of eternity, our perspective on them will be very different. By and large I think Christians do an excellent job of keeping debate civil, and that is why I'm joining Henry Neufeld, a liberal blogger (Threads from Henry's Web) to make a rather bold challenge that we're calling Philophronos Blogging.
philóphrōn: to think, have a mindset. Friendly, courteous, benign (1 Peter 3:8). Deriv.: philophrónōs (G5390), in a friendly or kind manner.
Laura's and Henry's rules for "Philophronos Blogging":
We're challenging Christian bloggers who write about politics to write at least one post a week until the election - and hopefully after it - that adheres to the following guidelines:
  • Consistent with 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.

    Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    and Ephesians 4:15
    But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.

  • Assume goodwill and good intentions for our political opponents
  • Wherever possible list supporting reasons why they have good intentions

  • Negative statements are not personal and are factual

  • If negative statements are conclusions, the facts that led to the conclusion are referenced

  • Negative statements support the argument and are not gratuitous
Imagine what the political tone in the country would be like if all political debate adhered to those guidelines!
I will not be putting myself on this blogroll because I will not be posting an article a week about politics on my blog probably ever.

Those that believe these guidelines for the way Christians should engage in political dialogue are correct, and who consider themselves christian political bloggers, please consider joining the blogroll and aggregator mentioned in the links above.

Read more!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Recovering Community"

Folks who know me around here know I am part of a church plant. The church lost one its founding pastors on just about its first anniversary.

The pastor we lost had primary responsibility for small groups, internal community, and external community outreach. These were definitely his skill sets.

Our church has been searching for a new Community Pastor - and the message I am going to link for you to download and listen is by one of the short list candidates for that job.

I am not going to say much about the sermon, other than it was one of the best I have heard on the need for, and God's desire for, community and relationship. In a place like Street Prophets [where this is crossposted] the idea of community is a core element of their identity - and the folks that share that will find something in this message to resonate with even if they are not Christian.

I should mention that the references to underwear, bras, men in spandex and speedos, and nakedness were not amusing to my 85 year old Catholic MIL that happened to visit the church that day. You have been warned :-).

Our church places great important on community - notice its emphasis in the core values here:

  • Transformational Community: We are a people of authentic spiritual transformation – demonstrating love, purity, humility, hospitality, generosity and servant leadership. We value gatherings for worship, fellowship, learning and serving together.
  • Team Leadership: We value leaders who value each other. All leadership roles are designed to function within the framework of a team. This includes our teaching pastors, elders, ministry leaders and members.
  • Creative Ministry: We value the diversity and creativity that God has given each of us. Within the context of our passion, resources and gifts, we will explore and act upon opportunities to creatively do ministry together.
  • Community Service: As transformed people, we have been given a spiritual desire to serve the body of Christ, as well as our community at large. We value building bridges to our community through acts of service.
Obviously, in a church so concerned about creating authentic community, the Community Pastor is no small position.

Christopher Coffman: "Recovering Community".

Actually, it turns out that I had not noticed that when these these candidates spoke their messages have only been left up a couple of days to let folks who missed church listen - and then they are pulled. And, I got lazy and didn't outline the sermon.

There were some things that struck me enough that I remember them without the notes. Christopher has been reading through the Gospel of John for the last year and talked about John's emphasis throughout that Gospel, his epistles, and Revelations on the relationship saving nature of Christ's incarnation - both in our relationship with God and with each other.

Even though God is a personal God with whom we can have a personal relationship - life is not a movie in which we are the star. Even though, from our perspective, we are indeed in every scene - it is not about us; and God is not our own iGod. Christ was not incarnated and crucified just so we can have a "personal Lord and Savior" - a phrase (and concept) he said you could find nowhere in scripture. We have been saved not just for our relationship with God - but for community.

Indeed, he cited the parallel nature of the Gospel of John and Genesis - and presented the Gospel as the one in which God presents His creation, or re-creation, of relationship with man. Some interesting points from Genesis:
  • What many have mentioned - that the only thing God created in the Garden that wasn't good was man alone. In creating woman, God wasn't just creating marriage - he was creating community. This wasn't just about sex - it was about the human need for human relationship
  • He mentioned, which also wasn't new, that we not only have a God-shaped hole that only He can fill - we have a human-shaped hole only humans can fill: we were created for relationship with each other as well as God
  • The two trees:
    • the tree of life (חיּים); and
    • the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (רע- ra): the root of ra is רעע- raa - which can mean to spoil (literally, by breaking to pieces)
    • he pointed out that the first thing Adam and Eve did once they ate from the tree (after feeling shame because they were naked) was to make a covering for themselves - not for the other person: the became self-focused
He presented this as the first religious act - realizing our shame before God and others and seeking to cover and hide ourselves.

For me (he didnt say this explicitly), I can see that most of the evil in the world comes from humanity breaking itself into smaller pieces - Christianity alone has 68,000 denominations (I think that was the number) - and we desire as humans, despite our desperate need to not be alone, to wall ourselves off from others and not let them into that gaping hole. We hide behind our masks and fig leaves.

In John, we see through the work of Christ that we no longer need to feel shame before God or others - and that we have the ability, in Christ, to build authentic community were we can be transparent and open before God and others.

However, it is rare when our churches can build the kind of authentic community where people can be open and transparent without fear. What people are desperately seeking in many ways is the ability to be themselves and be loved - and that is what our churches must provide.

Read more!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Religion, Faith and Politics

I said at the end of "Establishment and Free Exercise":

when Rick Moran started to talk about relgion and natural law in the last part of his piece - he gave me some things to want to look at a bit closer. However, that is another diary.
This one in fact.

What Rick said in "Drunk with Religiosity" was:
I realize I’m treading on dangerous ground since most “natural rights” adherents believe that freedom is God’s gift to humans at birth. As an atheist, I reject that notion based simply on the fact that God is not necessary in this equation. Being born free is our patrimony as human beings and does not require any kind of Supreme Being to validate it.

Just as government is designed by man to regulate the affairs of citizens – who in an ideal situation grant the government the powers necessary to do so – religion is designed by man to regulate behavior. While some recent research shows that we have genes that give us a conscience and perhaps even a gene that grants us a propensity to believe in a higher power, the fact is cultural and moral strictures must be taught and are therefore excluded in any debate over the necessity for faith and freedom to co-exist in a democracy.
Leaving his butchery of the theory of natural moral law aside, I do not have much of a problem when people talk about religion as a human institution with all the problems that entails - it is and it has them. All of the religions have all of the problems - Christianity included.

I do not think that it is so easy to say, as Rick does, that government regulates affairs and religion behavior - because both seek to regulate both to a large degree. However, I think religions are primarily communities for allowing their members to share common worship or other activity in regards to a shared object to faith. By extension, they are communities where we know, by profession, what that common object of faith is. Religion is not faith; however, it is the human institutional expression of the shared faith of its members as they relate to their common object of that faith.

Which brings us to the important thing here: faith.
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see [NET Bible]
All human beings who are not suicidal or otherwise terminally pessimistic share that – but faith has an object. Before that though, let us make sure we understand the word "hope". This is not "I hope I get a pony for Christmas" - this is elpiß : "joyful and confident expectation [of eternal salvation"]. As Peter said about hope:
1 Peter 3:15 . . . always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.
Stepping aside from my personal object of faith and where my hope lies - Christ Risen - there is a political lesson here.

My pastor defines his principle role as casting a vision for our church: defining a path and a future based on our hope. This is what the country wants, and needs, from its political leadership:
someone with a confident expectation of the future based on what they cannot see (the outcome) while being able to give an answer to anyone about what that hope is based on (the object of their faith).
That has nothing to do with God. This is why Reagan, and Carter, and Obama, and Huckabee are successful: by casting their visions in religious (or nearly religious) language they offer a hope in the unseen future of the country based on an object of hope that resonates with Americans. That is why folks like Dean, Clinton, and Thompson struggle to connect - people just do not grasp their vision, their hope, or the object of their faith. It is not their political policies that folks do not attach to - it is their heart and their hope they do not find attractive, or find at all.

This is not necessarily (actually not usually) a religion with God as its object. J. Budziszewski on civil religionism:
The third stage was in the early and middle republic. God was still understood as the underwriter of American aspirations, but as the content of these aspirations became more and more nationalistic it also became less and less Christian. It appeared that God cared at least as much about putting down the South and taking over the West as He did about making His people holy; patriotic songwriters like Samuel Francis Smith used expressions like “freedom’s holy light,” but they meant democracy, not freedom from sin.

The fourth stage was the late republic. By this time American culture had become not just indifferent to Christianity, but hostile to it. Conservatives still wanted to believe that the nation was specially favored by God, but the idea of seeking His will and suffering His chastening had been completely lost. President Eisenhower remarked that what the country needed was a religious foundation, but that he didn’t care what it was. President Reagan applied the image of the City Upon a Hill not to the remnant of the Church in America, but to America as such—its mission not to bear witness to the gospel, but to spread the bits and pieces of its secular ideology
and instrumentalism (the use of religion for the purposes of the state - and not God)
. . . Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for instance, wanted the state to invent a civil religion to his order and then make use of it. Its articles would be proposed “not exactly as religious dogmas” but as “sentiments of sociability without which it is impossible to be a good citizen or a faithful subject.”
The danger is to buy into the vision of the leader without really understanding upon what his hope is based. What is the object of their faith in America's future? It's institutions? It's people? It's military strength? It's rightness or purity?

What is the object of your faith in America's future?

Read more!

Establishment and Free Exercise

This is the first person I've read - Charles Krauthammer's "An Overdose of Public Piety" - who really has found the balance in the establishment vs. free exercise debate; and someone commenting on it - Rick Moran's "Drunk with Religiosity" even improved on that. For my friends at Street Prophets reading this - that it comes from the secular right is probably not going to make them happy. They, if they read it, may react like this person in the comment section at Rick's post:

It really irritated my Leftie sensibilities that Krauthammer said something rational and intelligent. I’ve gotten so used to hating his work that I had to read the column three times to make sure I didn’t miss something. It makes being radically partisan much more difficult when there’s intelligent discourse on both sides. That damn man is going make me think!
The context of all of these columns is Mike Huckabee's showing in Iowa - suddenly the secular right is coming out loaded for bear to make sure he doesn't get the Republican nomination: the venom is both interesting and predictable.

However, right now let's look at Krauthammer's main points:
Now, there's nothing wrong with having a spirited debate on the place of religion in politics. But the candidates are confusing two arguments. The first, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy of religion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound to lose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life.
There can be no privilege for any set of ideas in the public square. As Jefferson said in the body of the "Virginia Statutes for Religious Freedom"
That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
That cuts in every direction - Jefferson's argument was in favor of absolutely free debate:
truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them
Back to Charles:
A certain kind of liberal argues that having a religious underpinning for any public policy is disqualifying because it is an imposition of religion on others. Thus, if your opposition to embryonic stem cell research comes from a religious belief in the ensoulment of life at conception, you're somehow violating the separation of church and state by making other people bend to your religion.

This is absurd. Abolitionism, civil rights, temperance, opposition to the death penalty -- a host of policies, even political movements, have been rooted for many people in religious teaching or interpretation. It's ridiculous to say that therefore abolitionism, civil rights, etc., constitute an imposition of religion on others.

Imposing religion means the mandating of religious practice. It does not mean the mandating of social policy that some people may have come to support for religious reasons.
Exactly. Before my liberal friends that read this fluff to much - notice that Krauthammer does not paint with a broad brush - and accurately portrays the position of those "certain kind of liberals". Since I have had multiple arguments on a long-term and on-going basis with this "certain kind" I can personally attest to the accuracy of the remark. Now, he adds the balance:
But a certain kind of conservative is not content to argue that a religious underpinning for a policy is not disqualifying. He insists that it is uniquely qualifying, indeed, that it confers some special status.

Romney has been faulted for not throwing at least one bone of acknowledgment to nonbelievers in his big religion speech last week. But he couldn't, because the theme of the speech was that there is something special about having your values drawn from religious faith. Indeed, faith is politically indispensable. "Freedom requires religion," Romney declared, "just as religion requires freedom."

But this is nonsense -- as Romney then proceeded to demonstrate in that very same speech
Exactly. This is where Rick Moran adds to the discussion:
But there is a huge difference between being inspired or animated in your politics by religion and thrusting your religious beliefs forward as “proof” of your superiority as a candidate. Or that your faith gives you a privileged position in a debate over public policy issues.

And that, boys and girls, is the problem with this GOP field. The Democrats have their own agenda when it comes to trying to appeal to Christians. Witness Barack Obama’s efforts in South Carolina where he staged a “Gospel-fest” featuring some of the country’s finest Gospel singers. But Obama seems to wear his faith like an old coat – comfortable and roomy. Candidates Romney and Huckabee wear their faith like a straitjacket, the tenets of which limit their worldview while binding them to positions on social issues that brook no opposition because they are based on holy writ.
Back to Krauthammer: I cannot even fault his next statement because he does not confuse faith and religion as many do:
In some times and places, religion promotes freedom. In other times and places, it does precisely the opposite,
Again, he is right - religion has done both.

His summation parallels Jefferson above and is, to me, the key quote here:
In this country, there is no special political standing that one derives from being a Christian leader like Mike Huckabee or a fervent believer like Mitt Romney. Just as there should be no disability or disqualification for political views that derive from religious sensibilities, whether the subject is civil rights or stem cells.

Now, when Rick Moran started to talk about relgion and natural law in the last part of his piece - he gave me some things to want to look at a bit closer. However, that is another diary.

Read more!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Prophecy and Literalism

I have often been confused by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists being accused of being "literalist'. I do not read that, see that, or get that from my ilk.

I have to thank Frank Cocozzelli for leading me to a possible answer and understanding of this brain cramp: prophecy in scripture. Frank's "Michael, Michael, Michael--Please Stop!" continued on his theme of the unenlightened, dispensationalist, literalist religious right vs. the Enlighted and reasoned Christianity elsewhere. I think that is actually bad analysis - but that is not what this is about.

Dispensationalism is the idea that God's history with humanity can be broken into different periods, or dispensations, which are both progressive and over-lapping:

  • the dispensation of innocence (Gen 1:1–3:7), prior to Adam's fall,
  • of conscience (Gen 3:8–8:22), Adam to Noah,
  • of government (Gen 9:1–11:32), Noah to Abraham,
  • of patriarchal rule (Gen 12:1–Exod 19:25), Abraham to Moses,
  • of the Mosaic Law (Exod 20:1–Acts 2:4), Moses to Christ,
  • of grace (Acts 2:4–Rev 20:3), the current church age, and
  • of a literal, earthly 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom that has yet to come but soon will (Rev 20:4–20:6).
Another view listed in the Wiki article:
  • the dispensation or age of Gentile Nations (Gen 1-11)[9], from Adam to Abraham’s Call;
  • of Israel (Gen 12 – Acts 1), from Abraham’s Call to Pentecost in Acts 2;
  • of The Church (Acts 2 – Rev. 2), from Pentecost in Acts 2 to the end of The Church Age;
  • of The (missionary) Tribulation of Israel (Rev. 6-19), a yet-future Seven-year period;
  • of a literal, earthly 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom (Rev 20:4–6) with a rebuilt temple and reinstituted animal sacrifices and O.T. rituals (Eze 40-48) that has yet to come but soon will.
Now, dispensationalism was a counter, in part, to
supersessionism, which teaches that the Christian Church has replaced the Jewish people as "God's People", and that there is only one people of God, joined in unity through Jesus Christ. It is maintained that, since the Jewish people have largely refused to accept Jesus as Christ, "the Messiah of Israel", and since He is their only means of salvation, those individual Jews that reject Him also reject his atoning sacrifice for sins, and have, in effect, rejected the only provision that God has offered for divine forgiveness. Consistent with this viewpoint, which is held by Amillennialists and the Catholic Church, they are no longer considered as the true Israel. Christians have, in effect, become the "New Israel". This teaching is also often referred to as "replacement theology", in that, according to this theology, the Church from its very inception has replaced the Jewish people as God's "chosen people" and "holy nation", now and forever.
Dispensationalism, in opposition to this
teaches that the Christian Church is a "parenthesis", that is, an interruption in God’s divine dealings with the Jewish people, when the Gospel began to be preached to the Gentiles, but that God’s continued care for the Jewish people will be revealed after the end of the Church Age (or Dispensation), when Israel will be restored to their land, and then they will accept Jesus as their Messiah, as is recorded in Zechariah 12:8-10 . . . Hence, dispensationalists typically believe in a Jewish restoration.
I do not know where I stand in the Covenant/replacement theology vs dispensationalist theology argument. I know a few things:
  • dispensationalism explains why God's relationship with the human race has changed over the years
  • it explains why it is stupid to ask me about shellfish, blended fabric, and stoning my daughter for disobediance
  • it explains PD's error about Huckabee and Acts of God - that God acted through nature in the Old Testament doesnt mean he will do so in this particular Age or dispensation
  • however, I do not believe that once Christ returns that animal sacrifices for atonement will continue at a rebuilt temple
  • I think the church is more than a parenthesis in the history of God's relationship with Isreal
  • and there are some other major issues
I took that side trip into describing dispensationalism because it is little understood - even by me - and misrepresented often.

What this post is really about is this paragraph from the Wiki article:
Dispensationalism hinges on three core tenets:
  1. The Bible is to be taken literally. This is explained by John F. Walvoord, who, in his book, "Prophecy in the New Millennium" provides this explanation:
    "History answers the most important question in prophetic interpretation, that is, whether prophecy is to be interpreted literally, by giving five hundred examples of precise literal fulfillments. The commonly held belief that prophecy is not literal and should be interpreted nonliterally has no basis in scriptural revelation. Undoubtedly, a nonliteral viewpoint is one of the major causes of confusion in prophetic interpretation. Some prophecies that are in figurative language have to be interpreted, such as some in Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. But in many cases, the meaning is clearly understood and seldom is the symbol left unexplained in the Bible. A solid record emerges of fulfillment of prophecy in the past and an anticipation that each prophecy will have that same literal fulfillment in the future."
Even the Wiki author misses the point - Walvood doesn't say the Bible is to be taken literally. He says that Biblical prophecy is to be taken literally.

With that I tend to agree and would consider myself a literalist when it comes to Biblical prophecy:
  • Whether prophecies in scripture were fulfilled or definitely not fulfilled was a major question in the canonization of scripture - a prophecy could have not happened yet but if it should have happened, and it didn't, then it wasn't inspired: Pat Robertson need not apply
  • Many OT prophecies were seen in new light with their fulfillment by Christ
  • there is no reason to suppose that prophecies which were definitely placed in the future which have not occurred will not occur
  • As with those related to the advent, that fulfillment may make us see them in a new light
So, if you want to accuse my ilk of being literalist about prophecy - I cannot bitch.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

An Oddly Positioned Postscript

There are clues to theological views - and something else struck me in reading Kevin McCullough's criticism of Hillary Clinton I first wrote about here.

I want to bore in on the emphasized phrase in the next quote. This is not so much a criticism but an examination of a real difference in my understanding of God's action in my life and what this statement expresses to me.

And for Bible believing Christians being "guided every step of the way" is a pretty gigantic claim. After all I do not know a single fellow Christian who would claim to live their life in such away as to have reflected biblical guidance through every single step.
There are some nitpicks - consider them appetizers - before the main course.
  • Saying you have been "guided every step of the way" is not saying you have followed the guidance - only that it was available. I have been guided every step of the way - in my arrogance I have simply chosen to ignore the guidance and "do my own thang". This point will become part of the main point down the road

  • She has just said her "faith journey" is unfinished - did this apply to her life not having "reflected Biblical guidance through every single step"
Those are nitpicks really - back to this phrase:
"reflected biblical guidance through every single step"
Folks who have read me much know that I am not shy about the Word of God being
. . . inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. (NET Bible)
I believe the Bible is inerrant in its original autographs. However, notice that Paul presents the Bible as a tool for the Christian. How is someone to know how to use the tool if they are not instructed? Who instructs us on how to use the tool? Our pastors? Or does the tool guide us on how to use the tool? I havely certainly learned to use a few tools just by picking them up and using them - but that isn't the guidance God gave us in scripture.

According to the Word of God, our guidance is not from the Word of God directly - it is from the Word of God (the incarnate Christ and Scripture) as we discern it by the Spirit of God:
God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God [that is the Bible BTW], for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. (NET Bible)
Kevin McCullough left out the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Now, he cannot be expected to have a complete theological dissertation in a post on Hillary Clinton - but certainly Hillary (if she is a Christian) had the guidance of the Holy Spirit "every step of the way" as we all do. And just like current vehicle navigation systems, He can tell you to turn right at the next corner all He wants - but you can choose to go straight, left, drive into a ditch, or turn around and/or go backwards. You can even just stop the car and go nowhere. Guidance does not equal obedience.

The deeper problem, as pointed out by Carl Palmer (as reported by me) in "How to Hear God Speak" is:
Along with the focus on the Bible was the loud and clear message that while God speaks through the Bible He now speaks ONLY through the Bible. Another weakness was what he would now call a minimizing of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They never learned about the Holy Spirit - they never talked about Him. Very seldom did they say that the Holy Spirit is the one that inspired the Bible or that it was the Holy Spirit that enables you to understand the Bible. So it was stressed that he must be very careful not to add any other "experiences" to the word of God . . . he went astray because he didn't know how to live as a Christian. The church taught him how to come to Christ; but he wasn't taught, or didn't respond to, how to follow Jesus. Following Jesus day-to-day is all about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
What happened to Carl is that as he elevated scripture from primary to only way God would speak to him, he didn't expect God to speak any other way. That inevitably led to a life centered on a book rather than a life centered on a Person. God wants us to have a life centered on a Person, and not a Book . . . The Bible is the primary revelation of God's will for us. The Book is designed to help us love God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our mind, and all of our strength - and not be the object of that love (as much as we do love the Bible). . . Another thing that happened was that he was inevitably led to focusing his life around a set of doctrine - a set of rules. Carl tended to a life of legalism because it was all about what was written . . . and he was never taught how to live in Christ in his weakness
Of course, Kevin's lack of grace toward Hillary Clinton is, to me, all about his unwillingness to admit that Hillary, like me, lives in Christ in weakness. That is what Kevin does as well; and certainly I pray Kevin knows that about himself.

Christ was also the Word of God made incarnate. Jesus also made it clear to Peter that only through God, and His Spirit, could Peter have discerned that Jesus was the Christ. Again, the Word of God is spirtually discerned. Christ also made it clear that the Spirit is what leads us to truth and that the disciples should be rejoicing at His leaving because then the Helper could come to them and lead them to all knowledge.

However, here again is one of those significant divisions in Christianity as described by Carl Palmer:
The church Carl grew up in would have said: "Yeah, but that was a special time - that was then and this is now". This was taught because they believed that the Bible was finished. God's purpose was to get all of His will down in scripture, Old and New, and now He does not need to speak that way anymore. So, what you do is focus on the Bible.
Now, before I lose my creditials to the Sola Scriptura Society - Carl again:
You must test every message - by the written Scripture. God never ever says anything to us personally that is in conflict with the written word of God. That is why the Bible is there - as a record to test what we hear from God against. God does not do things that conflict with Himself. Scripture is our greatest defense against deception as we listen for God's voice in our lives

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Odd Position

[Wow - a month since I have posted: the damage two jobs do.]

I find myself in an odd position - I find myself defending Hillary Clinton a lot lately. Considering there are no Republicans I feel called upon to defend - and Senator Clinton is a particular target for stomping from both "progressives" and "repugs" - I find myself pondering why I want to defend her.

It must be chivalry.

I receive notification for - and today I read a reaction to Hillary Clinton's speaking at the Saddleback Church AIDS conference.

Kevin McCullough's "Hillary's Purpose Driven Drivel" is, while making some valid points, basically unfair, uncharitable, self-righteous, and essentially unchristian. In saying that, I too may be unfair, uncharitable, self-righteous, and essentially unchristian. That seems to be the nature and danger of secular political engagement for Christians.

Had he simply bashed her politically I wouldn't be writing this. Since he bashed her theologically with a book I care a great deal about, my chivalrous nature has risen to the fore. McCullough called her to task for three quotes - of course taken out of context with no link to a full text of Senator Clinton's speech. However, I will take Kevin's presentation at face value because, well, it is good enough for what I want to say:

Clinton: "My own 'faith journey' is approaching a half century, and I know how far I have to go."
McCullough hits this pretty well from my theological perspective.
Which is an odd thing to consider for the Biblical Christian. For when one thinks about it we know two truths to be the exact opposite of that statement. First the only journey of faith worth taking is not something that requires fifty years to clarify, and secondly none of us - not one - can begin to fathom the gap of "how far" we are separated from God in our state of sin. Understanding this is key of course because in reality we can't "go" any distance to make up that gap. For us to try to ascertain legitimate standing before the God who made us it would be likened to the impossibility of standing on the top of the Empire State Building in New York City and attempting to shoot an arrow from a bow in hopes of striking the target dead center in the middle of the fifty yard line of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena California.
At Street Prophets I hear a lot from theologically liberal Christians, and other religious beliefs, about "faith journeys" - and I ignore it because they have as much contempt for my "make a decision", "pray a prayer", and be "born again" perspectives as I do for the idea that there is a any "journey" that takes us closer to God. Frankly, we can turn from Him or turn to Him - the "journey" is in our day-to-day decisions to do His will in our lives or not.

However, what would Kevin think of this core principle of my theologically conservative Evangelical church:
We are a people of authentic spiritual transformation – demonstrating love, purity, humility, hospitality, generosity and servant leadership.
We certainly do not believe that transformation ever ends. If I say that I am praying that I will allow the Holy Spirit to continue to transform me into more the person God created me to be - would Hillary say "Yes, that is the spiritual journey I am talking about". I have to leave that as a possibility I think

That is, however, about the only point Kevin gets from me - and he screws it up with his next statement:

Clinton: "But I have been blessed in my life, with my family, and in the church of my childhood, to be guided every step of the way."
Now if McCullough had jumped on this because Senator Clinton didn't mention being guided by the Bible, or the Holy Spirit, or God - and settled for her family and her church - I might have been sympathetic. His argument was, well . . .
Would anyone who has tolerated serial adultery, first hand accounts of rape and sexual assault against other women, and an infantile like obsession with never being criticized call their "family" (i.e. the philanderer she's married to and bore a child with) a blessing? And for Bible believing Christians being "guided every step of the way" is a pretty gigantic claim. After all I do not know a single fellow Christian who would claim to live their life in such away as to have reflected biblical guidance through every single step. The more important question being - guided by what? One Clinton's amorous ambition for Hillary's assistant?
First, to be clear, she didn't name Bill Clinton as someone who guided her - and my guess is it wasn't who she was talking about. Next, we are of course supposed to believe that all of the good, and all of the bad, in our life are blessings - and praise God for it all. However, how should she have "lived her life" based on Biblical guidance?

  • Divorced Bill Clinton? Certainly she had the grounds Biblically - but isn't it clear scripturally that God hates divorce

  • Not forgiven him? Hopefully Kevin doesn't even want to try to make this case.

So, Kevin's prescription for Hillary's actions in the face of Bill's repeated adultery was to divorce him, and not forgive him? What of this Biblical guidance:
1 Peter 3:1 In the same way, wives, be subject to your own husbands. Then, even if some are disobedient to the word, they will be won over without a word by the way you live, 2 when they see your pure and reverent conduct.
In retrospect, have we heard anything about Bill's further sexual exploits since Monica? Has the grace and mercy Hillary bestowed on him helped him redeem himself and turn away from his adulterous past? Isn't that exactly the grace and mercy God calls us to on nearly every page of scripture? Isn't that the Biblical guidance that Peter gave.

Clinton: "Jesus never asked why someone was sick!"
If Kevin had pointed out that Jesus didn't need to ask; and that He made it clear on at least one occasion that He knew without asking why someone was sick - again he might get some sympathy. And, this point is well-taken:
In her attempt to seem biblically literate she sends the double sided message . . . The message is clear: cure the illness and leave the behavior alone . . . the certain equivalent of curing a child of intestinal parasites that threaten their lives - while then sending them back to their village to drink more fecal tainted water supplies.
Yes, Jesus on more than one occasion offered grace and mercy coupled with the command to repent and do different. However, then Kevin goes here:
Should we do all that we can to cure those who are afflicted? Sure, starting first with those who were infected with the disease through no fault of their own. They get the drug cocktails first.
This is wrong on so many Biblical levels I can only ask if Jesus offered His sacrifice on the cross first for those who were perishing in their sin through no fault of their own.

If Kevin wants to open his Bible and make this case Biblically then I will take it all back. However, I would like to start that conversation with:
The Condemnation of the Moralist

Romans 2:1 Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?

Next: "An Oddly Positioned Postscript"

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