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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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another View on Evangelicals Cracking Up

Certainly, nothing in reading David Kirkpatricks "The Evangelical Crackup" struck me as wrong - it just struck me as somehow "off the point" - yet again. [read David Domke's take on the article here.]

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost hit the point for me:

The article itself is mostly a rehash of the dominant media perspective on evangelicals and politics, though it is noteworthy for Kirkpatrick's style of "journalism by name-dropping." The 7900 word article manages to cram in the names of 23 evangelicals leaders: Terry Fox, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Paul Weyrich, D. James Kennedy, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Marvin Olasky, David Welsh, Ralph Reed, Frank Page, Rick Scarborough, David Wells, Scott McKnight, Jim Wallis, Tony Perkins, Gene Carlson, Todd Carter, Joe Wright, Paul Hill, Harry Jackson, and Donald Wildmon.

But while Kirkpatrick focuses on the cult of personality, the true crux of the conservative Christian political movement is based on a culture of principles. Rather than focusing on a "Who's Who" of Christian leaders, an adequate understanding of the "evangelical Right" requires the recognition and prioritization of six core principles. (Note: Many of these themes were outlined in the National Association of Evangelical's
paper on civic engagement [a very good read for those who really want to understand Evangelicals]):
Joe goes on to list those 6 core principles:

Principle 1: Protecting the sanctity of human life
Because all humans are created in God's image, evangelicals believe that all people have an inherent and inalienable dignity. We believe that it is at the times when life is most vulnerable, particularly in the early stages of development and at the period near death, that life is most in need of protection. Evangelicals believe in promoting policies that recognize the dignity of all humans without regard to such relativistic criteria as mental capacities or "quality of life."

Issues: Abortion, euthanasia, embryo destruction, capital punishment, cloning, and unethical human experimentation.
Principle 2: The nurturing of family life and the protection of children
While the institutions of marriage and church bear the primary responsibility for fulfilling this duty, evangelicals believe that the government should promote laws and policies that strengthen the well being of families.

Issues: Promotion of policies on marriage and divorce law, education, tuition vouchers, drug policies, abstinence promotion, fair labor practices, anti-discrimination legislation, protections against spouse and child abuse, affordable health care, reducing crime
Principle 3: Seeking justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable
Evangelicals believe in the promotion of both a fair legal system that does not favor either the rich or poor and in a fair economic system that does not tolerate perpetual poverty. This principle also includes the protection of the vulnerable members of society, including the poor, children, the elderly, the disabled, refugees, minorities, the persecuted, and the imprisoned.

Issues: Poverty reduction both in America and abroad, torture, anti-pornography legislation, immigration reform, stemming the AIDS pandemic, ending slavery and sexual trafficking, stopping prison rape.
Principle 4: The protection of religious freedom
Evangelicals believe that the joint freedoms of religion and conscience constitute the First Liberty and are deserving of protection both in our own country and abroad.

Issues: Defense of First Amendment protections, expansion of religious freedoms abroad
Principle 5: Seeking peace and restraining violence
Although evangelicals prefer that governments pursue nonviolent paths to restoring peace, most of us recognize that military force can be a legitimate means of restraining evil. While there is no consensus on how this principle should be implemented, we are in general agreement that the principles of just war must guide our government's policies.

Issues: Defending against terrorism, ending genocide, weapons proliferation, defending human rights against tyrannical regimes
Principle 6: The protection of God's creation
Evangelicals believe that stewardship of the earth is a responsibility delegated to us by our Creator. Because the earth is a shared resource, the government has a particularly important role in implementing policies that protect the environment.

Issues: Promoting recycling, reduction of pollution, protecting animals from cruelty, conservation of resources, proper care for wildlife and their habitats
He rightly points out that you understand currents within the Evangelical movement not by treating them like "cults of personality" but by understanding how they prioritize and view those core issues.

This gives folks a principled way to determine which groups are likely to be approachable and open to common work - and on what issues. It also avoids some of the following foolishness:
For example, Christians have always been concerned about protecting God's creation. Yet it is only when an evangelical leader or organizations takes a stand that is outside the dominant conservative narrative (i.e., Richard Cizik saying that global warming is anthropocentric) do they take notice.

The media also tends to conflate the priorities of all evangelicals with the primary concerns of specific groups. Because of the influence of Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family, the media tends to portray all evangelicals as putting the primary emphasis on principles 1 and 2, to the exclusion of all others. So when Rick Warren talks about AIDS or poverty in Africa (Principle 3 issues), he is portrayed as breaking away from Dobson and the "religious right--even though they are in agreement on the importance of Principles 1 and 2.
Joe points out that Evangelicals do not have a generally accepted political theology (with the exception of neocalvanists) - and while they agree on the principles in general they do not have a unifed, developed view of their application to specific issues. Therefore
What Kirkpatrick is noticing is not a "crackup" among evangelicals but the continual re-prioritization of principles and disagreements over how they correlate with specific issues. At the level of the level of the church and community this is an ongoing, never-completed process.
Now, this touches the heart of my major problem with how political and theological liberals view the theological, and most political, conservatives I hang with. The constant reference to this leader or that leader - and the manipulation through demagoguery and distortion of the Gospel - is not what I see going on in the Evangelical movement I am part of. These folks strain and strive to understand Biblical principle on which to base their life - and they study, pray, and generally work hard to achieve that. Joe's view that there is
continual re-prioritization of principles and disagreements over how they correlate with specific issues. At the level of the level of the church and community this is an ongoing, never-completed process.
speaks to the world I live in better than almost any other comment I have seen.

This may gives a bit of a deeper insight than what normally comes around.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Christian Carnival CXCIV (194)

Many got the notification that the Carnival this week would be late. I have always skirted this edge because my two long work days were on Wednesday and Thursday. When I changed jobs within my company my days off became Tuesday and Wednesday - the perfect host schedule really.

Now, the theme of this Carnival was going to be something about birthdays - since mine was Thursday. It was also going to be a breeze - I would have a whole day off on Wednesday instead of going to work. However, one passage stands out now after the computer issues I had from Monday - Thursday:

James 4: 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this or that town and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” 14 You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life like? For you are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes. 15 You ought to say instead, “If the Lord is willing, then we will live and do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin. (NET Bible)
The theme became (and nothing was easy or relaxed):

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Miracles and History

[Part three in the Scripture and History series]

This is the crux of the issue. It cannot be denied that the Bible includes history. When people talk about "historicity" in Scripture - they are really talking about one thing and one thing only - whether the miracles that are reported in the Jewish and Christian scriptures are historic or not. Ultimately, it comes to a point in the greatest, and most important, miracle of them all - the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, that is exactly where this series is going as well. This in not really a question of history or science - it is a question of philosophy and theology - no matter how much rationalists argue that it is. However, philosophical antisupernaturalism and rationalism has impacted the historiographic view of the Bible.

As I indicated in the introduction to the paper, this steel thread joining many scholars together, all the while producing different pictures of the historical Jesus, appears to be one aspect of their worldview. They are antisupernaturalists for the most part, grounded in the rationalistic naturalism arising out of the Enlightenment . . . "The 'historical Jesus' is a hypothesis reconstructed from the Gospels by the use of the historical-critical method on the basis of naturalistic presuppositions. Such a Jesus must be altogether and only human—a Jesus without transcendence."

This particular worldview is not only devastating to Scriptural testimony, it is also fallacious historiographically speaking and indefensible philosophically.
That comes from, and I am following, "The Historical Veracity of the Resurrection Narratives", by Greg Herrick Th.M., Ph.D..

The study will proceed first by arguing for a worldview that at least permits the supernatural. A brief history of the discussion regarding antisupernaturalism in biblical studies will be offered, followed by a critique of this position which has for so long dominated biblical studies. The defense of the supernaturalistic worldview will rest primarily on historical and philosophical considerations. To wrap up the first section, a statement will be offered as to the best worldview a historian can possess in doing historiography.

Second, based upon the worldview argued for in the first part of the paper, the study will apply the criteria of authenticity to the resurrection narratives to see if they indeed are historically credible. We will see that the resurrection accounts fair very well and should be considered historically trustworthy and an integral part of any reconstruction of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
He starts with the wedge driven between history and theology by the Enlightenment and its scholarly commitment to antisupernaturalism - and particularly focuses on Benedict de Spinoza, David Hume, and Troeltsch. He examines the first two on the basis of how this view reflects on the possibility of miracles; and the last in terms of how the rationalist worldview has affected doing historiography.

"Nothing, then, comes to pass in nature in contravention to her universal laws, nay, everything agrees with them and follows from them, for whatsoever comes to pass, comes to pass by the will and eternal decree of God; that is, as we have just pointed out, whatever comes to pass, comes to pass according to laws and rules which involve eternal necessity and truth; nature, therefore . . . keeps a fixed and immutable order" - Benedict de Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus,
Geisler in Miracles and Modern Scientific Thought

[Note: J.M. Bochenski calls this the most cogent defense of miracles that he's ever seen.]
points out that Spinoza's argument against even the possibility of miracles rests on:

  1. Euclidian or deductive rationalism;
  2. a Newtonian view of natural law and
  3. a certain understanding of the nature of God — pantheistic
Herrick: Insofar as Spinoza's arguments rest on deductive reasoning he is begging the question. He has assumed in the premises what he hopes to defend as the conclusion. He never proved through evidential means that natural laws are immutable nor that miracles are necessarily violations of natural laws — two of his key premises. The argument is formally true, but not valid. The Newtonian worldview is seriously questioned today as well. The universe appears to be expanding and getting older which destroys his argument. In other words the laws of nature are not inviolable, but rather caused and therefore contingent — not eternal and absolute, but mutable. And if it is true that the universe and natural laws came into existence at a point in time, then we ipso facto have a miracle — i.e. the creation ex nihilo of the universe.
. . . the kernel of his argument is as follows:
  1. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature;
  2. Firm and unalterable (i.e. uniform) experience has established these laws;
  3. A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence and
  4. Therefore the proof against miracles is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.
Herrick: Hume's argument can be interpreted so as to preclude miracles a priori. We will follow the interpretation of the argument which understands him to say that the wise man will never believe in a miracle because he will never have enough evidence to substantiate such a belief.
Hume's argument is not against the possibility of miracles but against identifying or accepting them. C.S. Lewis in Miracles

Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely "uniform experience" against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know experience against them to be false. And we all know the experience against them to be uniform if we know that all reports of them are false. And we can know all reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.
Back to Herrick:

Since Hume's second premise is incorrect, his whole argument is weakened and as far as its ultimate intention, destroyed. But, what can be said of Hume's argument from the laws of nature and personal experience is that miracles are rare and therefore witnesses must be questioned to establish the probability of the event having happened.

A final critique of Hume's method concerns the vantage point in his argument . . . to argue from within the laws . . . presupposes certain truths about the laws, namely, eternality and immutability. This he could never prove as one subject to the laws. These presuppositions . . . cannot be defended today on scientific grounds, much less personal experience.
Again, as with Spinoza, there is a pantheistic assumption by Hume that God exists within the universe and laws He created, and is bound by them. Herrick's conclusion to this section

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 before we directly examine the "criteria of authenticity"
Next time, I will follow Herrick through an examination of Troeltsch's views of historiography and on into an historical-critical view of the resurrection accounts free from a antisupernaturalist bias.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Scripture and History: Part II

[Part two in the Scripture and History series]

I ended part one by saying this

A history textbook implies that the text was written with the primary purpose of documenting historical fact.
is not what historians do, nor is it what historical texts (or textbooks) present. Certainly, we have to agree on a definition of what a historical work does in order to decide whether the Bible has historical purpose and/or content. In the discussion that started this post I said
every bit of "real history" they read is written through some other theological or ideological lens.
Historical works have a viewpoint, and historians are pretty honest about that. As they examine, organize, and interpret the source documents and facts in order to arrive at the analysis that becomes a work of history - they are aware of their lens. Certainly, they try to have the facts lead them to a conclusion, rather than the other way around - but that is the difference between good history and bad history - and not between it being history and not history. One would only probably have to look at the history of World War II as taught in the Japanese schools and that taught in US schools to see the difference in viewpoint and analysis based on the same facts.
"History is the study of the past, focused on human activity and leading up to the present day. More precisely, history is the continuous, systematic narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all events in time, in relation to humanity . . . All events that are remembered and preserved in some form is seen as the historical record . . . In German, French, and indeed, most languages of the world other than English, this distinction was never made, and the same word is used to mean both 'history' and 'story' " - Wiki section on History
Nor, are we talking about historical works containing just facts. This is the section on "Social History" from an older edition of Compton's at my house:
Nothing is more fascinating than the true story of how people lived in the past - their houses, food and clothing; how they cultivated their fields, manufactured goods, and traded with their neighbors; their beliefs God and the world of nature; their laws and manner of government; the songs their poets sang, and the beautiful things their artists made. All this is included in the social history taught today.
Obviously at least the Hebrew scriptures are that kind of work. The question is: was it intended to be that kind of work? I would contend that a (not the) major purpose of those who collected and canonized at least the Hebrew Scriptures was to compile and preserve for following generations of Jews just this kind of social history about their culture and religion. So yes, the Hebrew Scriptures are a social history textbook of the Hebrew people prior to about 400 B.C.

Next, as one commenter said and I believe, every historian (pretty much by definition) organizes and interprets their work for their own purposes. It is a Western, and more narrowly modern, idea that those purposes and interpretations must be rationalistic and materialistic - one of those little prejudices that destroys objectivity. So, in looking at the purposes of the history written in the ancient near east, we cannot decide what history is, or is not, based on anachronistically applying our definitions of what constitutes history to the Biblical historians. They wrote history for their people in their time - and it is their purposes that decide what was historiographic and what wasn't.

In the next part, I will look at "Miracles and History" .

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Scripture and History Series

1. "Scripture and History, Part I" (Street Prophets)
2. "Scripture and History, Part II" (Street Prophets)
3. "Miracles and History" (Street Prophets)
4. "Principles of Historical Criticism, Part I" (Street Prophets)
5. "Principles of Historical Criticism, Part II" (Street Prophets)
6. "Applying the Principles, Part I" (Street Prophets)
7. "Applying the Principles, Part II" (Street Prophets)

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Scripture and History: Part I

[Part one in the Scripture and History series]

I was challenged to show the evidence that convinced me of this:

Parts of the Bible were indeed written for [the] primary purpose [of documenting historical fact]. Parts of the Gospels were written for that primary purpose - particularly the synoptics.
First, I think it is obvious really: as C.S. Lewis pointed out . . .
In what is already a very old commentary I read that the fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a 'spiritual romance', 'a poem not a history', to be judged by the same canons as Nathan's parable, the book of Jonah, Paradise Lost 'or, more exactly, Pilgrim's Progress'. After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim's Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave our the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass - Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable δε νυξ (13:30). I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage - though it may no doubt contain errors - pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind.
It is clear that large parts of the Bible, especially the Old Testament but also the New, read "as reportage". The challenge comes in the word "purpose" - particularly when I cranked it up and used the word primary. In reviewing the Bible, there are very few books when the author ever spoke to their purpose in writing the book. Here are a few direct examples:
Deuteronomy 31: 24 When Moses finished writing on a scroll the words of this law in their entirety, 25 he commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the Lord’s covenant, 26 “Take this scroll of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. It will remain there as a witness against you,
Now while there was both a theological and prophetic purpose here - the primary purpose was historiograghic: to preserve the event for the future for use by posterity. The book of Deuteronomy follows a historiograghic pattern as well: first, review the last 40 years of history, summarize the laws that laid the foundation of the nation, and look ahead from that to the future. Next on my list:
Luke 1:1 Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. [this is a reference to the historiograghic purpose of the Jewish scriptures] 3 So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.
This is an historiograghic purpose - and you would expect this to continue in the 2nd half of Luke's work:
Acts 1:1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God.
and then goes on to "compile an account" the Acts of the Apostles after the Pentecost. Then we have John:
John 20:30 Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Again, while there is a theological purpose, John makes it clear that he has an historiograghic purpose: recording fact so that we may believe. John makes this tie between belief and fact again:
1 John 1:1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). 4 Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
His purpose is to make his joy complete by passing on what he seen, touched, and heard so that folks could come to know Christ. Again, he was looking for a theological result from his transmission of fact coming from his eyewitness account.

Hopefully, I have accomplished my mission. However, it was a rabbit trail - one that I forced myself down in even bowing a little bit to this definition
A history textbook implies that the text was written with the primary purpose of documenting historical fact.
This is not what historians do, nor is it what historical texts (or even history textbooks) present.

That will be a good place to begin Part II

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sometimes the Master Just Got it Right

Well, all the time the Master Just Got It Right. The last few days I have been experiencing the wisdom of a few advisories of Jesus

Matthew 5:23 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.
Matthew 10:19 Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time.
Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.
I have learned that last year folks left the community group I was in because of me. This year, folks said they did not want to be in a community group if I was in it.

My understanding is that they came to the group leader for this year and expressed their concerns. He then, understandably, asked my group leader from last year about my affect on group dynamics. The two of them asked to meet with me to chat before the first group meeting this year.

Let me say that I have to grant every criticism, even though they are pretty non-specific. My brain needs concrete examples to act on; and the general principles that we should:
  • think about the affect of our words on others;
  • see things through others eyes; and
  • be sensitive to folks feelings
are all things I know and believe - and practice badly: certainly my boss at work is trying to teach me to gauge my words to others in exactly the same way. The bat he uses to sink in his words (just kidding) may actually help me someday.

I had no desire to drive someone from our group - and will take this opportunity to apologize and ask their forgiveness if they read this - which they might. I did not mean to hurt, or make them stumble, rob their hope, or offend their sensibilities. These are all things I really am quite capable of doing. Heck, my MIL tonight, who was in last year's group, said that I had a way of stating things that just made it seem that I was certain I was right and if someone disagreed they were wrong. This is certainly an ongoing struggle for me. Folks who talk to me, especially at Street Prophets, will relate to that.

It should be said that, as near as I can figure it, this was not as much about doctrinal statements during a Bible study (although I am sure that was there); but about things that I shared in transparency about my personal struggles - particularly with sexual temptation and pornography - and my view that indeed I may struggle with these things for the rest of my life. It is a frequent suggestion in my FMO group that I may pay too much attention to the ongoing struggle of Romans 7 . . .
19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. 21 So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. 23 But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
. . . while missing the glorious answer that begins in verse 25 and continues into chapter 8:
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death . . .
I damaged someone's hope in struggling with their own issues because I did not seem to recognize and acknowledge the power of God to free me from my addiction. For this I am beyond sorry - I have made a fellow Christian stumble and that millstone feels a little heavy and my feet are getting wet. I do acknowledge God's power (and only God's power) to bring me healing; and I rest entirely on that hope - my own efforts being so useless. Again, if my brother or sister is reading this - forgive me: I did not mean to make your struggle harder.

Regretfully, I never knew the effects of what I did when they were happening - nor do I even know who left the group because of me; who I am apologizing to; or who was concerned I was joining a group with them this year. Anonymity has been maintained completely.

That brings me to the three passages at the beginning of this post; and hopefully it is clear that what I am about to say is not an attempt to deflect criticism from myself. Folks had a responsibility to correct me in love as the events unfolded. Even if they thought that I might take offense, get angry, leave the group or the church, or tell them they were idiots and fools - they had the responsibility to correct me. My group leader from last year sincerely apologized for not bringing it up as it came to his attention - and for allowing a desire for peace to keep him from correcting me in love. He took his share of the responsibility. I appreciate that; and forgive him.

However, in the Matthew 18 passage he should not have entered the picture until the second step. Folks should have gathered their strength in Christ, left their offerings at the altar, met with me alone, and let me know how my actions affected them and damaged their Christian walk. If I reacted badly or continued my behavior then it was the time for the group leader, and then maybe the church, to take a hand.

There has now been a different chain of events that occurred:
  • People left community rather than building community - something that comes through some struggle
  • Two group leaders, and groups, were affected
  • I felt blind-sided by having what appears to be a years worth of actions brought to my attention in a way that makes it hard to act on them - generalities are hard learn from
  • My wife and MIL are hurt because I was hurt
God will use this to teach me and grow me - however, failure to follow Biblical principles on my part and the parts of others means that folks have been hurt and harmed in ways that should have been avoidable - and for longer than it should have occurred.

All this brings me to an appreciation of the group guidelines in my FMO group:
  • Take Responsibility: When uncomfortable with anything in this group, we deal with it directly ourselves instead of expecting others to solve the problem or rescue us.
  • Consider Others: We guard against offending one another. If someone offends us, we work it out directly with him.
These guidelines, and the passages from Matthew, are essential to build community between human beings who are so capable of being so insensitive and self-absorbed - myself definitely included.

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