Saturday, March 03, 2012

Dan Wallace interview

Be sure "Journeys of Faith" aren't traveling in the wrong direction

Steve posted a link to a chapter in a book entitled "Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism".

I participated in some of the comments in the original thread, but I wanted to follow up with a thought or two.

Francis Beckwith, whose "journey" was recounted in the book, seemed straightaway to hijack the comments, complaining that "I don’t think it’s right to refer to the primary chapters as “defenses", as Justin Taylor had done in his introduction. Beckwith went on to say,
There is an overuse in the Evangelical world of the language of military combat and adversarial jurisprudence to describe every theological disagreement. So, we don’t “dialogue over the nature of biblical inspiration.” We “battle for the Bible.” We don’t present reasons why we believe the way we do. We offer “evidence that demands a verdict.” We don’t engage contrary religious traditions. We rebut “the Kingdom of the Cults.” Enough already.
But several of the commenters noted that such language was Biblical, and if anything is worth being adversarial over, it is the true nature of "the one true faith".

I would say further, this whole concept of "Journeys of faith" is a questionable concept. While I have a great deal of respect for "those who traveled from Christian tradition to another" -- the assumption being that these are individuals who want to follow Christ more closely -- we certainly have to admit that, given the "theological disagreements" of the last 500, or 1000 years, that someone is -- many someones are -- clearly taking their "journeys of faith" in the wrong direction. It is very wrong-headed to attribute some sort of moral equivalence to these journeys. There are clearly moral and theological differences. One would hope at some point that these actual differences would be discussed, thoroughly and honestly.

What is always lacking in these "ecumenical" discussions is that the recently-found Roman concept of "separated brethren" is really a combination of the concept that Protestants are "invincible" in their "ignorance" (hardly a concept upon which to build "brotherhood") along with a wholesale adoption by Rome of 19th century liberal concepts. Neither of these is acceptable to evangelicals, nor should they be. But the smiley-face pasted on these dual concepts gives Rome the opportunity to appear to be magnanimous, offering an ersatz "fullness" which some of the other branches of Christianity purportedly don't have. Thus, Rome insults Protestants, and they frequently don't even realize the doctrinal condescension and the rot that lies behind the smiles.

All along, genuine historical scholarship that I'm reading is showing two things. It is (a) shoring up historical justification for Jesus, and (b) clearly exposing the sham of any historical "justification" behind the papacy, which is the heart and soul of the Roman system. Hence, in recent years, Rome has retreated behind behind the imagery of a "Petrine" ministry, in which Peter has some vaguely defined "headship" among the "college" of Apostles (and not the "primacy of jurisdiction" pronounced in a more cocksure era of Vatican I).

Rather than "explore" "personal journeys", it is a far better thing to spend our time re-examining Christian history as it was lived and breathed in generation after generation. We would see that every branch of Christianity has its problems, but no one has done more violence to Christianity than has Roman Catholicism.

Much better in my opinion to give up the fuzzy, back-stabbing ecumenism and really analyze what divides us in honest terms, using honest exegesis from Scripture, and honest historical investigation.

First trial holding "The Church" accountable for sex abuse crisis

We've noted strenuously here that, in the midst of the Roman Catholic sexual abuse scandals, no bishops were ever held to account for having shuffled around abusive priests, enabling them to continue to prey on the young and innocent.

For those Roman Catholics who want to try to mitigate the guilt of their own institution by saying "oh yeah, well Protestants do it too", well, there is no Protestant equivalent to these administrative monsters who were the enablers.

Now, in Philadelphia, a trial has begun, accusing an "Archdiocesan official" of covering up [and hence, enabling] abuse. Jury selection is under way, and the trial will open on March 26. This one will be worth watching, because it will establish a precedent:
The trial for the first church official charged with the cover-up of child sexual abuse is under way in Philadelphia, as jury selection began Feb. 21 for Msgr. William J. Lynn and two codefendants. Lynn faces charges of felony child endangerment and conspiracy.

Prosecutors allege the former archdiocesan secretary of clergy recommended parish assignments for the codefendants, Fr. James J. Brennan and former priest Edward Avery, that would place them in contact with children, knowing they had abused or been accused of abusing children in the past.

Brennan and Avery will stand alongside Lynn when the trial opens March 26. Both men face charges of molesting the same St. Jerome Parish altar boy on separate occasions.

All three have pleaded not guilty. The archdiocese, called an unindicted coconspirator by the prosecution, is covering Lynn’s legal fees.

Lynn, 60, is the first Roman Catholic official in the United States charged in the sex abuse scandal for administrative actions. As secretary of clergy for Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua from 1992-2004, Lynn was responsible for making recommendations on priests’ assignments in the archdiocese, with his duties extending to investigating reports of priests sexually abusing children and recommending appropriate action. Bevilacqua died Jan. 31 at age 88, a day after the judge ruled him competent to testify in the case.

“The whole country is watching because it’s a key moment in the ongoing story about how the church handles child sex abuse,” said Marci Hamilton, who holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Cardozo School of Law at New York’s Yeshiva University. Lynn’s case could push the focus beyond the perpetrator and to the systemic problems in the church, she said.

“I would really be surprised if [Lynn] were found to be not guilty. The evidence is compelling,” she said.

Hamilton, a leading church/state scholar and counsel in multiple sex abuse cases, said the prosecution’s case hinges on showing a pattern in the archdiocese of putting known clergy abusers of children in contact with other children.

To that end, the prosecution won a major pretrial victory when Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled they could tell jurors how the archdiocese handled 22 past cases of alleged abuse.

“Those cases will be a part of establishing that it wasn’t simply one oversight, it wasn’t an accident that the survivor that’s at the heart of the case against Msgr. Lynn was put into danger’s way,” Hamilton said. “It was actually just an ongoing practice that he was following over the years. ... It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t an oversight. It was a system of covering up child sex abuse.”
Of course, Rome has dragged its feet for so long, that most of the major offenders are either dead or practically dead. But as has noted, it has "ambitious plans to post all publicly available documents that are relevant to the Catholic abuse crisis". Having a public record is going to be very important for history.

George Will: "Plan B for stopping Obama"

In a column that's not hopeful for the 2012 Presidential election, but hopeful for both the country and conservativism (and reminiscent of his columm some years ago that noted that the Republic had survived eight years of Bill Clinton), George Will reminds people of the conservative success that followed Goldwater's massive 1964 loss, and pointed to further successes in the future, in case, as he notes, "neither … seems likely to be elected. Neither has demonstrated, or seems likely to develop, an aptitude for energizing a national coalition that translates into 270 electoral votes".
Several possible Supreme Court nominations and the staffing of the regulatory state are among the important reasons conservatives should try to elect whomever the GOP nominates. But conservatives this year should have as their primary goal making sure Republicans wield all the gavels in Congress in 2013.

If Republicans do, their committee majorities will serve as fine-mesh filters, removing President Obama’s initiatives from the stream of legislation. Then Republicans can concentrate on what should be the essential conservative project of restoring something like constitutional equipoise between the legislative and executive branches.

Such a restoration would mean that a reelected Obama, a lame duck at noon Jan. 20, would have a substantially reduced capacity to do harm. Granted, he could veto any major conservative legislation. But such legislation will not even get to his desk because Republicans will not have 60 senators. In an undoubtedly bipartisan achievement, both parties have participated in institutionalizing an extra-constitutional Senate supermajority requirement for all but innocuous or uncontroversial legislation. This may be a dubious achievement, but it certainly enlarges the power of a congressional party to play defense against a president….

Beginning next January, 51 or more Republican senators, served by the canny Mitch McConnell’s legislative talents, could put sand in the gears of an overbearing and overreaching executive branch. This could restore something resembling the rule of law, as distinct from government by fiats issuing from unaccountable administrative agencies exercising excessive discretion.
What he's suggesting, of course, is that even if Obama wins, if Republicans can win the Senate (as they seem likely to do), four years of "gridlock" in Washington will provide both a corrective for Obama's over-reach and an opportunity for conservative candidates in 2016 to emerge and refine their messages:
From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan, Republicans have a rising generation of potential 2016 candidates. This does not mean conservatives should be indifferent to the fate of this year’s nominee, and it is perhaps premature to despair of Romney’s and Santorum’s political aptitudes. Still, the presidency is not everything, and there will be another election in the next year divisible by four.

Evaluating the Claims of Scientists

HT: Patrick Chan

Friday, March 02, 2012

Hypocrisy is...

Also, there's a new article at the Abolitionist Society blog.

Gullibility, Rebellion, or ...?

Damned if you do and damned if you don't

Evolutionary ethics and domestic violence

Roger Olson on the Old Testament

rogereolson says:
I would go so far as to say that we should not focus on the cultural meaning, the circumstances, etc., except out of historical interest. Everything we need to know about God and salvation is in the New Testament. The OT was types and shadows. It provides some context for understanding the New Testament, but it provides nothing essential for doctrine or practice that Christians cannot find in the NT.

Six Keys to Unlock Revelation

Adam: Man or Myth?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Amish

What does face-value meaning mean?

Popular dispensationalists tend to use hermeneutical shortcuts like “plain sense” or “face-value” meaning. I say “popular” in distinction academic dispensationalists who do the grammatico-historical spadework.

To see the limitations of this approach, let’s take a couple of examples. Consider the phrase: “Shooting the bull.”

What’s the face-value meaning of that phrase? When we hear that phrase, should we form a mental image of Buffalo Bill with a rifle?

No. The phrase is idiomatic for small talk.

Or consider the statement: “He took a bath.”

What’s the face-value meaning of that statement? Well, it could mean he washed himself in a bathtub. Or it could mean he lost a lot of money in a bad investment.

Which meaning is the face-value meaning? Which meaning is correct?

There’s no way of telling, from the statement itself, which meaning is correct. That’s context dependent.

Analyzing the meaning of the words and their syntactical relationships won’t tell you what the statement means. You need to be able to put that statement in a real-world context to know what it means.

Homosexual "Marriage"

Rocinante to the rescue

I'm going to comment on this post:

Does he believe ethnic Israel will get the land promised to them in blessing for (at least) “a thousand generations” (Psa. 105:8)? Does he believe Ezekiel’s Temple is a physical temple like Solomon’s?  If not, what is it? Does he believe the covenants God made to Abraham (Jer. 33:22, 26), David (Jer. 33:17, 21, 26), and Phineas (Jer. 33:18, 21) mean what they say, or did God intend to couch these promises as types to be properly understood many centuries later?  And how does he know?
I understand this, but I see little or no proof of his thesis.  Please take note of the fact that he completely bypasses the references I gave above.  These examples, coupled with the others I have given (which were also bypassed), prove that the covenant promises were not viewed typologically as revelation progressed from one century to another.  This is the OT interpreting the OT.  It cannot be ducked because these passages do not comport with Hays’s argument.  Think about it: There is well over 1,200 years from Abraham to Jeremiah; 800 years from Phineas to Jeremiah, but the promises are not symbolized or typologized in any way (please read the passages).
I don’t know why Henebury labors under the illusion that Jer 33 poses a special problem for covenant theology. After all, Henebury keeps appealing to the “face-value,” “surface meaning” or “plain sense” meaning of Biblical texts. He keeps harping on the fact that the text “means what it says.” Well, what does the text he leans on actually say? For instance:

17 “For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18  and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”

Has a continuous succession of Davidic kings been ruling the Jews since the Roman Era? Likewise, has a continuous succession of Levitical priests been performing their sacerdotal duties since the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD?

Isn’t the dispensational interpretation a makeshift “reinterpretation”?

Covenants are not open to double-meanings (or typological fulfillments).  Covenants are like contracts.  If they don’t mean what they say what is the use of them?

Actually, we’re talking about covenant promises. Henebury is in no position to stipulate, a priori, that a promise can’t be fulfilled typologically.

If they do mean what they say then there cannot be motifs floating around that contradict them by what Steve evasively calls “recapitulation” and others call “reinterpretation” or “redefinition.” 

It’s a category mistake for Henebury to act as though recapitulation is synonymous with reinterpretation or redefinition. Recapitulation can be a literary device or it can be a case of history repeating itself. In either event, that’s not synonymous with reinterpretation or redefinition.

Please read what I said in the last post, especially about Jer. 16.

Which I responded to.

Rib cagey

C. John Collins said:
...I note, as many have, that the verb "form" is probably an image for the work of a potter. I find that this image appears elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern origins stories, and thus I want to be careful about what Genesis is saying; drawing on the work of Alan Millard, I wrote: It also leaves us careful about applying too firm a literalism in relating the words of Genesis 2:7 to a physical and biological account of human origins, although it does insist that the process was not a purely natural one.
Maybe I'm missing something, which is quite possible, but this doesn't seem to be very clear to me. If God forming Adam from the dust is an image of the work of a potter, then is it a literal image or a non-literal, more picturesque or symbolic image? Did God literally form Adam out of the dust or ground or earth and mold him into Adam, or is this potter imagery no more than a represention or symbol for whatever actually occurred in reality? Collins appears to be playing coy.
To be sure, Buswell goes on to deny that God used a "genetic process" in the formation, though he does not slam those who hold some version of that. But the words of Genesis 2:7 do not actually rule out every kind of "genetic process." . . . We too are "formed [ultimately] of dust," even if the dust has gone through a few intermediate (genetic) steps!
1. At a minimum, Collins is open to the idea that God used a "genetic process" to form Adam and Eve. But I don't know exactly what Collins is referring to when he uses the term "genetic process." Again it's a bit vague.

2. On the one hand, Collins appears to tip his hand a bit more when it sounds like he's speaking for himself and indicating what he believes in saying we're formed from the dust "even if the dust has gone through a few intermediate (genetic) steps." That is, the fact that Collins notes there's a "genetic process" with "intermediate (genetic) steps" would seem to imply God created Adam and Eve stepwise or in some sort of progression through time rather than as, say, fully formed individuals in an instant of time.

But on the other hand, couching it in such a fashion still seems ambiguous to me. For one thing, "genetic steps" could indicate either microevolution or macroevolution (or both).

3. Indeed, I don't know why Collins uses the rather indistinct "genetic" as a stand-in for whatever it is he really means. Obviously every living creature on earth has genes (RNA or DNA based). God created living creatures to have genes. That's not controversial.

But is that what all Collins is saying?

4. In fact, I think one could reasonably take Collins to suggest Gen 2:7 doesn't preclude the idea that humans evolved from phylogenetically lower forms of life when he says "even if the dust has gone through a few intermediate (genetic) steps."

5. Yet I could potentially see Collins might mean something stronger such as Gen 2:7 is symbolically indicating life began in or as dust, evolved, and eventually became what we know to be modern humans. Like maybe Collins is really saying, evolutionarily speaking, inorganic matter in the primordial soup eventually produced life, so the dust represents inorganic matter evolving into hominid life, from which God in turn chose an individual male hominid and an individual female hominid and breathed his breath of life into them, and therefore these became humans bearing the image of God.

For instance, Collins has elsewhere said: "If genetics eventually forces reconsideration, he could perhaps reconceive of Adam and Eve as 'the king and queen of a larger population' and thereby preserve Genesis' historicity."

Again, what seems to lurk behind this view is the idea that Adam and Eve could have been selected by God from among a pre-existing population of hominids and made "human." Perhaps there's a small population of hominids (which evolved from another species). Say 10,000 individuals. Of the 10,000 hominid individuals, a male and a female hominid were chosen by God. Then God breathed the breath of life into them. Thus they became "human." And the father and mother of all subsequent humans including ourselves.

If this is the case, then it would be quite controversial. For it would be espousing theistic evolution to some degree.

And theistic evolution would arguably undermine Scripture. Others far better than I have pointed out how. I'll just point out if theistic evolution is true, then what's stopping modern humans from evolving into something not human in the future? Say into something like the star child of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or say we become all but emotionless, maybe sort of like Vulcans, since emotions have become a tremendous evolutionary liability for humans. If we do continue to evolve, then that could theoretically affect our essential nature. Which in turn could mean Christ's nature as a man might be different from future "human" nature.

Or does God intervene to keep us from evolving beyond what we are now? If so, it strikes me as a rather ad hoc solution, no? But in any case the question remains, why?
Hence if a person should want to suggest some level of intermediate process for Genesis 2:7, then rather than argue on that point I prefer to make sure that he can see the event as a special creation.
This too sounds fuzzy to me. What does Collins mean by "some level of intermediate process"? Is this meant to imply neo-Darwinism?

In addition, is Collins saying if someone wants to intrepret Gen 2:7 as possibly allowing for human evolution along neo-Darwinian theory, then he won't argue the point, but he'll make sure the person sees humans were created by God's special creation? Although special creation has a distinct meaning in theological language, it's not so distinct as to preclude, say, the idea I spoke about in #5 above, I don't think. Is this what Collins is suggesting? Or something else? I mean, what precisely does Collins' use of "special creation" entail here?
Why contend over further details about the steps God took in forming, when we have bigger fish to fry?
That depends in large measure on what Collins is suggesting. Is he opening the door to the possibility of theistic evolution, for instance?
I wonder whether we can conduct such disagreements without insinuating that the other party has somehow undermined the authority of Scripture.
But if neo-Darwinism is true, then it would seem like Scripture is undermined, and, if so, then its authority diminished, as Belcher has explained in his review.
But I am left wondering why, if someone comes to suspect that a brother minister in the same denomination has articulated things that seem to have compromised his ordination vows, the first thought isn't, "That can't be right! Let me call that guy and see if I understood him correctly before I get us into the process of public warning which calls forth a public reply." It would sure save a lot of time.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Collins published a book for the general public. So it would invite a public response.

Anyway, again maybe I'm missing something or I'm too slow or simple-minded to understand what Collins is arguing, but my impression is Collins is quite wishy washy in spelling out what he actually thinks. At best, his response seems cagey to me.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Looks like the One True Church® is treating the Guarnizo incident as a PR problem and letting the beleaguered priest hang out to dry:

Seems to me that Cardinal Wuerl's own policy is out of step with Canon Law 915.

Collins v. Belcher

Positive Mysterianism Undefeated

Anti-Personhood Rally at Oklahoma State Capitol, Feb 28, 2012

I was there.
See my review here.

Princeton and the Old Testament

HT: Jeff Downs

Both Jewish monotheism and an effort to distinguish itself from the pagan Roman culture shaped the “early and explosively quick” devotion to Jesus in earliest Christianity

I’m continuing to work through Larry Hurtado’s work Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, ©2003).

In addition to the remarkable life, death, and resurrection of Jesus himself (the net effect of which was to polarize the responses about him, “with some so negative as to justify his crucifixion and some so positive as to form the basis of one or more new religious movements of dedicated followers), two other factors that shaped “earliest Christianity” (especially during the lives of the Apostles, and prior to the year 100 A.D.) included: monotheism in the New Testament, and also the effects of the religious environment.

Of the concept of monotheism, Hurtado writes:
In 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 Paul engages at some length unavoidable questions for Christians living in Roman cities, questions about their participation in pagan religious activities; and his direction are to shun these activities entirely. He refers to the pagan religious ceremonies as eidolothyta (8:1, 4), “offering to idols,” reflecting scornful attitude toward the pagan deities characteristic of his Jewish background. Over against what Paul calls derisively the many “so-called gods in heaven or on earth” of the religious environment, he poses the “one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (8:5-6) In 10:14-22 Paul again demands that his converts completely avoid participation in the “worship of idols (eidololatria), insisting that participation in the Christian sacred meal (“the cup of the Lord … the table of the Lord”) is incompatible with joining in the religious festivities devoted to these other deities, whom he here calls “demons” (10:20-21) (pg. 48).
Interesting here that two centuries later these “gods” called “demons” by Paul are, according to Everett Ferguson, re-named by the “Church” in wholesale fashion as “saints”. He notes, “the martyrs and the saints received the homage once given to these very “gods” that Paul denounced as demons. “When Christianity replaced paganism, the saints took over the functions of the specialized local deities” (Ferguson, “Backgrounds of Early Christianity” Third Edition, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, UK: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg. 182). But that’s not the point Hurtado is making here.

Though Paul freely states a willingness to adapt himself on a number of matters “to those [Gentiles] outside the law” (9:21), he maintains a totally negative stance toward worship of anything or anyone other than the one God of Israel and the one Kyrios Jesus Christ.
Worship, he defines as “the actions of reverence intended by the person(s) offering it to express specifically religious devotion of the sort given to a deity in the culture(s) or tradition(s) most directly relevant to earliest Christiainty. That is, I use the term to designate “cultic” worship, especially devotion offered in a liturgical setting and intended to represent, manifest, and reinforce the relationship of the devotee(s) to a deity (38).

This monotheism was so strong and ingrained and “exclusivist”, Hurtado points out that the book of Revelation, for example “shows both the continuing influence of Christian Jews outside Palestine late in the first century and also how among such Christians monotheism continued to be the emphatic context within which they offered devotion to Christ”. He notes that the author of Revelation
… accuses the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira of accommodating some who encourage others to “eat food sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:14-15, 20). It is difficult to be sure of what precise behavior is in view here, but this pejorative wording indicates clearly that the author thinks it compromises in some way the monotheistic exclusiveness he regards as obligatory for Christians. Running throughout the book is a contrast between worship of God (e.g., 4-5; 7:9-12; 11:15-19; 14:6-7) and improper worship of idols (e.g., 9:20-21) and of the Beast (e.g., 13:5-8, 11-12; 14:9-11). Moreover, as Bauckham noted in two passages John is forbidden to worship [or even bow down before] even the glorious angel who as divine emissary brings the revelations of the book (19:19; 22:8-9). These things all indicate a complete contempt for the larger religious life of the Roman world and a strong (indeed, one could say fierce) fidelity to the tradition of exclusivist, monotheism that extends to a prohibition against the worship of heavenly representatives of God. The scene in Revelation 5 where the Lamb is pictured receiving with God the idealized worship of heaven, is all the more remarkable in light of this, and surely indicates an amazingly exalted status of Christ in the religious belief and practice advocated by the author. In fact, as I have demonstrated in One God, One Lord, we have no analogous accommodation of a second figure along with God as recipient of such devotion in the Jewish tradition of the time, making it very difficult to fit this inclusion of Christ as recipient of devotion into any known devotional pattern attested among Jewish groups of the Roman period. It is important to note the specific nature of the devotional pattern reflected in these Christian texts. There are two key components: (1) a strong affirmation of exclusivist monotheism in belief and practice, along with (2) an inclusion of Christ along with God as rightful recipient of cultic devotion (pg. 50).
In addition to this fierce monotheism (while worshipping Christ as God) in early Christianity, many elements of the Roman culture – “the Roman-era religious environment” – influenced early Christianity. “At least since the classic study by Edwin Hatch, scholars have taken seriously various influences of the Greek background and roman religious setting of early Christianity. How could there be any group or individuals not shaped in various ways by the cultural setting in which they live? How could any group such as the early Christian circles, concerned to communicate with and recruit from their contemporaries, not deliberately seek to make their efforts meaningful in terms appropriate to the setting? So of course, in these senses at least, early Christians were shaped, and shaped themselves, by influences of their environment” (pgs 74-75).

But despite this cultural closeness, the earliest Christians took pains to “push back” against the culture, and to establish points of distinction with the environment around them:
I mention here two things in particular. First, it is clear that in their efforts to commend their religious views and practices, the early Christians sought to differentiate their message from others of the time. That is, they took account of their religious environment much more consciously and critically than they would have had hey seen their message and devotional pattern as simply one of many acceptable versions of religiosity of their cultural setting. This means that the Roman-era religious environment was influential, but not only, perhaps not primarily, in terms of the simple or direct appropriation of ideas and practices. In their efforts to articulate and justify their distinctive in message and practice in the Roman-era religious setting, and in their reactions against features of the religious environment, their religious rhetoric and religious practices were also shaped. For example, I contend that the rising frequency in the Christological use of divine sonship language that we see in the Christian writings of the late first century and thereafter may very well reflect a reaction against the contemporaneous increase in the use of the same rhetoric in the emperor cult under the Flavians and thereafter (75-76).
So if the earliest Christians adopted a particular rhetoric or ritual, it wasn’t for the purpose of imitating it so much as to distinguish their own beliefs.
Second, it is also clear that the early Christian movement suffered opposition and criticism, initially from other sectors of the Jewish matrix and then in the pagan religious and political arenas as well. The Jewish opposition and critique came immediately, at least from the Jerusalem authorities who colluded with Pilate in bringing Jesus up on the charges that led to his execution. In fact, of course, the execution of Jesus itself meant that opposition to any positive thematizing of him was there even before what is usually regarded as the birth of the Christian movement! As already argued … this condemnation of Jesus would have put tremendous pressure on his followers either to capitulate or to reinforce and defend any positive claims about him (75-76).
He also looks at Paul’s “preconversion opposition to Jewish Christians” as a “very vigorous example” that “Jewish opposition obviously involved polemics against Jesus and any attempt to make him religiously significant by his followers.” With these and other examples, Hurdado notes that the earliest Christians had to struggle against their “often adversariarial” religious environment as “a major factor driving and shaping the early and explosively quick Christ devotion of early Christian circles” (77).

Next time, Lord willing, I’ll look at Paul’s letters as evidence not only as a source for Paul’s own struggles and theologies, but also as evidence of the “pre-Pauline Christian groups” with whom he interacted in those first 20 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation"

Obama and anti-Semitism

Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here

A Response to Eastern Orthodoxy

Violence in the OT

I'm going to post an email exchange I had with a friend. His comments are indented. 

It seems that I need to understand a bit more about notions of corporate responsibility in the ANE; there seem to be multiple places in the OT where God hold's groups accountable for the actions of one/a few.

There's some truth to that, although that can be overstated. Oftentimes I think it has less to do with corporate responsibility than the fact that we are social creatures. As such, collective judgment is, to some degree, inevitable. Collective judgment doesn't ipso facto mean everyone is guilty, or equally guilty. Take a paradigm-case like the Babylonian exile. You have godly Jews like Ezekiel and Daniel who suffer as a result of what their ungodly countrymen did.

Even when judgment targets individuals, that will impact the innocent. Everyone is related to someone else. If you punish a husband and father, that will impact the wife and kids.

But there's also the fact that, as social creatures, we often think and act alike. We influence each other. We are, to some degree, products of our social conditioning. And it's a circular dynamic. We both condition, and are conditioned by, our communities. Consider the social dynamic in a high school. The stereotypical subgroups and rivalries.

Now, I think I have grown very sensitive over time to some of the violence and judgment in the OT.

Brutality is the norm in human history. I've been blessed to live in a time and place where that's rarer. But that's a very narrow window. My experience has been quite abnormal.

I don't think we're supposed to like the violent OT passages. It's not meant to be edifying or inspirational.

Judges is a classic case. That's riddled with atrocities, and the reader is supposed to find that appalling.

Or take Lamentations. The writer is appalled by what he sees. The reader is supposed to share the writer's horror.

Maybe you guys will address some of these alleged OT atrocities on Triablogue (or already have). I feel I can often really relate to your perspective. I read some of Holding's stuff, but sometimes I disagree with what he's arguing. I recently was reading 2 Samuel - that instance where David gives Saul's descendents over to the Gibeonites to be killed - to stop the drought. Holding seems to think it was retrieving Saul's bones for burial that stopped the drought. But it seems from the text, it was appeasing the Gibeonites that did this. This whole incident confuses me; I don't understand why God would accept this.

The commentators aren't very helpful on that issue. I think there are two ways of broaching the issue.

1) Let's assume for the sake of argument that this is an issue of justice. Saul's sons didn't commit their father's crime. On the other hand, we're all familiar with stories about relatives of tyrannical kings or military dictators. The relatives may not commit any of the crimes the despot commits or commands. But they live under his roof and thoroughly enjoy the perks that go along with being the first family. They wallow in the lavish, pampered, lifestyle, and they don't lose an hour of sleep over the victims of the regime. Indeed, they are happily insulated from all that.

Sometimes the despot is toppled in palace coup or popular insurrection. Suddenly the tables are turned. It isn't just the despot who finds himself on the receiving end of what he used to dish out to others. His relatives suffer the same gruesome fate.

And it seems to me that there's poetic justice in that. No, they didn't kill or torture anyone. No, they didn't starve anyone to death. But they just didn't care. They were happy to reap the benefits of being the first family, having the crème of everything, while others suffered horrible deprivation.

I seriously doubt that Saul's sons were any different.

2) However, that may be the wrong angle. Maybe this has nothing to do with just deserts. Maybe it's about an honor code. Saul isn't posthumously indicted for committing murder, but for violating an ancient treaty. Even though he murdered Gibeonites, that's not the indictment. It's not killing, per se, but killing those who were supposed to be shielded by treaty. Who are legally sacrosanct.

Israel, in the person her king, failed to honor her public agreements. It's not so much a moral issue, but a failure of reciprocity. In a treaty the parties have mutual obligations to each other.

Saul dishonored the Gibeonites. Disrespected the treaty.

And according to the operative honor code, the penalty is tit for tat. You killed some of ours so we get to kill some of yours.

It was an honor code that everyone understood and tacitly accepted. If the situation were reversed, the Israelites would demand the same in return.

Think of a duel, or single combat (e.g. David & Goliath). That's not about injustice, but dishonor. We may find it silly, and that's often the case, but in warrior cultures, it's a big deal. And the ANE was a world of warrior cultures.

3) This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that Saul's sons are singled out. His daughters aren't included. That's because it's a male-oriented honor-code. Women are exempt.

The males are the representative figures in this transaction. There were certain perks to being a Jewish man, but that, in turn, carried certain liabilities.

4) This is also why the Bible has a doctrine of eschatological justice. Scripture recognizes the fact that many things happen in this life which cannot be adequately recompensed in this life.

A big one for me also is when it is said that women will eat their offspring during the captivities/famines in the OT and it seems like this is God's punishment. That to me is a horror I can't fathom.

i) Well, you're supposed to find that horrific. It isn't meant to be edifying or inspirational. Bible writers cite that as an example of extreme depravity. You and I ought to find that unspeakably appalling.

ii) We're naturally attracted to the attractive sins. It's only when sin turns ugly that we begin to see the real character of sin. Sometimes punishment has to be ugly for us to finally get the point.

iii) This is less about Scripture than the world. It's not unique to Scripture. For cannibalism during siege also happens outside the Bible. So that goes to the general "problem of evil."

It's not so much whether the Bible is believable, but whether God is believable. For that's a part of God's world. Not just the world of the Bible, but the world outside the Bible.

iv) So it's ultimately a question of why God "allows" it. I've discussed theodicy at various times.

v) Of course, some folks take this as a reason to chuck the Christian faith. But there's a catch. If we live in a godless world, then it's not evil for mothers to kill and consume their children. A godless world is a world beyond good or evil. We're just animals. Animals driven by the survival instinct. Like wild animals that eat their young. Lions that kill the cubs of a rival lion. Hyena siblings that kill the runt. 

Muslim civil wars

Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own  is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears (Prov 26:17).

The Obama administration is contemplating military intervention in Syria. Before that, it intervened militarily in Libya.

Should the US intervene to quell Muslim civil wars? I don’t see how that promotes our national security. To the contrary, when Muslims are busy killing other Muslims, they’re too preoccupied to focus on killing Americans. It’s beneficial to our national security when Muslims view fellow Muslims as the enemy. So let them have at it.   

Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth

As a rule, politicians aren’t thinkers. As a result, Republican politicians aren’t usually very good at articulating what’s wrong with the liberal agenda. Before you can articulate what’s wrong with the liberal agenda, you have to take it apart.

Unlike the Ten Commandments, liberal ideology isn’t ready-made. Liberals have to decide what they are supposed to believe. So liberal ideology evolves over time. There are different influences feeding into liberal ideology. The ideology is often contradictory. But in my observation, these are the basics:

1. Fairness

Liberals have a simplistic notion of fairness. All things being equal, we ought to treat everyone equally. However, what this means is that we ought to treat like situations alike and unlike situations unalike. But liberals typically disregard that key qualification. This results in coercive equality. As Robert Bork puts it:

Egalitarianism requires hierarchy because equality of condition cannot be achieved or approximated without coercion. The coercers will be bureaucrats and politicians who will, and already do, form a new elite class. Political and governmental authority replace the authorities of family, church, profession, and business. The project is to sap the strength of these latter institutions so that individuals stand bare before the state, which, liberals assume with considerable justification, they will administer. We will be coerced into virtue, as modern liberals define virtue: a ruthlessly egalitarian society. This agenda is, of course, already well advanced.
Both diminished performance and personal injustice are accomplished through radically egalitarian measures. Quotas and affirmative action, for example, are common and increasing not only in the workplace but in university admissions, faculty hiring, and promotion. The excuse is past discrimination, but the result is that individuals who have never been discriminated against are preferred to individuals who have never discriminated, regardless of their respective achievements. Predictably, the result is anger on both sides and an increasingly polarized society. After years of struggle to emplace the principle of reward according to achievement, the achievement principle is being jettisoned for one of reward according to birth once more.
Remarkably little thought attends this process. The demand is always for more equality, but no egalitarian ever specifies how much equality will be enough.
In their final stages, radical egalitarianism becomes tyranny and radical individualism descends into hedonism. These translate as bread and circuses. Government grows larger and more intrusive in order to direct the distribution of goods and services in an ever more equal fashion, while people are diverted, led to believe that their freedoms are increasing, by a great variety of entertainments featuring violence and sex. David Frum argues that the root of our trouble is big government, but the root of big government is the egalitarian passion, which intimidates even many conservatives. So long as that passion persists, government is likely only to get bigger and more intrusive.

2. The Mommy Party

As Jude Wanniski puts it,

The Democratic party is the Mommy Party in that it represents security, which must be pessimistic, just as mother and wife as traditional keepers of hearth and home are risk averse. Republicans represent growth, which results from risk-taking, which requires optimism...Republicans become Republicans because they think more about maintaining standards of behavior than Democrats do. Their focus is the individual while the Democratic focus is the community...Democrats think about giving people another chance, and wonder about rules that force men to operate in lockstep...Mommies dote on their own children, but not necessarily the neighbors’ children, while Daddies have to rely on the neighbor boys when the community needs a force to form a posse, fight a battle, or kill a moose for dinner.

I think this formulation could be refined. But it’s a useful approximation.

The Mommy Party perspective has consequences for jurisprudence and public education. To take a few examples:

Far more common than Margaret Thatcher’s rationality was the emotionality of the women jurors in the Menendez brothers' trials. All six women jurors in the Erik Menendez trial voted to acquit him of the murder of his father (all six males voted guilty of murder). A virtually identical breakdown by sex took place in the Lyle Menendez trial for the murder of their mother. The women all had compassion for the brothers despite their confessions to the shotgun murders of their parents.
To say that the human race needs masculine and feminine characteristics is to state the obvious. But each sex comes with prices. Men can too easily lack compassion, reduce sex to animal behavior and become violent. And women’s emotionality, when unchecked, can wreak havoc on those closest to these women and on society as a whole–when emotions and compassion dominate in making public policy.

Every society confronts the problem of civilizing its young males. The traditional approach is through character education: Develop the young man's sense of honor. Help him become a considerate, conscientious human being. Turn him into a gentleman. This approach respects boys’ masculine nature; it is time-tested, and it works. Even today, despite several decades of moral confusion, most young men understand the term “gentleman” and approve of the ideals it connotes.
What Gilligan and her followers are proposing is quite different: civilize boys by diminishing their masculinity. “Raise boys like we raise girls” is Gloria Steinem’s advice. This approach is deeply disrespectful of boys. It is meddlesome, abusive, and quite beyond what educators in a free society are mandated to do.

Many schools now discourage or prohibit competitive games such as tag or dodge ball. The rationale: too many hurt feelings. In May 2002, for example, the principal of Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, Calif., sent a newsletter to parents informing them that children could no longer play tag during the lunch recess. As she explained, “In this game, there is a ‘victim’ or ‘It,’ which creates a self-esteem issue.”
Which games are deemed safe and self-affirming? The National PTA recommends a cooperative alternative to the fiercely competitive "tug of war" called "tug of peace."

3. Spaceship Earth

Following the lead of Buckminster Fuller, liberals increasingly adopt a spaceship earth perspective. On a spaceship, there are limited supplies of air, food, and water. This pans into global warmist hysteria.

The spaceship earth perspective results in an increasingly regimented, totalitarian existence. But it also gives liberals a vicarious sense of purpose. They are dutiful foot soldiers in a moral cause.

Compare this with a libertarian perspective. For instance, some consumers choose a high carb diet. They know that’s probably bad for them in the long run, but they take a calculated risk. They figure that we’re all going to die some day, so they’d rather eat what they like, even if that shaves a few years off their lifespan, than deny themselves.

But on a spaceship earth perspective, their individualism is unacceptable. If we have universal healthcare, then high-risk patients are a drain on the system. Hence, liberals dispatch the food police to dictate to restaurants menu items and menu portions. For instance:

Santorum's political philosophy


Good introductory materials for understanding textual issues

For anyone who's interested in getting up to speed on the history of New Testament textual transmission and critical issues, Moises Silva offers an excellent introduction to New Testament issues that includes, if I recall, a history and overview of the whole field of textual criticism. I believe this is a recorded seminary course from Westminster, Philadelphia. (Other lectures in this course talk about the concept of authority as it would have been understood in first century Palestine, Jewish understandings of Tradition at the time, translation, linguistics, politics, and other information that is very helpful for understanding how the New Testament got to us.)

As well, D. C. Parker's work, New Testament Manuscripts and their Texts, provides an overview of some of the different manuscripts and types. The website is a companion to his book, and the images [for the most part] aren't in the book, they're online, at this site, and so you're getting a pretty good deal here.