Saturday, August 03, 2013

Faith & works

This is a sequel to my earlier post:
How do we harmonize Paul and James on justification? The short answer is that Paul and James are talking about two different things. 
James is concerned with the nature of saving faith. Between dead faith and living faith. Living faith is a lived faith. Living out what you profess with your lips. Enacted faith. 
Living faith is a persevering faith. The walk of faith is for marathon runners, not sprinters. The true test is not how you begin, but how you end. 
And even if we stick with the terminology of "justification"–which can be misleading (see my prior post)–James isn't saying that justification includes works. Rather, he's saying faith includes works–not in the sense that faith is partly a work, but that living faith results in good works. 
By contrast, Paul uses "justification" to mean righteousness is a divine gift. We have no righteousness of our own. Rather, we have the righteousness of Christ. An ascriptive status rather than an achieved status. Indeed, in spite of what we are like, on our own terms. Like the son of a king, who is a prince, not because of something he did, but because of something he was born into. 
Paul usage is idiosyncratic. He redefines the "justification" word-group for his own purposes. And every writer has that prerogative. Writers aren't bound by prior usage. They are free to invest old words with new meanings. James doesn't use "justification" in that specialized sense. So there's no contradiction. But due to the influence of Pauline theology, his innovative usage became the dominant usage, which is confusing if read back into James.
And Paul agrees with James on the nature of saving faith. But Paul is concerned with something different. He's wrestling with a theological dilemma. How can a holy God forgive sinners? Sinners aren't good enough to merit salvation on the basis of their own goodness. 
Indeed, their situation is worse than that. It's a duty of a righteous God to punish the unrighteous, not to forgive them. What makes a just God just is that he exacts retribution on the unjust. To acquit the guilty is the mark of an unjust judge. So how can God justly forgive the unjust? 
Paul's solution is penal substitution. The vicarious atonement of Christ. 
And justification by faith mirrors vicarious atonement. To place your faith in another is to resign faith in yourself. To hope in another abandons hope in yourself. 

Healing a few

6 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief (Mk 6:1-5). 
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief (Mt 13:53-58).
What's the relation between unbelief and Jesus not performing miracles (Matthew) or not being able to perform miracles (Mark) in Nazareth? Is Jesus impotent to perform miracles against their will? Is lack of faith a check on his power? Must people cooperate? 
I don't think that's the point of the passage. The problem is not that they were lacking in faith, or that they didn't have enough faith. Rather, they greeted his ministry with belligerent disbelief. That's not the same as doubt, weak faith, or wavering faith. Rather, that's the opposite of faith. A implacable attitude to the contrary. 
Jesus not performing miracles in that setting is punitive. He refuses to reward their animosity. They get what they deserve, which is nothing. Those who refuse him, lose him. 
However, the opposition wasn't total, so he did heal a few. A remnant. 

Jason Stellman, “Defending the Faith”

Yes, I remember being scoffed at when I said something to the effect that if Jason Stellman converted to Roman Catholicism, they’d turn him into a celebrity.

But that very thing has happened already, as Stellman was one of a number of “headliners” at a recent “Defending the Faith” conference held at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, July 26-28.

Stellman joined Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Patrick Madrid, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, Peter Kreeft, Mark Shea, Ralph Martin, and others. Stellman’s talk was based on his conversion story as posted at Called to Communion, “I Fought the Church and the Church Won”.

According to Shea, there were some 1500 attendees. He had this to say about Stellman:

the big highlight for me was Jason Stellman's conversion story, which is a true profile in courage. Jason contacted me several years ago because he lives in my area (right across the lake over in Woodinville). We met once and (though I don't remember saying it) he said that in that one meeting I told him I had no doubt in my mind he would become a Catholic. I don't recall saying it but I do recall thinking it as we talked. At any rate, it apparently hit him hard without my realizing it….

His dilemma was that he was a Calvinist pastor who, having acted as prosecutor in a heresy trial against Peter Leithart for exhibiting dangerously Romish tendencies, had himself wound up taking too close a look at the Church's claims and--after immense amounts of prayer, study, and anguish, abandoning all earthly security and the only job had had ever known--entered the Catholic Church in an incredibly gutsy leap of faith. Happily, Fr. Kurt Nagel out at Holy Family in Kirkland was able to hire him for a few months and Jason's congregation was very generous to him in terms of a severance package. Now he's working with Logos Software on an awesome program that I think will do great good. I can't tell you how honored I am to know such a man of integrity.

Colin Kruse (Pillar Series) Commentary on Romans currently $2.99 on Kindle

Click here to get it. Not sure how long it will stay this way.

This is a 2012 release, which normally sells for $40.00 (and can’t presently be gotten used for less than $33).

Couple of reviews:

D.A. Carson:

…a good commentary must not only provide a reliable unpacking of the text, but it must also be a useful guide to the plethora of books and essays that swirl around this letter. Enter Colin Kruse. Readers of The Pillar New Testament Commentary will know him for the clarity and good sense in his commentary on John’s letters in the PNTC series. Here his skills come to the fore again: clarity of thought and writing, independent judgment, deep reverence for what the text actually says, and uncommon wisdom in sorting through the vast secondary literature without getting bogged down. It is a pleasure to commend this commentary and include it in the series.

Church leaders

Heb 13:17 ("Obey your leaders and submit to them") refers back to vv7,9 ("Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God…Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings"), which–in turn–refers back to 2:3 ("It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard"). So, in context, that involves a chain-of-custody, where their leaders are faithful custodians of the deposit of faith. And that stands in contrast to the "strange teachings" of false teachers who don't preserve the deposit of faith.

By analogy, laymen should submit to his pastor's teachings insofar as those teachings faithfully transit the deposit of faith. A number of scholars (e.g. F. F. Bruce, David DeSilva) take that position. To quote some others:
The formulation [Heb 13:7] indicates that the leaders were a link in the chain of tradition that accounted for the reliable transmission of the message of salvation to the audience. According to 2:3, the word of salvation began to be spoken by the Lord. Those who heard him subsequently became the preachers who certified to the community the saving word he spoke, God himself endorsing the integrity of their message with signs and wonders (2:3-4). W. Lane, Hebrews 9-13 (Word 1991), 527.  
The last in the series of commands is "Remember your leaders who taught your the word of God" (13:7). By the "word of God," the author has in mind the message of salvation "first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak" (2:3). Presumably, these "leaders" are "those who heard him speak," comparable to Luke's eyewitness reports…from the early disciples" (Lk 1:2)…These "leaders who taught you the word of God" at least belong to the apostolic generation. J. R. Michaels, Hebrews (Tyndale 2009), 465. 
In Hebrews these leaders are identified as the ones "who spoke the word of God to you." This is a regular NT expression for missionary proclamation and preaching within the Christian community. but given the profound importance in Hebrews of "the word of God" (2:12; 4:2,12; 6:1) and the activity of speaking (particularly by God himself), the designation is highly significant, and probably points to the initial proclamation of the word to the listeners. These same persons are most likely referred to in 2:3, where the gospel "was confirmed to us by those who heard [the Lord]." P. T. O'Brien, Hebrews (Eerdmans 2010), 515-16. 
Leaders speak the word of God (13:7) over against "all sorts of strange teachings" that might erode the listeners' faith (13:9)…Leaders speak the word of God, yet Hebrews assumes that each person is to develop capacities as a teacher of the faith (5:11-14).The leaders are, however, identified by their function: speakers of the word of God. Hebrews affirms that God spoke to the community (1:2), but not in an unmediated way. Human messengers brought the divine message that engendered a community of faith (2:3-4). Therefore, in considering the leaders, one must consider their message, which is the center from which faith and community life come. C. Koester, Hebrews (Doubleday 2001), 75,566.
Other scholars (e.g. F. F. Bruce, David DeSilva) take the same position. Finally, for one more apt comment:
We know that St Paul emphasizes in various places (especially 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians) the 'delivery' or handing-on of the gospel message by the apostles to their converts, who are bidden to hold this 'tradition' fast; and in 2 Timothy 2:2 he commands that it be entrusted to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. In this last place he is probably thinking especially of ordained presbyters. Paul's ideas were developed by Irenaeus and Tertullian, in their controversy with the Gnostics, by claiming that the tradition of doctrine handed down by the bishops of churches of apostolic foundation was more reliable than that found in other churches - which, at that early period, may well have been true. Here was a real apostolic succession - a succession of teachers…However, the only apostolic succession which clearly goes back to the New Testament is the apostolic succession of teachers. Here the apostolic succession was a valuable safeguard, but not one which could remain safe over long periods of time. Roger Beckwith, The Churchman 111/2 (1997). 

Are we justified by faith and works?

i) Roman Catholic (as well as Eastern Orthodox) apologists attempt to negate the Protestant doctrine of sola fide by quoting Jas 2:24. Because they are rubber stamping whatever their denomination tells them, they don't bother to consider if that's consistent. They don't follow through with the implications of that appeal. They just cite Jas 2:24 and leave it at that. But that's fatally shortsighted.

ii) They think this is a both/and relation rather than an either/or relation. That justification is both by faith and works. So you simply add James to Paul. 

iii) But let's look at how Paul frames the issue:

Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.Romans 3:27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.Romans 4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.Romans 4:6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.Galatians 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
For Paul, justification by works is antithetical to justification by faith. Justification by faith excludes justification by works, and vice versa. Works can't supplement faith as a principle of justification. If you add works to faith in justification, they cancel each other out. 
iv) The Catholic appeal assumes that Paul and James are using the same words the same way. But if that's the case, then Paul and James are contradictory rather than complementary. And in that event, we can't say which writer is correct, or if either writer is correct. The Catholic tactic leads to mutually assured destruction. 

v) However, it's fallacious to assume that the same words must denote the same concepts. Not only can the same word have more than one meaning, but words and concepts are not identical. Paul's concept of justification isn't derivable from a single term in that particular word-group. The concept could be present even if he never used the word "justification." Pauline justification is a theological construct, based on a complex argument. An argument that includes logical inference and OT exegesis. An argument that contrasts one position with another.

By the same token, we have to interpret James on his own terms. Not just a particular word, but his larger argument. 

vi) If Paul and James aren't referring to the same thing, then there's no prima facie tension between their respective positions. But by the same token, that means you can't cite James to modify Paul. What James says would only qualify what Paul says if they were talking about the same thing. Moreover, that would only work if they are mutually consistent. 

If, however, they are using the same words the same way, then that generates a point-blank contradiction. Conversely, if they are not referring to the same thing, then what James says has no direct bearing on what Paul says. You can't use James to interpret Paul, much less use James to blunt the force of Paul's unyielding formulations. Paul's position is separate from James. 

I think Paul and James are reconcilable, but that's because their discussions don't coincide. They are simply using similar terms to discuss different issues. It's naive to confuse surface grammar with depth grammar. 

A little lower than the angels

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings    and crowned him with glory and honor (Ps 8:5). 

3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife[or woman] is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife [or woman] who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (1 Cor 11:3-10).
The elliptical reference to angels in v10 is a famous crux. What does Paul mean by that? I think Ps 8:5 is probably the key:
i) Paul uses Ps 8 to gloss Gen 1-2. The glory motif in 1 Cor 11:7 comes from Ps 8:5. And I expect the honor/dishonor motif in 1 Cor 11:4-7 also trades on Ps 8:5. 
ii) Regarding Ps 8:5:
This is a paraphrase of the Genesis creation account: "Let us make human beings in our image." Most scholars recognize in the Genesis statement that the first person plural pronouns, "us" and "our," refer to the heavenly court…the human lacks only a little from the exalted status of the beings in the heavenly court. B. Waltke & J. Houston, The Psalms in Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Eerdmans 2010), 267.
Although the text doesn't use the word "angel," it refers to angels–given the allusion to the heavenly court, as well as OT angelology. 
iii) Paul is discussing a creational hierarchy, which dovetails with the creational hierarchy in Ps 8: God the Father, Christ as the Second Adam, angels, men/husbands, women/wives. A descending headship. Each has a distinct role in the economy of creation.  
The reference to the angels is way of positioning women in that creational hierarchy, where angels supply a frame of reference via Ps 8:5. Men and woman need to know their place in the grand scheme of things. They have a regal status, as God's viceregents on earth. But that comes with corresponding responsibilities. And that's a derivative status. They are under authority. They exercise delegated authority. They must defer to the God who conferred on them that lofty station. 

Angels among us

One stock objection to Bible history is the alleged mismatch between the modern world and the world of the Bible. Miraculous things happen in Scripture that don't happen in real life. Our everyday experience doesn't correspond to the world depicted in the Bible. For instance, there are many angelic encounters recorded in Scripture. But when is the last time an angel appeared to you? So Bible "history" is unreal. 

However, that objection raises a question: how do you know that you never met an angel? The objection tacitly assumes that angelic encounters are manifestly angelic. But in Scripture, that's generally not the case. The objection confuses the perspective of the omniscient narrator with the perspective of the characters within the narrative. The reader knows that some character encountered an angel because the narrator cues the reader to the true identity of the angelic visitor. But the character isn't automatically privy to the narrator's viewpoint. 

And the true identity of an angel isn't evident unless the angel makes that evident. Although angels can take on a supernatural aspect (e.g. luminosity), when angels interact with humans, they typically assume a human appearance. They are outwardly indistinguishable from humans. They can exhibit supernatural powers (like the angels who blinded the Sodomites), but if all you had to go by were appearances, you couldn't tell an angel from a fellow human being. 

Put another way, angels often function as undercover operatives. They disguise themselves as human. So for all you know, you have encountered angels. 

Now an unbeliever might object that this is special pleading. There's no evidence that you met an angel. 

But that misses the point. I'm not discussing the evidence for angels. I'm discussing the claim that what we experience in "real life" is inconsistent with how the Bible depicts the world. I'm discussing the assumption that if angels still do the things attributed to them in Scripture, we should see the evidence all around us. Because we don't, that's evidence for the nonexistence of angels. 

And I'm pointing out that this objection is illogical. There's no presumption that if you met an angel, you'd know it. 

BTW, that doesn't mean there's no positive evidence for angels in the modern world. Angelic apparitions are reported in the modern world, as well as church history. 

Of course, we have to judge the credibility of these reports on a case-by-case basis. And in many cases, we lack sufficient information to assess them one way or the other. 

But, then, they weren't for our benefit in the first place. We are third parties to that transaction, assuming it happened. 

Write music

Some writing advice from Gary Provost:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals--sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader's ear. Don't just write words. Write music.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Aslan defanged

The Millennials

Relocation camps

Is the Bible hate speech?

Roger Olson on miscarriage

Some of Roger Olson's comments on his abortion post:

Roger Olson 
My appeal was to intuition. I have known many, many women who suffered miscarriages. None thought the loss was commensurable with the death of an already born child.
Roger Olson 
I grew up in churches and around churches and never heard of a memorial Mass or service of any kind for a miscarried embryo until after the pro-life movement really got going.
Roger Olson 
I never heard anyone say anything like that until the pro-life movement really got going. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s (pre-Roe vs. Wade) and knew many, many women (in the church my father pastored) who had miscarriages. I never heard that any of them expressed the sentiment that the lost pregnancy (usually just an embryo) was as tragic as losing an already born child. My wife suffered a miscarriage and, while we were very sad about it, it never even entered either of our minds to consider it in the same category of loss as if our already born daughter had died.
Roger Olson 
Second, holding funerals for miscarried embryos, if it ever happens, is a result of some in the pro-life movement thinking through the logical implications of an absolutist position on abortion. I still have never heard of one for a miscarried embryo.

i) Notice what Olson is saying. Only a prolife "absolutist" would hold a funeral service for a miscarried baby. And since he opposes prolife "absolutism" (or "extremism"), he evidently thinks it would be wrong to hold a funeral service for miscarried babies. 

Now, there's a difference between saying  church ought to hold such a service, and saying a church ought not hold such a service. I think that's up to the parents. 

ii) In addition, Olson is suggesting that because parents don't grieve as deeply for a prenatal child as they do for a postnatal child, the unborn baby had less intrinsic value. But that's obviously fallacious.

Assuming parents grief less deeply for a miscarried baby, that's because they had less time to form an emotional attachment with the baby. They barely got to know the baby–especially the father.

Take a comparison. Suppose a mother puts her newborn baby up for adoption. Suppose her child dies in a traffic accident at the age of 17. Suppose the birthmother finds out.

Although she might mourn the death of her child, she won't grieve as deeply as she would had she raised the child. She'd be closer to a child she actually raised. All those memories.

Does that mean the 17-year-old was less intrinsically valuable? 

It's easy to come up with other examples. Suppose a father loses a custody battle, and his visitation rights are quite restrictive. Or maybe he has to live out of state. That's where his job is.

He may not be as close to his child because he never got the chance to form a close emotional bond. He wasn't allowed to spend much time with his kid.

Does that mean his kid is less intrinsically valuable? 

To take another example: suppose, in one case, I grow up with my stepbrother, but in another case I don't grow up with my stepbrother. If he dies, how deeply I feel the loss will depend on whether or not we grew up together. Does that make his death less intrinsically significant? 

iii) Is Olson suggesting that the value of human life is relative to how much we are valued by others? 

The headcovering movement

Yesterday I did a satirical post on the Christian headcovering movement, but now I'll do a serious post on 1 Cor 11. 

i) I'd note in passing that the best current commentaries on 1 Corinthians are by Fitzmyer, Ciampa/Rosner, and Thiselton. There are also some fine forthcoming commentaries in the pipeline. Gordon Fee is revising his classic commentary. The late E. E. Ellis was writing a commentary. I don't know how close to completion he was. Bruce Winter has a commentary that's due out soon. 

ii) 1 Cor 11:2-16 is a tricky text to navigate. Paul alternates between literal and figurative senses of "head." There are subtextual allusions to Gen 1-2, Exod 34:33-34, and Ps 8:5. There's an enigmatic reference to angels. There's the question of whether Paul is referring to women generally, or married women in particular. 

Although this is ancillary to the main point of my post, I think Paul's cryptic reference to angels (11:10) probably picks up on Ps 8:5. He already alluded to that passage in v7. So I think v10 carries that over and rounds out that theme. And that's seconded by the angelophany in Exod 34. 

iii) A particular complication is the discussion of dress codes. In the nature of the case, fashion trends rapidly go in and out of fashion. Our surviving background information isn't sufficiently fine-tuned to give us a precise bead on dress codes in Corinth at the time of writing (c. 53-54). So the modern reader is somewhat in the dark. 

As a result, there's a danger of overworking what background information we have. Scholars can only use what background information is available to them, so there's a temptation of forcing a fit between the text and the available background information, which may be adventitious. 

iv) Due to our relative ignorance of Corinthian fashion at the time of writing, I don't think it's possible to fully reconstruct the setting. Complete understanding will elude us. Consider this in reverse. Imagine if a magazine article with references to cybergoth fashion went through the time machine and landed in the hands of a 1C Corinthian reader.  

The Bible is written for the benefit of more than one audience. There's the immediate audience, and then there's posterity. At this distance, there's some loss of specific understanding. 

v) Fortunately, I don't think that's debilitating. Although our understanding of Corinthian fashion is deficient, we can still get the gist of what Paul is saying, for we have an analogous understanding of fashion. Hairstyles and styles of dress send a multiplicity of messages. They can signal sexual availability or unavailability, age, gender, region, ethnicity, social class, subculture, employment, &c. 

A man may dress like a cowboy because he is a cowboy, or because he lives in a part of the country where that attire is customary, or because that projects a manly image. A man or woman may dress in motorbike regalia (a la Hell's Angels) as a countercultural statement. That's simultaneously expresses solidarity with a subculture and nonconformity in relation to the mainstream culture. Conversely, some people practice a studied indifference to fashion trends. That, itself, is sending a message. 

vi) Some readers find Paul's discussion silly or arbitrary. But that's because fashion itself can be silly or arbitrary. Paul didn't create that state of affairs. The challenge is how a Christian minority of dubious legal standing should function in an overwhelmingly pagan city. Judging people by how they dress is often unfair, but because that's inevitable, it's something we have to take into account. Like it or not, that's the reality. 

vii) Notice that Paul isn't talking about every woman who attends a worship service. Rather, he singles out a subset of women who actively participate ("pray and prophesy") in a worship service (11:5). 

Now, to my knowledge, Christians who think women should wear headcoverings in church are usually cessationists and complementarians. If, however, you're a cessationist, then no woman would ever have occasion to prophesy in church, since you believe the gift of prophecy lapsed after the NT era. To that extent, the question of headcoverings is mooted by your cessationism.

You can redefine "prophecy" in some idiosyncratic, non-charismatic sense, but that isn't what Paul means. 

Likewise, prayer has reference to praying aloud in public worship. But some complementarians don't think women should speak in church, in mixed company. It's not their place to address the congregation, or lead in worship. If that's your position, then the question of headcoverings is mooted by your complementarianism. 

For Paul's requirement doesn't apply to women who aren't praying or prophesying. It doesn't apply to women who sit quietly in the pews, listening to elders preach, pray, or recite the Bible. It's only dealing with active, not passive, worshipers. 

So it seems to be that the headcovering movement is ironically at odds with its prooftext. But there may be exceptions. 

viii) It's important to distinguish the culturalbound elements of Paul's discussion from the transcultural elements. Male headship is a transcultural principle, grounded in the "creation order." 

By contrast, headcoverings symbolize the principle. Headcoverings are not, in themselves, a timeless principle. Rather, their function is emblematic. They merely illustrate the principle. That distinction ought to be clear from Paul's own discussion. 

ix) And symbolism is often variable. Fashion that's "shameful" in one time or place may not be "shameful" in another, or vice versa. Head coverings don't have the same social or symbolic connotations in 21C America that they had in 1C Corinth. 

BTW, Paul's honor/shame dialectic probably trades on the honor/glory motif in Ps 8:5. 

Now, some Christians may favor head coverings as a countercultural statement. But whatever the merits of a countercultural statement in its own right, don't confuse that with obeying 1 Cor 11. We don't obey Scripture by applying commands out of context, but by applying commands to comparable situations. Reproducing a 1C dress code that doesn't have the same significance in the 21C isn't honoring 1 Cor 11. To take a comparison, you don't obey Deut 22:8 by putting a railing around a gabled roof. 

Borrowed Rage

Why do the heathen rage--
With borrowed moral outrage
Standing on the top rung of a ladder in the air
The height of Babel's Tower, built without foundation

Why do the peoples plot in vain--
The vanity of ethical criticism
Of the Lord and his Anointed Word
Graded by a test key not in possession

Why does the culture sit--
On the lap of the Father to slap his face
Intolerant of his intolerance, infuriated by his wrath
Pharisaical students of a law they have stolen

Why do the kings of the earth set themselves--
Against the Creator's righteous standards
Claiming rights and freedoms
Endowed by their Creator

He who sits in heaven laughs
And holds them in derision
The derision of ironic judgments, poetic justice
Condemned by the mouth that condemns God's condemnation

Steven Wedgeworth on values: “What is valuable?”

“What is valuable?” – good question.

It’s no wonder the world seems so screwed up

I’m reading Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s “The Theology of Henri de Lubac”. I’m not going to comment at the moment, except to say that I agree with Von Balthasar when he says “it is only the Christian with his hope beyond failure and death who can give to world history its meaning and direction”.

This is why I object so strenuously to Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism gets so much of its history wrong, and especially the papacy, [and in the middle ages, Aquinas’s work on the papacy was based on pure forgeries -- and he didn’t even know about it].

Indeed it gets its own sense of importance tragically wrong. It’s spreading the wrong “meaning” and the wrong “direction”.

It’s no wonder the world seems so screwed up.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Christian toga movement

I'm gratified to see that some Christians still have a sense of priorities:

However, I'm disappointed that it stops short. Clearly this movement needs to be counterbalanced by a line of Biblical apparel for men. In addition, this would have the fringe benefit of making Christian students feel less out of place at fraternity parties. 

Big Brotha is watching you

Life under Obama reminds me of The Comedians, a film set in Haiti during the infamous regime of Papa Doc Duvalier and the Tonton Macoute:

NPR and Reza Aslan

Unjust authority

I'm going to comment on some more assertions by Ed Dingess. Ed suffers from a persistent problem. He raises an objection. I draw attention to a flaw in his reasoning. He then repeats the same objection. He fails to engage the counterargument. 

Specifically, Steve’s statement implies that the command for Christians to obey and submit to their elders was given only until such time as the canon was completed. Once we had the canon, well, we could read it for ourselves. Therefore, according to this line of reasoning, we no longer need elders conferred with authority to whom we should submit.

No, that's not an implication of my position. However, you can't just quote a Biblical command in a vacuum. You must make allowance for the implied situation. Take my example of Deut 22:8. What should we do with that command? Should we say: "We can't fence our roof unless we have a flat roof; therefore, Christians are required to build houses with flat roofs., regardless of where they live."

No, the command is implicitly conditional. It doesn't literally apply to Christians in Alaska. It doesn't mean Alaskan Christians are mandated to build houses with flat roofs rather than gabled roofs. Rather, it means that if you have a rooftop terrance, then you're obligated to fence your roof.

In addition, Steve has argued vociferously that there are numerous false churches and false elders in existence today and this leaves the Christian with little choice, than to be their own self-attesting authority regarding which session of elders they should obey.

I didn't predicate my argument on a layman's "self-attesting authority."

Contrary to this line of reasoning, there were false elders, preachers, pastors, and prophets in antiquity as well. This did not deter the NT authors from commanding believers and instructing Christian communities to obey and submit to one another and to their elders.

So is Ed saying the NT enjoines the laity to obey "false elders?" 

If Hays is right, then not only are we under no obligation to obey a session of elders, we are not obligated to obey the local Christian community either.

I don't have a problem with church authority or church discipline. I have a problem with a free-floating authority structure that's detached from what is right and true. 

The entire principle of loosing and binding in Matt.18:15-20 is founded on the idea that the authority of heaven is bestowed on the Christian community in matters of sin and forgiveness.

As I've pointed out before, that's not a prooftext for elder authority. That text doesn't distinguish elders from laymen. 

Does the presence of false elders invalidate the NT command for Christians to obey and submit to elders? There were false elders everywhere in the NT world. Nearly every NT project was written to deal with false teachers in some way. The existence of false teachers would be all the more reason for us to submit to godly elders, and to one another. It does not follow that false paths produce a state of affairs that lead to individual self-determination and sufficiency. Exactly the opposite is true. The last thing the NT authors had in mind was that Christians would eventually become, as in America, islands unto themselves. But this is precisely where the hermeneutics of Hays leads us. At the end of the day, in Hays logic, I will determine for myself what Scripture teaches and I have no obligation to submit to anyone with whom I disagree, to include my pastor, my elders, and my Church.

Notice that Ed is oblivious to the glaring inconsistencies of his position. If, by his own admission, laymen must distinguish between "false elders" and "godly elders," in order to confine their submission to "godly elders–in contrast to "false elders," then that's something the layman "just determine for himself." Who else would make that determination? Elders can't determine that for him since that determination presumes a prior distinction between "false" and "godly" elders. Ed's appeal is viciously circular. A second party can't make that determination on the layman's behalf unless the party in question is qualified (i.e. a "godly elder"). So the layman must make a preliminary judgment regarding which elders are godly and which are false. 

In addition, even "godly elders" are fallible. Both elders and laymen are fallible. So it's not as if the judgment of an elder is presumptively correct, binding, or authoritative. 

Finally, what are the consequences of a Christian community without authority? 

Notice how Ed always frames the issue of "authority" in the abstract, without regard to whether the exercise of authority is right and true. 

I need to say one final thing about the consequences of Hays’s view. One of the single greatest challenges confronting the contemporary Church in America is the complete lack of accountability. The nature of sin that continues to confront the Christian after conversion demands that we be held accountable for everything from our beliefs, and our thinking, to our daily behavior. Accountability furnishes the indispensable structure required for spiritual growth. 

Accountability to what? Accountability to authority figures, or accountability to truth? 

Ed constantly about the duty to submit to your elders even if you disagree with your elders. But that ignores the basis of the disagreement. What if the elder is wrong? Ed keeps ducking that issue, even though he also talks about a plethora of "false elders." 

A Christian has a standing duty to be faithful to the truth. He is directly accountable to God. He doesn't have a right to delegate his Godward obligations to a second party. That's the essence of Roman Catholicism. You put your brain in the blind trust of Mother Church. You let your religious superiors do your thinking for you. 

A brief survey of biblical texts that show that genuine Christianity would collapse absent the authority paradigm. Matt.18:15-20 sets out the guidelines for when the Church must act to remove the impenitent from her community. You see, without some sort of authoritative structure, the Church is lacks the mechanism necessary to keep leaven from the body.

As I've pointed out, that doesn't suggest a Christian should submit to church sanctions even if the Christian was falsely accused. To the contrary, that text grounds church sanctions in a true allegation. Ed keeps disregarding the clearly qualified force of the passage. 

The authority paradigm is anchored, not only in Scripture but is everywhere present in the context of group thought in Mediterranean cultures. The idea was indispensable to the social setting of that time. The authority of the collective group was one each person willingly submitted to in that culture. This is true to a very large degree even to this day. The idea is radically antithetical to the extreme individualism we witness in American culture. This is why it is so difficult for us to appreciate and understand. The group would police its own. The group had inherent authority to shame and excommunicate anyone who insisted on not identifying with it by living up to its values. The Christian group’s authority is derived from Scripture. As such, it has the authority to excommunicate anyone who is not actually part of the group by dealing harshly with obstinate behavior.

Let's take a concrete illustration of Ed's groupthink authority paradigm:

Amish Woman 4: My mom was a very gentle soul. She was always a servant to everybody else. She always made sure everybody was taken care of, except mom. She always tried to be the submissive woman. And already then I wasn't sure about that word "submissive." And then I married an abuser, and then the word "submission" just became a monster.I was so proud of my first child. But I also remember, I would sit at the window rocking my baby. And sitting there alone, and I cried a lot. I knew things were not as they should be, but I kept telling myself, it's okay, it'll be all right. But I would cry a lot. I talked to my husband, and he'd say, "We're married, and I'm the head of the house." I'd say, "You know, the Bible says the father is the head of the home as Christ is the head of the church. But we also need to remember that Christ was not up here like a master with a big whip." Well, that didn't work well, because I was confronting him, and I was doubting his words of wisdom. I soon learned not to say those things.  They always say that we need to go to the church first, which I did. I went to the church and I asked for help. The very first thing that the minister said to me when I said, "We've been struggling with a lot of abuse, and I need help," he looked at me and he said, "So what did you do that caused your husband to treat you this way?" That was such a blow. That was such a blow. In fact it came to the point where the church actually had both of us not be able to go to communion until we can see where we have failed. And I felt like an outsider looking in.Finally I reached the point where spiritually I just said, "I'm just done. I've just had it, Lord. I don't know what to do. But I have to be connected with the church again." I told my husband, "I'm going to go back to the ministers, and I'm just going to lay myself out and say, 'Here I am. I'll take any punishment you give me. I'll do anything. I just need -- I need the church so bad.'" And he said, "Well, if you do, you're on your own because I'm not going to do it that way." And so that's what I did. I went back to the ministers, and I just cried, and I just said, "I'll just do anything you tell me to." I acknowledged anything and everything that I could think of under the sun. And yeah, say yes to things that I didn't really think were maybe exactly right to say yes to. But I did it out of obedience because I felt God nudging me that way. And I got back in the church, without my husband. Obedience is not easy.

That's what Ed's authority paradigm leads to. Raw authority. Unjust authority.  

Reza Aslan

One of the telling, but not surprising, oddities of liberal reaction to the Fox interview with Reza Aslan, is the notion that it was outrageous for the reporter to ask him about his Muslim affiliation. Take this gem from Peter Enns:

And he certainly shouldn’t have to defend his right to write a book on Jesus because he is Muslim (or once was, or whatever).

Needless to say, Aslan's theological orientation is highly pertinent to his book. There is no neutral way of writing about Jesus. Basically, you either write about Jesus as a follower or opponent. Either you accept or reject the NT depiction of who Jesus is and what he did (is doing, or will do). 

From what I've read, Aslan is not merely a Muslim, but a revert to Islam. That makes him an apostate as well as a Muslim.

When an observant Muslim writes a book about Jesus, you know ahead of time that his treatment will be hostile to the NT depiction of Jesus. Same thing with apostates. 

Now, I don't think bias is inherently bad. We need to distinguish between a truth-conductive bias and a truth-subversive bias. The problem with Aslan is not that he has an agenda, but his agenda is dictated by a religious bias that's inimical to finding the truth. And that's not unique to a particular religious bias. The same is true for an atheistic bias (e.g. Robert Price, Dominic Crossan), or a methodologically naturalistic bias (e.g. John J. Collins).  

Textual updating

Extra-legal gov't

Spooks at SEC

All-seeing gov't

What Does A Quotation Of James 2:24 Prove?

Something I wrote in a thread at Justin Taylor's blog:

I have a question for those who think it's sufficient to quote a passage like James 2:24, without any accompanying argument, against an Evangelical view of justification. Do you take the same approach toward passages in the church fathers that use the term "faith alone" positively? There are many places where the church fathers say that justification is through faith alone or something similar ("faith only", "bare faith", etc.). The typical response to such passages, among those who reject justification through faith alone, is to say that the fathers' language must be qualified by the surrounding context. We're told that it's not enough to just quote a passage where they use such language. Rather, we need to address the larger context as well. Isn't the same true of James 2:24 (and Philippians 2:12-13, etc.)?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Birth Control and the Christian

Olson on abortion

Arminian theologian Roger Olson, that oracle of moral wisdom, has done a post on abortion:

Over the years I’ve had many conversations with “pro-life” activists. When they equate all abortions with murder and advocate banning all abortions I routinely ask them “What about an ectopic pregnancy?” I have never encountered a “pro-life” activist who even knew what I was talking about or acknowledged it as a legitimate question.

Since I assume most "activists" are laymen (or women), who are busy working a full-time job and/or raising kids, why would we expect them to have a sophisticated position on abortion? Should we not commend their instinctive love of babies and instinctive revulsion at abortion? Which is more praiseworthy: an activist in the trenches or a critic in an air-conditioned office taking potshots at the activist? 

So here are some questions I would like to pose to what I consider extremists on both sides of the abortion debate:
2) If you believe a fetus is a human person with the “right to life” in the sense you mean it, why don’t you hold a funeral after a miscarriage?Sure, some do, but that’s a recent response to this question on the part of some “pro-life” activists. But I have never heard of anyone holding a funeral for a miscarried embryo.

i) As usual, this is Olson shooting from the hip. He cites no statistical data.

ii) Assuming that funerals for miscarried babies are a "recent response," that might be due in part to the fact that in the age of ultrasound, parents have a chance to preview the baby. So they can bond with the unborn child.

In the past, only the mother could feel the baby in the womb–assuming gestation was that far along. Most of the emotional bonding took place between mother and child. It was a very private experience. 

iii) In the past, I don't know if miscarriage was treated separately from infant mortality in general. There may have been no special ceremony for miscarried babies, because that was already covered by funeral ceremonies for those who died in infancy. That's a rather specialized church historical question. It may also depend on how far along the pregnancy was. 

iv) Funerals are normally attended by friends and relatives of the decedent. Ideally, the pastor knew the decedent, and can weave some personal anecdotes into the eulogy or sermon. Sometimes friends and relatives are invited to share personal anecdotes. Obviously, the situation is very different for a miscarried baby. 

v) I think it would be good for the church to have ceremonies in case of miscarriage. 

vi) Since Olson is attacking "extremists" on both sides of the issue, he evidently thinks that viewing "a fetus as a human person with the 'right to life' in the sense that prolife activists mean it" is an extremist position. So what is his own position on the status of the "fetus"?  

5) If you believe that a human embryo/fetus is a full human life for religious reasons (which most “pro-life” activists do), worthy of the full protection of law from conception on (which most “pro-life” activists do), how do you deal with the fact that the Bible says little to nothing about abortion?Under Hebrew law as revealed in the Pentateuch, for example, a man who attacks a pregnant woman and causes her to abort is not guilty of murder. There were methods of abortion in “biblical times,” so how do you deal with the fact that nowhere in the Bible is abortion specifically condemned as murder?

i) Who has Roger Olson actually studied on the subject? Take two counterexamples:

ii) The Bible has no prohibition against suicide. Does that mean men, women, and teenagers who commit suicide are subhuman? 

Likewise, the Bible has no specific prohibition against child murder. Does that mean a 5-year-old is subhuman?

iii) How common was induced abortion in the ANE? One of the technical challenges of induced abortion is how to harm the baby without harming the mother. Modern medical technology has made abortion safer for the mother, yet even then it isn't risk-free. But in the absence of medical technology, I imagine that inducing an abortion would be very dangerous to the mother. Isn't that why the usual "method" of dealing with unwanted children was to wait until they were born, then expose them? 

It seems to me that many, perhaps most, of the most vocal “pro-life” activists fail to realize, fail to take into account, that many pregnant women seek abortions to save their own lives or health. (I have known women who underwent abortions extremely reluctantly only when advised by a doctor that if they attempted to carry the pregnancy to full term their health could forever be destroyed. There are some complications of pregnancy that make the woman so ill that getting through the nine months would very possibly be so deleterious to her physical well being as to shorten her own life or cause her to be disabled in some way.)

i) Olson offers no statistical data regarding the percentage of therapeutic abortions. Also, keep in mind that abortion proponents have a rubbery definition of the mother's "health"–which artificially inflates the figures.  

ii) If a mother undergoes an abortion to avoid dangerous medical complications, I'd expect that to be performed at a hospital rather than an abortion clinic. Once again, does Olson have any statistical data on that?

Everyone wants especially a Christian ethicist to have an absolute answer to the complex issue of abortion—to be either absolutely “pro-life” (anti-all-abortions) or absolutely “pro-choice” (for every woman’s right always and under any circumstances to obtain an abortion for any reason). In my opinion, good ethicists, including Christian ethicists, are loath to offer simplistic solutions to complex issues. There is no simplistic solution to this complex issue. There is, however, room for compromise between the sides; that middle ground is, unfortunately, too little explored and discussed. What I think that middle ground might include is for another post—when I’ve worked it out in my own mind more consistently and thoroughly.

It's not as if Olson has given us a carefully reasoned analysis of the issue. His post is slipshod. 

By "compromise" or "middle ground," he apparently means a position that avoids the "extremes" he just cited.