Month: August 2010

quote of the week, and a question

Since I’ll be teaching a course for WEMTC on Pauline theology in a few weeks,* I’ve started reviewing some of the relevant literature so that key points of interest, should they arise in the discussions, are already locked in my brain.  This morning, I was making way through Bo Reicke’s posthumous book, Re-examining Paul’s Letters: The History of the Pauline Correspondence (2001), when I came across the following quote, which I found quite funny:

conservative theologians risk being accused of unorthodoxy if they do not believe that every Pauline letter is genuine, whereas liberal theologians fear being accused of unorthodoxy if they do not believe that certain Pauline lettes are spurious.

Reicke, Re-examining, 32

While I do not agree with Reicke’s categorisation of ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’, mainly because such labels are not 100% objective; I agree entirely with the argument he presents.  However, I am compelled to ask: if we were to leave the name-calling aside, or the potential of being labelled something we might dislike; what would really happen if we said Paul only wrote some of the letters attributed to him?  What would really happen if we said Paul wrote all of the letters attributed to him?

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* This will be the same course I taught last year (see here, if interested); only this time the contents will be slightly different and the number of students will be greater.

new page added

For those of you who desparately interested, or in desparate need of a sleeping aid, I have added a new page to this blog.  This new page, if you didn’t already click the link just given, holds all the sermons I’ve preached over the years. 

Well, I shouldn’t say ‘all the sermons’, because there are a few that have gone missing–primarily because they were composed on other computers and I didn’t save things properly back then.  I relied on hardcopies because of my distrust of technology.  Stupid.  With that in mind: this new page has nearly all of the sermons I’ve preached over the years. 

Don’t get your hopes up too high, though; there aren’t that many.  You could probably read the whole lot in a single afternoon.  I hope to add a few more over the coming months and years, since Rog (our vicar) has been ever so gracious to include me on the preaching rotation at church.  We’re getting close to pausing our study on Mark’s Gospel so that we can do a series on the 10 Commandments. 

There you are.  Have a look, if you wish.  As it says on that page, I welcome feedback and suggestions for improvement.

restful fridays with Ridderbos

Yeah, yeah, yeah; I realise that I’ve fallen a bit behind in my Ridderbossing.  The past few weeks have been quite loaded with other responsibilities, which caused me to make decisions about what was essential and what was not.  With all due respect to the man, blogging about Ridderbos simply was not a top priority.  However, things have settled down a bit, which means I now have time to return this series.

As with the last instalment, this week’s quote comes from article and not the usual well that is Ridderbos’ tome on Paul’s theology.  I came across this article not only because I was searching for additional materials by Ridderbos, but also because it deals with a topic of growing interest for me: the canon of the New Testament.  In a few weeks, I hope to offer a response to a particular view of the canon I recently heard from Simon Kistemaker.  For now, I will simply offer this rather interesting observation from Ridderbos:

[T]he history of the Canon is the process of the growing consciousness of the Church concerning its ecumenical foundation. . . . [T]he Church had never wished to live by anything other than that which had been delivered to it as Canon by way of Christ [i.e. apostolic witness and tradition], and that the Church, in order to be able to continue to do this, as a matter of course returned to and concentrated on a scripturally-fixed tradition.

-Ridderbos, ‘The Canon of the New Testament,’* 198, 199 (emphasis original)

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* Full citation: H. Ridderbos, ‘The Canon of the New Testament,’ in Revelation and the Bible: Contemporary Evangelical Thought (ed. C.F. Henry; London: Tyndale Press, 1959), 189-201.

a hunter assists the hunted

Mark Goodacre recently posted a bit of news from the Church Times concerning the future of theological and religious studies departments in the UK.  This naturally caught my attention because I’m in such a department, so I’m obviously going to worry about being intellectually homeless.  It also caught my attention because the fears and concerns raised in that article were tentatively realised not long ago where I do my research.

However, I was more struck by a comment (well, really, the only comment) to Mark’s post, which reads thusly:

I have thought for years, religion and theology departments are part of a relic when “The Church” was attempting to use academic to combat newer enlightenment thinking. Today it seems to me that Religion and Theology departments of little to no value. All the important content that is taught in them is better rolled into history departments. And the Supernaturalistic aspects that are dealt with are better handled by priests and ministers. Theology and Religion departments are simply no longer of value. History departments is where the topic should be taught and studied.

Some of the specific points of this statement, as well as the underlying logic of the whole, are becoming more common; almost like a constant refrain to a really annoying song.  It’s starting to take on the rhythm of many contemporary worship choruses, and we all know how I feel about those.  But I digress.

While I would love to address the individual, overly opinion-driven points raised in this person’s argument; I want to respond to what appears to be it driving question: what’s the point in studying (Jewish-Christian) theology,* especially in an academic context?  I should confess that the response I give is not my own; it comes from a scholar from generations past, but his insight on this matter is still worthwhile–primarily because it speaks to this very issue:

It is a cardinal canon of criticism that in dealing with any great work our prime endeavour should be to understand (as Aristotle would say) ‘the thing it was to be’.  If, applying this canon to the New Testament, we ask what its writers aim to give us, the answer is neither belles-lettres nor superfine ethics, nor even lofty views about God, but Good News from God–authentic tidings of God’s good will to redeem and deliver sinful men.  And to this day, when simple men and women go to the New Testament, this what they seek.  They do not seek fine literature: they can get that elsewhere, in Shakespeare and many another.  They do not seek merely moral light and leading: they can get that in the writings of many a good and wise man of this world.  They do not even seek views about God: they can get these in any handbook of comparative religion.  No, beset behind and before with sin and guilt, perplexed and bewildered by the burden and mystery of life, they seek ‘a Word from the Beyond for our human predicament’.  And it is just because the New Testament is, from Gospels to the Apocalypse, one triumphant testimony that God has spoken this Word that it occupies a unique place in the literature of the world.  That is to say, the importance of the New Testament is that it claims to be the record of a unique self-revelation of God on the stage of human history, a revelation which gives the key to all history’s inner meaning.

–A.M. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament (1972), 6-7

If one were to ignore the theological assertions in this argument (as I’m sure many would do), then that person might be able to make a case for relegating theological and religious studies to history departments.  But if one divorced the theology from the history of the Bible, then the study of the Bible does not properly belong in a history department either.**  To separate the two would create something ahistorical.  People of the ancient world earnestly believed–even the Atomists (read: modern-day empiricists)–that something beyond (i.e. divine) had to be reckoned with in the cosmos in order for one to do justice to the story of life (i.e. history). 

It is a polished relic of post-Enlightenment thought that promotes a separation between history and theology (or even philosophy, but even that doesn’t work); and by ‘theology’ I mean the study of the divine–not just the Judaeo-Christian view of God.  Specifically, it is impossible to tell the story of the Bible without saying something about the theology that flows through the story.  It would be like saying, ‘Tell me about Socrates without getting into the boring, abstract, philosophy stuff’; or, ‘Explain to me the conquests of Alexander the Great and even Takeda Shingen, but leave out the antiquated theories of Aristotle and Sun Tzu.’  It simply cannot be done. 

To say that theological and religious studies need to be excised from academic faculties or at least shifted to history departments represents what looks to be a refusal to deal with what theology is and more of an ideologically-driven opinion of what some want theology to be. 

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* Let’s face it, the real target in these sorts of arguments is Jewish-Christianity, with a special focus on the Christian part. 
** Maybe that’s the agenda: weed out theological and religious studies because they don’t belong anywhere.

problems with proof-texting (2)

In the previous post, I tried to signal a vexing tendency within certain approaches to biblical studies, namely: proof-texting as a methodological tool for systematic theology.  Admittedly, that post was rather general in scope and intentionally left open for discussion; it was not meant to be either comprehensive or conclusive in sorting out the problem(s) raised.  In this post, I want to look at an example of how this tendency plays itself out, and my focus here deals with a specific issue within this article by the always entertaining, Jack Kinsella.

A while back (here), I examined the work of Kinsella where it appeared as though he flat-out lifted material from other places and presented it as his own thoughts (i.e. he plagiarised).  Whether or not he did something similar in this article is not my concern.*  Moreover, my concern is not to deal with the entire argument of the article; there are too many issues, and it would take all day to address them.  My concern here is how Kinsella’s proof-texted theology becomes disrupted when he proof-texts in order to support something he believes to be true.

For the sake of theological context, Kinsella is a strong proponent of Dispensationalism.  He adheres strongly to the belief in the so-called ‘rapture’ of the saints, which he believes will be secretive, based on what he terms ‘the Doctrine of Immanency.’  Moreover, Kinsella believes that this ‘rapture’ will be prior to the so-called ‘great seven-year tribulation’, where Jews and Gentiles who are not a part of the believing church will be tested and given the opportunity to confess Christ as Lord.  Connected with this is Kinsella’s belief that this ‘tribulation’ period precedes the so-called ‘Millennial Kingdom,’ which will consist of those who were ‘raptured’ and those Jews and Gentiles who repented and confessed Christ as Lord during the ‘tribulation’.  The rest (i.e. the unrepentant) are basically screwed.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is legitimacy to this proof-texted theological system.  Accordingly, those who are ‘raptured’ are those who have repented of their evil ways and have confessed Christ as Lord.  Those who belong to this category are those who live between Pentecost and Christ’s secret coming–i.e. the ‘rapture’ of the saints.  Because not everyone during this period has so repented and confessed, the time between the ‘rapture’ and the ‘Millennial Kingdom’ represents an opportunity for them to change their future fate.  (This is the ‘tribulation’ period, for those keeping score).  Thus, it is during this seven-year interval that those ‘left behind’ are able to repent and thus become a part of God’s people–i.e. the Church.  Those who continue unrepentant during this period will get their just fruits when Christ comes to judge the righteous and the sinner.  (The more detailed version of this argument, as given by Kinsella, can be seen here).

Here’s my concern with Kinsella’s argument, which is found near the end of the article, where he says this:

But the Bible says that those living when all the signs of His return begin to come to pass, we are to look up, and lift our heads, for our redemption draws near (Luke 21:28) [emphasis original]

With this Kinsella means that the beginning of the ‘signs’ points to the imminence of the expected ‘rapture’, which precedes the tribulation period.  Notice, this verse only applies to those believers in the so-called ‘Church Age.’  He justifies this by saying (and please ignore the historical smugness of his claim):

We watch the signs of the times because they are evidence that the Bible is true, that Bible prophecy is being fulfilled in this generation and therefore, there is no time to waste.  If we can see the signs of the coming Tribulation, and there is an interval in between, then it means that the Rapture is even closer.

Where Kinsella’s proof-texted theology becomes disrupted is when he proof-texts something else he adamantly believes to be true that is connected with his other beliefs.  This belief and textual support appear right in between the two quotations just given.  He says:

But the Bible also says that the Lord will wait until the last possible moment to Rapture His Church for the sake of the last repentant sinner.  “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2nd Peter 3:9) [emphasis original; and so is the '2nd' bit, which is odd]

If his statement is valid, and if the passage he cites justifies his statement, then a problem emerges with regard to the sequence of eschatological events.  If Christ is truly patient towards humanity and desires all to come to repentance, and if Christ will truly wait until ‘the last possible moment . . . for the sake of the last repentant sinner’; that in itself should raise questions about the need for a so-called seven-year tribulation period.

Moreover, if the tribulation period is meant to give an opportunity of repentance for those Jews and Gentile who rejected Christ during the so-called ‘Church Age’, and if such a repentance during that period entitles them to become a part of God’s people–i.e. the Church; that in itself should raise questions about the need for a so-called ‘rapture’ prior to the so-called ‘tribulation’ period.

However, and this is the final point, things go really pear-shaped with the last line in Kinsella’s article:

And once we’re gone, there’s no second chance for those who are left behind.

Hang on a minute.  If that’s true, then this creates a contradiction for Kinsella’s theological beliefs regarding the nature and purpose of the tribulation period. If he believes (as he does) that, following the ‘rapture’, the ‘tribulation’ period is an opportunity for Jews and Gentiles to repent and confess Christ as Lord; that in itself constitutes a ‘second chance.’  However, he explicitly states that once believers are ‘raptured’, there is no second chance.  If that is the case, Mr Kinsella; then who is truly a part of the ‘Millennial Kingdom’?

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* Honestly, and I apologise if this sounds rude, I’ve nearly given up on him saying anything original.

problems with proof-texting (1)

In very general terms, ‘proof-texting’ is the practice of taking a verse or passage of Scripture (usually out of context) and employing it for the sake of justifying a particular theological (and sometimes ethical) claim or belief.  For example:

Give, and it will be given to you.  They will pour out into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return (Luke 6.38)

I cannot begin to think of how many times I have heard this passage used by ministers when it comes to giving/tithing in the church.  It also tends to be a favourite passage for captial campaigns, where money needs to be raised in order to fund a new building project; and it is implicitly foundational for the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ (aka: ‘Health and Wealth Gospel’, unscriptural, false doctrine, skubalon–take your pick).

However, there is a problem: this passage in Luke’s Gospel is not about money (at all); it’s about showing mercy to others (period).  It speaks to giving/tithing, campaigning and prospering if and only if it is ripped from its original context and if one relies solely on the (slightly) ambiguous terms and ideas in the passage.  (I should point out that the terms and ideas are only ambiguous if viewed out of context; in context, they make perfect sense).

There is another type of proof-texting that is not so easily dismantled, primarily because it depends on the cumulative weight argument.  Just recently, while listening to an overly smug evangelist* give his reasons for adopting a particular view of creation, I heard an example of this type of proof-texting:

Woe to you who make your neighbors drink (Habakkuk 2.15a)

Anyone want to take a free stab at how this verse was being used?  The guy emphatically believed that this particular verse was evidence that drinking alcohol was evil.  To support this idea, he (not surprisingly) appeals to other (proof-)texts that say the same thing: e.g. Proverbs 20.1; 23.29-31; Isaiah 28.7; Luke 1.15.  (This is an example of the cumulative weight argument, which generally works best on those ill-informed or less read on the Scriptures).

While he might be able to make a general case from the verses he quotes, although it might prove difficult in view of the metaphoric and figurative language of the context, his specific argument–i.e. drinking is evil–cannot be supported by any of the texts he includes (especially Luke 1.15).**  At best, from these passages the guy could make a case for the evil of drunkeness; but that was not his argument.

Less recently, I heard a conservative Chrisitian Seminary*** praise and advocate this type of proof-texting (i.e. the cumulative weight version) for its usefulness in doing systematic theology.  Three problems are endemic to this approach; the first two are interrelated.  First, in order for this to work an extremely ‘high view’ of Scripture must be presupposed.  Second, the primary means for sustaining this presupposition is proof-texting, a method that can only work if a ‘high view’ is presupposed.  The final problem I put in the form of a question: what would happen to the systematised theology if proof-texting was methodologically disallowed?

More to the point: is our systematic theology founded on what the text and context demands, or is it determined by proof-texted readings of particular ideas in Scripture that we wish to turn into a systematised theology, thus giving it the appeal of consistent coherence?  Or, to be overly blunt: is our systematic theology nothing more than a proof-texted theology?  If it is, then I think that’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed (and remedied).

(Part two of this post).

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* I’ll leave the dude unnamed primarily because I don’t see the need for giving him any more attention than he truly thinks he deserves.
** The passage in Luke pertains more to a ceremonial vow for a particular type of role than a universal principle applicable to all people.
*** Also left unnamed, but for different reasons.

repeating the old is not creating something new

I have no idea why I’m even bothering posting this, other than the fact that this sort of thing bothers me.  Per my usual practice, after lunch I checked through my various e-mails and had a quick glance through the news.  I did my absolute best to resist clicking on one particular link simply because I knew what it would be and I knew how it would affect me.  However, I failed at doing my absolute best and I was proven right on both counts.  Here’s the link.

Here’s my problem.  Not only are some of the styles shown utterly atrocious–in both style and price–but collectively they are truly nothing new.  The article touts these style as ‘the latest’ and newest ‘trends’, ways for ‘updating’ one’s waredrobe; none of which is really true.  What’s shown is nothing more than a throwback to an era that most people (in the right minds) would love to forget–in terms of the fashion.  There is a reason why the styles that plagued the late-70s, all of the 80s and the early part of the 90s all disappeared without much of a fuss.  It’s because they were crap, and in some cases humilitating (retrospectively speaking). 

The only thing ‘new’ about these trends is that they cost more, and in most cases they cost more just so that people can look cheap.  However, just because something costs more doesn’t mean it’s worth more or worthy of purchase.  (And let’s not forget that, in some cases [style wise],  just because it costs more it does make the person look less cheap).  Things where large sums of cash should be spent are things that are unique, classy and/or desireable for reasons other than mere aesthetics.  None of these trends are these things, primarily because they do nothing more than focus on visual appeal (which is rather demeaning) and wind up homogenising everyone (which is rather derespectful). 

Okay; I’m done.  Back to my paper.