Month: December 2013

gotta love it…

when the murmurings of a few are projected so that they seem to be the chorus of the majority. In this end-of-the-year reflection “study”, the writer goes on and on about American perceptions concerning various topics.  The upshot being: Americans are not entirely pleased with 2013.  Here are the results (if you didn’t click on the link):

  • “Most Americans won’t remember 2013 fondly…”
  • “Most Americans are happy to see 2013 go…”
  • “More than two-thirds view the year as one that was bad for the world…”
  • “More than four in ten say it was a bad year for their family…”
  • “60% of Americans…”
  • “77% of adults under 30…”
  • “a third of senior citizens…”
  • “The public sees the world…”
    • “At the end of 2012, 69% said it had been a bad year…”
  • “There are almost no issues where a majority of Americans have seen improvement…”
    • “Only a quarter say healthcare coverage is better…”
    • “more than half say it has gotten worse…”
  • “When it comes to how 2013 impacted American families…”
    • “A majority does admit that last year was a good one…”
    • “although fewer than one in ten would say it was a very good year…”
  • “how Americans rate their family’s financial situation…”
    • “33% say they are worse off…”
    • “16% say their family is better off…”

One might read this and think (so hopes the writer of the article) that the pulse of all American has been checked and this is conclusive evidence of where we’re at.

However, there is one big, fat, nasty, smelly problem: the figures/percentages given in the “study”-report only reflect the views of the 1000 people surveyed. Proof? Right here. And notice, if you did read the article, that information is nowhere disclosed in the main article, except for a tiny link at the end (i.e. you have to look for the link then go elsewhere to get the details), thus allowing the writer to present the findings in sweeping, categorical terms and therefore give the illusion of factual comprehensiveness or, heaven help us, “objectivity”.

I’m sorry, but a survey of 1000 Americans is nowhere close to serving as a accurate barometer for the thoughts, sentiments, feelings, opinions, etc of all 317,328,103 Americans.* At best, a survey of 1000 people is an accurate (more or less) barometer for the thoughts, sentiments, feelings, opinions, etc of 1000 people. To assume or to suggest otherwise is both speculation and imposition.

If you are a writer and use surveys to make various claims or observations, you owe it to your readers to be upfront and honest about the data. In other words, don’t claim to be speaking for the masses when in reality you’re only speaking for a comparatively small handful. I would recommend 1) making the data (i.e. the figures/number surveyed) initial and more obvious, and not relegate it to a tiny link at the bottom of the page, and 2) changing the wording so as to reflect the facts (i.e. “66% of those survey” or “66% of 1000 Americans”).

If you are a reader of such surveys and honestly believe that the findings are representative of the whole of American people: you’ve been duped. (Go here and here for why I both distrust and loathe surveys).

___________________________________
* According to the estimated figures found here.

Advertisements

o, holy night(s) … redux

This is a re-post from last year, but with a few additions.

One of my lovely wife’s favorite Christmas carols is “O, Holy Night.” Below are a selection of renditions. See which one you like best. Here are the contenders (in no particular order):

  1. Shane & Shane (admittedly, it breaks off too soon)
    1. Here’s a slightly better and complete version–with Phil Wickham (starts at 1.03)
  2. Crossroads Church, Cincinnati (camera angle is a tad strange, but oh well)
  3. Harry Connick, Jr.
  4. Bing Crosby
  5. Martina McBride
  6. Tracy Chapman
  7. Third Day (feel free to clap along at the beginning)
  8. Nat King Cole

Any others that come to mind are certainly welcome.

ignoring context to sustain an existing interpretation

On two separate occasions now, I’ve heard and read persons appealing to 1 Cor 3.10-15 in ways that make me a bit unsettled–or at the very least, a little worried. In both cases, the ultimate focus of the discussion was the same: the (eternal) status of believers before God. However, the specific emphases of the two persons were distinct, and one’s appeal to the text was more explicit than the other.

In the first instance, I heard a pastor[1] use and teach through 1 Cor 3.10-15 to support 1) the conjoined ideas of “the judgment seat of Christ”–not to be confused with the “great white throne of judgment”, which is (supposedly) separate–and “the judgment of believers” on the basis of (good, faithful) works, and 2) the heavenly “rewards and responsibilities” that come as a result of that works-focused judgment.[2] In fact, this pastor confidently asserted that this text is one of roughly two dozen passages that speak directly to the judgment of believers before/at the (so-called) millennial reign of Christ. What is vitally important to note is that the pastor made it abundantly clear that the notion of rewards is separate from one’s salvation-status before God. Specifically, an eternally secured “saved” status is assumed for all believers and the kinds or levels of reward do not affect that status.

In the second instance, I read a scholar[1] who used 1 Cor 3.10-15–specifically 3.15–as support for reading Heb 6.1-8 as referring to a believer’s “loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ” due to his/her hardheartedness, which inhibits faithful “progress in the Christian life”. (This scholar appeals to the Corinthian text because he sees it speaking to the very idea of [loss of] rewards). Specifically, this scholar reads Heb 6.1-8 as addressing the issue of believers regressing to and being content with the elementary “doctrines of the faith” and their subsequent neglect of “the more complicated doctrines at hand”–i.e. those that presumably foster progress in the Christian life.

With regard to the first instance, the gist of 1 Cor 3.10-15 does appear to support 1) the idea of heavenly rewards on the basis of faithfulness post-belief in the gospel, and 2) the assurance that one’s status before God is secured regardless of the degree of faithfulness. Paul’s argument does seem to suggest that those who build (i.e. live their lives) on the foundation already laid (i.e. belief in Christ) in complete faithfulness and obedience (i.e. using the best materials) will receive a better reward at “the end” than those who build with weak or shoddy materials (i.e. live their lives with minimal faithfulness and reluctant obedience). And it does seem that Paul emphasizes the fact that the second builder is not the recipient of condemnation; only his crappy work is punished. Thus, the builder’s status before God remains intact while his efforts are less fortunate.

I could accept this type of reading and interpretation and the theological/doctrinal teaching that follows from it–i.e. the one advocated by the pastor–only if I read 1 Cor 3.10-15 as a stand-alone passage, divorced from its surrounding context. I know that might sound harsh but after spending nearly four years with 1 Corinthians,[3] specifically 1 Cor 1-4, I cannot read the metaphor of 1 Cor 3.10-15 as referring to rewards given to believers before/at the millennial reign of Christ on the basis of faithful works. Paul’s specific argument in 1 Cor 1-4 does not advocate or even deal with that idea. I would be willing to bet that if Paul were alive and someone said, “This is how I read your argument” he would say, “Excuse me?”

Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 3.10-15, as read within the surrounding context of 1 Cor 1-4, is primarily (if not exclusively) about the way or manner in which the gospel of Christ crucified is proclaimed and subsequently judged–both by the Corinthians and by God. Specifically, Paul asserts (cf. 2.1-4) that his original proclamation of the gospel lacked rhetorical flare (and even without the need for such flare), a lack that the Corinthians–relying on worldly wisdom–now judge as evidence of a worthless and substantively foolish message. In their minds, Paul built a house with hay, wood, and straw. By contrast and implication, Apollos[4] continued the message of the cross but (presumably) did so with his usual rhetorical eloquence (cf. Acts 18.24)–a method that the Corinthians, again relying on worldly wisdom, now judge as evidence of a meaningful and substantively wise message. In their minds, Apollos built with gold, silver, and precious stones.

Paul’s (implied) counterargument that in terms of proclaiming the gospel of Christ crucified–i.e. the foundation for one’s faith–the manner of delivery is ultimately of little to no consequence in the eyes and/or judgment of God. Part of the emphasis in 1 Cor 3.10-15 is that if Apollos proclaimed the gospel with rhetorical giftedness, then bravo to him. Well done. And if Paul originally proclaimed the gospel without needing to rely on rhetorical skill or conventions, then so what? Christ was proclaimed! (cf. Phil 1.12-18). Judgments about the method or means are inconsequential and ultimately superficial in relation to judgments about the substance or content of what is proclaimed. The problem, and the other part of the emphasis in 1 Cor 3.10-15, was that the Corinthians were casting judgments about the substance of the message on the basis of the method in which it was delivered. Thus, Paul’s message was deemed foolish only because it lacked eloquence. Paul’s point is that while it may be the case that he lacked eloquence, the foundation he laid remains (3.10) and he himself is unscathed in judgment (3.15; hence 1 Cor 4.3).

With regard to the second instance (i.e. the Heb 6.1-8 passage), I have to be somewhat brief–primarily because this post is getting away from me but also because it dips into a discussion that requires its own post. Suffice it to say that the scholar’s reading of Heb 6.1-8 as referring to a believer’s “loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ” due to his/her hardheartedness, which inhibits faithful “progress in the Christian life” is also based on overlooking (or dare I say, ignoring?) the surrounding context. Such a reading the text overlooks a key point about the argument: nowhere in Heb 6.1-8 is the discussion of rewards on the basis of faithful/good works mentioned. The focus of the argument in Heb 6.1-8 deals with the consequences of a believer’s rejection of the salvation they originally accepted (cf. 2.1-4; 3.7-4.13; 5.11-6.20; 10.19-39; 12.12-13.19).

However, in what appears to be an attempt to sustain a particular interpretation of Heb 6.1-8–an interpretation that sidesteps the obvious reading of the text so as to maintain a pre-existing theological position–1 Cor 3.10-15 is brought in as supporting the idea of a loss of rewards but the eternal security of the believer despite the loss. The problem with this should be obvious: that type of appeal only works if 1) the idea of eternal security of believers is accepted unequivocally, and 2) the argument of 1 Cor 3.10-15 does in fact refer to rewards as distinct from one’s salvation status. You already know my thoughts about the second point. I’ll withhold my thoughts on the first point for now.

My aim for this post was not to debate the idea of eschatological rewards for believers or even the question of one’s eternal secured vs. conditioned status before God, specifically in the Hebrews passage. Rather, my point was to say that I do not see 1 Cor 3.10-15 as directly (if at all) speaking to either rewards or status in the way the above pastor and scholar interpret it.[5] Specifically, to ignore the surrounding context (i.e. 1 Cor 1-4) and thus read Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 3.10-15 as primarily about–or to assume that his argument advocates–one or both of these points is to misread or even misconstrue Paul and to impose on his argument a pre-existing set of theological/doctrinal presuppositions that are essentially foreign–or at least unrelated–to the substance of the text.

___________________________________
[1] This individual will remain unnamed because of my respect for him.
[2] For the record, I do not think the NT is clear or definitive enough about the notion of “rewards” in heaven based on a believer’s faithful works while on earth to form a theological or doctrinal position. Specifically, I see the bulk of the passages brought to bear on this idea as being interpreted in such a way that they validate an existing conclusion rather than forming the basis for a conclusion.
[3] Cf. my PhD thesis, when it gets published.
[4] In contrast to some recent commentators (e.g. R. Collins), I see Paul’s remarks in 1 Cor 3.10-15 as relating primarily to his work and that of Apollos. Thus, while I do think the implications of Paul’s argument can be extended to Christians in general, I see it as only that–i.e. an extension.
[5] At best, we could say the ideas of rewards and/or status are tangential to the wider argument.