Random

still missing the point

I recently began reading a book by Alistair Donaldson on the problems with Dispensationalism (see pic). screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-11-20-40I’m about half-way through and it’s been a fair treatment of the subject so far; I’ll have to wait and see if these things hold true till the end. Two things have been encouraging about the book: (1) much of what Donaldson argues is in line with a number of conclusions that I’ve reached on my own on this topic; thus, it’s good to know that I’m in good company in my thinking. And (2) Donaldson clarifies a vital need when talking about Dispensationalism, and that is: most discussions tend to say, “Dispensationalism has come so far from its origins, and a number of scholars–even Dispensational ones–are showing how the classical form is no longer viable or even biblical. So there’s no real need to debate or look at the older forms of Dispensationalism.”

But the problem is, as Donaldson points out, that recognition is almost exclusively a scholarly perspective. In other words: scholars are the ones who have accepted the advances made; the classical (and even modified) form of Dispensationalism still exists and is taught in many churches, and thus still finds is way into popular Christianity. Therefore, while we are safe to exclude treatments of the older version when talking about it at the scholarly level, there is still a need to include them at the popular level. Here is a case in point:

Over at Beliefnet.com (a site that I only know about in a passing way, which is to say: I try to avoid it as much as possible), Lesli White composed an article entitled, “5 Important Facts About Jesus’ Second Coming”. Sounds intriguing, to be sure. The tagline is (an attempt to be) equally captivating: “While we don’t know every detail, The Word promises these five things will happen when Jesus returns again.” Sounds promising. Except for one thing. Some of what she lists is not what “The Word promises…will happen when Jesus returns again”, rather it’s what Dispensationalism (because of its idiosyncratic and flawed hermeneutic) promises will happen. To be sure, the general points in her list do parallel the teaching of the NT–e.g., Jesus’ coming from heaven, our complete ignorance about the timing, the return will be obvious, and the second will be different from the first. But the parallels stop there. On the surface. Once we start to dig into the specifics of her individual points, we encounter not only a Dispensationally marinated theology but also some basic problems/flaws/inconsistencies.

For example: White’s second point proceeds–without justification, mind you (but that’s the old Dispy’s MO)–with the assumption that “While the two are often confused, the second coming is not the rapture”, and then goes on to explain why the two are meant to be kept separate. Hence, White is advocating a two-stage Second Coming of Christ–one where he sort of comes back, but not really; and a second (/third), where he means it this time. Not only that, but White proceeds on the (equally unproven) assumption that “the church” is a completely separate entity in God’s salvation plan–and by that it is meant, “the church” is neither the Jews nor the Gentiles (i.e., the unbelieving world). By implication from the rest of what she says in this point, this means: at the so-called “rapture”, the church alone is rescued while everyone else is screwed and has to endure 7 years of “wrath” and “great tribulation.” Sorry, but neither of these two teachings is not found in the NT; they are especially not found in (or even supported by) texts like 1 Thess 4.13-18 or (I’m assuming she meant to write) 1 Cor 15.50-54. These ideas, however, are two of the essential pillars for Dispensationalism, so one can easily find them there. And only there.

White’s third point also has some concerns. Two are worth mentioning. First, she is very cautious in how she chooses to word her claims. When talking about the unexpectedness of the event, White focuses her attention on “the return” of Christ. While (seemingly) benign to most everyone else in the church, this phrasing is necessary for the Dispensationalist system of interpretation, which in turn formulates the Dispensationalist’s theology. By focusing on “the return” as an unknown event, White is emphasizing the so-called “rapture” and not Jesus’ (final-and-I-really-mean-it-this-time) Second Coming. Thus, for the Dispy, at the word level: “return” = “rapture”. And she has to follow this notion, partly because, of the two events (wrongly) assumed to be a part of Christ’s two-stage coming, the so-called “rapture” is the only one that is described as unknown, unannounced, without warning, blah, blah, blah. And the other part is because, if this event (supposedly) precedes Jesus’ (final-and-I-really-mean-it-this-time) Second Coming, all one needs is simple math to work out when the Second Coming will take place–i.e., 7 years after the so-called rapture–thus making it a known event. That’s the first cocnern in her point. The second one is easier stated: the passage she ropes in to support her case (Matt 24.36) not only says nothing about a so-called rapture–either before it or after it–but also is, as Dispys typically argue, focused on the Second Coming.

And that brings me to the final¹ concern in White’s case. In her fourth point, White is correct in describing the return of Christ as “visible and audible”. This is a breath of fresh air from the otherwise dank claims of older Dispensationalism which tends to advocate a “secret rapture” (cf. this). But the relief stops there, for White immediately launches into a treatment that leaves one rather puzzled. I say that because, in speaking of Christ’s “return” we are left with the impression that White is still referring to the so-called “rapture”–an impression that is encouraged by references to texts like 1 Thess 4.16, a passage that some have rightly defined as “one of the noisiest” in the NT.² But right alongside this are references that Dispys typically use to speak about not the so-called “rapture” but Christ’s final Coming–i.e., Matt 24.26-27, 31, and (from the previous point) 36. This would suggest, at the very least, that White–in her exuberance to make a point–accidentally conflated the two ideas into one. Or it would at least suggest that the (wrongly) assumed two-stage Coming of Christ is not as important or necessary or clear-cut as White so adamantly claimed in an earlier point. Or, at best, it would begin to expose the fact that Dispys have no biblical case for a two-stage Coming of Christ, but that they have to make such a case in order to sustain an idiosyncratic and flawed hermeneutic–one that created a rather idiosyncratic and flawed theological perspective³–and in making such a case, they simply get things wrong. And they get things wrong, because they’re missing the point: the final Coming of Christ is not about the rapture. Not even close. It’s about so much more.

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¹ Well, the “final” one to be noted here.
² S. Wohlberg, End Time Delusions (2004), 22.
³ My problem with Dispensationalism, especially the Classical and Modified/Revised forms of it, is twofold: it surreptitiously (1) questions the  NT writers as inspired advocates of God’s truth, and ultimately (2) downplays the full scope of Christ’s salvific, redemptive, atoning, and fulfilling work.

a curious appeal

At present, we (our church) are doing a sermon series entitled: “Credo: Faith and Identity.” It’s a seven week series that runs through confession of the Apostle’s Creed. (In short: it’s a “what we believe” series). While preparing for the various topics, I refreshed myself on some of the common misconceptions about each point in the Creed, and I did this so that I could help our people become aware of such things. For the one on the Holy Spirit, I naturally defaulted to the views of the “Jehovah’s” Witnesses–since they are a modern group who flat out deny the personhood and (true) deity of the Spirit (see here).

What I found intriguing in their denying explanation is the first entry under their “Misconceptions” section, and entry that deals specifically with the personhood issue. As you can see (if you clicked on the link), the JWs declare: “Misconception: The ‘Holy Ghost,’ or holy spirit, is a person and is part of the Trinity, as stated at 1 John 5:7, 8 in the King James version of the Bible.” There are a handful of problems with this assumed misconception–not least of which are the underlying assumptions about the KJV (and the JWs incessant use of it as a reliable text)–but I’ll leave those alone for now. The thing that struck me was the response or rebuttal the JWs gave to this so-called misconception:

Fact: The King James version of the Bible includes at 1 John 5:7, 8 the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.” However, researchers have found that those words were not written by the apostle John and so do not belong in the Bible. Professor Bruce M. Metzger wrote: “That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain.”—A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

Okay, yes, what is claimed here is indeed factual. And it’s primarily factual because of the inferior (=crappy) manuscript testimony that undergirds the KJV translation. But let’s be fair and honest (and not merely selective with our “facts”): scholars have known this detail for ages. So, nothing new here; move on, please. Moreover, simply referring to this passage and pairing it with some inflated rhetoric does not deal with the assumed misconception in a convincing way. So, you’re going to need something more.

That “something more” would seem to be the JWs peculiar appeal to Metzger as their supporting voice for denying the personhood and deity of the Spirit in particular and the doctrine of the Trinity in general. True, Metzger–in nearly everything he writes on that passage–does say it is not a part of the original (or best/earliest) manuscripts and is most likely a (much) later addition. But again: so what? Scholars have known that for years. Even Erasmus knew about it. But here why I find their appeal peculiar:

There are many other passages in the New Testament which reveal how deeply the Trinitarian pattern was impressed upon the thinking of primitive Christianity. Thus, besides the direct and obvious statements in Matt 28:19 and II Cor 13:14, there are texts as I Cor 6:11, 12:4-[6]; II Cor 1.21-22; Gal 3:11-14; I Thess 5:18-19; I Pet 1:2; and others.[*] (Because the manuscript evidence of I John 5:7-8, King James Version, is insufficient, this text should not be used. There is, however, abundant proof for the doctrine of the Trinity elsewhere in the New Testament.)

That quote (with emphasis added) comes from… You guessed it: Bruce M. Metzger. And the source: a rather polemical article entitled, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ”, found in Theology Today 10.1 (1953): 65-85. It would seem counterproductive (and counter-intuitive) to rope in someone to support your case when that someone utterly contradicts (and rejects) the very case you’re trying to make. Moreover, Metzger was adamantly opposed to the hermeneutical gymnastics that JWs perform in order to justify the claims they often make–and not just about Trinitarian doctrine.

On a slightly different tact, I find it odd that on both their Holy Spirit page (noted above) and their Trinity page (see here), they do not engage with any of the texts that Metzger cites–instead they focus on only a very small handful which they have already deemed questionable. And while they do have these texts in their “translation”, in each case the reference to the Spirit is downplayed–i.e., it’s always lower case (because they think the Holy Spirit is a thing [an impersonal force] and not a person). But that is highly suggestive of the fact that they are allowing an existing theological presupposition to determine the interpretation of the texts that deal with a given topic, and thus interpret those texts a way that favors or supports their existing theological presupposition. That’s eisegesis. And in hermeneutics: eisegesis is bad.

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[*] Metzger provides a footnote to JND Kelly’s book, Early Christian Creeds (1950) for the interested reader to find a more extensive list of texts supporting a Trinitarian view.

a subtle poke(?)

While reading a published PhD dissertation from 1900 (as you do), I saw this in the introduction:

It is the purpose of this book to present a study of Alexander Campbell’s theology by the historical method. He was not a voice crying in the wilderness and having no connection with his age except to receive from its degeneracy an impulse toward reformation. Try as he would, he could not sweep aside all that men had thought during the past eighteen centuries, and lead a religious movement or formulate a system of Christian doctrine as if a true word had not been spoken since the death of the Apostles.¹

I may be wrong (which is always possible), but I think he just took a shot at Joseph Smith with that last sentence. Or maybe even Dispensationalism. Either way: If so… well played, sir.

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¹ W.E. Garrison, The Sources of Alexander Campbell’s Theology (St Louis: Christian Publishing, 1900), 14-15.

something else

So apparently, this Gap ad was perceived to be racist*–despite efforts to explain the pose:

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Yet, as far as I can tell, this earlier version was not perceived in a similar way:

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But putting that debate aside, I’d like to point out one small(ish) detail that’s getting missed:

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Either Cherokee/Target or Gap has some ‘splainin to do. Who wants to go first?

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* And since perception (not truth) is all that really matters these days, it must in fact be racist.

one detail

Just discovered a job that looked rather interesting:

The College of Christian Studies at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor seeks applications for a tenure-track faculty appointment at the rank of Assistant/Associate Professor of Christian Studies beginning August 2016. The College of Christian Studies is committed to preparing men and women for service to the church as well as providing core courses in Bible and theology for all the University’s undergraduate students. UMHB seeks faculty who are active Christians and dedicated teacher-scholars to prepare students for leadership, service, and faith-informed discernment in a global society.

Sounds good. Tell me more about the job.

Faculty Responsibilities: Activities required of all faculty include exemplary teaching, curriculum development and student advising; professional attainment; and service to the department, college, university, and the community. While primarily a teaching institution, UMHB recognizes and rewards research, publication, and other forms of scholarly attainment.

Specific Responsibilities: The successful candidate will have competence in biblical studies and/or theology for teaching in the Core. Teaching responsibilities include online as well as classroom courses. Full-time faculty members typically teach 12-14 hours per semester with three course preparations.

Very nice. All fairly standard. What about the candidate?

Qualifications:  Ph.D. in biblical studies or theology is required. Excellent teaching and communication skills, a dedication to professional attainment, and commitment to quality improvement are essential. Because of the specific mission of the College of Christian Studies, the successful candidate must be a Baptist and must sustain active membership in a local Baptist church.

Ah, crap… That Baptist thing gets me every time. Oh well, the search continues.

jabs with bad analogies

For the past couple of weeks I’ve seen more and more people (or groups) taking pot-shots at Christians, trying to make it look silly or inept. It might be because we’re a few days away from Christmas and that’s what normally happens. But it appears as though, because there is not a huge show-stopping crapumentary on the Discovery Channel or H2 or whatever about Jesus, the attempts have been reduced to quick jabs–or sucker punches, if we’re honest–given for a cheap thrill or an easy laugh.

Earlier this month, Conan O’Brien gave this little quip (about 5:28 in):

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 07.37.57

A few days later, I saw these images floating around, the first slightly more subtle than the second:

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(Whether people stole it from Conan and rejigged it or Conan got it from these images is not really my concern. Frankly, I don’t care).

There are two initial problems with these kinds of claims. First, they are not fair to the discourse that needs to happen concerning the refugee crisis. In fact, these types of claims not only politicize the crisis, which is insulting those who truly need refugee, but also reveal that at least one side of the debate is happily wearing its “ideological blinders”.* The other side might be, but they are not as expressive or honest about it.

Second, these sorts of political jabs are uncalled for, primarily because they operate on a faulty premise and a crap analogy. For those who have done their homework, it will be obvious that the image of Mary and Joseph frantically looking for housing in Bethlehem only to be turned away repeatedly until some gruff inn-keeper’s wife Gibbs-slaps him and make him offer the barn; that is nothing but sensationalized tradition. The historical and textual evidence about the birth narrative does not support such view.

Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Mary and Joseph situation was anything comparable to the refugee crisis. Mary and Joseph were not trying to flee their home country and find safe harbor in another. They were simply traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the purposes of taxation. If we wanted to say anything (admittedly in dramatic terms), we could say they were being “hunted down” in the same way that the IRS wants our money each April. But they were not under threat for their lives because of the ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, etc. To say otherwise betrays a lack of understanding about the data and an inability to make an appropriate analogy.

The refugee crisis is admittedly an awful situation, one that has created a rather heated debate with varying and often conflicting responses. It is a situation that needs to be taken seriously and it is one that deserves conscientious and respectful discussion and action. It is one where all sides of the debate need to come together and shut up and listen openly and fairly. And it is a situation that most certainly deserves more respect than being used as one side of a crappy analogy for the purposes of taking cheap-shots at Christians. Such one-lines are good for a laugh and caricaturing a group of people, but they do nothing for moving the discussion forward. It’s school-yard antics. It’s weak. It’s empty. And it’s hypocritical.

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* Taken from “West Wing”.

approaching 50. a bit of catharsis.

Developmentally, 50 is a landmark number. However, diversity reigns when people attempt to define the value of this landmark. On the one hand, most fear its ominousness; some dread its arrival; others succumb to its reality and effects; and few choose to waste away in its prison. On the other hand, there are those who meet it with fortitude; those who embrace it as a new lease on life; those who see it not as an anchor but a badge of honor; and those who (repeatedly) seek to redefine perceptions of it–i.e. “50 is the new 40”, “…the new 30”, “…the new 25”, etc. Yet in the midst of this diversity, there is one constant: the definitions and/or perceptions are ultimately choices; they are not predetermined assignments from which there is no escape. Thus, those who feel confined by negative conceptions and perceptions of turning 50 are free to abandon such things and embrace more positive views. While it is that simple (in theory), it is admittedly not easy (in practice). And while some might not make the needed choice, the difficulty of it cannot be used as a legitimate reason for refusing to act.

I’ve still got a little ways to go before I reach 50. In just a small handful of months, I will turn 39. But I am nearing a different kind of 50–one that has brought with it many of the negative sentiments that come with human development. The 50 I’m referring to is the number of “No”s I’ve received in my search for full-time employment.* Since March 2009, I have kept a log of all the jobs I’ve applied for and the reasons why I failed to score an academic post. (Admittedly, a few of these attempts were part-time positions, but I applied with the hope that they would become full-time). In 2011, I broadened my search to include ministerial positions, because that is a vocational option we will not rule out. But that list pales in comparison (only 4)–i.e. the bulk of my applications have been academic.

When I reached 20 “No”s (near the middle of 2012), a cloud of anxiety and uncertainty began to descend. I not only started questioning why I was not successful but also started (subconsciously) nursing doubts about my abilities and worth. By the time I achieved 30 (near the end of 2013), the questions and doubts gave way to annoyance and frustration–primarily because, by that time, I saw several people (roughly the same age, with roughly the same credential [sometimes less]) easily landing jobs. Candidly, there were a few times when, “What the crap?!” gushed from my lips and I was  tempted to quit trying and do something entirely unrelated to the nearly 10 years of educational training I endured. When I reached 45 (near the middle of this year), melancholy set in for a while and then it transformed into a sense of numbness. I simply got to a point where I had to shut down emotionally from the rejection. Doubts, questions, frustration, and tears got me nowhere. Why not try apathy? After all: if I didn’t care, I couldn’t get hurt. But then something happened. Or, I should say: someone.

Right after my 47th rejection, my lovely wife came to me with a healthy (and necessary) dose of supporting love and brutal honesty. She said she noticed an obvious change in my person, and it was a change that she watched developed over a couple of months. At first I rejected the idea, but I quickly realized that such a rejection was masking what I knew to be true. As soon as the mask fell, everything came out. There was nothing to stop the flood. For the first time in a long time, I admitted that I was fighting feelings of insufficiency, ability, and even worth. I confessed that I was deeply hurt, I was in pain, I was angry, and that I loathed applying for jobs because I already knew what would happen. And it was in this release of thoughts and emotions that I finally realized something: in this area of my life, I was faithless. I didn’t say this, but my wife sensed it and spoke directly to it. She reminded me not only of God’s definition of me, but also the faithfulness he has displayed throughout my life–especially in the past few years. In not so few of words, she showed me that my imprisonment was my own making. I put myself there and I decided to stay there and complain about the circumstances. And she was dead right.

That night, after our conversation, I realized (and remembered) that my perceptions about my situation–i.e. failure to secure a full-time job–were my choices. I chose to have doubts, questions, frustrations, sadness, anger; I chose to devalue to my worth, my abilities, and my contributions. And I (stupidly) chose to opt for a faithless approach. Because I chose these things, I failed to see that because they were choices, I could choose to see things otherwise. But before that could happen, I had to make a more immediate and foundational choice: I had to choose to trust in God’s provision and faithfulness. I had to choose to surrender inadequate views of myself and embrace the indescribable reality of his person and the incomprehensible abilities he has to (re)shape who I am. I had to choose to decrease so that he might increase. I had to choose to rest secure in his Yes when others say No.

I knew such choices would be difficult, but they had to be made. Failure to make them was not only hurting me but also expressing doubt in God. Thus, my prayer that night was not simply one of rescue but also renewal. I needed forgiveness and restoration. I needed God to help my unbelief. That has remained my prayer. And since praying, I have sensed his answer: I am more at peace than I have been in years. I am learning how to see myself (again) as a new creation in Christ–a vessel to be shaped and used for his purposes and glory. And I am being strengthened to choose the ways of God over all other competing ways of defining self and success. So I’m ready for 50, no matter the outcome.

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* This list exclude the four “Yes”s I’ve received since the same time; although those are/were not full-time academic positions.