Monday, June 19, 2017

Was it time to fight? (Answer: no)

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)
This is a very strange passage. For many reasons. It is sometimes used by those who are anti-Christian to argue that Christians are called to violence. What else can Jesus mean? The plain reading suggest that Jesus is saying: We tried the non-violent way, taking no money or provisions and relying on the good will of the people (Luke 10:4-7). Well the time for that approach has passed. We can expect no help. Now we take a different tact. 

Despite what it says, it cannot be taken literally. For just a few hours later, when Jesus is arrested, and one of the swords actually is used for its intended purpose, Jesus is adamant that the sword should be put away, and he healed the injured party (Luke 22:49-51). So when it would be the most natural to realize the call to arms, Jesus instead takes the pacifist approach.

The best that this passage can be understood is this way: There was about to be a great transition in the milieu in which the disciples lived. Up to now, for the most part, they were a popular group of Jews with a beloved rabbi who traveled about drawing crowds of admirers. No need for money, provisions, or self-protection. All was readily supplied. However, soon they would become, at best, a headless sect whose leader died in an ignominious way that completely discredited them in the eyes of their countrymen. The donations would dry up. The good will would evaporate. Their lives would be at risk. Jesus’ message is not a literal call to arms. It is a prophecy regarding their changing fates in terms of acceptance and safety.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Few, Many, Most?

For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14) 

This is hard.1 I really don’t like this verse. I have found no satisfying interpretation that is entirely based on the timeless prescription,2  “use scripture to interpret scripture.” There simply isn’t, it seems to me, enough relevant scripture to construct a critical mass for either of the common interpretations.

There is, however, enough for that favorite pastime of cherry-picking support for your bias. I know, because I’m, I'd hate to think, very good at that game. But honestly—it’s either that or throw up your hands, which may in fact be the better part of valor.

Jesus himself was somewhat coy about this—inasmuch as we can use coy to refer to whatever corresponding holy virtue he possessed that could at times resemble coyness to finite chowderheads (i.e., all mankind.) You see Jesus was asked specifically to give a numerical estimate, but instead he gave an answer with the same interpretive difficulties:
22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:22-24)
What does many mean? Is it a majority? It’s impossible to say. In modern usage many often implies a minority. For example, in most presidential elections (but not the last dreadful one) you say that many people voted for the loser, but most people voted for the winner. In short, the answer is entirely unhelpful if we are attempting to quantify with any precision. Except we can agree that "many" does not mean "few."

So, to the two interpretations. The first is:

For all time, the number of people saved will be a small minority. 

People have even tried to estimate the ratio. William Fisher, elder of a Scottish parish in the late 18th century, and apparently a frozen-chosen type Calvinist, estimated only one in ten are saved. For this (and his perceived hypocrisy) he was mocked as “Holy Willy” by no less that Robert Burns:

O Thou, who in the heavens does dwell, 
[And] As it pleases best Thyself, 
Sends one to Heaven and ten to Hell
All for Thy glory, And not for any good or bad 
They've done during their lifetime! 
-- Robert Burns, Holy Willy, Stanza 1, translated.

Ouch. No fiver-pointer, Robert Burns.

The second interpretation:

Matthew 22:14 refers only to the time of Jesus’ ministry. 

Why? In part because, as we know, just after his ministry ended, the number added to the church exploded. And today there are about 2.2 billion people self-identifying as Christians. You’d have to be a cynic’s cynic to assume that enough of them are not True Christians™ to reduce that number down to something that is sensible to refer to as a “few.”

Oh, how embarassing, I didn’t realize my bias was showing. And it is not based on eschatology. (If anything, it’s the other way around, my eschatology is heavily influenced by the way I interpret this verse, i.e. via option 2.)

Sorry, no proof to be found. You see, I simply deem it unseemly when someone tells me they believe only a few are saved, and (it is typically implied but not stated) that they’re one of the elite. It’s a dark side of my beloved Calvinism that sometimes rears its ugly head. But it might be right. I would just rather think it wasn't.

Now for my cherry picking. First, Paul:
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! (Rom 5:15)  
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:19) 
Here Paul uses the many, and pits Adam's many against Jesus'. Yes, as I argued earlier, many doesn’t imply a majority. But, again, it is certainly not “few.”

Then there is John Calvin, commenting on Paul’s words:
If Adam's fall had the effect of producing the ruin of many, the grace of God is much more efficacious in benefiting many, since admittedly Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin.
Now I don't want to read too much in Calvin's (or Paul's) argument, or put words in his mouth, but of course that's just a prelude to doing exactly that:

P1) Adam's fall resulted in the ruin of many (the reprobate)
P2) Jesus' work resulted in the the benefit of many (the saved)
P3) Jesus is more efficacious in saving than Adam is in ruining
C) Therefore Jesus' many exceeds Adam's many. A majority of mankind will be saved.

It makes sense to me. But I can't prove it. I can't demonstrate that heaven will be heavily populated. But I sure hope it is.

1 So hard, in fact, that for a more scholarly treatment, see See F. F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus

 The best possible algorithm, yet mathematically problematic, see Gödel's incompleteness theorems, vis-à-vis presuppositional-lite apologetics. (Only mostly kidding.)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Go Mizzou!

At a time when free speech is under attack at many universities, here is a welcome bit of news. The University of Missouri has learned from her mistakes.

Now that you're in a good mood, which is intolerable, read and weep about what is transpiring at Evergreen State University.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

It's a phase transition (or: The moral way to treat Your 2nd wife, while still married to your first)

This is all just my opinion. The opinion of a low-rent armchair theologian. Take it for what it's worth.

The two major systematic theologies, dispensational and covenant, make the same category of error: they both misrepresent the continuity of biblical revelation. Dispensationalism overemphasizes discontinuity, and Covenant Theology overemphasizes continuity.

The so-called New Covenant Theology adopts the goldilocks position. It looks at the progression of special revelation (and the concomitant redemptive history) in terms of the old and the new (and better.) Kind of like, well, the Bible does. I'm a fan-boy.

If you notionally plot their respective views of history, Dispensationalism looks like a staircase, Covenant Theology is like a smooth curve, and New Covenant Theology has a vertical slope at the time of Christ (because something kinda important happened then!) in a shape that in physics we recognize as a phase transition. The New Covenant view of the NT era is not that it is like the OT era, only perhaps a bit warmer, but it is a completely different phase, like water to steam.

Covenant theology (which I greatly admire, although you might not know it) has a problem with The Law. Its overemphasis on continuity results in it making the erroneous claim that moral law of the Old Covenant is the absolute moral law for all time--in spite of much counter evidence, such as the fact that Ten Commandments are described (Ex. 34:27) as the laws of the covenant God makes with the Jews, which is not the New Covenant.

This misplaced emphasis on continuity results in Covenant Theology's position that "there really is just one convenant, for all human history, The Covenant of Grace"  a defense of which requires great exegetical-contortionist skill. It also results in a  clumsy view of the Law. The Law, they say, is conveniently broken into three disjoint groups: moral, civil, and ceremonial. This is in spite of the fact that the Bible never states that there are three types of law: There shall be not one, not two, but three, and four is right out of the question!

Since Covenant Theology acknowledges that we should should not be sacrificing animals anymore, it is faced with the harsh truth that it must relax its cherished insistence on continuity--but as little as possible. Most Covenant Theology advocates jettison the civil and ceremonial laws, keeping only the moral. One group of lunatics, however, keeps the civil law as well, and advocates for Christian control of the government (because that's always worked so well!) and nostalgic reinstatement of death by stoning, just as it was called for in the Old Testament. These are the lovable rascals known as theonomists. Pray your daughter doesn't bring one home.

It is easy to poke holes in the view that the Old Covenant moral law is the end-all of God's revelation of his moral law. Here is just one example, the Old Covenant law on how your son should treat his first wife, the one you approved of, should he get bored with her and (without divorce) marry a second:
If he [the father] designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. 10 If he [the son] takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her [wifey #1's] food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. (Ex. 21:9-10).
This is just one example from the Law (of Moses) that described an acceptable practice and is very difficult to shoe-horn out of the category of a moral law.

Today we would find this practice incompatible with the laws on marriage given to us in the New Covenant era. We would find this practice unacceptable and immoral. (And this is one os a gazillion examples.) There is no reasonable way to argue that the moral law of God was not upgraded in the New Covenant era.

Now you could try to argue that it is only the Ten Commandments that are absolute. Leaving aside that even this is hard to defend, the new problem is that you really are now talking of four types of laws:

  1. Ceremonial (toss 'em)
  2. Civil (toss 'em if you are not a lunatic theonomist)
  3. The Ten Commandments (keep 'em)
  4. Moral Laws that that were considered consistent with the Ten Commandments but are now considered immoral. Because reasons. (toss 'em)

A house of cards.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

PoMo Feminist Nonsense

If you follow this stuff (and I wish I didn't) you often find yourself in a position of not knowing whether a piece of alleged scholarship is a hoax. I think this is real (meaning we are supposed to take this garbage seriously.) For your reading pleasure:

Whitney Stark, Assembled Bodies: Reconfiguring Quantum Identities, Minnesota Review, 88, pp. 69-82, 2017.

Here is the abstract

In this semimanifesto, I approach how understandings of quantum physics and cyborgian bodies can (or always already do) ally with feminist anti-oppression practices long in use. The idea of the body (whether biological, social, or of work) is not stagnant, and new materialist feminisms help to recognize how multiple phenomena work together to behave in what can become legible at any given moment as a body. By utilizing the materiality of conceptions about connectivity often thought to be merely theoretical, by taking a critical look at the noncentralized and multiple movements of quantum physics, and by dehierarchizing the necessity of linear bodies through time, it becomes possible to reconfigure structures of value, longevity, and subjectivity in ways explicitly aligned with anti-oppression practices and identity politics. Combining intersectionality and quantum physics can provide for differing perspectives on organizing practices long used by marginalized people, for enabling apparatuses that allow for new possibilities of safer spaces, and for practices of accountability.

I once again call on some international agency, perhaps the WHO, to make it illegal for anyone without sufficient training to invoke quantum mechanics or Bayes' Theorem. It's just too dangerous.

Divorce: Conservative and Liberal

One reason Jesus makes it harder for men to divorce their wives is, in my estimation, to protect women from the real threat of destitution that often resulted. If the woman did not have a family to return to, she found herself without income or support. Another reason is due to a higher view of marriage--Jesus vice Moses--wherein the man in the contemporary eastern "man's world" was told to just stop already with the mistresses, concubines and polygamy. Marriage, like so many other things (including the covenant) is new and better in the New Testemant.

In all this I am conservative.

In the case of spousal abuse, I'm a flaming liberal. As an elder I never would have advised a woman to go back to an abusive husband, no matter how sincerely he stood before her and the elders and apologized and promised to change. I guess I'd be bassackwards from most elders--If the abused spouse didn't want to reconcile--that would have been an easy case for me. If she did want to--that's when it would have been tough.

I think most conservatives will immediately say: No, no, Jesus is quite clear: it is sexual immorality and (maybe) abandonement, and nothing else. Those are the only reason given explicitly in scripture.

Phooey. Those reasons are given to again emphasize the higher view of marriage.

In my opinion, Jesus doesn't include the reason of spousal abuse-- and the Holy Spirit doesn't inspire the writers to include it, because they cannot imagine we are so stupid that we must be told the obvious. (Like all teachers, The Holy Spirit at times must lament that he over-estimated his pupils.)

Scripture doesn't tell us that you can divorce your husband if he beats your children, locks them in closets, and puts cigarettes out on their backs. I would hope an elder board would not respond to such a circumstance by arguing that "Hmm, since it's not explicit, you must take him back if he sincerely apologizes, and it seems to us that he has. That is, we're pretty sure he won't do it again. And until you take him back, we'll fellowship with him, but not with you."


Monday, May 29, 2017

Theistic Evolution Gaining

Here is news that is welcomed by some Christians (like me) and is a harbinger of the imminent arrival of the (flavor du-jour) anti-Christ by others. A recent Gallup poll of US adults asked (as it does every year) the participants to select their view of human origins:

  1. Human beings developed over millions of years, but God guided this process
  2. Human beings developed over millions of years, but God had no part in this process
  3. God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years

The first view is known as theistic evolution. It is the idea that God used evolution as a secondary means, the same way he uses gravity. In its most common form it implies:

  • The process was never outside God's control, i.e., the species homo sapiens was inevitable.
  • It makes no predictions that differ from "traditional" atheistic evolution

The second view is the traditional entirely secular view of evolution (which again, makes no predictions nor proposes any experiments that differ from the theistic variety.)

The third view is the Young Earth Creationist view, which has always been the most popular in the US.

The results are illustrated in the chart below:

Against the backdrop of a steady rise of the atheistic view, the YEC and theistic views are tied at about 38%.

Make of it what you will.

A problem with humility? I don't really know.

I need some advice (which I ain't gonna get, because nobody else reads this blog anymore!)

I am really struggling in my Christian walk because of a lack of serious fellowship with other mature men, and from a lack of opportunity to teach substantive adult Sunday school classes.

I was an elder in my previous church. I had frequent fellowship with the other elders that provided the serious, masculine, iron-sharpening-iron that I desperately long for. And I was a Sunday School teacher who taught a rather vast array of serious theology-rich classes.

None of that is available to me anymore, and not likely ever to be again. It just isn't going to happen in my new church.

I know what this sounds like--because I've heard it a million times: I have gifts, why doesn't God let me use them? If as an elder I was ever less than sympathetic to this question--please forgive me. Now that I'm walking in your shoes I have first-hand insight to what you are going through.

Here is the truth. I'm a good teacher. A really good teacher. I may not be much good at anything else, but I have always been a good teacher.

So is it vanity that is eating me alive? It might be. On the other hand I was never: I'm an elder and and adult Sunday school teacher, so that's how I serve. I was happy also to serve in the more behind-the-scenes ministries as well (including years in the nursery, in which I routinely observed the relativistic phenomenon known as time dilation.)

But even that self-defense might just imply more vanity. I don't know, I really don't.

My study of the Word was so much richer and extensive when I was preparing to teach, and when I was meeting with the elders. These days I feel it a struggle to put a minimal effort into reading.

How do I replace what was lost?

Eschatology Writ Small

Forget all the crazy {a, pre, post, ...} millennial schools. Here is Eschatology boiled down to its essence.
17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:17-20)

The only relevant question is this: Does your end-times view anticipate victory or failure of the Great Commission?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fundy Irony (repost, modified)

It is not uncommon when examining the doctrinal statements of fundamentalist churches that both dispensational pre-trib premillennialism  (Left-Behind-ism) and Young Earth Creationism (YEC) are both elevated to essentials.

Dispensationalism owes its popularity to C. I. Scofield who was, without question, a genius. A misguided genius, but nevertheless a genius. Scofield did something that was then novel. He published  his Scofield Reference Bible (1909, rev. 1917) in which he embedded his personal notes and extensive cross-referencing scheme--unambiguously written from a dispensational viewpoint, into the biblical text rather than, as was customary, in a separate commentary. In other words, his notes were not "sold separately." The direct embedding, when combined with the fact that his notes were written with an air of absolute authority, left many believers with the impression that Scofield's commentary had been vetted by ages and sages. No other printing of the bible has as much influence as the Scofield bible.

So, back to the modern fundy churchs that demand fealty to both dispensationalism and YEC-ism.

What about the hero of dispensationalism, the undisputed heavyweight champion, C. I. Scofield?

He needn't apply. Maybe the Methodists will take him (they'll take anybody!) But at the modern fundy church, Scofield would not be welcome. Why is that?

Because C. I. Scofield, hero of Rapture with a capital R, was an Old Earth Creationist (OEC).

It is interesting--dispensationalism is the only systematic theology developed in the scientific era. As such, Scofield was well aware of fact that geology teaches us that the earth is old. So he embedded a particular form of OEC into his notes: the gap theory. (C. S. Lewis was also a proponent of a form of the gap theory.) Scofield taught of an unknowable (from scripture, at least) long period of time between the first verse of the bible and the second. 1 When he picks it up in the second verse he sounds like a YEC--he taught literal 24-hour days and even included Bishop Usher's calculations (with the dreaded 4004 BC result) in his original notes. So many people think was a YEC. But he wasn't.

Even in the 1967  New Scofield Reference Bible (from which the Ussher chronology was purged) the notes in Genesis state that the age of the universe is unknowable from scripture.

1 The actual 1917 Scofield commentary on Genesis 1:1 reads:
But three creative acts of God are recorded in this chapter:
1. heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1)
2. animal life (Gen 1:21)
3. human life (Gen 1:27)
The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages.