Monday, December 31, 2018

I guess Paul must be wrong then…

How, we must ask, do the expectations of the church fathers compare with the expectations of a grammatical-historical approach? Paul, who was clearly not tied to the author’s original meaning, allowed later revelation to inform his own understanding of the Old Testament. In doing this, he was used as a model for biblical interpretation by the Fathers. Broad claims that make the church fathers followers of the GH [grammatical-historical] method need to be measured against their dependence and explicit devotion to Paul’s “method.” Further, patristic exegesis developed in a way that forces us to reconsider simplistic and general conclusions that categorize the Fathers into “literal" and “allegorical.”—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 123

Friday, December 28, 2018

Maybe your idea of history is wrong…

The incarnation is not merely an idea or event to which Scripture points; it is the key to the meaning of history itself. When the Fathers read Scripture in light of the center of history, Christ, they believed it to be a historical reading because the incarnation is the definitive moment in history. The unfolding of God’s historical action narrated in the Old Testament thus takes on meaning that would have been inaccessible to the original human writers. What was thought to be history apart from Christ is shown to be what it really is—a “shadow” waiting for fulfillment in Christ. But since Scripture points to Christ as its final end, it is pointing to a mystery that will not be exhausted this side of eternity. Thus, a historical reading of Scripture is necessarily an eschatological one as well, for the church reads Scripture in light of its own union with Christ, which has not yet reached its fulfillment.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 122

Thursday, December 27, 2018

So how does Paul stack up?

In many ways the GH [Grammatical-Historical] method of interpretation as it is described on the AiG and CMI websites is actually at odds with the way the first interpreters of Scripture (the Old Testament) approached interpretation. I doubt that the apostle Paul would be viewed as a very good interpreter of Scripture if the GH ideal was the standard against which his interpretation was measured.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 114–15

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Correctly handling the word of truth

Jesus’ statement is not used by the Gospel of Matthew as a defense for the clarity of Scripture [Matt 12:1–8, where Jesus's disciples are picking grain on Sabbath]. His opponents read the Scriptures and had intimate knowledge of them. Yet they did not understand them; it was actually unclear to them because they were reading it as it was meant by the original authors! Is Jesus not calling here for a deeper knowledge based on his incarnation? Something greater is here, and this requires a reading that goes beyond its original intent — a reading that is based on an understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of the law. His opponents need to understand this in order to properly understand Scripture. They read but do not really know. For them, the Scriptures are not clear because they miss the central significance of Christ.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 111 (emphasis added)

<idle musing>
Ironic isn't it? We're taught the perspicuity of scripture (the belief that anyone can read scripture and understand its intent), yet when the Pharisees read it as it was originally meant, they miss the real meaning. How often do we do the same thing?

I'm not willing to give up the perspicuity of scripture, but it needs to be qualified with the way the early church read it: as fulfilled in Jesus. (Yes, even that needs some qualifications, but at least you're in the right ballpark!)
</idle musing>

Monday, December 24, 2018

Awe as a community building technique

"Monumental buildings, by virtue of their massive scale, can receive a large number of people, providing moments for social interaction and social sharing. Furthermore, by triggering awe, the structure’s monumentality could psychologically intensify a social gathering. In fact, some investigations have demonstrated that awe has community-building potential by making people feel connected and that it leads to sentiments of oneness. In this sense, the awe engendered by monumentality creates a binding feeling, increasing the community identification among visitors and enhancing horizontal attachment (Yannick Joye and Jan Verpooten, “An Exploration of the Functions of Religious Monumental Architecture from a Darwinian Perspective,” Review of General Psychology 17 (2013): 60)."—"The Throne Room of Assurnasirpal II: A Multisensory Experience," by Ludovico Portuese in Distant Impressions: The Senses in the Ancient Near East, ed. Ainsley Hawthorn and Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel (University Park, PA: Eisenbrauns, forthcoming).

<idle musing>
Ever wonder why government buildings are so large? Or why the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and Washington Monument are so huge? Even the Statue of Liberty, for that matter. The architects subconsciously knew what they were doing!

For that matter, any public gathering with larger-than-life structures, statuary, or similar props would have the same effect. That has me thinking, would a Jumbotron in a stadium or auditorium have the same effect? That would be worth researching, wouldn't it?
</idle musing>


God intended to communicate something to us in the Bible, and our responsibility is to interpret it correctly. This conviction is often expressed in terms of an analogy. For example, Brian Edwards states that the Bible is a “treasure box.” In order to get to the treasure within, a key must be used by Christians to unlock it.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 102

Sunday, December 23, 2018

About that incarnation thing

Nice devotional on the incarnation over at Public Discourse. Here's a paragraph, but it bears reading the whole thing:
Christianity is not a set of abstract doctrines. It is a faith that lives—that loves God and neighbor actively and in every walk and work. Our final destination is not a disembodied heaven. It is a New Creation that takes up and perfects (we know not how) all human bodily and social flourishing. Christianity is so much more solid, and real, and human, than the “spiritual, but not religious” imitations of today. Christian faith touches every aspect of our lives—material, social, cultural. It does so because our God was born in a stable and nurtured by a teenaged girl named Mary.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Ideology trumps context

Preparing and writing this chapter has been another lesson for me on how some quarters of evangelicalism tend to handle disagreements and controversies. What has been seen above in some creation science appropriations of the Fathers is the tendency toward proof-texting with little to no regard for context. The results are a misappropriation of the Fathers. I applaud those who desire to show the relevance of the Fathers to the contemporary church. But when it is done at the expense of their own context and concerns, they are being misused and misappropriated. When this is done, it is difficult not to conclude that ideology is guiding their appropriation. Serious interaction with the Fathers is necessary, but this takes time, deliberation, and patience.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 93

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Take a cue from St. Basil

But the theories are merely a secondary concern for Basil. Scripture does not delve into the details of creation, and Basil even wonders why we do. Theories are just that—attempts to understand what cannot be understood. Each one is refuted by the other. It is enough for Basil to see creation as a training ground where God’s creation turns us back to the Creator himself in praise and awe.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 86

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Yes, it's a cult

Is Trumpism a cult? Definitely, say experts in cults. Take a gander at this (long) essay at The New Republic. Here are the final three paragraphs, but definitely worth reading the whole essay—especially before you gather with relatives over the holidays, many of whom probably differ from you in viewpoint:
We can understand Donald Trump’s rise as a civil religion giving way to its cultic expression. Con man, cult leader, populist politician: Trump is all of these, rolled into one. He has become all-encompassing, even to nonbelievers. We all feel the fatigue of merely existing in the Trump era, the rapid-fire assault on all of our political and social senses. We want immediate solutions to the Trump problem. We want to beat reason into his followers, until they recognize how wrong they are, or at the very least, submit. We want to blame them—justifiably—for perpetuating his sham.

I want these things. I want them in my gut. But I also know that the cult’s pull is so powerful that it risks destroying its opponents, by eliciting a counterproductive reaction to it. If we want to bring members of the Trump cult back into the mainstream of American life—and there will be plenty of those who say we should move on without them—resistance means not only resisting the lure of the cult and exposing its lies, but also resisting the temptation to punish its followers.

“When the cultic behavior is on a national scale, [breaking it up] is going to take a national movement,” Lalich says. Such an approach promises no immediate gratification. But it also might be the only way to move forward, rather than continue a dangerous downward spiral. Andrés Miguel Rondón, a Venezuelan economist who fled to Spain, wrote this of his own country’s experience of being caught up in an authoritarian’s fraudulent promises: “[W]hat can really win them over is not to prove that you are right. It is to show that you care. Only then will they believe what you say.”

But that takes work!

I am not interested in fighting a battle here. I am interested in offering an approach to the Fathers that respects and understands the context within which they worked and that draws on scholars who have devoted years to understanding and explaining this complex context rather than the parachute approach that simply drops in and selectively rummages for data in support of one position.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 81

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Seek and (unfortunately) you will find

Athanasius's fourth—century battle with Arian interpretations of Scripture is illustrative of the issues here. There is no doubt that Athanasius held Scripture as the ultimate authority for the Christian and, therefore, all theological truth. But the Arians also agreed with this. So the battle with the Arians was “not a battle for the Bible, but a battle over the Bib1e.”(Leithart, Athanasius, 33 [emphasis added by Allert]) The Arians, as Athanasius claims throughout his Four Discourses Against the Arians, use scriptural terms but fail to accept the truth of Scripture and merely "array" themselves in scriptural language. For Athanasius, one can use Scripture but still miss its meaning. He would likely agree with the medieval saying in reference to the Bible: “This is the book in which everyone looks for his own convictions, and likewise everyone finds his own convictions."—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 79

Monday, December 17, 2018

Some statistics; use these at your family Christmas gathering

I just read a review of You Welcomed Me from IVP. The review is on a great book blog, Bob on Books. Here are the statistics:
We have a 1 in 364 billion chance of being murdered by a refugee in a terrorist attack, a 1 in 10.9 billion chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack by an illegal immigrant, while we have a 1 in 14,000 chance of being murdered by anyone, a 1 in 303 chance of dying in an auto accident, and 1 in 7 chance of dying of cancer. Immigrants and refugees in this country contributed $63 billion more than they cost this country over the last decade. Urban neighborhoods into which immigrants move often see a reduction in crime and revitalization.
Now, I'm not naive; I know that those driven by fear (and that's what it is) either won't accept, will deny, or will simply ignore facts. Fear is irrational, and human beings are irrational at core. But, still, there might be someone at your family gathering who starts spouting fear of immigrants, trying to spread their fear. You can present these facts, not to change their mind, but to show those not yet infected by fear that the fear is irrational.

Or, you can feel better yourself, knowing that the truth is securely on your side (as is scripture, by the way!).

The nasty truth

The approach to the biblical text advocated by [Ken] Ham above is heavily indebted to Enlightenment philosophers like René Descartes (1596-1650) and John Locke (1632-1704), who claimed that we could actually surmount our own context and attain pure readings of texts and reality. In fact, evangelical historian Mark Noll argues that virtually every aspect of the evangelical attachment to the Bible was shaped by the Enlightenment (Noll, Betweeen Faith and Criticism, 97).—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 81

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Are you naive?

The point here is that the simple act of reading the Bible, whether in the original language or in a translation, is already a mediated event. This mediation becomes layered when we factor in our own cultural location. The assumption that we can read the Bible, or anything for that matter, from a neutral stance is naive and misguided.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 75

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

If only it were that simple!

Can we really read the Bible free of any influence or without acknowledging those who have gone before us?

Consider what might be involved in taking [Ken] Ham’s exhortation to just read the text and let it speak to you. The Bibles most of us use are translations from the original Hebrew and Greek. Translation is not simply a matter of finding equivalent words in two languages. The task of transposing material from one world of thought and language to another can be very complicated. These different worlds of thought require the translator to understand both cultures. This means that interpretation is already involved in the task of translation—grammatical and lexical decisions are made that allow the readers of translations to understand the Words of the text.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 73

Monday, December 10, 2018

Public Service Announcement

With the continued revelations of male sexual abuse, I suggest the following to all males:
Stop thinking with your dick!
That is all.

Friday, December 07, 2018

What kind of mystery are you looking for?

Mystery as problem solving (investigative) is concerned with what is known and able to be grasped. But revelational mystery revolves around what is unknown and ungraspable—this is why it always remains mystery even though it is revealed. Because of the Fathers’ insistence on revelational mystery, they can show us where we may just miss the point in theological study. If the purpose of proper Bible study is verifiable data, then the proper function of theology is the systematic organization of that data with which we can speak with certainty to the world. The Bible would then be treated merely as a source book of information for theology and other things. Once the information is mined from the Bible we would then have our system, and the mystery is solved. Not only does this run the risk of making the Bible superfluous, it seeks to remove “our Great mystery" and We may just think we have “so1ved” God. Then he must fit into our categories and he becomes the God we think he should be. The Fathers encourage us to let God be God.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 49–50

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Our theology is impoverished!

But it is not only through the councils that the Fathers’ profundity and practicality can be seen. They also show us how to unite heart and mind in theology. In this they have something to teach those of us in the evangelical tradition who might tend toward an understanding of theology that is overly rationalistic. The Fathers show us that mere intellectual assent to a list of doctrines is an impoverished Christianity and one that needs correction and supplement.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 45

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Salvation: Now or Future?

A great post over at Catalyst Resources about when and what salvation is. Read the whole thing, but these two paragraphs jumped out at me:
The second misunderstanding [of what salvation means] has been called by Dallas Willard a “bar code faith.” The scanner at the check-out line reads only the bar code on a product. If the bar code for ice cream is placed on dog food, the scanner will read “ice cream.” The content of the package is irrelevant.

Willard says a “bar code faith” operates much the same way. We take some action—we have faith, get baptized, join the church—and that gives us a new bar code. God then pays no attention to our actual sinful content. When we are scanned across the divine scanner, it reads “Christ’s righteousness.” We remain the same, only now we go to heaven. As Willard says, our present life “has no necessary connection with being a Christian as long as the ‘bar code’ does its job” (The Divine Conspiracy [Harper Collins, 1998], 37).

<idle musing>
Mind you, that's a misunderstanding of what salvation means! Bonhoeffer would call it "cheap grace." I had never heard the term "bar code faith" before, but I like it (and will use it!). I guess I have never read Dallas Willard except for excerpts. Another book to put on my list of "must-reads."
</idle musing>

Theology is practical

The location of theological reflection in the church meant that the Fathers had it in the forefront of their theologizing. For us, this communicates two main things. First, the Fathers show that deep theological thought and reflection are not antithetical to a deep spiritual life—in fact they are required. Second, theological study done for the church has significance for Christian believers. The Fathers show us that the theologian can “blend profundity and practicality” because as pastors their ultimate concern was for the spiritual well—being of their congregations. We should not, therefore, let the perceived remoteness of the theological discussion done by the Fathers keep us from recognizing their vital importance to the churchmdash;Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 44

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The "rule of faith"

While the Fathers did not offer the same answers to all of these issues, they are remarkably united on the essentials, or what Ramsay calls “the rudiments of Christian confession.” He states that we can confidently affirm that the Fathers agree among themselves and with us on these essentials—belief in a triune God; in a Christ who is at once divine and human and who exercises a salvific role with respect to the human race; in the infallibility of Scripture; in the fallen condition of the human race and its need for salvation; in certain important rites, chief among them being baptism and Communion; in the church, in which unity must be preserved; and in the value of prayer.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 42–43

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Eleven years later and cars still are closer to bicyclists

Back in 2007, I posted a study that showed that drivers give bicyclists less room if they wear a helmet. Well, Bicycling Magazine just published an article with a link to an updated version. Bottom line?
The new paper from Walker also re-affirms that wearing a helmet was indeed associated with more “close” passes when you take into consideration that in some places, the law dictates more than one meter of room.
And a month ago they posted about "helmet scolds":
If you’ve ever ridden a bike without a helmet, you’ve likely run into helmet scolds. They’ll tell you at length why you should never ride without one, about the risks and dangers. Don’t you know cycling is perilous, even for seasoned riders? They’ll come armed with statistics and tell you about that one time they crashed unexpectedly while pedaling around the block.
Indeed. I've run into that many times over the last eleven years after ditching the helmet. So, what do I do? Well, I still don't use a helmet, although the newer designs have done a good bit to work on the problems of concussion (see my 2007 link). If they continue to make progress there, I might reconsider. One thing is certain: drivers now are more distracted. Despite laws against texting while driving, I still regularly see drivers doing so as we walk.

Because of that, I'm trying to do things to raise my visibility. I wear a fluorescent yellow jersey. When it's cold enough to wear a jacket, I usually wear my yellow one. Also, since moving to Red Wing, I have added a new strobe tail light that I use, even during the day; I seem to be getting more clearance when I have it—contrary to this post from 2015. But, it's a different culture here than on the North Shore, more traffic and more used to bicycles in general.

I have no delusions, though, that I will be seen. I'm always watching and expecting cars to either not see me, or try to run me off the road. Someone trying to run me off the road has actually only happened once in the last 15 years, by a couple of guys driving a pick-up truck, trying to prove they were "real men." On the whole, drivers have always given me enough room when they see me. My goal is to make sure they see me while also watching them assuming they don't!