Monday, December 14, 2009

Taking A Break

Recently I dreamed that I stepped into an elevator with a large group of people.  The down arrow was pushed and we quickly descended underground.  Every few seconds more people got on and large rocks were also placed on the elevator.  I began to get nervous that the weight would cause the elevator to crash. The others assured me that we would be safe.  I thought to myself, if I get through this, I will have had an interesting experience to blog about.  You know that when your blog invades your dreams, its time to take a break.  Therefore, for the next month I will not only not post articles, I won't even give this blog any thought.  If you post a comment during that time it will be the middle of January before it will be published.  In mid January I will begin work on the new articles mentioned in my 12/8 post and in February I'll resume posting.  Another motivation for this plan of inaction is to give my eyes a rest from computer keyboards.  Also I want to spend time working on my audio blog.  I will be participating in my church's program of reading the entire Bible in 90 days starting on 1/1.  My progress will be recorded on my pastoral studies blog.  Blessings.  May all those who read this see God work in your lives and in your unsaved loved ones this coming year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The State In The New Testament" by Oscar Cullmann

One good thing you can say about the late Dr. Oscar Cullmann is that he is one major twentieth scholar who did not believe what was written in the New Testament was the result of generations of rewrites.  At least that is what I gather from Cullmann's "The State In the New Testament", which occupied my last two Friday evenings.  In this work he speaks of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as actual authors.  His views of the relationship between Christians and the state are quite helpful.  The problem with Cullmann is that his actual Biblical exegesis is simply off the wall.

Cullmann's views of what Scripture teaches concerning the Church/state relationship makes good reading.  He maintains that the correct relationship between the two is a matter of eschatology.  The state is to be considered a provisional institution which is necessary until the return of Christ.  As Christ taught concerning paying taxes to Caesar, the state can expect from all citizen's, Christian and otherwise, all the support it finds necessary to carry out its proper functions.  Cullmann points to Rom.13 to point out that the state has no religious function; its role is one of retribution for those who do wrong.  Paul points out in this passage that the state is capable of judging between good and bad conduct.  As the state engages in its proper role, the Church is to publicly support it.  Cullmann points out that Paul instructed Timothy to uplift secular leaders in prayer (ITim. 2:1-2).  This instruction was written during Nero's persecution of the Church and was binding even during those circumstances.  Yet Cullmann criticizes the traditional Protestant interpretation of this verse as the controlling verse on this issue.  Many Christians have read Rom. 13 as commanding that Christians obey the state in all things without question. Yes, Peter and Paul urged Christians to obey their rulers, yet both were executed for refusing to acknowledge Caesar as God. Cullmann believes that the beast from the abyss in Rev. 13 was the state exceeding its proper role and trying to take God's place.  He goes on to say that this is the most tangible embodiment of satanic power.  Cullman also points to ICor 6:1 to say that while we must support the state, we should not allow our affairs to get tangled up with it.  Cullmann is helpful in pointing out the dangers of using just one verse to fashion a theological position. "The fountainhead of all false biblical interpretation and of all heresy is invariably the isolation and the absolutising of one single passage."

Unfortunately, much of Cullmann's own Scriptural analysis is off the mark.  Cullmann claims that the sole reason Jesus was crucified was because Pilate mistakenly thought Jesus was a Zealot, a Jewish revolutionary faction seeking to overthrow the state through violence.  Cullmann asserts that Jesus' disciples were mostly Zealots who believed that Jesus was going to oust the Roman Empire from Israel and set up a theocracy.  What is Cullmann's proof?  One of the disciples was named Simon the Zealot.  If there was one zealot, there had to be many more.  After all, Jesus named James and John "the sons of thunder." Gamaliel linked the Christian movement to ealier uprisings.  And then there is Peter.  Before Jesus renamed Peter, Peter was Simon Bar Jona, Simon the son of John.  But is this the actual meaning of his name, Cullmann asks?  He believes that there is a possibility that Bar Jona may actually have meant "terrorist."  "Terrorist?"  In Jn. 21:15, did Jesus actually say "Simon, you terrorist, do you love me?"  While Cullmann cites these examples as proof of the makeup of Jesus' inner circle, his language is not one of assertion but speculation.  Cullmann believes that Jesus' ultimate temptation was to heed the Zealots' demands that he seize power in a violent revolution.  He also believes that when Jesus prohibited others from announcing His true identity, his sole purpose was to prevent a violent revolution from being waged in His name.  That was certainly one of Jesus' concerns, but His prohibition against announcing His identity had more than that one sole purpose.  Pilate did not execute Jesus for being a Zealot; he had announced that he found no fault in Jesus.  Pilate relented to pressure from the Jewish religious establishment because they threatened to get him in trouble with Caesar.  Cullmann's preoccupation with the question of Church and state leads him to the assertion that in the Cross of Christ the relationship between Christ and Caesar is at the very center of the Christian faith.  Like his student John Howard Yoder, Cullmann does not seem to have much interest in the question of personal holiness and individual sin.  Cullmann also believes that if it is effectively communicated to the state that Christians are loyal citizens just as long as the state stays within its proper boundries, then much bloodshed against the Church can be avoided.  This seems to me to be a bit naive.  Christians may be a loyal citizens yet stand up to societal abuses such as the burning of widows in India or economic disparity.  This often brings the wrath of governments which favor the status quo even if these same governments are religiously neutral. 
This concern for the proper relationship between the Church and the state grew out of the Church's conduct during the reign of Hitler in Germany where many in the German Church supported Hitler because of a misguided reading of Rom.13.  This is understandable.  Yet I cannot but be amazed how an obsession with one's own theological agenda warps ones reading of Scripture.  I saw it with John Howard Yoder. And I am sorry to say that Cullmann, one of Yoder's professors, a better and much more balanced writer than Yoder, allowed his own preoccupations to cause his interpretation of Scripture to be so off the mark.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You Like Me! You Really Really Like Me!

Sunday marked the beginning of the third year of this blogging enterprise.  As of 12/6 of last year, the viewership of my profile page numbered 666.  As of today, approximately 950 people thought it worthwhile to give my blog a look.  My hope last year was that the number would clear 1000, but it did come close.  Surveying this year's blogposts, the one that gives me the greatest satisfaction is the six part series entitled "Lincoln's Legacy" which can be accessed at the links section of this blog.  The most significant books I read and reviewed this year: "Fundamentalism and the Word of God", "The Heavenly Man" and on my pastoral study blog, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses."  The book I could most have done without, the one that made my jaw drop and my eyes jump out of their sockets in disbelief: "The Politics of Jesus."  I am disappointed with the selection of posts from the past year.  Too many of them are simply links to other stories; very little original output. However, the circumstances that necessitated this no longer apply.  Starting in February (I am taking the month of January off) this blog as it was originally intended to be will begin to take shape.  The focus for the time being will be on a continuing series of posts rather than on individual articles and I am looking forward to working on topics that have been planned for over a year.  An examination of the Global Church will be undertaken.  Philip Jenkin's "The New Faces of Christianity" will be reviewed in depth, but many of the sources he cites, such as Christian websites from around the world, will be explored also so that we may examine the impact the Gospel is having in the Third World and how will that impact shape the future of Western Christianity.  As this blog is Wesleyan in its theological orientation, there will be much more explorations of the Wesleyan approach to Scripture and the Christian life.  I will start with Dennis Kinlaw's "Let's Start With Jesus" and some of Dr. Kinlaw's audio resources.  Wesley's writings will also be featured: "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection", sermons on the "Sermon on the Mount" and "The Doctrine of Original Sin."  There will be a look at how the Lutheran doctrine of "Christus Victor" is compatible with Wesleyan theology.  Audio recordings of my professors from Wesley Biblical Seminary will be brought to your attention.  The appearence of spiritual writing on this blog has waned considerably.  That will be rectified as more devotional material will be posted.  I used to post sermons, but for some reason those took a long time to type, even in outline form.  From now on my sermons will appear exclusively on my audio blog.  Prayer requests for persecuted Christians will appear more often.  I am hoping to prepare a series tentitively entitled "Evangelicalism and Its Enemies" which chronicles attempts from within the Church to marginalize and discredit Evangelicalism as a theology, a way of life and as a political force.  There are a few secular projects in mind as well.  One is an examination of just what Thomas Jefferson meant by "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", how that concept has been twisted, and what are its implications for American Christians interacting with their culture. Thats is a look at what is coming.  Thanks for stopping by.           

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I leave it to others to analyze President Obama's speech on his decision to send American troops to Afghanistan and then bring them back in 2011.  However, I will note that the video of the speech I saw on the Internet focused on a group of cadets as he announced the time table for withdrawl.  Their faces did not reflect enthusiasm for the announced withdrawl.  (In fact, I have never seen such hostile faces in the audience for a Presidential speech.)

While the President did outline a brief history of the conflict in Afghanistan and some of the reasons we cannot let it fall , he failed to mention the most dire consequences of all if America fails in that nation.  There are those in Afghanistan who have allied themselves against the Taliban and Al-Queda who will be killed if we abandon them.  If the U.S. military fails in its mission there, a bloodbath will ensue as militant Islamists seek revenge against their enemies.  A premature withdrawl could bring about the same result.  If Obama actually orders the troops to be withdrawn before the mission is accomplished, then the enemy can, after a period of inactivity, resume its war on the Afghan people, Afghanistan's neighbors and the rest of the world.   I am sure those who have cooperated with us in Afghanistan  as well as those who have taken advantage of the freedom our military has provided them to open schools and start up new businesses began to have a queasy feeling after Obama announced the 2011 withdrawl.  After all, America has had a recent history of abandoning allies to the enemy.  Remember the Cambodian Boat People?  Remember what happened to the Kurds in Iraq after George Bush the elder allowed Sadaam Hussien to remain in power after the first Gulf War?  It was JFK who withdrew air support for the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  If we abandon the people of Afghanistan to Militant Islam, not only will blood be on our hands, but America will never be trusted for many decades to come.  There are those who maintian that the only way to bring about a peaceful, free Afghanistan would be through humanitarian relief.   In the long run that may be correct.  But in the interim, who will protect the Afghan school children (especially girls) from having acid thrown on them, or worse, because they want to receive an education?  Who will guarantee that hospitals that treat women, or which employ women doctors, will not be shut down after being attacked?  Who will guarantee the stability needed for businesses and political institutions to develop?  Who will prevent Al-Queda and the Taliban from subverting neighboring countries such as Pakistan?  Ultimately we would hope that the answer would be the Afghans themselves.  But they are not yet in a position to do so without our help.  Without our military assitance now, the conditions for humanitarian aid to transform Afghanistan will not develop.  Yes, the Afghan government is corrupt.  But it is often the case that corruption and democratic forces exist side by side.  Should those who put their lives on the line to improve their own lot as well as the lot of their countrymen be abandoned because corruption exists in their government?  Would President Obama not allied himself with Stalin to defeat Hitler?  No matter what past mistakes have been made militarily and diplomatically (this article will not debate this topic), America has no choice in the matter if it wants to defeat militant Islam.  America has no choice if it wishes to maintain its credibility as a reliable ally.  America has no choice if it does not want to be accountable for the slaughter of those who resist the Taliban and Al-Queda.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Concerning Evolution And The Global Warming Hoax

A little over a year ago,  I published a series of blog posts entitled "Exposing ExpelledExposed." (see the Links section of this blog)  It was an in depth examiniation of how the website ExpelledExposed, which is produced by the National Center For Science Education, attacked the reputations of those who appeared in Ben Stein's documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."  The website should be the place to go to see how Evolutionists in this country seek to totally distroy not only alternative theories to Darwinian Evolution but anyone within the scientific community who would publicly question Darwin.  Even if the particular dissenter from Darwinian orthodoxy is not a believer in the Biblical account of Creation, he or she will be attacked as plotting to sneak the teaching of religion into the class room.  While I was working on this series, I came across articles concerning a Creationist/Evolutionist controversy brewing in England at the time.  It concerned the proposal of Dr. Michael Reiss, an Anglican Clergyman, a professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education, London and Director of Education of The Royal Society. Reiss, a believer in the theory of Evolution, stated that his educational background taught him that it was counter productive to teach evolution in the classroom without examining the objections and doubts about Evolution by religious students. Reiss believed that not to address these concerns would cause these students to adopt an anti-science mentality which they would maintain permanently.  This is a statement from an article he published explaining his position:

"I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view.  The implication of this is that most science teachers can normally hope to achieve is to ensure that students with creationist beliefs understand the scientific position."

I decided to find out what happened to Reiss and his proposal. At first the Royal Society stood by him, but after the public outcry orchestrated by prominent Darwinians,  he was forced to resign after one week.  This course of events is similiar to what happened when Dr. Richard Sternberg made the editorial decision to publish a peer-reviewed paper by Dr. Stephen Meyer, which concerned Intelligent Design, in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.  At first there was no controversy, but then Darwinists in this country attacked Dr. Sternberg for his actions.  (see Richard Sternberg's website for an account of the controversy.  He was profiled in "Expelled" and vilified on ExpelledExposed.  Dr. Sternberg is not a creationist.)  Reiss did not endorse creationism or Intelligent Design, nor did he propose that they be given equal time in the class room.  But whether it is the National Center for Science Education in America or the British Humanist Association in the U.K., the Darwinist vanguard of the scientific establishment will not be satisfied unless anyone who proposes to be fair to other points of view are publicly punished for their "apostacy", even if they are not believers in Creationism or I.D.  Not long ago, I found out that the British Parliament was considering a bill to make the teaching of Evolution mandatory for students from the earliest grades on up.  This response by Evolutionists has to be an effect of the Reiss controversy. I make mention of the British Humanist Society because it is a major sponsor of the bill and the link to the story makes it clear that its members concern is to destroy religious influence among school age children.  Reiss' proposal was aimed at teens; this bill is aimed at prejudicing the minds of children against any alternative to evolution before they reach their teens. 

One of those who was featured in "Expelled" and who was attacked on the ExpelledExposed website was Dr. Caroline Crocker. I  wrote no articles on her for "Exposing ExpelledExposed" because I could find very little about her on the Internet.  She has now produced a website which can be found here.  Dr. Crocker's new book "Free To Think: Why Scientific Integrity Matters" will be published by Leafcutter Press in 2010.

Here is a three part article by Dr. Georgia Purdom writing for Answers In Genesis (Parts one, two and three) on how Darwinist's twist all branches of science in an attempt to prove Evolution's validity. 

From Cornelius Hunter concerning shifting the burden of proof onto Darwinian Evolution.

And if you have not heard, someone from inside the East Anglia Laboratories, a major source of Global Warming hysteria, has leaked e-mails from 13 years on back showing that man made Global Warming is a hoax and that these scientists know that.  I am sure that the leaker will face public persecution that is as great, if not worse, than those who have been attacked by Evolutionists.  As this link makes evident, scientists pushing Global Warming have learned from their evolutionary counterparts concerning distroying their enemies in the scientific community.  These scientists plan to mold the peer-review process to weed out any Global Warming sceptics from publishing in scientific journals.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stories Concerning America

Why is America so great?  Why listen to me when you can read this excellent blogpost from Cameron Buettel, an Austrailian living in Denmark.  I originally read this post on Gene Veith's blog.  On the other hand, you might check out this previous blogpost.

Here are two articles concerning our capitalist system that should be read by everybody. Both have great imortance to economic conservatives such as myself.  In "Greed is not Good and it is not Capitalism" the author refers to the sterotype that capitalism makes a virtue of greed rather than a system that recognizes greed as part of the makeup of human nature and seeks to minimize its impact.  Unfortunately some conservatives have bought into the sterotype and equate capitalism and greed because they are ignorant of Capitalism's historic tenents.  The second article is a review of a biography of Ayn Rand.  Some Conservatives are looking to her philosophy as an antidote to Obama policies.  Unfortunately Rand's brand of economics resembles Libertarianism rather than Conservatism in that Libertarians favor unfettered economic and personal freedom (including sexual freedom, many libertarians fought California's Proposition 8)  while true conservatives favor free market activity and human freedom guided by our Constitutional system.  Rand's, and Libertarian philosophy rejects religious faith.

A "politically correct" controversy that has failed to ignite.

Here is an example of intellectual disdain for Evangelical political activity from INSIDE the Church.  I normally enjoy reading this blog and have linked to it for a long time.  This is not this blogger's best moment.  (Note: To avoid confusion, I think the last item should have read "American Conservative Evangelical political activity" instead of just "Evangelical political activity." I would have changed the original language, but if I did so the comments may not be understood in their original context.  Despite my original lack of clarity, the remarks are still valid.)  

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The Politics Of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder. Part IV

Last night I finished John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus."  It was torture.  Normally when I write a negative book review, I try to be charitible.  My initial emotions of dislike rarely make it to the completed blog post.  Yet "The Politics of Jesus" is one of the worst books I have read in years.  The only reason I stuck with it is that it is considered a classic in some Christians' minds. Reading the final three chapters, I got tired of his imposition of his views on the Biblical text.  To repeat my criticisms would waste time; Parts I and II will provide you with criticisms that apply to the book as a whole.   My upcoming Friday evenings will cover "The State and the New Testament" by one of Yoder's teachers and "Christ the Meaning of History" by an author cited by Yoder.  I didn't know their connections before planning my reading.  If no review of these books appear here it is because I decided to move on.  After I finish with these two books, I am going to review four short books by N.T. Wright. 

Recent Articles Of Interest

On the House Church Movement in China.

Two great articles from Dr. Claude Mariottini's blog. (I have had difficulty creating a link to his blog.)  The first concerns whether B.C.E. and C.E. should replace B.C. and A.D. as the standard terms of dating historical and archeological artifacts.  The second concerns how we can learn from the ancient Jews in giving thanks for our meals.

Gene Veith's blog links to an Anglican's post as to why Conservative Anglicans should not join the Catholic Church.

A great response to Open Theism on the Wesleyan Arminian blog.

A great response to Atheism's charge that belief in God is responsible for all the world's evils at Arminian Today.  Atheist Christopher Hitchens writes of his experience debating Christian apologists.  Interesting reading.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pro Life And Other Cultural News Of Interest

Some good news on the pro life front.

A Judge's ruling that should be read by all pro choicers.

You have heard about the Director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who resigned after witnessing an abortion procedure and changing her mind concerning abortion?  It appears that the clinic is now suing her.

A link to first hand testimony concerning the evils of China's One child/family policy from a Christian.

The beliefs of all Christian health care providers are under assault.

Those pushing an agenda forcing the public at large to accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle are active here and overseas.  Now Evangelical Colleges are struggling with the issue.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Audio Impressions

Ronald Reagan on National (Socialized) Health Care. Though he was speaking in the early 60's, his arguments will never be out of date.

Dallas Willard speaking on being a morally responsible skeptic.  Dr. Willard points out that in our age the beginning premise in secular and religious matters is unbelief, in any discussion knowledge and certainty are looked down upon. (See a previous blogpost on this issue of certainty, )  Disbelief is now considered a virtue.  This makes it more difficult for leaders to guide institutions.  Yet Willard asserts that to disbelieve without knowledge or inquiry is just as consequential to all of us as to believe.  Therefore, those who reject knowledge and certainty must justify their unbelief as much as others are called upon to justify their belief.  To give an example not given in Willard's talk, the African country of Zambia had a famine a few years back.  The US developed grain to grow in Zambia's soil, but one person in France put it out that the grain was actually poisoned so to kill off Africans.  Despite the assurances of the US government, the government of Zambia chose not to believe the Western super-power.  The result is people died.  Unbelief is just as consequential as belief.  The talk can be heard here.

Athiest Christopher Hitchens debates Dinesh D'Souza and Frank Tureck.  Hitchens offers up no new arguements for his atheism (click the tab for Audio Impressions to listen to his previous debate with Tureck.)  His arguements consist of blaming belief in God for all the misery the world has experienced.  Tureck is able to argue from the scientific evidence that God does indeed exist while Hitchens mainly ignores the evidence.  D'Souza is a good debater, yet I think Tureck was more effective in his exchange with Hitchens.  D'Souza does not have the background that Tureck has in studying the scientific data. Tureck is also effective in his use of Scripture.  The debate with D'Souza can be heard here, the one with Tureck, here.  (The link for the Tureck debate is not available.  Therefore, go to the Apologetics315 website; you will find the Tureck debate on 9/18/09.  The D'Souza debate will be found on 10/14/09.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The Politics Of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder. Part III

I'm going to go easier on John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus" this week.  Much of the criticisms I could make of last Friday night's reading would be repititious.  However, in the three chapters I read last Friday evening, Yoder articulates some theological positions worthy of our attention.

The first position is his view of worldly powers, particularly what Paul labeled as "principalities and powers" and "thrones and dominions." While in a footnote Yoder acknowledges that these could refer to evil supernatural forces, he focuses primarily upon social and political structures as what Paul was speaking of here.  While we could legitimately contest Yoder's emphasis, he's not entirely off the mark here.  In Yoder's considering of social structures as powers, he states that while these are fallen, they were originally part of God's plan for humanity before sin marred His creation; society, history, even nature itself would have been impossible without a regulatory system provided by power structures.  Now these structures seek to seperate us from the love of God and subject Man to servitude.  (Still, God in His providential sovereignty manages these structures for the good.)  Yoder cites William Stringfellow's "Free in Obedience" as influencing his views on this subject.  An example from Stringfellow's book as to how these structures operate to enslave:  you are an up and coming employee in a major business concern, the boss summons you for a private conference, he tells you that while the firm values your work, having too many children could be a hindrance to advancement.  It would not be out of bounds to attribute such pressure as the work of principalities or powers.  Yoder is not off the mark to include the pressure to control, even to enslave, as included in the Enemy's plan to enslave God's highest creation, Man.  Yoder criticizes some Christian traditions, such as the Lutheren tradition, which views all rebellion against these social and political structures as rebellion against God and God's order.  Instead of starting with Romans 13 when considering submission to authority, Yoder claims that the real starting point in considering submission is Philippians 2, in which Paul states that Christ on His own accord submitted to the Father in taking on the form of a man and dying for our sins.  All submission is voluntary: the wife submits voluntarily to the husband, the slave to the master.  Those that submit for the sake of Christ do so voluntarily, as free moral agents of equal worth to those who are submitted to.  The Christian response to tyannical powers is defensive, to refuse to be seduced by them.  It is Jesus who defeats the powers.  I suppose this is the origin of Yoder's theology of Christian pacifism.  I will include the scriptures Yoder cites on my study blog.

Yoder began "The Politics of Jesus" with a critique of those who believe that Jesus' orginal teachings had no bearing on contemporary social ethics.  Those who think thus believe Jesus believed the world would soon end.  When His followers realized this was not so, they had to borrow from another ethical systems, such as Stoicism.  However, Yoder does a masterful job in demonstrating the incompatibility of Stoic and Christian morality.  Stoicism urges Man to live up to his own nature; it addresses Man in his own dignity.  Furthermore, it aims its message at the dominant men in society, not those occupying the lowest rung.  The New Testament writers were the first to address the lowliest of society as free moral agents with a responsible ministry to the world.  The submission of wives, children and slaves was their moral choice with the purpose of witnessing to God.  Their submission was their choice, not a matter of fate.  In Stoicism there is no heart change, no expectation of reward.  Stoicism assumes that the man of society whom it addresses will always act right once he is aware of the right action to take.

In an earlier review, I noted that I know people who highly respect Yoder and "The Politics of Jesus" and that I found the book a disappointment.  I suspect that it is the arguements put forth in what I read last Friday night that  produces their enthusiasm.  Taken out of context of the entire book, there is great merit in what Yoder writes in this section.  Unfortunately, when I read the book as a whole, I cannot endorse it.

  I have sixty more pages to read.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Roger E. Olson on Arminian Theology

I have not had a chance to read Professor Roger E. Olson's book "Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities" and so I was glad to stumble upon two interviews of Olson at .  In these interviews he deals with the misconceptions of Arminianism that are the result of ignorance or misrepresentation.  He defends Arminianism against the charges that it is semi-pelagian; he correctly states that Arminians believe in total depravity, that humans are dead in trespass and sin and that the initiative in salvation is always God's.  Olson rejects the view that Charles Finney, a semi-pelagian, was in fact an Arminian. The starting point for Arminianism is not free will but the character of God; it has been the charge of Arminians against Calvinism that Calvinism makes God the author of evil.  Instead, God allows a reasoned involvement of Man, his highest creation, in history; God does not want us to be robots but be in a personal relationship with Him, a relationship that allows for disobedience on the part of man.  The Calvinist understanding of Predestination is rejected by Arminianism in favor of the Biblical view that God predestines those who will believe for salvation. Arminianism does not inevitibly lead to Open Theism as Calvinsts charge, but it shares Calvinists' view that God is totally sovereign. In fact, according to Olson, the enemy of Calvinism is not Arminianism, but the enemy of both is full blown Pelagianism. Professor Olson does disagree with John Wesley on Wesley's view of Christian Perfection, so that distinguishes him from those such as I who hold to that understanding of Scripture.  Olson describes himself as a Pietist and defends that venerable tradition from the charges that its adherents are "holier than thou" and anti-intellectual.  He describes Pietism as experiencing God in prayer and service.  You can hear these interviews here and here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The Politics Of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder. Part II

I read the next three chapters of John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus" last Friday evening.  Mercifully, it was a mere forty pages.  This coming Friday's installment will be twice as long.  While last week's reading was focused on Yoder's view of the Kingdom of God through the lense of his liberal economic views, the next three chapters dealt exclusively with Yoder's case for Christian pacifism. 

"It is a general rule of proper textual interpretation that a text should be read for what its author meant to say and what its first readers or hearers would have heard it say."  So says Yoder.  I have no problem with this rule of interpretation, remembering that this is not the exclusive method of determining a text's meaning.  Yoder states that when Christians consider the question whether God sanctions the use of force for defense, using the Old Testament for guidence, Christians approach the Old Testament in a legalistic manner, viewing the God-sanctioned battles fought by Israel as proof that God allows the use of force by armies for self defense.  Yoder points out that God preserved Israel from its enemies by various means.  Sometimes God ordered the people of Israel to attack, sometimes He told Israel to do nothing while God destroyed the enemy.  No matter how Israel was to act, in fighting or in doing nothing, God was trying to teach His chosen people that they were to totally rely on His strength and not on their own: "It had thus become a part of the standard devotional ritual of Israel to look over the nation's history as one miraculous preservation..."  So far, no disagreement from me.  However, Yoder goes on to claim that truly pious Israelites interpreted this history as God's will that the use of armed forces in defense of one's nation be is always the wrong course of action, signifying a lack of trust in God's power to preserve that nation.  Yoder claims that this is how Jesus interpreted Israel's history and this is how his hearers would have interpreted His message: "Jahweh is an alternative to the self-determining use of Israel's own military resources in the defense of their existence as God's people."  Yoder analyzes various scriptures to back up his point, yet  as pointed out last week, he imposes his own prejudices upon the text in determining a text's meaning. (Example: "The Kingdom of God is a social order and not a hidden one.)  His take on Israel's defeat of the Amalikites in Ex. 17 is that God did not want Israel to use military force.  But, according to Yoder, Moses was wearied by Israel's continued complaining and so, in his weariness and anger, ordered Israel into battle without seeking God's guidance.  Yes, there was another incident of Israel questioning Moses and God, but if one reads the text carefully, that issue was resolved before the battle and to postualte Moses's weariness for his actions and that these actions were contrary to God's will is to read one's own prefered interpretation into the text.  There is one major problem with Yoder's contention that Jesus' hearers correctly interpteted His message to be one of eschewing legitimate self-defense: the Gospels make it clear that Jesus' hearers did not understand His message.  That is why He spoke in parables.

 Sometimes Yoder is all over the map.  He began his book lamenting the view that Jesus was an apocolyptic figure, believing the world was about to end, and so was unconcerned about the question of social ethics.  This view of Jesus was popularized by Albert Schweitzer.  Yet Yoder praises Schweitzer for portraying Jesus as he really was (in Yoder's opinion), an apocolyptic figure.  In last week's reading Yoder claims that the Gospel was closely tied to the Zealot movement.  Elsewhere Yoder claims that the message of Christian pacifism disavowed the Zealots.

In reading "The Politics of Jesus", my reactions vary.  When I read such passages as this: "His (Jesus') disavowel of Peter's well-intentioned effort to defend him cannot be taken out of the realm of ethics by the explanation that he had to get himself immolated in order to satisfy the requirements of some metaphysically motivated doctrine of the atonement; it was because God's will for God's man in this world is that he should renounce legitimate defense", my reaction is two-fold.  I rhetorically ask Yoder, where in the world do you find such meanings in the text without you imposing such meanings yourself?  I also ask myself,  "Just how orthodox a Christian was Yoder?"  And what is my reaction when I read passages such as this? "The whole cosmos must be taken as the ultimate revelation of the dimensions of mankind: the Jesus of the Gospel stories is merely a bridge for the cultural isolation of Judaism of the world- encompassing acceptance of the giveness of history and mankind in the deutero-Pauline proclamation." Zzzzzz. ZZZZZzzzzzz.  ZzzzzzzzZzzzzzZZZZZ!!!! ZZZ, zzzz, z(zzzzz)zzZzzz[Z]: zzzzz.  ZZzZzzz? z!z!z!z!z!"zzzzzz?" ZZZZZZ! Z. {z.}

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November 4th, 1979 And 9/11

You know you are getting old when adults younger than you have no memory of the historic events that formed you when you were a teenager.  You know you are getting even older when you meet adults not yet born when these earth shattering events occurred.  Thats how I feel when I meet people who have no memory of the Iranian Hostage Crisesthe Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or the election of Ronald Reagan.  These same adults will understand how I feel when they begin to meet adults with no memory of 9/11.

Today, 11/4, marks the 30th anniversery of the storming of the American Embassy in Teheran and the beginning of the 444 day ordeal known as the Iranian Hostage Crises. It was a watershed moment in our country's history just as much as 9/11.

Remembering what it was like to live in America at that time, I would like to observe the difference between the public's reaction to both the Hostage Crises and 9/11.  Many political figures today portray a post 9/11 America under George W. Bush as a hostile place for political dissenters and those of Middle Eastern origin.  Yet the climate in this country after 9/11 produced nothing compared to the anti-Iranian rhetoric of 30 years ago.  Anyone remember the hit song "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb! Bomb Bomb Iran!" (to the tune of "Barbara Ann")?  Right after the embassy takeover bumper stickers began appearing with the message "For Thanksgiving, Hug An Iranian To Death!"  Another bumper sticker featured Mickey Mouse shouting "Hey Iran" and giving the finger. This type of behavior was not quite so prominently displayed after 9/11.  Attacks against Muslims after 9/11 were not as numerous as the attacks on those thought to be of Iranian origin during the hostage crisis.  And then, there was Jimmy Carter, our "compassionate" President, whose reaction was to deport all Iranians studying in this country without distinguishing whether or not individual students were supporters of Khomeini or the Shah.  Many were returned to Iran to be greeted by a firing squad.  (I am proud to say that my mother played a part in preventing one of her Iranian students, who did not support Khomeini, from being deported.)  A few days after 9/11, our "cowboy" President, George W. Bush visited a mosque to assure American Muslims that they would not be targeted by the government.  Those who claim that America became a dangerous place for political dissenters or Muslims after 9/11 are simply trying to score political points, if not deliberately attempting to undermine the war with radical Islam.  Those political figures or entertainment celebrities who claim the government is targeting them are self important people feeling guilty that they were not politically active during the 1960's.  They want to appear as heros to those who don't know any better.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The Politics Of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder. Part I

Last Friday I began reading "The Politics of Jesus" by the late John Howard Yoder.  I have read in a few places that Christianity Today calls this book one of the most important Christian books of the twentieth century.  My only response is WHY?!

"The Politics of Jesus" starts out well enough.  In chapter one, Yoder laments that many modern scholars portray a Jesus who has no relevance to contempory social ethics.  The specific portrayals of Jesus targeted by Yoder originate in the movement known as "the search for the historical Jesus" which assumes that the portrait of Jesus from the four Gospels is inaccurate and therefore we must search for the real Jesus of history.  Some of these scholars, such as Albert Schweitzer, state that Jesus saw Himself as an apocolyptic figure, preparing His followers for the end of the world.  Because Jesus thought the world would end, he had no concern for how just a society's social structures were because those structures would disappear soon. Other theorize that Jesus was a rural figure who had no solutions to problems of complex urban settings and giant political and corporate structures.  Others picture Jesus as concerned solely with spiritual matters, not social matters.  Those who view Jesus in this manner believe Paul further strengthend the totally inward focus of the Christian Gospel.  There are those who believe that God is so wholly other than ourselves that he cannot be identified with any human ethical system, thereby rendering human ethical systems autonomous, leading to what we would call "Situation Ethics", a state where no one's personal ethics are either right or wrong.  Yoder rightly takes issue with these false portrayals of Jesus Christ and their denial of His relevance for social ethics.  Yoder goes further in saying that to study the Gospels as a true portrayal of Jesus will yield irrefutable evidence as to a concern for justice for the most vulnerable within the Gospel message.

"The Politics of Jesus" goes downhill after chapter one.  After warning readers against interpreting the Gospels through the lens of preconception, Yoder goes on to do just that, interpreting the Gospels, mainly Luke's, according to his own conception of what a just society should be.  He views the  Gospel message as purely an economic manifesto rather than a call to personal holiness.  His scriptural exegesis is a disaster.  He selectively interprets Biblical passages to wring from them what he wants them to say.  Yes, the Church in the West has ignored the Gospel's call to seek justice for the poor and other disadvantaged groups.  But Yoder tries to redress the balance by ignoring the command for us to be holy.  Yoder rightly brings to light the demand for justice in the messages of Zacharias, John the Baptist, Mary's Magnificat and Jesus' reading of Isaiah in Luke 4: 16-30.  Yet he incorrectly claims that these messages contain nothing concerning holiness of heart and life. He maintains that John the Baptist's audience consisted solely of tax collectors and soldiers who both tryannized the populace.  For Yoder, the cross was the result of Jesus' obedience to not take power by political means: "The cross is beginning to loom not as a ritually perscribed instrument of propitiation but as the political alternative to both insurrection and quietism."  Yoder believes that Jesus and his message was closely allied to the Zealots who were in revolt against Roman occupation.  When Jesus told the two on the road to Emmaeus that "Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and enter into His glory" (Lk 24:26), Yoder believes Jesus was not refering to His ascention at all, but to the Kingdom He inaugurated by dying on the cross.  Yoder ties the Kingdom of God to the Year of Jubilee from Lev. 25, in which all debts were wiped off the books and property sold to pay off debts were returned to their original owners.  Yoder believes Jesus was innagurating a Kingdom in which debtors were released from their obligations.  Yoder states that the verse "forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors" (Mt 6:12) refers to the forgiveness of debts and not personal sins.  He wrongly states that the Greek word for debts that appears in this verse applies only to debt.  He also believes that Mt. 5: 25-26 deals with disputes over money, ignoring the context of dealing with anger and the judge and jail imagery being symbols for the prison anger puts us in.  To Yoder, the parable of the unjust steward is the representation of one who realizes that the reign of unjust mammon is over.  Yoder claims things with no evidence, such as the forgiven debtor who refuses to forgive a much smaller debt to him was a real Galilean peasant known to Jesus, or that Jesus' hearers would have interpreted His message through the same economic lense as Yoder's.

I had expected to disagree with Yoder's conclusions because I knew his message was along pacifist and liberal economic lines.  Yet I was not prepared with such a poor arguement as this.  I know people who think highly of Yoder and "The Politics of Jesus", so I am highly disappointed by what I have read so far.  Yet I will continue reading it for the next few Friday evenings.  Oh the price I pay for my readers!       

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "Pious And Secular America" by Reinhold Niebuhr

I would rather be reading Roger Olson's "Arminian Theology" or Dallas Willard's new book.  However, I have all these books I bought at Wesley Biblical Seminary Library book sales which must be read before I feel justified in buying new ones.  It is these books that will be featured on "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" for awhile.  The first of these to be taken up was read over three Friday evenings.  This book is called "Pious and Secular America", a collection of essays published by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1958.  Being that over fifty years has passed since it publication, much of this book is dated.  Still, Niebuhr is considered by many to be one of the twentieth century's most influencial theologians. In the last Presidential campaign, he was cited by both candidates.  Apparently Niebuhr is President Obama's favorite theologion.  After reading these essays, I cannot say that Niebuhr is one of mine.  To understand my thinking in this matter, read the following quote (capitalization mine):

"...the historic faiths possessed the dignity of being in touch with mysteries and meanings which were not dreamed of in modern philosophies.  They had sufficient dignity, so that they could even survive the obscurantism into which religion is betrayed by REGARDING ITS MYTHS AND SYMBOLS AS ACTUAL HISTORY."

According to the online edition of the Merrium-Webster Dictionary, obscurantism means "opposition to the spread of knowledge; a policy of withholding knowledge from the general public."   Niebuhr accused Billy Graham  of obscurantism in proclaiming the message that "The Bible says..."  Apparently, Billy Graham, according to Niebuhr, was repeating myths that prevented his audiance from discovering religious truth.  What sort of myths was Graham repeating?  Here is one truth of Christianity which Niebuhr considered a myth (capitalization mine) :

"...the Christian community accepted a crucified prophet, Who MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN INFORMED BY A MESSIANIC CONSCIOUSNESS and regarded this the whole drama of his life, his death and resurrection (ABOUT WHICH AS A PUBLIC HISTORIC EVENT THERE IS EVIDENTLY SOME QUESTION) as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy."

Apparently Niebuhr, when writing these words, did not have the personal confidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus was an actual historical event.  He attributes the doctrine of original sin to Paul, claiming that the doctrine cannot be found in the Old Testament and that Jesus never believed in it.  While Niebuhr demonstrated that he had some understanding of the doctrine of grace in which God gives us the power to overcome sin, he believed it to be just a doctrine and not a real life fact of life:

"Perhaps it would be well as both Christians and Jews to acknowledge that modern psychiatry and the social sciences have validated the efficacy of "common grace" more than any saving grace which we claim as religious people.  Its a simple observable fact that we have the capacity to love only as we have the security of the love of others. It is a security which can be mediated by anyone, religious or irreligious, who is capable of love."

Back to Niebuhr's criticism of Billy Graham.  Niebuhr's describes Graham's message in very simplicistic terms:  "If you will be saved, then you will be a good person and if you are a good person, you will not do bad things."  Now I do have my differences with Brother Graham, yet is this a fair criticism?  I think not.  Niehbur considered Evangelicalism an embarrassment to those such as himself who called himself a follower of "classical Christianity."  In Niebuhr's criticism of Evangelicalism, there is a tone of intellectual superiority similiar to the criticisms of Evangelicalism found in Marilynne Robinson's "The Death of Adam", which I read and reviewed earlier this year.

Not everything Niebuhr says is off the mark.  Like Robinson, he acknowledges the debt we owe to Calvinism for the form of government we have here in the United States.  He also is right in pointing out that while the U.S. is the most materialistic of western countries, it is also the most religious of western countires.  His analysis of why that is so makes interesting reading.  From these essays I gather that he was a better sociologist than a theologion.  While he makes valid points as to why the Church has survived in America while it was (and is) dying in Europe, he never brings God into the picture.  Niebuhr believed the Church has survived in America because it provided a vehicle for cultural identity.  He is right that it did.  But he gives no role to God or the power of the Gospel. He rightly ascribes to the dynamics of group solidarity for the survival of the Jewish race, yet to Niebuhr, group dynamics is the only answer to why the Jews survived as one people.             

Niebuhr was right to accuse Evangelicals to be so concerned with inward piety that they ignored the social demands of the Gospel.  His criticism of the mysticism of the Middle Ages is right on the mark.  He correctly defines mysticism as the attempt of the self to escape the finiteness of the historic self and to rise to union with the divine self.  Niebuhr correctly judges this attempt:

"Mysticism is an individualistic effort to escape the limits of the finite self.  The effort proves futile because the self can only be drawn out of itself inadvertently, as it were, by its social responsibilities and affections, however suspect these communal loyalties my be from the ultimate perspective."

While Niebuhr was right to criticize Evangelical inaction on behalf of the most vulnerable, he is off the mark when he attributes the source of this attitude to the Christian concept of Agape love.  Yes, thats right.  Agape love is a personal ethic that is at odds with collective needs.  Here is Niebuhr writing on the subject:

"But the Christian idea of love, being drawn from the example of Jesus' sacrifice is usually interpreted in terms of such selflessness that it has application purely to individual and not to collective situations."

According to Niebuhr, the Christian pursuit of Agape love is at odds with the Old Testament commands that God's people seek justice for the most vulnerable.  Agape love, according to Niebuhr, is not capable of producing a social ethic:

"The more discrimination becomes necessary in the adjudication of rights and interests the less can the original religio-ethical impulse can be counted on to establish a brotherly justice."

It is true that in Niebuhr's day the Church was often absent when society's less fortunate were discriminated against.  And Niebuhr is right that a correct reading of Matt. 5:48 would include a concern for the poor as well as a concern for personal piety.  Yet in blaming the Church's failure on the New Testament message of Agape love he goes off the deep end.  As Christopher J.H. Wright shows in his book "Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament", obedience or disobedience to God's commands to do justice depended upon the personal piety of the inhabitants of Israel; when Israelites as individuals obeyed God's commands, justice was observed throughout the land.  When Israelites disobeyed as individuals, justice disappeared.  There was no seperation of personal piety and Social Holiness.  Social Holiness.  That is a good Wesleyan term coined by John Wesley.  In Wesley's sermons on The Sermon on the Mount, Wesley demonstrates how Social Holiness is the natural outgrowth of personal holiness.  In fact, Wesley stated that there is no holiness present if social holiness does not exist.  The early Methodists took this to heart.  Apparently Niebuhr was not aware that as Wesley and his followers preached a message of holiness of heart and life, the social inequities of society were sucessfully challenged as well.  The history of the Salvation Army also demonstrates the connection with holiness and social holiness.  Let us not forget that Rome was changed for the better in that slavery died out in the empire after the introduction of the Gospel.

Next Friday, I will begin reading "The Politics of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder.  

Friday, October 23, 2009

Clouds Of Witnesses: "The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story Of Chinese Christian Brother Yun" Part III

I have finished "The Heavenly Man", the story of Brother Yun, a leader in the Chinese House Church Movement.  The highlights of these final chapters are the depiction of Yun's miraculous escape from prison, Yun's escape from China, his involvement with the Back To Jerusalem Movement, and the valueable lessons God taught him during these years.

In the late 1990's, Yun and many of the leaders of the House Church Movement were arrested and imprisoned.  The police came to arrest Yun and others in an apartment where they where to conduct a meeting.  Yun jumped out of a window to escape, hurting his legs.  He happened to land in the middle of a group of policemen who beat him severely on the spot.  After his arrest, his legs were beaten so severely Yun could not walk; the prison authorities referred to him as "the cripple."  After a couple month's incarceration, the Lord command Yun to escape.  Yun walked past several security men and through gates which were normally locked.  A taxi driver took him to Christian friends.  Yun was such a high priority target that it was too dangerous for anyone to hide him and he had to escape from China.  He ended up in Germany.  The escape of his wife and two children is also detailed.  Yun believes that God has used the persecution by the Communist Government against the House Churches to prepare Chinese Christians to evangelize the geograaphical area between China and Jerusalem.  That is why he has become involved with the Back to Jerusalem movement.  This movement exists to evangelize this portion of the world.

In reading this final portion of "The Heavenly Man", I am struck by some of Brother Yun's statements concerning Christian workers.  Yun was incarcerated twice because he was negligent in following God's lead.  He became so emeshed in his work for God that his work came before his family, which Yun says should have been his chief concern.  He speaks of Christian workers becoming addicted to their mission so that  mission becomes their idol.  He even instructed evangelists to get their family relations right before they went back on the field.  This did not sit well with other leaders.  Yun's messages on this goes against the grain of the message we hear from Christian workers.  Does anyone hear anyone defend William Carey's first wife for her reaction to being newly saved and torn from her native home before she was ready?  No wonder she went mad in India. I have seen Christian workers whose idol was their own radicalism.  I have seen the damage these people have done to others as well as themselves.  Yun believes that time in prison was a time for Yun to repent and change his priorities.  "The Heavenly Man" also has Yun's wife tell her story as well.  We can get a rare glimpse of how familes of Christian workers suffer as well as experience the triumph God brings them.  Yun states that families of Christian leaders in China suffer more than the leaders themselves and that much of the aid from Western Christian churches  should be directed toward efforts to provide for these families.

Ever since I attended seminary I have neglected reading books such as these.  Reading "The Heavenly Man" has been a great blessing to me.  It has encouraged me to look outside myself again and trust God in all my circumstances.  It has also encouraged me to renew my efforts to return to the ministry.

There have been some accusations that the events depicted in "The Heavenly Man" are not true and that Yun lies when he claims to have been a leader of the House Church Movement.  Paul Hattaway, of Asian Harvest, who co-wrote this book, has put out an open letter on the internet refuting these charges.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"End Of The Spear"

This month is Missions Month at my Church and last night at Church I saw "End of the Spear."  This is a dramatisation of the well known story of five American missionaries attempting to reach the Huaorani (Waodari) people of Eucuador in 1956.  After initial contact, some of the stoneage tribesmen killed the five Americans.  After that, instead of returning to America, the wives and other family members of the missionaries lived among the tribe, planting a Christian witness among that people.  The wife of one of the missionaries, Elizabeth Elliot, told the story in "Through The Gates of Splendor."

This film is not for entertainment.  Its depiction of violence is brutally frank.  Its portrayal of a people caught in an escalating cycle of death and revenge and the encompanying despair is very well done.  The mood is not one of triumph but of the staggering seriousness of the commitment to the Gospel expected by all disciples and the high cost of that commitment displayed by the five.  Yes, the Gospel made its impact, and is still continuing to do so among the Huaorani, but the pain experienced by both the tribe and the missionaries and the missionaries family was not sugar coated.  Whenever the Gospel penetrates a culture, it is not introduced without a painful clash between those who are saved and the culture that claims them as its own.  Recently I heard a Christian worker who debates Muslims implore Christians not to hesitate to reach out to Muslims because of the persecution and pain that those who convert from Islam face.  Those who have suffered so consider the pain worth the price.  The last line of the movie sums up this attitude well.  The narrator, an actor playing Steve Saint, the son of one of the five missionaries, Nate Saint, said this concerning the outcome of the efforts to reach the Huaorani: "Over the years many people have sympathized with us over our loss.  But very few of these people ever understood what we consider gain." (My paraphrase.)   

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Jesus And The Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony" by Richard Baukham.

I have been reading "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" for my study blog. I meant to post a review here, but I accidentally wrote it on the other blog. I am not technically sufficient enough to transfer that review back to this blog. Here is a link to that review.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Bible Publishing World's "New Coke" Moment?

If you are old enough to remember the 1980's in detail, then you must certainly remember the "New Coke" fiasco. This occurred when the Coca-Cola Company unveiled new plans to replace Coke with a "new and improved" Coke. Like some who remember where they were during historic occurrences, I remember where I was when I first heard of Coca-Cola'a actions. I was watching NBC News. The story on the subject featured blindfolded taste-testers sampling "Old" and "New" Coke; the "New" was almost uniformally preferred, according to the report. I experienced a form of angst. Later, Coca-Cola trotted out Bill Cosby to tout the new product as being the superior brew. My first taste of the "New Coke" confirmed my worst fears; it tasted like Pepsi. My taste buds rebelled. It wasn't long before the entire nation aligned itself with my taste buds. The outcry against the change forced Coca-Cola to bring back the "real" Coke, labeling the "real" Classic Coke, to be sold alongside the "New" Coke. Quietly, "New" Coke was pulled from the shelves, and Coca-Cola and Cosby hoped the world would forget the entire episode. But why did Coca Cola attempt this brazen act in the first place? Stereotyping. Many people in the 1980's assumed that the nation, especially the nation's young, had turned Yuppie. Advertisers convinced themselves and us that a new cultural dawn had occurred and one of the aspects of this new era was a preference for Pepsi over Coke. Misreading their marketing research, Coca-Cola thought that to survive the competition from Pepsi, its tried and true product had to be morphed into something that tasted more like Pepsi. How wrong they were. America had not opted to degenerate into the "Pepsi" generation. The "New" quietly disappeared. The "Old" remained. Ronald Reagan was in the White House. All was well with the world.

The news that the NIV is to be phased out and replaced with a version close to the TNIV reminded me of those long ago days. I wonder if if this episode might prove to be the Bible publishing world's "New Coke" moment.

First, I need to make some preliminary statements. It is not my belief that God prefers one Bible version over the other. I don't believe that reading certain translations will stunt your personal growth or theological acumen. The Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture and will give you all the proper illumination of Scripture you need no matter what version (provided it is not a paraphrase) you prefer.

That being said, I do have my own preferences. I have read extensively in the NIV and most sermons I have sat under were preached from the NIV. I like the NIV, but it was never my favorite. In seminary, we examined the NIV in one class. We learned that during the translation, having many legitimate choices as to the correct English translation of a word, the translators almost habitually chose the word that had the least impact on the reader. For example, the word "contract" was used in the Old Testament where the better translation would have been "covenant." Not only that, but most of the NIV translators were of the Calvinist persuasion and the translation reflected that fact. For instance, the word "perfect" was left in Phil. 3:12, while the word "mature" appears in 3:15. "Perfect" should appear in both verses, but to accommodate this version to their theological preference, they changed the wording in verse 15. (It is true that other modern tranlations leave the word "perfect" out of Phil. 3:15. However, I have met those who worked on the NIV translation team relate that while the translators knew Phil. 3:15 should use the word "perfect", they deliberately chose not to do so, citing theological reasons.)

There seems to be a war for allegiance between the fans (and publishers) of the ESV and the TNIV. When I had first heard that the ESV was to be published, I waited in anticipation because it was to be a revision of the old Revised Standard Version. But I was disappointed with the results. While the ESV's translators did a great job creating a readable version while remaining a literal, as opposed to a dynamic equivalent version, style seems to have been sacrificed. To me, I found the New Testament ESV weak. Also, I believe that it is what the New American Standard is wrongly accused of being: wooden. As for the TNIV, I have never explored it. Until recently, I have never even seen it on the shelves in stores. Many object to it because of its gender-neutral language. While that would dispose me to be wary of it, I have heard that the gender-neutral language is not the only negative feature of the TNIV.

What are my preferences? Most of my reading and all of my preaching is done in the New King James version. I also like the New American Standard. My third choice? What used to be called the "communist" Bible: the Revised Standard version.

So what reasoning could have been behind the decision to phase out the most popular Bible version in the Evangelical world and replace it with something akin to the TNIV? Stereotyping possibly, and the desire to keep raking in the money by the publisher? There has been much discussion in the press and the Evangelical world concerning just who Evangelicals are, especially since the last presidential election. There have been many predictions that the Evangelicalism as practiced in this country for the past 20 or 30 years is dying out. It is maintained that younger Christians have rejected the current national leadership for the likes of Jim Wallis, Brian McClaren and Rob Bell. Some commentators believe that the results of the last presidential election proves that most younger Evangelicals are now Obama aficionados and issues such as abortion are no longer an important factor in Evangelical voting patterns. Abortion is no longer an issue, social justice Obama style, is the new political focus for the Church, these commentators tell us. We are also led to believe (sadly, perhaps correctly) that the younger generation of Evangelicals are more tolerant of alternative life styles and open to the belief that the Gospel is not the only way to God. I am not saying that those responsible for the NIV's phasing out adhere to these new attitudes. But it is possible that their decision was influenced by the perception that these commentators are correct. And so, to avoid having the NIV rejected in favor of other versions, to accommodate the new attitude, and to continue to make a profit, the publisher of the NIV felt it had to act.

But have those responsible for this decision misread the Evangelical public? Did personal perception affect their marketing research? Has a stereotype of Evangelicals affected their marketing research as stereotypes affected Coca-Cola's advertising research in the 1980's? I think it is too soon to conclude that such sweeping change has occurred in the Evangelical world. After all, Evangelicals did not vote for Obama in droves. In fact, Evangelicals voting for McCain kept McCain from losing in a landslide; many of the votes for McCain were actually votes for an Evangelical, Sarah Palin. If the Evangelical world was open to a Bible version that featured gender-neutral language, then why has not the New Revised Standard been a best seller among Evangelicals? Most people I know of who read that version are from mainline denominations, not Evangelical ones. What will be the reaction of the Evangelical world that has preferred the NIV to all other versions to this new version? Not to mention the still sizable fan base for the King James Version, a fan base which by my observation cuts across generational lines? Will they be tolerant of gender-neutral language? Or will the presence of gender-neutral language, plus the outcry among certain Evangelical leaders, doom the new version to be rejected by the Evangelical audience. Will parents, who have grown up with the NIV view the new version as being an unreliable version? That remains to be seen.

It may be that the new version of the NIV may be as much of a fiasco as the "New" Coke. The outcry against it may phonetically resemble another phenomenon from the 1980's: "I WANT MY NIV!"

Clouds of Witnesses: "The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story Of Chinese Christian Brother Yun" Part II

I started "The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun" this past summer. I posted my first review on 7/1. Little did I know that I would be engaged in so many other activities that it would take me this long to finish only 17 of the 29 chapters. Since my last review I read from chapter 6 through 17. This portion of the book deals with his years of brutal incarceration in a local jail and then in a labor camp for four years. The authorities demanded that he renounce his ministry and name his brothers and sisters who were his associates. He never did, even when he expected a life sentence or execution as his reward. Still he endured beatings by fist, blunt objects and electric batons. He also faced unsafe, unsanitary living conditions as well as near starvation. While Yun describes these conditions in unflinching detail, he focuses the reader's attention not on his misery and pain but on his experiences of being in the Lord's presence, how the Lord brought deliverance to him many times, and how the Lord turned bad situations into good, all the while providing Yun with continuous opportunities to spread the Gospel. Wherever Yun was held, he always left behind new brothers in Christ, even among the prison staff. In one encounter with a prison official, that official told Yun that he did not understand the Bible. Yun told him that if he repented of his sins and became Christ's disciple, then he would receive understanding from God concerning what the Bible says. That official did just that and not only was saved and received illumination concerning Scripture but also he was healed of an illness. One particularly memorable chapter chronicles the transformation of a brutal rapist and murderer into a disciple before his execution. (Yun later led his parents to the Lord.) It is interesting to note that when Yun witnessed, he did not ask, but commanded obedience to the Gospel, a command which was obeyed by his hearers. Is this just a cultural thing, or are we missing something here in the West? All throughout Yun's incarceration, whenever God brought comfort to him, that comfort came mainly through Scripture verses brought back to Yun's memory. Yun's earlier obedience in reading and memorizing Scripture helped make this possible. Visions were also a means used by the Lord to sustain Yun. The supernatural workings of God play a big role in Yun's story; in fact, some of the miracles described in the book have generated some skepticism. One miracle in particular has generated some controversy; Yun fasted in prison for 74 days. I know that sounds impossible; I can remember how in Britain in the 1980's, imprisoned members of the Irish Republican Army fasted until death. None of them lasted more than thirty days. Yet when reading "The Heavenly Man", a Christian, even a modern Western one like me, must approach any testimony of God's dealings with individuals with a belief that God still works through miracles to accomplish His purposes. That does not mean that we must accept every account of supernatural happenings. When I was a pastor in North Carolina, I met a woman (not from my Church) who claimed that God caused her to float ten feet up in the air. On television once I heard one evangelist claim he saw someone under the power of the Holy Spirit do a thirty foot back flip. One reason I can discount these two stories is that such displays serve no purpose, while the miracles described by Yun served God's purposes for Yun perfectly. The 74 day fast was not planned in advance. While Yun was in prison, he was told by the Lord to abstain from food; Yun had no idea the fast would last so long and his attitude for God's power to sustain him that long is one of humble gratitude. Yun makes no sweeping claims for authority because of the fast. As I read the account, I believe I was reading a true modern day account of God's supernatural power in action on behalf of one of his servants suffering for the Gospel. One more post on "The Heavenly Man" will appear on this blog once I finish it. I urge any reader to read this book. It is a blessing and a faith-strengthener. ("The Heavenly Man" was co-written by Paul Hattaway. Here is a link to another book he authored.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "No Final Conflict: The Bible Without Error In All It Affirms" by Francis Schaeffer.

In keeping with my continuing interest in Biblical Inerrancy, last Friday I read a very short pamphlet on the the subject by Francis Schaeffer entitled "No Final Conflict." Schaeffer's concern when he wrote this (1975) was whether Evangelicalism would remain true to a doctrine of inerrancy and infallibility. Would the Evangelical world adhere to the conviction that the Bible is the verbal communication of God true in all it states involving history and the cosmos? Or would the view that the Bible was true only in what it affirmed about religious matters? This is not a matter that is now irrelevant to today's issues. Today we see those in the Evangelical World laud Francis Collins as the perfect example of a scientist and a believer with a strong doctrine of Scripture. This is incredible considering the fact that Collins believes that the natural world can tell us nothing about God. Collins totally ignores Scriptures most famous example of Natural Theology (God reveals Himself in nature) in Romans 1. (See my review of Collins's "The Language of God" here and especially here and here.) In matters concerning the cosmos, where the findings of modern Evolutionary dogma conflicts with Biblical material,Collins sides with Evolutionary dogma. Collins is just the sort of scientist Schaeffer warned us against in 1975, a scientist who claims that the Bible can teach us nothing in which science has an interest.

As Schaffer points out, Evangelicalism's position concerning the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is the one position that has been the historic teaching of the Church since its beginnings. "Evangelicalism is not consistently Evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who do not." This statement of Schaeffer's is relevant to two strands of current groups claiming to be Evangelical. The first is the Emergent Church, which denies the importance of the propositional nature of the truths contained in Scripture. The second are those who claim to be Evangelical yet argue against the inerrancy and infallibility of Scriptures with discredited arguments from the past which have their origin in the denial of the divine origin of Scripture. This second group repeats these same arguments without explicitly espousing the unbelief in the divine origin of Scripture these arguments are rooted in. Such arguments include a denial of Mosaic authorship of Genesis or the entire Pentateuch or that there was more than one author of Isaiah.

The contents of the book of Genesis can't be divided into religious truths and those statements we can ignore because they touch upon the areas of history and the cosmos. As Schaffer points out, Genesis is a book which contains religious truth in a book about history and a book that touches upon the cosmos as well. To those who accept the historic validity of Genesis only from chapter 12 on, Schaeffer responds with two agruments: internal and external. The internal argument demonstrates the unity of the entire book of Genesis. The first example demonstrating the unity of Genesis is the use of toledoths, or those passages that are expressed this way in the King James Version, "these are the generations of." This phrase appears uniformally at the end of the section preceding it rather than at the beginning of the section following. This is the case throughout Genesis, indicating a unity. This phrase is repeated in the first 11 chapters of Genesis six times, while the rest of the book repeats it 5 times. This nearly equal distribution throughout both both sections of Genesis is evidence of a unified whole. (Gen 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, 37:2) A second internal evidence to a unity of the entire book is the feature of the narrator consistently dealing with unimportant matters first before proceeding on to important ones. Often when brothers are introduced, the brother less important to the story is mentioned first and then the narrator moves on to the more important brother. The external argument Schaffer makes is that the New Testament assumes, and at times affirms, that the entire book of Genesis is a book of history. (Mt 19:4-5 (here Jesus links Gen 1 and 2, undercutting the theory that Gen 1 and 2 contain two separate creation accounts), Lk 3:38 (which mentions Enos, Seth and Adam as historic figures), Rom. 5:12 (the historicity of Adam is equal to the historicity of Moses), Rom 5:15 (the historicity of Adam is equal to the historicity of Christ), I Cor 6:16, 11:8, 9, 12, 15:21, 22, II Cor 11:3, Eph 5:31, IITim 2: 13-14, I Jn 3:2, Jude 11. Schaeffer clarifies the phrase "the Bible is not a science textbook." The statement is true in that science is not the Bible's central theme. However, the phrase should not be used by Christians to mean that the Bible has nothing to say concerning anything science has an interest in. The Bible does speak of the cosmos in reference to its central theme. Gen. 1 speaks of the creation of the cosmos. The focus on Gen. 2 is upon mankind. Because of what we read in the previous chapter, we can understand mankind's setting.

"No Final Conflict" has a whole chapter on the freedom anyone has in interpreting Scripture in determining the origin of the created world, including how old is the earth. I won't go into detail here but will say that what Schaeffer presents can prevent Christians from being too dogmatic with other Christians on their own take on what the Bible states about creation. (I am speaking here of disputes among all who affirm the historicity of the Bible's account of creation.) The realization that the genealogies in both New and Old Testaments were not meant to be read as straightforward chronologies may blow some minds, especially those who believe that the Bible explicitly states that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Yes, I believe in the Bible's account of creation, but I have always been skeptical of the earth being so young. Examples include the following: Gen 5:32 and 9: 24 where the order of Noah's sons is different, Ex.2, where the reader may infer that Moses is the older son is clarified by Ex. 7:7 in which it is stated that Aaron was actually 3 years older, IChron. 6:3-14 and Ezra 7:2 shows that Ezra deliberately left out some names (which was a common practice in ancient genealogies), IChron 26:24 omits 400 years of history, Mt. 1:8 omits three generations. The purpose of these genealogies is not to present chronological history, Schaeffer points out, but to show that certain Biblical figures came from a specific origin. The genealogies were more interested in showing trends of history rather than all figures of a family tree. Genesis 10 shows one man could bring forth not sons but whole peoples and places (v. 4, 7, 15); this would indicate greater passage of time than allowed in certain theories of what the Bible actually says of creation. A much more detailed study of these matters can be read in a book I read in seminary, "The Ancient Orient and the Old Testament" by K.E. Kitchen (a book I hope to study soon on my study blog).

"No Final Conflict" is just a pamphlet less than 50 pages, and it is a fast read, but how much valuable insight it contains! This is well worth your time and money. It was originally published by Intervarsity Press. It is usually available to order with other Schaeffer works.