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.