Home Archive for category "Theology"

Happy Quartodeciman Easter

Today at dusk marks the beginning of Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar. Many early Christians celebrated Passover at this time as a Christian celebration of Jesus, both to mark his sacrifice and to anticipate his coming. They interpreted the Gospel of John as indicating that they should celebrate on the eve of the 14th. This led to one of the largest ecclesiastical disputes in early Christianity, and it marks the earliest dispute on record about matters of church calendar. The real problem is that the Quartodecimans were breaking their fast earlier than other Christians. The other Christians wanted to hold the fast until Sunday (the Lord’s day), but the breaking of the fast by Quartodecimans was disruptive to them. Here is a discussion of the controversy from Eusebius:

1. But the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him:

2. “We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate.

3. He fell asleep at Ephesus.

4. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna.

5. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead?

6. All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.

7. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.'”

8. He then writes of all the bishops who were present with him and thought as he did. His words are as follows:”I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.”

9. Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate.

10. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.

11. Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom and after many other words he proceeds as follows:

12. “For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night.

13. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith.”

14. He adds to this the following account, which I may properly insert: “Among these were the presbyters before Soter, who presided over the church which thou now rulest. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus. They neither observed it themselves, nor did they permit those after them to do so. And yet though not observing it, they were none the less at peace with those who came to them from the parishes in which it was observed; although this observance was more opposed to those who did not observe it.

15. But none were ever cast out on account of this form; but the presbyters before thee who did not observe it, sent the eucharist to those of other parishes who observed it.

16. And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.

17. But though matters were in this shape, they communed together, and Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.”

18. Thus Irenaeus, who truly was well named, became a peacemaker in this matter, exhorting and negotiating in this way in behalf of the peace of the churches. And he conferred by letter about this mooted question, not only with Victor, but also with most of the other rulers of the churches. (EH 5.24)

From the Dilettante Files: Prismatic Theology

A couple years ago, I attended my very first meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans. As I was meandering through the hallways in search of interesting sessions, my attention was drawn by a colorful poster placed upon a board which was in use for the poster sessions. It took about .002 nanoseconds to figure out that some whack-job had hijacked the poster session board. I meant to blog on it then, but I forgot
about it until some particularly ridiculous bit of dilettantish behavior mentioned on Scotteriology reminded me of it. Anyway, I bring to your attention ladies and gentlemen: Prismatic Theology. What is Prismatic Theology you might ask, and the answer is about what you’d expect. From the about page:

[W]hile my husband and I drove from Tulsa, OK to Eureka Springs, AR the unexpected happened! It was a beautiful Fall day and the foliage in the Ozark Mountains was particularly brilliant …yellow, orange, red, purple and green leaves dotted the hillsides! But something other than the colorful leaves caught my attention. An image appeared between the windshield of our car and my mind’s eye. The vision that I saw was an organizational structure for ministry. It was in the shape of a square and it looked like a fishing net which had the colors of the rainbow woven into its structure.

The vision came to me from beyond myself and I have no rational explanation for it. The only thing that I can say for certain is that the vision came with a complete understanding of how ‘The Net’ was to function. Moreover the new knowledge was instantaneous and could not be un-learned…During the next four years,1996 – 2000, I experienced a continuous supernatural influx of instruction. At times the intensity of the teaching and the amount of information was beyond what I thought I could handle. I begged for a respite but no rest came until Oct, 2000. By the end of the four year period of time however I had an awareness of three tools for ministry here on earth: A Clock, a Key, and a Net![emphasis original].

Ok, so she had a vision, but what on earth does prismatic theology even mean? From what I can tell, she seems to have haphazardly applied her vision to a variety of random things in the Bible. For example: The creation story in Genesis 1 should not be understood as linear, but rather as circular…because color wheels are round…or something. Unexplained prophetic vision? Color wheels to the rescue! Her application of the color wheel often breaks down into incoherent rambling:

It is unlikely that the wheel was successfully used in ancient times as a means of measuring time relative to the 24-hour measurement. However through the gift of hindsight, a synchronization of ‘bible-time’ and ‘earth-time’ becomes possible. The entire wheel accounts for the counter-clock-wise passage of 8,400 years of which 6,000+ years have elapsed and 2,100+ remain.

What? At least there are plenty of nifty colorful pictures. If you think the climax of absurdity has been reached, get ready to be blown away. She has presented this crap at SBL!

When my research was complete, I joined the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in order to present my research. I wanted the scholarly community to listen to the information and either tell me that I was crazy; laugh me off of the planet; or help me understand why the insights couldn’t possibly be accurate. But no one laughed. And after several years of presenting academic papers I’m still on the planet. A few scholars commented on the ‘unconventional nature of the wisdom’ saying, “I’ve never thought about this” or “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  But no one told me that the conclusions I offer cannot possibly be accurate.

I’m all about sunshine and kindness, but for the love of Pete why didn’t anyone say, “Yes madam, you are indeed crazy.” The fact that no one did so is allowing her to trade on the name of the SBL. Her website lists her “academic papers presented within the Society of Biblical Literature” including three regional meetings and a national meeting. I’m no fan of censorship, but who is letting this woman into their sessions? Do her abstracts sound distinctly less crazy or something?

Carol, if you are reading this, I have no desire to hurt your feelings, but what you are doing is not scholarship. It does not belong at SBL, and you shouldn’t be hawking DVDs about it on the internet. If you are really interested in Biblical Studies, I suggest that you seek training from an accredited institution of higher learning or contact someone who has had such training and ask for a list of books to read.

When Love of Israel Trumps All Else

I’ve been aware of John Hagee’s particular brand of insanity for quite some time. Back in the day, I’d watch his preaching on one of the 15 Christian satellite stations that DirecTV had at the time. I was never really in tune with him, but I found his preaching style to be entertaining. It quickly became apparent that he had some bizarre views, even to my much more conservative past self. It’s been several years since I’ve kept up with Hagee, and, aside from the stuff that came up during McCain’s campaign, he hasn’t crossed my mind in years. Recently, however, I read Gary Burge’s interesting book Jesus and the Land, and in it he discusses the lengths to which Hagee has gone to defend Israel. Frankly, I was astonished that even Hagee would go so far.

[P]erhaps the most strident spokesperson for this view [Christian zionism] today is John Hagee, pastor of San Antonio’s large Cornerstone Church. His most revealing books are Jerusalem Countdown (2005, rev. 2007) and In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State (2007), both providing specific political application to a Zionist reading of the Bible. Today In Defense of Israel can be found for sale in Wal-Mart stores across America and is sold throughout Europe. His defense of Israel has now become so extreme that he preaches that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah (he will become the Messiah at his Second Coming). This means that Judaism never rejected “the Messiah” because they could not reject something that was never offered. (Burge, p. 123)

I have no words. I am disturbed that such a man is pastor to a claimed 19,000 people. Μαρανα θα!

The People of the Two Hats—or What Really Drives Me Crazy About ETS

There was a time not so long ago that I would have fit right in at the Evangelical Theological Society. I remember scrambling to come up with ways John 7:53-8:11 could be authentic or attempts to successfully harmonize the Gospels. I felt I had to. I felt that if I couldn’t find the answers to such difficulties, then my faith would be invalidated. The change was subtle at first, but eventually I came to believe that my redemption was in a person not in a text.

That is not to say that the text no longer matters.  It is supremely important, but belief in its absolute historical perfection would have required a lifetime of cognitive dissonance. It would require denying those obvious truths which God has granted us within the limits of our earthly epistemology. Likewise, I got sick of the way that the biblical authors were muzzled by the texts bound up on either side of them. In the end, it was a desire to hear the voice of the author that swayed me. Luke could not be heard in the din of Matthew, Mark, John, and a Holy Spirit that was conspicuously shaped like my own theology.

In the end, I realized that the inerrantists and I trust in the same thing, our heavenly Father, to achieve the same result, the instruction unto salvation. So what was the big deal? Apparently, refusal to adhere to inerrancy must  invariably lead to heresy! Comparing my theology to the historic measures of Christian orthodoxy, I appear to pass. Trinitarian? Check. Jesus, fully human, fully God? Check. Born of a virgin? Check. Crucified under Pilate? Check. Risen again on the third day? Check. Seated at the right hand? Check. Nevertheless, somewhere along the way I lost my evangelical privileges.

I’m not allowed in the ETS, not allowed to come together with my brothers and sisters in faith, and why? Not because of a thing I believe about God nor because of some foul heresy building in my heart. No, it is because of something I believe about the Bible. It is not for lack of love or devotion to Lord that I am barred, but for the tertiary concern of what terminology I use to describe the work of inspiration carried out by the Holy Spirit. The truly insane part of the whole thing is that certain people within the ETS hold views about God that go against the norm. I have no problem with Open Theists, but it is mind-boggling to me that more leeway is given in regard to what one believes about God than about the Bible.

You are probably wondering at this point why I even care. I’m clearly coming to interpretive conclusions different from those presented by the old guard innerantists, so why would I want to join an assembly filled with those with whom I disagree? The simple fact is that I wear two hats. I seek to be a scholar in the truest sense, but I am also a believer. It is clear that those in the SBL who only wear one hat do not wish me to bring along my second. Where does that leave people like me? Where can the people of two hats go to be scholars and people of faith? Because of what many of us believe about the Bible, the answer is nowhere, and that is, in my biased opinion, the real tragedy of the so-called ETS.

David Lamb’s Blog

I saw a link to David Lamb’s blog on Zwinglius Redivivus. David is the author of the exciting new book from IVP God Behaving Badly. David is a professor at Biblical Seminary, but last summer he came to Fuller as a guest lecturer and taught a class on Genesis. I had the privilege of being a student in that class. If the book is half as engaging and exciting as Dr. Lamb’s lectures, then it should be fantastic. (It is already on the Bailey family wish list.) I’m adding his blog to the roll and you should add his blog to your RSS feed.

Question of the (Last) Day:

After it is proven that his outlandish hermeneutic is nothing more than a ridiculous cocktail of 1 part ignorance and 2 parts dilettantish lunacy, will Harold Camping go to church on Sunday?

Time For a New Creed?

I’m a big fan of the Nicene Creed (technically the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 for the sticklers), and I have found a great deal of value in reflecting on what it does and doesn’t say. I especially value the creed because it facilitates the intersection of two important parts of my life: my faith in the Triune God and my interest in the development of Christian theology through history. That said, there is something that has been bugging me about the creed lately. When reading it, we essentially get only a list of facts about the Father, Son, and Spirit. The creed tells us what each person of the Trinity has done, but it doesn’t really get at who God is. At the risk of sounding too much like one of my professors, I must firmly insist that all that we know about God is firmly entrenched in a narrative, but how well does the creed place God within that narrative?

It is somewhat telling that Paul finds the work of Jesus to be the culmination and fulfillment of the covenant of Yhwh (and proof of Yhwh’s faithfulness), but the only appeal to the narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures is one reference to God as creator and the claim that the scriptures foretold the coming of Jesus. I think there is something disturbing in this disconnect between the God-we-have-known-through-the-narrative-of-the-scriptures and these series of dogmatic statements about the nature of God. Of course, the development of the creed is itself bound up in history, and I do not mean to attack or belittle the great minds that came before. However, there is no disrespect in pointing out that the creed that we read in church (some of us as part of a regular liturgy), bears the flaws of a bygone age.

I want to see a creed nearly as succinct as the Nicene Creed, but that tells the whole story of God. I want to see the story of Israel related to the story of Jesus. I want to see the cross related to the apocalyptic story of the whole New Testament. I want a creed where the Triune God lives, not simply does. While the section on Jesus does have most of the plot points, I really want that meta-narrative. I want to see the creed where God is a relater as much as a doer.

CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

You may or may not know that I have a soft spot in my heart for the early Celtic Christianity. In particular, I love the whole peregrinati business of wandering about on legendary journeys to spread the gospel and sprouting monasteries every few steps. So it should be no surprise that I am rather excited about finding this online database of Celtic resources. It has a number of texts related to Celtic Christianity from about the 6th century on, including English translations of some very famous Irish missionaries and ecclesiastical figures. The database is a collaborative project hosted by University College Cork, and freely available to all. Check it out: CELT.

Book Review: The Immigration Crisis by James Hoffmeier

Of the modern political controversies, the question surrounding illegal immigration is the one that causes me the most self-doubt. I have long held that contempt of law should never be rewarded and that amnesty is not the proper response. However, in the last few years, God has taught me to love justice. My compassion for the immigrant wars with the clear sense of right and wrong concerning the law. So, a while back (read a year and a half) I elected to receive an early review galley copy of a book on the subject. I shamefully have just gotten around to reading it.

The book is written by an Old Testament scholar at Trinity International University and attempts to collect the biblical evidence that might be applied to the issue of illegal immigration in an easy to ready format. I generally appreciate the books narrative structure, essentially tracing the story of Israel from Abraham to the Exile and then jumping to Jesus before concluding. Unfortunately, this narrative approach does not pay the dividends one might expect. Hoffmeier’s book contains lengthy paraphrasing of biblical stories set off by inordinately long block quotes of biblical text. He largely fails to actually make an argument when he works through this material instead choosing to leave his points only loosely connected to the present discussion.

Hoffmeier also makes several interpretive arguments that are more assertions than arguments. For example, he attempts to align certain Hebrew words with legal resident and non-legal resident arguing that the text makes an important distinction between them. This might be the case, but Hoffmeier offers no philological evidence to back up his claim with the exception of noting that the LXX uses proselytos indicating a religious understanding of the term for some. He does provide footnotes for this material, but he does not incorporate the arguments apparently given by the texts he cites. More troubling is Hoffmeier’s tendency to seamlessly weave together archeological material with the text of the Old Testament to make his arguments. Much of the information he provides is interesting but ultimately irrelevant, and awkwardly pins the text to the archeological material treating them as if they are the same sort of thing.

Hoffmeier’s consideration of the New Testament is extremely terse, and one wonders at the wisdom of spending six chapters on the Old Testament and rushing through the New Testament material. His points are generally fine, his argument based on Romans 13 is largely agreeable, but he makes awkward material choices. He spends a long time arguing that the “least of these” in Matthew 25 should only apply to Christians or disciples of Jesus , leaving us to infer that this means that the text cannot apply to illegal immigrants. Then, in the next chapter, he points out that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are Christians. I was left scratching my head at his logical inconsistency.

Ultimately, I largely agree with Hoffmeier’s conclusions, but I cannot help but say that he has done a poor job arguing them. Perhaps the great shortcomings of the book should be attributed to its obvious orientation to lay readers, but the book fails if it is read as a primer for ethical reflection on the issue of illegal immigration. If you want an easy to read book that will discuss some of the issues in a lay-friendly manner and do not mind its hasty conclusions, then this book would at least make a decent starting point. If you are hoping for substantive exegesis and ethical argumentation, look elsewhere. I give it two and a half French philosophers out of five.

Book Review: Homosexuality and the Christian by Mark Yarhouse

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book.

Homosexuality is one of those topics that never dies. Everyone has an opinion whether they voice it actively or not, but they probably do voice it (and do so at length with suitable levels of anger at the people who disagree). Unfortunately, Homosexuality has become a sort of litmus test, an easy way to determine what sort of Christian someone is in a short period of time. It’s like a bizarre creed one must recite to maintain inclusion in the orthodoxy club. Even now, I’m tempted to assert my own opinions about the matter so people won’t run with the ambiguity. In such an environment, do we really need another book about the Christian response to homosexuality from the conservative position? If the book were written by a pastor or theologian, I would say no, but the book is, in fact, written by a well-respected psychologist who is an active participant in his field. (That is to say, he is not a “Christian psychologist” a la Dobson.)

That said, from what I can tell, Yarhouse definitely falls under the category of a theological conservative. I base this conclusion on the manner of his telling of the overarching story of humanity (fall, original sin, etc.). The way it is written, I have no doubt it would garner the Al Mohler seal of approval. However, this does not dictate his response to the origin and reversibility of same-sex attraction. Yarhouse’s conclusions surrounding these issues is thoroughly scientific. Yes, he challenges the flaws in some studies that have led to dramatic overstatement, but there is no apologetic effort to take on the scientific establishment. Yarhouse is thoroughly not self-conscious asserting that for the vast majority of people same-sex attraction is not likely to be a choice and that while there have been some decent results from restoration therapy there is no guaranteed way to reverse homosexuality.

Instead of attempting to combat the plain fact that same-sex attraction is largely an unchosen experience, Yarhouse focuses on the things that are in the power of the individual to control. His main point of emphasis in this regard is dealing with the formation of identity. Yarhouse argues that same-sex attraction cannot likely be put aside, but making same-sex attraction the center of your identity is a choice. As an alternative, he tells of multiple cases where he helped clients place their identity in a different source, most notably in Christ. His proposal then is to avoid blame whether it be on parents or children, and instead create an environment of love and understanding punctuated by a call to place identity in Christ not in the experience of same-sex attraction.

If I were to challenge Yarhouse on any point, it would be not emphasizing strongly enough the difficulty of asking someone to excise their sexuality from their identity. For me, being a heterosexual is no different from being white or 6’2″. It is quite simply an elemental part of who I am. Asking homosexuals to have zero natural sexual expression, expecting them to exclude their sexuality as a source of identity, and expecting them to be happy is a tall order. That is not to say that Yarhouse is wrong, but we need to be sensitive to what we are demanding of people. Whether or not you agree with Yarhouse’s conclusions about the proper way forward, you must accept the inherent value in a theological conservative making points about the nature of homosexuality in a friendly and nonthreatening manner that challenge the conservative status quo. I give it 3 and a 1/2 out of 5 German Theologians.

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012