Thursday, December 31, 2009

Self Authentication of God's Word

One of my favorite John Calvin quotes is where he says the Word of God's was self-authenticating. It carries its authority with it. No doubt, atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens, point to the horribleness of the OT. Scholars point to the ancient parallels of ANE literature. All together such cries rise up "it is not the Word of God... it looks human." This is not argument against the Word of God, for Scripture tells us that human men were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We worship a God who can condescend and in this condescention he makes himself known by way of covenant. Yet, God is sovereign and transcendant so that he sees to it that the very words of Scripture are 'God-breathed.'

So if God breathes out his what would be expect it to look like?

(1) Human beings are the ones who put pen to paper. Scripture did not drop from the sky. We are told:
2 Peter 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Indeed God uses men in such a way that they write exactly what He has breathed out. Yet this is no theory of mere dictation. "Men spoke" but also "men spoke from God" and were "carried along by the Holy Spirit."

I do not, with good reasons we cannot elaborate here, subscribe to the theory that because men were involved in the process that the Bible contains errors. This is not to minimize difficulties but to affirm that at the end of the day God does not lie or mislead. If he is the ultimate authority behind the text, we should expect it, based on his character, to be error free.

(2) But if one means, as in the case of Dawkins, Hitchens, et al, that the Bible is immoral. But by this question you are forced to ask: who defines immorality? I believe in that this is one area where Doug Wilson sought to nail Hitchens, the reader may judge if he was successful or not.

If one wants to use an outside authority to seek to validate or invalidate Scripture, one is making no less a perilous move than that one accuses of his opponent. No matter how much reason or philosophy one uses at the end of the day you rely on it to be 'self-authenticating'.

At the end of the day it comes to issues of trust and submission. Do I submit to God and His Word or do I submit to myself. This is not to bypass evidence, persuasion and a right use of Christian reason to defend God's Word and convince others. We just have to acknowledge where the impasse always ends and that is at a fork in the road: I either go left on the narrow road where I bend my knee, or I go right onto the wide road of the stubborn heart.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Truth Claims and the Bible

When we say the Bible is the Word of God, we are making a truth claim. When we say the Bible is self-authenticating we are making a statement about the nature of its truth: it is the ultimate authority.

First, we need to point out that every aurgument for an ultimate authority has to be circular. Even the strictest evidentialist has to either use evidentialism to argue for the priority of evidence or he has to point to a higher syllogism that than evidence to support his evidentialism, at which point his epistemology breaks down.

Surprisingly Dawkins seems to make this sort of error in his letter to his 10 year old daughter. (Granted his is writing to a 10 year old). He ends:
Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: "Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority, or revelation?" And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: "What kind of evidence is there for that?" And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.

One simply has to ask: what kind of evidence do you have that for that? Can this statement actually be made according to the evidence. Without getting too deep one simple example: the statement: "murder is wrong" what evidence is there for that? You can show evidence that it is undesirable but you cannot actually prove that it is wrong.

Now not everyone follows Dawkins in their epistemology. It is very common in our day to read of 'postmoderns' who are skeptical of all truth claims. Indeed such truth claims are claims of authority and power. But then again, the claim that all truth claims are power grabs, is itself a power grab. You seek the right to grasp power by mandating what all truth claims must be. Who are you to say that all claims to true knowledge must be power plays? While we should develop this more, we might for now simple point out that Jesus who claimed to be the truth also claimed to come to serve. It was only through this humbling himself that he was exalted.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gorn Canon Busted

So apparently, you can't actually make a canon from bamboo, and handmixed gunpowder made on the fly. (1) It is nearly impossible to get the gun powder mix right. (2) Even if you do the bamboo needs to be reinforced by metal to keep from blowing up in your face.

So here's what happens if you get "lucky" in getting the gunpowder together right. Good thing Buster was wearing a red shirt.

*Gasp* Science fiction is fiction?!
Trek Movie has a summary here.

Humility in Knowing God

When it comes to knowing God, there is a difference between epistemological humility and 'apophatic humility'.

This is an old quote I had lying around.
Tony Jones says this:

"Looking at it from the side of God in the God-human relationship is far more profound. "Naked Truth," is the phrase of Pseudo-Dionysius--this is GOd who is ultimately "unutterable," "unknowable," "invisible," "incomprehensible." How does one speak with any confidence of this God, much less pray with any confidence.

Orthodoxy as event acknowledges apophatic humility in the face of this God; it acknowledges that all of our theology--our logos about this theos--inevitably falls far short of what Dionysius call the "ONE who is beyond all." It prays with Anselm, "Lord, you are not merely that than which a greater cannot be thought; you are something greater than can be thought." " qtd from "Whence Hermeneutical Authority" p.21.

Apophatic humility says I cannot know and it is a mystery. It is at best a subset of epistemological humility. At worse, it is wholly other and not humble at all. I would favor the latter just slightly.

I agree that the finite cannot contain the infinite. That is true in how we think of the incarnation and how we think about how humans "know God". That would be epistemological humility. Furthermore, always calling our knowledge into check and avoiding being puffed up are other forms of epistemological humility.

But, and this is key, if God has revealed Himself and if God has spoken (and of course it is always God who condescends when he does this--he lisps baby talk, to borrow from Calvin), then it is decidedly not humble to plug your ears and say "God is so incomprehensible I can't know him". That may be the apophatic way but it is certainly not humble. Indeed it is an act of pure hubris to deny the right of the speaker and say "there is no voice" while we stair into his face.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Resurrection, epistomology and faith

You could write a whole essay on this but I want to just flesh this out rather briefly.

Arguments for or against the resurrection of Jesus are always composed of three elements:
(1) historical
(2) philosophical (aka theological, epistemological, etc.)
(3) personal (belief vs. unbelief).

Anyone who argues otherwise is either lying or strangely naïve.
Take as an example Bart Ehrman… he looks at “just the evidence” and says “history cannot say there are miracles”. However this is based on an atheistic view of history so that issues (2) and (3) determine how you think “history” must work.

A real apologetic for the resurrection is more than just some of the evangelical arguments for the evidence. There are facts but they are never "brute facts." All three elements are intertwined.
For 1: just because it is shown to be “reasonable” that Jesus rose from the dead does mean you have to believe it was life changing or demands faith. Historical arguments while strong and necessary for the resurrection are not the sum total to the resurrection and the demand that we believe in Jesus. Even if someone believes in a historical resurrection of Jesus you still have to wrestle with "so what?"

For 2: You cannot have ‘historical evidence’ (#1) for the resurrection (so-called ‘brute facts’) and a personal faith in the resurrection (#2) without it being determinative for your theology and epistemology. The resurrection is not just a historical plausibility indeed it has to be the certain event from which we view history itself. Thus the resurrection is not merely established by bare proof, it is the proof itself of the Christian world which God has furnished. Part of the larger question needs to be: how do we come to 'know' things. You have to defend the the notion of a God who can reveal Himself. All knowledge is predicated on God's self-knowledge and ability to reveal Himself in and to His creation.

For 3: You cannot have the “personal” belief without the historical. This is never how Christians have believed in the resurrection. You cannot say that the events of the resurrection did not happen in history and it was not bodily—‘but I believe that Jesus is Lord’.

Acts 17:31 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Meditation


John 1:9-13

1) Jesus is the true light.
ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

a) In the context John is not the light. John is the last and greatest of the prophets sent to Israel, but even then—He is not the light.
b) Jesus is the light because He is God and displays God’s glory.
c) Jesus is the light because of how he brings forgiveness of sins. Light and darkness are metaphors for righteousness/holiness and sin/wickedness.

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

d) Coming light is often a picture of God’s glory and God’s salvation coming.

Isaiah 42:16
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.

Isaiah 51:4 "Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.

Isaiah 60:1-5 ESV Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

2) Jesus brings light to every man.
ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

3) Jesus came into the world.
ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

4) Jesus offers light to whoever will believe in Him.
a) Jesus frees us from our darkness.
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

b) Only those who believe in Jesus are God’s children.
ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:12-13 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

At our church we have a Christmas Eve tradition of lighting candles before we close our service with a few Christmas carols. Why do we light candles on Christmas Eve?

The lighting of the candles should be a simple physical reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.

In Jesus, we can see what our sin looks like. In Jesus, we can repent of our sins and grasp Him by faith.

You have moved out of the darkness of your sin and into the marvelous light only because Jesus came into this world as a little baby to be the light. He came so that you might have light and eternal life.

His birth ultimately points us to cross where He accomplishes our redemption.


RE: Isaiah 7:14

Let me make a couple of preliminary observations:

(1) This is a debated passage. (aren’t they all).

(2) The NT in Matthew clearly sees Isa. 7:14 as a prophecy of Christ.

a. In fact, the Greek translation of the OT clearly translated the term “virgin” in Isaiah.

b. I believe there was some Jewish expectation that this was messianic (although, if I remember correctly, Jews after the first century changed their view in a polemic against Christianity).

c. Either way, Isaiah is clear with Isaiah 7:14 and Jesus’ birth. The latter is a fulfillment of the former.

d. Isaiah also makes some clear connections to the significance of “God with us.” But in Numbers 14:9 the phrase “The Lord is with us” does not speak of the incarnation but God’s protection of His people. So Isaiah could just mean “protection”)—while Matthew clearly means it in a unique significance similar to John 1:14 “and the Word became flesh”.

(3) The context of Isaiah is a little rough to sort through. Here are probably the major issues.

a. The sign is supposed to be for the day of Isaiah. Before the child knows to reject right and wrong the land of the two kings will be laid to waste. This attack is something that happens in Isaiah’s day. This makes it hard to see how they would recognize the sign if it wasn’t until apprx. 4 BC that Christ was born.

b. There is a little debate about the Hebrew term for virgin. Does it mean a woman who was a young woman? Does it mean a virgin?

i. And does Isaiah actually mean that the women will be a virgin when the baby is born. (i.e. she could refer to a girl who is a virgin at the time of speaking without presupposing she will be a virgin when she gives birth—like Mary was).

ii. The problem is compounded by the fact that in Ugaritic the phrase “a virgin will give birth” was a way of describing a young maiden who would be engaged, be married and have a child.

c. The role of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Who is he (in ch. 8)? What is his role in relationship to 7:13-17? Some scholars think that he might be a fulfillment of Isaiah 7. Interestingly Isa. 8:4 might be hinting at this.

d. Some suggest that the child might be Ahaz’s son—Hezekiah, another Davidic King (of which Christ is also from the line of).

Here would be some of my conclusions:

(1) The focus of the early chapters in Isaiah at parts does focus on the Messiah.

a. Isaiah 9:1-6 clearly prophesies about the Messiah.

b. Isaiah 11 looks for the triumph of son from David’s line.

(2) The Hebrew word translated “virgin” does mean virgin. So whoever Isaiah was talking about she was a virgin at the point of his statement (or yet to be born).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Living and Dying

This probably isn't an idea unique to me but I can't remember if our where I've seen in before but:

'To live for Christ you have to be willing to die for Christ and to die for Christ you have to be willing to live for Christ."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ethics and Economics

In certain circles, there is a tendency to relate the Kingdom of God so closely with economic theories that a particular theory is championed as closest to the kingdom of God. If the certain conservatives unduly try to find free market applications to Jesus' parables, then other circles try to extrapolate a macro-economic theory from the principle of the kingdom of God.

Given the recent abuses of capitalism and the proclivity of capitalists to associate the free market with greed, Christians often denigrate the former because of the Bible's clear rebuke of the latter. But is the a proper view of economics? What's more, does the kingdom of God mandate a certain economic theory.

Here is an excerpt of lecture at the Cato Institute by Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem.

In this excerpt, Richards covers two of his points:
(a) evaluating consequences (unintended and otherwise) not just intent--which he calls the piety myth "that you can only focus on intent". Good intentions can lead to bad policy and vice verse;
(b) The greed myth: that capitalism is based on greed. he shows that while certain authors defending the free market have equated self-interest in the market with greed, this is indeed not what Adam Smith meant by 'self-interest'. He argues that capitalism itself is not immoral--indeed it is the best option for spreading part around rather than consolidating power. Given fallen humanity, history has demonstrated that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As long as the 'rules of capitalism' is set up right, it can channel the evil elements of greed, which Richards argues is not the same as saying capitalism is based on greed.

You can watch the whole forum here, it's worth your time:

It includes a response by Doug Bandow. The Q&A at the end is interesting as well.

At one point in the Q&A, Jay Richards even mentions the already/not yet aspect of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament. He notes that when humans try to create the kingdom (particularly through political means), instead of bringing heaven down, they bring hell up. His point: you have to compare live alternatives captialism vs. Stalinism; not to the kingdom of God, which only God can bring.

Pot Meet Kettle II

Well this article just grows in irony as you read it.

It starts:
In the wake of the worst financial crisis in generations, the Obama administration today announced a new campaign to promote financial education for high school students nationwide...The first step in this effort, the administration said, will be the National Financial Capability Challenge, a national award program designed to encourage financial education in schools nationwide.
Is that an 'incentive'?
But wait:
"The reality is that all children don't know the basics of saving and investing," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "It's a skill they need to be successful in our economy."
Oh and the government is the prime example of who should be lecturing us... to say balance our budgets...

Oh but it doesn't end...
""We must also do a better job making sure our students graduate from high school with a better understanding of basic economics, basic finance, and the benefits and risks associated with debt," Geithner stated.

Geithner also pointed to a lack of financial education as one of the many causes of the economic crisis."

Did anybody tell him when you point one finger you have three more aiming back at you? Will politician be forced to take this class as a sort of remedial work? So we will teach the risks associated with debt? Err... no comment.

"The failures that led to this financial crisis were many. Banks and investors took on large risks, risks they did not understand. Washington allowed those risks to build up unchecked. And in communities across the country, Americans borrowed too much in part because they did not understand how to save prudently, how to borrow responsibly, and they did not understand fully that pension values and house prices, equity prices will not always rise," he told reporters today."
What about government medaling in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before the crises started? I'm guessing the 'economic' picture will have a certain 'slant'.

Free Books

Trevin Wax over at Kingdom People, is giving away free books for Christmas. My wife, the CFO of the family, would love it if I won.

The list looks good!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Roman 'Tolerance'

Given the comments I made here, I find this to be interesting:

"Because they accepted the existence of many gods, Romans usually were tolerant of other religions, even when they considered them distasteful but they became intolerant, even repressive, when they feared a religion threatened their way of life. Jews and Christians, as we shall see, generally benefited from this tolerance although they also suffered Roman repression." James Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament. p89-90.
Jeffers goes on to speak of the personal distaste, especially from the emperors, that certain religions would find. He cites Claudius' (41-54AD) distaste for Eastern mystery religions (Greco-Roman World, 105). Of course, there was a distaste for Judaism at times, along with Christianity which was first considered a Jewish sect. He then moves on to Roman repression:

"Roman repression of religions was selective, sporadic, and short-lived. Emperors typically moved against a cult when they believed it threatened law and order. Religions considered morally repugnant by the Romans, such as that of the Celtic Druids in western Europe, were systematically eliminated. Tiberius treated Egyptian cults harshly, but his successors saw no reason to continue the repression. No cult was as actively persecuted as were astrology and magic. Nevertheless, they became very popular at all levels of society, so much so that Roman emperors became concerned that astrological forecasts might lead to political revolt." (p.107).

Of course, Christianity was feared since Christians refused to worship Caesar. Christians were also considered atheists because they did not worship the gods. The early apologists dealt with such charges, even seeking to argue that as Christians, they deserved fair treatment rather than cruel dismissal.

The point is that the Greco-Roman world was not as "tolerant" as ahistorical arguments would make it. The fact that they were polytheists did not make them more accepting of unknown forms of beliefs and religions. They may have been open to adding gods here and there to the pantheon, but when they encounter something different, particularly religions unwilling or unable to assimilate themselves: they were hard, and intolerant.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pot Meet Kettle

President Obama said this on 60 minutes which sounds all well and good:

"I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street," Mr. Obama said in an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" program on Sunday.
"They're still puzzled why is it that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see," he said. "You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in -- in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got 10% unemployment."

I mean who doesn't like a good pile on to those 'fat cats' on Wall Street. But then you read this:

The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal salary data.
Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.

Federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time — in pay and hiring — during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector...
The growth in six-figure salaries has pushed the average federal worker's pay to $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector.
In fact, according to some of the graphs in the article: "The average federal salary has grown nearly twice as fast as private pay during the recession."

Now it would indeed be unfair to lay all the blame for this at Obama's feet. Indeed some of these changes come from the Bush years along with a change the pay scale by Congress. And yet you loose all credibility of identifying with the common man and the struggles of the average joe. In fact, one could just as easily say to the government:

"[You're] still puzzled why is it that people are mad at the [government]. Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down [insert figures] after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in -- in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got 10% unemployment."

There has hardly been a private sector business that has not had to trim expenses, withhold raises or bonuses. These days Washington is about as far from 'Main Street' as Wall Street is.

Friday, December 11, 2009

December 25 and Christmas

It is a common myth today that the reason Christmas is celebrated on December 25 is because of a pagan feast for Sol Invictus that was celebrated Rome during the 3rd century. Actually, this is a quite a popular theory which is ironically rejected by a large consensus of current scholarship on Christian origins and Sol Invictus.

I've been doing a little reading on these issues and hope to make some more comments around here and reference sources. But for now, this is the best concise but clear essay I have found arguing against Dec 25th originating from Sol Invictus. The only thing that one could add is that if Christians had adopted the date for polemical reasons against the pagans, there were other feast days that were more important to Sol Invictus. The ever popular theory just doesn't stand up to scholarly scrutiny.

Some evidence:
  1. Our first reference suggesting Dec. 25th was pagan in origin is from the 12th century.
  2. It is attested in the 3rd and 4th century that Christians connected Dec. 25 being 9 months after the death of Jesus (March 25) and connected the date of Jesus' conception to the date of his death.
  3. Even the Dontatists, who were zealous for maintain the purity of the church, held to this theory.
  4. The feast was celebrated on December 25 was held before Constantine made it official.
  5. While we do not have evidence as to the beliefs of the church fathers in the second and third century, we have clear evidence of how they ascertained the date in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Most of these details, and others, are affirmed by scholars of early Christianity and scholars of Roman religion. So for example, Hijmans in Sol: the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome, argues that a later feast, relatively minor feast for Sol Invictus is more likely to been adopted by pagans as a polemic against a Christian feast rather than the other way around.

While there is more that can be said, I encourage to read the whole article. The author does not deny that Christians at times were unduly influenced by pagans and that influence encroached on the celebration of Christmas. But suffice it to say as to the status quaestionis most scholars now basically agree that December 25 was chosen as the celebration of the Lord's birth because it was nine month after the date we can ascertain for his death. The origins of a December 25th celebration are decidedly Christian and not pagan despite the popular mythology that abounds, largely in pop culture and anti-Christian mythos.

Asking the Almighty for ID

This is something going through my mind when I was working through Exodus.
ESV Exodus 5:2 But Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go."

In the word's of Leonard McCoy "You don't ask the Almighty for His ID."
There is of course a difference between Kirk challenging this false god who needs a starship--after all a real God would be transcendent and a sei--and Pharaoh assuming his superiority to YHWH.

I suppose one could draw rather trite comparisons between the malicious Star Trek V 'god' striking Kirk and YHWH striking down Pharaoh. These comparisons would be superficial laying only a gut sort of emotional reaction against God actual acting and judging. If, however, God was supremely sovereign, all-knowning, and all-wise--and indeed gracious--it would not be beyond his power to raise up a Pharaoh for the purpose of displaying His glory at the very moment Pharaoh thinks he is resisting God by rebelling.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A-Team Trek

I was fan of the A-team when I was a kid. I had the van and a BA action figure. Now I can have the best of both worlds:

(HT: My sister)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Tyrannical Liberty

These days, Christians ought to be careful who they throw there hat in the ring with. Paul warns of the dangers of the Christian being unequally yoked. This is especially true in the area of politics. It is unfortunate when "evangelical" becomes known as a voting block. It is equally unfortunate when the "kingdom of God" becomes equally associated with a particular wing of American politics.

Consider this quote from H.L. Mencken's Notes on Democracy:
The fact is that liberty, in any true sense, is a concept that lies quite beyond the reach of the inferior man’s mind. He can imagine and even esteem, in his way, certain false forms of liberty–for example, the right to choose between two political mountebanks, and to yell for the more obviously dishonest–but the reality is incomprehensible to him. And no wonder, for genuine liberty demands of its votaries a quality he lacks completely, and that is courage. The man who loves it must be willing to fight for it; blood, said Jefferson, is its natural manure. More, he must be able to endureit–an even more arduous business. Liberty means self-reliance, it means resolution, it means enterprise, it means the capacity for doing without. The free man is one who has won a small and precarious territory from the great mob of his inferiors, and is prepared and ready to defend it and make it support him. All around him are enemies, and where he stands there is no friend. He can hope for little help from other men of his own kind, for they have battles of their own to fight. He has made of himself a sort of god in his little world, and he must face the responsibilities of a god, and the dreadful loneliness. Has Homo boobiensany talent for this magnificent self-reliance? He has the same talent for it that he has for writing symphonies in the manner of Ludwig van Beethoven, no less and no more. That is to say, he has no talent whatsoever, nor even any understanding that such a talent exists. Liberty is unfathomable to him. He can no more comprehend it than he can comprehend honour. What he mistakes for it, nine times out of ten, is simply the banal right to empty hallelujahs upon his oppressors. He is an ox whose last proud, defiant gesture is to lick the butcher behind the ear.

This is a dreadful account of the nature of freedom.
One the one hand, I believe that a Christian worldview favors conclusions regarding democracy and liberty. It is no secret that capitalism as a system arose not only because of the efforts of the Enlightenment but the Reformation as well. In history it is difficult to parse out such events to a single cause. And while Enlightenment ideas contributed to the American Revolution, there is no denying that there were numerous Christians who championed the cause of liberty and their Christian ethic influenced America's birth. A true Christian ethic is going to be against oppression and in favor of liberty.

However, on the other hand, there is a notion of liberty that goes beyond a Christian ethic. Some of the founding father's championed an Enlightenment rational that rejection Christian religion. It is a notion of freethinking where man is his own master. Of course, writing much later H.L. Mencken was also no friend of religion--and Christianity.

Mencken may be right about the value of liberty but is misses the mark wide on the purpose of liberty. The purpose of liberty should not be to "claim your piece of the prize." The goal of liberty is not that I should have a "piece of the action" and be the sort of god of that world.

There is a vast difference between sacrificing yourself for the sake of others to win their liberty--and dying to assert yourself and claim your prize of liberty for you. There is a vast difference between freeing the helpless and the weak--lifting the bonds of their oppression--then rising to claim yours for you and you alone. Indeed, if I cherish liberty the goal of liberty should not be to scoff at those who we deem to stupid to grasp it but to share it as if we have a boundless treasure. The hungry man may not realize the depth of his hunger--but as he slowly smells the food, he stomach will churn with hungry. On a cold wet day, the smell of a warm soup will appeal to him as release from his oppression. It is no prize of liberty to stare down our nose at those we find to hold inferior views of liberty while we cling white knuckled to the prize that is ours.

For the Christian, particular the politically conservative Christian, our cherishing of liberty should not be rooted in a deep selfishness. It cannot be rooted in a "pull oneself up by the boots straps" notion of life. We cannot be devoid of compassion for those who lack in life. It may be each persons responsibility to provide for themselves but it is equally each persons privilege to love their neighbor liberally.

While the ethics of the kingdom of God favor, I believe, systems that cherish humans as made in the image of God and therefore should be set free from or never tyrannized under oppression. The ethics of the kingdom of God create a community that loves and sacrifices beyond one's own "piece of the action." Of course, while some political realities or ideals on this earth may reflect God's character and nature better than others political realities or ideals at the end of the day these things, no matter what their stripe, belong to the kingdoms of this age. It is the city of man not the city of God. Thus, even as Mencken posits a notion of liberty, it is a crude liberty that has lost its way stumbling aimlessly in the dark. At the end of the day to be "a sort of god in his little world, and...face the responsibilities of a god, and the dreadful loneliness" is no liberty, it is a tyranny to one's own idolatries.

One who so cherishes liberty that it turns them into a cold hard merciless self-imposed god of their own little world is no ally to a Christian position. While Christians, particularly in America, may cherish liberty and use their vote for policy that they see upholding such liberty, we have a deeper allegiance. One who would use liberty as an altar to sacrifice to himself as self proclaimed god is indeed no alley to which we should yoke ourselves. The Christian ought to be deeply aware of the tyranny that liberty can create.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tweet Trek

Well now, here's a good use for twitter.

It is a good day to tweet comes out: "tweet-lu'meH QaQ jajvam"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On the Gospels' Reliability

"Since the origin of biblical criticism in the early nineteenth century, critical scholars have attempted to understand the Gospels in the light of Enlightenment assumptions. Taking for granted that the events described in the New Testament could not have occurred in the way they were described ("If miraculous, then unhistorical"), they have sought alternative explanations. In spite of nearly two centuries of the most painstaking effort to sort out the genuine words of Jesus from those allegedly created by the early church, there remains little substantive agreement among critical scholars. Every new generation finds it necessary to reopen the search for the historical Jesus in the light of changing assumptions--hence the novel, if often tendentious, reconstructions of his life that appear in every publisher's new list. As a historian trained in reading classical texts, I find the Gospels, as I do in the work of the classical Greek and Roman historians, promising material for the reconstruction of the events they describe.

I find unconvincing, moreover, the view that the words of Jesus and the events of his brief career were radically modified by his followers after his lifetime, resulting in a discontinuity between his teachings and those of early gentile Christianity. The assumption is widespread that the early church played a significant creative role in reshaping the earliest traditions regarding Jesus, with the result that his teachings came very quickly--within a generation--to be distorted, a process by which the "Jesus of history" was transformed into the "Christ of faith." Those who hold this view have little confidence in the ability of the early Christian community to transmit accurately by oral or written tradition authentic memories of Jesus. They see in the Gospels little more than a mass of fragmentary and contradictory traditions. Hence what the New Testament preserves is the faith of the primitive church that has been imposed on the historical Jesus, from which we can recapture by close textual analysis but with considerable difficulty, only fragments of his life and teaching. But why should we doubt the ability of the early church (a small and closely knit community) to preserve over one generation an accurate recollection of the events of Jesus's [sic] life and teachings? The personality of Jesus clearly made a strong impression on his followers, and it is a personality that is everywhere apparent in the Gospels, which are so easily distinguishable from the legendary accounts that grew up later. In fact, it was not until the second century that the mythmaking began, and we see its manifestation in the apocryphal and pseudopigraphical works of that period. Here, as elsewhere in dealing with historical sources, the brevity of time works in the opposite direction: the credibility of the Gospel writers is strengthened by the face that they were under the scrutiny of eyewitnesses." Gary N. Ferngren Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity p.6-7

I would just add (1) recent studies in orality and oral transmission in diverse a group as Kenneth Bailey, James Dunn, Eddy and Boyd, and Gerhardsson, despite their diversity in approach and some differing conclusions, overall concur and strengthen the point of Ferngren.

(2) Recent studies in how memory works (Eddy and Boyd; and Bauckham) and the eyewitness accounts in the Gospels (esp. Bauckham) would further support Ferngren.

(3) The early collection and acceptance of the four gospels (Hengel, et al) speaks in favor of the accuracy of their accounts. For too long scholars have propped up their suppositions by appealing to the diversity of the earliest schools that created Q, M, L, etc. without considering (a) the level of connectivity between early Christian churches/communities; (b) the overall unity in accounts themselves and (c) the near ubiquitous unity in acceptance of the four gospels in their earliest years of the church.

One of the sad effects of the Bultmanian and post-Bultmanian impact to NT studies is the fragmentary approach taken in Gospels studies that treated the text with a far greater skepticism than the average critical scholar in almost every other field of ancient history. Historical criticism of the NT became an isolated sub-discipline for elite practitioners much in the same way OT studies fragmented itself away from the Ancient Near East. Thus, Biblical scholars of the New Testament and Old Testament were far more radical, skeptical and derogatory towards their sources then comparative disciplines of other fields working in the same timeframes. Even today the tendency of some scholarship has been to move away from rigorous historical disciplines and make Biblical studies the safe haven for every bizarre theory of post-colonial, post-structure, gender-bending hermeneutical hoop-la. Will a more rigorous historical approach, as taken in say classical studies, offer a helpful corrective to whatever moderate insights have been gained in NT studies by advances in literary theory?
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...