Thursday, March 31, 2005

To think...and to relate

There is a twofold problem that the Christian in a postmodern society finds himself/herself in. Christians do not think and when they do very rarely does it matter.

It is often difficult for a lay Christian to be presented with the idea that Scripture may not be inerrant in a fundamentalist sense (this statement would be more accurate for previous generations as it appears that the emergent Church is more open to various views of inerrancy). The Bible for many Protestants has become the fourth member of the Trinity...err...Quadrinity. Elevated to a status in which one wonders if there is a rogue church somewhere speaking of Scripture as homoousios with the Father, Son, and Spirit. It would appear that many would say that to challenge the beliefs or tenets upon which Christianity stands is negatively received. While this is often true, and to an extent understandable, I think the more common context in which Christianity finds tension is within the challenges made against beliefs or ideologies which are thought to be essentials of the Christian faith. The fundamentalist view of inspiration is an example of this. To hold a fundamentalist view is much more difficult than submitting to the reality that Scripture does not often fit into our man-made categories.

Ultimately what I am saying is this: too many Christians are willing to commit intellectual suicide if it relieves them of the responsibility to think. However, there are of course anomalies to this generalization and these people are typically referred to as scholars. Christian scholars make it their life to think. I respect the work of these people and have found my own beliefs and paradigms challenged by higher thinking. Here is my qualm with the scholar; so what? As I have read through various scholarly journals the question that perpetually bombards my mind is "so what"? What does this mean to the Christian Church?

We had a religion colloquium today in which the subject of debate was apologetics. The thrust of the debate was "what place does apologetics have in Christian belief"? Without going into detail about the colloquium itself I will make a few observations: 1) A central question which needed to be addressed, namely whether we should even be using rational arguments to defend the Christian faith, was not even proposed until two and a half hours into the event. 2) Some students asked well thought-out questions, others just asked questions. 3) Why is this even important?

I left the colloquium with this last question burning in my mind. The debate obviously holds importance to Christendom yet there was very little attempt to portray this in the presentations. There certainly were comments made in regards to how our view of apologetics effects the way we witness and evangelize, yet these comments were anything but conclusive. The problem which scholarship finds itself is how to make its studies relevant. What difference does it make to argue for a certain side of the pistis christou formulation in Pauline literature if there is no connection to how we should believe and live our lives? Could this debate have relevance? Certainly! But that is the chasm which scholarly journals often fail to bridge; the connection between intellectualism and practicality.

My plea to the scholar is this: make it useful, edify the Church, create scholarship for the people not just for colleagues. I believe that God gave us a mind to think, yet I also believe that God desires for those cognitive processes to produce information that is beneficial for both the edification of His Church and the spread of the Gospel. If scholarship fails to leave the intellectual battleground it becomes merely interesting and ultimately useless.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

He has been Raised!

There is no day more monumental to the Christian faith than resurrection Sunday. As the apostle Paul says, if Christ has not been bodily raised from the dead our faith is worthless. It is the reality and the fact of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ that the Christian faith stands firmly upon. There is no event which mirrors it in history; no event which is as significant to humanity as the gift of the Almighty God of His Son. The Second person of the Trinity, the Son, incarnate walked upon this earth and He was crucified to be the propitiation for our sins. This morning I preached a sermon from Luke 23:33-43 in which I asked the question, "What would motivate God to send His One and only Son to die for people who were not even looking for salvation?" John Piper and his ilk would say that Jesus Christ came in order to glorify Himself and to glorify the Father. Instead of being contrary to human nature, which seeks glory for itself, Piper apparently believes that God does exactly what he condemns; seeking glory for oneself.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of realizing that Jesus Christ did not come primarily to glorify Himself. God sent His Son because He loves! The eternal Son died on our behalf because He loves us. The beauty of the Gospel is that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. "For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will receive eternal life." (John 3:16) In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Let me know!

I'm interested in knowing who is reading my blog. If you visit and you like or dislike what I have to say, leave me a comment! I really am quite curious who out there is taking a look. Let me know!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Christianity Stripped to the Ankles

It is fascinating to me how modern Christendom has done a fairly good job of removing some of the most important historical aspects of the faith. An area which has my current attention is that of baptism. I recently became a member at Central Wesleyan Church and am encouraged to be baptized. Yet I have already received baptism as an infant in the Catholic Church. Question: Why should I be baptized again? Should a person receive numerous baptisms? What truly happens at baptism? Considering I have already established my historical hermeneutic for establishing Church doctrine and orthodoxy in my previous posts, I pose the following thoughts.

Why should I be baptized again?

I shouldn't; plain and simple. However, it probably would do well to explain this position because the reality is that some churches would disagree. First, let us examine the reasons put forth for why I should be baptized again.

1) Baptism is a profession of a person's faith in Jesus Christ and should be made before a community of believers. It is a great symbol of our regeneration and new life in Christ. Therefore, if you have not been baptized as a believer it is very important to do so in order to profess your faith in the community.

2) It is Scriptural to baptize a person only after they believe in Christ.

Sounds good to me. I do think it's important for new believers to profess their faith to the community. The main problem with this theology of baptism, though, is that it falls outside of 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy. "But wait! Is this view not the most Scripturally sound? I mean, there are no exhortations that we are to baptize infants and it appears that people are baptized after they believe." It is true that it appears that people are baptized after they believe in Christ, however 1) this does not mean baptism is simply a profession of faith; 2) the generalization of this claim is based upon a faulty hermeneutic. Perhaps the problem that the biblical interpreter of modernity finds himself/herself in is the simple fact that our cultural dynamics are quite different from that of the first century. For example, while Christianity is easily accessible in America and a church can be found without much trouble, this was not the case in the first century. The first Christian believers were primarily youth or adults. Can we honestly say that just because the New Testament does not specifically outline that baptism can be received by infants that it is not so? The New Testament does not specifically outline that baptism should be received as an adult!

The reality is that if we take strictly the Scriptural text to develop our theology of baptism we have very little to go on. Sometimes in Scripture the Holy Spirit is received before baptism, other times afterwards. It appears that the mode was mainly submersion (the Greek word baptizo also implies submersion) but there is no mandate that baptism is to be done this way. Baptism appears to be received by believing adults, but what are we then to make of such passages as Acts 16:14,15 or Acts 16:33 which do not even attempt to make any sort of conclusive statement about the spiritual condition of the families whom were baptized? Were they even Christians? Of course we could enter into entirely different territory if we continued with this train of thought so for the sake of brevity I will return to the main objective.

If Scripture does not provide us with imperatives on how to conduct and what exactly baptism is, where else can we look? Should we even look anywhere else or should we just conclude that because there is not a theological expose of baptism in the New Testament it must not be very important? To argue that just because a certain point of theology is not explicitly defined in Scripture is to argue against such dogmatic assertions as the Trinity. The Trinity is certainly not well defined in Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity as we know it is the process of development, led by the Holy Spirit, in the first centuries of Christianity.

So what about baptism? If we allow ourselves to shed this cloak of animosity toward Tradition and toward the declarations of the early Church we can come to a better understanding of what baptism is. In order to do this let us briefly examine four of the most commonly held views of baptism.

1) Roman Catholic View: "Means of Saving Grace"

a) Meaning: "By either awakening of strengthening of faith, baptism effects regeneration." This occurs with the working of the sacrament itself. Faith does not have to be present. The work is solely God's work in the person.
b) Subject: Infants and Adults

2) Lutheran View: "Means of Saving Grace with the Exercise of Faith"

a) Meaning: In order for baptism to be effectual, saving faith must be exercised by the one baptized. Salvation is imparted potentially to infants, actually to Adults. This position differs from the Catholic view only with respect to faith.
b) Subject: Infants and Adults

3) Reformed View: "Sign and Seal of the Covenant"

a) Meaning: Baptism is an act of faith by which we are brought into the covenant and hence experience its benefits. Grace is imparted, but they type of grace is a mystery.
b) Subject: Infants and Adults

4) Memorial View: "Testimony of Salvation"

a) Meaning: It is simply a testimony - a profession of faith that a believer makes. The rite shows the community that the individual is now identified with Christ. There is no objective effect upon the person.
b) Subject: Believing Adults and Believing Children

With these four views briefly established what does this mean for Christianity today? The Church has always held baptism to be a sacrament. The very definition of a sacrament requires that grace be communicated; God chooses to meet and transform his people at the carrying out of the sacraments. If grace is not communicated then baptism ceases to be a sacrament, a position which denies 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy. View number four does just that. The memorial view amputates the sacramental nature of baptism. Furthermore, the only view of baptism which falls outside of Church Tradition and orthodoxy is the memorial view, which technically makes this view somewhat heretical. The other three, the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed views, all find themselves comfortable and consistent with the way the Church has interpreted Scripture for 2,000 years. Obviously there are areas of discrepancy between the three but these disagreements do not fall outside of orthodox teaching. But view four does.

Baptism is so much more than simply a profession of faith that a believer makes. When this view of baptism is held we choose to deconstruct a precious sacrament which God has given to us in large part for our benefit. Why would we "defame" baptism so by making it nothing more than something we do? The memorial view of baptism is completely ego-centric; it is all about me! Yet Christianity is anything but all about the individual! The New Testament emphasizes over and over again that the Church, as the Body of Christ, as a community of believers, is the bride of Christ. The individualistic ideology of Western society (especially American society) is hazardous to our mission as the Church.

Will I condemn someone for believing we are to be baptized only as believers? No, of course not. In fact I recognize the incredible significance believer's baptism can have for a person. I understand the position and I must admit I feel sympathetic to their beliefs at times. Yet I must reiterate; baptism is not all about us, and when it comes down to it I feel much more confident viewing the Scriptural interpretation of baptism through the eyes of 2,000 years of Christian history than I do they eyes of an individualistic society that has existed for only a few centuries. I'll hold onto my pants tight and stick with the orthodox position.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Would you pray?

I am currently dialoguing with an atheist in regards to the existence of God. Would you please pray for God to grant me the wisdom of what to say and would you pray that this person would sense the presence of God in our conversations and in his life. It is not our job to convert, it is our job to lay the salt...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Spring Break

Well, Spring Break is almost over. It has been a good break; short but good. This has been a very unique break; my fiancee and I have been doing a ton of stuff for the wedding. We spent a good couple of days registering for gifts and only finished today. We still have a lot of tweaking to do. My fiancee's birthday was also this week and it has been great getting together with family to celebrate. Being at school all year it seems we miss out on some of the fun stuff that is going on with the family, so it is always great to get to catch up with the fam. Last night Jen and I played cards for a bit with her parents and then we switched to Trouble. Tonight we went out to dinner with my parents and my brother and then played Texas Hold 'em. It was pretty intense. Unfortunately I ended up having to borrow from the bank. Nonetheless, my confidence in my poker playing skills still remains.

A couple of nights ago Jen and I went to dinner with her grandma deVries. We had some great discussions. We talked a lot about theology and various issues related to Christianity. Grandma deVries is so wise and has some amazing insights. There is so much value to be gained from the wisdom of those who have gone on before us. She has such a passion for Jesus and for seeing people walk with Him. No matter how much education I receive it is amazing to know that there are some things that can only be learned through life. I treasure experiences like this.

Currently I am reading a book entitled Christology in the Making by James Dunn. I will be blogging on it later but basically the book takes a look at the origin and development of the doctrine of the incarnation. It is very academic and forces me to make some paradigm shifts. Dunn's gift is synthesis and he portrays this in his book.

I will be heading back to school the day after tomorrow but Jen and I still have a few things to accomplish before we do. This break has been good and I look forward to finishing up another year at the university and coming home for the summer. There is a lot yet to complete before the wedding and it will be enjoyable to have one more summer at home.

For now, I am going to spend some more time emersed in Dunn's book before I put my head down on my pillow for another night. Mmmm, sleep sounds good about now...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

More questions than answers...(read the previous post first)

Kurt wrote,

Ben,Where then do we have the right to break with tradition? What made it ok for Luther to break from tradition? What makes it ok for the Wesleyan Church to ordain women? How close do we have to stick to Tradition? When is tradition wrong and how do we determine it's error if we must go with consensus? We surely run the risk of duplicating our mistakes like a photocopy of a photocopy.

The reality is that there is no simple answer to these questions. I would love it if God and Scripture fit into a neat little system, but they do not (another reason Calvinism is highly suspect to me). There is perhaps not a purely systematic method of interpreting Scripture. What do we do when we encounter an issue or belief which appears to be in conflict with Tradition? Initially the question should be, "Is it in conflict with Scripture?" If it does not appear so the following question could be, "Why has the Church never acknowledged such an interpretation? Why is this outside of the big 'T' Tradition?" There is usually a very good reason. I think our best bet is to only leave the Tradition of the Church when it is clearly at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit developed Tradition in the first place and most certainly has the right to revise if need be. This is of course quite subjective and perhaps even somewhat precarious. One should not presume, conversely, that the Spirit would lead the Church in "new and improved" dogma. Dogma cannot be compromised. Any leading that appears contrary to what the Spirit has already established as dogmatic Truth is definitely not the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Ordination of women, wearing jewelry, men having long hair, women keeping silent in church, are not dogmatic matters and it is possible that the Spirit may refine Tradition for the benefit of His people.

To me, Martin Luther did not necessarily break from Tradition. The reality is that the Roman Catholic Church of the Reformation era was corrupt. It truly was to the core. That is undeniable (remember, though, this can in no way be a reason for denouncing the RCC of today). The Catholic Church of that era was far outside the bounds of Tradition basing its beliefs upon tradition. The difference is extremely important. I see Luther, rather than break from Tradition, as returning to Tradition. Luther does take some things too far. He swings the grace hammer so far the the other way that he does dabble slightly in unorthodoxy and also finds predestination (as understood by Augustine) to be attractive. Luther, after all, hated the homoousios. That must raise red flags all over the place. Luther was an amazing theologian and reformer, yet not the absolute authority on all matters of faith. Generally, Luther was a return to Tradition rather than a break from it.

The Wesleyan Church certainly does things outside of the Tradition of the Church. Ordination of women is indeed one of these areas. It is not unreasonable to critically evaluate Tradition. The practice of excluding women from ordination is the remains of a patriarchal culture. We will most often find strong arguments for certain practices when they are relative to culture. Jesus claims that divorce was premitted in the Old Testament due to the hardness of the Israelites hearts. Both culturally and spiritually they were not prepared for the ultimate which God desired for them. Yet Jesus makes clear that divorce is not pleasing to God. The Early Church was not primarily concerned with social upheaval. The Church was primarily concerned with spreading the gospel concerning Jesus Christ as Lord. In Paul's epistles he never directly attacks the institution of slavery or the subordination of women. However, if we are careful we may notice that he does make claims which seem to imply that he supports neither. When Paul writes to Philemon concerning Onesimus he exhorts Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother. Paul reminds Philemon that he is indebted to Paul for the message of salvation and also is a slave himself of Jesus our master.

Ironically, in 1 Corinthians 14:35 Paul says, "If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." Yet in the final greeting of the epistle Paul says, "The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house." Priscilla is a woman and her name is often found to come before the name of her husband Aquila. It has been suggested that she has a more prominent role than Aquila did in the Church. Whatever the case, Priscilla was a leader in the Church. Culturally this is surprising, and it should be of no surprise that the Patriarchal pattern has survived to this very day despite the leading of the Spirit otherwise. Some of the things Paul says in regards to women are simply because the culture required them. There would have been chaos had Paul not put his foot down. The questions we must ask are, "Would the exercise of this produce the same result today?" "What is the totality of what this author says (although it appears Paul is somewhat against women in leadership he also says something quite contrary to this in Galatians 3:28)?" "What does Scripture as a whole say?" "Where was God pointing with what He inspired?"

How close do we stick to Tradition? Well, unless we have a good reason not to I see no reason to stray from it, pending that Tradition truly has proven to be Orthodox. There will always be exceptions and the Church will have to be willing to submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is possible that if Tradition is in err we will simply photocopy error after error. Yet what other device do we have to interpret Scripture with? The Holy Spirit certainly can inspire readers but the Holy Spirit also developed Tradition. The Trinity is not explicitly stated in Scripture. Our understanding of the Trinity has largely developed as a result of the Holy Spirit forming this belief in the Early Church. Much debate has ensued but Scripture and Tradition certainly testify to its validity; Scripture implicitly, Tradition rather forcefully. If we fail to appeal to Tradition for, at the very least, direction then the chances of an erroneous interpretation being photocopied is much higher. If the transmission of error will occur it will most often do so outside of the walls of Tradition.

As I said at the beginning, there are no simple answers. I certainly do not have all the answers and still have a lot of territory to wander through. The territory may be daunting but worth the effort. Ultimately we all have to determine what we allow to influence our interpretation of Scripture. How do you interpret Scripture?

How do we determine Orthodoxy?

The Church has been in existance for nearly 2,000 years. Church leaders have come and gone, heretics have come and gone, Orthodoxy has been a constant debate. The question which has existed since the infancy of the Church is "how do we determine Orthodoxy?" There have been several answers to this, but the area which I would like to address is, "what do we do with Tradition?"

First I suppose it would be of benefit to establish a distinction between Tradition and tradition. The big "T" Tradition is basically Orthodoxy passed down from the inception of the Christian Church. As described in the previous post it is determined by antiquity, universality, and consensus. There are also traditions (small t) within the Christian Church. There is the Wesleyan tradition, Baptist tradition, Reformed tradition, Lutheran tradition, Roman Catholic tradition, etc. The big "T" Tradition is actually quite accomodating, as the majority of these small "t" traditions find themselves at home within it (for the most part). There are, of course, certain parts of traditions which find themselves in conflict with Tradition (one should note: if there is a point of conflict do not "throw out the baby with the bathwater" but rather acknowledge that there is probably a little bit of heresy in all our traditions :)).

Moving on; Scripture is of course foundational for determining correct Christian behavior and teaching. Tradition can never supplement Scripture. However, the conundrum which Christians find themselves in is who's interpretation of Scripture is correct? As Vincent of Lerins said in his A Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith, for as many interpretors there are interpretations. In other words, we all interpret the Bible when we read it. How we interpret is in large part a product of our tradition. Martin Luther's idea of Sola Scriptura is certainly a desirable means to interpretation yet inevitably falls up short. For one, Scripture never espouses such an idea but rather expects that the beliefs shall be "passed on" from generation to generation. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:2, "I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you." It is not that Scripture does not in and of itself contain Truth and the fullness of Truth, nor am I presupposing Scripture does not contain all the essentials of the faith. Yet even in regards to essentials there are differences of interpretation. Who's to say that Arius was not right about Jesus being a created being? He did make an incredibly biblical argument by the standards many Christians hold in modernity. Arius argued from Colossians 1, in which Jesus is described as the "firstborn" that Jesus must therefore be a created being and cannot have existed from all eternity. In this case other Scripture can help to denounce such heresy but Church Tradition (taking into account that the Apostles and early Christians exalted Christ and proclaimed His pre-existence) certainly played a large role in the anethama of Arius.

It is interesting that Martin Luther himself did not allow for the uneducated laymen to read the Bible by means of Sola Scriptura. Luther was afraid of simply putting Scripture into the hands of those whom may distort and twist it. Therefore, when he translated his first Bible into German he included a sort of damage control device; marginal study notes. Luther placed study notes in the margins to prevent heresy and misinterpretation. While Luther most likely believed his interpretations were based soley on Scripture the question must arise, "how did Luther interpret Scripture?"

As I have previously alluded, every person who reads the Bible interprets the Bible, and every interpretation is based upon something. Lutherans use a Lutheran paradigm and inevitably interpret in large part according to the Lutheran tradition. Prebyterians interpret within the Presbyterian paradigm. Eastern Orthodox members interpret within the Easter Orthodox paradigm and so on. As we all know there is conflict in interpretation between these traditions. So who is right, or who is the most right, is anybody more right than everyone else? The Roman Catholic Church has struggled with admitting that it may not in fact have the "fullness of the Truth in Christ". Protestantism in America seems to assert that it has the "fullness of the Truth". Does any branch or denomination within Christendom really have this "fullness of Truth"?

Correct interpretation is found most often at home within the Tradition of the Church. Tradition provides the lenses through which Orthodox teaching is most fully recognized. If an idea or doctrine is novel (such as the Rapture and, as I would argue, Calvinism) it is very likely wrong. Novel interpretations 99.9% of the time are heresy. The big "T" helps us determine which beliefs have always been accepted and which have been rejected. Tradition is not without its limitations and problems, though, and finally I will address the questions Kurt posed in his comment on my previous post. Look to the next post to continue this discussion.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Methodological Approaches to New Testament Criticism

This is a paper I wrote for my Honors Research Seminar class. It deals with the modern debates over how to use methodology to approach New Testament criticism. Enjoy! It is a doozy. Also, I apologize for the terseness of this paper; the assignment was I could not go over six pages so the methods are clearly not expounded that well upon.
Methodological Approaches to New Testament Criticism