October 30, 2009

The Ideal Church...

Might not look just like this, but this might be pretty close. TC challenged me to describe it. Ideal being ideal, remember this is something to shoot for. It also happens to be what I see consistently modeled in the NT, from John the Baptist and Jesus to Timothy and Titus. The first aspect you might want to notice, which people tend to leave out of their church models, is the passage of TIME. Life is not static. Anyway...


Pick a town in the world. Any culture. Two or more gifted believers, called and sent by God, gather a group of believers and train them to function as the church.

Over a period of perhaps 1 to 8 years, the planters teach brothers and sisters how to provide ALL the needs of the body. At the same time, these instigators are working for the day when they will no longer be there. The instigators must gradually decrease so that Christ in the body may increase.

In the initial phases, different members of the group will naturally and gradually begin to display certain aptitudes, including teaching and oversight. With the workers' help, the body will learn to recognize, appreciate and share these gifts for the good of the church. However, the most gifted individuals do not necessarily become overseers/elders/shepherds. Also, as the o/e/s's gain experience, they do not necessarily "lead" more often than anyone else. Elders are not necessarily teachers and teachers are not necessarily leaders. The body learns how to provide for its own needs, and everyone's contribution is considered a part of God's building-up process.

The elders, in a way, eventually become the most necessary, but also the least visibly active. These "supervisors" are servants, like everyone else, offering their giftedness when called upon moreso than at their own discretion. A chief role of the church workers (planters, trainers) is to coach the group into interdependency. Settling into ruts will be avoided by openness to fresh suggestions. We are not here to be comfortable. We are here to challenge each other to love and to good works in Him.

Meeting styles will vary. Everyone is free to suggest and provide direction for group activities, including meetings. The body decides, with patient oversight, what activities to pursue more often than others, but reserves times for other ways of gathering as well. Trial and error ensues, but some reliable standards emerge. All the while, learning continues. Our main goal is not to set things in stone that will stand for a thousand years like Solomon's Temple. The Lord's house on Earth is a Tent that can Move! (That's what he said to Moses, anyway.)

Remember, during these years, the original workers are still with the group, guiding, directing and training... but also pulling back as appropriate, and as possible. After the training wheels are completely off, the 'apostles' continue meeting with the church for a year or so, without functioning in any leadership or decision making capacities whatsoever. Their passive presence encourages the church to shed its last vestige of 'adolescence'. The 'apostles' themselves might rest during this phasing-out period or they might use the time to plan and prepare their next 'mission' field (not too close to this one). In this final year, the planters also keep a sharper eye than ever on the church, which finally stands on the verge of being left alone.

In years to come, after the planters depart, the church has two (or more) outside resources to call upon who can visit, provide long distance encouragement. A young adult leaving home still needs help from "mom and dad", but not so often and not so much. On occasion, the church planters might return if the church and its elders are stymied by some difficult matter. An outside perspective can be helpful, especially if the 'apostles' aren't compromised by salary, because - I forgot to mention - they've been supporting themselves with careers all this time!

The brothers and sisters have learned how to keep one another fixed on Jesus Christ, and to lean on, wait on, and stand in Him during all seasons of life. This is what they've been trained for. They have top-down oversight, bottom-up leadership, they've been trained to listen for God's voice to potentially come from any member of Christ's body, and they still have recourse to their founders, when necessary.

That, in a nutshell, is my ideal church. That's what I see in Ephesians 4.


On top of that, if I could really daydream for a minute, everyone in the church ought to be less than 3 minutes from each others' houses by car, if not bike, if not foot. Ancient cities were less than one mile square, and urban sprawl is incredibly recent, historically speaking.

Remember, Ideal being Ideal... we should take what we can get. But I think this is what we should shoot for. Scratch that. Work towards and prepare for. Most of us aren't ready to go for it yet, but I believe we can get there.

Any Questions?

Well worth reading

TC, Joel and Jim West... on Frank Viola's view of Pastors.
Update: Kevin Sam offers a touching response.

They have each, in my humble opinion, raised the conversation in worthwhile ways. Jim, in fact, hits the nail on the head. My question back to him is honestly the central question of all my personal church life experience - both in the past and hopefully also the future.

High Schools need an Associate's Diploma

Obama's SecEd, Arne Duncan, repeated what he said last semester. This time it made the headlines. I hope he keeps repeating it. I've taught in four districts in three states. "Proficiency" can be as low as 48% for graduating seniors. The whole thing is a joke, the kids know it, and the teachers, principals and district administrators are absolutely lying* about it. (*In the SecEd's own words, at least.)

States need a second tier track to graduation but it doesn't have to be vocational. Employers are looking for three things, from a high school grad. Did you keep a schedule, follow instructions, and complete tasks? Less than half of our high school grads today go on to college. More should go, but less should feel forced to pretend they are going, especially since we're only pretending they're capable.

An "Associate's Diploma" for two years worth of credits would provide what employers want and minimize dropouts while allowing the tougher standards for "Standard Diplomas" to finally grow serious academic teeth. The two year program could be flexible on credits allowed, because any student who legitimately earns 12-14 credits has learned enough behavior wise to get paid better than a dropout. The four year program could become more popular in the meantime because smart kids want worthy challenges, in the absence of which they too often decline.

With a two year option, early graduates could go on to selected vocational colleges or return to finish a standard diploma, up to age 21. Early dropouts could come back with much better chances of passing a shorter curriculum. Eventually, district budgets might shrink enough to offer two year graduates free vouchers for technical colleges. Finally, comprehensive and practical courses in real life Mathematics and Reading/Research skills could be offered to some two year students. At that point, we could begin the return to a more traditional, less watered down version of "college prep curriculum". Abstract Mathematics and higher Literature have remained the true arbiters of college acceptance and readiness anyway.

We need to continue the liberal program of maximizing opportunity for all, but also invest in the future by lifting up those who achieve more. Somebody tell Duncan and Obama to give me a call if they want to hear more about this new idea - the Two Year Associate's Diploma.

Non-fiction literature *IS* historical

For a non-fiction text, a proper literary analysis ought to be no different than historical analysis. Therefore, if we distinguish between "literary" and "historical" interpretations of the same text, do we not essentially fictionalize the contents of that text?

An Exaggerated Description?

I'm pretty sure it was more of a glittering generality.

But I'll definitely settle for "thought provoking".

And thanks dearly, Lou, for the critique.


October 29, 2009

two corrections and notes

First, in my last post I said Caesar sailed for Gaul in 16 AD. Of course it's possible to sail from Italy to France, but Caesar probably went over the Alps. I must have been thinking of the Gauls in Galatia because Caesar went to Asia in 19 AD. Oops.

Second, near the end of that same post I inadvertently left off 30 AD as a possible date for John 2:20. By strict chronological reckoning, 46 years back from Passover of 30 AD would seem to put the Temple construction beginning in early 17 BC. That date is just beyond the realm of possibility, but late 18 BC is acceptable, and the Jews could have been rounding down from 46 years and a few months.

Both points have been fixed in the previous post.

By the way, that second correction is not for my sake, but in fairness to those who take 33 AD for the crucifixion and posit a three year long ministry for Jesus. Personally, I date John 2:20 to the Passover of 29 AD because I find a four year ministry more suitable to the evidence overall. Again, the point of my post is that John 2:20 itself is somewhat imprecise, even based on Josephus.

As it so happens, the previous (erroneous) efforts to date John 2:20 more precisely have been one long standing reason (evidently) why leading apologists felt constrained to defend the three year view against the four year view. I believe I have demonstrated why that was not necessary, and naturally I hope these efforts will encourage many to give the four year ministry more careful consideration.

However, I just as fervently want to be clear that anyone who wishes to stick with their established views can still adopt my explanation on this one detail. As detailed in the previous post, the evidence on Herod's Temple construction allows dates as early as 27 AD for the citation of John 2:20.

A Common Error - Dating Herod's Temple

In John 2:20, Jerusalem's elders cite 46 years for the building of Herod's Temple. That number is not in dispute here, but in calculating its significance to history and chronology, scholars often claim Josephus tells us precisely when Herod began to build. The common statement is something to the effect that "Josephus tells us the rebuilding began in Herod's eighteenth year, 20/19 BC." All such statements are inaccurate, because Josephus nowhere tells us any such thing.

Everyone catches the revision of "fifteenth" to "eighteenth" from Josephus' Jewish War (1.401) to his Antiquities (15.380). No one seems to catch the significance of the other revisions. In War, Josephus literally said Herod restored (epeskeuasen) the Temple that year. Obviously no one thought that was true, but in correcting himself, Josephus also takes pains to convey a more nuanced process. Now he says Herod "undertook (epebaleto) an extraordinary work, (namely) the reconstructing (kataskeuasasthai) of the temple of God".

Note that Wikgren's Loeb translation made an infinitive into a gerund. Interestingly, Whiston did not: "undertook a very great work, that is, to build". If we isolate this sentence, Whiston seems awkward and Wikgren's decision is justifiable, but in the larger context, Whiston underscores a key point, and Wikgren, although inadvertently, has misled us.
The other critical detail here is that "undertook" does not exactly mean "began". The verb (imperfect passive form of epiballw, taking the accusitive case) more literally means Herod had it thrown upon him, which suggests something like Liddel & Scott's alternate glosses for "undertook", which are, "took (or put) it upon himself". Essentially, the desire has taken firm root, but there is no implication that the intended action has necessarily been embarked upon, as of yet.

In the War, Josephus told us one year in which Herod built. In the Antiquities, Josephus corrects this with exacting qualification. He now tells us only what year Herod devoted himself to the building project. Every detail of the narrative following bears this out. Herod's offer to begin the project was met with skepticism by Jews who feared he might tear down and not build up again. So the King promised "he would not pull down the temple before having ready all the materials" (15.390) and Josephus concludes that Herod indeed, "began the construction [note the same root in kataskeuhs] only after all these preparations had diligently been made by him."

The materials included "a thousand wagons to carry the stones" and the preparations included the training of "a thousand priests" as masons and builders. There is no telling how long it took to train a thousand priests into skillful laborers. There is no telling how many trips the thousand stone wagons took, before enough stone was piled up at the site to begin tearing down... which tearing itself may not even have been considered as the beginning of "reconstruction".
The only thing we can date to 20/19 BC, according to Joesphus, is the speech in which Herod promised to build. The actual building must have begun quite some time later. One or two or even three years is not an unthinkable amount of time for the immense amount of preparations that had to take place before reconstruction could begin. The tearing down would probably have been very quick, so the rebuilding could have begun in 19, 18, or perhaps early 17 BC.

Josephus later says the Temple sanctuary was completed in "a year and six months" (15.421) but this by itself does not contradict anything else. We still do not know how much time passed after the speech before work on that new sanctuary was actually begun. However, we also know that shortly after this eighteen month period Herod visited Caesar in Rome (16.6). Since Caesar went north into Gaul in 16 BC, Herod can only have sailed to Italy in 18, 17 or early 16. The latest possible date for sanctuary construction to begin would therefore be winter of 18/17 BC. The earliest, we should think, not before 19. Most feasibly, it could have been anywhere in the 24 month window of 19 to 18 BC.

The point of all this - for New Testament chronologists - is that these references from Josephus are not enough, by themselves, to inform us precisely about what year the Jerusalemites were speaking in when they told Jesus, "This Temple was under construction (oikodomhthe) for forty-six years". Without inventing a time span for the prep-work, that "46 years" could have ended in 27, 28, 29 or even early 30 AD (counting strictly or inclusively).

Therefore, John 2:20 does provide us with a tight range of dates, but not one so restrictive that it should have daunted apologetic concerns in the past. Naturally, these considerations renders moot a vast chunk of everything that has been written by apologists about John 2:20 and Josephus' Antiquities 15, before now.

*Post title partly in homage and congratulations to Jona Lendering for his forthcoming publication (in Dutch) about Common Errors in scholarship.

A related "common error", the notion that Herod's Temple was continuously under construction for eight decades, will have to wait for some future post. And until someone publishes Jona's new book in English, go check out his blog posts. I recommend starting with this one about Pontius Pilate.

October 28, 2009

What's driving Evangelical Anti-Historicism?

Why would evangelical scholars defend the historical reliability of the Gospels and then attack our ability to analyze the Gospels historically? (That really is quite a trick when you think about it.) My suspicion is long since on record that it provides flexibility for making theological arguments, but I have continued to wonder what else is going on.

The Gospel's defenders aren't driven by historical curiosity, that much is certain. As I showed yesterday, the issue of "what really happened" vanishes when there's a faster solution. But is it only speed and efficiency? Is it only to make the most indomitable defense of inerrancy? Or is it my latest theory - because Revelation says not to "add to" or "take away from" the words of "this book"?

Evangelical defense of the scriptures certainly does take square aim against those who try to "take away from" the Gospels. I'm starting to think anti-chronological dogmas (that refuse to even play out the historical possibilities, much less consider whether Gospel events "really happened") may be, on some level, nothing more than a fear of "adding to" what the Gospels tell us.

If that's part of the thinking, I'll admit it's a valid concern. We don't want people taking what scripture says and building it up into complex reconstructions of something that scripture does not strictly say, and then treating their work with the same reverence as scripture itself. No, we really don't. Man, that sure would be awful. Oh, wait. Isn't that what Theology does? Pretty much. So if that's okay, why isn't History?

My theory: because speculative, interpretative arguments are easier to defend, to control, and to get mileage from when they apply to abstract philosophy. Theology also happens to provide the political bedrock and boundaries of institutional christendom. Naturally, the same political process, applied to History, results in less than 100% "provable" results. TPTB can't have that. TPTB must be able to say they Know Truth. But in their ostensible efforts to extinguish doubt, they imply that some parts of the Gospels could well be purely fictitious. Oh, but non-contradictory! Oh, well, swell.

I continue to come back to one thought - that political needs are driving anti-historicism among evangelicals.

I keep hoping I'm wrong, but I don't know what else it could be. It's anti-academic. It's anti-faith. It's intellectually dishonest. It may not even be conscious. The propaganda machine for "historical reliability" has done such an incredibly great job squelching hope in chronological reconstruction, most believers buy into this totally.

Historical reconstruction of the Gospels' events simply doesn't work for their agenda. But that doesn't mean it doesn't work at all.

October 27, 2009

Bock and Blomberg give me Historical headaches

Confession: it was Darrell Bock's Jesus according to scripture that inspired my Colonel Jessup rant, two months ago. I just figure I may as well say so now, before I go ahead and harpoon Craig Blomberg. "With love" of course.

Blomberg's 416 page scholarly work, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (1987, 2007), offers many strong reasons for upholding the... um... well, whatever he means by his title. The Gospels, he says, are historically reliable. Really. He says. So why, then, can he see no reliable way to reconstruct History based on those Gospels. His answer? Chronology. (p.169)
Apart from the beginnings and endings of both his life and public ministry, the Gospels simply do not provide enough information about the time and place of the incidents recorded to enable them to be fitted together with confidence into one and only one chronologically precise harmony.
First, note the phrasing of the goal: fitting together the incidents. All of them? Who says we need to harmonize every word? Second, note the qualifiers: one and only one; precise harmony. Um. That is not how we describe the process of historiography. When I flip through books like this, I get headaches. Like the last time, which his next line evokes.
Modern redaction criticism, moreover, can usually supply a plausible rationale for why a given Evangelist chose to change the order of his sources.
Suddenly, this champion of the faith is upholding a "plausible rationale" for an enormous skeptical assumption. Why? Brother Blomberg continues:
But if one applies the principle of assuming a chronological connection between two portions of the Synoptics only when the text explicitly presents one, then the apparent contradictions of sequence vanish.
I see. So you're saying it's better to select our assumptions based on what provides more succinct apologetics for inerrancy instead of considering alternatives that might, in fact, prove to be more historical?
[Luke] brings forward the account of the sermon in Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:16-30) as a keynote summary of Jesus' teaching and rejection in order to introduce his activity in Galilee. On the other hand, Luke places the account of the call of Peter, John and James later in his narrative and combines it with his distinctive story of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11; cf. Mark 1:16-20), perhaps to avoid giving the impression Mark's sequence might create: that these disciples' decision to join Jesus was more spontaneous and unmotivated than it actually was...
A footnote "suggests" and "speculates" alternative rationales. We're stacking up an awful lot of assumptions here, but it's all for a good cause. Remember, Blomberg is writing this book to defend the Gospel writers' historicity accuracy editorial redaction. Apparently.

Not one sentence considers the very real, very plausible chance that Luke's accounts here are different because the events were quite different. Not one paragraph attempts to consider this alternative assumption. What follows instead? More contradiction defeating, of course. TWO PAGES follow on whether Bartimaeus was east or west of Jericho when Jesus healed him. Wow. Once again, Blomberg reveals where his focus is. Of course, the chapter is called "Contradictions among the Synoptics". Chronology, to Blomberg, is a "contradiction".

About Bartimaeus, that problem is NOT a contradiction in narrative sequence. Luke's placement of the Jericho episode follows Mark's placement precisely. It's the details within their accounts of his time in Jericho that change slightly. Whatever might explain that apparent discrepancy, it is not a chronological problem. It does not belong as a follow up to the issues it so abruptly cut off, which - by the way - receive no other attention in the entire book.

The fact is, if we posit two Nazareth homecomings and two fishermen callings, the event sequence of the Gospels takes on incredible coherence. We don't need to harmonize every word of the Gospels, but the harmonized sequence of their events deserve to be held up to possible dates. To be technical, Blomberg, without dates, you aren't attacking chronology yet. You're attacking event sequence. What's worse, you're attacking the Gospels.

Not one word appears anywhere in the book asking questions about a historical Nazareth homecoming or a historical fishermen calling. Not one word "suggests" or "speculates" on whether Luke's "redactions" are pure fiction or whether Luke has incorporated facts which Matthew and Mark have left out. Luke says the Nazarenes tried to kill Jesus. Mark says the twelve went to Nazareth with him. Did the twelve step aside, or were they trampled? Blomberg doesn't care. For some reason, the historicity of the event (or events) is/are completely irrelevant. What, then, is "Historical Reliability"?

Evangelical scholars, you give me physical headaches. You strain out all semblance of error, very often in laudable ways. But in denying Luke's sequence and asserting no faith in chronology, you swallow historical skepticism. Apparently, you are just as much afraid that we might "add to" as "take away from" the Story of what actually happened. You've come up with ways to keep the Gospels Theologically Reliable, but not Historically.

October 26, 2009

Dirge:Mourn :: Flute:Dance

Rene Descartes' funeral procession got bogged down in the mud so the pallbearers had to carry the casket. Pulling less weight, the mortician's horses finally got unstuck, but the whole train had to stop when they realized their error. Purely by accident, they'd wound up putting Descartes in front of the hearse.

The longer I study, the more clarity I get about the fact that Ecclesiology is often the cart pulling the horse of New Testament history AND that House church people are not necessarily doing a whole lot better, as of yet. I say this because T.C. Robinson now has 23 comments on his post about reading Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity. Three of those comments are mine. In responding to a great question from T.C. I reminded myself what got me to this point.

From where I was sitting, I came to believe that our network of house churches had gotten about as far as we were ever going to get, at least, the way things were going. My questions about how to get farther led me back into history, and the work that I came to believe needed doing simply deserves to be done to the hilt. It also deserves to be done without bias. For those reasons, I moved out into the non-church wilderness. Sniff. These days, I get around. But that's a whole other story...

I'm pretty sure my friend Frank was disappointed when I said his hot red book is going to matter much more than his follow up books. Frank's heart is all about a glorious vision, which he is attempting to bring into wider practice. I long for the day when he won't be mostly imagining. However, at this present moment, Pagan Christianity has direct bearing for every Christian on Earth. Tragically, most believers will never get more than a glimpse of what church can become. I'm not sure that I got much more than glimpses in twelve years of trying. But I'm rooting for Frank. For the rest of us, I remain hopeful.

Personally, today, my eggs simply aren't all in one basket. If the Lord plays a flute, we should dance. If the Lord plays a dirge, we should mourn. And - at the risk of complete metaphor overload - the Lord may need for us to let the historical horse run a while on its own, before we can begin to see with more clarity what kinds of ecclesiological carts the New Testament Story might be better at pulling.

The Lord gives individuals visions of simple church, literally, every day. But to get less fuzzy-vague and more helpful-practical, we need to pull back the veil that's been over the scriptures. And that is going to take much more hard work and effort.

Thank you, T.C., for wrestling with these issues. Thank you, Tyndale Publishing House, for encouraging us all to do the same. And thank you, Frank Viola, for being a true paizon. I don't care what your brother said about you. ;-)

October 23, 2009

Star Wars on the Jerry-Tron!

Tonight we're going to Darth Vader's house.

You know, the new Death Star?

To see this:

Should be AWESOME!

UPDATE: Han & Leia on the world's biggest teevee.

Book Report

I read Dale Allison's slim tome, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, a couple of weeks ago and I've been meaning to blog about it. It is the first HJ book I've gone straight through from cover to cover. And I thur'ly enjoyed it.

The author carries on a thoughtful internal dialogue about faith and skepticism in attempting historiography on the Gospels. Theological bias was something to beware of, which I appreciate, and overall he seems motivated to trust the Gospels as far as he can do so reasonably. What believer is any different? I can still wish he'd go just a bit farther, but his innovation (near the end) to begin generalizing the kinds of things Jesus said and the kinds of things Jesus did was fascinating, and his argument that we should find greater reliability in these general patterns is absolutely valid in and of itself. This method is one of the things I believe we should do historically, with the Gospels. It was actually exciting to see such pages in print.

There were a few times through the book when I griped just a bit, and obviously some points on which I disagreed, but there were also a handful of times when I exclaimed out loud, "Yes!" or "Thank you!" All skeptics should think more like Dale Allison. Some of my readers who aren't used to critical views on the Gospels might find it a bit of a roller coaster at times. Sometimes you're not really sure quite which way he's headed, or wants to be. But again, the discussion on historiography and the Gospels was gripping, reasonable and fairly comprehensive. It made me think about my own project in ways I deeply appreciate. I'll probably read it again, more than once.

We still need more faith in Jesus historiography, but Allison has made a worthwhile and positive contribution, imho.

October 21, 2009


My life is hid in Jesus Christ, with whom our God is fully pleased.

October 20, 2009

FAVOR, not "grace"

Luke & Paul love to use the noun charis. Matthew & Mark never did. John's Gospel only uses the word four times, all in one paragraph. I'm pretty sure John had read Paul, and probably also Luke - AND I believe God inspired and spoke through each writer - BUT that doesn't mean we should come into John with a highly conceptualized synopsis of Paul's "thought" on charis. For starters, at least, we ought to come in linguistically fresh. For that matter, Paul didn't necessarily think like theologians think he thought, either...

In pagan, heathen Greek, the word charis means FAVOR. It's a good, simple ancient concept that basically means someone is pleased with somebody else. The person doling out FAVOR is usually an important somebody, or else their FAVOR wouldn't be worth discussing. By the way, "merit" or "unmerit" often has nothing to do with it. Xerxes was pleased with a dinner. Herod was pleased with a dance. That's not merit, that's just royal preference. Esther and Salome did one pleasing thing, one time. No points. No credit account. Just likability.

In the ancient world, you can earn favor by doing one good thing, or by doing many things OR just because somebody likes you. However, to earn ROYAL FAVOR you generally have to be "in" to begin with. That's why New Testament "Grace" is so amazing. It's not something we could never have earned. It's something we could never have gotten, at all, anyway. Period. Peons don't get the chance to present themselves before Kings, much less manage to prove themselves royally likable.

Re-read Luke and Paul with this understanding - substitute FAVOR for "grace". The difference is often astounding (not to mention inspiring). Instead of a conceptual principle God himself must adhere to, you get something that is inherently relational, something saturated by the personal pleasure of God. God's FAVOR is now upon believers, sometimes also upon our endeavors. Not that we pleased Him ourselves, of course. Christ did. On which point, now we can go back to John.

Wait. First let's do one other thing. For a functional understanding, let's define the Law, all the Hebrew laws, God's commandments, as things that God wanted people to do. If people fulfill God's commands, that would please Him, would it not? Therefore, practically speaking, we may define the Law as the Hebrew way of earning God's FAVOR. [or at least trying to]

Okay. Now, re-read John 1:14-17 with FAVOR instead of "grace". Instead of the oft quoted caricature of "grace" and "law" as polar opposites, we see John summing up all of History, from pre-existence through Israel's heritage until Christ. There may still be a subtext of conflict, if some of John's readers were still too tightly bound to the Law, but in John's actual piece, Moses and Jesus are presented as a progressive dynamic of God's contract with Man.

God gave Moses the Law. [Understood: Christ fulfilled the Law, which pleased God. Therefore, God's] FAVOR came through Jesus Christ.

Moses ==> Law ==> Christ ==> Charis

I don't know if this is a totally new reading of John, but I do think it blows away the theological insertion of "unmerited". If my reading between the lines here is correct, then God's favor was hardly unmerited. Jesus earned it.

October 13, 2009

Jesus in Nazareth

Since late July, 2009, I've blogged over 20,000 words about Jesus in Nazareth. Blogger shows 93 posts on this site at least mentioning Nazareth. Here are the highlights, in the order they were published. The top 15 links that might be most helpful are in large, bold type. Enjoy.

Dealing with Nazareth 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6.1, 7, ...

The Nazareth Synagogue 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Dealing with Nazareth 7.5, (summarizing the above) 8, 9

Reflections of Nazareth 1, 2

The Promise of Nazareth 1, 2

Related posts (since July 09)
* Eden... Nazareth... Thessalonica...
* Reconstructing Spiritual Events
* Reconstructing Nazareth
* Jesus, in Nazareth, in the Spirit
* The Most Challenging Miracles
* Johannine Historiography
* 12 Bodyguards at the Nazareth Synagogue
* Law and Love
* SupperMan? SuperPuppet? SuperFan.
* Jesus on the Mount
* The Joys of Jesus
* Historiography on the Gospels
* Psyche & Spirit, in Historiography
* Envisioning Nazareth from Matt.6

There will, undoubtedly, be much more to come...

October 12, 2009

Faith Based Historiography

Christian believers read the scriptures by faith. Historians reconstruct events based on probability. Apologists explain away difficulties. And critics simply challenge everything. These four approaches each have weaknesses matching their strengths. Things did not happen a certain way just because we like to think so. Strict probability cannot accept miraculous events. Faith is limited by the reliability of its object. But even the most confirmed skeptics have to trust someone, eventually.

One central aspect of attempting historical reconstruction, from scripture, is that even a faith based approach must proceed at some point according to probabilities and completely abandon the desire for absolute proof. (For one example, we may accept Luke’s testimony that there was a census, but unless we wish to call it a mythical census we must endeavor do reconstruct an historical census – which is to say, a most likely one. For another, people may have different ideas about Jesus' upbringing in Nazareth, but we should all acknowledge that he grew up as a part of a Synagogue and begin reconstruction from there.) Some details of our conclusions may be less than perfectly certain, but what scripture does tell us should help comfort us against what it does not.

If my goal was the conversion of skeptics, I might be tempted to overstate my case. Instead, I begin from the standpoint of faith. If my goal was defense of the scriptures, I might focus completely on the problem areas and miss the whole forest for those few crooked trees. Instead, I suspend judgment on what seems confusing and work at all times primarily from what seems most clear. My goal is to encourage believers by reconstructing one, most likely chronology and thus grant Bible readers a broader historical context of events in the New Testament era. If I succeed in that goal, with whatever qualification, the result could be worth an awful lot, don't you think?

My sincere hope is that a more objective historiography can still preference the scriptures without preferencing any religious philosophies or doctrinal interpretations of any particular traditions. Theologies supported by that which the scripture itself does not necessarily and clearly state are suspect anyway, in my humble opinion. Institutional doctrines have defended the faith adequately for centuries, but the faithful are less and less content to be socially or intellectually cloistered by parochial dogmas.

Therefore, it is my secondary hope that we focus on reconstructing events, instead of ideological truths, the bedrock of our faith may be held more securely by those who feel compelled to wander outside institutional walls into God's wilderness. Like parents caring for willfully wayward children, I would hope ecclesiastical authorities get behind such an idea more quickly than not. We have many brothers and sisters adrift, who need truly non-denominational support for their faith. We cannot keep them at home where they were raised, but we can equip them more ably for wherever the journey might lead them.

Getting back to the point: God can never be proven to those with a non-divine standard of proof, but since the Church is called to make disciples, we should attempt a faith based historiography that is profitable for instilling the people of God with a more contextual view of the New Testament. Whatever we do, the best witness to scripture’s reliability will always be the spirit of God, which speaks and has spoken through the church throughout the centuries. At least, so we believe.

Believers, keep trusting the scriptures. Historians, keep dealing with likelihoods. Apologists, keep on defending beliefs. And critics, please keep on challenging everyone. We all want to be as accurate as possible and we all need to admit that we’ll never know everything. All I am suggesting is that we may proceed from a simple, conditional challenge: Assuming that details found in the scriptures are both true and factual, so far as we can tell, how do those facts fit together, historically, with each other, and with their own contemporary events?

October 11, 2009

Envisioning Nazareth - from Matt.6

This inversion of Matthew's sixth chapter is more creative than careful, but it's an exploration. The Lord's teachings must reflect his own past life somehow. Therefore, here is one possible sketch of what Matthew's Testimony might actually imply.

In Nazareth, Jesus practiced righteousness but not so that anyone would notice. He cared much more about pleasing his Father in Heaven. Jesus gave to the poor, but he did it in secret. Jesus sometimes closed himself in his room when he prayed. He didn't use lots of words or repeat words meaninglessly. Jesus prayed for the sake of his Heavenly Father. God's name was sacred to Jesus. He prayed for God to take charge on Earth. Jesus prayed that people would be content with God's forgiveness and do what God wanted, forgiving each other. Jesus prayed for God to lead Him. Jesus followed his Father. Jesus focused on God and avoided all evil. Prayer helped a lot.

In Nazareth, Jesus forgave those who wronged him, because he knew forgiveness was pleasing to God. Jesus fasted sometimes, and kept himself looking healthy while fasting, so that no one around town would know he was fasting. The Heavenly Father saw Jesus' secret devotions and rewarded Him with Heavenly blessings. God's Life increased in Jesus to even greater abundance. God's Spirit grew inside Jesus to fill Him even more fully. So Jesus' reward for pleasing the Father was that the Father gave Jesus more of Himself.

Jesus stored up these treasures in God's Heavenly realm, and Jesus valued his treasure far more than anything he knew could be stolen or destroyed. Jesus' treasure was the light and glory of God in Heaven, and Jesus' heart was fixed fully on Him. Jesus looked at birds finding food on the ground, and he thought about God. Jesus saw flowers growing in a field, and he thought about God. That is how focused He was.

Jesus kept himself focused on God and so his whole body was filled with God's light. Therefore, he did not really worry about his life or his health, about having enough for his family to eat and drink. He worked hard every day as a carpenter, to earn these things, but he did not worry about the results. Jesus knew everything in his life was centered and dependent upon his heavenly Father. So when Jesus helped Joseph earn the family's daily bread, he thanked God for every ounce of their provisions.

Jesus did everything he did from a desire to do what God wanted and what God thought was right. It was so clear to him that when he turned around and looked at certain people in Nazareth, Jesus could tell they were not seeking God.

In Nazareth, Jesus saw people doing good works in a showy way, in the streets and the Synagogue, just to get the approval of people in town. He saw hypocrites stand up and pray in the Nazareth Synagogue and pray out loud in words they wanted everyone to hear. He saw people refuse to forgive one another, and they carried those grudges for years. Sometimes Jesus saw people fasting, and everyone could tell they were fasting because they tried hard to look hungry and weak. Jesus saw people approve of those people. He saw them getting their social rewards. But he did not see them trying to please God.

In Nazareth, Jesus saw people storing up earthly treasures like expensive clothes and decorative metals. But he knew moths would eat the clothes and the metals would tarnish and decay. Jesus also could see that rich people got robbed more often. Jesus thought about these people and concluded their eyes were bad. Since they did not look at God's light, their body was full of darkness. They worried all the time about food and wine, health and clothing. They spent all their energy sowing and reaping to feed themselves, and they did not honor God as the true provider of all the food they had gathered. They wore out their clothes and worried about replacing them. They did not even have enough faith to believe God would provide them with new clothes when their old ones wore out.

Jesus must have seen people in his hometown who feared God, but he also saw many who failed to live life with a mind to please Him in these areas. Still, somehow, Jesus kept his opinions a secret, along with his devotion to God.

The Lord waited for decades to share what these observations with anyone else. Until then, Jesus continued growing in favor with the people of Nazareth despite his great difference from them. Most amazing of all, at the very same time he was being gracious to them, Jesus was also growing in favor with God.

October 10, 2009

Various uses of the word "Theological"

I have long been confused and frustrated by people who use the word “theological” and I think I’m finally beginning to understand the main reason why. As far as I can tell, it’s quite simply being used in too many ways, in various circles.

In academic writing and conversation, “theological” can be genuinely God oriented, or skeptically dismissive, or deliberately ('admirably') vague, or politically expedient. At various places and times, it can either denote spiritual facticity or creative philosophies, or it can be merely an academic categorization intended to alter the rules of engagement.

Depending on who is writing or speaking, the word “theological” may subtly suggest an academic’s personal cry for holy devotion, or it may thinly veil someone else’s opinions of superstitiously invented beliefs. Skeptics and believers alike can use this word as a weapon or as a dividing wall – which means I must be really stupid to pick such a battle with both sides at once, but I feel that I must.

I simply do not understand how any term that is so flexible in meaning can be employed with enough precision to be of any consistent and lasting use, academically. Is this clear, effective, positive communication? Does this really provide the kind of specificity academic pursuits are supposed to require? In other words, am I really the only nimrod who struggles with this?!? I suspect not. But if no one else speaks up, I'll continue to wonder...

One explanation may be that Biblical Studies is still moving slowly away from an age in which political needs outstripped academic desires. The overall custom does seem to do a very good job of keeping certain things in specific places. Aaaaand that'll be my cue to shut up now. ;-)

For now...

October 9, 2009

Confession of the Month

This won't shock a lot of people, but I feel the need to admit it today, on the heels of my super-spiritual posts. Here it comes. *drum roll, snare* I am not a very spiritual christian. I might even be less in touch with God than a lot of the conceptual theoreticians I've been critiquing. And I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry that I'm not a better example. But pretense is far more damaging than failure.

What I am, at the very least, is a guy who's interested in the Story of Jesus. I believe it happens to be a true story, but it's become somewhat fictionalized. I believe it happens to be a spiritual story, but it's become largely intellectualized. I also believe there happens to be a lot of failure in this story, but the failures [especially after the cross] often tend to get swept under the rug. We ourselves fake things too, especially for the kids. But we shouldn't. Aside from Jesus, every christian believer mentioned in the New Testament was a failure in some way, shape or form.

I posted my series on The Human Spirit because I believe it describes reality, or actuality. I can't prove it's accurate, objectively. For now, I have to acknoweldge it as the bounds of theology - and hopefully, the absolute best kind of theology - even though I hope to someday call it historiographic spirituality, as evidenced by the spiritual facts and events reported by the Gospel eyewitnesses. (See yesterday's post.)

Getting to that point, reasonably, academically, and non-theologically, is probably going to take years more work. Sometimes I'm worry that it shouldn't be done. We should not overly dissect or make 'perfect' explanations for the workings of the Spirit of God. But plenty of people attempt to explain the resurrection - and we know those proofs are never 'perfect', because historical arguments always depend on what we accept as "evidence" and how we assess it. Therfore, I hope & pray we might also do well to try and explain spirituality by accepting spiritual data in the Gospels as historical testimony.

Please notice also that I say "explain". I do not say "defend". This is not for evangelism. This is for the church. I offer myself a living example of [our] profound spiritual lack - of how much we need to view The Story of Jesus in a way that is factual and spiritual, but not theoretically so.

Until then, and after then, thank the Lord for his mercy.

October 8, 2009

Psyche & Spirit, in Historiography

Did Jesus walk on water? Twelve guys saw him do it, according to three reliable accounts. If we accept it, it's history. Those who reject it can write their own histories. No problem. Fair's fair. It really is just as simple as that. Physical miracles are easy to deal with.

But what about SPIRIT? Even trusting the Gospels, how do we deal with their attestations of spiritual phenomena, historically? I suggest that depends upon what spirit is. If scriptural language about spirituality is taken metaphorically, theoretically, symbolically or (sometimes) "theologically", then we have an impassable difficulty. History deals with events, occurrences, behavior, objective reality - anything which the evidence demonstrates did or at least might have actually happened. So for those whose interpretation of SPIRIT is non-actual, nothing spiritual can be considered historical.

Others will merely object that history must deal with physical occurrences only, but this is false because psychological considerations have always been part of historical work. Did the Romans intend to take Macedonia as early as the late 3rd Century BC? At what point did that Republican Senate embrace its role as the new hegemon in the world? Psychological questions like these are what actually drives much of historical inquiry, and whenever psychological conclusions are reached, however qualified they may be, they hold absolute sway over our view of the physical events.

Historians must begin with physical evidence and eyewitness testimony, but not even the staunchest historical-critical scholar restricts themselves to purely physical considerations. Events demand as much explanation as possible, and so the psyches of historical figures must be probed (to whatever degree might be possible in any particular case). Psychological considerations should be formed primarily on the basis of behavioral analysis, based on written accounts, but historians must also consider as evidence the personal opinions and testimony found in those records - just like Psychologists do.

Psychological data is valid because it is actual. The psychic material inside human beings is not physical, but it is very real. The depression Augustus Caesar fell into so deeply in 9 AD was caused by several years worth of events and it strengthened his personal need to rely more on Tiberius. Barring that, if the Emperor's last grandson Agrippa had not become so distemperate, history might have gone very differently. Such psychological factors are not always easy to distinguish precisely, but they are significant and contributing factors in history. To the point, Caesar's depression and Agrippa's distemperance were significant events in their own right.

For related considerations, see my post of a week ago: Psychology & Pneumatology but my main point in all this is very simple. If historians can validly deal with psyche there may also be some valid way to deal with spirit.

Specifically, therefore, here is what I am proposing. IF we consider the spiritual phenomena attested by the Gospel writers to have been an actual part of their objective reality, AND IF we can assess that reality through the record of their testimony, AND IF we can determine from their experiences, more precisely, what SPIRIT is, THEN spiritual events can absolutely be included within the bounds of historical reconstruction.

To put that another way: if the SPIRITUAL elements found in scripture were [and are] actual, instead of theoretical, then any faith-based historiography of the scriptures should consider attestations of spiritual phenomena as historical events.

This also happens to show, once again, that there is no cause for dividing the content of the scriptures between "theological" and "historical" categories... that is, unless we believe some "theological" things were not actually actual.

October 7, 2009

The Human Spirit - 7b

How do we find God, in spirit? The simple answer is something all seasoned Christ-followers eventually learn, with or without knowing these terms. In most ways, it truly does take years of struggle. It takes self-denial, but not self-focused self-denial. It takes reaching for God, but letting go of all our theories about aspects of the Godly life, aside from God Himself. It takes the loss of everything in one's "walk" that is not God Himself. It takes the loss of all but God Himself.

And here's another way to say all that: it takes the turning of your soul in subjection to your spirit. Your soul is after many things, but your spirit only does one thing. Your spirit engages directly with God. But yes, growing into this spiritual Life takes many years. Witness Jesus for three decades in Nazareth. What was he doing there? Growing. Up into God. As must we.

Hopefully, I'm not giving you a new truth, but simply the proper terms for a familiar experience. God is spirit, so if you have ever truly worshiped Him, then you did so in your spirit. You may have begun with a thought, with a desire, with an emotion, or even by taking some physical action, but if you ever broke through into truly spiritual worship, you were in your spirit. What you had been told you were supposed to call these things does not matter. It is what we are supposed to be doing that matters.

God wants dominion over our souls, but he does not possess us like the fallen spirits possess unregenerate persons. For his own divine reasons, God desires human cooperation. Therefore, our spirit must engage with His Spirit in order to rule over our very self-oriented souls. Hopefully, perhaps gradually, our souls will become more and more transformed by the natural direction of our spirits, into being God-oriented, instead of self-oriented. In one manner of speaking, THAT is the goal of the christian life, and THAT is the function of our human spirit.

I do find it personally helpful to put things in proper terms, in this way. Even if you're twice as seasoned as me in the spiritual life, I hope these terms are helpful to you as well. This may or may not be a "game changing" understanding for you in your christian life, but it was very helpful for me. And I am, hopefully, gradually, becoming more spiritual and less soulish. Praise the Lord.

According to scripture, dear christian, you have a spirit. It is something very different from your soul. From this point on, I hope you enjoy observing that distinction in scripture. Far more importantly, I hope you enjoy exploring the difference in life.

I have met so many christians who try to think, feel and desire their way towards intimacy with God. That can be a fine start, but it should not be the end. Besides, God is already within you. Get past your soul and find your innermost spirit. Your spirit is where He is, because SPIRIT is what he is.

Enjoy being spiritual, you christians out there. You holy, new creatures.

(PS: Unbelievers, if you want in, just ask!)

The Human Spirit - 7a

[Part 7 got too long. I had to split it up. 7b will post at Noon today.]

How do we see, hear or touch something that is not physically tangible? How can we feel a God who is SPIRIT? Do we think our way to Him? Is it merely willpower, desire or passion that we need? Are we supposed to be cautiously guessing what is and is not "revelation"? Or is there another way? Is it possible that KNOWING HIM could be much more simple than all of that?

The Western Mind is very conceptual. Our skilled workers eventually learn their own trades completely, inside and out, but when we approach something new, we typically begin with theory. (This is especially true for we who are college eggheads & city folks.) My entire complaint about the traditional theologies on soul vs. spirit is that such theories have typically failed to move us from the lecture to the lab. (Sometimes I suspect institutional authorities designed it that way on purpose, to keep experiential spirituality at bay; but that is a whole separate issue.)

Now, a word of caution, for some of you - PLEASE do not get involved with something just because it feels 'experiential'. My loyalty will always stand with a lower form of christianity over any teachings that fail to exalt Jesus Christ! So do not be deceived. My appreciation for Zen Buddhists (post #6) is merely that, unlike traditional western thinking, their goal is to focus past their own selves to perceive and discover that which is. But according to the New Testament, nothingness is precisely what they have, and all that unbelievers have, within.

But we have the Lord. It is therefore both ironic and tragic that Christians, who believe that Jesus Christ actually lives within our persons, have so typically worked from superstition and blind faith, instead of acclimating to spiritual discovery of something that is actual. It didn't help when faith became "belief", either. Faith <pistis> is confidence, which means staying strong in what you already know, despite all else. I do not always feel Him. But I remember and I KNOW that I have felt Him. In between those experiences, I keep the faith. And THAT is "faith".

In all actuality, two things feed confidence: knowledge and experience. So, having truly been born from the spirit, christian believers need to focus past our own very soulish selves and find God in our spirits. He is the ultimate that which is. And He is SPIRIT. So while I'm not recommending chanting, robes or monastic excursion, it is probably true that the disciplines of Brother Lawrence and mystics like him are exercises we need to adapt more effectively into our own individual (and corporate!) devotional lives.

So - back to this final question - how do we find Him, in spirit? How do we touch Him, in spirit? With all my heart, dear believers, I believe you probably already know. At least, I bet you know in part, even if you know not fully. And even if you haven't been speaking about it with much actuality or precision.

To be concluded (for real this time) at noon, today...

October 6, 2009

The Human Spirit - 6

Augustine said our hearts are restless til they rest in Him. More pointedly, it has been said that every soul is born with a God-shaped hole that can only be filled up with God. This compares interestingly, if accidently, with the Buddhist teaching that, by focusing beyond one's self, one can touch nothingness. For a non-believer, that really should be precisely correct.

But praise be to God, because there is MORE. When one is born from above - born of God, born of spirit - one becomes a spiritual creature. It is as if the human spirit finally ignites or enlivens within the human soul. (If it was there before, it was lifeless and non-functional.) From that moment on, we have something at our center instead of nothing. We have a new form with new faculties that can touch, feel, see and hear the very Spirit of God. In short, we really do become new creatures.

So why doesn't this work very well, for most of us? Because a newborn is a newborn.

The soul of a christian can be slowly transformed, but the spirit of a believer is (to us) brand new on the day of conversion. The soul of a christian can be nothing but a hindrance, at times, but the spirit of a believer is that part which can touch and be one with God's spirit. The soul of a christian can still function selfishly, apart from God. The soul of a christian is intended to be in subject to the spirit of a christian, because the spirit of a believer is that part which can directly sense and "move" as one with the Spirit of God.

And yet most believers, having found God in the spirit, immediately begin to pursue Him in soulishness. No wonder our spirits don't grow. No wonder, the first time I met one of those old wrinkled saints who had truly discovered the mystery, it seemed so mysterious. Years of life will eventually make you "Let go and let God" or else let go of God. But that mature grace seems so bizzare to someone whose head is being filled with "Here's how to be a christian". For good reason. Even when the lessons are spiritual, the new believer is used to being soulish. Even when the teachers are not completely soulish, the newbie gravitates toward what they already know - intellect, emotion, and/or volition. (Some denominations personalities tend to emphasize one or two of the three.)

He really has put a new something within his people, and that is why theological equalising of "soul" and "spirit" is such a travesty. Our spirits are vastly different things from our souls. Again, mature christians may get past this eventually, in practice, but the mish-mosh of theories and terms are significant factors that can greatly complicate the process. Sometimes I wonder if this truth is better off being hidden, but for those who are really on the path towards God, it should only be helpful to communicate more effectively about what we really are, and about what we're really trying to do (and, not do).

Even when we differ in theory, we find the same struggle with Life, as believers. No matter what terms we use, the challenges of true christian spirituality will never change.

To be concluded...

October 5, 2009

The Human Spirit - 5

My body operates within the physical world with physical mobility and five physical senses. My soul operates within its own psychic domain, both sensing and affecting its self through its mind, will and emotions. My soul also directs my body. What is true about my spirit?

I'm going to speak very personally for a moment. Somewhere between age 7 and 17, I became born from above. I can't be more specific, partly because I grew up Episcopalian. (No problem - at least it did happen, right?) Another reason I can't tell you precisely when my human spirit began to function is because no one explained it to me at the time. I came to this understanding initially through books. Since then I have often (okay, sometimes) felt, recognized and employed my newborn, spiritual faculties - although I must confess I haven't always kept in top spiritual shape as well as I should have. (What has helped the most is when I was able to find good 'workout partners'.) Like a body, a healthy, active and functional spirit requires good, regular exercise.

So what is this exercise? Touching God. Feeling God. Seeing God. Hearing God. (Sometimes, perhaps even smelling God and tasting God. Seriously.) But most fundamentally - Finding God. Actively, directly, spiritually experiencing God. (Please do not take "spiritually experiencing" to be a redundancy. It is not. For example, Job's terrifying experience of God was immanently physical. So was Peter's at the Transfiguration, because sound waves are physical.)

Of course I believe all devout christians KNOW the Lord although some understand this process in different terms. On the other hand, some who touched him once have been pretending ever since. And many of those who get to the point of having simple direct interactions with God have to get there despite many institutional teachings that spiritual pursuit should be primarily psychic.

Here lies the chief problem with christendom. The problem is not religiousness. It is soulishness.

For too many believers, approaching God (which includes prayer) is merely thinking or wanting or feeling our way to the Lord. Yes, prayer does begin from our souls and that is just fine. But intellect, volition and emotion are faculties of the soul. Trusting God to read our thoughts is one way communion (unless we imagine He speaks in our minds, which is rightfully terrifying and should most properly be discouraged). This method leaves trusting and following God to be, essentially, a process of guesswork and superstition. Even more significantly, by keeping our "spiritual life" in the psychic realm, we remain in control of the process. Equating spirit with soul leaves us trying to locate, hear and follow God exclusively via our self.

No wonder typical christianity doesn't "work". Most christians are using the wrong tool for the job! On the other hand, many of us do manage to be genuintely spiritual some of the time, even though some of the time it happens partly by accident!

At a moment of true conversion, all christian believers encounter the Divine One directly. (Granted, sometimes, the experience is very faint, but it is universal.) Sadly, however, many christians are mis-trained to "mature" from that spiritual experience to prefer brainy, bootstrappy or goosebumpy methods for drawing near to God. True intimacy fades quickly when the soul stays in charge, but a solution is frequently found by those who learn to truly get past their self and actually embrace God.

Whether such fortunate and faithful souls realize it or not, THAT (and perhaps only that) was their spiritual spirit, properly performing its God intended function.

To be continued...

October 4, 2009

The Human Spirit - 4

According to Paul, the mind of a christian can psychically fixate on the spirit OR on the flesh. In other words, at least one part of the human soul has the ability to focus an awareness of both (or perhaps, either) the physical and spiritual realms. Also according to Paul, apparently, the mind of a spiritual person has the ability to defend its own psychic domain against the suggestive input of evil spirits. (For two unique examples, compare Eve & Jesus). However, I know of no account whereby human bodies or souls have ever been able to affect the physical or spiritual realms directly (at least, not apart from special, divine circumstances; see * below.)

Can spirit affect spirit? Presumably, yes. The scriptures allude to fighting between angels and also speak of God [who, remember, is Spirit] having conversations with Satan. However literally we are supposed to take such accounts, the relevant aspects of what they represent are clear enough. Spirits can interact with one another. So then, to questions of tangibility: What is a human spirit? What can it sense, "touch" or affect? What else can it do, if anything? In what realm(s) does it operate? Most of all, what has God intended as its proper function, in our lives?

Let's assume our spirit is like other spirits in at least the following ways: spirits are invisible and intangible, but tangible to other spirits. Or perhaps more accurately, for a christian, tangible to the Spirit of God. (*** Those poor 'unregenerate' souls in the Gospels who were demon-possessed, in my understanding, had not yet been born from above. But after the Lord's resurrection, a christian's warfare against dark spiritual powers seems to be chiefly mental, and defensively so, suggesting that the weapons of the enemy against a spiritual human being have been reduced to indirect mental suggestions, volitional temptations and emotional disturbances. In other words, these evil spirits continue attacking our souls.

In this conclusion, I have to stop short of suggesting that no demon can possess a 'born-again' christian, partly because that would be tantamount to labeling such self-reported victims as false believers or liars, and partly because for all I really know we cannot totally rule it out. Suspending judgment for these reasons, I might suppose a demon could possess a christian whose human spirit was so functionally anemic as to be a non-factor in the event. That's still insulting, but it is neither condemning nor exclusive. Nor is it over-reaching.
***) All of that small print was very important, but we have now said well more than enough about darkness.

This understanding also suggests that Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham and David did not have spiritual relationships with God, but developed extremely intimate yet purely soulish relationships with Him. That, by the way, is not an insult. That is a compliment. We have very few such people on record, before Jesus, who devoted much of themself to the Divine One. [So how did they "hear" Him? Perhaps God spoke audible whispers on a subliminal level, generating tiny sonic vibrations deep in the inner ear, much smaller than those at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration.(?) Or perhaps God is psychically telepathic, whenever He wants to be.(?) Whichever the case, the laws of physics leave us with the same basic options for angellic visitations to Abraham and Daniel. Divine dreams, of course, classify as telepathy - as odd as that is to say!]

I'm not really worried about explaining the patriarchs or their contemporaries. Somebody could posit that God indwelt David or Abraham, but I sure don't see it. Further, I think such positing tragically redefines spiritual co-habitation with God as a metaphor for soulish, unidirectional devotion (which necessarily becomes superstitious in receptive spirituality, unless prophets or miracles come into play very often). Such theoretical, homogenizing whitewash also sticks christianity into those Old Testament methods of interacting with God. That much of christendom honestly thinks this is supposed to be the way of things is incomprehensively tragic.

No matter how we understand the interaction of Old Testament devotees with the Divine One, the New Testament is very clear that the new creation, this new indwelling intimacy - which is to say, this spiritual intimacy - is something entirely new. According to the New Testament, this human spirit is exclusively given to christian believers, and by all accounts, this spirit seems to be given for one purpose - so that we may interact with God on his terms, spiritually.

To be continued...

*In the Gospels, casting out demons seems to be a matter of outward, spiritual power. Jesus shared such power at times with his disciples. OT examples differ widely: Balaam's donkey was briefly given spiritual sight by God and Elisha once demonstrated the power to make iron become buoyant. However, such earmarked grants of power by divine intervention should not be taken as normative. Spiritual power seems to come and go, but the current inquiry is about inward, spiritual being.

October 3, 2009

The Human Spirit - 3

Spirits are intangible. Spirits may or may not be able to directly affect physical objects, but our physical bodies do not seem capable of affecting spiritual entities. Spirits have been known to engage themselves within human souls, and shown the power to affect and direct those souls (like human souls direct human bodies). But in all of these considerations of SPIRIT - so far - we have been talking about evil spirits and the Spirit of God. What about the "human spirit"?

Can a human spirit direct a human soul? If so, how is that different from the central self portion of the soul governing its own psychic and physical faculties? By itself, this notion of a human spirit as a self-governing agency would seem to leave us with no practical, functional or essential difference between one's human spirit and one's inner self. In effect, this notion makes "spirit" a semantic euphamism for self - and in all practical ways, the same thing as soul.

Of course, this is where many well respected theologians have stopped. (And some who go farther may not have not gone far enough.) Without a shred of diplomacy, I must say I believe such theological conclusions are deeply, profoundly and even horribly wrong. Any understanding of "spirit" as the functional equivalent of "soul" puts our human psyche in control of the "spiritual" life. But that spiritual life is supposed to be chiefly engaged with God's Spirit.

How can the faculties of a soul (which are, again, intellect, volition & emotion) which were already present in our pre-christian selves suddenly take on the ability to locate, sense, respond to and interact with God, who is spirit? How can the phrase "born of the spirit" make any literal sense if the spirit and soul are the same? What is it, precisely, that gets born within us, which had not been alive within us before that moment? It must be our human spirit.

Plato and Aristotle were actually right. The two-fold division of body and soul is the whole nature of fallen humanity. But if anyone comes into Christ, they become a new creature. Whether they realize this distinctly or not, their body and soul gain a spirit.

To be continued...

October 2, 2009

The Human Spirit - 2

The Gospels give us two clear, vivid examples of living spirits - demons and God. Both the Father and the Holy Spirit are described as being spirit. Therefore, if human beings are able to have a living spirit, it must in some ways be something like the spirit of God and something like these other spirits. But since our human spirits are also human, they must in some ways be something like our human souls and bodies. Or so I would figure.

Angels are obviously different from the Godhead, but in what ways are they similar, as spirits? First, they are non-visible and non-material (at least to all human comprehension and perception). Second, according to the Gospels, they seem able to inhabit human beings. To be more specific, these spirits seem to inhabit both the human body and the human soul. That is, since one's inner self is what has control over one's human body, and evil spirits can usurp that control, according to the Gospels, the habitation of a spirit within a human must be in the soul, as well as the body. The Old Testament tells us God also has the ability to control human hearts and direct their behavior, although incidents of Him actually doing this seem to be somewhat rare.

In both cases, note the direct interaction between spirits and souls. In post #1, we observed that bodies can touch bodies directly but a soul can only touch another soul indirectly, through physical interaction of two persons' bodies. Now we observe that a spirits tend to affect souls directly and the physical world indirectly, by engaging within human souls. Or in other words, like human souls direct human bodies, spirits have the ability to direct human souls.

Let's back up again. The five physical senses are like a one-way conduit between the physical world and one's psyche, but the soul responds physically only through its body. Likewise, there seems to be some kind of a one-way conduit from the spiritual realm into the psychic self, but by themselves, human souls do not seem capable of directing evil spirits or directing the Spirit of God.

The most natural questions to ask next are these: Does the human spirit have ways of sensing the spiritual realm? And are there ways to respond spiritually, using our spirits?

By the way, it would be nonsense to ask if we can "move" spiritually because there seem to be no physical dimensions in the (non-material) spiritual realm. I have no idea how spirits "locate" our souls in this physical world. My personal interest is merely learning to "locate" God, spiritually. We'll come back to that later.

The other key questions to consider, before we move on, are as follows. Can my human soul direct my human spirit, like my soul directs my body? OR, is my human spirit supposed to direct my human soul, like other spirits have shown they can do? OR, somehow, can it be both?

In all five underlined questions, we are still trying to determine if the human spirit is actually such a distinct thing, as opposed to the human soul. But IF that is the case, we need to consider (and perhaps even discover) what spirit is like, what spirit is for, and what spirit can do.

To be continued...

October 1, 2009

The Human Spirit - 1

I believe christian persons have a three part nature - body, soul and spirit. IF that is true, then what is this individual, "human spirit"? It can't be just a concept. It can't be just a metaphor. If it is something, then what kind of thing is it?

First, let's back up. What kind of a thing is my body? My body is a physical thing. What does it do? My physical body has five senses by which I detect the physical world. Also, my body has a functional ability to move around and interact with things in the physical world. My body can interact directly with other bodies and affect them directly. My body is made for operating within the physical world.

Now, what is my soul? Is my soul like my body? My soul is a psychic thing. My soul has three psychically sensual faculties (intellect, volition, emotion) by which I detect my own inner self. By these same three faculties, my soul has a psychic ability to explore itself and interact with itself. My soul does not touch the physical world. My soul can indirectly affect another human soul, but only through the faculties of our two physical bodies. In my personal experience, two souls do not touch one another psychically. (For the sake of argument, I will further assume that is always the case.)

These are fascinating comparisons. The soul is obviously unlike the body and yet similar in certain aspects of what they are and what they do. Body and soul can each move around, detect things and interact within their own proper realm. (My intellect, volition and emotions directly affect one another and my self, often powerfully and dramatically.) But whereas the physical world is much larger than my body, the psychic world of my soul is no larger than my self. On the other hand, my soul can ingest, absorb and retain a vast amount of psychic content generated by other souls, when transferred via physical communication.

So much for introductions. To the point - what is my spirit? If I really do have one, and if it is some thing other than my body and soul, then what is it? What does it do? What does it affect? And how limited is its reach, within its proper realm?

To be continued...
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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton