December 30, 2010

Q: Are the NT Gospel Narratives Chronological?

A: Sometimes. (Duh!)  Look, this is really simple.

If the story proceeds from birth to life to death to resurrection, then the basic structure is chronological. If John the Baptist baptizes Jesus before getting arrested, and his disciples relay John's question before he's beheaded, then the basic structure is chronological.  If the narrative introduces the disciples before Jesus calls them, and they're called some paragraphs before being named as apostles, which comes before being sent out once or twice, then the Gospel writer absolutely has an eye on chronological sequence, to a significant degree.

The question is not whether, but *how much*.  How much of each Gospel narrative stands in chronological order?  That's where current research should be focused.  And so, therefore, one should not say things like, "[Such and such] suggests that [Gospel]'s orientation wasn't primarily chronological." That's nothing but a convenience for those who would rather dismiss seeming contradictions than deal with them head on.

Regardless, of course, the messy historical trouble hasn't gone anywhere.  For example...

"Did Jesus have one or two Nazareth homecomings?" Hmmm. Well, he traversed Galilee for the better part of some (1, 2, or 3) years. For all we know, he could have gone back several times, which brings a double-edged sword to the debate.  On the one hand, it's baseless to assume he went only once.  However, for those of us who take Luke 4 and Mt.13/Mk.6 to represent separate events, this means we cannot refer to Mt/Mk's episode as "the second homecoming"... at least not without adding "that we know of".

Likewise, we cannot assume the Synoptic writers knew only that which they report. There could be any number of reasons why Mark chose to include only one trip to Jerusalem, and neither Mark nor John was obligated to include every detail of each time Jesus went there. But - and this is a very big BUT - if Jesus only cleared the Temple once, then John OR Mark's placement is inaccurate.  I don't think that's likely, but IF it's true, then we ought to simply accept it, perhaps even without trying to justify the 'mistake'.

However... none of that is my point.  This is:

The general structure of each Gospel IS chronologically oriented, with respect to a significant extent of its content. Comparing episodes within Matthew, Mark and Luke shows that some passages and events are jumbled slightly in sequence, but there's nothing that steps far out of place within the overall chain of causally related events. And yet, here is the rub.

When comparing John with the Synoptics there does arise one glaring challenge to chronologicity - namely, the Temple cleansing(s) - which, if it happened but once, could have been a very different event at the open or close of the Lord's public phase, according to some.  More importantly, there is no other event which two Gospels locate so differently within the general event sequence of Jesus' life.  If this is a chronological oversight, dispute or correction on some writer's part, it is one, two or three years in error, an unprecedented leap when compared with all other chronal discrepancies in the Gospels.

And so, my entire point in this post is just to say this.  That the question of "one or two" Temple cleansings cannot be easily dismissed by saying "Well [Mark/John] isn't necessarily chronological."

Generally speaking, yes it is.

PS: Accepting two cleansings remains the simplest solution, and I find no reason to exclude John 2:15-16, especially if Mark 2:10 is almost as early. Frankly, I suspect conservatives flee from this position largely for strategic/political reasons. But again, none of that is the point of my post. If you want to dismiss it, do better than vague assertions that Gospels "aren't chronological".

December 26, 2010

Putting "Mass" back in X-mas

Well, okay.  The Episcopalian Eucharist Rites, anyway.  But nobody's perfect.
This is where I grew up. It's where I acolyted for seven years. It's where my brother got married. It's where my dad's mom got her Catholic husband to baptize their children. And we're home for the weekend, obviously. So we're attending the service.

You should already know how I feel about pews, sermons, etc. And I do. Letting a few people do all the primary functioning while the body assembles (and follows along) is like putting the Body of Christ in an Iron Lung for an hour a week. If all the breathing YOU did was assisted breathing, how strongs would YOUR lungs be? Anyway.

There is, on the other hand, a great deal to be said about "High Liturgy" which some of my "organic church"ey friends impoverish themselves to ignore. First of all, a planned meeting has the advantage of being on target, spiritually. That is, we may rotely recite words others have written, but they're very good words. That is often NOT true for your average living room "church".

In the Rites of the Eucharist, we incorporate various elements of spiritual life (vibrant or not) into our corporate conversation with God. And make no mistake, this is another advantage: the High Liturgy *does* facilitate an actual CORPORATE conversation with God. The fact that its PERFORMANCE is often anemic and fake (within some hearts more than others, natch) does NOT change the nature of what a High Liturgy *IS*.

I've got to run get in the shower, so let me now cut this short.

Ideally, a new "organic" church plant should be trained up, before being released. Ideally, the planters should COACH the church members... who might need years to get off the old iron lung regimen... and who usually have no idea how to function in corporate gathering, let alone how to moderate corporate goings on during that gathering.

The Liturgy - or something much like it, or best of all, SEVERAL somethings just like it - could be used with much profit, methinks, in preparing an untrained church body to walk in the ways they must go.

Think about growing tomatoes. When the plants are young and weak, a gardener ties them to stands, supporting their growth. When the plants become older and stronger, the gardener takes off the stands. They can stand on their own.

POINT: God can grow wild tomatoes from seeds dropped in random soil, anywhere. But God AND a gardener can train up much stronger tomatoes.

This is what posts look like when I've no time to edit. ;-)

Go in peace, to love and serve God.

Preferably, at some point, reaching critical Mass.

December 22, 2010

Jesus best NBA player ever

According to Ron Artest, of the LA Lakers.  Because the refs never threw him out of a game.
All players (get ejected). That happens a lot of times. You see guys get ejected. Rip Hamilton got ejected (recently) in Detroit. Bob Cousy got ejected ... The only person who never got ejected was Jesus.''

Artest was asked if he had checked Jesus' box scores.

"No ejections,'' Artest said. "He was 10 for 10s, a lot of 20 for 20s (in shooting). Perfect from the free-throw line. Infinity rebounding stats.''
Read the hysterical rest over at Ball Don't Lie.

December 21, 2010

He's always Thirty-something

Except when he's a baby.  "Born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate."  That's all we really need to know about Jesus, apparently.  But then, how can we grow to be like him, when our view of him doesn't include more than one sentence about the time he spent growing?

How do WE get from cradle to grave when all HIS struggles seem to come right near that last part?  How should the vast bulk of our life - the boring parts in the middle - reflect his?

It's a question that could have great ramifications.  We don't think about Jesus developmentally, and we struggle to see the Christian Life developmentally.  We've no idea why Jesus needed those thirty years between the Manger and the Cross, and we're confused about what Christians ought to be doing "until Heaven".  Hmm.  These things might be related...

There has not been a lack of desire to look at Christ's Life more dynamically, on the part of the laypeople.  But there has been a great need for Institutional Christendom to present things in a way that promotes monolithic stability.  So it's not the Creed's fault.  Nor are the Gospel writers to blame.  It's our fault.  We've allowed his humanity to recede.

What are some other reasons why Christian authorities (historically) have preferred that we not delve into those three decades in Nazareth?  I've some ideas on that which I may share very soon.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from other bloggers and commenters.

What is (or has been) YOUR OWN view of the time between Christ's birth and baptism?

December 14, 2010

What is Leadership?

Like other corporate/churchey buzzwords, "leadership" can be used and interpreted in various ways.  But what IS it?  Are there right and wrong ways to lead, or does leadership simply describe whatever happens when some people find themselves following others?  More, is "leadership" only for some?

While I appreciate that some folks (like Alan Knox & David Fitch, for example) would like to redefine the term "leadership", I don't suppose definition warfare is likely to make authoritarian leaders become less like overlords and more like gracious servant-examples to their flocks.  And that, there, is my point.  To their flocks.  It's the key question:  Do these gracious servants who lead by example still claim authority over the local body and/or its decisions?  Or, to put that another way...

When Jesus decried "overlords", was he thinking of style & function, or position & power?  

In other words, would Jesus say you're an overlord because of the WAY in which you lead others... or because you occupy a position OVER others?  To me, the latter choice fits better.  Obviously we're not supposed to be ungracious or controlling.  But "overlording" means taking charge over.  It's almost a topographical term.

Nevertheless, there's a longstanding tradition through which folks in authority justify their appointed office by interpreting Jesus' words differently.  To them, "overlording" is all about HOW leaders lead.  Obviously, they say, Jesus knew we would need to have leaders.

Well.  While it's true that nothing in Church ever happens without someone leading... (that is, quite literally, functional human dynamics cannot produce joint action-taking without specific directives holding sway in the group, directives which most often spring forth from some individual or another) ...I have not seen anything in the New Testament to suggest that "shepherds" (ie supervisors, ie flock protectors, ie wise old caretakers) are supposed to be the ecclesia's primary Activity Directors.  In the NT, the Apostles were the primary AD's, and while they instruct local elders to do many things, the Apostles instruct all the saints to do much, much else besides.

Ironically, this is precisely where I most laud Alan & David.  Maybe.  It does seem that their goal in acting as tier-one direction bringers is, partly, to facilitate more activity from all the saints - encouraging the passive pew sitters to become vocal meeting contributors, or pulling folks alongside during mission work to be nurtured and trained into more active participation within the body.  And that's wonderful.  But it's not really new, or innovative.  More specifically, I'm not sure they're trying to facilitate initiative taking on the part of all saints.

And who would?  Do we really want any saint in the body to be able to lead us, in some moment?  

We ought to want that.  We'd better.  That is, IF we want the Holy Spirit to be able to lead us, we ought to be open to him leading us through any saint!  And that's why I LOVE the term "leadership".  Practically speaking, GOD can only LEAD us as a group IF WE lead one another.  And we ought to LEAD one another.  At the appropriate times, naturally.  Taking turns, naturally.

Again, what is leadership?  If group activity requires a spark of direction, at least, to get going... then should those sparks always come from certain folks?  If they do, then I don't care what KIND of leadership you're exhibiting.  It may be 90% wonderful.  But in terms of position, you're OVER those folks.  Like a "Lord".

But that's okay, maybe.  At least you can be a good lord.  For now.

Until someone shows us the next step...

December 10, 2010

LEGO version of Ancient Greek Computer

True story:  If you've not heard of the "Antikythera Machine", the backstory is all on the video. Somehow, Andrew Carol was able to reconstruct a model of the original device... using Lego! Amazing. Enjoy.

(H/T The Duck of Minerva via D.Tomkins on Classics-L)

addicted to language... addicted to terms

Yeah, that's pretty much the whole problem.

Thanks for highlighting a very telling paragraph from the recent kerfuffle, TC.  And well said, Scot.

But Scot... if the problem is language... why fight fire with fire?

December 8, 2010

Five beautiful words

were blogged by Joseph Kelly today, when he said, "Bill is, therefore, absolutely right".  About what?  Who cares.  Don't you love to hear people say that about you?!

Seriously, you all should feel free to follow Joseph's example as often as possible.  It does the soul good to speak things that are lovely and true.  Practice saying it now, "Bill is right.  Bill is right.  Bill is right..."

Oh, by the way, if you're interested, Joseph's post about God and Time is well worth a read, also.


December 7, 2010

7 bph

Blog posts per hour, that is, or 134 in my Reader since midnight last night.  I've read or skimmed the 48 that caught my eye... plus several more also, catching up on yesterday's feed.

I've got 212 subscriptions in my feed, currently.  I wish I had a hundred or so more.  But who could keep up with all this?  How did I used to read so much online?


December 5, 2010

Paul was Kingdom Centered, Just like Jesus

If you look at Paul's life, not just at his letters, it becomes clear that EVERYTHING the man EVER did, as an apostle, was ALL for the purpose of advancing God's Kingdom.  So, in those letters, if Paul spends much time talking about some topics that needed to be talked about, then why was he doing that?  He did that because those topics were causing problems in God's Kingdom at that time.

In Corinth, in Ephesus, in Thessalonica, in Galatia - in every place where Paul went, his primary, secondary, tertiary and ultimate aim was to ESTABLISH GOD'S KINGDOM.  (No, it doesn't matter just this moment what else we often call it.  That's still what it was.)  And when Paul went back and visited God's Kingdom, or sent his junior apostles to visit God's Kingdom, or wrote a letter to the subjects of God's Kingdom... ALL OF THAT... every word of it was written ONLY because Paul was trying to help people live together, in harmony, as the people of God, under HIS headship.

And yet so many people read Paul and think, "Wow, he was focused on all these ideas."  Well, for a page or two at a time, yes of course he was.  But you can't judge the man's LIFE on the basis of word-count.

Look at Paul's HISTORY.  Not just his "theology".

In terms of their actions, Paul's focus was NOT at all different from Jesus'.

December 2, 2010

Licona's Historiography

is absolutely delightful reading. Check it out: The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. My initial review, after the jump:

Now, please note that my lead in, above, was meant very precisely. It is Michael R. Licona's HISTORIOGRAPHY - that is, his discussion of History and the Historians' task - which makes up the bulk of the book, and which is what I'm enjoying the most.

For starters, here's my summary of his summary & conclusion:

Historians argue and weigh evidence about what hypothesis might best explain certain evidences. That is good historiography in any field of secular history.  Now, in this case, the "facts past doubting" which nearly all scholars acknowledge as historical (and Licona lists three) are best explained by the hypothesis that Jesus was actually, physically resurrected. Furthermore, when compared with alternative explanations, the resurrection hypothesis (RH) proves strongest by far. Thus, barring future discoveries, Licona contends that "we may declare that Jesus' resurrection is 'very certain', a rendering higher on the spectrum of historical certainty than I had expected."

My response? Yes, Amen, and Absolutely yes. That's how history works. That's may be the *most* any proper Historian can say, but YES, proper Historians CAN say so much, albeit some with more personal confidence than others.

Now, in general, a few minor detractions:

(1) We already knew this. As long as resurrection isn't ruled out a priori, it's the best explanation for everything the apostles did (and also for what Paul did) after Jesus' death. Of course it is. Seriously, this really is very old news.

(2) It must be acknowledged that Licona *is* actively engaged with apologetic efforts, at large. While I don't think this vocation weakens his particular arguments in the least, it's clear that his goal must have been, from the outset, "to defend the faith once delivered".  And again, that's fine.  But this is why it's Licona's exquisite discussion of what makes good historiography that I'd sell as this book's strongest value. But then, personally, I didn't need more support for my own pre-existing beliefs.

(3) Despite (again, and again) my huge appreciation of Licona's methodology and approach, the book as a whole remains yet another example of a conservative Jesus history which *concludes* with a positive judgment about *historicity* - See, brethren, we can still believe that it's all really true!  And on that, frankly, Amen.  But regular readers know my bias here. These gosh-darn conservatives only care about historicity. For all Licona's wonderful work on historiography, and his extraordinarily rigorous investigation of this (supremely significant) event, he still hasn't set out to reconstruct any actual History.

As I often say here, I am eager to see more.  Much, much more.

Despite detraction #3, I must offer one more glowing compliment. Since Licona's book focuses entirely on the singular question of Jesus' resurrection, it was appropriately & correctly (and could only have been) focused on historicity. As he offers on p.620, "This conclusion makes no assertions pertaining to the nature of Jesus' resurrection nor does it claim to address the question of the cause of Jesus' resurrection." Nor should it have done so. Again, very well done, Mike Licona.

But, on that last quote, I must also say:

I would like to see Mike Licona wrestle, in print, with those final two questions... not as a theologian, but, to whatever extent possible, if possible, as a Historian. If he took another ten years on that question, who knows what kind of spiritual historiography we might begin to pioneer. Yes, I suggest that we might be able to investigate GOD, historiographically.

Stranger things have occurred, after all.  ;-)

November 27, 2010

#SBL10 Highlights

Chronologically, natch:

First off, at ETS (the week before Thanksgiving week) Michael Licona spoke about his new book The Resurrection of Jesus:  A New Historiographical Approach.  I missed that session, unfortunately, but bought the book.  It's an absolute pleasure to read, and I'll probably blog more about that real soon.

Nick Perrin responded to Darrell Bock & Robert Webb about their IBR Jesus book, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus, and about historiography and the gospels in general.  Among his other comments, Nick said that he'd like to see more constructive historical work and less defensiveness.  Amen, a thousand times, amen.

NT Wright and two other guys argued pleasantly for a few hours, Friday morning.  I came in for about 15 minutes near the end, and pretty much confirmed that the whole "Justification" debate is almost purely semantical.  As is becoming increasingly common, the reformed gentlemen aren't defending scripture, but their own reformation-based traditions.  ((Dear God, thank you for the increasingly post-denominational nature of present day Christendom.))

Also at ETS, I found a wonderful little book called HISTORY-ies and fallacies, by reformed blogger Carl Trueman (subtitle:  Problems Faced in the Writing of History).  I hadn't realized it, but Carl's a Church Historian, who apparently specializes in John Calvin.  Well, wonders never cease.  Considering the above paragraphs, however, I must wonder if Trueman considered that he's implicitly also defending our right to do [with the Gospels] that which his tradition would seem to prefer that we NOT do - namely, Writing History.

Ah well.  So much for ETS.  ;-)

The IBR meeting kicked off SBL Friday night with a message much discussed on other blogs.  (Check my reader.)  It was great.  In response, Mike Bird was very entertaining.  Personally, I think Wright's correct that conservatives these days largely miss the Kingdom in speaking, but I think we miss it in practice, far more.  I tried to press Tom & Mike to consider anachronism - how are we missing, in spoken rhetoric, that larger sense of the Kingdom which only recently became missing in practice?  But that night - as, probably, now - I wasn't able to express myself well enough to be understood.

At any rate, the main weakness of Tom's message was a lack of brass tacks.  Precisely what, Dr. Wright, are you proposing that we should actually do?  I don't think anyone knew.  And I suppose that's how Tom wants it... for now.

On Saturday, Amy-Jill Levine, discussing "nativity myth" in Matthew's Gospel, remarked that if the so-called Star of Bethlehem was anything, it was an angel.  An astronomical star could not only not lead them to a house, it could not stop above the house, or the whole thing would be incinerated.  (Not to mention the whole Earth along with it, surely.)

Personally, I'd sure love to hear more "IF" statements like that from A.-J.  I keep hoping SOMEONE who's genuinely skeptical of the Gospels could try on the faith hat apply reason to it.  I don't think their conclusions would be like anything we've seen before.  And I'd LOVE to see what they came up with, from that perspective.

On Sunday, A.-J. responded to Bock, Webb & Craig Keener in the session about whether 'conservatives' and 'liberals' can engage with one another in the Historical Jesus enterprise.  For context, I refer you to Derek Leman's write-up.  Personally, as much as I enjoyed this entire session, it left me completely uninterested in attending any further HJ sessions for the rest of the SBL conference.

On that note, I must say I'm skeptical about Derek's reported discovery the next morning:  "the willingness to suspend many issues of “proving history” and to recreate the story of Jesus as best possible given the sources, not overly worrying about criteria that supposedly make for more or less likely history."  That sounds like just what I'm after, but I'm not sure what D's referring to.  One particular paper?  Or the fact that John's Gospel is officially "in play" now, for critical scholarship.  (What was it, Derek?)

Anyway, still on Saturday, I moved on to rediscover why a room full of Classicists can be so mentally and emotionally bracing, when the topic is ancient history.  Erich Gruen expressed skepticism about Philo's claim that Caligula ordered all those statues to be sent towards Judea - could he really have been so naive?  In her response, Tessa Rajak confessed feeling a temptation to tell Eric "truth is stranger than fiction" and to leave it at that!

That one brief moment was the most memorable sound bite of the whole week.  She didn't leave it alone, of course.  One more reason I love sitting in on the Philo/Josephus group(s).

Sunday night was the Bibliobloggers' get together at Gibney's pub, and it was easily the social highlight of my week.  I saw several folks from last year's SBL, and met a few for the first time, including a Bird, a Barber, a Platypus, and an, uh, Aubrey.  Among others.  I also met some new (?) folks whose blogs I've not read yet (got to catch up!) But I can't figure out how Philip J. Long and I missed each other for a full week.  Oh.  Maybe because I decided to stick with Gospels and Classics, and Philip was probably in Acts & Epistles all week.  That could explain it.

This being my second Big Bible Rodeo, it was nice to have scholars like Ken Schenck & Chris Tilling give me genuinely warm smiles and just say, "Hey, Bill".  You know, like they know me.  (!)  And Michael Barber (don't hold this against him) said to a colleague, "Bill's done some good work."  Albeit bloggership isn't scholarship, but that was very gracious on Michael's part.  Encouraging, to say the least.  I should start doing some more...

Again, on Monday, another two or three dozen SBL bloggers ordered lunch in the Hyatt, after which most of us met up at the session on Blogging and Online Publication.  (For all the latest links, see McGrath, here.)  It was the first time I knew all five presenters personally, and - as Mark Goodacre also remarked - it was the first time I completely agreed with everything I'd heard from a panel.  Overall, an utterly delightful three hours.  (Yes, we ran long.  Go figure!)

I'm skipping plenty of other interesting bits from various sessions and personal meetings, of course.  But as promised, these are the highlights.  And somehow, for me personally, the best presentation of all happened to come in the last paper of the last session on the last day.

On Tuesday morning, Steve Mason talked about doing history from narrative in Josephus.  Using a test case from Josephus' War (2.499ff) about Cestius Gallus' retreat from Jerusalem (AD 66), Mason illustrated the difference between "High School History", and "Critical History", and... a third category he's promoting, the name of which I forget, but the practice of which I'm very eager to see advance.

Essentially, Mason suggested that arguing endlessly over historicity gets us nowhere, and stressed an emphasis on hypothetical reconstruction.  I can't hardly stand waiting for the book version to come out (2012?) so I can blog about it.  But I'll have to.  You'll still be reading me two years from now, I trust.  (!?!)

I also tweeted quite a few times from the conference, but sometimes forgot the hashtag.  To see it all, find me on Twitter.  Or Facebook.  Yes, you should be on Facebook.  So you can friend me.  :-)

That's all I've got.  I bought five other books that I may mention someday.  And I may have come to a decision or three that I'll blog about soon, as well.  However soon soon may be.  (Now's a great time to subscribe to this blog, so you don't miss a thing.)

Thanks for reading, dear reader.  But thanks most of all to my dear wife for giving me a week to go play in Scholarpalooza.  It was not only tons of fun, but I obviously learned a lot.  Like how even Biblical Scholars disagree on how to pronounce their own trademark terms.

She says:  Sep-TOO-a-gint?

He says:  SEP-twa-gint?

Let's call the whole thing off.  ;-)

November 22, 2010

Gosh-darn conservative Jesus scholars!

You who argue so diligently that content in the Gospels is or may be reliable - since you affirm historicity, why don't you write history?

You almost tempt me to become as skeptical as you all.

November 20, 2010

Pauline-Jesus Theology

I don't care if this breaks any category restrictions.  I still think it's all true.  Anyway, here it is:

If Paul ever said anything that properly describes or prescribes what the Christian Life is supposed to be like, then that is what Jesus must have lived like, because Jesus of Nazareth is the only human being who has ever successfully lived that kind of a life.

Whatever he did there, he did to the Glory of God.  His was the most excellent way.  He found inside his members the laws of sin and death, but praise be to God, there was no condemnation within him!  His mind was set on the spirit (he was a beggar for God's spirit, after all) and he found life and peace.  His spirit did not war against his flesh, but God's Spirit testified with his spirit that GOD was his father!  And if he was a child, he was also an heir.

And so, from some age going forward, Jesus - IN Nazareth - was never alone.  If he suffered, he suffered with God.  If he gloried, then he gloried with God.  At some point he heard all creation groaning for redemption, and the Spirit groaned with it.  He saw God's people in Nazareth, all around him.  But he did not see God's direct dominion over each of their lives.  Yet, Jesus hoped for what he did not yet see.  He lived at peace with all people.  He grew in favor with both God and man.  Yet he made of himself nothing.  But he yearned for the Kingdom of God.

That's a small sampling of what my theology tells me - via Paul - that Jesus' life here simply must have been like.  HE actually lived by the first two commandments.  HE bore his own burdens as well as the burdens of others.  HE thought always upon that which was lovely, pure, noble, true, excellent and worthy of praise.  And there is so much more we could say.


Now, then.  Years later, Paul caught onto all that, about Jesus, found some people who took Jesus in Spirit into themselves, and then Paul told them (essentially), go and do likewise.

But in Nazareth, for those three decades before he got famous, Jesus the carpenter, the son of the carpenter...

Lived a life that was perfectly pleasing to God.

November 15, 2010


This week, either at ETS, IBR or SBL, I hope to find faith-based, non-defensive, historical investigation of the Gospels that aims at reconstructing events for their own sake.

I don't necessarily expect to find a lot that's much like what I just described.  But I'm eager to be very pleasantly surprised.

Either way, I'll definitely keep you posted.  So, stay tuned...

November 14, 2010


The last time I updated my Shared Items was on October 1st, or approximately 4900 items ago.  I've been checking the reader - I just haven't checked all of it every day.  For the past six weeks, I've picked up a second job AND started tutoring at night.  At least today marks our last soccer game (I've been coaching 11 yo's).

I need a vacation.  Or at least, something like one.

See y'all at SBL.

November 8, 2010


Some new plans seem to be working out. I may have a friend's vacant rent house for the week, less than 10 minutes east of downtown.

That means the good news is, if you're going to SBL, it looks like I WILL see you there. And you're welcome to stop by. Of course the bad news, to no one's surprise, is that there will NOT be a kegger. If you consider that bad news. ;-)

However, I have just heard that there maaaay be a biblioblogging soiree of some sort, Sunday night. We shall see...

November 7, 2010

Help Request

Does anyone need a roommate for ETS/SBL... or want to donate something towards my rent money for seven nights in a hotel?

Just thought I'd check.  My ATL trip's looking questionable, but something may still work out.  The flight I've already booked can be converted into a voucher towards next year's conference.  It's the rest of my financing that's looking tight.  Sorry to poor mouth.  It's been tight all around, yes, I know.

Again, I'm just checking.  If anyone wants to help, use email and/or the donate button to contact me privately.

But if you're not sure about me as a roommate, I promise, I don't snore.  Much.  ;-)

November 4, 2010

The Movement of God - 24

The Tabernacle's mobility was not simply pragmatic.  When God began to replace Mt. Sinai by dictating instructions for an elaborate man-made structure, God was sacrificing a bit.  Sinai was God-made.  Sinai burned with fire and reached up to heaven.  Sinai made his holiness clear to all Israel.

To give up such strengths in his first PLACE since Eden, God must have stood to gain something else in the exchange.

Certainly, if Israel was going to move on to Canaan, they would have to leave Sinai eventually.  Obviously, God wanted to go with them.  However, the Tabernacle's mobility was not simply expedient.  When God decided his house on Earth was going to have the ability to move around, that decision was NOT primarily focused on accommodating the needs of his people.

It would seem there was something about Motion that GOD desired to see expressed in the nature of his Earthly Home.  It would seem God wanted to see his home have a way to be moved... by Him.

The Tabernacle goes back to the first thing we noted, in Eternity past.  God moves.  God is moving.  God is always at rest, but God is always in motion as well.  The Movement of God on the Earth is as old as the Spirit's first fluttering over the waves.  God is dynamic.  God does not change, but God instigates change.  God creates.  God makes Life.  God calls forth multiplication.

God acts within History.

Although God does not change, although Eden was built to last, although God's Law continues to stand, although God still wants ALL the things God has wanted since always... God's very being is also dynamic.

The IAMWHOAM moved his Jacob to Egypt, moved his Moses to Sinai, and moved his people - before they were punished - to a whole year of wanderings.  Then God moved his own Earthly home... and came to live in a tent.  And by doing that, God made it clear that He Himself had the power - and reserved the prerogative - to pack up and pick up at any time He desired and to move on along!

It was God who broke camp, at Mount Sinai, because HE felt the time had arrived when his Testimony was ready to be carried forwards.  For the Movement of God is when God moves, and that is all that matters.

So then, what was the Tabernacle?

God had wanted to make manifest an Earthly rendition of His one holy place and yet, perhaps because Earth was still NOT Heaven, God also wanted to stay free to move.  And so, God made a way to do both.

In the form of the Tabernacle, beginning there in the Nomadic wanderings of Israel, the - take note - THE very Movement of God, on the face of the Earth... did two things.

It continued.  And, to all human awareness, it began.

To be continued...

November 3, 2010

When Joseph heard Archelaus... (2 of 2)

According to Matthew, who should Joseph have thought was the ruler of Galilee, when he chose to move there instead of to Judea?

This is not a simple situation to suss out.  (See part one.)  We know that Archelaus was officially sole ruler of both Judea & Galilee until Caesar ruled differently, and the Emperor's ruling did not come until October or November of 4 BC (after Varus' war was wrapped up, Philip had sailed to Italy late in the season, and Caesar had deliberated some more).  In other words, from late March of 4 BC until the end of the year, no one in Palestine had any reason to think Archelaus was not ruling Galilee, as well as Judea.

Now, Matthew and most of his readers certainly knew what happened later on - that Archelaus, Antipas & Philip returned from Rome early in 3 BC having each received only 1/3 of the Kingdom.  Furthermore, Matthew draws a definite contrast here between Judea and Galilee, almost as if he's deliberately reminding us (perhaps only with his subtext) that we know why Galilee turned out to be safe, after all.  But at face value, Matthew's use of "Judea" seems very odd.  If Joseph departed the night Herod died, and (most likely) reached the outskirts of Judea just after Passover, then Joseph should have been fully aware that Galilee was also within the jurisdiction of Archelaus the horrible.

Once more, the question at hand is this:  according to Matthew, who should Joseph have thought was the ruler of Galilee?  The answer must be:  Archelaus.  That is, according to Matthew, Joseph was afraid to go into Judea AND he had not considered Galilee EITHER, because, of course, Archelaus was ruling there also.

This brings us to Matthew's point.  The dream was necessary.  Having been instructed ('warned' is a poor translation of χρηματισθεὶς here, and an editorial completely unnecessary, because Joseph was already afraid.  The word simply means receiving a divine message, as from an oracle) in a dream, Joseph went to Galilee, a bit further from Archelaus' center of power, which was Judea.

By any reading, it should already have been apparent that Joseph would not have gone to Galilee without having that dream.  But by reconstructing the details - and assuming that all Matthew's statements are entirely accurate - we see more clearly why Joseph needed the dream in the first place.

Of course, if anything Matthew said is non-factual, then the whole thing might be hooey.  But if taken at face value, it all actually fits.  And it fits very well.  That's worth considering.


November 2, 2010

The Calf-Path

A must read, and always a good re-read.  By Sam Walter Foss:

One day, through the primeval wood, a calf walked home, as good calves should; But made a trail all bent askew, a crooked trail as all calves do.  Since then three hundred years have fled, and, I infer, the calf is dead.  But still he left behind his trail, and thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day, by a lone dog that passed that way.  And then a wise bell-wether sheep, pursued the trail o'er vale and steep; and drew the flock behind him too, as good bell-wethers always do. And from that day, o'er hill and glade, through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out, and dodged, and turned, and bent about; and uttered words of righteous wrath, because 'twas such a crooked path.  But still they followed - do not laugh - the first migrations of that calf.  And through this winding wood-way stalked, because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane, that bent, and turned, and turned again.  This crooked lane became a road, where many a poor horse with his load, toiled on beneath the burning sun, and traveled some three miles in one.  And thus a century and a half, they trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet.  The road became a village street; and this, before men were aware, a city's crowded thoroughfare.  And soon the central street was this, of a renowned metropolis; And men two centuries and a half, trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout, followed the zigzag calf about; and o'er his crooked journey went, the traffic of a continent.  A Hundred thousand men were led, by one calf near three centuries dead.  They followed still his crooked way, and lost one hundred years a day;  For thus such reverence is lent, to well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach, were I ordained and called to preach;  For men are prone to go it blind, along the calf-paths of the mind;  And work away from sun to sun, to do what other men have done.  They follow in the beaten track, and out and in, and forth and back, and still their devious course pursue, to keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred grove, along which all their lives they move. but how the wise old wood gods laugh, who saw the first primeval calf!  Ah! many things this tale might teach - but I am not ordained to preach.

November 1, 2010

When Joseph heard Archelaus... (1 of 2)

According to Matthew, Joseph & Mary left Egypt the night King Herod died, traveled towards home, but were frightened because "Archelaus was reigning over Judea".  Even accepting the miraculous departure, there are several odd things about this return.  At least three, in particular:

First, which son of Herod did Joseph think would be ruling?  Second, why was it Archelaus in particular that caused Joseph to fear?  Third, who did Joseph think was in charge of Galilee, at that time?

To the first question:  If the Massacre of the Innocents took place before mid-6 BC, Joseph would have remembered Herod's famous son Antipater as the chosen successor.  If Joseph & Mary lived in Alexandria, or anywhere that heard big news from Judea, they would also have learned about Antipater's imprisonment (for deviously sending two of his brothers to the executioner) but probably did not know which remaining son (Archelaus, Antipas or Philip) would be taking Antipater's place.  As if anyone did, before Herod died.  (The choice of Antipas, confirmed by Caesar over the winter, may not yet have been made public knowledge, and Herod changed his mind almost as soon as Caesar's approval arrived.)

Thus, it actually makes sense that the succession of Archelaus would have been news to Joseph.

To the second question:  All that we know about Archelaus suggests the young prince had virtually no reputation whatsoever around the Kingdom before his announcement.  Optimistic crowds entreated him before Passover and all indications are that these crowds held at least modest hopes for a kinder more generous King.  Why, then, could Joseph have been afraid?  The only reason we can supply is that Archelaus presided over a massacre of 3,000 pilgrims that year, on the Passover Day.  In that light, the text of Mt.2:22 could shift slightly towards a very strong sense of ἀντὶ - on behalf of, or in place of - meaning, for example, something like, 'much in the way of'.*

Thus, it was probably not so much that Archelaus ruled which frightened Joseph, as much as how he was ruling.  He was ruling ἀντὶ Herod the Great.

That's two down.  But our third question may be the most difficult.

To be continued...

*Note: Matthew's other uses of ἀντὶ are also very strong. An eye ἀντὶ an eye, a tooth ἀντὶ a tooth. Pay the tax ἀντὶ [both] me and you.  [I came] to give my soul as ransom ἀντὶ many.  (Mt. 5:38, 17:27, 20:28)  It's not just "okay, now it's your turn".  If ἀντὶ means "in the place of" it means fully in place of, or as if he were him.

October 29, 2010

The Movement of God - 23

God promised Canaan to Israel, but claimed Mt. Sinai for himself, and that is a critical difference.  The children of Abraham were told that God would be giving them land.  It was going to be their land.  But Mount Sinai, by contrast, made it clear to Israel that God could inhabit his own piece of land, also.

And that - going back to the previous two posts in this series- may explain God's consistency in returning to Horeb/Sinai.  The repetition (for Moses, at least) could have driven the point home.  But even if Mt. Sinai wasn't precisely the same spot as Mount Horeb, the length of time Israel spent camped there made it clear that Mount Sinai absolutely was Holy Ground. Israel could not have gone without noticing that God was a God who most certainly did want a PLACE on the Earth.

That simple concept - what Sinai was - set the stage for what God did while there.  The whole time Israel camped at Mount Sinai, as God dictated the Torah to Moses, every word spoken was practically aimed at either one of two things.

 First, He was giving the Law, which was God's way to establish a practical means to help Israel grow into walking with Him. And secondly, on Sinai, God was giving Moses instructions for how to assemble a new place. As a matter of fact, a significant portion of all the words Moses heard from the LORD on Mount Sinai were God's instructions on how to build, take care of, put up and take down God's new place...

The Tabernacle.

Quite clearly, this new place was intended to replace Sinai as God's home on Earth. Just as clearly, there were many reasons why this new place, God's Tabernacle, was superior to Sinai, as a position for God's dwelling. But one key improvement over Sinai was incredibly obvious:

God's new PLACE had the constant dynamic potential for MOVEMENT...

To be continued...

October 28, 2010

The Gospels: Theology vs. History

TPTB all say, "Don't write narrative history of the Gospels because it might usurp the Gospels themselves."  

The same PTB say the Gospels are primarily Theological.  So if the Theological content of the Gospels is what's most important, then why is it okay to write a Theology of the Gospels?  Why don't we worry about usurping the primacy of these "Theological" Gospels with a rewritten Theology?

TPTB and their predecessors have spent centuries examining the Gospels through the lens of constructed theologies. To this very hour, they continue to write new Theology and then try that on as the context of their readings in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Furthermore, traditionally, TPTB tend to express very great confidence in their Theologies.  Apparently there's nothing to worry about in all that business.

But in History - where the uncertainty of one's conclusions is more obviously apparent - we get dire warnings about what befell Tatian and straw men arguments against Harmonies.  And on historical aspects of Gospel content, we get defense of so-called inerrancy, but virtually nothing in the way of any positive efforts towards reconstructing events for their own sake.  And on chronology, we get "Well, we just really don't know enough to be certain about that."

Oh.  But you're certain about the precise workings of how the Almighty operates from behind the curtain of Eternity.

Well, I guess.  As long as you say so.

October 27, 2010

on Chronologizing Jesus' Ministry

The idea isn't to date each verse, or passage.  The idea is to reconstruct a sequence of events which occurred in actual history, during Jesus' public phase - a sequence which can then be viewed as [a part of] the broader context of all Jesus' actions and sayings, first as a whole, and then perhaps somewhat developmentally.

In how many ways was his final year of traveling & preaching at all different from his first?  In how many ways did his strategy change after John's arrest, and after John's death?  What, if anything, does that say about Jesus' mission *before* his Passion took place?  Does a brief (1 or 2 year) ministry support those who want Stephen and Paul to get on stage as quickly as possible?  Does a longer (3 or 4 year) ministry require us to consider more carefully that God may have wanted something from Galilee and Judea, also?

The idea isn't to reconstruct a context for reinterpreting particular sayings and actions of Jesus.  The idea is to care about the fact that Jesus' enormous impact on his own day didn't take place in a chronological or developmental vacuum.  The idea is that some event-based context is better than none.  The idea is that sequenced events tend to influence one another.  If Jesus' actions stay in the Gospels, they remain that much more insulated from the book of Acts.

Why don't Christian believers put more effort toward reconstructing a History - an historical synopsis of Gospel events?

To date, I still can't think of any good reasons not to.

October 26, 2010

Did Priscilla write Hebrews?

That could explain a lot more than just the anonymity. Priscilla was a Hellenized (Italian*) woman with a Jewish husband, Aquila. She'd lived in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus. She'd become soaked in Paul's thought in all three of those cities, and probably became acquainted with Johannine thought before Nero exiled the writer to Patmos. She'd either lived through the horrors of Nero's persecution or lived to hear about friends dying in horrible ways.

Luke says Priscilla knew how to lay out the way of God - not 'teach', not 'proclaim', but to expound. Luke says 'laid out', like the baby moses was laid out. It's the same word Luke uses when Peter recounts his experience at Caesarea, and when Paul expounded his way through the scriptures with Rome's Jews.  That kind of instructive exposition fits the style of the Hebrews writer, who laid out her/his arguments more like relating a saga than imitating a sage.

And who among early Christian leaders, more than Priscilla, had known the wandering life of an exile?  When the Emperor Claudius kicked her husband out of Rome, they moved to Corinth.  P&A left Corinth to help prepare Ephesus for Paul, they left Ephesus for Rome after Claudius died, and they left Rome for Ephesus again some time before Paul's execution - most likely soon after Nero's persecutions began.  That's a lot of personal transition for the ancient world, and it must have brought some personal sensitivity towards the themes found in Hebrews.

I now+ see this suggestion - that Priscilla wrote Hebrews - has been made before, and I'm not surprised.  By whom, and for what reasons, I've not yet ascertained.  Intriguing, though.  Don't you think?

*Most Greeks were never Romanized, but all Italians had become somewhat hellenized after the 2nd century BC.
+Post originally written for 9/17/10

October 24, 2010

Reverend Augustus & his PR Machine

Barbara Levick's latest book is out.  Augustus: image and substance attempts to show that "Augustus’ overriding purpose was always to keep himself and his dynasty in power".  Well, of course it was, but that's mainly because Revered Caesar (the 'August One') genuinely believed his own person and legacy was the only way to keep Rome at peace.  Honestly.

By the way, I can't help thinking I've known other men with and without that same title who believed similar things of themselves.  Anyway...

Whether the Empire's Revered One was justified in his belief is debatable.  What should be undisputed, however, is that once Augustus had justified that self-centric decision to himself, from that point onwards Reverend Caesar had to pull out all the stops to make sure everyone else believed it (and kept on believing it, even while things were crumbling around him) as well.  And that's what Levick's book promises to be about - the difference between what Augustus was (or at least, what he became) and what he portrayed himself as.

From the cover, again: "This fascinating story of the realities of power in ancient Rome has inescapable contemporary resonance..."  Indeed.  The realities of power.  Control begets wickedness.  But I digress again.

One reason I wish seminaries focused more on First Century Events is because I often wish ministerial trainees would study more in the area of Imperial Politics.  Dear reader, if YOU harbor such noble ambitions as to caretake for God's people, I daresay you could probably do a lot worse than to get a copy of Levick's Augustus, and keep it right next to your Bible... at least for a while.  It might show you all the things you do not want to do.  It might show you how power corrupts.

Godspeed, all you wanna be Reverends.  Godspeed to learn History... and then, hopefully, to fall on your face before God once again.

October 19, 2010

Let's Revolt

Up until about 500 years ago, the overlords of Christian Scripture promoted their dogmas so strongly that almost everyone went along.  Then the Renaissance birthed the Reformation, which paved the way for the Enlightenment, and power started to shift.  Upstarts used logic and reason to overturn entrenched dogmas.  Newly established upstarts, however, turn to dogma as soon as they're able.

Today's overlords of Christian Scripture are the ubiquitous "scholars" - University and Seminary professors who've earned clout within the Society of Biblical Literature.  But the half-art, half-science of "Biblical Scholarship" is a mixture of reason and dogma.  At the top of the current power structure is skepticism, primarily against the historical veracity of what scripture apparently claims.

But while some Christian members of SBL defend scripture against these attacks, the way they defend leaves all the power with skepticism.  Likewise, other Christian approaches sidestep historical challenges by appeals to scripture's "theological" nature, but this also leaves all the power with skeptics.  We've allowed *them* to define where *we* may stake our claims.  Really?  But it works for some, sadly.

Reason & dogma mix unequally, in these groups.  Wisely, the skeptics apply reason on top of their faith.  "We do not accept the miraculous.  Now, let us reason about what remains."  Foolishly, Christian authorities are still trying to reclaim the authority lost centuries ago, still attempting to "prove" to skeptics what did or didn't (could or couldn't have) happen(ed).  But the ones who've surrendered are just no help at all.

Christians, don't support dogmas about arguments that support our Christian scriptures.  Support dogmas that support our belief in scriptural claims.  On top of that dogma, apply reason.  On top of that faith, apply logic and historical argument.

IF the gospels were written as records of things which actually happened, THEN what may we conclude?

That approach is virtually untried.  It doesn't help anyone's kingdom building, at the moment.  It doesn't attack skeptics, and it doesn't shore up weak minded believers.  What it DOES do, is make sense.  What it DOES do, is project integrity.

That approach may not win much notice among SBL atendees... yet.

But the 21st century is young.

And I have not yet begun to write.

Stay tuned...

October 14, 2010

Five Targets

In 5 minutes, I'm going to finish this blog post.
In 5 days, I'm going to publish another one.
In 5 weeks, I'll report some things about SBL in Atlanta.
In 5 months, I'm going to be drafting or redrafting one of my book ideas.
In 5 years, I'm going to have a dozen e-books available, of varying lengths and qualities... and then I'll start revising them all.

That's one target met.  Will the others hit?

Stay tuned.

October 1, 2010

To be continued...

Sometimes the pillar of fire would stop...

And sometimes Moses' arms would simply drop.

Watch this space?

September 30, 2010

Busy Day

Tomorrow's round up should might post on Sunday someday.

If you miss me, scroll through some old "top posts" on my new About page.

Tomorrow's post will be tMoG, part 23 (of many more yet to come). UPDATE: Or later; please forgive the delay...

Happy Thursday!

September 29, 2010

The Movement of God - 22

Does holy ground stay holy forever?  Is Sinai still God's mountain, for example?  More generally, can any plot of land be the Lord's home forever, or does God claim ground only for some time, before moving on?

The fact that God moves wherever he wills probably means we should favor the second option.  But if so, then why did God bring Moses back to the site of their first encounter?  Why give the law in the same PLACE where the bush burned?

If the scholars are right (and they probably are) that Sinai & Horeb refer to the same Mountain, then God purposely brought Moses back to the same dirt He'd called "holy ground" once before. So, again - EITHER that Mountain had become sanctified for the long haul, OR God came back to re-sanctify the same ground for some other reason.  But if God is sovereign enough to claim any ground, then why go back to the same place?

Let's get the guessing out of the way.  Perhaps that consistency made it easier for Israel to believe. Perhaps the familiarity kept Moses' own confidence strong, and so his courage increased. Perhaps God just preferred Mount Sinai for some mysterious and/or peculiar reason of God's own.  Or perhaps it was simply a good location, remote enough from the rest of the world for God to be discrete?

Any or all of those could be part of what lay behind God's thinking.  But are we left with these guesses?

As it happens, we can actually do a bit better than that.

To be continued...

September 28, 2010

excerpt: History vs. Political Theory

From Gordon S. Wood's The Purpose of the Past, Chapter 11:
Historians are as interested in the ideas and ideologies of the founders as political theorists like [author]. What is different about the two disciplines is their purpose. Historians attempt to recover a past world as accurately as possible and try to show how that different world developed into our own. Political theorists who work with the ideas of the past have a different agenda. They are primarily interested in the present or future conditions of political life and see past ideas merely as the sources or seeds for present or future political thinking. [T]hey usually see the past simply as an anticipation of our present, and thus they tend to hold people in the past responsible for a future that was, in fact, inconceivable to them.

There is nothing wrong with this sort of ransacking of the past by political theorists; lawyers and jurists do it all the time. But we should never confuse these manipulations of the past for present purposes with doing history... Jefferson's idea of equality, for example, has been used time and again throughout our history, by Lincoln as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. Historians contend that such usages violate the original historical meaning of the ideas and cannot be regarded as historically accurate, but they don't deny the rationality and legitimacy of such violations.

My thoughts:

New Testament research is often political theory disguising itself as history, in order to support church politics, aka "theology". Day by day, dear Lord I pray, we need to spend more time attempting to see our own past for what it is, just as it was, not for how it might help us to mold our own future/present.

It's fine to extract principles of diversity, or of pastoral care, or of social justice, or of ecclesiological order - whichever principles those may be, for you - and then to apply those scriptural principles in another context. The most educated academics and clerics already know how this works, much better than anyone. But there are still some who push views of the first century (or allow it to appear a certain way) which support their ecclesiology, and their theology. Worst of all, it is very hard to find those who search behind the text for a reasonable History of Jesus and Paul, for its own sake. This should not be so rare.

Lord, hear our prayer.

September 27, 2010

The Movement of God - 21

Mount Sinai was the first PLACE God claimed on the Earth, since the garden of Eden. At the moment that bush burned on Mt. Sinai (aka Mt. Horeb*) the LORD declared that plot of earth to be holy ground. And when Moses brought Israel back from the Red Sea to Mt. Sinai, that same Mountain was once again God's place on Earth.

Mt. Sinai set the new world's record for intimacy between God and humanity, and that intimacy was rightfully terrifying! Like the bush had, beforehand, now the whole mountain was burning with f-i-r-e and yet was not burned up. Like the flaming sword left to guard Eden, the burning boundary of Sinai was death to anyone who approached... to anyone except Moses, that is. Moses was not only allowed to come near, he came up, and he stayed for a while. One day, God even let him bring 73 others up to feast with the Lord.

This was God's new place to connect with his creatures. Sinai was God's new position on Earth.

At least for a time.

Now let's pause and consider Mt. Sinai/Horeb* before and after its famous occasions. Had the mountain been sacred before the bush burned? Did the mountain remain sacred while Moses went back to Egypt? Did God remain there, in some special way, even while God went with Moses to Pharaoh? Did Moses, Jethro or anyone else set up boundaries to keep that land untouched?

Was that plot of land made into a shrine, until the Israelites returned to Sinai (Horeb)? Or was Mt. Horeb/Sinai* merely normal dirt in the interim, until God led Moses back there with the Israelites, and then it became holy again? There are only two things to suppose about this. Either the land became holy forever once God declared it to be so, or the land became holy at whatever times God chose to dwell there.

It cannot be both ways.  Either the land took on permanent holiness, because God had been there at one time, or else God's presentness made it holy, only during whatever times God chose to inhabit that place.

Let's consider both options.

To be continued...

(*) Note: if the majority opinion among scholars is incorrect about Horeb and Sinai being the same mountain, then Sinai was the *third* place God claimed, and thus Horeb (the second) would more definitely have been claimed for a temporary position. That's intriguing, but I've no plans to investigate further. Either way, the points made here should still apply.

September 26, 2010


It takes an awfully good pastor to be better than no pastor at all.

September 25, 2010

Convenient Diaspora

This post is worth a read.  It also needs serious balancing.  There's no mystery (or glory) in why Christians are presently abandoning "church" in droves.  It's the same reason divorce statistics shot up several decades ago.  Marriage was equally difficult before 1960 and Institutional Christendom is no more controlling today than it has been at any time in the past.  What's enabled folks to quit Sunday service is the same thing that enabled husbands to start dumping their wives, and vice versa.

"Quitting church" has, purely and simply, passed the tipping point of acceptability.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm all in favor of dropping the traditional weekly parade, but the reasons folks give for their leavings are all over the board, and yet the most common denominator is selfishness, if not outright libertinism.  "I wanted more community."  "I didn't think ___ was right/wrong."  "My questions weren't honored."  Those may well betray genuine problems in ALL parts of Christendom today, but they also betray a mindset of convenience and entitlement.  Not to come down too harshly, but if we're all just looking for a place we like better, how is that any different from what the whole world is doing, right now?

Look, I know I'm not above all these critiques myself. Not hardly. But let's not go overboard and glorify what are really our own failings. Do you want to know why "church" stinks, really?  Most of the time, it's because *we* don't do anything proactive to help make it better.

UPDATE:  the conversation below Ian's post has been excellent.  Go give it a scan.

September 23, 2010

excerpt: Truth in History

From Gordon S. Wood's The Purpose of the Past, Chapter 10:
History is one of the last humanistic disciplines to be affected by deconstruction and postmodernist theories.  These theories are not the same as ordinary historical relativism, which, as historian Gertrude Himmelfarb describes it, "locates the meaning of ideas and events so firmly in their historical context that history, rather than philosophy and nature, becomes the arbiter of truth."  Most historians these days, including Himmelfarb, have become comfortable with this kind of contextual relativism, which accepts the reality of the past and our ability to say something true, however partial, about that past.  [But] postmodernism threatens all that...

All may be contingent; all may be relative. But [citation] this prevalence of contingency and relativism does not mean the end of objectivity and the possibility of arriving at practical workable truths in history writing. It is true that historians, like all humans, are subjective: they have passions, desires, political and personal agendas. But so did Newton and Darwin, and they were still capable of discovering objective scientific truths. We can never return to the absolutist world of nineteenth-century positivism, but the alternative to that world is not the postmodernist world of total subjectivity...

[A new theory of objectivity, called "practical realism"] recognizes that there cannot be an exact correspondence between words and what is out there; still, it continues to aim for as much accuracy and completeness as possible in the historical reconstruction of the past. Our interpretation of the past may be imperfect, but practical realism knows that "some words and conventions, however socially constructed, reach out to the world and give a reasonably true description of its contents."
If those excerpts seemed interesting, the entire chapter demands your attention. Better yet, once again, I say go buy the whole book! (This chapter originally published as part of a book review in The New Yorker, November 1994.)

My comments:

Once again, Wood sings to my soul while he sharpens my brain.  I have absolutely nothing to add that these excerpted paragraphs have not already said very well, and so very profoundly.

I suggest scrolling up for the sheer pleasure of reading them again.

September 22, 2010

The Movement of God - 20

Where was God's PLACE, on Earth, before the Tabernacle?  What place did God have to rest, on the Earth, while Noah was bobbing along over the waves?  Where did God walk with Enoch?  Where did God dwell in the days when Abraham was his only companion?  Where did He go, when Adam & Eve left the Garden?

God still inhabited an Eternal, Spiritual realm, of course.  But on Earth, once Adam & Eve were exiled, it was as if God himself had been exiled also.  That is, the moment humanity lost its spot in the Garden, God lost his place to live with them on Earth.

Speaking AS IF Eden was real (not a myth or a metaphor), and whether Eden remains hidden somewhere, or whether Eden was lifted off of the earth... Whatever Eden was, really... Eden was God's place, on the Earth.

And God lost it.

When Man lost Eden, God lost Man, because God's Garden was made as a place God could walk with his Man.  For a brief time, the Triune God had shared that place with humanity.  But the day Eve & Adam were punished with exile, on that day God also lost a home, because God's earthly home was that place, with those two.

After Eden, God Himself had no earthly place to call home!  It was somewhat fitting, then, that Abraham, Isaac & Jacob all lived nomadic lives.  They had all built altars to the Lord, in particular places, after they'd met God in one of those places.  But each time, after building those altars, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob moved on.  So did God.

For all that time, God himself held no particular place, on the Earth.

But that began changing on the very first day God called Moses.

We noted earlier that God's first commission for Moses was replete with dynamic vocabulary.  "Come... send... bring... out..."  But we left out a very important statement, before that one.  And this statement was not dynamic or motional, but static and positional.  Before sending Moses, God situated Moses.  The first thing God said to Moses was, "Do not come nearer.  Take off your shoes, for the place on which you're standing is holy ground."

Holy ground.  God himself claimed that patch of earth.  It was special.

God's desire for holy space is as old as the Garden of Eden. Perhaps even older.

To be continued...

September 21, 2010

Dynamic Events of the Gospels

A research proposal, subtitled:  "extracting chronological sequence from narrative"
Narrative event sequence doesn’t automatically imply chronological event sequence, but embedded causalities within narrated events often do provide grounds for extracting historical sequence from narrative.  In the four Gospels, the most obviously chronological sequence includes Jesus’ birth, baptism, ministry, arrest, execution and resurrection; none of those gets narrated 'out of order'.  Another example is John’s ministry, arrest, struggle, martyrdom and legacy; again, that particular chain of events fits sequentially into each Gospel narrative.  Similarly causal relationships also appear between less significant events – for instance, Matthew had to be called before he could be named an apostle, and so on.  By connecting multiple chains of causation, one historical sequence of events might be critically extracted from each of the four Gospels.  From there, those sequences could be analyzed for contrasts as to how much could be reasonably combined into one historical sequence of events in Christ's life.  The historicity of this final sequence would obviously depend upon multiple factors, but the final project would never once have assumed chronological order merely from narrative sequence.

Of course I have absolutely no time to even begin actually doing this... properly.  If anyone wants to grant me a fellowship or a well paying internship, I'll drop everything else and begin this.  Otherwise, some industrious scholar should feel free to start in without me.  (All I ask is that you contact me eventually, about the results.)  And for everyone else, please stay tuned...

Related posts:
Dynamic Events of Jesus' Life (June '10)
Event Sequence: Mark vs. Luke (Feb '10)
A Dynamic Event: Jesus Separates from Peter (Feb '10)
A Dynamic Event: John's Imprisonment (Feb '10)
Foundations for Gospel Chronology (Nov '09)
Event Sequencing: John's Beheading (Sept '09)
sequence, not harmony (Aug '09)
Sequence of Gospel Events (July '08)
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