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.  ;-)
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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