Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Riches of the Psalter

We had an excellent evening of discussion last Thursday with a record setting four of us present. We've added one person per month since the start of this academic year, which means that by May we should have 9 participants (we're skipping a December meeting)! I don't know where they'll all come from, however, with so many of you in the States. No matter the final tally, we're growing and the discussion is more and more lively the more people we add.

Seriously though, Andy, Denis, Alister and I spent the whole time trying to get a good handle on the canonical approach to the Psalter. Denis is well-versed in recent Psalms studies and most of the time was spent listening to his clear and convincing proposals. We didn't discuss the Leslie McFall article that I sent out mostly because Denis didn't like it as it was counter to his theories. Alister added insights from the academy, being the most recent of us to have graduated from seminary. Andy and I listened and asked clarification questions, being the least familiar with the canonical approach. It would have been nice to have Jon and Rick with us as they are in-the-know — Jon especially when it comes to the Psalms.

I must admit that my question is still unanswered. Being that the Psalter, as we have it, was ordered after the Psalms were composed (soon or long after does not matter), how exactly are we supposed to apply the results of the canonical approach when we study, teach and preach the Psalms? I'm especially concerned with this for two reasons. Firstly, it seems that Denis' presentation of the canonical approach, McFall's article, which contradicts the canonical approach in a number of ways and the admission that canonical theologians don't all agree with one another leaves us with a certain degree of uncertainty regarding the purpose of the order of the Psalter, as we have it. [Aside: I apologize for my misuse of terminology on Thursday. I made it seem like there was uncertainty about the order of the Psalms. Of course there isn't. The canonical order is the order we have. The uncertainty exists in determining the intent of the complier(s).] If there is such uncertainty, I find it hard to apply the fruits of the approach in my hermeneutics and exposition, especially in light of the fact that we're not even dealing with the Psalms themselves, only their order.

Which leads to my second concern. Denis, and apparently others in the canonical school (if I'm understanding them correctly) seem to propose that we can know very little ("next to nothing") of the historical setting of the individual Psalms, thus making it necessary to focus on each Psalm's place in the Canon to determine how we should study, interpret and preach it. This seems to fly in the face of the authorial intent that we've been placing a high priority on in this blog and that I consider crucial to any legitimate hermeneutic. Now we're talking about compiler intent and I have a much harder time applying my own understanding of the inspiration, inerrancy, clarity and authority of Scripture to a compiler. I'd like to hear a little more on this issue before I could embrace the canonical approach in my own research.

But now to the point. No matter which view one takes, we all come away with true and deep riches from the Psalms that are divinely used to encourage, challenge, rebuke and comfort us. This doesn't mean that we should become relativists as far as the Psalms are concerned. By no means! I think we'd all agree that we should continue to strive for truth and integrity in our Psalms study. But in that striving God is gracious and patient with us simpletons as we humbly try to find the truth that He intends for us, His people.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Here is Dilbert's contribution to the authorial intent issue. Click on the comic to make it bigger. I hope you all have a nice Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

From the Shroud to the Psalms

The three of us who met last month had a great time discussing the merits of the Shroud of Turin, the merits of the arguments put forth by Habermas and the Basingers as well as the merits of several criticisms of the Shroud's authenticity. We also watched an intriguing film on the Shroud that Jason conveniently had in his collection. Way to go Jason!

[side note 1: You get tons of extra credit for Theological Discussion Group if you can bring video to go with the discussion. However, if you bring video and it is boring then you have to bring the snacks to the following meeting. Choose carefully!]

In any case, the articles, film and discussion left me hungry for more, albeit with no time to spend feasting on all of the relevant materials. I find myself fairly convinced of the Shroud's authenticity but I am still uncertain as to how I would go about integrating it into any sort of apologetic presentation. We all seemed to have a little different take on whether and how to do so.

For anyone wanting more to chew on regarding the Shroud, you must visit this site. For anyone familiar with the common objections to the Shroud's authenticity, you should read this article specifically. I was floored by how much material is on this site and I was thoroughly impressed by how reasonable Sorensen's article is and by how convincing his answers are to the many objections that have been raised against the Shroud. If you prefer the "inference to the best explanation" approach to defending Christianity, this article will appeal to you.

[side note 2: You will be surprised at how widely accepted and promoted the popular criticisms of the Shroud are when, in fact, many of them have been revealed to be based on false claims. Shroud "experts" put forth bad evidence against the Shroud that actual Shroud experts dismissed 20 years ago or more.]

But now we move to the Psalms. My teaching gig in L'vov last week and the American Thanksgiving holiday this week require that we meet on Thursday, November 29. You all should have Denis' article on the Psalms to read for that meeting. It is still my goal to get another article out for us to consider. Look for it in the next few days. In the meantime practice your Russian on Denis' article, I'm sure it will require the best from each of us (except for the native speakers, of course). And we can never study the Psalms too much so, if you find something that you want to add to the discussion, get it to me to pass out or simply bring it with you next Thursday. May the result be that we are as honest and honoring as are the Psalmists when we converse with our amazing God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thoughts on the Scriptorium Daily

Evening all!

Eric awhile back recommended the Scriptorium Daily as a good blog, and one related to Biola. So I have looked at it occasionally. There are some good articles, interesting thoughts. I wanted to react to two articles briefly. First, by John Mark Reynolds regarding J. K. Rowlings revelation that Dumbledor in the Harry Potter books was gay.

The first comment I would make was my surprise about how Christian he felt like the books are in overall structure and theme. I have not read the books, but know people who have. And the ending of the seventh book especially has some strong Christian parallels. It's just that, after hearing the books so demonized, to have him say that was surprising. I do not necessarily disagree, and this is in no way a protest. I am just saying I was surprised.

However, another comment he made was about the relationship between J. K. Rowling and her books at the present time caught my attention. Reynolds said this:
"No offense to an excellent author, but Dumbledore no longer belongs only to Rowling. He also belongs to her readers who have been given a series of books in which Rowling was free to say what she wanted to say. She wrote about Christianity openly by Book Seven, but if Dumbledore was gay, she decided to hide it. She hid it so well that there is no evidence of it."
Reynolds goes on to talk briefly about the obvious implications for Scriptural interpretation and authorial intent, but I don't think he addresses fully the problems that he is creating. To simply say that because there is no explicit evidence of Dumbledore's homosexuality in the books, therefore it doesn't matter what the author now says, to me overlooks the inherent ambiguity in many texts. It is simply a fact that some texts can be read from two very different perspectives, and in fact it is only the clearly expressed authorial intent that can settle it. For instance, we don't know against whom Paul was writing in his letters to the Romans, the Colossians, or in the Pastorals. There are verses where a better understanding of the enemy could better inform us as to his meaning and emphasis. I feel like the lack of clear evidence in a text one way or the other leaves options open rather than closing them. And authorial intent leaves them certain. I say that books still belong to Rowling, just like Paul's still belong to him. And yes, I am against homosexuality.

Now, the second article I wanted to comment on is the article called "Faith is Nothing," by Matt Jenson. I disagree. I think faith is something. I see his argument as a futile philosophical reduction that ignores both the Biblical text (see all of Romans 4, not just the beginning) and the theology of what the goal of salvation actually is. I think faith is something, and that it's being something is no way a threat to God's work, sovereignty or anything else. And I think that Luther, Calvin and Edwards (not to mention Paul) would agree with me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shrouded in Methodology

If you've read the articles I sent out by Gary Habermas and the Basingers regarding the Shroud of Turin, you now know that their discussion isn't about the general authenticity of the Shroud, as I had hoped. Rather, their discussion is about how certain we can be the that the Shroud is the actual Shroud of Jesus — or whether it belongs to some other beaten, crowned with thorns, forced to carry his cross, crucified and stabbed first-century guy who escaped from the cloth without it being unwrapped or torn away from his bloody skin and who left a light/heat imprint of his face on it — and whether it should make any difference in our resurrection apologetic. Nonetheless, we'll talk in depth about who's made the better case on Thursday, October 18, 7:00 PM, at the Oldenburg apartment. Hopefully, Jason will provide us with a video on the Shroud that can provide some controversy and intruigue.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from our combatants:

"When the scientific shroud evidence is combined with the previously and independently validated gospels, the result is more than the probable identification of Jesus with the man of the shroud."
-Gary R. Habermas

"Scientific evidence is relevant to Christian belief, but the move from scientific evidence to significant religious conslusions is more difficult than Habermas seems to recognize."
-Randall and David Basinger

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Monty Python - International Philosophy

Some of us in our studies are needing to wrestle with philosophy. I don't feel like we have plumbed the depths of the philosophical issues, however. Take a look at this contest between German and Greek philosophy. It certainly deepened my understanding of the ontology of football. Enjoy!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered ...

We had a small group on Thursday (just Jason and I) but that doesn't mean we didn't enjoy ourselves. For one thing, it meant that we were able to consume all that we desired of my wife's delicious baked goods , still having some left over to enjoy the next day. It would have been nice to have more people but, I don't think we would have covered as much theological ground if there were more. We talked about the creation/evolution controversy, Paul's theology of mission, why so many bad books get translated into Russian when there are so many great ones yet to be translated, and more. We also had plenty of time to share personal stories that may or may not have had much to do with the above themes. So, for all who couldn't make it, we think you missed out on a good time and hope that you can join us for our October meeting. Let's get back on the 3rd Thursday of the month schedule and meet on the 19th. I'll try to get something out to y'all soon. Maybe I'll follow up on Mark's post regarding atonement theory. Or feel free to email me if you have a burning issue to discuss and we can make that top priority. Have a great month!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

September '07 Meeting

I hope all who are able will come ready to share from their theological musings this summer as we gather at 7:00 PM this Thursday, September 27, at the Oldenburg apartment. If no one has anything to say (like that's even a possibility) we can at least try to come up with a name for our group. We tried to figure that out at the beginning of last year but it didn't get very far. I had proposed, after our discussion on epistemology, that we be called the C.S.C.E. (Christian Society for a Combinationalist Epistemology) but I was hardly serious. I promised to make T-shirts but their absence proves my commitment level to the idea. In any case, come if you can and, if you can't, then come next time. See you there.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Atonement and Ransom

Here is something about the atonement that I have blogged about elsewhere, but thought I would throw it out here. In my studies about the early church fathers, I run across the idea of the ‘Ransom to Satan’ theory of the atonement. As a good evangelical I know that is totally bogus, but as a curious weirdo, I can’t let go of the thing. So here is a proposal as to how the ‘ransom to Satan’ and vicarious atonement propitiation can actually fit together. Please understand that I am not simply interested in trying to reconcile everything. I genuinely feel that our evangelical theory of the atonement needs some supplement. The doctrine of redemption where Jesus pays the penalty for our sins is pretty solid in the Scriptures. I have no objection to it. But I feel like there is more. Anyway, here goes.

God has said that whoever sins will be punished, usually with death. Who does the punishing? Often we feel lke God does it. But I noticed a pattern in Scripture. God usually has an angel do the job. Often both God and the angel are given credit for the task. But the angel actually does the deed. In Exodus 12:21, 29 it says that God killed the first-born. But in Exodus 12:23, it says that ‘the Lord will pass over your door and not allow the destroyer to enter.’

In church discipline, Paul turns someone over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, 1 Cor. 5:5. The scapegoat ritual in Leviticus 16 is very interesting on this score. Two goats are at the center of this Day of Atonement ritual. One goat is sacrificed and its blood shed. The other is set aside. The priest places his hands on the live goat and transfers all the sins of the people onto the goat’s head, Lev. 16:21. Then, they will send the live goat out into the desert to Azazel, Lev. 16:8, 22. Many commentators, including Keil and Delitzsch believe this refers to a demon in the wilderness, who takes the goat with the sins. They are sending the sins back to where they come from, namely, the devil.

Now, Hebrews 2:14 says that Satan held the power of death, and that Christ set us free from him. What if that power were delegated to Satan? Therefore, in order to pay for our sins, the Father turned Jesus over to Satan to be killed, to pay the penalty we deserved. This might make Lewis’s Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe make more sense. In order to pay for Edmund’s sin, Aslan was not turned over to his father, the emporer across the sea. What does the witch say? ‘Traitors belong to me?’ Maybe she is right, and that that ownership was given to her, just as to Satan. So when a person becomes a believer, they are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, Col. 1:14. They are set free from the devil who has taken them captive, 2 Tim 2:26. Well, it is something to think about.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The World is Not So Compartmentalized

Before Mark left for Texas he gave me a link to a debate on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman. I hadn't read the debate but, I think, if memory serves, we agreed - Craig being a philosopher and Ehrman an historian - that the two by and large talked past one another. After some interaction about the debate I made that assessment and Mark affirmed it.

I recently had the occasion to read the debate and can now talk about it more knowledgeably. I won't completely revise my original assessment but I'll make 3 points, a few of which will alter the original significantly. Those who wish to read the debate for themselves can do so here.

Caveat: I am a huge William Lane Craig fan and consider him an outstanding debater. I admire his overall clarity and unswerving commitment to evangelical Christianity and am jealous of his intellectual rigor. His concise manner of debate and the ability to directly address issues keep a debate on focus (as far as it is in his ability to do so). Maybe I think he won the debate because I like him when, in fact, Ehrman was the clear winner. I am open to that possibility ... but I don't think it is probable.

Point 1 - I'll start with my one criticism of Craig. I mentioned above that he likes to keep a debate focussed. A few times in the debate Ehrman brought out his methodological trump card, "Because historians can only establish what probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is highly improbable, the historian cannot say that it probably occurred." This is a claim about historical methodology. Craig rightly pointed out that this is a methodological claim and does not directly deal with the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Ehrman talked extensively about this, time which could have been better spent dealing with the evidence. I know much more about Ehrman's methodology after the debate than about what he thinks about the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. This is not to say that he didn't deal with the evidence, but he could have done a better job.

My criticism of Craig is that he seems to have hid behind his ability to stick to the point in order to avoid dealing with a question about inerrancy that Ehrman raised. Granted, the question was loaded - Ehrman proposed that if you believe a historical document contains no errors then you have forfeited critical objectivity - but Craig could have answered it rather than ignoring it because it was off topic. We all hate debates that are unfocused but, if a question comes up, you should do your best to answer it. Ehrman's bold claim deserved at least an attempt at refutation.

Point 2 - Craig made some sharp remarks directed at Ehrman (i.e., naming his criticisms of Ehrman, "Ehrman's Egregious Error" and "Bart's Blunder") but they were nothing compared to Ehrman's personal disparagements of Craig. At one point Ehrman said, "Bill is, at heart, an evangelist who wants people to come to share his belief in Jesus, and he's trying to disguise himself as a historian as a means to that end." Ouch! That sounds like the sophisticated way of calling someone a "poser". Not very respectful, academic or accurate considering that Craig has devoted much of his career to researching the historical evidence for the resurrection. Then, in the question and answer period, Ehrman attacked Christian philosophy as a whole.

Ehrman: I am sorry. I have trouble believing that we are having a serious conversation about the statistical probability of the resurrection or the statistical probability of the existence of God. I think in any university setting in the country, if we were in front of a group of academics, we would be howled off the stage -

Craig: That's not true.

Ehrman: Well, that may not be true a the school you teach at, but at the research institution I teach at -

Craig: Well, what about Oxford University, where Professor Swinburne teaches?

Ehrman: Well, Swinburne has shown that there's a 0.97 percent probability. And how many people has he convinced of this exactly? These are the kinds of arguments that are convincing for people who want to be convinced. They're not serious arguments to be taken by people so they can actually say, "Oh yes, now I am going to believe because there's 0.97 probability factor!" In fact that's nonsense; you can't demonstrate the existence of the supernatural by statistical models.

From this exchange - the sophisticated way of calling a whole academic discipline a "poser" - we see that Ehrman thinks that no respectful university in the country would put up with an academic dialogue about the statistical probability of anything supernatural. Yet, I think it is safe to say, that it is only in an academic setting where such dialogues are taking place. It is academically embarrassing to mock a whole discipline, and those engaging in serious research in that discipline, just because you don't happen to know anything about it or because it doesn't fit into the confines of your own discipline.

From these two examples, I propose that one of the reasons Ehrman lost the debate is because he had to resort to name calling, albeit in a sophisticated form. If you refute an argument by demeaning the arguer (ad hominem) you at least leave open the possibility that you can't deal with the argument itself.

Point 3 - This one is simple, but it is my main point. Throughout the debate, Ehrman basically made distinctions between what we can know historically and what we can know theologically. This distinction fuels his idea stated above that we can't know if a miracle happened historically because history deals with probability and thus miracles, being improbable, can't be known historically. Similarly, God, being supernatural, cannot be addressed by the historian because history deals only with the natural. These are all reasons whey Ehrman believes that the resurrection is not historical. It may be true theologically but, it can't be true historically.

All I'll say is that our world is just too interconnected for that. To decide the parameters of a discipline is one thing. To say that I can't know something (no matter how much relevance, influence, evidence and interconnectedness there might happen to be between that thing and a discipline) because my particularly defined version of the discipline methodologically won't allow for it is a sign that a methodological revolution is in order. "The resurrection isn't historically true because I have methodologically ruled it out a priori." If I weren't trying to be so sophisticated, I think I might be inclined to use the "p" word.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Church and State cont.

I had a fairly sleepless night after our discussion (no, I do not think the two were related; it was more likely related to the Detroit Tigers slaughtering my Anaheim Angels 12-0) so I did some reading on the question. I came across the following series of blog posts by John Mark Reynolds that I think are outstanding. They center around the upcoming U.S. presidential primaries (if you can consider something still so far in the future, "upcoming") but he addresses many of the things we touched on. I find a lot of commonalities between Mark's position that the government's job is to manage and Reynolds position that the government's job is to administer justice and uphold freedom. I'm certain that there are many dissimilarities between their positions but as you read you will see what I mean. If it is safe to say, as Mark himself did last night, that his position maintains a distinction between Christian personal ethics and a broader citizen ethic, Reynolds' position maintains a closer connection between the two that I am more comfortable with and, in fact, agree with wholeheartedly. Although we just touched the surface last night, my initial reaction to Mark's position is that the line of demarcation between Christian and citizen ethics is too strong. And I don't think it allows general revelation and natural theology (and hence, natural law) enough of a place. But that is a discussion for another time. Here I am intending to give you access to Reynolds' thoughts. The posts are long but quite interesting, even for our Slavic brothers who may be bored by U.S. politics. To such bothers, I suggest reading them due to the fact that Reynolds, a member of an Orthodox Church and quite familiar with Slavic history, makes several comments on these topics that broaden the discussion beyond the U.S. context. Happy reading ...

This Next Presidential Election 1 of 6:
Voting as We Pray

This Next Presidential Election 2 of 6:
Direct and Dispose the Hearts of all Christian Rulers

This Next Presidential Election 3 of 6:
Truly and Impartially Administer Justice
(or Why Mitt Romney Should Never Be King of England!)

This Next Presidential Election 4 of 6:
The Punishment of Wickedness and Vice

This Next Presidential Election 5 of 6:
Maintenance of True Religion and Virtue

This Next Presidential Election 6 of 6:
Peace in Our Time- Looking for Lincoln and Reagan

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Worship on Thursday Night

I decided to open up the blog because some folks were having trouble viewing it. I am not certain that many people are looking at the blog anyway, so the chances of anyone else looking at it are probably slim. But if anyone wants me to change it back, we can. I have made the other authors for the blog administrators who can make changes, so I am not the only one.
I wanted to quote something from Kevin Vanhoozer's Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible on "Worship" (p. 857), under the heading "Corporate Gatherings":
There is every reason to understand the theological dynamic of "whole-life worship" as intrinsic to the regular, corporate and public gatherings of the church. To hold that mutual edification was the piviotal center of such gatherings in the NT (Richardson) is unconvincing (Thompson; Campbell). These occasions - in both OT and NT - are best interpreted as events when "whole-life" worship is concentrated in relation to God in a conscious and directed way, when the people of God are realigned with God and his purposes, and through this realignment, with each other. More fully, in Christian terms, the church faces and engages with God directly, being built up as a fellowship by sharing in the worship of Christ through the Spirit's endwelling.
I would want to say, as I tried to say Thursday night, that what makes this "concentrated" form of worship a sub-species of the "whole-life" worship is not the fact that it is a corporate gathering. There is private "concentrated" worship. Rather the distinctive aspect of it is it's "direct" nature; that the people of God are concentrating on God in a direct way, facing and engaging directly with God in a way that is not typical of daily life. I would be interested in any thoughts on his words.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Christology 101

This question is directed more toward our Slavic brothers. I will be teaching Christology in the fall and am trying to figure out which Russian texts would be good to assign the students. Could a few of you recommend some solid texts that might be available beyond the standard chapters in the systematics? Unfortunately, I'm not fluent enough to read Russian in a timely manner so, it would need to be something that is also available in English. I'm not simply asking for a list of books that have been translated from English into Russian, rather, for books that address issues relevant to the Ukrainian culture and context. Your help here will be greatly appreciated.

As a motivator for discussion (since asking for book recommendations is not really a discussion initiator) what are the Christological issues that the Church faces here. Is there such a transcendent focus on Christ's divinity that He isn't seen as one of us. Or do they so emphasize His manhood that He is not thought of or related to as fully God? Because there are questions that have confronted the Church since Its early centuries, I will not accept that answer that these are "western" questions. Что вы думаете?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Getting Started

Well friends, I want to welcome you to our theology blog. I have set things up a certain way, and if we don't like the way it has been done we can change it. At this point, only we can contribute or even see the blog. A password is required, as I understand it, to even read the blog. Some had concerns about students or others reading about some of our ramblings. This is a place where we can discuss issues and interact in a way we wouldn't normally in our classrooms or churches. We can change that if it is not an issue. But we are wanting on a blog to try to capture some of what we have been so blessed to enjoy at the (sometimes) once a month gatherings.

Please any of you feel free to post at any time on any topic. I have started the blog, but I do not intend to do any great monitering or editing, unless absolutely necessary. We can discuss topics we spoke about on Thursday nights, or you can introduce new topics. Hopefully enough of us will have a few moments to respond and interact. The blog will obviously help especially those who want to participate, but who are not in Kiev at the moment.

We will also try to post articles that will be used as the basis for future discussions. So welcome, everyone, and enjoy!