Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Matthew's Christology.

Another excerpt from my book.

Matthew’s Gospel[1] begins by telling us about Jesus’ human and divine identity. His divine identity is revealed in that he is to be named “Jesus” meaning “God is our salvation”[2] for (Matthew tells us) he “will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). This fulfills the prophecy that a virgin will conceive and give birth to Immanuel, “God with us” (1:23). Throughout the Gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the true savior God of Israel in five separate theophanies. First, in chapter 5, he promulgates the Word of God on a mountain (5:1). Moses came down from the mountain and gave the Torah after speaking with God on top of it, Jesus stands on top of the mountain and directly promulgates the Word of God to the people as God himself. In chapter 17, Jesus is transfigured, which as we have previously noted, must necessarily represent a theophany in light of the fact that (as Donald Juel noted) he appears with two figures who encountered God on top of a mountain in the Old Testament. Jesus’ luminosity is particularly suggestive of the glory of the Lord which Moses gained a partial vision of. The admonition of God in the cloud to “Listen to him” (Mt 17:5) is reminiscent of Elijah’s theophany (the other figure with Jesus) which occurring through the divine Word (1 Kgs 19:12-3). The third theophany occurs as Jesus stands on the Mount of Olives, where we are told that God’s glory rested when it left the Temple in Ezekiel 11:23 and where Zechariah tells us that God will stand before the final battle which will destroy Jerusalem (Zech 14:4). Jesus in this discourse describes the destruction of Jerusalem. He ends the discourse by saying “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24:35) an echo of Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” The fourth theophany is when Jesus is taken out of the city and crucified on the hill of Golgotha. The darkness and earthquakes that accompany his death are direct parallels with Amos 8:9 description of the Day of the Lord, that is, God’s own epiphany in judgment. The last theophany is on a mountain of Galilee after the resurrection, when Jesus commissions the disciples as they “worship” (prosekunhsan) him (28:17). In this scene, Jesus states that “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me” (v. 18). This means that Jesus transcends merely human dominion on the earth (Genesis 1:28), and possesses all authority in heaven as well, which is according to his earlier statement is “God’s throne.” (Mt 5:35).
From this pattern, the question arises: why five theophanies? To begin to answer the question, we might also note that Matthew’s Gospel also contains five great discourses (5:3-7:27, 10:5-42, 13:3-52, 18:2-35, 23:2-25:46).[3] Dale Allison has noted Jesus’ typological description as Moses in Matthew.[4] This strongly suggests that Jesus’ five great discourses represent the giving of a new Torah. N. T. Wright has noted that in Second Temple Judaism that the Torah as the living Word of God stood as a means of entering God’s presence equal with God’s glory in the Temple.[5] To study Torah, was then to be in God’s presence. If this is the case, the pattern of Matthew’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the living Word of God come in person. He is also a new Moses. Nevertheless, he is not one who merely speaks with God face to face and reports his Word, but is in fact God himself speaking his own Word. Gerhard Barth agrees remarking: “The presence of Jesus in [Matthew’s] the congregation is here described as analogous to the presence of the Shekinah [kavod] . . . the place of Torah is taken by . . . Jesus; the place of the Shekinah by Jesus himself.”[6] In this regard, the final rejection of the crowd of Jesus and their acceptance of Barabbas becomes more interesting than typical treatments of the scene will allow. Jesus is now not just one of the prophets who possesses the Word of God and bears the rejection of the people (as all the prophets had). As the parable of the vineyard indicates (21:33-40), Jesus is the culmination of the rejection of prophetic mediation, in that in rejecting him, they reject the living Word of God come in person. Again, much like the golden calf, such rejection seeks alternative false mediation in the form of Barabbas. As a revolutionary, Barabbas also claims to be one who can bring the kingdom of heaven, the content of Jesus’ ministry of law and promise.
As a human being, Jesus is a descendent of Abraham and of David (1:17).[7] He is therefore not only the true Davidic Messiah, but also the true recapitulator of Israel. This is shown by the fact that his ministry and life go through the stages of Israel’s history. During Jesus’ flight to Egypt, Matthew cites Hosea 11:1 “Out of Egypt I called my Son” (2:15). The passage in its original context directly describes Israel. But if Jesus is the true Israel, his own flight to Egypt makes him the recapitulator of Israel as the true fulfiller of its vocation. Similarly, Austin Farrer has shown in his book, The Triple Victory[8] Jesus’ temptations after being cast into the desert directly correspond with Israel’s temptations in the wilderness. Jesus goes so far as to cite the verses that accompanied each act of apostasy by Israel in the wilderness culminating in his rejection of the Devil’s insistence on receiving divine worship. Here Jesus overcomes where Israel fell to the temptation of worshiping the golden calf.[9] With regard to the other stages, his ministry represents then a conquest of the land, this time from the power of the Devil by his exorcisms, healing and forgiveness of sins. As Ernst Hegstenberg[10] notes, he claims the he himself is the Angel of YHWH who participated in the original conquest of the land by claiming that he is the commander of God's heavenly armies (26:53), thereby echoing Joshua 5. He finally is rejected like the prophets and suffers death on the cross as a sign of Israel’s continuing exile. In this, he is the true king who bears, like his ancestor Josiah, the sins of his people. His resurrection then becomes an end of cosmic exile, which is also shared by the people of God whom he died to redeem.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mark's Christology and theology of atonement.

Here's another section of my book. This deals with the Gospel of Mark.

In discussing the synoptic Gospel, we will first begin with Mark.[1] Mark begins his Gospel by announcing his intention of informing us concerning the “Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mk 1:1). In that Jesus brings a “Gospel,” he must necessarily be divine, for as Ben Witherington III comments:
Only a god is really able to bring world-changing and lasting good news and benefaction and hope. Mark, then, from the outset, is announcing not merely a coming of a teacher or even just a human messianic figure (though that is part of the truth), but the epiphany or advent of a deity who will reveal himself in various and sundry ways during his time on earth.[2]

Similarly, Simon Gathercole has pointed to Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110 in his question concerning whether the Christ is David’s Son or David’s Lord later in the Gospel (Mk 12:35-7). Though the Hebrew in the third verse is somewhat difficult to translate, but the LXX version of the text is translated by Gathercole as: “With you is the rule on the day of your power, in the radiance of your holy ones; From the womb, before the morning star, I gave you birth.”[3] This definitely points to pre-existence and would certainly have been understood as such by Mark’s original readers, who were likely familiar with the LXX. Similarly Martin Hengel[4] has suggested that Mark’s citation from Isaiah in 1:2-3 (“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" Emphasis added) is highly suggestive of an inter-Trinitarian conversation before Jesus’ earthly advent. Mark also gives other indications at the beginning of his Gospel concerning Jesus’ pre-existence. The citation of “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him” is an allusion to the Second Temple Jewish eschatological expectation of the return of YHWH to Zion.[5] In light of the fact that Jesus’ mission is finally fulfilled by his Passover journey to Zion, Mark and the other Synoptists use of this verse suggests their intent to portray him as God returning to Zion to end the universal state of exile.
Though the claim Mark understands Jesus to be divine contradicts many popular presentations[6] of the Synoptic Gospels as possessing ascending Christologies rather than a descending one, as we shall see, there is a great deal of evidence that appears to negate this widely held presupposition. Simon Gathercole[7] has argued that although in recent years this position has been widely popularized in English-speaking scholarship by James D. G. Dunn’s Christology in the Making[8] it in fact was held by few interpreters in the earlier part of the last century.[9] In light of these already noted features of Mark (shared by the other Synoptic Gospels) our treatment in this section will be from the perspective that the Synoptic Gospels share a high and descending Christology with the rest of the New Testament and historic orthodox Christianity.
Returning to the text of Mark, we discover that the Gospel begins with Jesus as the Son of God and YHWH returning to Zion, identifying himself with his people Israel by choosing to be baptized with them as a sinner. Peter Leithart[10] has noted the priestly connotations of Jesus being baptized. In the old covenant, a priest was baptized at his ordination as a sign of purification, but also to place him in a role wherein he became a sin bearer. As a sin bearer, the priest confessed the sins of Israel while placing his hands upon the scapegoat, as we saw in the previous chapter. He also made a blood offering for the sins of the people. In portraying Jesus as a priest, Mark makes him a confessor of the sins of the people at the beginning of the Gospel (at his baptism) and as a bloody sacrifice at the end (at his death on the cross).
Mark gives other hints of Jesus’ priestly role. Fletcher-Louis has also observed Jesus’ forgiveness of sins[11] and the giving of his life as a “ransom” (a term taken from the substitution of monies for the life of the firstborn in Numbers 3)[12]are suggestive of a priestly identity. One might also point to the fact that Jesus as the true high priest, institutes the Eucharist in which his body and blood are given to the disciples. As we may recall, propitiatory sacrifice for the Levitical cult was understood of the draining of blood, and thereby the separation of body and blood. Joachim Jeremias comments that Jesus “is applying to Himself terms from the language of sacrifice . . . [e]ach of the two nouns [“body” and “blood”] presuppose a slaying that has separated flesh and blood. In other words: Jesus speaks of himself as a sacrifice.”[13]
It is also a meal that confirms and enacts the new covenant or diatheke[14] that is, a last will and testament: “This is my blood of the covenant [or more accurately diatheke=testament]” (Mk 14:24). As we might recall, covenants were always confirmed by blood in the Old Testament. The farewell address as the pronouncement of a covenant as a last will and testament is not uncommon throughout the Old Testament is not uncommon as the cases of Jacob in Genesis 49, Moses in Deuteronomy and David in 2 Samuel 24 demonstrates.[15] Jesus is by the separation of his body and blood as a sin offering for Israel and humanity confirmed a new testament. God must do this because Israel’s sin had kept it in exile and therefore prevented God from fulfilling the covenant of blessing that he had promised to Abraham. He is therefore good to his promise and fulfills the covenant by suffering the consequences of its previously non-fulfillment by his death on the altar of the cross. He confirms his unilateral self-giving as a sin offering in his diatheke by willing himself, that is, his very body and life-blood to the Church as a sign of the covenant’s fulfillment. On the cross, he fulfills the promise made by God in Genesis 15 to Abraham, that he should be split in-two if he fails to bless Abraham. He does this by being split in-two by the separation of his body and blood in a final and universal sin-offering.
Beyond the priestly implications of Jesus’ baptismal scene, there are also kingly and prophetic ones as well. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by John, the heavens are "torn" (σχιζομένους) open and God’s voice speaks to Jesus saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). This speech echoes the royal Psalm 2 (which we have discussed earlier) that designates the Israelite king as God’s Son, and promises him the nations as his inheritance. That Jesus is a messianic king who is also a priest is strongly suggested, Fletcher-Louis notes by Jesus’ multiple citations of Psalm 110.[16] When Jesus is baptized and God speaks to him, the Holy Spirit then descends upon Jesus and he is "driven" out into the wilderness (Mk 1:10, 12). The reception of the Spirit is reminiscent of the commissioning of the Servant in Isaiah 61, a connection made by Jesus himself as reported by Luke 4:18-9. That is suggests a prophetic office is confirmed by Mark’s summary of Jesus’ preaching concerning the coming of the kingdom of God and the end of the universal exile in 1:15.
In light of this evidence it is clear that Mark portrays Jesus as the eschatological fulfillment of these other mediatorial roles. Nonetheless, the basic structure of his Gospel suggests Jesus’ priestly vocation is most prominent in his mind. S. Moyter has argued that there is a fairly obvious inculsio that brackets the material in Mark’s Gospel.[17] This inclusio occurs between Jesus’ baptism (1:9-11) and his death on the cross (15:36-39). S. Moyter notes the mention of Elijah, the rending of the veil of heaven and the Temple (the same Greek word is used σχιζομένους, ἐσχίσθη) and the voice designating Jesus as the Son of God (by God the Father and then later the Centurion). Since, as we have previously observed there is a strongly (though obviously not exclusively) priestly background for Mark’s treatment of the work of Jesus, there is a certain amount of justification for seeing the Gospel’s structure here is being reminiscent of the ritual of the Day of Atonement.
The echoes of the Day of Atonement come out very strongly in the peculiar and interesting parallel between the rending of the veil of the Temple and that of heavens. As David Ulansey[18] has demonstrated, the Temple at the time of Jesus possessed a veil that symbolized the heavens, something also suggested by the description of the Tabernacle in Exodus 26:31-35 as well. Ulansey’s argument that Mark must be referring to the outer veil of the Temple (based on the fact that Josephus describes a sky-pattern woven into it[19]- also on the basis of his extremely unusual claim that the Centurion at the cross must has been able to see the veil) is not very convincing because he fails to recognize that both the inner and outer veil of the Temple possessed this design.[20] It is more likely that Mark means the inner veil, where God’s gracious presence rested segregated from the rest of creation. The renting of the outer veil would suggest an incomplete fulfillment of the work of Christ (i.e., one barrier down, one remaining!), something that Mark and the entire New Testament would not want to suggest.
As we have seen, within the context of the many Edenic traditions of the Old Testament, Israel’s cult was viewed as a restoration of the original vocation and estate of humanity. Nevertheless, it may also be inferred from those traditions that the Levitical cult was something of a half-way restoration. Whereas humans had once lived directly in God’s gracious presence, only one person could enter into this presence once a year (the high priest on Yom Kippur) by way of bloody sacrifice, that is, the fulfillment of the law through the expatiation of sin.
Mark’s Gospel therefore presupposes that Jesus’ priestly activity reverses and fulfills the Day of Atonement. When Jesus is baptized with sinners, heaven and earth’s segregation from one another due to human sin ceases. They cease because as God returning to Zion to save and judge Israel, Jesus does not merely stand apart from his people, but associates himself with their sin and designates himself a sin bearing priest-king. This means that in Jesus’ Incarnation and death, it is not the high priest who comes to God (as on Yom Kippur), but is God who comes out of his segregation to unite himself with his people. This also means that he unites the glory and righteousness proper to himself as God (and the sinless second Adam) with the degradation, sin and death of his people. In this he is in a sense both the goat sacrificed to YHWH and the scapegoat carrying the sins of Israel and humanity.
This is shown by the fact that the Gospel follows a pattern of the glorification of Jesus, followed by Jesus’ suffering by being “cast out” (ἐκβάλλει) much like the scapegoat. In fact the Greek word used in the LXX in the account of the Day of Atonement (εξαποστελεί) is very similar, though not exactly the same as the one used in Mark. If anything use of ἐκβάλλει is more harsh, in light of the fact that it is also used in Mark's description of exorcisms (See 1:39). Such a pattern mirrors, as we have observed earlier, the nature of Levitical sacrifice which according to its symbolism represented the victim and the priest as being a unity of sin and purity, reprieve and condemnation, judgment and glorification. At his baptism, Jesus is united with sinners and designated as God’s Son. He is glorified, and then cast into the wilderness.
After Jesus’ return from the wilderness, the entire first half of the Gospel follows Jesus mighty deeds of power. This narrative of Jesus’ glory culminates in his transfiguration. Not only does Jesus glow with divine glory. As Gathercole correctly notes, there is no indication that such glory is borrowed, meaning that Mark envisions Jesus as the incarnate divine kavod. [21] but he is accompanied by Elijah and Moses, both of whom, as Donald Juel notes,[22] were witnesses to theophonies on mountains (Exod. 33, 1 Kgs 19). He is encompassed with a thick cloud, (which as we have seen is a sign in the Old Testament of God’s presence) and God’s voice declares him to be his own Son.
Before the final revelation of glory, there is a revelation of suffering that must accompany Jesus’ messiahship and the second half now follows the pattern of rejection. From chapter 8 onward, Jesus does very few miracles and speaks concerning destruction of Jerusalem and the Last Judgment (Mark 13). His passion, beginning in Gethsemane, again possesses much of the imagery of the Day of Atonement. Andrei Orlov has noted that in Ezekiel 11:23, we are told that when the glory of the Lord left the Temple it rested on the Mount of Olives, which Gethsemane is at the base of.[23] In this sense, Jesus’ prayer and arrest in Gethsemane occur in the true Temple. In the true Temple, he offers himself up to God and does not attempt to escape those who would arrest him.
Nevertheless, before Jesus’ arrest in this true Temple, he asks for a reprieve. The voice that came to him on the Mt. Tabor and at his baptism is missing and there is no response to his plea, but only silence. Jesus now enters into the darkness of the Father’s abandonment. This does not mean that he has lost his faith in the words spoken at his baptism or at the transfiguration. Before the high priest, Jesus’ initial silence is not a sign of unbelief, but rather suggestive of his identity with the Servant of Isaiah who "did not open his mouth" (Isa 53:7), as R. T. France notes.[24] He must finally answer the high priest regarding his identity and thereby confesses that he is the one whom he has been designated to be by the Word of God at his baptism and on the mountain of transfiguration. He is, according to his confession, the human one whose divine identity will be revealed by his sharing the divine throne and glory cloud.[25] The question has been frequently asked concerning whether Jesus’ “I AM” in this confession constitutes a claiming of the divine Name. Even if this were not the case, (we do not have the space to enter the debate here), Gathercole notes that within later rabbinical circles the claim to have a heavenly throne was considered to be blasphemous because only God could claim to have such a throne.[26] Therefore, if such a belief was held at the time of Jesus (Gathercole thinks that it was) then the claim to possess a throne would necessarily make him divine. It should also be noted that in this confession of himself as the Son of Man who shares YHWH’s glory cloud and throne, Jesus combines Daniel 7 with Psalm 110’s description of the Melchizedekiah priest-king whom Jesus identifies himself with in chapter 12. As Fletcher-Louis notes, the Son of Man in Daniel 7 though exalted to the divine throne is not the one who sits “at the right hand of the Mighty One” (Mk 16:64). Rather such a description of exaltation is only made of the priest-king of Psalm 110.[27] This allusion bolsters Gathercole’s interpretation of the statement as a confession of divinity in that Jesus’ earlier comment on the Psalm implies that the Melchizedekiah priest-king is divine (“David himself calls him “Lord.” How then can he be his son?” Mk 12:37). It also suggests that Jesus according to Mark understands his role as one of both priestly and kingly mediation.
This confession stands as Jesus unconquered faith in the previous Word of God over against the silence with which he has suffered in response to his desperate prayer. The irony is of course that Jesus fidelity to God’s Word and humbleness in obeying the Father’s command is hidden under the image of the original sin of Genesis 3, that is, the desire to be divine. Jesus’ righteousness is a hidden righteousness. Not only is he one who has identified with sinners throughout his career and therefore appears to be a sinner, his humble and receptive adherence to God’s Word makes him appear to others as the ultimate embodiment of human sin.
Jesus is then cast out of the city much like the scapegoat. He allows this to occur to him, just as he offered himself up in obedience in Gethsemane (the true Temple) as the goat for YHWH. He unites the two goats in himself in that his death as the first goat occurs upon the altar of the cross after being cast out of the community of Israel. This is not the only series of sacrifices that Jesus appears to fulfill. It might also be suggested that Mark alludes to Jesus’ fulfillment of the daily practice of sin-offerings in the Temple. We are told that Jesus is nailed to the cross at nine o’clock in the morning (Mk 15:25) and dies at three o’clock in the afternoon (Mk 15:33). Arthur Just has noted that according to later Jewish tradition, sin-offerings occurred in Temple at exactly nine o’clock in the morning and three in the afternoon.[28]
Now again we must return to the inclusio of the ripping (σχιζομένους, ἐσχίσθη). As Jesus dies, the curtain is torn in the Temple from top to bottom. The significance of this has of course been frequently debated. More often than not it has been interpreted as signifying that sinners now have access to God.[29] In light of the fact that through blood atonement, the sinful high priest was able to move into the Holy of Holies through the veil (which in Mark has now been permanently torn), this interpretation does not appear far off the mark. Nevertheless, there also appears to be more to the tearing than this. Donald Juel offers two suggests that are consistent with our earlier argument about the ripping of the heavens in relationship to the revelation of the Incarnation. First, Juel claims that because God is segregated in the Holy of Holies, the torn curtain signifies his unwillingness to stand apart from humanity. He wills to identify with humankind into the very depths of sin and death.[30]
This interpretation stands as highly consistent with Jesus’ activity throughout the Gospel as one who identifies with sinners culminating in his crucifixion. In this final scene of his crucifixion, quoting Psalm 22, Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There is a recognition here of God’s condemnation and abandonment of Jesus. Jesus calls out to God, but is greeted with silence on God’s part. This second cry to God directly corresponds to God’s two previous designation of Jesus as his Son, in whom he was well pleased. But if he is to be condemned now, how is it that God is well pleased with him? What should be remember though, is that all the Psalms were the liturgy of the Temple[31] and therefore are in a sense all concerned with the praise of God for his goodness. Psalms of lamentation also assume the existence of and trust in divine goodness. One does not lament if one does not consider God to be gracious and good. Lamentation is faith’s response to appearances that contradict its trust in God’s goodness and graciousness. Those who do not believe God is good and gracious do not lament because the world is precisely as a non-existent or malevolent deity would have it. Therefore, Jesus in his lamentation maintains his faith in God’s Word to him, in spite of divine hiddenness and condemnation.[32]
In connection with the inclusio of ripping, we must also discuss the Temple’s coming destruction. Juel connects the tearing to Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple in Mark 13. By the Temple’s curtain being torn, prediction of the Temple’s coming destruction becomes a present reality.[33] People mock Jesus on the cross by saying that this is the fate of the one threatened to destroy the Temple (Mk 15:29), (actually Jesus only predicts the destruction of the Temple, Mark insists all threats of destruction are false testimony before the Sanhedrin, Mk 14:57-9). It is ironic then, that it is by his death and his weakness that he begins the Temple’s destruction by the tearing of the curtain. This incident also suggests that Mark understands Jesus to taken over functions of the Temple by his expatiation of sins and his renewal of creation. As we have seen, Jesus is the true divine priest-king who enacts the universal Day of Atonement by way of his death on the cross. He is both the priest and the two goats. He also brings about the renewal of creation by his resurrection. The Temple is in fact a microcosm of creation and is intimately tied to the well being of creation insofar as it continuously renews creation, a function now taken over by Jesus. The enactment of the new creation through a new and permanent sacrifice and liturgy of atonement cannot exist alongside the realities of the old creation in a neutral fashion. Jesus bears the sins and destructive realities of the old creation in his flesh on the altar of the cross. Therefore, the destruction of the curtain, and the destruction of the Temple represent the beginning of the new creation ruled by God’s movement towards humanity from beyond the veil, rather than by humanity’s movement towards God through the veil. In this sense, the old creation and the old cult must be judged and destroyed in order make room for the new narrative and liturgy of creation enacted by Jesus.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The two thieves as the meeting of the theology of glory and the cross.

The two thieves embody the pattern of rejected/elected throughout Scripture.  Luke first talks about the first thief who rejects Christ.  He in a sense corresponds to the first-born son who is, in Scripture, always the rejected one.  He is a rejected one because he judges Christ by vision (his apparently failure) and not by faith (i.e. trust in the Word).  The second thief accepts his fate as one who has been justly condemned.  Luke is also probably trying to emphasize that Christianity is not a political threat to the empire.  The word used for "thief" here in the Greek is the same word that Josephus uses to describe revolutionaries.  So, the thief effectively is saying that everyone who revolts against Rome should be crucified, including himself.  This thief is the accept one because he does not merely condemn himself, but he also does not judge by vision, but by faith.  He believes God's Word about Jesus.  Therefore he asks him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  To vision, Jesus clearly cannot be the Messiah (since he is a failure) and therefore he cannot have a kingdom.  But to faith he must have a kingdom, because he is the Messiah according to the Word of God.  In this, the first thief is a theologian of glory and the second is a true theologian of the cross.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Do we need to revive the "Historicist" reading of Revelation.

Greg asks "do we need to revive the Historicist interpretation of Scripture?" I have of course argued in the past that we need to revive the Christological-typological reading of Scripture, as well as other exegetical practices of the Reformers and the orthodox dogmaticians. Nevertheless, in this area, I would not follow the Reformers.

The advantage of the typological-Christological interpretation of Scripture is that it allows the Bible to be its own interpreter. After all, we are told in Revelation that "the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus."

The difficulty with the "Historicist" reading of Revelation is that can very easily turn into free-association. Different authors that I've read in this vein read different events in Church history into Revelation with little or no justification. Therefore there is no control on this particular reading of revelation.

In the same way, this means that the symbolic and typological elements of Scripture are not allowed to interpret themselves, but rather an alien concept of how Church history is working itself out is allow the govern our interpretation. I mean, that, depending on how you see Church history working out and what events you consider to be most significant, you will formulate a basic structure to Church history. You will then, in turn, impose this on the text of Revelation.

Therefore, I think that the Historicist interpretation of the book of Revelation is best left in the past.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My paper for the conference.

Here's the paper that I'm going to be presenting at Boston College on Friday.

Exclusion in Embrace: Martin Luther's Interpretation of Judaism and Islam

By Jack D. Kilcrease, Ph.D


This paper will discuss Protestant Reformer Martin Luther's interpretation of Judaism and Islam. It will argue that Luther's attitude towards these two religions was shaped both by the patristic and medieval traditions and filtered through his doctrine of the orders of creation. Because of this, Luther viewed the Jews and Muslims essentially as Christian heretics destroying creation from within the "Estate" or "Order" of the Church. They were not an "other" from outside the order of the Church, but essentially malevolent force from within God's Church. Therefore Luther's attitude should be characterized as one of exclusion in embrace.

Sources of Luther's Understanding of Non-Christian Religions
A. Early Medieval Antecedents.
Martin Luther's treatment of non-Christian religions did not come spontaneously from his own imagination. Although Luther did break with the theology and exegetical practice of the later Middle Ages in certain ways, he also represented in many significant respects a continuation of it. This observation does not in fact conflict with how Luther understood himself. Rather than destroying the previous tradition, he saw himself as purifying it. Therefore, in investigating his view of the other two great Abrahamic religions, we will find it necessary to turn to the antecedents of his treatment in patristic and medieval theology.
We will begin our investigation with Christian theological interpretations of Judaism. Obviously the literature is vast and therefore we cannot adequately summarize it here. Instead, we will highlight a number of important themes in the writings of the Fathers and the medieval theologians that will shed light on Luther's own treatment.
First, there was a common recognition by the Church Fathers and the medieval theologians that the Jews and the Christian Church shared a common heritage. Both groups shared a common source in the OT. Efforts in the second century by Valentinus and Marcion to jettison it were rebuffed by early thinkers like Tertullian and Irenaeus. The problem's relationship to Israel nevertheless remained.
In order to maintain continuity with the OT, while at the same time distancing themselves from Judaism, the Church Fathers used a number of theological strategies. The one of these was the typological and Christological interpretation of the OT. Whereas Israel of the OT, had eagerly awaited Christ (they argued), the present day Jews lacked a proper understanding of their Scriptures. All the Scriptures, Justin Martyr told Trypho the Jew, were centered on and prefigured Christ. Christ himself was in the OT, as the agent of creation and revelation. It was he who was God's Logos, Wisdom, kavod/Glory, and who appeared to the Patriarchs as the Angel of YHWH. Similarly, Irenaeus identified Christ as both agent of creation and the second Adam. The era of the NT was in fact the era in which creation would be repeated and purified by God come in the flesh. Irenaeus not only identified Christ with the new Adam, but Mary with the new Eve. In this scheme, the Jews were to be regarded as the Cain to the Abel of the Church. Not only did God favor the Church's sacrifice of praise in the Eucharist (much like Abel's burnt offerings), but just as he had hated Cain's offerings he likewise despised that of the Jews. As a result, he destroyed their temple in order to publically mark his disapproval of their worship and obstinate rejection of Christ.
Nonetheless, for all this abuse, there was also an eager expectation of an eschatological reconciliation between the Church and the Synagogue. Even with Irenaeus' negative identification of the Jews with the people of Cain, there is implicit in this identification a positive evaluation of them as a sibling people. In the same way, Justin tells Trypho at the end his dialogue that he greatly desires that the Jews might see the errors of their ways and convert to the true catholic faith. Going hand-in-hand with this understanding of kinship between the old and new Israels was the eschatological concept (based on a somewhat questionable reading of Romans 9-11), that before the last judgment the Jews would be converted to the Church en masse. This expectation was held throughout the medieval period.
Development of Christian teaching on Islam was a little bit slower in coming, not least because much of the western Church did not contemplate the direct threat of Islam until fifteenth century. There were other factors as well. Most notable was the massive language barrier, something that was less of a problem in the case of the Church's interactions with the Jews. This is very likely the reason why one of our earliest Christian sources on Islam is the eighth century Greek orthodox theologian John of Damascus, known throughout the medieval west simply as "The Damascene." Although John was a monk and a Greek speaker in Muslim controlled Damascus, he knew Arabic because his father had been bureaucrat in the Arab controlled administration of the Syria. He was highly influential in the east as one of those who made positive arguments in favor of the seventh ecumenical council. His notoriety in the west was mainly transmitted through citations of his work to be found in Lombard's Sentences and in Aquinas' Summa Theologiae.
John divided up his magnum opus, De Fide Orthodoxa, into three parts, one dealing with theological nomenclature, another with dogmatics proper and a third with various heresies. Within the last of these, we receive his treatment of Islam. John informs us that Mohammed was among other things a rank charlatan. His chicanery not only extended to his false teaching, but John also tells us that the prophet used his status as God's mouthpiece to swindle men out of their wives. It should be noted in passing that throughout the Middle Ages the identification of Islam with licentiousness was extremely common.
Moving on to a theological treatment of Mohammed and his teaching, John views them as expressing the same faulty tendencies to he perceives in Judaism. Islam, like the heresy of the Jews, falls into the opposite ditch from that of the Greek pagan polytheists in its assertion of unitarianism. Instead, John tells us, the Christian Church has taken the via media of accepting the fact of both unity and multiplicity in the being of the one God. Whether or not we think John argument is theologically cogent, what is important is that John views Muslims as existing within the continuum of possible teachings standing in continuity with the Christian faith.
In spite of this classification of Islam in the east as a Christian heresy, the western theologians initially viewed Islam somewhat differently. Adam Francisco notes that western Medieval Christian theologians in their earliest polemics (notably of Pope Urban the II in his preaching of the First Crusade) viewed Muslims without qualification as satanically inspired pagan barbarians. With greater contact though, the view of Christian theologians shifted to seeing Islam as the culmination of the great heresies of Christian antiquity. One extremely influential exponent of this view was Riccoldo da Monte di Croce. Riccoldo was an Italian Dominican of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century who spent time in the Middle East as a missionary, particularly in Mesopotamia in the vicinity of Bagdad. From his experience, he wrote a polemical tract against Islam which became standard in the late Middle Ages. In it, he openly describes the Koran as "refuse." Riccoldo does not use this merely as a general term of derision, but rather as a description of the work as an accumulated dung pile of the heresies of the ancient Church. Without making many fine distinctions, he describes Mohammed as reviving the heresies of Sabellius, Eunomius and Arius. In light of the fact that Mohammed did not accept Christ's pre-existence as both Arians and the Modalists did, this comparison is obviously somewhat strained; nevertheless, it demonstrates that Riccoldo interprets Islam in a similar fashion to the Damascene.
Riccoldo not only viewed Islam as the culmination of the history of heresy, but also as an eschatological agent of the Devil within a threefold scheme of Christian history. This periodization vaguely resembles the theology of the Franciscan Joachim of Fiore, whom Riccoldo was likely familiar with. Nevertheless, instead of world history, Riccoldo divided up the history of the NT church into three periods. These three periods represent times of persecution rather than the persons of the Trinity as in Joachim's work. In the first period, the Church had been oppressed by Jewish and pagan authorities. The second period began in 310 A.D. with the beginning of Constantine's patronage, the Church had been oppressed by the heretics Sabellius, Arius and the like, and was rescued by Hillary, Athanasius and Augustine (actually Sabellius lived prior to this period, but people in the Middle Ages were less cognizant of the chronology of the ancient Church). The third period of the Church's oppression came with the advent of the "false brethren" of which Mohammed was the greatest. This represented a period of time in which the enemies of the true faith would attempt to destroy the Church from within. Mohammed and his religion represented the most pernicious attack on the Church to date. This period of Church history would last for an indefinite period culminating in the last judgment.
Riccoldo was not alone in his identification of Islam with the eschatological mask of the Devil. In fact, medieval Christians often identified the coming of Islam with the advent of the Anti-Christ. In their commentaries, both Nicholas of Lyra and Paul of Burgos identified Islam with the final desperate attempt of Satan to destroy the Church and subvert the reign of God. Burgos and Lyra, read the book of Revelation from the "Historicist" perspective which identifies the Apocalypse as a summary of Church history painted in allegorical images. According to them, Mohammed and Salah Al-Din (the Sultan of Egypt and Syria during the period of the Third Crusade), were represented by the Dragon of John's visions.

Luther's view of Judaism and Islam in Context.
A. Luther's Treatment of Judaism
Luther understanding of the other Abrahamic religions developed in several stages. We will therefore proceed by discussing Luther's interpretation of Judaism and its stages, and then move on to Islam. It will be argued that in continuity with his medieval predecessors, Luther viewed Jews and Muslim as essentially on the level of other Christian heresies. Nevertheless in contrast to his medieval predecessors, Luther's critique of their heresy took on a unique shape due to his understanding of the gospel and the "Orders" or "Estates" of creation.
In recent years, the existentializing tendencies of early twentieth century Luther scholarship has come under attack due primarily to a better understanding of the medieval and Renaissance background of Luther's theology. Notably, the German Luther scholar Oswald Bayer has sought to interpret Luther's theology within the framework of the three "Orders" or "Estates" of creation. In what follows, we will work from Bayer's perspective.
We find the best representation of the idea of the three estates in Luther's commentary on Genesis of the 1530s and 40s, though as Werner Elert points out, the three estates appear in the Reformer's thinking as early as 1519. Luther recognized God interacting with the world through a threefold governance of the family, the Church and the state. Luther describes these as universal estates or visible divinely established institutions that form the universal setting for human life. Whether or not they are corrupted (for example, in the form of false religion or a tyrannical state) is irrelevant in that are still present and determine the structure of human life. Among these, God established both the Church and the family before the Fall. After the Fall, he establish the state to deal with the chaotic effects of human sin. In paradise, the Church was the first estate to be established by the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Such a work was meant to be a channel human worship of God. Breaking the commandment, God gave a second word, that of the protevangelium, the promise of a savior who would crush the Serpent's head. Faith in the promise of the coming Savior effectively defined the estate of the Church from the beginning and all legalistic forms of religion (meaning for Luther, this meant all false religion, of both a Christian and non-Christian stripe) were merely corruptions of the estate of the Church.
The framework of the three estates will shed light on how Luther appropriated the patristic and medieval traditions regarding the other Abrahamic religions. From early in his career, Luther viewed the Jews as obstinate half-Christians who simply needed both patience and the correct explanation of the Scriptures, something denied them by the Papacy.
We see this attitude present throughout Luther's career. Luther's early theological writings of the 1510s deal very little with the Jews. The only significant aspect that might be pointed to is the fact that in his commentary on Romans of 1516, Luther rejects the common medieval-patristic interpretation of Romans 9-11 (mentioned earlier) that posited an eschatological conversion of the Jews to the Church. This does not mean that the young Luther had a lower opinion of the Jews than his medieval predecessors. In fact, the opposite is the case. In 1519, Luther mounted a positive defense of the Jews by suggesting the servitude of the Jews to the Gentiles (which had passed into the law of the Holy Roman Empire from the Code of Justinian) was illegitimate. Christian mistreatment of the Jews would not lead them to Christ. In his commentary on the Magnificat, written in the early 1520s, Luther stated that the Jews were not an especially wicked group of people, but rather a group of people who believed that they could justify themselves through the law. This is the fault of the whole human race and particularly of the Church of Rome. Lastly, the positive defense of the Jews extended into Luther's treatment in his treatise That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew. The Roman Pontiff, argued Luther, had so corrupted the Christian faith that the Jews were more likely to wish to be transformed into "hogs" than be Christians. Jews should be treated with brotherly love by Christians. The pure gospel would lead to Jewish conversion to the Christian faith. Throughout the 1520s and 30s, Luther invited Rabbis to come to Wittenberg to debate the Scriptures. Luther made creative exegetical arguments regarding the content of the Hebrew Scriptures which he believed would convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jewish leaders proved unwilling to accept his arguments.
What this appears to suggest is that Luther's view of the Jews was in many respects the same as that of the medieval and patristic authors. We can also observe how his teaching during this period was uniquely shaped by his concept of the righteousness of faith and the orders of creation. First, the Jews participated in the estate of the Church with the rest of humanity. Their participation, from Luther's perspective, was corrupted by their wrong reading of the Scriptures. This wrong reading was the result of the estate of the Church's corruption that had occurred in Genesis 3 onward and consequently was not really unique to them. Believing that they were saved by works and sharing a common Scriptures, they participated in the same corruption of the estate of the Church that the Papal party did.
As time went on, Luther grew more hostile toward the Jews. Like many events in throughout Luther's life, the shift in his attitude was brought about by gastrointestinal difficulties. Allowing scatology to shape theology, Luther complained in 1528 letter to Melanchthon that he had had an epic bout of diarrhea after eating kosher food. Luther thought that he might possibly have been poisoned. The Reformer went on to complain that the Jews ate foods which disagreed with the Gentiles because they wanted to assert their superiority and separation from Gentile culture. For this reason, in order to humble them he insisted that the kosher foods should be banned.
Throughout the 1530s and then the early 1540s, Luther became increasingly apocalyptic in his thinking. Part of this apocalypticism was a growing suspicion of religious minorities (such as the Anabaptists and other quasi-Pentecostal movements whom he described derisively as Schwärmerei) and frustrated with what he considered to be obstinacy of the Jews. Therefore in 1543, Luther published the treatise Against the Jews and their Lies. In this short work, Luther urged his Prince to resend the toleration which he had previously allowed the Jews. The Jews despise Gentile Christian, Luther stated, calling them Goyim, and perverting the passages of the OT which offer proofs of Christ's Messiahship. They should no longer be given the civil privileges of peace and freedom, but should be pressured to join the Christian Church. Such pressure would involve legal disabilities, namely, their Synagogues should be burned down, they should be given no legal protections (for example, safe conduct), and their rabbinical books should be destroyed. Those who served as Rabbis should cease doing so and work with their hands. The finally, Luther suggested that if these measures failed, expulsion from Saxony would have to be the final step.
Especially in light of the horrors of the twentieth century these proposals cannot be anything less than appalling. Nevertheless, they are not indicative of Luther holding similar views to those of later ninetenth century and twentieth century German anti-Semites, as has frequently been charged. The Reformer's dislike of the Judaism was religious rather than racial or ethnic. Neither did he wish the extermination of the Jews, but rather their conversion. Therefore, as we noted earlier, we must explain the Reformer's attitude from other sources.
Part of the explanation of Luther's views come from his appropriation of the Historicist school of interpretation, present in the author Paul of Burgos and Nicolas of Lyra. As previously noted this exegetical tradition argues that the book of Revelation should be understood as an allegorical blueprint for Church history. In his preface to Revelation of 1521, Luther openly accepts the Historicist interpretation of the Apocalypse. According to Luther, Church history had run its course and stood now at the end of the Millennium described in Revelation 20. Soon, Luther warned, Gog and Magog would make their final desperate attempt at destroying God's creation.
In a little known piece written in 1540/1 entitled Supputatio Annorum Mundi crystallizes the intensification of the later Luther's apocalypticism. Luther's starting point in this work was an apocryphal saying attributed to the prophet Elijah quoted in the preface and originally recorded by John Carion in chronicle of 1532, stating that: "The world will stand six thousand years: for two thousand years it is empty; for two thousand years the law; for two thousand years the Messiah." Based on this saying and calculations made on the basis of the genealogies of the OT, Luther estimated that the world would last for another 50 years. Because this was the case, representatives of the Satan and the Anti-Christ- the Enthusiasts, Anabaptists, Antitriniarians, Jews, Muslims and the Papacy- were now ganging up on the true Church. It was the responsibility of those in the civil order to resist this in the form of their support of true teaching of the gospel and suppression of heresy and blasphemy before the coming of the final apocalyptic break. Hence, from this perspective, repression of the Jews was a necessary part of the work of the civil estate in the last days.

B. Luther's Treatment of Islam.
This view of history not only shaped Luther's view of Judaism, but that of Islam. Beyond this, there was an added historical backdrop to Luther's thinking on Islam, that of the Turkish advance into southeastern and central Europe. In number early pieces of the mid-1520s, he argued that it was the duty of princes to attack and conquer the Turk. Later, he came to identify the Turk with the agents of the Anti-Christ. The Pope was of course the chief manifestation of the Anti-Christ in that he had placed himself above Christ and his word of the gospel, thereby becoming an alternative mediator between God and humanity. Unlike many modern Evangelical Christians who identify the Anti-Christ as a demonically possessed person attacking the Church from the outside, Luther understood the Anti-Christ as a force standing within the Church, corrupting it by resisting the power of the gospel. He takes this stance in an important passage in Bondage of the Will of 1525, wherein he interpreting the "temple" of 2 Thessalonians as the Church and the "man of lawlessness" as the institutional Papacy. The Papacy is the Anti-Christ because, Luther state, it sits in the "midst of God's temple" (the Church) exalting himself over Christ's supreme headship. Later, in the Smalkald Articles and in the Genesis commentary, the Papacy was identified again with Satan and the original corruption of the estate of the Church. Adam and Eve had been the first Enthusiasts who sought God above his Word in the false mediator of the Serpent. So to the Papacy and its representatives claim of alternative mediation and thereby used its false authority to suppress the clear word of the gospel.
Likewise, Islam must stand within the estate of the Church otherwise it would not be an expression of the Spirit of Anti-Christ. The Turks and their prophet Mohammed essentially make the same claims as the Papacy. Without any clear proofs of prophecy, Mohammed insisted that he was God's mouth piece and that he could prescribe works that would justify humanity before a holy and wrathful God.
In Luther's later writings wherein he examines the Koran (which had recently been published in a Latin translation at Basel, due to his encouragement), he saw Islam as simply the military expression of the attack of the Spirit of Anti-Christ on the three orders. Just as the Papacy attacked the orders through clerical celibacy, political power grabs and Pelagian suppressions of the gospel, so Islam also attacked them by its works righteousness, imperialism, and its sexual licentiousness. "If" Luther said "the Papacy is the Spirit of Anti-Christ, the Turk is his body." In these writings, Luther finally identifies the Papacy with Gog and the Turk with Magog of Revelation 20 and Ezekiel 38-40.

C. Conclusion
Luther's treatment of Judaism and Islam represents a fascinating example of the dialectical development of Christian doctrine. Luther's conceptions of Judaism and Islam represent an imaginative blend of the tradition that he had inherited filtered through the lens of his doctrine of sola fide and the three orders. Recognizing this helps us better understand Luther and place him within his original historical context.

Now comes the long, slow end to the semester.....

My theology students always love the part of the semester (as much as they can really love theology!) that deals with God and creation. It mainly interests them to talk about free will and evolution and creation, and stuff like that. Now comes the most interesting (from my perspective) part of the semester that deals with the person and work of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church. From their perspective, it's boring. From their perspective, this just involves talk about abstract ideas like the composition of the person of Christ and atonement. It also is about a redemption that occurred apart from their own effort- which means that their own person agency doesn't enter into it. Things that don't involving their own choices or behavior don't interest them. I even showed them a clip from "Passion of the Christ" (the part in the garden, where Jesus crushes the serpent with his foot) to illustrate Irenaeus' idea of recapitulation and it didn't even remotely interest them.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Eschaton and Civil Government.

I don't really discuss politics on this blog, but I have lately a little bit in relation to theological topics.  

George Weigel, a Roman Catholic theologian, makes an interesting observation that I came across.  He notes that the Christian notion of the kingdom of God and the eschaton are helpful to the exercise of civil virtue.  If at the end of time, God will sweep away all the kingdoms of humanity, then any form of government or social order is merely provisional.  One cannot make an idol out of any political order.

This is a helpful insight, especially for those within our society on either the left or the right who want to temporalize the eschaton.  I also think this goes well with the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms, which as Peter Berger observes, is radically anti-Utopian.  Any civil order is simply the law's coercive measure to hold things together until they finally fall apart in the great apocalyptic break.

Lutheranism and Apostolic Succession.

In the ELCA, a group of thinkers led by Robert Jenson (often called "Evangelical Catholics) fetishize the concept of apostolic succession.  They claim that the Lutheran Church in general and the ELCA in particular has never been able to "enforce" (interesting word choice!) the gospel.  If we were to have Bishops who could trace themselves back to the Apostles, well, then, all those radical Feminists and Gay-activists would just throw up their hands and say "well, Bishop "so and so" says that this is against the Scriptures.  So I guess we should just listen and stop our heresy."

Now, you can see that I find this idea silly and naive.  Not only that, but it gets the idea of of the gospel and the ministry of the Church wrong.  They talk about "enforcing" the gospel, which is supposed to do nothing but produce freedom.  Of course, there is the exercise of the keys and the right to reject heresy (both functions of the pastoral office as the Augustana notes), but this is something very, very different.  The exercise of the keys and the rejection of heresy by those who exercise the pastoral office is aimed a driving people to the liberation of the gospel, not imposing a new law on them, which the so-called Evangelical Catholic appear interested in.  There is, of course, the other major problem that the idea that most of the Bishops in the RC, EO or AC can really trace themselves back to the apostles is pure fantasy.

Nevertheless, I think that I would suggest that some sort of apostolic succession is necessarily part of the Lutheran ecclesiology.  

Allow me to suggest how.

If we assume that the people of God are the ones who validly call a person to exercise the pastoral office, then there must a have been a person prior to them exercising the pastoral office.  Otherwise, there would be no congregation, since conversion and gathering of the people of God depends on activity of the Word and there clearly needs to be someone to preach that Word.  Now if that is the case, you can logically move back generation after generation to through the back and forth of the people of God being called and in turn calling a pastor until you reach back to the apostles.  In this sense, apostolic succession is valid and necessary, in that the preaching of the Word is exercised through an office and that office depends on a definite call.  This differentiates the Lutheran concept from the enthusiastic concept one finds in Catholicism, wherein their is a special charisma passed down through the laying on of hands. 

Most important, of course, is the fact that the apostolic Word is present to create the people of God who will then call the pastor.  The supreme apostolic succession is therefore correctly the understood as the succession of the apostolic Word, which creates real faith. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

The ELCA's Down Fall.

I found this statement by Paul Hinlicky over at the Lutheran Forum website:

So from every angle, it appears that the institutional edifice that was the ELCA sooner or later will crumble and collapse. Can that day be hastened? Jim Nestigen has argued that, even short of a status confessionis, all who hold to God’s Word and Luther’s doctrine should redirect their benevolence away from Higgins Road to trustworthy ministries. Is it so?
Word on the street confirms the appeal of Nestigen’s argument. Receipts to the ELCA are said to be down by 30+%; more than one ELCA seminary is in imminent danger of bankruptcy. In my own synod, under the leadership of a sound bishop who thanklessly sought a unity-saving compromise in August, not only was there a significant 2009 shortfall, but proportionate giving to the ELCA has now been cut from 50.6% to 36% (among other budget slashing moves locally) for the coming year. Congregational pledges to the Virginia Synod for 2010 in turn are down a half a million dollars, something like 25%. In an astonishing two-page letter from the Synod appealing for help, the name “ELCA” was named only once, in a curious paragraph telling the long history of the Virginia Synod through its various predecessor bodies. The pitch: no love lost with the ELCA, but that is not really who we are here, locally, anyway. A similar story is being repeated in many other synods. In statu embarassmentionis.

Now, I said all of this was going to happen before it did back in my article of 2005.

From a purely practical standpoint (obviously, my main argument would be that it violates the law of God!), there was no reason for the ELCA to legalize homosexuality. It just made everyone mad and didn't actually change anything. When I was going to an ELCA seminary, there were plenty of gays and lesbians around. They would bring their "best friends" to campus and no one cared, even though it was pretty obvious that they were secretly violating the "Visions and Expectations" paper we had to sign when we entered (isn't it sad that clergy have to be told to obey God's law?).

Atheism's anthropological contradiction.

Dawkin's likes to talk about how anyone who disagrees with him is either stupid or ignorant.  Now, initially found this puzzling:  I do not think that Dawkins is stupid- possibly somewhat ignorant of Religion and theology (though I would doubt more knowledge would change his mind), so why does he feel this way about Theists?

Answer: Because if human behavior and beliefs were actually influenced factors other than pure reason, then his belief in Atheism could be seen to be just as much a product of those non-cognitive factors as those of Theists.  So, then how then could Atheism be superior?

There is an anthropological contradiction here.  

Dawkins believes that humans are the products of evolution- so humans are merely the products of their genes.  If that's so, then they would develop beliefs that were useful and not necessarily true (this is Alvin Plantinga's argument).  Some beliefs could be true and useful, but it's hard to tell the difference, since there is no knowledge of reality that isn't mediated by the organs that our genes have given us.  If that's true, Dawkin's Atheism is no more rationally justifiable than Theism.  Atheism and evolution itself are merely useful beliefs, we have no way of telling if they are actually true and inherently rational.  For this reason, he cannot claim himself to be superior to Theists.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Invention of Lying: Epicureanism Redivivus

My wife and I watched the movie The Inventing of Lying the other night.  A lot of it was pretty amusing.  The premise is that an alternate world exist where human beings haven't "evolved" (their term, not mine) the ability to lie.  So, people just say out loud whatever they think.  There is no fiction or fictional film.  All movies are documentaries where a person sits in a chair and simply reads off a series of historical events.  Also, there is no religion.  Here's where it come interesting.

So the plot is that the main character learns how to lie and no one else knows how.  So he goes around saying whatever he wants and everyone automatically believes everything he says.   Now, his mother is about to die and she comments how death is no fun because its an eternity of nothingness (though, if you believe in no after life, how would you experience that?).  So, the main character lies to her that there's an after life (which makes her happy) and everyone else in the hospital over hears him, and get interested.  People then show up at his door asking about what happens when you die, so he comes up with religion.  The the tenets of his religion are as follows:

1. When you die, you get a mansion and unlimited Ice Cream.

2. If you do three really bad things, then you go to a bad place and don't get Ice Cream.

3.  All of this is decided by a man in the sky.  He's responsible for everything that happens on earth, good and bad.

Everyone just believes this without proof.  People stop finding pleasure on earth in because they're looking forward to their mansion and Ice Cream.  So on and so forth, and you get the idea.

A couple of observation should be made about this.  For one thing, the writer of the film (a British comedian) knows about as much about religion as I know about quantum physics.  What's even more annoying is that he thinks he's being very provocative when he doesn't understand his subject material.  Again, it would be like me coming up with jokes about physics or chemistry- they probably wouldn't ring true to scientists.  But on top all of this, it's not very original, in fact, it's just the old Epicurean critique of religion.

The Epicureans claimed that we were all made out of atoms that randomly flew together.  The gods were off in some other realm enjoying themselves and paying no attention to what's going on earth.  Therefore, anyone who claims that the gods have spoken to them are lying and trying to take advantage of you.  Their impeding your ability to fulfill your pleasures here on earth.  So reject all religion and simply gain your pleasures here on earth, because when you die, that's it.  You were a bunch of atoms that flew together and that's what you're going to turn into again.

In the 17th century this thinking was revived and has determined modern culture.  Darwin was influenced by it- in fact his grandfather was an proponent of Epicureanism.  Marx has obviosu signs of this thinking as well.  Spinoza used it to invent modern Biblical scholarship- think about it, how does the historical critical method work?  Does it provide much evidence?  Or does it just go through Biblical texts, assume that they are made up of fragments of different priestly or other groups trying to make power plays and then stitched together in one big power play?  Is there any evidence of this?  Of course not!  But that's how the HCM works.  It simply interprets reality on the basis of this Epicurean view of how religions "must" develop and there you go, you've got your new "scientific" reading of Scripture.  

In the end Epicureanism might be able to critique the religions of fallen humanity.  If they are the product of sin, what else could they be than a power play? But this is not the meaning of the Biblical witness, which centers itself in the gospel.  Epicureanism is in the end unable to explain the gospel.  How indeed can the gospel be a power play?  It is God's own self-surrender to us in the form of a unilateral promise.  It is not his power over us, but his surrender to us.  What it creates freedom and not enslavement.  Furthermore, this freedom is freedom to enjoy our life as creatures and not go off to some other realm.  The final eschaton will not be an abrogation of life on earth, but rather be a fulfillment of it.  

Monday, March 8, 2010

Election: What Calvinists don't get.

Since the 16th century Calvinists and Lutheran have fought over the question of election. The Lutheran's main argument against Calvinist double predestination has been "hey, yeah, that's logical, but the Bible says that God wants everyone to be saved, so we can't go there." I think that this is correct tack and the reason why Calvinists can't accept the paradox of single predestination and the universal offer of grace is simply because they assume with Thomas Aquinas that there is a fundamental continuity between what human and divine rationality. This is obvious flawed. Neither, exegetically speaking can they really explain all the statements about universal salvation.

What might dog the Lutheran position though is the rather significant biblical pattern of brothers elected and rejected. Consistently throughout the Bible we have the story of one older figure/brother being rejected (Ishmael, Esau, Saul, etc.) and the younger person/brother (Isaac, Jacob, David, etc.) accepted. Paul uses this to explain why the Jews are for the time being not converted in the NT. Being the "older brothers" of the Gentiles, Paul argues in Roman 9-11, they are being hardened for the time being, so that the "younger brother" of the Gentiles might be brought in.

Calvinist use this and with some rhetorical merit to say "hey, look, God does reject some and accept others." But let's look closer. My suggestion will be that this pattern will actually vindicate the paradoxical Lutheran view.

First, let's ask the question, why is it the case that one was rejected and the other accepted? God fairly consistently elects the weak and rejected, as we discover time and again in Scripture. If inheritance in pre-modern cultures always went to the older brother, God would doubtless choose the disinherited in order to make his power known. Hence, the choice of Jacob over Esau, etc. So the pattern goes, the disinherited are become the inherited, the mighty are knocked down from their thrones, etc.

If that's the case though, what happens to the disinherited? Think about it. If the inherited become the disinherited, then won't they take the same position as the person who they had been passed over for? In other words, Esau and Ishmael now take the position occupied by Isaac and Jacob as a disinherited one and consequently an object of God's grace. Paul uses the same argument in Romans: The Jews are being disinherited right now for the sake of the Gentiles. Nevertheless, being disinherited places them in the position of being God's object of grace in that he elects those who are disinherited.

Consequently, the Lutheran view is vindicated by this pattern of doublets. What Calvinists don't get is that being rejected automatically makes you an object of divine grace. Therefore the idea of elect and universal grace are paradoxical, but fit perfectly with the biblical pattern.

Conversely, what does being elected make one? Well, it means that you return to God's creation and bear the cross in your vocation. So, much like being rejected automatically makes the person an object of grace, so being elected means that you participate in a world suffering under God's wrath. It means to accept the lot of the disinherited as your own.

Jesus of course exemplifies this. He is the "first born over all creation" so that he is rejected along with Esau and Ishmael, but he is also the "second Adam" (Adam's younger brother), consequently he is also accepted. He is of the tribe of Judah (accepted and returned from Exile), but he also lived in the Northern Kingdom (rejected and never heard from again). He therefore recapitulates the whole pattern in himself and makes our rejection into a final universal acceptance.

At the last judgment, that some remain rejected enemies of God is therefore mysterious. God of course does not elect all. God executes his decree of election in the event of coming to faith, while making clear in the means of grace that all are sinful and rejected and therefore all objects of his grace. To be an object of God's grace therefore does not mean to have had the decree of election executed upon one. There finally is a division. Nevertheless, since we know the rejected are always objects of divine grace, we cannot claim that the Calvinists are correct that God does to offer is grace to all or that all are not objects of his grace. The biblical pattern of election demands this.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Peter Berger: Politics spells death for the Mainline.

Check out the lecture "Lutheran Identity in America" here:


http://gnesiolutheran.com/lectures/

Now, Berger is much more liberal than I am (or ever was), but he makes many interesting observations about religion in America.


The most interesting aspect of Mainline Protestantism in America was that the odd situation in the Mainline Protestant Churches. Here's what it is:


This sociologist of Religion (whose name escapes me) wrote a book back in the 60s claiming that there were going to be some major fights in the Mainline Churches in the coming decades over politics. He claimed this because in survey after survey it was found that Mainline Protestant clergy are overwhelming liberal and their congregations are overwhelmingly moderate/conservative.


This didn't really happen with regard to politics (perhaps with other things). That's mainly because if parishners didn't like the politics of their minister they would generally just leave. Hence the demographic decline of the Mainline.


I totally get this. I held out in the ELCA as long as I could (that is as long as conscience would permit). And what most annoyed me was the fact that week-after-week it was some sort of political message that I didn't agree with. I'm a political conservative (though I don't intend to talk about it much on this blog, because I'm interested in discussing theology here and I think it's very dangerous to equate a particular political commitment directly with Christianity) and so I got tired of hearing politically liberal messages when I wanted to hear about the faith. Of course most of them directly identified the message of the political left with Christianity, something I had deep problems with. I'm equally uncomfortable saying Jesus stands for Capitalism and limited government, even if I think those things are good.


Now, maybe the Mainline could get the message and knock it off. Unfortunately for them, the reason why they do this is because if they did they wouldn't have anything to talk about. Frankly, a great deal of them believe that non-Christians aren't going to hell and that pretty much no one goes to hell. So, if you're not saving people from hell, what are you doing?



Basically, to put it bluntly, they've got to come up with something to talk about. They've also got to come up with a point to Christianity. Because if it's not about get people out of eternal perdition, what's it about?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Seriously?

Seriously?

No one has a strong opinion on prayer fellowship?

I thought I would have a lot of strong opinions.  If you don't that's cool- I'm just surprised.

Prayer Fellowship.

Hoenecke is against prayer fellowship with non-Lutherans.  Surprise, surprise!  

This is of course the WELS position in contrast to LCMS.  Also, it should be noted that although it was never clearly defined, this was the position of the great synodical conference.  LCMS just moved away from it with their acceptance of the boy scouts, among other things.

Now I personally do not agree with the WELS position.  I have prayed with my advisor at Marquette who was Catholic and also with Reformed friends (as well as ELCA friends) and I do not consider it to be objectionable.  If I share an evening meal with someone and pray to a God who we commonly accept (based on a common acceptance of creedal orthodoxy), then I am not really saying "hey, we agree about everything, so why all this division from the Reformation?"  All I'm saying is "hey, we both accept the same God who the creed talks about, though we have serious differences about what he has done to save us.  Nevertheless, we can be thankful together for the fruits of creation."  Communion fellowship I think is a little bit different since we are "proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes"- meaning we are claiming that we have a common accepted understanding of what the Lord's death means.

Nevertheless, one of the things I consider to be the weakest about LCMS theology is that we haven't really thought through this issue enough.  That's why there was the whole big problem with the Yankee stadium event.  Where do we draw the line with prayer fellowship?  I mean, obviously we can't prayer with people who aren't Christians (creedally I mean).  But where do we draw the line even within creedal orthodoxy?  

Does anyone have an opinion?  (I'm certain you do!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another blow to Biblical minimalism.

More of Solomon's city was found.  Again, I think that this makes my point.  I have been told that throughout my education at Catholic and Protestant institutions that there was little evidence of a vast and power Solomonic-Davidic kingdom.  Turns out we just didn't have all the information.  In the end, the error was in our minds and not Scripture.  But read this, it's interesting:

"The city wall that has been uncovered testifies to a ruling presence. Its strength and form of construction indicate a high level of engineering”, [Eliat] Mazar said. The city wall is at the eastern end of the Ophel area in a high, strategic location atop the western slop of the Kidron valley.

“A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of assurance that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the tenth century B.C.E.,” said Mazar.

“This is the first time that a structure from that time has been found that may correlate with written descriptions of Solomon’s building in Jerusalem,” she added. “The Bible tells us that Solomon built — with the assistance of the Phoenicians, who were outstanding builders — the Temple and his new palace and surrounded them with a city, most probably connected to the more ancient wall of the City of David.” Mazar specifically cites the third chapter of the First Books of Kings where it refers to “until he (Solomon) had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Where do we start? Luther on creation and redemption.

Listen to the Nestingen piece here: http://gnesiolutheran.com/lectures/

This is very typical of Nestingen's style in class when I took Lutheran Confessions from him.

Any how, I think it's not a bad talk, but I think I would object to a couple of things. For one thing, as a child of Forde and the Luther Renaissance, Nestingen draws false distinctions between Luther and Melanchthon.

According to him, Melanchthon starts with the doctrine of creation and a strucutre of Law and then fits Christ into it. That's why, according to Nestingen, Melanchthon couldn't accept bondage in the end because he felt that it denigrated creation and the law. Luther starts from the cross and then reasons his way back to sin and creation.

Now, let's think about this- what exactly is he basing this on? He talks about the Bondage of the Will alot. But is this Luther's method there? Not really. Luther starts with natural theology and tells us that if we just relied on our reason we could figure out that because God exists and because he's the creator, he must be the supreme casual agent and all creatures must possess a derivative ability to act as causal agents. He does of course move on to Bible exegesis, but he mainly argues about proof texts for bondage and destroys the hermeneutical non-sense that "should" means "can." He does of course also say (more in passing than anything) that none of God's promises could be trusted if he didn't have infallible foreknowledge. But the cross really doesn't come up too much. Neither is the argument from the promise of the gospel the major rhetorical strategy. So, so much for that.

Another thing that should be mentioned is that Robert Kolb has pretty much clearly demonstrated that Melanchthon was more worried by the fact that people would fall into fatalism if Luther's view of bondage was held. So there was clearly a pastoral aspect to Melanchthon's view. On top of that, he was afraid of the rising tide of Epicurean and Stoic thought that was becoming popular during the Renaissance. So, Nestingen is not really correct on the historical basis of Melanchthon's theological views, even if he is correct that they were bad theology.

Furthermore, when I had him in class, he also used to contrast Luther's supposed method of starting from the cross and Melanchthon's ordering of the Augustana. Melanchthon starts with the Triune God, moves to creation and sin and then to the cross.

But again, how is this any different than the catechisms? In the catechisms, we have the first article and move to the second article. Of course, you could make the argument that Luther doesn't really talk that much directly about the Fall, and that the Fall is spoken of on the basis of what Christ has saved us from. Nevertheless, we're not disputing that sin's depth can only be known at the foot of the cross- Luther says this many times. We're disputing that Luther's method begins at the cross and moves backword, thereby adducing creation and sin from redemption. Again, this doesn't seem evident to me. Neither does it seem evident in the Heidelberg disputation, the Galatians commentary, the Genesis commentary, Two kinds of righteousness, The Freedom of a Christian, Against Latomus, etc..

In the end, what I really see going on here is a post-Kantian Protestant dogmatic move that has very little to do with Luther. In other words, if you follow Kant and believe that you cannot know the ding an sich, then you will have to start at what is within your own inner experience- that is redemption- and then move back using deduction to get to the articles of creation and sin. Since the Bible or the traditional theistic arguments are not automatically valid (as they were for Luther and Protestant orthodoxy), one can only get to the unknown quatity (sin and creation) from the known quatity (my inner experience of being redeemed from something). More or less, every modern Protestant theologian (that is, other than the repristinating theologians) has gone this direct in the last 200 years. Therefore it is not terribly surprising to see people read it into Luther.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Olli-Pekka Vainio liked my review.

I received a message over Facebook this morning that the Finnish Luther scholar Olli-Pekka Vainio liked my review of his book about the history of the Lutheran doctrine of justification from Luther to the Formula of Concord.  I thought this was particularly interesting because I was somewhat critical of his approach, as I am with the Finnish school in general.  What is shows is what a cool guy that he is.  I was pleased that someone had appreciated the review, especially author.

One set of ambiguities for another.

My friend Mike points out that Christ did not die to prove the truth of certain facts within the Biblical canon.  I would agree with this and disagree with it, depending on how one takes the statement.  On the one hand, I think that Mike is correct that Christ's work of redemption is central and that conservative Protestants in general have a tendency to treat Biblical authority as an abstract proposition and then defend individual bits of the Bible to prove the gospel.  This is poor theology.  On the other hand, I think that Jesus as the Word of God inspired the prophets and authorized the apostles.  His death and resurrection prove him to be Lord and thereby we can rely infallibly on the message that he authorizes.  So, yes, he does authorize the truth of the "bits" of the Bible narrative.  Without that, as I noted in the earlier post, we are left with a redemption that makes no sense (since it only makes sense in the framework of the total Biblical narrative) and which is merely probable, not infallibly true.  If that is true, then the proclaimed Word is only probable and therefore we do not have absolute assurance.  If the events that make the promise possible are merely probable, so are the promises!

I sympathize with Mike's concerns though.  He goes on in his response to me that if one claims inerrancy as I so boldly do, that one must then be caught up trying to prove that a human being could literally stay alive in a whale or other things that he considers less than scientific.  In the end, he protests, these have basically nothing to do with the gospel and so what have you really gain?

Now, if I understand him correctly, this means that by accepting inerrancy I place myself within a set of intellectual ambiguities (the fact that I can't prove everything the Bible and that much in the Bible seems to conflict with modern scientific notions) that cannot be resolved.  Therefore sensible thing to do is say "hey, inerrancy isn't necessary, just the gospel."  Again, I must protest on the basis of my earlier response above.  Gospel reductionism and fact/value split don't work theologically.  Let me respond in some other ways as well.

First, we should not believe that our current knowledge of the world is entirely correct.  Therefore claiming that the scientifically determined "truth" can trump Scriptural truth is not valid.  Again, we will never reach a state this side of eternity where all the ambiguities are gone and where we can empirically prove everything.  Our knowledge of the text and of the scientific world is always limited.  

Furthermore, Scripture has often been thought to be in error when we just didn't have all the information.  Example:  Did Abraham have camels?  When I was in college we were all told that that was impossible because they weren't domesticated then.  Well, turns out that they weren't very widely used, but they were domesticated.  They were typically owned by kings and other very wealthy people at that time.  Genesis says he got his from the Egyptian king.  This also explains why Rebecca was eager to go to be with Isaac- even though Abraham's slave pretty much just randomly came out of the desert and asked her come with him.  If he has a bunch of camels he must be super rich.  So, it turns out on a fairly minor point that the Bible was right after all.  It also proves that when we perceived an error, it was in us and not the Word of God.

The second point I would make is that if you don't like the ambiguities of scriptural inerrancy, try the alternative set of ambiguities.  In other words, go to mainline Protestant land and endure diversity quotas , peace and justice commissions for whatever and whoever, absurd hymns like the new ELCA favorite "Mothering God."  In other words, what I've learned is that there is no middle ground.  Why can all this non-sense go on?  Because if the basis of the faith is not infallible then you can make up whatever you want.  There's no middle ground.  WordAlone thinks that there is, but they are badly mistaken.  Wait 20 years and they'll be right back arguing about gays all over again.  In the end, you can have either one or the other.  Take your pick.

So, my question, the question I finally asked myself when I came to accept the doctrine of the historic Lutheran Church regarding the Scripture was, which set of ambiguities will it be?  The ambiguity of not absolutely being able to account for every discrepancy in Scripture (but ultimately trusting in God's truthfulness!) or the ambiguity of not being able to know the truth at all- the ambiguity of having all truth be negotiable. 

I'll take the former over the later any day.  Being a creature I can accept that I don't know everything and I leave it up to God to show me.

The NIV: Not great literature.

The NIV is literal enough and conveys some meaning, but its a very flat translation if you know the languages. Also, it tends to "represent" what the translator thinks the author means and then not preserve the original word choice or order very well. There are many intertextual reference in Scripture which therefore get destroyed in the process.