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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Dymanics of Faith- my first thoughts

     The mark of a gifted writer or thinker is the enduring legacy of their work. By that standard, Paul Tillich is a profoundly gifted philosopher and theologian, with work that has only just begun it's half-life.  Tillich's The Dynamics of Faith, originally published in 1957, is as coherent and though provoking as it was over fifty years ago.  
     Tillich wrote this seminal work on the nature and characteristic of faith during the heyday of scientific modernism, in which the supremacy of the human mind and limitless nature of scientific inquiry were virtually unquestioned in academic circles, Tillich wrote with whit and substance about the ethereal subject of faith.  His words read with a remarkable air of freshness in this postmodern age.  
     Faith was and still is one of most misunderstood words in the English language.  "There is hardly a word in the religious language . . . which is subject to more misunderstandings, distortions, and questionable definitions than the word, "faith. (introduction)"'  Is this not true to the extreme?  The definition of faith is a totally individual one, devoid of any ultimate meaning from which we draw our own personal understanding.  However, when anything has infinite meaning, it essentially has no meaning.  Faith has essentially become meaningless because to many because it has no defined character.  Tillich in this book begins to attempt to define for us again the essential character of faith.  [Faith] "belongs to those terms which need healing before they can be used for the healing of men."
     So the question naturally follows, what is faith for Tillich?  He opens his first chapter like this, "Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned: the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man's ultimate concern.(p.1)"  Faith then is basically one of the most foundational elements of our being.  It would follow then that all human beings are deserving of the moniker, "person of faith," even atheists.  For, as Tillich later claims, the content of your faith is inconsequential, belief is inescapable.
     If his assertion that faith is a foundational element of human existence is true, isn't the the pursuit of an ultimate standard of the definition of faith vitally important.  Our definition of who we are as people of faith, is tantamount to who we are as beings created in the image of God.  This book then serves a much more important function then mere philosophical inquiry.  It serves as an explanation of the paradigm for how we approach our creator God, faith.
     Obviously, I have a very high regard for this work.  I will be spending some time in the next couple of weeks really pouring over the content of this book.  You are more than welcome to join, conversation is more interesting than lecture anyway right?
     

Friday, September 2, 2011

In my last post I reflected that I had some issues with inerrancy, alluding to some rather problematic passages that are difficult to digest assuming inerrancy.  Today I want to briefly look at two passages that seem to be at odds with one another.  The story here is of the Davidic census near the end of his reign, and occurs in 2 Sam 24:1-2 and 2 Chron 21:1-2.  These two passages are as follows:

2 Sam 24:1-2, "1 Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 The king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.” (NASB)

1 Chron 21:1-2, "Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.” (NASB)

First we need to be clear about what these passages are not:
  • This is not the result of a scribal error, haplography or mispelling, the Hebrew text makes that clear.
  • This is not the recording of two different events, the context makes it clear that both passages are talking about the same event.
    Let's be clear on what these passages are:
    • These passages clearly differ on the origination of the census.  Samuel originates it in the anger of YHWH, and Chronicles originates it with Satan himself.  
    • These passages are clear on exactly what the motivation is, they don't speak in uncertain terms or hold back for the reader's judgment.

      Some of my theories (I have a limited amount of resources at my disposal so I am going about this task terribly under armed.  I am working with no commentaries that would help my thought process.), as to how to incorporate this passage:

      1. The theory of inerrancy is clearly contradicted by these problematic passages and thus I should abandon all pretenses to this belief.  This approach assumes the worst about the text.  Simply stopping here doesn't begin to delve into why in the world these two passages would come to different conclusions.  This is a lazy approach to the issue at hand, so I reject it.

      2. Inerrancy still applies here, but not to the details of the text.  Inerrancy goes so far as to the explication of the Biblical redemptive story, but not all the way down to the details of the author's analysis of the internal motivations of David.  An anology may go something like this.  A new and expensive jewelery box (the overall theme of redemption) is taken out of its packaging.  At this point it is flawless, and can easily be considered thus.  However, if you were to zoom down to the molecule level or to the tiny details that make up the box (The historical details) there are imperfections.  But Just as you cannot say the brand new Jewelery box is flawed the Bible is without error also.  Again, I don't like this interpretation because you are having to bend and twist the Bible a little too much to make it work in  my opinion.

      3. These passages are actually in harmony even though they don't seem so.  If we read the God-Satan relationship from Job into this passage, we can see how at the behest of God and his anger Satan is dispatched (or released) to coerce David into sin.  This interpretation harmonizes the passages in question, which I like, but fails to find extensive support elsewhere in the Bible.  

      These three theories are all unsatisfactory to me.  I haven't presented a satisfactory solution because honestly I don't have one.  All three of these approaches are variations on arguments for and against inerrancy that I have heard in my life, just adapted for this context.  

      The one thing that has been confirmed to me while blogging through the significance of Scripture is that interpretation (good interpretation at least) is a messy affair.  One that is not nearly cut and dry at all. If you have any thoughts on these passages, please don't hesitate to leave a comment below.
       

      Wednesday, August 31, 2011

      For a while now I have been talking about the importance of an honest approach to the Scriptures.  I think it is time for a little self-reflection.  Here are some of my thoughts at this time on inspiration, inerrancy, and infabillity.

      1. Of the three I's, inspiration is the easiest one for me to buy into.  
        1. Inspiration is the most important of these three.  Inerrancy and infallibility arise as a result of inspiration.  Said another way, because the text is inspired, it is inerrant and infallible. 
        2. Inspiration is vitally important for the Believer who wants to take the Bible seriously.  And I believe it is a prerequisite for studying and understanding the Scriptures properly.
        3. The reasoning behind belief in inspiration is logically problematic.  I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God because it says is is (2 Tim 3:16).  However, I believe it's statement about its nature because I have already assumed what it says is inspired.  This just may be my postmodern mindset, but I am fine with this reasoning as long as I understand it for what it actually is, a logically indefensible position.  A position of faith.
      2. Inerrancy, is a little more difficult because I see what may be contradictions in details in the Bible
        1. These can be explained in several ways:
          1. our concept of proper historiography in the modern world is different from the ancient world's.  We need to be careful not to impose modern assumptions about proper method on a book that is over 2,000 years old.  
          2. Most of these can be explained in a somewhat satisfactory manner, and are probably the result of not understanding important details of the text.
          3. The most likely scenario for some of these contradictions is that inerrancy occurs only in the original manuscripts, of which we have none.  Although we can reconstruct these original manuscripts with astounding accuracy, we are still left with questions over possible scribal errors.
          4. Because inerrancy is only present in the original autographs, it is somewhat ludicrous to believe that the Bible we (hopefully) take to church on Sunday is free of errors.  It is a translation from copies, of copies, of copies, that is the subject of the theological bias of the translators.  Is there any surprise that our modern Bibles are not error free?
        2. That the Bible is free from errors does pose some rather difficult questions.  However, it has been demonstrated time and again (in my opinion) that the Bible, as a record of selected historical events, is almost unparalleled for its reliability in the ancient world.  
        3. In spite of numerous attempts to discredit it, it has always come up trustworthy.  In light of this, I do hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, even though I can almost hear, higher-critical readers snickering in the background.
      3. Infallability is the difficult one, although to be clear I have not given up on this belief.
        1. I am down with people believing the Bible is without error, but that doesn't mean the bible is incapable of error.  One does not necessarily lead to the other.
        2. It seems to me that many people who ascribe to this belief do so in two ways
          1. they believe it without really thinking in detail about its implications
          2. they somehow believe that the Bible looses most if not all importance without infallibility.  The importance of the Scriptures comes from their inspiration, not their infallibility.  If infallibility exists, than it is as a result of inspiration, not the other way around.  They need the Bible to be infallible so they can justify their high view of it, although I believe one can have a very high view of Scripture without needing to subscribe to infallibility.
      4. At the end of the day, these three beliefs are all founded in faith.  It is one thing to prove the historical superiority of the text, which has been done many times over.  But it is another thing entirely to take that historical accuracy and build from it a case of inerrancy, inspiration, or infallibility.
        1. we all need to understand and appreciate this fact.  These beliefs are the result of faith in a text about faith.  

      It goes without saying but I don't have any of this figure out.  This just reflects my current thinking, as  backward and simple as it my be.
      Also, I recently finished reading Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel by Eugene Merrill.  It is a fantastic survey of OT history from a evangelical mindset.  The introduction, which includes a section on pursuing an accurate historical reading while holding conservative assumptions about the text, is reason alone for picking up this Book.  Below is an amazon affiliate link.  
      Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel

      Monday, August 29, 2011

      Sola Scriptura is a fraud


      Sola Scriptura isn't a fraud per say, so I admit to the somewhat misleading nature of the title.  The doctrine of Sola Scriptura in its essence states the the final authority for all doctrine rests in the Bible alone.  This stands in opposition to Catholic and Orthodox positions that Scripture is one of three equal sources for determining doctrine.

           I think many believers like to think that they come to the Bible with an open mind.  Like the ideal scientist who lets the results of the scientific method determine the outcome of the experiment, Christians think (as I described in my last post) that they let the Bible determine their theology.  They are living in a world of dreams.  Anything approaching a "pure" reading of the Bible, does not exist.  However, do not lament.  It doesn't need to exist.  The trick to reading the Bible well is not to defeat all presuppositions, but to recognize them for what they are, unavoidable determiners for how you read the text.

           What we believe, and are taught about the nature of the Bible, determines much about our reading of the Bible.  Many more "conservative" (I HATE this label), Christians presuppose things like inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration.  To be sure, these beliefs find a basis in the Scripture itself. These are self-descriptions of the word of God, but their nature is one of presupposition because they cannot be proven.  These things are matters of faith not fact.

           Likewise, other (less conservative?) people who approach the Bible, Christian and otherwise, do so with their own set of assumptions about the text.  Many who study the Bible academically totally deny divine origin, experience (miracles), or existence at all.  (How one can properly study a document and understand it while at the same time denying its most foundational element, the existence of God, is beyond my comprehension).  Needless to say, this leads them down a totally different rabbit hole than their conservative counterparts.  Their problem is one of faith also though.  I know of no conclusive proof that God can't or doesn't exist.  Atheism is nothing more than the belief that there is nothing higher to believe in, but I digress.

           So, in my opinion, the pursuit of an honest reading of Scripture does not begin by choking out all presuppositions.  But by coming to terms with what exactly they are and how they will direct your doctrinal development.

       
           

      Friday, August 26, 2011

      The Theology-Scripture circle

      In my last post I introduced two different approaches to theological interactions with Scripture, Scripturizing theology (using the Bible to support your Theological opinions), and theologizing Scripture (making the Bible determine your theological positions).  This post I want to delve into the relationship between the two.

      My last post made the point that moving from theology to Scripture is dangerous.  I still agree with that statement but just as one extreme is dangerous the other is just as dangerous if not even more ludicrous.  It seems that the ultimate in lunacy would be to hand a 5 year-old the NIV and let them come to their own conclusions on things like justification by faith, eternal security, or Jesus' fulfillment of OT messianic prophecies.  This though is the ultimate use of Scripture informing Theology.  We have taken an impressionable child and without giving them any sort of framework tasked them with building their own theology.  This is equally as dangerous, and probably impossible.

      Our theology needs to inform our reading of the Holy Scripture in that it provides a framework upon which we build our knowledge of Scripture.    Our brains can store vast amounts of information because they categorize and organize it all.  Theology (especially systematic theology) is the categorization of Biblical revelation.  We need theology to understand Scripture.

      The danger becomes when theology begins to equal or trump Scripture. At the end of the day, Theology is the servant of Scripture, not the other way around.

      How then do we balance these two?  
      1. Scripture is the supreme authority.  If you ever need to do Exegetical jumping jacks to explain your theology you are screwing things up.  Conservative Christians do this all the time.  They claim to be the ones who respect Biblical authority, yet bend the Bible into pretzels to make it say what they want.  When you do this you take the mantle of "authority" off of the Scripture and place it on your own shoulders.  You (and me) and your theology (and mine) are subservient to Bible.
      2. Let the Scriptures mold and adapt your theology.  Think of it like this:  Scripture and Theology are two halves of one circle.  Neither is complete without the other.  You can in at any point of that circle and begin to move around and around.  As you move from Theology to Scripture, be intent on letting Scripture develop your theology.  As you move from Scripture to theology let your greater knowledge and understanding reinforce and build up that famework of Theology.
      3. The entire Scripture is the supreme authority.  Don't over-gorge yourself on Paul only to starve yourself on Jeremiah.  Often Christians develop a "cannon within a cannon" continually regurgitating the same portions of Scripture.  Your theology will never develop fully without a solid understanding of the entire Scripture (cannon, and cannon will be the basis for a later blog, please stay tuned) 

      Wednesday, August 24, 2011

      the significance of Scripture

        This blog begins a series on the nature of the Bible for Christians.  It will explore Biblical presuppositions, the process of drawing out meanings from Scipture, and good practices for Biblical interpretation among others.

      How do you read the Bible?  For Believers this is a foundational issue that needs to be contemplated.  You see, we all develop a personal theology that finds it roots in multiple sources, parents, teachers, friends, books, etc.  However, ultimately we should be seeking to bring our theology into harmony with Scriptural truths.  The process by which we harmonize our theology with the Bible generally happens in two ways:

      1. Scripturalizing our Theology. 
           This is when any of us has or develops a particular theological position and then goes to the Bible to find the necessary support.  
      2. Theologizing Scripture
           This is when we read the Bible and begin the process of principalizing and theologizing the Scriptural truths found therein.
      3. An example
           Being that I grew up Pentecostal circles we had the distinctive doctrine of Baptism in the Holy Spirit (BHS) wherein a person has an initial salvation experience and then a separate distinct Baptism experience (BHS) evidence by the speaking in other tongues.  
           All my life growing up I heard things like, we believe in the BHS with the initial physical evidence of Speaking on Tongues, and here is the evidence. . . (I won't go into the specific scriptural proofs here, it is outside the emphasis of this blog).   This is an example of the first approach to drawing Theology out of Scripture.  However, when I went to college I began to look at Scripture and see that (in my own humble opinion), I could not, with intellectual honesty, accept the prevailing position wholeheartedly. 

      What my pastors were doing (using the Bible to justify theological positions) when I was growing up was not bad, just dangerous.  The conclusions they came to were not wholly wrong, nor destructive in any way.  However, nut jobs who have no Biblical training, decide they have all of the theological answers and pull verses that have no contextual relationship with one another out to support some asinine theological position, that ends up destroying people's lives.

      I am not demonizing anyone who follows this first line of thinking, in fact, I use it myself when teaching theological doctrines to people.  What I want to do here though, is call attention to the process scripturalizing our theological presuppositions.  This can lead us down some scary theological roads of which we tread with great danger. 

      What do you think, did you grow up in a similar situation?  Has either approach caused you issues in the working out of your faith?  Let me know, I am interested to hear.
       
      This post is simply an introduction into this idea, next post on Friday I plan on throwing out some thoughts on the Scriptural theology interaction.

      Monday, August 22, 2011

      Ugly Christians

      Last post I ended with a declaration that us younger Christians don't want leaders who think they know everything.  Today I wanted to unpack that assertion a little and hopefully clarify what that means.

      1. we are so ugly and screwed up ourselves that if you present personal perfection many of us will walk away.  Life has beaten most of us up. The statistics tell us that most people of my age group have tried and are consistently using drugs, alcohol, or porn.  These three things are ruining us.  We have so many monsters in our closet that the preacher with the happy family, white teeth, and nice clothes is totally foreign.  We often don't relate to you, and that means we don't listen to you either.  
      2. There is a vast dichotomy between your ideal self and your real self, embrace it.  If you hide who you actually are it will destroy you in the end.  Jimmy Swaggart, Bernie Madoff, and John Edwards are perfect examples of this.  If you confess to your actual ugliness you save yourself from your eventual downfall.  People can relate to ugly, people follow ugly.  Your ugliness will eventually rear its head, why not put it out there for everyone to see.
      3. We respond to ugly.  Because we have issues (point 1), and you have issues (point 2), know that we will respond to a leader who goes through the same trials and tribulations as us.  Jesus came and lived life among us, in part to show us that he didn't demand something of us that he didn't do himself.  Let us into your process of progressive sanctification.  If you do that, you will lead us down an eternity shifting path.  
      4. The world is filled with broken and ugly people looking for a way out.  Our spiritual leaders need to show a little more brokenness and ugliness so that we know there is a way out.  Don't be perfect, be you.  That is what we want, real people who are just as screwed up as us showing us the way to and through salvation.