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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.