“Tebow’s Religion and Ours”

I’m going to share an article: Daniel Foster’s “Tebow’s Religion, and Ours”, which is on National Review Online.  It concerns Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who is quite open about his Christian faith.  I didn’t care for the overall tone of the article, but I liked the following passages:

“With very few exceptions — Mariano Rivera comes to mind, as well as Curt Schilling, and post-’Prime Time’ Deion Sanders — athletes’ professions of faith strike most believers, nonbelievers, and agnostics alike as empty ritual, an extended solipsism in which big men with bigger egos congratulate themselves for having God on their side. How could it be otherwise?”

“…Tebow is the last Boy Scout. A leader on the field and off who spent his college years not indulging in any of the worldly pleasures afforded to Heisman Trophy winners, but doing missionary work in Thailand; helping overworked doctors perform circumcisions in the Philippines (you read that right); and preaching at schools, churches, and even prisons. This is a young man with such a strong work ethic that, according to teammates, he can’t even be coaxed into hitting the town on a night after a Broncos win, because he is too busy preparing for the next week’s game. This is a young man who even turned the other cheek at Stephen Tulloch’s Tebowing, saying, ‘He was probably just having fun and was excited he made a good play and had a sack. And good for him.’”

Published in: on December 5, 2011 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nullifying Non-Authoritative Laws?

I finished Hans Hubner’s Law in Paul’s Thought.  I also started Heikki Raisenen’s Paul and the Law.  In this post, I will use as my starting-point something that Raisenen says about Hubner on page 8:

“In Galatians Paul, according to Hubner, maintains that the law has been abolished; in Romans, however, Christ is only seen as the end of the Jewish misunderstanding of the law and not of the law itself.”

This was slightly different from how I understood Hubner, but I will admit that I didn’t find Hubner to be that easy to read.  I thought that Hubner believed that Paul in Romans sees Christ as the end of the law, meaning that the law was temporary (although Paul in Romans does view the law as good, which, for Hubner, differs from Paul’s negative outlook towards the law in Galatians).  I agree with Raisenen that Hubner makes a big deal about Jewish misunderstanding of the law—-that, for Hubner, prominent strands of Judaism made observance of the law into a matter of boasting as well as atomized the law into individual commands rather than looking at the law in a holistic manner.  I also agree with Raisenen that Hubner’s Paul in Romans holds that the law has continuing relevance for Christians, who fulfill the purpose of the law when they love.  But I still thought that Hubner was arguing that Paul in Romans saw Christ as the end of the law, not just the misunderstanding of the law.  I suppose that I could reread Hubner, but, to be honest, I want to move on and read other things.

I want to focus, though, on Raisenen’s characterization of Hubner: that Paul in Romans was saying that Christ is the end of Jewish misunderstanding of the law, not the law itself.  That sort of view reminds me of arguments that I heard in Armstrongite circles.  Armstrongites believed that God required Christians to observe Old Testament practices, such as the seventh-day Sabbath, the holy days, the dietary rules, etc.  Consequently, Armstrongites interpreted certain New Testament passages differently from many Sunday-keeping Christians (at least the ones who thought about those passages).

As an example, I’ll quote Ephesians 2:14-16 (in the King James Version): “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us]; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby”.

Many Sunday-keeping Christians have argued that Ephesians 2:14-16 is about God abolishing something in his law.  Some see the word “commandments” and conclude that the passage is saying that God has abolished the Sabbath.  Some contend that what is being abolished is the Torah rituals that separated Jews from Gentiles, and often they identify these rituals as the Sabbath, circumcision, and the food laws.  But I heard Armstrongites offer an alternative view: that what is being abolished in Ephesians 2:14-16 is not commandments of God, but rather commandments of men.  I do not know entirely what Armstrongites who used this argument had in mind.  Were they thinking of Pharisaic regulations, which Jesus called “commandments of men” in Mark 7:7 and Matthew 15:9?  Probably so.  It’s interesting, though, that there are even many Sunday-keepers who argue that Ephesians 2:14-16 is talking about Christ’s abolition of a human (as opposed to a divine) commandment, namely, the way that Herod’s Temple barred Gentiles from certain Temple areas where Jews were allowed to be.  According to this view, Christ abolished that separation between Jews and Gentiles by giving both equal access to God.  Come to think of it, this view entails Christ overturning divine and human institutions: Christ abolished the need for an earthly temple (which was divinely-sanctioned), and that abolished the humanly-sanctioned separation between Jews and Gentiles at that Temple.

I have a problem with the Armstrongite view that Christ in Ephesians 2:14-16 abolishes commandments of men, and it’s the same problem that I have with Hubner’s argument that Christ abolished a Jewish misunderstanding of the law and not the law itself.  My problem is this: Why would Christ need to abolish something that wasn’t divinely-authoritative in the first place?  If God at the outset didn’t require people to obey commandments of men or to follow a misunderstanding of the law, why would Christ need to die to put an end to those things?  There’s no substance to them in the first place, for God is not sanctioning them!  Why would Christ need to die to end human commandments, when the solution is simply for people to realize that they don’t have to observe them, because these commandments lack authority and legitimacy?

It makes a little more sense to me that Ephesians 2:14-16 is saying that God abolished laws that God himself enacted, for I can see God officially nullifying his own laws, but (in my opinion) it doesn’t make sense for him to nullify laws that he did not enact in the first place—-human religious regulations that have no divine sanction or authority at the outset.  But perhaps, by nullifying some of his own laws, God also nullified the human abuse of them.  If God now recognizes the church and not the Temple, for example, that means that the humanly-ordained separation between Jews and Gentiles at the Temple no longer has an impact, for God now acknowledges a new Temple (the church) where such barriers do not exist.

Published in: on December 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm  Comments (5)  

David Marshall: “Is the Good Book Bad?”

For my write-up today on David Marshall’s The Truth Behind the New Atheism, I’ll blog about Chapter 6, “Is the Good Book Bad?”

I agree with Marshall that the Bible is not as bad as new atheists like to present, for it does contain humanitarian and egalitarian material.  My biggest problem with this chapter, however, is that it does not deal with certain troubling passages in the Bible.  Here are some examples of what I have in mind:

*The law in Numbers 30 which states that men must keep their vows, whereas the vows of women (except for divorcees and widows) can be nullified by their fathers or husbands.  That sounds patriarchal and unequal to me.

*The law in Numbers 26-27, 30 that women can only inherit property from their father if the father has no sons.  Again, that’s patriarchal, for why couldn’t women inherit if their father had sons?  Moreover, there were other ancient Near Eastern nations that were more progressive on women inheriting property.

*God’s command that the Israelites kill the Canaanite women and children.  God did not have to go this far, for he allowed the Israelites to take the women and children as plunder when they were from the areas surrounding Canaan (Deuteronomy 20).  Why didn’t God have the same policy regarding the Canaanite women and children?

*The law in Leviticus 25:46 that Israelites could own Gentile slaves forever, whereas Israelite slaves would be released.

*The exclusion of mamzerim, Ammonites, and Moabites from the congregation of the LORD in Deuteronomy 23.  If God is loving, why does he exclude people for the sins of their parents or ancestors?

Marshall cannot put these passages in the category of things that the biblical author reports but does not approve, like he does for the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter, for these passages are in God’s very own law.  Marshall could then make some points that he makes in this chapter: that revelation is progressive, that Christ should be the criterion of interpretation, and that the Bible is not a perfect revelation that dropped down from heaven but rather is something that God inspired and uses to speak to us (which is my understanding of Marshall’s presentation of the views of Nicholas Wolterstorff and C.S. Lewis, and I welcome gentle correction on this).  But Marshall also likes to make the point that the Bible is so much better than other cultures: the Bible speaks truth to power, whereas other cultures are afraid to challenge kings; the Bible contains the promise that Abraham’s seed will bless the nations, a love for humanity that Mars and Guan Di did not manifest.  If Marshall’s claim is that the Bible has good things, then I’m with him on that.  If his point, however, is that the Bible is so morally far ahead of other cultures because it was inspired by God, then I would take issue with that argument.  If God inspired the ancient Hebrews to be so morally advanced above their neighbors, then why do some of God’s laws appear to be so regressive, patriarchal, and unfair?

I concur with Marshall, however, that God can use the Bible to speak to us and to reinforce our pursuit of a moral and spiritual path.  I am for a humble approach to the Bible.  I’m just sick of conservative Christians beating me over the head with “the Bible says” when the Bible appears to have problems and to contradict the egalitarian and humanitarian morality that even some conservative Christians have inherited from the world around them (or, as Marshall will argue in a later chapter, contributed to the world around them).

Published in: on December 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

James’ Review of Michael Camp’s 31 Reasons for Being Post-Evangelical

My friend Felix reviewed progressive Christian blogger Michael Camp’s 31 reasons for leaving evangelicalism and becoming a progressive but not a liberal.  Felix copy-and-pasted Camp’s post on his own blog and offered his own reactions in red.  I’ll do the same thing.

Okay, in the spirit of Rachel Held Evans’ blog post on 13 Things that Make Me a Lousy Evangelical (and a Lousy Progressive and a Lousy Feminist), I’ve come up with my own list of 31 reasons I left evangelicalism and became a progressive (for lack of a better term) but not a liberal. So, here we go:

1. I’m allergic to contempary Christian music.  I don’t mind it myself, but I don’t listen to it as much nowadays.  When I do listen to music (which is rare), it’s usually secular pop.  I like the sound of contemporary Christian music, but sometimes it makes me feel uncomfortable because I start evaluating my reaction to the theology of the lyrics.
2. I never believed in the inerrancy of the Bible (and think it’s rather obvious it’s not inerrant) and got tired of hiding that fact.  I don’t worry about it that much, to tell you the truth.  I just assume that God is a God of unconditional love.  If there is a way for the Bible to conform to that, fine.  If not, then I don’t worry about it, for there are plenty of people who testify that God has been unconditionally loving in their own lives.  Plus, I need a God who is unconditionally loving.
3. I realized biblicism (the notion that the Bible is infallible, internally consistent, universally applicable, contains all the truth we need, and makes us certain about most everything) is intellectually hallow and dishonest (see The Bible Made Impossible).  I have issues with biblicism myself, for the Bible does strike me as a diverse collection of writings.  And I feel no compulsion to harmonize contradictions in an artificial manner.
4. I think it’s not only fine to try to ascertain what Jesus meant or what Bible authors meant, in the original culture, but more importantly, if we don’t, we’re not taking the Bible seriously. We love tradition over truth.  I think it’s good to try to do this.  At the same time, it’s interesting that Bible readers throughout history did not have an IVP Bible Background Commentary, yet they got along fairly adequately.  But, for me, putting the Bible in its ancient Near Eastern setting largely illustrates how it was a product of ANE time and culture. 
5. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to pick and choose what one thinks is inspired and true in the Bible. After all, that’s how the Bible was composed. Someone else picked and chose and copied and translated, so why can’t we? Why do we have to take it on faith and they get to decide? How does one do that you ask? Have an open mind, look at objective biblical scholarship, use some common sense, and let the Spirit speak to your heart. What? You think that’s crazy? If accepting everthing at face value works, then why does evangelicalism have a thousand denominations and opinions about what the Bible teaches?  I agree with much of this.  I sympathize somewhat, however, with fundamentalism’s question of how we can trust any of the Bible, if we do not believe in all of it.  What should be the foundation of our theology, if we cannot even see God?  At the same time, even conservative Christians do not accept all of the Bible, for they downplay or soften many of the parts that disagree with their theology.  The Bible is filtered through human subjectivity, which stresses some parts while downplaying other parts.  So what can I do?  I guess I can be open to whatever wisdom the Bible offers, use common sense, get counsel from others, and pray.  And God won’t stop loving me if I get things wrong.
6. Despite 2-5 above, I think much of the Bible is inspired by God.  It has good stories, principles, and observations about how life works.  I don’t worry a great deal these days about whether the Bible is inspired and how it is inspired.  I just read it, and maybe God can use it to inspire me.
7. After studying the historical and cultural context of the Bible and learning how it has sometimes been miscopied, and frequently mistranslated and misinterpreted (by people who care more about tradition than truth), I find it a remarkably progressive book–okay, okay, minus that stuff about genocide and killing women and children, etc.  I agree that it is progressive in that it often champions the poor against their oppressors.  I think, though, that conservative Christians downplay the less progressive parts (lifelong slavery for non-Israelite captives) in their attempts to argue that the Bible is divinely-inspired.  And I also have issues with the Conquest, especially since the Israelites did not have to kill the women and children.  For people outside of Canaan, God had the Israelites take the women and children as captives, while killing only the men.  Why couldn’t that have been the policy for the Canaanites, as well (assuming it’s moral in the first place for one people-group to displace another).
8. I might be called to love him, but I don’t like Rick Warren, and especially those Hawaiian shirts he wears.  Like Felix, I disagree with Warren’s stance that abused wives can’t leave their husbands.  I also think that the Purpose-Driven Life is over-rated and promotes group-think.  But I appreciated some of Rick Warren’s questions to Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, for some of them were not the typical right-wing garbage (i.e., thou shalt not flip-flop).  He also does appear to be progressive on some issues.
9. R.C. Sproul defending Mark Driscoll makes me a bit nauseous. Okay, a lot nauseous.  I respect R.C. Sproul, on some level, because he fairly articulates different perspectives.  But I don’t like how some evangelicals point to him as some major apologist I should follow, for (as is the case with most apologists) I don’t think he proves Christianity is true.  As for Mark Driscoll, I can’t stand him.  I think he comes across as a pompous jerk and a bully.  If he says I should do something, I’m tempted to do the opposite.
10. I not only think believing in The Rapture is delusional, but also believing we live in the end times too.  I agree, especially since every time since the time after Christ’s death has been labeled “the end times” by Christians, so why should I take it seriously?  As for the pre-trib rapture, I understand how some Christians arrive at that, but the church fathers didn’t believe in it, and biblical texts that supposedly support it have other plausible interpretations.
11. I believe Jesus already returned (figuratively) in the first century (you gotta read my book).  I’m open to preterism.  It certainly beats being afraid of living in the end-times!  It also makes a good-faith attempt to explain how Jesus was not wrong when he said or implied that he would come back in “this generation” or in the lifetime of his disciples.  But I have a nagging feeling that preterism is just some inadequate way to defend the Bible.  Jesus often presents his coming as corresponding with judgment on the nations, redemption, salvation, etc.  That did not happen in 70 C.E.  So was Jesus wrong?  Maybe.  I still hope that God will intervene and make this world better, though.
12. I believe the Bible teaches the good guys get left behind (again, it’s in the book).  Yup.  One is taken, the other is left.  The taken one goes where the vultures are, or something like that.
13. I sometimes agree with R.C. Sproul. For example, he actually pretty much believes #11 too.  Calvinism disgusts me, but, like I said, I like how R.C. looks at different perspectives and evaluates them, even if I don’t agree with where he ends up.
14. Going to a U2 concert is a spiritual experience for me.  I don’t listen to U2, but I admire Bono for his humanitarian work and for reaching out to right-wing Christian figures to encourage them to show compassion for the least of these.
15. I no longer believe evolution is the enemy.  I think there’s evidence for it.  What its theological implications are, I’m not sure yet.
16. I think intelligent design is a grand idea that needs to be seriously considered.  I’m against censorship, so, yes, give ID a fair hearing.  But I also don’t think gaps in our scientific knowledge should lead to a “God did it” that precludes attempts to find a scientific, naturalistic explanation.
17. I think one can be a practicing gay or lesbian and still follow Christ.  This is a hard one for me.  I consider myself to be for gay rights, in the sense that I oppose discrimination in housing and employment.  I also really don’t care if gays marry, as long as the law respects religious institutions not going along with that (as New York’s law does).  I also think that gays can be good people and experience God, since that occurs in churches, synagogues, AA meetings, etc.  But can a practicing gay or lesbian follow “Christ”?  My reading of Scripture is that the Bible disapproves of homosexual activity, and I’ve not been convinced by exegetical attempts to argue otherwise.  But is the Bible right that this is God’s will?  I’d have problems telling a person he has to be celibate for the rest of his natural life.  I doubt that God is that cruel.
18. I’m a microbrew enthusiast and love to talk theology over a couple of brews.  I’m a tee-totaler, not for religious reasons, but because drinking is not good for me personally.  And, overall, I have issues with talking theology, since what it often amounts to is someone else trying to shove his or her religion down my throat.  I’d NEED a brew to endure that!
19. Rick Perry makes me really nervous (but not as much as Sarah Palin).  He has a certain charm, but he exemplifies so many things that I hate about evangelicals.  His whining about persecution for his faith comes to mind.  And I don’t care what his apologists say: he was hosting that prayer rally to get evangelical votes.  I mean, he announced his Presidential run not long after it.  Regarding Sarah Palin, I at first liked her because she struck me as a populist, a reformer, and a common person.  Plus, she was hot.  Nowadays, I’m not impressed by her lack of knowledge, plus I believe the testimony of those who say she can be a mean girl.  I’m also sick of her continual whining and playing the victim.
20. I hate sexual exploitation but find some erotica perfectly acceptable for adults.  Are we talking about pornography here?  I steer clear of it.  I’m not the sort of guy who leaves the room when there’s nudity in a movie.  But I don’t want to become addicted to Internet porn. 
21. I think the evangelical church is sex-negative (okay, there are a few good evangelical marriage sex manuals out there, but that’s the only exception).  I’d say it is, and unrealistically so.  People’s drives encourage them to have sex.  But we don’t want venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies.  Consequently, I favor birth control.
22. I think Charlize Theron is hot and I’m not afraid to admit it.  Oh, she’s okay, I guess.
23. I voted for Barak Obama. I still support him but see a lot of things he could do better.  I voted for McCain, but I admired Obama.  Nowadays, I don’t think he’s overly adept as a leader, but he’s more compassionate and reasonable than a lot of Republicans. 
24. I hate it when Republicans accuse Obama of doing or proposing things that George W. Bush (increased the deficit by $5 trillion) and Ronald Reagan did (raised taxes 11 times).  I agree.  At least the Obama deficit would stimulate the economy by putting money in people’s pockets!  On a related note, I also hated how conservatives lambasted liberal incivility when Bush was President, and then they turned around and trashed Obama, calling him Hitler, etc.
25. I think what evangelicals call “church” is a non-biblical, man-made construct (back to my book, and yes, these are shameless plugs!).  I don’t think so, but I haven’t read Michael’s book!  The church is in the NT.  There were meetings.  There was discipline.  Does that mean I believe everyone is required to go to church?  No.  But I find that it gives me inspiration and community.
26. I think nine times out of ten spiritual disciplines (praying, fasting, time in the Word, worship, going to cutting-edge, spiritual conferences, and following the latest, trendy book — think Purpose Driven Life) becomes a legalistic treadmill.  I think those things can be a tread-mill, but I need them (on some level) to encourage myself to have a good attitude and to meet life in constructive ways.  I’ve done them differently over the years, though.  I used to pray an hour each day over Scripture.  Nowadays, I read devotionals and pray for ten minutes, and also when I feel a need to pray.
27. After studying the issue and examining the historical and biblical evidence, I became a Universalist.  I think that’s a plausible reading of much of Scripture.  Eternity does not last forever in parts of the Bible, nor does the fire that is not quenched.  And there are passages in Paul about God reconciling all.  But some things in Scripture, in my opinion, are hard to square with universalism.  Why, for example, would God delay his parousia so people would have time to repent (II Peter 3), if they have opportunities to repent after the parousia?
28. I think the emergent “conversation” is good (and I really like Brian McLaren), but wish they’d come to a concluson once in awhile. Just for grins.  I’m pretty much satisfied with them, even when their arguments are bad.  I think that their conversations lead to edifying ideas, plus they point out where conservative Christianity has problems and offer an alternative (and, in my view, better) outlook.
29. I often disagree with Bishop Spong, but sometimes I do agree with him.  I actually think I read him more in my conservative days than I have lately!  I think I agree with him on many things, but I differ from him in that I believe in a personal God.  And, while I found him to be affable when he taught at Harvard Divinity School, I find him to be pompous and closed-minded in his polemics.
30. I like Bishop Spong way more than Rick Warren or Mark Driscoll.  Heck, I like Pat Robertson more than Mark Driscoll! 
31. I think the truth is embodied in a composite of Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright.  Yeah, probably.  I agree with Borg that Jesus challenged the purity system.  But I like how Wright places Jesus’ mission into the story of Israel. 

I could go on, but you get the picture. Please comment, challenge me, and share your own lists of where you’re at!

Published in: on December 5, 2011 at 1:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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