Lee-Barnewall–historical reflections on gender and evangelicalism


I am reading Michelle Lee-Barnewall’s Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian.

She talks about the late 19th century as a time when the idea that a woman’s place was in the home became dominant. Before men went to factories and offices to work, their place was in the home too. Farmers and craftsmen worked from home. But industrialization and urbanization changed this. The world was divided into a domestic sphere and a worldly sphere. The domestic sphere belonged to women and the worldly sphere belonged to men.

This, I think, oversimplifies a bit. The older model still exists. I grew up in the 20th century with the older model of family, because I grew up on a ranch. We still have farms and mom-and-pop businesses. But the shift from an agrarian economy was the general rule and did change gender relations.

The interesting thing about this to me was the way it…

View original post 817 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Was the Gospel of Mark an Apocalyptic Text?

The Jesus Memoirs

A pioneering social-scientific approach to Mark’s Gospel was found in Howard Clark Kee’s Community of the New Age: Studies in Mark’s Gospel (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977). Although he accepted the form critical view that there was no exact analogue for Mark’s Gospel among the ancient literature and that Mark created a new genre for the church (17-30), Kee found some parallels to apocalyptic texts like the book of Daniel (65).  When a minority group is reduced to political impotence through social ostracism or political oppression, they may question their place in the social order and long for the transformation of society to accord with what the group understanding of the divine will (cf. Talcott Parsons on the intellectualism of the non-privileged group). Apocalyptic thought expects that the present historical crisis will be overcome by divine victory over evil forces, often leads to a group’s rethinking of interpersonal social bonds or older traditions…

View original post 170 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Write-Up: The Making of American Liberal Theology (1805-1900)

Gary Dorrien.  The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion (1805-1900).  Louisville, London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.  See here to purchase the book.

Gary Dorrien taught at Kalamazoo College when he wrote this book.  This book is the first of three volumes about American liberal theology.  This first volume focuses on the years 1805-1900, but the chapter on the Social Gospel also discusses events in the early twentieth century.  On page xxiii, Dorrien attempts to identify features of liberal theology: “Specifically, liberal theology is defined by its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the natural and social sciences; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to people.”

In this Book Write-Up, I will comment on each chapter, then I will offer a general assessment of the book.  This Book Write-Up will not be comprehensive, but I will comment on details that interested me.

Chapter 1: Unitarian Beginnings: William Ellery Channing and the Divine Likeness.

The Unitarians were actually rather conservative, as many of them were as concerned that German higher-criticism of the Bible negatively challenged Christianity.  They believed that it undermined the authority of the Bible, and they did not care for the biblical stories being treated as old-wives’ tales in classes.

This chapter tells the story of William Ellery Channing, an influential Unitarian preacher.  It covers the intellectual influences on him, such as Hume, who would also influence other liberal thinkers in this book.  Some liberal thinkers would embrace German idealism (i.e., the outside world is all in one’s head, or knowledge of the outside world is inaccurate) as a justification for a personal or rational inner religion, whereas other liberal thinkers would reject it. A related issue is whether miracles can divinely-authenticate the Christian message, or if the Christian message can stand on its own weight, on rational grounds.

Although Channing was impressive in the pulpit, he was personally reclusive, and I could identify with the latter.  Channing was sympathetic towards the anti-slavery agenda of the abolitionists, yet he felt that they were uneducated and self-righteous.  I often feel the same about the Left (the self-righteous part, not the uneducated part).  My favorite passage in this book is on page 49:

“[For Channing, t]rue religion is not about trembling in terror before an inscrutable transcendent sovereign…To honor God ‘is to approach God as an inexhaustible fountain of light, power, and purity.  It is to feel the quickening and transforming energy of his perfections.  It is to thirst for the growth and invigoration of the divine principle within us.  It is to seek the very spirit of God.”

Chapter 2: Subversive Intuitions: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, and the Transcendentalist Revolt.

Because the Unitarians were rather conservative and biblicist, the transcendentalists revolted against them.  Ralph Waldo Emerson would deliver his controversial Harvard Divinity School address, in which he criticized religious ritualism, encouraged people to find God by looking within, exalted nature, and treated Jesus primarily as a human being in tune with the divine rather than as a divine or exalted being.  Emerson was much more radical in his personal journal, however.  On page 72, Dorrien quotes Emerson’s critique of Jesus:

“I do not see in [Jesus] cheerfulness: I do not see in him the love of Natural Science: I see in him no kindness for Art; I see in him nothing of Socrates, of Laplace, of Shakespeare.”

Speaking for myself, I believe that I encounter wisdom when I read Jesus’ statements in the Gospels.  Still, I can somewhat empathize with Emerson.  The Gospels are rather sparse when they talk about Jesus: Jesus does and says things in the Gospels, but what was he really like personally?  Evangelicals talk about “knowing Jesus,” but there are times when I read the Gospels and wonder if they are helping me truly to know him.

Chapter 3: Imagination Wording Forth: Horace Bushnell and the Metaphors of Imagination.

Horace Bushnell treated language, especially religious language, as metaphorical for a deep religious and spiritual experience.  For Bushnell, religious language was limited, since people understand terms in different ways.  This was consistent with liberal theology’s tendency to emphasize spiritual experience or the spiritual life rather than doctrine.

Bushnell also wrote about the atonement.  He preferred a subjective model of the atonement, one that emphasized people’s moral or spiritual response to Jesus’ death, rather than seeing the atonement as a legal transaction that objectively removed guilt.  Still, Bushnell believed that Jesus’ death was vicarious, in a sense: God was assuming the burden of being human, the experiences of those who sinned (which is not to say that Jesus sinned), since that was a significant aspect of reconciliation.  Bushnell’s stance not only alienated conservatives but also fellow liberals, who thought that it reflected an anthropomorphic view of God.  Bushnell’s discussion of the atonement sheds light on liberal stances towards sin.  Whereas some might think that liberals trivialize or downplay sin, this book demonstrates that there were many liberals who did the exact opposite, and Dorrien argues that liberal emphases on subordinating the flesh was consistent with Victorian ideas.

The chapter also explores the thought of Nathaniel Taylor, who contributed to the New Haven theology.  New Haven theology sought to be a liberal Reformed theology.  Taylor believed, for instance, that humans had an inclination towards sin, yet he rejected the Reformed concept of total depravity.  For Bushnell, people still had a choice not to sin.

My favorite passage in this chapter concerned Henry James, Sr.’s negative reaction to Bushnell’s view on love.  On page 172, Dorrien states:

“…Henry James Sr. pronounced Bushnell’s construal of Christian love ridiculous.  Love is neither heedless nor essentially sacrificial, he lectured; it has nothing to do with pretending to care for bad people; it pays attention to consequences and is always proportionate to merit.  To claim that love responds to evil with self-sacrificing care was a perverse ‘outrage upon all love.  Divine as well as human.'”

James’ critique took me aback.  He had the same reservations that I do about what is commonly portrayed as “Christian love”: sacrificing oneself, pretending to like those one despises, etc.  Still, if love is to be a response to merit, does that not undermine grace, which we all need?  Wouldn’t we prefer a belief in unconditional love, even if we struggle to live up to that?

Chapter 4: Victorianism in Question: Henry Ward Beecher, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the Religion of Reform.

Henry Ward Beecher was the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the famous anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Beecher was a renowned preacher and abolitionist in his own right, but he ran into scandal when he slept with a friend’s wife.  Beecher recovered from the scandal, whereas the friend retreated into obscurity, left Christianity, and focused on playing chess.  Sad story!

This chapter discusses the divisions between African-Americans and feminists.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton was appalled that uneducated African-Americans were getting the franchise whereas women were not, whereas Friedrich Douglas thought that African-Americans were in a worse position than women and thus needed the franchise more urgently.

Chapter 5: Progressivism Ascending: Theodore Munger, Washington Gladden, Newman Smith, the New Theology, and the Social Gospel.

This chapter covered interesting territory.

First, the chapter quotes a profound statement by liberal Anglican preacher Frederick Robertson: that “man is God’s child and the sin of man consists in perpetually living as if it were false.”

Second, the chapter summarizes Theodore Munger’s attempts to harmonize evolution with Christianity.  For Munger, evolution was consistent with monotheism, since the same natural laws apply to all natural living things; under polytheism, by contrast, different principles operate, as gods compete with each other and have their own agendas.  Munger also highlighted religious and moral progress that occurred throughout history.

Third, the chapter set forth Washington Gladden’s Social Gospel.  Gladden was skeptical of socialism.  His hope was that business-leaders could be persuaded to follow the Christian path and to share their profits more equitably with their employees.

The chapter also explored the “Manifest Destiny” attitude among many Social Gospel advocates, as they believed that Anglo culture could civilize the rest of the world.  While a number of Social Gospel advocates were initially isolationist about American entry into World War I, they came to embrace Woodrow Wilson’s professed desire to make the world safe for democracy.

Chapter 6: Enter the Academics: Charles A. Briggs, Borden Parker Browne, Biblical Criticism, and the Personalist Idea.

This chapter talked a lot about the inspiration of Scripture.  Rather than regarding the Bible as inerrant in all details, including history and science, some of the prominent liberal thinkers in this chapter had alternative conceptions of inspiration: that God inspired the authors of Scripture by elevating their religious insights and perceptivity, even though they still reflected the prejudices of their time; that the Scripture is infallible on how to be saved, not history and science; and that historical-criticism can highlight God’s activity through the vicissitudes of history.  On page 347, we see Briggs’ view that such ideas were actually more faithful to the Puritan beliefs than were the inerrantist ideas of Warfield and many Princetonians.

Chapter 7 offers a concise summary and effectively ties together the trends discussed in the book.

The book was a compelling read, especially because it described liberal thinkers’ lives and ideas.  I felt a kinship with them, as they wrestled with the same religious topics with which I wrestle (e.g., the character of God, the inspiration of Scripture, etc.).  Often, the origin or development of trends was not adequately explored or explained, but the book was effective in describing how specific people responded to the trends and participated in the discussions.  The book was rather lacking in explaining how liberal thinkers justified their views with Scripture, particularly when it came to a belief in post-mortem opportunities for salvation.  Dorrien said that Channing offered exhaustive Scriptural defenses for his positions, yet Dorrien did not share what those defenses were.

Posted in History, Religion | Leave a comment

Church Write-Up: Loneliness (II Timothy 4:9-17)

At church last Sunday, the pastor preached about loneliness.  The pastor’s text was II Timothy 4:9-17.  The text, in the KJV, states:

Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.  11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.  12 And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.  13 The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.  14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:  15 Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.  16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.  17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.

The pastor was saying that Paul was lonely at this point in his life.  Some of Paul’s friends had forsaken him, and Paul had been wronged.  Paul was also in jail.  In those days, the pastor said, a jail was a dungeon, and Paul was by himself there.  There was no air-conditioning during the summer or heat during the winter.  That was why Paul asked Timothy to bring his cloak.  How did Paul seek to resolve his loneliness?  The pastor observed that Paul asked Timothy to visit.  Paul chose to be vulnerable before someone else and to admit his loneliness.

I recently wrote a guest post about fear, and the text that was assigned to me was II Timothy 1:7.  My post presented Paul as someone who was trying to encourage Timothy.  Although Paul acknowledged that what Timothy feared would take place, Paul exhorted Timothy to trust in God.  I said that we should do that, whatever happens to us, including loneliness.

But the pastor was presenting another aspect to the story: Paul’s vulnerability and desire for companionship.


Posted in Bible, Church, Religion | Leave a comment

Movie Write-Up: Rogue One

I saw Star Wars: Rogue One this weekend.

Jyn Erso’s father, Galen, helped to design and construct the Death Star for the Empire.  Because he hates the Empire, he placed a design flaw within the Death Star.  The Rebel Alliance rescues Jyn from the Empire so that she can bring her father to the Alliance.  A hologram of her father tells Jyn that he put a design flaw in the Death Star and informs her where to get the plans for it.  The Rebels are hesitant to go get the plans because they fear war, so Jyn and others form Rogue One to do so.  Rogue One includes the rebel Cassian, the robot K-2SO, the blind monk Chirrut Imwe, and the mercenary Baze Malbus, who looks out for Chirrut.  The Rebels eventually help out Rogue One, and Rogue One delivers the plans to them.  Barely escaping the pursuing Darth Vader, the Rebels get the plans to Princess Leia, who says that the plans contain “hope.”

Here are my reactions to the movie:

A.  In Rogue One, both the rebels and the Empire seem fully aware that the Death Star has a design flaw, and this is why the Empire does not want the rebels to get a hold of the plans.  That appears to contradict what we see in Episode IV: A New Hope.  Two quotes indicate that the Empire was unaware of a design flaw, or at least it did not think it was a sure thing.

Tagge, an officer for the Empire, states: “And what of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical readout of this station, it is possible, however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it.”

Tagge says “possible, however unlikely.”  That’s different from both sides knowing for certain that there is a deliberate design flaw in the Death Star, which seemed to be the case in Rogue One.

General Dodonna of the Rebellion is presenting the plans of the Death Star to the Rebel pilots, and he says: “Well, the Empire doesn’t consider a small one-man fighter to be any  threat, or they’d have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station.”

That is different from saying that a renegade scientist deliberately placed a design flaw in the Death Star.  Here, the design flaw is attributed to an oversight, or the Empire not considering a small one-man fighter to be a threat.  Yet, if I recall correctly, Dodonna in the movie attended meetings where there was discussion about the Death Star containing a deliberate design flaw.

B.  While I did not feel attached to many of the characters, the characters did say things that I found interesting.  Chirrut Imwe walks into a squad of storm-troopers and boldly says, “I fear nothing.  All is as the Force wills it.”  That reminds me of Christians who fear nothing because of their strong belief in the sovereignty of God.  Chirrut also frequently recited the mantra, “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me,” even as he lays down his life for the Rebellion.  And his faith inspires his friend, the mercenary Baze Malbus.

Galen and Jyn were separated from each other when Jyn was a little girl, as the Empire took Galen away so he could work for it.  Galen, via the hologram that was shown to Jyn years later, said that he could only think about Jyn when he was strong enough.  If he thought about her when he was weak and discouraged, that would only amplify his discouragement.  I can identify with that: I prefer to think about certain things only when I am strong enough.

Jyn’s father was just shot by a Rebel, and Jyn is upset with Cassian.  Cassian says that Jyn has just recently come to hate the Empire, but he has been a victim of the Empire since he was six years old, and he has had to make sacrifices and moral compromises for the cause of the Rebellion.  That was a poignant scene.

C.  There were pieces of the movie that I found difficult to follow.  It was unclear if the Rebellion regarded Galen as a secret sympathizer for the Rebellion or as one working willingly for the Empire.  Right after many in the Rebellion expressed unwillingness to go get the plans for the Death Star, Bail Organa (father of Princess Leia) and Mon Mothma, a leader of the Rebellion, discussed getting the plans to Princess Leia, so that she could get them to Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Was Rogue One not so rogue, after all, since the leadership of the Rebellion wanted to get the plans?  Or perhaps I misunderstood the scene and Bail and Mon Mothma merely wanted Princess Leia to enlist Obi-Wan’s help in the coming war against the Empire.

D.  The scene at the end in which Darth Vader single-handedly takes on a Rebel army with his light-saber and Force-powers was powerful.  Wow!  Yet, as this article points out, that is rather incongruous with the beginning of Episode IV, which takes place soon after the end of Rogue One.  If Darth Vader could take on a group of Rebel soldiers by himself, why did he send storm-troopers ahead of him at the beginning of Episode IV?  On the question of how Darth Vader could be so adept with a light-saber in Rogue One yet slow with it in Episode IV, see this YouTube video.

Posted in Movies | Leave a comment

Derek Leman on the Resident Alien Disciples

Derek Leman was a Messianic rabbi, and I have been subscribing to his Daily D’var for years.  Now it is called the “Daily Portion.”

In the February 12, 2017 Daily Portion, Derek was addressing Mark 6:6b-13.  The passage (in the KJV) states:

6b And he went round about the villages, teaching.

And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;

And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:

But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.

10 And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.

11 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

12 And they went out, and preached that men should repent.

13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.

Here are Derek’s comments:

NOTES: Curiosity about how to apply the teaching of this passage has led to dramatic movements in church history. Do readers of this gospel story need to imitate the disciples to forsake all income and live as itinerant preachers? Alternatively, could this be a special calling for some (“missionaries”)? The mendicant orders of the medieval Europe took vows of poverty and sought to live according to Yeshua’s instructions here to “take nothing” and to have “no bread, no bag, and no money” in their purses. Some even went further, forsaking sandals in order to outdo the poverty of the disciples on this mission (the discalced or barefoot orders of monks and nuns). The passage raises another important question: how much miraculous power did the disciples have? In many other texts Mark will emphasize their failure, but in this story they exorcise demons and heal people while preaching in imitation of John the Baptist and Yeshua. Are these the same Twelve of whom Yeshua said, “Have you no faith?” and “Are you of so little understanding?” Witherington sums up the contrast best: “They seem to be better at doing the ministry than understanding what it is all about.” If this is the case, then we might say that Yeshua is not satisfied even with proper deeds and good mission work. He also wants his disciples to have understanding of the apocalyptic secrets of the kingdom. Those who say, “If we love each other and do acts of kindness for each other and the world, we need not worry about studying the gospels or the Bible and finding the right theology” have a good point in that loving deeds are better than knowledge without deeds. But Yeshua does not wish to make missionary disciples who are ignorant of the hidden truths and great revelations of the mystery of the kingdom. Yeshua’s disciples are to come forth with both knowledge and deeds. For those who wish to study the contrast between two traditions of the sending can compare Luke 9:1-6, which is much the same as Mark’s account here, and Luke 10:1-12, which seems to preserve another sending tradition of the seventy, who are given very different instructions. Comparing and contrasting the two reinforces an important point here: the idea of a vow of poverty is not a universal principle either of discipleship or of mission. It is not the case that Yeshua commands all his followers to go without bread and money nor that he commands his special servants who go on mission to use this technique. The instructions to the Twelve here in Mark 6 are specific to this mission and have a specific purpose. What might that be? Witherington, citing Myer’s book, Binding the Strongman, says that these instructions are a prophetic message. The disciples are to become like sojourners (resident aliens) relying on the good will and kindness of the native Israelites. They are to become like people marginalized, since Yeshua will be marginalized. They are, essentially, to test the righteousness of the villages and people of Galilee. Will they be treated with hesed (lovingkindness) or rejected? Those who receive them are those who are willing to do what God requires to make his kingdom come on earth. Shared resources are the way of discipleship. On this mission, the disciples are to come as the poor. On others, they will use their own resources. Neither way is a universal command. But the message is clear: disciples of Yeshua will welcome those in need and support one another in the work of God.

Posted in Bible, Religion | Leave a comment

Is There a Messiah in 1 Maccabees?

Reading Acts

If the writer of 1 Maccabees positioned Judas as David-revisited, it would be unlikely that he would look forward to a future messiah. The book represents a staus quo sort of Judaism, and is “opposed to the Pharisees, the apocalypticists, and the many sectarians in Judea itself” (Fischer, “Maccabees,” 4:442). There is no “return of Judas” theme in 1 Maccabees. His successor Jonathan is enthroned as a king in purple and gold (10:59-66) and as high priest (10:18-21). The writer makes it quite clear that the “yoke of the gentiles was removed” under the leadership of Jonathan (13:41). 1 Maccabees might be described as having a completely realized eschatology because hope for an eschatological age are entirely fulfilled in the Hasmoneans.

Image result for judah maccabee the hammerAs outlined in a previous post, Judas is patterned after the great heroes of the Hebrew Bible. But the brief hymn of praise in 3:3-9 may go beyond…

View original post 669 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment