Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Major Pet-Peeve: 'Machiavelli' is Not a Synonym for Evil

Isn't it annoying that in our cultural imagination, Niccolo Machiavelli is the devil? Well, it is to me. As countless authors have pointed out, the actual Machiavelli was not any worse morally than anyone else in his day. Besides, the adjective 'Machiavellian' ought to be a compliment! Having read The Prince, I can tell you that he was, at the very least, not a naive moron in foreign affairs. We could use a few more like him. And consider the context: Machiavelli was an out-of-work starving diplomat looking to also help his native Florence. The best avenue at that moment was the authoritarian Lorenzo d' Medici, if memory serves; it was dedicated to him. Other works (from Wikipedia entry) would strongly indicate a preference for some form of democracy (republicanism) besides. I hate how we call people and things we hate politically Machiavellian. He doesn't deserve that. Consider this example: "Suppose someone picked you up, carried you into a voting booth and forced your hand to push a button indicating a vote for the notorious politician Mack E. Velley." (Walls and Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, p.108) C'mon, Jerry! Give the man some love! (Side note: If you want to convince Jason Kettinger to abandon Calvinism, don't be sloppy with an important historical figure, using him as a punching bag and synonym for evil. With what else are you being sloppy? Hmmmm...) I just had to get that off my chest.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

[Disclaimer: The following political views are mine; you may choose or not to agree with them. No claim will be made that such views represent the majority of evangelical American Christians, or that they have any standing as 'THE evangelical position' on any issue. Thus, you in the media can now refrain from portraying us as a monolithic block of unthinking Bushbots or GOP lackeys, if we ever were. Thank you.]

I must confess: I am a global-warming denier. That's really not cool to say. (Or maybe it is, who knows?) And it's not because A) I hate the earth (I most certainly love it) or B) I'm greedy (I'd like to think not, anyway) and I should say that C) to the best of my knowledge, I have not received funds from any oil/other energy company ever. Nor is my position on this issue conditioned by any, shall we say, sudden eschatological views (like, "Jesus is coming tomorrow, so who cares?" etc). This earth, once fully repaired, will be our home. If you cut down a tree--I fully agree with the hippies here--put it back. Adam was a gardener; it's a fair point. Now that the qualifying is out of the way, let me proceed.
Where is this massive scientific consensus that global warming is real? Am I the only one who notices that our national conversation just assumes this to be true? Granted, I don't have the time to investigate climatology on my own, and neither do you; we've got to trust somebody. And for all I know, it's there, they're right, and we have work to do. But I'm a little uncomfortable automatically trusting even a vast majority of scientists (or other 'experts') about anything. Don't most scientific advances seem to occur when some lone wolf, as it were, passionately fights for a crazy-wacko idea all alone, intuitively sensing that the paradigm is in error? (Paging Polanyi!) Isn't this 'consensus' a little scary in that sense?
What got me thinking about this was a rather glib story in Newsweek about 'the global-warming denial machine.' I've heard of Fred Singer (a noted skeptic) and others. We might want to know (as the article says) who funds their research, what their slant is on this. By all means. But let's not simply dismiss anyone. Have we really done this for the other side? I might point out, for example, that liberal Democrats have a natural hostility toward capitalism and industry unrelated to this issue. Is it at least possible that a perceived calamity could lead to the kind of economic regulation (and forced economic equality) that some Democrats have always desired, but frankly, have been unable to achieve with a willing populace? If we point out these possibilities for skeptics, we must do the same for proponents. Not to dismiss, necessarily, but let us be aware. Is the Kyoto Protocol the best way to deal with our problems on this issue? Why? What do the signatories/proponents have to gain besides a better environment? Why does the treaty ignore the developing world's CO2 contribution to focus on the US predominately? If America weren't the lone superpower, would this treaty have been proposed?
"Words of a true denier," you sniff, and maybe so. But we should be openly discussing all these things, on every side. Let's lay all the cards on the table. Al Gore, and Fred Singer, and James Hansen, and Bjorn Lomborg, and your bio teacher from high school should sit down and talk these things out. It'll get nasty maybe; Al will get accused of being a data-falsifying commie, someone will point out for the millionth time that Lomborg is a statistician, not a climatologist, and he'll give that skeptical work not one second of attention. Fine; we'll sling all the slanderous brickbats we can think of. But I figure if we listen long enough, instead of running back to our "camps," maybe we'll catch something we all like. Is there an environmentalist out there who's ever said, "You know, John Stossel has a point; these 'advocacy' groups really harm the case." Or, hey Republicans: I'm not really against alternate fuels. Even if the whole thing's exaggerrated, is anybody against zero-emission vehicles, or planting trees? BTW, you don't have to be a 'moderate' or a 'maverick' to build bridges. Stinkin' find a friend you routinely disagree with, but one you can't help but respect. That'll be how we get out of this (pardon the pun) poisonous atmosphere we're in, man. Kenny Loggins might be the biggest (left-wing) hippie ever, but you can't tell me you didn't like "Conviction of the Heart." And maybe that song funded some dodgy, alarmist climate science. But I'll bet they planted some trees, too. Praise the Lord!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

It comes to pass sometimes that the seemingly culturally astute, the "with it"--miss something (or someone) blindingly obvious. Despite my professed awareness of '90s R&B, I missed a really big light: Deborah Cox. I discovered a few of her songs by accident a couple weeks ago on I had probably heard "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" once or twice before this. Well, that song caught my attention this time, so I listened to a few more songs, Was I hiding under a rock? Sounds like Whitney, only better, with better songs. Of course, I loved "We Can't Be Friends," it being about broken hearts and all. That preference is odd, in that I've never truly had a broken heart romantically speaking. It's always been that way with me, loving love songs. One (non-emotive) theory might be that love songs have simpler, accessible melodies. It has always been my test: If I must sing along, it's a good song. If the words strike me as insightful as well, it's a great song. There's one common thread to all the music I like: it's centered around vocals. Instruments are supposed to take you where you are going, not be the destination. (Exceptions: Jim Brickman, and my respect for Metallica, though I don't own any of their music.) Anyway, getting back to Deborah Cox, her best song (so far) has to be "Where Do We Go From Here?" If you listen to it, I think her way of singing the verses sounds like Diana Ross. The chorus is unremarkable, but it does its job, so that Deborah can improvise over the top of it. This improvisation of repeating a few words from the chorus emotively is a distinct feature of this genre, whatever it is. I think it might be borrowed from gospel music, but frankly I haven't heard enough gospel to say. In any case, I'm glad I found some new (old) music to enjoy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Inerrancy: Vital, or Vestige of Rationalism?

Lesslie Newbigin and B.B Warfield take Scripture very seriously. The Bible for both of them is the authoritative, normative rule for Christians as individuals, and as the church. But what these men said about its unique authority differed, dependent on what each man thought was the biggest threat to a lively Christian faith. Is it inflexible rationalism leading to public irrelevance? (Newbigin) Or is this grave threat due to a lack of recognition of Scripture’s origin in God, leading to a lack of submission to Him, and to it? (Warfield) How these men answered this important question, and their differing ministry contexts, lead directly to any dissimilarities between them. If I should be compelled to criticize Newbigin at all in the end, let it be known that I do so with the greatest reluctance, recognizing his heroic efforts in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. (And likewise for Warfield, though that is not the task at hand.)
If both men had a similar high view of Scripture, on what crucial point did they differ? It was on the issue of biblical inerrancy. In Proper Confidence, Newbigin introduces his problem with inerrancy by saying that its affirmation arose from “a kind of fundamentalism which seeks to affirm the factual, objective truth of every statement in the Bible” and that the existence and acknowledgment of discrepancies by an inerrantist would mean that “biblical authority would collapse.” It is, he says, a “false concept of biblical authority imposed on the Bible…by the Enlightenment.” (85) It rests upon a fruitless “indubitable certainty” which is “context-independent.” Having pointed out that only God possesses that context independence, we ought to reject such a concept as a matter of intellectual humility. (101) Significantly, he places the adjective “supracultural” alongside the “indubitable certainty” he is rejecting on page 101. We will have to deal with whether “supracultural” necessarily means assuming this objective stance. To his credit, on that point, Newbigin writes, “The (true) assertion that all truth claims are culturally and historically embodied does not entail the (false) assertion that none of them makes contact with a reality beyond the human mind.” (74) Thus, our assertions on these matters cannot be relativized (and thus dismissed) in an a priori fashion. But why is this so? What is the ground upon which we believe the gospel? It seems uncontroversial to say that our trust in God gleaned from His Word will be less than absolute. But the heart of the matter is why the Bible can be considered to possess the unique authority Newbigin asserts that it has. Insofar as we evangelicals have placed our trust in inerrancy as Newbigin has described it, our faith will be shattered, or its certainty rendered inert by the fact that it makes no contact with reality. (75)
But has Newbigin fairly characterized what is meant by inerrancy? What if the proponents of inerrancy do not intend to assert absolute certainty? And a compelling corollary is this: Perhaps Warfield and his intellectual descendants (evangelicals) have absorbed many of the qualities of Newbigin’s humility in approaching and universalizing Scripture’s message, unhindered by the positivist arrogance Newbigin wished to avoid, which he claims are inherent in embracing inerrancy. We may indeed find Newbigin’s approach too humble, in that we are vulnerable to relativism because we cannot answer why the Bible is held in such high esteem by us. Why have we decided to commit ourselves to passionate affirmation of the story it tells? We’ll see that Newbigin is calling us to that very thing. What does Newbigin say about the Bible that would warrant such a response?
Newbigin commends his alternative view to us in several declarations. Our “confidence…is not in the competence of our own knowing, but in the faithfulness and reliability of the one who is known.” (67) Newbigin continues, “I believe that the Bible is the true rendering of…God’s acts in creation and redemption and therefore the true rendering of the character of God.” (98) And, “The heart of the Christian faith,” is that “the Bible is the true story of God’s dealings with…people.” (99) Those strong affirmations of biblical authority are weakened by, “But the Bible is also the work of sinful human beings [who needed rebuke and correction].” (99) [emphasis mine] But Newbigin is attempting to differentiate between the Bible’s origin (from God, and possessing unique authority the bind the Christian’s conscience and create and define the community of which we are part) and the story it tells, which includes the sins of God’s people. That is indeed a helpful distinction, but due to perhaps poor phrasing (namely “work”) he creates the impression that the Bible as product, as God’s community-shaping instrument, is fallible. He himself has confused categories, confusing the human apprehension of biblical truth (in both knowing and doing) with its source, ultimately, God. Newbigin has made the accusation that inerrantists fail to note both our sins (recounted in the biblical text) and the inadequacy of reason to fully understand biblical truth, by insisting upon inerrancy.
But Warfield (and others) will show us that confessing inerrancy need not mean dodging the reality of sin, or its impact on our interpretations of Scripture. To begin, one useful corrective to Newbigin is by addition, from Warfield. The Bible is,
“not merely…the record of the redemptive acts by which God is saving the world, but as itself one of the redemptive acts, having its own part to play in the great work of establishing and building up the kingdom of God.” (Inspiration and Authority, 161)

It is not at all clear that Newbigin views the Bible’s very existence as a redemptive act of God, though he would view it as able to accomplish the redemptive purposes of God among his people. Thus, we could say that the Bible is not the product of sinful people, but indeed a record of them and their sins, and of God’s condescension to them. If Vanhoozer is correct in saying that God acts redemptively often by speaking,[1] we cannot reasonably separate the sinful human part of Scripture from the God-given revelation. What about this “indubitable certainty” Newbigin identifies? Answers Warfield,
“We approach…the Scriptures with a very strong presumption that these Scriptures contain no errors, and that any ‘phenomena’ apparently inconsistent with their inerrancy are so in appearance only…We do not and cannot wait until all these difficulties are fully explained before we yield to the teaching of the New Testament the fullest confidence of our minds and hearts.” (Inspiration and Authority, 215-16)

“Very strong presumption” indicates something less than “indubitable certainty,” and Warfield clearly urges people not to wait in yielding to God and to the Scriptures, pending the outcome of a rational process. Also, our “fullest confidence” doesn’t seem to be harmed by not waiting. This quote by Warfield is in total harmony with the Newbigin quote referenced earlier,[2] and does not show any hint of dangerous Enlightenment rationalism. In fact, as he showed in another work,[3] he is fully aware of the new rationalism’s danger to trusting in Christ. Was not Warfield living and writing at the peak of Enlightenment rationalism? We might say that the problems Newbigin addresses have come because we failed to listen to Warfield! As we can see from Erickson’s careful definition of inerrancy,[4] Calvin’s attitude toward the project of “proving” the origin of Scripture,[5] and the Westminster Confession of Faith,[6] none of the members of this diverse group of unreserved inerrancy proponents is claiming the hermeneutical arrogance at the heart of the “fundamentalism” Newbigin described. C. John Collins noted that hermeneutics is hard work, and inerrancy can become a shortcut to avoid that work,[7] but it need not mean throwing Scripture’s inerrant character ‘under the bus’ for the sake of emphasizing hermeneutical humility. That also would be a surrender, to borrow from Newbigin.
Therefore, we might say that this fundamentalism is descended from an unhealthy Enlightenment rationalism, but inerrancy is not, (or doesn’t have to be) because the humility of trusting God and the Scriptures in spite of lacking absolute certainty was always implicit in the definition of inerrancy, and frankly, in the lives of many men who held to it. To me, inerrancy continues to be a statement about who God is, was, and will be, revealed clearly in Scripture, not necessarily our ability to explain or prove Him exhaustively.

[1] Lecture handout, “Revelation,” p. 6.
[2] Proper Confidence, p. 67.
[3] Lecture handout, “Revelation,” p. 12.
[4] Lecture handout, “Revelation,” p. 11.
[5] Lecture handout, “Revelation,” p. 6.
[6] Chapter 1, paragraphs 5 and 6.
[7] Covenant Theology lecture, CTS, 09/07.

Friday, October 12, 2007

(The latest on) Why I Like N.T. Wright
As I sat in my class today at seminary, our instructor was reading a quote from Wright (not wanting to dig it up "Wright" now...hehe) about how perhaps picking our "theme verses" and putting them on coffee cups, calendars, etc. seems to contradict our claim our claim that it is the Word of God. By de-contextualizing it, we are trivializing it. What a brilliant point. Some people now have a coherent, defensible reason for why they always found that so irritating:) Yea for you. If that weren't enough, I was reflecting on why I enjoyed Jesus and the Victory of God so much, and I figured it out: Wright's view of Jesus and the Gospels in that book is the Frank Herbert Version of the story. Have you read Dune? (Frank Herbert's master-work, the very definition of science fiction, and likely in the top 50 fiction books in English of all time--about a messianic warrior-king who rules humanity in the bleak distant future--read it!) With Wright, (like Herbert) you get all the machinations, the power-plays, the edgy human story. Jesus--being really human, but not only so--is fully aware of the expectations of the people, the politics of the day, and he speaks his message not over those things but through them, even as he aimed to correct much of it. Wright seems to say, 'Assuming the New Testament is a true accounting of what Jesus said and did, here are the things going on around him that might make us see it differently, and better.' Many have tried this, but frankly, not without a predetermined mission to undercut orthodox Christianity. And that changes the task for the better. Other people--like critical scholars, for example--might accuse him of a 'believer's bias,' but the reply seems to be, 'Don't we owe the authors of the NT text that bias, if we are to respect them as people?' Isn't that the one great gift of that loose collection of deconstructionisms called postmodernism? The NT authors had an aim; so? Is this new? Why is this text somehow more invalid than anything else we bother to study since we saw the flaws in positivism? Could it be because it's Christianity? Pascal's Wager is a little too true right now, eh? There's an awful lot riding on this hand for the non-Christian, and you just went "all-in" with 2-9 off-suit. Bigger problem: Jesus is the dealer, and he just dealt the common cards as 4 Kings and an Ace. His meaning: "I'm the King of all Kings, and if you miss the boat, it's over for you, Ace." I'm willing also to hold fire on Wright's contributions to the New Perspectives on Paul, for the simple reason that Wright's motivation seems to be to combat individualism, a worthy goal, even if I conclude that he's basically wrong. (Seems awfully soon to say anyway.) Remember, many people are asking us to reconsider how we read Paul, some orthodox and some not. As for evangelicals who were freaking out about JVG (I had heard that he denied Jesus' Messianic self-awareness) I went looking for this, and if anything, Wright says the opposite. Ask yourself this question: Who is this audience? It's Crossan, (Jesus Seminar) et al. If he writes such a book like (with the utmost deferrence I speak here) Chuck Swindoll, guess where this 'scholarly' opus will end up. In Mr. Crossan's recycle bin, that's where. (BTW, he was so gracious to Crossan and his book that I must read it; he said paraphrase that D. Crossan was incapable of speaking a dull word or writing a dull paragraph, and Wright wished everyone had opponents as gracious as Crossan. Wow.) I say to my brothers in Christ: What are we afraid of, anyway? We invented scholarship! Unless Jesus lied (um, no) true historical inquiry will vindicate Him. Right? Right? Even More Opinionated Sidebar: Christian college/high school/"Christian education"=probable weak faith. "I'll take 'Anti-Intellectualism' for $1000, Alex!" Homeschooling: depends. How gutsy are you? American Christians want Intelligent Design taught in public schools. WHY?!? We should become experts on Darwinism/neo-Darwinism/latest stupidious suppression of truth, not make others learn our thinly-veiled dogma. OK. Rant over. I've got "Tom" Wright's back for the forseeable future, is all I can say.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I made a boo in that recent baptism post; I did what my professor said not to do: I used the regular dictionary to define a biblical word. But I don't have my own theological dictionary yet, so I exhort you, my loyal reader, (ha!) to back me up on this, so we don't ruin ourselves theologically, intellectually, "ecumenically, grammatically..." (Johnny Depp rules! Please, someone get this.)
I was just thinking about what it's like to be young and Christian in America right now. Doesn't it seem like God is moving in a special way among us? We're finding our voice at just the right time. We do not have to choose between fervent piety and social change, as our parents and grandparents thought. We cannot be silent, and we will not be silenced by anyone or anything. No more waiting for Jesus to rapture us from a hopeless and 'evil' physical world. No more forsaking the truth while presuming to heal the world with our own wisdom and efforts. And we need (and have) our anthems ringing loud and clear to the world lost and hurting. Switchfoot said:

We want more than this world's got to offer
We want more than this world's got to offer
We want more than the wars of our fathers...

And those wars are from within, and without. But God has won the victory in Christ, and it is no less true than in the past. In spite of all the evil we see, we have not lost hope. I heard another song not long ago that went in part:

O simple faith, where have you gone?
I'm getting old, and I need something to rely on...

But we found out that it wasn't just a hunger for simple meaning. We did more than find our way, we found the Way. We know now we're in a fight--with ourselves, with Satan, with the powers and principalities of this world. But Jesus has won that, too. And an old song reminds us again:

For not with swords loud clashing
Nor roll of stirring drums
But deeds of love and mercy
The heavenly Kingdom comes.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Word About Worship Music, Mariah Carey, and God’s Communicative Condescension (in liturgy)
[I noticed this post lacked the title I wrote, which ruins the humor of the first few lines.]

A title like that, on account of its sheer pomposity, had better be about something important. But how could it be? “You just placed God’s communicating with us in the same phrase with Mariah Carey,” you protest. And it’s risky, I know. But stay here; I think I’m going somewhere. (As an aside, this blog and its owner’s music collection might be “MC” Fan Central. I own all but two releases. Therefore, please allow me to theologize in some manner consonant with my cultural context. Translation: Back off!) The other day, I found myself listening to Ms. Carey’s 1993 release, Music Box, and specifically, the title track. Musically, it’s beautiful, the very essence of 1990s vocal-pop/R&B; it is written to display those uncommon vocal talents, which, in 1993, were at their peak. As the words go, I hate it. Here you go. You can sense worship music possibilities here—and that’s exactly the problem. American contemporary worship is going bad. You can’t tell if we’re worshipping God, or singing about how much Mariah loves her boy. We’ve been so focused on how we feel that we’re missing the point. (The funny/sad part here is that when I Googled this song, there was an ad for worship music ringtones right there, I kid you not.) But I can’t just say that; I must back it up. What are we doing when we gather as Christians on Sunday? We’re not scoring points for heaven, for one. We’re probably not aiming to be entertained; I’d just as soon watch the Packers if that were the case. (We ought not aim for that, at least) The short answer is that we are worshipping God in a special way on that day because He is glorious, deserving of our worship, and as the Father would have it, the God-man, our Redeemer Jesus, was raised from the dead on a Sunday. Also, that’s as good a time as any for most people to take their Sabbath rest. Jesus even promises to be with us as we meet to honor him, and carry out our task. The assembly of God’s people (Greek, ekklesia) should naturally begin to know that He is their God, by virtue of His presence. Indeed, these Scriptures speak most clearly. Therefore, it’s not a place or an occasion for the individual to spiritually re-charge (though learning one’s place within the body is very rewarding) as it is God renewing his covenant with us, and us with him. If that is true at all, then we will draw the lost to Christ when we are absolutely clear who we are as individuals, and as the body of Christ. Why do we modify what we sing or what we say to reach people, when the obvious result is a loss of clarity as to our identity as the Church? How misguided! I’m not saying all modern worship music is bad; there are shining examples of great “contemporary” music. But where did we get the idea that we had to trick people with catchy songs to bring them to Christ? More importantly, where did we get the idea that weekly Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion (at least) would make us stale? Only an American could come up with an idea so stupid. Did Jesus not say this? That’s what I thought. And maybe that zeal to have the Bible expounded in long sermons (not knocking the preaching of the Word) has led us to stretch a few of our pastors beyond their skills. The longer one talks off-the-cuff, the more error comes in. And a pressure to be ‘relevant’ and interesting or funny has caused problems. What I’m saying is that I want and need a shot of God, not a God-tinged foo-foo drink. Can I get a witness?

Monday, September 24, 2007

I thought arriving late to poker tournaments was an inconsequential vanity worthy of Phil Hellmuth. But, having "arrived" late to my last few on, I can discern a good reason why someone would do such a thing: to avoid losing a ton of chips early on marginal hands when the blinds (the automatic payments into the pot before cards are seen--meant to create action) are low. And the blinds go higher, this tends to focus players, letting more skilled players come to the fore. (One begins to see that 'experimenting' with marginal hands gets costly if one doesn't win.) I was very excited to see that the maximum field for the biggest tourneys on the site had increased from 4000 to 4270; however, when I finished the 2:00 PM tourney in 563rd, I was worried that I'd missed out on the "cash." Luckily, I did not. I received 854 play chips. There had been zero in my account. I've been setting a goal to only play with chips I've earned, but lately, I've had to go back on that, because I've gotten too cocky at one No-Limit table. I'd make a small (fake) fortune, at which point I should have walked away from the table and deposited the sum. (I reached 3/4 of a million chips at one point, enough to play terribly for life and still never borrow new chips.) But pride goeth before the fall. Still, this decent finish will be the start of my new non-borrowed chip-stack. In my next post, I'll try to tell the tale of that tournament. Luck sometimes beats skill; that certainly happened here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Go over to He linked to me, that is all you need know! (And we're like, friends and stuff.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Recently, I embedded myself in a discussion (once again) as to whether baptism effects the forgiveness of sins, or rather testifies to it. The Scripture verse in question (as always) is Acts 2:38. I’ll start you with verse 36 just for fun.

It reads, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Verse 37 says, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And here’s verse 38: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:36-38, ESV) Generally, Protestants deny that baptism regenerates the person (with Lutherans as notable exception), but the Churches of Christ say to varying degrees that baptism does forgive sins. For the record, I capitalized ‘Churches’ back there to specifically indicate a group of Christians who refer to themselves as such. It seems necessary since I would use that phrase normally to refer to the whole collectivity of confessing Christians, rather than a distinct group with its own beliefs and practices. I actually find myself discussing this matter of baptism’s meaning over a period of years with a member of the CoC. It always seemed to me that confessing Protestant hostility to the idea of baptismal regeneration arises from systematic theology; one has a carefully crafted theological worldview that answers most of the fascinating secondary issues of Christianity (baptism, Lord’s Supper, use of creeds, as opposed to the primary, such as Christ’s deity and humanity, his virgin birth, his resurrection, and his certain return at the end of all things). And indeed, the reasons for, say, denying baptismal regeneration appear to be because affirming it has a negative effect on people’s ability to affirm and practice all aspects of Christianity, that the particular distinctive attains too much importance. (And the distinctives vary with each group of Christians.) It seems very difficult to ‘prove’ with Scripture’s plain teaching itself, that a group or person is objectively wrong about whatever it is. Which is the reason these issues are still debated, and—praise God—why they are secondary issues.
Anyway, the distinctive mark of the CoC is baptism, and the insistence that baptism indeed forgives sins. I don’t want to necessarily consider the question of whether that is correct; I’d rather understand why that’s the distinctive, why it’s the deal-breaker, so to speak, which prevents friendly communion between members of the CoC and frankly, everyone else. For example, I consider myself Reformed Presbyterian. The Reformed have distinctives and points of disagreement with other Christians, but among evangelicals, it would take a major shift in thinking for Reformed believers to regard an evangelical Methodist for example, as anything other than a fellow believer. This explains the widespread practice of open communion (allowing all confessing Christians to partake of the Lord’s Supper regardless of affiliation). But generally, members of Churches of Christ regard other groups with outright hostility, believing the lack of conformity on baptism doctrine to be an inexcusable lapse in faithfulness to the biblical text, rendering the one who holds a contrary view outside the household of faith. Which makes unity and friendly theological discussion impossible, I’d say. I freely acknowledge the possibility that the Bible teaches baptismal regeneration. (I’m not entirely certain on the issue myself) But I would not consider it a scandal if someone held a contrary view. I might not even mind variance within my own denomination. (Heck, how could I hold it against someone if we’re still debating it in my head? Perhaps it’s a split personality; there’s Catholic Jason, and Puritan Jason. By the way, they commune together! Wait, they argue about everthing. Catholic Jason likes to call Puritan Jason a Gnostic dualist, while Puritan Jason calls Catholic Jason a Mary-worshipping papist. CJ then reminds PJ that they mutually agreed not to honor Mary that way, to which PJ replies, “Thank you, you bread-worshipping sentimentalist.” PJ struggles with anger issues.) In any case, this appalling lack of charity makes me angry, especially since I’m pretty open-minded about the issue. I’ve been thinking now for several weeks that if I were forced to only choose between being Church of Christ or Roman Catholic, I’d be Catholic. I’m thinking of telling my friend this. He’d be mad. There’s no one worse than Catholics to him. Which is ironic, since they agree with him on baptism.
As Ron White would say, I told you that story to tell you this story. Maybe the hostility comes from the fact that there are no ‘minor’ issues in this schema. Every possible theological or practical question must be definitively settled. Once settled, it is not altered. Most Christians have some kind of rank-order for doctrine. An internal voice (the Holy Spirit?) which reminds them to sweat the big stuff, and let the little things go. I detect no such governor here. Too bad. I really want to understand, and to be united to all the bretheren.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I watched the Giants-Nationals baseball game last night. I told myself that when Barry Bonds hit home run 756, I'd not react or give it one ounce of credence. He more than likely cheated to get here. And he's by all accounts--let's be kind here--not a lovable figure. Perhaps it's the media's taint. But even before the steroids allegations, I never liked him. I loved when a fly ball hit him on the head in St. Louis, bounding over the wall for a home run. I liked watching him fail. Yet here I was, glued to my TV. Bonds came up, for the third time, with my heart racing. Is this it? Rookie pitcher. Check. Fastball clocking in at 86. Check. Home crowd. Check. Barry was ahead in the count 3-1 when I thought the perfect pitch came. High, out over the plate, with not much on it, I thought. But he missed it. And the next pitch was a curveball or a changeup possibly, because it came in 75 MPH right over the middle of the plate. Initially, it looked like it dropped (suggesting curve) but that was the official Barry Bonds "I Want to Get This Over With" home run swing, so it could have been a changeup. He missed that, too. Then he came out of the game. I really had to examine my feelings on this. If it's completely meaningless, why was my heart racing? You could see the Bonds family, wife, daughter, and son, waiting and hoping. And I wanted it for them. Those kids are watching their daddy on the verge of breaking the most hallowed record in all sports. Records are more a part of this game than any other. And I thought Griffey, Jr. would break this record maybe, but I remain astounded at Hank Aaron. I wish I could have seen him play. Anyway, this means something. I refuse to ignore this like it didn't happen. I'd have to erase some cherished memories if this era doesn't count. I remain joyously incapabable of believing that Mark McGwire took steroids, and the season of 70 remains pristine to me. Even Sosa, whose image has been tarnished lately, gets credit from me for that great summer. What I'm saying is that these are our memories. Our baseball lives. We remember what we felt, how McGwire earned the accolades as much for his handling of the situation as for the accomplishment. The game was back into America's heart. And I won't let some snobby moralist tell me that I wasted my time, that it doesn't matter. It's our game, players we watched and rooted for. If it's tainted, then I'm tainted. And I'm OK with that.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Last night, I had a very odd dream. And it was very affective; that is, I was certain to have a strong emotional reaction to the events. I was in Florida, eating lunch with a man who was sentenced to death. We ate in a different place than where he would die. The strange part is, we had to hurry, so he wouldn't be late. He was a black man (knowing me, probably innocent) but I never said his name. The building we entered was not a prison; it looked like a courthouse, more than a little like the Supreme Court. As my friend entered, I said, "Whatever happens, I love you."

Sister Helen Prejean was there. She entered amid a media circus, as the celebrated author, whose book became the film "Dead Man Walking." We entered next, myself, and my friend's lawyer. We were led to a very small room, barely big enough for all the witnesses. In fact, there was no separation between us and the participants. I sat in the second row, and the first row was scarcely five feet away. Prejean said sarcastically, "Thanks for using the electric chair, Florida." All the people assisting or being executed sat in a row very close together. My mother sat three chairs away from the condemned man. Why she was there, and why she had a role, I cannot say. The technician/executioner was flippant and silly. She acted like my friend was getting a flu shot. The back wall was freshly painted white. In fact, I saw paint cans against that wall. The chair itself was heavily padded; it looked like those stretchers they use when someone has a potential head injury. That is, his head was strapped in tightly against the pad. When the tech asked that the equipment be made ready, I expected a loud surge in power. Instead, it sounded like a computer turning on. When she recited the words about executing the death warrant in her inappropriately glib fashion, I remember thinking that it didn't go on long enough. One more interesting thing: Electrodes were at the temples of the man's head. They could have either been for monitoring, or could have been the devices which would deliver death. Right before they began to kill him, I woke up.

Prejean's book is one I just read. It is indeed a moving story, regardless of one's position on the issue. Actually, Prejean's moral certainty is off-putting. I'm opposed to the death penalty in the United States (ostensibly on her side) and I found her moralizing unpersuasive. I have found from reading accounts of its process that it is too ritualized to entirely dismiss the idea that we enjoy watching people die. Still, she's at her best showing the humanity of these killers, never once entertaining the notion that they did not do what was alleged. (She does argue mitigation in one instance.) She's not good trying to convince me that executing a murderer is inherently wrong. Throughout the account, she mentions every anti-death penalty argument I've ever heard, seemingly hoping that one will stick. The sociological and process arguments are best; the ethical/scriptural arguments are weak. And that is tragic for a nun. Her personal faith is evident, but I found myself wondering which Jesus she serves. The one she describes sounds like one heck of an activist, a progressive's dream. I can't say she didn't do her job; she speaks of repentance and forgiveness of sins often. But I have a hard time believing that Jesus is angry about Reagan cutting the federal budget, for instance (Chapter 1). She is to be commended for visiting the families of victims. She smartly avoids lecturing them in their grief. It's a good read, and the movie is good, too. It's a story so interesting that even Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon avoid screwing it up.
As for the odd elements of the dream, I wondered, "Is this the future, when all pretense of dignity, all notions of legitmate retributive justice have gone away?" There was no minister or priest, there was no prayer of invocation or mercy; there were paint cans in the room. The whole event took maybe three minutes. What a scary vision!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lord's Supper Blather of The Day: Have you ever noticed that undeniably creepy passage on this subject in John 6? In truth, the whole section after the feeding of the 5000 men could be indirectly alluding to it, but just for fun, let's zoom in on John 6:52-59. The accusers here were 'set off' as it were, by v. 51, which prompts them to ask, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" in v. 52 (ESV). It would seem to me to be a perfect time to back them down a bit, to reassure the crowd that he is not endorsing cannibalism. To the contrary; he says: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides [remains] in me, and I in him." (John 6:52-56, ESV) The Scriptures even right here seem to be speaking very clearly: we are feeding on Christ's flesh and drinking his blood as partake of the Lord's Supper. This meal, our remembrance, our memorial to our Lord who has given us all of himself for our salvation, is (I'm taking a risk here) everything. You protest. One will say, "Don't you risk minimizing the death of Christ itself, getting sappy about this remembrance [and flirting with Catholicism to boot]? I reply, "Nonsense. It is the one thing we are given to do which takes us right back to Calvary, the place where all of us were, and are saved." That word 'abides' is the key. The perfect word for food, and remaining in Christ is suggested by it: sustenance. Saved? By communion? What kind of a freak are you? The kind with the questions that can't be avoided! Read all of this in combination with 1 Cor 11:23-34 and the texts in the other gospels. As for how Jesus feeds us, or how we are proclaiming his death each time, (1 Cor 11:26) I cannot say. But we have to talk in the present, because we are struggling to abide. Our rest is incomplete. The complete rest is that little phrase in 1 Cor 11:26, at the end "until he comes." Later in 1 Corinthians (see 15:2-6) it talks in a present sense about salvation, as the ESV says 'are being saved' in v. 2. So I just think we'd save ourselves (no pun intended) a lot of headaches thinking in terms of God meeting us at the moments of our incompleteness with His truth and presence, instead of pretending that at some moment in the past we definitively figured it all out. (Which is nothing more than overreacting against others' theologies anyway) I ought to point out that the more emotional Puritans (like Watson) saw communion in essentially the same fashion as I do: that, by faith, do feed upon Christ. If we're too insistent about what it isn't, we miss who Jesus is, and we risk not seeing a precious promise He gave us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I dropped a DVD copy of "An Inconvenient Truth" on the floor by accident. Which would be no big deal, except that I cannot pick it up. So, now it's staring at me, but I must confess:

1. If it were destroyed, or nonexistent, I would not be upset;

2. I'm already inclined to believe that Al Gore is an insufferable scold; but

3. I'm still inexplicably curious about it.

Therefore, I should implore someone to assist me in its retrieval, to allay my curiosity.
Well, it's quite possible that I wouldn't know the difference between an occasion-induced friendliness, and a romantic attraction if it punched me in the face. Bad Sign #1: I've called twice, a little over a week apart, and she hasn't called back. Voicemail. Hmmmm...On the other hand, I don't know how this operates with her. Maybe she's from the 'Vigorously Pursue Me Right to the Border of Annoying' School. Who knows? Of course, I wasn't real specific. I said, 'I'll be in town on...' and, 'Sorry, I won't be in town...Call me if you come to St. Louis.' Yet again, I'm reminded of a story a "grandma-lady" friend told me once. She said that her mother/stepmother liked this guy (her father?) and he had said, "You call me; I'll be at the bus station, and I'll change my plans if you call." Well, she thought it'd be inappropriate for her to call him. [This could have been, what, the 1950s?] She ended up waiting 45 years before he got the clue. Her lesson to me: If you don't be a man, and say exactly what you want, she won't do anything. Then again, this is 2007. Even Christians don't think much like that anymore. Still, I think I'll write a letter. That's pretty bold. No, I won't profess my undying love or whatever, but JK writes good prose, and that'll be awesome to get shot down with a real letter.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

OK, I have a confession to make. I went to a wedding just last week, and I saw an old friend, a lady friend. And fine, if you must know, I was completely mesmerized. She asked me to dance. And as far as falling in like, as it were, it was comepletely over at that point. I've been timid these past months with ladies I might be interested in, tired of being on the short end. That is now over. I decided right then I had to find out her status and reconnect. I'm going back to that town this weekend, and I know no other thing to do. I've been dreadfully sick for over a week, and still I thought of her, and whether I was completely imagining all the chemistry I felt. Oh, please don't be a diligent reader of my blog, Wedding Beauty! I called her to say that I'd be in town. I wonder if she cares whether I'll be in town. I wonder if she's always so friendly. But I intend to find out. And I don't really know where this boldness is coming from, but it's a welcome change.

Monday, May 07, 2007

7--1 Corinthians 11:23-30 in Brief

Before beginning the task of exegesis, it seems proper for me to explain my choice of this passage, as well as to establish some possible applications for future ministry. In this, we ought to find the endeavor both stimulating and rewarding.
This particular passage is set in a place in this letter highlighted by the sins of the Corinthians described in the preceding section, verses 17-22. In short, there was a lack of sharing at the common meal that coincided with the Supper, making a mockery of their equality in Christ, divisions, and a general lack of awareness as to the Supper’s purpose. Bruce noted that the verbs in the first part of verse 23 (receive, deliver) indicate the transmission of oral tradition. Also, the words following (and those in Mark’s Gospel) were established parts of the liturgies of churches. That is to say, the occasion of the meal was, in some manner, weightier than other meals the Corinthians might have attended. It was meant to be culturally distinct, defined by the culture of the new community created by Christ and his work on the cross. I think it’s no great leap to suggest then that Paul intended the rest of this section to correct the sins detailed in v. 17-22. In light of that reality, we should expect that the benefits we receive from reflection upon these verses (and observing the Lord’s Supper) will be the direct opposite of the sins of the Corinthians: unity and love instead of division, mutual care and edification instead of humiliation, and reflection upon, and thankfulness for, the faithfulness of Christ in dying for us.
From the first moments I’d heard of the communion rite, I was fascinated. Even before I believed in Christ, I have wondered at its mystery, and was intrigued at the fierceness of the disagreements over its meaning. It seemed logical that those differences must be consequential, if it would cause Christians to avoid communing together. Though I am cognizant of the power of sin, I did not, nor do I now, dismiss the matters as the confused babblings of a squabbling family. Still, the more interesting question is, “What is God’s purpose in giving this ritual to us?” Is there an overarching principle, a thing to hold true, which comes from participating that might even transcend the disagreements? Does communion preach to us in a way that our favorite teaching elder cannot? The answer is emphatically, “Yes!” Or in fact, we can say that faithful preaching of the Word acts in concert with God in the sacrament to the great blessing of God’s people. I happily defer to Thomas Watson on that score.[1] I think observing the meal has three main results, all interrelated, that I have personally observed: first, it is a confirmation of individual and collective identity in Christ; second, it is a reflection of unity in the bond of love; and third, it empowers and clarifies mission, both individually and collectively. Assuming all that is true, I want to get inside that, to see such a thing work itself out in my life, and in the lives of others. I also see, upon reflection, that none of those things can occur without the Holy Spirit. Indeed, these tasks seem uniquely suited to Him. This must be why Watson and other Reformed theologians insist that Christ is present—by the Holy Spirit. If the Eucharist helps us in any way with identity, unity, and mission, the Spirit’s presence is not a paradigmatic afterthought; He’s a necessity. It is a tragedy that a certain love of Holy Communion can become a superstitious observance with alleged salvific import. I assert, however, that we will find Roman Catholic perspectives on the Supper invaluable when we turn to applying the lessons learned to our walk with Christ, alleged dogmatic excesses aside. If my remarks and exegesis aid in a greater appreciation for the Supper, thanks be to God.
Comparing four separate renderings in English (ESV, NAS, NKJ, NIV) gives one a quick glimpse into the difficult choices translators must make in faithfully communicating the author’s meaning while ensuring that the text remains accessible to parishioners in their own language. In the NIV, the verb ‘paredoka’ might be inexactly rendered, ‘passed on’; however, considering the wider context of rabbinic tradition and liturgical development, this was a very wise choice. Another interesting feature of the NIV is how the noun for memorial/remembrance is rendered. Indeed, all four translations give it a verbal quality (which it certainly possesses) and, picking up the preposition ‘eis’ render it, “in remembrance.” This naturally leaves the genitive as an objective “of me”—which I do not prefer. Only a text note on this verse for the ESV dares render it as a noun with a personal pronoun—“my memorial”. Conzelmann, by contrast, wanted to preserve something of the preposition and the noun, translating the whole phrase “unto my remembrance.[2]” There may be little difference in the end, but verses 24-25 demonstrate to me that Jesus is giving his body and blood. That is, he possesses his life, and gives it freely. The rite which proclaims his death belongs to him as well. It may well be a stretch, but I choose to emphasize not the act of our remembering, but the subject of the rite, a point worthy of further discussion later. The NKJ rendering highlights two major textual issues: “Take; eat” immediately preceding “this is my body” in verse 24, and “broken for” immediately following it. The other three do not contain the additions. A significant instance of dynamic equivalence by addition occurs in verse 27 with a word meaning ‘guilty’ or ‘liable for.’ The ESV adds ‘profaning’ there; the NIV adds ‘sinning against.’ The NKJ and NAS did not any words to complete the idea in English. Presumably, the translators felt that the lexical definition and surrounding co-text conveyed the meaning.
Absolutely crucial to understanding the meaning of verses 23-30 in this chapter is the social dimension to the problem in Corinth. Ben Witherington writes poignantly, “For Paul, equality in Christ has more to do with whose one is than who one is.”[3] As we shall see, it is equality of origin and of need that undercuts the things which have made them unequal otherwise. Witherington notes that it was customary to rank guests according to social status. Paul seems to want the one occasion a year (wherein status is set aside) to become normative for the community, according to Witherington.[4] Witherington, in attempting to draw a distinction between the ecclesia as a building (a likely interpretation today) and that of an assembly gathered for a purpose, places sacred space in tension with sacred time and occasion.[5] A very useful distinction, one that nevertheless needs a minor modification: wherever the assembly meets becomes sacred space because of the occasion. And what is the occasion? It is an encounter with God Himself! How then does the covenant relationship, ratified by the very presence of God, bring about a ‘social leveling’? It happens because the event to which the Supper most clearly points is the exodus from Egypt. Consider Ellen Bradshaw Aitken argues that the exodus event typifies Israel as a people; that is, their awareness as a collective is bound up in that event. She writes, “The foundational legend of the cult of Israel is the Exodus [and subsequent events].”[6] In order to understand how an occasion becomes so consequential, the nature of covenant must be unpacked, for it is through covenants that God mediates these sacred occasions.
F.F. Bruce notes that verses 23-26 of 1 Cor. 11 indeed constitute a liturgical tradition.[7] But would the mere recitation of liturgy suffice to make the people aware of their corporate identity? One answer to this lies in the fact that the Jewish understanding of liturgies goes far beyond mere remembrance. Aitken says that the reenactment involves realization in the present, by virtue of ‘you proclaim’ in verse 26.[8] The translation provided[9] herein gives the verb in question a progressive sense because of the tense, and in light of ‘as often as.’ My own speculation regarding the NIV choice of ‘whenever’ for hosautos is that it carries a sense of, “each time you do this…” I chose to translate the verb in v. 26 as ‘you are proclaiming’ because the church is still observing the Lord’s Supper. The practice must continue because of the next phrase, “until he comes.” This leads to a practical point of application: The observance of the Lord’s Supper in 2006 is every bit as bold a proclamation of the death of Christ as any sermon in the apostolic age! That very point is hammered home by virtue of the Jewish nature of this entire passage, whether expressed in oral liturgical cues,[10] or in the typology of Exodus 24 and Jer. 31[11] and the eschatological dimension of actualization in the present.[12] Louise Schottroff argues that the passage is not a liturgical institution; rather, it follows quite closely with the customs of Jewish community meals.[13] However, this is not terribly damaging to the case for a liturgical text, because Old Testament Israel’s identity is bound up with redemptive history; that is, Jewish history is liturgy. The best that can be argued is that Christians did not have an independent liturgy that stood outside Old Covenant typology, which is fairly obvious. One interesting aspect of Schottroff’s argument is that we should not view the problem as one between Paul (and his ‘pure’ cultic practices) and the Corinthians as a whole. Instead, it is important to recognize that Paul was disputing with a group from within the community.[14] Along the same lines as the ‘history as liturgy’ formulation, Schottroff cautions against a separation of daily eating from the community cultic practice.[15] She argues (rightly, I think) that such a dichotomy leads to forgetting the Jewish context of the Supper. This is why Aitken was so zealous in showing the linkage between the errors in 1 Cor !0-11 and those in Exodus,[16] because just as the idolatry of these newly minted covenant people was a collective disregard for shared collective identity, so also was the Corinthians’. It represented a failure to participate in the past, but still ongoing, legend of redemption. The people of God are blessed, and judged as a whole. Continuing the theme of daily life as an affirmation of the covenant, Schottroff says there was a sociopolitical aspect to the death of Christ; his martyrdom was a protest against the prevailing social order, whose means of control was violence.[17] If we do not lose sight of the fact that the Jewish martyr tradition (which gave religious sanction to the rebellions against Rome in those days) is likely animating Jesus’ “This is my body, given for you” we can see why Christ’s death was politically relevant but also countercultural for Schottroff.[18]
The idea that the death of Christ has political and social implications should be apparent. But what does Paul use as the bridge between the Jewish cultic practices (where he desires to lead them) and their stratified imperial context? The answer lies in deliberative rhetoric. Nagy suggests three adjectives that describe associations in Hellenistic society—sophoi, people skilled in decoding the meaning of a poet’s message, agathoi, noble ones by virtue of being reared in the proper ethical standards, and philoi, those dear to a poet-leader so that his message is translated in them, or their horizontal relations.[19] How jarring it must have been, with Paul telling them that they failed in two aspects (the ethical, and the affiliative) and thus, could not be wise either.[20] By way of contrast, John Laurence (via P. Henrici) reminds us that “do this in remembrance of me” is an ethical imperative to live loving and serving one another. He writes, “This is an actualization of the saving events that it imitates.”[21] To sharpen the point regarding the unity of cultic practice, and ethical imperative, Laurence borrows from Fritz Chenderlin’s Do This As My Memorial, in which he argues that the Eucharist primarily is a prayer asking the Father to remember Christ.[22] He elaborates that the church is asking the Father in prayer to make us a part of Christ’s saving events![23] Therefore, Paul, by quoting verses 23-26, is (1) Placing Christ as the focal point of salvation history; (2) Reaffirming Israel’s place in that history; (3) reminding the Corinthians that they are living history in the present; and (4) reminding them of the ethical implications of living this long salvation history. In verse 27, we see the results of ignoring history and one’s place within it: the covenant becomes a judge of that one or group. “A man (person) must examine himself, and thus (in so doing) let him eat from the bread and drink from the cup.” In light of all that has been said to this point, “examination” involves, again, awareness of salvation history (God making a covenant with his people of old and with us), a knowledge that it continues in the present, (and I am a part!) and understanding the ethical implications of the covenant (relational love and service). All the members of the body have mutual needs of forgiveness and communion with God. Bruce wrote that examining oneself meant assessing whether one had lived ‘in love and charity with…neighbours’.[24] The meaning of “without discerning the body” becomes more clear, then: seeing the needs of the whole body as a collective, and the needs of individuals in it. Just as Christ is present to ratify the covenant, so also by love and service do the members ratify it among one another! Once again, liturgy and praxis are becoming blurry, since God by his own deeds, gave his people an identity, and gave the cultic practices to confirm the identity.
It has already been stated that liturgy is the link between remembering, and doing. When we understand what God has done, when we participate in covenantal worship, we tear down the wall between the spiritual and the practical. One essay that beautifully captures the merging of spiritual and practical is “Do this”: The Eucharist and Ecclesial Selfhood” by Mark Medley. The “ecclesial self” is one who is so thoroughly immersed in the culture of God’s people that he does recognize the needs, hopes, and identity of the community. Indeed, the people start to see themselves as each other, as a collective. Medley writes, “Moreover, knowing the triune God and learning how to see and act rightly are inseparable from participating in the Christian community and its practices.”[25] Again, we ask how liturgy might accomplish this. Quoting E. Byron Anderson, Medley writes that Christians “practice who we are becoming.”[26] Quoting Anderson, “Christian worship provides a ‘grammar’ of the self through which we interpret our relationship to God and neighbor.”[27] Therefore, if the ecclesial self eats and drinks the life of God mediated through relations and practices rooted in love, the selfish one “eats and drinks judgment on himself.” On the other side, “to indwell the liturgy is to interiorize it.”[28] Some Corinthians had such a fleeting relationship with God’s rule and transforming work that they had no regard for one another. But to learn the covenant narrative is necessarily to learn to love and serve. That is because God, again, is present in worship, and uniquely in the Eucharist. Transformation, says one author here, is the definition of salvation.[29] A final note: if the blessings of communal awareness are so observable and swift, why should we be at all surprised that a disregard for God’s covenant is similarly swift and severe? (v. 30)
So What?

I know that many reading this essay will be more than confused by most of this information. I ought to at least try to distill this information into a readable summary.
A. Jesus has made Himself the central figure in the Passover story. He has redefined all the covenants of Old Testament Israel around Himself.
B. We must, as a people, have a collective memory. The Lord’s Supper was given for this purpose: to remember Christ, and God’s faithfulness through all generations.
C. God, by His Spirit, is present and ratifies the New Covenant on each occasion of the Lord’s Supper.
D. Given the importance of liturgy to train us to think of God and one another, it should be as Scriptural as possible. We may want to not give in to prevailing cultures’ attitudes in patterning worship, since we are trying to train ourselves in that which is timeless, and transcends every culture.
I would also admit that the Lord’s Supper’s central place and powerful impact caused me to reconsider my views on the elements. We cannot look at what God seems to be doing among us without wondering openly if we have tried to rob Him of power, for fear of falling prey to ‘sacramentalism.’ Though precious little in this essay could be fodder for Eucharistic dogma wars, (I tried to avoid the dogma altogether) let me be bold in suggesting that Protestantism needs to grow closer to Roman Catholic sensibilities in application of Eucharistic doctrine.

Appendix: Translation, 1 Cor 11:23-30

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you; do this as my memorial. In the same way also, after dining he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood; do this, as often as you drink (it) as my memorial.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, anyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and thus, (in so doing) let him eat from the bread and drink from the cup. He who eats and drinks not discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. Through this, many among you are weak and sick, and have fallen asleep.

[1] Please see, “The Lord’s Supper,” by Watson for a fuller articulation.
[2] 1 Corinthians: a Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 192.
[3] Witherington, “Conflict and Community In Corinth….” P. 239, Eerdmans, 1995.
[4] Ibid. p. 242.
[5] Ibid. p. 242.
[6] The Eucharistic Memory of Jesus’ Words In First Corinthians, Harvard Theological Review, v90, pp. 159-170.
[7] New Century Bible Commentary, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 110, Eerdmans, 1980.
[8] The Eucharistic Memory of Jesus’ Words In First Corinthians, Harvard Theological Review, v90, pp. 159-170.
[9] See Appendix.
[10] See note 6.
[11] New Century Bible Commentary, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 111, and Sacra Pagina: First Corinthians, p. 427.
[12] The Eucharistic Memory of Jesus’ Words In First Corinthians, Harvard Theological Review, v90, pp. 159-170.
[13] Holiness and Justice: Exegetical Comments On 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79.1, Sep. 2000.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] The Eucharistic Memory of Jesus’ Words In First Corinthians, Harvard Theological Review, v90, pp. 159-170.
[17] Holiness and Justice: Exegetical Comments On 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79.1, Sep. 2000.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Nagy, Pindar’s Homer, 147. (via Aitken)
[20] Ibid.
[21]J. Laurence Eucharist as Imitation of Christ, Theological Studies 47.2, June, 1986.
[22] Chenderlin, “Do This” p. 228-245. (via Laurence)
[23] Ibid.
[24] New Century Bible Commentary 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 112.
[25] “Do This”: The Eucharist and Ecclesial Selfhood, in Review &Expositor 100.3 (Summer 2003)
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid. From Ford.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Before I retire for the evening, (sleep) I had a semi-serious, semi-funny story about myself. I cuss. Being fully cognizant of 'polite' society, I don't cuss in public, in the presence of elders or children, etc. I could even say that I don't do it out loud much at all. But I have always been challenged, er, convicted by this section of Scripture. (Most clearly, verse 8.) Do you see what "filthy language" is placed alongside? Truly bad stuff. That's the troubling part; you see, I use filthy words when reading theology. Yes, I'm serious. I cannot tell you how many times reading Luther or Watson or Calvin I've exclaimed, "Holy s---, that's brilliant." It seems fairly obvious this prohibition, don't degrade people, don't cuss in anger, etc. But has anyone ever frankly felt that we don't have enough words expressing awe or appreciation that do as well as the foul ones?
And if we return to the previous example, the exclamation is an oxymoron. That which is holy cannot be fairly compared to feces of any kind. And if you use a softer form of the same words, what's the difference? I want to be like Christ. But I fear turning into Ned Flanders. I remain utterly convinced, for instance, that the film Major League is not half as funny when censored for TV. I'm broken and fallen, I know. But I hate it when we don't have (or feel permitted to use) words that fit our intended meanings. On the other hand, I utterly hate the mainstreaming of the word 'piss.' (and its more common form, "pissed off") I'm well aware that I'm using a foul word in that case. But apparently, it's not a naughty word anymore. Does that scare anyone else? The other night, I watched "How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days." Loved it, by the way. It was on cable TV--not a premium channel, mind you--and they bleeped 'Bulls---' but not the GD bomb. That's ridiculous, utterly stupid. Let's see, a colorful metaphor of animal feces that doubles as a way to say, "You're lying," or a phrase that blatantly violates the 3rd Commandment. I think I know which one is worse. So I really don't know what this post is about, except to say I don't really have an answer for myself or anyone else. But please, please, don't use God's Name as a foul word. I think I need even to repent of that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

John Amaechi is gay. "Who's John Amaechi?" Yeah, that's what I said. He was a backup center for the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association (I typed that out in case some untutored wretches didn't know). As you read this, take note of the evidence Amaechi cites of his gayness, for lack of a better term. He likes opera. He cooks. He gardens. This man doesn't feel he fit very well in that juvenile cesspool of immaturity that is the competitive locker room. You don't say! I would say that I don't fit very well either. Is that evidence of anything? Wisdom, perhaps. What about the other things? To which I can only reply: Are you kidding me? This is the heart of a movement changing the face of society, people who go against prevailing sex stereotypes? There is nothing remotely unmanly about gardening, opera, or even liking the Carpenters. (I'm not terribly familiar with their catalog, but "Close to You" is a great song, for one) Who forgot to affirm this guy when he was a boy? Who told him he was different? Seriously, aside from desiring to have sex with men, is there anything about John Amaechi that makes him bizarrely different than me? "Gay" is almost totally a socio-political identity with little relation to actual homosexual practice. It makes me mad, because I'm sensitive, I enjoy shopping and 'chick flicks', communicating and crying. (Enjoy is too strong a word, but I'm not anti-crying) Am I gay too? Maybe I'm just not afraid to embrace my multifaceted self.
I feel so bad for people who discover that they are attracted to people of the same sex. No matter how one comes down on assessing the issue morally, it must be terribly confusing and frightening to realize this about oneself. But I have almost unending scorn for those who lead others into homosexual practice. Indeed, I know that danger looms for all traders of sexual immorality of all kinds. That's right, Rev. Falwell, that guy in the third pew with the secret account on Jenna Jameson's website is in the same place as the gay guy you can barely stand. And so am I. In any case, I am profoundly annoyed with the aforementioned revelations. It's not "courageous" and not heroic. I sense the whole world sliding toward Hell, and apparently people just want to celebrate, well, anything that strikes their fancies. I discussed some of these issues with ESPN's Michelle Voepel via e-mail when WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes "came out" some time ago. She was very gracious, I have to say. (Michelle writes mostly on women's college basketball, and she's fantastic at it, by the way.) I thought the far more vile sin was Swoopes' betrayal of her marriage, and the damage this might do to her children, all for something she "felt." These days, "You can't help who you love" is a maxim. With all due respect, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Yes, you can! Love is when attraction meets respect and timing. It's not like catching a cold, or falling into a pit. It's not involuntary. And it can be firmly rooted in Scripture. Rant over. (Finally!--ed.) Shut up, Ed.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Something struck me at 4 in the morning; had to share it. Warning to readers: May strike some as stating the obvious, trolling for positive feedback. (Like all your posts?--ed. Shut up!) Anyway, some preachers interrupt themselves while reading Scripture, not able to simply read the words without explaining something, and all this before the sermon even starts. This is not good. Pardon me while I digress, in hopes of hammering home something important. It has been a long tradition in the church for the more formal types of services to have an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a reading from one of the Gospels in the New Testament. Now, having participated in numerous services like this, a couple observations: first, in due time, an ordinary Christian will begin to have hightened spiritual awareness around these occasions. I don't mean strange happenings, neccessarily, just a feeling that says, "This is extremely important." I've been in more low-church settings where nobody made a big deal about a Scripture reading. Ironically, these settings are also where the loudest fuss is made about following Scripture, etc. In any case, I may have discovered the secret to the "magic" of the public reading of Scripture. God is speaking to his own covenant people, and they are assembled as such. Thus, each one hears what needs to be heard, but more significantly, it is the rule of faith for the assembled people as a collective! When you make a liturgical emphasis of public reading of Scripture, you're inviting God to knit your hearts together, and you make a commitment to each other to listen together.
It's important for a pastor, in light of this, not to interrupt himself. What is the beginning of a sermon, if not another public reading of Scripture? This is God's Word, not mine. One could only hope and pray that one's intensive and expensive seminary training could clarify some parts for the audience. That is a sermon's purpose. But I can imagine John Q. Pewsitter piping up to say, "I did not come to hear you talk, preacher-boy." Many years ago, I heard a well-decorated pastor-teacher say something about getting out of God's way to let Him preach, but I did not understand. Oh, OK. Just one part of the body, not the CEO.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

(Danger: The following post is political in nature. The author does not intend any of its contents to be representative of: American evangelicals, or Christians of any other stripe or nationality. These opinions are my own.)

And now, some worthwhile additions to JK's Political Encyclopedia:

Republican: 1. A person who identifies with the American Republican party. Subgroup 1: A self-absorbed group of uninspired, selfish, intellectually insipid dolts who, while opposing every good idea and sitting in elected office for eons, at least knows they're not Democrats. Instructive examples include: John McCain, Trent Lott, and Chuck Hagel. Subgroup 2: The intellectual and moral heirs to classical liberalism, who espouse capitalism, freedom, and at least a tolerance for (if not affection) the persistent prevailing religious sentiments of America's citizenry.

Libertarians: Angry or cynical individuals who've concluded that their sympathies lie with Republican Subgroup 2, but that these people must all be dead or jailed. Thus, many do not vote. Subgroup consists of doobie-rolling college kids (or adults who think they still are) who don't give a rat's butoot about capitalism, but would like to be left alone to enjoy their narcissistic drug-induced bliss.

Democrat: 1. A person who indentifies with the American Democratic party. Subgroup 1: Hopelessly deluded (or intentionally malicious) devotees of Marxism, completely unable to imagine anyone living joyfully while not a member of a union, nor receiving some kind of aid from the government. Also steadfastly opposed to achievement or individuality of any kind. Many members happen to hold high positions in American universities. Notable members of this subgroup include President Jimmy Carter, Jonathan Kozol, and an overwhelming majority of the press. This Subgroup often can be found colluding with Republican Subgroup 1 when a good idea needs to die. Subgroup 2: An earnest, honest group of patriots who often doubts the wisdom of ideas presented by Republican Subgroup 2, who often sadly mixes up the Republican subgroups, believing the first group to be the best representation of "Republican." Many in this subgroup are overpowered by a desire for compassion and inclusiveness, and by virtue of very effective propaganda by Democratic Subgroup 1, believe they cannot be Republicans. They would, and perhaps will, find common cause with Republican Subgroup 2, if the ambitions of D (1) come to an unhappy totalitarian conclusion. Most in this group are not socialists in any sense, but have been tricked by the other Democrats. Best exemplified by the phrase "capitalism with caveats." The more dangerous Democrats use these caveats as a bridge to their proletarian "paradise."

Progressive: An exotic variant of Democratic Subgroup 1. Under 30 and very wealthy, members of this group have potential to become members of Subgroup 2, or even members of the second Republican group with massive re-training. This group has a penchant for confusing, simplistic slogans, and chanting in unison. Enterprising young males of every stripe often pretend to be members in order to engage in sexual relations with Progressive females. See "1960s" for reference.

Tim Russert: Television personality and current steward of "Meet The Press", a noted political program. Russert hides his obvious bias with a false pugnacity. Nevertheless, he provides a valuable service. Democrats who cannot survive his tame questions are poor candidates for office in this nominally Republican country. Republicans who fail are likely members of Subgroup 1.

Jon Stewart: A humorous comedian whose fake news program, The Daily Show, provides talking points for Progressives. However, he quite expertly is able to unmask members of Republican Subgroup 1. Actual membership grouping unknown.

George W. Bush: 43rd President of the United States. Lack of articulation makes him ineffective as an advocate for R(2). In addition, an apparent desire to be well-liked leads him toward an aimless, confusing domestic policy program. Bush's foreign policy has been credited with saving the United States from Islamic fascism. That outcome also prevented the collapse of Europe. (As of publishing on June 1, 2009)

Fidel Castro: See "Evil Commies."

William Jennings Bryan: (1860-1925) Noted American Democrat who opposed capitalist Democrats from 1896-1908. Three time presidential nominee. Widely credited with creating the League of Nations, and principal author of Wilson's 14 Points. Served as Wilson's Secretary of State until 1917, when he resigned in protest over American entry into the First World War. By ideology, Bryan would rank as "hopelessly deluded," placing him in D(1). However, given his obvious patriotism and steadfast defense of the Bible during the Scopes Trial of 1925 (with his attendant opposition to eugenics and Social Darwinism) Bryan attains a classification of D(2). Bryan has a special entry in the "Great Americans" section, in the Appendix.