Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stop saying "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin"

I have long intuitively despised that insipid saying and the lazy ethics and theologising that usually preceded it, but being a hypocrite I had yet formulated the exact problem. So glad to come across a fascinating article by Tony Lane of LST on the wrath of God which features a lovely section dealing with this false cliché of half baked theology.

The conclusion thus far is that God's wrath is to be understood neither as purely impersonal nor in crudely anthropomorphic terms. So to what does "the wrath of God" refer? It is God's personal, vigorous opposition both to evil and to evil people. This is a steady, unrelenting antagonism that arises from God's very nature, his holiness. It is God's revulsion to evil and all that opposes him, his displeasure at it and the venting of that displeasure. It is his passionate resistance to every will that is set against him.

These "definitions" raise an issue that is often ignored. What is the object of God's wrath? Is God angry with evil or with evil people? In the New Testament both are true. Often God's wrath is referred to without precisely specifying the object of that wrath (e.g., Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:7; Rom. 4:15; Rev. 14:19; 15:1, 7). In one place the object of God's wrath is evil (Rom. 1:18), although even here the perpetrators are mentioned. Where an object is mentioned it is usually evildoers (e.g., Luke 21:23; John 3:36; Rom. 2:5, 8; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 2:16). Thus a comprehensive verdict would be to say that God's wrath is directed primarily against evildoers because of the evil that they do.

Where does this leave the modern cliché that "God hates the sin but loves the sinner"? Like most clichés it is a half-truth. There are two ways in which it could be taken. The first, which is undoubtedly the way that most people take it in the modern liberal West, is as a comment about the wrath of God. God's displeasure is against sin but not against the sinner. Apart from the fact that this reverses the emphasis of the New Testament, there are problems with it. As William Temple observes, "that is a shallow psychology which regards the sin as something merely separate from the sinner, which he can lay aside like a suit of clothes. My sin is the wrong direction of my will; and my will is just myself as far as I am active. If God hates the sin, what He hates is not an accretion attached to my real self; it is myself, as that self now exists." It is incoherent to say that God is displeased with child molestation but feels no displeasure toward child molesters. In what sense, then, is the cliché true? It is to be understood not as limiting the objects of God's displeasure to sinful actions but as affirming God's grace. God loves sinners, not in the sense that he does not hate them along with their sin, but in the sense that he seeks their salvation in Christ. While his attitude to sinners as sinners is antagonism and wrath, his good will toward them actively seeks their conversion and forgiveness.

Let me know what you think :-)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Safety first when identifying incorrect Hebrew tattoos

While spotting incorrect tattoos is fun, if you were to spot one on someone famous for being a double hard b*st*rd who could squash you like a pea without breaking a sweat, someone like Australian UFC fighter Mark Hunt for a completely randomly chosen example, you would probably be safer just to  smile and nod and say nice tattoo, Hebrew is it?

And by the way it says "Noah". It surely does.

Mark Hunt

I just hope he is nowhere near his tattooist when he finds out . . .

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I don't have a tattoo but if I did it would be this one

Seriously, this has to be the cleverest, most poetic and original tattoo to get done . . .

וְשֶׂ֣רֶט לָנֶ֗פֶשׁ לֹ֤א תִתְּנוּ֙ בִּבְשַׂרְכֶ֔ם וּכְתֹ֣בֶת קַֽעֲקַ֔ע לֹ֥א תִתְּנ֖וּ בָּכֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃

Not only is it in Hebrew but it it is actually from the Bible, if you find it hard to read in Hebrew you could look it up in an English Bible from Leviticus 19:28. If you do get it done be sure to send me a photo.

If you are going to get a tattoo done in a language that you don't personally read I recommend not only employing a qualified and hygienic tattooist but also locating and using someone with expertise in that language. Tattoo artists are not renowned for their mastery of ancient languages so don't trust them if they say they can do you in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic or Ugaritic.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The curse of the Hebrew tattoo strikes again

Those of us who study the biblical languages are used to hearing them abused in sermons and increasingly must be wary of their abuse in the wonderful world of tattoos. In the western world what was once only the province of sailors and prison inmates tattoos has become trendy for millenials, trying to be trendy and original by getting inked. Of course what better way to show your spiritual side than by getting a tattoo in a biblical language, that way God can read it too.

Victoria Beckham has shown the way but not all have been able to follow in her footsteps without stumbling. The latest casualty of this trend is the soccer player Mario Mandzukic who seems to want to keep both Nietzsche and God on side (an impossible task?) but ends up insulting both with poor grammar and the sort of mirror writing that most of us managed to stop doing about the age of 5.

Mandzukic's Hebrew tattoo

Never mind, eh?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Apocalyptic Paul

So as someone who has struggled to keep up with currents in Pauline studies over the last 5 years, has limited time for reading and blogging I wanted to try and get a handle on "Apocalyptic." General the term is presented in the following trope: "scholar so and so thinks that apocalyptic is that but they are wrong apocalyptic really means this!" So it strikes me that what we have is not one agreed upon concept but a trendy word which scholars like to throw about to show that they are no longer trudging around in the old hat of the "new perspective". Is apocalyptic just a cipher for "my preferred approach to reading Paul"?

So where should one go for a primer on Pauline Apocalyptic, a concise description and a balanced account of the differing views?

Well Scot McKnight is usually a reliable guide, he says,
First, the primary word is “apocalyptic” but this term is not being defined by Jewish apocalypses so much as it is almost equivalent to a cosmic, universalist redemption that has now invaded the world in Christ (the old age is shattered by the new age). Apocalyptic is associated closely with soteriology, cosmic soteriology, in this reading. God’s acting in history is heavily emphasized; the divine action is at the core of the apocalyptic Paul. It is all played on the cosmic stage in grand categories — almost abstractions.
Thomas Bridges feels that Pauline Apocalyptic has the power to deliniate the all encomapassing cosmic scope of the gospel,
In a sense, the Pauline gospel contextualizes us, rather than vice-versa. But it is extremely important to note, however, that the highly contextual nature of Paul’s writings also shows that the good news inhabits and transforms multiple cultural sites in various ways, rather than calling everyone from his or her culture to a single, all-encompassing culture.
Andrew Perriman has a nine point outline too long to reproduce here which is intended to be,
I would argue—but of course, I have argued—that the theological content of Romans becomes remarkably lucid and coherent once a consistent ‘apocalyptic’ narrative is brought into view. This forward-looking narrative, which should be construed quite realistically and biblically—we might say politically and prophetically—provides the magnetic field that brings the central concepts of wrath, gospel, faith(fulness), justification, salvation, suffering, etc., into meaningful alignment and keeps them from being exploited or deformed by extrinsic theological concerns.
 
Andrew Wilson kindly provides a summary of a 2014 pre SBL session featuring the big guns of PA. Most notable is that the final contributor, the venerable Barclay is remembered as saying,
Eight different definitions of apocalyptic have been used this afternoon, and that’s because it’s a label we’ve invented to identify things we regard in a certain way.
And just when I think I am starting to get a handle on it Chris Tilling gives a lovely four point definition which seems to only describe good exegesis (IMHO) and have little to do with any of the above!?

So is "Apocalyptic" a helpful term? Well presumably it is or the scholars wouldn't use it, but it seems hard to me to have a fight over new perspective versus apocalyptic or narrative historical versus apocalyptic, e.g., when there is so much fighting about what apocalyptic actually is. Can a house divided against itself stand?

Well Peter Leithart seems to think that that is not the point anyway. Pauline Apocalyptic is just a part of a wider Apocalyptic discussion which represents the age old clash between Greek and Hebrew theologies:
Jenson argues that “The two theologies are contrary; the debate between them has been greatly fruitful, but it is a debate. The one is wisdom about a God whose eternity is perpendicular to time and the other is wisdom about a God whose eternity both embraces and is involved in time” (161). If that’s true, then whatever the fruits of apocalyptic theology, it cannot be all that we can or should say about God, for the Christian God’s “interventions” are always entries into a world that already lives, moves, and has its being in Him.

So that clears everything up!

Book suggestions I have picked up on my trawl through the blogs:
Apocalyptic and the Future of Theology: With and Beyond J. Louis Martyn (Cascade, 2012)
Douglas Harink Paul Among the Postliberals (W&S, 2013)
Bev Gaventa (ed.), The Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8 (Baylor University Press).

So any recommendations, blogs or books I have missed?

Stone the crows it's a mini black hole!


At some point, then, at the source of all sources and the origin of all origins, the contingent must rest upon the absolute. One will not understand this line of reasoning properly, however, unless one recognizes [sic] that it is not concerned with the question of the temporal origin of the universe; it would make no difference for the argument whatsoever if it should turn out that the universe has existed forever and will go on existing eternally, without beginning or end, or that it belongs to some beginningless and endless succession of universes. (102)
So don't panic, while the Cern LHC may blow up the planet now that it has been juiced up to twice the power at least it wont disprove the existence of God. Phew!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hart on Naturalism, Existence and God

So, life is kind of hectic and reading has not been high enough on the priorities recently, but this afternoon I picked up The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart (Yale 2013) again. The book is starting to get going, although I'm sure he could say the same thing more clearly with 1/3 of the words, but maybe that is a style thing?

[P]hilisophical naturalism could never serve as a complete, coherent, or even provisionally plausible picture of reality as a whole. . . The question of existence is real, comprehensible, and unavoidable, and yet it lies beyond the power of naturalism to answer it, or even to ask it. (p95)

To be clear here: not only has physics not yet arrived at an answer to this question, it never can. All physical events - all physical causes, all physical constituents of reality - are embraced within the history of nature, which is to say the history of what already has existence. The question of existence, however, concerns the very possibility of such a history, and the very expectation that the sciences could possibly have anything to say on the matter is and example of what might be called the "pleonastic fallacy"; that is, the belief that an absolute qualitative difference can be over come by a successive accumulation of extremely small and entirely relative quantitative steps. This is arguably the besetting mistake of all naturalist thinking, as it happens, in practically every sphere. (p98)

At some point, then, at the source of all sources and the origin of all origins, the contingent must rest upon the absolute. One will not understand this line of reasoning properly, however, unless one recognizes [sic] that it is not concerned with the question of the temporal origin of the universe; it would make no difference for the argument whatsoever if it should turn out that the universe has existed forever and will go on existing eternally, without beginning or end, or that it belongs to some beginningless and endless succession of universes. (102)

. . . the cause of being is not some mechanical first instance of physical eventuality that, having discharged its part, may depart the stage; rather, it is the unconditional reality underlying all conditioned things in every instant. (104) 

Hart is at pains, over several pages, to make the often overlooked distinction between cosmology and ontology clear. I think it is a helpful point and certainly relevant to discussions about the relationship between science and theology, i.e. any cosmological claims made by religion are at risk of the being overturned by the advances of science, but ontological claims are of a different order. And of course this is not just about justifying religious belief in the face of atheist attacks but about requiring an answer from the atheist as to how they explain existence in the first place. All good. Hart also makes a slightly more overreaching claim in the same vein which I might try and explain in another post.

Let me know what you think, :-)


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Politics of Prayer

Check out Don Burrows' excellent dissection of the Lord's Prayer's political resonances against the background of the Roman Empire. You''ll be glad you did.

pax

Saturday, February 14, 2015

50 Shades of Grey and Independence Day, Ash Carter's Post Shower Ramble

[This is a guest post by Ash Carter, is he right is our scientific progress masking our cultural and moral decay, or are these social changes also progress andpart of the way things must go? Let me know what you think in the comments]

yeah, ok

What have Independence Day and 50 Shades of Grey have in common? Both illustrate that more technologically advanced civilisations are not necessarily ethical in their use of technology.

As I was showering this morning, I thought about how the British find ourselves in a bizarre cultural moment. On the one hand, every time we read of some extreme punishment meted out by a less liberal judiciary for something we don't consider a crime (think Uganda's anti-gay law, or the large number of things you can get hung for in Iran), we are up in arms.

On the other hand, when we pause from judging other cultures long enough to actually look hard at our own we are all aware that something is badly broken here. By almost any measure of cultural development we are sliding down the international league tables. Why don't we do well at school? What can we do about binge drinking? Etc.



In Independence Day there is an alien species who, far more technologically advanced, decides that human culture should be ended. This same spirit of imperialist our-culture-is-bettter-than-yours thinking once left the whole world under the thumb of European powers. Militarily we have stopped that (we are liberals who liberate those nations, after all) but how much have we changed? We still sit in judgement over less 'advanced' (by which we mean less liberal) cultures.

Are we not able to pause long enough to look at what has eaten our culture from the inside in the past hundred years? Jensen and Payne cover this in their book True Sex, which charts the move in British culture from Victorian prudishness, through moralism to sexual liberty. The birth of the pill and legalised abortions have 'liberated' us sexually. The outbox is generations born into dysfunctional families with all the attendant identity issues and social implications.



But it hasn't stopped there. Choice has been applied not only to your number of sexual partners, but to their gender. But actually the liberation of homosexuality is old hat. In the seven months since I left college the conversation has frequently been about your own choice of gender. Transgender issues will be the next big thing to wrestle with, and it is already in our schools as people are encouraged (at 14, 15, 16!) to work out who they would really like to be.

Another product of the sexual revolution is the mainstreaming of pornography. Every comedian on the TV jokes about it. And, the truth is, it is a cancer that is eating through my generation. We grew up with the internet. Most men and many women have put images and ideas into their heads they shouldn't have. We are only now beginning to understand the impact that this corruption is having on our minds, relationships and lives.

Many people like me have children, little boys who will grow up in a more technologically advanced age. And I must do everything I can to protect them from the libertarian attitudes and behaviours that will hurt them more than they realise. That is, whether you are a Christian or a secular person who reads the academic literature, we are beginning to self-censor. We understand that something must be done. That we have drunk the poison and we want to prevent others from doing the same.

In other words, what does Independence Day teach us about sexual ethics? It teaches us that a cultural imperialism can hide a complete lack of morals within the imperialist. Let's stop and look at where we are. Let's make a choice not to poison ourselves anymore.

Let's make a start by NOT going to see 50 shades of grey. Apparently, it is crap anyway.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Irreducible Complexity and the Incompetent Demiurge

I'm reading "the one book all atheists should read", AKA The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart (Yale 2013). Not because I'm an atheist but because I need all the help I can get in being a theist. Hart has been raved about by a number of people I respect for his previous books and so with all the glowing reviews I was expecting perhaps too much. Make no mistake, Hart is extremely clever and erudite and well read, and did I mention clever? The problem is, for a book intended to convince people there is a God (with a capital G) his pomposity errs on the side of bombastic and frankly as someone who agrees with at least 95% of what he is advocating I find him verbose and borderline supercilious. I was hoping this would be a book I could lend to some thoughtful people I know but too be honest I would want a clearer gentler book to be able to lend it out like that. That said I have no doubt there will be much to take from it. Already he has got the old grey matter moving round. In the first chapter he makes a brief detour to present Intelligent Design Theory (ID) as being not only outside the bounds of Christian Theology but actually the very antithesis of all the major religions' understanding of the creator. Instead he explain how the demiurge, a god (with a small g), who is the creator of the material world but in many respects existing in the same way we do as a discrete being rather than the source of of being itself, is actually what is revealed by such theories. According to this website a demiurge looks like this:
Demiurge large
But that is by the by. More to the point, Hart writes:
The recent Intelligent Design movement represents the demiurge's boldest adventure in some considerable time . . . in the light of traditional theology the argument from irreducible complexity looks irredeemably defective, because it depends on the existence of causal discontinuities in the order of nature, "gaps" where natural causality proves inadequate. But all the classical theological arguments regarding the order of the world assume just the opposite: that God's creative power can be seen in the rational coherence of nature as a perfect whole; that the universe was not simply the factitious product of a supreme intelligence but the unfolding of an omnipresent divine wisdom or logos. . . If, however one could really show that there were interruptions in that order, places where the adventitious intrusions of an organising hand were needed to correct this or that part of the process, that might well suggest some deficiency in the fabric of creation. It might suggest that the universe was the work of a very powerful, but also somewhat limited, designer. (p37-39)

What a fascinating thought, worth wading through the verbiage for and I'm sure just a taster of what is to come. I'm just sad it couldn't have been written in a style more likely to engage the unbelieving rather than scare them off, frankly if an atheist got past page 13 without flinging the book away feeling patronised and belittled.

But anyway, his argument against ID is a fascinating one, he is surely right that the god of ID is a God of the gaps and is vulnerable to atrophy through further scientific discoveries, but I wonder if denying God the right to intervene in creation without it being an admission of imperfection is fair? Aren't the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus a fairly major intervention in creation and a significant "evolutionary" leap in human potential? And why shouldn't God leave some playful fingerprints on the fossil record for humanity to discover on our journey at the point when we find it easiest not to believe in him?

Let me know what you think :-)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The story of Lot

While Genesis 19 with it's gruesome story of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction is often used as a proof text for God's feelings about gay sex and equally often dismissed from the other side of the same discussion as simply being about bad hospitality I wonder if that has obscured some of the more important clues as to authorial intent (if we believe there might be such a thing). Here are some thoughts I have for your consideration,

1. When Lot and Abraham separate in Gen 13:5-7 Lot is a wealthy and powerful man like Abraham owning flocks, tents and at least employing (if not owning) enough doughty herdsmen to put up a quarrel with Abraham's. So how does he end up living in a town house without any apparent respect or power? Are his herds and herdsmen out in the field, or has he sold up (or been swindled or gambled it away) and exchanged the pastoral life for the urban? The implication seems to be that Sodom has rubbed off on him and weakened him materially, financially and morally (cf. 13:13).

2. Although the story does not give God's opinion of the attempted forced buggery of the visitors, it is clear that Lot feels the gang rape of his two virgin daughters is preferable. (personally this is where I lose all sympathy with Lot if he was that concerned about his visitors he should have offered his own virgin backside) Presumably in Lot's arithmetic of honour and shame the dishonouring of his home's reputation for hospitality (Gen 19:8) is greater than the shame of having your daughters raped by the entire town. Why doesn't Lot feel the "protection of his roof" should also extend to his daughters? It seems fairly obvious that their sexual purity was of a lesser value to Lot.

3. When the visitors/men/angels rescue Lot from his shameful negotiations Lot is described as both hesitating (19:16) and then refusing to go too far (19:18-20). What has happened to the decisive nephew of Abraham who boldly chose the best pasture and set out on his own (13:10-12)? Lot appears not as a man of faith but of hesitation and half measures and the reason given for Lot's rescue from the conflagration is not Lot's faith or righteousness but God's consideration of Abraham (19:29). Thus Lot's dubious moral judgements (see above) should certainly not be taken as exemplary.

4. The punchline of the whole sequence is that Lot, after finally making it to the mountains, is then drugged and raped by his own daughters and out of all the booze, incest and shame pop (ta-da!) the nations of the Moabites and Ammonites (19:30-38). The Hebrew fascination for genealogy especially in relation to the awkward origins of the surrounding tribes is revealed in all it's glory and presents itself as the main reason this story is told which doesn't help our arguments about homosexuality very much.

Let me know what you think, :-)

Friday, January 2, 2015

“Samuel Marsden” Speaks 200 Years On


Disclaimer: This talk was prepared for a Christmas Day service for the combined churches of Blockhouse Bay commemorating 220 years since Samuel Marsden preached for the first time on NZ soil. It is a devotional rather than an academic talk. While this speech did involve a lot of research it also involved a lot of imagination. This is very much my biased interpretation of Samuel Marsden and not intended to be taken as a historically rigorous account. I would encourage others to do their own research and find out more about such a fascinating character and time in NZ history.



Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Tena koto, tena koto, tena koto katoa

My name is Samuel Marsden and 200 years ago I had the singular privilege of being the first person to preach the gospel on NZ soil. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy of that sermon, although I do know that I preached on Luke 2:10, the words of the angels to the shepherds at the birth of Christ.

Today, I expect you have some questions for me, I’ll do my best to answer them.

Monday, November 17, 2014

LTJ on the Character of Jesus


The literary character "Jesus" is distinct in each narrative: Mark's Suffering Son of Man, Matthew's Teacher of the Church, Luke's Prophet of God's Visitation, and John's Man from Heaven are impossible to harmonise fully. . . The narrative gospels bear witness to Jesus by the way in which they interpret him so diversely. Precisely the diversity of the witness, however, makes all the more startling the fact that these narratives converge on the heart of Jesus' character . . .

I speak here of the fundamental and defining dispositions of Jesus, in contrast to the diverse roles - wonderworker, teacher, prophet, revealer - emphasised by the respective narratives. These fundamental dispositions are utterly simple. In all the Gospels, Jesus is a human being totally defined by his relationship with God, a relationship expressed by faithful obedience to God's will. Jesus is not defined by human expectations or perceptions, his own or others, but by a radical stance of hearing and responsiveness to his Father. This "vertical" relationship of faithful obedience is expressed by an equally fundamental "horizontal" disposition toward other humans, a disposition of loving service. The narratives of the canonical Gospels - in this respect fully in agreement with the other canonical witnesses - see Jesus as "the man for others" precisely because he is also a completely "God-defined man."

Luke Timothy Johnson, "The Jesus of the Gospels and Philosphy" 
in Jesus and Philsophy: New Essays, ed Paul K. Moser (CUP 2009), 72-73

Let me know what you think :-)

Monday, September 15, 2014

How Baptist Are You?

The other day I had to do a short talk about being Baptist at a youth service. Of course I laboured the point that we need to be Christian first and always express our differences with other Christians with humility, respect and love. But I structured the talk around the following metrics as a way for folks to see how important Baptist distinctive were for them. It was a fun way to have the discussion and get them to think about their own beliefs. Afterwards I wondered about turning it into one of those annoying facebook quizzes or putting on the church website.



How Baptist are you?

(0=don’t agree, 1=don’t care, 2=I like the idea, 3=I agree with this, 4=this is important, 5=this is essential)

Credo/Believer’s Baptism Only (vs paedo/infant)            0 1 2 3 4 5

Baptism by Immersion Only  (vs sprinkling, etc)               0 1 2 3 4 5

Soul Competency/Liberty (vs church, govt, family)           0 1 2 3 4 5

Salvation by Faith Alone (vs religion, good works, etc)   0 1 2 3 4 5

Scripture Alone Authority (vs tradition, hierarchy, etc)     0 1 2 3 4 5

Congregational Autonomy (vs hierarchy, etc)                     0 1 2 3 4 5

Priority of Evangelism and Mission                                   0 1 2 3 4 5

Totals
0-7 =  Definitely not a Baptist
8-14 = Vaguely Baptist Compatible
15-21 = Luke Warm Baptist
22-28 = Strong Baptist
29-35 = More Baptist Than John


What was your score? 
How could I make the test better? 
What have I missed out?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Newbiggin on the church in via

The church, therefore, as it is in via, does not face the world as the exclusive possessor of salvation, nor as the fullness of what others have in part, the answer to the questions they ask, or the open revelation to what they are anonymously. The church faces the world, rather, as an arrabon of that salvation - as sign, firstfruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole . . . It must therefore live always in dialogue with the world, bearing its witness to Christ but always in such a way that it is open to receive the riches of God that belong properly to Christ but have to be brought to him . . . It will continue to change as it meets new cultures and lives in faithful dialogue with them. 
Newbiggin, Open Secret, 1995, p180
Let me know what you think :-)