Category Archives: Hermeneutics

Objective Reality?  Some Thoughts In The Context of Being Pro-Life

Red Letter Christians has an article out called, “Becoming Truly Pro-Life” by Greg Dill. This is the old, “you’re not truly and genuinely pro-life until you’re for all of life not just life inside the womb.” The part that really gets me is when Dill says, 

“But, as I grew in my faith, matured a bit more, and learned what it means to truly follow the peace teachings of Jesus, something changed. I had to take a step back, give pause, and closely examine myself and what I believed. And this self examination led me to reassess what it means to be pro-life in the most fullest sense. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I mostly had it all wrong.”

Think about this. What are you REALLY saying when you say this? That you learned to TRULY follow the peace teachings of Jesus. That you had it MOSTLY WRONG. You are deducing that before this “enlightenment” you WEREN’T TRULY following the peace teachings of Jesus–that before this enlightenment, you mostly had it all wrong. And in saying that, any pro-lifers or Christians that believed what you believed or did what you did were NOT TRULY following the peace teachings of Jesus and that they “mostly had it all wrong.” 

Wow….

I cannot tell you the how much the condescension is strong in this one. “Hey, I thought about it and I discovered I was mostly wrong about everything. Which, if I was objectively wrong, that means that so are all these other pro-lifers and Christians!”  

Any time you start out like this it’s a turn off for me. I pretty much tune you out. It’s like you’re trying to be nice to my face while being a dick at the same time. Please, just be the dick about it. Outright. Or try to put it like this:
“I believed this before. I believe this now. I don’t somehow stand ‘outside from above reality’ as if I have a bird’s eye view on things. So I can’t say that I’m objectively right or wrong on something or another. The best I can do is say, “This is how **I** see it. Others genuinely see the issue different from me. The reason why is because, let’s face it, there are other traditions out there and I may not have all the relevant information to boot.”

You see. I can live with there being other traditions. I can live with them opposing my particular view of things. With Christians opposing my particular view of things–with each other. I’m not saying one shouldn’t try to discuss and attempt to persuade others. Just don’t do it while putting those others down in the process. We may find that we can oppose each other on some point of disagreement–on this or that point of disagreement while working toward the same goals, such as in this case, fighting against the evil that Dill speaks about, ie., cutting back on abortion, lower the rates of death amount African American males, etc.

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God in the Wasteland

I want to do this one more time. My buddy Dwayne Polk brought this to our attention today.

In pointing this out, he hashed tagged with, #evangelicalwasteland and #disgusted. These hashtags are my biggest problem because by using these hashtags there’s a strong sentiment against evangelicalism or the evangelical community. You know, “The evangelical subculture is pretty #%+? up.”

Now, in a conversation with a couple of my scholarly friends on facebook last week it was assumed that if those on the side that say that Christians and Muslims DON’T worship the same God would simply read Feser’s piece here it would be self-evident that indeed Christians and Muslims DO worship the same God (correct me if I misunderstood). But here’s the point that I wanted to make and that I want to make again. Apparently, according Francis Beckwith, there are a number of scholars in which it is NOT self-evident that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

So. If that is the case, then:

A. Wheaton is not being THAT paranoid about it’s concerned over statements made by Dr. Hawkins. They fall within the “no” camp that these other scholars that Beckwith talks about. This is simply something they believe. This is something Hawkins DOESN’T believe.
B. Why then, are there these ad hominem remarks? Are we to say that McKnight and Molher , Wheaton et al., are the purveyors of an evangelical wasteland or merit disgust? Christianity IS tribalistic. Especially in its Protestant and evangelical manifestations. I HIGHLY doubt that it is ever going to be the case that it won’t be. So why the ad hominem? Why can’t we just accept this tribalism for what it is? Why can’t we just accept that there are different camps and leave it at that?

Let me throw another issue out there. Baptism. Nobody makes a deal out of the fact that there are different schools of thought on it, that, well, we have not been reconciled on it and we have learned to live with differences while carrying on with the work of the Kingdom, not in spite of those differences but THROUGH those differences.
You do realize that there are people who believe that children and infants should be baptized right? You do realize that there are some who believe in “believers baptism” right? There are some who believe in in both. And then there are folk like myself who believe that non-believers can be baptized! Yes! There are those of us, who deep down believe that!
I’m not worried that someone doesn’t believe what I believe. I certainly don’t worry about what they believe. People evolve over time with regard to much of what they have come to believe. I simply, walk in that belief and carry out the work of the Kingdom through it. Maybe someone was baptized as an infant and will switch over to believers baptism as they get older because that is what they genuinely and sincerely have come to believe and they don’t think that their earlier baptism was in a sense, “enough.” Can God, through the revealing of the Holy Spirit not lead people down a particular pathway? And especially can God not work through what is now seen formally as an “error” to bring people to him/herself, ie., God using less than ideal theology ie., health and wealth gospels, modalism, theonomy, YEC, ECP (eternal conscious punishment) etc? Yes, God works through broken vessels-always has-to bring us to greater and greater light and even still we may move yet again.

So, I say, let the tribalism be. Recognize it for what it is. God will sort it all out in the end but quit the whining and bemoaning. Serve God by the lights you have received and don’t worry about the guy beside you.


Distinctions, Distinctives, Differences, Differentiation And Inclusion

I want to expand on my last post a bit.

It may be argued by some that we should be accepting and inclusive of the marginalized as this is what Jesus would do. Here’s my issue with that but let me first tell you what I’m NOT saying.

First, I’m NOT saying that folk should go out of their way to abuse, oppress or hate on others. If the child on the playground is being picked on, then one should personally come to their defense if it is prudent to do so. In some situations it might be better to wait for the teacher or the “authority”– the person in charge to come to the rescue. This may be an instance of the “greater good” argument that is spoken of in open theistic circles. So some circumstances call for wise action before actually doing ANYTHING which is to say that great harm could come to those while they/you are waiting for assistance. In some instances, it may call for getting rid of all protocol or what you should do in order to be of assistance to those who are helpless or oppressed or marginalized. However, in situations which are political (governmental), shedding the rules is for the most part not the wisest thing to do and so, one must work from within the political system to achieve certain objectives and goals. It’s simply the nature of the game.

Having said that, let me tell you what I AM saying. I am saying that not everyone is called to the same thing. Many progressives flip between “Church” and “church” effortlessly and without much thought which ends up, in my mind, confusing matters. What I mean is this. Should the “CHURCH” (capital C ie., universal Church, Bride of Christ) help the poor, relieve the oppressed and seek out the marginalized? Yes. Should the “church” (small c) help the poor, relieve the oppressed and seek out the oppressed? Not necessarily. What I mean by this has everything to do with what I said yesterday about relationships coming together naturally and what I’m going to say now: GIFTING.

Let me give an example of this. When I was growing up, my church started a food bank and clothing center across the street from where our church building was located. What happened was some people felt God laying it upon their heart to start such a ministry. In so doing, they wanted to have the blessing and assistance of the church leaders and the church as a whole. Well, my pastor (who has since passed away) was one of the coolest guys around. He was open to all kinds of things and “sending forth” the “labourers.” And for many years that “ministry” thrived.

But here’s the thing. Not everyone “felt called” to this particular ministry. As a matter of fact, not one pastor on the team was involved in that particular food and clothing ministry other than blessing it and giving any needed assistance to it through church funding, etc. And why were they and many others in the church NOT involved? Because it WASN’T THEIR THING. They didn’t feel called to it. They felt called to other areas of ministry such as worship leading, youth, cleaning, visitation (of the elderly and the sick in retirement homes), preaching, etc. You know why you do something that others don’t do and why others do something you don’t? Because of gifting. Everyone has different personality traits which are conducive to one thing and not another.

Now, can we HONESTLY say that though the pastors weren’t PERSONALLY involved in that food bank and clothing ministry that they REALLY weren’t involved? Can we honestly say that because only a few folk from the church were involved that the church (as a whole/other parishoners) WEREN’T involved? No. There was indirect support.

Well, let’s bring this up a level. So often today, there is this flipping between usages of Church (capital C) and church (small c). So when we speak of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage there are some churches that are not as accepting as other more progressive type churches (speaking mostly of evangelical churches here). They have rules and policies and faith statements for how they deal with this issue. So what is the problem with churches not accepting or being as inclusive in the way you (a progressive) would want? There are plenty of Christians who are “cut out” for that. Like those in that food and clothing ministry. There are plenty of CHURCHES cut out for that. Not all churches NEED to be inclusive. Why? Because all churches, like all Christians are different. What sets this church apart from that church are particular emphases of belief and rules, etc. Some churches are more accepting and inclusive than others and they have their reasons for being so.

Now, you may ask how this gels with the picture in Revelation where all peoples and all nations are before the throne. You may ask, “How would can you shoot for that sort of inclusiveness when you speak of so much distinctions, distinctives, differentiation, differences and people who are supposed to “naturally” get along or naturally “find themselves.” Well, that is the problem. Because the question assumes “inclusiveness on steroids.” Most everyone sees that eschatological picture and assumes that we are all going to love each other in the great by and by. Well, as a evangelical universalist, ultimately we will. Some will get to the other side and are not totally purged of ill feelings towards others. God will make them heaven ready. But aside from that, won’t those distinctions and distinctives and differences remain? Why assume that the Church universal is going to be some huge melting pot in THAT sense? Why not assume that this is simply stating that all will be there and that we will worship God in our OWN UNIQUE WAYS? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we will not ultimately love each other “naturally” because we will eventually get to that point. But that should not entail that we will not prefer to worship and celebrate Christ in our own unique ways we feel most comfortable with.

So to make this clear this relates to the issue of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage how? Well, there are distinct churches that are more inclusive than others. Gay folk can find inclusion there. They more than likely won’t find inclusion in a more conservative congregation. God has inclusive churches and non-inclusive churches just as God has non-inclusive Christians and inclusive Christians who are more than willing to accept and affirm gay folk in ways that non-inclusive churches won’t. I say, let each serve God in the way they see fit as well as according to their strengths and giftings.


Greg Boyd On Violence

This is was posted at ReKnew.org today.

“On Friday, Greg posted a response to Obama’s speech about religiously-inspired violence. Here are some further thoughts on why violence in the name of Jesus—no matter whether we call it just, redemptive, or defending ourselves—is just another form of kingdom-of-this-world living.”

Let’s think about what is going on here. First, anyone who doesn’t agree with Greg on violence is what? Worldly. It is THIS type of judgment that he says in “Repenting of Religion” that we SHOULDN’T commit. So, anyone who believes in “just war theory,” a tradition that has deep roots in the life of the Church, is, well, worldly. Second, Greg has been saying this for YEARS now and he seems to have absolutely no understanding of just war theory. He certainly has never interacted with the material by the looks of it. All he does is look through a keyhole of the story of the Christ on the Cross and simply concludes from that that all violence is worldly. Third and last, his idea of love seems to be lacking. Why? Well, it seems to rule out ANY idea that even in war or violence, love can be the overarching motive. Which is to say that there can be no “just warrior.” This seems to go against what he said years ago on the Open Theism Boards as well as in “Repenting of Religion” where he limits “stop actions” to personal interactions. “Stop actions” as he has describes them, I’ve always applied to more than personal interactions. I’ve applied them to war as well. That is, a “stop action” can be put forth say in cases like the terrorist group ISIS.

So I grabbed this from the very beginning of the second chapter of Nigel Biggar’s book, “In Defense of War” entitled, “Love in War.” (Yes, can you believe that we can love in war?)

“The New Testament does not generate an absolute prohibition of violence, but it does generate an absolute injunction of love. Accordingly, just war doctrine’s claim to belong to a Christian ethic rests on its conception of the right use of violence as an expression of love for the neighbour. This makes obvious sense when the neighbour in view is the innocent victim of unjust aggression, on whose behalf the just warrior takes up arms. However, the innocent victim is not the only neighbour on site. Since love is an absolute injunction, applying always and everywhere, the just warrior is also bound to love the unjust aggressor. His love— as Jesus made plain— must extend itself to the enemy. But in what plausible senses can it do that?”

That first line says it all. There is NO ABSOLUTE prohibition against violence. Interpreting it through the eyes of the Passion and Crucifixion is not at all helpful if you at first you DON’T HAVE A PROHIBITION. All you done is theologize or extrapolate ethics from a text. I’m all for doing that sort of thing. But with something like violence, you would think there would have been something that EXPLICITLY says no violence under any circumstances ever. Second, love IS an ABSOLUTE INJUNCTION. But this is where just war theorists have problems with love of the kind that Greg speaks of. Greg seems to limit love to “no violence.” First, it seems that violence, as he understands it, is “swift and intense force or rough, injurious force, action or treatment.” But if that is the case, then physical violence should not be limited to war. One could think of psychological force of some sort, ie., being in prison. YET, at the same time, this seems to contradict his “stop-action” idea. And if a “stop action” is violent, ie., intense action or treatment against someone doing something evil or wrong, then Greg hasn’t precluded violent actions in lesser forms after all.

See, here’s the thing. I’m all for the anabaptist tradition. I don’t think it will ever go away. I don’t think it SHOULD go away. I agree with Richard Mouw that it serves as a reminder to those of us in the just war tradition to not be so quick to jump to violence. What is problematic about what Greg is doing is this whole judgment thing. Those of us who adhere to the just war tradition, though we might point out flaws in the anabaptist tradition, don’t say that those in the anabaptist tradition are worldly for not stopping aggression when we think it should be stopped. We may become frustrated by what WE think is the “do nothing” crowd when something of a more violent nature should be done, but we don’t call them worldly. And as far as I can see, Greg doesn’t think of his views as falling that much under the heading of tradition when in fact it is.


Some Thoughts On Absolute Moral Principles

Ever since I can remember, probably as far back as when I was 10 years old I was interested in moral quandaries. When I made a commitment to Christ at the age of 13 years of age, even I though I had thought about graded absolutism, I didn’t really know what it was called nor did I have enough resources at my disposal to work through it ie., how to deal with objections to it. Even at that point, people were more into a Christian pious religion as opposed to thinking intellectually about faith.

Essentially, when I think of graded absolutes I think of a moral law that can be trumpeted over a higher moral law. So for example, in Matt 12:1-8 Jesus and his disciples are doing something unlawful on the sabbath and he appeals to a higher law such that that higher law overrides the lesser law. If such is the case then the question of moral absolutes is called into question. BTW, by absolute, I mean a law that transcends all times and cultures. Though many theologians take issue with the “objective” and “absolute” in the “objective moral absolutes” equation the fact that Jesus appeals to a “higher principle” or law is to say that there is something else to appeal to that IS absolute which is to say that the law that Jesus was over-riding was NOT absolute–“Loving God And man”–and that the caring for his fellow human beings was/is.

Still, there are other objections to moral absolutes. This was brought into perspective when Kevin Vanhoozer brought up objections to Walter Kaiser’s essay in, “Beyond the Bible” by talking about “principlizing.” In doing so, he spoke of David Clark’s book, “To Know and Love God: Method For Theology (Foundations of Evangelical Theology).”

Clark brings up other problems to the issue. For example, let’s say we have an absolute principle, that is, a principle which cannot be broken or should not be broken. It transcends all times and place. It is universal. The problem with looking for principles are:

1. Determining what the principle is in the first place.
2. The principles to be discovered are heavily influenced by the, “tacit plausibility structures of the interpreter’s culture.”
3. How do decide what dimension of a particular Scripture pas-sage counts as the transcultural principle and what does not?
4 Can every cultural element be extracted from scripture such that we have a transcultural eternal word that is left? If so, would this say that those principles are better than the Bible? Unless your head is buried in the sand and you’ve not known what has been going on in academic circles for the last seven to ten years then you wouldn’t be aware that if anything, postmodernism has taught us that this really can’t be done.
5. What are we left with when we attempt to remove all cultural elements? Can we “do” all theology through a model of principlizing?
6. Are the principles more important than the culturally mediated expressions of the Bible?

In the end, Clark isn’t so much against the idea of principlizing but against the idea of naive principlizing for he says, “Clearly, drawing out principles from the total teachings of Scripture is one of the important tasks of theology. But using this model only—seeing all theology as principlizing the Bible—is inadequate.” In doing so, one really doesn’t recognize that other communities ie., countries, races don’t have the see our principles in the same way as we do.

In the next post, what I want to do is discuss this last paragraph in the next post and try to clear up what I think could lead to some confusion which ultimately leads to saying there are no absolutes.


Red Letter Christians And The Rest Of Scripture

I have, for the most, part when doing theology (on the laymen’s level that I do it) have relied on two major sources, reading and talking to others. But there is also what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In other words, I use other authoritative sources to reach as much of a sound moral/ethical decision as I can. I am not a Red Letter Christian–giving Jesus’ words priority over the rest of scripture. That just sounds weird to me. Stan Guthrie wrote a critique about Red Letter Christians at Christianity Today here. Tony Campolo responded in the same online article–though I think Campolo can be easily refuted here. With just one word: Justice.

Let’s think about this for a second. Red Letter Christians ACTUALLY do give priority to Jesus and his words that you find in those older renditions of the Bible. The justification for this is rather simple. Let’s go through this.

Stephan Jarnick says this:

“Another thing some Christians say that needs to be challenged is “I read the WHOLE Bible” as if giving the Old Testament and the New Testament equal weighting somehow makes them better Christians. Jesus made it clear that the Old Testament is important when he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” but he also said several times “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” whenever he’s about to teach something that’s different from what’s found in the Old Testament. The law said “An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth” but Jesus said “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” I don’t want to accuse anyone of intentionally ignoring Jesus but it’s sometimes tempting to do an end run around him to find a sound bite in the Old Testament that will support our agenda. I often encounter this kind of thinking when talking to people about Jesus’ peace teachings. Reading the Old Testament to learn about how God interacted with people prior to Jesus coming on the scene is a good thing. Using it as an optional guide for how to live when we don’t like what Jesus has to say to us is…not Christian.”

Essentially, what Jarnick does is say that Jesus “peace teachings” is above the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (even though, pretty much, justice is not fully accomplished in this fashion: Do you think justice can be served by punching someone’s tooth out the same way that they punched yours out? For it to be a tooth for a tooth it would have to be done in the exact same manner and force and making sure you only knock one out and not others, etc. Not to mention, do you REALLY feel justice has been accomplished? Don’t you feel a just a little jaded? Really, the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was a VERY JUST law as it had to do with the concept of proportionality. Which meant that you didn’t go overboard with a DESERVING punishment. If this interpretation is correct, then the “eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth” is not really all that contradictory to Jesus words.

So when Campolo responds to Guthrie in the above CT article saying:

“While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture.”

He begs the question. How would not going overboard with punishment (thus being a just punishment) be contrary to Jesus’ peace teachings? If we WERE to ask, “WWJD?” could we not say that Jesus would say, “Hey, don’t go overboard with punishment!” So why would we give priority of Jesus’ words over this Old Testament law?

If I were to add the Ten Commandments into the equation, we might ask, how is say, “Not making idols” (graven images) NOT relevant to Jesus’ commands to love God with all our hearts first and foremost? It should be obvious that not only is there no contradiction but the Old Testament could give us a “filler” so-to-speak (explanatory power) to the words of Jesus.

But let’s go further. Campolo says:

“You got us RLCs right again when you suggested we were anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty primarily because we believe Jesus is anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty. The only mistake you made was to imply that thinking this way—or trying to influence our government according to these values—makes us the Religious Left:”

OK…this is where I have serious reservations with what Campolo is saying. The anti-war, pro-enviroment, deeply ending poverty are USUALLY the staple of the Left NOT the Right. I mean, after all, the right is more concerned with abortion and same sex marriage. So it really is not a far cry to say that Red Letter Christians fall to the left side of the spectrum. But, is not most in the evangelical community REALLY against war PER SE even though some on the Right may be more quicker to go to war than others on the Left?

However, let’s go back to that word I mentioned above–justice and it’s opposite, injustice. Is injustice not injustice no matter what? Let’s say, through some political educational policy, that we take taxes from citizens to pay for education because we as a society have seen fit to educate our children up to a certain age. However, let’s just say that someone wants to educate their kids according to their particular history or political science (as these last two are not neutral unbiased territory, who’s to say that the public educational system’s teaching on these subjects is the “correct” one?) or values or tradition. However, in order for them to do so, they must pay for it OVER AND ABOVE their taxes and in effect penalizing them financially for doing so as well as treating them like second class citizens. Is this not an injustice? And if it is an injustice, why would Jesus be any LESS concerned with this? Sure, we might prioritize “life issues” as more important than education but we would never say that it is not important and we especially would not say that treating others in society as second class citizens is not important.

So, what am I saying in bringing this up? I’m saying that all of these diverse issues are important as far as justice is concerned. Jesus would be concerned about war and whether we should participate in it. Jesus would be concerned about abortion. Jesus would be concerned about the enviroment. Jesus would be concerned about marriage. Jesus would be concerned about poverty and and homeless. And lastly, Jesus would be concerned about the ways in which we treat others as citizens. You do realize there is more than one way to treat people as second class citizens right? The human imagination for dehumanizing others seems to know no bounds!

So if it is the case (that Jesus is concerned about JUSTICE as a whole) then why the incessant need to differentiate between what Christ says in red and the rest of scripture? Should we not be concerned about reflecting idolatry (an Old Testament declaration of freedom) in our laws and policies? I don’t see how we should not be and thus I don’t see why we should prioritize one scripture over another.

In closing, I think this whole idea of being a Red Letter Christian is condescending. **I** follow the words of Jesus. While everyone else….what?


Ethics: Attempting To Sort Through The Maze

Three of my favorite areas of study are: religion (theology), politics and ethics. I’ve read a number of good books on ethics. Mouw’s, “The God Who Commands” while it is not an applicable piece, he does approach ethics from a theological, philosophical angle. “Readings in Christian Ethics” Volumes 1 and 2 (one is theory the other is practical). “The Moral Quest” by Stan Grenz. “Ethics,” by Arthur Holmes. Wyndy Corbin Reuschling,”Reviving Evangelical Ethics.” Richard Longenecker’s short book on Christian social ethics and a few others.

I’ve ALWAYS thought that there was no such thing as an “ethical-less” Christianity. With W.D. Davies and Longnecker I came to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t only the Saviour but that he was also a Rabbi and a teacher. Being that Rabbi and teacher he also gave us ethical imperatives to follow. On the other hand, on Greg Boyd’s Open Theism boards years ago and with the reading of Vanhoozer and his quote from David Clark, the idea of being guided by “principles” was brought into question with the this: “What happens when one principle “tops” another? Are they no longer absolute?” And of course, we see this sort of questioning going on with the whole picking and choosing of ethical principles and scripture and whatnot that progressives consistently point to. This, seemingly, goes the route of relativism.

Now, there is an area of ethics in which ethics are situational. I don’t doubt that. But there are areas in which ethics are, no matter how much one may claim otherwise, “absolute.” They are for all times and all places. It is on that broad strand that ethical principles do not cross or “top” the other. On the situational level, yes. On the broad categories, no. And let’s remember something, to live ethically is to live in loving relationship with God and others. It is to love God AND my neighbour.

David Gill’s book, “Doing Right” has been very instrumental in helping to put this all together right in the beginning of the book. The failure to understand what he means by “cover principles” and “area principles” is, I submit one of the reasons for mass confusion about hermeneutics (why we pick and choose this scripture over that) and in ethical deliberation within evangelical and progressive circles. I’ll have more to say in the future.