Cross-posted: on human machinations

This post is from one of my other blogs, Subjects of the Kingdom:

Human machinations

That post deals relatively briefly with human ways and means, over against what I see as more lasting concerns of those interested in God’s reign.  The jumping-off point is 1Kings chapters 1 and 2, and I quote from Will Campbell, too.


Find more from Will Campbell here:  MLK, Jr. Day: A Tribute to Will Campbell

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MLK, Jr. Day: A Tribute to Will Campbell

This blogpost was conceived a week or two ago and has been created and produced entirely on this day, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  If you are short on time, perhaps you can at least mine a few nuggets from the quotes below.

Serendipitously, today, my son and I listened to an old cassette tape while driving in a truck of about the same age.  The recorded music was from Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center, and the lead song was what I’d call a differently patriotic one:  “America, Spread Your Golden Wings.”[1]  Sometime before the song’s final chorus, three significant America quotes of American history are included as an interlude:

  1. The moon landing
  2. JFK’s “Ask not …”
  3. The quintessential Martin Luther King “ have a dream …” quote

I myself have never had much interest in Martin Luther King, Jr.  For one thing, I have been conditioned to be biased against just about anyone in the limelight.  That aside, I must admit that the lyrics and music of the above-mentioned song, along with the interweaving of these often-heard, spoken moments in American history, combined to inspire even me.  King’s words are without doubt memorable, influential, and inspirational.  To date, his now-50-year-old attempts to influence this country toward breaking down racial walls has not had enough impact.  The Civil Rights causes that King so ardently championed have been left with unfinished work.  Another voice along these same lines was that of Will D. Campbell.

Image result for will campbell
Will D. Campbell (1924-2013)

In my reading on topics related to the two kingdoms, political and eternal, I have hung on an item in my possession (thanks to noted author Lee Camp)—a compilation of selected Campbell writings, edited by Richard Goode.  I had not heard of Campbell before 2016, and perhaps you haven’t, either.  Allow me to introduce you to him.

Will Campbell was a preacher in Louisiana for two years before taking a “religious life” post at the University of Mississippi from 1954 to 1956.  He was forced to leave that position because of his participation in the Civil Rights Movement.  He later served as a race relations consultant for the National Council of Churches in New York, and he is said to have worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Following are excerpts from blurbs found on the back cover of the book:

Campbell still has much to teach us all.  Quirky and courageous, Christian and contrarian, his life of love and labor on behalf of civil rights—and plain civility to those in need—deserves a wider hearing…

In this remarkable collection, Will Campbell unmasks the powers-that-be, envisions on alternative order, and calls Christians to radical practices of resistance and reconciliation.  The witness and these pages will call forth many adjectives:  “Unrealistic!”  “Outrageous!” “Scandalous!”  . . .  Most often, however, another word is best:  Gospel.  Unsettling and essential reading for contemporary Christians.

If I myself had said the above, I would hope that most of my readers would respect the opinions somewhat.  The fact that the blurb writers hail from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Duke Divinity School, respectively, will give the comments added weight.

Particularly appropriate on this day, the following words would perhaps encapsulate Campbell’s indictment of Christian whites in the South:

The pattern we have seen develop in the Civil Rights struggle has been somewhat as follows:  Negroes have grown tired of unfreedom.  They have done something about it.  In not one case has the leadership in the significant developments been furnished by whites.  In Montgomery, Birmingham, Philadelphia, always it has been Negroes who have initiated the action.  That, in the Christian understanding, is not as it should have been (bear another’s burdens)….  Neither individual man nor society has been redeemed to the point where we are our brother’s keeper or advocate very much of the time.  (177)

It seems to me that the voice of Will Campbell is one that should be heard not only on this particular day but also, more generally and broadly, by all Christians in our age.  Editor-compiler Goode comments, “Campbell incarnates the radical iconoclastic vocation of standing in contraposition to society, naming and smashing the racial, economic, and political idols that seduce and delude.”  (back cover)   “Professing disciples,” says Campbell, “must live an irrepressible conflict against the principalities and powers …  that divide and dehumanize.” (vii)  “Rather than crafting savvy strategies and public policies, . . . Campbell counsels, ‘”Be reconciled!'” (back cover)   I don’t trust that “social” problems can really be solved in this life, but in their spiritual aspects, such problems as racism will be eased, in small corners, by individuals acting like Jesus rather than through political solutions.

Campbell was at times what might today be called an “advocate for the African-American,” yet his notion of reconciliation was so radical that he even went so far, on a humanitarian basis, to champion whites who perpetrated deeply violent, terroristic acts on blacks.  He advocated, for instance, for one KKK member and for a law enforcement officer who was wrongly acquitted of a crime against blacks in the Deep South.  After certain civil rights were legally obtained for black Americans, Campbell “came to believe that American society was substituting rednecks as the new, preferred ‘least of these’ group.  Campbell cast his lot with them, seeking to illustrate reconciliation with these ostracized sisters and brothers.” (31)  I wonder what Campbell would perceive of the last decade or so.  I suspect it would not be one group that would receive his attention.

Truly, at least based on my cursory reading of Campbell in the last year, he would have been an advocate for any [insert group name here] Lives Matter movement, including the All Lives Matter one.  Each life is important, he would say, and all may be reconciled in Christ.  Yet he was tough on the Christian establishment.  For instance, he referred to Nashville, near which he lived in later life, as a very religious city.  “Seven hundred and eighty church houses.  But religion is a dangerous thing.”  (77)  “Campbell calls for disciples to give their lives in irrepressible resistance against all principalities and powers that would impede or deny our reconciliation in Christ—an unrelenting prophetic challenge leveled especially at institutional churches, as well as Christian colleges and universities.”  (back cover)

In my view, Campbell correctly calls out the religious establishment, endowing its collective identity with a tongue-in-cheek label, the “Steeples.”  He sometimes worked under a Steeple himself, but rarely did he appear to be most effective there.  Insofar as Goode has accurately represented Campbell (and I have every reason to believe the depiction is on the money), I would affiliate with his characterization of Campbell here:

He opposes the presumption that the only way the church can effectively suppress racism is either to align itself with humanitarian agencies and more stringently apply the wisdom of social science, or to acquire political power and more rigorously enforce U.S. constitutional law.  Both approaches, he says, are pagan insofar as they trust politics and or social science rather than the gospel.  (89)

The next quotation does not necessarily support MLK Jr day, but it serves to set up the succeeding one.

I agree that the Christian faith can be changed at many points that would make it more to my liking, more easily acceptable, more in keeping with my culture and my way of life; but the question we must always ask is “Is it Christian when we have finished with it?”  (93)

It is in that vein of deep challenge to the church Steeples (establishment groups) that Campbell pins white racist churchmen’s ears to the wall—those who in certain Deep South white churches of the 50s and beyond are blind to their racism.  The problem is not with those who would say, “We don’t care what God thinks, we want segregation and will have it forever.”  In that event, there would be some hope.  Instead, what Campbell suggests racist Christians actually said was, “We want segregation because it is God’s will.”  His stinging rejoinder:  “to deny God in the name of God is heresy.”  (93)

My growing affinity for Campbell has to do with his iconoclasm and his transparent honesty, no matter what.  He is rough around the edges and offensive at points, but I love when he says things like this (from a 1987 address titled “Values and Hazards of Theological Preaching”):

I don’t like the word ministry.  It is arrogant, presumptuous, condescending, maybe even imperialistic.  I don’t have a ministry.  I have a life.  (123)

In the course of reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, Campbell had queried whether we (meaning Christians in general) assume the kingdom of God would be pretty much like the kingdom of Caesar.  (xi)  Philosophical challenges to the Religious Right and fundamentalist-Christian America do tend to draw me in, so I am all ears when Campbell calls out Christians for mixing God and political goals.  In a late chapter in the book, editor Goode aptly called 1968 “a pivotal year in US political history.”  That year, which was of course the year of King’s assassination, Campbell and the editor of the journal Katallagete dedicated an issue to assessing the faith many Christians place in the democratic process.  Although it would have been appropriate for me to review and or analyze that essay on this day, I will have to defer that until another time.  I will be intently interested in what this courageous man said 40 years ago about the failings of the political system in attaining to the brotherhood of man.

For more on Will Campbell, you might begin at his the Wikipedia page here.  Another interesting read would be found in the transcript of an “oral history” interview here.


[1] On both the first and tenth anniversaries of 9/11, in Kansas and western New York, respectively, I redeployed that very song in music ceremonies.

Of 1.6-liter engines, V10 4WDs, theology, and biblical studies

A great start to the morning includes another statement of reliance on what is written.  The following Q&A led an interview found here:
Interviewer: What led you into biblical studies, and in particular, Pauline studies, in the first place?
Seyoon Kim:  When I embarked on my post-graduate theological studies, I was aspiring to become a systematic theologian. During the first year of preparatory reading for it, I realized that to become a good systematician, I had to be well grounded on biblical foundation.  So I decided to do my doctoral work in biblical studies, and chose Pauline studies, thinking that it would prepare me the best for my eventual systematic theological work (but I have not been able to “advance” to it!)

Oddly enough, my first introduction to “biblical studies” was a negative one.  (When a school or institute is called the “School of Biblical Studies,” abbreviatory jokes can be made.)  Yet I know of no more apt moniker, and biblical studies as an academic field must continue to enjoy a respected place.¹  I started to say that it should have a berth “quite distinct from” theology and ministry, but I actually don’t believe that.  My wish might be better stated like this:  biblical studies² should be recognized as a foundational discipline for faith-related academic inquiry, constituting the stage on which theology, church history, ministry, and religious philosophy play out.

Dr. Kim appears to have used the word “advance” with a wink.  I would grant that theological thought is “advanced,” in that it makes judgments and synthesizes.  Here, I think of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which for me was Knowledge – Comprehension – Application – Analysis – Synthesis – Evaluation.  (See current info here and here.)  I  think I learned and comprehended that model fairly well as a young college student, and I have applied at least the lower end of it throughout life.  In other words, I don’t know that I have analyzed, synthesized, evaluated all that much.  At any rate, I would grant that those who think more philosophically and theologically often have advanced minds.  My brain is a 4-cylinder, 1.6L Ford Escort, whereas theirs are V10 fuel-injected V10s Ford F250s with 4WD.  (Or maybe Ford Excursions with bells and whistles inside?)

I’m content to drive along trustworthy, relatively flat paths with my little engine.  I think those big ol’ vehicles can get themselves into deep mud and crevasses as they attempt to climb hills and traverse rugged terrain while watching movies with their on-board Wifi.  The windows can get all covered up with mud, and the drivers have a hard time seeing the path, though.  So keep me in the text along with Dr. Kim, and save me from “advanced” theological machinations unless they are inextricably tied to the texts.  Theological pursuits may be rewarding, but most of our minds (certainly not mine) can’t handle them very often, and I think we’re all probably safer on level ground.


¹ It is difficult to respect the theology department of a supposedly Christian institution of higher learning when it offers courses in church history and philosophy but not a single course in New Testament Greek.

² Within “biblical studies” we might include (but not be limited to) manuscript investigation, rhetorical analysis, discourse analysis, text criticism, studies in Hebrew prophetic genres and Hebrew poetry, studies in the literary nature of the gospels, Pauline studies, and, of course, studies of ancient scripture languages such as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Faith qua allegiance (part 2)

For me, allegiance is a central Christian concept, and it has been throughout my adult life.  In this first post on the word-concept allegiance, I traveled through a bit of personal historyreferring to the relationship of allegiance to human government, songs by Ray Boltz and Rich Mullins, and the influence of Lee Camp.  In the last two years—and especially in the last few months—the place of allegiance has been bolstered considerably in this believer’s thinking.  Allegiance has been inextricably connected to faith itself.

Life can bring great serendipities, synergies, and dovetailings.¹  I note the following that have come in the same phase of my life:

  • a heightened awareness of theological positioning around the word “faith” (and also sovereignty and free will), due in part to a men’s discussion group
  • persistent thoughts about allegiance to God’s Kingdom in a group study of Matthew
  • our home group’s study of Galatians
  • an academic blog’s feature of Dr. Matthew Bates’s 3rd book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Amazon catalog reference here).

Product DetailsWhile I have been mentally and hermeneutically challenged in all of the above, the connections are nevertheless satisfying.  Prior to applying this to my present study of Galatians, I’d like to highlight key portions of the lengthy interview with Matthew Bates (see here for part 1).  Here are the lead paragraphs:

Not since the Reformation has there been a challenge to the five solas as persistent and potentially persuasive as Matthew W. Bates’ third book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).  This book has generated a groundswell of controversy that continues to build as more theologians, pastors, and laypeople are exposed to Bates’ nuanced proposal.

Bates’ thesis, at once radical and obvious, is this:  in the New Testament writings, the Greek word pistis, or “faith,” is better translated as “allegiance.”  He does not intend for every instance of pistis in our Bibles to be retranslated, but for him, there are specific contexts, especially in Paul and the Gospels, in which the only reasonable rendering is “allegiance,” as in the kind of fidelity or loyalty that one would give to a king.

Note that Bates is especially focused on the gospels and Pauline letters, and also note that allegiance is connected to divine sovereignty, something to which most Christians would give assent, to one level or another.  Next, here is a crystallization of what I take as the crux of the issue, from part 2 of the interview:

Interviewer:  Of the Reformation solas, only yours seems completely dependent upon human agency.  All the rest are due to God’s agency, whether that be scriptura, gratia, doxa, fides (as a gift from God, Eph 2:8), or Christos. How would you respond to the criticism that your sixth sola fails to meet the standard of the others due to misplaced agency?

Matthew Bates:  First, I am not arguing for a sixth sola, but primarily seeking to advocate for a truer understanding of sola fide (by faith alone).  My exploration seeks to uphold the solas while seeking greater precision with respect to their true biblical boundaries.  I do conclude that sola gratia (by grace alone) and soli Deo gloria (for the glory of God alone) need to be nuanced in particular ways in order to stay faithful to the biblical vision.  This is because grace and boasting have both been misunderstood with regard to works (of Law).  As far as I am aware, I am not seeking to add distinctive shades of meaning with regard to Christ alone or Scripture alone.

Second, in Salvation by Allegiance Alone I never state that pistis is solely dependent on human agency rather than God’s agency.  In fact, quite the opposite:

Grace in the sense of God’s prior activity precedes ‘faith,’ for God first had to bring about the good news before it could be proclaimed and before allegiance to Jesus as Lord could be confessed (Rom. 10:9–14).  Moreover, God is the creator, and every good gift comes from God (James 1:17), so we must affirm God as the ultimate source of ‘faith’ and all else. (p. 105)

What is being claimed is that faith, enabled by grace, is the only contribution that we make to our salvation. (p. 122)

So I do assert that in some sense the ability to render allegiance to Jesus the king is either due to God’s agency, or is at least a gift bequeathed to our libertarian agency in the wake of the Christ-event.  Yet since Scripture puts far more emphasis on our agency with regard to pistis than God’s agency, throughout the book I frequently speak about our own human agency in giving pistis to Jesus the king (emphasis mine, bc).  In so doing I am trying to give the same weight of emphasis that we find in Scripture.  Yet I deliberately leave the nature of God’s agency with respect to our own underdetermined.

This matter of agency is key for systematic theologians whose formulaic approaches almost make it a spiritual crime to acknowledge a human response to God—or, dare I suggest it, a human initiative in some sense.  Yes, “while we were yet sinners,” God took action.  But that notion does not negate the fact that we now owe God allegiance.  If allegiance is something God enables, fine, but as far as I know, I choose to give it, and I am glad to give it, in my human weakness, when I am at my best.

Matthew W. BatesWith respect to the word “gospel” (ευαγγέλιον | euangélion), Bates makes the statement, “We can’t make decisions about what ‘good news’ means on the basis of our feelings about what sort of ‘news’ would be better for us.”  Bates then points as an example to a popular author who “is allowing systematic concerns about what would be better for us to override first-century meanings.”  Taking what I believe would be classified a synchronic (within a time period) linguistic approach, Bates says, “The meaning of first-century words must be determined by first-century usages.”  He would say the same about the word “faith” (pistis | πίστις ).  In other words, it doesn’t really matter what what a 21st-century regurgitation of a Lutheran “faith alone” theology conveys to the modern Protestant ear.  Recovering as much of a first-century sense of “faith” (pistis) as possible is key to understanding what Paul and others meant when they wrote of “faith.”

Whatever one makes of Bates’s book,² there can be no doubt that coming to grips with a fuller range of meaning of “pistis” is key to a more adequate understanding of New Covenant “faith.”  And so, when I come to Galatians and struggle hermeneutically with whether in 2:16 or “pistis” means faith (RSV, ESV, NIV, etc.) or faithfulness (NET Bible and some more recent commentators), I now have another viable option:  allegiance or loyalty.

I might now paraphrastically expand some Galatians phrases to include the allegiance idea.  Consider a few more traditional English renderings, followed by the “new possibility” in each case.

2:16

ESV:  we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, …

NET:  we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, …

New possibility:  we know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through the Jesus Christ’s faithful allegiance, and we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by Christ’s allegiance, and not by works of the law, . . .

2:20

New possibility:  I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by loyal trust in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

3:2

ESV:  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, . . .

New possibility:  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would later justify the Gentiles by their faith-filled allegiance to Him, . . .

3:22

ESV:  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

New possibility:  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise that emanates from Jesus Christ’s faithful allegiance might be given to those who also believe loyally.

3:26

CSB:  for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

New possibility:  for through faithful allegiance you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

New possibility (expanded):  for through faithful allegiance —first, that of Jesus, and now, your own—you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

Whether this season is more filled with Santa and snowmen or shepherds and angels for you, consider allegiance to the King.  Perhaps the thoughtless use of phrases such as “newborn king” or “little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay” bothers you a little, as it bothers me.  Still, I affirm that Jesus did become Lord and Christ.  He became King.  And having faith in Jesus implies allegiance to Him as King.


¹ One such dovetailing was when we first engaged in the serious study of Paul’s letter to Philemon—a letter written to a “house church”—with a home fellowship that met in our living and dining room.  What serendipity, right?  (Or providence, if you prefer.)  I’ve written about that more than once.  Try these two:

Community in Philemon
A mini-odyssey with small groups (3 of 6)

² I myself pored over the serial blogposts and am about to order the book but but have not read it yet.

Allegiance: Boltz, Camp, & Mullins (part 1 of 2)

I think it was during my late teen years that the notion of the Christian believer’s foremost allegiance began to stick with me.  More than once during those years, I read every word of my grandfather’s paper on the Christian and government.¹  In the sub-context of stating a Christ-based unwillingness to serve in the military (but also revealing a broader philosophical stance which I also affirm), Granddaddy wrote, “I will try to be submissive insofar as this submission does not compromise my basic allegiance to Christ.”  Such thinking has been a part of my theological chassis for some time.  Many welders have strengthened the undercarriage, so the allegiance frame is pretty unlikely to break at this point.

Some years later, when I heard Ray Boltz’s² rather unique song “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb,” it added a “contemporary Christian” bit of support to my thinking.  A Christian should have one primary allegiance, I knew, and that allegiance should obviously not be to the flag of a country, but Boltz had stated it well in the positive:  Jesus the Lamb was the One to Whom loyalty is due.  I wonder now whether Boltz was responding creatively (either consciously or subconsciously), knowing something was amiss in the popularity of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” which was then more than ten years old and had become the anthem of the U.S. military, beginning in the Gulf War era.

Image result for rich mullins songs album

Also sometime during the 1990s, I had come to the songs of the late Rich Mullins.  Just a couple of days ago, I happened to put one of Mullins’s CDs in my player, as I seem to every couple of months.  The song “If I Stand” has often moved me, through years, filling up my eyes, and it did so again.  It is not the word “allegiance” first that struck me, but a synonym:

There’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiment.

Nationalistic patriotism in most people (not all, I understand) has most often struck me as mere sentiment.  One or two good friends have challenged my concept of patriotism, and I do acknowledge that it can be a neutral or even good thing even in the believer’s life.  Still, Mullins’s sentence has stuck with me through the years.  Whatever the inner sentiment of a national patriot, surely loyalty must outlast and outshine the sentiment.  And it is the same for a believer:  it’s not that there is no sentiment; it’s that allegiance to the King must be real and transcendent.

In the song “If I Stand,” Mullins and co-writer Cudworth continued,

The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the giver of all good things.

In internalizing these thoughts sporadically for more than two decades, my own allegiance has been both (a) shown to be the weak thing that it is and (b) impelled forward.  Five songs later on the disc, Mullins offered “My One Thing,” showing once again that he desired to embody a surpassing allegiance:

You’re my one thing!
Save me from those things that might distract me.
Please take them away and purify my heart.
I don’t want to lose the eternal for the things that are passing,
‘Cause what will I have when the world is gone,
If it isn’t for the love that goes on and on with my one thing!

In 2015, I was introduced by Richard Hughes to the writing of Lee CamImage result for lee camp mere discipleshipp.  First poring over Camp’s Mere Discipleship, I was impressed by his depth and his on-target courage to speak into the fray of modern Christendom, not to mention his skill with written expression.  In the course of this book, Camp depicted worship as allegiance, and I have yet to dive into that connection, but something compels to do so.  Allegiance is a rather massive, compelling ideal.

In part two, I will mention a (relatively) new book by Matthew Bates—Salvation by Allegiance Alone.  I’ll also say some things related to faith and allegiance in Paul’s (old) letter to the Galatians.  Allegiance is a concept with substantial, longstanding history.


¹ Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.’s paper is in the public domain and is reproduced in my book Subjects of the Kingdom. 

² Only in writing this post have I learned that Boltz’s allegiance to his own desires later eclipsed his allegiance to Christ and to his wife.

What? The Qur’an is like the Bible?

A new book aims to introduce the Qur’an from a historical-critical perspective.  I doubt anyone would argue with the first part—the principle of considering a book within a historical frame—but “critical” can set some folks off.  It might help to get over an initial barrier if we thought not about being critical but more along the lines of employing critique

In the publisher’s catalog listing for the new book I noticed a few chapter titles in particular:

4 Literary coherence and secondary revision:  The very idea of examining literary coherence is potentially bothersome to those who discount the human element in their sacred texts—and the suggestion of revision or even developmental phases in the production of said texts, potentially offensive.

6 Intertextuality:  The intertextuality notion deals with the relationship between/among different texts (potentially including non-sacred and chronologically distant ones), as well as others written for altogether different purposes.  Intertextual relationships include both direct and indirect quotations, references, and less explicit “echoes.”

Part Three:  The idea of a “diachronic survey” indicates that it examines through time, taking development into consideration, as opposed to gauging things based on a “snapshot” at one point in time.  I note sub-references to both the “Meccan surahs” and the “Medinan surahs.”  I would have to look up what a surah is, but I have a passing acquaintance with the idea that Muhummad’s ideologies shifted from his early years in Mecca to his later ones in Medina.  See the last part of this post for one key change.

The quotation below is from Larry Hurtado, whose blog was the source for my information.  This is worth sharing on its own merits—for the sake of Christians who care, or at least say they care, about the biblical text.

“No doubt, the book will receive objections from Muslims who imagine the Qur’an to be a miracle, not a historical phenomenon, just as fundamentalist Christians demur from a critical approach to biblical texts.  But, as Sinai notes, an awareness of the historically-conditioned nature of a sacred text doesn’t mean that it’s no longer sacred or meaningful for faith.”  – Dr. Larry Hurtado, https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/a-historical-critical-introduction-to-the-quran/

Postlude:  I once heard of a book titled Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.  I paid little attention at the time, thinking it was little more than a curiosity being shared by a skeptical Episcopalian.  Regardless of certain theologically and socially liberal agendas that the book’s author would appear to support, I focus now on the relationship suggested by the title.  I was not a Fundamentalist even then, and I surely am not now, so it’s not as though I feel the title threatens to wrest something away from me.  The idea of freeing the Bible from certain agendas resonates even more these days than it did a couple decades ago.  I wish this or that fundamentalist view of scripture were seen as a particular type of conservative stance, and not the only viable type.

It would be a good thing if Christian and Muslim adherents alike came to consider the human elements in the production of sacred texts.

Image result for quran bible

Xposted from Kingdom blog

Image result for writingOne of the great things about blogging (and other self-directed forms of writing) is that the writer gets to write when the inspiration comes.  There are no deadlines per se, and no financially based pressure, so one writes as he wills.  This kind of subjectivity can degenerate into self-pleasing or merely entertaining outbursts, and I have been guilty of that from time to time.  Most of the time, I try to allow various nudges, external stimuli, and compelling pursuits to guide what I write about.  With almost anything I write, I intend (1) to be genuine, dealing with what seems important; (2) to be responsive to nudges that might be God speaking to my spirit; and (3) to attempt to speak a helpful word to others.

My other blog, Subjects of the Kingdom, has been in existence for year and a half, and it has not been very active in terms of feedback.  That saddens me on a personal level, because it shows a lack of interest in my book.  (If 50 or 100 people suddenly signed up for feeds from that blog, I might stop cross-posting as much on this blog.)

Far more important than a readership’s response, though, is a possible broader lack of interest in the topics presented.  On the one hand, one analysis would suggest that I just stop writing about the Kingdom of God, because people either seem to be apathetic about it, or they already think they have it figured out.  On the other hand, I am perpetually impelled by the Kingdom.  Conceptually, God’s Reign touches everything.  Lately, there have been at least as many stimuli to process and write about Kingdom topics as to write on topics for this blog.  So, for whatever it’s worth, another book is in the early stages.  The working title is Two Kingdoms—Essays, Examinations, and Notes.  It will be well into 2018 before a draft is complete, but I hope to have the book out next summer.

For now, here are links to two recent posts from the Subjects of the Kingdom blog.  (Some of this material may make its way into the new book, so reading it now is like a sneak peek.)

Subtextual “empire” in Paul?

– a brief review of a scholarly inquiry into “hidden subtext” about the Roman Empire in Pauline literature

Unseen yet apparent: insights into the Lord’s model prayer

– a more devotionally oriented piece on the “unseen” element in the context and text of the “Lord’s Prayer”

Again with the reforming

A man named Kevin Vanhoozer is apparently leading an effort to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses with a new “confession of faith.”  Click here to read about the “Reforming Catholic Confession”—a document that is by definition not Roman but that uses “catholic” in its purer sense.

Now, for three decades I’ve believed (and periodically asserted) that reforming and restoring should be conceived of as ongoing, perpetual processes.  Never should one think he has arrived at a state of having been restored.  Nor do I think it becoming or wise for a group, no matter how broad and inclusive it thinks it is, to call itself “Reformed.”  Even if one were to include all the denominations that call Reformed theology their doctrinal home, you would still only have a slice of the Christian pie.  There are many others, and a great many of us have hearts and brains, too.  (One of the great offenses of the Christian church world is that so many people seem to think Reformed-type academics have dibs on scholarship.)

Vanhoozer’s name sounds Dutch to me, which leads me to presume he is from a Christian Reformed or Dutch Reformed tradition.  Whether I’m correct on the identification or not, I find the efforts of this group at once admirable and ill-conceived.  Admirable, because even a quick scan reveals that the “Reforming Catholic Confession” goes to some effort to be ecumenical, playing nice in the larger sandox.  It’s even ostensibly scripture-oriented.  But it is also ill-advised:  at its essence, this confession is but one more tarpaulin covering scripture’s spiritual ground. 

Part of me celebrates the idea of the Reformation—a complex of ideas and events, certainly not all attributable to Martin Luther.  On principle, I tend to use process-oriented gerunds such as “reforming” or “restoring” instead of “reformed” or “Reformation,” but even the Protestant Reformation deserves some attention as an event.  The confessions, not so much.  I suspect that, in time (maybe just a couple of years!), history will find this particular “confession” to be little more than another historical curiosity, superimposed on scripture.

An attempt at an analogy

Domingo is to Denver
as
High Church is to Low Church

The song was “Perhaps Love,” and it was sweet and innocent.  The singers were none other than operatic tenor Placido Domingo and country-folk star John Denver.  Domingo was always my favorite among the “Three Tenors,” and Denver was a favorite of my good friend Helen when she was a teenager.  I learned a few of the latter’s songs, such as “Annie’s Song” and “Country Roads.”

These days, I wouldn’t necessarily choose Domingo over Denver, although my training and background might suggest such a preference.  In fact, I’m now more attracted to Denver’s stylings (although not to his voice or his self-oriented atheism).  The point is that there’s quite a contrast between the two in terms of vocal production.  Not all listeners would initially find the contrast as great as I do, but even if the focus is only on vowel sounds, it’s pretty easy to hear if it’s pointed out.  It’s not unlike the difference between formal British and twangy southern U.S. accents.

The difference between Domingo and Denver strikes me as analogous to the contrast between a high-church organ prelude or choral anthem (on the one hand) and a folksy “y’all c’mon & praise the Lord, now” that might be heard in a really southern Southern Baptist or Pentecostal group (on the other).  Listening to the first 60 or 70 seconds of this recording of “Perhaps Love” will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.  The contrast is first heard at about 0:41 (as compared with 0:16).

Ya gotta give credit both to Domingo (for caring enough about music in general to sing with someone that most of his fans would have laughed at) and to Denver (for caring enough about music in general to sing with someone that most of his fans would otherwise never have heard of).  The “crossover” can potentially bring new listeners to each “side,” expanding horizons.

I wonder if any churches think like this.  Seriously think.  Can Lutherans and Presbyterians gain from nondenominational teachings, low-end crossover stylings, and Getty music?  Can Baptists and Nazarenes and Church of Christ people be built up by intentional formality, serious scholarship, and Charles Wesley hymns?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no.


For more on style in church music:

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/style/

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/style-vs-content/

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/keepin-it-real-4-covering-style-and-content/

 

The resolve not to think about theology (if that’s even possible)

Theology is of some interest to me, but I get lost in it.

Varying theological codifications have appeared through the centuries.  There are the ancient councils and creeds.  There are the confessions and catechisms, and these things extend through several major denominations.

 

 

 

 

 

Systematic theologicians (!) almost seem to use sleight-of-hand techniques, and the rest of us need to learn escape artistry to free ourselves from the boxes they put on the spiritual stage.  Last week, the Logos Academic Blog published this post:

https://academic.logos.com/twins-not-rivals-regeneration-and-effective-calling-in-the-ordo-salutis/

I tried to read that material.  I really did.  The writing is good, and the academic treatment is good.  I found myself seriously questioning the value of it all, though.  Calling, one of the two major topics treated, is a word-concept that has roots in scripture (although it takes on a life of its own with some theologicians).  Regeneration, not so much.  For the theologically stout of heart, a sequel LAB blog link about the relationship of “calling” and “regeneration” is here.

All this material is about the theology of the “salvation” process.  None of the objects of analysis are observable from a human vantage point, yet humans are still trying to codify an order—the ordo salutis, or sequence of salvation.  In some cases, they are even trying to codify the codifications!  Now, I do not point the finger at the high-end “Reformed” theologians any more than at the low-church folks who claim they’ve pinpointed things.  (Baptists, Church of Christ folks, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics are similar in this respect, at least.)  The exact point at which God decides I’m in?  The order of “events” in the spiritual realm (as though they were events per se)?  Centuries-removed human beings have attempted to codify the “order of salvation.”  In scripture, I find scant the suggestion of a rigid, global ordo salutis—and somewhat less substantial than the presentation of God as three.

Fretting over the identification, connections, and conceptual relationships of ideas such as “regeneration” and “effectual calling” seems wasteful to me.  I try not to ascend into the lofty language and forged formulas of theology, but I do get drawn in at times.  More than the material itself, the mind-boggling part is that anyone would doggedly pursue the relationships between various positions and stances.  This is metameta-material, two generations removed from what I need to be dealing with.  I might honestly ponder God’s will, i.e., what I think God wants me to do in a given situation, but when I philosophize about “calling” and try to force scripture verses into a theological stance, I risk drawing inappropriate lines and reaching points of view that cannot stand up to scrutiny based only on scripture texts.  If I go a step further and try to make sense of the implications of the difference between my philosophies and someone else’s—when I become enmeshed in thinking about the relationship of one theological system to another—I am yet more removed from anything I ought to be sinking my teeth into.  I may admire the sheer intellect of a systematic theologician, but my health is better when I keep my diet free of such processed, artificial foods.  Here, I started to edit, or at least apologize for, mixing magic and nutrition metaphors, but maybe it’s OK to leave it as is:  the mixing reflects the confusion that can result from theologic.

For better or worse, because there were a couple of old Mad magazines at my grandmother’s house when I was a boy, I have the image of Alfred E. Neumann here burned into my memory .  What the reincarnated Neumann might say in theological circles, I don’t know, but I say to the theological rustlers and wranglers, “Why worry about this?  Why not just listen to what Paul tells Philemon or the Thessalonians?  Why not just sit in rapt attention before Matthew’s portrait of Jesus?  Why worry about superimposed theological constructs when I have my hands full with trying to understand and act on a single insight from Jesus’ life from John’s gospel or Paul’s exhortations to the Philippians?  It’s not only a “flip” why worry? that should be in the picture here; it’s also the presumption that can be apparent when anyone claims to know the mind of God to the point that he can lock down spiritual-sphere “events,” perfectly in order, when scripture hasn’t done so.

A couple of my new acquaintances seem wrapped up in theology.  They are men of faith, and I do not doubt their devotion.  I am however troubled that their responses to just about any honest question or observation seem to come from orthodoxy rather than the scriptural material at hand.  A few months ago, one of them sent me a paper he wrote about “calling.”  I’m persuaded that he sincerely wants to be God’s person, and that he emphasizes things he honestly believes are important.  Twice in the paper, he reminds the reader that we should all “get our theology from scripture.”  Yet what he comes out with is anything but textually based.  Rather, it is based on a non-contextual view of cherry-picked scripture verses.  The irresponsible use of scripture pretty much always ends up like this.

So I resolve to keep myself from thinking about theology too much.

Yet there are the questions that keep coming up.  What does Paul mean by pistis (most often “faith”) in Galatians 2:16?  Is that the same thing he meant in 1:23?  What if pistis doesn’t mean belief or trust?  What if it means faithfulness or loyalty or allegiance?  (All of these are legitimate possibilities.)  If I am to communicate with my neighbors, I need to have some acquaintance with the implications and ramifications of concerns such as this.

I probably can’t keep aloof from theology after all.  So much for the Neumann influence in my life.

B. Casey, 8/4/17-8/21/17