Scientific method?

One of the long-term casualties of our time is that many of us will lose some of our trust in the ethics, wisdom, and accuracy of science and scientific method.  More precisely said: we will (rightly) suspect human presumption and media-designated science, perhaps not distrusting scientific method per se.

Please understand that I am normally partial to logical, “scientific” lines of thought. I deal in them fairly often. A very good friend of 20+ years is a trained researcher (a scientist in one area of inquiry), and another friend of 30+ years is a scientist/engineer in another. My parents’ lifelong friend is a trusted medical doctor, I know another doc fairly well, and I have numerous friends and acquaintances who hold doctoral degrees in other subjects. While I am also given to ponder things from other angles, I highly value logical thought and “scientific method.” But I am having a problem these days.  I give two examples below.

I read the following a couple days ago.  The excerpt mentions some particular ancient text scrolls that were displayed in the Museum of the Bible, which was founded and bankrolled by Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green.

It’s not the first time I’ve read about the problems associated with the Museum of the Bible. There seems to be no reason to doubt that the MoTB and its founder Steve Green made poor, even unscrupulous decisions–and that the DSS fragments formerly housed in the MoTB were frauds.  (Green is said to have done all he could to make things right after the fact.)  The point here, though is this: L ast year, I would have reacted quite differently when seeing that they appealed to “scientific method.” I would have trusted the phrase almost implicitly until proven otherwise. Now, I immediately recoil and wonder. The problem I’m calling attention to here is not the facts of the matter; the problem I’m having is my negative reaction to the phrase “scientifically proven” in the news report.

I read this guidance the same day, in a COVID-related document published by a professional organization:

I immediately want to yell out, “Whoa! True scientific method would not be able to determine such a thing! Not across the board, anyway.” It’s not as though scientists should agree on ensemble rehearsal duration across the board. They don’t know enough about this scene, and there are multiple variables to be considered . . . yet the world now likes to wait on such “decrees,” trying in vain to appear circumspect, careful, and caring.

We ought to stop looking for guidance on everything from people who are rushing to be heard but have limited or no expertise in an area. Good scientists will often admit that their studies are limited, and perspectives do evolve. Hasn’t past science has shown us most of what we need to know about not getting sick? I know this is a bad virus, and we have a global pandemic on our hands, but I doubt there is any way to “kick this virus’s butt” by one or more human/scientific means. Its ultimate effects on the human race are unknown, but nothing we do is going to matter as much as some seem to think. It’s going to run its course. (I label the foregoing as an opinion that is not based on “science,” really, but I imagine “science” could be found to support it.) This is not to downplay hospital care and suffering of the few. I know those things–along with the fears of those with compromised immune systems–are very real.

Science, though, is imperfect. Science is evolving. Always. And the humble scientists worth their salt know they don’t have all the answers and never will. Moreover, the number of non-scientists who think some marginally scientific, short-term opinion gives them the right to say “scientifically proven” is shocking.

So, could we please we all just stop using “scientifically proven” as a mallet to be wielded against those we think are knuckleheads (so maybe they won’t turn the mallet on you), and simply do things that make sense?

Go outside for exercise and sun, eat vegetables and fruits and proteins. And use good ventilation. Those factors could be underestimated. Notice that I didn’t say they are “scientifically proven,” but I probably could have, with just as much logical weight as some of the non-scientist media folks who think they have the answers.

A clean limerick

There once lived a man in the mountains,
Lacking Big Media’s fountains.
He had little wealth,
But he did have his health.
And I am no poet, so I will use prose.
(I could try a “proem,”  Naw, not one of those.)

This mountain man—Herman the Hermit, we’ll call him—came down for groceries one month and found the world had gone crazy.  There were strange signs near the entrance, and people that appeared to be security guards, but they had no billy clubs; they had cell phones.  And the best he remembered, it wasn’t Halloween, but people were wearing masks over half their faces.  (Herman had no mask, of course, but he looked hairy and imposing enough that no one tried to stop him.  Of course he didn’t have any sickness, anyway, and he had a strong immune system, so no matter.)

Herman owned no electronic devices such as smartphones.  While shopping, he heard something over the loudspeaker about a virus and “social distancing” and wondered how the two might relate.  He shook his head and went on collecting a few meager supplies in his cart before rolling it toward the front.  Not ever having used the self-checkout stations, he waited in line for the clerk.  He was about 4 feet away from the woman in front, who looked a little uncomfortable.  He wondered what the little “6 ft” circle on the ground was for.  (So many stimuli; so little ability to take it all in.)  After paying in cash, and noticing the clerk’s odd interest in his coins, he got into his 1971 pickup and left, still wondering, almost wishing he could figure out what was going on. . . .

Our Herman was oh-so-immune;
He went away whistling a tune.
Happ’ly ascending,
His mountain-way wending,
Away now, he’s over the moon.

Some days, “away” sounds awfully good.  As someone who looks incredulously at the notion of monasticism yet often feels the pull to withdraw, I sort of envy our hermit Herman about now.  He’s blissfully unaware, “over the moon,” in comparison.  And he’ll be just fine, physically speaking, on his mountainside.  Things won’t change much for him.  Could he even be better off mentally than some of us, since he has already been socially distant and doing OK with it?

Debunking

One day, these book blurbs flitted across my browser:

This is the 1st ever children's book that is dedicated to helping parents and professional educators teach children the Biblically based Flat Earth Doctrine.  When God made the earth He could have made it any which way He chose.  However, according to the Biblical account of Creation, from Genesis to Revelation, His earth is only ever stationary and flat with a dome overhead.  Every child deserves the opportunity to learn a Biblical account of God's Creation.  If you are ready to teach your children this truth, then this book is the perfect fit for your home, school curriculum, and your church.

I can accept that this author thinks this teaching is “Biblically based.”  That’s the extent of my acceptance, though.  Perhaps his idea of “Biblical” rests, unsuspecting and innocent, in a monochromatic notion of “Bible”—as though every document expresses things in the same way, for the same purpose, with the same audience and occasion in mind.  Did the Almighty arm-wrestle the authors into sequel after sequel, creating one, giant Star Wars epic?  The story of God and his people is indeed epic, but that is not the nature of the scriptures we hold dear.

He continues,

Do you trust God's Word to be Faithful and True? Have you ever considered what the authors of the Bible, who were inspired by God, wrote about regarding the shape of the Earth? Does God's Word even mention the topic?  Are NASA's claims and the mainstream Scientific Community in complete alignment with God's Word, or are there some contradictions?  If there are contradictions, does it really matter?  Did God intend for us to interpret his description of his Earth as mere poetry and metaphors?  Is it possible that NASA has debunked God's Word at our subconscious?  Does God's Word state that he created a Globe Earth, Flat Earth, or some other kind of shaped Earth? Does God care what you believe the shape of the Earth to be?  The answers to these questions and many many more are within, and you may just be surprised.

I’m not surprised at much anymore.   But I’m disappointed by more each day.   I’m not so sad over this apparently sincere author’s apparently sincere belief.  (Had it been kept between God and himself, I imagine God would appreciate the sincerity, too.)  Rather, I’m sad that this material is “out there”—and that it might lead more intellectually astute, perhaps agnostic minds to think that all God-believers might actually think his way!

It was only a couple months ago that I learned of a connection between six-day-creationist and flat-earth ideas.  (To be sure, not all flat-earthers are believers, but some are.)  Now, I’m generally distrustful of large institutions, certainly including governing bodies and big business.  As a result, I tend to be amenable (some would say gullible!) to conspiracy theories, but it seems pretty far-reaching that science could foist a round earth on the public for very long if the earth were not, in fact, round.  I had suspected the idea of a flat earth was held by a few quacks who hole up with fellow quacks, amass weaponry, and maybe to obsess over Area 51.  Their beliefs about the shape and motion of the earth seems like quackery.

But, then again, I hold beliefs that are just as iconoclastic—and are just as likely to cause other people to think I’m crazy.

God, have mercy on us all.  We all need a lot of debunking.  For instance, in certain conceptions of church and the Bible.

B. Casey, 3/26/20 – 5/30/20

(By sheer coincidence, the day of posting is the day of the SpaceX launch, which I hadn’t even heard about until yesterday, but which my son is following with interest.  I suppose that if the earth turns out to be flat, maybe we’ll find out in a few hours.  Nah.  The government and big business are still all over this.)

Who or what leads?

Leadership is well considered in terms of concept over action or role, but let’s think about roles and activities first.  During most activities, someone is probably leading, one way or another.

In most traditional ballroom dancing, the man leads.  His female partner may be more assertive off the dance floor, but she does not lead there.

In team sports, there are leaders.  You got your quarterbacks, your point guards.  In baseball, a team captain may be a noteworthy leader, in addition to managers and coaches.  Major league baseball has sometimes enjoyed player-managers who both led the team from the bench and contributed actively on the field.  It can get more complicated, though, if we think of activities and not only identified roles.   ◊ ◊ ◊

When Jackie Robinson entered the majors, 73 years ago Wednesday, who was it who led the team?  General Manager Branch Rickey?  Interim manager Clyde Sukeforth?  Shortstop Pee Wee Reese?  Jackie himself?  Someone on the Boston Braves (the opposing team)?  Depending on the moment, it could have been any one of them.

Conductors are musical and artistic leaders, but, even in a conducted instrumental ensemble, it is often good practice for individual players or sections to take the lead from time to time.  Dr. Lauren Reynolds, now Director of Bands at one of my alma mater institutions, speaks to this aspect of leadership in ensembles within the first three minutes of this fine pedagogical video.

Leadership by players is even more necessary, if not more advantageous, when there is no conductor, e.g., with chamber groups such as brass quintets and string quartets.  It isn’t the same person who is the actual leader in every moment.  Just as in baseball, the nature of the music (or other practicalities such as a line of sight) might suggest who should lead at a given time.

Now to move toward the conceptual and invisible (as opposed to the more observable) actions of leadership.  When we ponder something, there are primary thoughts that take the lead.  Who or what leads us in ways of faith?  Who or what takes the reins as we think about God—and how to live in Him and for Him?  When we think about something, there are primary thoughts that take the lead.  Hear N.T. Wright as he differentiates between theology and text:

I have long had the sense that theology, especially philosophical theology, and perhaps even analytic theology, has tended to start with its own abstract concepts and, in expounding and adjusting them, has drawn in bits and pieces of Scripture on the way.  That is to say, it’s often system first, scripture second.

That, I suppose, is better than nothing, but it can provide the illusion of engagement with the text rather than allowing the text to lead the way.   – N.T. Wright Online  (emphases mine  -bc)

We ought to be alarmed by the common “illusion” that Wright spotlights above.  Personally, far more often than weekly, I see the effects of a theological-system-driven Christianity.  It has far more dangerous ramifications than a baseball team driven by the team owner’s greed, or a band led by an errant bassoonist.  It is our scripture texts that ought to steer our ships.  The effects of the illusion of scripture’s primacy run deep.  They are difficult to discern, and even more difficult to admit.  People will speak of theology and text as though they are part of the same ball o’ wax, and they are, in a sense.  Still, it is someone uncommon for a person to realize that theology is driving things for him; it is rarer still for someone to allow the scripture text to lead.  Conductors these days¹ will typically allow the musical text to steer, over and above their personal philosophies or other factors such as the perceived needs of the moment.  Such conductors are admirable . . . and Christians ought to let their texts guide, too!

A recent study opportunity from Coffee With Paul did allow the biblical text to set the agenda.  In the process of examining and applying the John 2 text about the upsetting of the traders in the temple courts, one of our study partners in that group commented, “The thought of ‘God is constantly at work turning over evil in the world’ is comforting and reassuring!”  And in saying that, she was leading, in a most welcome and conceptual sense.  Her thought was primarily philosophical, but she had been guided first by a focus on the text.

What or who should lead in churches, practically speaking?  That’s a different topic, and one I’ll reserve for a different day (or maybe never again!).  But I’ll say this:  it is a philosophical theology, not a text, that assumes that the leader in a church should be “the pastor.”


¹ In a bygone era, conductor Eugene Ormandy once said, quite disrespectfully of the composer or his musical text, “That’s the way Stravinsky was—bup, bup, bup—The poor guy’s dead now.  Play it legato.”

Judging views: Israel and the Church (2 of 2)

This final post will conclude the series on judging.¹  Here, I continue primarily in evaluation (assessment, judgement) of one of Three Views on Israel and the Church, which I began two days ago here.

After scanning Michael Vlach’s propositional material, I next wanted to read his response to the views that are more palatable to me.  I wanted to see how Vlach handled things that are disagreeable to him.  I thought, if he can show regard for different hermeneutical approaches to key scripture passages, it’ll be easier to judge him sincere and honestly consider his views.  No notable, new thoughts surfaced, however.

In the book, all three of the argued positions reside in Romans chapters 9-11, per the subtitle.  Those chapters are certainly key, and it’s incumbent on any thinker to deal with the sitz im leben/historical context² of Paul’s Romans epistle.  If a theologian or exegete doesn’t even deal with an (1) author’s (2) situation, (3) presumed audience, or (4) literary purpose in any overt manner, something is missing.  Some assumptions should then be brought into the light.  For instance, could the ethnic makeup of the Roman churches have influenced Paul’s writing?  Can we know if he had in mind a church that was half-Jew/half-gentile, or perhaps mostly gentile?  Would that knowledge change how we interpret Romans 9-11 in light of other Christian scriptures?  Could Paul’s desire for the people of his own ethnic origin have led to some hyperbole that we can’t understand, even with hindsight?


² After I finalized this post, I noted The Bible Project’s newest video and the succinct wording on the intro page for historical context of NT letters:  “A wise reading of these letters involves learning about their historical context. . . .”  Here, TBP’s look at historical context comes in three “layers,” beginning with some very broad brushstrokes.  The most valuable part of the video, in my opinion, starts at about 3:17, and the next installment, if my guess is on track, will be even better.


Vlach’s response to Merkle (view #3) launches itself quickly with a criticism of the latter’s handling of the Romans 9-11 text.  But there is more, whether Merkle brought other thinking into his consideration or not!  Vlach’s non-typological approach assumes the “continuing theological significance of national Israel” (212), but I must ask, where is this national Israel now?  And why on earth (I mean that both as an exclamation and as a concrete reference) would God want to teleport all national Jews—and half-Jews and 16th-Jews and 128th-Jews—to Jerusalem at some later date?  At least on the surface, the views in this book all purport to deal with, and mostly distinguish between, ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel.  The fact that none of these Christian academics seriously deals with political Israel should tell us something.  It is more the popular-level writers of Christianese tripe that are purveyors of that the “we support Israel” stuff.

Here are my current, fly-over judgments on this:

  1. Michael Vlach and those who hold his views are surely sincere, but they are captive to a hermeneutical paradigm that doesn’t ultimately appear to hold water.  They are prejudiced toward a set of understandings (and so am I).
  2. It’s obviously fine if God decides to do something I don’t expect in the end, but I am partial to views that connect OT prophetic “Israel” to “God’s people” in general, and/or to “spiritual Israel” as typified in Jesus, the ultimate Israelite.

I don’t present this as any sort of “final word.”  Actually, it’s not even a final word for myself.  I haven’t taken the time I had wanted to take with this, but it feels like time to move on—but not before some proclamation!.

If only everyone—Christians, Jews, Muslims, journalists, politicians, atheists, Middle Easterners, Far Easterners, Midwesterners, and everyone else—could jettison the notion that contemporary geopolitical issues are directly relate to spiritual or biblical concerns, then we could have a better discussion of soteriological eschatology, e.g., whether God will ultimately save all faithful Jews (and what constitutes being a faithful Jew).  Today’s political nation of Israel has nothing to do with God or salvation.  Stated in the reverse:  God has no more concern with any political development regarding Israel than He does with Syria or Switzerland or Sierra Leone or Nicaragua or New Zealand.

The notion that “we” (whatever group of Americans, or Christians, or American Christians, or western Christians that is) must “support” “Israel,” for one or more reasons, is a false one. 

Furthermore, I expect nothing to occur in geographical Israel at any point the future that has anything particularly to do with eschatology or salvation or any particular massing of God’s people.

If I turn out to be incorrect, you might see my jaw drop for a few eternal seconds, but I won’t argue with the Lord.

~ ~ ~

I’m also just finishing the book The King Jesus Gospel, in which Scot McKnight largely compels me with his thoughts on the definition of the gospel (encapsulated in the early verses of 1Cor 15).  In more than one place, He portrays Jesus as the end of the “Jews’ story.”  I am with McKnight here.  Jesus came from the Jews, in a sense, and He was/is theirs to accept.  At this point in history, at least, if a Jew should not accept Jesus, I’d expect that person’s status to be the same as that of any other non-believer.

Whether or not you’re a Jew, believing in YHVH God means that you believe in Jesus as Messiah.  In the converse:  If a Jew doesn’t believe in the Messiah now, s/he is not fully believing in YHVH whose prophets spoke of him centuries earlier.  We all ought to carry our belief through to its logical conclusion:  affirming that YHVH sent his Son, loved him, raised him from the dead, and at exalted him to where he now sits as κύριος | kurios | LORD.


¹ Several posts on judging this or that may be accessed at this link.  I’ll also offer here an ancillary series on the OT book of Judges.

Judging views: Israel and the Church (1 of 2)

Two posts will conclude a series on judging.¹  These will briefly evaluate (assess, judge) one of Three Views on Israel and the Church—which happens to be a book title (see below).  The particular judgment on these Christian scholars’ views is important to me in several respects:

  • I want to challenge myself in a scholarly thought process:  I want to be able to think through something with a clear head and without prejudice, inasmuch as that kind of thing is even possible.
  • In December, a dispensationalist preacher showed gracious patience with me throughout a good conversation.  He has judged a few things quite differently from the way I’ve judged them.  I want to give his doctrines, previously relatively unfamiliar, some attention.
  • I actively pursue an overarching philosophy that sees God’s Kingdom as inherently different from, and opposed to, the governments of humans, including those of the U.S. and current-day Israel.
  • . . . and probably more

Three Views on Israel and the Church:  Perspectives on Romans 9-11
Jared Compton and Andrew Naselli, eds. (Kregel Academic, 2018)

Briefly stated, here are the three views:

  1. One position holds that Romans 9-11 promises a future salvation and role for national Israel (argued in this book by Michael Vlach).
  2. Another view argues that Romans 9-11 promises a future salvation but not a role for ethnic Israel.  For these theologians, Israel therefore plays a typological role in biblical theology even while maintaining a special status (argued by Fred Zaspel and Jim Hamilton).
  3. The third view holds that Romans 9-11 does not promise a future salvation or role for ethnic Israel at all (argued by Ben Merkle).

I began with the Vlach chapter.  He asserted out of the gate that “national Israel remains strategic to God’s purposes and does not lose its significance with the arrival of Jesus and the church” (21-22).  Vlach’s overarching affirmation is that God’s promises, as stated in the Torah and in Israelite prophecy, (1) are explicitly and forever connected with the people of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants,² and (2) are not transcended by/in the church of Jesus Christ.  He makes a particularly large hermeneutical pole-vault in asserting that “Jesus’s role . . . involves the restoring of Israel as a nation” (23).

Vlach engages in some exegesis and valid word-study analysis, for instance, with some good commentary on the NT use of the prepositional phrase ἄχρι οὗ | achri hou, which he finds indicative of Israel’s future conversion to belief in Jesus.  Should the living Jews come to believe, terrific!  This phrase does seem to suggest that.  Vlach also evidences some contextual awareness, yet he is not above prejudice:  he finds, without evident regard for grammar, syntax, or other structural textual elements, that the Romans 9:6 statement that God’s word has not failed is a “springboard” for the ensuing material.  His treatment of God’s “selectivity” and the “remnant” is unconvincing.  While I agree with Vlach that Paul suggests God has not abandoned Israel (38), he jumps to a conclusion in stating “the remnant is not all there is to God’s plans for Israel” (39).

In dealing with this view, to which I’m naturally opposed, I remain virtually unmoved.  I’m still a trifle surprised that many could hold the view that all of ethnic Israel will ultimately be saved.  At least none of the three is overtly pays attention to today’s political Israel!

I’ve mostly enjoyed being challenged by coming into contact with these distinct views, articulated well by their representatives.  I confess, though, that I don’t believe I achieved much of an open mind in this investigatory exercise.  Frankly, in scanning, I found little to convince me that I should pay rapt attention to a different view, so these are merely some evaluative comments from my current vantage point.

Next:  conclusion


¹ Several posts on judging this or that may be accessed at this link.  I’ll also offer here an ancillary series on the OT book of Judges.

² When he adds “new covenant” (emph. mine, bc) alongside Abraham and David, I am unclear on whether he might be distinguishing Jeremiah’s verbiage (31:31-41) from that commonly associated with Jesus of Nazareth.

Mandy, Marlena, and Tom: Sabbath concepts

This is a sabbath story.  It’s not a story written on the sabbath day (although I’m starting this only five hours from the beginning of a sabbath, in Jewish terms), but one about the sabbath.  And it’s actually three stories, not just one.

For illustration, I’ll use thoughts from (1) a former student/acquaintance, (2) a friend, and (3) a well-respected scholar/thinker/writer.  I take the first two as representative of many others, but I won’t use their real names.¹  The third, in my view, is a typically helpful theologian (a category I don’t often uncover!—see here for more on that).

Mandy
Mandy seemed popular, and she was one of my students.  She had real talent and was an energetic player.  There was something about her that struck me as discontent, even rebellious, and later information bore that out, but that’s beside the point.  At the time, I myself was also in survival mode, or even fight mode, so I wasn’t going to judge her.

In a Christian collegiate institution that legislated Sabbath (read:  Sunday rest) observance, Mandy submitted for a while, but apparently fumed.  I did, too, but I didn’t feel comfortable saying much, and no one kept me out of my office if I felt like going there on a Sunday afternoon.  On the other hand, students were effectively banned from any classroom buildings, including the music building.

Aside:  here, it’s good to be clear that when Christians speak of “sabbath,” 99% of them are talking about Sunday.  That in itself should send one scurrying to the pages of what we call the “New Testament” to see if Sabbath is there.  Paul didn’t really write about Sabbath (other than perhaps a negative reference in Colossians), and that fact should cause us to question any weekly New Covenant application.

Back to Mandy.  One week, Mandy reacted to institutionalized, legislated Sabbath, by means of a letter to the editor of the campus newspaper.  She appealed to the College administration and the whole community to open up the Music Building and let her have “sabbath” recreation by making music.  I saw and supported Liz’s point, but I was more concerned with the overall issue of legislating that which belongs more in the realm of Jewish religion than Christian devotion.

Marlena
Marlena wasn’t a student of mine but quickly became a friend through another friend.  She is as sincere, intelligent, studious, and devout as they come, and she could be both serious-minded and appropriately silly.

On multiple occasions, Marlena articulated a reasonable, genuinely pious view of Sabbath.  She supported it, practiced it in various ways, and in doing so encouraged others to do the same.  I recall feeling an inclination to do as she did, a twinge of guilt that I didn’t, and also a wistful wish that she wouldn’t attempt to transport Sabbath into our time.  Mostly, I felt a longing to be as spiritually devoted as Marlena seemed to be.

Tom
Enter N.T. “Tom” Wright, in a podcast interview.  There, Wright said as much about sabbath in a few short sentences as the sum total of what I’ve ever heard or thought.  Here is a transcript of excerpts:

“The Law was a good gift, for a good but time-limited purpose.”  (Then the Law was “set aside.”)

“The Messiah is Israel in person as well as being the Living God in person.”

“The point of the Sabbaths is that they are the weekly anticipation of the Age to Come, the Coming Age.  That when the Shabbat comes, we are living, in advance, in the Age to Come.”  Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  We are now in ‘perpetual Sabbath.’  That’s why in Luke 4 he says, “This scripture is fulfilled.”  It’s the Jubilee.  It’s the Sabbath of Sabbaths.  Because he’s here.

And you don’t put up signs saying ‘This way to London’ in the middle of Whitehall, because you’re there already.”

Then by strong implication if not outright statement, Wright says it’s just as inappropriate to declare that Christians should observe the sabbath,” because we’re there already.  You can find the complete podcast(on the Christian and the Old Testament) here, or through your podcast app.

Note to my Sabbath-loving friends and other readers
These final comments are especially for the ones who feel Sabbath is more than a principle and is actually a thing to be observed under the New Covenant.

First, it is my sincere wish that all of you would realize Sabbath observance per se is something that is done away with.  There is no such thing as a weekly Christian Sabbath, and it’s high time we realized that.  We can enjoy believers’ gatherings and napping and reading on Sundays, sure, and I myself take a steps to make Sundays feel different from other days.  Rest and re-creation are important, and I need to give attention to them.  The when and how are choices, though—not laws.  Understandably and admirably, “Mandy” reacted to a false law.  Equally understandably and admirably, “Marlena” went beyond said law and made “sabbath” a principle for good.  But it isn’t a law at all anymore, and that is key.

With that said, more important than the above is the positive, as spotlighted by N.T. “Tom” Wright.  We Christians are living in the fulfillment of sabbath rest constantly.  Jewish shabbat anticipated rest, and Jesus brought awareness of that rest in a renewed understanding, and living, of God’s kingdom.

So be it

B. Casey, 2/21/20 – 3/1/20


¹ I’ve actually used the names of daughters of other women with the same names as the actual people.  This little stratagem will help no one identify the people, but it might help me remember them one day when I look back on this!

Comparing Grahams (not crackers)

Two years ago today, Billy Graham died.

Back when Graham was in his mid-70s, a longtime friend volunteered at one of his “crusades.”  I thought my friend’s supportive service to the Crusade was interesting since she was not of the Graham tribe per se, but I respected her work nonetheless.  She was simply supporting a relatively pure gospeling effort by a good, believing man.

Since that time a quarter-century ago, I’ve come to respect Billy Graham (and a few others not of my bent on this or that) more deeply.  As far as I’m aware, Graham had no scandals during his lifetime, and he was obviously a committed Christ-being.Image may contain: 1 person, closeup  There was perhaps not another like him in the latter half of the 20th century.  His crusades were held internationally, and he surely preached “live” to more people than any other human.  Incidentally, I knew the nephew and niece-in-law of Graham’s evangelistic vocalist, George Beverly Shea.  Those Sheas were also fine Christian people.

Even before the death of Mr. Graham (not “Reverend” for me¹), his son Franklin was preparing to take on Billy’s mantle.  However, each bit I’ve read about Franklin Graham in the last decade or two tells me he is not exactly his father’s spit and image.

Having come across an AP article² about Franklin’s book Through My Father’s Eyes, I immediately became biased against him:  I look with suspicion on anyone who appears to be cashing in³ on another’s work.  The article mentions Billy’s fear that Franklin would become partisan and even political at all.  Franklin’s response?  “I made it clear [that I wasn’t partisan] by making it a prayer rally [and didn’t tell anyone] how to vote.”  There, I see a smokescreen!  The article proceeds to note that Franklin “has become an outspoken Trump ally and writes in the book that he thanks God the Republican was elected.”  This is obviously not Billy Graham.

I know Franklin’s charity organization Samaritan’s Purse as one that has done much good, and most of its causes appear quite well-placed.  (Only one is inappropriate and arguably partisan, in my view.)  The organization, like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has a worldwide vision, which is clearly a good thing.  But Franklin’s alignment with Donald Trump, and his interspersing of Trump quotes with Billy Graham quotes in the book, shows that he has little clue that American as a country has nothing to do with God.  He’s on track with some of the views noted in the article, including the observation that negative influences are rampant in our schools and our nation.  He warns that “Republicans shouldn’t take Christian voters for granted,” but he almost seems to equate Republicanism with Christianity.  Whoa, Franklin.  “God and country” are not a real pair.

I later saw this blog with several quotes from Franklin indicating his nationalistic emphases.   Franklin seems so much more politically motivated, i.e., not nearly as focused on the making of Christian disciples or even on the preaching of the good news of Jesus.  Wanting to be fair, I listened to this recording in order to “get to know” Franklin . . . .

I heard Franklin say “Christians should stand strong.”  That’s good.

Then I heard him say he’s sure “we’re in the last hours on God’s clock.”  That’s not well founded and tends to pigeonhole him with fear-mongers and questionable eschatologists.

Subsequently, there were more emphases along these lines . . . and I tuned him out, because he sounded like a parrot without much conviction in the voice.

Franklin’s nationalistic emphasis is the negative clincher for me.  Not that Billy Graham was unconcerned about the U.S.A.  He is known to have met with and counseled a whole string of presidents.  But Billy’s overall emphasis seems not to have been on the country so much as on the soul and its relation to God.

In the end, the “Getting to Know Franklin” session didn’t make me want to know him any more.  Image result for image "franklin grahamI’m a Billy Graham admirer, despite a couple of serious practical/doctrinal differences.  Franklin?  Not so much.  I’m sure he’s also a good and honest man, but he is not as focused, and his political speech and lack of careful biblical teaching suggest that he is neither the thinker nor the leader his father was.


¹ I won’t call Mr. Graham “Reverend” since the idea of reverence is better reserved for God alone, and I see no point in pandering to the human notion of denominational “ordination.”

² Jonathan Drew (AP), “Book Shares Son’s Look at ‘America’s Pastor'”

³ A casual observer might say I’ve done something similar in “trading” on a couple aspects of my family history in my writing and composing, but I’ve made it clear where I differed instead of being aligned, and I have in no way benefited financially.

Dogma

Lately there have been several homeless cats darkening paths around me, and one menacing dog.  Dogs are categorically better than cats, so I’m naturally more drawn to the former.  A friendly dog can make your day, whereas cat pawprints on your motorcycle seat can make you want the sleeping cat not to wake up before the bike screams off into the wind.  Hey, they always land on their feet, right?  A dog, not so much.  A dog needs you, but a cat couldn’t care less.  (This may sound dogmatic. So be it.)

What about dogma in churches?  Dogma may be deeply held, in the background, or it may turn out to be codified.  In churches, I’d rather there not be a statement of beliefs at all, but if there must be one, let it be a simple statement of belief in God and respect for scripture texts.  Once it goes beyond that, there are pitfalls.  (In a recent “Bible study” visit, I quickly detected underlying, dogmatic assumptions that affected everything the teacher said.)

Below I will paste in a list that comes directly from a Christian university in the Southeast.  This “Community Covenant” is a list of expectations for students.  That such a list exists anywhere may surprise a few.  An esteemed former grad professor of mine once also expressed shock that a Christian college could “still” hold certain “Religious Right” positions regarding its employees.  Some secularist music people, including a confessed agnostic-or-atheist, expressed (on social media) their incredulity that something like this could exist, and that they would be unwelcome to teach at said university.  In so speaking, they manifested their provinciality and lack of tolerance for belief systems other than their own.  They themselves actually became dogmatic.

Not only do various positions exist throughout the conservative-liberal spectra, but I suppose they all have “rights” in a society and politic such as ours.  Again, so be it.

Now, on the surface, this “Community Covenant” is not a dogmatic statement of beliefs, but it could be said to be just that.  Beliefs and dogma underlie such “covenants.”  I quote directly here:

Since members of this faith-based community have voluntarily chosen to be a participant, all students are obligated to a code of scriptural and community standards and behavior.  As a Christ-follower and member of the community of Southeastern University, I will:

    • Practice the spiritual disciplines—regular reading of God’s Word, prayer, etc.
    • Understand that regular attendance at church services is expected
    • Uphold the community standards
    • Pursue integrity and practice professional ethics
    • Adhere to guidelines of dress code
    • Respect the dignity of all persons and highly value the diversity of the body of Christ
    • Respect the rights and property of others
    • Discourage bigotry, slander, and gossip among the members of the community and will refuse to engage in such behavior
    • Refrain from the possession, use or distribution of beverage alcohol (except for communion), marijuana, or other intoxicants either on or off university premises
    • Refrain from the possession, use or distribution of tobacco products either on or off university premises
    • Refrain from the possession, use or distribution of illegal substances and the abuse or illegal use of legal substances, including prescription and over-the-counter medications either on or off university premises
    • Refrain from all sexually immoral behavior including: premarital sex; adultery; lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender behavior; and involvement with pornography in any form.  (Biblical marriage consists only of a faithful, heterosexual union between one genetic male and one genetic female, and biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship)
    • Resolve conflict according to the model in Matthew 18:15-20
    • Honor the servant-leaders who watch over this community and cooperate with their leadership
    • Demonstrate compassion for others and a passion for the lost as a representative of Christ

As with any statement of beliefs, list of “community expectations,” or creed, there are strengths and weaknesses in the above list.  I note a couple of interesting additions to the norms of such collections, and I wonder if they arose out of past events at this institution.  I also note the areas that seem to spawn the most verbiage:  substance use/abuse and sexual behaviors.

I take issue not so much with any specific details, but that such statements are made so prominent.  They are often required reading, with required signatures.  It’s as though one must submit not only to Jesus as Lord, but also to someone’s superimposed codes and opinions.

Judging (general)

This post is a kind of interlude within a mini-series on “judging” topics—topics that have been a little dangerous.  I don’t want to give the wrong emphasis to readers; neither do I want to paint myself into a corner in anyone’s eyes.  Let’s take couple steps back.

Last fall, I wrote a few posts on gleanings from the book of Judges (link opens in a new tab).  That book, within the library we call the “Bible,” continues to draw me in.  Sure, the stories are riveting, but it’s not that, really; it’s the events described.  What happened is revealing:  how God’s people’s navigated those events, and how God dealt with them over a period of decades.  I think the time of the Judges can be wrongly dismissed as a few cool stories—without apprehending the theological significance of what was going on at the time.  PictureMy current series on “judging” doesn’t have anything directly to do with the book of Judges, but there’s obviously a verbal connection.

What are “judging” and “judgment” after all?  The English word ‘”judge,” when used as a verb, tends to be pejorative, but the corresponding words in other languages might not have the same import.  For instance, I suspect the ancient Hebrew word would have had different nuances and implications.

As to this current series on “judging”:  I have intended it to deal more in (1) spiritually or logically assessing than (2) legally judging or (3) ultimately condemning.  Secondarily, I mean to challenge the notion that judging is necessarily to be avoided.  In fact, one well-known personality inventory (non-judgmentally!) validates judging as a neutral trait.  The diagram here comes close to representing my own personality, as assessed a couple dozen years Image result for judgingago.  I’m largely introverted, intuitive, and feeling.  At that time, I came out near the middle of the fourth spectrum that encompasses “judging” and “perceiving,” but my judging tendencies, as defined by Meyers-Briggs, meant that I made many decisions in my outer life based on plans, order, and organization.  I liked to “bring life under control as much as possible.”  These days, I’m more flexible and would probably be stronger in “perceiving,” at least in some respects.  None of this relates too much to what I’ve been saying about judging; it only serves to illustrate that we need to know what we’re talking about when we use a word like “judge.”  Context can help.

On the way to work this morning, I judged that a driver was less competent and courteous than I.  I judged that based on evidence of how that person treated a stop sign.  Yesterday, I judged myself to have enough fortitude to do something that needed to be done.  This was perhaps a spiritual prompting to go out of my way to be kind to someone who had not been kind to me.  That is a judgment I made, as well.  Had I not taken the step I took (which was well received, I’m happy to report), I would have judged myself weak.  I judge myself too harshly at times, and too graciously at other times.  Judging oneself involves many pitfalls, and as a result, we need accountability within small, organic groups of Christians.

Repeated experiences with individuals may lead us to note inconsistencies, or even hypocrisy, in their character.  Less ominously, we may simply assess traits and tendencies and opt out of close association with this or that person.  These are all “judgments” that need not be considered malevolent.  They may not in fact contain any ill will at all.  It may be necessary to judge at times—in order to keep oneself sane or pure.  Judging is not all bad.  We just need to judge rightly … and not direct all the judgment outward!  (See end of previous post.)

The next post, I think, will take a while to construct, and it will conclude the series.  It will briefly evaluate (assess, judge) one view that’s spotlighted in the book Three Views on Israel and the Church (book title).  The format of this book is geared for critique, which is another type of judgment.  My particular critique of one of the views is important to me in several aspects:

  1. It deeply touches my overarching focus on God’s Kingdom vs. the governments of humans.
  2. Generally, I want to challenge myself in scholarly thought process.  I want to be able to think through something with a clear head and without prejudice, inasmuch as this is even possible.
  3. A dispensationalist preacher recently showed patience with me but has judged a few related things quite differently from the way I’ve judged them.  I want to investigate before heading back to finish the conversation.

I’m not sure which of the above will take the lead in my heart or mind.  I do look forward to being challenged by the views, the scholarly responses, my intellectual process as I read all the above, and the process of communicating all that on this blog.  It may take a bit of time to get it all together, and other posts may come in the meantime, so please stay tuned.

And if you haven’t signed up to received posts by e-mail, please considering doing that.

B. Casey, 1/2/20 – 1/17/20

Now and three years ago: three on the 24th?

Three years ago, some things were the same as they are now, but some were very different.  Three years ago, technology was different.  (I had a phone and a laptop that were to become obsolete.)  Three years ago, there were different sets of responsibilities but the same general spheres of travel.  So much is different, but some things are the same.  I don’t remember where I was on Christmas Eve day in 2016, but I likely read something in, or about, the scriptures.  I did that this morning, too.  (At least that much is the same.)  In an 80-year-old classic work recommended by a respected scholar, I found this:

“The linkage of baptism with the Spirit is surely pre-Pauline and primitive.  ‘In one Spirit,’ says Paul, speaking as though the Spirit were some sort of fluid, ‘were we all baptized . . . and were made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Cor. xii. 13).  ‘But ye were washed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God.’  Here the gift of the Spirit is associated with baptism.”

– A.M. Hunter, Paul and His Predecessors, 81

And associated it is.  The spirit of God is associated with Christian immersion.  80 years later, though, and after centuries of legacy doctrine, the question comes to us:  how many deity-entities are depicted in the above passage?  Even if we could agree on an answer to that question, could we legitimately say that enumeration was Paul’s concern in 1Corinthians 12?  I’d suggest that the capitalization of “Spirit” in five instances above leads readers in a interpretive direction.  On the other hand, the expression “spirit of our God,” with its lower-case “s,” seems to imply that spirit, there, means “essence.”

An inbox impetus this morning led me to find that, three years ago to the day, I posted this:

The notion that Trinity is “at the heart of the Christian faith” is overstated, at best.  “Trinity” is largely, if not entirely, a humanly devised concept and is not espoused in scripture as such.  I prefer to think of God as transcendent and many-faceted, without locking Him in to being “three”—which may be, after all, a mere number suggested for the sake of the limited human mind.

A few questions for those who haven’t ever been challenged to consider Trinitarian formulaism critically:

  1. Where, precisely, is “trinity” found in scripture?
  2. Who gave trinity its capital-letter sense/status?  When?
  3. What role does the odd word “Godhead” play in legacy doctrine?
  4. In scripture, where is the “Holy Spirit” worshipped (or prayed to) as such?
  5. Why do we feel the need to enumerate the aspects or parts of God rather than worship?
  6. What is at stake in either upholding or denying the doctrine of the trinity?  How might we accept the possibility of trinity without codifying it?

Many will be worshipping Jesus intentionally today and tomorrow.  It is unquestionably good to worship the Father, and reasons also abound to give adoring, worshipful attention to Jesus as Teacher, as Example, as Messiah-King, as Lord.  We find worship-filled texts in our scriptures.  There are also extrabiblical references to devotional practices of early Christians.¹  The earliest references do not appear to bolster trinitarian notions, but they absolutely affirm Jesus as God.

Today, as I think back to three years ago, it almost seems as though I was a different person.  Life was entirely different.  Sources of joy and pain were not what they are today.  Some things about life have changed, and I am very different, but God is the same.  Honor to God, then.  Gratitude and praise from men and women, with whom He was pleased to dwell.  Count me among those who worship the Son and the Father intentionally—today and other days.

B. Casey, 12/24/19


¹ Some, including the recently passed Larry Hurtado, have made it their life’s work to uncover and elucidate Christian origins.  Those of us interested in reasoned, supported/supportable faith are indebted to such scholars.

Judging and perceiving (6-Samson)

Readers may find previous posts on Judges here:

Judging and perceiving (1) Judging and perceiving (2-Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar)
Judging and perceiving (3-Deborah) Judging and perceiving (4-Gideon, Abimelech)
Judging and perceiving (5-Jephthah)

Whereas Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah appear to have acknowledged God’s role, human might was also integral in their stories, to the point that one begins to question the people’s allegiance to the One Deliverer.  The Deborah/Barak “song of victory,” for example, allows a place for the Lord of Hosts, but the Hebrew people almost appear to be boastful rather than grateful.  With Gideon, a mixture of faith and fear was in evidence.  Abimelech was a blight in Israel’s history, showing nothing good at all.  The Jepththah story is starkly tragic.  And next, the inimitable Samson.

Image result for samson

 

 

 

 

In the case of Samson, I perceive a descent, by an order of magnitude, into selfish foolishness.  No matter how bloody Gideon’s aftermath, or how horrific the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter, I see Samson as worse.  Despite his bravery and military heroism, he was pathetically human, with primary loyalty to his own needs and ego.  Here are a few things we can see in this character’s story:

  • Devotion (parents dedicated him, Nazir vow)
  • Orientation to a cause (defeating the Philistines)
  • Vengeful bloodthirst for vindication (for self or God?)
  • Weakness (when lust for women came into the picture)
  • Faith (regarded, in the end, by God)

We humans can readily become too excited about things that are relatively unimportant, or pay homage to things over than God.  We pay rapt attention to, or become consumed by, unimportant things while ignoring the eternally significant.  As I will illustrate in a related essay soon, humanity has always problems with lack of hindsight, foresight, insight, and prioritization.  In short, we sometimes don’t perceive and judge or assess things rightly.  The Israelites surely did that, and Samson did it in the extreme.  Overall, the Israelites’ faithless downfalls may be starkly seen in the time of the Judges.  I might frame all this as misplaced allegiance:  for example, to Deborah over God, to victory over the Victor, to human strength or decision over God’s provision.

___________________________

Speaking of allegiance
I frequently do battle with the creeping influence of Americanisn—a philosophy I find to have taken hold within the minds and hearts of a great many sincere, even studied Christian believers.  (Actually, Mr. Americanism ain’t creepin’ no mo!  . . . he done crept in and made hisself a home!)  Allegiance to the U.S.A. is a topic too large for my scope here; it deserves more than a mention.  I would be remiss, too, in an essay on priorities and allegiance, if I didn’t briefly address loyalty to denominations.  At least in my mind, denominational partisanship is a more manageable, even simplistic topic than nationalism.  Simply to denominate (to name) isn’t inherently sinful, but to have an organization that comes between a believer and his allegiance to God must be called out.  Some denominations are more hierarchical than others, but it’s not the ones with the top-down mentality that do all the damage.  What are we to think of Joel Osteen’s followers, for instance?  Are they better, in the end, than the Scientology cult or the Mormon organization?  Even grassroots loyalty that fosters subservience to dogma and clergy in relatively egalitarian organizations can be very damaging.

Further, we ought to reject and repudiate other loyalty-grabbers such as lodges and secret societies.  As Image result for freemasonrychildren, we might have secret handshakes or passwords for fun, but when this stuff escalates into adulthood, the potential is frightening.  While Satanism or Wicca are blatant and to be avoided, we shouldn’t wink at the insidious potential of Freemasonry.  The Masonic influence in history is the stuff of legend, documentary, and conspiracy theory, but it is not to be ignored.  No God-respecting Christian should pledge allegiance to the Masons, or to the Mormon President, or to any other Lord or group.  The influence of such groups in society may be mixed, but the influence on the individual soul who has pledged to Jesus as Lord is compromising and devastating.

What does this have to do with Samson?  It’s but a tangent as I observe how the Hebrews’ loyalties were torn from the One who should have been their only God.

B. Casey, Aug. 26 – Sep. 22, 2019