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

What if I’m wrong?

I’ve noticed a certain disappointing conclusion in a number of books and sermons lately.  I’m prone to exaggeration, but this thing keeps coming up, so maybe I’m onto something in thinking it’s a trend.  The particular disappointment has to do with the eschaton (end-time eventualities)—particularly, any viewpoint that anticipates a physical, earthly manifestation of everlasting heaven.  The disappointment grows in intensity when the viewpoint is espoused by a person whose scholarship and/or philosophies I respect.

Rick McKinley and Matthew Bates, two new-favorite author-thinkers, have greatly impacted me with important notions around (1) biblical faithfulness and (2) kingdom.  Both of these have apparently arrived at roughly the same place on this eschatological question:  anticipating a renewed earth for all eternity.  Those who agree with them, including a large proportion of evangelicals, can hardly breathe when asked to consider another point of view; the same may be said of those on the other side.

With the latter group, I have throughout my life taken the position that this earth will eventually be entirely done away with.  As I read and hear key thinkers on this, many end up disagreeing with me, although some of them and I do turn out to agree.

Could I be wrong?  (I ask that question both seriously and tongue-in-cheek.  I could falsely find comfort in being in a minority.  You know, “few there be that find the narrow way” and all.)  I’m really not ready to admit it just yet.   The problem for me, on this topic and others, is this:  when I find holes in others’ logic, I may feel justified in ceasing to think logically.  The primary hermeneutical non sequiturs I find in this sphere concern people’s inability to distinguish apocalyptic literature from narrative or didactic literature.  If people assume Revelation is to be taken as literally as one takes, say, Mark or Acts, they may jump to conclusions.  See this Wikipedia reference to interpreting Revelation; the point is that it is a particular way of reading Revelation that results in some theological positions.  What if everyone read most of Revelation as primarily figurative?  (One can do that while still respecting scripture, you know.)  Arguments would be avoided, and more people would agree with me.  That’s good, right?  🙂

→ See here for a brief spotlighting of the different types of biblical literature.

So what if I turn out to be wrong?  I find myself partly aligned with the amillennialists (not postmillennial, not premillennial) and, to a degree, with the preterists.  A friend says he’s an “I don’t care-ist,” meaning he doesn’t really care what the Lord does “at the end” . . . anything is OK with him.  Following his lead, if the Lord disagrees with my present conclusions, I can live with that.  (This is pretty much the case with other  “doctrinal” matters, too.)  What am I going to do—stand at the throne and discuss eschatology with the One who is outside time and planned it all, anyway?!  I’m thankful that my relationship with Him—both the “here and now” and the “there and then” aspects—does not depend on drawing correct conclusions.

Freedom reflections

“Freedom” is an English word which suggests a value held by most Americans—arguably, an innate value.  What, though, is the referent of “freedom”?  It depends on the context.  Are we talking about Scots in the feudal period (see my essay with a Braveheart connection here), 19th-century Africans-become-Americans on the move, Jews or Christians in the 1st-century Roman Empire, or “free speech” in the 21st century?¹

I presume that all thoughtful people, regardless of how (or if) they feel patriotic, or how they support (or do not support) military action, can agree on a few things—for instance, that the loss of human life is to be avoided when possible, and that all human enslavement in recent history is abhorrent.  I certainly consider freedom from such enslavement a worthy human cause.  I would like to spend a few clarifying minutes here, though—sharing an illuminating, distinguishing feature of “freedom” in the New Covenant writings.  There can yet be appropriate lessons for Christians to draw out on the occasion of a national holiday.  I hope this post turns out to impress readers as just such a lesson, refining and deepening our thinking.

We should be aware, first off, that concepts and practicalities around freedom and slavery have changed through the ages.  What felt like freedom to an ancient, freed Hebrew who had lived in Egypt would surely still feel like bondage to me, a person of some privilege.  We know more of the life of a bondservant in New Testament times, but assumptions must still be made.  One conclusion we might draw is that, whatever Paul thought about about Roman-era slavery, he didn’t consider it inherently evil, or he wouldn’t have sent the “slave” Onesimus back to Philemon, and he wouldn’t have told “slaves” to obey their masters.  The point here is that one must learn something of the reality of the situation—the context of the “freedom”—before he can make apt assessments.  Moreover, the human enslavement that occurs today is of a different stripe from that of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in western Africa (and they’ve all been awful, on the whole).

The first three “freedom” definitions given in one e-source all focus attention on liberty from something—from restraint, from despotic government, or from enslavement.  Those definitions and references do summon images and historical education for many of us.  But these are not necessarily directly related to “freedom” in the NT writings.

In 2015, Dr. Larry Hurtado, an influential, reputable scholar retired from the University of Edinburgh, wrote a paper entitled “Freed by Love and for Love:  Freedom in the New Testament.”  Hurtado first treated NT references to freedom in the historical context of Roman slavery, which again deserves consideration in its historical context.  He proceeds to emphasize that, in the NT, freedom is “for a certain direction in life” (Hurtado p. 1) and is to be seen in (positive) connection to other people.  This freedom for something is to be seen in contrast to mere freedom from something—even something as dehumanizingly evil as the kind of slavery we typically think of.  On the contrary, the secular view of freedom in the Roman world—and, we daresay, throughout the West today—is often seen to be “at the expense of others, their labor and service enabling one to enjoy a freedom from labor and service.” (p. 25)  This assertion at first sounds overdone, but I consider it justifiable.  In other words, the freedom I enjoy as a U.S. citizen does not on the surface seem to be at the expense of others, yet when it is analyzed, a good part of it turns up wanting.  Hurtado’s point seems valid.

I don’t share all of Hurtado’s perspectives or concerns, and I wouldn’t claim any more than 10% of his intellectual capacity and insight, but I surely do appreciate the whole of his “Concluding Reflections,” which I reproduce below, with bold emphases of my own.  Again, the stress is not on what one is free for, but on what she is freed to do.

Anyone may find Hurtado’s paper freely available in its entirety here.

– B. Casey, 5/20/18 – 6/30/18

Those who require an explicit scriptural text to authorize any thought or action will find the absence of NT statements on political liberation either frustrating or a (dubious) justification for conservatism.  Those whose vision of liberation is essentially a hastily baptized version of Greek traditions of autarchy will find the NT vision of freedom incomprehensible and repugnant.  I suggest, however, that both responses reflect shallow thinking.  In any case, neither represents an adequate engagement with the NT.

As we have noted earlier, the NT does not teach about political liberation, largely because the sorts of actions open today (especially political organization) were not available or even conceived then.  But the strong affirmation and enhancement of personal moral agency in the NT are most compatible with social and political environments that make ample room for freedom of conscience and action.  The agapē urged in the NT requires a real measure of personal freedom in order to be exercised authentically.  It is not possible to render the love advocated in the NT under compulsion and coercion.  So, e.g., freedom of religion and conscience, and freedom from intimidation and oppressive social relationships are essential for the cultivation of opportunities for true faith and loving freedom to be exercised.

The eschatological vision that fuels NT teaching on freedom and other matters has been effectively lost in most versions of Christianity, along with the concomitant radical view of evil, with unfortunate results.  Conservative Christianity has tended to identify too readily the Kingdom of God with this or that political regime (from Constantine onward), whereas liberal Christianity has tended to under-estimate the depth of evil and in its own ways has tended to assume that radical change for the better can be achieved by well-intentioned people.  But the eschatological outlook of the NT reflects a profound, if jarring, view of the human predicament, which, in view of daily news reports, at least seems more realistic.  Moreover, that same eschatological hope also requires a stubborn refusal to confuse any human regime with God’s Kingdom, which should allow scope for critique of all regimes, even those established in the name of freedom.

The NT emphasis on freedom for the love of others may be instructive as well.  There are plenty of indications that modern liberal democracies are good at promoting individualism, and a culture of self-attainment.  But these societies are not very successful in promoting a productive and free social cohesion, and common values, or in getting individuals to use their wealth and other advantages for the good of other people.  Perhaps, then, the remarkable version of freedom in the NT is worth a second look.  One implication of the NT treatment of freedom is that a “free” society cannot be measured simply in the degree of autocracy exercised by individuals.  In today’s political climate, choice is a major commodity offered by politicians to a public coached to prize enjoyment of maximum personal opportunities.  But the NT idea of freedom rejects acquisitive choice in favour of serious and productive inter-personal involvement.  This dynamic freedom involves a greater realization of one’s own moral agency and an enlargement of one’s vision to take in others.  The expression of this sort of freedom promotes inter-personal relationships that nurture and enhance others, freely loving others in the power of God’s freely given redemptive love.

– from Dr. Larry Hurtado, “Freed by Love and for Love:  Freedom in the New Testament” (2010)


For the benefit of both sets of readers, this is also posted on my Kingdom blog.

For more (roughly) seasonal reading:

Nations—a probing of the ideas and concepts in the word(s)

The Babylon Bee can step on toes—and be rather probing with its stingers.  Enjoy this year-old satire on one of the U.S.’s special days:

Former enlisted man now a CO  (about what happened to change a “soldier’s” philosophy and allegiance)


¹ I don’t list here the countless Christian songs that rhyme with “set free.”  Some of them might have something theologically sound in the background, but others seem rather glib and gratuitous, with no particular reference.

(Hucka)been there, done that

Crossposted from my other blog, a bit of a diatribe on something from the typical “conservative Christian” world:  https://subjectsofthekingdomblog.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/huckabeen-there-done-that/

Here are a few excerpts:

“God’s love for the U.S.” is an idea concocted out of thick air—thick with people who not only believe, but also blithely promulgate, the idea that God especially guides the United States.  These people are almost as common as, and even more deluded than, those who think they can play the guitar.

. . .

God is not about geopolitical entities.

. . .

I would assert that God did specially orchestrate some events for the ancient Jews for centuries, but the scenario then changed.  

Xposted: Kingdom glances (3) — allegiance

Faithfulness/allegiance to the kingship of Jesus will ultimately be significant to everyone.  This final installment in a short series on my other blog speaks in some detail about some key language of Christian “faith”—which, as it turns out, is often the language of allegiance.

Among other challenges, Matthew Batesʼs Salvation by Allegiance Alone aims to move us toward a fuller, more apt understanding of pistis (“faith” in English Bibles).  Please click below (to my other blog) to read more on faith as allegiance to Jesus as King:

https://subjectsofthekingdomblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/25/kingdom-glances-3/

Apologies to readers who receive posts by e-mail for this blog.  I clicked prematurely yesterday.  If you have already read the linked post above, know that nothing has changed there other than a correction of a typo.