Reading Companions?

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This is an excerpt from a lecture at a local Christian College class taught by community pastors – my assignment was Neo-Orthodoxy to what is going on now!  The following introduction has to do with our reading companions – who do we consciously or subconsciously rely on to interpret the scriptures?

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Theology is written by very human theologians.  The truth of God is eternal and unchanging but our understanding is often tied to the other things we know, or think we know.  We interpret the Word of God by our world, our experience and through our culturally conditioned eyes.  We read the Bible through cultural lenses.  So we see that:

  • The Church Fathers were very influenced by Plato and Neoplatonic thought.
  • The Medieval theologians were influenced by Aristotle.
  • Modernist Theologians were influenced by science, Darwin and a view of human progress.
  • This is seen in how we view Creation, for example. Galileo did not so much challenge the Bible, but a consensus view that was based on Aristotle, Ptolemy and the Bible.
  • This is seen in how we view Revelation – is the Bible a Divine Book only (Neoplatonic church fathers), a human book only (higher critical modernists) or both ( Evangelical – e.g. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy)
  • This is seen in how we view Salvation – The Christ pictured in the Sistine Chapel is unapproachable and busy sending sinners to hell and saints to heaven (is it any wonder that the people turned to Mary?); the Christ of Liberalism is kindly and humane. Albert Schweitzer said of the “quest for the historical Jesus” that European scholars searched carefully and found that Jesus was just like themselves.

C. S. Lewis said that one should alternate reading current books with old ones. This is one way we help see the trap that is the world view of our own times. Reading church history raises this question for us.  Who or what do we use to stand next to the Bible to interpret it?   Tradition (officially co-equal to scripture in Catholic Theology); Theological schools (Calvin v. Arminius); Popular Culture (church should entertain); the Business world (Pastors are CEOs); Social Media; Psychology (as practiced by Oprah, Dr Phil);

Question: What lens do you use to understand the Bible?

(Full notes – NeoorthodoxyEtc.notes )

Accommodation – James McCosh

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I have written last time about the strategy of Opposition as shown in the example of Charles Hodge in his book, What is Darwinism?”

This post is about a position I call Accommodation.  This is the idea (to which Hodge also agreed to a lesser extent) that we have to accommodate our reading of scripture to incorporate what we learn from science. The basis of this is the idea that God is the Author both of Scripture and of Nature, and that in the end those two forms of revelation will not be in conflict.

One widely accepted example is that of Astronomy.  Though the Bible, like everyday language, reads as if the sun rises and sets, we know from science, that the earth is in motion around the sun, and the sun is also in motion in our galaxy, which itself is in motion.  We have accommodated our views to further evidence.

I have collected some interesting quotes by McCosh here. McCosh Quotes

From Christianity and Positivism, 1871, p. 6,7

“On the one hand, our scientific men are not, as scientific men, qualified to find out and to estimate the theological bearings of the laws which they have discovered.  For if there be a religious, there may also be an irreligious bias…The laws of the physical world are to be determined by scientific men, proceeding in the way of a careful induction of fasts; and, so far as they follow their method, I have the most implicit faith in them, and I have the most perfect confidence that the truth which they discover will not run counter to any other truth.  But then they pass beyond their own magic circle, they become weak as other men. I do not commit to them – I reserve for myself – the right of interpreting the religious bearings of those laws which they disclose to our wondering eyes.”

The message from the series is here: Accommodation

Is Poetry less or more accurate? – Psalm 139

everywhereIn the Favorite Verses series I am speaking on Psalm 139.  This is great poetry.  Some wonder if that makes it less accurate.  For example from Derek Kidner

“This statement of omniscience is characteristically vivid and concrete; not formulated as a doctrine but, as befits a psalm, confessed in adoration.”  (Psalms, Tyndale OT Commentary, vol 2, p 464)

Which is a better description of Omnipresence?

Psalm 139:7-12

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Wayne Grudem in “Bible Doctrine” p. 78

“God’s omnipresence may be defined as follows: Gd does not have size or spacial dimensions, and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.”  

In reference to the above passage he adds, “There is nowhere in the entire universe, on land or sea, in heaven or in hall, where on can flee from God’s presence.”

I believe these kinds of statements are complimentary.  They have equal value and accuracy.  If by accuracy we include the idea of being comprehensive.  Poetry may miss a few fine gradations of definition found in theological prose. It adds a great deal in the importance and impact on our minds and hearts.  Theological prose does not have the poetry and the power to move, but it helps us stay where the scripture speaks and not travel off and beyond the content of revelation.

Unbelievably to me, one of the most boring series of lectures I ever heard was a theologian unenthusiastically delineating definitions of attributes of God, in the manner of one reading the tax code.  I consider that a crime against good theology!  The gentleman needed to look up from his curled yellow pages and read a little from the Psalms, Job, Isaiah, John, Colossians, Proverbs and maybe open the hymn book and find something like “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”

J. I. Packer rightly said,

…knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a man’s heart.”

(Knowing God, IVP, p. 32)

Limits of Narrative Worksheet: the Case of Deborah

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We need to gain our theology from teaching portions of the Bible, and then compare those to the Stories.  It is rarely a good idea to change what we think the bible teaches by comparing it to a story.

Deborah and Women in Leadership:

1.  Read Joshua 4 (bottom of page) together and look at what the Narrator highlights about Deborah as a woman.  Cite verse numbers and give a sentence or two of explanation.

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Are there other women in the story?

  • V. 17-22; 5:24-27
  • 5:28-31

 3.  Compare to Teaching passages in the New Testament:

  • I Timothy 2:8-15
  • I Corinthians 11:2-16
  • I Corinthians 14:33-27
  • Acts 18:1-3; 24-28

 Texts on Deborah in Judges 4,5

Judges 4:4-16 ESV

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.

12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor,13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

Judges 5:1, 7, 12, 15,

9/29/2013

What happens when you ask the pastor about predestination…

scribe.2A friend from church handed my his thoughts on election and free will last Sunday and asked for my comments.  so I thought I would delete any names and post my thoughts here.

Hi______, I looked at your notes from Sunday.

First of all, I recommend this book:  Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer, IVP (it has been around forever, so it is probably cheap on Amazon). He lays out the issues.

Second, I see two overall ideas in the scripture

  • Our choices and actions are real, have significance and we are accountable for them.  How could that be true if they are predetermined without our will.
  • God knows and elects us from before the foundation of the world is an idea found in a varity of places, including Ephesians 1 and Revelation (book of life) and Romans 8-11.

Packer calls this an antinomy – two ideas held to be true despite their apparent contradiction.  (Wikipedia: Antinomy (Greek αντι-, for or instead of, plus νομος, law) literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology, particularly in the philosophy of Kant)

Most people resolve the antimony by

  • emphasizing God’s Sovereignty –  Election.   This is the “Calvinist” position (but really looks back at least to St. Augustine).  This position can be either rather blunt (God does all the deciding) or nuanced (our will is somehow concurrent with the will of God, or he cause it so we freely choose, or something similar – this is called “concordism” if I recall correctly))
  • Emphasize human choice, often called “free will”.  This is the Arminian/Wesleyan position.
    Basically saying that God cannot or does not negate our choices – how could he pass judgment against sin if it was determined by him?  Can God predetermine sin?  etc.  The older Wesleyan Arminians held that God knows everything in the future but somehow limited himself.  Some open theists say that God die snot know the future but makes good guesses.

I prefer to leave the antinomy unresolved and allow for the fact that somehow in the nature of God it is not a contradiction.  If you press me, I think it has to do with God’s eternity.  He is somehow outside of time (science tells us that time is a dimension;  a product of space/time)  So it would be possible for him to know in his eternal present what is future to us.  In “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis he describes it as like a man watching a parade, not from the street, where it is seen from start to finish sequentially,  but from a tower, where the viewer can see it all at once.

There are other antinomies – God is love and holy – how can he forgive sin when he is pure?  (the Cross)  

“Free will” is a specifically Arminian kind of term.  I prefer to use other words less loaded.  Our wills are not totally free or someone could have decided not to sin, but none have.  So we are effected by the corruption of sin in that way.  I use the term “choice” or “will”.  Luther was a hard liner on this point and wrote a book “The Bondage of the Will”. John Wesley talked about “prevenient grace” where God enables us to get to the place where we can hear the gospel and decide.  Calvinists will say that God saves us and only then do we believe.  (There is an old debate over the Order of Salvation – “ordo salutis” – which I find to be a lot of picayune scholasticism.

I have also found that the Bible does not “answer” some classic philosophical questions such as the problem of evil or free will.  Job and other passages deal with the problem of evil, but in the form of a narrative story and epic poetry that in the end does not give a rigorous answer but says “you have to trust me on this.”  I note that the logic of election and free choice run into a wall of apparent contradiction.  but so do other things we hold to such as:  Matter can be described as waves or particles and both are true depending on how you look at it.  Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is another example.   Is that a contradiction or is there some deep level of science where that will be resolved.

I hope that helps.