Review of @bakeracademic’s “Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts”

Adonis Vidu has no need to argue in his work, Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts, which atonement model is the most accurate. Rather, his purpose is to trace a path of model development next to evolving systems of justice, from the ancient world to the modern. Vidu matter of factly states, “the history of atonement thinking could be read as an ongoing conversation with the history of thinking about justice and the law.” (xiv) His book does not simply fill a gap, but may in fact help us understand atonement modeling as a contextual paradigm, perhaps loosening our tight grip on particular expressions.

Atonement, Law, and Justice has 6 chapters, with the first 4 examining the development of atonement and justice since before the Christian-era. Chapter 5 examines the atonement via various modern lens with the final chapter acting the the author’s view. Chapter 1 examines the development of justice and law in Patristic thought, although Vidu is smart in bringing in Homer, Plato, and other familiar pre-Christian influencers first. Nothing develops in a vacuum, not even Christian theology. As such, we encounter philosophy, before we are led to Augustinian theology (which is based on philosophy!). To be quite clear, our usual notions of the atonement as retributive justice are called into question — as well as they should,  if we are to be consistent with the cognitive environment of the New Testament writers. For the ancients, justice is order, but not necessarily equity. Thus, the gods were unrestrained in achieving that order, with little or no expectation between the deities and humans. Law was second, if not third. For the modern (American) reader, the notion of an executive pardon (refusing to punish a law-breaker) may be the best image here. It wasn’t until the Romans borrowed Stoicism that justice existed outside of social order, becoming an internal virtue.

Say what?

This move from justice-as-order to justice-as-equity fed directly into early Christian thought. After all, once justice becomes a virtue, then one can assign it to God. This then separates justice from non-justice, good from evil, and law from disorder, leading us into the rollercoaster of atonement models and justification theology. Where once the divine could contain deceit, evil, etc… the doctrine of divine simplicity started to take hold, giving way to a higher refrain of justice only complete in God. Because of this, we move from the ransom theories to a satisfaction model. Before I go too far into summarizing this chapter, allow me to simply suggest that this chapter is a hallmark in not only the study of Augustinian theology, but in early Christendom. In the end, Augustine’s move towards anchoring the sacrifice of Christ to a divine justice sets the stage for medieval atonement models.

Is God tied to or bound by law? That seems to be the discussion between Anselm and Abelard in the late medieval ages. More than that, however, is the shift (Vidu calls it a revolution) from law-as-specific to context, to a universal notion of law and legal remedies. Because of this universality in viewpoint, Anselm is able to offer his satisfaction theory, which precludes free grace. In other words, a wrong required a penalty. Abelard, on the other hand, moves away from original sin, but into a realm of what is desirable. Vidu shows that these two men and the third, Aquinas, are very much products of their time. Here especially, Vidu slows down and gives us a great depth of understanding as to how changing notions of law, justice, and universality shape the various atonement models during this time. Likewise, we are introduced to John Duns Scotus (p79 — 87) and left to wonder if the notion of atonement, as developed as it was by European developments in law and justice, did not contribute to the development of our Western society, ending with the separation of Church and State. I suspect that this portion of Vidu’s thesis is at least a remarkably important read in understanding Western Christianity, Christian civilization, and how our doctrines have shaped our current political realities. I cannot stress this enough — I desire more from Vidu on this subject, and would have sacrifice more time and pages to read more from our author on Don Scotus.

We are now ready to be reformed, which is the subject of chapter 3. Here, Vidu takes us through Luther and Calvin, who existed in Duns Scotus’ now secular shadow — where law was autonomous. If anyone has read anything from the New Perspective on Paul theologians (E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, or N.T. Wright), you will become immediately familiar with Vidu’s take here. Because the notion of the Law and what authority it has has been transformed in European society of the time, the same thing shapes Protestant theology. Luther and Calvin cannot be divorced from their time, but like several others before them, are shaped by it.

It is here that I question if the usual modern refrain of the Church shaping the World or the World shaping the Church. While Vidu’s book does not tackle this issue, I cannot help but see that when we had no Christendom, or no firmly established Christendom, Christians and their doctrine shaped the world. After a millenia of Christendom, the world shaped us. The one real stand-out during this time is Duns Scotus. While Aquinas gave to the Church Universal Natural Law as tied to Divine Law, Duns Scotus broke that a part, preparing a way not only for the separation of Church and State, but so too the separation of the Body of Christ in the West. 

Up until recently, legality and morality were thought to be the same. In our current world, we know better. Which is, perhaps, why so many Christians challenge the very idea of atonement. Secular law is decided by the State whereas, for the most part, moral law is still divine (or at least above the State). Names like Kant and Schleiermacher come to the forefront. Ritschl as well. And each, leading the way in the liberal Protestant tradition and thought, removes the exchange in atonement, making it subjective (according to Vidu). This is the sum of chapter 4.

Chapter 5 turns to post-modern thought, tackling the changing of terms and ideas from historic Christian lexicons to psychologist-influenced trends. His first engagement with a modern theology is with Andrew Sung Park, a seminary professor of mine at United Theological Seminary. Park incorporates Han into the equation, something Vidu takes to task. I should not like to decide who is correct here. From here, Vidu tackles feminist and postcolonial views on sin and atonement. Theologians and thought leaders such as  Foucault, Derrida, and Girard are given special treatment by Vidu. He treats each one well, giving them their voice — and then attempts to demolish their arguments. It is up to the readers to decide if he succeeds. Their arguments are met from the positive angle in chapter 6, where Vidu begins to shape his view on atonement, law, and justice.

There are few deficits in Vidu’s work. He does not take into account Jewish thoughts on justice and law. I would like to have seen how the rabbis fit into these paradigms. Further, there are no counters to the hegemonic West. Augustine is left without Cassian and Aquinas has no Gregory Palamas. I realize he is not writing an encyclopedia or multi-volume set; however, in getting into the cultural contexts, which themselves stand as comparisons one to another, a bit of the East should have been mentioned.

There are two important takeaways for me, personally. One, it shows a somewhat well-ordered path in developing the penal substitutionary atonement model. Note, never once does he argue for this view as the only view. This is interesting because of the development of other doctrines. Secondly, I think it shows the sad state of liberal Protestantism. Where we once had great thinkers, digesting 1900 years of theological and philosophical thought, we are now left with loud-mouth bloggers with little or no intellectual training. What thinkers we do have are often times shredded in engagements, retreating to catch-phrases like oppression, privilege, and bully.

I started this book with a distaste in my mouth. I do not believe in penal substitutionary atonement — although the atonement takes center stage in my theology. However, while I am not convinced that PSA is correct, I am convinced Vidu has provided the Church a rather important book in discerning the doctrine of atonement and allowing that it has developed. Also, I think he has called us to be mindful of our context and the way we approach issues of Christian thought. Finally, especially in chapter 5, Vidu gives us reason to suspect the liberal Protestant tradition along with post-modern thought may in fact be bankrupt when it comes to their stances on the atonement. It is expertly researched, meticulously crafted, and properly presented.

the portions in italics do not appear on Amazon. 

James Charlesworth responds to (calls out?) “The Lost Gospel”

jacobovici giorgio the lost gospel

The book is written by Barrie Wilson and Simcha Jacobovici; the title is The Lost Gospel. Should we not ask if something “lost” has been found and is it a “gospel”?

In Jacobovici’s video, I stressed that his alleged “lost gospel,” Joseph and Aseneth, is a Jewish pseudepigraphon (a work written in honor of a biblical hero) composed by a Jew in the first century CE (or about then). The document was expanded by Christians who edited it and transmitted it to us in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Latin (2 versions), Serbian Slavonic, Modern Greek, Rumanian, and Ethiopic. There is evidence that an Arabic version once existed. Clearly, the Romance found many homes and libraries; but no one has claimed or imagined it was a romance between Jesus and the Magdalene. The claim is novel. When I was interviewed, twice (once in Jaffa and once in the Old City of Jerusalem), I said that I totally disagreed with the claim that the composition,

Joseph and Aseneth, could conceivably be a cryptic story of Jesus’ alleged marriage to Mary of Migdal. My resistance has to do only with the narrative of Joseph and Aseneth.

You can find the entire paper here:

Has Lost Gospel Been Found Proving Jesus Married Mary of Migdal? | James H. Charlesworth –

Charlesworth has previously defended Jacobovici’s claims, so this break is important. One thing Charlesworth mentions is he believes it is clear Jesus and Mary were “intimate.” His position is not because he doesn’t like to think of Jesus as married. He even goes on to say this present novel is more researched than Dan Brown’s book of similar storyline.

Rather, Charlesworth is clear. He echoes well-known scholar, Dr. Robert Cargill, in essentially saying The Lost Gospel is neither lost nor a gospel.

Charlesworth also answers (his own) the question about whether or not The Lost Gospel is indeed an allegory of the marriage of Jesus.

NO. Despite the claims in The Lost Gospel, and the misleading notes to the Syriac translation, Joseph is not a cipher for Jesus. Aseneth is not a veiled Mary Magdalene.

I cannot help but notice the adjective “misleading.”

Personally, I don’t think the canonical gospels, nor the earliest non-canonical (Thomas, specifically), reveal any such marriage of Jesus and Mary. Yet, as some who studies this particular portion of the past, I would find it stranger to believe Jesus lived and died a 33-year-old virgin than to accept his marriage.

To be honest, I sort of picture it as an early death of his wife, in childbirth.

But, if I were to wax romantically, I would suggest Jesus was married to a woman who was later killed by a Roman soldier, Pantera, who raped her and left her for dead. I would then suggest this is what drove Jesus into the desert, where in his insanity, he heard a voice from the heavens telling him he was the messiah, the one to free Israel from Rome.

I mean, the only that separates my fiction from Wilson, et al.’s, is that I will plainly tell you I’m pulling it out of thin air.

an enLightening new theory on the origin of life?

Motion of gas molecules Español: Animación mos...
Motion of gas molecules  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a new, interesting, theory on the origin of life:

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said….

….“This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments,” England explained.

via Groundbreaking Idea Of Life’s Origin – Business Insider.

I do not make a habit out of examining science by what it can do for theology — yet, this new theory is very interesting given the focus on light and other external forces. I mean, theologically speaking. I’m just glad the article broke it down the way it did.

If — IF — if I am reading this correctly, then the potential for Life is found in every atom of the universe.



of the


Panentheism for the win!

Am I an Evangelical?

Image Credit: Ruthless Reviews

Every now and then, I like to examine myself and see where I fall on issues. Am I still a Mainliner? Am I drifting away, towards apostasy, or worse, evangelicalism? Am I committed to remaining open on the non-essentials and charitable in all things?

In a recent conversation, the term “evangelical” was mentioned. Admittedly, I am not a fan of this term even though I know many who claim to hold are not evangelicals in the historic sense of the word. Rather, many who hold it have slid into fundamentalism where biblicalism has become boisterous literalism.

When I asked “what is an ‘evangelical,'” David Bebbington was brought up.

Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

I want to take these issues one at a time.

  • Coversionism. I do not believe in the “born again” status. I think this passage in St. John’s Gospel is sadly misused and applied to a one time experience much to destruction of the original intent. However, I do believe we are to be engaged in a life-long process of “being saved.” I think St. Paul’s use of different tenses excludes a “conversion experience” but rests on many experiences throughout the life of the Christian. I never say “yes” to the question of, “Are you saved?” Rather, I answer with “I have been saved; I am being saved; and I will be saved.” See here for the Orthodox view.
  • Activism: I agree with this, completely. This is what draws me to United Methodism. I believe we are made disciples to transform the world, through discipleship and social holiness.
  • Biblicalism: I have a high view of Scripture — I do not take it literally. I do not take it as the ultimate authority. It is a primary authority, yet creeds and Tradition preceded Scripture. Scripture is validated through Tradition, the Tradition of the Church universal. Scripture likewise validates Holy Tradition. I am not “obedient to the Bible,” but to Holy Tradition which likewise includes the rule of faith (used to interpret Scripture), the councils, and the voices of the Fathers. Never once are we told the Holy Spirit dwells in the bible, but we are told it dwells in the Church, speaks through Scripture, and calls us today. This means that while eternal truths will not change, our own dogma may. A (narrow?) biblicalism is where I depart most heavily from Bebbington’s “evangelical.”
  • Crucicentrism: There is Christianity without Jesus Christ, no Jesus Christ without the Cross. While we may see the sacrifice, or death of Jesus, on the cross through our respective lens, the atonement is an essential.

In the end, I am 2/4’s evangelical. I do not consider the Christian life a one-time experience, but see prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace as actively transforming the person throughout life. And with Wesley, and numerous others, I too believe in an intermediate state.

What about you? Do you identify as an evangelical, and if so, how come?

Daniel McClellan’s take down of a puff piece on the “Lost Gospel”

English: Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene
Honey, I’m home! English: Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A puff piece on Jacobovici and Wilson’s book, “The Lost Gospel,” has appeared where there are plenty of erroneous statements made. Personally, I don’t want you to have to read it so I have taken Daniel’s comments.

A few issues with some of the comments in this article:

1. It is simply not true that Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor has been gathering dust for 150 years. An edition of the Syriac manuscript was published in 1953, and several years ago it was digitized and put online here:…. Prior to that the Syriac was translated into Latin and published in 1886 and 1924. Several other manuscripts containing the Joseph and Aseneth story in Greek, Latin, Arminian, Slavonic, and Middle English, have been published since the nineteenth century. The story is very well known, which is why translations of Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor frequently omit that portion. See a bibliography of publications on the text here:…

2. The early Christian church clearly read the tradition as an allegorical reference to Jesus and the Church (his metaphorical bride), but Wilson and Jacobovici are not actually pioneers in their reading. Others have suggested before that it can be read to refer to Jesus and Mary Magdalene (see here, for instance: http://www.themirroredbridalch…. As with that website, however, the assertion that Mary Magdalene is in view is utterly arbitrary. There is no evidence of this. It is just an assertion the reader must decide to accept. The notion that the “tower” refers to Magdala, and therefore Mary Magdalene, is fanciful speculation, as the New Testament scholar to which the above article referred so dismissively has shown in his own thorough peer-reviewed scholarship.

3. Many scholars have no problem whatsoever with the notion of Jesus being married. I personally have no aversion at all to it. I think it would be a fascinating and welcome dynamic to add to the tradition, but the simple fact is that there is no evidence of it at this point, and scholars must make claims based on evidence, not on what will rile up the status quo. Mr. Jacobovici is fond of insisting that the scholars who disagree with him are experiencing “theological trauma” because his claims disagree with their “Pauline” theological outlook, which is completely absurd. His critics have come from Jewish, atheist, agnostic, and a variety of Christian perspectives. Their concerns are with his cavalier and arbitrary methodologies, not with the trouble he causes for their theology (or lack thereof).

4. No one ever mocked Jacobovici’s kippah. One scholar wrote in a critical review that, “Winston Churchill once described Russia as ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ Simcha Jacobovici’s claim of the discovery of the ‘Lost Nails of the Crucifixion’ is speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation and topped with a colorful hat.” In response to Jacobovici’s previous complaints about anti-Semitism, that scholar––who regularly speaks at synagogues––has replied: “I’ve never made fun of Mr. Jacobovici’s religion. Rather, I’ve spent my lifetime and career studying Judaism, understanding Judaism, teaching about Judaism, lecturing about Judaism, and publishing about Judaism. But Mr. Jacobovici wants to see it as ‘making fun’ because it helps him rhetorically.”

5. No one is jealous of Simcha Jacobovici’s ability to engage in pseudo-academic sensationalism.

Historical book about Jesus may find traction with Jewish readers | The Canadian Jewish News.

If you do read the story, see if you get bingo.

Online Communion = gnosticism

online communionThis will not be a long post, because the topic of online communion is almost worth not having. Yet, it is a theological one and frankly, this is great because it means United Methodists are talking about something more important that genitals.

Chad Holtz, with whom I disagree vehemently regarding inclusion has written one of the best send ups in favor of online communion. I disagree with his proposal, but I do recommend his piece. I will not offer a rebuttal of this proposal, but simply state why I feel it is not theologically sound to do this.

In my opinion, an online communion — taking the bread and the wine over the internet — is a form of gnosticism. It allows one to create a false persona, to hide behind it, and to live apart from the real, physical community.

The world is separated into two spheres. One, the physical, is regulated to non-necessary. Our physical community is now no longer necessary. Rather, what is elevated is the spiritual, or cyberspace. No longer do we try to have physical contact, but we are satisfied with an image on a screen.

If the Eucharist represents/is the real presence (or, flesh and blood) of the ascended and divine historical Jesus then it must be taken in person — to phone it in or to suppose one can simply throw blessings around from the Aeon of cyberspace relates back to the notion that non-material supplants material, that our material world is inconsequential.

If the act is nothing but a memorial, an act meant to remember something, then an online communion is fine. However, biblically, theologically, and traditionally speaking the Eucharist is not merely about “remembering” a past event. Rather, the Eucharist is about breaking bread, which is the body of Christ, so as to enjoy the real presence of Christ. The official United Methodist Church stance can be found here. It is a mystery of the Christian faith with therapeutic inclinations. It is more than that, I believe.

This is not short-sighted, but Christocentric-sighted.

Worship, bible study, etc… are not official sacraments of the Church. The Eucharist is. It is not merely about taking it, but about receiving it, and then receiving it in a community or presence.

We are entering into a place where the intimate can not be replaced with the inanimate.



Selective #outrage and Hypocrisy; the #CiaReports

Well, call me controversial… I am indeed attempting to resist the temptation of posting political posts, but this is more a begging for reason and sincerity than anything political although I know I will be accused of being a “political unreasonable, mean, heartless right winger”… Well, have the fullest of it, because here it goes:

Human beings are so complex and interesting! Politicians are extra-crisp more complex and interesting except that they are predictable! Of course we should be outraged that some guy is being tortured. But, at least he is, as per our Western standards, a bad guy and I m not going to be all shaken up because someone who contributed to the death of about 3,000 people “has water bubbles coming off his throat”. It is gross and inhumane, but, come on, are you really outraged because of that? How about being outraged drones; about the lies of Obamacare? How about being outraged by being called “stupid” by Mr. Jonathan Gruber, the many times cited by the government as the “A.C.A. (or Obamacare) architect? I am more concerned about a few people I know whose deductible was 1,500.00 and not is five thousand dollars on Obamacare and their monthly payment is also higher. Why? Because they make money and are obligated by the government to pay a tax so one that does not work can have a paper and an illusion of health care! The issue here, however, is not health care, but “selective outrage” which is nothing but hypocrisy!

I can continue till I lose what is left of my teeth from talking: how about the government harassing citizens using the IRS? How about outrage about the government (past and present) supplying weapons to drug cartels thinking that would be a good idea to discover where they commit their heinous crimes?

The CIA report was released on the day Jonathan Gruber, the A.C.A. architect was being confronted by the House on his “Americans are stupid” comments on 5 videos that we know of, exposing the lies told the American people so the A.C.A. would be acceptable. We can fairly be suspicious of the intentions of releasing the report on that day and after a tremendous elections loss and an attempt to “control the agenda”, which has now become a term to replace the terms “smoke screen” and/or “red herring”; huh, let me think: taking the attention away  from an issue that requires reasoning and thinking by bringing an emotional one! After all, Mr. Gruber said it “Americans are stupid!”. Following the “it is not a tax” and now “of course is a tax where one group will pay for the health care of others”, after “you can keep your doctor, your current plan”, after the ” I can’t do it alone because of the Constitution” 24 times also on video, and now (to the Spanish channels) “I never said that I couldn’t do it alone”, and this CIA report, the cheapening of life both in abortion mills and some our neighborhoods, even on the part of a tax greedy government that will not hesitate in hurting its citizens to ensure the collection of said taxes (as in New York), the disregard for the truth, the usurpation of authority, the fibbing ways in which ill-informed Americans are told about very serious issues in their lives, really demonstrate that are are really better than this, we are complicit because of our silence and passiveness, and most of all it points out that ministers, even insignificant ministers like me, are doing a lousy job in pointing out America’s errors simply because of our political preferences, if not for being the very beneficiaries of the lies government tells us. Come on, many ministers signed up for the Affordable Care Act, so how can they preach against the lies the government told them about it?. So, I am somewhat outraged, but not extremely outraged for all of this as such extreme outrage would be actually “selective outrage”. The lies that the government tell us, the drones, “innocent” lives being wasted, killed, secret operations against American Citizens, these are all reasons for real outrage… A mass murderer being thrown against a wall? Oh, please!!!!

As for the work of the CIA I will continue in my attempt not to be a hypocrite, because if one of my children were in a crowded mall where there was a bomb placed by a terrorist and the authorities had him in custody and there was even a slim chance that he would disclose where the bomb is and how to disarm it if pressured, I would want the government to use any means possible to gain such information… We can’t tolerate in ourselves that which we despise on others.

Now call me names… I have both years plugged by my index fingers and am going lah lah lah lah… Not that I don’t want to hear; it is that such name calling is too predictable!

A Symposium of “Adam and Eve”


I will need to explain a few things before I draw a conclusion. I am focusing on John Walton’s statement, “Ontology trumps biology” found in the soon-to-be published work, The Lost World of Adam and Eve.


Ontology (from Wikipedia):

…the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

See herehere, and here.  I cannot help but simplify ontology as the study of being (what it means to exist), and it is used here in the sense of “if being is that which transcends reality” — it is who we are before reality, under reality, and after reality.

ontology trumps biologyThere are two types of Trinitarian Theology, economic and ontological. In the economic Trinity, God exists as a Monad but expands to a Triad during this present age. Thus, God begets (not makes) God the Son and in doing so, becomes God the Father. After this present age, the Triad will shrink to become a Monad. This explains equality and a whole host of issues and was held by the early Church. Ontological Trinitarianism means the Trinity has always existed as a Trinity and will always existed as a Trinity, a view held by the Church universal today.


Plato’s Symposium will also factor into this discussion. His view of the ontological existence of love is this:

They were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not been always their position and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.

Or, you might like a song about it. Your choice.

Adam and Eve:

Let me refresh your memory of Genesis 2.21–25:

The Lord God then put the man into a deep sleep and, while he slept, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh over the place. The rib he had taken out of the man the Lord God built up into a woman, and he brought her to the man. The man said: ‘This one at last is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh! She shall be called woman,* for from man* was she taken.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and attaches himself to his wife, and the two become one. Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they had no feeling of shame. (REB)

For woman, the transliterated is ishshah while for man, it is ish (REB notes).

Let me now relate what John Walton has said. Please note this is a prerelease of the book.

He proposes that the “deep sleep” of Adam is actually a visionary trance. Further, the rib which is often translated as “side” throughout the OT is better understood as a “side of Adam” (think side of beef). Thus, Adam’s deep sleep is a vision of the ontological being of he and Eve. Walton says, “The vision would concern her identity as ontologically related to the man.”

My paraphrase of Genesis 2.21–25, according to Walton’s notations, reads like this:

The Lord God then put the man into a visionary trance, where he took one side of the human and closed up the flesh over the place. The side of the human he had removed, the Lord God built up into a woman, and he brought her to the man. The man said: ‘This one at last is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh! She shall be called woman, for from man was she taken.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and attaches himself to his wife, and the two become one. Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they had no feeling of shame. (REB, JW version)

If you read the Symposium and Walton’s version of Genesis 2.21–25 together, there are some similarities, notably the side of the person becoming another person and the initial closing up of the wounded flesh not to mention the leaving of family to reunite the severed flesh.

But, there is more to Walton’s thesis.

While he asserts that there is mankind and womankind, he equally asserts that ontology trumps biology, ontological existence trumps biological realities (p81). “Genesis 2.24 is responding to the question of why a person would leave…” his/her family (biology) “in order to form a relationship with a biological outsider.” For Walton, we are ontologically gendered (compare this to the arguments of androgyny in Genesis 1.26). Marriage, then, is not about sex or reproduction, but about ascertaining our equal other-half. “Becoming one flesh is not just a reference to the sexual act. The sexual act may be the one that rejoins them, but it is the rejoining that is the focus. When Man and Woman become one flesh, they are returning to their original state.”

Conclusion: Does Walton’s precept, “Ontology trumps Biology,” work?

Walton is providing enough ground to dismiss natural law (separating ontology from biology) and arguments against homosexuality. Perhaps he does not see it. Perhaps you do not either. Let me contextualize this.

  • Genesis 1.27 has God creating the urmensch male-n-female, which some scholars see as an androgynous creature much like Plato’s androgyne. This idea is not new but is found in both Philo and Origen. Likewise, it is found in the Gospel of Thomas and perhaps even in 2nd Clement. In other words, the reading of Genesis 1.27 as something other than two genders, but rather as one person with two genders pre-exists modern sexual concepts. For further study on Genesis 1.27 in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, see Betz’s Hermeneia volume.
  • Walton suggests we take Genesis 2–3 as a sequel (not a recapitulation) of Genesis 1.
  • If the “original state” of humanity was this androgyne, then sexuality v. gender is a secondary argument given the forceful nature of finding our ontological completion, or perhaps, soulmate. This is why we leave biology, which is based only in reality, to find the other half.
  • “Ontology trumps biology.” Walton says this to support the notion of us leaving our families, the only real connection we have to this world, for something that is naturally opposed to us, a “biological outsider.” Why? Because the ideal state of humanity is meant to overcome reality.
  • The act of sex is secondary to the actual enjoining of the two halves. Further, Walton does not seem to state that sex itself is solely meant for procreation, but rather to aid in the enjoining. Thus, the reproductive necessity of sex, and the need for two separate genders (assuming both fertile) is dismissed.
  • When two join, they are joining as halves. We can call one Man and the other Woman, or A and B. Given that “Man” and “Woman” are not all that different, are dependent upon one another, and clearly represent one side of a whole (ontological) being, then it is safe to allow “Man” may represent a biological female as does “Woman” if there are two biological females enjoying an ontological companionship. After all, in the life after this one, we will be as the genderless angels (Matthew 22.30).
  • If Genesis 2 and Plato’s Symposium is connected, then can we, pardon the pun, separate them neatly? If we read Genesis 2–3 with Plato close by, do we not see that our current debates of sexuality v. gender is biologically based rather than ontological whereas religion and philosophy calls us to escape biological traps and instead look higher?

I do not want to suggest Walton is saying anything more than he has, only that if he is correct about this particular reading of Genesis 2–3, then we need to reconsider that “Creation order”/Natural Law arguments, which are the only theological arguments against homosexuality.

I am extrapolating data, not trying to tell you the conclusion to reach. I have long maintained that the only legitimate argument against the incompatibility of the practice of homosexuality is the one from natural order, the one from the creation account. I have not changed my mind on that yet.

Ode in Prose to the #UMC Book of Discipline

book of discipline

Why do I like the Book of Discipline? Let me count the ways…

As many of you know, I grew you fundamentalist, and a particularly peculiar branch of it. Like many fundamentalists, we did not have a polity beyond the pastor’s moods and whims. Yet, in the United Methodist Church, there is something different. The Book of Discipline, one of the many reasons I still like the UMC, is not simply a guide, but a manual. While some see it as an IKEA manual and others see it as a manual for a 486, I see it as a manual preventing cults of personalities among other heinous crimes.

I disagree with several parts of it. I think the Theological Task is as muddy as the Mississippi passing through New Orleans after a hurricane upriver. It destroys Outler’s creation. Yet, it contains and enshrines the Creed. It tells us how far we can go (admittedly, we have to actually listen to it) and it gives us a way to clean up the mess when people go over those lines. Further, it sets doctrinal standards, connecting us back to our Anglican heritage.

Unlike the Creeds, most of it is not drawn from Scripture. It really can’t be. It is a polity manual designed to allow a large Protestant denomination to function properly in what is now the 21st century. It contains all the things necessary to make the UMC’s local unit, the congregation, administratively function. It does not, however, make us function.

I have found there are several opinions about the Book of Discipline. One, some do not know we have it. Some people think it is our attempt at replacing Scripture (the BoD isn’t even in the Wesleyan Quad!). Others see it as a tool of the oppressor. As someone who did not grow up “cradle Methodist” I see it as a way to prevent a pastor-centric cult, a departure from historic Wesleyan theology, and as a way to insure justice in our administrative life.

Now granted, the Book of Discipline seems to mainly to apply to clergy and local pastors. But, there are parts that apply to the laity as well. After all, we are given the chance to hold our bishops and everyone else accountable for poor administration, bad theology (yes, there is a caveat for that), and for actually breaking the rules. Likewise, the laity can be held accountable as well. While I am, for now, a full member of the laity, I do not have to worry too much about falling outside the Book of Discipline I believe it is part of my responsibility as a United Methodist to see that it is upheld (until it is changed).

It is our mutual covenant to one another. And when it is broken, bent, or tempered, we start to lose trust not so much in it (because it is an abstract object) but in one another.

The Church is not ours. It is held for our children. The Book of Discipline is our Trust Organizer, this generation’s Last Will and Testament setting up the Trust.

Prop 8 – @ivpacademic’s “Lost World of Adam and Eve”

On facebook, I stated my concern regarding Walton’s stance on the historical Adam and Eve. I am troubled he makes these statements without support, whereas nearly every other statement he makes is supported by well-reasoned logic. There is a fallacious danger in not reading ahead as one does “read throughs,” so I have at least skipped ahead to see if Walton does give his reasons. He does, in Proposition 11. Yet, I am on Proposition 8, with only the point-of-fact statements “Adam was a real person” made in the midst of “don’t take anything else as ‘literal’.”1 He tries to separate when Genesis 2–3 speaks about a historical figure and when it speaks about an archetypal representative; however, the lines are not clear enough in my mind. If Adam is representative of humanity (or Israel as a King would be) in 8 out of 10 cases, then why are the other two revealing he is a real person? Could it be a stylistic choice or an interpolation?

Wo ist Wellhausen!?

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...
Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on the concept of just war (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Indeed, this troubling statement is surrounding by an acutely canonical awareness of “formed” (as well as “rib” and “dust”) and how it plays into the story. While Walton does not mention it, his own parsing of the Hebrew reveals a Platonic caveat of soulmates (i.e., Symposium) I did not realize was there. Yet, through all of this, we are still told by the author of his belief in a historical Adam. Or perhaps, an assumption. If the forming of the two are archetypal and not related to material origins but rather symbolic of human relationships, then why are we still discussing Adam as if he is a historical person? Likewise, the author goes to great lengths to bring in St. Paul and his use of Adam in Romans and 1 Corinthians. This latter issue I find exciting and troubling.

Exciting because of the use of the entire Christian canon to work out theology. But, likewise it is troubling because if I am examining the ancient literature for what it is, I want to examine it devoid of reception during the apocalyptic discontinuity. Admittedly, however, I cannot focus too much on the troubling (to me) aspect because if Walton is doing what he did in Lost World of Genesis One, then he needs to tackle the usual Protestant Christian teaching regarding Original Sin and the Fall (even if one is because St. Augustine did not read Greek all that well).

There is a lot in this singular proposition, some of which I will detail in a follow-up post. As usual, Walton is pushing the boundaries, not of the Text itself, but of our theological facets.

  1. Joel’s paraphrase.

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