Facts and History for me, please

Andrei Rublev's Trinity, representing the Fath...

Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a similar manner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was raised an anti-Trinitarian oneness guy. This view is based on ignorance of Christian Tradition, Scripture, and certain key concepts, such as monotheism. It is based on ignorance of Christianity and arrogance that we know better than 2000 years of Christian tradition.

As one who is an orthodox Christian, I am now a Trinitarian, believing the Trinity is well in line with Scripture and is a natural development of Christian doctrine.

But, outside the oneness pentecostals are those who view Christian Tradition with disdain while claiming to be Christian. (accept my nuance here ). The first thing they like to get rid of is the Trinity. Usually, a good 90% of the time, it is because they lack the knowledge necessary to understand the Trinity and its place in Christology and soteriology.

For instance, Mark Sandlin. In a recent post about his cool new anti-Christian Tradition Christianity he writes,

Jesus was a Jew. (Please tell me no one is surprised to hear that.)

As a Jew, Jew was a strong monotheist.

Except… Jewish monotheism isn’t exactly a thing for all Jews and for all Jews at the time of Jesus.

He then writes,

Jesus was a monotheist.

Can’t prove it. Indeed, we don’t know much about Jesus and his personal beliefs. If we put him next to other apocalyptic Jews, he may have believed in the two-powers of heaven, which is not monotheism. What we know about Jesus comes from the Scriptures held together by the Christian, i.e., Trinitarian Church. We know nothing of Jesus except by the Church that is Trinitarian. It is this same Church that took John (I and the Father are one), Paul (2 Co 13.14) and Proverbs 8/Wisdom of Solomon/Baruch to develop a confession holding the unity of God with the triunity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

English: Malayalam-language version of Christi...

English: Malayalam-language version of Christian Trinitarian “Shield of the Trinity” diagram, created on the lines of Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Nathan McDonald notes, polytheism and monotheism are Enlightenment developments. In other words, a Western European concept. See Larry Hurtado as well. Indeed, one should really read Hurtado’s article. Jesus, I hate to tell the Southern minister, was not a post-Enlightenment Western European male.

By the way, the development of the Trinity was led by Africans such as Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian along with other non-European thinkers.

He goes further and says,

Even the Bible predominantly practices monotheism.

Biblically, God is always addressed with a singular pronoun, not plural.

Except, that is not true either. Not only does Scripture refer to other gods, but God actually speaks to the “we” in creating humanity. Elohim is plural. Indeed, much of the OT, if not the NT, is poly- and heno-theistic (2 Kings 3:27; Ps. 95:3; Ps. 97:7; Ps. 135:5; Ps. 89:6–7). The NT includes theomachy events which means… non-monotheistic.

Mark S. then becomes a biblicalist:

Not only that, but biblically there is no mention of the Trinity.

I find that argument little more than circular reasoning. For that matter, “bible” isn’t mentioned either, neither is the canon laid down. Nuclear missiles, electricity, and pews are out the window as well.

And for some unknown reason, he confuses confession (the Trinity is a confession, i.e., mystery) with fact when he writes,

Admittedly, the Trinity is an interesting theory and it certainly quailed some of the early Church’s division on the nature of God, but it is just that – a theory.

The Trinity is not a theory, hypothesis or otherwise. Neither is it a fact. It is a confession of our faith (Epistle to the Hebrews. Seriously, the entire book). It helps us explain Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, and even anthropology.

And then, it all becomes clear…

The lack of biblical witness leaves me to believe that either there simply was no understanding of a Trinitarian God at the time books of the Bible were written, or that the concept was so unimportant to their faith that it mostly wasn’t mentioned.

Mark has no idea what Church History is or how Christianity developed. He abandons something he doesn’t even have and insists he is doing something progressive, emergent, liberal — right. Indeed, what he is doing is what fundamentalists do. Make it up as they go along.

By the way, I’m a henotheist.

Thoranity – we get hammered so you don’t have to.

Things we saved our children from

Official seal of Dyersburg, Tennessee

Official seal of Dyersburg, Tennessee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As you can imagine, when you rip away the “holler doors” and expose fundamentalism, especially the more pentecostally kind, people get upset.

One of the statements I made was in response to the event called “receiving the Holy Ghost.” I said it involved people beating it into you. This is not the same thing as “laying hands” on someone and having them “slain in the spirit” (perhaps common in charismatic churches) but actually shaking, touching, and other physical contact between the crowd (mass hysteria?) and the individual “under the power.”

If you aren’t familiar, or if you are and you don’t understand the systematic operation at play here, let me break it down to you. The person is standing in the middle of the crowd. Music is blaring. It is not merely theological music, but “praise” choruses sung over and over again. For some, people separate along sex lines. Women for women and so on. Sometimes, men are allowed to help their wives and vice versa but this is discouraged since you have to comingle in very intimate ways with the opposite sex.

You have the crowd, the loud music, the chanting, and the examples of others doing it right next to you. You will raise your hands and pray until you begin to cry. People will be yelling at you, suggesting you say this or that, or yelling the “Holy Ghost” into you (I guess). They will scream encouragement at you and so forth. Someone will hold up your arms (because you ain’t giving up that easily). The crowd is now thick around you. You are not moving except by the power of others.

The music gets louder. If you start to murmur, someone may start to tap your lips/chin to “loosen them up.” By now, many in the crowd are “speaking in tongues.” Some may whisper into your ear about hell and “where you be tonight if you died.” You feel the immediate necessity to be saved — because this, the “infilling/indwelling” is the moment of salvation. If you are lucky, you only have to do this once or twice a Sunday for a few months until a revival comes around and you have a larger crowd.

This is the church (if you’ve read the book…) in Dyersburg, TN. The person in the center is the pastor’s son (not sure if he is still the pastor or not). He was up at the altar for years “seeking.” I guess one night he got lucky. But, you will notice through the crowd the movement by others geared to “helping” him.

Please don’t think I am in anyway making fun of the children and others who have experienced this. I believe with every fiber of my being that these experiences are real because with mass hysteria, you can pretty much do anything and people will feel it and internalize it. However, I digress.

These videos are not the fullest extent of what I have seen but it does help introduce you to the world. Oddly enough, one of the leaders of the old organization (not sure it exists and I sure as heck ain’t calling him a bishop) declared that no one should physically rough house anyone “seeking the Holy Ghost.” The older folks got mad. His stance on that changed slightly. Regardless, the process of “getting the Holy Ghost” in this type of Church is a physical (and psychological) one. Indeed, it is the moment of salvation.

Keep in mind — my experience applies to the types of churches I attended and indeed, to many oneness pentecostal ones as well. Perhaps your oneness pentecostal church does not do this, or rather, perhaps you do not recognize it and cannot externalize what you believe actually occurred. However, it happens and happens with greater frequency than you would care to admit.

I really have no need to continue this conversation beyond a rudimentary exploration of why I will continue to serve God without enthusiasm.

a new book series: “The History of Reception of Biblical Texts”

From the Jim West,

Peter Lang Verlag is launching a new series titled The History of Reception of Biblical Texts. Scholars working in the field of reception history are encouraged to send along their manuscripts to the series Editor, Jim West.

The Series is brand new and aims to

… include a broad range of topics within the category of biblical reception history. Utilizing cutting edge biblical scholarship, these books discover, explain, and examine how the Bible has functioned in a variety of contexts throughout history. These monographs cover a wide range of topics including religions, visual arts, literature, film, music, context and community.

The description is quite broad because it is our belief that the history of reception of Biblical texts is expansive and virtually all encompassing.

We would love to hear from you if you have any questions and if you have a proposal.  Just drop the series editor an email at drjewest@gmail.com.

is the “canon” closed?

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve seen this discussion taking place in the blogosphere (and wider social media venue) so I’ve had some time to think about it.

What would happen if the canon wasn’t closed?

That is usually the question. Some would add MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail while others may wish to add something closer to the Apostles, such as GThomas or 1st Clement.

For me, I’m not sure our canon is closed, only our understanding of what the canon is. If the canon is limited to a set of books within what we call “the bible” then it is closed because of the theological necessity at one point or the other to ensure our Church is founded only upon the words of the Apostles (or, you know, their pseudonymous followers — I’m looking you, “Timothy”)

In my opinion, the “canon” includes Scripture, the Creeds, and the writings of the Church that do not contradict the previous two.1 This means even the writings of various Christians such as John Wesley. So, my canon is not necessary closed as it is open to progressive revelation based on two firm foundations.

This isn’t exactly the UCC version of “God is still speaking…” but something along the lines of John 16.13 where we are still being guided from something, along a path, to some place.

What are your thoughts?

Btw, if I were to issue a New New Testament, I would include Thomas, Barnabas, 1st and 2nd Clement, Ignatius’s letters (short form), and Diognetus. I would also include the creed from the Council of Sardica and tell the East to bite me. 

  1. “contradict” is understood as a highly nuanced term.

my interview in the local paper…

You can find it here:

Former fundamentalist preacher Joel Watts, now an active member of Christ Church United Methodist, holds a book of essays he co-edited on the process of leaving fundamentalism. The book includes a chapter on his isolating, fear-based affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ. He left the church after 32 years and now speaks out on the dangers of repressive and rigid fundamentalist teachings

via The Charleston Gazette | Innerviews: Spiritual saga traces break from fundamentalist church.

To those discovering this site for the first time…thanks for stopping by.

Satan: Accuser or Executioner?

I had the privilege today of interviewing Dr. Ryan Stokes of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He told me about his research on satan (both a noun and a verb in biblical Hebrew). Stokes has concluded that the Satan in the Hebrew Bible is not an accuser but actually is Yahweh’s executioner. The article on this topic is in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Biblical Literature. My interview with him is here on MAP.

 

@dageshforte

Review of @fortresspress’s “The Vine and the Son of Man: Eschatological Interpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism”

In the last few decades, academia has produced few, but great intertextual scholars. I suspect that soon we will add a name such as Andrew Streett to that list. His work, The Vine and the Son of Man traces the interpretation and reinterpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism, ending with the Gospel of John. But, it does more than that. Indeed, Streett offers an interdisciplinary approach — Second Temple Judaism, rhetoric, canonical theism, and intertextuality — to understanding not just how the Fourth Evangelist used Psalm 80, but so too the inherited methodology allowing him, or requiring him, to employ the strategy. This volume is a richly rewarding experience whereby the reader is able to digest the complete context of Psalm 80.

And a very detailed introduction, Streett begins the work in earnest with an examination of Psalm 80 in its historical context. He presents his speculation that it was originally a response to the end of the Northern Kingdom, offered to call to God’s remembrance the covenant. Already, we can see why this particular psalm could become important to early apologists defending the messiahship of Jesus. It includes vine imagery, the request for a strong leader, and the restoration of the nation. Thus, the original context supplied the needed theology to develop John’s Son of Man imagery.

Following this, Streett examines the psalm within it’s setting of the psalter. This first use of the psalm allowed the receptive audience (the 6th century BCE) to see it pertaining to them. Further, by placing it within Book III of the psalter, Psalm 80′s already rich royal connection is magnified, assuming an eschatological presence that produces the connection to the Temple and Jerusalem. This is interesting in of itself because it allows the reader to see how portions of Scripture are shaped by their literary placement.

I a (not-as) convincing chapter on Daniel 7, the author argues that the natural imagery of Daniel’s Son of Man vision is supplemented by Psalm 80. He bases this on the beasts, primarily. I remain unconvinced, wishing he had devoted more time to intertextual clues — or included this chapter either in, or after, the following chapter in which he examines our psalm within Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (chapter 4). In this portion, Streett investigates such works as pseudo-Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls to understand how Psalm 80 figured into their works. It is during this time, and with the help of the developing eschatological hope, Psalm 80 is reworked to represent better what early Christians would have recognized as the “real” meaning. Had Street placed his chapter on Daniel within this framework, it would be more convincing.

Streett’s chapters on Mark are completely convincing — not simply because he delves deep into the concept of allusion and what this means when reading texts into, or out of, of another. In chapter 5, he stands out from the crowd(s) — the crowds arguing neither for Daniel 7 or Isaiah 53 as the genesis for the suffering Messiah — holding Psalm 80 as the theological instigator for seeing Jesus’s passion as necessary and “biblical.” Chapter 6 deals well with Mark 12.1-12 and its allusive connections to Psalm 80. Streett continues to build upon the idea of intertextuality, connecting Mark to his theological heritage — Second Temple Judaism. By doing so, he gives a literary depth to Mark rarely seen by a surface reading.

In his seventh chapter, Streett tackles Psalm 80 in John 15.1–8. He does not simply offer the psalm as the only intertext, but examines it next to the passages commonly associated with pericope such as Isaiah 5.1–7 and Sirach 24.17–21. He maintains that while other passages may contribute to John’s choice of words here, it is Psalm 80 supplying the spine of the passage.

How did we read the New Testament without the aid of Psalm 80 before? Sure, we did pretty well for ourselves, having rested easily enough on Psalm 110 — but, it seems we were lacking something. And if we ever believed christology suddenly sprang forth ex nihilo, we missed something there as well. Often times, we are told scholars live to find something new. Here, Streett brings back something old and gives us more things to consider in reading the New Testament. He helps us to understand just how Jewish, and continuous, New Testament theology really is. It is a rewarding experience for those seeking to understand the zygote of the New Testament as well as how previous texts were used, reused, and transformed by later writers.

#UMCSchism is stupid – lessons from Rome and (real) Presbyterians (#PCA)

Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens)

Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two stories have come to my attention recently. I believe both represent some of the issues involved in the current discussions within the United (not an adjective) Methodist Church.

The first is the rise of (underground and unofficial) women priests in the Catholic Church:

The ABC7 I-Team uncovered the growing movement of Roman Catholic women who call themselves priests. Their numbers are on the rise even though the Catholic Church does not recognize their “ordination.” 

In 2008, the Vatican ruled that women are automatically excommunicated at the time they go through a self-styled “ordination” ceremony. At that time, the I-Team reported that a handful of Roman Catholic women were willing to face banishment. Their numbers have since blossomed to more than 200 women priests in 12 nations.

I believe we can agree that Rome has a pretty strict structure in place and yet, people — leaders and congregants — break the rules. If you are an (active) Catholic (at least a Catholic leader), I’m going to assume that you have something of a resolute faith that Rome is indeed the Church Christ left for the Apostles and so on. Therefore, I am also going to assume you believe something akin to papal infallibility (ex cathedra) and in excommunication. Thus, you don’t want to break the rules requiring excommunication. Or, at least, break them too easily.

In other words, regardless of the structure or the theology, some people are going to find it necessary to break rules when they feel that the church/organization is on the wrong side of God/history. The more so, it seems, when it comes to rights and individual worth.

Instead of a St. Peter’s basilica filled with the shouts of schism, Rome continues to march onward, obeying the rules in general — even if certain bishops do not. Rules exist, maybe not always enforced, but the faith God and Tradition overshadows temporary rebellions.

This is not the case with the United (not an adjective) Methodist Church.

Heck, this goes for protestants in general.

The second story is this:

Now, let’s face it – the PCA is still divided. Some see two groups, some three. I’ve even seen blog posts that define up to six different groups. But at the end of the day, I still see two main groups (with splinters among both). One group leans to the old ‘T.R.’ ideas (without the nasty attitudes for the most part). The other group leans to being the same ‘B.E.’s they have always been (that’s Broadly Evangelical for those not ‘in the know’).

Divisions have existed in the PCA since the formation — divisions on the role and nature of Scripture as well as the application of the theological framework. (Sound familiar?) Today, as the author alludes to, there are at least 6 different sub-denominations in the PCA.

And there is talk of division.

And there is talk from the middle of holding the two in tension with respect to both positions.

Many in the faithless extremes have this foggy notion that we are the only ones facing rebellion in the ranks or sense a loss of scriptural basis. Yet, I can point to Rome where their rebellion is rooted in the thing Wesley said he had to support — women ordination. Indeed, he rebelled within the Church of England to license women to preach. In the PCA, it is about the Westminster v. inerrancy debate. The UMC has already struggled with these things and decided a different course, but still yet we face disagreements.

I would argue that within such a group as a church, you will have people who disagree about even the basic commonalities.

If others can proceed past their own internal strife and if we can understand rebellion within a particular theological framework (perhaps on the Wesleyan model), then we have to understand, appreciate, and cope with the tension it produces.

“Long Black Veil” and (re)telling the Story from a different perspective

So I am ate up with this song at the moment. This is the original:

There are several editions of it, but I heard the one from Sammi Smith today…for the first time… and it was awesome. Sorta of that feeling when I hear the Creed recited by a large crowd.

It is…well… it is.

But, when Sammi’s version got to this verse, I nearly…

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, no, and nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

In her version, sang as the mistress, it goes like this:

I walk these hills in a long black veil
I visit my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, no, and nobody sees
Nobody knows but me.

I can picture the two, if this was a real story, as I stood afar distance… both singing this verse… It is a matter of perspective, of the voice, that no one else knows what is happening. I think this happens in the Gospels as well. Perspectives change. Stories are told differently. Maybe not.

But it does happen in (re)reading prophecy where we read something clearly for someone else and we take for ourselves.

Also, because I know someone wants to hear it…

Do we suffer from “cultural blindness?”

When the news first broke of ISIS’s beheading of children, some those of my political persuasion took to social media to question the stories, eye-witness testimonies, and pictures.

Perhaps this is because if the lies told by the previous administration in its lead up to invading Iraq. However, there is another side…

Since 9/11 we have encountered the “Islam is a religion of peace” argument so as to insure we do not look at all Muslims as fundamentalists. This is accurate and needed but some think we have gone too far… so far in fact that we cannot see the dangerous history of Islam and how it is practiced, or preached with a hope of practicing.

I am led to wonder if we are not caught by surprise at the danger of fundamentalism of any stripe because we want to think better about people, or rather, we do not want to thank bad about an entire people. I’m with that – I do not want Christianity judged by oneness holiness sects – but on the other hand, we have dangerous elements and tendencies to evil that cannot be ignored.

That’s where this story comes in at.

Academics who ignored the facts of what happens to minorities in ‘jihad zones’ allowed ‘cultural blindness and intellectual amnesia’ to distort policy making in Iraq leaving minorities exposed to terror, claims a jihad expert.

I don’t know if I agree or not… But it is an interesting read…