Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Clive Staples Lewis 2011

A couple of things for the remembrance of CS Lewis.

on the Clergy

It is your duty to to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other. -- Christian Apologetics, C. S. Lewis, Easter 1945

A quote to remember as I contemplate the fact that I made a vow in the Baptismal covenant to live within the tradition, and twice upon ordination.

And a nice video portraying Jack and JRR Tolkien on a memorable after dinner walk.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NT Wright on Imagining the Kingdom

The inaugural lecture at St. Andrew's University, Scotland.

The date of the lecture is October 26, 2011.

I encourage you to read it for its whole brained analysis of the meaning of the Gospels.

A Word about Fundamentals

I used the term "fundamentals" in my last post, and have been thinking that there might be some confusion to that idea being applied outside of the current narrow usage of the media.
The term “fundamentalist”, at worst, has become a verbal sledgehammer used to beat a religious opponent into submission for fear of having that label applied to them.  At its best, it is a way of simply dismissing an opponent out of hand as simple-minded and old-fashioned, and thus not as enlightened as the user of said epithet. Unfortunately, it is used all too often in reference to those with whom we disagree.  Rath than engaging the arguments, we engage in a soft smear campaign and invite those with whom we agree to dismiss the other as well. 
I for one used to use the term to describe my own upbringing, and since I did not want to be identified with “those” type of people, it became a very useful way of disassociating with my past.  That is, however, until I discovered that all of us have a streak of fundamentalism.

Yes, it is true.  Philosophically, a fundamental is an idea/concept, which we hold, with or without evidence, and that “must be true”.  These, generally, must be considered literally true.  These fundamentals are tied to the very definition of the self, the way that definition is constructed, and form the foundation of the thesis of our worldview.  Thus, to have a fundamental challenged, or refuted, is generally maddening.  More to the point, however, challenges to our foundational fundamentals are viewed as a threat to our epistemological system and by extension our self-identity.  Some fundamentals are malleable based on evidence, others by experience, but in general, it seems that fundamentals resist change, even if refuted by evidence, unless a radical crisis occurs that causes a re-cognition of the self.   In fact, how we even discuss the authority/autonomy of the individual is a fundamental dividing line.  Are we by nature good and reasonable, or are we by nature prone to sin and by extension human reason is corrupted?

Thus, a fundamementalist is anyone who holds to a fundamental.
In short, we are all fundamentalists.  The question is, will we be honest about it?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Brief Exposition

(Updated:  I really need an editor)

I was raised in a rather rigid religious tradition.  It was a fundamentalist protestant denomination where we were encouraged to accept “the truth” of a literal reading of the Bible and not question.  As a result, I entered my first round of seminary experience with quite a lot of “knowledge” and no willingness question.  It was not a good experience for me.  This crisis of faith, along with a crisis pregnancy (my spouse not me obviously), led to my abandoning the seminary.

Two years later, when I had matured a bit, I reentered and found a wonderful world of ideas.  I was ready to question everything and soaked up the new knowledge like a sponge.  Here I was exposed to such scholars as Spong, Borg, Crossan, Ludemanns, Pagels, Funk, & Hoover.  Reading them expanded my horizons. I became, in the rejection of my “fundamentalist” upbringing, a devotee and flag carrier for the new perspectives on Jesus and the New Testament.

Today, I find my uncritical acceptance of their work as authoritative an interesting phenomenon.  In my hurry to put away the childish things with which I was raised, I put away the beliefs.  However, I did not put away the authority structure.  Here were Ph.D.s and educated folk telling me the Truth of what Really Happened in the development of the Church, and I accepted their word for it based on the fact that they were not rigid fundamentalists.  I began to talk about the Jesus of History , the Christ of Faith, and leading Christian Formation classes on the “Gospel According to Jesus”.

Lest I be painted as anti-intellectual, let me be clear, I believe in a good, honest, and scholarly approach to the Bible and Christian Origins.  With a purely academic degree in theology, I would argue that I am qualified to do both scholarly research and to comment on the state of scholarship. I enjoy doing scholarly work, reading great scholarship, and pouring over the texts and the tradition.  I regularly do the language work and research on passages for preaching. The problem, for me, is/was not scholarship; the problem is/was the uncritical acceptance of the work of the new perspective. 

During my last year at seminary (finishing the MA), I started reading other works that challenged my new found wisdom.  These were the works of serious scholars, with international reputations, and who were interested in taking the text and scholarship seriously.  I started to read widely in Barth, McGrath, Brown, Johnson, Rutledge, and Wright, and because I was invested in the new wisdom, I argued with their positions.  This led me down a path of critical thinking and to reevaluating my “beliefs” and scholarship.  Here is what I discovered.

1.       The “New” wisdom is not really new.  It might be dressed up in shinier cloth, but the arguments presented are not original when you boil them down to the essentials.

2.      The “New” wisdom has at least as many fundamentals as the “Old”.  The fundamentals are just different. 

      The first fundamental holds that doubt is the highest good and the standard for Christian endeavors in study.  The corollary to this is that faith, or certainty, is for the weak minded.  This holds true until you doubt the truth of the fundamental claim, at which point it becomes incumbent upon you to hold this position on faith.

The second fundamental is that if the “Church”, meaning the Historical Church (or the Church to which I am in reaction), believes/ed a proposition you are required to doubt it.  For some of these folk, this is indeed a reaction to a conservative religious upbringing.  The theme/meme, though, is constant in their work: it was the Church, and its oligarchy, that corrupted the simple pure religion and ethic of Jesus.  This is particularly true in the usual treatment of St. Paul who becomes the source of all evil and the first person to corrupt the Church. Thus, there is a push to create the false dichotomy, that Rutledge discussed in the previous post, between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith.  The former is what is yearned for as being pure and simple.  The latter is the creation of the Church, and it is up to scholarship to save Jesus from the clutches of the Church.  It should be noted here that, despite the searching and the theories, there are no written sources for Jesus prior to Paul and the Canonical Gospels.

The third fundamental belief is that no text is to be trusted.  This is true unless the text happens to align with the preconceived notions of the one studying the text.  Look up the criteria for “double dissimilarity” to get an idea of how this works. In Jesus research methodology the rules can be set to return any Jesus the scholar wishes to find.  The question not asked is, if taken to its logical conclusion, why should any text be considered authoritative. 

The fourth fundamental posits that any non-canonical text trumps any canonical text.  This is true despite the provenance of the source.  Ultimately, however, personal experience, or scholarly consensus, made up of the collective best thoughts, trumps everything.  Although the earliest Jesus experts, the Apostles and Doctors of the Church, get limited voice in the consensus as they represent the corruption of the organized Church. 

The fifth fundamental holds to a belief that there is no such thing as the miraculous, since “science has proved that miracles do not occur”.  Carried to its conclusion there can be no “real” Resurrection, just a sort of group psychosis.

3.      For the Christian, ultimately, this is a question of authority.  Do we have authority over the text, or does it have authority over us?  Does the answer lie in the middle? Does the burden of proof rest on the most recent scholarship or on those nearest the sources?  To whom do you give authority?  I guess this is a question of faith.  I have good reasons for trusting the sources and scholars like Evans, Wright, and Johnson, but those may not be acceptable to others.

In short, once I started questioning the presuppositions of the “New Quest for the Historical Jesus”, I found that they were repeating the same error of the 19th Century first quest.  This error, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer the great missionary doctor who discovered it, is that we were looking into the well of history and saw our own reflection.

Now a brief word about sources. 

There is indeed a theory of a sayings gospel called “Q” (short for Quelle or Source) that may have been used by Matthew and Luke.  This "Q" is not an extant physical document, but is the result of putting together the shared sayings of Matthew and Luke.  The sayings of the proposed "Q"alone do nothing to diminish the canonical picture of Jesus.  In fact, they would make him more of an eschatological prophet, but would have no impact on the teaching of a resurrection.  However, the fact that one could pull the sayings and create another “gospel” does not “prove” that it exists. Although, I would be surprised if there were not source material used by the authors.  In fact, the author of Luke states that he investigated the events, which sounds a lot like research to me.  Elsewhere, Eusebius writes that Papias taught that the Gospel of Mark was the preaching of Peter set down by John Mark, though not necessarily in order.

The earliest source materials we have for Jesus are the Letters of St. Paul and it appears that the Early Church found the Last Supper (with betrayal), the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection to be the essential elements of Christianity.

We have a better textual tradition, and history of transmission, for the New Testament than we do for Plato.

The so-called non-canonical, or Gnostic Gospels, that are often trotted out to refute the Canon,  Paul ,and the Early Church, are not contemporaneous to the Four Gospels.  The earliest extant copies date much later, and their internal components, if studied objectively, point to their composition after the Canonical Gospels.

That’s enough for now, I think. 

Time for a little light reading.  The Brothers Karamazov anyone?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Best Ever

Short explanation of the fallacy of the Borg approach to Jesus.  (Update:  I'll leave the language of the previous sentence, but may have been too harsh in pointing out one individual, though that is the point of Rev. Rutledge's post.  This is actually the common fallacy of the "Quest for the Historical Jesus").

From The Rev. Fleming Rutledge who is one of my favorite theologians/preachers.  I wish there was a way to havee her visit St. Matthew's for a preaching mission.