Friday, October 29, 2010

Notes on my Lost ReWatch

** Spoiler Alert: Major Spoiler's for Lost, Do not read unless you have watched the whole series or do not care about spoilers**

I have noticed a couple of things in my latest rewatch of Lost that I had not noticed before.  The wife and I are now through about 20 episodes of season 1.  The first thing I noticed is the characters' use of the term "the others."  This term obviously takes on great meaning in season 2 and beyond, but in season one it could be seen as a throwaway line.  There was one conversation in the episode "White Rabbit" where Jack and Locke throw around the term.  They are referring to those not in the "in group," that is, the main characters.  I think that the term means more for the entire series.  In many ways, the story arc of Lost is about identifying and coming to terms with "the other."  It is about learning to live with the difference of others.  It is also about the fluidity of the in and out groups as alliances often change.  In season 2, "The other's" are the enemy, but in later seasons this distinction gets blurred.  Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?  Ben, the ultimate "other," eventually becomes a very sympathetic character, arguably one of the "good guys," one of the in group, not the out group.  This term, "the others" takes on new meaning in season 1 if you have watched the whole series.

I also caught a fascinating conversation that on previous viewings could also be seen as an insignificant exchange.  It comes in the episode "Solitary" which is a Sayid back story.  This is the episode where we meet Danielle Rousseau for the first time.  Sayid is caught in her trap and endures torture at her hands.  We also see the flashbacks of Sayid as a torturer for the Iraqi Republican Guard.  We see his relationship with Nadia, along with his eventual facilitation of her escape.  At the end of the episode, when Sayid escapes from Rousseau's camp, Sayid and Rousseau meet up in the jungle and have a conversation, both pointing guns at one another: The conversation goes like this:

Danielle: (speaking about her crew mate Robert): I shot him.
Sayid: But you loved him?
Danielle: He was sick.
Sayid: Sick?
Danielle: It took them.  One after the other.  I had no choice. They were already Lost.
Sayid: You killed them?
Danielle: What would have happened if we were rescued?  I couldn't let that happen. (raising her gun toward Sayid) I won't.
Sayid (throwing down gun): I'm not sick.
Danielle: I know.
Sayid: They why kill me?
Danielle: I can't let you go. Don't you understand. To have someone, to talk to, to touch.
Sayid: You'll find me in the next life, if not in this one.
Danielle: What?
Sayid: The writing on the back of Nadia's photograph. I know what it's like to hold on to someone. I've been holding on for the past seven years to just the thought, a blind hope that somewhere she is still alive. But the more I hold on, the more I pull away from those around me. The only way off this, this place, is with their help. (Danielle lowers gun, looks sad, sinks to the ground). Come with me. (Danielle shakes head). You don't have to be alone Danielle. (Danielle touches Sayid's face, gets up and walks away).
Danielle: Your people, the ones you are determined to get back to. Watch them! Watch them closely.
This one exchange is so poignantly filled with foreshadowing of season 6.  First thing to notice is Danielle's fear that she and her "sick" crew members might be rescued.  Their sickness, I presume, is their being "claimed" by the man in black, just like Sayid and Claire were "claimed" by him in season six.  Much of season six is devoted to keeping the smokey on the island to prevent his "evil" from reaching the outside world.  Is Danielle foreshadowing this by fearing a rescue, and thus, smokey's influence through his "claimed" ones reaching the outside world.

The second thing I noticed was the comment of Sayid, quoting Nadia's writing on the back of her photograph: "You'll find me in the next life, if not in this one." And Sayid's subsequent discussion of "letting go" of Nadia, attending to "those around him," the best hope for getting "off this place."  In season six, in the sideways reality, the goal is to "find" each other in the next life, to "let go" and to move on.  It is only with the help of the other survivors of flight 815 that Sayid and the others are able to move on in the afterlife.  I find Sayid's comments very prescient of the ultimate ending of the show.

This raises the question: How much did the writers know at this point about the ending?  Did they know that the ending would include the main characters finding one another in the next life as a means of moving on?  Or, in writing the ending, did they perhaps come back and revisit this scene as a way of planning out the end?  Some food for thought.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Biblical Anthropology: Part V

This will be the last in a 5 (6) part series (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part IVb) that has discussed how the Bible treats human beings.  I have argued that in general the Bible sees the human as an essential unity, not as a collection of separate parts, i.e., Body, Soul, Spirit.  It is not that the Bible does not use such words as body, soul, and spirit, but it does not use these words like the Greek philosophers did. There is not a duality of nature in the humans in the Bible as the Greek's had constructed.

So, what are the implications for viewing the human as an essential unity?  The first major implication that comes to mind is that it leads one to be less compartmentalized.  Growing up with an understanding of the human made up of separate parts (body, soul, spirit), I was taught that things that fed the spirit/soul were good and things that fed the body (not literally) were bad.  I had essentially the Greek view that the goal of life was the eventual liberation of the soul/spirit from this body.  Therefore, what I did that was not "spiritual" was either a waste of time, or at worst, destructive to my soul/spirit.  This led to attempts to "spiritualize" my life.  How should I go about this?  By doing more spiritual things of course. Read my Bible more.  Go to church more.  Pray more.  Have quiet times more.  Give more money to the church. Go on more mission trips.  Preach the gospel more.  You get the point.  Taken to its logical conclusion, the way to become more spiritual is by doing more spiritual things and crowding out non-spiritual things. So what is the problem with that?  All of these things are good, right?  Of course they are.  But there are other good things in life as well, right?

What began to happen is that I was made to feel guilty about doing "non-spiritual" things.  Watching sports.  Reading "non-spiritual" books.  Watching "non-spiritual" movies/TV shows.  Listening to secular music.  All of these things were seen as neutral at best, i.e., a waste of time, or detrimental to my spirit/soul at worst.

For me, I could actually live within such a system since my job, my vocation would be considered "spiritual."  I am a college professor and New Testament scholar, so my job consists of teaching and studying the Bible.  Wow, I must be really spiritual.  Yet, what about my wife, who is in marketing?  Is she any less "spiritual?"  Is her job a "waste of time" because she does not spend her day feeding her spiritual side?  That goes as well for probably 95% of people whose job/vocation is not in the ministry.  Are they less spiritual.

Having a view of the human as an essential unity is a great boon to most people who do not spend the majority of their time doing "spiritual" things.  In this system, any action can be done "for the glory of God."  My wife glorifies God by doing the best job marketing her company's products that she can.  She glorifies God by putting her full force of creativity and brilliance into her work.  The same goes for a doctor, or lawyer, or computer designer, or janitor, or fast food worker.  All jobs can be done to the glory of God.

Beyond the topic of jobs and careers, other "non-spiritual" things can also be done to the Glory of God.  I can glorify God in appreciating good music, good art, good television or movies, the beauty of nature.  I can glorify God over a good meal, or at a sporting event.  Living life, as a human ought to live, is in itself glorifying to God.  Jesus, the "son of man," the one who was fully human is our model for living this way in the world.  In being conformed to the image of Christ, we do not seek liberation from our flesh or bodies as in the Greek system.  No, we recognize that the "Word became flesh and lived among us."

Related to this is the larger affirmation in this system that this world, while subject to the fall, is still a good world.  This material reality is not evil.  We live in a world that God created "good" and can enjoy that world and seek to make it better. We can and should be good stewards of this world.  We should not treat the world as though it was an obstacle or barrier to overcome.

In the end, I have no problem with speaking about humans using different language.  I think that the concepts of soul, spirit, heart, mind, gut, etc. when speaking about our human nature can be helpful.  Yet, I think it can go off track when we make the divisions between these different "parts" of us too stark.  We are, imho, unified.  These parts of me are not fundamentally at war with each other.  We can be at peace.

I end with a quote from James Dunn who summarizes Paul's view of the human, complex, yet unified.  Dunn writes:
“As Embodied beings [soma, body] we are social, defined in part by our need for and ability to enter relationships, not as an optional extra, but as a dimension of our very existence.  Our fleshness [sarx, flesh] attests our frailty and weakness as mere humans, the inescapableness of our death, our dependence on satisfaction of appetite and desire, our vulnerability to manipulation of these appetites and desires.  At the same time, as rational beings [nous, mind] we are capable of soaring to the highest heights of reflective thought.  And, as experiencing beings [kardia, heart] we are capable of the deepest emotions and the most sustained motivation.  We are living beings [psyche, soul] animated by the mystery of life as a gift, and there is a dimension of our being at which we are directly touched by the profoundest reality within and behind the universe.” (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of the Apostle Paul, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. 78).
 So, what do you think? 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Biblical Anthropology: Part IVb

Full Disclosure

I must amend part IV of this series for full disclosure.  While I believe that I have represented the general view of NT authors, namely that the human being is not made up of parts that can be separated from one another and that the human is an essential unity, there are verses in the NT that would challenge this view.  I will list those here and attempt a few comments.

Phil. 1:23-24 “I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh (sarx) is more necessary for you.” 
2Cor. 5:8 “Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body (soma) and at home with the Lord.” 
These verses seems to imply that departing from the flesh or body would mean to be with Christ. There is however, no indication of what that means.  Does this mean Paul's soul would depart from the flesh as in the Greek model?  We do not know.
Luke 23:43 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”
This verse seems to imply that the criminal on the cross to whom Jesus is speaking would somehow be with Christ in paradise "today."  First of all, what is "paradise?" Is it heaven?  Is it a temporary locale where one waits for the resurrection? Second of all, does this mean that his soul would be with Christ as in the Greek model? All I can say is that the NT is not univocal on what happens immediately after death.  This verse seems to state that right after a human dies he or she could go immediately to paradise, whatever that is. In Paul's discussion of the second coming of Christ and the Resurrection in 1 Thess. 4, Paul says the "dead in Christ" will rise first, and then be joined in the clouds with living believers.  In this scenario, where have the "dead in Christ" been?  This passage seems to delay the time of believers being with Christ until the final resurrection. 
Luke 23:46 “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (pneuma).’ Having said this, he breathed (pneo) his last.”
 This verse could imply that Christ's spirit, a separate part of him, would depart and be in the hands of his father.  Yet, interestingly there is a play on words here.  Christ gives up his spirit (pneuma) by breathing (pneo) his last breath.  The root word is the same.  Is this any different from the OT concept of being animated by the spirit/breath of God, and when that spirit/breath departs, the human dies?  Breathing his last is in this verse a way to say that Jesus died. 

Rev. 6:9 “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls (psyche) of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given;” 
If one translates psyche here as "souls" and reads this through a Greek lens, then the souls have been separated from the bodies and are in heaven awaiting God's judgment on the wicked.  Yet, keep in mind, these are only the martyrs, not all Christians.

It is difficult to judge in such matters.  While there are verses that seem to fit more with the Greek system of thought, I think that the vast majority of evidence from the NT is that the human is a whole, inseparable, person.  Using different terms to talk about the human does not necessarily imply a Greek outlook, nor does it imply that humans are made up of different parts that can be separated.  Instead, I think the context of the usage of different terms is important.  In most of the contexts, it appears to me that the human is an essential unity.  Come back for part V when I talk about the implications of seeing the human as a unity, rather than as a duality like the Greek system.

Pre-Blessed Food

A student shared this with me the other day in class, and I thought that since my blog had been quite serious the past few days, a bit of comic relief was needed.

This video reminds me of the ancient Jewish practice of merchants pre-tithing their produce so that what was bought was already tithed. Yet, some strict Jews would tithe again just to make sure. I wonder, would anyone who bought the food in this video still pray to bless their food? Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Biblical Anthropology: Part IV

In part I of this series I asked whether human beings were made up of separate parts, usually conceived as body, soul, and spirit.  In part II I looked at the Old Testament evidence and concluded that human beings were an essential unity: living beings (nefesh) animated by the spirit/breath of God.  When the spirit left, the human died.  As a result of this, as a good friend pointed out, the ancient Hebrews had no real sense of an afterlife.  Sure, the dead went to sheol, but this was not an afterlife in the sense that it is spoken about in the New Testament and in Christianity today.  In part III I discussed the Greek notion of the human as an essential duality, body and soul/spirit.  The world was also seen as a duality, material world bad, spiritual world good.  In this system, it is the material world which keeps our essential self, the soul/spirit from joining the spiritual world. The Greeks did have a full notion of the afterlife with rewards and punishments based upon actions undertaken on this earth.  The goal in life was to free the soul/spirit from the material world to join the spiritual reality.

So, when we get to the New Testament, what is the state of the matter?  Are the New Testament writers good Hebrews or Good Greeks, or both, or neither?

In looking at the New Testament evidence, I think that there are elements of both.  New Testament writers certainly had a notion of an afterlife with a place for rewards and a place for punishment.  In this sense they were like the Greeks.  Yet, when it comes to the view of the human, the New Testament is much closer to the Hebrew notion. 

First, two new words are used on a regular basis to refer to the human: σῶμα (soma, body) and σάρξ (sarx, flesh).  Now, if one just takes the Greek connotation of these words, then humans as bodies or flesh are instantly bad, they are a barrier keeping our souls/spirits from the spiritual reality.  Yet the New Testament doesn't take it that way.  First of all, the divine could not become flesh, as is stated in John 1:14.  Nor could the risen Christ have flesh as in the resurrection narratives in John.  It is the antichrists in 2 John 7 who deny that Christ came in the flesh. The resurrection of the body is the hope of Paul in I Corinthians 15. Thus, the ultimate triumph for Paul is not the liberation of the soul/spirit from the body, but rather the resurrection of the body in an incorruptible form.

In the New Testament, the body is the self, it is where the person acts.  Paul encourages Christians to glorify God in their bodies as it is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The body is a neutral concept, it is not a cage or a prison as with the Greeks.  The term flesh is slightly more complex.  We have seen that Christ came in the flesh, so it is not flesh itself that is the problem.  Yet, Paul talks about the flesh as the antithesis of the spirit.  Yet, I think in these instances it is not flesh, i.e, the stuff we are made of, that is the problem.  Rather, flesh here refers to a certain way of living, namely, an undisciplined way of living that follows one's own appetites and desires (Romans 13:14).  Paul sees the flesh as weak and subject to going after base appetites.  Yet, he is not looking for some ultimate escape from the material world, but rather, a new creation in which our bodies are not subject to evil desires.

This brings us to the terms ψυχή (psyche, soul) and πνεῦμα (pneuma spirit).  In the New Testament, psyche usually means the self.  In this sense NT writers are very close to the Hebrew concept of nefesh.  Here are some examples:

Rom. 2:9 “There will be anguish and distress for everyone (psyche) who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek.”
Luke 9:24 “For those who want to save their life (psyche) will lose it, and those who lose their life (psyche) for my sake will save it.”
2Cor. 1:23 “But I call on God as witness against me (psyche): it was to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth.”
Matt. 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life (psyche), what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body (soma), what you will wear. Is not life (psyche) more than food, and the body (soma) more than clothing?”
This is not the Greek concept of soul as inner essence that is seeking to be liberated from the body.  No, the psyche is the self, the "living being."  The New Testament writers used the Greek term, but adopted the Hebrew meaning.

The NT authors also do not latch on to the Greek meaning of spirit as a essential self as separated from the body.  Rather, when spirit is used to refer to humans at all, it is the realm of worshiping God.  For, Paul says he serves God with his spirit (pneuma) by preaching the gospel (Rom. 1:9), precisely an action he does in his body. 

In conclusion, I must say that according to both the Old and New Testaments, humans are an essential unity, not a collection of separate parts.  Humans are not a soul/spirit waiting to be liberated from a body.  While New Testament authors used Greek terminology, and had fashioned a notion of an afterlife, they did not adopt the Greek dualistic view of the world or the human.  In part V I will talk about implications of seeing the human as a unity.  In the mean time, what do you think?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lost ReWatch

Brooke and I were not planning on rewatching Lost anytime soon.  It is our favorite show of all time, but thought we would give it some time, try and find something new.  Then, this weekend a friend and his fiance were staying with us for Baylor Homecoming Weekend.  Michael's fiance had never seen Lost and we were determined to get her hooked, so we decided to knock out what we could in our free moments.  Well, as Lost always seems to do, it creates "free time."  We made it through 20 episodes, and needless to say, she was hooked.  Now Brooke and I are hooked AGAIN, and will need to rewatch the series AGAIN.

A couple of notes: **SPOILER ALERT minor spoiler's for Lost and the Event**  One of the biggest complaints about the series finale of Lost was that it never addressed all of the mysteries that came up over the course of six seasons.  It has always been thought that Lost was about a mysterious Island.  Yet, it is clear, even from the pilot, that this show is not about mysteries, it is about characters.  Most of the mysteries in Lost come up in later seasons.  Watching the pilot, there seem to be only two real mysteries: what is the "monster" that knocks down trees and kills the pilot, and how did a polar bear come to live on a south pacific island?  Other than that, the show is driven by the characters.  The creators of the show seem to always use the mysteries of the Island not as an end in themselves, but as a backdrop for the characters.  Throw these wonderfully compelling and complex characters in the midst of a mystery and see what happens.

I was struck re-watching the pilot just how compelling these characters were and just how well they were acted.  The Jack of the pilot is the same Jack we get at the end.  Sure, Jack's character grows over the course of the series, but it is the same Jack.  The same can be said for Kate, Locke, Sawyer, Charlie, Clare, Hurley, Jin, Sun, etc.  It was as if these characters were perfectly formed before the series began and the show creators then threw them into a mysterious situation to see how they would react.  The characters are believable, they are complex and conflicted like anyone else. 

Take, for comparison, the characters in this year's attempt at another "Lost," "The Event." Brooke and I gave the Event 4 episodes, and were not impressed.  I guess we would rather give our time to 20 episodes of Lost again.  All of the characters are totally one sided and can be summed up in one phrase: Sean Walker: "Where's my girlfriend?" President Martinez: "I do not condone torture." Sophie: "I must protect my people." Blake Sterling: "The Aliens are lying." Everyone is just a stock character, there is no ambiguity, not interplay between good and evil.  Everything is black and white, and boring.

So, instead of spending more time desperately trying to like a new show like the Event, the wife and I will be spending our time instead truly enjoying a fantastic show, Lost, even in another rewatch.  I will blog about our rewatch from time to time, noting interesting character formulations and ways in which the show deals with religious issues.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Baylor Bowl Bound!

Yesterday (and today for that matter) was an amazing day to be a Baylor fan, and for those who have been Baylor fans for quite some time, know what a rarity that is.

Baylor is now bowl eligible for the first time since 1995, and could go to a bowl for the first time since 1994.  In 1995 Baylor went 7-4 but was denied a bowl bid.  I somehow think that will not happen this year. 

Baylor won last night in a shootout between the resurgent Bears and the BCS #22 ranked Kansas State Wildcats 47-22.

What is the best storyline of this game? It could be the record breaking 683 yards of offense that Baylor racked up against a good K-State defense.  It could be the record setting performance by Griffin, 404 yards passing and four touchdowns.  It could be the record breaking 250 yards rushing on 26 attempts with 2 touchdowns by Jay Finley.  All of these are great, but they weren't the story of the game.

Neither is the fact that Baylor now has its coveted 6th win.  There are two storylines that, thought not as flashy, catch the heart of this game even more poignantly.  The first is the sort of mystical air about it.  The feeling surrounding the game was that something big was going to happen.  The weather cooperated to capture this feeling.  After four plays which found Baylor driving into K-State territory, a lightning strike in the area stopped play.  Fans were instructed to seek shelter under the stands, but few responded.  The wind was out of the south, the overcast skies were barely spitting a few drops of rain.  Lightning could not be seen or heard.  The minutes passed with little change. Finally, the stands started to empty as rain picked up ever so slightly and the lightning and thunder were coming within eye and earshot.  Brooke and I made it under the stands just in time to see the skies open and empty their contents on Floyd Casey Stadium.  The downpour was remarkable as fans stood pressed together under the stands. Yet, very few fans left the game during this 2 hour game delay.  When the rain stopped and the stands re-filled, the stadium had lost very few spectators (also a rarity for Baylor games).

Then the weather pulled another stunt.  The warm breeze coming from the south rapidly reversed, blowing a biting cold wind out of the north and bringing the dark clouds to hover over the stadium, turning mid afternoon into a dark, ominous night.  Yet, through all of this, the fans stayed.  Even at the end, the crowd was large and loud.  Baylor fans, and apparently the weather as well, knew something big was happening.

The second great story was our defense.  Sure, K-State put up plenty of yards and a lot of points.  But, we held Daniel Thomas to 113 yards rushing, 17 yards below his season average.  Also, in the second half our defense made some critical stops, forcing punts and intercepting the ball once in K-State territory.  Of the 21 points that K-State scored in the second half, only 7 came on a sustained drive.  One touchdown came on a 100 yard kickoff return, and another on a trick play pass from Daniel Thomas to a wide open receiver.  The most telling drive from a defensive standpoint was the one that counted.  K-State received the ball, down 12 points with over 2 minutes to go.  Baylor's defense allowed them to drive for a touchdown, but forced K-State to use almost all of their time.  Baylor limited K-State to plays in the middle of the field and made good tackles, forcing them to use all of their time-outs.  They scored to pull within 5, but with only 7 seconds on the clock.  Even had their onside kick been successful, they would have been hard pressed to get a winning score.  When it counted, Baylor's D saved the day.

This just in, Baylor has cracked the top 25: 25 in the AP poll and 24 in the USA Today Coaches' poll.  As a friend of mine texted me today "We live in a world where the Baylor Bears are in the Top 25 and the Texas Longhorns are not."  Hats off to Art Briles and your top 25 Baylor Bears.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Baylor Bowl Bound?

It is homecoming weekend in Waco and it is perhaps the most important homecoming game for the Bears in quite some time.  Baylor comes into the game against Kansas State with a 5-2 record, only one game short of bowl eligibility.  With 5 games left, Baylor has its first realistic chance to go to a bowl since their last trip in 1994.

Sixteen years without a bowl, 14 of those in Big XII play, has been tough on Baylor fans.

Though it would seem that with five games left, Baylor would be able to eek out one more win.  I hope that is the case, but it is certainly not a given.  In our final five games, we play Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and tomorrow's game against K-State.  Four of those five are ranked in the top 25 (K-State 21, Texas 19, Oklahoma State 14, and Oklahoma 1).  On paper, the two teams that seem most likely for a Baylor win are A&M and K-State.  Surprisingly, at least to me, Baylor is a 6.5 point favorite in the game.  If they are going to win, they will have to find an answer for K-State's power running game behind the bruising back Daniel Thomas who has racked up 782 yards this season.  Baylor has been pretty bad against the run this year and we have yet to face a back like Thomas.

We know Baylor can score behind Griffin III, but we have to stop the other team as well.  It should be a great game.  Come on Baylor, Rise Up! Lets go bowling!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Biblical Anthropology: Part III

In Part I of this series I asked the question: can humans be separated into different parts, most commonly, Body, Soul, and Spirit.  In Part II I investigated how the Old Testament viewed the human.  I came to the conclusion that in the Old Testament, the human is seen as an essential unity.  The human does not have a soul as a separate part of the person, the part that departs after the body dies.  No, in the Old Testament in general, the human is a nefesh (not "soul" but "living being") that is animated by the spirit or breath of God.  When the spirit (ruach) departs, the human dies.

In this, Part III of the series, I would like to discuss the influence of the Greek world view, specifically the Greek philosophical world view.

From 333-323 B.C.E. Alexander the Great swept through most of the known world with his conquering armies and subdued Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Persia, and even over into Afghanistan and India.  With his armies, he also brought Greek language, culture, philosophy, and religion.  Alexander's goal was to unify the world under the Greek umbrella.  While he died on his return to Greece, he was nevertheless successful in his goal.  For the next 300 years and beyond, the Mediterranean basin and the Ancient Near East were thoroughly Hellenized (encultured in the Greek thought systems).

Besides making Greek the lingua franca, Greek philosophy also entered into the lands conquered by Alexander.  One concept in particular became popular, and that was the Greek view of the world in general, and the Greek view of the human in particular. 

Let's start with Plato's "allegory of the cave." In this allegory, from Plato's Republic (7.514a-520a), there are a group of people held prisoner in a cave.  They are chained and facing away from the entrance of the cave.  Some way behind them in a cave is a fire, and a wall and above the wall all sorts of puppets and the like are passed between the fire and the prisoners.  All that the prisoners can see are the shadows of these puppets: animals, humans, trees, etc.  Therefore, they take this shadow dance on the cave wall to be reality. By chance, one prisoner escapes and makes his way up in the cave and sees the puppets and the fire fore what they really are.  He continues to make his way up and out of the cave and sees that not only were the shadows on the wall not reality, but neither were the puppets, they were only a shadow of the reality of the world outside the cave.  In this allegory, when the prisoner returns to try and tell the other prisoners of reality, they do not believe him.  In fact, they become hostile and kill the escaped prisoner.

Plato likens humans on this earth to the prisoners in the cave.  Through this physical world we can only see shadows.  Only as the soul (ψυχή) turns away from this physical reality to seek the true higher light, can the soul ultimately be freed from this world and find its true home.  Moreover, like the prisoners in the cave, humans do not like to be told that what they see and experience are not reality.  Hence, this present physical reality is a barrier to seeing the truth.

Thus, the Greeks had a worldview of the duality of reality.  This world, the created order, was at best morally neutral, and at worst, evil.  The physical reality was a prison for our souls, preventing the soul, the core and true form of the person, from achieving true reality.  Our bodies and their appetites were roadblocks to achieving enlightenment. The spiritual reality was the only true reality.  Thus there is a duality, physical vs. spiritual, body vs. soul.

It is into this worldview that Christianity was born.  It arose out of the Jewish view of the human discussed in Part II, but was surrounded by the Greek world view.  Therefore the question arises: did the early Christians accept the Jewish view, the Greek view, or something else entirely.  One thing is certain, the Christian scriptures were written in Greek, and therefore adopted Greek terminology such as body (σῶμα), soul (ψυχή), spirit (πνεῦμα). 

Yet, did they accept the Greek world view?  That will have to be left for part IV of this series.  For now, which view is most held today in your religious (or non-religious) circles?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Biblical Anthropology: Part II

In part one of this series I asked the question: are human beings made up of different parts that can be separated.  Along the lines of popular evangelical theology, these parts are usually thought to be the body, the soul, and the spirit.  The "true self" is usually identified as either the soul or spirit, while the body merely acts as a shell.  In death, the spirit and soul are separated, or indeed "freed" from the body in order to join in some heavenly bliss.

Yet, is this a biblical view?  In this post I will look at the evidence from the Old Testament.  How does the OT view the human?  I will argue that the separation of the body, soul, and spirit is foreign to the writers of the OT.  In order to demonstrate this, I will look at two different words that are used to describe the nature of the human in the OT.

One of the most common terms for the human in the OT is the Hebrew word  nefesh (Sorry, my hebrew font is not working with blogger's composition tool).  This word, when translated into the Greek, was usually represented by the word ψυχή (psyche). ψυχή is usually translated into English as "soul."  Yet, this sense of soul, as the inner or true core of a person that lives on after death is foreign to the ancient Hebrews.  Rather,  nefesh usually carries the meaning of a "living being" in the OT.  The term just represents the self.  See how nefesh is translated in the following verses as merely "life" or "me." 
Gen. 12:13 Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life (nefesh) may be spared on your account.”   
Job 19:2 “How long will you torment me (nefesh), and break me in pieces with words?   
Nefesh in the OT is merely the self, the person, the living being.  Perhaps most illustrative is the use of the term in Genesis 2:7.
Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being (nefesh hayya).
Thus, when Adam receives the breath of life, he becomes a "living being."

This leads us to a secondary term used of humans, and that is ruach.  When translated into Greek, ruach  was rendered as πνεῦμα (pneuma).  πνεῦμα is usually translated into English as "spirit." Yet again, the sense of a spirit that exists as a separate part of the person is again foreign to the OT authors.  Instead, the ruach in the OT is usually the breath of God that animates humans.  It can even be synonymous with the "breath of life" that God breathed into Adam in Genesis.  See the following verses:
Is. 42:5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath (neshama) to the people upon it and spirit (ruach) to those who walk in it.
Here ruach is seen in parallel with the word neshama, which is the word used for breath in Genesis 2:7.  Thus, God is the animating spirit, the breath of God that gives life to a person.  So what happens when that spirit or breath is separated from the person?  They die.  The spirit does not go on and live some spiritual existence, rather, the person ceases to be.  
Psa. 104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath (ruach), they die and return to their dust.
Psa. 146:4 When their breath (ruach) departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
 These two Hebrew terms, nefesh and ruach are often done a disservice by their common translations as "soul" and "spirit."  The context of these terms, soul and spirit, are usually viewed through their Greek contexts, which we will see in part III, are very different from the Hebrew usage.

In conclusion, in the Old Testament, the human is a living being (nefesh), given life or animated by breath or spirit (neshema, ruach), but that breath is given by God.  When that breath leaves, the human dies.  The human, whether one speaks about him as a nefesh or a ruach, is essentially a unity, a living being dependent on God for life.  There is no conception of an immortal soul that lives on after the breath of life has departed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Christianity and Syncretism

About a month ago, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, issued a statement that Yoga and Christianity were incompatible. This sounds remarkably similar to Mohler's 2005 statement in Time Magazine that Christianity and evolution are incompatible.  Mohler Writes,
"When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga."
Mohler is clearly against the practice of syncretism. Syncretism, or the blending of other's cultural and religious practices into one's own was considered a serious no-no for the ancient Israelites.  Thus, the Old Testament repeatedly urges the Israelites to refrain from any sort of blending with their neighbors, including the prohibition against intermarriage.  Remember that for Solomon, his big downfall came because he had married foreign women and they had turned his heart after other gods. 

Yet, when we get to the time of the New Testament, syncretism was still an issue.  With the domination of Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean, the Jews were forced to choose whether they would adopt Greek cultural and philosophical practices, or remain steadfast in their rejection of syncretism.  Some, like Philo of Alexandria, readily adopted Greek philosophy as a means of interpreting his own Jewish faith and the Jewish scriptures.  Yet others, like Judas Maccabeus soundly rejected Greek culture.

This question of syncretism was even more pronounced for the Christian faith.  As an increasingly Gentile religion, yet based on the Jewish religion, would Christianity fight or embrace syncretism?  In most ways, the Christian faith embraced syncretism.  One of Christianity's most holy days is Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Christ.  Yet, there is no strong reason to suspect that Jesus was born on this day.  Christmas was merely an incorporation of the pagan winter solstice festival which celebrated Sol Invictus, the unconquerable sun, into their own religion.  In a sense, much of Christian history is made up of Christianity taking over elements of other cultures and "claiming" them for Christ.  Thus, Christianity has largely embraced syncretism. 

So, I return to where I started: yoga.  Can yoga be claimed by Christianity and made to fit with a pure Christian faith? What say you?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Biblical Anthropology: Part I

What does the Bible have to say about humanity?  More specifically, what does the Bible have to say about the makeup of humans?  Are humans a basic unity, indivisible?  Or are humans made up of different parts?  I have been interested for some time now with this question because I think how one answers the previous questions has tremendous influence on how one leads one's life.

Let me take as a jumping off point, a couple of verses from the Old and New Testaments that might speak to this issue.

First is the Shema and its later use in New Testament citations.

Deut. 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Mark then quotes from this verse as follows:
Mark 12:30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
Notice how, to Deuteronomy's heart, soul and might, Mark has added "mind" as well.  Luke follows Mark in his translation, but Matthew quotes Deuteronomy as follows:
Matt. 22:37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Matthew has removed "strength/might" altogether and substituted "mind."

So, do these verses talk about different "parts" of humanity, parts that could be separated?  Is the heart a discreet "part" of the human?  Obviously not in the sense of the heart in modern science as an organ.  Yet, the heart as the seat of the emotions, is that a "part" of the human that can be separated from the other parts?  Can it exist on its own?  What about the soul?

Let's look at one more verse. I Thessalonians also talks about different "parts" of the human as follows:
1Th. 5:23  May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 Here we have three "parts" of the human: spirit, soul, and body.  Can they be separated?  I think that in modern evangelical Christianity, humanity is usually represented along the lines of these three "parts": Body, Soul, and Spirit.  See the picture to the left which comes from a conservative website similar to the teaching that I grew up with.  So, I ask the question again.  Can these three parts be separated?   Can one exist without the other? What do you think?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Writing Our Own Stories

I have become fascinated over the past several years about the importance of story as a means of inspiration and even formation in my life.  Stories do more than entertain, they bring life to that which is dead, they drive truth home where no other medium can suffice.  In all of this fascination with story, I have tried to write a compelling story for my life.  A couple of years ago I had it all mapped out, the perfect fairy tale for my life.  I had met a phenomenal woman whom I would make my wife.  We would get married, I would graduate with my Ph.D., I would get a job and sweep my wife off to some exotic locale where I would teach and she would be free to pursue her dreams of more education, writing, whatever she wanted.  We would have children and be the perfect parents.

    The only thing I forgot to take into consideration is that in my own life, I am only a co-writer, sometimes a co-writer with a small role.  I have little control over many aspects of my own story.  Sure, much in this story has come to pass.  I am married to the most wonderful wife a man could have.  I have graduated with my Ph.D. and my life over the past couple of years has been one of the happiest periods of my life.  Yet, the rest of the story has not been fulfilled.  I have found all of my efforts to play the white knight and rescue my wife and sweep her off to some paradise frustrated.  I have had to learn humility in my expectations for the job of my dreams, in fact any job in my field at the moment.  Our desire for children has been put on hold.  As Brooke said last night, “it seems like we are just spinning our wheels, working so hard, but not getting anywhere.”  As Christopher Moltisanti of the Sopranos once said, “Where is my arc.”  Brooke and I are having an “arc” problem, our stories seem to have stalled, and right now we seem to be only minor co-writers of our own story.

    Yet, I was reminded today by Dennis Prager, that it is not in reaching the “promised lands" of our life - the perfect job, the perfect vacation, the perfect house – that we find happiness.  Happiness comes from those with whom we travel in the wilderness.  I have to say, if I must travel in the wilderness, as we must all do from time to time, I could have no better companion than my wife who brings great happiness to my life.  I look forward to our “promised lands,” and I am sure we will reach many on our journey, but here’s to a good traveling companion.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Christian Judaism

This post comes from the convergence of several thoughts I have been having lately, especially as my Christian Scriptures class transitions from the Old Testament to the New. 

Reading J.R. Daniel Kirk's blog, Storied Theology, over the past several days have also spurred some of these thoughts.

My thoughts are that much of what claims to be the Christian gospel today, especially in evangelical circles, is really a truncated version of the story that is represented in the Bible. 

The common gospel usually begins with our current situation, one of sin and separation from God.  This hearkens back to the narrative of the "fall" in Genesis 3. Notice, the story does not begin with creation and the original purpose of God in creating the world "good."

Next, the gospel moves to the "solution," namely, Christ's death on the cross which offers forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.  Notice how we have jumped from Genesis 3 all the way to Paul, skipping all of the rest of the Old Testament and most of the gospels, except for the passion narratives. 

Then the gospel moves to calling for "acceptance" of Jesus and an "acceptance" of his forgiveness as a way to reconciliation with God.

Finally, the Gospel ends with a promise of Heaven after death, or after the apocalyptic ending of the world. 

What is missing in this story is the entire context of the earliest Christianity.  Early Christianity, as represented by Jesus and his first followers, was a continuation of the story of Israel found in the Old Testament.  Christianity was not a "new religion," but was a sect within Judaism, Christian Judaism if you like, just like other first century Jewish sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots.  Christians held that Jesus was the fulfillment of the story of Israel.  He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenants.  He fulfilled the covenant of Abraham by being a light to the Gentiles.  He fulfilled the Mosaic covenant by coming "not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." He fulfilled the Davidic covenant by taking his place at the right hand of God.  He fulfilled the New Covenant of Jeremiah by writing God's law on his people's hearts.  The "gospel" in the gospels was not merely faith in Christ, but a preaching of the Kingdom of God, the fulfillment of all of God's promises to Israel.

After the Jewish War and the destruction of the Temple, only two sects of Judaism remained and thrived: Christian Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism (the heirs of the Pharisees).  These two sects grew apart and only one retained the name Judaism.  Christianity quickly became a predominately Gentile religion, yet for some time retained its Jewish roots. 

I think that Christianity is long overdue to remember its Jewish roots and to once again place Christian faith back within story to which it belongs, and that is a story that began in the Old Testament, continued in the New Testament, and has developed over the last two thousand years.  Let not the gospel be truncated, the gospel is not merely faith in Jesus to forgive one's sins and bring reconciliation with God.  It is that, but it is ever so much more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Fate of the Jews

Tomorrow is test 2 in my Christian Scriptures class, and it is hard to believe that I have now finished my treatment of the Old Testament.  I know, I know, how can you do justice to the OT in half of a semester, and the answer is, you can't.  Yet, I am a New Testament guy and I feel the same way about doing the NT in a half of a semester. 

One thing that helps with teaching the full Bible in a semester is that I teach it as a story.  That way, I can give the broad outlines of the story, look at some pivotal scenes in this story, and try and capture the overall plot of the story.  Many of the details must be left out, but as far as the story goes, it holds together. 

One thing that I am always amazed about is the tremendous faithfulness of God despite Israel's appalling unfaithfulness.  Time and time again the Israelites cease to follow God.  They run rampant after foreign gods, slander the commandments, oppress the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, and in general gallivant in utter wickedness.  One scene that I find incredibly poignant on this issue is the fact that during Josiah's reign, they find some "book" hidden in the decrepit temple and no one even knows what it is or what was in it. 

Yet, over and over again, God remains faithful to his people, Israel.  He remembers his covenants, his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to Moses, and David.  He even goes so far as to prophesy a New Covenant in which he will fully restore his people.

If the story of the Old Testament sinks in at all, one must say that God's faithfulness outstrips the very worst of the human condition.  God's commitment to Israel is absolute.  That is why readings of the New Testament that see a new religion, Christianity, as so quickly replacing Israel as the people of God merely for a lack of faith on the part of the former, strike me as disingenuous.  If God did not reject his people for being a people and land of "great whoredom" (Hosea 1:2, NRSV), then rejecting his people for missing a Messiah, who by the way did not measure up to most messianic expectations, seems problematic.

So, what is the status of the Jewish people as the people of God? What say you?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Glee on God

Glee, Fox's runaway hit about high school teens in a glee club, has never shied away from controversial issues in our society.  Last season the show featured such topics as teen sex, teen pregnancy, teen drug use, homosexuality, and others.  The show has, in my opinion, treated these subjects with respect, and at times profundity.   This season, the first controversial theme was God in general with a side note to religion in public schools.  While the episode was humorous, and for the most part respectful, it was far from profound. 

Spoiler Alert, Spoiler's on this weeks episode of Glee, continue at your own risk!

The episode began with a hilarious scene of Finn creating Grilled Cheesus (pronounced as close as possible to Jesus).  This provides the segue into the theme of the episode as Finn calls for a glee assignment about Jesus. 

The real story of the episode is that of Kurt as he has to deal with his father's hospitalization and coma after a heart attack as well as dealing with the subject of God and religion, a subject that he despises.  Kurt, the openly Gay teenager has rejected the possibility of a God who would create him Gay and then make his followers hate him.  Kurt's arguments are actually the strongest arguments put up in the show.

The proponents of religion in the episode are really quite weak.  Finn, a recent convert due to his creation of Grilled Cheesus loses his faith before the end of the episode.  Quinn gets in a throw away line about God really helping her through her pregnancy.  Rachel sings an awful song about her "papa."  Sue Sylvester gave up on God because she prayed for her downs syndrome sister to get "fixed" and was disappointed.

The closest one comes to a defense of religion in the episode is the church scene with Mercedes telling Kurt that he may not believe in God, but he has to believe in something beyond himself, in something "sacred." This foreshadows Kurts "awakening" at the end of the episode with his belief, not in God or something beyond himself, but his belief in his father, in his father as the "sacred."  Seems to me to be a pretty weak attempt at religion for one's sacred to be one's father who is lying in a coma in the hospital. 

As far as the music was concerned, not much to rave about.  Mercedes "Bridge over troubled waters" was by far the most memorable.  Kurt's "I want to hold your hand" was also a nice piece.  Rachel's "papa" and Finn's "losing my religion" were both horrible.  I know that Puck sang a song, but since I can't remember it, must have stunk.  The episode ends with a decent but forgettable version of "what if God was one of us."

In all it was a decent episode as far as Glee goes, but in terms of really dealing with the topic at hand, it was less than compelling.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Christocentrism in the OT

Today in my scriptures class, I am discussing three or four passages that are usually read Christocentrically by many Christians. That is, these passages are said to be "about" Christ, even though the author did not know of Christ.  Recently the blog at Undeception has posted his views on this topic.

The passages that we are covering in class today are Jeremiah's prophecy of a "new covenant" in Jeremiah 31, and Isaiah's servant songs (Isaiah 42, 43, 49, 53).  It is certainly true that these passages are referred to in the New Testament as prophesying about Jesus, but were they meant to be about Jesus in their original contexts. 

My hard and fast rule for reading any scripture is that it should be read in its own historical context.  Therefore, for Old Testament texts, that context is a historical Jewish context. What did these texts mean to the Jews at the time of writing?  What do they mean for the Jews now?  From a Jewish perspective today, these texts certainly weren't referring to Christ. 

A second problem arises in saying that these texts were specifically written about Jesus, whether or not the author knew what he was writing, and that is that these texts do not line up perfectly with what the New Testament says about Christ.  For example, if Jeremiah's "New Covenant" was fulfilled in Christ, then why doesn't everyone "know the Lord?" For Jeremiah states,
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD (Jer 31:34).
Or again, if Jesus is the servant from Isaiah 49, how does Isaiah say this,
And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 
It seems clear that the servant in this passage is "Israel," not Jesus.

Finally, the big one, Isaiah 52:13-53:12.  Both Matthew and I Peter quote 53:4 and tie it to the work of Jesus.  Yet, not everything in this passage works with what the New Testament says about Jesus. I find this section of Isaiah 53:10 difficult, especially in the Old Testament context:
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
In the original OT context, seeing his offspring and having prolonged days would refer not to some spiritual reality, but rather to this leader having children, which the New Testament says nothing about and which the church utterly rejects (remember the uprising about the Davinci Code).

Now, the picture of Jesus as conforming to some of these Old Testament passages is compelling.  There seem to be only three options, 1) these passages were written about Jesus whether or not the author of the passage knew it, i.e., the typical Christocentric reading; 2) These passage were not about Jesus in their original context but the authors of the New Testament made their portrait of Jesus conform to some of these Old Testament passages; or 3) These passages have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus and all similarities between them and the story of Jesus in the New Testament is mere coincidence.  What say you?

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network

I regret to admit that I have seen far fewer movies in the last 6 years than I did in either Seminary or my undergraduate studies, and I have been rarely really impressed with the movies I have seen lately.  That is why I loved this last weekend, I saw a truly brilliant movie, The Social Network.  

Not only was the story compelling and filled with humor, drama, and suspense, it was brilliantly cast and acted (notably Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg and a great performance by Justin Timberlake whom I cannot stand, but actually loved his character).  Perhaps most importantly, it was written by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, West Wing), and directed by David Fincher (Seven, The Game, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).  That team is brilliant and I certainly hope they work together in the future. 

Sorkin is among the two best writers at creating transcendent dialogue (the other being Tarantino).  I will not give any spoilers, but the movie begins with a fascinating and witty dialogue that grabs the audience's attention from the word go.  I wish people in the real word actually talked and interacted like the characters in a Sorkin film or TV series. 

Fincher is also one of my favorite directors.  He is great at creating a feel and tone for a movie that is perfect.  His scenes are always spot on to the situation and his vision comes through to the audience as seamless and riveting. 

Go see the social network.  Even if you don't have any connection with Facebook, as was the case with my wife, the film will be wonderfully entertaining satisfying.  Enjoy!