Saturday, November 26, 2011

Exegesis, Eisegesis, and Hermeneutics

OK, these are three fancy words that biblical scholars like to use, but they are of great importance, for they speak to one of most critical tasks of Christians, and that is Bible interpretation.  What does the Bible mean.  When we read the text, as Christians, what does it mean.

It would be nice if the proper meaning of any given text just jumped out at us, but, as Christian history, and the multiplicity of denominations, have demonstrated, the text can be interpreted in different ways.  So, how do we go about trying to interpret any given text properly?  Enter these three fancy terms: exegesis, eisegesis, and hermeneutics.

First: exegesis.  This term comes from the Greek verb ἐξηγέομαι (exegeomai) which literally means "to lead out."  In the process of exegesis, the biblical interpreter tries to lead something "out" of the text.  That is, they are trying to find out what is already in the text at hand.  At its most basic, one performing exegesis, also called an "exegete," is trying to find out what a text meant in its original context.  An exegete must also beware not to import anything foreign into the text that was not already there.

This leads us to the second term: eisegesis.  Eisegesis comes from the Greek verb εἰσηγέομαι (eisegeomai) which literally means "to lead in" and is thus the exact opposite of exegesis.  Eisegesis is an interpretive vice in which a biblical interpreter (usually unknowingly) leads or brings meaning into the text that is actually foreign to the text itself. Eisegesis happens all of the time.  A reader of the Bible will come to a text, and they think they already know what a text means before they have even read it carefully, and therefore they bring a foreign meaning to the text, and then they say, that is what the text means.

One way that this often happens is to bring certain meanings of words into the text.  Here is one example.  For many Christians, the word "gospel" has a specific meaning.  The "Gospel" is the message of salvation for individual humans.  Specifically, it is the message that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world and therefore salvation is available for those who would confess belief in Jesus.  If that is the meaning of the word "gospel" for the biblical interpreter, then, when one comes upon that word in a biblical text, that definition is brought with the interpreter into the text.  The problem is, that is not the meaning of the word gospel.  That is one specific theological interpretation of the word, but it is not the meaning of the word as I hope the following example will show.

Let's take a look at Matthew 4:23
Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. (New American Standard Version).
What gospel is Jesus preaching in Matthew 4:23?  Is he preaching the gospel as defined above, that Jesus died for the sins of the world?  NO!  He is preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God, which included the healing of sick people.  You see, having a ready definition of gospel in hand and then bringing it into the text, doesn't even make sense here.  Eisegesis does violence to the text by bringing in foreign concepts.  It also causes people to miss the actual meaning of the text, because by importing foreign concepts, you actually miss what the text is actually saying.  In the text above, you might miss that indeed Jesus did have a gospel (good news) to preach, and it was not that Jesus died for the sins of the world, but rather, it was good news about the Kingdom of God.

So, exegesis tries to get at the original meaning of a text, that is, the meaning in the original context.  So, exegesis only takes us so far in biblical interpretation.  It only tries to get at what a text meant.  But that only answers half of the question of biblical interpretation, because any biblical interpreter is more interested in what a text means for them, here an now, than in what a text meant in its original context.  We are separated from that original context by 2000 years.  Is what it meant for them, necessarily what it means for me today?   Maybe not.  Enter our third fancy term: hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics, which comes from the Greek verb ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuo), literally means "to translate."  Thus, the biblical task of hermeneutics is an attempt to translate what the text meant to what the text means for us today.  Yet, one cannot even start to translate if one does not know the original.

Therefore, the primary and most important task of the biblical interpretation is exegesis, finding out what the text meant in its original context. Only then can one even begin to decipher what a text means for us, here and now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

I attended the SBL/AAR conference in San Francisco this last weekend, and the most anticipated session for me was the Science Fiction session in the AAR.  This was a wildcard session, an exploratory session to gauge interest in the topic in hopes of creating a program unit (which I heartily hope comes to pass).

I thoroughly enjoyed the session and the talks of the four panelists.  One thing that struck me though was the seeming sharp distinction between the science fiction genre and the fantasy genre.

Rudy Busto, of UCSB, the first panelist, seemed to draw this distinction most starkly.  He claimed (and I am not quoting here, but doing the best I can from memory), that in Fantasy, one just has vampires and werewolves running around, while in Science Fiction, there is a scientific basis for the incredible events that occur. 

So, in both genres, incredible events occur, but in one, the explanation is pure fantasy or "magic" while in the other, the explanation is science.  Yet, while this might be true on the surface, I would challenge the validity of such a claim.

It is true, on the surface, Fantasy makes no real attempt to explain such incredible events.  Rather, the world which the Fantasy genre creates is one of magic and the incredible, while the Science Fiction genre in theory operates in our world of scientific cause and effect.  I say "in theory" because, while that is the assumption, just saying that the scientific world of cause and effect is the basis of the film does not make it so.  While there is this generic assumption that the incredible things that happen have a basis in science, often little effort is put into explaining how this is the case.  It is as if the general claim "this world is based on scientific cause and effect" then justifies all of the incredible things that happen.

I think a good example of this is the sonic screwdriver of the Dr. on Doctor Who.  I mean, beyond calling it sonic, and therefore having some basis in the scientific world of cause and effect, is there really any explanation of how this screwdriver can do what it does?  The most common use of the screwdriver, at least toward the beginning of the reboot series, is to lock and unlock doors.  Yet, as the series progresses, the uses of the screwdriver become more incredible and more magical. It functions as a medical scanner, and, at times, even a defensive weapon that disarms enemies' guns, all based on a "science" that is never explained. As James McGrath has said, "Is there anything fundamentally different between Harry Potter’s magic wand and the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver?" (McGrath, who was also a panelist in this AAR session, I think fundamentally agrees with me (or perhaps one should say that I agree with him), as you can see in his post here).

So, I would question the stark distinction between the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres.  While there is indeed a difference, I think it is far less than is usually posited.  I also think that future (hopefully) AAR program unit would be remiss to draw this distinction sharply and exclude the Fantasy genre from being part of the group's discussion.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Greetings from San Fran

I'm here listening to a talk on blogs and social media, so I thought I would really engage the topic. So, greetings fin the SBL.

Brooke and I walked down to the bay this gorgeous saturday morning.

Brooke with a strange statue we found.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Folsom St,San Francisco,United States

Friday, November 18, 2011

iPhone revolution

I am sitting at the airport, waiting for a flight to San Francisco to attend this year's SBL conference.

I am writing this blog post on my iPhone. This really is an amazing device. Yet, sometimes I find it troubling. We are learning to communicate in truncated language.

I don't know about you, but most if the time I do all of my email on the iPhone. That way, if something needs a response I can just take care of it right then and there and put it put of my mind. Yet, I fall victim to this truncated language. I try to keep it short. I will often omit normal parts of a message, like any punctuation, salutation, addressee, and signature. I feel guilty omitting this stuff, but who wants to type any more than the bare minimum on an iPhone?

What are the long term effects of this communication revolution? One thing I am seeing is that my students can hardly make sense of sentences that have more than one clause. Is this due to the smartphone/texting/Facebook status update world we have created? Your thoughts?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, November 14, 2011

Harmonization and LOTR

As a New Testament scholar, and especially as a gospel scholar, one of my pet peaves is the practice of harmonizing the gospels.  That is, to fill in gaps from one gospel, say Mark, with elements from another gospel, say Luke.  This is done all of the time.  Mark says something like, Jesus speaks in parables in order to confuse those on the outside so that they won't repent and be forgiven.  Matthew comes along, and mutes this point, making the responsibility for being blind and deaf fall on the people, not on Jesus.

Harmonization also often occurs in the birth narratives of Jesus.  We have two accounts of Jesus' birth: one in Matthew and one in Luke.  Yet, they are quite different (See my previous posts on the birth narratives Here, Here, and Here).  We see this in our nativity scenes.  Only in Matthew do we get the wise men.  Only in Luke do we get the stable and manger.  Yet, in nativity scenes we see both side by side (and by the way, this harmonization does not really bother me in nativity scenes).

When we harmonize, whether it be to fill in missing information, or to reconcile apparent contradictions, we lose sight of what each individual author was trying to say.  There is a reason why Mark said that Jesus spoke in parables in order to confuse the people.  If we just jump to Matthew's account because it makes us feel better, we miss Mark's point. 

So, that said, why do we harmonize?  I noticed something the other night, while watching Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Rings for the umpteenth time.  I was watching the scene in Bree, where the Nazgul come and drive their swords into the Hobbit sized beds, thinking that the Hobbits are laying in them.  This got me thinking: did this happen in the book?  Now, I am remiss, I have not re-read the books for a few years now, and I am rusty.  I could not remember the Bree sequence from the book, or I should say, I had an amalgam in my head, part book, part movie, and perhaps even part of my own construction that my mind had unknowingly crafted.  I was unconsciously harmonizing. 

Our minds are made to complete stories.  A Baylor colleague of mine, Kathy Maxwell, recently published her revised dissertation in which she argued just this.  She argues that in the ancient world, and I believe this holds in the modern world as well, that authors actually leave some information out of their narratives in order to invite audience participation.  Our minds naturally do this.  In any story, our minds subconsciously fill in gaps.  It is part of actively engaging in a story. 

This happens all the more when we are reading a story for which we have other versions in our head.  So, while watching Peter Jackson's film version of the Lord of the Rings, my mind will be unconsciously filling in gaps with information in my head from Tolkein's book, and vice versa.

While this is a natural and understandable tendency, I think we ought to try and fight it as much as possible.  To harmonize is to obliterate the unique point of view of each version of the story.  Jackson had a story to tell in his version of the Lord of the Rings, as did Tolkein.  To harmonize them is actually to lose the full power of either.  So too, with the gospels.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each gave us wonderful accounts of the life of Jesus.  To harmonize them is to perhaps lose the unique message of each.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Textbook Ethics (part II)

Last week I posted about the ethics of creating new editions of textbooks that may not be so new or updated.  I demonstrated my frustration at the short updated edition schedule and I seemed to lay the blame on the publishers and authors.

Then I read this article, which has a completely different take. According to this author, most of the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the used book industry.  The article blames the rise of textbook prices to the advent of large used book companies that have set up shop on college campuses in order to buy back textbooks and redistribute them to where they are needed across the country to resell them. These used book companies have only been prominent in higher education for a few decades now.

Let's imagine that you are an author or publisher in the 1960s, before the advent of large scale used textbook companies. Perhaps you have a deal to write, publish, market, and distribute a new sociology textbook and you plan to give it an update every 10 years.  You estimate that the book will sell X number of copies a year at Y number of Universities.  You plan your price and update based on 10 years of royalties and a fairly constant stream of sales.

Now, imagine, in year 5, a used bookstore moves on to campus, buys back previous year's used books, and resells them the following year.  You, the publisher or author, now make 0 for every used book sold.  You have lost 5 years of revenue that you were counting on and that factored in to your original price of the textbook. 

What recourse do the publishing companies and author's have?

Well, one would be legal: try and claim some royalties on used textbooks.  Yet, this has been unsuccessful up to this point. 

The only recourse left to publishers and authors are 1) to raise the original textbook price, and 2) update the edition more frequently rendering the previous edition obsolete.  

So, now, after two posts, how do you see it?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ethics of Texbook Editions

This is my first year as a full time professor, and also my first year really having to deal with reviewing, ordering, and deciding on textbooks for the classes I am teaching.  One thing that has become more pronounced in my mind is the ethics behind textbook editions.  I tried to order some textbooks for my classes this Fall, and the bookstore informed me that they could no longer get that book because it was an old edition.  OK, I said, order the new edition and I will request a desk copy from the publisher.  No skin off my back.  I get a free copy from the publisher.  Besides the slight update to my syllabus and quizzes due to (very) minor updates in the new edition, the cost and trouble to me, the professor, is minimal.

But, what are the implications of this?  First, the new edition costs more (textbook prices seem ridiculous to me).  Second, there are no used copies, so students have to pay the full price and don't have the option of saving money on used (although they are renting textbooks now.  Who knew?).

So, why a new edition of a textbook?

First, I understand that all textbooks need updating from time to time.  All fields of study change over time (with the possible exceptions of a few: Math, have we really changed how we do math in the last 500 years?).  So, I understand that there will need to be new editions of textbooks that provide updated information.  But, how often is a new edition needed?  In five years of teaching introduction to Bible at Baylor, we went through three editions of our standard textbook.  Really? Three editions in five years.  Now, to be fair, I looked at the copyright dates in those editions, and they are 3-4 years apart.  So, when I started we really must have been using an old edition, compounding the new edition shock.

But again, I ask, how often do we really need a new edition?  And, are the new editions really updated much?  The answer to the latter question, from my  limited experience: No.  I have had updated editions where the text is virtually identical.  A paragraph is removed in one location and shows up in another.  The chapter titles are changed, but the content remains the same.  A short new section, maybe a page or two, is added.  Really, is this enough justification for a new edition?

Why do we get new editions so often?  Well, the quick answer, as it appears to me on the surface of matters, is money.  Textbooks have to be great for publishers.  They have a book that has a captive purchasing audience.  Now, of course, they have to compete with other textbooks for the same field, but once their book is adopted, they know they have a certain number of students who will be required to purchase it.  After the initial run and sale of these textbooks, the sales will go down.  College students will sell their books back to bookstores nationwide, flooding the market with used copies.  Then, the next semester, most students will buy used copies, for which the publisher and author get nothing.  So, in subsequent years, the royalties from textbooks sales will drop dramatically.  The first year was great, but following years are not so hot.  How do we solve this?  Print a new edition.  Require bookstores to order the new edition, which in turn forces professors to adopt the new edition.

On the surface this looks like a racket to me.  Publishers and authors, in order to keep the money flowing in, create "new" editions which might not be very new.  They exert pressure on campus bookstores to buy these new editions, which in turn forces the professors hand.

Now, I do want to be fair.  This is only how it looks on the surface to me.  I know very little about the publishing industry and I am not trying to make them look like monsters.  I do not know all of the costs that go into publishing a textbook.  I have no idea what their profit margins are.  I have no idea what their original investment in a textbook is.  All I can say is that "new" editions that really do not provide substantial updates and improvements seem unjustified to me and the primary motivation for these updated editions seems to be primarily financial. 

Please, if you have more information and could enlighten me, I would love to hear another side.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Judah and Tamar Part II

Yesterday I raise the question: Why is the story of Judah and Tamar present in Genesis chapter 38.  The story is very strange.  Moreover, it seems completely out of place. It breaks the flow of the Joseph narrative which runs from Genesis chapter 37 through the rest of the book in chapter 50. So, why is this odd story there?

First, there are no other stories about the other sons of Jacob, save for Joseph, and his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh.  The most the others get is a mention here and there.

Let's look at these mentions.

In Genesis 37, Joseph's brothers are seeking to kill the little brat Joseph.  Reuben and Judah are mentioned by name.  Reuben comes off the best, intervening in the brothers plan to kill Joseph.  Judah is mentioned and gets a neutral portrayal.  While he also argues against killing Joseph, he has a profit motive and suggests selling Joseph.  Reuben, who has apparently disappeared somewhere, is shocked to return and find Joseph gone, having been sold into slavery.

Jump ahead to Genesis 42.  Joseph is now second in command in all of Egypt.  His ten older brothers have come before him in Egypt to buy grain because of a famine in the land. They have left behind their youngest brother Benjamin in Canaan.  They do not recognize Joseph and he decides to have a little fun with them.  He tells them that they must return with Benjamin.  Reuben bewails their circumstances.  Simeon is held captive while the others return to get Benjamin. When they get back, Jacob refuses to let them go back with Benjamin, counting Simeon as good as dead and not wanting to lose his youngest and favorite son Benjamin.  Reuben pipes up guarantees Benjamin's safety.

In Chapter 43, it is Judah who guarantees the safety of Benjamin when they return to Egypt.  While in Egypt, Joseph continues the ruse and lets them sweat. Finally, after more trickeration, Joseph fulfills his brothers' worst nightmare and takes Benjamin captive for a theft he did not commit.  Judah now plays the hero, makes good on his promise to his father, tells Joseph the whole story, and offers to take Benjamin's place.

OK, so in the Joseph narrative, how are his Brother's portrayed?  Only four are mentioned by name.  The unnamed brothers look bad as they sought to kill Joseph.  Reuben looks good in chapter 37, intervening to save Joseph's life, and looks good again in 42, guaranteeing Benjamin's safety.  Simeon is mentioned a couple of times, but is neutral as his only role is to remain captive in Egypt.  Benjamin is mentioned but is completely passive.  That leaves Judah.  In 37, Judah appears neutral.  Like Reuben he intervenes to protect Joseph's life, but it is his idea to sell Joseph into slavery.  In chapters 44-45 Judah looks heroic, first guaranteeing Benjamin's safety, and then making good on this promise by offering to take Benjamin's punishment in Egypt.

So, overall, in the Joseph narrative, Reuben and Judah are portrayed positively overall, with Judah perhaps coming out as the most heroic of the brothers.

So again, I ask, why the story of Judah and Tamar in chapter 38?  Especially such a bawdy story that portrays Judah so negatively.  Judah is the father who refuses to fulfill his duty and provide his son in fulfillment of Levirate marriage.  Judah is also seen as one who visits prostitutes.  Judah is not the shining hero that we see later in the Joseph narrative.

So, again, why this story?  Why Judah?  Why not a story of the other brothers?

I think one reason is that Judah had some very famous descendants.  First: David, the greatest king in Israel's history (according to some).  Also, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, although I doubt the birth and subsequent fame of Jesus had anything to do with the placement of this story in Genesis.

But, if one surmises that this story of Judah, and not one of his other brothers, is here in Genesis because of the subsequent notoriety of David, I think we are on solid ground.  This notoriety of David might also explain why Judah plays a larger role than his brothers in the Joseph narrative.

But, if this story is tied to David's fame, why is it so derogatory toward David's ancestor?  Could it be that this story was placed here, where it clearly does not belong and where it is clearly an interruption of the Joseph narrative, as an anti-davidic story?  Could this story be anti-davidic propaganda, or maybe even anti-monarchic propaganda?  I don't know the answers to these questions, and this is not my area of specialty at all.  But we do know that there were anti-davidic factions in Israel, and certainly there were anti-monarchic factions as evidenced by much of first Samuel.  Why this story is here is probably beyond our ability to know for certain, but I find the possibility that this story was a piece of anti-davidic or anti-monarchic propaganda fascinating.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Judah and Tamar, Huh?

The Story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 has to be one of the strangest narratives in the Bible.  Strange for so many reasons.  First, the racy story it tells in and of itself is odd.

Let me try and summarize.  Judah, son of Jacob, and namesake of his own tribe of Israel, had three sons.  Son #1, Er, married Tamar, but was "wicked" and therefore God killed him.  According to the custom of Levirate marriage, the closest male relative was required to fulfill the duty of the dead husband and provide Tamar with a child in the name of the dead husband.  Therefore, this duty fell to son #2, Onan. Onan, knowing that this child would not be his, but would carry the name of his brother, whenever he slept with Tamar, "spilled his semen on the ground."  Because of this wickedness, God killed Onan. Contrary to much evangelical interpretation, Onan was not engaging in masturbation. Rather, his wickedness was not fulfilling his duty to provide his dead brother with a son. Finally, Tamar pushes Judah to give her Son #3, Shelah to fulfill his duty.  Judah procrastinates in this matter.  I mean, can you blame him.  He has lost 2 sons already over this matter.

Tamar takes matters into her own hands.  She disguises herself as a prostitute and places herself in Judah's path.  Judah takes the bait and sleeps with her, but not before giving her a pledge of his signet and staff, a sign that he will send payment for her services.  As is wont to happen after such affairs, Tamar becomes pregnant.  When Judah finds out the Tamar is pregnant, he is indignant that his daughter in law has been "playing the whore" and he commands that she be burned.  Tamar on the other hand, produces Judah's signet and staff, proving herself righteous and Judah as the wrongdoer.

OK, so strange story right?  But, that is only the beginning of the strangeness.  Right before this story we get the introduction to the story of Joseph, Son of Jacob.  Genesis 37 begins the Joseph narrative which runs unbroken through the rest of Genesis, save for the Judah and Tamar story.  One could read from the last verse of Genesis 37 right on to the first verse of Genesis 39, skipping 38 alltoghether, and would miss not a thing.

Genesis 37:36 in the NIV reads:
 36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. 
And Genesis 39:1 in the NIV reads:
 1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.
Yet, sandwiched in between is the story of Judah and Tamar.  Why is it there?  Come back tomorrow to see my take.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ancient Science

In my introduction to religion class here at Chowan, when we finally got to Genesis, I had the students read the first two chapters of the book and come up with a list of the order of creation in 1:1-2:4a, and a list of the order of creation in 2:4b-2:25.

Every year this exercise yields very interesting results.  What I noticed this year was that as the students were reading Genesis 1, when they got to day 2, reading verses 6-7, before they got to verse 8, many students were saying that God was creating land on day 2.

Here is how Genesis 1:6-8 reads in the NIV
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
Why did my students think that God was creating land?  It is simple to see.  In our scientific worldview, all water rests on the earth.  So, when the text says "to separate water from water" in verse 6, what pops into a modern person's mind is "land."

But this merely illustrates the difference between ancient knowledge of the world, what I think could reasonably be called their "science" on the one hand, and our scientific knowledge of the world on the other hand.

It is not that the ancients were stupid.  Yet, they were limited.  Their knowledge of the world was largely based upon visual observation. 

Think about it.  When the ancients walked outside, they saw a flat earth. If one walked far enough in any direction, one would find water, an ocean.  Far out into the ocean, ancients suspected that the world just ended.  OK, so that is one gathering of water, water on land.  But what of the other water, since Genesis 1:6 speaks of separating the water from the water.  Well, the ancients also astutely noticed that from time to time, water falls from the sky.  So, there must be water up above as well.  Yet, it does not fall constantly, so there must be something holding it up there.  Enter the "Firmament," "Vault," "Dome."  This is what God created on day 2.  A giant dome to keep the water above from constantly falling on the earth.  This makes sense if you are an ancient.  If you walk outside and look, it looks like there is a giant dome over the flat earth.  It is in this giant dome that the Sun, Moon, and stars make their circuit.

When my students finally got to verse 8, they were somewhat shocked to find that this creation was not land, but the sky.  Yet, this merely illustrates the difference between our modern scientific worldview and the worldview of the ancients.  The ancient worldview was not un-scientific, it was just using the best observation/science available at the time.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Well, I survived my first hurricane. Check out the video.

YouTube Video

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

From Stanley Hauerwas:
on the importance of story over moral principles
"Contrary to the assumption of many philosophers, moral principles do not serve as the 'essence' of stories, as if they might be abstracted from the story and still convey the same meaning. Rather, our principles are but shorthand reminders necessary for moral education and explanation; their moral significance is contained in stories. Though principles (or policy statements) such as 'I have decided to live an agapeistic life' appear to be story-neutral, they are nothing of the sort.  For our principles 'are intelligible at all only if their implicit 'stories' are explicated.  The need for stories then lies precisely in the fact that policy statements are about intentions to act in certain ways, and action is inconceivable apart from stories.'"
Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader, John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, eds, Durham: Duke University Press, 2001, 166. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Full Time Baby!

Today is my first day teaching as a full time professor.  I have been teaching at the college level now for four years, first as a Graduate student, then as an adjunct.  But today, I begin as Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Chowan University. 

I cannot express how excited this makes me.  This Summer has been brutal.  Since the job offer came in late April, my life has been like a tornado.  Fixing up a house, selling a house, buying a house, moving cross country, enduring the Texas Summer heat, getting settled in a new town, all of this while not doing what I love: teaching. 

Well, the day is finally here.  Hurrah!

Buried in Books

This picture is of my dining room and the piles of books that Brooke and I were unpacking. 

Keep in mind, this is only a small portion of our collected books. My academic books, more than half of our collection, were already moved up to my office (in which I have several similar stacks of unshelved books as I write this). These stacks also do not include the nine boxes of books that we have decided to put away for the time being, not being worthy of any sort of display or availability.

So, how many books are too many?  A question Brooke and I kept asking ourselves as we were unpacking, stacking, sorting, and shelving our large collection. I used to think, with regard to books, the more the merrier.  But things have changed.  First of all, moving these books across country (from Texas to North Carolina) will make anyone think twice.  First you have to pack the books, then you have to load the heavy boxes, then unload the heavy boxes.  Finally, you have to unpack, sort, and find room to shelve the books.  As Brooke and I sorted the books on Sunday, we cringed several times.  We love most of our books, but then there are those that we look at and say, "What was I thinking when I bought that book?"  Or, "Who gave us that?"

The second thing that has changed is the advent of the Kindle (or similar device) and a good selection of eBooks.  Brooke and I have almost completely switched to eBooks for our everyday reading.  From now on, if the book is available as an eBook, we will buy it as such.  We both love to read the eBooks on our iPads.  The convenience is great, the format is great, being able to carry entire libraries in one device is great.  I have a feeling our physical book library will not get any larger, in fact, I hope it will shrink.  Here's to the digital library.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cat moving preparation

I and the four (yep, count 'em, four) cats are at the Vet today, trying to determine what is the best option for moving the four yep, count 'em, four) cats.

They don't like the cat carriers at all, but they have quieted down now that we are at the Vet's office.

The howled in the car for the whole 10 minute drive. Ajax was, of course the loudest.

-Here's to a good cat tranquilizer!

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Test post

This is a test post using blogpress app for my iPhone.

This is the house I will be moving into in less than two weeks. Yahoo!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Cobbs Dr,Waco,United States

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Barth I.2 §15.3

The Miracle of Christmas.

This entire section deals with the issue of the virgin birth of Christ.  Barth, opposing his most frequent opponents, liberal theologians, decisively affirms the dogma of the virgin birth of Christ.  Many liberal theologians in the early 20th century had come to deny the historicity, or the reality, of the virgin birth.  They denied this miracle, as they denied all other miracles, on the basis of its physical impossibility in light of modern physics and biology.  Barth, on the other hand radically defends the dogma of the virgin Birth.

For Barth, the virgin birth is a sign.  That is, it signifies something greater, points beyond itself to some other reality.  This "something greater" is the incomprehensible mystery of the incarnation, the Word assuming human nature.  For this sign to truly signify the deep inconceivable mystery that is the incarnation, the sign must be equally mysterious and inconceivable: hence, the birth of Christ from a virgin. 

Barth begins by saying that this dogma is attested in scripture, and he is of course correct.  Both Matthew and Luke speak of Jesus' birth from Mary, a virgin.  The question, which Barth answers in the affirmative, is: is the virgin birth part of the "core testimony" of the gospels?

For Barth, the virgin birth is important for several reasons:
1) it states that Jesus had a human mother, making Jesus a human "like us."
2) it eliminates the possibility of docetism on the one hand (that Jesus was a mere divine phantom) and Ebionitism/adoptionism on the other hand (that Jesus was a mere human, born of a mother and father, and later adopted as the Son of God).
3) perhaps most importantly, for Barth's own situation, the affirmation of the virgin birth protects against going down the road of liberal theology.

Barth's entire system seems to be fighting liberalism at every front.  He so despised liberal theology, that he wanted to head them off at every turn.  I think also, at times, liberal theology blinded Barth in his own internal logic, and I think that the virgin birth is one of those places.

For example, Barth has a fairly lengthy discussion on sex in this section which I have had a hard time deciphering. 

For example, Barth writes the following:
"Here we cannot consider the quite un-biblical view that sexual life as such is to be regarded as an evil to be removed, to that the active sign is to be sought in the fact that this removal is here presumed to have taken place." (CD I.2 §15.3 p. 190). 
By this I take Barth to mean that the virgin birth is not affirmed to appease any puritanical notion that sex is evil and dirty and for Christ to have been born through a sexual union would thus be unworthy of the Son of God.

But, not a page later, Barth writes the following:
"By this action [virgin birth] of God sin is excluded and nullified.  And to this particular action of God the natus ex virgine points.  It is the sign that the sinful life of sex is excluded as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ." (CD I.2 §15.3 p. 191).
Now, perhaps I am missing something here, but it seems as if Barth has turned 180 degrees.  Here he seems to be saying that the virgin birth is the sign because it excludes the sinful sexual life of humans.

What Barth appears to be saying is the the sinful sexual life of humans is not capable of receiving the human origin of Jesus.  Yet, he goes on to say, that even Mary, in her innocence and virginity, was in no way capable of receiving the Son of God.  She had no innate capacity, no "point of contact" with the divine, making her worthy to receive the Son of God.  For Barth, the very action of God in the virgin birth creates this capacity in Mary to receive.  But logically, if God had to create such a capacity in Mary, why could he not have also created this capacity through a sexual union between Mary and Joseph?  Barth does not answer this question. 

The best answer Barth gives is to say that the sign must adequately point to the mystery of the incarnation and that only birth from a virgin, in its impossibility and inconceivability, truly points to the mystery of the incarnation.

Barth touches briefly on other stories of miraculous births in antiquity, including numerous other stories of births without sexual union.  I must say that here Barth's argument was very weak.  He admits to other stories in antiquity that speak of "assertions from the realm of heathen mythology which sound very similar." (CD I.2 §15.3 p. 197).  And Barth's response: Well, they sound similar, but they are not miracles, because they did not come about from the true God.  That is no different from the argument that says, "well, my religion is true and yours is false." Or "I believe in the true God and you serve a false God."  It is circular reasoning: My God is true, and so his miracles are real, your god is false, and therefore your miracles are not miracles at all.  I think that Barth failed to put the virgin birth in its context in its literary milieu and to evaluate these stories on such grounds.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The We Heart Waco Farewell Tour

Well, I am down to 16 days left in Waco, TX before I load all that we own into a rental truck and head off for a three day road trip to North Carolina. 

In our last 2 weeks+, Brooke and I are conducting what we are calling our "We heart Waco farewell tour."  We have made a list of some of our favorite places to go in Waco and we are determined to visit them all.  I might blog about some of these, but I think Brooke will get them all.  So, go visit her blog, to read about our first few accomplishments.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Barth I.2 §15.1-2.ii

This section of Barth's Church Dogmatics can be summed up in the phrase "very God and very man."  Or, if you like, the Word became flesh.  Barth is concerned in this section to highlight the mystery of the incarnation.  How is it that God takes on human flesh?  How can the two, which for Barth are in complete contradiction, come together to be unified in the person of Jesus Christ?

For Barth, Christology, who Christ is, is at the heart of all of dogmatics.  To fail to answer the question of Christology is to fail in all of theology.  Christ and who he is lies at the center of Barth's entire undertaking.  And, at the heart of Christology is the problem of the incarnation, or how the Word becomes flesh and unites the divine and human nature. This problem of Christology as Barth calls it must remain a mystery.  There is no explaining this mystery away, but one must let it persist as a mystery.

Barth is careful (as always) to protect the freedom of God in the incarnation.  That is, there was no necessity either inside or outside of God that compelled the incarnation.  It was not the necessary consequence of creation or even the fall. The incarnation remains God's free act of mercy.  As Barth writes:
"That is, in His Word becoming flesh, God acts with inward freedom and not in fulfillment of a law to which he is supposedly subject." (CD I.2 §15.2 p. 135).
Further protecting God's freedom is Barth's conclusion that the incarnation in no way limits or diminishes God in any way.  The Word of God, the λόγος, remains the Word of God in all of His deity.

Yet, the Word of God really does take on flesh.  He really assumes human nature "like us."  Barth is clear that even though the divinity of God is not diminished through the incarnation, still, the incarnation is a true assumption of human nature "like us."  Jesus is not a demi-god or an ideal man, he is a man "like us." For Barth, if in the incarnation God did not become "like us" he would be of no help to us.

Barth is careful to avoid any form of adoptionism.  There was not first a man Jesus whom the Word of God assumed.  No, This was a literal incarnation, the human nature united with the divine nature in the person of Jesus Christ. 

For Barth, σάρξ, is a neutral or negative term.  In its neutral sense, it is merely the stuff we are made of.  In the negative sense, is it what separates humans from God and other animals.  It is the result of the fall and what makes humans liable to the judgment of God. In the incarnation, Christ assumes flesh in both senses, but more importantly in the second sense.  In this sense, Christ takes on human flesh in all of its liability to the judgment of God.  This is the mystery and the miracle of the incarnation.  That God takes on the very nature of man that is liable to judgment is inconceivable. As Barth writes:
"He would not be revelation if He were not man.  And he would not be man if he were not 'flesh' in this definite sense.  That the Word became 'flesh' in this definite sense, this consummation of God's condescension, this inconceivability which is greater than the inconceivability of the diving majesty and the inconceivability of human darkness put together: this is the revelation of the Word of God." (CD I.2 §15.2 p. 152).
Indeed for Barth, the greatness of Christ, his perfection, lay not in his good deeds or special morality, but in his obedience, taking on human flesh in all of its liability to God's judgment, and doing so willingly. 

And here is the money quote:
"Mariology is an excrescence, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought.  Excrescences must be excised." (CD I.2 §15.2 p. 139).
If you had any doubt about how Barth feels about the Catholic practice of the veneration of Mary, take a look at the definition of the word "excrescence" from
1.  an abnormal outgrowth, usually harmless, on an animal or vegetable body.
2.  a normal outgrowth, as hair or horns.
3.  any disfiguring addition.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Barth I.2 §14.3

Barth wraps up section 14 with his discussion of the time of the New Testament and the time of the church.  The time of the New Testament is a time of recollection.  It looks backward as it witnesses the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. To the extent that it gives a proper witness to Jesus Christ, it participates in "fulfilled time," in God's time, but it is not identical with that fulfilled time.  The time of the New Testament is much more akin to the time of expectation in the Old Testament.  The difference is now that it has seen the concrete revelation of God in the event of Jesus Christ.  Yet, the NT is not only a time of recollection.  According to Barth, if the NT only looked back at the event of Jesus Christ as a past historical event, an event which came into being and then passed away, it would not be true Christianity, but a form of ebionitism.  While the NT is a time of recollection of a past event, because what it is recollecting is God's fulfilled time, which neither comes into being, nor passes out of being, then the time of the NT is also a time of expectation, of the God who is coming.

Barth explains this section in three subsections. 

1) The time of the NT is one of recollection of the fulfillment of the expectation of the Old Testament.  The Covenant of God with man expected in the OT is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Christ is not just in line with other OT men of God, with the Patriarchs, Prophets and Kings, but is the fulfillment of what the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Kings were expecting. 

2) The time of the NT is the recollection of the revelation of the hidden God, God's hiddenness seen in his judgment.  His judgment is absolutely complete in the passion of Jesus.  In Christ's passion, the entire hiddenness and judgment of God is poured out on humanity and is complete.  The crucifixion of Jesus brings Jews and Gentiles together under the judgment of God.  Both Jews and Gentiles are complicit in the crucifixion of Christ, and are both brought to stand on equal footing before God both equally say NO to God's revelation.  Yet, the resurrection of Christ is God's divine YES to humanity, his demonstration not only of Judgment poured out, but also of reconciliation.

3) The time of the NT is not only a time of recollection of a past event, but is also witness to the expectation to the God who is coming.  The event of Easter, the breaking in of God's "fulfilled time" into our time, while it took place in the "past" does not cease to exist.  God's fulfilled time does not pass away.  It is eschatological in the sense that this event of Easter, God's yes, is one that has taken place once for all and is still to be fulfilled.  Thus, the time of the NT, and subsequently, the time of the Church, is not only a time of recollection, but also a time of expectation of the God who is coming.  The Christian looks backward in recollection of the event of the cross and at the same time must look forward to the coming of Christ.  There is not one without the other.  The time of the Church is both recollection in faith and hope in the future.

Barth does a good job in this section of keeping with the continuity of the story of the OT and NT.  Both look toward the revelation of God, both expect a God who is coming.  The only difference is that in the NT and beyond, the Church looks both backward and forward at the God who has come and is coming. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Barth I.2 §14.2

This section of Barth was wonderfully written and organized, which I have found is a rarity for Barth. Barth really seemed to understand what he was talking about and was therefore easily able to communicate what he meant.  ( I have often found that my writing is the least clear when I do not have a good conception in my mind as to what I mean to communicate, though of course this is not the case for Barth.  Where he is unclear, it is clearly that I just simply can't understand him).

In this section, Barth is speaking about the Old Testament as the time of expectation, that is the time of expectation of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As I began to read, I had a moment of trepidation.  There is so much abuse in "reading Jesus into the OT," that I feared the worse.  Would Barth find Jesus on every page of the OT, lurking behind every obscure prophecy or hiding in the guise of an angel of God or as a shadowy figure in the fire.  Not to fear, Barth did not do any of this.  Instead, he really did a great job telling the story of Israel and how that story is one of waiting and expectation.  The story of the OT looks for it's fulfillment, and read from this side of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, it is clear that Christ is that fulfillment.

Barth treated the OT expectation in 3 parts.

In the first part, Barth spoke of covenants.  The story of Israel is one of covenant, of God claiming a people for himself.  There are numerous covenants in the OT: Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, and others that exemplify this relationship between Yahweh and the people of Israel.  But these covenants are all awaiting their fulfillment.  These covenants bear witness to the their expectation of fulfillment, which the Christian believes happens in Jesus Christ.

In the second part, Barth speaks of the story of Israel as the story of the encountering God's hiddenness.  This hiddenness is found in God's judgment.  When God claims sinful humanity for himself, there is an inevitable judgment.  Because Israel is the chosen people in the Old Testament, it was inevitable that they would bear the brunt of God's judgment.  There were some very powerful quotes in this section about the judgment passed on Israel as necessary because of relationship of sinful humanity to a perfect God and Israel displaying that judgment to the world as God's chosen people. As Barth writes:

"The story of this nation is only too much a reptetition of the story of its tribal ancestor, who has to wrestle not only with man but with God, and though disabled by God  nevertheless wrestles with this one till dawning: 'I will not let thee go except thou bless me.'  This nation's decline and fall seems to be God's own triumph, and this nation's salvation seems to lie exclusively in the fact that, like a drowning man, it must clutch constantly at the hand, must constantly be saved by the hand, that smites it so frightfully." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 87).
But, God's hiddenness and judgment does not get the last word.  Judgment is not the end for Israel, or for humanity. According to Barth, the last word is spoken in the fulfillment of God's covenant and with reconciliation:
"He who, because he is God in the assertion of His real Lordship, will not let His hiddenness be the last word--that makes it all the more impossible for man in his rebellion to retain the last word.  It must be so because there must be a Christmas, because reconciliation must take place in the event of God's real lordship." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 92).
This quote is perhaps the first reference in the Dogmatics that I have seen that could be construed as Barth's leaning toward universalism, but that is a discussion left for another day.

Finally, in section three, Barth speaks of the eschatological nature of Israel's hope.  Barth finds in the main avenues of hope in the OT, in the promised land, in the temple, in the people and the covenants, and finally in the king, all of these objects of hope have a concrete referent, but all look beyond that referent to an eschatological fulfillment.  According to Barth, that fulfillment is found only in Jesus Christ.

Barth ends with a brief discussion of the present situation and relationship of the church to the synagogue.  This quote I found powerful:
"The mystery of revelation, which is the mystery of free, unmerited grace, includes the Church of the New Testament inseparably with the people whose blessing is attested for us in the Old Testament as expectation of Jesus Christ.  And this very mystery acts not only as a barrier but as a bond between Church and Synagogue which, like the impenitent sister with seeing eyes, refuses to see that the people of the Old Testament really expected Jesus Christ and in this expectation was graciously blessed." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 101).
This quote gives a marvelous foundation for relations between the Church and the Jewish people that has been sorely lacking for much of Church history.  

What I liked most about this section, besides bring crystal clear, was that Barth followed the biblical narrative and demonstrated how powerful that narrative can be without delving into theological and philosophical speculation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Barth I.2 §14.1

Barth and time.  In this section, I believe that Barth has ceased to speak human.  I believe he ceased to speak German or English a long time ago, and now he has ceased to speak the human language.

That is not to say there were not some sections that I could understand, but I felt lost on the whole.

Perhaps this is because I have been so preoccupied with other things.  I am 4 days behind on this post as I am now returning from a visit to my future place of employment, Chowan University.  Trying to sell my house and looking for another, planning to officiate my Sister's wedding this Sunday, as well as all of the other matters of import in my life are crowding in, but I really want to try and keep up with Barth.

So, here is what I make of this section.  Revelation means "God had time for us." That is, God's revelation is an historical event that takes place in time.  But, lest you think that makes God's revelation somehow graspable as an object in time, think again because God's time is of course unlike any time you have ever experienced: it is real time while ours is just a vague imitation (did this strike anyone else as "platonic"?).

There are three types of time for Barth: time created by God at the creation of the world (he does not expand on this nor explain it), our fallen time in which we have past present and future, and "fulfilled time" which is the time of revelation, the time of Jesus Christ, the inbreaking of a fulfilled time, of the Kingdom of God upon humanity in the event of revelation.  This fulfilled time limits and determines our fallen time (not quite sure what this means).  Yet, fulfilled time does not fully subsume our fallen time.  Our time goes on.  Yet, fulfilled time announces the end of our time, it let's us know that we do not even really understand what time is.

I see here the "already/not yet of Paul, or the fact that the Kingdom of God is at hand, breaking in, but fully arrived, has not fully replace this aeon.

Here was a particularly perplexing quote in which Barth tries to explain this fulfilled time.

"And so it is a present that is not a present without also being a genuine perfect; and a perfect and a future, the mean of which constitutes a genuine, indestructible present.  Yet it is not any present, hopelessly collapsing into a 'not yet' or a 'no longer' like every other present in our time." (CD I.2 §14.1 p52).

So, can anyone help me to understand what is fulfilled time is?

Here were some quotes I found powerful, even though I was not quite sure how to incorporate them into Barth's larger argument.

"His genuine time takes the place of the problematic, improper time we know and have. It replaces it in that, amid the years and ages of this time of ours, the time of Jesus Christ takes the place of our time, coming to us as a glad message presented to us as a promise, and to be seized and lived in by us." (CD I.2 §14.1 p 55).

"It is really not laid upon us to take everything in the Bible as true in globo, but it is laid upon us to listen to its testimony when we actually hear it." (CD I.2 §14.1 p65).

"When revelation takes place, it never does so by means of our insight and skill, but in the freedom of God to be free for us and to free us from ourselves." (CD I.2 §14.1 p65).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What does it mean to be a Christian?

Over at Exploring our Matrix, James McGrath has an interesting take on this question of what it means to be a Christian.  I think his points are much needed during this time of theological strife in the Christian Church.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Barth I.2 §13.1-2

The Incarnation, the Word became Flesh and made his home among us.  Perhaps one of the greatest miracles of the Bible, greater even than the virgin birth, is the astonishing sentence: The Word became Flesh.  This was the real stumbling block for the Greeks.  Not the resurrection.  Not the Virgin Birth.  Not healings or exorcisms.  No, that God could take on human flesh. 

For Barth too, this is a miracle of the greatest magnitude.  He thus asks the question: how can God become flesh, flesh that is in total contradiction to God?  And Barth's answer: we don't know "how," but we believe the witness of the Bible that this did actually take place.  God, in a mode of being distinct from himself, yet still himself, took on human flesh as a means of revelation. 

For Barth, the witness of the Bible is twofold: 1) God's Word/God's Son became the man, Jesus of Nazareth, and 2) The man Jesus of Nazareth was in fact God's Son/God's Word.  This is the doctrine of the incarnation.  That this man Jesus was God's Word.

In this section, Barth tries to understand Jesus as God's Word by avoiding two heresies: Docetism and Ebionitism.  The Docetic takes a preconceived notion of divinity and then thinly masks it with the appearance of humanity.  Ebionitism on the other hand takes humanity and tries to elevate it to divinity in a sort of hero worship.  Neither of these will do for Barth or for Orthodox Christianity.  Barth writes:
"As the true humanity of Christ is ultimately dispensable for Docetism, so is the true divinity of Jesus for Ebionitism." (CD I.2 §13.1 pp. 20-21). 
In 13.2, Barth is concerned with investigating further what it means that Jesus is the Son of God, going beyond what the Bible has to say and ferreting out the meaning of this event of incarnation.

There were a couple of powerful sections in this discussion for me.  First, Barth notes that without the incarnation, humanity would not even know that it was blind.  It is like a blind man who does not really know what it means to be blind until he sees the light.  Without revelation, humanity would not even know what it was like to be without God.  Barth writes:
"Revelation itself is needed for knowing that God is hidden and man blind.  Revelation and it alone really and finally separates God and man by bringing them together." (CD I.2 §13.2 p. 29). 
Another powerful section was Barth's discussion of what it means that God becomes flesh.  God does not become flesh in general.  That is, human flesh is not generally capable of revealing God.  The fact that God becomes flesh is revelatory only in Jesus Christ.  As Barth writes:
"Really and originally, therefore, flesh as the possibility of the revelation of God is entirely and emphatically the possibility of Jesus Christ himself." (CD I.2 §13.2 p. 44).  
Yet, because God became flesh, humans are able to know God, because God has become familiar.  Yet even in this, God is still veiled in the same way that one human is veiled from another.

Now, I must say, I have been having frustrations with Barth recently.  I have not quite been able to put my finger on why.  Then this week, two blog posts unrelated to the Barth synchroblog caught my attention.  The first was A "Systematic" or "Ad Hoc" Theology over at Diglotting.  In this post, Kevin Brown shares his own discomfort with "systematic" theology because it attempts to impose a "univocality" on the text of the Bible, making it speak with one voice in all places.  As a biblical scholar, I am convinced that this is not the case. 

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I ran into Daniel Kirk's post about People of the Story of the Cross.  This is a post about how talking about the cross usually leads to discussion of atonement theory.  Yet, for Kirk, atonement theories are asking and answering questions that the NT itself neither asks nor answers.  For him, atonement theories (how the cross saves us) tell us that our vision of the cross as Christians is actually too small.  The cross is about much more than saving us.  The cross is about the Kingdom of God come to earth.  And this is best told not in the propositional statements of systematic theology (i.e., atonement theory), but rather in the context of story.  Here it is: here is why I find it hard to read Barth.  It is not because I see myself as smarter than Barth.  That is certainly not the case.  It is not even that I fully understand Barth and disagree with him, I often don't understand, and I often agree when I do.  My problem is that I think that most of the truths that the Bible is trying to communicate are best communicated through story, not propositional statements as necessitated by systematic theology.  

Well, that is all that I can say at the moment as my brain is full.  Go and read the posts by Kirk and Brown, they are much better than this rambling I am sure.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rejection, Acceptance, and the Whirlwind

As a Ph.D. graduate, I am not used to rejection, at least not in the academic world.  I was accepted at both undergraduate institutions to which I applied.  The same went for both Seminaries and the one Ph.D. program.  I have always excelled academically, have always been accepted heartily.  I had some hiccups with my dissertation, but it was accepted eventually.  I even got an acceptance for publication on my dissertation at the first publication house I submitted to.  So, I was not good at rejection.

Yet, the last 2 years have been a hard lesson in rejection.  At latest count, I have been rejected by somewhere between 45-50 schools in my search for a professorship, lectureship, visiting lectureship, etc.  I have had phone interviews, video interviews, and campus interviews, but still, rejections came flooding in.  They are always kind and cordial: "we had over 150 well qualified applicants and we are sorry to inform you..." "We assure you that you were a wonderful candidate, but..."

Life was getting tough, the prospect of the future of my career was fading.  I was contemplating other options: should I go into the pastorate, should I try to teach religion at private prep schools?  Should I change careers altogether.

Yet, with all of these rejections, it just takes one acceptance, and I am so pleased that I have been offered a position of Assistant Professor of New Testament and Theology at Chowan University starting this Fall, and I must say, that I am now thankful for all of the previous rejections.  Chowan is such a great fit for me and my wife.  I absolutely love it.  It is a small Christian school with a Baptist heritage.  It is in a small, quiet, and picturesque town.  The people are wonderful, the students are too, and I can't wait to start.  Herein lies the problem, the Chowan offer has set off a whirlwind in my life.

Actually, the whirlwind really began with their call for a video interview.  Three weeks ago, my life was quiet.  I was cruising to the end of the semester, preparing for Summer and perhaps a career adjustment.  Then came the call from Chowan, and since then things have progressed at breakneck speed. 

The video interview happened on a Saturday just over 2 weeks ago.  It was filled with technical difficulties and time was cut short. I questioned whether I really got to represent myself.  The following Tuesday I was invited for a campus interview with the caveat that I had to fly out on Easter Sunday.  An Easter flight, followed by an all day Monday interview and an all day travel back to Texas on Monday went by in a flash. 

I arrived home Monday to a house that had been broken into (bring on Murfreesboro, North Carolina with its low crime rate) and a literal whirlwind as my wife and I huddled in the guest room closet for protection from the tornado that touched down right outside of Waco that Monday night.  That week was furiously busy with work, and on Friday I received a call and an offer to come work for Chowan.  Ahhh, what a relief, what a blessing, what excitement.  I accepted the position that evening, and, as if the pace of life could have increased, now I have an even bigger whirlwind: figuring out how to pack, sell a house, move, prepare courses, transition out of life in Waco and into life in North Carolina.  It all seems overwhelming, but in that deliciously overwhelming sort of way.  I am stressed, but it is that good stress, the stress brought on by excitement.  Life is wonderful.  Now, off to packing for a trip to the Rio Grande Valley for Mother's Day.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Barth I.1 §12.1-2

In this, the last section of I.1, Barth discusses the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit.  He approaches this section much like the previous sections, with two subsections: God the Redeemer, and the Eternal Holy Spirit. 

I found myself slogging through this section, getting bogged down again in the philosophical speculation about what must be true about God based (very loosely and derivatively) on the biblical witness. 

Important points: God the Creator has created the World.  God the Redeemer has come in the person of the Son.  Yet, how do we humans come to know this.  How do we come to faith in Jesus Christ as the redeemer.  Enter the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is a third mode of being of God and the person through whom humans can come to faith.  Barth refers to the Holy Spirit as a special element in revelation.  He writes:
"This special element in revelation is undoubtedly identical with what the New Testament calls the Holy Spirit as the subjective side in the event of revelation." (CD I.1 §12.1 p. 449).  
Or more specifically:
"when Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as an element in revelation we are dealing with an ability or capability which is given to man as the addressee of revelation and which makes him a real recipient of revelation." (CD I.1 §12.1 p.456).
Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the mode of God's being which instills in humans the capacity to receive the revelation of the Father and the Son.

In the second subsection, Barth discussed the eternality of the Holy Spirit.  Namely, God does not take on the character of the Holy Spirit only in revelation, but the Holy Spirit is God "antecedently in himself."  To discuss this, Barth makes the distinction between the immanent trinity (God in himself) and the economic trinity (God in his revelation).  For Barth, there cannot be a tension between these two.  God cannot be different "antecedently in himself" than he is "for us" in revelation.  What God is for us, God is "antecedently in himself." Thus, "antecedently in himself" the Holy Spirit is the mode of being in God as the love that flows between the the Father and the Son.

Here Barth weighs in on the filioque controversy.  Filioque, "and the Son," the type of controversy that just makes my eyes glaze over.  Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or just from the Father.  The Western Church went with the Father and the Son, whereas the Eastern Church preferred just the Father.  For Barth, the Eastern formulation, with the Holy Spirit proceeding just from the Father, is a matter of a tension between the immanent and economic trinities.  In the economic trinity the Holy Spirit clearly proceeds from the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit must be "antecedently in himself" what he is "for us" in revelation, so only the Western formulation is proper.

So, the Trinity: what to say?  The New Testament in its totality, I beleive, speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, yet not three God's but one God, the God of Israel, none other than Yahweh.  So, three persons, one God.  Yet, the NT does not explain how this is possible, it does not speak about three persons in one essence (homoousios).  It does not speak about perichoresis or the mutual interpenetration of all three persons of the trinity such that all three persons of the trinity must participate fully in the actions of the others.  These are products of later philosophical speculation on what it means to speak of one God in three modes of being.  Are these speculations, and the conclusions which the orthodox church came to based on these speculations, necessary?  Are they the only way to work out the doctrine of God?  And if so, why so little concern with these questions in the text of the NT itself?  Just curious. 

Well, I.1 is finished.  On to I.2, which is significantly longer than I.1.  I am still enjoying Barth, although he frustrates me at times, as I am sure you can tell if you have been reading my posts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Barth I.1 §11.1-2

If I had been following Dr. Kirk's schedule for reading Barth's Church Dogmatics, I would now be finished with I.1 and looking at a week of rest, a week off from this discipline.  As it is, I am now a full week behind, so there will be no rest for the weary and Kirk's break in the schedule will allow me a chance to get caught up. 

For those wanting to Jump in on Barth reading with I.2, Kirk offers the Barth year of jubilee, a time of release where those interested can pick back up on this rewarding project.

In §11 I am back to really liking Barth, but with minor reservations (see below).  Barth is now discussing the second person of the Trinity, God the Reconciler, God the Son, the Word of God, Jesus Christ. There are some phenomenal passages in this section where Barth's humility comes through, yet with astounding confidence.  In the previous sections on the Trinity, I have been a little put off by the speculative theology and philosophy in which Barth engages as he strays from the text of scripture.  Yet, I do not begrudge him this task, I do think it is important.  Yet in this section, while still engaging in this sort of theology, Barth is humble, saying that we are here butting up against the limitations of human thought and language in our attempt to understand God.

This section, entitled "God the Son" is broken into two subsections: 1) God as Reconciler, and 2) The Eternal Son.  Both sections further explore the relationship of the Father to the Son, specifically looking at God in his mode of being as reconciler and Son.  Barth places great emphasis on the full divinity of Jesus Christ.  One must avoid the two extremes of adoptionism/Ebionitism on the one hand, and Docetism on the other.  Jesus was not a great human, a superhuman or demi-god who attained deity, nor was he a deity who only appeared human.

Jesus Christ is the true revelation of God.  Jesus reveals God the Father, and God is revealed as the Son.  Both modes of being are proper to God, and both are revealed in Jesus Christ.

In the second subsection, Barth discusses the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ, we see God "for us."  Yet, this "for us" was not the beginning of the Sonship of Jesus Christ.  Christ is eternally the Son, his Sonship does not consist only in the incarnation of God "for us" but exists as a proper relationship of God to himself in two modes of being.  Christ is the Son of God "antecedently in Himself" before the historical event of the incarnation.

The last 25 pages of this section deal with Barth's exposition of an ancient creed, the Symb. Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanum, which says the following about the Son:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ
The only begotten Son of God
Begotten of the Father before all ages
Light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made
Of one substance (ὁμοούσιον) with the Father
Through whom all things were made

Barth goes through this creed nearly word by word, explaining the significance of each.  For Barth, this creed represents the orthodox dogma of the relationship of the Father and Son.  I must say, that in general I really liked this section.  I found, that though there was much theological speculation, Barth does so with great humility.

My favorite section was when Barth was talking about how this creed is made up of many metaphors, and that in these figures of speech, we have truth, but it is also untruth, it is true knowledge, but not a knowledge that can grasp and fully contain its object.  Once again, the freedom of God is preserved, God cannot be contained in the language or thought of humans.

A couple of quotes about the limits of human thought and language in its attempt to describe God:

In discussing the metaphor of the Son of God being begotten:
"all this may be expressed and on all this we must be able to be silent again.  The knowledge expressed in the metaphor is a non-knowing knowledge.  It should regard itself as a knowing non-knowledge.  Like every human word--though this is seldom so clear as here--it can only serve the Word which God Himself says about Himself.  In this figure, which even in itself and as such denotes the deepest mystery in creaturely life, we can and should think of everything that can be meaningfully thought of in relation to the Father-Son relation in God, and we should then say: We are unprofitable servants, we have only thought and said in figures what we were under obligation to do, but we cannot claim that what we have thought and said is correct." (CD I.1 §11.2 p. 432)
And again, speaking of the metaphor of Jesus as the eternal Word of God:
"Yet we must not disguise the fact that on our lips and in our concepts this way of speaking is also inappropriate.  We do not know what we are saying when we call Jesus Christ the eternal Word of God.  We know no word which, though distinct from a speaker, still contains and reproduces the whole essence of the speaker.  We know no Logos with an adequate Nous-content [mind-content] and no Nous which can be exhaustively expressed in a Logos.  We know no thought or speech which can transcend the antithesis of knowledge and being in triumphant synthesis.  In short, we know no true word." (CD I.1 §11.2 p.436).
Nevertheless, Barth insists that to speak this way is necessary, to try and describe God to the limits of our language and thought is the task of the dogmatician, and I agree.

Here is where my reservation comes in.  It is not that I have a problem of Barth's theological investigation and pressing the limits of human language and thought.  I think it is fascinating, good, and necessary.  Yet, I am a biblical scholar.   My task is to try and become a better reader of the Bible, and to teach others to do so.  That includes teaching people to read the story of the Bible and take from it what that story tells, not to go beyond what the story speaks to us.  Technically, this is called exegesis, or literally, a "leading out" of the scripture what it has to say.  The opposite, eisegesis, or "leading into" the scripture is what I try to avoid and try to teach others to avoid.  When Barth, prompted as he contends by scripture, engages in his theological speculation of what we can and must say about God, that is well and good.  I have no problem with it.  But then, it is all too easy to take this theological system that has been created and read it back into the story of the Bible (eisegesis).  To take this system and impose it on the narrative of scripture in a way that is unnatural to the story itself, that is to me a problem, because it is all to prevalent.  People (including myself) do it all the time unconsciously.  But, I strive to limit my eisegesis and to constantly be on guard against it.  So, herein lies my reservations about Barth's theology.  It is great, but one must constantly be on guard against reading this later trinitarian theology back into the narrative of the Bible itself.  Instead, let the bible speak afresh, and if from time to time that means that the Bible does not have a perfectly orthodox Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanian theology, then so be it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Barth I.1 §9.3-§10.2

In these sections Barth wraps up his discussion in the Trinity proper and then begins to discuss God the Father (which turns out to be more discussion on the Trinity).

The mystery of the trinity.  God is three in one.  God is unity with distinction and distinction in unity.  All analogies break down.  As Barth writes:
"In the doctrine of the Trinity our concern is with unity in trinity and trinity in unity.  We cannot advance beyond these two obviously one-sided and inadequate formulations." (CD I.1 §9.3 p. 368).  
Barth's term for God is thus the "Triunity" of God (Dreieinigkeit, three-in-oneness).

There are two big concepts that are perhaps helpful to state here.  The first is perichoresis or what could be translated as "mutual interpenetration." That is, when speaking about the different modes of being in the Trinity, while distinct, they mutually participate in all of the actions and attributes of the other.  Therefore, for Barth, the Father is the creator, but so is the Son and the Spirit.

The other is that of appropriation in which we attribute certain aspects of Godhood to one or another of the different modes of being.  Therefore, the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Reconciler, and the Spirit is the Redeemer. This is proper, according to Barth because it is thus in the Bible. 

As an example of this "appropration" Barth writes,
"One cannot say of God the Father that He was conceived and born, that He suffered, died, and rose again.  One also cannot say of Him that there had to be prayer for His coming and that He was to be poured out on all flesh.  For one think all these statements stand in affinity to the relation of the Son or the Spirit to the Father and not vice versa." (CD I.1 §10.2 p. 397). 
To me, these two aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity border on the nonsensical.  It is proper to say that all members of the Trinity interpenetrate one another but at the same time they do not.  Once again, I understand what Barth and other theologians are trying to do (I think), but it stretches logic beyond its breaking point.

My favorite quote, by far, with regard to the Trinity is as follows:
"All theological favoritisms are thus forbidden: the one-sided belief in God the Father which was customary in the Enlightenment; the so-called Christocentrism which Pietism loved and still loves, and finally all the nonsense that is and can be perpetrated with isolated veneration of the Spirit." (emphasis added, please, Barth, what nonsense are you talking about? CD I.1 §10.2 p. 395).
Briefly, in the section on God the Father as Creator, Barth makes some important points.  God is the eternal Father, that is, he eternally has a fatherhood relationship with the eternal son.  God does not become father, but is father eternally.  Perhaps more importantly, the analogy of God as father only works one way.  God is not father like human fathers are fathers, that would be to reverse the analogy.  Instead, any dignity that is found in human fathership is only so derivatively from God's eternal fatherhood.

One of the most interesting sections in this reading was when Barth spoke about Jesus as seen in the Bible.  He goes out of his way to say that the Bible represents Jesus not as God, or specifically as the Lord (i.e., Yahweh), but rather as separate from the Lord and a representative of the Lord. This of course is in the small print section and Barth does not counter these statements.  Here is one snippet:
"What is beyond question is that the κύριος  Ἰησοῦς Χριστός [Lord Jesus Christ] is separate from and subordinate to Θεὸς πατὴρ." (CD I.1 §10.1 p. 385).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Reflection

This poem of G.K. Chesterton was on the cover of my church's worship guide this morning and it struck both me and my wife in a powerful way. 


The Convert

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

--GK Chesterton

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Barth I.1 §8.3-§9.2

The Trinity.  Oh, the perplexing problem of the Trinity. 

In these sections, Barth continues his discussion of the Trinity, and I must say, that after reading his discussion, it is no less a mystery. 

Let us deal with his discussion of the vesigium trinitatis first.  Are there vestiges of the Trinity in nature, culture, history, etc.?   That is, because God created this world, might there not be signs or vestiges, little bits of this world that reflect the trinity of God?  It seems reasonable.  But, according to Barth, the answer is a resounding NO!  Barth is sympathetic with the attempts to use such images as analogies to try and understand the Trinity, but views them as dangerous.  And the reason is that there should only be one root of the Trinity and that is revelation attested by scripture.  Only God can reveal his triune nature.  We cannot first find it in nature and then derive the trinity of God from such.  So, vestiges such as "spring, stream, and lake,"  "water, ice, steam," "Old Testament Age, New Testament Age, Age of the Church" are not really reflections of God's nature, but are attempts to understand the nature of God through more familiar images.

Now, on to Barth's discussion of the Trinity in §9.  I will not rehearse his arguments here.  They are the common arguments used in the Trinitarian controversies in the 3rd and 4th centuries.  Barth is not really positing anything new, but he does suggest the replacement of the term "person" with "mode of being."  That is, whereas the previous formulation was that there was "One God in three Persons,"  should now be "One God in three Modes of Being."

Since the beginning, Christians have attempted to explain two things: 1) they are monotheists, and 2) There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. 

In trying to explain this, there is always a danger of falling into two primary heretical traps.  On one side, the accusation of tritheism is apparent, namely that Christians worship three Gods.  On the other side, the accusation of modalism is apparent, namely that Christians are speaking of one God who wears three masks.  Barth admits this is a danger.  He writes:
"We, too, are unable to avoid the fact that every step of ours in this field is exposed to danger, whether the threat comes from the tritheistic heresy or from the modalist heresy, or whether there be on either side suspicion of the opposite error." (CD I.1 §9.2 p. 368).
 Thus, in trying to avoid these errors, Barth employs philosophical language meant to steer a middle course, to say God is one essence, but exists in three distinct modes of being, yet at the same time that these modes of being are distinct, the unity is not dissolved, yet the unity does not swallow up the distinction.  What?

The problem here is that the doctrine of the Trinity attempts to explain a mystery that cannot be explained.  Humans have no analogy to the trinity, in fact, the concept of the Trinity defies basic logic.  Three cannot be one and three at the same time.  Yet, nonetheless, Christians profess their monotheism while at the same time professing that God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

I think the reason that I have never been taken with the explanations of the doctrine of the Trinity has to do with my personality type.   I am an INTJ.  INTJs love deep thought.  We love logic games and puzzles, we love philosophical language and distinctions, so long as eventually we end up with a final product that can be directly applied to our real and concrete lives or the lives of those around us.  INTJs are thinkers, but not thinking for thinking's sake, but rather thinking for the sake of application.  The problem I have with discussions of the Trinity is not that I don't understand all of the philosophical language and the reasons for stating things as carefully as possible, but rather because, at the end of these discussions, I am no closer to actually understanding the Trinity in a way that has application.  It is like a mental exercise with no payoff.  At the end the mystery is still a mystery, and I am OK with that.  As Barth writes:
"On all sides good care is thus taken to see that the mysterium trinitatis remains a mystery." (CD I.1 §9.2 p. 368).
I would prefer to say that as God encounters us in the Bible, he does so as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: One God, three modes of being.  Beyond that, I prefer to think about other matters.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Ideas

Every year when I teach Christian Heritage at Baylor (Church history and Theology), I always have students who are shocked that some aspect of their progressive church worship that they thought was new and innovative was actually practiced by this or that person in Church history.  Take the small group phenomenon over that past 20 years or so.  Well, sorry guys, John Wesley beat you to the punch on that one with his "classes" in the early Methodist church.

What about loud, free, raucous worship so often practiced in the charismatic movement, sorry, not new either.  Try the camp meetings of the first and second great awakenings in America.

So, here is a good rule of thumb I think:

If you ever think you have a new good idea, search for it in history.  It is not that new ideas don’t exist.  New ideas come about all the time.  But, new good ideas are very rare.  If you think you have a good idea that is new, chances are you can find someone somewhere that has had it before.  If it is truly new, it is probably not truly good, and if it is truly good, it is probably not truly new.

Unfortunately this goes for dissertations as well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Barth I.1 §8.1-2

In these sections Barth begins to discuss his doctrine of revelation, and jumps immediately into the doctrine of the trinity.  For Barth, the doctrine of the trinity is an essential part of any theology.

For Barth, the essential and most important question in theology is: who is God?  Yet for Barth, this question cannot be answered apart from two other questions, namely: what does God do? and what is the effect?  It is in these three questions and their answers that Barth finds the doctrine of the trinity.  Namely, God is the Revealer, Revelation itself, and the Revealing. 

Now, Barth is careful to say that the trinity is not strictly biblical, by which he means we find no explicit doctrine of the trinity in the Bible.  He does believe that the Bible prefigures the trinity, but does not develop this.  But he does say that the biblical attestation to revelation is the "root" of the trinity.  That is, for Barth, what the Bible says about revelation necessitates the doctrine of the trinity. Therefore, the doctrine of the trinity is church work, it is exegesis, it is analysis of what one finds in the biblical attestation to revelation.

Then Barth goes on to develop his doctrine of revelation.  He uses the following definition: "Revelation in the Bible means the self-unveiling, imparted to men, of the God who by nature cannot be unveiled to men." (CD I.1 §8.2 p. 315).  Barth then elaborates on this definition in three parts:

1) In the first part, Barth concentrates on the self-unveiling of God.  He does this by saying that God differentiates himself from himself, he takes a step toward the event of revelation.  As Barth writes:
"He himself must make a step towards this event; to the extent that this step obviously means something new in God, a self-distinction of God from himself, a being of God in a mode of being that is different from though not subordinate to his first and hidden mode of being as God, in a mode of being, of course, in which he can also exist for us." (CD I.1 §8.2 p. 316).
In this self-unveiling, God steps out of eternity into temporality in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is Revelation, is the self-unveiling of God.

2) In the second part Barth focuses on the last section of the definition, namely "the God who by nature cannot be unveiled to men."  Here Barth is emphasizing the hiddenness of God.  Even by taking temporal form, this form does not become the possession of humanity.  Even in concrete form, God is free to reveal or conceal as he wills. Even in this form, God always remains a mystery.  As Barth writes:
In it [temporal form] God cannot be grasped by man or confiscated or put to work... if this were so, the revelation in question would not be that of the God who by nature cannot be unveiled to man.  We should simply have one of those mysteries that one day unveil themselves to us and are mysteries no more.  The mysteries of the world are of such a kind that some day they can cease to be mysteries.  God is always a mystery." (CD I.1 §8.2 p. 321).
3) In part 3, Barth focuses on the middle term in the definition, "imparted to men." This term, for Barth, means that God's revelation is an historical event.  Yet, he does not label this "historical" as other historical events are "historical."  That is, this event cannot be grasped by humans.  It comes at specific times to specific people.  That is why Barth labels it as historical.  That revelation is historical means that it came to specific people at a specific time and place, and it cannot be repeated.

My mind is buzzing at this point and is too full, so I leave with one comment.

Barth moves very quickly to the doctrine of the trinity, almost as a presupposition of Christian dogmatics, without much argumentation or support, as if, given the text of the Bible, the doctrine of the trinity is a necessary and immediate consequence of reading the Bible.  Yet, Church history clearly puts that assertion to lie in the fact that Christians used many different formulations of the relationship of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the first four centuries of the church before formalizing the doctrine of the trinity in the fifth century.  Perhaps Barth will come back and argue and explain the trinity more fully later.