Friday, March 27, 2009

The Tower of Babel. This time it's personal (beginnings)

Actually, this is not a post directly about the tower incident, as I am not there yet. But Genesis 11 is mostly a genealogy. And it's like I always say, genealogies are an ancient text's awkward segway. ACtually that is the first time I have ever used that phrase, but it won't be the last. Just as a genealogy separated Adam from Noah, this genealogy distinguishes Noah through the Tower of Babel. A few key points based on the characters who stand out with descriptions other than "begatten":

1) Nimrod (vv8-12): Described as a hunter and civilization builder. He also built the city of Babylon, which would likely have been the site for the tower. Though he is portrayed as an impressive man, his legacy leaves much to be desired. One almost gains the sense that cities are frowned upon when you consider future episodes (tower is destroyed, shepherds are promoted, kings generally fail). In fact, that is the basis of one of Ellul's books (which I haven't read, but I did sleep at a La Quinta inn last week). All that to say, Nimrod is known for conquest and power. He creates the cities that become primary enemies to Jerusalem. He uses his God-given dominion to dominate humans (consequence of the Fall. Notice the perpendiculars? [opposite of parallels] between the garden: creation vs building, relationships vs society, human equality vs human ruler).

2) Peleg (v 25)): Named because of what happened in his lifetime, the division of the earth. Probably referring to the Babel incident, especially considering that this is the last generation named in the genealogy. It could also refer to other cultural divides, or even geological events (i.e. earthquake). Considering its position in the text, I think it's probably a transition from genealogy to event.

3) Jobab (v 29): Who said Joe Bob wasn't a biblical name? Of course, Jobab was originally from Chicago, hence the mispronunciation.

More twitter fun.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Must-See response to my previous post

Little did I know that Jacque Lellul had already responded to my post over 15 years ago. Please take the time to watch this episode of his interview. For the whole program, go here

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Technology and the Reformation

There were a few key points that kept coming up throughout last weekend's conference. At first sight, they seem like great ideas. Upon further ponderation, though, I began to question the validity of these arguments. The ideas go something like this:

1) The Great Reformation happened largely because of sacerdotalism (the priests were given/took all the power in the church). As a result, a few missionally minded folks including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingly, took true religion to the people. The idea that arose from this mindset was Luther's "priesthood of all believers". When people could access the religion, they took it and incarnated it into whatever context they lived.

2) Somehow today the leadership of the church (whether through professionalization of leadership or power struggles or apathy on the congregants' part) has once again come out on top. Church leaders today need to lead once again rather than delegate from the top. We should use any means necessary to redefine the church and her mission (including twitter, which apparently every church should be doing).

3) Form follows function. In other words, our structure of worship ought to reflect our values/beliefs/purpose of meeting.

While I see the connection between church leadership today and that of the medieval era, I cannot help but think that the cause of the rifts is far different than it once was. If the cause is different, cannot also the solution be?

The cause of the Reformation was due largely (though not entirely) to the availability of the Bible for everyday folk. Because of the printing press, pamphlets on theology as well as copies of the Bible were suddenly readily available. The written word led to a certain pattern of thinking. Let us not forget that the medium is the message. Written text reinforced linear thinking, which reinforced the modern worldview. The way they received Scripture influenced their worldview. Our conference was created under the assumption that media is neutral.

If we want to connect to our postmodern culture, we ought to use visual rather than linear media. This is obvious when a person sees the popularity of youtube versus blogger. Our MTV culture has created a different set of neural pathways through which information is filtered than that of the medieval era. Our minds are fundamentally altered.

Not only that, but TV watching is an incredibly passive activity. A person burns more calories sleeping than watching TV. The medium is the message. If we go with the cultural flow, perhaps we will only lead our congregations into a deeper mire of narcissistic self gratification than they are already in.

Should the church wholeheartedly accept technological advancement, including twitter?

Another astonishing development is the speed of technological advancement. Written word had centuries of influence. TV has had roughly 50 years of influence. The internet 20. Facebook, 7. Twitter, 2. How long until the next technology? How long until we sing this same song and dance the same dance with the next, greatest system of information distribution? We have no idea what effect the internet has in a longitudinal study, let alone social networking.

God grant us wisdom in understanding our times and technologies. And choosing wisely which avenues to pursue.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Here is an excellent article by John Stackhouse re: Obama's gaffes last week on Leno. Decide for yourselves.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

kingdom mission 1

here at the kingdom mission conference in sacramento, trying to figure out how to get twitter to connect with their address. Feeling incredibly technologically incompetent right about now. If I get twitter working in the next five minutes or so, great. otherwise, I might just give up.

Edit:  I hate twitter.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Believe with your...heart?

I was just thinking about atonement. You know, one of those random moments of pondering. Actually, my thinking was induced by an email I received about The Shack from James Neely. The email led to an interview which led to a response.

It seems atonement (the theory of what Jesus dying on the cross actually did) is a hot topic in evangelical theology today. The reaction on the interview was very afraid. Of what, I don't know. He kept explaining that if you don't believe in the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, you are a heretic. Not wrong, a heretic. I wonder if he recognizes that one of the first Trinitarian theologians was a condemned heretic? Because an author disagrees on one point you shouldn't read his book? What if the book does not even talk about the topic? It is an interesting question that would drastically reduce my reading list.

All this got me thinking about what the Bible says regarding becoming a Christian: confess with your mouth and believe with your heart. Isn't the head the main believing organ? could they be talking about something other than an assent to mental orthodoxy?

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Question and Answer (review)

This past week, I started and finished The Church in Emerging Culture (Sweet ed., 2001), which is a collection of 5 essays from various experts in their streams of faith. There is a Methodist, Reformed, Orthodox, Evangelical, and Emergent perspective on how the church should interact with culture. This book is definitely no Christ and Culture. Though it is interesting to read the perspectives of seven years ago and compare them with the church today. It seeks to answer whether we should change our methods and/or message for our culture, and to what degree.

The book is 60% lame, 30% okay, and 10% amazing. Ultimately, it is the perspective I have never heard that makes the 10% great, the orthodox. Frederica Methewes-Green writes this essay in question-answer format, and here are some excerpts (Questions bold, answers not):

"Why does life seem like great weariness, vanity, and striving after wind? Because although he knows us, we do not know him very well. We are lonely and empty because we do not know him very well. We are vacant inside, deafened by the continual wind of our emptiness, and only his presence can fill us. Yet we fail to know him well. Sometimes this is because we don't want to know him and sometimes because we don't know how.

Why do people continually want to revise the prevailing view of Jesus?To relieve the pain of this dilemma by changing Jesus into something we can understand.

What is Jesus' alternative plan?
To change us into something that can understand him.

Do we misunderstand him because our message or methods are outdated? Perhaps in part. But the main reason is that he is scary. Another factor is that he is deep." . . .

"What has the culture to do with this? Christ has compassion on those who are harassed and helpless because they do not know their shepherd. The culture is the ever-changing weather conditions that these sheep must endure, which they try to respond to as best they can, though they are confused and wounded. Protection and rescue of individual sheep is our primary goal. It is less worthwhile to try to change the weather. We may occasionally have isolated success, but it appears that every weather pattern will have both good and bad elements, and weather itself is bound to be a perennial phenomenon.

How can we convert the culture? Culture cannot be converted. Only individuals can be converted. God knows how to reach each individual; every conversion is an inside job. We cooperate by listening attentively for God's directions and speaking the right words at the right moment, doing a kind deed, bearing Christ's light and being his fragrance on the lifes of people we know."

"Is the goal to develop spotless doctrine? No. the goal is to know Christ."

My personal favorite: "Humility, in fact, is the single most important exercise. How does humility change us? When we see ourselves as teh chief of sinners, we no longer take offense at wrongs done to us. We forgive others as we ourselves are fogiven. We love even our enemies. We no longer judge"

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Waxing and Waning of Process Theology

Okay, you got me. I don't "actually know what waxing and waning is". But thanks to the folks over at the Transforming Theology Bloggers Consortium do. I was sent some materials with which to interact, and they emphasize a (reasonably) new phenomenon called Process Theology. Today I am going to interact with the presuppositions behind said Process Theology and in other posts will discuss in more depth the actual theological articulations given me. I am working from Process Theology: an Introductory introduction by John B. Cobb Jr.

Let me first direct you to, which is where this conversation is being had.

Here is the key to process theology: "Process theology is a philosophical theology . . . [it] claims to facilitate the recovery of biblical ways of thinking over against their distortion or veiling by the excessive influence of Greek modes of though--and modern ones as well (p7)." In other words, one of the primary goals of process theology is to rid itself of theology's cultural assumptions which distort the search for truth.

My primary question for process theologians is: At what point does tearing through greek presuppositions start tearing through the meaning of the thought? In other words, how far can we divorce greek thought from Jewish thought?

I have no doubt that this goal is an admirable one. In fact, postmodernity's best contribution to the world in my opinion is the attempt to recognize presuppositions and be as objective as possible (while realizing it is impossible to remain entirely neutral). As a result, Process Theology seeks to understand God through a more semitic lense.

The obvious problem here is that by viewing God through a semitic lense, we subject ourselves to semitic biases as well. But there is a bigger problem than even this in my estimation. Process theology neglects to recognize that it is impossible to separate first century ancient near east culture from the greek heritage imposed upon it through the conquest of Alexander the Great. While certain sects of Judaism sought to rid themselves of the greek worldview, by and large the culture of the time was hellenistic.

We must also recognize that greek philosophy had as many variations as any other thought process. What Cobb is really driving at (and I wish he were intellectually honest in this point) is that process theology seeks to take theology out of a platonic duality. In seeking to remove a false binary (recovering a holistic view of theology rather than a dualistic one), Cobb effectively creates a new one (attempting to separate 1st cent. ANE thought from its greek heritage). The idea is nice and clean, in the trenches it's not so much.

Kind of like a home improvement project, ones plans, however elaborate, do not necessarily correspond with reality. To put it another way, if you are working on plumbing on a sunday, you may have to call up Joe and ask him to open Ace Hardware especially for you to finish the job.

Unfortunately, ripping the greek out of theology is as far as process theology goes in its philosophical foundation. If the only purpose is to dissect (or deconstruct) a worldview that is impossible to ascertain in the first place, theology cannot travel far. Process theology is found on many deeper principles, but they are not explicitly mentioned in this little piece. After this point, Cobb demonstrates how process theologians do this, which is a subject for another post.

Things I appreciate thus far about process theology: the attempt at finding truth in the midst of obscurity (clarity with regard to how much our worldviews have influenced us), the practicality of theology (if theology doesn't change our actions, what good is it?), and openness to conversation and tension.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Scariest two words I know

I try to refrain from political banter on this site, since so many people are so much better prepared. Why say something if someone else says it better? Of course, I say a lot about biblical studies, and people say better things all the time . . . I do feel like I'm a little more in my league in that area, though.

President Obama has been using a phrase that scares me to death. "Only Government" this was his excuse for spending a trillion dollars, as if Americans aren't able to spend that much. If Americans stopped eating Ice Cream for a year and instead gave that money to feed the hungry, there would be no hungry people left. Full disclosure: I have a carton of ice cream in my freezer right now.

Now it's only government that can decide the ethics of research. For whatever reason, only government can decide that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or, embryos can be sacrificed to the gods of progress. Wherever you fall on the issue (I simply don't like my money being spent on something that has not shown significant progress, let alone the ethical ramifications . . . which is why I buy stocks of well run companies, not fanciful idealistic ones), the fact is that only the people can decide on what the government does.

Ultimately, we should be chanting, "only the people" rather than "only government". Or have I lost my way?

Full disclosure: I am also an american who is generally proud of his country and the self-balancing system originally intended by the founding fathers, even though the electoral college is a mess.

Hit the Reset Button (Genesis)

Continuing in Genesis, the next major narrative is that of Noah. Again Noah is described as another Adam. He walks with God. However, the earth is shown to be devastated. Not just humanity, but the earth (humanity itself is later mentioned).

The earth is again described, essentially, as formless and void. Chaotic. Tohu va vohu (the hebrew translation, which is probably more aptly translated as chaos). After humans are set to their own devices, the result is a chaotic mess. "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. (v11). God wants a redo.

Chaos permeates all the earth. God covers the earth once again with water. Instead of God's Spirit hovering over the water (and this may be a stretch), God's image floats on top of it.

God brings shalom/peace/order out of the Tohu va vohu, but we bring the order back to chaos. God literally covers the earth with water once again in his do-over, but preserves a remnant (described as His faithful people) who does their job of dominion (by protecting and providing for the animals). The remnant will be mentioned in future books as well, and will always include those who are two things: 1) God's chosen people. 2) God's faithful people. Some claim only one of these things, and are then excluded (think 1st century pharisees).

Though i'd like to consider the sons of God/nephilim debate, very little of substance comes from the issue. My guess is that the sons of God describe the lineage of Adam, whereas the women they marry are not (of course I assume that Adam and Eve were not the only creation of humans).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Biblical Vegetables. (Genesis)

I won't lie to you, I haven't chopped down a cherry tree. Nor was I looking forward to recording genealogies from Genesis today. However, i noticed something I hadn't noticed before, and it must be read in light of Gen 1-4.

The organization of this genealogy goes like this: When (person 1) lived (age) years, he became the father of (person 2). And after he became the father of (person 2) he lived (age) years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, (person 1) lived (age) years, and then he died.

The first entry is significant. It begins, once again, with the image of God. Adam was created in the likeness of God. However, Seth was made in the image of Adam, which is the same image of God. This begs the question, as generations procreate, is the image of God more and more distorted like a xerox machine loses quality when copying copies of copies? Probably not.

In the middle entries, notice two aspects: procreation and death. Procreation was God's command for his people. This command becomes a promise a little further down the road (Abraham). The consequence of sin (death) is always mentioned for each person, too.

The other unusual entry is that of Enoch, the man who did not die. In fact, in the midst of this genealogy of people we know little about, God begins reversing the fall. Enoch walked with God (like Adam and Eve), rather than just lived. Enoch went back to the garden (and pre-cain for that matter). The consequence: no death. God takes Enoch away, restoring the us -> God relationship from the Fall

And then the genealogy continues in normal format until Noah, who will also be used to help reverse the consequences of the Fall: toiling. "He named him Noah and said, "He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed". Restoring the us -> earth relationship of the Fall.

Friday, March 6, 2009

When was the last time you read Cain and Abel? (Genesis)

I realized as I was transcribing today that I haven't heard this story as often as I thought. At least not the whole story. It is remarkably like the sin of Adam and Eve.

God asks the same questions (Where are you?/Where is your brother?), opening up the avenue for honesty. God is in relationship with Cain all along (how is it diff. than adam/eve in the garden).

The answer of the question is a diversion from the topic (I"m naked/ I'm not his keeper)

The consequences are similar (weeds, sweat of brow/Land will not give its fruit)

Enter the theme of land and either entering or being driven from it. For A&E it was the garden. . . exiled. For Cain it was wherever he went after that. . . exiled. Noah's next and the whole world will be. . . exiled. How can we only focus on heaven when land is over every page of the Bible? (cf. Wright, Surprised by Hope; NT and the People of God) For Cain, to wander is to lose his anchor, lifestyle, and in an ancient near east world, one's local god.

All of life is wrapped up in the consequences of our actions. Our relationships with God, others, and the world are all affected (cf McKnight, Embracing Grace).

Interesting, the idea of city comes in after this. Where was the city before? Were Adam and Eve unique after all, or were there other humans? When and where did this city arise from? There is an interesting discussion of origins over at Jesus Creed. Look for posts by RJS.

The picture painted by Genesis is less straightforward than we make it look sometimes. Do we embrace these tensions or try to solve them?

-P.s. coming soon: a theoblogger consortium post . . . kind of an online discussion of a thing called process theology.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Adam and his wife

As a result of the youthspecialties oneday conference I attended this past weekend, I have decided to write a transcript of the book of Genesis. Writing it out by hand causes me to slow down and think about the story more than my speed reading does. Instead of trying to cover as much ground as possible, I am trying to get the story right.

As I was writing gen 3 today, I noticed something I hadn't noticed before, at least I hadn't thought of. Adam was named long before Eve was. In fact, Adam was named at his inception, while Eve was not named until after the fall. Here are my two theories on why:

1) Adam and eve were considered one before the fall. Adam's namesake implied all humanity wrapped up in him and his relationship with Eve. They were so inseparably close that calling them different organisms would simply be inadequate.

2) Giving a name to something implies a form of control over that thing. Before the fall, Adam and eve were perfectly complementary. There was no need for Adam to name her, because they were equal. The consequence of the fall was a propensity for desiring dominion over each other. As a result, Adam begins this practice by naming Eve. While it appears harmless, even this act was the beginning of sinful separation between man and wife.

3) Adam was a procrastinator.

What do you think?