Monday, November 24, 2008
The show features historian and humanities professor Clay Jenkinson who responds to questions from the host as though he were Jefferson himself. Usually, toward the end of the program Jenkinson stops playing Jefferson and simply talks as himself with the host.
In yesterday's broadcast, Jenkinson, taking on the guise of Jefferson, had discussed the recent election of Barack Obama. "Jefferson" confessed to doubting the intellectual capacities of black people, and discounting evidence to the contrary. Like almost all the white people of his day, Jefferson was a racist.
When the conversation finally turned to Jenkinson discussing his own reactions to the recent election, he spoke with disapproval of some of those who attacked Obama and who promoted the candidacy of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Jenkinson mentioned Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and
a whole host of absolute bigots, including [James] Dobson . . issuing a newsletter basically saying "Don't vote for this man because he's a negro."
I was shocked. I had no doubt that because of Obama's positions on abortion and other issues, he was opposed by Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family. But I had not read or heard that Dobson even appeared to be racist in any of his rhetoric.
That's a very serious charge to be making against someone who, by all accounts, is a significant leader among conservative Protestants. So someone help me out here. Can the r-word stick to James Dobson? Or does Clay Jenkinson owe Dobson an apology?
Note: To hear Jenkinson's statement for yourself, go to the iTunes Store and search for the podcasts of The Thomas Jefferson Hour. The episode number is 744, entitled "Electoral College." Fast forward to minute 46:50 . . .
Thursday, November 20, 2008
It's a large mosaic that's made of baseball cards. But as it is with all mosaics, you don't see the baseball cards (tiles) when you first see this one. What you initially see is the big picture.
In this case the picture is the face of Babe Ruth. Only when you get closer do you realize that the Babe is depicted by a large number of creatively-placed cards. The effect is similar to that of a towering home run. It's fantastic. To get a taste of what I'm talking about, check out these photos.
Anyway, I've been reflecting lately about how a mosaic can resemble a piece of literature. I'm especially thinking about the books of the Bible. When a person first starts reading, he encounters it as a series of cards (each verse representing one card or tile, let's say).
Of course, this is true of any sort of reading. But people have ways of reading the Bible that don't match up with how they read anything else. I'm thinking about that method of Bible that study spends a lot of time looking at one or just a few verses. According to this method, the student will often skip from one verse to another verse found in a different book. The comparisons between the two passages seem very natural. In this method, a person or group might spend a half hour on one or two verses, with no big picture in sight.
Now, there's something to be said for this method. It can be engaging and instructive. Provided that it's governed by a healthy theology, it can itself be healthy. I've done some of this myself.
But there's also something to be said for looking at all the cards together at the same time in order to get the big picture. Of course, when it comes to Bible study, "the big picture" can refer to any one of a series found in ever-expanding frames. Some examples:
- A psalm or a parable can be the mosaic.
- So can a whole book, like Psalms or one of the Gospels.
- Old Testament scholars think that Deuteronomy through Kings (not counting Ruth) is a mosaic.
- New Testament scholars now treat Luke-and-Acts like one.
- Biblical theologians sometimes look at either the Old or the New Testament as a mosaic.
- Out from there, of course, is the Bible as a whole.
One problem that preachers and Bible teachers encounter is the challenge of teaching a text as it relates to and is informed by the larger whole. Let's face it, if a person preaches from, say, Romans chapter 5, there's a good chance that most of the audience will not hear the sermon in light of the whole letter.However, allowing a passage to be heard in the context of the larger whole is next to impossible given the time limitations we've placed on Bible classes and sermons. A few tiles here. A few baseball cards there. Never the whole mosaic.
Something closely related is the ironic dearth of biblical knowledge in the U.S., including in our churches. Read some of the sermons that were preached many years ago. It's amazing to hear how often the preachers could make a passing reference, knowing that most listeners would either catch the allusion, or at least want to figure it out.
But before I get too far off the track here, I want to say that what I'm describing is a real problem. It has the potential to frustrate teachers of the Word and impoverish churches. Christians should work to overcome it. So here are some of my questions:
1. What are some of the ways that churches--parents, elders, preachers, ministers of education, etc., etc.--can effectively work to make sure that the church sees the big picture(s) of the Bible?
2. Who are some of the teachers who most effectively overcome the problem I've described here?
3. Of the different churches you've known, which one knew its Bible the best? Why were they more knowledgable than the other congregations?
Friday, November 14, 2008
But Lewis wasn’t speaking of divorce in the usual sense of that word. He wasn't talking about marital divorce. He meant instead the divorce between Heaven and Hell; the real opposition between truth and falsehood; the radical distinction between good and evil. There is a real choice we have to make between the two, he said. And that choice of ours leads us to one of two very different destinies.
Why would he need to write a book about that? Because, explained Lewis, we fallen human beings want to accept a dangerous idea that just isn’t true. We somehow want to believe
that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable ‘either-or’; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain (p. 5).
Lewis was rejecting the notion that when it comes to how we live our lives, we can have it both ways. Instead, we must recognize a distinction and choose between right and wrong. In the end, such choices will make the difference between Heaven and Hell.
The Great Divorce was a strong attack against muddled thinking and life with no integrity. But those things haven’t gone away, have they? Sixty years later, people continue to accept the idea of no absolutes. When it comes to matters of faith we’re told that “All roads lead to the same place.” When it comes to morality and ethics, we’re told that you and I might hold convictions that completely contradict each other. But each is perfectly right to retain them as individuals. I can have my truth, and you can have yours. Nobody has to give up anything.
I don't know if it's true or not, but it makes a good story. You've heard it, I guess. A well-known philosopher gave a speech advancing the idea of relativism, no such thing as consistent, unified truth. In the question-and-answer session, he was asked, “Are you certain that you’re right?” to which he said, “Absolutely.” But no discrediting or embarrassment of such thinking will make it go away. People will keep believing and saying that, when it comes to how we live, we can have our cake and eat it too. Why? Because, deep down, that’s what we would like.
Into our world, sick with sin, enters the very first Psalm. It announces that there are only two ways; that those two ways are diametrically opposed; that they run in completely opposite directions:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law he meditates day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish (KJV, retouched by FVB).
Two ways, says the writer. Many centuries later, Jesus himself would affirm this view:
Enter by the narrow gate: for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14, RSV).
Two ways. Paul said the same thing:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8).
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Since the eighteenth century, a good number of biblical scholars have concluded that the historical references in these letters—sometimes called the Pastoral Epistles—are simply contrived and inaccurate. In this post, I won't take up the impressive linguistic evidence against the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals. But I do want to sort out the biblical text and other evidence which come together to shape the classic solution to the historical problems.
In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul points back to a time when he departed for Macedonia, urging Timothy to “remain on at Ephesus” (NASB). It’s obvious that this letter was written sometime later. But when was that?
We do know that Paul once traveled from Troas to the province of Macedonia. He was responding to his vision of a man pleading, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). However, there's no record in Acts 16 of Paul leaving Timothy in Ephesus. In fact, at that time, Paul could not have left Timothy to continue the mission in Ephesus, because he had not yet begun his work there. Ephesus was the most important city in the Roman province Asia, and Acts 16:6 tells us that Paul and Silas were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”
As an alternative, someone might say that 1 Timothy 1:3 points back instead to Acts 20:1. That verse tells us that Paul “left to go to Macedonia.” But in this case as well, Paul could not have left Timothy in Ephesus. Acts 19:22 says that while he was in Ephesus, Paul sent both Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia. The next time we meet Timothy, he is with Paul in Corinth (Acts 20:4). So there’s simply no point in the timeline of Acts when Paul went to Macedonia, leaving Timothy at Ephesus. But that is what 1 Timothy 1:3 implies that Paul did.
A similar problem presents itself when we read the letter to Titus. There we learn that Paul has evidently gone to the island of Crete and has left Titus there (Titus 1:5). But where do we read about this in the Book of Acts? We don't.
Finally, we come to Second Timothy, the only one of these three letters written from prison. At first glance, it might seem as though Paul wrote this letter during his confinement recorded at the end of Acts. But again, the picture in the letter and the picture in Acts do not agree. For one thing, Acts 28:30 speaks of Paul living in a rented house or apartment. Verse 31 says that he was able to receive and teach anyone who came to see him.
What’s more, Paul fully expected to be released. For example, during this time he writes to the Philippians, “I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (1:19). A few verses later he says “I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again” (1:25-26). In his letter to Philemon (v. 22), Paul requests that a place be prepared for him to stay once he arrives.
How different that is from the Paul we hear in 2 Timothy. There the Apostle is not expecting to be released so that he can travel to Philippi and other places. In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, Paul looks to his heavenly home. He clearly expects to be martyred for the sake of Christ and the gospel.
William Barclay sums it up well when he says that the so-called Pastoral Epistles "show Paul engaged in activities for which there is neither place nor room in his life as we know it from the book of Acts" (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, rev. ed. [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], p. 12).
The Classic Solution
All of this moves us towards a single conclusion: when we read Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, we are dealing with a time after the history reported in Acts.
The first few words of Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon add support for this view. All three letters were apparently written from Rome during the time recorded in Acts 28, and each one reveals that Timothy was with the author at the time. By contrast, when Paul wrote 1 and 2 Timothy, his protege was obviously not with him in Rome. Instead, Timothy was hundreds of miles to the east in Ephesus.
So if we again ask the questions, When did Paul depart for Macedonia, leaving Timothy in Ephesus? When did he preach on the island of Crete and leave Titus to carry on the mission there? And when was he imprisoned at Rome with little hope of release? the best answer is, It seems to have been some time beyond the life of Paul that we know from Acts.
What this means is that Paul must have been released from the Roman captivity we know from Acts 28. This matches up well with the positive sense that Paul had when he wrote the so-called Prison Epistles (I prefer the term Captivity Letters). It also means that, after his release, Paul made further mission trips during which time he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus. Eventually, Paul was arrested again, taken to Rome, and finally executed there.
But is there any evidence, other than the silence of the biblical text, that supports this view? There is.
The Extra-Biblical Evidence
A strong point in favor of this reading is a statement by Clement of Rome. Clement’s letter to the church at Corinth is the earliest available Christian document outside the New Testament. Writing in about the year A.D. 95, Clement says of Paul,
seven times he was imprisoned, he was exiled, he was stoned, he was a preacher in both east and west, and won great renown for his faith, teaching uprightness to the whole world, and reaching the farthest limit of the west, and bearing a martyr's witness before the rulers he passed out of the world and was taken up into the holy place, having provided a very great example of endurance (1 Clement 5:5-7, as translated by Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Apostolic Fathers [London: Independent Press, 1950], pp. 51-52).
Since Clement pens these words from Rome, his reference to "the farthest limit of the west" must mean Spain, the edge of the Roman Empire. Interestingly enough, Spain was Paul’s intended destination according to Romans 15:24-28.
A second important piece of evidence from the ancient world is the so-called "Muratorian Canon." This fragment of a manuscript dates back to as early as the year 180 and contains a partial list of the apostolic writings which were read by the contemporary church at Rome. (I'm aware that a newer theory would date the Muratorian Fragment much later and give it an eastern origin. But for reasons offered by C.E. Hill, for example, I am unconvinced and prefer the traditional view). Concerning the Book of Acts it says:
The Acts of all the Apostles, however, were written in one volume. Luke described briefly 'for' excellent Theophilus particular [things], which happened in his presence, as he also evidently relates indirectly the death of Peter and also Paul's departure from the city as he was proceeding to Spain (translation by Daniel Theron, Evidence of Tradition [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1957], p. 109).
Clearly then, Christians living in Rome at the end of the second century considered Paul's trip to Spain a fact from history.
At this point someone might ask, If Paul was released from his confinement in Rome at the end of Acts, how do we account for his being in prison as he writes Second Timothy? How was it that Paul stood before the Caesarean court, was acquitted, but was later arrested once again? If we had good reason to believe that, following his trip to Spain, Paul was brought back to Rome and martyred there, it would make more sense. Again, extra-biblical history provides that reason.
The Great Fire and Persecution
On the night of July 18/19, A.D. 64, fire broke out and spread through the city of Rome. The flames raged for nine days. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, most of Rome was either destroyed or seriously damaged. Although the emperor Nero was not in Rome at the time, many of the people believed that he was responsible. He had ordered the city to be burned, they thought, so that he could rebuild Rome according to his dreams.
Needing a diversion from the damaging rumor, Nero blamed the Christians of Rome, a misunderstood and despised group (compare Acts 28:22). And thus began a deadly persecution against the believers. Some of the Christians were sewn up in animal skins and fed to vicious dogs. Others were fastened to crosses and burned alive. Depraved Nero opened his fabulous gardens to the people of Rome who gathered for public executions (Tacitus, Annals, 15.38-44).
It is entirely probable that at this time the Romans arrested Paul. If ordinary Christians were being persecuted, then surely Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, would be seized and brought back to Rome. Perhaps the authorities reasoned that if they merely destroyed Christian foot soldiers, they would win only a battle. But if they destroyed Paul, a leading general, they could win the war against Christianity.
Whatever the circumstances, it seems clear that because of ignorance and hatred, Paul, a well-known leader among the early Christians, was returned to Rome where he gave his life because of his stand with Christ. It was just before his martyrdom that Paul wrote 2 Timothy. Picture him sitting in a dungeon, not knowing the time of his coming execution. Winter approaches and he has no coat to keep him warm. As the hours and days pass, he wishes he had his books and parchments (2 Timothy 4:13-21). Still, his words exude a patient trust:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8, KJV).
Not long after he wrote those words of assurance and peace, Paul was required to pay the ultimate price for his faith. May each Christian grow in faith and in the knowledge of the wonderful Savior whom Paul so loved and trusted even in death.
Note: A version of this post first appeared in the Gospel Advocate magazine for August 2006.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I faintly recall the days of the Vietnam War. Back then, Dad was a flight engineer on C-141s, regularly flying in and out of Southeast Asia. There were times when he'd be gone for long stretches. I don't know how many days or weeks. What I do remember is that it was always like Christmas whenever my dad came home.
It would be wrong if I didn't also mention my mother, Joy. Back in those days she so often lived like a single parent. But in addition to everything else, she made sure that she and my sister Shari and I made it to every meeting of the Church of Christ in New Egypt, New Jersey--on time, Bible in hand, my face freshly cleaned in a struggle that involved spit and a tissue. No woman was ever tougher or sweeter than my mother.
I guess one of my memories from that time will always be with me. It must have been a Sunday or a Wednesday night. My father, stationed at McGuire Air Force Base, returned from one of those long trips and drove straight to church, knowing we'd be there. He arrived just as we were dismissing. I can still see him in his flight suit, standing in the church foyer. As soon as I saw him, I ran as fast as I could straight for him. When he saw me, he bent his knees and opened his arms just before I jumped and threw my arms around his neck.
That's the way I'll always feel about my dad. I love him. I respect and admire him. And I'm thankful for him, and for all of our veterans who have honorably served the United States.
Happy Veterans Day, Dad.
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Most students of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement will recognize the name Rice Haggard. A minor prophet of the Movement, Haggard is credited with suggesting the name "Christian" to a couple of early American restoration groups: (1) the Republican (i.e., Free) Methodists in Virginia associated with James O'Kelly and (2) the Springfield Presbytery in Kentucky led by, among others, Barton W. Stone (pictured here).
That Haggard influenced both groups, at different times and places, to abandon the names they had taken for themselves and to adopt the name "Christian" is a standard subplot in the story of early American Restorationism. And, thanks to John W. Neth, Jr., historians also recognize that Rice Haggard's anonymous pamphlet on the sacred origin of the name "Christian" was, in fact, written by him.
Something that hasn't been recognized as often is that Haggard's main idea, and even the specific wording in his pamphlet, did not originate with him. The few scholars who have identified the antecedents of Haggard's position and the sources of his rhetoric refer to Benjamin Grosvenor (1676-1758).
From what I can gather, Grosvenor was a very capable English minister and pamphleteer. Recently, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville sent me a photocopy of Grosvenor's booklet, An Essay on the Christian Name: It's Origin, Import, Obligation, and Preference to all Party-Denominations (London: John Clark and Richard Hett, 1728). Knowing the work of Haggard (published in the early 1800s), I'm looking forward to hearing what Grosvenor had to say 75 years earlier.
It's also been noted that Grosvenor's insistence on the name "Christian" was taken up and advanced by one Samuel Davies, who became one of the illustrious presidents of the school now known as Princeton University. You can read Davies' sermon on "The Sacred Import of the Christian Name" here.
I don't know if Haggard got his ideas from the Englishman Grosvenor or from the American Davies, or from both. It's sort of a Stone-Campbell Synoptic Problem, a major difference being that there's no debate here about who wrote first. Here and there in his anonymous pamphlet, Rice Haggard includes footnotes, citing his sources. So, of course, he could have cited Davies or Grosvenor (or both, assuming for the moment that he had copies of both works). But he didn't. Why not? Before I dive into the writings (and I know this is sort of backwards) I have a theory. My theory is, Rice Haggard wanted to communicate to the early restoration movements that he knew (the ones in Virginia, Kentucky, and New England) his beliefs about the name "Christian." But he couldn't email them or blog about it, and say "Click on this link and see what Benjamin Grosvenor (or Samuel Davies) says about the sacred origin of the name 'Christian'." So he wrote and published his own pamphlet that borrows heavily from his source(s). His work was so similar to its source(s) that he would have been embarrassed to put his name on it. So he published the pamphlet anonymously and accomplished two things at the same time: (1) he communicated this important teaching, designed to unify, to the fledgling movements he knew, and (2) he avoided becoming an out-and-out plagiarist.
And it would have worked, if it hadn't been for that meddling scholar, John W. Neth, Jr., who connected the dots and realized that it was Haggard who had published the anonymous pamphlet.
I'd be glad to hear from anyone else who has some ideas or knows some other sources on this sub-topic. Thanks for reading.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Many of my books for this year were written in the early part of the 1900s, not especially old, but earlier than the arbitrary line. It all began with a recommendation from C. S. Lewis, advice I've tried to follow in 2008.
I've cheated a few times. A couple of recent memoirs, a couple of recent novels, etc. But for the most part, it's been older books. For the record, Lewis didn't object to new books. He just thought a good number of old books, real classics, should be a part of anyone's diet.
One of my reads this year doesn't qualify technically, but in another way it does. It's Old Testament Books for Pastor and Teacher by my former professor, the late Brevard S. Childs. Published in 1977, this one is almost entirely about OT scholarship that pre-dates 1968.
Anyway, as I walked through Childs' evaluations of the Old Testament Introductions, his comments on the various OT commentaries, etc., I was again struck by his real appreciation for scholarship from every era of the church. Most biblical scholars and students of our time favor a monopoly of the modern. If it isn't recent, it can't be the best. If it's older, then it might be of interest to the historian, but it has no value for the scholar or preacher.
If anyone had an excuse for entirely focusing on the work and results of modern biblical criticism, it was Childs. He was trained as a biblical scholar in Germany during the the mid-1900s. But to his credit--and this is a major part of his immense influence--Childs saw both the weaknesses of the modern critical approach and the strengths of biblical scholarship as it was practiced before the Enlightenment. Here are a few of his observations about commentaries on the Book of Psalms, classic Childs:
The opinion is widely held that the historical critical approach to the Bible has rendered works on the Psalter prior to the late nineteenth century largely invalid, and that therefore one needs to begin with a critical introduction that sets out the method afforded by modern form criticism before listing the modern critical commentaries. I do not share this opinion. In my judgement, it has resulted in a disastrous reduction for theology, liturgy, and preaching. Rather, I would argue that each period--of course including the modern critical period--has made its peculiar contribution, and that these differing expositions all need to be critically assessed. The real issue is between good and bad interpretation, both of which have been represented throughout the history of the church (p. 60).
Later, along the same lines, he writes,
Probably the gravest indictment against the historical critical method is that it has effectively blocked all access to the richness of pre-critical interpretation of the Bible, both Jewish and Christian. To some extent the church's liturgical use of the Old Testament Psalms has been able to survive the impact of critical exegesis. In my judgment, it is absolutely imperative for the serious and theologically robust use of the Psalms once again to regain this lost heritage. Obviously traditional forms cannot be simply repristinated in the post-critical age, but neither can the great giants of the past be simply ignored without serious impoverishment of the Christian church (62).
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I'm not very old. But I'm old enough to remember a time not so long ago when it would have been unimaginable for anyone but a white man to be elected President of the United States.
I drove to work Wednesday morning, by myself, in silence. Why silence? I wasn't being spiritual. The radio in my 1992 Ford Crown Victoria doesn't work anymore. Unlike most folks, I don't get to drive with an electronic distractor. I've thought about getting the radio fixed. But most days, I like to imagine that I'm better for having to sit there with myself. Anyway, as I drove along in silence, impressed with my humility, I couldn't help thinking that I was living at a real turning point. I did not support the candidacy of Barack Obama. But now that he has been elected President of the United States, I'm proud to have seen the day when this could and did happen. And I pledge myself to pray for President Obama and to be supportive of his administration.
The great William Faulkner considered brutal racism to be the great sin of the United States, one that would for a long, long time haunt our national life. He evidently believed that the U.S., especially the South, would remain under a lingering curse. The past is not in the past, he said. It is not yet present. The sins of the fathers would be visited upon subsequent generations, a common theme of his fiction.
No, not all of what Faulkner saw has been put to rest. Far from it. But Tuesday was a historic day. This is the beginning of a different time in the U.S., I think. Do you think so too?