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Wednesday, January 14th, 2009
I'm not the kind of guy who spends an awful lot of time with things like the Biblical chronologies. When they come up in my Bible class, I tend to research a few broad questions, and suggest broad approaches. This is the kind of area where people easily make mistakes. But I am glad that some others have done this kind of work.
The best known attempt at this was surely Bishop Ussher's attempt that dated the beginning of the world to 4004 BC. I used to think that this date was the result of meticulous calculation. I later found that when the bishop's dates went to approximately 4000 years, he rounded it to 4000. Then he learned that the dating of Jesus' birth was off by 4 years, yielding 4004. So even he allowed something other than mere arithmetic to determine his findings.
What was more promising to me was when I was in my Old Testament Hermeneutics course at Gordon-Conwell and Meredith Kline said that we should not take the genealogies as being complete. He said that other genealogies from ancient times regularly left out generations, and that the people of the time period would not have been led astray by this. I think the idea is that we use such lists for our own purposes and expect when we see them that they are complete lists. But in another culture that listed the names for other purposes, the understanding would be different. Some years after this, I ran into B.B. Warfield's article "The Antiquity and Unity of the Human Race," an article published in the Biblical and Theological Studies volume of his collected works.
Warfield's article is helpful, but in it I found a reference to an article whose writing style and tabular layout made it even more helpful. This is an article titled "Primeval Chronology" by Dr. William Henry Green of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. It was published in 1890. The work shows from internal Biblical evidence that these genealogies cannot be taken to be exhaustive.
The article ends with the following conclusion: "On these various grounds we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the creation of the world." I recommend that my readers at least skim the work to get a sense of how he reaches his conclusion. This should offer them a much more open-ended sense of what the Bible will allow in terms of the scope of human history.
2:00 pm Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
I was looking at a blog called Rabbis and their Writings and came across a statement that knocked me over. It sounded contrary to what I've ever assumed, but I could not immediately refute it. Okay, now a certain Psalm comes to mind (Psalm 115). But that is not probably a prophetic book in the rabbi's reckoning. I like to run into statements like this to see how they come out when we actually test them against the text. Here it is:
Nowhere in the prophetic books are the 'nations' condemned for worshipping their godsonly for the ethical abominations such as child sacrifice associated with worship.
Rabbi Louis Jacobs, The Unfolding Tradition: Jewish Law After Sinai by Elliot Dorff, p. 278.
So what do my readers think? Can you think of cases where this doesn't prove to be true? What is the value of the rabbi's statement should it hold up in the prophets? The rabbinic statements I've seen on the blog so far have been quite challenging. The types of questions being asked of the text are different from my own. I can wonder if my own interests are too narrow.
7:38 pm Pacific Standard Time
Monday, January 12th, 2009
About a year ago I transferred my congregational membership to Reformation Lutheran Church in Westminster, California. The LCMS congregation I had been a member of (and President of) had gone through some ugly turmoil, and certain members of the church council had driven out the pastor, who was otherwise loved by the congregation. Many people from that congregation, including some of the troublemakers, joined the LCMS congregation in South Orange County that I had been a member of previously, making this an akward place to land. I was willing to drive 45 minutes to go to church. I was willing to go to church and face people I didn't like. But to brave a 45 minute drive and then have people needle me at coffee hour—that was too much to handle on a regular basis. Especially when another option turned up.
A little over a year ago, James Nestingen visited Concordia University Irvine and spoke on the Catechism. I sat next to one of his former students, Pastor Russell Lackey, from Westminster, a short drive from my house. During that time, Pastor Lackey invited me to teach a Bible class series at his church. I was happy to say yes.
What I found when I visited was a truly wonderful surprise. This was one of the most Biblically literate groups of adults I had run into. The ethos was also different. I had run into this once before, when I attended another friend's ELCA congregation in Colorado. The ethos reminded me more of the Presbyterian Church I grew up in. Now by ethos, I don't mean that they lacked Eucharistic piety or didn't seem Lutheran. This is not what Hermann Sasse spoke of when he talked of the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed churches. No. I mean they didn't seem German American. (I don't think this stuff is "in the blood." It's in the culture. I think Germans have moved on. The German American ethos is from some past era and has not been worked out. People from outside the gene pool will learn it when surrounded by it.) The people genuinely like each other. (That much could be said of many from the church in South Orange County. But the picture is still different.) This is something that has impressed me over and over again while I've been there.
A couple months ago, I was asked to drop by and give the Martin Luther movie an introduction for the youth group, as the pastor was at a retreat. As I watched the kids arrive, it brought back memories of being in youth group at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. Now, that may sound like a commonplace observation to many. Except this was the first time since I was Lutheran that ANY youth gathering I had seen in a Lutheran church brought back such memories. It had to do with the fact that the kids wanted to be there and liked hanging out with each other. Rather than see our congregation lose its youth, I'm watching them draw them in and seeing people who were not raised Christian be baptized.
I'm not sure how typical this congregation is. If I moved to another city, it is still likely that an LCMS church would be the first place I would look into. (All things being equal, I'd gravitate towards a "by the book" congregation.) But it is also true that I would give an ELCA congregation a chance. I have met several other ELCA pastors since joining Reformation, and they are much better, as a lot, than I would have expected. Now, I have run into one pastor who just the kind of institutional product that showed what liberal institutions can create. (His sermon was laughably bad, not only falling into known exegetical fallacies, but with the very text used to illustrate the fallacy. I won't mention which one. But fellow members of my congregation who were there knew it was bad when they heard it—a good sign.) But this was one out of perhaps a dozen. When my pastor has been on vacation, he has found ELCA pastors to fill in for him that were much better than the LCMS pastors who filled in when my LCMS pastors were on vacation. From what I have been told, Southern California is stronger than many other areas of the country. Perhaps. I won't claim to know this for certain.
There have been some trade-offs, to be sure. But they have been more on the positive side than I would have expected.
This is not intended as a commercial for the ELCA. I care more about local congregations than larger church bodies. Thankfully, so have my pastors, LCMS or ELCA. There could also be some long term risks an ELCA congregation faces that an LCMS congregation would not face. But I am happy to report that there are healthy congregations in places I would not have expected to find them. If any of my readers are considering Lutheranism and live too far from an LCMS congregation, I advise them to consider an ELCA congregation. Let them do so carefully. But I now think this is not just a shot in the dark.
4:16 pm Pacific Standard Time
Sunday, January 4th, 2009
I made a library run a few days ago. I returned Norah Vincent's intriguing Self Made Man, where the author does journalism in the mode of Black Like Me, passing as a member of a group (in her case men) to find out what is hidden to her. Vincent wrote with amazing candor, and offered insights that I wish were more widely known. But as good as that book was, I'm posting to write about another one.
After dumping Vincent's book in the return bin, I made my way downstairs to see if the book I had tried to find was there (Can't remember the title. Kobra's recommendation. Something on men and our culture.), and it wasn't. Looked around a little, and decided that I was in a hurry, so I would go back up and look at the new books one the way out. I was glad I did this, as a promising book caught my attention.
The book was Racing Odysseus: A College President Becomes a Freshman Again by Roger Martin. Martin survived a tough cancer battle and decided to launch out on a new course. He enrolled at St. John's College in Maryland, one of the oldest colleges in America, and one which has had a great books program since the 1930's. This book touches on one of my favorite issues: education. Martin knows what pressures administrators face in making choices today and how many of them press all schools to be pretty interchangeable. But he finds great value in the interdisciplinary approach that the great books seminars allow.
I really enjoyed his description of the college bookstore. For each book covered in seminar, there might be four or five different editions available. For The Oresteia by Aeschylus, for example, there were four translations.
A very personable-looking bookstore assistant approaches
me. "How can I help you?" she asks.
Knowing nothing about translations, I ask, "What translation do you recommend for Aeschylus's Oresteia?"
"Well, there are several" she responds, much like my wine store manager does when I am trying to select a good chardonnay. "The Hugh Lloyd-Jones translation is very lyrical, but sometimes he uses rather heavy and archaic language. Then there is Peter Meineck's version, which is the most recent. Of course, both the Lattimore and Fagels translations are very popular."
I am overwhelmed. "But which do you recommend?"
"Well, actually I like all of them," she responds.
"You have read all four translations?" I ask in disbelief.
"Yup," she responds, not blinking an eye. "Why don't you look through the translations yourself?," she replies, obviously not wanting to bias my choice.
[Racing Odysseus, pp. 92-93]
Martin explains how he felt satisfied with himself for buying the contemporary-sounding Fagles translation, only to be surprised to find out when he arrived at the seminar that the young students (He was 61, they were 18 or 19.) mostly chose the older Lloyd-Jones translation. In any case, this is a sampling about what is good about the book. Martin knows that in being as candid as he is, he may not always come off in the best light possible. But I think a reader must value the book more for this. When the author observes himself learning, he has to first show what he did not know, which entails vulnerability. I believe in rewarding that. The other thing that is shown in this passage is an appreciation for what is offered. I love that comparison of the bookstore assistant with the wine connoisseur. It both suggests a value to the books and a pride this worker takes in knowledge.
Martin also talks about his time on the rowing team. His experiences on the Severn River are often funny, though you feel for his every ache or frustration (or humiliation!). The college has an approach to athletics that he finds refreshing. Everyone is expected to participate. And this at a college where the typical student is a real bookworm. This made his own participation easier, for at a more competitive school, accommodating a 61-year-old would not be a priority, to say the least.
I think most of my readers would enjoy this book. Put it on your list of books to check for at the library. I think you'll enjoy it. (Don't buy it. You'll want to use that money buying other books he mentions in the book!)
9:31 pm Pacific Standard Time