Friday, October 30th, 2009
I recently received Richard Bauckham's book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses in the mail. I am only a couple of chapters in, but quite impressed with what he has said. I have taught a study on the Gospel of Luke at Reformation Lutheran Church in Westminster, and my sense of the reality of that Gospel has increased significantly while I have taught. It isn't so much that I didn't believe the Gospel before, as that I had not seen the tell-tale signs of true texture before. In any case, Bauckham's book is intent on making a lot of that more explicit for readers of the Gospels.
So far he has described what testimony has to offer us that other kinds of history do not, how Papias's account of contact with the living apostles fits into ancient historiography and what it likely says about the methods of the Gospel writers, and now the significance of the inclusion or exclusion of names from different Gospels likely says about the status of characters as eyewitnesses. Much of the reading is technical, so it doesn't move quickly. But it is worth the time to see all sorts of things that are not so apparent when you are reading one Gospel in isolation from the others.
Bauckham has already persuaded me to buy another book, a volume of Lightfoot's The Apostolic Fathers containing Fragments of Papias. [Note: I found this work at GoogleBooks after my initial post.]
Before the book came out it had occurred to me that it would be an interesting exercise to try and figure out which characters in the Gospels were the sources of our accounts. Then I run into this book where someone has already done this, and has very intriguing ideas of ways to determine this that I know I never would have considered.
8:35 am Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, October 28th, 2009
I've been reading The Woman's Bible, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton for an article on Bible difficulties. I had seen a description in a chapter of another book I was reading, and it sounded interesting. Well, it is interesting.
The title is a little misleading. The Woman's Bible Commentary is a better indication of what to expect when you open it up. But it is more readable than many commentaries I have looked at. I'm part way through Genesis now. This takes a critical stance toward the Bible, offering both readings that show the gender equality that can be found in the text, and arguing for low motives for the writers of the parts they don't agree with. I am not surprised that these women didn't hold to conservative views of Biblical inspiration. That said, I am aurprised that many of the writers seem to believe in the truth of portions of scripture. Genesis One is considered sublime, while Genesis 2 is considered retrograde. If all I had to judge from was Genesis itself, I might be tempted to agree. But I accept the idea that Jesus' opinion on the matter bears consideration. I trust the accounts where He offers his judgment. Such a way of reasoning either did not occur to these women, or they consciously rejected it.
Books like this can be valuable reading even where the views expressed are not live options. The women do seem to be right about the limitations of certain conservative commentators who were popular at the time. This is not surprising given they were writing in a generation when many of their contemporaries had attempted to defend slavery from Scripture. Many of their readings of Scripture would, in fact, be quite common in today's conservative circles, in a way they had not been in the past. I suspect that certain of their views may have led to better readings than had been common before they wrote.
As an historical note, I was surprised by some information in the introduction to the book by a contemporary author. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whom my great great grandfather John Ritchie once introduced to an audience, was not happy with the evangelical women who swelled the ranks of those pressing for women to vote. The early supporters of women's suffrage expected to use their votes to support radical causes. The evangelical women who joined the movement hoped to further more conservative agendas. I had been unaware of this dynamic. As a political libertarian, I don't find labels like radical or conservative very helpful in determining my own position on matters. At points I would likely agree with the agenda of Stanton. (So would many conservative Republicans of our time, for that matter.) This book has been an engaging window into a world that is far behind us. Nobody on the right or on the left really corresponds to these late nineteenth century options.
6:34 am Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, October 22nd, 2009
Over at Internet Monk, a book review was posted by John Frame about Mike Horton's latest book Christless Christianity. Internet Monk later regretted he had posted the review, but not before a lot of people got an opportunity to comment. I don't post this in protest against the bad decision to post. That was acknowledged and understandable. But the comments offered me yet another glimpse into where people actually are. People were writing to somehow defend Christianity against the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel, much of which Mike Horton has amply demonstrated can be found in many writers of the Reformed tradition as well. I wanted to respond to one comment in particular. It can be taken as indicative of the general character of the others:
"When our theology is so precise that Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount can be discarded as just a hyperbolic rant designed to drive us to the Gospel supposedly (which He never gets around to discussing in terms that would satisfy any good “Lutheran”!), something is wrong. This type of theology pits scripture against scripture and turns the Gospel into licentiousness."
Now this comment has the benefit of being succinct. Many claims are made in a very compressed fashion. It offers me much to go to work on.
First off, precision is listed as a bad thing.
Second, the Lutheran distinction is between Law and Gospel. The commenter is correct in noting that the Lutherans label the Sermon on the Mount as Law. Yet he is clearly wrong in the status the sermon has in that light. For what does he say? He concludes from the fact that we have labelled it Law the notion that it is a "hyperbolic rant designed to drive us to the Gospel." Hmmm. Is the Law merely a "hyperbolic rant designed to drive us to the Gospel?"
The words "drive us to the Gospel" are themselves taken from Scripture. As we are told in Galatians 3:24, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." As many have heard, the "tutor" is a pedagaigos, someone who uses a stick to get the pupil where it wants him. Hence the rendering of "drive." The Law drives us to Christ.
Now the words "hyperbolic" and "rant" are loaded terms. "Hyperbolic" suggests overstatement. "Rant" suggests lack of control. If we are accused of precision, I don't know how likely these are to apply.
Perhaps the idea is that the Law is hyperbolic if what it threatens doesn't in fact turn out to be true. Except that all Christians know this is often the case. We can find clear examples of this. In fact, we can find clear examples where Law threats proclaimed by St. Paul seem not to come to pass where Jesus is present. St. Paul tells us that no theif will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9), yet Jesus turns to a thief and says, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). I'm not sure whether Scripture was pitted against Scripture here. If so, it seems that Scripture is pitted against Scripture every time sins are forgiven, for when sins are forgiven, the threats of punishment clearly do not happen. In reality, they fall on Christ rather than the sinner. Which does not pit Scripture against Scripture. But people often miss this. Yet if this is true for the forgiveness of sins, it explains why it is also true of the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel. Whatever condemnations are listed in Scripture really do have teeth. They just happen to bite Christ rather than the one who trusts in him.
Now one thing that ought to be noted is that the Lutheran terminology of Law and Gospel is based upon Pauline usage. A key passage for our definition is found in Romans 3:19, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God." What is interesting here is that some readers miss this of the Ten Commandments. I have read writers who emphasize that the Ten Commandments themselves are accompanied with little threat. The threats offered are not clearly linked to eternal damnation in Exodus. We only know of this later. But we are accused of importing condemnation into our readings of Law passages in the New Testament.
But the Sermon clearly says in Matthew 5:22, "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ' You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." This is good news? Clearly not.
Now many are quick to try to point out that there is a benevolent purpose behind this. True. Any Lutheran knows this. When we cite Galatians 3:28, we know that the point of getting people accountable to God is that God might have mercy on them. But that doesn't make condemnation in itself good news. For some, the message ends with condemnation. They hear the Law and not the Gospel. Or they hear the Gospel and don't believe. For them, the Law is just bad news. As are these condemnations in the Sermon on the Mount.
Perhaps the idea is that to call the Sermon on the Mount Law is to relegate it to another age. This is actually done in certain forms of Dispensationalism. I was once in a seminary class where my professor said he was going to take apart the Lutheran/Calvinistic Law/Gospel distinction. I dreaded the class. But when he was done, I felt he had attacked a dispensational idea that needed killing. My own position had not been touched. If a seminary professor can confuse Dispensationalism with Reformation theology, perhaps others can as well. That says nothing about whether the actual Reformation position can hold up under fire.
Anybody who knows Lutheranism would know that children are to be taught according to the Small Catechism. Knowing the Ten Commandments is normative. Not only so, but they are given explanations that show just how broadly they can be applied. In Lutheran circles I hear a lot of talk of various commandments in terms that I rarely hear elsewhere. Violations of the Eighth Commandment are recognized quickly. Subtle ways of stealing are noted as well.
I wish people were more aware of the Lutheran teaching on the Eighth Commandment, as the book review in question clearly violated it.
10:39 am Pacific Standard Time
Saturday, October 10th, 2009
Today on Twitter I ran into Alain de Botton's suggestion to go to AirlineMeals.net, where you can browse meals from different airlines and years. Their oldies meals section can be found here.
I love browsable sites like this.
Another favorite of mine is Yesterland.com, which describes and pictures the defunct rides, attractions, and restaurants from Disneyland. Living nearby and having been part of the "cast" when I was younger (I was a Jungle Cruise skipper one summer), many of these are very familiar.
Finally, everyone knows of Snopes.com. But I wonder if many who have used the site have spent any time browsing it. I think if more people did, it would lower the volume of e-mail that gets forwarded. (Though I have trained friends to go to Snopes and they have on occasion caught me forwarding erroneous information.) Anyway, happy browsing.
7:26 am Pacific Standard Time
Sunday, October 4th, 2009
John Halton posted a reading meme that I decided to infect myself with. This one did not involve tagging people, but if you choose to participate, let me know.
Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack?
I don't usually snack while I read. Nice to find out there's a vice I don't indulge in. Well, regularly.
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I sometimes mark my books. Usually brief notes if I make any. Most of my books are unmarked.
How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
Book marks, ATM slips, and I dog ear cheap fiction.
Fiction, non-fiction, or both?
Hard copy or audiobooks?
I love both. I am a fan of audiobooks, though, because I find I will play tapes over and over of books I might only read once. I was interested to hear once that audiobooks sell hard copies of books. People try books they are less sure of in audio form, and then discover they really want to read the whole thing.
Then there are some particularly good readers. I have a two cassette collection of Great American Poetry read by Vincent Price and others. I love "The Skeleton in Armor" by Longfellow as he reads it. Dylan Thomas reading Dylan Thomas (another collection altogether) is fantastic. Try this for a taste.
Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I put the book down at any point. Especially early on. I bog down far too easily. With fiction, an author can lose me with four boring pages. I always have so many other things I want to read available.
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Often I do. That has become more and more of a habit. I use my dictionary now more than ever. (Random House College Dictionary I was required to buy when a student at UCI.) I also bought a Sailor's Word Book for when I'm stumped by a nautical term thrown at me by Patrick O'Brian.
What are you currently reading?
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells and Is There a Text in this Class? by Stanley Fish.
What is the last book you bought?
I bought three together at the used book store. The Island of Dr. Moreau, Six Days of the Condor by James Brady ("Soon to be a major motion picture starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway" says the cover.) and The Lost World by Michael Crichton.
Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I change books like other people change TV channels.
Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
My chair. My bed. The floor with a pillow beneath my chest.
Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
C.S. Lewis, Jacques Ellul, Martin Luther (esp. "Concerning Rebaptism" and "How Christians Should Regard Moses"), Steven Pressfield (esp. Gates of Fire).
How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
Genre. I do this intuitively. Some sections remain pretty constant. I have about 1400 books and can find most of them. LibraryThing has made this much easier, as I can keep books in boxes and find the boxed ones even more quickly than the shelved ones.
3:41 pm Pacific Standard Time