Saturday 30 April 2011

Diarmaid McCullough on the KJV

Jim West posted this link to an ABC radio interview with Diarmaid McCullough on the significance of the King James Bible. McCullough, who Jim describes as "the finest general Church Historian presently working," has authored works on the Reformation and the history of Christianity that are widely regarded as the best available.

One of the interesting comments McCullough makes is to call the eighteenth century revision of the KJV, which is the one in print today, a Disneyfied "fake-up." Egad! So no Myrtle, your 1611 Bible isn't; all those KJV-only freaks take note!

Friday 29 April 2011

Pluralism Sunday

Beltane in Edinburgh... more Presbyterians?
Trust John Shuck to keep his readers apprised of Pluralism's very own Sunday observance this weekend. Just goes to show that not all Presbyterians are totally depraved, at least outside of Dunedin.

But - Gott im Himmel! - Pluralism Sunday at Elizabethton, TN is also marked by 'the pagan festival of Beltane - "bright fire" or "fire of Bel." Bel was the Celtic sun god who was in his glory during the light half of the year. In the old traditions, this feast day celebrated the new growth and fertility of the land and all of its inhabitants.'

Gasp! Not only a pagan festival but a fertility festival to boot! Almost (but not quite) as bad as bunnies and eggs at Easter! I'm breaking out in hot flushes as I type this. John, cobber, you could single-handedly provoke hortatory sermon material in certain Christian communities to last the year round...

Thursday 28 April 2011

The Pied Piper of Calvinofascism

This just makes me angry, so I won't offer much of a comment, except to say that this person is an esteemed figure in the Reformed ghetto of the evangelical community, and obviously living in an entirely different century to most of the rest of us. God help any woman who takes his advice - just go tell the "leaders" in your church - seriously!

The ultimate orbiter?

The penultimate orbiter?
Rob Bell's Love Wins is... a winner.

If this was the coming face of evangelicalism, there'd be hope for the church's survival. I've seen it in two Auckland Christian bookshops this week, one very mainline (Church Supplies in Ellerslie) and one fringe fundamentalist (the Adventist Book Centre in Manukau.) May the Force be with you Rob.

That said, every book has its flaws. This one has a fantastic malapropism.

"Are we the ultimate orbiter of what can, and cannot, exist?"

Sic, sic, sic...

And it slipped through the editorial fingers of both HarperCollins in the US and Collins in the UK?


Another Stark Quote

"[Apologists] are sophists, in a world crying out for prophets. Prophets speak the truths that no one wants to hear, which also happen to be the truths that everyone needs to hear. We cannot move forward until we find the courage to confront our problematic texts, the courage to be brutally honest."

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Stark on Apologetics

"Contemporary popular apologists tend to look for any way to salvage the text, no matter how unlikely or untenable the argument. They'll use scholarly sources selectively, or pounce on one scholar's argument and run away with it, without any concern for the fact the vast majority of scholars haven't been persuaded by it. They're not interested in what's plausible, only what's "possible," if it serves their immediate purposes. They trade in eisegesis, wild speculation, and fanciful interpretations, reading into the text what isn't there, indeed, what's often contradicted by the very passages they cite...

"But they seem oblivious to the real harm they're doing. Not only are they giving permission for Christians to be dishonest with the material, they're reinforcing delusions that disconnect well-meaning Christians from reality...

"These apologists are perpetuating an insular Christian culture, giving well-meaning Christians permission to switch off their brains and their consciences and go about their business, pretending everything is all right. The apologists don't care to convince those struggling on the margins of faith - they're preaching only to the converted, only to those who are looking for easy answers to questions others are asking them, but which they aren't asking themselves."

Thom Stark, Is God a Moral Compromiser?

Stark crunches Copan

Oh man, a book-length three hundred and seven page book review! As announced on Religion at the Margins, here is the ultimate rebuttal to Paul Copan's cosy and creative contextualising of the Canaanite genocide (links below). And nobody could bring the passion to the task that Thom Stark does. This guy is like a rottweiler, and while I'm no fan of canine rottweilers, a Canaanite rottweiler is another matter entirely.

In case you missed previous episodes, Copan is a scholar who thinks the nasty genocide stuff in the Old Testament is much overstated. Yahweh is no moral monster, because, um, well, who knows... Maybe because it'd upset the theological, doctrinal and devotional applecart. The task at hand then is to explain away the indefensible. Copan is, on this matter, of the same view as New Zealand Reformed apologist Matthew Flannagan. The task restated, dear reader, is to put your mind at rest, and to salve your tender conscience lest it be disturbed by the blood and screams of dying children murdered at the command of God.

Thom is the author of the brilliant The Human Faces of God, which while coming from a committed Christian perspective, refuses to make excuses for the texts of terror. It is an honest eyeballing of the evidence. An overview has been presented here before. The review, like the book, is approachable by an interested non-specialist, so while the length may be formidable, the content is anything but. Here's Thom's opening paragraph.
I am a Christian. Sure, not by fundamentalists’ standards, but I’m a Christian nonetheless. I say this at the outset because I don’t want my intentions to be misunderstood. In critiquing Paul Copan’s apologetic defenses of our frequently morally problematic Bible, my aim is not to turn anybody away from the Christian faith. In fact, I am critical of apologetic attempts to sweep the Bible’s horror texts under the rug precisely because I believe such efforts are damaging to the church and to Christian theology. After having read and critiqued Paul Copan’s latest apologetic effort, I am obliged to say that I can only recommend this book to atheists who are looking for a good book to give to their Christian friends to show them what’s wrong with Christianity.


Anyone who has been seduced by the arguments presented by the genocide deniers badly needs to download Stark's review. If you have an eReader that handles PDFs, that could be a nifty way to engage with this amazing review.

Thom's brief introduction on Religion at the Margins.
The Review in PDF (all 307 pages).

Tuesday 26 April 2011

The Finest Childrens Story Bible - Not!

Concordia in St Louis, bless their Missouri Synod hearts, are about to release new product, a Children's Story Bible. With characteristic understatement Paul McCain has proclaimed it "the finest ever published. Ever. Period."

Poor Paul. He needs to get out more often.

Here's the introduction to the Genesis creation story.

The Bible begins with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. It tells the true story of how God made all things. He filled the world with perfect and good things. He made the world for you.

The true story. No hint of myth here. Or dinosaurs. The Missouri folk are ardent creationists.

Next to the text of Genesis 1 (derived from - no surprise here - the ESV) the kiddies are confronted with this twee suggestion in the margin.

Roll a ball or toss a beanbag with a partner.
As you do so, name something God created that has seeds.
Together say, “I praise You, O God!”

Who said Lutheran Pietism was dead!?

And there's much more of that salted throughout. Any self-respecting kid should start running now. The redeeming feature may be the illustrations. But children beware! The ideologues at Concordia explain their strategy.

Throughout this Bible, high quality realistic art from our Growing in Christ series is used to fully engage the reader, rather than using cartoonish artwork that might suggest to children that the Bible stories are pretend rather than real. 

Oh heavens to Betsy, we wouldn't want the littlies to think Adam and Eve, Noah and Joshua's long day were anything but solid historical fact, now would we?

Check out a sampler for yourself. My view: Nice pictures, beautiful presentation, but intellectually dishonest. Children surely deserve better than this.

Monday 25 April 2011

Wicked, wicked Borders!

You might classify this as a classic "Fail!"

Or you might see it, as does Daniel Florien on Unreasonable Faith, as a long overdue reclassification to set the record straight.

If this tickles your funny bone, try Deane Galbraith's helpful post on how to know when you're having sex with a fallen angel.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Obedience vs. Consent

There is an important distinction between sin and immorality... the concept of sin essentially works on the basis of obedience rather than consent, blindly following what is commanded, rather than co-operating with an end that is understood and voluntarily accepted. Indeed, there are passages in the Bible where God orders the performance of acts of great wickedness in order to test the obedience of his children.

Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22)

Illustration from Robert Crumb's Genesis
[This] event celebrates the type of consciousness that wants to be commanded to perform extreme acts of obedience by an absolute authority whose attractiveness lies in its very refusal to explain itself. This is the heart of the concept of sin: sin is not only committing what is forbidden by God, but refusing to do what is commanded by God. The power of the concept lies in the unthinking nature of the obedience that is demanded.

We have... entered a fundamental protest against the concept of blind obedience itself, by stressing the importance of our own moral and rational assent to what is commanded. Once we do this, however, the concept of sin loses much of its power as an exercise of divine authority upon us.

Richard Holloway, writing in the introduction to Godless Morality, Canongate Books, 1999.


Skyline stars emerge from preview screening
Last night, along with friends, I got to watch Skyline. Has there ever been a more pointless, narrative starved film ever produced? Special effects? Gratuitous. Billed as Sci-Fi, this was a horror offering, in every sense of that word.

Wikipedia presents a tidy summary of the reviews. While a few actually liked it, they were in the minority.

The film has been met with largely negative reviews. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 15% based on 67 reviews, with an average score of 3.5/10. Writing in Variety, Joe Leydon panned the film: "Imagine a Kmart mash-up of Transformers and Independence Day and you're appropriately primed for Skyline, an underwhelming and derivative sci-fi thriller that's only marginally more impressive than a run-of-the-mill SyFy Channel telepic." Michael Philips of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the "effects are pretty good, on a fairly limited budget. And that's about all you can say for Skyline." Screen Rant's Ben Kendrick wrote that the film "comes across as a big-screen B-movie with a convoluted plot and too limited of a scope to make the audience feel the worldwide alien-apocalypse that’s supposedly unfolding in the film". In the New York Times, Mike Hale concluded, "it turns out that all the running and hiding and chopping (there’s an axe) was beside the point, which is the sort of thing that can make you angry if you care about the characters, but in this case is kind of a relief."
The comments last night were a tad less elevated in tone. Avoid at all costs!

Rob Bell - the TIME take

There's a balanced and enlightening piece on Rob Bell on the TIME website. Bell is heavily influenced by N.T. Wright - and yet he talks good sense. A further influence is C.S. Lewis - but that he clearly shares with half of evangelical Christendom. More telling is the fact that John Piper has taken up the cudgels against him, which probably only reinforces the perception that Piper is a reactionary Reformed jerk.

I'm currently working my way through Love Wins - such depth for such a light writing style! 100% agreement? Not likely. Recommended anyway? You bet!

Saturday 23 April 2011

Holloway on Morality - 1

Richard Holloway's Godless Morality is a remarkable book in a number of ways, not least that the author is a retired bishop and former primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. This is the first in a series that attempts an overview of the position he puts forward.

Holloway's more detailed consideration of specific "hot button" issues (sexuality, war, abortion, drugs, reproductive technologies) need to be read in the context of the broader brush strokes, rather than in knee-jerk isolation. To do that this series will particularly hone in on the introduction, first chapter and epilogue.

From the introduction.

"[I]t seems morally bankrupt to argue that the only way to correct me is by persuading me of the truth of something that seems intrinsically unbelievable and, in its own way, morally dubious."

"If we have become persuaded that a particular claim is not true or is one we can no longer hold with a clear conscience, then we are making a moral judgement."

"[J]ust because the connection between ethics and religion has been broken, it does not follow that it is no longer possible to have ethics. It may mean that we have to discover and promote the importance of a non-religious ethic. And such an ethic would be a genuinely ecumenical ethic that appealed, in its broad principles, to people who were religious and to people without religion, to people who believed in God and to people who did not."

Friday 22 April 2011

Good Friday - Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. Let's talk about it in a whisper lest certain folk take offence. This guy for example:
In 2009, Gavin Rumney mentioned on his Ambassador Watch Blog that he had observed something called "Earth Day" by turning off his lights for an hour to try to help save the planet. After rejecting God and the Bible he is now trying to find something else to fill the emptiness. The idea of human-induced climate change, called Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), has been called "the new religion of the urban atheist." This "Global Warming" scam was highly promoted and forced on school children by an American politician named Albert Arnold Gore, Jr., who is hoping to get rich off it.
And on and on he went. So much bile over turning a few lights off!

The AW blog is now history, thank God, and I expect this gentleman won't be an Otagosh reader, so maybe it's safe to provide a link. After all, if the nice people at Google are prepared to mark the occasion...

But hey, Earth Day and Good Friday together, gadzooks! A most inauspicious Friday for the more conservative, Tea Party-ish devotees of Armstrongism would be hard to imagine. What would you do? Avoid hot cross buns and turn on all the electric appliances full bore? Take that you godless urban atheists and dupes of the harlot of Babylon!

Wednesday 20 April 2011

A Moral Dilemma

Moral choices - call them ethical decisions if you like - are not always straightforward. Blessed are those whose view of the world is in monochrome; it's a starker choice. It's just that I don't want those folk anywhere near me when it comes to important issues, and the Eternal forbid that such a one ascends to high political office.

Okay, my moral dilemma of the day is of microbial size compared to the biggies, but lord knows I am torn both this way and t'other.

The news is out on the blogosphere that a certain scholar-bishop-apologist of the Church of England is to release his own translation of the New Testament this year. Grabbing firmly onto the coat-tails of the quatercentenary of ye olde KJV, the good bishop is marketing his work as The King's Version. Exactly what he means by that is currently unclear.

Now, I have built up a reasonably impressive collection of scripture translations over the years, from Ferrar Fenton to Norman Beck. I mean, Norman Beck! This is a New Testament so obscure it's never, to my knowledge, been cited anywhere... ever. (If you were to read it, you'd know why almost immediately.)

So do I swallow my scruples and acquire King Tom's translation? For the sake of continuing to maintain a library of impressively unfamiliar bibles? Or do I cry aloud, "get thee behind me Tom!"


Of course, for the those who have joined the choir of bah-humbug atheism, this will all be a bit of a mystery. But then, one suspects that they're probably secret monochromists as well...

Monday 18 April 2011

The Christian Passover

Some churches celebrate the Lord's Supper (or Eucharist) quarterly, others once a month, some each week. Very few do so on an annual basis, but that's the tradition in the offshoot of Adventism known as the Church of God (Seventh Day). It's also a tradition that has been adopted by most of the bodies that emerged from COG7, included among them the followers of Herbert Armstrong.

In my misguided youth this was my adopted heritage. One thing I can certainly say; when you celebrate the Lord's Supper as a Christian Passover, and do so only once a year, it becomes a major item on your calendar.

Gary writes about his experience on the Banned blog. Gary, unlike myself, was at the beating heart of the Armstrong Empire in Pasadena. Some of the things he alludes to (not having your sins forgiven if you didn't participate, for example) were not part of my experience. Auckland was on the far periphery, which was probably just as well.

 I do remember the snapping of the matzos, and long readings from the Gospel of John. There was no Lent of course, but the admonitions to "examine oneself" before taking the Passover emblems were a big deal. Footwashing - based on a literal reading of John 13 - was a particularly uncomfortable part of the service, and there was an almost audible sigh of relief as the women and men trooped back from their respective side rooms to finally take the emblems of wine and unleavened bread.

Strangely enough, Passover (the Christianised version) was one thing I missed after separating from the one not-so true church. Not the Day of Atonement, not the Feast of Tabernacles or Trumpets... but Passover. Despite that, I know exactly what Gary means when he rails against the control, the hypocrisy and the culture of contempt that surrounded it.

Today (April 18) is Passover, and the service was held in a variety of Churches of God yesterday evening (following the tradition that a day begins at sundown.)  The following week - through till the 25th - are known as the Days of Unleavened Bread. May these be rewarding days for all so involved, and a token of liberation (surely one of the underlying themes of the original observance!) for those who have since moved beyond such customs.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Godless Morality

That's the title of Richard Holloway's book on ethics. The subtitle: Keeping Religion Out of Ethics. I'm looking forward to reading it, because it seems to mesh with the kind of enlightened moral law approach that our world desperately needs to affirm.

The concept of moral law is, of course, a Christian inheritance. The idea is that we all, deep down, affirm core common values, in principle if not in the working out of the finer detail, and that this knowledge has nothing to do with 'special revelation.' Following on from this is the necessity for all people of goodwill to be able to dialogue without special appeals to God, gods or Karl Barth.

God's views may be disputed, but Barth and Hauerwas would certainly disagree, and I suppose we'd all be disappointed if they didn't. Holloway is, himself, a former bishop of Edinburgh, so no slouch when it comes to confronting wooden-headed Reformed theology. Calvin apparently affirmed the existence of moral law, and it's only in the post-World War II years that a contrary view has gained traction, especially so among Reformed theologians. Catholics seem to have wisely ignored those developments, and it's good to see many Lutherans resisting the urge to descend down the rat-hole to oblivion that other Protestants have already bolted down.

The Trouble with Proof Texts

Kindly advice from a good Christian man to a runaway slave (from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.)
"Why, George, no--no--it won't do; this way of talking is wicked--unscriptural. George, you've got a hard master--in fact, he is--well he conducts himself reprehensibly--I can't pretend to defend him. But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under the hand; and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master.
 "Don't quote Bible at me that way, Mr. Wilson," said George, with a flashing eye, "don't! for my wife is a Christian, and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether..."

Thursday 14 April 2011

Tomb timing

Herman Hoeh would have had an answer. The Huffington Post has an article about the dreaded three days and three nights Jesus was supposed to have spent in the tomb, a seasonal nod to Easter. They interviewed Marcus Borg and a Seventh-day Adventist luminary. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) was also dragged into the debate alongside Ben Witherington III. They all repeat the standard line about inclusive counting, or just shrug their shoulders.

Obviously none of these guys has read Hoeh's The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday (available for the delectation of contemporary readers online.) Or, for that matter, the Herbal classic, The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday.

Considering how much hooha (hooey-ha, hoeh-ha?) was once made of this, it's a tad surprising that neither the Cincinnati nor the Charlotte sectarians have published their own booklet-style dissertation on the topic. Now why do you think that is?

In any case, don't expect too many of Herman and Herb's latter-day devotees to write to the Huffpost to draw attention to their proud denominational distinctive. They tend, after all, to be more the WorldNetDaily type.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Googling on...

Notable Google search that led someone from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania here today:
what are the bastards in COGWA doing these days
Oh dear, is that a "root of bitterness" I detect? It's doubtful the answer was found here, but if pressed my response would be, "up to no good, I'll be bound."

No, but seriously, has anyone heard as much as a peep from these fine ministerial gentlemen since they stormed off in a huff from UCG, bent on making the world a better, gentler place to grow their already super-sized egos?

And has anyone bothered to take the lads up on their offer to: "Come discover what makes us different from mainstream churches and religion." (The answer to that question is already known, and it ain't pretty.)

More to the point, does anyone care anyway?

Sunday 10 April 2011

Oh man, am I outa the loop!

At least as far as developments are proceeding at Grace Communion International, formerly the Worldwide Church of God.

Now they're baptizing infants! Rarely have I found The Surprising God blog so surprising.
Grace Communion International (GCI), baptizes adult believers and their infant children.
Really!?!? Since when?

Ol' Herb Armstrong will now be rotating in his Pasadena Lawn Cemetery grave at nigh on twice the speed of sound.

Just look at the official eight-minute video, if you have a high pain threshhold. Does Douggie not know that he's forgotten his tie? Surely that makes the ceremony invalid in itself, nicht wahr? I see the dowdy old hall ambience has been faithfully maintained at least, along with the compulsion to over-talk everything.

First they ditch sabbatarianism, then chiliasm (millennialism), and now they're holding hands with those apostate baby christeners of Christendom?

I'm shocked, shocked!

Oh look! Ted has a quotation from God's Holy Apostle James Torrance! And another from Migliori. Well, THAT certainly settles it.

But why, dear CGI members, has all this reform not penetrated into the hierarchic structure of the church? Why is Joe Tkach still supreme High Poobah ("Pastor General") when...
  • He has no mandate
  • Nobody voted him in
  • His appointment was courtesy of his dad
  • He appoints the church board rather than the other way around
  • There are no checks and balances that seem to apply to him
  • He pleads "episcopacy" in a church which first started using that language in 1979 as a way of weaseling out of legal accountability to the State of California
In conclusion, a word-for-word quote from former WCG minister John Comino, delivered from the pulpit of the Hamilton, NZ church many years ago. The subject: a sensitive reference to infant baptism as it is practised by the Whore of Babylon and her Protestant daughter churches...
Plinkety plonk, plinkety plonk
Hope this makes hair
Grow on your bonk.
Ah, the good old days...

Saturday 9 April 2011

Barnstone's New Testament - 1st impressions

Willis Barnstone is well known for his work on - for want of a better term - "near canonical" documents. His The Other Bible is a wonderful compilation of the strange and the almost familiar; Gnostic, Mandaean, Manichaean and other pseudepigraphic texts. He has also collaborated with Marvin Meyer on The Gnostic Bible.

So what happens when Barnstone breaks out of his field of specialisation to translate the canonical New Testament? Drum roll please...

The Restored New Testament is different. It has an abundance of commentary and supporting essays, and it includes three Gnostic Gospels: Thomas, Mary and the recently discovered Judas.

Barnstone steps outside the standard translator's paradigm in two further ways. Much of his New Testament is rendered in poetic form rather than prose. He also trades in the standard English personal and place names we're all so used to for original-language equivalents. Taking the Aramaic origins of the New Testament seriously - in oral tradition if not written form - Jesus is Yeshua, Israelites are Yisraelis, Pharisees are Prushim. You might think that this wouldn't work, but it seems to. These names are obviously more authentic, but their unfamiliarity to modern English readers also helps to restore a 'rawness' that is missing with the constant over-familiarity we have with traditional renderings. Here's the first three verses of Yohanan (John) 3.
Now there was a Parush named Nakdeimon, a leader of the Jews. He came to Yeshua at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you came as a teacher from God since no one can perform these wondrous signs if God were not with him."
Yeshua answered,
Amain, amain, I say to you,
Unless you are born from above
You cannot see the kingdom of God.
 This is a literary translation in a similar sense to Robert Alter's work with the Hebrew Bible. Barnstone writes:
I undertook a new translation of the New Testament to give a chastely modern, literary version of a major world text... On all questions of faith versus fact, I take a neutral stance...
Barnstone's work is quite a contrast to the translations spewed forth from the American Evangelical establishment. It deserves to be taken seriously. Whether it will may be less certain. Barnstone is generous in his praise of Richard Lattimore's 1966 translation, yet this New Testament has slid into obscurity, buried under a mountain of cheap, trash translations designed to be acceptable to the largely naive Bible-buying public.

Which is too bad.


Jim West hits the nail on the head with this posting.

Except, not being a Baptist, I'd want to edit the denominational reference to something closer to my own identity, the assorted, distorted, contorted Churches of God.

Regardless, the point is well made. People who climb into pulpits, Bible clasped firmly in hand, need to have had an education. Not an indoctrination, not "training," an education. Not a degree mill piece of paper either. Something that helps them to dig deeper, ask questions, think twice before parroting rubbish.

Preachers are not motivational speakers. Nor are they experts on each and every subject they might be asked to give an opinion on. And an opinion is not a "ruling;" it's advice, and advice commonly comes in two flavours, good and bad.

Preachers have been known to give some really dire advice, dressed up as "the word of the Lord." The idiot who advised new parents to spank their two week old baby (see Jim's comments) is clearly one such example. Some of us know of equally egregious cases, or even worse.

I'm not sure how many of the Church of God readers who drop by this blog are familiar with the "priesthood of all believers." Basically it's a Reformation understanding about responsibility and accountability that brings the onus back to each and every Christian. The decision you make is yours to make, not the preachers'. And if he's (and in these churches it is almost always a 'he') spouting like a pompous ass, tell him! If he is genuine and sincere, he'll ultimately thank you for it. If he's not, screw the consequences, this is not a good place for either you or your family. Just shake the dust from your sandals and move on.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Canaanite Rumble

Artwork by Paul Baker
Apologetic shark Matthew Flannagan has attacked a review by Thom Stark with a long and tendentious blog item. Flannagan is undoubtedly a smart fellow. It takes a truckload of smart to defend the indefensible (in this case, genocide). In fact you might even get the impression that Matt could sell the Emperor a whole wardrobe full of nice, new invisible clothes.

Matt may have bitten off more than he can chew this time, though. Thom Stark has responded. Clearly I'm shamelessly biased in this rumble, but even so Stark is both the more lucid, readable and good humoured of the two. More fun is to follow as this is apparently only the opening salvo in the exchange.

Entering the fray is another blogger with a well-deserved reputation of his own. Deane Galbraith offers some extremely pertinent observations. Verily, did not the Spirit move mightily when Deane wrote:
Shark 'n tatties
The background to Stark’s reply is a series of recent attempts by various conservative evangelical Christians to argue that the genocidal conquest of “Canaan” ordered by the Israelite god Yahweh was in some way a good thing. Some of these attempts, such as those by Matthew Flannagan and Nicholas Wolterstorff, are by people who are not even biblical scholars, and whose attempts to grapple with the texts expose their lack of expertise, sometimes to the point of being simply embarrassing to read.
Amen to that! Shark and tatties anyone?

Saturday 2 April 2011

Quake Quackery

Steve Myers of the United Church of God has a word of comfort: the worst is yet to come! Six minutes of mixed messages - no the End is not yet, but oh man, it ain't far off now! Welcome to the crazy world of COG (Church of God) prophecy, scaring the bejeezus out of people and raking in the tithes since 1934. Hoo-boy, and I used to think this talking suit approach was sophisticated!

A cautious Stepp in the right direction?

Grace Communion International has offered a cautious endorsement of Love Wins by Rob Bell. GCI pastor Jonathan Stepp (Good News Fellowship, Nashville, TN.) seems to like what he reads.
The first very good aspect of Bell’s book is that he asks excellent questions. “What happens to a 15 year-old atheist who dies in a car wreck?” “Can someone dogmatically say that Gandhi is in hell?” “Did Jesus come to save us from God?” He is asking all the right questions: the questions the world is asking – both implicitly and explicitly – of modern, American evangelical theology.

The second very good aspect of Bell’s book is that he offers excellent, Bible-based answers to these questions. The book is filled with quotes from the Scriptures and he interprets these verses correctly, in a Christ-centered way.

The net result is a very good book. A book that raises profound questions that most Christians in America need to think about and a book that points its readers to answers rooted in the Biblical witness of who God is.
But, wouldn't you know it, Rob would have done a much better job if he'd done obeisance to Baxter Kruger.
Conspicuously absent are some of the greats of Christian History: Irenaeus of Lyon, Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Karl Barth, T.F. Torrance, and Baxter Kruger just to name a few.
Jonathan has put together an interesting list of 'grates.' I mean, Torrance and Kruger "are some of the greats of Christian History"? Really? Who'd have thunked it!

Stepp may also have explained why he has caught the rare Kruger Babbling Disease.
Maybe I’m wrong, but my own experience – and my experience reading theologians like Barth and Torrance – tells me that when you have drunk deeply from the well of the Fathers (or from the water buckets of those who have, like Kruger) you can no longer just talk about “God and Jesus” as Bell does. Something changes inside you. Your mind is baptized into the Triune Life in such a way that it dyes the very color of your thinking. You no longer think, as Bell does, about what God is like and what Jesus said about God. You think of the glorious riches of the Father poured out on humanity through the flesh and blood of his Son Jesus Christ and enjoyed by all in the love of the Holy Spirit.
What was Barth smoking?
Oh ick! Jonathan, regardless of the pictures you've seen of Barth, you're meant to read books, not smoke 'em!

Across at the Surprising God blog, pretty much an official mouthpiece for GCI, Ted Johnson gives his imprimatur to the Stepp article, concluding his piece; "And as Rob Bell helpfully notes, love wins!

It deeply disturbs me to be - apart from the goofy trinitarian schmaltz - on more or less the same page as Ted and Jonathan, but I doubt it'll happen again any time soon.

Stone the crows!

I haven't read Forged yet, but I am reading Richard Pervo's The Making of Paul.

Unlike the Ehrman book, this one is intended for a more academic audience. I've been a bit of a fan since reading Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts (co-authored with Mikeal Parsons) and, more recently, The Mystery of Acts. Pervo strikes me as an honest scholar who follows the evidence where it leads (rather than shepherding the evidence toward a predetermined destination.)

Anyway, here am I now, scratching my head and wondering if there is anything in the New Testament that we can take at face value. Yes, some will wonder why it's taken me this long to ask that question, but then I'm no scholar, just an ex-fundamentalist bloke from a working class background who has obviously been reading far too much for his own good.

Even then, chipping away at a degree in theology over recent years and, believe it or not, majoring in biblical studies, I still hadn't asked quite that question. Not that directly. Okay, Revelation is clearly dangerous as well as bogus. And the duplicitous Pastorals have to go. We'll have to add the Deutero-Pauline stuff and Hebrews. Turf in the pseudonomous letters of John, James and Peter and Jude for good measure.

What to do? Can we perform a Luther and consign these 'epistles of straw' to a kind of 'apocryphal' status while we keep the genuine material? Or should we go the other way and add in the Gospel of Thomas and a few other ancient documents to be consistent and thereby bulk it up?

I've been an admirer of Luther's strategy for a long time, and thought it regrettable that his inheritors subsequently lost their nerve. But even so there would be complications. How genuine is genuine? What about the rest of the New Testament?

Do we keep all the Gospels in the front of the book? Or maybe just Mark?
Acts? Sorry, that's a definite fail. Even E. M. Blaiklock couldn't rescue that one. And whither Acts goes, there goeth Luke.
The undisputed letters of Paul? They may be undisputed in authorship, but as Pervo points out, "Paul has supplied exegetes with almost two millennia of employment," so irresolvable internal disputes there are aplenty with no end in sight.

Have I forgotten anything?

I love the scriptures. They're endlessly fascinating, and an indispensable part of our heritage. Even Revelation! But they're abused - mutilated before our eyes - by thoughtless assumptions and mindless use (which is 94.3% of what's on offer.) The Reformation put the Bible into the hands of the people, but a little knowledge is clearly a dangerous thing. Five hundred years later we have televangelists, dispensationalists, apologists, creationists, and the Moody Bible Institute; in short every foul and unclean bird nests in its branches.

Does anyone seriously believe that seminaries and (most) university theology departments are busily throwing open the windows to let the clean air blow through and dispel the musty, flatulent odours? Too hard! They usually just spray air freshener to mask the pong.

Houston, we have a problem.